Tennis Elbow: Angelique Kerber stuns Serena Williams at the Australian Open

February 1, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2016 Australian Open women’s final.

What a time to be alive.

While we can’t pretend to know for sure whether Angelique Kerber listens to Drake and Future, we have a wild guess that #WATTBA is probably what’s going through her mind today.

Today, the German wakes up as a Grand Slam champion, having beaten the great Serena Williams by the final score of 6-4, 3-6 and 6-4 in two hours and eight minutes in the Australian Open final.

With the win, the 28-year-old becomes the second German in the Open era, after Steffi Graf, to win a Grand Slam tournament. «I got my second chance and this is my dream come true,» Kerber said after the win. «My whole life I am working really hard, and now I am here and call myself a Grand Slam champion.» That’s something most probably didn’t expect to see happen, not in 2016 after years of relatively pedestrian results at the majors. Indeed, Kerber hadn’t done better than a fourth round at a major since 2012—in fact, other than a four-Grand Slam stretch where she made two semifinals and one quarterfinal (and one third round) over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Kerber’s career had been relatively underwhelming at majors. That run very nearly continued in Australia. You may recall that in her first match against Misaki Doi, Kerber had «one leg in the plane for Germany,» as she called it after winning the tournament; that’s how she describes being down a set and to match point, before she finally righted the ship. Now after a few more matches and wins over Victoria Azarenka and Williams, Kerber is a Grand Slam champion. Meanwhile, the six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams will need to wait until at least Roland-Garros to match Graf’s career haul of 22 Grand Slams. She seemed fine with it afterward; just look at her.


It’s a rare reminder that the American is merely human and can’t, or won’t, win them all. “Every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life,” Williams said after her loss. “As much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not. I try to. But, you know, I do the best that I can.»

All this means for the 2016 season is that we won’t get the same «will she or won’t she» narrative that pursued Serena Williams in 2015; no, Williams will not win all four Grand Slams this year. This loss against Kerber still may be her lone Grand Slam loss in 2016; it’ll have just happened (way) earlier than in 2015.

Why this loss is so surprising is that it’s so rare for Williams to 1) lose in the Grand Slams and 2) to lose in the Grand Slam finals. Because, yes, the latter is what’s quietly been underrated with her and what’s allowed her to be on Graf’s heels: sure, she has won 21 majors but she’s managed this in only 26 finals; of her 41 career losses at major events, only five have come in the finals.

Because when she reaches the ultimate game, she tends to win the ultimate prize. “I try to win every single time I step out there, every single point, but realistically I can’t do it,» she said after her loss. «Maybe someone else can, but I wasn’t able to do it.”

This about sums it up.


Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

PODCAST: Reviewing Djokovic and Kerber’s dominance Down Under

January 31, 2016

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2016!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi return to review  the Australian Open from Melbourne.

After another dominating fortnight by Novak Djokovic and surprise winner Angie Kerber, we look at how each final was played and break down the matches. We also discuss what is needed by the “potential” challengers to disrupt Djokovic’s run to a Golden Slam in 2016.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Australian Open 2016: Recapping Djokovic’s record-equalling Aussie Open run

January 31, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

World number one Novak Djokovic claimed his sixth Australian Open on Day 14, the top seed defeating Andy Murray in straight sets to collect the eleventh Grand Slam of his career.

Day 14 Recap

Murray knew that he needed to get off to a good start to have any chance of upsetting the world number one, and when the Scot earned a break point in the first game of the match it seemed as though he was hitting the ground running. Djokovic, however, had other ideas, allowing Murray just 3 points across the following 4 games as the Serb opened up a 5-0 lead. From there, Murray was always on the back foot and he was never really able to get back into the match.

Murray avoided the dreaded bagel in the opening set but only just, the top seed claiming the set, 6-1. The second set saw the players exchange breaks of serve before the set moved towards its climax. Murray looked to be cruising on serve in the eleventh game, up 40-0, before Djokovic reeled off 5 consecutive points to record the critical break. The five-time champion then saved a break point to claim the second set, 7-5, after 80 minutes of play.

A deflated Murray slumped to a 2-0 deficit in the third set before pulling himself together and getting back to 3-all. The third set progressed to a tiebreaker, with the crowd cheering Murray on as he pushed to take the tournament to a fourth set. It was not to be, however, with a couple of double faults proving extremely costly. After 2 hours and 52 minutes, the world number one sealed the win with an ace, ultimately recording a 6-1 7-5 7-6(3) victory.

For Djokovic, it was a record-equalling win, as the Serb tied Roy Emerson with 6 Australian Open crowns, and moved up alongside Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg as a holder of 11 Grand Slams. He’s unquestionably the best player in the world right now, and at present it takes a near-flawless performance to beat him.

For Murray, it was another heartbreaking loss, the Scot’s seventh defeat in 9 Grand Slam finals. Sixty-five unforced errors indicate that the second seed was probably too aggressive in trying to dictate play against the Serb, and his weakness on serve was exposed in the third set tiebreaker as well. That said, Murray is not that far from Djokovic’s level and will be a major contender for Grand Slam titles for many years to come. And with a baby on the way, Murray will very soon have plenty of other things on his mind, which may ultimately prove to be a plus for his tennis.

That’s it for today and for my coverage of this year’s Australian Open. I hope you have enjoyed the coverage. I’ll be back with more coverage of the ATP and WTA tours later in the year. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Djokovic claims sixth Australian Open title over Murray

January 31, 2016

Australian Open 2016—Melbourne, Australia

World No.1 Novak Djokovic added to his Grand Slam collection on Sunday in Melbourne, defeating No. 2 seed Andy Murray 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(3) to capture his sixth Australian Open title. Needing two hours and 53 minutes to seal his victory, Djokovic hit seven aces, won 74 percent of his first serve points, 53 percent of his second serve points and totalled 41 winners against his British opponent.

Murray, who was aiming to win his third Major title, once again fell in straight sets due to his weak second serve. Winning only 35 percent on his second delivery, Murray lost his serve on five occasions throughout the three set match. Losing for the fifth time in the Australian Open final, Murray will stay at No. 2 in the world when the latest rankings are released.

With the victory, Djokovic raised his career earnings to $96.9 million and is just short of Roger Federer (who he defeated in the semifinals), at $97.9 million.

Australian Open 2016 Men’s Final Preview: Djokovic vs. Murray

January 30, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Angelique Kerber is the 2016 Australian Open women’s champion, the German stunning world number one Serena Williams to claim her first Grand Slam title on Day 13 at Melbourne Park.

Today, Novak Djokovic shoots for his sixth Australian Open final, as Andy Murray looks to claim his first title in what will be his fifth final. Read on to get my predictions for the men’s final.

Day 13 Recap

Playing in her first ever major final, the seventh seeded Kerber showed no signs of nerves, registering an early break of serve. Whilst Williams broke back soon after, it was apparent that the American was somewhat tense as she looked to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

With Kerber showing exemplary court coverage and with unforced errors flying off the Williams racquet, the German edged ahead, taking the first set, 6-4. Kerber enjoyed plenty of crowd support, with spectators perhaps sensing they were witnessing an upset of epic proportions. But there was no doubting that Williams would fight her way back into the match, and the top seed tightened up her game in the second set, cutting down her unforced errors and connecting with more of her first serves. Williams took the second set, 6-3, to send the match, and the championship, to a deciding set.

Williams was having trouble reading the Kerber serve, and wasn’t her usual precise self at the net. The German took full advantage, winning 8 of the first 9 points of the final set. Williams broke back before Kerber went on another run, stringing 7 points together as she opened up a 5-3 lead.

The seventh seed, who had looked calm all match, finally tightened up as she served for the title, with Williams breaking back and having a chance to level the set at 5-all. But, as had been the case for much of the match, Williams couldn’t dominate on serve in the way that she so often does. Kerber claimed the break, and with it the biggest win of her life, the German collecting the title and rocketing up to number 2 in the world rankings.

For Williams, it was an unusually subdued performance and one which I’m sure she will rue, although the American was extremely gracious and sporting in defeat (which is not always the case when things don’t go the top seed’s way). For Kerber, it was a dream come true and, along with a career-high ranking, the win will give the German the confidence to push for further Grand Slam titles in the years to come.

*****

Match of the Day – Day 14

Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

Kerber’s win has to give Andy Murray hope, as it shows that no one, not even Serena Williams, is invincible. The Scot has lost all 4 of his previous Australian Open finals, 3 of them to Djokovic, but there is no sentimentality when it comes to sports.

Murray has beaten Djokovic on the big stage before, most notably in the finals when he won his Wimbledon and US Open titles, but Djokovic has improved his tennis since then and is on a different level right now. To put it in focus, Murray has won just one of his last 11 matches against the world number one. That said, Murray did beat Djokovic on hard-courts in Montreal last year, and last year’s Australian Open final was very close for the first 3 sets before Murray lost concentration and Djokovic ran away with the match.

Djokovic has won 70 percent of his career matches against Murray, and owns 5 Australian Open crowns, so it is clear that Murray needs to play his very best tennis in order to prevail. Djokovic does everything so well that Murray needs to stay calm and seize his chances, and not castigate himself when things don’t go his way.

The biggest key to the match in my mind is Murray’s second serve, which can get very shaky at times. If Murray doesn’t execute well on serve, particularly on his second serve, then Djokovic will constantly attack the Murray service games and that will ultimately take its toll on the second seed.

A victory for Murray would represent an extremely well-earned Australian Open title, and break up the dominance of Djokovic but, as noted above, there is no sentimentality in sports, and so the head says to go with Djokovic, who is unquestionably the best player in the sport right now. Djokovic in 4.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow to recap the men’s final. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Kerber stuns Serena to win Australian Open

January 30, 2016

Australian Open 2016—Melbourne, Australia

No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber pulled off a major upset on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia, capturing her first-ever Grand Slam title after dismissing top seed Serena Willliams, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

In a match that took two hours and eight minutes to complete, Kerber used her attacking style of tennis to hit 25 winners to only 13 unforced errors. After winning the first set on the strength of two breaks of serve, the German found herself at one set all after the top ranked American fought back to force a deciding set. Needing all of her guile and court craft in the end, Kerber used extreme angles and few drop shots to increase her lead to 5-2 in the final set. Not to be outdone, Williams clawed back like only she knows how to 4-5, but the 10th game of the final set proved to be the last as the 21-time Grand Slam winner overhit a volley to end her tournament.

For Kerber, she becomes the first German woman to win a Major title since Steffi Graf in 1999. The 28-year-old from Bremen, Germany will also move up to No. 2 in the world after her performance Down Under.

Williams, who was attempting to win her 22nd career Major and tie Steffi Graf’s mark, will now have to wait until the French Open in May to equal the great German’s record.

Australian Open 2016 Day 13 Preview: Heartbreak for Milos and record-breaking for Serena

January 29, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Andy Murray will play Novak Djokovic in the men’s final on Sunday night, after the Scot came back from 2 sets to one down to defeat Milos Raonic in a titanic 4 hour semi-final on Day 12.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Serena Williams on Day 13 as the American looks to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slams in the women’s singles final against Angelique Kerber. See below for my preview of the final.

Day 12 Recap

Raonic made his intentions known from the very first game of the semi-final, breaking Murray to love and then saving 3 break points in his initial service game. Owning one of the biggest serves in the sport, Raonic maintained his advantage and claimed the first set, 6-4.

The second set saw games go with serve until the twelfth game of the set, with Murray seizing on a a couple of errors by the Canadian to level the match at a set apiece. The third set saw Raonic once again take the lead, the thirteenth seed playing a superb tiebreaker to get within a set of the final.

A late break in the fourth set gave Murray the set, 6-4, as the players proceeded to a deciding fifth set. A medical timeout by Raonic before the start of the set indicated that the Canadian was flagging, and it was soon apparent that a leg injury was affecting his play. Murray took full advantage, moving his opponent around the court and going up a double break before sealing the match, 4-6 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2.

*****

Match of the Day – Day 13

Serena Williams vs. Angelique Kerber

Williams enters her twenty-sixth Grand Slam final chasing major number 22 and is up against a player making her first appearance in a major final. After getting through a testing first round encounter against Camila Giorgi, Williams has swept all before her since, dropping just 17 games in her last 5 matches.

After saving match point against Misaki Doi in the opening round, Kerber has been playing aggressive tennis without fear at Melbourne Park, with her quarter-final win over Azarenka underling her championship credentials. The leftie has beaten Williams just once in 6 career meetings and, whilst that win was back in 2012, the very fact that Kerber has beaten Williams will boost the German’s chances. Important, also, is the fact that the last match between this pair was a year and a half ago; Kerber has become a far more confident and consistent player in the last 12 months.

Kerber has the shotmaking ability to defeat Williams, if the German can handle the occasion, stay calm and is able to keep the points short and go for her shots. That said, Williams looks to be in imposing form and has to enter the match as the warm favourite. After her shock defeat to Roberta Vinci at Flushing Meadows last year, the American will be desperate to start 2016 by claiming the year’s first Grand Slam, and I will back Williams to pull away in the second set after a tight opening stanza. Williams in 2.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Australian Open 2016 Day 12 Preview: Murray vs. Raonic

January 28, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Novak Djokovic underlined his status as the world’s best player in the night session on Day 11, the world number one producing some sublime tennis to defeat Roger Federer and progress to yet another Australian Open final.

Day 11 Recap

Federer and Djokovic had split 44 previous matches, but in the first couple of sets of their semi-final the gulf between the players was significant. Djokovic played near-flawless tennis, producing just 6 unforced errors and dropping just 3 games as he claimed a 2 sets to love lead after just 54 minutes.

Federer’s pride was clearly wounded, and the Swiss star lifted his game in the third set, much to the delight of the capacity crowd on Rod Laver Arena. The third seed collected the third set, 6-3, and had the spectators on their feet after a brilliant running backhand in the eighth game of the fourth set. But Djokovic managed to earn the break in that eighth game and then held serve to love to wrap up the win in 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Earlier in the day, top seed Serena Williams moved through to her seventh Australian Open final with a dominant display against Agnieszka Radwanksa. The American blanketed her Polish opponent in the opening set, smacking 18 winners and not conceding a game.

Williams went up a break in the second set before Radwanska found her groove, finally earning a break to level the set at 3 games apiece. But the fourth seed’s charge was short-lived, Williams hitting winner number 42 for the match to record a 6-0 6-4 win in 64 minutes.

Williams will play Grand Slam final debutant Angelique Kerber in Saturday’s championship decider, after the German defeated Johanna Konta in straight sets in their semi-final. Konta, playing in her first major semi-final, was evidently nervous in the opening stages of the match, quickly falling behind 0-3 before rallying to level at 3-all.

Kerber managed to get herself out of trouble on serve a couple of times in the latter stages of the opening set before pouncing in the twelfth game, breaking Konta to take the set, 7-5. From there, the German’s charge gained momentum, as Konta’s unforced error count continued to mount. In the end, Kerber emerged victorious 7-5 6-2 after one hour and 22 minutes.

Match of the Day – Day 12

Andy Murray vs. Milos Raonic

It’s been a testing couple of weeks for Andy Murray. The Scot entered the tournament knowing that wife Kim Sears was heavily pregnant and could give birth at any time, and then Kim’s father Nigel Sears collapsed when watching his charge Ana Ivanovic compete against Madison Keys.

Despite all of the drama, Murray has managed to stay on track in the tournament and is now just one win away from his fifth final at Melbourne Park. The second seed loves the conditions in Australia and if it weren’t for the dominance of Djokovic at the Australian Open, it would probably go down as the Scot’s most successful major.

Murray faces a stern test today against a player who is almost certainly in the best form of his life. Raonic has swept all before him in 2016 to date, defeating Federer to win the title in Brisbane and now making his second Grand Slam semi-final. Raonic says he has learned from his 2014 Wimbledon semi-final appearance, where he lost to Roger Federer in straight sets, and seems determined to make more of this opportunity.

This pair has split the 6 matches they have played to date, although Murray has won the last couple of encounters. Much is made of Raonic’s big serve, but I think it has been the improvements in his backhand and return of serve, plus just getting back to full health, which have propelled the Canadian’s resurgence in the last few months. I’ll take Murray to get the win, based on his experience and the conditions at Melbourne Park, but I expect this one to be tight. Murray in 5.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Australian Open 2016 Day 11 Preview: Djokovic, Federer and Serena in action

January 27, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

It’s women’s semi-finals day at Melbourne Park on Day 11, with a mixture of familiar faces and surprise names making up the final four in the women’s tournament.  Then, in the night session, superstars Federer and Djokovic play off in the first of the men’s semi-finals.

Day 10 Recap

Former world number one and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka had been in red-hot form at Melbourne Park going into her quarter-final against Angelique Kerber, but that form counted for little when they pair played on Day 10. The German turned the tables on Azarenka with a 6-3 7-5 win, the seventh seed coming back from 2-5 down in the second set to collect the win and reach the third Grand Slam semi-final of her career.

Kerber will play unseeded Brit Johanna Konta for a place in Saturday night’s final, after the 24 year old put an end to the fairytale run of China’s Shuai Zhang. After winning three matches in qualifying and another four in the main draw, Zhang finally ran out of steam, claiming just five games for the match as Konta collected a 6-4 6-1 victory.

In the men’s tournament, Andy Murray reached the eighteenth Grand Slam semi-final of his career by defeating Spaniard David Ferrer in 4 sets. After splitting the first two sets, Murray was up a break in the third set when the roof on Rod Laver Arena was closed due to a storm approaching. The move seemed to help Murray, who quickly extended his third set advantage before closing out the match in the fourth set in three hours and 20 minutes.

Murray will face Canada’s Milos Raonic for a place in the men’s final, after the thirteenth seed defeating Gael Monfils in 4 sets to advance to his first Australian Open semi-final. The flamboyant Frenchman had struck back after dropping the first set, Monfils claiming the second set to level the match at a set apiece. Raonic, however, claimed an early break in the third set to regain the advantage and rode his big serve all the way to victory in the fourth set, eventually wrapping up the win in two hours and 17 minutes.

Matches of the Day – Day 11

1. Serena Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska

With major rival Azarenka having been knocked out of the tournament and Williams having worked her way into form, I think the American is now an overwhelming favourite to lift the trophy at Melbourne Park yet again.

Radwanska has done a tremendous turnaround job since midway through 2015, and if Williams is having an off day or is feeling sluggish, the Pole definitely has the ability to move the top seed around the court and get her off balance. That said, I think Williams will be all over the Radwanska second serve and will be simply too powerful for the Pole in this one. Williams in 2.

2. Angelique Kerber vs. Johanna Konta

A year ago Konta lost in the opening round of the qualifying tournament at Melbourne Park; 12 months later she is the first British female since 1977 to make the semi-finals. Konta doesn’t seem to be intimidated by anyone on the WTA Tour but equally was able to handle the pressure of being the favourite in her quarter-final against Zhang.

Kerber turned in a terrific performance against Azarenka, the German sticking to an aggressive game plan throughout the match and ultimately beating the Belarusian at her own game. I think Kerber deserves to make a major final and this looks to be her golden opportunity, although Konta will no doubt make the German earn it. Kerber in 3.

3. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic

After a decade or so of competing against each other on the ATP Tour, these two legends of the sport enter career meeting number 45 each having collected 22 wins. If Djokovic is able to beat Federer, he will hold a winning record against each other member of the so-called “Big Four” – a most impressive achievement and a statistic which, if it holds for the remainder of his career, may support his claims to be the greatest of all time in due course.

After so many previous meetings, these players know each other’s game inside out and the outcome tonight will depend on who executes best on the day. Federer has been getting close to Djokovic in recent Grand Slams, but the Serb always seems to lift his game just enough to seal the win. A superb serving effort is critical for Federer, but unless he exhibits his very best form then I like the world number one in this clash. Whatever the result, it is sure to make for compelling viewing. Djokovic in 4.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Australian Open 2016 Day 10 Preview: It’s Raonic’s time

January 26, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer set up a blockbuster semi-final showdown by claiming decisive wins on Day 9.

Day 9 Recap

Top seed Djokovic bounced back from a sluggish performance against Gilles Simon in the fourth round, dismissing Japanese star Kei Nishikori in straight sets in the night session on Rod Laver Arena. Federer was no less impressive, scoring a 3 set win over Czech seed Tomas Berdych.

Earlier in the day, top seed Serena Williams overcame some first set wobbles to defeat Maria Sharapova and extend her winning run over the Russian. Williams will play Agniezska Radwanksa for a place in Saturday’s final after the Pole defeated Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in their quarter-final showdown.

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 10

1. Gael Monfils vs. Milos Raonic

Gael Monfils has won both of his previous clashes against Milos Raonic, but the last of these matches took place in 2013, and the Canadian has improved significantly since then. Raonic is in arguably the best form of his career, having beaten Federer to win the title in Brisbane and then overcoming Wawrinka to make the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.

The mercurial Monfils is capable of anything, although a nasty fall he took against Kuznetsov in the fourth round may hinder him in this clash. I’ll back the thirteenth seed to keep his impressive run of form going today. Raonic in 4.

2. David Ferrer vs. Andy Murray

Andy Murray managed to put aside the drama and emotion associated with father-in-law Nigel Sear’s collapse in the stands the other day to defeat Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the fourth round and make his way into yet another Australian Open quarter-final.

Murray looked drained against Tomic and wasn’t at his best, but that is understandable in the circumstances and I think the Scot will be much better today. Ferrer is always a testing opponent but Murray is the better shotmaker. Murray in 4.

3. Angelique Kerber vs. Victoria Azarenka

Putting aside one walkover, Kerber has never beaten Azarenka in six previous clashes and the German claimed just 4 games against the former world number one when they squared off in the final in Brisbane earlier this month.

Kerber has been a model of consistency on the WTA Tour in the last 12 months, but Azarenka looks to be back to her best, which means that the Belarusian is a major contender for Grand Slams and one of the few players capable to standing toe-to-toe with Serena Williams. I think Azarenka will be tested more in this match than in her previous matches at the tournament, but I’ll back her to ultimately prevail. Azarenka in 3.

4. Johanna Konta vs. Shuai Zhang

Nobody would have predicted it at the start of the tournament, but unseeded Johanna Konta and qualifer Shuai Zhang will be battling it out today for a place in the semi-finals of the women’s tournament.

Zhang got a bit lucky when Keys was injured in their fourth round clash, but the Chinese player still had to get the job done, which she did successfully. Konta may well be drained from her long win over Makarova and so I’m leaning towards Zhang in this one. Head to head meetings are tied at one apiece, and I’m sure this one will be close. Zhang in 3.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

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