Tuesday, 30 April 2013

WTA/ATP Oeiras: 2nd Round Predictions including Cirstea-Kanepi, Schiavone-Puig

1. Sorana Cirstea v Kaia Kanepi
Sorana Cirstea
The scheduling for the centre court at the Portugal Open is ridiculously ATP centric, but they have at least picked out the best of the women's match to open proceedings as the defending champion, Kaia Kanepi takes on Sorana Cirstea.  On paper it looks the best match, but it could easily develop into a peak-WTA match laden with errors.  Cirstea had a tough opening round on paper against 11-time clay court titlist, Anabel Medina Garrigues, but in truth, the Spaniard is really struggling this year and even a terrible second set couldn't upset Cirstea, who eventually won, 6-2 2-6 6-1.   

Kanepi is stil getting back into the swing of things following a lengthy injury, but she had a good win over Kristina Mladenovic, 6-4 6-2.  Cirstea leads the head-to-head by 3 wins to 2, but their last three matches have all gone deep into a third set.  It really could go either way with the nature of their game styles, but I am expecting a Kanepi charge at a future tournament and it could easily be this one...

Prediction - Kanepi to beat Cirstea in 3 lopsided sets

2. Monica Puig v Francesca Schiavone
Francesca Schiavone
There is a batch of promising WTA prospects starting to make their presence known on the tour and one of those is Monica Puig.  She lost in the final round of qualifying, but earnt a reprieve with a lucky loser spot and took full advantage of it with a stunning straight sets win over Julia Goerges, who continues to blow hot and cold.  Puig now takes on the champion of Marrakech, Francesca Schiavone.  The Italian had a final rematch with Lourdes Dominguez Lino, losing a set this time, but still having too much game for the Spaniard in a 6-2 4-6 6-3 victory.  Unsurprisingly, this is a first career match-up between the pair and Puig will fancy her chances against the Italian who will no doubt be tired from playing five matches last week.  Still, the Italian can rely on a great depth of experience and should have enough in the tank as she goes in pursuit of nicking a seeding at Roland Garros...

Prediction - Schiavone to beat Puig in 3 sets

3. Yanina Wickmayer v Carla Suarez Navarro
Yanina Wickmayer
The Belgian number two, Yanina Wickmayer has really struggled in 2013 bar a solid campaign down under in Australia.  She did however manage a win in the first round against Anna Tatishvili, 6-1 7-5.  She will face a much tougher second round match against Carla Suarez Navarro, who recovered from a break down in her match on Monday to storm past Marina Erakovic, 6-3 6-0.  Suarez Navarro has had a very consistent year and is close to breaking the top 20.  Now on her favourite surface of the red clay, Suarez Navarro will be eagerly searching for a first ever WTA title and this tournament is a distinct possibility.  Wickmayer won't be easy though, whatever form, as her aggressive groundstrokes could rush the Spaniard; however I am still backing Suarez to make the quarter-finals and further...

Prediction - Suarez Navarro to beat Wickmayer in 2 tight sets

Best of the rest: WTA 2nd round predictions
Peng Shuai to beat Romina Oprandi in 3 sets
Svetlana Kuznetsova to beat Galina Voskoboeva in 2 sets
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to beat Estrella Cabeza-Candela in 2 sets
Elena Vesnina to beat Monica Niculescu in 3 sets *on the fence!*
Ayumi Morita to beat Urszula Radwanska in 3 sets

Best of the rest: ATP 2nd round predictions
David Ferrer to beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin in 2 sets
Benoit Paire to beat Victor Hanescu in 3 sets
Andreas Seppi to beat Alejandro Falla in 3 sets
Tommy Robredo to beat Pablo Andujar in 2 tight sets
David Goffin to beat Pablo Carreno-Busta in 3 sets
Paolo Lorenzi to beat Fabio Fognini in 3 sets
Gastao Elias to beat Denis Istomin in 2 sets
Stanislas Wawrinka to beat Albert Ramos in 2 very tight sets

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Maria Sharapova wins Stuttgart, Rafael Nadal triumphs in Barcelona

Maria Sharapova
An exciting week of tennis on both the ATP and WTA tours has concluded with Maria Sharapova defeating Li Na in the Stuttgart final and Rafael Nadal beating Nicolas Almagro in the Barcelona final.  Sharapova was on fire today, raising her game by several levels compared to her performance against Angelique Kerber yesterday, to overwhelm Li with a 6-4 6-3 victory.  I thought Li played alright today, but was just beaten by a much better player on the day.  No surprises that Nadal beat Almagro in Barcelona, 6-4 6-3, recovering from an early break down.  I didn't get a chance to watch the match, but the scoreline speaks volumes.

In the other tournaments this week, we saw the return to form of Francesca Schiavone who had a very impressive run through in Marrakech, beating Lourdes Dominguez Lino in the final.  Finally in Bucharest, Lukas Rosol, who will always be remembered for his upset win over Rafael Nadal, won his first ATP tour title with victory over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the Bucharest final.  

I really enjoyed covering some great tennis this week and thanks all for visiting my site, I enjoyed record numbers :-) I do hope you will continue to follow Moo's Tennis Blog as we move towards the most exciting stage of the season, Roland Garros and Wimbledon.  Oeiras up next week...

WTA/ATP Oeiras: Preview and Predictions

The main focus for next week will be on the joint tournament in Oeiras, Portugal, which has been renamed from Estoril, but appears to be playing at the same venue... odd.  Let's take a look at both the WTA and ATP draws.

WTA Oeiras
Marion Bartoli and Dominika Cibulkova are the headline acts of one of the strongest ever line-ups for this International event in Portugal.  Bartoli has a tough draw, opening her campaign against Peng Shuai; this will be their 11th career meeting and although Peng has struggled with injuries of late, she can be a dangerous opponent and has beaten Bartoli before.  Bartoli is projected to meet Varvara Lepchenko in the quarters; however Lepchenko has drawn the most dangerous of the unseeded players, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who takes her first ventures onto the clay in 2013, a surface she has always thrived on.  Also look out for Kiki Bertens, who has been putting together some solid results and could be a match for Bartoli in round two.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina are projected to meet in the second quarter in Oeiras.  Pavlyuchenkova is impossible to predict these days, but will have to get past two qualifiers to make the quarter-finals. In the third quarter, Carla Suarez Navarro, who is yet to win a title, will have another shot in Portugal where she came agonisingly close last year, losing in the final to Kaia Kanepi.  Her draw looks smart with Marina Erakovic up first in round one.  She is projected to meet Julia Goerges in the quarter-finals although the German player will have to get past Francesca Schiavone or Lourdes Dominguez Lino, who meet in the first round having also contested today's Marrakech final.

The final quarter is perhaps the toughest with Sorana Cirstea and Dominika Cibulkova the two seeds.  Cirstea meets the out-of-form, Anabel Medina Garrigues, who can never be ignored on the clay.  Cibulkova also has a tough opener against Urszula Radwanska, a match likely to go the distance.  Kaia Kanepi, the defending champion, is also in this section and is bound to have a breakthrough tournament at some point once she has shaken off the rust having missed the first three and a half months of the season.  Kanepi takes on Kristina Mladenovic in the first round.  British hopes once again rest on Laura Robson, whose recent form would indicate she will struggle to get past Ayumi Morita in the first round.

1st Round Predictions - Bartoli to beat Peng in 2 tight sets, Kuznetsova to beat Lepchenko in 3 sets, Niculescu to beat Paszek in 2 sets, Schiavone to beat Dominguez Lino in 2 sets, Cirstea to beat Medina Garrigues in 3 sets, Kanepi to beat Mladenovic in 2 tight sets, Morita to beat Robson in 3 sets and Cibulkova to beat U.Radwanska in 3 sets

Final Prediction - Carla Suarez Navarro d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
ATP Oeiras
Juan Martin del Potro unfortunately had to pull out of the tournament through injury and has now been replaced by world number four, David Ferrer.  The Spaniard will be looking to avenge a second round loss to Dmitry Tursunov in Barcelona, a performance he labelled as one of his worst in the last couple of years.  Following a bye in the first round, he will play Gilles Muller or Edouard Roger VasselinBenoit Paire is the highest ranked player he could meet before the semi-finals.

Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini headline the second and third quarters respectively.  Seppi has yet to win a clay-court match on the ATP tour and could meet the in-form, Tommy Robredo in the quarter-finals.  Fognini could meet fellow Italian, Paolo Lorenzi in the second round after a first round bye.  Julien Benneteau and David Goffin also populate this section of the draw and should meet in round two.

Stanislas Wawrinka bookends the draw and will face a testing first match against Barcelona quarter-finalist, Albert Ramos or Carlos Berlocq, who has had some great results on the clay in Davis Cup this year.  Horacio Zeballos is Wawrinka's seeded quarter-final opponent; since winning Vina del Mar in February and beating Rafael Nadal in the final, Zeballos has won only three matches on tour.

1st Round Predictions - Paire to beat Sijsling in 2 tight sets, Kuznetsova to beat Falla in 2 sets, Robredo to beat Gimeno-Traver in 2 sets, Istomin to beat Donskoy in 3 sets and Ramos to beat Berlocq in 3 sets

Final Prediction - Stanislas Wawrinka d. David Ferrer

You can view my full predictions for WTA/ATP Oeiras and the ATP 250 event taking place in Munich this week as well.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

ATP Barcelona Final Prediction: Nicolas Almagro v Rafael Nadal

An all-Spaniard final graces Barcelona tomorrow as Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Almagro will do battle on the clay.  Nadal was terrific today, winning a second set bagel against the serving juggernaut of Milos Raonic in a 6-4 6-0 win.  He was standing so far behind the baseline to receive Raonic's serves, but he had an answer every time to the Canadian.  Almagro was also very comfortable in victory as the rain that had delayed proceedings worked in both the Spaniard's favours by slowing down the conditions.  Almagro thumped Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-2 6-1 to cement his best tournament performance on the clay so far this year.

Nadal surprisingly leads the head-to-head with 9 straight wins; Almagro has won two sets in those nine matches although when they have met at Roland Garros in the last couple of years, Almagro has actually done a pretty good job at keeping the scoreline respectable compared to the majority of Nadal's opponents.  I don't think anyone is going to go against Rafa tomorrow, especially me after watching some of his match with Raonic today.  On a sidenote, I think this clay court season is going to be really interesting with a potentially interesting French Open on the horizon...

Prediction - Nadal to beat Almagro in 2 sets

WTA Stuttgart Final Prediction: Maria Sharapova v Li Na

Li Na
The WTA Stuttgart final will feature the top two seeds, Maria Sharapova and Li Na, who will square off for the 14th time on the WTA tour.  For the third time this week, Sharapova was forced into a deciding set having won the opening set of her match.  Each match has been progressively tougher, but she just had enough to get past a gritty effort from Angelique Kerber, 6-3 2-6 7-5.  Sharapova started the match in fine form, but went on walkabouts for the middle portion of the match committing a ton of errors.  Kerber played some great stuff at times, but like Ana Ivanovic yesterday, folded in the crucial stages of the match despite pegging Sharapova back from 5-3 to 5-5 in the deciding set.  I don't give Kerber much hope in this match-up in the future because she played pretty well today and Sharapova was actually terrible at times.

Li only needed two sets, but it didn't tell the whole story as she overcame the terrific run of American qualifier, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-4 6-3.  It was a really fun match with both players hitting a lot of lines and all played in good spirits.  I have to admit I am not a big fan of this LI-Sharapova match-up as it always seem to throw up a one-sided scoreline or a complete error-fest.  Sharapova leads the head-to-head by 8 wins to 5; she won all three of their 2012 encounters including a hilarious three set comeback win in the Rome final last year.  Li won their most recent encounter at the Australian Open in a rip-roaring semi-final win, 6-2 6-2.  

I am finding this a difficult one to call because Li has clearly been the better player this week but Sharapova could easily flick a switch to the next level in the final tomorrow... however I have decided Li's form this week has just been too solid and if she keep her head in check, this title is hers.

Prediction - Li to beat Sharapova in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy)

Friday, 26 April 2013

ATP Barcelona Semi-Final Predictions: Nadal-Raonic, Kohlschreiber-Almagro

1.Rafael Nadal v Milos Raonic
Philipp Kohlschreiber
The one thing I have managed to predict correctly this week was Milos Raonic repeating his 2012 semi-final run in Barcelona.  Raonic had an excellent day as he took out the in-form Ernests Gulbis, saving a set point in the second set breaker to win, 6-2 7-6(6).  He then stood strong to snap Tommy Robredo's winning streak with a hard fought quarter-final win, 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(2).  Raonic now faces the ultimate clay court challenge with Rafael Nadal standing in the way of a final place.  Nadal defeated Benoit Paire and Albert Ramos in straight sets today and it really has been business as usual.  Nadal has posted two straight set wins over Raonic in Tokyo back in 2010 and 2011, but they have never played on clay.  I fancy Raonic to give Nadal a real run for his money, but a set is the best Milos can hope for...

Prediction - Nadal to beat Raonic in 2 very tight sets

2. Philipp Kohlschreiber v Nicolas Almagro
As David Ferrer fell in the second round of the tournament, a plum opportunity arises for both Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nicolas Almagro to make the final.  Kohlschreiber had had a pretty rough year to date if you take away a run to the final in his first tournament in Auckland; things have gone his way this week though, with a gritty win over Martin Klizan in the quarters coming back from a 6-1 first set blowdown and a quarter-final walkover over the injured, Thomasz Bellucci.  Almagro took out Juan Monaco today, 6-3 7-5 although it was tougher than the scoreline suggested as Monaco blew all ten break points he earnt in the match.  Almagro edges the head-to-head by 4 wins to 3; I think this will be a very close match with Kohlschreiber a great player on his day.  Still, on home soil, I am backing Almagro...

Prediction - Almagro to beat Kohlschreiber in 3 sets

WTA Stuttgart Semi-Final Predictions: Sharapova-Kerber, Li-Mattek-Sands

A rough week of predictions in Stuttgart for moi so far! Let's see if I can improve for the semi-finals...

1.Maria Sharapova v Angelique Kerber
Maria Sharapova
For the second day in a row, Maria Sharapova was stretched to three sets as she fended off a late surge from Ana Ivanovic, who certainly had her moments in an entertaining quarter, which Sharapova won 7-5 4-6 6-4.  The second set was particularly impressive from Ivanovic, but a lengthy break at the end of the second set from Maria appeared to frustrate and halt the momentum of the Ivanovic train.  She did recover from two breaks down, throwing in a delay of her own, but a horrid service game at 4-4 was the final straw.  Sharapova faces Angelique Kerber for the first time in 2013 as she got the better of Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-3 7-6(2)  Kerber has played two solid matches this week, but Sharapova is a big step up.

Kerber has beaten Sharapova in Paris Indoors last year, which was the last time Sharapova lost to a player outside of the top 20.  However Sharapova restored parity with a straight sets win in Rome and a demolition in Beijing before Kerber curiously retired at 6-0 3-0 down.  Kerber will have the home crowd behind her and Sharapova has been nowhere near her best this week.  Two matches in though and Sharapova will be starting to click through the gears so she will definitely go in as the favourite...

Prediction - Sharapova to beat Kerber in 2 sets

Li Na
2. Bethanie Mattek-Sands v Li Na
What a stunning week from Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who has come through three rounds of qualifying and knocked out three quality players in main draw action to reach the semi-finals.  Mattek-Sands followed up a three set, late night win over Sara Errani on Thursday/Friday with a straight sets triumph over Sabine Lisicki, 6-4 6-2.  She now takes on Li Na, who overcame a late wobble to pass the challenge of Petra Kvitova, 6-3 7-5.  Li blew two shots at serving for the match, but still had the solid groundies to rely on at the end to get past a wavering Kvitova.  Li did a great job of exposing Kvitova's poor movement and in my eyes, is currently the 4th best player on the tour.  Li and Mattek-Sands have played each other once with Li winning in three sets on the clay of Madrid.  Credit to Mattek-Sands because she has been excellent this week, but Li is a class above the players she has played this week and will be much fresher as well...

Prediction - Li to beat Mattek-Sands (1 tight, 1 easy)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

WTA Stuttgart: Quarter-Final Predictions: Kvitova-Li, Sharapova-Ivanovic

1. Petra Kvitova v Li Na
Li Na
Last year, the quarter-finals of Stuttgart threw up one of the best days of womens tennis in 2012; this year could easily produce the same kind of magic with the headlining quarter-final of the day, a battle of Grand Slam winners between Petra Kvitova and Li Na.  For the second match in a row, Kvitova was forced into a deciding set against a German player.  She came back from a set and a break down to defeat the fast starting Julia Goerges, 2-6 7-6(4) 6-2.  Li had a far easier match as she strolled past Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 6-1 6-2.  The form this week would point to Li as the favourite, but I still see this as a 50/50 match.  Kvitova and Li have split their four matches and all but one have gone the distance.  I am expecting another tight match with a lot of changes in momentum, but I see Kvitova edging into the semi-finals...

Prediction - Kvitova to beat Li in 3 sets

2. Maria Sharapova v Ana Ivanovic
The good form of Ana Ivanovic continued on Thursday as she set up a showstopping quarter-final with Maria Sharapova.  Ivanovic did not have it all her way today against Nadia Petrova, but fought back well from a break down in the opening set and was the better play in the crucial moments to post a 6-4 6-3 win over the number eight seed.  Sharapova had to battle for over three hours to get past Lucie Safarova, bue she eventually came through 6-4 6-7(3) 6-3 in her first clay court outing of 2013.  

Sharapova leads the head-to-head by 5 wins to 2 with their last match taking place on the clay in Rome last year where Sharapova came back from all manner of deficits in the first set before posting a 7-6(4) 6-3 victory.  I think Ivanovic can live with Sharapova's game from the back of the court, but her mental game is what has let her down in their previous matches.  I have to go for Sharapova despite today's lacklustre performance, but she can easily step it up.  I think this will be a really entertaining and closely fought match.

Prediction - Sharapova to beat Ivanovic in 2 tight sets

Best of the rest:
Angelique Kerber to beat Yaroslava Shvedova in 2 tight sets
Sabine Lisicki to beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 3 sets

ATP Barcelona Quarter-Final Predictions: Almagro-Monaco

Rain decimated the Barcelona schedule so we have just one quarter-final match to preview for Friday.  The remainder of the third round matches will kick off the schedule with the yet-to-be-decided quarter-finalists having to play two matches in one day.

1. Nicolas Almagro v Juan Monaco
Juan Monaco
Straight set wins for Nicolas Almagro and Juan Monaco saw the pair set up an intriguing quarter-final for Friday's schedule in Barcelona.  Monaco's form has suddenly reversed in 2013 following a winless start to the season on the ATP tour, which stretched all the way into April; however the arrival of the clay court season has kicked Monaco into gear who has dished out four bagels in his last five matches (the only player to avoid Monaco's wrath was Novak Djokovic).  Monaco strolled in the opening set of his third rounder with Jeremy Chardy before prevailing in an epic second set breaker, 6-0 7-6(11).

Almagro is up next for the Argentine, who got the better off Marcel Granollers, 6-3 6-4.  Almagro has been one of the most solid players on the clay in the past couple of years although his results on this surface in 2013 have been unspectacular so far.  The majority of their seven matches have come on the clay and it is Monaco who had the upper hand in their last two with three set wins in Hamburg (2012) and Valencia (2011).  The seeding points to Almagro but the recent form would side with Monaco.  I went for Monaco to make the final at the start of the week and I am not changing my mind!

Prediction - Monaco to beat Almagro in 3 sets

Best of the rest
Rafael Nadal to beat Albert Ramos in 2 sets

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

WTA Stuttgart 2nd Round Predictions: Jankovic-Lisicki, Kerber-Pavlyuchenkova, Goerges-Kvitova

Tomorrow is truly a feast of excellent second round matches to look forward too in Stuttgart...

1. Jelena Jankovic v Sabine Lisicki
Sabine Lisicki
The highest seeded upset on day two saw the Jelena Jankovic from Miami and Charleston, turn up in Stuttgart too with a very solid 6-4 6-4 win over the number 6 seed, Sam Stosur.  Stosur repeatedly saved break points on her serve in the second set, but Jankovic did not get distracted and served out the match at the first time of asking.  Her second round opponent will be Sabine Lisicki, who played one of her better matches of late to post a 6-3 6-4 victory over the Italian qualifier, Nastassja Burnett.  The Germans always seem to do well at this tournament and Lisicki is the type of player that can feed off a supportive crowd on the big stage.  

Jankovic has the edge in their head-to-head with three wins although all three matches, including a previous encounter in Stuttgart, went the distance.  This should be a really entertaining match and although I could see Lisicki having the potential to nick it, I think she will be too streaky for a surprisingly solid JJ at the minute...

Prediction - Jankovic to beat Lisicki in 2 tight sets 

2. Angelique Kerber v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
The only seeded German player, Angelique Kerber faces a very tough opener in Stuttgart against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  The Russian player has been something of a mystery this year with a title in Monterrey, a runner-up showing in Brisbane and a string of first round exits at the tournaments that really count.  Pavlyuchenkova had an excellent win over Ekaterina Makarova in round one, coming from a set down to prevail, 6-7(5) 7-5 6-4.  It was not a pretty performance at all, but these types of wins are paramount to confidence.  Pavlyuchenkova has beaten Kerber twice this year including a three set win in the Monterrey final where Pav just about hung on to the win.  Clay is the Russian's best surface and although Kerber was terrific in Stuttgart last year, I fancy Pavlyuchenkova to carve out the upset...

Prediction - Pavlyuchenkova to beat Kerber in 3 sets

3. Petra Kvitova v Julia Goerges
Julia Goerges
A big hitting second rounder is on the cards between Petra Kvitova and Julia Goerges.  Kvitova had her hands full with another German today, the young and talented, Annika Beck.  Kvitova lost the second set, but rebounded well to pull home a 7-5 6-7(0) 6-3 victory.  Goerges was playing very well when her first round opponent, Kirsten Flipkens retired at 6-2 2-1.  Goerges won here in 2011 beating Sam Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki on her way to the title so she will always be a danger at this tournament.  Kvitova was well below her best so a zoning Goerges will be a big threat in this one.  They played on this same court in Fed Cup last year, which Kvitova won 10-8 in the third set.  I wouldn't be surprised if this was another long one...

Prediction - Kvitova to beat Goerges in 3 sets

4. Ana Ivanovic v Nadia Petrova
Straight set wins on the first day of action saw Ana Ivanovic and Nadia Petrova set up a second round encounter in Stuttgart.  Ivanovic eased past Andrea Petkovic, 6-3 6-2 with a solid, yet unspectacular performance against a still-returning-to-full-fitness opponent; the Serb has now won three matches on these courts having beaten Mona Barthel and Angelique Kerber in Fed Cup action at the weekend.  Petrova overcame a highly respectable effort from the young German, Dinah Pfizenmaier with a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory.  Petrova and Ivanovic have met many times on the WTA tour with Ivanovic leading the head-to-head by 8 wins to 5, which includes three wins on the clay in the last three years.  Ivanovic is looking at home here and I think she will have too much game for Petrova.

Prediction - Ivanovic to beat Petrova in 2 tight sets

Best of the rest: womens 2nd round predictions
Maria Sharapova to beat Lucie Safarova in 2 tight sets
Carla Suarez Navarro to beat Yaroslava Shvedova in 3 sets
Sara Errani to beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 2 sets
Li Na to beat Mirjana Lucic in 2 tight sets

ATP Barcelona 3rd Round Predictions: Gulbis and Raonic to clash, in-form Robredo plays Berdych

1. Milos Raonic v Ernests Gulbis
Milos Raonic
From the eight third round matches in Barcelona, I am most intrigued by the match-up between Ernests Gulbis and Milos Raonic, which has not even made the Pista Central schedule.  Gulbis has continued his excellent form of late with two straight set wins over Radek Stepanek and Fernando Verdasco.  Raonic was superb in Barcelona last year as he beat Nicolas Almagro and Andy Murray on his way to the final; he started his 2013 campaign in fine form with a comfortable 6-4 6-2 victory over Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  

Raonic and Gulbis have met twice before and Raonic prevailed in both those encounters in straight sets, including a win on the clay in 2011 at the Monte-Carlo Masters.  Gulbis is playing much, much better than when they last played, but I had a good feeling about Raonic when I saw the draw for Barcelona and I fancy him to beat Gulbis.

Prediction - Raonic to beat Gulbis in 2 very tight sets

2. Tomas Berdych v Tommy Robredo
Tomas Berdych had a narrow escape in Barcelona on Tuesday as he saved a match point in defeating Nikolay Davydenko, 3-6 7-5 6-4.  I have read that Berdych is struggling with a shoulder injury, but his battling qualities are certainly something we are more used to seeing these days.  He similarly saved match points in an enthralling win over Alejandro Falla in Miami last month.  Berdych now faces the in-form and unbeaten-in-seven-matches, Tommy Robredo.  The Spaniard had a mightily impressive win over Grigor Dimitrov, 7-5 6-1.  Berdych leads Robredo in their head-to-head by 4 wins to 3, but they haven't played since 2010.  This match will depend on Robredo's nerve as I think he will get into the winning position; it will be whether he can finish off Berdych, unlike Davydenko.

Prediction - Robredo to beat Berdych in 3 sets

3. Benoit Paire v Rafael Nadal
It was a routine start to Barcelona for Rafael Nadal, who eased past Carlos Berlocq, 6-4 6-2 in his opening match today.  His next match will be against the flashy, Benoit Paire, who overcame Pablo Andujar in a crazy three setter, 6-4 5-7 6-3.  I believe that Paire was 0-4 down in the first set and was in a leading position in the second set before being pushed the distance by the Spaniard.  Nadal and Paire have never played before, but on the clay it is obviously going to be a very difficult match for Paire...

Prediction - Nadal to beat Paire in 2 sets

Best of the rest: Barcelona 3rd Round Predictions
Thomasz Bellucci to beat Dmitry Tursunov in 3 sets
Phillipp Kohlschreiber to beat Martin Klizan in 3 sets
Nicolas Almagro to beat Marcel Granollers in 2 tight sets
Juan Monaco to beat Jeremy Chardy in 2 sets
Kei Nishikori to beat Albert Ramos in 2 sets

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

ATP Barcelona 2nd Round Predictions: Dimitrov-Robredo, Tomic-Monaco, Ramos-Janowicz

Today in Barcelona, Ernests Gulbis continued his excellent form of late with a comfortable 6-3 6-4 victory over Fernando Verdasco, who is rapidly speeding the wrong way down the rankings.  Tomas Berdych avoided another early upset as he saved a match point in a 3-6 7-5 6-4 victory over Nikolay Davydenko.  In Stuttgart, Ana Ivanovic and Nadia Petrova set up an enticing second rounder, meanwhile Sabine Lisicki also won through in straight sets, defeating Nastassya Burnett, 6-3 6-4.  Tomorrow, the remainder of first round matches take to the court in Stuttgart and the second round will wrap up in Barcelona...

1. Grigor Dimitrov v Tommy Robredo
Grigor Dimitrov
Two players who have already enjoyed success on the clay in 2013 will square off in this interesting second rounder.  Grigor Dimitrov had a great run in Monte-Carlo where he defeated Janko Tipsarevic and pushed Rafael Nadal to three sets in the quarter-finals.  Tommy Robredo had a surprise win in Casablanca a few weeks ago with top 30 wins over Stanislas Wawrinka and Kevin Anderson.  Robredo recovered from losing the first set to defeat qualifier and doubles specialist, Marc Lopez in the first round of Barcelona.  In a first ever match-up, I am favouring youth over experience...

Prediction - Dimitrov to beat Robredo in 3 tight sets

2. Bernard Tomic v Juan Monaco
Bernard Tomic has gone very quiet since a strong campaign down under, which included a first ATP title in Sydney and a run to the 3rd round in the Australian Open.  Tomic is not a clay courter, but enjoyed a tough win in the first round over Kenny De Schepper, 6-4 4-6 6-2.  His next challenge will be against Juan Monaco, who was knocked out by the eventual champion in Monte-Carlo, Novak Djokovic.  Tomic certainly has the ability to zone, but Monaco is very solid on the clay and should be too strong for the Aussie.

Prediction - Monaco to beat Tomic in 2 tight sets

3. Albert Ramos v Jerzy Janowicz
Looking for an upset? I would probably go for the final match on Pista Central tomorrow where the Spaniard, Albert Ramos will take on Jerzy Janowicz.  Ramos defeated Jan-Lennard Struff (great name) in straight sets, 6-4 7-6 to set up a second round clash with the 2012 Bercy runner-up.  Janowicz's year has been so-so; he has failed to fully back up the huge promise he showed in Paris at the back end of 2012.  I think he is going to struggle tomorrow as I did read that he was on antibiotics for an ear infection last week.  Ramos is a useful player on clay and with home advantage, I expect the Spaniard to prevail.

Prediction - Ramos to beat Janowicz in 2 sets

Best of the rest: 2nd Round Barcelona Predictions
Raonic to beat Roger-Vasselin in 2 sets
Ferrer to beat Tursunov in 2 sets
Klizan to beat Montanes in 3 sets
Nadal to beat Berlocq in 2 sets
Almagro to beat Dodig in 2 tight sets
Granollers to beat Kavcic in 3 sets
Paire to beat Andujar in 3 sets

Sunday, 21 April 2013

WTA Stuttgart: Preview and Predictions

Stuttgart is one of my favourite stops on the WTA tour and the draw has not disappointed with some great match-ups from the get go.  Note that the top four players have byes into round two.  Let's take a look at the draw...

Angelique Kerber
Maria Sharapova headlines Stuttgart where she won the first of her three clay court titles in 2012.  It was a come-from-behind victory over Sam Stosur in a captivating Stuttgart quarter-final that guided her on the way to that title in Paris.  She will have a tough start though against the winner of a first round match between Lucie Safarova and Mona Barthel.  I have been waiting to see Barthel play Maria or Serena so I hope its Mona although her form has dipped in recent weeks.  

Sharapova is projected to meet Nadia Petrova in the quarter-finals, but she will have to get past Ana Ivanovic or Andrea Petkovic, who play against each other in another cracking first rounder.  I heard rumours a few weeks ago that Petrova was planning to retire soon; I think they were just rumours on the grapevine, but I fancy Ivanovic, who had two great wins over Kerber and Barthel in Fed Cup on the indoor courts of Stuttgart, to make the quarter-finals.

Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki headline the second section.  Kerber was brilliant here last year, playing her best match of the 2012 season to destroy Wozniacki.  This year, things feel different; no longer is she the hunter, but now the hunted.  Her first match will be against a player she has lost too this year, either Anastasia Pavluychenkova or Ekaterina Makarova.  It is impossible to call, mainly because of Pavlyuchenkova's recent form, which indicates she will either fall at the first hurdle or make the final.  Makarova's recent performances have also been patchy at best.  Wozniacki takes on Carla Suarez Navarro in the first round and may have to contend with the flying-in-form, Roberta Vinci in round two.

Sara Errani has a favourable draw in Stuttgart and will face a qualifier or Yanina Wickmayer in the second round.  She is projected to meet Sam Stosur in the quarter-finals, who she enjoyed much success over in 2012.  This included a semi-final triumph at Roland Garros and a win in round robin action at the YEC in Istanbul.  I question whether Stosur is 100% fully recovered from her calf injury and she has drawn Jelena Jankovic first up.  Jankovic is coming off two great tournaments in Miami and Charleston and also has a pretty good record over Stosur if you shy away from that 6-1 6-2 beatdown in the 2010 semi-finals of Roland Garros.  Sabine Lisicki is also in this section and the Germans are notorious for doing well at this tournament...

The final section features the hot-shot of the projected quarters as Petra Kvitova could square off with the number 2 seed, Li Na.  Kvitova will have breathed a big sigh of relief to have avoided Vinci in her section of the draw having lost to her twice in a week, at Katowice and in Fed Cup.  Kvitova opens up against German wildcard, Annika Beck and could meet another German in round two, Julia Goerges.  In 2011, Goerges famously produced a staggering line-up of performances to scoop the title, but her form this year has been stop-start.  Her first match against Kirsten Flipkens will not be easy as the Belgian is currently enjoying the best season of her career.  Still, I would back Goerges in these surroundings to pull herself today.  Li will open her tournament against either Elena Vesnina or a qualifier and should comfortably make the quarter-finals.

1st Round Predictions: Barthel to beat Safarova in 2 tight sets, Ivanovic to beat Petkovic in 2 sets, Pavlyuchenkova to beat Makarova in 3 lopsided sets, Vinci to beat Shvedova in 3 sets, Wozniacki to beat Suarez Navarro in 2 sets, Jankovic to beat Stosur in 2 tight sets and Goerges to beat Flipkens in 3 sets

Final Prediction - Sharapova d. Kvitova
I am looking forward to this tournament (can you tell?!) and I am backing Maria to win it.  The biggest opposition is likely to come from Kvitova and Li, who meet on the other side of the draw and I really think that is a 50/50 match if they both make it to the quarter-finals.  I would actually back Petra, who had a confidence crushing loss to Vinci, but then a confidence boosting win over Errani in Fed Cup this weekend.  The middle quarters offer up chances for the likes of Jankovic, Vinci and Pavlyuchenkova to carve their way through the draws, but I would not be surprised if it sticks with the seedings and Wozniacki and Kerber hold strong.  Still, I like to go for some upsets...

You can view my full predictions for Stuttgart HERE, which will get underway with main draw action on Tuesday.

ATP Barcelona: Preview and Predictions

Time is limited so I am going to get straight down to dissecting next week's Barcelona draw.  Note that the top 16 players all have byes into round two.  

David Ferrer
David Ferrer returns to action having missed Monte-Carlo and along with Rafael Nadal, headlines Barcelona.  Ferrer will open up against Dmitry Tursunov or Denis Istomin in round two.  The draw looks relatively routine to the quarter-finals where he is projected pass through Thomasz Bellucci (in round 3) and then Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarter-finals.  Kohlschreiber managed to find some form in Monte-Carlo having gone on a 4 match losing streak since the Australian Open.  He is scheduled to meet Martin Klizan in the third round.

Nicolas Almagro headlines the second quarter and will meet Aljaz Bedene or Ivan Dodig in the second round.  His fellow Spaniard, Marcel Granollers could await in the third round, although I expect Alejandro Falla to be dangerous in this section.  Juan Monaco is likely to meet Nicolas Almagro in the quarter-finals; following a barren run of form through the first couple of months of the season, Monaco made semi-finals in Houston and 3rd round in Monte-Carlo.  The clay looks to have awakened him from an injury-induced slumber and I think he could have a very good week.  He could meet Bernard Tomic in round two, but the Aussie is not much cop on the clay.  Jeremy Chardy, another projected opponent, has also struggled for form since a run to the quarter-finals at the Aussie Open.

I am predicting a big upset in the third quarter where Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic reside.  Berdych is very likely to meet Nikolay Davydenko in the second round; the Russian player has a good record over Berdych and the Czech player's form in Monte-Carlo was suspect so I am going for the upset win.  This section is by far the toughest as Grigor Dimitrov and Tommy Robredo will be battling to play Berdych/Davydenko in round three.  

Dimitrov showed a lot of promise in a three set loss to Nadal in Monte-Carlo, meanwhile Robredo rolled back the years to win in Casablanca a week ago.  Dimitrov is my tip for the quarter-finals, but it is Raonic who I see going one step further to the semi-finals.  He did great here last year and has a favourable draw with Fernando Verdasco in his section, who cannot win for toffee at the minute.  He does now have Ernests Gulbis to possibly contend with, who came through qualifying, but you never know what the unpredictable Austrian is going to dish up...

Rafael Nadal will open up his Barcelona campaign against either Daniel Gimeno-Traver or Carlos Berlocq.  His third round opponent is projected to be Benoit Paire.  His quarter-final opponent will come from an interesting section that is headlined by Kei Nishikori and Jerzy Janowicz.  Nishikori has had a very solid and consistent year, which would have been even better if injuries had not derailed him.  I read that Janowicz was battling an ear infection so I don't fancy him to do well here.  I predict Nishikori to make the quarters and give Nadal a good run out...

1st Round Predictions: 
Bautista-Agut to beat Istomin in 3 sets
Montanes to beat Berankis in 3 sets
Falla to beat Kavcic in 2 sets
Lorenzi to beat Rufin in 2 sets
Gulbis to beat Stepanek in 2 tight sets *this should be a hilarious match*
Andujar to beat Zemlja in 2 tight sets
Berlocq to beat Gimeno-Traver in 2 sets
Final Prediction - Nadal d. Monaco
Despite Nadal's loss in the Monte-Carlo, it still feels wrong to go against him in a clay court tournament, particularly in Barcelona where the calibre of the field does not compare to Monte-Carlo.  I think Ferrer could be a little rusty and I see him falling to Monaco in the semi-finals.  The third quarter is the most interesting and I see an interesting quarter between Dimitrov and Raonic; I think Dimitrov is the better player, but when I saw the draw, I had a good feeling for Raonic...

You can now view my full predictions for Barcelona along with WTA Marrakech and ATP Bucharest, which I will not have time to follow in detail this week.  Marrakech is likely to see some upsets so I have gone for a few wild picks and Bucharest baffles me to see Janko Tipsarevic as the top seed as I thought he was taking a break...

ATP Monte-Carlo: Novak Djokovic snaps Rafael Nadal's winning streak, triumphs 6-2 7-6(1) in final

Novak Djokovic produced a masterful performance to topple Rafael Nadal, who had crafted together eight straight years of titles in Monte-Carlo.  Djokovic was sensational for much of the first set with some bold, attacking play.  Nadal was on the verge of being bagelled in that opening set, but he got a foothold in the match and twice led by a break in the second set; in fact Nadal served for the second set at 6-5, but he struggled to close it out before Djokovic comfortably took the tiebreak to complete a 6-2 7-6(1) victory.  This was a massive win for Novak, particularly as he was 50/50 to play this tournament.  It should certainly add some spice into their future encounters, of which I expect plenty of throughout this clay court season.

Novak Djokovic

Saturday, 20 April 2013

ATP Monte-Carlo Final Prediction: Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal

Apologies for the lateness of this preview, but it was a sunny day in the UK, which is an extremely rare occurrence these days so sometimes tennis gets pushed down the pecking order in my life. The semi-finals were as most people called (including me!) with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic progressing to the Monte-Carlo finals via straight set wins.  Nadal was cruising to a comprehensive victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but found himself pegged back from 6-3 5-1 to 6-3 5-5; however Nadal eventually pulled out the win in the tiebreak to post a 6-3 7-6(3) victory.  Djokovic had a cruise as he tore past Fabio Fognini in just 52 minutes, 6-1 6-2.  By all accounts, Fognini was jeered off the court, which was pretty harsh for a guy who had one of his best weeks to date. 

Nadal and Djokovic have not met since the final of Roland Garros last year and it will no doubt be a fascinating match in Monte-Carlo.  Nadal leads the head-to-head by 19 wins to 14; Djokovic dominated all their clashes in 2011, but Nadal won all three in 2012, which took place on the European clay.  I have been impressed by Djokovic to make the final here having come into the tournament with that ankle injury.  I still don't think it was a wise choice, but he has competed extremely well as always.  However I do think Nadal will come out on top and relatively comfortably as well...

Final Predicton - Nadal to beat Djokovic in 2 tight sets

Friday, 19 April 2013

ATP Monte-Carlo Semi-Final Predictions: Nadal-Tsonga, Djokovic-Fognini

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
1. Rafael Nadal v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took advantage of Andy Murray's third round exit to progress to the semi-finals of the Monte-Carlo Masters.  Tsonga defeated Murray's conqueror, Stanislas Wawrinka, coming back from a set down to complete a 2-6 6-3 6-4 victory.  He now faces the unenviable task of playing Rafael Nadal, who was pushed to the limit by Grigor Dimitrov.  The Bulgarian continues to show a lot of promise as he earnt a set off Nadal, but eventually fell 6-2 2-6 6-4 in a 2 hour and 8 minute contest.  Nadal and Tsonga will square off for the 11th time; they have only ever played on clay once in Davis Cup and it was Nadal who came out on top in emphatic fashion, 6-0 6-2 6-4.  I really don't see Tsonga offering much resistance to Nadal on clay...

Prediction - Nadal to beat Tsonga in 2 sets

Novak Djokovic
2. Novak Djokovic v Fabio Fognini
There were three unseeded quarter-finalists, but only one of them took another step deeper into the tournament as Fabio Fognini reached his first ever Masters 1000 semi-final with another upset, this time over Richard Gasquet, 7-6(0) 6-2.  Fognini now gets a shot at the world number one, who was pushed hard by Jarkko Nieminen, but greater consistency and some moments of magic saw him through in a 6-4 6-3 victory.  Djokovic has won all four of their previous encounters although Fognini has managed a set in their last two match-ups, the most recent of those coming in Indian Wells earlier this year.  Fognini has had a stunning week, but knocking out Djokovic would be pretty epic...

Prediction -Djokovic to beat Fognini in 2 sets

Thursday, 18 April 2013

ATP Monte-Carlo Quarter-Final Predictions: Nadal-Dimitrov, Wawrinka-Tsonga

1. Rafael Nadal v Grigor Dimitrov
Grigor Dimitrov
It has been business as usual for Rafael Nadal in Monte-Carlo with two pretty routine wins over Marinko Matosevic and Philipp Kohlschreiber.  Nadal beat Kohlschrieber, 6-2 6-4 in the third round, facing no break points on his serve.  Nadal's next opponent is the unseeded, Grigor Dimitrov, who has transferred his early season promise on hard courts to the clay as well.  He defeated Florian Mayer, 6-2 6-4 to back up an upset win over Janko Tipsarevic in round two.  Nadal and Dimitrov have played each other on one previous occasion in Rotterdam in 2009 when Dimitrov managed to push the Nadal to 3 sets.  The Bulgarian threatened Murray and Djokovic in the American tournaments in March, but couldn't take advantage of his chances.  I think he will show his talent once more, but I cannot see an upset on the cards...

Prediction - Nadal to beat Dimitrov in 2 sets

2. Stanislas Wawrinka v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Andy Murray was spectacularly dumped out of the Monte-Carlo Masters by Stanislas Wawrinka in a 6-1 6-2, 58-minute rout; I was annoyed with myself because I felt there could be an upset here as I loosely mentioned yesterday, but I didn't have the guts to go for it. Wawrinka now moves on to play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who also had a rather easy time of it posting a 6-3 6-0 victory over Jurgen Melzer.  Wawrinka has lost just 5 games in his last 2 matches and looks to have hit a rich patch of form.  Tsonga will be a tough match though as indicated by the head-to-head; their last two matches both came at Roland Garros and saw the pair duel for five sets with Wawrinka winning in 2011 and Tsonga in 2012.  I think this could be an entertaining one and I am going for Wawrinka to win it...

Prediction - Wawrinka to beat Tsonga in 3 sets

3. Novak Djokovic v Jarkko Nieminen
It was another scratchy effort from Novak Djokovic, who lost the first set of his third rounder with Juan Monaco, but eventually came through ankle niggles with a 4-6 6-2 6-2 victory.  Djokovic now takes on one of the three unseeded quarter-finalists in Jarkko Nieminen, who has had to work damn hard to make it this far.  He beat Milos Raonic in a third set tiebreak on Wednesday and did it again with a mammoth effort to get past Juan Martin del Potro who served for the match, before eventually falling to Nieminen, 6-4 4-6 7-6(4).  Djokovic and Nieminen have not played since 2010 when Djokovic won in two tight sets in Basel.  Djokovic won't win this tournament with his iffy ankle, but he should have too much game for Nieminen.
Richard Gasquet

Prediction - Djokovic to beat Nieminen in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy)

4. Fabio Fognini v Richard Gasquet
Richard Gasquet continued his impressive season so far with a very solid win over Marin Cilic, 7-5 6-4.  He now takes on Fabio Fognini, who surprisingly took out Tomas Berdych and in straight sets too, 6-4 6-2.  Fognini had taken out fellow Italian, Andreas Seppi in the first round and certainly has credentials on the clay having made the quarter-finals of Roland Garros in 2011The head-to-head is not pretty for Fognini, who has taken just 4 games against Gasquet in 2 previous matches.  The only way Fognini will win this is if the scoreline gets tight and so does Gasquet...

Prediction - Gasquet to beat Fognini in 2 sets

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

ATP Monte-Carlo 3rd Round Predictions: Murray-Wawrinka, Djokovic-Monaco, Del Potro-Nieminen

1. Stanislas Wawrinka v Andy Murray
Stanislas Wawrinka
Andy Murray opened his clay court season with a comfortable 6-1 6-4 victory over Edouard Roger-Vasselin, beginning much quicker than some of his previous matches and facing no troubles in making the third round.  Murray will now face a significantly steeper challenge against Stanislas Wawrinka.  The Swiss number two took out Denis Istomin in the first round and then rather emphatically handed out two breadsticks in a 6-1 6-1 beatdown of Albert Montanes today in just 54 minutes.  

Murray and Wawrinka have a colourful head-to-head; Wawrinka has beaten Murray 4 times, twice of those on the clay although the most recent of those was 5 years ago.  Wawrinka has challenged Murray on the hard courts, most famously beating him at the US Open in 2010.  I don't really see any upsets on Thursday, but if you are feeling risky then this is probably your best bet... should be a tester for Murray.

Prediction - Murray to beat Wawrinka in 3 sets

2. Novak Djokovic v Juan Monaco
Novak Djokovic began in nervous fashion, quickly going down 0-4 before losing the first set, 6-4 to Mikhail Youzhny.  However he found his stride to come through in three sets against the Russian, 4-6 6-1 6-4.  Djokovic now takes on the Argentine, Juan Monaco who prevailed in the most dramatic match of the day; he took out Ernests Gulbis, 6-0 3-6 6-3, who received a game penalty in the third set for a string of offences including decimating his racquet and hitting a tennis ball out of the arena.  Gulbis's antics continue to overshadow his talent, but good on Monaco who is turning around his season in a big way.  I think Djokovic will find his mojo in this match at least, and ease into the quarter-finals.

Prediction - Djokovic to beat Monaco in 2 sets

3. Jarkko Nieminen v Juan Martin del Potro
It was a rough start to Monte-Carlo for Juan Martin del Potro who found himself a set and a break down to Alexandr Dolgopolov in his second round match.  However the Ukranian offered del Potro a route back into the match and he duly obliged eventually coming through, 1-6 6-4 6-3 for his first ever main draw win in Monte-Carlo.  Next up is Jarkko Nieminen, who knocked out Milos Raonic in a third set tiebreak.  

Marin Cilic
Based on Del Potro's first match, he certainly was nowhere near the form that took him to the final of Miami, defeating Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray along the way; however adjusting to the clay will obviously take some time.  This is a good match-up for Del Potro though, who has won all 4 previous matches with Nieminen not getting more than 4 games in any of the sets they have played.  Nieminen has no real weapons that can hurt the big Argentine and I predict del Potro will win this.

Prediction - Del Potro to beat Nieminen in 2 very tight sets

4. Marin Cilic v Richard Gasquet
Richard Gasquet booked his place in the third round after defeating Benoit Paire, 6-1 3-6 6-1 .  His next match will be against Marin Cilic, who comfortably eased past Kevin Anderson, 6-2 6-3, in what I anticipated to a much closer match.  Rather surprisingly, Cilic and Gasquet have never met on the ATP tour.  I struggled to call this match from the start and early form in Monte-Carlo doesn't make it easier.  I'm going to go with the form book and the higher ranked player in Gasquet to make the quarter-finals, favouring a touch more flair on the clay to prevail...

Prediction - Gasquet to beat Cilic in 3 sets

Best of the rest: 3rd round predictions
Tomas Berdych to beat Fabio Fognini in 2 sets
Grigor Dimitrov to beat Florian Mayer in 2 tight sets
Rafael Nadal to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2 sets
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to beat Jurgen Melzer in 3 sets