Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Rain prevails in straight sets

With a strategy of constant attack, precipitation was successful in controlling all activity on all courts on Day 9 at Roland Garros, and ultimately registering a memorable, if not universally popular victory

Monday, 30 May 2016

Shelby Rogers rocking Paris

Rain prevented two matches from being completed on Day 8 of Roland Garros 2016.  However, in the six singles matches that were decided, two players managed to take their places in quarter finals to the great surprise of everyone except maybe their most loyal followers.

Milos Raonic had been cruising through all his three matches, without dropping a set, or even being threatened at any point.  However his ship ran aground and was destroyed thanks to Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas.  The score was 6-2 6-4 6-4 and Stan Wawrinka would have been shocked to discover that his quarter final opponent was not going to be Raonic after all.  Still, Ramos-Vinolas won't be taken lightly, no matter how well the defending champion played during his victory over Serbia's Viktor Troicki in four sets.

Shelby Rogers, the American ranked outside the top 100, and responsible for the defeats of Czech seeds Kvitova and Pliskova, claimed another big win to advance to the quarter finals.  The victim this time was 25th Romanian seed Irina-Camelia Begu in straight sets.
Next up for Rogers is fourth seed Garbine Muguruza, whose.immaculate serving exhibition gave Svetlana Kuznetsova no chance.  This is the third year in succession that the Spanish player has made it this far in the RG draw, and her hopes of advancing much further are very real.  Only Serena has displayed any better form this tournament.

Andy Murray is looking increasingly dangerous, as evidenced by his dismantling of big serving American John Isner without concession of a set.  However it won't be Kei Nishikori that the second seed needs to overcome in order to reach the semi finals.
The Japanese fifth seed was outclassed by the last French player left in either mens or women's singles, Richard Gasquet.  The ninth seed had never ventured past the fourth round in over a decade of attempts, so this was a special win.  His tennis has been impeccable, as this and the Kyrgios thrashing prove.  Murray deserves to start favourite but Gasquet has a fair chance of causing an upset.

Simona Halep leads Sam Stosur 5-3 when that match resumes, and she appears to have a couple of extra weapons which will probably prevent the Australian from prevailing.

Aga Radwanska is ahead 6-2 3-0 in her fourth round match with Tsvetana Pironkova and there is only one way that will finish.  Aga will be waiting for the winner of Halep v Stosur.

On Day 9, providing the rain stays mainly on the plain in Spain, and leaves Paris alone, we will be privileged to see Djokovic v Bautista Agut, Ferrer v Berdych, Serena v Svitolina, and Venus v Bacsinsky, and other fun matches to complete the round of sixteen and set the scene for quarter final frenzy.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

French Players have bad day

There had been too much tennis played without interruption by the weather, and so Paris decided that Saturday should be donated a significant dose of rain and a decent thunder and lightning show to emphasise the point.

The nuisance value was more pronounced as Day 7 matches were already in progress on all courts prepared for play.
The most interest was in the second match on Court Philippe Chatrier between Serena the Great and French improver Kristina Mladenovic, the 26th seed.  Serena had won a hard fought first set 6-4, and the second set was high class tennis with both players backing themselves with full blooded hitting during the thrilling rallies, and no holds barred serving, never concerned with the double fault possibility.
A tie break was the appropriate result, but the downpour delayed its start by a couple of hours.
When the sky coordinators grew tired of precipitating over the French capital, and the racquets were again put to a useful purpose, the crowd was treated to a tie break worthy of a set itself, with match points saved by an attacking Mladenovic, and set points wiped out by a desperate Williams.  Winners were deciding the majority of points.  Serena won 10-8 and the match 6-4 7-6, but this was a close match because the French player brought the best out of the top seed, not because Serena was out of sorts.

Match one on Court Philippe Chatrier, proved yet again that Swiss eighth seed Timea Bacsinszky is in the form that propelled her into last year's RG semis, as she eliminated another French player, Pauline Parmentier, from the draw for the cost of just half a dozen games.

Madison Keys, Carla Suarez Navarro, Venus Williams, Kiki Bertens, Yulia Putintseva, and Elina Svitolina all progressed to the round of sixteen to join Serena and Timea.  Venus defeated Alize Cornet, the third loss for a French female singles player from the three playing on the day.
Former RG champion Ana Ivanovic lost to Svitolina, leaving just Serena Williams and Sveta Kuznetsova as former French Open champions left in the draw.  Two other major winners, Venus Williams and Sam Stosur also remain.

Novak Djokovic played his best tennis for the tournament in winning his third round encounter with Brit Aljaz Bedene in three sets.  This followed another French disaster with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga leading Latvian Ernests Gulbis 5-2 in the opening set before being forced to retire through injury.

Dominic Thiem honed his already sharp skills in his victory over Alexander Zverev.  The young German big server won the first set in a tie break but couldn't match the Austrian who won the next three, 6-3 in each.  Without Nadal, this section of the draw is probably now inviting either Thiem or David Goffin to the semi finals.

Goffin had his mettle tested by Spanish clay courter Nicolas Almagro, requiring a fifth set win from the 12th seed.  However, he will be better for that match.
As will David Ferrer after a convincing straight sets win over Feliciano Lopez.  Ferrer is now facing a round of sixteen clash with seventh seed Tomas Berdych.  The Czech player stumbled at first, going a set down, before winning the final three sets against Pablo Cuevas from Uruguay.

Despite a straight sets win over Borna Coric, Roberto Bautista Agut will have his joy tempered with the knowledge that his round of sixteen opponent is Novak Djokovic.

Sunday, Day 8, sees the first of the fourth round matches, and the picks of the bunch are Nishikori v Gasquet and Muguruza v Kuznetsova.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Rafa's injured wrist dominates Day 6

The sixth day of main draw tennis in Paris will forever be remembered not first for any of the on court exchanges, but for the sobering press conference held by 9 times Roland Garros champion Rafa Nadal informing the world of his withdrawal from this year's event.  A wrist injury has robbed an already Federer-less tournament of its biggest name (and that includes even the world's best player, Novak Djokovic).

The hope is that Wimbledon will not also miss the presence of the Spanish number one.

The French Open still continues, however, and the immediate beneficiary of Nadal's misfortune is fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers, who only needed two sets and a game before Mahut retired from their second round match.  Now he has a walkover from Rafa to advance to the round of sixteen.  Rested he will certainly be before he plays the winner of Thiem and Zverev.

Action in third round matches confirmed that Stan Wawrinka was well and truly over his round one wobbles, putting French player Jeremy Chardy to the sword in a straight sets performance enhancing his credentials for a successful title defence.  Probable semi final opponent Andy Murray found his best form of the week too, with a ruthless display against Ivo Karlovic, taking the first five games of the match before the Croatian had time to blink. 

Fifth seed Kei Nishikori was set to record his third consecutive straight sets win after securing the opening two sets against Fernando Verdasco, but it's always been dangerous to count the Spanish players out on a clay court.  With Verdasco, you can never discount him anytime.  Nishikori was forced to a fifth set, and may have let this match slip in years past.  He is a more complete player now, though, and his mental strength assisted him in winning an engrossing battle 6-3 6-4 3-6 2-6 6-4.

Two Americans were also taken to five sets, with mixed results.  15th seed John Isner,  down two sets to one against Gabashvili, stuck at his task and prevailed, taking the final two sets 6-4 6-2.
His compatriot and 23rd seed Jack Sock, wasn't as lucky, losing out to Spain's Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The hype over Gasquet v Kyrgios was not met with the match for which we hoped.  Gasquet was excellent and just made too few mistakes.  He frustrated the Australian, who couldn't punch through the French player's defences.  After easily winning the first set 6-2, Gasquet only gave Kyrgios one chance and that was in the second set tie breaker.  Once that opportunity had passed Nick was resigned to his fate - a straight sets loss to the 9th seed who must fancy his chances against Nishikori in the fourth round.

Elation for the locals was tempered with 16th seed Gilles Simon bowing out in three sets to 22nd seed Serb Viktor Troicki, while Milos Raonic won easily for a third match in succession, his victim on this occasion Andrej Martin.

Of the eight third round matches played in the women's draw, five were taken to three sets, and we lost three players from the Czech Republic.

Fourth seed Garbine Muguruza from Spain, is in ominous form, and wasted little of her Paris social time in overwhelming Yanina Wickmayer 6-3 6-0.
In an all Russian tussle, loud grunter Sveta Kuznetsova kept her dream of a second Roland Garros title alive by tossing aside Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets, and relieving the commentators of significant player pronunciation pressure.

More American mixed emotions - 19th seed Sloane Stephens upset at being upset in two sets by Tsvetana Pironkova from Bulgaria.  Shelby Rogers, however, as high as the Eiffel Tower after smashing 10th seed Petra Kvitova 6-0 twice.  Petra won a tie break in between those first and third set embarrassments, but her marching orders were unaffected.

The Czech Republic, Fed Cup champs as a team, was just having a bad day as individuals, and Lucie Safarova, last year's runner-up to Serena, was ousted by Sam Stosur in three sets.  For once it was the consistency of Stosur's serve which served her well in a victory which puts her into a fourth round clash with Simona Halep.

Halep was in early trouble, losing the first set to Osaka, before she became serious about things and ran all over the top of the ultimately outclassed Japanese player.

Irina-Camelia Begu went missing in the second set, allowing Germany's Annika Beck to level the match, before the Romanian stormed home to book a fourth round clash with Shelby Rogers.  The winner of that will be a surprise quarter finalist - if it is the 25th seed Begu, then one of my tips will have come home.

The third Czech player to leave the tournament was Barbora Strycova, but not before the 30th seed stretched 2nd seed Aga Radwanska to an unwanted third set.  Aga is playing the level of tennis which should take her to a quarter final and possibly beyond.  She plays unseeded Pironkova next.

Day 7 highlights should come from Dominic Thiem v Alexander Zverev and Carla Suarez Navarro v Dominika Cibulkova

Djokovic, Serena, Tsonga, Bacsinszky, Ferrer, and Keys are others to watch on the first Saturday of this year's Roland Garros.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Williams sisters win in sync

As we are only an hour or so away from the first ball being struck with meaning on Day 6 of Roland Garros 2016, I'd better pass some comments on Day 5 proceedings.

Top seed Novak Djokovic and his prospective semi final stumbling block, fourth seed Rafa Nadal, did to their second round opponents precisely what they did in the first round to those poor souls.  They took the minimum three sets with which to dismiss them.  Names for those interested in Paris refuse were Belgian Steve Darcis and Argentine Facundo Bagnis.

Not a good day for those with surnames beginning with Bag, with long time favourite Marcos Baghdatis losing a marathon five setter to an even bigger favourite around these parts, sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Tsonga gave the Cypriot a two set start, just to prove to Andy Murray that he is not the only one with comeback skills.

Serena and Venus took the sister act to new lengths, both winning on the same court, and using the same 6-2 6-1 scoreline to eliminate Brazil's Teljana Pereira and fellow American Louisa Chirico respectively.

All the other mens seeds won through, either in three or four sets, except for 20th seed Aussie Bernard Tomic and Portugal's 26th seed Joao Sousa. (not to be confused with, but always confused with Brazil's Joao Souza, world ranked 189)

Tomic was disappointing, seeming to drop his guard in places after taking the opening set.  Even down two sets to one, he had a terrific opportunity to force a fifth set decider when leading 6-5 in the fourth set tie breaker.  However, with his two serves to come he lost both points, and Croatian Borna Coric served out the set and match.  The 19 year old showed the poise expected of the more experienced Australian, and now Tomic had better lift for the limited grass court season for which he has been impatiently waiting.

Apart from the Williams sisters, Bacsinsky, Keys, Suarez Navarro and Ivanovic were especially impressive with their straight sets performances, while Cibulkova continues her fine clay court form despite dropping the second set against Ana Konjuh from Croatia.  Domi was mad at herself and redemption was to be found in the deciding set, won 6-0.
Not wanting to be seen as one match wonders, Kiki Bertens and Karin Knapp followed up their unexpected wins over Kerber and Azarenka, with straight set wins to shoot them both into the third round.

Disappointment for German hopeful and 28th seed Andrea Petkovic, who lost to one of the very few players representing Kazakhstan, Yulia Putintseva.

Day 6 will feature two Australians on Court Philippe Chatrier - second match is between two former RG runners-up, Samantha Stosur (2010) and Lucie Safarova (2015).  Safarova had a terrible 2016 until Prague a month ago, where she beat Stosur in the final and turned her season around.  Both players are in good touch this week so that should be entertaining.

Then possibly the match of the tournament to date - Richard Gasquet v Nick Kyrgios.
Both players in great form, the crowd loving the French player, but still reserving some applause for the Aussie.  Nick has yet to beat Richard on clay but he did win the last match (on hard court), on the way to his first title in Marseille.

Can Kyrgios defeat the French star on French soil for a second time in 2016 ?
The question may have already been answered by the time you read this.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Andy in five for a second time

Andy Murray scared the living daylights out of his family, friends and fans at Roland Garros on Day 4, which is something he has been doing ever since he arrived in Paris as one of this year's favourites to win the French Open.  Well his displays haven't exactly provided much material evidence to suggest the winner's trophy will be in his hands come next Sunday.
Yet again, he found himself having to win the final two sets to escape embarrassment, this time in the form of a second round exit at the hands of French player Mathias Bourgue, ranked 164, but contributing a performance worthy of a much higher rating.

Still Andy is in the third round, albeit a bit battered and bruised from all the effort asked of him, and desperate for a shorter method to reach the round of sixteen.  Fortunately his next opponent was also on court in his second round match for five sets.  Ivo Karlovic won 12-10 in that elongated decider, and the shattered loser was Australian Jordan Thompson. who had won two of the three tie breakers required before entering the finale.  One thing Andy will be liking is Ivo's desire to decide points quickly, because extended rallies are at the centre of the number two seed's worst nightmares at present.

Gilles Simon was one French favourite who used the five sets to make a monumental comeback.  Down 6-4 6-1 and not looking the best in Set three against Argentine Guido Pella, the crowd stuck with Simon and helped carry him over the line, winning the final three sets.

Gilles was a highlight on a not so good day for France with Caroline Garcia ousted by a sharp second seed Aga Radwanska in straight sets.  While Garcia going was not an upset,  the departure of Lucas Pouille was, especially the nature of his loss in only three sets to Slovak Andrej Martin, ranked 133 in the world.  Pouille has improved his ranking this year through wins over some top players and consistent tournament performances, and was expected to take more advantage of his number 29 seed.

Mannarino was no match for Raonic, crushed in straight sets, but France was hoping for more from 19th seed Benoit Paire, whose Roland Garros adventure was over thanks to a four set disaster caused by Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili.

The local crowd did have plenty to cheer about late in the day, even if there wasn't a French player involved in this match.  For over three and a half hours they witnessed the finest women's singles contest yet at this year's tournament.
American Coco Vandeweghe took the opening set, somewhat surprisingly, against 25th seed Irina-Camelia Begu from Romania.  Begu had been my pre tournament pick to reach the quarters at the expense of Vinci (gone first round), Pliskova (gone first round) and Kvitova (still around and looking ok).  So with Coco a set up and her big serve and neat volleys causing issues for Begu, my tip was in peril.

Then it was the turn of Irina-Camelia to demonstrate using her large box of tricks, and her subtle placement, and ability to accelerate through her ground strokes more than she makes it appear, slightly trumped the power advantage of the American.
After two sets it was a tie break apiece.

No service breaks in the final set until the ninth game when Coco lifted her game.  However Irina-Camelia did likewise when at 5-4 Coco served for the match but was broken right back.  The tennis was of a consistently high standard for round two, and the seeded player, Begu, eventually broke through with her second match point, taking her place in the third round with a 6-7 7-6 10-8 victory

Most of the other women's matches were straight sets wins, with the top seeds and favourites winning through, including Muguruza, Halep, Kvitova, Safarova and Stephens.

Similarly for the men with Wawrinka, Nishikori, Isner, Kyrgios, and a couple of Frenchmen to balance the ledger a bit, Gasquet and Chardy.

Andy Murray may have some temporary respite but his quarter final could be problematic given the form of Nishikori, Gasquet and Kyrgios.  Any of those is his likely opposition in the last eight.
Gasquet plays Kyrgios and the winner of that will be the round of sixteen opponent for Nishikori who should beat Verdasco next up.  Whoever wins that is in the quarter final against Murray if the Scot keeps winning which is highly likely despite his rocky start.

So no guarantees for even the very best players on the Paris clay as we approach quickly the start of Day 5.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

No rain but Vika's pain

Day three of the French Open and Serena must have selected the right prayers because all the pieces were falling into place for her at Roland Garros.  An easy first round win, and her prospective quarter and semi final opponents both gone before we could say bonjour.  Not that we would since there has hardly been a good day's weather all week.

Vika Azarenka, doing her best to overcome a back injury, was forced to surrender to a leg problem against Italian Karin Knapp.  Vika courageously fought the odds to win a second set tie breaker and level the match, but she could barely walk, and pulled the pin at 0-4 in the third,

Not that I had predicted her to reach that point, but Angie Kerber was nevertheless seeded at three to be a semi finalist against Serena Williams, the player she vanquished in the Aus Open final in January.  However, Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands ousted the German in three sets, clearing further the path for Serena, and in the process registering her first success against a top five player.

Andy Murray finally escaped the clutches of 37 year old Czech tormenter Radek Stepanek, but it took 12 games into the fifth set before the second seed claimed a second round spot.  Even Dominic Thiem,  Nadal's likely fourth round opponent, looked less than convincing at a set all and a break down in the third, before flicking a switch and finishing all over the top of Spain's Inigo Cervantes.

Nadal himself thrashed Aussie Sam Groth, losing just three games across three sets.  Djokovic was almost as frugal against Yen-Hsun Lu, giving up just six games on the way to round two.

Others to shine in the mostly drab, but at least dry conditions were Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych, Goffin and Isner, while surprise losses were experienced by South African Kevin Anderson (to the cheers of the French crowd and the racquet of French player Stephane Robert) and German Philipp Kohlschreiber to Soain's Nicolas Almagro.

Good wins also to Venus Williams, Bacsinszky, Cibulkova, Keys, Ivanovic, Cornet and Petkovic.   Disappointment for number 20 seed Johanna Konta, beaten by German Julia Goerges, semi finalist in last weeks Nurnberg event.

More great tennis on offer on day four with Wawrinka, Murray, Raonic, Halep, Radwanska, and Muguruza all featuring.  And the Williams sisters playing doubles.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Rainy Paris - with a few tennis interruptions

We have seen the completion of two days of play at Roland Garros, or more correctly 2 days of rain interrupted periodically with some tennis.

Out of the racquet exchanges, it has become clear that defence of his title is not just going to be difficult for Stan Wawrinka come the second week - it's monumental from the very first ball toss !  Czech big hitter Lukas Rosol challenged the Swiss third seed big time in the first round encounter, leading two sets to one, before the escape was made by a relieved Stan.  So the expected semi final against Murray is still pencilled in our calendars.

Andy, however, lost his opening two sets of the tournament to enigmatic Radak Stepanek, another Czech representative whose mission in round one was to cause mayhem.  The second seeded Murray has yet to finish his comeback which sees him trailing two sets to one but leading 4-2 and serving next in the fourth set at close of play.  Odds are with the Scot winning in five but if he and Wawrinka are symptomatic of what may be dished up over the next fortnight, then this could throw out a number of pre tournament forecasts.

I thought one of my selected semi finalists was ready to exit the women's draw when Garbine Muguruza dropped her first set.  The fourth seed steadied though and won in three against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

Seeds not so adept in executing round one survival skills, and now looking for something to occupy their time while in Paris - there are plenty of museums and great places to eat that I can recommend - are Italian number 16 and former runner-up Sara Errani, losing to Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, and Czech number 17 Karolina Pliskova, dumped by American Shelby Rogers after winning the first set.

To the growing bonfire of losing seeds we can add number 32 Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, whose conqueror was Japan's Naomi Osaka.  Also gone is the highest seed to fall so far - Roberta Vinci.  The question was not if the 7th seed would lose, but how soon, because her season has been wretched to say the least.  To see her bow out first up to Kateryna Bondarenko was another sad page in the Vinci story for 2016, which starkly contrasts where she was travelling after her semi final win over Serena Williams in the US Open last year.

USA's Steve Johnson was seeded 33 after the 28th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov withdrew following the release of the draw.  However, the unusual seed number lasted but a day, as the American dream was dashed in straight sets by Fernando Verdasco, whose love for the clay is more advanced than Steves.

2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, 10th seed, and Geneva runner-up a few days ago, was the other men's seed to fall in the first two days in Paris, and the biggest tournament shock so far.  His exit was facilitated by Argentine qualifier Marco Trungelliti, ranked 166 with a win/loss record on the ATP Tour this year of 1-2 and on the Challenger Tour of 5-4.  The upset occurred in four sets, convincingly.

Those top male players to have impressed in their first round matches include Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori, French pair Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon, and Canadian Milos Raonic, all sweeping their matches in straight sets.  Doing it the hard way, via the whole five sets were lower seeds Jack Sock and Victor Troicki, the latter outlasting the always promising but not often delivering Grigor Dimitrov.

The women who wasted no time making their mark on the clay were headed by sixth seed Simona Halep and second seed Aga Radwanska, the pair now one step closer to meeting in an exciting quarter final.  Halep won 6-2 6-0 over Japan's Nao Hibino, Radwanska 6-0 6-2 over Serbian Bojana Jovanovski.
Joining Aga on the 6-0 6-2 scoreline was last year's runner-up Lucie Safarova whose Russian victim was Vitalia Diatchenko.

Sloane Stephens and Barbora Strycova made straight sets statements at the expense of Russian Margarita Gasparyan and the Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka respectively, which suggested that their form of 2016 could very well continue far in this event.

One of my outside chances, 25th seed Irina-Camelia Begu, dropped her opening set but sorted her game out promptly to stay alive in the tournament.  American Bethanie Mattek-Sands proved a tough opponent, as she does more often than not at the Grand Slam tournaments, no matter what the ranking comparisons may be.

So after two rainy days, although we still haven't seen Novak, Serena, Rafa, Angie or Vika, there has been lots to relish and plenty to talk about, with Andy Murray's fate still to be determined.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Roland Garros - what I expect

Roland Garros 2016 is scheduled to start in a matter of hours, weather permitting, and I am probably the last person to put forward my predictions for what may occur over the next two weeks.  So that will be what follows.

Before the crystal ball analysis, results from the four tour events - WTA Nurnberg was won by Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands over Colombian Mariana Duque-Marino.  The home crowd was disappointed that the two German players left were defeated in the semis, preventing a fairy tale tournament ending.  However for Kiki her win was a form boost coming into a tough first round Roland Garros clash with Angie Kerber.

In Strasbourg, it was a win for the home country when Caroline Garcia denied Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the final.  Considering her lack of clay court form this year, Garcia's victory couldn't be better timed as she moves west to do battle in Paris.

Stan Wawrinka may be smarter than we all thought.  He has had a rather forgettable 2016 for someone supposedly part of the "Big 5".  However as reigning Roland Garros champ, his win overnight in Geneva, overcoming Cilic in the final, may just have clicked him into shape for a legitimate shot at defending his title in Paris.

Dominic Thiem defended his Nice crown with a three set win over Alexander Zverev in the final there, and both must be fancying their chances of deep runs in the Roland Garros draw.

Now for the French Open (Roland Garros) preview:

Women's Singles

Serena Williams is the defending champion and number one seed, but until a matter of days ago, her 2016 title trophy cabinet was bare.  Rome fixed that gap, and the 21 times Major winner enters the second GS tournament of the year as clear favourite.

With the consistent inconsistency of most of the rest of the top ten, it becomes difficult to select challengers to Serena for the French Open.  Her expected route to the quarter final appears reasonably comfortable, although Serena managed last year to make things as difficult for herself as possible in early rounds, so nothing is guaranteed.

Because of the flawed seed placements, the likely quarter final opponent for the top seed will be fifth seed Vika Azarenka, whose rise back to the top few has been a highlight of the WTA Tour this year.  Wins in Indian Wells and Miami, the former significantly including the defeat of Serena in the final, marked Vika as the best player on tour.  However, clay has always been her worst surface, and that, together with a back injury, has slowed her momentum at the wrong time.  Last year,  Serena beat Vika in the third round at Roland Garros, but even not at her peak, Azarenka took the match to three sets.  Hopefully the back will stand up to the stern test of the Paris clay, and if so I believe Vika has the mental strength to elude the missiles thrown her way.  Dangers exist in the form of Suarez Navarro and Cibulkova.

I expect Serena to win this quarter final and face either eighth seed Timea Bacsinszky or the winner of third seed Angie Kerber and 15th seed Madison Keys.  Kerber won in Stuttgart but was beaten in her opening matches in both Madrid and Rome, so doesn't fill me with great confidence, while Keys impressively made the Rome final, only losing to Serena, and recording wins over Kvitova and Muguruza along the way.  Timea has shown consistency, most recently making the quarters in Rome, after winning in Morocco earlier in the year.  Her part of the draw appears rather soft, and I am predicting a quarter final match up between Bacsinszky and Keys, with Keys the winner, then to play Serena Williams in a semi final, the two participants of the Rome final.

The bottom half of the draw is a lottery - Roberta Vinci is seeded 7 but there is no way I can see her winning through to the quarter finals - she has not beaten a player in the top ten all year, and her only win in the last three events was over a player barely ranked in the top 200.
The next highest seeds in Vinci's quarter are the Czech pair Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova, both of whom have had patches of promising form but of late have hardly impressed enough to suggest either is worthy of a Roland Garros quarter final berth.
I am following form and selecting Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu to take a quarter final spot.  The 25th seed has made the quarters in Madrid, losing to eventual winner Halep, and the semis in Rome, bowing out to eventual winner Williams.  Her scalps in the process included two top ten players Muguruza and Azarenka.

Begu's quarter final hurdle to clear will be fourth seed Garbine Muguruza, who has lately found enough of her best tennis, I believe, to cause some damage at Roland Garros this year.  She will need to keep a careful eye on Russian pair Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ekaterina Makarova, especially Sveta, winner here in 2009 and playing some good tennis in 2016.

Garbine should avenge her defeat at the hands of Begu in Madrid and make another GS semi final.

Her opposition when she arrives there will be the winner of the two final quarter finalists from my look into the future - Simona Halep and Aga Radwanska, seeds six and two respectively.  Halep has one of the easier draws, with last year's runner-up Lucie Safarova a likely round of sixteen match up.  However Lucie, apart from Prague has had a rather empty year, and Halep, also a previous runner-up here, is primed to do well, having only recently picked up the Madrid crown.

Radwanska must beware a likely second round clash with Caroline Garcia, who will carry the momentum of the French crowd and the Strasbourg title on to the Paris clay. Thereafter, it should be plain sailing for the second seed, but not if Barbora Strycova has anything to say about it.  Another dangerous player to watch out for.

I believe that Aga will win through to the quarter final against Halep and despite all the evidence pointing against it, defeat Simona and face off against Muguruza in the semi final.

So after predicting a few upsets, my forecast semi final line-up is surprisingly as per seedings except for Angie Kerber, whose place I've given to Madison Keys.

The final will be won by Serena Williams over Aga Radwanska.

Men's Singles

However hard I try, I cannot find a legitimate contender for the Men's crown at Roland Garros outside of three names - the three clear favourites.  Although with the Geneva result I am tending to throw Wawrinka back in the mix.

Novak Djokovic is outright favourite for several reasons, among them his record on clay (second only to Nadal among current players), his record at Roland Garros, and above all his capacity to beat everyone anywhere, and his ability to fulfil that potential almost all the time over the past 18 months.

Of course winning Roland Garros has become an increasingly annoying gap in Novak's resume, and his 'shocker' in Rome (he only came second God forbid !) apparently gave permission for all and sundry to doubt his credentials.  Andy Murray was now the rightful clay court master, and the reign of the Serb was probably over.

Yes, Murray is handling this surface very well now, but realistically Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic still have the two best records, particularly at this tournament.  (Apart from winning it in Djokovic's case)

Let's predict the quarter final contests.  Novak may have to navigate his way past Delbonis and Bautista Agut, but it is one of the easier draws, on paper, that the top seed has been given in a Major for some time.
Djokovic is seeded to meet seventh seed Tomas Berdych in the quarters but I don't fancy Tomas making the journey.  His big serve may see him survive Pablo Cuevas, but David Ferrer should have too much patience and returning ability on clay in a likely fourth round clash.  Djokovic, then, to defeat Ferrer in one quarter final.

Rafa Nadal, fourth seed, has a more difficult road to the quarter final, not necessarily with his first three matches - his poor history with Fognini shouldn't weigh too heavily on him.  It is the round of sixteen that becomes interesting and possibly gives us the match of the tournament to that point - Nadal v 13th seed Dominic Thiem.  Thiem has won more matches this year than anyone, except for Djokovic, and is in great spirits having won the ATP event in Nice.
Thiem could win the French Open in the future but Rafa will ensure it is not 2016.

The other player in Rafa's quarter final should be the winner of David Goffin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, if they both make the round of sixteen.  Players of the calibre of Kohlschreiber and Souza will do their best to prevent that. I am putting my money on Goffin to reach the quarters and be beaten up by Nadal once there.

So semi final between Djokovic and Nadal is not a very controversial tip from yours truly, but really it is the only logical selection.

Milos Raonic, the eighth seed, faces some tough times in his quarter, with names such as Sock, Pouille and tenth seed Cilic all with good form and threatening.  Raonic, though, has his big serve to fight through, even on the clay court, and I can see him in a quarter final against Stan Wawrinka.  Stan does not have many concerns in his section of the draw - maybe Gilles Simon can worry him a little but not enough - and Wawrinka will also knock over Raonic to book a semi final spot.

That leaves two quarter finals and one semi final spot. 
In Kei Nishikori 's quarter, the seedings suggest a fourth round clash for the fifth seed against ninth seed Richard Gasquet.  However what everyone except the French crowd wants is for Nick Kyrgios (17th seed) to win through.  I don't think the French would mind the entertainment either.
Can the Australian avenge his defeat at the hands of Nishikori last time ?  I think so, because he is learning and improving all the time.

Ok, maybe with an ounce of home country hope, but with a fair bit of empirical evidence too, Nick Kyrgios to take a quarter final spot.
Andy Murray will be Nick's opponent, simply because there is no one with the game to counter him in that part of the draw.

Nick bows out with head held high and Murray v Wawrinka is the semi final as per seedings.

Hardly a surprise but I've selected the top four seeds to fight out the semi finals.

So close to picking Stan over Andy in the semi, but Novak Djokovic will defeat Andy Murray in the final and complete his career Grand Slam.

As per usual these forecasts will come back to bite me, unless they are correct, in which case I will scream them again from the rooftops.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Vika shafted in Roland Garros draw

Random Seed Placement unfairly affects French Open Draw

Once again an unfair potential quarter final scenario has been facilitated by the farcical shuffling of seeds in the draw - this time the women's draw at the French Open.

Serena Williams, for the second GS tournament in a row has to play the highest of the seeds 5-8, whereas 4th seed Muguruza is given seed number 7 (That should be the 2nd seeds opponent but she has drawn seed number 6) and 3rd seed Kerber has number 8 with which to contend. (That should be Serena's potential opponent) 

So instead of rewarding in order of rankings and seedings (1, 2, 3, 4) by allocating the lowest of the seeds 5-8 to the top seed, then progressively down to the fourth seed who is allocated the highest of that group,  the reward order for Roland Garros this year is 3, 4, 2, 1.
Sound logical ? Hardly.

Why bother winning tournaments and being the best in the world if rankings are thrown out the window and not rewarded with proper placement in draws ?  It's not just Serena that suffers.  

Azarenka, the fifth seed,  has been playing her guts out to retrieve a high ranking, and at five she should be drawn to play the fourth seed in the quarters - instead they give her the top seed. By rights Serena and Vika should be drawn to play in a semi final should they win all their matches to that point. ( 1 v winner of 4 v 5)

It saddens me that tennis officialdom continues to meddle with the draws in this fashion, when it doesn't add value to a tournament - just makes the announcement of the draw an event in itself and that is benefitting who ? Certainly not Azarenka in this case, so the players interests are definitely not taken into account.  Yet the players happen to comprise the most important interest group as they provide the product which has proven such a crowd puller and money spinner.

I will protest on this issue of inequity in tennis until one day there is a decision maker or makers with enough common sense to throw the random seed placement folly out with the rest of the garbage.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Federer to miss Roland Garros

While there are a number of WTA and ATP events being conducted in the week prior to the commencement of the year's second Grand Slam tournament at Roland Garros,  the biggest talking point is clearly the withdrawal of Roger Federer from the French Open.  
Federer has not been able to recover sufficiently from his back injury, and will break his run of competing at 65 successive Grand Slam tournaments stretching back to the 2000 Australian Open.  In hindsight perhaps he should have extended his rest from Madrid through to Rome instead of rushing back too soon.  Irrespective, it will be strange to not have Roger in the draw.

The immediate beneficiary is Rafa Nadal, who now becomes the fourth seed and avoids the possibility of another farce where he could have, purely with an unlucky dip, faced Djokovic or Murray in the quarters.  The earliest stage that he could meet either of the top two seeds now is in a semi final.  That is a good result for tennis, and the only positive news from the sad Federer story.

Serious question:  Should Roger consider cutting his losses and give his body the best chance to recover with a longer term view ?  That means bypassing the grass court events including Wimbledon.  It's a huge call since it is his favourite time of the year, but if the back injury is that serious, then fulfilling a short term want may come at a greater expense down the track. And realistically his extremely limited preparation doesn't provide him with his best ever chance of success at Wimbledon in 2016.  
Still he may prove me wrong - he has before.

In Geneva, the semi finals have almost gone with the seedings - 2nd seed David Ferrer will play 3rd seed Marin Cilic and top seed Stan Wawrinka also made it to the last four.  Fourth seed John Isner was a second round casualty, taken out by tall unseeded Czech Lukas Rosol, who also impressively dispatched Kuznetsov in the quarter final.  Stan has been rather erratic of late and will need to be wary of the dangerous Rosol.

France welcomes some of the male players to its colourful south as a prelude to the trip north for the much larger Roland Garros.  And in Nice one semi final in 2016 will feature top seed Dominic Thiem against unseeded Adrian Mannarino, who will start crowd favourite because he is French and Thiem is not.  The other semi has 5th seed Portuguese Joao Souza matched against 8th seed German Alexander Zverev.  Both did particularly well in knocking out Kevin Anderson and Gilles Simon in their respective quarter finals.

In Nurnberg, Germany, top seed Roberta Vinci was ranked 7 in the world coming into the tournament.  The second seed was ranked 38.  All that counted for little because at semi final time only one seeded player is left - third seed Annika Beck from Germany.  Her semi final opponent is yet to be determined, but it won't be either of the two seeds in her section of the draw - also German - because Laura Siegemund (2) and Sabine Lisicki (5) were dumped by the Colombian Mariana Duque-Marino and USA's Varvara Lepchenko respectively, both unseeded.  The latter two will contest the remaining quarter final to see who plays Beck.
The other semi final contestants are Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands and Julia Goerges from Germany.  The home crowd could well see an all German final.

While some men are hitting tennis balls in the French south, a group of women have been swinging racquets in the north in Strasbourg.  The semi finalists there, as in Nice, also include a French player - in fact three.
The all French semi has Virginie Razzano, unseeded, and famous for ousting Serena Williams in the first round of Roland Garros 2012, up against 10th seed Caroline Garcia, recipient of a walkover from Sam Stosur whose wrist injury hopefully is minor enough not to inhibit her next week.
4th seed Kristina Mladenovic, the third lady from France, meets unseeded but underrated Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the remaining semi final.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Andy Trumps Djoker in Rome

Andy Murray fully deserved his Rome Masters title, and by winning it he gained the added prestige of having broken through the Novak Djokovic barrier, a wall that no other player in the top echelon of men's tennis had been able to bring down in 2016. (Yes Djokovic had lost twice before this year but not to players in the top bracket)

The win was also Andy's first over Novak on clay, and he won the tournament without dropping a set.  The 'revenge' for the Madrid final loss a week prior was the perfect birthday present, and to have his wife and baby daughter with him in Rome was further evidence that this was indeed Andy Murray week.

Of course the road to the final was simpler for the Scot, with his semi final opponent the unseeded lucky loser from qualifying Lucas Pouille, someone who was realistically never going to threaten the Murray serve or handle the returns or match him for movement around the court.  His weapons were made to look like toys, rifles with blanks, revolvers turned into water pistols, while Andy's arsenal was scary and the items in it deadly accurate.

After Andy had his "practice hit" with Lucas and booked his spot in the final,  Novak decided to take the long trek on foot from his semi final to reach the final where he found Andy waiting, relaxing by the pool drinking non alcoholic martinis. 

Kei Nishikori, Novak's semi final opponent, who had been paid by Murray's entourage to keep the Djoker busy for a few hours, did exactly that, ensuring at least that the match would be a three setter by stealing the first set 6-2.  Then after the match was tied at a set apiece,  Kei cleverly kept pace in the decider until a tie breaker was required.  Novak prevailed but the Japanese sixth seed had kept him on court way past his bedtime and sucked enough energy out of him (on top of that taken by Rafa in the quarter final) to make the martini sipping Andy a very contented man.

The physical conditions of the two combatants in the final would be an important factor, but to be fair it was Murray who had clearly shown the most decisive form throughout all his matches, whereas Novak had a number of struggles with which to deal, even as early as his first match.  His look of assurance that carried him throughout Madrid week, and on to the title, was not quite there in Rome, and in the final Murray beat him in all aspects of the game.  6-3 6-3 a fair reflection of the contest.

Naturally there have been those quick to see this as an end point for the extraordinary Djokovic run of success, and that Roland Garros will be Murray's or Nadal's, and Novak will once again miss out.

Let me remind those with the short memories - just before the 2015 US Open, having had an amazingly dominant year, Novak lost the two lead in Masters tournament finals in Montreal and Cincinnati to Murray and Federer respectively.  He took those losses in his stride, won the US Open, and every other tournament he played for the rest of the year.  

While it will remain very challenging to claim the clay court Grand Slam title, the disappointment to Novak of his loss in the Rome final was merely fleeting, and he as top seed should still be regarded as favourite for Roland Garros.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Novak beats Rafa in a thriller

Quarter final day in Rome saw seven matches played, four women's and three men's,  one less from the men's draw due to Juan Monaco giving Lucas Pouille a walkover into the semis, something the French player grabbed with relish.  The only reason Lucas is playing in the main draw of this Masters event is thanks to the late withdrawal of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  He replaced Tsonga as the lucky loser from qualifying.
Now he had become the beneficiary of another player's misfortune.  Could this lucky streak extend beyond the semi final ?  I seriously doubt it,  but strange things can happen.

I won't bother detailing much about any of the support matches other than saying the favourites won.  Murray defeated Goffin, Nishikori eliminated Thiem,  Williams smashed Kuznetsova, Muguruza fixed up Bacsinszky,  Keys locked out Strycova, and Begu overcame Doi.

Semi finals will be Williams v Begu, Muguruza v Keys, Murray v Pouille and Nishikori v the winner of the only quarter final that people were interested in - Djokovic v Nadal.

The expectations were fulfilled many times over as the two best clay courters in the world delivered one of the best matches of the year.

In tricky conditions effected by a variable and uncaring wind, the two stars held their early serves and at 2–2 no clue was offered as to which player, if any had started the better.  Nadal answered that question with a break of the Serb serve in the fifth game, worrying Djokovic with well planned execution of ground strokes from both wings, knowing precisely when to produce the power and where to place the shot containing it.
Djokovic managed to hold his next serve, though not with any great authority and after a long time, but was quick to snap up the break opportunity that arrived unexpectedly in the eighth game.
At 4-4, and then 5-4, the dynamic of the match had altered, a change which Novak, far more than any other player, can produce when seemingly down for the count.

Rafa was still playing some wonderful shots.  In fact both were responsible for rallies of the highest calibre, regularly featuring shots which have no right to be played by human hand alone.
Nadal levelled at 5-5, before the top seed rapidly placed the pressure back on him at 5-6 to hold to stay in the set.
Alas for the fifth seed, he eventually dropped serve a second time and Djokovic had somehow taken a one set lead 7-5.

The momentum and confidence clearly with Djokovic, and serving first in set two, the world number one had everything in his favour.  So what did he do ?  Played a shocker of a service game to immediately be down a break, Rafa leading 1-0. 
As much as Novak tried to break back, he couldn't achieve a break point with Nadal solid as a rock.  Djokovic too did not appear likely to surrender his serve again, but at 5-4 Rafa had that break from the first game in his pocket, and was serving to level the match.
Djokovic saved multiple set points, but each time it seemed more inevitable that Nadal would eventually complete the task.  However after returning to deuce for yet another time, Novak changed the recording and set up his first break point of the set - and promptly converted it.  5-5 and now Rafa was suddenly miles away from levelling the match, and probably closer to losing it.
Djokovic took the lead 6-5 and as in set one, the nine time Roland Garros champ needed to hold to keep the set (and match now) alive.  To his credit Nadal held easily and a tie break began.
Djokovic took the early advantage leading 2-1 with two serves to come.  Nadal fought back, but each time he did, Djokovic was able to eat into one of the Spaniard's serves.
At 5-3, a nervous Novak lost the point on his serve which would have provided him three match points had it gone his way.
He steadied in time to grab the next two points, both off the Nadal serve to win the tie break 7 points to 4 and the quarter final 7-5 7-6 (4).

The match was terrific, high standard from start to finish, with no clear winner to be easily determined from the contest being viewed.  In fact this was a match where  Djokovic had to come back from scoreboard adversity in both sets - he proved yet again that the scoreboard doesn't dictate what he does on court, and that there aren't many sticky situations from which he can't extract himself.

So the semi final to which Novak has found himself propelled is the one featuring Kei Nishikori.  The two have met three times already this year with Djokovic winning each time in straight sets, most recently last week in the Madrid semi finals.  In fact Djokovic has a 13-0 record this year against top ten players.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Rafa v Novak in Rome quarters - Roger doesn't care

Not a good day for Roger Federer in Rome, both on and off the court.  The fact that 13th seed Austrian Dominic Thiem defeated him 7-6 (2) 6-4 wasn't a huge surprise considering Thiem's form this year and Federer's lack of match play and fitness doubts.  A finalist at this event last year, and a third round loser this year means a several hundred drop in ranking points for Roger and a slip back to number three in the world.  Ill timed as the next Grand Slam tournament is just days away, and the seeding difference is crucial. Of course it may be a moot point, given injury and variable form leave Federer more vulnerable at Roland Garros 2016 than perhaps at any Grand Slam event for many years.
Certainly his attitude off court hasn't improved, with his career record of failing to give credit to opponents enhanced when referring to his latest loss:

"This is like, 'who cares about the results here?'. It matters what comes now in the next couple of months," Federer told a news conference.

Again the arrogant self absorbed remarks from a man who never has given sufficient credit, notably where he has been beaten fair and square.  If he truly didn't care about this event then he should have gone elsewhere for the week and practised with others who felt the same way, leaving a space in the draw for someone who takes the Rome Masters seriously.

History will more than likely gloss over this unappealing side of Federer, but for those who follow tennis closely it will be sad to think that had he shown even an ounce of the grace of some of his contemporaries and fellow top players on tour, in giving due credit to others, his star could have shone even brighter than it has.

The positive news is all about Thiem who, with his win, will move up to his career high ranking of 13, and of more immediate interest contest a quarter final against Kei Nishikori, who dispensed with one of the remaining French players Richard Gasquet.

Outside Rogers world, some odd things happened in Rome on the way to constructing the four quarter final match ups.  Novak Djokovic lost the first set of his match against unseeded Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci 6-0.  Well it looked like the top seed but the shot making appeared more like that of a local junior.  The unthinkable surely couldn't happen and destroy the prospect of the only quarter final people really cared about - Rafa v Novak.  Rafa had already signed his part of the contract, finally putting Kyrgios away in three gripping sets 6-7 (3) 6-2 6-4.

The failing Novak facsimile was replaced by something a lot closer to the real thing a couple of games into set two,  and Bellucci began to struggle against this more efficiently operating version.  Djokovic escaped with a few scars and not a little embarrassment 0-6 6-3 6-2.

Tomas Berdych was called to Grandstand, the court upon which he was to play David Goffin, but he must have confused the message, because looking at the match score he didn't make it on time.  Goffin 6-0 6-0.  The Belgian will be the first real test for second seed Andy Murray in the quarters after the Scot dealt with another part of the French resistance Jeremy Chardy in straight sets.

Stan Wawrinka is reigning Roland Garros champ but is displaying the form of a chump. The forth seed's Roman holiday was ended by Juan Monaco in the third round, as was ninth seed David Ferrer's vacation, the Spaniard unable to handle his French opponent, unseeded lucky loser Lucas Pouille.  Lucas has been handing out upsets rather regularly and finally a top ten player has joined the list.
The unseeded quarter final between Pouille and Monaco guarantees that Murray or Goffin will face an unseeded semi final opponent.  The odds have shortened considerably for Murray to feature in another Masters final.

The women's draw lost another seed but only because there was a third round match between eight seed Carla Suarez Navarro and eleventh seed Timea Bacsinszky.  Current rankings of the two show Timea at 10 and Carla at 11, reflecting Timea's recent success and Carla's failure to defend points from last year.  Of course the latest rankings were released after the Rome event had commenced.

Carla began well, taking the first set 7-5, but Timea had the finishing power and won her way into the quarter finals 5-7 7-5 6-2.  She will play 3rd seed Garbine Muguruza after the Spaniard removed Jelena Ostapenko from calculations.

The other quarter final featuring seeded players will be Serena Williams (1) v Sveta Kuznetsova (9).  Serena battled hard against fellow American Christina McHale to win a first set tie break before comfortably winning the second 6-1.  Sveta won a tough encounter with Aussie Daria Gavrilova in three sets.  This quarter final will be the first match between the two since Sveta upset Serena in Miami earlier in 2016.

Irina-Camelia Begu will play Misaki Doi in one of the two unseeded quarter finals, while Madison Keys meets Barbora Strycova in the other.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Curse of being a Women's Seed

There was more carnage amongst the seeded players in the women's draw in the second round in the Rome Premier tournament.  More damage was inflicted in the nation's capital than has been seen since the historic fall of the Roman Empire itself.

Before we detail the left overs of the female event, there is the male equivalent tournament - the Rome Masters - being contested on the clay coloured red, both natural and with a component of the blood left by the numerous departed seeds.  Not so many on the men's side.  We lost Monfils and Anderson in round one, and seventh seed Tsonga withdrew at the last moment, leaving a spot for lucky loser from qualifying, Lucas Pouille, to fill.  A bit of symmetry that a Frenchman replaces another from France.

Round two saw the top eight seeds play their first matches and each was successful in sealing a third round ticket.  However two of the lower bracket bit the red dust.  10th seed Milos Raonic became the latest high profile name to fall victim to the Nick Kyrgios machine, and the young Australian is having a year marked with consistency, his ranking now 20 and a rough chance (would need a few withdrawals of those ranked above) of achieving a seeding within the top 16 at Roland Garros.

Both players secured a single break of serve in set one and Kyrgios won the tie break 7 points to 5.  It was close, but the Canadian's second serve was vulnerable throughout, Kyrgios winning 10 of 15 points off it.  
It was Nick's ability to win six points from the fifteen legitimate Raonic first serves in set two that helped the Aussie to a 7-6 (5) 6-3 win and a third round meeting with Nadal.

The other seed to exit was Roberto Bautista Agut (15) who was outlasted by talented Jeremy Chardy from France in a straight sets match extending just over two hours. 

Now to a women's event in which after just two rounds there are only five of the original sixteen seeds still standing.  Eight of the eleven exits were made in the second round, including Angie Kerber (2), Vika Azarenka (4), Petra Kvitova (5), Simona Halep (6) and Roberta Vinci (7).  These five were playing their first matches after receiving first round byes, meaning that half the seeds lost their opening Rome matches.

The three others to leave the Rome Premier, these at least winning round one, were Lucie Safarova (10), Venus Williams (12) and Ana Ivanovic (13).

Five of the eight are Grand Slam title winners and the other three are finalists at Grand Slam level.  It is either an indictment on the lack of sufficient effort being contributed by these supposed elite level players, or an amazing coincidence that a bunch of lower ranked players can at one point in time raise the levels of their games enough to pull off a suite of upsets in a Premier event.

It has happened too often this year that a bunch of top seeds in women's events has crumbled early to lesser players.  Clearly the talent is there, but somehow the commitment and/or mental strength needs much more work before we can rely on the Kerbers, Kvitovas, etc to give us the confidence we have when the likes of Serena or Vika step on court. (Vika's loss here can be forgiven to some degree as she suffered a back injury in Madrid just last week)

On a more positive note, we should congratulate Daria Gavrilova for continuing her good form - Halep's defeat had much to do with the Australian's current consistency on the clay, and the three set defeat was far from a disgrace, but more a let down for Simona, who had won the Madrid title last week.  

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Rome - draw reflects stupidity of random seed placement

Following on directly from Madrid is another combined ATP and WTA clay court centrepiece, and the final chance in a big tournament (Masters for the men and Premier for the women) for players entertaining thoughts of a successful Roland Garros, or even earning a start in Paris.
Rome is the venue, and apart from the on court action the Italians are using the event to celebrate the career of Flavia Pennetta, who retired at the end of 2015 having won the final 2016 Grand Slam tournament (US Open), her first and only GS title, in September.  Without lifting a racquet this year, Flavia is still ranked 13 in the world.

Very early on, with only first round matches completed in most cases, and a handful of second round contests decided, some seeded players have suffered disappointment.
Gael Monfils, the Monte Carlo runner-up, shocked everyone with a second round loss to Cuevas in Madrid, and his sudden loss of form continued, leaving the Rome excitement even earlier to Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci in two sets in round one.  Although Bellucci is a respectable 37 in the world, his terrible 5-12 win loss record for 2016 puts this result in the big upset category. Three of his five wins came in one early tournament in Ecuador where he made the final.

Argentina's Juan Monaco upset 16th seed South African Kevin Anderson in the second round, while the women's draw lost, in round one, Karolina Pliskova (16th seed), Elina Svitolina (15) and sadly for Italians one of their own Sara Errani (14). The latter two lost to qualifiers, but significantly the qualifiers, though ranked lower, have enjoyed better win/loss records this year than the players they defeated.

The favourites have yet to grace the courts, but the random and shameful nature of the draw has once again shown its ugly face.  Djokovic is seeded one and Nadal seeded five.  They have deserved the right to play the lowest of seeds 5-8 and 1-4 respectively in the quarter finals.  That is what the rankings are meant to give back in return for all the blood and sweat spent in achieving the points used to assemble the order.

So the best player (Djokovic) should be drawn to play the eighth seed (Berdych) in his quarter final.  Nadal (5th seed) should play fourth seed Wawrinka in his quarter final.
Instead the stupid random draw which throws the seeds all over the place has given both Djokovic and Nadal the potentially tougher task of facing each other in the quarters, effectively penalising both for being ranked as high as they are.
Further, if the higher seeds win through to the semis, Djokovic will play third seed Federer, while second seed Murray will play the lower ranked fourth seed Wawrinka in his semi.  What did Andy do to deserve drawing a lower ranked player than top seed Novak ? Nothing ! It is this dumb idea of shuffling seeds around to create some sort of excitement at the start of the tournament and satisfy the egos of those running tennis, at the possible expense of having players drawing each other earlier in the event than they should, and maybe denying the spectators a final between two of the best because they are randomly and incorrectly on the same side of the draw.

They could stuff up Roland Garros again, because right now we want Novak and Rafa to be drawn to meet in the semis if they are seeded 1 and 5.  If Rome is repeated that proper process will be shafted.
In the 2015 French Open Novak defeated Rafa in the quarters but seeded 1 and 6 they should have been on opposite sides of the draw, with Rafa playing Murray in the quarters.  The dream final could have eventuated but for the idiocy involved with the jumbled up placement of the seeds.

There have been plenty of calls to revert to standard seed placement in draws, many by yours truly, but unless sanity is ever in charge of tennis again we will continue to endure flawed tournament draws which too often give us flawed results.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Novak beats Andy in Madrid final

Novak Djokovic has won his fifth title of the year, defeating Andy Murray in the final of the Madrid Masters over three enthralling sets.
By winning his 33rd match of 2016 (an ATP high) Novak has extended his points lead in the rankings further than the already unprecedented 7500+, and now his tally is more than double the next player who statistically is somehow Roger Federer.  Yes Federer, who has barely played this year, has managed to miss tournaments in which he scored few points last year, but retains a stack of points from the second half of 2015 which his faltering body will need to defend before too long. 

Back to the Madrid final which featured the true two top players of the moment.  Djokovic stole the initial march on Murray in set one and made the Scots already difficult task that much higher and steeper of a mountain to scale.
The scoreline was 6-2 but could have been much closer - both players won an acceptable percentage of points if their first serves were in play (Novak marginally the better) but Djokovic was more devastating when returning the second seeds second serve, winning 15 of the 22 points available.  Not that Murray was returning poorly, just not as lethal as the top seed.

Even with all of that against him Murray still created more break points and this was the key area.  Djokovic converted four of the six break points on Andy's serve, while saving eight of the ten break points he faced on his own serve.

So Andy may have appeared well beaten on the scoreboard but he was far from out of the match on the actual court, and that's why his second set comeback raised few eyebrows and was actually expected rather than a surprise.

Set two was entertaining mainly due to its increased competitiveness which thankfully didn't detract from the high standard, with Murray serving better, not allowing the Djokovic return to dictate the terms of the match.  Both players served well, but Andy won the greater percentage of points on both his first and second deliveries, did not have to save a break point, and converted one of the two offered by Djokovic.  A most impressive set of tennis in its own right, but the 6-3 success for Andy was even better when considering the circumstance - a set down against the world number one.

Now with the final level at a set all this could have gone either way.  The smart money had to be on Djokovic though.  Since Murray won his second (and last) Grand Slam title, defeating Djokovic in the 2013 Wimbledon final, the Serb had won 11 of their last 12 matches, 4 in finals, and 2 of the finals Australian Opens.

In many ways the deciding set mirrored the opening - close in most departments but Djokovic won six points when Murray was required to deliver a second serve, and that was on six occasions.  That was crucial, but once again Murray failed to take advantage of his break point opportunities, converting just the one from eight, whereas Djokovic only needed three chances from which to break the Scottish serve twice and win the set 6-3.

The 6-2 3-6 6-3 victory was the 29th Masters title for Djokovic, taking him once again to the top of that list, breaking out of the tie with Nadal.  

Post tournament thought:

Of the last 50 ATP Masters events, Djokovic has won 24 - the next best in that period is 10 from Nadal.  Interestingly, in that same period Djokovic has won 10 Grand Slam titles - the most by any male - while Nadal is next with 5.

On that basis - a fair measuring stick since Grand Slam and Masters tournaments are the highest rated events in men's tennis - Djokovic and Nadal are the clear number one and number two players of the past five years.  Federer may have racked up several ATP points, but his record at the highest level has featured a failure to capture the big titles at a rate that Nadal and especially Djokovic have done. (Eg since Aus Open 2010 just Wimbledon 2012 in the GS column)   So Roger is at best world number three over the past five years.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Halep wins Madrid - Novak & Andy in final

Sixth seed Simona Halep has easily won the Madrid Open final against Dominika Cibulkova.  Holding serve throughout, the Romanian clinched her first title of 2016 with a consistent display of the type of tennis which pushed her to number two or three in the world from mid 2014 to the start of this year.  Since then that ranking has dropped from two to seven.  6-2 was the first set score, and while Cibulkova fought hard in a closer second set Halep was not letting this one slip and the 6-2 6-4 result was a fair representation of the match.

Men's semis were held on the same day, and the two top seeds, one and two in the world, won through to the final.  Novak Djokovic defeated Kei Nishikori in straight sets but not before stumbling at 6-3 5-4 and 40-0.  Three of the most atrocious points from the world's best, including a double fault, allowed Nishikori back into the game, giving him the impetus to not only break the Djokovic serve for the first time in the tournament, but hold confidently and take the lead 6-5.  The top seed now needed to hold serve just to ensure a tie break.
This he did, steadying himself for a tie break which he controlled from the start, enabling the match to end in two sets and give Novak a shot at Andy Murray in the final.

Yes, Murray found a way past Rafa Nadal 7-5 6-4 and with a final spot confirmed, put himself within touching distance of the trophy which he won last year.  
Despite a woeful first serve percentage in set one, Murray's success rate on his serve was marginally better than Nadal and his one extra service break gave him the set 7-5.

Set two was one of wasted opportunity for Nadal, who had nine break points on the Murray serve, but converted only once.  Murray, however, converted both of his mere two chances, and that again translated into a set win, and a march to the final 7-5 6-4.

Murray has lost all three previous matches on clay to Djokovic, but with the form he is currently displaying must fancy his chances this time round.  Djokovic also has every reason to be confident, having been so strong on serve this week, and just because he has been so superior to everyone for the past 18 months.