Wednesday, January 24, 2018

AO 2018: Having a Real Banguh of a Tournament Down Unduh!

Might not have used "banger" right in that instance. Don't care. I like the way it sounds in my brain, mate!
Let's just face the facts of what we have here: If my Australian Open draws were a body, it would have been bleeding out on night one. I mean, look at this:

This is like that Red Wedding episode on "Game of Thrones."
I honestly had planned to post at the midpoint of this tournament, but all of a sudden, it's the semifinals. I realized the reason I wasn't writing was because I was watching all the good tennis (and dragging Tennys Sandgren on Twitter, natch). But let's hit my top five personal highlights for this tournament and then recline on the couch for the semis (quick picks: Kerber/Woz and Cilic/Fed), shall we? OK!

5. Su-wei Hseih: My girl showed up to the Australian Open in a barely concealed bra because guess what? We're going to play the Open in 873-degree heat every year! Seriously, I feel like this was a tactical move and a damned good one. Besides that, she played some awesome tennis. Those angles! I spent the entire match between she and Kerber gasping at the speed and tactics.

4. Coco Is Nice for a Change: OK, this was way back, like three years ago in the first round. So Coco Vandeweghe, who is normally known for being rude and immature, was on the ropes against Timea Babos. But it was her "outburst" during a changeover where she sought out a banana that had me like, what?
The only reason I worry about this is that the one time that I see Vandeweghe speak calmly and making a well-reasoned argument, she gets in trouble for it! This does not encourage good behavior, ref! Of course, later, she earned a warning for swearing (which does sounds about right).

3. Lauren freakin' Davis: Bahmygawd that match against Simona Halep. I identify with Davis on a couple levels. First, also short. Second, also have RIP'ed several toenails during/after tennis matches. Probably the only difference is that my toenail removal wasn't broadcast in hi-def on ESPN. Third: Utter disregard for anyone in my way during a match:

Very curious to see what a player like her can do on a clay court. Curious indeed.

2. Marin Cilic: You know when I talked about how great Rafael Nadal's draw was? And how he should be fine until he comes up against a big, flat hitter? Yeah, well, I was thinking about guys like Cilic, although Nadal is also dealing with an injury. Cilic is playing well right now and once won a Slam by beating one Roger Federer, so ...

1. Caroline Wozniacki: I mean, what the hell has gotten into the Woz? It's not just me, right? Her game has definitely grown three sizes in the last six months or so?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

AO '18: We Got the Men Down Unduh!

Well, I have to admit that we have a better men's draw than expected. Yeah, we're still missing some heavy hitters (Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori), but I, frankly, was surprised to see that Novak Djokovic was going to play. Same with Stan Wawrinka. We will see what happens, but the buzz on-court hasn't been about them. It's been about the guys who have been playing.
Like Roger Federer, who himself said this weekend that he has no right being the favorite at a major. He would be wrong. Just this one time. First, he's seeded second (and we'll get to Nadal, of course). Second, he is playing some ridiculous tennis. Third, he has a fairly friendly draw. Milos Raonic could be a problem, but he's just back from injury, which might make an upset there less likely. In the quarters, he could see Juan Martin del Potro or David Goffin, who, despite their size difference are equal obstacles for old man Fed. The top half of the draw is a question for him. It's likely that either Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev will be the man to emerge from that quarter. Both have beaten Federer already and both are young and ready to step up. Oh, yeah, and Djokovic is in Zverev's quarter. And oh yeah, Wawrinka is in Thiem's quarter. 
You noticed all the big-time name dropping there, right? This leads to the question: Who is in the top half with our friend Rafa Nadal? He's got it mostly to himself. Not to dismiss the John Isners and Marin Cilics and Grigor Dimitrovs of the world, but he's got to feel pretty good about this draw if he's healthy. The main concern about Nadal, for me, is his apparent inability to handle hard, flat hitters, such as Borna Coric (potential second round), Nick Kyrgios, who is in the bottom half of the draw, along with Lucas Pouille, who presents the same problems (and probably is walking around with a confidence boost after winning the Davis Cup for the French team last month). But man, this is a pretty sweet draw. There is one seeded player in Nadal's half who has a winning record against him, and that's because he didn't finish a match against Damir Dzumhur. And, to be fair, it looks like he's never played No. 30 Andrey Rublev. I guess I'm saying things are looking good. 
Novak Djokovic. According to news reports, he still has that elbow problem, but he's here, so he probably thinks he's good to play. His first round is against Donald Young. And then probably Gael Monfils. And then seeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas possibly. All to get to Zverev. Well, I would say that Novak will have many opportunities to get some rigorous match play in this coming week. 

First round matches to watch:
Djokovic v. Young
Pablo Cuevas v. Mikhail Youzhny: Because Youzhny could always try to brain himself with his racquet
Juan Martin del Potro v. Frances Tiafoe
Sam Querrey v. Feliciano Lopez

AO '18: We Got the Ladies Down Unduh!

This ladies draw was so difficult for me to fill out that I literally had to sleep on it. I know Simona Halep is playing well in the early goings this year. But I don't know how all the tennis commentators are so easily handing her the crown when Petra Kvitova looms in Halep's quar-ter. They could meet in the third round. Karolina Pliskova is also in that quarter. In the same half of her draw are Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber (to be discussed further in one moment here). Caroline Garcia. I mean, that's some new math, these pundits almost unanimously crowning Halep with the draw she has and the lack of previous Slam wins.
Now. That said, she has been playing some good tennis this year. She started out the year winning a title and clinching top seed for this tournament. But here's where I can't go 100 percent in on Halep in a major. She relies so heavily on on-court coaching that I don't know if she can just win a Grand Slam tournament without constant feedback. She hasn't done it yet. And she should be able to by now.
But you know who has done it before, a couple of times in fact (*whispers* and against better players than Halep)? Kerber. Now, at the end of 2016, I offered a rather sober analysis of Kerber's No. 1 status at that point. I argued that her game wouldn't endure at that level. And 2017 knocked her back a peg -- to the 23rd seed here in Australia. But man has she been killing it on the court this year. She's serving well and tagging the hell out of her backhand. She's also won a tournament this year already and beat a lot of good players in the process -- Venus Williams, Camila Giorgi, Dominika Cibulkova, etc. So I could see Kerber advancing through the top half, too. Not that her half doesn't have its own potential land mines -- there's Maria Sharapova as a possible third-round opponent and Garbine Muguruza in the following round.
So that's why I needed to sleep on this. Not that I'll be right or anything.
Bottom half: I mean, why does Australia hate Venus Williams so much? Her results here are far from consistent, and even though she was one match from winning it last year, she draws Belinda Bencic in the first round this year? Wait, didn't Serena Williams face Bencic in the first round last year? Wonder what I had to say about that?
I am really bad at this predicting thing and I somehow refuse to stop ...

Anyway. Moving on, Ekaterina Makarova is back, and in a draw with a Williams sister. I just think Venus has a really tough hand here. She dug herself out of some holes to be the only woman to advance to three of four Slam finals last year. She ended the year with some really winnable losses. I am still scratching my head over that Sloane Stephens match at the U.S. Open. So I don't know. I want to believe, but my pen does not follow.
Speaking of Sloane, it sure looks like she's in the middle of another Muguruza-esq post-Slam drought. You know the thing about Sloane that kind of makes me wonder about her ability to remain a force? Stuff like this interview. She says, "You guys are tweeting about me more." It shows that she's reading her own press, maybe even thumbing through her mentions on Twitter. Which also means she's already read Chris Evert's comments about her. (I wonder if Evert has ever had anything to say about the quite obvious immaturity of Coco Vandeweghe.) But Sloane shouldn't be reading what people are saying about her. If she gets sucked into that, it could take a while for her to get out of this slide. Besides, she's got bigger problems on her hands, like her draw. Her quarter contains Daria Kasatkina (who Serena mentioned as one of the better young players in a recent interview), Elina Svitolina, and maybe Venus again, or Makarova.
I've still got the men to write about, so let's go to the matches to watch in the first round:
Obviously Venus v. Bencic
Kvitova v. Andrea Petkovic: DING! Upset alert
Kristina Mladenovic v. Ana Bogdan: Thoughts and prayers for Mladenovic, who is somehow ranked No. 11, despite the fact that she hasn't won a match since last July. Yes, she has been playing.
Jelena Ostapenko v. Francesca Schiavone: You go ahead Schiavone! I just mean in general, not specifically in this match she is not likely to win.
Sam Stosur v. Monica Puig: I'm afraid Stosur may never win her home slam.