Sunday 27 January 2013

Novak Djokovic d. Andy Murray (Australian Open 2013 Final)

History, history, history, everyone was talking about history before the Australian Open men's final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Both players had a chance to write their name in the history books, but at the end of the day it had to be one of them, and as the things unfolded, it turned out to be Novak Djokovic. Novak Djokovic became the first man in the open era to do a three peat at Australian Open, and in doing so joined Andre Agassi and Roger Federer as the holder of most Australian Open titles in the open era.

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The match started in a typical fashion, both players holding their serves and forcing a tie-break. Djokovic started the tie-break with a double fault and never recovered as Murray won the first set in tie break 7-2.

In the second set, Murray had 3 chances to break Djokovic early on but Djokovic saved all of them to keep the set on serve. Both players held serve the rest of the way to force another tie-break, this time it was Andy Murray who faulted in the tie-break as Djokovic ran away to level the match at one set a piece.

Murray took a medical time out after losing the second set to treat blisters on his feet. From then on it was all Djokovic, as Djokovic broke Murray once in the third set and twice in the fourth set to claim his 4th Australian Open title and 6th Grand Slam title, 6-7 (2) 7-6 (3) 6-3 6-2.

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Djokovic won the match by doing two things, winning 66% points behind his second serve and holding his serve from the very start of the match till the end of the match.

Murray lost the match due to two reasons, winning only 46% points behind his second serve, and wasting all 4 break point chances he created.

By winning the title Djokovic also laid to rest the potential controversies that would have arisen had Murray won the title, challenging the ATP ranking system based on the fact that Murray has won 2 slams, and Olympic gold medal and is yet not ranked world no.1, while Djokovic is not a reigning champion of any grand slam and still no.1.

Just like Azarenka did yesterday, Djokovic proved that he is the one to beat, and it is not easy to go against him. For now on, Murray can go on as he has been having spectacular results in grand slams in that he has made the final of the last 3 grand slams, starting from Wimbledon.

First grand slam of 2013 has ended, with all the titles going to the top seeds, except the mixed doubles titles, making it the first time since Wimbledon 1997.

How do you see Djokovic's win? Do you see Andy Murray bouncing back to challenge Novak Djokovic, or will Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal bounce back to make it more competitive at the top?

Saturday 26 January 2013

Novak Djokovic vs Andy Murray (Australian Open 2013 Final)

History is on line for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as they face each other for 18th time in their careers. Djokovic leads Murray 10-7, but it was Murray who won their last encounter in a grand slam, the final of U.S Open.

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Murray has already made history by make it to the final of immediate grand slam post his maiden grand slam title, but will be looking for more to become the one and only player to win his second major in the slam after his maiden slam title. Djokovic will be looking to become the first man in the open era to do a 3 peat at the Australian Open, and in the process joining Andre Agassi and Roger Federer as the holder of 4 Australian Open titles.

Murray will also spark a series of controversial questions in case he wins the title, the queries which will question the legitimacy of the ATP rankings, since Murray will hold 2 grand slam titles, Olympic gold medal and will still be world no.3, while Novak Djokovic will be slam-less for the moment (not a reigning champion of any slam) and will be world no.1. But, let us wait for Murray to win the title to spark such debates.

Novak Djokovic has lost 3 sets so far in the tournament, while Murray has lost 2 sets. Djokovic's clinical performance in the semi-finals was an indication of his peaking at the right time, while Murray's win over Federer showed that he too is ready to claim big prizes.

Let us have a look a the performance of the players so far in the tournament.

Description     Djokovic              Murray        
Aces          8          12
Double Faults          2            0
1st Serve %        66%          65%
1st Serve Points Won        80%          75%
2nd Serve Points Won         66%          53%
1st Return Points Won        34%          36%
2nd Return Points Won        57%          62%
Break Points Converted                   49%          54%
Winners        39          34
Unforced Errors        26          27
Net Points Won        74%          72%

Djokovic has won 80% points behind his first serve, while Murray has won 75% points. Murray's second serve is vulnerable, so he will have to raise his first serve %age just like he didagainst Federer in his semi-final show-down. Djokovic is one of the best returner on the tour and has won 57% return points while returning the second serves of his opponents and if Murray gives Djokovic too many second serves, Murray will be in toruble. Murray has been broken 11 times so far in the tournament, while Djokovic has only been borken 8 times thus far in the tournament.
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Djokovic played lights out in his semi-final against Ferrer and if that match is any indication, Murray will be in toruble against Djokovic. Murray has also been returning well, and has won 62% points while returning the second serves of his opponents. Djokovic had lazy starts in both his 4th round and quarter-final matches, but will be looking to stay sharp from the very start in the final.

Djokovic has been playing cleaner matches as compared to Murray, and will be hungry for the title, but Murray will also be as hungry as Djokovic. The only question will be who plays better on big points.

It will all come down to Murray's serve and both players nerves. Djokovic is better than Murray in both departments, and will be eager to clinch his 4th Australian Open trophy and 6th Grand Slam title.

Pick : Djokovic in 3 sets

Quotable Quotes - Australian Open Day 13

Novak Djokovic

On what he remembers about Andy Murray when he was 11 years old
“What was he like?  Well, I know he had a lot of hair, a lot of curly hair.  He was quite pale also (laughing).
But he got more sun I think over the years training in Barcelona.  He has more of a tan now than when he was a junior.”

Li Na
On when is she going to retire
“When I think I couldn't play, I will stop.  Because, I mean, you never know.  At least you have to see    I mean, at least you have to have a healthy body, otherwise no chance you can whole year travelling like this or play on the court. Maybe one day after wake up, I feeling, Oh, I'm tired.  I couldn't move anymore, I retire.”

On what did she feel, why she fell down
"Because I'm stupid (smiling)."

Victoria Azarenka
Q.  Was it difficult for you to get your head right going into the final, bearing in mind the talk of the last couple of days?
VICTORIA AZARENKA:  It isn't easy, that's for sure, but I knew what I had to do.  I had to stay calm.  I had to stay positive.  I just had to deal with the things that came onto me.  And that's pretty much it. I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and keep the focus that I can.  It just motivates me to be a better player.

Q.  Were you worried about the reception you might get when you went on court at the beginning?
VICTORIA AZARENKA:  Well, I was expecting way worse, to be honest actually.  What can you do?  You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day.  That's what it was all about.  It's a tennis match, tennis battle, final of the Australian Open.  I was there to play that.
The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, to do everything I could, and it was left behind me already.  So when I went into the match, I was really focused on trying to play that particular match, the most important match of the tournament, That one thing that I just have to go and do, and that's it.

Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan

Q.  Have you set new numerical goals?
MIKE BRYAN:  Probably try to shoot for a hundred and cut it.
BOB BRYAN:  That would be cool to end on a round number.
MIKE BRYAN:  Has anybody ever ended on a round number like that?
BOB BRYAN:  Zero or a hundred?  (Laughter.)

On what is left to achieve from the record list they have been compiling
BOB BRYAN:  As far as records, there's not much.  But like we've told you before, we're competitors.  We hate to lose.  We want to finish No. 1. That's just the way I don't know.  That's just the way we are.  We set goals to get better, to improve, and to play well at these big tournaments.  That's why we'll be out here for the next few, three, four more years.

Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na (Australian Open 2013 Final)

What do you do when your favourite player rolls his/her ankle on court and falls down during the match? What do you do, when the same player rolls ankle again and falls head down and smacks his/her head into the court, in the same match?

Li Na and Victoria Azarenka walked onto the court today to fight for the Australian Open crown. The first set started with double of Li Na, and ended with the double fault of Victoria Azarenka, with Li Na clinching the first set 6-4.

Drama unfolded in the second set as Li Na serving at 1-3 30-15 rolled her ankle and fell down. She was unable to put any weight on her leg as she limped to her chair and called for the trainer to have a medical time-out. Her ankle got tapped and she walked back onto the court to win the next 2 points and hold her serve.

Li Na's best chance to get back on serve came in the very next game as she went up 40-0 on Azarenka's serve only to see Azarenka claw her back and hold her serve. Azarenka levelled the match at one set a piece when she held her serve at 5-4 to push the match into a 3rd and final set. 

The third set started in the same fashion, with Azarenka breaking Li, and Li breaking Azarenka right back and then holding her serve for 2-1. There was a break of 10 minutes at that point in time due to the fire-works scheduled for the Australian Day. Azarenka took that time to go off court with the trainer, while Li sat there occasionally glancing at the fire-works. The players returned to the court with Azarenka to serve, on the very first point, Li rolled her ankle again and went down as her head smacked into the court with a huge popping sound. Trainers rushed to the court, and as per Li's words "The head was touching the floor.  Two second I couldn't really see anything.  It was totally black."

However, it was the smile of Li in that moment of adversity that won her millions of more fans. As per Li "when the physio come, she was like, Focus on my finger.  I was start laughing.  I was thinking, This is tennis court, not like hospital.  She was like, Follow my finger, because I didn't follow.  I just watch the eyes.  She says, Follow.  I say, Why?  I'm okay.  Yeah, but, I mean, just in case to check everything on the court."

Li lost that game and got broken in the very next game, as Azarenka went up 4-2, both players held their serve and as Li served to stay in match she got broken again and lost the championship match for the second time in 3 years after winning the first set. Azarenka won the set, match and championship and retained her title and the top spot 4-6 6-4 6-3.

Azarenka proved herself and proved why she is no.1, she sensed her chances and took them when she had to. It was not a very solid play from the world no.1 but it enough for her to defend her title and retain her top spot.

Azarenka let the emotions flow after that as she wept and covered her face with towel, she then walked towards her box where she was greeted by her coach and her friend (or more than just a friend) Red Foo.

How do you see Azarenka's win and Li's loss?

P.S : The answer to the above questions are you lay down, get some sleep and get up and write a biased article to let out your anger, frustration and depression. 

Friday 25 January 2013

Victoria Azarenka vs Li Na (Australian Open 2013 Final Preview)

Victoria Azarenka enters the match as the defending champion and probably the favourite for the title match. On line will be her title and the top spot.

Li Na enters the match in very hot form and with the passion and drive to win her first Australian Open grand slam. It is Australian Open where she has had the most success in her career.

Azarenka leads Li in their head to head encounters 5-4, having won the previous 4 encounters. However, it is Li who has won the pair's meeting sin grand slams, having won in 2011 Australian Open and 2011 French Open.

Azarenka has not faced a top 25 opponent so far in the tournament. The highest ranked player she defeated was Sloane Stephens in the semi-finals. This is not to take anything away from her, of course she can only beat the one who comes across the net, and it is none of her fault that all the top seeds in her quarter and half of the draw fell early.

Li, on the other hand has handled world no.4, Agnieszka Radwanska and world no.2 Maria Sharapova, in straight sets in the quarter-finals and the semi-finals. She was particularly tested in her quarter-final win over Radwanska in the first set. The way Li played against Sharapova must make her feel good and confident about where her game stands.
Li has yet to drop a set, while Azarenka lost a set in her 3rd round win over Jamie Hampton.

Let us have a look at what do the numbers tell us about their game so far in the tournament.

The stats used have been average stats for the 6 matches played by players so far in the tournament.

Description     Azarenka              Li              
Aces          2          3
Double Faults          5          3
1st Serve %age        70%        66%
1st serve points won        66%        64%
2nd serve points won                  46%        53%
Net points won        72%        69%
Break points won        63%       70%
1st serve return won        48%       48%
2nd serve return won        74%       67%
Winners       21       21
Unforced Errors       22       27

The match will come down to a few things:

Serve and Return
Azarenka has been serving at a good 70% and has won on average 66% points behind her first serve. Li has been returning well, she has won 48% points while returning the first serve of her opponents. Azarenka is prone to double faults, and she has actually had more double faults than aces, averaging 3 more double faults than aces in her previous 6 matches. Azarenka's second serve has been poor, since she has won only 46% points behind her second serve, while Li has won 67% points while returning the second serves of her opponents. Azarenka will have to be very sharp and keep her first serve up to give as little chance to Li as possible.

Li has been serving at 66% and has won 64% points behind her first serve, Azarenka has won 48% points (same as Li) when returning the first serve of her opponents. However, Li will have to be very cautious on her second serve, since Azarenka has literally been gulping the second serves of her opponents winning 74% points when returning the second points of her opponents. Li has won 53% points on her second serve.

Winners- Unforced Errors

Azarenka has been playing cleaner matches as compared to Li, she a winners-unforced errors differential of -1, while Li has a -6 differential. The player who will keep her act clean will definitely have a greater edge than the other just like we saw in the quarter-final and semi-final wins of both Azarneka and Li.

Break Points conversion
Break points will be very crucial for both players, as we noted in Li Na's win over Sharapova, where Sharapova had a lot of chances to claw her way back into the match but she was unable to capitalise on those break point chances, so the player who strikes first and capitalises on her chances will definitely be in a better position to win the title.

Azarenka has shown nerves in her matches. She got tight against Hampton, she got nervous in the first set of her quarter-final match against Kuznetsova, she got nervous against Stephens and got broken when she was serving for the match and took a medical time out after that. Li, showed some nerves in her first set against Radwanska, and in the first set of her 4th round win over Goerges, but other than that she has been calm so far.

An important thing to note is Li is only 10-66 in matches that have gone to a third set in her entire career, while Azarneka is 64-66.

It will all come down to the serve and nerve. The player who handles both things better will stand a better chance.

Both players complimented each other:
"She is doing so well all year. Also, she is the defending champion. For me, nothing really to lose. Just really have to enjoy the match." said Li Na about Azarenka

"I think she is in incredible form right now really. You know in the finals anything can happen. It looks like she improved a lot. Will be a tough match, so I am really looking forward to it." Azarenka on Li Na.

I am tempted to pick Azarenka in 3 sets, but I love Li Na, and would love to see her winning the title, so I will leave it to you people this time.

Who are you rooting for and who are you betting on?

Quotable Quotes - Australian Open Day 12

Roger Federer

on whether his long quarter-final match had an effect on his performance today against Andy Murray

"He beat me fair and square tonight.  No regrets from me."

on Andy Murray's chances on Sunday:

"Obviously Novak goes in as the favorite, I would think, even though Andy beat him at the US Open. "

Q: You spoke earlier in the week about the good manners that exist between the players.  There definitely seemed to be a bit of feeling between the two of you after 6 5 in the fourth.  Can you talk about that.  Was there an exchange between you? 
ROGER FEDERER:  I mean, it wasn't a big deal anyway.  We just looked at each other one time.  That's okay, I think, in a three and a half hour match.  We were just checking each other out for bit. 
No, I mean, that wasn't a big deal for me.  I hope not for him.

Andy Murray

Absolutely loved Andy Murray for the responses.

Q.  How surprised were you by what he shouted when you were at the net at 6 5 in the fourth?  You had a funny look on your face at that point. 
ANDY MURRAY:  I mean, I wasn't that surprised.  I mean, stuff like that happens daily in tennis matches.  You know, in sport, the stuff that some people say on football pitches and in basketball and all sorts of sports.  I mean, it was very, very mild in comparison to what happens in other sports.  It's just one of those things.

Q.  Can you repeat what he said? 
ANDY MURRAY:  It's not relevant what he said.  You know, it doesn't really matter.  It's something that happens, like I say, all the time on tennis courts, in sport, all the time. 
Especially when it's a one on one sort of individual combat.  It's not relevant.  There's no hard feelings.

Q.  Was it a word that we might struggle to get in our newspapers?
ANDY MURRAY:  It's not relevant what was said, you know.  I'm sure Roger won't talk about it and I have no interest in discussing it either, because, like I say, it happens all the time. 
People will want to make a big deal of it and it isn't really a big deal.

Li Na

you have got to love the response of Li Na, shows true and pure feelings

On the first time she saw an image of herself on a billboard or on TV.
"I said, 'Okay, I know this girl!' But the first time I was a little bit afraid to look. That's when it felt real. The first big time was after the French Open - I was in Germany and I saw myself at the airport, I don't know if it was BBC or CNN or another news channel. The funny thing is, I had an economy ticket, but the people came to me and told me they saw I won the tournament, so I could move to business. It wasn't too bad!"

Andy Murray d. Roger Federer (Australian Open Semi-Final 2013)

Andy Murray walked onto the court today with the confidence of a grand slam champion and played lights out tennis to send the 4 time Australian Open champion, Roger Federer, home. From the very start of the match, Federer seemed to have a bad day at office with things not working his way, but all the credit to Murray who pushed Federer, anticipated well and came out on top at the end. 

Coming into the match, Federer had won 82% points behind his first serve but won only 73% in his semi-final match. He served at 61% and won only 42% points behind his second serve. Federer's serve which had been there in the first 4 rounds was not present there today.

Murray, on the other hand, did his part well, serving at 64%, and winning 75% points behind his first serve and backing it up with 63% points behind his second serve.

Where everything worked for Murray, nothing worked for Federer tonight, from his serve to his fore-hand, from his back-hand to his drop shot. Everything and every shot defied him. It was like Murray was playing Federisque tennis and Federer was playing Murrisque tennis.

Coming into today's match Murray had not won a match against Federer in 3 prior meetings, but it turned out to be 4th time lucky for Murray. Murray broke Federer to go up 2-1 in the first set and held the rest of the way to win the first set. The second set went all the way on serve till tie-break, where Federer showed his class and took the set in tie break to level the match at one set  a piece. Third set followed the pattern of the first set with Murray breaking Federer and holding his own serve till the very end.

Fourth set provided a lot of drama. Federer broke Murray to go up early, but Murray broke right away to bring the set back to serve. Serving at 5-all Murray broke Federer again to serve for the match, but nerves got the better of him as Federer broke him to force tie-break and once again the story of second set was repeated as Federer won the tie break to force a final set.

Murray started strong and broke Federer to go up 2-0 and held his serve to go up 3-0. Serving to stay in match at 2-5 Murray once again broke Federer to clinch the match and become the first man to make it to back to back grand slam finals after winning his first major. The final score being 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-7 6-2 in Murray's favour.

Murray hit 62 winners compared to Federer's 43, and hit only 47 unforced errors compared to Federer's 60. The winners-unforced errors differential says it all.

Federer goes home and will have time to think on things, while Murray moves on to face Djokovic in a U.S Open repeat final, won by Andy Murray. Andy Murray is closing on the gap between himself and Federer in the rankings and if he keeps the level going, Federer will soon be in trouble. However, on part of Federer it was great to see him stretch Murray to a fifth set, despite a bad day at office. All the credit to Murray for his master class performance.

To sum up the match, Murray did to Federer, what Federer used to do to Murray, giving him the taste of his own medicine.

P.S - I know all of you must be saying that this is biased report, I tried to keep neutral, but being a Federer fan, writing this report immediately after his loss is tough.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Roger Federer vs Andy Murray (Australian Open 2013 Semi-Final Preview)

Roger Federer and Andy Murray will be adding another chapter in their rivalry. Murray leads the series 10-9, but has never defeated his Swiss rival in a grand slam and will be aiming to make it 4th time lucky in grand slam. All the 3 prior meetings in grand slam have come in the finals, and they will meet each other for the first time in a grand slam semi-final.
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Roger Federer has dropped two sets, both in his quarter-final win over Tsonga, while Murray has yet to drop a set at this tournament. Roger Federer will be looking to reach the Australian Open final for the first time in 3 years, while Andy Murray will be aiming to reach his second straight grand slam final.

The two have met before in the Australian Open, the same year when Federer won his last Australian Open trophy, and it was Murray he defeated to lay his hands on the trophy.

Let us have a look at what do numbers suggest about the performance of the players so far in the tournament.
The stats used have been average stats for the 5 matches played by players so far in the tournament.

Description     Federer          Murray     
Aces          9       10
Double Faults          2         0
1st Serve %age       65%       67%
1st serve points won       82%      76%
2nd serve points won       59%      48%
Net points won       79%      73%
Break points won       29%      58%
1st serve return won       30%      41%
2nd serve return won       56%      65%
Winners       38      35
Unforced Errors       28      29

The match will come down to a few things:

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Serve and Return: Roger Federer will have to sharp on his serve. He had not dropped serve till his quarter-final clash against Tsonga, where he got broken for 5 times. Federer has won 82% points behind his first serve and will need to keep his first serve %age up. He showed some lapses in his serve in his match against Tsonga, but he will have to raise his level against Murray. Murray has won a good 41% points while returning the first serve of his opponents so far in the tournament, so Federer will need to up his level. Federer has been winning 59% points behind his 2nd serve, and will have to be extra cautious since Murray has been eating up the 2nd serves of his opponents so far winning 65% of points while returning the second serve of opponents.

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Andy Murray has won 76% points behind his first serve, and considering Federer's not so good return (he is good but not outclass), Murray should not have problem with winning points behind his first serves. Federer has won 30% points while returning the first serve of his opponents so far. However, the area Murray will have to improve on is his second serve, where his first serve has been an asset, his second serve has been somewhat of a liability as he won only 48% points behind his second serve and Federer has won a goof 56% points returning the second serves of his opponents. So Murray will need to keep up his first serve percentage.

Break Points Conversion: This will be one of the most important things, Murray has converted a good 58% of the break point opportunities he created, while Federer has capitalised only 30% of his opportunities. Federer will have to improve on this, to stay out of trouble.

Winner-Unforced Errors: Federer has so far been playing cleaner matches as compared to Murray. Federer will have to find the right mix of aggression and defense against Murray, the way he used against Raonic and Tomic (though both are very different when seen with Murray). If Federer lets his unforced errors mount, he will definitely be in trouble. Murray on the other hand will have to attack Federer's backhand.

In the quarter-final match of Federer against Tsonga, Tsonga was the better player, but it was Federer who walked away with the most crucial points, and hence the match. In this semi-final match-up it will again come down to the important points, the player who seizes the moment and takes those critical points will definitely have a better chance.

The form of both players suggests that it will be a good match. The player coming out firing will have an edge.

Who do you think will win? My heart will be going Rogerisque but my mind will be going Murrisque.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Li Na d. Maria Sharapova (Australian Open 2013 Semi-Finals)

Li Na looked back to see if Mara Sharapova had emerged from the locker room or not, while she was waiting for her in the gallery so that the two could walk to the court. Li Na lead Maria Sharpaova to the court and never looked back again.

Maria Sharapova walked onto the court determined to make it to back to back Australian Open finals for the second time in her career. She walked behind Li Na to the court, got to the net for coin toss after Li Na and never recovered from being behind Li Na. Li Na won the coin toss but chose to receive the serve.

Sharapova opened the match with back to back double faults, and Li Na capitalised on the opportunity to break Sharapova to take an early lead. This set the pattern for the entire match. Li Na whose serve had been questionable coming to the match, saved a break point to hold her serve and go up 2-0. Both players held serve to make it 3-1.
A Sharapova double fault, preceded by a Li Na winner gave Li another opening. Sharapova saved two break points by putting pressure on Li Na's forehand but the third break point proved too much for Sharapova as Li Na drilled a winner to drown Sharapova into a 2 break deficit to lead 4-1. This was for the first time in the Australian Open that Sharapova had lost more than 3 games in a set.

Li Na saved two break points but Sharapova kept fighting and converted on her 3rd opportunity to bring the deficit to one break of serve and get back to 4-2. However, that was all from Sharapova, as Li broke Sharapova right back and held her own serve to put one foot into the final. Li won the first set 6-2.

Sharapova started the second set stronger by holding her serve and getting to a break point on Li Na's serve. however, it proved to be a day when Li Na's fore-hand wont break down, as she hit a forehand winner to save the break point.  Sharapova got a look at 2nd break point in the game but 2 good first serves and an overcooked forehand from Sharapova let Li Na walk away with her service.

Both players held serve to make it 2-all. Li Na, who has been refrred as Nails, started nailing Sharapova's second serve. A double fault from Sharapova gave Li a break point and an over hit forehand from Sharapova put in one of the last nails into the coffin of Sharapova, as Li lead 3-2 in the 2nd set.

Sharapova again got to a break point on Li's serve to bring it back to serve but great first and second serves from Li Na erased any hopes Sharapova had, and Li moved ahead 4-2.

Li Na hit the final nail into Sharapova's coffin by breaking her serve yet again, to give herself a chance to serve for the match.

An excellent un-returnable serve gave Li her first match point, but a missed forehand got the game back to deuce. An ace at perfect time to bring a second match point and a return into the net from Sharapova put Li Na's second foot into the final.

The key to Li Na's win today was her forehand which did not break down. Just like I mentioned in my preview of the match, the player with cleaner stats will go on to win the match. Sharapova entered the match with a winner-unforced error of +5 on average while Li Na had a -8 differential, but Sharapova left the court and the tournament with -15 winners unforced errors for the match and Li Na left the court to walk back on Saturday with a +3 differential. Sharapova had only been broken twice in her last 5 matches but got broken 5 times today and Li Na who had been broken for 11 times in the tournament when she entered the match, was broken only once.

Sharapova will have to wait for another year to lay her hands on to the Australian Open trophy, while Li Na gives herself another chance to win her first Australian Open title.

Li Na's win ended Sharapova's chances of returning to world no.1. For now on, Li walks on and will wait for the winner of Azarenka/Stephens match in the final.

I will end the match report with this, Li Na as asked in on-court interview to comment on her age, which she replied by saying to Rennae Stubs "No, you know in truth I am younger than you".

Maria Sharapova vs Li Na (Australian Open 2013 Semi-Final Preview)

Maria Sharapova will walk into the match with the fewest games lost in the tournament in making it to the Australian Open semi-final since the 128 player draw began, an open era record. Li Na will walk back to the courts where she clawed her way back from the jaws of defeat in 2011, by saving a match point and defeating then World no.1 Caroline Wozniacki, to make it to her first ever grand slam final.

The two players have been hot since the start of the season, Li going 13-1 since the start and the only loss coming at the hands of Agnieszka Radwanska, while Sharapova still undefeated in her 2013 campaign.

This is the pair's 13th meeting, with Sharapova leading 8-4, winning the last 3 meetings in 2012. Sharapova routed Li in the semi-finals of Beijing last year, baggling Li in the 2nd set.

Both players have yet to drop a set so far in the tournament. Let us have a look at what do the numbers tell us about the performance of the players.

The stats below are the average stats of the players for the 5 matches played so far in the tournament.
Description     Sharapova                    Li          
Aces            4              3
Double Faults            3              3
1st Serve %age          60%            66%
1st serve points won          79%            65%
2nd serve points won         55%            50%
Net points won          62%            69%
Break points won         57%            75%
1st serve return won         54%            47%
2nd serve return won         71%            65%
Winners          20            21
Unforced Errors         15            29

The match will come down to 3 things as always

Serve: Service holds have not been a problem for Sharapova so far in this tournament, as she has been broken only twice in her previous 5 matches. Li, on the other hand has been broken for 11 times in her previous 5 matches. Add the fact that Sharapova has won 14% more points compared to Li, behind her first serve and 5% more behind her 2nd serve. Serve, a liability for Sharapova or Li?

Return: Sharapova has been hot on returns, breaking her opponents ruthlessly throughout her 5 matches. Li, has not been bad on service returns, however Sharapova has been better. Li has won 65% points behind her first serve while Sharapova has won 54% points while returning the first serves of her opponents. The major concern for Li will be her 2nd serve, where has won only 50% points and Sharapova has been punishing the players on their 2nd serves. Li will have to up her first serve %age and points won behind her first serve. 

Winners-Unforced Errors Differential: The player with cleaner stats will have more chance of making it to the final of the first grand slam of the year. Both players hit the ball as hard as they can, and keeping the unforced errors low will definitely help each player. A perfect balance between aggression and defense will be needed. Sharapova has so been been able to keep her stats clean with a +5 winners-unforced errors differential, while Li has a -8 winners-unforced errors differential.

Sharapova has Li's previous coach Thomas Hogstedt in her corner and an insight into Li's game will definitely help Sharapova. Li on the other hand has Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin's former coach, on her camp. It will be interesting to see how to the players go out there on the court.

 Sharapova leads Li 5-1 in the pair's meetings on hard courts, Sharapova has gone for Li's forehand in her previous meetings which is the weaker wing of Li Na and tends to break down under pressure.

Sharapova has a great chance of winning this match, however, if Li can dictate and make Sharapova run and come to the net, Li will have a chance in this match.

Li has been known for losing concentration during the match, however, she will have to razor sharp from the start to the end if she is to make it past the 2008 Australian Open champion, Maria Sharapova.

It will also come down to what type of Li we see today, an error spraying machine or a composed and winner producing player. The player making the first strike will definitely have an edge in the match.

My mind tells me to go with Sharapova, but I know that I will be rooting for Li Na.

Pick : Sharapova in 3 sets.

Who are you going for?

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Sloane Stephens d. Serena Williams (Australian Open Quarter-Final)

Sloane Stephens entered the court leading Serena, headphones in her ear, listening to, well I don't know what she was listening to ;).

Serena Williams walked right behind Sloane Stephens, looking at the pictures of the past champions as she was walking past the gallery.

It was the second meeting of the pair, with Serena winning their quarter-final clash in Brisbane International at the start of the year, however, it was Serena, who commented on the potential of Stephens after that match and said that Stephens will go as high as world no.1.

Serena Williams started the match in her usual way, firing un-returned serves and held her serve at 15. Stephens responded in the same way and held at love with two un-returned serves, an ace and a winner. Serena Williams responded like-wise with a love hold, Serena started the pattern and Stephens followed it. Stephens did not lose a point on her serve till 4-3. Serving to level the score at 4-all Stephens sent a fore-hand long to lose first point on her serve, a winner from Serena and a double fault from Stephens brought 3 break-points for Serena. Stephens saved the first break point by a winner, and the second on an unforced error from Serena, but on the third Stephens sent a fore-hand long to give Serena the break and a chance to serve for the set, which she complied to win the first 6-3 in just 28 minutes.

Sloane Stephens started the 2nd set in a nervous fashion going down 15-40 on her serve. A big serve saved one break point. A 20 shot rally ensued where Stephens had Serena on the run but the rally ended with Stephens unforced error there-by giving Serena early lead in the second set.

Serena Williams held at 15 to lead 2-0. Stephens held her serve to keep the deficit to one break of serve. Serena Williams' serve started with Stephens going for a winner, Serena had all the court but missed an easy forehand sending it long. Stephens barely putting the serve back in play and waiting for Serena to make an error and Serena complied and Stephens got the break and the set back on serve.
Stephens won the next game by a wonderful passing shot to lead Serena for the first time in the match. Stephens held for 3-2 in the second set. Stephens got a look at the break point on Serena's serve but Serena brought out the Acerena in herself to erase the break-point and hold for 3-all. Stephens held at 15 on her serve to go up 4-3.

Stephens put up a great show to break Serena at 15 to give herself a chance to serve for the set. Stephens raced to 30-0 on her serve, but failed to find first serves and Serena smacked return winners on those serves to get  to 30 all. A good first serve brought Stephens her first set point, nerves started creeping in and Stephens put an easy back-hand long and the game went to deuce. Stephens double-faulted at the worst possible time to give Serena a break point and sent a fore-hand long to get the set back to serve.

Serena twisted her ankle during the game and immediately after breaking Stephens asked for a trainer. Serena was taken off court for treatment, and when she returned she looked visibly bothered by her back since her first serve speed fell to mid 80's mph, Stephens was unable to capitalise on this and Williams held to bring it to 5-all. Stephens saved a break point and held to force Serena to serve to stay in the set again.
Stephens got very defensive on Serena's serve, waiting for Serena to make an error, and missed on her first break point. However, an over-cooked fore-hand form Williams gave Stephens a break point and a netted fore-hand from Williams gave Stephens the 2nd set, 7-5. The 2nd set lasted 58 minutes. Winners-unforced errors differential from Stephens was -5, while for Serena it was a whooping -11, Serena won only 5 of the 14 points played on her 2nd serve.

Third set started with each player holding her serve easily. Stephens held for a 2-1 lead and Serena smashed her racquet on the change of ends breaking it, which pretty much summed up her day. Stephens got a look at a break-point, but Serena sent a big serve erasing it and holding for 2-all in the third set. Stephens held for 3-2. Stephens got to 30-0 on Serena's serve but was unable to win another point. Serena let out a huge 'C'mon' as she held her serve for 3-all. Stephens went down two break points on her serve, but played two great points to save them. Sent sent a fore-hand long to give Serena another chance, however, she saved this as Serena netted a forehand. A return winner on Stephens second serve and a forehand into the net from Stephens gave Serena the break she was looking for. It seemed that Stephens was done for the match, but she pushed Serena to the limits and broke right away to bring the match back to serve.

Stephens saved yet another 2 break points on her serve and forced Serena to serve to stay in the match. A fore-hand long from Williams gave the first point to Stephens, a massive forehand into the corner to draw a short ball from Stephens and smack a winner to win the point for 15-all. On the next point, Serena had all the court to put the ball away, but she sent the fore-hand long, and on the next point sent a fore-hand into the net to give Stephens 2 match points. Another fore-hand into the net and Stephens could not believe it. She looked stunned as she sent the 5 time Australian Open champion, Serena Williams, out of the tournament.

It was a bad day for Serena Williams and probably bad two weeks for Serena Williams, as she was already suffering from a right sprained ankle from her first round win. The back issue that spurred during the back added to it. Serena had already exclaimed that she was having the worst ever two weeks of her life.

Stephens after the hand shake immediately took out her cell-phone to see if she had any message from her mother.

"No, God, I don't know, Oh My God" that was how Stephens summed up her win over Serena Williams in her on-court interview.
"My grand-parents must be watching this and they must be going crazy".
"Yeah! I was hoping she might have texted me right away" when asked about was she checking on a message from her mother.

A few days back a renowned tennis writer tweeted that should Stephens make the quarter-final, she would have done so without beating a player ranked above 45.

I said to her that she can beat only who comes into her way, and the reply was in order to be a top player, you have to beat player, and my response was that she will hopefully beat the top players when she faces them.

 I hope that Stephens has now proved her point by beating the best player at the moment, Serena Williams.

The emotions shown by Stephens were of pure joy, she was asked had she ever imagined she will be in such a stage and beat her idol at this age," No, I can't imagine" and tears started rolling through her eyes, tears of happiness.

For now on, Serena Williams goes home and Sloane Stephens goes on to the semi-finals where she will be playing the world no.1, Victoria Azarenka for the first time, for a place in her maiden grand slam final. 

Victoria Azarenka d. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova entered the Australian Open with no hopes, but here she was in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open 2013, coming off from a 6 months injury lay off.

Victoria Azarenka definitely loved to return to the courts that provided the right launch pad for her 2012 campaign, bringing her, her first major title.

It was battle between two grand-slam champions and for the first set it completely looked like it. It seemed like both were daring the other to go for her shots. When Azarenka went for a winner, Kuznetsova responded by doing the same. Kuznetsova challenged Azarenka's movement by throwing in a lot of sliced drop-shots with perfect timing.

The 3rd game of the first set lasted for 15 minutes. Azarenka had a lot of chances to close the game but everytime Kuzetsova brought out something different and more interesting in her arsenal to get the back back to deuce. A wonderful passing shot from Kuznetsova and an unforced error from Azarenka gave Kuznetsova the first break.
"Pain does not kill me, I kill the pain" tattooed on the arms of Kuznetsova showed the spirits of Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova saved a couple of break-points by some good first and second serves to consolidate the break and move ahead. Azrenka responded by holding her serving and keeping the deficit to one break of serve.

The next game proved to be critical, as Kuznetsova double faulted on the break point to surrender the advantage and bring the set back on serve at 4-3.

Azarenka and Kuznetsova fought for the rest of the rest. When Kuznetsova came up with a fore-hand down the line, Azarenka responded by a drop shot. When Azarenka challenged Kuznetsova by a drop shot, Kuznetsova answered by a sensational sliced pass.

From 5-all Kuznetsova started matching Azarenka in her grunts, but lost her shots, it seemed like Kuznetsova could either match Azarenka's shots or her grunts. She tried matching her grunts and lost the plot and her serve. All of a sudden the positions reversed and Azarenka went from Serving to stay in set to serving for the set.

Red Foo showed great emotions when Azarenka broke Kuznetsova to move ahead 6-5 (I wonder if anything is up between the two).

Kuznetsova realised that she can either go toe on toe with Azarenka in shrieking or go toe on toe with her in shot-making and stopped grunting. Kuznetsova saved a set point by forcing an error from Azarenka to get to deuce. A lucky net cord gave Azarenka another set-pont only to see Kuznetsova's winner erasing it but Azarenka was not be denied as 2 unforced errors from Kuznetsova gave Azarenka the set, 7-5.

It was Kuznetsova's unforced errors that killed her, as she hit 28 comapred to Azarenka's 19 and landing only 56% of her first serves into play, while Azarenka put 72% of her first serves into play

Azarenka started the set by breaking Kuznetsova, but Kuznetsova broke right away by making Azarenka play one more shot. From then on, Kuznetsova again forgot that she can't simultaneously match Azarenka's grunt and ground-strokes, and sshe started grunting again and in doing so lost her plot completely, as she failed to win another game. It was all Azarenka from then on as she rolled through the second set 6-1. The match ended on a long fore-hand from Kuznetsova sealing the fate of Kuznteova and ending her run in this year's Australian Open quarter-finals. The final score being 7-5 6-1 in Azarenka's favour.

Kuznetsova showed us all in her run to the quarter-finals that she still has got what it takes to go deep down in the draw, and she definitely sent a message that she is not done and out yet.

Azarenka marches on, to face the winner of Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, which has gone into the third set with Serena suffering from back spasms.

Monday 21 January 2013

David Ferrer d. Nicolas Almagro (Australian Open Quarter-Final)

Nicolas Almagro walked onto the court today determined not be over-shadowed by the the two Spaniards ranked above him, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, as he took on one of them for a place in the semi-finals of Australian Open 2013. Almagro was trying to reach his first ever grand-slam semi-final.

Image via
David Ferrer followed in the foot-steps of Almagro onto the court and determined to make it to the semi-finals. He had every reason to be confident given his head to head record versus Almagro. The pair had met 12 times before this meeting and all had gone in the favour of Ferrer. Just like Ferrer everyone believed it will be a cake-walk for Ferrer.

Almagro, went out firing all cylinders, serving well and backing his serve up with wonderful ground-strokes, both on the forehand and the back-hand. A lot of wonderful rallies ensued and in just 34 minutes Almagro was up a set, breaking Ferrer to take the first set. Almagro did not face a break point in the first set.

Almagro kept up the pressure by going for his shots and the second set followed the pattern and the score-line of the first set. It took Almagro 42 minutes to win the 2nd set, in which he again face no break points. 

The 3rd set went the same way with Almagro going for his shots and breaking Ferrer, until he had to serve out the match. Watching Almagro , no one could believe that Almagro was win-less in his 12 meetings against Ferrer. However, it soon began to unfold, as Almagro found himself serving for the match. He went down two break points but saved both to bring the game to deuce, but could not hang in there enough to serve it out. Nerves definitely had to play their part, the thoughts of first ever grand-slam semi-final and first ever win over David Ferrer must have haunted him, as he was broken to bring the set back to service. Ferrer held and broke Almagro to win the 3rd set.

The 4th set started in the same fashion just like the first 3 sets with Almagro going up a break. Almagro served for the match once again at 5-4, but this time again Ferrer stepped up and Almagro's nerves got the better of him and Ferrer broke Almagro to extend his time in the match, however Ferrer was in danger again as he was broken by Almagro, giving Almagro his 3rd chance to serve out the match. It was not Almagro's day, heavens were not in his favour, as he was yet again broken by Ferrer to force a 4th set tie-break, hence putting one of the last nails in the coffin that Almagro had built for himself. The final nail in the coffin was hit when Almagro hurt his groin during the 4th set tie-break, which was ultimately won by Ferrer 7-4.

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The fifth set was one way traffic with Ferrer winning the final set 6-2, breaking Almagro twice to clinch the final set and hence the match, making it 13 times in a row that Almagro failed to post a win against Ferrer. The final score being 4-6 4-6 7-5 7-6(4) 6-2 in Ferrer's favour.

It was one of the worst loses, or will it be more appropriate to call it the worst ever meltdown by a player of this caliber. Perhaps the recent meltdowns of Samantha Stosur in the second round and that of Li Na in the 4th round here last year come to mind. However, all the credit to David Ferrer for hanging in there by his finger nails and sensing the nerves of Almagro and taking his chances and coming out as a winner. 

For now on Ferrer lives on to fight for another day. Ferrer has taken another step towards winning his maiden slam, and will play the winner of Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych.

Li Na d. Agnieszka Radwanska (Australian Open 2013 Quarter-Final)

It was a much hyped match, the two met for the 2nd time this year, with Radwanska coming out on top in the first match. Radwanska entered the match as the favourite, since she had not lost a set in her prior 13 matches, while Li Na's only loss in her last 13 matches was at the hands of Radwanska.

There was a lot at stake while entering the match, for Li Na, a chance to put her dis-appointing 4th round loss at the hands of Kim Clijsters behind her and for Radwanska a chance to make it to her first Australian Open semi-final.

If it was Radwanska's unbeaten streak in 2013 that was online, it was Li Na's unbeaten record in the Australian Open quarter-finals that was on-line, and it all ended with Li Na putting ending Radwanska's 13 match season opening winning streak, while making her record in Australian Open quarter-finals 3-0.
Li defeated Radwanska 7-5 6-3 to move to her 3rd Australian Open semi-final in the last 4 years.

The match started slowly. It was like bang a winner from Li, and bang a forehand or bank-hand long by Li. Again a winner followed by an error. Radwanska drew the first blood when she broke Li to go up 2-1 in the first set, but could not consolidate as Li broke right back. This started a sequence of 4 breaks of serve which ended when Li held her serve via long return from Radwanska, 2 winners and an unreturned serve to move ahead 4-3. Radwanska responded the same way, holding to level the set at 4-4. Radwanska broke Li in the next service game at love to earn a chance to serve for the set, but as we have seen that Li Na brings out her best when she is down, she broke right back at love to bring the set back to serve.
Li held her serve after some drama to force Radwanska to serve to stay in the set, from serving to stay for the set. Both players brought everything they had into that game but in the end it was Li Na who broke Radwanska to clinch the first set in 75 minutes.

It was interesting to note that both players won more points behind their second serves than the points won behind their first serves. It was actually 2 overhead smashes put into the court that won Li the set.

Radwanska started the 2nd set stronger, winning 8 consecutive points to start the set, but from then on it was all Li Na, as she held and broke Radwanska right away to bring the set back to serve. Li went on to win 9 straight points which ended when she lost a point while serving at 4-2 up 40-0. Radwaska served to buy sometime into the match, and got two break points when she forced Li to serve for the match, but Li was just too strong as a long shot from Radwanska, and a deep Back-hand forcing an error from Radwanska saved Li Na.

What was alarming for Radwanska was her winner-unforced error differential, going into the match Radwanska had on average +2 winner unforced error differential, while Li had a -7, but by the end of the match Radwanska had -11 differential while Li had a differential of -8. Quite an unusual stat for Radwanska, who had hit 47 unforced errors in her last 4 matches here at Australian Open but hit 21 unforced errors in one match.

Radwanska did everything in her power to keep Li Na off-balance and move her around, mixing things up and for sometime it worked for Li Na, but Li Na kept going for her shots hitting powerful strokes, going for the lines and keeping the balls deep to keep Radwanska off-balance. Li Na and Radwanska now stand squared at 13-1 for the season and the lone loss  for both coming at the hand of the other.

During the second set, a ball hit Li Na's top frame of the racquet and went into the crowd, as she tossed the ball to serve. When asked about it in her on-court interview, she replied " I want to have good communication with the fans." Absolutely loved her response, jolly as always.

When asked about what Carlos brought to her as a coach, Li said " We had a very tough training in winter. After 3 days, I aksed him 'Do you know how old I am?' "

The lady has got the sense of humour.

As for now, Li goes on and will wait the winner of Maria Sharapova and Ekaterina Makarova.