The week before a Grand Slam, usually a week of dubious results, plenty of withdrawals and the occasional walkover/retirement. This week didn’t disappoint.
We shall start with the Women’s this week. As usual there was a strong field in Sydney. World Number One Angie Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska (3), Dominika Cibulkova (5), Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) and Johanna Konta (10) from the top ten. Pliskova and Svitolina both withdrawing before the start. Conditions were extremely hot here all week. Daria Kasatkina put pay to Kerber’s chances with a 7/6(5) 6/2 victory in the German’s first match. Cibulkova went at the same stage to Eugenie Bouchard in straights. Konta made the most of this, after beating Rodionova and Daria Gavrilova she took care of Kastakina. She then bested Bouchard in 69 minutes in the Semi. Bouchard conceding she got “whopped”. Radwanska’s route was reasonably hassle free to the Final. Comfortable victories over Christina McHale and Ying-Ying Duan, were followed by a straight sets win over Barbora Strycova. The Czech having an exhausting match the previous round with Caroline Wozniacki, lasting 3 hours 21 mins. In the Final, Konta blitzed A-Rad 6/4 6/2. The Pole admitted, “She was just playing unbelievable tennis from the beginning ’til the end”. Impressive from the Brit who went all week without dropping a set!
In WTA Hobart I read some interesting comments from Jana Fett, bearing in mind Qualifying for the Australian Open is also this week. “All day I was thinking: should I play good, should I play bad, should I go, what should I do? But then I came on the court and I couldn’t play bad” The choice she had to make when deciding to go deep this week or sack it off and try and qualify for the Oz! Romanian Monica Niculescu ripped through the bottom half of the draw, Second Seed Anastasija Sevastova lost to American Shelby Rogers in The First Round. ‘Moon ball Monica’ beat Jelena Jankovic, Kirsten Flipkens and Risa Ozaki (The latter beating Lucie Safarova). This set up a Semi-Final with Lesia Tsurenko, who was quietly going about her business in the last few months of the season. A viral illness gave Niculescu a walkover into the Final. In the Top half of the draw Kiki Bertens looked down on the field. However ,it was a fellow Belgian who made the headlines. Elise Mertens qualified, beat Mladenovic,Vickery (retirement), Bertens and Jana Fett without the loss of a single set. Niculescu took a couple of medical timeouts in her victory over Ozaki, in the Quarters for an abdominal strain.This proved key in the Final, as Mertens won 79% behind her first delivery and ran away with the match 6/3 6/1. The Belgian impressed me during the grass court swing last season when I watched her. She reminded me of an ‘old skool’ grass court campaigner. Lets see if this is used as a springboard to bigger things!
In Sydney Men’s, hot conditions remained the order of the day! Top Seed Dominic Thiem struggled his way past the underrated Gastao Elias in three. His luck ran out against Brit Dan Evans, he blatantly suffered from a late finish the previous evening with Elias. The lad from Solihul beating Thiago Monteiro and Marcel Granollers both in 3 sets in his first two matches. He kept composed in a 3/6 6/4 6/1 win over the Austrian. His Semi-Final Opponent was Andrey Kuznetsov who out lasted Pablo Carreno Busta in their Quarter-Final. Evans again proved the more consistent operator to his Russian opponent in three sets. The bottom half of the draw consisted of the Champion of the last two years, Viktor Troicki. Philip Kohlschreiber looked to be a nasty Quarter-Final draw but the German gave the Serb a walkover, citing a back injury for his withdrawal. Second Seed Pablo Cuevas, who has form on the hard courts, but certainly prefers the clay didn’t hang around too long. He got bullied out of the Tournament by Gilles Muller. Muller had already had two tough matches in the form of qualifier Matthew Barton and Alex ‘The Dog’ Dolgopolov. His good form continued into the Semi-Final with Troicki, where his opponent conceded afterwards that Gilles “mixed it up well”, 6/3 7/6(6). The Final of Evans v Muller meant we would have a first time Winner of an ATP Tour Title. Its unreal to think that Muller hasn’t won one before. Something I cant say I was aware of. Evans led the first set tie-break *4-2, he lost it 7-5. He then missed opportunities at the start of the second set. This was compounded for Evans, when Muller drew first blood by breaking. Good night Vienna, Muller 7/6(5) 6/2. ” We are 2017 now, and I waited 13 years to win my first title. I’m just very happy. I couldn’t have imagined, when I arrived here, to be in the final. And then to win it now is just, yeah, it’s crazy. My kids are a big motivation for me to play tennis”. Nice words, nice moment….props to you Gilles.
In Auckland, Top Seed Roberto Bautista Agut withdrew from the Tournament with a stomach virus. Bautista taking the Chennai Title last week. Joao Sousa took advantage of this, smashing up everyone in sight on his way to the Final. Sousa beat Ramos-Vinolas, Klein,Haase and Marcos Baghdatis without dropping a set. Robin Haase beating David Ferrer in Round 2. The bottom half looked exceptionally competitive. Lopez, Chardy, Harrison, Sock, Johnson, Lu, Khachanov and Second Seed John Isner! Isner didn’t look comfortable in edging past Malek Jaziri in his First match. So it was little surpstise when Steve Johnson toppled him 6/3 5/7 7/6(3). Last years runner-up, Jack Sock beat pal Ryan Harrison in three sets. He then dismantled Steve Johnson 6/4 6/3, only facing one break point in the entire Semi-Final. The Final produced a cracker! Both Players playing well and after Sock took the First set, his Portuguese opponent upped his intensity levelling the match, taking it the distance. His form continued at the start of the decider by gaining the early break. However, Sock regrouped, breaking twice and securing a 6/3 5/7 6/3 victory.
On the Challenger Tour there was back to back titles for Janko Tipsarevic. The Serb beat Zhe Li of China 6/2 6/3 in Bangkok. In Canberra Dudi Sela continued his impressive start to the season with a three set win over Jan-Lennard Struff, 3/6 6/4 6/3.
So, on we go to Melbourne, where we have some intriguing First Round Match-ups. Djokovic v Verdasco, Serena v Bencic and Kerber v Lesia Tsurenko. Stay tuned!
Andy Del Potro