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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Wawrinka and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, although Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga have pulled out and have been replaced by Nicholas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez.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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Filip Krajinovic To Skip Australian Open If Required To Quarantine For More Than Five Days

The world No.34 says he ‘sees no reason’ why vaccinated players should have to go through a long quarentine in Australia.

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Image via twitter.com/atptour (Alexander Scheuber)

The second highest-ranked Serbian player in men’s tennis says it would be ‘unacceptable’ for organisers of the Australian Open to require players to quarantine for more than a week if they have been fully vaccinated.

 

Filip Krajinovic has become the first player to publicly state that they will not be prepared to travel to Melbourne at the end of this season if they have to go through strict quarantine measures once again. All the players who participated in this year’s Australian Open were required to be quarantined in a designated hotel for 14 days upon arrival in the country. During their stay they were allowed to use training facilities but that was the only time they could leave the premises unless there was an emergency.

There is no final decision regarding the travel requirements for the 2022 tournament but there are concerns that unvaccinated players may not be allowed to enter the country. The Victorian government recently issued a mandate ordering all essential workers to be vaccinated, including athletes. However, the regional government will not have the final say concerning tennis players arriving in the country with the national government being the ones in charge of that decision.

“They are very rigorous there and honestly, if I have to be in quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Melbourne, I will not go to Australia,” Krajinovic told Serbian newspaper Blic.
“I was vaccinated, I did everything in my power to protect myself and the people around me, so I really see no reason to sit there for 14 days in a room.’
“If they (the organisers) say that after arrival I need, say, five days to be in isolation, that’s OK for me, but anything beyond that is unacceptable to me. With the season ending late, I will have 20 days to get ready and go. Charter flights will be organized again and the last one is planned for December 28 for the players and that is the final date when I can go to Australia. I will see what the final decision from Melbourne will be, so I will cut what is the best thing to do.”

Earlier this week Victoria’s Sports minister Martin Pakula urged players to be vaccinated because it give them ‘the best opportunity to play in the Australian Open.’ It is expected that if unvaccinated players are allowed to attend, they will be subjected to stricter restrictions. This might include a longer quarantine period upon arrival and limitations of where they can go during their stay.

Last year, all of those players had to do their 14 days of quarantine. Right now there looks like there will be different rules for people who enter this country who are vaccinated as against unvaccinated and I don’t think the tennis will be any exception to that.” Pakula told the Sports Entertainment Network (SEN).
“In terms of what rules apply for people to enter Australia, whether unvaccinated people are allowed in at all, I don’t the answer to that yet. That’s going to be the subject of discussion at national cabinet and among the federal cabinet … those rules are not set by state governments.” He added.

Krajinovic is currently ranked 34th in the world and has a win-loss record this season of 18-18. At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells he reached the second round before falling in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev. His best run so far this year was at the Hamburg Open where he reached the final.

“When we look at the whole of 2021, I played one final, one semifinal, there were good victories, but also worse results,” the 29-year-old commented.

Krajinovic is currently without a coach but is currently in ‘negotiations’ with somebody without elaborating further about who that person is.

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Alexander Zverev Secures Place In ATP Finals With Indian Wells Win

Zverev will be seeking to win the season-ending extravaganza for the second time in his career.

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Alexander Zverev (GER) Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Germany’s Alexander Zverev has become the fourth player to officially qualify for the ATP Finals after reaching the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

 

The world No.4 defeated America’s Jenson Brooksby 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, in his second round match on Sunday which pushed him over the points threshold to secure his spot in the end-of-season event. It is the fifth year in a row he has qualified for the ATP Finals which he won back in 2018. He is one of only three German players to ever win the title after Boris Becker and Michael Stich.

This year’s tournament will take place in Turin, Italy for the first time in history after being held at The O2 Arena in London for more than a decade. Only the eight highest ranked players are eligible to play in the round-robin tournament which has on offer up to 1500 rankings points for an undefeated champion.

“My first time in Turin. I’ve been to London four times before. London is obviously very special to me because I won there, as well. I think the stadium is incredible, one of the most special events that we had,” Zverev told reporters on Sunday.
“But I also love playing in Italy. I had great success in Italy. I won my first Masters in Rome. I’m looking forward to being there. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Italian fans. It’s going to be a great week.”

The 24-year-old approaches the final quarter of this season with four titles already won this year. He has won two Masters 1000 trophies, an ATP 500 event in Mexico and a gold medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Zverev, who has recorded seven wins over top 10 players, also reached the semi-finals at both the French Open and US Open.

Zverev joins Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas as the players who have qualified for the ATP Finals so far. It is the third straight season the quartet has qualified for the event.

This year’s ATP Finals will get underway on November 14th. Medvedev is the defending champion.

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Denis Shapovalov Advances After Pospisil Retires In Indian Wells

The battle of the two Canadians didn’t go as planned…

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Denis Shapovalov (CAN) Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Vasek Pospisil faced off against his fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and it was the world number 13 who got the win after the Vernon native pulled out due to an injury whilst trailing 0-3.

 

It was a rough start for Pospisil who seemed to struggle with his serve in the opening game of the match and double-faulted twice in a row to give the early break and Shapovalov had no issues consolidating the break.

Shapovalov continued to apply pressure on the Pospisil serve and after saving two breakpoints the world number 68 pulled up after a serve and stopped play, calling for the trainer. He ended up taking a medical timeout off the court and a couple of minutes later returned to court. Pospisil was broken once again and the following game after a couple of returns decided to call it quits.

” It was pretty awful…and if I’m being honest I am shaking a bit…It really sucks I hope it’s nothing serious…He’s a great guy he’s a real warrior he’s fought back from some injuries surgeries to such a great level.” Shapovalov said of his compatriot.

Shapovalov will face 19th seed Aslan Karatsev in the next round after the Russian thrashed Salvatore Caruso 6-2, 6-0.

In the other results of the day sixth seeed Casper Ruud dominated Roberto Carballes Baena 6-1, 6-2, Roberto Bautista Agut beat the Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-3 and Sebastien Korda won an all American battle with Frances Tiafoe 6-0, 6-4.

Finally, Diego Schwartzman needed three sets to beat another American in Maxime Cressy winning 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

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