Wimbledon 2015 Day 7 Preview: Manic Monday is here

July 5, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Defending champion and second seed Petra Kvitova is out of the tournament, the Czech upset by former world number one Jelena Jankovic in a tight tussle on Day 6.

Day 6 Recap

When Kvitova claimed the first set over Jankovic, it seemed as though the two-time champion was closing in on a spot in the second week of the tournament. But the gritty Jankovic capitalised on some loose play from the Czech, eventually claiming a hard-fought 3 set win.

Former finalist Sabine Lisicki was another casualty on Day 6, going down to Swiss seed Timea Bacsinszky, as Garbine Muguruza repeated her French Open win over Angelique Kerber. Caroline Wozniacki overcame Camila Giorgi in straight sets, whilst Agnieszka Radwanska rallied from 0-4 down in the second set to overcame Casey Dellacqua in straight sets.

In the men’s tournament, Sam Groth recorded the second fastest serve in Wimbledon history but ultimately succumbed to Roger Federer in 4 sets, as Andy Murray overcame shoulder concerns to defeat Andreas Seppi in 4 sets. Marin Cilic finished off John Isner 12-10 in the fifth set, and Vasek Pospisil outlasted James Ward 8-6 in the decider.

Viktor Troicki ended Dustin Brown’s gallant run from qualifying, whilst veteran Ivo Karlovic upset Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to book a fourth round showdown with Murray. Tomas Berdych also progressed, as Gilles Simon took down compatriot Gael Monfils in 5 sets.

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 7

1. Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams

What can one say about two five-time Wimbledon winners, two sisters who have changed the dynamics of women’s tennis forever? It goes without saying, but there will never be another Serena and Venus. Love them or loathe them, they have transformed the women’s game.

Unfortunately, most of their matches against one another tend to be anticlimactic affairs, and I can’t imagine this one being any different. A few years ago, I would have given Venus a good chance on grass, but these days Venus is slower and less mobile and Serena is simply refusing to lose. Serena in 2.

2. Novak Djokovic vs. Kevin Anderson

Fresh from seeing off the crafty Bernard Tomic, top seed Novak Djokovic now faces a completely different test in the shape of lanky South African Kevin Anderson. The fourteenth seed made it through to the final at Queen’s Club in the lead up to Wimbledon and has a sufficiently ballistic serve to trouble the world’s very best.

But, whilst Anderson is amongst the best servers on the ATP Tour, Djokovic is hands down the best returner on tour. Look for the Serb to neutralise Anderson’s biggest weapon and to put plenty of pressure on the South African’s second serve. Djokovic in 3.

3. Ivo Karlovic vs. Andy Murray

At an age when most tennis professionals have been retired for several years, Ivo Karlovic is still producing world class tennis. The 36 year old Croat produced a powerhouse display of serving to defeat French Open semi-finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round and earn this chance to play former champion Murray.

Murray looked to have shoulder problems midway through his match against Seppi, but finished the match in fine style and, as with Djokovic against Anderson, I think Murray will find a way to lessen the impact of Karlovic’s serve. Look for Murray to sneak through a tricky match-up with a tight 4-set win. Murray in 4.

4. Garbine Muguruza vs. Caroline Wozniacki

This is a major danger match for fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki, with Muguruza having won 2 of the pair’s 3 career meetings. Muguruza is the bigger hitter of the pair and therefore dictates most of the rallies, leaving Wozniacki to fight and scrap for all of her points.

Muguruza isn’t at her most assured on grass-courts, but the Spaniard has tremendous potential and showed in defeating former Wimbledon semi-finalist Angelique Kerber in round 3 that she is a quick learner when it comes to grass-courts. I’ll back Muguruza to spring the upset and dump Wozniacki out of the tournament. Muguruza in 3.

5. Richard Gasquet vs. Nick Kyrgios

What a difference a point makes. Last year, Nick Kyrgios staved off an incredible 9 match points to defeat Richard Gasquet in the second round at Wimbledon, the Aussie then going on to defeat Rafael Nadal en route to the quarter-finals, announcing himself to the tennis world in the process.

Gasquet has won 2 of the pair’s 3 career meetings, but the loss at Wimbledon last year will still rankle the Frenchman. Unfortunately for him, I think Kyrgios will win again this year, and this time in more commanding fashion. Gasquet is an adept grass-courter, but Kyrgios has the power and the confidence and will be too strong in this one. Kyrgios in 4.

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

Tennis Elbow: The potential trump card of Serena Williams

June 22, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon asks an important question.

Can Serena Williams win the calendar Grand Slam this season?

This is another way of asking whether she can complete what she is already halfway through, after winning last month’s French Open, and win the remaining two Grand Slam tournaments of this season to put her career total at 22 and on par with the great Steffi Graf. The quest continues in a week when the tennis faithful descend upon the cathedral of the sport that is the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

I’ll spare you the suspense and confess that yes this is another column praising the younger of the Williams sisters. But to say this isn’t right either, because it’s much more than that. What’s left to say about someone, after all, when everything has already been said?

Maybe you haven’t heard, but this Serena Williams is fairly great at tennis. She will turn 34 at the end of September and is still thriving on the WTA Tour. Williams has lost just once in 33 matches in 2015, and even that one loss doesn’t actually count: it came in a walkover in the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia against Christina McHale.

Considering her record this year, and despite her age, Williams has to be seen as a clear favourite for the remaining two majors. It would simply meet the standard of excellence she’s long ago defined for herself: winning Wimbledon would guarantee her at least three majors this season, something she has already accomplished once, all the way back in 2002 when she was much younger. A Wimbledon win would also mean that she would hold all four Grand Slam tournaments at once yet again, a feat she is the last player to manage 12 years ago. So really, what’s a calendar Slam?

Williams’s journey starts in Wimbledon at tennis’s greatest cathedral, where she’ll likely have to overcome defending champion Petra Kvitova if she hopes to add a sixth title at yet another major. After a win there, Williams will have all the pressure in the world when she heads to the US Open, her home tournament where she has felt home only very recently: of her six US Open titles, three have come in the previous three years.

This potential calendar Slam would give Williams the ultimate trump card in the debate over which player is the greatest of all time. It would be more impressive than Martina Navratilova’s six Grand Slam titles in a row, more impressive than Steffi Graf’s 13 straight finals and 22 major titles, and 89.74 per cent winning percentage at majors, and more impressive than Chris Evert’s 34 overall major finals.

With a calendar slam, Williams would have accomplished something none of her historic peers has done. This basically describes her entire career—accomplishing what no one else has—so maybe we should expect those two wins. (Even though, at the beginning of the season, I certainly wasn’t expecting anything from her.)

It’s simple really. Win the last two Grand Slams of the season and become the best ever. She’s done it once already: this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

French Open 2015 Day 15 Preview: Djokovic vs. Wawrinka

June 6, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Serena Williams is the 2015 French Open ladies’ singles champion, the American fighting off the flu and a stubborn Lucie Safarova to win the twentieth Grand Slam of her career.

Today, top seed Novak Djokovic takes on Stan Wawrinka in the men’s championship match, after Day 14 saw the Serb finish off Andy Murray in 5 sets in their rain-delayed semi-final.

Day 14 Recap

Resuming at 3-all in the fourth set, Djokovic and Murray both started with love holds before Djokovic threw in another love hold to force Murray to once again serve to stay in the match. The Scot duly did so and then broke the Serb en route to capturing the fourth set, 7-5, much to the delight of the Parisian crowd.

Murray was full of passion, pumping his fist repeatedly, whilst Djokovic seemed a bit sluggish. But the world number one gathered himself at the start of the deciding set, taking advantage of a loose service game from Murray to establish a 2-0 lead and adding a second break later in the set to put the result beyond doubt. Ultimately, it was a 6-3 6-3 5-7 5-7 6-1 victory for Djokovic, who is now just a win away from completing the career Grand Slam.

With the men’s finalists finally decided, it was time for the women’s final. Top seeded Williams jumped out of the blocks against Grand Slam final debutant Safarova, taking a 4-1 lead in just 17 minutes. Williams went on to secure the first set, 6-3, and when the American established a 4-1 lead in the second set it looked as though it was lights out for Safarova. But the plucky Czech fought back bravely, notching 4 games in a row for a 5-4 lead, only to lose serve and allow Williams a chance to serve for the championship.

Williams, usually so assured on serve, threw in an unusually bad service game at 6-5 up in the second set, with a stinging backhand winner from Safarova sending the set to a tiebreak. Full of confidence, Safarova raced out to a 3-0 lead in the breaker and eventually claimed it 7 points to 2.

When Safarova broke at the start of the deciding set for a 2-0 lead, it seemed as if a major upset was on the cards. But just as men’s top seed Djokovic had done earlier on in the day, Williams collected herself and upped her game, reeling off 6 consecutive games to claim a third French Open crown, 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2.

For Williams, it was an incredible triumph after a string of tough 3-setters and a nasty flu. Halfway to a calendar Grand Slam, it would take a brave person to bet against Williams. For Safarova, it was a very admirable performance but no doubt the Czech will be ruing her inability to strengthen her lead early in the final set.

Match of the Day – Day 15

Novak Djokovic vs. Stan Wawrinka

Whilst Novak Djokovic holds a commanding 17-3 career advantage over Stan Wawrinka, in Grand Slam play the pair has been difficult to separate in recent times, playing out a number of 5-setters in Melbourne and New York. Wawrinka’s raw power makes him a danger for any player, including Djokovic, notwithstanding the Serb’s incredible defensive abilities. The key to the match for the Swiss seed is execution. He’s not going to win this match by being passive – he needs to stay on the aggressive throughout the match and hope that he can maintain his best tennis for long enough to take down the world’s best player.

Riding a 28 match winning streak and now being within striking distance of the coveted career Grand Slam, Djokovic will be full of confidence going into this encounter. The Serb showed against Murray that, when the going gets tough, there is no one better at elevating his game. To my mind, it’s as if Djokovic has another gear to go to that no one else has. I think clay suits Djokovic better for this match-up as well. On hard-courts Wawrinka can hit winners from anywhere in the court; on clay the ball travels that little bit slower and hence Djokovic can get to more balls and make Wawrinka play more shots. I think that will translate into fewer winners and more errors for the eighth seed today.

After losing in the first round in Paris last year, when he struggled to cope with the expectations that came with being a newly crowned major winner, Wawrinka has done amazingly well to make it through to another Grand Slam final. Unfortunately for him, I think Djokovic is operating on another level to everyone else right now. Unless everything, and I mean everything, goes to plan for Stan today, I can’t see the Swiss star being able to stop the world number one. 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.

Serena Williams captures 20th Grand Slam title at French Open

June 6, 2015

French Open—Paris, France

World No. 1 Serena Williams captured her 20th Grand Slam title at the French Open on Saturday, defeating Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2. After leading by a set and a 4-1, Williams suffered a drop in form, while her Czech opponent picked up her level of play. Williams was then forced to overcome a 0-2 deficit in the third set before reeling off six straight games. Williams now owns three French Open titles and is half way to the calender year grand slam. Safarova, who will jump to No. 7 in the world on Monday, will contest the women’s doubles final on Sunday.

French Open 2015 Day 14 Preview: Serena vs. Safarova

June 6, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Stan Wawrinka is through to Sunday’s men’s singles final after the eighth seed overcame local hope Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 4 sets on Friday. He will have to wait until later today to find out the identity of his opponent for the final, after rain halted Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic’s semi-final midway through the fourth set.

Murray and Djokovic will resume play today, following which Serena Williams and Lucie Safarova will slug it out for the women’s championship. See below for my thoughts on who will be lifting the women’s trophy later today.

Day 13 Recap

The first men’s semi-final saw 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka seeking to book his spot in another Grand Slam final, with the hopes of French fans resting on the shoulders of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. One break of serve to Wawrinka was enough to allow the Swiss seed to secure the first set, 6-3. Another break to Wawrinka early in the second set had the Parisian crowd worried, but Tsonga changed his outfit and worked his way back into the set, levelling the set at 4-all before later dominating the second set tiebreaker, dropping just one point as he evened up the match at a set apiece.

The third set saw Tsonga create plenty of chances to break serve, but the Frenchman will rue his inability to convert such chances. The third set again went to a tiebreaker, but this time it was Wawrinka who came up with the goods to take a decisive 2 sets to one lead. Tsonga, who ultimately converted just one of 17 break point opportunities for the match, dropped serve early in the fourth set and Wawrinka hung on to clinch the win in 3 hours and 46 minutes.

The second semi-final saw Murray and Djokovic get straight down to business, with the pair engrossed in several long rallies from the outset. The world number one got the first break of serve in the eighth game of the match and duly converted his advantage to claim the opening set, 6-3. A couple of sloppy service games from the Scot in the second set allowed Djokovic to establish a commanding 2 sets to love lead.

With the forecast being for showers, Djokovic was looking to finish off the match in straight sets, but Murray wasn’t ready to concede defeat, successfully serving to stay in the match in the tenth game of the third set and then earning his first break of the match as he claimed the third set, 7-5.

The fourth set featured plenty of early drama, with Murray saving 3 break points in his first service game of the set before the players traded service breaks. At 3-all in the fourth set, play was abandoned for the day, leaving Djokovic in the driver’s seat but Murray still in with a chance.

Match of the Day – Day 14

Serena Williams vs. Lucie Safarova

After more than 11 years on the WTA Tour and 39 previous Grand Slam main draw appearances, Czech Lucie Safarova is through to her first ever major final. A popular and well-respected player on tour, Safarova has steadily worked on her game in the past couple of years under the watchful eye of coach Rob Steckley and her appearance in the final is due reward for all of her hard work. Now she faces the biggest test in women’s tennis: taking down world number one Serena Williams, a 19-time major winner and the holder of a 8-0 win-loss record against Safarova.

To my mind, this match comes down to a couple of critical factors. First, how is Serena Williams feeling physically? The American has been battling a flu and looked very unwell during her semi-final against Bacsinszky. Williams skipped practice and media duties yesterday in a bid to rest up, but it remains to be seen whether the world number one will be back to full health in time for today’s final. Williams showed plenty of grit to fight back and beat Bacsinszky in 3 sets, but that win may have left her sapped of energy.

The second critical factor in this contest is how Safarova handles the occasion. The Czech seed is a tour veteran, but this is the first time she has played in a Grand Slam final and there is a chance that she will wilt in the spotlight. However, Safarova handled her nerves in her semi-final against Ivanovic better than her opponent did, and from another perspective one could argue that Safarova is the rank outsider and has no pressure on her, meaning she can swing freely and go for her shots.

Bacsinszky was unable to capitalise on her chances in the semi-finals against Williams, failing to finish off the American when she was on the ropes, but I think Safarova will do a better job in this regard if she gets the opportunity. Assuming she is relatively close to full health, Williams is still the firm favourite to my mind, but I suspect that this will be a tight contest. Williams in 3.

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

Serena to face Safarova for French Open title

June 4, 2015

French Open—Paris, France

Semifinal results:

1) S Williams d. T. Bacsinszky 46 63 60
13) L Safarova d. A. Ivanovic 75 75

French Open 2015 Day 12 Preview: Women’s semifinal preview

June 4, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Day 11 in Paris saw nine-time champion Rafael Nadal suffer defeat at Roland Garros for just the second time in 72 career matches, the Spaniard getting no presents from world number one Novak Djokovic on what was his twenty-ninth birthday. Djokovic, who is now just two wins away from achieving a career Grand Slam, will face Andy Murray on Friday for a place in Sunday’s final.

Day 11 Recap

In the most eagerly anticipated match of the tournament, top seed Djokovic exploded out of the blocks, breaking Nadal’s serve twice in succession to establish a commanding 4-0 lead. Unfazed, the Spaniard set about whittling away Djokovic’s lead, finding his rhythm from the baseline as he broke back twice and levelled the first set at 4-all. Down 5-6, and serving to take the first set into a tiebreaker, an errant smash by Nadal proved costly as Djokovic snatched the break and the first set, 7-5, after an absorbing 67 minutes of play.

The second set started off where the first set finished, with the players evenly matched through the first 6 games. But from midway through the second set, Djokovic began to dominate, dictating play from inside the baseline and exposing Nadal’s weaker backhand wing. The Spanish superstar could only garner one of the final 10 games for the match, as Djokovic eventually claimed a 7-5 6-3 6-1 victory, his first against Nadal at Roland Garros in 7 attempts.

Andy Murray will attempt to spoil’s Djokovic’s quest for the career Grand Slam on Friday after the Scot scored his first win over David Ferrer on clay. Murray’s unbeaten streak on the red dirt this year continued against the former French Open finalist, the third seed shrugging off the loss of a tight third set to close out the match in convincing style in the fourth set.

In the women’s tournament, top seed Serena Williams maintained her perfect record against Italian Sara Errani, the American conceding just 4 games for the match against the seventeenth seed and former French Open finalist. Unlike her previous 3 matches, Williams started strongly, collecting the first set 6-1, and whilst Errani battled gamely in the second set, the result was never really in doubt.

Williams will face twenty-third seed Timae Bacsinszky for a place in the final after the Swiss player defeated Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck in straight sets in what was a battle of the rank outsiders. See below for my thoughts on today’s Williams-Bacsinszky clash.

Matches of the Day – Day 12

1. Ana Ivanovic vs. Lucie Safarova

Today’s semi-finals appearance not only marks the first time since her victory at Roland Garros in 2008 that Ana Ivanovic has progressed to the final 4 in Paris, it also represents the first time since her French Open win that the Serb has made it through to the semi-finals of any Grand Slam. After claiming the title in Paris in 2008 and enjoying a brief stint as the world’s number one player, Ivanovic spent a considerable period in the wilderness, struggling to cope with the increased spotlight and added expectations that invariably come with being one of the sport’s superstars.

But the last couple of years have seen Ivanovic rebound strongly. The Serb has regained her fitness and her confidence, and has been slowly but surely improving her results on the sport’s biggest stages. This run in Paris, therefore, is a testament to her significant efforts to regenerate her career.

Safarova used to be known as a talented shot-maker who never quite had the consistency to be considered one of the sport’s leading players. But the Czech leftie has shown in the past year or two that she deserves to be ranked among the elite in the women’s game – a semi-finals appearance at Wimbledon last year and her run to the semi-finals here in Paris underscore that opinion.

To my mind, this match depends rather heavily on the conditions in Paris today.  In her past couple of matches, Safarova has handled the blustery conditions expertly and is a better wind player than her opponent. But in calm conditions I favour Ivanovic as the bigger and better ball-striker. Today’s forecast looks fine and hence I’m leaning towards the Serb. Ivanovic in 3.

2. Serena Williams vs. Timea Bacsinszky

After exhibiting some scratchy form early in the tournament, which saw her forced to come from a set down on 3 successive occasions, Serena Williams is now in the box seat to claim another Grand Slam singles title. Only 4 players remain in the tournament and, whilst Williams holds 19 majors to her name, the other 3 players collectively have won just one major (Ivanovic’s 2008 French Open triumph).

Quite often in major tournaments, Williams takes a while to produce her best tennis and this seems to be holding true in Paris this year. Hence the axiom heard in tennis circles: if there’s ever a time to beat Serena Williams, it is early on in a tournament. In other words, if Williams survives her early matches, she is usually unstoppable by the time she arrives at the pointy end of a tournament.

Bacsinszky’s tale is the feel-good story of the tournament, the Swiss player rebounding from a turbulent childhood featuring an oppressive father and coming back to the sport after an extended period out of the game to now reach the final 4 of a Grand Slam. Bacsinszky has beaten some high-quality opponents along the way, including two-time major winner Petra Kvitova, and didn’t wilt under the pressure of being heavily favoured going into her quarter-final. Williams will of course enter this match as the red-hot favourite but Bacsinszky has nothing to lose and has performed creditably in her two previous losses to Williams. I think the twenty-third seed will do well for one set, but look for the American to pull away in the second set. Williams in 2.

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

French Open 2015 Day 7 Preview: Youngsters look to upend top seeds

May 30, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Day 7 at Roland Garros features a mouth-watering line-up, with a number of clashes highlighting the talents of rising stars on the ATP Tour and a blockbuster match-up between WTA Tour titans Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Read on for my predictions for today’s biggest matches.

Day 6 Recap

Swiss stars Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka continued their good form in Paris this year, both advancing to the fourth round with straight sets victories. Federer beat young Bosnian and former childhood actor Damir Dzumhur, whilst Wawrinka accounted for American Steve Johnson. Fourth seed Tomas Berdych overcame a parochial crowd and the unpredictable Benoit Paire, but there was better news for French fans in other matches, as Gael Monfils roared back to beat the Uruguayan Cuevas in 5 sets and Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also advanced.

In the women’s tournament, second seed Maria Sharapova disposed of Sam Stosur in straight sets, as Ana Ivanovic also booked her place in the round of 16. Other seeds to advance on Day 6 included Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, Russian Ekaterina Makarova, rising star Elina Svitolina and Czech Lucie Safarova. Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta upset dark horse Carla Suarez Navarro, whilst Spaniard Garbine Muguruza dispatched eleventh seed Angelique Kerber.

Matches of the Day – Day 7

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis

Having come from two sets to love down to beat his higher-ranked countryman Bernard Tomic in the second round, saving multiple match points in the process, Aussie teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis now faces a huge challenge in the form of world number one and top seed Novak Djokovic. The teenager has done brilliantly well to make it through to the round of 32, and showed plenty of heart to come back against Tomic.

Djokovic, in contrast to Kokkinakis, has cruised through to round 3 and, although he seemed a little bothered by a groin strain in his round 2 win over Gilles Muller, I think Djokovic will be too strong physically for the Aussie and will handle the spotlight far better. Djokovic in 3.

2. Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka

This is clash number 19 between these two superstars, with the American having won all but three of the previous 18 matches and all of their previous meetings on clay. That said, Azarenka should have beaten Williams in Madrid a few weeks ago (where the Belarusian squandered 3 match points before going down in a third set tiebreaker), and Williams looked rusty in her second round win over  the unheralded German Anna-Lena Friedsam.

Azarenka probably has as good a chance as ever of beating Williams, given that clay is not the American’s preferred surface and that she is not in her best form right now. That said, Azarenka is similarly not at her best on clay and has had trouble closing out tight matches this year (as the match against Williams in Madrid indicates). This will be close but I’ll back the top seed. Williams in 3.

3. Andy Murray vs. Nick Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios has beaten Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam before, and upset Roger Federer on clay earlier this year, so who’s to say that the plucky Aussie can’t notch another scalp in the form of Andy Murray today? Kyrgios benefitted from a round 2 walkover, and the extra day of rest will definitely be a boost for the youngster, whose fitness is still not at the elite level.

Murray has been in tremendous form on clay this season and, whilst Kyrgios has shown a tendency to produce his best tennis on the biggest stages and in the biggest moments, I think Murray will be too solid and too strong today. Murray beat Kyrgios in straight sets in Melbourne earlier this year and, whilst I think Kyrgios can snatch a set today, that’s likely to be as close as he gets to Murray. Murray in 4.

4. Jack Sock vs. Borna Coric

Borna Coric has definitely exceeded expectations (including my own) in advancing from a difficult section of the draw to make the round of 32. His second round win over Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo was particularly encouraging, and indicated the young Croat’s fighting qualities. Now coached by former Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, Coric will feel that this is a very winnable match.

Like Coric, Sock is a rising star and enjoyed a fine win over Bulgarian seed Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round. This also represents a fantastic opportunity for the American to progress to the round of the 16 at a major for the first time. Having doubted Coric’s chances in his last two matches, this time I’ll back the Croatian teenager to come up with the goods. Coric in 4.

5. Andrea Petkovic vs. Sara Errani

Tenth seed Andrea Petkovic achieved her best-ever result at a Grand Slam in Paris last year, making it through to the semi-finals, beating Errani before going down to Simona Halep. After a sluggish start to 2015, Petkovic won a title in Antwerp and made the semi-finals in Miami to move back inside the world’s top 10.

Errani, a former finalist in Paris, is the opposite type of player to Petkovic, a nagging retriever and counterpuncher who scurries around the court and chases down everything, making few mistakes and capitalising on errors made by her opponent. Accordingly, this match is on Petkovic’s racquet, as the more powerful and aggressive player. If she executes well, the German should win. Petkovic in 2.

Put your house on: David Ferrer. The former finalist will have too much stamina for Italian veteran Simone Bollelli today.

Upset alert: Argentine Leonardo Mayer could spring a surprise against ninth seed and reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic in their third round clash today.

Likely to go the distance: I sense that the clash between German firebrand Julia Goerges and American Irina Falconi will go the distance today. I’ll take Goerges to come out on top in the decider.

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.

French Open 2015 Day 3: Djokovic, Nadal and Serena get it going

May 26, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Day 2 of the 2015 French Open saw defending champion and second seed Maria Sharapova book her place in the second round, overcoming a tough opponent and a head cold to secure a straight sets win.

Day 2 Recap

Sharapova’s opening round opponent, Estonian Kaia Kanepi, is a two-time quarter-finalist in Paris, and was expected to push the two-time winner, but the Russian played the big points well en route to a 6-2 6-4 victory. Joining Sharapova in the winners’ circle on Day 2 was two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, former Roland Garros finalists Sam Stosur and Sara Errani, and fellow seeds Pliskova, Suarez Navarro and Kerber.

French seed Alize Cornet fought back from a set down to outlast Roberta Vinci in 3 sets, but Agnieszka Radwanska’s miserable 2015 season continued, upset by the unheralded Annika Beck. It was a similar tale for former world number one Venus Williams, who succumbed to the hard-hitting groundstrokes of compatriot Sloane Stephens.

In the men’s tournament, Andy Murray extended his perfect record on clay this season to 11 matches, the Scot cruising to a straight sets win over the Argentine Arguello. Local fans were buoyed by the wins of Simon and Monfils, whilst seeds Berdych and Fognini also advanced in style.

Among the younger generation, there were encouraging wins by the likes of Tomic, Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Thiem and Coric, but the news was not so good for seeds Lopez and Mannarino, who exited the tournament courtesy of losses to Gabashvili and Melzer respectively.

Matches of the Day – Day 3

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Jarkko Nieminen

World number one Novak Djokovic begins his quest to complete a career Grand Slam today with a match-up against Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen. The left-handed Finn is currently ranked 86 in the world, but has been ranked as high as 13 (although that ranking high did come way back in 2006).

Nieminen is a solid competitor and won’t make things easy for Djokovic out on court today. But the top seed is in imperious form right now and, aside from his serve, I can’t see the Finn having any weapons to trouble Djokovic with. Look for Nieminen to perform strongly in one set but fall away in the others. Djokovic in 3.

2. Petra Kvitova vs. Marina Erakovic

Fourth seed Petra Kvitova performs better on fast surfaces than on slow surfaces such as clay, as her two Wimbledon crowns exemplify, but she did make the semi-finals in Paris in 2012 and captured a title on clay in Madrid a fortnight ago, beating world number one Serena Williams for the first time in the process.

Erakovic is a gutsy, back-of-the-court slugger, who will run down every ball and fight for every point. Unfortunately for the naturalised Kiwi, she doesn’t have Kvitova’s serving prowess, nor does she have the shot-making flair that that the Czech possesses. Kvitova is notoriously erratic, but I’ll back her to win this one convincingly. Kvitova in 2.

3. Serena Williams vs. Andrea Hlavackova

Top seed Serena Williams starts her 2015 campaign and quest for a third Roland Garros title against Czech Andrea Hlavackova. The Czech player is better known for her doubles prowess, having been ranked as high as 3 in the world in doubles and still being a top 20 player in the doubles format. Alas, a focus on doubles has resulted in a slip in Hlavackova’s singles ranking, which is down at a lowly 191 in the world.

Sore elbow or not, Serena shouldn’t have too many worries in this one. A quick match is exactly what the doctor is prescribing at this point in time, and I can’t see the American wasting any excess time on court in this clash. Williams in 2.

4. Kristina Mladenovic vs. Eugenie Bouchard

Former world junior Kristina Mladenovic delighted the French fans at Roland Garros last year, upsetting former French Open champion Li Na in a pulsating 3-setter. Can the world number 54 cause a similar surprise in the first round this year? Her opponent, sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard, has endured something of a sophomore slump after a spectacular 2014 season which saw the Canadian make the Wimbledon final and the semi-finals in Melbourne and Paris.

Bouchard has a woeful 7-9 win-loss record in 2015, a record which is even worse when you consider that the Canadian claimed 4 of those wins in progressing to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January. Mladenovic is an aggressive player who is not lacking in confidence, and I think this one will go down to the wire. I’ll back Bouchard to get there, but only by a whisker. Bouchard in 3.

5. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Jack Sock

Tenth seed Grigor Dimitrov hasn’t fared particularly well at Roland Garros in years gone by, with a round of 32 appearance in 2013 marking his best effort in four previous campaigns in Paris. Dimitrov has had a decent start to the year, but to date the Bulgarian hasn’t really built on his impressive 2014 season – it’s been more a case of maintaining a similar sort of level.

Sock is a rising star in terms of US tennis and has been enjoying success this year in both singles and doubles. Dimitrov has more experience, both on the red dirt and in terms of majors, but Sock could certainly spring a surprise if the elegant Bulgarian is off his game. Dimitrov in 4.

Put your house on: Rafael Nadal. It’s been far from his best season on clay, but there’s no doubt that Nadal will steamroll past young Frenchman Quentin Halys.

Upset alert: As noted above, Kiki Mladenovic could cause some trouble today in her match against sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard.

Likely to go the distance: I’m predicting a long slugfest between flamboyant Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and veteran German Michael Berrer, who beat Nadal earlier this year in Doha. I’ll take Chardy down the stretch.

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.

French Open 2015: Men’s and Women’s Draw Preview and Analysis

May 24, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

It is springtime in Paris, which means it is time for the year’s second Grand Slam, the French Open. Commencing at Roland Garros today, the second major of 2015 is a chance for the clay-court specialists to showcase their talents and, in Novak Djokovic’s case, represents a golden opportunity for the Serb to claim the one major trophy missing from his mantelpiece. Read on for my tournament predictions and an overview of the first day’s play.

Tournament Predictions

Men’s Singles

Going into the tournament, all the talk centres around two men: world number one Novak Djokovic, who has been near-invincible in the last six months and who is desperately seeking a maiden French Open crown to complete a career Grand Slam, and Rafael Nadal, the nine-time French Open champion who has so often thwarted Djokovic’s bid for the career Grand Slam but who has been far from his dominant best on the red dirt this season.

Nadal’s underwhelming season to date and an unkind draw mean that he will face Djokovic in the quarter-finals, if both men advance that far. That’s likely to be a boost for Djokovic, as Nadal in his current state needs a number of good wins under his belt if he is to acquire the necessary confidence to beat Djokovic. The conditions in Paris suit Nadal to a tee, but on current form I think Djokovic will play well inside the baseline and attack the Nadal backhand mercilessly to finally notch a win in Paris over the Spaniard.

Andy Murray has been the surprise packet of the clay court season, winning a couple of titles on the red dirt and coming in to Paris with a 10-0 record on the surface. If he can get past the challenges posed by clay-court warriors such as David Ferrer, I fancy his chances of making it through to the final four. Unfortunately for Murray, that is where a hungry Djokovic will most likely be waiting.

In the bottom half of the draw, look for a rejuvenated Roger Federer, having won in Istanbul and made the final in Rome, to cruise through the first week and then take down compatriot Stan Wawrinka to book his place in the semi-finals. Tomas Berdych has been ultra-consistent this year, but I fear he will succumb to the clay-court nous of Kei Nishikori should the pair meet, as predicted, in the quarter-finals.

In many respects, this is probably Federer’s best chance to win the French Open since he claimed his one and only Roland Garros title in 2009. But Djokovic was far too good for the Swiss star in Rome and, with a career Grand Slam at stake, I can’t see Djokovic letting Federer get the better of him.

Champion: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Roger Federer

Semi-finalists: Murray, Nishikori

*****

Women’s Singles

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: at her best, Serena Williams is undoubtedly the best player on the WTA Tour. At this point in time, the critical words in that sentence are “at her best”, with Williams struggling with an elbow injury which required her to withdraw from last week’s Italian Open. Not only does the injury cause pain, it also affects the American’s ability to serve, thus weakening one of the biggest weapons in the 19-time major winner’s arsenal.

Making matters worse, clay is Williams’ least-favoured surface and Roland Garros is not a particularly happy hunting ground – only a couple of the American’s 19 Grand Slam titles have come in Paris. Of course, being a two-time French Open champion is nothing to be sneezed at, but it’s all relative when one is referring to a modern day legend of the game.

I’ll back Williams to grind her way through her opening matches, which should give her ample opportunity to rest her elbow. A potential quarter-final match-up against close friend Caroline Wozniacki is one Williams should win, but a possible semi-final against Petra Kvitova is a lottery. Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, beat Williams en route to the title in Madrid earlier this month, but the Czech is inconsistent at the best of times and is no certainty to advance to the second week of the tournament. That said, Kvitova’s best is good enough to beat anyone.

In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion and 2015 Italian Open champion Maria Sharapova is the favourite to advance to the final, but she is scheduled to face a stern test in the quarter-finals in the shape of Carla Suarez Navarro. The diminutive Spaniard is in the best form of her life, and only narrowly lost to Sharapova in the final in Rome.  If the pair meets in Paris, I fancy the Spaniard to turn the tables and upset Sharapova. Simona Halep made last year’s final in Paris and, whilst her form to date in 2015 hasn’t been as good, I can see her making a deep run at Roland Garros once again this year.

I think Suarez Navarro can go all the way to the final, given her confidence levels at present and given just how hard it is to beat her on clay – like her compatriot Nadal, she can run all day and has a huge heart. However, if Serena can survive the first week, I’ll back her to lift her game in the second week and use her big-match experience to overwhelm Suarez Navarro in the final.

Champion: Serena Williams

Finalist: Carla Suarez Navarro

Semi-finalists: Kvitova, Halep

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 1

1. Alejandro Falla vs. Roger Federer

In 2010, unheralded Colombian Alejandro Falla gave Swiss superstar Roger Federer the fright of his life, taking the first two sets of their first round match at the All England Club. Federer eventually squeezed through to the second round, completing a 5 set comeback victory, but I’m sure he will remember that Wimbledon encounter when they pair meet again in Paris today.

Falla has a game which is particularly tricky on grass, with a sliding leftie serve and a compact double-handed backhand. But whilst Falla’s game is difficult for opponents on grass, it’s less damaging on clay, a surface on which the ball travels more slowly. Federer played well in Rome last week and I think he will handle Falla with relative ease today. Federer in 3.

2. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Marsel Ilhan

It’s been an up and down year to date for 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka. Making the semi-finals at Melbourne Park represented a creditable effort in attempting to defend his crown, and he did beat the king of clay, Rafael Nadal, en route to the semi-finals in Rome last week. On the other hand, there have been disappointing results in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo.

Ilhan is Turkey’s leading men’s player and has a decent 6-6 record in 2015 heading into Roland Garros. Wawrinka lost in the opening round in Paris last year, a combination of higher expectations on his shoulders courtesy of his win in Melbourne and a tricky opponent in Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Ilhan is playing in only his second French Open main draw and, whilst I don’t have high hopes for Wawrinka in the tournament overall, I think he will get through this one. Wawrinka in 4.

3. Kei Nishikori vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu

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

Nishikori couldn’t finish it off in the final in New York, going down to a red-hot Marin Cilic, but I think Nishikori is among the top 4 or 5 contenders in Paris this year. He will need to be switched-on against the dangerous Mathieu, a veteran of the ATP Tour and a former top 12 player, who is sure to receive plenty of support from the Parisian crowd today. Nishikori moves well on clay and, with a former French Open winner in his camp, will have high hopes of emulating the feats of coach Michael Chang. Nishikori in 3.

4. Ana Ivanovic vs. Yaroslava Shvedova

This should be a particularly good contest, pitting the former French Open champion and world number one Ana Ivanovic against the plucky Kazakh, Yaroslava Shvedova. The Kazakh is a two-time quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, making the final eight in both 2010 and 2012, and a solid all-court player who has enjoyed a lot of success in doubles and mixed doubles.

Ivanovic is the better-known and more high-profile of the players but, as far as opening round contests go, this is a tough test for the Serbian star. I’ll back the seventh seed to ultimately prevail, but not without having to work extremely hard. Ivanovic in 3.

5. Garbine Muguruza vs. Petra Martic

It was at Roland Garros last year that Spain’s Garbine Muguruza really announced herself to the tennis world, not just beating defending champion Serena Williams, but thoroughly humbling the American superstar with a 6-2 6-2 beat-down. Williams gained a measure of revenge by beating Muguruza at this year’s Australian Open, but even that involved a 3 set struggle.

Croatia’s Petra Martic has had her own successes at the French Open in the past, making it through to the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2012. However, the Croat has largely struggled since that time, winning only two Grand Slam main draw matches since that run in Paris. Martic was forced to qualify just to make the main draw in Paris this year and, whilst the qualifying matches will have her playing well, I think Muguruza has far too much power in this one. Muguruza in 2.

Put your house on: Roger Federer. The second seed is in good form at present and will be too good for the Colombian Falla, as previewed above.

Upset alert: Ernests Gulbis made the semi-finals in Paris last year, knocking out Federer en route to the final four. This year is quickly shaping up as an annus horribilis for the Latvian, who has a miserable 2-12 win-loss record for the year to date. Igor Sijsling beat the talented Alexander Zverev in qualifying to make the main draw at Roland Garros, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Dutchman takes out the erratic Gulbis in their clash today.

Likely to go the distance: Big-serving Ivo Karlovic and former top tenner Marcos Baghdatis look set to keep the Parisian crowd enthralled with a marathon match today. I’ll take Karlovic down the stretch.

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

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