Sunday, 30 April 2017

Unseeded Stuttgart final

Andy Murray has failed in his second successive clay court tournament to reach the final.
In Barcelona the world number one sought and gained revenge on Albert Ramos-Vinolas for his Monte Carlo misstep, with a three set quarter final victory, but couldn't find a way past Dominic Thiem in a semi final which featured high class tennis from both players.
Murray is in the habit of losing opening sets at the moment, and that should be of concern, because while he is able to manage the disadvantage against most players, he becomes vulnerable against the best.
Fortunately at Roland Garros it is best of five sets.

Rafa Nadal has had a rather easier time in Barcelona, not having to play a seeded player in any match on his travel through to yet another final.  He hasn't dropped a set and after racking up 10 Monte Carlo titles, he is hot favourite to make it 10 of these too.
Thiem will certainly make him earn it, but Nadal rejoices in the clay and history seems to be wanting this.

Stuttgart will see an unseeded final, but it won't be a disappointment for fans.  The two combatants have played brilliantly throughout, proving over and over their competence on clay and how dangerous they can be come Roland Garros in 3 weeks.

French number 19 Kristina Mladenovic has already enjoyed a great 2017, winning her first career title in St Petersburg and achieving a career high ranking of 18 last month. That will change to 17 even if she loses the final here.
Mladenovic defeated Aus Open semi finalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the first round, top seed Angie Kerber in the second round, then Carla Suarez Navarro in a quarter final, all in straight sets.
Then in one of the matches of the tournament, Mladenovic battled for more than two and half hours with Maria Sharapova, coming from a set and a break down to win a thrilling semi final  3-6 7-5 6-4.  

The Germans were sad for Kerber's early departure but have been over the moon with Laura Siegemund and her performances in Stuttgart this year.  
Runner up here last year, the former world number 27 has struggled in 2017 and was granted a wild card to enter the Stuttgart main draw this time, ranked 49.

However, once on clay Siegemund is a changed player and her results reflect that.
After dismissing eighth seed Sveta Kuznetsova in the second round, Laura went the distance for over three hours with second seed Karolina Pliskova in the match of the tournament, finally pulling out one of her best ever wins.

With hardly a minute to draw breath the next task was a semi final against Simona Halep, the fourth seed in a streak of hot form.
In a match where serve was broken 14 times in 22 games, Siegemund stopped Halep in straight sets to progress to her second successive Stuttgart final.
Siegemund will have a boost to her ranking irrespective of the result, and is now a real possibility of gaining a seeding for Roland Garros.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Sharapova back and winning

Important tournaments this week in the lead up to Roland Garros are in progress in Barcelona and Budapest for the men and Stuttgart and Istanbul for the women.

Most attention has been focused on Stuttgart, and the return to competitive tennis of Maria Sharapova.
Maria has served a lengthy sentence for a drug offence, and deserves to be back playing; I am disgusted by those in the media, and certain players, who would rather that she not be granted the Stuttgart wildcard and who continue to treat her with a permanent black mark, never to be afforded another chance.
Remarkable how they don't do that with the men who have come back from drug suspensions.

We need quality players, and Sharapova, despite her incessant screaming, is one of the very best of her era.  With two Roland Garros titles already to her name, it would be an amazing accomplishment to make this year's draw and cause some damage along the way.

Sharapova has in Stuttgart begun her comeback with a bang, eliminating Roberta Vinci and Ekaterina Makarova, both in straight sets, to reach the quarter finals.  The draw has opened up for her, with qualifier Anett Kontaveit from Estonia knocking  out fifth seed Garbine Muguruza in the second round and becoming Sharapova's quarter final opposition.

It hasn't been a great tournament for the seeds.  Third seed Dominika Cibulkova withdrew before the event began and we've seen the departure of Aga Radwanska (7) in the first round (courtesy of Makarova), and Sveta Kuznetsova (8), Johanna Konta (6), and top seed Angie Kerber in second round matches.

The quarter final match ups are:

Kristina Mladenovic v Carla Suarez Navarro (Mladenovic defeated Kerber )
Maria Sharapova v Anett Kontaveit 
Anastasija Sevastova v Simona Halep (4) (Sevastova defeated Konta)
Laura Siegemund v Karolina Pliskova (2) (Siegemund defeated Kuznetsova)

Barcelona has seen its fair share of upsets, but Andy Murray has not appeared amongst the casualties.  A first round bye and a walkover from Bernard Tomic put him safely in the third round without lifting a finger.
When finally asked to raise a racquet the world number one was capable of dismissing Feliciano Lopez comfortably in two sets to reach the quarter finals.

He was joined there by Monte Carlo finalists Rafa Nadal and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and Dominic Thiem, the only seeds left in the tournament.  Murray will face Ramos-Vinolas for the second tournament in succession, having lost to him in Monte Carlo.

The other quarter finals are:

Dominic Thiem (4) v Yuichi Sugita 
Sugita before this tournament had only played Challenger tour events in 2017 and indeed was a lucky loser out of qualifying just to make the Barcelona draw.  He proceeded to eliminate former world top five Tommy Robredo in the opening round, ninth seed Richard Gasquet in the second round and seventh seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the third.  Quite a step up.

Hyeon Chung v Rafa Nadal (3)
Qualifier Chung from South Korea knocked out 12th seed Kohlschreiber in the first round and 8th seed Sasha Zverev in an amazing 6-1 6-4 third round thrashing.

Karen Khackanov v Horacio Zeballos 
Khackanov had huge wins over Pablo Cuevas (11) and David Goffin (5) in the second and third rounds respectively.
Zeballos said goodbye to seeds Joao Sousa and Benoit Paire en route to this quarter final.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Belarus makes 1st Fed Cup final

The Fed Cup finalists have been determined and Rafa Nadal has won 10 Monte Carlo titles.

First the Fed Cup semis.

As it stood after Day One, the Czech Republic and the USA were tied at 1-1.  After the next two singles rubbers, it was 2-2.  Coco Vandeweghe won her second match, this time thrashing Katerina Siniakova 6-4 6-0, while 17 year old Marketa Vondrousova forced the tie into the fifth match by beating Lauren Davis in straight sets.

However, the world's top ranked doubles player, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, combined with Vandeweghe to defeat Kristyna Pliskova and Siniakova in the deciding doubles match and put the USA into the final for the first time since 2010. 

Their opponents will be Belarus who surprised everyone with its win over Switzerland in the semi final.  Also tied at 1-1 after Day One, Belarus won both singles matches the next day to put the tie out of reach of the visitors.

The big scalp was Timea Bacsinszky, easily the highest ranked singles player in the tie.  Aliaksandra Sasnovich ignored rankings and stunned Bacsinszky with a 6-2 opening set.  The second set went to a tie break but again Sasnovich had the answers and took the match in two sets.

Aryna Sabalenka clinched the semi final after a two hour three set battle with Viktorija Golubic and Belrus had qualified for its first ever Fed Cup final, fighting this entire campaign without the services of its champion Vika Azarenka.

There are reports that Vika may be a possibility of playing in the final, now that some time has passed since giving birth.  The attitude of the team, though, is that it has achieved with the available resources and it has confidence in them to continue doing the job.

Rafa Nadal carved his way through the Monte Carlo draw and made the final.  No great surprise there except his semi final opponent, which was expected to be Novak Djokovic, but became David Goffin.
To everyone's shock though, his last hurdle to capturing a 10th title here was not Murray or Wawrinka or indeed any top ten player.  It was fellow Spaniard and 15th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who had made his first Masters 1000 final, along the way eliminating Murray, Cilic and Pouille, all ranked ahead of him.

Nadal was a bridge too far.  6-1 6-3 and the fourth seed created more history on the red clay, sounding a rather large warning to the ATP Tour.  A tenth Roland Garros title is looming.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Fed Cup semis evenly poised

A disappointing under reporting of the Fed Cup semi finals has occurred this week, and a lot of the blame can be assigned to the media which is obsessed with Rafa Nadal's attempt to win his 10th Monte Carlo title.

However the lack of the teams top players to put their hands up and represent their countries at the business end of the Cup is most disappointing.
Especially so the defending champions the Czech Republic.  Nowhere to be seen are the world number three Karolina Pliskova or the nation's second ranked player Barbora Strycova.

Instead, the responsibility for leading the team into another final is resting partly on 17 year old Marketa Vondrousova, who while admittedly is in form, having won a title last week in Switzerland, should not be given such a load as this to bear.

Coco Vandeweghe had the experience and power to win the first match of the tie, against Vondrousova, and that put the pressure on Katerina Siniakova to level proceedings on Day One.
Ranked 38, Siniakova is the top ranked Czech player in the tie, but at only 21 it is a big tag to wear.  She lived up to the task, defeating Shelby Rogers in impressive fashion.
No Venus Williams or Madison Keys for the US team which also may have diminished interest for reporters.

The other semi final is contested between Belarus and Switzerland.  Normally Belarus would have the excellent services of Vika Azarenka, but of course she is busy with her new born as will be Serena Williams in the not too distant future.
So credit must go to the back up players who have not only placed Belarus in the final four but have given them a 1-1 start after Day One of their tie.

Aliaksandra Sasnovich, ranked 96 (the highest of the Belarus team here) began proceedings with a memorable win over Viktorija Golubic in the first rubber, a match lasting almost three hours.
Timea Bacsinszky struck back as expected, but didn't have things all her own way against 18 year old Aryna Sabalenka.  Sabalenka hit 21 clean winners to 8 but her poor first serve percentage and 50 unforced errors gave Bacsinszky sufficient room to gain the extra break in each set.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Novak gone - Rafa set for No 10

The Monte Carlo quarter finals delivered three expected results but another big upset.

Rafa Nadal did what was needed to remove unseeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman from the tournament, but Diego managed to break Nadal's serve four times for the match and tested the nine times winner of this event more than anyone had predicted.

The Andy Murray conqueror, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, knocked another Grand Slam title winner out of contention, this time Marin Cilic.  
A dominant first set, rooted in a consistent serve - 84% first delivery and no break points faced - saw Cilic having to do something in the second set to stay alive.
Cilic took the second set in a tie break, his overall serving stats much better than they had been.
Sadly for Croatia, that's where the comeback stopped.  Ramos-Vinolas continued his consistent approach and simply watched Cilic fall over at critical times.

6-2 6-7 6-2 and Albert has a semi final appointment with France's Lucas Pouille.  

Pouille was heading for defeat at the hands of Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas who led 0-6 6-3 5-4 and serving for the match.
Cuevas stumbled badly and games were 5-5.  Another chance was wasted with a break point in the next Pouille service game.  The eleven seed saved it and led 6-5.
Cuevas again failed at the line, presenting victory to Pouille.

Nadal was meant to play Novak Djokovic in his semi final.  Djokovic was pencilled in for an expected sixth win out of six clashes with David Goffin.
However the Belgian was at the top of his game, racing to a first set win 6-2.  His down the line shots for winners, on both sides, were exquisite and throwing Novak completely off balance, something unusual to see.

Down another break 1-2 in set two, a straight sets exit was staring the second seed in his face.  To his credit, Djokovic lifted his game and rattled off four successive games and won the set 6-3.
Riding the momentum, Novak clinched the early break in the decider, and at 4-2 had chances to achieve a double break.  
Instead Goffin contributed a special run of brilliance to hold serve and break for 4-4.

From that point it was catch up for Djokovic and he battled to hold serve, saving many break points.  At 5-6 he saved a bagful of match points, wasted game points, but finally relented to the Goffin pressure.

Goffin achieved possibly his finest victory 6-2 3-6 7-5 and now faces his biggest challenge - Nadal - with a realistic belief that he can win that as well.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Murray departs Monte Carlo

The third round at Monte Carlo delivered the first major upsets and they included world number one Andy Murray and third seed Stan Wawrinka.

Murray, ever the front runner, lost that tag in this match.  He wasted two prime positions, firstly a one set lead over 15th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas, then a 4-0 advantage in the decider.
It was the first meeting between the two, and the Spaniard pushed Andy's year to date record to 13/4, not particularly pleasing for the Scot.

Ramos-Vinolas will play Marin Cilic in one of the quarter finals, after Cilic disposed of Tomas Berdych in straight sets.  Berdych took the Croatian to a second set tie break but failed to win a point once there.

The other surprise was the Wawrinka loss.  Maybe not too much of a shock considering he came to Monte Carlo with a 2017 record of 14 wins and 5 losses.  16th seeded Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas wasn't fazed by his challenge, and dismissed the Swiss in two sets.  Despite only posting 8 wins in 2017 prior to this tournament, amongst those victories Cuevas had captured the Brasil Open in March, defeating Murray's conqueror Ramos-Vinolas in the final.

Cuevas earned the right to play 11th seed Lucas Pouille in another of the quarter finals.  Pouille only needed three games before fellow French player Adrian Mannarino retired through injury.

Rafa Nadal was ruthless in thrashing Germany's Sasha Zverev at the cost of two games and unseeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman will be at the Spaniard's mercy in their quarter final.  Schwartzman easily accounted for another German, Jan-Lennard Struff.

The final quarter final is possibly the best on paper.  Novak Djokovic devised another escape to defeat Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, down break points at 4-4 in a deciding third set, then emerging from the hole to win three of the last four games.

David Goffin repeated his Australian Open defeat of Dominic Thiem, but it required a three set thriller to do so.
The first set tie break was pivotal, and even though Thiem struck back to level at a set apiece, Goffin steadied with a classy third set display, strong on serve, and returning just about everything.

Djokovic has won both his matches without displaying much of his bag of tricks, and he will no doubt draw on more of his brilliance in order to match a confident Goffin.
Djokovic leads 5-0 head to head.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Djokovic survives - Tsonga out

Novak Djokovic's start to his Monte Carlo campaign was anything but auspicious, requiring three sets and a comeback from break down in the decider against Frenchman Gilles Simon in the second round.

The number two seed will have to lift his game in order to advance much further, remembering that he lost in the second round last year.
Next up will likely be Pablo Carreno Busta.

Other successful seeds through to the third round were David Goffin (10) and Pablo Cuevas (16).
Not so lucky was 7th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who fell to fellow Frenchman and qualifier Adrian Mannarino.

After taking the opening set in a tight tie break, Tsonga went missing in the second, his serve virtually impotent against a confident Mannarino.
61 % of points on Tsonga's first serve and half of the points on his second serve flowed the way of Mannarino and so did three service breaks.
6-2 and momentum to the underdog, 

The trend continued in set three as Tsonga had no answer, the match score in Mannarino's favour 6-7 6-2 6-3.

First round matches were completed and amongst them Borna Coric suffered a let down after winning his first ATP title last week, toppled by Jeremy Chardy, ten years his senior.
In another win for the veterans, Tommy Haas, aged 39 and ranked 655 in the world, playing just his sixth ATP match for the year, took Benoit Paire to the cleaners in straight sets 6-2 6-3.

Tomorrow features Murray, Wawrinka, Nadal, Cilic, Thiem, Berdych and Dimitrov in their first outings as the tournament starts to heat up.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Monte Carlo Masters begins

The biggest clay court event so far in 2017 is underway - the Masters 1000 tournament in Monte Carlo.  Roger Federer has decided to give others an opportunity to win a piece of silverware by skipping this, and we are privileged to have Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic back to take the top two seedings.

They, together with the rest of the top eight seeds have been granted first round byes.
Novak already knows his second round opponent as Gilles Simon defeated Malek Jaziri  in one of three first round matches completed on Day One.

Elsewhere, the WTA tour continues in Zhengzhou, China, where 24 of the 32 women in the draw are either Chinese or Japanese.  Shuai Peng, ranked 40 in the world, is top seed.

In results from the last week, 17 year old Marketa Vondrousova won her first WTA title in her first final, defeating Anett Kontaveit in a close tussle 6-4 7-6 in Biel/Bienne.
Kontaveit moves 25 spots to 74 in the world and Vondrousova jumps from 233 to 117.

Steve Johnson won his nation's clay court championship in Houston, but was taken the distance by Thomaz Bellucci 6-4 4-6 7-6 (5).

Borna Coric won his first ATP title by outlasting Philipp Kohlschreiber in three sets in Marrakech.

Kohlschreiber led 7-5 3-0 before Coric made the first of his comebacks to take the second set in a tiebreak 7 points to 3.  In the decider, Kohlschreiber once more seemed set for victory leading 4-2, but couldn't deny the Croatian his special day.

Coric won 5-7 7-6 7-5, and with the win finds himself back in the top fifty.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Schiavone turns back the clock

It's all about the old and the new as the shock results continue on the WTA tour this week.

In Bogota, Francesca Schiavone reminded spectators of why she had spent much of her career at the elite level, taking out the top seed and three others on the way to capturing the  Claro Colsanitas Open.

The final was a close battle, with fourth seed Lara Arruabarrena rueing the break point chances which went begging throughout the match.  Schiavone broke four times, twice in each set, from only six opportunities.  Arruabarrena created 14 chances, but only converted twice, once in each set.

Both players were similarly capable in baseline and other exchanges, but it was the 36 year old Italian who won the important points, leading her to win a second South American tournament in the past two years and earn a jump in the rankings from 168 to just outside the top 100.  At this rate, automatic entry to Roland Garros is looking a distinct possibility.

Meanwhile in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, 17 year old Marketa Vondrousova is the latest young player to emerge from the Czech Republic and make waves.  She is into the Biel Bienne Ladies Open final after dispensing with older and far more credentialed Czech compatriots Kristyna Pliskova in the quarters and Barbora Strycova in the semis.

Prior to this tournament, Vondrousova had made four lower tier ITF finals in 2017, winning two.  Now, having won through qualifying to make her first WTA final, Marketa will jump almost 100 places in the rankings to a career high 139.
A title win will send that about twenty spots higher.

To defeat Strycova, a top twenty player, took a lot of mettle, especially trailing 2-5 in the opening set and facing a set point in the twelfth game.
The set point was saved with a big serve and the ensuing tie break was impressively taken 7-3 by the increasingly confident teenager.

Winning 11 of 12 points on her first serve helped Vondrousova dominate Strycova in the second set.  Hitting several of her 22 winners for the match,  Vondrousova returned the Strycova serve with ease and restricted the top seed to a mere 13 points for the set.

The 7-6 6-2 win sets up a final against Estonia's Anett Kontaveit.  It will be the first WTA final for both Vondrousova and Kontaveit.

In ATP events, Steve Johnson has come from a set down to defeat top seed Jack Sock to reach the US Men's Clay Court Championship final in Houston.  He will play Thomaz Bellucci, the Brazilian having finished the tournament for young American Ernesto Escobedo.
The Marrakech final will match up third seed Philipp Kohlschreiber against Borna Coric.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Clay court season beckons

The year has moved very quickly and we now head to the clay court season leading into the second major of the year at Roland Garros.  There are currently tournaments underway on both the ATP and WTA tours in Switzerland, Colombia, Morocco and The USA.

Not all the big guns have decided to play this week but the red clay of Houston has attracted the US Davis Cup quartet of Jack Sock, John Isner, Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson as the top four seeds.
Disappointed at losing the quarter final tie to Australia, all four bounced back to reach the quarter finals of the US Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston.

Joining them in the last eight are two Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, fellow American Ernesto Escobedo, and Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.

Bogota, Colombia is hosting the Claro Colsanitas Open, and gives the opportunity for many of the players ranked 50 and lower to avoid qualifying and be guaranteed a place in the main draw.
One prominent name to take advantage is Italian Francesca Schiavone, 2010 Roland Garros champion but now ranked 168.  She has had a 6/9 win loss record this year but in Bogota has reached the semi final, in the process knocking over 6th seed Patricia Maria Tig in the first round and in a major upset, eliminating top seed Kiki Bertens in a straight sets quarter final coup.

Schiavone will play third seed Johanna Larsson in one semi final, while the other semi will feature two Spanish players Sara Sorribes Tormo and fourth seed Lara Arruabarrena.

Tommy Robredo provided a huge upset in Marrakech defeating the top seed Grigor Dimitrov in three sets.  Robredo at 34, once a top five player, but now ranked 385 and hardly on court at all this year, is a quarter finalist along with other unseeded players Struff, Vesely and Coric.  
Paire, Kohlschreiber, Lorenzi and Ramos-Vinolas are the seeds who are the next opponents for the unexpected four, respectively. 

The Biel Bienne Ladies Open in Switzerland is headlined by top twenty player Barbora Strycova.

Apart from Strycova and seventh seed Julia Goerges, who meet in a quarter final, all the seeds were dumped in the first round or in the case of Carla Suarez Navarro the second.
Anett Kontaveit, ranked 99 and from Estonia, is through to the semi finals
17 year old Czech qualifier Marketa Vondrousova is ranked 233 and is a set up in her quarter final against Kristyna Pliskova.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Kasatkina wins battle of teenagers

The Davis Cup semi finals have been decided and the WTA titles in Monterrey and Charleston handed out.

Nick Kyrgios led Australia to victory over the USA, winning both his singles matches to help reach an unbeatable 3-1 position.  The semi final opponent is Belgium,  whose win was achieved in a similar manner, over Italy, David Goffin securing both his singles matches, and Italy only managing the doubles in the first four matches.

The other quarter finals were straightforward wins for Serbia over Spain and France over Great Britain.  In each instance the first three matches were won and the ties wrapped up, the final two clashes just for exhibition.

The Volvo Car Open in Charleston ended in a final between two unseeded 19 year olds and that augurs well for the future of women's tennis.  It was Russia's Daria Kasatkina who triumphed, capturing her first WTA title, leaving Jelena Ostapenko in her dust 6-1 6-3. 
The two players have come through the juniors together, and even won successive Grand Slam junior titles - Kasatkina the 2014 French Open and Ostapenko the 2014 Wimbledon.
Kasatkina jumps 13 spots to 29 in the world rankings.

The top two seeds battled for the Abierto GNP Seguros trophy in Monterrey and Angie Kerber missed her opportunity at a first title since the US Open last year.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova prevailed over three sets, surviving a Kerber comeback in the second set 6-2 to level the match.
The Russian steadied, grabbing back the momentum and rushing through the decider 6-1.
Kerber remains the statistical number one because of her rolling twelve months performances, but she is sitting at number 10 in purely 2017 output.  

Interestingly Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are numbers one and two on the rolling twelve month rankings.  However they are 12 and 22 respectively on 2017 performances.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Ostapenko shocks Wozniacki

Contrasting quarter final results in WTA events in Monterrey and Charleston.
Caroline Wozniacki, fully expected to romp into the semi finals in Charleston with a win over Jelena Ostapenko, was dumped unceremoniously in straight sets by the 19 year old Latvian.

In the current climate the win was a surprise for Ostapenko, given Wozniacki had made at least the quarters in 11 of her last 14 events.  However, the only time the two had played previously was in New Haven last year, and the outcome was the same.

The opening set saw Jelena have trouble hitting the mark with her first serve, but beyond that everything worked to her advantage, shots seeming to hit the line most times where there was a margin of error, whereas Caroline was unable to produce her best.  Broken twice and losing 2-6, the momentum shift just didn't arrive and set two was a struggle for the Danish star.

Wozniacki was broken for the third successive time in the first game of the second set but bounced back with some of the best returning of the match to tie it at 1-1.  However, Ostapenko continued her aggressive approach and it paid dividends in the fifth game where the Danish serve was again demolished.

Serving for the match at 5-4, Ostapenko wobbled as Wozniacki saved three match points.  Maintaining her composure, the 66th ranked player converted on the next chance and reached only the second second semi final of a Premier level tournament in her short career.

Unseeded players in two other quarter finals also won the day.  Daria Kasatkina ended the tournament for 10th seed Irina-Camellia Begu and Laura Siegemund was too accomplished for 8th seed Anastasija Sevastova.

The only seed left in the final four is the oldest player in the event, 35 year old 11th seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, whose quarter final victim was the last American standing, Shelby Rogers.  The oldest will meet the youngest, Ostapenko, in one semi final, while the unseeded semi will be Sevastova v Kasatkina. 

It could be an all Latvian final should Sevastova and Ostapenko win their semis.

Monterrey has gone to script for organisers, with the top four seeds comprising the semi final final berths.

Top seed Angie Kerber won two tight sets against Heather Watson and now faces fourth seed Carla Suarez Navarro in a semi.  The Spanish player dominated French seventh seed Alize Cornet at a cost of just two games.

The other semi final will please French fans disappointed at the Cornet defeat, as it includes third seed Caroline Garcia.  Garcia took just a minute over the hour to defeat American Julia Boserup and set up a clash with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The second seeded Russian had some work to do in finding a way past fifth seed Hungarian Timea Babos.
After winning the opener 6-2,  Pavlyuchenkova lost direction and the second set 3-6.
The decider was fairly close but the Russian won some key points, including squeezing out a second break of the Babos serve, finally prevailing 6-2 3-6 7-5.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Australia fast start v USA

Australia has had a dream start to its Davis Cup quarter final tie with the USA in Brisbane.
Jordan Thompson, playing in only his second live match in Davis Cup for Australia, shocked hot favourite Jack Sock in four sets to give the home nation an unexpected advantage.

The 79th ranked player opened much better on serve, successful 60% of the time with his first attempt compared with 45% for Sock.  Additionally, Thompson won 85% of points when relying on his second serve, making it extremely difficult for the American to break through.

Sock was the more attacking and for that, produced more errors, but he too was solid on serve.  Only three opportunities presented themselves for service breaks in the set and Thompson converted one to take a 6-3 lead.

Sock is number fifteen in the world for good reason and it was no surprise to see him rebound in set two.  Thompson continued to be solid in most parts of his game, but Sock lifted beyond that, and never faced a break point.  The set was on his racquet for the majority of the set,  and he won the key points, keeping his errors to a reasonable quantity. Same score but this time reversed.

The third set went to a tie break and Thompson won out, 7 points to 4.  
17 unforced errors in the fourth and final set proved Jack Sock's undoing and he went down to the Aussie in a close encounter.  6-3 3-6 7-6 6-4

Nick Kyrgios won a big serving match against John Isner 7-5 7-6 7-6.
35 aces between them and average first serves for the match 205 km/h and 210km/h for Kyrgios and Isner respectively.

Kyrgios was down 5-2 in the third set tie break and Isner was serving at 5 points to 4 for the set.  Kyrgios saved two of the best returns you'd want to see just for this occasion and suddenly he was serving for the match.  Fittingly an ace did the trick and at the end of Day One the score read Australia 2 USA 0.

Not so much fun for the Aussie women in Charleston.  Third round losses for Samantha Stosur to Irina-Camelia Begu, Dasha Gavrilova to Daria Kasatkina and Anastasia Rodionova to Caroline Wozniacki.

The quarter final match ups are:

Shelby Rogers (unseeded) v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (11)
Jelena Ostapenko v Caroline Wozniacki (5)
Anastasija Sevastova (8) v Laura Siegemund 
Irina-Camelia Begu (10) v Daria Kasatkina 

Wozniacki is the class act amongst the eight left and this should be her first title for 2017.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Davis Cup Quarter Finals Week

While the WTA Tour continues with tournaments in Charleston and Monterrey this week, the ATP Tour takes a rest, leaving room for Davis Cup quarter finals.

Serbia plays host to Spain and as usual Novak Djokovic makes himself available for his country.  Sadly, with a bunch of players in the top fifty, Spain enters this contest without their two highest ranked singles players Nadal and Bautista Agut, and their highest ranked doubles player Feliciano Lopez.

The same lack of top players robs the France v Great Britain tie of much potential.  No Tsonga, Gasquet or Monfils is a pity for the Rouen locals who will nevertheless be cheering wildly for Lucas Pouille et al.   Without Andy Murray, Great Britain may struggle, and the doubles will be key,

The USA v Australia match up promises some sensational tennis.  Played in Brisbane,  two of the form players will thrill the crowds.  Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock are good mates, but not on court for the next few days.
Sock has the greater support in Isner and Querrey, but the doubles could be Australia's saving grace, John Peers at the top of his game.

Belgium meets Italy at home and fields a strong team led by David Goffin.  It would take something special from Italy to make it through to the semis, but Davis Cup does have a habit of producing magic moments.

Charleston boasted a strong field including the two finalists from the Miami Open, Johanna Konta and Caroline Wozniacki.  Unfortunately Konta withdrew at the last moment.  Still that left Madison Keys as top seed, Venus Williams and Elena Vesnina headlining the Volvo Car Open with Wozniacki.

After first round byes, the top seeds crashed.  Keys won her opening set against fellow American Shelby Rogers before losing the next two 6-1 6-1.
Venus spent three hours deciding whether she would win or lose against Laura Siegemund, and after eighteen breaks of serve in the match, the American relented to the German.

Elena Vesnina rose to the top of the tree when she captured Indian Wells, but since then things have been rather ordinary.  A first up loss to Tomljanovic in Miami and now a first up loss to 18 year old Hungarian qualifier Fanny Stollar, ranked 282 in the world.

Caro Wozniacki is now the highest ranked player left in the event but she hasn't hit a tennis ball outside of practice.  Annika Beck is aiming for an upset.

Angie Kerber, desperate for a title, is top seed at the Abierto GNP Seguros tournament in Monterrey, Mexico.
Number one in the world, but playing at a level just below, this draw is ideal for Kerber with no other top ten players, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova the only other top twenty player.

Francesca Schiavone won Roland Garros in 2010, but now aged 36 and 152 in the world, her tennis is played more for enjoyment.
Well she really enjoyed her opening set against Angie Kerber, breaking serve twice on the way to a 6-4 lead.
Even in a smaller tournament in Mexico, Kerber's inconsistent form couldn't be hidden.

The switch was turned in time though.  A first round loss was incomprehensible so Angie strolled through set two, losing a mere nine points, and controlled the decider, never facing a break point.

Just a first round victory, but maybe the match which turned the fortunes for Kerber for 2017. 4-6 6-0 6-4.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Federer rules in Florida

Federer has done what Djokovic did in 2015 and 2016 - won the Aus Open and the first two Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami .
Along the way he defeated Rafa Nadal in each tournament, twice in finals, including here in Southern Florida.

True the absence of Murray and Djokovic potentially opened up the draw for Federer, but nothing can take away the fact that he was forced to play exceptional tennis just to reach the final against Nadal.

His first set of the tournament was a tie break against US qualifier Frances Tiafoe, and he produced his best to push past a dangerous third round opponent in Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets.
Roberto Bautista Agut took Federer to two tie breaks and then it became even tougher.

Tomas Berdych had match points in a three set thriller from which Roger escaped, only to find himself in probably the match of the year, a semi final against Nick Kyrgios.

Three more tie break sets, two which went to twenty points, again saw Roger slip through the grip of his Aussie opponent and step into the final.

Nadal had taken the easier route, Kohlschreiber (26) and Sock (13) the only seeded players he met on the way.

Federer had the edge throughout the final, winning 87% of points on his first serve and breaking once in each of the two sets.  Nadal couldn't convert any of the four chances he had during the one and a half hours on court.
A typically controlled performance from Federer finished with a 6-3 6-4 victory and another Miami Open trophy.

Yes, Andy and Novak may have been missing, but to be required to defeat del Potro, Bautista Agut, Berdych, Kyrgios and Nadal in order to win a non Grand Slam tournament is a task more than noteworthy, and it was completed in style.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Johanna Konta triumphs in Miami

Johanna Konta has won the Miami Open, her first Premier Mandatory tournament success and biggest win of her career.
She was too strong in the end for Caroline Wozniacki, who despite a higher than usual unforced error count, still remained in contention for most of the match.

Konta set the pattern in the opening game, breaking the Danish serve, but Wozniacki struck back in the third game and then levelled at 2-2.  
Another exchange of breaks and it was 4-4,  but then Wozniacki threw in a pair of double faults at the worst possible time to gift Konta the ninth game.

Serving for the set, Konta found herself in trouble at 15-40 but the break points were saved thanks to solid deliveries.  Wozniacki couldn't hold back any longer and Konta led 6-4.

Second set nerves were displayed with Wozniacki saving four break points before surrendering serve in the opening game, just as she had in the first set.
Konta donated the break back immediately and at this point no one appeared ready to take command of proceedings.

Wozniacki held serve to love, including her first ace of the match, but called for a trainer at the change of ends, her ankle the cause for concern.
Konta held for 2-2 and Wozniacki seemed to be moving without any problem from her strapped ankle.

The seventh game was the killer for Wozniacki as she played poorly to be down 0-40. Although she fought hard to save a couple of the break points,  Konta was determined not to let this opportunity slip and converted for 4-3.

After holding serve to lead 5-3, Konta played a perfect returning game and on match point pulled out a superb lob which landed spot on the baseline giving Wozniacki no chance.
Johanna Konta won 6-4 6-3, but was made to work by a persistent Caroline Wozniacki who graciously admitted she was outplayed.

Two titles in 2017 for Konta now, following Sydney in January, earning her a career high ranking of seven.
Wozniacki has lost a third final in 2017, adding to Doha and Dubai, but surely will be victorious soon given her consistent runs to the final stages of tournaments.  Caroline moves up another two spots to number twelve in the world.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Federer outlasts Kyrgios - just !

In over three hours of some of the best tennis played on the men's tour this year, Roger Federer scraped over the line against a valiant Nick Kyrgios who was booed and heckled by a crowd spoilt by the riches being delivered to them, but unable to contain their vitriol towards one of those providing the elite entertainment.

Even Mrs Federer at one stage joined in the chorus of anti Kyrgios sentiment when in fact she should have simply rejoiced in what her husband was delivering.

Set one was where perhaps Kyrgios lost his chance to stamp authority on the Miami Open semi final.  Federer was holding serve with apparently more ease than Kyrgios, but both reached three holds without too much drama.
Then the Australian produced a stunning return game which surprised the Swiss ace who these days is surprised by little on any tennis court.
Two break points were created, and only the first was able to be saved, as the twelfth seed broke for a 4-3 lead.  5-3 came quickly with Federer rattled.

Serving to stay in the set, Federer drew on all his reserves to avoid another lapse, and despite being pressured constantly to deuce, he managed to hold and ask Kyrgios to serve for it.
At 15-30 Kyrgios played the perfect point except for the easy put away which he carelessly put outside the court.  
Federer seized on the break points gifted him and won the game to level at 5-5.

The eventual tie break was a marathon in itself and Kyrgios again left chances begging before Federer decided to claim the prize 11 points to 9.

Deflated at losing a set which he should really have won, Kyrgios didn't fall in a screaming heap, rather kept up his end of a thrilling contest and the two served their respective ways to another tie break - this one lasting as long as the first.
Kyrgios saved match points and Federer saved set points but for the first time in the tournament Roger lost a tie break.

Set three - tie break again.  Kyrgios up 5-3 and in a replica of the Berdych quarter final, Federer won the final four points of the match.  7-6 6-7 7-6 and Federer in the final.

One that slipped from his grasp for Nick Kyrgios, but after all the tears and racquet destruction he must take heaps of positives from the match.
He forced Federer to produce his absolute best to win, and there was only a breath in it.

A shame that the crowd was so disgraceful in its vociferous abuse of Kyrgios.  Yes it is a choice not to like someone, but to yell it at him for three hours, even at times while he was preparing to serve or about to hit a forehand was a bit rich.
Love Roger till the cows come home but leave the hate somewhere else.

There was a second semi final, actually played before the first, and Rafa Nadal dispensed with Fabio Fognini as expected, in straight sets 6-1 7-5.
This match was the first of the day and played before a women's doubles semi final.
The tournament organisers scheduled it correctly because the Nadal match turned out to be about as interesting as a curtain raiser for the doubles.

The Nadal / Federer final however, should be a cracker.  Federer is on a roll in the head to head battle which has historically been a Nadal picnic.  Twice this year - Aus Open final and Indian Wells round of sixteen - Roger has mastered Rafa, and Rafa is a little angry.  Can he change his game plan sufficiently to blunt the Swiss serve which has overpowered the Spaniard so far in 2017 ?

On what we have seen from Berdych and Kyrgios against the Fed Express there is every chance that a first Miami trophy could find its way into the Nadal luggage.