Stan The Man dismisses Murray

Just call him Stan the Man. Stanislas Wawrinka certainly earned that status by taking out defending U.S. Open champ Andy Murray with relative ease. The 28-year old Swiss hard hitter has played in Roger Federer’s shadow. By dismissing off court buddy Murray 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in straight sets, he no longer can be taken lightly.

Wawrinka followed up a big fourth round win over Tomas Berdych by putting on a virtuoso performance to reach his first ever grand slam semifinal. He’ll await the winner of tonight’s night session between Novak Djokovic and Mikhail Youzhny (8 EST ESPN). Considering how close he was to beating Djokovic at the Australian, it’d be fitting if they faced off again. Djokovic edged him 12-10 in five long sets. He’ll be the favorite later. But that hasn’t meant much lately.

The key to Stan’s quarterfinal victory was his aggressive approach. He continuously attacked Murray. Throughout the match, he pounded the ball from the baseline using his trademark backhand to break open lengthy rallies. Equally as potent was his forehand, which he powers through on the full run. He also attacked the net catching Murray by surprise. The tactic paid off converting 31 of 42. Along with a strong serve, the end result was 30 more winners. Wawrinka finished with 45 to Murray’s 15. The defending champ played tentative and didn’t adjust to the windy conditions. Instead, he looked flustered and slammed his racket after dropping the first set. It didn’t get any better.

While Wawrinka held serve without facing a break point, Murray struggled during his service games. He was taken to Deuce plenty. Persistence paid dividends with Wawrinka teeing off. He broke Murray four times, converting 4 of 15 break chances. It was the kind of go for broke style Ashe Stadium appreciated. Murray struggled with his first serve winning just 54 percent. Comparatively, Wawrinka went a whopping 88 percent only dropping five points. He also was stronger at key moments dialing up his second serve. When Murray misfired into the net, Stan the Man had his moment.

Wawrinka said he’ll relax and enjoy the win over Murray. Then check out the night session which he enjoys after telling ESPN’s Brad Gilbert post match. The two joked about a tweet he sent earlier in the day about being ready to take Darren Cahill’s job. Not quite yet.

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U.S. Open Day 2: Federer rolls through

Roger Federer moved into the second round at the U.S. Open. telegraph.co.uk

Roger Federer moved into the second round at the U.S. Open.
telegraph.co.uk

It came a day later than expected. But Roger Federer is through to the second round. The five-time U.S. Open champion rolled past Grega Zemlja in straight sets 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. After the first two sets needed only 55 minutes, the popular No.7 Swiss Maestro endured a more competitive third which lasted 45 before he prevailed. After holding serve to stay in the set, he coolly broke Zemlja with a wicked forehand crosscourt and then served it out. A friendly Ashe Stadium cheered the fan favorite as he answered questions on the court following the win.

You can tell how much he enjoys playing in New York City. The humble grand slam record holder seems relaxed despite a down season that’s seen him struggle. After losing in the second round at Wimbledon, he had a remarkable streak snapped. Prior, he appeared in a record 36 consecutive grand slam quarterfinals. The same proud man whose been No.1 a record 302 weeks. At 32, Federer is at a different stage of a brilliant career that’s included a record seven Wimbledons, four Australian and one French Open in ’09 to complete a career slam. Once, he dominated on grass and hard court owning the final two majors. From ’03-08, nobody was better than Roger who won five straight Wimbledons and five consecutive U.S. Opens only losing once at each. It was over a year ago when he stunned Novak Djokovic and then defeated Andy Murray at the All England Club for his 17th slam title, regaining the No.1 ranking.

With a record of 32-11 entering the Open, Federer has been written off by some with even popular former seven-time slam winner John McEnroe stating that he didn’t think Roger would win another major. His 2013 started out okay reaching the semis in Australia before falling to Murray in five sets. Following a stunning straight set quarterfinal loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the French, he called it a disappointing result. With a chance to get back on track at his best slam, instead he lost to unseeded Sergei Stakhovsky. In a Wimbledon marred by upsets, it was the most shocking. Even more so than Rafael Nadal, who was a first round victim. After being ousted so early, he entered two clay court events to experiment with a new racket. It didn’t work. He lost to lower ranked players including a second round defeat to German Daniel Brands on home turf in Switzerland. Citing back issues, Federer pulled out of Montreal. He did reach the final in Cincinnati falling to Nadal in a close three-setter. In fact, a wide Nadal shot went unchallenged to decide it.

Suddenly seeded seventh, Roger has an uphill battle to climb up the rankings. Nadal is in his section, which could be an appetizing quarterfinal. The way Rafa’s playing, he’s the favorite along with Murray, who’s fresh off his first Wimbledon chasing number one. Federer’s next opponent is Argentine Carlos Berlocq. Barring a repeat, he has a manageable top half with American Sam Querrey a potential third round opponent. The only seed left projected for the Round Of 16 is Spaniard Tommy Robredo. Hardly someone who should threaten Federer. Aussie Bernard Tomic remains unpredictable after winning his first round in five. He has potential but you never know.

The key for Federer is to hold serve and pick his spots in the return game. He plays better when he’s more aggressive. Attacking the net definitely will benefit him. He’ll also want to keep his matches short so he stays fresh for the later rounds. If he can, then the big match against Nadal should happen. It’s Rafa who has a more difficult path if John Isner can get through. He should get a good test from athletic deluxe Gael Monfils in Round 2. German Phillipp Kohlschreiber is a potential third round foe for Isner. A solid baseliner, he made the fourth round last year. Speaking of experience, Russian Nikolay Davydenko still is at it. If he can beat Ivan Dodig, who upset Fernando Verdasco in five Monday, he would be Nadal’s third round match.

All said, it should be a Roger/Rafa quarter battle. Once the standard in men’s tennis, New Yorkers could be in for a treat. Don’t forget in yesterday’s post, we noted that we might also get a quarter slugfest between Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro. And Tomas Berdych is no pushover in Murray’s bracket. The quality of depth in the men’s game is what separates it from the women. Unless Agnieszka Radwanska can finally break through or we get a surprise run like Sabine Lisicki (lost to recently retired Marian Bartoli at Wimbledon), Serena and Vika remain the overwhelming favorites.

First round winners on the women’s side include Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova, who needed three before prevailing over Misaki Doi. Sara Errani, Maria Kirilenko, Elena Vesnina and Roberta Vinci all advanced. Upset victims were Nadia Petrova and Klara Zakopalova. Former 2011 champ Sam Stosur leads 17-year old American Victoria Duval 7-5, 4-3. Sleeper pick Simona Halep trails Brit Heather Watson 4-6, 1-1. Former Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova is up a set on Mallory Burdette.

Azarenka and Djokovic play their first round matches tonight.

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Murray makes History at Wimbledon

77 Years In The Making: Andy Murray holds the Wimbledon trophy after defeating runner up Novak Djokovic to become the first Great Britain male player to win the singles championship since Fred Perry in 1936. Reuters/Toby Melville

77 Years In The Making: Andy Murray holds the Wimbledon trophy after defeating runner up Novak Djokovic to become the first Great Britain male player to win the singles championship since Fred Perry in 1936.
Reuters/Toby Melville

They waited 77 years for this. Great Britain finally has a men’s singles champion at the All England Club. Andy Murray won Wimbledon. A year after being so close against Roger Federer, he beat the best in the world to finally capture the most prestigious tennis slam.

Murray did it by defeating world number one Novak Djokovic in a competitive straight sets, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. It was anything but routine with the three sets taking over three hours without a tiebreak.

Born seven days apart, it was the 26-year old’s persistence that paid off. The two exchanged lengthy baseline rallies tugging one another all over Centre Court. The quality was top notch with each also finishing points at the net. Both are equally athletic and run balls down with the best of them. On this day, Murray had an extra spring in his step. He won by breaking the normally unflappable Djokovic seven times including stirring comebacks in the second and dramatic third. He took the final four games of the match.

Djokovic made him earn it by fighting off three match points. The resilient Serb even held three break points but couldn’t convert any. Murray was just too good, finally clinching his second major when his friend off the court dumped a backhand in the net. Afterwards, an emotional new champion climbed into the stands to celebrate with coach Ivan Lendl, girlfriend Kim Sears and proud Mom Judy Murray.

 

“Last year was one of the toughest moments of my career,” a relieved Murray said. I don’t know how I was able to come through that last game … three match points. (I) just managed to squeeze through in the end.”

“The bottom line is that he was a better player in decisive moments,” the runner up Djokovic explained.

“He was getting some incredible shots on the stretch and running down the drop shots. He was all over the court. He played fantastic tennis, no question about it. He deserved to win.”

Even in defeat, Djokovic exuded class summing the historic moment up perfectly during the trophy presentation with BBC’s Sue Barker.

“It must mean a lot to everybody. Wimbledon is the most important tennis tournament in the world. Especially for him as a British player and crowd, couldn’t be a more perfect setting for them.”

What does it mean for the sport? Considering how hard both players fought just to make the final, it looks like tennis has a brand new rivalry. One that’s been in the making. Murray and Djokovic have already had some great matches including an epic in Australia that Djoker won before duplicating it against Rafael Nadal. Murray returned the favor last year at the U.S. Open going five to win his first career slam. Fittingly, Djokovic came back defeating Murray in Melbourne for his third consecutive Aussie Open title. A month after Andy missed a French that saw Nole let down against Rafa, it was Murray’s time.

What happens during the hard court season remains to be seen. Given how well former Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro played taking Djokovic the distance in the longest semi in Wimbledon history, the lanky Argentine has to be in the mix with Murray and Djokovic. Never count Nadal out. He’ll be fresher following his first round upset. What about Federer? He’s always a threat especially in New York. How far he goes depends on many factors including the draw and mindset. Even the all-time slam winner has to have doubts off disappointing results at the middle two majors.

Where does first-time semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz fit? The Polish prince can hit with anyone, possessing a lethal serve and forehand along with great finesse. He led Murray in the third set before the roof caved in. He’s only 22 and definitely an emerging star.

It’s hard to imagine David Ferrer doing better than he did at Roland Garros, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach his first major final in Paris. Of course, he was overmatched by the greatest clay court player, Nadal. Ferrer is a tireless worker who never takes a point off. He can’t be discounted. However, the firepower he’ll have to contend with will make it tough. As for Tsonga, he’s puzzling. He has great moments like his upsets of Federer at Wimbledon and the French. But that one point he goofed off in an early exit on the grass is proof why he’ll never win. Tomas Berdych is a similar player with a monster serve and wicked ground strokes. In another era, he’d probably win a couple of slams. He just has bad luck.

The men’s game is in great shape. Unfortunately, there are no American contenders. John Isner is jinxed and Sam Querrey can’t stay healthy. Where have you gone Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi? Andy Roddick, you’re missed.

Well done, Murray on etching his name with Fred Perry. His prize is Kim Sears. It looks like they’ll be doing plenty of celebrating.

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Rafa Gone

It’s been 24 hours since Rafael Nadal was shocked by Steve Darcis. The first mammoth first round upset that Darcis won in straight sets, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4 was the only time in Nadal’s illustrious career that he’s lost in the opening round of a slam.

”Nobody remembers the losses. People remember the victories,” the 27-year old Nadal stated yesterday. ”And I don’t want to remember that loss.”

A year after losing in the second round to 100th ranked Lukas Rosol, the 135th ranked Darcis eliminated him on Court 1. Nobody expected it. Especially following Nadal’s resurgence capturing a record eighth French Open that featured an epic five set win from a break down over world number one Novak Djokovic. Remarkably, his straight set triumph over runner up David Ferrer came 15 days previously.

It makes Nadal’s sweeps of the ’08 and ’10 French and Wimbledon that more impressive. It shows just how difficult it is to comeback and do it again with the two majors so close together. With the grass court season so minimal, it better explains why it took so long for a male tennis player to sweep both since Bjorn Borg. Only grand slam record holder Roger Federer duplicated it winning the French in ’09 and following up with his sixth Wimbledon. Federer won at Roland Garros the same year Robin Soderling stunned Nadal in the Round Of 16. His only defeat in Paris the past nine years.

In describing Rafa, the word remarkable comes to mind along with warrior. His grinding style has resulted in numerous knee injuries that have forced him to miss majors. He’s not like Federer or Djokovic. Nadal does it the hard way by breaking his opponents’ will. If it takes four and a half to five hours, so be it. It makes Nadal’s return more amazing. He was able to capture his 12th slam despite missing the London Olympics, U.S. Open and Australian Open. That’s seven months he was away yet came back and didn’t miss a beat.

”Two weeks ago, I was in a fantastic situation, winning a fantastic tournament,” Nadal said putting it in perspective. ”Two weeks later, I lost here in the first round. That’s the positive and the negative thing about this sport.”

One aspect that makes Nadal great is his winning spirit. He won’t get deterred from this. Rafa never goes away without a fight. While it’s sad that he’s out of the tournament so early, he’ll go back and prepare harder. His enthusiasm and passion for the sport is second to none. That’s why he’ll always be easy to root for. A champion even in defeat.

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Sharapova bests Venus

In the most anticipated third round match on the women’s side at the Australian Open, No.2 seeded Russian Maria Sharapova bested American Venus Williams in straight sets last night, 6-1, 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena.

Apparently, the 25-year old career grand slam winner had too much for Williams, who’s won seven majors in her brilliant career (5 Wimbledons, 2 U.S. Opens). Sharapova outslugged Venus. She won the first four games, jumping out to a double break lead and easily captured the opening set. The fiery blonde Russian got an early break in the second and never relinquished it to serve out the match.

She played very well. I expect her to play well,” Williams said of a pumped up Sharapova. “Definitely not my best day today. But, you know, there’s always other days to play better.

I was a really determined player out there because I knew the tennis that she’s capable of producing and playing,” Sharapova said.

The former Australian champion advanced to the Round Of Sixteen where she’ll meet unseeded Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.

In other action, Ana Ivanovic defeated Jelena Jankovic in straights, 7-5, 6-3 to take the all Serbian battle of former No.1′s. She’ll next face No.4 seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who made quick work of Heather Watson 6-3, 6-1. Radwanska hasn’t dropped a set this year and is favorite to beat Ivanovic, who preached patience for the upcoming fourth round encounter.

No.5 German Angelique Kerber ended American teenager

2, 7-5 triumph to make the Round Of 16. Nobody’s talking about her but the lefty has the game to give Sharapova a run if they meet in the quarterfinals.

No.6 Li Na also advanced with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sorana Cirstea. If she makes the quarters, she’ll face the Radwanska/Ivanovic winner. If it’s Radwanska, I’d lean toward the No.4 seed from Poland.

There are more third round matches for the women later today in Melbourne Park with defending champion Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki all taking the court.

One of the more intriguing match-ups pits American Sloane Stephens against unseeded Brit Laura Robson, who as speculated here took out Petra Kvitova in a long three set battle 2-6, 6-3, 11-9. Stephens is an up and coming player for our country who’s seeded No.29. She is a good ball striker who possesses power that can one day help her reach the top 10. She’ll have to be at her best to beat the feisty Robson, who fights hard. One of them will have a shot at their first slam quarter.

On the men’s side, everything held to form. Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer each prevailed in straight sets with the No.4 Spaniard taking out popular Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Djokovic defeated Czech veteran Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.

The Djoker next faces Stanislas Wawrinka who took out No.20 American Sam Querrey 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4. The No.15 seed from Switzerland is a solid player who has a great backhand but not enough consistency to upset Nole. Djokovic is a better server, stronger player and better runner. He should prevail in three. If he does, he could see big hitting Czech Tomas Berdych. A player nobody likes to play because he’s got the kind of game that can give anyone fits. With a huge serve and some of the biggest groundstrokers in tennis, he is capable of beating anybody. Just ask Roger Federer.

Berdych next takes on unseeded Kevin Anderson, who upset fading Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in five sets, 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2. Verdasco hasn’t been the same player for a couple of years with injuries also dropping him out of the top 20. A shame for a very talented lefty with a strong game. If you don’t have it upstairs, you can’t stick. Look at James Blake, who could be following Andy Roddick out.

No.8 seeded Serbian Janko Tipsarevic rallied from a set down to defeat Frenchman baseliner Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to a Round Of 16 match against No.10 Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. That’s a pick ‘em. Tipsarevic has the better serve. I still like him to prevail and face Ferrer, who should have enough to beat Japanese No.18 Kei Nishikori.

Later tonight, the Federer Express takes on Aussie teen Bernard Tomic. Expect Federer to advance in a unique Davis Cup setting with all of Melbourne behind Tomic. The other match in his quarter should be competitive with Canadian monster server Milos Raonic taking on German Phillip Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber will have to serve extremely well to prevail. If he does, he’s capable of prevailing. I’m going to pick him in a slight upset over Raonic in four.

Federer should beat either guy to reach the quarters where Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should be waiting. Another player who’s beaten Roger before. But last time out, Feds was unstoppable. I still believe he’ll make the semis.

It’s uncertain if it’ll be Andy Murray, who has the hardest section with either Juan Martin Del Potro or Marin Cilic a potential quarterfinal opponent. Murray faces unseeded Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis while an all French battle takes place between Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils. The unpredictable Monfils came back from a set back to beat Yen-Tsun Lu 7-6 (5), 4-6, 0-6, 6-1, 8-6 in sweltering conditions that saw him call for the trainer due to severe cramping. He overcame 23 double faults to prevail, later telling the French media that he was so tired that he tried to keep points short.

Monfils is way too inconsistent to beat the steady Simon, who should be fresher following a four set triumph over Jesse Levine. Simon is like a backboard, similar to Djokovic without the ridiculous shot making ability. He’s not the right opponent for the streaky Monfils. Simon is always a tough out at slams. Figure that to be the case again.

We’ll have more Australian Open coverage over the weekend, including Federer’s showdown against Tomic.

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Tomic and Wozniacki advance to 3rd round

Caroline Wozniacki (seen here emulating Serena Williams) advanced to the third round.Copyright Getty Images

Caroline Wozniacki (seen here emulating Serena Williams) advanced to the third round.
Copyright Getty Images

 

The heat is on in Melbourne. On Day Four of the Australian Open, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka each advanced in straight sets. The two big favorites on the women’s side seem on a collision course for a semifinal. Azarenka has never defeated Williams, who’s looking to overtake the world No.1 with a win down under. If she can win slam No.16, Williams will become the oldest woman to ever be ranked No.1. Don’t bet against it.

The defending women’s champ Azarenka dropped only one game in her early second round match over Greece’s Eleni Daniilidou. She next faces American Jamie Hampton. The recently turned 23-year old defeated Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum 6-1, 6-2. Now, she’ll step up in competition against one of the best. Between Azarenka’s screeching and power game, she’ll need plenty of luck.

Azarenka looks to have an easy road to her semi showdown with Serena, who may not even have to face eighth seeded Petra Kvitova. The gifted Czech who surprised her by winning ’11 Wimbledon is still inconsistent and has to face young Brit Laura Robson in the night session. She’s a spunky player who plays every point hard. Don’t be shocked if Robson pulls the upset. Much will depend on if Kvitova is on. When she is, she’s deadly. The lanky lefty is very streaky. She has all the weapons to beat anyone including Williams. American Sloane Stephens could be waiting in the third round.

Former No.1 Caroline Wozniacki is in Azarenka’s section. She is a potential quarterfinal opponent if the pretty Dane continues to regain confidence. She entered the tournament seeded No.10. After pulling out a three set victory over disappointing German Sabine Lisicki, Wozniacki won in straight sets over 16-year old Croat Donna Vekic, 6-1, 6-4. The win wasn’t easy with the 22-year old nearly blowing a double break lead in the second set before closing Vekic out. It’s a step in the right direction following first round ousters at the last two grand slams in 2012. Her year didn’t start badly making the quarterfinals in Melbourne Park. But it was all downhill afterwards, losing in the third round at Roland Garros and then being upset at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She lost her confidence. Even a change in coaches didn’t work. Maybe a new year is a chance for her to start over.

Wozniacki next takes on unseeded Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, who made the third round with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Russian Daria Gavrilova. If she can Wozniacki can make the Round Of 16, she could see a familiar face. Former grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova is making a comeback. Well, not literally. The Russian is trying to get back in the top 20. At 27, she’s slipped to No.70. However, she is in better shape and next meets Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. Navarro needed three sets in the heat to advance. She’s three years younger but is mostly a doubles player with a tricky game. Kuznetsova should prevail to set up a potential fourth round against Wozniacki. One other note from Caroline’s match. Vekic looked like her doppelganger, wearing a similar outfit with white and yellow while sporting blond locks. I don’t know if her plan was to fool Wozniacki but it didn’t work.

On the men’s side, there haven’t been many surprises. As expected, top seeded Serb Novak Djokovic rolled past American Ryan Harrison in straights late last night. The Djoker is going to be hard to beat on his best surface. He’s already won three Australians including the last two with two epic five set wins over Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal still fresh in our minds. His biggest threat is Murray, who finally got over the heap after beating Roger Federer for Olympic gold in London. Murray was able to follow it up with his first grand slam title, defeating hitting partner Djokovic to capture the U.S. Open. He became the first British male to win a major since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray doesn’t have an easy draw with dangerous Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro a potential blockbuster quarter.

Murray defeated Joao Sousa 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to set up a third round match against unseeded Lithuanian Ricardis Berankis. Berankis ousted No.25 Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. Assuming he wins, the Round Of 16 could be either Gilles Simon or Gael Monfils. A pair of Frenchmen with very different styles. Simon the more grinding baseliner who can go five. Monfils the exciting player who uses a lot of energy between points and can make impossible shots. He’s playing right now and just took the first set from Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu in a tiebreaker. He already gestured after taking it. I love watching him. But he should be so much better. Injuries and inconsistencies have been the story for one of tennis’ most electrifying showmen.

The biggest story was Aussie Bernard Tomic coming back to defeat German Daniel Brands over four close sets, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8). Tomic is a different kind of player who can’t overpower opponents. He’s a grinder like Lleyton Hewitt, who got the most of his talent winning two majors. Whether Tomic can do the same depends on how much he develops. It won’t be an easy road with grand slam record holder Roger Federer probably staring at him from the opposite end of the net. Federer faces Russian vet Nikolai Davydenko in the late match at Rod Laver Arena. Davydenko used to give Roger some good matches. He’s making his own attempt at getting back into the top 20. He’s currently ranked No.40. He’ll have to do a lot of running to upset the Maestro.

As for Tomic’s gritty win over Brands, he earned it. He needed seven match points to finally come out victorious with plenty of support from wild Aussies who were chanting, “Ber-nie, Ber-nie” throughout. There wasn’t much separating the two with both possessing strong serves. Each fired over 20 aces with Tomic edging Brands 26-23. Ironically, Brands won one more total point (154-153). Unfortunately, it was a bad omen. Brands also held the edge in winners with 73 to Tomic’s 59. Tomic produced the only break of serve in the second set, which allowed him to square the match. The last breaker could’ve gone either way with Brands continuing to save match points, even earning a set point. But a determined Tomic was able to avoid a five set marathon. During a post match interview with Jim Courier, he openly admitted he’d prefer to play Davydenko to laughter. Then drew even more chuckles referencing how Federer kicked his ass the last two times.

Tomic is currently ranked No.43. He doesn’t turn 21 until after the final slam of the season. He’ll be fun to follow and should approach the top 20.

 

Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams renew their rivalry tomorrow in a huge third round match down under.Copyright Getty Images

Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams renew their rivalry tomorrow in a huge third round match down under.
Copyright Getty Images

 

Venus/Sharapova square off tomorrow: In easily the most anticipated early match during the first week, Venus Williams takes on Maria Sharapova for a chance at the Round Of 16. Williams continues to play the game she loves while battling Sjogren’s syndrome. An illness which affects the immune system, causing weakness, fatigue and muscle pain. She went public following a second round withdrawal at the ’11 U.S. Open and then took seven months off before returning. She has altered her diet becoming a vegetarian even though she admitted to being a “cheagan” in a recent AP story entering the ’13 Australian Open.

At 32, the seven-time grand slam champion who’s won five Wimbledons and two U.S. Opens remains a classy player who’s handled even disease with elegance. She’s very different from sister Serena, who prefers to show her emotions. Venus and Sharapova are two of the biggest servers on the WTA Tour. Both extremely streaky. They both can boom the ball during rallies but Sharapova possesses more power, which is why Williams would be wise to come to the net. She is quicker able to run down more shots. If this match was on grass, it’d be a potential final. But with Venus currently seeded No.26 and the fiery Russian career grand slam winner ranked No.2, it’s a third round clash.

It should be great. Might want to go to sleep early and set your alarm clock for 3:30 on the East coast.

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Australian Open: Ivanovic advances to 3rd round

Ana Ivanovic is a looker on and off the tennis court.

Ana Ivanovic is a looker on and off the tennis court.

 

The Australian Open is still in the early stages during Week One. Second round matches were completed on Day Three. Not surprisingly, Maria Sharapova coasted past overmatched  foe Masaki Foi, posting her second consecutive double bagel to set up a potential third round clash against Venus Williams. The 32-year old seven-time grand slam champion is leading Frenchwoman Alice Cornet 3-2 in the first set at Rod Laver Arena. Hopefully, she’ll advance.

Agnieszka Radwanska continued her torrid start to the season with a straight sets 6-3 6-3 victory over Irina-Camelia Begu. The talented fourth seed from Poland won her two tune ups entering tennis’ first slam. She remains under the radar due to heavy hitters Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova. Most expect the winner to come from that top heavy trio. But the smaller in stature Radwanska is a pesky player who uses her legs and smarts to stay in points. She should be a tough out.

There were a couple of notable upsets with No.15 Dominika Cibulkova falling in straights to unseeded Russian Valeria Savinykh 7-6 (6), 6-4. Cibulkova is a nice player who is capable of beating anyone. But she disappoints in Round Two. The biggest head scratcher was No.9 Aussie Samantha Stosur losing a heart breaker to Chinese veteran Jie Zheng 6-4, 1-6. 7-5. The former ’11 U.S. Open champ blew a double break 5-2 lead in the final set, dropping five straight games to stun her home supporters. Stosur is hot and cold. She is very streaky, relying on a big serve and forehand. When on, she’s deadly. For a set and a half, it looked like she would overcome a Zheng, who had trouble holding serve in the third set. Instead, Stosur let down allowing Zheng to get a break back and squeak out a hold for 4-5. The errors just kept coming off Stosur’s racket. Zheng hung in rallies, waiting for her opponent to self destruct. Stosur has never fared well at her home event. The pressure was too much. She double faulted on match point, handing Zheng the victory. Stosur is now 3-14 in her career at Melbourne Park. A bitter defeat that hopefully won’t linger.

One of the most popular players is Ana Ivanovic, who advanced to a third round match up against Jelena Jankovic. The No.13 Serb earned a three set win over Yung-Jan Chan, prevailing 7-5, 1-6, 6-4. The beautiful 25-year old who once was No.1 in the world following her only grand slam win at Roland Garros (’08) is still a quality player who features a big hitting forehand. When she’s on, so too is her serve which has gotten better despite a wild ball toss. Ivanovic had enough game to get through Chan. Her power, persistence and experience helped her advance to a showdown of former No.1 Serbians.

Ivanovic had an interesting stat line, finishing with the same amount of aces (8) and double faults (8) while having identical winners (49) and unforced errors (49). In many ways, that is the epitome of who she is. It’s a constant mental battle for her. She has gone through ups and downs but finally is playing the kind of tennis we’ve grown accustomed to. She’s coming off her first appearance in a slam quarterfinal since winning that French Open five years ago. Of course, she went down to the more powerful Serena, who won her 15th grand slam in NYC. If she can outthink the fading Jankovic, it could set up an intriguing Round Of 16 match against Radwanska.

It would be better for tennis if Ivanovic prevails over Jankovic. Not just cause of her looks but because she’s fun to watch. All the fist pumps between points and stutter step are part of her rituals which include a different kind of grunt than Sharapova or Azarenka. Somewhat astonishingly, she lost a point during the second round match for her awkward grunt which the chair umpire felt affected Chan’s next swing. This is kind of ironic considering that Sharapova and Azarenka are much louder but never are penalized. I guess they’re cracking down. What happens if Ana upsets Radwanska and Li Na to reach a quarter against Sharapova? Just saying.

On the men’s side, equally popular Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis came back to beat Tatsuma Ito 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. The former ’06 runner up is still seeded No.28 and next takes on always tough No.4 Spaniard David Ferrer, who battled past American Tim Smyczek (who???) in four sets, 6-0, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. Ferrer is the antithesis of Baghdatis who gets by on talent. If he had the same work ethic of Ferrer, there’s no telling how much more successful he’d be. Instead, we’re left wondering with one slam final and a Wimbledon semi the same year. It’s hard to pick against Ferrer, who wears down his opponents. He should prove too fit for Baghdatis. But we know who the crowd will be pulling for.

UPDATE: Venus leads Cornet 6-3, 4-3. So far, so good. It would be nice to see her make one last run but the best bet is still her favorite surface on grass where she’s won five of seven majors at Wimbledon. … Also waiting to take the court is two-time defending champ Novak Djokovic. He takes on American Ryan Harrison. The kid from Austin, Texas is only 20 but possesses a big serve and solid ground strokes. He’s in his fourth year and has never advanced past the second round in any grand slam event. As a matter of fact, this is his first appearance in Round Two down under. Now, he’ll be under the spotlight against the Serbian world No.1 who is a human backboard. Nole runs every ball down and invents impossible angles for winners. He is a pleasure to watch and always part of the discussion with Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. Right now, there’s no better player than Nole, who’s aiming for a fourth title at Laver.

It will be extremely difficult for Harrison to prevail. He will have to hold serve and hope to get into tiebreakers. Against the best returner on the planet, it should be too much to overcome.

 

 

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Serena back on top

The game’s best player is back on top. It took a while for Serena Williams to overtake Dinara Safina. But the 28 year-old American who won two grand slams (Australian, Wimbledon) this year finally is No.1 on the WTA Tour again after a straight sets second round win over Ekaterina Makarova, 6-3, 6-2 at the China Open Tuesday.

“I won two grand slams, and I should have got more. But you know what, I’m just excited to have those two, which is great,” a pleased Williams said of becoming the No.1 ranked player for the fourth time in her career.

“I just played consistent for all the year. I felt like especially the beginning of the year I did well. I was bothered a little bit by injury but I kept fighting.

“I kept showing up and doing the best I could do. Sometimes there were unfortunate losses, but I really tried. And I think at end of the day that’s what matters.”

That effort has been rewarded with her replacing the struggling Safina who suffered two more excruciating early defeats in Tokyo and China following a disappointing third round exit at the U.S. Open last month. While the 23 year-old Russian had a good season making her first two slam finals that included a rout in which she got only three games against Williams down under, it ended bad enough that her inconsistent play cost her the top spot.

As for Serena, perhaps getting away from home was for the best following a controversial Open semifinal exit to Kim Clijsters in which she lost it completely, cursing out a lineswoman who called a footfault. The outrage from the incident portrayed the 11-time slam champ in a negative light with questions still being asked after her and big sis Venus took the doubles crown at Flushing.

Many experts including CBS/ESPN analyst Mary Carillo felt she should’nt even have been allowed to play and deserved a suspension. Our only beef with Serena is that she didn’t say sorry, instead issuing a statement of apology. That’s not the same as saying the two words, “I’m sorry,” which would’ve been better received.

At least she’s gotten away from the heated topic by getting back to tennis. Something she does quite well as her 45-11 record says after two wins in China with a better third round test coming versus Russian Nadia Petrova. She’ll still be favored to advance and come out of a bracket that lost resurgent Maria Sharapova, who won at Pan Pacific last week over Jelena Jankovic when the Serb was forced to quit. If she comes through, Serena might see Svetlana Kuznetsova, who qualified for the season ending championship. The 2009 French Open winner will play the hot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who ousted Serena’s older sis a second straight week.

As for Williams being back on top, the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida resident seems more at ease.

“I definitely feel better,” she expressed. “I’d be lying if I sat here and said I didn’t.

“But I just feel like I would say the ranking will come, you know, I’m not focus on being number one. And I would rather have won the titles that I have won this year, as opposed to have the ranking.

“But fortunately now, for next week at least, I have it.”

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Italy stays alive as Swiss rests Federer

It didn’t matter to host Italy that Roger Federer was out for doubles. With Switzerland opting to rest the men’s grand slam record holder, the Italian team of Simone Bolelli and Potito Storace took advantage posting a straight sets 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over sub Marco Chiudinelli and Stanislas Wawrinka Saturday.

“We all know he’s had a very heavy schedule over the last days and weeks, so we preferred that he rest today and be ready for tomorrow,” explained Swiss captain Severin Luthi of keeping Federer out so he wouldn’t be forced to play three consecutive days following a busy Open that saw him fall just short of matching Bill Tilden.

Instead, the Federer Express will look to clinch his country’s 20th straight place in the World Group when he takes on Andreas Seppi in reverse singles later today. Wawrinka, who beat Seppi in straights will face Bolelli in the other match concluding the best-of-five series in Genoa, Italy.

“The Italians just played better today,” Luthi added. “[Federer] has no problem. You can expect him to play for sure tomorrow.”

For Italy who’s trying to make it 4-1 in five head-to-head Davis Cup ties versus their gifted opponents, they are aware that it will take an awful lot to pull off the upset.

“It will definitely not be easy to beat Federer, he is the best player of all time and these are not words but fact. But we are still alive and will try our best, also with the support of our homecrowd,” Starace quickly noted. “We will try to give him as much trouble as possible,” added Bolelli.

They can take solace knowing the crowd will be with them giving overwhelming support.

“Yesterday, the fans were here but sort of weren’t,” pointed out Starace. “Today, they really were a factor for us and we saw that they can make a difference.”

They’ll need all the help they can get along with inspired tennis to give the fans what they want to see.

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Sharp Federer puts Swiss up 2-0

The Swiss Maestro was sharp. In his first Davis Cup singles match against Italy Friday, Roger Federer made quick work of Simone Bolelli, taking it in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.

“We knew these were key matches, and that we were able to get both gives us a great opportunity on the weekend,” a pleased Federer said after improving to 36-11 career in Davis Cup.

Along with Swiss teammate Stanislas Wawrinka- who prevailed in straights over a stomach-ridden Andreas Seppi 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in the first match on the red clay at the Valletta Cambiaso club in Italy- Federer helped give Switzerland a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five competition with the winner remaining in the World Group for next year. If they can finish off their Italian hosts this weekend, it will be the 20th straight appearance.

Following No.22 Wawrinka’s early win, the grand slam record holder fought off a pair of break points before getting it going against Bolelli. He broke him six different times during the hour and 40-minute match.

“With the jet lag and surfaces change and playing here in Italy away, I knew it was always going to be a tough match,” the 28 year-old world No.1 pointed out after serving 10 aces and finishing with 35 winners.

Italy is hoping to improve on a strong 3-1 head-to-head record. But if they’re going to now pull the upset, they’ll have to be perfect this weekend starting with doubles against the 2008 Olympic gold duo of Federer and Wawrinka, who’ll attempt to close it out tomorrow versus Fabio Fognini and Potito Starace.

If the Italian tandem can string the upset, the reverse singles on Sunday would have extra meaning. It should be quite a challenge tomorrow for the hosts who are wearing black armbands in dedication to the loss of six Italian soldiers killed when a bomb exploded in Afghanistan.

Both Seppi and Bolelli paid tribute during their matches to true heroes no longer with us.

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