Sunday, 26 January 2014

Men's Final - Rafa Nadal v Stanislas Wawrinka

The dream final for organisers before the draw came out was a Spanish player v Swiss star, and that is what transpired after 2 weeks of tennis.  That the Swiss representative would be Stanislas Wawrinka surprised most but he has proved to be popular with fans and the final featuring him and the world number one Rafa Nadal has provoked much interest.  It was going to be the debut for Stan in a final at this level, and for Rafa the opportunity to win his 14th such title, equalling Pete Sampras who just happened to be called upon to present the trophy once this clash was completed later in the night.
How much later?  Well much of the talk has surrounded Stan's defeat of the reigning champ Novak Djokovic in the quarter final, and how that gives him cause for hope in the final.  However there is the form of his rival to consider seriously.  It took Stan five tough sets to only just knock over a clearly, and by Stan's own admission, below par Djokovic.  Meanwhile on the other side of the draw, Rafa has had encounters with Nishikori and Dimitrov which he managed to win with his opponents playing possibly their best tennis, with only a single set dropped to Dimitrov.  Then he thrashed the by all accounts "back to his best" Roger Federer in the semi final just two nights ago.
All 12 meetings so far between Stan and Rafa have gone the way of Spain, and Rafa deserves to have hot favouritism, and also my selection as the winner of this years Australian Open.

Nadal won the toss and sent Stan to the pitchers mound to serve the first delivery of the final.
A long rally first up ended with a Rafa forehand hit long.  Same again for same result and 30-0.  Serving well Stan overcooked a backhand before Rafa's forehand went wide this time providing Stan with two game points, the first of which Rafa ended by shovelling a backhand into the lower part of the newly named Federer net.  Stan 1-0
Two over hit Swiss shots, a return of serve then a forehand, were combined with a wide return and Rafa had 40-0. A forehand cross court played by Rafa into the part of the court where Stan once was gave him the levelling game 1-1
Stan won the first point on his next serve with a telling forehand.  Another forehand forced Rafa to hit long and it was 30-0.  A loose backhand hit the net but a stunning forehand down the line, then a backhand to the same place promoted Stan to a 2-1 lead.
So far so good for Stan who was playing with a lot of flair, but also fairly accurately too.
A shocking attempt at a dropshot by Rafa received what it deserved - backhand cross court winner from Stan, who couldn't return the next one and it was 15-15.
Double fault from Rafa and then a backhand pass nearly knocking the racquet out of Rafa's hand - two break points.  A Swiss forehand forced another Spanish error and the first break surprisingly went against the top seed.
A backhand wide from Stan was helped by a big serve which didn't come back legally, then an ace which by definition just didn't come back.  Another of those ace things and a serve backhand volley combination consolidated the break and Stan led 4-1.
An angry forehand from Rafa pushing Stan into a mistake, followed by a stock standard Nadal forehand winner provided 30-0.  Luring Nadal to the wrong side of the court, Stan struck a backhand down the line for 30-30. Coming into the net Stan set up another break point once he had put away the simple backhand volley.  A timely serve of which Stan made a meal, plus a down the line backhand which missed for once, gave Rafa the game point.  A long long forehand reply from Stan changed the game score to 4-2 Wawrinka.
Stan served wide and going wider to give Rafa no chance then he came to the net again to put away the backhand volley winner.  A punishing forehand winner down the line raced him to 40-0.  A rare mishit gave a point to the charity case which Rafa had temporarily become.  An off forehand Nadal gem made it close, but Stan shut the door, no slammed the door in Rafa's face with a serve from which only Spanish tears could stem. 5-2 Wawrinka and Rafa serving to stay in the first set, and I can't believe I just typed those words.
Big serve first up had a nothing response, another had a far too big reply, a double fault just had a huge audience sigh.  An ace gave Rafa 40-15 Stan's final shot of the game was a forgettable forehand out of court and he would go to the line to serve for the set.
A mishit which looked like an on drive for six plus a Rafa forehand winner down the line, and a forehand winner cross court from the same racquet had Switzerland struggling at 0-40.  Rafa failed to return the next one, and he returned another two too long.  Deuce arrived just in time for Stan.  Set point arrived soon after when Rafa insisted that the court was not big enough for the shots he wanted to hit.
Stan aced the top seed to take the set in the best looking way possible. 6-3
Bookies smiled.  Coming to the net and serve volleying just a little to mix up the game - at least one Swiss player had been listening to Stefan Edberg!
Two blistering Swiss groundstrokes for winners had Nadal quivering at 0-30.  As Rafa found the net for 0-40, and a time violation was called, Stan was winding up for a backhand return which he delivered at such a speed that the ball was past Nadal almost before he had completed his ball toss.  1-0 Stan
An ace  to make things easy, plus a poor return off a second serve by Nadal led to 30-0.  Frustrated, Rafa hit one way long, nod only Stan's generosity with a push wide put Rafa on the board this game.  Taking his compassion a bit too far Stan pushed one long before coming to his senses, and the net, to put away a winning forehand volley 2-0 Wawrinka.
Rafa scored first on the back of a backhand error from Stan, but Rafa could do that too, and belted a backhand out of court.  A wide backhand from Stan and a backhand return into the net gave 40-15 to Nadal.  He didn't appreciate it and stuck a forehand into the net.  Yet another backhand mistake, by Rafa this time, brought us to deuce, and the 6th and 7th backhand errors of the game, both committed by Stan, brought the agony to an end and the scoreline to 2-1 Wawrinka.
Medical timeout for Rafa, who needed something at the moment as a circuit breaker because nothing on court was working, while everything Stan touched seemed to fire.
3-1 in a flash as Stan aced and smashed his way through the lack of defence of Rafa.
0-15 with a winner from Stan just a little too easy.  15-15 only because Stan committed the error wide, and with the double fault suddenly 15-30.  Rafa's forehand was terrible as it floated long and an attempted drop shot was run down with ease by Wawrinka who led 4-1.   A set and two breaks to the good and Rafa not moving all that well.  This was writing on the wall that didn't read too well for Spanish fans.
40-0 after an ace an not much from the return.  A point did fall Rafa's way courtesy of a net cord, and then a backhand cross court winner on return provoked Stan into error on his backhand.  Deuce became adv Stan after another ace and a backhand down the line sewed up another game for a 5-1 lead.
Stan's enthusiasm meant the forehand went a little far but Rafa gave him two errors back in quick succession.  A third, again with too much length brought up two set points.  One was saved with Rafa putting away a volley, the next by a careless backhand from Stan.  Rafa was not moving well and the next set point came with a wide shot but saved with a backhand winner.  Two Stan errors gave the game to Nadal but he was not in the match at all.  Stan led 5-2 and Rafa was taking no time between serves.  He had given this set away for certain - any points or games he won were just pure stats.
Stan served a double and was for the moment not playing as he should against a player inhibited like Nadal.  That was soon rectified and two set points came after an ace and forehand winner.  One more ace and the set was his 6-2.  He led the match 6-3 6-2 and unless there was a Nadal substitution available the trophy for the winner was already being inscribed with Stan's name.
Rafa began the third set serving.  No improvement as the weak forehand went long and a poor backhand played with no conviction fell the wrong side of the net. 15-30 came with a Wawrinka shot out of court, but two break points arrived with another Nadal mistake.  Both were saved by Wawrinka being too enthusiastic and going for outright winners. Rafa then found a forehand at the bottom of his tennis bag and hit it down the line for a winner.  Stan made a mistake and Rafa led 1-0.
A double fault and a better Nadal forehand combined for 0-30.  Stan won the next but a Rafa forehand down the line brought up two break chances.  One saved with an ace.  A strangely subdued Stan stuck one into the net and Rafa had the break and led 2-0.
Serving had picked up and Stan's returning dropped off to give Nadal 30-0.  However a forehand winner from Wawrinka and a shot pushed wide by Rafa made it 30-30.  Stan pushed one wide too and one into the net to confirm a mini comeback for the top seed 3-0 Nadal
An awesome return using an increasingly fitter looking forehand drew Rafa level at 15-15, but a series of big serves including multiple aces put Stan on the board, trailing 1-3.
A forcing forehand made up for the first point disaster and Rafa had 15-15.  This was 40-15 after a down the line winner and a Stan misfire.  Rafa wrapped it up with a forehand sizzler down the line once more to lead 4-1.
Stan was making more mistakes now and Rafa was hitting his share of winners including a wonderful backhand to have Stan under pressure 15-30.  A couple of clean winners from the Swiss racquet steadied the course Stan was taking away from the choppy seas and Rafa led 4-2.
A backhand pushed wide by Rafa was countered by a complete mishit by Stan, both worth 15 to the other player.  Also worth 15 but looking a hell of a lot better was a backhand winner crosscourt by Stan.  Rafa overcame that stinging shot by launching into a groundstroke of his own to level at 30-30, then Stan took off any pressure by committing mistakes on the last two points.  Rafa led 5-2.
A tricky shot by Stan gave Rafa no swinging room, and his serves on the next two points were unreturnable  and an ace.  His final point was won with a stunning winner into open court.  5-3 Rafa.
A forehand winner from Switzerland and another forehand with not the same success provoked Nadal into an awful shot, and then a not quite so awful shot, both costing a point.  Two break points.  Both saved by Wawrinka impatience and errors.
Another bad shot from Stan and it was set point.  This time Stan hit the winner he wanted before - a forehand for deuce.  Set point again with an out of court shot by Wawrinka, and the set was Nadal's once the ball was nestled into the bottom of the net on Stan's side.  Wawrinka led Nadal two sets to one 6-3 6-2 3-6 and Nadal had miraculously risen from the depths.

Clever use of placement both on serve and groundstrokes created 40-0 for Wawrinka, as Nadal could not place a full racquet on anything.  He could. to place any part of a racquet on the last backhand of Stan's as it raced cross court for a winner.  Stan 1-0
Both players pushed shots wide ahead of Rafa's forehand pulled into the net.  15-30.  Break points arrived after the Wawrinka down the line forehand.  Playing too far behind the baseline, Stan hit three successive errors, and just to prove his position three rows into the crowd was not going to work, Rafa put a forehand cross court in front of him. 1-1
Rafa began going after the Swiss serve but he couldn't do much when a thunderbolt approached.  At 15-15 Stan unleashed winning with his serve, then firing a clean winner and volleying into open court to hold for 2-1.
A limp return didn't complete the journey over the net, and Stan overcompensated and nearly hit one into the crowd.  Another one slightly long created three game points for Nadal, two of which he wasted into the net.  Finally a return nearly out of the arena was sufficient for Rafa to level at 2-2.
A forehand winner by Nadal was answered soundly with two aces by Stan.  A serve to the body made it difficult for Nadal and he couldn't keep it in court, and a net cord directed the final ball out of court to seal the 3-2 advantage for Stan.
A searching rally was finished when Stan picked off a Nadal short ball with a forehand winner.  He had the chance to put away another winner next point but hit it long, just as Rafa did to trail 15-30.  Two break points once Rafa hit the net.  Stan took a giant step to the title with a withering forehand down the line.  4-2 with the break.
Two poor shots from Stan gave Rafa hope at 0-30.  A complete mishit brought three break points in the Spanish direction.  A terrible miss down the line and games were back on serve 4-3 Wawrinka.
A big serve polished off with a winning forehand was compromised for Rafa baby the next shot into the net.  Then Stan out thought Rafa in an extended rally forcing an error with a great backhand  for 15-30.  At the net Rafa failed to put the ball over and it was two break points.  A sweet Swiss forehand down the line broke Rafa once more and at 5-3 Stan would serve for the match.

Big serve and returned long for 15-0.  Return into net for 30-0. Clever serve swinging away forces wide return 40-0 three championship points.  Won by Stanislas Wawrinka with appropriately a forehand winner.
Stan won the 2014 Australian Open by defeating Rafa Nadal 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3
It was thoroughly deserved from the very start, and when you consider that to win the title Wawrinka defeated the two top seeds, no arguments can be given as to the worth of the champion.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Women's Final - Li Na v Dominika Cibulkova

I defy anyone to honestly say they predicted that the pair of women contesting the 2014 Women's Singles final would be 4th seed Li Na and 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Yes solid arguments have existed for the presence of China's number one as her form has been at a level second only to Serena Williams since the closing stages of last season.  Her form since nearly losing to Safarova this tournament has been scary at times.
The real surprise has been the Pride of Slovakia, Dominika, who has slayed the third seed Sharapova and the fifth seed Radwanska amongst her six victims this event.
Whilst I would like to see Domi give Li Na a close contest in the final, and that may well occur despite the odds,  there are a number of factors weighing heavily in favour of a first win here for Li Na.
This is Li Na's third Australian Open final, and she had chances to win both the previous ones.  She has tasted success before at this level - 2011 Roland Garros.  She has never lost to Domi in four clashes.  She has potentially more weapons at her disposal than her opponent, and this is the main reason for me selecting Li Na to defeat Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets.

Li Na won the toss and put Domi to the line to serve first.  First point a forehand long from Domi.  Then another before Li Na's attempted lob went long.  A backhand return too big made it 4 errors  for the first four points, and another from the fourth seed gave us 40-30.  A backhand from Domi found the net and then a double fault gave break point to Li Na.  A backhand wide brought it back to deuce and still no point had been decided by a winner.  Until a backhand down the line from Li Na and break point number two.  A second double fault handed the first game to Li Na 1-0.
A return long countered by a Li Na forehand long 15-15. A Li Na backhand found the bottom of the net and a backhand return went out. 30-30.  A backhand down the line winner from Li Na created game point which was confirmed with another errant return.  2-0.
Domi forehand wide and a Li Na forehand long and this match had yet to be ignited.  Li Na attempted to ignite it with a forehand return winner, but another error from her stalled the effort.  Break point after another shot went long from the Slovak racquet.  She saved it with her first winner - a forehand pass.  A backhand wide from Li Na was followed by a backhand winner and deuce again.  Domi hit a backhand wide and she faced break point again, but Li Na let her off the hook with a weak forehand going wide.  A return into the net times two put Domi on the board but it still was Li Na leading 2-1 with a break and looking the player most likely.  The only worry for Li Na was her propensity to hit random shocking shots, just as she did to let Bouchard back into the semi final contest.
Better hitting from Domi forced Li Na to hit into the net, going for too much.  The next return went long and Li Na produced a backhand winner down the line to lead 30-15.  A backhand crawled over the net and won a lucky point for Li Na and she won the game when Domi hit long with her final shot.  3-1
Li Na called for the referee to have the court measured after she hit a return and two forehands and a backhand long to award the game to Domi and move the game score to 3-2 Li Na.
Rally of the match by a street saw Domi seal it with a backhand into open court.  Domi into the net and Li Na long then a double fault led to 15-40.  Another double and the rally of the night was a distant memory.  The break back had occurred and it was 3-3.
A Li Na shot into the net and two forehands from Domi, one forcing an error, the other a clean winner, shot her out to 40-0.  A double fault tempered the advance but a service winner pushed her in front for the first time 4-3.
Li Na was becoming error prone now, maybe due to nerves, but surely also due to Domi having settled into a rhythm.
A backhand winner down the line calmed the 4th seed's nerves somewhat and exchanged errors made it 30-15.  A big serve forced an impotent return which was dealt with well by Li Na and a glorious backhand which fitted nicely in the corner won the game and squared the match 4-4.
Surviving a break point, Domi evened the lucky net cords up at a crucial stage, after Li Na threatened seriously with a clutch of winners.  Again what ultimately thwarted the fourth seed was her failure to stop the flood of unforced errors. 5-4 Domi
A Li Na forehand winner followed by errors to both players - two each - and finalised with an ace summed up the next game which tied the set at 5-5.
Great rally ended with a Li Na shot long, but she redeemed herself by smashing a forehand winner, and Domi was charitable with a double fault.  A backhand cross court winner to end another fine rally gave Li Na two break points and only one was required when Domi found the net that Roger Federer did so often the night before.
6-5 Li Na serving for the set.
Off forehand winner for 15-0 Li Na, then a wide miss for 15-15. An a even wider miss - Box Hill I think - was corrected with a backhand winner 30-30.  Break point arrived with a tentative try at the net which only ended in the structure.  Saved with a top forehand winner down the line.  Deuce. Set point after a Domi shot failed to finish inside the court.  Saved with a Li Na effort finishing the same way.  Off forehand winner from Domi brought up another break point and it worked for the Slovak player once Li Na had decided that the net was a decent place to finish the next point.  6-6 tie break.

Li Na took the first point off the Domi serve and the second with a down the line winner.  Domi drew back to 1-2 with a passing shot of her own.  A wonderful rally ended with Li Na taking a forehand out of the air to lead 3-1.  Trouble now for the 20th seed as she pushed one wide to trail 1-4.  Great serving from Li Na as a big serve had no answer rom Domi and they changed ends 5-1.
Great defence from Domi and a wonderful finishing forehand still had her trailing 3-5.  Finding the net had Domi finding herself down 3 set points.
Li Na won the set in a tie break 7-6 seven points to three after Dominika Cibulkova netted the final stroke of the set.

Li Na was well placed now to go on and win the Aus Open but she would need to beware of a wounded Slovak who defeated Sharapova after dropping the first set.

Li served first and her first error gave Domi the first point. A Domi forehand forced Li Na into error and a Li Na groundstroke did the same thing to Domi.  40-30 came with Li Na hitting a forehand away after running to the net and the game was hers with Domi hitting too big. 1-0 Li Na.
After a too enthusiastic Li Na went too long and gave a 30-0 lead to Domi, it was 30-30 with a double fault and netted Slovak shot.  An off forehand winner from Li Na brought up break point which was converted with a forehand pushed wide by Domi.
2-0 Li Na.
Good serving and a volley put away had Li Na quickly up 30-0.  An ace emphasised her confidence, but Domi's forehand pass showed that she was not going away just yet.  Another forehand down the line by Domi was answered by a winner from a similar class by Li Na to win the game and consolidate the break.  3-0 Li Na.
Two forehands long by Li Na were mitigated by two backhand winners, and a break point was generated.  The return was too good and a second break ensued.  4-0 Li Na and the finish line visible.
A double fault and one into the net from Li Na.  0-30.  Domi was tiring it seemed as she also put one into the confounded net.  She also couldn't handle a Li Na groundstroke and serve and 40-30 was the sum result.  A simple forehand put away off a rally that was always under her control sealed the game and a 5-0 lead for Li Na.  The trophy was being inscribed.

0-15 after a backhand down the line from Li Na.  Another clean winner from Li Na had 0-30.  15-30 after another net cord crawled over, this time for Domi.  A backhand long set up two match points for Li Na.  The first saved with Li Na hitting long.  The last shot of the match was a long shot by Dominika Cibulkova and the 2014 Australian Open champion was, and is Li Na from China. 7-6 6-0.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Men's Semi Final 2 - Nadal v Federer

Stanislas Wawrinka would face the winner of the second semi final to be played on the second Friday night of the 2014 Aus Open.  For the 33rd time Rafa Nadal would face Roger Federer, and if history had everything to do with the result, Rafa would have to feel confident, holding a 22-10 head to head record.  However, everybody has been pumping up the revival of Federer at this tournament ad nauseum.  It is true that he has played well throughout the tournament and his win over Murray was especially good considering his opposition.  I don't agree with the widely held view that his win over Tsonga was the greatest thing since sliced bread - his opposition was below par and Roger is the best at destroying slightly below par performers.
Not enough has been made of Nadal's progress compared with Federer.  Only his win over Monfils rated the oohs and aahs that accompany every shot Roger hits.  The opposition of Nishikori and Dimitrov was difficult to overcome but was done in the way a number one seed should be expected to execute.
On balance, the head to head record, recent playing performance and night conditions have me selecting Nadal to defeat Federer in a tight, enthralling contest.

Federer served first, which was probably appropriate considering this was the 10th anniversary of his first title win here.
Game one featured two shots long by Rafa, one unforced. A return wide and one that dropped in had us at 40-15. Another misjudged return long gave Federer a gentle hold for 1-0.
Backhand long by Roger followed by one into the net and a forced return long and a second one in the net equalled a love game for Rafa and 1-1
Federer's forcing backhand produced an error which was replicated by one of Roger's own forehands long. Rafa erred on return before collaring Roger with a forehand pass then Roger was smooth along the line with an off forehand.  Good hands at the net sealed another game for Roger and he led 2-1

The opening was predominantly errors until midway into the third game when both players seemed to switch on and the shots of excellence arrived.

Again Roger was neat at the net controlling the opening point then he surprised with a backhand pass which Rafa could not control.  Rafa did monitor the next backhand down the line for a winner and Roger hit his backhand long for 30-30 Game point for Rafa when Roger netted a forehand, and this was belted into submission with a forehand smashed by Roger harder than he has hit anything before.  A Federer shot pushed wide followed by a forehand neatly positioned in the corner by Nadal and the games were 2-2
First long then net twice by Nadal and Federer had 40-0.  A hard hit forehand return missed the line and Roger led 3-2.  Already this semi final was moving quicker than the one the day before.  No obvious trend yet.  No serve volley tactic from Federer.
Two backhand return misses and two other shots out of court by Federer gave Nadal his third game.
Nadal starred with a backhand return cross court winner followed by a forehand down the line bringing up two break points which were saved with errors from Nadal.  An ace gave Federer his second game point which he had converted by a Nadal mishit.  4-3 to Federer who dodged the first bullet.
Federer was not reading the serve of Nadal all that consistently, and gave up the first two points of the next game with cheap errors.  At 40-15 a searching rally was concluded with a Federer off forehand down the line for a winner.  Then the best rally of the match ended with a fabulous forehand winner from Nadal and it was 4-4.

A double fault and a netted backhand had Federer at 15-30 on serve before an ace steadied him.  Then a baseline rally ended in Roger's side of the net again for break point.  A forehand forcing the Nadal shot long brought about deuce and another one long gave Roger game point.  Federer held for 5-4 and another hairy moment was survived.  Rafa had to hold to stay in the set.
Two good serves produced errant returns before Rafa netted a backhand. 30-15.
30-30 with a rare unforced forehand error long from Nadal.  Roger let him off the hook hitting one long in turn.  A beautifully placed ace won the game and it was 5-5.
A drop shot finished off with a backhand volley winner took Federer to 30-0.  Even the error at 40-0 could not contain him as he aced Nadal to lead 6-5.

The longest rally of the match finished with a Federer netted backhand.  A much shorter exchange ended the same way.  30-0.  A wild forehand from Federer was destined for Rosebud, but two mistakes from Nadal tightened things at 40-30.  Another long one rom Federer guaranteed the tiebreak with Roger to serve the first point.
A Federer backhand caught the net and flew out giving the first point to Nadal but the mini break was given back with a Rafa shot wide.  Roger joined the wide of the mark club and it was 2-1 Nadal.
On one of his few ventures to the net, Federer fluffed his shot, then netted a forehand to give Nadal 4-1.  Again the net, this time off Roger's backhand, and Rafa was two points from the set as they changed ends 5-1.
A loose shot from Rafa gave hope to Federer and he drew to 3-5 with a drop shot volley put away combo.  Rafa put one long and now he would be serving at 5-4
Two sets points after Rafa forced the Federer error.  A backhand long by Federer sent the first set off to Spain, and not by Fed Express. 7-6 Nadal.
Federer did well to stick with Nadal the way he did but he could have been broken twice.  His refusal to mix up his game by serve volleying, even just a little, may prove costly.

Nadal served first in the second and Feder forced a mistake on the opening point.  A mishit by Roger followed by a body shot by Nadal forcing Federer long had Nadal ahead 30-15. Federer had the chance for 30-40 but hit the net with a makable, no easy forehand.  Then Nadal treated us to some nice touch with a cleverly disguised drop shot to win the game and lead 1-0.
A forehand winner from Federer and a Nadal error gave Roger 30-0.  Despite a return cross court winner from the top seed, Federer held for 1-1.
A Nadal off forehand cross court winner and a clutch of unforced errors on return by Roger, formed the foundation for an easy service hold by the world number one who led 2-1.  Federer found himself at 0-30 after a Nadal backhand cross court winner and one of his own shots going long.  He regrouped for 30-30, forcing Nadal into error on his forehand, but another into the net gave break point to the Spaniard.
Yet again Roger saved it, this time with a big serve producing a garbage response.
A backhand down the line winner set up another break point - again saved well.
Still another backhand winner cross court gave a break point but Roger saved with an ace.  Federer went to game point but was passed with a forehand by Nadal  for deuce. A forehand by Federer down the line and another winner touching the line gave him the game and 2-2.  Possibly the highest standard game of the tournament.
Two mishits by Federer and yet another backhand cross court winner by Nadal - all these topped off with an ace and that was a quick game 3-2 Nadal.
Two shots wide by Federer left him vulnerable at 0-30  At 15-30 Nadal played an impossible forehand passing shot almost lying down with Federer at the net.  The second of the two break points was converted with a backhand cross court winner.  Nadal led 4-2.
A service winner sent Nadal to 30-0 after Roger found the net again on the first point.  A double fault complicated things albeit briefly because Roger into the net and then wide assisted Rafa to a 5-2 advantage.
First two points to Roger with forehand clean winners while Rafa was in another suburb.  40-0 after Nadal caught the Roger net disease. An ace clinched the game and at 5-3 Nadal would serve for a two set lead.
Backhand hit long by Nadal who was outlasted in a long rally.  A forehand went long and the top seed faced 0-30.  An awe on defensive display by Federer almost won him a point for which he should never have been in contention.  Then we had a master class rally finished off in style with a glorious forehand winner from Nadal.  Set point arrived courtesy of Roger's side of the net, and the set was confirmed in the same fashion.  Nadal led 7-6 6-3
Tough now for Federer unless he changes his game - for the baseline he would be lucky to win a set against Nadal in this form.

Federer won the first game to love with excellent first serves and led 1-0
Roger had 15-15 on Rafa's serve but found the net before an ace from Nadal and another Federer error evened things at 1-1
Roger was sprawling after he just managed to reach a Rafa forehand with an inch of his racquet.  A winning off forehand looked better from the Swiss sixth seed.  Sadly two errors brought two break points.  A forehand from Nadal coaxed another Federer shot into the net and the top seed had a break and 2-1.
A great second serve from Nadal countered his first point stumble and it was 15-15.      A forehand pushed wide off the Nadal racquet followed by another shocker wide gave Federer break points.  The first was saved with a Federer shot long.  However a Nadal forehand long meant that Roger had achieved a break of the Nadal serve for the first time of the night.  2-2
A wonderful shot from Nadal gave Federer no chance and when Roger hit one long he was facing 15-30.  A loose forehand from Federer created two break points for Nadal, the first evaporated with a return into the net, the second went the same way.  A serve volley point put Federer in sight of the lead and another big serve forced the error from Nadal. 3-2 Federer.
Two returns into the net and Rafa had 30-0.  This was the catalyst for a love game and for 3-3.
Ace by Federer answered by a forehand pass by Nadal then an off forehand winner by Federer.  Then after the winners cam two Federer mistakes and a break point.  Out of nothing Roger hit another loose forehand and handed the vital break of serve to Nadal who led 4-3.
A forehand forced error off the first point and Nadal led 15-0.  An aggressive inside out forehand drive by Federer caused Nadal to miss and we had 15-15.  Winners by both players took it to 30-30 but a backhand just failed to go over for Roger and Rafa had game point.  Missing a basic backhand at the net, Federer made it easy for Nadal who led now 5-3.

Federer, serving to stay in the tournament, traded forehand winner with a backhand winner of Nadal.  An ace took him to 30-15 and at 40-15 Rafa put a stunning backhand down the line.  The next rally was intense but Nadal had his forehand ready and winning. Deuce.  Roger sent a forehand long and it was match point all of a sudden.  Saved with Nadal finding the net.  Incredible winner by Rafa set up another match point.  Roger put it long and the match was over.
Rafa Nadal in straight sets 7-6 6-3 6-3 and that was the first Swiss obstacle out of the road.  He now faced another in Stanislas Wawrinka.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Men's Semi 1 - Berdych v Wawrinka

The first men's semi final was the one few had picked - 7th seed Tomas Berdych against  8th seed Stanislas Wawrinka.  They had both performed well to reach here, with all the plaudits naturally going to Stan for arranging the departure of tournament favourite Novak Djokovic.
They both serve well so it might be the return of serve that is crucial.  Either way the winner would be in his first Aus Open Final.  For Stan a win would see him in his first final at GS level.

The opening two games were a bit of a shambles with unforced errors dominating proceedings, but Stan managed to play two forcing shots and hold serve before breaking the Berdych delivery.  Tomas won his serve with an ace after Stan contributed most of the points.  Games were 1-1
Winners off both sides helped Stan to 40-0 before he was dragged back to deuce because of some poor execution.  He steadied and aced Tomas to lead 2-1
More Wawrinka winners were insufficient to prevent Tomas from holding to level at 2-2 as the standard began ramping up.
3-3 arrived quickly but not before Stan had delivered three more outright winners and Tomas two more aces.
The seventh game saw Tomas experiment with a forehand winner and Stan seal the game with an ace.  They both were excellent on serve and the support shots did not lack for class either.
Out of the blue, Berdych found himself down two break points thanks to his three unforced forehand mistakes.  He also attempted two forehand smashes in the game, one to give him a point, the other which failed and presented the break of serve to a grateful Wawrinka, who led 5-3 and would now serve for the set.
It was 30-0 without any work from Stan, just more incompetence from Tomas, but somehow Stan let it slip and stood at 30-30.  He delivered a service winner in time though and only required the one set point to win it 6-3

The second set began with a backhand volley winner from Wawrinka but ended with two aces from Berdych for him to lead 1-0.
Wawrinka was taken to deuce but never seemed in trouble, winning the game with an ace, and throwing in the obligatory couple of forehand winners to impress.
Tomas double faulted on his first point but that was just a blind as he won the game with two aces and a forehand winner for good value. Tomas up 2-1
The tennis over the following two games was superb with clean winners off slick rallies, aces where no rallies were desired and volleys at the net if ever the two decided to journey there.  Service was not under threat and games were 3-2 to Tomas.
Wawrinka drew level after a game with only the one point decided by a winner.  Then Tomas held after the longest game on his serve for awhile now.
From 40-30 Stan hit two forehand winners to set up the first break point of the set only to see Tomas reply with a service winner and forehand volley winner.  4-3 Berdych.
Over the next three games we saw Tomas hitting winning backhands and Stan serve five aces, three in succession at the start of the tenth game, the end of which gave us 5-5.
The tie break was a near certainty, and was required after Tomas reached six games thanks in part to a forehand volley and ace, then Stan made his half dozen, shaking off 30-30 with a serve forcing the error then an ace for 6-6
After hitting a forehand winner and tying up the tiebreak at 1-1, Stan failed to win another point, confounding everyone with a display so at odds with what he had dished up for the bulk of the match.
Berdych levelled the match winning the set 7-6 (7-1 in the breaker)
The two players were strong on serve, failing to break each other in the second set, and for the first four games of the third set likewise.  The match trend was no different lots of winners from Stan, especially the forehand side, and plenty of aces and unplayable serves from Tomas.  The rallies were often breathtaking in their content, and amazing for how the two could move with such precision.
The fifth game was at 40-0 before Stan had it brought back to 40-30 with a double fault and some careless play.  A forehand winner put it beyond doubt.
Only one point - a double fault - went against serve over the next three games and the score was 4-4.
The tie break beckoned, and nothing happened of any additional interest to stop it.
The standard was still maintained with winners more than mistakes deciding ends of rallies.  6-6
The tie break was initially close, and only when Tomas contributed a double fault to trail 2-4 did it start to go awry.  At 6 points to 3, Stan hit a service winner to win the set 7-6 and lead 2 sets to 1

To win the first game of set four, Tomas had to go to six deuces and survive two break points.  We could be here very late if this became a habit.
Wawrinka had few problems levelling, and Tomas next time at the line won in a matter of just five points.  Berdych ahead 2-1
Two forehand winners and an ace had Stan make it 2-2, and Tomas went one ahead again with two aces and two forehand winners.
Another tie break was likely, now that everyone was back to normal after the first game of the set.
Three games each on serve and we were at 5-6 with Stan to serve.  When Tomas hit
A backhand winner for 30-30, a brief moment of doubt entered the stadium.
A forehand winner put paid to that and soon we were in the third straight tie break of the match.

Berdych lost the first three points of the tie break (one on his serve) with forced backhand errors.  A double fault from the Czech racquet gave Wawrinka 4-1 with two points against the Berdych serve.  At 5-3 Wawrinka won the point with a Berdych unforced error, before double faulting dramatically on the first match point.
No problems on the second as Wawrinka forced a final error from the racquet of Berdych to win his way into the 2014 Australian Open final:
6-3 6-7 7-6 7-6

Women's Semi Final 2 - Radwanska v Cibulkova

Who would join Li Na in the women's singles final?  Agnieszka Radwanska had experienced the 2012 Wimbledon Final so that was one more than Dominika Cibulkova.  However, with her performances so far this year, including the defeat of Sharapova, the Slovak player would not surprise should she win her way through to her first Grand Slam tournament final.  The hot favourite was Aga, though, fresh from her thrashing of Victoria Azarenka in the quarter final, and whatever the result of this semi final we would be assured of two players competing hard and both at the peak of their powers.

Agnieszka  Radwanska won the toss and she would start the second semi final with her serve.
A break straight away; the lone ace could not disguise the errors - all unforced except for the point to win the game which resulted from a crushing backhand from Cibulkova forcing the Polish mistake.
Wonderful rally on the second point of Cibulkova's serve highlighted her willingness to attack off both wings whenever she could.  Missing with the first serve was a concern but of more worry was Radwanska's level of unforced errors.  Cibulkova held after one excursion to deuce and led 2-0.
Better tennis at the start of the next game as Agnieszka now was finding her mark.  A double fault at 40-0 was repeated immediately to spoil things somewhat and it took longer than necessary to hold the serve, but at 2-1 to Cibulkova the match had begun on the scoreboard for both players.
A backhand down the line from Aga followed by an off forehand winner by Domi were interrupted by a failed drop shot attempt from Slovakia and a groundstroke long from the same place to bring up two break points - one saved by an unforced Aga error the other by a forced one.  A third break point was also sent away through great all court play finished off at the net with an overhead.
A forehand winner saved a fourth break point and we entered deuce yet again.  Clear now that Aga had settled but could not quite capture this break.
Domi saved a fifth break point through again attacking and hitting a winner, and eventually wore down the good play from Aga to hold and lead 3-1.

A surprise drop shot coupled with a menacing forehand which drew the error from Aga saw 0-30 and worry for the 5th seed. A splendid backhand down the line winner and two break points were Domi's - the first was saved but only just when a rifled forehand missed by a millimetre.  Not so lucky was Aga on the second, when again weight of shot making by Cibulkova ended up with the Polish shot in the net.
4-1 Cibulkova with two breaks of serve.
An epic backhand pass dropped in the corner to give Domi the first point of the sixth game, but Aga drew level with a lovely passing shot of her own.  Domi held on though and at 5-1 the pressure fell sparely on Aga as she served to stay in the set.

A wrong footing backhand from Domi plus a netted Aga forehand and it was 0-30.
Aga controlled the next point to its conclusion which was an out ball from Domi but one of the same shots from Aga brought up two set points.  Aga saved one well with a clean winner into an open court after she had pushed Domi into Federation Square.  The next point was one of the best as Aga gave Domi the most difficult shots to reach but the 20th seed was more than capable and finished off the set with a great backhand cross court winner 6-1.

Opening the second act of this opera, Domi delivered a rousing aria, and all Aga could do was throw roses on to the stage.  The 5'3 pocket dynamo was giving nothing away.
A forehand clean winner on the first point of Aga's reply and then two netted shots had Aga completely in a spin and the break of serve was now an expectation. 2-0
However, number 5 in the world does not come for no reason.  A winning shot plus some mistakes off the Slovak racquet put Aga right back in the contest. Three break points.  Incessant attacking saved two of them, and an impatient attempt at a outright winner from Aga had us at deuce.
Domi served and put away a volley then used an Aga errant shot to win what was an improbable third game in a row for the set and seventh in a row for the match.
Domi had been savage on Aga's serve but she lifted that to another level in the fourth game.  She cannabilised it.  Off forehand winners, service return winner, any winner you like to name.  The only points Aga could muster were errors donated by Domi.  Extremely impressive and a break of serve deserved. 4-0
Completely against the flow Aga broke back - this time she kept the ball in play and waited patiently for the errors to flow from Slovakia, and they did. 4-1 with a single break of serve.
Therein was the problem though - the ability to hold serve - something Aga had been able to do only once the entire match.  At 0-30 things again looked grim but Aga found a way through the mess to serve out the game well, including an ace for good measure.  4-2 and things were tightening.
At 15-30 Domi steadied and once again attacked which was how she had gained her position of dominance in the match.  Some wonderful deep groundstrokes more than met what Aga could throw at her and the serve was held giving Aga the job of serving to stay in the Australian Open.

A tired looking backhand netted by Aga and 0-15 and a backhand under pressure floated long 0-30. A repeat of the first error and three match points were Domi's
Another in the net and Dominika Cibulkova was into the final defeating Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 6-2

Women's Semis 1 - Li Na v Eugenie Bouchard

This Australian Open has seen the old and the new among the women's draw, and the first semi final certainly displays that with thirty something Li Na battling teenager Eugenie Bouchard.
As the highest ranked player of the final four, and last years runner up, Li Na enters the semi final a clear favourite, and her form suggests that it is warranted, with crushing victories in her fourth round and quarter final matches.
Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian 30th seed, played a composed match to defeat the Serena slayer Ana Ivanovic in her quarter final to suggest she won't be as overawed coming into the semi final as expected.
The Li Na serve is probably the key to whether Eugenie can cause an upset or not.  If reliable, the serve sets up an all court game with powerful forehands and other groundstrokes which at this point probably more than match the Canadian.  Li Na also moves particularly well on the court, allowing more time to prepare for each shot.
Eugenie was first to serve.  Three clean winners and a forcing backhand from Li Na and the break of serve showed that one of the players had settled well.  Eugenie was on the board with a passing forehand but Li Na replied with a forehand down the line and later with a forehand volley winning to lead 2-0.
Eugenie's baptism of fire was complete before she sat down when she double faulted triggering an assault of winners and brutal groundstrokes from Li Na brought the score to 3-0.
Li Na cruised through another service game, signing off with an ace, then proceeded to terrorise the Canadian with a combination of off forehands and backhands and other good stuff to force Eugenie into error. 5-0.
Serving for the set, Li Na double faulted, and then a rare forehand winner brought Eugenie to life, the next unforced mistake by Li Na creating three break points.
Double faulting on the second of the break points, Li Na donated Eugenie her first game.
The 4th seed's charitable work continued into the next Bouchard service game with two shots long and two netted more than cancelling out the volley winner. It was now 5-2 to Li Na.
The Li Na scorecard now featured a number of errors, something which was not a part of the early going, and perhaps this was what Eugenie needed to work her way into the match.
In the next game, despite some occasional poor stroke-making along the way, Li Na managed to find the required shots to manufacture a service hold and win the set 6-2
At the start of set two Li Na was playing like a human being and not like the super force in action at the beginning of the match, but even so she managed to create a break point.  That one was saved so Bouchard immediately had to fight off another off the back of another Li Na winner.  A breathtaking down the line winner from Eugenie silenced that and she followed with an equally outstanding backhand winner.  The tennis was suddenly a tier or two better - winner countered by ace.  Ultimately Eugenie held the opening game of the set and the match could legitimately be said to be on.
A double fault followed by a deep return forcing the error had 15-30 on the Li Na serve.  Two shots long off the forehand wing - one by each player - left Eugenie with one of two break points that she had gathered.  A forehand winner dispensed with that one and then we had a few deuce moments, one of them reached after an incomprehensible forehand mishit from Li Na.
A forehand put away at the net brought up break point again for Eugenie and she converted unexpectedly when Li Na found the net with a loose groundstroke.  2-0 to the Canadian.
All that hard work went down the drain with poor shot making and a double fault the very next service game.  2-1 to Bouchard but back on service, not that service was proving a very comfortable commodity to either player just at present.
Li Na held serve after needing a lot of convincing, and then Eugenie had more troubles on her serve, mostly arriving with the return of better tennis from Li Na, who  after achieving another break now led 3-2.
Eugenie with a couple of great shots forced herself into the next Li Na game and with a simple overhead at the net converted a break to level at 3-3.
Each time Bouchard took steps forward in the match, she undid her work, and again on serve she let herself down, Li Na winning to lead 4-3
Careful not to lose the advantage, Li Na served smartly, not going for too much on first serves and not trying to find lines all the time.  She easily held serve to lead 5-3.
Serving to stay in the tournament, Eugenie was at 15-30 and struggling.  Li Na hit two shots long to help out.  Another one wide gave the game to Canada and after a commercial break Li Na would be serving for a place in the final.

First point sent Eugenie all over Melbourne and by the time she was back the ball was too far out of reach.  The second point was won with a great serve.  Then 30-15 following one too long from Li Na.  And a double fault had us wondering.
Match point arrived with an errant Bouchard shot, and a backhand cross court winner put Li Na into the final for the third time and second straight year 6-2 6-4

Federer v Murray

To be published

Nadal v Dmitrov

To be published

Radwanska v Azarenka

To be published

Cibulkova v Halep

To be published

Wawrinka v Djokovic

To be published

Berdych v Ferrer

To be published

Bouchard v Ivanovic

To be published

Li Na looming large

Last year's finalist Li Na was first up on Day Nine doing battle in the quarter final with Italy's Flavia Pennetta who had never been this far before at an Aus Open.  With the dumping of Serena Williams, the prospect of back to back finals was bright for the fourth seed, but Li Na knew that to take Flavia lightly would be perilous.

The 25th seed Pennetta served first and it couldn't have been much more of a mixed bag.  Two aces, a double fault, 2 clean winners from Li Na, one to set up a break point, and a backhand which was to good for Pennetta and converted the break for the 4th seed.
After a series of errors from both players on the Li Na serve, Pennetta hit a backhand winner to give her two break points.  Li Na saved both, one with a backhand winner of her own, before another break point was set up by Flavia via another fine backhand.  Li Na capably staved off the trouble by forcing play to the forehand of Pennetta, where the errors came.  2-0 Li Na.

Flavia's forehand continued to cause problems for her as a string of errors were the basis of another loss of serve and the first set was slipping away fast.
Li Na in complete control sealed the next game with an ace to lead 4-0 and immediately went back to savage the Pennetta serve again.
Even from 30-0 Flavia couldn't hold serve as Li Na continued dragging her all over the court, battering her with hard hitting groundstrokes, relentless in her pursuit of punishment.  All too much for Flavia who double faulted to hand the game to Li Na 5-0.
Li Na at 40-15 serving for the set, while everyone else was preparing the second set in readiness for it to start in just a few moments.  However no one had consulted Flavia who belted two backhand winners to draw level at deuce.  Li Na lost concentration, made a mess of two forehands and Flavia had registered a score in the games column.
The Italian game score doubled soon after as Flavia held serve for the first time, but the inevitable had merely been delayed as Li Na did not leave room for mistakes this time serving out the set 6-2.

Serving first in the second, Pennetta made a complete shambles of it.  Unforced errors everywhere, finished off with a double fault, was the nightmare start when already one set down.  A dream beginning however for Li Na, who consolidated the break for loss of just one point.
3-0 in a blink as Flavia was now having trouble off both wings, her backhand often the culprit in this game.
Li Na had not faced a break point in the early stages of the set, and would not face one again for the rest of the match. With two breaks in hand the match was as good as over.
The games were played out and Li Na most impressively won her semi final spot with a 6-2 6-2 triumph.

Radwanska into quarters again

5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska faced surprise packet Spanish player Garbine Muguruza in the final fourth round women's singles match to finish off the night session on night 8 on Rod Laver Arena.  Already with 10th seed Wozniacki as a victim, Muguruza must have had the confidence to wreck another fancied players chances at this years Aus Open, but Aga also had designs on the silverware and had plenty of tricks to use as we had seen over the past few years.

Aga was taken to deuce three times in her opening serve but had the poise to hold, unforced errors not helping Garbine in the end.  Games were one all before a marathon third game on the Radwanska serve which included seven deuces and three break points, all competently saved by Radwanska forcing the Spanish error from the forehand side.
The fourth game was also an excuse for deuce, with Aga failing to convert three break chances on the Muguruza serve in a match that had gone in excess of half an hour without the completion of four games.  At this rate we would be lucky to have the first set done in time for the men's final.
Radwanska created a fourth break point with a backhand winner and duly converted with a brilliant backhand volley winner to lead 3-1
A quick consolidation by the 5th seed and Garbine had to serve again.  This was shorter and for the wrong reasons if you ask the Spanish player.  A double fault followed up with a chaser of two unforced errors left a bitter taste of three break points in the mouth, and Agnieszka made it worse by forcing Muguruza into error and immediately converting one of those points to lead 5-1 and serve for the set.
That task fulfilled without drama it was Aga a set to the good 6-1.

The first four games of set two were over quickly, a sharp departure from the first set dramas.  Muguruza recovered somewhat to hold serve and share the output 2-2.  The fifth game, with Garbine serving, was to determine the fate of the match.
A double fault and three unforced errors off her backhand were parcelled up and gift wrapped for Radwanska as another service break and the match now had a visible finish line.
Agnieszka held to love, and Garbine held her next serve and so it was 4-3.
At 40-15 on the Radwanska serve, signs of nerves showed for the first time with the next three points going the way of Muguruza, the first with an uncharacteristic unforced error, the third a double fault.  The double fault gave Muguruza a break back point, but this and one more were saved by Radwanska and she was relieved to escape the game with a 5-3 advantage.
Serving for the match Agnieszka couldn't do it with the first two match points, the second saved by a backhand winner from Garbine, but the third was converted and the fifth seed had booked a quarter final engagement with Azarenka. 6-1 6-3

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Federer puts Tsonga in his place

The fourth round match opening the eighth night session on Rod Laver Arena turned the spotlight on Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Federer, the 6th seed had played pretty well, but would be facing his first real test this tournament against the man who took him to five sets at the 2013 Aus Open.  Tsonga had played a reasonable tournament without ever setting the world on fire.

Federer served first and was untroubled to hold on and lead 1-0.  He then attacked Tsonga, who for the moment seemed to be on the back foot and not as sharp as we know him to normally be.
Federer held again with Tsonga running no interference, and Tsonga hit the scoreboard finally in the fourth game but had let the 6th seed slip away.

With Federer, any sense of an opponent being even slightly off his game is taken and used to the fullest advantage.  Tsonga was not at his best, and Federer amplified it by elevating his effort and picking the timing and placement to trouble Tsonga most.
The single service break held strong,  and while he was serving as well as he was, Federer was supremely confident that one break would always suffice.
With Stefan Edberg ringing in his ears Federer made the excursion to the net a few more times, and with success, and generally had an enjoyable first set win 6-3.

Tsonga began the second set and served well to take the lead and hoped that by serving second Federer would feel some pressure of playing catch up.  However when a player is serving as efficiently as Federer had been and continued to, and without due pressure from his opponent, catch up is hardly relevant.
Federer won all but three points on his serve for the entire set, and hit 21 clean winners as against 5 unforced errors.  Tsonga was never going to touch the Swiss serve with those numbers, despite playing his best tennis for the match during this period.
No breaks of serve occurred until, when serving at 5-5, Tsonga caught a shocking piece of luck at deuce just after acing Federer to save a break point. Federer's backhand caught the edge of the top of the tape and literally rolled over the top of the net and dropped over the other side dead to bring up another break point.  This one wasn't saved and Federer was able to serve out the set 7-5 and lead two sets to zip.

Federer waited courteously until the third game of the third set to capitalise on an increasingly ragged looking Tsonga.  The French player was playing some terrific shots amongst a collection of garbage that was swept up neatly as always by Roger  the Garbo.  Again never in trouble on serve against a poor returning performance by Tsonga's high standards, Federer simply played out time, using the single break and successive easy holds to build combustible pressure inside the French 10th seed who almost exploded at one point.

This was an off the Yarra cruise for Federer, and he pulled into dock after a relaxing day with the result he probably had pencilled in 6-3 7-5 6-4 and another quarter final obligation to meet.

Rafa finds it tough with Nishikori

Rafa Nadal had Kei Nishikori with whom to deal in his fourth round match on Rod Laver Arena.  Never had Nishikori beaten the world number one in five previous attempts, and he would be achieving something special if he pushed Rafa in this contest.
The start was anything but auspicious for Nishikori as he messed up four groundstrokes to drop serve immediately without any real participation from Nadal.
Two aces first up for Nadal showed us where he was right now, and he led 2-0

Nishikori settled in the third and fourth games, holding serve well with big groundstrokes, and then threatening the Nadal serve. A backhand winner took it to deuce before two sloppy errors from Rafa put the match back on an even keel.
After Nishikori held serve and took the lead 3-2, both players wasted break points in the next two games, Nadal the more guilty, having three of them float by without a conversion.  Most unlike the top seed who trailed 3-4.

The route to a tie break was then pretty much plain travelling with competent serving and blistering groundstrokes from both contestants in a very even affair.

From 2-2 in the tie break Nadal won four successive points due in part to the forehand failure of Nishikori.  The set was never going anywhere but Spain after that and with 7 points to 3 Rafa had taken a one set lead 7-6.

Set two began in the same manner with both players strong from the baseline and defending their serves proudly until the fifth game.  Nadal was the first to suffer the break, thanks to a winning Japanese forehand, twice leaving Nadal without an answer.
The next two games went to serve before Rafa decided to return to the second set contest with a break of the Nishikori serve.  Rafa took advantage of a double fault and forehand error from the 16th seed and produced an excellent forehand himself to achieve the break.
At 5-6 Nishikori again suffered at the hands of a more confident Rafa who jumped all over the serve of the 16th seed avoiding the need for a tiebreak this time, and allowing the number one seed to serve first in the third set.  Rafa 7-5.

When Nadal broke the Nishikori serve to leave the Japanese player with blistered feet and 1-3 down, the match seemed all but gone.  Rafa survived break points to make it 4-1 and closer to the finish.
Four straight games later, Nishikori was serving for the set.  His comeback against the top seed was fantastic to watch because it was more to do with his inspired play than with a marked drop off in standard from Rafa.
At 30-15 three forehand errors from Nishikori snuffed out the immediate plans for a set win.  5-5
A tie break again was required and Nadal played it far too well, with a couple of aces as icing on the cake.  Seven points to three
Rafa Nadal in the quarter finals winning the tightest of three setters 7-6 7-5 7-6

Azarenka looking likely again

The final day session fourth round women's singles match on Rod Laver Arena was between Victoria Azarenka, who with the exit of Williams and Sharapova, was looking a stronger chance of winning her third successive crown, and Sloane Stephens from the USA, seeded 13.
Some were critical of Vika last year when the two played in a semi final here, in that the medical time out taken by her was timed purely to stop momentum which the American had.  Whatever, the result would have been the same.

This year, Azarenka began with a double fault, then littered the place with winners of all kind, to lead 1-0.  A Stephens forehand winner closed out her first service game and scores were 1-1.
Problems set in when Stephens served a second time and some careless shot making introduced 3 break points to Azarenka, one of which was saved.  Vika used the second wisely and stung the American to lead 3-1.
Two double faults in the next game had Azarenka needing to save a break point - that was done , and serve held, but the double faults issue still had to be addressed or it could eventually hurt her on the scoreboard.
1-4 could easily have been 1-5 as Sloane Stephens fought through the longest game of the match so far.  Five times taken to deuce, six break points saved, and finally Stephens was sick of all the uncertainty and belted successive winners off either wing to retain serve.
The match became truly physical in the seventh game when Stephens accidentally hit Azarenka with the ball while she was standing at the net.  An apology was offered probably without any sincerity but it wouldn't have mattered because Vika ignored it.  However she did return the favour later in the game by belting the ball directly at Stephens.  Not even an small attempt at apology.
Azarenka held serve by the way to lead 5-2, and when Stephens did the same for 3-5, the reigning champ was in prime position to serve for the set.
Vika could not leave the first set without throwing in another double fault for old times sake, but it did not waver her.  She proceeded to win the game and set 6-3.

The Stephens position worsened appreciably and quickly, with her being broken in the first game of set, and unable to touch the Azarenka delivery.  Down 2-0 there appeared no coming back from this for Stephens.  Azarenka was serving so well that being broken was unlikely, while Stephens was facing break points with every excursion to the line.
On one of those trips she did trip up - she was trailing 2-4, and Azarenka with a backhand to open and forehand to close, made it 2-5 with the Belarus number two seed now serving for a quarter final berth.

Victoria Azarenka easily defeated Sloane Stephens 6-3 6-2

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Dominika upsets Maria

The first of the fourth round women's singles matches on Rod laver Arena on Day 8 pitted 3rd seed Maria Sharapova against 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.  Apart from the marathon three plus hour second round match, Maria had looked in good form, while Slovakian Dominika had cleaned up her last two opponents for the loss of only two games in total across the matches.  So this match promised plenty, Dominika having beaten Maria once at Grand Slam level but on clay at Roland  Garros some years back.  Dominika was given a step ladder in order to shake hands with Maria at the coin toss.  The height difference - 11 inches - probably has nothing to do with anything but it made for a good photo.
Domi won the first battle and chose to serve - then she lost her serve.  Maria started well putting Domi under pressure with powerful groundstrokes limiting the ability to move forward and cut off the severe angles that the Russian was adding to the depth of shot.
Maria was also unconvincing on serve and could well have been down break points had Domi not stuffed up the 15-30 point.  Maria survived to tell the story but it wasn't very interesting except for maybe the off forehand which was quite pretty to watch.
0-2 and not wanting the first set to career away without her as a passenger, Domi tightened up her court movement, in turn enabling her to move Sharapova around some, and open up the opportunity to rifle a couple of forehand winners down the line.  It was impressive although Maria did not congratulate her upon registering a score on the board.
The spring in the Slovak step continued into the next Sharapova serve which was subject to break points.  Caught up in the excitement and anticipation, Domi lost focus and the game and Maria retained the edge of a break.
Despite a time violation warning and a ball that didn't bounce, Domi held serve again to trail by just 2-3, but Maria still looked to have the answers although no one knew precisely what questions were being addressed.  The ability of Sharapova to reach the best angled shots from Cibulkova and put them cross court or down the line to her own advantage was not always displayed but when shown was a stark reminder to everyone, and importantly Domi that a few of the Russian weapons required a white flag response and applause.

Serving at 2-4, Domi encountered one of those white flag moments when Maria just pounded returns and bashed winners to which there was no winning response.  The break occurred and with Maria serving at 5-2 for the set, the reality of how difficult the fourth round assignment was for Domi became clearer than ever.

Another "weapon" that Maria has is the ability to fold when serving for matches or sets.  So that skill was freely given a run for us all, and games were now 3-5.  The service game from hell briefly gave life to Domi and to the first set, how brief we would discover a few points later in a game pretty much as good for Domi on serve as the one previously for Maria.
Sum total of all that incompetence - Sharapova won the first set 6-3 to take a powerful match position, serving first in the second.
I don't know which worm turned but something happened between Maria winning the first set and Maria serving in the second.  Her serving reliability collapsed and her forehand potency dried up, it's accuracy diminished beyond recognition.
A single forehand winner could not mitigate the horrible set of mistakes ending with a glorious double fault.  Cibulkova led 1-0.
Confidence built exponentially for Slovakia while Russia just wanted to find a hole to hide in.  Happy to serve and happy to pick up all the broken pieces of a Russian serve gone wrong, Domi raced to a 5-0 lead and all that Maria could do was think of the final set and hope that she could regroup in time.
However the twist to the tail came with the inability of Dominika to serve out the set.
Twice she tied and twice she was thwarted, and credit to Sharapova who quickly sensed a chance to build a momentum, if not to win the second set, certainly to surf into the last on some sort of wave.
On Domi's third attempt to win the set, now at 5-4, Maria hit two shocking returns which released some pressure, but a double fault on the first set point brought it back.  Finally, an off forehand which Maria could only help into the net gave the set to Dominika and sets were one apiece.
Maria had a medical time out but she may as well have stayed off court for all the good she contributed on court in the final set.  Straight away she was broken by Dominika who was controlling everything now, possibly even calling the scores before long.  Two double faults in the first service game assisted the break of serve and Dominika Cibulkova won five of the next six games, every second of the match now having an inevitability about its result.
Into the quarter final of the Australian Open for the first time, Domi had upset Maria 3-6 6-4 6-1

Wawrinka over gallant Robredo

Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss 8th seed had a fourth round battle with Spanish 17th seed Tommy Robredo on the 7th night.  Wawrinka was on course to overtake Federer as highest ranked Swiss player should he advance beyond this match and Roger fail to make the semis, but that wasn't uppermost in Stan's mind, as I was informed, when the players tossed the coin.
Tommy Robredo was enjoying a resurgence in his career as a 30+ player and he entered the match an outsider but not to be taken lightly at all.

Stan opened the match in fine fashion with his forehand winning points and also volleying at the net to win as well - serve was held with ease.  Robredo had no worries on his serve but Stan on his second try double faulted and was taken to deuce before eventually holding and he led 2-1.
Stan volunteered for service break duties and he captured Tommy Robredo's for smashing without notice, to lead 3-1.
Although Stan faced break points late in the set, he saved them with attack, before settling in to claim the set 6-3.

The second set began with Stan wanting to quickly remind Tommy of his place in the contest so he broke the Spaniard immediately.  The two then continued holding serve, Wawrinka with ease, serving big and with brutal ground strokes, and Robredo struggling, having to fight off break points regularly.

At 5-4, serving for the set, Wawrinka tightened up, but still found himself at set point.  An amazing backhand from out of his back pocket allowed Robredo to save that point, and he proceeded to break the Swiss serve - games were 5-5.
We ended in a tie break which Wawrinka finally ran through comfortably to win the set that most of us believed deserved to have been taken earlier.
Stan now led 6-3 7-6

The third set was a slug fest for which no clear advantage was appearing.  The first 8 games produced no break points so a second straight tie break was beckoning.
Tommy Robredo then broke the deadlock and destroyed the gentleman's agreement by creating two break points on the Wawrinka serve in the ninth game.
An incensed Stan used his huge serve and winning forehand to avoid disaster and lead 5-4.
We did need another tie breaker, and in this one Stan reached 6-4 with two match points.  One was saved but Robredo netted a forehand on the second and Wawrinka had won in straight sets but a very tough 3 setter. 6-3 7-6 7-6.

Eugenie Bouchard - future star

The first match on night 7 at Rod Laver Arena featured Australia's last singles hope Casey Dellacqua facing Canadian teenager and number 30 seed Eugenie Bouchard.  Casey was having a purple patch of form later in her career while Eugenie represents the future of women's tennis.
Bouchard served with power and purpose ending with an ace to emphatically hold the first serve of the match.  Casey found it far more difficult, and was taken to deuce before her big forehand helped her to safety and 1-1.
After a slowish start, Casey jumped all over the Canadian serve and broke to lead 2-1, consolidated comfortably with a good service hold and the acid test was Genie's to undergo.
The teenager passed with flying colours but remained a break behind at 2-3.  This became 4-3 Casey's way and the Australian about to serve.  
Four unforced errors was enough to shatter the Australian serve and games were back on serve 4-4.

Plenty of pockets of Canadian noise were making themselves known as Bouchard strutted her stuff, and we still had our locals cheering Casey.  Canada would no doubt knock us over in an ice hockey contest, just as we would thrash them at cricket, so there was plenty on the line with this tennis match apart from the individual stuff - there were national bragging rights at stake.

Genie pressed on, aceing Casey twice as she took the lead 5-4, and Casey needed to hold to remain in the first set.  This she did and both girls performed competently until 6-6 at which point a tie break was declared.
Casey won the early mini break and managed to retain it until the final stages of the breaker.
Australia led Canada by one set 7-6

The second set saw Genie Bouchard"s disappointment translate into a positive approach to the detriment of Casey Dellacqua.  Casey stumbled her way to a service hold and lead 1-0, but the accomplished looking player on court was the Canadian whose movement across the court and up to the net was swift and well timed.  Casey was progressively shell shocked by the ammunition fired by an increasingly impressive young player.

The first break came in the third game, followed directly by another in Casey's next service game to trail 1-4 and virtually concede the set.  Bouchard was playing like a quarter finalist whereas Casey was hitting and hoping.

The remaining services were held and Genie won the set 6-2 to level the match, but Casey had to repair some serious damage to her tennis game that had occurred during that past set.

If set two was ordinary, the final set was a debacle for Casey.  The procession of which Genie was a part, had forgotten to include Casey and she was left behind as the 6 games of the set were played out.

Eugenie Bouchard was now a quarter finalist, winning this match 6-7 6-2 6-0

Monday, 20 January 2014

Djokovic wins but tennis the loser

After two fine fourth round women's matches, the men's contest between second seed and 4 time champ Novak Djokovic and 15th seed Italian Fabio Fognini had a high standard with which to meet.

Novak began in a style which he personally knew was top class.  He took less than a minute to hold serve and a forehand down the line was breathtaking.  Novak raced to three break points on the Fognini serve but after slipping and falling he seemed to lose momentum temporarily and Fabio scrambled to hold his serve and it was 1-1.
Djokovic held to love again before setting the blow torch on the Italian serve once more and no mistakes this time - 3-1 to the defending title holder, and yet to drop a point on his own serve.

Fognini made the scoreboard look half decent as he held serve a couple more times not entirely convincingly.  Meanwhile Novak absolutely zipped through on each occasion he was asked to deliver, losing just one point for the entire set on his serve.  The set was Serbia's 6-3 but that scoreline flattered to deceive how far out of the match Fabio found himself.

The rest of the "match"'was just played because it had to be done.  Novak turned up but Fabio was missing for the best part - maybe sticking his head in for the first bit of the last set so he could have his name ticked off on the attendance record.

Djokovic won 6-3 6-0 6-2 but it was not the workout he would have preferred leading into a quarter final with either Wawrinka or Robredo.

There were more games played in both women's matches (29 and 28) which preceded this farce (23) on Rod Laver Arena.  And there are those who argue that men should receive greater prize money because they play best of five sets at Grand Slam events.  Yeah sure!  This case supports that - not

Serena out to an inspired Ana

Ana Ivanovic, fresh from taking Sam Stosur out of the Aus Open but still retaining huge popularity in this country, had the slightly more difficult job of shifting Serena Williams from the singles draw in the fourth round encounter on the first Sunday.
While Serena had been a red hot favourite all the way through, and had not lost a set, her first part of the match against Hantuchova didn't inspire the greatest confidence.  I put that down to the excessive heat and the need for body preservation.
Ana, meanwhile, should never have been taken to three sets by Stosur - she had a break of serve in the first set and was the better player for the most part, and even in the tie break allowed Sam to escape the noose.  That match should have been straight sets Ana, so I rated Ivanovic (winner in Auckland) coming into the Williams match as a good workout for the number one seed.  Serena would win in straight sets was my prediction though and that wouldn't change.
What occurred early in the match was intriguing.  Ana played with a freedom but a discipline too, which enabled her to actually place Serena in longer rallies and give her flatter shots with which to contend at times in those exchanges.  Serena certainly didn't open proceedings with her usual aplomb, not moving as well, and serving two double faults.  Yes she held serve, but only after having to save multiple break points.  Ana looked sharp, and had two winners on the board already - she had indicated early and strongly that she intended to contend and not just participate in this match.
The first four games were shared and then Ana gave Serena on the scoreboard the sort of pressure she had already been providing in the initial stages of this contest.  Working Williams around, and returning the serve well when allowed, frustrated the number one into error and the service break came to the surprise of all - Ana was ahead 3-2.
Smarting from this Serena put Ana back into her box with a quick break back.  3-3 but something about the mood of the match, and Serena's demeanour, suggested the length of time back in her box would be limited for Ana.
The next three games were held with serve, and Ana had to repeat the dose at 4-5 to keep the set going.  That she failed gave Serena a bonus because for much of that stanza of the match, the top seed did not look totally in control. 6-4 Serena.

Deja vu as the first four games of set two showed all the reasons why these two had such a close set one tussle.  And yet again it was Ana taking the initiative in the fifth game to rip the halo of dominance around Serena off and send it floating down the Yarra.  The break occurred and for once we could see it consolidated.

Ana served beautifully for the occasion, and although Serena drew close, she couldn't stop the power of the delivery and the ancillary ground equipment from Serbia which was working a treat.  Ana led 4-2 and had more break points in the next game - she was amazingly monstering the Williams serve!
Serena held firm, but could not find a way through Ana's defence and at 3-5 the second set looked likely to go Serbia's way.
Ana did not need to serve out the set - yet more break points were created on Serena's serve in the ninth game, and on the third of these Serena wilted, committing the error which gave Ana Ivanovic the set 6-3 and levelled the fourth round match at a set all.

Serena was definitely a little lost now - not even serving first in the decider.  Ana was just serving better and better and before anyone could comment, the job was Serena's to try and draw level because for the first time since early in the match Ana now led.  1-0 in the third.

For the I think fourth straight service game in a row, Serena faced break points, and I cannot remember this having occurred in matches that I have seen this woman play.  Ana only required the first one to convert and at 2-0 the previously unthinkable was now turned on its head.  The question posed now was "Can Serena come back?"
Of course a ridiculous question when we knew the answer, but Ana was playing inspired tennis and it would take one of Serena's specials to find a path out of this one.

Serves were held for the next while, and nothing appeared to be changing in terms of the Ivanovic delivery - still as solid as ever - leading 5-2 and the door was fast shutting on Serena.
The Serena service game was full of drama including a code warning for time violation for Serena and the first match point at 30-40.  Serena overcame all the drama in this game, but the bottom line was Ana serving for a quarter final spot at 5-3.

Her serve had stayed true all match and did not let her down now at the most important time.  Ana Ivanovic defeated the queen of tennis in three sets in the fourth round of the 2014 Australian Open 4-6 6-3 6-3, but it was more comprehensive than that in my opinion.  Ana, like her match against Stosur, probably lost the first set after playing the better tennis.  However she would not be complaining about the method of reaching the quarter final - she made it and now must have elevated herself to a legitimate chance of winning the tournament, having made the final previously (six years ago though it may be)

Flavia v Angelique - deserved better than fourth round

First of the fourth round matches on the seventh day pitted 9th seed Angelique Kerber against 25th seed Flavia Pennetta.  Although Pennetta had slipped back to 25, she was formerly a top ten player and at the last major - 2013 US Open - she made it to the semi finals.  Angelique would have probably assumed that 6th seed Petra Kvitova might have been her opposition in the round of sixteen, but she was taken out in the first round.
The first game had a number of deuces before Kerber held her serve, saving 3 break points in the process.  And that was about it for set one if you wanted to know the 9th seeds performance.
Kerber was taken to the cleaners by the Italian who knew exactly which buttons to push to achieve the whitest wash.
Serving beautifully and pulling winners from both sides whenever it appealed to her sense of triumph, Flavia had no one doubting her talent, and Angelique was stuck on 1 game for a long time.
Able to reach anything that the German top ten player dished up, Flavia herself was hitting double the amount of clean winners to unforced errors.
Kerber, after a careful but effective opening serve, lost everything in the subsequent fight for assets.
The set went to Pennetta 6-1.
Serving first in the second set, Flavia began with a double fault which was just what Angelique needed to bounce in with a couple of forehand winners to help with the service break she so craved.   Not wanting to appear too blessed she gave away the next game, also featuring a double fault and some loose backhands which are being sent to do some missionary work to learn some morals and become better backhands for our community. 1-1.
It became 2-2 but they arrived using very different routes.  Pennetta served and won in about a blink and half, while Kerber went to five deuces before she selected one she really liked, saving two break points along the way.
Three backhand errors cost Pennetta her next serve, while some useful forehands enabled her to break back immediately and it was 3-3.
On serve the next two games with Pennetta appearing to be the driver of momentum, either hitting a streak of winners or throwing in the bad ones.  Kerber was fairly consistent at this point.
And just as I opened my mouth, Kerber stung Pennetta on serve with three stunning ground strokes to break her serve, and that Italian Job enabled the German player to serve for the second set at 5-4.
Flavia fell apart producing 4 outright errors with no collaboration.  The set went to Germany and we needed a third to decide the winner.
The best was left to last this time, and Pennetta was fired up, in her mind believing she had let Kerber back in unnecessarily.  The vicious forehand and big ace to highlight the opening game of set three give credence to Flavia's feelings and she strode to a 1-0 lead.  Kerber wasn't going away just yet as she threw in a series of winners in the next game to make it 1-1.  The first break went to Kerber in the game after that to which Pennetta gave Kerber two of the best backhanders you'd want to see and also played two quality groundstrokes to negate the break and achieve 2-2.
Things heated up with an ace and more winners from the ground and from the air leading to 4-3, still on serve and with Kerber to come to the line.
Another stumble for the German as she failed to manage her forehand well enough and now Pennetta was serving for the match at 5-3.
Kerber smashed 2 winners from either side and that sent shivers down the spine of Pennetta who could only stuff up a couple of forehands before giving us a double fault and bringing the match back to 5-4 on serve.
Serving to stay alive, Kerber did exactly that, Pennetta's forehand again a bit wonky under the pressure.
At 5-6, back to Kerber again to stay with us, and from 15-15 she capitulated with three successive unforced mistakes to hand the match to Flavia Pennetta 6-1 4-6 7-5
It was a great match.

Nadal too complete for Monfils

World number one Rafa Nadal's third round opponent was 25th seed and dangerous French player Gael Monfils.
The two had already met once this year in the Doha final, that time with Rafa successful.  The match here was the second match on the first Saturday night on Rod Laver Arena and with the potential to be one of the best matches to watch all of the first week.
Monfils in tennis is a luxury item - can be irresistible to watch play, such is his style, flair and imagination, but is high maintenance.
As evidenced in the first game, where Monfils aced Nadal to lead 40-30 only to commit 3 unforced errors and drop serve.
In the second game, Monfils generated a break point on the Nadal serve with a brilliant forehand, but blew that one with an equally shocking forehand to follow up.

For the most of set one Nadal was at a level slightly below that of which he is capable, but acceptable for week one of a Grand Slam event.  He was consistent, a word yet to be contemplated by Monfils.
That's why Nadal is where he is in the world of tennis, and why Monfils threatens to be a regular top ten player but never quite delivers.

The third game saw Monfils spray most of the final shots of rallies to donate another service break to Nadal,
Later, broken for a third time in the set, with Nadal increasingly showing all his attacking and retrieval shills, Monfils looked a desolate character on court.  Set one Nadal 6-1

The second set further displayed Nadal at his best, the forehand beginning to play some real havoc with Monfils.  However, Monfils was giving value to the crowd, albeit if not always to himself.  Some of the shot making was jaw droppingly
sublime, whilst Gael would also retreat into foolish errors, often in sheer frustration.

The games were on serve until the sixth where Monfils had one of his melt downs.  Two successive double faults, with Nadal ready to pounce, proved to be the the beginning of the undoing of Monfils.
Rafa stamped his ownership on the set and match but with valuable assistance from Gael.  Nadal led 6-1 6-2.   Unforced errors in the second set - 2 from Nadal 22 from Monfils.

The third set was entertaining with some wonderful shot making from both players, and Monfils actually making the running on the scoreboard with 3-3 and break point chances on the Nadal serve.  Frustrated at not being able to take the chances, Monfils appeared to hit wildly at a number of shots in his next service game, and instead of Gael moving to 4-3 with a break, Nadal ended up leading 5-3 with serve to come for the match.
Nadal had no problems in doing the job for a convincing 6-1 6-2 6-3 victory and a fourth round berth.

Azarenka's free ticket to week 2

Victoria Azarenka, the second seed, had to defeat Austrian Yvonne Meusberger to reach the fourth round, and the match was the first Rod Laver Arena night match on the first Saturday of the 2014 Aus Open.
Ranked 49, no one, not even her pet dog would have been loyal enough to be saying "you can win this" to her and keep a straight face.  Vika was coming here as the two time defending champion and that should say it all.

The first game saw one point decided through a winning volley from Vika, and all the others either side of this one were errors from the Austrian racquet.
The break was inevitable - Azarenka 1-0
Armed with too much self belief in the second game Azarenka gave Meusberger one more chance than necessary, and the break back occurred.

That was the first and last time that Yvonne would make a difference to the game score in the match.  Totally dominated by a clinical Azarenka, the Austrian just could not string a few points together all match.
Vika, in contrast, could have been blind folded, playing left handed with a stringless racquet and even then Yvonne may still have had the disadvantage.

Azarenka won 6-1 6-0, hitting winners at will from and to all parts of the court, but did not provide any extra information as to how her chances of three Opens in a row stood.

Muguruza a new Spanish star

Caroline Wozniacki has made the semis here before and seeded 10th was expected to win through to at least the fourth round.  However she wasn't expecting the run of Spain's newest star Garbine Muguruza.  The 38th ranked player won in Hobart as a qualifier and already knocked out Kanepi the 24th seed in the first round here.  Wozniacki would have a tough fight.
Caro began with a volley winner in her opening serve, but was beaten soundly after that with shots to her backhand forcing mistakes and a backhand from Muguruza winning wide approval.  The Spanish newbie 1-0 and after saving 2 break points herself she stung a forehand winner to lead 2-0.

Wozniacki held with a brilliant forehand of her own before breaking Muguruza after the Spanish player netted a couple of forehands.
Taking it personally, Muguruza broke straight back and held the edge with a powerful game that was fresh and could be around women's tennis for some time.

At 3-4, Caro executed her plan for saving the set.   Directing much of her anger at the Spanish forehand she was measured enough to play mistake free and not try outlandish shots just to maybe end a rally a little quicker.  Muguruza's forehand suffered and the errors mounted enough to earn the Danish former number one a break and games were 4-4.
The metal edge was now with the more experienced player and Caro had a love game on serve, featuring two backhand winners and led 5-4, asking the question "Can you hold serve now that you have to just to remain in contention for the set?" or more likely stating "Gotcha now"
Two double faults and unforced errors, one off each side, were gifts from Muguruza to Wozniacki as she announced that the set would be Caro's in a complicated deal 6-4.

Set two saw wonderful tennis - the baseline exchanges were consistently top class with winning the point the goal rather than waiting until someone mishit one.
The first four games went with serve, as did the fifth with Wozniacki still in charge on serve.  The sixth game provided Caro two break point chances during a lengthy test of Muguruza's resolve, but the Spanish player stuck firm and survived the crisis.
She then had another crisis at 3-4, when having to face three more break points on her serve.  The fact that she could save these with an ace, a forehand volley winner and backhand winner is testimony to her character and her skill under pressure.

At 5-5 Muguruza turned the tables, breaking the recently impenetrable Danish serve to be just her own serve from levelling the match.  Garbine Muguruza won the second set 7-5 and was equal 4-6 7-5.

The final set was Muguruza flying and Wozniacki sinking.  Breaking the first two Danish serves of the set meant that (despite losing one of her own) Muguruza could control the set.  Which she did.  Out of nine serve games, six were breaks of serves.
Muguruza won 4-6 7-5 6-3

The more experienced player was the one who couldn't survive the pressure of a third round match at a major, and it would be fun to see whichever other top players Garbine may trouble in Aus Open 2014.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Federer with too many options

Roger Federer has been giving tennis lessons on Rod Laver Arena during Australian Opens over a number of years now.  So it poses the question - exactly how effective has he been in this area? He is still having to show his pupils the same areas of the game in which they are deficient and in which he is highly proficient so I ask you "Where is the relative improvement in your students Professor Federer?".

I guess he can claim star pupils that have gone on to tertiary education and to eminent positions in the industry such as Nadal and Djokovic, but there are others that still are struggling with the basics of the game that Roger has been teaching them for years.

In his third round match this year, aka hard court tutorial, the student requiring summer schooling was Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili. (Tey-G, I imagine, to his homies in the hood) Gabasvili was ranked 79 in the world and prior to this year had never made it past the first round.
Roger would ensure that as well as the lesson, he would not reach the fourth round in 2014.

Roger served first and explained how to deal with break points, the only reason of course why he would be in the position of defending them.  The next four games went easily to serve, and not until Gabashvili fell victim to his own inefficiency did Federer cash in on a break in the sixth game and lead 4-2.  Serve and backhand assisted Roger from break point territory once more in the next game before nothing could save Teymuraz from that danger zone in the final (8th) game of the set.
Federer won the set 6-2 and the people were happy.

As per the first set ritual, Roger awaited the sixth game before achieving the service break, in the meantime taking time from the stresses of the match to do some serve volleying as homage to his new coach - it worked in that the points were won, but it still looks a way from being natural, and under the pressure cooker of quarters, semis and finals, something that would only be used if forced upon him.

Again as per the first set script, Federer consolidated the break before running out the set, signing off with an off forehand to delight his fans, inside and out.  Leading now 6-2 6-2.

In the third set, Federer managed to survive three break points in his first service game, and while wasting other break chances off the Gabashvili serve throughout the set, the only break occurred in the fourth game when Federer opened up a 3-1 lead.

The match had some good tennis at various points but it didn't really give us much indication of Federer's form relative to others whom he may meet later in the tournament.  The win was solid enough 6-2 6-2 6-3

It's Maria - as Alize becomes French toast

Conditions for Maria Sharapova's third round match against 25th seed Alize Cornet from France were a tad more comfortable than the searing heat through which she had to endure well over three hours just to win her previous match.
Providing the recovery had gone Ok, the Cornet job for Sharapova should be fairly simple to execute, with the box of tricks available to the beloved one.

Sharapova served, and after three backhand errors from Cornet, and a forehand  winner from Maria, 1-0 was the score.   A lengthy Cornet service game came to nothing for her as Sharapova hit big forehands and forced errors off both sides from the racquet of Alize.
Sharapova was hitting winners at will off the ground and out of the air dominating her way to 3-0 before Cornet bumbled her way through error after error admitting she had nothing to offer except her charity and the Maria Foundation greedily accepted another break of serve.
Against the trend, a break back put a score on the board for the French girl who was unfortunately appearing destined for the airport soon.  With Sharapova, the double fault is ever possible for her opponents to seize upon when nothing else is going to flow in their direction.
4-1 became 6-1 in a hurry, despite the annoying Maria habit of taking her time between points just to appear pretty for the camera for as long as she can.

The set took about as long as the players took to draw breath in the last Sharapova match.

An even start to the second set, with easy service games posted by both players for a 1-1 scoreline.  Then with Alize back to her first set problems, Sharapova had her facing three break points at 0-40.  For some unfathomable reason, Sharapova took pity and played a series of woeful forehands to bring Cornet back and ultimately serve was held.  Well "never give a sucker an even break" could be rephrased "never be taken for a sucker when you're about to get the break" because Cornet broke Sharapova straight after surviving that scare and led 3-1 to turn the match completely on its head, the backhand half volley winner to secure the game simply sublime.
That signalled the beginning of an amazing stretch of tennis that included five more breaks of serve in the next eight games, with wonderful tennis shots for the most part, but horribly timed double faults tempering the highlights.
Cornet refused to give in when she may have good reason to think her chances had gone.  Firstly at 3-5 and down match point she was saved.  Then as Sharapova served for the match at 5-4, double faults kept Cornet in with a chance.  Again serving for the match at 6-5, Sharapova failed to complete the task.
Only in a closely fought tie break did Maria Sharapova finally clinch the deal when at   7 points to 6 Alize Cornet netted her last shot of the match.
Sharapova into the fourth round, winning 6-1 7-6.