Frances Tiafoe celebrates winning a crucial point against Grigor Dimitrov during their 4th round clash at the Australian Open
2019 @WTA @SydneyTennis Preview, Predictions
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
Hopman Cup was pure entertainment. Brisbane and Shenzhen were just lovely, but we don’t think the season really gets underway until the big dogs show up at the party. The real Aussie Open warm-up begins this week as World #1 Simona Halep and World #2 Angelique Kerber begin the 2019 campaign at the Sydney International, a Premier level WTA tournament.
As Simona Halep approaches a solid year at number one, we have to wonder if she can retain that ranking in 2019, but we’ll have some serious hints at that proposition before long. She opens with a bye before facing the winner of Jelena Ostapenko and 2018 finalist Ashleigh Barty. Barty is on a career-high and looks to move to world #14 on Monday. Ostapenko is an upset threat every time she takes the court and has beaten Halep, but never on hard courts. Luckily for Halep, I predict Barty will emerge as her second round opponent and the home country favorite will lose in straight sets to the world #1, just as she did in Montreal and Cincinnati last year.
Anett Kontaveit (#20) and Elise Mertens (#12) are both at career-high rankings entering their first round match at Sydney. The only problem for Mertens is that she got to the top 20 without winning much over higher ranked opponents. She went 3-10 against top 10 opponents in 2018, and Kontaveit is known as a giant slayer. Take Kontaveit to advance to a matchup against 2015 finalist Karolina Pliskova, who should defeat a streaking but fatigued Lesia Tsurenko. Pliskova has the weapons to defeat Kontaveit and face Halep in the quarterfinals. Halep is 5-1 on hard courts against Pliskova and should defeat the Czech handily.
Sloane Stephens’ quarter is steeped with pitfalls as she attempts to return to the top 4, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’ll open with a qualifier before likely facing wildcard Daria Gavrilova, who she hasn’t played in nearly three years. Stephens handled her in Charleston on the green clay in 2016 and on the grass at Eastbourne in 2015, but this is the first meeting between the two on hard courts—and we know what hard courts mean to Sloane Stephens. Expect her to advance in straights.
This is where things could get tricky for Stephens. Anastasija Sevastova should handle Kiki Bertens in a close one on their first match on hard courts, and her opponent in the second round will be a Spaniard, as Garbine Muguruza faces Carla Suarez Navarro. These two played each other in back-to-back tournaments in February 2015 and haven’t met since, with the pair splitting the meetings. Carla Suarez Navarro should prevail in this battle to set up a meeting with Sevastova. Sevastova, most remembered for bouncing defending champion Sloane Stephens from the 2018 US Open, should provide another handful for Stephens. Normally, we’d see Sevastova advancing to the quarterfinals in three sets, but we’re going with the “how you like me now” and picking Stephens in three.
We expect Naomi Osaka to suffer a bit of a hangover in 2019 as so many other first time grand slam champs have before her, yet she already hit the semifinals in Brisbane so that portends well for her. The draw in her section could give her another boost headed into Melbourne. Osaka opens with Timea Bacsinszky, who she should handle with aplomb. Her next opponent should be Dominka Cibulkova, who drew Sam Stosur. Cibulkova wrote herself back into the game in 2018 and will defeat the home crowd darling before Osaka dispatches Dominika in round two. On the other side, three qualifiers and Daria Kasatkina will vie to face Osaka in the quarters and we can confidently predict that Kasatkina will face Osaka and Osaka will reprise her straight sets win over Kasatkina at Indian Wells last year.
With a 2 seed like this, who needs friends? Defending champion Angelique Kerber may wish she’d drawn the 3rd seed. Poor Kerber will need to conserve her energy. While she’s awarded a first round bye and a second round match against Ajla Tomljanovic or Camila Giorgi, the big test comes in the quarters, where she will likely face 2015 champion Petra Kvitova or the player who frightens everyone in the early rounds, Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka started 2019 in excellent form in winning Shenzhen, and looks to repeat the stunning straight sets victory over Kvitova at last year’s US Open. Sabalenka should prevail and vanquish her second round opponent, Su-Wei Hsieh or a qualifier. In the quarterfinal, the first meeting between Kerber and Sabalenka should be a gem. We go with lightning in a bottle here, and that means the Belarusian in three.
Sloane Stephens hasn’t beaten Simona Halep since 2013, but their last two matches have gone to three sets. We’d like to say the third time’s the charm for Stephens, but she hasn’t done anything lately for us to justify predicting such a personal career accomplishment. We’re going with Halep in three sets.
Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka stunned the tennis world in 2018 with their dominating performances. Sabalenka almost stunned Osaka herself at the 2018 US Open by winning the second set of their round of 16 match before losing the third, 6-4. If Sabalenka had won that close match, Osaka’s career arc could have changed dramatically. It was their only career meeting, but it was a popcorn match and we’ve got to go with REVENGE, served up by Shenzhen champion Sabalenka on the scorching courts of Sydney. In three, of course.
Aryna Sabalenka won’t hit the wall, as it’s way too early in the season for that, but her power will meet a higher power in Sydney under the Romanian’s racket and Simona Halep will notch her first title of the year in straight sets before (spoiler alert) lifting her second grand slam trophy in Melbourne.
Roger Federer Emerges From Australian Summer With 6th Australian Open Title
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
He entered the tournament as the favorite and left with a 6th career Australian Open title, as Roger Federer went wire to wire, defeating Marin Cilic 6-2 6-7 6-3 3-6 6-1 in the final. Federer dropped just the two sets against Cilic all tournament, as he blitzed through a relatively weak path of Aljaz Bedene, Jan-Lennard Struff, Richard Gasquet, Marton Fucsovics, Tomas Berdych, and Hyeon Chung.Embed from Getty Images
Federer fired 24 aces, saved 7 of 9 break points, and overall served really well, while breaking Cilic six times in the match mostly on the back of second serve returns. The first and fifth sets were one way traffic, as Cilic finished like he started, shaky and on edge. The second and fourth sets saw Cilic show his promise as he pressured Federer enough to get breakthroughs. In Set 4 he came back from a break down to force a fifth. The third set end up proving decisive though as Federer broke in the only game that featured break points in the set.
In his third career Grand Slam final the new world #3 Cilic played much better than he did against Federer at Wimbledon in the 2017 final, but he never was able to take control against the Swiss maestro. That said, it was the toughest test for Federer all tournament, as surprise semifinalist Hyeon Chung was forced to retire due to blisters on his feet, and veterans Gasquet and Berdych simply rolled over when facing down Federer.
Chung’s breakthrough came in the round of 32 against Alexander Zverev, and the round of 16 against Novak Djokovic, he beat Zverev in 5, and Djokovic in straights. The former world #1 and Serbian superstar was still rusty from an injury layoff, but he didn’t have a terrible AO and Chung beat him outright, not due to a fluke. Likewise Zverev got frustrated, but he was still beaten by the South Korean #1 straight up, and the young Chung deserves full credit for his accomplishments in Melbourne.Embed from Getty Images
Chung spoiled the run of Tennys Sandgren, the last American standing, as he beat Sandgren in the quarters after the former Tennessee standout had upset both a less than fit Stan Wawrinka and young gun Dominic Thiem in Melbourne, beating Thiem in five sets and coming back from losing the 4th. Sandgren now has a great chance to back up the skill and mettle he showed in Melbourne the rest of the season, and became a regular contender at least the 250/500 level.Embed from Getty Images
Cilic’s path to the final was Vasek Pospisil, Joao Sousa, Ryan Harrison, Pablo Carreno Busta, Rafael Nadal, and Kyle Edmund. He dropped sets against Pospisil and PCB but won thanks to his consistency. Against Nadal he took advantage of the Spaniard’s labored movement, and eventually won via a 5th set retirement as Nadal’s knee injury left him unable to continue. A healthy Nadal probably wins that match, but Cilic still took full advantage of his opportunity.Embed from Getty Images
Edmund, 23, also had his slam breakthrough. He upset Kevin Anderson in the opening round, then beat three lower ranked players before upsetting Grigor Dimitrov in the four setter in the quarterfinals. Dimitrov missed out on his opportunity to make at least a slam final, while Edmund is stepping into the role of Britain’s leading man after Andy Murray was forced to exit stage right due to a hip injury.Embed from Getty Images
Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic beat Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah in the men’s doubles final. It’s their first slam title as a team, and Pavic also won mixed doubles with Gabriela Dabrowski the next day.
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Sebastian Korda Wins Australian Open Boys’ Championship
Seventeen-year old Sebastian Korda, of Bradenton, Fla., won the Australian Open boys’ singles title over Korean Chun Hsin Tseng, 7-6(6), 6-4, in Melbourne.
Korda, whose father and coach, Petr, won the Australian Open men’s singles title 20 years ago, became the fifth American ever to win the Australian Open boys’ singles title and the third in the last 50 years (Donald Young, 2005; Andy Roddick, 2000; Butch Buchholz, 1959; Gerry Moss, 1955).
An American has now been victorious at the last four junior Grand Slam tournaments, after Whitney Osuigwe (French Open), Claire Liu (Wimbledon) and Amanda Anisimova (US Open) all won major girls’ singles titles in 2017.
2018 Australian Open Preview and Predictions: Injury Concerns For Djokovic and Wawrinka Open Up the Draw
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
With Andy Murray (hip) and Kei Nishikori (wrist) totally out of the 2018 Australian Open, and Novak Djokovic (elbow), Rafael Nadal (knee), and Stan Wawrinka (knee) coming back from serious injuries, the 2018 Australian Open draw on the men’s side is significantly more open than it has been in recent years. Roger Federer remains the favorite, while Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios among the trendy picks that some see breaking through this slam and capturing the title. Here is your full preview, with predictions for AO 2018.
Nadal’s QuarterEmbed from Getty Images
Rafael Nadal got an exo match in but he didn’t get a chance to play any ATP matches prior to his Melbourne debut. The one time AO champ will open with journeyman Victor Estrella, Leo Mayer/Nicolas Jarry will follow, with Borna Coric/John Millman or Paolo Lorenzi/Damir Dzumhur lurking in the third round. Nadal, presuming his knee is ok, should win his first two matches, the third round is the big question mark. Dzumhur probably isn’t fit, while Lorenzi is relatively weak on hard courts. I have Coric beating Millman and Lorenzi before falling to Rafa.
Diego Schwartzman doesn’t have a win in 2018 but he should defeat Dusan Lajovic. Young gun qualifiers Quentin Halys and Casper Ruud face off to reach round 2, and I have Schwartzman into the third round regardless. Alexandr Dolgopolov is one of my dark horse picks, he opens with Andreas Haider-Maurer, who is returning from a long injury layoff, John Isner/Matt Ebden will follow. Isner lost his match in Auckland while Dolgopolov won matches in both Brisbane and Sydney, he has the talent and presuming he’s fit he should take advantage of this open draw to beat Isner and Schwartzman and reach week 2.
Gilles Simon is another trendy dark horse pick for me. Simon won Pune and is a former AO quarterfinalist. He opens with Marius Copil, either Pablo Carreno Busta or Jason Kubler will follow. Kubler is a great story, he overcame serious knee problems that limited him to play only on clay for years, and is now posting great results on hard courts at the challenger tour level. PCB is a good player but his form seems a bit off this season, Simon is tough to break down so I’ll go with him in a second round upset. The section featuring Gilles Muller/Federico Delbonis is wide open, Muller is struggling but his serve is a threat, qualifier Sal Caruso is making his grand slam debut, while Malek Jaziri has talent but struggles for fitness. Simon over Muller is a reasonable pick for round 3.Embed from Getty Images
Brisbane finalist Ryan Harrison opens with Dudi Sela, Mikhail Youzhny takes on Pablo Cuevas in round 1, Harrison should be favored to reach the third round regardless. Pune semifinalist Marin Cilic takes on qualifier Vasek Pospisil, Dustin Brown/Joao Sousa will follow. Cilic is steady enough to back him over Harrison in round 3.
Grigor Dimitrov was a semifinalist in Brisbane and finished 2017 in fantastic form. Dimitrov opens with qualifier Dennis Novak, a young gun will follow, either Mackenzie McDonald or Elias Ymer. The first big test for Dimitrov should come in the third round, the winner of David Ferrer (semifinalist in Auckland), and Andrey Rublev (finalist in Doha) should defeat the winner of the battle between former AO boys champions Yuki Bhambri and Marcos Baghdatis to face off with Dimitrov. I’ll back Ferrer’s experience to reach round 3, despite Rublev’s talent, but Dimitrov should reach the second week.
Brisbane champion Nick Kyrgios is lethal when he’s focused and fit, he should blitz past Rogerio Dutra Silva, Viktor Troicki/Alex Bolt, and either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Stefanos Tsitsipas/Denis Shapovalov in round 3. Tsonga has had limited warm up, Shapovalov is struggling, and Tsitsipas is still a raw talent. Kyrgiso serve should bail him out of trouble and get him past Tsonga in round 3. Tsonga’s path includes qualifier Kevin King in round 1.Embed from Getty Images
Kevin Anderson finished 2017 strong and reached the Pune final to kick off 2018 After a test against Kyle Edmund in round 1, he should serve past Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Denis Istomin, and Lucas Pouille in the third round. Pouille faces Ruben Bemelmans in round 1, then Gerald Melzer/Nikoloz Basilashvili.Embed from Getty Images
Jack Sock is the top American hope, but I’m not convinced he’s fit as he had a retirement in the Hopman Cup and lost his first match in Auckland. Sock opens with Yuichi Sugita, Ivo Karlovic/Laslo Djere will follow, with Philipp Kohlschreiber/Yoshihito Nishioka (coming back from a serious injury) or Andreas Seppi/Corentin Moutet waiting in the third round. Seppi just won a challenger and I’ll back him to beat Moutet and Kohlschreiber, and then upset Sock in the third round. I’d pick Kohli do the same but his form is also in question.
Alexander Zverev’s Quarter
A poor Hopman Cup showing has left Alexander Zverev as the forgotten man at this year’s Aussie Open. He’s also yet to make the second week in Melbourne. His path is Thomas Fabbiano, Mikhail Kukushkin or countryman Peter Gojowczyk, and then one of Thanasi Kokkinakis/Daniil Medvedev or Hyeon Chung/Mischa Zverev. Gojowczyk started the season with a pair of quarterfinals, Medvedev took the title in Sydney, while Kokkinakis is a big talent. My trendy pick is Chung though, he reached the quarters in Auckland, the elder Zverev is not the best form, and Medvedev should be out of gas even if he beats Kokkinakis. I’ll go with Zverev the younger to beat Chung in the third round.
Novak Djokovic’s section has him starting with Donald Young, then facing Doha champion Gael Monfils or qualifier Jaume Munar. I’m not sold on Djokovic’s fitness at all, and Monfils is fit and in-form, that has the makings of an upset, and I’ll back Monfils to reach round 3 opposite Jared Donaldson. The young American faces Albert Ramos, then Alexei Popyrin/Tim Smyczek. Monfils is my pick to reach the second week.Embed from Getty Images
Roberto Bautista Agut took the title in Auckland, and presuming he avoids an upset at the hands of countryman Fernando Verdasco, he should reach the third round. Neither Cedrik-Marcel Stebe or Max Marterer are tough matchups. Stan Wawrinka is also in this section, Wawrinka was a question mark about whether he would play, and although he has the edge over Ricardas Berankis and Jeremy Chardy/Tennys Sandgren, I have RBA nipping him in the third round.
Seeds Dominic Thiem and Adrian Mannarino have the inside track to meet in the third round, Thiem opens with Guido Pella, with Steve Johnson/Denis Kudla to follow. Mannarino takes on lucky loser Matteo Berrettini before facing a Czech, either Jiri Vesely or Vaclav Safranek. Pella reached the semis in Doha, but so did Thiem, Mannarino was a quarterfinalist in Sydney and had a great 2017. Thiem should take this section of the draw, with Johnson struggling.Embed from Getty Images
Defending champion Roger Federer starts against Aljaz Bedene, J.L Struff or wild card Soon Woo Kwon will follow. Neither Bedene nor Struff are pushovers, but Federer remains as formidable as ever and should cruise into the third round for his first big test against Richard Gasquet. Gasquet opens with Blaz Kavcic, Robin Haase (a semifinalist in Auckland)/Lorenzo Sonego will follow. Federer didn’t lose a Hopman Cup match and should continue his strong showing by defeating Gasquet in round 3.
Sam Querrey has a great opportunity in the slot above Federer, Querrey opens with a tough contest against Sydney quarterfinalist Feliciano Lopez, Radu Albot/Marton Fucsovics will follow. Milos Raonic opens with Lukas Lacko, Nicolas Kicker/Jordan Thompson will follow. Raonic came back from an injury layoff with a loss in Brisbane, I have him beating Lacko and Thompson, then Querrey/Lopez in the third round, but Querrey, who I think will beat Lopez, has a great shot at the second week as well.
Auckland finalist Juan Martin Del Potro is formidable in his section of the draw, he should dominate Frances Tiafoe, Karen Khachanov/Peter Polansky, and then face off with either Alex De Minaur or Tomas Berdych in the third round. A finalist in Sydney and Semifinalist in Brisbane, De Minaur is 7-2 to start the season, and Berdych lost his opening match in Doha, thus I’ll go with De Minaur in the upset. Benoit Paire has a pair of ATP semifinals to start the year and should beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopz. ADM just beat him in Sydney though, while Del Potro beat Khachanov in Auckland. JMDP over ADM is my pick in round 3.Embed from Getty Images
Sydney semifinalist Fabio Fognini faces Horacio Zeballos, Florian Mayer/Evgeny Donskoy will follow, with David Goffin awaiting in the third round. Goffin opens with Matthias Bachinger, Julien Benneteau/Taro Daniel will follow. Goffin should have an edge over Fognini in round 3.Embed from Getty Images
Round of 16
Nadal d. Dolgopolov
Cilic d. Simon
Dimitrov d. Kyrgios
Anderson d. Seppi
Thiem d. Bautista Agut
Monfils d. A. Zverev
Del Potro d. Goffin
Federer d. Raonic
Nadal, Anderson, and Federer have relatively smooth paths to the quarters. Cilic lost to Simon in Pune but I’ll still back him in best of 5 tennis, I’ll probably be wrong but Monfils could make good on his talent and reach the quarters with a close win over Zverev. Del Potro’s form is good, and Thiem is a better shotmaker than RBA.
Nadal d. Cilic
Anderson d. Dimitrov
Thiem d. Monfils
Federer d. Del Potro
The Thiem/Monfils/Zverev/Djokovic section is quite open, but I’ll go with Thiem, the most accomplished of the young guns thus far to reach the semis. Nadal’s health is questionable but his injuries were not as serious as Wawrinka and Djokovic for example. Dimitrov is a trendy pick but Anderson’s big serve tennis is hard to get past, while Federer vs. Del Potro has much promise, with Federer the favorite to edge it.
Nadal d. Anderson
Federer d. Thiem
It’s not exactly a risky pick, but Nadal vs. Federer still remains the most sensible pick for the final in my mind, with Federer having a clear edge over Rafa in that final.
Federer d. Nadal
Missing the Man on the Mic: Doug Adler Confident He’ll Return to Citi Open in 2018
Steve Fogleman in Washington
The 49th installment of Washington’s tennis tournament has so much going for it. A true world-class player field. A real World #2 in Simona Halep. Expanded tailgate options. Cocktail competitions. Decent weather!
But it’s missing something this year. As you come out to see Simona Halep, Jack Sock, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Juan Martin del Potro later today, those little headsets you’ll be wearing won’t be the same because Citi Open Radio is missing its signature commentator, Doug Adler. Adler was with Citi Open ever since the tournament’s been called Citi Open and has been the go-to guy on the earpiece. His excellent reporting from Stadium Court allowed me to roam the outer courts all these years without ever missing anything happening inside the stadium. In 2012, during the women’s final, Adler and Marc Sterne invited me on the broadcast where I surprised them by picking underdog Magdalena Rybarikova to upset Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova–which she did.
You’ve probably heard about the disastrous misunderstanding flamed by internet trolls which resulted in Adler’s hiatus from the Citi Open this year.
If you haven’t heard, let’s say that Adler was fired by ESPN after a speedy social media witch trial forced the broadcasting giant’s limp hand.
During an early round match at this year’s Australian Open on ESPN3, the 59-year-old announcer and former USC standout, who’s given his life to tennis, remarked that when Venus Williams charged the net on a second serve, she possessed a “guerilla effect.” Now, the term “guerilla tennis” has been around for a long time. It’s been used by Nike in an ad campaign and has been used by highly-respected tennis writer Peter Bodo.
Adler, who didn’t even use social media at the time, had no idea that a few twitter users passed instant judgment on his alleged remarks, and those twiterrati were clearly unaware that he’d devoted countless hours volunteering in youth tennis events in Central Los Angeles, his beloved hometown. His own co-commentator was also completely unaware of any controversy after the match until an ESPN executive came calling on them the next day in Melbourne. Adler apologized on-air for any potential misunderstanding as ESPN had demanded, even though he did nothing wrong. He was summarily yanked from a broadcast and fired the next day, ESPN execs deciding to throw him under the bus and avoid any controversy. This from the same company that just published poll results of the “50 Greatest Black Athletes” — as conducted by ESPN using the website “Survey Monkey.”
Let me make this clear. I ultimately lay the blame on his firing on no one but ESPN. An Executive of a major corporation (or a nation) who sets policy based on the current twitter feed is unfit to lead either. Generally speaking, twitter is a bunch of idiots. And anyone who consumes all of their news or makes major decisions based on a twitter feed is an idiot.
Adler’s horror story is emblematic of so much that is wrong with America in 2017: the way social media trolls destroy careers, the spinelessness of big corporations when offered a chance to stand behind an ordinary employee and yes, of political correctness run amok.
That is not what this post is about. It’s about Doug Adler as an excellent human being who’s given his all to the game and has never uttered a racial slur in his life. The worst part of Adler’s story isn’t that the Alt-Right decided to use his firing as a gotcha moment to lambaste the ‘mainstream’ media. The worst part is that Adler suffered a heart attack and nearly died a couple of months after his wrongful discharge from ESPN. When I spoke with him about a week ago, he didn’t want to argue his case about it. He’ll have his chance in the California judicial system.
He sounded sad, like any of us would have if we’d been smeared out of a career.
Adler knows who he is and who he isn’t, and so do colleagues who have worked with him. So does everyone who’s ever known him, so he’s understandably optimistic that he’ll get his career and his good name restored after this “horrible” year in which he “almost died.”
“I’m going to miss being at Citi Open this year,” he told me. “I love the people, the fans, the whole tournament. It’s a great atmosphere and I am going to miss everyone in the booth and I look forward to coming back next year.”
The matter may need to settle out of court for that to happen. His case against ESPN is scheduled for trial in the fall of 2018. In any event, I’ll be rooting for Doug Adler all the way and hope to hear his voice throughout the grounds of Citi Open for years to come.