Melissa Boyd

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WTA Roland Garros Visions: Picks, Predictions, Dark Horses, Winners

Maria Sharapova wins Roland Garros French Open 2012

(May 25, 2013) With Roland Garros officially kicking off on Sunday, the team at Tennis Grandstand has once again come together to provide you a one-stop comprehensive preview of the women’s draw of the season’s second Slam. We’ve covered dark horses, seeded players crashing out early, first round upsets and matches to watch for, and potential semifinalists and eventual champion for the women’s tour.

In the table, you will find the entire Tennis Grandstand team’s “Quick Picks and Predictions” for the WTA draw, with further detailed analysis below by Melissa Boyd, Victoria Chiesa, David Kane, Chris Skelton, and Maud Watson.

Dark Horse

Melissa Boyd: (14) Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic has played well this clay court season and appears to be most comfortable on the red dirt. Roland Garros is her best chance to win another Slam and the draw was kind to the Serbian. She avoids the Top 3 until the semifinals and finds herself in the same section as the struggling Agnieszka Radwanska and last year’s finalist, Sara Errani.

Victoria Chiesa(20) Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard knows what it takes to be successful in Paris, as she reached the quarterfinals in her debut in 2008 as a qualifier. Since then, however, she has not advanced further than the third round. After reaching the final in Oeiras, she also reached the quarterfinals in Rome before losing to Serena Williams. She opens against another potential dark horse in Simona Halep. Should she find a way past the Romanian, the 20th seed is in by far the most open quarter of the draw to make a run at the second week; a potential third round against Nadia Petrova (11) is in the cards, but the Spaniard already scored a clay-court win against the Russian in Rome.

David KaneSimona HalepHave you ever seen a player and thought, “why do I know you?” You don’t remember them winning a title or causing a noteworthy upset. Yet when Simona Halep clubbed her way into the semifinals of Rome, few among the tennis cognoscenti were completely left scratching their heads. The young Romanian won the French Open girl’s title at 16, but despite being a mainstay of the top 100 for the last few years, had yet to make a big breakthrough on the senior tour. That all changed at the Foro Italico when, as a qualifier, she upset a host of current and former top 4 players including Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Jelena Jankovic before running out of gas against an inspired Serena Williams. Halep only has one third round appearance on her Grand Slam CV, but should she get past fellow darkhorse Carla Suarz Navarro in the first round, her draw may open up with struggling Nadia Petrova anchoring her section.

Chris Skelton: (14) Ana Ivanovic. The champion here five years ago, she showed glimpses of vintage form by reaching the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and the semifinals in Madrid. Ivanovic extended world No. 2 Sharapova to three tough sets at the former event and demolished top-eight opponent Angelique Kerber at the latter. Ana remains susceptible to the unforeseen clunker, and always will be, but her first-week draw is filled with players whom she normally handles with ease. None of the top three can meet her until the semifinals.

Maud Watson: Can I just say Serb?  I like both (14) Ana Ivanovic and (18) Jelena Jankovic as dark horse candidates.  Both have produced some good tennis in 2013, and this season Jankovic in particular has enjoyed her most success on the dirt.  Still, I’d give the edge to Ivanovic.  She has it easiest in her opening rounds and has actually won a major.

Seeded Player Crashing Out Early

Boyd(4) Agnieszka Radwanska. It would have been easy to go with Caroline Wozniacki here. The Dane has not won a match on red clay in four tournaments this year and has to play the fast-rising Laura Robson in the first round. Radwanska’s clay court record in 2013 is almost as unflattering as her good friend. She has won just one match and has never made it past the fourth round at Roland Garros.

Chiesa(8) Angelique Kerber. For her first round match, Kerber was dealt one of the players on the fringe of a seeding in countrywoman Mona Barthel. Neither player comes into the match on a rich vein of form. Despite reaching the semifinals and quarterfinals in Stuttgart and Madrid, Kerber withdrew from Rome citing injury; Barthel also withdrew from the Italian Open, and did not win a match in Stuttgart or Madrid. Barthel is a tricky case, as her form can turn on a dime, and she holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage against her countrywoman. Even if Kerber does pull through this match, she’ll do well to live up to her seeding and set up a quarterfinal date with Serena on her least-preferred surface.

Kane: (6) Li NaThe veteran Chinesewoman has been trending up in 2013, with a run to the Australian Open finals and recovered well from an ankle injury to reach the Stuttgart finals to start the clay court season. But when last we left Li Na, she put on a terrible show to lose to Jelena Jankovic in Rome. So often in tennis, it is rarely about to whom one loses as much as how one plays during that loss. An upset wasn’t improbable, given Li’s resurgent Serbian opponent. But the ridiculously high number of unforced errors (62 in two sets) looks more like foreshadowing than an aberration. Against a steady claycourter in Anabel Medina Garrigues (against whom Li is 0-3 in completed matches) in round one, the 2011 Champion will have to be on song from the get-go, lest she face another surprising Slam exit.

Skelton: (4) Agnieszka Radwanska. The obvious choice in this category is Caroline Wozniacki (see below), but that’s too easy when someone much more notable has struggled almost as much. A top-four seed at Roland Garros, Radwanska has won just one clay match this year while absorbing overwhelming losses to Laura Robson and Simona Halep. Clay is her worst surface, and she withdrew from her Brussels title defense last week with a shoulder injury. While Radwanska doesn’t have many giant-killers around her, Halep didn’t seem like a giant-killer until she slew her.

Watson: (10) Caroline WozniackiA couple of names come to mind here, with one of those names being Caroline Wozniacki.  It’s hard to imagine a time when the former No. 1′s confidence and form have been lower than they are right now.  Against an up-and-comer like Robson – who has already enjoyed more than a few big wins in her young career – she’s definitely ripe for the upset.

First Round Match to Watch For

BoydEugenie Bouchard vs. Tsvetana Pironkova. After reaching her first WTA semifinal in Strasbourg thanks to some impressive wins, the 19-year-old Canadian arrives in Paris on a roll. Her game on clay has vastly improved and she’s chalking up experience as she goes along. It will be interesting to see how she deals with the former Wimbledon semifinalist. A win for Bouchard and she will likely play her idol Maria Sharapova for the second time in two months in the second round.

Chiesa(22) Ekaterina Makarova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova. One of the women’s draw’s most dangerous floaters, one of Kuznetsova’s crowning career achievements came in Paris when she lifted the trophy in 2009. She just missed out on a seeding here and Makarova is coming off of a strong quarterfinal showing in Madrid that included a win over Azarenka, the Belarusian’s first true loss of the year. The two have never played on clay, but Kuznetsova holds a 2-1 head-to-head lead after a 6-4, 6-4 win in Miami this year.

Kane: (7) Petra Kvitova vs. Aravane Rezai. If you read my article from last week (or follow me on twitter), you’ll know of my penchant for reality television. What first round match looks more likely to be real than Kvitova/Rezai? Both have flashy games, with the ability to crush any ball seemingly at will. Both have the potential to fly horribly off the rails and rack up triple-digit unforced errors. Playing at home, the already-expressive Rezai will draw on the energy of an upset-hungry crowd. Kvitova has been struggling, and seems as far from her top tier, world beating form as ever. The odds of this being a “pretty” match are low, but this has “Trainwreck of the Year” potential written all over it. And damned if I won’t be there for every second.

Skelton: (18) Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova. This match might not produce the best tennis or most meaningful result on the menu, but the first round is about the journey rather than the destination. It’s a rare opportunity to see two former members of the top five and two major semifinalists meet in the first round. Their last five meetings all have come on clay, they have a relatively close head-to-head with multiple thrillers, and each has shown recent signs of life. Colliding for the first time in two years, Jankovic and Hantuchova will showcase a lovely contrast of styles between the down-the-line groundstrokes of the Serb and the cross-court angles of the Slovak.

Watson: (4) Agnieszka Radwanska vs Shahar Peer in the first round isn’t a popcorn match.  But the Pole has run a dismal clay court campaign that’s been compounded by shoulder issues.  How she looks in her opening match could be a good indicator as to just how likely she is to live up to her No. 4 seeding.

First Round Upset Special

BoydOlga Govortsova d. (13) Marion Bartoli. Bartoli has struggled this season amidst her coaching changes and has not had great preparation coming into Paris. Last week in Strasbourg, she won only five games in a first round loss to Camila Giorgi. Add to that the pressure of playing your home Slam and Bartoli is a prime candidate for a first round upset.

ChiesaLaura Robson d. (10) Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki comes into Roland Garros on a five match losing streak and is winless on red clay so far in 2013. While Robson too has struggled since the early part of the season, Wozniacki’s plight is different. The former World No. 1 seems lost on court and rarely looks to be enjoying her tennis. Barely hanging on to a spot in the top 10, I’d call it a bigger upset if Wozniacki manages to win this match.

KaneKimiko Date-Krumm d. (9) Sam StosurThis pick has little to do with Stosur; though coming off a calf injury that derailed most of her spring, the top Aussie did have a solid run to the quarterfinals of Rome where she pushed nemesis Victoria Azarenka to three sets. This has more to do with her draw, namely her first round opponent, the ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm. No stranger to the first round upset, Date-Krumm beat two-time finalist Dinara Safina in Paris three years ago, and began 2013 with a crushing win over Nadia Petrova in Australia. Her unorthodox groundstrokes are hit with a thudding efficiency, and take time away from her opponents. Even at her best, Stosur is a player who needs the extra couple of seconds that clay courts give her to wind up her topspin forehand. Coming in still lacking sufficient match practice, she could be in for a long day against Date-Krumm, who beat her in their only prior encounter in 2010.

Skelton: Laura Robson d. (10) Caroline Wozniacki. Since reaching the Indian Wells final, Wozniacki has fallen off a cliff. She has not won a match on red clay this year, losing five straight overall starting with Charleston. One of her losses came when she squandered a third-set lead against Bojana Jovanovski, who hasn’t beaten anyone else since the Australian Open. Anyone marginally dangerous will have a chance against Wozniacki right now, and Robson is more than marginally dangerous after she upset Radwanska in Madrid.

Watson: Anabel Medina Garrigues d. (6) Li NaLi Na is another likely prospect for crashing out early, as she takes on Medina Garrigues in her opening match.  Medina Garrigues is a crafty veteran who gave Serena all she could handle in Madrid (albeit with some blatant cheating).  She’s an especially tough customer on the clay, so unless Li can clean up her game, her stay in Paris won’t be a long one.

Semifinalists

Boyd: Serena Williams vs. Sara Errani and Victoria Azarenka vs. Maria Sharapova. It’s hard to fathom Williams not navigating her draw rather easily and Errani is in arguably the softest quarter with Radwanska and Ivanovic. Look for last year’s finalist to make another deep run, especially if the weather makes the playing conditions heavy and difficult. The draw was less kind to Azarenka and the defending champion Sharapova, but I still like both of them to make it through to their much-anticipated match up. Azarenka will get a stiff test from Elena Vesnina in the first round and potentially Na Li in the quarters, but she has played well since returning from injury.

Chiesa: It’s hard to see anyone in Serena’s quarter of the draw giving her much trouble, even if Williams comes out struggling with the demons of her early round upset from a season ago. It’s tough to see her losing a set en route to the semifinals. The second quarter is incredibly open with Agnieszka Radwanska as the highest seed. Lurking at the bottom of this quarter is last year’s finalist Sara Errani, and it would be much less surprising to see the Italian at the late stages of the event this time around. Her best chance to beat Serena would be on clay, but even then, it still doesn’t seem likely. Semifinal: Serena Williams d. Sara Errani.

With Victoria Azarenka and Li Na the two seeds in the third quarter of the draw, a potential quarterfinal match between them could go either way. Although Azarenka has turned around the head-to-head between the two, Li’s greater comfort level on the surface can give her the edge here. I expect Sharapova to navigate the minefield that is her quarter of the draw, even if she experiences some bumps along the way. Semifinal: Li Na d. Maria Sharapova

Kane: Kuznetsova/Errani, Azarenka/Sharapova. “But where’s Serena?” Here me out. Given the form exhibited by the undisputed No. 1 in the world this season (no less on clay), there is no reason to think the American won’t bulldoze the field and collect her second French Open title, and her 16th overall.

However. This is at least the fifth time in ten years that Serena has gone into the French Open as the overwhelming favorite, yet has failed to make it past the quarterfinals since her lone victory in 2002. Beyond the loss to Razzano, Williams has seen a 33-Slam match winning streak snapped in 2003, another shocking loss to Katarina Srebotnik in 2008, and premature losses to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Stosur in 2009 and 2010 respectively. All on the terre battue.  Serena simply has a history of not getting it done in Paris, and though now looks like as good a time as ever to turn things around, I’ll believe it when she invariably proves me wrong in two weeks.

That said, 2009 Champion Kuznetsova has a history in Paris and likely prefers to be the underdog. The other three have had some of the best Slam results in the last 12 months, and while their draws look tough on paper, resistance may be surprisingly low (at least for a WTA tournament).

Skelton: Serena Williams, Sara Errani, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova. Remember the era of anarchy in the WTA when people who you never saw before suddenly became superstars for a week? Well, it’s over. Only one woman outside the top three of Serena, Azarenka, and Sharapova has reached a final across the six marquee events this year (majors, Premier Mandatory, Premier Five). Roland Garros usually does have one clay-court specialist for its flavor of the year, so Errani should repeat her results from Madrid and Rome in the draw’s weakest quarter.

Watson: In the top half, Serena Williams vs. Sara Errani. Serena’s tennis the last 12 months speaks for itself, and that includes the dominance she’s shown this year on the dirt with her titles in Charleston, Madrid and Rome. Her opponent is less certain, but Errani has been very consistent of late. The Italian also reached the final here last year and has been playing better than No. 4 seed A. Radwanska.

In the bottom half, I’ll stick to the seeds and go with Sharapova vs. Azarenka. Sharapova has looked sharp, and lately, it seems Serena is the only one with her number. Azarenka’s star has shined a little less brightly since her win in Melbourne, but she did just reach the finals in Rome and should be feeling confident.

And the Champion is …

Boyd(1) Serena Williams. I think one of the most compelling stories of this fortnight will be watching Williams attempt to conquer her French Open demons after her shocking first round exit in 2012. With the win streak she’s on and the level she’s playing at, the only person who can beat Serena, is Serena herself.

Chiesa(1) Serena Williams. The old saying goes that if you’re going to get them, it’s best to get them early. The World No. 1 is on a mission this year, and if she can navigate her way through the early rounds, it’s hard to see anyone being able to stop her at the business end of the event. While Li has shown she has the game to go toe-to-toe with anyone on tour, it remains to be seen what will happen if she actually gets herself into a winning position. Championship: Serena Williams d. Li Na in three sets.

Kane: (2) Maria Sharapova. Over the years, the French Open women’s event has become known for its predictable unpredictability, and its wackiness tend to happen in twos. Dinara Safina made two runs to the French finals before Errani’s compatriot Francesca Schiavone made two romps of her own (taking the title in 2010). Errani hasn’t had the drop-off in form many had predicted, and looks as capable as ever for another (slightly less) surprising run to a Slam final. Last year’s champion Sharapova must also feel a sense of déjà vu, coming into Paris with the same number of match wins as the year before. She wouldn’t have to play Serena until the final (or at all if you subscribe to my alternate universe), and has proven she can beat everyone else on clay. As the French say, pouquoi pas? Why not?

Skelton: (1) Serena Williams. She swept the two biggest events on outdoor red clay, moving better than she has on the surface since the last time that she won in Paris. She completely thrashed each of her two leading rivals in the Madrid and Rome finals. She will bring an extraordinary level of motivation to atone for last year’s disappointment, since when she has lost just three matches. Nobody is stopping Serena in Paris unless her body betrays her again.

Watson: (1) Serena WilliamsLogically, Serena is the best choice.  She’s playing the best tennis of anyone in the field, and she’s in one of the weakest quarters.  She’s likely also extra motivated after the humiliation she suffered here last year.

Marino takes inspirational step back from tennis

Rebecca Marino steps away from tennis for a second time.

By Melissa Boyd

Former world no. 38 Rebecca Marino announced last week that she is stepping away from tennis for the second time in a year. The 22-year-old Canadian revealed that she has been dealing with depression for the past six years and was also a victim of cyber bullying. She felt this to be the best time to move on with the next chapter of her life without completely leaving tennis behind.

“I’m looking at other endeavours at this point. I would like to go to school, seek a job that sort of stuff, but I am very careful not to use the word retiring because I don’t feel it very appropriate because tennis will still be a very big part of my life,” Marino said.

While Marino openly discussed her struggles, she made it clear that depression and cyber bullying were not the reasons behind her decision to leave the sport.

“Social media has also taken its toll on me, it’s not the main reason I’m stepping back neither is the depression. Those are just two parts of my life that I would like to bring awareness to and wipe the slate clean in a sense so that it’s all out in the open. The reason I am stepping back is just because I don’t think I am willing to sacrifice my happiness and other parts of my life to tennis,” Marino explained.

Marino’s rise to the upper echelon of the women’s game was a rapid one, and somewhat unexpected given that she was a late bloomer. The native of Vancouver, British Columbia began playing tennis at the age of 10. At 17, Marino spent half a year in Switzerland and at 19, she moved from Vancouver to Montreal to train at Tennis Canada’s National Tennis Centre which is where her career took off. Marino enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011 that saw her reach her first WTA final in Memphis and the third round at Roland-Garros. She posted two Top 20 wins over Marion Bartoli and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, played a memorable match against Venus Williams on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open, and also won three consecutive Challenger titles during the Fall indoor hard court season in 2010.

Regardless of how much success she enjoyed on the court, Marino’s most inspirational moment came last week when she revealed the details of her battle with a disease that so many are afraid to talk about. She became a hero in the eyes of many, especially those who are also struggling with depression and cyber bullying. Over the past week, Marino has done countless interviews and been approached by the likes of Canadian Olympic legend Clara Hughes who also suffers from depression.  Her courage in coming forward will not only change her life, but also the lives of so many others.

“I’d like to get rid of the stigma attached to depression and mental illnesses in the public and in professional sports,” Marino said. “Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If I can open up about my struggle to the public, I hope I can give someone the courage to seek the help they deserve.”

Marino had a great run in tennis, one that should be celebrated and not remembered with the premise of what could have been.

Milos Raonic Leads Canada to an Historic Davis Cup Victory over Spain

Raonic Leads Canada to Davis Cup Win

Milos Raonic won both of his singles matches, including earning the winning point on Sunday, to send Canada into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas  World Group quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history this weekend after defeating top-ranked Spain 3-2 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.

With Canada entering the Sunday reverse singles with a 2-1 lead following a singles sweep of day one  and a doubles loss on day two, Raonic  clinched victory for his team with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the fourth rubber. The 22-year-old Canadian was in control from the outset, hitting 22 aces and 55 winners. He saved the one break point he faced and broke Garcia Lopez’s on four occasions, including twice in the final set.

“It’s amazing to do everything we’ve done,” Raonic said. “I’ve been a minor part of it for the past few years consistently and to be able to get the win and have this conversation for the first time, it’s pretty amazing. I’m very proud with how I managed everything and how we pulled through.”

Raonic may be grabbing all of the headlines for his clinching win, but Frank Dancevic is the Canadian hero in the eyes of many after he put forth one of the most impressive performances in the history of Davis Cup en route to dismantling Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to give Canada a commanding 2-0 lead after day one. Dancevic was, to put it mildly, in the zone and put his immense natural talent on full display.

“Just walking out on to the court I had goose bumps, and you know that everyone is behind you and that helps you play through tough situations,” Dancevic said. “The crowd was unbelievable, there were certain times when the match was difficult, and they gave me an edge. They motivated me to refocus on the point and I felt like they also put a little pressure on Granollers because the crowd was so behind me today.”

Playing without their biggest stars, This marks the first time since 2006 that Spain, the Davis Cup runner up in 2012 and champion in 2011, has lost a first round tie in World Group. In their first World Group quarter-final appearance, Canada will face Italy in the quarter-finals at home from April 5-7. Italy defeated Croatia 3-2 in the opening round thanks to a win by Fabio Fognini in the decisive fifth rubber.

“It’s a long process when you’re in group one and you’ve got to battle it out in a lot of places and for a spell there we seemed to play on the road so much,” said team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau, speaking of Canada’s journey into the World Group quarter-finals that began years ago. “I think we had a bit of a window a couple of years ago but still we were down 2-0 to Ecuador in 2011, and from there we just turned it around. We play that tie and the next one away and since then we’ve been in Canada and we’ll do that again in April. We’re happy to be in the quarters but we feel like we can keep on going. We’re riding a good wave right now and we’ve got to make the most of it while it lasts.”

The final total attendance for all three days of the tie is 17, 796, which is a new Canadian Davis Cup record.

ATP Australian Open Visions: Predictions, Matchups and Winners

2012 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic

January 12, 2013 — The Australian Open kicks off main draw play on Monday, January 14th, but what exactly do we have in store in this year’s men’s draw? Your trusty panel of Tennis Grandstand writers delve into the hot topics surrounding the first Slam, including dark horses, seeded players crashing out early, first round upsets, and potential semifinalists and champion for the men’s tour. You won’t have to look anywhere further than our comprehensive coverage!

Check out our women’s Australian Open draw preview here!

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Dark Horse

Romi CvitkovicGrigor Dimitrov.The men’s draw this Slam seems to be very forgiving to the top 8, but not so much to the players just under them. Despite that, the 21-year-old has finally been delivering this year, reaching his first ATP final en route taking out three players ranked considerably higher than him. His road to the quarterfinal is fairly open after his first round encounter with No. 32 seed Julien Benneteau, against whom he holds a 2-0 winning record.

Yeshayahu GinsburgJo-Wilfried Tsonga. Dark horse is a relative term, because the fact remains that in men’s tennis today it’s the top 4 and then everybody else. Nadal is out, so the odds of anyone but Murray, Federer, and Djokovic winning are incredibly low. But if I had to take someone from the field, I’d go with Tsonga. The AO is historically his best Slam and Federer is probably the one of the top 4 he’s most comfortable against in a quarterfinal. The fact that his draw is not particularly challenging until then helps too.

David KaneTommy Haas. The German has had more lives than a cat as he enters 2013 in the midst of his third career. With a pretty nice draw that pits him against a tournament’s supply of wild cards and a pair of Frenchmen, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Haas could keep things interesting for nostalgic fans that remember the German’s glory days. Should he make the second week, he could get a war-weary Roger Federer, who has more than his fair share of tough opponents early on. It might not be too late to party like it’s 2002.

Andrea LubinskyRichard Gasquet. Perhaps it’s a risky pick, at 26, it’s unlikely the Frenchman will all of the sudden start to consistently maximize his talent. However, after hitting a career high of No. 7 in 2007, Gasquet is back in the Top 10. He’s already 5-0 this season after winning his eighth career title, in Doha. His draw isn’t exactly a cake walk, but that backhand should get him to Week 2.

Chris SkeltonMilos Raonic. His towering serve makes him a threat in any draw on any surface, and he nearly toppled potential fourth-round opponent Federer on three occasions in 2012, losing two final-set tiebreaks and a 6-4 final set. Raonic will need to win his previous matches efficiently, something that has troubled him before but certainly within his abilities considering his accommodating draw.

Evan ValeriRichard Gasquet. Winning a three set match against Davydenko in the Doha final to start the year, had Richard fist pumping left and right. Looking reenergized and in a favorable section of the draw, Gasquet is poised to make a deep run during the first major of the season. Look for a potential quarterfinal match up between the current world number ten player and Roger Federer.

Maud WatsonJuan Martin del Potro. Assuming anyone outside of the Big 4 is a dark horse, Delpo is in with a real shot.  He had two big victories over Federer at the end of last season and gave Djokovic all he could handle at the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals.  He’s looking an awful lot like that guy who won the 2009 US Open, and let’s not forget that he is the only one outside of the Big 4 to have won a slam in over half a decade.

Seeded Player Crashing Out Early

CvitkovicFernando Verdasco. Sadly, “Fer” has become my go-to player for crashing out early in Slams. But this time the strengths of his first round opponent, David Goffin, warrant it. The two have never played each other, and though Goffin’s best Slam result came in the fourth round of Roland Garros last year, the young Belgian has had consistent results on the hard courts as well. Fer had a nice showing in Hopman Cup the other week, but we all know those good results come in all too-short bursts for him.

GinsburgJanko Tipsarevic. Nothing against Janko here, but there is no tougher atmosphere in tennis than playing against Lleyton Hewitt in Rod Laver Arena. Hewitt will feed off the crowd and will give Tipsarevic the match of his life. And even if Janko gets through this, it will be physically and emotionally draining, possibly leading to potential problems in his next few matches.

PentecostAlexandr Dolgopolov. His encounter with Gael Monfils may well be the match of the first round, but I suspect it’s one the Dog won’t survive intact. This will of course depend on Monfils’ recovery from Auckland. I also doubt whether Juan Monaco will get past Kevin Anderson in the second round.

SkeltonJanko Tipsarevic.  The second-ranked Serb doesn’t have as many weapons as the rest of the top eight seeds and never has left an impact on Australia other than a first-week epic against Federer in 2008.  He may find himself in trouble against Hewitt in his opener, for the Aussie crowd always galvanizes their champion, but Tipsarevic’s section also includes rising young stars like Janowicz and Dimitrov who look ready to take the next step.

ValeriMarin Cilic. The fourteen seed will lose in the first round to Australian Marinko Matosevic. The two played a tough five setter at the U.S. Open last year where Cilic came out on top but don’t expect the same result this time. Cilic is off to a so so start of the season, losing to Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals of Chennai. The 2012 ATP Most Improved Player of the Year will beat Cilic and advance to the second round.

WatsonJuan Monaco. Monaco was actually given a decent draw, but a hand injury that took him out of the Kooyong Classic has certainly hurt his chances.  Now even his opening match against Kuznetsov is a tricky proposition, and a possible second round encounter with South Africa’s Kevin Anderson may be all she wrote.

First Round and Potential Second Round Matches to Watch For

CvitkovicGael Monfils vs Alexandr Dolgopolov. Though a first-rounder, this match has the potential to be a highlight of the tournament. Both players employ vastly unorthodox playing styles and they will run each other down until someone lands in the hospital. Be certain there will be plenty of diving, slicing, acrobatics and “Ooo’s” and “Aaa’s” from both the audience and the players. I recommend this match over any quarterfinal matchup of the top eight, and that’s saying something.

KaneRobin Haase vs. Andy Murray. That this rematch is nigh may only serve to prove that the end of the Mayan calendar was not so much wrong as they were merely a few weeks late. I was in Armstrong Stadium for the last three sets of their US Open 2011 encounter, which has a similar effect to admitting that one was in the eye of Hurricane Sandy. Murray had seemingly righted the ship after falling two sets behind, only to suddenly take his foot off the proverbial gas pedal within feet of the finish line. Buoyed by support from perennial Armstrong courtside ticketholders (who are usually the ones behind the unnerving “What time is it? Break time!” call and response), Haase took advantage and nearly took the match before Murray once again regained composure. Can these two recreate the magic in the crazy bottle? Can you resist finding out?

PentecostJanko Tipsarevic vs. Lleyton Hewitt. This is sure to be a night match, and here in Australia neither effort nor expense will be spared in whipping the nation to a patriotic froth. It’s hard to see this one lasting less than five sets, or finishing before 2am, which history has shown to be Hewitt’s preferred timeframes.

Skelton: For tennis reasons, Julien Benneteau vs. Grigor Dimitrov.  The Sydney semifinalist faces the Brisbane finalist in an match that pits two hot hands at opposite ends of their careers.  Also featured here is an intriguing contrast in styles between the streamlined two-handed backhand of Benneteau and the graceful one-handed flick of Dimitrov, often compared to Federer’s backhand.  For the best atmosphere in a first-round match, though, nothing  will top Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic, which seems destined for a Rod Laver Arena night session.

First Round Upset Special

CvitkovicLleyton Hewitt d. Janko Tipsarevic. This may be a bold prediction given Tipsarevic is sitting nicely as the 8th seed and Hewitt is ranked 82nd, but Hewitt can surprise anyone, anywhere, and especially on his home turf. Though Hewitt leads their head-to-head 3-1, the two haven’t played since 2009, so dynamics have completely changed. If Hewitt doesn’t pull off the upset, you can be sure it’ll at least go the distance with five sets.

LubinskyLleyton Hewitt d. Janko Tipsarevic. If there’s ever been a player who has played to their maximum potential, it’s Lleyton Hewitt. The 31 year old’s ‘never say die’ attitude makes him a difficult opponent regardless of his health and playing on his home turf seems to give him an extra kick. He’s made the fourth round in three of his last five appearances and has played some excellent tennis at the Kooyong Classic this week, which puts in him a prime position for the upset.

PentecostGrigor Dimitrov d. Julien Benneteau. Dimitrov seems congenitally incapable of playing well for consecutive weeks, but the bad news for Benneteau is that the young Bulgarian got his bad week out of the way in Sydney. Benneteau on the other hand went deep in Sydney, and may balk at a best of five in the Melbourne heat.

Skelton: Gael Monfils d. Alexandr Dolgopolov.  The Frenchman with talent in spades and consistency in spoonfuls moved back into the fringes of relevance with a series of solid victories in Doha and Auckland.  Meanwhile, the mercurial Dolgopolov struggled even against anonymous opponents at every major last year, needing a fifth set to escape the first round here against the world #198.  If Monfils starts well, his opponent may lack the resilience to launch a counterattack.

ValeriGrigor Dimitrov takes down number 32 seed Julien Benneteau. Grigor started the year by taking down seeded players Raonic, Melzer, and Baghdatis to reach his first ATP final in Brisbane, where he lost a tight two setter to Andy Murray,  6-7, 4-6. With new girlfriend Maria Sharapova in his corner, Dimitrov is on a roll to start 2013. This kid has loads of talent and is backing it up by playing smarter than ever, which will prove to be too much to handle for 31 year old Benneteau.

Semifinalists

Cvitkovic: I like to take risks in Slam draws, but with Rafael Nadal out of the loop, the draw gods have been nice to the top eight seeds, and I’m expecting the majority of them to make the semifinals. Djokovic will take on Berdych, while Ferrer will battle compatriot Almagro in the top half. The bottom half will most likely see Del Potro taking on Murray in one semifinal while Tsonga will battle Federer in the other.

Ginsburg: Well, I can’t be that boring with this pick. Then again, in today’s ATP world, not going with the obvious choices at the top is usually just silly. But there are a few potential surprises in the draw. I will take Tsonga, Murray, Djokovic, and Kei Nishikori as my semifinalists. Kei has a 2-1 career head-to-head against Ferrer and I think that Tipsarevic loses early. Nishikori also has the power to overpower Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals. This would be a perfect draw for Lleyton Hewitt to make one final miracle run through, but he just doesn’t have the legs to play that many matches anymore. I think Nishikori becomes Japan’s first Grand Slam semifinalist in recent history.

Kane: Djokovic/Ferrer. Despite the loss to Bernard Tomic at Hopman Cup, there’s no reason to believe the No. 1 seed won’t waltz into his third straight Australian Open semifinal (and beyond). That is, assuming he gets past Tomas Berdych. The one major stumbling block to the Big Four, Berdych does not fear the upset, but getting there may prove the bigger challenge for the inconsistent Czech, who lost to Roberto Bautista-Agut in Chennai (I’m forgiven for not knowing who that is, right?). Murray/Federer. Murray has his work cut out for him after an unconvincing (although successful) display in Brisbane two weeks ago, but aside from a potential run-in with Juan Martin del Potro, the Scot will have few problems en route to defending his semifinal points from one year ago. As for the Swiss Maestro, his draw is something of a minefield, littered with upset fodder like Nickolay Davydenko, Tomic, Milos Raonic. Even Lukas Rosol landed in Fed’s section! Yet, for all the talk about his age, Federer has rarely showed it in the first week, and unless Tsonga strings together a nice run, I can’t seen anyone posing a sufficient threat.

Pentecost: Novak Djokovic vs David Ferrer. If anything Ferrer has a cleaner run to the semifinals than Djokovic, although this depends on which version of Berdych shows up. Nonetheless, Djokovic should move through to the final in four sets at most. Roger Federer vs Juan Martin del Potro. I suspect Delpo will push deep here, and upset Murray in the quarterfinals. Federer’s draw is not kind, but he remains the favourite to make it through. I suspect the semifinal will come down to fitness, where the Swiss has the advantage.

Valeri: Novak Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer. I expect the big three to all make the semis, although Federer and Murray will have a harder route than Djokovic, with many potential four and five set hurdles along their way, whereas Novak should cruise. Tipsarevic is set to have a breakthrough and has some momentum coming in with a win in Chennai. He has a tough first rounder against home crowd favorite Lleyton Hewitt, but should get through it and advance to the quarterfinals where he will defeat the number four seed David Ferrer.

And the Winner is …

CvitkovicNovak Djokovic. I can’t really go against the Serb who is the favorite and defending champion. Hard courts are clearly his expertise, though Berdych can prove his most likely nemesis in the quarterfinals. If Federer prevails over Del Potro in the other half, it will be the first time Djokovic and Federer will have met in the final of a Slam since the 2007 U.S. Open. It’s been a long time coming.

Ginsburg: I have to go with Novak Djokovic to three-peat here. Australia is his best Slam and, while he hasn’t been playing at his seemingly-invincible level in a while, he still is the man to beat here in Melbourne.

KaneNovak Djokovic. Ok, Nole fans; you can relax now (or at least stop flailing so violently). For the third year in a row, the Serb has started the year looking the fittest and making the strongest case for supremacy. Odds are strong that he will punctuate that assertion with a hat trick of Australian Open crowns. With Murray and Federer to duke it out in the other semifinal, Djokovic will only have to play one of them for the title, and likely relishes the thought of a rematch with Murray, the man who took his US Open title a few months ago. Had Murray shown more authority in Brisbane, it could have been a toss-up, but he still lacks that consistent killer instinct of his peers.

LubinskyNovak Djokovic. Djokovic/Murray may be the new big rivalry in tennis, but when it comes to the Australian Open, Djokovic is on top. He’s won this tournament three of the last five years, and after finishing runner up at the French Open and US Open, he’s likely to be hungry for another trophy to add to his collection.

PentecostNovak Djokovic. By this point one has to come up with good reasons why Djokovic won’t win his fourth Australian Open, and I can’t think of any. He appears supremely fit, calm, driven and in good form. Of course, Federer is still Federer, and he demonstrated amply last year that age has yet to weary him. On his day, he can still ascend to unplayable heights. But I still feel Djokovic, on blue plexicushion, has the decisive edge.

SkeltonNovak Djokovic.  He has won three of his five major titles in Australia and probably has played his most dominant tennis during those runs.  If playing 11 hours in two matches against Murray and Nadal doesn’t stop this man Down Under, it’s hard to think of anything short of an asteroid strike that will.  He also receives the softer side (e.g., the Ferrer side) of the draw, as though he needs any help.

Valeri:  Novak Djokovic. Djoker is in a great section of the draw and should make the final relatively unscathed. I have never seen a player who can will himself to victory as much as Novak. After a well rested off-season the worlds number one will be ready to fight off any challenges to his throne from Murray or Federer. The two time defending champ has great memories and too much support in Melbourne not to be crowned the 2013 Australian Open Champion.

WatsonNovak Djokovic. Murray ended up in Federer’s half.  Djokovic has won it the last two years.  Federer said that the current World No. 1 has been the best hard court player the last couple of seasons.  Is Djokovic a strong favorite to win the title and pull off the three-peat in Melbourne?  You bet!

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And there you have it: 8 of 8 Tennis Grandstand writers pick Djokovic as the heavy favorite. That’s pretty good odds for the Serb.

WTA Australian Open Visions: Predictions, Matchups and Winners

2012 Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka

January 12, 2013 — The tennis is kicking off it’s first Slam at the Australian Open on Monday, and we have your one-stop analysis on the women’s draw. Our dedicated panel of Tennis Grandstand writers have addressed hot topics, including dark horses, seeded players crashing out early, first round upsets, and potential semifinalists and champion for the women’s tour.

Also, make sure to check out our Australian Open men’s draw preview here!

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Dark Horse

Melissa BoydAgnieszka Radwanska. I am not sure if a Top 4 seed can be considered a dark horse, but Radwanska is my pick. With all of the title talk focused on the WTA’s big three of Azarenka, Sharapova, and Williams, Radwanska is the forgotten one. She arrives in Melbourne undefeated on the season, winning a pair of titles in Auckland and Sydney without dropping a set. She also finds herself on the opposite half of the draw from Azarenka and Williams. Can Aga be the new Vika of the 2013 Australian Open summer and potentially shock everyone en route to her first Grand Slam title?

Victoria ChiesaMona Barthel. The German won her first career title in Hobart last year coming into Melbourne, and while unseeded, she made the third round before losing to Azarenka. Barthel’s a tricky case because she has all the talent in the world, perhaps the most talent of all the German players, but hasn’t seemed to realize that she has it. She had solid results at the beginning of 2012 before flaming out, and her bandwagon slowed down with her. She’s seeded this year so she’d be set for a showdown with Agniezska Radwanska in the third round. She had match point against Radwanska in Montreal last year and lost, but she might be ready to turn that result around this time. However, I could also see her flaming out to Ksenia Pervak in her opener.

David KaneSvetlana Kuznetsova. That “Can’t bet against her, can’t bet on her either” mentality often attributed to Serena Williams applies double for the Russian, who is not only the last teenager to win a Grand Slam at the 2004 US Open, but also the first defending champion to lose in the first round a year later. Forced to play qualifying in Sydney after a 2012 filled with injuries, Sveta proved she could do some real damage with a couple of winnable matches under her belt. Her draw in Melbourne allows for the same scenario, with Su-Wei Hsieh her first potential seed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the resilient Russian in the second week.

Andrea LubinskySloane Stephens. It’s just a matter of time before the young American has a breakthrough at a Slam, and the Australian is notorious for surprises. The 29th seed should have no troubles in her first two matches, but things could get tricking in Round 3 where she’s slated to meet Petra Kvitova, or possibly Laura Robson if she pulls off the upset. If she makes it through that, she could potentially fight her way into the quarterfinals.

Jesse PentecostAna Ivanovic. Wealthier people than me have gone broke gambling on Ivanovic, but I can’t see that certain penury is any reason to lose faith. It helps that she was in fine form in Perth last week, and has wisely landed in a relatively benign section of the draw.

Chris Skelton:  Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  The Brisbane finalist knocked off two top-eight opponents to start the new year, a dramatic break from her struggles last season.  She cannot face a contender more plausible than Wozniacki or Errani until the quarterfinals, which in itself would mark an overachievement for a 24th seed.  And she has won sets from Azarenka on hard courts before, so who knows how far she can go if her confidence builds through the fortnight?

Maud WatsonVenus Williams. The No. 25 seed seems to be playing with renewed hunger, and after a successful stint in Hopman Cup, she’s primed to make a good run in Melbourne.  The most fearsome opposition in her quarter is a Maria Sharapova who is coming in cold off an injury.  If the American can find a way to sneak through to the semis, her experience as a 7-time major champion might just carry her to her first title Down Under.

Seeded Player Crashing Out Early

BoydPetra Kvitova. Kvitova’s preparation for Melbourne wasn’t great and she appeared to struggle with the heat in her lead-up tournaments. After playing lights out tennis heading into the U.S. Open last year, it appears that the Czech’s game has deserted her again and the draw gods in Melbourne did her no favours. She is slated to face Francesca Schiavone in the first round in a battle of struggling former Grand Slam champions.

ChiesaCaroline Wozniacki, Samantha Stosur or both. Wozniacki’s got a brutal opening round draw against Sabine Lisicki, but Stosur crashing out early can almost be considered a sure bet at this point. She had surgery to remove a bone spur in her right ankle prior to the start of the year, and dropped both her matches in warmup events to Sofia Arvidsson and Zheng Jie. She’ll open against Kai-Chen Chang which seems harmless enough, but Chang defeated Stosur in a third-set tiebreak in Osaka at the end of 2012. Even if Stosur gets past Chang, she could have Zheng awaiting once again in round two. She hasn’t defeated a top 50 player at the Australian Open since 2006. Also, Angelique Kerber should keep an eye out for a potential looming second round against Lucie Hradecka. If she’s on her game, while that’s a big if, the Czech is capable of cracking the ball harder than anyone on the WTA and can snatch proceedings right out of the German’s hands.

KanePetra Kvitova. No, Francesca Schiavone will probably not beat the struggling Czech in the first round. But talented youngsters Laura Robson or Sloane Stephens are more than capable of pulling off the upset over Kvitova, whose draw only gets tougher with potential fourth round clashes with Nadia Petrova and Serena seeded (and looming) in the quarters. Kvitova could click and run the table as she has done in the past, but a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Dominika Cibulkova in Sydney, one that saw “The” Petra hit 35 errors, leaves the scent of blood in the water for the rest of the competition.

PentecostSamantha Stosur. There are few outcomes more wearyingly certain than Stosur falling early at the Australian Open, done in by a lethal cocktail of overwhelming crowd support and an opponent in rare form. In the second round she’ll likely meet Jie Zhang, to whom she just lost in Sydney.

SkeltonSamantha Stosur.  The Aussie simply can’t handle the pressure of playing on home soil, where she has lost six of her last seven matches and both matches this year.  Her recovery from a bone spur in her ankle may hamper her already indifferent mobility.  I nearly chose Petra Kvitova, though, who has lost seven of her last ten matches overall, tends to wilt in the heat, and struggled to find the court for long stretches in her woeful losses at Brisbane and Sydney.

First Round and Potential Second Round Matches to Watch For

BoydSabine Lisicki vs. Caroline Wozniacki. This match up jumped off the page when I was going through the draw. I didn’t think this could be a possible first rounder until I realized that Lisicki isn’t seeded, which is another shocker. These are two players at a crossroads in their career and have a lot to prove to themselves and the tennis faithful. A win for either would be just what the doctor ordered while a loss will sink one of them even further into their slump.

It should be a great first week of matches on the ladies, especially if the potential Venus Williams – Sharapova and Ivanovic-Jankovic third round encounters materialize. Get out your popcorn, need I say more?

ChiesaYanina Wickmayer vs. Jarmila Gajdosova. I wrote about Gajdosova’s road to redemption after a brutal 2012 last week, and she was dealt a tough opening round test. 20th-seed Wickmayer is in good form in the early season and proclaims herself healthy after dealing with back issues for the past 18 months. These two faced off in a night match in the same round on Rod Laver Arena in 2011 where Wickmayer prevailed, 63 26 64. The Belgian leads 3-1 in the head-to-head, but all three of the pair’s meetings on hard courts have gone three sets; Gajdosova’s lone win was a three-setter in Indian Wells last year.

KaneYulia Putintseva vs. Christina McHale. The two have never played before and the winner would likely play No. 7 seed Sara Errani in the second round, but best believe that this will be a cracking start to the year’s first Slam. Spitfire Putintseva gets the best of both worlds for her main draw debut: facing an American, she will likely get the ESPN treatment (fingers crossed for a courtside Pam Shriver), but facing an unseeded American means an outer court that Putintseva will turn into a Greek amphitheater, complete with special effects and multilingual affirmatives. Regardless of the result, high-octane entertainment is guaranteed.

PentecostCaroline Wozniacki vs. Sabine Lisicki. Lisicki was the floater the seeds least wanted to encounter. Conversely the German doubtless hoped for a kinder initial opponent than Wozniacki, for that she is now making eager sounds. Let’s just say that neither of them will be truly pleased to see the other, and that their combined outrage should guarantee a first-rate first round match.

Skelton: Melanie Oudin vs. Laura Robson.  A former prodigy from one Slam nation faces a current prodigy from another Slam nation in a battle of Oudin’s counterpunching against Robson’s lefty firepower.  Curiously, both upstarts broke onto the international scene with quarterfinal appearances at the US Open (2009, 2012) highlighted by first-week upsets over a former US Open champion (Sharapova, Clijsters).

First Round Upset Special

BoydKimiko Date-Krumm over Nadia Petrova. It is impossible not to root for Date-Krumm as she continues to defy father time on the tennis court. Even though Petrova finished 2012 playing some of the best tennis of her career, she is always susceptible to an upset and Date-Krumm’s style of play is not the best match up for the Russian. Not to mention that it will be entertaining to watch these two veterans battle it out regardless of the result.

Chiesa: The obvious choice is Sabine Lisicki d. Caroline Wozniacki, but I’ve gone a different route. While everyone’s looking forward to a potential third-round clash between Sharapova and Venus Williams, she could have her hands full with Galina Voskoboeva in the first round. The Kazakh reached the third round last year and her propensity to use the big serve, drop shot combination could pose some difficulties for Venus on a hot day Down Under.

KaneElina Svitolina d. Angelique Kerber. Rumor has it that Kerber is coming down from the dizzying heights she reached in 2012. Her middling results at Brisbane and Sydney would appear to confirm such a rumor. Meanwhile, Svitolina is quick on the ascent, capping her season with a WTA125 title. Another member of Generation Spitfire (one that includes Putintseva and Irina Khromacheva), Svitolina isn’t as undersized as her contemporaries, but matches their heart and determination. Clutch in tight moments, Svitolina was impressive at the US Open, winning three tough qualifying matches and playing Ana Ivanovic tough in her main draw debut. This would be her biggest win to date and Kerber’s consistency is unmatched, but if it gets to a third set, don’t underestimate Svitolina in a shootout.

PentecostFrancesca Schiavone d. Petra Kvitova. Kvitova’s first round loss in Sydney was so comprehensive that no positives emerged intact, and she was barely better in Brisbane. She is notoriously unsteady in the heat, while Schiavone relishes nothing more than an extended set-to in a broiling stadium.

Skelton: Sabine Lisicki d. Caroline Wozniacki.  The former #1 emitted next to no confidence or tactical clarity in early losses at both Brisbane and Sydney that recalled her dismal 2012.  And the pressure of defending quarterfinal points won’t help her cause in a first-round match against Sabine Lisicki, whose booming serves have stifled the Dane’s retrieving before.

Watson: Kimiko Date-Krumm def. Nadia Petrova. The Russian may have had a good end to 2012, but she got dumped out of her opening match in Sydney last week.  She’s always been a head case, so if Date-Krumm can mix it up with some consistency, Petrova might just self-destruct.

Semifinalists

Boyd: Azarenka vs Williams and Na Li vs. Sharapova – I don’t see anyone knocking out the top 3 before the semifinals even though Sharapova comes in nursing collar bone injury and without any match play. Azarenka has a tricky first rounder against Niculescu, but it should be smooth sailing after that until she gets to Serena who has few obstacles in her section. Li is a former Australian Open finalist and a quarter-final against Radwanska would be awesome theatre.

Chiesa: I expect the top half to go with seeding, meaning we’ll get yet another meeting between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka in Australia. The bottom half is tougher to call. There are question marks surrounding Sharapova coming off of injury. Radwanska’s in hot form, having taken both warmup titles in Auckland and Sydney, but I’m concerned she overplayed coming into Melbourne. I’m going with Li and Kerber on the bottom half.

Kane: Azarenka/Williams. In the last year, the WTA suddenly became able to pair its always-entertaining first week chaos with quality second week match-ups and unsurprising champions. Serena’s draw is tougher than Azarenka’s, but Serena proved in Brisbane that she’s ready to play and unless Azarenka runs into a streaking Kuznetsova, a rematch of the US Open final is looking more than likely. Once there, look for Serena to punctuate her ascendency to the top spot with a decisive win over the Belorussian. Azarenka pushed Serena in Flushing, but the American never looked in danger in any of their other match-ups in 2012. Li/Sharapova. The Russian No. 2 has a potential third round match-up with Venus Williams, but no Serena, Azarenka or Kvitova in sight until the final, which bodes well for her chances. Meanwhile, Radwanska beat Li in Sydney only days ago, but the Chinesewoman has been in fine form with a Shenzhen title and much more experience in the later rounds of a Slam than the Pole. Sharapova still hasn’t played a match in 2013 no thanks to a collarbone injury, but her only matchplay a year ago was an exhibition loss to Elena Vesnina that led to a run to the final.

Watson: Azarenka vs. S. Williams; A. Radwanska vs. V. Williams. It’s hard to envision anyone stopping Azarenka and Serena from colliding in the semis.  The bottom half is harder to predict, but I’ll stick to my dark horse pick, Venus, facing off against Aga, who’s a perfect 9-0 in 2013.

And the Winner is …

BoydSerena Williams. I was going to pick someone else just to be different, but is impossible not to heavily favour Williams as she goes after another ‘Serena Slam’. It is hard to fathom that she has lost just one match since her shocking first round exit at the French Open last spring. Williams is on another one of her dominant runs, and the question should be how many games, not sets, or matches, will her opponents be able to win during this fortnight? Not many would be my guess.

Chiesa: Do you ever bet against a healthy, motivated Serena? Nah. Serena Williams d. Li Na in three sets.

KaneSerena Williams. There was once a time where the younger Williams sister was a volatile stock. Not anymore; after a traumatic loss to Virginie Razzano at Roland Garros, Serena hasn’t looked back and is not only looking to obtain the No. 1 ranking that many believe she already deserves, but is also in hot pursuit of a potential second Serena Slam, which she could clinch at the sight of her emotional nadir. A trio of tricky Russians awaits Williams in the second week (Shvedova, Kirilenko and Petrova) but during Week 1, a time when the American is traditionally the most vulnerable, few look capable of mounting a serious campaign. Such a narrative will likely continue until Serena lands her sixth(!) title Down Under.

LubinskySerena Williams. There’s no more dominant force in women’s tennis. When Serena Williams is healthy, she’s the one to beat, regardless of ranking. Ranked No. 3, she’s got her own section of the draw and a combined 25-3 head to head against the other projected semifinalists, not to mention she’s won this title five times.

PentecostSerena Williams. I admit picking the most accomplished player in the world to win a tournament she’s won several times before does not constitute a bold prediction, but you pick against Serena at your peril, especially if she’s in a vengeful mood. As far as I can see, every time she loses it’s an upset, even to those ranked above her.

SkeltonSerena Williams.  When did she last lose at an important tournament?  Clay aside, one would have to go all the way back to Miami, since when Serena has claimed titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open, and the year-end championships.  She looked surprisingly hungry in winning Brisbane to start 2013, and she holds massive winning streaks in her rivalries against the other two leading title threats:  Azarenka and Sharapova.

WatsonSerena Williams. She was a virtually unstoppable machine the second half of 2012 and with a win in Brisbane, looks much the same in 2013.  Few players can hang with Serena as it is, and if she’s playing her best, nobody in the field is going to stop her from hoisting that trophy.

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And there you have it, 7 of 7 Tennis Grandstand writers pick Serena Williams as the overwhelming favorite for the 2013 Australian Open.

Eugenie Bouchard eager for her next tennis transition

Eugenie Bouchard is ready for her first full year on the pro circuit.

By Melissa Boyd

Dec. 3, 2012 — Eugenie Bouchard has been on the Canadian tennis radar for almost as long as she has been swinging a racquet. Labeled early on as the potential ‘next one’ to follow in the footsteps of Carling Bassett-Seguso, Helen Kelesi, and Aleksandra Wozniak, Bouchard has begun carving her own path to greatness thanks to a breakout season in 2012.

The 18-year-old native of Montreal made history in July when she was crowned girls’ singles and doubles champion at Wimbledon, becoming the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Slam singles title. Bouchard actually won 19 consecutive matches this summer with her Wimbledon triumph sandwiched between titles at the ITF junior event in Roehampton and the $25,000 pro Challenger in Granby.

“Winning Wimbledon was a really tough tourney. It was a junior (event). I had the pressure all week. People expected me to win because I was playing women younger than me. So it was a big mental test and I was really proud that I was able to come through,” said Bouchard in an interview last week with a select group of reporters.

Many in attendance on Court 1 at SW19 were impressed with Bouchard’s poise and maturity in posting a convincing win over Elina Svitolina in the Wimbledon girls’ singles final on one of the biggest stages in tennis. She put her mental toughness on display at the Rogers Cup in Montreal when she out-toughed Shahar Peer, one of the best competitors in the women’s game, to earn her first Top 50 victory.

Perhaps the most impressive stretch of Bouchard’s year came during the Fall indoor season when she put her aggressive style of play on full display, reaching the final at the Saguneay Challenger and the following week winning her first $50,000 Challenger in Toronto. Bouchard suffocated her opponents with her offense-first mentality, losing just a handful of games en route to the title in Toronto and dominating Melanie Oudin in the Saguenay semifinals. The run secured her place in the Australian Open qualifying draw which will be her first Grand Slam as a pro.

“I had great coaches when I was young and they taught me to take the ball on the rise. I think that’s it really important in the women’s game,” said Bouchard. “Of course you want to hit fast, but you want to hit it early as well … Hitting it fast takes time away from your opponent.”

With 2012 now in her rear view mirror and the tennis world at her fingertips, Bouchard is ready to make the transition to becoming a full-time WTA pro in 2013. She is fully aware of the challenges awaiting her if she wants to prove that her 2012 campaign was no fluke.

“The top players in the world have a little something extra,” said Bouchard. “They don’t make mistakes and they don’t give you any free points, you have to earn them.”

Even though her career is just getting started, Bouchard is already turning heads off the court as much as she is impressing on it. Their obvious physical likeness and similar game styles have people drawing comparisons between the Canadian and her idol Maria Sharapova. Not to mention that Bouchard was recently chosen by Sharapova to wear her line of Nike tennis clothing. She is the whole package and her bubbly personality is a hit with fans. Even though it’s early, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement surrounding Bouchard and she knows that the onus is now on her to deliver on those expectations and send a message that the future is now.

“There is pressure from everyone around me, but I already put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Bouchard. “It’s nice to know that people think I am going to be good because that’s what I believe too, but I have to focus on what I have to do to become that player.”

Star tennis quartet face-off in Toronto

Radwanska, Raonic, Raonic & Williams Face-Off in Toronto

TORONTO (November 17, 2012) — Agnieszka Radwanska, Milos Raonic, Andy Roddick and Serena Williams didn’t disappoint the fans who went through the turnstiles on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to watch the second edition of the Sportchek Face-Off.

The exhibition event began with a fun celebrity doubles match pitting Team Canada – Raonic and Radwanska – against Team USA’s Roddick and Williams. The superstar quartet were joined on court by Canadian TV personality George Stroumboulopoulos, Bachelor Canada’s Brad Smith, CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon, and Adrian Grenier of Entourage fame. The recently retired Roddick joked about finally getting the chance to play alongside his compatriot after many years of campaigning.

“I couldn’t convince Serena (Williams) to play with me when I was actually good, but now that I suck she’s all about it,” Roddick said.

Next up was a rematch of this year’s Wimbledon women’s final between Radwanska and Williams. The Pole, who referred to Williams as a “grass tennis killer”, was able to impose her crafty game on the Canadian indoor hard court, en route to a 6-4, 6-4 win. This was a rare defeat for Williams, who has lost just one Tour match since falling in the opening round at Roland-Garros this spring. Despite winning Wimbledon, an Olympic gold medal, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships in Istanbul, the 31-year-old is focused on looking forward instead of back.

“I’m not a big reflector,” said Williams. “I always feel like I want to do more, I want to improve. Once you start reflecting … you can become really satisfied. For me, I’m always trying to do a bit better. I’ll have more time to reflect after my career.”

The evening concluded with the main event, a confrontation between two of the game’s biggest servers in Raonic and Roddick, who was making his first visit north of the border since 2009.  The former World No. 1 put his trademark humor and candor on full display in his return to Canada. He gave the crowd fits of laughter in the second set with his imitations of Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and John McEnroe. In addition to his talents as an entertainer, Roddick, who played his last professional match at the U.S. Open, showed that his tennis skills are still very much in tact defeating Raonic 6-4, 4-6, 10-7. The two players met once on the ATP World Tour, in the final at Memphis in 2011 which Roddick won in three tough sets. The American was full of praise for Canada’s highest-ranked singles player of all time.

“I like his (Raonic) game and I equally like the way he goes about his business,” complimented Roddick. “He’s very diligent and he has the hunger to get better and not be satisfied, which will serve him well.”

For Raonic, being able to host tennis royalty in his hometown for an event like the Face-off is an opportunity to grow tennis in Canada.

“There’s a lot of support, a lot of appreciation and interest in Canadian players, especially during Davis Cup,” Raonic said. “I think the kind of support we’re getting there is really amazing. It’s something we want to keep building up.”

In the first edition of the Face-Off held last November in Toronto, Raonic took on his tennis hero Pete Sampras.

Inaugural Raonic Race for Kids tees up Face-off weekend in Toronto

Andy Roddick & Serena Williams joined Milos Raonic at his inaugural Raonic Race for Kids event in Toronto.

By Melissa Boyd

TORONTO (November 16, 2012) — Two days after launching his foundation to support disadvantaged children, Milos Raonic hosted his first fundraising event, the Raonic Race for Kids, at the Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club with the help of a few Toronto celebrities and tennis stars.

A total of ten teams raised money to participate in the inaugural race and each drafted an honorary celebrity captain to join their squad, choosing from the likes of Raonic, junior Wimbledon champion Eugenie Bouchard, Daniel Nestor, former NHL player Brad Marsh, and Canadian Football League legend Damon Allen. “Romano’s Racers” raised the most  money through their fundraising efforts and were rewarded by having Raonic as their captain.

Teams competed in eleven three-minute challenges that tested both their physical and intellectual abilities including mini-putt, ping-pong, and making a puzzle. Creative costumes, a theme song, and an original name characterized each team.

The highlight of the evening came when Andy Roddick and Serena Williams made a surprise appearance to present prizes and a trophy to the highest scoring team. The winning team was “The Aces” captained by Toronto television personality Carson Arthur. The American super duo also joined Raonic for a Q and A session which covered topics like the trio’s big serves, trash-talking, and what Roddick has been up to since retiring from the game at the U.S. Open this year.

The first edition of the Raonic Race for Kids raised just over $160,000 which will be put towards the Milos Raonic Foundation and Tennis Canada’s “Let’s Make Tennis Matter for Kids” campaign. The Raonic foundation will create and support initiatives to reduce economic, physical, and other barriers that may prevent disadvantaged children from becoming healthy, productive members of society.

“Tennis has had a profound impact on my life in so many positive ways,” Raonic said. “Opportunities that were available to me as I grew up are not always as accessible to other children and youth and in many cases this is often due to circumstances that are completely beyond their control.”

Raonic, Roddick, Williams, and Agnieszka Radwanska will take part in the Sport Chek Face-off tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

 

Novak Djokovic wins memorable season finale over Roger Federer

Novak Djokovic wns his second title at the ATP World Tour Finals

By Melissa Boyd

Novak Djokovic followed up his historic 2011 season with another stellar campaign in 2012 which he capped on Monday with a 7-6(6), 7-5 victory over Roger Federer to capture his second title at the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in London and finish as the World No. 1 for the second consecutive year.

In a fitting season finale between the top two players in the world, Djokovic and Federer both had moments of brilliance throughout the tightly contested affair including a brilliant backhand down the line winner from the Serbian on match point. The Swiss, who was looking for a record seventh title in eight final appearances at the Final Showdown, led by a break in both sets and appeared to be on his way to a comfortable win. However, Djokovic once again showcased his trademark resiliency and mental toughness to earn a straight sets triumph.

With his 13th career victory over Federer, Djokovic collects his sixth title of the season as well as his ATP-leading 75th match win. He also appeared in 11 finals this year at 14 of the top events on Tour and went undefeated for the first time at the Final Showdown which warranted him a $1,760,000 winner’s cheque and a 2,000 point lead over Federer in the world rankings.

This concludes another memorable season on the ATP World Tour. Just when it seemed like they couldn’t raise the excellence bar any higher, the “big four” of men’s tennis once again out did themselves. Despite coming up short in London, Federer added to his legendary legacy and proved that age is just a number, reviving his career with one his best seasons at the age of 31. He won his 17th Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon, an Olympic silver medal, and broke Pete Sampras’ record for number of weeks at no. 1, a milestone many felt was out of his reach. Andy Murray finally broke through in 2012, re-wrote the British tennis history books, and took the proverbial monkey off his back. He became the first British man in 76 years to win a Grand Slam singles title when he was crowned champion at the U.S. Open. The Scot also won the Olympic gold medal on his home court in London. Rafael Nadal may have only played the first half of the year, but the Spaniard still broke Bjorn Borg’s record by winning his seventh Roland-Garros crown. The game will be that much better when he returns healthy and rejuvenated in 2013. The “big four” won 14 of the 15 biggest tournaments this season with the exception being world no. 5 David Ferrer capturing his maiden Masters 1000 title in Paris. Add in names like Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Milos Raonic, and Kei Nishikori and 2012 will be remembered as unforgettable.

With so much excitement surrounding 2013 before the dust even has time to settle on the season that was, the good news for tennis fans is that the Australian Open is only 50 days away.

WTA’s elite eight ready for season finale in Istanbul

Victoria Azarenka

By Melissa Boyd

It is the reward for a year of excellence, earning one of the eight coveted spots in the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships in Istanbul. The places have been filled and the players have arrived ready for action to begin on Tuesday.

Given their form during the second half of the season, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams are the clear favourites in Turkey. Azarenka comes in on another impressive win streak, having won her last two tournaments in convincing fashion at Beijing and Linz. The Belarusian has locked up the no. 1 ranking for 2012 and would love nothing more than finish the year exactly the same way she started it, with a bang. Williams hasn’t played a match since capturing her second Grand Slam title of the year at the U.S. Open in September. The American hasn’t been much for late season tennis in her career, but her opponents know that she’s a serious threat every time her name is in the draw. Williams is a two-time champion of the Tour Championships including the last time she played the event in 2009 when she beat her sister Venus in the final.

Maria Sharapova should not be forgotten when discussing the title contenders. The Russian has arguably been the WTA’s most consistent player this year, winning 56 of the 66 matches she has played and reaching the quarter-finals or better in 12 of 13 tournaments. However, Sharapova’s 1-6 record against Azarenka and Williams this year will be a tough mental hurdle to overcome should she have to face one or both of the them this week. It’s amazing to think that the last time Sharapova beat Williams was in the Tour Championships final eight years ago in 2004.

There are five very good players with ambitions of taking down the ‘big three’ of women’s tennis in Istanbul led by defending champion Petra Kvitova who picked up the trophy in her first appearance. The Czech’s powerful game is made all the more lethal indoors. World no. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska has enjoyed the best season of her career in 2012, winning a career-high 57 matches. Na Li qualified for the second consecutive year while Angelique Kerber and Sara Errani will both be making their debut.

For the first time in WTA Championships history, the eight qualifiers represent eight different qualifiers, giving the prestigious season-ending event an unprecedented international flavour that showcases the true diversity of the game.

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