Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!
First quarter: For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha. Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other. In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago. Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian. Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd. Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way. Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.
The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson. In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine. The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki. Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching. Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February. On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress. She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.
Second quarter: Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert. Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round. For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality. Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne. Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far. Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it. If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.
Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber. A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before. Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats. At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw. The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round. Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency. Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods. Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.
Third quarter: Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders. Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea. Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either. In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title. Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011. Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?
Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova. Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven. Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there. The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros. Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round. Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova. Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.
Fourth quarter: Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013? Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro. Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards. The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur. Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her. But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.
Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later). Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival. Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08. If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year. By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco. Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.
Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!
By Romi Cvitkovic
NEW YORK, NY (March 4, 2013) – Sunday night at Madison Square Garden was a night to remember as the BNP Paribas Showdown took over a packed venue with help from tennis players Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, and countless entertaining on-court moments.
The BNP Paribas Showdown was a part of a global tennis participation effort termed “World Tennis Day,” and was held to promote 10-and-under tennis which tailors the game to its youngest players.
The evening at The Garden started with all the players being welcomed onto the court as they ran down the lower-level corridor, to a swarm of cheering and high-fiving fans.
The atmosphere was vibrant and the spectators ready – all 15,984 of them – as the No. 1 and 2 ranked-women Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka opened up the night with a serious yet humorous tone to their match. There were brilliant and aggressive plays, a few breaks of serve and even an appearance by Azarenka’s boyfriend RedFoo!
Williams handily took the first set 6-4, but what was more impressive was that they didn’t treat it like an exhibition. They put their energy and competitiveness on the line as if it were a regular season match at a tournament – not holding much back for this packed house. That kind of respect for not only the fans but for each other says a lot about their immense characters on the court.
Look further and glance at the stands, and you would find RedFoo in the corner with his Wilson “Juice” tennis racquet in hand, quietly supporting Azarenka. During nearly every changeover, the ever-popular musician kindly obliged to take photos and chat with fans while enjoying the evening.
After Azarenka went up a quick 2-0 to open the second set, Williams evened it out. At 3-all, Azarenka did what Caroline Wozniacki did during last year’s BNP Paribas Showdown, as she brought up her boyfriend to play a few points against Williams. RedFoo may need to work on that serve a bit!
After all the fun, Williams cruised to a solid finish, closing it out 6-4 in the second set, but not before playing a few points using their left hands and drawing cheers and laughter from the audience.
In their joint post-match press conference, the two ladies were at ease with each other, showing just how close of friends they are off the court. Azarenka revealed that her and Williams are in the process of recording a karaoke duet together of Rihanna’s “Stay,” with Williams on vocals and Azarenka on piano. It sounds like an great way for tennis players to pass the time on Tour, and Azarenka even joked that they should debut their musical collaboration as a concert at Madison Square Garden.
Next up on the tennis menu was the men’s singles match featuring Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal, who was taking to the hard courts for the first time since returning from his knee injury earlier this year.
Tennis exhibitions are known to not invoke full speed play from their competitors – but someone forgot to tell that to Nadal, who hustled for every volley, overhead and groundstroke. From the first point, the two players came out with a purpose – hitting winners all over the court in front of a highly-energized and cheering arena. The first set went the distance as del Potro pulled off the upset and won in a tiebreaker, 7-6(4), and followed it up with a 6-4 score in the second set to seal the win.
With most of the points seeing both players running down balls and displaying deft skills at net, a few splashes of humor added to the mix. Known as one of the most serious players on court, Nadal flashed his million dollar smile and jokes on several occasions, showing that he really does have fun on a tennis court no matter the setting.
There were points with exchanged ‘tweeners, ball head butts and plenty of fan interaction. At one point with Nadal about to serve, a woman ten rows up shouted that she loved him and he turned and threw her a ball. She then proceeded to send him air kisses for which he smiled and reciprocated the deed.
The moment of the night though occurred in the second set tied at 3-all, when, on the changeover, Nadal whispered something to del Potro and proceeded to pick out Ben Stiller from the crowd to join them on court for some doubles. With del Potro about to serve to Stiller and Nadal, he decided he needed his own partner and found a young girl from the audience to join him – and she easily stole the show. Check out the full clip below of one of the most entertaining and memorable moments in tennis history that I can remember.
In their own joint post-match press conference that started at 11:45pm, Nadal and del Potro were both relaxed with Nadal taking most of the questions regarding his knee, goals and schedule. Del Potro imparted his own thoughts on a few subjects with his own sweet charm, but otherwise silently enjoyed listening to his friend Nadal.
With the evening coming to a close to the tune of “New York, New York,” World Tennis Day witnessed four tennis greats coming together for an honorable cause, and also assured us that the return of Rafael Nadal to the hard courts was a VERY good thing.
More remarkable than any feat in tennis outside the majors, the Indian Wells-Miami double title requires many factors to fall together for those who would complete it: sustained form across twelve matches, resilient fitness in heat and humidity, efficiency in early rounds, the ability to raise one’s level in later rounds, adjustments to contrasting playing styles, and—perhaps—a bit of luck from fortuitous upsets late in the draw. Since Federer completed a stunning pair of doubles in 2005-06, only one player on either Tour has matched his accomplishment, but several have come close. We take a look at each of the leading threats to rampage through March in both the ATP and WTA.
Djokovic: The aforementioned architect of an Indian Wells/Miami double, the Serb demonstrated his improved fitness by sweeping these arduous draws early in his spectacular 2011 campaign. Even before he became the fearsome member of the big four, moreover, he came within a match of the same feat by finishing runner-up at the first and champion at the latter in 2007. Last year, Djokovic came within a tiebreak of the Indian Wells final before defending his Miami crown. The slow courts should favor his more physical style over Federer’s preference for short points, and he currently holds the momentum in his rivalry against Murray with three straight victories. Entering the Dubai semifinals, Djokovic had won 16 straight matches and 26 of his last 27, opening a massive lead as world #1.
Murray: Four years ago, he came within a win of the double when he fell to Nadal in the Indian Wells final before sweeping Del Potro and Djokovic to win Miami. Often at his best on North American hard courts, Murray has won six of his eight Masters 1000 titles there—but has lost three straight matches at Indian Wells, where he has advanced past the quarterfinals just once That futility in the desert, which should suit a high-percentage game adaptable to variable conditions, has stemmed from emotional hangovers after losses in the Australian Open final. Although he lost there again this year, Murray seemed less distraught afterward, so he could bounce back sooner. He might well avoid long-time nemesis Nadal at both events but probably will have to reconquer the Djoker at least once.
Berdych: A Miami finalist in 2010, he never has reached the final at either of the tournaments in any other year and has won just one Masters 1000 shield. Nevertheless, Berdych has grown more consistent in the last several months against players outside the elite, and he will take comfort from the knowledge that he may not face either Federer or Nadal. Securing his fair share of success against Murray over the years, he never has defeated Djokovic on a hard court. For a player of his size and (limited) mobility, Berdych handles slow courts unusually well because his groundstrokes still can power through them, while he often will have the time to run around his backhand for forehands.
Del Potro: The only active major champion outside the Big Four, he does own a somewhat recent victory over Djokovic and momentum against Federer following two victories last fall. But Del Potro never has defeated either Djokovic or Murray on an outdoor hard court, at least pending his Dubai semifinal against the former. Most of his notable successes have come on faster courts like those at the US Open or the year-end championships, where his forehand can break open rallies more quickly. Although his fitness has proved unreliable in the heat, his four-title surge during the summer of 2008 showed that he can stay torrid for a long time when his game starts to sizzle.
Federer cannot complete the double because he has not entered Miami. Nadal? Well, he remains entered in both tournaments as of this writing and thus will have a chance to complete a feat that he never quite has approached. In the reality of his comeback, however, Nadal surely cannot sweep twelve straight hard-court matches in elite draws and conclude an exhausting four weeks by winning Miami for the first time after losing three finals there. Nor might he want that accomplishment, for it surely would drain him before the crucial clay season.
Sharapova: Within one win of a 2006 double, when she won Indian Wells and finished runner-up to Kuznetsova in Miami, she has produced outstanding results at each of the March mini-majors in the last two years. Denied only in the finals of both 2012 tournaments, Sharapova has started this year with a relentlessness similar to what she showed last year despite a surprising loss to Li Na in the Australian Open semifinals. She has not defeated Azarenka on an outdoor hard court since 2009, but she towers above the rest of the Indian Wells field in credentials. Much more complicated is Miami, where she has lost all four of her finals and must hope for someone else to dispatch Serena.
Azarenka: Undefeated entering Indian Wells for the second straight year, she often has raced to a fast start early in the season before losing momentum as injuries accumulate. Last year, she won Indian Wells with ease but arrived significantly depleted in Miami, where she could not survive the quarterfinals. The world #2 shares Djokovic’s affinity for a surface that showcases her transitions from defense to offense as well as her returning prowess. Apparent niggles with her fitness already have surfaced this year in every tournament that she has played, however, leaving her durability still in doubt. Rarely has she won titles in consecutive weeks.
Radwanska: By contrast, the Pole whom Azarenka ruthlessly has suppressed since the start of 2012 has demonstrated her ability to win key titles in consecutive weeks. Radwanska swept the Premier Five/Premier Mandatory pair of Tokyo and Beijing in 2011, catalyzing a surge that has not yet ended, and she should welcome the slow courts. The defending champion in Miami, where she defeated Venus and Sharapova last year, she should approach the pressure of that status with her characteristic tenacity. But Radwanska has reached a major semifinal only once because of her failure to outlast the WTA’s fiercest aggressors through a seven-round tournament, and the same pattern might undo her in the attempt to win consecutive six-round tournaments against the best in the sport.
Kvitova: Feckless in North America until last year, she suddenly erupted during the US Open Series with two titles and a semifinal. Kvitova can tear through a draw or multiple draws without warning, as she showed by emerging from a slump to claim the Premier title in Dubai without dropping a set, including a victory over Radwanska. She never has defeated Serena and has struggled lately against Sharapova, while she astonishingly has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s rise early last year. More dangerous with every round that she advances further into a tournament, Kvitova will hope to avoid dark horses early in both draws and find the patience necessary to win rallies on the slow courts.
Among the key reasons why no woman has completed the double lately is the presence of the Williams sisters in Miami but not in Indian Wells. Their dominance at the former tournament, near their Palm Beach Gardens home, once inevitably forestalled the champion of the desert from repeating in Miami. While the tottering Venus probably cannot win a title of this magnitude, Serena remains the favorite at any non-clay tournament that she enters when healthy. Healthy she may not be, considering her injury-hampered hobbles through Melbourne and Doha, but the month of rest since the latter tournament may have allowed the world #1 to recover.
By Maud Watson
Similar to Roger Federer last season, Serena Williams defied the odds by reclaiming the No. 1 ranking by virtue of her run in Doha last week. In doing so, she became the oldest woman to hold the coveted spot. With the way the ranking system works, Serena likely would have clinched No. 1 before Wimbledon anyway, but that doesn’t make the achievement any less remarkable. She put herself in that position with her fantastic second half of 2012, playing a more complete schedule and generally winning whatever she entered, and now she’s rightfully benefited from the fruits of her labors. With Azarenka’s withdrawal from Dubai earlier this week, the American is guaranteed to hold on to No. 1 through Miami. She’ll have her work cut out for her if she’s to hold on to that ranking and ultimately finish the season there, but for now, she can bask in the feeling that comes with accomplishing what seemed an impossible goal.
Victoria Azarenka may have lost her No. 1 ranking in Doha, but she arguably left with two things more important – the title, and a win over Serena Williams. By successfully defending her title, she also defended all of her points from that event. And with less to defend than Williams in the second half of the season, she’ll likely have plenty of opportunities to leapfrog the American in the rankings. But the bigger takeaway was the win she garnered over Serena. She came into that final with a clear game plan that more often than not, she executed to perfection. And while Serena didn’t play her absolute best, she was certainly better than the “two out of ten” she claimed, and it’s also safe to say that what Azarenka was doing on her end of the court had something to do with taking Serena out of her comfort zone. At the end of the day, Azarenka handled the majority of the big moments better, and that’s why she earned the victory. She’s got plenty of work ahead of her to even up the score with Williams, but Azarenka is steadily building a case that this may evolve into the rivalry the WTA so desperately needs today.
How Sweet It Is
It isn’t the biggest title he’s ever won, nor was it worth many points. It didn’t come against a stellar field, and there was very little fanfare. But despite all of that, Rafael Nadal’s tournament win last week in Brazil will likely rank among one of his most cherished memories. Playing in his second tournament in as many weeks since after returning from a seventh-month layoff, Nadal once again reached the final, and this time, he came up with the goods. It wasn’t an easy path to the title match, but it was one-way traffic in the final against Nalbandian. Even down a double break in the second, the Spaniard reeled off six straight games against the Argentine to earn his 51st title. The victory should give him a boost of confidence heading into Acapulco, where he should be more tested. But for now, Nadal can savor the moment. He’s not where he wants to be, but he’s squarely moving in the right direction.
With things threatening to turn ugly in a hurry, the ATP Board of Directors finally came around and approved the BNP Paribas Open’s proposed prize money distribution. The proposed distribution passed when one of the three tournament directors who had previously opposed it, changed his vote. The ATP’s decision should make both the players and officials at Indian Wells happy, and it’s a decision that also looks destined to initiate changes down the road. The matter has forced the ATP to review the rules regarding potential deviations from the conventional prize money breakdowns and create parameters to deal with similar scenarios in the future. It was the lack of a clear rule on the subject that led to the near-fiasco with Indian Wells this year. Hopefully the ATP won’t drag its feet in establishing parameters to deal with this type of scenario, as such a scenario only results in bad publicity and unnecessary headaches.
Hitting Her Stride?
Could it be that Petra Kvitova is finally ready to once again begin producing the kind of tennis that wins championships? The Czech had a good showing last week in Doha, nearly upending Serena in the quarterfinals. She’s continued to build on that momentum this week in Dubai, reaching the semifinals at the expense of World No. 4 Radwanska in the process. She hasn’t exactly played pretty tennis to reach that stage. In fact, much like Serena, she tends to litter the stat sheet. But if two good back-to-back showings are any indication, Kvitova may at last be starting to find her range. If that’s the case, and she proves able to balance those errors with winners, the rest of the field should be on alert. Kvitova possesses easy power and deceptive touch, making her a dangerous opponent capable of blowing most anybody off the court. The women’s game would greatly benefit from such a talented player back in the mix vying for the biggest titles, so with any luck, these last two weeks are a sign that we’ll continue to see Kvitova’s star rise as the season progresses.
Shifting down the Persian Gulf, eight of the top ten women move from Doha to Dubai for the only Premier tournament this week. In North and South America are two International tournaments on dramatically different surfaces. Here is the weekly look at what to expect in the WTA.
Dubai: Still the top seed despite her dethroning last week, Azarenka can collect valuable rankings points at a tournament from which she withdrew in 2012. She looked far sharper in Doha than she did for most of her title run in Melbourne, and once again she eyes a potential quarterfinal with Sara Errani. Although the Italian has rebounded well from a disastrous start to the season, she lacks any weapons with which to threaten Azarenka. Between them stands last year’s runner-up Julia Goerges, an enigma who seems destined to remain so despite her first-strike potential. If Sloane Stephens can upset Errani in the second round, meanwhile, a rematch of the Australian Open semifinal could loom in the quarterfinals. The top seed might expect a test from Cibulkova in the second round, since she lost to her at Roland Garros last year and needed a miraculous comeback to escape her in Miami. But Cibulkova injured her leg in Fed Cup a week ago and has faltered since reaching the Sydney final.
Having won just one match until Doha, Stosur bounced back somewhat by recording consecutive wins in that Premier Five field. The Aussie may face three straight lefties in Makarova, Lepchenko, and Kerber, the last of whom has the greatest reputation but the least momentum. While Makarova reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, Lepchenko displayed her newfound confidence in upsetting both Errani and Vinci on clay in Fed Cup—a rare feat for an American. Vinci herself also stands in this section, from which someone unexpected could emerge. Azarenka need fear little from either Kerber or Stosur, both of whom she has defeated routinely in most of their previous meetings, so a semifinal anticlimax might beckon. Not that Doha didn’t produce a semifinal anticlimax from much more prestigious names.
Atop the third quarter stands the greatest enigma of all in Petra Kvitova, who won four straight matches between Fed Cup and Doha before nearly halting Serena’s bid for the #1 ranking. Considering how far she had sunk over the previous several months, unable to string together consecutive victories, that accomplishment marked an immense step forward. Kvitova can capitalize immediately on a similar surface in the section occupied by defending champion Radwanska. In contrast to last week, the Czech can outhit anyone whom she could face before the semifinals, so she will determine her own fate. If she implodes, however, Ivanovic could repeat her upset when they met in last year’s Fed Cup final before colliding with Radwanska for the third time this year. Also of note in this section is the all-wildcard meeting between rising stars Putintseva and Robson.
Breaking with her usual routine, Serena has committed to the Middle East hard courts without reserve by entering both Doha and Dubai. Whether she plays the latter event in a physical condition that looks less than promising may remain open to question until she takes the court. So strong is the draw that Serena could open against world #11 Bartoli, who owns a Wimbledon victory against her from 2011 but has not sustained that success. The eighth-seeded Wozniacki proved a small thorn in her side last year by defeating her in Miami and threatening her in Rome, so a quarterfinal could intrigue if the Dane can survive Safarova to get there and if Serena arrives at less than full strength.
Final: Azarenka vs. Kvitova
Memphis: Overshadowed a little by the accompanying ATP 500 tournament, this event has lacked star power for the last few years. Rather than Venus, Sharapova, or Davenport, the top seed in 2013 goes to Kirsten Flipkens, a player largely unknown in the United States. This disciple of Clijsters may deserve more attention than she has received, however, rallying to reach the second week of the Australian Open in January after surviving blood clots last spring. Former finalist Shahar Peer and 2011 champion Magdalena Rybarikova attempt to resurrect their careers by returning to the scene of past triumphs, but lefty Ksenia Pervak may offer the most credible challenge to Flipkens in this quarter.
Of greater note is the hard-serving German who holds the third seed and should thrive on a fast indoor court. Although Lisicki has struggled to find her form away from grass, she showed flickers of life by charging within a tiebreak of the Pattaya City title earlier this month. Kristina Mladenovic, a potential quarterfinal opponent, delivered a key statement in the same week at the Paris Indoors, where she upset Kvitova en route to the semifinals. Before then, though, this French teenager had displayed little hint of such promise, so one feels inclined to attribute that result more to the Czech’s frailty for now.
Part of an elite doubles team with compatriot Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka has excelled on surfaces where her powerful serve can shine. Like Lisicki, she should enjoy her week in Memphis amid a section of opponents who cannot outhit her from the baseline. Among them is the largely irrelevant Melanie Oudin, who surfaced last year to win her first career title before receding into anonymity again. Neither Oudin nor the fourth-seeded Heather Watson possesses significant first-strike power, so their counterpunching will leave them at a disadvantage on the indoor hard court. But Watson has improved her offense (together with her ranking) over the last few months and should relish the chance to take advantage of a friendly draw. Interestingly, Hradecka’s doubles partner Hlavackova could meet her in the quarterfinals if she can upset Watson.
Finishing runner-up to Sharapova here in 2010, Sofia Arvidsson holds the second seed in this yaer’s tournament as she eyes a potential quarterfinal against one of two Americans. While Chanelle Scheepers anchors the other side of the section, Jamie Hampton could build upon her impressive effort against Azarenka at the Australian Open to shine on home soil. Nor should one discount the massive serve of Coco Vandeweghe, which could compensate for her one-dimensionality here.
Final: Lisicki vs. Hradecka
Bogota: Like the ATP South American tournaments in February, this event offers clay specialists an opportunity to compile ranking points in a relatively unintimidating setting. Top seed and former #1 Jankovic fits that category, having reached multiple semifinals at Roland Garros during her peak years. She has not won a title in nearly three years, but a breakthrough could happen here. In her section stand Pauline Parmentier and Mariana Duque Marino, the latter of whom stunned Bogota audiences by winning the 2010 title here over Kerber. As her wildcard hints, she never quite vaulted from that triumph to anything more significant. Serious opposition to Jankovic might not arise until the semifinals, when she faces the aging Pennetta. Once a key part of her nation’s Fed Cup achievements, the Italian veteran won their most recent clay meeting and looks likely to ensure a rematch with nobody more notable than the tiny Dominguez Lino blocking her.
The lower half of the draw features a former Roland Garros champion in Schiavone and a French prodigy who nearly broke through several years ago before stagnating in Cornet. Testing the latter in a potential quarterfinal is Timea Babos, who won her first career title around this time last year with a promising serve. For Schiavone, the greatest resistance could come from lanky Dutch lefty Arantxa Rus. Known most for her success on clay, Rus won a match there from Clijsters and a set from Sharapova, exploiting the extra time that the surface allows for her sluggish footwork. Also of note in this half is Paula Ormaechea, a rising Argentine who probably ranks as the most notable women’s star expected from South America in the next generation. Can she step into Dulko’s shoes?
Final: Jankovic vs. Schiavone
Check back shortly for the companion preview on the three ATP tournaments this week in Marseille, Memphis, and Buenos Aires!
Formerly riddled with upsets and surprise semifinalists, WTA draws grew relatively predictable in 2012 as a small group of women won virtually every marquee tournament. That trend continued when Azarenka defended her Australian Open crown after several young stars rose and fell. In Doha, more of the familiar suspects look likely to shine. Read a preview of the draw, quarter by quarter.
First quarter: Just as she did in Melbourne, Azarenka may need to defend her title to retain her #1 ranking with the second-ranked Serena Williams anchoring the opposite half of the draw. Also like the Australian Open, the medium-speed hard courts in Doha suit the top seed’s style more than any other surface, and one must feel sanguine about her semifinal hopes in this weak section. Several of the women surrounding her played Fed Cup over the past weekend, when most looked pedestrian at best against modest competition. Although she upset Azarenka once and nearly twice in 2012, Cibulkova extended a discouraging span that started with her double bagel in the Sydney final by retiring on the verge of victory in Fed Cup. Bojana Jovanovski and Daniela Hantuchova collaborated on a hideous comedy of errors this Saturday, while the sixth-seeded Errani faces the challenge of transitioning from the clay of the Italy-USA tie. This section could implode quickly, which might open a door for the rising Laura Robson to build on her Australian upset of Kvitova.
Second quarter: Two women of Polish descent bookend a section that contains two former #1s who have sunk outside the top 10. Having withdrawn from Fed Cup with a shoulder injury, Ivanovic remained in the Doha draw as she hopes to erase the memories of a first-round upset in Pattaya City, where she held the top seed. The Serb likely would collide with Australian Open nemesis Radwanska as early as the third round, however, so she may gain little more from Doha than she did last year. An all-German encounter beckons at the base of the quarter between the last two Paris Indoors champions: the fifth-seeded Kerber and Mona Barthel. Meeting the winner in the same round as the projected Ivanovic-Radwanska clash is world #11 Wozniacki, who fell just short of an Australian Open quarterfinal in a promising end to an otherwise miserable January. Kerber stifled her on multiple surfaces last year, though, while struggling to solve Radwanska’s consistency.
Third quarter: A 2008 champion at this tournament, the third-seeded Sharapova eyes a comfortable start to the tournament against a qualifier or wildcard. Rolling through Melbourne until her competition stiffened suddenly, she may find an opponent worthy of her steel in Sloane Stephens, although her fellow Australian Open semifinalist withdrew from Fed Cup this weekend. Looming on the opposite side is an encore of the 2011 Melbourne marathon between Kuznetsova and Schiavone, separated just by a qualifier and the dormant Bartoli (also a Fed Cup absentee). The Russian returned to relevance with an outstanding January considering the sub-50 ranking with which she started it before reaching quarterfinals at Sydney and the Australian Open. Her athleticism and rising confidence should serve her well against the Schiavone-Bartoli winner and against the eighth-seeded Stosur in the following round. Still struggling to regain her rhythm after ankle surgery during the offseason, the Aussie probably cannot defend her runner-up points in the vicinity of two multiple-major champions from Russia.
Fourth quarter: Among the questions looming over this tournament is the health of Serena Williams, the prohibitive favorite in Melbourne until multiple injuries overtook her. Serena probably would not participate in an event like Doha unless she felt confident in her condition, however, so one should take her entry at face value for now. As she has reminded rivals over the last several months, few can break her serve on a non-clay surface when she is healthy, and she should overpower clay specialists in the early rounds like Medina Garrigues and Vinci. Of greater suspense is the identity of the woman who will emerge from the section occupied by Kvitova, who clings to the seventh seed in a manner far from convincing. Although playing a Fed Cup tie on home soil may have boosted her spirits, she has not strung together victories at a WTA tournament since last August. Often troubled by the task of defeating a compatriot, she could meet Fed Cup teammate Safarova in the third round. Before then, Beijing nemesis Suarez Navarro lurks in a challenge for her consistency. And Russian veteran Nadia Petrova adds an entertaining mixture of power and petulance to a section full of fiery personalities.
Come back on Friday to read a semifinal preview!
By Maud Watson
Thrice as Nice
They call it the “Happy Slam,” and no one seems happier to compete in Oz than Novak Djokovic. The Serb became the first man in the Open Era to win three consecutive Australian Open singles titles, with his latest coming over Andy Murray. It was a classic match from Djokovic. He bounced back from the disappointment of losing a tight first set, scraped by in the second, and then found the confidence to play top-flight tennis to win the next two with relative ease and secure his sixth major singles title. As he did last year, Djokovic has announced his goal is to capture that elusive singles crown at Roland Garros, and just as was the case in 2012, his win in Melbourne has given him the perfect start to mount such a campaign. But unlike last season, he doesn’t have the 41-match win streak to defend, nor does he have the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated streak against Nadal. He should be able to play with less pressure, which arguably makes 2013 his best chance yet to win Roland Garros. It may be months away, but many, perhaps none more so than Djokovic, are already gearing up for springtime in Paris!
That’s one of the ways to describe the feel of the Australian Open women’s final and ending result, as Victoria Azarenka defeated Li Na to successfully defend her 2012 crown. The crowd was always going to be in Li’s corner, but at after the controversy that followed Azarenka’s win in the semis, they were firmly entrenched in the Li camp. They let Azarenka know it, too. She entered the stadium to a chorus of boos, and the crowd was quick to jump on her if she so much as put a toe out of line. Ironically and fittingly, Azarenka also had to endure three delays – one for fireworks and two for medical timeouts for Li. But Azarenka overcame it all, and as she won the final point, she broke down in tears. The dream was realized, the nightmare over. She’ll likely never be a fan favorite, but the way she was made to earn that final victory helped with damage control. Many were impressed that she didn’t crumble under the media frenzy or lose her way after the extended breaks, and there was no denying that she had handled the bigger moments better than Li. Her genuine tears were also a nice touch. For her part, Azarenka stated she would always remember the court and hinted that she, too, had learned an important lesson that fortnight. Hopefully she does take away more than just a trophy from Melbourne and we can look forward to better things from the WTA No. 1.
On the Cusp
They both fell short at the final hurdle, but Murray’s and Li’s deep runs in Australia bode well for their chances in 2013. Playing in his first slam since becoming a major champion, Murray handled the added pressure and expectations admirably. In the final, it was evident that Djokovic still has the edge in the mental department, but the days of Murray turning into a shrinking violet in the biggest matches are over. He’s firmly a member of the Big 4, and with the current landscape of the ATP, is also looking more and more likely to be the Serb’s chief rival for the sport’s grandest prizes. A trip to the Aussie Open championship match represented an even bigger breakthrough for Li, as it’s the first time she’s reached a slam final since winning at Roland Garros in 2011. She’s still struggling to play clutch tennis when it matters most, but with her fitness, game, and overall consistency improving since bringing Rodriguez onboard, it’s only a matter of time before she catches up in the mental toughness department, too. Another major title looks well within the realm of possibility for the endearing woman from China.
Double the Pleasure
It got overshadowed by the singles, but the doubles competition in Oz provided plenty of feel-good and historical moments. The wildcard pairing of Gajdosova and Ebden pulled off a string of upsets to give the home crowd something to cheer about by taking the mixed doubles crown, and the crafty Italian duo of Vinci and Errani blazed a path to the final – one that included a win over the Williams Sisters – to take their third major championship as a team. But the biggest story belonged to the Bryan Brothers. They defeated the unseeded pairing of Haase and Sijsling for their 13th major to break the tie they shared with Newcombe and Roche and become the most successful men’s doubles team in Grand Slam history. With the twin Americans announcing that they hope to play until Rio in 2016, it would be a stunner if we didn’t see them continue to add to their legacy.
Matters of the Heart
Tennis fans, and particularly American tennis fans, have anxiously been awaiting the return of Mardy Fish to the ATP circuit. Unfortunately Fish, who was supposed to compete in San Jose, has been forced to withdraw with the same heart issues that have kept him sidelined since he pulled out of his Round of 16 clash with Roger Federer at last year’s US Open. At age 30, Fish doesn’t have a lot of time left, but he also needs to exercise plenty of caution. Hearts issues are obviously more serious than blisters or joint pain. Hopefully his withdrawal turns out to be nothing more than a short, temporary setback, but if is something more, Fish may be forced to make his absence from the ATP World Tour into a permanent one.
1. Agnieszka Radwanska needs more weapons: Radwanska is many people’s favourite player with her quirky, imaginative style – combining speed with a deft touch. But despite arriving in Melbourne in the form of her life, we saw Radwanska come unstuck in the latter stages once again when up against a big hitter. Despite having more variety than Caroline Wozniacki, it appears she could suffer the Dane’s fate of always falling short at the majors unless she learns to attack a little more.
2. Bernard Tomic still has a huge ego: Don’t get me wrong, Tomic has impressed me so far this season but he’s not as close to the top 10 as he thinks. ‘It’s only a matter of time before I get my ranking up alongside these guys,’ he told us after losing in straight sets to Roger Federer. Before we start believing that, Tomic needs to start producing the goods, outside of Australia.
3. Maria Sharapova’s serve is still an Achilles heel: As unexpected as Serena Williams’ loss to Sloane Stephens was, Sharapova’s demolition at the hands of Li Na a day later was almost as surprising. Like many people, after a week’s action in Melbourne I had the Russian nailed on as the champion. But the first time she seriously came under some pressure, her serve folded and her error strewn display saw her bomb out with a whimper.
4. Roger Federer checks betting odds: Now we’re sure that Roger doesn’t gamble with all the strict match-fixing regulations imposed by the ATP these days but he still keeps up with the odds. After beating Milos Raonic in the fourth round, he informed us that he’d seen Novak Djokovic’s odds ahead of his match with Stanislas Wawrinka and he thought they were really disrespectful to his fellow Swiss. Bet365, you’ve been told!
5. The tennis world is prone to overreacting: We couldn’t help but sympathize for poor old Victoria Azarenka who had to take on Li Na in front of a very hostile Rod Laver Arena who cheerfully applauded her double faults and her every error. Ok Azarenka may have been guilty of playing a few games in her semi-final but she wasn’t the first to do so and she won’t be the last. Plus Sloane Stephens had only held 1 service game in the entire match so one can hardly say it was a surprise she got broken after Azarenka’s ‘time out.’ Part of this is the fault of the press who whipped the Aussie public into a frenzy over the Belarussian’s alleged ‘cheating.’
6. Modesty gets you nowhere: Like many people, I was pretty disappointed by David Ferrer’s comments after his semi-final demolition at the hands of Djokovic. ‘These guys are just better than me. What can I do?” shrugged Ferrer. The Spaniard had played extremely well en route to the semis but you sense he just doesn’t believe he can beat Djokovic, Federer or Murray which is a disappointing attitude for the world number 4 to have.
7. The equal pay debate will always come up at the slams: The one-sided routs which Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams handed out for the first four rounds saw plenty of grumblings arise from the men’s game. Just like at Wimbledon last year. And at virtually every slam. While it’s a little disappointing that Sharapova was able to win her first two matches without conceding a single game, one should also look at just how easily Djokovic and Murray won their first few matches before pointing the finger.
8. Tsonga can get away with outrageous things: How did he get away with saying this? After losing to Roger Federer in 5 sets, the Frenchman was questioned on why there’s more upsets in women’s tennis. He replied, “You know, the girls, they are more unstable emotionally than us. I’m sure everybody will say it’s true, even the girls (laughter). No? No, you don’t think? But, I mean, it’s just about hormones and all this stuff. We don’t have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That’s it.” If Djokovic, Federer or Murray had said that they would have been publicly castrated but instead this caused barely a ripple.
9. No excuses from Murray: Many players would have blamed blisters maybe a sore hamstring for losing to Djokovic in 4 sets in the Australian Open final. Federer gained a bit of a reputation at one time for finding injury-related excuses to explain his occasional defeat. But Murray deserves huge credit for telling the press that they had no impact on the match and Djokovic simply played the big points better.
10. Djokovic has found his mecca in Melbourne: There’s no doubt that the Australian Open is Djokovic’s favourite slam. He’s said many times that Rod Laver Arena is his favourite stadium in the world and it seems to inspire him to new heights every year. Just as Rafa Nadal is a different beast at Roland Garros, Wimbledon brings out something extra-special in Federer, Djokovic has found his mecca in Melbourne.
Article provided by David Cox from Livestreamingsport.com an award-winning sports, news and live stream website.
After the close of a fortnight at once surprising and unsurprising, we review the notable figures in the WTA field at the Australian Open. Grading influenced by expectations, quality of competition, and other factors in addition to raw results.
Azarenka: The first woman in over three decades to win her second major by defending her first, she consolidated her position as world #1 in the rankings and public enemy #1 in the eyes of many. What the media and general public may refuse to acknowledge is that Azarenka showed fortitude in regrouping from the controversy swirling around her semifinal—and from a miserable start to the final—to halt an extremely talented opponent on a torrid streak with virtually everyone in the arena cheering lustily against her. Her competitive desire rivals anyone on the Tour, and that attribute forms a key component of her success at elite tournaments notwithstanding her tendency to carry it too far at times. Like her or not, Azarenka is here to stay with a game perfectly suited to the moderately paced hard court’s that have become the dominant surface and a determination to win at any price. She probably will spend most of her career as a polarizing figure, but she appears to thrive on the hostility around her and relish the challenge of overcoming it. When the dust settled, moreover, her tears at the end suggested that she may have matured during the emotionally fraught fortnight after all. A
Li: Endearing herself to audiences around the world, Li smiled even when she twisted her ankle for the second time in the final and slammed the back of her head into the court. She smiled even as an Australian Open final slipped away from her for the second time after she had come within two games of her second major title. The best player here for most of the tournament, Li trumpeted her return to relevance by defeating consecutive top-four opponents Radwanska and Sharapova in straight sets. Not until after her first ankle injury, in fact, did she even lose a set here. When all of the components of her game click together, any opponent other than Serena will struggle to overcome someone with no apparent weakness. Much of the credit probably goes to coach Carlos Rodriguez for providing the discipline that she had lacked, but her ability to battle through injury after injury illustrated her inner steel. And, unlike the equally fierce competitor across the net in the final, she mingled that steel with the grace and warmth that emerged from that smile. A+
Sharapova: Continuing a trend that has defined many of her performances at the Australian Open, she mowed down several overmatched opponents to march deep into the draw, only to get mowed down herself late in the second week. We learned nothing new about Sharapova this tournament, instead receiving reminders that she can demolish or be demolished on any given day without warning. That said, her lack of match preparation did not appear to cost her, and her loss to Li hinged much more upon the Chinese star’s excellence than her own fallibility. Some threw excessive-celebration flags on Sharapova for her victory over an aging Venus, which unjustly obscured that transcendent performance in a nearly flawless stretch that set multiple Australian Open records for dominance. Her post-tournament ranking of #3 feels exactly right. B+
Serena: As with Sharapova, we learned nothing new about Serena. She continues to carve up the WTA like a cantaloupe when she is healthy and hungry, but she cannot overcome injuries as impressively as she once could. One cannot doubt that she would have finished off Stephens if not for her second injury of the tournament, and it is difficult to imagine the struggling serve of Azarenka or even the streaking Li stopping her after then. Depending on how her ankle recovers, though, Serena should regain the #1 ranking soon. Incomplete
Stephens: Putting aside the fact that she benefited from Serena’s injury, this tournament marked a decisive breakthrough for Stephens. Many players have lost to an injured Serena before, and it appeared that she would when she choked away a second-set lead and later trailed by a break in the third. Despite her competitive rawness, she managed to regroup in both instances and settle herself to record a career-defining win. Also satisfying was her convincing victory over fellow phenom Robson, and she should take Azarenka’s dubious medical timeouts as a compliment, illustrating how worried her resilience in the second set had made the world #1. A
Radwanska: Now just 1-6 in major quarterfinals (0-4 here), with her only victory a three-setter over Kirilenko, she did little to refute her reputation as a player who struggles to translate her success to the places that matter most. Radwanska entered the tournament having won consecutive titles in Auckland and Sydney, so she had not even dropped a set this year until she ran into the Li Na buzzsaw. She had chances to win that first set and turn around the momentum in the second, but once again she could find no answer to an opponent capable of outhitting her consistently without imploding at key moments. It’s still difficult to see Radwanska winning a major unless the draw falls just right. B
Makarova: As a clever wit noted on Twitter, she excels in places that end in –bourne. Winning Eastbourne as a qualifier once, Makarova reached her second straight quarterfinal in Melbourne by upsetting world #5 Kerber. Her defense and lefty angles created a scintillating combination to watch, perhaps honed by her doubles expertise. Once she fell behind early against Sharapova, she let too much negativity seep into her body language, but that match seemed unwinnable anyway. B+
Kuznetsova: One of three Russian women to reach the quarterfinals, this two-time major champion has revived her career in impressive fashion. Kuznetsova finally strung together a series of confidence-boosting victories at a prestigious tournament, displaying poise late in a tight third-setter against Wozniacki just when she might have crumbled in years past. Her sparkling athleticism set her apart from many of the more programmatic women at the top of the WTA. B+
Kerber: Similar to her performances at the preparatory tournaments, her Melbourne result was unremarkable in either a positive or negative sense. She fell before the quarterfinals for the third straight hard-court major since reaching the 2011 US Open semifinals, still looking tired from her busy season in 2012. That post-tournament ranking of #6 seems inflated—until you look at the women directly behind her. B-
WTA #7-9: This trio won two total matches at the Australian Open, finding a variety of ways to collapse. Last year’s quarterfinalist Errani could not hold serve against fellow clay specialist Suarez Navarro in an ominous sign for a year in which she must defend large quantities of points. Last year’s semifinalist Kvitova could not finish off Laura Robson amid a horrific cascade of double faults and groundstrokes dispatched to places unknown. Her confidence even more tattered than her game, the former Wimbledon champion nears a pivotal crossroads. At least one expected home hope Stosur to shatter Aussie dreams as painfully as possible, which she accomplished by twice failing to serve out a match against Zheng before dumping a second serve into the middle of the net down match point. F
Wozniacki: Many, including me, thought that she would fall to Lisicki in the first round. Let off the hook when the German self-destructed yet again, Wozniacki capitalized on her second life to win two more matches. Then the poise that she displayed at her best late in close matches deserted her as she fell two points short of closing out Kuznetsova. (As colleague David Kane has noted, that match posed a striking counterpoint to her earlier matches against the Russian.) Out of the top 10 after the tournament, Wozniacki continues to stagnate without much sign of recovery. C+
Pavlyuchenkova: Like fellow Brisbane runner-up Dimitrov, she crashed out of the tournament in the first round. What happens in Brisbane stays in Brisbane, or does it? Pavlyuchenkova has much to prove after a disastrous 2012 but plenty of talent with which to prove it. C
WTA young guns: From Stephens and Keys to Robson and Watson to Gavrilova and Putintseva, rising stars from around the world asserted themselves in Melbourne. The future looks bright with a variety of personalities and playing styles maturing in our midst. A
Kvitova vs. Robson: Hideous for the first two sets, it grew into the greatest WTA drama of the tournament not stoked by Azarenka. The question of whether the budding teenager could oust the major champion hovered through game after game that mixed the sublime with the absurd. It was hard to applaud, and equally hard to look away even as it careened deep into the Melbourne night. B
Errani/Vinci vs. Williams/Williams: Two of the greatest legends in the history of the sport faced the top doubles team, en route to their third title in the last four majors. After three sets and over two and a half hours, the Italians survived two American attempts to serve for the match and struck a blow for the value of doubles as more than a format for singles stars to hone their skills. This match also marked a rare occasion when David felled Goliath in a WTA dominated by the latter. A-
Women’s final: Seemingly everything imaginable happened in this profoundly gripping, profoundly weird climax to the tournament: fireworks, a concussion test, 16 service breaks, and a starker good vs. evil narrative than most Hollywood movies. As the service breaks suggested, the quality of tennis fluctuated dramatically from one point to the next with both women struggling to find their best form at the same time. Meanwhile, the dramatic tension soared to Shakespearean levels as the WTA produced its third straight three-set major final. A
Enjoy this tournament review? Come back tomorrow for the ATP edition.
January 26, 2013 — Photos continue to flood in of Victoria Azarenka following her title win at the 2013 Australian Open for the second year in a row.
She and “good friend” Redfoo from LMFAO promised to party it up, drinking “everything!” and they didn’t disappoint. The two, along with an entourage I’m sure, were spotted at the luxurious Club 23 lounge in Melbourne last night. Photographer Regina Karon snapped these fun behind-the-scenes photos.
Azarenka’s patterned dress sculpts her curves nicely, and paired with a leather jacket it fits her spunky personality perfectly. We also know that Redfoo is eccentric, but this getup may be taking it a bit too far. Also, he’s wearing tennis shoes OFF the court. Blasphemy!
What’s your take?