Friday, 15 December 2017

Tennis back in a fortnight

Enough of no top level tennis - the ATP and WTA tours are about to resume for 2018 and Brisbane has attracted a sensational field in both the men’s and women’s events.

Starting on 31 December with qualifying, Australians will enjoy the following stars:

Raval Nadal - World number one and two time GS winner in 2017

Grigor Dimitrov - World number three and winner of the 2017 ATP Finals 

                                  He is the defending champion 

Andy Murray - World number one in 2017 until injury struck

Nick Kyrgios - Australia’s excitement machine 

Kei Nishikori - previous top 5 player returning from injury

Milos Raonic - previous top 5 player also returning from injury

Garbine Muguruza - World number two and 2017 Wimbledon champion

Karolina Pliskova - World number four and defending champion

Elina Svitolina - World number six and winner of 5 titles in 2017, including 3 Premier 5

Caroline Garcia - World number eight and winner of both a Premier Mandatory and a Premier 5 title in 2017

Johanna Konta - World number nine and winner of 2 titles in 2017 including the Miami Premier Mandatory

Kristina Mladenovic - World number 11 and winner in St Petersburg 2017

Sloane Stephens - World number 13 and 2017 US Open Champion

Anastasija Sevastova - World number 16 and winner in Mallorca in 2017

Ash Barty - World number 17, top Aussie, and winner in Malaysia in 2017

Additionally we have previous GS champions Petra Kvitova - Wimbledon 2011 and 2014 - and Samantha Stosur - US Open 2011.

There are 12 of the worlds top twenty women competing in Brisbane, making it one of the strongest fields in the event’s history.

The WTA tour also kicks off in Shenzhen on 31 December with qualifying.

The tournament highlights World number one Simona Halep, who was runner up at Roland Garros in 2017, but captured the Madrid Premier Mandatory title for a second successive year.

Jelena Ostapenko, who defeated Simona at Roland Garros this year to win her maiden GS title, will be another star attraction at Shenzhen, as will 5 time major winner Maria Sharapova.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

France wins 2017 Davis Cup

The 2017 Davis Cup was a thriller, with neighbours France and Belgium fighting it out to the very last match

First up, and pivotal, was the battle between David Goffin (fresh off his excellent ATP Finals performance) and Frenchman Lucas Pouille.

In an otherwise even opening set, Goffin had a much better percentage of points won on first serve and converted the only break point of the set. 7-5 and that was as close as Pouille would be for the match.

Goffin broke twice in each of the next two sets and never faced a break point on his serve throughout the match which he won 7-5 6-3 6-1.

It only took Jo-Wilfried Tsonga an hour and 46 minutes to level the ledger - the Frenchman thrashed Steve Darcis 6-3 6-2 6-1. He was especially dominant in sets two and three, losing only two points on his serve in that period.

Like Goffin, Tsonga faced no break points in the match.

The doubles rubber, as in many Davis Cup battles, proved critical.

The French have had, until reasonably recently, the leading pair in the world - Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

With Mahut missing from this tie, Richard Gasquet joined Herbert to match up against Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore.

The French pair were overwhelming in the opening set, winning it 6-1, but were taken aback by the Belgian resistance in set two which was the leveller 6-3.

A third set tie break, won by Gasquet and Herbert seven points to two, was enough for them to proceed to a four set win and give France a 2-1 lead in the tie.

In the biggest match, the two winners from Day One were up against each other.

The opening set was close enough to require a tie break and Goffin eked out a win over Tsonga 7 points to 5.

Following that it was all Belgium and Goffin won 7-6 (5) 6-3 6-2.

The tie was 2-2 

The final match would decide the tie and Lucas Pouille and Steve Darcis were both looking for redemption following losses on Day One.

It was Lucas who fired up, destroying his Belgian opponent 6-3 6-1 6-0.

France had won its first Davis Cup since 2001.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Dimitrov wins ATP Finals

The season is over for ATP players and Grigor Dimitrov (6) has won the chocolates in the London ATP Finals.

He remained undefeated throughout, and overcame David Goffin (7) in an exciting final.

Neither player had reached these dizzy heights at the seasons end, indeed had never qualified for the elite eight.

To make the final, David Goffin did something he had also never dome previously - knocking over Roger Federer (2) - and this after dropping the opening set. Federer was undefeated and supremely confident, only four losses for the year.

Perhaps a touch of arrogance entered his game and Goffin lifted the overall quality and consistency of his output to pressure Federer into unusual numbers of unforced errors.

One break point was all it needed and Goffin had levelled the semi final at 2-6 6-3. He took the momentum straight into the decider and the pressure showed on Federer.  

Goffin again outgunned the 19 time major winner both on serve and return to break once from two opportunities and win unexpectedly but outstandingly 2-6 6-3 6-4.

Dimitrov won his semi final against Jack Sock (8), but also took three sets to do so.

In set one, despite a woeful conversion of points won on first serve, Sock smashed it on his second delivery, and pulled Dimitrov’s second serve to pieces, winning 10 of 13 points.

The set went to the American 6-4.

Set two must have been uninteresting for Sock because he didn’t win a game. Dimitrov definitely lifted his work rate, but winning 24 points out of the 33 played said a lot about Sock’s failings.

The return of the eighth seed to competitive tennis happened early in set three, but despite an excellent first serve points won percentage, he lost all points when relying on a second delivery.

Dimitrov pounced on one of two break points and Sock wasted all of three. The Bulgarian reached the final 4-6 6-0 6-3.

The final was a rematch of the round robin encounter in which Dimitrov thrashed Goffin 6-0 6-2.

This was to prove completely different.

All the first three service games were lost by the server, two by Dimitrov.

Goffin consolidated a lead 4-2.

However the eighth game was pivotal when the Belgian failed to nail his advantage and surrendered the break to the sixth seed.

The momentum switch was irresistible and Grigor won four of the remaining five games played in the set to win it from Goffin 7-5.

As in his semi final with Federer, David fought back against another Goliath in set two.

Seven aces and 14 of 15 points won on first serve made holding his serve more comfortable than in the opening set.

Still finding a way through the Dimitrov defence was difficult.

Finally, with a break point each, Goffin was the one to convert and push the match to a decider, the scoreline 5-7 6-4.

Returning the Goffin serve well and winning significant number of points was integral to Dimitrov collecting six break points.

Goffin was playing well enough to find four of his own.

Only one of those ten was,converted, and that was enough for Grigor Dimitrov to capture his biggest title of 2017.

Top ten at end of the year:

1. Rafa Nadal 10,645

2. Roger Federer 9,605

3. Grigor Dimitrov 5,150 (Highest career ranking)

4. Alexander Zverev 4,610

5. Dominic Thiem 4,015

6. Marin Cilic 3,805

7. David Goffin 3,775 (HCR)

8. Jack Sock 3,165 (HCR)

9. Stan Wawrinka 3,150

10. Pablo Carreno Busta 2,615 (HCR)

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Last four reached in the ATP Finals

The semi finals at the ATP Finals are confirmed after the last of the round robin matches were completed yesterday.

David Goffin (7) gave Dominic Thiem (4) a tennis lesson, beginning with a solid opening set in which his first serve percentage of 71 compared with Thiem’s unhelpful 46.

Despite this stat, Goffin only marginally out played Thiem, but in all facets of the game, appearing dominant throughout.

A 6-4 advantage quickly turned into a rout.

Thiem won only 43% of points on his serve in set two, and the most devastating factor was his inability to convert break points - zero from five, as against Goffin’s three from four.

The seventh seed, who only one match ago was thrashed by Dimitrov, did likewise to Thiem, returning serve with precision en route to a 6-4 6-1 success.

Goffin meets Federer in one semi final while Grigor Dimitrov (6) plays Jack Sock (8) in the other.

Dimitrov is in possibly the best form of any player in the whole tournament, including even Federer. He continued his undefeated dominance with a comprehensive dismissal of Pablo Carreno Busta in the final round robin match in the Pete Sampras Group.

Facing no break points, but taking advantage of five from ten chances of his own, led tthe Bulgarian to a 6-1 6-1 masterful display, with some of the finest shots seen in the tournament.

Dimitrov won twice as many points as his opponent in the match.

A win over Sock will move Dimitrov to number three in the world rankings.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Sock beats Zverev into semi final

The round robin matches have been completed for those in the Boris Becker Group at the ATP Finals in London.

After dropping the opening set to Marin Cilic (5) in a tie break, Roger Federer (2) came back strongly to win the next two 6-4 6-1 to preserve his undefeated status and ensure Cilic left the English capital winless.

That match had no effect on the semi final line up since Federer was already qualified.

The next match would determine who joined the Swiss master.and Alexander Zverev (3) played Jack Sock (8) for the spot.

Sock entered the clash in the peak of form, having won the Paris Masters 1000 title in the past week or so. He pipped the German in a competitive opening set, converting one of a number of break points available to both players. 6-4 and the early lead.

Zverev turned it around in set two, winning 70% of points on his serve, compared with 41% for Sock. Two service breaks for the third seed and the match was even.

Each player feasted on the second serve of the other in the deciding third set, assisting in five service breaks. Sock owned three of these, enough to claim the set, the match 6-4 1-6 6-4: and a semi final berth.

That is against Grigor Dimitrov.

The win takes Sock to a new career high ranking of eight, leaving the injured Stan Wawrinka at nine, dropping behind both Sock and Goffin because of his absence in this tournament.

One of the final round robin matches in the Pete Sampras Group will feature alternate player Pablo Carreno Busta battling Grigor Dimitrov (6) in effectively an exhibition since Dimitrov has already booked a semi final spot.

The other match between Dominic Thiem (4) and David Goffin (7) will see the winner take the fourth semi final spot and earn a clash with Roger Federer.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Dimitrov into ATP Finals semis

Sixth seed Grigor Dimitrov has joined Roger Federer in the semis of the ATP Finals in London after he dismantled David Goffin (7).

The Bulgarian was ruthless fro the outset, winning 86% of points on his serve in set one, and 63% of points on Goffin’s serve.

Three of seven break points were converted, while Goffin couldn’t manufacture a single chance.

6-0 was the scoreline and it didn’t improve much in the second set.

Dimitrov capitalised on two of four break points but Goffin failed to do anything with his only break point of the match.

Again taking significant skin off the Belgian serve, Dimitrov delivered the set with ease, and the match 6-0 6-2.

The live rankings now see Dimitrov jumping two spots to a possible career high of four.

Dominic Thiem (4) kept his hopes of a semi final spot alive by defeating alternate player Pablo Carreno Busta.

Rather than facing Nadal, it was the less imposing fellow Spaniard, but that still posed plenty of problems for the Austrian who was stretched to three sets.

Opening with a blistering 84% of points won on serve and facing no break points, Thiem raced to a 6-3 lead.

This was matched by Pablo who returned brilliantly in set two resulting in two breaks and a 6-3 for himself.

The decider saw Thiem gather seven break chances and weight of numbers told - two converted - and while Pablo squeezed a break of his own, it was insufficient.

Thiem won 6-3 3-6 6-4 and will play Goffin for the second semi spot from the Pete Sampras Group.

As we speak, Marin Cilic (5), winless so far, has taken the first set from unbeaten Roger Federer (2).

While the match has no bearing on standings in the Boris Becker Group - Federer already in the semis and Cilic unable to qualify - a win over the Swiss legend would be something for Cilic to take away from the tournament. A reminder of the semi final in the 2014 US Open, where his win over Federer was a prelude to the major win - the final against Nishikori.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Federer outlasts Zverev in London

The third day/night of the ATP Finals produced two three set thrillers and included a broken record.

First it was fifth seed Marin Cilic (5) against Jack Sock (8), both coming off losses in their opening matches.

It was Cilic who began best, winning 63% of points on his second serve in the first set compared to 25% for Sock.

Service was broken twice by Cilic and once by Sock, enabling the Croatian to take the lead 7-5.

Sock struck back hard, reversing the trend with points won on second serve, 64% to 23%.

Two breaks to none and the match was level.

An even third set, with a break each, meant that a tie break would determine the result.

Cilic led 4-2 but some aggressive and outstanding shotmaking from Sock saw him rattle off five straight points to steal the match 5-7 6-2 7-6(4).

Alexander Zverev (3) served it up to Roger Federer (2) after surrendering the close opening set to the Swiss star in a tie break 8 points to 6.

In set two the German young gun converted two of seven break chances , while Federer broke just once from two chances.

Federer was clearly angry and blasted Zverev off the court in set three 6-1, remaining undefeated and taking a spot in the semi finals.

31 points to 17 in the decider and Federer will compete in the semi finals at the season ending tournament for the 14th time in 15 appearances. He now has broken the record of Tiger Woods in terms of career prize money.