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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Grand Slam Champion Angelique Kerber!

Before today's AO women's singles final, Serena Williams had only lost to three women in the finals of a grand slam - her sister Venus Williams (2001 US Open and 2008 Wimbledon), her long-time rival Maria Sharapova (2004 Wimbledon) and Samantha Stosur (2010 US Open).

Add Angelique Kerber tonight, as the solid German, dashed the hopes of Serena equaling Steffi Graf's record of 22 grand slam titles in a very tight 2 hour 8 minute match.

And boy, did she have to work so hard for it! Serena just does not give it to you and Serena definitely made her work so hard for each point that Angie had to come up with a lot of clever shots just to win a point.

This is one of the best women's finals I have seen in years and there's something about having Serena there that fills it with such tension because you know she's just not going to roll over and die.

Bravo Angie! That was such a performance!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Australian Open 2016: Angie as David to Serena's Goliath!

I've been a fan of Angelique Kerber for a few years now. I still remember when she was still ranked #73 and then in a span of one year, flew all the way to the top 10, thanks to semi-final appearances in the US Open and Wimbledon.

She eventually formed part of this German armada of talented women players, when for more than a decade after Steffi Graf retired, there was almost no German presence in the last week of the grand slams

Unfortunately, like many young female players who are suddenly thrown into the limelight, Angie underwent a slump for the next 2-3 years.

However, the Angie I saw play against Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals of this AO was a different Kerber! Vika, who was ruthless against her earlier opponents, looked lost in the first few games.

Angie did something during the Christmas break, which is really showing now. When before, she'd be like Aga Radwanska, just content to be on the defensive, she's now more aggressive and accurate with her shots.

I mean, if she can bamboozle Vika, then maybe, just maybe, she can chink the armour of Serena during their finals.

However, if Serena plays at the level that she played against Aga today, I don't know, the first set Serena played was perfection, and any player on the other side would really be flustered on how to respond!

I just hope Angie is now more mentally prepared to be humiliated and bullied in court by Serena's power.

I mean, if Roberta Vinci, who has no weapons, can defeat Serena on the grand stage, Angie, who has more skills, should have a chance as well.

She should just make sure that all her balls stay in, just to rattle the legend. And of course, maintain a high first serve percentage.

Australian Open 2016: Treat Huey Into Mixed Doubles Semi-finals!

Our very own Treat Huey has reached the semifinals of the Mixed Doubles in the Australian Open along with his partner, Andrea Klepac of Slovenia!
Their match is going to be shown on Fox TV today at 12 noon!
I don't know how big the fan base is for tennis in the Philippine community in Australia, but I just hope some Pinoys there would be cheering for him!
If he does win this grand slam, it would be such an achievement, ka-level na rin sa nagawa ni Pia sa Miss Universe! That would certainly be a big inspiration for the local tennis players to dream big!
This is also the first time I will ever see a Pinoy play on such a big occasion in grand slam tennis!
Keeping my fingers crossed!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Australian Open 2016: Melbourne's Cinderella - Zhang Shuai

Zhang Shuai of China is turning out to be the Cinderella story of this year's Australian Open. She was just in qualifying last week, and made it to the main draw.  Promptly sent Simona Halep, world #2 from Romania, packing in the first round, and continued to have wins over players ranked more than 100 places than her, Alize Cornet of France, and Americans Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys.

Now, she finds herself in the last 8, in the quarterfinals of a grand slam!

I was lucky enough to see her play against Simona and you can immediately see that it was business for her from the strike of the first ball.

I thought, ok, just an excited young player.  But she continued and before we knew it, she upset Simona!

Then, most players who upset a top seed, normally folds in the next day and loses to their next round opponent.

But not Zhang Shuai.

She promptly dispatches Alize Cornet!

Well, if she can defeat Simona and Alize, why not Varvara?  And she did.

But today, I thought, ok, her time has finally come.

And it did seem like that as Zhang lost the first set to Madison 63.  So I decided to have my dinner thinking that Madison already had this in the bag.

No, she didn't!  When I returned from dinner, I saw that Zhang won the second set, 63!  And to make the story more intiguing, I saw Madison limping around!

Whew!  What  a dramatic third set it was as you can see Madison bravely playing through the pain and seeing Zhang a bit flustered with the situation of having to play a wounded opponent!

Anyhow, Zhang got confused a bit on the 6th game which Madison won but after 33, Zhang charged on and stepped on the accelerator, and closed the match at 63.  All through the remaining games, you can see Madison really valiantly fighting and giving whatever she's got!

Kudos to Zhang!  I am definitely watching her QF match with Johanna Konta!

Australian Open 2016: Our Very Own Treat Huey Looking For That Elusive Grand Slam Title

Our very own Treat Huey is really in another level now!  Imagine, his doubles partner now is Max Mirnyi, "The Beast"!  That now catapults Treat into his second quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open.

I hope their partnership works because it would be exciting to meet Max Mirnyi in Malaysia later this year!

Australian Open 2016: Gael Monfils Finally Makes A Breakthrough Here

It's really exasperating to be a fan of Gael Monfils because you know he can really do damage to the top players but since he seems more interested in becoming a showman, he has, in my opinion, kinda underachieved, considering his wealth of talent!

Would you believe that this year is just the first time he reached the QF of the Australian Open?  Which in a way really makes me happy because he now really seems more focused on the results now.  It's ok to be fun and to entertain the crowd but I hope he never really loses sight that the goal here is to win and with all the talent he has, there is no reason he shouldn't reach the top 4 or 8 regularly.

I'm just glad he finally makes a breakthrough in the AO this year.  He may even reach the semi's since his opponent, Milos Raonic, had to defeat Stan Wawrinka in five sets to just get through. He went through his in 3 straight sets.

Australian Open 2016: Johanna Konta The New Girl on the Block

Even with so many female seeds being waylaid last week, tt has been a parade of familiar names into the women's quarterfinals in this year's Australian Open - Serena, Maria, Aga, Carla, Angelique and Victoria.

However, one new name is added into the mix, I guess, the only female player in this mix, as of this writing, who is into her first ever grand slam quarterfinal.

And she brings up women's British tennis with her.

Her name is Johanna Konta, and she just upset last year's semifinalist, Ekaterina Makarova, in a titanic three hour 4-minute battle - 64 46 86.

I was impressed at how mature she was and how she never gave up, physically and emotionally during this really long match and against a very experienced player!  This was her first time deep into this Australian Open and she triumphs!

I hope she rests well because she does have a good chance of making it to the semifinals, since awaiting her is either Madison Keys or Zhang Shuai.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Australian Open 2016: Milos Raonic Into Second Consecutive Quarterfinal

I really missed Milos Raonic play last season as I heard he was injured and missed a couple of the slams.  Because of it, his ranking dipped a bit and I found him ranked #14 going into this year's Australian Open.

And I was pleasantly surprised how well he was playing because in their match today with Stan Wawrinka, he actually led the Swiss, two sets to nil - and I really thought he would win it in three! 

However, since Stan is so experienced, I was not surprised to see him calmly fight back and win the next two sets!

It was a great sign of maturity then on Milos' behalf that after losing the next two sets, to sublimely just dominate the fifth set again, as he led 5-2 - and served out the match.

These past few years, it has been tough for the other lower-ranked players to make any headway as there are now five top guys to deal with, aside from the almost impossible to break top 3 (Djokovic, Murray and Federer).  Add Wawrinka and Nadal to the mix, other lower-ranked players have to defeat them, just to be able to reach the semi's.

It happened before in the 2014 US Open, when both Cilic and Nishikori made breakthrough wins.  It didn't happen last year.

This year, since Nadal was dispatched in the first round, and Wawrinka in this round, it allows Raonic and Monfils to have a chance to go to a semifinal.  

Raonic has one appearance in a semifinal in the 2014 Wimbledon. This could be his second, if he plays as well today against Monfils in their QF encounter.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Madison Keys: A Possible Semi-Final Repeat

Madison Keys (#17) has a good chance of reaching the semi-finals of this year's Australian Open as her draw has opened up with the early exits of Simona Halep and Venus Williams.

She will meet Zhang Shuai of China (#133) in the fourth round.

This has been her path:

R3: Ana Ivanovic (SRB) (#22) 46 64 64 

R2: Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) (#70) 67(4) 63 63

R1: Zarina Diyas (KAZ) (#57) 76(1) 61

Victoria Azarenka: A Good Chance to Make It All the Way

Undoubtedly, Victoria Azarenka found herself in a very crowded part of the draw, with Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber on her side of the draw.  Even then, with the early exit of Garbine, it looks like a spot has opened up for her to make it all the way to the semi's, even to the finals!

She will meet Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic (#48) in the fourth round.

She looks really in-form. She has only given up 5 games in the first three rounds.

This has been her path in this year's Australian Open -

R3: Naomi Osaka (JPN) (#127): 61 61

R2: Danka Kovinic (MNE) (#55) 61 62

R3: Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) (#43) 60 60

Zhang Shuai: Female Breakthrough Player Australian Open 2016

Zhang Shuai gets awarded the Female Breakthrough Player for this year's Australian Open.  This is awarded to the lowest ranked player (not in Top 100) who reaches the deepest part of the main draw of any of the grand slams.

Zhang Shuai probably delivered the best performance of any player, male or female, in the first round of this Australian Open. 

She looked breathtakingly perfect from the first point to the last point, as she blew away the number two seed Simona Halep of Romania 63 64.  It was as if a tornado blew into the court and left the more accomplished player in tatters.

It was really amazing to see her maintain such a high level of play throughout the match.  It's not always that a new player takes it to the top seed, it's normally, the other way around.

In the second round, she won over Alize Cornet of France 63 63 (#33), a player ranked 100 places higher than her.

In the third round, she dispatched Varvara Lepchenko of the US (#51), 61 63. 

She will meet another American in the fourth round but she will be a real test since she was last year's semi-finalist, Madison Keys (#17)

With compatriot Qiang Wang's comprehensive victory over Sloane Stephens yesterday, it's not hard to notice that even with the retirements of Li Na, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai, there's a slew of hungry, determined and assertive players from China.

When I was doing my year end review last year, I noticed a big number of female Chinese players ranked between #101 and #200.  

It's only January and already, two players from China have made splashy grand entrances in this year's first grand slam - always the best stage to announce to the world that you have arrived.

It would be interesting to find out how deep these two women can get into the tournament.

Male Breakthrough Player for 2016 Australian Open - Stephane Robert

Stephane Robert of France is awarded the Male Breakthrough Player for this year's Australian Open.  It is awarded to the lowest ranked player (not in the top 100) who goes the deepest in any of the grand slams.

He is currently ranked #225.  However, Robert is already 35 years old and has been on the tour for 15 years.  His highest rank ever was #61 and his best result here was a fourth round appearance in 2014.  He has also reached the third round here once (2016) and the second round once in 2010.

He has also reached the second round of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2013.

He defeated Bjorn Fratangelo of the US (#132) 62 62 62 in the first round.

Then edged another American Rajeev Ram (#93) in the second round, 61 67(6) 46 75 75.

Then he lost to compatriot Gael Monfils (#24) 75 63 62 in the third round.

Philippine Open 2016: Gianluca Naso

Italian Gianluca Naso, currently ranked #222, was no match to Mikhail Youzhny today, losing easily 26 26.  It was my first time to see him play live as well.

He reached #175 in 2012.  He's already 29 years old so this must be the direction his future is heading, somewhere between #101 to #300.

Philippine Open 2016: Mikhail Youzhny Fights Hard in Manila

It was my first time to see Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, currently ranked #106, play and now I see the reason why he was a two-time US Open semi-finalist!  He plays at a certain speed and the balls just whiz past you, if you're not used to it.

That's why his match against Italian Gianluca Naso ended quickly 62 62.

Not so today, since Lukas Lacko of Slovakia is a former top 40 player, that's why the scoreline today was three sets 16 76(7) 75.

Tomorrow, he will meet Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland.  That would be quite a juicy final!

Philippine Open 2016: Lukas Lacko Strong Showing in Manila

This was the first time I saw Lukas Lacko of Slovakia play live and now I know why he was in the top 100 before.  He still has that style of game but right now, he's ranked #111.  He was ranked as high as #44 in 2013.  He's only 28 years old and should be able to reach that ranking again.

In yesterday's game, he overcame Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands 64 62.  

Today, he lost in a great match against Mikhail Youzhny of Russia in the semi-final 16 76(7) 75. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Philippine Open 2016: Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands Looked Listless

Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands lost his quarterfinal match today in the Philippine Open to Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 46 26. Igor currently ranks #150 but he went up as high as #52 in 2014.

He was also in the qualifying stage of this year's Australian Open, but lost to Stephane Robert of France (#225) in the second round.  Robert reached the third round and is still in contention.