by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams won her 23rd major title on Saturday at the Australian Open as she defeated her older sister, Venus Williams, in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.
The theme after the match was not about Serena celebrating her win, but about celebrating her relationship with her sister.
“She’s an amazing person. There’s no way I’d be at 23 without her,” Serena said. “She’s my inspiration. She’s the only reason I’m standing here today.”
The match-up between the Williams sisters in the final in Melbourne was the oldest major final in history on the women’s side, but the two sisters showed no signs of slowing down this fortnight as each looked very impressive. Serena was just a bit more impressive, as she was able to claim her 7th Australian Open title and regain her throne at No. 1 in the WTA rankings.
“I’m enormously proud of you. You’re the world to me,” Venus said.
The match got off to an interesting start as there were four breaks of serve in a row. With each player possibly a bit nervous and unsure of how to handle the situation, it took a few games for everything to settle down. But once it did, Serena was the one who took charge. She would break for a 4-3 lead in the first set before holding at love a few games later to close it out.
Up a set, Serena continued to look confident. She had a look at a break point in Venus’ second service game of the second set, but the older sister was able to fight it off. But with Serena continuing to dominate on serve, the pressure on Venus was ever-present, and it finally got to be too much in the 3-3 game.
With Venus serving, Serena created three break chances and was able to capitalize on the third, giving her a break lead and putting herself just two games away from the title. Nothing would get in Serena’s way, as she dropped just two points in her last two service games, holding comfortably to close out the win and take the Australian Open title.
Serena is now an astonishing 23-6 in major finals, and improves to 7-2 in major finals against her sister Venus. Venus still has many positives to take away from this event, as she will improve to No. 11 in the world, her highest ranking since September, plus she also had her best result at a major since 2009.
“Thank you, Venus, for inspiring me to be the best player that I could be and inspiring me to work hard,” Serena said.
Serena’s 23 major titles is now an Open Era record, passing Steffi Graf’s 22. Margaret Court holds the overall record at 24, something that Serena will certainly have her sights set on throughout the rest of 2017.
by Kevin Craig
Rafael Nadal beat Grigor Dimitrov in an epic five-setter on Friday at the Australian Open to reach the final, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4. Nadal’s win sets up a matchup between two of the greatest athletes tennis has ever seen, the 14-time major champion Nadal and the 17-time major champion Roger Federer.
“It is amazing to be through to a final of a Grand Slam again here in Australia at the start of the year. Means a lot to me,” Nadal said. “It’s special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam.”
The final on Sunday will be the first time Nadal and Federer have faced off in a major final since the French Open in 2011, which Nadal won with ease.
The semifinal match between Nadal and Dimitrov was an instant classic as the two battled for almost five hours. Nadal came into the match as the heavy favorite, and eventually was able to reach in first major final in almost three years. Dimitrov, playing in just his second major semifinal, was almost able to withstand the constant high-energy style of play from Nadal, but just fell short in the end.
“It was a fantastic match. Very emotional. Grigor played great. I played great. So it was a great quality of tennis tonight,” Nadal said. “Both of us deserved to be in that final. It was a great fight.”
In a straight forward first set, Nadal fought off three break points in the opening game before settling down and breaking Dimitrov to take a 4-1 lead. Dominant on serve, Nadal dropped just two points in his last four service games to easily take the first set.
The second set was much crazier, as there were five breaks in total. Dimitrov got it started with a break to take a 4-1 lead, but Nadal was up to the task, breaking back a couple games later. The two exchanged breaks once more and it looked like we were headed for a tiebreak, but Dimitrov found some extra level late in the set, opening up a 15-40 lead on Nadal’s serve in the 12th game, breaking to take the set 7-5.
Once again, the two warriors exchanged breaks in the third set, but neither was able to find a late break to take the set. A tiebreak was needed to separate the two, and that was just as tight as the rest of the match had been. Nadal held leads at 3-1, 4-2, and 5-3, but Dimitrov was able to fight back each time. At 5-5, though, Nadal was able to reel off the last two points to take the tiebreak and a two sets to one lead.
Neither man faced a break point in the entire fourth set, as Dimitrov refused to back down. Another tiebreak was needed, and this time it was the Bulgarian who was taking the leads. After holding a lead at 4-2 at the change of ends, Dimitrov looked confident and stretched his lead to 6-3, holding three set points. On the second chance, Dimitrov was able to close out the set and force a deciding fifth set.
Dimitrov looked like he didn’t have the energy to pull out the win in the final set, as he four break points and was taken to deuce in three of his first four service games. With Dimitrov up 4-3, though, he had his chance. Up 15-40, the Bulgarian had two chances to break for a 5-3 lead to set himself up to serve out the match.
Nadal came up clutch, however, and impressively fought off both break points to hold for 4-4. That seemed to have finally killed off the effort from Dimitrov, as Nadal broke in the next game before holding in a 10-point game to close out the five-set win.
Nadal leads the overall head to head with Federer 23-11 overall, and 6-2 in major finals. He’ll hope to keep those trends alive as the two will battle on Sunday night in Melbourne, or very early Sunday morning on the east coast.
“For me, it’s a privilege and I think it’s a very special thing for both of us to be in the final,” Nadal said. “We are still there and we are still fighting for important events. That’s very special.”
by Kevin Craig
Venus Williams defeated Coco Vandeweghe in the Australian Open semifinals on Thursday, 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3, to help set up an all-Williams final. Venus will take on sister Serena in the final on Saturday after she easily knocked out Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in straight sets.
“It’s always very satisfying to be able to get through in such a big match against an opponent who was just on fire,” Venus said. “It means so much.”
The 36-year old Venus will take on Serena for the 28th time, and the ninth time in a major final. Serena currently leads in both departments, 16-11 overall and 6-2 in major finals. Venus will be going for her eighth major title and first since 2008, while Serena will be looking for her 23rd.
“She’s basically my world and my life and she means everything to me. I couldn’t be happier with these results, and for us both to be in the final is the biggest dream come true for us,” Serena said.
Against Vandeweghe, Venus got off to a bit of a slow start, as she faced four break points in her opening service game. She could only save the first three before getting broken, but was able to bounce back right away and break the big-hitting American. From there, each play settled into the match and found their rhythms, as no more break points were seen in the rest of the set.
In the first set tiebreak, the returner won the first five points, allowing Vandeweghe to take a 3-2 mini-break lead. The 25-year old American playing in her first major semifinal would eventually take the tiebreak 7-3, thanks to a five-point run.
“I’m versatile. I can adjust. I can do what I need to do to win a match,” Venus said. Adjust is exactly what she did as the rest of the match was a completely different story than the first set.
Venus battled back straight away with a no-nonsense mindset in the second set. Vandeweghe’s level of play that had been so impressive the entire tournament finally dropped, and Venus was able to break her twice in the set. Added onto the two breaks, Venus was able to save eight break points in the second set, allowing her to even up the match and take it to a decider.
In the third, Venus was once again able to break early to apply some scoreboard pressure on Vandeweghe. Once again, Vandeweghe had difficulty converting on Venus’ serve, as she missed out on two break points in her first service game. From there, Vandeweghe only won more than one point in a Venus service game once in three tries.
In the final game of the match, with Vandeweghe serving at 5-3, Venus had a look at four break points and the nerves in the building increased with every one that Vandeweghe saved. On the fourth attempt, though, Vandeweghe sent a backhand long and Venus had finally won and reached the Australian Open final.
Venus and Serena will meet in the final on Saturday and it will be one of the most anticipated matches on the women’s tour in a very long time.
“I just feel like no matter what happens, we’ve won. She’s been through a lot. I’ve been through a lot. A Williams is going to win the tournament,” Serena said.
by Kevin Craig
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s incredible story continued on Wednesday at the Australian Open as she defeated the 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, to reach her second career major semifinal.
“To me this is overwhelming. I will never, ever forget this day or the last couple of weeks,” Lucic-Baroni said.
It’s not just the second career semifinal for Lucic-Baroni, but it’s her first since 1999 when she was just 16 years old. As a teenager, many viewed Lucic-Baroni as the next big thing in women’s tennis, and that showed as she won her first WTA title and won the doubles title at the Australian Open before the age of 16.
Unfortunately, some injuries and issues in her personal life derailed her career for a few years, including a complete hiatus from tennis for a few years that saw her not compete in a single major from 2002 to 2010. Now, she is back on the court and will reach the Top 30 of the WTA rankings for the first time in her career after her run in Melbourne.
“This has truly made my life and everything bad that happened, it has made it OK,” Lucic-Baroni said.
The match started positively for Pliskova, a player who many believed would give Serena Williams issues in a potential semifinal matchup. The Czech saved a break point in her first service game, allowing her to relax and break Lucic-Baroni in the next game. The Croatian didn’t back down, though, as she came back to break twice, including in the final game of the set, to take a one-set lead.
The second set was back and forth as there were six breaks total, including two immediate exchanges of breaks. After the second exchange, Pliskova looked to have finally found her rhythm as she broke Lucic-Baroni two more times to eventually cruise to the second set win, evening up the match.
Another exchange of breaks started off the third set, meaning that Pliskova had now broken Lucic-Baroni five straight times. The 34-year old didn’t let that get her down, though, as she was able to break Pliskova again and took a 3-1 lead. Pliskova would break back a couple games later, but Lucic-Baroni had fate on her side.
With Pliskova serving at 4-4, Lucic-Baroni broke easily at love and followed that up with a comfortable hold to close out the match and earn her spot in the semifinals.
“I can’t believe this, this is crazy,” Lucic-Baroni said. “This is what I’ve been dreaming about. This is what I’ve been training for.”
Lucic-Baroni will take on 22-time major champion Serena Williams in the semifinals on Thursday. Williams will be hoping to set up an all-American final, or even an all-Williams final, as the other semifinal will see CoCo Vandeweghe take on Venus Williams.
by Kevin Craig
CoCo Vandeweghe set up an all-American semifinal at the Australian Open on Tuesday as she easily dispatched the 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0.
The other American she will face in the semifinal is seven-time major champion Venus Williams, who also won in straight sets over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4, 7-6(3).
“It’s a dream to play someone you grew up watching. To play an unbelievable player, future hall of famer, to be on the court with her, I’ve only experienced it one time before,” said Vandeweghe, who lost that matchup on clay in Rome. “But to do it at this stage of a Grand Slam is kind of crazy.”
Vandeweghe has been playing the best tennis of her life this fortnight in Melbourne as she knocked out the No. 1 player in the world Angelique Kerber in the fourth round before following that up with a demolishing of the No. 7 seed Muguruza.
In the first set, the American had a look at seven break points before she could finally convert the break on her eighth attempt for a 4-3 lead. In her first four service games of the match, Vandeweghe only lost five points on serve, but when she went to serve out the set a few nerves may have crept into her mind. She fell to 30-40 as Muguruza had a chance to get back on serve, but the big hitting American fought off that break point before winning two more points to take the set.
That was the last change Muguruza would have in the match as Vandeweghe steamrolled through the second set, winning it 6-0. The Spaniard only won four points on serve in her three service games while the American only faced one break point and saved it, earning her a spot in the semifinals.
“It feels really good. It’s amazing to be in a semifinal, but not satisfying. I want to keep going,” Vandeweghe said. “There’s more things to do out on a tennis court that I’m hoping to achieve.”
The 36-year old Williams had a battle on her hands against Pavlyuchenkova, and had to battle back from a break down two separate times in the first set before she broke at love in the final game to steal it from the Russian.
In the second set, Williams once again battle back from a break down twice, but was unable to grab a third break this time, so the set went to a tiebreak. There, Williams fell behind 3-1, but was able to rattle off five points in a row to create three set points. She only needed one as she took the tiebreak 7-3, earning her spot in the semifinals.
“Today was such a hard fought match and she never let up,” Williams said.
“I’m sure she’s going to want to be in her first final,” Williams said about Vandeweghe. “I’m going to want to be in only my second final here. So it’s going to be a well-contested match.”
That semifinal matchup will take place on Thursday in Melbourne, with the winner heading to the Australian Open final.
by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams didn’t play her best tennis on Monday at the Australian Open, but still managed to defeat Barbora Strycova in straight sets, 7-5, 6-4, to reach the quarterfinals.
“It was a really good match for me, and I’m glad I got through it,” Williams said. “It’s good to know I have a Plan B.”
The 22-time major champion continued her pursuit for major title No. 23 in Melbourne as she had to battle through some early struggles. With many of the top seeds already out of the women’s draw, Williams finds herself as the heavy favorite remaining in the draw.
Williams knows this may be one of the best opportunities she gets to claim major title No. 23, and she surely would not let an upset in the fourth round ruin any chances of that.
“I love pressure. I feel like I deal well with pressure,” Williams said of the pressure she feels as being the favorite, something she has experienced many times throughout her career.
Strycova looked like she was up to the task of upsetting arguably the greatest women’s player of all time as she managed to break Williams three separate times in the first set. The only problem here, was that Williams broke four times.
Every time the Czech was able to break, the American would immediately break in the next game to get back on serve. This happened three separate times, the last time making the score 4-4. After that last exchange of breaks, Williams finally appeared to settle in as she held her last two service games, and saw four break points with Strycova serving at 4-5.
Strycova was able to fight off those four set points and even saved three more in the 5-6 game, but Williams wasn’t going to miss out on eight chances to close out the set, finally breaking in the 12th game to take a one-set lead.
In the second set, Williams continued to look like she had found her rhythm, breaking Strycova for an early 4-1 lead. After not facing any break points in her first four service games of the set, Williams faced two when she served for the match at 5-3.
She could only save the first one before Strycova broke to get back on serve at 5-4, however Williams made sure that the comeback was short-lived. In the very next game, Williams broke to close out the match, earning herself the straight sets victory.
“It’s always good to have something to improve on, and I know I can do better on my serve,” Williams said.
Williams will now take on one of the players who has looked the best to start off this year, Johanna Konta. After reaching a final in Shenzhen and winning the title in Sydney to start off the year, Konta has looked very impressive in Melbourne and will provide a very tough task for Williams in the quarterfinals.
by Kevin Craig
Mischa Zverev’s incredible professional tennis journey continued on Sunday at the Australian Open as he defeated the No. 1 player in the world, Andy Murray, in four sets to reach the quarterfinals, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
“I don’t know how I did it,” Zverev said. “I think you should tell me how I did it because honestly there were a few points where I don’t know how I pulled it off. I don’t know how I won some points but somehow I made it.”
Zverev, the older brother of one of the most promising young stars in tennis, Alex Zverev, was ranked in the Top 50 back in 2009 before he began a bout with various injuries. After falling all the way outside of the Top 1000, forced to play futures and qualifying at challenger level events, he is now on a bigger stage than he ever was before the injuries.
His resurgence has seen him reach the Top 50 again, and his ranking will now jump inside the Top 40 after reaching his first major quarterfinal.
“It means the world to me, and it means the world to me that my whole family is here,” Zverev said. “So many people are here to support me. It’s amazing.”
The entire match was a break-fest, with both players aggressively dominating each other’s service games. In the first set, there were five breaks total and Zverev was the man who grabbed the last two, coming back from a break down two separate times. Murray would constantly get himself ahead in the set, but could never consolidate and ultimately found himself down on the scoreboard.
“He came back from all of the mistakes he made, kept coming up with great shots. Not too much you can do about that,” Murray said of the impressive performance from his opponent.
In the second set, the trend continued. Murray would break, but Zverev would break right back. After the two exchanged breaks early in the set, they found themselves once again at 5-5. In the first, it was Zverev who broke in the 11th game, but this time, it was Murray breaking in the 12th game to win the set and level the match.
Murray finally had his breakthrough. He could finally begin to settle down and cruise on his way to victory. At least that’s how he thought it would play out.
Instead, the German warrior continued his fight, breaking for a 3-2 lead. He would fight off a break point in the very next game, but unlike Murray, Zverev was able to consolidate his break and pull out a 4-2 lead. That wasn’t all for the German, though, as he broke Murray one more time for good measure before serving out the set at 15, shockingly taking the third set 6-2.
“It was kind of easy to stay aggressive but definitely tough to stay calm,” Zverev said.
Despite Murray being down two sets to one, you just couldn’t help but think that he would figure it out eventually. He came close any times in the fourth set, but it just never happened. Zverev continued his incredible play and broke Murray in the first game of the set. From there, he hardly looked back. He didn’t have to face a single break point in the final set, and that early break was good enough to get him the win.
“I don’t know how I feel yet because everything is new to me,” Zverev said. “Maybe playing Roger would be a dream to me because I always admired him growing up.
Zverev, only six years younger than Federer at 29-years old, will get to take on the 17-time major champion in the quarterfinals. Federer dispatched Kei Nishikori in five sets in a late night match on Rod Laver Arena.
by Kevin Craig
Rafael Nadal withstood the effort from young German star Alex Zverev in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday, winning in five sets by a score of 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(5) 6-3, 6-2.
Nadal, the No. 9 seed in this year’s Australian Open, has been out to prove a message to the ATP World Tour early in the season as he already claimed an exhibition title in Abu Dhabi before reaching the quarterfinals in Brisbane. Now, the 14-time major champion has continued an impressive run to the fourth round in Melbourne after another tough win over Zverev.
“It’s obviously an important result for me. I lost the last couple of ones, matches in the fifth. So it’s important for me to win a match like this,” Nadal said.
The two met last year in Indian Wells, and the German blew an easy volley on match point before eventually squandering the loss to Nadal. That result surely would’ve given Zverev some extra motivation to get revenge on Nadal on Saturday, but in the end, the experienced veteran was just too good, but remained humble as always.
“Everyone knows how good Alexander is. He is the future of our sport, and the present too, now,” Nadal said.
Zverev, who hit 58 winners in the match, got off to a hot start, breaking Nadal in the first game of the match. After saving a break point three games later, Zverev was able to cruise through the rest of the set to jump out to an early lead.
It was Nadal who got off to the hot start in the second set, though, as he held his first two service games at love before breaking the 19-year old easily for a 3-1 lead. Nadal never looked back from that point, as he only dropped three points on serve in the second set to level the match.
Breaks continued to be scarce into the third set as neither man was able to create even a single break point in the set. Zverev was forced to play a 12-point service game early in the set, but other than that, neither player had much trouble on serve. The tiebreak was neck and neck, just like the rest of the set, but it was Zverev who created a set point at 6-5 and didn’t miss out on the opportunity, taking a two sets to one lead.
Being just one set away from the win, Zverev’s mind may have flashed back to Indian Wells last year when he missed out on a great opportunity to upset one of the greatest players of all time. In his first service game of the set, Zverev was broken, allowing Nadal to take an early break lead. Serving at 3-1, Nadal fought off one break point in a 12-point game before settling down in the latter stages of the set, closing it out and forcing a decider.
“Fighting and running a lot,” Nadal said when asked what the key was to his comeback. “I enjoyed a lot this great battle.”
While the fifth set score line will read 6-2 in favor of Nadal, the set was much tighter than you would expect. After Nadal broke in the first game, Zverev was able to break back and get back on serve at 2-2. Nadal did break in the next game, but not before the German fought off two break points in a 16-point game. Zverev’s next service game also resulted in a break, but once again he fought hard, saving two more break points, this time in an 18-point game.
“For the confidence, for lots of things, it’s very important to win these kinds of matches,” Nadal said. “I think I finished the match playing much better than what I started the match.”
Next up for Nadal will be the 6th-seeded Gael Monfils. The eclectic Frenchman has been very impressive in the Australian Open so far, only dropping one set in his first three matches.
by Kevin Craig
Angelique Kerber continued her roll at the Australian Open as she breezed past Kristyna Pliskova in the third round on Friday, 6-0, 6-4.
“It’s great to have another good match under my belt and to be in the fourth round again here,” Kerber said. “I think that I’m finding my rhythm in the tournament now.”
The German made her breakthrough in Melbourne last year winning her first major title inside Rod Laver Arena, and will be looking to grab her third overall this year after she also claimed the US Open in 2016. Kerber is well on her way to the final in the weaker top half of the draw, and she could possibly meet up with Serena Williams for a rematch in the final.
Pliskova is the sister of Karolina Pliskova, who reached the US Open final last year, but is left-handed and has struggled to have the same level of success as her twin. Kristyna has been known more for her doubles results, but had made a good run in Melbourne this year.
Kerber easily dispatched the lower-ranked Pliskova, hitting just 14 unforced errors to her 34. After needed three sets to win both of her first two matches, the No. 1 player in the world gained some much needed confidence as she continues her Australian Open title defence.
In the first set, Kerber raced out to a 5-0 lead after just 17 minutes and finished off the bagel easily thanks to three unforced errors in the final game from Pliskova.
Kerber continued her great form into the second set, going up an early break. Pliskova, though, was able to get back into the set by winning three straight games midway through to take a lead. Kerber didn’t let that mini-slump in the second set stop her, though, as she broke at 4-4 to take a lead before serving out the match with ease.
“It was not so easy today, she is a tough opponent,” said Kerber. “I tried to stay focused until the last point.”
Next up for Kerber is American Coco Vandeweghe, who defeated Genie Bouchard in the third round in three tight sets.
“I think it will be a little bit similar to today. Coco is a tough opponent,” Kerber said. “I know that she’s serving good, as well. I have to move good, be ready, bring a lot of balls back, but also be aggressive.”
If Kerber can get past Vandeweghe, she could most likely take on Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals, with Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova potentially awaiting her in the semifinals.
by Kevin Craig
Denis Istomin pulled off what will most likely be the biggest upset of 2017 as he dispatched the six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Australian Open 7-6(8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.
“It’s unreal. It was impossible to think that I can hold it five sets with Novak, physically and mentally. So I did well today,” Istomin said.
Istomin is currently ranked No. 117 in the world after reaching a career high ranking of No. 33 back in 2012. He only managed to get into the main draw at the Australian Open because he won a wild card playoff for players from Asia in December.
In the semifinal of that wild card playoff, Istomin actually faced multiple set points. But now, here he is in the third round of the Australian Open with an upset of Djokovic in his pocket.
In the first game, Djokovic had to play a 24-point game, fighting off six break points along the way. There was an exchange of breaks midway through the set, but the two eventually settled for a tiebreak. It was Djokovic who raced out to a 4-1 lead, but Istomin proved he was up for the fight, as he battled back to win it 10-8 and take the first set.
In set two, Istomin had to fight off one break point in his 2-2 service game, but nothing too exciting happened until the last three games of the set. With Djokovic serving at 4-5, Istomin got out to a 15-40 lead, meaning he had two set points. The No. 2 player in the world showed why he had 12 major titles under his belt, though, as he rattled off four points in a row to hold before breaking Istomin in the next game, eventually taking the second set 7-5.
The third got off to a hectic start, as there were three consecutive breaks early on, allowing Djokovic to get out to a break lead. In the end, Djokovic would break Istomin in three of his service games in a row, taking the set 6-2 and looking like he had finally killed off the fight from Istomin.
The top-ranked player from Uzbekistan didn’t go away easily, as he came right back in the fourth set and got out to an early break lead. Djokovic didn’t let him hold on to that lead for too long, though, and broke to get back on serve midway through the set. Once again, the two men needed a tiebreak to decide things, and once again it was Istomin coming out on top. This one was a little easier for the wild card as he raced out to a 5-1 lead and claimed the set on his third set point.
In the decider, Istomin had a little trouble in his first two service games while Djokovic was cruising. Seemingly out of nowhere, Istomin broke the Serb for a 3-2 lead with a screaming backhand down the line, and that was all he would need. In his last three service games, the wild card dropped just three points, sending Djokovic out of the tournament, and himself into the third round.
“Whenever he needed to, he came up with a big serve, a big play. All I can say is hats off,” said Djokovic, who actually won seven more points than Istomin did in the match. “He’s a well-deserved winner.”
Istomin is into the Australian Open third round for just the third time in his career, and he will get to take on Pablo Carreno Busta. Istomin will be looking to match his best result at a major against Carreno Busta, as Istomin reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2012 and the US Open in 2013.