Saturday, January 31, 2015

Champions everywhere

Yesterday, unseeded Tereza Mihalikova of the Slovak Republic won the junior girls' Australian Open title when she defeated 14th seed Katie Swan 6-1, 6-4. Swan, who saved three match points in her semifinal match, was hampered by a leg injury in the final.

What may be the most brutal upset of the tournament was pulled off by Jiske Griffioen. Griffiioen, an established wheelchair doubles champion, won her first major in singles by defeating Yui Kamiji 6-3, 7-5 in the final. Had Kamiji won, she would hold all seven major titles. As it is, she'll have to be content with holding just six of them.

Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley won the doubles title, defeating Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

The mixed doubles final will be played today. Defending champions and 3rd seeds Kiki Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor will compete against 7th seeds Martina Hingis and Leander Paes.

I did not publish the singles' finalists' paths to the final on Friday because I have been ill and not too sharp, and I just forgot. My apologies. Here they are, for those who haven't had a chance to go over them and would like to see them:

round 1--def. Alison Van Uytvanck
round 2--Vera Zvonareva
round 3--Elina Svitolina
round of 16--Garbine Muguruza
quarterfinals--Dominika Cibulkova
semifinals--Madison Keys

round 1--def. Petra Martic
round 2--def. Alexandra Panova
round 3--def. Zarina Diyas
round of 16--def. Peng Shaui
quarterfinals--def. Genie Bouchard
semifinals--def. Ekaterina Makarova

Australian Open--what they said

Did you feel you were in control of the match? You got a bit tight in the second set. Did you still feel on top?
I won the first set really I can say easy. But the second set, at the beginning I made a few mistakes. But I still felt like I can win this thing, and I want to win in two sets, not to go to the third, as in first three rounds. When she went to the medical, I sat to the chair. I said, Okay, Tereza, come on; win this in two sets. I started to believe in myself, and I'm happy I did it.
Tereza Mihalikova
I didn't expect to be here this long. I was walking down the hall yesterday and I was thinking, Wow, I'm still in the tournament. It's been a long time since I've been to the final here or the semifinal. It's been a long time coming. I was just really, really elated to have an opportunity to walk out on the final match.
Serena Williams
You talked about not being drawn into the aggressive style of play that she has. How happy were you with executing the plan you went in with?
Well, as much as I would love to hit a 200 kilometer an hour serve, I just don't think that's feasible with my shoulder. There's a lot of things I'd love to do in this world but I can't; that's just the reality of it. But in terms of getting to the point, yeah, there's definitely a few times where I rushed and made a few errors, but I don't think as many as in my previous matches against her.
Maria Sharapova

Wow! Congratulations Serena! We are lucky to have you as our inspiration
Tweeted by Petra Kvitova

My two favorite players are Bouchard and Sharapova. Sharapova is in the final today. I'll be watching that. I hope in the future I can come back and be doing as well as they are.
Katie Swan

...I actually believe that we attract what we're ready for. Yes, I haven't won against her many times, but if I'm getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I'm doing something well. I'm setting up a chance to try to beat her and it hasn't happened. I'm not just going to go home without giving it another chance. That's just not who I am and not who I was raised to be. I'm a competitor. If I'm getting to the finals of Grand Slams and setting myself up to play a match against Serena, I mean, I know it sounds -- maybe you're telling me I'm wrong -- but I'm happy to be in that position. I love the competition. I love playing against the best, and at the moment she is.
Maria Sharapova 

Well done miss
Tweeted by Vika Aazarenka

What is your nickname?
I have a lot of nicknames. But here everyone calling me Terka. And my dad is like Tereza. But I like Terka.
Tereza Mihalikova

After the let at the match point, how confident were you to hit the same spot again?
I wasn't confident at all....
Serena Williams

Serena Williams wins 6th Australian Open title

It was a really good match, as a major final should be, despite the fact that it was over in straight sets. Serena Williams, playing in the Australian Open women's final against Maria Sharapova, beat the Russian star for the 16th consecutive time, but she had to seriously compete for the win, especially in the outstanding second set. Sharapova played a better match against Williams than she has in a while, but still couldn't manage to take the world number 1 to a third set.

Sharapova didn't get off to a good start. She was broken in the first game, but after Williams held, Sharapova held at love. Obviously having settled down a bit, Sharapova began to introduce the shot-making variety that would propel her to make this match so competitive. The roof had to be closed (something many thought should have been done earlier because the sky was dark and there was light rain). Williams, who is ill, began coughing--she's been coughing all week--and left the court.

During the break, there was a somewhat amusing display on the court that looked like a send-up of the Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony: Dozens of ballkids, arranged in a symmetrical pattern and all bending over in exactly the same way, wiped the court dry with towels. Chris Evert, calling the match for ESPN, pointed out that the Australian Open could spend millions of dollars to put up roofs, but for drying, all they could come up with were some towels.

When play resumed, Williams broke for 5-2, but then double-faulted twice when she served for the set, and was broken back. However, she then broke Sharapova at love to take the first set 6-3.

Sharapova's serve improved considerably from the beginning of the second set. Her second serve, in particular, became less of a liability, and she took the set to 2-all with controlled power. In the fifth game, Sharapova moved ahead of Williams, but couldn't break her. In the seventh game, Williams went down 0-30, but then hit two aces and held for 4-3, despite Sharapova having had a break point.

Williams then held for 5-4, and Sharapova saved a match point with a forehand down the line. She used a drop shot (not for the first time in this match) to get the ad point, and then held when Williams' return went wide. Wiliams then held at love, and then Sharapova took it to a tiebreak.

Williams got an early mini-break, and stayed ahead throughout. When she went up 6-4 and needed just one more point, she did a complete twirl, then squatted and shook her entire body for a moment. This match had some tension! Sharapova then missed her first serve, but survived by spinning in an almost-ace second serve, then winning the point with another ferocious forehand.

But time was running out for the Russian. It was Williams' turn to serve, and she hit an ace. She jumped in the air and began her walk toward the net, but--wait!--the ball was called a let, and play continued. So Serena hit another ace, and that was that, 6-3, 7-6. Because, as the champion said a few years ago about her big match-ending aces: "You know how I like to do it."

Williams hit 18 aces in this match--15 of them in the second set. She also ended the match with an 84% first serve win percentage. Sharapova, especially in the second set, threw just about everything she had at Williams, but the Williams serve, when it's on--which is most of the time--gets Serena out of trouble again and again. As long as she's serving at this level, Williams prevails. Even when she's injured. Even when she's sick.

As for Sharapova--she's getting closer. Someone had to lose, but in this case, the loser looked really good. You can't get any better than that in a final.

Friday, January 30, 2015


It's no secret that women's tennis isn't considered "real" tennis by a lot of people, just as women's basketball, football, you name it, isn't considered "real" when (irrationally) compared with men's sports. Commentators struggle to say the "right" things about female athletes because the right things simply do not come natural to them. Female athletes are put down in word and action every day. It's nothing new.

Wimbledon has a history of not showing respect to its female competitors, but--not to be outdone--the Australian Open is playing catch-up.

First, there's the matter of Vika Azarenka. Jeered and taunted by both the Australian press and Australian fans, she still managed to win the event two years in a row. Officials engraved the abbreviation for "Belgium" on her trophy instead of "Belarus." This year, on two occasions, the Bulgarian flag was painted next to her name on the court. There's always some new way, it seems, to show disrepect toward Azarenka.

There was also an obvious reluctance to showcase women in the night matches this year.

And then, there was the collusion between Tennis Australia and the Australia Open that allowed the former to call a press conference right in the middle of the second women's semifinal. This move wasn't just insulting to world number 1 Serena Williams and her opponent, Madison Keys, but to all women, and all who care about women.

And speaking of respect: See this?

It means that Maria. Sharapova. Is. Russian.

And finally--still on the same subject, and you know who you are: Grow up. Look a woman in the eye and shake her hand.

Unseeded Mattek-Sands and Safarova win Australian Open

Last night, the unseeded team of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova won the Australian Open doubles title, defeating 14th seeds Chan Yung-Jan and Zheng Jie 6-4, 7-6. The decision to play together was a last-minute thing for Mattek-Sands and Safarova (but certainly a pairing any of us could get behind), and they little time to practice. During their run, they also defeated 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

This isn't the first time that Safarova has won a tournament with a partner with whom she had not prepared. In 2013, she entered the Family Circle Cup as the defending doubles champion but without her 2012 partner, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. At the very last minute, Safarova and Kristina Mladenovic decided to enter as a pair. I recall asking Safarova if they had ever practiced together, and she said they hadn't. When I asked her how she thought they would do, she just rolled her eyes and gave me a look. They went on to win the tournament.

Also of interest: One of the teams that Mattek-Sands and Mladenovic took out was the 10th-seeded team of Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic.

This is Safarova's first major title. Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau won the Australian Open mixed doubles title in 2012.

Australian Open--what they said

I don't know how often it's happened that a first-time pairing has won. But, I mean, you get two great players playing together, I think a big part of it is me and Lucie are really good friends. Communication's huge. Whether we were down in a match, up in a match, we were having fun. I think that helps teams really play well.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands

What is the most fun part playing with this creative, crazy American?
Pressure. No, I think like that's a great person. I really enjoyed all two weeks.
Lucie Safarova

You've been on the tour for so long. What do you really love about this game? What drives you crazy? What do you hate?
What do I love? I mean, I can't say I love rehab and all that kind of stuff. You know, you do all that and you train hard for the moments like today. I mean, you want to go out there and play your game. Obviously we know we're in a final, but you kind of get past that and you love to play tennis. You love to come up with shots. I like those big-pressure moments. Okay, I'm going to cross; I'm going to take a chance. I like taking chances. That's kind of my game. I'm aggressive. I'm not afraid to do that. You get those big moments where it's tight in the tiebreaker, you call a big play. To me that's what makes tennis exciting.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands

What are we talking about tea time?
Mattek-Sands:We had tea time in the locker room every morning before the warmup or the match. We would get our Earl Grey.
Safarova: Chillin.'

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

She hits a very, very hard ball, but she also hits it very deep. So it's a little different trying to prepare for that. But, yeah, so I wasn't ready really for that.
Serena Williams

You need a little bit more to believe that you can be in the final.
Ekaterina Makarova

You're going to be playing someone who is either a bit sick or a bit injured. How do you feel?
I feel good, thank you.
Maria Sharapova

In terms of this run, what pleased you the most inside yourself?
I think just handling the moment is probably what I'm most happy about. I think at times it got a little overwhelming in the fact that I was able to manage and do so well and able to get through that is what I'm most happy about.
Madison Keys

 What do you remember about the last time you lost to her? Do you remember?
Yeah. She was 17, super young, and I think I was basically underhand serving. It was in L.A.
Serena Williams, discussing Sharapova

How is your confidence against her?
I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a Grand Slam no matter who I'm facing against and whether I've had a terrible record, to say the least, against someone. It doesn't matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title.
Maria Sharapova

What's so different playing a quarterfinals to a semifinals? Is it a physical thing? Dealing with everything around it? The emotions?
Yeah, I think it's more emotions, more psychology working at this level, these matches. It's definitely not even more tennis, more the head.
Ekaterina Makarova

Serena Williams advances to Australian Open final--and what a journey

Top seed and five-time champion Serena Williams needed nine match points in today's semifinal match to win her spot in the Australian Open final. She needed nine match points because her opponent, 19-year-old Madison Keys, just would not go away. During the entire two-set match (whose 7-6, 6-2 scoreline doesn't begin to describe what actually happened), Williams got a taste of what it can feel like to be on the opposite side of the net of--Serena Williams. Keys served magnificently, and struck the ball so hard that she actually made Williams spin around on court a few times.

Keys has been a hard hitter and a good server since she entered the tour, but now she has added better shot selection and she has developed that fine sense of just when to strike the ball. It's no wonder; her tennis lineage is impressive.

As a very young player, she trained at the Evert Academy. Several years ago--six or seven--when asked it there was anyone up and coming, Evert said no, not at the moment, but she had someone very young who was going to make a very big impression (my words--I don't recall her exact ones). That "someone" was Madison Keys. Keys is currently coached by Lindsay Davenport, one of the cleanest hitters of the ball to ever play on the tour. Between Evert's backhand skills and legendary mental toughness and Davenport's serving and ball-striking, there was a lot of good stuff for Keys to absorb.

Keys lost today's semifinal, but her great serving, stunning groundstrokes and gutsy face-down of Serena thrust her into a new level of "young star." Saving the eight match points was a show in itself.

Williams was great, and she seemed to relish the opportunity to get the better of someone who wasn't afraid to battle her. Keys played so well, the match only served to remind us all how great Serena is. Between them, they hit 25 aces (13 for Serena, 12 for Madison).

During this huge thriller, Tennis Australia chose to hold a press conference about its Davis Cup team, and Australian Open officials allowed them to do it. And I think that speaks for itself.

The other semifinal could have gone one or two ways: Either Ekaterina Makarova was mentally ready to get to a major final--or not. The answer was clearly "not," which Makarova openly acknowledged in her press conference. What an odd career Makarova has had. She's won only two singles titles, but she storms into majors and easily gets to the second week. She used to get to the quarterfinals and then lose belief. At the 2014 U.S. Open and in this Australian Open, her belief has grown and she's made the semifinals.

One hopes that some time soon, her belief will grow some more and we'll see her in a final--or at least see her being competitive in a semifinal. In this one, her beautifully tricky lefty serve was scarcely seen, and she just didnt have any confidence against Maria Sharapova. Sharapova won 6-3, 6-2 against a really flat Makarova.

So now it comes down to Williams and Sharapova again, and Williams has defeated Sharapova so many times; the 2nd seed, in fact, has not beaten Williams since 2004. Williams is not totally healthy--she's suffering from a respiratory virus--but that didn't stop her from beating a very tough Keys.

For some reason, Garbine Muguruza was asked the other day about Sharapova's Serena problem. Her take? "When you are losing to her ten years, there is something in your head blocking during the match." I'll go with that. What will Maria do with it?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

The winners count was 30-14 in your favor. Did you consciously resolve to go for it even more after the injury?
Yeah, at that point I knew I couldn't run as much. I knew if I was going to get stretched out it was going to be more painful. It was kind of that thing if you have it, go for it, because I'm probably not going to last that long in a rally. That's kind of what I did.
Madison Keys

 I think a lot of players would have been happy with this tournament. I'm happy with progress. I'm not happy with a loss, I'll tell you that.
Venus Williams

I think your match against Madison will be the second to play for the semis. Talk about the different mindset between playing the first semis and the second semis. What's the experience?
The one thing is you'll get to know who you play in the final, so you have that in the back of your mind. That's about it. There's really no big difference. I've played first; I've played second a hundred times.
Serena Williams
I tried to change something today on return, but it didn't work out well, you know. Yeah, she just didn't give me any time to breathe on the court today.
Dominika Cibulkova

Before today did the fan in you think Venus and Serena in another Grand Slam semifinal would be cool?
Personally I was kind of thinking I would really like to be in the semifinals. But I wasn't really thinking about that.
Madison Keys

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

USA vs. Russia, no matter what

19-year-old Madison Keys reached her first major semifinal today when she defeated Venus Williams  6-3, 4-6, 6-4 at the Australian Open. Keys--whom Chris Evert pointed to as a potential champion many years ago when Keys trained at the Evert Academy--dominated Williams throughout much of the match, and did so while carrying a left adductor injury.

To put the whole thing in context: It's quite a statement that Williams, after everything she has been through, reached the quarterfinals of a major, and it will be more than interesting to see how far she can go at Wimbledon, which she has won five times.

Keys--much like her coach, Lindsay Davenport--is a major ball-striker. So is Venus Williams, but Williams' serve gave her problems in the quarterfinal match, and Keys was able to take advantage. There is some question about how Keys' injury will affect her in the semifinals, which are played tomorrow, but one somewhat neutralizing factor is that her opponent, Serena Williams, is sick with either a cold or some other respiratory disorder.

Williams has coughed her way through the tournament, and she sounds really hoarse. However, being ill didn't stop her from running over her quarterfinal opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, who was last year's runner-up. Williams won 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour. She hit 15 aces and and was completely dominant on every part of the court. This is generally how it goes for the world number 1: She starts out a bit shaky, but when she reaches the business end of a major, she gets into a zone that cannot easily be penetrated.

Now she will face a countrywoman very much her junior to determine who goes to the final. At the same time, Maria Sharapova will also face a countrywoman, Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova has never defeated Sharapova, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have a chance.

The "other Russian" has been at home on the big stage (not so much on other stages) for years, and every season, she advances a little farther. Last year's U.S. Open marked her first appearance in a major semifinal, and the occasion seemed to be more than she was prepared to face. I think she's more prepared now. Makarova has yet to drop a set in Melbourne, and her lefty serve is a dangerous one.

The tennis world has been so focused on the singles stories that one of the tournament's major upsets has been almost ignored: Top seeds and defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were upset by Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the third round. In the quarterfinals, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova took out 3rd seeds Makarova and partner Elena Vesnina.

The doubles final will feature the unseeded Mattek-Sands and Safarova (both superb doubles players, so no real surprise) and 14th seeds Chan Yung-Jan. The return of both Chan and Zheng to a major doubles final is one of the most interesting things to happen at the tournament. Chan (a wild card, partnered with Chuang Chia-Jung) was the runner-up at the 2007 Australian Open. Zheng and partner Yan Zi won the Australian Open in 2006, and they also won Wimbledon that year. Yan and Zheng won an Olympic bronze medal in 2008.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

I need some time to used to it, to understand that it's a little bit different game starting on that level. So now I'm pretty understanding how it is, and I'm so happy that I came through today.
Ekaterina Makarova

Her lefty slice is not easy to give the ball back.
Simona Halep, referring to Makarova

I had to have a really good performance against Genie.
Maria Sharapova

My idol was Anastasia Myskina.
Ekaterina Makarova

She looked so smart on the court. She doesn't have a lot of power, but she was moving the opponent so much. Like it was so enjoyable to watch her game.
Ekaterina Makarova, referring to Myskina

Against great players, you have to take every little chance you can get. Although she didn't give me many, I know I had some. Disappointed I couldn't do better with those.
Genie Bouchard

But sometimes is happening to feel that you are not in a good mood to play, you know, you don't feel your game very well.
Simona Halep

Mother Russia knows best

Remember Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Well, the Simona Halep pod made an appearance today in Rod Laver Arena, and who knows what it did with poor Simona? I can't explain why the match outcome didn't surprise me; I just had a feeling, all last night and today, that Ekaterina Makarova was going to come out very loose and Halep was going to be hesitant and nervous.

Makarova beat Halep 6-4, 6-0--and no, I didn't think it was going to be that bad-- though both players had disappointing winner/unforced error rations (Halep's was 31/15, Makarova's was 20/10). The match, which lasted and hour and nine minutes, was a pretty flat affair, and Halep sometimes seemed like she wasn't even in it (shades of a certain embodiment of Li Na). The Romanian star later denied she had put pressure on herself, but said that she felt inexplicable stress.

Makarova definitely needs to clean it up, but she still looked pretty good out there. She has yet to drop a set in Melbourne.

So on to the Big Match, which turned out--surprise, surprise!--not to be that big at all. Maria Sharapova needed only two sets to defeat Genie Bouchard. Sharapova's service game was on, and she had an even (19/18) winner/unforced error stat. Her opponent, however, made 30 unforced errors while hitting 13 winners.

Bouchard got in some impressive shot-making, as she always does, but Sharapova played a cleaner match and was able to control the proceedings with her serve--just like the old days. She won 6-3, 6-2.

The two Russians will play each other in the semifinals. Sharapova won the Australian Open in 2008 and was the runner-up in 2007. Makarova, who has never defeated Sharapova, has now reached her second major semifinal; she was a semifinalist last year at the U.S. Open.

Pova replies

Australian Open--what they said

What changed? Things shifted in the second set.
Well, is difficult to say, no? The level was very high, the most high level. So I think the difference was like two points or three points at the end. I really started playing really good. With the time, I was playing worst. At the end I was feeling more tired, and my shots weren't as good as the first set. I just think she also started to play better. Serve was very important for her. So that's it. Only really small difference.
Garbine Muguruza

We often when people come back after they've won the Australian Open we ask them how hard is it to defend it. It's probably just as hard for someone who is the runner up. Do you feel that pressure a bit?
I don't know if--I don't see myself like I have to be in the final. It's never easy. Even the big names, the big players, it's not easy to defend something like this. So I don't think like this. It's a new year. It's a new start. I'm starting the year pretty well again. So this is how I see it.
Dominika Cibulkova
Radwanska plays as if she has blocked out her entire day for the match. Venus plays like she is running late for a bus.
Craig O'Shannessy

Your skirt on your left thigh was folded under for most of the tournament. Was that on purpose or doing that for some reason? Kind of a random question, I know, but...
If I'm going to tell you I was trying to show a little bit of my skin, would that satisfy you? No, it's really just to make sure that the ball doesn't fall out. When it's too flowy sometimes I get my racquet caught in my skirt. So just to be more comfortable.
Victoria Azarenka

Maria Sharapova has not beaten Serena in ten years. If you could give Maria any advice from your experience, what would you tell her?
It's difficult to say. I think Serena has the game to beat also Maria. Obviously has to be mental. When you are losing to her ten years, there is something in your head blocking during the match. I think maybe improve more the way she plays to beat her. I think the way she plays is not the way to beat Serena. That's what I saw in the ten years. What can I say?
Garbine Muguruza

Cibulkova and Williams emerge in thrilling round of 16 matches

Dominika Cibulkova (whom, by the way, I predicted good things for several years ago in Charleston when hardly anyone had heard of her), when she's on, can be a bit scary. She runs down everything and she hits the ball as hard as anyone. When you consider Cibulkova, Halep and Justine Henin before them, you wonder if perhaps the whole "big babe" narrative has been overdone.

Cibulkova has powerful legs and a powerful core. She knew, early on, that she would need them if she were going to succeed in professional tennis. For several years, she had to retire from matches because of hip and back injuries, and you never saw her without a thigh wrap. But she found a team that helped her get past that. Her problems now seem to be more mental, but she's in excellent mental form in Melbourne, just as she was last year when she reached the final.

Cibulkova's task today was to take out two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, and she did so, hitting 44 winners in her 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory. Azarenka just couldn't stay away from Cibulkova's lethal forehand, and it did her in.

That was a thrilling and exhausting (even for spectators) match, and it was followed by another extravaganza, this one put on by top seed Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza. It was Muguruza who took Williams out of the French Open last year, beating her 6-2, 6-2. And it was Muguruza who beat Williams 6-2 in today's first set. It looked like the French Open all over again, with the Spaniard out-hitting the world number 1 in stunning fashion.

Williams, I should mention, was clearly not well. She actually sounded like I've sounded for the last several weeks, what with all the coughing. The similarity ends there, however. Whereas I've barely been able to slog through my housework and occasionally go to my office for a while, Serena was able to withstand the onslaught and go on for two more ball-pounding sets. She defeated Muguruza 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, but part of her victory must be attributed to the Spaniard's gradual meltdown. By the third set, Muguruza had become an error machine. The young star seems to have only two final-round gears--play a bagel set or fade away.

Venus Williams and Aga Radwanska will play in the night match, but next up are the Madisons. Madison Brengle has won more tour-level matches this year than she she had previously won in her entire career. That is a very interesting fact in itself, but when you add to that the fact that she has advanced to the round of 16 at the Australian Open, it becomes amazing. The part about playing someone named Madison in the round of 16? You could never make this stuff up.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

You may well play Simona Halep next. How would you approach that?
Well, we played once in New Haven I think not the last year, the year before. I lost 6-1, 7-6, something like that. She's one of the greatest player now, and I'm really looking forward. If she wins today, depends, yeah. I will want to go forward and forward step by step.
Ekaterina Makarova

I look really calm, but inside, I'm yelling "What are you doing?" in a couple of languages.
Maria Sharapova

I just want to be perfect on court, but is not possible. The perfect doesn't exist. So I try to keep my mind very focused for every point and to forget about the mistakes. I try to be better day by day, match by match. Maybe that's why I'm a little bit nervous during the matches.
Simona Halep

Do you have a favorite Genie Army song?
Yeah, I got asked this I think after my first or second match. And I said it's the one where they go, Genie is hot, hot, hot. But since they've been singing a newer one, I think maybe only from second or third round on. It's based on Ricky Martin's song "Living La Vida Loca." They changed the words and sing about me. I think that one's pretty cool. They are creative to come up with such a random song and talk about forehands and backhands and stuff. It's pretty funny. So that one is up there.
Genie Bouchard

I don't know how close you still are with her. But did you hear about Maria Kirilenko getting married yesterday?
I did actually. I'm not sure to who. I really don't know. I mean, wonderful actually. Why are people laughing?
People think it's funny we don't know who she married. We know she got married.
What happens in Russia stays in Russia.
Maria Sharapova

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Another big upset in Melbourne

I woke up this morning (my only "up all night" project is the final) stunned by the news that Madison Keys had defeated Petra Kvitova in straight sets in the Australian Open third round; I thought Kvitova was headed for the final. Petra herself put it best: "I don't know what happened, but I couldn't put a serve in."

I don't know what happened, either, but this time, I'm inclined to interpret Kvitova's problem as a "bad day." All players have them. She's obviously fit, she's feeling less afraid since bringing Alex Stober onto her team to help her with her health issues, and she's looked quite confident lately. The Barking Czech was both philosophical and honest about her loss, saying that she couldn't really feel happy about anything right now, but at least she did better this year than she did in 2013 and 2014.

As for Keys, she would have given Kvitova trouble on a good day, with her relentless groundstroke-pounding and what appears to be a new level of confidence. Keys broke the world number 4 five times, devouring the Czech's weak second serves. Her next opponent? Madison Brengle.

Brengle, who was recently treated for skin cancer, has gotten her act together this season in a big way. (She even looks different--more mature.) Brengle began her Melbourne campaign by upsetting 13th seed Andrea Petkovic. She then beat countrywomen Irina Falconi and Coco Vandeweghe, and will play Keys in the round of 16.

Who's about to be number 12 in the world? Venus Williams! Williams was seriously challenged by Camila Georgi in the first set of their third round match, but then the Italian player fell apart, almost on cue, and Williams was able to dominate. Williams will next play Aga Radwanska, who beat Varvara Lepchenko in straight sets.

Serena Williams, five-time Australian Open champion and world number 1, also got a challege in the form of Elina Svitolina, a young player I've had my eye on for a while. Svitolina was pretty much bossing Williams around in the first set. which she won, but then Williams cleaned up her game and took the match 4-6, 6-2, 6-0.

The world number 1's next opponent will be Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Timea Bacsinszky in a match that began quite competitively, but then--in the third set--turned into yet another Muguruza on-court bagel delivery service. You'll recall that the Spaniard took Williams out of the French Open last year. Yesterday, Williams described that match as one that "opened my eyes toward a lot of things." In other words, you might want to take a good look at Muguruza and enjoy her while you can.

In the most entertaining match I saw yesterday, 2014 runner-up Dominka Cibulkova defeated Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-2, and it was exactly the kind of animated, drama-filled match one would expect from these two. Cibulkova has her Australian Open on, readers.

Another wonderfully drama-filled contest took place between two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who, not long ago, elevated her already fine career to an entirely new level. I've always loved to watch BZS, and the new BZS is even more fun than the old one. Azarenka prevailed, 6-4, 6-4, but it was no walk in the park. It was a task. And the next task will be to play Cibulkova, who lost in last year's final to Li Na.

We have arrived at the round of 16, and one quarter of the draw is made up of women from the USA, two of whom are named Madison. Who saw that coming?

And now, it's Madison time!

Australian Open--what they said

You mentioned Tomasz and Martina. How does to work when you have two different inputs? Do they sit together and tell you the same things together. How is Tomasz adapting to this new situation?
I think we're all very happy and they are really working together as well. It's not like one is saying different thing and the other one completely another thing. So really having now good team, and when we talk about something, it's all together. I think they also having good relationship.
Aga Radwanska

She never stops moving, marching, bouncing, scurrying, swinging, sprinting, sliding, turning and always waiting, never late, to serve or receive. If it feels like you are watching tennis in fast-forward, think what it must feel like to play her.
Michael Beattie, referring to Dominika Cibulkova

...with this run you'll probably move up to 12 in the rankings. That's clearly pretty good. What does that mean to you?
I have to tell you, I've been trying a long time to get my ranking up. That's awesome. It's hard to be ranked lower than what you know you are. So it's definitely exciting to see yourself go up the rankings.
Venus Williams

There was little humility on show from either player but then it just wasn’t that type of match.
Richard Llewellyn Evans, writing about the Cibulkova-Cornet match

What do you remember most about the match against Muguruza at the French?
Losing. But it was a good loss. As angry as I was, it was the best loss I had the whole year last year. Had a lot of them. But that one in particular made me realize what I needed to work on. It opened my eyes towards a lot of things. I was like, Oh, my gosh, if I don't change, then I'm going to be forever in the same position. It actually ended up helping me a lot.
Serena Williams

And finally, Garbine Muguruza does her imitation of the Red Queen:
You never have these kind of matches usually when you play perfect, so just hoping to try to do the same as today and two days ago tomorrow. Not tomorrow, no. The next day. Yeah.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

I don't think it was the prettiest tennis out there today.
Genie Bouchard

Can I ask why you decided not to work any more with Wim Fissette?
Yeah, we had a good season together. But, you know, was my decision. I just wanted to change something. For me, you know, I mean, I have confidence in myself that I can play at the highest level in tennis. So I believe in my chance. Now I'm happy with my team. Was my decision and I'm happy with it.
Simona Halep

She's single and I'm married, go figure.
Martina Navratilova, discussing her lifelong friendship with Chris Evert

Did you ever try two hands on both sides?
I did actually, yeah. I did lefty, two hands on both sides. Like at the circus, I do everything.
Maria Sharapova

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

Sometimes life deals you cards that you aren't expecting, but all you've gotta do is keep playing them and see what happens.
Venus Williams

You go on court and you can beat everyone and you can lose also against everyone.
Aga Radwanska

When the conditions are warm and humid like this, do you find how maybe you don't panic or worry as much now as years past?
Yeah, for sure. Even yesterday when I knew today would be warmer than yesterday, I knew that David was little bit worried about. Me, too, of course. I did not say it. But somewhere in myself was there. But I knew that I'm like prepared better than the years before, I can handle it better. In the end when you are sweaty and the wind is there, it's not that bad than when you are sitting on the bench. It was good.
Petra Kvitova

Is it fair to call this a rejuvenated version of you or is that something we projected on to you and you don't feel that way?
I'm just doing the best I can. I always was, even when it wasn't what I wanted. So whatever that is, I'm doing absolutely the best I can. I think as long as I'm doing my best, something good will come out of it. There is a scripture that says faith without works is dead. So you have to have faith, but you have work too. So I'm doing both.
Venus Williams

I think in the past she's kind of thrown in patches of matches where she's kind of gone away, lost it for a bit, got really erratic. I don't feel she did that at all tonight. She really harnessed all that very well and kept it up from first point to last.
Sam Stosur, referring to Coco Vandeweghe

I have utmost confidence in my forehand, that I could out-rally Stosur today.
Coco Vandeweghe 

What did it seem like to you when you watched it on TV?
I don't really remember. I really don't know actually. When I like wake up in the night, normal people are trying to fall asleep again. But I didn't. I went to living room and watched the TV. For sure it was exciting to me to watch the game.
Petra Kvitova

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maria Sharapova: awakened giant or accident waiting to happen?

According to the tour narrative, Russians don't like playing each other, but Alexandra Panova looked to be having a high old time yesterday when she faced off against Maria Sharapova in Rod Laver Arena. Sharapova is the Australian Open second seed, and Panova is a qualifier ranked number 150 in the world.

Qualifiers should come with a Danger--Flammable! sign pinned on them. No one expects them to even be there, and only hard-core tennis fans know who they are. Playing with house money, a qualifier at a major can sometimes walk onto a very big stage and feel loose enough to cause major damage. That appeared to happen with Panova, who was one cool character from start to finish in yesterday's second round match against her countrywoman. In the end, Panova succumbed to the sometimes frightening fighting mentality of Sharapova, but it wouldn't have taken much for the whole thing to have gone the other way.

Sharapova made 51 unforced errors in the 2 1/2-hour match, which she won 6-1, 4-6 7-5. She double-faulted eight times, which is the kind of thing we've come to expect from the Russian star. Though she handled the first set easily, with stunning 89/80 first and second serve win percentages, by the second set, she looked vulnerable.

Panova, who had obviously put the opening set behind her, broke her opponent in the first game. Sharapova then proceeded to not only flub her serves, but to repeatedly pound her groundstrokes into the net. Panova went up two breaks. Sharapova got one of them back, but Panova prevailed to force a third set.

Sharapova left the court after the second set, and when she returned, she was immediately broken. In what seemed like no time, Panova was up two breaks of serve. At 4-1, she hit two consecutive aces, which probably put an end to the musings of any doubters. But there was one doubter remaining--Panova herself. She double-faulted, and even though she then soon found herself at 40-15, a point away from a 5-1 lead, something had changed. Sharapova sensed it, and broke her opponent as Panova began hitting nothing but errors.

At this point in the match, Sharapova began screaming and glaring and fist-pumping somewhere around 8.5 on the Bartoli Scale, and Panova's psychological advantage had ended. The world 150 served for the match at 5-2, but was broken again. She held a match point at 5-4, 40-30, but she double-faulted, then gave her opponent a 74 mph second serve that Sharapova destroyed with a forehand down the line. Panova held a second match point in that game, only to see it, too, obliterated by the Sharapova forehad.

That was it for Panova. It was all Sharapova after that, and the second seed won on her second match point.

Much has been made about Sharapova's fighting spirit, but the world number 2 needed more than her fighting spirit to turn this match around: She needed her opponent to collapse, and Panova obliged, although she certainly went down harder than most of Sharapova's inexperienced-but-hopeful opponents. Panova had the match on her racket, not once, but several times, but in the end, she wasn't up to the heavy psychological burden of pulling off the biggest upset of the tournament.

Sharapova will next face Zarina Diyas, who could give her a bit of trouble. If she wins that one, the Russian will get either Yaroslava Shvedova or Peng Shuai (who has very quietly moved into the third round). Sharapova is ostensibly on a path to meet Genie Bouchard; however, Bouchard first has to get past the relentless Caroline Garcia. If Sharapova makes it to the quarterfinals, either the Canadian star or the Frenchwoman would be happy to finish the job Panova started.

Sometimes, when a champion stumbles badly in an early round, the scare is a kind of wake-up call, giving her the resolve she needs to stop messing around and get serious. Sometimes, though, it's more of a wake-up call to potential opponents that opportunity is theirs for the grabbing.

Australian Open--what they said

Why don't you like watching yourself?
I don't know. Sometimes I just feel like I have better things to do.
Maria Sharapova

What is it you felt swung things in that key point of the third set?
Well, I didn't feel anything. I just had to win just another point or something.
Alexandra Panova
I played much better than first round tonight, so I'm happy with this. I am more aggressive and I served very well tonight. I played fast. I stayed very close to the baseline.
Simona Halep

...I just really tried to take it a point at a time, think positively, and change my thought process a little bit. When other things aren't working, maybe the mental side of things will help you out. I think in the end maybe that's what did.
Maria Sharapova

You seemed to have a little trouble with the twirl.
With the what?
It was very unexpected. I mean, yeah, I don't know. An old guy asking you to twirl, it was funny.
I guess Serena did it.
Well, Serena is good at her twirls. She does them all the time.
Genie Bouchard

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

You can't always go to the side you think is weaker. Just being a bit smarter about things rather than making quick decisions and trying to end points too quickly.
Sam Stosur

You talked about concentrating on breaking and holding, moving your feet. Anything else you do in terms of calming yourself down? Breathing, meditation, anything else you do?
There's a lot of things I do. A lot of mental things that I do. A lot of little tricks that I have in my mind that I just roll around for years and years, always try to stick to 'em. I notice the more I do 'em, the better I play. Things that help keep me focused.
Serena Williams

Of course, I mean, the nerves was there. It was really difficult to handle it. During all match, I was still feeling the tightness and the legs were suddenly so heavy and I couldn't really move.
Petra Kvitova

On tennis tour you need good mental health.
Casey Dellacqua

And finally, a "member of the press" asked Sam:
Know anything about CoCo or Francesca?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Australian Open--what they said

I was so nervous in the beginning and same in the end.
Lucie Hradecka

There is always nerves in the beginning.
Ana Ivanovic

...I did try so hard for all these years to make it through. It meant so much to finally me to do it in front of my home crowd. They been cheering for so long and so well it was really important. It meant the world to me. As I said, whatever is going to happen now, I can just forget about that. There is no more ten year anniversary.
Jarmila Gajdosova

A lot has been made about Milos Raonic's haircut. Have you seen it? Thoughts from you?
I have not seen it. I made fun of his hair last year. I don't know how it's different now. I just think he spends way too much time worrying about his hair.
More than you?
Yes. Clearly
Genie Bouchard

I think Karolina, she trust herself more than Kristyna.
Lucie Hradecka, commenting on the Pliskova sisters

I really felt good before the tournament started. I had a great week in Brisbane. The level was really high. But you just have to accept that you're going to have tough days and you got to go through the tough days to improve. I'm such a perfectionist and sometimes I judge myself too much.
Ana Ivanovic

I think Dennis is doing good job--he just makes one ace.
Li Na

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Austalian Open champion predictions

Steve Tignor--Maria Sharapova
Kamakshi Tandon--Petra Kvitova
Todd Spiker--Maria Sharapova
Chris Evert-- Maria Sharapova
Erik Gudris--Maria Sharapova
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Ben Rothenberg--Maria Sharapova
S.L. Price--Serena Williams
Richard Deitsch--Maria Sharapova
Elizabeth Newman--Caroline Wozniacki
Darren Cahill--Serena Williams
Peter Bodo--Petra Kvitova
Ravi Ubbha--Serena Williams
Nina Pantic--Simona Halep
Brad Gilbert--Petra Kvitova
Jim Caple--Simona Halep
Matt Wilansky--Agnieszka Radwanska
Mary Joe Fernandez--Maria Sharapova
Patrick McEnroe--Simona Halep
Jon Wertheim--Serena Williams
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Ed McGrogan--Petra Kvitova
Jonathan Newman--Simona Halep
Greg Garber--Maria Sharapova
Courtney Nguyen--Maria Sharapova

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2015 Australian Open--is there really a favorite?

For the past several years, we have gone into each major (except the French) with world number 1 Serena Williams as the presumed favorite. But not this year. Because Williams, at 32 years of age, appears to actually be winding down. Bear in mind that her version of "winding down" is to win the U.S. Open and the WTA Finals, which means she cannot be counted out. However, the words "Maria Sharapova" have suddenly appeared in a kind of happy cloud over Melbourne.

Can 'Pova do it? Maybe, but the contest is open. The Russian's performance in Brisbane has fans and the sports media talking, and Sharapova's chances right now are better than they've been in a while at any major other than the French Open (that still sounds odd doesn't it?). She has a pretty good draw, but--like all draws--it isn't lacking in danger. For example, the 2nd seed is on a path to meet Genie Bouchard in the quarterfinals, and promoters and members of the sports press are probably already in need of napkins to control the drooling.

If it gets to that, I like Sharapova to advance to the semis, but will it get to that? Bouchard may have to deal with a couple of feisty characters, and at least one formidable character--either Carla Suarez Navarro or Angelique Kerner--in that quarter of the draw. I think a Kerber-Bouchard match could be huge, assuming the more positive of the "two Kerbers" shows up.  Also, Sharapova will probably have to deal with Lucie Safarova, and--given Safarova's recent play against her--that could get tricky.

Then there's the matter of Serena Williams. Can Sharapova finally beat her again or will Williams have to be removed from the draw by someone else? I'm inclined to think the latter would have to occur. Williams' nemeses (Azarenka, Muguruza, Cornet--and former nemesis Jankovic)  just happen to be in her quarter, as is her friend Caroline Wozniacki. Interesting.

But Sharapova isn't the only woman who is in a good position to win in Melbourne. Sydney champion Petra Kvitova is as ready as she's ever been to win something that isn't Wimbledon. Fit and confident (and given a tough and thorough workout and warmup by countrywoman Karolina Pliskova in the Syndney final), the Barking Czech has "that look" this season. She has Alex Stober to keep an eye on her health, and her demeanor is one of a calmer person than we've seen in the past. Kvitova now holds 15 WTA titles, and finally appears to be wearing her believe shoes proudly.

As for the draw, Kvitova doesn 't have anyone in her quarter she can't handle, though there are a few who could give her trouble. Venus Williams is the one who can give her the most trouble. Aga Radwanska is in Kvitova's quarter, and that could be a better match than some would expect. Sam Stosur is in that quarter, too, but she would have to be having a very good day to get past Kvitova. Oh, wait, this is Australia--never mind.

Simona Halep is also a major contender for the Melbourne title, despite the popular tendency to "save" her as a French Open favorite (which she most certainly will be). But Halep has the draw from hell. In her quarter are Ana Ivanovic, Karolina Pliskova and Ekaterina Makarova. And just to spice things up, Belinda Bencic and "when she's hot, she's hot" Kiki Mladenovic are there, also. I think the most dangerous player in Halep's quarter is Makarova (I know, on paper, it's Ivanovic). And after her Sydney outing, Pliskova is red hot. There should be some tasty matches in the Halep quarter, for sure.

Also worth watching in Melbourne: Elina Svitolina, Tsvetana Pironkova (in Serena's quarter), 2014 runner-up Dominika Cibulkova, Varvara Lepchenko, Daria Gavrilova, Ana Konjuh, Camila Giorgi, Zarina Diyas.

First round matches of note:

Timea Bacsinszky vs. Jelena Jankovic
Tsvetana Pironkova vs. Heather Watson
Taylor Townsend vs. Caroline Wozniacki
Madison Brengle vs. Andrea Petkovic
Favia Pennetta vs. Camila Giorgi
Lauren Davis vs. Aleksandra Krunic
Sabine Lisicki vs. Kiki Mladenovic
Zarina Diyas vs. Urszula Radwanska

One final note: The draw, like it or not, was made physically possible by the effort of the great Li Na, who also provided the most verbally efficient draw analysis in history. Can she come back and do it every year? Please?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Kvitova and Watson win titles in final Australian Open preparation events

Petra Kvitova won her 15th WTA title this weekend as she defeated countrywoman Karolina Pliskova 7-6, 7-6 in a beautifully played final in Sydney. Kvitova hit 38 winners to 30 unforced errors, and she was successful at the net 14 of 16 times. She also hit 9 aces (Pliskova hit 7). The match featured some very hard hitting, but also plenty of nuance and strategy. Pliskova was as fine an opponent as Kvitova could have, and getting the edge over the rising Czech star was the best preparation for Melbourne the world number 4 could want.

In Hobart, Heather Watson took the title without dropping a set. Watson beat Madison Brengle in the final, but--despite being the runner-up--Brengle has a reason to feel good: This was her first WTA final.

The Hobart title is Watson's second in singles. She also won Osaka in 2012. She and Great Britain's other top player, Laura Robson, have both struggled considerably with illness and injury in the last couple of years.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The season's first stars

Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Simona Halep--and Aga Radwanska. The first three won Brisbane, Auckland and Shenzhen, respectively, and A-Rad was half of the Polish team that won the 2015 Hopman Cup. Does any of it mean anything? Yes--and no. Yes, if we're talking about points and ranking (except for Hopman Cup play). But no, if are expecting it to translate to a win in Melbourne.

On the other hand, meaning can be found. Sharapova was just great in Brisbane, often looking like the 'Pova of old, and turning herself into a true Australian Open contender. That, in my opinion, would be the biggest news.

And what of the runners-up? Sharapova had to go three sets to beat Ana Ivanovic in the final, which means that Ivanovic has begun this season with the momentum she established in 2014. The same, kind of, can be said about Caroline Wozniacki. The final between her and Williams wasn't that pretty, and Wozniacki's 2014 momentum looked a bit shaky. Still, a final is a final, and Woz reached one.

As for Halep, she had to play Timea Bacsinszky, instead of her expected opponent, Petra Kvitova. Halep beat Bacsinszky in straight sets, but it was very impressive for the talented Bacsinszkty to get to be one of the last two women standing in Shenzhen.

Which brings me to Hopman Cup--and Serena Williams. Williams, who--with partner John Isner (a replacement for the injured Jack Sock)--reached the final, appeared to be kind of just fooling around in Perth. She ordered an espresso to neutralize a bagel set from Flavia Pennetta, and was beaten soundly by Genie Bouchard. In the final, she  lost to Radwanska, who is generally deer-in-the-headlights against her.

Again, what does it mean? I think it means either (a) something not good is going on with Serena, or (b) Serena is resting and pacing herself to mow down the field in Melbourne.

But it could mean something else, I guess, given that this is "the crazy women's tennis tour."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Here comes 2015, but Im not ready

Am I the only one having trouble getting a "feel" for the 2015 season?

Maybe it's because the 2014 season was a bit odd, maybe it's because I'm rather distracted these days. Or maybe it's because as I write this, I'm living under tornado and flash flood warnings. Whatever. I just don't feel quite ready for the Australian season. The fun part is that I really have no idea who will win the Australian Open.

I think there will be Azarenka drama. I think there will be Princess drama (well, there already is, isn't there?). There is no Li Na, but there is Serena. Yet Serena doesn't appear invincible like she used to. This is a big chance for Kvitova, and a better chance for Halep than some may think. But what of Sharapova? Ivanovic? Wozniacki? And the increasingly dangerous Makarova?

Heat is always a factor in Melbourne, so fitness (and a certain inborn tolerance of extreme heat) is key. The heat issue can be a bit of a mess. Ice, IV fluids and stretchers have all served as props at the Australian Open. Before the officials got rid of the Rebound Ace surface and replaced it with Plexicushion, rolled and sprained ankles were part and parcel of the event.

Meanwhile, action has begun in Brisbane, where Maria Sharapova is the top seed and Ana Ivanovic is the second seed. (And JJ is playing as I write!) Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova are the top two seeds in Shenzhen, and Caroline Wozniacki and Sara Errani are the top seeds in Auckland.

(And one wonders whether Lucie Safarova, competing in Perth, is serving cream cheese or Vegemite with that bagel.)