French Open 2018: Tournament Preview Saturday, May 26 2018 

Sunday marks the start of the year’s second tennis major in Paris and, while Rafael Nadal is a red-hot favourite in the men’s tournament, the women’s event is completely wide open.

Read on to get my thoughts on whether Nadal can capture an eleventh French Open championship and a seventeenth Grand Slam title overall, and to see who I’m predicting to go all the way in the women’s tournament.

Men’s Singles

Far from slowing down on the red dirt, Rafael Nadal actually seems to be improving his dominance on clay as the years go by. The Spanish superstar has picked up trophies in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome ahead of Roland Garros this year, breaking John McEnroe’s record for consecutive sets won on a single surface in the process. A solitary blip on the red dirt radar (a loss in Madrid to Dominic Thiem) is best viewed as a blessing for Nadal rather than anything else, taking at least some of the pressure off the top seed by ending the consecutive sets record at a staggering fifty in a row.

In Paris, over the best of five sets, and with Murray and Federer not competing (and with Djokovic and Wawrinka far from their best), I can’t see anyone truly challenging Nadal. As always when he is competing on clay, the biggest potential obstacle to Nadal is the frailty of his own body. Assuming he stays in top (or even close to top) health, I predict Nadal to waltz through his half of the draw. Fellow seeds in the top half include this year’s Australian Open finalist, Marin Cilic, and Juan Martin Del Potro, a former US Open champion. Both are major threats on hard-courts, but I can’t see them putting up much of a fight against the Spaniard on clay.

In the bottom half of the draw, Alexander Zverev is the highest seed and the young German will be looking to atone for a record in the majors which, to date, is very mediocre relative to his talent and his performances on the ATP Tour. I think Zverev will build on his impressive clay-court form in 2018 to make it through to the tournament’s second week. However, I think that two-time Roland Garros semi-finalist Dominic Thiem will have too much guile if the pair ends up meeting as scheduled. Former world number one Novak Djokovic is slowly but surely working his way back to top form and, whilst a tournament victory is far-fetched, I do expect the Serbian to put in a very good performance at Roland Garros.

After being humbled by Nadal in Monte Carlo, Thiem snapping the Spaniard’s winning streak and gained sweet revenge in Madrid. There, at relative altitude, the ball travels faster through the air, and Thiem swung for the fences and made the most of an unusually flat performance from Nadal. If the pair face off in Paris as predicted, I think it will be a different story – I can’t see Nadal thrashing Thiem as he did in Monte Carlo, but I do think that it will be the Spanish world number one who will be adding yet another French Open trophy to his bulging cabinet. Nadal in 4.

Winner: Rafael Nadal

Finalist: Dominic Thiem

Outside Chance: Zverev, Djokovic, Del Potro

Women’s singles

A few major headlines dominate the pre-tournament speculation on the women’s side. Can Serena Williams win the title in what is her first Grand Slam since giving birth? And will world number one Simona Halep finally capture a Grand Slam and get the no-major monkey off her back? Unfortunately for fans of either player (or both players), my answer to both questions is a firm “no”.

Serena Williams is, if not the greatest player the women’s game has ever seen, then one of the very greatest. Put simply, there is nothing that is beyond her, and despite not having played any clay-court tournaments in the lead-up to Roland Garros, and despite this being her first major since the 2017 Australian Open, one cannot completely rule out her chances of winning the title. That said, those chances are exceedingly small, and I don’t think she will have the form or the match fitness to take the title this time around. Sharapova and Azarenka are also back in action at Grand Slam level and, whilst I expect each of them to perform relatively well, I can’t see either player making a deep run into the second week of the tournament.

Halep was unlucky to lose in the final in Paris last year, when Ostapenko went for broke and made most of her shots. The Romanian was also unfortunate in losing a tight match to Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open decider earlier this year. But that’s the catch with Halep’s style of play: it’s good enough to beat most players most of the time, but it’s susceptible to being overwhelmed by big hitters if and when they get into a groove. This year’s Italian Open final in Rome, where Elina Svitolina conceded to Halep just four games for the match, is a recent case in point.

I do think Halep will make another deep run in Paris, with Muguruza her stiffest opposition in the top half of the draw. The Spaniard is a mercurial talent – unbeatable on her day; liable to beat herself (no matter the opponent) on off days – and I don’t think she’s in the kind of form to take down Halep at present. That said, Muguruza is indeed capable of playing herself into elite form over the course of a fortnight in Paris.

In the bottom half of the draw, I like the form of both Petra Kvitova (who’s been in tremendous form on the red dirt this season) and Svitolina, who successfully defended her title in Rome last week. Ostapenko, as defending champion, will not relinquish her title without a major fight, but I feel the time is right for Svitolina, a consistent title winner on the WTA Tour, to take the next step at Grand Slam level. I’m predicting a Svitolina-Halep final and, unfortunately for the popular Romanian and her fans, I’m backing the fourth seed to come out on top. Svitolina in 3.

Winner: Elina Svitolina

Finalist: Simona Halep

Outside Chance: Muguruza, Kvitova, Ostapenko

That’s it in terms of my predictions for this year’s French Open. Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from Roland Garros and keep up to date with my additional thoughts as the action unfolds on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

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Australian Open 2018: Tournament Preview Friday, Jan 12 2018 

Monday marks the start of the year’s first Grand Slam and, as always, there’s a multitude of fascinating storylines ahead of the commencement of action at Melbourne Park.

Can Nick Kyrgios keep his cool and triumph at home? Will Roger Federer’s 2017 Australian Open fairytale repeat itself in 2018? Can Venus Williams go one step better than last year and capture her first Australian Open crown at the ripe old age of 37?

Whatever happens, the next fortnight of action promises to be thoroughly entertaining. Read on to find out my predictions as to what will unfold in the men’s and women’s singles.

Men’s Singles

Twelve months ago, all the stars aligned for Roger Federer. The Swiss legend shrugged off a six-month absence from the ATP Tour and a 4-and-a half year Grand Slam drought to capture his eighteenth major at Melbourne Park, with Federer defeating his great rival Rafael Nadal in a thrilling five set final. Twelve months later, Federer enters the 2018 Australian Open as the number two player in the world and the current holder of the Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns.

More significantly, Federer enters the tournament as the fittest and most in-form member of the “Big Four” (or make that the “Big Five”) by a considerable margin. With Murray out of the tournament after having hip surgery in Melbourne last week, and with Djokovic, Nadal and Wawrinka all entering the tournament under major injury clouds, Federer’s camp will be extremely confident about his chances of collecting Grand Slam title number twenty. That said, Federer will need to tread with caution in the early stages of the tournament, with Goffin and Del Potro (both of whom were among the few players to defeat Federer in 2017) lurking in the Swiss maestro’s quarter of the draw. Federer will also be quick to remember the disappointment of 2015, when he succumbed meekly to journeyman Andrea Seppi in the third round at Melbourne Park.

Whilst I think Federer will progress to the final four without too much difficulty, his likely semi-final opponent is far from clear. The third quarter of the draw is packed with talent, with Zverev and Thiem the highest seeds in the section but with returning superstars Djokovic and Wawrinka also desperate to make an impact. I can’t see Wawrinka doing a lot in this tournament, with the ninth seed being susceptible to early round defeats even when at the top of his game. Six-time Australian Open winner Djokovic, however, can’t be ruled out from making a deep run despite his lack of match practice since Wimbledon, with the Serb’s adaptability and competitiveness being second to none.

If one of the youngsters is to make a breakthrough, it will likely be Zverev, the immensely talented young German, who pushed Nadal all the way in Melbourne last year. Zverev announced his prodigious abilities to the world in 2017 with two Masters 1000 titles, but the fourth seed now needs to take the next step at a major, having never been further at a Grand Slam than the fourth round.

In the top half of the draw, I like the chances of Nadal and Dimitrov playing a repeat of their absorbing 2017 Australian Open semi-final. Nadal has the easiest quarter of the draw to navigate, with his biggest issue being his own health and fitness. Assuming the Spaniard can remain in good health, I think he will make it through to the semi-finals with relative ease.

Dimitrov has a difficult section, with the likes of Kyrgios, Tsonga and Sock all presenting significant challenges. However, the Bulgarian showed an increased level of focus and maturity in 2017, culminating in his capturing the title at the season-ending championships in London. Dimitrov was unlucky to lose to Nadal in Melbourne last year, but I think the third seed, aided by greater match practice and superior fitness, can gain revenge if they do end up playing one another.

Dimitrov might despise his nickname, but a Baby Fed – Fed final would be a delight for the sponsors and the fans. I’m not convinced that Dimitrov, in what would be his first Grand Slm final, can topple Federer in a best of five sets match, but it would sure be intriguing to watch the talented Bulgarian try.

Winner: Roger Federer

Finalist: Grigor Dimitrov

Outside Chance: Nadal, Djokovic, Zverev

Women’s singles

With Serena Williams out of the tournament, the women’s singles event is wide-open. As the 2017 season highlighted (with the four Grand Slam titles being won by four different women), there is plenty of depth on the WTA Tour. In all honesty, there are probably ten or fifteen realistic contenders for this year’s Australian Open and the ultimate winner will likely need a bit of luck on her side in order to lift the trophy.

In broad terms, women’s tennis can be divided into the big hitters and the counterpunchers. In 2017, it was the big hitters who prevailed for the most part at the majors, with Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko and Garbine Muguruza all squarely in the power tennis camp. Sloane Stephens bucked the trend with her US Open win (defusing a big hitter in Madison Keys) and it seems that 2018 might be the year of the counterpuncher, with Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki entering the tournament as the top two seeds.

Halep will be eager to improve on her miserable last couple of outings at Melbourne Park, but the Romanian will likely face stiff challenges early on, with scheduled match-ups against Eugenie Bouchard in round 2 and Petra Kvitova in round 3. Also lurking in Halep’s quarter are big hitters Konta and Pliskova, along with the talented Aussie Ashleigh Barty.

I think Halep, fresh from a tournament win in Shenzhen and assisted by wily Aussie coach Darren Cahill, will do well at Melbourne Park this year and make it through to the pointy end of the championship. In a talent-laden second quarter of the draw, I’m predicting former world number one and 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber to emerge, with the German looking back to her best after a very disappointing 2017 campaign.

Caroline Wozniacki had a terrific 2017 season, and I think the Dane has a golden opportunity to finally claim her maiden Grand Slam title. In her quarter are French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and 2017 Australian Open semi-finalist Coco Vandeweghe, both of whom absolutely whack the ball. Wozniacki’s fitness and court coverage will need to be first rate in order to counter the elite power players but, in capturing the 2017 season-ending championship in Singapore, the Dane showed that she was very much capable of wearing such players down.

Venus Williams has a very tough opener against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, the former top tenner who is now in top form on the comeback trail. Venus, the in-form Julia Goerges and fourth seed Elina Svitolina (a recent winner in Brisbane) all have genuine chances of making deep runs in the tournament, but my money is on a Halep-Wozniacki final, with the Dane proving too strong for the Romanian in the final.

Winner: Caroline Wozniacki

Finalist: Simona Halep

Outside Chance: Kerber, V. Williams, Svitolina

That’s it in terms of my predictions for this year’s Australian Open. Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from Melbourne Park and keep up to date with my additional thoughts as the action unfolds on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

 

 

 

US Open 2017 – Tournament Preview Saturday, Aug 26 2017 

It’s the last Grand Slam of the year and, in the men’s tournament, perhaps it will be a case of last man standing. Defending champion Stan Wawrinka, along with former world number one Novak Djokovic, Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Canadian Milos Raonic, are all missing the tournament due to injury, whilst second seed Andy Murray enters the competition under a major injury cloud due to a persistent hip complaint.

So can Roger Federer make the most of a golden opportunity to capture the twentieth Grand Slam of his illustrious career? Will new world number one Rafael Nadal underline his return to the top of the summit with another US Open? Who is the favourite in the women’s tournament? Read on to find out my predictions for the forthcoming fortnight of action at Flushing Meadows. 

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Federer and Nadal, having never squared off previously in a US Open, have both been placed in the top half of the men’s draw, meaning that a semi-final showdown is on the cards. Nadal looks to have the tougher quarter of the two, with a scheduled fourth round showdown against Tomas Berdych and a potential quarter-final clash against the in-form Grigor Dimitrov, who pushed Nadal all the way in the Australian Open semi-finals earlier this year and who recently claimed his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati.

Federer could face the enigmatic Australian Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16, a player with whom the Swiss star has always endured close battles, and could then play French Open semi-finalist Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals. Towering Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro, a former winner at Flushing Meadows, is also lurking in Federer’s quarter of the draw. 

In the absence of Djokovic and Wawrinka, and with doubts lingering over Murray’s fitness, the bottom half of the draw could throw up some major surprises. Murray has received a pretty favourable draw, with potential match-ups against Pouille and Tsonga (in the round of 16 and quarter-finals, respectively) difficult but certainly winnable if the Scot’s body holds up.

German whiz kid Alexander Zverev has been in sensational form in the lead up to New York, claiming titles in Washington DC and in Montreal (where he handed Federer just his third defeat of the year). Zverev is a prodigious talent and I fully expect him to become a major winner in the years to come. Whether he is able to handle the increased expectations placed on him at this tournament after his results to date this season remains to be seen. That said, it’s worth noting that certain stars of yesteryear, such as Sampras, Hewitt and Safin, came of age (in terms of Grand Slam championships), at a young age at the US Open.

I can see Murray grinding his way through the first week and into the second week of the tournament, but ultimately coming unstuck against the in-form and confident Zverev. In the top half, Nadal has a good chance of getting to the semi-finals (despite his patchy form to date during the North American hard-courts swing) but the Spaniard is certainly a lot more vulnerable on fast hard-courts compared to clay. Federer has taken down his great rival the last four times the pair has played, so if the semi-final showdown does eventuate, the second seed has to be the clear favourite.

A Federer versus Zverev final would be a fascinating inter-generational battle. Whilst Zverev exploited Federer’s back problems to claim the title in Montreal, I can’t see the young German repeating the win in a US Open final and in a best of 5 sets final.

Winner: Roger Federer

Finalist: A. Zverev

Semi-finalists: Murray, Nadal

Outside Chance: Cilic, Dimitrov, Del Potro

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka might be missing, but the US Open women’s singles is still an event to look forward to, with no less than eight women able to claim the world number one ranking, and with a salivating first round match-up between second seed Simona Halep and former champion Maria Sharapova.

Karolina Pliskova is the top seed and current world number one, and last year’s US Open finalist has a very good chance of once again going deep at Flushing Meadows. The Czech star’s game, comprised of powerful groundstrokes off both wings and a booming serve, is tailor-made for the fast hard-courts of New York. Pliskova will be tough to stop, although there are dangers lurking in her quarter of the draw, including former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, the big-hitting American Coco Vandeweghe and Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska.

Elina Svitolina has had a terrific season to date in 2017 and I think the Ukrainian will be able to navigate her way through a difficult quarter of the draw, which features former world number one and defending champion Angelique Kerber, the French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and American fifteen seed Madison Keys. 

Caroline Wozniacki has been ultra-consistent in 2017, but I don’t think the fifth seed has the weapons to take down all of the big hitters she is likely to face. Petra Kvitova has not played well on hard-courts this season and I can’t see her doing much in New York. Venus Williams could well make a strong run at Flushing Meadows, but I favour Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza to emerge in the semi-finals from the third quarter of the draw. The Spaniard has continued to play well post-Wimbledon, thrashing Simona Halep in the final at Cincinnati a week ago.

The bottom quarter of the draw is perhaps the most open quarter, and I can see an outsider coming through the quarter to take a semi-final berth. Regardless of who wins the Halep-Sharapova clash, I can’t see the victor having a successful tournament. Sharapova is underdone in terms of match fitness, while Halep, like Wozniacki, simply isn’t powerful enough to beat the big hitters when they produce their best tennis on fast hard-courts. Accordingly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like Konta or Cibulkova clinch a semi-final spot.

Based on her form at Wimbledon and since then, I think Muguruza has to be the favourite to capture the title. Unlike after her 2016 French Open win, when she suffered a major slump in form on the back of heightened expectations and additional obligations, Muguruza has continued to play well post-Wimbledon and the conditions in New York suit the Spaniard’s hard-hitting game really well. Still just 23 years of age, this could be the event that cements Muguruza’s position as one of the dominant players on the WTA Tour.

Winner: Garbine Muguruza

Finalist: Elina Svitolina

Semi-finalists: Karolina Pliskova, Cibulkova

Outside Chance: V. Williams, Kerber, Konta

That’s it for now. Enjoy the tournament and remember that you can follow all of my thoughts and opinions as the action from Flushing Meadows unfolds over the next couple of weeks on Twitter: @thesatelliteserve.

Wimbledon 2017 – Tournament Preview Saturday, Jul 1 2017 

Wimbledon, the year’s third major championship, commences on Monday and, as always, there are a number of fascinating storylines heading into the tournament.

Can Federer continue his dream season by capturing an historic eighth crown? Will local hero Murray overcome his hip injury and defend his crown? Will Petra Kvitova capture a third Wimbledon title after her lengthy injury lay-off, or will another first-time Grand Slam champion emerge on the womens’ side?

Read on to find out my predictions for this year’s men’s and women’s singles events at the All England Club.   

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Federer wins the Australian Open. Nadal wins the French Open. Yes, this is the year 2017, and not a decade earlier. The first half of 2017 has witnessed the renaissance of the sport’s two biggest stars, Federer and Nadal, whilst simultaneously documenting marked inconsistency from the two most consistent performers from 2016, Djokovic and Murray.

Federer’s run to the Australian Open title in January surprised nearly everyone, but the Swiss superstar demonstrated that it was not a one-off run down memory lane, collecting titles in Indian Wells and Miami and recording consecutive wins over his great rival Nadal. Nadal, however, reaped the rewards of an impressive start to the season by completely dominating the clay-court swing, dropping just one match as he picked up titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and at Roland Garros.

Intriguingly, the two legends are in opposite halves of the draw, meaning that another Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final is possible. Nadal is seeded to face top seed Andy Murray in the semi-finals, although the Brit enters the tournament with a lingering hip injury and having played only one competitive grass-court match in the lead-up to his title defence.

It’s been a patchy season for Murray to date, and although dangers lurk in the form of a potential second round clash against big-serving Dustin Brown and a scheduled quarter-final against Stan Wawrinka, I think Murray will grit his teeth and grind his way through to the semi-finals, just as he did in Paris.

Nadal, a two-time Wimbledon champion, has had little impact at the All England Club since making the 2011 final, his fragile knees struggling to bend down to tackle the low-bouncing balls on the grass. However, the Spaniard arrives in London full of confidence after winning his tenth French Open crown and, if he can survive the first week of the tournament, Nadal could be a major factor in the second week of play, when the courts get harder and bounce higher. If Murray and Nadal do square off in the semi-finals, I predict the Spaniard to get the better of his opponent. If Nadal stumbles in the first week, former US Open champion Marin Cilic could well make the most of the opportunity and make a deep run towards the title.

In the bottom half of the draw, both Djokovic and Federer face difficult challenges to get to the business end of the tournament. Djokovic faces Martin Klizan in the opening round, has Juan Martin Del Potro lurking in his quarter, and could face his conqueror in Paris, Dominic Thiem, in the quarter-finals. The Eastbourne title will have boosted Djokovic’s confidence, and I think the recent addition of former top 10 player Mario Ancic to the Serb’s coaching team is a wise move. He hasn’t had a great year to date, at least by his lofty standards, but I still think Djokovic will progress through to the final four of the tournament.

Roger Federer has a difficult quarter of the draw to navigate, with a potential round of 16 encounter with former Wimbledon semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov and a scheduled showdown with 2016 finalist Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals. Something tells me that the Swiss star will relish all such challenges and, after skipping the clay-court season, Federer will be refreshed and ready for his title charge in London. The rustiness shown in his loss to Tommy Haas in Stuttgart was quickly forgotten in Halle, where Federer waltzed to a ninth title, and to my mind Federer is the one to beat in London this year.

Another Federer-Nadal final might seem like wishful thinking, but based on the results in 2017 to date, it’s also a genuinely realistic scenario. With Federer having recorded three wins over his great foe so far in 2017, and having used his backhand to great effect in each of them, I’m backing the Swiss star to claim a record eighth Wimbledon title at the All England Club this year.

Winner: Roger Federer

Finalist: Rafael Nadal

Semi-finalists: Murray, Djokovic

Outside Chance: Cilic, Wawrinka, Dimitrov

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

Jelena Ostapenko was a deserved winner of this year’s French Open title, but it’s fair to say that very few observers predicted her victory at the beginning of the fortnight’s play in Paris. With Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova still sidelined, and with Victoria Azarenka still working her way back to top form in her return from giving birth, the title contenders for the women’s singles title in London are numerous.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has a game ideally suited for the grass-courts of the All England Club. The Czech star capped her recent return from a horrific stabbing late last year with a title in Birmingham last week, and she will head into Wimbledon with plenty of confidence as a result of that win. I think Kvitova deserves to be the favourite in the women’s tournament, having won twice before in London. That said, her six month absence from the WTA Tour may count against her if she finds herself in tricky situations and tight matches.

Five-time champion Venus Williams has enjoyed a renaissance of her own in 2017, making it through to the Australian Open final. Like Kvitova, Williams loves playing at the All England Club and could well make a deep run to the latter stages of the tournament. However, a recent investigation into a car accident involving Williams may be enough for the American to lose her focus on the court.

In the other half of the draw, I expect top seed and 2016 finalist Angelique Kerber to bounce back from a disappointing first half of 2017 and put in a strong performance in the tournament. There are some tricky players in Kerber’s section, including Flipkens and Safarova, but I predict the German will have her best showing of the year and make the semi-finals.

Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova have just battled it out for the Eastbourne title and I think they may meet again in the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Wozniacki has been resurgent in 2015 and is rising rapidly back through the rankings. However, the Dane’s counterpunching game is no match for the raw power of Pliskova. The Czech star has never been past the second round at Wimbledon, but 2017 could be the year that all changes – Pliskova certainly has the game to succeed in London, and she will have plenty of confidence after besting Wozniacki for the title in Eastbourne.

If the all-Czech final between Kvitova and Pliskova does eventuate, it will be interesting to see who handles the occasion better. Pliskova will benefit from having made last year’s US Open final, but Kvitova has far greater big match experience and will no doubt be the sentimental favourite. I’ll back Kvitova to triumph in three sets should the pair meet in the final.

Winner: Petra Kvitova

Finalist: Karolina Pliskova

Semi-finalists: Venus Williams, Kerber

Outside Chance: Halep, Azarenka, Wozniacki

That’s it for now. Enjoy all the action from London over the next fortnight and be sure to follow my tournament updates and insights on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

French Open 2017 – Tournament Preview Saturday, May 27 2017 

Action in the main draw of the second Grand Slam of the year gets underway in Paris tomorrow. Ahead of the start of play, I’ve set out my thoughts and predictions for the men’s and women’s singles events.

Read on to find out more about whether Rafael Nadal will be able to capture an historic tenth French Open, and about just who will reign supreme in a wide-open women’s field in Paris.

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Novak Djokovic arrived in Paris having won three consecutive Grand Slams and hellbent on achieving the career Grand Slam. The Serb accomplished his goal, but the hangover has been far more severe than anyone predicted.

In the last year, Djokovic has lost his world number one ranking and the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open crowns, and has parted ways with superstar coach Boris Becker and longtime head coach Marian Vajda. A replacement superstar coach, in the form of Andre Agassi, has recently been engaged. However, given that Paris represents their first time working together, it’s unrealistic to expect too much from the partnership in this event.

Djokovic’s slump has been matched by Andy Murray’s inconsistency, with the Scot hampered by illness and injury and a mediocre run of form since the start of 2017. Murray’s push for the world number one ranking at the end of 2016 was ultimately successful, but appears to have taken its toll on the top seed, in much the same way that Djokovic’s triumph in Paris last year triggered a release of emotion which appeared to affect his intensity in the following months.

The relative decline of Djokovic and Murray has enabled both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to rediscover their past glories, with Federer’s win over his great rival in Australia giving the Swiss maestro an incredible eighteenth Grand Slam title. Nadal has successfully leveraged his positive start to the year into another dominant clay-court season, claiming titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before a minor slip-up against Dominic Thiem in Rome.

Nadal looks fit and hungry again, and is showing no signs of the confidence issues which had plagued him in the past. Coach Carlos Moya has injected some freshness into the Nadal game plan and, in particular, has strengthened his fellow Spaniard’s first and second serves. The loss against Thiem may well be a blessing in disguise for Nadal, having allowed him a few days of rest and recovery at home in Mallorca before travelling to Paris, and eradicating any complacency he may have accumulated during the clay-court season to date.

With Djokovic and Murray struggling for consistency, Federer skipping the tournament and Dominic Thiem still to properly assert himself at Grand Slam level, Nadal enters this year’s French Open as the red hot favourite. Djokovic and Nadal are due to meet in the semi-finals, and I can’t see the Serb having the confidence or the form to outlast the Spaniard if the pair meet as scheduled.

In the top half of the draw, I think Murray will scrap and grind his way through the first week, but I suspect he may be ousted by Nishikori, assuming the  pair face off and the Japanese star’s troublesome right wrist holds up adequately.

Stan Wawrinka’s 2017 form has been patchy to date, but the Swiss star has a habit of producing his best tennis at the biggest events. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stan the Man take advantage of a fairly favourable draw and make it through to another final in Paris. However, even at his best, I think Wawrinka won’t be able to match it with the man who is looking to break his own records at Roland Garros. No man has dominated a major like Nadal has dominated the French Open, and it would be a magical moment for the sport, and sports in general, if the Spaniard is able to capture “La Decima” this year in Paris. I, for one, won’t be betting against him.   

Winner: Rafael Nadal

Finalist: Stan Wawrinka

Semi-finalists: Nishikori, Djokovic

Outside Chance: Murray, Thiem

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

Speculation about this year’s women’s tournament has largely revolved around who isn’t in Paris, rather than who is. With Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova not playing for various reasons, the women’s event is devoid of some of the biggest stars on the WTA Tour. That said, the French Open represents Petra Kvitova’s return to the tour after her horrific stabbing, which is a much-needed boost for the event.

With a number of big names absent, and world number one Angelique Kerber struggling for consistency just like Murray, the scene is set for a rising star to announce themselves at Grand Slam level, much like defending champion Garbine Muguruza did in Paris last year. The Spaniard has struggled for form in the twelve months since that marvellous victory, but Muguruza typically plays well in Paris and I expect her to mount a strong defence of her crown.

Elina Svitolina has had a terrific start to the season and, despite being hampered by a thigh complaint, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the young Ukrainian make a deep run into the second week of the tournament. Big-serving Czech Karolina Pliskova is another young star who is knocking on the door of the Grand Slam winners’ club. Although clay isn’t her best surface, Pliskova has the weapons to do damage on any surface, and could well play a key role in the determination of the ultimate champion. 

Simona Halep has enjoyed a fine clay-court season, but with recent ankle issues I can’t see the Romanian being able to move around the court with as much power and speed as usual. Given that footwork and court coverage is at the core of her game, that’s a major problem. Similarly, I can’t see Kerber having an impact in this event – to my mind, she simply doesn’t have the consistency and confidence at present to do so.

In my opinion, this year’s women’s singles winner won’t be one of the new breed (although I expect one of them to come close) but, instead, one of the tour veterans who is able to utilise her experience and guile to claim the crown. Aussie Sam Stosur has to be given a chance, with the former US Open champion having made one final and three semi-finals in Paris previously.  However, my money is on two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian veteran, the only member of the top ten over the age of 30, claimed the French Open title in 2009 and has produced a string of strong results so far this season. In a field with no clear favourite, I’m predicting that the Russian will claim a third major crown and a second French Open with a hard-fought win over Svitolina in the final.

Winner: Svetlana Kuznetsova

Finalist: Elina Svitolina

Semi-finalists: Muguruza, Pliskova

Outside Chance: Halep, Stosur, Svitolina, Mladenovic

That’s it for now. Enjoy all the action from Paris over the next fortnight and be sure to follow my tournament updates and insights on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Wimbledon 2016 – Tournament Preview Saturday, Jun 25 2016 

The year’s third Grand Slam starts on Monday and, just like last year, top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams enter the tournament as the respective favourites for the men’s and women’s singles. But it’s a different set of circumstances to last year, when Williams was halfway to a potential calendar Grand Slam and Djokovic was coming off a devastating loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final. This year, Djokovic enters the tournament as the holder of all four Grand Slam titles, whilst Williams is looking to win her first major since Wimbledon last year after suffering surprise defeats in the last three Grand Slams.

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Novak Djokovic is the red-hot favourite on the men’s side, and rightfully so. Having completed the career Grand Slam in Paris, where the burden of never having won the French Open was finally lifted off his shoulders, Djokovic will begin his campaign at the All England Club not only full of confidence but probably more relaxed than he was in Paris. If he is successful in London, however, there will no doubt be a flurry of media scrutiny in New York as he attempts to complete the calendar Grand Slam.

There’s plenty of tough matches to be won by Djokovic at the All England Club before he can lift the trophy once more and, if Djokovic is undoubtedly the best player on the planet right now, then Andy Murray is pretty clearly the second-best player. This year, the Scot recorded his best ever French Open result by reaching the final and, having reunited with former coach Ivan Lendl, Murray will be focused on reclaiming the title he so famously claimed in 2013.

Murray is on the easier side of the draw, with potential semi-final opponent Stan Wawrinka never having played his best tennis on grass (although it will be interesting to see how the Swiss star performs with former Wimbledon winner Richard Krajicek recently added to his team as a grass-court consultant). Winning a record fifth title at Queen’s Club will provide Murray with additional confidence, as will the fact he has beaten Djokovic on the two occasions the pair has played on grass.

Djokovic is scheduled to face seven-time champion Roger Federer in the semi-finals and, whilst the Swiss legend has had an injury-interrupted season to date, Federer’s love of the tournament and grass-court nous means he will be very tough to defeat if he can negotiate his way through the early rounds. Before that, Djokovic faces a tough potential quarter-final with Milos Raonic, a former semi-finalist at Wimbledon who has added former champion John McEnroe to his coaching team, whilst Kevin Anderson, who so very nearly beat Djokovic at Wimbledon last year, also lurks in the Serb’s quarter.

Dominic Thiem has had a terrific season to date and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the young Austrian make a deep run at the tournament. Similarly, Bernard Tomic has a particular affinity with grass-courts and could well feature in the second week of the tournament.

I’ll back Murray and Djokovic to once again meet in a Grand Slam final, with the Scot using his grass-court nous and the home crowd support to finally get one back over the world number one.

Winner: Andy Murray

Finalist: Novak Djokovic

Semi-finalists: Federer, Thiem

Outside Chance: Wawrinka, Raonic

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

Going into the semi-finals in New York last year, Serena Williams was just two wins away from completing a calendar Grand Slam. Since then, the world number one has lost Grand Slam matches to Roberta Vinci, Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza. Muguruza’s terrific performance in Paris perhaps heralds the start of a new era in women’s tennis but I would be very reluctant to write off Williams just yet.

Williams may get a chance for revenge against Vinci if the pair meet in the quarter-finals as scheduled. Petra Kvitova has had a typically inconsistent year to date but the two-time winner is at her very best on grass and I’m backing her to put in an impressive performance during the next fortnight. In the top half of the draw, former finalist Agnieszka Radwanska is another player who is adept on grass-courts and could produce a deep run in the tournament. Similarly, Dominika Cibulkova has been in good form of late and the former Australian Open finalist could do some damage in the second week of the tournament.

In the bottom half of the draw, I think Muguruza may struggle to deal with the pressures and expectations associated with being a Grand Slam champion and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spaniard make a relatively early exit. Madison Keys, a recent addition to the world’s top 10, could take full advantage if the bottom half of the draw opens up, and I predict the rising star will scrape past five-time winner Venus Williams if the pair end up locking horns in the semi-finals.

With no Grand Slams to her name in 2016 to date, you can bank on Serena Williams being absolutely fixated on claiming this trophy and I think the American will shrug off some of rather sluggish recent Grand Slam performances to turn in a dynamic performance during the fortnight at the All England Club.

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Madison Keys

Semi-finalists: Kvitova, Venus Williams

Outside Chance: Radwanska, Muguruza, Cibulkova

That’s it for now. Enjoy the tennis from the All England Club and follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

French Open 2016: Tournament Predictions Saturday, May 21 2016 

With the 2016 French Open commencing tomorrow, I’ve set out below my predictions for this year’s men’s and women’s singles events.

On the men’s side, world number one Novak Djokovic is desperate to complete the career Grand Slam by capturing the one major title to have eluded him to date, whilst on the women’s side top seed Serena Williams is looking to defend her title and claim the twenty-second Grand Slam title of her illustrious career.

Will Djokovic finally find success in France? Can anyone stop Serena? Read on for my thoughts and predictions.

Tournament predictions – Men’s Singles

Tennis fans worldwide will be disappointed with the withdrawals of Federer and Monfils from the tournament, but there are still a number of fascinating story-lines heading into the second major of the year.

Djokovic remains head and shoulders above everyone else on the ATP Tour, and once again returns to Roland Garros fixated on lifting the trophy. The Serb has had a couple of hiccups during this year’s clay-court season, losing to Vesely in Monte Carlo and Murray in Rome, but in some ways I think those losses will benefit him. Last year, Djokovic arrived in Paris on a 22 match winning streak, which he extended to 28 consecutive wins before being upset by a red-hot Wawrinka in the final.

This year, Djokovic doesn’t bear the burden of any winning streak, and I think we will see the Serb remaining very low-key in the early stages of the tournament, seeking to negotiate his way through to the second week of the tournament with a minimum of fuss.

There’s no doubt Djokovic wants the French Open title more than any other at this point in his career, but he and his coaching team understand the importance of staying in the moment and not letting desperation or the weight of expectation affect his performance. The Serb has a relatively easy path through to the quarter-finals, where he is likely to face former finalist Ferrer, who is always a tough opponent on the red dirt, or Berdych, who has struggled against the ATP Tour’s elite performers in recent times.

Nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal has had a very good clay-court season after a poor 2014, the Spaniard picking up titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Federer’s withdrawal allowed Nadal to become the tournament’s fourth seed, meaning he won’t face Djokovic until the semi-finals. However, the Spaniard has a tough path to the final four, with match-ups against bogeyman Fabio Fognini and the much-improved Dominic Thiem on the cards.

Nadal was very close to beating Djokovic in Rome, but couldn’t seal the deal in either of the sets the pair played. If the fourth seed can boost his confidence by performing well in the lead-up to the semi-finals, I think the Nadal-Djokovic clash, if it eventuates, will be far closer than last year’s encounter in Paris which Djokovic won easily.

In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Stan Wawrinka and the in-form Andy Murray are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals. A finalist in Madrid and the winner in Rome, Murray is enjoy a second consecutive season of success on clay and I think the Scot has his best ever chance of claiming the French Open title. He’s got a tricky first round match against the veteran Stepanek, but I fancy Murray to move through to the quarter-finals without too much trouble. There he will likely face Kei Nishikori, who has proved himself to be one of the ATP Tour’s best clay-courters in recent years. I favour Murray to come out on top given the best of five sets format, but he’ll need to be at his best if he faces Nishikori as predicted.

It will be interesting to see how Wawrinka backs up last year’s sensational victory at Roland Garros. The Swiss star has a relatively easy section of the draw, although French counterpuncher Gilles Simon is lurking as a tricky potential opponent. In the quarter-finals Wawrinka could face eighth seed Milos Raonic or former US Open champion Marin Cilic, but I think the third seed will be too strong should he face either Cilic or Raonic.

In many respects, Wawrinka enters this tournament with nothing to lose after his unexpected 2015 triumph, and that may allow him to play with the freedom and aggressive shotmaking that saw him stun Djokovic in last year’s final. A Murray-Wawrinka semi-final, should it eventuate, would pit Wawrinka’s hard-hitting against Murray’s counterpunching nous. Murray’s improved first and second serves have delivered results so far this year, and I think the Scot is in better form than Wawrinka right now.

After splitting the Madrid and Rome finals, it would be no surprise to see Murray and Djokovic square off in the French Open final. Murray won the last encounter, in Rome, but for a variety of reasons Djokovic was not at his best in that match. Djokovic has had the better of Murray in their recent Grand Slam finals and, assuming Djokovic is at full health, I think the Serb will be too strong for the Scot over five sets.    

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Andy Murray

Semi-finalists: Nadal, Wawrinka

Outside Chance: Nishikori, Thiem

Tournament predictions – Women’s Singles

After her surprise loss to Angelique Kerber in the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, one can be sure that Serena Williams will be determined to reconfirm her status as the dominant player on the WTA Tour.

Williams has a few tricky players in her section of the draw, including former champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone, but I think the American will march her way into the quarter-finals in impressive fashion. Victoria Azarenka, Williams’ toughest opponent on tour, is her likely opponent in the final eight and whilst such match, if it eventuates, would no doubt be tightly contested, I favour Williams on the red dirt as Azarenka is a far better performer on faster surfaces.

Timea Bacsinszky was a surprise semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year and the Swiss player could well make another deep run this year. Other players in her very open section of the draw with a chance of making the semi-finals include Madison Keys, who reached the final in Rome, and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who will no doubt have much greater confidence following her triumph in Melbourne.

In the bottom half of the draw, two-time French Open quarter-finalist Garbine Muguruza is well-placed to make a deep run, with the Spaniard finding herself in a weaker quarter of the draw. By contrast, the bottom quarter of the draw is littered with talent, with second seed Agnieszka Radwanksa paired with former French Open finalists such as Errani, Safarova, Stosur and Halep.

After a difficult start to the year, Simona Halep enjoyed a much-needed confidence boost by claiming the title in Madrid and, under the guidance of the  very astute Darren Cahill, I think the Romanian can put together a run to the final four in Paris. If she and Muguruza square off in the semi-finals, as predicted, I favour Muguruza courtesy of her greater firepower.

A Muguruza-Williams final would be a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final, where Muguruza had some chances but Williams was ultimately too composed and experienced. Muguruza has beaten Williams in Paris before, but if the pair meet in the final this year then I think Williams will handle the pressure of the situation better and eventually prevail.      

Winner: Serena Williams

Finalist: Garbine Muguruza

Semi-finalists: Bacsinszky, Halep

Outside Chance: Azarenka, Radwanska, Kerber

That’s it for now. Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from Paris and be sure to follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Australian Open 2016 Issue 15: 1 February Sunday, Jan 31 2016 

World number one Novak Djokovic claimed his sixth Australian Open on Day 14, the top seed defeating Andy Murray in straight sets to collect the eleventh Grand Slam of his career.

Day 14 Recap

Murray knew that he needed to get off to a good start to have any chance of upsetting the world number one, and when the Scot earned a break point in the first game of the match it seemed as though he was hitting the ground running. Djokovic, however, had other ideas, allowing Murray just 3 points across the following 4 games as the Serb opened up a 5-0 lead. From there, Murray was always on the back foot and he was never really able to get back into the match.

Murray avoided the dreaded bagel in the opening set but only just, the top seed claiming the set, 6-1. The second set saw the players exchange breaks of serve before the set moved towards its climax. Murray looked to be cruising on serve in the eleventh game, up 40-0, before Djokovic reeled off 5 consecutive points to record the critical break. The five-time champion then saved a break point to claim the second set, 7-5, after 80 minutes of play.

A deflated Murray slumped to a 2-0 deficit in the third set before pulling himself together and getting back to 3-all. The third set progressed to a tiebreaker, with the crowd cheering Murray on as he pushed to take the tournament to a fourth set. It was not to be, however, with a couple of double faults proving extremely costly. After 2 hours and 52 minutes, the world number one sealed the win with an ace, ultimately recording a 6-1 7-5 7-6(3) victory.

For Djokovic, it was a record-equalling win, as the Serb tied Roy Emerson with 6 Australian Open crowns, and moved up alongside Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg as a holder of 11 Grand Slams. He’s unquestionably the best player in the world right now, and at present it takes a near-flawless performance to beat him.

For Murray, it was another heartbreaking loss, the Scot’s seventh defeat in 9 Grand Slam finals. Sixty-five unforced errors indicate that the second seed was probably too aggressive in trying to dictate play against the Serb, and his weakness on serve was exposed in the third set tiebreaker as well. That said, Murray is not that far from Djokovic’s level and will be a major contender for Grand Slam titles for many years to come. And with a baby on the way, Murray will very soon have plenty of other things on his mind, which may ultimately prove to be a plus for his tennis.

That’s it for today and for my coverage of this year’s Australian Open. I hope you have enjoyed the coverage. I’ll be back with more coverage of the ATP and WTA tours later in the year. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Australian Open 2016 Issue 14: 31 January Saturday, Jan 30 2016 

Angelique Kerber is the 2016 Australian Open women’s champion, the German stunning world number one Serena Williams to claim her first Grand Slam title on Day 13 at Melbourne Park.

Today, Novak Djokovic shoots for his sixth Australian Open final, as Andy Murray looks to claim his first title in what will be his fifth final. Read on to get my predictions for the men’s final.

Day 13 Recap

Playing in her first ever major final, the seventh seeded Kerber showed no signs of nerves, registering an early break of serve. Whilst Williams broke back soon after, it was apparent that the American was somewhat tense as she looked to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

With Kerber showing exemplary court coverage and with unforced errors flying off the Williams racquet, the German edged ahead, taking the first set, 6-4. Kerber enjoyed plenty of crowd support, with spectators perhaps sensing they were witnessing an upset of epic proportions. But there was no doubting that Williams would fight her way back into the match, and the top seed tightened up her game in the second set, cutting down her unforced errors and connecting with more of her first serves. Williams took the second set, 6-3, to send the match, and the championship, to a deciding set.

Williams was having trouble reading the Kerber serve, and wasn’t her usual precise self at the net. The German took full advantage, winning 8 of the first 9 points of the final set. Williams broke back before Kerber went on another run, stringing 7 points together as she opened up a 5-3 lead.

The seventh seed, who had looked calm all match, finally tightened up as she served for the title, with Williams breaking back and having a chance to level the set at 5-all. But, as had been the case for much of the match, Williams couldn’t dominate on serve in the way that she so often does. Kerber claimed the break, and with it the biggest win of her life, the German collecting the title and rocketing up to number 2 in the world rankings.

For Williams, it was an unusually subdued performance and one which I’m sure she will rue, although the American was extremely gracious and sporting in defeat (which is not always the case when things don’t go the top seed’s way). For Kerber, it was a dream come true and, along with a career-high ranking, the win will give the German the confidence to push for further Grand Slam titles in the years to come.

Match of the Day – Day 14

Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

Kerber’s win has to give Andy Murray hope, as it shows that no one, not even Serena Williams, is invincible. The Scot has lost all 4 of his previous Australian Open finals, 3 of them to Djokovic, but there is no sentimentality when it comes to sports.

Murray has beaten Djokovic on the big stage before, most notably in the finals when he won his Wimbledon and US Open titles, but Djokovic has improved his tennis since then and is on a different level right now. To put it in focus, Murray has won just one of his last 11 matches against the world number one. That said, Murray did beat Djokovic on hard-courts in Montreal last year, and last year’s Australian Open final was very close for the first 3 sets before Murray lost concentration and Djokovic ran away with the match.

Djokovic has won 70 percent of his career matches against Murray, and owns 5 Australian Open crowns, so it is clear that Murray needs to play his very best tennis in order to prevail. Djokovic does everything so well that Murray needs to stay calm and seize his chances, and not castigate himself when things don’t go his way.

The biggest key to the match in my mind is Murray’s second serve, which can get very shaky at times. If Murray doesn’t execute well on serve, particularly on his second serve, then Djokovic will constantly attack the Murray service games and that will ultimately take its toll on the second seed.

A victory for Murray would represent an extremely well-earned Australian Open title, and break up the dominance of Djokovic but, as noted above, there is no sentimentality in sports, and so the head says to go with Djokovic, who is unquestionably the best player in the sport right now. Djokovic in 4.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow to recap the men’s final. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Australian Open 2016 Issue 13: 30 January Friday, Jan 29 2016 

Andy Murray will play Novak Djokovic in the men’s final on Sunday night, after the Scot came back from 2 sets to one down to defeat Milos Raonic in a titanic 4 hour semi-final on Day 12.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Serena Williams on Day 13 as the American looks to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slams in the women’s singles final against Angelique Kerber. See below for my preview of the final.

Day 12 Recap

Raonic made his intentions known from the very first game of the semi-final, breaking Murray to love and then saving 3 break points in his initial service game. Owning one of the biggest serves in the sport, Raonic maintained his advantage and claimed the first set, 6-4.

The second set saw games go with serve until the twelfth game of the set, with Murray seizing on a a couple of errors by the Canadian to level the match at a set apiece. The third set saw Raonic once again take the lead, the thirteenth seed playing a superb tiebreaker to get within a set of the final.

A late break in the fourth set gave Murray the set, 6-4, as the players proceeded to a deciding fifth set. A medical timeout by Raonic before the start of the set indicated that the Canadian was flagging, and it was soon apparent that a leg injury was affecting his play. Murray took full advantage, moving his opponent around the court and going up a double break before sealing the match, 4-6 7-5 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2.

Match of the Day – Day 13

Serena Williams vs. Angelique Kerber

Williams enters her twenty-sixth Grand Slam final chasing major number 22 and is up against a player making her first appearance in a major final. After getting through a testing first round encounter against Camila Giorgi, Williams has swept all before her since, dropping just 17 games in her last 5 matches.

After saving match point against Misaki Doi in the opening round, Kerber has been playing aggressive tennis without fear at Melbourne Park, with her quarter-final win over Azarenka underling her championship credentials. The leftie has beaten Williams just once in 6 career meetings and, whilst that win was back in 2012, the very fact that Kerber has beaten Williams will boost the German’s chances. Important, also, is the fact that the last match between this pair was a year and a half ago; Kerber has become a far more confident and consistent player in the last 12 months.

Kerber has the shotmaking ability to defeat Williams, if the German can handle the occasion, stay calm and is able to keep the points short and go for her shots. That said, Williams looks to be in imposing form and has to enter the match as the warm favourite. After her shock defeat to Roberta Vinci at Flushing Meadows last year, the American will be desperate to start 2016 by claiming the year’s first Grand Slam, and I will back Williams to pull away in the second set after a tight opening stanza. Williams in 2.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

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