Sunday, 31 July 2016

Djokovic in another Masters final

Simona Halep won her semi final in surprisingly convincing fashion over Wimbledon finalist Angie Kerber in Montreal.
The 5th seed grabbed the first set 6-0, with Kerber winning only a third of the points when serving.  Although she came back in set two to level the match, Angie could not sustain the effort against a rampant Halep who returned the German serve brilliantly, breaking three more times to win a finals spot 6-0 3-6 6-2.

Madison Keys will be the final hurdle for Simona to clear following the American's straight sets victory over Kristina Kucova.  Kucova should remember this tournament for all the matches prior to this disaster which saw Keys serve nine aces, break four times while not facing a single break point on her own serve, and winning two thirds of all points played.

My selection for the final is Madison Keys but I underestimated Halep at my peril in the semi and could well be doing so again.

Toronto will host a Nishikori v Djokovic final.  That Novak is there surprises no one - once the wobbly first few games of his semi final were negotiated, the world's best controlled Gael Monfils in a classy display featuring by far the best tennis he has exhibited in the tournament.
A repeat of that will cause Kei Nishikori a mountain of strife, but the Japanese number one is handling big challenges beautifully as evidenced by his destruction of Stan Wawrinka in the other semi final.
The third seed triumphed in straight sets, the second a 6-1 thrashing, on top of a competitive opening set tie break won 8 points to 6.

The only reason to pick Djokovic to lose the final would be a last minute attempt to make up ground in a tennis tipping competition.  All logic suggests that because he plays a similar brand of tennis to Nishikori, but a bit better in all facets, Novak should prevail.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Kucova surprise Montreal semi finalist

It's semi final time in Canada, and sadly no Canadians will feature.  The top female maple leaf hope was Eugenie Bouchard - after fine victories over Safarova and Cibulkova in Montreal, she lost to Slovakian Kristina Kucova, who despite winning the US Open Junior Grand Slam title in 2007, has never been ranked in the top 100. 

Kucova didn't stop there, impressing all with her quarter final success over last start winner Johanna Konta, in the process denying the Brit's attempt to enter the world's top ten.  Instead of Dominika Cibulkova flying the Slovak flag, it will be Kristina doing battle against 10th seed Madison Keys in one of the semi finals.

Keys has had a tough run, requiring three sets each to overcome Venus Williams and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in respective third round and quarter final clashes.  Pavlyuchenkova had previously dispensed with fourth seed Aga Radwanska.  I expect the power game of the American to be enough to guide her through to the final, with Kucova finally entering the top 100 irrespective.

The second of the semi finals of the Rogers Cup - yes the ATP and WTA event organisers in Canada must have accepted Mr Federer's donation of his name, just as the women's team event paid homage to the great man when calling itself the Fed Cup - will include Angie Kerber and Simona Halep, who were seeded to meet in the final four following the withdrawal of Muguruza. 

Kerber was facing defeat in the third round with Elina Svitolina serving for the match at 6-1 5-4, before pulling off the comeback of the tournament to survive and remaining favourite to win the title.  Halep also was threatened, her problems arriving in the quarter final against Kuznetsova, losing the opening set 6-3.  However, it proved only a slight diversion as the next two sets were wrapped up for Romania in rapid fashion.

In Toronto, the Canadian expected to reach the semis, fourth seed Milos Raonic, fell to the highly watchable but for much of his career just as unpredictable Gael Monfils.  Their quarter final was the highlight of the tournament leading into the battle of the final four.  Raonic played great tennis - better than at least two of the other winning quarter finalists - but Monfils was at the peak of his powers.  The locals were treated to a top spectacle, with only the result contributing anything negative.

Numbers 1, 2 and 3 seeds fill the other semi final spots.  Second seed Stan Wawrinka has displayed some of his best in each of his matches, not dropping a set while eliminating dangerous opponents including Sock and Anderson.  Three of the sets have gone to tie breaks and Stan has shown composure through these.  
He will need to remain composed against Kei Nishikori in the semi final because the third seed will keep the ball in play for an annoyingly long time.  Although his form has been scratchy, Nishikori has done all that is necessary and he is capable of lifting for the big occasion.  Not quite enough for this occasion though in my opinion.

Another who has yet to produce his best is the top seed Novak Djokovic, and that is scary for Gael Monfils.  The world number one, on the rebound from his Wimbledon disappointment, has used two opponents as hitting practice before rolling out a pile of unforced errors against Tomas Berdych - he can afford to do it when playing Berdych because somehow the win always come, whatever either does.

The semi final should be exciting to watch - Monfils will play glorious unconventional shots and hopefully challenge Djokovic to defend from unusual positions.  This may force the number one out of his comfort zone and produce some shot making that is rarely asked of him but is breathtaking in its skill and artistry.  
A win for Monfils is a big ask but a close match packed full of highlights is warranted for a crowd unhappy that a Canadian is not playing.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Rio nearing - and no Roger !

It's hard to judge the performances of players competing in Toronto and Montreal this week.  For the men, the Masters event in Toronto is one of nine in a points scoring class second only to the four Grand Slam tournaments, and points from it must be included in a players overall total. This means Andy Murray will score zero as he has bypassed Canada this year.  Last year he won and scored 1000 points (it was held in Montreal as the two cities rotate hosting duties) Because of the Olympics, Canada is scheduled earlier in 2016, but in the wash up Murray will lose ground to Djokovic who was beaten by the Scot in the 2015 final but is contesting as top seed in Toronto.

The Premier 5 WTA tournament in Montreal is also in a category just one tier below the majors, and would normally attract the steadfast focus of the top players.  The Wimbledon and Roland Garros champions had originally entered the tournament as the number one and three seeds but Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza both withdrew after the draw was published.

Questions have to be raised about the timing of these events right on the doorsteps of the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.  The focus of many clearly is split between the task at hand and the prospect of representing ones country at an Olympics - a chance that may come only once in a career.  
For Roger Federer, injury has robbed him of his probably last tilt at a medal for Switzerland, and the tennis world will be without him for the remainder of the year.  Career ending may be too severe a call, but no bigger challenge has been presented to Federer, especially when his comeback from serious injury will be at age 35.

After three rounds in Montreal, the seeds have survived apart from:
Carla Suarez Navarro (8) defeated by 121 ranked Slovakian Kristina Kucova, after leading by a set
Dominika Cibulkova (11) smashed by Canadian Eugenie Bouchard to the thrills of the locals - Slovakia a win and a loss but not the way it was expected.
Samantha Stosur (14) once leaving the clay, rediscovered her inconsistency, and Russian teenager  Daria Kasatkina, now ranked 33, won in straight sets.

One of the semi finalists will come from either Varvara Lepchenko (who as lucky loser took Serena's place in the draw), Kukova, Bouchard or Stanford winner Johanna Konta.  You could have been given long odds on that before the tournament.

Kerber, Radwanska and Halep lead the way as the tournament enters the final sixteen.

In Toronto, 11th seed Nick Kyrgios didn't have Rio on his mind as an excuse because he is not going, but he still lost to 17 year old Canadian wild card Denis Shapovalov, ranked 370 in the world.
Other seeds to fall in round one were Benoit Paire (14) and Steve Johnson (15). 9th seed John Isner was felled in round two by fellow American Ryan Harrison who had to fight through qualifying to make the main draw.  13th seed Lucas Pouille also failed to pass the second round, ousted by 118th ranked American Rajeev Ram.  Ivo Karlovic served 20 aces on his way to defeating 8th seed Marin Cilic to make the final 16, and 6th seed Dominic Thiem surrendered to a hip injury when down 1-4 in the first set to Kevin Anderson.

Djokovic, Wawrinka and Nishikori all safely gained entrance to the round of sixteen.

Monday, 25 July 2016

O Canada

Canada is the setting for the 2 big tennis tournaments before the Olympics.  The men are playing a Masters event in Toronto, led by Djokovic, Wawrinka, Nishikori and Wimbledon runner up Milos Raonic, hoping to take out the event in front of a home crowd.
10th seed for Toronto is Gael Monfils, fresh from winning a three set final in Washington against Ivo Karlovic.  Ivo provides a tough first round match up for 8th seed Marin Cilic in Canada.

In other events decided in the last couple of days, Feliciano Lopez won the Gstaad title.  As top seed he proved too strong for Robin Haase, but neither have chosen to compete in Toronto.
Kitzbuhel saw fourth seed Paolo Lorenzi prevail over Nikoloz Basilashvili and Fabio Fognini defeated Andrej Martin to win in Umag.

The Premier event for the women this week is in Montreal and the draw is headed by
Kerber, Muguruza, Radwanska and Halep.  Venus will be the sole Williams sister following the withdrawal of the world number one.

Venus is continuing her fine Wimbledon form, just missing out in a three set final in Stanford to Johanna Konta.  Konta, as 15th seed, will be one to watch in Montreal.
The Washington title was snapped up by Belgian seventh seed Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets over American Lauren Davis.
Germany had reason to celebrate as sixth seed Laura Siegemund triumphed in Bastad, defeating Katerina Siniakova in the final.

Konta has moved from 18 to 14, Wickmayer 44 to 36, and Siegemund 40 to 32 in the latest rankings.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Tennis on 2 Continents

Tennis has continued in Europe while it is also making its presence felt on the hard courts of North America, a number of players beginning their preparation for the US Open just over a month away.

Still the top of the pack are giving tournament play a rest, only a handful of top ten players out and about, and having mixed success.

In Washington, both the ATP and WTA are holding events, with four of the men's quarter finalists from the USA.  All the top eight seeds are there except for third seed Bernard Tomic who fell to big serving Ivo Karlovic in the second round.  Karlovic won a close first set, in which no break points were created by either player. The only break of the match came in the second set and the Croatian won 7-6 6-3, winning an amazing 37 points from his 39 first serves.

Top seed John Isner is favoured to win the title but he will need to first eliminate fellow American Steve Johnson in his quarter final.

Top women's seed in Washington is Samantha Stosur, in fact the only top twenty player in the draw.  Sam has ridden the bad luck of Caroline Wozniacki, who was a set up before an injured left arm forced her to concede the match to the Aussie who now sits comfortably in the final eight.  Her major competition left in the tournament looks to be France's Kristina Mladenovic, the fourth seed, following early exits by Sloane Stephens and Monica Puig.

Stanford is the other US WTA title up for grabs this week, and again half the quarter finalists are American, all in the top half of the draw.  Venus Williams, the top seed, and Dominika Cibulkova, second seed, both buoyed by great Wimbledon campaigns, are continuing their fine form, and the tall and short of it may well battle out the final at the weekend.
Dangerous, though, to discount the chances of Coco Vandeweghe and Johanna Konta.

Angie Kerber, the Wimbledon finalist, and Bastad top seed, withdrew from the tournament in Sweden before her third round match, leaving Sara Errani and Annika Beck as the top seeds left, ranked 21 and 38 respectively.

Three ATP tournaments are happening in Europe.  While Karlovic is gunning for the Washington title, his home country of Croatia is hosting a tournament in Umag.  Portugal has two of the quarter finalists, with Gastao Elias upsetting top seed Pablo Cuevas, and second seed Joao Sousa needing two close sets to knock out Leonardo Mayer.

Gstaad, Switzerland hosts a tournament where only two of the world's top thirty are competing.  Top seed and world number 20, Feliciano Lopez is among seven confirmed quarter finalists, but second seed Gilles Simon is yet to play his second round match.

Kitzbuhel, Austria is another venue allowing ATP tour players the chance to hit some serious tennis ball.  Headlining the tournament - Dominic Thiem, eager to win his home nations title.  However both he and second seed Philipp Kohlschreiber lost second round matches, following first round byes.
The semi finals have been reached with 107th ranked Gerald Melzer flying the Austrian flag meeting fourth seed Italian Paolo Lorenzi in one, and 123th ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia against Serb sixth seed Dusan the other.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Halep, Golubic win titles at home

Martin Klizan won the Hamburg title, defeating Pablo Cuevas 6-1 6-4.  As a result, Klizan jumps 19 spots to 28 in the rankings and Cuevas moves from 24 to 20.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas has risen four spots to 31 with his win over Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 to take out the Bastad tournament.  Verdasco is back in the top fifty at 47 having moved up 12 places.

The Newport final was an epic three tie break set thriller between Ivo Karlovic and Gilles Muller.  Karlovic lost the first set but won the next two, the final tie break decided 14-12.  Karlovic and Muller are ranked 35 and 36, both improving three spots.

Simona Halep literally gave nothing away to Anastasija Sevastova in the Bucharest final, winning a home country title 6-0 6-0.  Halep remains fifth ranked in the world while Sevastova rises 17 places to 49.

Viktorija Golubic upset Kiki Bertens in Gstaad to also win a tournament in her home country, after dropping the opening set.  Golubic's win rockets her 33 places into the top 100 at 72 and Bertens rises five spots to 21.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Five tournaments - finalists set

In the Hamburg showdown, third seed Pablo Cuevas will play seventh seed Martin Klizan after semi final wins over unseeded Renzo Olivo and Stephane Robert respectively.

Gilles Muller, seeded three will play Ivo Karlovic, seeded two, in the Newport final.
In the semis, Muller defeated American Donald Young in straight sets and Karlovic also won in two, Marcos Baghdatis pushing the Croatian to tie breaks in each set.

In Bastad, Sweden, there will be an all Spanish final but it won't feature top seed David Ferrer who was defeated by compatriot and third seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas in their semi final.  Albert will need to overcome Fernando Verdasco if he is to win the title, the  fifth seed beating Gastao Elias easily 6-3 6-1.

In Simona Halep's home country of Romania, the top seed has the chance to win the Bucharest title, but for awhile it looked as though she may miss the final.  She lost the first set in a tie breaker before steadying and winning her semi final against unseeded American Vania King in three.
Halep will meet seventh seed Anastasija Sevastova in the decider after the Latvian proved too strong for fourth seed German Laura Siegemund.

In Gstaad, the locals were happy to see three Swiss players in the semi finals.  However only one will be seen in the final following third seed Kiki Bertens knocking out top seed Timea Bacsinszky.  The Dutch player won a tight match 7-5 7-6.
The Swiss opponent for Kiki is unseeded Viktorija Golubic whose semi final win was at the expense of Rebeka Masarova, also unseeded, 6-3 6-2.

For all the intrigue on the tennis courts of Europe, the most exciting news in the tennis world this week has been the announcement of Victoria Azarenka's pregnancy.  Although women's tennis will miss her presence, the impending arrival of a child for Vika more than compensates for that.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Big names take a break

While the end of Wimbledon is a signal for most of the stars to take a rest, it doesn't mean the tennis stops.  Indeed the ATP Tour steps straight back into action with events in the USA, Sweden and Germany, and Romania and Switzerland provide the opportunity for lesser lights on the WTA Tour to shine.

Although Serena, Andy, Milos and Angie may not have been participating this week, there have been some prominent names sprinkled amongst the various draws.  Four former Roland Garros runners-up, Simona Halep, David Ferrer, Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani, former US Open finalist Jelena Jankovic and former Aus Ooen finalist Marcos Baghdatis had donated their services (and ground shots and returns) to the tournaments, even though Halep is the only one amongst them currently top ten.

It was great to see Patty Schnyder returning to the court in Gstaad.   The Swiss former top ten player retired in 2011 but decided to make her comeback in 2015 and has been only playing lower tier ITF events until now.  The 37 year old was given a wild card and lost her opening round in three sets but for someone ranked 338 in the world not a bad effort for her first foray back in the WTA world.

As we stand the events have reached the semi final stage: (apart from Gstaad where it is quarter final time)

In Hamburg       Pablo Cuevas (seeded 3) (Uruguay) v Renzo Olivo (Argentina)
                           Martin Klizan (7) (Slovakia) v Stephane Robert (France)

In Newport        Ivo Karlovic (2) (Croatia) v Marcos Baghdatis (4) (Cyprus)
                           Gilles Muller (3) (Luxembourg) v Donald Young (8) (USA)

In Bastad           David Ferrer (1) (Spain) v Albert Ramos-Vinolas (3) (Spain)
                           Fernado Verdasco (5) (Spain) v Gastao Elias (Portugal)

In Bucharest     Simona Halep (1) (Romania) v Vania King (USA)
                           Laura Siegemund (4) (Germany) v Anastasija Sevastova (7) (Latvia)

In Gstaad           Timea Bacsinszky (1) (Switzerland) v Johanna Larsson (6) (Sweden)
                            Annika Beck (5) (Germany) v Rebeka Masarova (Switzerland)
                            Kiki Bertens (3) (The Netherlands) v Irina Khromacheva (Russia)
                            Viktorija Golubic (Switzerland) v Carina Witthoeft (Germany)

Expect more of the higher ranked players to reappear in coming weeks as the North American tournaments come to the fore, beginning with Stanford for the women and Washington for the men.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Andy's Second Wimbledon Crown

Andy Murray is the 2016 Wimbledon Champion, and he can thank Sam Querrey for making his life a whole lot easier in achieving the significant feat.  Querrey eliminated Murray's nemesis, Novak Djokovic, early in the tournament, and once Federer departed, Andy for a change was the heavy favourite.

The straight sets win over Milos Raonic, the Canadian appearing in his first Grand Slam final, may have appeared to be an easier assignment for the Scottish number two seed, but it should be remembered that Murray defeated Djokovic in 2013 to capture his first Wimbledon crown.  He was a real chance to win this year, whatever the opposition, simply because of the form he displayed throughout the two weeks.

Raonic served first and signalled his intentions by throwing down some thundering deliveries to which Murray had no answer.  A closer inspection, though, would have noted that Andy was able to put his racquet on the Raonic serve far more effectively than Federer had in the semi final, and more regularly.  As the first set progressed, the returning skills came to the fore, frustrating Raonic and not allowing him access to the free points that he'd been privy to in his earlier matches.

Murray was serving well, a key prerequisite given his opponent's reticence to drop serve.  So it was surprising to see Raonic having to save a break point in the third game, and facing two more in the seventh.  The break of serve came on the second of those points and Murray led 4-3.

No more service breaks occurred in the final, and Andy Murray won the two tie breaks which decided the second and third sets, and with it the title.
Raonic had acquitted himself ok, and didn't let the loss of the opening set unsteady him too much.  Sadly for him, the pressure of the tie breaks, where his serve was expected to be a trump card, instead proved his undoing.

3 successive Canadian backhand errors to start the second set tie break was enough upon which Murray could capitalise and lead two sets to love.
Four clean winners, three off the forehand wing, exploded from the Murray racquet within the first seven points of the third set tie break, and Raonic was a spent force.

Although the match score was close, 6-4 7-6 7-6, the following stats are compelling:

Raonic won only 67% of points when his booming first serve was in play, evidence of Murray's supreme returning prowess.  Murray won 87% of points when his first delivery hit the mark.
Both players hit 39 winners for the match, but Raonic committed 29 unforced errors compared with just 12 to Murray.

After three years, including three losing finals at Grand Slam level, Andy Murray has celebrated his reunion with Ivan Lendl as coach with a second Wimbledon title, and Milos Raonic has served (literally) notice as a future major winner.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

7 for Serena !

Serena Williams has done it and achieved it in style. Her seventh Wimbledon crown and 22nd Grand Slam title arrived with a simple volley into an open court after an appropriately high class final.  Her opponent, fourth seed Angilique Kerber, pushed Serena to heights to which we have become accustomed over a career that has delighted us from her very first major - the rather unexpected US Open in 1999, a Grand Slam title snatched from Martina Hingis before older sister Venus had even won her first at the highest level.
It is now history that Venus won four majors before Serena decided to win again and from 2002 at Roland Garros it has been her world.

2016 at SW19 was smooth sailing for the top seed for most of the fortnight, but Serena really cranked it up in the final stages, her semi final exhibition the finest individual tennis of the tournament.  However, the quality of both players in the finale made it much better to watch and appreciate because the questions posed to Williams by the German left hander were full of merit.  Kerber returned the fabulous serves as no other player possibly could, not always with success, but always with a steadfast refusal to be intimidated. 

The rallies more often than not were full of class, and lasted longer than expected due to both competitors pulling off shots that drew gasps from a crowd receiving its money's worth and more.  The only shame was that a third set didn't feature, due to the ability of Serena to up the ante nearing the finish of a set.

She did it in Set One when serving at 5-5 and 15-30.  Forcing Kerber into error to bring it to 30-30 and then delivering two unreturnable serves, including an ace, poured pressure onto the fourth seed to hold her next serve to remain in the set.  She couldn't and Serena led 7-5.
It was the only break of the set, and credit must go to Angie for her defensive skills.  Serena hit an amazing 24 winners in those twelve games.

The second set also saw Kerber in a competitive position - in fact she was 3-3 and had a break point in the seventh game.  Serena simply squashed the chance of anything exciting for Germany with two successive aces.
Next game Angie was up 40-15 and seemingly set to level at 4-4 when the booming ground strokes of Williams forced three straight errors,  and a weak Kerber backhand surrendered only the second break of the match, signalling the end for Angie and the stage entrance for Serena to serve her way further into history.
A mere 15 winners off the American racquet for set two as she fittingly won the final game to love.

Serena Williams defended her Wimbledon title 7-5 6-3 and sent statisticians, including yours truly, racing to update all the records broken (mostly held already by the woman herself !) but firstly it was important to note the grace with which each of the players conducted themselves following a wonderful sporting event, sporting being the operative word.
Angie Kerber was enthusiastic in her congratulations for Serena, and praised her for what she'd contributed to the game of tennis.  Serena was equally full of recognition for the fine tournament that Angie had played, also noting that the two had played earlier in the 2016 Aus Open final with a different result.

Here's hoping for a men's final to remember as fondly.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Raonic, Murray through to Final

Andy Murray will play Milos Raonic in the 2016 Wimbledon Gentlemens Singles Final following their respective semi final wins,

Roger Federer had to front up to the heavy serving Canadian Raonic just two days after the great five set escape against Marin Cilic in his quarter final.  Once again the 17 time Major winner began slowly, dropping his serve in the fourth game of the match, double faulting on game point.  Raonic meanwhile was rifling serves consistently, leaving Federer with practically no chance of a break back.
In addition to 14 winners and 4 aces, there were many simply unplayable serves and the single service break was all that Milos required to parcel up set one 6-3.

Set two was even and no breaks occurred for the first 9 games.  Then Raonic found problems. At 4-5 a couple of mistakes plus a double fault gave Federer three set points.  Raonic saved all,of them, and one more, before serving out the game for 5-5. Eventually the tie-break and Federer outplayed the Canadian to level the match at a set all.

Federer was at his best in set three where he only made one unforced error.  Raonic played well but appeared vulnerable to a better opponent at various stages, and it wasn't surprising to see him drop serve in the seventh game.  Roger served out the set to hold a two sets to one lead.

The key moment for Federer came in set four when at 4-5 and 30-40 Raonic faced a match point.  He saved it, and won that game and the remaining two to win the set, levelling the match, and winning the right to serve first in the final set.

The momentum shift became a tidal wave once Raonic broke the Swiss serve in the fourth game of set five.  No way back for Federer and Milos Raonic became the first Canadian male to reach a Grand Slam singles final 6-3 6-7 3-6 6-3.

Tomas Berdych kept Andy Murray honest for six games in his semi final but then repeated what he always does in Grand Slam tournaments at this stage - he left.  Only once has Berdych made the final day of a major - 6 years ago at Wimbledon.
No such experience this year.  Murray won 6-3 6-3 6-3, was broken just once for the match and made only 9 unforced errors.  Berdych had nothing with which to hurt the second seed who will appear in his third straight final at Grand Slam level in 2016.
Maybe Murray can finally win his third major now that his opponent isn't Djokovic or Federer. However, remember his semi final against Raonic in the Aus Open earlier this year where only injury prevented the Canadian from probably taking that match.

The final on Sunday is clearly Murray's to win based on form, but not a foregone conclusion.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Serena sizzles - Angie next

Serena Williams barely had finished her warm up and she was back in the locker room having destroyed Elena Vesnina's Wimbledon singles hopes.  The execution was so swift that many of the spectators who had stepped out for a drink missed the 6-2 6-0 thrashing before they took their seats again.
Vesnina was an innocent victim of a Serena special - quite possibly the top seeds best sustained performance of the year.

In 48 minutes, Williams the younger reached her third Grand Slam final out of three in 2016, and appears ready to win her first of those final appearances.
Losing only 3 points on serve while belting 11 aces, Serena never faced a break point and hit 28 winners.  Of the 74 points decided in the match, Elena won just 21.
For good measure, Venus joined Serena later to eliminate Elena and her doubles partner Ekaterina Makarova in a quarter final of the Ladies Doubles.

An all Williams final would have been the fairy tale outcome, but Angie Kerber's win over Venus denied us that pleasure.  The German fourth seed with probably the most lethal forehand in ladies tennis, and certainly from a left hander, employed it to great effect in blunting the attack of Venus Williams, and ensuring for the second time this year that Serena would face Angie in the final of a Grand Slam event.

The first five games highlighted the returning skills of both players with serve being broken on each occasion.  Kerber held serve only twice for the set, including in the tenth game which was enough to take the lead 6-4.  While each hit several winners it was the ability of Angie to limit the errors of her racquet better than Venus which made the difference.

Set two presented the same scoreline but it was achieved somewhat differently.  Only one break of serve occurred - in the opening game where Venus led 30-0 but lost the next four points, forced into error on most of those.  
For the rest of the set Venus attacked as well as she could, hitting 14 winners, but could not penetrate the Kerber defence.  As well as returning the Williams serve effectively, Angie served accurately, hitting the mark 80% of the time with her first delivery, and winning all but one point on those occasions. 6-4 6-4 signalled the end of a wonderful Wimbledon campaign from the elder Williams sibling.

The task of defeating a second successive Williams sister will be vastly more difficult, but Angie Kerber has the capacity to fight a memorable final against Serena and her chances of victory shouldn't be discounted.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Federer Fights Back

All four men's quarter finals resulted in wins to the higher seeds and favoured players, but in two cases it took more effort than expected.

Marin Cilic did everything one could expect of the ninth seed to eliminate Roger Federer, short of actually achieving the feat.  Serving brilliantly, the Croatian forced the third seed to a first set tie break and then accelerated away to a 5-0 lead, ultimately winning 7 points to 4 and taking a one set advantage 7-6..

Federer was deeper in trouble as Cilic broke straight away in set two, holding his own serve throughout to lead 7-6 6-4.
At 3-3 and 0-40 in the third set the 7 time Wimbledon champ appeared gone, but he rattled off five straight points to save his serve, and with the momentum broke the Cilic serve for 5-3. 
The match had turned dramatically as Federer won the set 6-3 but Cilic was serving first in the fourth set and Federer was playing catch up.  Serving at 4-5 Federer saved two match points, and in the tie break he saved another, eventually winning that tie break 11-9.

Federer completed the epic comeback to win a semi final spot 6-7 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-3.  He will play Milos Raonic whose battle with Sam Querrey was far less stressful, the big serve helping him win the opening two sets before a mini fight back from the American netted Sam the third set.  Unfortunately that was the final success for America in the Men's Singles this year, Raonic raising the Canadian flag proudly in his solid four set victory.

Andy Murray controlled Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for two sets, and seemed assured of a straightforward path to the semi finals.  However the French number one is capable of sensational tennis and he refused to throw in the towel, grabbing the third set 6-3 and digging himself out of a 2-4 hole in the fourth to win it 6-4.
Tsonga hit 29 winners in these two sets, twice as many as Murray.

The mission for Andy is clear though, and nothing, not even exhilarating stuff from Jo-Wilfried, is stopping him to this point.  The final set was a procession, 6-1 to the second seed, and he will play 2010 finalist Tomas Berdych in the semi final.
Berdych blew away Lucas Pouille 6-3 6-2 after a hard fought first set tie breaker.  Pouille has had a breakout year and his Wimbledon underscores the rapid rise which must put him in contention for most improved on tour.

So it is still set up for a possible repeat of the 2012 final.  However, the result of four years ago is one Murray is keen to reverse should he and Federer meet again on the final Sunday.  And the Scot has definitely played the best tennis of the tournament at this stage.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Williams Sisters in last 4

Quarter finals of the Ladies Singles at Wimbledon 2016 confirmed Serena Williams as the one to beat for this year's title, as if that hadn't already been established.
The top seed offered Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova nothing at all during the match, especially the first set where she hit 16 winners and lost only five points on serve.  The scoreline was 6-4 6-4 and Pavlyuchenkova certainly was not disgraced, indeed contesting a much closer second set. However, Serena achieved the only two service breaks of the match and conceded no break opportunities to her opponent.

The thrill of a semi final appearance with Serena on the other the side of the net has been given to Elena Vesnina who dealt with Dominika Cibulkova in ruthless fashion.  From the start it was clear that the magical match with Radwanska had taken a huge physical toll on the 19th seed, and Vesnina played very well to capitalise.
22 winners flowed from the Russian racquet, and 13 break points created, from which 4 were converted.  Cibulkova was a spent force and lost 6-2 6-2.

Venus Williams continues to amaze, and after most had expected her to retire some years ago, she has made another Wimbledon semi final, at the age of 36.  Her quarter final victim was Yaroslava Shvedova, the victory achieved in straight sets.  Venus last made the semis here in 2009, and she has kept alive the possibility of an all Williams final, something no one contemplated when the tournament began.

For that dream to come true, first Venus has to account for Angie Kerber, whose level of tennis is peaking at the perfect time.  The best of the quarter finals was Kerber v Halep, with Simona and Angie delivering electric exchanges throughout.  This, just 24 hours after the Cibulkova / Radwanska classic, has proved that women's tennis can be capable of holding its own without Serena, and it will be Serena-free in the not too distant future. 

The match was far from perfect, but the variety and quality of shot making more than compensated for the inability to hold serve - in the first set serve was broken 75% of the time.  Kerber took the lead 7-5 and lifted the standard in the second set.  Halep joined her in hitting more winners and holding serve more confidently.  Kerber had the chance to serve for the match at 5-3 but Halep fought hard to achieve the break back and a tie break ultimately arrived.
In a close match, Kerber maintained a slight edge throughout, including return of serve, and played a solid tie break, winning 7-2, sealing the match 7-5 7-6.

P.S. Tomas Berdych defeated Jiri Vesely in the fourth round match left unfinished from the previous day.  He will play Lucas Pouille in the quarter final.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Domi beats Aga in classic

The second and final Monday of Wimbledon 2016 (weather permitting) was the round of sixteen for Gentlemen and Ladies Singles.  
There was plenty of good tennis but to be fair one match stood out way beyond all others, and I rate it the best I've seen this Wimbledon.

Third seed Aga Radwanska lost to 19th seed Dominika Cibulkova at Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon, an event eventually won by Cibulkova.
The confidence of the win has propelled the Slovakian to levels of play not previously seen by her this year and there was much promise surrounding the fourth round battle.

Domi is not tall - in fact she is shorter than that.  So it takes substantial effort to maintain an effective service rhythm, and at the same time inject enough pace to avoid being punished by someone with returning skills such as Aga.

Well in Set One, Cibulkova faced no break points, she broke the Radwanska serve early, and that was statistically sufficient for a 6-3 win.  Beyond the score, the tennis was thrilling.  Radwanska is always a pleasure to watch - it is not about power but clever shot making, reading the game two and three shots ahead, and minimising errors.  Cibulkova goes for it, and after that she goes for it but even harder.  Fleet of foot and racquet well prepared for her crisp hitting off both wings, Domi released 14 clean winners in an opening set where her opponent did little wrong yet found herself in trouble.

The second set began in similar fashion with risk taking by Cibulkova reaping the rewards of another service break.  Aga had begun to better handle the Domi serve by this stage, and it bore fruit in the sixth game with a service break to level at 3-3.  The next four games also resulted in breaks of serve, including the one with Cibulkova serving for the match at 5-4.  Aga saved a match point, and proceeded to eventually break Domi for the fourth successive time to claim the second set 7-5.

The final set was as riveting as it gets.  Cibulkova serving second, and consistently under pressure to level the game score with Radwanska, refused to do anything but attack, and she pulled off some incredible saving shots in the process.   The pressure turned to Radwanska, and she saved a truck load of break points as the match continued deep into the decider.
Game 11 was a highlight in a match stacked with them
Aga was serving and led 40-15 before Domi let loose with seven winners, five from a lethal forehand.  Aga managed to save five break points in the game and led 6-5.  Still Domi pressed, not allowing the disappointment of wasted opportunities dictate the direction of the match.
At 8-7 Cibulkova served for the match for a third time and it was third time lucky - although luck was not the major component here.  An amazing 33 winners for the set and the quarter final spot was hers 6-3 5-7 9-7
Between the two players 93 winners were hit for the match with only 59 unforced errors.  Considering the attacking nature of the contest these are remarkable stats.

Sadly for Kei Nishikori, his ribs were too sore to continue beyond the 1-6 1-5 scoreline that he was facing in his match against Marin Cilic.  It was the first time the two had played each other in a Grand Slam tournament since the 2014 US Open final where Cilic triumphed.  Nishikori had won twice in lesser events in 2015.
To reach the 2014 US Open final, Cilic thrashed Roger Federer in a semi final, and interestingly it is Federer that the Croatian will play in the upcoming quarter final.  Roger had no trouble with Steve Johnson, ridding London of the American on that nation's Independence Day in straight sets.  Cilic will be the first seeded player (9) with whom Federer has had to deal thus far.

Richard Gasquet's back lasted even less time than the Japanese ribs, forcing the French 7th seed to retire from his clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga when trailing 2-4 in the first set.  Tsonga will need to be at his very best to progress further because his quarter final opponent is Andy Murray.  The second seed delivered a forceful reminder of the gap between the top few and the chasing pack with his dismantling of Aussie Nick Kyrgios in three swift sets.

The Australian singles presence disappeared completely after Bernard Tomic failed to capitalise on a two sets to one advantage over Lucas Pouille, losing a heartbreaking fifth set 10-8.  Pouille will do battle with a Czech player in his quarter final, but as yet we don't know which one.  Darkness set in with Tomas Berdych and Jiri Vesely tied at two sets apiece in their fourth round match.

Sam Querrey certainly did not suffer a let down after his huge win over Djokovic - he was too competent for Mahut and in three sets rocketed into a quarter final to play Milos Raonic.  The Canadian fought back after dropping the opening two sets to dispose of David Goffin.

The Williams sisters are both in the quarter finals - Serena knocked out Sveta Kuznetsova, emphasising her superiority with a 6-0 second set, and Venus defeated the in form Carla Suarez Navarro.  Straight sets but an entertaining tight match.  Not since 2010 has Venus come this far at Wimbledon.
Serena will play another Russian in the quarter final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whose victory over Coco Vandeweghe came surprisingly easier than expected.  Venus will need to overcome Yaroslava Shvedova, who cleaned out the final Czech presence in the Ladies Singles by impressively defeating Lucie Safarova.

Angie Kerber and Simona Halep will contest what should be a terrific quarter final - both are displaying some fine tennis, Kerber most recently through her dynamic 6-3 6-1 dismissal of Misaki Doi and Halep with her three set victory over Madison Keys, in respective fourth round clashes.

The all Russian round of sixteen battle initially appeared to be heading in the Ekaterina Makarova direction.  Indeed she held her advantage to take the first set 7-5.  Suddenly Elena Vesnina clicked into gear and ripped the second set wide open.  6-1 and a third was required.  The doubles partners traded game after game until Vesnina finally decided to end proceedings and won 5-7 6-1 9-7.  She will play Cibulkova in a quarter final - Domi also won her match 9-7 in the third but the standard was substantially higher as described earlier.

Monday, 4 July 2016

No rest on Sunday at Wimbledon

Organisers of Wimbledon 2016 were happy to use the middle Sunday to catch up with the Schedule which had skipped ahead significantly, leaving several players behind due to their inability to hit the court.

Local churches are not happy - instead of collection plates being filled, SW19 ticketing receipts became beneficiaries of parishioners hard earned cash.  Expect all denominations to be better prepared in future with plates at the entrance should the rest day be not so restful.

All fourth round singles matches are now set following Middle Sunday (which is not being called Day 7 for reasons unclear to me - we will call it Day no longer 6 but not yet 7 or Day at sixes and sevens) - Serena Williams will be there after her straightforward straight sets win over Annika Beck, and her opponent will be Svetlana Kuznetsova, who required the full distance to eliminate American Sloane Stephens, 8-6 in the third.  Ridding Wimbledon of the next US challenge will be somewhat more difficult for Sveta.

Coco Vandeweghe put the Star Spangled Banner back on top with a convincing win over sixth seed Roberta Vinci and now has her eyes firmly set on a quarter final, assuming of course that she passes the stern Russian test presented by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  The 21st seed knocked over the final female Swiss resistance Timea Bacsinszky for the cost of a mere five games.

Elena Vesnina ensured a decent Russian presence in the round of sixteen after saying farewell to American qualifier Julia Boserup.  Indeed one quarter finalist will definitely be Russian as Vesnina plays Fed Cup team mate and doubles partner Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round.  Makarova followed up her dismissal of Petra Kvitova by bouncing another Czech, Barbora Strycova, in straight sets.

The #NewGen lost another of its hopes with 'old hand' Tomas Berdych holding too many cards and firing too many weapons for Alexander Zverev, who won't be as overwhelmed in the future but for now needs to learn from a loss.
Berdych will play Jiri Vesely in the round of sixteen, Vesely having been victorious over Joao Sousa in the third round.

French pair Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet each won the final sets of their incomplete matches against Del Potro and Ramos-Vinolas, earning the rights to battle Bernard Tomic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga respectively.  Tsonga, the fourth French player in the final sixteen, came from two sets to one down against John Isner to finally win an epic 4 1/2 hour five setter 19-17 in the fifth.

#NewGen still has Nick Kyrgios flying its flag thanks to his four set success over Feliciano Lopez.  How much longer Nick lasts is a question Andy Murray will play a large part answering.  Murray already had reached the round of sixteen and now is favourite to win the title, so Kyrgios faces a monumental task.

Just a final note on Novak Djokovic and his treatment by the tournament organisers.  And indeed the treatment of Centre Court ticket holders.
The world number one player was assigned his third round match to Court One on Friday, while Roger Federer had Centre Court.

While there shouldn't be favouritism, although Roger has been the subject of it throughout his career, Novak had earned the right to Centre Court status due to his amazing tennis achievements of the past two years.
As twice defending Wimbledon champion and holder of all four Grand Slam titles, there was no reason for him to be placed anywhere but on Centre Court.  And just imagine how much better a stage for Sam Querrey to achieve his greatest victory.
Centre Court ticket holders deserved to see the world's best player, win or lose, and they were deprived.  
Novak deserved better.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Djokovic No Answer to Sam's Querrey

Over Days 5 and 6 at SW19, there was more rain, but not enough to prevent further shock results on the grass, one in particular which won't be topped for the remainder of the tournament and possibly for many months, maybe years to come.

Sam Querrey, the 28th seed, is a more than competent player on this surface, and equipped with one of the biggest serves going around.  He was switched on for the third round match with Novak Djokovic and the first set was a servers delight, a tie break inevitably required.  Where the top seed normally exerts his authority, Querrey instead brought the pressure to bear, winning key points and taking the set 7-6 (the tie break 8-6).  Losing the first set normally wouldn't be a huge worry for Djokovic - but the fact that he could only win 4 points out of 34 from the American's serve did create concerns.

These concerns simply grew exponentially in a second set disaster for Novak where from 1-1 he lost the final five games.  Querrey won 53% of points from the Djokovic serve whereas Novak could only manage to score from 32% of Querrey's deliveries.  The tall American hit 10 winners for the set and only committed 3 unforced errors.  As soon as Querrey had established his 7-6 6-1 lead, rain forced suspension of play - a blessing for Djokovic.

Upon resumption of the match on Saturday - Day 6 - the top seed raced to a 4-0 lead in the third set before another rain interruption.  On court again the third set was won by Djokovic 6-3 and he was back with a chance.  However serving with a break at 5-4 in the fourth Novak was broken back, and then forced to fight a second tie break in the match.  (Not before another rain delay at 5-6) That was a cue for Querrey to step it up and create history by denying Novak his slice of history (not that he hasn't rewritten his fair share of late !) Sam pleased Uncle Sam, winning the tie break 7 points to 5 and the match 7-6 6-1 3-6 7-6.
This is the first time that Djokovic hasn't reached at least the quarter final of a major since Roland Garros 2009.  In one way it is a circuit breaker that takes all talk of Calendar Year Grand Slam and other statistical records off the table and off his back.

The result made Sam a happy man, and everyone else left in the men's field pleased.  Andy and Roger conveyed their pleasure through words as they don't actually smile in public.  Andy wasn't taught the word at school.

On Day 5, other matches were either started and finished (not many), started and not finished, or finished from a previous time (not many) - Juan Martin Del Potro, on his comeback journey, made his most significant mark yet on that trip, ending fourth seed Stan Wawrinka's dreams in the second round.  Tomas Berdych easily made it through to the third round; Nick Kyrgios is also there, but needed to come from 2 sets to 1 down against Dustin Brown to do it.  Another Australian, qualifier Matthew Barton, but pushed John Isner to three tie break sets (2 of them going to 10-8) before bowing out, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was an impressive straight sets winner.

Serena Williams lost her opening set to compatriot Christina McHale but stormed back to win in three and make the third round.  Older sister Venus also took three to win her third round match, but 10-8 was not the length of set that she'd planned to decide the match.
Sveta Kuznetsova won in three to advance to round three, while Carla Suarez Navarro used the fast lane two set method to reach the round of sixteen.  Barbora Strycova won in straight sets too to book a third round spot.

Saturday was more accommodating weather wise, but still the rain made its nuisance value known to all and sundry.
All remaining second round matches were completed and as many third round clashes as could be crammed into the schedule were spread over available courts.

Ekaterina Makarova ousted two time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova in the second round in two sets, ripping further my pre tournament forecasts to shreds. So much for a semi final appearance.

Halep, Kerber, Radwanska and Cibulkova all advanced to the round of sixteen with straight sets wins, and Madison Keys joined them, although it took her a set longer.
Also in the fourth round are unseeded Misaki Doi and Yaroslava Shvedova, the latter surprisingly too strong for Sabine Lisicki who until now had looked so confident.
Lucie Safarova put a quick end to Jana Cepelova's period of glory - having beaten the second seed Garbine Muguruza, Jana couldn't back it up and the 2015 Roland Garros runner-up joined Strycova as Czech Republic representation left in the draw.

Fourth round encounters to keep an eye on are third seed Radwanska v  19th seed Cibulkova and 5th seed Halep v 9th seed Keys.  Cibulkova defeated Radwanska en route to winning Eastbourne just prior to Wimbledon, and Keys won the grass court event at Birmingham.  The lower ranked players could end up as the quarter finalists from those battles.

Alexander Zverev survived a five setter against Mikhail Youzhny to reach the third round, while seeds Murray, Nishikori, Raonic, Cilic, Goffin and Tomic all progressed to the fourth round, together with unseeded Mahut and Johnson.
Bernard Tomic, seeded 19, overcame higher ranked Roberto Bautista Agut, seeded 14 in three decisive sets.
Nishikori v Cilic and Raonic v Goffin are fourth round matches which promise plenty.

When play was suspended four third round matches were in progress:

Kyrgios and Lopez were a set apiece
Isner led Tsonga 2 sets to 1
Pouille led Del Potro 2 sets to 1
Gasquet led Ramos-Vinolas 2 sets to 1

The middle Sunday is scheduled as a rest day for Wimbledon (the only Grand Slam tournament where this occurs) but because of the rain delays, and resultant backlog of matches, there will be tennis played on the rest day this year.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Wimbledon says Goodbye Garbine

Day 4 contributed tennis galore, and destruction of seeds so lovingly planted by farmers who had planned for a harvest well into next week.  Sadly vandals wrecked the hopes and dreams by ripping them out of Wimbledon's fertile grounds, leaving them limp and almost lifeless.  Fortunately kind passers-by rescued the battered remnants and with constant care will ensure they are able to be replanted in friendlier fields such as those in Hamburg, Newport, Bucharest, Gstaad in weeks to come.

Garbine Muguruza was the prize seed to be removed causing much sadness amongst Spanish folk who had dreamt of her blooming into a most elegant flower on the second weekend.  Instead Slovakia's Jana Cepelova, clearly angry at not being chosen as a seed for Wimbledon's front paddock, decided to use Garbine as the seed upon which to display her grievance - violently - 14 winners and 4 breaks of serve from 4 opportunities.

Johanna Konta was chosen as the 16th seed and was envisaged to be an English Rose within two weeks.  Canadian interloper, Eugenie Bouchard, herself a seed in 2014, damaged Johanna initially, before the seed fought back valiantly in the middle part of the battle surprising with second serves that impressed cheering onlookers.
However the Canadian willpower to destroy the growth of the English Rose meant that the final stanza of this bout was a one sided affair and the precision of the blows left no room for any comeback from a withering Konta. 

The eighth most prominent seed in the male part of the garden paid homage to Austria and was named Dominic Thiem.  It was expected to reach maturity deep into the second week following planting, but again any chance of growth was prevented due to the environmental wrecking efforts of Czech Jiri Vesely, who in a set manoeuvre, in fact a three set manoeuvre, deprived Austria of the best thing since the von Trapp family.

Other seeds suffering in this assault included Samantha Stosur, whipped mercilessly by the powerful German Sabine Lisicki, whose knowledge of every blade of grass around Wimbledon makes her a danger to all.

Simon, Dolgopolov, Ferrer, Paire, Karlovic and  Troicki joined Thiem on the scrap heap.
Petkovic, Jankovic, Karolina Pliskova, Mladenovic, Bencic, Errani, Svitolina and Garcia were yanked out of the female rows of the English Country Garden now being repaired by the ground staff at SW19.

Meanwhile as Scotland is still a part of the UK, Andy Murray has some explaining to do following the damage he inflicted on diplomatic relations between Britain and Chinese Taipei with his selfish 6-3 6-2 6-1 demolition of Yen-Hsun Lu.  What was the man thinking ?  Good luck next time ordering special fried rice with your lemon chicken.

Aga Radwanska stretched her luck to the limit with her three set win over Croatian Ana Konjuh, 9-7 in the third, while 4 American ladies have reached the third round and three are awaiting second round matches.