5 Reasons Why Victoria Azarenka Could be the Favourite at the 2016 Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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5 Reasons Why Victoria Azarenka Could be the Favourite at the 2016 Australian Open

She has worked her way back from an injury in 2015, seeming the only player able to beat Serena Williams more than once in the year. Now Victoria Azarenka seems ready to steal back the spotlight. Here is why she would be a good pick to win the 2016 Australian Open next month in Melbourne…

Ivan Pasquariello



1) She Has Something to Prove


After struggling with a terrible foot injury in the middle of the season and then a thigh injury during the Asian swing, Victoria has been struggling with her physique almost all year long. Despite being injured and having to pull out of tournaments, she still managed to come back each and every single time stronger. After withdrawing from Birmingham she came back to reach the quarters at Wimbledon, finishing one set shy of beating Serena.

She hasn’t had the best of luck with the draws, falling to Williams at Wimbledon and the French Open, both times winning a set, and then against Halep at the US Open, once again in three sets. Despite proving to be a tough competition for all top players, Vika closed the year outside the top 20.

That means Azarenka has a lot to prove to those who want to count her out of the competition for the first places in the ranking and the major wins. A former World no.1, Vika has been hit in her champion’s ego and has the extra motivation of having something to prove, both to the people and to herself…

2) She is Working on Her Serve

The first videos of Azarenka in the off-season show the Belarusian is working to change her movement on the first serve to increase the power and hit more flat. Working closely with Sascha Bajin, former hitting partner of Serena Williams, Victoria could gather the tips she needs to improve the first shot in the game. With a stronger, more consistent first serve, Azarenka could have found the weapon she needs to save energy and start the service games on the aggression.

3) She Can Beat All the Top Players and Serena

Victoria has the game to challenge all the top players currently in women’s tennis. Let’s have a look at the Head-2-Head record Vika owns with the top 10

Serena Williams vs. Azarenka 17-3

Halep vs. Azarenka 1-2

Muguruza vs. Azarenka 0-0

Sharapova vs. Azarenka 7-8

Radwanska vs. Azarenka 5-12

Kvitova vs. Azarenka 4-3

Venus Williams vs. Azarenka 4-2

Pennetta vs. Azarenka 2-2

Safarova vs. Azarenka 1-6

Kerber vs. Azarenka 0-5

Not counting Muguruza, against whom Azarenka has never played, Vika has beaten all top players at least twice before and has winning or very close records against all but Serena Williams.

That said, Viktoria in the years has appeared to be the only player who on a good day would be able to challenge Serena to the limit. Of the 17 losses Azarenka faced against Serena, six happened in three sets. The closest matches have been the 2012 US Open final and the two matches they have played this year in Paris and London.

Here the highlights of the match played by Serena and Victoria in the last 8 at the Championships:


Considering how 2015 hasn’t been a great season for Azarenka we can expect the Belarusian to put up more of these fights and game quality against the best players. On a good day, Victoria still has the tennis to beat anyone.

4) She Has Won the Tournament Back-to-Back

Since 2000 only three players have managed to win the Australian Open as defending champion. Jennifer Capriati achieved the feat in 2001-02, Serena Williams did it in 2009-10 and Victoria won back-to-back in 2012-13. Others who have managed to confirm the tile at the Aussie Open? Seles, Hingis and Graf.

Clearly Victoria has a good time playing in Australia and manages to find her best tennis under the heat and the tough conditions of Melbourne Park.

5) She Will Have No Pressure

Serena returning after her stop following the shocking defeat to Vinci at the US Open. Sharapova finding her best tennis at the end of the season despite the injury and ready to start the new season on a roll. Simona Halep finally able to give her best in the major tournaments. Garbine Muguruza ready to follow the Wimbledon runner-up performance.

These are the main story lines for the 2016 Australian Open. That means Victoria will not feature in the poll of top favourites, nor she will be considered the top contender for the title. That means that away from the spotlight Victoria will have no pressure to deal with. Most importantly, being ranked outside the top 16, she could be meeting a top seed as early as the third round in Melbourne, which means she could use the lack of pressure to cause an upset early on.

Would you bet on Victoria Azarenka to win in Melbourne?



US Open: Shelby Rogers Delivers; Serena Still A Threat To Win 24th Major




Serena Williams - US Open (photo Twitter @usopen)

After all of these years of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelby Rogers is finally a seeded player.


The Charleston, S.C., native has been playing America’s premier tennis event almost continuously since her debut in New York in 2010. She’ll turn 30 years old in a few weeks and has worked her way up the rankings to 31st in the world.

That’s a big achievement from the little girl who hung on the fences more than two decades ago to watch her older sister Sabra play high school matches that eventually led to an Al-American career for Sabra at Emory University. Sabra became a psychologist and, of course, is one of  Shelby’s biggest fans.


Rogers took the direct route. She didn’t play high school tennis, but left the classroom before high school to train in tennis, study online and play the junior circuit. She turned pro in 2009 at age 16.

Monday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, It took Rogers awhile to start living up to her ranking. But once she turned the corner after dropping the first set in nine games, Shelby started looking like a seasoned top 30 player.

Rogers sort of blew The Netherlands’ slim Arantxa Rus away, taking a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Rogers especially played the deciding 28th game of the match like the veteran pro she is. She hit one long forehand and netted one ball in that game, but otherwise she rode her big serve to victory in the clinching game. At 40-30, she delivered a huge first serve down the middle that Rus couldn’t put into play.


The way things are on the women’s tour these days, with no true leader while once-amazing top-ranked Iga Swiatek tries to regain her dominance, anything is possible.

Yes, even finally a 24th Grand Slam title for Serena Williams.

But this is about Shelby Rogers. She is playing the best tennis of her career nearly a decade and a half after her life as a professional tennis player started.

With any kind of luck, Rogers could leave New York ranked among the top 25 players in the world, or maybe higher if she continues to serve and play the kind of big-ball tennis she played  in the last 19 games Monday night.


So, what’s after Swiatek, who started the year on fire with a long unbeaten streak that went through the French Open and rewarded her with as many points as the confined totals of the Nos. 2 and 3 players. Of course, Ashleigh Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open opened the door for Swiatek’s rise to the top.

And then Wimbledon’s grass took care of Swiatek.

Nos. 2-5 Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur are all outstanding players, but none currently fit in the great column. They appear to be waiting in line for Swiatek or another Barty-like player to step forward to rule the women’s tour.


Then there are almost totally unknown players such as Ukraine’s Daria Snigur. I hadn’t given Snigur much chance at all on the pro tour until her shocking U.S. Open first-round victory over multi-Grand Slam tournament winner and seventh-ranked Simona Halep. 

The last time I had thought about Snigur was when she upended Charleston’s Emma Navarro in the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and then won the Junior Grand Slam tournament.

At Junior Wimbledon in 2019, I thought Navarro, who also is now on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 145th in the world, would roll past Snigur the way she had in the 2019 Junior French Open quarterfinals. But Snigur is so deceptive with her ground strokes that strike like lightning, she dominated Navarro at that Junior Wimbledon.

So, maybe the currently 124th-ranked Snigur may be ready to make a mark on the tour after scoring her first tour victory by defeating Halep.


Without Novak Djokovic, the men are about as unpredictable as the women, with the exception of one player. Rafa Nadal, of course, entered this U.S. Open, with a perfect 19-0 record this year in Grand Slams.

Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, but even though he is ranked No. 1 in the world, it’s a long road to the final for the Russian. Medvedev hasn’t always been predictable.

And already, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has been eliminated by a complete unknown, Daniel Elahi Galan.

Wow! The Greek star probably was about as much of a favorite as Medvedev.

And poor Dominic Thiem was cast on an outside court. And he lost. Just a couple of years ago, Thiem was winning the U.S. Open.

My top five picks in order would be: Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev and Andy Murray. Yes, Andy looks pretty fit.


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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Will Rafael Nadal Keep The Grand Slam Winning Feeling Going In New York?

Rafael Nadal has injury doubts heading into his search for a 23rd grand slam title in New York.




Rafael Nadal (@usopen - Twitter)

Rafael Nadal will look to repeat successes from Melbourne and Paris by answering his doubters with triumph in New York.


The Spaniard enters the last grand slam with injury doubts having only just come back from an abdominal injury suffered in his Wimbledon quarter-final against Taylor Fritz.

It was injury that saw his calendar grand slam dream come to an end and ever since then has been recovering in the hopes of finishing the grand slam year strong in New York.

However in his first match back Nadal was defeated in three sets to Borna Coric in New York which has put doubts on whether the Spaniard can be a threat in the US.

Nadal will likely not have to worry about Novak Djokovic but a victory in New York could see him be world number one with current number one Daniil Medvedev defending the title.

The likes of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be standing in Nadal’s way and if the Spaniard isn’t match-fit then he could face an early exit.

However as tennis pundit Barbara Schett pointed out, ruling out Nadal at this stage would be foolish and the Spaniard always raises his level at the grand slams, “The match is always different from practice,” Schett told Eurosport.

“And whoever had an abdominal injury and a tear on the abdominal muscles knows how it feels. You have to be extremely cautious. You’re worried that you’re going to reinjure it again.

“And I think that’s what we’ve seen on Wednesday. When he played against Coric, he was a little bit uncertain how the body was going to hold up. And for sure he’s going to feel better and better.

“If there’s no damage to the abdominal muscle, then he still has a week and a half to improve his health, to improve the trust also that he can extend and he can’t bend on the serve because that’s the trickiest shot, the serve and the smash.

“When that is the case, Rafa Nadal certainly can be dangerous again at the US Open. I mean, he’s so fired up at every single Grand Slam. We’ve seen this year playing the best tennis of his life. You can never, ever write him off.”

Nadal is currently undefeated at grand slams and if fit, the Spaniard will certainly fancy himself to win another seven matches at the US Open this year.

Whatever it should be interesting to see if Nadal improves before the US Open with the tournament starting on the 29th of August.

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Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?

Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.




Iga Swiatek (@TennisHandshake - Twitter)

The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.


First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.

However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.

After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.

Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.

But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.

As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.

“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.

“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit. 

“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”

It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.

It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.

The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.

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