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The Aussie Swing

The Mighty Grigor

by James A. Crabtree

What we have learned Down Under, so far…

The Hopman Cup got the new tennis year started, even before the New Year had arrived.

Perth, the worlds most isolated city welcomed Tomic the Tank Engine who quickly became Saint Bernie after an impressive victory over a jet-lagged Djokovic. Still, it was a memorable enough performance by Bernard Tomic to inspire a tennis rich nation, starved of a real contender, to put their hopes in someone for the month of January.

John Isner looked rusty before he pulled out with an injury. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga looked confident and played aggressive focused tennis that would have pleased new coach Roger Rasheed. Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Haas both displayed improved physiques, sculptured during the off-season although they both may need a few matches until they find some form.

Surprisingly Spain took the spoils that included a diamond encrusted ball, much in part thanks to Anabel Medina Garrigues who only lost one match, that being in a dead group match versus Venus Williams.

Praise should be bestowed on Djokoic and Ivanovic who won the hearts of the Perth crowd, for their lighthearted manor and their attempt at Gangnam Style.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKVbgW0W5UI

Meanwhile the Brisbane Open had been playing out over on the other side of the country. This turned out to be a relative disaster for the home nation. Every Aussie player fell by the second round. Only qualifier John Millman, in his second round loss, showed true guts with a three set thriller against eventual champion Andy Murray.

Over on the women’s side Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig turned heads with the sort of hard hitting not seen since Seles. Although she lost to Angelique Kerber she is most certainly a player for the future.

Serena Williams won the women’s event in typically devastating fashion that we have come to expect from the most dominant woman on tour. She wasn’t however seen supporting her rumoured boyfriend of last year, and young riser….

‘Baby Fed’ Grigor Dimitrov, who is on the verge of getting a new nickname that has no reference to anybody but himself. His play this past week has been sensational, capped off by clear cut victories over Milos Raonic, Marcos Baghdatis and Jurgen Melzer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1fcT6N6AVo

In truth the final versus defending champion Andy Murray could have been a very different story after Grig-er Dimit-ederer (ok so that’s a poor nickname, help me here!) punished with his inside out forehand and his new and improved serve. The young Bulgarian took a 5-2 lead in the first set and had breaks in the second as we all wondered if we were witnessing the second coming of Fed.

Murray, who is wearing the tightest shirts seen since Borg this year, staged his usual counter-punching comeback every time he was counted out. Regardless, place a bet on Grigs the Great to be a top twenty player by the end of this year.

Up next is Sydney which was won last year by Victoria Azarenka and surprise winner Jarkko Nieminen. Oh yes midway through next week is the invitational AAMI Classic at Kooyong, where there is a strong rumour ol’ Mr Federer will be appearing for the first time since 2009.

 

Around The Corner: Sydney, Auckland and the Kooyong Classic

Juan+Martin+Del+Potro+Serbia+v+Argentina+Davis

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.

Apia Sydney International

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.

Heineken Open

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.

AAMI Kooyong Classic

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!

SERENA WILLIAMS IS A TORNADO

Ofcourse any tennis fan has heard of Serena Williams. No matter how you put it, she is one of the best tennis players ever. An impressive list of achievements and titles she was temporarily distracted by things outside tennis. And despite the criticism at that time from many tennis pundits, I think she has earned it to do some stuff offcourt.

When she made a comeback she did that with brute force and stylish play winning the Australian Open.

I wonder what this year has in store for her. I think that she has a serious shot at the title. Even though I want Sharapova to win, I still think that there is a very good chance of Serena winning the AusOpen 2010 title.

If there is one thing I have learned in the past few years is that you never ever underestimate Serena Williams. She is like a tornado, taking the titles one by one.

Enjoy the photos of her practicing in Sydney and the interview video of Serena and Venus!

[polldaddy poll=2537449]

ISNER, BAGHDATIS NET TITLES

Six-foot-nine inch John Isner fought off match point to win first ATP title beating five-foot-eight-inch Arnaud Clement 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (2) in the final of Heineken Open in Auckland. The 24-year-old Isner saved match point at 5-6 in the third set on serve and won the tie-break convincingly 7-2. After the final, the former University of Georgia All-American announced he would be donating $5,000 of his winner’s check to the Red Cross in its efforts to assist those affected by the recent earthquake in Haiti.

In Sydney, Marcos Baghdatis came back from a break down in the second set to overcome Richard Gasquet 6-4 7-6 in the rain-interrupted final. The Cypriot led 2:0 in the tie-break but served two consecutive double faults and lost seven straight points in all. Baghdatis won his fourth title in career and 15 out of last 16 matches, counting his triumph in Tashkent Challenger last year. “I felt great,” he said. “It’s my brother’s birthday, and I wanted to win for him also….So I’m very happy that I won today and can dedicate this win to him.”

GASQUET, BAGHDATIS, ISNER AND CLEMENT IN PRE-OZ OPEN FINALS

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”.

BAGHDATIS NETS REVENGE WIN OVER HEWITT

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.

JELENA JANKOVIC LOSES IN FIRST ROUND BUT STILL LOOKS GOOD ON PHOTO!

Jelena Jankovic has lost her first round match versus Agnes Szavay (5-7, 6-1, 7-5)  at the Medibank International in Sydney. It’s quite the surprise but judging from the scoreline, she really did try. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.  And hopefully she will do better at the Australian Open next week. Personally that’s what I am hoping for.

Anyway since we won’t get to see any photos of Jelena Jankovic anymore, unless it’s her training in Melbourne, I am just going to spoil you with the following images submitted to me.

As an extra added bonus I have added a photo of Jelena and Ana Ivanovic in bikinis.

Oh and I inserted another poll in this one too. Let us know what you think and cast a vote!

[polldaddy poll=2502576]

ELENA DEMENTIEVA INCIDENTALLY

I wish I knew then what I know now. That’s pretty much my opinion when it comes to Elena Dementieva. As I am writing this I am staring at her photos from the Medibank International in Sydney. Two photos in particular draw my attention. It’s the two dark shots.

In the meantime Dementieva has told the press that she found the Hopman Cup in Perth as an ideal preparation and a good way to get her going in the 2010 season.

“I had some good matches here, — singles and also mixed doubles — and it is good for your confidence to be playing real matches, but also to be able to relax and enjoy them,” she said.

“I think it was good preparation — we had done all the hard work already off the court.

“Now it is just about playing points and matches and feeling your game.”

I am seriously hoping that she can win a slam this year. I know her nervosity on critical moments is a problem but I am hoping she will get over it. In my view she should have won a slam many moons ago.

I am actually even going to insert a little poll here, just because I am curious about your opinions. Will Dementieva ever win a slam before she retires? Cast your votes after the photos!

[polldaddy poll=2502519]

GASQUET TOPS LOPEZ; MAYER SAVES FIVE MATCH POINTS

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.

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