Sunday, 26 February 2017

Svitolina wins in Dubai

Elina Svitolina becomes the first Ukranian woman to reach the world's top ten following her comprehensive 6-4 6-2 victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the prestigious Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final.

Svitolina simply overpowered the Danish defence which had been so effective until the last match.  The fifth game of the opening set saw the first signs of cracks in the Wozniacki game and the resultant service break was consolidated through to 5-4.
Here, when serving for the set, Svitolina succumbed to the occasion and Wozniacki had three break back opportunities.  However, from 0-40, the seventh seed found a way to save the situation and hold for the one set advantage.

An exchange of service breaks at the start of set two did nothing to halt the Ukranian momentum and Svitolina won the final five games of the match, securing her second title of 2017, the sixth and biggest of her career.
For her efforts, a second consecutive losing final, Wozniacki moves up a spot to 14 in the world with a return to the top ten imminent, considering she has very few points to defend for the next six months.

Finalists have been determined in four other tournaments.

Marseille will have a French champion this year after Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won semi finals against Richard Gasquet and defending champion Nick Kyrgios respectively.

Dominic Thiem meets Pablo Carreno Busta in the Rio de Janeiro final, Thiem brushing Albert Ramos-Vinolas aside in straight sets and Carreno Busta coming from a set down to beat Norwegian teenager Casper Ruud, in their two semi finals.

In Budapest, top seed and Hungary's own Timea Babos has won through to the final where she will play the second seed Lucie Safarova.  Both had semi final victories over German players, Julia Goerges and Carina Witthoeft respectively.

Jack Sock has the task of defeating top seed Milos Raonic if he is to take home the Delray Beach title.  Sock proved too strong for fellow American Donald Young and Raonic stopped del Potro's promising Florida showing.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Kerber loses edge since US Open

 Angie Kerber, since ascending to number one in the world, following her US Open win in September 2016, has struggled with the pressure of being ranked up there.  Her results since Flushing Meadows have been round of 16 in both Wuhan and Beijing, quarter final in Hong Kong, and losing finalist in the year end WTA Finals, before this year - quarter final in Brisbane, and round of sixteen in Sydney, Aus Open and Doha.  Sydney and Doha were second round losses but only because Angie received byes to reach that point.

Before Dubai Kerber had a 4-4 win loss record in 2017, yet a tournament win in the UAE would see her propelled back to number one in the world, such is the nature of a rolling 12 month points aggregate method of ranking determination.

Angie made it through to the semi final, ending the quality run of Ana Konjuh, but ran into a red hot Elina Svitolina, who stretched her winning streak against Kerber to three with her 6-3 7-6 performance.

Elina will play Caroline Wozniacki in the final, after the Danish Delight cruised through to her second final in as many weeks, crushing Anastasija Sevastova in straight sets.

The Marseille semi finals are established - Richard Gasquet will take on Lucas Pouille after toppling top seed Gael Monfils in three sets, ensuring at least one French finalist.
Defending champion Nick Kyrgios will attempt to deny the southern French fans an all home nation final as he battles Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semi final.
Both had easy quarter final victories.

In Rio de Janeiro, top seed Kei Nishikori lost to Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci in the first round.  Thomaz could not keep it going for the locals though, and it was 18 year old Norwegian wildcard Casper Ruud who snuck through to take the semi final spot which was expected to be Nishikori's.  
Ruud will make the final should he beat fourth seed Pablo Carreno Busta, the Spaniard having won through after Alexandr Dolgopolov retired one game into the third set of their quarter final.

The other semi final features the second seed Austrian Dominic Thiem against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, both players yet to surrender a set this week, the Spanish fifth seed only willing to give away twelve games in total.

Friday, 24 February 2017

French to the fore in Marseille

Nick Kyrgios has been silent for the past couple of weeks which is a blessing but this week he is in Marseille, defending one of the three titles he won in 2016.  He is having to deal with a host of French players, five of whom joined him at the quarter final stage.

Six was looking likely, but unseeded veteran Nicolas Mahut could not continue his form shown in the first round when he upset young gun A,expander Zverev.  Instead, little known Slovakian qualifier Norbert Gombos prevailed in a three set thriller, and will be the next opposition for Kyrgios.

Second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, full of confidence following his Rotterdam success last week, will play the Australian in one semi final should both win through, Tsonga needing to edge past seventh seed and compatriot Gilles Simon.

Top seed Gael Monfils meets sixth seed Richard Gasquet in another all French clash, and potentially the best of the four quarter finals.  The victor in that plays the survivor of the Lucas Pouille (4) v Daniil Medvedev match.  Medvedev already is unpopular with locals, having dumped 8th seeded Frenchman Benoit Paire in the opening round.

Over in the US, meanwhile, Florida is the centre of men's tennis, with the Delray Beach Open now down to the final eight.  Or should I say final seven.  Donald Young has been handed a quarter final walkover by Steve Darcis and is the first semi finalist decided.
Some luck for sure, but his opening round win over second seed Ivo Karlovic earns him credibility points.  Young will play another American, either Jack Sock or Steve Johnson.  Sock, the third seed, is currently, at number 21, the top ranked American, which says a lot for the adequate but less than awe inspiring space in which we find US men's racquet work

Top seed Milos Raonic is in a different class from the rest of the field, and eighth seed Kyle Edmund will need to fire on all his own cylinders plus some he borrows from elsewhere to stand a chance of gaining a semi final berth.

Raonic, should he advance, will run into Sam Querrey or that rarely sighted Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro. Making his fifty thousandth attempt at a fully fledged comeback, one can only hope this one works and the insanely wasted talent gives us more than teasing glimpses before he finally hangs up his racquet.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Teenagers show how in Dubai

Dubai has seen many shock results in the Premier 5 WTA tournament this week, making it difficult to forecast just who might take charge of the women's tour this year. Yes,  Serena Williams may not be in this field and is the obvious answer to the question, but history suggests she will only take charge as she pleases.

For mere mortals the discussion is more complex.
Karolina Pliskova won her second title for the year in Doha on Sunday, yet after a first round Dubai bye was smashed in the second round by France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-2 6-4.  Doha semi finalist Dominika Cibulkova, also given a bye to the second round, was able to advance no further, despite winning the opening set easily against Ekaterina Makarova.

The trend of seeds departing didn't begin here - the first round had already seen the last of Aus Open semi finalist Coco Vandeweghe,  joined in the departure lounge by Kiki Bertens, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Roberta Vinci and Yulia Putintseva.

After the second round was complete, the final sixteen included a mere five seeded players, and as we await the quarter finals, only three are left standing.  However it is the stories of two other players that is creating the excitement.

19 year old Croatian Ana Konjuh, ranked 36 in the world, beat the higher ranked Shuai Zhang (a Doha quarter finalist) in the first round, then seeds Stosur (12) and Vesnina (8) to reach the final eight where she will create many headaches for world number two and top seed Angie Kerber.
They have met once before, with Kerber the convincing victor, but Konjuh is on the rise, as her finals appearance in Auckland early 2017 indicated.

Americans have reason to feel their tennis future is bright if players such as Catherine Bellis keep on popping up.  The 17 year old, better known as CiCi, won her final three tournaments of 2016, the last a genuine WTA event in Hawaii.  It catapulted her into the top 100, and only injury prevented her carrying that momentum into 2017.  The disappointment of missing the Aus Open, and losing in qualifying in Doha has been replaced with joy as the potential star now enjoys the challenge of quarter final action against Caroline Wozniacki.  This follows ultra impressive eliminations of Putintseva and Siegemund plus her biggest win yet - that over fourth seed Aga Radwanska.

Wozniacki is my pick to win the tournament now - she has been consistent this year and is becoming stronger.  Thirteen match wins and four losses.  One final and two quarter finals before this one.  Three of her four losses have been to players ranked 2, 9 and 19, but as mitigating as that could be, the sense is none of it is satisfactory for her in the slightest.
After she beats a valiant Bellis, Caro should have too many weapons for the winner of an unseeded quarter final between Anastasija Sevastova and Qiang Wang.

It will then be another final,  against the winner of the other semi final, probably between Kerber and the Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, who should stop the excellent run of another American Lauren Davis.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Tsonga No 1 in France again

Three players won their first titles of the year on the ATP Tour over the weekend, but only one would have realistically been given a chance pre tournament.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the second seed in Rotterdam, claimed his thirteenth career title, relegating David Goffin to a second successive runner-up position in the process.

It was Goffin faster out of the blocks, serving competently and able to return the Tsonga delivery with interest, breaking twice for a 4-1 lead.  
Despite Tsonga retrieving one of the breaks, Goffin eased to a 6-4 lead.

The French serve lifted in power and effectiveness in set two, allowing Goffin little option but to defend, and while Tsonga won 80% of points on his own serve, facing no break points,  Goffin finally relented in the tenth game, dropping serve and losing the set 4-6.
The deciding set was a cakewalk with Tsonga savaging the total Belgian game.  Without a title last year, Tsonga is off and running in 2017, winning 4-6 6-4 6-1, and once again taking the mantle of number one French player, moving past Gael Monfils.
David Goffin, although disappointed at losing another final (he has failed in his last six), will be delighted to achieve a career high ranking of 10.

Alexandr Dolgopolov won his first title in five years with victory in Buenos Aires over top seed Kei Nishikori, a player he had previously never beaten.  It was a tough match with both players achieving a service break in the opening set before the Ukranian prevailed in the tie break.
The only two break chances in set two were those afforded Dolgopolov and he converted one which was enough for the 7-6 (4) 6-4 success.
The win catapults him back to the top fifty, still well off his best of 13 achieved some years ago.

The debut winner this week was American Ryan Harrison, who won the Memphis tournament.  Harrison won a final against equally unseeded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, in which he did not drop serve.  After a devastating 6-1 first set,  Harrison withstood a much tougher contest in the second, and saved an incredible 10 break points in the process.
He broke the Basilashvili serve in the fifth game and rode it through to the end, winning 6-1 6-4.  This win came directly after a win on the Challenger circuit, making Harrison one of the genuine form players right now, and his ranking has improved from 62 to 43.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dolgopolov first final in 3 years

The finals are set in Rotterdam and Buenos Aires while the semis in Memphis are underway.

Argentine fans were cheering loudly when their own Carlos Berlocq took the opening set off top seed Kei Nishikori, saving all the five break points that he faced, and eagerly converting one of the two he was granted. Nishikori was unable to exert his authority throughout the many exchanges as one would have thought, given his greater arsenal of shot making weapons, and Carlos led 6-4.  A lot different to the second round of the Aus Open last month where Kei won in straight sets.

The semi final turned in the second set, not dramatically but enough for Nishikori to break down the percentage of points Berlocq was winning on his first serve. Even so, the top seed was 4-4 and 0-30, just two points from Berlocq serving for the match.  A touch of brilliance ensured the service hold, and then for a second time in the set the Argentine was broken, squaring the match away at 4-6 6-4.  The world number five appeared far more contented.
The trend continued in the decider,  Nishikori even more dominant on serve, despite carelessly dropping it once.  Berlocq was unable to compete at his first set level, and the result never looked in doubt.  Nishikori into the final 4-6 6-4 6-3

Alexandr Dolgopolov will be his opposition, following the Ukranian's belting of fourth seed Pablo Carreno Busta 7-5 6-2 in the other semi.  It is his first final in three years, and he has not surrendered a set in reaching it.  The start of the match was a poor indicator of things to come, the Spaniard breaking to love.  Dolgopolov immediately broke back, and held serve for the remainder of set one.  While Pablo missed out on four more break chances, Alexandr seized on another of his opportunities to win a vital advantage 7-5.
Set two was a procession, with Pablo level only on first serve percentage, which was deplorable for both.  Everywhere else Dolgopolov dominated,  never facing a break point and breaking the Spanish serve another couple of times. 

The Rotterdam final will be France v Belgium, after second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won his semi final against Tomas Berdych.  David Goffin denied an all French affair, halting the excellent run of Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the other semi.

Berdych had been in his best form for some time, so his capitulation at the hands of Tsonga came as a surprise.  The serve was key in the opening set, with Tsonga making 81% of his first attempts count, and winning all but four points off those.  Berdych could only manage a first serve percentage of 56, and Tsonga was eating up almost half of those anyway.

Still Berdych had the ammunition to stay in contention in most service games and avoid facing too many break points.  Tsonga didn't need to save any, and pressured Berdych into a single loss of serve, earning the first set 6-3.

Tsonga's first serve accuracy went out the window in set two, but it mattered none.  He won 20 points of a possible 23 from all his serves - Berdych won a less inspiring 63%,  and succumbed, dropping serve once and losing the match 6-3 6-4.

Goffin never allowed Herbert entry into his semi final, displaying a class of tennis simply too much for the Frenchman.  Three out of four times Goffin broke serve, and he only faced one break point himself.  6-1 and not much in this semi final for the crowd to write home about, except from one end perhaps.  

Much more competitive in set two from Herbert,  but again it was he who had to save break points.  He prevented four from causing any damage, but Goffin only required one to cause the damage.  A finalist for a second time in two successive tournaments on the back of an impressive 6-1 6-3 success.

Pliskova takes Doha - 2nd 2017 win

Karolina Pliskova won the Qatar Open in Doha, defeating Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets 6-3 6-4.  This was the second title already in 2017 to be pocketed by the Czech world number three, already having triumphed in Brisbane in January.  Both wins were Premier level tournaments, confirming Pliskova's status as the best player currently not to have won at Grand Slam level, but most likely to shake that tag soon.

The win was established, as many are, on a dominant first set, itself structured not so much around the wonderful serve, which sets her apart from most women in the game, but more about her returning skills against the Wozniacki delivery.

Wozniacki was able to win a number of points, both on first and second serves, and even managed to convert the single break chance she was given, but this was after losing the first four games and being under constant pressure from the Pliskova shot making.  
Serving at 3-5 Wozniacki was broken once more and she had dropped her first set for the week.

The second set showed why Wozniacki was in the final, and the pair were equally comfortable holding serve through the greater part.  The one break point created was Danish and that was easily dealt with by Pliskova who served her way to 5-4.  With the pressure of serving second and now needing to hold to stay in the match, Wozniacki lapsed and at 15-40 netted a Pliskova forehand, ending proceedings.

A first glance at the stats makes it hard to see how Wozniacki could lose in two sets having made only five unforced errors in the match.
The answer is with the 27 clean winners off the Pliskova racquet, and the aggressive shot making leading to forced mistakes from Wozniacki in addition to the five recorded.

The title for Pliskova included her first wins ever over both Cibulkova and Wozniacki, so she continues to present herself as an increasingly intimidating force on tour.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Doha final is Pliskova v Wozniacki

The delays in the WTA Qatar Open, caused by inconsiderate Doha weather, have been put to rest thanks to rescheduling and in some cases players doubling up on matches on certain days.

All quarter finals and semi finals are complete, and an appetising final awaits, with two highly contrasting playing styles competing for the title.
Dominika Cibulkova had already booked her semi final spot and was awaiting the winner of Karolina Pliskova (2) and Shuai Zhang, that match suspended with the second seed ahead 6-2 1-0.  It didn't last much longer once recommenced. 

The remaining five games were gobbled up by an impatient and obviously hungry Pliskova who surrendered just eight points for the second set.  Hard to recognise the Chinese player as the talented world number 31 but that is how humiliated Pliskova can make her opponents look and feel when she is switched on full throttle.

It was appreciably tougher against Cibulkova in the semi final, and the first two sets were shared, the quality of tennis probably the best of the tournament to date, as one should expect.  
At this point, Domi had not served an ace, whereas Karolina had delivered 13.  That trend continued in the decider, with the serving machine manufacturing another eight.

Still unintimidated, the Slovakian pocket rocket matched it in most of the exchanges,  and even created two break points.   Pliskova managed to save both with her serving weapon and it was just the one chance offered by Cibulkova which was grabbed gleefully by the Czech star taking her to 6-4 4-6 6-3 and the final.

Daria Kasatkina must regret letting her quarter final lead slip against Monica Puig.  After winning the opener 6-4,  the Russian winning percentage on first serve dropped alarmingly and Puig didn't have to be asked twice, breaking three times to Kasatkina's twice, and levelling at 4-6 7-5.

The decider also had five breaks of serve, but Kasatkina could only manage to convert twice from nine opportunities - Puig broke three times again from seven chances.
Puig's semi final opponent was Caroline Wozniacki, who ran over the top of Lauren Davis in set two after prevailing 7-5 in a tight first stanza.

Wozniacki breezed into the final, thrashing Puig 6-1 6-2, certainly a semi final in a league several rungs lower than the other.
Wozniacki was eating up the Puig serve, especially in the first set, where she won 71% of the points.

It will be a much different pace and quality of serve to deal with in the final, and Wozniacki needs to be at her very best to trouble Pliskova.

Goffin revenge in Rotterdam quarters

The semi finals are decided in the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.
Grigor Dimitrov will not be winning his second straight event, thanks to revenge served up by David Goffin over three sets in their quarter final.  In a particularly even first set, confirmed by most of the statistics, the single service break was sufficient for the Belgian to take the lead 6-4.

Dimitrov turned it on its head in set two, punishing an ineffective Goffin serve, and breaking twice in the process.  6-1 and appearing to be on track for the semis.  Defiantly, Goffin stemmed the momentum and galvanised his serve, allowing room to attack the Bulgarian more in general play.  As in set one, just the single break, coming from his only chance, and the set and the match to David Goffin 6-4 1-6 6-3.

He will play Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the second of the semi finals.  Herbert has surprised all by winning through qualifying and now, by out serving Dominic Thiem, reaching the semi final.  He won in straight sets, capturing 76 points to 57 for the match.

The first semi final will be a cracker - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Tomas Berdych.
Tsonga outlasted Marin Cilic in two tie break sets.  No breaks of serve for the match, in fact only four break points faced.  Tsonga won the tie breaks 10-8 and 7-5 so must be relieved to escape from a match where he failed to convert his single chance to break the Cilic serve prior to the lotteries which tie breaks tend to be.

Berdych's win was much more like a walk in the park.  He won 36 points from the 41 first serves that hit the mark, and as a result did not face a break point.  He converted all of the three break points created on the Martin Klizan serve, however, and the match was always in Czech hands. 6-3 6-3.

Upsets in Memphis and Buenos Aires

North and South America are hosting ATP tournaments, and both are at the quarter final stage.

In Memphis, one of only two seeds left, American Steve Johnson (4), battled back to lead 4-2 in set two after being slaughtered 6-0 in the opening by Mikhail Kukushkin from Kazakhstan.  
Kukushkin had won through to the spot expected to be filled by fifth seed Bernard Tomic, but the troubled Australian exited embarrassingly to Barbadian qualifier in the first round.
Sadly for the home crowd, Johnson capitulated, and the final four games and the match went to Kazakhstan.

Kukushkin will play the victor of an unexpected quarter final clash featuring Australian qualifier Matthew Ebden, ranked 490, but an impressive conqueror of American young gun Taylor Fritz, who himself had dispensed with eighth seed Yen-Hsen Lu in the opening round.  Ebden will face Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili, who took top seed Ivo Karlovic the cleaners in the second round.

The only seed left in the draw is American John Isner (2) whose task will be to eliminate another US entrant Donald Young.  Young had beaten French sixth seed Adrian Mannarino first up before showing young compatriot Reilly Opelka a trick or two.

Four Americans contributed to the final eight, but third seed Sam Querrey was not among them, having fallen to unseeded fellow countryman Ryan Harrison, and rather easily 6-3 6-1.  Harrison, ranked 33 spots below Querrey, now meets Damir Dzumhur from Bosnia and Herzegovina following his impressive straight sets display against 7th seed Steve Darcis.

Buenos Aires is the current South American donation to men's tennis, and Japan has been kind enough to send its top player to Argentina as top seed.  Kei Nishikori was a no show for Davis Cup duties, and he seems to find this relatively minor event of more significance.  Ranking points outweighs fighting for your country for many of the very best players.

Nishikori is in battle with sixth seed Joao Sousa from Portugal in a quarter final, and while it is the match hoped for by tournament officials, both players reached there by knocking out Argentines - Diego Schwartzman and Federico Delbonis respectively,  removing smiles from most of the partisan crowd.
The opening set to the top seed 6-1 spells problems for Sousa.

The locals were appeased somewhat with the performance of wildcard Carlos Berlocq, whose Argentine racquet worked more positively to send third seed David Ferrer back to Spain in no uncertain terms.
Carlos is set to clash with Thiago Monteiro in an all South American unseeded quarter final, after the Brazilian ousted another Spaniard Tommy Robredo.

The other all unseeded quarter final featured Austrian Gerald Melzer and the Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov.  Melzer removed eight seed Paolo Lorenzi, and Dolgopolov ended Uruguayan hopes with his win over second seed Pablo Cuevas.
Dolgopolov proved too assured and won a semi final berth, 7-5 6-4.

He was going to face the might of Spain, whatever the result of the other quarter final, and it will be fourth seed Pablo Carreno Busta, whose three set triumph over fifth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas won him the right.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Rotterdam wide open

The WTA Tour is concentrated in Asia this week, while the ATP Tour has spread its tentacles to three other continents.  In Europe, top ten players Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem lead a Rotterdam field including nine of the world's top twenty.  Although only seeded five, the favourite has to be Grigor Dimitrov, who is gunning for his second title in the space of a week, and third for the year.

After surviving the horror first round draw of Alexander Zverev, with a fighting three set victory, Thiem was a major beneficiary from the withdrawal of seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut before the tournament, as the Spaniard would have been his likely quarter final opponent.  Instead, Denis Istomin came into the draw as a lucky loser from qualifying (the same Denis Istomin who defeated Djokovic in the Aus Open last month !) and qualifier Evgeny Donskoy moved into Roberto's place in the draw.

Ultimately Thiem has a quarter final date with French qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and should move comfortably into a semi final where things become far more serious.
The Sofia finalists from last week, Dimitrov and David Goffin are set to meet again, this time in a quarter final, the winner awaiting Thiem or Herbert.
Dimitrov defeated Istomin and Goffin overcame Robin Haase to reach their match up, although Haase gave the Belgian a scare, taking the first set.

At the top of the draw, Cilic will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in what should be a crowd pleasing quarter final.  Tsonga has yet to drop a set, but Cilic has struggled in both his matches, needing to go the distance against both Benoit Paire and then fellow Croatian Borna Coric.

While Tsonga and Herbert have made the final eight, other French dreams have not lasted as long - eighth seed Lucas Pouille received his auf wiedersehen from Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round and Richard Gasquet was soundly beaten in the second set by fourth seed Tomas Berdych after a first set tie break.
Berdych's quarter final opponent is Martin Klizan who took the smile off Kohlschreiber's face in the second round.

Seeds tumble in Doha

A top class field assembled in Doha this week for the Qatar Open, a Premier event on the WTA Tour.  Five of the world's top ten, and eleven of the world's top twenty active players entered the tournament, headed by Angie Kerber and Karolina Pliskova as the top two seeds.

Seventh seed Timea Bacsinszky,  after a fine Fed Cup performance last week for Switzerland,  unfortunately succumbed to injury in her first round match against Yulia Putintseva.  However, the Kazakhstan player has been in good touch of late, and may well have won in any circumstance.  Fate dealt Yulia a cruel blow in her next match when it was she who had to withdraw when a set all against Monica Puig, the Puerto Rican now one of the quarter finalists. 

Only two of the seeded players survived until the quarter finals - second seed Pliskova and third seed Dominika Cibulkova.  
Angie Kerber was dumped by Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina, despite levelling the match with a second set whitewash 6-0. 
Kasatkina is currently playing Puig in the quarters, and their match is at a set apiece. It will be completed later today, with the winner claiming one of the spots in an all unseeded semi final.

The other place belongs to the winner of Caroline Wozniacki v Lauren Davis.  Wozniacki ended the tournament for fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets, while qualifier Davis said goodbye to sixth seed Elena Vesnina.

Samantha Stosur defeated eighth seed Barbora Strycova in three sets before bowing out to Cibulkova in a quarter final.  Cibulkova will play the winner of Shuai Zhang and Karolina Pliskova in the second semi final.  Zhang knocked out fifth seed Garbine Muguruza in three sets to reach the quarters and Pliskova edged past Caroline Garcia in two sets, winning 34 points from the 37 times her first serve landed in play.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Pliskova stars in Spanish Czech Mate

The WTA Tour took a back seat to Fed Cup action, and while the top two world ranked players were missing from the USA v Germany tie, it was great to see the Czech Republic and Spain have world number three and 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova and 2016 Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza turn up for their respective teams. 

Once again it was Pliskova who starred in this first round tie, proving a class or two too much for Spain's Lara Arruabarrena in the second match, following Muguruza's strange three set victory over Barbora Strycova 6-0 3-6 6-1.  Garbine must have wandered off somewhere in Ostrava for part of set two, but she was amazing for the rest of the match.

The key to the tie was match three, and Pliskova brought the visiting Muguruza crashing back to earth with a 6-2 6-2 whipping.  Strycova put the issue beyond doubt with another straight sets win at the expense of Arruabarrena,  and the doubles at the end was important only for bragging rights.

Other World Group first round results included the USA's whitewash of Germany, spearheaded by Aus Open semi finalist Coco Vandeweghe, and with great support from Alison Riske.
The semi final against the Czech Republic will be a tougher test.

Belarus easily accounted for the Netherlands 4-1, half those wins to wold number 128 Aliaksandra Sasnovich, whose Fed Cup record is now 11/7.
Semi final opponent for Belarus will be Switzerland, who had a similarly easy result over France, at least on the scoreboard.

After an even start, with Timea Bacsinszky defeating Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic bringing France back by knocking over Belinda Bencic.
Bacsinszky won the key third match over Mladenovic and it was worthy of being the headline act.  For over 3 and a quarter hours the girls battled, 71 winners delivered between the two.
Mladenovic created 14 break opportunities to only 6 by Bacsinszky.  However both players converted three.  The first set tie break, won by Timea, ended up being the deciding factor, as the rest of the match was an even split.

Leading 2-1, the momentum drove Switzerland to a 4-1 result, but a Mladenovic victory in the third match could have changed things dramatically.

A.Zverev and Dimitrov win in Europe

Grigor Dimitrov became the first dual winner on the ATP Tour this year with his straight sets win over David Goffin in the Sofia Open final.  Although his first serve percentage was deplorable, Goffin still had more chances to break the Bulgarian serve.  He was especially wasteful in the first set, converting just one of five break points, while Dimitrov took advantage of both his.  Once he had the lead, it was clear that Grigor would be tough to peg back, and in a second set littered with service breaks, Goffin was slightly untidier, falling short 7-5 6-4.

Alexander Zverev's rise up the tennis tree continues, marked now with his second career title as a teenager - the Open Sud de France in Montpellier.  Zverev upset the French crowd in two sets and probably saddened Richard Gasquet even more, preventing the third seed from capturing his 15th career trophy.
The first set was tight, requiring a tie break to decide in the Zverev's favour, and the second set included just one break point, converted by the German, and enough to clinch the tournament 7-6 6-3.

In Quito, Victor Estrella Burgos completed a rare feat in tennis.  His third consecutive win in the same event - the Ecuador Open.  This was extra special, considering Italian Paolo Lorenzi was leading in the final by a set and a break.  Estrella Burgos fought back to take the second set 7-5, and the gripping finale went the distance, decided 8 points to 6 in a third set tie break for the Dominican Republic unseeded 36 year old.  He becomes the only ATP player ever to have won at least three times at the one event but nowhere else.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Dimitrov form continues in Sofia

After a week's break due to the first round of the Davis Cup, the ATP Tour was back in action on three fronts: Montpellier - France, Sofia - Bulgaria, and Quito - Ecuador.

South America drew very much a second string field, with top seed Ivo Karlovic the only top twenty player in the field, currently ranked 18.
However, he lasted just the one match, losing in the second round after a first round bye.  His victor was Victor Estrella Burgos, aged 36 from the Dominican Republic (a year younger than Ivo), currently ranked 156 but with a career high of 43 only eighteen months ago..  No breaks of serve for the match, in fact no break points faced by either player - Karlovic delivered 39 aces but to no avail, losing the second and third of the three tie break sets.

The win for Estrella Burgos should come as no surprise considering he is the two time defending champion in Quito.  He proceeded to the final of the Ecuador Open yet again, including a win over fourth seed Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci in the semi final, the same player he defeated in Quito in the 2015 semis and last year's final.

This year he will need to overcome third seed Italian Paolo Lorenzi if he is to take home a third straight title.  Lorenzi made quick work of second seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas in straight sets in the semi finals.

Bulgaria welcomed home it's hero Grigor Dimitrov after his brilliant Australian summer, capturing the Brisbane title and pushing Nadal to the limit in the Aus Open semi final.  In Sofia, Dimitrov has shown no sign of a form lapse, where as third seed he has dropped only one set (the first of his tournament) en route to the final.
He avoided top seed Dominic Thiem in the semis, as the Austrian left the event in the second round (his first match) courtesy of a loss to unseeded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.  The world number 87 also dismissed eighth seed Martin Klizan in the quarter finals before finding the Grigor hurdle a little to high to clear.

Dimitrov will face David Goffin in the final - the two met in the quarter finals at Melbourne Park just a couple of weeks back.  The Belgian will be hoping for a much better display from his racquet this time.  His semi final win over fourth seed Roberto Bautista Agut was hard fought, coming from a set down and winning in a tie break third.

As in Sofia, where the locals will have a Bulgarian to cheer home in the final,  French fans in Montpellier are rapt to see Richard Gasquet flying their flag in the final.  The third seed knocked over two fellow Frenchmen, Kenny De Schepper and Benoit Paire, in the quarters and semis respectively.  Qualifier De Schepper had upset Aus Open quarter finalist Mischa Zverev in the opening round.
An all French final was prevented with the semi final defeat of second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga by fourth seed German Alexander Zverev. 
Another German, unseeded Dustin Brown, extended top seed Marin Cilic's terrible start to the season, ousting the Croatian in the second round - Marin's first match.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Mladenovic wins in Russia - 1st title

Kristina Mladenovic has given France a WTA title by taking out the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy.  It was Kristina's first title on the tour and came through victory over Yulia Putintseva in the final.  
Both players were unseeded, Mladenovic having ended the dream run of Natalia Vikhlyantseva in one semi final, and Putintseva surprising second seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Mladenovic received a rankings boost of twenty spots to 31, while Putintseva moved up seven places to a career high 27.
Vikhlyantseva jumped into the top 100 on the back of her semi final appearance, up twenty-six places to 89.

In Taipei City, top seed Elina Svitolina won the Taiwan Open, defeating Shuai Peng in the final.  Svitolina had beaten Mandy Minella in her semi final and Peng had accounted for Lucie Safarova to make the final.
Peng and Safarova improve their rankings but still remain well off their career bests of 14 and 5 respectively.  Minella has improved fifteen spots to 78, just twelve off her best ever.  Svitolina remains at her career high of 13, but is playing the sort of tennis to threaten the top ten very soon.

Davis Cup duties meant that the ATP Tour was put on hold for the past week.  Some of the world's best players stepped up to play for their countries - most disappointed with their absence.

The Zverev brothers couldn't help Germany across the line, as Belgium won that tie 4-1.  Steve Darcis was the hero, winning both his singles, including that against Alexander Zverev.  So David Goffin not playing did not hurt the Belgians.

Australia defeated a weakened Czech Republic team, with no Tomas Berdych.  Nick Kyrgios won his opening singles but Jordan Thompson was the highlight in his debut Davis Cup appearance,  winning both his matches.  John Peers, fresh from winning the Aus Open Men's Doubles, paired with Sam Groth to put the home team in an unbeatable 3-0 position.  

It will be Australia v USA in a quarter final following the 5-0 rout of Switzerland by the Stars and Stripes.  No Federer and Wawrinka made things difficult for the Swiss, and Sock and Isner led a strong team which took full advantage.

France easily knocked out Japan and the highest ranked players were not in attendance.  Gasquet and Simon led the French charge while Monfils and Tsonga missed, as did Nishikori for Japan.
Next for France will be Great Britain which defeated Canada 3-2, but Murray and Raonic were nowhere to be seen.

Serbia had no problem with Russia, winning 4-0, Novak Djokovic playing his part.  Nice to see a top five player dedicating time to his nation and not just to himself.
Spain is the second round opponent for Serbia, and it would be great to have both Novak and Rafa available for that tie.
Spain defeated 2016 finalists Croatia 3-2, led by Roberto Bautista Agut, and strong despite no Nadal and Ferrer.  Shame that Croatia was short of its best lineup.

Defending champion Argentina is fighting for survival, 2-2 with Italy, with the deciding finals singles between Guido Pella and Andreas Seppi to be played a day late due to bad weather.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Women battle in Russia, Taiwan

Now that our systems are clear of the last remnants of the fun-for-all Australian Open, it is time to turn to more serious stuff - the WTA events in St Petersburg and Taipei City.

Disappointed at losing the final in Melbourne to her sister, Venus Williams entered Russia as fourth seed and into the second round with a bye.  Unseeded Kristina Mladenovic extended the American's disappointment by defeating her comprehensively in straight sets.

Six of the world's top twenty including Venus, were assembled among the 28 in the main draw, Simona Halep the top seed.
Seventh seed Kiki Bertens was the first seeded casualty, falling to German Annika Beck in a three set first round upset.
19 year old Russian wildcard Natalia Vikhlyantseva has proved to be the tournament sensation, firstly knocking over Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova and then fellow teenager and compatriot, 8th seed Daria Kasatkina, both in two sets.

Natalia was given a free pass through to the semi finals thanks to a walkover from Simona Halep and will be part of an all unseeded match against Mladenovic who followed her Venus success with another seed dismissal, wishing Roberta Vinci (6) farewell in their quarter final.

Kazakhstan may have lost Shvedova, but it still has representation in the form of Yulia Putintseva, who relieved third seed Sveta Kuznetsova of her playing duties in an absorbing quarter final.  Leading 6-3 and a break, Putintseva appeared assured of victory before Sveta struck back, and a tie break was required, won by the Russian.  Hardly anything split the two in the decider, with Putintseva grabbing the extra break and the set and match 7-5.

Second seed Dominika Cibulkova will be the semi final challenge for Yulia,  the world number five not dropping a set in her two wins over Donna Vekic and fifth seed Elena Vesnina.

The Taipei City tournament has world number 13 Elina Svitolina as its top seed and only top twenty player,  although there were five in the top forty present at the start.
Svitolina has made it through to a semi final, the only seed to reach that point.

Second seed Samantha Stosur was beaten in two sets by unseeded Shuai Peng in a quarter final.  Peng had previously accounted for fifth seed Katerina Siniakova in the second round.  Caroline Garcia (3) and Anastasija Sevastova (4) also lost second round matches - to Mandy Minella and Lucie Safarova respectively.  

Safarova proceeded to eliminate sixth seed Misaki Doi in a quarter final, and set up a semi final clash with Peng.
Minella also won her quarter final and will meet Svitolina in the other semi final.