Thursday, 31 March 2016

Novak and Vika set to repeat ?

The final women's quarter finals were played in Miami and the favourites did as expected.  Angie Kerber insisted that Madison Keys hand her keys to Key Biscayne back after her convincing 6-3 6-2 win.

Kerber was able to handle the previously dangerous American serve with excellent returning, while holding her serve consistently, requiring no aces and being broken only once from just two break points created by Keys.
Angie is now back to her Australian Open winning touch and her semi final with Vika Azarenka should be riveting viewing.

Vika is the form player on the WTA Tour at present, and rightfully will start favourite for the semi final, seeking revenge for the quarter final loss to Angie in Melbourne, and aiming for the Indian Wells Miami double, achieved last by a female player in 2005 by Kim Clijsters and by only one other woman - Steffi Graf - in 1994 and 1996.

Vika, seeded 13 for this tournament, but guaranteed a ranking jump to at least five after she leaves Florida, emphasised the gap between the elite women in the sport and the improvers such as Britain's Johanna Konta.  Konta has made giant strides this year, starting with the first Grand Slam title in Melbourne, but could not compete with Azarenka this time, losing out 4-6 2-6.

To be fair, the first set was fairly even, with just the one break of serve, and Konta having a number of chances.  Vika just knew how to win the important points and after taking the first set she shifted up several gears which for the moment Johanna doesn't possess.

Azarenka doubled her success rate with points won on second serve, and won twice as many points as Konta for the set overall.  A gentle approach to winning in set one suddenly became a desire to kill in straight sets, and that is what is likely to face Kerber.

Two men's quarter finals also were on display for the crowd, and Belgian David Goffin, seeded 15 met 18th seed Gilles Simon from France in the first of these. Fresh from pummelling Pouille in the round of 16, Simon was delighted to continue his latest hobby on Goffin in set one, 

Despite a less than impressive 51% first serve success, and having to save six break points, Simon won enough of the rallies to confound most of the stats and win the most important one 6-3.

However, Goffin has had a habit of coming from behind in recent weeks to capture important wins and he didn't fail the test today, dominating Simon to win the final two sets 6-2 6-1, this time converting 5 of his six break points.

The other quarter final from the top half of the draw played out as predicted, and it was notably Novak Djokovic playing his best tennis for the tournament so far.  Sadly for Tomas Berdych it had to be his quarter final in which the top seed decided to release some of his better shot making and artistry.

Leading into this clash, Djokovic had won the last 9 head to head, and 22 of 24 all time.  Berdych had never won on hard court against Djokovic, so this would be a first.  And of course it wasn't.  10 in a row and apart from a few glimpses of Berdych brilliance, it was direction predicable.

6-3 6-3, but the second set was more dominant.  Djokovic created five break points on the Czech serve and broke twice - the Serb serve did not face a single break chance.
The Djokovic first serve percentage rose from 57 to 75 set one to set two.  He won all points on his second serve in set two.

Overall in set two the world number one won about 80% of points while serving, compared with Berdych 50% on his booming delivery.  This is the kind of returning of serve with which Goffin will need to deal, should he be entertaining thoughts of a final appearance.

Tomorrow sees the other two men's quarters - Nishikori v Monfils (my guess the steadier Nishikori to win) and Raonic v Kyrgios (Raonic firepower an edge heavier and should prevail)

The women's semis are also scheduled on a huge card and I think Timea Bacsinszky may outgun Sveta Kuznetsova, while Vika Azarenka is unstoppable and will win a great three setter against Angie Kerber.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Thiem worries Djoker while Bacsinszky flies Swiss flag

Novak Djokovic may have beaten Dominic Thiem 6-3 6-4 in the Miami fourth round but he had to fight harder than ever to achieve this victory and Thiem could have, with an ounce more experience, won the encounter of many extended rallies and increased respect for the Austrian.

Djokovic's early 3-0 lead was merely a scoreboard dominance because it was just a single nervous service failure from Thiem that flattered the world number one; thereafter Thiem held comfortably with heavy and cleverly placed groundstrokes, while Djokovic manufactured his service holds amid scrambling unconvincing saves of break points, usually waiting for an Austrian error to assist.

Somehow throughout the Serbian crisis, Novak didn't lose his nerve or serve, and held onto the early break to take the solid gold first set, but the Florida crowd was loving the quality of what Thiem was throwing at Djokovic, and imagining what he may provide in the clay season on a surface upon which he thrives even more.  Reminds me of a young Nadal and how he just was a natural to eventually capture Roland Garros, and it happened. (several times to hammer home the point).  Dominic Thiem is a similar fit for a French Open to fall his way, and it could well be his turn to deny Novak in Paris in 2016. 

Djokovic saved all 8 break points created by Thiem in set one, while converting 1 of the only 2 he saw.
Set two and the top seed was up the early break, but Thiem actually converted one of seven more break chances in this set to tie the games at 3-3.  Novak was better at returning the Austrian delivery though and broke again to have 5-4 and the chance to serve for the match.

Not so simple, and it wasn't until a number of saved break points and 13 minutes later that Novak Djokovic finally dispensed with a particularly impressive young 14th seed, and the world's best was one of the first to applaud Dominic Thiem off the court.
Fourth round matches between these two in the future will no doubt be a rarity as encounters will be more likely to be semis or finals once Thiem's ranking is in the top few which seems assured.

Other men's fourth round matches included a quality three setter between 7th seed Tomas Berdych and 10th seed Richard Gasquet, Berdych finally denying us future enjoyment of the attractive French backhand, at least for this tournament.

Later, the Murray upsetter, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, upset no one else, despite winning an engrossing opening set tie breaker against Gael Monfils.  The French highlight package took charge, winning the final sets comprehensively 6-3 6-3 and booking a quarter final with Kei Nishikori, whose battle with Roberto Bautista Agut was less troublesome.

The quarter final promised between Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios came to fruition following the Australian's good performance against Andrey Kuznetsov and the Canadian trouncing of Damir Dzumhur.  Of course, Damir will still be wearing his smile from the win over Nadal, so the loss to Raonic is somewhat mitigated.

Gilles Simon smashed his fellow French player Lucas Pouille and lucky loser Horacio Zeballos reverted to unlucky loser at the hands of David Goffin who is beginning to relish these Masters events.

Only the two women's singles decided today and those important quarter finals.

Timea Bacsinszky didn't play Miami last year, but is making up for it in a big way in 2016.  Not content with her sensational upset win over third seed Aga Radwanska in the fourth round, she followed up with another come from behind victory over semi finalist from Miami 2015, and 5th seed Simona Halep.  

Instead of the expected semi final between Serena Williams and Aga Radwanska, we have their respective conquerors, 19th seed Bacsinszky and 15th seed Sveta Kuznetsova lining up against each other.

The all Russian affair started off with quarter finalist Ekaterina Makarova on the back foot, Sveta with the early break.  Soon, though, holding serve was irrelevant and once the tie break was reached, each had seen theirs broken three times.  Makarova prevailed comfortably 7-3 in the tie breaker but Kuznetsova achieved an extra service break in each of the second and third sets, to win the semi spot, and continue her long and distinguished career in the top tier of women's tennis.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Serena Shock

What is in the water in Miami ?  First we had third seed Aga Radwanska deciding to lose her fourth round match to Swiss miss Timea Bacsinszky after dominating the first set.  All credit to a brilliant serving and returning performance from Timea in the decider to which Aga was completely stymied.

If this was a surprise, Sveta Kuznetsova had one better to pull on the crowd - she forced Serena to a first set tie breaker, and in one of the most statistically even sets of the year only the ace count saw Serena break free.  The world number one also controlled the tie break to the relief of her fans, and was a set up.

Expect the unexpected is not a phrase associated with Serena Williams all that often but Sveta's second and third sets were worthy of it today.  In winning them 6-1 6-2 the dual Grand Slam champ converted five of eleven break points while Serena was successful in one of two.  Sveta won 64 points to 34 in the final two sets in a smashing just not precedented and questions immediately were raised as to what was wrong with Serena.

Fifth seed Simona Halep had no drama in her straight sets win over Heather Watson, while Watson's fellow country woman Johanna Konta was just as comfortable sending Monica Niculescu back to Romania.

In the match of the day, Garbine Muguruza had set point over Vika Azarenka in an exciting first set tie break, but the experienced Belarusian saved that and collected the next two points as well to win the set.  From there Vika exerted her renowned pressure to set up a clear lead in the second set and look for a quick finish.  She didn't count on a strong Spanish will to fight this one out and before long it was 5-5, and ultimately another tie break. Vika closed the match, winning the tie break seven points to four.  A close match, but still she proved to be the woman to beat in tennis right now.  Yet another clash with Angie Kerber, this time in the semis, may be a Miami highlight to come.  Garbine lost but is finding more of her 2015 form, and may be primed nicely for Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Eager to return to the world's top twenty or higher, Russia's Ekaterina Makarova took the sword 6-1 to Elina Svitolina from the Ukraine, currently sitting in the top twenty, before more decorum in the second set, allowing four games.  Makarova looking good, the 6-1 6-4 win setting up an all Russian quarter final with Kuznetsova.

Madison Keys is setting Key Biscayne on fire.  After sending 9th seed Roberta Vinci on her way, the American destroyed Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3 6-1, and her meeting with 2nd seed Angie Kerber now takes on a new significance.  Angie took her full three sets to overcome Hungary's Timea Babos.

The men's draw was highlighted by a terrific fourth round clash between 9th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from France and 17th seed Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.  Roberto may be ranked lower, but has two titles to his name in 2016 already.
The first two sets were split and the third set deservedly went to a tie break, although Tsonga was surviving on a poor first serve percentage (49% compared to 81% for Roberto)

Bautista Agut won through to the round of sixteen with tie break success 7-3.

Andy Murray had much resistance from Grigor Dimitrov until he sliced him up seven points to one in a set one tie break.  Dimitrov didn't fall away as many thought though and broke the Scot serve straight away in set two, maintaining the advantage throughout, and serving successfully for 6-4 and one set apiece.
Murray, with a generous contribution of unforced errors assisted Grigor in the third set and the second seed exited Miami, further ripping apart the bottom section of the draw, Kei Nishikori at 6 the only single digit seed left in that part.  Monfils is next for Dimitrov.
In fact only Djokovic (1) and Berdych (7) remain as single digit seeds in the top half of the draw. So Miami is wide open for a player outside the regulars to take the title.  But wait, Novak is still there !

Nick Kyrgios was comfortable in victory over US qualifier Tim Smyczek, and with Nadal and Wawrinka gone from that section of the draw, a quarter final against Raonic is a distinct possibility, the Canadian faithfully observing the protocol of booting US players out of Florida, 22nd seed Jack Sock the latest casualty.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Vika and Garbine set up a thriller

Easter Sunday at Miami and Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem brushed aside their opposition to set up a tantalising fourth round match.  The records of both players in 2016 is particularly good.  Of course Novak has been far and away the world's best with a Grand Slam and Masters Title to add to his Doha win.  The 24/1 win loss record was only interrupted by a retirement due to eye infection against Feliciano Lopez.

Thiem has a 24/5 record with 2 titles included amongst the plethora of match wins.  His march up the rankings knows no bounds and should see the Austrian fighting amongst the top players for a spot in the year end ATP Finals.

Other successes in third round encounters were Richard Gasquet against fellow French player Benoit Paire, Tomas Berdych over Steve Johnson and David Goffin dismissing Victor Troiki.

Another French triumph was 18th seed Gilles Simon surprising 11th seed Marin Cilic in three solid sets, while lucky loser Horacio Zeballos has turned his luck to winning, this time knocking out Fernando Verdasco.

The biggest shock was 8th seed David Ferrer losing to yet another French player, 88th ranked Lucas Pouille in a match lasting over two and three quarter hours.  Ferrer had made a final and three quarter finals in his past five Miami attempts but this year wasn't to be.

Coco Vandeweghe's hopes of continuing through a strong tournament, following her great victory over Suarez Navarro, were dashed, as 32nd seed Monica Niculescu provided the American with a two set lesson.

Vika Azarenka's outstanding form hasn't relented and she released a mere three games in reaching round of sixteen.  Garbine Muguruza, whose form has been hard to fathom, found her range at the expense of Nicole Gibbs, thrashing her 6-1 6-0.

If it wasn't for Madison Keys upsetting 9th seed Roberta Vinci, all Americans on singles duty would have exited Miami.  Coming into this big event on the back of only five matches compare with Vinci's twenty, with already a title win, Madison would be elated with the straight sets victory.

Matches to watch out for tomorrow include Azarenka v Muguruza and Murray v Dimitrov.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Stan and Rafa out of Miami

Saturday in Miami was too much for Rafa Nadal after a perfectly normal start to a match against 94th ranked Damir Dzumhur from Bosnia and Herzegovina.  After taking the opening set 6-2, the fifth seed crumbled on the scoreboard and physically, losing the second set 6-4 before retiring at 0-3 in the third.

51st ranked Russian Andrey Kuznetsov enjoyed his biggest career win by sinking Stan Wawrinka's hopes in straight sets to further damage the bottom half of the draw and open it up for Andy Murray, who defeated Denis Istomin later in proceedings.

Two Americans who had been showing consistent form, John Isner and. Sam Querrey, both were shown how to leave Key Biscayne, Isner by fellow American Tim Smyczek (ranked 132 and a qualifier for the main draw) and Querrey by Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.  
Both matches were stretched to three sets.

The expected thrills from the Baghdatis v Kyrgios match didn't come, at least not from Marcos anyway.  Aussie Nick blasted the Cypriot aside in two quick sets, serving 14 aces, breaking five times and losing just three games for the match.
Kyrgios avoided Isner because illness prevented him playing Davis Cup, and he won't need to play him here either, instead meeting Smyczek in the third round.

Other men's matches went according to script, and a Djokovic v Thiem fourth round encounter looks to be on the cards, one to possibly test the Djoker.

The woes of the Swiss were put on hold thanks to a win by Timea Bacsinszky over Ana Ivanovic in straight sets. Her serving was strong, and she managed to take advantage of an average first serve percentage from Ana.

Caroline Wozniacki lost another early round match to continue a frustrating 2016, and in a battle of the left handers, Russian Ekaterina Makarova confirmed the inconsistency that is plaguing the year and career of Petra Kvitova, by removing the 8th seed from Miami.

Meanwhile Serena Williams serenely won through, as did Aga Radwanska and Simona Halep, all without having to resort to a deciding set.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Things heating up in Miami

The Miami tournament is the second consecutive joint WTA and ATP event and hundreds of players trekked from one coast of the States to the other to congregate at Key Biscayne, Florida and participate in the Miami Open (WTA) and Miami Masters (ATP).

As we prepared for a fascinating first Friday (US time) there had been a couple of upsets in women's second round matches.  The biggest was the defeat of 11th seed Czech Lucie Safarova by Yanina Wickmayer from Belgium.  Yet Lucie had only managed two matches this year prior to Miami and both those were losses too so not such a surprise.  Of course the Brussels tragedy had cast a pall over events across the world, and a number of Belgian players including Yanina are contesting here, so her victory must have been bitter sweet.
Heather Watson thrashed Sloane Stephens 6-3 6-0, and the 20th seeded American is hard to figure out, considering her solid start to 2016 with two titles and the look of potential coming to fruition.  Watson, to her credit, has been playing well of late with a title herself, and may have caught Stephens at the right time.  Seriously a 69 ranking is due for a slashing and perhaps it might occur after this event.

Today we saw a couple of the players who could be the next crop of stars, pitting their wares against seeded players.  American Taylor Fritz, the youngest member of the top 100, and qualifying for the main draw, won through to meet 8th seed David Ferrer in a second round encounter, Ferrer having had a bye in the first round as all seeds.

Ferrer had a battle in Set One but served for it at 5-4 only for the precocious Fritz to break and eventually force a tie break in which the Spaniard just snuck home 8 points to 6.  Once the set was his, Ferrer had the comfort he required and raced home 6-1 in the second to win a third round ticket.  Another step in the learning curve for Fritz.

Alexander Zverev, the German sensation, at 18, only 6 months older than Fritz, but just outside the top 50, enjoyed a much more winnable prospect against American 31st seed Steve Johnson.
Serving was the key and unsurprisingly tie breaks decided both sets which comprised the match.  The first set was won in a long breaker 11-9 by Johnson who had shown throughout that he was more capable of winning points on returning the serve of Zverev than vice versa.  He created two break points, whereas the German never threatened.
The prototype now set Johnson simply followed the plan and set two had all the same elements except the tie breaker was over in quicker fashion 7-3.
Zverev nevertheless will be top ten before he finishes his teenage years (my big prediction).

Roger Federer predicted that he was ready for a big year and it started fairly well with a final in Brisbane and a semi final in the Aus Open.  However injury struck and his comeback match here against Del Potro was eagerly awaited.  No - 2016 has hit the previously indestructible Swiss star again with a tummy upset and Miami is over before it started.
So for Roger he is relying on the clay, his worst surface, to kickstart his season and hopefully complete the back half of 2016 with a flourish.  Add to the challenge no matches since January and he is nearing 35 - if Federer meets this huge test, even if it doesn't include winning big titles, but just competing at the highest levels coming from ground zero, it will rate as one of his greatest achievements.  

The irony of Roger's withdrawal came when Del Potro, expected to ease through to the third round without the worry of the third seed, lost in straight sets to lucky loser in qualifying, and fellow Argentine Horacio Zeballos. (His first main draw win of the year)

No drama for the top seeds (ex Federer) in the men's draw - the early exits were courtesy of Feliciano Lopez (seeded 21) to a qualifier, Jeremy Chardy (28) to Fernado Verdasco who is far better than his current ranking, and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (32).

More interest with the women and 6th seed Carla Suarez Navarro whose terrific form was belied with a loss to American Coco Vandeweghe who served the Spaniard off the court, especially in the second set.  The win was most impressive, helped no doubt by the poor first serve percentage contributed by Carla.

The Pliskova sisters exchanged fortunes with high performing Karolina, seeded 17, losing out to hungry Hungarian Timea Babos in a three set thriller.  Kristyna, ranked 101, played five games before at 4-1 her seventh seeded Swiss opponent Belinda Bencic retired.
Other seeds removed in second round matches, after a first round bye were:
Venus Williams (10), Errani (14), Jankovic (18), Pavlyuchenkova (25), Mladenovic (27) and Lisicki (29)
One player relieved to survive is fourth seed Garbine Muguruza who defeated Dominika Cibulkova in a great match after dropping an opening tie breaker.

The late matches scheduled for Court One on Saturday are the ones to which I'm looking forward.  Nick Kyrgios v Marcos Baghdatis in a battle of the Cypriot who is finding some of the form which saw him through to the 2006 Aus Open and the outrageously talented Aussie whose non-tennis silliness has been overemphasised to the point of nearly blanketing his tennis achievements in 2016.
And Serbian Ana Ivanovic (seeded 16 and unpredictable - 7/6 match winning record in 2016) v Swiss Timea Bacsinszky (seeded 19 and unpredictable - 5/7 match winning record in 2016)

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Prize money whingers - be thankful !

I've spoken my piece on prize money for men and women in tennis before and since it has raised its ugly head again I will once again put my two cents worth forward.

For all that he may have done to promote men's tennis, the dark age sexist remarks of Raymond Moore (CEO Indian Wells Tennis Garden):
“If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport",
don't deserve a response other than to comment that both Federer and Nadal couldn't give a euro for women's tennis - they only have self interest at heart. 

However it does highlight the egotistical precious need for the male to be the more important gender, that colours so much of the debate surrounding the prize money bickering promoted in the tennis world.

Everyone - sorry all males - were happy and silent until the threat of equality sneaked up on them and wham bam ! they were clobbered by the women being payed the same prize money at the US Open in 1973.  The Australian Open tried it in the eighties and a couple of other times but made it policy from 2001 and Roland Garros and Wimbledon joined the 'terrible' road to equilibrium in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Well this kick to the manhood of men's tennis was not received particularly kindly.  Just imagine - continuing to be paid horrendously huge cheques for just turning up at tennis matches but at Grand Slams knowing that these lesser beings wearing skirts and serving at lesser speeds were also receiving money at the same obscene rates.
Something needed to be done.  

So the old school arguments rolled out as they continue to, with nothing jazzy or groovy added to the tired old premise that 'we play best of five sets and you girlies only play best of three, so we deserve more prize money because we work longer'.

And yes that is true, in Grand Slam tennis it requires three winning sets to claim victory for men, and just two for women - they are the rules.

I have watched tennis at all levels for many years and I pay for entertainment irrespective of length of matches.  I am satisfied far more from a two set tussle such as the 2008 US Open final between Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic or the three set classic 2010 Aus Open final between Serena and Justine Henin than some of the boring four and five setters that we witness between the men that we just wish would finish so we could move on to more interesting fare such as watching the roof over Rod Laver Arena open or the Wimbledon grass to grow

The point is reward for entertainment, and this is via the skills which the best players have in spades.  Don't just pay for hitting more balls at each other because we have a limited capacity for shifting eyes from one end of the court to the other hour on hour. In fact women at Grand Slam events are more efficient in determining match results - maybe that's a positive thing ? (Another discussion for another day)

Just consider athletics - how should we weight the prize money for an elite sprinter such as Usain Bolt.  He doesn't run as far as world record Kenyan marathon runner Denis Kimetto.  Based on the spurious tennis argument Bolt must be receiving far less money for his paltry 9 or so seconds of effort.

In short this paragraph would rate far less because of the fewer words taken for it to finish than others which may have been longer but less riveting.

Finally, I am not suggesting that men's tennis is less entertaining or worthy than women's. My enjoyment of any tennis tournament that I attend can never be prejudged, but mostly it has been enjoyed gender balanced and so on that basis I cannot find a fair argument for women's prize money to be diminished in comparison to men, or vice versa.

One thing is certain - the length potentially played should never be tied to dollars in prize money.  If that was to be applied fairly then it should be done to the letter, or rather the number.  Dollars received based on total minutes on court per tournament.  Bad luck if you win too quickly !

Monday, 21 March 2016

Vika & Novak - Rulers of the desert

The singles finals at Indian Wells were filled with memorable moments but the matches didn't last all that long and were for the most part one sided.

Vika Azarenka, who had managed a 4-17 record against Serena, pretty commendable compared with others, set about her task in the Californian desert with the best preparation possible and it worked wonders in the first set.
The Azarenka serving efficiency was as good as Williams in almost all departments, but the one area which ultimately decided the first set was Vika's determination to save break points which Serena inevitably created - all five.

The single break point on a Serena serve was gleefully converted and that break gave Vika 6-4 and the sort of head start she must of been pining for.  Her wildest fantasy couldn't have expected the 4-0 second set advantage that she saw on the scoreboard only a matter of minutes later.

Vika had a first serve % at around 60 which was consistent with the first set, and whenever the initial delivery made it into court she was winning every point.  Serena was only accurate with half of her first serves, enabling the Azarenka return to become more potent.

At 5-2 and so close to the title, nerves kicked in, coupled with the innate Williams determination not to just fade away.  The break was decisive, as too the hold of serve for 5-4 and Vika needed to serve again for the win.  This she did, surviving a couple more break points, proving the better player on the day and denying Serena in a big final, just as Angie Kerber had done in Melbourne.  

Back in the top ten where she belongs, this shouldn't be the end of the rise for Azarenka whose realistic goal must be her former number one spot.
Serena is still the most dangerous women on a tennis court - don't be fooled.

The final final was effectively an exhibition of how to play tennis as it was never meant to played by mere mortals.  The demonstration was kindly given by Novak Djokovic and his victim Milos Raonic.

Although the Canadian's big serving weapon was slightly off during the final, credit has to be given to the best returner in the game who broke Raonic in the very first game and once later in the first set - he won 13 of 16 points off the second serve.

Including the first set of the Nadal semi, Novak had taken tie breaks to win three successive sets.  The last two, including this one, had been 6-2 6-2, suggesting he lights it up at the money making stages of tournaments.

He more than lit it up in set two after Milos took what appeared to be a medical break - it might have been more a psych adjustment because Djokovic can have that effect on his opposition these days with what he can do to any game plan with a single shot.

6-0 was the second set scoreline, and it accurately reflected how the top seed had raised his game to a different stratosphere.  Raonic was a mere spectator, as I fear anyone would have been under these circumstances - even Sampras at his best may have struggled.

Djokovic converted 3 of the 8 break points he created, won all 14 points on the Canadian second serve, won 80% of his own first serves (which landed 73% of the time) and 62% of his second deliveries. He conceded no break points and was only out-aced 4 to 2 for the match.

That is 5 titles in the desert now for Djokovic and he was gracious to concede that Raonic was below his best, something normally reserved for losers speeches.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Novak and Milos set up Indian Wells finale

Men's semis at Indian Wells began with big serving Canadian 12th seed Milos Raonic against giant killer 15th seed Belgian David Goffin.  Raonic served well in the first set with 70% first serves and winning all but three points when they landed.  Goffin did manfully to handle the bombs that were thrown at him, and despite not creating a break point on Raonic's serve, only gave up one of his own.  Sadly Milos grabbed it and effectively that was Set One over.  6-3.

So often through the tournament Goffin fought back and the second set belonged to him, breaking Raonic twice.  The Canadian only won a single point of eleven tries with his second serve and the Belgian cashed in. 6-3 the other way.

Set three was almost identical to the first with the Raonic serve impeccable, and Goffin needing just one failure for the 12th seed to once again pounce for the break, the set and the match 6-3 3-6 6-3. 
He now would await the winner of the second semi - Nadal v Djokovic.

Djokovic and Nadal opened with a 24 stroke exhilarating rally which the top seed finished with a slashing winner.  If this was a precursor to the quality of the rest of the match then this would be a classic.
Nadal held serve and the remaining points were less than thrilling, although Rafa seemed ready for this clash.

Novak played an awful service game, including two successive double faults and Rafa was up a break.  Despite an immediate break back, it was Nadal making most of the play through the first set, with Djokovic strangely willing to play within himself and safe rather than attack with the flair that has taken him so far ahead of the rest.
Nadal even had a set point which was saved by a desperate Djokovic who happily reached a tie break.
This was where the number one showed his best and soon was leading 5-2.  Nadal lifted and it was back to 5-5 before Novak cleaned up the last couple of points and claimed the set 7-6.
The set could easily have gone the other way but now Djokovic had some freedom to let his racquet swing a little easier.

It took a few games but Djokovic eventually displayed precisely why he is supreme with some textbook backhands, lobs and drop shots and other shots which textbooks have yet to describe.
Nadal, without dropping away to much in actual match play, could not compete on the scoreboard and the set was over quicker than deserved.
Djokovic won 7-6 6-2 and now had the Canadian mountain to overcome in order to defend his title.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Champions to the fore at Indian Wells

Some terrific quality matches on Friday, Californian time, at the Indian Wells tournament, beginning with the Rafael Nadal / Kei Nishikori quarter final.  Although Nadal managed to win in straight sets, he was stretched beyond what the scoreline may suggest.  
In a high class battle Nadal had to stave off six break points of the seven created by Nishikori in the first set, whereas Rafa converted both of his two chances.  And that basically determined the 6-4 Spanish lead. The crowd was treated to more delightful shot making in the second set, but Kei was unable to shift the momentum gained by Nadal and the 6-4 6-3 result saw Rafa through to the semi finals, leaving one spot left.

World number one Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man he defeated to win his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 2008, fought a battle royale with Djokovic successful but not without a few scares.
An early break of the French serve, and a number of chances to add a further break, gave Novak plenty of confidence that Set One would comfortably be his.  However Tsonga played some wonderful crosscourt winners to break the Serbian serve at 5-4 and in the eleventh game more of the same to save break points on his own serve.
Suddenly Djokovic had to hold serve to send the set into a tie breaker.
As if someone turned a switch on, the world number one raced through the tie break with some of the shots we expect of him.
7-6 and looking the winner once more.
Set two took a different turn with Tsonga achieving the early break.  Slightly perturbed at this Djokovic broke back in the fourth game with some slices of brilliance and ultimately another tie break was ordered, despite a couple more failed break attempts from the Serb.
A replica of the first tie breaker and the match was over 7-6 7-6 to Djokovic.  Depending on which way you view it, this was either an ideal hit out for the semi against Nadal, or Novak would need to lift in several areas to expect a win against a much better looking Spanish player than we had been used to seeing in 2016.

The first women's semi final was another (10th) attempt by new world number two Aga Radwanska to register a win against Serena Williams, and as the first set progressed the impossible seemed at least less impossible than in previous ventures.  The first break was earned by Aga with assistance from error prone Williams and at 4-2 a second break was ever so close.  Once Serena avoided that problem her regular game clicked into gear and any chance of a first set triumph for Aga was extinguished.
6-4 to a revitalised world number one.

0-3 in the second and things were forlorn for Aga but the change cometh, 3-3 was set upon us and a further break of the mighty one's serve brought Radwanska to the service line to deliver at 6-5 for the second set.
Serena would have none of this, having Friday night plans, none of which included a third set; she broke back with brilliance and treated the tie break as practice, losing a mere single point and winning the match 6-4 7-6.

Vika Azarenka played Karolina Pliskova to decide Serena's opponent in the final and the opening set was evenly matched with a break of serve apiece, although the standard of tennis was not to the level of the previous semi.  Vika stepped things up once the tie breaker commenced and her experience proved pivotal in taking the first set 7-6.

The unexpected occurred quickly as Karolina dominated the second set.  Vika was her own worst enemy, a woeful 36% 1st serve and losing every point on her second serve.  Pliskova took full advantage and with 6-1 the match was even.

However, Vika steadied as champions do and with a first serve % back at a remarkable 85, her game lifted accordingly and she broke twice to win the set 6-2 and make the final for a chance to give Serena some sweet revenge.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Vika coming - watch out !

Remaining quarter finals in the women's draw and the first two men's quarter finals were the major highlights for tennis fans at Indian Wells today and each match lasted only two sets.

Milos Raonic definitively ended the fine tournament of Gael Monfils, so much so that he further presents a real threat to the likely finalist from the top half of the draw - Djokovic or Nadal - should he make it to the last two.

David Goffin knocked over another Grand Slam tournament winner in Marin Cilic, and despite the ominous form of Raonic, does not appear to want to stop here.  
Cilic will be kicking himself for days over conversion of break points in the first set - 1 out of 12 - Interesting semi final upcoming.

The bottom half of the women's draw has been littered with top seeds dropping out early and the two quarter finals featured 18th seed Karolina Pliskova against young unseeded Russian Daria Kasatkina.  Pliskova said her farewells from Indian Wells to Daria on the same day she booked a place in the doubles final, with a straight sets lesson.  However I somehow believe that Kasatkina will be fighting longer for this and other big trophies in the future.

Former world number one and number 13 seed Vika Azarenka sounded a warning for this title and well beyond by surrendering no games to Magdalena Rybarikova and setting up a semi final with Pliskova.  It will be markedly tougher against the Czech player but I can't see Vika missing the opportunity of facing off against the winner of Serena and Aga (which I expect to be Serena)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Closing in on another Rafa-Novak clash

Round of sixteen for the men at Indian Wells and for the most part it was seed against seed. Surprisingly, the higher seed was defeated in the early matches with Richard Gasquet surrendering to Marin Cilic in a high standard three setter, Milos Raonic's big serve prevailing over Tomas Berdych's big serve in two tough sets, and the biggest upset of the day - 

David Goffin grabbing only his second win over a top ten player, this one third seed Stan Wawrinka.  It took a tie break in the third set after failing to do it when serving at 5-3 but it happened and now the quarter final will be Cilic v Goffin.

The fine form of Monfils continued as he finished off Murray's conqueror Delbonis, to set up a quarter final against Raonic.

Meanwhile Djokovic dismissed Lopez in straight sets, playing his best tennis of the tournament, and Nadal saved a match point against Zverev, the 18 year old coming back from a 0-6 second set only to miss an easy shot which would have given him an amazing victory.

Djokovic will face Tsonga in the quarters after the French 7th seed breezed past Thiem rather more easily than expected.
Nadal will need to overcome Nishikori if he is to have a chance at avenging the Doha humiliation handed out to him by Djokovic earlier this year.
Nishikori lost the first set to Isner 6-1 but came back to win two tie breaks and just survive.

Serena defeated Simona Halep in one women's quarter final in straight sets and Aga Radwanska did similarly against Petra Kvitova in the other quarter played today.
So no surprises delivered to us on the WTA tour in the top half of the draw.
Serena v Aga in one semi, a replay of their clash in the Aus Open.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Indian Wells - Day 7

Third round matches at Indian Wells included a straight sets win for John Isner over Adrian Mannarino and the rich vein of form continues for the American.  Kei Nishikori also needed just the two sets to overcome 30th seed American Steve Johnson, but this was not as easy, tie breakers required in each.  Isner v Nishikori in the round of 16 should be a beauty.
The exciting result for tennis was the German teenager Alexander Zverev taking another seed out of the event.  He gave 16th seed Gilles Simon a hiding 6-2 6-2 and at this rate his ranking of 58 will shrink very quickly and he could well become the youngest player in the top 20.  The next challenge will be tougher - Nadal who showed some of his very best in a 6-0 first set trouncing of compatriot Fernando Verdasco before winning 6-0 7-6. 
After splitting two tight sets, Dominic Thiem ran away with the final set to eliminate American Jack Sock from the tournament, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took care of another American Sam Querrey without too much trouble.

In another all Spanish battle, Feliciano Lopez defeated Roberto Bautista Agut in an epic three setter 7-6 (5) 6-7 (10) 6-4.
Novak Djokovic took just the two sets to show Philipp Kohlschreiber the exit gate, still without being at his best.

Fourth round for the ladies, and Jelena Jankovic was serving for a 4-2 lead before Aga Radwanska put her skates on and raced to a 6-3 6-3 win.
Petra Kvitova again had her supporters biting their nails, dropping the first set to surprise packet Nicole Gibbs.  Her better all court game rescued the 8th seed and Petra joined Aga in the quarters, in fact to play her.
Samantha Stosur won her first service game to lead Vika Azarenka 1-0 but proceeded to lose the next six games and the set 6-1.  The momentum shifted in the second set and Stosur broke the Azarenka serve to lead 2-0 maintaining that break through to the end of the set which she won 6-4 requiring a decider.  
Azarenka was able to steady, and quickly was 3-0 in the third and won 6-1 4-6 6-1.

Simona Halep and Magdalena Rybarikova  both won matches through opponents retiring, Rybarikova's win seeing 9th seed Vinci leaving Indian Wells.

Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina upset 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky and in straight sets to move into the quarter finals.  Russia, as seen in the past, is appearing to cultivate another generation of female players likely to give the top twenty a hammering.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Murray makes early exit from California

After a fairly predicable Sunday, Indian Wells produced an immediate upset on Day 6 with 7th seed Belinda Bencic being shown the door by 97th ranked Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova. Bencic appeared untroubled with a one set lead but Rybarikova struck back hard to take the next two and make the round of sixteen.
Meanwhile in a match expected to go either way, Czech Karolina Pliskova embarrassed Ana Ivanovic 6-2 6-0, winning twice as many points for the 'match'.
Vinci and Konta dispatched Svitolina and Allertova respectively and easily.

Bacsinszky and Stosur both won in three sets after stirring comebacks from Bouchard and McHale respectively.  McHale had a firm grip on the match, leading 3-0 in the third before Stosur belied her habit of falling in a heap and clinched the match 6-4 2-6 6-4.  Her good run will most likely end at the hands of Vika Azarenka in the fourth round.

But the shock of the whole tournament to date was the defeat of the men's number two seed Andy Murray by Argentina's 53rd ranked Federico Delbonis.  Federico won the first set before the Scot awoke and drew level, and most pundits thought that momentum and class would see Murray prevail, especially leading 4-1 in the decider.  However, Delbonis not only fought back but at 5-5 broke Andy's serve again and served for the match.  Predictably Murray managed to break back and a tie break was required.  Amazingly Federico dominated 7-3 to oust Andy 6-4 4-6 7-6. 

Bernard Tomic's wrist injury was bravely endured for a set against Milos Raonic but at 0-3 in the second, he pulled the plug and sadly it seems that the Aussie will also miss Miami in a cruel set-back to his run up the rankings.

In a match of entertainers, Richard Gasquet halted the brilliant 6-2 start by Alexandr Dolgopolov with two excellent sets of his own to reach the fourth round and a clash with Cilic.  

Along with Cilic, other winners were as expected - Wawrinka, Berdych, Monfils and Goffin, the latter having to extract himself from some bother created by Guido Pella.  Unlike for Murray the bother was only losing the first set to this Argentine.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Novak scare but big guns survive Indian Wells Sunday

The conclusion of men's second round and top half of the women's third round matches highlighted Day 5 at the Indian Wells tournament in California and Aga Radwanska was in no mood for another near exit as experienced with Cibulkova.  She whipped Monika Niculescu (figuratively I stress) in quick time 6-2 6-1 to set up a fourth round encounter with Jelena Jankovic who absolutely belted (again not literally) Coco Vandeweghe 6-0 6-1 in what was expected to be a close encounter.  Despite a poor 42% first serve record in the first set Jelena was able to outgun her more powerful opponent throughout and the massacre continued in the second set, this time with a much improved first serve ratio.  The Radwanska/Jankovic clash is one to watch out for, based on current form.

Success also rained on men's seeds Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (7) and Dominic Thiem (11) whose opponents were respectively little opposition for the French crowd pleaser, but hard work for the young Austrian who is setting courts alight across the world this year.
Thiem needed two tie breakers to dispense with Slovakian qualifier Josef Kovalik, ranked 182, but the hit out could be just the tonic for Dominic, facing a tough draw, in the Djokovic and Tsonga target area.
Tsonga himself hardly raised a sweat in the Californian heat, imposing his 15 cm taller frame over qualifier and fellow French player Vincent Millot who has been around the traps for many years for not much success.
Loss though for a disappointing Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 23, who consistently is inconsistent and his promises to one day be one of the top few players and grab a Grand Slam title are growing repetitive and lacking in delivery.
His conqueror today though, 18 year old German Alexander Zverev is on the rise with a big serve to worry even the best.

Kei Nishikori was most impressive and his 6-3 6-3 demolition of Mikhail Kukushkin served warning to all including Djokovic that the 5th seed is a serious contender for the title.
A second French player through to the third round is16th seed Gilles Simon, defeating Canadian Vasek Pospisil, inflicting further pain following the Davis Cup round victory last week. Simon gave up only a single game in the two sets he won.  However the match was looking a disaster for him after the Canadian thrashed him 6-1 in the first set.
Another all French affair saw Adrian Mannarino kick out 19th seed Benoit Paire convincingly.  So while the top seeds remained untouched, the lower seeds had been beaten about a bit - so far seeds 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, and 32 all gone in the second round after first round byes. 

Confident after sending Sara Errani packing, Lesia Tsurenko was even more so after taking the first set from qualifier and veteran Kateryna Bondarenko.  Not so self assured when the comeback kid, whose tennis this year has resembled something like her time in the top 30 in 2009, levelled at a set all and held match points in the third set tie breaker.  It took her sixth such opportunity but Kateryna won - her reward a date with Serena.

American qualifier Nicole Gibbs, ranked 95, shocked compatriot and seeded Madison Keys in the second round, and continued her fun at the expense of another giant killer Yaroslava Shvedova. Shvedova, who'd knocked out 11th seed Lucie Safarova, was stunned 6-0 6-4 by Gibbs whose next battle will be with Petra Kvitova.  
The 8th seed won the first set but was then overtaken by 66th ranked Swede Johanna Larsson who led 5-3 in the decider before the 2 time Wimbledon champ decided to cease the folly and play to her ability. Petra won 6-3 4-6 7-5.

Serena Williams was down a break in the first set and Russian Yulia Putintseva served for it, albeit unsuccessfully.  As she has been able to do more often than not the great one salvaged the situation, winning a tie break. The second set was to love.

Finally the best male player on this planet, and probably any other planet to be fair, was  smashed in his first set by an American 6-2. No it wasn't an Isner or Sock or anyone we could think capable of such a feat.  It was 22 year old qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo, ranked 149.  Novak, after suffering the Bjorn Borg Christian name phobia clicked into gear in the second set, winning all but one point on his serve, after only clinching half of them in a terrible opening stanza.  The set was over smartly 6-1 and he was up a break in the decider promptly.  Bjorn wasn't going away just yet, breaking straight back and carrying the crowd with him.  On serve and trailing 1-2 the world's best lost no more games and won his way to a third round meeting with Philipp Kohlschreiber who released just a single game in dismantling another American Denis Kudla.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Indian Wells - Day 4

No problems for the top men's seeds in proceedings at Indian Wells on Day 4 with Richard Gasquet (8) and Milos Raonic (12) decisive winners over Mahut and Cervantes respectively.  13th seed Monfils had more to handle with Spanish 52 ranked Pablo Carreno Busta who pushed the French player in both sets falling just short 5-7 6-7.  
The match of the tournament - Berdych v Del Potro - certainly lived up to the hype in Set One with both players delivering a high standard.  Del Potro stuttered first at 5-6 when facing his initial break point but calmly saved it and a tie break was required.  Through the tie break and beyond, the 6th seed dominated and Del Potro could do little to combat the pressure exerted. Berdych continued the procession of seeds into round three.
2nd seed Andy Murray thankfully shut up about Sharapova and did what he does best, defeating a hard working opponent, this one Marcel Granollers, ranked just inside the top 100, but who had the initial break in Set One and also forced a second set tie break.  Murray of course manufactured a win 6-4 7-6.

Aussie best mates Bernie and Nick had varying outcomes - 17th seed Tomic dispatched American Rajeev Ram in straight sets without any drama apart from dropping serve when serving for the match at 5-3.  24th seed Kyrgios lost the first set tie break to Ramos-Vinolas, a crime for a player with his serve.  He then was broken in the second set,  also having all sorts of trouble winning points off the Spanish serve.
Unable to convert any of the four break points available to him, Nick was exonerated from further singles action at Indian Wells 7-6 7-5. 

For the women, 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky, whose season has been little short of a disaster, managed to sail through her second round match against Pironkova and perhaps the Swiss sensation can live up to her break out season in 2015 from now.
The other Swiss star and 7th seed Belinda Bencic had to fight to survive against American Lauren Davis but escaped in three sets.
9th seed Roberta Vinci was trailing 0-3 in the third before she repeated the Radwanska escape manoeuvre from the day before and won the tie break and match over the Russian 12 years her junior.  Although the vanquished in this match, Margarita Gasparyan continues to impress, and her ranking in the forties should be much lower before long.

The major upset was the ousting of Aus Open champ Angie Kerber, who just hasn't handled things well since her January triumph.  This time she was overcome by 64th ranked Denisa Allertova, another product of the Czech factory which continually churns out female tennis players of the quality enabling them to keep wining the Fed Cup.  Next for Denisa is the rapidly rising Johanna Konta from the UK, another seeded player successfully negotiating her way to round three, thrashing US hopeful Madison Brengle   (Konta had lost all of their previous 3 meetings)

Following Kerber out the door was 4th seed Garbine Muguruza, whose 2016 promised heaps but has delivered nothing.  As opposed to Day 5 the supposed elite have been exposed for their frailties and players such as American Christina McHale are confident of their chances entering matches against the top ten accordingly.  62 ranked Christina smashed Garbine 7-5 6-1.

17th seed Elina Svitolina, like Heather Watson a winner last week, appeared ready to repeat the Watson trick of falling at the first hurdle in California.  German Annika Beck has been in good form this season and from the first game looked competitive, and after edging out Elina in the first set, took total charge in the second, ripping into the Ukranian first serve and retaining command of most points until 5-3 and serving for the match where the wobbles occurred and Elina broke serve to prise her way back into the contest.  Not only did she prise but she tore an enormous hole and jumped through it to claim the second set tie break without loss of a point and win the first five games of the final set.  Svitolina won 4-6 7-6 6-1 while Annika went missing.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Indian Wells - early notes

Tennis is on at Indian Wells, the first big event since the Australian Open, not a Major, but rated the biggest Masters for the men and similarly important Premier for the ladies.  Of course most interest has been off court and centred on Maria Sharapova.

In fact players interviewed after matches at Indian Wells have had more questions Sharapova related than focused on their own fortunes.  Thankfully my curiosity extends to the battle of the racquets in California and although we're only in the middle of the men's first round and the women's second round we have already seen some shock results.

15th and 16th seeds Sara Errani and Sveta Kuznetsova lost their second round matches after first round byes, confirming that the rest did not do them any good.
Lesia Tsurenko from the Ukraine, ranked 36 but winless this year decided to rectify that and Sara was the unlucky straight sets recipient.  The Italian's inconsistent form has seen her impressively win a title in 2016 but lose other matches to opponents much less credentialed.

Coco Vandeweghe, in defeating Sveta, thrilled her home nation and continued her good form from the first round.  This was probably not as much of a surprise result considering the power game of the American and the potential that she has shown periodically.

Third seed Aga Radwanska pulled a Houdini after being 5-2 down in the decider against Dominika Cibulkova, winning the final five games to survive into the third round.  Heather Watson, winner last week in Mexico and through to the fourth round here last year, looked on course again after levelling her match against Monica Niculescu with a 6-2 second set.  However the Romanian showed why she is ranked higher by outclassing the Brit in the final set and advancing further.

The two matches of interest for me in the men's first round so far include the win by Juan Martin Del Potro  6-4 6-0 over American Tim Smyczek.  This one I think the American fans wouldn't mind conceding just to see the comeback of Del Potro continue.  He is ranked 420 but continued fitness will see that dramatically change and for the sake of men's tennis we need him back in the top few.  A salivating second round sees Del Potro facing 6th seed Tomas Berdych.

The other match was a thrill both for the USA and for the tennis world as it was a clash between two 18 year old American young guns Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe.  Fritz has had the headlines and the success with his ranking jumping to 80 in recent weeks.  This time though it was Tiafoe who claimed bragging rights and won through to the second round and a tough assignment - 15th seed David Goffin.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Maria Sharapova career crisis

Was shocked along with the rest of the world when hearing of Maria Sharapova's failed drug test at this year's Aus Open.  I hope that her suspension reflects an error borne of ignorance rather than a finding of deliberate attempts at deriving advantage.

I like watching Maria play - don't like listening to her screaming - but her shot making is delightful and she also displays a fighting spirit when down in matches. Her absence will be a big loss to the WTA Tour.
However she must do her time.

Maria's response to the massive personal and career crisis was dignified and to her credit she carried complete responsibility for the mistake.  Her apology to fans and to tennis in general appeared heartfelt.

Enter the haters, surprisingly at the head of the pack former star Jennifer Capriati whose Twitter attack was a hateful jealous reaction - I was happy for Capriati when she won Aus Opens which I saw live in Melbourne but to expect Maria to lose titles won before the drug was banned is to disappointingly second guess the findings of a case yet to be heard.  Jennifer needs to be more selective in her commentary. Already Maria is suspended pending the decision of the case.

Martina Navratilova was the wise voice from the tennis world calling for individual judgements to wait until all the facts are known and the case formally prosecuted.
Hopefully the decision will be a reasonable suspension enabling a return to tennis for a repentant Sharapova.

Monday, 7 March 2016

WTA wins for Watson & Svitolina

Heather Watson, the number two British player and 84th ranked in the world, completed a terrific week in Monterrey, breaking the Mexican stand off with Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the third set of the final in the unseeded WTA event.
This was Heather's third title and with it her ranking will jump to 53.
Her victory included a win over Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters, but with Wozniacki's poor form perhaps that was not the upset it ordinarily would have been.
Irrespective Heather will be featuring at Indian Wells - her ranking would normally not give her automatic entry, but since she reached the fourth round last year she earned a wild card into the main draw.

Elina Svitolina as second seed performed her duties as the highest ranked player following Sara Errani's inglorious early exit in Malaysia.  Her final with Eugenie Bouchard was eagerly awaited and the Kuala Lumpur crowd was not disappointed.
The first set was so close that a tie break decided its fate.  The Canadian Bouchard prevailed seven points to five.
The remaining sets were similarly tight if not requiring tie breaks.  Elina managed to win the vital points and despite Genie creating break points when Elina served for the match, the Ukrainian won the day 6-7 6-4 7-5

Bernie & Nick - we're proud then embarrassed

I backed Bernard Tomic as he played some terrific tennis throughout 2015 and was lambasted for his off court comments which were basically driven by his father.  Having seemingly ditched his immature approach to media and socialising, the Davis Cup was expected to be a chance to prove himself as Australia's leading male tennis player. He acquitted himself in both matches accordingly.

I also have been a strong supporter of Nick Kyrgios this year, as much as I criticised him heavily last year for wasting his talent with self indulgent loutish behaviour. He has devoted great energy into his tennis with results beginning to match his potential.

Now the two undoubted talents have resorted to an unsightly brawl through media - public and social - acting like naughty 10 year old school boys arguing over a marbles game at recess.

Davis Cup is a team game and whatever you think of each other Bernard and Nick, you do yourselves a disservice by airing your differences to one and all.  Worse still it embarrasses Australia.  The rest of the world must be wondering what in the hell we are doing.  Take a leaf from the book of teamwork, which the Aussie girls in the Fed Cup have read, and apply it to Davis Cup.
No matter how good you may be, there are others who commit to the ethics required and will gladly step up to take your places if you continue this nonsense.

Isner steps up for USA

Despite a fighting performance by Australia in the doubles, especially John Peers in his debut Davis Cup appearance, the Bryan brothers managed to win in five sets, therefore increasing the home teams task from difficult to monumental.  Big serving John Isner had to first be taken down by Bernard Tomic and Sam Groth then win the match of his life against Jack Sock, a player he had once beaten at Wimbledon but at a time when their games were travelling in different form trajectories from today.

Isner jumped from the barriers almost before they opened with Tomic left several lengths at the start.  The American travelled the first few hundred metres claiming the inside running and without needing the whip at any stage.  Tomic couldn't make up the ground, having to run wide for much of the distance and was adrift by two sets at the midway point.

Isner's clear run received a check soon after half distance with Tomic finding the better ground and moving up a couple of lengths, cutting the margin by a whole set.  The crowd rose in anticipation of an historic finish much like Kiwi in the 1983 Melbourne Cup and it was the Australian stallion that looked stronger as they entered the final furlongs.  As he drew alongside the American born and trained entry, Tomic lost stride at the crucial stage and Isner galloped to the line to win the Kooyong Stakes by a comfortable two lengths and sets.
The 3 day Davis Cup Carnival was a success for the American trainer Jim Courier who now had three group one winners and the likelihood of another with the favourite in the next race.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Aus v US & WTA Mexico Malaysia

Today's Davis Cup tie at Kooyong between Australia and the USA did not feature Nick Kyrgios due to a bad virus, and that meant out of form Sam Groth had to face similarly big serving but more accomplished John Isner in the first match.  To no ones surprise the first set went with serve until a tie break was required.  What did raise more a few eyebrows was the number of break opportunities created by Groth.  Isner had the poise to squash these and proceed to take the first set.  Beyond that the contest was effectively over with the American living up to his ranking just outside the top ten.

The USA led the tie 1-0 and pressure was on Bernard Tomic to win his clash with Jack Sock, a player like Tomic seen as future top ten material and with a 3-0 record against the Aussie.
Tomic did his job, winning in four sets, and defying the Channel Seven commentators who constantly attacked his capacity to close out the match following his loss of the third set. It was irritating listening, and sad considering these were Australians not supporting their own, just throwing out unnecessary doubt.

Hard for Australia to win the tie, with the Bryan brothers so powerful in the doubles tomorrow.  Hoping for a surprise, and it could yet depend on Lleyton Hewitt returning from retirement to replace Groth who now has singles duties.

In women's tennis, Monterrey has seen the removal of top seed Sara Errani in the second round, losing to the famous Estonian star Anett Kontaveit, ranked 91 in the world.  The quarter final does have 3 remaining seeds featured, including the number two, Caroline Wozniacki, who prevailed over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, the Croatian born in Germany and living in the US.  Caroline celebrated her first win since it must be when racquets were wooden, and maybe she will be back to some sort of form for Indian Wells.

Kuala Lumpa also has 3 seeds left for the quarters - Svitolina, Lisicki and Bouchard - and each of those has the potential to kickstart a good run and improve their ranking to a previous high.  Especially former Wimbledon finalists Genie Bouchard, currently ranked 52 (career high 5) and Sabine Lisicki, currently ranked 31 (career high 12).