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Wawrinka and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, although Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga have pulled out and have been replaced by Nicholas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez.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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Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman

The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.

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Diego Schwartzman (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired. 

 

The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona. 

Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori. 

“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”

The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas. 

Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33. 

“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said. 
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”

The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match. 

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup

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The lineup for Day 3 (twitter.com/lavercup)

Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar.  Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup.  Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first. 

 

Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time.  And each match on Sunday is worth three points.


Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm

Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles.  So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday.  Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday.  Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist.  If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)

Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles.  While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever.  Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.

Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay.  It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1).  And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday.  Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary

Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games.  He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts.  However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.


Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary

Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday.  If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday

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The lineup for Day 2 (twitter.com/lavercup)

In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2.  And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit.  With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup? 

 

Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day.  Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm.  And each match on Saturday is worth two points.


Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm

These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions.  Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event.  Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati.  Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup.  Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.


Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session

Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play.  Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive.  Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17.  Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon.  They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets.  Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm

Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday?  He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock.  Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios.  The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.

Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5.  Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York.  Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets.  Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day.  But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.


Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session

Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here.  This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals.  Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2.  De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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