Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Konta the Day 3 shock exit

Fernando Verdasco turned back the clock on Day Three when he completed a victory over 9th seed young gun Alexander Zverev.  
The match was in limbo overnight but the popular Spaniard was on fire and won the final two sets, taking a huge proportion of points off the German serve.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in trouble in his first round match which was stopped overnight with the crowd favourite down 5-7 4-6 7-6 4-5 against Argentine Renzo Olivo.

Andy Murray surrendered a set as did Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych, but all managed their way through against valiant opponents Andrey Kuznetsov, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jan-Lennard Struff.

Easier for Stan Wawrinka, Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios who swept away Jozef Kovalik, Dustin Brown and Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets.

Johanna Konta, seeded seven, and winner in Miami and Sydney this year, was surprisingly ousted by 109th ranked Su-Wei Hsieh after taking the opening set 6-1.

All other female seeded players won in straight sets.

Today's matches feature Muguruza, Djokovic, Wozniacki, Nadal, Raonic, Venus Williams, Goffin, Cibulkova, Kuznetsova and Thiem in second round clashes.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Rafa and Novak impressive

Day two at Roland Garros did not produce any major upsets but did allow Rafa Nadal and reigning champ Novak Djokovic to strut their stuff.

Straight sets victories over Granollers and Paire respectively were perfect entries into the tournament and the likely semi final between the second and fourth seeds is a mouth watering prospect.

Other seeds to offer impressive starts included Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic and David Goffin, but not so fortunate was 14th seed Jack Sock whose multitude of unforced errors contributed to a loss to Jiri Vesely in three sets.
Gilles Simon and Mischa Zverev are lower seeds who also left the tournament.

A number of the top seeded women required three sets to reach the second round but not 2016 champ Garbine Muguruza whose 6-2 6-4 win was at the expense of 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone.  The win was all the more impressive considering the Italian's recent good form. 

13th seed Kristina Mladenovic took 3 hours and 9-7 in the third set to fight off 88th ranked American Jennifer Brady and 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki needed to go the full distance to defeat Australian Jaimee Fourlis, ranked 337.
Kiki Bertens (18) and Elena Vesnina (14) also took the long route to round two.

Much simpler for 2nd seed Karolina Pliskova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (16) and 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur who all won in straight sets.

Strasbourg finalist Dasha Gavrilova was a shock loser, joining Lauren Davis and Coco Vandeweghe as the seeded players to leave in the opening round.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Kvitova back and Kerber out

Roland Garros has begun and Day One produced two results from the women's draw that stood apart from all others.

Angie Kerber, the top seed, determined to put her season on a positive track, was ousted in devastating fashion by Ekaterina Makarova.
The first set was dominated by the Russian, with 10 winners and a solid second serve which enabled Makarova to win most points on it and avoid any break.

Two breaks however on the Kerber serve and set one was gone 6-2.

The second set was more competitive but Kerber wasted her chances, converting just two of fourteen break points.  Her appalling record of winning just 11 of 31 points on serve was not a base for any comeback and Makarova broke four times and hit another 11 winners to win the set and match 6-2 6-2.

The fantastic story was the return to competitive tennis of Petra Kvitova.  Not until close to the tournament did we know that the two time Wimbledon champ would be a starter in Paris.  But she began by playing the first match on Centre Court and performed remarkably well.

Julia Boserup could not make any inroads on the left handed serve while Kvitova hit 31 winners for the match against 20 unforced errors.  
Kvitova won all but one of her points at the net and Boserup lost all of hers.

It was a complete performance by a delighted Kvitova and the win gives her a second round appointment with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in an already open section of the draw which includes Strasbourg winner Samantha Stosur.

Not many other upsets on Day One apart from 11th seed Roberta Vinci losing to Monica Puig.  26th seed Gilles Muller lost to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in four sets.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Strasbourg all Aussie

As prospected, Strasbourg has turned into an Australian bonanza.

Semi finals were won by Dasha Gavrilova, proving far too strong for the crowds French favourite Caroline Garcia.6-4 6-2.
Samantha Stosur then proceeded to show consistency on serve and with her vicious forehand take out Shuai Peng in straight sets.

It was not so easy for Stosur in the opening set, her early break stolen back by Peng in the ninth game when Sam was serving for the set.
No problem ultimately for the Aussie as the tie break was one of the best played this year. 7-0 with some brilliant shots from the Stosur racquet leaving Peng without a chance.

Although broken by a defiant Peng immediately in set two, Stosur remained on mission, returning the favour and more, winning three straight games and virtually sealing the deal. 7-6 6-4 and in the form not seen since Paris 12 months ago.

And just to make sure Strasbourg 2017 will have the Aussie green and gold all over it, the Ash Barty / Casey Dellacqua combo grabbed the doubles title.

Finals in other tournaments:

Geneva: Stan Wawrinka (1) v Mischa Zverev (q) 
Zverev defeated second seed Nishikori in the semi final, following his elimination of fourth and fifth seeds Isner and Johnson earlier.

Lyon: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Tomas Berdych (3)
Berdych has made his first final of 2017 while Tsonga is gunning for his third title of the year in front of a favourable French crowd.

Nurnberg: Kiki Bertens (1) v Barbora Krejcikova (q)
Bertens should win but her opponent, ranked 254, has surprised everyone so far and who knows how much more she can produce here ?

Excitement is at fever pitch with Roland Garros starting tomorrow.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Stosur finding form

Quarter finals in Geneva saw one upset with qualifier Mischa Zverev knocking out American fifth seed Steve Johnson in straight sets.
Semi finals are underway and Zverev is continuing to worry the top players, taking the opening set from second seed Kei Nishikori.

The second semi will match top seed Stan Wawrinka against unseeded Andrey Kuznetsov.

Lyon semi finals have begun with second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga taking on Nikoloz Basilashvili.  Later top seed Milos Raonic will battle third seed Tomas Berdych.

In Strasbourg, it could be an all Australian final.  Dasha Gavrilova is a set up in her semi final against Carolina Garcia and Samantha Stosur will fancy her chances when she takes on Shuai Peng in their semi final afterwards. This is Stosur's first semi final since Roland Garros last year, evidence of her patchy form over the past 12 months.

Nurnberg will see another surprise packet from the Czech Republic pop up in a semi 
final.  Ranked 254 in the world Barbora Krejcikova has won through to a clash with Sorana Cirstea, guaranteeing that at least one of the finalists will be unseeded.

Top seed Kiki Bertens will need to beat Misaki Doi to prevent an all unseeded final.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Warming up for Paris

While a number of the top players are taking the week off to prepare for Roland Garros beginning Sunday, many have decided to play tournaments.

WTA events in Strasbourg and Nurnberg attracted Caroline Wozniacki and Kiki Bertens as the top seeds, while the ATP tournament in Geneva boasts Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori in its draw.
Lyon also hosts an ATP event and Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga headed the field there at the start.

In Strasbourg, sixth seed Samantha Stosur has defeated fourth seed Carla Suarez Navarro to reach the semi finals.  Sam has found form at exactly the same time as last year when she reached the Roland Garros semis.

Two other Aussies are about to battle against each other in another quarter final - seventh seed Dasha Gavrilova and qualifier Ash Barty.  Barty has been devastating in her two main draw matches, eliminating Cagla Buyukakcay and Camila Giorgi for the total loss of just four games.

The other quarter finals match Shelby Rogers against fourth seed Shuai Peng, and  Kristyna Pliskova against fifth seed Caroline Garcia.
Rogers knocked out Wozniacki in the first round in a major upset.

In Geneva the quarter finals are:

Stan Wawrinka (number one seed) v Sam Querrey (6)
Andrey Kuznetsov v Cedrik-Marcel Stebe
Steve Johnson (5) v Mischa Zverev 
Kevin Anderson v Kei Nishikori (2)

Lyon has one semi final decided - Nikoloz Basilashvili v second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who will certainly have the crowd on his side.

The remaining quarter finals are:

Milos Raonic (1) v Gastao Elias
Tomas Berdych (3) v Gilles Simon (5)

Misaki Doi is the first through to the Nurnberg semi finals following a win over seventh seed Yaroslava Shvedova who retired after losing the opening set.

Carina Witthoeft is currently on court against qualifier Barbora Krejcikova and the other quarter finals feature:

Kiki Bertens (1) v Alison Riske (5)
Sorana Cirstea v  Yulia Putintseva (2)

Monday, 22 May 2017

Svitolina and Zverev take Rome

Novak Djokovic has lost to another of the rising stars in a major upset in the final of the Italian Open.
Alexander Zverev, only 20 years old, had already won two titles in 2017, but a Masters 1000 win has catapulted the German into the top ten and given the world the best evidence yet that he can be number one eventually.

Djokovic, after pummelling Dominic Thiem in the semi final, was hot favourite to win, but even the best returner in the business was unable to handle the consistent big serving of Zverev.

5 aces and facing no break points, Zverev won a tight first set 6-4, where Djokovic was far from underperforming. 
The second set was vastly different - Zverev won 84% of points on his serve, whereas. Djokovic won only 53% of points on his.

Zverev and Thiem are now entitled to believe they lead the next generation of men's tennis if the Big 4 ever decide to leave the top.

The women's final was also a surprise, if not the level of upset achieved with the Novak loss.
Elina Svitolina has won her fourth title for the year, two at Premier 5 level, and now is firmly in the top ten at number six, her career high ranking.

Simona Halep was the favourite beaten in a two hour battle which the RomaƄian third seed led 6-4.  In set two, serve was broken seven times before Svitolina held for 7-5 and the match was level.
Halep had rolled an ankle earlier in the match and it needed strapping late in set two.  It may have assisted Svitolina, but to be fair she was dominant in any case, rushing to 5-0 in the decider.
Halep won a token game, forcing the Ukranian to serve it out, which she did, winning 4-6 7-5 6-1.

Both finalists will warrant close attention in Paris when the second Grand Slam begins in a week. 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Djokovic destroys Thiem

It was a big day for Novak Djokovic in Rome.
The number two seed resumed his quarter final with Juan Martin del Potro at 1-2 in the second set with a one set lead.
Despite each player dominating on serve, Djokovic converted the single chance he was given and that was enough to take the set and reach the semi final.
Another match required for Novak on the same day - later that night against Dominic Thiem, rested after his terrific victory over Nadal.

After Sascha Zverev had booked his place in the final, following a semi final victory over John Isner in three sets, and the women's semis had been completed, the eagerly awaited clash between the established star Djokovic and the young gun Thiem was next on the list.

However Novak Djokovic disappointed the crowd by destroying the Austrian in a way not seen on a tennis court by the 12 time Grand Slam champ for perhaps 12 months.
While the battle was one sided, the crowd was at least treated to thrilling shot making from a great.
This was Djokovic as his absolute best, producing winners at will and forcing one of the best current players into error over and over again.
The first five games of set one were in the Serbian pocket before we could blink, and Thiem could only momentarily escape from the Djokovic trap to post a game on the board.

Djokovic did not face a break point for the set in which he won 26 of 36 points played.

Set two was more of the same but this time there was no surrendering even one game to Thiem.  The eighth seed fought hard, and even produced two break points against Djokovic.  Those were replied with excellent serves, as would be expected given the trend of the match.

Novak Djokovic won the semi final in a tick under the hour 6-1 6-0 against a player who 24 hours earlier had taken Rafa Nadal to the cleaners.
This sets up not only a great final here in Rome - another young gun Alexander Zverev to serve it up to Novak - but more importantly a real contest potentially on the cards at Roland Garros.

The women's final sees Simona Halep lining up for two titles in a row, after proving too strong for Anett Kontaveit in one semi.
The other semi was unfortunately cut short when Elina Svitolina led Garbine Muguruza 4-1 in the opening set and the Spaniard retired due to a neck injury.

This is the fourth retirement in 2017 for Muguruza, which is a worrying stat. Another stat of interest is that Svitolina and Halep have only met once in a tournament and it was way back in 2013.
Halep won easily then but things have changed a lot since and expect a much closer contest in the Rome final 2017.

Thiem conquers Nadal

Dominic Thiem has done the seemingly impossible and knocked off Rafa Nadal in the Rome quarter finals.  In doing so he broke Nadal's run of 17 consecutive wins on clay this year.

The Austrian has certainly learnt from the Barcelona and Madrid finals, as he attacked Nadal mercilessly from the outset.  Rafa struggled to hit winners through the first set, whereas in previous contests they flowed in each game.
Thiem broke serve in the first and fifth games, his depth of shot bothering Nadal as he was kept moving from side to side.
Although one of the breaks was retrieved, Thiem was in control and captured the opening set 6-4.

At 3-3 in the second set, Thiem hit two winners, one from each wing, to break the Nadal serve, and in the next game saved break points to hold for 5-3.
Nadal had game points for 4-5 but couldn't contain a rush of four straight from Thiem to win the game, set and match 6-4 6-3.

A sensational match and a massive confidence boost for Thiem as he reached the semi final.  He will play either Novak Djokovic or Juan Martin del Potro, their match stopped by rain with Djokovic leading 6-1 1-2.

Following 4th seed Nadal out the door were 5th and 6th seeds Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic.  Sascha Zverev dismissed Raonic, while John Isner added Cilic to Wawrinka as top ten players he has defeated in Rome.
That's where it ended for the American as Zverev went on to win the semi final over Isner with a dominant third set 6-1.

Elina Svitolina had failed to win against Karolina Pliskova in five attempts before their quarter final but the Ukranian eighth seed was unstoppable this time, especially in the opening set which she won 6-2, helped by Pliskova's inconsistency on serve.
Set two was high class tennis and Pliskova had many chances, leading with a break but losing that, and then not converting three set points in the tie break.

Svitolina deserved the victory, solid throughout and ready for Garbine Muguruza in a semi final.  Muguruza defeated Venus Williams in three sets in another quarter final.

The other semi final was won by Simona Halep, who proved too strong for Kiki Bertens, the two women having won quarter finals against qualifiers Anett Kontaveit and Daria Gavrilova respectively.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Rome quarter finals set

EThe quarter finals in Rome have been decided and there are some exciting matches in prospect.
Rafa Nadal will play Dominic Thiem, and the Austrian must be feeling the gods are against him. After losing finals to the clay king in Barcelona and Madrid, Thiem now runs into the Spaniard again.
Thiem had to fight hard to make the last eight, losing the opening set to Sam Querrey, and then surviving a final set tie breaker.  Serve dominated the match, with only two breaks, one apiece.
Nadal eliminated another American, Jack Sock, in straight sets.

The highest seed left is Novak Djokovic and he will have to deal with Juan Martin del Potro.  The ever dangerous unseeded Argentine said farewell to 7th seed Kei Nishikori and will no doubt give Novak some trouble if the forehand continues to fire.
Djokovic is starting to find comfort on the clay, sending warnings to those who have written him off for Roland Garros.  Roberto Bautista Agut was unable to compete with Djokovic beyond the opening set which was tight for the best part.  

Zverev and Raonic will feature in a big serving contest and the remaining quarter final is a battle between Marin Cilic and John Isner, who shocked the 3rd seed Stan Wawrinka in straight sets.

Venus Williams is in hot form and blew Johanna Konta off the court in the opening set of their third round match.  Konta fought back to level the encounter but Venus was far too strong in the decider, winning it 6-1, as she did the first set.
Conversion of break points was critical in the match, Johanna 1 from 8 and Venus 4 from 6.
Another tough opponent in the quarters for Venus is Garbine Muguruza who has finally found some form after a month or so in the doldrums.  A win over Julia Goerges in a highly entertaining match, suggested Garbine may be ready for a decent defence of her Roland Garros title.   

Dasha Gavrilova, having won through qualifying and beaten two seeds, will need to beat 15th seed Kiki Bertens in another quarter final, Bertens the victor over Makarova in three sets.

Simona Halep, favourite for the French Open, faces qualifier Anett Kontaveit in the final eight, following victories over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni respectively.
The final quarter final is the highlight - two multiple title winners from this year - 2nd seed Karolina Pliskova against 8th seed Elina Svitolina.
Svitolina lost the opening set to Mona Barthel but then won twelve games in succession to claim victory.
Pliskova eliminated Timea Bacsinszky in two sets.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Kerber falls to qualifier Kontaveit

Women's world number one Angie Kerber followed her male equivalent Andy Murray out of the Italian Open in her first match, losing to qualifier Anett Kontaveit from Estonia.
It wasn't just a loss, but a thrashing 6-4 6-0.  Kerber has an unflattering win loss record this year of 19/12 and Kontaveit has a more impressive 25/8.
With no titles to her name in 2017, Angie at number one is looking a rather lame top seed for the upcoming grand slam in Paris.

Another top five player to exit Rome immediately was Dominika Cibulkova, but her performance was much more acceptable - a three set loss to Ekaterina Makarova, with the Russian displaying form reminiscent of her top ten days of 2015.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova won easily but compatriot Barbora Strycova was the third seed to fall, Timea Bacsinszky doing the damage.

That was yesterday - today Anett Kontaveit has continued to knock out more favoured players, 16th seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni feeling the heat of a 6-1 6-1 belting.
Kontaveit is into the quarter finals where she will face Simona Halep, who just defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets, the decider a 6-0 wipeout.

7th seed Sveta Kuznetsova bowed out to Dasha Gavrilova after dropping the first set.
Gavrilova forgot to enter this tournament, and so had to reach the main draw via qualifying.  She has made the final eight, eliminating Madison Keys and Kuznetsova in a fine run.
Either Kiki Bertens or Ekaterina Makarova will be the quarter final opponent for Gavrilova.

Fabio Fognini beat Andy Murray in the highlight of the tournament, but he couldn't follow up that performance with anything special.  Big serving German Sascha Zverev put him away in straight sets.

Raonic and Cilic were merciless in dismissing Berdych and Goffin respectively, in third round matches.
Raonic plays Zverev in one quarter final, while Cilic awaits the winner of Wawrinka v Isner.  

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Fognini ends Andy Roman Holiday

Andy Murray is not the happiest world number one tennis player.  He is enjoying clay as much as he enjoys losing Australian Open finals.
His first outing in Rome after an initial bye pitted him against an Italian, Fabio Fognini.
Immediately he had the crowd against him.

Then Fognini decided to play one of the best matches of his life and left Murray gobsmacked at this level of tennis exhibited by the currently ranked 29 player.
The Italians have struggled this year, and Fognini had history against him.

Murray is defending champion and did not drop a set in winning last year.  No defending champion had lost his first match the following year since 2008 and no Italian had beaten a current world number one since Filippo Volandri upset Roger Federer in 2007.

Fabio broke Murray's two opening serves and quickly had a 4-0 lead, hitting forehand winners at will.  Andy could not answer and just contributed two games before Fognini sealed the set with a love game.

Set two flowed the same, Fognini surprising with brilliantly timed and placed drop shots to further frustrate a bewildered Murray.  Two breaks again and 5-1.
Murray did give the Italian a few worries toward the end, pulling back one of the breaks amid a three game streak.
Serving for the match a second time, Fognini produced the type of tennis he had displayed for most of the clash.
The 6-2 6-4 victory arrived on the second match point and the crowd erupted for their hero.

Second seed Novak Djokovic avoided the Murray embarrassment, although he struggled to push aside Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene requiring an opening set tie break.
The real Novak appeared in set two and he dominated to win 7-6 (2) 6-2.

All other seeds were successful in first and second round matches, David Goffin having to come from a set down against Fernando Verdasco.

Last week's Madrid finalist Kristina Mladenovic was an upset round one loser, eliminated by Germany's Julia Goerges.
Also gone is 10th seed Madison Keys, qualifier Dasha Gavrilova doing the job in three sets.

Maria Sharapova suffered on two fronts.  Leading Mirjana Lucic-Baroni  4-6 6-3 2-1, a thigh injury prevented a likely win, and the Roland Garros organisers have denied Maria a wild card for Paris.
The return to the tour of a two time French Open champion has been received unkindly and in my opinion with unnecessary distaste.
Sharapova is a human being, not a pariah.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Delpo beats Dimitrov in Rome

The opening round matches in the Italian Open have commenced and while no massive upsets have yet occurred, there have been some highlights which should be recounted.
Juan Martin del Potro has returned to the court with a message to all players - he intends to cause trouble.  His first victim was Bulgarian 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov.

Dimitrov began 2017 in tip top form but has fallen away somewhat recently.  Not so on the opening set, where his ability to win points on both first and second serves pressured the Argentine into problems with a first serve percentage of only 49%.
A single break was sufficient for Dimitrov to parcel up set one 6-3.

del Potro lifted his game significantly in the next two sets  - he only faced one break point in set two (which Dimitrov converted) but he slaughtered the Bulgarian serve, setting up seven break points.  6-2 was the final score, levelling the match and carrying loads of momentum into the decider.

To his credit Dimitrov revived his fortunes in set three, and the contest was as even as could be until an unwelcome double fault in the seventh game led to a break of the 10th seeds serve.
del Potro held serve for the rest of the encounter, to extend his head to head record against Dimitrov to 5-0, this victory the first on clay.

Ninth seed David Goffin has been playing some great tennis but even he struggled for much of his match against lucky loser in qualifying Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.
Bellucci won a close tie breaker in set one, but Goffin levelled with a second set win.
The decider went with serve until the very last point of the very last game, where on the first break point provided to Goffin, the Belgian eagerly gobbled it up for a 6-7 7-3 6-4 entry into round two.

The other men's seed to depart immediately was 11th seed Lucas Pouille, at the hands of American Sam Querrey.

On the women's side, Maria Sharapova, while not completely at peace with her game, had too much for Christina McHale in a match lasting just two sets.
The biggest upset was the exit door shown 11th seed Elena Vesnina by qualifier Qiang Wang 6-2 6-4.

12th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and 16th seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni were stretched to three sets by Samantha Stosur and Lucie Safarova respectively.
The battles lasted in each case over two hours, and all four showed enough to be hopeful of a decent showing at Roland Garros. (Draw the key of course).

Monday, 15 May 2017

Nadal lifts fifth Madrid crown

Rafa Nadal extended his 2017 clay court run to 15 wins including 3 titles, the latest his Madrid Open win over Dominic Thiem.
This victory was hard fought, much different to the Barcelona final where Thiem had no answer to the Clay Court King.
The Austrian was faster out of the blocks in the Spanishl capital, earning the first break and worrying Nadal with precision off both flanks, especially the forehand.

Of course Nadal found his way into the match and broke back, eventually levelling at 3-3.  Neither player would relent on serve for the remainder of the set, although Thiem showed strength at 4-5 and 0-40 with excellent serving to save all set points and progress to a tie break.

The tie break was one of the best in recent times with spectacular rallies ended with brilliant winners for much of the time.
Set points were saved defiantly by both players until on the eighteenth point Thiem sent a shot long to surrender the opening chapter of this battle to Nadal.

Almost eighty minutes of enthralling tennis had transpired to give Nadal the edge, and he extended the advantage with a break of serve in the first game of set two.
Thiem had five chances to break back, but Nadal would have none of it and held serve for the rest of the match, taking the title for the fifth time 7-6 (8) 6-4.

Jumping ahead of Federer to 4 in the world, Nadal is set for a key seeding at Roland Garros, avoiding the prospect of meeting either Djokovic or Murray (last year's finalists) before the semi finals.

Nadal now has 51 clay court titles and more significantly 30 Masters 1000 crowns, equalling Novak Djokovic with the most ever.

Rome is next on the tour, and once again Nadal is drawn to meet Djokovic in the semi finals.  Can the Serb lift himself to break the Spaniard's rich run of form ?   

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Halep wins Madrid again

Simona Halep has won her second successive Madrid Open, but was given a solid workout by Kristina Mladenovic, whose courage battling a back complaint was admirable.

A muddling first set by both women, including five breaks of serve, could have gone either way, but it was Halep who was the steadier when it counted most and she led 7-5.
The French 14th seed broke Halep immediately in set two, and at 2-0 was using her deadly forehand to control proceedings.  A third set was appearing a real possibility.

Halep struck back, and with the next three games could almost see the finish line.  Mladenovic was in catch up mode.  The next seven games produced some of the best tennis seen throughout the tournament.  Halep's backhand, particularly down both lines was winning many key points, but Mladenovic countered with clever drop shots and turning defence into attack with astonishing ground shots when under immense scoreboard pressure.

At 5-6 Mladenovic was rock solid and assured that set two would require a tie break.
The standard of tennis elevated yet again and Mladenovic set the pace.  At 5-4 the French hope ended a thrilling rally with a jaw dropping drop shot, setting up 2 set points. Halep saved one, but couldn't handle a blazing forehand on the second, and the sets were tied one all.

The worsening of the back injury was unkind and ill-timed for Mladenovic, who at full fitness may have challenged. Halep all the way, but the third set revealed the extent of the restrictions to her movement.  
Halep took full advantage and at 2-4 Mladenovic lost a second service game.
Simona Halep eased through to win 7-5 6-7 6-2.

The first men's semi final was won by Rafa Nadal who gave Novak Djokovic an unexpected thrashing, giving something back for the past few years of failure against the Serb. 6-2 6-4 and taking the points lead from Federer so far in 2017.

The final opponent for Nadal will be Dominic Thiem who also found the semi final relatively straightforward, defeating Pablo Cuevas 6-4 6-4.
Thiem never faced a break point, but 10 were available for him on the Cuevas delivery.
Only two were converted, one in each set, but that was all required for the victory.

Nadal leads Thiem 3-1 in the head to head contest, the most recent meeting in the Barcelona final last month, which Nadal won for the loss of only five games.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Rafa v Novak for 50th time

It will be clash number 50 between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the Madrid semi finals.
Djokovic leads the rivalry 26-23 and has won the past 6 meetings, 10 of the last 11.

This time, however, Nadal is in prime position to reverse the trend.  He has won Monte Carlo and Barcelona and his quarter final victory over In form David Goffin was decisive after a tight first set.

Djokovic, by contrast, has struggled to gain any dominance in his title defence.  He had to come back from a break down in the third set in the opening match against Almagro, and the win over Lopez came with Spanish errors rather than Serbian magic.

The much anticipated quarter final with Nishikori failed to eventuate due to a wrist injury suffered by the fifth seed and so we see the result. 
Novak may be underdone but he does have the ability, more than anyone, to win big matches without much preparation, so Rafa will be prepared for a good fight.

The second semi final will be fought between eighth seed Dominic Thiem and unseeded Pablo Cuevas.  Thiem ended Borna Coric's run in two quick sets while Cuevas recovered from losing set one to Sascha Zverev, winning the final two sets.

The women's final will be contested between defending champion Simona Halep and French 14th seed Kristina Mladenovic.
Halep had little difficulty in sending Anastasija Sevastova home in straight sets and Mladenovic also won in straight but not as easily, her win over Sveta Kuznetsova 6-4 7-6 (4).

Friday, 12 May 2017

Murray fails on clay again

World number one Andy Murray is having a miserable run on the clay and he can add Madrid to his list of places he'd rather not visit in 2017.
In attempting to advance to a quarter final, and avenge his Barcelona loss to Dominic Thiem, Murray lost to lucky loser in qualifying Borna Coric.
The 20 year old Croatian was too sharp for the Scot, his second serve far more successful in winning vital points.
Dropping serve only once in the match, Coric's 6-3 6-3 result was a surprise triumph.

Dominic Thiem will be Borna's quarter final opponent, following a high class match with Grigor Dimitrov.
12th seed Dimitrov opened in style, displaying all the form of earlier in the year.
Thiem fought to stay with the Bulgarian for the bulk of the first set and only relented in the final game to fall behind 4-6.
Dimitrov had the early break in set two but Thiem reversed the momentum and levelled the match at 4-6 6-4.

In the decider, Dimitrov once again looked the winner with a 4-2 lead.  However Thiem could not be denied.  Eventually a tie break was required and Dimitrov grabbed three match points at 6 / 3.
True to his resilience shown in the entire match, Dominic Thiem saved all those plus another two at 6 / 7 and 8 / 9 before winning the entertaining battle on his own second match point.

Rafa Nadal, one of the best, if not the best clay courter of all time, gave Nick Kyrgios a short and sweet exhibition why.
6-3 6-1 in just over an hour, winning 63% of all points, this was a perfect tune up for Nadal's quarter final clash with 9th seed David Goffin.
Goffin swept aside 5th seed Milos Raonic with relative ease 6-4 6-2.

The other quarter finals feature Pablo Cuevas v. fellow unseeded Alexander Zverev, and the best of the four - Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori.
Djokovic is the defending champion and defeated Nishikori in the 2016 semi finals.

The run of Genie Bouchard came to a resounding end with eighth seed Sveta Kuznetsova handing the outspoken Canadian a decent thrashing 6-4 6-0.
Sveta will face 14th seed Kristina Mladenovic in one semi final.
Mladenovic eliminated Sorana Cirstea in straight sets to reach the semi.

Third seed Simona Halep will play unseeded Anastasija Sevastova in the other semi final after they won quarter finals against Coco Vandeweghe and Kiki Bertens respectively.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Day 6 Madrid - dream schedule

Into Day 6 of the Madrid Open and some mouth watering matches are either underway or scheduled.
Women's quarter finals are decided and only three seeds have survived to the final eight stage.

Genie Bouchard is the latest to give Angie Kerber a farewell, the top seed losing 6-3 5-0 before retiring because of a leg injury.
Bouchard faces eighth seed Sveta Kuznetsova in a quarter final after the Russian ended the fine campaign of Chinese qualifier Qiang Wang.
Genie has lost both times she has played Sveta previously.

In a battle of France, 14th seed Kristina Mladenovic was too strong for Oceane Dodin, and advanced to a quarter final where she will battle unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea.  Cirstea defeated Japan's Misaki Doi to reach there.

The highest ranked player left, third seed Simona Halep, is the second Romanian in the final eight, having outlasted Samantha Stosur in three sets.  She has already played her quarter final against American Coco Vandeweghe, thrashing her opponent 6-1 6-1 in just an hour.

The final quarter final sees Kiki Bertens against Anastasija Sevastova, in an unseeded clash.  They both defeated other unseeded players Irina-Camelia Begu and Lara Arruabarrena in third round matches.
So far Sevastova has taken the opening set 6-3.

6th seed Kei Nishikori has won his way to a quarter final after a straight sets win over David Ferrer.
Yesterday Ferrer had been given a walkover from 10th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Seeds to leave along with Tsonga included Stan Wawrinka (3) and Marin Cilic (7).

Later today Nick Kyrgios (16) will face his biggest clay court challenge in a match against Rafa Nadal (4). 
Grigor Dimitrov (12) meets Dominic Thiem (8)
Milos Raonic (5) faces David Goffin (9)
Tomas Berdych (11) plays unseeded but one of the hottest players on tour Alexander Zverev.

Murray and Djokovic will also be on court in a day where tickets are worth gold.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Spanish favourites fall in Madrid

Day 4 of main draw action at the Madrid Open introduced world number one Andy Murray to the red clay of the Spanish capital for the first time in 2017.
Andy had few troubles dispatching Romanian wildcard Marius Copil in straight sets, winning 85% of points on his first serve throughout the match.

Armed with a first round bye, Murray now is facing a third round battle with French qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert who dismissed Borna Coric in their second round clash.

Eighth and ninth seeds Dominic Thiem and David Goffin decisively joined Murray in the third round with victories over Jared Donaldson and Florian Mayer respectively.
Thiem is drawn to meet Murray in the quarter finals.

Home nation expectations were dealt early blows when five Spaniards bit the dust in first round encounters.
Winner in Estoril last week, Pablo Carreno Busta, fell to Frenchman Benoit Paire in two sets. 
Ivo Karlovic served 35 aces on the way to eliminating Roberto Bautista Agut in three tie break sets over three hours, where astonishingly no break of serve occurred in 36 games.
Argentine Diego Schwartzman continued his recent rich vein of form (quarter finals Monte Carlo, semi finals Istanbul) by trouncing Albert Ramos-Vinolas for the loss of just four games.
Popular veterans Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Robredo also lost, Verdasco to a red hot Sascha Zverev, and Robredo to compatriot Nicolas Almagro.

In women's second round matches, fourth seed Dominika Cibulkova was most disappointing in her loss to French qualifier Oceane Dodin.  22 cm taller than her opponent, Dodin served 8 aces and converted 5 of 8 break opportunities.  Cibulkova had 10 chances to break but only pounced on 2.
This was Dodin's biggest scalp of her career.

Other second round matches ended without too much surprise, although Roberta Vinci stretched third seed Simona Halep to the limit, a third set tie break enabling Halep to reach the third round.
There she will face 16th seed Samantha Stosur who has yet to drop a set in Madrid.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Genie finds form to oust Maria

2017 has been successful for Genie Bouchard in terms of swimsuits and Sports Illustrated but on the tennis court it has been essentially rubbish.
Before the Madrid Open, the former Wimbledon finalist had managed just seven wins from sixteen matches, and had no form to suggest anything would change here.

Forthright comments from Bouchard suggesting Maria Sharapova should never be allowed to grace a competitive tennis court ever again due to her drugs in sport offence, gained more headlines than any tennis exploits from the Canadian in recent times.

So it was uncanny how the two were drawn to meet in the second round in Madrid.  It took quite a bit of hard work for the match to occur, Sharapova having to come from a set behind to defeat Lucic-Baroni, and Bouchard surviving a two hour three setter against Alize Cornet.

Despite an atrocious first serve percentage, Bouchard used a reliable second delivery to good effect in an impressive opening set against Sharapova, and attacked the Russian, gaining 10 break opportunities.
Converting three was sufficient to win the set 7-5 and send a message to Maria.

In typical fashion Sharapova answered the message at 2-2 in set two, careering away to take the rest of the games in style and level the match 5-7 6-2.

The deciding set was intriguing to say the least.  Each player did their best to drop serve but showed immense technique and courage to save on each occasion.
Sharapova saved eight break points and Bouchard six.
Bouchard dug just a little deeper and achieved the first break in game seven, but Sharapova broke back straight away and had game points for a 5-4 lead.
Here she had an inexplicable concentration lapse, but credit to Bouchard for pressing, and the game turned to Canada and a third successive break.

Serving for the match, Genie Bouchard faced more break points but again fought through these to take the set and match 7-5 2-6 6-4 in just under three hours.

For players ranked 60 (Bouchard) and 258 (Sharapova) this was a top class tennis match, and surely both will be at least top twenty again before too long.

This one match overshadowed the exits of second seed Karolina Pliskova, her Czech compatriot Barbora Strycova (15) and Caroline Wozniacki (10).
Anastasija Sevastova, Lara Arruabarrena and Carla Suarez Navarro,  respectively, did the damage.

Mens seeds to leave the singles action were Jack Sock (14) in three sets to Nicolas Mahut, and Gael Monfils (15) to Gilles Simon in a crazy scoreline 0-6 6-0 7-6 (0)

Tsonga, Berdych, Dimitrov and Kyrgios all advanced to round two.

Kerber, Kuznetsova and Mladenovic are safely in round three.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Muguruza exits Madrid early

The second day of main draw action at the Madrid tournament has seen some significant results, especially given that Roland Garros is but a couple of weeks away.

Just to clear up a few loose ends.
Pablo Carreno Busta defeated Gilles Muller to take the Estoril title, his first crown for 2017, from his second final.
Sascha Zverev won the Munich crown in front of an adoring home nation crowd, overcoming Guido Pella, a second title for this year, and moving him back into the top twenty.
Marin Cilic was too strong for Milos Raonic in Istanbul, winning his first title for 2017 and 17th of his career.

In Madrid, Spain cried as defending French Open champ Garbine Muguruza was ousted in the first round by Timea Bacsinszky in just over an hour.  
Caroline Wozniacki won her clash with Monica Niculescu, but it took the 10th seed almost three and and a half hours to progress to the second round.

Maria Sharapova's comeback continues on track, as she defeated 17th seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni after dropping the opening set.

Not so fortunate have been 11th seed and triple title winner in 2017 Elina Svitolina, Rabat finalists from last week, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Francesca Schiavone, and Prague runner-up also last week Kristyna Pliskova.

Form is indeed fleeting on the WTA tour.

Seeds to join Wozniacki in the second round include Kerber (1), Halep (3), Cibulkova (4), Sveta Kuznetsova (8), Kristina Mladenovic (14), Barbora Strycova (15) and Samantha Stosur (16).

Just two men's first round matches have been completed to this point and ninth seed David Goffin has safely negotiated his road through to round two.

Day three hots up with Tsonga, Kyrgios, Monfils, Berdych, Dimitrov, and Sock all due to play their first matches.  Monfils v Simon in an all French encounter looks the standout on paper.

Second round women's matches involve the top two seeds Angie Kerber and Karolina Pliskova amongst others, but the one match certain to attract most attention is the Maria Sharapova v Eugenie Bouchard battle.

Bouchard has made it abundantly clear that she would like Sharapova banned for life, not back after 15 months, so now she has the chance to beat the 5 time Grand Slam champion on the court.  If beaten, the Canadian should be a very interesting press conference participant.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

All roads to Madrid

As the first of the two major tournaments leading into Roland Garros has just commenced in Madrid, five other tournaments have either concluded or are about to.

Estoril saw all top four seeds make the quarter finals but second seed Richard Gasquet fell to unseeded Kevin Anderson at this stage.
The final will feature top seed Pablo Carreno Busta and third seed Gilles Muller.

Munich, in contrast, lost a number of its top fancies along the way, including number one seed Gael Monfils in his first match.  The title will be decided between third seed Alexander Zverev and qualifier Guido Pella.

Istanbul has gone pretty much to script and the top two ranked players Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic will do battle in the final.

In Prague, the Czech presence was strong, with Karolina Pliskova top seed, Barbora Strycova (3), Lucie Safarova (5) and Katerina Siniakova (8).

However Karolina left in round one, Lucie in round two, leaving it to Karolina's twin sister Kristyna and Barbora to hold the nation's hopes in respective semi finals.
Kristyna won her semi final but Barbora lost hers to qualifier Mona Barthel, who proceeded to win the title.

In Rabat, top seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova survived a number of upsets to advance to the semi finals joining unseeded Italians Sara Errani and Francesca Schiavone and American Varvara Lepchenko.

Schiavone continued her recent run of form by reaching the final, but despite a competitive showing, could not quite match it with Pavlyuchenkova who clinched her tenth career title.

So far in Madrid, with all the world's top players back in action, things are a little different. 
Sara Errani, semi finalist in Rabat, has lost in first round of qualifying, an example of how the level has increased.

Major upsets have occurred already in women's first round matches - 9th seed Madison Keys and 12th seed Elena Vesnina have been eliminated by Misaki Doi and Irina-Camelia Begu respectively.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

10 for Nadal in Barcelona

Rafa Nadal had no problems winning his 10th Barcelona title, leaking a mere 5 games to Dominic Thiem in the final.

However, the first set was competitive throughout, with no break of serve for the first nine games.  Nadal had to save a break point in the opening game, but would face no more for the match.
The tenth game was pivotal, as Thiem committed three unforced errors, allowing Nadal to clinch the service break and take the first set 6-4.

Set two saw the Spaniard pour more pressure on the Austrian and the break came in the fourth game.  After that, it was plain sailing for Nadal, who claimed the crown 6-4 6-1, with 14 winners.

Winning 10 times at the same ATP tournament is a record and Nadal has now done it twice, here in Barcelona, and the week before in Monte Carlo. 
He has scarily won nine French Opens and must be hot favourite to make it an even 10 in a few weeks.

Laura Siegemund thrilled her German fans by going one better this year and winning the Stuttgart title.  It was a terrific final, and Kristina Mladenovic pushed Siegemund to the absolute limit, a third set tie break required to decide the victor.

The first set was one way traffic with Siegemund winning twice as many points and hitting eight winners to take it 6-1 in under half an hour.
Mladenovic struck back, converting the only break points of set two and levelling the match at 1-6 6-2.

The decider was a roller coaster where Siegemund eventually had the chance to serve for the match at 5-4.  Mladenovic survived and led 4-1 in the tie breaker before Siegemund rattled off six of the next seven points to win the title.

In other tournaments, Lucas Pouille won in Budapest, defeating Aljaz Bedene in the final, while Elina Svitolina won her third title for the year, overcoming Elise Mertens in Istanbul.

It is a busy time this week with ATP tournaments in Estoril, Munich and Istanbul, and WTA events in Prague and Rabat.
Already there has been a huge upset in Prague with the top seed Karolina Pliskova dumped from her home tournament in the first round in straight sets by Italian Camila Giorgi.