Posts Tagged ‘Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’
Owing to the unpredictable nature of grass court tennis, Wimbledon is always ripe for early round upsets. Remember Rosol and Darcis’ triumphs over Nadal, or Stakhovsky’s takedown of Federer? Nothing is a given on grass if your opponent gets hot. This year is probably no exception, with a handful of potential upsets looming early. Still, I don’t see anything stopping Novak from a second Slam title after Paris disappointment. Let’s dive in for a “best guess” at who’ll be the last man standing on grass.
(* – Expected R16 matches)
Top Half, Top Quarter
Djokovic  – Tsonga  *
Wildcards: Simon (Djokovic), Querrey (Tsonga)
Gulbis  – Berdych  *
Stakhovsky or Verdasco (Gulbis), Cilic (Berdych)
Now is as good time as any to stake my claim on Djokovic as my Wimbledon favorite. Away from the clay (or even on the clay in best of 3), Novak has proven to be the most consistent of the Big Four at making the late stages of his tournaments. And his loss in the French Open final will just add fuel to the fire for another Slam title.
After dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in R16, Novak’s likely opponent in the quarters will be former finalist, Tomas Berdych, after he gets through his own tricky R16 with Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis won their last encounter a few weeks back at Roland Garros, but Berdych won their earlier meeting in Rotterdam, and also has a few more grass matches under his belt. So, barring another ’12 first-round upset (ironically, to Gulbis), Berdych takes this by a razor-thin margin.
Gilles Simon doesn’t really pose a threat to Novak, but he’s always dangerous when he cares enough. Querrey, a former Queen’s Club champion, could cause problems for Tsonga (see above for Simon). Gulbis will need to watch out for Sergiy Stakhovsky or Fernando Verdasco, and Berdych will definitely need to watch out for Marin Cilic. In the end, however, look for a Novak – Tomas quarterfinal.
Top Half, Bottom Quarter
Murray  – Fognini  *
Wildcards: Bautista Agut (Murray), Anderson (Fognini)
Dimitrov  – Ferrer  *
Wildcards: Thiem or Dolgopolov (Dimitrov), Brown (Ferrer)
Mauresmo notwithstanding, Andy Murray will be lucky to make it out of this quarter…and I’m just not sure he’s going to be THAT lucky. Odds are good that he’ll make a quarterfinal appearance, but then he’ll likely face off against Grigor Dimitrov, the newly-crowned Queen’s Club champion. And with Grigor’s much-improved game and 5-set match fitness, Andy could be hard put to reach the semifinals.
Though he is the expected R16 match for Murray, Fabio Fognini is a non-starter. Kevin Anderson is more likely to reach the R16 than Fognini. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of David Ferrer in the bottom section with Dimitrov. He’s the expected match, but comes into Wimbledon on the heels of an injury. His first test could come in the form of Dustin Brown, a talented-yet-unpredictable player who knocked off a tired Nadal in Halle. But even if he gets past Brown, he won’t get past Dimitrov.
Though I might be selling Andy short in this quarter, Grigor finally looks primed to reach his first Slam semifinal.
Bottom Half, Top Quarter
Wawrinka  – Isner  *
Wildcards: Istomin (Wawrinka), Lopez (Isner)
Janowicz  – Federer  *
Wildcards: Janowicz (Janowicz), Muller/Benneteau (Federer)
This quarter, titled “The Monte Carlo Rematch”, will likely pit the current Swiss No. 1 against the former Swiss No. 1.
Though he’s had an uneven season, Stan Wawrinka is still one of the game’s elites, and not half-bad on grass. He might receive a challenge from John Isner, but it’s not likely. Big John hasn’t had the best season, however, and hasn’t been able to use his big serve for success at SW19 a la Andy Roddick. But his presence should keep Stan on his toes, as should the presence of Feliciano Lopez; a surprisingly adept grass court player.
Roger’s path to the quarters goes through Jerzy Janowicz, which could be tough. Jerzy hasn’t had the best year, but could catch fire like he did at last year’s Championships (semifinal loss to Murray). Roger will also have to watch out for two potential upset artists: Julien Benneteau and Gilles Muller. Benneteau had him on the ropes in 2012, and Muller always seems to lift his game on grass.
But even with all of the potential challengers, it’s hard to see this quarter being won by someone NOT from Switzerland.
Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter
Raonic  – Nishikori  *
Wildcards: Kohlschreiber (Nishikori)
Gasquet  – Nadal  *
Wildcards: Kyrgios or Monfils (Gasquet), Klizan or Rosol or Karlovic (Nadal)
Rafa Nadal is about as vulnerable this year as any year I’ve seen. Yes, he won a record ninth French Open title, and he’s the World No. 1, but there’s a greater sense now at the ripe old age of 28 that his body is becoming more and more uncooperative to the stresses of the game. Grass is one of the biggest stresses for him (knees) because of the low/unpredictable bounce. And let’s not forget that troublesome back, which nearly took him into a fifth set against Novak in Paris.
Rafa’s draw doesn’t help either, seeing as it’s littered with potential landmines all the way to (and including) the quarterfinal match. Klizan, Karlovic, and his 2012 slayer Rosol all have a chance at an early Nadal scalp. Richard Gasquet has grass-court credibility as well. If Gasquet can get by the surging, young star Nick Kyrgios AND countryman Gael Monfils, Rafa will have his hands full.
And that’s only in his section of the quarter. The other side poses even greater threats with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. Raonic has improved his movement over the past year, but still gets challenged on grass – even with his huge serve. Luckily for him, he has no real challengers up until he faces Nishikori.
How that match might swing will depend on many factors. The first is Nishikori’s body. He always seems to be at risk of retiring or breaking down in way too many matches. Longer Slam matches don’t help. The good thing for him, however, is that he’s playing some of his best tennis and is a better mover than most. If he can get by Kohlschreiber, I think he’ll get past Raonic for a spot in the quarters.
My gut tells me that Rafa won’t make it out of this quarter. Then again, my gut told me that his knee wouldn’t hold up for last year’s US Open; and we all know what happened there, right? In all seriousness, Rafa’s best chance this year is to pray for a hot and dry fortnight that will make for drier grass and, eventually, a more clay-esque environment for his game.
Djokovic – Berdych, Murray – Dimitrov, Wawrinka – Federer, Nishikori – Nadal
Notable First-Round Matches
Steve Johnson (USA) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)  v Ryan Harrison (USA)
Donald Young (USA) v Benjamin Becker (GER)
Samuel Groth (AUS) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) 
Martin Klizan (SVK) v Rafael Nadal (ESP) 
This weekend, while officiating in Napa, I was watching some spectacular play by the Napa Open juniors when I got a message from one of the site directors that Gulbis had beaten Federer. I instantly knew what had to be done, and began writing as soon as I got home last night. So without further ado, here’s my take on Roger’s KO, Maria’s escape, Serena’s photobomb, and a few other blips on my “Shock or Not” radar screen.
Ernests Gulbis defeats Roger Federer: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not!
On one level it’s easy to admit that seeing Roger leave Paris before the semifinals is indeed shocking, if not downright sacrilegious. But nobody, I repeat, NOBODY, should be shocked that Ernests Gulbis won this match. Though he’s easily one of the most enigmatic players on tour (in layman’s terms, flaky), Ernests is a modern-day Marat Safin: brilliant yet prone to long periods of having his head inserted firmly up his…well, you know where.
This year, after realizing that he’s often his own worst enemy, Ernests has worked hard to improve and show that he deserves a spot at the top of the men’s game. As a result, he’s enjoying a great year with title runs in Marseilles and Nice. He still runs his mouth too much for most people’s liking (“A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more”), but is now mostly able to back it up with results.
Turning to the other side of the court, Roger’s loss had little to do with his age, his racquet, or his back. He might be older a step slower than in his prime, but he’s still one of the best in the game. Simply put, he was beat by the better player on the day: much like Sampras by the aforementioned Safin at the US Open. Brilliance is never eternal.
Also, though Roger would be loath to admit it, it’s hard to imagine that he can realistically maintain 100% focus on court with four children in tow. That slight dip is all it takes to make a huge difference in match outcome. (But they sure are cute, aren’t they?)
“The clay-court season was fun, but we are moving on.” Hopefully the grass court season will prove more fruitful for Roger. Good luck in Halle!
Maria Sharapova defeats Sam Stosur: Shock or Not? Not.
Maria defeats Sam by winning final 9 games: Shock or Not? Absolutely, and Absolutely Not.
The shock of this match comes with the fact that Maria won nine games in a row to come back from the brink. This is a feat usually performed by Serena as she adds to her Hall of Fame CV. In fact, Maria was the ignoble recipient of one such run back in the 2013 Sony Open final. Up a set and a break, she lost the final 10 games of the match in what surely must have been one of the most embarrassing defeats of her career.
I’m not shocked that Maria “Yes, I double-bageled Paula Ormaechea” won nine in a row. She’s one of the strongest competitors out there. I am, however, shocked that Sam buckled so badly and allowed her to do so. Admittedly, I didn’t see the match. So I’m at a disadvantage to comment on its’ specifics. But it pains me to see such a great player, a woman who beat Serena for one of the game’s biggest titles in “her house”, become so fragile.
Who knew that, in the absence of Serena Williams, Maria would “Serena” someone? Not I.
Apart from the manner in which it happened, there is absolutely no surprise that Maria beat Sam. She has an overwhelming 13-2 head-to-head against Stosur (now 14-2), and she’s beaten the Aussie on hard courts, clay courts, and grass. Given her own one-sided beatdowns that she’s received from Serena, it’s gotta feel good to be on the other side.
Serena Williams crashes wedding in leopard-print leotard and steals all focus: Shock or Not? Shock with a SMGDH!
Speaking of Ms. Williams, I have one thing to say: Come on Serena! We get it. You’re “all that and a bag of chips”. However, this was HER special day, not yours. I’m sure that you thought it would be a great moment for them when you joined them for pictures with your lovely leotard, but it was a moment that was all about you and not them or, more importantly, the bride. If you really wanted to honor THEIR special day, you could have sent Esther over with a check or some other gift. Next time, maybe?
Ajla Tomlijanovic defeats Aga Radwanska: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.
The stats (30-10 vs 14-12, 13 career titles vs none) pointed to an easy win for Aga, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, a straight sets loss to the unheralded Croatian does bring up some pointed questions regarding Aga’s ability to maintain her top status while her body takes a huge battering. Tons of match play over the past few years seems to be taking a toll. Some suggest that she’s trying to make as much as she can, while she can. I hope not. Physio tape can only do so much to help her once she retires.
Eugenie Bouchard defeats Angelique Kerber: Shock or Not? Not.
In spite of some earlier clay disappointments, Eugenie is generally riding high in 2014. Angelique? Not so much. I’m not expecting an appearance in the finals, or an upset title winner, but Miss Bouchard is one heckuva poised, intelligent, and talented young lady!
Novak Djokovic crushes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Shock or Not? Shock.
Three words: Come on Jo?!?!?! Six games? Really?
Sara Errani defeats Jelena Jankovic: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.
One would have thought that Jelena could finally turn the tables on a less-than-totally-fit Sara. Then again, one would have been wrong. Sara won in Rome, and now again in Paris. I guess Sara is immune to Jelena’s “tennis theater”.
As with the BNP Paribas Open, I find myself with significantly more than my usual “Ten Final Thoughts” for this year’s Sony Open. It’s a very different experience when you’re on the ground at an event, with much more information around every corner. So to that end, I hope this list of 25 musings from Miami satisfies; starting with last Friday’s shocking withdrawals.
- First, I’m still shell-shocked from last week’s double-withdrawals for the Sony Open men’s semifinals. It was an unprecedented event on an unprecedented day that, frankly, caught EVERYONE off-guard. People are mad at Adam Barrett for his response, or lack thereof, to the withdrawals but, really, what could he do? Make Kei Nishikori play injured? Scold him for not telling everyone that he couldn’t play sooner? Sue the restaurant that may have made Tomas Berdych sick? Send text messages to every ticketholder? Plead with Michael Chang (Kei’s coach) or Aranxta Sanchez Vicario (in attendance) to put on an exhibition? Though no potential solution was tenable, everyone sorely wished that something…anything… could have been done to salvage the wasted day.
- Speaking of Kei and Tomas, I wish them both speedy recoveries. Tomas should be better already, but Kei’s groin injury is problematic. He’s not a big guy, and he needs his movement to keep an edge over his opponents. He might be pressured into playing this weekend’s Davis Cup matches in Tokyo, and that could put his clay season in jeopardy if he aggravates the injury. Keep an eye on that one.
- Novak Djokovic is undeniably the Big Four’s “Top Dog” after Miami. Following an atypical start to his year with no Aussie trophy, he beat Roger Federer in three sets to win Indian Wells, and then comprehensively beat Rafa Nadal for a fourth Miami title. Tellingly, I saw relief in his eyes after the Indian Wells win. This time, I saw pleasure and an enormous amount of self-belief. Make no mistake: Novak is back! Depending on Monte Carlo, Rafa’s clay season might be a whole lot tougher this year.
- Speaking of Rafa, the Spaniard was merely a bystander in the final against Novak. He served poorly, couldn’t find the range on his backhand, never got a chance to impose his forehand, and couldn’t figure out a single solution to his “Novak problem”. Afterwards, there was almost a sense of concession in his voice/manner that went well beyond the “Not my day” explanation that the top guys use to explain away a loss like this. Rafa knows that when both are playing their best on a hard court, Novak’s weapons can neutralize his weapons much more easily than the reverse. If this carries over to clay, Rafa’s ninth Roland Garros title might be in jeopardy.
Serena Williams beat Li Na for her seventh Miami title, adding yet one more line to an already-Hall of Fame CV. It was “vintage Serena”, or at least what seems to be the current definition of that term. There was once a time when Serena dominated her opponents from start to finish. Nowadays, she starts slows and sometimes comes perilously close to defeat before storming back with the brilliance that we’ve come to expect. Regardless of why, it’s impressive to watch and is also great drama. Serena doesn’t win all the time, but it speaks volumes that everyone, her competitors included, know that she can if she’s playing well. (And by well I mean 80% and above). Love her or hate her, I hope everyone can appreciate what she brings to the game.
- There’s no sugar-coating the fact that Li Na caved against Serena and, unforgivably, gave up a two-break lead before losing 11 of the final 12 games. Li Na has a great personality, a strong game, and a perfect husband to showcase her comedic skills. Moreover, she’s a wonderful asset to the women’s game. But one can’t deny the mental weakness that she sometimes displays in big matches. There’s simply no way that she should have lost the first set of that final. Carlos Rodriguez, has tremendously helped her game, but there’s not much he can do about that.
- I love Maria Sharapova’s competitive nature, but it’s now laughable just how absent that nature is when she faces Serena Williams.
- Vika Azarenka, one of the few who legitimately competes well against Serena, was absent in Miami with her ongoing foot injury. I’m hoping it’s not too serious, and that we’ll have her back on tour soon. Serena badly needs a foil. And like it or not, Vika is the only one right now.
- Aga Radwanska’s physio-taped body is becoming more tape and less body. I worry for her 2014 at this rate.
Petra Kvitova beat Ana Ivanovic 3-6 6-0 6-0. That’s all you need to know about Petra and why, Wimbledon title or not, she’ll continue to struggle for legitimacy at the top of the women’s game.
- Roger Federer lost a tough match Kei Nishikori in conditions that I knew would be tough… for his game! Roger’s game does best in quicker conditions. The conditions in Miami on that note were cold, windy, and heavy: an uphill battle for him. Still, it’s nice to finally talk about his game these days and not his racquet or his back. And always remember that conditions matter!
- Honestly, I just don’t know what to say about Andy Murray anymore. In spite of his quarterfinal showing in Miami, there are still a ton of questions about where his head and heart are these days in the post-Lendl era.
- Is it wrong of me to want Stan Wawrinka to carry himself like the Slam champion that he is?
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s game is a mess. That is all.
- Martina Hingis won the doubles title (alongside Sabine Lisicki) with smart and gritty play, fighting off several match points en route to the final. I don’t buy into the narrative that her win is an indictment of the current state of women’s doubles. Rather, it speaks volumes to the smarts of a great player who still possesses great hands, sharp court sense, and can maintain a positive court presence for her sometimes overly-dramatic partner. However, one can’t deny the ridiculousness of a doubles match where all the players stay back from the net, or the improbability of winning a Premier event with serve speeds in the high-50s to upper-80s.
The Bryan brothers completed their Indian Wells-Miami double with a strong performance over the impassioned duo of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah from Colombia. After watching the Colombian’s Davis Cup-like support in previous matches against Peya-Soares and Sock-Harrison, I figured they might be tough to beat for the bros. ATP stat-man, Greg Sharko, reminded me that the Bryans are one of the best at playing against a hostile crowd. And so it came to pass!
- Milos Raonic finally played up to the level of his hype in Miami, going the distance against Rafa and coming very close to an upset. I give him lots of credit for that result, but still need to see a big improvement in his awkward movement before I jump on the Raonic Slam bandwagon.
- John Isner left Miami after a tough loss to Berdych in the R16. Though it’s unclear how well his body will fare during the clay season, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my support and belief in Big John. Contrary to popular opinion, John is working hard to take his game beyond the “win by tiebreak” level. I think that’s admirable from a guy who could settle for relative comfort in his position as top American. It’s also necessary if he wants to have a Top Ten presence.
- On the lesser American male front, Ryan Harrison lost two winnable matches in Miami. The first was his 3-set second-round loss to Benjamin Becker, and the second was his doubles semifinal loss (with partner Jack Sock) against Cabal/Farah. A horrible tiebreak in his singles match and a horrible drop volley at 9-9 in the dubs match-tiebreak sealed his fate. Ryan is a hard worker with respect to his physical game. I hope the same can be done for his mental game.
- With his loss to Nico Almagro in Miami, Sam Querrey dropped from his position as the #2 American. The new #2 is Bradley Klahn. No disrespect to Klahn, but this doesn’t say much about our ongoing struggles at trying to regain American tennis glory.
- Though the situation isn’t as dire for the US women as it is for the men, it doesn’t say much about our post-Serena/Venus prospects when Sloane, the anointed successor, is bounced 6-1 6-0 by Caroline Woniacki. Her on-court attitude is suspect, and she often appears indifferent. She also does herself no favors by saying things like, “I have 10 years of tennis to play.” That’s not the case if you get injured. Just ask Alexandra Stevenson.
Speaking of Wozniacki, this was a pretty good tournament for her! After a period of crashing out in several troubling first round matches, she competed well and earned consecutive breadstick-bagel match results over Sloane and Varvara Lepchenko. A 5-7 5-7 loss to reigning Australian Open champ Li Na should give her encouragement. That is, unless she gets distracted in planning for her wedding to Rory McIlroy.
- Can we please stop the Caroline Garcia hype machine and let the poor girl develop organically? Didn’t she suffer enough after Andy Murray’s “future Slam winner” tweets?
- It was great to see a balanced weekend of finals with women’s singles/men’s doubles combo on Saturday and women’s doubles/men’s singles on Sunday. (This is not the case for Indian Wells or Cincinnati.) The crowd likes it, and it gives a great perception of equal value for the two tours. Mr. Ellison, please take note!
- After covering Indian Wells this year, I finally understand why some players gripe about Miami and its’ failings in comparison. Larry Ellison’s money has created a tennis tournament oasis with which few other tournaments can adequately compete. It’s the same for the media, with ease, access, and benefits that few other tournaments provide. So it will be interesting to see what happens with the upcoming renovations starting in 2015. (I saw Sir Richard Branson there watching the Bryan brothers. Is he the Sony Open’s “Larry Ellison”?) Anyway, don’t let that deter from going. It’s a great event and has an awesome South American feel. Check it out!
With that last unpaid endorsement, I’m out! I’d like to thank Tennis Panorama for allowing me to cover the Sony Open for their website, and look forward to my next assignment at Stanford’s Bank of the West Classic. Until next time… 🙂
(P.S. I’m winning that media tourney next year!)
Rafa is out, Maria is out, and Mohamed Lahyani desperately needs either glasses or a good night’s sleep! Let’s jump right in on one of the most momentous days in recent BNP Paribas Open history that saw both defending champions sent packing.
Alexandr Dolgopolov defeats Rafa Nadal: Shock or Not? Seismic SHOCK
Dolgopolov hadn’t taken a set from Nadal, let alone beaten the World No. 1 in previous meetings. But there they were on Stadium Court, Nadal struggling and Dolgopolov ripping crosscourt backhands as if it were the easiest thing to do on earth. For a brief, it appeared as though Rafa would pull off a miracle late-match comeback: but not this time, nor against this opponent.
However, we shouldn’t be that surprised that Rafa lost given his “Hail Mary” win against Stepanek in the first round. Bypassing any talk of potential back issues, Rafa mentioned in press that he hasn’t felt comfortable since arriving in the desert. It was clear to see that didn’t play with the sufficient serve speed or depth of shot that we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him since his return from the “knee hiatus”. And both of those deficits hurt him against Dolgopolov, a deft shotmaker who hit screaming winners off of anything Rafa left short.
“It’s true that I played against two opponents that probably didn’t help me to get the rhythm in the tournament. But that’s it. I was there. I saved tough situation the first day. Today I was close to save another one.”
Close but not close enough.
Camila Giorgi defeats Maria Sharapova: Shock or Not? Not
As with Vika’s first-round exit, I also called this one when in my tournament preview piece. Maria hasn’t had time to get match tough because of her late ’13 injury/early ’14 schedule, and it showed. “You can train for so many hours on end, and it just doesn’t replicate what you’re doing out there in the tournament.” Too true Maria.
Even with this loss, it’s nice to know that coach Sven Groeneveld’s head isn’t on the chopping block. “I mean, results-wise, it’s obviously not where I want to go. But I’ve never been the person that comes out and wins the first tournament as a partnership. It took me a little while from when I started working with Thomas [Hogstedt].”
NOT QUITE EPIC
Roberto Bautista Agut defeats Tomas Berdych: Shock or Not? Shock
Roberto is certainly a great player, but these are the matches that Tomas must win if he is ever to be taken seriously as one of the game’s top challengers. If you can’t win these tough “upstart” matches, you can’t win the big titles. But even though he lost, he still managed to keep his sense of humor on Twitter:
I lost! …why? I didn’t win last point…#bodydidntworkwell
— Tomáš Berdych (@tomasberdych) March 9, 2014
Julien Benneteau defeats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Shock or Not? Shock
I don’t want to give up on Jo-Willy, but I don’t know what else to do right now with his baffling/pending slide out of the Top Ten. Injury issues aside, he is utterly lost. He stopped working with Roger Rasheed last year to solo for a bit. Now that he’s with former player Nicolas Escude, he seems more lost than ever. Is it the coach or is it the player? We’ll find out soon enough.
CHAIR UMPIRE SHOCK
Lahyani Makes 3 Bad Overrules, Misses Net “Reach Over”: Shock or Not? Shock
Mohamed Lahyani is one of the most charismatic of all the chair umpires, and one of the better Gold Badge chairs working the circuit. So it was surprising to see him make some pretty horrific overrules in Andy Murray’s match against Jiri Vesely. And in a “Shades of Rogers Cup” moment, he completely missed Jiri reaching over the net to hit a winner on a Murray lob (a big no-no).
(Mo missed a similar net event in last year’s Roger’s Cup when Milos Raonic touched the net while retrieving a shot from Juan Martin Del Potro. Raonic went on to win the match.)
We’re all human and make mistakes, but the certainty with which Lahyani made his overrules only to be proven wrong, back to back in Andy’s match, was startling. Here’s hoping that he gets a good night’s sleep for a better day in the chair on Tuesday.
A Serena Williams-free BNP Paribas Open means a much more realistic chance at one of the year’s biggest titles for the other top women. Conservatively, I’d say that 6 out of the top 8 seeds have a realistic chance to win, along with a couple of other Top 20 outliers! If the chips fall the right way, it’s anyone’s title to win. Let’s take a look through the quarters to see which women have the best chances to make it through to the semifinals.
Top Half/Top Quarter
Li Na – Petra Kvitova
In spite of her Doha hiccup, Li Na has a great chance to take this quarter and go on to the final. She’s finally found a coach that she can hear, and a path that she can navigate to manage her emotions against her expectations. Besides Petra, there aren’t a lot of other women in this quarter, save Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova, who have a reasonable chance to beat her.
As for Petra, one never knows what to expect from her these days. Sometimes her fitness is good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes she plays like a Top 10’er, other times not so much. That lack of consistency is why Li Na will move through to the semifinals.
Top Half/Bottom Quarter
Maria Sharapova – Angelique Kerber
With torch-bearing/commentary duties in Sochi, Maria’s had a whirlwind winter. Unfortunately, it’s led to a distinct lack of matches for a player who needs a lot of match play in order to reach her best form. A R16 loss in Australia and semifinal loss in Paris don’t bode well for her confidence. A healthy Flavia Pennetta could spell trouble: healthy being the operative word. There’s been no word on her recurring wrist issues, but you never know.
Angelique has a chance to make it from the bottom part of this quarter, but will likely be knocked out by a resurgent Ana Ivanovic, who leads their H2H 4-2. (Please note that I’m weary of referring to Ana as resurgent.) All things considered (Maria’s lack of matches, Flavia’s wrist, Angie’s losing record against her), Ana probably has the best chance to take this quarter.
Bottom Half/Top Quarter
Simona Halep – Victoria Azarenka
There are a couple of question marks in this quarter. The first is the status of Vika’s leg. She’s said that she still feels pain in it, but will attempt to play. But even if she does, I can’t imagine that she’ll have the sharpness necessary to make it out of this quarter.
The other is how will Simona react to the expectations of her new status? A first round loss in Brisbane was followed by a quarterfinal showing in Melbourne. But that was followed by another first-round loss, which was then followed by a title…and then another first-round loss. If the pattern holds true, she’s got as good a chance as anyone of reaching the semifinals. Then again, so does Genie Bouchard.
With Vika on the mend, look for the Simona/Genie winner to reach the semifinals. My gut tells me to go with the plucky Canadian, so I’ll go with Genie.
Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter
Jelena Jankovic – Aga Radwanska
Jelena and Aga, the two highest seeds in this quarter, look to be the odds-on favorites to reach the quarters. Kaia Kanepi, Carla Suarez Navarro, Alize Cornet, and Elena Vesnina are all solid, but definitely not true contenders without Doha-like misfires from Jelena and Aga.
Since Aga leads their H2H 4-1, look for Aga to reach her second Indian Wells semifinal.
Quarter Picks: Li Na, Ana Ivanovic, Genie Bouchard, and Aga Radwanska
No disrespect meant to Andy Murray, but the Big Four is now temporarily back to being the Big Three (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer). Back surgery at the end of 2013 pushed back Andy’s preseason fitness timeline, rendering him less than optimal for this spring season. But he’s not the only one with performance issues coming into this tournament. Rafa got a title win in Rio. Roger got a title win in Dubai. Novak, however, has nothing to show for 2014.
When you add a guy like Grigor Dimitrov to the equation, you have some interesting title prospects in the desert. Let’s take a look at the men’s draw and see which guys have the most likely paths to the semifinals.
Top Half/ Top Quarter
Rafa Nadal – Andy Murray
There’s no way that Andy can get past Rafa at this point in the season. But Rafa’s place in the quarters isn’t assured either. He’s got a tough top section of this quarter with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini. He should make it by all three, but anything can happen in a best of three set tournament.
In the bottom section, Milos Raonic and Jerzy Janowicz have the best chance to make it through if Andy wobbles, which is possible given that his confidence isn’t at its highest. But he can take heart from some gutsy play to reach the semifinals in Acapulco before losing to eventual champion, Grigor Dimitrov. Moreover, Andy has better ‘tennis smarts’ than both and much better defense.
Look for him to reach the quarters before losing to Rafa.
Top Half/ Bottom Quarter
Stan Wawrinka – Roger Federer
Look for this quarterfinal to be a battle for Swiss bragging rights between the newly-crowned Australian Open champ and the Greatest of All Time.
Before that, however, Stan needs to get through a likely opening match against Ivo Karlovic. Even with 2 titles under his belt in 2014, Stan hasn’t played a tournament since his Aussie Open win. An upset isn’t likely, but it’s still a tricky match against an opponent who’s more than capable.
Roger, on the other hand, has probably the best path to the quarters of any top guy. Kei Nishikori is his only real challenger, and that’s not going to be much of a challenge for a guy who just notched some huge wins en route to a title in Dubai. Look for Roger to make it through to another meeting with Rafa in the semifinals.
Bottom Half/ Top Quarter
Richard Gasquet – Tomas Berdych
This is one heckuva tough quarter! At a glance, there are 5 guys with a legitimate shot at making it to the semifinals. In addition to Richard and Tomas, you can add Philipp Kohlschreiber, Grigor Dimitrov, and Ernests Gulbis. In terms of the draw, Richard and Philipp will battle for one quarterfinal spot while the Grigor/Ernests winner will battle Tomas for the other quarterfinal spot.
Richard lost to Philipp in Rotterdam, and has had an unspectacular year so far. So Phil looks good to get through on his side of the quarter. On the other, Grigor is on a roll now that the pieces of his game have finally come together. He should get by Ernests in a tough encounter. Tomas is at a higher level than Ernests, but will still be susceptible to Grigor’s newfound confidence, and superior defense.
In a battle between Grigor and Philipp, sign me up for the Bulgarian Express.
Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter
Juan Martin Del Potro – Novak Djokovic
Honestly, I don’t know why Juan Martin is playing here after retiring due to wrist pain in Dubai. Defending points at the expense of further injury isn’t necessary or smart. Look for Gilles Simon to step up and make a run for the quarters in his absence (when he retires again). Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in this section as well, but he’s become as unpredictable as Petra Kvitova these days.
In the bottom section, Novak could receive a test from Marin Cilic, but that’s about it. He might be struggling in the latter stages of tournaments against Nadal and Federer, but he’s still a class above everyone else. And that includes all the guys in his quarter.
Quarter picks: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, and Novak Djokovic
After some of the most outrageous playing conditions imaginable, we’ve finally reached the second week of this year’s Aussie Open. It’s time for quarterfinal action in Melbourne, with some rock solid favorites leading the way, along with a few surprises. Here are my picks for the quarterfinals.
(original pick *)
Ana Ivanovic v Genie Bouchard*
H2H: Bouchard leads 1-0
If Ana plays anything like she has in her past couple of matches, she’ll be back in the semifinals for the first time since her 2008 run to the finals. Even though I love Genie’s game and chutzpah, Ana has the crucial “x factor” in this quarterfinal: experience. And I have to think that’s going to account for something in this match. However, I expect to hear a lot more from Genie and her army in 2014.
Li Na* v Flavia Pennetta
H2H: Series tied at 2-all
Though their head-to-head record is tied, a great run by Flavia will likely end at the hands of the presumptive finalist. Now that Serena is on a plane back to see Chip, the only legitimate thing standing between her and her second Grand Slam is a rematch with Vika. Honestly, this quarterfinal is hers to lose…which is a dangerous thing to say about a player who can lose focus quickly in a match. I’m going to hope for the best from her, and look for a straight sets win en route to the semis.
Simona Halep v Dominika Cibulkova
H2H: Cibulkova leads 2-1
This is an intriguing match-up of two players who could both reach their first Slam semifinal. I give Dominika the edge in terms of “fight”. But execution will be the key to this win for either player, especially Dominika. A sloppy match from her could spell trouble for a player as opportunistic as Simona. Still, if you look at this match from the standpoint of “weapons”, Dominika has that edge as well. I’ll go with Dominika in three sets.
Aga Radwanska* v Vika Azarenka*
H2H: Azarenka leads 12-3
I would love to see Aga win this quarterfinal and knock Vika from her Aussie throne. But the 12-3 head-to-head isn’t promising, and it’s going to take a lot more than her usual guile to pull off this upset of a player who shows her best stuff in Melbourne. With her quick dismantling of Stephens, the defending champion looks unstoppable. Serena’s gone, and you have to believe that Vika knows a three-peat is possible. And, unfortunately, I can’t see Aga doing anything to stop her in that quest.
Women’s quarterfinal picks: Ana Ivanovic, Li Na, Dominika Cibulkova, Vika Azarenka
Rafa Nadal* v Grigor Dimitrov
H2H: Nadal leads 3-0
When I talked to Grigor after his loss to Nadal in Cincinnati, I got the impression that he was finally putting together the last pieces of the puzzle needed in order for him to be competitive with the Big 4. From that perspective, this match could spell trouble for the World #1, who looks like he’s heading in the opposite direction from where he needs to be in order to win this title. Still, if Rafa can grind down a player like Nishikori on a day when he’s not playing his best, he certainly has the wherewithal to do the same to Grigor. It’ll be, but Rafa should come through in 4 or 5.
Andy Murray v Roger Federer
H2H: Murray leads 11-9
I was wrong with both of these quarterfinal picks, but for different reasons. I had no idea that Andy would come back so quickly after surgery, and no idea that Tsonga would so badly ‘not’ rise to the occasion. That being said, this could be one of the most unexpectedly awesome matches in this year’s draw. Andy leads the series, but something feels different for Roger this year. It could be the new racquet, the new coach, or maybe just the fact that he’s determined to show everyone that he’s still relevant and not on his way out the door.
Tomas Berdych* v David Ferrer*
H2H: Ferrer leads 7-4
Ferrer leads the head-to-head, but this feels like Tomas’ moment to shine on the big stage. He hasn’t dropped serve the whole tournament, and is playing some monster tennis. Even better for Tomas is that his head seems to be in a better place during his matches. The big guy is prone to negativity that often gets in the way of his execution, but so far so good in 2014. The signs look good for a spot in the semis.
Stan Wawrinka* v Novak Djokovic*
H2H: Djokovic leads 15-2
I expect another barnburner between these two guys, but nothing that’s going to stop the Djokovic express to the finals. Though he lost a brutal battle, Stan’s match with Novak last year set the tone for a great year from the Swiss #2. They locked horns again at the US Open, and again Stan took Novak to the brink before going down to defeat. Unfortunately for Stan, this quarterfinal will probably go the same route. No matter what happens, I can assuredly say that all of the other guys left in the draw are hoping for (another) protracted battle that might hopefully help their chances to break his Australian Open domination.
Men’s quarterfinal picks: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic