Tennis Elbow: Angelique Kerber stuns Serena Williams at the Australian Open

February 1, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2016 Australian Open women’s final.

What a time to be alive.

While we can’t pretend to know for sure whether Angelique Kerber listens to Drake and Future, we have a wild guess that #WATTBA is probably what’s going through her mind today.

Today, the German wakes up as a Grand Slam champion, having beaten the great Serena Williams by the final score of 6-4, 3-6 and 6-4 in two hours and eight minutes in the Australian Open final.

With the win, the 28-year-old becomes the second German in the Open era, after Steffi Graf, to win a Grand Slam tournament. «I got my second chance and this is my dream come true,» Kerber said after the win. «My whole life I am working really hard, and now I am here and call myself a Grand Slam champion.» That’s something most probably didn’t expect to see happen, not in 2016 after years of relatively pedestrian results at the majors. Indeed, Kerber hadn’t done better than a fourth round at a major since 2012—in fact, other than a four-Grand Slam stretch where she made two semifinals and one quarterfinal (and one third round) over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Kerber’s career had been relatively underwhelming at majors. That run very nearly continued in Australia. You may recall that in her first match against Misaki Doi, Kerber had «one leg in the plane for Germany,» as she called it after winning the tournament; that’s how she describes being down a set and to match point, before she finally righted the ship. Now after a few more matches and wins over Victoria Azarenka and Williams, Kerber is a Grand Slam champion. Meanwhile, the six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams will need to wait until at least Roland-Garros to match Graf’s career haul of 22 Grand Slams. She seemed fine with it afterward; just look at her.


It’s a rare reminder that the American is merely human and can’t, or won’t, win them all. “Every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life,” Williams said after her loss. “As much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not. I try to. But, you know, I do the best that I can.»

All this means for the 2016 season is that we won’t get the same «will she or won’t she» narrative that pursued Serena Williams in 2015; no, Williams will not win all four Grand Slams this year. This loss against Kerber still may be her lone Grand Slam loss in 2016; it’ll have just happened (way) earlier than in 2015.

Why this loss is so surprising is that it’s so rare for Williams to 1) lose in the Grand Slams and 2) to lose in the Grand Slam finals. Because, yes, the latter is what’s quietly been underrated with her and what’s allowed her to be on Graf’s heels: sure, she has won 21 majors but she’s managed this in only 26 finals; of her 41 career losses at major events, only five have come in the finals.

Because when she reaches the ultimate game, she tends to win the ultimate prize. “I try to win every single time I step out there, every single point, but realistically I can’t do it,» she said after her loss. «Maybe someone else can, but I wasn’t able to do it.”

This about sums it up.


Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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.

*****

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.

Kerber stuns Serena to win Australian Open

January 30, 2016

Australian Open 2016—Melbourne, Australia

No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber pulled off a major upset on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia, capturing her first-ever Grand Slam title after dismissing top seed Serena Willliams, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

In a match that took two hours and eight minutes to complete, Kerber used her attacking style of tennis to hit 25 winners to only 13 unforced errors. After winning the first set on the strength of two breaks of serve, the German found herself at one set all after the top ranked American fought back to force a deciding set. Needing all of her guile and court craft in the end, Kerber used extreme angles and few drop shots to increase her lead to 5-2 in the final set. Not to be outdone, Williams clawed back like only she knows how to 4-5, but the 10th game of the final set proved to be the last as the 21-time Grand Slam winner overhit a volley to end her tournament.

For Kerber, she becomes the first German woman to win a Major title since Steffi Graf in 1999. The 28-year-old from Bremen, Germany will also move up to No. 2 in the world after her performance Down Under.

Williams, who was attempting to win her 22nd career Major and tie Steffi Graf’s mark, will now have to wait until the French Open in May to equal the great German’s record.

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.

*****

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 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 5 Preview: Federer vs. Dimitrov leads the way

January 21, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

After just two rounds, an incredible 18 seeds have departed the women’s tournament, with Jankovic, Svitolina, Lisicki and Bacsinszky amongst those to  bow out on Day 4.

Day 4 Recap

There was better news for two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, who cruised into the third round with a straight sets win. Other straight sets winners on Day 4 in the women’s tournament included former world number one Ana Ivanovic and 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza.

Rising star Madison Keys scored a fighting win over experienced Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova, whilst German leftie Angelique Kerber also booked her place in the third round of the tournament.

In the men’s tournament, Aussie legend Lleyton Hewitt bowed out of the men’s game, succumbing to Spanish seed David Ferrer in his final tournament. The former world number one received a standing ovation from the crowd on Rod Laver Arena and will now turn his attention to his new role as Australia’s Davis Cup captain.

Bernard Tomic cheered up Aussie fans by progressing to round 3, whilst other seeds to win on Day 4 included Gael Monfils, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner and Andy Murray, who destroyed the big-serving Sam Groth.

Big-serving Lukas Rosol upset Jack Sock, whilst French seed Jeremy Chardy went down to the Russian Kuznetsov. There were no such problems for Canada’s Milos Raonic, who overcame Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo in straight sets.

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 5

1. Roger Federer vs. Grigor Dimitrov

After his surprise third round loss to Andreas Seppi in Melbourne last year, 17-time major winner Roger Federer will be on guard heading into this blockbuster clash against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.

Dimitrov has never beaten Federer, although he did run the Swiss superstar close in Brisbane recently. These two have very similar games, hence Dimitrov’s “Baby Fed” nickname, but Federer has far more experience and will be too strong in this one. Federer in 4.

2. Nick Kyrgios vs. Tomas Berdych

After Lleyton Hewitt’s exit from his final Australian Open, local eyes will turn to polarising youngster Nick Kyrgios. The Aussie made the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park last year, and has the ability and self-belief to beat the world’s very best. That said, he still needs to mature emotionally and improve his week-in, week-out consistency.

Berdych has been a top performer on the ATP Tour for many years now, and I think this match-up suits him, with Kyrgios providing him with plenty of power to work with. Kyrgios will work the crowd to his advantage, but I fancy Berdych to come out on top in a tight four-setter. Berdych in 4.

3. Novak Djokovic vs. Andreas Seppi

As noted above, Andreas Seppi upset Roger Federer in the round of 32 at Melbourne Park last year, and the Italian also pushed Djokovic to 5 sets at Roland Garros several years ago.

Djokovic is, however, a far better player than he was a few years ago and is currently executing at a different level to the other players on the ATP Tour. Seppi will fight hard as usual, but doesn’t have the weaponry to threaten Djokovic, and I expect that the top seed will have all the answers. Djokovic in 3.

4. Serena Williams vs. Daria Kasatkina

After looking a little rusty in her opening round match against Camila Giorgi, Serena Williams put in a more polished performance in her second round clash against the Taiwanese doubles specialist Hsieh.

Williams will no doubt get better and better as the tournament progresses and she gains more match practice, and the world number one won’t be taking young Russian Daria Kasatkina lightly today after she upset Williams’ sister Venus in their recent clash. Williams in 2.

5. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Kei Nishikori

Spanish seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez has, like most Spaniards, achieved his best results on clay-courts, but he also some some impressive credentials when it comes to hard-courts. In addition, Garcia-Lopez isn’t afraid of the big stage, having knocked Stan Wawrinka out of the French Open in 2014.

Nishikori is a former US Open finalist and I think his game is well-suited to the Australia Open hard-courts as well. With a couple of breaks, the Japanese star could well be in contention in the latter stages of the tournament. Look for Garcia-Lopez to compete strongly but for Nishikori to always be in control. Nishikori in 4.

Put your house on: Maria Sharapova. The former Australian Open champion should have far too much firepower for American Lauren Davis in their third round clash.

Upset alert: I think French seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will need to be on his guard against young compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert when they clash on Margaret Court Arena.

Likely to go the distance: Young guns Dominic Thiem and David Goffin look set to battle each other for several hours today. I’ll back Thiem to come out on top in a lengthy five-setter.

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.

Tennis Elbow: Which North Americans to keep an eye on in Australia?

January 17, 2016

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2016 Australian Open.

Well, there it is: the first Grand Slam of the 2016 season, the one that asks us folks in North America to either stay up way, way late or wake up way, way early to watch some tennis.

It’s a tradition unlike any other: you’re barely awake, but battle through insomnia to watch the athletes you love playing the sport you love and that they so excel at. If you’ve woken up early, you’re probably sloppily eating a bowl of Froot Loops, or something else, in your pyjamas; or if you’ve stayed up, you’re probably half delusional. Either way, you’re having a good time once the matches start.

In light of all of this and for all of our North American readers (and for everyone else too!), let’s run through some of the North Americans who may impress most in Melbourne over the next two weeks.

Women’s draw

Serena Williams

What can the great American do for an encore? After a 2015 season in which she came oh so close of running away with all four Grand Slams of the year, there’s a case to be made that maybe she won’t be as motivated; not after such a season and not at her age. And yet, who would bet against her?

Madison Keys

Madison Keys is still only 20 years old, but the 2015 season was the first time when the American made real progress in her ascent toward the top of the WTA Tour and looked like she belonged with the very best. She made the third round at Roland-Garros, the fourth round in Flushing Meadows for the US Open, the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and, best of all, the semifinal in Melbourne for the Australian Open. Maybe two in a row?

Eugenie Bouchard

We feel more or less obliged to include Eugenie Bouchard, even after a disastrous 2015 season that followed her remarkable and swift ascent in 2014, because we’re on record saying that the Canadian would settle as being a perennial Top 30 player this season.

*****

Men’s draw

Milos Raonic

Milos Raonic is another Canadian for whom we foresee good things in 2016—and so far so good, after he’s won in Brisbane; he has relaunched with a new head coach who should help him develop a more well-rounded game in Carlos Moya. Since he’s arrived in 2011, Raonic hasn’t done worse than the third round in at the Australian Open. As the 13th seed, the 25-year-old is slotted in Rafael Nadal’s and Stanislas Wawrinka’s section. He would need to beat the latter in order to equal the quarterfinals he reached last season, quite the tall order.

Taylor Fritz

News of the demise of American tennis may have been overblown, though it is true that the cupboard appeared bare not long ago. And yet, Taylor Fritz may be the cure to all that ails the sport in the United States. The year-end Junior No. 1 player in 2015, Fritz has the look and the game to become quite a force on the ATP World Tour. A season ago, he reached the Junior French Open final, made the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and won the Junior US Open. That’s when he turned pro: he’s since qualified for this first Grand Slam of the season and comes in at No. 154. Not bad for an 18-year-old.

Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock

We’re grouping the two together, because Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil may have a better chance of advancing far at this Australian Open together than they do on their own. In singles, Sock will likely take care of Fritz, but he’ll soon find Wawrinka in his way. Meanwhile, Pospisil will have to battle Gilles Simon in the first round. In doubles however, the two are a legitimate force and, as the 9th seeds, have an actual chance.

We’ll end with a cool moment starring the American Sock from earlier this year.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Australian Open 2016: Men’s and Women’s draw preview and analysis

January 17, 2016

by: Tom Cochrane

Greetings and welcome to the 2016 Australian Open Championships and the beginning of 2 weeks of coverage of the year’s first Grand Slam, courtesy of The Satellite Serve.

Coming to you daily during this year’s tournament, The Satellite Serve is back with predictions, opinions and analysis in relation to all of the action from Melbourne Park. In anticipation of the start of the tournament tomorrow, today’s serve sets out my tournament predictions for the men’s and women’s singles and also provides my views on the biggest matches taking place on Day 1.

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Can anybody stop Novak Djokovic? That’s the question heading into the men’s tournament, after the Serb was just one win away from completing the Grand Slam in 2015. The world number one showed in Doha earlier this year that he has no intention of relinquishing his place at the top of men’s tennis, crushing great rival Rafael Nadal in the final to get his 2016 season off to an ideal beginning.

Stan Wawrinka was the man who ruined Djokovic’s perfect record in the majors in 2015, but it did require one of the Swiss star’s best ever performances. I can foresee only a couple of circumstances in which Djokovic will surrender his Australian Open crown – either injury or illness gets the better of him (which seems unlikely, given his awe-inspiring health and fitness regime) or one of the other top players (such as Wawrinka, Federer or Murray) performs at the very top of his game and also catches the top seed on an off day (again, that seems unlikely, given the Serb’s propensity to raise his game at the biggest moments).

Murray is a four-time finalist in Melbourne and will again be a major threat, although the impending arrival of his first child may cause complications for the Scot (who has said he will leave the tournament, if necessary, in order to return home for the birth). Similarly, Federer and Wawrinka are former Australian Open champions and will be looking to claim another title. Nadal enjoyed a positive start to the season in Abu Dhabi and Doha but, judging from the final in Doha, simply isn’t at Djokovic’s level right now.

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Andy Murray

Semi-finalists: Federer, Nadal

Outside Chance: Wawrinka, Nishikori, Berdych

*****

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

Like Djokovic, Serena Williams dominated the majors in 2015, winning three out of four titles and coming extremely close to completing the Grand Slam. But unlike Djokovic, who continued his dominance after last year’s US Open, Williams has barely competed since her surprise loss to Roberta Vinci at Flushing Meadows.

Williams’ experience and playing record demand that she be the favourite in any tournament which she enters and, whilst I have tipped the American to claim major title number 22, I do have some doubts over both her fitness and her match fitness. Williams withdrew from the Hopman Cup, which would have given her some much-needed match practice heading into Melbourne Park, but as the American herself notes, she has an abundance of experience to draw on.

Unlike most players, Williams is probably at her most vulnerable in the first week as she attempts to get back into her groove. In other words, if she can get through the first week, I think Williams will gain confidence and match fitness and become very difficult to beat.

In the bottom half of the draw, I think Kerber and Azarenka could do some damage, with Kerber being very consistent of late and Azarenka being a two-time former champion in Melbourne. Venus Williams could also make one last deep run in a Grand Slam, whilst Garbine Muguruza will be keen to build on her strong performance at Wimbledon last year.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Angelique Kerber

Semi-finalists: Radwanska, Venus Williams

Outside Chance: Halep, Azarenka, Muguruza

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 6

1. Novak Djokovic vs. Hyeon Chung

Chung is one of the rising stars on the ATP Tour, the South Korean awarded the Most Improved Player in 2015 after rocketing up the rankings to world number 51. Chung was an accomplished junior player and performed creditably in going down to Stan Wawrinka at the US Open last year in a trio of tiebreaks.

Playing Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena will be an enormous occasion for Chung and one that he will learn a lot from. I expect him to show glimpses of his undoubted potential, but I don’t think he will seriously threaten the world number one during the match. Djokovic in 3.

2. Kei Nishikori vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber

Kei Nishikori is a former US Open finalist and is usually bracketed as one of the next generation of players who will eventually replace the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray at the summit of men’s tennis. But the Japanese player can be susceptible to early round defeats, as he showed in losing to Benoit Paire in New York last year.

Kohlschreiber is a veteran of the ATP Tour and the German has enjoyed success in Australia in years gone by. I think he will push Nishikori all the way in this one, but the seventh seed should be too consistent in the end. Nishikori in 4.

3. Serena Williams vs. Camila Giorgi

As noted above, Serena Williams might be the dominant player in women’s tennis, but she is also underdone and under an injury cloud coming into this year’s Australian Open. The American couldn’t have drawn a tougher first round opponent, with Giorgi the highest ranked player not to be awarded a seeding at the tournament.

The Italian is also a proven big match performer, having made the round of 16 in New York and at Wimbledon in the past, and with high profile scalps to her name including Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Look for Giorgi to create plenty of anxious moments for Williams but for the 21-time major winner to somehow grind her way to victory. Williams in 3.

4. Nick Kyrgios vs. Pablo Carreno Busta

In typically enigmatic fashion, young Australian star Nick Kyrgios spearheaded his team’s victory at the Hopman Cup in Perth, winning all of his singles matches as he collected the title alongside Daria Gavrilova, before pulling out of his match against David Goffin at the Kooyong Classic with an apparent Achilles concern.

Kyrgios has an abundance of talent and will have plenty of support in Melbourne, but Carreno Busta represents a stern test for the youngster. The Spaniard has the support of none other than his illustrious compatriot Rafael Nadal, and there is no doubt that Kyrgios will feel some pressure after his run to the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park last year. I think the crowd will get Kyrgios home, but this one will be close. Kyrgios in 5.

5. Daniela Hantuchova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova

This match pits two veterans of the WTA Tour against one another. Hantuchova is a former Australian Open semi-finalist, whilst Kuznetsova is a two-time Grand Slam champion. The Russian showed that her best form is still world-class, capturing the title in Sydney in the lead-up to the Australian Open.

I’m not sure whether Kuznetsova has the ability to capture any more Grand Slams, but on her day she is definitely capable of upsetting anyone and could be a dark horse at the first major of the year. Hantuchova, on the other hand, has drifted to 89 in the world rankings, and I can’t see her pushing Kuznetsova in this clash. Kuznetsova in 2.

Put your house on: Roger Federer. The Swiss superstar doesn’t do first round exits at Grand Slams and I don’t see that approach changing in 2016.

Upset alert: Sam Stosur has a miserable record at Melbourne Park in recent years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Aussie get ousted by Czech Kristyna Pliskova.

Likely to go the distance: Pencil in a five-setter between former finalist Marcos Baghdatis and French ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. I’ll back Tsonga to eke out a narrow victory.

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: @satellitserve.

Next Page »