Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Dubai QF's all set, Tsonga and Del Potro to clash

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The second round of the ATP 500 event in Dubai saw seven of the top seeds progress to a bumper line-up for the quarter-finals.  The only seed to fall was Mardy Fish, which was not a surprise based on his recent form.  He did manage to win his first round match against Andreas Beck handily, but he was easily second best in a 6-2 7-6 loss to Mikhail Youzhny.  Youzhny will play Roger Federer in the quarter-finals as he won his tenth straight match against Feliciano Lopez in a 7-5 6-3 victory.  Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will meet in the quarter-finals after both won in straight sets today.  This sets up a rematch of last week's Marseille semi-finals where Del Potro won a lengthy three-set match.  Tsonga has yet to hit top form in 2012, but with impressive wins over Marcos Baghdatis and Lukas Rosol so far this week, I have a feeling that his season is ready to take off with a win over the Argentine.

In other matches, Novak Djokovic was forced into a tiebreak in the first set before easing past Sergiy Stakhovsky, 7-6 6-3.  Djokovic will meet his Serbian compatriot, Janko Tipsarevic in the next round as he recovered from the loss of a tight first set before strolling past Flavio Cipolla, 6-7 6-1 6-1.  The final quarter-final will be between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych, which is another tough match to call.  Both players came through straight set encounters today and I will stick by my original prediction that Berdych will prevail to set up a semi-final clash with the world number one, Novak Djokovic.

Alisa Kleybanova announces WTA tour comeback

I was delighted to wake up to the news that Alisa Kleybanova will return to the WTA tour next month in Miami where she has been awarded a wildcard.  Kleybanova, who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last year and has been out since May, announced via a message on the WTA website that recent tests came back with positive news and that she had been in training ready for her tennis comeback.  I must say I am surprised at how quickly Alisa will be making her comeback to the tour, but I am delighted at the same time that she is fit and healthy once again and ready to test herself against the best.  I will be supporting her all the way in Miami, which is shaping up to be an exciting tournament as it is also where Venus Williams intends to make her official comeback... she has stalled this on several occasions through 2012 so I wouldn't count on that yet!

Kuala Lumpur saw just two matches completed as rain decimated the schedule.  In the matches that did take place, Petra Martic and Su-Wei Hsieh confirmed their places in the quarter-finals, meanwhile Agnieszka Radwanska was leading Akgul Amanmuradova in her first round match, 6-2 3-3 before the heavens opened...

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Jankovic saves match points in Malaysia

Jelena Jankovic
Jelena Jankovic saved three match points as she survived a nail-biter to progress to the second round of the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur.  Jankovic beat Caroline Garcia, 7-6 4-6 7-6, who struggled to close out the Serb and must work on her mental game if she is to transform her game to the main WTA tour.  It was a typically fighting performance from Jankovic, who celebrated her birthday today and will next play American veteran, Jill Craybas.  In other matches, Jarmila Gajdosova and Peng Shuai were both taken to three sets but won through in the end.  Gajdosova recovered from a first set blow-out to beat Kathrin Woerle, 1-6 7-6 7-5, meanwhile Peng lost the middle set to Yvonne Meusburger, but finished strongly with a 6-1 4-6 6-2 win.  The only seed to fall today was Anne Keothavong who lost to the qualifier Su-Wei Hsieh, who continued her rich vein of form having reached the semi-finals of Pattaya City several weeks ago.  You can see my rather disastrous set of predictions (for the top half at least!) for Kuala Lumpur here.

At the ATP 500 event in Dubai, the top eight seeds have all progressed through to the second round.  The only seed to be pushed to three sets was Andy Murray who was particularly rusty in his first match since the Australian Open as he beat Michael Berrer, 6-3 4-6 6-4.  Roger Federer picked up where he left off after his title run in Rotterdam as he lost just 7 points in a dominant first set bagel over Michael Llodra; however he was forced to fight in the second set, which went to a tiebreak.  Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga both had tough matches, but prevailed in two tight sets - Del Potro helf off a late fightback from Alexandr Dolgopolov to win 6-3 7-6 and Tsonga beat Marcos Baghdatis, 7-6 6-4.  Tomas Berdych and Janko Tipsarevic both enjoyed 6-2 6-2 victories and joined Novak Djokovic in a packed line-up for the second round.  My predictions for Dubai have been pretty good so far and you can see them here.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

WTA Kuala Lumpur Preview

Agnieszka Radwanska and Jelena Jankovic headline next week's BMW Malaysian Open with both receiving late wildcards into the event.  The quality of the draw is not particularly strong and it seems a shrewd move from both Radwanska and Jankovic to scoop easy ranking points.  Radwanska opens up her campaign against Akgul Amanmuradova and based on her recent form, she should waltz through the draw.  Her projected quarter-final opponent is Anne Keothavong who she eased past in Doha two weeks ago.  In the second section of the draw, the Australian pair of Jarmila Gajdosova and Jelena Dokic are projected to clash in the quarter-finals.  Dokic won this tournament last year but has looked well short of form lately, as has Gajdosova who looks just as error-strewn in 2012 as she did in 2011.  I would expect a surprise semi-finalist for Radwanska... i'm going for Sania Mirza followed by a back-up punt of Kristina Mladenovic, who is Dokic's first round opponent.

In the bottom half of the draw, Jelena Jankovic will face Caroline Garcia in the first round.  Garcia is a promising junior player who nearly caused the upset of 2011 when she led Maria Sharapova by a set and a break in the 2nd round of Roland Garros.  She has since struggled for form and lost a lot of tight matches, but remains one to watch out for.  On paper, Jankovic has a straightforward draw with Ayumi Morita her projected seed in the quarter-finals.  She could face a much sterner test in the semi-finals against either Peng Shuai or Petra Martic.  Peng looked much sharper in Dubai this week beating Marion Bartoli in the first round.  I think if she can get through her opening matches, she can give Jankovic a good test.  Peng did in fact beat Jankovic in their previous encounter at the 2011 Australian Open... but of course, I am getting way ahead of myself here.  One thing I have learnt is not to look too far ahead in WTA draws because upsets are VERY likely :-)

The second tournament this week is taking place in Acapulco on the clay.  The draw has yet to be done, but will feature the likes of Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani, Ksenia Pervak and Memphis champion, Sofia Arvidsson.

Peng is my predicted finalist
Tips for Kuala Lumpur
Final Prediction - Radwanska d. Peng
The only thing that will stop Radwanska will be her fitness because she can beat every player in this draw.  If Peng can get through her first couple of matches unscathed, she will be dangerous this week.  She has struggled with long-term injury problems so I hope that she can remain injury free throughout this week.

Watch out for... Sania Mirza
The second quarter is anyone's for the taking but i'm predicting Mirza to have a surprise run to the semi-finals.  She has been in great form in the doubles so perhaps she can transfer this to the singles.

*NEW* - I have added a new feature to my blog for this week... as you will see, I love to predict what is going to happen at every tournament and you can now view my full predictions for Kuala Lumpur (and when the draw is released, Acapulco too).  I plan to update this feature every week to include the current tournaments and they can be accessed from the links within the relevant posts and at the top of the page.

ATP Dubai Preview

Novak Djokovic
Eight of the top ten in the ATP rankings are in Dubai to contest the Dubai Duty Free Championships this week.  Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer are the only two current top ten ranked players who are not playing in Dubai.  Novak Djokovic will play his first match since defeating Rafael Nadal in the longest ever Grand Slam final at the Australian Open.  Djokovic will play Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in the first round and is projected to meet Janko Tipsarevic in the quarter-finals, who reached the semi-finals in Marseille this week.  Djokovic has drawn Andy Murray in the top half.  Murray opens up against Michael Berrer and could meet Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.  Berdych has made a promising start to 2012 and defeated Murray in their last encounter in Paris at the end of 2011.

The bottom half is considerably stronger than the top half with Roger Federer the number two seed in Dubai.  Federer will play Michael Llodra in the first round, who has reached the final in Marseille this week.  Federer is projected to meet Mardy Fish in the quarter-finals.  Fish has not started 2012 with the belief that can he back up what was an excellent 2011.  He lost in his first match at Marseille last week to the world number 388, Albano Olivetti.  Fish plays Andrea Beck in the first round, but is unlikely to pass his second round opponent, which will be Richard Gasquet or Mikhail Youzhny, in his current form.  The final quarter could see a repeat of the Marseille semi-final between Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Both players have tricky openers, which are the pick of the bunch for first round matches.  Del Potro will play the dangerous, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Tsonga will play the Cypriot veteran, Marcos Baghdatis.  Also of note is that Novak Djokovic's younger brother, Marko Djokovic has received a wildcard this week and will play Andrey Golubev in the first round.

Final Prediction - Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer
Normally I go for at least one underdog in my final predictions but this week I really see no need too! I fully expect both Djokovic and Federer to reach the final although both be tested in the semi-finals.  Murray seems to start slowly after long breaks so I don't think he will be a great threat here.

Watch out for... Tomas Berdych who I think will beat Murray in the quarter-finals and give Djokovic a tough test in the semi-finals.  I also think Richard Gasquet will be a unseeded quarter-finalist this week.

You can view my drawsheet for Dubai here

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Radwanska wins Dubai, claims world number 5

Agnieszka Radwanska won her first title of the 2012 season with a hard fought 7-5 6-4 victory over Julia Goerges in the final of the Premier event in Dubai.  Radwanska was the more solid player producing 12 winners, but only 6 unforced errors.  Goerges went through good and bad patches as she offered up a -6 differential of 24 winners to 30 unforced errors.  It was still an excellent week for the German and a respectable performance today given that she had been beaten handily in their previous encounter at this year's Australian Open in the Round of 16.  Radwanska will now move up to world number five in the rankings.  This week's win was all the more impressive because I felt she didn't actually play her best tennis - she was extremely close to being knocked out in her first match of the week against Aleksandra Wozniak and she still needs to improve her pedestrian second serve.  Radwanska has taken a wildcard into next week's tournament in Kuala Lumpur.  I wonder if this is an attempt to boost her ranking points even further and target close friend, Caroline Wozniacki who is currently in fourth position.

Agnieska Radwanska
Next week - The women move onto Kuala Lumpur and Acapulco for International events, meanwhile there is a great line-up for the ATP event in Dubai for next week... previews to follow tomorrow :-)

Goerges beats Wozniacki again in Dubai

Julia Goerges is having another fairytale week just like the one she enjoyed on the indoor clay courts of Stuttgart last April as she defeated the former world number one, Caroline Wozniacki, 7-6 7-5 to advance to the finals of the Dubai Duty Championships.  This was Goerge's third consecutive win against Wozniacki and today's was all the more impressive as it took place on hard courts.  It was a typical match from Wozniacki as she offered pain-staking resistance from the back of the court but offered little in the way of attacking flair and winners - in fact she made just 8 winners compared to the 47 that Goerges offered.  Goerges did not play a great match today, but was impressive on the big points.  It still baffles me that Wozniacki continues to play in this way; yes, she will beat most players on the tour with her defensive abilities but she has no chance of beating the attacking players, like Goerges and claiming Grand Slam's with these tactics.  Goerges will play Agnieszka Radwanska in the final as she defeated Jelena Jankovic in a lopsided 6-2 2-6 6-0 semi-final victory.  Radwanska annihilated Goerges in their previous encounter at the Australian Open and I would be very surprised if Goerges were to go on and win the final, but stranger things have happened!

Julia Goerges

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Super Goerges sets up Wozniacki rematch in Dubai

Julia Goerges
The quarter-final line-up for Dubai promised much, but failed to deliver on the most part.  The one shining light came in the final match of the day as Julia Goerges came back from a set down for the second time this week to beat Daniela Hantuchova, 6-4 3-6 6-4 in a fantastic contest.  Hantuchova edged a tight first set, but Goerges really found her rhythm in the second and third sets as she raced out to 4-0 leads in both.  Hantuchova kept putting pressure on the German player at the end with solid service holds, but Goerges showed tremendous resolve to finish off the match in style.  The stats for the match backed up what a great contest it was with Goerges displaying her best tennis of 2012 so far, and her most impressive form since her run in the clay court tournaments last May.  She hit a whopping 49 winners to 27 unforced errors, meanwhile Hantuchova still played a highly respectable match with 26 winners to 24 unforced errors.

Goerges will now play Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals, who beat Ana Ivanovic, 6-3 7-5 in a disappointing match.  Goerges has won her last two encounters with Wozniacki, which both took place on the clay last year in the final of Stuttgart and then a week later in Madrid.  Goerges was in terrific form today, but on hard courts I think that Wozniacki will still be the favourite.  In other matches, Jelena Jankovic had her biggest win in quite sometime as she put in a terrific returning performance to thwart Sam Stosur, 6-4 6-2.  Jankovic will play Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals as she demolished a tearful Sabine Lisicki, 6-2 6-1.  Radwanska was consistent on serve in the first set hitting 90% of 1st serves and losing just four points on it, before dismantling Lisicki's serve in the second set.  I think both semi-finals will be close, but i'm going for a Wozniacki vs. Radwanska final.  This has been a pretty disappointing week for me prediction-wise as all my tips have gone out, but I think Radwanska is now the most likely to prevail in Dubai...

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Wozniacki & Ivanovic to meet in Dubai quarters

Ana Ivanovic
This week's tournament in Dubai has seen its fair share of withdrawals with Victoria Azarenka pulling out of the tournament today (as I had suspected!) and joining the likes of Petra Kvitova, Li Na and Vera Zvonareva on the sidelines. However as the second round of action wrapped on Wednesday, all remaining five seeds progressed towards a stellar quarter-final line-up that looks much more exciting on paper than last week's dull-fest in Doha.  Two former world number one's will square off in one of those quarter-finals as Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic both won today in straight sets.  Wozniacki put in a much improved display compared to her last match in Doha as she beat the in-form Simona Halep, 6-2 6-3.  Ivanovic defeated Maria Kirilenko, 6-2 7-6 gaining revenge on the Russian who had trounced the Serb in their previous match in Tokyo last year.

Sam Stosur was involved in the only second round match that went to three sets  as she lost a tight second set to Lucie Safarova, which was bookmarked by two breadsticks in a 6-1 6-7 6-1 victory.  Stosur is really starting to find her feet in 2012 after a sluggish start in Australia where she couldn't cope with the pressure of the expectant home crowd.  Stosur will play Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals, who she has not played since last year's tournament in Dubai.  Jankovic had one of her better wins as she eased past a woeful Flavia Pennetta in a 6-4 6-2 victory.

Sabine Lisicki played her worst match of 2012 last week in Doha, but demonstrated her real up-and-down season so far with a significantly improved performance today to beat the dangerous Iveta Benesova, 6-3 6-3.  Lisicki was dominant on serve as she saved the only two break points that she faced.  Another player who did not get broken today was Daniela Hantuchova who overcame stiff opposition in the first set before easing past Peng Shuai in a high quality encounter, 7-5 6-2.  In the quarter-finals, Lisicki will meet Agnieszka Radwanska, who she was supposed to play in the first round before Petra Kvitova pulled out.  Hantuchova will play Julia Goerges as she took advantage of Azarenka's withdrawal with a crushing 6-2 6-0 win over Casey Dellacqua.

Dubai QF Predictions:
Daniela Hantuchova to beat Julia Goerges in 2 sets - Hantuchova struggled in round one, but was excellent today and I will stick by my original tip for the final.
Caroline Wozniacki to beat Ana Ivanovic in 2 sets - An interesting match, but Ivanovic has failed to rise to the occasion this year against higher ranked opponents... I think the Dane will be too solid.
Sam Stosur to beat Jelena Jankovic in 3 sets - Dubai always brings out the best of Jankovic and she beat Stosur in a three set epic last year... another tight match i'm sure, but Stosur is vastly improved from a year ago.  I like both players but a win here would mean so much for JJ's confidence...
Sabine Lisicki to beat Agnieszka Radwanska in 3 sets - Lisicki beat Radwanska in their previous encounter in Stanford last year and I sense if Lisicki goes for her shots and attacks the weary looking second serve from Radwanska, this match is hers for the taking...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Peng advances past hobbling Bartoli in Dubai

Peng Shuai
Peng Shuai had her most significant scalp of the year so far as she beat Marion Bartoli, 6-4 6-3 in the first round of Dubai.  Peng has had a disappointing start to 2012 having failed to advance past the second round in any of her tournaments this year; however she displayed some of her impressive 2011 form in her match today recovering from 3-0 deficits in both sets.  In truth, Bartoli was severely hampered by the same injury that forced her to retire in her semi-final match with Sam Stosur in Doha, but surprisingly she fought on.  She limped heavily between points in the second set, which initially seemed to affect Peng before she got her head in check and got Bartoli on the move.  

Peng will play Daniela Hantuchova in the second round as she came back from a terrible first set to beat the lucky loser, Polona Hercog, 1-6 7-5 7-6.  Agnieszka Radwanska also had a major scare as she sneaked past Aleksandra Wozniak, 6-1 6-7 7-5.  Wozniak had held serve comfortably throughout the final set but she faltered when given the chance to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third set. 

In other matches, Ana Ivanovic wasted 18 break points, but was too strong against an out-of-form Francesca Schiavone, 6-1 7-5.  Another player struggling for form is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who was ousted by the qualifier, Simona Halep.  Pavlyuchenkova struggled with her serve winning 50% of first serve points and just 24% of second serve points in a 6-4 6-2 loss.  Lucie Safarova and Iveta Benesova also progressed into the second round where they will meet Sam Stosur and Sabine Lisicki respectively.

Tips for tomorrow's second round matches in Dubai: I anticipate straight set wins for Agnieszka Radwanska (over Shahar Peer), Daniela Hantuchova (over Peng Shuai) and Ana Ivanovic (over Maria Kirilenko, who pulled out of her Doubles match today with injury).  I also predict that Flavia Pennetta will beat Jelena Jankovic in 3 sets, Sam Stosur will be pushed hard by Lucie Safarova but survive for the quarter-finals, and that Iveta Benesova has a great chance of upsetting Sabine Lisicki, who she beat in Fed Cup action a few weeks ago in Stuttgart.  I am intrigued by the final match of the day between Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep; I fancy three sets and a potential upset for the in-form Romanian...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Jankovic beats Cetkovska in Dubai

Jelena Jankovic
Jelena Jankovic enjoyed a straightforward victory over Petra Cetkovska, 6-2 6-2 in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Championships.  In truth, Jankovic was not tested by Cetkovska, who hit 10 double faults throughout the lacklustre 73-minute contest.  The most exciting moment was when the umpire, Mohammed Layani called Jelena "Mr Jankovic" when she challenged a call... the backhand was working well for the Serb, but she will need to improve her 1st serve percentage for her second round match which will be against Flavia Pennetta.  Pennetta beat Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-3 6-3 and hit three times as many winners (24 to 8) in a wind-swept match.

Julia Goerges had one of the best wins of her career aside from her heroics in Stuttgart and Madrid last year as she came from a set down to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2-6 7-6 6-4.  Kuznetsova continues to infuriate me with her inconsistency, particularly as I had tipped her to the quarter-finals! It was a solid performance from Goerges though who will play Victoria Azarenka in the second round.  In other matches, Maria Kirilenko thrashed a woeful Monica Niculescu, 6-3 6-0 and Shahar Peer took advantage of another kind draw with a straight sets win over Fatima Al-Nabhani.

My predictions from yesterday have turned out to be a complete shambles... my tip for the win, Petra Kvitova pulled out of the tournament through illness and has been replaced in the draw by the number 9 seed, Sabine Lisicki.  This now means that the first round match between Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska will no longer take place in the first round although they could now meet in the quarter-finals.  I am now going for a final between Sam Stosur and Daniela Hantuchova although if Azarenka shows up, she will make a mockery of my predictions once more ;-)

Tips for tomorrow's matches in Dubai: 
The qualifiers have now been placed and the most dangerous one based on form is Simona Halep who ripped through three rounds of qualifying for the loss of just six games.  She will be confident of beating the out-of-form Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  In other matches, I think that Ana Ivanovic will ease past Francesca Schiavone in 2 sets, Marion Bartoli will beat Peng Shuai in two tight sets and Iveta Benesova will overcome Dominika Cibulkova in a gruelling three setter.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

WTA Dubai Preview

Victoria Azarenka
The women move from Doha to Dubai this week to contest the Dubai Duty Free Championships.  The draw has been downgraded this year from 56 players to 28 as Doha and Dubai have swapped over in the calendar.  To be honest, I completely lost interest in the Doha tournament which featured few entertaining matches and lacked excitement particularly in the latter stages.  The only noteworthy point was the performance of Victoria Azarenka, who was in sparkling form in her first tournament as world number one as she won her 17th match in a row with a 6-1 6-2 rout of Sam Stosur in the final.  Azarenka headlines the draw once again although do not be surprised if she was to pull out following the injury she picked up in Doha.  She is joined by Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Sam Stosur as the top four seeds, who have all been handed byes into the second round.

The draw is particularly strong this week and is likely to be bolstered with a promising line-up of qualifiers - in fact the qualifying draw would not have looked out of place for a main draw at an international event.  The number one seed Azarenka will play the winner of Julia Goerges and Svetlana Kuznetsova in round two.  I'm backing Kuznetsova to reach the quarter-finals with good head-to-head records over both Goerges and Azarenka (although as mentioned above, I doubt Vika will turn up!).  In the top section of the draw, I would also watch out for Daniela Hantuchova.  She will play a qualifier in the first round and then the winner of Marion Bartoli and Peng Shuai.  Bartoli has had an exhausting schedule over the past two weeks in Paris and Doha, and Peng has been battling with long-term injury problems so I do not anticipate either to provide any resistance for Hantuchova.

Sabine Lisicki
There are a number of interesting first round matches to watch out for and none more so than Agnieszka Radwanska against Sabine Lisicki.  Radwanska has made a solid start to 2012, meanwhile Lisicki has been up and down so far including a disappointing performance in her last match against Angelique Kerber in Doha.  Lisicki won their previous encounter in Stanford and despite not showing her best form this year, I think the German player will spring an upset in Dubai.  The winner of this match is likely to meet the number 2 seed, Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals.  Kvitova skipped Doha through injury but I think she will do some damage this week in Dubai.

Another highlight in the first round is the match-up between Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone; neither played particularly well in Doha, but Schiavone's form has been very poor in 2012 so this is a great chance for Ivanovic to make some progress in Dubai.   I predict that both Caroline Wozniacki and Sam Stosur will make the semi-finals.  Wozniacki will look to rediscover her form after she was ousted in her first match in Doha by Lucie Safarova.  The Dane will play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or a qualifier in the second round of Dubai.

Final prediction - Petra Kvitova d. Daniela Hantuchova
This week I am going for Petra Kvitova to claim her first title of the season.  She has the capability to beat anyone in this draw and I think she will shake off the early rust in her first few matches to storm to the title win.  I think her final opponent will be Daniela Hantuchova.  Hantuchova has a great draw this week, particularly if Azarenka does not turn up.  It has been a very promising start to 2012 for Hantuchova who retained her title in Pattaya City two weeks ago.  Last week's first round loss to Simona Halep in Doha was just a minor blip and I don't think she was 100% for Doha having won five matches in Pattaya City the previous week.

Don't forget... there are a trio of tournaments this week with International events in Memphis and Monterrey too! In Memphis, Nadia Petrova and Ksenia Pervak headline the field, which also sees Elena Baltacha and Heather Watson in action.  I fancy Varvara Lepchenko, who has picked up some promising wins in the last few weeks, to go all the way and win the title.  Roberta Vinci headlines the field in Monterrey and looks to be a safe bet to go deep in the tournament.  The number three seed, Sorana Cirstea would be my bet for the title...

Azarenka and Stosur to play Doha final

Victoria Azarenka and Sam Stosur will play out the final of the Qatar Open in Doha after both won their semi-finals on Saturday.  Azarenka won a dramatic semi-final as she overcame an injury to beat Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-2 6-4 in a somewhat more straightforward match than their previous encounters.  It was interesting to see Radwanska give a decidely cold handshake afterwards, which may have had something to do with Azarenka's form after her supposed injury.  Sam Stosur won the other semi-final after just one set had played as Marion Bartoli retired with a calf injury.  Azarenka has won all her previous encounters with Stosur, but question marks will surround whether she is physically 100%... i'll go for a Stosur shock to break Azarenka's winning streak in 2012.

Next - Preview of next week's tournament in Dubai later today.  I haven't been able to watch any tennis this week in Doha so hopefully i'll get to see more next week and have a chance to blog a bit more :-)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

McHale fights past Peer to make Quarters in Doha

Yesterday saw seven seeds crash out but today was a much more routine day at the office as the four highest seeds left in the competition all progressed to the quarter-finals.  The only match that went to three sets was between Christina McHale and Shahar Peer; McHale produced a fighting performance to come back from a set down to win 4-6 6-3 6-4.  In the second set. McHale saved eight break points as she reached her first quarter-final at a Premier 5 WTA event.  The young American has been slowly improving over the past year and although there are some question marks over her mental toughness, she has a solid game and constructs her points very well.  McHale will play Agnieszka Radwanska in the next round who saved two set points in the first set before easing past Varvara Lepchenko, 7-5 6-1.  Lepchenko led 5-4 40-15 in the first set but failed to take her chances as Radwanska rose to the occasion.

Agnieszka Radwanska

In other matches, Victoria Azarenka continued her dominance in 2012 as she thrashed Simona Halep, 6-3 6-1.  She will play Yanina Wickmayer in the next round who was clinical in beating Ksenia Pervak, 6-4 6-0,  The first set was a break-happy affair with seven breaks, but Wickmayer sorted out her serve in the second set to claim a bagel.  The only seed to fall on day 4 was Svetlana Kuznetsova who lost out too Caroline Wozniacki's conqueror Lucie Safarova in a tight two setter, 7-6 6-4.  Kuznetsova produced a great performance to topple Maria Kirilenko yesterday but once again, showed her alarming inconsistency on the WTA tour.  Safarova will play Marion Bartoli in the quarter-finals after she defeated Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3 6-3.  The final quarter-final will be played out between Sam Stosur and Monica Niculescu as both beat lower ranked opponents in straight sets.

Lucie Safarova

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Stosur gains revenge over Cirstea in Doha

Sam Stosur
The second round matches in Doha saw the exodus of the seeds as a stunning seven seeded players crashed out of the competition.  Sam Stosur was one of the rare few to advance with a hard fought 6-4 7-6 victory over Sorana Cirstea.  Stosur lost her first round match at the Australian Open to the Romanian earlier this year, but she overcame a late wobble to claim an impressive win in a high quality and entertaining encounter.  Stosur failed to served out the match at 6-4 5-4 and then found herself 5-2 down in the second set tiebreak; however Stosur won five points in a row in that tiebreak as Cirstea's form dipped at the crucial stages of both sets. Cirstea can take heart from her recent form, which has been very promising.  She was hitting the ball cleanly and serving extremely well today with 8 aces to her name.  Victoria Azarenka also avoided the cull of seeds with a comprehensive 6-1 6-0 victory over Mona BarthelAgnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and Svetlana Kuznetsova were the other seeds to progress and they all did so in straight sets.

Shahar Peer
The highest seeded casualty was Caroline Wozniacki who wasted three match points in a 4-6 6-4 7-6 loss to Lucie Safarova.  Wozniacki's game looks to be going backwards especially now that she is being coached by her dad again after Ricardo Sanchez was dismissed after just a few months - a criminal decision if you ask me.  Jelena Jankovic suffered a surprising defeat to Shahar Peer, 7-6 6-2.  Peer looked to have blown the first set as she let slip a 5-2 lead (and 2 set points) to 6-5; however Jankovic was well below her best as she lost the tiebreak and then wilted in the second set. Ana Ivanovic fell in straight sets in a disappointing defeat to Petra Cetkovska, 6-4 6-4 and the reigning Doha champion, Vera Zvonareva retired hurt to Monica Niculescu.  Two exits that I had predicted were Peng Shuai and Francesca Schiavone; Christina McHale beat Peng, 5-7 6-2 6-3 despite wasting a 5-0 lead in the first set and then losing it 7-5! Schiavone fought hard but eventually succumbed to defeat to the in-form Yanina Wickmayer, 7-6 6-4.

Tsvetana Pironkova
The number 16 seed, Julia Goerges also fell on day 3 as she wasted a number of opportunities in a 7-6 7-6 loss to Varvara Lepchenko.   Flavia Pennetta and Paris champion, Angelique Kerber were among more surprises on the third day action in Doha.  Pennetta was humbled by Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-4 6-2, meanwhile Kerber appeared to run out of steam as Tsvetana Pironkova took full advantage with a straightforward 6-4 6-1 victory.  It was a disappointing day for this tournament to see so many seeds fall by the wayside.  Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska look to be dead certs in the top half to progress to the semi-finals and Sam Stosur now has a cakewalk of a draw in the bottom half...

Monday, 13 February 2012

Pavlyuchenkova woes continue in Doha

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's terrible start to 2012 continued as she suffered a 1-6 6-2 6-3 loss to Ksenia Pervak in the first round of the Qatar Open in Doha.  Pavlyuchenkova actually started the match well racing through the first set and boasting solid stats on serve winning 69% of 1st serve points and 78% of 2nd serves points; however things went downhill from there as Pervak powered past the Russian in three sets.  Pavlyuchenkova looks particularly fragile so far this year and this was a disappointing defeat against a rather average player in my opinion.  The other seeds all won in straight sets; Ana Ivanovic strolled past an injured Carla Suarez Navarro and Svetlana Kuznetsova won a hard fought match with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who was playing her first match of 2012.  Peng Shuai looked well short of her best, but came through a tight second set with Fatima Al-Nabhani to win 6-0 7-5.  In other matches, Mona Barthel set up a second round clash with Victoria Azarenka with a 7-6 7-6 victory over Caroline Garcia and Monica Niculescu demolished Elena Vesnina, 6-1 6-0.  Vesnina was on terrible form committing 33 errors in the 64-minute contest.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

WTA Doha Preview

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka tops the bill for this week's Qatar Open in Doha.  This is the first main event in quite sometime where Caroline Wozniacki does not headline the draw.  She is the number two seed and is joined by Samantha Stosur, Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli, Vera Zvonareva, Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic as the top eight seeds who all have byes in the first round.  There have been a number of withdrawals and many of the big stars such as Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Li Na have chosen not to play here so the draw is not as strong as it could be... this week's title (and big ranking points) is really up for grabs.

Victoria Azarenka is projected to meet the number 7 seed, Francesca Schiavone in the quarter-finals.  There were question marks as to whether Azarenka would play here and i'm not convinced she will be 100%.  This time last year, she was at her lowest ebb having suffered a disappointing first round loss to Daniela Hantuchova but it could not be a different picture 12 months on.  She could face Hantuchova once more in the third round, but may have to get past Mona Barthel in the second round in what is a testing draw. for the new world number one.  Schiavone has looked woefully short of form in 2012 so far and could face an in-form Yanina Wickmayer in the second round.  Wickmayer is somewhat of a nemesis for the Italian having won their last three matches and I think it will be early curtains for Schiavone.

In the second quarter, the number 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska is projected to meet the number 8 seed Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals.  This is by far the weakest section of the draw and I would put all my money on Radwanska progressing from this section.  She could face an Australian Open rematch with Julia Goerges in the 3rd round.  Jankovic pulled out of Paris last week and I don't think she will be a threat here despite having a favourable draw.  She should meet Shahar Peer in the second round and then Peng Shuai in the third round; however I would fancy the winner of a first round match between Chanelle Scheepers and Christina McHale to have a deep run in this tournament.

Flavia Pennetta
The number 3 seed, Sam Stosur is lined up to meet the number 6 seed, Vera Zvonareva in the quarter-finals.  Stosur seems to have a habit of drawing players early she struggles against as she could play her Australian Open conqueror, Sorana Cirstea in the second round.  Cirstea has been in terrific form of late and lost a high quality semi-final to Maria Kirilenko in Pattaya City so the threat is there for all to see.  Ana Ivanovic is likely to await the winner in the third round.  Zvonareva has made a disappointing start to 2012 and will look to regain some form in Doha where she produced her best tennis last year beating Caroline Wozniacki ni the final.  However I predict she will come unstuck against Flavia Pennetta; Pennetta has a tough first round draw with Dominika Cibulkova but I fancy the Italian to be dangerous this week.

Caroline Wozniacki is scheduled to meet the number 8 seed, Marion Bartoli in the final quarter of the draw.  Bartoli has had an excellent, yet tiring week in Paris so I wouldn't favour her to go deep this week.  I would look to Sabine Lisicki to reach the quarter-finals who plays Angelique Kerber in the first round.  Kerber beat Bartoli in a fantastic Paris final, 7-6 5-7 6-3 and I think that win will have taken too much out of her to be able to have a chance against her compatriot. Wozniacki has some difficult names to pass such as  Lucie Safarova in the second round and then either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Zheng Jie in the third round, but I think the Dane will be strong this week and make it past these challenges.

Predicted Final: Agnieszka Radwanska d. Caroline Wozniacki
My head this week is telling me that Radwanska is the one to stop in Doha.  The Pole has made a very solid start to the season and she was dominant at these type of events in the latter half of 2011 when many of the big stars did not play.  Radwanska has a very favourable draw so i'm feeling confident that she will do well this week.

Watch out for... Ana Ivanovic who is my tip to reach the semi-finals.  The Serbian player will play Carla Suarez Navarro in the first round and has a run through that screams potential for some upsets and more straightforward matches if she can avoid upsets herself!  I also think that Flavia Pennetta, Yanina Wickmayer and Sabine Lisicki will all have good weeks and reach the quarter-finals.

Upset City: I see a number of early exits for the top seeds; I am predicting second round exits for Francesca Schiavone (to Yanina Wickmayer), Sam Stosur (to Sorana Cirstea), Svetlana Kuznetsova (to Zheng Jie) and Peng Shuai (to Christina McHale).

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Bartoli and Kerber to contest Paris Final

Marion Bartoli and Angelique Kerber won their semi-finals on Saturday to set up an intriguing final in Paris.  Bartoli was first into the final with a 7-6 6-0 victory over Klara Zakopalova.  Zakopalova was the much better player in the early proceedings, but she she faltered when given a chance to take the first set.  Bartoli has demonstrated her raw fighting spirit this week and she stayed with Zakopalova before crushing her in the second set with a barrage of winners.  Kerber had a much more difficult route to the final with a 6-7 6-3 6-4 victory over Yanina Wickmayer.  It was another great three-set match to grace the indoor courts of Paris this week and Wickmayer played well but appeared to tire at the end as she wasted a 3-1 lead in the final set.  Kerber has been steadily improving since a horrendous first round loss at Wimbledon last year to Laura Robson and showed moments of magic in this match, particularly in the second set.  The final will be close with both playing well but I predict Bartoli will take it in a very tight two setter...

Bartoli fights past Vinci, Sharapova ousted in Paris

Marion Bartoli
The quarter-finals at the WTA Premier event in Paris failed to disappoint on Friday as three of the matches were pushed to three sets and the remaining one saw the top seed ousted.  The best match of the day saw Marion Bartoli produce a terrific fightback to beat Roberta Vinci, 4-6 6-4 7-6.  The match was memorable for both the right and the wrong reasons; Bartoli was courageous with her never say die attitude despite severely tiring at the end and displayed sensational court coverage throughout the match.  Vinci played some excellent tennis particularly on the forehand side, but she really should have finished off this match.  She suffered several brain freezes as she wasted double break leads in the 2nd set at 4-1 and the 3rd set at 5-2.  I wonder what state Bartoli will be in for today's semi-final against Klara Zakopalova.  Zakopalova produced a mightily impressive come-from-behind victory to beat Julia Goerges, 3-6 7-5 6-1.

The second semi-final will be contested between Angelique Kerber and Yanina Wickmayer.  Kerber was outstanding as she put the recent Australian Open drubbing behind her to upset Maria Sharapova with a 6-4 6-4 victory.  Kerber showed bundles of tenacity and belief to recover deficits in both sets and surprisingly was outplaying the Russian at times.  Wickmayer exacted revenge on Mona Barthel with one of her best performances in a long time to win another entertaining match, 6-4 6-7 6-3.  The match finished just before 1am local time in Paris and was not without drama.  Wickmayer recovered from a 3-0 lead in the first set and then nearly came back from a 5-0 deficit in the second set before Barthel regained her composure to slam the door shut.  Barthel tired in the third set but never gave up fighting as Wickmayer grabbed and held the initiative.  

The commentators remarked that despite the loss, Barthel has the potential to be the best German out of the growing crop of talented players from Germany including Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges, Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber.  I completely agree with their comments and strongly believe that Barthel is a definite  future top 10 player and probably higher.  At the start of the year I predicted she would make top 30, but she should break that very soon! She still has several areas to work on; the second serve needs more pace and variation and there were some sloppy mental lapses in the second set which should be smoothed out with more experience on the tour.  However she has such ease and fluidity on her groundstrokes, excellent movement around the court and has already put a firm marker down on being the WTA breakthrough star in 2012.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Barthel and Wickmayer set for rematch in Paris

Yanina Wickmayer
I am running out of superlatives to describe Mona Barthel as she continued her mightily impressive streak with another convincing win on Thursday.  Barthel won the last nine games of her match with Pauline Parmentier to win 6-3 6-0 and storm into the quarter-finals where she will play Yanina Wickmayer.  Wickmayer recorded a good win over the American, Christina McHale in a 6-2 7-5 victory.  This will be a rematch of the Hobart final where Barthel blew the Belgian off the court with her clean striking and pinpoint accuracy.  I fully expect Barthel to win once more and storm into the semi-finals...

Marion Bartoli started her Paris campaign with a win over Petra Matric, 7-5 6-1.  The 65-minute first set was quite entertaining and there were some crazy angles being produced by both players. There were a number of lengthy games that went to deuce but on almost every occasion, Bartoli came out on top.  Bartoli's serving was particularly off-key in the first set as she hit just 43% first serves and served up 6 double faults.  However Bartoli's return game was very impressive and the first set could have been much easier if she had converted more break points, of which she was just 4 out of 16.  Bartoli improved in the second set and eventually eased past Martic in the end.  Bartoli will play Roberta Vinci in the quarter-finals after she lost the middle set to Bethanie Mattek-Sands but survived a break-happy match, 6-3 1-6 6-3.  There were 11 breaks of serve in the first two sets, but Vinci tightened her grip on serve in the final set to progress.

In other matches, Angelique Kerber held off a gritty Monica Niculescu, 6-3 4-6 6-3 to set up another match with Maria Sharapova.  The final quarter-final will see Julia Goerges take on Klara Zakopalova, who crushed Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-0 6-3.  Zakopalova has been dreadful so far in 2012 as she won her first match of the year against Alize Cornet yesterday.  The thing with Zakopalova is that every now and then she is capable of hitting a rich vein of form and that seems to be this week! I still do not give her much hope against an in-form Goerges...

Maria Sharapova to beat Angelique Kerber in 2 sets
Mona Barthel to beat Yanina Wickmayer in 3 sets
Julia Goerges to beat Klara Zakopalova in 2 sets
Marion Bartoli to beat Roberta Vinci in 2 sets

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Sharapova beats Scheepers in Paris

Chanelle Scheepers
It was business as usual for Maria Sharapova who overcame stiff early opposition before strolling past Chanelle Scheepers in a 6-3 6-1 victory.  Sharapova twice went up a break in the first set but was pegged back both times by Scheepers who returned extremely well in the early stages.  However at 3-3, Sharapova broke away as Scheepers struggled with her second serve and ability to keep up with the pure power of Sharapova from the back of the court.  I fancied a potential upset but Sharapova looked sharp, fresh and in fighting form today.  

In other matches, the number 8 seed Anabel Medina Garrigues was knocked out of the tournament by home favourite, Pauline Parmentier in a 2-6 6-3 6-3 loss.  There were promising wins on the second day of action in Paris for the Americans, Christina McHale and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.  McHale beat Varvara Lepchenko in a tight two setter, 6-4 7-5 meanwhile Mattek-Sands defeated Kristina Barrois, 7-6 6-2.  Mattek-Sands appears to be gathering some steam after a lengthy lay-off from injury at the end of last year.  She will fancy her chances of causing an upset in the second round against the crafty Italian, Roberta Vinci who overcame a slow start to defeat Simona Halep, 6-4 6-4.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Li Na retires against Pironkova in Paris

Li Na
This week's tournament in Paris has seen a flurry of withdrawals and this was further compounded on Monday as the number 3 seed, Li Na retired from her match down 7-6 4-2 to Tsvetana Pironkova.  Pironkova raced into a 5-0 lead in just 18 minutes, but was pegged back to 5-5 as Li dominated the next 5 games.  After all the hard work of recovering the deficit, Li played a poor tiebreak as the grass-loving Pironkova took the first set.  Li retired midway during the second set to hand Pironkova an excellent win on the hard courts of Paris.  I wonder how serious Li's injury was and whether her heart was in the match after the loss of a tight first set.

Mona Barthel continued her incredible winning ways in 2012 with a straightforward 6-3 6-2 victory over Barbara Zahlavova Strycova.  It was Barthel's 15th victory of the year as she made her way through three rounds of qualifying to make the main draw in Paris.  Julia Goerges was equally impressive as she eased past Shahar Peer, 6-1 6-3.  Goerges hit an astonishing 35 winners in just 51 minutes of play and with Li's early exit, my tip of a semi-final spot for the German looks very promising.  My other tip to reach the semi-final was not so lucky; Lucie Safarova was beaten by Angelique Kerber who produced the more consistent performance in a 6-2 7-6 victory.  

In other matches, Petra Cetkovska, Petra Martic and Chanelle Scheepers all won their first round matches with straight set wins.  Scheepers has made a promising start to the season despite early losses in two of her three tournaments.  The three losses she suffered were to Serena Williams, Li Na and Svetlana Kuznetsova and she was not disgraced in any of them, winning a set against both Li and Kuznetsova.  It doesn't get much easier for Scheepers who will play Maria Sharapova in the next round but I fancy if Sharapova is still under the weather then an upset could be on the cards...

Monday, 6 February 2012

WTA Paris draw updated!

The Paris Draw has been hit with a number of withdrawals since I posted my preview... I do hate it when that happens! My tip for the final, Kaia Kanepi has pulled out with a shoulder injury and the number five seed, Sabine Lisicki has withdrawn too.  This has resulted in a reshuffle of the draw with Angelique Kerber moving into Lisicki's position as the number 9 seed.  I am now tipping the qualifer, Mona Barthel to go all the way to the final as you will see in my predictions below.

Quarter-final Predictions in Paris
Maria Sharapova v Lucie Safarova
Varvara Lepchenko v Mona Barthel
Julia Goerges v Li Na
Bethanie Mattek-Sands v Marion Bartoli

Final - Marion Bartoli def. Mona Barthel

And here are my predictions for Pattaya City too...

Quarter-final Predictions in Pattaya City
Vera Zvonareva v Sorana Cirstea
Maria Kirilenko v Galina Voskoboeva
Vania King v Daniela Hantuchova
Zheng Jie v Dominika Cibulkova

Final - Daniela Hantuchova def. Galina Voskoboeva

Lets see how I do this week :-)

Sunday, 5 February 2012

WTA Paris Preview

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova headlines a strong line-up for the Premier event in Paris this week.  There were some fabulous matches in this tournament last year where Petra Kvitova beat Kim Clijsters in the final.  The top two seeds, Sharapova and Marion Bartoli have byes into the second round.  Sharapova is projected to meet the number 5 seed, Sabine Lisicki in the quarter-finals who she defeated in a gruelling 4th round match at the Australian Open.  Lisicki will face Lucie Safarova in the first round, which will be a battle between two players who have a tendency to blow hot and cold.  Bartoli is scheduled to meet the number 7 seed Roberta Vinci in the quarter-finals; however the most dangerous player in this section of the draw to Bartoli is likely to be Angelique Kerber who plays a qualifier in round one and could meet Vinci in the 2nd round.

The number three seed, Li Na will open up her campaign against Tsvetana Pironkova.  Li will look to put the devastating 4th round Australian Open loss to Kim Clijsters behind her.  Li is positioned in a relatively straightforward section of the draw and is projected to meet Julia Goerges in the quarter-finals.  Goerges reached the 4th round of a Grand Slam for the first time in Australia and put up a brave fight in the Fed Cup where she eventually went down to the world number two Petra Kvitova, 10-8 in the third.  Goerges will play Shahar Peer in the first round, who she beat in their only previous encounter last year in Charlestion.  

The final section of the draw to discuss plays host to several exciting first round matches; the number 4 seed Jelena Jankovic has a tough opener against Yanina Wickmayer.  Jankovic and Wickmayer were supposed to play each other in Fed Cup action today but JJ pulled out with an injury so it will be interesting to see if she plays here.  The winner will play Kaia Kanepi or Christina McHale who face off in the first round too.  Kanepi was a letdown at the Australian Open but I think she will rediscover some good form in Paris where she reached the semi-finals last year.

Marion Bartoli
My tip for the week
Marion Bartoli def. Kaia Kanepi - This is a tough one to call this week... I don't fancy Sharapova to be 100% after a punishing schedule over the last couple of weeks.  I don't trust Li to do the business, Jankovic has an injury and Lisicki has a tough draw.  Instead, i'm going for the home favourite Marion Bartoli to triumph.  She was disappointing in Australia, but I think she will be refreshed after a long break and take advantage of the good draw she has been handed.

Watch out for...
Lucie Safarova and Julia Goerges who I think will both reach the semi-finals in a number of surprises this week.  As mentioned above, Safarova is an inconsistent player; she made the quarter-finals in Sydney beating Ana Ivanovic along the way, but then lost in the first round of the Australian Open.  Safarova always seems to thrive as the underdog, which she will be in her first round match to Sabine Lisicki.  I normally go against Goerges, but she has shown some positive signs at the start of 2012 and I fancy her to beat Li Na in the quarter-finals.

Unfortuately I do not have time to do a preview for Pattaya City where Vera Zvonareva and Dominika Cibulkova are the top two seeds.  I will try and do some short reviews from both Paris and Pattaya City in the coming week...

Saturday, 4 February 2012

If you are still missing the Australian Open...

The tennis season always goes a little quiet after the Australian Open finishes so if you are still feeling the AO blues, then this video will hopefully cheer you up :-) It includes pretty much everything that made this year's Grand Slam so memorable!

The Fed Cup has been the headline act on this week's schedule and it has been a great week so far for Great Britain, who have all three of their matches to progress to a promotion play-off match today against Austria.  The selection of Judy Murray as our new Fed Cup captain was an excellent move and she really seems to have united the team this week... here is an amusing video of Laura Robson rapping as her "rookie dare".

Next - The draws for next weeks tournaments in Paris and Pattaya City are released tomorrow