Tag Archives: Radwanska

Stepping up in the city that never sleeps; time for new Number 1s?

Positive memories

Positive memories

The scores change, the matches change, the years change, even the players change, yet tennis just continues on and on and on. No time to stop to admire Marion Bartoli’s career whose pinnacle came right at the denouement. It was 12 months ago that the sport bade farewell to two Slam champions in Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick whose bodies finally gave out on them and gave in to the sport. How many passing thoughts have been given to those two in 2013? My point exactly. The wheel trundles on. So let me bask for just a second in the fact that for the first time in 35 years a British player goes into a Grand Slam as the defending champion, as “the hunted” according to John McEnroe. Add into that mix that we have a woman as a seed for the first time since 1988, and it’s nice to be looking forward to a Slam with excitement rather than trepidation. But off come the red, white and blue sunglasses for now.

Who are the form horses coming into the final slam of 2013? Where is the smart money going? It is difficult to look too far beyond Andy Murray, even without British bias. Good memories will be all around him all fortnight. New York is the place he broke through, the place where he won his first Slam by defeating the World Number One in five tough sets. In addition to that, he has appeared in the final of every Slam he’s competed in since and thrashed Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. I don’t think you can say enough about how much that can do for a person’s game and belief. Okay, he isn’t in fantastic form coming into the event but once he strolls out onto Arthur Ashe Stadium court, I think that will rectify itself pretty quickly. His potential path to the semi-finals is pretty straight-forward and things will hot up at that stage. The winner of the Novak Djokovic v Juan-Martin Del Potro quarter-final tie will pose a hard-hitting threat. I’m taking Del Potro to edge that quarter if he carries his Wimbledon form into the Slam he won four years ago.

Rafael Nadal will be a relieved man to be in the bottom half of the draw. He will fancy his chances in a potential quarter-final clash with Roger Federer (the Swiss maestro will be back to Last 8 form here in my opinion) and will find little trouble waiting for him in the form of compatriot and old friend David Ferrer at the penultimate stage. Nadal’s hard-court record this season is second to none and he will almost certainly feature on Finals day. If Del Potro has managed to beat Djokovic and Murray back-to-back, then Rafael Nadal will be a bridge too far and will pick him off without too many worries in the final. If it’s Murray who comes through from the top half, expect the Scot to get his first major final W against the Spaniard and give himself every chance of finishing the year as the world’s top player.

Roof-less....for now

Roof-less….for now

The women’s draw is depleted by the absence of Maria Sug….errrr Sharapova. The cynic in me wonders why she came to New York at all, and at that I shall leave it. All her absence does in my mind is solidify the expected repeat of last year’s final when Victoria Azarenka pushed Serena Williams to the very limit. And this year, I expect the Belarussian to avenge that particular defeat. She knew that she could live with Serena after that balmy New York night in 2012, and her fighting qualities saw her become a multi-major winner earlier this year in Melbourne. A victory in another of the majors will only reinforce her position as one of the best two players in the world. Her path to the final is easier than Serena’s, much easier. Serena starts off against former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. Whilst the Italian’s best years are well behind her now, her game of slice and backhands has the potential to upset Serena right from the off. Her route further in could involve match-ups against the up-and-coming stars of the game, the likes of Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, who both know what knocking out Serena in New York could do for their careers.

Vika has an easier route through; I would imagine she will have one small scare along the way, possibly against Alize Cornet as she did in Paris but I would be flabbergasted if she wasn’t in the Final in two weeks’ time. After a comparably easier fortnight, I think Azarenka will lift the third major title of her career.
As for the losing semi-finalists, I expect Agnieszka Radwanksa to take her decent Wimbledon form into the final slam of 2013 and get by the likes of Na Li, who in turn should have enough about her to see off a not-100% Laura Robson in Round 3 and thus extinguish any painful memories she has of said player from last year. And the big prediction from the bottom half of the draw is that I see Simona Halep dragging her amazing summer form into a Slam and taking advantage of a kind draw to cement her place in the Top 20. The Romanian has won four titles since June and being in the same quarter as Elena Vesnina, Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko presents her with an opportunity she really cannot afford to turn down.

Let’s hope that we have a relatively dry US Open, although not too dry that the USTA goes back on their decision to install a roof on Ashe Stadium court! Kudos to them for finally dragging the tournament into the 21st century. In reading former players’ autobiographies, it beggars belief how much more innovative Wimbledon is these days compared with the US Open. Nobody would ever have imagined Wimbledon to be the more forward-thinking of the two. Let’s further hope that at the end of the fortnight, we have two deserving champions after two weeks of superb tennis. Two champions who believe that they belong at the very top. Andy and Victoria, your times are now. Time to seize, before the sport trundles on, passes you by and picks the next champions.

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A new rivalry in the women’s game?

The best eight players in the world

 

The WTA season ends in Istanbul this week as the top 8 players in the world gather for the End-of-season Championships. That there are few of the girls involved with a realistic shot at winning should come as no surprise. It has not been a vintage year at the top of the women’s game. Serena Williams returned to the peak, not in ranking but certainly in game. She is among the realistic contenders this week. Viktoria Azarenka is the other serious one, whilst I give an outside chance to Angelique Kerber if she can oust either of them from the toughest of the two round-robin groups.

The final between Vika and Serena in New York was the stand-out highlight of a pretty poor showing this year. It has the potential to be a great rivalry if Vika has the stomach to take on the Queen Bee of the WTA Tour. The evidence is there that she has more than enough tooth to take the fight right to Serena. She stood toe-to-toe with the veteran at Flushing Meadows, trading killer forehands for 3 brilliant three sets of tennis. You go either two ways from the crushing defeat when she failed to serve out for the Championship; you crumble away and slide down the rankings or you get right back on it and set about proving you are the rightful number one in the women’s game. The signs are there that the Belarusian has chosen the latter of these two options, having already won a tournament since the final major of the season.  A couple of victories over Serena this week would mean that she could hold rightful claims to being the best player in the world.

Serena will of course have other ideas – she knows that a victory here would do nothing but rubberstamp her fantastic summer. She has dominated the field since her shock 1st round defeat at Roland Garros, her first ever defeat at the opening hurdle in a Grand Slam. Virginie Razzano’s victory over her should have been a highlight of any tennis year, but the horrible cold facts are that Serena was woeful that day and the at-times cruel Parisian crowd got to her. Serena has more Grand Slam victories in her sights – Steffi Graf’s 22 may be out of reach, but Williams will believe she can collect three more to match Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.  It would be silly to suggest this is motivating Serena at this stage in her career and I am shocked that so many experts are stating it as fact.  The truth is Serena has never needed records or titles to motivate her.  She is motivated by winning every single match she competes in – it’s as simple as that.  It’s what sets apart the best champions from the rest.

There is no need to go over the list of players who have been at the top of the women’s game in the last 10 years who did not possess this motivation and killer instinct. Millions of column inches have been written discrediting their achievements and games, which serves to do nothing but sully those girl’s commendable careers. But we all know the ones who do possess it. Serena possesses it, Sharapova possesses it, Justine Henin had it and the legends mentioned in the previous paragraph personified it. It is my belief that Victoria Azarenka has that in abundance. Her potential took longer to come to fruition than her fans thought it would. Indeed, there was a time a couple of years ago when it appeared she just was not going to crack it and massive potential was to go unfulfilled. But Vika has fought her way to the very top of the rankings and has a Grand Slam title in the bag after her vicious no-mercy demolishing of Sharapova in Melbourne nine months ago. She has the game and the nerve to go on and battle it out with Serena and even to stop Serena from getting level with her fellow Americans Navratilova and Evert. She is the one player who means that the chance to draw level with them does not simply lie only on Serena’s racket.

I would be surprised if anybody other than these two girls was to lift the trophy at the end of the week. Like I say, Kerber has an outside shot if she puts her game together and Vika or Serena drop the ball. It would be more than surprise, it would be amazement, if the winner was to come from the other group.  Radwanska could win it another year if people come in off-form or unfit but cannot match the dominant Williams or Azarenka. Sara Errani will be happy to just be there and is the whipping girl, I’m afraid. Kudos to her for backing up her Roland Garros final appearance with enough ranking points to qualify though. Petra Kvitova has flattered to deceive this year and will struggle to get out of the group, whilst Sharapova is a guaranteed semi-final shot, but will come up short against either Serena or Vika in the semi-final stage.  I have to confess that I was actually dumbfounded that Na Li had done enough to make the tournament – clearly I am not following the women’s game as closely as I should do. Her best days are behind her it would seem.

My idea of a successful tournament needs only a few things. I would like the semi -finals and finals to be watched by a full stadium. If not, something really needs to be done to look at an alternative venue. London would sell this thing out and ensure full houses for every single match. Another thing is at least one of the semi-finals going the distance, and the final being a showcase for great tennis.  The final thing will be for all eight girls which start the tournament to be the eight who finish it. I do not like the idea of alternates and there have been far too many retirements and withdrawals in recent years.  Not too much to ask, is it?!

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Going for Gold in SW19

The desire of tennis players to win Gold at the Olympic Games has never been as strong as it is right now, not least because of the tournament being played on the hallowed courts of The All-England Club. With the unfortunate exception of the injured Rafael Nadal, all of the world’s top players head to South-West London this week in search of what is deemed by sport, if not tennis, fans as the ultimate prize; an Olympic Gold medal.

Many feel that Roger Federer has played on so long for the sole reason of dreaming of winning Olympic Gold on his Centre Court.  His recent triumph on that court ensures he will continue to gun for further Slams for at least another year or two. His dual aims of winning another major and regaining the Number 1 ranking have been achieved after some personal sacrifices. Quite what this will do for his career remains to be seen, but the lifting of self-imposed pressure could lead to Fedex having an Indian summer in the most unbelievable of careers.

Andy Murray has to now believe that he can win on the grass of Wimbledon.  I always sensed with Andy that he didn’t truly believe that his breakthrough win would come in his home Slam. His run to the final three weeks ago must surely give him the confidence to go on to great things there in the future.  The smart money may yet be on the man from Dunblane winning Gold on home soil.

What of the world number 1? For the first time in two years, Novak Djokovic has gone two majors without winning one.  He will want to prove that he is still top dog and the proud Serb would love nothing more than to do that by winning sport’s top prize whilst wearing his country’s colours. I have thought all summer long that Murray, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer would each take one of the four big summer prizes. Nadal reigned supreme in Paris, King Roger returned to rule Wimbledon so I believe it is left to Murray and Djokovic to squabble over the Games and the US Open.

Does anybody else have a realistic of striking Gold?  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga cannot be ruled out – his semi-final appearances in the last two Wimbledons prove that he is capable of majestic grass-court play.  He also has the power to blow away any of the top 3 candidates on any given day.  If he gets a favourable draw, he is more than capable of ensuring the ‘Tricolore’ is raised above the lawns of the All-England Club at the end of the Games.  My other outside chance may surprise many. I have never been this man’s biggest fan, and his best days are undoubtedly behind him but something is drawing me to Andy Roddick. There are not many who are prouder to represent their country than the big-serving American yet, in his heart of hearts, he knows he is no longer capable of posing a credible threat over the course of a fortnight of 5-set matches.  But you would be foolish to count him out over 3 sets against most of the world’s players, such is the power of his serve even at this stage of his career.  Yes, don’t discount A-Rod going deep into the tournament and he would prove to be a popular champion at the All-England Club, even if he wasn’t wearing the all-white of a Wimbledon tournament.

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On the women’s side, it is hard to see beyond Serena Williams following up her brilliant Wimbledon title by adding singles Gold to her glittering career.  It had been a long road back to full recovery and redemption for Serena, but finally two years of illness horror and shocking tantrums came to a happy conclusion when the natural order was restored 3 Sundays ago with the surname Williams being engraved back onto the Venus Rosewater Dish. Serena is back and wants to play and you get the sense that the others are playing for scraps as long as she remains serious in her ambitions.  It would be foolish to back against Serena next week, but which other players will believe they have a genuine shot?

Maria Sharapova still sees Wimbledon as home but Sabine Lisicki’s straight-sets destruction of her a month ago serves to show that Maria is not infallible on the lush green courts.  And this goes for a lot of the women’s game right now; the top 20 are all capable of beating 18 of the other 19 on their day.  Quite whether Maria would be a popular winner would remain to be seen, such was her lack of determination to play Fed Cup until recently, when she was only prompted into doing so by having to prove her eligibility to compete in the Games.

The Wimbledon finalist Agi Radwanska won many fans with her diverse play during the Wimbledon fortnight, if not for her personality.  She has a sound tactical brain but you sense that the Wimbledon final may prove to be the highlight of her career, even at this relatively early stage.  Look out for her and little sister Urszula to make an impact in the doubles event however.

Vika Azarenka was points away from cracking the Serena nut in the semi-finals last month and will think that she is the one with a genuine chance of ousting the younger Williams sister.  Her tenacity and refusal to admit defeat will take her a long way in this tournament, and no doubt she will look to impress whilst wearing her country’s colours being the strong patriot that she is.  Petra Kvitova still has the game to win on the grass and, with the heavy burden of defending champion being lifted from her shoulders, she can go on to prove she is has the potential to be the greatest grass-court player of this new generation.

A few words on two players with little chance of winning Olympic singles Gold; Venus Williams has been a great player for well over a decade and it was great to see her contribution to tennis rewarded when she was asked to carry the Olympic torch through the grounds of The All-England Club last week.  A career that has known no bounds ticked off another marvellous achievement. In addition, Elena Baltacha will fulfil a career-long dream next week when she represents Great Britain in the London Games having also earlier carried the Torch.  Elena is a player who has made herself available for selection for Fed Cup duty at all points in her career.  She has fought back from a series of career-threatening illnesses and has fulfilled every bit of potential in her career.  I finally got the chance to see her play live last month and what a honour it was.  Sadly for her, her career has never been about going deep in Grand Slams but to watch her fight like a lioness for every single point is a wonderful experience.  Enjoy every second, Bally!

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