Saturday, 31 January 2015

Williams does it yet again !

So all the preliminaries had been completed and after the upsets and promising performances we were left with the top two seeds to fittingly play off for the 2015 Aus Open Women's Singles title. Not since top seed Justine Henin defeated second seed Kim Clijsters in 2004 had the two top seeded women played off at Melbourne Park.

Maria Sharapova almost departed when in deep trouble against Panova but since that recovery has looked strong against all her opposition.  Serena Williams had lost the opening set of two of her matches but for the remainder has also appeared a likely finalist.

Past records are not meant to count but if Sharapova was to capture her second Aus Open crown she would need to defeat a player who has had the better of her since 2004 - there is that year again. Maria has only lost four finals at Grand Slam level, the same as Serena - the other side of the equation is a little different with five GS titles for Sharapova against eighteen for Williams.

Sharapova won the toss and served and didn't serve well, Serena threw in a couple of sizzling returns and a double fault gave the break to the top seed. Despite a double for her own racquet and a splendid return from Sharapova the winning shots from Williams were too many and she held for 2-0.

A far more competent display on serve from Maria ( a love game in fact) finished off with a backhand setting up a forehand winner brought the score to 2-1 in Serena's favour.
An ace and two service winners in reply to an excellent drop shot from Sharapova took Serena to 3-1 and some fine deep serves from Maria causing headaches and errant shots from Williams maintained the one game differential.

At 3-2 and 30-30 rain intruded the spectacle and the players took a much unwanted break while the roof was closed.  Maria had hit a terrific forehand winner and was having much better of the baseline rallies than earlier but Serena still had her serve as a weapon.
An ace and a winning forehand down the line after the break sent the score to 4-2.

A love game to break Sharapova again featured pinpoint groundstrokes from Williams which sent Maria from one side of Victoria to the other, and then the second seed served a double fault.

Serving for the set at 5-2 Serena stumbled facing 0-40.  Big serves saved two break points but she couldn't prevent the third from inflicting damage and Maria had one break back.

However the comeback was brief.  Three set points came from the Sharapova serve and Serena locked the set safely away 6-3 with the bonus of serving first in the second.

Three aces, one off a second serve, plus a slashing forehand winner sent a brutal message to Maria in the opening game and Serena looked good at 1-0.  Facing two more break points due to the pressure of Serena's returns, Maria served three big ones and won the fourth point to hold in a vital game. Serena's disappointment at missing out on the chances took her anger out in a positive way with another love game to lead 2-1.

From 15-30 Sharapova showed some grit, starting and finishing the game with backhand winners down the line 2-2.
After having the nerve to hit an off forehand for a return winner of a Serena first serve, the American felt insulted enough to win the next four points with huge serves and hold the edge again 3-2.

The quality of tennis from both players in the sixth game was excellent and Maria did well to overcome a rampant Serena and save a break point in the process of levelling 3-3.
Serena was at 0-30 before her booming serve rescued her, but she almost lost serve due to her over exuberance when shouting for joy prior to a point finishing. She was docked the point which she almost certainly would have won, and then had to save a break point. She did with enormous serving and steadiness in a crisis. 4-3 Williams.

Sharapova held convincingly and it was 4-4. No room for mistakes now.

The big serving remained reliable and a love game from Williams handed Sharapova the assignment of holding serve to remain in contention. "Stayin Alive" was blaring out of the speakers at change of ends.

Sharapova saved a match point with a brilliant winner and held serve for 5-5. She was not going away in a hurry. In fact she was pushing Serena hard with glorious shots from both sides and the world's best had to negotiate deuce to once again move a game away from the title 6-5.

A tie break would decide the set following possibly the best service game from Sharapova for the match.

Serena lost the first point on her serve thanks to a wonderful pass down the line from Sharapova.
She recovered and led 4-1 with some clutch tennis and big serves.  Sharapova came back to eventually be serving at 4-5 but a Serena winner gave her two more match points. The first was saved with another withering shot from Sharapova before a big serve was the proper way for the best in the world to win.

Serena Williams Australian Open champion for the sixth time 6-3 7-6 and what a privilege to have seen each one.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Djokovic in Five over Wawrinka

The second semi final in the Men's Draw promised the best tennis of the tournament with the top seed and four time winner Novak Djokovic doing battle for the third year running with fourth seed Stanislas Wawrinka, the reigning champion.

Their contests have been memorable with the winner of each going on to win the title.

Both players were decisive winners of their respective quarter finals, underscoring the excellent form displayed throughout the entire tournament to this exciting point.

Novak won the toss but hoped to win much more and he served first on the second Friday night. An ace and a double fault plus a few Wawrinka errors put the top seed on the board first. Four big first serves enabled Stan to equalise smartly. Anothe love game, this from Djokovic, completed a trifecta of games to begin the match, with not a mark on either man's serve as yet. 2-1 to Novak.

Still not many rallies but Djokovic did win a couple of the longer points when Stan netted forehands. 3-2 to Novak and no signs yet where the match was heading, both players feeling each other out.  The first test came in the sixth game where Stan missed most of his first serves but at 0-30 Djokovic could not keep enough shots in play to take advantage and it was 3-3, a classy backhand from Wawrinka the highlight.

Suddenly Djokovic was down two break points with a combination of loose shots and a winning Swiss backhand - only one break point was needed as Novak hit another forehand astray and Stan led 4-3 and looked the more assured.

Assured for five seconds at least - Djokovic broke back to love, the highlight a forehand to cause the end of a marvellous rally, Stan netting his to bring up the break points.  The tennis was starting to hot up now, with a number of mouth watering exchanges replacing the dominant serve winning points of the first handful of games - Djokovic led 5-4.

Wawrinka was in strife again on serve and Djokovic wasted two set points before Stan finally found his rhythm and two aces iced the game for 5-5.

Novak recovered from his disappointment to hold to love and Stan followed suit and the expected tie break did eventuate.

Djokovic took advantage of some Warinka bad luck, bad judgement and poor execution to run through the tie break 7-1 and take the set 7-6, an unfortunate finish to what had been an enthralling an tight contest for forty minutes.

Stan had all sorts of problems in the first game of set two, facing another two break points, but he trusted his serve and managed to find an escape route to lead 1-0, but Novak's returning was causing issues for the Swiss player.

Serve began to dominate again and at 2-3 it was Djokovic continuing to play catch up. He couldn't after a stunning Wawrinka backhand down the line pass brought up 30-30 and then Djokovic errors handed the break to the fourth seed who led 4-2.

The break was consolidated and it appeared that the match was headed for a set all with Stan ahead 5-2, his backhand now assisting him to match and often control rallies with Djokovic who had hit a poor patch.

Stan was made to serve it out and he did with his first serve behaving itself at the right time and Novak just having to accept the consequences.  6-3 Wawrinka and the match was in the balance, Djokovic to serve first in the third.

Stan was all over a jittery Djokovic serve in the first game of the third set with fantastic forehands and backhands but Djokovic survived in a game of high drama and suspense.

Novak took advantage of his escape and turned the situation completely on its head by breaking the Wawrinka serve the very next game with a combination of cross court shots to defy the Swiss game plan. 2-0 Djokovic.

3-0 with the second service hold a whole lot less complicated than the first for the now more poised number one seed.

A break point was saved and instead of being two breaks down, Stan had gained valuable confidence which he pumped into the next Novak service game and broke to love.  2-3 and back on serve.

After an easy hold for Stan, Novak returned to his expected quality to win his serve to love including a number of silky ground strokes.  Stan wasted no time in levelling again at 4-4, his first serve a fine ally.

Djokovic held serve to lead 5-4 and place the scoreboard pressure on Wawrinka who needed to hold to stay in contention for the set.  He led 40-15 but a double fault and then some wonderful cross court shot making from Djokovic culminated in a set point which Stan was incapable of preventing the top seed from converting.  Novak now led 7-6 3-6 6-4 and a five setter was again necessary should Wawrinka win this semi final. 

After a comfortable service game to lead 1-0, Djokovic set about the Wawrinka serve and broke again, a sweet backhand giving Wawrinka no choice but to net the reply. 2-0 with a serve to come.
However, as in the third set, Novak handed the break directly back with some of his more insipid play for the night. 1-2 Wawrinka but on serve and Djokovic was giving him a window of hope.

The window was almost shut when Wawrinka was down a further three break points at 0-40, but he gritted his teeth and won through with some luck and good stroke play to level at 2-2
Djokovic held more simply for 3-2.

The seventh game was a shocker for the top seed who dropped serve again and it was Wawrinka with the inside running to take the fourth set in front 4-3 and in the middle of a purple patch hitting backhands down the line for winners and forcing Djokovic into error in many of the rallies.

The set was Wawrinka's 6-4 with no fuss as he belted down his serves with style leaving Djokovic to briefly rue what might have been but more importantly concentrate on the deciding fifth set in which he would serve first.

A drama packed game with challenges all over the place and a break point saved was finally won by Djokovic and then two double faults went a large way to ending Stan's run of service holds. Djokovic 2-0 but no guarantee of consolidation given prior efforts tonight.

This time Djokovic was cool under the pressure and some delightful placement of his groundstrokes assisted him to 3-0 with still only the single break.

Wawrinka's purple patch had certainly dried up with Djokovic taking another game off the fragile looking serve of the Swiss player. 4-0 Djokovic.

Despite the double break Novak appeared nervous and at 30-40 he had to serve well. After yet another drop shot moment of madness he steadied and two fine serves, one a second delivery the next a first, put him a game away from the final, 5-0.

Stan had given his all and Novak was too good in the finish, ending with a flourish 7-6 3-6 6-4 4-6 6-0 and he would play Andy Murray for the third time in the Aus Open Final.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Murray through to a fourth final

The first Mens Semi Final was seeded to be Federer v Nadal but they are history and tonight would see sixth seed Andy Murray attempting to make his fourth final here at Melbourne Park while his opponent Tomas Berdych tried to prevent that and book a spot in his second ever Grand Slam tournament final and first Aus Open decider.

Berdych has been exemplary throughout the tournament and his straight sets disposal of Nadal was especially noteworthy.  Murray has looked sharp from the outset with his win over Dimitrov one of the best matches so far.

The two have met 10 times with Berdych holding a 6-4 edge, but they haven't played each other since 2013.  The last time they met in a Grand Slam tournament was the 2012 US Open semi final which Murray won en route to his maiden victory at the highest level.

On what has been shown this past week or so, and at Aus Opens and GS events past, I would find it hard to see Murray losing tonight.  However upsets have occurred and there are rational arguments in favour of a Berdych success.  The prospect was for an entertaining clash irrespective.

Berdych in his first two service games was tidy while Murray struggled to hold his opening effort but after the opening three it was on serve 1-2 Murray.  2-3 and the pattern followed - Berdych serving consistently and big, winning a number of free points, while Murray served well but gave enough points away to keep Berdych interested.

Murray recovered from 0-30 to eventually hold though it took quite a few game points. One rally featured Murray running down a Berdych drop shit and flicking it cross court for a brilliant winner.  Berdych kept holding serve with ease 4-3 to the Czech player.

Berdych had been playing several forehands and backhands very deep keeping Murray on the defensive and he won a couple of points this way in the eighth game before he squeezed a stunning backhand return down the line to bring up two break points. Murray couldn't handle another backhand which was shoved into the net and the first break was achieved.  Berdych was serving for the set at 5-3.

For the first time Berdych found trouble on serve and on the second of two break points Murray won a long rally full of terrific shots cross court and down the line when Berdych netted a forehand. 4-5 with Murray playing catch up.

At 5-5 Berdych confirmed that his serve had gone off the boil and because he had to participate in more rallies with Murray he was exposed to the greater execution and variety displayed by the sixth seed.  However Murray was not immune to errors and he could not convert the break chances he had so Berdych eventually held for 6-5.

After an anxious moment or two it was tie break time.

Points went against serve for most of the first part of the tie break and when Berdych double faulted when leading 4-3 he must have felt he'd wasted a big chance. To his credit he held his nerve and didn't lose another point on his serve and it was Murray who netted for the set to go to the seventh seed 7-6, eight points to six in the breaker.

Tomas was rapt and he left to celebrate with friends at a local wine bar. Upon his return Andy had clocked up the first five games of the second set. Berdych had let his guard down and Murray had retained his focus, sensed a gap in Berdych's and drove his truck straight through it.

Although Murray had left Berdych without a game to his name in set two, it was still just one set apiece and if Tomas could put his mind to the task at hand he might just realise that it wasn't all gloom and doom.

And so serves were held for awhile in the third set, not always convincingly but until Berdych stepped up to the line in the sixth game some sense of normality had returned.  Then Murray broke and Tomas was officially in dire straits.
At 5-3 Murray, with barely any resistance, strolled to 40-15 before Berdych played a terrific point and raised hopes with a sparkling winner.  Too little too late and Murray smashed a big serve to win the set and take a firm grip on the match leading 6-7 6-0 6-3.

The fourth set saw some average tennis for the first four or five games but it picked up from there and some wonderful stroke play off the racquet of Murray plus better serving from Berdych resulted in service holds to 4-5 with Murray's serve to come.

Once more it was Berdych who came undone on serve, with a double fault and some loose groundstrokes handing a break to Murray and he would serve for a place in the final at 6-5.

Quick as you like it was 40-0 and Andy Murray only needed one match point as an ace sealed the deal 6-7 6-0 6-3 7-5.

Serena into Sixth Final

Serena Williams had played five Aus Open semi finals previously and with each went on to win the title.  So that was one record Madison Keys needed to upset by defeating the world number one in the second semi final for 2015.  To reach the final the unseeded 19 year old would have beaten both the Williams sisters in successive matches, a rarity indeed.

Serena played her best tennis for the tournament in beating Dominika Cibulkova in the quarters and of course Madison's three set triumph over Venus was memorable if not for the overall standard so much but for the generational significance and the future of women's tennis in the US and worldwide.

A slow Serena start which has become the norm was turned into a break of serve by some clean hitting from Keys and she converted the break with a sensible service game.

Serena troubled the scorers eventually but trailed 1-2 and behind that single break.

Keys served well and hit some beautiful winners off both sides to increase the edge to 3-1 before Serena stepped up the pace, holding serve easily then pouncing on some errant shots from the younger player to even it up at 3-3.

Another strong service game took the world number one to the front for the first time today 4-3. Hardly overwhelmed by the Serena surge, Madison played a quality range of shots to stem the flow and then Serena held again, her serve now looking comfortable and potentially dangerous. 5-4 Williams

The tennis lifted a couple of notches thanks to Madison whose off forehand and backhand were now causing Serena to do extra to stay competitive.  5-5 was achieved without fuss by great serving and other stuff from Keys and then she poured a heap of pressure onto Serena who was taken to deuce and forced to come up with brilliance of her own before leading 6-5.

Madison took the set into a tie break which was fitting since she had controlled the better part of proceedings and forced Serena to play catch up on more than a few occasions. The standard of tennis was light years ahead of the previous match.

Serena won an early point off the Keys serve in the tie break but from that moment on serving dominated and when Serena arrived at 6-3 Madison calmly served two aces to force the champ to serve it out.  Another great serve and the first set had gone to Williams 7-6 but she could count herself fortunate to sneak away with it considering the pressure applied from Madison Keys.

A break of the Keys serve in the opening game of set two can probably be blamed on a let down from the first set loss but it was unfortunate given the state of the match. Serena capitalised by holding with not great ease, needing to save two break points.  Her serve in the difficult situation was fantastic, one 195kmh serve providing her with great joy.

Madison stuck to her task with a comfortable hold, trading some wonderful groundstrokes with her senior opponent, but winning. 2-1 Williams.

Some loose tennis put Madison in peril at 15-40 but clutch serving brought it back to deuce before a wonderful rally finished off with a brilliant Serena chase to a Keys shot for a winner down the line set up another break point. A double fault gave Serena a 4-1 lead with two breaks and a spot in the final was just about hers.

A typical Serena game lasting a few seconds with serve completely on song meant that Madison had to hold serve to stay alive. She did but only after the longest game of the match and saving multiple match points. If anyone ever doubted the courage of Madison Keys, no one does after that effort.

Serena Williams won 7-6 6-2 and her high standard today was required due to the fantastic effort by Madison Keys who will be one of the top players into the next several years.

Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams will play for the title and as the best performed players this tournament, the top two seeds deserve to be there.

Sharapova into Final

Number two seed Maria Sharapova was in sparkling form having disposed of Eugenie Bouchard in two quick sets in the quarters and her semi final opponent would be Ekaterina Makarova, 10th seed and fellow Russian whose demolition of Simona Halep could justifiably be described as even more impressive.

The two began the first semi final with Maria serving and that game took over ten minutes to complete, a sign of the evenness of the two women, but possibly more of the nerves taking over. Hopefully the errant groundstrokes and double faults would dissipate as the match wore on.

Sharapova held on and then broke Makarova in a game which seemed like a sprint in comparison although it did enjoy its share of deuces and ads. Makarova was the one with more trouble finding her range, in direct contrast to her comfort playing Halep.

The break was held through five games, and could have extended quite easily to two breaks had Makarova not steadied in the fourth to hold serve in the face of a concerted Sharapova barrage. 

Ekaterina fought off more break point danger with some fine serving, and then a Sharpova double fault on top of Makarova ground stroke pressure set up two break back points for the lower ranked Russian.  Maria saved one but netted a simple forehand to now only lead 4-3.

Sharapova hit straight back in the best possible way with four outright winners to brutalise the Makarova serve and then easily hold to win the set 6-3, errors freely flowing as the final resistance appeared to have gone from the Makarova racquet.

Serving the opening game of set two, Ekaterina needed to regroup swiftly or she could find herself out the door just as smartly.

Instead of looking like someone in for a fight, Makarova had her head hung, appeared beaten, resigned to the fact that this was a done deal and not at all concerned that she was losing points hand over fist.

All the first three games went the way of Sharapova, included amongst them two breaks, and most of it down to poor execution by a very disappointing Makarova. 

More of the same until at 0-4 Ekaterina suddenly realised that this was a semi final of a major and she needed to contribute a little more to the contest. She held serve, hitting a few more decent shots but relying too on some Maria mishits.

Some double fault issues resulted in two break points available to Makarova in game six but Sharapova won through that concern and led 5-1.  Makarova played some solid tennis to win possibly her last game of the tournament and gave Maria the stage to serve for the final.

Not a problem for the second seed and Maria Sharapova was the first women to qualify for the 2015 Aus Open final winning 6-3 6-2.

Djokovic delivers a lesson to Raonic

Novak Djokovic had played big serving Canadian Milos Raonic 3 times previously, all in 2014, and won each time.  The first two were on clay including a quarter final at Roland Garros.  The last time was late in the year in Paris on a hard court.

Raonic has been touted as one of the next wave of players to challenge for the top rankings and tonight's quarter final would hopefully be a measure of how far he has come in the path to achieve higher glory.

Djokovic began with an ace and completed his opening service game to love with a forehand winner.  That set the scene for how his serving was to go for the evening.
Raonic had to endure a break point and 3 deuces before his serve finally clicked  and 2 aces assisted him to level at 1-1.  He didn't lose a point in his next 2 service games but neither was Djokovic troubled in reaching the 3-3 score line.

At 0-30 and again at deuce in the seventh game the top seed was stretched just a little but remaining calm under pressure his forehand winner gave him 4-3.
2 more break points on the Raonic serve were saved in the next game and while he could see 4-4 on the board it was his serve that had been in most danger of being dropped, something he could ill afford since it was his great strength entering the contest.

The tie break arrived and Djokovic was up a break quickly thanks to a Raonic error.  Djokovic returned the favour and the Canadian was serving at 2-3.

A Raonic service winner was fine but the forehand miss the point prior once more gave Novak the running.
The 4 time champ consolidated his position with an ace and a volley winner, setting up 3 set points.

Milos saved two but on the first set point with his own serve, Djokovic prevailed to win 7 points to 5 and the opener 7-6.

Disappointed, Raonic let it show through his racquet in the first game of set two and with a litany of errors it was suddenly three break points.  A fine forehand from Raonic saved one but he couldn't prevent the Djokovic backhand from securing the break with the second and it was 1-0 to the Serbian player.

The Djokovic serve was almost Fort Knox in its security for the second set, Raonic incapable of placing even the slightest indentation.  In fact apart from unforced errors, one in the fourth and one in the eighth games, no other points were won on Novak's serve.  Raonic's serve after the opening game was rock solid too, but that was academic since a single break was all that was required to win the set 6-4 and Djokovic was one set away from another semi final.

The third set was just a procession for Djokovic and disappointing from a tennis perspective as the effort from Raonic appeared to subside a little. His hopes were slim, certainly, but he lacked the fight for every point which, if he wants to make the jump to the next level, he will need to show, because progression can sometimes be greater with how you handle some losses than with easy no pressure wins.  The Nadal third set effort in the 3 set loss to Berdych match was all character, and Raonic could have given some of that tonight.

Djokovic was all class and deserved to win 7-6 6-4 6-2 and is primed for a tougher test against Wawrinka in the semis as these two continue the beginnings of what could be a great rivalry over the years to come.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Wawrinka closer to a repeat

Two players who both managed to defeat Novak Djokovic at Grand Slam level in 2014 would fight for a semi final spot to possibly play the number one seed should he win through in the later quarter final.

Wawrinka is the reigning champion and 4th seed while Nishikori is the 5th seed.

Wawrinka served first and after four games had already achieved a break, thanks to Nishikori's string of unforced errors - Stan had begun with his backhand firing and serving beautifully. 3-1 Wawrinka.

Nishikori knuckled down to the task, holding serve competently until 2-5 where he had to save a couple of set points with winners off his forehand.

Wawrinka moved on unfazed to record an opening set triumph 6-3, recovering from a double fault and 15-30.

Nishikori opened the second set with a hold as did Wawrinka who added two more aces to his tally.  Not to be outdone, Kei served three aces in the next game, one to save a break point. Wawrinka levelled at 2-2 behind some solid backhands but that is no surprise.

Nishikori's hopes of winning the match took a turn for the worse when at 15-40 he could only save one break point with a forehand volley before being forced into backhand trauma. Wawrinka now 3-2 and in cruise control. 

A love game with the now apparent quota of two aces per service game took Wawrinka to 4-2 and only some begging and pleading from an impassioned Nishikori saw the Swiss player take pity and allow the next three break points to pass without incident.

Wawrinka could find himself in trouble with officials after he accidentally served three aces in his next game, a clear violation of the quota. The game was won by Wawrinka and the following one by Nishikori leaving the score at 5-4 and the Swiss serve to come.

Stan served an ace but winners from Kei enabled the production of two break points, both of which amounted to nothing. Another one was saved with an ace after which Kei decided this was going nowhere and agreed that the set should be sent to Switzerland 6-4.

Nishikori won the first eight points of set three which equated to 2-0 and for once there was hint of a challenge.  Ever the killjoy Wawrinka snuffed out the short term hopes by breaking back to love in an instant.

Serves were held in the next two games which like the first three lasted the minimum four points. Energy saving stuff from these guys.

Wawrinka expressed concern over his dearth of aces of late so he bashed one in the sixth game plus a backhand winner to keep in practice. This also only took four points to win.

The seventh game was a marathon affair, taking a massive five points to determine that Nishikori had landed it, ace and volley winner included.
4-3 to Kei.

Three more love games en route to the inevitable tiebreak (two Swiss aces to conclude the twelfth game) and Wawrinka soon gave Nishikori the slip.

A Japanese unforced error then two more Swiss aces gave Stan 3-0.  Another ace and a forehand volley winner moved it to 6-1 and five match points, the first two on Nishikori's serve.

Wawrinka was forced into error twice on his backhand and then produced two nervous forehand mistakes which when combined with a classy winner from Nishikori brought the score to 6-6.

After all that hard work Nishikori missed with a forehand of his own and Wawrinka had another match point.  

Fittingly it was the 20th ace of the match for Wawrinka which won the final point, and the semi final berth was his 6-3 6-4 7-6

Serena imposes herself on the Open

Serena Williams needed to defeat last years finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the last of the quarter finals if she was to retain her dream of a 19th major.

A first set win would be vital to her chances, but probably more essential for the 11th seed because Serena has proven twice already this event that coming from a set behind is just another method winning.

The opening two games were shared but Cibulkova would not want to be as free with the double faults and expect to escape as lightly as she did in game one.

On the second Cibulkova serve Serena hit winners from both wings to set up break points and she only needed the one to hold a 2-1 lead and she consolidated the advantage courtesy of a couple of winning forehands and an ace.

Already Madison Keys was starting to prepare for another battle with a Williams sister and the feeling that Serena was on a victory march intensified with a further break of the Slovak serve in the fifth game. A Williams winner surrounded by two unforced errors from 30-30 decided the 4-1 lead.

Two aces and another great forehand brought Serena to the precipice of the first set win but Dominika held her back for a moment with some excellent forehands to hold serve and trail 2-5.

A normal player may have been worried after Cibulkova hit a backhand pearler to make it 15-30.  Not Serena, though, who just slammed down three aces to parcel up the set and put it away with her valuables 6-2.

Dominika clearly required a solid start to set two and 15-40 wasn't that. She did ok to close to deuce but was unable to deal with the third break point and expectations of a comeback went out the window.

Cibulkova played a generally better set of tennis, in fact creating two break points on the Williams serve in the fourth game.  Serena reacted with an ace, a service winner, another ace and a backhand winner to thrill the crowd but demoralise her opponent.

Dominika held serve to stay a single break down but that was her final success for the afternoon.

Serena signed the exit pass for a gallant but outclassed Cibulkova in the eighth game winning the match 6-2 6-2

For maybe the first time in the tournament Serena flexed her muscle, and it wasn't a full flex so watch out whoever's left. 

Madison Keys shocks Venus

An all American quarter final featured a battle of two generations - a revitalised Venus Williams, the 18th seed and the improving unseeded Madison Keys.  Venus had just come off a resounding win over Agnieszka Radwanska and was entitled to favouritism.

Through the first five service games Venus was solid on serve not giving many chances to Madison, but the younger player was matching her elder in general shot making off the ground.

At 2-3 Venus passed Keys down the line and an error from Madison at her in strife at 0-30 but she steadied to win the next three points.  At deuce an ace was of great relief as was the forehand hit long by Venus to level things at 3-3.

The seventh game was all about Madison following the first point which Venus netted after a searching rally.  A clean winner down the line and another this time an off forehand cross court were finished off with a volley put away to break the Venus serve and the 19 year old led 4-3.

A comfortable service hold and then Venus needed to hold herself at 3-5.  Madison saw Venus at the baseline on the first point and rushed the net and played and exquisite half volley winner.  A double fault and netted shot from Venus were topped off with a brilliant pass from Keys to win the set 6-3.  An excellent performance in her first quarter final.

The second set began with two quick service holds before Madison's great run ended with a couple of netted shots, a forehand long and a double fault to hand a break to Venus who now owned the 2-1 edge.

Williams had no trouble converting the break largely due to Madison's continuing woes and although she hit a splendid backhand winner to start her next service game the rest of the Keys backhand attempts found the net and she lost serve again, Venus now leading 4-1.

Medical time out for Madison Keys, probably to address the injury to her backhand.
These time outs can certainly act as momentum stoppers - Venus played a scrappy service game which she lost rather than Madison won and then Madison improved her serve and stroke play enough to hold on to a serve and games were 4-3 with the Williams serve to come, still a real in hand.

A couple of clean strikes from Keys helped her to break again and level at 4-4 and she saved two break points in the next game with fine ground strokes.

However Venus was strong and consistent and capitalised on the Keys errors to break yet again and serve fro the set.  
No mistakes and with the 6-4 success for Venus the two were tied at a set apiece.

The final set was a back and forth affair and neither player seemed confident of putting a sequence of points or games together enough to claim victory.

Venus broke first and led 3-1 suggesting perhaps that experience may be the factor deciding the day.  However Madison stuck firm and broke back for 3-3 with some fine winners from both sides, her backhand coming off the racquet like it was in the first set.

Venus came one more time to break and lead 4-3, her forehand the key, but this was th final push from the 34 year old.

Madison Keys closed out the match in sensational style, taking the final three games with great shot making and poise beyond her years.
A netted attempt from Venus concluded the match putting Madison Keys into the semi final 6-2 4-6 6-4

Murray too polished for Kyrgios

The quarter final which much of Australia had been waiting for arrived at Rod Laver Arena on the second Tuesday night of the Aus Open 2015.  Sixth seed Andy Murray, who before the tournament had been expected to have to defeat both Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal in order to make the final has now avoided both thanks to the efforts of other players, but he still had to negotiate a path around exciting Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios who had thrilled the crowd with his comeback win over Federer's conqueror Andreas Seppi.

Of course the task to defeat Murray was monumental in comparison considering the Scot's record at Grand Slam level and in particular here at Melbourne Park where although without a title he has been to the final three times, nearly winning it once.

Murray opened proceedings and was 0-30 thanks to two great points from Kyrgios, the second a forehand winner.  Then the next 15 points went to the server.  Aces and service winners helped both players to race through the early games - in fact Murray led 3-2 after about 14 minutes.

In the sixth game Nick served an ace and then from 30-0 it began to unravel.  A Murray winner followed by Kyrgios errors from both sides led to a break point, the first of the match.  It was saved with an ace, but two more forehand failures handed the break to Murray who now led 4-2 and had the first set on his terms.

Kyrgios simply lost his patience in the key points, choosing to attempt to win with the first or second shot rather than build the point until a better opportunity presented itself for pulling the trigger.

Nick had hardly made a mark on the Murray serve and it didn't improve in the seventh game which saw Andy cruise with another ace, and one as good as, to be only a single game from the set.

Kyrgios dug really deep into his well of fighting capacity in the eighth game not wanting to remove from Murray the responsibility of serving out the set.  The 16 point game required Kyrgios to save two set points and on his third game point he hit a clean winner to bring the score to 3-5.

Murray served out with no drama to win the opener 6-3.

In the second set Kyrgios had even less success eating into the Murray serve, only winning six points off it in total.  However he had more luck with his own delivery which was more consistent and potent than it had been.

Game three was where the trouble had to be averted - Kyrgios led 40-30 but after a mistake from the Aussie, Murray hit a winner to bring up break point.  Kyrgios saved it but on two game points Murray again struck winners to take it back to deuce.  Finally a lapse from the sixth seed gave the game to Kyrgios for him to lead 2-1.

A tie break sorted the set and after a point against each serve Kyrgios led 3-2.  He followed up with a forehand winner to lead 4-3 with a mini break and two serves to come.

Losing both points meant that Kyrgios had given Murray 5-4 with the chance to serve for the set.  A Scottish double fault was a temporary life line for Nick but at 5-5 he stuffed up a backhand and Murray won the next point for 7-5 and the set 7-6.

Nick Kyrgios had the job ahead of him now, two sets down and serving second in the third set, Murray rock solid on his offerings from the line.

Nick fought all the way to 2-2 but fell to the immense pressure from Andy and the match situation in his next service game, and trailed 2-4.

Out of the blue the Australian found a bit extra and broke through a seemingly impenetrable Scottish serve and his hopes flickered a little longer.

The mean Murray extinguished them instantly with another break and served out a high standard match 6-3 7-6 6-3.

Murray looked very good in terms of the title hopes while Kyrgios has done well to achieve what he has so early in his career.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Berdych finally cracks the Nadal code

Rafa Nadal entered today's quarter final against Tomas Berdych with a 17 win no loss record and his form across the last two matches gave good cause to think that number 18 would be about to occur. Tomas would beg to differ, arguing that the 17 were just part of a planned build up to this very occasion, and point to his performances this Aus Open which involved not dropping a set, something for which Rafa could not boast.

Berdych burst out of the starting gate and Rafa missed the start by a few lengths.  The man from the Czech Republic served a love game and Rafa, although levelling, did so with a double fault and a less convincing manner.

Two aces and swiftly back to Nadal whose second effort at the line was poor and the break was greeted with sighs from the crowds, not sighs of relief. Berdych ahead 3-1.

Tomas had his own drama with which to deal in the fifth game when having to evade stumbling blocks in the form of two break points.  Once done he set up a second game point for himself with a fine forehand and he consolidated the position 4-1.

A pair of Spanish aces made it 2-4 and some Czech forehand slickness stretched it to 5-2.  Rafa played a shocker and lost his serve and the set 2-6 providing Tomas a launching pad for perhaps something special.

Set two was an embarrassment for Nadal as much as a tour de force for Berdych.  Not much to say but state the facts.  6 games played and all won by the 7th seed.  18 serves for the set by Nadal from which he won just 6 points.  Berdych hit 11 winners and only a few unforced errors.  He simply hit Nadal off the court.  Something rarely seen at this level but what it did was give Nadal the challenge of winning in five sets for the second time this tournament.

Berdych did not relent in the third set and kept hitting winners as if it was going out of style.  Rafa happily joined the party and the set was fantastic tennis, all the while Nadal serving second trying to stay alive in the match, and Berdych doing his utmost not to tighten up as he nudged closer to a semi final.

Neither player surrendered a break point, in fact hardly any was offered - instead glorious shot making and memorable rallies delighted a crowd pleased for Berdych's success but aching for Rafa to win this set.

A tie break arrived after Rafa survived 5-6 15-40, saving those two match points with attacking flair.

The tie break was one way traffic as Berdych raced to 5-1 with one Nadal serve to come.  A fighting Nadal won that and then both of the points on the Berych serve to incredibly be back at 4-5.  
Berdych hit a tremendous winner to be 6-4 and with two more match points.  Rafa saved one but then Tomas had the fourth chance and the first on his own serve.

Berdych did the job winning the match 6-2 6-0 7-6 and his 18th match against Nadal produced his first success - a great stage upon which to break through.

Sharapova cranks up the volume

Maria Sharapova at this stage of the tournament is playing as well as anyone and she would not want to drop that form however slightly or Canada's young gun Eugenie Bouchard would pounce and pick up the spoils. The seventh seed has been doing great things here too and this quarter final hopefully would live up to its hype.

As is true with every tournament Maria is in fine voice and her "dulcet" tones become louder every match.  Until now only the outer suburbs of Melbourne had been subject to her output which tends to vary from a young child screaming at the top of its lungs to the boozy incomprehensible rantings of a New Years Eve reveller. Nevertheless today it must have been broadcast to country Victoria and the quiet days fishing on the Murray disturbed somewhat.

Eugenie Bouchard was definitely effected but the damage to her eardrums was secondary to the dire straits in which Sharapova's top class tennis was placing her from early in this match.

The first service break in the first game had more to do with the jittery nerves of Bouchard who double faulted and stumbled her way to 0-40 and could not recover that mess and Sharapova just stood impassively and shouted 'come on!' which sounded like Lleyton Hewitt except he would have been berated for cheering an opponent's misfortune.

Maria also served a double fault but she was accurate and heavy with her groundstrokes causing Eugenie to once more contribute enough garbage to warrant an additional game to be added to the Russian tally.

A better behaved Canadian backhand reaped a couple of points and allowed serve to be held in the third game for Bouchard but she was intimidated by the presence of the tall second seed at the service line and failed to trouble the scorers while Sharapova strolled to 3-1.

4-2 arrived but not before Bouchard saved a break point and Sharapova saved two.

At 3-5 Bouchard could not hold back the break points she had been helping to create for herself with unforced errors and Sharapova broke for a second time to win the first set 6-3.

Sharapova was even sharper in the second set, not offering a single break point, cutting down her errors, and her forehand continued to create havoc for Bouchard.  The inevitable break of serve came in the fourth game and once the next game was confirmed in the Russian's custody it was 4-1 and almost closing time for Eugenie.

Bouchard held for 2-4 but at 2-5 and deuce Sharapova played two forehand winners to ice the match 6-3 6-2, making Eugenie seem like a beginner at times.  Semi final an all Russian encounter with Makarova.

Makarova destroys Halep and serves notice

Ekaterina Makarova slipped into the top ten rankings recently without too much fanfare but her feats are beginning to become too significant and consistent to continue to be given anything less than headline coverage.

Aided by the upset exit of Ivanovic in the first round Makarova still needed to beat her opponents and the way she dismantled all four including Julia Goerges in the fourth round gave her every confidence entering the quarter final against all conquering Simona Halep whose performances deservedly gave her favouritism for today's match.

Halep was on song for the first point hitting a clean winner, but then she fell into a series of poor shots leading to a loss of service, compounded by a solid start by Makarova who was finding the middle of her racquet and moving Halep to places in the court which would disadvantage her the most.

2-0 to the Russian 10th seed and then at 30-15 Halep double faulted, thought that was a good trick so repeated it, then lost serve again with another unforced error.

This could not have been predicted, such a nervous ineffective opening to the biggest match of the year so far for the Romanian.  She gritted her teeth which didn't change the spin on the ball but must have scared Makarova because it was 15-40 on Ekaterina's next serve, thanks to the determined look and probably helped a little by winners off both wings from Halep.

After the game was back to deuce, Makarova deemed the effort all too hard and threw in two lousy forehands to give a break back to Simona who now trailed 1-3.

Serves were held, not always convincingly until it was Makarova at the line at 5-4 to attempt to lock the first set away.

A forehand winner gave Ekaterina two set points at 40-15 and she won the set with the second of those 6-4.

What we had from Makarova in set one was pre dinner drinks.  Set two was a six course feast.

As an appetiser, antipasto highlighted by Romanian double faults and unforced Halep errors.
Followed soon after by a delicious Russian soup prepared with three break points saved from the Makarova serve in the second game.

The dips in Simona's fortunes were delicious for Ekaterina with herbed bread just as the final unforced error signalled 3-0 to the Russian, and the grilling she had been receiving with tomatoes and bacon and forehand slices had been timed just right and at the right temperature for 4-0.

A compote of Halep backhand and forehand errors gave Makarova a break from the savoury dishes and a service break too for a 5-0 lead, and the forehand winners and forced errors served up with coffee and mints proved the perfect finish to a most enjoyable meal for Ekaterina who was into the semi finals of the 2015 Aus Open. 6-4 6-0.

Djokovic in straight but not easy

Novak Djokovic had not played unseeded Gilles Muller from Luxembourg prior to tonight's fourth round match, and so took awhile to come to terms with his wicked sliced serve.

In fact he never really was able to fully click into his top level return game due to the confusion created by Muller, the same problems which saw the dismissal of highly rated players Roberto Bautista Agut and John Isner in rounds before.

Novak did serve particularly well himself though, holding with relative ease, and that enabled him to study the Muller game in his spare time.

Muller with serve and forehand working nicely was serving at 3-3 when Djokovic took the first chance offered.  A couple of forehand winners helped him to 3 break points and the second delivered him the break to lead 4-3.

More winners and a love game to take the set, and Djokovic was on his way.

Much the same in set two - the top seed untouchable on serve, and chances against Muller extremely limited.  A break point in the seventh game and then 0-30 in the ninth were as close as Djokovic was until at 5-5 he found himself in possession of another break point.  He didn't like that one nor the next but he thought the third one was perfect and used it to put 6-5 on the board.

The set was off to Serbia to join the first and probably the third the way the match was travelling.

The best tennis of the match came in the third as Muller played at his highest standard for the night and Djokovic just kept being Djokovic.  There were actually break point chances for Muller - all four in the sixth game, where serving at 2-3 Novak had to dig himself out of a few holes before levelling at 3-3 with a forehand winner.

Pretty much plain sailing from there and the single break in the eleventh game, completed with a combination of forehand and backhand winners from the number one.

The match and quarter final spot went to Djokovic 6-4 7-5 7-5, but a scoreline understating the competitiveness of the contest.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Venus turns back the clock

The fourth round match on the night session on Australia Day between 6th seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 18th seed Venus Williams promised to be a ripper, with both players in sparkling form, Venus already a winner in 2015 in Auckland.

Radwanska has all sorts of shots available to her and has the capacity to craft a point almost before her opponent has swung her racquet to hit.  She doesn't have the brutal power of the Venus serve and forehand but that can only mean some wonderful exchanges throughout the match this evening.

The first game was required only to dust off the cobwebs and finish off the warm up which the girls regarded as a few minutes short.  Radwanska held her serve and after that the tennis began in earnest, with Venus striking her forehand with ominous authority, and showing no weakness on serve which has historically been a problem if she misses enough with her first delivery.

Games were 2-2 and Agnieszka so generous with her donation of ground strokes for winners up to this point - a long competitive set seemed as if it was in the process of being built.

After another hold each with more unforgiving forehands from Williams and some variable slicing and other things from Radwanska Venus struck in the seventh game.  Not that there was anything sudden about the strike - she had six chances to break, easy misses failing to convert the first two, and we experienced twelve deuces.  However, Agnieszka finally agreed to terms and Venus took the break and in return Aga the disappointment.

We blinked and it was Aga serving again - Venus had pulled out two aces and a sweet backhand to extend the lead to 5-3.  

Only five deuces this time but the result the same - Venus nailed the set on the third break point when a crosscourt forehand was too much for Agnieszka to handle. 6-3 to the 7-time major winner.

No one expected the sixth seed to just fade away without a response - what we didn't see coming was the nature of the reply.  After two games (the first another laborious affair, this time with Venus at the line) eventually ended with service holds to either player, Aga began her quest for set two glory.  

Of course it helps if your opponent makes a complete mess of their serve which is what happened in the third game, Venus winning the first point with a forehand and then missing the mark with her next four tries from that side.  Aga was effectively a spectator - a contented one too leading 2-1.

4-1 after a hold of serve and another break - Radwanska was playing to her capacity now, with winners from her backhand and forehand from all over the court, volleying and smashing with confidence and leaving Williams with few answers.

At 1-5 following three more winners and an ace from a smooth but savage Radwanska, Venus looked forward to the likely third set and stood firm to hold serve knowing that she would be at the line first in the decider should Aga win the next game.

And so it was - Radwanska levelled the match with a blistering second set win 6-2.

And as much as the wind changed direction sharply between the first two sets, it was more stark in its reverse as we entered the final set.

After breaking the Venus serve to lead 1-0, all the momentum appeared to be with Polands top tennis star.  However she failed to win another game,  winning a mere two points from her fourteen serves for the set.  Williams played well again but it was a sad end for both Radwanska and the match which had promised such a grandstand finish. 6-3 2-6 6-1 

Venus Williams continued her fine 2015 by entering the quarter finals of a major for the first time in five years.  She will play Madison Keys, 15 years her junior, so at least one American will feature in the semis.

Nishikori five in a row over Ferrer

Number nine seed veteran David Ferrer from Spain must be sick of drawing Kei Nishikori in big tournaments.  He met the fifth seed in three Masters events in 2014, losing each time, and to top it off lost again to the Japanese player at the year end tour finals.  Each match went to three sets so today's fourth round match being a best of five scenario could see Ferrer in with a good chance of turning the tables on Nishikori.

Ferrer won his opening serve and Nishikori faced break points the very next game.  He fought them off, ably assisted by Ferrer who double faulted to begin and end the game. 2-1 Nishikori.  Ferrer saved two more break points in the fifth game but was having a lot of trouble finding a way through the Nishikori defence and was making more unforced errors than acceptable for him.

More break points were saved in the seventh game but it couldn't continue forever and when serving at 3-5 Ferrer crumbled, unforced lapses leading to 15-40 and Nishikori throwing in a clean backhand to resolve the set in his favour 6-3.

At 40-15 Nishikori was about to claim the second sets opening game when Ferrer opted to interfere and break on the third attempt.
On the Ferrer serve the second of two break points was licked up by Nishikori via another forehand winner and games were on serve.

They continued to be on serve until 3-3 with Ferrer starting to connect better with his forehand in particular but still not as fluent as Nishikori who was finding it easier to hold serve apart from that earlier blip.

At 3-4 and 0-30 David Ferrer double faulted and three break points were transferred into Nishikori's account.  Ferrer took one back with a brilliant forehand into the corner just as good as a winner, but his next forehand was useless and the break was official. 5-3 Nishikori.

Nishikori won the second set 6-3 with the Ferrer backhand return missing its target.  Now leading 6-3 6-3 the number five seed could almost taste the quarter final spot.

The opening game of set three saw Ferrer hit a forehand long to give Nishikori two break points and Kei was delighted, celebrating by going crosscourt with a forehand winner and leading 1-0.  This lead was doubled when he held serve comfortably the next game.

Both players then kept a safe hold on their serves and it was only when Ferrer had to serve at 3-5 that alarm bells began to ring.

They rang even louder at 0-40 but Nishikori teased a little hitting one forehand into the net and another long before Ferrer found the net with his forehand and the match was over.

Kei Nishikori the victor for the fifth successive time over David Ferrer, this time 6-3 6-3 6-3 and into a quarter final at Melbourne Park 2015.

Serena survives another 3-setter

I predicted a couple of weeks ago that Spain's Garbine Muguruza would finish 2015 in the top ten.  A win over Serena Williams in today's fourth round match at the 2015 Aus Open would go a long way to making that come true.

Serena has been untouchable at times so far in her three matches but there have been some periods of vulnerability and if Garbine could take full advantage of these then her chances of an upset would be reasonable.  She did after all defeat Serena at last year's French Open. Their only other meeting was in 2013 here at Melbourne Park where Serena was the victor, but Garbine has advanced in the tennis world markedly in two years.

This match began slower than the previous in terms of exciting rallies and the like but there were occasional good (even great) shots played and in the fifth game the first break came, surprisingly at the expense of the top seed. Muguruza appeared too slick and placed her shots too cleverly for a slightly slower moving Williams and from 0-40 the damage was done, a down the line pass sealing the game.

Serena was definitely out of sorts and unable to cope with the weight and placement of the groundstrokes from Garbine and it came as no real shock to see a second break in the seventh game, several unforced errors from the Williams racquet.

Serving for the set at 5-2 Garbine was in strife at 0-40 but played inspired tennis to save all break points, one with an ace, before going on to out rally Serena and take the set 6-2.

For the third time in a row Serena needed to win from a set down.

Set two was much better from Serena but not straight away,  she broke Garbine in the second game only to lose her own serve in the next.  At 2-2 questions were being asked about the ability of the number one seed to handle the young powerful hitting Spanish player.  The serve of Serena held a big key and it did assist her as the game score reached 4-3 to Williams.

A break of serve enabled Serena to serve out the set with four huge serves, the first three being aces and the match was a set apiece.

Muguruza survived a testing opening game on serve and led 1-0 in the decider before the longest and most significant game of the match was played out before our eyes. Serena Williams had 6 break points against her and multiple points to win the game but on each occasion deuce would win out. 

Serena finally prevailed and at 1-1 she knew how important that was in the overall picture.  The pressure went onto the Spanish serve and Serena flicked a switch - suddenly break points were available to her as not all of the Muguruza shots were landing in court to the extent they had been.

Serena broke to lead 2-1 and held that edge until Garbine served at 3-4, another game pivotal to the result - should Serena break she would be serving for the match - that she eventually did and Gabine sensed her fate.

No issues on serve for the five time champion as she won through to the quarter final, but overall this was not a simple task 2-6 6-3 6-3

Domi edges Vika in thriller

Last year's finalist versus two time winner - poor Dominika, having to face dual winner Vika Azarenka in the fourth round.  Azarenka was always going to be the dangerous floater, unseeded due to a lengthy lay off through injury in 2014.  Her form in the Open has improved steadily, the win over Wozniacki most telling.

Cibulkova's pre Aus Open form was nothing special but she has lifted for the occasion with some impressive wins.

Today the match would be effectively an indoor clash, the roof on Rod Laver Arena closed because of rain.

Both girls settled well but after a long first game including several furious baseline exchanges, it was Vika who claimed a break of serve.  Both girls then held serve with high standard shot making and the contest appeared set to entertain. 2-1 Azarenka.

Dominika then went on a rampage breaking Azarenka twice and holding her own serve in the face of break points in the seventh game.  Her capacity to move Vika around the court at will and pass down either line was reaping big dividends and her 5-2 lead, though effectively only a net single break seemed formidable.

Attacking again, Cibulkova had Azaranka down three set points.  Vika saved two with tennis typical of that normally expected from a former number one, but the double fault was unfortunate and gave the set to Cibulkova 6-2 and also the right to serve first in set two.

The same start to the second set statistically with Vika breaking serve then holding for 2-0.  The difference was her confidence in handling the groundstrokes of Cibulkova.  Maybe the break could be maintained this time.

The further it went the better Azaranka looked - her serve was more reliable and stronger, better placed which wasn't allowing Cibulkova the ability to put as much bite on her returns. The third of Cibulkova's service games for the set saw Azarenka moving to the net and cutting off avenues to pass which helped secure a second break of serve and provide a 4-1 advantage to the Belarusian.

Dominika did the right thing at 1-5 by holding serve strongly to force Vika to serve for the set, and at 40-15 Vika appeared to have it done.  However never count the Slovak girl out - she played some wonderful shots to bring up break points, one of which she converted to pull it back to 3-5.

As it happened, the break worked well for Vika because if she had held, Dominika would have served first in the advantage decider.  Instead following the next game - a break of the Slovak serve - Azarenka had won the set 6-3 and would be serving first in the third and final set.  A cruel net cord at 30-30 did no favours for Dominika in that final game of the second set.

Azarenka began with the opening two games of set three and once again Cibulkova had to fight hard to break back.  She did through lots of running and great commitment and execution.  She then had a number of chances to break the Azarenka serve in the key fifth game which lasted it seemed a lifetime.  Dominika seemed to find the net every time she had the advantage and finally Azarenka decided to put a stop to the silliness and just win the game.

At 3-3 another game of changing fortunes, this time on Vika's serve, and finally at the last of the deuces Dominika surprised the crowd and certainly Vika by pulling a drop shot from the clouds to set up break point which she duly converted.  Cibulkova 4-3 and serving next.

A beautiful passing shot down the line plus another cross court to finish a splendid rally consolidated the break for Cibulkova and Azarenka had to hold serve to stay alive.

At 30-30 a wonderful return from Dominika put her in control of the point which she won to give her match point and once Vika put the final shot of the match into the net, Dominika had advanced to another quarter final at Melbourne Park.

6-2 3-6 6-3 in one of the highest quality matches so far this tournament.

Murray removes Dimitrov in style

The second night match promised a lot with 6th seed and three time finalist here, Andy Murray clashing with one of the new breed in the top ten Grigor Dimitrov.  The paths to the fourth round encounter were contrasting - Murray yet to drop a set and Dimitrov taken to four by Lacko in the second round and needing to come from two sets to one behind against Baghdatis in the third round.

In the opening it was Grigor the proactive player introducing a variety of tennis to the table whereas Murray was content to play things as they rolled.  The policy worked for awhile for the Bulgarian whose 3-0 lead was helped with some Murray inefficiency and resultant service break in the second game.

Murray stepped his game up from here and a winning backhand set up a break back point in the fifth game. The match was 3-3 once Andy had completed another service hold, three aces as good a poker hand as he was going to have tonight.

The eighth game was impressive also with another ace and two forehand winners.  Dimitrov was holding serve too but less conspicuously. 4-4

Unforced errors produced two break points in the next Dimitrov service game and Andy chose the second one from which to convert, sending a forehand winner on a mission to take down the Bulgarian and allow the Scot the chance to serve for the set.

Murray lost just one more point en route to capturing the set 6-4, with another ace finishing the job.

Set two was full of entertainment and some of the best tennis played this tournament by any two players at the one time.  Murray had the early break for 2-1 but Dimitrov drew level 3-3 and then it was point for point, game for game until 5-5 when Grigor loss focus and Murray pounced for 6-5 and served for the set.

Dimitrov had Murray struggling at 15-40 but Andy was strong and saved the situation.  He couldn't deal with a Grigor volley however which set up another break point and Andy double faulted sending the set into a tie break.

At 2-3 in the breaker, Murray lost both his points on serve and Dimitrov had the distance he needed to carry on and take set 7-6 and tie the match at a set all.

Murray must have been spitting chips at wasting a golden opportunity to be two sets up.  He set about redressing the "injustice" by serving a treat in set three.  Grigor played well enough but could not find a way to penetrate the Scottish serve.

Dimitrov struggled to hold serve in the fourth game then lost it in the eighth game after saving two earlier break points.  Murray now had a 5-3 lead and served for the set as he had in the previous set.
This time he managed the job to lead 6-4 6-7 6-3.

Dimitrov wanted a fifth set as did many of the crowd, and when the Bulgarian led 5-2 it looked probable. Especially with a set point on Murray's next serve.  However the sixth seed turned it around and won that game plus the next four to demolish any hopes of a Sharapova-Dimitrov double triumph at the 2015 Open.

Murray won 6-4 6-7 6-3 7-5 and a fourth final here for him is not a bad bet right now.  Dimitrov played a good match but lost most of the key points in dispute, an obvious area of improvement.

Halep stops Wickmayer run

Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer is a former top 15 player who this year equalled her best Aus Open performance by reaching the fourth round.  Anything extra would mean a huge upset because third seed Simona Halep is one of the favourites to take out the title, and is currently on an eight match winning streak in 2015.

The Belgian served first and survived a break point, eventually winning the game on the back of some good tennis, after a fairly average offering in the early points.  Halep's turn at the line was less dramatic and she took her form into the third game where the break occurred, and the Romanian led 2-1.

The break was consolidated with a love game including a forehand winner to start and an ace to finish.
An insurance break arrived after Wickmayer squandered 40-0, double faulting to increase Halep's advantage to 4-1.

Following an ace to give 40-15 Halep double faulted and two forehand winners from Wickmayer secured the first break of the Halep serve for the night and Yanina was back in the set.  At 4-3 Halep pushed to within one game of the set with some attacking shots to the Wickmayer backhand causing errors.

Serving to stay afloat Wickmayer enjoyed 40-15 until it became deuce where it was no fun, and much less when Halep took the advantage on two occasions.  Eventually serve was held with a backhand winner from Yanina. 5-4 Halep.

Simona was in the mood for second set action so she dismissed Wickmayer quickly racing to 40-0 with a forehand winner and two aces.  She only needed one set point and so led 6-4.

Set two began similarly to the first with Wickmayer dropping serve in the third game - she broke straight back this time though and games were 2-2.

Simona Halep won the remaining games with the application of her range of skills proving overwhelming for Wickmayer who just could not win enough points off her own first serve. 
The Halep backhand stretch down the line winner in the seventh game to set up break point was memorable.

The third seed won comfortably 6-4 6-2 and her quarter final opposition would come in the form of Ekaterina Makarova, one of two Russians in the final eight.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Nadal into quarters over Anderson

Rafa Nadal made light work of Dudi Sela, at least for two sets, but his prospects against Kevin Anderson would not necessarily follow the same course.  Nadal would have to adjust his game to account for the big serve of the South African and ensure his own serve was up to scratch.

The concern over the Anderson delivery was justified in the first set as the 14th seed won an incredible percentage of points whenever he landed his first serve, or for that matter his second.  Rafa had to be patient and grab on to the slightest glitch.

The first sign of a problem was for Nadal in game five where a loose forehand gave break point to Anderson. Nadal saved it and proceeded to win the game with a better forehand which Anderson didn't touch.

Then it was serve dominated tennis until 5-5 when Nadal once more found drama, this time down 0-40. He somehow saved these three break points and two more, winning his way to 6-5 and expecting to be in a tie break moments later.

Anderson played one bad service game for the set and he timed the placement of that game in the worst possible fashion.  Nadal cashed in and broke to pinch a set 7-5 that was minutes earlier almost in Anderson's bag.

The crowd could almost feel how let down Anderson was and his tennis in set two reflected a beaten man.  His serve effectiveness was a shadow of its former self and he couldn't touch Nadal on the Spanish deliveries from the line.

The first five games all went to Rafa and Anderson was saved from a bagel embarrassment when he lifted his sorry frame over the line to score a game on serve for 1-5.

Nadal led 7-5 6-1 and the third set was really just to satisfy tournament conditions.

Being the professional he is, Anderson played much closer to his potential in set three but not well enough to trouble Nadal whose level remained top notch.  Again no break points against the Spanish star, and only a couple against the South African serve, but enough to see him broken in the third game.

Nadal rode that break through to the finish winning a quarter final spot 7-5 6-1 6-4.

Peng shown no mercy by Maria

Maria Sharapova has had one large fright this tournament, but apart from that near exit against Panova she has been pretty dominant.  Peng Shuai has done extremely well in the majors of late - semi final at Flushing Meadow 2014 and continuing here to the fourth round.  If she were to advance further her serve would need to hold up against the barrage of ground strokes emanating from the Sharapova racquet, and even that may be insufficient to complete the job.

Sharapova opened well holding serve with a combination of winning ground strokes and Peng was even more impressive, holding to love behind a strong serve.
A Sharapova double fault didn't block her way to another hold and she had a 2-1 edge.

Peng evened things, an ace to win the final point and then Sharapova selected a few of her shots from the top shelf to first hold serve impressively then break the Chinese serve and lead 4-2.

The next game was a long one and Maria saved several break points but the final one was too much and a double fault and loose ground stroke gave back the break to Peng.

Sharapova blitzed Peng with her forehand to restore the break, then held to love to take set one 6-3.

Despite a pitiful first serve percentage in the second set, Sharapova was released to create total mayhem on Rod Laver Arena.  She thrashed Peng Shuai in every facet of the game once the ball was in play and if she can work on sending more first serves into play she will cause many more headaches next week.

Sharapova into the quarter finals 6-3 6-0.

Genie loves the majors

Having reached the fourth round of her fifth straight Grand Slam tournament, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard has gained a much sought after reputation as a big tournament specialist (two of those were semis and she was runner up at Wimbledon last year) - she now needs to win one and her CV will be the absolute envy of every young player on tour if it's not already.

Irina-Camelia Begu, whose has caused problems for three players this tournament on the way to the Romanian's best ever performance at GS level, would need to be at her precious best if she expected to oust Bouchard, who has just been looking great through her rounds, and with plenty of improvement in the tank when necessary.  At times she made Bertens and Garcia look like club players in the respective second and third round defeats she inflicted on them.

The first set against Begu followed a similar pattern.  While far from perfect - Bouchard's first serve percentage was low, she double faulted a few times and gave break opportunities to Begu - she used enough tennis smarts to work the ball to her advantage most of the time and with two breaks of the Romanian serve the maple leaf had pride of place 5-0.

The first break was set up by average play by Begu but finished off with winners from the Biuchard backhand. The second break was just a Begu train wreck in which Eugenie was not required to participate.
Bouchard had to fight hard in the fifth game, saving four break points before deciding that this was wasting time and serving it out.
Irina-Camelia must have gained some confidence from that effort because the next game was her first win for the evening - her last though for the set which went to Bouchard 6-1 and the participants in the next match were now preparing for the start of their match which by their reckoning would be only a short time away.

Their reckoning, together with Bouchard's, didn't account for a Begu revival in set two. 

Of course the revival didn't come until the match was just about called on humanitarian grounds - Canada was leading a set and 3-0 with two breaks and diplomatic relations between the nations was under threat if further cruelty was inflicted.
Begu won four straight games, sealing a 4-3 lead with an ace.  For the first time in the tournament Genie was experiencing what she usually inflicts.

After she stretched that to five with yet another break Irina-Camelia felt the wrath of Bouchard in the form of three stunning forehands to retrieve the break and trail 4-5.

Begu had two set points on the Bouchard serve which went begging, but on the next Canadian serve at 5-6 the Romanian did enough right to claim another break - the seventh in total for the set - to even the match 1-6 7-5.

Genie had had her lapse and regrouped for the final set where she imposed her game on the Romanian.  The poor first serve percentage was lifted to nearly passable, she won 31 points to 19, significantly returning well and pressuring Begu into attempting too much on occasion.

No breaks in this set except the two for Bouchard which she deposited into her account and she reaped the reward of a solid win 6-1 5-7 6-2.

Keys kicks out Kvitova in upset

For the second successive match, American Madison Keys had to negotiate her way around a left hander - this time the player was rather more highly credentialed, with 2 Wimbledons, including last years, to her credit.

Petra Kvitova did not drop a set in her first two wins this year, and was a semi finalist here in 2012, so expected to start a slight favourite even taking into account the dominant finish to Madison's second round match.

Kvitova started nervously and a double fault and forehand miss had her facing two break points.  An ace and some better ground strokes enabled her to traverse the present danger and another break point afterwards to salvage a 1-0 lead.
Apart from the ace, only 3 clean winners between the two players were hit in the first 4 games, but a number of points were decided by errors forced by attacking shots, just as effective as winners and certainly given the same value on the scoreboard that matters.

In the fifth game at 30-30 Madison Keys did in fact hit two winners in succession to bury the Kvitova serve and take the advantage in the match 3-2.  Kvitova struck back swiftly with two winners of her own from either side; these together with a double fault from Keys put the American in peril and she couldn't avoid the equalling break.

At 4-4 Kvitova imploded - a forehand mistake all her own, plus a double fault and a Madison gem placed her at 0-40 and her opponent parcelled that game up with a clean winner.
From 0-15 Keys lost no more points and used an ace to signal the end of set one 6-4.

Set two seemed to be a poison chalice for the first part that both girls wanted to give to the other such was the lack of conversion when chances presented themselves.
From 1-1 Petra lost serve in a game "highlighted" by 4 unforced errors" 3 to Kvitova.  Then the break was neutralised after Petra struck two beautiful shots, forehand then backhand to stun Madison who at 30-30 would have been thinking service hold was a fair bet.

Instead of grabbing that chance to put herself back in the frame, Petra fell 0-40, the third to a double fault.  Madison helped the recovery to 30-40 but Petra determined her own fate with a second double for the game and Keys now had a 3-2 edge.

Well Madison is nothing if not a good observer.  She copied Petra and went to 0-40, and yes the third point a double fault also.  Petra only paid back one of those break points before the games were level again at 3-3.

Common sense prevailed at this juncture, and the girls agreed that a moratorium on service breaks be instituted.  This was observed ok through to the end of game 10 with only a total of 6 points taken off the server during this period.
Then Petra insisted on breaking the agreement by being broken, unforced errors from the backhand bookending the 11th game. Keys led 6-5

Madison Keys served a perfect game to win the match, picking on Petra's backhand a couple of times forcing error, and sneaking in a clean forehand winner just for kicks.  The love game gave her the match and a fourth round berth 6-4 7-5.

The Aus Open was now without the 4th, 5th, 8th and 9th seeds going into the round of 16.