Thursday, 30 June 2016

Djoker & Fed into Round Three

As I watch tennis being played on Day 4 at Wimbledon 2016, I can almost feel the smiles on spectators as they collectively push thoughts of further rain out of their minds - for now at least.

Day 3 was a shocker with only 18 matches reaching conclusion, and 13 of those were incomplete from the day before that, some requiring just a few games or a single set for finality.  Five matches were played from go to whoa, including two second round matches - Novak Djokovic defeated Adrian Mannarino in a surprisingly high quality clash, especially considering the early stage of the tournament, straight sets still the method of victory. 
Roger Federer destroyed the fairy tale run of English tennis coach Marcus Willis, ranked in the late 700s, who won three pre-qualifying, then 3 rounds of Wimbledon Qualifying to make Round One of the main draw.

The other three start to finish matches involved successful first round ventures by third seed Aga Radwanska, seventh seed Belinda Bencic and tenth seed Petra Kvitova.

Among the matches to be completed from Day 2, 19th seed Bernard Tomic survived a five setter against Verdasco, 10th seed Tomas Berdych and 8th seed Dominic Thiem both won through, as did 16th seeded English player Johanna Konta and 2014 finalist Eugenie Bouchard.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Rain curtails Day 2 at SW19

Serena Williams had no problems gaining entry to the second round of Wimbledon 2016 while Andy Murray as a Scot chose to remain following his defeat of Liam Broady, who felt, as an Englishman, that leaving was appropriate - another Wexit.

Stan Wawrinka, Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nick Kyrgios and Juan Martin Del Potro were prominent names among the men's draw to advance with few difficulties, although unsurprisingly Kyrgios attracted a code violation before finally dispensing with Stepanek.

No seeded players were defeated, both women and men, in matches which were completed, but 30 matches in total were either suspended because of rain, or not even commenced.

Sveta Kuznetsova defeated Caroline Wozniacki on Centre Court after the roof enabled that match to proceed, and Roberta Vinci as sixth seed, scraped through in three sets, in one of her rare 2016 successes.
19th seed and winner at Eastbourne last week, Dominika Cibulkova, was broken early in her match but once settled dominated for the rest for a straight sets win.  Her name hasn't been mentioned much but it wouldn't surprise if she was still around in week two.

Day three has not started on time because of rain, so London is already giving Paris a run for its money in terms of weather interruptions.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Wimbledon Day One - Big Names Cruise

Day One of Wimbledon 2016 provided a few surprises, apart from rain failing to appear.  The tournament lost six seeds and organisers have apologised for that, assuring family and friends of Gael Monfils, Kevin Anderson, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Pablo Cuevas, Ana Ivanovic and Irina-Camelia Begu that a full scale search will be successful with the players safely returned by the end of the fortnight.

Anderson, the number 20 seed, had been picked by some experts as one to watch, and indeed for two sets he was worth watching, leading Denis Istomin 6-4 7-6.  The second set tie break was extended to 15-13 but it didn't seem to worry Istomin as he proceeded to win the next two sets using the same scoreline 6-4 7-6, but preferring a quicker tie break in the fourth 7-2.  Anderson left Wimbledon singles calculations via a fifth set loss and a happy Istomin remained.

The top seeds that were rolled out - from the top half of the men's draw and bottom half of the women's draw - all were successfully transported into round two, with the routes travelled mostly stress free and in kstraights sets.

Djokovic showed off for a set and a half before taking a rest and allowing Englishman James Ward to win a few games in front of an adoring crowd.  The magnanimous gesture lasted until the second set tie break, where the top seed switched the mode back to 'tournament' from 'recreation'.

Federer, in search of match practice at this level, having missed the French Open, chose to play tie breaks in the opening two sets against Pella, and appeared happy with that arrangement.

Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza took a bit of a risk, though, when playing Camila Giorgi, taking three sets to finally win her first round encounter.  I'm not sure that she can afford to be as accommodating to future opponents as the tournament progresses.

Among a clutch of impressive efforts, I have to highlight that of Germany's Sabine Lisicki, whose results over the last few years, especially 2016, have not been worthy of the 2013 Wimbledon finalist.  Sabine delivered three aces and an unplayable serve to Shelby Rogers in the 52 second opening game of their match, and things did not improve after that for the American.

The 6-1 6-3 victory took 59 minutes and with that sort of form on her best surface from Lisicki, second round opponent Sam Stosur needs to be at her very best, considering grass is her worst surface.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Wimbledon is here !

Wimbledon starts tonight Australian time, which probably means a two week break from Londoners having to water their gardens.  However, it will require a persistent precipitous period to outdo wet weather presented by Paris as accompaniment for Roland Garros just a few weeks back.

Two players entering SW19 on highs are Steve Johnson, winner at Nottingham over Pablo Cuevas, and Dominika Cibulkova who won her first grass court title at Eastbourne at the expense of Karolina Pliskova.

If conditions allow enough time for play,  defending Novak Djokovic will grace Centre Court on Day One, as will former multiple Wimbledon winner and defending runner-up Roger Federer.  Straight sets wins for both will be the only acceptable results in their respective opening matches.  Reigning French Open title holder, Garbine Muguruza has her Round One match scheduled in between Djoker and Fed, and more of an upset possibility surrounds it - or so opponent Camila Giorgi likes to believe, based on a 2–1 career record. However Garbine is better now - Wimbledon finalist and Roland Garros winner better - and the losses to the Italian were in 2013 and 2014.

The opening day showcases another former Wimbledon winner - 5 time champ Venus Williams.  Other Grand Slam title winners on court will be Ana Ivanovic, Francesca Schiavone (Roland Garros 2008, 2010), Samantha Stosur (US Open 2011) and Angie Kerber (Australian Open 2016)

Now to my predictions for the tournament:

Until this year the Women's Singles has usually been about one woman and any sentences or paragraphs pretending otherwise were mere padding.
2016 is different and significantly so.  Serena Williams still starts all conversations regarding who may win the whole thing, but as second seed, 2015 finalist, and Serena's conqueror in Paris a month ago, Garbine Muguruza is not just a serious contender for a semi final berth, or even another final.  The Venezuelan born Spanish heroine is a genuine threat to become the first woman apart from Serena to complete the Roland Garros/Wimbledon double in the same year since Steffi Graf in 1996.

A probable third round clash with Lucie Safarova, a semi finalist in 2014, is a hurdle at which Garbine must not stumble, but it is the semi final which will be the most fascinating.  It could a battle with one of either fourth seed Angie Kerber, fifth seed Simona Halep or ninth seed Madison Keys.  I am forecasting a Muguruza v Keys semi final, especially following the win by Keys in Birmingham.

The other semi final will, in my opinion be contested between Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova, winners of the last two Wimbledons.  It will require a lift in form from Petra but she is a different player on grass and I believe that she can defeat Belinda Bencic in a fourth round match should they reach that far.  Aga Radwanska should be the quarter final opponent for Kvitova and the Czech power game may be too much for the 2012 finalist.
Serena Williams will reach the semi final, but not by the route most are predicting.  I predict that her quarter final opposition will come from 27th seed Coco Vandeweghe after the American defeats both 6th seed Roberta Vinci and 11th seed Timea Bacsinszky.

I forecast a Williams v Muguruza repeat final and Williams to equal Graf's 22 Grand Slam titles with another Wimbledon triumph.

The men's draw on first reading does not offer the same variety of possibilities, even allowing for Djokovic not winning, which appears remote.
Andy Murray should cruise into the round of sixteen where he may meet Nick Kyrgios.
Kyrgios has a history - albeit a short one - of lifting his standard at the big events and his Roland Garros effort was creditable before running into a red hot Gasquet.

Although he lost to Raonic in the first round at Queens Club, where Murray claimed the chocolates for a fifth time,  Nick could cause the Scot headaches. 
Gasquet has the game for grass, as his semi final appearances in 2007 and last year prove.  He is seeded to meet Murray in the quarters if Kyrgios is dealt with by Andy.  Another worry for Scotland, to add to Brexit.
However I do believe Murray will manage to make his way to his third GS out of three for 2016 and it will yet again be against Djokovic.

Djokovic is seeded to play Ferrer in the fourth round, and while the Spaniard is still terrific on clay and a warrior on hard courts, his ability on grass is not in the Serb's class.
Raonic is probably the quarter final troublemaker for the world number one - he was runner-up to Murray at Queens Club and when serving well is near impossible to return against.  Except this is Novak and he only needs a few chances to exhibit his skills as the best returner in tennis.
Federer is seeded three and expected to make the semi final against Djokovic.  Losing the past two Wimbledon finals against the top seed will motivate the seven times winner to try that much harder, but injuries and resultant lack of match practice haven't helped and a final for Federer would be a surprise.

Another Djokovic/Murray final, as in Paris this year, as in Melbourne this year, and for the second time at Wimbledon - Murray won the last time in 2013.

I am picking the favourite to win and take his fifth successive Grand Slam title - a feat not even achieved by Rod Laver.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Cuevas makes 1st grass court final

The Wimbledon draws are out now for both Ladie's and Gentlemen's Singles, but before we discuss the possible implications for what may occur on Monday and the fortnight to come, the Eastbourne and Nottingham courts need to be cleared and titles are close to being handed out.

Steve Johnson resumed his quarter final clash with Kevin Anderson at 3-4 in the final set at Nottingham and quickly wrapped up the last three games to claim a semi final spot 7-6 5-7 6-4.

Johnson proceeded to defeat Andreas Seppi in that semi final 6-4 6-4.  The set scores may have been the same, but the second set was a much more decisive win for the American who will play Pablo Cuevas in the final.

Cuevas defeated Gilles Muller in the other semi in three sets, despite not managing to gain a single break point on the Muller serve in the first two sets.
Muller won the first set courtesy of one service break 6-3 and the second set required a tie break as neither man could penetrate the others serve for twelve games.  Cuevas levelled the match here, and with momentum took control to book his place in the final 3-6 7-6 6-4.
Pablo has had success on clay courts of the world, but this is his first final on the grass, a significant breakthrough.

Eastbourne finally had some luck with the weather, enabling remaining quarter finals to be either completed or started.
Aga Radwanska lost her advantage to a typically pugnacious Dominika Cibulkova who rallied from 4-6 2-3 to win her way into the semi finals 4-6 7-6 6-3.
Karolina Pliskova thrashed Elena Vesnina in straight sets, while Johanna Konta also won in two sets, but her win over Ekaterina Makarova was far from comprehensive at 7-6 6-4.

The semi finals were able to be held and qualifier Monica Puig's run came to an end, thanks to a merciless Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 6-1.  The Slovakian was never under pressure on serve, only facing one break point (unconverted) for the match, whereas she had ten such opportunities, of which four service breaks came, two in each set.

Domi will fight for the title in a final against Czech number two Karolina Pliskova whose semi final victory over Johanna Konta came a little harder.  
Konta won a first tie breaker after each player held serve six times from six attempts, with no break points created.  Konta created five break points in Set Two, but couldn't convert any, whereas Pliskova managed to break once from only two chances and squared the match at 6-7 6-3.  Konta was overwhelmed in the decider with Pliskova breaking twice more to win the match 6-7 6-3 6-3.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Rain delays Aga's charge to semi

Rain is still a menace in England for tennis tournament organisers, especially those in Eastbourne.
On what was scheduled to be quarter final day, only one was completed, that between Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig and French player Kristina Mladenovic.  In a tight first set, Puig won the tie break eight points to six, with each player's serve broken three times.  Mladenovic had 12 break points to 6 and may well have felt that the set should be hers.
Most of the break chances in set two continued to fall to France, and this time Mladenovic was not as wasteful and levelled the match 6-7 6-4.  However, the deciding set was clearly controlled by Puig who served and returned competently to claim a semi final spot 7-6 (6) 4-6 6-3.

While this was happening the two quarter finalists yet to be determined because of delays from the day before were decided in third round matches - Ekaterina Makarova defeated Andrea Petkovic and Karolina Pliskova overcame Misaki Doi.

The second quarter final commencing on quarter final day saw Aga Radwanska take a commanding 6-4 3-2 lead over Dominika Cibulkova before rain finally put a stop to the day's play.  
If the weather holds up, those with Semi Final Day tickets are set for a packed schedule to choose from with two and a bit quarter finals to be completed before the two main matches.

In Nottingham, the men managed to finish three of the quarter finals, with the fourth almost done.
Andreas Seppi dismissed Dudi Sela in straight sets and Gilles Muller also took just the two sets to eliminate his more highly fancied opponent Alexandr Dolgopolov.  Muller is one of the in form players on grass, having made the finals in s'Hertogenbosch and quarters at Queens Club in his last two outings.
Muller will meet Pablo Cuevas in one of the semi finals after Cuevas outlasted Marcos Baghdatis 10 points to 8 in a third set tie break.  The final set featured no service breaks but Marcos will rue the five break points that he had but which came to nothing.  Cuevas has only made clay court finals previously, so will be keen to make personal history on this surface.

Seppi's semi final opposition will come from the winner of the incomplete match between top seed Kevin Anderson and sixth seed Steve Johnson.
Overnight, Anderson led 6-7 (6) 7-5 4-3, with games on serve in the decider.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Quarters reached at Eastbourne & Nottingham

The final WTA tournament before Wimbledon, Eastbourne, has progressed to the quarter final stage (except for two third round matches still to be decided).

40 women comprised the main draw, with the 16 seeds having first round byes.  The second round was major chaos - eleven of the 16 were on the train out of Eastbourne following losses in their only match played at the seaside venue.

Surviving were top seed Aga Radwanska, fifth seed Petra Kvitova, tenth seed Karolina Pliskova eleventh seed Johanna Konta and twelfth seed Dominika Cibulkova.

Johanna defeated Petra to reach the quarter finals, after losing the opening set, the third set a 6-0 whitewash.  She was joined in the last eight by Radwanska and Cibulkova who will play each other, Kristina Mladenovic and qualifier Monica Puig (set to meet) and Elena Vesnina.

The remaining two spots will be taken by the winners of battles between Misaki Doi and Karolina Pliskova, and Andrea Petkovic and Ekaterina Makarova.

The ATP tour event in Nottingham has all quarter finalists determined, and six of the top eight seeds have made it through.  Unseeded Dudi Sela upset third seed Joao Sousa in the second round, and will play seventh seed Andreas Seppi in one quarter final.  Ninth seed Marcos Baghdatis took out fifth seed Sam Querrey in the third round to earn a quarter final match with second seed Pablo Cuevas.

The other quarter finals see top seed Kevin Anderson up against sixth seed Steve Johnson while fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov is challenged by eight seed Gilles Muller.

The seedings for Wimbledon have been released, and Richard Gasquet, Nick Kyrgios and Gilles Simon are the winners while Tomas Berdych, Gael Monfils and John Isner will be unhappy.  If the world rankings were strictly observed, which is the case for all Grand Slam tournaments except Wimbledon, then Gasquet would be seeded just outside the top eight and Berdych seeded to make the quarter finals.  Kyrgios and Simon would be seeded but not to make the final sixteen.

However Gasquet is seeded seven, above both Thiem and Berdych.  Kyrgios fifteen and Simon sixteen are both seeded above Monfils and Isner.  Still, grass court tennis throws up many surprises so expect the results at SW19 to often fly in the face of rankings and seedings.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Murray's Record Fifth Queens Club title

Results from the weekends tournaments:

Andy Murray won his record fifth Queens Club title in London, coming back from a set and a break down against big serving Milos Raonic.  Raonic led 3-1 in the second set, and was serving, having not been broken in 55 previous attempts in the tournament.  Murray finally snapped the sequence and from that point seized the momentum for the remainder of the match.
Raonic lost the match because he let doubts enter his mind, and Murray attacked the hesitation which followed. Despite the loss, Milos has risen two spots to number seven, a significant move with seedings for Wimbledon being released soon.

Madison Keys won her second title, taking out the Birmingham final in two impressive sets against Barbora Strycova.  Keys has moved into the top 10 as a result, and her confidence is sky high heading into Wimbledon next week.
Strycova is also in good shape, moving up to 26 in the world.

Alexander Zverev defeated Roger Federer to reach the Halle final, but could not win his first career title.  Florian Mayer was fast out of the blocks, and wrapped up the opening set 6-2.  Zverev fought back to take the second 7-5 and level the match but Mayer steadied to win 6-2 5-7 6-3.
Mayer has jumped from 192 to 80 and Zverev 38 to 28 in the rankings.  Zverev will now be seeded and even more dangerous with which to deal in the grass court GS tournament.

Caroline Garcia won the Mallorca title, comfortably defeating Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-4.  Both women achieved much from the tournament,  Garcia now is ranked 32 so should be seeded for Wimbledon, while Sevastova rose 15 spots to 67.

In the last week before Wimbledon Eastbourne hosts a WTA tournament and Nottingham plays home for an ATP event.
Eastbourne will see duel Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova and former Wimbledon finalist Aga Radwanska among 10 of the world's top 20 competing
Not such a strong field at Nottingham where the top seed is the men's world number 24. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

All German final in Germany

Roger Federer appeared to have all the pieces of the puzzle in place in readiness for him to capture his first title for 2016.  He had played a number of matches since his latest injury without any hint of concern.  He was playing on grass, the surface where he traditionally has had an advantage over nearly all others in his generation.  And this tournament was the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, one which he has made his own, and will quite possibly be named in his honour one day, such has been his dominance.
Eight titles in ten finals in the past 13 years, including winning the last 3.

Federer lost the opening set of his semi final to 19 year old Alexander Zverev in a tie breaker, and was 3-4 and facing break point more than once in the eighth game of the second set.  However once the top seed finally held serve, he rode the momentum to level the match with a 7-5 set win.
Zverev failed to honour the Swiss script though and converted the only break point available to him in the decider, winning the match 7-6 5-7 6-3.  Zverev was savage on the Federer first serve, winning 45% of the points from it.  The teenager with loads of potential had pulled off his most significant victory yet in a short but eye catching career.

The all German final that was deemed so unlikely by yours truly and most others is a reality thanks to Zverev and Florian Mayer, the latter proving too competent on grass for third seed Dominic Thiem and taking the second semi final in straight sets.
He created eleven break points in the match, compared with just one for Thiem.
Mayer is ranked 192, but has been as high as 18 and has made two Wimbledon quarter finals.

Thiem's hopes of successive grass court titles have been dashed, as too have those of Coco Vandeweghe, who lost her Birmingham semi final to Barbora Strycova.  The Czech player is 30 but is enjoying the best tennis of her long career, currently ranked in the top 30 and achieving a career high of 20 last year.  This will be her second final of 2016.
To win Birmingham, Barbora will need to defeat another American in the final.  Madison Keys has a great game for this surface and yet found herself down a set against Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro.  Keys levelled the match with a better second set, but it took a tie break for her to eventually prevail.  Although she lost, Carla can be delighted by her efforts on a surface where she has historically had the most difficulty.

Meanwhile, I am predicting a win here for Madison Keys and a prominent part to play at Wimbledon.  Dependent of course on consistency of performance, the only part of her game that seems to have held her back from greater feats much earlier.

In Mallorca, French player Caroline Garcia is in another final, following her fight back semi final win over Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.  Over the last month,  the 22 year old has won in Strasbourg, won the Women's Doubles at Roland Garros with Kristina Mladenovic, and now shown that she can adapt well to grass.  The future looks good for Garcia.
Her second title will come if she can defeat Anastasija Sevastova, the Latvian who added second seed Jelena Jankovic to her impressive list of victims from this tournament, following her semi final win.
Sevastova was ranked as high as 36 at the start of 2011, but retired in 2013 due to injury and illness.  This final is the high point of her comeback to tennis in January 2015.

The Queens Club final will be a battle between top seed Andy Murray, who survived a three set challenge from Marin Cilic, and third seed Milos Raonic, whose serve proved impossible for Bernard Tomic to penetrate in a 6-4 6-4 success.
Murray deserves favouritism but the a case can feasibly be argued for either player to end up holding the trophy.  Irrespective, the match promises plenty.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Dominic and Coco - 2 titles in a row ?

Despite the damp weather, tournament organisers have managed to catch up with schedules in the four tournaments being held in England, Germany and Spain.  At time of writing we are just over a week from Wimbledon so the anticipation is building.

Top seed Andy Murray dropped a set to the ever improving Englishman Kyle Edmund before putting the Scottish foot down in the deciding set at Queens Club.  The win put Murray into a semi final against Marin Cilic who terminated the good run of American Steve Johnson in another quarter final.

The other semi final will feature Bernard Tomic, unseeded but decidedly more comfortable on grass, with his quarter final win over Fernando Verdasco.  Next for the Australian will be third seed Milos Raonic who has already knocked over an Aussie, Nick Kyrgios, in this tournament.  Can he make two from two ?

The Halle semi finals are Roger Federer v Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem v Florian Mayer.  If the underdogs were to win, then it would be an all German final in Germany.  However, highly unlikely, especially with the form of third seed Dominic Thiem (although he didn't have to swing a racquet thanks to a walkover from Kohlschreiber in the quarter final).  Also the experience of Federer should be too much for the power and potential of Zverev.  It came to the fore against David Goffin, especially in the first set of their quarter final, in which the Belgian never had a look in.

Birmingham could well be the scene for the second title in two weeks for Coco Vandeweghe, as she has powered into the semis with a victory over Yanina Wickmayer 6-4 6-2.  She will have to beat Czech Barbora Strycova if she is to continue her charge.

It could be an all American final if Madison Keys wins her semi final.  She dropped the opening set in a tie break before proving to strong for Jelena Ostapenko.  Her semi final opponent is Carla Suarez Navarro, more accomplished on the clay, but not performing too shabbily on the grass, if her win at the expense of second seed Angie Kerber is a guide.  

In Mallorca Kirsten Flipkens, who defeated top seed Garbine Muguruza in the first round, has repeated that form all the way to the semi final where she will face sixth seed Caroline Garcia.  Garcia ended third seed Ana Ivanovic's tournament in the quarters, but Serbia will still have representation in the last four as Jelena Jankovic has found some consistency at last.  
The second seed defeated Romania's Sorana Cirstea and will play unseeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the final.  Sevastova had beaten Genie Bouchard in the second round in one of many upsets in the tournament.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Wimbledon soon - and rain about !

Rainy weather in London at the moment will hopefully not be around when Wimbledon enters our lives in the coming weeks, but it is certainly having its effect on schedules in lead up tournaments.

Before we mention those, results from last week:

The ATP Stuttgart final was finally completed a day late, after its own share of rain interruptions.  Dominic Thiem won yet another title for 2016, avenging the Munich loss to Philippe Kohlschreiber, and achieving the rare feat of winning tournaments on three different surfaces in a calendar year.

In s'Hertogenbosch, Coco Vandeweghe won her second title in three years there, defeating Kristina Mladenovic.  While France lost out in the women's event, Nicolas Mahut went one better for the country with his win over Gilles Muller in the men's event at the same venue.

Nottingham belonged to Karolina Pliskova, whose first tournament win for the year came at the expense of finalist Alison Riske.

This week,  an ATP grass court tournament is being held at Queens Club in London, where in the first round top seed Andy Murray was pushed to two tie break sets by Mahut, and Roland Garros semi finalists Wawrinka and Gasquet both lost.

The other current ATP event is hosted in Halle, Germany and big names to fall at the first hurdle were David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych.

WTA tournaments are in the early stages both in Birmingham and Mallorca.
Garbine Muguruza scaled the highest of heights to capture the women's singles trophy at Roland Garros, but as top seed in Mallorca she lost in the first round.  Fourth seed Kristina Mladenovic, winner a matter of days ago in Nottingham, lost first round too.

The event in Birmingham included the four top ranked players from reigning Fed a Cup holders, the Czech Republic, and funnily they were drawn to play each other in two first round matches.  Fifth seed Petra Kvitova defeated Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova knocked out eighth seed Karolina Pliskova (last weeks Nottingham winner).

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Roger is back and on the grass

The all too short grass court season is now upon us and the sudden change of surface provides certain players with different strengths a chance to display their wares more adequately and confidently than on the clay.  Conversely, some of the clay courters are more prone to early exits as they struggle to handle the various nuances that playing on grass may present.

However, the pace of the grass courts these days is markedly slower than in yesteryear, and so the advantage is not as big as once was - incredibly 35-40 years ago Bjorn Borg could switch from slow clay to fast grass and dominate on each, making his six French Opens and five Wimbledons an achievement that should be given even more plaudits than it already receives.

Not long to Wimbledon and good to see Federer back and apparently fit.  He was top seed for the ATP Stuttgart tournament, one of two men's events on grass held in the first week following the French Open.

Roger won two tight matches, the first a thrilling three setter against young American future star Taylor Fritz, and the second a two tie break quarter final against qualifier Florian Mayer.  Federer was stopped in the semis by third seed Dominic Thiem, who for the second time this year ruined a tournament for Roger.  Down a set, Thiem fought his way successfully through a second set tie break before clinching the match 6-4 in the decider.
He will play Philippe Kohlschreiber in the final, after he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro in the other semi.  This will be the second final for Kohlschreiber in 2016, both events in his home country of Germany.  He beat Thiem in Munich on clay about 6 weeks back, and the two will be contesting this final as well.

Since Munich, Kohlschreiber had won just one match prior to Stuttgart, whereas Thiem had won 12, capturing the Nice tournament and making the Roland Garros semis.  Grass has changed the fortunes for Philippe and the final should be fascinating.

The Ricoh Open in s'Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, will feature 7th seed Gilles Muller from Luxembourg against Nicolas Mahut (8) from France in the final.  Muller defeated top seed David Ferrer while Mahut dispensed with second seed Bernard Tomic in two of the quarter finals, before dealing with Karlovic and Querrey respectively in the semis.

The WTA grass court season opened with its two tournaments this week including one held in conjunction with the ATP in s'Hertogenbosch.
Fresh from winning the French Open doubles title with Caroline Garcia, 3rd seed Kristina Mladenovic overcame top seed Belinda Bencic, after dropping the opening set, in one semi final.  Disappointed at the loss, it still would have felt good for Bencic to be back playing after her absence through injury.

Mladenovic will play sixth seed Coco Vandeweghe in the final following the American's victory over compatriot Madison Brengle in their semi final.

Nottingham has been the venue for the other WTA event this week, and it saw two comebacks - Caroline Wozniacki from injury, although she only won her first round match before exiting, and Australian Ash Barty, the former Wimbledon Junior champion, who quit tennis for a cricket career, but last year returned to tennis.

Until Nottingham Barty had been playing lower tier ITF events, but she won through qualifying here before winning her first two main draw matches.  Only top seed Karolina Pliskova prevented her moving into the semi finals, and it took two tie breaks to do it, the second lasting 9-7.  For 20 year old Ash Barty her future for a second time appears bright, as she gives tennis another go.

The final in Nottingham will be a battle between Pliskova and unseeded American Alison Riske.  Pliskova defeated fourth seed Puerto Rican Monica Puig and Riske knocked out China's unseeded Saisai Zheng in the semi finals.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Novak Slam !

Novak Djokovic continues to rewrite history books and insert new pages in them.  He added a few more with his emphatic victory in the 2016 French Open at Roland Garros.

Djokovic opened perfectly, breaking Andy Murray's serve to love, before being brought back to earth with a mighty thud.  Murray broke back and then held serve for the rest of Set One.  The key to a Scot winning the title lay very much in the consistency of serve, and apart from the blip in game one, Andy had his delivery on song, rendering even the masterful returning of the top seed incapable of breaking down enough of the second seed's wall.

With Andy serving first in the match and gaining the one game lead at 2-1, pressure returned to the Serb serve, and a couple of Novak unforced errors, together with a winning Murray forehand produced a second successive break.   Murray led 3-1.
As mentioned already Novak could not penetrate his opponent's serve sufficiently to force a break, and so holding his own for the rest of the set was nice enough in one sense, but the scoreboard displayed 6-3 for Andy, and the ghosts from 2012, 2014 and 2015 had started to gather in case they were required.

Not for awhile they weren't as a new Djokovic appeared for second set action, much as you would have a racquet replaced if the current one wasn't doing its job.  The newer version jumped out to a 3-0 lead, leaving Murray to wonder.  Most wondering is done in silence, but Andy vocalises, often in language preferably used after the kids have gone to bed.  With the replacement Djokovic playing more recognisable tennis aka brilliant shots, the crowd entered the contest, clearly favouring Novak - their twenty third choice as player to love, now that Roger, Rafa and all the French players were gone.

Andy didn't like the crowd noise, didn't like much at all with the environment, and he would have liked the scoreboard least of all, as it continually increased the number next to Novak's name.  The serving reliability of Set One had deserted him, quite possibly because his concentration was on other things, and second serves were being punished.  First serves were also being given the famous Djokovic returns which often put Murray on the back foot in rallies.

Once more the second seed was broken, and the set was taken gleefully by Novak 6-1.

At 1–1 in the third set, Djokovic, with a forehand winner and errors from Andy, garnered two break points.  The break arrived with the second of those, on the back of a Murray volleying error. 2-1 to the world number one, which soon became 3-1.
Backhand and forehand winners were the backbone of a second break of the Murray serve for the set, and at 4-1 hopes of a British win were slipping.

Djokovic saved four break points in the sixth game, one with a backhand winner, another with a volley winner and the third with an ace.  Murray was generous and one of his mounting errors saved the fourth.

Finally holding his serve enabled Andy to double his game score for the third set which Djokovic won 6-2.

Although he was feeling down and out, in real terms Murray was only trailing by a set.  However after three unforced errors he was trailing by a set and a break.  Djokovic led 1-0.  Three more self made mistakes and Novak was the recipient of a gift 2-0 advantage, the aroma of the roses ever stronger.

Andy saved a break point in the fifth game to make it 2-3, but serving at 2-4 it all fell apart.  He lost his serve to love and at 5-2 all that Novak needed to do was hold serve to win.

He subsequently played his worst game since the early stages of set one.  Murray had more spring in his step and held serve.  Suddenly it was 5-4 and fortunately Djokovic had the insurance break.  He served better to reach 40-15.  
Then a double fault and a careless shot brought it to deuce.  No panic though, and a clean forehand winner brought him a third championship point.  Murray netted a backhand and it was over.

Novak Djokovic won 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-4

He is now holding all 4 Grand Slam titles at the one time - only the third male player to achieve this, the first since Rod Laver in 1969.  The only one to do it over two calendar years.

Andy Murray has now lost eight of his ten Grand Slam final appearances, but his consolation will be that this is his best Roland Garros achievement, and he has made the finals of every major.

Novak Djokovic has won 12 majors, half of them coming in the last eight Grand Slam tournaments held.  Domination of men's tennis at the highest level not seen since Roger Federer in the 2003-2010 period.  What Novak is doing is dominating at both Grand Slam and Masters level.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Garbine the Queen of Roland Garros

Venezuelan born Spaniard Garbine Muguruza is the 2016 Roland Garros Women's Singles Champion.  The 22 year old fourth seed defeated top seed and world number one Serena Williams 7-5 6-4, gaining revenge some would say for losing to Williams in the Wimbledon Final last year.
I prefer to think of it not as revenge, but as a natural progression for a young player whose star began shining brightly in Australia in 2014.  Garbine won a lead up tournament to the Australian Open in Hobart in January that year, and although she had played Serena in the previous year's  Australian Open, no one had marked her for sustained success until this initial WTA win.

Her next on court meeting with Serena was at Roland Garros 2014 and those that had yet to notice her, soon did once she had knocked the younger Williams sister out of the French Open in the second round.

So fast forward two years and Serena and Garbine faced each other a second time on the red clay of Roland Garros, with just a little more on the line this time.
Serena opened proceedings and her first service game was blistering, winning all four points and making a statement far more authoritative than at the start of her previous matches.
Williams led 2-1 and had conceded only a single point, before putting the Muguruza serve under its first dose of pressure. Two break points and four deuces were negotiated successfully and Muguruza then turned it all around forcing Serena into error and having the defending champ 2-2 and 0-40.  Williams saved two break points but double faulted on the third to give Garbine a 3-2 lead and the first real advantage of the final.
Garbine served two double faults of her own when attempting to consolidate the break, but kept her cool, hitting powerfully to all parts, continually pressuring Serena, and a forehand winner swept the fourth seed to 4-2.
Serena, as expected, stuck back hard winning the next three games to lead 5-4 and require Garbine to hold serve to remain in the set.  This she did, and more, breaking the American serve and holding serve again, a backhand sealing the opening set 7-5.

The second set began with Serena losing serve thanks to a series of backhand errors.  Then Garbine, with three double faults in the second game, donated a break straight back.  The third game began with a typical Serena ace, but brilliance from Garbine including backhand and forehand winners ensured the third successive service break.
7-5 2-1 and looking good for Spain.
Games went comfortably to serve until Serena was serving at 3-5 to stay in the match.
In trouble once more with Garbine attacking her backhand, Serena had to save four match points before she won her fourth game for the set.

Garbine needed a solid service game to win the match and she delivered, racing to a 40-0 lead, Serena almost resigned to her fate.  The title was won with the first of the match points, a backhand lob landing spot on the baseline, and leaving Garbine unsure for a couple of seconds whether it was in or not.  The realisation of victory transformed the look of wonder into indescribable joy, on the face of the newest member of the Grand Slam tournament winners club.

This was a French Open final of exceptional standard, and it took a player confident that her game plan would be enough to match it with the best, provided that she didn't deviate from it, whatever the circumstance.  Garbine Muguruza has the potential to win more Roland Garros titles as her game is well suited to clay courts.
However, she made the Wimbledon final last year, so she can handle grass as well.  There is no reason why she can't be a major factor in all the four majors - consistency is the area which needs improvement, and time is on her side.
Serena still can win the remaining majors this year - just a little luck going her way wouldn't hurt, but it is harder each year to dominate.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Finals set: Serena v Garbine & Novak v Andy

Still being behind schedule, the Roland Garros tournament organisers determined that all singles semi finals - women and men - be played on the final Friday, Day 13.
And after all the rain delays, Federer's absence, Nadal's withdrawal and plenty of upset results, the two finals will be contested: 1:) between the top two seeds from the men's draw; and 2:) between the numbers one and four seeds from the women's draw.

Many had predicted that these would be the four finalists before the event began.

Garbine Muguruza was the first to reach the final following yet another impressive straight sets win, this one over Samantha Stosur.  The Spanish fourth seed has improved with each performance, and although the 6-2 6-4 demolition of the 2010 finalist suggests that Stosur was off her game, it was more a matter of Stosur maintaining her standard but simply being outclassed by a player with greater capacity to inflict damage with her power serve and ground strokes.

For Garbine, this will be her second final in a Major, having been runner-up to Serena Williams at Wimbledon last year.  She will be hoping to turn the tables on the world number one, but on the clay this year, as it will be Serena again her final hurdle at Roland Garros.  
The two have met four times - each at a Grand Slam tournament.  Serena won in 2013 at the Australian Open, and again in Melbourne last year before repeating the dose in the Wimbledon final.
However their only match on clay saw Muguruza win at Roland Garros in round two in 2014, so that must give her confidence leading into this year's final.

Serena certainly has had to battle harder for her wins in order to reach the final.  Following the high quality close match against Mladenovic, the top seed struggled for a large part against Putintseva and was in strife for much of the first set against unseeded Kiki Bertens in a hard fought semi final.

Bertens broke immediately, and almost achieved a double break before Serena settled into the match.  Eventually a tie break was required, and were it not for a nagging hip injury which clearly restricted the Dutch player, Serena may well have been a set down instead of claiming the advantage 7-6.  The tie break was won 9 points to 7.

Kiki continued to challenge Serena but the number one was able to dip into her ample reserves and win her way into yet another GS final.  If she wins the title she will have at least four of each of the majors, and 22 in total, equalling Steffi Graf.

Andy Murray won his semi final against defending champion Stan Wawrinka, and surprisingly did it comfortably.  Stan, before the semi, was hitting what appeared to be peak form, but against Murray was no match, his court movement lacking, and once he had lost the opening two sets, there was no coming back.  Better signs with a 6-4 third set win, but this was Murray's day and he soon extinguished any thoughts of a five set thriller, stamping Stan's departure papers 6-2 in the fourth.

Andy has lost seven of his nine finals at Grand Slam level, four to Djokovic, including this year's Australian Open.  His two majors, though have been wins against Novak.  Because they were back in 2012 and 2013, his hunger for more success at the highest level must be extreme.
It will be another Djokovic v Murray final - their seventh at GS level (equal second most of any pairing in the Open Era)

Novak is in his sixth successive GS final, and third straight Roland Garros final, thanks to his awesome display against Dominic Thiem in their semi final.
Admittedly it was Thiem's debut showing in a semi final at a major, but his tennis has been of such a high standard that expectations were for a much closer battle.
Djokovic played his best tennis for the tournament, and hit shots of such quality that even Thiem's best efforts were not reaping the dividends that they surely would against any other player.  This led to him attempting too much too soon in rallies and committing too many errors.
The first two sets were Novak's 6-2 6-1, before Dominic launched himself into the match, breaking the Djokovic serve and taking a 3-0 lead in the third set.  Temporary respite only as Novak won the next four games and cleaned up the leftovers for a 6-2 6-1 6-4 entry pass to the final.

If Djokovic should win, he would become the first player since Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the one time.  Andy Murray, like Novak, is gunning for his first Roland Garros title and would love to spoil the Serbian party.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Top Seeds into semis

We nearly saw the exit of the top seeds in both the women's and men's draws on Day 12 at Roland Garros,  one for less than normal quality tennis, the other for loss of temper.

Serena Williams, in her quarter final, had the basic task of eliminating Kazakhstan's favourite adopted Russian Yulia Putintseva, ranked outside the world's top 50.  However, Yulia wasn't playing Serena's victim in the first set.  She broke the defending champion's serve in the third game to lead 2-1 and although Williams levelled at 3-3, the eleventh game sent shockwaves through the stadium.  From 40-0, Serena's backhand fell apart, while Yulia's was set alight.  The break came and was consolidated with a service hold and the set 7-5.

If Williams didn't feel pressure at that moment, she must have after the next game when she dropped serve yet again.
The tables were turned as they usually are when Serena is in trouble, and she broke back immediately, proceeding to take the match 5-7 6-4 6-1, and book a semi final place against Kiki Bertens.

Yes it's true - for the first time in forty five years, a Dutch woman has made the RG semi finals.  Kiki destroyed the hopes of yet another seed, this one number eight Timea Bacsinszky from Switzerland.  It was quick and painless - well Kiki didn't feel Timea's pain anyway.  7-5 6-2 was enough to guarantee a match against the world number one.

Before Serena and Yulia crossed swords, Novak Djokovic had beaten Tomas Berdych for the 24th time from 26 attempts, the last eleven in succession.  Tomas began fairly well, but was caught inevitably in the trap which Novak weaves so well.  Leading 6-3 7-5 and in no trouble in Set 3, Novak lost a break point chance, but instead of taking it in his stride as is his norm, he lost his cool and threw his racquet down, whereupon it bounced backwards, barely missing a line judge. 
The risk of disqualification was avoided by a matter of millimetres. Lucky boy !

The win was comprehensive, 6-3 7-5 6-3, and Novak will play in his umpteenth semi final at Grand Slam level against GS semi final debutant from Austria, Dominic Thiem, who thumped David Goffin after giving the Belgian a one set start.

Day 13 will be lucky for some as the four singles semis are played - Muguruza should beat Stosur, S Williams will finish the fantastic Bertens run, and I predict a men's final featuring the same combatants as last year, after Wawrinka rids Paris of Murray and Djokovic bids farewell to Thiem.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Andy, Stan, Garbine, Sam win 1/4 finals

Day 11 of the French Open provided one major shock and three surprise results.
The shock was a schedule completed without interruption (the final Girls Doubles match on Court 18 was only stopped due to bad light at 3-3 in the second set)

The surprise result in the men's draw was Tomas  Berdych defeating David Ferrer in a fourth round encounter.  The seedings suggested this was an expected win for 7th seeded Tomas, but 11th seeded David is the better performed on this surface and at this Major, having made the final in 2014.
Berdych handled the conditions remarkably well and sent the Spanish terrier packing 6-3 7-5 6-3.

The male version of the 2016 Spanish Inquisition was dismantled further with the defeat of 14th seed Roberto Bautista Agut by top seed Novak Djokovic.  The fourth round clash had included before today the mysterious loss of the opening set by Djokovic.  Police are still investigating the missing set, and have not ruled out suspicious circumstances.  Meanwhile Novak was advised to go about his normal business, which he did, ensuring that the remaining three sets were securely in his possession, and he could happily take his rightful place in the quarter final against Berdych.

Dominic Thiem resumed his fourth round battle with Marcel Granollers at one set all, and cruised to a four set win.  The Austrian is favoured to continue his cruise to a luxury resort where a semi final will be held.  Before he reaches that spot, he will need to survive the sea storm served up by Belgian 12th seed David Goffin who also gave his opponent a first set start before triumphing in four over Latvian Ernests Gulbis.

The women's draw saw its remaining fourth round matches completed, and Serena Williams was quickest of the four to make the quarter finals, obliterating the chances of 18th seed Elina Svitolina from the Ukraine 6-1 6-1.
Spain lost another player in a result no one saw coming.  12th seed Carla Suarez Navarro left the tournament in straight sets courtesy of Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, who will find her quarter final opposition slightly more difficult.  It is Serena.

Kiki Bertens is the fourth unseeded player to feature in the women's quarter finals at Roland Garros 2016.  Not content with the upset of Angie Kerber in round one, the Netherlands player has looked the goods throughout, and 15th seed Madison Keys had no answer in their fourth round match.  7-6 6-3 for Kiki, and the quarter final against Timea Bacsinszky should be exciting.
Swiss 8th seed Timea made the semis last year and she is on track to do likewise this year.  Venus Williams, playing some of her best tennis in the past week or so, was thrashed 6-2 6-4 by Bacsinszky, and I believe the semi final will be Bacsinszky v the other Williams sister.

The first of the quarter finals were also played and Spain finally had a victory, with Garbine Muguruza putting an end to the fairy tale run of American Shelby Rogers in a routine straights sets dismissal.  
The fourth seed will face 21st seed Sam Stosur in the semi final, following the Australian's 6-4 7-6 win over Tsvetana Pironkova.  This wasn't as straightforward as the score may indicate, with Stosur needing to come from a service break down in each of the sets. 
Although Sam won the only previous match her and Muguruza have played, it was a while ago, and in that time Garbine has jumped into the world's top five, deserves favouritism for the semi final, and to reach her second Grand Slam tournament final.

The first semi final in the men's draw will, as has always been predicted, be a battle between the second and third seeds, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.  Stan won his quarter final against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, smashing another Spanish player 6-2 6-1 before Albert fought out a much better third set, only to lose in a tie breaker.

Andy played the last French player standing in singles, Richard Gasquet, and raced to 5-2 in the first set before surrendering the final five games and the set.  Murray was again leading 5-2 in the second set, but once more let Gasquet back in so games were on serve.  Andy almost went down another break, but instead steadied and a tie break was ultimately required.  Gasquet had the early advantage in the tie break, but once Murray levelled he raced away, won the tie break and the second set, and then the third set incredibly 6-0.  
Gasquet was spent mentally as much as physically and Murray won 5-7 7-6 6-0 6-2.

Day 12 will see the rest of the quarter finals played, with Thiem v Goffin possibly the more intriguing from the men's draw.  Unknown quantities this far into a major.
And the big question in the women's draw: Is the Sam Stosur revival enough to overcome the power game of Garbine Muguruza ?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Sam Stosur resurgent

Day 10 at Roland Garros 2016 was less miserable than Day 9 in that there was some tennis played.

For Simona Halep and Aga Radwanska, however, it was as miserable as it could possibly be.  The two players, seeded 6 and 2 respectively, had waited since Sunday with leads in matches against their fourth round opponents,  but both saw those advantages washed away.

Aga led unseeded but highly capable Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova 6-2 3-0, but proceeded to lose ten consecutive games, and was dumped from the tournament 2-6 6-3 6-3.  I had tipped Aga to reach the final so another selection bit the dust, or more correctly the red mud.

Simona resumed her battle with Sam Stosur ahead 5-3 in Set One, but was taken apart by a resurgent Queenslander, who simply adapted to the heavy conditions magnificently, while Halep wanted to be elsewhere.  Stosur broke back immediately and the Romanian to her credit fought hard to avoid a second straight break, forcing a tie break.  Simona need not have bothered as she failed to win another point, and Sam was a set up 7-6.
Set two was dominated by Stosur, and the 6-3 scoreline could even be described as a little flattering to Halep.

The first quarter final in a major for four years for Sam, and without any warning she has the form and belief to do further damage, as she did when a finalist in 2010.

The horrible conditions provided the setting for poor performances by top seeds, Novak Djokovic another to struggle, dropping the opening set to Roberto Bautista Agut.  He fought hard to level at a set apiece and then to lead 4-1 in the third before rain stopped play for the day.

Other matches yet to be completed at the end of Day 10 included Thiem v Granollers, currently at a set each, Ferrer leading Berdych 2-1, on serve, in Set One, and Gulbis leading Goffin 3-0 with a break in the opening set.

Several matches hadn't even started and more rain is forecast - there is little chance of the tournament finishing on the final scheduled Sunday.