Tag Archives: Jelena Ostapenko

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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Winners and losers from Roland Garros

From the very first match on Philippe Chatrier to the very last second of the tournament, the year’s second major delivered in fabulous fashion. I’ve picked out a few of the winners and losers as the clay season came to a denouement.

Winner: Rafael Nadal

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The Perfect Ten

 

There is nowhere else to start. The King of Clay quite simply became a tennis god of clay when he claimed his tenth French Open title. His record of only two defeats in 13 years is unlikely to be ever repeated. There are some very good players who fail to win ten titles in their entire career yet here is a man who has won ten at THE SAME MAJOR. His form in the semis and final against Dominic Thiem and Stanislas Wawrinka respectively, losing a grand total of 13 games, was nothing short of breathtaking. Shame on any of us who wrote this colossus off as past his best. Maybe the 15-times Grand Slam winner will rest his body at Wimbledon for a good go at the hardcourt season but one thing is certain, he sits as overwhelming favourite for Roland Garros 2018.

Loser: Angelique Kerber

A terrible claycourt season for the world number 1. For the second successive year, she crashed out in the first round of Paris so will be looking forward to getting back on the grass. The sad fact is that her opening day defeat to Ekaterina Makarova was greeted with nothing more than a slight shrug of the shoulders by the tennis world. Kerber needs to re-engage and do so quickly if last year is to prove to be nothing but a flash in the pan.

Winner: Jelena Ostapenko

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What a way to turn 20!

 

The women’s draw was earth-shatteringly open and wow did the 20 year old Latvian hurricane take advantage, blowing her way through the tournament, hitting over 300 winners. What a joy it was to see her so free of pressure in Saturday’s final. The experienced Simona Halep simply had no answer to the force of nature that was exploding from Ostapenko’s racket. I saw the new champion play in a junior tournament five years ago and she looked like a possible future star back then. However, we all know what can go wrong transitioning from junior to pro, and there was nothing in her 2017 results to suggest anything like this was close to coming off; it was not just her opponents that were caught off-guard but every single pundit too. The opportunity was there for every player and Ostapenko reached up and grabbed it firmly

 

Losers: Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina

If Jelena Ostapenko reached up and grabbed the golden crown, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina wasted perfect chances to win their first majors. You never know when the opportunities come around on the WTA and simply put, this perfect storm may never appear for these two again. Svitolina was coming into Roland Garros as the form horse and led Halep by a set and 5-1 in their quarter-final before capitulating and squandering a match point in the process of a crushing defeat. You have to believe that chances will come again for the young Ukranian and that the mental scars will heal quickly and thoroughly. Halep, on the other hand, is a major worry. Her tactic of hoping that Ostapenko would choke in the showpiece could haunt her at the end of her career. Clay is her favoured surface but the cards may not fall correctly like they did in 2017 ever again and younger, stronger powers are coming through. She probably deserves to win a Slam but her passivity in the Paris final meant she did not deserve this one.

Winner: The women’s semi-finals

So often the women deliver a top-class tournament and then the final two rounds fall flat; this time they excelled with nine sets of unrelenting drama and all of the women turning up to the ball. In both the semis and the final itself, the rightful winner came through but that is not to downplay any of the ladies involved; they all worked so hard to produce tennis of the highest quality to close out the tournament – a welcome sight.

Loser: Novak Djokovic

It is almost unbelievable that just twelve months ago Novak Dokovic stood on top of the tennis world having just completed the career Grand Slam whilst also then holding all four major trophies. What’s followed has been well-documented struggles with form and speculated personal issues but I wrote two weeks ago that he should be applauded for ripping up his coaching team and starting again. His pathetic collapse in the final set of his straight-sets quarter-final defeat suggests tougher times are ahead for the Serb as it looked like the last six or seven years had not actually happened and echoed previous collapses as a relative youngster on tour. There is a lot of work to be done for Team Djokovic v2.0.

Loser: Alexander Zverev

Alex Zverev seemed to freeze under the pressure of coming in as one of the favourites. Whilst a first-round match-up with Fernando Verdasco is never one to be relished by any seed, it is the type of tie that a future slam winner should be winning at this stage in his career. There is little doubt that the young German will win a major, and probably several, but this is a fortnight when he was to be expected to go deep. Verdasco got the job done pretty comfortably in the end and Zverev has serious questions to ask himself and the loss of points from last season will not lighten his mood either.

Winner: Juan-Martin Del Potro

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Brothers in arms

 

 

For all the fantastic tennis that was played over the fifteen days, it is Juan-Martin Del Potro’s show of human compassion that will stick long in my mind. When Nicolas Almagro collapsed into a ball and burst into uncontrollable tears on court as he had to retire from their second-round encounter, the big, friendly Argentine was first on the scene to offer a helping hand and comforting hug to his on-court rival. Whlst Almagro was crying, I’m sure many more in the crowd welled up at the sight of Del Potro’s love and support. Well played, DelPo!

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