Friday, 23 December 2016

2017 Tennis Almost Here

2016 is about to end which means that the first tournaments on both the WTA and ATP tours for 2017 are only just over a week away.

A fortnight of practice for the first major - the Australian Open at Melbourne Park starting on 16 January - begins with titles up for grabs in Auckland, New Zealand and Shenzhen, China for the ladies, and Chennai, India and Doha, Qatar for the gentlemen.
Brisbane, Australia plays host for both tours.

Petra Kvitova will be missing for at least six months after injuries suffered in the senseless personal attack from an intruder in her home earlier this week.  She will be certainly missed, but hopefully be back on court later this year, recovered from her physical and emotional trauma.

2017 offers plenty, and certainty is not on the menu.  12 months ago, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams were the dominant forces atop the singles rankings, and whilst still the ones to beat in the minds of many, other players have lifted their standards of performance and consistency.

Angelique Kerber is the deserved number one female player having claimed two Grand Slam titles in 2016, and her obvious talent is matched with a fierce competitiveness and belief, an attitude that has been adopted by many of her peers.

Challengers to Angie, either for the top spot, or for major titles, should come from the tried and true - Serena for as long as she is willing, Simona Halep, Aga Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza (who with consistency could be anything), Karolina Pliskova, Dominika Cibulkova, and yes even Maria Sharapova once she returns from her suspension in April.
Then there are the potential world beaters Madison Keys and Johanna Konta.  

The depth in women's tennis makes for an exciting season ahead.

The Andy Murray / Novak Djokovic rivalry appears set to define the men's game, at least for the foreseeable future, despite a number of young guns attempting to close in on the duopoly.  
Murray should retain the top spot for some time, given all the points that Novak has to defend in the first half of 2017.

What of the others ?  Federer returns after a long injury layoff and we don't know exactly where he will feature - probably able to beat most but not the top few.  Nadal is now appearing to be at best a solid top five player if fit, and not a threat at majors other than Paris.
Wawrinka is the same as he has been for a few years - dangerous at Grand Slam level but highly unreliable elsewhere.
Milos Raonic is the real deal, again with the proviso that he maintains fitness.  Injury robbed him of a possible final at the 2016 Australian Open, he was runner-up at Wimbledon and clearly the third best performed at the year end event in London.

Of the new breed, Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios have games that can worry the best, but they need to apply patience before potential ever turns into a threat to the top spots.

The predictability of men's tennis I believe will still exist in 2017, but to a much lesser extent.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Andy beats Novak to deserve #1 spot

The final big showdown in men's tennis for 2016 was potentially newly crowned world number one Andy Murray against the man he replaced - Novak Djokovic.  The ATP World Tour Finals was the tournament and London provided the venue.

Many, including yours truly, believed that Murray was merely a statistical number one, as he had not actually played Djokovic (let alone beaten him) since losing the Roland Garros final in June.  Here was the chance to play that return match, and silence any doubters.

In the preliminary round robin matches, the top two swept through their respective pools.  Djokovic, after losing his opening set in his opening contest against Dominic Thiem, cruised for sets two and three.
He found it tougher against Milos Raonic, requiring two tie breaks to claim victory.  His third and final pool clash was against David Goffin, a replacement for injured Gael Monfils.  Goffin was put away without any fuss.

Murray thrashed Marin Cilic, struggled to a three set win against Kei Nishikori, before giving US Open champ Stan Wawrinka a hiding.  Nishikori won through to the semi finals, with only one win, thanks to a better percentage of sets won than Cilic or Wawrinka.

Raonic finished second to Djokovic in the other group with two wins and earned the fourth semi final spot.

The semi finals were decided in vastly different style.  Andy Murray lost the first set to Raonic and despite losing the second in a tie break, the Canadian held a match point in the third.  Murray saved that and scraped though, taking home another tie break 11 points to 9.

Novak Djokovic destroyed Nishikori, setting the trend with the first four games going his way in a flash.  The straight sets win in a little over an hour must have filled the Serb with great confidence for the final.

Andy Murray has had problems maintaining the quality of his serve in big matches against Novak Djokovic in recent years.  However many of those have been in Grand Slam events and best of five affairs.

The final here in London was best of three, and although Murray's first serve percentage was well below that of Djokovic, he was far more successful when he landed it, winning 27 points from 32 deliveries.  Djokovic won just 26 from 44.
Murray didn't face a break point in Set One and only a single one in Set Two.
Djokovic faced three break points in Set One and six in Set Two.

With his famous return of serve not as effective as normal, Djokovic was always under pressure and the result appeared inevitable from early in the match.
Andy Murray won 6-3 6-4 and earned the undisputed title of year end world number one.  He had beaten the great Novak Djokovic to seal the deal.

Next on the agenda for Murray is to win his first Australian Open title - he has lost three finals to Djokovic in Melbourne previously.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Fed Cup - Czech Again !

The Czech Republic at the weekend won its third successive Fed Cup, and fifth in six years with an enthralling victory over France in the 2016 final.

It came down to the final match - the doubles rubber - and the heroics, though shared throughout both teams during the tie, most prominently were served up by the lower ranked Barbora Strycova for the victors, and Caroline Garcia for the valiant runners-up.

The 2016 US Open finalist, and only top ten player featured in the final, Karolina Pliskova, opened proceedings on Day One against French number two Kristina Mladenovic.  The pair split the first two sets before embarking on an unprecedented marathon decider lasting 30 games.  Incredibly only five breaks of serve occurred during this time, but it was the Czech Republic which put the first point on the board with Pliskova outlasting her opponent 6-3 4-6 16-14.

Caroline Garcia injected a wave of enthusiasm back into the Strasbourg crowd, which was clearly a little down from the result of the first match, when she stunned last start winner Petra Kvitova in a masterful display against the two time Wimbledon champ.  Garcia won the WTA tournament here in May this year, so Strasbourg is a happy hunting ground.
After an enthralling first set, which appropriately was decided in a tie break, eight points to six in Garcia's favour - thanks mainly to her forehand, and ability to restrict her unforced error count to a minimum - the French player controlled set two, especially with her success on the Kvitova serve, winning 13 out of 24 points from it.
The 7-6 6-3 win levelled things at 1-1 after Day One, and Caroline Garcia continued her momentum first up on Day Two when confronting a battle weary Karolina Pliskova.

Garcia took the first set, often forcing Pliskova into error in an otherwise even affair.  Pliskova answered quickly in the second, not facing a break point on her own serve but creating many chances on the Garcia delivery, converting one to level the battle.
Garcia had plenty in reserve and clinched her second win in as many matches with a fine third set highlighted by crisp forehand winners and success when coming to the net.  France ahead 2-1 and the home crowd well and truly brimming with confidence.

Both captains decided to rest players for the fourth rubber, Petr Pala opting for Barbora Strycova ahead of Kvitova, and Amelie Mauresmo replacing Mladenovic with Alize Cornet.
Strycova was quickest out of the blocks, clearly having the better of Cornet whenever the points were decided at the net, and punishing the French serve, both first and second entries.  The 6-2 scoreline was a true reflection of the gap in performance.
Set two was far more competitive, and despite Strycova losing half her points at the net, a tie break resulted.  7 points to 4 it was the set to the Czech Republic and the match 6-2 7-6.  The doubles would decide Fed Cup 2016.

The teams selected for the critical clash were Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic (France) and Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova (Czech Republic).
There was hardly anything between the teams in either of the two sets, but an overall edge in effective return of serve managed to convert into an extra service break in each, providing a 7-5 7-5 success to the Czech pair over the world number two ranked pairing, and a 3-2 Fed Cup triumph for the nation.

From 1-2 down, Barbora Strycova stepped in to the breach, and deserves huge praise for her work in winning the vital final singles and then immediately backing up for the doubles decider.
Caroline Garcia, ranked 23, defeated players ranked 6 and 11 and while disappointed for her nation, can justifiably be proud of her efforts.  

Sunday, 13 November 2016

WTA - New Look Year End Top 10

As the men prepare to compete in the prestigious ATP World Tour Finals, it is worth reflecting on the year just gone for the WTA Tour.

In Zhuhai, China last weekend Petra Kvitova finished 2016 in style, winning her second tournament out of the last four contested.  She was a beaten finalist in one of the others.
This compares with an ordinary first half of the year, in which she reached only one semi final.

Petra defeated Elina Svitolina in the Zhuhai final - Svitolina achieved plenty in 2016, including a win over Serena Williams.  The Ukranian reached three finals, grabbed one title, and finished the year at a career high ranking of 14.

The top ten at year end sees Angie Kerber at number one - her two Grand Slam titles helping the rise from 10 at the start.
Serena Williams dropped from 1 to 2.
Agnieszka Radwanska rose from 5 to 3.
Simona Halep dropped from 2 to 4.
Dominika Cibulkova rose from 38 to 5, including taking the WTA Finals title.
Karolina Pliskova rose from 11 to 6.
Garbine Muguruza dropped from 3 to 7, despite winning Roland Garros.
Madison Keys rose from 18 to 8.
Svetlana Kuznetsova rose from 25 to 9.
Johanna Konta rose from 47 to 10.

The five women losing their spots in the top ten were: Maria Sharapova - was 4 but found trouble, Petra Kvitova - 6 to 11, Venus Williams - 7 to 17, Flavia Pennetta - was 8 but now retired, and Lucie Safarova - 9 to 64

The dominance of Serena Williams has dissipated, at least statistically.  Also, there are certain players who clearly are not as intimidated by the great one.  Kerber and Pliskova have weapons which they are only too happy to throw at Serena, and on clay Muguruza demonstrates her ability to counter the brilliance of Williams.

Cibulkova and Kvitova are firing again, and both could be potent forces in the Australian summer, leading into the first major of 2017 - scarily only two months away.
Carla Suarez Navarro had a disappointing end to a solid year but is worth following in 2017, as is the ever improving Johanna Konta.

While Halep and Radwanska are in tournaments, they should never be discounted, and this and all before proves that the depth at the top level of women's tennis is as real as ever, a guarantee of absorbing viewing.

The eight players competing in London in the ATP World Tour Finals have been split into two groups.
Andy Murray heads the John McEnroe Group, and it is without doubt the tougher of the two.  It includes Stan Wawrinka (the US Open Champion), Kei Nishikori (who knocked out Murray in the US Open quarters) and Marin Cilic (who defeated Murray in the Cincinnati final).
Novak Djokovic heads the Ivan Lendl Group, which is filled with other players Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem.
The Serb has not lost to any of them, winning all of his 7 matches against Raonic, 13 against Monfils and 3 against Thiem.  He has beaten each of them twice in 2016 alone.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Novak likely to lose top spot

Andy Murray is just one win away from taking the number one ranking from Novak Djokovic, and it should happen in the semi finals at the Paris Masters this weekend.

Following Novak's breakthrough at Roland Garros in June, all the talk was surrounding the possibility of him grabbing a calendar year Grand Slam.  
However, since that day in Paris, it has been Murray who has dominated men's tennis.

The Scot, who was a gallant runner-up in the Roland Garros final, has subsequently:

WON     Queens Club, Wimbledon, Olympics, China Open, Shanghai Masters, Vienna
Been a Finalist at Cincinnati Masters and a Quarter Finalist at US Open

Oddly, in all that time he has not played another match against the man he is likely to replace at the top of the heap.  Hopefully we will have the chance to see that in the ATP World Tour Finals in London starting in just over a week.
This tournament will determine the year end world number one.

So how was Andy given the golden opportunity ?  Well he can thank Marin Cilic, whose great quarter final win against Djokovic prevented the Serb from defending his 2015 Paris title and importantly the 1000 ranking points it provided.

There was not much between the two as the 6-4 7-6 scoreline would suggest, but Cilic managed to create slightly more pressure with his serve, and also win the key points, something at which Djokovic has been the master for the past couple of years.
Not today though, and indeed in the second part of the season he has not presented the same level of intimidation to those about to play him.  Mentally he appears to be ever so slightly below the sharp, highly motivated Novak which, with his impeccable brand of tennis can create an aura of impregnability.  

Cilic will play John Isner in the semi final after the big serving American took three sets to eliminate compatriot Jack Sock.  This section of the draw had already seen the departure of seeds Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem.

Murray defeated Tomas Berdych to reach the semi final where he will meet the winner of the Raonic v Tsonga quarter final.

While the best women have played their WTA Finals, 12 of the next level - ranked 10 to mid 20s - have been fighting out for the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China.

Split into 4 groups, the women in each group played each other in a round robin format to determine the group winner.

The four group winners are top seed Johanna Konta, 4th seed Elina Svitolina, 12th seed Shuai Zhang and 3rd seed Petra Kvitova.  Each were undefeated in their group matches.

The semi finals will feature Konta v Svitolina and Zhang v Kvitova.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Domi - nation in Singapore

The finalists in the WTA Finals in Singapore arrived there in wildly contrasting styles.  World number one and twice Grand Slam title winner in 2016, Angelique Kerber, thrashed Agnieszka Radwanska in one semi final to remain undefeated after her four matches.
Dominika Cibulkova scraped into her semi final against Svetlana Kuznetsova on a count back, having won only one of her three round robin matches.  It was the second set that she took off Kerber in her first match loss which won her the semi final spot, and enabled her to eventually prevail in an epic three setter against the Russian, Sveta's fourth match in succession to go the distance.

So the final match of this exciting week would see the same two combatants as the very first match, with Kerber clearly the hot favourite to put the perfect finishing touches to a golden year.

Angie expected a tough contest, but she, along with just about everyone watching, was not prepared for the Domi domination which occurred.  The Slovakian pocket rocket was relentless from the start, aggressive as she knew she would need to be, and her serve was out of this world - the first serve % was 85 in the opening set.

She was broken once in the first set, but it didn't worry her in the slightest as she played to her strengths, using pace, angles, placement and power to continually pressure the Kerber serve.  Of the 10 second serves delivered by the top seed, 7 points were won by Cibulkova.  Little wonder the seventh seed broke twice to take the set and lead 6-3.

Angie appeared to settle in the early stages of set two, and by serving first, would put pressure on Domi to play catch up on the scoreboard.  However, this was of marginal concern as the Slovakian shot making continued to be fluent and attacking, made possible by the remarkable first serve statistics.
At 3-3 it was Kerber who cracked first, and Cibulkova led 6-3 4-3 with a serve to come.  The upset was now more than a possibility.  When 5-3 arrived in the blink of an eye, Angie had to hold serve to remain in the match.
Of course she isn't the world's top player for nothing and she ensured that Domi would have to serve out the tournament.

All was falling into place for Cibulkova, and at 40-15 she had two points for her most significant career win.  Then some drama - a double fault and an unforced error.  Then a break point which was saved.  A third match point was blown with an easy shot missed.  Another break point was saved.  Finally on the fourth match point, a friendly net cord presented Dominika Cibulkova with a 6-3 6-4 victory, the WTA Finals title and Billy Jean King Trophy, and a year end career high ranking of 5 in the world.
28 winners in a performance worthy of all the accolades coming her way.

Not bad from a starting point of 38 in January after an injury ravaged 2015.
Still for Angie Kerber she can be happy in the knowledge that she is Player of the Year by any measure.

In other news, Andy Murray won the Vienna title, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final, while Marin Cilic took out the Basel tournament, Kei Nishikori the runner-up there.

The final ATP Masters title is up for grabs this coming week in Paris, and the number one ranking is on the line.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Angie sets pace in WTA Finals

The WTA Finals in Singapore this week is the culmination of another great year of women's tennis, with the eight top point scorers of 2016 competing for the trophy won by Agnieszka Radwanska 12 months ago.

This year again Serena Williams is missing from the field through injury, enabling 9th placed Svetlana Kuznetsova to take the final spot as eighth seed.

While the ATP equivalent year end finals battle is not far away, there are still other tournaments to be played, including Vienna and Basel this week.

Pablo Carreno Busta defeated Fabio Fognini in the Moscow final last week, and both have fronted up again.

Fognini lost in the Vienna first round to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, the same player he had knocked out en route to the Moscow final, while Busta cruised into a Basel second round clash with Marin Cilic, which is where his Swiss Roll stopped turning.  

Juan Martin del Potro celebrated with a title in Stockholm, overcoming Jack Sock in the final, and jumping over twenty spots back into the top 50.  Both players made it through to the second round in Basel, where eighth seed Sock was upset by Marcel Granollers.

Richard Gasquet won the European Open in Antwerp in straight sets over Argentine Diego Schwartzman. But Guido Pella sought and gained some revenge for Argentina by dispensing with the seventh seeded Frenchman in the opening round in Basel.

Back to Singapore and Sveta Kuznetsova certainly took advantage of her late inclusion in the elite field by winning both round robin matches played so far in the White Group. 
Her first match against Aga Radwanska was a roller coaster, with Sveta taking Set One 7-5 (after trailing 1-4) before crumbling 1-6 in the next.  Down 4-5 and match point, Kuznetsova found something special to rattle off the last three games and win the match, continuing her run of success from Moscow last week.

The second, against Karolina Pliskova, was yet another thriller, with Sveta losing the opening set and falling behind in the second.  A significant momentum shift saw the Russian storm through the next period to take the second set and lead 5-3 in the decider.  Pliskova fought back and served for the match at 6-5, but couldn't manage the job - Kuznetsova won the day in a gripping tie break.

Pliskova also had her difficulties against Garbine Muguruza, taking three sets, but finally winning that battle 7-5 in the third.  Muguruza lost her chance of advancing to the semi finals with her straight sets defeat at the hands of Radwanska two days later.

Kuznetsova will, irrespective of the results of the remaining 2 matches, make the semis.  If she defeats Muguruza, she finishes atop the group.  Even a loss to Muguruza will see her head the group because of her head to head record against Radwanska and Pliskova.  Regardless, the semi finalists from the White Group will be Kuznetsova and the winner of the Radwanska v Pliskova match.

The Red Group has been dominated by top seed and world number one Angilique Kerber, although her opening match against Dominika Cibulkova was anything but straightforward.  After escaping the first set tie break, Kerber was taken to pieces 6-2 in the second set, before steadying 6-3 in the decider.
Meanwhile Simona Halep easily swept aside Madison Keys in two sets.

Kerber had no difficulty dismissing Halep, and Keys put herself back in contention with an impressive victory over Cibulkova in the next round of matches in the group.  Both of these were decided in two sets, which meant that for Cibulkova to advance to the next stage, she would need to defeat Halep in straight sets and hope for Kerber to achieve a similar result against Keys.  That would leave Kerber with 3 wins from 3 and the others all with 1 win and 2 losses but with Cibulkova leading on a count back due to more sets won.

First up it was Cibulkova, and with a combination of her best tennis for the week, and Simona Halep distracted somewhat by a knee injury, the Slovakian enjoyed her first success for the week, importantly in straight sets.

Angie Kerber proved too strong for Madison Keys and also won in straight, although at one stage she was trailing a break down in the second.

So the semi final match ups will be Angie Kerber v whoever finishes second in the White Group and Dominika Cibulkova v Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Kyrgios out but Dasha doing Oz proud

At the start of 2016 Nick Kyrgios and Dasha Gavrilova won the Hopman Cup for Australia.
The hope was for successful years for the two on the tennis courts of the world, and for Nick less of the off court controversy experienced in 2015.

While Kyrgios had enjoyed a terrific year, winning three titles on the ATP Tour, capped off with the Japan Open a couple of weeks ago, he destroyed his chances of a top ten finish to 2016, and worse, he took many steps backwards reputation wise with his behaviour in Shanghai a week later.

He received a fine which was virtually pocket money, but a suspension, effectively ending his season, at last adequately penalised his underlying problem.  Hopefully he can address his issues because his talent should be realised, not wasted.

Dasha, meanwhile, has posted some memorable wins this year, but waited until late in the year to string several together in successive tournaments. Right now she is playing some of the best tennis of her career.  She should be the face of Australian tennis at the moment, now that Nick is sidelined and Sam Stosur is desperately out of form.

In the Kremlin Cup, the locals were pleased when Sveta Kuznetsova, top seed, made it through to the final.  They were not too displeased that Gavrilova became her opponent, despite all the other Russian players in the draw, including seventh seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who lost to Dasha in the quarters.  After all, Dasha is Russian born herself.

After a promising start to her first WTA final, Gavrilova was thrashed by the Dual GS champion, Kuznetsova winning 12 of the last 13 games to claim the title 6-2 6-1.
The men's final in Moscow will be contested between 6th seed Pablo Carreno Busta and unseeded Fabio Fognini.  The Italian has already knocked out three seeds: Lorenzi (7) in the second round, Ramos-Vinolas (2) in the quarters and Kohlschreiber (3) in the semis.

In Antwerp, unseeded Diego Schwartzman has dismissed fourth seed Pablo Cuevas and top seed David Goffin en route to the final, where he will meet third seed Richard Gasquet.
The Stockholm finale also features an unseeded player, but this one is not unexpected.  Juan Martin Del Potro has not dropped a set, and eliminated third seed Ivo Karlovic and second seed Grigor Dimitrov to book his shot at the title against Jack Sock.  The American 6th seed ousted fourth seed Alexander Zverev in a top class three set semi final.

Top seed Petra Kvitova is gunning for a second title in a short space of time - her Luxembourg run has seen her make the final against unseeded Monica Niculescu.  Romanian Niculescu was lucky to be given a walkover from Caro Wozniacki in the quarter finals, but her straight sets win over third seed Kiki Bertens in the semi final proved that she deserved her spot in the final.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Murray edges closer to #1

Europe is the centre of tennis action this week with Moscow hosting the Kremlin Cup for both the WTA and ATP tours, Antwerp the home of the ATP European Open, and the WTA Luxembourg Open and ATP Stockholm Open also featuring.

Andy Murray, winner of the Shanghai Masters at the weekend, won't be playing, content with his 2 titles in China in as many weeks, and his further closing in on the number one world ranking. 
Novak Djokovic has 12900 ranking points and is vulnerable to Murray who is at 10485. 
It wasn't all that long ago Djokovic was double second spot and seemingly untouchable.
The race for year end number one is even closer, with 2016 points for ND 10600 compared to AM 9685.

Joining Murray on the winners list last week were Caroline Wozniacki, who continued her terrific run of form from the US Open, defeating Kristina Mladenovic in Hong Kong, Dominika Cibulkova, victorious over Viktorija Golubic in Linz, and Shuai Peng, successful in Tianjin at the expense of Alison Riske.

Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, is top seed in the Kremlin Cup, her home nation's tournament, but will face stiff competition from Carla Suarez Navarro, and fellow Russians Elena Vesnina, Daria Kasatkina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Roberto Bautista Agut, runner-up to Murray in Shanghai, is top seed in Moscow in the mens draw.

Wozniacki will be trying for successive tournament wins as second seed in Luxembourg.  Petra Kvitova is top seed and other threats could come from Kiki Bertens and Caroline Garcia.

A strong field lines up in Antwerp, headed by David Goffin, David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet, while Gael Monfils, Grigor Dimitrov, Ivo Karlovic and Alexander Zverev should feature prominently in Stockholm.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Novak and Andy on track - Nick off rails

The Shanghai Masters has seen the return of world number one Novak Djokovic to the court for his first outing since his loss to Stan Wawrinka in the US Open final last month.

First, the disappointment of the tournament, and evidence that reputation is hard to build but can be lost in an instant if you are Nick Kyrgios.  After carving out a terrific year on the court with three titles, the most recent last week in Japan, and seemingly applying a more mature attitude to the game,  Kyrgios took a massive step backwards in his second round match against qualifier Mischa Zverev.

Childish, unsportsmanlike, completely unprofessional, and embarrassing his supporters and Australia,  it would have been better to concede the match before walking onto the court.  The fine handed to him was a joke.  This performance deserved a suspension.  Nick cannot choose his moments of maturity - he either commits to it or quits the sport.  I have been a strong supporter this year, but clearly there remain underlying unresolved issues. 

Fortunately, tennis eventually wins out, and Djokovic and Murray won their respective ways into the semi finals.  Murray has not dropped a set in disposing of Steve Johnson, Lucas Pouille and David Goffin, while Djokovic hasn't had to face a seeded player.
His expected third round opponent, Richard Gasquet, lost in the opening round, while both Berdych and Kyrgios left in the second round.
The top seed has beaten Fabio Fognini and Vasek Pospisil in straight sets, but had trouble with Mischa Zverev, losing the opening set, and forced to a tie break in the second, before finally prevailing.

Rafa Nadal, the fourth seed, fell in the second round (his first match) to unseeded veteran Viktor Troicki, while third seed Stan Wawrinka and fifth seed Milos Raonic disappeared in the third round, thanks to Gilles Simon and Jack Sock respectively.

Joining Pouille in the French exodus were sixth seed Gael Monfils and ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, leaving Simon to fly the flag against Murray in one semi final.  The other semi final will feature 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut against Djokovic, the Spaniard yet to surrender a set in the tournament.

In Linz it appeared for awhile that the top four women's seeds would contest the semi finals, but top seed Garbine Muguruza was forced to retire from her quarter final against Swiss player and 62 world ranked Viktorija Golubic.  The match was 4-4 in the deciding third set when Garbine quit.

Golubic will face third seed Madison Keys in one semi final after the American breezed through her quarter final against unseeded Oceane Dodin of France.
Second seed Dominika Cibulkova defeated fifth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach the final four, and will play fourth seed Carla Suarez Navarro for a spot in the final.  Carla took three sets to overcome the Czech Republic's Denisa Allertova.

Hong Kong has a semi final lineup excluding all top four seeds - fourth seed Samantha Stosur lost her first round match and second seed Venus Williams her second round encounter.  Third seed Johanna Konta handed her second round opponent a walkover, and in one of the biggest upsets of the year, eighth seed Daria Gavrilova knocked out top seed and world number one Angie Kerber in their quarter final.  And in straight sets too.

Gavrilova will play unseeded Kristina Mladenovic in one semi final, and the other will be a crowd pleaser between two former world number ones, both also former US Open finalists, fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki and seventh seed Jelena Jankovic.

The third WTA tournament this week is in Tianjin, China, and with top seed Aga Radwanska withdrawing from her quarter final match with China's Shuai Peng, Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) remains the only seed standing at the semi final stage. Third seed Elena Vesnina was ousted in the first round, as was fourth seed Timea Babos.

Unseeded Danka Kovinic from Montenegro defeated fifth seed Monica Puig and will be Peng's semi final opponent.
American Alison Riske, the conqueror of Babos, continued her success in the next two matches to end up securing a semi final spot against Kuznetsova.
Svetlana was tested in reaching the semi, dropping the opening set in her quarter final to Naomi Osaka, and having to win the decider in a tie break.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Aga, Nick and Andy triumphant

As the men head to Shanghai for the next Masters tournament, two of the competitors go with titles won the past weekend.

Andy Murray proved a class above Grigor Dimitrov, taking out the China Open in Beijing 6-4 7-6, but Dimitrov has enjoyed a successful couple of months and is back in the world's top twenty.

Nick Kyrgios came from a set down against David Goffin to win the Japan Open in Tokyo, the third and biggest title of his career, all collected this year.  Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka and Thiem are the only others to have triumphed at least three times in 2016.  

Only three of the world's top twenty won't be competing in Shanghai - Nishikori, Federer and Thiem all missing through injury.

Aga Radwanska overwhelmed Johanna Konta in the China Open women's final, the victory propelling her to number three in the world.  The WTA top ten has been shaken up with Pliskova moving up to five, Keys to seven, Konta in at nine (all career highs), and Muguruza dropping to six.

While Shanghai hosts the cream of the ATP crop, the ladies do battle at Linz, Austria, with Muguruza, Keys, Cibulkova and Suarez Navarro headlining.
World number one Kerber leads a strong field in Hong Kong, including Konta, Venus Williams and Wozniacki.
Radwanska will be attempting a China double as she takes the top seeding into the Tianjin Open.  She will be joined by Kuznetsova, Vesnina, Puig and several other top fifty players.

All up, nine of the top thirteen active ranked players on the WTA tour will be in action across Europe and Asia.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Konta and Dimitrov shine in Beijing

The Asian leg of the tennis year has continued this week following victories last week in China by Petra Kvitova in Wuhan, Tomas Berdych in Shenzhen and Karen Khachanov in Chengdu.

Beijing has been hosting the China Open, a Premier WTA event and an ATP 500 tournament held concurrently, while several top male players have gathered in Tokyo for the ATP 500 Japan Open.

Fine performances were contributed in the China Open by unseeded Aussie Daria Gavrilova, including victories over 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky and top 25 player Caroline Garcia.  Gavrilova's run ended in the quarter finals thanks to Elina Svitolina, herself enjoying a brilliant tournament.
Svitolina, the conqueror of Serena Williams in Rio, ousted the current world number one Angie Kerber, in the third round in Beijing, and her quarter final success earned a semi final against third seed Aga Radwanska.

Aga found herself the highest remaining seed following the exits of both Kerber and second seed Garbine Muguruza, the latter at the hands of in form Petra Kvitova, also in the third round.  Petra couldn't maintain her run of success, but it wasn't for lack of trying, defeated in possibly the match of the tournament.
Madison Keys, the eighth seed, finally won the quarter final after almost two and three quarter hours 6-3 6-7 (2) 7-6 (5).  Kvitova will regret the break point opportunities not taken - she converted just 4 of the 18 created, whilst Keys broke the Czech serve 5 times from 10 chances.

The Czech Republic lost its other top chance one round earlier, with fifth seed Karolina Pliskova falling to 11th seed Johanna Konta in another three setter decided by a tie break.
Konta joined Keys in the final four following victory over local hope, unseeded Shuai Zhang.  Zhang had upset fourth seed Simona Halep to reach the quarter finals.

Both semi finals began with a tie breaker - Aga Radwanska won hers against Elina Svitolina, 7 points to 3, and was too accomplished in set two, returning the Ukranian serve in exemplary fashion, taking out the match in straight sets 7-6 (3) 6-3.

Johanna Konta dominated the first set tie break against Madison Keys 7 points to 1, but the American fought back immediately, levelling at a set all with a second set 6-4.  Konta had chances - converting only one of eight break points.
The three setter, totally worthy of its semi final status, was closely fought to the end, and the deciding stanza landed in favour of the steadier 11th seed Johanna Konta 6-4.

Whatever the result of the final, and it is an even money bet in my opinion, Konta is set to enter the world's top ten, a tremendous accomplishment this year.

A strong men's field was assembled in Beijing, including four of the world's top ten, and ten of the top twenty, led by Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal.
The story of the tournament has been Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated Steve Johnson and 6th seed Lucas Pouille, both in three sets, before the big upset - a straight sets dismissal of second seed Rafa Nadal in the quarter final.  The Bulgarian savaged Nadal's first serve, especially in the opening set, and he amassed several break point chances throughout the match.

Andy Murray hasn't dropped a set in reaching the final - his one real test came in the quarter final when in the first set, Kyle Edmund took him to a tie break which stretched to 11-9 before the top seed prevailed.  Edmund enjoyed a solid event, knocking out 7th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round.

Murray will play Dimitrov in the final - he dispatched David Ferrer in one semi while third seed Milos Raonic presented Grigor with a walkover in the other.

Top seed for the Japan Open was appropriately Kei Nishikori, but sadly he only lasted into the second round, where he surrendered due to injury.  
Third seed and a tournament winner last week, Tomas Berdych, left in the opening round, courtesy of Gilles Muller, leaving second seed Gael Monfils as the top ranked player left in the draw.

Eighth seed Feliciano Lopez also lost in round one, unseeded Australian James Duckworth the victor - all other seeds reached the quarter finals as expected and the favourites in each of those matches won out, becoming the final four.

Fifth seed David Goffin outgunned fourth seed Marin Cilic in their semi final, winning a huge percentage of points whenever his first serve found the spot.
Also winning in straight sets, and as a result meeting Goffin in the final in Tokyo, was Nick Kyrgios.  

The sixth seed thrilled the crowd with his shot making, against one of the best shot makers on tour, Gael Monfils.
Kyrgios took advantage of his solitary break point in the opening set, and that provided momentum in a close match where his serve probably gave him the edge in the final analysis.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Kvitova dominant in Wuhan title win

The Czech Republic has enjoyed great team success in recent years with Fed Cup wins but in the past week it is individual titles on the WTA Tour which have found their way to the European nation.

The more significant was the Premier 5 tournament in Wuhan, won by Petra Kvitova, whose crushing of Dominika Cibulkova in the final followed earlier wins against world number one Angie Kerber and fourth seed Simona Halep.
Cibulkova completed a fine event herself, reaching the final after victories over Karolina Pliskova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Kvitova had too many weapons in the finale though, winning 24 of 25 points when her first serve landed in, and savaging the Cibulkova serve, winning 70% of the points on the Slovakian delivery.

In the smaller Taskent event, unseeded Kristyna Pliskova defeated fourth seed Nao Hibino in a tight three set final - her serve, which was highlighted by 10 aces and no double faults, assisted her across the line for her debut WTA title.

In Shenzhen, the final will be contested between top seed Tomas Berdych and third seed Richard Gasquet - Berdych comfortably accounted for Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci and Gasquet was ahead 6-2 4-1 when Janko Tipsarevic retired.

Elsewhere in China, the Chengdu final will feature fifth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas against unseeded Karen Khachanov.  Third seed Grigor Dimitrov fell to Ramos-Vinolas in one semi final while sixth seed Viktor Troicki was the latest victim of tournament surprise packet Khachanov.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Petra finding form in China

It's all been happening in China this week with 2 ATP events - Shenzhen and Chengdu - being contested.
However, the major attraction is the Premier 5 WTA Tournament hosted in Wuhan, where all the top twenty ranked players entered the draw except for Serena Williams and Vika Azarenka.  (Vika's pregnancy a fair excuse !)

The women have also had a lower tier event bubbling along in Uzbekistan, giving some players unable to meet the high qualifying standard for Wuhan a chance to maintain competitive fitness.

2 finals from last week threw up interesting results - young gun Alexander Zverev had his biggest win, defeating Stan Wawrinka in the St Petersburg final, breaking the US Open champ's long run of constantly winning finals once in them.
Lucas Pouille delighted his home grown French following by taking out the Metz title with a win over top seed Dominic Thiem.

Wuhan has seen the exit of five of the top eight seeds before the quarter finals, including top seed and reigning US Open Champion Angie Kerber in a fascinating three set struggle against 14th seed Petra Kvitova.
The third round match began with a first set tie break eventually decided in Kerber's favour 12-10.  However the dual Wimbledon title holder fought back hard to win the next two sets 7-5 6-4.
Second seed Garbine Muguruza has continued her problematic run since triumphing at Roland Garros, losing to Jelena Jankovic in the second round, following a first round bye.
Karolina Pliskova (5), Venus Williams (6) and Carla Suarez Navarro (7) all lost third round matches to lower seeded players - Dominika Cibulkova (10), Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) and Johanna Konta (11) respectively.

Simona Halep, fourth seed, is the highest ranked player left at the semi final stage, after her victory over Madison Keys in the one of the quarters, and the loss of third seed Aga Radwanska to Kuznetsova in another.

Halep will play Kvitova in her semi, Petra having disposed of Konta in straight sets.  Kuznetsova's opponent will be Cibulkova who stopped the impressive run of Barbora Strycova in their quarter final, and in doing so preventing the Czech Republic from having two of the semi finalists.

In Shenzhen only one top ten player - Tomas Berdych - and two other top twenty players are in the draw, and the tournament lost one of those straight away.  Second seed David Goffin, who reached the second round after a bye, was dumped by Tunisia's Malek Jaziri in three sets.

Goffin wasn't the only seed to fall in round two.  Sixth seed Benoit Paire lost to Janko Tipsarevic who will play Jaziri in a quarter final, and seventh seeded Italian Fabio Fognini exited thanks to qualifier Mischa Zverev

Berdych (1) , Gasquet (3) and Tomic (4) were seeds that did progress to the quarters, although Bernie did take the full three sets before farewelling Ryan Harrison on his way back to the USA.  Gasquet was far less congenial in his destruction of Australian qualifier Andrew Whittington who left with just one game to add to his collection.

Chengdu has seen one significant departure - second seed Nick Kyrgios defeated by Kevin Anderson in three sets in round two after the first round bye.  Anderson was always going to be a tough proposition and while the loss is not of major proportions, being a set up and only just losing the second set tie break, before dropping away quickly in the decider would be of concern.

One player making his mark on the tournament is tall 20 year old Russian Karen Khachanov, who is ranked 101, and in the quarter finals after knocking out 7th seed Joao Sousa in the opening round and Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the next.  The new assignment is tough - fourth seed Feliciano Lopez - but the way he has been serving he stands an excellent chance of progressing further.

Top seed Thiem and third seed Dimitrov appear the two to beat at this stage - they are drawn to meet in a semi final.

In Tashkent, the semi finalists have been decided, and the names are not the ones usually associated with this stage of WTA tournaments.  

Kateryna Kozlova from the Ukraine, ranked 98, will be playing the Czech Republic's Kristyna Pliskova, sister of the US Open finalist, and ranked 100.  Pliskova had a good win over fifth seed Kurumi Nara in the second round and is favoured to make the final.

The other semi final sees fourth seed Nao Hibino from Japan up against Denisa Allertova from the Czech Republic.  Hibino is ranked 78 and Allertova 114.
Allertova defeated Kirsten Flipkens, the highest seed (at number 2) left in the tournament, in straight sets in their quarter final.

I predict an all-Czech final.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Wozniacki takes Tokyo

Quite a lot of tennis activity throughout the world in the past week, with ATP tournaments in Russia and France, and WTA events in Japan, China and Korea.

Recently crowned US Open champion Stan Wawrinka, was installed as top seed for the St Petersburg draw, and had little difficulty navigating his way through to the final four. He was joined there by third seed Tomas Berdych, fourth seed Roberto Bautista Agut and fifth seed Alexander Zverev.  Second seed Milos Raonic had been knocked out early by Russian Mikhail Youzhny, to the joy of locals.

The final will be fought out between Wawrinka and Zverev after Stan's straight sets victory over Roberto and Zverev's two set impressive elimination of Berdych - his latest top ten scalp.

The Metz semi finals were played between the four top seeds.  Top seed Dominic Thiem upset the French crowd when he defeated fourth seed Gilles Simon, after dropping the opening set.  He will meet third seed Lucas Pouille in the final following his successful semi win over second seed David Goffin.  So the Metz crowd will have a French player to cheer for with the title on the line.

In Tokyo, three of the top four seeds failed to make the semi finals - these included US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova and Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza.  Caroline Wozniacki continued her resurgence from New York by not only defeating fourth seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round, but rebounding from a set down against second seed Aga Radwanska in the semi finals to win in three and claim a spot in the final.

The other semi finalists were Elina Svitolina and Naomi Osaka.  The locals were rapt when Osaka won through to the final which featured two unseeded players, but Wozniacki proved too strong, and took home the trophy with her 7-5 6-3 victory.

The Seoul final featured fifth seed Monica Niculescu from Romania against unseeded Spanish player Lara Arruabarrena.  In a strange scoreline, Lara won her second WTA title, her first coming over 4 years ago.  The win was in three sets 6-0 2-6 6-0.

Completing the trio of unseeded champions this week is Guangzhou winner Lesia Tsurenko.  The Ukraine player's second career title came at the expense of tournament second seed Jelena Jankovic in three close sets.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Croatia to host Argentina in Davis Cup final

As tennis followers world wide took a collective deep breath once the final acts were played out at Flushing Meadows, male players from many nations had little time to rest, with Davis Cup commitments to be met the next week.

The semi finals for 2016 were held: Current Cup holders and top seeded Great Britain v sixth seed Argentina, and unseeded Croatia v fifth seed France.

While the ATP Tour took a back seat to these important team events, which were accompanied with World Group playoffs, including Australia v Slovakia and Belgium v Brazil, two WTA tournaments were held, in Japan and Canada.

Great Britain and Argentina opened with a replay of the Olympic Gold Medal match, and it was over five hours of riveting tennis between Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro in front of a keen Glasgow crowd.  Down two sets to one,  the Argentine leading light grafted his way back, taking the final sets and giving his nation the perfect start.

Great Britain was hopeful that its second singles player, Kyle Edmund, would continue his good US Open form and overcome resistance from Guido Pella. He did for one set, edging out his opponent in an opening tie breaker, but Pella outgunned the Brit from that point, and after Day One, Argentina was in a surprising prime position 2-0.

The Murray brothers brought Great Britain back into contention, first with a doubles victory, Andy joining his more renowned doubles playing sibling Jamie to defeat del Potro and Leo Mayer in four sets, and on the final day Andy far too accomplished for Pella, winning in straight.

The deciding singles match saw Mayer chosen ahead of a worn out del Potro to carry Argentina's fortunes, while Dan Evans received the nod instead of Edmund for the hosts.
Evans put his team ahead with a first set success, but it was the final joy for Great Britain, and with his four set victory, Leonardo Mayer became the hero of Argentina, propelling it into the Davis Cup final.

Argentina will face Croatia in an away final following Croatia's elimination of France 3-2 in the other semi final.
France was unable to call on Gael Monfils or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga due to injury, but Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet filled the opening day singles, illustrating the current depth of French tennis, especially on the men's tour.

Gasquet gave France the ideal start, convincingly defeating Borna Coric in straight sets.  Marin Cilic then placed his stamp on the semi final, levelling the tie with a win over Pouille, before teaming with Ivan Dodig on the second day to knock over favoured French doubles pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, who happen to be ranked the world's best.

Leading 2-1, Croatia wrapped up the semi final in front of a rapturous home crowd, with Cilic finishing it off via a straight sets triumph over Gasquet.

The final match was played as a best of three sets affair, due to its result having no bearing on the overall tie.  For the record Lucas Pouille defeated Marin Draganja in two sets.

The 2016 final in Croatia will either be a first ever Davis Cup title for Argentina or the second win for Croatia.  When Croatia broke through for its debut victory in 2005, it was unseeded, as it is again this time round.

The successful nations in the World Group play-offs were: Switzerland, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Russia, Spain, Germany and Japan. 7 of the 8 were the seeded nations involved.  So players such as Wawrinka, Nishikori, Raonic, Nadal and Federer could potentially be playing for Davis Cup spoils in 2017.

While the cameras were concentrating on Davis Cup, American Christina McHale was achieving a significant personal milestone, winning her first WTA title - the Tokyo International - with her final victory over the Czech Republic's Katerina Siniakova.

Although France lost its Davis Cup semi, 19 year old Oceane Dodin provided her nation with some joy, also winning her first WTA title - in Quebec - defeating American Lauren Davis in the final.  Oceane becomes the first teenager to win a WTA tournament this year, and now is a top 100 ranked player.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Stan Wawrinka wins US Open

Stan Wawrinka has definitively taken over as Switzerland's number one tennis player.  Sadly that has been pronounced by the extended absence of Roger Federer through injury.  However,  apart from Novak Djokovic, no one has won multiple majors over the past three years other than Stan, and he added the 2016 US Open to his trophy cabinet in fine style earlier today Australian time.

Despite the head to head record between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, which is skewed heavily in Novak's favour, the Swiss ace has proved a big headache for the world number one at Grand Slam level.  En route to his debut major in Melbourne 2014, Stan knocked over Novak in the quarters, and in the Roland Garros final last year Stan cost Novak a chance of a Calendar Year Grand Slam.

In NYC, and on the final day, Novak gained the initial service break and led 3-0 after a solid consolidation.  At 2-5 and 15-40 Stan fought off 2 set points before holding serve with backhand and forehand winners.  In hindsight this could well have been the turning point of the match.
Novak suddenly threw in a brace of errors to be 0-40.  He saved two break points, one with an ace, but a double fault handed the service break to Stan and eventually a tie break was required.

Djokovic raced through to a 7-1 win thanks mainly to a string of Swiss mistakes, and took the set 7-6.

Stan was not as generous for the remainder of the match.
In the fourth game of set two Novak let a 40-15 lead slip, helped by a loose backhand and a double fault.  The break point was converted with a typically destructive Stan backhand.
Novak was clearly under pressure and seeming unlikely to recover, but out of the blue he struck back in the seventh game.  A backhand winner of his own set up a break point which was converted into a 3-4 game score, then 4-4 after a comfortable hold.

That was it for set two as far as Novak was concerned.  At 4-5 he lost serve on the second break point and the sets were one apiece.
14 unforced errors from a normally so tidy Djokovic was a telling second set stat.

Set three saw Stan leading 3-0 pretty smartly following a service break in the second game - a winning forehand set up break point and Novak obliged with another error.
In game 5, Stan hit two backhand winners and a forehand volley winner and had 40-15.
Then a mixture of forced and unforced errors eventually gave Novak a break back point which was converted and 3-3 the score.

At 5-6, Novak led 40-30 and a tie break seemed assured, and appropriate given the evenness of the set.  However the Serb backhand was broken down, losing him the final three points of the game and set.  Stan led 6-7 6-4 7-5.

Novak was suffering in a scarily similar way to Roland Garros 2015 where he won the opening set, only to lose the rest.

Set four was the start of celebrations for Stan as he broke serve in the second game once again.  It was the only service break for the set in which there were 12 crisp winners from the Swiss racquet, and only a handful of hand made errors.
Novak was almost resigned to the result, as he struggled to handle the quality being delivered from the other side of the net.

Stan Wawrinka won the match 6-7 (1) 6-4 7-5 6-3 and joined Andy Murray as a three time major winner.  Novak maintains a fine record of course, although his return from US Open finals is annoying - 2 titles from 7 appearances.

Stan has won his 3 Grand Slam titles from 3 finals.  In fact he is a safe bet whenever he makes any final.
Clearly he is the number three ranked player in the world now, and hopefully he is more consistent on tour following his latest big triumph.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Angie Kerber's US Open Title

The women's singles final at the 2016 US Open was well worth the two week wait as two players at the top of their form, with very different games, clashed in Arthur Ashe Stadium in NYC.

Not surprising was the nervous start from Karolina Pliskova.  The Czech 10th seed, appearing in her first final at this level, was first to serve, and began with a double fault.  A volleying error presented Kerber with two break points - an ace saved one, but a poor forehand gifted the second seed a break of serve straight away.

Pliskova attacked the Kerber forehand, forcing errors and creating a break back point, but the same forehand was responsible for three winners in the game, one which saved the break.  

The next six games went with serve, and not many opportunities were provided for the receiver.  Pliskova had settled and was hitting several winners, while Angie was doing what she does so well, keeping her mistakes to an absolute minimum, while still penetrating with her lethal forehand.

At 3-5 , Karolina needed to at least hold on and force Angie to serve for the set - at 30-30 though she delivered a double fault, the first since the opening point of the match.  Kerber had a set point which she used enthusiastically, belting a typical forehand winner for a 6-3 lead.

Set one was good - not as good as the second where the standard rose, and Karolina Pliskova proved that she belonged in the elite class. The Czech serve was on song, and even Kerber could hardly win a point once the first delivery hit the mark.  No break chances came the German way.
Angie came to the net once without success - Karolina was there 14 times, only once losing the point while visiting.
Two break chances materialised, and in the seventh game, those trips to the net realised dividends, two winners key to the only break of serve in the set.

Pliskova served out a 6-4 gem to level the match, and send a real challenge to Kerber.

The first two games of the decider were comfortable holds of serve, but it was Pliskova who made the first significant move in the third game.  A Czech backhand winner and two forced errors from the German backhand, formed the basis of a service break, coming after the first break point had been saved.  2-1 to Karolina

Angie struck back as most thought she would.  After two relatively simple holds, one by each player, Pliskova at 3-2 could not maintain her advantage. In a game where every point was decided by an errant final shot, the final shot of the game was a Czech mistake, deleting the hard fought early edge.

Kerber seized the situation, and held serve to take the numerical lead 4-3, although the games were on serve.  Pliskova equalised at 4-4 and in her attempt to do likewise for 5-5, she was welcomed with a sizzling Kerber forehand winner.
The rest was a trio of unforced errors from the Pliskova racquet, the final forehand misfire confirming a 6-3 4-6 6-4 victory to Angelique Kerber.

The first US Open win for Angie gives her the first and last majors for 2016, and the legitimacy sought by anyone displacing Serena Williams from the number one ranking spot, which will become official on Monday.

Karolina Pliskova performed admirably in her Grand Slam debut final, and with her weapons - the first serve is extremely intimidating, and may well have blown any other player off the court in this final - she is poised to play a major role in Grand Slam tournaments in the future.  This was a huge step forward from someone who had in the past never progressed beyond the third round.

Kerber is the real deal and is intimidated by no one, safe in the knowledge that she has a game which suits all surfaces - clearly hard courts are best, but grass is also ok, as evidenced by the Wimbledon final, lost to Serena Williams but not without a decent contest.

Djokovic v Wawrinka blockbuster awaits

Novak Djokovic played in all four Grand Slam tournament finals in 2015 and in three of them his opponent was Swiss.  He defeated Roger Federer at Wimbledon and in New York, but fell to Stan Wawrinka in Paris.

This year he has waited until New York to be challenged in another major final by Switzerland, and Stan will be the man this time.

Novak opened his semi final against Gael Monfils in workmanlike fashion, which was more than sufficient to leave the French 10th seed floundering at 0-5 and 0-30.  The embarrassment of losing a set to love was avoided in the sixth game thanks to three aces and a couple of winning forehands, one of the aces saving a set point.

The momentum of finally registering on the scoreboard flowed into the next game for Monfils when he broke the Djokovic serve.  Strictly that is incorrect - the top seed did it all himself.  At 40-0 with three set points,  Novak capitulated, mostly thanks to a treble of double faults and his lead was trimmed to 5-2.

A second attempt to serve out set one was more successful for Djokovic, but only after two break points were saved through donations of backhand errors from Monfils.
First set to Djokovic, a shakier version at the end than the sharp one who had begun.

Set two was a chance for Djokovic to stamp his authority on proceedings which is a popular phrase to use but an action never literally undertaken.  Gael assisted by at times contributing possibly the most disinterested, uncompetitive displays of tennis I've witnessed at this stage of a major tournament.

The pressure placed on Djokovic towards the end of set one was released, allowing the Serb to hit 10 winners and hardly make a mistake, while breaking the Monfils serve seemingly at will.  Trailing 6-3 6-2, the apparent lack of 100% effort from Monfils during parts of the set was not lost on the crowd, sections of which voiced the disapproval.

As if shamed into action, the tenth seed played a third set which worried the defending champion, enough to turn a 0-2 deficit into a 5-2 lead.  Djokovic even had to save a set point which would have meant losing six straight games.  
Monfils himself overcame 0-40 when serving for the set, and he won back the crowd, and won 6-3.

In highly humid conditions, Monfils wilted first in set four, but at 3-1 Djokovic failed to consolidate the break, a double fault dissolving any advantage.  However, Monfils was pretty much spent, and the final three games of the set went to Djokovic, errors flowing from the French racquet, not forgetting some sublime stuff from Djokovic in readiness for yet another US Open final.
A win to the top seed 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-2.

Kei Nishikori, the tournament's sixth seed, continued his impressive US Open with a first set consisting of quality ground strokes and a first serve percentage sufficient to prevent the powerful game of third seed Stan Wawrinka from taking control.

There was little between the two, and it was just the fifth game, where a double fault from Wawrinka, plus some effective working over by Nishikori of the Swiss backhand, resulted in the only service break for the set.
At 6-4, the money would have been slightly with Nishikori to reach the final.  That perception was confirmed once Kei broke Stan in the opening game of set two, then held for 2-0.

Enter a new Stan Wawrinka.  Hitting plenty of winners, and taking toll of a far less effective Japanese serve, the Swiss number one broke back immediately, and kept the pressure on Nishikori to play catch up, waiting patiently until the twelfth game to pounce again. Serving to stay alive in the set, Kei was the victim of a winning Wawrinka forehand more than once, and coupled with a few of his own mistakes, he surrendered 5-7.  The match was level.

Stan raced to 4-1 in the third but Kei wasn't done with, fighting back for 4-4.  At 4-5, and as in set two, serving to stay in the set, Nishikori saved one break point, but Wawrinka forced a second volleying error and grabbed a 4-6 7-5 6-4 lead.

That was the tipping point, and Stan motored through what would be the final set, winning almost twice as many points as Kei, and breaking the Nishikori serve three times, while dropping his own just once.  The sixth seed only managed one clean winner for the fourth set, but 12 unforced errors assisted him in his demise.

Stan Wawrinka earned a chance to win his third Grand Slam title and first US Open, winning the semi final 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-2. 
His final against Novak Djokovic promises to be a thriller.