2015/03/31

Troicki Wins Historic Sydney Final

Troicki

By Dave Gertler

(January 17, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Going into the 2015 Apia International final, Serbian Viktor Troicki looked a steady favorite. His opponent Mikhail Kukushkin, who like Troicki had started in qualifying rounds in Sydney – albeit as a seeded qualifier, unlike Troicki – had also won seven matches straight to reach the first all-qualifier final in ATP history, and also looked solid. The Kazakh had not dropped a set before Saturday’s final, while the Serb had required three sets to decide three of his seven wins in previous rounds.

 

While Kukushkin and Troicki – Nos. 51 and 54 in the world respectively – both beat a series of players ranked higher than them once reaching the main draw, Kukushkin had ousted defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals on Ken Rosewall Arena. Yet it was Troicki’s lower-profile come-from-behind quarter-final win on over Simone Bolelli that positioned him well for the semi-final and final. With Bolelli serving for the match in the final set, Troicki had needed to – and did – come up with something special to win the next three games, and the match. Perhaps the Serbian former world No. 12 carried some of the confidence from this win into his next two matches on Ken Rosewall Arena.

 

Initially, during Saturday night’s final, Kukushkin and Troicki were trading holds of serve comfortably until Troicki serving at 2-2 went down 0-30 and, instead of being broken, played and won the longest rally of the set to stop the bleeding in his service game, eventually holding serve convincingly for 3-2. Troicki would not lose another game that set, breaking Kukushkin for 4-2, then 6-2.

 

Serving at 1-2 in the second set – and after a game where Troicki had served three of his 13 total aces – Kukushkin started to grimace and look like he was experience difficulty moving, Troicki breaking Kukushkin’s serve, which had significantly slowed and kept getting slower towards the end of the match. 127km/h second serves were being consistently punished by the Serb, and were a stark contrast to the serving form Kukushkin had shown on Ken Rosewall Arena the previous two evenings to beat Del Potro and Gilles Muller.

 

“He was really defending well,” said Kukushkin of his opponent, “He was as well pushing a lot and he was playing really good today. He was serving amazing.”

 

Troicki broke and consolidated for a 4-1 lead, and the match looked like it would be over in less than an hour, then Kukushkin called for a medical timeout. “He broke my rhythm a little bit at 4-1 in the second set,” said Troicki, “He took a medical timeout, and I felt I was close, you know, close to finishing the match. He started hitting the ball pretty sweet and fast. Didn’t want to rally too much. He played few good shots; I missed some. Yeah, that was when he broke me.”

 

Troicki ended up giving the break back to Kukushkin, but that would be the last game Kukushkin would win, Troicki taking the match, and his first title since 2010, 6-2, 6-3.

 

“Very happy. Yeah, a lot of emotions actually,” said Troicki, whose only other title came in Moscow in 2010, and who has now been back on tour for six months from a year-long doping suspension, “It’s been a tough road, a lot of work, and it paid off with a nice title. If I look back where I was like five, six months ago it’s amazing to have a title already.  So it’s really nice moment for me and for all my team. I really, it’s very emotional. Yeah, that’s all I can say.”

 

In an even stranger twist of fate, Troicki’s first-round opponent at the Australian Open on Monday will be Czech Jiri Vesely who also won a tournament from qualifying in Auckland, this week.

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Kvitova wins all-Czech Sydney Final

 

Petra with trophy

By Dave Gertler

(January 16, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Czech world No. 4 Petra Kvitova has defeated emerging world No.22 Karolina Pliskova in the first all-Czech final at the Apia International on Friday night. It was the first time Kvitova had appeared in a final in Sydney, having lost to the eventual winner Tsvetana Pironkova in the semi-final last year, which was her fourth appearance at the event.

 

“I’m just glad how I played today,” said Kvitova after her 7-6(5), 7-6(6) win that took just shy of two hours to complete on Ken Rosewall Arena, “I mean, it was very a tough match to really handle it everything. Two tiebreakers, it’s always very difficult. Karolina played really well and she served very well.”

 

The 22-year-old Pliskova, playing her sixth WTA-level final in the past year – but her first ever final at Premier level – held a break over Kvitova for most of the first set until, while attempting to serve it out at 5-4, her opponent’s return game clicked into gear, and Kvitova was able to break back and force the first set to a tie-break, throughout which she continued to elevate her game and separate herself from her opponent, taking the tie-break 7-5.

 

“I feel today I must say a little bit tired,” said Pliskova, whose strong serving and follow-up attack game had seen her through to the final only losing one set along the way, “Also in the match I wasn’t that I don’t want to say fast, because I’m not that fast normally, but I felt a little bit tired, not that much power in my serve.”

 

Throughout the match, Kvitova hit 38 winners, almost doubling her opponent’s figures, and in the second set, it was the dual Wimbledon champ who held an early break before her opponent broke back for 3-3 and held on for a second-set tie-break. A series of double faults and errors by Pliskova gave Kvitova a 5-1 advantage which all but sealed the championship, and although Pliskova then managed to level the score, it was Kvitova who eventually came through an entertaining tie-break, taking it 8-6.

 

“You know, it was quite weird tiebreak,” said Kvitova, “Because she was serving so well all the match then she did two double faults, so I was a little bit like relaxed and it was fine. I mean, I was still holding my serve pretty well. It’s tiebreak tennis, and you never know what’s going to be there.”

 

Both the Czech women are seeded, and will play qualifiers in the first round of the Australian Open next week. “I come to Melbourne tomorrow,” said Kvitova, “And I need to forget about the Sydney trophy to be ready and focused for the Melbourne. It’s just really crazy world sometimes in tennis. You really can’t enjoy the title because the next week it’s something different and you have to be prepared already.”

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Defending Champion Del Potro out of the Apia International

DelPotro

By Dave Gertler

(January 15, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – After ousting former world No. 5 and defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro on Thursday, Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin will play another Argentinian – currently the highest ranked South American – Leonardo Mayer, for a place in the Apia International final against either Gilles Muller or Viktor Troicki.

 

Kukushkin needed two hours and two tie-breaks to beat Del Potro on Ken Rosewall Arena. Neither Del Potro nor Kukushkin was able to muster a break point against the other, and while the 2009 US Open champion briefly held the upper hand in the first tie-break, leading 4-2 at the change of sides, Kukushkin – who will contest his first ATP-level semi-final not on an indoor hard court in Russia – proved consistent at the right moments in both tie-breaks.

 

“It was a tough match,” I think he deserve to win because he played better than me in the tiebreak.” Del Potro – feeling more wrist pain than in his previous matches – was unable to fire off the backhand side, opting for a slice backhand most of the time, which allowed his opponent to dictate and be the aggressor. “I served well,” said Del Potro, “But my wrist hurts a little bit more than yesterday, and I couldn’t hit harder than my last match. He played very smart. He was all the time playing to my backhand and playing slices.”

 

“He’s a top player,” said Kukushkin about his opponent, “But I think everyone saw today that he cannot yet hit full power his backhand. He did a lot of slices. For sure this is affect his game. Still he serve good. His forehand was working OK today.” Kukushkin admitted exploiting current gaps in Del Potro’s arsenal was part of his game plan, saying, “I knew that right now his backhand not so good. Of course I tried to use it. Unfortunately, but I have to.”

 

Del Potro is excited to be returning to Melbourne for the Australian Open next week, his first grand slam appearance in 12 months. He is managing expectations on court, but doesn’t hide his enthusiasm to be rubbing shoulders with friends and other grand slam winners. “It’s not easy, but everybody has to know I’m 338th player in the world at the moment,” said Del Potro, “I just beat the top 20 player here, top 50, it’s great for these kind of players, so I’m happy for that. But I want to meet also Federer, Djokovic, these guys, because I miss them when I was at home. I only speak with WhatsApp or by phone. Now I will meet the biggest players of this sport again.”

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Tomic out, Troicki into Semi-finals of Sydney

Bernard Tomic

Bernard Tomic

By Dave Gertler

(January 15, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Two-time finalist, Australian Bernard Tomic, has failed to reach the semi-final of the 2015 Apia International, bowing out to world No.45 Gilles Muller in their quarter-final on Thursday.

 

The big-serving lefty from Luxembourg fired off 25 aces to Tomic’s 15 in their two sets on Ken Rosewall Arena, and was the better player in both tie-breaks, particularly in the marathon second-set tie-break which he won 15-13 to seal the match against the hometown favorite and 2013 Sydney champion.

 

“He served really well,” said Tomic, “I knew it was going to be difficult.  This is a player that has been in the last eight at majors I think four or five years back at the US Open. It was very difficult playing him. That serve is probably one of the best serves out there now that’s left handed. Not a lot of guys that can play like him.”

 

Muller has needed to play his best tennis so far at the Apia International, exacting tight wins over Sam Groth and Jeremy Chardy on his way to the quarters, and will now need to continue elevating his game if he’s to make it past an on-fire Viktor Troicki, back with a vengeance from his suspension, and seemingly attempting to make up for lost time.

 

While Tomic and Muller were on main court on Thursday evening, Troicki and Italian Simone Bolelli were battling it out on an outside show court. Although currently outside the top 50, 29-year-old Bolelli came back from a set down against Troicki by playing flawless top-20 quality tennis. After losing the first set 3-6, Bolelli manoeuvred himself into a winning position, taking the second set 6-3, and leading by a break late in the final set before Troicki’s relentless defense proved a deciding factor, allowing the Serb back into the final set, which he would win 7-5, along with the match.

 

“I was expecting pretty tough match,” said Troicki, who served 16 aces to Bolelli’s two during the 2-hour, 8-minute-long match, “I had few tough battles with Simone, who’s a good friend. I think he played great. He was unlucky at the end to lose. But I think we both played good. I was defending a lot because he was really aggressive. Yeah, I had bit more luck in the end and played some good points, played some big points pretty good. So I was happy with that. I also served well. So I’m really satisfied with the win today and happy with the result.”

 

Troicki, who lost to Gilles Simon in the 2011 Sydney final, the same year he reached his highest rank of world No. 12, is seemingly playing with a new lease on life after returning from a doping ban which left him sidelined for a year.

 

“Well, I experienced something that most of the guys don’t experience,” said Troicki, who had to play through qualifying this year, “I’ve been banned, yeah, from playing. When you cannot do something that you love and when you’re not doing it for a while you see how much you miss it and love it. Ever since I was a kid I dreamed about this, playing, competing, doing something that I love. I really love playing tennis. So I enjoy on the court much more than I used to. Yeah, it’s fun being back. All my life I was looking forward to this. I enjoy it more on the court, as I said. It’s more fun and more enjoyment on the court.”

 

An all-journeyman semi-finals has been set for Friday – Viktor Troicki versus Gilles Muller, and Leonardo Mayer versus Mikhail Kukushkin – and the Apia International will have a new men’s champion crowned on Saturday.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Del Potro Usurps Top Seed Fognini in Sydney

By Dave Gertler

(January 14, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro has come from behind in his second-round match at the Apia International, to usurp top seed Italian Fabio Fognini 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Wednesday. The Argentine world No. 338 – who last year was ranked No. 5 in the world when he beat Bernard Tomic in the Sydney final – hadn’t played a match since Dubai in February 2014 before he faced his first-round opponent on Tuesday.

 

“I feel better on the court,” said Del Potro, “Especially in the end of the match. I serve well, I hit good forehands, and my backhands improved from yesterday to this match a little bit.”

 

On Wednesday, Del Potro faced an initial onslaught from world No. 18 Fognini who broke Del Potro twice in the first set, taking it 6-4. Del Potro found his range toward the end of the second set, again relying on his main weapons, his serve and forehand, to maintain pressure on Fognini’s game, breaking Fognini four more times to win the second and third sets 6-2, 6-2.

 

As far as adding his aggressive backhand back into his arsenal, Del Potro isn’t rushing anything, saying, “My game is serve strong and hit and try to make winners with my forehand. If my backhand is OK, I will be aggressive too with my backhand in the future. But now I think I have to put it on court, just to hit the ball as better I can, and don’t try to make winners with my backhand at this moment. I just need to play a lot of backhands during the point, and if I do that, I will get confidence very soon to play aggressive as well.”

 

A dip in form by the mercurial Fognini in the latter half of the match contributed to Del Potro’s from-behind win, but Del Potro’s serve and service percentage got better as the match wore on. In the second set, he only dropped one point behind his first serve, and in the final set his first serve percentage was 78%, winning 12 of 15 points behind it.

 

Del Potro will face Mikhail Kukushkin in the quarter-finals on Thursday, and indicated he would be physically ready. “My wrist is the same,” said Del Potro, “It’s not getting worse, so I have confidence with that. Of course I’m very happy to beat my first top 20 player on the year.”

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Successful Start to Del Potro’s Comeback in Sydney

Juan Martin Del Potro

Juan Martin Del Potro

By Dave Gertler

(January 13, 2015) For Juan Martin Del Potro, this was the successful return to competition after almost a year that everyone – except, perhaps, his first-round opponent at the Apia International, Sergiy Stakhovsky – was hoping for.

 

The shot most affected by his injury is Del Potro’s double-handed backhand, but the Argentinian 26-year-old possesses other weapons, namely one of the most powerful serves and deadly forehands on tour. Those were both on full display on Tuesday afternoon, when he denied Stakhovsky any break points on the way to a straight-sets 6-3, 7-6 victory that took 81 minutes.

 

 

“It was a great moment for me,” said an emotional Del Potro after the match, “I think I play well to be in my first match after ten months. I serve well.  My forehand is still working out. So that’s mean good signal for the future. I need to work very hard to my backhands and my movements, but I think now is time to think about my comeback and enjoying this moment a lot. I been at home for a long time really sad. To be honest, I didn’t expect this moment to be early in the season. I’m so happy, so glad.”

 

 

After the match Del Potro, who raised the Apia International winner’s trophy in 2014, raised both arms in a warmly-received celebration before collapsing to his chair and putting his towel over his head, apparently overwhelmed by the emotion.

 

 

“I enjoy the match, enjoying the atmosphere on there,” said Del Potro, “They are still Argentinian fans coming to watch me, which is very good for me. Obviously be the defending champion here means a lot. But I don’t have to think about that. Just try to be calm and go step by step, trying to go slowly. I know many people expect me playing like a top 10 very soon, but I will say to them that it takes a bit of time.”

 

 

Del Potro indicated his wrist felt better than he had expected, saying, “I will be ready to play tomorrow for sure. I will do treatment after here that take me like an hour every day. It’s supposed to be worse after intensive match like today, but I’m feeling well at the moment. I will see tonight and maybe tomorrow morning, but my doctor is behind me. He give me big confidence every day, so I’m still positive and I still want to play tennis.”

 

 

Hi opponent on Wednesday, top seed Fabio Fognini, has also struggled with his health recently in Perth, where he was sidelined from the Hopman Cup for at least one rubber with a heat-related illness. “Fabio is a great player,” said Del Potro, “He’s the No.1 seed. He is a friend of mine as well. So just try to play as I did today will be great for me. Obviously focus is on my wrist, trying to don’t get worse after tonight and after the match of tomorrow. If everything happens in the good way, I will be happy for this week.”

 

 

Clearly focussed on the long road back to full health, Del Potro assures, “I will be an aggressive player again very soon, but now it’s time to work on my physically and the treatment and the recoveries every day.”

 

 

Reflecting on his time away from the game, he said, “It’s been horrible for me. I spend a lot of time at home. I was watching tennis on TV. I think for all the players watching the big tournaments on TV is really, really bad. Supposed to be there playing with these guys, looking on trying to win a grand slam again. But I also have a big support of my family, of my friends. Because of them, I’m here now. They want me to still watching playing tennis. And I feel young, so I will try to play tennis as long as I can. Could be another start of my career after this match.”

 

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .
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Keys and Halep withdraw, Radwanska falls in Sydney

By Dave Gertler
(January 13, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Madison Keys has withdrawn from the Apia International in Sydney, surrendering from a set up against defending champion Tsvetana Pironkova. The mid-match withdrawal came on a day when the women’s draw lost its top seed Simona Halep, who withdrew before playing her first match, suffering from a gastrointestinal illness.
“I just hit a serve weird and it just kind of impinged on my shoulder a little bit,” said Keys, who had taken the first set 6-4 on Court 3, yet was trailing in the second set 1-4 before she pulled out, “Just didn’t want to push it too hard and end up getting worse.” Keys also stressed that she would be fit for the Australian Open, starting next week, saying that she immediately called her coach Lindsay Davenport to reassure her and say, “Don’t freak out. It’s fine. She understands. She played. She gets it. Said, good call. Let’s get it better, and we’ll do whatever we can to get ready.”
For Pironkova, the dream run in Sydney continues, stretching out her unbeaten record over the last two years to 13 matches, and she will face in-form Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. The two most recently met on grass at Wimbledon in 2013, Pironkova winning on her way to the round of 16 that year.
Fourth seed Caroline Wozniacki’s withdrawing during her first-round match on Monday, and Agnieszka Radwanska, third seed, who lost a tight battle against Garbine Muguruza on Tuesday, means the only seed to make it through to the quarter-finals by Tuesday evening was Petra Kvitova, No.2 seed, who beat Shuai Peng in straight sets.
Radwanska, playing her first tournament with coach Martina Navratilova courtside, found herself leading Muguruza before the Spaniard switched gears, taking the next two sets 7-6, 6-2. “I played her two times before and I lost,” said Muguruza after her win, “I was like, OK, this time I want to win. I want to see what happens. For me to win this match, I feel like I improve a lot. When I play against her, I really have to concentrate and do my game, because she makes me play different styles and dropshots and long balls.”
“I think the best chance for me was winning in two sets,” said Radwanska, “In the tie-break, I think I just didn’t really go for it. She made a couple of good shots and it was over. But, well, it’s always a good sign. I have a couple days still before the Australian Open, so going to rest and prepare for that.”
Also through to the women’s quarter-finals on Tuesday’s matches were Karolina Pliskova who beat Nicole Gibbs – in for Simona Halep – 6-0, 6-0 in 38 minutes. Pliskova will play Carla Suarez Navarro who beat Ekaterina Makarova in a three-set match lasting over two hours. Garbine Muguruza will play either Angelique Kerber in her first quarter-final in Sydney, while Petra Kvitova will play Jarmila Gajdosova in what will be her third quarter-final in five appearances in Sydney.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .
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Pironkova’s Run Continues and Wild Cards Thrive at the Apia International

By Dave Gertler

(January 12, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Tsvetana Pironkova‘s endearing and heroic run of 12 straight wins at the Apia International in Sydney might finally be cut short on Tuesday by the big game of the USA’s Madison Keys. The Bulgarian defending champion yesterday won an unlikely battle against Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta to advance to the second round of the main draw. Then again, her win over Pennetta is merely one of four top-12 wins the now-ranked No. 67 Pironkova has enjoyed in Sydney the last two years.

 

“I think I played a great match today,” said Pironkova of her 6-3, 7-6 win over the Italian, “I felt very good on court. I think we both did. It was a very  entertaining  match  for  the spectators. Definitely hard. I’m glad I could finish it only in two sets.” Pennetta was starting to find her range in the second set, battling from a break down to force the tie-break, at which point Pironkova’s air of Sydney invincibility took over again.

 

“Well, I obviously love it,” said Pironkova, 27, whose first and only career WTA title is last year’s Apia International. “I have very nice memories from last year. I like the surface very much. I like the people around here.  I like the city, which I think it’s important for every player to enjoy the whole experience. So I am, and I feel very, very good here.”

 

Due to her 2014 Apia International championship points being stripped at the beginning of this week, Pironkova ranking has dropped a staggering 30 spots to No.67, yet she has still managed to spin into a positive the fact that as defending champ she was declined a wildcard into the main draw this year. Pironkova said, “That was past. You know, once I came to the tournament, I had a different mindset. I was like, OK, you’re playing quallies. Just go out on the court and forget about what’s happening. Obviously you’re not getting a wildcard. Get over it and try your best. And that’s what I’m doing.”

 

While tactics, craftiness and overall tennis smarts are how Pironkova separates herself from most opponents, she will have to find a new level to beat her next opponent Madison Keys. Keys was demonstrative in her first-round win over Svetlana Kuznetsova on the main court, Ken Rosewall Arena on Sunday and will be well-rested after a day off to face an opponent who has played four matches in as many days here in Sydney.

 

Finding out for the first time in the media conference who her next opponent was, Pironkova said, “I didn’t know I play against her. Very strong opponent. I think she’s very good right now, in good form, and one of the players to look out for. So, you know, I’m just going to go out there and do my best, and hopefully I’m going to win.”

 

The two wildcards in the women’s draw were given to Australian local hopes Jarmila Gajdosova and Daria Gavrilova, who both – like Pironkova – scored upset wins in their first-round matches. Journey-woman Gajdosova’s win over world No.12 Andrea Petkovic was her highest-ranked win since 2011. In an all-Slovak battle today of sorts – Gajdosova was born and spent her formative years in Slovakia – she will take on world No.11 Dominika Cibulkova on Grandstand Court, one of many standout matches scheduled for today at Olympic Park Tennis Centre. Gavrilova’s win over Swiss Belinda Bencic was also standout, her first win over a top 20 player since 2012.

 

The Apia International’s Tuesday order of play is full of drawcards, and reads almost like a grand slam middle Saturday, perhaps minus the top-10 men’s players. Headlining action on Ken Rosewall Arena will be Juan Martin Del Potro. In his first match back from injury since February 2014, the Argentine US Open champ will face Sergiy Stakhovsky to begin his campaign to defend his 2014 Apia International title.

 

Sam Stosur, who finally managed to turn the tables against Lucie Safarova on Monday, will face her second Czech opponent in two days. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova made it into the second round when her opponent Caroline Wozniacki withdrew from their match citing wrist problems.

 

Also in action on KRA on Tuesday – Bernard Tomic, Sam Stosur, and Petra Kvitova, Nick Kyrgios and Jerzy Janowicz, while Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska, Vasek Pospisil and Sam Groth take on their opponents on Grandstand and the outer courts.

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Kvitova weighs in on Czech Hopes at the Apia International

By Dave Gertler

(January 11, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – After rain prevented play for most of Sunday at the Apia International, Monday’s schedule will feature even more high-profile WTA matchups than previously planned. First up on Ken Rosewall Arena, home favorite Sam Stosur will take on Czech world No. 15 Lucie Safarova. Stosur will need all the home-crowd support she can muster, having not beaten Safarova in their last six meetings.

 

No. 2 seed Czech Petra Kvitova on Sunday weighed in on Safarova’s chances of having a standout 2015, saying, “I hope that she can make the top 10. She dreamed for it, and hopefully she can make it. I think that she really had a great off-season as well. We practiced in Prostejov at the end of last year. She came for a week, and we had a practice, and she played really well, she’s in good form.”

 

While the winner between Safarova and Stosur will most likely face No. 4 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, Kvitova along with Safarova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova – Wozniacki’s first-round opponent – are the three Czechs contending the bottom half of the draw. In the top half, up-and-coming Czech Karolina Pliskova will face a qualifier to decide who plays top seed Simona Halep in the second round.

 

Last week in Brisbane, Pliskova surprised her opponent, and the Brisbane crowd, by overpowering Victoria Azarenka in three sets on Pat Rafter Arena, and if she can navigate her way past qualifier Polona Hercog, will most likely find herself on centre court again facing top seed Halep.

 

“She went with us to be part of the team in the Fed Cup, last week of the last season,” said Kvitova of 22-year-old Pliskova, “She was great, she really handled it very nicely, and the practice with her was great, so it was very nice to have her in the team. And hopefully, with these experiences she can have now, she can play better and better. She’s playing well, I have to say, she’s serving so well. So hopefully it’s going to be a very good future for her.”

 

The most interesting matchup on Ken Rosewall Arena will be another feature match between third seed Radwanska and world No. 18 Alize Cornet. While Radwanska has enjoyed three main-tour wins to only one loss to the French player, the French player got the better of the Pole only three days ago at the Hopman Cup in Perth. Radwanska will be hoping to follow up on her Apia International title which she failed to defend in 2014.

 

Women’s defending champion, Tsvetana Pironkova, has won through qualifying to the main draw, and will face Italy’s Flavia Pennetta on Monday on Court 3.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Stars Descend On Sydney for the Apia International

Julien Benneteau and Ken Rosewall at Sydney International draw ceremony

Julien Benneteau and Ken Rosewall at Sydney International draw ceremony

By Dave Gertler

(January 10, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Stars of the tennis world have been descending upon Sydney over the last days, while qualifying heats have been contested at the Apia International in Sydney. Last year’s women’s champion Tsvetana Pironkova, who qualified and won eight matches in a row at the 2014 Apia International, has had to navigate through qualifying again – albeit as top seed this year – and will make it into the main draw if she defeats American Nicole Gibbs on Sunday. Despite lifting her ranking from outside the top 100 a year ago to where it is now at No.37, that Pironkova still needed to qualify is testament to the depth of the women’s draw at this year’s event.

The tournament’s top seed Simona Halep will arrive in Sydney on Sunday, from Shenzhen, China where she won the tournament.
Petra Kvitova lost in the semi-finals of Shenzhen.
Caroline Wozniacki  arrived at Sydney Airport last night from Auckland, losing her Auckland final to Venus Williams.
Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska will complete the Apia International’s top four seeds when she arrives in Sydney from Perth, where she and Jerzy Janowicz – who will also feature strongly on the men’s side of the Sydney tournament – have won the Hopman Cup in an eventful final against USA’s John Isner and Serena Williams.

Janowicz will continue to be a headline act of Australia’s Summer of Tennis, as he plays young Australian giant-killer Nick Kyrgios in their first round match, which was allotted yesterday during a draw ceremony whose guests of honour included Ken Rosewall and Lesley Bowrey. 2005 Sydney finalist Sam Stosur, as well as 2012 Sydney finalist Julien Benneteau, were also in attendance for their respective WTA and ATP draw ceremonies.

 

While the men’s draw is less stacked than a women’s draw which boasts six top-10 players, Benneteau called the men’s draw, “Very compact,” saying, “Maybe there is not top 10 players, but from the top seeds to the end of the draw, there are tough players between 20, 30, 40, very good players, so I really think that anyone can win on Saturday.”

The men’s top two seeds, Fabio Fognini and David Goffin, will fly surprisingly under the radar at this tournament given that last year’s champion Juan Martin Del Potro, has chosen this event to stage his comeback from injury that has left him sidelined for almost a year. Del Potro flew in on Thursday night and has been using the days since to practice on Ken Rosewall Arena, with some light strapping on his wrist.

 

Ken Rosewall predicted a big year for the new Australian men’s No. 1, saying, “Because of his rapid improvement and his performance at Wimbledon and other senior events, there’ll be a lot of players who’ll be wanting to be in top form when they play against him. Hopefully Nick can remain physically clear without any problems, and he’ll be in good form. But I think there’ll be extra pressure on him this time to kind of stand up to being the number one player in Australia.”

 

At the women’s draw ceremony, Lesley Bowrey, winner of the French Open in 1964 and 1965, had some timely and compassionate words of wisdom for Sam Stosur, who is known for her struggles to win matches on home soil. “I just want to wish Sam all the best,” said Bowrey, “And just go out there and be free and easy, really, and not worry, as you say about everyone else, and what they’re telling you, just play your own game and do what you want to do.” Stosur has been drawn to face Lucie Safarova, the Czech world No.15 to whom she has lost their last six matches.

 

“Look, sometimes when I used to lead in matches, and I used to lose them too,” continued Bowrey, perhaps referring to Stosur’s loss last week in Brisbane to Varvara Lepchenko, after having a match point at 5-1 in the deciding set, “We all do that, it’s nothing new, you just have to find a way. What I used to do is just say, well, if I’m leading 5-1 or 5-2 or 5-3, I’d just tell myself I’m down that, and just take the pressure right off myself. That’s how I used to handle it, just tell myself I’m not leading, I’m down. Tennis is a tough game, it’s a tough sport.”

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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