I-Formation April 2015 – Will The Red Dirt Herald Rafa’s Return?

April 15, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

The start of the second quarter of the calendar year sees the members of the ATP Tour transition from hard-courts to clay-courts. For the majority of the big guns (Andy Murray being understandably excused on account of wedding duties) that means reacquainting themselves with the nuances and vagaries of competing on the red dirt in the picturesque setting of Monte Carlo.

The Monte Carlo Masters is the first major clay-court tournament of the year, and one of the most prestigious. For the vast majority of the past decade, it is a tournament that has been consistently and comprehensively the property of one man, Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal. From 2005-2012, the world number 5 claimed an astonishing 8 titles in the principality, before current world number one Novak Djokovic ended Nadal’s historic run in the 2013 final.

Nadal’s dominance means that Monte Carlo remains one of the few Masters titles that Roger Federer has yet to win in his illustrious career, the Swiss legend coming up agonisingly short against compatriot Stan Wawrinka in last year’s final. Last year also saw Nadal record his earliest exit in Monte Carlo since 2003, the 14-time Grand Slam champion going down to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarter-finals. Last year’s surprise loss to Ferrer in the principality can be considered, in hindsight, as somewhat of an aberration, as Nadal shrugged off the loss (and a somewhat inconsistent clay-court season overall) by defeating Djokovic in 4 sets to claim a record ninth French Open title.

This year, however, feels different. 2014 saw Nadal make the final of the Australian Open and the Miami Masters, and collect trophies in Doha and Rio, before making his way to Monte Carlo. This year, his only title to date has been his victory in Buenos Aires (in what was, to be frank, a fairly weak field) and he has struggled against players he used to defeat consistently, losing to the likes of Berdych, Raonic and the journeyman Berrer already in 2015.

Given his ultra-aggressive and combative approach to the sport, and the resultant physical problems Nadal has faced over the years, any signs of poor form on the Spaniard’s part are almost always associated with speculation as to possible injuries or ailments. Whilst Nadal’s 2014 campaign was cut short as a result of wrist problems and appendix surgery, this time around it seems that the Spaniard’s problems are more mental than physical. Nadal has made successful comebacks from injuries before, but in this case it seems that the lay-off in the latter part of 2014 has had a flow-on effect: draining him of his confidence on court.

After losing to countryman Fernando Verdasco in Miami last month, Nadal spoke of enduring nerves on court and struggling to keep his emotions in check across the inevitable ebbs and flows of a match. It certainly shows in his game, with the Spaniard lacking aggression off the backhand wing (in particular, showing a reticence to go for the down-the-line backhands that have been crucial in his most recent wins over Djokovic) and generally being content to be moved far behind the baseline. At his best, Nadal’s backhand is a fearsome weapon (albeit not quite on a par with his peerless forehand) and, when full of confidence, the Spaniard simply refuses to be pushed around the court.

For Nadal fans, there is no reason for extreme alarm: the Spaniard is already the greatest clay-courter the sport has ever seen, and it would be foolish to write him off at this stage. If Nadal is able to get some wins under his belt early in this year’s clay-court season, I have no doubt that his confidence will earn a quick and significant boost, and his assuredness and movement abilities on clay (vis-à-vis many of the other top players) will give him an edge in many contests which could well prove decisive. That said, the threats to Nadal’s red dirt reign are myriad: Federer desperately wants to win the title in Monte Carlo, Djokovic is in peak form and longs for a title at Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam and cement his spot among the greats, and the old warhorse David Ferrer is enjoying a tremendous start to the season, having already claimed 3 titles.

I predict that Nadal will enjoy a relatively successful clay-court season (as judged against objective standards and not against Nadal’s past heroics), going deep in all of the tournaments and possibly collecting one or more titles. However, at this stage I can’t see him being able to stop Djokovic, either in Monte Carlo this week or at Roland Garros, if the pair should meet there in June. Whilst this prediction might represent cause for concern amongst hard-core Nadal fans, for the rest of the tennis viewing public it is most likely a welcome and exciting change: for the first time in a decade, the race to be crowned the King of Clay is legitimately up for grabs.

That’s it for this month. Enjoy the beginnings of the clay-court season in Monte Carlo, and I’ll be back with another serve next month. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

I-Formation March 2015: Australia’s Re-Emergence on the World Tennis Scene

March 12, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Amongst the various results of last weekend’s Davis Cup action, which saw world number one Novak Djokovic lead Serbia into the quarter-finals and Andy Murray assist Great Britain in upsetting the United States, was the upset of the competition’s top seeds, the Czech Republic, by Australia.

Davis Cup champions in 2012 and 2013, the Czech Republic were admittedly missing their two biggest names, with former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych choosing to sit out of the tie and wily veteran Radek Stepanek, a hero of the team’s wins in the 2012 and 2013 finals, absent due to injury. That said, Australia had to make do without their highest-ranked player at the time, youngster Nick Kyrgios, who was out injured, and also had to combat the patriotic crowd in Ostrava.

Whilst former world number one Lleyton Hewitt has been the heart and soul of Australia’s Davis Cup team for the best part of two decades, this time around it was the rising stars of Australian tennis who spearheaded Australia’s victory. Bernard Tomic, the highly rated 22 year old who has had mixed fortunes on the ATP Tour after a stellar junior career, won both of his singles matches in Ostrava, and seems to have fully embraced the Davis Cup competition after exhibiting a lukewarm attitude towards representing his country as a teenager.

Inspired by the feats of Hewitt, Australia’s winningest Davis Cup competitor of all time, Tomic now holds a mightily impressive 14-2 record in Davis Cup singles play, and his form in Ostrava could prove a major boost as he seeks to work his way back inside the world’s top 30. Australian captain Wally Masur, one of the most astute tennis observers going around at present, was rewarded for his surprise first day selection of Thanasi Kokkinakis, with the teenager upsetting big-serving Lukas Rosol to add another scalp to his growing collection. Kyrgios, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last year and at the Australian Open earlier this year, is the better known of Australia’s duo of talented teenagers but Kokkinakis, who beat Julien Benneteau in Brisbane and Ernests Gulbis in Melbourne earlier this year, is tipped by many commentators as having the better long-term potential.

Australia now faces Kazakhstan in July for a place in the Davis Cup semi-finals and, whilst the Kazakhs are no pushover, the tie represents a golden opportunity for Australia to reach the final four of the Davis Cup for the first time since 2006. The tie, which will be played on grass in Darwin, will almost certainly see Kyrgios rejoin the team alongside Kokkinakis, Tomic, Hewitt and Sam Groth (holder of the world’s fastest ever recorded serve).

After several years in the doldrums, Australian tennis is looking brighter than it has since the late 1990s, when Pat Rafter, Mark Philippoussis, an emerging Hewitt and doubles specialists Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde provided the backbone of a team which made the Davis Cup final in three straight years from 1999-2001, winning the competition 1999 and again in 2003. Australia are 28-time champions in the competition (ranking second only to the United States) and might just pull off a major surprise by winning the title this year. In any event, the future of Australian tennis once again looks extremely rosy and there is no doubt that Australia will be a key contender in the Davis Cup for several years to come.

That’s it for this month. Enjoy the upcoming Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami and I’ll be back with another serve next month. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

The Dubai Daily: Federer captures seventh career Dubai title over Djokovic

February 28, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

For the seventh time in his career, Roger Federer is the men’s singles champion at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the world number 2 upsetting top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic in straight sets in 84 minutes to capture the title in front of a capacity Centre Court crowd at the Aviation Club.

In conditions featuring a slight breeze but which were otherwise perfect for tennis, both players performed at a high standard from the outset. Serving first, Federer was the first of the pair to get himself into trouble, forced to serve his way out of jail in the third game to stay in front. In what proved to be a portent for the rest of the match, Federer produced clutch tennis on those break points, with Djokovic simply unable to capitalise on the opportunities that he created. A slight opening in the eighth game was all Federer needed to break the world number one, and the crowd favourite had no trouble serving out the set, 6-3, to take a commanding lead in the final.

Under the watchful eye of coach Boris Becker, Djokovic didn’t panic at the start of the second set, keeping his nose in front courtesy of serving first in the set, and ratcheting up the pressure on the Federer serve with increasingly accurate and penetrating returns. Both men managed to hold serve in the early and middle stages of the second set, but as the set edged closer to a climax it was Federer feeling all the pressure, twice forced to come from 15-40 down to hold serve. Djokovic, however, evidently frustrated by his inability to break the Federer serve, threw in a loose service game, with a double fault and a vintage Federer forehand winner combining to give the Swiss legend a chance to serve for title number 84 of his illustrious career.

Federer, who owns an apartment here in Dubai and spends much of his offseason training here, is treated almost like a local by the fans, and so it was to the delight of the huge crowd that the 17-time Grand Slam champion was able to serve out the match, surviving one final break point to record a 6-3 7-5 win and once again reign supreme in the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates. In a tight tussle between the world’s top two players, there was one statistic that summed up the match: Federer successful on both of his break point chances for the match, Djokovic a desultory 0/7 on his opportunities to break the Federer serve. Full credit to the world number 2, with 37 winners to Federer (compared to 19 for Djokovic) clearly indicating that the 33 year old won the match with his aggressive play, and wasn’t simply waiting for mistakes to flow from the Djokovic racquet.

After the surprise loss to Seppi in Australia, which was something of an aberration given Federer’s strong form of the last 6 to 12 months, this win will help boost the Swiss star’s confidence as the action moves to the US for the Indian Wells and Miami Masters events. Djokovic has been dominant in both of those events in the last few years and, while tonight wasn’t the best match from the Serb, in reality he just needs to tighten up his play on the big points and he will be extremely hard to beat in the States.

That’s it for my coverage of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. I hope you have enjoyed the coverage. I’ll be back soon, but in the meantime you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

The Dubai Daily: 27 February 2015 (Djokovic vs. Federer Preview)

February 27, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will meet in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday night, after the pair posted contrasting victories in tonight’s semi-finals.

Federer was first on court and ended the winning streak of lucky loser Borna Coric, ousting the teenager in straight sets, 6-2 6-1. It was a marvellous week for the young Croat, who made the most of his second chance in the tournament to defeat Andy Murray en route to the final 4, but Coric couldn’t handle another strong performance from Federer, who mixed up his game with plenty of slice and serve and volley tennis. Coric offered some hope when he broke serve in the fifth game of the first set, but from there it was largely one way traffic as Federer cruised to victory, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. Having had Richard Gasquet retire after the first set of their quarter-final on Thursday night, Federer was happy to get a full match under his belt in the semi-finals, albeit a relatively quick match.

Federer will be vying for his seventh career title in Dubai tomorrow, but he will have to beat world number one Novak Djokovic if the Swiss star is to lift the trophy once again. Federer outlasted the Serb in the semi-finals in Dubai last year, and this will be the fourth time the pair has played in the final in Dubai. Djokovic produced a flawless first set against fourth seed Tomas Berdych, handing the Czech a 6-0 hammering in blustery conditions. The Serb was in dynamite form on the return of serve, neutralising one of Berdych’s biggest weapons, and the first set was over in less than half an hour.

When Berdych dropped serve early in the second set, it looked as though Djokovic would run away with the match, much as he had done in previous matches this week against Golubev and Ilhan. But to his credit, Berdych remained undeterred, picking up his first serve percentage and taking advantage of a surprising number of unforced errors that started to flow from the Djokovic racquet. The former Wimbledon finalist broke back and then broke once more to be given an opportunity to serve for the set. Berdych failed to capitalise on the opportunity, but remained composed and soon wrapped up the second set, 7-5, to force the match into a decider.

It was always going to be hard for Djokovic to maintain the sublime form he exhibited in the first set, and it was no surprise that he went off the boil in the second set. The world number one managed to regroup in the third set, breaking midway through the set and eventually prevailing 6-0 5-7 6-4. It was a valiant comeback from Berdych, but once again Djokovic showed that there is no one better on the ATP Tour at present at getting the job done on court. Despite a whopping 48 unforced errors for the match (a fairly surprising statistic given the ease with which Djokovic claimed the opening set), the Serb is through to another final in Dubai.

With Federer having been forced to retire from the championship match against Djokovic at the World Tour Finals in December, fans will now get a chance to see the pair play out a blockbuster in Dubai. It’s a toss of the coin in my opinion – Federer loves the court and the crowd here in Dubai (although Djokovic has had great success here too) but Djokovic has, for the most part, looked incredibly strong this week. Federer came back to beat Djokovic in Dubai last year, but I don’t think the Swiss great will be so fortunate this time around. I’ll take Djokovic to prevail in two very tight sets.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll back with another serve tomorrow to review the final. In the meantime, keep up with all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

The Dubai Daily: 26 February 2015 (Djokovic, Federer & Murray in action)

February 26, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Wednesday saw a host of activity at the Aviation Club in Dubai, with top seed Novak Djokovic and third seed Andy Murray underlining their respective title credentials with impressive displays. Meanwhile, second seed Roger Federer delighted the crowd with an incredible run of 20 consecutive points against Fernando Verdasco, whilst fourth seed Tomas Berdych booked his spot in today’s quarter-finals with a win over Simone Bolleli that marked ATP Tour win number 500 for the Czech star.

The day session saw Murray in blistering form, the Scot conceding just 2 games against Portugal’s Joao Sousa and wrapping up a 6-0 6-2 win in just 57 minutes. Murray, who improved to 5-0 in career meetings with Sousa, will face young gun Borna Coric for a spot in the semi-finals after the lucky loser enjoyed further fortune in his match against veteran Marcos Baghdatis. After Coric took the opening set 6-4, Baghdatis levelled the match at a set apiece by claiming the second set 6-3. The Cypriot then raced out to a 4-1 lead in the decider before cramping got the better of Baghdatis and he was forced to retire with the score at 4-4 in the final set tiebreaker.

It’s hard to conceive of the cramps being so bad that Baghdatis couldn’t play on for a few more points to officially conclude the match, but Coric wasn’t complaining. The young Croat, whose game has been compared to Djokovic’s by none other than the world number one himself, upset Rafael Nadal in Basel last year and will relish the opportunity to test himself against another titan in Murray. Based on the Scot’s form against Sousa, I think Murray will account for Coric comfortably, but the teenager has nothing to lose.

Berdych had a far tougher day at the office than Murray, with the Czech forced to battle for 2 hours and 24 minutes before prevailing in 3 sets over Italian veteran Simone Bollelli.  The Italian had his chances in the first set, squandering a set point in the tiebreaker but, after fighting back to claim the second set, 7-5, the Italian was thoroughly outclassed in the final set, failing to win a game as Berdych became just the eighth active player to record 500 ATP Tour wins. Berdych will face Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky today for a place in the semi-finals after Stakhovsky outlasted Denis Istomin in 3 sets. Stakhovsky is best known for upsetting Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2013 but currently languishes outside the world’s top 50 and I can’t see him causing Berdych too much trouble today.

Wednesday’s night session saw top seed Novak Djokovic blitz Kazakh Andrey Golubev in one hour flat, the Serb cracking 17 winners, losing just 11 points in total on serve and never giving his opponent a chance to assert himself in the match. Djokovic will play Turkey’s top player, Marsel Ilhan, in the quarter-finals tonight after the world number 104 came from a set down to upset world number 13 Feliciano Lopez in 3 sets. The pair has never played before, but one would imagine that it won’t take long for Djokovic to dismantle the Ilhan game.

Tonight’s marquee match-up features Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet, in what will be a rematch of their showdown in the Davis Cup final last year. A win by Federer in that rubber handed Switzerland its first ever Davis Cup trophy, and Gasquet will be eager for revenge. The Frenchman has won only 2 of 12 career meetings with Federer, but Gasquet will be buoyed by his tight win yesterday over seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut. Gasquet edged past the Spaniard 8-6 in the final set tiebreaker but will need to elevate his game if he is to challenge Federer tonight. The Swiss star recovered from a shaky start last night to see off Fernando Verdasco, the second seed putting together an incredible run of 20 consecutive points as he fought back from a 4-1 opening set deficit to take the set 6-4. Verdasco, who started off the match in a blaze of glory, struggled to control his emotions after letting his lead in the first set slip, and two breaks to Federer in the second set handed the six-time champion a 6-4 6-3 victory in 60 minutes.

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

The Dubai Daily: 25 February 2015

February 25, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Tuesday saw all of the big names at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships record wins, with top guns Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych all completing straight sets victories.

World number one Djokovic, in search of the fiftieth title of his career and a fifth trophy in Dubai, downed the big-serving Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets, 6-4 6-4. The top seeded Djokovic, who had not played an official match since winning the Australian Open last month, was solid without being spectacular against the world number 63, showing his experience and class on the big points. Australian Open finalist Murray looked good against Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, the world number 3 taking down the leftie 6-4 7-5.

Berdych, who lost a hard-fought semi-final to Murray at Melbourne Park last month, faced a tricky assignment against the big-hitting Jeremy Chardy. After squeezing through a first set tiebreaker against the Frenchman after having squandered an early break, Berdych improved his level in the second set and took advantage of a whopping 35 unforced errors for the match from Chardy to claim a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory. Rising star Borna Coric, a lucky loser from qualifying who only made it into the main draw courtesy of Philipp Kohlschreiber’s withdrawal due to illness, made the most of his second chance, defeating Tunisian Malek Jaziri in a hard-fought 3-setter. The news was not so good for some of Coric’s contemporaries, with fellow youngsters David Goffin and Dominic Thiem bowing out to Marcos Baghdatis and Roberto Bautista Agut respectively.

In a battle of the Spaniards, former Australian Open semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco ousted Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets. Verdasco’s reward for his win? A meeting tonight with 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. Given the fast conditions at the Aviation Club, Verdasco has to be given an outside chance on the basis of his big serve and lightning fast forehand, but as a 6-time winner in Dubai it is clear that Federer enjoys the conditions immensely. That match follows the evening’s first match on Centre Court, between Kazakh Andrey Golubev and top seed Djokovic. Golubev, although ranked just outside the world’s top 100 at present, is no pushover, having defeated the likes of Stan Wawrinka and Fernando Verdasco in 2014. That said, Djokovic is likely to have to much consistency and composure for the Kazakh and I expect the Serb to record a comfortable straight sets victory in this clash.

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

The Dubai Daily: 24 February 2015

February 24, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Greetings and welcome to coverage of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships live from the United Arab Emirates. I’ll be providing daily updates of all the action from the Aviation Club here in Dubai, where a host of the world’s best players, including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych have gathered for this year’s tournament.

Second seed Roger Federer commenced his quest for a seventh title in Dubai on Monday night, the Swiss superstar recording a straightforward victory over Russian Mikhail Youzhny in windy conditions at the Aviation Club. Having not played a competitive match since a surprise loss to Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open last month, Federer was at his aggressive best against two-time finalist Youzhny, collecting 27 winners (including 8 aces) as he completed a 6-3 6-1 win in 56 minutes. In windy conditions, caused in part by a recent sandstorm that hit Dubai, Federer never let Youzhny into the match, the former top 10 player struggling to make any inroads on the Federer serve and finding it hard to hold his own serve.

Other winners on the opening day of play included Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who beat Federer’s Australian Open conqueror Seppi, Kazakh Andrey Golubev and Portgual’s Joao Sousa, who defeated wildcard Irishman James McGee. Latvian Ernests Gulbis, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year, continued his wretched start to 2015, the world number 14 remaining winless for the year following a straight sets loss to Denis Istomin.

Today’s line-up features a number of mouthwatering clashes, with my pick of the bunch being the match-up between fourth seed Tomas Berdych, who has made the final in Dubai the past two years, and big-hitting Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who is always a threat on fast hard-courts, having beaten the likes of Murray and Del Potro on hard-courts in the past. Top seed Novak Djokovic is also in action, the world number one beginning his campaign against Canada’s Vasek Pospisil. Crowd favourite Andy Murray also features in the schedule of play, the Scot up against the in-form Gilles Muller from Luxembourg.

For those fans looking for a glimpse of rising stars on the ATP Tour, talented young Austrian Dominic Thiem will be in action on Court 3 today against the big-hitting Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, whilst young Frenchman Lucas Pouille faces Italian veteran Simone Bollelli. And one of the most entertaining matches of the day should involve wildcard Marcos Baghdatis, a former Australian Open finalist, who is playing against David Goffin, one of the most improved players on the ATP Tour in the last 12 months.

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

Australian Open 2015: Men’s Final Review

February 2, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

For the fifth time in his career, Novak Djokovic is the Australian Open men’s singles champion, the world number one downing sixth seed Andy Murray in 4 sets on Sunday night to claim the trophy.

Day 14 Recap

In a physically gruelling final full of twists and turns, it was top seed Djokovic who made the early running, the Serb storming out to a 4-1 lead in the first set courtesy of some blistering forehand winners. Murray appeared shellshocked by the level of Djokovic’s play but the Scot worked his way into the match, breaking back twice in the first set to force a tiebreaker. A couple of loose shots from the sixth seed in the breaker was enough to hand Djokovic the set, the world number one ultimately taking the tiebreaker 7 points to 5.

After losing the first set to Berdych in the semi-finals, Murray roared back in the second set, and the Scot started the second set of the final in similar fashion, breaking Djokovic to take a 2-0 lead. A run of 13 consecutive points to Djokovic undid all of Murray’s good work, however, and the two-time major champion was forced to fight his way into another tiebreaker. This time around, Murray was stronger on the big points and levelled the match at a set apiece on his third set point.

Djokovic was looking physically unsettled on court, calling for the trainer to assist with a finger complaint at one stage and frequently stumbling around the court – an unusual sight for one of the most elegant and balanced movers in the sport. An early break to Murray in the third set appeared to give the Scot the momentum, but Djokovic put his physical woes to the side and got increasingly stuck into the Murray second serve, gaining the break back and then breaking again to take the third set, 6-3, in what proved to be the key turning point in the match.

The fourth set quickly became a formality, as an early break to Djokovic put the Serb in sight of the finish line and killed off Murray’s hopes, the Scot physically drained and thoroughly irritated by his inability to cash in on his opportunities and Djokovic’s physical weakness. After 3 hours and 39 minutes, it was Djokovic who was crowned the champion at Melbourne Park once more, the Serb securing a 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-0 victory to claim the eighth Grand Slam of his career and hand Murray a fourth loss in an Australian Open final.

For Murray, it was a disappointing end to a tremendous fortnight and another frustrating second-place finish in Melbourne. However, the Scot has shown the world that he is now back to his best tennis and ready to challenge for majors once more, and so I don’t think he will be too disappointed with the result. Of course, Murray will be annoyed that he didn’t make the most of his chances against Djokovic, but the fortnight in Melbourne has clearly demonstrated that Murray’s partnership with Amelie Mauresmo is bearing fruit. I’m predicting a very successful season for the Scot, who is now back in the top 4 in the world rankings, and I think he will be a major contender at the year’s other Grand Slams.

For Djokovic, it was a satisfying victory for a number of reasons. Grand Slam number 8 moves him into elite territory in tennis history, the Serb now ranking alongside legends such as Agassi, Connors and Lendl and within striking distance of Borg and Laver. The win in Australia also represents Djokovic’s first Grand Slam since becoming a father. Furthermore, with Djokovic struggling with health problems coming into the tournament and again exhibiting physical issues in the final, the victory shows that the world number one is capable of winning majors even when he is not at his very best – a very encouraging sign for Djokovic and a very worrying sign for the rest of the players on the ATP Tour.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis on both tours and I’ll be back later in the season with more tennis coverage. In the meantime, you can follow all of the tennis news and views on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Australian Open 2015 Day 14 Preview: Djokovic vs. Murray

January 31, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Serena Williams is the Australian Open women’s singles champion for 2015, the world number one claiming a sixth Australian Open crown and the nineteenth major of her career with a straight sets victory over Maria Sharapova.

Tonight, top seed Novak Djokovic takes on sixth seed Andy Murray in the men’s singles final. See below for my thoughts on the men’s championship decider.

Day 13 Recap

Rain disrupted the start of the women’s final on Saturday night in Melbourne, eventually causing event organisers to close the roof on Rod Laver Arena. A double fault to Sharapova handed Williams the break in the opening game of the match. A second break to Williams gave her a commanding lead in the opening set, as the American moved Sharapova around the court with powerful groundstrokes and pounced on any short second serves from the second seed. A sloppy service game from Williams handed Sharapova one of the breaks back, but the Russian was unable to consolidate the break and, after 47 minutes, it was Williams holding a one set lead.

Sharapova tried to get herself back into the match in the second set, some big fist pumps highlighting the Russian’s eagerness to fight back. Sharapova earned herself some decent opportunities on the Williams second serve, but the world number one showed why her serve is considered the best in the game, coming up with aces and service winners at crucial moments to deny Sharapova a way back into the match. The Russian fought off a championship point in the tenth game, eventually pushing the set to a tiebreaker, but once again Williams’ serve proved the difference, an ace sealing a 6-3 7-6(5) victory in 1 hour and 51 minutes.

For Sharapova, it was another fabulous tournament in which she ultimately came up short as a result of Williams’ brilliance. Whilst the Russian will be frustrated that she remains unable to break her duck against Williams, Sharapova’s play in this tournament should give her plenty of confidence for the rest of the 2015 season. For 33 year old Williams, there seems to be no signs of slowing down and, with 19 Grand Slams now to her name, the American is within striking distance of Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 majors.

*****

Match of the Day – Day 14

Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

At the start of the tournament, I was firmly of the belief that Novak Djokovic was the favourite for the men’s title and that Andy Murray faced a very difficult path through to the final. Four-time champion Djokovic has made it through to the final but he hasn’t been entirely convincing in doing so, producing a sloppy performance against Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals. Murray, on the other hand, has been in excellent form in the past week, downing Dimitrov, Kyrgios and Berdych in performances which have made it clear that the Scot is back to the form which saw him claim majors in 2012 and 2013.

Djokovic’s record at Melbourne Park is formidable, the Serb holding a perfect record in Australia Open finals (with 2 of his wins coming against Murray in the final), but Wawrinka showed last year that the top seed is not unbeatable Down Under. Whilst Murray has lost both of the Australian Open finals that he has played against Djokovic (as well as losing another final against Federer), the Scot has beaten Djokovic in their other 2 Grand Slam finals – in New York in 2012 and at Wimbledon in 2013. Those wins will give Murray plenty of confidence heading into this match, and I think the sixth seed is in the sort of form to cause an upset.

Djokovic and Murray have known each other since they were 12, and so know each other’s games very well. Murray’s mindset is very different now that he has gotten the Grand Slam monkey off his back and he no longer suffers from the mental anguish that he suffered from when these players first met in the Australian Open final in 2011. I expect Djokovic to put in a far better performance tonight than he did against Wawrinka, but I don’t think the Serb has demonstrated the precision and sharpness in his game in Melbourne this year that he has exhibited in years gone past. Add that to the fact that Murray looks to be in superb physical shape and I think the Scot will be celebrating Grand Slam title number 3 at the end of this match. Look for the players to split the first 2 sets before Murray gets on top of the Serb and races towards the finish line. Murray in 4.

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

Australian Open 2015 Day 13 Preview: Serena vs. Sharapova

January 30, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Novak Djokovic will bid for a fifth Australian Open title against Andy Murray on Sunday night, after the world number one took down defending champion Stan Wawrinka in 5 sets on Day 12 in Melbourne.

Tonight, Serena Williams takes on Maria Sharapova in the women’s singles final. Read on for my thoughts on the blockbuster match-up between the top two players in the women’s game.

Day 12 Recap

With Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka having split a pair of epic encounters at Melbourne Park in 2013 and 2014, expectations were high leading into the semi-final between the players on Day 12. Once again, fans were treated to a 5 set encounter, but this match fell short of the previous ones, as both players struggled with their form and fitness at various stages throughout the match.

Wawrinka made the early running in the match, breaking in the seventh game of the opening set. That sparked Djokovic into action, the top seed recovering to force a tiebreaker. It was one-way traffic in the breaker, the 4-time champion conceding just one point as he took the opening set. Wawrinka claimed the second set, 6-3, to level the match at a set apiece, but when Djokovic claimed the third set and raced to an early 2-0 lead in the fourth set it appeared that the match would soon be over.

To the crowd’s delight, the defending champion found a second wind when down in the fourth set, ripping some of his trademark one-handed backhands to first break back and then forge ahead in the set, eventually taking it 6-4. The first couple of games of the deciding set were to prove critical, with Wawrinka squandering break point in the first game and then handing the break to Djokovic with a pair of double faults.

The meek loss of serve early in the fifth set seemed to deflate the Swiss star, with Djokovic firmly focused on the finish line. Wawrinka was unable to win a point on his second serve in the final set, with Djokovic capturing it 6-0 to wrap up a 7-6(1) 3-6 6-4 4-6 6-0 victory in 3 hours and 30 minutes.

For Djokovic, it was a scrappy victory marred by 49 unforced errors, but the Serb will simply be happy to make it through to the final. For Wawrinka, it was a gallant effort at defending his title, but his 42 winners were overshadowed by a whopping 69 unforced errors for the match.

*****

Match of the Day – Day 13

Maria Sharapova vs. Serena Williams

Second seed Maria Sharapova has been in fine form to start 2015, winning the Brisbane International in the lead-up to the Australian Open and then producing sterling straight sets wins over Peng Shuai, Eugenie Bouchard and Ekaterina Makarova in her last 3 matches. The scare against Panova in round 2 seemed to catapult Sharapova into action and she is now playing as well as I’ve seen her play in several years.

The big question for Sharapova is whether she can overcome her abysmal record against world number one Serena Williams. The Russian has beaten Williams just twice in 18 encounters, with the last of those wins coming way back in 2004. That represents a whole lot of mental scar tissue for Sharapova, and it also highlights just how well the Sharapova game suits Williams.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion loves it when her opponents hit the ball with pace, and if Sharapova is going to win today then she will need to find the right balance between playing her own game, which involves aggressive, heavy hitting, and playing the game that frustrates Williams, which requires plenty of variety when it come to speed, spin and direction. Sharapova need look no further than Radwanska’s win over Williams in Perth at the Hopman Cup for an example of how to annoy (and beat) the world number one.

Williams has never lost an Australian Open final, and she is eager to be reunited with the trophy after having an odd run of outs at Melbourne Park in the last few years. If Williams serves well and retains her focus, she’s going to be awfully hard to beat. I think Sharapova, in her current form, has one of her best chances to end her losing streak, but the smart money is on Williams claiming major number 19. Williams 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 the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

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