French Open 2016: Tournament Predictions

May 21, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

With the 2016 French Open commencing tomorrow, it’s time to predict both the men’s and women’s singles champions.

On the men’s side, world number one Novak Djokovic is desperate to complete the career Grand Slam by capturing the one major title to have eluded him to date, whilst on the women’s side top seed Serena Williams is looking to defend her title and claim the twenty-second Grand Slam title of her illustrious career.

Will Djokovic finally find success in France? Can anyone stop Serena? Read on for my thoughts and predictions.

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Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Tennis fans worldwide will be disappointed with the withdrawals of Federer and Monfils from the tournament, but there are still a number of fascinating story-lines heading into the second major of the year.

Djokovic remains head and shoulders above everyone else on the ATP Tour, and once again returns to Roland Garros fixated on lifting the trophy. The Serb has had a couple of hiccups during this year’s clay-court season, losing to Vesely in Monte Carlo and Murray in Rome, but in some ways I think those losses will benefit him. Last year, Djokovic arrived in Paris on a 22 match winning streak, which he extended to 28 consecutive wins before being upset by a red-hot Wawrinka in the final.

This year, Djokovic doesn’t bear the burden of any winning streak, and I think we will see the Serb remaining very low-key in the early stages of the tournament, seeking to negotiate his way through to the second week of the tournament with a minimum of fuss.

There’s no doubt Djokovic wants the French Open title more than any other at this point in his career, but he and his coaching team understand the importance of staying in the moment and not letting desperation or the weight of expectation affect his performance. The Serb has a relatively easy path through to the quarter-finals, where he is likely to face former finalist Ferrer, who is always a tough opponent on the red dirt, or Berdych, who has struggled against the ATP Tour’s elite performers in recent times.

Nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal has had a very good clay-court season after a poor 2014, the Spaniard picking up titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Federer’s withdrawal allowed Nadal to become the tournament’s fourth seed, meaning he won’t face Djokovic until the semi-finals. However, the Spaniard has a tough path to the final four, with match-ups against bogeyman Fabio Fognini and the much-improved Dominic Thiem on the cards.

Nadal was very close to beating Djokovic in Rome, but couldn’t seal the deal in either of the sets the pair played. If the fourth seed can boost his confidence by performing well in the lead-up to the semi-finals, I think the Nadal-Djokovic clash, if it eventuates, will be far closer than last year’s encounter in Paris which Djokovic won easily.

In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Stan Wawrinka and the in-form Andy Murray are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals. A finalist in Madrid and the winner in Rome, Murray is enjoy a second consecutive season of success on clay and I think the Scot has his best ever chance of claiming the French Open title. He’s got a tricky first round match against the veteran Stepanek, but I fancy Murray to move through to the quarter-finals without too much trouble. There he will likely face Kei Nishikori, who has proved himself to be one of the ATP Tour’s best clay-courters in recent years. I favour Murray to come out on top given the best of five sets format, but he’ll need to be at his best if he faces Nishikori as predicted.

It will be interesting to see how Wawrinka backs up last year’s sensational victory at Roland Garros. The Swiss star has a relatively easy section of the draw, although French counterpuncher Gilles Simon is lurking as a tricky potential opponent. In the quarter-finals Wawrinka could face eighth seed Milos Raonic or former US Open champion Marin Cilic, but I think the third seed will be too strong should he face either Cilic or Raonic.

In many respects, Wawrinka enters this tournament with nothing to lose after his unexpected 2015 triumph, and that may allow him to play with the freedom and aggressive shotmaking that saw him stun Djokovic in last year’s final. A Murray-Wawrinka semi-final, should it eventuate, would pit Wawrinka’s hard-hitting against Murray’s counterpunching nous. Murray’s improved first and second serves have delivered results so far this year, and I think the Scot is in better form than Wawrinka right now.

After splitting the Madrid and Rome finals, it would be no surprise to see Murray and Djokovic square off in the French Open final. Murray won the last encounter, in Rome, but for a variety of reasons Djokovic was not at his best in that match. Djokovic has had the better of Murray in their recent Grand Slam finals and, assuming Djokovic is at full health, I think the Serb will be too strong for the Scot over five sets.

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Andy Murray

Semi-finalists: Nadal, Wawrinka

Outside Chance: Nishikori, Thiem

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Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

After her surprise loss to Angelique Kerber in the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, one can be sure that Serena Williams will be determined to reconfirm her status as the dominant player on the WTA Tour.

Williams has a few tricky players in her section of the draw, including former champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone, but I think the American will march her way into the quarter-finals in impressive fashion. Victoria Azarenka, Williams’ toughest opponent on tour, is her likely opponent in the final eight and whilst such match, if it eventuates, would no doubt be tightly contested, I favour Williams on the red dirt as Azarenka is a far better performer on faster surfaces.

Timea Bacsinszky was a surprise semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year and the Swiss player could well make another deep run this year. Other players in her very open section of the draw with a chance of making the semi-finals include Madison Keys, who reached the final in Rome, and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who will no doubt have much greater confidence following her triumph in Melbourne.

In the bottom half of the draw, two-time French Open quarter-finalist Garbine Muguruza is well-placed to make a deep run, with the Spaniard finding herself in a weaker quarter of the draw. By contrast, the bottom quarter of the draw is littered with talent, with second seed Agnieszka Radwanksa paired with former French Open finalists such as Errani, Safarova, Stosur and Halep.

After a difficult start to the year, Simona Halep enjoyed a much-needed confidence boost by claiming the title in Madrid and, under the guidance of the  very astute Darren Cahill, I think the Romanian can put together a run to the final four in Paris. If she and Muguruza square off in the semi-finals, as predicted, I favour Muguruza courtesy of her greater firepower.

A Muguruza-Williams final would be a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final, where Muguruza had some chances but Williams was ultimately too composed and experienced. Muguruza has beaten Williams in Paris before, but if the pair meet in the final this year then I think Williams will handle the pressure of the situation better and eventually prevail.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Garbine Muguruza

Semi-finalists: Bacsinszky, Halep

Outside Chance: Azarenka, Radwanska, Kerber

That’s it for now. Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from Paris and be sure to follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

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

January 31, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

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

Day 14 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 30, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

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

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

Day 13 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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Match of the Day – Day 14

Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 29, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

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

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

Day 12 Recap

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

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

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

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Match of the Day – Day 13

Serena Williams vs. Angelique Kerber

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

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

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

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

Australian Open 2016 Day 12 Preview: Murray vs. Raonic

January 28, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

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

Day 11 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match of the Day – Day 12

Andy Murray vs. Milos Raonic

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 27, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

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

Day 10 Recap

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

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

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

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

Matches of the Day – Day 11

1. Serena Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska

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

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

2. Angelique Kerber vs. Johanna Konta

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

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

3. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic

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

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

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

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

January 26, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

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

Day 9 Recap

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

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

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Matches of the Day – Day 10

1. Gael Monfils vs. Milos Raonic

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

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

2. David Ferrer vs. Andy Murray

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

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

3. Angelique Kerber vs. Victoria Azarenka

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

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

4. Johanna Konta vs. Shuai Zhang

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

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

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

Australian Open 2016 Day 9 Preview: Nishikori looks to oust Djokovic

January 25, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Canadian Milos Raonic was the toast of the town in Melbourne on Day 8, outlasting former champion Stan Wawrinka in 5 sets to book a spot in the quarter-finals.

Day 8 Recap

Raonic was well in control after claiming the first two sets of the match but had to withstand a Wawrinka comeback, with the Swiss seed taking the third and fourth sets to push the match into a decider. The Canadian used his big serve to maximum advantage, eventually claiming the win 6-3 in the fifth set. Raonic will now face Gael Monfils for a place in the semi-finals, after the Frenchman defeated Andrey Kuznetsov in 4 sets.

Andy Murray maintained his perfect record against Aussies and, in doing so, ended local hopes for a men’s champion, defeating Bernard Tomic in a tight 3-setter to progress to the quarter-finals. Murray next faces David Ferrer, who was too good for big-serving John Isner, the Spaniard accounting for the American in straight sets.

In the women’s tournament, two-time champion Victoria Azarenka continued her good form, dismissing Barbora Strycova in straight sets. The Belarusian will now play Angelique Kerber, in a replay of the recent Brisbane International final, after the seventh seed defeated compatriot Beck in an all-German affair.

And unseeded pair Johanna Konta and Shuai Zhang will play off for a place in the semi-finals after scoring upsets on Day 8. Konta took down 2015 semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova in a pulsating 3-setter, eventually prevailing 8-6 in the deciding set, whilst qualifier Zhang continued her dream run, beating another 2015 semi-finalist in Madison Keys in another 3-setter.

Matches of the Day – Day 9

1. Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Carla Suarez Navarro

After a decidedly patchy start to 2015, fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska really turned her season around in the second half of last year, with her consistency culminating in victory at the season-ending WTA Tour Championships. The Pole has her confidence back, and it’s making a huge difference on the court.

Suarez Navarro is a classy player and possesses a world-class single-handed backhand. She showed poise and maturity in running down Daria Gavrilova in the fourth round and will run Radwanska close in this one. Radwanska in 3.

2. Maria Sharapova vs. Serena Williams

Top seed Serena Williams looks to be improving with every match that she plays, which is an ominous sign for the rest of the players in the women’s tournament. Despite her rich success, Sharapova has a miserable record against Williams and hasn’t beaten the American in more than a decade.

Williams loves the hard, flat balls that Sharapova provides her with, and unless the Russian has another dynamite serving day like she did against Bencic, I think this will be another decidedly straightforward win for the world number one. Williams in 2.

3. Roger Federer vs. Tomas Berdych

Tomas Berdych has had his fair share of success against Roger Federer on hard-courts in the past, having knocked him out of the US Open and stretched him to 5 sets at Melbourne Park. The high-bouncing courts give the Czech player plenty of room to execute his powerful groundstrokes and to dictate play.

I think Berdych has a chance in this one if he serves well and can make inroads on the Federer service games. That said, Federer will start as the favourite and looked sharp in whipping David Goffin in the round of 16. Federer in 5.

4. Novak Djokovic vs. Kei Nishikori

Plenty of credit must go to Gilles Simon for pushing the world’s best player to 5 sets in their fourth round encounter, but it is also true that Djokovic had a truly shocking day at the office and yet still managed to win. I’m not sure if we will ever see the top seed produce 100 unforced errors in a single match again.

I expect Djokovic to put in a much more polished performance today, although it should be noted that Nishikori did upset the Serb en route to the 2014 US Open final. I don’t think the Japanese star will be able to replicate that win today, but he will certainly cause some anxious moments for the top seed. Djokovic in 4.

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

Australian Open 2016 Day 8 Preview: Top five matches to watch

January 24, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

World number one Novak Djokovic scraped through his fourth round clash with Gilles Simon on Day 7, the Serb shrugging off an astonishing 100 unforced errors to book his place in the quarter-finals.

Day 7 Recap

Given the top seed’s brilliant form in the last 12 months, it was startling to see Djokovic turn in an unusually sluggish performance. Simon took full advantage and pushed the Serb to a deciding fifth set, but Djokovic lifted his game when it counted and ultimately prevailed in a 4 and a half hour marathon.

Djokovic will need to produce a better performance against Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals, after the Japanese star booked his place in the final 8 with an impressive straight sets win over former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Tomas Berdych was another seed put under pressure on Day 7, the Czech seed forced to 5 sets to overcome Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut. Berdych will face Roger Federer for a place in the semi-finals, after the Swiss superstar brushed aside David Goffin in just 88 minutes.

In the women’s tournament, superstars Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams set up a mouth-watering quarter-final clash with contrasting victories. Sharapova served particularly well to edge past rising star Belinda Bencic, 7-5 7-5, as Williams thrashed the Russian Gasparyan, losing just 3 games for the match.

Aga Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro will meet in the quarter-finals after posting fighting 3 set victories. Radwanska overcame the German Friedsam, whilst Suarez Navarro showed her experience in recovering from a first set thrashing to defeat youngster Daria Gavrilova.

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 8

1. Milos Raonic vs. Stan Wawrinka

After defeating Roger Federer to claim the title in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, Raonic declared that he was ready to take the next step and challenge for Grand Slam titles. The Canadian has a golden opportunity to back up his talk in this clash against two-time major winner Stan Wawrinka.

Raonic has looked good in his matches in Melbourne so far this year, but Wawrinka has performed exceedingly well at the Australian Open in the last few years, capturing the title in 2014.

Raonic’s serve is his biggest weapon, but he has improved his return of serve and his backhand significantly in recent times. Under the eye of Carlos Moya, I think Raonic will go close in this one, but Wawrinka will get there by a whisker. Wawrinka in 5.

2. Bernard Tomic vs. Andy Murray

Similar to Raonic, Tomic has a perfect opportunity to show that he belongs in the top tier of men’s tennis. The former junior world champion was offended by recent comments by Roger Federer which suggested that Tomic is still a way off entering the world’s top 10.

Tomic certainly has the talent to make the top 10, and his last 12 months on the ATP Tour have been his most consistent to date. That said, the Aussie faces an enormous hurdle against second seed Andy Murray, who has been to the Australian Open final no less than 4 times and who has never lost to an Aussie. I’ll take Murray in a tight 4-setter. Murray in 4.

3. David Ferrer vs. John Isner

Having looked mighty sharp in overcoming Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the third round, big-serving John Isner faces a very different Spaniard in the form of David Ferrer in the fourth round. Isner has looked almost unbeatable on serve in his first few matches, but Ferrer will almost certainly get back more balls than Isner’s previous opponents.

Ferrer managed to overcome the emotion associated with defeating Lleyton Hewitt in the veteran’s final ATP Tour match, and as a former semi-finalist, the eighth seed has plenty of experience at Melbourne Park to draw on. I’ll back the Spaniard to come out on top. Ferrer in 5.

4. Madison Keys vs. Shuai Zhang

Qualifier Zhang was on the verge of quitting the sport last year, but the Chinese player decided to give it one last go professionally. After making her way into the main draw, Zhang stunned second seed Simona Halep and has now made it through to the round of 16.

Keys will be drained after the tough fight against Ivanovic and the associated drama involving Ivanovic’s coach, Nigel Sears. Despite this, I think the American will be too powerful for her opponent in this one. Keys in 2.

5. Victoria Azarenka vs. Barbora Strycova

Azarenka’s form to start the tournament has been nothing short of scintillating, with the two-time champion becoming one of the favourites for the title. Azarenka’s game is perfectly suited to the courts at Melbourne Park, and she seems to have her confidence back and her fitness back to an elite level.

Strycova did well to dismiss Muguruza, although much of that had to do with the Spaniard self-destructing. The Czech player will need to lift her game further if she wants to challenge Azarenka in this one. Azarenka in 2.

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

Australian Open 2016 Day 7 Preview: Will Bencic derail Sharapova?

January 23, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Third seed Garbine Muguruza was the biggest casualty on Day 6 at Melbourne Park, the Spaniard succumbing to Czech player Barbora Strycova in straight sets in an unusually subdued performance.

Day 6 Recap

There was no such trouble for two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian continuing her red-hot form with a 6-1 6-1 thrashing of Japan’s Naomi Osaka. Madison Keys overcame a third set deficit and the mid-match collapse of Nigel Sears, the coach of her opponent Ana Ivanovic, to book her spot in the round 16, as Chinese qualifier Zhang also progressed to the round of 16.

Other winners on the women’s side on Day 6 included German seed Angelique Kerber, who overcame American Madison Brengle, and 2015 semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova, who upset the higher ranked Karolina Pliskova.

In the men’s tournament, Stan Wawrinka outpointed big-serving Lukas Rosol, as Bernard Tomic accounted for countryman John Millman. Andy Murray was too good for Joao Sousa, collecting a 4 set win, as Milos Raonic overcame the in-form Viktor Troicki in an impressive performance.

John Isner was too strong for Feliciano Lopez in the battle of two big-servers, as Gael Monfils, David Ferrer and Russian Andrey Kuznetsov also booked their spots in the second week of the tournament.

Matches of the Day – Day 7

1. Belinda Bencic vs. Maria Sharapova

I’m really looking forward to this clash between the up-and-coming Bencic, who shows maturity and strategic nous beyond her tender years, and Sharapova, who has pretty much done it all in a career spanning more than a decade on the WTA Tour.

Sharapova will look to dominate this match with her power game, but if Bencic can get the Russian out of court and off-balance, then I think the young Swiss player has a definite chance of causing an upset. Sharapova starts as the favourite but this is a real danger match for the fifth seed. Sharapova in 3.

2. Novak Djokovic vs. Gilles Simon

Gilles Simon does almost everything very well on a tennis court. The Frenchman is an adept mover around the court, a sweet timer of the ball and a deceptively crafty counterpuncher. But does he have the weapons to truly challenge the world’s best player?

Djokovic very rarely loses and when he does, it is either to someone else at the very top of the game, such as Federer or Murray, or someone who can actually blow the Serb off the court (refer to Djokovic’s 2015 losses to Wawrinka and Karlovic on this point). Accordingly, no matter how well Simon plays, I think Djokovic will find a way to get past the Frenchman. Djokovic in 3.

3. Roger Federer vs. David Goffin

Roger Federer will be firmly focused on a deep run in this year’s Australian Open after last year’s surprise third round exit at the hands of Andreas Seppi. The Swiss legend has already surpassed last year’s effort by dismissing Dimitrov in the round of 32, and I think he will look forward to this match-up with Goffin.

Much like Simon, Goffin is a talented player who doesn’t do much wrong on the court. But I don’t think he has the x-factor required to elevate himself to the very top tier of men’s tennis. Look for Federer to take control early and never relinquish his lead. Federer in 3.

4. Kei Nishikori vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

This should be a blockbuster clash between former Australian Open finalist Tsonga and former US Open finalist Nishikori. Both produce their best tennis on hard-courts, but Nishikori has been in better and more consistent form in recent years, notwithstanding Tsonga’s impressive run to the semi-finals at Roland Garros last year.

The mercurial Tsonga is truly capable of anything, but his recent injury concerns have to cause some doubts over his ability to last 5 sets against a player of Nishikori’s consistency and fitness. I’ll take the Japanese seed in the decider. Nishikori in 5.

5. Daria Gavrilova vs. Carla Suarez Navarro

Having beaten seeds Kvitova and Mladenovic in the tournament already, and with a parochial home crowd cheering her on, it would be foolish to set any limits as to what Daria Gavrilova can achieve at Melbourne Park this year.

Suarez Navarro is a tough opponent, however, and the Spaniard possesses one of the best one-handed backhands on the WTA Tour. Suarez Navarro has produced her best results to date on clay-courts, but she also has some impressive hard-court credentials to her name. No doubt Gavrilova will try her hardest, but I suspect Suarez Navarro will be too strong in the decider. Suarez Navarro in 3.

Put your house on: Serena Williams. I can’t see anything stopping the top seed from booking her spot in the second week of the tournament.

Upset alert: Tomas Berdych will need to be very wary of big-hitting Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut when the pair clash today.

Likely to go the distance: As noted above, I’m predicting a long one in the high-profile clash between Kei Nishikori and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

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

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