Monday, 31 October 2016

Domi - nation in Singapore

The finalists in the WTA Finals in Singapore arrived there in wildly contrasting styles.  World number one and twice Grand Slam title winner in 2016, Angelique Kerber, thrashed Agnieszka Radwanska in one semi final to remain undefeated after her four matches.
Dominika Cibulkova scraped into her semi final against Svetlana Kuznetsova on a count back, having won only one of her three round robin matches.  It was the second set that she took off Kerber in her first match loss which won her the semi final spot, and enabled her to eventually prevail in an epic three setter against the Russian, Sveta's fourth match in succession to go the distance.

So the final match of this exciting week would see the same two combatants as the very first match, with Kerber clearly the hot favourite to put the perfect finishing touches to a golden year.

Angie expected a tough contest, but she, along with just about everyone watching, was not prepared for the Domi domination which occurred.  The Slovakian pocket rocket was relentless from the start, aggressive as she knew she would need to be, and her serve was out of this world - the first serve % was 85 in the opening set.

She was broken once in the first set, but it didn't worry her in the slightest as she played to her strengths, using pace, angles, placement and power to continually pressure the Kerber serve.  Of the 10 second serves delivered by the top seed, 7 points were won by Cibulkova.  Little wonder the seventh seed broke twice to take the set and lead 6-3.

Angie appeared to settle in the early stages of set two, and by serving first, would put pressure on Domi to play catch up on the scoreboard.  However, this was of marginal concern as the Slovakian shot making continued to be fluent and attacking, made possible by the remarkable first serve statistics.
At 3-3 it was Kerber who cracked first, and Cibulkova led 6-3 4-3 with a serve to come.  The upset was now more than a possibility.  When 5-3 arrived in the blink of an eye, Angie had to hold serve to remain in the match.
Of course she isn't the world's top player for nothing and she ensured that Domi would have to serve out the tournament.

All was falling into place for Cibulkova, and at 40-15 she had two points for her most significant career win.  Then some drama - a double fault and an unforced error.  Then a break point which was saved.  A third match point was blown with an easy shot missed.  Another break point was saved.  Finally on the fourth match point, a friendly net cord presented Dominika Cibulkova with a 6-3 6-4 victory, the WTA Finals title and Billy Jean King Trophy, and a year end career high ranking of 5 in the world.
28 winners in a performance worthy of all the accolades coming her way.

Not bad from a starting point of 38 in January after an injury ravaged 2015.
Still for Angie Kerber she can be happy in the knowledge that she is Player of the Year by any measure.

In other news, Andy Murray won the Vienna title, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final, while Marin Cilic took out the Basel tournament, Kei Nishikori the runner-up there.

The final ATP Masters title is up for grabs this coming week in Paris, and the number one ranking is on the line.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Angie sets pace in WTA Finals

The WTA Finals in Singapore this week is the culmination of another great year of women's tennis, with the eight top point scorers of 2016 competing for the trophy won by Agnieszka Radwanska 12 months ago.

This year again Serena Williams is missing from the field through injury, enabling 9th placed Svetlana Kuznetsova to take the final spot as eighth seed.

While the ATP equivalent year end finals battle is not far away, there are still other tournaments to be played, including Vienna and Basel this week.

Pablo Carreno Busta defeated Fabio Fognini in the Moscow final last week, and both have fronted up again.

Fognini lost in the Vienna first round to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, the same player he had knocked out en route to the Moscow final, while Busta cruised into a Basel second round clash with Marin Cilic, which is where his Swiss Roll stopped turning.  

Juan Martin del Potro celebrated with a title in Stockholm, overcoming Jack Sock in the final, and jumping over twenty spots back into the top 50.  Both players made it through to the second round in Basel, where eighth seed Sock was upset by Marcel Granollers.

Richard Gasquet won the European Open in Antwerp in straight sets over Argentine Diego Schwartzman. But Guido Pella sought and gained some revenge for Argentina by dispensing with the seventh seeded Frenchman in the opening round in Basel.

Back to Singapore and Sveta Kuznetsova certainly took advantage of her late inclusion in the elite field by winning both round robin matches played so far in the White Group. 
Her first match against Aga Radwanska was a roller coaster, with Sveta taking Set One 7-5 (after trailing 1-4) before crumbling 1-6 in the next.  Down 4-5 and match point, Kuznetsova found something special to rattle off the last three games and win the match, continuing her run of success from Moscow last week.

The second, against Karolina Pliskova, was yet another thriller, with Sveta losing the opening set and falling behind in the second.  A significant momentum shift saw the Russian storm through the next period to take the second set and lead 5-3 in the decider.  Pliskova fought back and served for the match at 6-5, but couldn't manage the job - Kuznetsova won the day in a gripping tie break.

Pliskova also had her difficulties against Garbine Muguruza, taking three sets, but finally winning that battle 7-5 in the third.  Muguruza lost her chance of advancing to the semi finals with her straight sets defeat at the hands of Radwanska two days later.

Kuznetsova will, irrespective of the results of the remaining 2 matches, make the semis.  If she defeats Muguruza, she finishes atop the group.  Even a loss to Muguruza will see her head the group because of her head to head record against Radwanska and Pliskova.  Regardless, the semi finalists from the White Group will be Kuznetsova and the winner of the Radwanska v Pliskova match.

The Red Group has been dominated by top seed and world number one Angilique Kerber, although her opening match against Dominika Cibulkova was anything but straightforward.  After escaping the first set tie break, Kerber was taken to pieces 6-2 in the second set, before steadying 6-3 in the decider.
Meanwhile Simona Halep easily swept aside Madison Keys in two sets.

Kerber had no difficulty dismissing Halep, and Keys put herself back in contention with an impressive victory over Cibulkova in the next round of matches in the group.  Both of these were decided in two sets, which meant that for Cibulkova to advance to the next stage, she would need to defeat Halep in straight sets and hope for Kerber to achieve a similar result against Keys.  That would leave Kerber with 3 wins from 3 and the others all with 1 win and 2 losses but with Cibulkova leading on a count back due to more sets won.

First up it was Cibulkova, and with a combination of her best tennis for the week, and Simona Halep distracted somewhat by a knee injury, the Slovakian enjoyed her first success for the week, importantly in straight sets.

Angie Kerber proved too strong for Madison Keys and also won in straight, although at one stage she was trailing a break down in the second.

So the semi final match ups will be Angie Kerber v whoever finishes second in the White Group and Dominika Cibulkova v Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Kyrgios out but Dasha doing Oz proud

At the start of 2016 Nick Kyrgios and Dasha Gavrilova won the Hopman Cup for Australia.
The hope was for successful years for the two on the tennis courts of the world, and for Nick less of the off court controversy experienced in 2015.

While Kyrgios had enjoyed a terrific year, winning three titles on the ATP Tour, capped off with the Japan Open a couple of weeks ago, he destroyed his chances of a top ten finish to 2016, and worse, he took many steps backwards reputation wise with his behaviour in Shanghai a week later.

He received a fine which was virtually pocket money, but a suspension, effectively ending his season, at last adequately penalised his underlying problem.  Hopefully he can address his issues because his talent should be realised, not wasted.

Dasha, meanwhile, has posted some memorable wins this year, but waited until late in the year to string several together in successive tournaments. Right now she is playing some of the best tennis of her career.  She should be the face of Australian tennis at the moment, now that Nick is sidelined and Sam Stosur is desperately out of form.

In the Kremlin Cup, the locals were pleased when Sveta Kuznetsova, top seed, made it through to the final.  They were not too displeased that Gavrilova became her opponent, despite all the other Russian players in the draw, including seventh seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who lost to Dasha in the quarters.  After all, Dasha is Russian born herself.

After a promising start to her first WTA final, Gavrilova was thrashed by the Dual GS champion, Kuznetsova winning 12 of the last 13 games to claim the title 6-2 6-1.
The men's final in Moscow will be contested between 6th seed Pablo Carreno Busta and unseeded Fabio Fognini.  The Italian has already knocked out three seeds: Lorenzi (7) in the second round, Ramos-Vinolas (2) in the quarters and Kohlschreiber (3) in the semis.

In Antwerp, unseeded Diego Schwartzman has dismissed fourth seed Pablo Cuevas and top seed David Goffin en route to the final, where he will meet third seed Richard Gasquet.
The Stockholm finale also features an unseeded player, but this one is not unexpected.  Juan Martin Del Potro has not dropped a set, and eliminated third seed Ivo Karlovic and second seed Grigor Dimitrov to book his shot at the title against Jack Sock.  The American 6th seed ousted fourth seed Alexander Zverev in a top class three set semi final.

Top seed Petra Kvitova is gunning for a second title in a short space of time - her Luxembourg run has seen her make the final against unseeded Monica Niculescu.  Romanian Niculescu was lucky to be given a walkover from Caro Wozniacki in the quarter finals, but her straight sets win over third seed Kiki Bertens in the semi final proved that she deserved her spot in the final.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Murray edges closer to #1

Europe is the centre of tennis action this week with Moscow hosting the Kremlin Cup for both the WTA and ATP tours, Antwerp the home of the ATP European Open, and the WTA Luxembourg Open and ATP Stockholm Open also featuring.

Andy Murray, winner of the Shanghai Masters at the weekend, won't be playing, content with his 2 titles in China in as many weeks, and his further closing in on the number one world ranking. 
Novak Djokovic has 12900 ranking points and is vulnerable to Murray who is at 10485. 
It wasn't all that long ago Djokovic was double second spot and seemingly untouchable.
The race for year end number one is even closer, with 2016 points for ND 10600 compared to AM 9685.

Joining Murray on the winners list last week were Caroline Wozniacki, who continued her terrific run of form from the US Open, defeating Kristina Mladenovic in Hong Kong, Dominika Cibulkova, victorious over Viktorija Golubic in Linz, and Shuai Peng, successful in Tianjin at the expense of Alison Riske.

Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, is top seed in the Kremlin Cup, her home nation's tournament, but will face stiff competition from Carla Suarez Navarro, and fellow Russians Elena Vesnina, Daria Kasatkina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Roberto Bautista Agut, runner-up to Murray in Shanghai, is top seed in Moscow in the mens draw.

Wozniacki will be trying for successive tournament wins as second seed in Luxembourg.  Petra Kvitova is top seed and other threats could come from Kiki Bertens and Caroline Garcia.

A strong field lines up in Antwerp, headed by David Goffin, David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet, while Gael Monfils, Grigor Dimitrov, Ivo Karlovic and Alexander Zverev should feature prominently in Stockholm.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Novak and Andy on track - Nick off rails

The Shanghai Masters has seen the return of world number one Novak Djokovic to the court for his first outing since his loss to Stan Wawrinka in the US Open final last month.

First, the disappointment of the tournament, and evidence that reputation is hard to build but can be lost in an instant if you are Nick Kyrgios.  After carving out a terrific year on the court with three titles, the most recent last week in Japan, and seemingly applying a more mature attitude to the game,  Kyrgios took a massive step backwards in his second round match against qualifier Mischa Zverev.

Childish, unsportsmanlike, completely unprofessional, and embarrassing his supporters and Australia,  it would have been better to concede the match before walking onto the court.  The fine handed to him was a joke.  This performance deserved a suspension.  Nick cannot choose his moments of maturity - he either commits to it or quits the sport.  I have been a strong supporter this year, but clearly there remain underlying unresolved issues. 

Fortunately, tennis eventually wins out, and Djokovic and Murray won their respective ways into the semi finals.  Murray has not dropped a set in disposing of Steve Johnson, Lucas Pouille and David Goffin, while Djokovic hasn't had to face a seeded player.
His expected third round opponent, Richard Gasquet, lost in the opening round, while both Berdych and Kyrgios left in the second round.
The top seed has beaten Fabio Fognini and Vasek Pospisil in straight sets, but had trouble with Mischa Zverev, losing the opening set, and forced to a tie break in the second, before finally prevailing.

Rafa Nadal, the fourth seed, fell in the second round (his first match) to unseeded veteran Viktor Troicki, while third seed Stan Wawrinka and fifth seed Milos Raonic disappeared in the third round, thanks to Gilles Simon and Jack Sock respectively.

Joining Pouille in the French exodus were sixth seed Gael Monfils and ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, leaving Simon to fly the flag against Murray in one semi final.  The other semi final will feature 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut against Djokovic, the Spaniard yet to surrender a set in the tournament.

In Linz it appeared for awhile that the top four women's seeds would contest the semi finals, but top seed Garbine Muguruza was forced to retire from her quarter final against Swiss player and 62 world ranked Viktorija Golubic.  The match was 4-4 in the deciding third set when Garbine quit.

Golubic will face third seed Madison Keys in one semi final after the American breezed through her quarter final against unseeded Oceane Dodin of France.
Second seed Dominika Cibulkova defeated fifth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach the final four, and will play fourth seed Carla Suarez Navarro for a spot in the final.  Carla took three sets to overcome the Czech Republic's Denisa Allertova.

Hong Kong has a semi final lineup excluding all top four seeds - fourth seed Samantha Stosur lost her first round match and second seed Venus Williams her second round encounter.  Third seed Johanna Konta handed her second round opponent a walkover, and in one of the biggest upsets of the year, eighth seed Daria Gavrilova knocked out top seed and world number one Angie Kerber in their quarter final.  And in straight sets too.

Gavrilova will play unseeded Kristina Mladenovic in one semi final, and the other will be a crowd pleaser between two former world number ones, both also former US Open finalists, fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki and seventh seed Jelena Jankovic.

The third WTA tournament this week is in Tianjin, China, and with top seed Aga Radwanska withdrawing from her quarter final match with China's Shuai Peng, Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) remains the only seed standing at the semi final stage. Third seed Elena Vesnina was ousted in the first round, as was fourth seed Timea Babos.

Unseeded Danka Kovinic from Montenegro defeated fifth seed Monica Puig and will be Peng's semi final opponent.
American Alison Riske, the conqueror of Babos, continued her success in the next two matches to end up securing a semi final spot against Kuznetsova.
Svetlana was tested in reaching the semi, dropping the opening set in her quarter final to Naomi Osaka, and having to win the decider in a tie break.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Aga, Nick and Andy triumphant

As the men head to Shanghai for the next Masters tournament, two of the competitors go with titles won the past weekend.

Andy Murray proved a class above Grigor Dimitrov, taking out the China Open in Beijing 6-4 7-6, but Dimitrov has enjoyed a successful couple of months and is back in the world's top twenty.

Nick Kyrgios came from a set down against David Goffin to win the Japan Open in Tokyo, the third and biggest title of his career, all collected this year.  Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka and Thiem are the only others to have triumphed at least three times in 2016.  

Only three of the world's top twenty won't be competing in Shanghai - Nishikori, Federer and Thiem all missing through injury.

Aga Radwanska overwhelmed Johanna Konta in the China Open women's final, the victory propelling her to number three in the world.  The WTA top ten has been shaken up with Pliskova moving up to five, Keys to seven, Konta in at nine (all career highs), and Muguruza dropping to six.

While Shanghai hosts the cream of the ATP crop, the ladies do battle at Linz, Austria, with Muguruza, Keys, Cibulkova and Suarez Navarro headlining.
World number one Kerber leads a strong field in Hong Kong, including Konta, Venus Williams and Wozniacki.
Radwanska will be attempting a China double as she takes the top seeding into the Tianjin Open.  She will be joined by Kuznetsova, Vesnina, Puig and several other top fifty players.

All up, nine of the top thirteen active ranked players on the WTA tour will be in action across Europe and Asia.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Konta and Dimitrov shine in Beijing

The Asian leg of the tennis year has continued this week following victories last week in China by Petra Kvitova in Wuhan, Tomas Berdych in Shenzhen and Karen Khachanov in Chengdu.

Beijing has been hosting the China Open, a Premier WTA event and an ATP 500 tournament held concurrently, while several top male players have gathered in Tokyo for the ATP 500 Japan Open.

Fine performances were contributed in the China Open by unseeded Aussie Daria Gavrilova, including victories over 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky and top 25 player Caroline Garcia.  Gavrilova's run ended in the quarter finals thanks to Elina Svitolina, herself enjoying a brilliant tournament.
Svitolina, the conqueror of Serena Williams in Rio, ousted the current world number one Angie Kerber, in the third round in Beijing, and her quarter final success earned a semi final against third seed Aga Radwanska.

Aga found herself the highest remaining seed following the exits of both Kerber and second seed Garbine Muguruza, the latter at the hands of in form Petra Kvitova, also in the third round.  Petra couldn't maintain her run of success, but it wasn't for lack of trying, defeated in possibly the match of the tournament.
Madison Keys, the eighth seed, finally won the quarter final after almost two and three quarter hours 6-3 6-7 (2) 7-6 (5).  Kvitova will regret the break point opportunities not taken - she converted just 4 of the 18 created, whilst Keys broke the Czech serve 5 times from 10 chances.

The Czech Republic lost its other top chance one round earlier, with fifth seed Karolina Pliskova falling to 11th seed Johanna Konta in another three setter decided by a tie break.
Konta joined Keys in the final four following victory over local hope, unseeded Shuai Zhang.  Zhang had upset fourth seed Simona Halep to reach the quarter finals.

Both semi finals began with a tie breaker - Aga Radwanska won hers against Elina Svitolina, 7 points to 3, and was too accomplished in set two, returning the Ukranian serve in exemplary fashion, taking out the match in straight sets 7-6 (3) 6-3.

Johanna Konta dominated the first set tie break against Madison Keys 7 points to 1, but the American fought back immediately, levelling at a set all with a second set 6-4.  Konta had chances - converting only one of eight break points.
The three setter, totally worthy of its semi final status, was closely fought to the end, and the deciding stanza landed in favour of the steadier 11th seed Johanna Konta 6-4.

Whatever the result of the final, and it is an even money bet in my opinion, Konta is set to enter the world's top ten, a tremendous accomplishment this year.

A strong men's field was assembled in Beijing, including four of the world's top ten, and ten of the top twenty, led by Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal.
The story of the tournament has been Grigor Dimitrov, who eliminated Steve Johnson and 6th seed Lucas Pouille, both in three sets, before the big upset - a straight sets dismissal of second seed Rafa Nadal in the quarter final.  The Bulgarian savaged Nadal's first serve, especially in the opening set, and he amassed several break point chances throughout the match.

Andy Murray hasn't dropped a set in reaching the final - his one real test came in the quarter final when in the first set, Kyle Edmund took him to a tie break which stretched to 11-9 before the top seed prevailed.  Edmund enjoyed a solid event, knocking out 7th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round.

Murray will play Dimitrov in the final - he dispatched David Ferrer in one semi while third seed Milos Raonic presented Grigor with a walkover in the other.

Top seed for the Japan Open was appropriately Kei Nishikori, but sadly he only lasted into the second round, where he surrendered due to injury.  
Third seed and a tournament winner last week, Tomas Berdych, left in the opening round, courtesy of Gilles Muller, leaving second seed Gael Monfils as the top ranked player left in the draw.

Eighth seed Feliciano Lopez also lost in round one, unseeded Australian James Duckworth the victor - all other seeds reached the quarter finals as expected and the favourites in each of those matches won out, becoming the final four.

Fifth seed David Goffin outgunned fourth seed Marin Cilic in their semi final, winning a huge percentage of points whenever his first serve found the spot.
Also winning in straight sets, and as a result meeting Goffin in the final in Tokyo, was Nick Kyrgios.  

The sixth seed thrilled the crowd with his shot making, against one of the best shot makers on tour, Gael Monfils.
Kyrgios took advantage of his solitary break point in the opening set, and that provided momentum in a close match where his serve probably gave him the edge in the final analysis.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Kvitova dominant in Wuhan title win

The Czech Republic has enjoyed great team success in recent years with Fed Cup wins but in the past week it is individual titles on the WTA Tour which have found their way to the European nation.

The more significant was the Premier 5 tournament in Wuhan, won by Petra Kvitova, whose crushing of Dominika Cibulkova in the final followed earlier wins against world number one Angie Kerber and fourth seed Simona Halep.
Cibulkova completed a fine event herself, reaching the final after victories over Karolina Pliskova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Kvitova had too many weapons in the finale though, winning 24 of 25 points when her first serve landed in, and savaging the Cibulkova serve, winning 70% of the points on the Slovakian delivery.

In the smaller Taskent event, unseeded Kristyna Pliskova defeated fourth seed Nao Hibino in a tight three set final - her serve, which was highlighted by 10 aces and no double faults, assisted her across the line for her debut WTA title.

In Shenzhen, the final will be contested between top seed Tomas Berdych and third seed Richard Gasquet - Berdych comfortably accounted for Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci and Gasquet was ahead 6-2 4-1 when Janko Tipsarevic retired.

Elsewhere in China, the Chengdu final will feature fifth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas against unseeded Karen Khachanov.  Third seed Grigor Dimitrov fell to Ramos-Vinolas in one semi final while sixth seed Viktor Troicki was the latest victim of tournament surprise packet Khachanov.