Friday, 20 November 2015

Fed Cup continues its exciting regrowth

Over the past decade, men's tennis has thankfully redirected its efforts into making the Davis Cup a pillar of the tennis season, and bringing at times the team aspect to a spectacularly individual sport.

Awarding ATP points has persuaded many of the top players to arm themselves with racquets for their nations and a different attitude to the matches is observed both on the court and in the crowd.

The perennial 'poor relation' to the Davis Cup has been the women's version - Federation Cup. For all the same reasons that women's individual tennis is given unfair second rate coverage, the team event has suffered accordingly.  Of course the format has much to do with that - playing all the singles first, and leaving the doubles rubber as the final, often deciding match in the tie is bewildering to me.  Singles is the money spinner with the finest players, and should always be the final match as in the Davis Cup.  However, that is another story.

Despite my (admittedly minor) concern over the format, the Fed Cup has enjoyed a renaissance in the past 5 years due to fierce competition at extremely high levels, and a rivalry between Russia and the Czech Republic which has drawn some of the world's very best exponents of the sport.

Yes, the finals may not have featured the best player, although Serena has appeared in earlier rounds against women and nations which she would never expect to compete on the regular tour (good for tennis), but to see Petra Kvitova (for example) dominate in the Fed Cup over the years no matter how her form may have been in any recent tournaments is proof of the value of this event.

The 2015 final was hosted by the Czech Republic and Russia was the other finalist.  Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova were the number one players for the respective nations, while the strengths of the teams was indicated by the opponents on day one - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia and Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic.

Petra won but only after dropping the first set, while Maria made it 1-1 to finish day one.
The second day featured the top drawer match of Kvitova v Sharapova, the result expected to virtually decide the Cup.
Kvitova won the first set despite a rocky start, and had chances in the second set to win the match, but a typical Sharapova fighting performance took the match to a third set and in Fed Cup fashion, against a fanatical Czech crowd, the Russian champion won her second match of the tie to give her nation a 2-1 lead.

It was then the turn of home country heroine Karolina Pliskova to dig deep into her resolve and hand Pavlyuchenkova her second defeat - the tie was 2-2 and the doubles match would decide the Fed Cup.

Pliskova and Pavlyuchenkova backed up again with partners Barbora Strycova and Elena Vesnina respectively. A roller coaster first set saw the Czech pair up initially but then succumb to the Russians, especially thanks to a hot run from Vesnina.

As was the pattern for the whole tie however, the momentum changed and Pliskova and Strycova held firm, taking the second set and then rolling over the top of any resistance to win the match and the fourth Fed Cup in five years for the Czech Republic.

This was compelling viewing on television - one can only imagine the spectacle live in Prague.

Women's tennis is vastly underrated as an individual sport to watch - Federation Cup proves that women's team tennis provides something extra special.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Novak Djokovic Supreme

Despite his compelling achievements over the past several years, many are still reluctant to afford the best male tennis player on the planet his due full credit.  Amazingly some writers continue to couch the Djokovic stats in terms of a tired "Big Four" picture.  But more of that later.

The 2015 final was the second in a row fought between seven time winner Roger Federer and the world number one Novak Djokovic who has won all the big tournaments in which he has competed this year, bar Roland Garros.  Would he be able to put the massive disappointment of failure again in Paris behind him and repeat his famous 2014 Wimbledon win over Roger?  The question apparently took on more weight given the thrashing dished out to Andy Murray by Federer in the semi final.

Djokovic eased into another final - his third straight - still breathing a sigh of relief following his fourth round escape against Kevin Anderson.  Experts were divided, but enough were swayed by hope that Federer could capture another GS title, such a success having eluded him for three years.

The Swiss star opened best, attacking with flair and limiting the avenues for effective Djokovic replies.  Serving at 4-2, the first set surely was Roger's.  However, if one player is capable of dealing with the Federer serve it is Novak, and he struck back in timely fashion, breaking for 3-4 and readying himself for a tie break.  He almost didn't reach the breaker, needing two big serves at 5-6 to avoid going a set down.  Instead, after levelling at 6-6, the top seed raced away, losing only a single point in the tie break, and receiving a double fault from Roger for a 7-6 first set win.

Set two saw no service breaks in the first nine games, but a double fault from Federer at 4-5 30-30 gave Djokovic a set point.  This was saved, as was a break point on Djokovic's next serve, and another tie break eventually arrived.  At 3-6, things appeared bleak for Roger but he held strong, winning his two serves and requiring Novak to serve for a two set lead.

We were only half way as it turned out, both players providing one of the finest pieces of tie break entertainment in living memory.  Federer staved off set points before finally grabbing his chance, serve volleying to win the set 7-6, 12-10 in the breaker.

Djokovic was visibly angry, mostly with his feet which he assaulted heavily with his racquet.  Those feet moved pretty well in response in the third set, assisting a service break in the fifth game, the last played before a rain delay.

Once back from the interruption, Novak did not drop serve again and the set was his 6-4.

Federer was finding less time to react to the Djokovic ground strokes, with the number one standing closer in at the baseline and hitting with a winning precision.  The fifth game of set four was déjà vu, with the Swiss serve broken and the match effectively over.

Roger could not make sufficient impact on the solid Serb serve, and in an instant he himself was at the line serving at 3-5 to stay in the contest.  It was too overwhelming, and a stunning backhand return to bring up two match points, followed by a forehand winner, concluded the match.

Novak Djokovic had won a third Wimbledon crown 7-6 6-7 6-4 6-3.

Of the past 20 Grand Slam tournaments, Djokovic has won 8 (15 final appearances), Nadal 6 (10), Murray 2 (6), Wawrinka 2 (2), Federer 1 (4), Cilic 1 (1)

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Serena's Sweet Sixth Wimbledon

It may not have been her best tennis match, but when you have set a standard as high as Serena Williams over her illustrious career, anything offered on a tennis court now would be difficult to rate as the best, and after all, winning a Grand Slam tournament is all about defeating your opponent, not necessarily having to play perfect tennis, but the type of tennis for the occasion.

Garbine Muguruza, the 21 year old Spanish player, featuring in her first GS level final, pushed Williams hard, her powerful serve and ground strokes able to match those of the top seed for the first half of the opening set.  Of course, the Sharapova-like donation of 3 double faults in the first game, contributing largely to the ultimate service break, provided just the impetus for Muguruza to race to 4-2 and tantalisingly close to a set lead.

Serena, though, has teased a lot over the past month or so, giving hope to many players at Roland Garros and Wimbledon while trailing by a break, or a set, or both, and then dashing those hopes by emerging from the compromised situations and icing the matches.

Serena switched things up a little after the sixth game, paying more attention to the placement of her own ground strokes, and also requiring more from those of Garbine, who in the eight game stumbled enough to allow the best of her generation (and maybe all time) to achieve the break back for 4-4.

Serena steamed to a 5-4 lead, and Garbine had a game point to level.  Here, the pressure told and a double fault signalled the Williams intervention, the next two points and first set wrapped up by the American.

Serena had grabbed the momentum of the match and ran with it to take a 5-1 advantage in the second, winning the last twelve points to reach that position of dominance.  Serving for the title, Serena stumbled badly, losing the game to love, and a slim ray of light began to shine for Garbine.  Still very much on the edge, not having held serve for some time, the 20th seed did what was required, and after surviving a nervous deuce moment the score line was 5-3 to Williams.

The ninth game of set two was riveting.  Serena double faulted and Garbine then donated a brilliant backhand to the applause of all, including Serena herself.  0-40 came thanks to a splendid off backhand return and the number one had lost her last seven points on serve, all while serving for the title.  

The response?  Save the break points, two with aces, and for good measure throw down another ace to bring up the first championship point.  Surely this would be the moment - Serena had survived the madness and was sealing the deal.

Not so fast said the girl at the other end, as her next withering ground stroke brought it back to deuce and annoyed Serena immensely.  Another break point was negotiated, but Serena failed to deal with the fifth of the game and thanks to another forehand winner Muguruza had sensationally broken back again for 4-5 with the chance to level the set.

Sadly a double fault and an unlucky net cord conspired against Garbine and from 0-30 she contributed two more errors to conclude proceedings.  Serena had become Wimbledon Queen for the sixth time, her 21st Grand Slam Singles triumph. 6-4 6-4.  Not much more can be said about the astonishing Serena Williams when words become inadequate.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Muguruza and Gasquet add spice to semis

The top three men's seeds have manoeuvred their ways to Wimbledon 2015 semi final spots, while the fourth seed threw away a two sets to one lead.  The top women's seed will do battle with the fourth seed in one semi and the other finalist will come from a fight between a debut semi finalist at GS level and the thirteenth seed who was runner up three years ago on the Wimbledon grass.

Federer's progress has been ho hum and Murray has delighted his home fans but provided little interest for anyone else on his way to the inevitable clash with the Swiss former number one.  Andy has the chance to avenge his 2012 final loss to Federer, and I believe that he will - Murray is clearly the second best performed player on tour this year; his progress in GS and Masters events has only ever been blocked by Djokovic, while Federer has won lots of events, but only outside of the big ones.

Roger is at his most dangerous on grass, but so increasingly is Murray, and his returning can cause enough problems to see him reach the final.

Novak Djokovic had a huge wake up call when down two sets to love against Anderson in the fourth round, but other than that he has been impeccable and nothing but the very best of Gasquet will be enough to go close to preventing a third successive final for the world number one and a chance to defend his title.

Serena Williams has another battle with Maria Sharapova, a task with which she has dealt successfully since losing to the 17 year old version of Maria in the 2004 final here.  No evidence has been presented to suggest that the Russian fourth seed will block Williams in her quest for GS title number 21.

Of tremendous interest is the second semi final where exciting Spanish player Garbine Muguruza has the firepower to worry Agnieszka Radwanska.  Neither were expected to last this long in the tournament but they have performed with style and class, and in Muguruza's case plenty of raw power.  It is the power which, if harnessed properly, can be the factor to drive the 21 year old to a surprise final appearance against Serena, and who knows what may occur after that.

As I write, Radwanska has taken the second set to level the first semi final against Muguruza - a great start to Women's Semi Final Day.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Kyrgios - still to deliver

For all the controversy surrounding talented young Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios, and those that are willing to forgive his regular indiscretions because of his on court feats, his achievements have really not been that special.

Yes, for a nineteen year old, the fourth round win over Nadal last year at Wimbledon was memorable and perhaps a portent of future success, but his output since has been anything but stellar.

Nick has yet to break into the world top twenty - in fact is still only the number two ranked Australian. His 2015 was jump started with a quarter final result at the Australian Open, and all kinds of predictions  were being thrown around for his rise in the game.

However, his only success against players ranked in the top twenty have been wins against Federer and Raonic, both great triumphs but immediately followed by disappointing losses to Isner and Gasquet respectively.

Six of his eleven losses for the year have been to players in the top twenty, while 14 of his 16 wins have come against those ranked 27 or lower.

No one can reasonably deny the promise of Kyrgios, and the probability that he will eventually realise much of his potential, but to continue to be accepted with all his faults, he does need to deliver some on court success beyond the occasional great match.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Women's Draw in Tatters

Rest day at Wimbledon 2015 gives everyone a chance to take a few breaths and analyse what has happened over an amazing first three rounds of singles play.

While the top half of the women's draw has remained reasonably intact, apart from the disappointing early departure of seventh seed Ana Ivanovic, the dominance of Serena Williams was almost shattered by local Heather Watson who came within two points of ousting the champ.

The second week will begin with yet another Williams sisters clash, and with Maria Sharapova and Lucie Safarova still looming large for quarter final action.  Another Grand Slam tournament specialist who is beginning to make a move after a struggle coming back from injury is Victoria Azarenka.  The 23rd seed, and 2011 semi finalist here, appears set to play a quarter final against the surviving Williams sister and that should be a top match.

The bottom half is simply seed carnage.  Jelena Jankovic turned back the clock to shock the defending champion Petra Kvitova in three thrilling sets, and the second seed followed Simona Halep, Ekaterina Makarova, and Angelique Kerber as top ten players out of the tournament before the round of sixteen.  The highest seed surviving is number 5 Caroline Wozniacki and her next match is a tough one against young Spanish sensation Garbine Muguruza.

Of the remaining eight players in the lower half, no one has won a major, whereas the top half has four players who have won 34 between them.

If Serena is to achieve the third leg of a calendar Grand Slam, she will have well and truly deserved it, because she will in all likelihood need to defeat two, maybe three, fellow GS title winners in the process.

The men's draw has not been without its share of damage either, with Nadal the biggest name to fall, joining 8th seed Ferrer and 5th seed Nishikori (albeit the latter by walkover).  Last year's semi finalist Milos Raonic is gone too, at the hands of young Australian Nick Kyrgios.  The 20 year old is acting like a ten year old at times but is thrilling crowds with his tennis.  Hopefully his inflated opinion of himself and where he is in the game, is lowered soon, and he can be a player we like, as well as like to watch.

The sideshows being produced by the likes of Kyrgios and Dustin Brown have not done a thing to rock the worlds of the top four seeds who have not shown the slightest sign of deviating from their respective routes to semi final action.  Sure, Federer and Murray each donated a set in winning third round matches, but the results were never in question.

Karlovic could be the best chance of upsetting the apple cart, but Murray is on home turf and very comfortable.  Only Cilic is left outside of the top four to have won at the highest level, so possibly he and previous finalist Berdych may cause some issues should they make it to the final eight.

For me though, a Djokovic v Murray finale still looks the best bet.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Round one done - lessons learned

What have we gained from watching the first round of singles matches at Wimbledon 2015, apart from the beginnings of a fortnights insufficient sleep ?

We now know that Petra Kvitova has found her path to a title defence, and third Wimbledon crown much clearer with the shock dismissal of third seed Simona Halep.  Eugenie Bouchard, last year's runner-up, also departed in round one, but that sadly has become her MO for 2015.

Kvitova, Kerber, Lisicki and others wasted little time in parcelling up the necessary two sets and earning second round spots, while recent top ten debutant Carla Suarez-Navarro, proved that grass is not her surface by leaving the singles competition immediately to concentrate on her doubles obligations.

Serena lost more games than Venus, who actually gave away none, and the two sisters could meet in the fourth round.

Not as much to be put in the knowledge bank from the men's openers, other than confirmation for the thousandth time of Lleyton Hewitt's fighting abilities.  After losing the fourth set 6-0 to Nieminen, the Aussie didn't fade away, grinding out the final stanza for twenty games only to lose the match but not any admirers.  I especially liked Sharapova's remarks in praise of Hewitt's contribution to the game over two decades.

Another Australian, John Millman, removed Spain's Tommy Robredo, seeded 19, in a straight sets upset, but it should be noted that Tommys Wimbledon record is hardly memorable - his best effort in 14 attempts was a fourth round loss last year.

The top seeds performed well, and in reality, the practice hitting partners may have provided greater opposition for Novak, Andy etc. (apologies to Kohlschreiber whose effort against the defending champion deserves some praise)
Tsonga and Nishikori each did struggle for five sets before deciding to stick around for a little while longer, while others of lesser ability donated five setters which were just excruciating.

Second round contests promise continued surprises and more great tennis - hopefully the standard of the press conferences lifts because the players deserve more intelligent and relevant questioning.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Favourites hard to beat at Wimbledon 2015

As highly likely as there will be many upsets thrown up at Wimbledon this year, according to rankings at least, the final days are just as probably going to be populated with the favourites in the men's draw.
I cannot see the top four seeds being beaten en route to the semis - troubled at times, but not defeated.

The women's contest however is not so predictable, apart maybe from Serena Williams, if switched on to her task.

Serena is determined to brush off her last two years efforts on the hallowed grass with a win to complete a second Serena Slam, and her draw is favourable for completion of that goal.
Ivanovic and Sharapova are prospective quarter and semi final hurdles, and the only player to have beaten her this year, Kvitova, would need to reach the final to have a chance of stopping the five time champ.

For Sharapova to challenge in the semis, she may well have to first see off a Czech opponent, either her vanquisher from Roland Garros last month, Safarova, or the fast improving Pliskova.  I fancy that Safarova may repeat her French Open heroics and meet Williams in one semi final.

The other semi is even more challenging to predict.  Ordinarily, second seed and defending champion Kvitova would be an automatic choice to fill one spot, but she is not 100% coming into the tournament.  I still favour her to manage her way through the early rounds and hopefully be fully fit by the second week when things are tougher.

Simona Halep is seeded three and expected to reach the semis to play Kvitova, but could stumble in a possible fourth round encounter with Wimbledon specialist Sabine Lisicki, seeded 18 and a danger to all in the bottom half of the draw.

Also lurking in that half is in-form 10th seed Angelique Kerber, and if she can negotiate a path to the quarters, and beating Wozniacki would probably need to be part of the equation, then an all German match up with Lisicki could be the mouth watering prospect to determine Kvitova's opponent.

My prediction - Serena Williams v Lucie Safarova in one semi final; Petra Kvitova v Sabine Lisicki in the other.  Serena to defeat Sabine in a final featuring the best women's serving on offer.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Aga an early casualty in Paris

It hasn't been the best of years for Agnieszka Radwanska, not by a long shot.  Before arriving in Paris for her first round match in the 2015 French Open, the 2013 Roland Garros quarter finalist had won just 15 of her 27 matches this year.

Only once had she progressed far enough in a tournament to be able to play a top ten player, and she lost that match to Caroline Wozniacki.  The only other contest against a top tenner was a Fed Cup clash with Maria Sharapova, again resulting in a loss for the Polish star who began the season as the world number six.

Seeded number 14 for the year's second Grand Slam tournament Aga could only hope to turn things around. Her first opponent, German Annika Beck ranked 81 in the world should normally have posed few problems, but on the back of an incredible first serve percentage and a stack of winners, Annika restricted Aga's presence at Roland Garros this year to just three sets and one day.

Aga, the previously perennial top ten feature, has now become a struggling part of a continually changing top twenty, and at this rate could even find herself ejected from that group.  Let's hope she can rekindle her fire and her form on the grass which has provided her with such success in the past, especially at Wimbledon.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Djokovic beats Federer in a big Final again

The stats are amazing - Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have played each other 38 times with Federer leading 20-18.

And nothing can take away from the brilliant tennis provided in those clashes, including the most recent - the 2015 Indian Wells final.
What is not revealed too often is how Novak Djokovic has dominated the results in the second half of the 38 matches, those played from 2011 onwards.  The heavy spin which Federer supporters place on the Swiss performances over the past five or six years cannot hide the Serbian world number one's ability to win where and when it matters most.

Djokovic has won 12 of the past 19 matches against Federer, broken down as follows:

He has won 4 of 6 at Grand Slam level, including the only final between the two in that period.

Of the Masters Series matches Djokovic has prevailed in 5 of 8, with success in 2 of the 3 finals.

And in the 2 matches between the two at the season ending ATP Finals, Djokovic has won both, one of those a final.

In other tournaments, Federer leads 2-1, with one win apiece in finals.

Even allowing for Federer winning four of the last seven between the pair, the fact that Djokovic's three wins were all finals, including Wimbledon and two Indian Wells, puts that into better perspective.

While winning the H2H clearly over the second half of their rivalry, Djokovic has also racked up impressive Grand Slam statistics - seven titles from twelve finals, compared with Federer's one title from two finals in that time.

This is not an attempt to belittle the achievements of Roger Federer over the course of his legendary career - rather we should be more willing to celebrate the outstanding work of the current best player, Novak Djokovic, and there is no better measuring stick than his performances against Federer.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Novak has 5 Aus Opens

Last night of the Aus Open for 2015 and maybe the best match saved for the finale.  Top seed Novak Djokovic in his fifth final here attempting to make it five from five and his opponent sixth seed Andy Murray trying to lift the trophy for the first time at his fourth attempt, his third against Djokovic.

Murray's two triumphs at Grand Slam level had been wins in finals against Djokovic, but on courts in London and New York, and last year the Serbian star beat him in all contests that they shared, including a US Open quarter final. However all that counts for little really because tonight even the form from the past two weeks guaranteed nothing in terms of advantage for either player. What can truly be said is that they are evenly matched for speed and skill on the court so a potentially a great final was in store.

Djokovic won the toss and elected to serve first. Despite the inclimate weather experienced during the day, the roof was open for the start.
After netting the first point Djokovic served well and held easily, a backhand winner the highlight. Two big serves after a nervous deuce game from Murray evened it at 1-1.

Murray had three break points after blitzing Djokovic with a forehand, backhand and off forehand, two of which were clean winners. Djokovic saved them and won the game, two backhand volley winners absolute class.

The run continued with two forehand winners down the line helping to bring up three break points on the Murray serve, and the second one was converted with a winning crosscourt forehand - the top seed led 3-1.

The break was consolidated, the Djokovic serve solid when required, and at 4-1 the early edge was with Serbia.

Murray held strong, winning many of the longer exchanges, and held serve before seeing two more break points slide by. The third was too much for Djokovic to absorb though and he dropped serve to now lead 4-3.

After looking ok at 30-0, Murray stumbled and on the second break point hit one well long to leave Djokovic serving for the set at 5-3.  Yet another poor service game and the break put the set up for grabs again, Djokovic playing safe while Murray attacked with success.

Two strong holds of serve returned some sanity to the match and now it was Murray to try and take it to a tie break.

After racing through his serve Murray seized on a double fault from Djokovic on the first point in the tie break to hold the advantage until 4-2 where he contributed one of his own. Djokovic found a way to reach 6-5 and set point and a Murray netted return off a second serve sorted the first set out in favour of the world number one 7-6. It took over an hour.

Quickly over the disappointment, Murray held serve and then broke the Djokovic serve, to take a 2-0 advantage. Djokovic was continuing to find the net with too many shots especially his backhand.
Two brilliant combination winners, a lob/drop shot and a return/drop shot enabled Djokovic to achieve a break point which Murray failed to save, netting the final point and games were back in serve.

At 2-2 Murray was outlasted in two long rallies before Djokovic hit a screaming forehand return to set up three break points of which he only required one to achieve a second consecutive break of the Murray serve and take the lead 3-2.

More first serves in play gave Murray less options and Djokovic held to love, an ace sealing the 4-2 advantage.
Once again, Djokovic failed to maintain the edge and Murray levelled after converting his break point in the eighth game.

At 4-5 Djokovic was sailing at 40-0, wasted all those game points and then had to save a break point in a long game which he eventually salvaged to tie it at 5-5.

Murray saved three break points with clutch serving after Djokovic had played some exquisite passing shots earlier in the game and now the top seed had to hold serve to ensure another tie break.

The tie break came and Murray out served and out rallied Djokovic completely to level the match at a set all. We had gone a little over two and half hours and we still effectively had a best of three match to play.

Murray started set three by breaking an inconsistent Djokovic serve.  For the first time perhaps it looked ominous for the number one.

However better application from Novak and a drop in the level of play from Andy saw a break back in the fourth game and 2-2.
Murray served superbly to level 3-3 and Djokovic saved a break point with a brilliant volley under immense pressure, going on to hold for 4-3.

Then with a lift in his standard of tennis Djokovic was all over the Murray serve setting up three break points, and although Murray saved one, he double faulted on the next and suddenly Djokovic was serving for the set at 5-3. 

Having made a mess the last time he tried serving a set out it wasn't looking good again at 0-15 but Novak stood firm and his serve aided him on this occasion, and he won the game and the set 6-3 to lead two sets to one.

Incredible returning in the opening game of set four put enormous pressure on Murray and he relented on the first break point and Djokovic led two sets to one and an early break.

The momentum was irresistible now and Murray was beginning to wilt under the relentless replies from the Serbian racquet - a second break and Djokovic led 3-0.
Despite playing around with a drop shot and again failing, Djokovic survived a deuce moment to lead 4-0. 

It was a whitewash, the next break meaning Djokovic had won eleven of the past twelve games.  He would serve for the title.

Novak Djokovic served it out like the champion he had once more become. 7-6 6-7 6-3 6-0.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Williams does it yet again !

So all the preliminaries had been completed and after the upsets and promising performances we were left with the top two seeds to fittingly play off for the 2015 Aus Open Women's Singles title. Not since top seed Justine Henin defeated second seed Kim Clijsters in 2004 had the two top seeded women played off at Melbourne Park.

Maria Sharapova almost departed when in deep trouble against Panova but since that recovery has looked strong against all her opposition.  Serena Williams had lost the opening set of two of her matches but for the remainder has also appeared a likely finalist.

Past records are not meant to count but if Sharapova was to capture her second Aus Open crown she would need to defeat a player who has had the better of her since 2004 - there is that year again. Maria has only lost four finals at Grand Slam level, the same as Serena - the other side of the equation is a little different with five GS titles for Sharapova against eighteen for Williams.

Sharapova won the toss and served and didn't serve well, Serena threw in a couple of sizzling returns and a double fault gave the break to the top seed. Despite a double for her own racquet and a splendid return from Sharapova the winning shots from Williams were too many and she held for 2-0.

A far more competent display on serve from Maria ( a love game in fact) finished off with a backhand setting up a forehand winner brought the score to 2-1 in Serena's favour.
An ace and two service winners in reply to an excellent drop shot from Sharapova took Serena to 3-1 and some fine deep serves from Maria causing headaches and errant shots from Williams maintained the one game differential.

At 3-2 and 30-30 rain intruded the spectacle and the players took a much unwanted break while the roof was closed.  Maria had hit a terrific forehand winner and was having much better of the baseline rallies than earlier but Serena still had her serve as a weapon.
An ace and a winning forehand down the line after the break sent the score to 4-2.

A love game to break Sharapova again featured pinpoint groundstrokes from Williams which sent Maria from one side of Victoria to the other, and then the second seed served a double fault.

Serving for the set at 5-2 Serena stumbled facing 0-40.  Big serves saved two break points but she couldn't prevent the third from inflicting damage and Maria had one break back.

However the comeback was brief.  Three set points came from the Sharapova serve and Serena locked the set safely away 6-3 with the bonus of serving first in the second.

Three aces, one off a second serve, plus a slashing forehand winner sent a brutal message to Maria in the opening game and Serena looked good at 1-0.  Facing two more break points due to the pressure of Serena's returns, Maria served three big ones and won the fourth point to hold in a vital game. Serena's disappointment at missing out on the chances took her anger out in a positive way with another love game to lead 2-1.

From 15-30 Sharapova showed some grit, starting and finishing the game with backhand winners down the line 2-2.
After having the nerve to hit an off forehand for a return winner of a Serena first serve, the American felt insulted enough to win the next four points with huge serves and hold the edge again 3-2.

The quality of tennis from both players in the sixth game was excellent and Maria did well to overcome a rampant Serena and save a break point in the process of levelling 3-3.
Serena was at 0-30 before her booming serve rescued her, but she almost lost serve due to her over exuberance when shouting for joy prior to a point finishing. She was docked the point which she almost certainly would have won, and then had to save a break point. She did with enormous serving and steadiness in a crisis. 4-3 Williams.

Sharapova held convincingly and it was 4-4. No room for mistakes now.

The big serving remained reliable and a love game from Williams handed Sharapova the assignment of holding serve to remain in contention. "Stayin Alive" was blaring out of the speakers at change of ends.

Sharapova saved a match point with a brilliant winner and held serve for 5-5. She was not going away in a hurry. In fact she was pushing Serena hard with glorious shots from both sides and the world's best had to negotiate deuce to once again move a game away from the title 6-5.

A tie break would decide the set following possibly the best service game from Sharapova for the match.

Serena lost the first point on her serve thanks to a wonderful pass down the line from Sharapova.
She recovered and led 4-1 with some clutch tennis and big serves.  Sharapova came back to eventually be serving at 4-5 but a Serena winner gave her two more match points. The first was saved with another withering shot from Sharapova before a big serve was the proper way for the best in the world to win.

Serena Williams Australian Open champion for the sixth time 6-3 7-6 and what a privilege to have seen each one.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Djokovic in Five over Wawrinka

The second semi final in the Men's Draw promised the best tennis of the tournament with the top seed and four time winner Novak Djokovic doing battle for the third year running with fourth seed Stanislas Wawrinka, the reigning champion.

Their contests have been memorable with the winner of each going on to win the title.

Both players were decisive winners of their respective quarter finals, underscoring the excellent form displayed throughout the entire tournament to this exciting point.

Novak won the toss but hoped to win much more and he served first on the second Friday night. An ace and a double fault plus a few Wawrinka errors put the top seed on the board first. Four big first serves enabled Stan to equalise smartly. Anothe love game, this from Djokovic, completed a trifecta of games to begin the match, with not a mark on either man's serve as yet. 2-1 to Novak.

Still not many rallies but Djokovic did win a couple of the longer points when Stan netted forehands. 3-2 to Novak and no signs yet where the match was heading, both players feeling each other out.  The first test came in the sixth game where Stan missed most of his first serves but at 0-30 Djokovic could not keep enough shots in play to take advantage and it was 3-3, a classy backhand from Wawrinka the highlight.

Suddenly Djokovic was down two break points with a combination of loose shots and a winning Swiss backhand - only one break point was needed as Novak hit another forehand astray and Stan led 4-3 and looked the more assured.

Assured for five seconds at least - Djokovic broke back to love, the highlight a forehand to cause the end of a marvellous rally, Stan netting his to bring up the break points.  The tennis was starting to hot up now, with a number of mouth watering exchanges replacing the dominant serve winning points of the first handful of games - Djokovic led 5-4.

Wawrinka was in strife again on serve and Djokovic wasted two set points before Stan finally found his rhythm and two aces iced the game for 5-5.

Novak recovered from his disappointment to hold to love and Stan followed suit and the expected tie break did eventuate.

Djokovic took advantage of some Warinka bad luck, bad judgement and poor execution to run through the tie break 7-1 and take the set 7-6, an unfortunate finish to what had been an enthralling an tight contest for forty minutes.

Stan had all sorts of problems in the first game of set two, facing another two break points, but he trusted his serve and managed to find an escape route to lead 1-0, but Novak's returning was causing issues for the Swiss player.

Serve began to dominate again and at 2-3 it was Djokovic continuing to play catch up. He couldn't after a stunning Wawrinka backhand down the line pass brought up 30-30 and then Djokovic errors handed the break to the fourth seed who led 4-2.

The break was consolidated and it appeared that the match was headed for a set all with Stan ahead 5-2, his backhand now assisting him to match and often control rallies with Djokovic who had hit a poor patch.

Stan was made to serve it out and he did with his first serve behaving itself at the right time and Novak just having to accept the consequences.  6-3 Wawrinka and the match was in the balance, Djokovic to serve first in the third.

Stan was all over a jittery Djokovic serve in the first game of the third set with fantastic forehands and backhands but Djokovic survived in a game of high drama and suspense.

Novak took advantage of his escape and turned the situation completely on its head by breaking the Wawrinka serve the very next game with a combination of cross court shots to defy the Swiss game plan. 2-0 Djokovic.

3-0 with the second service hold a whole lot less complicated than the first for the now more poised number one seed.

A break point was saved and instead of being two breaks down, Stan had gained valuable confidence which he pumped into the next Novak service game and broke to love.  2-3 and back on serve.

After an easy hold for Stan, Novak returned to his expected quality to win his serve to love including a number of silky ground strokes.  Stan wasted no time in levelling again at 4-4, his first serve a fine ally.

Djokovic held serve to lead 5-4 and place the scoreboard pressure on Wawrinka who needed to hold to stay in contention for the set.  He led 40-15 but a double fault and then some wonderful cross court shot making from Djokovic culminated in a set point which Stan was incapable of preventing the top seed from converting.  Novak now led 7-6 3-6 6-4 and a five setter was again necessary should Wawrinka win this semi final. 

After a comfortable service game to lead 1-0, Djokovic set about the Wawrinka serve and broke again, a sweet backhand giving Wawrinka no choice but to net the reply. 2-0 with a serve to come.
However, as in the third set, Novak handed the break directly back with some of his more insipid play for the night. 1-2 Wawrinka but on serve and Djokovic was giving him a window of hope.

The window was almost shut when Wawrinka was down a further three break points at 0-40, but he gritted his teeth and won through with some luck and good stroke play to level at 2-2
Djokovic held more simply for 3-2.

The seventh game was a shocker for the top seed who dropped serve again and it was Wawrinka with the inside running to take the fourth set in front 4-3 and in the middle of a purple patch hitting backhands down the line for winners and forcing Djokovic into error in many of the rallies.

The set was Wawrinka's 6-4 with no fuss as he belted down his serves with style leaving Djokovic to briefly rue what might have been but more importantly concentrate on the deciding fifth set in which he would serve first.

A drama packed game with challenges all over the place and a break point saved was finally won by Djokovic and then two double faults went a large way to ending Stan's run of service holds. Djokovic 2-0 but no guarantee of consolidation given prior efforts tonight.

This time Djokovic was cool under the pressure and some delightful placement of his groundstrokes assisted him to 3-0 with still only the single break.

Wawrinka's purple patch had certainly dried up with Djokovic taking another game off the fragile looking serve of the Swiss player. 4-0 Djokovic.

Despite the double break Novak appeared nervous and at 30-40 he had to serve well. After yet another drop shot moment of madness he steadied and two fine serves, one a second delivery the next a first, put him a game away from the final, 5-0.

Stan had given his all and Novak was too good in the finish, ending with a flourish 7-6 3-6 6-4 4-6 6-0 and he would play Andy Murray for the third time in the Aus Open Final.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Murray through to a fourth final

The first Mens Semi Final was seeded to be Federer v Nadal but they are history and tonight would see sixth seed Andy Murray attempting to make his fourth final here at Melbourne Park while his opponent Tomas Berdych tried to prevent that and book a spot in his second ever Grand Slam tournament final and first Aus Open decider.

Berdych has been exemplary throughout the tournament and his straight sets disposal of Nadal was especially noteworthy.  Murray has looked sharp from the outset with his win over Dimitrov one of the best matches so far.

The two have met 10 times with Berdych holding a 6-4 edge, but they haven't played each other since 2013.  The last time they met in a Grand Slam tournament was the 2012 US Open semi final which Murray won en route to his maiden victory at the highest level.

On what has been shown this past week or so, and at Aus Opens and GS events past, I would find it hard to see Murray losing tonight.  However upsets have occurred and there are rational arguments in favour of a Berdych success.  The prospect was for an entertaining clash irrespective.

Berdych in his first two service games was tidy while Murray struggled to hold his opening effort but after the opening three it was on serve 1-2 Murray.  2-3 and the pattern followed - Berdych serving consistently and big, winning a number of free points, while Murray served well but gave enough points away to keep Berdych interested.

Murray recovered from 0-30 to eventually hold though it took quite a few game points. One rally featured Murray running down a Berdych drop shit and flicking it cross court for a brilliant winner.  Berdych kept holding serve with ease 4-3 to the Czech player.

Berdych had been playing several forehands and backhands very deep keeping Murray on the defensive and he won a couple of points this way in the eighth game before he squeezed a stunning backhand return down the line to bring up two break points. Murray couldn't handle another backhand which was shoved into the net and the first break was achieved.  Berdych was serving for the set at 5-3.

For the first time Berdych found trouble on serve and on the second of two break points Murray won a long rally full of terrific shots cross court and down the line when Berdych netted a forehand. 4-5 with Murray playing catch up.

At 5-5 Berdych confirmed that his serve had gone off the boil and because he had to participate in more rallies with Murray he was exposed to the greater execution and variety displayed by the sixth seed.  However Murray was not immune to errors and he could not convert the break chances he had so Berdych eventually held for 6-5.

After an anxious moment or two it was tie break time.

Points went against serve for most of the first part of the tie break and when Berdych double faulted when leading 4-3 he must have felt he'd wasted a big chance. To his credit he held his nerve and didn't lose another point on his serve and it was Murray who netted for the set to go to the seventh seed 7-6, eight points to six in the breaker.

Tomas was rapt and he left to celebrate with friends at a local wine bar. Upon his return Andy had clocked up the first five games of the second set. Berdych had let his guard down and Murray had retained his focus, sensed a gap in Berdych's and drove his truck straight through it.

Although Murray had left Berdych without a game to his name in set two, it was still just one set apiece and if Tomas could put his mind to the task at hand he might just realise that it wasn't all gloom and doom.

And so serves were held for awhile in the third set, not always convincingly but until Berdych stepped up to the line in the sixth game some sense of normality had returned.  Then Murray broke and Tomas was officially in dire straits.
At 5-3 Murray, with barely any resistance, strolled to 40-15 before Berdych played a terrific point and raised hopes with a sparkling winner.  Too little too late and Murray smashed a big serve to win the set and take a firm grip on the match leading 6-7 6-0 6-3.

The fourth set saw some average tennis for the first four or five games but it picked up from there and some wonderful stroke play off the racquet of Murray plus better serving from Berdych resulted in service holds to 4-5 with Murray's serve to come.

Once more it was Berdych who came undone on serve, with a double fault and some loose groundstrokes handing a break to Murray and he would serve for a place in the final at 6-5.

Quick as you like it was 40-0 and Andy Murray only needed one match point as an ace sealed the deal 6-7 6-0 6-3 7-5.

Serena into Sixth Final

Serena Williams had played five Aus Open semi finals previously and with each went on to win the title.  So that was one record Madison Keys needed to upset by defeating the world number one in the second semi final for 2015.  To reach the final the unseeded 19 year old would have beaten both the Williams sisters in successive matches, a rarity indeed.

Serena played her best tennis for the tournament in beating Dominika Cibulkova in the quarters and of course Madison's three set triumph over Venus was memorable if not for the overall standard so much but for the generational significance and the future of women's tennis in the US and worldwide.

A slow Serena start which has become the norm was turned into a break of serve by some clean hitting from Keys and she converted the break with a sensible service game.

Serena troubled the scorers eventually but trailed 1-2 and behind that single break.

Keys served well and hit some beautiful winners off both sides to increase the edge to 3-1 before Serena stepped up the pace, holding serve easily then pouncing on some errant shots from the younger player to even it up at 3-3.

Another strong service game took the world number one to the front for the first time today 4-3. Hardly overwhelmed by the Serena surge, Madison played a quality range of shots to stem the flow and then Serena held again, her serve now looking comfortable and potentially dangerous. 5-4 Williams

The tennis lifted a couple of notches thanks to Madison whose off forehand and backhand were now causing Serena to do extra to stay competitive.  5-5 was achieved without fuss by great serving and other stuff from Keys and then she poured a heap of pressure onto Serena who was taken to deuce and forced to come up with brilliance of her own before leading 6-5.

Madison took the set into a tie break which was fitting since she had controlled the better part of proceedings and forced Serena to play catch up on more than a few occasions. The standard of tennis was light years ahead of the previous match.

Serena won an early point off the Keys serve in the tie break but from that moment on serving dominated and when Serena arrived at 6-3 Madison calmly served two aces to force the champ to serve it out.  Another great serve and the first set had gone to Williams 7-6 but she could count herself fortunate to sneak away with it considering the pressure applied from Madison Keys.

A break of the Keys serve in the opening game of set two can probably be blamed on a let down from the first set loss but it was unfortunate given the state of the match. Serena capitalised by holding with not great ease, needing to save two break points.  Her serve in the difficult situation was fantastic, one 195kmh serve providing her with great joy.

Madison stuck to her task with a comfortable hold, trading some wonderful groundstrokes with her senior opponent, but winning. 2-1 Williams.

Some loose tennis put Madison in peril at 15-40 but clutch serving brought it back to deuce before a wonderful rally finished off with a brilliant Serena chase to a Keys shot for a winner down the line set up another break point. A double fault gave Serena a 4-1 lead with two breaks and a spot in the final was just about hers.

A typical Serena game lasting a few seconds with serve completely on song meant that Madison had to hold serve to stay alive. She did but only after the longest game of the match and saving multiple match points. If anyone ever doubted the courage of Madison Keys, no one does after that effort.

Serena Williams won 7-6 6-2 and her high standard today was required due to the fantastic effort by Madison Keys who will be one of the top players into the next several years.

Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams will play for the title and as the best performed players this tournament, the top two seeds deserve to be there.

Sharapova into Final

Number two seed Maria Sharapova was in sparkling form having disposed of Eugenie Bouchard in two quick sets in the quarters and her semi final opponent would be Ekaterina Makarova, 10th seed and fellow Russian whose demolition of Simona Halep could justifiably be described as even more impressive.

The two began the first semi final with Maria serving and that game took over ten minutes to complete, a sign of the evenness of the two women, but possibly more of the nerves taking over. Hopefully the errant groundstrokes and double faults would dissipate as the match wore on.

Sharapova held on and then broke Makarova in a game which seemed like a sprint in comparison although it did enjoy its share of deuces and ads. Makarova was the one with more trouble finding her range, in direct contrast to her comfort playing Halep.

The break was held through five games, and could have extended quite easily to two breaks had Makarova not steadied in the fourth to hold serve in the face of a concerted Sharapova barrage. 

Ekaterina fought off more break point danger with some fine serving, and then a Sharpova double fault on top of Makarova ground stroke pressure set up two break back points for the lower ranked Russian.  Maria saved one but netted a simple forehand to now only lead 4-3.

Sharapova hit straight back in the best possible way with four outright winners to brutalise the Makarova serve and then easily hold to win the set 6-3, errors freely flowing as the final resistance appeared to have gone from the Makarova racquet.

Serving the opening game of set two, Ekaterina needed to regroup swiftly or she could find herself out the door just as smartly.

Instead of looking like someone in for a fight, Makarova had her head hung, appeared beaten, resigned to the fact that this was a done deal and not at all concerned that she was losing points hand over fist.

All the first three games went the way of Sharapova, included amongst them two breaks, and most of it down to poor execution by a very disappointing Makarova. 

More of the same until at 0-4 Ekaterina suddenly realised that this was a semi final of a major and she needed to contribute a little more to the contest. She held serve, hitting a few more decent shots but relying too on some Maria mishits.

Some double fault issues resulted in two break points available to Makarova in game six but Sharapova won through that concern and led 5-1.  Makarova played some solid tennis to win possibly her last game of the tournament and gave Maria the stage to serve for the final.

Not a problem for the second seed and Maria Sharapova was the first women to qualify for the 2015 Aus Open final winning 6-3 6-2.

Djokovic delivers a lesson to Raonic

Novak Djokovic had played big serving Canadian Milos Raonic 3 times previously, all in 2014, and won each time.  The first two were on clay including a quarter final at Roland Garros.  The last time was late in the year in Paris on a hard court.

Raonic has been touted as one of the next wave of players to challenge for the top rankings and tonight's quarter final would hopefully be a measure of how far he has come in the path to achieve higher glory.

Djokovic began with an ace and completed his opening service game to love with a forehand winner.  That set the scene for how his serving was to go for the evening.
Raonic had to endure a break point and 3 deuces before his serve finally clicked  and 2 aces assisted him to level at 1-1.  He didn't lose a point in his next 2 service games but neither was Djokovic troubled in reaching the 3-3 score line.

At 0-30 and again at deuce in the seventh game the top seed was stretched just a little but remaining calm under pressure his forehand winner gave him 4-3.
2 more break points on the Raonic serve were saved in the next game and while he could see 4-4 on the board it was his serve that had been in most danger of being dropped, something he could ill afford since it was his great strength entering the contest.

The tie break arrived and Djokovic was up a break quickly thanks to a Raonic error.  Djokovic returned the favour and the Canadian was serving at 2-3.

A Raonic service winner was fine but the forehand miss the point prior once more gave Novak the running.
The 4 time champ consolidated his position with an ace and a volley winner, setting up 3 set points.

Milos saved two but on the first set point with his own serve, Djokovic prevailed to win 7 points to 5 and the opener 7-6.

Disappointed, Raonic let it show through his racquet in the first game of set two and with a litany of errors it was suddenly three break points.  A fine forehand from Raonic saved one but he couldn't prevent the Djokovic backhand from securing the break with the second and it was 1-0 to the Serbian player.

The Djokovic serve was almost Fort Knox in its security for the second set, Raonic incapable of placing even the slightest indentation.  In fact apart from unforced errors, one in the fourth and one in the eighth games, no other points were won on Novak's serve.  Raonic's serve after the opening game was rock solid too, but that was academic since a single break was all that was required to win the set 6-4 and Djokovic was one set away from another semi final.

The third set was just a procession for Djokovic and disappointing from a tennis perspective as the effort from Raonic appeared to subside a little. His hopes were slim, certainly, but he lacked the fight for every point which, if he wants to make the jump to the next level, he will need to show, because progression can sometimes be greater with how you handle some losses than with easy no pressure wins.  The Nadal third set effort in the 3 set loss to Berdych match was all character, and Raonic could have given some of that tonight.

Djokovic was all class and deserved to win 7-6 6-4 6-2 and is primed for a tougher test against Wawrinka in the semis as these two continue the beginnings of what could be a great rivalry over the years to come.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Wawrinka closer to a repeat

Two players who both managed to defeat Novak Djokovic at Grand Slam level in 2014 would fight for a semi final spot to possibly play the number one seed should he win through in the later quarter final.

Wawrinka is the reigning champion and 4th seed while Nishikori is the 5th seed.

Wawrinka served first and after four games had already achieved a break, thanks to Nishikori's string of unforced errors - Stan had begun with his backhand firing and serving beautifully. 3-1 Wawrinka.

Nishikori knuckled down to the task, holding serve competently until 2-5 where he had to save a couple of set points with winners off his forehand.

Wawrinka moved on unfazed to record an opening set triumph 6-3, recovering from a double fault and 15-30.

Nishikori opened the second set with a hold as did Wawrinka who added two more aces to his tally.  Not to be outdone, Kei served three aces in the next game, one to save a break point. Wawrinka levelled at 2-2 behind some solid backhands but that is no surprise.

Nishikori's hopes of winning the match took a turn for the worse when at 15-40 he could only save one break point with a forehand volley before being forced into backhand trauma. Wawrinka now 3-2 and in cruise control. 

A love game with the now apparent quota of two aces per service game took Wawrinka to 4-2 and only some begging and pleading from an impassioned Nishikori saw the Swiss player take pity and allow the next three break points to pass without incident.

Wawrinka could find himself in trouble with officials after he accidentally served three aces in his next game, a clear violation of the quota. The game was won by Wawrinka and the following one by Nishikori leaving the score at 5-4 and the Swiss serve to come.

Stan served an ace but winners from Kei enabled the production of two break points, both of which amounted to nothing. Another one was saved with an ace after which Kei decided this was going nowhere and agreed that the set should be sent to Switzerland 6-4.

Nishikori won the first eight points of set three which equated to 2-0 and for once there was hint of a challenge.  Ever the killjoy Wawrinka snuffed out the short term hopes by breaking back to love in an instant.

Serves were held in the next two games which like the first three lasted the minimum four points. Energy saving stuff from these guys.

Wawrinka expressed concern over his dearth of aces of late so he bashed one in the sixth game plus a backhand winner to keep in practice. This also only took four points to win.

The seventh game was a marathon affair, taking a massive five points to determine that Nishikori had landed it, ace and volley winner included.
4-3 to Kei.

Three more love games en route to the inevitable tiebreak (two Swiss aces to conclude the twelfth game) and Wawrinka soon gave Nishikori the slip.

A Japanese unforced error then two more Swiss aces gave Stan 3-0.  Another ace and a forehand volley winner moved it to 6-1 and five match points, the first two on Nishikori's serve.

Wawrinka was forced into error twice on his backhand and then produced two nervous forehand mistakes which when combined with a classy winner from Nishikori brought the score to 6-6.

After all that hard work Nishikori missed with a forehand of his own and Wawrinka had another match point.  

Fittingly it was the 20th ace of the match for Wawrinka which won the final point, and the semi final berth was his 6-3 6-4 7-6

Serena imposes herself on the Open

Serena Williams needed to defeat last years finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the last of the quarter finals if she was to retain her dream of a 19th major.

A first set win would be vital to her chances, but probably more essential for the 11th seed because Serena has proven twice already this event that coming from a set behind is just another method winning.

The opening two games were shared but Cibulkova would not want to be as free with the double faults and expect to escape as lightly as she did in game one.

On the second Cibulkova serve Serena hit winners from both wings to set up break points and she only needed the one to hold a 2-1 lead and she consolidated the advantage courtesy of a couple of winning forehands and an ace.

Already Madison Keys was starting to prepare for another battle with a Williams sister and the feeling that Serena was on a victory march intensified with a further break of the Slovak serve in the fifth game. A Williams winner surrounded by two unforced errors from 30-30 decided the 4-1 lead.

Two aces and another great forehand brought Serena to the precipice of the first set win but Dominika held her back for a moment with some excellent forehands to hold serve and trail 2-5.

A normal player may have been worried after Cibulkova hit a backhand pearler to make it 15-30.  Not Serena, though, who just slammed down three aces to parcel up the set and put it away with her valuables 6-2.

Dominika clearly required a solid start to set two and 15-40 wasn't that. She did ok to close to deuce but was unable to deal with the third break point and expectations of a comeback went out the window.

Cibulkova played a generally better set of tennis, in fact creating two break points on the Williams serve in the fourth game.  Serena reacted with an ace, a service winner, another ace and a backhand winner to thrill the crowd but demoralise her opponent.

Dominika held serve to stay a single break down but that was her final success for the afternoon.

Serena signed the exit pass for a gallant but outclassed Cibulkova in the eighth game winning the match 6-2 6-2

For maybe the first time in the tournament Serena flexed her muscle, and it wasn't a full flex so watch out whoever's left. 

Madison Keys shocks Venus

An all American quarter final featured a battle of two generations - a revitalised Venus Williams, the 18th seed and the improving unseeded Madison Keys.  Venus had just come off a resounding win over Agnieszka Radwanska and was entitled to favouritism.

Through the first five service games Venus was solid on serve not giving many chances to Madison, but the younger player was matching her elder in general shot making off the ground.

At 2-3 Venus passed Keys down the line and an error from Madison at her in strife at 0-30 but she steadied to win the next three points.  At deuce an ace was of great relief as was the forehand hit long by Venus to level things at 3-3.

The seventh game was all about Madison following the first point which Venus netted after a searching rally.  A clean winner down the line and another this time an off forehand cross court were finished off with a volley put away to break the Venus serve and the 19 year old led 4-3.

A comfortable service hold and then Venus needed to hold herself at 3-5.  Madison saw Venus at the baseline on the first point and rushed the net and played and exquisite half volley winner.  A double fault and netted shot from Venus were topped off with a brilliant pass from Keys to win the set 6-3.  An excellent performance in her first quarter final.

The second set began with two quick service holds before Madison's great run ended with a couple of netted shots, a forehand long and a double fault to hand a break to Venus who now owned the 2-1 edge.

Williams had no trouble converting the break largely due to Madison's continuing woes and although she hit a splendid backhand winner to start her next service game the rest of the Keys backhand attempts found the net and she lost serve again, Venus now leading 4-1.

Medical time out for Madison Keys, probably to address the injury to her backhand.
These time outs can certainly act as momentum stoppers - Venus played a scrappy service game which she lost rather than Madison won and then Madison improved her serve and stroke play enough to hold on to a serve and games were 4-3 with the Williams serve to come, still a real in hand.

A couple of clean strikes from Keys helped her to break again and level at 4-4 and she saved two break points in the next game with fine ground strokes.

However Venus was strong and consistent and capitalised on the Keys errors to break yet again and serve fro the set.  
No mistakes and with the 6-4 success for Venus the two were tied at a set apiece.

The final set was a back and forth affair and neither player seemed confident of putting a sequence of points or games together enough to claim victory.

Venus broke first and led 3-1 suggesting perhaps that experience may be the factor deciding the day.  However Madison stuck firm and broke back for 3-3 with some fine winners from both sides, her backhand coming off the racquet like it was in the first set.

Venus came one more time to break and lead 4-3, her forehand the key, but this was th final push from the 34 year old.

Madison Keys closed out the match in sensational style, taking the final three games with great shot making and poise beyond her years.
A netted attempt from Venus concluded the match putting Madison Keys into the semi final 6-2 4-6 6-4

Murray too polished for Kyrgios

The quarter final which much of Australia had been waiting for arrived at Rod Laver Arena on the second Tuesday night of the Aus Open 2015.  Sixth seed Andy Murray, who before the tournament had been expected to have to defeat both Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal in order to make the final has now avoided both thanks to the efforts of other players, but he still had to negotiate a path around exciting Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios who had thrilled the crowd with his comeback win over Federer's conqueror Andreas Seppi.

Of course the task to defeat Murray was monumental in comparison considering the Scot's record at Grand Slam level and in particular here at Melbourne Park where although without a title he has been to the final three times, nearly winning it once.

Murray opened proceedings and was 0-30 thanks to two great points from Kyrgios, the second a forehand winner.  Then the next 15 points went to the server.  Aces and service winners helped both players to race through the early games - in fact Murray led 3-2 after about 14 minutes.

In the sixth game Nick served an ace and then from 30-0 it began to unravel.  A Murray winner followed by Kyrgios errors from both sides led to a break point, the first of the match.  It was saved with an ace, but two more forehand failures handed the break to Murray who now led 4-2 and had the first set on his terms.

Kyrgios simply lost his patience in the key points, choosing to attempt to win with the first or second shot rather than build the point until a better opportunity presented itself for pulling the trigger.

Nick had hardly made a mark on the Murray serve and it didn't improve in the seventh game which saw Andy cruise with another ace, and one as good as, to be only a single game from the set.

Kyrgios dug really deep into his well of fighting capacity in the eighth game not wanting to remove from Murray the responsibility of serving out the set.  The 16 point game required Kyrgios to save two set points and on his third game point he hit a clean winner to bring the score to 3-5.

Murray served out with no drama to win the opener 6-3.

In the second set Kyrgios had even less success eating into the Murray serve, only winning six points off it in total.  However he had more luck with his own delivery which was more consistent and potent than it had been.

Game three was where the trouble had to be averted - Kyrgios led 40-30 but after a mistake from the Aussie, Murray hit a winner to bring up break point.  Kyrgios saved it but on two game points Murray again struck winners to take it back to deuce.  Finally a lapse from the sixth seed gave the game to Kyrgios for him to lead 2-1.

A tie break sorted the set and after a point against each serve Kyrgios led 3-2.  He followed up with a forehand winner to lead 4-3 with a mini break and two serves to come.

Losing both points meant that Kyrgios had given Murray 5-4 with the chance to serve for the set.  A Scottish double fault was a temporary life line for Nick but at 5-5 he stuffed up a backhand and Murray won the next point for 7-5 and the set 7-6.

Nick Kyrgios had the job ahead of him now, two sets down and serving second in the third set, Murray rock solid on his offerings from the line.

Nick fought all the way to 2-2 but fell to the immense pressure from Andy and the match situation in his next service game, and trailed 2-4.

Out of the blue the Australian found a bit extra and broke through a seemingly impenetrable Scottish serve and his hopes flickered a little longer.

The mean Murray extinguished them instantly with another break and served out a high standard match 6-3 7-6 6-3.

Murray looked very good in terms of the title hopes while Kyrgios has done well to achieve what he has so early in his career.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Berdych finally cracks the Nadal code

Rafa Nadal entered today's quarter final against Tomas Berdych with a 17 win no loss record and his form across the last two matches gave good cause to think that number 18 would be about to occur. Tomas would beg to differ, arguing that the 17 were just part of a planned build up to this very occasion, and point to his performances this Aus Open which involved not dropping a set, something for which Rafa could not boast.

Berdych burst out of the starting gate and Rafa missed the start by a few lengths.  The man from the Czech Republic served a love game and Rafa, although levelling, did so with a double fault and a less convincing manner.

Two aces and swiftly back to Nadal whose second effort at the line was poor and the break was greeted with sighs from the crowds, not sighs of relief. Berdych ahead 3-1.

Tomas had his own drama with which to deal in the fifth game when having to evade stumbling blocks in the form of two break points.  Once done he set up a second game point for himself with a fine forehand and he consolidated the position 4-1.

A pair of Spanish aces made it 2-4 and some Czech forehand slickness stretched it to 5-2.  Rafa played a shocker and lost his serve and the set 2-6 providing Tomas a launching pad for perhaps something special.

Set two was an embarrassment for Nadal as much as a tour de force for Berdych.  Not much to say but state the facts.  6 games played and all won by the 7th seed.  18 serves for the set by Nadal from which he won just 6 points.  Berdych hit 11 winners and only a few unforced errors.  He simply hit Nadal off the court.  Something rarely seen at this level but what it did was give Nadal the challenge of winning in five sets for the second time this tournament.

Berdych did not relent in the third set and kept hitting winners as if it was going out of style.  Rafa happily joined the party and the set was fantastic tennis, all the while Nadal serving second trying to stay alive in the match, and Berdych doing his utmost not to tighten up as he nudged closer to a semi final.

Neither player surrendered a break point, in fact hardly any was offered - instead glorious shot making and memorable rallies delighted a crowd pleased for Berdych's success but aching for Rafa to win this set.

A tie break arrived after Rafa survived 5-6 15-40, saving those two match points with attacking flair.

The tie break was one way traffic as Berdych raced to 5-1 with one Nadal serve to come.  A fighting Nadal won that and then both of the points on the Berych serve to incredibly be back at 4-5.  
Berdych hit a tremendous winner to be 6-4 and with two more match points.  Rafa saved one but then Tomas had the fourth chance and the first on his own serve.

Berdych did the job winning the match 6-2 6-0 7-6 and his 18th match against Nadal produced his first success - a great stage upon which to break through.

Sharapova cranks up the volume

Maria Sharapova at this stage of the tournament is playing as well as anyone and she would not want to drop that form however slightly or Canada's young gun Eugenie Bouchard would pounce and pick up the spoils. The seventh seed has been doing great things here too and this quarter final hopefully would live up to its hype.

As is true with every tournament Maria is in fine voice and her "dulcet" tones become louder every match.  Until now only the outer suburbs of Melbourne had been subject to her output which tends to vary from a young child screaming at the top of its lungs to the boozy incomprehensible rantings of a New Years Eve reveller. Nevertheless today it must have been broadcast to country Victoria and the quiet days fishing on the Murray disturbed somewhat.

Eugenie Bouchard was definitely effected but the damage to her eardrums was secondary to the dire straits in which Sharapova's top class tennis was placing her from early in this match.

The first service break in the first game had more to do with the jittery nerves of Bouchard who double faulted and stumbled her way to 0-40 and could not recover that mess and Sharapova just stood impassively and shouted 'come on!' which sounded like Lleyton Hewitt except he would have been berated for cheering an opponent's misfortune.

Maria also served a double fault but she was accurate and heavy with her groundstrokes causing Eugenie to once more contribute enough garbage to warrant an additional game to be added to the Russian tally.

A better behaved Canadian backhand reaped a couple of points and allowed serve to be held in the third game for Bouchard but she was intimidated by the presence of the tall second seed at the service line and failed to trouble the scorers while Sharapova strolled to 3-1.

4-2 arrived but not before Bouchard saved a break point and Sharapova saved two.

At 3-5 Bouchard could not hold back the break points she had been helping to create for herself with unforced errors and Sharapova broke for a second time to win the first set 6-3.

Sharapova was even sharper in the second set, not offering a single break point, cutting down her errors, and her forehand continued to create havoc for Bouchard.  The inevitable break of serve came in the fourth game and once the next game was confirmed in the Russian's custody it was 4-1 and almost closing time for Eugenie.

Bouchard held for 2-4 but at 2-5 and deuce Sharapova played two forehand winners to ice the match 6-3 6-2, making Eugenie seem like a beginner at times.  Semi final an all Russian encounter with Makarova.

Makarova destroys Halep and serves notice

Ekaterina Makarova slipped into the top ten rankings recently without too much fanfare but her feats are beginning to become too significant and consistent to continue to be given anything less than headline coverage.

Aided by the upset exit of Ivanovic in the first round Makarova still needed to beat her opponents and the way she dismantled all four including Julia Goerges in the fourth round gave her every confidence entering the quarter final against all conquering Simona Halep whose performances deservedly gave her favouritism for today's match.

Halep was on song for the first point hitting a clean winner, but then she fell into a series of poor shots leading to a loss of service, compounded by a solid start by Makarova who was finding the middle of her racquet and moving Halep to places in the court which would disadvantage her the most.

2-0 to the Russian 10th seed and then at 30-15 Halep double faulted, thought that was a good trick so repeated it, then lost serve again with another unforced error.

This could not have been predicted, such a nervous ineffective opening to the biggest match of the year so far for the Romanian.  She gritted her teeth which didn't change the spin on the ball but must have scared Makarova because it was 15-40 on Ekaterina's next serve, thanks to the determined look and probably helped a little by winners off both wings from Halep.

After the game was back to deuce, Makarova deemed the effort all too hard and threw in two lousy forehands to give a break back to Simona who now trailed 1-3.

Serves were held, not always convincingly until it was Makarova at the line at 5-4 to attempt to lock the first set away.

A forehand winner gave Ekaterina two set points at 40-15 and she won the set with the second of those 6-4.

What we had from Makarova in set one was pre dinner drinks.  Set two was a six course feast.

As an appetiser, antipasto highlighted by Romanian double faults and unforced Halep errors.
Followed soon after by a delicious Russian soup prepared with three break points saved from the Makarova serve in the second game.

The dips in Simona's fortunes were delicious for Ekaterina with herbed bread just as the final unforced error signalled 3-0 to the Russian, and the grilling she had been receiving with tomatoes and bacon and forehand slices had been timed just right and at the right temperature for 4-0.

A compote of Halep backhand and forehand errors gave Makarova a break from the savoury dishes and a service break too for a 5-0 lead, and the forehand winners and forced errors served up with coffee and mints proved the perfect finish to a most enjoyable meal for Ekaterina who was into the semi finals of the 2015 Aus Open. 6-4 6-0.