Miami Open 2015: Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic highlight Friday and Saturday night session schedules

March 21, 2015

WORLD NO.1’S SERENA WILLIAMS AND NOVAK DJOKOVIC HIGHLIGHT FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT SESSION SCHEDULES

Williams set to play Friday, March 27 with Novak Djokovic scheduled for Saturday, Match 28

MIAMI – Miami Open’s defending champion Serena Williams will kick off an incredible two evenings of tennis featuring the world’s No. 1 ranked singles players. Williams, the top-ranked woman in the world, will start defense of her Miami Open title on Friday, March 27 at 8 pm. The world’s No. 1 ranked man, Novak Djokovic, will play his opening match on Saturday, March 28 also at 8 pm.

Tickets to the 2015 Miami Open are on sale now and can be purchased by phone (305-442-3367) or online at www.miamiopen.com. Individual session tickets for Friday evening start at $47 with Saturday evening starting at only $53. Daily Double tickets for either Friday or Saturday are also available allowing attendees can extend the experience, enjoying all the matches from the day and night sessions as well as all the incredible shopping, food and entertainment options on site.

Considered by many to be the best value in tennis, fans who want to secure tickets for both matches can purchase an Opening Weekend package starting at just $206 for four sessions or $269 for all of the weekend’s six sessions.

An electrifying two weeks of tennis caps off with the women’s final on Saturday, April 4 and the men’s final on Sunday, April 5.

Williams etched her name into history last year when she captured her seventh Miami Open title becoming the all-time winningest player, male or female, in the tournament’s history. 2014 saw Williams continue historic feats. The fierce competitor went on to claim her sixth U.S. Open title which at the time tied Williams with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for second most Grand Slam titles (18) in the open era. Williams surpassed them when she notched her sixth Australian Open victory in 2015, bringing her to within three of Steffi Graf’s 22 all-time Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era.

Djokovic has finished on top of the year-end rankings in three of the last four years (2011, 2012, 2014). The Serbian has won at least one Grand Slam title in each of the last five years, including his record-breaking performance at this year’s Australian Open. Djokovic captured his fifth title down under in January, making him the men’s singles all-time leader at the Australian Open in the open era.

The defending Miami Open champion captured his first career Master’s Series event on the purple hard courts of Miami in 2007, without dropping a set. He has gone on to hoist the trophy three more times and will seek a fifth title at this year’s tournament.

The Miami Open has something for everyone – die-hard tennis fans can catch the best tennis in the world, foodies can enjoy celebrity chef creations along with local, awarding-winning options and shopaholics can peruse the luxurious retail options.

Come out and experience all the Miami Open has to offer!

Tennis Elbow: From darkest to brightest, for Serena Williams

March 16, 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 recaps an emotional first week for the great champion.

Serena Williams had called it one of the “darkest moments” of her career, but maybe now that changes.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion won her first match at Indian Wells, 7-5 and 7-5 against Monica Niculescu, in her first visit since 2001, but it didn’t matter as much as simply the fact that she was back. Just two hours away from the Compton neighborhood where she grew up, Indian Wells is where Williams was met with hate and racism when she stepped on the court for a final against Kim Clijsters after beating her older sister when Venus withdrew with tendinitis.

She competes for the 2015 BNP Paribas Open title this week, and that’s progress. It’s progress and it’s not me saying so, it’s herself—that first match she played in 14 years in Indian Wells was one of her “biggest … and proudest moments.”

Surely, tennis fans know the scene by now and what happened for that first match but just in case some readers haven’t had the chance to watch it happen live, here it is.

Biggest and proudest moment, yes, and maybe also most touching. Because when Williams walked on the court, she was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation—a stark contrast with the way that the crowd reacted during that fateful final of 2001.

It’s an event that has stayed with her over the years, as evidenced by the fact that she both boycotted the BNP Paribas Open all those years and that she has written extensively about the experience and the decision to go back.

What was, or wasn’t, said or done to Williams and her family on that day in 2001 remains controversial, but what isn’t is the fact that Venus and Serena changed the world of tennis. Long before becoming part of the tennis firmament, and long before her sister Venus was lauded for her graciousness and her determination in the face of a difficult illness, Serena Williams was an outcast and an outsider.

The two sisters changed the sport of tennis, introducing dominant serves and powerful groundstrokes in a sport where finesse often dominated. That change occurred whether fans and the tennis powers that be were ready for it or not—and by and large, as this 2001 incident shows us, they were not.

But time fixes all, they say, and it appears so. This year at Indian Wells, we are forced to confront an ugly episode and our ugly side because that’s what Williams chose to do it when she decided to compete for the 2015 BNP Paribas Open title.

It’s not exact to say that a sport like tennis should remain strictly about the sport. Not when the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour are well entrenched in countries such as Qatar. Not when the ATP Qatar tournament is the Exxonmobil Open. Not when Williams and Niculescu take a photo with a Sergeant Hollie West ([Note: if anyone knows the right name and spelling, please write it in the comments. I am going off of what I hear in that video]), who had just made the coin toss before that first match. And not when players represent their countries at the Fed Cup and the Davis Cup. In our world, sports and politics usually mix.

So do sports and sociology and social rights.

Right after the lede, I wrote that it didn’t really matter that Williams won that first match back but maybe that’s not totally right. Maybe it does matter—because tennis, at least professional tennis, exists only in so that a match has a victor and a loser.

Most times, Serena Williams emerges as the victor and that’s all there is to it.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2015 BNP Paribas Open: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

March 11, 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 previews the 2015 BNP Paribas Open.

The BNP Paribas Open isn’t a Grand Slam tournament, because no tournament other than the four actual Grand Slams possibly ever could.

BUT!

But if one tournament ever could, it’s probably this one. Backed by Larry Ellison and his 52 billion $ fortune, the event has grown to become the “world’s largest ATP World Tour and WTA combined professional tennis tournament.”

That’s just a fancy way of explaining that 1) just about every player from the men’s and the women’s sides competes in the event every year, 2) the tournament hands out over 10 million $ in prize money and 3) more people attend the event than the typical tennis tournament.

That’s where we are for the next two weeks, folks, so buckle up. Once more this year, I’ll have a few tournament previews in lieu of discussing a recent event in the Tennis Elbow column.

Women’s draw

Last year crowned the tournament’s oldest winner, Flavia Pennetta, in almost 20 years. I maybe do not envision the same happening, but I do foresee a few surprises.

The Cinderella version of this BNP Paribas Open would crown Serena Williams as the champion in her first visit to Indian Wells since her 2001 win was marred by racism. Long story short, I’ll say that this is what I hope happens.

Simona Halep, the Sportswoman of the Month for February, already has two titles in 2015; should she keep this up, she would finish with an even 12 for the year and probably be named the best player on the WTA Tour. This isn’t likely, but the Romanian does have a fairly favourable draw until the quarterfinals. I hesitated between Agnieszka Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro and, because I explained that I would rely on a few surprises, I’ll choose the latter.

I am a French Canadian from Montreal and thus, Eugenie Bouchard is my favourite player on the tour. The 21-year-old has had an eventful past few months and must now somehow focus and regroup to continue growing as a player after the dream season in 2014. A quarterfinal loss against Caroline Wozniacki would be good for her resolve.

The fourth quarter of the main draw is probably the best and the one that likely will be the most hotly contested. We have three former World No. 1 players in Ana Ivanovic, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, a former World No. 2 in Vera Zvonareva, two former World No. 4’s in Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone, a World No. 5 in Sara Errani, as well as Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci. Of course, not all of those players are playing at a good level or in the same stage of their respective careers, but the draw is still loaded. Of course, that probably means that someone like Azarenka will roll over everyone.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Lucie Safarova; Simona Halep over Carla Suarez Navarro; Caroline Wozniacki over Eugenie Bouchard; Victoria Azarenka over Sabine Lisicki

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Simona Halep; Victoria Azarenka over Caroline Wozniacki

Final: Serena Williams over Victoria Azarenka

*****

Men’s draw

I’m delighted to see that Novak Djokovic is now fairly clearly the alpha male on the ATP World Tour—I can follow my hearts when I’m making these predictions.

I’ll go ahead and pencil in the Serb’s name in the quarterfinals, and beyond, of this year’s tournament. Also emerging from this quarter is Marin Cilic, if only because I would like to pretend like last season’s US Open wasn’t just some sort of fluke and that the Croatian is still intent on playing good tennis.

According to Andre Agassi, the best years of Andy Murray’s career are yet to come… but I don’t believe we’ll see his best in Indian Wells. After all, the Scot has only one final appearance at the BNP Paribas Open, in 2009. Instead, I foresee a nice three-set battle between Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez.

For what it’s worth, and admittedly it’s not so much, Rafael Nadal answered a difficult quarterfinal loss against Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open in January by cleaning house in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. In the quarterfinals in Indian Wells, I think the Spaniard will toy a little bit with the emotions of Canadian Milos Raonic, who’s good but still not quite good enough.

The final section of the main draw is home to a bunch of heavy servers in Lukas Rosol, Ivo Karlovic, Sam Querrey and Jerzy Janowicz, but none of them should bother the two Swiss too much. Keep an eye on Berdych, though remember that he is capable of any- and everything. Beyond him, Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer have a fairly favourable path to the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Marin Cilic; Kei Nishikori over Feliciano Lopez; Rafael Nadal over Milos Raonic; Stanislas Wawrinka over Roger Federer

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Stanislas Wawrinka over Rafael Nadal

Final: Novak Djokovic over Stanislas Wawrinka

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: If not Serena Williams, then who?

February 2, 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 recaps Serena Williams’s win at the 2015 Australian Open.

Very quickly, Serena Williams is turning what was once a semi-contentious debate into something approaching a definite.

Over the weekend, she beat Maria Sharapova by the final score of 6-3 and 7-6(5) to win her sixth Australian Open and, most importantly, her 19th career Grand Slam title.

But why is this 19th title so important? Aren’t they all just as important, as per that old cliché that professional athletes tend to use so often? Well, that 19th title is so important, because it moves Williams past Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for the most career Grand Slam titles in history and into second place behind only Steffi Graf’s 22 titles.

That’s right.

We’ve wondered for some time now whether Serena Williams might be the greatest player in history. She’s been comfortably the best player of her generation—no one is even close, really—but the debate was whether she belonged on Mount Rushmore. She had proved that, at the latest, when she enjoyed a career renaissance of sorts in 2012 after taking time off for a hematoma and pulmonary embolism—by then, she had 13 Grand Slam titles.

That debate of whether she might be better than the aforementioned Graf, Evert and Navratilova had hinged in part on our ability to project and compare and contrast different eras and different playing styles. But now? Now, Williams is at 19 majors.

In other words, with those 19 Grand Slam titles, not only does she have a legitimate claim as the best player in history… but she might have the numbers to back the claim up too. She may lack the overall title haul (i.e. Williams has 65, Graf has 107, Evert is at 157 and Navratilova is at 167), but her Grand Slam resume is as good as anyone else’s. Williams has six Australian Open titles, two French Opens, five Wimbledon titles and six US Opens—that tally tells me she’s just about equally good on every surface.

Maybe she doesn’t have the 19 straight semifinals of Navratilova, or the 34 overall finals of Evert or the 13 straight finals of Graf, of which she won nine, including five in a row, but she does have the 19 major titles. And she does have the distinction of being the oldest No. 1 player in history.

(She also is ludicrously ahead on the career earnings list… though, of course, different eras had different prize money. As a reference, Victoria Azarenka is fifth on that list, so yeah.)

We shouldn’t or I shouldn’t I suppose since I’m the one writing this, write Williams’s eulogy just yet—this 2015 Australian Open proved as much. She may be at No. 19 right now, but the odds that she adds to her haul before she retires are quite high.

Now more than perhaps ever in her career, she appears to be peerless. Not even vomiting could stop her in Melbourne, so imagine how powerless Maria Sharapova, no slouch with her five Grand Slam titles, must have felt.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter at RealCBG

Serena defeats Sharapova for sixth Australian Open title

January 31, 2015

Australian Open—Melbourne, Australia

Top seed Serena Williams captured her 19th grand slam title in Melbourne, Australia on Saturday, defeating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6(5). Needing one hour and 51 minutes to seal her victory, Williams hasn’t lost to the Russian since 2004. Serena now stands at three majors away from tying Steffi Graf’s grand slam total of 22.

Australian Open 2015 Day 14 Preview: Djokovic vs. Murray

January 31, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

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

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

Day 13 Recap

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

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

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

*****

Match of the Day – Day 14

Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

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

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

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

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

Australian Open 2015 Day 13 Preview: Serena vs. Sharapova

January 30, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

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

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

Day 12 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Match of the Day – Day 13

Maria Sharapova vs. Serena Williams

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

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

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

Williams has never lost an Australian Open final, and she is eager to be reunited with the trophy after having an odd run of outs at Melbourne Park in the last few years. If Williams serves well and retains her focus, she’s going to be awfully hard to beat. I think Sharapova, in her current form, has one of her best chances to end her losing streak, but the smart money is on Williams claiming major number 19. Williams in 3.

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

Australian Open 2015 Day 12 Preview: Djokovic vs. Wawrinka

January 30, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

For the first time since 2004, the Australian Open women’s singles final will be contested by the top two seeds, after Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova collected straight sets wins on Day 11 to set up a showdown in Saturday night’s final. Meanwhile, Andy Murray awaits the winner of today’s semi-final clash between Djokovic and Wawrinka after the Scot downed Tomas Berdych in 4 sets to reach his fourth Australian Open final.

Day 11 Recap

Maria Sharapova went into her semi-final against countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova having won all 5 of the pair’s previous clashes. Initially, things didn’t look great for Sharapova as she went down an early break in the first set, only to reel off 6 consecutive games to turn the match on its head. Despite having played in the semi-finals of the US Open in New York last year, Makarova looked edgy on the big stage, with her normally reliable forehand not able to cause the same damage it had done in the opening 5 rounds of the tournament. In windy conditions, Sharapova produced a strong serving performance and never gave her opponent a chance to come back into the match, wrapping it up 6-3 6-2 and giving herself a chance to claim a sixth Grand Slam title and second Australian Open on Saturday night.

Sharapova will need to overcome top seed and world number one Serena Williams if the Russian is to hold aloft the trophy, after the American overcame compatriot Madison Keys in the second semi-final. If teenager Keys, playing in her first Grand Slam semi-final, was overwhelmed by the occasion or affected by a lingering left adductor injury, she didn’t let it show, breaking the Williams serve early in the first set to underline her intent. Williams broke back in the sixth game and gradually gained more control via her serve, taking the first set in a tiebreaker and then jumping all over the Keys second serve early in the second set to set up a commanding 5-1 lead. Keys managed to save an incredible 8 match points, but Williams remained unflustered, converting match point number 9 to move into her sixth Australian Open final with a 7-6(5) 6-2 win.

The night session on Day 11 featured the first men’s semi-final, and the first set saw the contest live up to its much-hyped billing. After 76 minutes of twists and turns, breaks of serve, arguments over the balls, some unsavoury taunts from Murray’s fiancee Kim Sears and more, it was Berdych who took the lead, recovering from a 3-0 deficit in the tiebreaker to claim it 8 points to 6. The loss of the first set catapulted Murray into action, the Scot becoming more offensive, moving inside the baseline and pushing Berdych more around the court. A near-perfect second set saw Murray bagel Berdych, the two-time major winner losing just 10 points for the set, to even the match at a set apiece.

Berdych appeared to have regained his focus at the start of the third set, but a lapse in concentration in the sixth game proved costly for the former Wimbledon finalist. Up 40-0, Berdych wound up losing his serve, handing Murray the break, and the Scot maintained his advantage to close out the set, 6-3. It was a similar story in the fourth set, with Murray rock-solid on the key points, saving break points in the sixth game and then taking his chances when Berdych tightened up at 5-all. A poor service game by the Czech gave Murray the chance to serve for the match and Murray made no mistake, sealing the win with his fifteenth ace in just under 4 hours. After losing 3 finals at Melbourne Park, Murray will be looking to finally lift the trophy on Sunday against the winner of today’s semi-final between Djokovic and Wawrinka.

Match of the Day – Day 12

Novak Djokovic vs. Stanislas Wawrinka

What more can be said about this pair and their matches at Melbourne Park? For the third consecutive year, world number one Novak Djokovic will take on defending Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the first Grand Slam of the year. The past 2 years have seen the pair play out exhilarating contests in Melbourne, with Djokovic overcoming Wawrinka in 5 sets in 2013, and Wawrinka turning the tables on the world number one in another 5-setter last year en route to the title.

Djokovic holds a commanding lead in career head-to-head meetings, the top seed having collected 16 wins in the 19 matches played to date. However, Melbourne Park brings out the best in Wawrinka and, having finally beaten Djokovic in a major in Melbourne last year, has the requisite confidence and self-belief going into this clash. Wawrinka’s game is well-suited to the bouncy hard-courts at Melbourne Park, with the ball mostly sitting in Wawrinka’s preferred hitting zone and the courts quick enough for him to get due reward for his shotmaking abilities. The fourth seed produced his best performance of the year to date in dismissing the dangerous Kei Nishikori in straight sets in the quarter-finals and, just as he did against the Japanese star, Wawrinka will need to serve extremely well and go all out on his backhand side if he is to take down Djokovic.

Djokovic has been very steady in the tournament so far, and he was at his clinical best in dismantling Milos Raonic’s big serve in the quarter-finals. I think the Serb will still be kicking himself for not collecting more Grand Slam titles last year, and he will be hell-bent on recapturing the Australian Open trophy in order to provide himself with an ideal foundation for the 2015 season and to reassert his position as the world’s best. Djokovic is the better mover around the court and more consistent from the baseline, and to my mind is also fitter if the match goes deep into a decider. Wawrinka has the weapons to beat Djokovic but it’s essentially a case of everything needing to go right for the Swiss star if he is to progress through to another final. Look for Wawrinka to challenge strongly for the first 2 and a half sets, but for Djokovic to absorb the pressure and pull away in the third and fourth sets. Djokovic in 4.

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

Australian Open 2015 Day 11 Preview: Serena & Sharapova poised for final showdown; Berdych vs. Murray as well

January 28, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Teenager Madison Keys is through to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park after surviving a testing 3-setter against veteran Venus Williams on Day 10. Day 11 sees Keys up against another Williams star, Venus’ younger sister and world number one Serena.

Day 10 Recap

Whilst Keys and Venus Williams combined for a total of 83 unforced errors, it was nonetheless an absorbing battle between the 7-time major winner Williams and the up-and-coming star Keys. Swinging freely and exhibiting the shotmaking ability that has earned her a bunch of admirers, Keys took the first set, 6-3, before Williams upper her intensity and first serve percentage to level the match at a set apiece. The deciding set featured plenty of twists and turns but, up 5-4, Keys produced a flawless return game, breaking Williams to love to secure an historic victory.

Serena Williams avenged her sister’s loss with a decisive 6-2 6-2 victory over last year’s Australian Open finalist, Slovak Dominika Cibulkova. Although still troubled by a cold, Williams was never seriously threatened by the eleventh seeded Cibulkova, who seemed to use up all of her energy in taking down Victoria Azarenka in the round of 16 and was unable to find her best form against the world number one.

In the men’s quarter-finals on Day 10, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic each recorded superb straight sets victories to set up a clash at Melbourne Park for the third consecutive year. Wawrinka produced a sublime serving performance, sending down 20 aces en route to a 6-3 6-4 7-6(6) win over fifth seed Kei Nishikori. However, the win wasn’t without its share of nerve-wracking moments for the Swiss star. With Wawrinka up 6-1 in the third set tiebreaker, it seemed as if the match was over for Nishikori before the Japanese star reeled off 5 points in a row. Alas, a poorly executed drop shot from Nishikori gave Wawrinka another match point and this time he made no mistake.

Djokovic was clinical against the big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, the world number one notching a 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2 victory. The Serb was clinical in the first set tiebreaker and broke down the Raonic serve in the second and third sets, as the eighth seed was unable to make any inroads on the Djokovic serve and showed that he is lacking a plan B to move to when things are not going his way.

Matches of the Day – Day 11

1. Maria Sharapova vs. Ekaterina Makarova

Left-hander Makarova is the sort of player that no big name wants to play in the latter rounds of a Grand Slam. The Russian is ultra-consistent from the baseline, a good mover around the court and deceptively efficient on serve. Tenth seeded Makarova made it through to the semi-finals of the US Open last year, going down to eventual champion Serena Williams, and I’m sure that the experience will stand her in good stead for into this match.

After getting out of jail against Panova, Sharapova has looked better and better with each successive match, the 2008 Australian Open champion completely dismantling the games of Peng Shuai and Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round and quarter-finals respectively. In her current form, I think Sharapova will have too much firepower and self-belief for her countrywoman, however if the second seed is unable to maintain her high standards then Makarova is the sort of player who will take full advantage. Look for Sharapova to move through in a couple of tight ones. Sharapova in 2.

2. Serena Williams vs. Madison Keys

She might be battling illness off the court, but on court Serena Williams shows no signs of giving up, the top seed in vintage form against Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals. It took the top seed a while to hit top gear against Muguruza, but Williams was straight out of the blocks against Cibulkova. Williams and Keys have never met in a tour level match, and I expect that coach Lindsay Davenport will be telling Keys to get out there, enjoy herself, and go for her shots, just as Keys did so well against Venus Williams in the quarter-finals.

Unlike older sister Venus, whose best tennis is behind her, Serena is still at the top of her game and I think she will be seeking to avenge Venus’ loss and to move one step closer towards reclaiming the Australian Open crown. Keys is a star of the future and I don’t think she will be too far off Williams’ level in this clash; that said, I think Williams will be smarter on the big points and will overwhelm Keys with her intensity and competitiveness. Look for Keys to compete strongly for a set and a half, and for Williams to weather the early storm before pulling away for a straight sets win. Williams in 2.

3. Andy Murray vs. Tomas Berdych

I can’t wait for this match-up between 2 of the most in-form players on the ATP Tour at present. Berdych has been in blistering form at Melbourne Park so far this year, the Czech snapping his lengthy losing streak against Rafael Nadal with a most emphatic victory. Murray, meanwhile, produced a mature performance to outclass Nick Kyrgios in straight sets in the quarter-finals, the Scot moving so well that veteran Lleyton Hewitt was forced to remark that Murray was covering the court better than he had for many a year.

There are plenty of sub-plots to this match, with Berdych leading the head-to-head record 6-4 but being unable to beat Murray when it really counts, such as at the US Open in 2012, when Berdych, fresh from defeating Roger Federer, was outsmarted by Murray on a windy day in New York. Murray went on to win the title, and has since added another major to his collection, whilst Berdych is still searching for his maiden major.

Another sub-plot features the coaches, with long-time Murray aide Dani Vallverdu now coaching Berdych after allegedly being unhappy at taking a back-seat to Murray’s new coach, Amelie Mauresmo. Obviously Vallverdu knows Murray’s game inside and out, and will be able to provide Berdych with certain insights in that respect, but as Murray noted, the Scot has had the benefit of Vallverdu’s assessment of the Berdych game in previous years.

I think this will be a cracking encounter, with both players full of confidence and looking extremely fit. If Berdych is able to hit with the power and the consistency that he showcased against Nadal, then a strong case can be made for the Czech making it through to his second Grand Slam final.However, I am leaning towards Murray, the sixth seed a narrow favourite in my mind due to his formidable record at Melbourne Park and his greater experience at this stage of big tournaments. Murray in 5.

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

Australian Open 2015 Day 10 Preview: Djokovic vs. Raonic; Wawrinka vs. Nishikori

January 27, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

Andy Murray will play Tomas Berdych for a place in Sunday’s men’s singles final after the Scot ended Nick Kyrgios’ dream run with a straight sets win in their quarter-final on Day 9 of the tournament.

Day 9 Recap

In windy conditions, it was a focused Murray who entered Rod Laver Arena, the Scot mixing up the pace of his shots and throwing in plenty of slice in an attempt to throw the big-hitting Aussie off his game. Murray came into the match as the best returner in the men’s tournament so far, and one break in the first set was enough to hand it to the 3-time Australian Open finalist, 6-3. Kyrgios refused to go away in the second set, sending it to a tiebreaker, but a couple of rash points on serve when up the mini-break proved costly for the teenager, as Murray collected the breaker 7 points to 5. Murray went up a break early in the third set before Kyrgios recorded his first break of the match, but the comeback was short-lived as Murray broke once more to set up a 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 victory.

Earlier in the day, Tomas Berdych was the first man to book his place in the men’s semi-finals, the Czech claiming his first win in 18 matches over Spaniard Rafael Nadal with a commanding 6-2 6-0 7-6(5) victory. Having played just 8 tour level matches since June last year, Nadal’s lack of match practice was evident as the third seed was unable to convert any of his 4 break point chances for the match. Berdych again showed his fondness for the Melbourne Park hard-courts, thoroughly outplaying Nadal in the first couple of sets and then holding strong in the third set as Nadal tried his hardest to get back in the match.

In the women’s tournament, second seed Maria Sharapova produced another superb performance, defeating Eugenie Bouchard 6-3 6-2 in a match which was much closer than the scoreline would indicate. Wimbledon finalist Bouchard looked flat from the outset as Sharapova served well and maintained excellent depth on her groundstrokes throughout the match. A total of 30 unforced errors proved costly for Bouchard, as the Russian maintained her 100 percent record against the Canadian.

Sharapova will play countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova for a spot in Saturday’s final after the tenth seed outclassed third seed Simona Halep in a surprisingly one-sided contest. Similar to Bouchard, Halep looked sluggish and never managed to find her range. Makarova raced out to a 3-0 lead after 9 minutes and never looked back from there, taking the first set 6-4 and the second set 6-0 to wrap up the match in just 68 minutes.

Matches of the Day – Day 10

1. Madison Keys vs. Venus Williams

This year’s Australian Open has been a tremendous success for the American women, and not only as a result of the Williams sisters. Madison Brengle and Madison Keys are two rising stars playing for the United States, and now Keys has a huge opportunity to move through to her first ever Grand Slam semi-final.

This is an interesting match-up between veteran Venus Williams, who at 34 has shown she is still capable of challenging and beating the world’s best, and Keys, a powerful young hitter who is tipped by many astute tennis followers as the next big thing to come out of America. I was very impressed with Venus’ commanding performance in the third set against Radwanksa in the round of 16 and I think her majestic serve and far greater experience will give her the edge in this match. That said, Keys has nothing to lose and will no doubt come out swinging. Williams in 3.

2. Serena Williams vs. Dominika Cibulkova

Dominika Cibulkova enjoyed a glorious run through to the final at Melbourne Park in 2014, the diminutive Slovak defeating the likes of Maria Sharapova before going down to Li Na in the championship decider. Cibulkova’s form in 2014 was patchy following her performance in Melbourne, but she seems to have recaptured her form back in Melbourne, downing two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka in a high-quality fourth round encounter.

Williams was severely tested against Muguruza in the round of 16, the top seed battling illness as well as a tough opponent. Williams showed plenty of heart to come through that match and, having had a day of rest, I think she will be in better health and form for this encounter. Cibulkova has only managed to claim a solitary set off Williams in 4 previous contests, and I think the world number one is too tough a test for the Slovak to pass today. Williams in 2.

3. Stan Wawrinka vs. Kei Nishikori

These two are occasional hitting partners and so know each other’s game very well. Whilst Wawrinka won their first 2 encounters in 2012, but Nishikori outlasted the Swiss star in a gruelling 5-setter in New York last year en route to the final. Wawrinka’s power game is well known, whereas Nishikori is still making a name for himself outside his native Japan.

Nishikori is a brilliant mover around the court, but he’s also a potent shotmaker and not just a counterpuncher. His serve is also underrated, whilst the addition of former French Open champion Michael Chang to his coaching team has provided a boost to his confidence and self-belief. I think this match will go down to the wire, with both players having genuine chances to win. I’ll back Wawrinka, simply because of his past success in Melbourne, but to my mind this match is virtually a toss of the coin. Wawrinka in 5.

4. Novak Djokovic vs. Milos Raonic

This pair played 3 times in 2014 and, whilst Raonic had his moments against the world’s best player, he was never able to achieve ultimate success against Djokovic. Raonic continues to improve as a player, with his backhand slice vastly improved in recent times. And, as Djokovic himself has acknowledged, Raonic ranks as one of the very best servers on the ATP Tour.

Obviously Raonic needs to serve well today to have any chance, but the Canadian also needs to ensure that he competes strongly on the Djokovic service games and doesn’t allow the top seed to cruise through on his serve. Raonic will look to keep the points short and out-hit Djokovic, whilst the top seed will seek to exploit Raonic’s inferior movement with long, punishing rallies. I think Raonic will win a set and trouble Djokovic in a couple of the others, but ultimately I think the world number one will move through to the semi-finals. Djokovic in 4.

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

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