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By Thaddeus McCarthy
The NZ Festival of Tennis came to an end with John Isner prevailing in the Heineken Open final, 7-6, 7-6, over first time ATP finalist Yen-Hsun Lu. The first week of course finished with Ana Ivanovic overcoming Venus Williams. The Festival is my personal favourite of the NZ Summer of Sporting events. The weather certainly turned up for the 2 weeks, although I can remember one afternoon early on with the ASB Classic which wasn’t that great. Nevertheless the play was uninterrupted and the tournament enjoyed sell-out crowds. This posting will review the second week’s tournament and give a line-up and some predictions for the big one, the Aussie Open.
David Ferrer, the widely expected winner, bowed out in the semi-final to Yen-Hsun Yu. He said after that match that it was perhaps one of the worst performances of his career. You’ve got to think about comments in pressers like this that if they aren’t just a bit derogatory of the other player. Federer has been criticised in the past as coming off as a bit arrogant in his pressers. In Ferrer’s case at this time his error rate was very high, so this comment was probably justified. My golden boy from the last posting, Benoit Paire, bowed out in the second round. Arguably the match of the tournament was the Quarterfinal between Phillip Kohlschreiber and Isner, which had three tiebreaks and featured no breaks of serve. I have to say that Kohlschreiber was unlucky not to win that one, as his rallying was superior to Isner.
Going back to the Heineken final, once again Isner’s serve was on fire. At 2.06m tall he is known as having one of the best, if not the best serve on tour. Isner called the final match perhaps his best of the week (his serve was not broken once). First time finalist Yu played well, his one-handed backhand passing shot at the end of the second set (to save the second match point) was testament to that. He just played against a man in Isner who was really hitting his shots on the day. Isner did say after his semi-final, that without his serve he would not be ranked inside the top 500. His serve is just an example that to be ranked highly in this sport you do often need a big weapon. As mentioned in my last post, the winner of this fortnight’s Australian Open will be a player who has a weapon, one which will turn an over wise even match in their favour.
In my first ever posting on here, I predicted that we would see a Del Potro/Nadal final. I will not stick with this, as they have been slated to meet in the Quarter-finals. I will have to go instead with a Del Potro/Djokovic final. Juan Martin Del Potro has just downed Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the Sydney International final, and appears to be in top form. He will not doubt be one dangerous hombre in the Open. Djokovic has been handed perhaps the easiest draw of anyone in the competition. His first real test will come in the Quarterfinals, where he is expected to face-off against Stanislas Wawrinka, who took him too 12-10 in the fifth set (fourth-round) last year. He should come out of this Wawrinka match to take down Ferrer in the semi-final. The Del Potro/Nadal Quarter-final will be a match to watch at the start of the second week. That is assuming Nadal can get past a dangerous Bernard Tomic in the first round. Tomic is a player I have mentioned before as being someone with the potential to win a Grand Slam one day. I just don’t see it happening this year. Nadal I believe, will be too strong for him in the opening round.
On the women’s side I can just not go past Serena Williams this year. Her form with age just appears to be getting better and better and there seems to be no stopping her. She is not a particularly liked player by the tennis public, but you just cannot help but admire the power game she has brought to women’s’ tennis. The two players who I think could create some difficulty for Serena could be Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. Azarenka was dispatched in straight sets in Brisbane last week, and lost in three tight sets to Serena at US Open 2013. But she can cause the upset on the day. With Sharapova, although she has a terrible record against Serena, on her day an upset could happen. We just have to think back to the 2004 Wimbledon for an example of that. Azarenka and Sharapova are expected to meet in the semi-final, and I would hope that it is not a slug fest, which will leave the winner exhausted for meeting a fit and hungry Serena in the final.
All us sports fans have pet wishes which we hope will happen, but sort of know that they never will. Well, my pet wish for this Open is that Lleyton Hewitt will finally come through to win his home countries slam. Australia has not had a winner on the men’s side since Mark Edmondson won it in 1976; surprisingly with a world ranking of 212 (the lowest seed to ever win a Slam). Hewitt got close in 2005, when he reached the final, but other than that has not gone past the fourth round. The 05 Aussie had an incredible excitement about it, mainly thanks to Hewitt’s run on one side, and the Marat Safin machine on the other. It is in fact my all-time favourite slam, and featured one of my all-time favourite matches, the Safin/Federer semi-final. Hewitt’s win in last week’s Brisbane final against Federer definitely gave some hope that another dream run may again be possible. For the women, Samantha Stousur is my pet wish to be the winner. The women similiary to the men have not have had a winner since Chris O’ Neil in 1978. It would really generate some interest in the Open if we were having a couple of great local runs.
So there you have it. My predictions for the Aussie Open are for a men’s final of Djokovic/Del Potro, and a women’s final of Serena/ Azarenka. Although what I would like to happen is for a Hewitt/Del Potro final for the men and a Stosur/Williams final for the women. Having a surprising local run on one side, and a dangerous power player on the other would make this Open hugely memorable. Whatever happens though, this is a tournament I thoroughly look forward too every year, and it never disappoints in providing us with gripping moments. Watch this space.
By Thaddeus McCarthy
As I have just returned home from covering the ASB Classic, and the Heineken Open is already underway, I thought that now would be a good time to give you a summary of the Classic and an intro to the Open.
The ASB Classic was a fantastic six day event played at the ASB Tennis Centre, Auckland. It was (pleasantly) sunny, even though the forecast had predicted rain. The play did not disappoint, and from a personal perspective, as it was my first time covering a tournament, it was brilliant, and the experience certainly lived up to expectations. It was also the dream final, the one everyone had wanted from the start, Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic. Now sometimes these sort of the matches can be disappointments; like many of the long awaited finals in our sport e.g. any number of the Federer/Nadal French Open finals. But this was different; it was tight and the tennis was electrifying. In the first set, Ivanovic cruised to win 6-2. Venus saved a match point at 5-4 in the second set, and went on to win it 7-5. In the final set though Ivanovic’s younger legs proved to be springier. She caught a break at the early stages of the set, and did not let go from there, eventually prevailing 6-4, and taking the title.
Both Venus and Ivanovic said in the post-match interviews, that this tournament was the perfect preparation for the Australian Open. I think after watching both players, I would expect at least one of them to go into the second week there. They are both on comeback trails right now, but I think that Ana is the more likely one to do so. She has the younger legs, still only being 26. And has a number of weapons on disposal, such as a blistering ground strokes and strong service game. Whereas with Venus you have to say that age is catching up with her. The other player that most impressed me from the tournament was American Jamie Hampton. I was at the press conference where she announced that she was pulling out of her semi-final with Venus, due to a hip injury. Something about her struck me. She seemed in a way similar to the Mighty Fed, in that she spoke almost in third person. She seemed very sure of herself, and I am certain that if she gets over her injury in time, by the Australian Open she will do well. In her quarterfinal against Lauren Davis, I was impressed by the all-round strength of her game.
The NZ Festival of Tennis continues this week, with the Heineken Open. David Ferrer is the defending champion here, and has come back (now as the World No. 3) to defend his title. The other headline acts will be Tommy Haas and John Isner. Gael Monfils, the flamboyant Frenchman unfortunately pulled out this week citing fatigue. Being the first month of the year this is pretty doubtful, but understandable that if he is not feeling totally right, he doesn’t want to ruin himself for the coming Slam. The tournament organisers were in talks with Andy Murray’s manager about potentially getting him in on a wild card, after his early exit from the Qatar Open. Unfortunately though, this was not to be the case. In reality it was too much of a rush for Murray to suddenly come down here to play a tournament after his Qatar loss. Tournament Director Karl Budge insisted after the Murray and Monfils announcements that the tournament does still have some exciting talent, such as young American Jack Sock, not to mention Marcos Baghdadis, Benoit Paire and Phillip Kohlschreiber. Ferrer’s path to the title, will no doubt still be a difficult one, even without a Murray in his way.
As the Classic proved for the ladies, the Heineken Open will serve as a good preparation for the Australian Open, as that Slam begins on the 15th. If I were to predict a player from this tournament who has the potential to win it though, it would not be David Ferrer. Although he has a very high likelihood of winning the Heineken again, I just don’t think that he has enough firepower to win a Slam. Yes, he did reach the French final last year (where he was dually shellacked in straight sets by Nadal), but Slam winners traditionally need to have a weapon arsenal at their disposal. It is very uncommon for journeyman (such as Ferrer) to win Slams. One-Slam-Wonder Journeyman who immediately come to mind include Andrei Gomez (1990 French) and Thomas Johanseen (2002 Aussie). Now in both these cases they were lucky; in Gomez’s case, Agassi was more worried about his hair piece falling out than winning the final. In Johanseen’s case, he had a very favourable draw that year, and played the volatile and unstable Marat Safin in the final.
My pick for the surprise run of the tournament is Benoit Paire. He is a tall man, with surprising balance, and of course has a booming serve. Although he has not yet gone beyond the third round of a Slam, the Australian as we all know is notorious for unexpected runs. Marcos Baghdadis, 2006 anyone? Or how about Fernando Gonzalez, 2007, or Tsonga, 2008. All of those players had weapon arsenals; the Gonzalez forehand was, is still is legendary. Whatever the case though, surprise run or not, for all of the players involved in this lead-up tournament, the Heineken will be great preparation for the Aussie Open.
You will hear from me again at the completion of the tournament. So for now, keep well.
By Thaddeus McCarthy
By Dear Fans,
As I am sitting right now in the media box at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, I thought that now would be a good time to do some running commentary. Now obviously this article will come out after these matches have been completed, so this is out-of-date technically. But I feel that right at this moment this is a useful conversation to have.
As I write this, the match-up between Ana Ivanovic and Kurumi Nara, the world no. 16 vs no. 81, has just ended. Ana Ivanovic has taken the match 6-2, 6-3. The crowd seated, of which there is about 1,300, got to enjoy some wonderful rallies at the end of the match. A favourite of mine was one where Nara finished the point with a backhand drop volley. The match currently under way is between Lauren Davis and Jamie Hampton. Hampton would have to be the favoured one of these two, as she is about 40 ranks above her. Hampton has just broken Davis’s serve for the 2nd time, and the match stands at 5-1. The next match coming up is Garbine Muguruza vs. Venus Williams. No doubt who the crowd favourite will be in this one.
I think it is the common consensus with fans is that they do want to see a Williams/Ivanovic final, as these are the tournaments two biggest drawcards. There are many players who will be doing their best to stop that happening, Muguruza will be no exception. The top seed, Roberta Vinci was knocked out in the opening round by a largely unheard of player, Ana Konjuh. Seeing the form that Ana displayed in the last match I would highly expect her to reach the final stage. In the Hampton match currently into the second set, and with Hampton the superior player at this stage, I will assume that she comes out on top here. She will move on from this to face Venus in the semi-finals. Venus will find it tough going against Hampton, and I think we can look forward to a very good match tomorrow. In the other semi-final we will see Ivanovic face off against Kirsten Flipkens. My expectation for this match is that Ivanovic will come out ahead, watching the Flipkens quarter-final I noticed that she does not have a top spin backhand shot. I would think that this weakness could leave her open. Time will tell.
In the doubles, we are seeing a similar pattern emerging, although somewhat more pronounced. The top seeds, Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova were knocked out in the quarter-finals. The only one’s of the top four seeds remaining are the fourth seeds, Mona Barthel and Megan Moulton-Levy. Again, time will tell whether the top seeds can make it through to the final and become champions. Although I think that is good to have diversity when it comes to tournament winners on the ATP and WTA, I think it is also good to have a strong bunch of players at the top. Much of the hype around the men’s game currently has been to do with having the ‘Big Four’ rivalry. The problem with the women’s game worldwide currently has been that there is not really a strong group of players at the top. Lets hope that the womens game in 2014 will see a very strong bunch of players emerging at the top.
It is my hope that the ASB Classic will set the tone for a great year of women’s tennis in 2014!
By Thaddeus McCarthy
As I will be covering the ASB Classic in New Zealand for you all , I thought that now would be a good time to give you a rundown of what’s in store.
The tournament will run from the 30th of December, and the final will be played on the 4th of January. Current world no. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska is the reigning champion, but unfortunately will not be defending her title this year. The two big names that will grace the first event of our 11 month season will be Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams, both former number 1’s and Grand Slam winners. Venus is undoubtedly the bigger name of these two. Sister of Serena, 7-time Grand Slam Winner, 44 career titles and arguably the main reason why women get equal pay today. It is for this last reason that I have requested an interview with her. If I manage to get one, I will be sure to let you all know how it goes. Ana Ivanovic won the 2008 French title, and 11 career titles. She has had many struggles since then, dropping to No. 65, but she has since gone back up to No. 16. It will be one of the main interests of the tournament will be to see if she can regain some of her No. 1 form. Ana will arguably be the most keenly watched player, particularly amongst the boys, as she is definitely one of the better looking females’ on tour.
Some other very recognizable names include young Laura Robson from Great Britain, Yanina Wickmayer, Lucie Safarova, and Julia Georges. The latter three are all former top 20 players, and are seeking to regain some of their earlier form. Laura Robson is a promising teenager, and did reach a WTA final in 2012 in China. The expectations for her, mostly as she is the top ranked British female, are very high. Personally I like her playing style, and being a similarly tall individual, I hope she does well. Julia Georges is another tall player, who’s a big hitter and uses lots of top spin. Along with Ana she is another popular player on tour.
Players who I have requested interviews with, include (obviously) Venus, Yanina, New Zealander Marina Erakovic, and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. With Venus I will talk about gender equality in tennis, and by extension, in sports in general. She was instrumental in getting equal pay for women at the French and Wimbledon, as it was her essay which eventually swayed the debate. With Garbine I will (hopefully) discuss with her about the development of younger players in Spain, and how they are working to continue producing quality. Following on from this I will talk with Marina about the development of the game in New Zealand, and how we can start to emulate countries (such as Spain) in producing some more tennis stars. My talk with Yanina will be about how she plans to return to (near) the top of the game. If I manage to get an interview with Ana, my chat would be on the same topic.
Well, that’s the end of my discussion today; I would appreciate any suggestions you guys may have in regard to interview topics.
With just over a week until the start of the Australian Open, there is little time to tinker with one’s game for the first Grand Slam of the year.
While the top four players in the world will be taking the week to rest themselves in anticipation for a deep-run in Melbourne, there are plenty of other of the game’s great players who are in action.
The ATP has two tournaments, one in Sydney and another in Auckland, while the Kooyong Classic exhibition will boast a strong field as well. Here’s a closer look at what tennis fans can expect.
Juan Martin Del Potro starts his year in Sydney as the top seed. After making a strong return to the circuit last season following a wrist injury, the 2009 U.S. Open champion is ready to make some noise this year. Del Potro is certainly capable of challenging anyone in the top four and I would put him in the mix of the few serious contenders at the Aussie Open.
The Argentine could see Marcos Baghdatis in the quarters here and then Feliciano Lopez who is the fourth seed. I would however, put the winner of the first round match between Viktor Troicki and veteran Aussie Lleyton Hewitt to advance against Del Potro in this section of the draw.
Hewitt has won the even four times, in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Don’t expect a repeat as his career is clearly on the downward spiral and injuries have taken their toll on the two-time Grand Slam champion. This may be the last year we see Hewitt playing on the ATP Tour, so enjoy him while you still can.
John Isner from the United Statesis the second seed. Patrick McEnroe recently stated that he feels Isner has the potential to reach the top ten in the ATP rankings. While I do not see that as being a realistic assessment for the 6’9” Isner just yet, this guy is certainly a strong top-thirty player who can cause incredible damage on a hard court due to his imposing serve. It will be Isner’s first action of the year so it will be interesting to see how he comes out of the gate.
Isner could face either veteran Xavier Malisse or Radek Stepanek in the quarters and given his ranking he should be beating opponents like these. However, at this stage of the year anything is possible.
A likely semi-final opponent would be third seeded Richard Gasquet who had a solid week at the Hopman Cup where he defeated Fernando Verdasco, Lleyton Hewitt and Wu Di before falling to Tomas Berdych in the finals.
All-court wonder and the always hustling David Ferrer is the number one seed in Auckland. Ferrer started the year off by making the finals of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi and was the runner-up in that exhibition to Novak Djokovic. Ferrer starts his week off with a bye at the Heineken Open and will face the winner of the match between Albert Ramos and Lukas Rosol. In other words, a nice way to ease into the tournament.
Ferrer’s main opposition will be from third seeded Fernando Verdasco who has just competed in the Hopman Cup. There, the Spaniard defeated Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, knocked-off Wu Di of China 6-3, 6-4 and was beaten by Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-4. So essentially, he won the two matches he was supposed to win and could not find a way to be competitive against a solid opponent in Gasquet. Never any consistency with Fernando, but he has the tools to go deep in any draw.
The second seed here is Nicolas Almagro, but unless we’re talking about a clay court match I wouldn’t count on this guy to get too far. While he did make the semi-finals in Chennai, the field was rather weak and he was no match for Canadian Milos Raonic who took him out 6-4, 6-4.
Look for guys like Philipp Kohlschreiber, Donald Young and perhaps Sam Querrey to enjoy some success in this draw. It is nice to see Young seeded in the tournament (7th) and hopefully able to build on a nice season in 2011. There is still so much potential with the American and he still has many years ahead of him despite already being a presence on the ATP Tour for several seasons.
Always a high-quality exhibition tournament, the Kooyong Classic again boasts a strong field in 2012. Ten players make-up the draw that has both a championship and consolation side to it.
American Andy Roddick will be the most high-profile player involved and will make his season debut on the tennis court at Kooyong. Roddick’s buddy and current number-one American male tennis player, Mardy Fish, will also be present.
This year will be of the utmost importance to Roddick who struggled mightily a year ago. He needs to re-assert himself and prove to his fellow players that he is still relevant in the sport today. Usually a strong starter, Roddick will be one to watch closely here this week.
Continuing with North-American players, we have Canadian Milos Raonic who has just made the finals in Chennai. Raonic is going to be very exciting to watch this year, especially if he can stay healthy. This guy’s game is perfectly suited toWimbledonand it is no surprise that he grew up idolizing Pete Sampras.
The rest of the players here include Jurgen Melzer, Bernard Tomic, Tomas Berdych and recent Qatar finalists Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Of all the stops this week, Kooyong will be the one I’m most interested in due to its very strong field.
Keep checking back with us all week long for updates and check out my Twitter feed as well if you like. Only one more week until the first Slam of 2012 so we have lots to look forward to!
Richard Gasquet advanced to his first tournament final following his drug suspension and successful appeal, defeating Julien Benneteau 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals of the MediBank International in Sydney. Gasquet saved triple set- point in the second set and has yet to lose a set this week.
He will face Marcos Baghdatis, who overcame Mardy Fish 6-4, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5) after a three-hour battle. Baghdatis wasted a match point in the second set tie-break only to recover from a break down twice in the final set.
In Auckland, John Isner advanced to the final, defeating Albert Montanes 6-2, 7-6, one year after being Monanes 7-6 7-5 in the first round at the same event. The American giant meets next Arnaud Clement who surprisingly ousted the 2008 champ, Philip Kohlschreiber 6-3 7-6.
“I am very happy to be in the final again,” said Clement. “Since 1997, I have played between 23-30 tournaments a year and I have only been in ten finals, so of course it is special to be in a final”.
There are no seeds left after quarterfinals at Medibank International in Sydney as local favorite Lleyton Hewitt, the only seeded player in quarterfinals, was defeated Thursday 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to Marcos Baghdatis.
“The first set and a half I was hitting the ball pretty well, and I was happy with my ball striking,” said Hewitt. “Even after that, my ball striking wasn’t too bad.”
The match was a re-match of a famous match where Hewitt beat Baghdatis two years ago in Melbourne in latest finish match ever (4:34 AM). In the semifinals, Baghdatis will play Mardy Fish. The American ousted the other Aussie, Peter Luczak, 7-6, 6-2 in the night match.
In Auckland, Albert Montanes advanced to his first hard-court semifinal after 6-3, 6-3 over qualifier Michael Lammer. He meets next John Isner, who reached first semifinal outside United States by upseeting No. 1 seed Tommy Robredo 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4, recovering from 1-3 in the third set.
Wednesday was a “G’Day” for the home Aussies at the Sydney International. Lleyton Hewitt needed just 55 minutes to beat Andreas Seppi 6-0, 6-2 to advance into the quarterfinals. The win avenged a loss to Seppi in Sydney’s quarterfinals four years ago after wasting two match points; Also 30-year-old Aussie Peter Luczak reached first ATP-quarterfinal in his home country after 1-6 6-4 6-2 win over Tomas Berdych.
The Spaniards are the main force at the Heineken Open in Auckland where they comprise of the top four seeds. However, only two of them advanced to the quarterfinals. Swiss qualifier Michael Lammer, 27, advanced to the first ATP-quarterfianl when he led 3:1 in the first set when his opponent, Juan Carlos Ferrero (No. 3 seed), was forced to retire (sprained right ankle).
Richard Gasquet and Leonardo Mayer had salient wins on the opening day of the MediBank International in Sydney Monday. Gasquet, in his full comeback from battling cocaine drug charges last year, beat Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-4, while Mayer saved two match points in beating Igor Andreev 6-7(7) 6-3 7-6(4).
Gasquet extended his head-to-head record to 5-0 against the Spanish Davis Cup star. “I played well last year with semi-final in this tournament, so I’m happy to be here and to win the first match.” said Gasquet.
Mayer, from Argentina, handed Andreev his fifth defeat in a row in a final set tie-break and his fifth defeat after wasting match points in last 13 months.
In Auckland at the Heineken Open, only three matches were played on Monday. In one of them, hometown pupil, Jose (Rubin) Statham won his first career ATP match beating fellow New Zealander King-Turner 6-2 7-5.