Monday, 27 January 2014

Paris, Pattaya: Apologies

Hi all,

It's not that I'm unwilling to post daily updates, but the schedule of play doesn't come out at a suitable time for me to post any predictions. So, I'll be taking a break this week. See you all in Doha!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Melbourne scorecard: Perfect-Li Asian

A+: Li Na

Now a multiple slam winner, Li got in the zone after her horrid error fest against Safarova. Not everyone can play perfect tennis everyday.

A: Dominika Cibulkova

Beating 2 former slam champions and 2 top 5 players en route to the finals, Cibulkova showed lots of heart. Now, just work on that second serve.

A-: Eugenie Bouchard

Didn't even qualify last year but made it all the way to the semi-finals this year. One to watch.

B+: Ana Ivanovic

Provided the shock of the tournament by ousting Serena Williams. Still, couldn't build on that and lost meekly to Bouchard.

B: Flavia Pennetta

Her last 3 slam performances are as follows: 4th round, semi-finals and quarter-finals. Big events bring out the best in her.

B-: Simona Halep

First quarter-final appearance, but was pretty bad in it. Let's hope there are more quarter appearances to redeem for this new top 10 player.

C+: Casey Dellacqua

Hard working Aussie who fought with all her heart to the 4th round. Deserves to be at least in the top 50.

C: Serena Williams/Maria Sharapova

Both players were affected by inopportune injuries. Not too worried about Serena, but Maria's serving woes seem to be back with a vengeance.

C-: Victoria Azarenka/Agnieszka Radwanska

Yes, both players made it very far in the tournament. But Victoria completely lost the plot against someone she used to beat blindfolded, and Radwanska crumbles with another final appearance at stake. Known to be mentally strong, these 2 folded at the most crucial times.

D: Luksika Kumkhum

Provided one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, but couldn't back it up. Needs to know how to handle the attention, but I'm still excited for this new Thai prospect.

E: Caroline Wozniacki

Yet another loss to an inspired ball basher. The Dane doesn't look interested in tennis honestly.

F: Sara Errani/Petra Kvitova

As top 10 players, the way they lost to lesser opponents is just inexcusable. Kvitova was just horrid in her first round, and Errani was just too passive. Both players need to refocus, or their place in the top 10 will be threatened.

Melbourne F: Pride of Asia

Melbourne final:

Li Na def. Dominika Cibulkova 7-6(3) 6-0

In a game dominated by genetically more gifted players, Li Na sticks out like a sore thumb just by being Asian. However, the defiant Li proves everyone wrong again by winning her 2nd slam in a dominating fashion. After a tense first set, Li zoned in on her shots and served Cibulkova the dreaded bagel. Not to say Dominika was bad, but Li was just too good. Credit must also be given to the diminutive Slovak. She is similarly disadvantaged with her lack of height, but made it up with plenty of fight and heart. With this win, Li Na will almost be a sure bet to make her appearance here in Singapore in the Year-End Championships. All I can say is, welcome Li Na! :)

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Melbourne F: Asian for the slam of Asia/Pacific!

Upset of the previous day:

Dominika Cibulkova def. Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 6-2

Perhaps Agnieszka spent so much energy on beating Azarenka, she had none left against Cibulkova. The Slovak plain overpowered the Pole, who did not help things by being as flat as a pancake that day. Cibulkova handled this match like a veteran, closing it out with no hiccups. This is another letdown after last year's Wimbledon, where Radwanska lost in the semi-finals to Lisicki. I guess the Pole got ahead of herself and started thinking about the final, when she needs to win her semi-final match first. Radwanska will be disappointed with another golden opportunity ruthlessly snatched away from her.

Li Na vs. Dominika Cibulkova

Will Melbourne get an Asian winner for the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific? Or will the pocket rocket spoil that party again? Li Na has been zoned in ever since her torrid match with Safarova. Perhaps it's a good thing that happened, so Li is now as focused as ever. Cibulkova has also shown maturity beyond her years by calmly taking out her much fancied opponents. This will be a match where both players will be hitting without inhibitions. For someone playing their first slam final, there is bound to be nerves. Which is why I expect Li to race to an early lead, and have a tighter 2nd set. Cibulkova will not go down easily, but I believe with Li so close to her goal, she's not going to let up.

Pick: Li in 2 sets

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Melbourne SF: A new champion will be crowned

Upset of the previous day:

Agnieszka Radwanska def. Victoria Azarenka 6-1 5-7 6-0

Nobody beats me 8 times in a row! Radwanska finally snaps her losing streak to Azarenka in an impressive display of smart tennis. There was not much Azarenka can do when Radwanska is playing this well, never making Azarenka settle into her rhythm. This is a strange performance though from Azarenka, as she should have expected what Radwanska will do as they have played so many times. Even though Radwanska lost that 2nd set, she composed herself brilliantly by whitewashing Azarenka in the 3rd. Will Radwanska win her first slam here. With this performance, it's not a surprise if she claims her maiden slam here.

Match focus:

Eugenie Bouchard vs. Li Na

The inexperienced Eugenie Bouchard will attempt to reach her first final in just her 5th major main draw appearance. Standing in her way is the powerful Li Na, who has reached the semifinals 4 times in the last 5 years. All signs point to a straightforward Li victory, but Bouchard has youth on her side. If she goes for her shots and makes it, Li might be in for a tussle. However, I believe the occasion is too overwhelming for the young Canadian, and Li will cruise to yet another easy victory.

Pick: Li in 2 sets

Dominika Cibulkova vs. Agnieszka Radwanska

After that dazzling performance against Azarenka, Radwanska is the hot favourite to reach the finals. She knows Cibulkova's game inside out, and has claimed 5 victories in 6 meetings with the Slovak. Radwanska's guile and variety is Cibulkova's nemesis, evidenced by last year's Sydney final humiliation. The only way out for Cibulkova is that Radwanska has an off day, and she herself plays lights out tennis.

Pick: Radwanska in 2 sets

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Melbourne QF: Scrappy Simona vs. Domineering Dominika

Upset of the previous day:

Eugenie Bouchard def. Ana Ivanovic 5-7 7-5 6-2

I called this! Ana wasn't able to conjure up her stellar form. Eugenie took her chances, stayed aggressive, and closed out this match like a veteran. Who knew that just last year she didn't even qualify for the main draw? Ana seemed troubled by an injured left hip, but maybe that was to cover her frustrations of being outplayed by the young star. Ladies and gentlemen, note down Eugenie Bouchard. She's going to accomplish big things this year.

Match focus:

Simona Halep vs. Dominika Cibulkova

When I predict matches, normally I would first look at their head to head records. In this case, it doesn't matter as Simona Halep is a completely different player since the second half of the year. Granted that Cibulkova won their latest encounter just last year, Halep has matured into a true top player and even surpassed the Slovak in rankings. The Romanian looks set to cement her place in the upper echelons of tennis and I predict her confidence will carry her to her first major semi-final appearance. Nothing against Dominika, and I predict it will be a close one, but her serve will be torn apart by the accurate Halep.

Pick: Halep in 3 sets

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Victoria Azarenka

Unfortunately for Agnieszka, she is Azarenka's bitch. The Pole hasn't won a match against Victoria since 2011. She will be hungry for success, but Azarenka knows she's a shoo-in for the title. Nothing, not even peak Radwanska will stop her. It will be interesting to see what Radwanska throws out at Victoria to reverse the trend, but I believe the defending champion will see another dominating win.

Pick: Azarenka in 2 sets

Monday, 20 January 2014

Melbourne QF: Surprises in store?

Upset of the previous day:

Dominika Cibulkova def. Maria Sharapova 3-6 6-4 6-1

Horrific, just horrific play from the Russian. Dominika didn't have to do much as the Russian sprayed errors all over the court. Maria has revealed that she is affected by a strained hip, which is unfortunate. Under normal cirumstances, like the first set, Sharapova would have cruised. Nevertheless, Cibulkova asserted herself well, didn't panic when she dropped a huge lead in the 2nd set. She has now finally reached the last 8 in all 4 majors. Not too shabby for someone whose highest ranked isn't even in the top 10.

Match focus:

Flavia Pennetta vs. Li Na

These 2 players are only born one day apart, but their careers are frankly miles away. Pennetta's form has been dazzling, apart from the second set hiccup against Kerber. Does she have what it takes to beat the formidable Chinese? The pair has played 3 times and surprisingly, Flavia leads 2-1. All the encounters happened on Australian soil and this will mark the 4th time they'll be playing in Australia. Flavia won their latest encounter in 2010, but since then Li has matured into a slam champion. Pennetta's game can trouble Li, but she needs to apply pressure constantly, which is difficult for the veteran.

Pick: Li in 3 tight sets

Ana Ivanovic vs. Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie started her rapid rise up the rankings with an upset win over Ana in Wimbledon last year. Can she do the same against the Serb who is heavily favoured to win? The one thing that is going Eugenie's way is that nobody is placing any expectations on her. Reaching her first quarter-final is already a milestone. Whereas Ana has the weight of the world on her following her upset win over Serena Williams. Will the flaky Ana make a comeback? Or will the mentally strong former world number 1 make a return. I am still not very convinced that Ana is ready to make it back into the big leagues. An upset here wouldn't be surprising.

Pick: Bouchard in 3 sets

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Melbourne day 8: Azarenka the huge favourite now

Upset of the previous day:

Ana Ivanovic def. Serena Williams 4-6 6-3 6-3

Ana Ivanovic held her nerve, matched Serena shot for shot, and finished her biggest win of her career surprisingly. Serena was clearly hampered by her back injury, and with her biggest weapon nullified, she made an uncharacteristic amount of unforced errors. Still, Ana held on to the very end and served it out without a hiccup. Well done for the former world number 1, who seems to have finally overcome her demons. As for Serena, one has to wonder if her body can hold up for another major. She is so close yet so far to even the 18th slam that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova held. Hopefully she can stay healthy for the rest of the slams this year.

Match focus:

Dominika Cibukova vs. Maria Sharapova

Pocket rocket Cibulkova ruthless took apart Carla Suarez Navarro in her previous round. Will she do the same to shaky Sharapova? Maria's form has been dire for her past 3 matches. If Cibulkova hits an inspired streak, it will not be a surprise if she upsets Maria. Dominika has beaten her before, so she knows what to expect. One thing that motivates Maria now is that her greatest nemesis, Serena is out of the tournament. If she can tough through her rough patch of play, there's a great chance of her adding another slam to her resume. Tough call here, but I believe Sharapova's superior mental toughness will scrape through again.

Pick: Sharapova in 3 sets

Sloane Stephens vs. Victoria Azarenka

A rematch of last year's semifinals, Stephens will be hungry for revenge after Azarenka took a timely injury timeout to disrupt the American's rhythm. However, Sloane's form has been iffy for her past 3 matches. So it will take a monumental effort from her to topple the steady Belarussian. Beside, with Serena out, Victoria knows she has this title in her bag. She will bulldoze her way into the quarters.

Pick: Azarenka in 2 sets

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Garbine Muguruza

As much as I'm impressed by Muguruza's fearless hitting, Radwanska's exceptional court sense and guile will outfox Garbine easily. The Spaniard is not the best mover, and Agnieszka will take full advantage of that. It is hard to expect Garbine to maintain that high level of aggressive throughout, so I expect no surprises here as the Pole strolls to yet another quarter-final.

Pick: Radwanska in 2 sets

Jelena Jankovic vs. Simona Halep

For someone with such stellar results outside slams, Simona needs to improve her performance in the majors. What better chance than to do it here against the vulnerable Jankovic. Jelena was not at her best against Nara, and would have crumbled against a tougher player. Simona will fully exploit that and make the Serbian pay if she loses her concentration again. Halep's form isn't that fine either, but it's now or never for the Romanian. With a top 10 ranking virtually secured, she needs to be aggressive and dictate play. I sniff an upset here.

Pick: Halep in 3 sets

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Melbourne day 7: 2nd week action begins

Upset of the previous day:

Garbine Muguruza def. Caroline Wozniacki 4-6 7-5 6-3

Seriously, this is getting very common for Wozniacki. Yet another loss to a player who isn't afraid to go for her shots. Wozniacki's aura of an breakable wall has been wrecked. And she's doing nothing to change her game. If her aim now is just to be a top 20 player, she can continue her defensive game. But for someone who was number 1 for a prolonged period of time, this is beyond disappointing. She needs to prioritize and add new dimensions to her game. Just retrieving isn't going to be enough.

Match focus:

Angelique Kerber vs. Flavia Pennetta

Kerber made her name by beating Pennetta in the US Open quarter-finals 3 years ago. Since then, they have been evenly matched, with the heads-to-heads tied at 2-2. Flavia's all court game should be able to beat Kerber, but the German's tenacity is what brings her her wins most of time. Can Pennetta sustain the level long enough to defeat Angelique? If the Italian wins this, it will mark another last 8 appearance in a slam, showing a nice late career revival. For that sake, I hope Flavia wins this.

Pick: Pennetta in 3 sets

Serena Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic

For someone as mentally iffy as Ivanovic, she stands not chance against the supreme Williams. Serena is chasing the record books, and it will take a lot more than Ana to stop her. Serena will be delighted by the cooler conditions, which spells more trouble for the Serbian. The only thing Ana can do is to hope she doesn't get totally humiliated.

Pick: Williams in 2 sets

Casey Dellacqua vs. Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie Bouchard will like her chances of reaching her first quarter-final here in Melbourne. Casey Dellacqua is in fine form, but the Canadian's game should be enough to take out the gutsy Aussie. The only thing Eugenie needs to take care is her mental toughness. The crowd will be wholly behind Casey, so she needs to shut them off and play her game. If she plays to her normal standard, she will announce her arrival in the big leagues here.

Pick: Bouchard in 2 sets

Li Na vs. Ekaterina Makarova

Following her comical win over Safarova, I'm sure Li Na spent the next day just hitting balls after balls. Li Na got her bad day off her back, so I expect a smoother ride here. Beside, Makarova mirrors Safarova's game, so I expect her to edge this out one as well. Makarova will need to hope Li puts another stinker of a performance, and she needs to take her chances and take the initiative now. She has a chance, but I still believe the Chinese will come through.

Pick: Li in 3 tight sets

Friday, 17 January 2014

Melbourne day 6: Gutsy Garbine or Cool Caroline

Upset of the previous day:

Casey Dellacqua def. Zheng Jie 6-2 6-4

The Aussie heat claims another victim as Zheng Jie falls victim to resurgent Casey Dellacqua. The Aussie thrives in the heat, as the Chinese wilted in the cruel sun. Still, there are positives to take from this tournament for Zheng. She was barely winning anything before this tournament, but captured great wins over Madison Keys and Roberta Vinci. She just needs to build up her confidence again and start becoming the giant killer that she was.

Schedule of play:

Match focus:

Alize Cornet vs. Maria Sharapova

Sharapova was just lucky to escape from her performance against Knapp. She will be in the heat again as she opens up day 6 in Rod Laver Arena. Alize herself was embroiled in a tug of war with Giorgi, so both should know what it is like to play under the extreme conditions. Maria will no doubt be practicing her butt off after that horror show, and will have a point to prove. Alize will need to weather the storm and make Sharapova hit that extra ball. The Russian is shaky, but it'll take more than Alize to topple her mental strength.

Pick: Sharapova in 3 sets

Garbine Muguruza vs. Caroline Wozniacki

Garbine is on a red hot streak but will she have what it takes to topple the ever steady Wozniacki? Muguruza has the game that Caroline detests. A huge serve with big groundstrokes, the Spaniard can overpower the Dane no matter how many balls she manages to retrieve. The thing that separates these two is the belief. Muguruza is slowly getting there, and it'll be a sign of things to come if she can defeat the steady Dane. Wozniacki will need to play inspired tennis to stop the in form Garbine.

Pick: Muguruza in 3 sets

Sloane Stephens vs. Elina Svitolina

Sloane Stephens did not improve on her first round performance, and was almost knocked out of the tournament by Tomljanovic. She will need to return to her best form against Svitolina, who is poised for a breakthrough. This will be a test of Svitolina's belief. Does she believe that she's a world beater? Or is she content with being a top 30 player? Sloane's belief got her through her first 2 matches. If Elina wants this more than Sloane, she can win this and announce her arrival to the tennis world. However, somehow, I believe Sloane will edge Elina out.

Pick: Stephens in 3 tight sets

Sure win bets: Jelena Jankovic, Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep
Upset alert: Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Melbourne day 5: Will Stosur live up to Aussie hopes?

Upset of the previous day:

Kurumi Nara def. Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4 6-3

After her impressive dismantling of Petkovic, Rybarikova took a tumble against the diminutive Kurumi Nara. The Slovak's record in majors remain extremely disappointing, and she wastes her chance to live up to her seeding for once. Rybarikova needs to get it together for the events that matter, not tournaments that lead up to the slams. If she can string together her good form in a major, she should be a steady top 25 player.

Schedule of play:

Match focus:

Smanatha Stosur vs. Ana Ivanovic

The match most people will be focusing on is this closely contested match between fan favourite Ana Ivanovic, and hometown hope, Samantha Stosur. Stosur actually leads their heads to heads at 4-3, but she's a complete headcase in Australia. However, she showed that her head is back in the game with her demolition job of Pironkova, so Ivanovic better be careful. Ana will need to remain mentally tough and not let the home support get to her. If she can grind down Stosur and make her mishit a few balls, she can win this match.

Pick: Ivanovic in 3 sets

Zheng Jie vs. Casey Dellacqua

Out of nowhere, Zheng Jie strings together 2 good matches to reach the third round of Melbourne. There must be something she really like about this place as she made the semifinals here a few years ago. She will be facing Aussie hope, Casey Dellacqua, who is on her comeback trail. There's no doubt who the crowd will be cheering for, but Zheng Jie thrives under such pressure. Her short swings suit the fast bouncing surface of Melbourne. Casey will need to carry on her form, but I guess she will be distracted by the media attention on her and falter here.

Pick: Zheng in 3 sets

Angelique Kerber vs. Alison Riske

Kerber was almost swept away by Gajdosova's crazy hitting, but she recovered well to brave out the win. That is what she's going to do to Riske as well. Alison's aggressive game is set up by her big serve. If Kerber can put enough returns in court, Riske will be flustered and make the errors. The danger for Kerber is that she's almost powerless when her opponent is disticting play and making the winners. But I'm sure the pesky German will outlast Riske's risky play.

Pick: Kerber in 2 sets

Sure win bets: Eugenie Bouchard, Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber
Upset alert: Li Na, Flavia Pennetta