2015 preview: The road to the Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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2015 preview: The road to the Australian Open

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TENNIS 2015 PREVIEW – The 2015 season is about to start and our Diego Sampaolo looks at the build-up to the first Grand Slam of the year. Will Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams confirm at the top? Will Andy Murray be able to come back? Will Agnieszka Radwanska be able to win her first Grand Slam under the guidance of her new coach Martina Navratilova? Will Kei Nishikori become the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam?

 

The 2015 season will start next week-end with the traditional Mubadala World Tennis Exhibition in Abu Dhabi from 1 to 3 January. The ATP and the WTA Tour season will officially kick off next week with Brisbane and Doha. In the same week Perth will host the traditional Hopman Cup ITF competition and the ASB Classic in Auckland and Shenzhen. The build-up to the Australian Open starting on 19th January will continue the following week with Sydney and the Heineken Cup. In our preview we look to what we can expect in the next tournaments in January leading to the Australian Open and the players who will be in the spotlight in the first very busy month of the year. Will Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams confirm at the top? Will Andy Murray be able to come back? Will Agnieszka Radwanska be able to win her first Grand Slam under the guidance of her new coach Martina Navratilova? Will Kei Nishikori become the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam?

The time to celebrate the stars of the 2014 season is over. It’s now time to look to the 2015 season which kicks off on New Year’s Day in Abu Dhabi for the traditional season-opening Mubadala exhibition tournament which features a star-studded field featuring defending champion Novak Djokovic, nine-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, although Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga have pulled out and have been replaced by Nicholas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez. Djokovic won the last three editions of this tournament and will be bidding to win for the fourth time before moving to Doha next week.

Almagro, who finished runner-up to Djokovic in a thrilling 2-hour and 34-minute final two years ago, will open his Mubadala campaign against Wawrinka. The winner of this match will play against Djokovic.

The six players in this year’s line-up have collected a total of 24 titles. All the previous three Mubadala champions Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic will return to Abu Dhabi this year.

Nadal and Djokovic will make the trip to Doha where they headline a line-up which features Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Ernests Gulbis. Nadal will defend his Doha title twelve months after his triumph against Gael Monfils. The Spaniard will make his seventh appearance in Doha where he also finished runner-up in 2010 losing to Nikolay Davydenko. Djokovic, who won seven titles in 2014 and finished on a high winning Paris Bercy and the ATP Finals in London, will make his debut in the capital of Qatar. Berdych will play his first tournament since his coach change to Daniel Vallverdu. The Czech player will be looking to avenge his first-round defeat in Doha. Ferrer will be looking to make a good start to his season in Doha where he reached the semifinal in 2012.

The big question is whether Nadal will be able to return to his past form in the same way as 2013 when he clinched the Number 1 spot after a 2012 season ruined by a series of injury problems. In a recent interview to French television Nadal admitted that he is planning to organize his schedule carefully to stay healthy rather than focusing on recapturing World Number 1 position. He is planning to play in fewer tournaments in the future after a difficult 2014 season ruined by a series of injury problems.

“For me returning to World Number 1 spot will not be a goal in my career anymore. If I have become Number 1 because of the results I have, it’s great but I am not going to pursue this objective. I will follow my schedule. My big goal is to play as many years as possible. What I won’t do is to put the best years of my career to get Number 1 spot”, said Nadal

In the same week as Doha, the calender features the ATP/WTA Combined Tournament in Brisbane, the first Australian event leading up to the Australian Open. The ATP 250 in Brisbane will feature a star-studded line-up with Roger Federer (runner-up last year to Lleyton Hewitt), Grigor Dimitrov, US Open finalist Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro who was expected to make his come-back in Brisbane after a 2014 season plagued by a serious wrist injury, announced that he will not play in the Australian city. Unfortunately US Open champion Marin Cilic was forced to pull out of the Brisbane Tournament because of a shoulder injury which may put his participation at the Australian Open at risk. After losing all his three round-robin matches at the ATP Finals, Cilic decided to play the IPTL (International Tennis Premier League) but he eventually pulled out due to a right wrist injury.

“I need to take a break, but I don’t know if it is two weeks or four weeks and how long it is going to last. I am going to do my best to get to the Australian Open”, said Cilic.

Dimitrov, Raonic and Nishikori enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014 and will be looking to continue their outstanding progress. Nishikori will be bidding to clinch his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open after finishing runner-up to Marin Cilic at last September’s US Open final.

The women’s Brisbane WTA Premier-level field will feature two of the most glamorous names on the circuit Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, while Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep and 2014 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will be the headline names in Shenzhen in the same week. Last year Sharapova reached the the semifinal stage where she lost to eventual winner Serena Williams. Ivanovic had a strong campaign in 2014 finishing the year at World Number 5 after winning in Auckland, Monterrey, Birmingham and Tokyo.

At the start of January Perth will play host the Hopman Cup, a team ITF exhibition tournament featuring national team mixed teams. Among the top teams playing in Perth there are the USA with Serena Williams and John Isner, Canada with Eugenie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil, Poland with Agnieszka Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz, Italy with Fabio Fognini and Flavia Pennetta, Great Britain with Andy Murray and Heather Watson.

Murray will play his first full year under the guidance of Amelie Mauresmo who has joined his team last March after the split from Ivan Lendl. Earlier this month Murray split from his friend and assistant coach Daniel Vallverdu who has joined the team of Tomas Berdych. Murray will try to return to his best form after a tough season in which he managed to qualify for the ATP Finals only after a strong final part of the year which saw him clinching three tournaments in Shenzhen, Vienna and Valencia. Murray deserves a lot of credit and cannot be written off especially because he performed well in the 2014 Grand Slam tournaments where he reached three semifinals at the Australian Open, at the US Open and at Wimbledon and the semifinal at the Roland Garros. A good performance at Melbourne could be a confidence-booster for the rest of the season.

It will be interesting to see if the advice of Martina Navratilova will help Radwanska clinch her first Grand Slam title. The Polish player reached the Wimbledon final in 2012 and two more Grand Slam semifinals at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the 2014 Australian Open. Aga won one title in 2014 in Toronto but she failed to reach the quarter finals in the three last Grand Slams in 2014 and was overtaken by two younger players Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard in the WTA Ranking.

Bouchard was the WTA Rising Star in 2014 and will have to confirm her brilliant results in 2015 in which she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and at the Roland Garros and the final at Wimbledon.

In a very busy week from 4th to 10th January 2015 there are also two other WTA Tournaments, the Shenzhen Open and the ASB Classic in Auckland.

Shenzhen will feature Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. Kvitova finished the year at Number 4 after a strong season in which she clinched her second Wimbledon title three years after her first triumph at the All England Cub. Halep started the year at the Number 11 in the WTA Ranking and finished it at Number 3 after reaching her first Grand Slam final at the Roland Garros and the WTA Final in Singapore.

Another superb field is expected in Auckland where 2014 US Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams who will start the 2015 season in New Zealand. Wozniacki enjoyed a strong come-back in the second half of 2014 in which she reached the US Open final and lost an epic semifinal against Serena Williams at the WTA Championships semifinal in Singapore. Wozniacki played in her second Grand Slam five years after her first Major Final in New York where she lost 7-5 6-3 against Kim Clijsters. The 2014 US Open marked Wozniacki’s best showing in a Grand Slam since the 2012 Australian Open. The next season could see the Danish player lift the elusive Grand Slam title if she maintains her outstanding form of 2014 shown especially in the WTA Championships seminal in Singapore where the Dane led 4-1 in the third-set tie-break before Williams fought back to prevail in a dramatic match. The Australian Open will be the first chance for Wozniacki to claim her first ever Grand Slam Trophy.

Venus will be looking to improve her result of 2014 when she finished runner-up to Ana Ivanovic. The ASB Classic will also feature 2012 Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani, 2014 Wimbledon quarter finalist and Birmingham and Luxembourg finalist Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, 2014 semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens, 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens, Coco Wandeweghe, Monica Puig (winner of the WTA Rising Star Tournament in Singapore) and Ana Konjuh

The last week before the Australian Open will be the Sydney International which will feature David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro. On the women’s side the field will feature a very strong line-up with Wozniacki, Radwanska, Kvitova and Halep who will provide a real preview to what could happen in the following two weeks at the Australian Open from 19th January to 1st February.

The Heineken Cup men’s tournament in Auckland will be the final warm-up for the Australian Open. David Ferrer, Ernests Gulbis, Gael Monfils and John Isner are expected to play in New Zealand.

ATP

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Gilles Simon and Felix Auger Aliassime reach the the semifinal in Marseille

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Defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas edged past Vasek Pospisil 7-5 6-3 after 1 hour and 17 minutes to reach the semifinal at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille.

 

Both players stayed neck and neck until 5-5, before Tsitsipas earned his first break, when Pospisil hit a backhand long. The Greek star wrapped up the first set with an ace after 45 minutes.

Tsitsipas claimed his second break at 3-3 with a backhand return and reeled off 10 consecutive points to seal the second set 6-3.

Tsitsipas fired 8 aces and won 26 of his 30 first service points.

“It was not easy. I knew I would have to fight and be dynamic. He plays a very aggressive brand of tennis, so every point has to be treated respectfully. I played with passion and patience, and my fighting spirit, when I am in the right zone. It means good things can happen”, said Tsitsipas.

Gilles Simon cruised through to an upset 6-4 6-0 win over Danil Medvedev to advance to the semifinal. Simon converted five of his six break point chances and lost his serve only once.

The French veteran will take on Felix Auger Aliassime, who beat Egor Gerasimov 7-5 6-2. The young Canadian star broke serve four times and and won 83 % of his first serve points.

Gerasimov earned an early break in the first game to open up a 2-0 lead, but Auger Aliassime came back by winning two consecutive games to win the opening set 7-5. Auger Aliassime converted his fourth break point in the second game to open up a 3-0 lead and sealed the second set with another break in the eighth game.

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Alexander Bublik reaches his third career semifinal with win over Denis Shapovalov in Marseille

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Alexander Bublik reached the third ATP Tour semifinal of his career after beating Canadian Canadian Next Gen player Denis Shapovalov 7-5 4-6 6-3 after 2 hours and 18 minutes at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille.

 

Bublik fended off a total of four break points in the first set, including three chances from 0-40, got the break in the 12th game to close out the first set 7-5, when Shapovalov hit a forehand volley wide at 30-40 after 45 minutes.

Both players traded breaks at the start of the second set. Bublik did not convert three break points at 3-2, when he hit a forehand into the net on his first break point chance. Shapovalov broke serve in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead with a drop shot and wrapped up the second set with his third ace.

Bublik opened up a 2-0 lead with a break in the second game of the third set. Shapovalov broke straight back in the third game. Bublik got another break lead in the eighth lead at 15, when Shapovalov hit a forehand wide. Bublik sealed the win with a hold at love.

“He is a great player and serve. It was our first match, but I have known him for a very long time. I was happy to break in the first set, then in the second set he was better, and I had my chances in the third and I held on. So I am very happy”,said Bublik.

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Milos Raonic, Steve Johnson, Frances Tiafoe and Ugo Humbert reach the quarter final in Delray Beach

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Milos Raonic hit 11 aces and saved the three break points he faced to beat German Cedrik Marcel Stebe 7-5 6-3 after 1 hour and 36 minutes reaching the quarter final at the Delray Beach, an ATP Tour 250 tournament.

 

Raonic earned a break in each set. Stebe earned a break point in the ninth game with a forehand down the line, but Raonic saved it with a forehand. Raonic faced two more break points in the 11th game, but Raonic saved them with service winners. Raonic earned a break with a forehand down the line winner in the 12th game to close out the first set 7-5. Raonicwon four consecutive points on return to earn a break and closed out the match 6-3 with a hold of serve.

“I got lucky through that first set and then I tried to be a bit more aggressive, create more things and that put a bit more pressure on him. It opened up the match for me a bit more”, said Raonic.

Raonic set up a quarter final against Steve Johnson, who edged past his compatriot Jack Sock 6-4 5-7 6-1 after 2 hours and 5 minutes to reach his first quarter final at ATP Tour level in six months. Johnson came back from losing the second set by racing out to a 5-0 lead.

“This is just one of those tournaments where you feel comfortable coming back every year. It’s great to see Sock back. I thought he played a really good second set and I just got bit of a momentum in the third set”, said Johnson.

French Next Gen player Ugo Humbert edged Miomir Kecmanovic 6-4 7-6 (8-6) after 1 hour and 42 minutes to reach his third quarter final in 2020. Humbert fended off eight of the ten break points he faced and earned three breaks to win the last four games of the first set from 2-4 down. Humbert broke Kecmanovic, as the Serbian player was serving for the second set at 6-5. The Frenchman saved a set point and came back from 5-6 down by winning the final three points of the tie-break to clinch the win after 1 hour and 43 minutes. Humbert has improved his win-loss record this year to 8-3.

“It’s always tough to play against Miomir, because he is a great player. He always plays at a high level. I lost to him last week and I was a little bit stressed before the match, so I am very happy to get the win today. You have to enjoy the victory because it’s not easy every week. Winning in Auckland gave me a lot of confidence. I beat some great players, but I have to continue my improvement every day”,said Humbert.

Humbert will face US player Frances Tiafoe, who battled past Tommy Paul 7-5 7-6 (7-4). Both players stayed neck and neck in the first set until the 11th game when Tiafoe earned a break with a return winner. He served out the set 7-5 with a service winner in the 12th game.

Paul earned a break in the sixth game, but he dropped his serve, while he serving for the set at 5-3. Tiafoe closed out the match with a backhand crosscourt winner at 6-4 in the tie-break.

“It’s never easy playing a good friend. It’s awkward, but I thought it was a pretty good match overall. My forehand was definitely on, so that helped. I am starting to play good tennis again and just competing hard in every match”,said Tiafoe.  

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