Wednesday, January 28, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Halep optimistic despite loss, Makarova to face Sharapova in all-Russian semi-final

Simona Halep has confidence this season will be even better than her last one despite getting comprehensively beaten by Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday.

Halep became the highest seed to exit the tournament, the world No3 receiving a 6-4, 6-0 drubbing by Makarova, who took command of the clash from start to finish.

The Romanian, who also made the quarter-finals in Melbourne last year before finishing runner-up at the French Open, hit a shocking 31 unforced errors compared to just 15 winners and was broken five times by the Russian lefty.

Halep had beaten the big-hitting Makarova in their only previous meeting and admits she was taken aback by her change in strategy.

I was expecting she will hit more stronger, but she didn't. She played very soft tennis today. She opened very well the angles,” said Halep. “So was a different game. She played well. She served very well. Her lefty slice is not easy to give the ball back.”

The 23-year-old says she felt “stressed” stepping on the court but believes she will rebound swiftly from this loss, with her next events being Fed Cup followed by the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in the UAE.

Last year was a big result for me here. Now I cannot say it's very big, but is enough for me. I started very well this year. I won one title (in Shenzhen), and now I did here a few good matches. I have confidence this year will be better than last year,” assured Halep.

I just try to improve more in my game, in my mind as well. I think I'm on the right way to go in the top higher.”

Makarova, who made her top-10 debut earlier this month after a great run to her first grand slam semi-finals at the US Open last fall, confessed she is adjusting to the life of being an elite player and says it’s harder for her to face the media than to play a major quarter-final.

The 26-year-old, who grew up idolising ex-Roland Garros champion Anastasia Myskina, is impressively ranked in the top-10 in doubles as well, having formed a successful partnership with Elena Vesnina.

Makarova will take on Russian Maria Sharapova in the last four, after the world No2 thumped seventh-seeded Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2.

Makarova lost all five previous encounters with Sharapova in the past and is hoping to end that streak in the semis tomorrow.

I never beat her, so it will be tough. Definitely she's a great fighter. Like here on the second round, she almost lost, but she turned around. I'm looking forward. I'm want to enjoy this time and want to rest and we'll see what happen in semis,” said Makarova.

Sharapova had received a stern phone call from her father after having to save match points against Alexandra Panova in the second round and the five-time major champion admits she will do everything she can to avoid getting similar calls in the future.

In a nice version, it was like ‘this is unacceptable’” she said laughing.

He's like ‘it is much easier just having a normal home life. You should try it. I don't know why you're suffering out there for nothing. Make it easier for yourself’. He told me that I was working much harder than I had to. If I was maybe a little bit smarter, did a few things maybe a little bit differently, maybe it could have been easier.”

On her looming match with Makarova, Sharapova said: “Besides playing another Russian, I'm also facing an opponent that wasn't necessarily a favorite coming into that stage. That's always a tricky situation because she's going to come into that match free and almost happy to be in that situation, and that's dangerous. I haven't faced a lefty in this tournament yet.

She's been using her lefty serve extremely well from what I've seen. I'll be looking out for that, work on a few things tomorrow, and be ready for that match.”

Sharapova has a chance of replacing Serena Williams as world No1 but must at least reach the final to have a chance.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Berdych banking on Vallverdu trump card against Murray

Tomas Berdych may have the winning chip that can help him reach his first grand slam final in five years and it is in the form of Dani Vallverdu, the former coach of his semi-final opponent Andy Murray.

The Czech world No7 drew up the perfect plan with Vallverdu to defeat third-seeded Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals yesterday – a stunning 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (5) win that saw Berdych end his 17-match eight-year losing streak to the Spaniard.

Berdych struck 46 winners to just 21 unforced errors and butchered Nadal’s second serve to become only the third player to hand the world No3 a bagel at a grand slam, and the first since 2006.

He will now go back to the drawing board to formulate a new strategy to defeat his next target, the sixth-seeded Murray, who had Vallverdu as his hitting partner and substitute coach from 2010 until the end of 2014.

Berdych teamed up with Vallverdu following the Venezuelan’s split with Murray and will surely receive the ins and outs of his opponent’s game from his new coach.

Definitely it might be an advantage for us,” said Berdych, who has now reached a second consecutive Australian Open semi-final.

Nadal’s 17 successive wins over Berdych is a joint ATP record and the Czech is thrilled he has finally stopped the bleeding against the Mallorcan.

It feels great. I mean, really the good thing is, the plan that we put together was the right one. Everything was working. I was able to execute it really well,” said Berdych, paying tribute to Vallverdu.

Dani changed a lot of things. He brought a lot of positive things. And the best is I’m really able to execute them really, really quickly. I’m really happy. I was playing a really good game against Rafa. But I just need to look forward.”

Murray, a three-time runner-up in Melbourne, kept his clean record against Australian opposition intact by defeating 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 to move into his fifth semi-final here.

The Scot was forced to bring out his smartest tactics to play through breezy conditions and use them to his advantage against the explosive Kyrgios, who was playing a grand slam match on Rod Laver Arena for the first time.

Despite putting up a fight in the second set, Kyrgios was no match for Murray, who was composed throughout the 125-minute encounter. “I said to him at the net ‘this is your time, go get 'em’. I think he’s got a really good chance of winning the whole thing,” Kyrgios said of Murray after the match.

Murray has a 4-6 losing record against Berdych, and will be facing the Czech for the first time since Vallverdu joined his team. Murray had revealed earlier this month that things had turned a little sour between him and Vallverdu in the final weeks before they parted ways. The two-time grand slam champion is playing down the impact Vallverdu might have on the outcome of the upcoming semi-final.

I also know what Dani thinks of Berdych’s game because he’s told me, so it works both ways,” Murray said sarcastically.

When I finished working with Miles MacLagan he started working with Marcos Baghdatis. I played against Baghdatis a few times. I played him at the Olympics. I played him in Tokyo. I didn’t really have an issue with it.

But, again, I don't know, maybe I'll find it weird on the day. It's just something that you deal with as a player. My goal isn't to beat Dani, my goal is to beat Berdych. So I won't think about that in the next days.”

Meanwhile, Nadal admits he was outclassed by Berdych but says it is all part of the process of coming back from injury.

The process always is not easy. When you have injuries, the comebacks are difficult. I have to take the positive things. Without being at my top level I was able to be in the quarter-finals. It is not a bad result at all for me,” said the 14-time major champion.

Monday, January 26, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Murray ready to face off with home crowd after Dimitrov victory

Andy Murray heard a massive uproar coming from afar midway through his fourth round against Grigor Dimitrov yesterday on Rod Laver Arena.

It was the sound of the home crowd applauding Nick Kyrgios for reaching the quarter-finals and it is a sound Murray must get comfortable playing in when he faces the Aussie teenager in the last eight on Tuesday.

While Kyrgios had wrapped up a five-set win over Andreas Seppi, Murray was battling against the 10th-seeded Dimitrov, the Scot hoping to keep his streak of 15 consecutive major quarter-finals going.

It had been five years since the last time Murray had lost prior to the last eight at a grand slam and Dimitrov, who shocked the British No1 in Wimbledon last year, was hoping for a repeat last night.

The crafty Bulgarian made an intense start, opening up a 3-0 lead in the first set, but Murray soon responded and leveled for 3-all.

The world No6 broke against for a 5-4 lead and he sealed the set with an ace to draw first blood.

The pair exchanged breaks early in the second but it was Murray who broke for 6-5 and looked on his way to a two-sets-to-love lead. But Dimitrov had other plans, rushing the net and producing the perfect volley to get a break point and he made it 6-6 on a Murray double-fault.

Dimitrov, famous for his show-stopping hot shots, won an epic point to lead 4-2 in the tiebreak, running down a drop shot, responding with one of his own, then hitting a lob, which Murray smashes back only for the world No10 to send a backhand passing shot from the narrowest of angles. He took the tiebreak to make it one-set-all.

Murray retaliated by taking the third set but Dimitrov led 5-2 in the fourth. The 23-year-old had set point in a lengthy eighth game but Murray saved it to run away with five straight games and complete a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5 victory with a lucky netcord.

All Dimitrov was left with was disappointment and a racquet he somehow managed to break in half.

I'm not going to hide my disappointment. I'm pissed,” said Dimitrov afterwards. “I thought he returned really good today. My serve wasn't at the level that I wanted. I think that sort of made the biggest difference.”

On his part, Murray admitted he got lucky at certain points during the match but was generally pleased with his form and how his body felt during the three-hour 32-minute affair, which ended after midnight.

Against Kyrgios tomorrow, he knows he will have a different challenge across him, in the form of the home crowd. Murray has experience playing a home slam at the age of 19 but he says he was a very different kind of teenager than Kyrgios.

He's more confident than I would have been at that age. I didn't feel like I was going to win these events when I was that age, but I read that he felt like he could win the Australian Open this year a few weeks ago. So he obviously backs himself a lot,” said Murray.

Earlier in the day, third-seeded Rafael Nadal and seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych earned victories to set-up a quarter-final against one another.

Nadal fended off six break points in the first set against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson before cruising past him 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 while Berdych broke many Australian hearts by easing past Bernard Tomic 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-2.

Berdych has lost his last 17 meetings with Nadal, including a Wimbledon final defeat to the Spaniard in 2010. The Czech refuses to dwell on that poor record though.

I'm feeling very good. It's been a great, great run so far,” said Berdych who is through to his fifth straight Australian Open quarter-final. “I just put myself in the best possible position right now. I'm just really looking forward to it. I'm going to have to add something extra again. I'm feeling strong both like physically, mentally.”

Nadal played his best match of the tournament so far against Anderson and seems to have stepped up a gear entering the second week. He says his strong record against Berdych will have little impact on their match on Tuesday though.

Is different story this time. Different moment for me, different moment for him,” said the 2009 Australian Open champion. “He's a great player. I have success against him, but I have the chances to lose against him. I remember 2012 probably I had a very, very tough match against him here. It was close to be two sets to love down. He's a player that is top level.”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Kyrgios rallies back from two sets down to beat Seppi in thriller

Nick Kyrgios blew the roof off of Hisense Arena, which he has proclaimed is officially his favourite court, by climbing back from two sets down to defeat Andreas Seppi and become the first Australian in 10 years to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.

The flamboyant teenager rallied the home crowd behind him as he saved a match point in the fourth set before forcing a tiebreak and moving into a decider against Seppi, who was coming off a brilliant four-set win over Roger Federer in the third round.

And despite squandering a 4-1 lead in the fifth set, Kyrgios regained control to deny Seppi a maiden grand slam quarter-final appearance with a 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 8-6 win.

It's crazy. I don't think it's sunk in yet. When I saw I had finally won the match it was incredible. It was the best feeling I ever had,” said Kyrgios, who is through to his second career major quarter-final, having reached the same stage at Wimbledon last year.

A mere 12 months ago, Kyrgios had lost a five-set clash with Benoit Paire after leading the Frenchman by two sets to love. He later said he mishandled his emotions that day, wasting too much energy by interacting with the crowd and that it was an important learning experience.

He hasn’t lost a five-set match since, beating Richard Gasquet last year at Wimbledon, Federico Delbonis in round one last week in Melbourne and now Seppi last night.

I think I'm just managing my emotions a bit better out there. I thought I was pretty composed for the whole match,” said Kyrgios, who is the first teenager to reach multiple major quarter-finals since Roger Federer in 2001.

When I needed to get into the crowd, I did that. They were unbelievable tonight. I think they were a massive part of that win. I'm just learning every time I step out on the court when to show emotion, when not to.”

 Photo via @australianopen Twitter account

Indeed the home fans played a huge role in the match and Kyrgios did everything he could to play to use them to his advantage. At one point her waved at a lobbed ball to sail out – which it did – and another, he pulled off a ridiculous around the net post shot responding to a spot on Seppi drop shot.

That was ridiculous. Never seen anything like that. That's the first time it's ever happened to me,” he admits.

It is the first year the Australian Open opens Hisense Arena to non-ticket holders and it seems their decision has paid off as the crowds got to witness a match they will never forget.

Still, Kyrgios will have to prepare himself for a battle on a new stage – Rod Laver Arena – when he faces Andy Murray on Tuesday.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Conchita sees Muguruza as a Slam contender in 2015

Former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez believes her fellow Spaniard Garbine Muguruza is ready to be a grand slam contender this season, saying a Eugenie Bouchard-like breakthrough could be in the cards for her.

Martinez, who as Spain’s Fed Cup captain has been supporting Muguruza at her matches this week in Melbourne, was impressed by her three-set win over Timea Bacsinszky in the third round on Saturday and sees the 21-year-old as a real threat at the majors in 2015.

Why not? Look at (Eugenie) Bouchard. I don’t know if we could have considered her a grand slam contender last year. But she was in the semi-finals here, and Roland Garros, and the final at Wimbledon… I don’t see any difference there,” Martinez tells me of the Venezuelan-born Spaniard. “I believe she has a good chance. It might happen, it might not, but she has the potential (to be a grand slam contender this year) yes.”

Muguruza, who conquered Serena Williams at the French Open last year en route to the quarter-finals there, has a rematch with the world No1 in the fourth round on Monday.

Williams has not shown her best tennis in opening week Down Under but has been raising her level with each round, while Muguruza has been solid so far.

Martinez sees Muguruza’s previous upset over Williams as a source of self-belief heading into tomorrow’s clash.

I think mentally it helps you always that you broke through and you won that match at the French Open. It will give her the extra confidence that she needs,” said the 1994 Wimbledon winner.

I think she’s very confident in herself anyway. Serena is going to be hungry and she can be dangerous but she’s going to have to do everything really good because Garbine is going to be up there and she’s the kind of person that likes these matches. It’s going to be an interesting match.”

Muguruza has been rising up the rankings since she picked up her maiden WTA title in Hobart 12 months ago and now lies at No24 in the world. Her fearless attacking style has attracted many fans and Martinez explains how her popularity has been growing.

I think she’s very popular. For her tennis, and also when you’re tall, good-looking, you play that type of game, I think that people are drawn to that,” said Martinez. “I think she’s well-known, not only in Spain, but of course Venezuela and the whole wide world. Because everybody sees the potential that she has and she is capable to be up there in the rankings.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Jaziri focusing on positives following breakthrough Slam

Malek Jaziri is choosing to take the positives out of his Australian Open experience following his third round defeat to Nick Kyrgios and says he’s targeting the top-50 this season.

The Tunisian, who became the first player – man or woman – from his country in the Open Era to reach the last 32 at a grand slam, will rise to a career-high of around 65 in the world rankings after the action concludes in Melbourne.

The 31-year-old fell to Kyrgios 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-1 in a close encounter that saw both players receive medical treatment for injuries.

He was making his grand slam third round debut and is hoping this bodes good things for the future.

Let’s take it in a positive way, it’s a good start for the year for me. I feel 2015 is going to be my year,” said Jaziri before signing off from Melbourne Park.

Jaziri was being coached by Wimbledon legend Goran Ivanisevic this week in Melbourne after the Croat volunteered to help out in the absence of his actual charge Marin Cilic, who is injured.

Ivanisevic was proud of the way Jaziri played but admitted that Kyrgios’ serve was exceptional.

Jaziri agrees: “He was serving very good. He was mixing a lot the serve. He was serving T, then he changed, he served body, so he mixed it up a lot. It’s not easy to read it. His percentage of the serve was very high. It made the difference.

I wish I could win today. I tried to do my best. I had a small injury in my hip, but I didn’t want to stop, I wanted to continue to play. It wasn’t easy, it was painful, but the doctor gave me some anti-inflammatory and I continued.

I didn’t even practice on Margaret Court Arena. I went straight to my match. First time for me to play on a big court here in Melbourne. It was okay, but you know

He played good, he’s really motivated, he’s playing at home. For me making the third round is still good. I prefer to focus on the things that I should have done and work on them more and take the positives from this good experience.”

Still, the Tunisian rued his missed chances in the second set, where he led 4-0 in the tiebreak before allowing Kyrgios to storm back and take it.

Sure if I had won the second set it could have been totally different. At one-set-all, you start to think, maybe I can have more confidence, I get more belief to win,” he admits.

He said Ivanisevic’s advice was simple, he told him to “play, have fun, enjoy” and Jaziri says he did just that. He feels he is ready to compete consistently at that level and is hoping to keep rising in the rankings.

He will have to recover quickly from his hip problem though as his upcoming schedule includes ATP tournaments in Montpellier, Memphis, Delray Beach and Dubai in back-to-back weeks.

Hopefully if I enter the top-50, I can play exclusively on the ATP tour and not go back to the Challengers,” he says.

One thing Jaziri must solve soon is his coaching situation. He works with Serbian Dejan Petrovic but only when he is in the United States, which means he flies solo everywhere else.

Jaziri is yet to figure out whether hiring a traveling coach or a traveling fitness trainer would be more beneficial for him but he plans on settling on these decisions soon.

I need to believe more,” he says. “When you come from a small country like Tunisia, no tradition, no culture of tennis, it’s tough to explain to people about tennis. This will give me a lot of confidence for the future, to believe more in myself, to make me work harder.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Kevin Anderson blasts Channel 7 commentators

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson has blasted Channel 7 commentators for saying they have never heard of American Tim Smyczek during the American’s five-set defeat to Rafael Nadal in the second round.

Smyczek, who earned the world’s respect for his great performance against Nadal and his incredible sportsmanship when he allowed the Spaniard to re-hit a first serve after a spectator yelled out as he was serving, is ranked No112 in the world, and peaked at No73 in 2013.

Anderson tweeted this during the match:

On Friday, following his 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(6) third round victory over Richard Gasquet, Anderson explained his grief with the Australian channel’s commentators.

There’s so many good tennis players and sometimes I feel when guys who are under the radar in a general sense come out and playing, I think tennis commentators can do a much better job of really pushing those guys up,” the No14 seed said.

When people are watching, it’s the first time they’ve maybe seen somebody like Tim playing. He’s a great player, he’s now going to be top-100 and I don’t think it’s a fair comment for commentators to say they’ve never heard of this guy before.”

Anderson cited golf commentators as an example their counterparts in tennis should follow.

I think golf is a great example, there are guys who I’ve personally never heard of before but the commentators are telling me their backgrounds, how amazing they are, this is what they like to do and I have an attachment to them as opposed to saying ‘I’ve never seen this guy’. It sort of divorces the people watching from players like that,” added the University of Illinois alumnus.

I would hope in the future maybe that’s something we can try to address a little bit because I feel it’s the commentators’ role to help promote players who aren’t always playing on centre court and comments like that I don’t think really help out too much.”

Anderson will take on Nadal in the last 16 on Sunday.

The South African's wife, Kelsey (a must-follow on Twitter by the way), also said this on the matter: