US Open 2015: Raonic and Verdasco go toe-to-toe

September 2, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Roger Federer underlined his credentials for a sixth US Open title on Day 2, the Swiss star demolishing Leonardo Mayer in straight sets in one hour and 17 minutes.

Day 2 Recap

Second seed Federer was lucky to escape defeat against Mayer in Shanghai last year, but their battle in New York was a different story, with Federer dominating from the outset and dropping just five games for the entire match. Andy Murray dropped his first ever set against wild child Nick Kyrgios but ultimately progressed in 4 sets, whilst there were wins on Day 2 for seeds Isner, Wawrinka and Berdych.

Teenager Frances Tiafoe was defeated but far from disgraced against Viktor Troicki, whilst Richard Gasquet survived a scare from Thanasi Kokkinakis to progress to round 2. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez overcame Janko Tipsarevic in 5 sets, as Bernard Tomic set up a second round clash with veteran compatriot Lleyton Hewitt. Gilles Simon was the biggest casualty in the men’s draw on Day 2, the French seed squandering a 2 sets to love lead against American Donald Young, who made a startling comeback much to the delight of the New York crowd.

In the women’s tournament, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova all recorded commanding straight sets victories. Simona Halep also advanced to the second round, courtesy of a second set retirement by Marina Erakovic, whilst other winners on Day 2 included Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza and German Angelique Kerber. Flavia Pennetta and Andrea Petkovic were both forced to 3 sets but ultimately prevailed, but there was no such luck for French Open finalist Lucie Safarova. The Czech seed exited the tournament on Day 2, alongside fellow seeds Alize Cornet and Timea Bacsinszky.

Matches of the Day – Day 3

1. Milos Raonic vs. Fernando Verdasco

Veteran Fernando Verdasco is playing in his thirteenth US Open and is a two-time quarter-finalist at Flushing Meadows. The former top 10 player is still capable of producing top-level tennis, as he showed with a win over countryman Nadal in Miami earlier this year. Verdasco outlasted fellow veteran Tommy Haas in 5 sets on Day 1, and I think that win will have taken a lot out of the Spaniard.

Tenth seed Milos Raonic has made the round of 16 in New York the last three years, and I’m sure the Canadian will be looking to go further in the tournament this time around. As usual, the match will largely revolve around how well Raonic serves. If Raonic can serve well and keep Verdasco’s killer forehand away from his weaker backhand wing, I think he will progress to the round of 32. Raonic in 4.

2. Mardy Fish vs. Feliciano Lopez

American veteran Mardy Fish is playing in his last US Open and provided the New York fans with plenty to cheer about on Day 1 with a win over the Italian Cecchinato. A former US Open quarter-finalist, Fish is still capable of matching it with the best despite having barely played in the last few seasons as a result of his well-documented health problems.

Lopez isn’t having quite as good a season as last year, but the Spaniard achieved a career high ranking of 12 earlier this year and remains inside the world’s top 20. I think his far greater match fitness will ultimately give him the edge in this clash, but look for Fish to give it his absolute all and for the crowd to soak up every minute of it. Lopez in 5.

3. Eugenie Bouchard vs. Polona Hercog

After losing her opening round matches at the French Open and Wimbledon earlier this year, Eugenie Bouchard gained a welcome confidence boost with a first round win over American Alison Riske on Monday. Bouchard has dropped from world number 5 to world number 25 courtesy of her poor 2015 season but, with Jimmy Connors now guiding her in an informal capacity, the Canadian will be looking to salvage something of the season in the year’s final major.

Hercog is a steady and experienced player but this is exactly the sort of match that Bouchard should win. The Slovenian is ranked 64 in the world and, if Bouchard is playing with the confidence and aggression that defined her 2014 season, I can’t see Hercog causing too many problems for the Canadian. Bouchard in 2.

4. Marin Cilic vs. Evgeny Donskoy

Last year’s shock winner of the US Open men’s singles event has had an injury-interrupted season in 2015, but don’t be surprised if Marin Cilic makes another strong run at Flushing Meadows this year. The ninth seed made the semi-finals in Washington DC in the lead-up to the US Open and the fast-paced, bouncy courts at Flushing Meadows suit the Croat’s game to a tee. If he gets his serve functioning as well as it was in New York last year, he’ll be very difficult to beat.

Donskoy made surprise third round appearances at the Australian Open and the US Open in 2013, but has failed to win a Grand Slam main draw match since his run to the round of 32 in New York in 2013. Currently languishing outside the world’s top 100, I can’t see the Russian putting up much of a fight in this one. Cilic in 3.

5. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Mikhail Kukushkin

There has been plenty of off-court drama for Grigor Dimitrov since Wimbledon, with the Bulgarian seed splitting with high-profile Australian coach Roger Rasheed after Wimbledon this year, being linked with Ivan Lendl (who has apparently turned down an offer to coach Dimitrov) and recently ending his relationship with WTA Tour superstar Maria Sharapova.

With all of these changes occurring, I suspect Dimitrov will be firmly focused on producing his best tennis and ensuring that the headlines are once again related to his formidable tennis playing abilities. Kukushkin is a hard-working professional but the Kazakh doesn’t possess the firepower or the shot-making artistry of his opponent today. Dimitrov in 3.

Put your house on: Novak Djokovic. Given the hot and humid conditions in New York at present, the top seed will be looking to spend as little time on court as possible against Austria’s Andreas Haider-Maurer.

Upset alert: Big-serving Aussie Sam Groth has a good chance at upsetting veteran Spanish seed Tommy Robredo in their second round clash today.

Likely to go the distance: I expect that Slovakia’s Martin Klizan will push French seed Jeremy Chardy all the way when the pair meet at Flushing Meadows today.

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

US Open 2015: Day 2 preview featuring Federer, Murray and Kyrgios

September 1, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Last year’s finalist Kei Nishikori crashed out of this year’s tournament on Day 1, the fourth seed squandering a pair of match points before succumbing to the enigmatic Frenchman Benoit Paire in 5 sets.

Day 1 Recap

One of the dark horses for the title coming into the tournament, Nishikori was unable to clear the first hurdle as Paire showcased his undoubted talent and rode his luck to secure victory. There was no such trouble for top seed Novak Djokovic, who dropped just three games in progressing to the second round. He was joined by two-time champion Rafael Nadal, a winner in 4 sets over Borna Coric, defending champion Marin Cilic and former semi-finalist David Ferrer.

Gael Monfils was forced to retire with an apparent elbow injury on Day 1, but there was better news for fellow seeds Chardy, Dimitrov, Raonic and Tsonga, all of whom advanced to round 2. Veteran Mardy Fish, competing in his final US Open, scored an opening round win, as did Fernando Verdasco, who outlasted another veteran in Tommy Haas in 5 sets.

In the women’s tournament, Serena Williams is now just six wins away from completing the calendar Grand Slam after her first round opponent Vitalia Diatchenko retired midway through their match. Serena’s sister Venus also advanced, albeit in far tougher fashion, overcoming a stubborn Monica Puig in 3 sets. Former world number one Ana Ivanovic was the highest-profile women’s casualty on Day 1, going down to former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in 3 sets.

Ivanovic was joined on the sidelines by fellow seeds Pliskova, Jankovic, Suarez Navarro and Kuznetsova. Amongst the seeds to avoid defeat on Day 1 were rising stars Belinda Bencic and Madison Keys, Eugenie Bouchard (who secured a much-needed confidence boost with her opening round win) and former Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska.

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 2

1. Andy Murray vs. Nick Kyrgios

This much-hyped match between former champion and third seed Andy Murray and Australia’s brash young talent, Nick Kyrgios, has been duly given top billing on Day 2, scheduled for the prime 7pm evening slot on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Kyrgios is unquestionably a huge talent, as his wins over Federer and Nadal highlight, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep his emotions in check and ultimately fulfil his potential.

In three previous meetings with Kyrgios, including clashes at Melbourne Park and Roland Garros earlier this year, Murray has yet to drop a set. I expect Kyrgios to do marginally better on this occasion, perhaps pinching a set off the Scot, but the reality is that Murray’s tremendous defensive abilities usually leave Kyrgios at a complete loss when it comes to finishing off points. Murray in 4.

2. Roger Federer vs. Leonardo Mayer

Narrowly missing out on a seeding and having squandered five match points against Federer in Shanghai last year, Mayer is certainly no pushover for the Swiss star as he commences his quest for a sixth US Open title. Federer was in stunning form in claiming a seventh title in Cincinnati just over a week ago, serving and returning extremely well, hitting his volleys with precision and exhibiting plenty of confidence off his preferred forehand wing.

Mayer has nothing to lose in this one, and his efforts against Federer in Shanghai last year will give him confidence going into this clash. But no one is as clinical in the opening rounds of Grand Slams as Federer, and I think he’ll pull away with relative ease after a tight first set. Federer in 3.

3. Gilles Simon vs. Donald Young

Eleventh seed Gilles Simon will be battling Donald Young and a parochial New York crowd in the opening round today. Young made it through to the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows in 2011, but the American hasn’t had much joy at the venue since, winning just one match since that run to the fourth round.

Simon, to my mind, will simply be too solid, too crafty and too quick for the somewhat erratic Young in this encounter. The Frenchman did well to make it through to the quarter-finals of Wimbledon earlier this year, and I think he has the ability to make it through to the second week of action in New York this year. Simon in 4.

4. Viktor Troicki vs. Frances Tiafoe

The eyes of many astute tennis observers will be focused on Court 11 when this match gets underway. Serbian seed Viktor Troicki is up against American teenager Frances Tiafoe who, at 15, was the youngest ever boys’ singles champion at the prestigious Orange Bowl. Tiafoe’s rags to near-riches story involves his parents leaving Sierra Leone for America and his father then working at a tennis centre in Maryland where a young Frances was able to hone his talents.

Whilst Tiafoe gained Grand Slam main draw experience in Paris earlier this year, and notched his first ATP Tour win at the Winston-Salem Open last month, I don’t expect the 17 year old to have the nous to be able to truly challenge an experienced professional such as Troicki just yet. That said, Tiafoe has an abundance of talent, and it will be fascinating to see how the teenager fares today. Troicki in 3.

5. Jack Sock vs. Victor Estrella Burgos

The Dominican Republic has little tennis history to speak of, but Victor Estrella Burgos has put the tiny nation on the tennis map in recent times, making it through to the round of 32 in New York last year and becoming the first male from his country to be ranked in the world’s top 100. The 35 year old won his first title in Quito earlier this year, and will be looking to make another solid run at Flushing Meadows this year.

Rising star Sock has the benefit of a seeding at this year’s US Open, and the American will be looking to improve on his impressive fourth round showing in Paris earlier this year. Sock is at a career-high 28 in the world rankings at present and, with the home crowd cheering him on, I think he can do well in New York this year. Sock in 5.

Put your house on: Tomas Berdych. The sixth seed and former Wimbledon finalist will be far too good for US Open debutant Bjorn Fratangelo today.

Upset alert: There are a few upsets looming today, in my view. Look for Kokkinakis to trouble Gasquet and for Tipsarevic to cause problems for Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Rising star Alexander Zverev could oust his German compatriot Philipp Kohlschreiber, whilst I’m backing Julia Goerges to upset Slovakian seed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

Likely to go the distance: Pencil in a grueling 5-setter in the all-American clash between veteran Rajeev Ram, who won the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships for the second time earlier this year, and former prodigy Ryan Harrison.

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

US Open 2015: Men’s and women’s draw preview and anaylsis

August 30, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

It’s summer in New York, which means it’s time for the final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open from Flushing Meadows. Welcome to a fortnight of daily coverage of all the action. Today sees me set out my respective predictions for the men’s and women’s tournaments, along with my previews of the best matches taking place on Monday.

Tournament Predictions

Men’s Singles

World number one Novak Djokovic enters the year’s final major as the firm favourite, having already claimed two of the year’s first three Grand Slams. However, in recent weeks the Serb has shown he is human, going down to Andy Murray in the Montreal final and to Roger Federer in the Cincinnati final. To my mind, the Serb is trying to avoid peaking too early, unlike last year when an exhausted Djokovic was outhustled by Kei Nishikori in a warm and windy semi-final at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic is scheduled to face great rival Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals and Nishikori in the semi-finals. I think Nadal isn’t confident enough right now to challenge the top seed, and I expect Djokovic will relish turning the tables on Nishikori if they do end up squaring off in the semi-finals once again.

In the bottom half of the draw, I expect Roger Federer’s renaissance will continue. After Wimbledon, New York represents his best chance to win another major and, with all facets of his game working extremely well right now, I think he will be too good for likely opponent Berdych in the quarter-finals. Andy Murray should progress past Stan Wawrinka and into another US Open semi-final, but if the Swiss star serves as well as he did in Cincinnati, then I think Federer will be too strong for the Scot.

Champion: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Roger Federer

Semi-finalists: Murray, Nishikori

*****

Women’s Singles

Serena Williams’ biggest opponents right now are the history books. The American superstar has won the last three US Opens and the last four Grand Slams, and is now just seven wins away from completing the first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf achieved the feat in 1988.

There are some dangerous players lurking in Williams’ quarter of the draw, including Sloane Stephens, Williams’ sister Venus, rising star Madison Keys and young Swiss star Belinda Bencic. But I can’t see any of them beating Serena in New York unless the top seed totally loses her way or is troubled by the elbow ailment that has affected her at various points during the year. I expect former champion Maria Sharapova to make her way through to the semi-finals but, as so often is the case for the Russian, her quest for the championship will most likely be thwarted by Williams.

In the bottom half of the draw, former finalists Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka are among the biggest contenders, along with 2011 champion Sam Stosur and Germans Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber. Azarenka is still working her way back to top form, but she loves the fast-bouncing courts at Flushing Meadows and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the twentieth seed make a spirited run through to the women’s final.

Champion: Serena Williams

Finalist: Victoria Azarenka

Semi-finalists: Sharapova, Wozniacki

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 1

1. Dominika Cibulkova vs. Ana Ivanovic

This should be a particularly good contest, pitting the former French Open champion and world number one Ana Ivanovic against the plucky Slovak, Dominika Cibulkova. Ivanovic is the better-known and more high-profile of the players but, as far as opening round contests go, this is a tough test for the Serbian star, with Cibulkova being a former Australian Open finalist and top 10 player.

Cibulkova has had an injury-interrupted season and now languishes at number 58 in the world rankings, but if she can stay injury-free then I don’t think it will be long before she reclaims a spot in the world’s top 20. I’ll back the seventh seeded Ivanovic to ultimately prevail, but not without having to work extremely hard. Ivanovic in 3.

2. Borna Coric vs. Rafael Nadal

He might be just 18 years of age, but Borna Coric has already beaten the likes of Murray and Nadal and has rocketed up the rankings in the last twelve months. The US Open boys’ singles champion in 2013, Coric has a formidable backcourt game that has drawn comparisons with Novak Djokovic’s brand of baseline tennis.

Coric upset Nadal in Basel last year, triggering a premature conclusion to Nadal’s 2014 season. The Spaniard won’t be taking Coric lightly as a result and, whilst Nadal will be desperate to avenge the loss in Basel, he knows that Coric has the requisite self-belief to claim victory. Nadal is still a decent way from his best tennis, but I think he will rise to the occasion and overpower Coric in this one. Nadal in 4.

3. Kei Nishikori vs. Benoit Paire

Nishikori had a breakout Grand Slam performance last year, making last year’s US Open final after defeating world number one Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. Having now seen Djokovic conquer almost all before him since that loss to Nishikori, it makes one realise just what a fine performance it was from the Japanese star.

Nishikori couldn’t finish it off in the final in New York last year, going down to a red-hot Marin Cilic, but I think Nishikori is again among the top few contenders at Flushing Meadows this year. He will need to be switched-on against the dangerous Paire, a volatile Frenchman who is usually too erratic and temperamental for his own good, but who possesses an abundance of talent and a natural flair for the game. Look for Paire to show flashes of brilliance but for Nishikori to ultimately be too solid. Nishikori in 4.

4. Maria Sharapova vs. Daria Gavrilova

Naturalised Aussie Daria Gavrilova is playing in her first US Open, but don’t expect the youngster to be overawed by the occasion. Gavrilova upset her idol Sharapova in Miami earlier this year and, whilst the five-time major winner subsequently turned the tables with a straight sets win on clay in Rome later in the year, Gavrilova’s hard-courts victory will give her confidence going into this clash.

The fact that Sharapova hasn’t played a competitive match since going down to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals, in part due to a niggling leg complaint, also gives Gavrilova hope, as Sharapova will likely be rusty given her lack of match practice. That said, I think the Russian will be too composed on the big points for her younger opponent. Sharapova in 3.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jarkko Nieminen

Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen is retiring at the end of the year, and I’m sure the former top 20 player will want to finish on a high note in his last Grand Slam. The Finn showed that the competitive fire still burns within by outlasting fellow veteran Lleyton Hewitt in a long 5-setter at Wimbledon earlier this year, and I think the leftie will make life difficult for French seed Tsonga in this match.

The flamboyant Frenchman is always unpredictable and so far this year has mixed in some decidedly poor performances with a breath-taking run to the semi-finals in Paris. I think he will have enough firepower to see off a gallant Nieminen, but as far as the rest of the tournament is concerned, Tsonga’s chances are anyone’s guess. Tsonga in 4.

Put your house on: Serena Williams. If the American superstar fails in her quest to complete the calendar Grand Slam, it won’t be at the opening hurdle and it won’t happen against little-known Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.

Upset alert: Eugenie Bouchard now has former superstar Jimmy Connors assisting her in an informal capacity, but I don’t think that guarantees any immediate improvement in her form. It’s been a disastrous year to date for the Canadian, so watch for American Alison Riske to push Bouchard all the way in this one.

Likely to go the distance: Pencil in a long 3-setter in the all-American clash between twenty-ninth seed Sloane Stephens, who always seems to bring out her best tennis in the majors, and Coco Vandeweghe, who made it through to the quarter-finals at the All England Club earlier this year.

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

I-Formation August 2015: Don’t Worry, TA – The Kids Are OK!

August 5, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

In March this year, I wrote of Australia’s re-emergence on the world tennis scene after a decade or so in the wilderness. Since then, Australian tennis has seemingly been in a perpetual state of drama, with young firebrand Nick Kyrgios facing allegations of tanking (and a barrage of resultant abuse from Aussie swimming legend Dawn Fraser), the mercurial Bernard Tomic involved a slanging match with Tennis Australia (“TA“) and Pat Rafter (which saw Tomic ruled ineligible for the country’s Davis Cup quarter-final against Kazakhstan) and veteran Lleyton Hewitt leading the Davis Cup team (sans Tomic) to a miraculous comeback victory over the Kazakhs which secured a semi-final showdown with Andy Murray’s Great Britain.

So what to make of all the pandemonium? Well, to my mind, Australian tennis is looking far healthier than it has in a long time, and I don’t think the Kyrgios and Tomic incidents referred to above are particularly damaging (even if they have been cannily transformed into headlines by an ever-hungry media).

Let’s have a closer look at the incidents one by one. In the case of Kyrgios at Wimbledon, let’s not forget the bigger picture: a year after stunning Rafael Nadal (and the rest of the tennis world) at the All England Club and making the Wimbledon quarter-finals as a teenager, the 20 year old returned to London and made it through to the fourth round, beating seventh seed and 2014 semi-finalist Milos Raonic en route. In the round of 16, Kyrgios lost to Richard Gasquet, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, in a fourth set tiebreaker. Gasquet went on to beat French Open champion Stan Wawrinka and reach the semi-finals once more, his run only stopped by eventual champion Novak Djokovic.

Very often, a young player who makes a startling run at a big tournament when he has nothing to lose has an extremely difficult time backing it up the following year. Unlike the first time around, the following year sees him identified as a marked man, and the weight of expectation replaces the previous year’s carefree attitude. In my opinion, Kyrgios did incredibly well to follow his 2014 Wimbledon performance with a run to the fourth run (as an aside, he also backed up his 2014 Wimbledon performance with a brilliant run to the Australian Open quarter-finals).

As for the allegations of tanking in the second set against Gasquet, these are about as idiotic as allegations come. The fact that Kyrgios went on to win the third set and narrowly lose the fourth set (and with it, the match) shows that he was still fixated on winning the match, although going forward he would be wise to vent his frustrations in ways which don’t include easily conceding service games. On this issue, as with many other issues in tennis, Roger Federer is the voice of reason and common sense. This was his take on the tanking saga:

“A game where a guy serves well, is that tanking, too? It’s like … a boxer when he puts his hands down, is that tanking? Then he swings freely again. I think we shouldn’t dig too deep into those kinds of things. If you told me he did an entire set, plus more, plus this, I’d say, ‘OK, it’s a bit much probably.’

But I just watched the end of the third and the end of the fourth. He was fighting then. He was really wanting to win and he should have been in the fifth at the end. So in my opinion, it was a great match and it was close…

So one game to me is part of tactics, as well, sometimes to throw the other guy off. Maybe yourself, you can be frustrated and just not feel like it for a couple of points.”

Moving on to Tomic, his feud with TA largely stems from a belief within the Tomic camp that his sister Sara, also a professional tennis player, has received insufficient support from TA over the years. Whatever one’s views on that point (and it is hard to come to a conclusion without knowing all of the facts), Tomic’s stinging attack on TA had immediate repercussions, with the 22 year old being suspended for the Davis Cup clash with Kazakhstan. To make matters worse, Tomic was then charged with resisting arrest in Miami after an altercation over noise levels in his hotel suite.

Tomic has responded to the furore in the best possible way, last week defending his title in Bogota with a hard-fought win over Adrian Mannarino in the final. Tomic improved to 30-17 on the year with the win, and is finally exhibiting a level of consistency commensurate with his undeniable talent. With Tomic holding a superb 14-2 record in Davis Cup singles play, the pressure is on TA to resolve the rift with Tomic for the good of the sport in Australia and for the benefit of the Australian Davis Cup team.

Speaking of the Australian Davis Cup team, the first day of action in Darwin last month saw the Aussies thoroughly outplayed by a spirited and cohesive Kazakh team. Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis both wilted under pressure, but Australian captain Wally Masur refused to concede defeat and a victory in the doubles gave Australia a chance going into the final day. Big-serving Sam Groth scored a tremendous win over Mikhail Kukushkin in the fourth rubber, setting the scene for Lleyton Hewitt, Australia’s winningest Davis Cup competitor of all time, to seal the comeback with a win over Aleksandr Nedovyesov.

So, despite all of the controversy, Australia currently has 6 players in the world’s top 100 (4 of whom are 23 or younger) and is back in the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2006. I don’t know about you, but to my mind that reflects a turnaround story worthy of a few positive headlines to offset the recent flurry of negative headlines surrounding Australian tennis.

That’s it for now. Enjoy the North American hard-courts swing and I’ll be back with another serve before the US Open begins. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Wimbledon 2015: Tournament Wrap Up

July 13, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Novak Djokovic is the 2015 Wimbledon men’s singles champion, the Serb downing Roger Federer in 4 sets to claim the third Wimbledon crown of his career and his ninth Grand Slam title overall.

Day 13 Recap

After stunning Andy Murray with a sensational serving display on Friday, Roger Federer came roaring out of the blocks on Sunday, breaking top seed Djokovic to establish a 4-2 lead. But the Swiss star lost serve to hand the break straight back, and then squandered a couple of set points on the Djokovic serve. Those missed opportunities came back to haunt Federer when the first set progressed to a tiebreaker, with world number one Djokovic completely dominating. The Serb collected the breaker for the loss of just one point, taking the set on a Federer double fault.

The second set was a role reversal of the first, with Federer the one consistently under pressure. Again, a tiebreaker was called upon the separate the players. Djokovic managed to amass a total of 7 set points but Federer refused to surrender, the 17-time major winner eventually taking the breaker 12 points to 10 to level the match at a set apiece. That sent the capacity, pro-Federer crowd on Centre Court into hysterics, but Djokovic shrugged off the loss of the second set to immediately put Federer under pressure at the start of the pivotal third set. The second seed managed to fend off a couple of break points in the opening game of the third set, but a woeful forehand in the third game saw Djokovic grab the break. From there, the Serb kept focused during a short rain delay and maintained his advantage to close out the set, 6-4, and move within a set of successfully defending his title.

The fourth set saw Djokovic continually peppering Federer’s toes with pinpoint returns, as the Swiss star struggled to recreate his serving feats of Friday. A break in the fifth game of the set put Djokovic within sight of the finish line, and he finished it off with another break in the ninth game, eventually collecting a 7-6(1) 6-7(10) 6-4 6-3 victory in 2 hours and 56 minutes. Having made just 11 unforced errors in the match against Murray, Federer’s tally of 35 unforced errors against Djokovic told the story – the 33 year old being continually required to force the play against the world’s best defender. Djokovic, meanwhile, produced his best tennis of the fortnight, spanking 46 winners against just 16 unforced errors.

For Djokovic, it was the perfect response to his shock defeat to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final 5 weeks ago, the Serb proving once again that he is undoubtedly the best player on the planet at this point in time. For Federer, it was an ultimately unsuccessful end to a very positive tournament, but if the second seed continues to play like he has over the past couple of weeks then he will keep putting himself in contention at the business end of majors for several years to come.

That’s it for the coverage of this year’s Wimbledon championships. I trust you’ve enjoyed the coverage. I’ll be back later in the year to cover the US Open, but in the meantime you can follow all of the tennis news on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Wimbledon 2015 Day 13 Men’s Final: Previewing Djokovic vs. Federer

July 12, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Serena Williams is the 2015 ladies’ singles champion, the American winning her third major of the year, a sixth Wimbledon title and the twenty-first Grand Slam of her illustrious career with a hard-fought win over Garbine Muguruza.

Today sees Roger Federer try to avenge his 5 set loss to Novak Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon final, the Swiss star looking to claim his eighth Wimbledon crown as top seeded Djokovic shoots for a third title at the All England Club. Read on for my predictions for today’s blockbuster final.

Day 12 Recap

Twenty-one year old Muguruza was playing in her maiden Grand Slam final, but the Spaniard seemed unfazed by the occasion, breaking the world number one in her opening service game as she opened up a 4-2 lead. On a sunny day in London, it took a while for Williams to warm up, as Muguruza showed that she is a star of the future with powerful hitting off both wings.

The famed Williams serve was particularly rusty as the outset, with a string of double faults indicating that even superstars feel the pressure. But the top seed avoided going down a double break and gradually lifted her first serve percentage, reeling off 4 games in a row from 4-2 down to claim the first set, 6-4.

Winning the first set seemed to settle the world number one as she stormed out to a 5-1 lead in the second set, at one stage stringing together 12 successive points. Muguruza appeared helpless to stop Williams’ quest for a sixth title in London, but the Spaniard refused to wilt, breaking to love and then breaking again as Williams tightened up in sight of the finish line and an historic victory. But, as she has done so many times in the past, Williams gathered herself and got the job done, breaking Muguruza in the tenth game to secure a 6-4 6-4 win in 83 minutes.

For Williams, the win keeps alive her hopes of a calendar Grand Slam and puts her within one title of Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 majors. Even Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams is approachable, given Williams’ dominance in recent times.

For Muguruza, it was a fantastic tournament and the Spaniard would have won a legion of new fans with her gritty performance yesterday. I’ve been saying all tournament that Muguruza is a star of the future but I think that comment needs to be clarified: Muguruza’s time is now and she will be a serious contender at all of the majors going forward.

Match of the Day – Day 13

Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer

World number one Novak Djokovic is the defending champion and has swept virtually all before him in 2015 – his only loss in Grand Slam play coming at the hands of a red-hot Stan Wawrinka in Paris. Accordingly, the Serb deserves to start this final as the favourite, despite some lingering concerns over his left shoulder that required treatment during his semi-final win over Richard Gasquet.

But there are a number of reasons for Federer fans to have legitimate hope heading in to this final. The Swiss star was in scintillating form in the semi-finals, simply outclassing an in-form Murray with an exceptional serving display. If Federer plays (and, in particular, serves) as well as he did against Murray, then he has a very good chance to win an eighteenth major title today.

After a number of warm days in London, today’s weather is much cooler and there is a chance that rain will force the tournament organisers to close the roof on Centre Court. Either way, the cooler conditions will help Federer, as they allow the ball to travel quicker and so will help the second seed finish points quicker. Against a player with the best defensive and retrieval skills in the sport, that is a significant benefit. A bit of rain will also mean that the ball skids and slides through a lot more, something that will make Federer’s slice backhand more potent and assist his forays to the net.

Finally, the match-up against Djokovic is one that Federer actually likes. Unlike against Nadal, who bullies the Federer backhand relentlessly with his monster forehand, Federer is always in the match against Djokovic, even if the Serb ultimately finds a way to win. Federer upset Djokovic in the final in Dubai earlier this year, a strong serving performance getting him over the line in fast conditions.

Overall, I think Djokovic’s 2015 form makes him a slight favourite but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Federer pull off the upset. Either way, tennis fans should be in for a treat. Djokovic in 5.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the men’s final and I will be back to wrap up the final and the tournament tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Wimbledon 2015 Day 12: Previewing Serena vs. Muguruza

July 10, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will meet in Sunday’s men’s final, a rematch of last year’s final, after the top seed dismissed Richard Gasquet and Federer turned in a vintage performance to down Andy Murray in straight sets.

Today sees Serena Williams attempt to claim her sixth Wimbledon crown against first-time Grand Slam finalist Garbine Muguruza. My views on that match are set out below.

Day 11 Recap

World number one Djokovic was first on Centre Court, the Serb entering the match as a red-hot favourite against Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman came out firing, hitting a number of scintillating backhand winners, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. But Djokovic remained firm, and at 2-2 in the first tiebreaker pounced on a couple of loose shots from Gasquet to claim it 7 points to 2.

Winning the first set seemed to settle the Serb, Djokovic securing an early break in the second set and maintaining his advantage to take a commanding 2 sets to love lead, despite being bothered by a stiff left shoulder that required attention from the trainer on two occasions.

Gasquet battled valiantly in the third set but was unable to make any inroads on the Djokovic serve, the two-time champion eventually wrapping up a 7-6(2) 6-4 6-4 win in 142 minutes.

The second semi-final was eagerly anticipated, with Federer and Murray resuming a storied rivalry. But the match turned out to be largely one-way traffic, with Federer producing a sensational serving performance to win a tenth semi-final at Wimbledon. The Swiss star landed 76 percent of his first serves and won 84 percent of his first service points, drilling 56 winners to boot.

After a late break gave Federer the first set, 7-5, the real turning point in the match came in the tenth and twelfth games of the second set. Down 4-5, 0-40, Murray eventually held after a marathon game that spanned close to 15 minutes, only for Federer to hold to love and then break in the twelfth game to take a 2 sets to love lead.

Whilst the British fans tried to rouse Murray in the third set, Federer’s sublime serving meant Murray got very few chances to put the second seed under any real pressure. Eventually, Murray could give no more, succumbing in the tenth game of the third set as Federer recorded a 7-5 7-5 6-4 win to give himself a chance at a record eighth Wimbledon crown.

*****

Match of the Day – Day 12

Serena Williams vs. Garbine Muguruza

There is no doubt that Serena Williams enters this match as the overwhelming favourite. The world number one is unbeaten in Grand Slam play in 2015 and faces an opponent entering her maiden major final. But Garbine Muguruza has beaten Serena before, and importantly it was at a Grand Slam: last year’s French Open, where she defeated the American in convincing fashion.

Williams has won the pair’s other two meetings, but the win in Paris will give the Spaniard the belief that she can pull off the upset today. The pair played in Melbourne earlier this year and whilst Williams ultimately prevailed, it was not without a fight. Muguruza has the power to match Williams from the back of the court and playing at the end of the tournament, when the courts are harder and more dried out, is of benefit to the Spaniard.

Overall, I think Serena’s killer serve and superior grass-court and big match experience will get her across the line. If Muguruza is tight then the match could be over quickly. But if she can settle down quickly an upset is not outside the realms of possibility. I’m backing Serena to win in a tight two-setter (and keep alive hopes of a Serena Slam) but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her stretched to 3 sets. 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.

Wimbledon 2015 Day 10: Men’s Semifinal Preview

July 9, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Garbine Muguruza will contest her first ever Grand Slam final on Saturday, after outlasting Agnieszka Radwanska in 3 sets on Day 10. Standing in the way of a maiden major title is none other than world number one Serena Williams, who will be looking to secure a sixth Wimbledon crown on Saturday after proving too strong for Maria Sharapova.

Friday is men’s semi-finals day at SW19, with Novak Djokovic squaring off against Richard Gasquet before Roger Federer takes on Andy Murray in a much-anticipated encounter. Read on for my predictions as to how those matches will unfold.

Day 10 Recap

Muguruza may have been playing in her first Grand Slam semi-final, but the Spaniard showed no signs of nerves early on, overwhelming Radwanska with an onslaught of powerful winners off both wings. The twentieth seed claimed the opening set, 6-2, and when she moved ahead a break in the second set it appeared as though the match was as good as over. But former Wimbledon finalist Radwanska started mixing up her shots and capitalised on some tension on Muguruza’s part, the Pole reeling off 6 consecutive games as she moved the Spaniard around the court and out of position.

When Radwanska broke serve at the beginning of the deciding set, she looked to be the firm favourite to progress to the final but, showing composure beyond her years, Muguruza stuck to her guns, breaking back and then firing a backhand winner to go up 4-2. A visibly tight Muguruza shrugged off two break points and a controversial challenge from Radwanska in the final game, ultimately prevailing 6-2 3-6 6-3.

Maria Sharapova entered her semi-final against Serena Williams holding a miserable 2-17 win-loss record against the top seed and, sadly for Sharapova fans, the match followed an utterly predictable script. Williams improved her career record in major semi-finals to an astonishing 25-3 with a 6-2 6-4 victory, the American sending down 13 aces to Sharapova’s 2. Once again, the second serve was Sharapova’s Achilles heel, the Russian winning just 29 percent of her second service points.

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 11

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Richard Gasquet

Armed with a swashbuckling backhand and full of confidence after wins over the likes of Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov and Stan Wawrinka, Richard Gasquet enters this match with very little to lose. The Frenchman is the clear underdog against the world number one and two-time champion Djokovic, and he will need to execute at an extremely high level if he is to cause the upset.

Djokovic has claimed victory in all but one of the pair’s 12 previous clashes, with Gasquet’s sole win coming way back in 2007. After a scare against Anderson, Djokovic was all business against Cilic in the quarter-finals, and I think he will simply be too strong and too solid overall for Gasquet in this one. The Serb knows that a final against either Murray or Federer will be highly demanding, and he will want to conserve as much energy as possible by finishing off Gasquet swiftly. Djokovic in 3.

2. Roger Federer vs. Andy Murray

This match-up is almost too close to call. The players have split their two previous matches on grass, with Federer beating Murray in the 2012 Wimbledon final and Murray claiming revenge at the London Olympics not long after. Overall, Federer holds a narrow 12-11 advantage after winning 4 of the last 5 clashes between the pair. Federer humbled Murray at the season-ending championships, the Scot claiming just one game for the match, but that encounter will have no bearing on today’s match-up. After struggling last year to get back to his best tennis following back surgery, Murray has been a model of consistency on court this season and seems very happy off the court as well, having married long-term girlfriend Kim Sears earlier this year.

Both players have cruised through their respective sections of the draw with relative ease, and each will be looking to lift a gear in this clash. Federer is an incredible 9 for 9 in previous Wimbledon semi-finals and the All England Club most definitely represents his best chance of claiming another major title. Conditions for match are forecast to be warm and sunny, and I think this will suit Murray, with Federer preferring the faster conditions that come in cooler conditions.

Whilst not much separates the pair, I sense that Murray is nearing his peak whilst Federer, though still performing at an incredibly high level, isn’t quite the player that he used to be. With the crowd behind him, I think the Scot will finally breaking Federer’s semi-finals streak in London. 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.

Wimbledon 2015 Day 10: Women’s Semifinal Preview

July 8, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

The men’s semi-finals are set, after big guns Federer, Murray and Djokovic bulldozed their way into the final four. They will be joined by Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who upset French Open champion Stan Wawrinka in a pulsating 5-setter on Day 9.

Day 9 Recap

On a day which saw intermittent showers frustrate fans and players alike, former champion Andy Murray remained focused throughout his quarter-final against Vasek Pospisil. Cheered on by a capacity crowd, Murray was sharper on the big points, with Pospisil’s lack of experience at this stage of a major, plus the cumulative effects of playing a string of long singles and doubles matches, ultimately counting against the Canadian.

Murray’s straight sets win set up a semi-final showdown against 7-time champion Roger Federer, who was just as convincing in his straight sets win over Gilles Simon. The Frenchman has pushed Federer all the way in Grand Slam matches in the past, but Federer was on song from the outset of this clash, breaking Simon in his opening service game and never looking back. Ultimately, the Swiss superstar recorded a 6-3 7-5 6-2 win in 94 minutes to move into the tenth Wimbledon semi-final of his illustrious career.

In the top half of the draw, top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic was pitted against last year’s US Open winner Marin Cilic. After being pushed to the brink of elimination by Kevin Anderson in the fourth round, the world number one was in no mood for another marathon, breaking Cilic in each set to collect a 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory. The win represented victory number 650 in Djokovic’s career and puts him just a pair of wins away from defending the title he claimed at the All England Club last year.

With the first three semi-finals being relatively one-sided affairs, all attention soon focused on the cliffhanger that was evolving in the quarter-final between fourth seed Wawrinka and twenty-first seed Gasquet. The Frenchman, looking to make a second Wimbledon semi-final eight years after his first, started promisingly, claiming the first set before going down 0-3 in the second. Gasquet fought back, only to hand Wawrinka the set courtesy of a double fault. The third set was one-way traffic in Wawrinka’s direction, before the Swiss star returned Gasquet’s earlier favour, double-faulting to hand the Frenchman set number 4.

In the deciding set, Gasquet looked to have clinched the win when he broke for a 5-3 lead. But the Frenchman, sometimes shaky at the critical moments, was unable to serve it out, and the players continued to slug it out before Wawrinka finally succumbed in the twentieth game of the fifth set, Gasquet claiming a 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-4 11-9 win in 3 hours and 28 minutes. Gasquet, who has only won 3 of 19 Grand Slam round of 16 matches, improved to 3-0 in Grand Slam quarter-finals and will now face top seed Djokovic for a place in Sunday’s final.

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 10

1. Garbine Muguruza vs. Agnieszka Radwanska

Can rising star Garbine Muguruza emulate the feats of her countrywomen Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez and progress to the Wimbledon final, or will Pole Agnieszka Radwanska work her way through to a second final at the All England Club? Radwanska did well to wear down big hitter Madison Keys in the quarter-finals, and I think the Pole will need to adopt a similar strategy if she is to beat Muguruza who, like Keys, is a powerful baseliner and a star of the future.

Muguruza has swept aside all before her in the tournament to date, beating the likes of Kerber and Wozniacki en route to the semi-finals. The Spaniard seems pretty level-headed for a young player, and I think she has the temperament and the self-belief to claim the victory in this one. The match is on her racquet and, unlike Keys, who was unable to put Radwanska away, I think Muguruza will simply be too powerful and too consistent for the former finalist. Muguruza in 3.

2. Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova

As has been well documented, former champion Maria Sharapova has an utterly woeful head-t0-head record against world number one Serena Williams, having beaten the American in just 2 of their 19 career meetings. But, if Sharapova should take confidence from anywhere, it is in London. After all, it was at the All England Club in 2004 that Sharapova truly announced herself to the tennis world, stunning Williams in straight sets to capture her maiden Grand Slam title.

Since that historic win, Williams has taken extreme pleasure in defeating Sharapova over and over again. For the Russian, her weak serve compared to Williams’ tremendous serve is the biggest difference, but the fact that Sharapova hits a hard, flat ball is another problem – that sort of ball is exactly what Williams thrives on. Being the consummate professional, Sharapova will scrap and fight for everything in this semi-final, and will endeavour to shriek and grunt her way to victory. But like so many of the contests between the pair, I think Williams will be just that little bit too good. 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 me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Wimbledon 2015 Day 9: Men’s quarterfinal preview

July 7, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Novak Djokovic finally made it through to the men’s quarter-finals on Day 8, the top seed outclassing a gallant Kevin Anderson 7-5 in the fifth set to set up a clash with reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic.

Day 8 Recap

After starting the day locked at 2 sets apiece, Djokovic and Anderson took to the court for a winner takes all final set, with the South African having the advantage of serving first. Unfortunately for Anderson, who has hoping to make his first Grand Slam quarter-final, a pair of double faults in the eleventh game gave Djokovic the decisive break and the top seed duly served it out to progress to the quarter-finals.

In the women’s quarter-finals on Day 8, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza made it through to her first major semi-final, ousting French Open semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky in straight sets. The twentieth seed will need to beat Pole Agnieszka Radwanska if she hopes to make it through to Saturday’s final, after the thirteenth seed and former finalist held off rising star Madison Keys in a tense 3-setter on Day 8.

In the top half of the draw, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova set up a blockbuster semi-final after each progressed courtesy of a 3 set win. The Russian overcame a mid-match wobble to dispose of American Coco Vandeweghe, whilst Williams yet again came from a set down to defeat former world number one Victoria Azarenka.

Matches of the Day – Day 9

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Marin Cilic

Having survived an almighty scare against Anderson, I don’t think Djokovic will be in any mood to mess around in this clash. Luckily for the Serb, he didn’t waste too much energy on finishing off Anderson on Day 8, and with his famed powers of recovery, I don’t see playing on Day 8 as being a material factor.

Cilic can beat anybody on his day, as his run all the way to the title in New York last year demonstrated, but on grass I think Djokovic has the edge, particularly if he can return the Cilic serve well. Djokovic in 4.

2. Stan Wawrinka vs. Richard Gasquet

The first time Stan Wawrinka won a Grand Slam, at last year’s Australian Open, he promptly bowed out in the first round of the next Grand Slam, going down to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in Paris. This year, Wawrinka avenged that loss by winning the French Open championship and, instead of a come-down, the Swiss seed seems to be still riding on a high. Wawrinka is yet to drop a set in the tournament and will fancy his chances of progressing to the semi-finals.

Gasquet is a former semi-finalist in London and has done very well to beat Dimitrov and Kyrgios in his last couple of matches. In particular, he did very well to remain focused during the various dramas that unfolded in the Kyrgios match. This pair has only played twice before, with each man scoring a win. I’ll back Wawrinka on the back of his recent form and his greater firepower, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go the distance. Wawrinka in 5.

3. Roger Federer vs. Gilles Simon

After winning the pair’s first couple of encounters, Gilles Simon has lost his last five matches against Roger Federer. That said, the Frenchman has pushed Federer to the brink in many of them, taking the Swiss star to 5 sets at the 2011 Australian Open and at the 2013 French Open.

Simon brushed aside an out-of-sorts Tomas Berdych in straight sets in the fourth round and, in doing so, advanced to his first Grand Slam quarter-final since 2009. The Frenchman is a clever counterpuncher and an adept mover, but I don’t think he has the flair or the finesse to match seven-time champion Federer at the All England Club. Look for Simon to steal one set but for the Federer juggernaut to roll on. Federer in 4.

4. Andy Murray vs. Vasek Pospisil

With his brother having teamed up John Peers to knock defending champions Pospisil and his partner Jack Sock out of the doubles tournament, Andy Murray will now attempt to end the Canadian’s terrific run in the singles event. Pospisil is into his first Grand Slam quarter-final after a superb win over the in-form Viktor Troicki, but has his work cut out for him against former winner Murray.

The Scott has won all three of the pair’s previous matches, including at Indian Wells and in Rotterdam earlier this year, and has not dropped a set in the process. Pospisil’s big serve gives him a better chance on grass, but Murray’s all-court game and greater experience will see him get through this match without too many problems. Murray 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 me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

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