Sunday, 31 August 2014

Women provide the excitement in Week One

As 2014 has entered its second half, and we are in the Labour Day weekend phase of the US Open, evidence continues to mount that women's tennis is where we can regularly look to find exciting young unheralded players taking it to the very top ranked stars, and having the goods to upset them at the highest level.

Let us survey the damage inflicted on the seeds as the first Saturday comes to its conclusion.

Men's Singles - Of the top 20 seeds, only Ernests Gulbis (11), John Isner (13) and Fabio Fognini (15) have lost.

Conversely, this is what has happened with the top female seeds - 

Simona Halep (2), 2014 Roland Garros finalist, exited thanks to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the third round.

Petra Kvitova (3), 2014 Wimbledon champion, also lost in the third round to 145th ranked Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic.

Agnieszka Radwanska (4), 2012 Wimbledon finalist, was given her marching orders by Peng Shuai in the second round.

Angelique Kerber (6), 2012 Wimbledon and 2011 US Open semi finalist, lost her third round encounter with Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic.

Ana Ivanovic (8), 2008 Roland Garros champion, failed in her second round match against the Czech Republic top fifty player Karolina Pliskova.

So, of the eight players seeded to make the quarter finals, only three are left standing after the third round.  We still have Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic from the old guard, and the excitement machine that is Genie Bouchard is alive, albeit just surviving her most recent three set tussle.  Add to that in form Caro Wozniacki, and 2012/2013 finalist Vika Azarenka, and you can see that women's tennis has a depth to survive the massacre of seeds that we have witnessed.

Monday, 25 August 2014

No new winner likely at Flushing Meadow

Without Rafa Nadal to defend his US Open title this year, you could be forgiven for thinking that the draw has opened up for a number of players in the men's singles in New York.  It has potentially cleared the path somewhat for top seed Novak Djokovic and the player he overcame in the Wimbledon final, Roger Federer.  Federer comes into the final Grand Slam tournament of 2014 as the number two seed, thus avoiding Djokovic until the final should he reach that far.  Even Andy Murray, the 2012 winner, is on the opposite side of the draw from Federer.

The hard court tournaments leading into the US Open have been confusing more than definitive.  Toronto was spectacular for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who smashed Djokovic on the way to a final in which he outplayed Federer to take the Masters title.  Sadly, the form did not continue in Cincinnati, and the exciting French player fell at the first hurdle.

Djokovic not only lost to Tsonga in the third round in Canada, but suffered an even greater shock when given his marching orders by Tommy Robredo at the same stage in Cincinnati.  Federer won Cincinnati defeating a gallant David Ferrer in the final and on that form, and with a generous draw, should be a hot favourite to make the US Open final and stand a great chance of winning.

However, Djokovic brings his best to the majors, and having made the past four finals at Flushing Meadows, and the finals of the last two majors this year, it would be foolish to discount his chances of a second success here in two weeks time.

Tsonga, of those yet to taste success at this level, could be the one to give most cheek this year, and  I suspect he may have too much for Murray if they clash in a fourth round match.  That should ensure another encounter with Djokovic who may well have Wawrinka awaiting in a semi final, and the memory of their last battle here will endure for many a day.

Federer needs to beware of Berdych should Tomas be switched on, as he has been upset by him in the past in the US Open.  A semi final between the two is entirely possible, although Dimitrov and Ferrer respectively represent stern opposition prior to that eventuality.

For what it is worth, and with no real confidence, I believe that Djokovic will defeat Wawrinka in one semi final and Federer will prevail over Berdych in the other.  Only his better record at Grand Slam level in the past few years sways me to select Novak Djokovic to win the 2014 US Open over the great Roger Federer.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Hard to pick Hard court form

As we near the US Open, we should forget what happened on the grass at Wimbledon as a form guide.  Certainly the ladies who played the final in London have left their best tennis behind there.  

Since Petra Kvitova scared everyone with her dominating effort in capturing a second Wimbledon crown, she has won just one match.  She proceeded then to lose to Makarova in the third round in Montreal and then bow out to Svitolina after a first round bye in Cincinnati.  Not the sort of match practice a player would be seeking prior to the years final major.  Connecticut, where she won in 2012 and was a finalist last year, is the last opportunity to gain confidence for Flushing Meadows.
Not that we should expect amazing things from Petra at the US Open, given that her record is only 10 match wins and 6 losses from her previous attempts - she lost in the opening round the year she first won Wimbledon, which is not a precedent to follow.

Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard has fared even worse since her break through Grand Slam final, losing to a qualifier in her first match at her home nation event in Montreal, before being defeated in Cincinnati, again in her first hit out.  

But enough of the poor form - who has been firing on the hard courts and giving us something serious to think about in a week or so?

Well there is always Serena, despite her indifferent form (by her supreme standards) this year, especially in the Grand Slam events.  On hard courts in the American summer she usually thrives, and since her grass court failure she is 10 from 11 matches, including the Stanford tournament win and a semi final to be played in Cincinnati this weekend.  In between Serena made the Montreal semis where her older sister turned back the clock to register a rare victory over the world number one.

A few other players have certainly given Serena some tough contests of late, one being good friend Caroline Wozniacki, who is in some of her best form for years.  Although ranked outside the top ten currently, her 11 wins from 12 starts since Wimbledon, with a win over Vinci in the Istanbul final, a three set loss to Serena in the Montreal quarters, and a return date with the younger Williams in the Cincinnati semis, sees her as one of the players to watch in the last part of 2014.  Her fourth round result at Wimbledon last month was her best performance at a Grand Slam event for over a year so she is on the right path with her tennis.
Caro is a former US Open finalist, and I'd expect her to be featuring come the second week this year.

Of the remaining former winners of the US Open still playing, Samantha Stosur is well below her level of 2011, whereas Sveta Kuznetsova is enjoying a mini revival ten years on from her maiden triumph at Grand Slam level, winning the Washington DC event and making the third round before losing to in form Ana Ivanovic in Cincinnati.  Seeded around twenty, Sveta will be troublesome for the higher seeds in this years US Open.

2006 winner Maria Sharapova was upset by Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round at Montreal, but is back in the frame with a semi final to come against Ivanovic in Cincinnati, on the back of yet another come from behind win, this one against world number two Simona Halep.

Halep herself is a strong contender for the US Open title, with the number two seeding, the Bucharest title and excellent Cincinnati form.  Ana Ivanovic also must be considered, given her quarter final result at Stanford, losing to eventual winner, Serena Williams, and of course her current Cincinnati showing.

Finally, Venus Williams has returned to the top twenty thanks to her wonderful Montreal runner up finish.  With her health issues and best tennis surely behind her it shows a tremendous commitment and willpower to play to the level she is, including defeating her sister for the first time in years.  Sentimental favourite at Flushing Meadows without a doubt.