Wednesday, February 26, 2014

DUBAI: Djokovic wary of Bautista Agut, Berdych serving stats soaring

 Photo via Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Novak Djokovic is braced for a tricky second round against the fast-improving Roberto Bautista Agut in a rematch of their clash at the same stage, on the very same courts at the Aviation Club last year.

The defending champion make quick work of Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin last night, winning 6-3, 6-3 in 84 minutes, saving all four break points he faced in the second set to book a spot in the second round.

Bautista Agut pushed Djokovic in the second set of their encounter last year and the Serb is predicting a difficult encounter.

“He won against (Juan Martin) Del Potro in the Australian Open in a thrilling five sets,” said Djokovic of his second round opponent. “He has improved his game significantly since last year, and winning against Del Potro in a Grand Slam says enough about his quality.

“I'm going to get out on the court and try to win that match, of course, not underestimating my opponent.”

In the first round last night, Djokovic broke in the third game on a double fault from Istomin to inch ahead 2-1. He broke again to take the opening set in 35 minutes and it looked like he would hit the cruise control button. But Djokovic had to save three break points in the opening game of the second set before holding serve. It took the No1 seed six chances before he broke for a 2-0 lead and struggled in the seventh game, saving a break point before holding for 5-2.

He sealed the victory on an entertaining point, a long rally that saw him come into the net to hit a solid volley and Istomin’s attempted passing shot sailed long.

“It was a tough draw against Denis who can play big from back of the court. He's a tall guy, can serve well. He loves playing on the hard courts, and he likes playing on the big stage,” said Djokovic, who hadn’t played a competitive match since his quarter-final loss at the Australian Open.

“I have played him earlier this year in the Australian Open, third round. I know he can play equally well against any of the top players from the baseline, and, you know, I needed to stay focused and kind of believe in my shots.

“It wasn't easy as the score line indicates. I needed to work for my games. My serve worked really well in the second set, and that helped me to get some free points.”

Earlier in the day, last year’s runner-up Tomas Berdych continued to put up some impressive serving stats to secure a place in the second round.

The No3 seed is leading the ATP World Tour at the moment in the percentage of service games won, with a stunning 97 per cent, and yesterday, he won 93 per cent of his points on first serve en route to a 6-3, 6-4 win over qualifier Marius Copil. Berdych took his current winning streak to eight matches – having won two Davis Cup clashes and five matches to lift the title in Rotterdam – and the Czech star is looking to keep it going.

“I'm just trying to profit from that (winning streak), trying to build up on the form, try to bring the confidence as far as I can, and really just go one by one,” said Berdych, who plays Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky today.

DUBAI: Tomas Berdych says Davis Cup must change

 Photo via Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Tomas Berdych has added his voice to Rafael Nadal – among other players – in suggesting the Davis Cup should become a biennial competition rather than a yearly affair.

Berdych, who has helped the Czech Republic win the last two editions of Davis Cup, will be taking a break from the event for the rest of the year, saying he needs the time to remain competitive with his fellow top-10 players.

He also thinks the Davis Cup is losing its allure when it’s played annually and likened the format of the European football championships, which are played every two years.

“I think it makes sense and would be really interesting and make players really like to play if the Davis Cup is every two years,” said Berdych.

“The World Cup in football is every four years, the European championships every two years, we don’t need four years but two years is a reasonable time.

“Because you finish the semi-final, in September, and after two days I’m getting phone calls asking me what I think about our first round opponents (next year). What’s this? We are going to play the final, enjoy that, let’s be ready for the final and the first question is ‘what do you think about your first round opponents next year?’ This kind of destroys the competition.”

Berdych also made other suggestions including reigning champions being allowed to have a bye in the first round the following year along with moving the final ahead so it doesn’t extend the season past the World Tour Finals.

The world No6 also explained his decision in missing the remaining ties of the season, saying: “I want to take some break because chasing all those (top) guys is really difficult.

“If you look at the calendar, my last two years I missed eight weeks because of Davis cup, four to play the matches and the week after you are dead to play a tournament or even prepare yourself. If you’re supposed to chase them and they have those eight weeks advantage, it’s really difficult.

“So I’ll try to take those weeks for myself, try to see if I am able to use them and maybe be better and move higher in the rankings.”

Berdych comes to Dubai after capturing his first title in 16 months in Rotterdam earlier this month and with fond memories from making the final here last year. But he says he still has a challenging week ahead of him.

“Confidence is one thing but then the tournament always starts from zero, from the first round, and there’s an opponent who really wants to beat you and play well. Yes, it’s an aspect that I can have in my mind that I was playing well and still am, but still there’s a big change coming from indoors, playing here outside. So I just need to start to build it up one more time again, be ready and go for it,” said the No3 seed, who faces qualifier Marius Copil in the opening round.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

QATAR OPEN: Li Na talks Australian Open victory, her autobiography and her mother

Photo credit: Paul Zimmer/QTF

Li Na explained how winning a second Grand Slam has helped her prove to herself – along with her doubters – that her first major triumph at the French Open in 2011 was no fluke.

It took her almost two and half years to add a second Grand Slam title to her resume but the 31-year-old can now proudly say she is no one-Slam wonder.

“I heard a lot, after 2011, so many people say ‘oh, she is lucky, she only can win one, she cannot win a second one’,” Li Na told reporters in Doha on Wednesday.

“So I didn't want to show all of them, but at least I show myself I can win the second one. And also, because I was prepared for what I should do to win the Grand Slam.

“So I was really happy. Doesn't matter how old I am. I'm still young. So I'm still happy I can move a lot on the court.”

In her first match since winning the Australian Open, the Chinese extended her undefeated run this season by claiming her 13th consecutive victory – a tough 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 win over Slovakian world No32 Magdalena Rybarikova, in a match that saw a total of 26 break point chances .

Li Na, who will rise to No2 in the world when the new rankings come out on Monday, making her the highest-ranked Asian in the history of the WTA, had lost her only previous meeting to Rybarikova, who defeated the Chinese to win her first career title in Birmingham in 2009.

The top seeded Li Na had a strong start, wrapping up the first set 6-1, hitting 12 winners and saving all three break points she faced.

Rybarikova, who played a lengthy three-setter against Francesca Schiavone the previous day, upped her game in the second set, capitalising on her numerous break point opportunities. Li Na kept falling behind and breaking back but Rybarikova finally took the set when her opponent sent a backhand wide.

Li Na recovered in the final set however and successfully booked herself a spot in the last 16.

On getting back on the court for the first time since Melbourne, Li Na said: “Always like exciting-nervous. Because first match always tough. Also, she played already one match, so she know how the feeling is on the court.”

Li Na remained aggressive throughout the three sets and she says it’s something she’s been trying to do more and more. “I think this is the way I improve a lot,” said Li Na, who turns 32 in two weeks.

“Getting old, you cannot stay a long time on the court. So you have to finish as quick as you can.”

Her autobiography has recently been released in English and Li Na says she is hoping it can shed some light on how much work she put into her career in order to achieve what she’s achieved.

She says her mother, who has never been to any stadium to watch her play, not even the Olympics in Beijing, finally got a chance to appreciate the work her daughter does by reading the book.

“So many people, I think especially Chinese, they think I'm not normal people. So I just want to show all of them I am normal people, because I have my goal. I just prove myself to make it,” said Li Na.

“I wish the people, if they read the book, they thought, ‘oh, she was working so hard. It's not only about luck, you know’. “And also, you know, I want they know about is not only is tennis player, is about this person, personality.

“So I really wish they can understand what I'm doing, what I do. Especially my mom. I think for my mom is a little bit special, because I think when I win the French Open and she call me, she's like ‘Oh, Li Na, you just win one tournament. Why are you in all the newspapers?

“I was like ‘Thanks, mom. You are doing a good job.’

“Because she's not interesting about any sport.

“So I don't know how to explain to her what I am doing. So at least after the book, after she saw and she say, ‘oh, my daughter was doing what she doing.’”

Li Na will take on Petra Cetkovska for a spot in the quarter-finals in Doha.