Tag Archives: Milos Raonic

All to play for in New York: US Open 2016 Preview

 

The final Grand Slam of the year rolls around in a few hours’ time with form and fitness concerns hanging over many of the usual suspects. It’s more difficult this year to differentiate the dead certs from the outsiders and the dark horses, made even more challenging by the Olympics disrupting the US Open Series, usually such a reliable barometer of form. All this being said, you’d be a brave person to back anybody from outside of Djokovic, Kerber, Murray and Williams to lift the trophies in two weeks’ time.

 

Huge doubts linger around Novak Djokovic’s chances in New York. He has even been labelled as an unknown quantity coming into this major – these claims are risible. He is not world number 1 for no reason and is the current holder of three of the four Grand Slams. Yes, he went out uncharacteristically early at Wimbledon and was dumped out of the Rio Olympics in tears, but these tears were more the result of him knowing this was his best chance of winning Gold; he will be well past his peak by the time Tokyo 2020 comes around. He obviously has some slight injury concern bothering him but it would be foolish not to expect him to reach the final few days in the Big Apple. Milos Raonic, should he get that far, may well fancy his chances of upsetting the Serb at the semi-final stage, given the big-hitting games of Sam Querrey and Juan-Martin del Potro have caused the Serb problems in his last two top-tier matches. The Wimbledon runner-up comes into this tournament just days after John McEnroe leaving his coaching team – this should prove no problem as Carlos Moya can continue his excellent work with the big-serving amiable Canadian.

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The 2012 champion will be looking to add to his amazing 12 months

 

The bookmakers may disagree but I consider Andy Murray to be the strong favourite heading into the tournament in which he broke his Grand Slam duck four years ago. On that occasion, he defeated Djokovic in five gruelling sets and it is surely only his poor record against the Serb in recent years that is stopping more people marking him as the man to beat here. He is 19-2 in the majors this year and became the first singles player in history to retain Olympic Gold in Rio earlier this month. His absorbing duel with Juan-Martin del Potro in that final will do him more good than any match he played at Wimbledon; he may need to tough it out in New York and that final proved he can not only stand toe-to-toe with one of the biggest sloggers the game has ever seen, but ultimately overcome him. Murray will need to be wary of Lukas Rosol in the first round as we all know he is capable of turning it on every now and again but should then face no troubles until he faces a rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov in the Last 8. His potential semi-final looks easier on paper than the other half of the draw so he could come into the final weekend feeling relatively fresh, which could prove crucial if it is Djokovic on the other side of the net. I may be biased but I see little way past the Scot this fortnight.

Others to watch include two-time champion Rafael Nadal who seemed in much finer form in Rio and is obviously refreshed by his decision to once again skip Wimbledon, del Potro who is still capable of hitting anybody off the court and finally appears to have put his injuries behind him, and Nick Kyrgios whose enforced absence from the Olympics has allowed him to get accustomed to the American hard courts. It remains to be seen which Kyrgios turns up.

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Two more former champs in with a fighting chance

 

Serena Williams comes into her home major aiming for her 23rd Grand Slam. She is the six-time champion in New York but will want to make amends for the aberration that was her inexplicable semi-final loss to Roberta Vinci last year. Williams has some minor fitness concerns coming into the final major of the year but should she successfully negotiate a tough opening round against Ekaterina Makarova (an Australian Open semi-finalist just eighteen months ago), Serena is likely to go all the way through to Finals weekend. Of course one can never fully discount an off-day such as when the resurgent Elina Svitolina thumped her out of the Olympic Games earlier this month but Serena will have a further layer of dominance added to her now she has moved ahead of Steffi Graf in major titles. The biggest roadblock to a potential final could be her elder sister. It is seven years since Venus last lifted the title in New York but she will be the overwhelming crowd favourite were she to get anywhere near the business end of the tournament; tennis loves a fighting ex-champion and Venus ticks every box.

Madison Keys will be delighted she has landed in the opposite side of the draw to the top two Americans. Keys looks the very clear favourite to carry American hopes for the next generation if the Williams sisters ever stop playing. She gives off a Petra Kvitova impression; if her game clicks in any particular fortnight she is going to blow everybody away. A semi-final in Rio will be small comfort to her as she lost out on a bronze medal to Kvitova but a favourable draw here could see her advance all the way to Finals weekend. She has found a way past Venus Williams in the past but is yet to prove she is a match to Serena. If the Williams’ slip, Keys could be the one to capitalise.

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Outsiders: Konta and Svitolina

 

Elsewhere, Angelique Kerber appears to be the non-American who stands the best chance of lifting the trophy. Kerber v2.0 has had a wonderful 2016, currently tied at 1-1 with Williams in their major finals. However, her defeat to Monica Puig in the Olympics final smacked of the old Kerber, failing to beat an inferior opponent due to apparent mental fragility. There is no doubt that Puig played the tournament of her life but Kerber should have had enough wherewithal to get past her when push came to shove. The world number two will come into the Open determined to prove that was an anomaly and a deciding rubber against Serena appears to be the most likely outcome on the women’s side. Backed by a home crowd, one would have to assume that Serena would come out on top again in another closely-fought tussle.

Expect strong tournaments from Dominika Cibulkova as she looks to round off an impressive showing at the year’s majors, as well as Agnieszka Radwanska and Johanna Konta who currently lead the US Open Series. Radwanska can always be relied upon to disappoint but she should seal a quarter-final place, and Konta will be hoping to push towards the Top 10 by matching that performance. A step further than that appears to be a little out of their collective reaches at this moment in time.

Predictions

Murray to beat Raonic in the final

Serena to beat Kerber

Most likely to surprise: Monica Puig, Elina Svitolina, David Goffin and Dominic Thiem

Most likely to disappoint: Stanislas Wawrinka, Petra Kvitova and Borna Coric

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Wimbledon 2016 – how they rated

Andy Murray 9/10

Two-time Wimbledon champion

 

The Brit exceeded pre-tournament expectations but, more importantly, dealt with the burden of becoming favourite over the final nine days of the tournament. His run to the title was stress-free save for a tough two sets against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals. Crucially, the Scot kept his head when so often in the Lendl-free days he would have lost it. A first major for three years is a great way of starting his partnership with Jamie Delgado, with Lendl back in the mix too. Expect Murray to go close in New York after helping Great Britain into the semis of the Davis Cup but don’t rule out an early exit in Rio where he will defend his Olympic crown.

Milos Raonic 8/10

Make no mistake – Carlos Moya is taking this guy to a new level. There’s been a lot of credit given to the latest ‘super coach’ John McEnroe yet it is Moya who is adding steel to Raonic’s game. The Canadian’s rise has been solid and he now finally looks capable of being a Slam winner. He should and will be disappointed with his inability to figure out Murray’s brick wall in the final but he will get another shot in the US Open and his game suits three of the four majors so expect him to win one sooner rather than later. He found a way to get past the legend that is Roger Federer in the match of the tournament and will now feel he belongs in every conversation about possible winners at the next two Slams.

Roger Federer 6/10

This may seem harsh but Federer missed his last chance here. His comeback win over Marin Cilic was dramatic but the chinks in his game were spotted and exploited by Raonic. Federer schooled the Canadian at Wimbledon 2014 but whilst the younger man has moved on, Federer’s body has finally refused him any further progress. It remains to be seen if the Swiss will take part in the 2017 season. Will he still be a major semi-finalist should he decide to go on? Probably. Can he win another? The answer to that is a categorical no. Federer’s joie de jouer may now dip if he feels he cannot make it to Grand Slam #18. One thing’s for sure – a more popular player Centre Court will not see for many a decade.

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17 and most probably out…

 

Novak Djokovic 6/10

Not as disastrous as it first seems. This guy has been putting his body and mind under insane pressure in his quest for the Calendar Slam. His early exit here coupled with his usual sitting-out of the Davis Cup quarter-finals will give the world #1 the necessary time to recuperate from what has been a stunning year in which he held all four majors. The pressure will have been notched down rather than up for a change so don’t be surprised to see Djokovic return fitter, stronger and just as good as before.

Nicolas Mahut 10/10

The genial Frenchman has ensured that his name will not just be remembered for THAT 2011 match which he lost. As well as reaching the last 16 in the singles, the 34-year-old has found a young doubles partner capable of complementing his game perfectly. They are now holders of two of the four majors and are the best doubles team in the world right now; Pierre-Hugues Herbert can achieve things in singles also but I’m sure most neutrals were more delighted for his partner Mahut as he became a Wimbledon champion on Saturday evening.

Nick Kyrgios 2/10

Everybody knows I’m not a fan so I won’t write too much. Get a grip, Kyrgios. People are paying big money and to tank when you lose a set is pathetic. Hire a coach who will test you, not pander to you. Want to be a champion or not? Talented players without the desire to win are ten-a-penny and are forgotten overnight. Kyrgios has the ability to win Wimbledon but right now he is a million miles away as he has the heart of a pea.

Serena Williams 10/10

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22 not out

 

If Kyrgios wants an example of how it is done, he should look no further than the seven-time Wimbledon champion who now has 22 Grand Slams to her name. At the age of 30, she took the decision to hire Patrick Mouratoglu as her coach and their partnership has reaped gigantic reward. Serena has never lost a mental battle on court and her Wimbledon fortnight is one to be cherished. She was pushed in round 2 by her compatriot Christina McHale but came through in three sets. From there, her route was relatively straightforward but when pushed by Angelique Kerber in the final, she came out on top. This will be of huge relief to the American after losses at the business end of the previous three majors. If I had a mansion, I would put it at stake to back Serena to win #23 in nine weeks’ time.

Angelique Kerber 8/10

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Kerber v2.0 can win more majors

 

The Australian Open champion made serene progress during the first week before knocking out Simona Halep and Venus Williams in consecutive rounds. She could not repeat her feat of defeating Serena but her overall fortnight has lain to rest any lingering remnants of the old mentally-fragile Kerber. Angie v2.0 is a force to be reckoned with. It would be a major surprise if she fails to surpass her previous best of a quarter-final berth in New York in September and she is likely to once again provide the younger Williams with her stiffest competition. Let’s hope the Wimbledon champion’s longevity encourages Kerber that she too can maintain this level for a good few years.

Venus Williams 9/10

There was nothing spectacular about the elder Williams’ run to the semi-finals, defeating nobody that she hadn’t been expected to. However therein lays the sheer quality of her tournament and level; at the age of 36 she is still living with players in the Top 10. She is still capable of winning slams – yes it requires a favourable draw and a Serena slip but Venus is as capable now of winning the US Open or Wimbledon as at any other time in the last five years.

Elena Vesnina 9/10

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Vesnina’s stand-out single performance

 

‘The Vesh’ finally gets a mention on this page for her singles exploits. A multi-slam doubles champion, she went deep into a major for the first time on her own. Knocking out Andrea Petkovic, Ekaterina Makarova and Dominika Cibulkova meant that she deserved her place in the last four. Granted her semi-final appearance was over quicker than it takes to fly from Paris to London but for somebody who has seen her suffer so many tough first-round losses over the past ten years, it is amazing to see somebody like Vesnina get her moment in the spotlight.

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Blushing bride

 

Dominika Cibulkova 10/10 – Wimbledon quarter-finalist and made it out of there in time to get married. Ace fortnight!

Petra Kvitova 2/10 – Must do better, especially on grass.

Garbine Muguruza 5/10 – Early loss will do her good and keep her feet on the ground.

Simona Halep 7/10 – Back to her best, will go deep in the US Open.

Tomas Berdych 6/10 – Perennial semi-finalist.

Sam Querrey 8/10 – Backed up shock win by making the last eight.

Lucas Pouille 9/10 – Making great strides. Not seen him play yet, but surely one to watch?

Marcus Willis 10/10 – Tested Hollywood scriptwriters. We will NEVER see him again but nice story.

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Kerber opening doors, Djokovic slamming them shut- Australian Open review

 

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The first major of the tennis season followed a familiar, reassuring course for the duration of the men’s tournament. Novak Djokovic has cemented himself as the man to take tennis to a completely new level and he will now be looking to eclipse more legends with his trophy haul, and possibly even propel himself to the very top of the Roll of Honour. The women’s draw looked a foregone conclusion from the minute Serena Williams eased past Camila Giorgi on Day 1. However, there was a sting in the tail right at the very end. A top class Australian Open, albeit not one of the greatest.

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Our world number one now stands on the precipice of legendary status in my humble opinion. There will not be many who won’t want him to break his Roland Garros duck in June and at this stage, you’d have to be a crazy fan of the other top players to suggest he is incapable of completing the calendar Grand Slam in 2016. If he were dominant last year, quite what are we to make of him this January? He simply steamrolled Roger Federer in the semi-finals, losing only one game in the first two sets. That’s Roger Federer, the great Roger Federer, who is still surely the second best player in the world. You have the feeling that Federer is sticking around in the hope that somebody else takes Nole out of the equation because the Serb has any number Federer wishes to throw at him right now. Djokovic followed up that impressive performance by simply outgunning and outlasting the world number two as he has done so many times in the last few years. Murray tried to be much more aggressive than in the past, a change in tactics he had hinted at leading into the final. To say it didn’t work is an understatement; the Serb never for a second looked like even losing a set never mind the match. He started rapidly again, losing only one game in the first set; this is an interesting development in Djokovic’s game – in the past he was always slow to start in the big matches and his durability would be the important factor in his victories whereas now he isn’t even giving his major rivals a foothold in matches. ‘Catch me if you can’ appears to be the message to his foes at the moment. Having gone level with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver on 11 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic now stands a serious shot at matching Roger Federer’s record haul of 17; he may have 14 by September.

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The women’s champ will only now be drying off after coming good on a pre-tournament promise to ‘do a Courier’ and jump into the Yarra River if she claimed the title. Angelique Kerber was the cherry on a very satisfying cake of breakout performances in the women’s tournament. I hadn’t even given the German a thought as a potential winner until she reached the semi-final stage, but anyone who hits Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams off the court, ensuring that her oft-criticised bottle held firm in the process, deserves every plaudit coming her way. Having saved match points in her opening round victory over Misaki Doi, she got stronger with each passing round and looks a real force going forward. She is now the world number two and one would hope that she copes well with the added pressure that the ranking and being a Grand Slam champion will bring. For someone who had not been past the quarter-final stage of a major since 2012 (with much of that time spent as a fixture in the Top 10), this was an astronomical leap into the winners’ circle. Kerber looks fitter than ever and her attacking game can be a real threat in the future if her new-found mettle stands the test of time. It was a refreshing change to see somebody stand toe to toe with a fully-fit Serena and slug it out fair and square. There is no doubt that Serena remains the dominant force in the women’s game and she will go onto win more majors but this was a huge shot in the arm for the WTA.

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There were other stand-out break-out performances this past fortnight, along with feel-good tales. Shuai Zhang is the only place to start – the Chinese invited her parents to watch her for the first time ever, feeling that the time had come to retire after losing all of her 14 Grand Slam matches to date. She knocked out former French Open finalist Simona Halep on the way to reaching the quarter-finals; an incredible achievement. Let’s hope she is rethinking that retirement plan. Johanna Konta reinforced her position as British number one and is likely to stay there for a long time if she continues her hard-hitting, big-serving, newly mentally-strong form. Having witnessed Konta crumble many times in the past, she is another who has taken her game to an all-new level by simply getting herself right between the ears, her semi-final berth fine reward for her endeavours at Melbourne Park. How far mental strength can take you in this sport. Milos Raonic is the other stand-out performer for me this fortnight with a second Slam semi-final now under his belt. He will be one to watch as a potential challenger to Djokovic at both Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows this summer.

So, there has been a promising start to the tennis narrative in 2016; there is much to look forward to going forward. The main storyline will centre on Novak Djokovic’s quest to win all four majors in one year but there is hope yet that Serena Williams is not simply an immovable object at Grand Slam level. Let’s hope that tennis makes the headlines for all the right reasons as we progress through the year.

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Australian Open 2015 preview – Bouchard and Murray to reign?

Oh really, we’re here already? The tennis off-season whizzed by in a flash, seeming like mere weeks since Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic swept all before them in their respective end-of-season Championships. The big names have taken different warm-up routes prior to arriving in Melbourne but, with the Australian Open’s propensity to throw in one or five surprises, a cracking fortnight of tennis is in store.

The home of tennis for the next two weeks

The home of tennis for the next two weeks

On the women’s side, Serena Williams looked everything but invincible during the Hopman Cup, losing heavily to both Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska, whilst being pushed to the very limit by Lucie Safarova. She will not like the fact that she faces tricky likely encounters with fast-rising Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza in the first week. I will not be surprised if the latter, who reached the fourth round here last year, springs a big shock. Maria Sharapova beat Ana Ivanovic in a classic Brisbane final eight days ago, both ladies going at it hammer and tongs for two and a half hours with an intensity belying the fact that it was the first week of the new season. Both of them will fancy their chances this fortnight, Sharapova admitting that she is only here to win. If I had to pick though, I’d go with Ivanovic to go deeper into the tournament and match her semi-final appearance of 12 months ago.

Agnieszka Radwanska is a tough one to call. In the past, I’ve been critical of her mental fragility, especially when a draw opens up. She has the game to trouble anybody on tour, as borne out by her demolition job on Victoria Azarenka, the defending champion of the time, in the quarter finals last year. But her mind simply goes AWOL on occasions, which has cost her dear time after time in her career thus far. She has now done well to seek out help in the form of her new coach Martina Navratilova. One can only assume that only good will come out of this partnership. There’s not a lot wrong with the Pole’s physical game, and if she gets it right between the ears, she will end her Grand Slam duck sometime in the near future. Having said that, this fortnight will come too soon; a place in the quarter-finals would seem reasonable reward. Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki will look to carry their fine 2014s into the new season but the latter has the prospect of a mouth-watering clash with Victoria Azarenka on the horizon in the second round. If it’s the Wozniacki of late summer and the Azarenka of the same period, the Dane will be a shoe-in. However, if Wozniacki does not bring her A-game, we all know that it’s power-hitters who have the ability to smash her off the court. Halep will not face too many hurdles en route to the quarters, and I would say anything after that is a bonus for the Romanian who is looking to consolidate her place at the very top table.

My strong suspicion is that it will be the Wimbledon finalists who meet up once again on January 31st; both Genie Bouchard and her conqueror Petra Kvitova have looked tough and uncompromising so far this year. Kvitova has never been fitter and the confidence that she can hit through most of the tour, aligned with her new-found fitness, should see her strike through the field. Bouchard has an inner-steel that sees her through the tough battles. Expect a quarter-final classic against Sharapova – for sheer intensity if not for quality. Despite Kvitova being the bigger and better hitter, something’s telling me that Genie’s time has come.

Inspired by our meeting,  Genie's time has come

Inspired by our meeting, Genie’s time has come

If I’m uncharacteristically writing off Serena Williams, I might as well dismiss Rafael Nadal too.  The Spaniard has of course come into tournaments before when his fitness has looked suspect but this time he appears unfit and off-form. I don’t see any Steve Darcis or Lukas Rosol escapades on the horizon, but I do think the second week will see the 14-time Grand Slam champion come up way short should he have to take on one of the world’s top six. It always amuses me how people immediately start looking to a Roger Federer-Nadal semi-final when the draw is made, almost making the first eleven days of the tournament redundant. Despite the Spaniard’s current shortcomings and the great Swiss’ early season success, I actually see it being Federer who fails to meet the expectation of the draw analysts; he’ll fend off youthful challenges from the likes of Borna Coric and Nick Kyrgios but will likely fall at the Last 8 stage.  Don’t write these two old frenemies off completely just yet – I’d put good money on them sharing the following two majors.

Stan Wawrinka starts his title defence as somewhat of an unknown quantity. He finished the best year of his career atop the shoulders of his victorious Swiss Davis Cup team and may find it tough to live with life as the hunted, rather than the hunter here in Melbourne. On the flip side, he has been given a bobbydazzler of a draw. There is nothing to be afraid of until a potential quarter-final match with his conqueror from the US Open, Kei Nishikori. I’d still anticipate Stan’s feeling of home comfort here to take him over the line in that tough match-up. A semi-final showing wouldn’t exactly match up to last year’s triumph but it would show that he deserves to be respected at the top of the game and can play the big matches well. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Milos Raonic in the Last 8 club, along with Tomas Berdych. Raonic’s game is of course suited to this surface but, against the very best, he needs to find some variety to his game. Berdych arrives in Melbourne looking super-relaxed. He could even spring a minor surprise by ousting Nadal but a quarter-final berth would be a good start to what is an important year for the Czech; the male equivalent of Radwanska, he needs to sort out the mental aspect of his game as his talent deserves at least one Grand Slam.

I sometimes fail to give Novak Djokovic the praise and attention his career deserves. Whilst I didn’t write during Wimbledon, I was genuinely pleased that he added a second All-England Club championship to his trophy cabinet. A man that Nick Bollettieri calls the most-perfect tennis player that ever lived, a man with no weakness, is not a man who should have only a handful of major titles. He is unfortunate to have played during this period but he has made the most of his talent too. He’ll come up against big-servers at pretty much every turn here in Australia, but I expect him to have little trouble negotiating a path to a finals shoot-out with….Andy Murray.  The Brit looks as relaxed as Berdych, appears to be fully fit, in form and, most importantly, free of doubt in relation to his previous injury. He’s a three-time runner-up at the Australian Open, and whilst his potential run to the final is a hazardous one (Dimitrov, Federer, Nadal…) I just think the fact that he could come through under-the-radar will help him immensely. He has the game to win this one day, and I think that day is here right now.

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