Australian Open 2015 Day 11 Preview: Serena & Sharapova poised for final showdown; Berdych vs. Murray as well
January 28, 2015
Teenager Madison Keys is through to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park after surviving a testing 3-setter against veteran Venus Williams on Day 10. Day 11 sees Keys up against another Williams star, Venus’ younger sister and world number one Serena.
Day 10 Recap
Whilst Keys and Venus Williams combined for a total of 83 unforced errors, it was nonetheless an absorbing battle between the 7-time major winner Williams and the up-and-coming star Keys. Swinging freely and exhibiting the shotmaking ability that has earned her a bunch of admirers, Keys took the first set, 6-3, before Williams upper her intensity and first serve percentage to level the match at a set apiece. The deciding set featured plenty of twists and turns but, up 5-4, Keys produced a flawless return game, breaking Williams to love to secure an historic victory.
Serena Williams avenged her sister’s loss with a decisive 6-2 6-2 victory over last year’s Australian Open finalist, Slovak Dominika Cibulkova. Although still troubled by a cold, Williams was never seriously threatened by the eleventh seeded Cibulkova, who seemed to use up all of her energy in taking down Victoria Azarenka in the round of 16 and was unable to find her best form against the world number one.
In the men’s quarter-finals on Day 10, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic each recorded superb straight sets victories to set up a clash at Melbourne Park for the third consecutive year. Wawrinka produced a sublime serving performance, sending down 20 aces en route to a 6-3 6-4 7-6(6) win over fifth seed Kei Nishikori. However, the win wasn’t without its share of nerve-wracking moments for the Swiss star. With Wawrinka up 6-1 in the third set tiebreaker, it seemed as if the match was over for Nishikori before the Japanese star reeled off 5 points in a row. Alas, a poorly executed drop shot from Nishikori gave Wawrinka another match point and this time he made no mistake.
Djokovic was clinical against the big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, the world number one notching a 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2 victory. The Serb was clinical in the first set tiebreaker and broke down the Raonic serve in the second and third sets, as the eighth seed was unable to make any inroads on the Djokovic serve and showed that he is lacking a plan B to move to when things are not going his way.
Matches of the Day – Day 11
1. Maria Sharapova vs. Ekaterina Makarova
Left-hander Makarova is the sort of player that no big name wants to play in the latter rounds of a Grand Slam. The Russian is ultra-consistent from the baseline, a good mover around the court and deceptively efficient on serve. Tenth seeded Makarova made it through to the semi-finals of the US Open last year, going down to eventual champion Serena Williams, and I’m sure that the experience will stand her in good stead for into this match.
After getting out of jail against Panova, Sharapova has looked better and better with each successive match, the 2008 Australian Open champion completely dismantling the games of Peng Shuai and Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round and quarter-finals respectively. In her current form, I think Sharapova will have too much firepower and self-belief for her countrywoman, however if the second seed is unable to maintain her high standards then Makarova is the sort of player who will take full advantage. Look for Sharapova to move through in a couple of tight ones. Sharapova in 2.
2. Serena Williams vs. Madison Keys
She might be battling illness off the court, but on court Serena Williams shows no signs of giving up, the top seed in vintage form against Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals. It took the top seed a while to hit top gear against Muguruza, but Williams was straight out of the blocks against Cibulkova. Williams and Keys have never met in a tour level match, and I expect that coach Lindsay Davenport will be telling Keys to get out there, enjoy herself, and go for her shots, just as Keys did so well against Venus Williams in the quarter-finals.
Unlike older sister Venus, whose best tennis is behind her, Serena is still at the top of her game and I think she will be seeking to avenge Venus’ loss and to move one step closer towards reclaiming the Australian Open crown. Keys is a star of the future and I don’t think she will be too far off Williams’ level in this clash; that said, I think Williams will be smarter on the big points and will overwhelm Keys with her intensity and competitiveness. Look for Keys to compete strongly for a set and a half, and for Williams to weather the early storm before pulling away for a straight sets win. Williams in 2.
3. Andy Murray vs. Tomas Berdych
I can’t wait for this match-up between 2 of the most in-form players on the ATP Tour at present. Berdych has been in blistering form at Melbourne Park so far this year, the Czech snapping his lengthy losing streak against Rafael Nadal with a most emphatic victory. Murray, meanwhile, produced a mature performance to outclass Nick Kyrgios in straight sets in the quarter-finals, the Scot moving so well that veteran Lleyton Hewitt was forced to remark that Murray was covering the court better than he had for many a year.
There are plenty of sub-plots to this match, with Berdych leading the head-to-head record 6-4 but being unable to beat Murray when it really counts, such as at the US Open in 2012, when Berdych, fresh from defeating Roger Federer, was outsmarted by Murray on a windy day in New York. Murray went on to win the title, and has since added another major to his collection, whilst Berdych is still searching for his maiden major.
Another sub-plot features the coaches, with long-time Murray aide Dani Vallverdu now coaching Berdych after allegedly being unhappy at taking a back-seat to Murray’s new coach, Amelie Mauresmo. Obviously Vallverdu knows Murray’s game inside and out, and will be able to provide Berdych with certain insights in that respect, but as Murray noted, the Scot has had the benefit of Vallverdu’s assessment of the Berdych game in previous years.
I think this will be a cracking encounter, with both players full of confidence and looking extremely fit. If Berdych is able to hit with the power and the consistency that he showcased against Nadal, then a strong case can be made for the Czech making it through to his second Grand Slam final.However, I am leaning towards Murray, the sixth seed a narrow favourite in my mind due to his formidable record at Melbourne Park and his greater experience at this stage of big tournaments. 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 me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
January 27, 2015
Andy Murray will play Tomas Berdych for a place in Sunday’s men’s singles final after the Scot ended Nick Kyrgios’ dream run with a straight sets win in their quarter-final on Day 9 of the tournament.
Day 9 Recap
In windy conditions, it was a focused Murray who entered Rod Laver Arena, the Scot mixing up the pace of his shots and throwing in plenty of slice in an attempt to throw the big-hitting Aussie off his game. Murray came into the match as the best returner in the men’s tournament so far, and one break in the first set was enough to hand it to the 3-time Australian Open finalist, 6-3. Kyrgios refused to go away in the second set, sending it to a tiebreaker, but a couple of rash points on serve when up the mini-break proved costly for the teenager, as Murray collected the breaker 7 points to 5. Murray went up a break early in the third set before Kyrgios recorded his first break of the match, but the comeback was short-lived as Murray broke once more to set up a 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 victory.
Earlier in the day, Tomas Berdych was the first man to book his place in the men’s semi-finals, the Czech claiming his first win in 18 matches over Spaniard Rafael Nadal with a commanding 6-2 6-0 7-6(5) victory. Having played just 8 tour level matches since June last year, Nadal’s lack of match practice was evident as the third seed was unable to convert any of his 4 break point chances for the match. Berdych again showed his fondness for the Melbourne Park hard-courts, thoroughly outplaying Nadal in the first couple of sets and then holding strong in the third set as Nadal tried his hardest to get back in the match.
In the women’s tournament, second seed Maria Sharapova produced another superb performance, defeating Eugenie Bouchard 6-3 6-2 in a match which was much closer than the scoreline would indicate. Wimbledon finalist Bouchard looked flat from the outset as Sharapova served well and maintained excellent depth on her groundstrokes throughout the match. A total of 30 unforced errors proved costly for Bouchard, as the Russian maintained her 100 percent record against the Canadian.
Sharapova will play countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova for a spot in Saturday’s final after the tenth seed outclassed third seed Simona Halep in a surprisingly one-sided contest. Similar to Bouchard, Halep looked sluggish and never managed to find her range. Makarova raced out to a 3-0 lead after 9 minutes and never looked back from there, taking the first set 6-4 and the second set 6-0 to wrap up the match in just 68 minutes.
Matches of the Day – Day 10
1. Madison Keys vs. Venus Williams
This year’s Australian Open has been a tremendous success for the American women, and not only as a result of the Williams sisters. Madison Brengle and Madison Keys are two rising stars playing for the United States, and now Keys has a huge opportunity to move through to her first ever Grand Slam semi-final.
This is an interesting match-up between veteran Venus Williams, who at 34 has shown she is still capable of challenging and beating the world’s best, and Keys, a powerful young hitter who is tipped by many astute tennis followers as the next big thing to come out of America. I was very impressed with Venus’ commanding performance in the third set against Radwanksa in the round of 16 and I think her majestic serve and far greater experience will give her the edge in this match. That said, Keys has nothing to lose and will no doubt come out swinging. Williams in 3.
2. Serena Williams vs. Dominika Cibulkova
Dominika Cibulkova enjoyed a glorious run through to the final at Melbourne Park in 2014, the diminutive Slovak defeating the likes of Maria Sharapova before going down to Li Na in the championship decider. Cibulkova’s form in 2014 was patchy following her performance in Melbourne, but she seems to have recaptured her form back in Melbourne, downing two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka in a high-quality fourth round encounter.
Williams was severely tested against Muguruza in the round of 16, the top seed battling illness as well as a tough opponent. Williams showed plenty of heart to come through that match and, having had a day of rest, I think she will be in better health and form for this encounter. Cibulkova has only managed to claim a solitary set off Williams in 4 previous contests, and I think the world number one is too tough a test for the Slovak to pass today. Williams in 2.
3. Stan Wawrinka vs. Kei Nishikori
These two are occasional hitting partners and so know each other’s game very well. Whilst Wawrinka won their first 2 encounters in 2012, but Nishikori outlasted the Swiss star in a gruelling 5-setter in New York last year en route to the final. Wawrinka’s power game is well known, whereas Nishikori is still making a name for himself outside his native Japan.
Nishikori is a brilliant mover around the court, but he’s also a potent shotmaker and not just a counterpuncher. His serve is also underrated, whilst the addition of former French Open champion Michael Chang to his coaching team has provided a boost to his confidence and self-belief. I think this match will go down to the wire, with both players having genuine chances to win. I’ll back Wawrinka, simply because of his past success in Melbourne, but to my mind this match is virtually a toss of the coin. Wawrinka in 5.
4. Novak Djokovic vs. Milos Raonic
This pair played 3 times in 2014 and, whilst Raonic had his moments against the world’s best player, he was never able to achieve ultimate success against Djokovic. Raonic continues to improve as a player, with his backhand slice vastly improved in recent times. And, as Djokovic himself has acknowledged, Raonic ranks as one of the very best servers on the ATP Tour.
Obviously Raonic needs to serve well today to have any chance, but the Canadian also needs to ensure that he competes strongly on the Djokovic service games and doesn’t allow the top seed to cruise through on his serve. Raonic will look to keep the points short and out-hit Djokovic, whilst the top seed will seek to exploit Raonic’s inferior movement with long, punishing rallies. I think Raonic will win a set and trouble Djokovic in a couple of the others, but ultimately I think the world number one will move through to the semi-finals. Djokovic in 4.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.
January 26, 2015
Day 9 is the first of two quarter-finals days in Melbourne, and there are plenty of stars in action, with Nadal, Murray, Sharapova and Bouchard all featured on the line-up on what promises to be a blockbuster day of tennis.
Day 8 Recap
Rainy weather on Australia Day forced tournament organisers to close the roof on each of the major courts early in the day, but tennis fans were treated a high quality indoor match on Rod Laver Arena between Victoria Azarenka and Dominika Cibulkova. The feisty Slovak took the first set but, when Azarenka levelled the match at a set apiece and took an early break in the decider, it appeared as though Cibulkova was finished. But last year’s runner-up never stopped fighting, maintaining her aggressive shotmaking to record a terrific 3 set win over two-time champion Azarenka.
Cibulkova will now play top seed Serena Williams in the quarter-finals after the world number one scored a fighting win over Spain’s Garbine Muguruza. Muguruza was all over the Williams second serve in the first set, breaking twice as Williams was unable to convert any of her 6 break point chances. Although troubled by a cough, Williams refused to surrender, taking the second set and then surviving a marathon 12 minute service game early in the final set before pulling away to claim the win.
Rising star Madison Keys is through to her first Grand Slam quarter-final, the American defeating compatriot and good friend Madison Brengle in straight sets, much to the approval of coach Lindsay Davenport. If Keys wishes to advance to her maiden major semi-final, she will need to overcome another American, veteran Venus Williams, after the 34 year old saw off sixth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in 3 sets in the evening session at Melbourne Park.
In the men’s tournament, Kei Nishikori improved his record against David Ferrer to 6 wins in 9 matches, the Japanese star proving too strong for the veteran Spaniard, emerging victorious in straight sets. Nishikori will play defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals after the Swiss seed was forced to come back from 6-2 down in the fourth set tiebreaker against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez to claim the win and book his spot in the round of 8.
Top seed Novak Djokovic overcame stubborn resistance from Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller in the evening session on Rod Laver Arena, the world number one progressing after winning a trio of hard-fought sets. Djokovic will play Milos Raonic for a place in the semi-finals after the Canadian outlasted Spanish seed Feliciano Lopez in a pulsating 5-setter.
Matches of the Day – Day 9
1. Ekaterina Makarova vs. Simona Halep
Halep has had a fantastic couple of seasons on the WTA Tour, bursting into the top 10 in the world in 2013 and then establishing herself as a major contender at the Grand Slams in 2014. At the start of the year, I suspected Halep might find it hard to maintain her momentum in 2015, but so far all the evidence is to the contrary, with the Romanian cruising through to the round of 16 without too many hiccups.
Makarova has been similarly impressive in moving through to the second week of the tournament, and it’s pleasing to see the Russian finally translating her doubles success into wins on the singles court. Makarova won’t be a pushover in this match, having been to the semi-finals in New York last year, but I think Halep is a better mover and has more versatility in her game. Halep in 2.
2. Eugenie Bouchard vs. Maria Sharapova
Eugenie Bouchard is 0 for 3 in career meetings to date with her one-time idol, Maria Sharapova, although the Russian was forced to fight all the way to beat the Canadian in last year’s French Open semi-finals. Wimbledon finalist Bouchard is one of the new generation of players snapping at the heels of the likes of Sharapova and Serena Williams, and after last year’s strong showings in the Grand Slams, the seventh seed most definitely has the requisite confidence and self-belief with respect to winning a major.
I thought the match-up with Peng Shuai in the round of 16 was a danger match for Sharapova, but the second seed performed superbly, exploiting Peng’s lack of reach and playing the big points very intelligently. That allowed her to breeze through in straight sets, so she will be fresher than Bouchard, who was forced to labour for 3 sets to see off Begu. I think Bouchard will certainly have her chances in this match, but I’ll back Sharapova to advance with a 3 set victory. Sharapova in 3.
3. Tomas Berdych vs. Rafael Nadal
After winning 3 of his first 4 matches against Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych has endured a miserable run of late against the Spanish superstar, going down to Nadal in their last 18 encounters. That said, Berdych will probably never have a better chance to end his losing streak against the 14-time Grand Slam champion, as Nadal is still finding his feet on court after an injury-riddled second half of 2014.
The bouncy hard-courts in Melbourne suit Berdych to a tee, and the Czech has looked sharp in moving through to the quarter-finals without dropping a set. Third seed Nadal has to start as the favourite, but I think this match will be extremely close and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Berdych emerge as the victor. Look for Berdych to keep the points short while Nadal aims to grind the Czech into the ground. Nadal in 5.
4. Andy Murray vs. Nick Kyrgios
Just how much does teenager Nick Kyrgios have left in the tank? That’s the question the fans in Australian are asking themselves. The Wimbledon quarter-finalist was mesmerising in coming back from match point down to defeat Andreas Seppi, but there’s no doubt that the match took plenty out of the 19 year old. Add that to a problematic back and I think Kyrgios will simply run out of gas against a high quality opponent in Murray.
Murray was extremely impressive in dismissing Grigor Dimitrov, calming the waters after the Bulgarian’s blistering start and producing the sort of tennis that enabled him to claim majors in 2012 and 2013. Murray won this pair’s only previous encounter in straight sets in Canada last year and, while I expect this match to be closer, I think the result will ultimately be the same. I think Kyrgios can jag a set and compete strongly in at least another, but that’s about it. Murray in 4.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve
January 25, 2015
Local teenager Nick Kyrgios was the toast of Melbourne on Sunday night, the Aussie saving a match point en route to a miraculous comeback victory over Roger Federer’s conqueror Andreas Seppi in an absorbing fourth round duel.
Day 7 Recap
When Seppi took the first two sets, it looked as though Kyrgios was about to hit the canvas. But a break to the 2014 Wimbledon quarter-finalist early in the third set gave him some hope, and when Kyrgios snatched the fourth set in a tiebreaker, it looked as though all the momentum was with the Aussie. Seppi was not done with yet, winning 12 consecutive points to rally from a 4-1 deficit in the final set, but Kyrgios kept his nerve, eventually closing out the match 8-6 in the decider after 3 hours and 34 minutes.
Kyrgios will now face Andy Murray for a spot in the semi-finals, after the Scot made the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the sixth successive year with a narrow victory over Grigor Dimitrov. The two seeds split the opening sets before Murray took the third to put himself in pole position. When Dimitrov led 5-2 in the fourth set, it seemed as though a fifth set was a near certainty, but 5 games in a row to Murray handed the former finalist a terrific win.
Earlier in the day, local hope Bernard Tomic was outgunned by Tomas Berdych, the Czech star too strong and steady on the big points. For the third consecutive year, Berdych is into the quarter-finals without dropping a set, but he faces a stern test next up in the form of Rafael Nadal. The Spanish superstar was forced to save 6 set points in the opening stanza against Kevin Anderson, but after taking the first set Nadal grew in confidence and ultimately claimed a 3 set win.
In the women’s tournament, second seed Maria Sharapova was in ruthless form, dismissing US Open semi-finalist Peng Shuai for the loss of just 3 games. Sharapova next faces Eugenie Bouchard, who overcame a mid-match meltdown to beat the Romanian Begu. Third seed Simona Halep was impressive in the night session, dismissing Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets, and will now face Ekaterina Makarova in the semi-finals after the Russian overcame Julia Goerges in straight sets.
Matches of the Day – Day 8
1. Feliciano Lopez vs. Milos Raonic
Raonic might be the higher-ranked player of the pair, but previous matches between these players have always been close, with each player claiming 2 wins out of the 4 matches. Lopez collected the most recent match, on hard-courts in Canada last year, but I think Raonic will be a tougher proposition over 5 sets.
Both players enjoyed standout seasons in 2014, but the reality is that Lopez is in the twilight of his career whereas Raonic is still on an upswing. The Canadian’s serve is up there with the very best in the game, and he has been working diligently on his backhand in an effort to improve the most glaring weakness in his game. I’ll back Raonic to squeeze through this one in a tight 4-setter featuring a couple of tiebreakers. Raonic in 4.
2. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Stan Wawrinka entered last year’s French Open as the Australian Open champion and a recent winner on clay in Monte Carlo, but the Swiss star quickly realised that reputations count for very little on the court, going down to Garcia-Lopez in the opening round at Roland Garros. I’m sure that in Paris Wawrinka was still adjusting to life as a Grand Slam champion, and all the pressure, commitments and expectations that come with such a title, but at the same time that win will give Garcia-Lopez plenty of belief going into this clash.
Wawrinka has been in good form so far 2015, winning the tournament in Chennai and looking strong in his opening few matches in Melbourne. I think Wawrinka is now more accustomed to the greater spotlight he is under, and Garcia-Lopez won’t be as big a threat on hard-courts as he is on clay. Look for Wawrinka to gain revenge for Paris with a convincing victory. Wawrinka in 3.
3. Venus Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska
For the first time since 2011, Venus Williams is into the round of 16 at a Grand Slam, and the veteran American will be desperate to continue her winning ways today. Williams won in Auckland in the lead-up to Melbourne and if she is having a good serving day then Radwanska could be in real trouble.
Williams leads the head-to-head record 5-4, however it should be noted that Radwanska has won the past 3 matches between the pair. I wouldn’t be surprised in Venus turns back the clock with a win here, but I think Radwanska’s consistency and retrieval skills make her the favourite if the match goes into a deciding set. Radwanska in 3.
4. Serena Williams vs. Garbine Muguruza
Just as Stan Wawrinka was shocked in Paris last year by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, so too was Serena Williams stunned in the French capital in 2014. Defending champion Williams was upset by Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, who had been threatening to beat an elite player in the months leading up to the French Open.
Williams will be gunning for revenge in this clash and, while Serena very rarely fails to get what she wants, it should be emphasised that Muguruza is the real deal, with former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez considering her a Grand Slam contender in 2015. That might be slightly optimistic, but there’s no doubt Muguruza is one to keep an eye out for. That said, I think Williams will be too focused and too strong for the Spaniard in this clash. Williams in 2.
5. Dominika Cibulkova vs. Victoria Azarenka
She might be unseeded this year after an injury-plagued 2014, but Victoria Azarenka has once again demonstrated her fondness for the bouncy blue hard-courts at Melbourne Park by waltzing into the round of 16. The Belarusian is still not quite back to her best, but even at 90 percent Azarenka is a major threat to the rest of the players on the WTA Tour.
Cibulkova’s form fell away a bit last year after a tremendous start to the season in Melbourne, but last year’s finalist is a feisty competitor who beat Azarenka in their last encounter. That said, Azarenka has won 6 of the 8 meetings between the players, and I favour the two-time champion to claim career win number 7 over Cibulkova in this one. Azarenka in 3.
Put your house on: Novak Djokovic. The top seed should cruise past Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller without so much as breaking a sweat.
Upset alert: I’m backing two-time champion Victoria Azarenka to continue her impressive run by knocking out eleventh seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Likely to go the distance: As noted above, I think the match between Venus Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska is destined for 3 long sets.
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.
January 24, 2015
For the first time in 4 years, both Williams sisters are through to the fourth round of a Grand Slam, with Venus and Serena each forced to fight back from a set down to claim a spot in the round of 16.
Day 6 Recap
After Venus Williams came from a set and a break down against Camila Giorgi to make the round of 16 at a major for the first time since Wimbledon in 2011, sister Serena repeated the comeback act against upcoming Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the top seed roaring back to win in 3 sets. Venus will next face Polish seed Agnieszka Radwanska, whilst Serena will square off against Garbine Muguruza, who upset the world number one in Paris last year.
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was the shock casualty on Day 6, going down to talented American Madison Keys in straight sets. Keys now faces another American called Madison, unheralded Madison Brengle, who knocked off Coco Vandeweghe. Last year’s finalist Dominika Cibulkova was another winner on Day 6, taking out France’s Alize Cornet. Cibulkova next faces former champ Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
In the men’s tournament, Stan Wawrinka was all business in a straight sets win over Jarrko Nieminen, whilst Feliciano Lopez and Milos Raonic notched 3 sets wins over Jerzy Janowicz and Benjamin Becker respectively. Kei Nishikori bounced back from the loss of the first set to defeat Steve Johnson in 4 sets, but John Isner was ousted by Gilles Muller. Top seed Novak Djokovic was a winner in the night session, surviving a tight first set tiebreaker against Fernando Verdasco before wrapping up the match in straight sets.
Matches of the Day – Day 7
1. Andy Murray vs. Grigor Dimitrov
Almost certainly the pick of the fourth round matches, this mouthwatering clash pits Olympic gold medallist and two-time major winner Andy Murray against rising star Grigor Dimitrov, who showed he was ready to take the next step in the majors by whipping Murray on his home turf at Wimbledon last year.
Coach Roger Rasheed will be in Dimitrov’s ear in the lead-up to this match, telling him that he belongs in the upper echelon of men’s tennis and that he can definitely win this match, but I have been very impressed with Murray’s form in the lead-up to this tournament, both in Abu Dhabi and Perth. After taking a good 12-15 months to find his feet again after major back surgery, Murray again seems to be in the form that makes him a major contender in the Grand Slams. Little will separate the pair in this match, but I think Murray looks super fit after his offseason training in Miami and Dubai, and that could prove decisive down the stretch. Murray in 5.
2. Bernard Tomic vs. Tomas Berdych
The Australian Open hard-courts certainly suit Tomas Berdych’s game, the bouncy surface assisting the Czech’s free-flowing, hard-hitting approach. The two-time Davis Cup champion made the semi-finals of the tournament last year, going down to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in a tight match, and will again fancy himself to feature in the latter stages of the tournament.
Bernard Tomic had a wretched season in 2014, the Aussie being significantly affected by his double hip surgery. However, Tomic seems to be moving freely around the court once more and is the sort of player who could cause a boilover against a seed of Berdych’s calibre. Berdych has won both their previous meetings, each at Wimbledon, however both matches were close encounters. I expect Tomic, spurred on by the home crowd, to push Berdych all the way, but the Czech’s power game and superior fitness will likely see him through. Berdych in 5.
3. Nick Kyrgios vs. Andreas Seppi
The parochial Australian fans would normally be cheering for the very likeable Roger Federer, but I suspect they were pretty happy to see Andreas Seppi upset the Swiss superstar, as it meant that hometown boy Nick Kyrgios got a far more winnable round of 16 match-up as a result. Despite having back problems coming into the tournament and having limited match practice of late, Kyrgios has once again shown his ability to produce his best tennis on the biggest stages.
Seppi showed his abilities in beating Federer, but I wonder how the Italian will fare trying to back up from that momentous victory. I suspect Seppi might find it difficult to reproduce the magic of Friday’s win over the second seed, and with the home crowd cheering on Kyrgios, I’ll back the Aussie to make it through to the quarter-finals. Kyrgios in 4.
4. Kevin Anderson vs. Rafael Nadal
Big serving South African Kevin Anderson presents a far different match-up for Rafael Nadal than the Spaniard’s last opponent, the diminutive Dudi Sela. Lanky Anderson has the ability to blast players off the court but I think Nadal is well and truly up and running in the tournament now after his second round scare against American Tim Smyczek.
I’m sure that at least one of the sets will go to a tiebreaker, but look for Nadal to take big cuts at the Anderson second serve and make the most of his rare opportunities to break the South African’s serve. Anderson is not without a hope, but I’m predicting that Rafa will squeeze his way through in 4 tight sets. Nadal in 4.
5. Shuai Peng vs. Maria Sharapova
Chinese seed Peng had a strong finish to 2014, making the round of 16 at the All England Club and then reaching the semi-finals at the US Open. She’s a crisp, compact hitter who moves well around the court and who will make Sharapova pay if the Russian has one of her bad serving days. Sharapova scraped through against compatriot Alexandra Panova in round 2 before thrashing the talented Kazakh Zarina Diyas in round 3.
Peng is always steady, but Sharapova is the better shotmaker of the pair and the more aggressive player, so the match is on the second seed’s racquet, so to speak. There might be a fair bit of shrieking and grunting involved, but I think the former champion will get the job done today. Sharapova in 3.
Put your house on: Eugenie Bouchard. The Wimbledon finalist should have far too much game for Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.
Upset alert: I think that at least one of the Aussies in action today will notch an upset win. Kyrgios over Seppi is probably a safer bet than Tomic over Berdych, but you never know.
Likely to go the distance: Belgian Yanina Wickmayer is in good form at present and could well stretch Romanian third seed Simona Halep to 3 sets in their round of 16 clash today.
January 23, 2015
For the first time since 2001, the men’s singles round of 16 at Melbourne Park won’t feature Roger Federer, after the second seed was sensationally knocked out of the tournament on Day 5 by Italy’s Andreas Seppi.
Day 5 Recap
Seppi had never previously beaten Federer, and had taken just one set off the Swiss superstar in all of their previous matches, but the Italian started strongly, breaking Federer to love to claim the opening set and then taking the second in a tiebreaker to set up a commanding lead. Federer got the third set but, despite winning more points than Seppi for the match, ultimately went down in 4 sets. Federer’s upset is good news for Nick Kyrgios who set up a meeting with Seppi by beating Tunisian Malek Jaziri.
Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov set up a marquee fourth round showdown in contrasting styles, with Murray cruising past Joao Sousa and Dimitrov forced to 5 sets to see off former finalist Marcos Baghdatis. Rafael Nadal thrashed Dudi Sela to set up a clash with big-serving Kevin Anderson, whilst Bernard Tomic and Tomas Berdych booked a fourth round showdown by defeating Sam Groth and Viktor Troicki respectively.
In the women’s tournament, Maria Sharapova hammered Zarina Diyas 6-1 6-1 and will now face China’s Shuai Peng, who overcame Yaroslava Shvedova. Seeds Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep recorded wins on Day 5, as Yanina Wickmayer scored an upset win over Italian seed Sara Errani. Ekaterina Makarova overcame Karolina Pliskova and will now face Germany’s Julia Goerges for a place in the quarter-finals.
Matches of the Day – Day 6
1. Serena Williams vs. Elina Svitolina
As I said at the outset of the tournament, Serena Williams is head and shoulders above the rest of the players on the WTA Tour when she puts her mind to the job. So far, the American has been steady without being spectacular, but that’s not a big issue, as she will aim to peak in the second week of the tournament.
Svitolina is a rising star on the women’s circuit and has now made the round of 32 at Melbourne Park in consecutive years. She’s definitely one to watch for the future, but I don’t think she will have the composure on the big stage to truly threaten Williams. Williams in 2.
2. Novak Djokovic vs. Fernando Verdasco
One only has to think back to the pulsating semi-final at Melbourne Park played out between Fernando Verdasco and his more esteemed compatriot Rafael Nadal to remember just how dangerous Verdasco can be on hard-courts, especially when he gets his confidence up and his serve and forehand firing. On one hand, Djokovic will see Federer’s defeat as giving him an even better chance of winning the title; on the other hand, Djokovic will know that he needs to keep his guard up against a challenging opponent today.
Verdasco has nothing to lose, so I expect him to come out all guns blazing. But even if the Spaniard manages to fire on all cylinders for a while, he has a tendency to get tight in big match situations, and I think that Djokovic will get the better of him on the big points. Djokovic in 4.
3. Petra Kvitova vs. Madison Keys
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova showed in her demolition of Eugenie Bouchard in the 2014 final at the All England Club that she deserves to belong in the very top tier of women’s tennis, and now it is time for the Czech star to make her mark in the other Grand Slams. Kvitova has had an ideal preparation for the year’s first major, winning the title in Sydney before travelling to Melbourne, and I think she has to be considered one of the favourites for the title.
Keys is a highly rated American youngster who, with former star Lindsay Davenport now by her side, is sure to continue to progress through the ranks in the next 12 months. Keys showed plenty of grit in fighting back from a set down to beat Aussie seed Casey Dellacqua in round 2, but I fear a win over Kvitova might be step too far right now. Kvitova in 2.
4. Feliciano Lopez vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Spanish seed Feliciano Lopez is pretty fortunate just to be in the third round of the tournament, after he was forced to eke out a 10-8 fifth set win over the American Kudla in round 1 and got lucky in round 2 when his opponent, Adrian Mannarino, was forced to retire when in a winning position. Janowicz has been more impressive in contrast, completing a gutsy 5 set win over French seed Gael Monfils in the second round.
This should be an enjoyable match to watch, with Lopez’s old-school all-court game contrasting with Janowicz’s huge serve and raw power game. I think this is definitely a winnable match for the Pole, but I’ll back Lopez to get back in form with a hard-fought win here. Lopez in 5.
5. David Ferrer vs. Gilles Simon
Pencil in a long match featuring plenty of drawn-out rallies between these two baseline battlers. Former French Open finalist Ferrer is super-fit and as tenacious as they come, whilst Simon is a very adept mover around the court and an extremely good counterpuncher.
Ferrer has the better record in the majors and, whilst Simon has claimed his fair share of big-name scalps over the years, the smart money is on the Spaniard to prevail in this one. Ferrer is probably no longer at his peak, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with. Ferrer in 4.
Put your house on: Stan Wawrinka. After his Swiss countryman Federer was upset yesterday, let’s hope the defending champion can get the job done against veteran Finn Jarrko Nieminen today.
Upset alert: Perhaps not an upset per se, but I think unseeded former champ Victoria Azarenka will take down Czech seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova today.
Likely to go the distance: I reckon American Steve Johnson is an underrated player, and I’m backing him to make life difficult for fifth seed Kei Nishikori in their match today.
January 22, 2015
Aussie legend Lleyton Hewitt, competing in his nineteenth consecutive Australian Open, started off in sizzling form against Benjamin Becker in the evening session on Day 4 but eventually ran out of gas, succumbing to the German in 5 sets. Whether or not Hewitt steps onto Rod Laver Arena again remains to be seen, with the Aussie contemplating retirement at the end of 2015.
Day 4 Recap
Top seed Novak Djokovic sounded a warning to his rivals on Day 4, blitzing Russian Andrey Kuznetsov in straight sets. Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka also recorded 3 set wins, whilst John Isner and Kei Nishikori logged 4 set victories. Jerzy Janowicz outlasted Gael Monfils in 5 sets but the news was better for seeds Ferrer, Verdasco and Lopez, all of whom advanced. Joining Monfils on the sidelines on Day 4 were fellow seeds Giraldo and Bautista Agut.
In the women’s tournament, Sam Stosur’s miserable run at home continued, the Aussie seed going down to American Coco Vandeweghe in straight sets. Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka showed she would again be a contender this year, defeating eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets. Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska also claimed wins, with Cibulkova, Kvitova and Muguruza among the other seeds to advance on Day 4.
Matches of the Day – Day 5
1. Andreas Seppi vs. Roger Federer
Fresh from seeing off one Italian in the form of Simone Bollelli in round 2, Roger Federer faces another Italian in round 3 in the form of Andreas Seppi. Seppi is a former top 20 player who is a good mover around the court and a consistent counterpuncher from the baseline.
Federer had a few off moments against Bollelli, but it was hard to tell if that was due to the problems he was experiencing with his finger or due to the play of his opponent. In any event, after dropping a set to Bollelli, I think Federer will put in a more consistent performance today and race through this match in straight sets. Seppi can’t really hurt the second seed, and Federer will take full advantage of that fact. Federer in 3.
2. Karolina Pliskova vs. Ekaterina Makarova
I mentioned the other day that Ekaterina Makarova was a dark horse, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Russian still in the draw as we enter the second week of the tournament. However, she faces a stern test against rising star Karolina Pliskova. The Czech is now ranked 20 in the world after making it through to the final in Sydney last week, and is one to watch in 2015.
Makarova has greater big match experience at this stage, so I’m favouring the Russian to come through this encounter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pliskova comes up with the goods. Makarova in 3.
3. Zarina Diyas vs. Maria Sharapova
After surviving an almighty scare against compatriot Alexandra Panova in round 2, second seed Maria Sharapova will be firmly focused on producing a much more polished performance against Kazakh upstart Zarina Diyas in their round 3 clash today.
Diyas is a rising star on the WTA Tour, currently at her all-time ranking high of 31 in the world. Playing in the marquee night session on Rod Laver Arena might spook the youngster, although she has handled most things well in her career to date. I think Diyas will give a decent account of herself but Sharapova will be all business in this one. Sharapova in 2.
4. Tomas Berdych vs. Viktor Troicki
After being exiled from the tennis world for refusing to take a drug test, Viktor Troicki has bounced back in the best possible way now that he is back on the ATP Tour. Troicki captured the title in Sydney last week and has backed up that win with excellent victories over Vesely and Mayer in Melbourne.
Berdych, a semi-finalist in Melbourne last year, will start as the favourite but the former world number 12 Troicki is likely to give him a bundle of headaches. I’m picking this one to go the distance and for Berdych to squeeze through by the skin of his teeth. Berdych in 5.
5. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Marcos Baghdatis
The Bulgarian star has started off the tournament in very impressive form, and under the watchful eye of coach Roger Rasheed, will want to improve on last year’s performance, where he challenged Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals but couldn’t quite capitalise on his chances.
Veteran Baghdatis is past his best but the former Australian Open finalist has plenty of support in Melbourne and, as he showed in upsetting David Goffin, still has the ability to make life very difficult for the world’s best.
Put your house on: Roger Federer. There are no certainties in sport, but the Swiss star is about as reliable as they come.
Upset alert: Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, a former US Open semi-finalist, could spring a surprise against Italian seed Sara Errani.
Likely to go the distance: I’m backing a long 3-setter to take place between Chinese seed Shuai Peng and Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova. I’ll tip the Chinese player to ultimately prevail.
January 21, 2015
Two former champions, Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal, were pushed to the very brink of elimination on Day 3 before showing their fighting qualities and recording comeback victories.
Day 3 Recap
Sharapova was forced to save 2 match points in her match against fellow Russian Alexandra Panova, eventually prevailing in 3 sets over the world number 150 in 2 hours and 32 minutes. It was smoother sailing for the other women’s seeds in action on Day 3, with 2014 Grand Slam finalists Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep progressing in straight sets. Also advancing was Russian Ekaterina Makarova, China’s Shuai Peng, Italian Sara Errani and rising star Karolina Pliskova.
In similar fashion to Sharapova, Rafael Nadal was forced to scrap his way to victory against courageous American Tim Smyczek, the Spaniard overcoming a 2 sets to 1 deficit before ultimately prevailing 7-5 in the decider. Roger Federer overcame a troublesome finger to beat Simone Bollelli in 4 sets, while Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray recorded routine victories.
There was good news for Aussie fans, as Nick Kyrgios upset Ivo Karlovic and Bernard Tomic ousted Philipp Kohlschreiber, whilst Sam Groth outlasted fellow Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis in 5 sets to set up a meeting with Tomic. Other seeds to fall on Day 3 included Lukas Rosol, who went down to Dudi Sela, Leonardo Mayer, who was beaten by Viktor Troicki, and David Goffin, who was outplayed by former finalist Marcos Baghdatis.
Matches of the Day – Day 4
1. Ivan Dodig vs. Kei Nishikori
Croat Ivan Dodig is a former top 30 player with some serious victories to his name, able to claim wins over Nadal, Raonic and Juan Carlos Ferrero, among others. The Croat hasn’t had the best last 12 months, seeing his singles ranking slide even as his doubles career continues to prosper, but he’ll give Nishikori a decent run for his money.
Nishikori was very solid against Almagro in round 1, maintaining a consistent level against a dangerous opponent, and not letting the Spaniard get into a rhythm. I think Nishikori can do very well in this tournament, and I’ll back him to come through this test with flying colours. Nishikori in 3.
2. Vera Zvonareva vs. Serena Williams
Former world number 2 Vera Zvonareva has endured a miserable couple of years, having suffered from various injuries, including shoulder and hip problems. But the two-time Grand Slam finalist is back on court and working her way back up the rankings.
Even at its best, Zvonareva’s counterpunching game isn’t the sort of game that world number one Serena Williams loses sleep over, the American knowing that she will always dictate play in such circumstances. I think Serena will get through this one pretty easily, but I’m intrigued to see just how well Vera fares. Williams in 2.
3. Milos Raonic vs. Donald Young
Former teen prodigy Donald Young hasn’t ever quite lived up to expectations as a professional, but the American leftie is still a dangerous player and has claimed some tremendous scalps over the years, including the likes of Andy Murray.
Raonic had a terrific 2014 season and, having made the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2014, will firmly believe that a Grand Slam final is next on his to do list. Armed with a ballistic serve and an ever-improving backhand, it’s hard to bet against him. Raonic in 4.
4. Gael Monfils vs. Jerzy Janowicz
Former Wimbledon semi-finalist Jerzy Janowicz got a lucky break when former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro was forced out of the tournament with ongoing wrist problems. Del Potro had been drawn to play the Pole in round 1, but instead Janowicz faced a qualifier and cruised through to round 2.
Janowicz isn’t so lucky in round two, as he faces electrifying French seed Gael Monfils. The seventeenth seed performed impressively in New York last year and will be looking for another strong showing at the first major of 2015. If he can make some inroads on the Janowicz serve and maintain his consistency, I’ll back Monfils to notch the win. Monfils in 5.
5. Casey Dellacqua vs. Madison Keys
Aussie Casey Dellacqua enjoyed the most season of her career in 2014 and has been rewarded with a seeding at her home Grand Slam. The tenacious baseliner has scored some big wins at Melbourne Park over the years, and will be looking to put in another deep run in front of the patriotic Australian fans.
Keys is a rising star and the American will learn plenty from new coach Lindsay Davenport, a former world number one and multiple Grand Slam champion. Keys is a natural athlete and has plenty of tennis talent to match, hence why expectations are high. I’ll back the American to prevail in this one, but only by a whisker. Keys in 3.
Put your house on: Defending champion Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss star should be far too good for his second round opponent Marius Copil.
Upset alert: Spaniard Marcel Granollers could surprise French seed Gilles Simon, while Slovak veteran Daniela Hantuchova will fancy her chances against Spanish seed Garbiñe Muguruza.
Likely to go the distance: Pencil in 5 sets for the clash between Frenchman Adrian Mannarino and Spanish seed Feliciano Lopez.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.
January 20, 2015
Defending champion Stan Wawrinka and top seed Novak Djokovic, opponents in classic matches in Melbourne in 2013 and 2014, started their 2015 campaigns in triumphant fashion on Day 2, both claiming emphatic straight sets victories.
Day 2 Recap
Djokovic showed that he has well and truly recovered from his recent illness, the Serb cracking 30 winners to cruise past Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene. Wawrinka was even more ruthless against Marsel Ilhan, granting the Turk just 7 games for the entire match. Other winners on the men’s side on Day 2 included Aussie veteran Lleyton Hewitt, seeds John Isner, Gilles Simon and Milos Raonic, and Raonic’s countryman Vasek Pospisil, who enjoyed a fighting 5 set win over American Sam Querrey.
Fifth seed Kei Nishikori enjoyed a fine win over the dangerous Nicolas Almagro, as Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut progressed with a victory over rising star Dominic Thiem. However, the news wasn’t so good for seeds Fognini, Benneteau and Dolgopolov, each of whom was bundled out of the tournament on Day 2.
Among the women in action on Day 2 were the Williams sisters, both of whom breezed through to round 2, and Victoria Azarenka, who defeated a somewhat flat Sloane Stephens. Caroline Wozniacki overcome stubborn early resistance from Taylor Townsend before progressing, while Kvitova, Radwanska, Cornet and Cibulkova were all in the winners’ circle on the second day of play.
The miserable run of German seeds at the tournament continued on Day 2, with Andrea Petkovic joining compatriots Lisicki and Kerber on the sidelines. Jelena Jankovic also exited the tournament, whilst Italian seed Flavia Pennetta was upset by countrywoman Camila Giorgi.
Matches of the Day – Day 3
1. Jarmila Gajdosova vs. Simona Halep
One of the feel-good stories of the first round was Aussie Jarmila Gajdosova finally scoring a win in a singles match at the Australian Open on her tenth attempt. Ranked as high as 25 in the world in 2011, Gajdosova is on the comeback trail after a woeful couple of injury-plagued seasons in 2012 and 2013. The 2014 season saw the Aussie move back inside the world’s top 100 and Gajdosova is definitely a dangerous floater in any draw, given how hard she smacks the ball.
2014 French Open finalist Simona Halep will be looking to capture a Grand Slam title in 2015 after being a top contender at the majors in 2014. Whereas Gajdosova is purely and simply a power hitter, Halep is a far more nimble player, mixing great court coverage and anticipatory skills with a variety of spins and slices. I think Gajdosova could cause the third seed some anxious moments, but I expect Halep to prevail in the end. Halep in 2.
2. Andy Murray vs. Marinko Matosevic
Murray beat Matosevic without too many problems at the Hopman Cup in Perth a few weeks ago, but the cauldron-like atmosphere of a Grand Slam is very different to the far more relaxed atmosphere of an exhibition event. That said, Murray’s form in the run-up to Melbourne has been impressive and I think that, probably for the first time since he won Wimbledon in 2013, Murray truly believes he has a realistic chance of winning another major.
Murray is a three-time finalist in Melbourne and so the Scot is obviously at home on the blue hard-courts. Matosevic is a feisty competitor who can get on some serious hot streaks, so Murray will need to remain focused throughout the match. Look for the Aussie to push hard for a set and a half but for Murray to ultimately finish the stronger. Murray in 4.
3. Roberta Vinci vs. Ekaterina Makarova
Veteran Italian Roberta Vinci is not only the world’s top-ranked doubles player; she’s also pretty handy on the singles court, having been ranked as high as 11 in the world. Vinci’s classic game has twice seen her progress to the quarter-finals of the US Open, but the Italian has her work cut out for her today against Russian dark horse Ekaterina Makarova.
Tenth seed Makarova often flies under the radar at the majors, but the Russian was a semi-finalist in New York last year and a quarter-finalist in London, and has made the Australian Open quarter-finals on two previous occasions. Whilst Vinci’s singles career is on a downward slide, Makarova’s is peaking, and so I’ll favour the Russian to get the job done today. Makarova in 3.
4. Nick Kyrgios vs. Ivo Karlovic
He might have destroyed a few racquets along the way (and may ultimately have a lighter wallet after some volatile outbursts), but the important thing for Nick Kyrgios is that he managed to get through his first round match against Federico Delbonis. Coming into the tournament with back problems, Kyrgios ground out the win against Delbonis but the Aussie faces a tall order against Ivo Karlovic in round 2.
Croatian seed Karlovic upset Novak Djokovic in Doha recently and, on the verge of turning 36, is still a formidable serving machine. Unsurprisingly, the key in this match is for Kyrgios to take care of his own service games and to capitalise on the fleeting opportunities he gets on the Karlovic serve. If he can do that, I think Kyrgios can score an upset. Kyrgios in 5.
5. Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Bernard Tomic
It was a poor 2014 season for former boy wonder Bernard Tomic, but it should be noted that the Aussie always plays well at home, having made the round of 16 in 2012 and the third round on a couple of other occasions. He will need to be on song today against the consistent German Philipp Kohlschreiber. Seeded 22, the German had another solid year on tour in 2014 and has also enjoyed success at Melbourne Park, having made the round of 16 on three previous occasions.
If Tomic was in red-hot form, then I would say that this is definitely a winnable match for him. But I just don’t think the Aussie has enough match fitness at present to challenge a player of Kohlschreiber’s calibre in a best of 5 sets match. No doubt the crowd will spur Tomic on, but I’m backing the reliable German to prevail in this clash. Kohlschreiber in 4.
Put your house on: Maria Sharapova. The former champion should make short work of her Russian compatriot Alexandra Panova.
Upset alert: Andreas Seppi might sneak past French seed Jeremy Chardy, while Sydney champion Viktor Troicki could well cause some problems for Argentine seed Leonard Mayer.
Likely to go the distance: It’s always tough playing a countryman, and I think the all-Aussie clash between big-serving Sam Groth and rising star Thanasi Kokkinakis will go all the way to 5 sets. Look for Kokkinakis to give it his all but, after surviving Gulbis, I don’t think the kid will have enough in the tank to ultimately get past Groth.
January 19, 2015
It was a tale of two tournaments on Day 1 of the 2015 Australian Open. While almost all of the big names in the men’s tournament in action on Day 1 sailed through to round 2, an astonishing 8 seeds crashed out in the women’s tournament.
Day 1 Recap
Ana Ivanovic was the first big name to fall on Day 1, the fifth seed going down to Czech qualifier Lucie Hradrecka in 3 sets. Before long, the Serb was joined on the sidelines by German seeds Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber. Bencic, Kuznetsova, Safarova and Suarez Navarro were among the other seeds to exit on Day 1, whilst setting the record straight and collecting straight sets wins were big names Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard. Other winners on the women’s side on the opening day of play included Makarova, Peng and former French Open finalist Sara Errani.
In the men’s tournament, anxious moments were few and far between for the big guns, with Nadal, Federer, Murray and Dimitrov all recording impressive straight sets wins. While Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo was forced to retire due to injury, and Latvian seed Ernests Gulbis was ousted by Aussie upstart Thanasi Kokkinakis in an electrifying 5-setter, the news was better for the other seeded men, with the likes of Gasquet, Goffin, Mayer, Kohlschreiber, Rosol, Anderson and Karlovic all booking their spot in the second round.
Matches of the Day – Day 2
1. Nicolas Almagro vs. Kei Nishikori
Nico Almagro was something of a doubtful starter for this tournament, with the Spaniard still recovering from foot and shoulder problems that curtailed his 2014 season. The former top 10 player is a clay-court specialist but also a formidable hard-courts player, and at his best would give Nishikori a real run for his money.
At present however, I don’t think Almagro has the fitness or the match practice to truly challenge the Japanese star over a best of 5 sets match. US Open runner-up Nishikori will be looking to go one step further than he did in New York, and Melbourne Park presents one of his best opportunities to go all the way. Nishikori in 4.
2. Taylor Townsend vs. Caroline Wozniacki
Former Australian Open junior champion and junior world number one Taylor Townsend represents a challenging opening round match-up for Dane Caroline Wozniacki. The eighth seeded Wozniacki recaptured some of her best form in the second half of 2014, highlighted by a run to the US Open final, and she will be eager to keep up her momentum in 2015.
Leftie Townsend is a crafty player, and did make the round of 32 in Paris last year, but is still in the developmental stage of her career and has a fair bit of work to do before she is capable of challenging the world’s best on a regular basis. That said, it will be interesting to see how she fares against Wozniacki. Wozniacki in 2.
3. Sloane Stephens vs. Victoria Azarenka
Tennis fans will recall the spiteful semi-final these two played out at Melbourne Park in 2013, when Azarenka took a dubious timeout at a critical stage of the second set with Stephens in the midst of a spirited comeback. Since then, both players have struggled to regain their best form, with 2014 an inconsistent year for Stephens and an injury-plagued season for Azarenka.
Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka is still working her way back to her best tennis, but there’s no doubt that the Belarusian loves the courts in Melbourne. On the other hand, Stephens is a proven big match player, and she will be eager to atone for her 2013 loss to Azarenka. Accordingly, this has all the makings of a blockbuster. I’ll take Azarenka by a whisker. Azarenka in 3.
4. Dominika Cibulkova vs. Kirsten Flipkens
Diminutive Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova roared into the final at Melbourne Park last year, claiming a number of high profile scalps, including Maria Sharapova, before succumbing to Li Na in the championship match. Seeded eleventh this year, Cibulkova may well find it hard to live up to last year’s heroics, and she faces a tricky opening round match today.
Flipkens is a veteran of the WTA Tour whose success at junior level never fully translated into success on the main tour. That said, the Belgian is a highly skilled all-court player and did make it through to the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2013. If Cibulkova is on song, she’ll have too much firepower, but if she is having an off day then Flipken’s steady game could see her the Belgian claim the win. Cibulkova in 3.
5. Novak Djokovic vs. Aljaz Bedene
Slovenian Aljaz Bedene has started the 2015 season in grand fashion, emerging from qualifying to make the final of the Chennai Open and giving a decent account of himself in going down to Stan Wawrinka in the title match.
Based on his form in India, you’d expect Bedene to put in a good showing against Djokovic in this encounter, especially as the Serb has been struggling with illness for the past few days. However, Djokovic claims he is now back to full health and raring to go. In that case, Bedene beware. Djokovic in 3.
Put your house on: Top seed Serena Williams. The American superstar should wrap up her match against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck quicker than you can say Van Uytvanck.
Upset alert: Sam Stosur’s abysmal home record of late means that she is in real danger of falling to Monica Niculescu. In the men’s draw, I think Dutchman Robin Haase will push French seed Gilles Simon all the way and could pull off the upset.
Likely to go the distance: I’m backing Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci to push David Ferrer to 5 sets, while I’m also expecting the Simon-Haase clash to go the distance.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, follow all the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.