Sunday, 29 April 2012

Super Sharapova seals Stuttgart crown

Maria Sharapova capped off a tremendous week as she beat an injury affected Victoria Azarenka, 6-1 6-4 in the Stuttgart final.  Azarenka had won their two previous encounters in 2012 in straight sets, but Sharapova turned the tables on the world number one with an excellent display of 31 winners to just 13 unforced errors.  Azarenka looked off-colour during the first set and required treatment for a wrist injury after the first set.  It did seem to affect her play but nothing should be taken away from Sharapova's victory.  The decisive factor behind her title charge this week was some super consistent serving, the best we have seen from her in a long, long time.

There was a definite air of tension between the two players in the final, which was intensified with a bump of shoulders at one changeover.  Azarenka also had a face like thunder during the post-match presentation and it will be interesting to see how bad the wrist injury is.  Overall, it was a disappointing final, but took nothing away from a sensational week in Stuttgart.  There were some excellent individual performances along the way and Roland Garros is shaping up to be a very interesting major for the women.  Next stop for the big guns will be Madrid starting in a week...

The bump of shoulders between Azarenka/Sharapova

WTA Estoril: Preview and Predictions

There are a host of tournaments being played on the WTA and ATP circuits next week but I will be mainly focusing on the women's event in Estoril.  Let's take a look at the draw:

First half
Nadia Petrova
Roberta Vinci is the number one seed and will play Nina Bratchikova in the first round.  Vinci had a stellar season on clay last year, claiming two titles in Barcelona and Budapest.  Vinci lost her only previous encounter with Bratchikova in Monterrey this year but I predict she will win this time round.  Her projected quarter-final opponent is Nadia Petrova, who has had a topsy-turvy 2012 so far.  After a woeful start to the year, she demonstrated some good form with a win over Sam Stosur in Indian Wells, but has since struggled for consistency.  She could face Jarmila Gajdosova in the second round, who produced a rare highlight in Fed Cup action last week by beating Julia Goerges on the clay.

Kaia Kanepi and Petra Cetkovska are projected to meet in the second quarter-final in Estoril.  Cetkovska, who reached the quarter-finals in Fes last week, will play Alexandra Panova in the first round.  Kanepi will play a qualifier in the first round before a second round match with either Vania King or Johanna Larsson.  Larsson has had some success on the clay in the past, including a good run at Estoril last year, but the biggest threat to the seeds is likely to be Vania King.  The American has become a consistently reliable performer in recent months although several weeks off through injury may hold her back this week...

Quarter-final Predictions:
Roberta Vinci d. Jarmila Gajdosova
Kaia Kanepi d. Petra Cetkovska

Second half
Zheng Jie
Anabel Medina Garrigues is the number three seed and opens up her title defence against a qualifier.  In the second round she will play Sorana Cirstea or Silvia Soler Espinosa.   Mona Barthel would have been her projected quarter-final opponent but as she has now withdrawn, Polona Hercog has taken her place in the draw.  Hercog will play Tamira Paszek in the first round and will be a tough opponent for Medina Garrigues if they both make the quarter-finals with both having enjoyed success on the clay in the past.

The number two seed, Maria Kirilenko will play Elena Baltacha in the first round and her projected quarter-final opponent is Zheng Jie.  Zheng has the most intriguing of the first round matches as she will take on Ekaterina Makarova, who reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and the 4th round in Miami.  This is a very difficult match to call with both showing some excellent form in 2012, but I would predict Zheng to win in 3 sets

Quarter-final Predictions: 
Anabel Medina Garrigues d. Polona Hercog
Maria Kirilenko d. Zheng Jie

Final Prediction: Anabel Medina Garrigues d. Kaia Kanepi

Full predictions for WTA Estoril can be found here.

You can view all my draw predictions for this week by clicking on the links below:
ATP Estoril - I think this draw will go with the formbook and Juan Martin Del Potro will score his second consecutive title in Estoril.
WTA Budapest - I have gone for Sara Errani, who looks like the standout winner from this draw.  Literally anyone could make the final on the other half of the draw...
ATP Munich - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the top seed, but i'm still not convinced by his form this year yet alone on the clay so I have gone for a surprise champion in Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Sharapova and Azarenka reach Stuttgart final

Maria Sharapova produced another terrific display to snap Petra Kvitova's 27 match winning streak on indoor courts with a 6-4 7-6 semi-final victory.  Kvitova struggled to deal with the Sharapova serve in a forgettable first set, which saw few rallies.  Kvitova came to life in a sensational second set, but was unable to make her edge pay as a nerveless Sharapova fought off 10 break points, which were spread across every one of Sharapova's service games.  The Russian has looked extremely impressive on the clay this week and will now face Victoria Azarenka for the third time this year in a final.  

Azarenka defeated Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-1 6-3 with a clinical display of baseline aggression.  Azarenka pummelled the Radwanska 2nd serve, which was the Pole's downfall today with just 2 out of 17 points won.  Radwanska appeared to struggle with a lower back injury in the second set, but showed some brief resistance at the end before Azarenka sealed the victory.  Azarenka has defeated Sharapova in both their previous encounters this year with ruthless straight set wins.  I think this will be their closest match of the season so far, but I still predict Azarenka to run out as the winner.  It has been a great week of predictions, but unfortunately just fell short when predicting the champion!

Final Prediction - Victoria Azarenka to beat Maria Sharapova in 3 sets

Maria Sharapova

Kvitova halts Kerber in Stuttgart

After three marathon quarter-finals in Stuttgart, the last one was the quickest, but still provided some fine tennis as Petra Kvitova beat Angelique Kerber, 6-4 6-4.  Kvitova  hit some special winners as she closed both sets out in clinical fashion.  Kvitova is my tip for the title although I have to admit, I thought Kerber would win this match after watching her rout of Caroline Wozniacki.  One thing I have learnt with making predictions... NEVER go against your instinct! Kerber became frustrated in the second set at the lack of rhythm that Kvitova gave her and that was a telling factor in deciding the outcome of this match.  I am now backing Kvitova to win the whole caboodle and maintain her sensational winning streak on indoor courts.

Yesterday was probably the best day of women's tennis in 2012 as the top four seeds made the semi-finals for the first time since Wimbledon 2009.  The semi-finals look very exciting on paper so let's hope it continues. I do have one moan though... why do they keep going to the terrible camera angle at court level where you cannot actually see the lines?! It just does not make any sense!!!

Semi-final Predictions:
Victoria Azarenka to beat Agnieszka Radwanska in 2 sets
Petra Kvitova to beat Maria Sharapova in 3 sets

This is a link here to the WHOLE match of Stosur/Sharapova if you have three hours of your time ;-) The best point of the match was at 2:30:50.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Barthel tests Azarenka, Sharapova wins in Stuttgart

Maria Sharapova
The quarter-finals in Stuttgart promised a lot and completely lived up to their billing with a series of thrilling encounters.  Victoria Azarenka held off a barrage of winners from Mona Barthel to record a 6-4 6-7 7-5 victory in 2 hours and 48 minutes.  Barthel hit a staggering 64 winners but still ended up on the losing side after a poor final game in which she double faulted on match point.  Barthel has once again shown that she is a force to be reckoned with as she showed her fighting spirit to rescue numerous deficits from Azarenka, who did remarkably well to finally see off the young German.  Barthel still has many areas of her game to work on; hopefully her mental game will continue to improve with more experience on the tour.  Let's not forget that this Barthel's first year of playing WTA tour events week in, week out.  Azarenka will play Agnieszka Radwanska once more after she came back from a set down to defeat Li Na, 3-6 6-2 6-3.

Maria Sharapova booked her place in the semi-finals after saving a match point in a 3 hour and 1 minute, 6-7 7-6 7-5 epic against Sam Stosur.  The first set was both tense and tight, but Stosur deservedly edged it.  Sharapova worked herself into the match and began to play extremely well from the end of the second set as she broke Stosur's serve when she served for the match at 7-6 5-4.  The final set was of a very high quality and Stosur did remarkably well to stick with Sharapova as long as she did but in the end, some stellar serving and superb shot making got the Russian over the finish line.  Sharapova will play the winner of Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber, who have a very late start after the epic matches before.  We have seen two of the best matches in 2012 today... can Kvitova and Kerber make it a third? I am off to watch it :-)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Azarenka & Barthel through, Kerber sizzles in Stuttgart

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka and Mona Barthel will square off for the fourth time this year after both progressed to the Stuttgart quarter-finals.  Azarenka advanced when Andrea Petkovic had to retire at 6-2 4-4 down after twisting her ankle.  It was heartbreaking to see Petkovic pull out after returning from a back injury this week and as she started to play her best tennis in the match too... I am wishing her a very speedy recovery because the tour needs her :-) Barthel scored her first top 10 win as she thumped Marion Bartoli, 6-3 6-1.  The German youngster faced no break points and lost just 4 points on her first serve.  Azarenka has won all three encounters this year with Barthel, but was pushed to the brink in their last encounter in Indian Wells where Barthel had her chances to win the match.

In other matches, Sam Stosur scored her first ever win over Julia Goerges in a 6-2 2-6 6-3 victory and set up a intriguing quarter-final with Maria Sharapova.  Goerges will now lose a large chunk of her ranking points and could lose many more with an early exit in Madrid.  It was a high quality match between Stosur and Goerges and the German player showed enough promise to suggest she can do well on the clay in 2012.  Li Na beat the lucky loser, Akgul Amanmuradova, 6-4 6-4 and will now play Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals.  Petra Kvitova also won through today with a routine 6-2 6-2 win over Francesca Schiavone and will play Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals.  Kerber defeated Caroline Wozniacki, 6-1 6-2 in what was an outstanding display of tennis that somehow topped her first round victory over Roberta Vinci.  Kerber hit 28 winners to 11 unforced errors and outplayed Wozniacki, who actually played a pretty good match!

An example of Kerber's brilliance... there were some stunning rallies from both in this match!

I nailed today's predictions successfully scoring 8 out of 8 quarter-finalists :-)

The quarter-final line-up is incredibly exciting and difficult to call...
Quarter-final Predictions:
Victoria Azarenka to beat Mona Barthel in 3 sets - I am totally on the fence with this match now.  Barthel has a real shot at beating Azarenka in her current form, but i'm going with Azarenka's superior mental toughness to pull her through.
Agnieszka Radwanska to beat Li Na in 2 tight sets - The reigning French Open champion has received very little attention this week and will be dangerous against Radwanska; however Li failed to produce the goods at this stage in Indian Wells and Miami so i'm going for Radwanska's consistency to be the key factor.
Sam Stosur to beat Maria Sharapova in 2 sets - Sharapova has played little tennis this week and i'm not convinced she will have enough to get past Stosur, who played a very good match against Goerges today.
Angelique Kerber to beat Petra Kvitova in 3 sets - I very rarely change my original predictions, but after Kerber's performance tonight, I have had to sit up and take notice... I think this will be very tight match and  it is the quarter-final i'm most looking forward too!

ATP Barcelona - After such a great day yesterday in my predictions for Barcelona, today was not so good! The highlight of the matches saw Milos Raonic sweep past Nicolas Almagro, 6-3 6-3.  You can keep up to date with my Barcelona predictions where two of my semi-finalists have now departed the competition. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

ATP Barcelona Predictions and more...

You can keep up to date with all my predictions so far this week by clicking on the links below:
WTA Stuttgart - Correctly predicted 12 of 14 matches so far including Mona Barthel's win over Ana Ivanovic.
ATP Barcelona - Correctly predicted 14 out of 16 of the second round matches including three wins from unseeded players (Santiago Giraldo, Albert Montanes and Jarkko Nieminen)
WTA Fes - Correctly predicted 4 out of 8 second round matches, but I have managed to keep my two finalists in tack with Svetlana Kuznetsova and Yanina Wickmayer already out...

Hopefully I can keep the good predictions coming :-)

ATP Barcelona 3rd round predictions:
Rafael Nadal to beat Robert Farah in 2 sets
Janko Tipsarevic to beat Frederico Gil in 2 tight sets
Fernando Verdasco to beat Kevin Anderson in 3 sets
Albert Ramos to beat Kei Nishikori in 3 sets
Jarkko Nieminen to beat Feliciano Lopez in 3 sets
David Ferrer to beat Albert Montanes in 2 sets
Nicolas Almagro to beat Milos Raonic in 2 tight sets
Andy Murray to beat Santiago Giraldo in 2 sets 

Barthel beats Ivanovic, Germans start strong in Stuttgart

Ana Ivanovic
If you have been reading some of my blog entries, you will no doubt have read me harping on about Mona Barthel!  After a few setbacks in recent weeks, she delivered one of her biggest wins to date with a 7-5 7-6 victory over Ana Ivanovic.  I was unable to watch the match but it sounded like a solid effort from Barthel and Ivanovic with both recording a positive winner to unforced error differential (Barthel +15 and Ivanovic +7).  Barthel has been joined in the second round by fellow Germans, Julia Goerges, Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic.  Petkovic was returning from injury and produced a good performance to beat another German player, Kristina Barrois, 6-1 6-4.

In other matches, Maria Sharapova advanced at the expense of an injured Alize Cornet and joined Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals; Radwanska defeated a spirited Greta Arn with a 6-3 6-4 victory.  The last match of the day will see Caroline Wozniacki take on Jelena Jankovic for the chance to play Angelique Kerber in the second round.

Predictions for tomorrow's matches:
Victoria Azarenka to beat Andrea Petkovic in 2 sets
Mona Barthel to beat Marion Bartoli in 3 sets
Li Na to beat Akgul Amanmuradova in 2 sets
Petra Kvitova to beat Francesca Schiavone in 2 tight sets
Angelique Kerber to beat Caroline Wozniacki/Jelena Jankovic in 3 sets
Sam Stosur to beat Julia Goerges in 2 tight sets 

Highlights from the Barthel/Ivanovic match in Stuttgart 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Angelique Kerber shines in Stuttgart opener

Angelique Kerber won her first ever main draw match in Stuttgart with a superb 6-2 6-3 victory over Roberta Vinci.  It was a highly entertaining match and one of the best individual performances I have witnessed in 2012.  Vinci ran out of ideas in the end as Kerber dealt beautifully with everything the Italian threw at her, playing with both patience and intent. She hit her shots with an alarming degree of accuracy and clearly displayed the wealth of confidence and composure she has been building during 2012.  In the first set, Kerber hit a staggering 18 winners to just 3 unforced errors with Vinci not disgracing herself at all with a +3 differential (14 winners to 11 unforced errors).  

I have predicted Kerber to reach the quarter-finals and I am confident if she plays close to this level, she will stroll past either Caroline Wozniacki or Jelena Jankovic in the next round.  In other matches, Sam Stosur eased past Peng Shuai, 6-2 6-2 and Marion Bartoli won the last six games of her match to defeat Iveta Benesova, 6-3 6-2.  The Czech player was much the better mover on the clay, but was unable to employ the right tactics to get Bartoli on the run.  Julia Goerges fought off some nerves and wayward returning to get past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 5-7 6-3 6-4.  Pavlyuchenkova was hindered with a thigh injury, but played quite well considering she has won just three matches this year.  Greta Arn and Alize Cornet also snapped up wins on the first day of action in Stuttgart.

Here are the highlights of Angelique Kerber's victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the final of Copenhagen just a few weeks ago. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Monte-Carlo review: Nadal reigns supreme

Rafael Nadal finally turned the tables on Novak Djokovic as he continued his marvellous winning streak in Monte-Carlo and inflicted a defeat on the Serb, his first since the 2010 World Tour Finals in London.  Although it was a crucial win for Nadal, Djokovic was emotionally exhausted having suffered the loss of his grandfather earlier this week.  This round went to Nadal but this clay court season still has a long way to go and will surely not be the last time these two face each other...

It was a poor week of predictions from myself, but I did manage to correctly predict the final and champion.  The men now move onto Barcelona where Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro are all in action.  For this tournament, i'm predicting that Nadal will beat Ferrer in the final.

On a closing note for this week, the Fed Cup final was all set with Serbia to take on the reigning champions of the Czech Republic.  I came across an amusing video in the match between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic where Kuznetsova did not realise she had won the match... I have never seen this happen before!

The match point starts at 4:45

WTA Stuttgart: Preview and Predictions

This week's headline tournament on the WTA tour comes from Stuttgart and is set to be a cracker with all of the top 8 players taking part.  This tournament was voted by the players as the best Premier event on tour last year so it comes as no surprise to see such an exciting line-up ready to do battle in Germany.  Let's take a look at the draw...

Andrea Petkovic
Victoria Azarenka (1) v Marion Bartoli (7)
Azarenka has a bye in the first round and will face a German player in her first clay court match of 2012.  She will play either Kristina Barrois or Andrea Petkovic, who is playing her first tournament since Brisbane in January after being sidelined with a stress fracture of the lower back.  It is always difficult to predict how a player returning from injury will settle back into the tour, but I think Petkovic will win her opener.

Marion Bartoli will play a qualifier in the first round before facing the winner of an intriguing first round match between Ana Ivanovic and Mona Barthel.  Barthel has had a superb 2012 so far, but has shown fragility in trying to finish out close matches; most recently, she wasted match points in a quarter-final loss to Angelique Kerber in Copenhagen.  Ivanovic has looked solid in 2012 and demonstrated her clay court pedigree in 2008 when she won Roland Garros.  This is a tough one to call, but i'll go for a surprise with Barthel, who I think will go on to reach the quarter-finals in front of her home crowd.
My Prediction - Victoria Azarenka v Mona Barthel

Agnieskza Radwanska (4) v Li Na (8)
Radwanska is playing her first tournament since winning the Premier tournament in Miami and will be confident of picking up some big points in Stuttgart.  She has a bye in the first round and will play a qualifier in the second round.  The number one seed in qualifying, Sorana Cirstea suffered a shocking defeat yesterday to a returning Anna Chakvetadze, 6-1 6-0, who looks good for a spot in the main draw.

Li Na opens up her campaign against Lucie Safarova, who has enjoyed a rich vein of form in the last month having reached the final in Charleston.  Li and Safarova both have powerful baseline games, but it is Li who holds the edge having won their last four encounters.  The other first round match in this section will see Daniela Hantuchova take on Dominika Cibulkova; there is a lopsided record in this head-to-head too with Hantuchova having won all four of their encounters.  Hantuchova has gone a little quiet after a strong start to 2012 so Cibulkova will fancy her chances of a first win.
My Prediction - Agnieszka Radwanska v Li Na

Petra Kvitova
Caroline Wozniacki (6) v Petra Kvitova (3)
Petra Kvitova returns to action in Stuttgart after an early exit in Miami and will play Francesca Schiavone or Monica Niculescu after a first round bye.  Both Schiavone and Niculescu are tricky players, but I have a sneaky feeling Kvitova will do very well this week.  Kvitova also managed to beat Schiavone in Fed Cup action this weekend so would have that confidence going into a potential match-up in Stuttgart.

Caroline Wozniacki has continued her recent record of getting tough draws as she will play Jelena Jankovic in the first round before potentially meeting Angelique Kerber, who conquered her in Copenhagen a week ago.  Wozniacki has won her last four encounters against Jankovic, but JJ enjoys playing on the clay and won both her matches in Fed Cup action this weekend against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nastia Pavlyuchenkova.  Kerber, who plays Roberta Vinci, has struggled in the early rounds of tournaments, but thrived against higher ranked opponents.  I think that having played two matches on the same courts for Fed Cup will work in her favour and the wins will keep coming.
My Prediction - Angelique Kerber v Petra Kvitova

Sam Stosur (5) v Maria Sharapova (2)
The number two seed, Maria Sharapova receives a bye in the first round and could face a few tough challenges along the way.  In the second round, she will meet Flavia Pennetta or a qualifier; Pennetta produced an excellent performance to shock Sharapova in the third round of the 2011 US Open.  The Italian's form has been patchy at best in 2012 so if Pennetta did progress, I would back the Russian to pass the first test.

Sam Stosur, who reached the Stuttgart final in 2010, will open up against Peng Shuai in the first round.  She will play the winner of Julia Goerges and Nastia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.  Goerges is the reigning champion in Stuttgart after a fairytale run last year.  She beat Stosur in a stunning semi-final so a rematch would be very exciting...
My Prediction - Sam Stosur v Maria Sharapova

Final Prediction - Petra Kvitova d. Victoria Azarenka
My gut instinct this week is pointing towards Petra Kvitova winning her first title of the year and laying down her credentials for an exciting few months ahead.  Victoria Azarenka will continue her excellent 2012 but I do not fancy her to be so dominant on the clay.

Dark Horses - Last year we saw Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki and Andrea Petkovic all thrill the German crowds with deep runs in the draw.  This year, I think Angelique Kerber and Mona Barthel will take over the baton and have great weeks in front of the home crowd.  If Kvitova is to be upstaged by anyone, I think it could be Sam Stosur who I fancy to enjoy more success against Sharapova having won their previous match at the year ending championships in Istanbul last year.

Last year's tournament was my favourite event of the year, excluding Wimbledon and i'm excited by the prospect of this draw.  The main draw action will kick off on Tuesday but until then, here are some highlights of the fantastic action that graced Stuttgart in 2011 to wet the appetite...

2nd round - Lisicki d. Li 6-4 7-5

Quarter-Final - Goerges d. Lisicki 6-4 6-4

Semi-final - Goerges d. Stosur 6-4 3-6 7-5

Final - Goerges d. Wozniacki 7-6 6-3

You can also access my full predictions for Stuttgart and follow the progress of my picks throughout the week...

Friday, 20 April 2012

Simon defeats lacklustre Tsonga in Monte-Carlo

Gilles Simon
Gilles Simon, who had lost his last four encounter to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, turned the table on his fellow compatriot with a solid 7-5 6-4 victory.  Simon took advantage of some wayward hitting from Tsonga and the slow conditions to reach the semi-finals.  I was impressed with Simon today who played a very good match with some excellent retrieving and patient play from the baseline.  Tsonga looked disinterested and continues to struggle in 2012 although clay is not his favoured surface so I think until we reach the grass court season, I do not think we will see the best of the Frenchman. 

Simon will play Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, who beat Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-4 7-5.  The other semi-final will see Novak Djokovic take on Tomas Berdych; Djokovic was never really troubled in a 6-4 6-2 win over Robin Haase, meanwhile Berdych produced an impressive performance to get past Andy Murray, 6-7 6-2 6-3.

Semi-Final Predictions:
Nadal to beat Simon in 2 sets
Djokovic to beat Berdych in 3 sets

Fingers crossed we get the final that everyone wants to see.  My predictions continue to be wayward this week... I just cannot get excited about Monte-Carlo this year! There have been few exciting matches so far so lets hope the tournament ends with a bang...

Murray v Berdych

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Nadal sails past Kukushkin in Monte-Carlo

Rafael Nadal was in typically bruising form today as he sailed past Mikhail Kukushkin, 6-1 6-1 to advance to another Monte-Carlo quarter-final.  Nadal was impressive, but not tested by the Kazakh player who did not have the patience to live with the Spaniard from the baseline.  He will play Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarters, who surprisingly beat Nicolas Almagro, 6-3 6-3.  Novak Djokovic produced a gritty display to reach the quarter-finals after learning of the sad news that his grandfather had passed away in the morning.  He came from a set down to defeat Alexandr Dolgopolov, 2-6 6-1 6-4 to set up a quarter-final clash with Robin Haase.  

The remaining two quarter-finals will see Andy Murray take on Tomas Berdych and all French clash between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Giles Simon.  Andy Murray progressed after Julien Benneteau suffered a reported broken elbow after a very nasty fall as he went to chase down a Murray shot deep in the first set of their third round encounter.  By all accounts, it had been a very competitive first set before the unfortunate injury...

I have not been able to watch much of this week's action and am not feeling this week's tournament; it doesn't help I have predicted most things wrong ;-) Next week will be a bumper week of tennis action headlined by a stunning line-up for the women's event in Stuttgart.

Monte-Carlo Quarter-Final Predictions:
Novak Djokovic to beat Robin Haase in 2 sets
Andy Murray to beat Tomas Berdych in 2 tight sets
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to beat Giles Simon in 2 sets
Rafael Nadal to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in 2 sets

Murray v Benneteau

Nadal v Kukushkin

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

ATP Monte-Carlo: 3rd round predictions

It has been a disappointing week for me so far as you will see here from my Monte-Carlo predictions.  Today's surprise saw an inspired Thomasz Bellucci take out David Ferrer in straight sets, 6-3 6-2.  I still have seven of the eight quarter-finalists left so things could look up if I can predict the latter stages correctly!

3rd Round Predictions
Novak Djokovic to beat Alexandr Dolgopolov in 2 tight sets
Thomasz Bellucci to beat Robin Haase in 3 sets
Andy Murray to beat Julien Benneteau in 2 sets
Tomas Berdych to beat Kei Nishikori in 2 tight sets
Janko Tipsarevic to beat Gilles Simon in 2 sets
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to beat Fernando Verdasco in 3 sets
Nicolas Almagro to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in 2 sets
Rafael Nadal to beat Mikhail Kukushkin in 2 sets

WTA 2012: Review of the season so far - Part 2

Nastia Pavlyuchenkova
Underperformers in 2012 - With the promising talent emerging in 2012, there have been several disappointments as well.  Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who I tipped for the top 10 at the start of the year has really stalled and become a wasted talent.  I really wish that she would get a permanent coach and rigid structure behind her... plus a 2nd serve! Francesca Schiavone has won just one of her last seven matches and looks to be heading towards the end of her career.  I am not sure if a return to her beloved clay at Roland Garros will even be able to resurrect her form.   

Vera Zvonareva looks a shadow of herself from a year or two ago and has struggled for any consistency in her game as she has battled numerous injuries this year.  Peng Shuai has also been struggling with serious injuries and looks unlikely to remain in the top 30 for long.  Jelena Jankovic has picked up some useful results here and there, but seems to be well past her best and is seemingly unable to maintain a solid standard throughout the entirety of a tournament.  

Comeback queens - Miami this year was a particularly special tournament as it saw the returns of Venus Williams and Alisa Kleybanova.  Venus made a superb run to the quarter-finals in Miami, beating both Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic, and then backed it up with another solid showing in Charleston, reaching the quarter-finals there too.  Kleybanova displayed her gritty determination to win her opening match against Johanna Larsson before succumbing to Maria Kirilenko in a tight two-setter.  I am looking forward to seeing both continue to improve and build their stamina on the clay...

Venus was excellent in beating Ana Ivanovic in the 4th round, but was even more impressive in the untelevised 2nd round match with Petra Kvitova, which she won 6-4 4-6 6-0.

Notable mentions - Serena Williams was simply stunning on her way to the title in Charleston where she conceded the fewest games of any champions so far this year.  The American suffered a stop-start beginning to 2012, which was hampered by an ankle injury she picked up in Brisbane.  A surprising 4th round loss to Ekaterina Makarova in Melbourne and a first ever loss to Caroline Wozniacki in Miami showed she was not back to her best yet; however that all changed in Charleston as she produced two scarily good performances to beat Sam Stosur and Lucie Safarova for the combined loss of just three games.

It was a great week for Serena but I still think there is a long way to go before she can be labelled as the favourite for Roland Garros.  Many are now over-hyping her performance in Charleston; Eurosport commentator, Simon Reed is just one of them!  I don't think she can be "the favourite" until we see how the Premier tournaments in Madrid and Rome shape out with all the top players in action.  It should also be noted that the green clay of Charleston plays quite a bit differently to the red clay.

Looking ahead to Roland Garros - Azarenka and Serena are the most obvious picks, but my tips to shine on the clay would be Sam Stosur and Petra Kvitova.  Both players have had relatively quiet starts to 2012, but remain dangerous and threatening on the clay.  Kvitova started the season well with semi-final appearances in Sydney and Melbourne and looked much more consistent, as she managed to grind out wins when playing below her best.  However disappointing early exits in Indian Wells and Miami have left many wondering where the Czech's game will go from here.  

She hasn't played that many matches in 2012 so far and I still believe the best is yet to come.  The losses in America were not a surprise to me as she has stated on numerous occasions how she dislikes the humidity and she was suffering from illness at the same time too.  Kvitova has been on a intensive training schedule in Turkey and I fully believe she will improve her form on clay before dominating on the grass where she was simply unstoppable last year...

Sam Stosur
Sam Stosur has the perfect game for clay as she proved in 2010 when she beat Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic before an agonising loss to Francesca Schiavone in the final.  As the US Open title sits proudly within her trophy cabinet, the new-found belief she has acquitted, suggested she was ready to dominate the women's game; however 2012 has been largely disappointing for the Aussie as she simply crumbled in front of her home crowd in Australia, losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Sorana Cirstea.  

She has since recovered her form, reaching the final in Doha and the semi-finals in Charleston, but has shown only sparks of the fight that took her so far in New York last year.  I remain confident that Stosur will come alive in the next few months, winning one of the big clay court tournaments before mounting a fierce assault on the Roland Garros crown... watch out for Sam!

Another name to look out for over the upcoming clay season is Ana Ivanovic.  Ivanovic has made a very solid start to 2012 and has now overtaken Jelena Jankovic as the highest ranked Serbian player at number 14.  I think she will continue to impress over the clay court season and progress deep into at least one of the Premier events in Madrid and Rome.  I also predict that Lucie Safarova, Sara Errani, Simona Halep, Irina-Camelia Begu, Aleksandra Wozniak and Carla Suarez Navarro will all do well on the clay...

Summary: the WTA is looking at it most promising for several years.  For quite a while now, the game has been going through a transition period and has lacked a dominant figure, but Victoria Azarenka has shone through in 2012 and become the one to beat.  The challengers are now all queueing up with Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska leading the chasing pack and a number of new faces too, who look like challenging for years to come...

However what I feel has been lacking in 2012 so far are any truly stand-out matches.  The 4th round match between Kim Clijsters and Li Na provided terrific drama and both Australian Open semi-finals were impressive and refreshingly competitive, but there has still been a lack of high quality matches.  The tour is also missing exciting rivalries; Azarenka vs. Radwanska and Azarenka vs. Sharapova have shown promise, but both have been too one-sided this year.  I am hoping a major rivalry will emerge over the clay and grass court season... of all the potential match-ups, I would love to see Petra Kvitova and Serena Williams fight it out on the grass.

The most dramatic match of the year saw Li Na waste 4 match points against an injured Kim Clijsters in a 4-6 7-6 6-4 4th round loss.

 The Australian Open semi-final between Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova was a good match, but could have been a great match if Kvitova could have held her nerve at the end of a 6-2 3-6 6-4 loss.

The clay court season is always the most unpredictable stage of the season so lets see what happens and how the chapter of 2012 continues to unfold...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Murrays rolls, Monaco hurt in Monte-Carlo

Andy Murray made a fine start to his clay court season with a 6-0 6-3 thumping of Viktor Troicki.  Murray recorded his fifth straight victory over Troicki, who has had an uninspiring year so far.  Murray will play the winner of Julien Benneteau and Jurgen Melzer in the third round.  Juan Monaco, who was coming off the back of winning the Houston title, was forced to retire in his first match when he suffered a nasty ankle twist when he tried to slide on the clay during a long baseline rally.  Monaco was leading Robin Haase, 5-7 6-0 3-1 and his retirement handed a rare win for Haase, who now plays Fabio Fognini.

In other matches, Fernando Verdasco came back from a set down for the second day in a row to set up a third round clash with Jo-Wilfried TsongaFeliciano Lopez was not so lucky as he was swept aside by Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-4 6-1.  Several of my third round tips were beaten today; one of them was Albert Ramos as his busy schedule finnaly caught up with him in a 6-2 7-5 defeat to Kei Nishikori.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer all begin their campaigns tomorrow although the most exciting match on the schedule is the first one on the Court Des Princes between Bernard Tomic and Alexander Dolgopolov.  You may remember they fought out a slice-happy five set thriller on the Rod Laver Arena.  A contest on the clay courts of Monte-Carlo is sure to be interesting...

Fernando Verdasco
You can view my predictions for Monte-Carlo this week... so far it has been a mixed bag of correct and incorrect picks!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

WTA 2012: Review of the season so far - Part 1

It now seems a good time with no WTA tournaments next week to take stock and review the progress of how the women are faring in 2012 so far.  We are now into the clay court season with all systems go for the second Grand Slam at Roland Garros at the end of the May.  This is the most hectic part of the year (and my favourite part too!), which is packed even more so this year with the Olympics nestled in between Wimbledon and the US Open, at the end of July.  Here is my take on 2012 so far...

Victoria Azarenka
Star performer - At the beginning of the year, most people (including myself) picked out Petra Kvitova as the most likely woman to succeed Caroline Wozniacki at the top of the rankings; however it was the Belarusian, Victoria Azarenka, who would be the big talking point at the start of 2012.  Azarenka came racing out the blocks as she compiled a sensational 26 match winning streak, taking the titles in Sydney, Melbourne, Doha and Indian Wells.  Her consistent, yet attacking play, has been coupled with a heavily improved mental attitude on court and a new found desire to win.

Finally we have a world number one that will not be criticised for not having won a Grand Slam and even more impressive, was her response to winning that elusive major.  The last three newly crowned Grand Slam champions (Li Na, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur) all suffered alarming slumps in form, but Azarenka has had no such problems as she completely dominated the field in both Doha and Indian Wells, waltzing to the titles for the loss of just one set combined.  However, on the downside she is not as popular as previous world number one, Caroline Wozniacki and has not endeared herself to the public with her on-court antics. The whole grunting debate could start another essay so I will steer clear of that one for now...

As we move onto the clay, it will be interesting to see how Azarenka responds to having lost her first match of the year to an inspired, Marion Bartoli in the quarter-finals of Miami.  I think she will post some strong results on the clay although at this time of writing, she is not my top pick to win at Roland Garros.

After a shaky start, Victoria Azarenka produced a terrific performance to overwhelm Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final, 6-3 6-0

Consistency is the key - The world number two, Maria Sharapova has enjoyed an excellent start to 2012 having reached the finals of the three biggest tournaments of the year to date in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami; however she has been unable to take any of the crowns losing to Victoria Azarenka twice and Agnieszka Radwanska once.  In general, her serve has looked more steady this year and she has retained her raw fighting spirit; however she has surprisingly faltered in all three finals, which is not something you would expect from Maria.  

Agnieskza Radwanska
Although she has the ability to turn match arounds, I think she lacks a plan B when her game is not firing on all cylinders, and particularly in Miami, she failed to execute a consistent gameplan against Radwanska.  A big title in the upcoming weeks could give her the confidence that she can go all the way on a surface she previously described herself as being like a "cow on ice", but has been growing in confidence on in the past couple of years.

The most consistent player so far this year apart from Azarenka, has been Agnieszka Radwanska who has built an impressive 26 wins including superb title runs in Miami and Dubai.  Her three losses have come at the hands of Azarenka, who she has since fallen out with after a semi-final loss in Doha.  Radwanska has done superbly well to build on her rejuvunated form at the end of 2011 and her consistent and thoughtful approach has been just too solid for the majority on tour.  

The criticism of Radwanska has always been the lack of power, and in particular the lack of a second serve.  I still feel it is an issue, but no-one can doubt she has done remarkably well, despite still struggling with key aspects of her game.  She has now moved up to world number three and with few points to defend over the coming months, she could easily find herself moving further up the rankings.  I do not see her dominating on the clay courts, but I think Wimbledon offers an amazing opportunity to build up ranking points having lost in the second round last year.

Agnieszka Radwanska played an excellent match to defeat Maria Sharapova, 7-5 6-4 in the Miami final.  She also beat Venus Williams and Marion Bartoli on her way to winning the title.

Breakthrough stars and emerging talent of 2012 - 2012 has seen a number of players shine through, but I have been most impressed with Angelique Kerber and Mona Barthel I tipped Barthel to reach the top 30 in my series of prediction threads for 2012, but even I am surprised at how quickly she has taken to the main tour.  She has already had a meteoric rise up the rankings from number 69 at the start of 2012 to number 37 and already looks set to break my prediction by the halfway stage of the season.

The superb form has been spearheaded by winning the title in Hobart as she came through three rounds of qualifying, before beating four top 50 players in the main draw.  She has yet to have that elusive big win although she came close to it in Indian Wells and being the first one to stop Victoria Azarenka's winning streak.  In the last couple of weeks, her form has dipped ever so slightly and she has shown fragility in finishing tight matches; however she continues to wrack up wins against opponents she should be beating... my new prediction for the end of the year - top 15.

Angelique Kerber showed glimpses of what she can do by reaching the US Open semi-finals last year, but has grown stronger and stronger throughout 2012.  She now appears rock solid mentally having won four matches this year from match point down.  She won her first title in a richly entertaining tournament in Paris and backed it up with a superb run in Copenhagen this week.  She was also tough as boots to get to the semi-finals in Miami.  Her defensive game is superb, but I do wonder when the wins do not come as easily and there is an inevitable dip in confidence, whether she can keep this form going... I think she will peak just on the outskirts of the top 10 as like Barthel, she has few points to defend over the coming months.

Angelique Kerber showed nerves of steel to defeat another fighter, Marion Bartoli in an entertaining final in Paris, 7-6 5-7 6-3.  She also beat Maria Sharapova in what was a terrific week for the German player.

Kaia Kanepi
Barthel and Kerber have not been the only players to flourish in 2012; Sara Errani has started the year in fine form having reached her first ever Grand Slam quarter-final in Australia and building a 10-0 record on clay, courtesy of titles in Acapulco and Barcelona.  Kaia Kanepi and Zheng Jie both started the season in sparkling form, winning the titles in Brisbane and Auckland respectively, but have sinced struggled to recapture that form.  The likes of Iveta Benesova, Sorana Cirstea, Aleksandra Wozniak, Simona Halep and Christina McHale have all enjoyed consistent starts to 2012 and will look to push on through the clay court season.  

Several unexpected names to break through have included Jamie Hampton, Garbine Muguruza Blanco and Timea Babos.  Hampton suffered a thumping defeat to Maria Sharapova in the second round of the Australian Open, but has since shown her mettle on tour with a run to the 4th round of Miami where she had Agnieszka Radwanska on the ropes before sadly having to retire with cramp in the third set.  Muguruza Blanco was a name I had not heard off before she received a wild card into Miami.  She took full advantage of that opportunity beating Flavia Pennetta and Vera Zvonareva on her way to the 4th round.  Babos is another youngster who has impressed with her big serving as she won her first ever title in Monterrey, beating two top 50 players along the way.

Kaia Kanepi served up a masterclass performance in Brisbane beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Andrea Petkovic, Francesca Schiavone and Daniela Hantuchova on her way to the title.

Coming Soon - Part 2 includes other highlights from 2012 and my early tips for the French Open.

ATP Monte-Carlo full predictions updated

You can now view my full predictions for this week's tournament in Monte-Carlo here.  I have gone for the top eight seeds to all reach the quarter-finals, but fancy Tipsarevic to spring a surprise by reaching the semi-finals.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

ATP Monte-Carlo: Preview and Predictions

The men's clay court season well and truly kicks off this week in the most luxurious of settings in Monte-Carlo.  Here is my preview to the draw....

First projected quarter-final - Novak Djokovic (1) v David Ferrer (5)
Novak Djokovic returns to Monte-Carlo having skipped the tournament last year and will open his title bid against either Andreas Seppi or a qualifier.  His first projected seed is the flamboyant, Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round, who faces a testing opener against clay-court veteran, Juan Ignacio Chela.  Dolgopolov struggled to find his form at this time in 2011 and I think he will fall early this year too.

David Ferrer faces several obstacles if he is to potentially meet Djokovic in the quarter-finals.  In the second round he will play either Thomasz Bellucci or Kevin Anderson; the former being an accomplished clay-courter, who made the semi-finals in Madrid last year.  In the third round, he could meet Juan Monaco who has hit a hot patch of form having reached the semi-finals of Miami and currently progressing to the same stage in this week's clay court tournament in Houston.  One thing you can never do is write off David Ferrer and I anticipate him to make the quarter-finals this week...

My Prediction - Djokovic v Ferrer

Novak Djokovic

Second projected quarter-final - Andy Murray (3) v Tomas Berdych (6)
Andy Murray started to show some promise last year on clay as he made his first ever semi-final at Roland Garros, losing out to eventual champion, Rafael Nadal.  Murray will open his campaign against either Viktor Troicki or Jean-Rene Lisnard.  His projected third round opponent is Jurgen Melzer who had a good run in Monte-Carlo last year, beating Roger Federer en route to a semi-final appearance.

Tomas Berdych could face a tough second round match with Marin Cilic, although the Croatian player has failed to find any form after recently returning from a lengthy injury.  In the third round he could play Kei Nishikori, although I think it is more likely to the in-form Spaniard, Albert Ramos, who is having a great season so far and has reached the final this week in Casablanca.

My Prediction - Murray v Berdych

Andy Murray

Third projected quarter-final - Janko Tipsarevic (7) v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (4)
Janko Tipsarevic is the number seven seed and faces a tough second round match with either Milos Raonic or Albert Montanes.  Raonic has enjoyed a solid start to 2012 and beat Tipsarevic in a marathon final in the first tournament of the year in Chennai.  I am not too sure how Raonic will fare on the clay so I would back Tipsarevic to win that one if they do play.  The winner is likely to play Mikhail Youzhny or Gilles Simon for a spot in the quarter-finals.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will open up against Philipp Kohlschreiber or a qualifier.  His third round opponent could be Fernando Verdasco, who had particular success at this tournament two years ago reaching the final, although has been gonig backwards in the last year or two.  Also of note in this section is Ivan Ljubicic who will retire at the end of this tournament; he plays Ivan Dodig in the first round.

My Prediction - Tipsarevic v Tsonga

Janko Tipsarevic

Fourth projected quarter-final - Nicolas Almagro (8) v Rafael Nadal (2)
This section is the weakest apart from the top two seeds who look set to meet in the quarter-finals.  Nicolas Almagro will play Carlos Berlocq or Potito Starace in the first round.  Stanislas Wawrinka and Feliciano Lopez will face off in an intriguing first round match with the winner potentially facing Almagro in the third round.  Pablo Andujar, who has reached the final in Casablanca this week could pose a threat too.

Rafael Nadal will play Radek Stepanek or Jarkko Nieminen in the second round before his first projected seed in Florian Mayer.  Mayer has had a poor season so far that has been blighted by injury so I would not be surprised to see a qualifier reach the third round in this section of the draw.

My Prediction - Almagro v Nadal

Rafael Nadal
Final Prediction - Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic
My quarter-final predictions are extremely lacking in imagination this week, but sometimes its the best way to go! This is always an exciting tournament and I believe we will see another Djokovic v Nadal showdown, which would be particularly exciting at Monte-Carlo for a number of reasons; Nadal has won seven consecutive titles, however Djokovic has held a significant edge over Nadal in the last year having won their last seven encounters including two wins on the clay in Madrid and Rome last year.  This would be a fascinating final and I think Nadal, who was extremely close to beating Djokovic in the Australian Open Final, will not let the Serb steal the glory in Monte-Carlo...

My full draw predictions for Monte-Carlo will be uploaded soon...

COMING UP - Reviews of all the action and predictions along the way for Monte-Carlo.  I am also preparing a bumper review article for the WTA season so far in 2012 so please stay tuned :-)