FINAL FOUR (MINUS THE DAB)

by Karen

Serena

I love Victoria Azarenka.  I have written many articles defending Vika. I love her fight.  I love that she is fearless.  I love her game.  I could sit and watch her matches all day long, if only to watch her feet, but recently I have adopted a bit of a don’t care attitude towards her.  I think a lot of this has stemmed from the PR effort to remake her image and to have her become this person that is friendly, kisses puppies, saves kittens and helps old ladies across the road.  I like my champs feisty and I don’t mind the edge, as long as it is not disrespectful towards the fans or opponents.  As much as her PR team would like to have us believe that Vika is this loveable person, fans think differently as evidenced by the silence that accompanied her screams of delight upon hearing that the Denver Broncos had won their match against the Patriots.   In her loss to to Kerber, Vika has shown that she has a long way to go to get back to the top of women’s tennis. 

Victoria Azarenka for whatever reason was the sexy pick for many people.  I have no idea why she was the pick for so many tennis journalists and I suspect this had more to do with her match play against Serena Williams last year, rather than any strong belief in her capabilities to win this title and  I am still trying to fathom how nearly every ESPN analyst chose Vika to get to the final of this year’s Australian Open.  How can it be that because of your losses to one player during a season, that merits the title of comeback?  

Aga
I have never been a big fan of Kerber.  Her game bores me. I usually call players who play the “one more ball” style of tennis lazy and a bit cowardly. In her quarter-final clash against Azarenka, Kerber played a brand of tennis that I have never seen her play. She played fearless tennis.  It was a match that showcases the wonderful talent that exists on the WTA Tour.  If you missed it, please find a way to watch it.   It will be 2 hours well spent.  

Angie
Joanna
Whenever I am watching a match, especially at the Grand Slam level, I always take the opportunity to look at the serve speeds of the women.  Many commentators look at the so called keys to the match, which for me is actually a ridiculous thing to look at. I always want to see how well people are serving as that is the only shot for which you have control.  I checked Azarenka’s serve speeds during her matches and I was appalled that a player who has risen to No. 1 in the rankings, won 2 Grand Slams and numerous Premier Mandatory titles could have a first serve that barely makes it to 90 mph.  I expect someone like Radwanska or Kerber to have a serve that weak, and it is a testament to Azarenka’s fighting spirit that she has been able to overcome that particular weakness in her game to make it to the quarter finals.  However, as soon as she got to the business end of the tournament and faced an opponent who was willing to take on the serve, Vika’s game imploded.  

I don’t know what the Dab is.  I, like most folks had to resort to Google and YouTube. Even worse I had no idea who Cam Newton was.  For those who came in late, he is a football player (American football) who does the Dab whenever he has scored a touch down (goal). The Dab apparently is an urban dance move (I had to look that up as there is a music video).  Newton and Azarenka share an agent.  Apparently, as part of the remaking of Azarenka’s image her agent thought it was a good idea for her to do the Dab after she won her matches.  The fact that she had to explain it after almost every single match either showed how clueless tennis fans were, or the fact that the Dab has not really crossed over into tennis territory.  Kudos to ESPN to try and get their viewers involved by having them vote as to post match ritual (the Dab by Azarenka) or (the Spin by Serena) was more popular.  What irritated me even more than seeing Azarenka do the Dab was the appropriation of black culture. 

Recently, Jamaican dancers were up in arms over a video done by Justin Bieber for his song Sorry.  The moves in the video were almost all Jamaican dancehall moves and nowhere has the choreographer even mentioned that her ideas were taken from Jamaican dancehall culture.   

For those who came in late Jamaican dances are a part of our culture.  From the days of ska, rock steady, reggae, dancehall, Jamaicans have been making up dances to go along with our music.  It is part of our history and culture and so to see someone from New Zealand appropriate our dances into a music video without giving us credit is a slap in the face to the many dancers in Jamaica who come up with these moves. 

And so, to see Azarenka, a white female player appropriate something that is part of black urban culture and try to make it her own should be dismissed as appropriating black culture without defending black culture.  Its the same reason why the Kardashians get dragged for appropriating black hairstyles without taking a stand when it comes to defending the rights of black Americans. 

Random Thoughts 

A few days ago news broke that Simona Halep would not be playing Fed Cup, Doha or Dubai as she would be undergoing nose surgery.  This morning, we were greeted with the news that Halep would not be having surgery at this time and would be playing Fed Cup. 

Recently, a tennis friend of mine said that she is having a hard time figuring out Halep.  I have to admit that I am having similar issues.  Her body seems to break down easier than most.  She seems to have a chronic foot problem that either has been healed or needs to heal and she either requires surgery for nasal issues or she doesn’t require surgery. 

The Spin can speculate all it wants until we get a clearer picture from the Halep camp as to what ails her, but from where I am sitting I get the distinct impression that Halep is going through a period where she is being asked to choose between self and country.  For years Cirstea, another talented Romanian was the future of Romanian tennis.  Beset by injuries Cirstea played on, carrying the Romanian flag high.  I have not seen hide or hair of Cirstea in quite some time and one wonders whether this talented Romanian has called it a day (I hope not).  Halep seems to be having similar issues.  From the hiring and firing of coaches to wanting to be with only Romanian support staff to not having an all Romanian support team to having surgery, to not having surgery. 

Halep’s game is a joy to watch.  She is an interesting player with a very likeable game and a wonderful personality to boot but my thinking is she will have to put self before country if she ever hopes to succeed in this sport.  As someone on Twitter pointed out, this is an Olympic year and I can’t imagine the pressure that she will be under to perform at the Olympics this year.  

My question is this, at some point in time, should players choose self before country?  Sound off in the comments or on Twitter.  



SERENA AND MARIA EPISODE XX

by Karen 



I really thought that this time Sharapova had a chance.  I really did.  I reached out to a few of my tennis buddies and I said to them that I thought Sharapova had a chance.  One told me that she had a chance last year. I thought she really did have a chance.
It was not to be. 
Despite serving a career record 21 aces in her previous match and despite moving better, the outcome of Serena and Sharapova is now without a shadow of a doubt the worst non-rivalry, rivalry in all of tennis.
How does Sharapova fix this?  How does she overcome what is without a doubt a mental challenge.  I am sure that she has tried everything there is to try and possibly waiting to see if Serena will have an off day when they play is not going to happen.   I don’t know what the answer is and frankly I don’t even think Sharapova or her coaching team knows what the answer is to the Serena question.  While many will no doubt laugh and call Sharapova her pigeon, I think the answer lies far deeper than just who serves better, moves better etc.  I think right now it is a mental game and this was no more evident than in the first 3 games of the match. 
Sharapova as we all know got off to a fast start, capitalising on Serena errors and getting an early lead.  She would consolidate the break and be on her way to going up a double break.  She failed. On the resumption of play, serving at 2-1, Sharapova started off quite well but serving at 30-15 she failed to control a return that was hit hard and deep to her backhand.  From them the writing seemed to be on the wall.  She would get broken and while Serena did not run away with the match, the belief almost went out of Sharapova’s eyes. 
Next up for Serena is Aga Radwanska who took care of a less than 100% Suarez-Navarro. 
The bottom half of the field plays today with Victoria Azarenka going up against Angelique Kerber and Joanna Konta against Shaui Zhang. 
Random Thoughts
While watching an NFL game recently, I noticed that the umpires (if that is what they are called) tell the fans the outcome of a call during play.  I was wondering whether this is something that tennis umpires could do especially when there is a controversial call.  For example, whenever there is a let, most fans in the stands (and some at home) don’t know the reason why a let was called, especially if it is an important point and someone serves what would be an ace and the umpire overrules and calls a let.  Why not have the umpire explain the reason for the call, and then we can move on with the game.
Another reason for the umpire announcing the reason why a call was made is in the case of players arguing decisions.  Why not have the umpire announce to the whole stadium the reason why the point has to be replayed so that there can be no argument as to why he or she has made such a decision.  Too many times we see players get quite disgruntled when they feel as if they have a play on the ball and the umpire says that they have to replay the point.  To add to this why not have video replay technology available instantly so that everyone can see (and hear) for themselves the reason why certain calls were made. This happens in cricket where the umpires will call for video replay in instances where certain calls are protested (leg before wicket is a common one).

THE FINAL EIGHT

by Karen 

We are at the business end of the year’s first Grand Slam and these are the 8 women left in the field.  

Serena Williams 


Serena has had a relatively easy time of it up to this point.  She has been playing calm, focused tennis.  She has not been hitting as many aces as she usually does, working more on placement rather than on power.  This could be due to many reasons (none of which I care to speculate about).  Suffice it to say that the media’s portrayal of Serena Williams as a serve bot does little to analyse her complete all around game.  Her opponent in the quarter-final is none other than 

Maria Sharapova


52 aces through 4 rounds.  21 in her match against Bencic.  Could this be the year that Sharapova finally says, “no one beats me 18 times in a row”.  I don’t know.  I always think that the next match could be Sharapova’s to win.  I always think that despite the head to head, Sharapova has had her chances.  It would be the definition of ironic if the streak that started at the Australian Open in 2005 should end 11 years later at the Australian Open.  As the kids say, we will see. 

Aga Radwanksa


Except for her match against Anna-Lena Friedsam, Aga has been flying under the radar.  Yet to lose a match this season, Radwanska seems to have carried over her 2015 YEC win into 2016.  Already a title winner, Radwanska has been cruising through the draw in as low key a manner as reasonably possible.  Her opponent 

Carla Suarez-Navarro


I never expected CSN to get this far.  Even though she has reached this round, she has not got here (in my opinion) because of her stellar play). She has been rock solid on the baseline when it mattered most and she has allowed her opponents to implode.  Will she be able to do the same thing against Radwanska. The head to head is 2-1 in favour of Radwanska.  In addition, CSN got treatment on her right knee during her match against Gavrilova.  This should be either a straight forward affair for Radwanska or CSN will pull a rabbit out of a hat. 

The bottom half of the draw contains some spectacular surprises, especially with the ousting of the Nos. 2 (Halep) and 3 (Muguruza) seeds.  

Angelique Kerber (6)


Kerber has not looked as if she will raise this trophy but she has been putting in a very good impression of someone who can.  Saving match points in her first round match against Doi, Kerber has been less than clinical in her subsequent matches.  Will she have what it takes to take down the resurging 

Victoria Azarenka


How great is it to see Azarenka back in the mix at a Grand Slam.  A 2 time winner of this event, Azarenka has been cruising through her side of the draw, dropping bagels and breadsticks like she has opened an Italian bakery.  She is 6-0 against Kerber with their most recent meeting being a straight set drubbing in the Brisbane final a few weeks ago.   Unless Kerber brings something new to the table this will be 7 and 0.

Shuai Zhang


On the verge of hanging up her racquet, Zhang has made it to the final 8 of the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific.  How fantastic is this story?  Having to come through qualifying, drawing the No. 2 seed and playing what is without a doubt a tough part of the draw, Zhang has earned her spot in this final 8.  It is unfortunate that her match against Keys was overshadowed somewhat by Keys’ injury, but take nothing away from this young woman, she earned her spot at this event. She will take another player who was not expected to be here 

Sidenote:  Sam Stosur was seeing sitting in Zhang’s box in her match against Keys.  It is said that she was ball girl for Stosur during her practice sessions.  This is how tennis works. 

Joanna Konta


It is not often the case that a player beats Venus Williams and the Spin Team does not place them on the permanent shite list.  Konta is one of those players.  

Last year while watching Eastbourne (a tune up for Wimbledon), Konta came to the awareness of many tennis fans.  Previously, she was just a name who got wild cards into Wimbledon.  At Eastbourne she came through qualifying and made it all to the quarter finals before losing to eventual champion, Belinda Bencic. Since that start, Konta has made massive improvements not only to her ranking, but to her game.  Now, here she is in the final eight of the year’s first Grand Slam.  

Random Thoughts


While there will be many questions regarding the timing of this decision, I think it is the best thing that Petra could have done.  I believe when you have had a coach for so many years, and especially when you have had that coach since childhood, that coach may not think of you as an adult and I have always felt that the relationship between Petra and her coach was more about David being like a father to her, rather than an employee.  

I am hopeful that this talented ball striker who can’t seem to either get or stay healthy will make the right decision when it comes to her career.  That being said, if I was going to suggest a coach for Petra I would ask her to not speak with the following persons: Thomas Hogstedt and Martina Navratilova.  If I was going to suggest a coach, someone who can get her fit and stay healthy it would be her Fed Cup coach.  

WEEK ONE WRAP UP

by The Spin Team

We have now entered Week Two of the Australian Open. Unlike the calm of Middle Sunday and the beginning of Manic Monday, the time differences have allowed us to move seamlessly from Week One into Week Two.  However, before we preview what to expect from the quarterfinals on (we are still waiting on the bottom half to finish their round of 16) but in the meantime MasterAce has some thoughts on Week One.

The media has made the falling of seeds a story line on the women’s side.  As is the norm, the media never takes a moment to look at the quality of the win, only that someone who because of rankings is seeded at a Slam, while someone with all the talent in the world or due to injury has to play qualifying.  

Week One Thoughts

Day One: Sloane Stephens (a hot pick to either win this event or go deep) lost on the first day of play to Qiang Wang in straight sets. Old Sloane showed up by losing a 3-1 first set lead and going down a double break in the second set.  The slumped shoulders, lack of footwork and general poor attitude that has marked most of Sloane’s losses reared their head.  

Another player who was expected to at least make the round of 16, Caroline Wozniacki, was also ousted on day one. She went out in three sets to Russian, Yulia Putintseva.  All in all Wozniacki has not had a good start to the 2016 season. 

Day Two: The upset bug which reared its head on day one, turned up on day two.  First to go was No. 2 seed, Simona Halep who went down to Shuai Zhang, a qualifier, (who is still in the tournament). 

Day Three: When you thought the upsets would stop, Daria Gavrilova defeated Petra Kvitova, who never does well at this Slam. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won Sydney, got defeated in straight sets by Kateryna Bondarenko, who has played very well since coming back to the Tour after having a child. Kristyna Pliskova set a WTA record with 31 aces and two match points but ended up losing in three sets to Monica Puig. The marquee matchup between Agnieszka Radwanska, who won Shenzhen and Eugenie Bouchard, who has started off solidly, ended up with Radwanska on a one way trip to the 3rd round after stopping Bouchard who led 4-2 in the first set.

Day Four: Timea Bacsinszky is off to a poor start in 2016 as she lost to Annika Beck (still in the tournament). Naomi Osaka caused a minor upset in defeating Elina Svitolina

Day Five: Gavrilova, with the help from the crowd, defeated Kristina Mladenovic 11-9 in the deciding set. Some people on Twitter want the final set to be decided by the tiebreaker which is the case at United States Open but I love the current format. The reason is a tiebreak is a crapshoot while the current format is decided on who has the will to make the plays, without on court coaching, which is another pet peeve of mine but will not be discussed today. Maria Sharapova had to play three sets against Lauren Davis but cruised in the end. Anna-Lena Friedsam recovered from a first set bagel to defeat Roberta Vinci.

Day Six: The upsets continue as Barbara Strycova easily defeated Garbine Muguruza. The Spin pointed out on Twitter on Day 4 that Muguruza did not look good against Kirsten Flipkens despite winning. Her analysis ended up spot on. Ekaterina Makarova continues to do well at a hard court Slam especially in Melbourne as she reaches the 4thround to face Konta. At the moment, I would favor Makarova to make another hard court semifinal. With Makarova returning from injury, a benefit for her is not playing doubles with her regular partner, Elena Vesnina, which allows her to work on fitness.

These players will have played a good tournament regardless of the final result are Margarita Gasparyan, Gavrilova, S Zhang, Beck, Konta, Strycova, Friedsam, Daria Kasatkina, who ran into the S Williams juggernaut lasting 44 minutes in 3rd round, Putintseva, K Bondarenko, Davis, Puig, Elizaveta Kulichkova, Q Wang, who had to qualify for the main draw, Maria Sakkari, Laura Siegemund, Osaka, Denisa Allertova and Varvara Lepchenko, who I will not be shocked if she has a good 2016 that will capped off by going to Rio.

Player of the week is Shuai Zhang. She won her first three main draw matches in straight sets after having to qualify for the main draw.

Here are my revised picks going into week 2

SF 1 : S Williams vs A Radwanska
SF 2 : Azarenka vs Makarova
F: S Williams vs Azarenka

W: Azarenka

Spin’s Thoughts on Week One 

Every year the same story is sold by the media. As soon as a top seed falls, there is the constant holding of hands bemoaning the state of the women’s game.  Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Despite seeds falling early on in the tournament, at the end of the day fans have been treated to some excellent tennis.  Players like Gavrilova, Zhang, Konta, Kasatkina, Gasparyan showcased beautiful all court tennis.  They played fearlessly when they needed to and they showed heart (Siegemund).  There were many players from whom we expected much (Annika Beck) who are finallly delivering on their talent.  Naomi Osaka showed us that she is no one hit wonder and that we should keep our eyes on the long term growth of players.  Anyone can catch fire over a two week or even one week period, but it is the way you back it up day in and day out that counts. 

Belinda Bencic

I love watching Bencic play tennis.  I could really sit and watch her all day.  Her game is being compared to Hingis because commentators are short sighted and clueless about providing detailed and proper analysis.  One of Hingis’ strength is her return of serve. On 2 occassions Bencic has been served off the court because one she can’t return serve properly and two her hand eye coordination is non-existent.  How else to describe having 21 serves whizz by you without making a play on the ball.  I looked at Bencic’s return stats for 2015 and she never even made the top 10 in terms of return of serve.  Compare that to Azarenka who is ranked lower, played less tournaments and did not win any titles who is ranked in the top 5 in terms of return of serve.  That is a part of Bencic’s game that she needs to work on if she wants to be No.1  and win Grand Slams. 

That being said, losing 5 and 5 to someone like Sharapova is nothing to be ashamed of.  I thought she played very well and she had chances.  Next time. 

Serena and Maria (what number have we reached)

For years pundits have said that the only thing separating Serena and Maria is the serve.  They have repeatedly said that if not for the shoulder injury that Maria suffered she would have been better able to stay with Serena.  Maria now has a serve.  She served 21 aces against Bencic and for the tournament she has served 52 aces so far, compared to Serena who has less than half that amount.  Who will win their quarter-final match?  I have no idea.  I know though that from all the matches that I have seen it takes more than a serve to beat Serena.  For Sharapova to beat Serena she will have to have her A game or rely on Serena to not be on her game. I don’t think that Serena will ever allow herself to lose to Sharapova, but we will see. 


SHOULD I GO OR STAY? WTA EDITION

by Karen


How many times in the last few years have we heard it?  Player suffers disappointing results or career ending injuries and decide that they have had enough of this game.  Let me play one last tournament and see how it goes.  The most famous of these is Flavia Pennetta and her wrist injury who after being out of the game for close to a year recuperating, returned to the Tour for what she felt was her last time.  She would go on to win her then biggest title to date, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Deciding to continue, Pennetta would lift the 2015 US Open trophy and promptly retired afterwards.

This year, Shuai Zhang considered retiring.  Her results had been less than inspiring.  She invited her parents to come along for the Grand Slam of Asia//Pacific believing that this would be her swan song.  She had never won a match at what is without a doubt her home slam and was now on the verge of calling it a day.  One would be forgiven for thinking that for someone who has had dismal results at one particular tournament, and who just had one desire, i.e. to win a match, getting one of the top seeds and a pick to win the tournament must have been the worst thing ever.  Drawing Simona Halep in the first round, Zhang would play fearless tennis to get through Halep.

No idea if this is true but epic tweet about Zhang


She would get another dangerous opponent in Alize Cornet, a recent title winner and an in form player.  While writing this, Zhang is now up a set and a break against Lepchenko.  If she wins this match she will meet Madison Keys who had to come from behind to take out Ana Ivanovic. 

As I am incredibly late with this, and as the top half has already played their round of 16 matches, the quarter finals in that half are now set with Serena Williams to go up against big serving (no joke intended) Maria Sharapova and Carla Suarez-Navarro against Aga Radwanska. 

The round of 16 of the bottom half will be played today and Spin’s Picks are below:

Rod Laver Arena

Angelique Kerber v. Annika Beck – the battle of the counter punchers. Look for Kerber to use her experience to take this in straights

Azarenka v. Strycova – the much anticipated Azarenka/Muguraza clash did not happen but 2 players who are not known for holding back on court going up against each other.  Bring your popcorn.  Azarenka in straights

Keys v. Zhang – what a tournament the qualifier has been having.  Keys struggled through her match against Ivanovic but came up big when it mattered most which shows a marked improvement over the emotional mess that she was last season. Zhang moves better and is playing with lots of confidence. This one should go down to the wire, but I am looking for Keys to use her big match experience to once again pull through

Margaret Court Arena

Konta v. Makarova – British pride and joy going up against a player who likes the Australian conditions.  Does Konta have one more big win in her?  I think yes. 

Overheard in the Booth

News broke this morning that Simona Halep will be undergoing surgery on her nose.  The Spin team wishes Simona a speedy recovery. 

DARIA AND LAUREN … WHEN SIZE DOES NOT MATTER

by Karen



She runs around the court like a dervish. Pony tail flapping in the breeze.  She pumps her fist.  She shouts. She smiles and all the while she is hitting shots that no one, at least no one since Justine Henin, who packed a punch herself, should be hitting.

Daria Gavrilova. Newly minted Australian, standing at all of 5 feet nothing is into the second week of the Australian Open.  Unlike many Australian women before her who have shrunk with the weight of expectations of playing in front of a home crowd, Gavrilova has used the crowd to her advantage.  She has been engaging, spirited and at some point I almost expect her to leap into the stands and start singing Waltzing Matilda with the Fanatics.

Gavrilova’s next opponent is Carla Suarez-Navarro who made it through to the second week after her opponent Kulichkova retired with a lower back injury.  


Another player who stands at feet nothing is Lauren Davis.  When Sharapova and Davis were being announced, the commentators mentioned that Davis was a good foot shorter than her opponent.  It seemed like a lot more.  The first set was a case of blink and you missed it.  The second set however contained everything that one would expect from a match where Davis refused to lay down to her much more accomplished opponent and showed truly why size really does not matter (at least not in this context). Davis would lose the match but she has without a doubt shown us that sometimes heart is what matters most.


Serena Williams took care of Daria Satiskina in straight sets (6-1, 6-1) and showed the youngster exactly what she needed to go back to the practice court to work on.  Serena has another Russian youngster but this one she is very familiar, having played her at Wimbledon last year. 


Belinda Bencic kept her mind together to serve out her third round match against Kateryna Bondarenko.  This match was a battle of the backhands.  It was great to see the all court tennis that was displayed by both women and it was without a doubt one of the truly memorable matches of 2016.  

Day 6 Picks

Rod Laver Arena

Strycova v. Muguruza – I was not sold on Muguruza and how she struggled against Flipkens in her previous match.  Look for her to struggle today against a player who will give her different looks and who herself is quite volatile on court.  This match could either spell the end of Muguruza’s campaign or it could see her pushing through to week 2. 

Azarenka v. Osaka – how is that back injury for which Osaka got treatment during her match against Svitolina?  If she is fully recovered she might present a test to Azarenka who has been cruising through this tournament so far.  Experience will take this one. 

Keys v. Ivanovic – in the battle of the big hitters, the steadier serve will win.  Ivanovic is much better off the ground than Keys but Keys has a more reliable serve. Pick em.

Margaret Court Arena

Pliskova v. Makarova – Pliskova struggled in her match against Georges.  This could be as a result of the friendship between both ladies or she was just having a bad day at the office. In the end she won in straights. She will need to ensure that she is ready from the bell for this one. 

Kerber v. Brengle -3-0 head to head in favour of Kerber says it all. 

Lepchenko v. Zhang – no one expected either of these 2 women to be here.  I am going with Lepchenko. 


Hisense Arena

Konta v. Allertova – again, no one expected either of these 2 women to be here, but here we are.  I am going with Konta. 

Show Court 2 

Siegemund v. Beck – Is Beck finally showing us that she can compete effectively at a Grand Slam?  I am going with her on this one if only because her opponent had a relatively tough match against Vinci in the previous round. 

STATE OF THE WTA … IS VERY GOOD

by Karen


A qualifier.  She had to play 3 rounds of qualifying just to get into the tournament.  She played like the No. 18 seed that she took out of the tournament.  Naomi Osaka first came on my radar a little bit late.  Already, tennis fans who follow the junior tour were talking about her.  I never got a chance to see her play until the latter part of last year when she was voted in as a Rising Star to play the Junior YEC event.  She took out established Rising Star and Andy Murray’s pick to be a future world NO.1, Caroline Garcia in a very tough match.  I then saw her play in Hobart earlier this year where she went through qualifying before she lost to Mona Barthel.

Osaka does not look tall when on court (she stands 5 feet, 11 inches), but she has a very imposing game and is very composed when on court.  She smiles. A lot and you get the impression that she is not smiling because she is amused by what is happening on court, but because of her shot selection.  Whilst Svitolina was doing her usual screaming and berating herself on court, Osaka managed to look as if she was the more accomplished and experienced player.  Serving at 5-4 for the set, Osaka played 2 of the best points that I have seen at this year’s Australian Open, and on both occassions her composure in the midst of bad line calls were remarkable.

In the first point, after an incredible 17 shot rally, a let was called with Osaka in a winning position.  The point was replayed and again while Osaka was in a winning position, Svitolina’s shot dribbled over the net for deuce.  Other lesser players would have cursed to the heavens.  Not Osaka.  She composed herself and served out the set, hitting forehand winners at will. She is through to the third round where she will face Victoria Azarenka. That should be a good one.

Osaka is not the only youngster creating waves at this year’s Australian Open.  Playing today are Margarita Gasparyan, who some might remember from her opening round loss to Serena Williams at Wimbledon last year.  Gasparyan took out Sara Errani in the opening round of this year’s Australian Open.  In the latter half of last season, Gasparyan won 2 titles (singles and doubles) at the same tournament.  

Another youngster making waves at this year’s Open is Kulichkova. I am not a big fan of Kulichkova.  I saw her play at Wimbledon last year and I was not impressed.  It could be that she has improved and I will make a note to watch her match against CSN tonight.  

Victoria Azarenka continued her good form in taking out Kovinic last night, as did Garbine Muguruza, who while she struggled somewhat against Flipkens, did not seem to be in any trouble.

Sabine Lisicki’s campaign as did Jelena Jankovic and Timea Bacsinszky came to an end.  Joanna Konta backed up her win over Venus Williams by taking Zheng in straight sets.

Day 5 matches and picks are below:

Rod Laver Arena

Bencic v. Bondarenko – battle of the backhands – I am going with Bencic if only because she dealt with her opponent in a more efficient manner than Bondarenko did.  

Davis v. Sharapova – Sharapova is literally flying under the radar at this event. Her matches have been clinical and drama free (save for being broken twice by Sasnovich).  She does not seem to be having any problems with the forearm injury that forced her out of Brisbane and she has been relatively relaxed and focused through the early rounds.  Look for that to continue against Davis. 

Williams v. Kasatkina – there is a perception in tennis that if you beat a Williams Sister you are a threat to do great things.  This is the view that is currently being expressed by tennis punditry about Daria Kasatkina.  Kasatkina, for those who came in late beat Venus Williams earlier this season in Auckland in a 3 set affair.  When talking about her upcoming match against the younger Williams, everyone keeps harping on that win, neglecting to point out that tennis is not only a game of match ups but also about how your opponent is playing on the day.  

Not to take anything away from Kasatkina, but beating a less than 100% Venus on a day when Venus could hardly keep the ball in play is not, in my opinion, a resounding testament to how good you are, or how good you can be.  I have always found that players who have a winning strategy against one Williams Sister, ultimately fail against the other Williams Sister. Case in point is Justine Henin.  Henin, who no one can say is not a gifted player, had a very close head to head with Serena.  Against Venus, I believe she had one win and that was so long ago that I can barely remember. The same thing held true for Elena Dementieva, who gave Serena a hard time, but always came up short against Venus. While I would never count out any opponent, at the end of the day, I just don’t believe that Kasatkina is going to have her day today.  

Margaret Court Arena 

Radwanska v. Puig – does Monica have any more Pica Power or will she be out sliced and diced. Radwanska overcame her earliest challenge in Eugenie Bouchard.  Look for her to overcome this obstacle as well. 

Suarez-Navarro v. Kulichkova – CSN has been getting through matches on experience.  The young Russian will no doubt make her pay if she does not get off to a good start.  

Hisense Arena

Friedsam v. Vinci – Vinci has been relatively quiet during this tournament. Does the German have what it takes to take care of the surprise USO finalist?  I don’t think so.  

Mladenovic v. Gavrilova – Gavrilova is playing Fed Cup.  There is no other way to describe the way she has been using the home crowd to lift her over the finish line through her matches.  Mladenovic is no stranger to the big occassion.  Will she take the crowd out of it or will she succumb?  

Show Court 2

Gasparyan v. Putintseva – battle of the young Russians.  Both players are not known for holding back. Look for lots of fist pumps and stare downs against these 2 future Fed Cup stalwarts.  

Random Thoughts 

Lindsay Gibbs over at Think Progress wrote a fantastic piece on the match fixing scandal that has now taken over tennis.  She expanded her piece to take account of a little known fact in tennis, its ability to bury its head in the sand and make noises to say that there is nothing wrong with the sport and that people are just seeking to tarnish tennis.  Its a great read.
I tweeted yesterday that tennis would not recognise match fixing if it came with instructions.  In the same way that they don’t recognise clear issues of conflicts of interest when it relates to commentators in the booth.  Either the powers that be are clueless or they see absolutely nothing wrong in how the sport is perceived by fans. 

How can it be that a lay person such as myself cringes each time an Isner match is on tv and the camera keeps panning to Justin Gimelstob (Isner’s coach) in the stands.  I suspect that when commentators mention the fact that their colleague is Gimelstob’s coach, that makes it all better.  However, if that is their ode to recognising that it is a conflict, then they need to go a step further and remove the issue from the booth.  If commentators wish to be coaches, then they need to leave the commentary booth and become coaches.  I am sure that there are many sports journalists out there who would love the chance to become a commentator on network tv.  

As much as tennis has its head in the sand regarding match fixing and doping, it also has its head buried in the sand when it comes to the matter of the appearance of conflicts in the booth. 

Operation Fuentes

News broke this morning that the appeal by certain parties against the decision to destroy blood evidence obtained in the Operation Fuentes trial will be rendered soon was greeted with questions from tennis fans.  

Fans may recall that a few years ago, allegations were made that some of the blood samples that were seized as part of the investigation into the Puerto clinic had been ordered to be destroyed by a Spanish Court. WADA in hopes of getting their hands on these blood bags for testing appealed the decision.  That decision is expected to be handed down by a Spanish Court of Appeal.  WADA, as well as other interested parties are hoping that the Court of Appeal agrees with the assertion that the blood bags should not be destroyed but instead handed over to WADA and other anti-doping agencies for testing.  

Of the 9 organisations and individuals that appealed the lower court ruling in Madrid, the International Tennis Federation was not one of them.  I am very disappointed that the ITF has not taken a position on this having regard to the fact that allegations have been made that tennis players were also involved in using the services of the good Dr. Fuentes. 

The Spin will of course keep you guys updated once the judgment from the Court of Appeal in Madrid has been handed down.  






RISING FROM THE ASHES

by Karen 

For years Monica Puig had been touted as the next best thing in women’s tennis. She was a flat hard hitting Puerto Rican who started her own Twitter campaign called #PicaPower.  Puig had confidence in spades but no results with which to back up that confidence.  Her ground strokes while good, were for me the same old, same old that we saw every day from every player who thought they were the next big thing. 


I have not seen Puig hit a ball in quite some time and her ranking had fallen so low that she started playing qualifying to get into the big events.  This year, Puig seems to have found a little something because she has been playing brilliant tennis this year. 

Her season started in Auckland where she lost in qualifying to Tamira Paszek (another player who is seemingly rising from the ashes).  Puig then went on to Sydney where she made it through qualifying before losing in the final of the event to Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Today, for the first time in her career, Puig is through to the third round of the Australian Open and she did so by saving match points against Krystina Pliskova.  Her next opponent is Aga Radwanska.  Good luck with that Monica. 

The State of the WTA is good. 

Kasatkina, Gavrilova, Gasparyan, Kulichkova, Bencic, Konta, Konjuh.  These are the players who made tennis fans sit up and take notice at this year’s Australian Open. Some of them did not quite make it through the early rounds, but their hard hitting and fearlessness have signalled that the future of the WTA is well and truly in capable hands. 

Yesterday I said that Bondarenko might cause Sveta some problems. She did  more than that.  She has broken that section of the draw wide open by taking out the Sydney champion in straight sets. Phenomenal performance from Bondarenko.  Carla Suarez-Navarro struggled against the hard hitting Sakkari but prevailed in 3 tough sets.  CSN will need to clean up her game and be more forceful on court if she has hopes of making a run at this event.  

Day 4 sees the bottom half of the draw playing with some tasty matches on the schedule

Rod Laver 
Sevastova v. Ivanovic (Ivanovic)
Flipkens v. Muguruza (Muguruza)
Georges v. Pliskova (Pliskova)
MCA
Azarenka v. Kovinic (Azarenka)
Keys v. Shvedova (Shvedova)
Kerber v. Dulgheru (Kerber)
Hisense
Jankovic v. Siegemund (Jankovic)
Show Court 2 
Osaka v. Svitolina (Svitolina)
Cornet v. Zhang (Cornet)
Show Court 3
Strycova v. King (Strycova)
Show Court 6
Beck v. Bacsinszky (Bacsinszky)
Makarova v. Maria (Makarova)
Show Court 8
Konta v. Zheng (Konta)
Allertova v. Lisicki (Allertova)
Court 13
Brengle v. Larsson (Brengle)
Court 19
Lepchenko v. Arruabuena (Lepchenko)

Upset Alert 

In her first match of this tournament, Azarenka doled out a double bagel against a really good opponent who failed to bring her game to the big stage.  Azarenka was fully focused, a bit over hyped and seemed to have peaked as if she was playing the final. As an athlete, that might be a good thing for a match, but this tournament lasts all of 2 weeks.  Most players while they are focused tend to try to manage themselves while on court.  In her second match Azarenka goes up against Kovinic, a player who is not afraid of the spotlight.  The match will be played in the heat of Australia and the fitness of Vika will be tested.  Yesterday the roof was closed for the first matches of the day.  Perhaps the same might happen for Day  4 matches.  In all I don’t think we will be seeing a double bagel today.  While Vika will come through she will have a much harder time with this opponent. 

Flipkens had to fight tooth and nail against the hard hitting Lucic-Barroni.  She came through in 3 tough sets.  Muguruza cruised through her first match but struggled a but struggled a bit during key moments.  Flipkens will be using that back hand slice to keep the ball low and cause Muguruza problems.  The serve will also be a factor as Flipkens has not been serving very well.  However, after battling through Lucic-Barroni, Muguruza will have a battle on her hands, or Flipkens could go off limply into the night. 

 Random Thoughts 

Records are meant to be broken. That being said, tennis records are one of those records that always leaves me scratching my head, not because I don’t think players who have set those records have accomplished nothing, but because I think when you set a record it should be significant in and of itself.  For example, Steffi Graf won the Golden Slam. This is something that has not been done since (for those who came in late, a Golden Slam is when you win all 4 Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal). No one has been able to do that either before or after.  

Last season, Karolina Pliskova set a record for the most aces on Tour, beating people like Serena, Venus, Lisicki etc.  However, Pliskova’s body of work left a lot to be desired.  Of her 8 finals appearances last year, Pliskova was only able to win one title and that was in her native Czech Republic (and she struggled to win that one).  For me, what is the use of having a big serve, so big that you are setting records with it, and yet it keeps failing you at the important moments?

Why am I on a rant on this?  Today, Pliskova’s twin, Krystina hit the most aces in a single match (setting a record).  You would think that she would have won that match. Nope, her serve was broken and Puig served out the match and is on to the third round.  In the same breath, Sabine Lisicki, holder of the fastest serve recorded for a woman, hit that serve in a match against Ana Ivanovic in Stanford.  She lost the match.  Its the same issue I have with match wins.  Kerber sometimes has the most match wins in  single season but her body of work, i.e the results to match those wins are just not there. Would it be better to put in your best effort at a few tournaments, winning titles, rather than play almost every event, notching up wins, but not being able to cross the finish line when it matters most? 

Sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter with your views. 

FOR THE LOVE OF THE SPORT

by Karen 

Whenever people ask me about my love of tennis I always tell them that I came to tennis during the toughest period of my life.  It was at a time when I had lost everything and was on the verge of checking out.   This sport has given me so much and I will lose sleep, not eat, not work and pay big bucks just to be able to watch a match. 

Last night I missed Simona Halep’s match and when I woke up this morning to hear that she had lost, especially coming on the heels of Venus’ loss I was sad. But then I saw this and realised once again why I truly love this sport. 


Zhang’s tears and her emotions hit me at a place that I thought had died.  The complete and utter love of this sport which brings out so many emotions in not only the players but in the fans as well. 

Congratulations Ms. Zhang.  You have without a doubt done yourself proud. 

This post will be updated later with match reviews and Day 3 Previews. 

The last time a top player double bagelled an opponent at the Australian Open was Sharapova, who went the first two rounds without dropping a set.  In her quarterfinal match against eventual winner Li Na, Sharapova won 4 games in 2 sets of devastating tennis played by Li Na.  Why am I saying this?   I watched Azarenka completely dismantle Van Uyvtanck, a player I thought would give Azarenka some amount of problems.  Clearly, Vika felt the same way as she came out with laser like focus and intensity, intent on sending a message to the rest of the field.  I am not quite sure what message that was, except that she was in a position to take down someone who seemed to be suffering from stage fright, and whose game, which is by no means insignificant, she could dismantle at will.
I felt sorry for Van Uyvtanck and I felt even more sympathy for her when the crowd started to encourage her and cheer that she would at least hold serve once in the match.  It was not to be as Azarenka completed the mopping up procedures by doling out a double bagel.
Azarenka looked good for me until she did the dab.  I am minded to start a petition to get rid of this ridiculous after match gesture. I have no idea what it means. Azarenka looks ridiculous doing it and it should go the way of the Petko Dance.
Venus Williams went out, fighting as she always does against Rising Star, Joanna Konta of the United Kingdom.  It was a devastating loss for us Venus fans as she not only lost ranking points (she made the quarter finals last year), but Venus who was wearing one of the better outfits of this year’s Australian Open leaves me feeling sad. Here’s hoping that Venus gets some much needed rest and fixes whatever it is that is ailing her at this time.

As expected, Misaki Doi gave Angelique Kerber all she could handle in a 3 set tussle.  

Day 3 features some really tasty matches. 

Rod Laver Sasnovich Sharapova I have not seen the Russian hit a ball.  Maybe tonight
  Williams (S) Hsieh Serena looked focused in her first round match.  She should maintain that 
  Radwanska Bouchard This one should be good
Margaret Court Bencic Babos In the battle of the young ones, I am going to go with the more experienced of the two (Bencic)
  Suarez-Navarro Sakkari Will CSN play better than she did in her first round match
  Gavrilova Kvitova Will we have a Fed Cup atmosphere for this one?
Hisense Bondarenko Kuznetsova The younger Bondarenko has been on a slow build since returning to the Tour.  She might cause Sveta some problems
  Falconi Vinci Pick em
Show Court 2 Han Putintseva Putintseva deserves to be here.  As does Han
Show Court 3 Davis Rybarikova Both women had to battle to get here.  Another pick em
  Nculescu Kulichkova Kulichkova
Court 6 Wang Friedsam The qualifier looked focused against Sloane.  Can she maintain that focus
  Mladevnovic Gibbs Mladenovic
Court 8 Gasparyan Nara Nara
  Puig Pliskova (Kr) Puig
Court 13 Konjuh Kasatkina Konjuh

 If you are a fan of the women’s game you should definitely tune in to see:-

Bencic v. Babos 
Gavrilova going up against Kvitova in what should be a Fed Cup type atmosphere
Mladenovic against Gibbs should also be good as well as Wang against Friedsam. 

Match Fixing 

Unless you have been living under a rock, the tennis world has been rocked by a BBC/BuzzFeed story regarding match fixing in tennis.  The article is alleging that the Tennis Integrity Unity has ignored clear evidence of players, some of whom are in the top 50 and have won singles and doubles Grand Slams, are involved in match fixing.  It alleges that it not only affects the men but the women’s tour as well. 

Chris Kermode, CEO of the ATP World Tour has been doing the media rounds denying these allegations.  As of now, I have not heard anything from the WTA, which in my view is quite concerning.  The silence from the WTA on this issue, especially because I have seen where allegations have been made against named players, one of whom is still in the tournament, is not what I would expect from the WTA.  Unless I have missed it, I am hopeful that someone can point me to the WTA statement on this issue. 

For what its worth, I do believe that there is match fixing happening within tennis. It was only recently on the Realz Podcast that I opined about the level of remuneration that players were asking from the Grand Slam tournaments and the fact that as the players ask for more money, the networks will balk at the need to ante up money for broadcast rights, as surely advertisers and sponsors are going to be backing away from spending more money on a sport that is now being seen as corrupt down to its very core. 

It does not help that at the start of this year’s Australian Open, it was revealed that one of the sponsors of the event is William Hill, a large betting concern.  On the heels of these recent allegations, news broke this morning that 3 members of the board of Tennis Australia have resigned effective immediately.  Up to the time of writing no reasons have been given for their resignations. 

ESPN took at least 15 minutes to have their talking heads discuss the match fixing allegations and a true head buried in the sand moment, or should I say an ode to jingoism, Chris Fowler opined that match fixing was as a result of people from “over there”.  I am not quite sure where over there was but someone needs to tell Fowler that the reason why VPNs are so popular is to allow Americans to gamble at their heart’s content. 

In any event, in much the same way that tennis has buried its head in the sand when it comes to discussing doping (which does not happen in tennis by the way, just a few bad eggs here and there), this match fixing scandal will perhaps die as soon as the Australian Open is over.  Mayhap it will revive itself at each of the year’s 4 Grand Slams so that action can be taken. 

CARNAGE, CARNAGE AND MORE CARNAGE

by Karen 


It feels like I write this headline (or something along those lines) at the start of every Grand Slam.  The names change but the issue is always the same.  It is also always about the seeded players on the women’s side who don’t live up to their seeding.  While for me it shows the depth of talent on the women’s side, for others it just allows them to throw more fuel on the fire in condemning the state of the women’s game by pointing out how the top seeds (never mind that no one from the top 10 has been ousted), already the story lines about the weakness of women’s tennis will rear its ugly head.

I asked one of the more ardent fans of women’s tennis to give me her take on the seeds falling on Day 1 of the tournament.  Stephanie was of the view that although “multiple women’s seeds fell on day 1 of the Australian Open, does this mean mean that the Tour is in dire straights? Of course not. Serena is a dominant number one on the WTA but there’s so much talent on the tour right now that rankings don’t mean much. And players aren’t, and shouldn’t be, intimidated by the success some tour vets have had when they step on the court to compete. So we see players like Daria Kasatkina, Margarita Gasparyan, Yulia Putintseva and Qiang Wang battle hard, as they should, to knock out higher ranked opponents. And that’s exciting!”

The seeds who fell in round 1 of the Australian Open so far and their conquerors are:-
Pliskova (Krystina) d Stosur [25]
Wang (Q) d Stephens [24]
Putintseva d Wozniacki [16]
Gasparyan d Errani [17]
Kulichkova d Petkovic [22]
Davis d Pavlyuchenkova [26]
Kasatkina d Schmiedlova [27]

Steph went on to say that she does not think many of the ‘upsets’ were a surprise. Petkovic, Wozniacki and Errani are not playing at the same level they used to, and when did we ever consider Pavlyuchenkova or Stosur reliable?
Of the matches where seeds fell, I think the biggest shock for me was Wozniacki losing to Putintseva and not because I don’t consider Putintseva to be a tough first round, but I expected her to use her experience in these situations to come through.  In addition, after her aggressive looking play in Auckland, I was of the view that Wozniacki had finally come to terms with the fact that she needed to take control of points in order to win, but that was not the case. 
Another result that really shocked not only me but the tennis world as well was the qualifier Wang taking out Sloane Stephens.  Stephens had been the sexy pick for many commentators as a result of her title win in Auckland.  However, from 3-1 up in the second set, Past Sloane showed up.  Credit to her for finding her Future self in the second set, but it was not to be and the qualifier, who played brilliantly during the qualifying rounds as well, is in the second round.  Sloane, for all her improvements, especially on her backhand side,  is on to the next tournament.
Sam Stosur continues to disappoint her many Australian (and many others worldwide) with her play Down Under.  I am not going to jump on the Stosur is anxious when playing in front of her home crowd bandwagon.  Suffice it to say that she has been battling a sore wrist for which she required cortisone shots earlier this season.  That, and an opponent who hits hard and flat will cause Stosur to have issues.  

 DAY 2 PICKS

Rod Laver
Kontaveit
Muguruza
Williams (V)
Konta
Azarenka
Van Uytvanck
Margaret Court
Keys
Diyas
Sevastova
Wolfe
Zhang
Halep
Hisense
Birrell
Pliskova (Karolina)
Patterson
Ivanovic
Show Court 2
Jankovic
Hercog
Kerber
Doi
Show Court 3
Makarova
Inglis
Cetkovska
Lisicki
Court 5
Flipkens
Lucic-Baroni
Court 6
Garcia
Strycova
Jovanovski
Cornet
Court 7
Hon
Beck
Sanders
Dulgheru
Osaka
Vekic
Witthoeft
Zheng
Court 10
Siegemund
Bertens
Court 13
Siniakova
Bacsinszky
Mattek-Sands
Allertova
Court 14
Barthel
King
Brengle
Vandeweghe
Court 15
Duval
Svitolina
Crawford
Kovinic
Court 19
Mitu
Georges
Larsson
Begu
Court 20
Maria
Govortsova
Tsurenko
Lepchenko
Court 22
Pironkova
Shvedova
Arruabarrena
Zanevska

Upset Alert 

While many are picking Azarenka to make a deep run at this year’s Australian Open final, I am still continuing to adopt a wait and see approach.  Vika’s first round opponent  is no pushover.  She has a big game, is moving much better than when she got bagelled by Serena at this event a year ago and she has gone deep into a Grand Slam (quarter-final at last year’s French Open).  As much as Vika has improved, many seem to forget that apart from her matches against Serena last year (all of which she lost), Vika is yet to beat anyone of note since her return to active competition.  A title win, while a confidence booster is not a Grand Slam. For me, this match will be competitive and we could see an upset. 

Simona Halep has had Achilles problems for as long as I have been following her career.  She did not seem to have much trouble in her match against Kuznetsova.  She should be well rested to start her campaign for that elusive Grand Slam title, something she has now put as a priority (I am not happy about that).  Zhang can be a tough opponent for any player, especially if you are not 100%. 

I am concerned about Venus Williams and her young opponent, not because I don’t think that Venus has the game to win this easily, but because every player has on their bucket list to beat a Williams Sister.  I am hopeful that today is not Konta’s day. 

Keys v. Diyas should be a quick match for Keys, if she is healthy.  If not, look for Diyas to run her ragged all day in the Australian sunshine. 

Duval v. Svitolina could be tasty, as will Crawford v. Kovinic.  Doi can be a tough one for Kerber if she is not on her game but Kerber should pull through easily. 

Please note that play starts at 7:00 p.m. EST on Tennis Channel with the switch at 9:00 p.m. to ESPN2.