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Wawrinka and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, although Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga have pulled out and have been replaced by Nicholas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez.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.

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Jack Draper Wins In Stuttgart, Potentially Faces Andy Murray in Round Two

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Jack Draper – ATP Monaco di Baviera 2024 (foto via Twitter @atptour)

Britain’s Jack Draper tight first round win headlined the opening day’s results at the Boss Open 2024 in Stuttgart – and possibly faces a second-round match with Andy Murray who takes on Marcos Giron tomorrow.

Less than 24 hours from the last ball being hit at Roland Garros, the ATP Tour had already switched surfaces onto the grass, and 22-year-old Draper was well tested but ultimately came through in two tie-breakers over Sebastian Ofner.

The sixth seed’s 7-6, 7-6 win contained just one break of serve each, both coming in the second set, as serve dominated proceedings on the faster grass courts in Germany.

While the Austrian won 75% on his first serve, Draper won a whopping 89% behind his first delivery as well as hitting eight aces. These kind of service stats will surely take him far during the grass court season.

“I thought it was a really good match,” Eurosport quoted Draper saying after his match. 
“Both of us played really clean tennis, executing really well.
“When it came down to it, I’m glad I competed really well and got over the line – it’s good to be back on the grass as well.”

There were also wins for Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann who won 6-3, 6-3 over wildcard Henri Squire, while compatriot Dominik Koepfer won in three sets over China’s Zhizhen Zhang 4-6, 7-6, 7-6. 

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Carlos Alcaraz Still Owns A Magical Racket

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The legend of Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket lives on.

The 21-year-old Spaniard executed one magical shot after another with his racket and legs  Sunday afternoon in the French Open final. That bit of magic spelled defeat for Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

This was a final to remember, one of the great matches of all the Grand Slams. It just wasn’t in the cards for the 26-year-old Zverev to finally win a Grand Slam title.

HE HAD IT, THEN HE DIDN’T

Both players seemed to play a game of “he had it and then he didn’t.”

Alcaraz appeared to have everything under control in the first set, but Zverev rushed through the second set and then made a comeback from 5-2 down in the third set to win five straight games.

Zverev had everything going for him when he started the fourth set with a two-set advantage. It appeared that all the 6-6 Zverev had to do was to continue playing his masterful game of big serves and mighty ground strokes.

But Zverev couldn’t get started in the fourth set until he was down 4-0. So much for a smooth and easy ride to a Grand Slam title. By then, the magic of Alcaraz was heating up.

MAGIC OF ALCARAZ HEATING UP

Zverev still had his chances, even when he fell behind 2-1 in the fifth set. He had to feel pretty good about his chances when he took a triple break point lead against Alcaraz’s serve and appeared ready to even the set at 2-2. Even after Carlos came up with a winner to bring the  game score to double break point.

Zverev still was ready to even the entire match.

That’s when everything seemed to go haywire for the German, while all the while, Alcaraz was able to repeatedly come up with his magical shots as the Spaniard made critical shots that looked almost impossible to make.

ALCARAZ HEADED FOR GREATNESS

Everything for Zverev was lost in the magical racket of Alcaraz.

What was then initially called a game-ending Alcaraz double fault and a 2-2 deadlock quicky reversed itself and Alcaraz stayed alive by winning the next three points while taking a 3-1 advantage.

Zverev did get back to a 3-2 deficit and had a break point in the sixth game, but that was it for the hopes of Zverev. The last two games went rather easily in favor of Alcaraz to wrap up a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory for Alcaraz.

That moved the Spaniard to a higher level of success on the ATP Tour. He became the youngest man to win Grand Slam titles on all of the different surfaces, clay, grass and hard courts.

Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket appear to be headed for greatness.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Tsitsipas Brothers Hit With Trio Of Fines At French Open

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Stefanos Tsitsipas and his brother Petros have been fined more than 20,000 euros for multiple violations of the coaching rules at this year’s French Open. 

The brothers received a financial penalty during three different matches that they played in. Two of those were in the second and third rounds of the men’s doubles tournament. Furthermore, Stefanos was also penalised during his singles quarter-final match against Carlos Alcaraz, which he lost in straight sets. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, all three of those fines were issued as a result of coaching rules being broken.

Ironically, coaching is allowed during matches at the French Open but certain rules must be followed. ‘Verbal’ coaching can only be issued from the coaches and their team if they are sitting in the designated player’s box. Instructions must be limited to a few words and can only be given if the player is in the same half of the court as their coach. Although non-verbal coaching is allowed regardless of what side the player is on. Finally, players can’t start a conversation with their coach unless it is during a medical break, a bathroom break or when their opponent is changing clothes.

However, the Tsitsipas brothers have been found in violation of these rules, which is likely due to their animated father in the stands who is also their coach. Apostolos Tsitsipas has been given coaching violations in the past at other events, including the 2022 Australian Open. 

The value of the fines are €4,600 and €9,200 for the Tsitsipas brothers in the doubles, as well as an additional €7,400 just for Stefanos in the singles. In total, the value of their fines is €21,200. However, the penalty is unlikely to have an impact on the duo whose combined earnings for playing in this year’s French Open amount to roughly €495,000. 

So far in the tournament, the highest single fine to be issued this year was against Terence Atmane who hit a ball out of frustration that struck a fan in the stands. Atmane, who later apologised for his actions, managed to avoid getting disqualified from the match. Instead, he was fined €23,000. 

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