2014/08/22

Wawrinka Upsets an Injured Nadal to Claim First Major at Australian Open

Yonex photo of Stan Wawrinka

By Alana Mitchelson

(January 26, 2014) MELBOURNE – After playing the tournament of his career, Stanislas Wawrinka has earned himself his first ever Grand Slam title in his major final debut, prevailing over a struggling Rafael Nadal in four sets 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

 

His Australian Open success will see Wawrinka rise to a career-high ranking of world No. 3 on Monday and he will become the new Swiss No. 1, having outlasted Roger Federer in the tournament.

 

With three consecutive wins over top 10 players during the fortnight gone by, Wawrinka’s story is one of the underdog and is one which has garnered the respect from tennis aficionados far and wide.

 

The nervous energy surrounding his first Grand Slam final appearance was most noticeable during the Swiss’ first few service games. But he quickly shook them off, showing no fear in going for the big shots and did not so much as hesitate to rip winners down the line, even upon return of service.

 

Throughout the entirety of the first set, Wawrinka did well to disguise his nerves, appearing calm and confident on the exterior and backed this up with a solid execution of his game plan. The opening set saw him win each and every one of his first serve points kept in play, as well as all of the points whereby he approached the net.

 

He powered through his service games, Nadal having difficulty instilling much pressure on the Swiss, and at 5-3 Wawrinka saved three break points. He followed through to ace his way to snatching the first set over the world No. 1, 6-3.

 

​”I was surprised about how well I was playing,” Wawrinka said after winning the title.

 

“I was expecting to be a little bit nervous, not to move so well, especially at the beginning like I did against Djokovic. But tonight was just the perfect start.”

 

During his previous 12 tournament encounters with the Spaniard, Wawrinka had not once taken a set off the current world No. 1.

 

“He was playing amazing. It is very tough to stop him when he’s playing that way,” Nadal said.

 

“He’s playing better and better and he’s playing with amazing confidence, hitting every ball very, very hard and moving great.”

 

But the Swiss’ momentum did not follow on at this same level throughout the match as Nadal suddenly called a medical timeout early on in second set shortly after Wawrinka had established another early break lead. The crowd reacted in the most peculiar way by booing the usual, regular crowd favourite.

 

​”The crowd wants to enjoy a great match. They paid tickets to watch the best match possible and I was not able to offer that to them. I wanted to try my best until the end but I can understand very well the reaction. They understood later that it was bad,” Nadal said.

 

A very different Nadal returned to court. His usual intensity had dropped dramatically, movement was at a bare minimum, serves were deficient in power, and his groundstrokes were lacking in depth and generated a greater clearance of the net. He was, at times, also merely chipping at returns.

 

The Spaniard had undergone an injury to his back and received treatment from a massage therapist after the second set.

 

​”That wasn’t easy,” Wawrinka said, reflecting on Nadal’s physical state during the remainder of the match.

 

“He wasn’t serving at all. He wasn’t moving during one set. Then it was a completely different match. I had to focus on myself, to try to find a way to just win it… I knew it was really, really difficult for him. I was unhappy for that because normally that’s not the way I want to win a match.

​”I had to keep myself calm and just try to stay aggressive because he was injured, but he was still trying. It was not easy. I started to be really nervous because I started to realize that I could win a Grand Slam. In the end I just went back to the game and focused on what I wanted to do.”

 

Nadal, who had an emotional year after facing serious injury setbacks which had forced him to miss last year’s Australian Open, found the back pains especially frustrating but nevertheless pushed on. For the 13-time Grand Slam champion, retirement was not an option.

 

“Since the beginning, I felt a little bit from the warmup… end of the first set, I started to feel worse. Then at the beginning of the second was the key moment that I felt very stiff during a serve,” Nadal said.

 

“​Last thing that I wanted to do was to retire. I hate to do that, especially in a final. Same time, it’s tough to see yourself working for a moment like this the whole year and when the moment arrives, you feel that you are not able to play at your best.

 

​”It was not an easy situation for me to be on the court like this but I tried hard until the end, trying to finish the match as good as I could for the crowd, for the opponent, for me.”

 

Nadal managed to break ahead in the third set but these opportunities were mostly presented as a result of his opponent’s mistakes rather than from the success of his own offensive play. His slow, and hence, very predictable serves gave Wawrinka more chances to be aggressive upon return and break ahead.

 

Wawrinka too began to deal with an internal battle of his own as he encountered a different kind of challenge on the court – one which was more psychological – and that was how to respectfully attack an injured opponent. This seemed to throw him off his game to an extent, his unforced errors accumulating, and a couple of untimely mistakes handed Nadal the third set.

 

Nadal recognized that his injury should not in any way take away from the resilient stand Wawrinka has made on behalf of the lower ranked players trying to breakthrough in this sport and that he should receive nothing but praise for the sensational, entertaining tennis he has dished out for fans throughout the tournament.

 

​”​It is a moment to congratulate Stan. He’s playing unbelievable. He really deserves to win the title. I’m very happy for him. He’s a great, great guy. He’s a good friend of mine. I am really happy for him… he had a great year last year and to start the new year winning two titles is just amazing.

 

“I’m obviously disappointed and very sad about what happened. But that’s life, that’s sport.”

 

Wawrinka is the first man in eight years to clinch the title after winning a pre-Australian Open tournament; in Wawrinka’s case, Chennai. He is also the first man in 11 years to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at a Grand Slam; an incredible achievement that should not be overlooked in the tennis history books.

 

​”Before today, for me it wasn’t a dream. I never expected to play a final. I never expected to win a Grand Slam,” Wawrinka admitted with a smile.

 

“And right now I just did it. Especially with the way I was playing all tournament, it’s for me a big surprise to play that well. To beat Rafa today, even if he was injured, I think I played my best first set during the match. I was ready to play four hours or five to beat Novak in the quarter, to beat Berdych in semis. That shows me I’m doing the right thing… that if you practice well, if you work hard, you will always have a chance.

 

​”I will need time to realize what I did in these two weeks. In the end, even if Rafa was injured, I think I deserve that Grand Slam because I won against Djokovic, No. 2 and (now) I won against Rafa. I had an amazing two weeks and I was playing my best tennis ever.”

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist was covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

Rafael Nadal Dismisses Roger Federer to earn berth in Australian Open Final

Nadal waves and smiles

By Alana Mitchelson

(January 24, 2014) MELBOURNE – The world No. 1 Rafael Nadal has his heart set on winning each of the slams twice. Now, after conquering the great Roger Federer in a straight set semifinal clash 7-6(7-4), 6-3, 6-3, only one man stands in his way of that dream becoming a reality and that is Stanislas Wawrinka.

 

It was a classic semifinal showdown between two of the greatest tennis rivals of the Open Era, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

 

Nadal played to Federer’s backhand which characteristically seemed to be failing him against the Spaniard, more often than not, on the night. The Swiss made a multitude of errors and his unforced error tally soared to an almost unforgivable total of 50 by the end of the match.

 

Federer was by no means playing poorly, but found it increasingly difficult to break ahead of his dominating opponent. He played with confidence, committing to his shots, and the crowd reacted in awe of the impeccable accuracy displayed through his groundstrokes which, for the most part, held an impressively low clearance of the net.

 

The tight first set tie-break seemed to set the momentum for Nadal as he largely dictated play for the remainder of the match thereafter.

 

“For sure it was very, very important,” Nadal said reflecting upon the match.

 

“It was decisive to win that first set… a tough first set. So after a few tough rallies at the end of the first set, it was a lot of confidence for me.”

 

Nadal took a momentary medical timeout to reapply his bandages over his blistering left palm which has been giving him trouble throughout the whole week. The Spaniard, however, maintained that it has not affected his capabilities on court.

 

“​We made the tape a little bit smaller. That helped me.​

 

“The blister today is not a problem anymore for normal life. It is not painful. The problem is to play tennis. The only problem is the position of the blister, the place, because if it is in another place I would have no problem because I don’t feel pain today. Problem is to cover that blister in the position where it is.”

 

Federer all the while attempted to take advantage of this, pushing the Spaniard out to the wings of the court and playing to his left, dominant hand which was bound with the tape. He managed a break back in the third set, but this minor celebration was short-lived as Nadal wasted no time before surging to the lead once again. Up a break and determined not to allow the match to progress into a fourth set, the Spaniard held to continue his strong head-to-head record against Federer, dismantling the former world No. 1 in straight sets.

 

Nadal spoke of how his return to the grand final of the Australian Open was a particularly emotional one due to the unfortunate circumstances which had prevented him from participating in the tournament this time last year.

 

​”For me, it’s a very important thing to start the season this way again; winning in Doha, now being in the final of Australia after missing this tournament last year. I come back here and the support of the crowd is just amazing for me.

 

“Some very emotional moments in the Rod Laver Arena in the past and very emotional moments this year, especially because it is the Grand Slam that I really have had more problems with in my career. In 2006, I didn’t have the chance to play because of the injury to my foot at the end of 2005 in Madrid… in 2010, I think it was against Andy and I had to retire because of a problem in the knee. In 2011, I didn’t want to retire but I had a strain on the muscle in my leg during the third game of the match. And last year I didn’t have a chance to play here.

 

“A lot of years I didn’t have a chance to play in this tournament that I really love so much… so it’s very special to have the chance to be in the final here again.”

 

Nadal has been following Wawrinka’s outstanding run at the Australian Open over the past two weeks and is prepared for a challenging final despite being considered the favourite to win.

 

“He’s a good friend, great guy. So happy for him that he’s in the final, he deserves it. He’s playing better and better every year. He is serving unbelievable, he’s hitting the ball very strong from the baseline very, very quick. It’s very difficult to play against him today. I know it will be a very, very tough match. If I am not able to play my best, I think I will not have a chance because he’s coming to this match with a lot of victories and playing great.​ He’s playing better than ever.

 

“It’s not the final that, playing normal, I think I am going to win. I need to play my best.”

 

​Federer shared his thoughts on his fellow Swiss’ chances moving forward into the final on Sunday night against the world No. 1 who, unlike Wawrinka, is no stranger to a Grand Slam final.

 

“I hope he (Stan) gives everything he has. There’s no reason not to believe he can beat Rafa,” Federer said.

 

“He’s clearly got a tough record against him, but many players have that. There’s no difference there. Pressure’s clearly on Rafa because he’s got to win this final. Stan’s in his first Grand Slam final, so that makes Stan also unpredictable. He’s got to use that to his advantage.”

 

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

A Q & A with No. 1 US Junior Tennis Player Stefan Kozlov

Setfan Kozlov, USTA International Spring Championships, Carson, CA

Stefan Kozlov, USTA International Spring Championships, Carson, CA

By Alana Mitchelson

(January 24, 2014) MELBOURNE – At just 15 years of age, Stefan Kozlov is currently the No. 1 Junior in the US and so it’s no surprise that he’s also the youngest player in the world top 20 Junior rankings.

 

His outstanding performance at this year’s Australian Open has seen him reach his greatest achievement yet – a place in the finals of a Junior Grand Slam.

 

We caught up with Stefan shortly after his quarterfinal win at Melbourne Park on Thursday to talk him through just how far he has come from the early days and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

 

Alana Mitchelson: First of all, congratulations on your quarterfinal win! It must be pretty exciting to make it that far.

 

Stefan Kozlov: Thank you, yeah, I’m very excited.

 

AM: So how was it that you were first introduced to tennis?

 

SK: Well both of my parents played so I think they always wanted me to play tennis, me and my brother.

 

AM: Your dad coached you when you first started playing. Does he still coach you?

 

SK: My dad coached me until four years ago so we have a really long, good relationship. I’m actually still with my dad but I have another coach, Nicolas Todero, too. So I travel with this coach and I do a lot with this coach, but my dad still helps me a lot. I think the mixture of both turned out really well. Nicolas is also a very good coach and he played pro in the top 150 for a good amount of time.

 

AM: And your father runs a tennis academy, I believe. Can you tell us a bit about that?

 

SK: Yeah, he runs a tennis academy in Pembroke Pines, Florida, just outside of Miami. It’s a pretty good atmosphere. He’s pretty hard working. It’s really cool there. I like to be around him because he works tremendously hard, everyone there is. It’s just a great working environment and sometimes when I’m off I like to hang out there.

 

AM: Can you describe the town where you’ve grown up?

 

SK: I was born in Macedonia but I grew up first in Delray Beach, Florida. That’s where my dad has the academy. Then we moved to Pembroke Pines maybe eight or nine years ago. It’s a great city. It’s small. It’s really peaceful there.

 

AM: Your parents are both Russian. How much does that culture influence you?

 

SK: I consider myself an American but I think it’s great. It’s good to have both American and Russian backgrounds. My dad’s pretty tough and I’m a pretty tough guy too I think.

 

AM: What’s your training regime been like?

 

SK: My training’s very tough. My dad used to be very tough on me and now he’s a bit calmer, but I really appreciate what he’s done for me. You know, long workouts, I wouldn’t leave the court unless I did something to the max, a little bit of fitness and a little bit of talking. Stuff like that.

 

AM: There’s a man here at Melbourne Park who goes by the same name as you, Stefan Edberg. Have you ever met him or watched him play?

 

SK: I was actually named after him. It’s true. And my brother was actually named after Boris Becker. I haven’t really watched any videos of him that much because I watched more of Sampras, Agassi and Federer. But I have heard he’s a great guy. I’ve never met him but I hope to.

 

AM: Who on the men’s tour do you have the most respect for?

 

SK: Probably Federer. Just all he’s been through and how tough he is. I’ve actually hit with him four times and we still talk at tournaments whenever I see him.

 

AM: What advice has he given you?

 

SK: Just to keep going and to stay positive.

 

AM: What are your thoughts on the state of the men’s game in the US?

 

SK: I think, for the pros, it’s really tough for them. I think (Sam) Querrey and (John) Isner had a tremendous year last year and a great start to this year, but Isner’s obviously very tall and he gets a lot of injuries. It’s very tough for him.

 

A lot of the Americans are obviously very good and those guys are going to break out soon because they work really hard. Ryan Harrison has helped me a little bit and I felt like I’ve helped him a little bit. I mean, he’s been even helping me here at this slam telling me how to play some guys that he’s hit with and what I need to do on these courts. He’s been really helpful.

 

AM: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

 

SK: One of my favourite moments was probably in Newport when I played my first trial. The crowd was amazing. I felt pretty good after that match with everyone around me.

 

AM: Can you tell us a bit about the success you’ve had on the Junior Circuit? You’ve come so far. You reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year and now the semifinals of the Australian Open here. How do you compare where you’re at now with your game to where you’ve been?

 

SK: I think I’m a lot more stable a player now. Back then I had a good run but I was still a little bit unstable, a little bit weak and I didn’t have all of my elements put in. But now I think that I have everything – well not everything but – mostly right now I’m having pretty good success with all of my shots. My serve’s been unbelievable this week, my fitness has been holding up and I’ve been hitting big.

 

AM: Do you think it’s the mental aspect? Do you feel confident to go for the big shots more now?

 

SK: Yeah, for sure. I’m a lot mentally cleaner now. I’m just swinging through and, you know, enjoying the moment.

 

AM: How do you cope with the nerves at these bigger tournaments?

 

SK: Actually, I’ve been having trouble. In the first round I was pretty nervous and in the second round I was really nervous too. Usually when I go down a little I just try to relax and play with nothing to lose. Nerves are terrible. I mean, especially when you go down, the nerves suck.

 

AM: I’m sure that will come together with more experience. And Stefan, growing up and travelling with all the other American players, you must develop a nice bond with them.

 

SK: Yeah, I train at National Training Centre and there’s a lot of great players there. There’s a great atmosphere, a lot of inspiring people there and the journey is very fun, competing with all these young guys. We always give each other tips.

 

AM: Who else do you think is showing a lot of promise among the US players?

 

SK: I think Rhyne Williams, he’s come out of college and he’s doing really well now. I think he’s going to be in the top 70 next year. And there’s Kudla, you know, all of those guys are doing good. These young guys, Tiafoe and Mmoh, are obviously doing really well. I hope they keep playing well too.

 

AM: So you like having that bit of competition?

 

SK: Yeah, I love it actually. I think it makes everyone better and happier.

 

AM: Of the pros, who would you compare your style of playing to?

 

SK: I’ve been compared a lot to Bernard Tomic, but I don’t really see it at all. I mean, I hit the ball really flat, I slice a lot and have good touch and he obviously has all of those things. But I like to think I play like Federer, I guess. That’s my goal.

 

AM: You play both singles and doubles, which do you prefer?

 

SK: Singles for sure. There’s not as much running in doubles because it’s more of a team out there, like in basketball or football, but in singles you’re out there alone and it’s tougher mentally. I like that.

 

AM: What hobbies do you have aside from tennis?

 

SK: I like to play American football a lot, I like to play soccer, maybe play some video games and just hang out, you know.

 

AM: Is there any music in particular that you listen to before you go out on court?

 

SK: Of course. I listen to a lot of music actually. I kind of like a good amount of rap. I like Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill and stuff like that.

 

AM: I know it’s still a few years away but, for the transition between the Junior Circuit and Pro Tour, do you feel more pressure being at the top?

 

SK: Not really. I know it’s going to take some time and it’s very tough because a lot of people have not done it. So I’m just going to be patient and positive and see how it goes.

 

AM: Who in your life helps keep you grounded and level-headed?

 

SK: Definitely my parents, my coach and my brother, Boris.

 

AM: What short-term goals do you have for the next year? What are your plans?

 

SK: To get in a good amount of ATP to get my ranking up. Maybe some Challengers and I’ll hope for the best. I’m not going to college, that’s for sure. It will be a long process and hopefully it goes by quicker than I think.

 

AM: What do you hope to accomplish in the long term?

 

SK: I want to be a very great champion, I guess. Win many slams, have a great attitude, be a great competitor. A world class act.

 

AM: What does tennis mean to you?

 

SK: I really enjoy tennis. It means a lot to me but it doesn’t mean everything to me, I don’t know how to put it. It does mean everything but I kind of look at it as my job now. I’m aiming for one goal and there’s a lot of different ways to get there. So I’m trying to find a way to get there.

 

AM: Well, you’re very mature for your age and doing all the right things. Thanks for giving up so much of your time. Good luck.

 

SK: Thank you, thanks a lot.

 

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

Meet American Junior Tennis Player Katrine Steffenson

Katrine Steffenson

By  Alana Mitchelson

 

(January 21, 2014) MELBOURNE – Katrine Steffenson seemed to have been destined for a career in sport. Following in the footsteps of her Danish father who was a sportsman himself, she was inevitably introduced to an array of sports from a young age.

 

The 17-year-old made her Junior Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open this year, reaching the second round in both singles and doubles. She is currently the No. 39 junior in the ITF rankings.

 

We caught up with Katrine as she approaches her last couple of years on the Junior Circuit before facing the challenging transition into the professional ranks and heard about her inherent passion for the sport.

 

Alana Mitchelson: How was it that you were first introduced to tennis?

 

Katrine Steffenson: My older brother played when he was about 11, I think, and then I just followed him. I started when I was four and then when I was about six, I started playing some local tournaments and I just kept playing. Thirteen years I’ve been playing, so a while. I’ve been playing ITF for three years now.

 

AM: Does your brother still play too? Do you ever challenge him to a match on occasion?

 

KS: He’s 24 now. He used to play on a club team for Dartmouth, but he’s working in the city so not much time to play. We used to play together when we were younger but not much anymore.

 

AM: Can you describe the town where you’ve grown up?

 

KS: I’m from Scarsdale, New York. It’s about 30 minutes from the city. It’s kind of a small town but it’s nice.

 

AM: Was tennis always your main priority sport when you were growing up?

 

KS: Well in the beginning I played soccer, basketball and tennis. Then when I was about 12, I had to chose between the three so I chose tennis and that seemed to work out for me.

 

AM: That must have been a difficult decision to make.

 

KS: Yeah, it was really hard. My dad, Henrik Steffensen, was actually a professional soccer player in Denmark. So he kind of wanted me to play soccer and continue on with that. But my mum wanted me to play tennis, so she was happy about that.

 

AM: What’s been the highlight of your tennis career so far?

 

KS: I mean, this has been pretty exciting because it’s my first time playing main draw of a Junior Grand Slam. I’ve tried the past three summers to qualify for the US Open and Wimbledon and stuff, but this has been my first time playing main draw. And winning the first round is really exciting. It’s good experience for me.

 

AM: Growing up playing and traveling with all the other American Junior players, you must develop a nice bond with one another. Can you talk about that?

 

KS: Yeah, definitely. When I was 13 through to 16, I travelled and trained with the USTA. We went to South America and played tournaments there. We just practised together and it’s kind of good to have other girls that you’re competing with but, at the same time, on the same team. We push each other and I think we improve through that. So it’s been good and the support has been great from the US team and all of the Americans back home.

 

AM: How do you find being competitive with your friends?

 

KS: Yeah, sometimes it’s hard to switch from being friends to not being friends on the court. I used to struggle with that but I think now I’m past that. At the beginning I didn’t want to, you know, be too competitive and lose the friendship but at the same time you also want to win. So it’s hard to balance that but I think I’ve handled it well over the years.

 

AM: What music do you like to listen to before a match to get into the zone?

 

KS: Usually songs to pump you up, so pop or rap. I like Drake, Drake is good. He’s always my go to.

 

AM: What hobbies do you have aside from tennis?

 

KS: I still like to play soccer. I like sports a lot. And reading, I like to read in my spare time. Cooking too and, I guess, watching movies.

 

AM: What are your favorite books?

 

KS: My favourite book so far is Pride and the Prejudice. To Kill A Mockingbird is good too.

 

AM: Oh okay, so you’re quite the fan of classics then. If not pursuing a career in tennis, what could you picture yourself doing?

 

KS: Playing soccer probably. I think I’d maybe be playing on my high school team, I don’t know.

 

AM: Tim Smyczek was talking about the challenge of transitioning from the Junior Circuit to Pro Tour last week. Can you talk me through how you’re preparing for that? I guess it’s just a couple of years away for you now.

 

KS: I think it’s just more mental, for sure. I think Juniors have to mature to play in the professional ranks. That’s the big difference, just the mental edge. And consistently playing really well because in Juniors you get away with playing a few good games and stuff but for pros, you have to be focused on every single point. That’s the main difference.

 

AM: Talk me through what you think about the standard of the women’s game, especially since Serena Williams came along.

 

KS: Yeah, I think she’s pushed a lot of players to improve a lot because they know they have to compete against her. She’s actually helped tennis a lot to an extent.

 

AM: Out of the women’s players, who really inspires you?

 

KS: I used to like Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters a lot, but now obviously Serena (Williams). I think (Victoris) Azarenka and (Ana) Ivanovic, I used to like, and she’s doing well now too.

 

AM: Have you had the chance to chat to any of them?

 

KS: Well when I was eight I remember, at the US Open, I asked for Ivanovic’s autograph. And I think she lost her match in qualifying so she actually didn’t sign for me. But still, I looked up to her. That was just my first experience with her (laughs). Actually, also (Caroline) Wozniacki. My dad’s from Denmark too so he sponsored her a few years back and I met with her at the US Open two years ago. We talked and she’s really nice. We didn’t really chat about tennis though really. It was more just like what she does in her spare time and life in Denmark.

 

AM: Do you have any lucky charms you take with you on the tennis court when you’re playing?

 

KS: Umm, no, but I’m kind of superstitious. If I do a certain thing one day and I win, I’ll do it again the next day. Like putting my racquets in a certain place in my bag. And I use the same ball after I win a good point. I do that too.

 

AM: Not as excessive as Nadal though?

 

KS: No, not like that (laughs).

 

AM: What aspects of your game do you hope to improve on this year?

 

KS: I think just continuing to play aggressive and coming forward, especially in doubles. And volleying, developing a bigger serve and a bigger forehand. Also, fitness. I think in terms of speed and explosion. I think I’ll focus on that. And also mental – staying focused and staying positive.

 

AM: Do you prefer singles or doubles?

 

KS: It’s tough. I mean, I enjoy both. Doubles is a little bit more fun I guess. Maybe there’s not as much pressure because it’s a little bit more fun. But I enjoy singles a lot too. So both.

 

AM: What are your short-term goals for this year?

 

KS: Hopefully to play the main draw of Junior Grand Slams and do well. I like red clay a lot so maybe even to win the French Open, that would be really nice.

 

AM: What is it about that surface you prefer?

 

KS: I don’t know, maybe the sliding. It feels good. I enjoy that.

 

AM: What’s the funniest moment you’ve ever had on a tennis court?

 

KS: Well last year at the US Open, I was going into Arthur Ashe stadium and Tsonga was coming out. He was holding the door open for me and my friend and then he followed us down the steps but he actually tripped and fell (laughs). But it was really funny. He didn’t hurt himself or anything but the way he reacted, he was just laughing and smiling, and we were all just like ‘are you okay?’ That was a funny moment but I guess that’s not really on the court though. I’ve had so many funny falls, I guess, or bouncing the ball when I’m about to serve and it hits my foot and rolls away. That’s always good.

 

AM: How much does tennis mean to you?

 

KS: It means a lot. It’s my favorite thing to do pretty much. I’ve done it for almost my whole life and I can’t picture life without it.

 

AM: Thank you so much for your time, Katrine. Best of luck with it all!

 

KS: Thank you. Nice to meet you.

 

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

Wawrinka Gains First Major Final at Australian Open

Yonex photo of Stan Wawrinka

By Alana Mitchelson

(January 23, 2014) MELBOURNE – Stanislas Wawrinka has paved his way into his first ever Grand Slam final after overcoming Tomas Berdych in four tight sets, 6-3, 6-7(7-1), 7-6(7-3), 7-6(7-4) and will boost himself into the position as the No. 1 Swiss men’s player come the end of the tournament if he is able to outlast Roger Federer.

 

The Swiss began the first set pumped and seemed to be channeling a similar momentum to that of his match in which he dethroned the Australian Open defending champion Novak Djokovic on the same stage just two nights prior. And it was clear from the beginning that Wawrinka had garnered quite the following since, as the crowd backed the all too often unsung hero who has finally been able to assert himself unto the welcoming arms of the general public.

 

He did well to disguise his serve placement, Berdych often finding it difficult to predict his movements, and the Czech mostly failed to deliver his A-game at critical moments.

 

Berdych missed an easy overhead to give Wawrinka the break in the first set, allowing the Swiss to serve it out, and devastatingly double faulted to hand Wawrinka the third.

 

There were some huge serves bolting down from both sides of the net and Wawrinka notably even launched three consecutive aces during one service game.

 

It was during the second set tie-break (and those few points only) that Berdych played more aggressively than he did for the entire match put together, shooting ahead to establish some mini-breaks and followed through to clinch the second set.

 

With the exception of an initial, brutal service game of Berdych’s which lasted over 10 minutes at the start of the fourth and final set, thereafter both men dropped their aggression levels down to a minimum which unfortunately did not make for the most entertaining viewing.

 

There was minimal fight asserted by the much too passive semifinal contenders. It appeared as though nerves had gotten the better of them, both of which were less experienced in handling the pressure of a match so near to granting entrance to the coveted Grand Slam final.

 

“It was a strange game,” Wawrinka admitted.

 

“I don’t think we played our best tennis, but we served really well. We were really aggressive on (our) service games. It was going really fast tonight so it was not easy to make some long rallies and to make him work.”

 

This led to inevitable tie-breaks as they each routinely held serve, but the odd backhand winner down the line from Wawrinka gave the crowd signs that he was maintaining the confident attitude required to stick it out to the very end.

 

Another all too familiar double fault by Berdych during the tie-break, reminiscent to that of the third set, contributed to Wawrinka being up a few mini-breaks in the fourth set. He nervously double faulted before forcing the error off Berdych’s backhand to secure a spot in the grand final.

 

​”I feel great. It’s amazing, you know. I didn’t expect to make a final in a Grand Slam in my career. Tonight it’s happening, so I’m really happy. I’ve been working really hard (for) many years, trying to improve my game, trying to get some big matches in big stadiums. Now I’m in my first final of a Grand Slam, so I can be only really happy.

 

​”I’m at the top of my career. Already, last year, I had the feeling that I was playing better and I was dealing better (with) the pressure also. I’m more mature, I’m 28 now. I’ve (been) on the tour for 10 years. Now I feel that it’s my time to play my best tennis. I’m enjoying more what I’m doing, when I’m winning, and also maybe I know more how to deal with all the pressure around.”

 

The triumphant Swiss will face one of two greats to the sport, either Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, on Sunday night for the final showdown on Rod Laver Arena.

 

​”If they can pull out, that would be good,” Wawrinka said jokingly with a smile.

 

​”My record against Rafa is not really good and neither against Roger. But, for sure, to play a Swiss final will be amazing for Switzerland, for the country. He is the best player ever. For me it’s my first final. To imagine playing against Roger would be amazing.”

 

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

Cibulkova routs Radwanska to reach Australian Open Final

Dominika Cibulkova

Dominika Cibulkova

(January 23, 2014) MELBOURNE – Dominika Cibulkova has decided that the Australian Open 2014 is a tournament in need of new blood, continuing on her absolutely stellar run at Melbourne Park this year to trounce world No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska in swift fashion, 6-1, 6-2, to secure a place in what will be her debut Grand Slam final.

 

From the moment she placed a single foot on the court to the moment she exited the stadium, Cibulkova was all over each and every point and with a degree of focus and determination seemingly like no other.

 

The Slovakian dictated play in a major way and in barely over half an hour, she had already closed out the first set on a break, 6-1.

 

Radwanska was, all the while, too passive as she failed to match the level of aggression coming from the other side of the net. She found it difficult to keep motivated once down a break in the second as Cibulkova defended any small chance she had at making a comeback on the scoreboard. What was more, was that the Pole only managed to win half of her points on her first serve and an abysmal 13 per cent of points upon her second.

 

The energetic Slovakian did not give Radwanska any time to readjust her game as she powered through the next set, 6-2.

 

Upon the last point whereby Radwanska made an untimely forehand error, Cibulkova fell to her knees, clutching her head in her hands in relief knowing that she had just set up her first Grand Slam final.

 

“​It was not easy when I was up in the second set,” Cibulkova admitted.

 

“The thought started to come that I could win, the result and everything. I have to say, I was 100 per cent ready for it and I was just doing what I had to do. That’s why I won. It wasn’t easy because against her you have to earn every point, you have to do the right thing, and that’s what I did.

 

“Today I was doing everything right. I was going for my shots. I was just doing everything perfect.

 

“I’m the first (Slovakian) female tennis player playing in the final. We are like five or six million, and they are all cheering for me. So, yeah, it’s big.”

 

Extraordinarily quick on her feet, her little legs move speedily to reach low balls, so much so that it seems bizarre that a little woman such as herself could harness such incredible energy levels to outrun her opponents of greater stature.

 

“It’s not about how tall are you. Even if you are tall, it doesn’t mean you are 100 per cent going to make it. It’s just that you have to really want something and just believe in it. There is nothing more important than this.”

 

This semifinal victory instigates a grand final clash with world No. 4 Li Na on Saturday evening.

 

​”She has been in the finals of Grand Slams many times,” Cibulkova said.

 

“She already won a Grand Slam, so she knows how it is. I’m playing in the finals, so that’s something beautiful. It’s like a dream. So I will just go out there and play my best.”

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

Roger Federer stops Andy Murray at Australian Open

Federer 2

By Alana Mitchelson

(January 22, 2013) MELBOURNE – 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer moves into the semifinals of Australian Open 2014 after defeating Andy Murray in four sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(6-8), 6-3.

 

Continuing on with his more recently favored net play on court, Federer broke ahead to a 3-1 lead in the first. He read play well, making good calls on when to leave balls which were to fall just long of the baseline, and took the first set in just half an hour.

 

Federer executed 54 winners throughout the match, many being a forehand winner shooting behind and out of arm’s reach of his Scottish opponent.

 

Murray’s unforced errors accumulated to an unforgivable 46 and he only won about half of his points upon second service. For the first two sets, Murray also missed a number of passing shots and his movement appeared relatively stiff. He did not quite seem his usual self on court and most definitely was not the Murray we remember from last year’s grand final.

 

Murray put this down to his ongoing recovery from back surgery and from not having had as many matches under his belt in the lead up to the Grand Slam. He was, on the contrary, proud to have come as far as he has, especially given the circumstances. But he denied his movement was in any way restricted on the night by his back issues.

 

“My back was okay,” Murray said after the match.

 

“​I don’t know how many players have come back from surgery and won the first Grand Slam back in their second tournament. Very unlikely to happen. I just need to use this as a stepping stone to getting better and be happy that I’ve gotten through five matches. The last two were particularly tough. I’m playing at a decent level fairly quickly again. Hopefully I’ll be back playing my best tennis soon.”

 

During the third set, there was a somewhat controversial point whereby the ball appeared to have double-bounced upon the slow-motion replay on the big screens in the stadium much to Murray’s frustration.

 

“​I hope it was played the right way,” Federer said, reflecting on the point.

 

“If it wasn’t, I’m sorry, but it’s an umpire’s call. I’ve been burnt by these calls before. I can’t remember the score, but clearly it was a big one. I think I ended up breaking him in the game.”

 

Fueled by the minor dispute with the umpire, Murray rose to the occasion of the Swiss’ second serve at break point to to level the score 5-5. The men worked their way into a nail-biting tie-break and Murray’s efforts saw him to protect two critical match points from Federer and he heightened his aggression to take the match to a fourth.

 

Murray had much more difficulty holding serve in the last set. Federer took advantage of his fizzling service energy to break ahead and served out the match.

 

​”I could sense that, you know, he was struggling… but then again, you don’t know how serious it is. Is he just doing it now and he’s going to be okay later when it matters. I’ve been in these positions before. For me, it was just a matter of staying calm and forgetting about it a little bit because, you know, the match was great until that point when I couldn’t get it done really.

 

“The transition game, from defense to offense, I definitely sensed that today. I am back physically. I’m explosive out there. I’m not afraid to go for balls.”

 

This victory grants Federer his 34th Grand Slam semifinal and 15th consecutive Australian Open semifinal appearance, all the while raising his match win streak at Melbourne Park to an incredible 73 matches.

 

“What I really love is (that) another Swiss is in the semis as well. It’s the first time in history, so that’s a big deal. I was really happy for Stan last night because he’s been putting in an amazing effort for the last few years and didn’t always get compensated. That’s the big news for me. I didn’t think about it all the time when I was playing, but it was definitely inspiring tennis by him last night. For me, it’s a dream run as well and I hope I can keep it up against Rafa.”

 

Federer is striving to become the second man in tennis history to clinch five Australian Open singles titles in their career. But first, he must overcome his Spanish rival in the semifinals – the world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

 

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

Rafael Nadal Fights Off Grigor Dimitrov to move into Melbourne Semis

Nadal waves and smiles

By Alana Mitchelson

(January 22, 2014) MELBOURNE – The world No. 1 Rafael Nadal rose to a 10-match winning streak after dismantling Grigor Dimitrov in a gritty four setter on Wednesday, 3-6, 7-6(7-3), 7-6(9-7), 6-2, however not without being somewhat shaken by the unrelenting 22-year-old Bulgarian in the first set.

 

In his quarterfinal debut, Dimitrov rose to the occasion and leapt to an early 3-0 lead. Shockingly, Nadal found it increasingly difficult to gain a good swing on Dimitrov’s 200 plus kph (124 mph) (and at times, 210 plus (130 mph)) serves rocketing down from the other side of the net and he tried to compensate for the speed by returning serve from a fair distance back from the baseline.

 

Dimitrov had no trouble holding service throughout the opening set and served it out 6-3, going for big winners and not so much as hesitating to attempt the odd ace during his second serves.

 

It was not really until a fair way into the second set when Nadal began to gain his usual momentum.

 

While Dimitrov produced 54 winners throughout the match, his ‘no fear’ game mentality did not always work in his favor as his first serves suffered significantly, his unforced error count skyrocketing to a costly 61 errors for the match on the whole.

 

The men dueled through tough, exciting rally sequences whereby the men kept the ball in play and showcased some fantastic lobs and drop shot volleys, making for truly entertaining quality tennis.

 

Dimitrov’s new racquet at 4-4 in the second did not seem to offer much to his game as he found himself in tricky situations where he opened up the court for Nadal to work much spin and depth onto his groundstrokes. He also had difficulty recovering after a couple of disheartening set point opportunities lost in the third set, which will surely improve in time with more experience on the big stage.

 

The Bulgarian commendably saved three match points in the last set, but on the fourth opportunity the world No. 1 finally prevailed to clinch the match.

 

Nadal had, all the while, been battling with some serious blisters on his left, dominant hand.

 

“With the forehand it’s not a big issue but with the serve, a little bit,” Nadal admitted.

 

“I feel that with the tape I can lose the racquet when I serving. That’s a terrible feeling for a serve because then when you have this feeling you are not able to accelerate at the right moment, you lose a little bit of coordination. That’s a big deal. I served slower.

 

“When you lose confidence with one shot, one important shot, then you are not able to play calm for the rest of the shots. So I’m going to try to improve on that for after tomorrow… if not, I’m not going to have the chance to be in the final.

 

“I was able to win a match against a very difficult opponent, so that has much more value than when everything is great. And because of these victories, sometimes it happens that the next day you are able to play much better and that these victories, at the end of the day, are more important than the days that you are playing great.”

Dimitrov grew quite emotional when reflecting upon his efforts during the match and how close he had come to a chance at dethroning the world No. 1.

 

​”There’s a lot of mixed feelings right now. I’m a bit shattered. It’s tough losing that match, my first quarterfinal. I came out expecting nothing less than to win,” Dimitrov said.

 

“All credit to Rafa. He’s been a tremendous competitor, a great guy off the court. We’ve had great battles over the past year, and now again, and hopefully more in the future.”

 

Nadal is bidding to win each of the four majors twice in his career by securing this year’s Australian Open title. He is now just two matches away from making that dream a reality.

 

Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.

Share

Radwanska Ends Defending Champ Azarenka’s run at Australian Open

Agnieszka-Radwanska-021-405x450

(January 22, 2014) Agnieszka Radwanska ended Victoria Azarenka‘s run at a third straight Australian Open title on Wednesday when the fifth seed knocked out the defending champ 6-1, 5-7, 6-0. The victory for Radwanska moves her into her first Australian Open semifinal.

With defending champion Novak Djokovic knocked out of the tournament by Stanislas Wawrinka with both he and Victoria Azarenka losing in the quarterfinals it is the first time both the defending champions have lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in the Open Era.

The last time the two defending champions lost in the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam in the Open Era was at 1997 Roland Garros when 1996 champions Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Steffi Graf lost in the last eight.

The win snapped Azarenka’s 18-match win streak in Melbourne. It also ended Radwanska’s 7 match losing streak to the Belarusian dating back to 2011 and her three consecutive quarterfinal losses at the Australian Open. It was just the Polish women’s fourth win against Azarenka in 16 attempts.

“I think it’s hard to play someone I lost so many times before,” Radwanska said.  “I knew she’s great player.  Especially here, she’s playing amazing tennis.

“On the other hand, I really have nothing to lose.  She was defending the title, not me.  I was really trying to play my best tennis, go for every shot I could.

“You know, I’m just very happy because I really was playing great tennis.”

Radwanska used an all-court game – at times scrambling for every shot to playing finesse tennis to confuse and dismantle a usually hard-hitting Azarenka.

“I think it’s hard to talk about the game plan against someone that can do everything on court,” said the Pole.  “Pretty much everything is going back.  Not really much mistakes.  So I think I was just trying to play aggressive, not in the middle.  I think focus on the serves as well.

“I think you really have to do everything to beat those kind of players like Vika.”

“A lot of good rallies definitely,” she continued, “amazing points, and running forward, backwards, side to side for so many times.

“Well, I was really feeling good on court today.  I think, you know, I was feeling I could really do everything, trying and fighting for every point, every ball.”

“The first set and the third set, I think there was just too many mistakes and too many easy mistakes on important moments,” said Azarenka.  “Like from the dropshot to the dropshot, or just I had the full court.  Of course, she was passing amazing today and getting to every ball.

“But I just didn’t have the focus on finishing the point so accurate.  That definitely changed the momentum.  She really took advantage of that.  It was hard to come back.

“But, I don’t know, my game wasn’t there today as I wanted it to.  But she definitely played really well.”

“She was aggressive,” the world No. 2 said.  “She was making everything.  She was guessing right.  I was just playing a little bit too predictive, you know.

“In the second set I managed to fight back.  Third set, you know, the first game was important.  I let it go, like easily let it go.  From there just couldn’t get back to it.  It was tough.”

In an upset-ridden Australian Open in which the top three women’s seeds – Serena Williams, Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, have all been ousted by the quarterfinals, there will be a first-time winner in Melbourne among the remaining women. The semifinal line-up: Radwanska against No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova and No. 4 Li Na against Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.

“I’m so happy and pleased, especially that I beat one of the best players in the world, Radwanska said.  “Was not easy draw, not easy quarterfinal.

“I’m very happy that I made my first semifinal here.

I think every semifinal, every final is a huge experience with tennis.  Those experience I just had from Wimbledon.  Of course, I’m just very happy, you know, to reach the semifinal at other Grand Slam.

“So I think this is the level everybody playing great tennis.  Well, it’s a bit more pressure.  This is the semifinal of a Grand Slam.  Especially here, first time for me.

“Hopefully I will play the same tennis as today.”

Radwanska said that her match-up against Cibulkova next,  will be a challenging one, since she been playing against since she was 9 or ten:

“I think it’s always tricky to play someone that you know for so long, play so many times, as well.  Like I’m saying, every match is a different story, especially when it’s a semifinal of a Grand Slam, the first semis for me and for her as well.  Well, we’ll see.”

 

Share

Cibulkova Dominates Halep to reach Australian Open Semifinal

DominikaCibulkova

(January 22, 2014) No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova routed No. 11 Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 to move into the semifinals of the Australian Open on Wednesday. For the Slovak it’s her second major semifinal, the first coming at the 2009 French Open. Cibulkova is now 2-5 in Grand Slam quarterfinals

In a match which lasted 60 minutes, Cibulkova won the last 8 games to close the match. Halep only managed to win 10 points in the second set.

Cibulkova kept the ball deep in her rallies with the Romanian, who committed 25 unforced errors.

“I couldn’t play today,” Halep said.  “I had emotions, big emotions, and I couldn’t manage this.  Before the match I was very nervous and I didn’t feel the ball at all.  I couldn’t move my body and I couldn’t play.

“But she played really well today, and she hits all the balls very strong and she moves really well.”

 

Cibulkova came into the quarterfinals by upsetting No. 3 Maria Sharapova in three sets.

“Of course I’m really glad with the way I played, especially with the way I handled it mentally,” Cibulkova said. “It was a big win against Maria.

“But I wasn’t favorite in this match again against Halep, you know.

“I walked on the court with the confident that I can do it again today.  I was so focusing what I have to do, to do the right things.  That was all what I wanted to do, and of course enjoy my tennis again.

“I’m not so tall, but I’m intense on the court,” the 5’3” Cibulkova said, “and I’m powerful.”

“Obviously I’m not a tall player.  I would say I’m the smallest on tour.

“But, you know, I would say I’m pretty quick on my feet.  I do a lot of good footwork.  I’m really powerful on the court.  I have very good groundstrokes.  My forehand is pretty fast.

“Yeah, when I play my great tennis, I’m really aggressive.  I don’t know, that’s what I do the best.”

 

Dispite the poor performance by Halep, reaching the quarterfinals has been her best result at a major to date.

“I think I will have many chances to pass quarterfinals in Grand Slams,” Halep said.  “But I have to work hard like until now.  So I have my chances in this career and I want to get them.  I want to be more prepared before the big matches.

“So I have to work, hard work.”

“Yes, I am happy that I could play a quarterfinals here in Grand Slam,” she continued.  “Was my dream before this.  I don’t want to disturb my mind very much this sh– today, this match.

“But I just want to enjoy the day and to go home very happy.  I have to enjoy my best result in Grand Slam.”

Cibulkova will face the winner of the Victoria AzarenkaAgniezska Radwanska winner in the semifinals.

“Every match I play against of them, it was me who was doing pressure on them,” Cibulkova said of her potential opponents.  “I was the one who was dictating the game, the one who was going for bigger shots.

“So they both are great players.  I just want to keep my focus, you know, to stay aggressive.”

Share