Tag Archives: Grigor Dimitrov

Tennis is back – runners and riders for Australian Open

It’s still a novelty to come into a Grand Slam without Andy Murray being one of the favourites, definitely so with Novak Djokovic seeded as low as 14, with Serena Williams still missing and the unrepentant Maria Sharapova remaining a dangerous floater. That being said, there is solace for the nostalgics amongst us to have Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as the top seeds and Venus Williams to be amongst the favourites in Melbourne. Whatever, there is a lot to be both intrigued and excited by with the 2018 edition of the Australian Open starting in a couple of hours. Here are a few of the main protagonists to look out for.

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Dimitrov faring much better these days

 

Both Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov will be very happy with life right now. The Spaniard, after enjoying his most successful season in many, yet recovering from injury, is rightly the top seed. His capture of Grand Slams number 15 and 16 last year clearly reignited his passion and desire to create more history. He will go to Paris in spring as the most scorching favourite and has landed in an incredibly light half of the draw in Melbourne. Only Marin Cilic could lay claim to causing the marvellous Mallorcan’s sleep any trouble before he reaches the final four. Yet it is there that, if proceedings go to form, he will come up against a rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov. 18 months ago, the Bulgarian appeared to be going nowhere. I watched him bundled out of the first round of Roland Garros and he looked helpless, hopeless and listless; a European Bernard Tomic, if you like. Fast forward a year and a half and he comes to Melbourne the third seed and winner of the ATP Finals, having triumphed on his first appearance in the showpiece event. Granted, there was no Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, Raonic, Nishikori, or Wawrinka but the level Dimitrov showed indicates he is finally ready to fulfil his major-winning potential.

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Two Kings embrace

 

Will ‘Baby Federer’ have to dispose of the real deal if he is to win his first major? The strong likelihood is yes. Whilst the 36-year-old 19-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer is playing down his status as favourite, it is very apparent that he remains one of the two men to beat. His 2017 renaissance saw a serene Federer dealing impeccably with his previous anxiety to make history time and time again. This is a new, relaxed maestro, a man who finally believes that he has Nadal’s number. It will be of little concern to him that he has barely played since the US Open , showing himself to be in fine fettle in the recent Hopman Cup. He may have to see off an ever-more consistent Dominic Thiem to reach the final, which would take a lot out of him and leave him easier picking for his final opponent but I do expect the Swiss to line up on the final day of the fortnight, gunning for Grand Slam number 20. As for the rest, the bottom half of the draw could well have match-ups of Thiem v Wawrinka, Djokovic v Zverev, and Goffin v Berdych in the Last 16. What a treat we are in for!

Serena Williams has decided she is not yet ready to return so the scamper for majors for the top tier of women goes into an extra bonus tournament. The American sounded an ominous warning this week, stating she does not need more majors but simply wants them. Her desire is greater than any other so the field have been put on notice. In Serena’s absence, six different players reached the three Grand Slam finals last year; Simona Halep, Madison Keys, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams. In addition, Caroline Wozniacki won the WTA Tour Finals, rising back up to number two in the world. With the exceptions of Stephens and Keys, any one of other five women are in with genuine hopes in the coming fortnight. Simona Halep responded in positive fashion to what must have been a crushing French Open final defeat, rising to finish the year as World Number 1 and she has already struck gold in 2018, winning in Shenzhen. She does, however, have a tough draw; Petra Kvitova, Ash Barty and Karolina Pliskova await before any thoughts of a semi-final appearance.

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Melbourne city skyline

 

Garbine Muguruza’s toughest opponent may prove to be her thigh. She is scheduled to face up against Maria Sharapova in Round 4 which could end up being the match of the fortnight but if her body is right and her game clicks, nothing can stop the two-time major winner adding a third trophy to her collection. Later on, her big game would surely be too much for Halep to handle in the semi-finals. Speaking of big hitters, Jelena Ostapenko is no flash in the pan. A potential final for the Latvian against Muguruza would not be for the faint-hearted – it may not be full of the touch and guile to delight the tennis purists but my goodness would they smack the hell out of those poor balls. Her Round 4 opponent is projected to be CoCo Vandeweghe which would prove to be a fine warm-up for a hard-hitting final and surely Caroline Wozniacki could not live with a an in-form Ostapenko in between. However, if Ostapenko is slightly off, expect Wozniacki to give her enough rope to hang herself with. It is, however, tough to see.

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Ostapenko loves giving the ball a good thwack

 

Further to this, an Ostapenko-Venus Williams semi-final would be fun. The Latvian had just turned three when Venus Williams won her first Wimbledon title in July 2000 and most in tennis are rooting for the elder Williams to crown her career Indian Summer with one more major; she was the chief bridesmaid in Melbourne and Wimbledon last year as well as at the WTA Tour Finals. Expect her to go deep here again, but to not quite match last year’s achievement. She should however have a little too much nous for Elina Svitolina in the last eight. The Ukrainian is in blistering form having already won in Brisbane and has a shot at stealing the World Number 1 slot in the next fortnight, albeit along with Wozniacki, Pliskova, Ostapenko, Muguruza and Venus. Svitolina does seem to falter when the pressure is on, and with the pursuit for her first major and the ranking firmly in her head, it will all get too much.

Even thought there are four former champions in the men’s draw (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Wawrinka) and another two in the women’s (Sharapova and Angelique Kerber), there may well be two new names considering a dive into the Yarra River in two weeks’ time. I wonder if Grigor Dimitrov and Garbine Muguruza have packed their wetsuits?

 

Quick predictions

Grigor Dimitrov to beat Roger Federer in the final

Garbine Muguruza to beat Jelena Ostapneko in the final

Most likely to disappoint: Jo Konta, Madison Keys and Stan Wawrinka.

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Grand Slam tennis – I love it! The organisation….less so.

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The view which greeted first-comers on Monday morning

 

It is funny what absence occasionally does – the two year gap between my last fleeting visit to Roland Garros and the present day has allowed it to become one of my favourite getaways; the Slam where most people who attend actually care about tennis in the 50 weeks of the year when it isn’t going on. As so often is the case, I leave a tennis major knowing that tennis was the winner despite, and not owing to, the organisers. I’m sure you would have seen a theme develop in my review of the good and bad of my French Open 2016 without that small precursor to what is to come in my summary of what I experienced in my three days at Roland Garros.

Radek Stepanek used every last drop of the wiliness he has gained over the years to push Andy Murray to the brink of his first opening round defeat since the 2008 Australian Open on Monday night. True, Murray was out-of-sorts but this mustn’t detract from a tremendous showing from the 37-year-old Czech (it is now obligatory to use his age as an adjective at all times when mentioning Stepanek). His persistent use of the dropshot was well-documented but I am glad that Murray acknowledged how well Stepanek volleyed too. I had chickened out and left with the Scot trailing two sets to nil on Monday night so was over-the-moon at getting the chance to see Part 2 on Tuesday. The man from Dunblane (or Glasgow according to the scoreboard) needed every inch of his fight to prevail. The five sets will do him well (the later five sets today against French qualifier Mathias Bourgue less so) but he has big work ahead over the next ten days if he is to trouble Djokovic.

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Lower decks of Chatrier sparsely populated as per usual

 

That match was the only one I chose to watch on Court Philippe Chatrier throughout Monday and Tuesday and the swathes of empty seats do not implore you to come in and join the fun. Whilst the ‘cheap seats’ had filled up towards the end of a titanic tussle, it has to be said that pricing structures continue to make tennis look under-attended on TV. The true tennis fans are pushed to the top but once there it really is difficult to feel a part of things, therefore I frequently sought comfort on the outer courts. It is of course essential to have VIP sections and those people have paid enough to choose when to have their lunch. But Wimbledon has it right (not often you see me write that) with a standard price for the rest of the tickets. How much longer this will be the case remains to be seen now that the Australian Open has joined its French and US counterparts in introducing category pricing.

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Dimitrov needs to find a way to stop his downward spiral

 

The expansion of seedings to 32 rather than 16 15 years ago (thanks Wimbledon!) was a disappointing move; it took away an unpredictability around Grand Slams that will never be fully recaptured. Nowadays, we must wait for a dip in form or an injury to get the first round matches we crave. Grigor Dimitrov’s fall from ‘Baby Federer’ to ‘next big hope’ to ‘also-ran’ appears to be now complete on the surface (and this surface). His five-set defeat to 22nd seed Viktor Troicki was always probable and the latter was simply the more patient of the two. Dimitrov has a tendency to rush points (taking his comparison to Federer to the extreme) and from the moment Troicki levelled at the end of the fourth set having trailed 1-4, he was to be the winner. It wasn’t a classic but it kept the interest of everybody who had stayed on Court 2 for the match duration of three and a half hours, plus a lovely rain delay beforehand.

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Donna Vekic wasn’t best pleased at any point during her defeat to Madison Keys

 

If we are talking about fallen future stars, it’s logical to mention a star that hasn’t quite managed to ascend thus far. Donna Vekic was once hot property on the junior circuit but her on-court petulance and sulkiness appear to be blocking her progress. She was disappointing in her heavy defeat to Madison Keys out on Court 6, her game taken apart extremely effectively by the amiable American. A word on the watching Stan Wawrinka: as sullen as his rumoured girlfriend was petulant. The defending champion arrived flanked by two security guys and refused a polite request for a photo by the guys sat in front of him (they had waited until the changeover). Wawrinka struggled to even be monosyllabic in his response and nobody was upset to see him leave after the first set. I saw different reactions from the likes of Dominika Cibulkova and Elina Svitolina, the latter running across the court to a group of fans desperate for a selfie at the end of her match which finished after 8pm. The defending champions’ behaviour is even more disappointing in comparison. For what my opinion is worth, the young Ukrainian Svitolina looks a Top 10 player, maybe even a Top 5er. Her forehand is matched by her tactical nous, both very evident in her dismantling of Sorana Cirstea 6-1 6-3.

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Rising star Elina Svitolina defending big points here but off to a majestic start

 

Another fine men’s match was Philipp Kohlschreiber’s encounter with Nicolas Almagro, the latter being unseeded after a poor last 15 months. His temper is still burning brightly though! Despite beating the 28th seed, Almagro was involved in a heated five-minute conversation/rant at umpire Carlos Bernardes AFTER the match. I arrived a set and a half into his four-set win so I must have missed what he was complaining about because everything looked spot-on to me. Good to see Mr Aggro living up to his (almost) name. There was plenty of other good tennis on show; a small cameo from my outside tip Svetlana Kuznetsova before rain halted play on Sunday afternoon; Julia Goerges was imperious in her same-dress derby destruction of 28th seed Jo Konta (yes I saw both Number 28s lose); Alison Riske continues to lose every time I go anywhere near her, doubly upsetting as she is my favourite; and Heather Watson and Dominika Cibulkova had solid if unspectacular victories. A fine three days of tennis.

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Nicolas Alm-Aggro!

 

The final word must sadly go on Roland Garros as an organised event. Firstly, ‘all exits are definitive, no re-entry is permitted’. Why? Having paid upwards of 60 Euros for a ticket, I see no reason why I should have to remain in uncovered grounds during periods of prolonged rainfall on a sporting day which can last for ten hours. It is unnecessary and frankly cheapens the event into a money-making exercise for the in-grounds vendors. You can leave every other Slam so why is it not the case at Roland Garros? I often wonder whether the four majors associations ever get their heads together at all! And then we have the security checks. I hoped, and expected, that the security would have been ramped up (Is security the only thing to ever get ‘ramped up’?) in the aftermath of terror attacks in Paris and Brussels in the last seven months. In my past visits to Roland Garros, it has been a rather inadequate bag check. On first inspection, it has improved. However, I fear it is actually no safer and has soured the whole event. Here goes: Step 1 – open your jackets half-way between metro station and front gates (a walk that in the past took 7 minutes). Step 2 – a body scan, done by a human waving a scanner. Step 3 – Bag search and pat down at the gates. All okay in theory, but when you have tens of thousands of people arriving between 10-11am, it is impossible to manage. Next year, Roland Garros must open their gates earlier if they are to properly secure their event. Decent people do not mind vigorous checks if they get into an event or onto their planes on time. What happened on Tuesday was that those who arrived at 10am (the time the gates open) missed the start of play, play they had paid for. Additionally, after the body scan had been conducted by just four people for these thousands of fans, the crowd then bottlenecked into a huge throng that had no order awaiting the next stage of the security check a further 200 metres down the road. It is testament to the people in that crowd and nothing to do with the organisers that they remained polite and calm. It was truly shambolic. I felt the bag search on Tuesday was no more thorough than in previous years due to the staff rushing; faced with huge crowds there is an inclination to speed up the process. To do it better next year, they have to open the gates at 9am. By doing this, the early birds will arrive between 9 and 10, thus easing the rush-hour period significantly. Simple, effective and secure. So overall, security and organisation gets a 5/10 but the tennis gets a whopping 9.5/10! Can’t wait for my next taste of Grand Slam tennis!

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How not to do a security check

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New champions in Australia and the end of ‘The Big 4’: Winners and losers of 2014’s first major

Stan is the man

Stan is the man

Winner – Stanislas Wawrinka
It’s often said about people who fail to make a breakthrough in the majors that causing an upset is one thing, putting together seven results quite another. Fortunately for the new Swiss number 1, he didn’t have to put seven together. He was aided by a retirement in Round 1 and a walkover in Round 3. However, his achievements over the past six months in particular are not to be downplayed, and they reached their deserved denouement in Melbourne. He knocked out the defending champions in each of the last two majors and negotiated a wounded Rafael Nadal to lift his maiden Grand Slam title. Lesser men would have crumbled completely when faced with a warrior champion refusing to die but Stan held firm and played the better tennis in the first and fourth sets. He becomes the first man in 21 years to defeat both the Number 1 and 2 seeds in the same major, and with that he earns the #3 ranking for himself, but much more importantly he is able to add three words after his name that will live forever more. Stanislas Wawrinka: Grand Slam champion.

Winner – Na Li
As Wawrinka celebrates becoming a Grand Slam champion, Na Li has entered the pantheon of multi-slam winners, and she has done it on two very different surfaces. At the age of 31, she is still tweaking her game, looking for little improvements and goodness what a difference Carlos Rodriguez has made to her tennis. Justine Henin’s former coach has given the Chinese the belief that she can impose her game on whichever match she plays in. Her saved match point in Round 3 served as her wake-up call and she was simply stunning from thereon. The Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific has its first Asian champion and there is no reason why she can’t add to her tally of majors in the rest of 2014.

Aussie Li

Aussie Li

Loser – Patrick Mouratoglou
The coaching guru. His work with Serena Williams is held up as a shining example of world-class coaching but I simply don’t buy it. Any coach worth their salt could help Serena to a couple of majors a year. His assertion before the tournament that his charge could win all four majors this year was hit into touch by Serena after her 4th round exit to Ana Ivanovic. According to Serena, she had stopped thinking about that particular objective a long time ago. It may be time to have a word with your coach about his very public spouting then.

Winner – Grigor Dimitrov
The next big thing. Sharapova’s squeeze. And finally, potential being realised. A grand slam quarter-finalist and it was richly deserved. His show-time tendencies were largely held in check by his patience in his four-set victory over big hitting Milos Raonic and he gave enough worries to Rafael Nadal in his four-set defeat to suggest good things lay ahead for the former Wimbledon junior champion. Expect him to have a big say on events in the summer and early autumn.

Loser – Vika Azarenka
The two-time defending champion was never at her best in this year’s event. Despite not dropping a set until the quarter-finals, it will be a great worry to her how easily she got lost in Agnieszka Radwanska’s web of trickery. Somehow, she needs to hone her second serve into something that is less of a hindrance to her chances at the business end of tournaments. With Serena’s second serve, she would dominate the game. With her current one, she may struggle to add a further major to her current haul. The rest of her game is explosive, but the second serve needs surgery.

Winner – Dominika Cibulkova
It would have been easy to pick Genie Bouchard as the surprise element from the women’s tournament, but the young Canadian did pretty much what I expected from her, made more possible by Serena’s early elimination. Cibulkova, on the other hand, was a wholly unexpected but very welcome surprise. She picked Maria Sharapova’s game apart with ease before dispatching with last autumn’s form girl Simona Halep within an hour. However, it was her semi-final demolition job on Radwanska that really announced Domi’s arrival on the big stage. She’s only 24 so has time to consolidate this run with more consistent results in the other slams. When her game is firing, there are few who can live with the power of the pocket rocket from Slovakia.

Loser – Agnieszka Radwanska

Always the bridesmaid?

Always the bridesmaid?

Ah yes, Miss Radwanska. One fears that she may be the eternal bridesmaid. I have not seen many finer performances than her quarter-final victory over the defending champion. The variety, the speed, the pace, the power, the defence, the offense. It had everything. To follow that up 24 hours later with her horror show against Cibulkova suggested either a physical or mental frailty or possibly even both; things that could stop her from putting together the seven consecutive wins necessary to win a major.

Winner – Tennis
I wrote at length last week that it is the competitors not the organisers who make the sport what it is, and that was proved in the second week. A grand slam is defined by titanic performances. When was the last time that all of Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Vika Azarenka, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray failed to make it to the semi-final stage? 2010 French Open, that’s when. The emergence of Genie Bouchard, Grigor Dimitrov’s hard work beginning to pay dividends, Na Li peaking in her early 30s, ‘The Big 4’ of the men’s game being a thing of the past as Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and others insist upon their names being in the reckoning, an Aussie woman making it to the second week, the triumvirate of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal all still looking like forces but ones which have been caught up with by the rest. Yes, as a tennis fan, I’m pretty stoked at how the Aussie Open went!

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