Thursday, January 26, 2012
The Big Four have done it again.
The top four ranked players in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray are all playing in the semifinals at the 2012 Australian Open. This is the third Grand Slam in less than a year that all four have reached the semis; it also happened at the 2011 French Open and 2011 U.S. Open.
And while another installment of the Federer and Nadal rivalry has tennis fans eager in anticipation, it would be a shame to overlook the matchup between the two 24-year-olds Djokovic and Murray. In fact, while Nadal has a commanding lead in his head-to-head against Federer (17 to 9), Djokovic and Murray have been more evenly matched (Djokovic leads 6 to 4.)
Born just a week apart, Murray is exactly seven days older than Djokovic; the two have shared the stage late into tournaments in the past few years. Djokovic scored a convincing straight sets win over Murray at last year’s Australian Open final, which played no small part in leading the Serb to a historic men’s tennis season. Djokovic finished the year with three major titles and a 70-6 win-loss record. Murray also had a career year when he reached at least the semifinals in all four Grand Slams.
The top seeded Djokovic has been just as dominant in 2012, losing only one set—to tour veteran Lleyton Hewitt—en route to the semifinals. Similarly, Murray has only lost a single set, in the first round to rising American Ryan Harrison. This year’s semifinal match between the two should prove more competitive as the number four seed Murray has gained more experience playing on the big stage and against Djokovic. In the off-season, Murray hired the help of eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl in hopes of finally landing his maiden major title.
The two players will get a chance to watch their potential opponents in the final, as the Federer-Nadal semifinal will take place Thursday night in Melbourne. Djokovic and Murray will face off on Friday.
This article was published by The Epoch Times and can be viewed here. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Victoria Azarenka is not one to go unnoticed.
The tall, blonde Belarusian plays with powerful groundstrokes that matches her intense personality. She expresses her emotions freely on court and carries herself with an air of confidence wherever she goes. And let’s not forgot about the shrieks. Oh, the shrieks.
But regardless of whether you admire her on-court tenacity or have trouble watching her matches without the mute button handy, the 22-year-old is not going anywhere anytime soon.
In her Australian Open quarterfinal match against Agnieszka Radwanska, another young star of the WTA, the world No. 3 Azarenka fought back from losing the first set tiebreak 7-0 to cruise to a commanding 6-7, 6-0, 6-2 victory.
Azarenka will next face the defending champion Kim Clijsters, who defeated world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, in her second career Grand Slam semifinal. With the quarterfinals loss, Wozniacki will relinquish her top ranking. Azarenka is among the three women remaining in the draw who can become the new No. 1 when the updated rankings are issued Monday. The others are No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova and No. 4 Maria Sharapova.
Just two days after saving four match points in a victory against Li Na in the fourth round, a hobbled Clijsters scored a straight set win over Wozniacki and appears ready to defend her title. The Belgian veteran leads Azarenka 4-2 in their head-to-head, but lost in their most recent meeting, last year in Miami. If Azarenka gets past the No. 11 seed Clijsters, she will play in her first career Grand Slam final.
And with a win on the championship stage she would not only silence her critics, but also drown them out with the sweet shrieks of victory. So whether you like it or not, Azarenka is here to stay – a fact that has become loud and clear.
This article was published by Tennis Grandstand and can be viewed here.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Christina McHale is picking up in Melbourne right where she left off in the 2011 season.
The 19-year-old McHale has reached the third round at a Grand Slam for the second consecutive time. She also reached the third round at last year’s U.S. Open.
Ranked No. 42 in the world, McHale upset 24th-seed Lucie Safarova in the first round, breaking her higher ranked opponent three times to win in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. McHale faced a much stiffer challenge in the second round, knocking off New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic, 3-6, 7-6 , 6-3, in a bout that lasted 2 hours, 47 minutes.
McHale, the second ranked American woman behind only Serena Williams, now gets to face former world No. 1 and 13th- seed Jelena Jankovic. The teen lost badly to Serbia’s No. 1 in their only matchup at last year’s Family Circle Cup quarterfinal match, 6-2, 6-0.
McHale, who graduated from high school in 2010 and played in her first full WTA Tour season last year, has the game and mental strength to continue her rise in the rankings. And although she leads the contingent of young Americans, McHale still manages to fly under radars.
The 2012 Australian Open is a great chance for McHale to reach career heights and to introduce herself as the next American player to watch out for. With a win over Jankovic, she could potentially meet world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, a player she beat in Cincinnati last year.
The teen appears to thrive on the big stage and a deep run at a Grand Slam is likely on the horizon. Soon the wins for the unassuming, yet confident McHale won’t be considered upsets.
This article was originally published by Tennis Grandstand and can be read here.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
New year. Same names.
The top names in tennis remain the favorites as the first Grand Slam tournament gets underway in Melbourne, Australia, on Monday.
Novak Djokovic (Ranking: 1, 2011 W-L Record: 70-6, Best Australian Open Finish: Champion—2008, 2011)
Coming off an historic season, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the man to beat in 2012. The 24-year-old Serb finished with three Grand Slam titles (Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open) last year to bring his career total to four major titles. Melbourne was also the home of his inaugural Grand Slam triumph back in 2008.
Andy Murray (Ranking: 4, 2011 W-L Record: 56-13, Best Australian Open Finish: Runner-Up—2010, 2011)
World No. 4 Andy Murray, the runner-up of the past two Australian Opens, reached all four Grand Slam semifinals last season and is a strong contender in Melbourne. The 24-year-old Scot recently hired the assistance of eight-time major champion Ivan Lendl to coach him to his first Grand Slam title.
Roger Federer (Ranking: 3, 2011 W-L Record: 64-12, Best Australian Open Finish: Champion—2004, 2006, 2007, 2010)
Sixteen-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer won his last 17 matches in 2011, capturing his sixth Tour Finals title. The 30-year-old Swiss also ended Djokovic’s 43-match win streak at the French Open and held double match points against the Serb at their U.S. Open semifinal encounter. The Swiss maestro should never be counted out at the Grand Slams.
Rafael Nadal (Ranking: 2, 2011 W-L Record: 69-15, Best Australian Open Finish: Champion—2009)
The 2011 season left 10-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal mentally and physically exhausted. The 25-year-old Spaniard struggled at the Tour Finals and lost in the Qatar Open semifinals. However, the grinder from Mallorca has the talent, experience, and game to take home the title.
Serena Williams (Ranking: 13, 2011 W-L Record: 22-3, Best Australian Open Finish: Champion—2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010)
Despite suffering an ankle injury at the Brisbane International, Serena Williams looks to be the woman to beat at the Australian Open. The 30-year-old American only played in six tournaments last year due to injuries but won two and reached the finals of the U.S. Open. Williams owns 13 Grand Slam titles, winning five in Melbourne.
Petra Kvitova (Ranking: 2, 2011 W-L Record: 60-13, Best Australian Open Finish: Quarterfinalist —2011)
Petra Kvitova, last year’s Wimbledon champion, has all the tools to become the next dominant women’s player. The 21-year-old finished the 2011 season by winning the WTA Tour Championships and leading the Czech team to a Fed Cup title. An Australian Open title would cement her status as the player to beat going forward.
Maria Sharapova (Ranking: 4, 2011 W-L Record: 43-14, Best Australian Open Finish: Champion—2008)
At only 24-years-old, Maria Sharapova is a veteran on the WTA Tour and one of the biggest names in sports. The Russian owns three major titles, winning her most recent at the 2008 Australian Open. Sharapova has the mental toughness to beat the best and can add to her Grand Slam collection at this year’s tournament.
Caroline Wozniacki (Ranking: 1, 2011 W-L Record: 63-17, Best Australian Open Finish: Semifinalist—2011)
World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki finished the 2011 season as the top ranked woman for the second year in a row. The 21-year-old Dane suffered a minor setback in her preparations for the Australian Open when she injured her wrist during her semifinal match at the Sydney International. Wozniacki is still seeking her first Grand Slam title.
Notable players that will be absent from the Australian Open because of injury include: Venus Williams (Sjogren’s syndrome), Robin Soderling (mononucleosis), Andrea Petkovic (back), Marin Cilic (knee) and Fernando Gonzalez (knee, hip).
The draw for the 2012 Australian Open will be available Friday, Jan. 13. The tournament runs from January 16–29.
This article was originally published by The Epoch Times. The online version can be seen here.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The chances that Jesse Levine gets his racquet back are looking slim.
After an inauspicious start in Brisbane, losing in the first round of qualifiers, Bobby Reynolds asked Levine for one of his racquets.
Since then, Reynolds has gone undefeated, winning five matches in a row at the Sydney International, including an upset over second seed John Isner. The victory was his first top-20 win in nearly seven years.
“Luckily [Levine] was nice enough to give me one of his racquets in Brisbane because the ones I brought down here didn’t fare so well and I didn’t really like it after I played a couple matches with them,” said Reynolds in an interview with the ATP. “He was nice enough to give me one racquet and that’s been getting me through the last five matches.”
The world No. 126 also joked that he may owe his friend Levine some money after his successful run in Sydney.
“He told me that I own him 20 percent,” said Reynolds with a laugh. “But I told him the more the tournament goes on the less likely he’ll get his racquet back or the 20 percent.”
With the win over Isner, Reynolds is in his first ATP quarterfinal since 2008. However, the victory also means that he will miss out on the Australian Open as he was set to play in the qualifiers that began this week.
“It was kind of a tough decision for me to play it out because I was in the qualies at the Australian Open,” said the 29-year-old Reynolds. “[But] I’m glad that I stuck with it here and gave it my all and I hope to build on this for the rest of the year.”
After progressing through the qualifying draw, Reynolds faces fellow qualifier Jarkko Nieminen on Thursday for an unexpected spot in the semifinals.
Regardless of the outcome, Reynolds may want to start stocking up on Levine’s racquets.
This article was published by Tennis Grandstand and can be seen here.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
No one in tennis draws as much attention as Serena Williams.
The often-controversial superstar has brought a unique flair to the game ever since she won her first Grand Slam title in 1999. Williams, along with her older sister, Venus, have been the dominant force on the WTA Tour for the majority of the 21st century and are recognized by just their first names.
The younger Williams is currently the most followed tennis player on Twitter, with more than two million followers. Here she allows fans a glimpse into her busy life outside of tennis and often posts cryptic tweets that only her inner-circle would understand.
Williams is charming and charismatic, but also unapologetic and tempestuous. She is one of the fittest athletes in the world, but claims she loathes working out. She has won 13 Grand Slams singles titles, but recently said that she does not love tennis.
“I mean, I don’t love tennis today, but I’m here, and I can’t live without it,” Williams said after her first-round win at the Brisbane International. “So I’m still here and I don’t want to go anywhere anytime soon.”
In the just one match at the U.S. Open last year, Williams showed why she is such a polarizing figure. Less than an hour after berating the chair umpire for what she perceived as an unfair call, Williams sat next to and congratulated the champion, Sam Stosur.
Asked about the gesture during the post-match press conference, Stosur replied, “I thought [it] was pretty classy.”
In these situations and paradoxes, we find what makes Serena Williams so compelling. Her presence demands attention. The 2011 U.S. Open may not of even registered on the casual sports fan’s mind had it not been for another “Serena meltdown.”
Williams has been criticized for focusing too much on outside interests, such as fashion and acting, but continues to be a favorite in any tournament she enters.
She may not love tennis, but the sport can’t seem to get enough of her.
This article was published by Tennis Grandstand and can be seen here.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Tennis at the London OlympicsThe London Olympics Games adds another dynamic to the 2012 tennis calendar. Coming just three weeks after Wimbledon, players will have to adjust their already busy schedules for a shot at Olympic gold. Although the Games do not hold as much gravitas as the four Grand Slams, the London Olympics should attract a lot of interest due to its familiar location at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, host of the Wimbledon Championships.
The defending Olympic champions are Rafael Nadal and Elena Dementieva, both of whom won the singles competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It should be interesting to see if Roger Federer can add Olympic gold in Men’s singles to his collection or if Andy Murray can win it for the home team.
Can Novak Djokovic repeat his 2011 magic?Novak Djokovic had one of the most memorable tennis seasons ever in 2011. The test now becomes whether the world No. 1 can sustain his dominance in 2012. At only 24-years-old, the Serbian is in prime position to add to his four Grand Slam titles. Even with nagging injuries and a target on his back, Djokovic looks to be the man to beat as the new season unfolds.
Will Caroline Wozniacki win her first major title?The Slam-less world No. 1 may not have an aggressive game, but she continues to perform consistently well on tour (as evident by her second consecutive year-end No. 1 ranking.) Can she finally break through in 2012 and win her maiden Grand Slam? With a new coach, Spaniard Ricardo Sanchez, in hand – Wozniacki has the chance to finally put this question to rest with a Grand Slam victory and prove to critics that she is worthy of her ranking.
What’s next for Donald Young?One of the more surprising stories of 2011 was the emergence of Donald Young. Long touted as the future of American tennis, Young turned pro in 2004 at only 15-years-old after an extremely successful junior career. Young spent the following years toiling in the Challenger Tour and losing to players below his ranking. But 2011 was a turnaround year for the 22-year-old.
Young upset then world No. 5 Andy Murray at Indian Wells, which was followed by his first ATP semifinals appearance at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. He brought his exciting game to the U.S. Open and fought his way to the fourth round, reinvigorating fans that have yearned to see him succeed. Young also reached an ATP final in Bangkok, losing to Andy Murray. At world No. 39, Young’s confidence is at an all time-high and a successful 2012 will go a long way in proving that he is ready to be player that everyone expected him to be.
The return of Sam Querrey and Robin SoderlingThe 2011 season was a frustrating one for both Sam Querrey and Robin Soderling. Because of an elbow injury that required surgery, Querrey was forced to miss most the season, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The towering American began the year at a career high world No. 17 and has the talent to contend at Grand Slams. Querrey was able to play in a couple Challenger tournaments towards the end of year and now sits at world No. 93.
Two-time French Open finalist Soderling suffered a wrist injury and was diagnosed with mononucleosis that forced him to withdraw from the U.S. Open and will keep him out of the 2012 Australian Open. Previously ranked as high as world No. 4, the hard-hitting Swede is currently ranked No. 13 in the world.
Like Juan Martin del Potro this year, the return of these two talents will be much welcomed in 2012.
Is Petra Kvitova the real deal?With the current parity in women’s tennis, there is an absence of a dominant player that can contend in every Grand Slam. There were four different winners in the 2011, with three earning their maiden major title. The 21-year-old Kvitova has the game to cement herself as a favorite going into tournaments and finished the season strong, with a win at the WTA Tour Championships and Fed Cup victory. It remains to be seen, but 2012 can be a statement year for the world No. 2.
Which maiden Grand Slam winner will back it up in 2012?Speaking of first-time Grand Slam winners, Li Na, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur will all have a chance to defend their 2011 victories on the big stage. Li, Asia’s first Grand Slam singles winner, struggled after her win at Roland Garros, losing in the second round at Wimbledon and exiting in the first at the U.S. Open. The streaky Stosur finished the year in style with a convincing win over Serena Williams on Arthur Ashe stadium and will be an early favorite going into her home Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which begins January 16.
Can the young Americans make a push in the rankings and Grand Slams?At the 2011 U.S. Open, young Americans made headlines for scoring upsets, which provided a glimpse of American’s tennis future. Players such as Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens, Irina Falconi, Madison Keys, Ryan Harrison, Donald Young and Jack Sock all rose rapidly in the rankings in 2011 and could be a factor in tournaments next season, including the Grand Slams.
Will there be a No. 17 for Roger Federer?The 2011 season marked the first time since 2002 that 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer did not win a major title. But with at least a quarterfinals appearance in each Grand Slam this year, the 30-year-old Swiss proved he has much left in his tank. Federer ended Djokovic’s undefeated streak of 43-consecutive wins at the French Open semifinal and was “a shot” away from reaching the U.S. Open finals. He should not be counted out for any of the Grand Slams in 2012.
The return (and retirement?) of Kim ClijstersKim Clijster’s 2011 campaign was cut short due to an abdominal injury, but she appears healthy and ready to make a push in 2012. At 28-years-old, Clijsters is one of the veterans on the WTA Tour and had said earlier in the year that the 2012 Olympics may be her last “big event.” Her return instantly makes her an early favorite at the Australian Open and the will she/won’t she retirement talk will certainly be a topic throughout the year.
The young gunsIn addition to young Americans ready to make a run, several fresh faces on the ATP Tour made a name for themselves in 2011. Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov made an early statement by reaching this year’s Australian Open quarterfinals, knocking out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling along the way. With his unorthodox style and go-for-broke shots, the 23-year-old Dolgopolov has plenty of upside.
Canada’s Milos Raonic brought his country’s tennis hopes back into conversation with booming serves that reached 150 miles per hour. In 2011, the 21-year-old Raonic won his first career ATP title at the SAP Open and reached the finals at Memphis. Currently ranked No. 31 and recovered from hip surgery, Raonic is eager to continue his ascent in 2012.
As a qualifier, Bernard Tomic stormed all the way into the Wimbledon quarterfinals where he lost in four-sets to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. The 19-year-old has a powerful game and could be a real threat at the Grand Slams next season.
The health of Venus WilliamsAt 31-years-old and suffering from various ailments, Venus Williams appears to be in the tail end of her illustrious career. Williams suffered another set back when she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain, during the U.S. Open. She was scheduled to play in Auckland next week in preparation from the Australian Open but withdrew to continue her recovery. There will be a lot of focus on her status as the season approaches and the game will be missing one of its biggest stars until she returns.
Tennis Grandstand writer Lindsay Gibbs contributed to this list. All photos were taken at the 2011 U.S. Open by managing editor Romana Cvitkovic.
This article was published by Tennis Grandstand and can be viewed here.