Sunday, January 25, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Conchita sees Muguruza as a Slam contender in 2015

Former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez believes her fellow Spaniard Garbine Muguruza is ready to be a grand slam contender this season, saying a Eugenie Bouchard-like breakthrough could be in the cards for her.

Martinez, who as Spain’s Fed Cup captain has been supporting Muguruza at her matches this week in Melbourne, was impressed by her three-set win over Timea Bacsinszky in the third round on Saturday and sees the 21-year-old as a real threat at the majors in 2015.

Why not? Look at (Eugenie) Bouchard. I don’t know if we could have considered her a grand slam contender last year. But she was in the semi-finals here, and Roland Garros, and the final at Wimbledon… I don’t see any difference there,” Martinez tells me of the Venezuelan-born Spaniard. “I believe she has a good chance. It might happen, it might not, but she has the potential (to be a grand slam contender this year) yes.”

Muguruza, who conquered Serena Williams at the French Open last year en route to the quarter-finals there, has a rematch with the world No1 in the fourth round on Monday.

Williams has not shown her best tennis in opening week Down Under but has been raising her level with each round, while Muguruza has been solid so far.

Martinez sees Muguruza’s previous upset over Williams as a source of self-belief heading into tomorrow’s clash.

I think mentally it helps you always that you broke through and you won that match at the French Open. It will give her the extra confidence that she needs,” said the 1994 Wimbledon winner.

I think she’s very confident in herself anyway. Serena is going to be hungry and she can be dangerous but she’s going to have to do everything really good because Garbine is going to be up there and she’s the kind of person that likes these matches. It’s going to be an interesting match.”

Muguruza has been rising up the rankings since she picked up her maiden WTA title in Hobart 12 months ago and now lies at No24 in the world. Her fearless attacking style has attracted many fans and Martinez explains how her popularity has been growing.

I think she’s very popular. For her tennis, and also when you’re tall, good-looking, you play that type of game, I think that people are drawn to that,” said Martinez. “I think she’s well-known, not only in Spain, but of course Venezuela and the whole wide world. Because everybody sees the potential that she has and she is capable to be up there in the rankings.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Jaziri focusing on positives following breakthrough Slam

Malek Jaziri is choosing to take the positives out of his Australian Open experience following his third round defeat to Nick Kyrgios and says he’s targeting the top-50 this season.

The Tunisian, who became the first player – man or woman – from his country in the Open Era to reach the last 32 at a grand slam, will rise to a career-high of around 65 in the world rankings after the action concludes in Melbourne.

The 31-year-old fell to Kyrgios 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-1 in a close encounter that saw both players receive medical treatment for injuries.

He was making his grand slam third round debut and is hoping this bodes good things for the future.

Let’s take it in a positive way, it’s a good start for the year for me. I feel 2015 is going to be my year,” said Jaziri before signing off from Melbourne Park.

Jaziri was being coached by Wimbledon legend Goran Ivanisevic this week in Melbourne after the Croat volunteered to help out in the absence of his actual charge Marin Cilic, who is injured.

Ivanisevic was proud of the way Jaziri played but admitted that Kyrgios’ serve was exceptional.

Jaziri agrees: “He was serving very good. He was mixing a lot the serve. He was serving T, then he changed, he served body, so he mixed it up a lot. It’s not easy to read it. His percentage of the serve was very high. It made the difference.

I wish I could win today. I tried to do my best. I had a small injury in my hip, but I didn’t want to stop, I wanted to continue to play. It wasn’t easy, it was painful, but the doctor gave me some anti-inflammatory and I continued.

I didn’t even practice on Margaret Court Arena. I went straight to my match. First time for me to play on a big court here in Melbourne. It was okay, but you know

He played good, he’s really motivated, he’s playing at home. For me making the third round is still good. I prefer to focus on the things that I should have done and work on them more and take the positives from this good experience.”

Still, the Tunisian rued his missed chances in the second set, where he led 4-0 in the tiebreak before allowing Kyrgios to storm back and take it.

Sure if I had won the second set it could have been totally different. At one-set-all, you start to think, maybe I can have more confidence, I get more belief to win,” he admits.

He said Ivanisevic’s advice was simple, he told him to “play, have fun, enjoy” and Jaziri says he did just that. He feels he is ready to compete consistently at that level and is hoping to keep rising in the rankings.

He will have to recover quickly from his hip problem though as his upcoming schedule includes ATP tournaments in Montpellier, Memphis, Delray Beach and Dubai in back-to-back weeks.

Hopefully if I enter the top-50, I can play exclusively on the ATP tour and not go back to the Challengers,” he says.

One thing Jaziri must solve soon is his coaching situation. He works with Serbian Dejan Petrovic but only when he is in the United States, which means he flies solo everywhere else.

Jaziri is yet to figure out whether hiring a traveling coach or a traveling fitness trainer would be more beneficial for him but he plans on settling on these decisions soon.

I need to believe more,” he says. “When you come from a small country like Tunisia, no tradition, no culture of tennis, it’s tough to explain to people about tennis. This will give me a lot of confidence for the future, to believe more in myself, to make me work harder.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Kevin Anderson blasts Channel 7 commentators

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson has blasted Channel 7 commentators for saying they have never heard of American Tim Smyczek during the American’s five-set defeat to Rafael Nadal in the second round.

Smyczek, who earned the world’s respect for his great performance against Nadal and his incredible sportsmanship when he allowed the Spaniard to re-hit a first serve after a spectator yelled out as he was serving, is ranked No112 in the world, and peaked at No73 in 2013.

Anderson tweeted this during the match:

On Friday, following his 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(6) third round victory over Richard Gasquet, Anderson explained his grief with the Australian channel’s commentators.

There’s so many good tennis players and sometimes I feel when guys who are under the radar in a general sense come out and playing, I think tennis commentators can do a much better job of really pushing those guys up,” the No14 seed said.

When people are watching, it’s the first time they’ve maybe seen somebody like Tim playing. He’s a great player, he’s now going to be top-100 and I don’t think it’s a fair comment for commentators to say they’ve never heard of this guy before.”

Anderson cited golf commentators as an example their counterparts in tennis should follow.

I think golf is a great example, there are guys who I’ve personally never heard of before but the commentators are telling me their backgrounds, how amazing they are, this is what they like to do and I have an attachment to them as opposed to saying ‘I’ve never seen this guy’. It sort of divorces the people watching from players like that,” added the University of Illinois alumnus.

I would hope in the future maybe that’s something we can try to address a little bit because I feel it’s the commentators’ role to help promote players who aren’t always playing on centre court and comments like that I don’t think really help out too much.”

Anderson will take on Nadal in the last 16 on Sunday.

The South African's wife, Kelsey (a must-follow on Twitter by the way), also said this on the matter:

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Kyrgios ends Jaziri's dream run, Tomic criticises Groth

Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios ended Malek Jaziri’s inspired run in the third round of the Australian Open yesterday preventing his opponent from becoming the first Tunisian to make the last 16 at a major.

Kyrgios, who admits he was already dreaming about facing Roger Federer in the fourth round before he even took the court to face Jaziri, overcame some back problems en route to dismissing the North African 6-3, 7-6 (8), 6-1.

Playing in breezy conditions, amidst constant “whoop there it is” chants from the Aussie crowd, the home favourite recovered from a 0-4 deficit to take the second-set tiebreak. Both Kyrgios and Jaziri required medical attention throughout the match, the latter suffering a hip injury that hampered him in the third set.

Kyrgios later explained that his back, which forced him out of the Hopman Cup earlier this month, tightened during the match, which is why he needed a medical timeout.

I'm obviously getting by, but I don't think I'm moving 100 per cent to my ability,” said the 19-year-old, who next faces Andreas Seppi after the Italian shocked Federer earlier in the day.

It's hard not to think about playing possibly the greatest of all time. Everyone wants to play Roger. I can only dream about what Seppi is feeling right now to beat him in four sets on Rod Laver. That's massive for him.”

Jaziri, who had his volunteer-coach Goran Ivanisevic in his box during the match, was disappointed with the loss and rued his missed chances in the tiebreak. The Tunisian, who is the first Arab in 11 years to make a grand slam third round, had never hit on Margaret Court Arena prior to this match and admits it made for a nervy start for him.

Meanwhile, No6 seed Andy Murray flew past Portugal’s Joao Sousa 6-1, 6-1, 7-5 to set-up a mouth-watering showdown with Bulgarian No10 seed Grigor Dimitrov, who survived a major scare against Marcos Baghdatis before pulling through 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. “Matches like that really define I think who you are and how you want to be,” said a proud Dimitrov.

Another Aussie made it through yesterday, Bernard Tomic, who beat his big-serving countryman Sam Groth 6-4, 7-6(8), 6-3. Tomic later criticised Groth’s game saying “it wasn’t tennis” and relied too much on serve-and-volley.

"Today was not really gonna be tennis. It was just like return. I would have loved to play tennis today with long rallies. It would have been good. But today was just return," said Tomic.

Kyrgios stuck up for Groth afterwards, responding to Tomic’s comments by saying: “Sam has got the style of tennis where he has got to serve and volley a lot. I guess Bernard has to accept that. Not everyone is as talented as he is. He's one of the most talented guys I've ever seen to step on a tennis court. I don't know why he would be complaining. He had a comfortable win in straight sets.”

Tomic will be facing Berdych for a third time and the 22-year-old German-born Australian lost their previous two meetings, which both came at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2014.

He plans on taking advice from his veteran compatriot Lleyton Hewitt when they practice together today.

I'm hitting with Lleyton tomorrow, which is very good for me. Talk to Rusty to me about playing Tomas. Yeah, I'm excited for this next round. Targeting to win, and we'll see,” said Tomic.

Berdych has been many, many years, last three or four years, inside the top six. It's not easy to play him. You have to play well. You have to serve well, use your opportunity when it comes. He hits the ball so fricking hard. It's a big difference to any other player.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Historic win for Jaziri to reach first Grand Slam third round

For the first time in 11 years there is an Arab player in the third round of a grand slam thanks to a heroic performance from Tunisian Malek Jaziri, who overcame a tough opponent and even tougher conditions to make it happen.

Jaziri, whose previous best showing at a major was reaching the second round at the 2011 US Open, and 2012 Roland Garros and Wimbledon, made the last 32 of a slam for the first time in his career on Wednesday by ousting Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.

The world No75 made a terrible start to the clash, winning half the number of points that Roger-Vasselin won in the first set, and was visibly struggling with the heat and humidity.

But a visit from the doctor during the changeover at 1-2 in the second set swung things in Jaziri’s direction and he found a second gear against the Frenchman.

Roger-Vasselin later accused him of gamesmanship. When asked if he thought Jaziri was playing mind games during the match, the world No119 said: “Absolutely!”

Jaziri however explained that he never asked for a medical timeout and that both visits from the doctor were during changeovers, which didn’t interrupt the rhythm of play.

I never asked for a medical timeout. Just a changeover, which changes nothing. It was only one minute,” he said.

As more and more people trickled into the stands at Court 6 as the match progressed, Jaziri drew energy from a group of chanting fans, who rallied behind him and carried him over the line.

He ultimately needed four match points to get the deed done and fell to the ground when he realised he had hit a new personal milestone. The win gave a new meaning to a tournament that is dubbed the ‘Happy Slam’.

It’s the first time for me to make the third round so for sure I’m happy. I’m enjoying being here a lot,” said an ecstatic Jaziri, who turned 31 on the day he won his first round against Mikhail Kukushkin last Monday.

The crowd is amazing here, it’s amazing to play in Australia, all the courts are full, the people are cheering, a great mix of nationalities in the crowd. I hope this dream continues.”

Jaziri was pleasantly surprised when the fans sang him happy birthday after his first round victory, and was even more surprised by the support he got against Roger-Vasselin on Wednesday.

He knows for a fact though that that will not be the case in his next clash against local hero Nick Kyrgios – an encounter which will most probably take place on the main stadium here at Melbourne Park.

It will be the first time for me to play on a big court in Australia but I’ve played on big courts before at the US Open and elsewhere. First time for me to play on a big court in Australia and against a local… I think they will be cheering for me, but I hope maybe a little bit with me as well,” he said with a laugh.

Jaziri may have one or two tricks up his sleeve that could aid him against Kyrgios, who has beaten him before in the US Open qualifying rounds in 2013.

The Tunisian has an unlikely ally in his corner, Wimbledon legend Goran Ivanisevic, who has been informally helping Jaziri as a friend, in the absence of his injured actual charge, Marin Cilic.

Jaziri met Ivanisevic during the IPTL where they shared the same team, the UAE Royals, and they hit it off. The Croat nicknames him ‘Arabonsky’ and has been happy to give him tips and support him throughout the week in Melbourne.

Goran is a legend and an idol too. He’s a very good guy, I like him so much so I appreciate everything he’s doing for me,” said Jaziri.

Another interesting fact? There is a woman called Philippa who was spotted supporting Jaziri in the crowd. She hosted him and his team during a Challenger in Dallas last year and he considers her a lucky charm, having made the final that week in Texas and he has now made his first major third round with her in the stands.

A birthday on court, a legend in his corner and a lucky charm who flew thousands of miles to support him… Looks like Jaziri has everything he needs to face Kyrgios on Friday.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN - Nadal: The back is not limiting me

After years worrying about his troublesome knees, Rafael Nadal is aware that he now has another concern he must regularly attend to – his back.

This time last year, the Spaniard sustained a back injury that hampered him during his final defeat to Stan Wawrinka in Melbourne and it has forced him to undergo a series of different treatments throughout the course of 2014, including a rumoured stem cells treatment he refuses to elaborate upon.

Ex-world No1 Jim Courier recently said “once a back patient, always a back patient” – a statement Nadal seems to be coming to terms with.

However, ahead of his Australian Open second round on Wednesday against American Tim Smyczek, Nadal was happy to reveal that his back is not currently affecting his tennis on court.

The back is not limiting me, so that's important for the moment, no?” said Nadal, who will be facing the 112th-ranked Smyczek for the first time in his career.

I know the back is dangerous. I know the back is a thing that you have to take care about. We are trying to do the right things to be safe with that, but there is things you cannot control.”

Despite a convincing straight-sets win over Mikhail Youzhny in round one, the 28-year-old remains cautious about his expectations Down Under.

I have one match. That's better than two days ago. But I need more to feel that I am ready for something very important here,” said Nadal.

One player who also suffered injury drama in Melbourne last year is Australian Bernard Tomic, who was forced to retire from his opening round against Nadal in 2014.

He then had two hip surgeries and battled long and hard to get to the strong form he’s been showcasing over the past couple of weeks.

The 22-year-old said he was able to erase some painful memories with his four-set victory over Tobias Kamke in the first round on Monday, and is feeling confident heading into his match today with No22 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, whom he beat last week in Sydney.

Tomic, who cracked the top-30 back in 2012, has slipped to No66 and he actually had to remind his fans on court the other day that he is no longer Australia’s No1 player – he is No2 behind Nick Kyrgios. It is a fact that he is paying little attention to however.

I'm very confident. I played very well in Brisbane; played very well in Sydney. It's coming good. I'm very fit,” said Tomic. “I play a player that I played last week, but it's not easy to play Kohlschreiber.

He's very smart and very good with the game. He controls it well with the rallies.

It's a player that is very, very, very capable of beating everyone. That's why he's been so many years inside the top 30, 20.”

Last year’s semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard is also feeling fresh and confident heading into her second round against Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens on Wednesday.

I haven't played an official match in two and a half months, so it really does give your brain a break. For me, it makes me so excited to play. Just I feel good mentally on the court. I'm just so ready to fight and leave everything on the court,” said the Canadian No7 seed.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Azarenka, Stephens and the irony of a draw

There is such a thing as a monster draw and even if Victoria Azarenka refuses to admit it, the former world No1 surely must realise that she has fallen into tennis’ equivalent to a World Cup’s group of death.

The Belarusian also refuses to say that she feels any differently being unseeded at a major, even though it is the first time since the 2007 US Open Azarenka is not one of the 32 players typed in bold in a draw.

A foot injury has taken Azarenka on a trip down the rankings to her current place of 44 and it meant that she gets to take on world No8 Caroline Wozniacki as early as the second round.

After handling a tough first round against Sloane Stephens yesterday, Azarenka will have to maneuver past Wozniacki and potentially world No1 Serena Williams in the last eight if she hopes to make it out of her quarter alive.

Being an unseeded player, it's not a surprise that I have a tough draw or tough opponents in the early round. I just need to go through that. I accept the challenges,” Azarenka said after defeating 2013 semi-finalist, Stephens, 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday.

Ironically, it was the third consecutive year that Azarenka has taken on Stephens in Melbourne.

The two-time Australian Open champion may have been conservative in her reaction to her draw but Stephens, who has also seen her ranking slip, certainly wasn’t.

I knew I was going to play her. I was like ‘of course I’m not seeded, she’s not seeded and we’re going to play each other, that’s just how it’s going to be’. It’s unfortunate but that’s how it happened,” said Stephens.

I saw (in the second round) I would have played Caroline Wozniacki or Taylor Townsend, the draw is rigged I swear. I need to go talk to Craig Tiley because this is ridiculous,” the American dryly joked.

Two years ago, Stephens started a six-slam streak where she made the second week in each one. However, in her last three majors, she’s won only one match. It is why she, like Azarenka, was unseeded this Australian Open.

I played some tough players in the first round in the last couple of slams,” said the 21-year-old.

It’s tough, it sucks, it’s a lot less money I tell you… it sucks being out a grand slam early, going home and watching… that’s not fun. But definitely something that I grow from.

I was watching the other day and Youzhny is like on his 53rd straight grand slam. If I play that long, I have a long way to go. To dwell on the last three, then it’s not looking good for the rest of the 50 I’m going to play. I just look forward to the next one, it’s one of my favourite slams.”

Stephens showed glimpses of her ripping forehand but Azarenka was clinical at the net, winning almost every point she played up front, and managed to dictate with her deep shots to advance.

I felt pretty good. I think from the beginning I started to be pretty focused and just maintained that intensity,” said Azarenka.

Her next opponent, Wozniacki, also had a tough opener against lefty teenager Taylor Townsend, who arguably has the most exciting game amongst all the up-and-coming Americans.

The No8 seed beat Townsend, who won the 2012 Australian Open singles and doubles junior titles, 7-6 (1), 6-2, to book her date with her good friend Azarenka.

The ex-world No1 had some wrist trouble coming into Melbourne but assured she is passed the problem.

Speaking of her premature clash with Azarenka in the second round tomorrow, Wozniacki said: “Whether you have to beat her in the second round or fourth round, whatever, doesn't matter if you want to win the tournament.”

Top-seeded Serena Williams coasted through her first round 6-0, 6-4 over Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.

Williams, who just entered her 100th consecutive week ranked No1, wrapped up her win in 61 minutes but says she was nervous despite the lopsided score line.

I had the jitters going out in the first match of a grand slam. So, yeah, it's never super easy to be the one that everyone wants to beat,” said Williams.

Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova banished her negative memories from a shock opening round exit in Melbourne last year by convincingly taking out unheralded Dutchwoman Richel Hogenkamp 6-1, 6-4.

The No4 seed confessed she was nervous though, especially with so many seeds dropping like flies in the women’s side. “During the match and during the morning and waiting time, it wasn't really easy for me to handle it. So I'm glad that I did better than the last year,” said the Czech power-hitter.

I saw yesterday many of us seeded players, they went out. Of course, it stays in your mind and it's always difficult. I know how it feels. I lost first round last year.”

No13 seed Andrea Petkovic was one of those unexpected upsets on Tuesday, the German squandering a 7-5, 5-3 lead en route to a three-set defeat to USA’s Madison Brengle.