Murray’s Moment: How the Melbourne Crown Could Change Everything

Tennis Blog

“A lot of people criticized me working with her, and I think so far this week we’ve showed that women can be very good coaches as well,” Andy Murray said on his coach Amelie Mauresmo. Certainly that comment from the Scot will earn him many plaudits – and so it should. But he will want the plaudits for another reason as well: the Australian Open crown. It will be Murray’s fourth final in Melbourne and his third against Novak Djokovic; he has prevailed in none. This will definitely be a record weighing on Murray’s mind, perhaps not as profoundly as the damning record he carried when entering the 2012 US Open finale but one, all the same, that he will want to expel.

The moment that Murray lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2013, I remember thinking: a moment like this, surely it must disperse any doubters for as long as…

View original post 434 more words

Sharapova vs. Williams Preview plus Prediction

Maria Sharapova versus Serena Williams. A rivalry that, although at the very summit of the women’s game, is extremely one sided. Of the last 18 meetings between the two players, Williams has won 16. Sharapova, for all her success, has not beaten the American since 2004 and she finds herself, similarly to Murray, against opposition that has defeated her twice previously in the Final at Melbourne.

Sharapova, in a pre-final interview was defiant that the record between the two of them was irrelevant. “Despite the record, despite the tough matches I’ve faced against Serena,” said the Russian, “going out into a grand slam final, no matter what your record is, no matter how good it is no matter how bad it is, I certainly don’t want to focus on that.” As her interviewer Catherine Whitaker pointed out, Berdych recently proved that past records can be cast aside once on the court, vanquishing Nadal after losing 17 of their past encounters. So there is no reason that Sharapova cannot do just the same – she certainly has the serenity and focus on court that can tackle and halt such a comprehensive losing streak.

Since Sharapova’s rather sizeable slip up in the second round, she has only conceded 15 games; against the likes of Eugenie Bouchard. Serena Williams has had a little more trouble in her matches but has also been tasked with dispatching tricky opponents, none other than her countrywoman Madison Keys who she defeated 7-6(5) 6-2 in the semis.

Williams has not quite hit her usual imperious form and has been suffering from a cold all week, which even disrupted her training on Friday. It is seemingly then, the ideal time for Sharapova to be facing the world No.1. Ultimately though, as Williams has done twice already so far this Australian Open, I’m thinking that she will lose the opener but then comeback strongly to win in three sets. I don’t think a grand slam final is the place for Sharapova to finally beat Serena, with there being so much riding on it as it is. Her barren run will continue.

Murray’s Moment: How the Melbourne Crown Could Change Everything

“A lot of people criticized me working with her, and I think so far this week we’ve showed that women can be very good coaches as well,” Andy Murray said on his coach Amelie Mauresmo. Certainly that comment from the Scot will earn him many plaudits – and so it should. But he will want the plaudits for another reason as well: the Australian Open crown. It will be Murray’s fourth final in Melbourne and his third against Novak Djokovic; he has prevailed in none. This will definitely be a record weighing on Murray’s mind, perhaps not as profoundly as the damning record he carried when entering the 2012 US Open finale but one, all the same, that he will want to expel.

The moment that Murray lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2013, I remember thinking: a moment like this, surely it must disperse any doubters for as long as Murray’s career lasts. This is something I think every sports fan has fallen foul of – that naive belief that a moment of euphoric triumph will grant immunity to all critique, whose longevity is infinite. Andy Murray’s 2014 brought – I’m thinking particularly of the immediate aftermath to his flop against Dimitrov at SW19 – a fresh influx of doubt over his mentality, despite the primary origin of his downfall in 2014 being purely physical (a serious back injury).

Murray dropped out of the top ten after the US Open; for the first time since June 2008. And however notably he recovered after this, restoring his ranking to No.6, Murray suffered a serious setback when Federer dismantled him at the ATP World Tour Finals 6-0 6-1; in London which made it all the more inimical to Murray’s confidence.

Following his win over Tomas Berdych on Thursday though, Andy Murray painted a very different figure to what followed his London humbling. “I played very, very well tonight, I’m very happy with the way I played the match,” said Murray, his manner reticent as ever in spite of his positive words. “To be in the final for the fourth round here… I’m very proud of that.” The most emotion Murray displayed in his post match press conference was when he spoke of the tension around the match. “You guys [the media] wanted there to be tension so you can’t suggest that it’s completely normal for that to happen,” he said.

His opposition, Djokovic, is typically more amiable with the media. Although he seemed not his usual self on court against Wawrinka, winning the match 7-6(1) 3-6 6-4 4-6 6-0 and was “proud of the fighting spirit I had.” But the Serbian also conceded that “the level of performance was not where I wanted it to be.” Djokovic also alluded to have been suffering from a slight injury during the match. Nevertheless, Djokovic will have the psychological edge over Murray going into the final, having beaten the Scot twice before in this fixture and leading their head to head 15-8.

A rejuvenated Murray will enter Sunday’s final though, in a tournament that has, and always, throws up some surprises. It is rather fitting then that, the two most continuous presences in the latter stages of these Championships, meet on Sunday to decide who will be the men’s Champion. If the outcome were to be in Murray’s favour, critics of his mentality and of his coach would surely be deterred. Most importantly of all though, a win against Djokovic would give Murray a valuable impetus to his revival.

Australian Open Day 7 – Australian Delight, Murray Revenge and Sharapova Canters Through

So we have reached the halfway point. Four men and women have secured their spots in the quarter finals with four more spots to be decided tomorrow. Pardon the cliché but, it is now undoubtedly the business end of the tournament.

The men’s fourth round has seen nine of the top ten seeds reach it, with only the prominent – and usually so reliable – Roger Federer missing from the draw. The surprise exit of Federer opened a door for Aussie hopeful Nick Kyrgios though, a player who many believe will fill the spot vacated by Federer once he retires. However two sets and 84 minutes into Kyrgios’ fourth round meeting with Italian Andreas Seppi, his more immediate concern of ensuring a quarter final spot was under scrutiny. Seppi was demonstrating the tennis that vanquished Roger Federer, hitting Kyrgios off the court and exploiting the Australians often mellow movement to take a 7-5 6-4 lead. Come the third set and it appeared that the penny had finally dropped for Kyrgios. He began to cut down on his unforced errors and finished the third set with only six of them, the set 6-3 in his favour. The decisive two sets were affairs of very small margins which ultimately went Kyrgios’ way, taking the fourth and fifth sets 7-6(5) and 8-6.

The 19 year old will face Andy Murray, who will be high in confidence after his win over Grigor Dimitrov, his defeater at Wimbledon last year. The Brits match – winning in four sets 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5 – was not quite as tightly fought at Kyrgios’. This may prove advantageous for Murray; he will surely adapt his tactics to exploit Kyrgios’ inevitable fatigue following such epic excursions.

Rafael Nadal continued his ominous form after his second round stumble with a 7-5 6-1 6-4 win over Kevin Anderson. The Spaniard will face Tomas Berdych, who spoiled the home crowds hopes of an often indifferent Bernard Tomic – who has played to a level he has been long expected to reach – progressing into the quarter finals, defeating him 6-2 7-6(3) 6-2.

With Milos Raonic in quarter final action on Monday, Eugenie Bouchard led the Canadian charge, but did so in a match not free of mishaps. After obliterating her un-seeded Romanian opponent Irina-Camelia Begu in the opening set 6-1, Bouchard allowed a slight bit of complacency set in and was duly punished by Begu, taking the second set 7-5. However Bouchard reasserted her dominance in the third set, taking it 6-2 and playing some tennis that further proved she can no longer be considered merely as a hot prospect. Two other un-seeded players were defeated today by higher ranked players – Julia Georges by Ekaterina Makarova 6-3 6-2 and Yanina Wickmayer by Simona Halep 6-4 6-2. Both Georges and Wickmayer had upset seeds en route to the fourth round, but were unable to repeat their feats.

Finally Maria Sharapova encountered Chinese Shuai Peng, who she dispatched in convincing fashion. One area of concern for Sharapova though, will be her first serve, as she only had 45% first serves in. It did not prove costly in her match today, but against superior opponents she could be punished for such a frailty, for instance Bouchard, who she will meet in the next round.

Matches to watch tomorrow – Serena Williams vs. Garbine Muguruza. Williams was defeated by Muguruza in the French Open last year, will she have revenge like Murray did?

And – David Ferrer vs. Kei Nishikori. Two players of very similar styles; it will be intriguing to see who prevails.

Australian Open Day 2 – British Disappointment, The No.1’s Impress and Hewitt Battles

James Ward – a player definitely capable of causing an upset, as he has proved over the years – was not quite able to in Day 2 of the Australian Open 2015.

The Brit, after taking the first set in convincing fashion 6-2, was crushed by Verdasco in the second set 6-0 and then despite his best efforts lost the third 7-6(6) and the fourth 6-3. A performance full of heart but ultimately flawed by a lack of convinction; a gulf in experience which is demonstrated by the vast gap in rankings between the two players. “It’s come down to one or two points,” said Ward. “It was tough but I thought I played well.”

Ward, undoubtedly, is progressing and at the start of the year attained a career high ranking of 101. At the age of 27 though, Ward has been on the tour for nearly 9 years now and though he seems to have an unflagging enthusiasm for the game, there is a feeling that perhaps time is running out. He is currently at 103 in the world, on the precipice of securing a top 100 place in what may be his best opportunity to do so. This may have been playing on his mind during those decisive points he speaks of – particularly during the third set tiebreak where there was clearly an onset of nerves. The recent passing of his grandmother was also occupying him though. “I don’t want to make excuses but it’s difficult. We’re a very close family and it was a bit of a shock,” he said.

Two more Brits fell victim to a first round exit today. Heather Watson defeated by Tsevtana Pironkova 6-4 6-0 and Kyle Edmund exiting after a straight sets defeat at the hands of Steve Johnson 6-4 6-4 6-3.

More worryingly for Watson will not be the defeat but how she felt during the match, showing similar symptoms to those prior to her glandular fever two years ago. Having reached a career high ranking of 38, it would be disastrous for Watson to succumb to the illness again, which led to a sharp descent in her ranking; a descent she has only just commendably retrieved herself from. But to recover from it again, would be even more of an arduous task than the first time, having been so tantalizingly close to the summit of the women’s game. I sincerely hope she won’t have to go through it again.

Day 2 also featured the No.1 seeds in the men’s and women’s: Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams. Williams took her 57th win out of 58 Round 1 Grand Slam matches and registered it in her usual domineering style; only at the cost of 4 games, winning 6-0 6-4 versus Alison Van Uytvanck. The American will need all her nous for the next round though, as she faces Vera Zvonareva, a former world No.2 and double grand slam finalist.

Djokovic likewise began his hunt for the Australian Open crown in ominous form, defeating 116 ranked Aljaz Bedene 6-3 6-2 6-4. He will face Andrey Kuznetsov in Round 2.

Then finally, in his 19th Australian Open, Lleyton Hewitt beat Ze Zhang 6-3 1-6 6-0 6-4. The veteran Aussie may not have all of the nation’s expectations on his shoulders this year, but he still had a raucous Aussie support behind him. The likes of Kyrgios and Tomic may now have taken the limelight at the expense of Hewitt, but that could prove advantageous for him. Expelling the pressure of a nation will undeniably lessen his nerves and may mean further performances like this.

Australian Open Day 1 – Early Exits and Mind Games

It didn’t take a long time for the first shock of the Australian Open to transpire – Ana Ivanovic, the 5th seed; the fall guy for tomorrows back pages. It was a quintessential Ana Ivanovic performance: some scintillating tennis, but marred with erratic serving and cheap errors, with 10 double faults and 30 unforced errors exceeding the 19 winners. The first set was a canter for Ivanovic, 6-1 in her favour However in the second set, her opponent – Lucie Hradecka – adopted a shrewd approach, exploiting Ivanovic’s deficiencies by curtailing her errors and pressuring the No.5 (137 rungs above Hradecka in the rankings ladder) into making errors. The qualifier conducted these tactics with a composure that Ivanovic has always lacked, and dutifully took the match winning the second and third sets 6-3 and 6-2 respectively. Ana Ivanovic seemed to have conclusively silenced her critics with her performances last year, but with this defeat there will surely be questions asked once again. It will be interesting as to how she will respond.

Sabine Lisicki similarly looked good for her lead after claiming the first set 6-4 against Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic. Mladenovic, whose name in the tennis world is commonly attributed to success on the doubles circuit rather than the singles, looked determined to revive her hopes of advancing and took the match 4-6 6-4 6-2. Sharapova did not befall such an upset as her compatriots and made sure there would be no doubters with a ruthless 6-4 6-1 win over qualifier Petra Martic.

In his press conference a couple of days ago, Nadal made it pretty clear that he would have liked more match time before the Aussie Open fortnight commenced and that “you feel in better shape physically when you are playing matches”. Rafa’s performance in Round 1 appeared to display quite the contrary, dispatching Mikhail Youzhny in 1 hour and 40 minutes. Along the way there was plenty of the old Nadal on show, with the trademark whipped forehand up the line and the kicking backhand out wide, all of which Youzhny was helpless to deal with. There were also a few extravagant Nadal fist pumps that similarly dispelled any memory of the despondent, unconfident Nadal who faced the press last Friday. Was it all mind games from the Spaniard then? Playing down his chances? On the evidence of this performance, I think that was most likely the case.

Federer, a week after his 1000th career win, won his 1001st in the typical unruffled style that he has always breezed through the early rounds with, even when against a difficult opponent in Yen-Hsun Lu. The Swiss took the match 6-4 6-2 7-5 and will now be up against Simone Bolleli. And then lastly, a rejuvenated Murray went quietly about his business, beating Yuki Bhambri 6-3 6-4 7-6(3) and will now lock horns with Marinko Matosevic, 6 months after the Australians controversial comments about Murrays appointment of coach Amelie Mauresmo.

New Year, New Pressure in Melbourne

On the 19th January, under the merciless Melbourne sun, when the Australian Open is to commence, it will be 110 years since the tournament was first established. It will also be the 45th Open in the professional era. Being the first grand slam of the calendar year, perhaps more hinges on the Australian than its fellow slams. A good performance in the event can lay the foundations for a successful year, as can a premature exit lead to a lingering absence of confidence. Certainly, within the media’s inquisitive spotlight, the Australian Open determines the judgements to be made on a player, particularly as this can only be truly amended when the French Open comes around – all the way at the end of May. So, it’s fair to say that the burden of expectation on the top players is augmented come Melbourne.

Prior to 1986, the tournaments date varied, but it was mostly stationed in December, deterring many of the top players. However, from 1987 onwards to the present day it has always began in mid-January, but this has brought players little reprieve and there are still rumbles of discontent. This may be purely down to players feeling the pressure pre-tournament but more likely it is because after the Christmas break, mid-January, there are still a few cobwebs to be cast off.

This couldn’t apply more to Rafael Nadal this year. Despite having claimed his 9th French Open title last summer, the Spaniard had an underwhelming year ravaged by injury – his wrist betraying him and then his appendix. Having been shocked by Michael Berrer in Round One of the Qatar Open, Nadal perhaps hasn’t accumulated the match sharpness he would have wanted, or acquired the much needed confidence that comes with it, despite the copious amounts of training he has been doing, as he alluded to in his press conference two days ago. “You feel in better shape physically when you are playing matches, when you have confidence about your movements,” said Nadal. “Even when you practice a lot then the competition is different – the stress of the competition is different than the practice is.”

There is an uncanny resemblance between Nadal’s current position and what Roger Federer’s was just a year ago. Excluding that Federer was coming in with a different coach, he also lacked certainty on the account of few matches beforehand due to injury.

But if there is any uncertainty in the Swiss going into this year’s event, he did a good job of suppressing it. “This time around I’ve played so well. Also I was able to win Brisbane last week,” the world number 2 said. “[The win] makes me feel more secure I guess, this year for me at the Aussie Open.” Federer and Nadal both play on Monday and face Yen-Hsun Lu and Mikhail Youzhny respectively, with the latter’s pedigree definitely making him a potential banana skin for an out of form Nadal.

On first impression, Djokovic has a comparatively easier draw than his close peers. However the Serb has only just arrived on Sunday to practise on the Melbourne Park courts after suffering from a bout of flu. “I had a tough couple days but it’s all behind me now. I’m ready.” The No.1 faces Aljaz Bedene on Tuesday.

As Paul Annacone has pointed out, the shorter format of the women’s matches make even the likes of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, vulnerable if they are slow out of the blocks. But it is a rarity to see the aforementioned Williams and Sharapova have a slow start, or at least a slow start which is too significant for them to pull back comfortably. Williams meets Alison Van Uytvanck in Round 1, a Belgian youngster who only played her first grand slam main draw match in the 2014 US Open. “This year I’ve felt a little off,” said Williams, “but I feel off in every grand slam.”

Even if the American’s ‘off’ feeling does transfer onto the court (which I am yet to ever see in R1 of a Slam) then merely her experience should still aid her in prevailing. Meanwhile Maria Sharapova is to clash with Petra Martic. The Russian World No.2 said in a press conference on Friday that: “I am of course determined to do that [become World No.1] but by doing that you need to win more matches than the person in the first place, so that’s the goal.”  This statement of intent from Sharapova makes the pressure on Williams even more palpable. With rising talents in Bouchard, the pressure on Serena Williams is growing exponentially. She is also not getting any younger and perhaps the physical limitations of that will soon take its toll.

So, Melbourne is ready. The crowds are ready. The world is ready. And then the players are – mostly – ready. But that doesn’t matter, that is the beauty of the Australian Open – with it being so close to the Christmas break, there is a unique air of unpredictability to proceedings that just cannot be matched. A lot rides on it as well. The only thing more repressive than the Australian heat is the pressure around Melbourne Park.