There is a lot to get through from last week. It is always a busy start to the calendar. So, here are some brief highlights.
Rafa Nadal pulled out of Brisbane with ‘that’ thigh injury but says he is a cert to play the Aussie Open next week. He looked fitter this week in the Fast4 event in Sydney, losing to Kyrgios 4-0, 3-4, 5-3. Rafa said he was pain-free after, so that is a huge boost for the coming weeks. It meant second seed Kei Nishikori won his first title in nearly three years. Memphis in February was his last main tour triumph. He didn’t drop a set on his way to the final, where he beat Daniil Medvedev. The Russian had powered his way through to the finale, beating Murray, Raonic and Tsonga. Murray was emotional after his first-round win over James Duckworth, mainly down to the journey he has had. Medvedev never really let him get close after that though. Kyrgios didn’t seem particularly bothered by his second-round loss to Jeremy Chardy. “I had an unbelievable pre-season,” he said. “I loved every bit of it being home. And being away from the sport. I loved it.” Good old Nick.
After winning the Mubadala exhibition, Novak Djokovic had to then face two tough three-setters against Marton Fucsovics and Nikloloz Basilashvili. Both players really went for the Serb but came up just short. It was Roberto Bautista Agut that took him out a round later in the semis. Bautista went on to finish a very complete week by winning the title, outlasting Tomas Berdych. He was superb against Stan Wawrinka in the last eight and was obviously at the top of his game against Nole. Berdych was talking big in the offseason and this has made me raise my eyebrows. Ultimately he still lost in the final and took full advantage of Thiem and Goffins early departures. Wawrinka had a huge week in terms of his rehabilitation. High-quality displays against my lad Karen Khachanov and the underrated Nicolas Jarry look very good for the year.
In Pune, Kevin Anderson showed the class difference between himself and the field. The World Number Six was followed in the draw by Hyeon Chung, at twenty-five in the world. Chung has not even been fit (for the hundredth time) so you couldn’t really see past Anderson. Especially as this was the player who would have stood the best opportunity against Kev. The South African had his toughest test in the final against Ivo Karlovic. If my research is correct, the last time Karlovic played in a main tour draw was in Los Cabos at the end of July last year. Kev came back from 2/5 in the final set-breaker. Three breakers obviously.
Seven of the top ten Ladies turned up for Brisbane. Top seed Elina Svitolina got outgunned by Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who once again showed her talents before running into Donna Vekic in the last 8. Stephens, Kvitova and Kasatkina were all out by the second round. Stephens losing to Jo Konta. Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko was on fire (nearly) all week. Straight sets wins over Buzarnescu, Birrell, Kontaveit and Noami Osaka is a decent effort by most peoples standards. Not for the first time, with the winning line in-sight against Karolina Pliskova in the final, she blew up. The Czech very rarely needs a second bite of the cherry and Tsurenko lost from serving for it at 6/4 5/4. Pliskova also won from a set and 1/3 down against Yulia Putintseva in her opener. The big weapon of a serve gets her through a lot of matches and it did here.
Aryna Sabalenka stamped her authority across the field as the top seed in Shenzhen. It really is going to be interesting to see how far she can go this season. It looks very exciting times for her right now. There is the aura of a Champion in the strut around the court. A definite swagger there. She was hammering Sharapova before the Russian withdrew at 6/1 4/2 down with a thigh injury in the quarters. In the final, Sabalenka beat Alison Riske in a match where she once again raised her level to a very high quality. The hitting is just huge and she is a player than many won’t want to be near in Melbourne.
Bianca Andreescu was the big talking point in Auckland. She played really well in beating (it has to be said a below-par) Caroline Wozniacki) and then battled nerves to beat Venus Williams in the last eight. Having beat Su-Wei Hsieh she lost to Second-Seed Julia Goerges in the final. Goerges had looked in fairly good form all week and was pretty comfortable, though Genie Bouchard did take her to a final set breaker en route. In the final, she came from a set down against the 18-Year-Old Canadian. I would have thought last years semi-final at Wimbledon will have given her a lot of confidence. She is another player who it will be interesting to see where she ends up in November. It has not always been plain-sailing for Julia, which makes it intriguing. Venus did beat Azarenka in the first round but was lacklustre against Andreescu and looked tired.
In a repeat of last years final at the Hopman Cup in Perth, the team of Federer/Bencic once again defeated the Zverev/Kerber partnership in the final. The Fed-Ex, Angie Kerber and Serena were all undefeated in singles. Federer coasted through the week in fairness, Tsitsipas gave him a good game but lost in a couple of breakers. Kerber looks in the mood to go well again in Australia and Serena says her shoulder is fine despite reports of otherwise. The Federer (Bencic) v Serena (Tiafoe) Mixed Doubles match also took place, which got everyone buzzing, most noticeably the two players involved. Federer claimed the spoils but it was nice to see the genuine mutual respect for each other. Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulter put in a good effort over there too, winning two of their three ties for Great Britain.
Less than a week till the start in Melbourne. Enough said.
Andy Del Potro