Lucas Pouille punctures Andy Murray’s comeback in Cincinnati.

The 24-year-old Frenchman defeated the double Wimbledon winner in three sets. 

Andy Murray’s comeback hit another bump in the road after defeat to Lucas Pouille in the first round of the Western & Southern Open.

Cincinnati is well known for being home to the famous Graeter’s Ice Cream, but unfortunately for Murray, his hopes for a decent tournament ahead of the US Open melted quickly in the Ohio sunshine.

It was his first appearance on court since pulling out of the Citi Open two weeks ago and rustiness showed as the former world number one began timidly against a fresher Pouille.

Whether he was still recovering from those titanic matches in Washington, or changed his approach, something wasn’t quite right from the outset. His serving was not up to scratch during the opening set, as he recorded six double-faults. He was broken three times by his French opponent, who closed out a comfortable first set 6-1 within 29 minutes.

The one positive the Scot could take from a lacklustre opening set was that he was winning the majority of points from the long rallies. However, Pouille hadn’t needed to get out of second gear and looked well on course to end the contest quickly.

But where most players would capitulate in such a situation, Murray rallied. His performance levels improved during the second set, and the roles were quickly reversed. The 31-year-old broke the 16th seed, before holding serve to take a 2-0 lead. The former world number one only made three unforced errors, and won more points on his first serve as he raced to take the second set 6-1, as the match went to a decider.

The tables then turned once again. Murray started the final set nervously and double-faulted the opening point, before being broken by a resurgent Pouille desperate to make amends for a poor second set.

Missed chances then cost the 31-year-old the match. He failed to convert a crucial break point before falling 3-1 behind. Despite saving a match point at 5-3, Murray was helpless as his French opponent served out the match to claim a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 win.

Whilst this defeat will disappoint British fans, it was a first victory over Murray for Pouille at the fifth attempt.

The Frenchman has been a regular on the ATP Tour this season, with this being his 17th competition in 2018. Whilst he is gaining more experience on court and slowly climbing up into the world top 20, the 24-year-old can still be a loose canon on the court.

His performance against Murray showed why. His game heavily revolves around speed, and this can sometimes effect the accuracy and precision of his shots. Where he was clinical in the opening set, he lost composure during the second and mistakes began to creep in.

But he held his nerve in the final set, and found his range once again to hit some impressive winners. Pouille hit a total of 40 in the match as he defeated the former world number one in an hour and 53 minutes to book his place in round two.

Murray is not scheduled to play again until the US Open at Flushing Meadows, which begins on the 27th August. He now has four tournaments under his belt after missing a year out with a hip injury, but there is much that needs improving still – especially his serving.

He may take up a wildcard at the Winston-Salem Open next week after this defeat, but it will depend on whether his body can cope with another tournament just one week before the gruelling five-set matches at the final Grand Slam of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

Imperious Roger Federer easily through to second round at Wimbledon 2018.

The defending champion comfortably breezed past Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court.

Blue skies, hot temperatures, and freshly picked strawberries smothered with cool cream…that can only mean one thing; Wimbledon 2018 is finally upon us.

All of the courts looked like seas of emeralds on day one. The grass, which has been finely kept under maintenance over the last year, looked immaculate ahead of the opening matches. The crowds flocked in, with many heading to Centre Court to see the one man that has lit up the tennis scene over the past two decades.

Roger Federer – a man that has such a great affiliation with this tournament – will once again be the favourite to lift the trophy in two weeks’ time. This is his 20th appearance at Wimbledon since winning the Boy’s Singles in 1998, and he will be looking to match Martina Navratilova’s record of nine single’s titles. The defending champion suffered a shock defeat in the Halle Open Final as part of his preparations for this Grand Slam, but he is too experienced and too wise to let that affect his confidence.

It has now been 10 years since that infamous final against Rafael Nadal; the man that many predict will provide the biggest threat to the Swiss. Both have won the last six Grand Slams between them (Federer: Australian Open 2017, 2018 and Wimbledon 2017. Nadal: French Open 2017, 2018 and US Open 2017) and both are the current world number one and two.

With the Spaniard not on court until tomorrow, it was down to Federer to throw down the gauntlet.

He began his title defence against Serbian Dusan Lajovic, the world number 58 in the world rankings. The two also met in last year’s competition, with the Swiss comfortably coming through on that occasion in straight sets.

This match was almost a carbon copy. It took Federer only a short amount of time to find his rhythm and ranges before securing a double-break on Lajovic. The Swiss was relaxed, comfortable and always in command of the court, and won six games on the bounce to take the opening set 6-1 in just 20 minutes.

Federer continued his dominant performance in the second set. The variety of serves and shots he produced were just too good for his Serbian opponent – as it began to look like a practice match. Lajovic had lost nine games in a row to the Swiss, but did manage to end the rot halfway through the second set. By that point Federer was in cruise control anyway, and served out the second set 6-3.

The third set lacked intensity. Federer had reserved his energy knowing his job was pretty much done. Lajovic offered nothing in reply. He stuck by it but ultimately got himself into the match at too late a stage to scare the number one seed. Federer served out the match, which he’d won in just 79 minutes.

It may have ended up being a Monday afternoon stroll in the summer sun for the Swiss, but Federer will be expecting tougher tests to come. This was however another warning shot to his rivals – showing them all that even at 36, he is still as hungry to win as ever.

Footballer Gerard Pique is showing his business ambitions with plans to reform tennis’ Davis Cup into an 18-nation extravaganza, but his proposal needs some finishing touches.

Hours before lining up for Barcelona in their La Liga match against Girona last Saturday, Gerard Pique gave a presentation to the International Tennis Federation proposing a radical change that could make or break the men’s game. 

Pique
Pique and his company Kosmos have entered a partnership with the ITF. Image Credit: https://tribuna.com/fcbarcelona/en/news/1669524/

“Together we can elevate the Davis Cup to new heights by putting on a must-see World Cup of Tennis Finals featuring the top nations and top players,” said the 31-year old footballer, who for a long time has had entrepreneurial ambitions he plans to pursue now and long after hanging up his boots.

The Spaniard, with the backing of Barcelona shirt sponsors Rakuten, is set to cough up an investment of £2.2 billion – spread over a 25 year period – to help transform the Davis Cup into an 18-nation extravaganza.

This would mean the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could all  compete for up to £14.1 million in prize money as part of the revamp set to take place next year.

Pique is a huge tennis fanatic. The proud Catalan tries to get to as many events in his native Spain as possible, which even includes throwing himself into the lion’s den by visiting rival city Madrid to watch the sport he adores. Now he plans to help it reach new heights.

The World Cup of Tennis Finals – which would take place over the course of a week in November – is both his and the ITF’s answer to prolong the sport’s historic men’s team competition as a major global sporting event.

For many the change is needed. The Davis Cup has been stuttering at late and needs to be regenerated into something that will get people talking about it again.

A final meeting is scheduled for August in Orlando, USA to decide whether to finalise the proposal. A two-thirds majority is needed to give the new tournament the green light.

The format of the new competition would follow a similar set-up to that of many World Cups in other sports, with an initial round robin (six groups of three) followed by a knockout phase (quarter-finals, semi-finals and final). The 16 World Group nations will automatically qualify for the finals, with a further two places up for grabs.

pique 2.jpg
Pique has played in 265 matches for Barcelona. Image Credit: AFP via. https://www.hindustantimes.com/football/gerard-pique-extends-fc-barcelona-deal-till-2022/story-htc31UfLMWxzuFU0nqsloK.html

Pique may see this as the new big thing for tennis, but there are still question marks about one or two aspects of the Spaniard’s proposed blockbuster.

One of the greatest aspects of the Davis Cup was the home and away ties. Playing on different surfaces and either with or against a home crowd provided every nation with a different challenge at every round. Having the World Cup located in one place could hinder that.

This new competition could therefore follow the example of others World Cup and have a different host each year. With countries bidding for the Finals, it could help grab fans attention and generate that level of excitement knowing that the tournament was coming to your home city.

With 18 nations taking part you’d expect around 100 tennis stars to be involved in the week-long event. Normally it’s only during one of the Grand Slams where you’d have the opportunity to see all your favourite players in one place. This again makes it appealing for countries who aren’t home to one of the four major tournaments and can accommodate so many fans and athletes to bid for the competition.

To host something of this magnitude costs a lot of money though, and with Japanese company Rakuten pledging their allegiance into the project, there is a good chance that the World Cup will take place somewhere in Asia.

Another issue would be player participation. The exhausting ATP Tour season and gruelling Grand Slams already make it a demanding calendar for the stars. Injuries have hijacked the sport’s biggest names in recent years, with many of the top players deciding to finish their season in October so that they can fully recover and recharge the batteries.

The Davis Cup has had a constant struggle with this problem in recent times, with only two of the current top 10 in the rankings taking part in the first round of the competition earlier this year.

The money may be an enticing incentive for the players, but you’d feel that more will be needed to get the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray fully on board and extend their seasons by another couple of weeks.

Pique has also got to think about sustaining the competition past it’s initial phase.

You’d assume that for the first couple of years people will flock into the arenas to see this new competition.

However, should the World Cup fall on it’s head and not provide the entertainment or the big names it intends too, attendance numbers could stutter. The WTA Finals is a prime example of this. The climatic showstopper for the women’s tour is moving to Shenzhen in China next year after spending four years in Singapore. Unfortunately, the tournament failed to entice the locals to come and watch. The Spaniard will have to keep things fresh to keep the interest going.

It won’t be perfect from the very first moment and it will take getting some adjusting too. But Pique has seemingly provided himself to the ITF that he can make this huge change a successful one.

Ambitious projects such as these aren’t new to the Barcelona defender. For years the 31-year-old has voiced his support for Catalan independence – which was won in a referendum back in October. He even said he would step down from Spain duties should his opinion cause a disturbance within the Royal Spanish Football Federation. He has already played a part in creating a new chapter for Catalonia, now he was ready to do the same again for men’s tennis.

Chung Hyeon: The Korean making history at the 2018 Australian Open.

Suwon is a province just outside Seoul in South Korea with a estimated population of 1.2 million people. In the heart of it you’d find a street which is named after former PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United footballer Park Ji-Sung. Suwon is where he grew up before going on to represent his country at three World Cups. Park is one of the greatest sportsman to ever come out of South Korea, but now Suwon has another local hero to cheer: Chung Hyeon.

The 21-year-old tennis sensation became the country’s first Grand Slam semi-finalist after beating Tennys Sandgren in their quarter final clash at the Australian Open. Chung is the youngest player to make it through to the final four since Marin Cilic in 2010, and the lowest ranked player to achieve the feat since Marat Safin in 2004.

It’s been a memorable run for the unseeded Korean. He defeated another fast rising star in Alexander Zverev in round three, before getting the better of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the last 16.

Now he will be preparing for a semi-final against not just the defending champion, but the greatest player of all-time in Roger Federer. If the dream is to continue, Chung will have to produce the best performance of his young career to stun both the second seed and the world.

But if you asked any tennis follower whether he deserves to be in this position, then you’d get a unanimous yes.

The world number 58 has made a steady rise up the rankings since turning professional four years ago. Before that, he performed admirably in the junior tour. In 2013, he came runner-up in the Wimbledon boy’s singles, and reached as high as world number seven  in the junior rankings.

In the year he turned pro, he won the Bangkok Open – his first Challenger tour event, and in 2015 he broke into the top 150. Chung received a wildcard for the Miami Open (a prestigious Masters tour event), where he reached the second round. Two more Challenger titles beckoned in April, which resulted in him climbing into the top 100.

Chung’s rapid rise up the rankings coincided with his first taste of Grand Slam tennis at Wimbledon in 2015, where he lost in the first round to Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Later that year he would win his first Grand Slam match at the US Open, defeating James Duckworth to set up a second round meeting with fifth seed Stan Wawrinka. Despite losing in straight sets, Chung showed his potential by taking the Swiss to a tiebreak in each set.

The Korean – then just 19 years old – won the ATP Most Improved Award after climbing over 120 places to world number 51 by the end of 2015.

More progress was made last year. Chung defeated Frenchman Gael Monfis on his way to the semi-finals of the BMW Open in Munich before getting to the third round of the French Open.

The Korean qualified for the Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan last November and went on to win the competition- defeating Andrey Rublev in the final.

Chung’s performances have been a welcome surprise for the many who have pondered how the sport will look when the likes of Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer retire.

For years, men’s tennis has been a monopoly controlled by four (or five) players – Federer, Murray, Nadal and Djokovic (and arguably Wawrinka).

Now they are coming towards the end of their careers, it’s good to see that young players – such as Chung – are rising through the ranks and look ready to step into the big shoes they leave behind.

Whatever happens in his semi-final, it has been quite the journey for Chung. I imagine the people of South Korea are immensely proud of their new hero, and will be hoping that he can become the country’s first Grand Slam champion in years to come.

People have already compared Chung and Murray in terms of playing style and being a beacon of hope for their respective nations. The 30-year-old Scot has had the weight of the British public on his shoulders since bursting onto the scene over a decade ago. Now it could be the 21-year-old’s turn to carry the hopes and dreams of South Korea in major tournaments going forward. Time will tell if he can handle all the attention and all the pressure to succeed.

Perhaps in 20 years’ time the city of Suwon will have another street named after a local sport star, one that currently has an extremely bright future ahead of him.

Australian Open 2018: Talking points (Day Five)

There was plenty to discuss after yesterday’s action in Melbourne. Money and the weather continued to make the headlines, as did some excellent performances. Here are five talking points from an exhilarating fifth day in Australia.

It’s hot, hot, hot! 

“The extreme hot policy should be re-evaluated!” That’s according to the likes of French player Alize Cornet and top seed in the men’s draw- Rafael Nadal.

Temperatures in Australia have risen to as high as 40 degrees over the last couple of days, and the humidity has taken its toll on some of the players.

Cornet collapsed to the ground during her third round defeat to Elise Mertens due to the heat and Petra Martic, who took two hours to get past Luksika Kumkhum, suffered from blisters because of the sizzling court.

Play was suspended in 2014 due to the rising temperatures on court that year, however the officials have taken a much firmer approach this time around.

Tournament director Craig Tiley insists the rules cannot be altered halfway through the tournament, but admitted that policy will be looked at again once the Australian Open has wrapped up.

Show me the money!

Roger Federer is the latest person to speculate about the ongoing situation over player’s earnings at Grand Slams.

The issue came into the spotlight just as this tournament was beginning after it was reported that Novak Djokovic suggested that the players form their own union separate from the ATP.

The Swiss, who is the former President of the ATP player council, believes that “change only comes when the players demand it and that the Grand Slams only react when people rally together.”

Federer did go on to say that change doesn’t happen in a day, and that both the players and the slams should collaborate together to reach the best possible agreement.

Edmund’s fairytale run continues 

Onto the action itself, and British hopes are still alive after Edmund came from behind to beat Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The 23-year-old won 7-6 3-6 4-6 6-0 7-5 to advance to the fourth round in Australia for the very first time.

The gruelling three hour and 34 minute swung one way and then the other before Edmund firmly took control in the fourth set.

The world number 49 finished with 70 winners but missed 20 of 27 break points. The conditions made it tough and Edmund admitted after the game that physically it was tough to play at his very best.

But it was another test passed for the Brit, who has been on an upward trajectory since making it to the last 16 in the US Open two years ago.

He will face Italian Andreas Seppi in round four.

Only two previous Grand Slam winners remain in women’s draw. 

Latvian Jelena Ostapenko suffered a shock defeat in the third round as another current Grand Slam holder bowed out.

Following Garbine Murguruza’s exit yesterday, world number seven Ostapenko fell to Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 6-3 1-6 6-3.

The French Open champion was on the back foot from the off, as Kontaveit broke in the very first game.

The Latvian powered through the second set, before the world number 33 went on again to break in the final set and wrap up a win that puts her in the fourth round in Melbourne for the very first time.

Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber are now the only two women left in the draw that have previously ever won a Grand Slam. They both face other this weekend.

Nadal looks right at home down under. 

World number one Rafael Nadal cruised into the fourth round and is looking the most likely to challenge Federer for the men’s title.

The Spaniard beat Damir Dzumhur 6-1 6-3 6-1, and is yet to drop a set at this year’s Australian Open.

Nadal has only won down under once before, but he is playing with a ruthless nature and is looking increasingly difficult to beat.

Bosnia’s Dzumhur hardly made a dent in Nadal’s push for glory, with the world number one going on to face Diego Schwartzman – a man he has defeated three times previously – in round four.

 

Australian Open 2018: Top 5 matches (Day Four)

Some big names were knocked out of the Australian Open on day four. Here are five matches that caused some of the biggest shockwaves and the best entertainment on a very hot Thursday.

Bernarda Pera bt. Johanna Konta (6-4 7-5)

Unseeded American Pera broke British hearts after knocking out ninth seed Konta in straight sets.

The 26-year-old Brit struggled to find any rhythm in the Melbourne heat and Pera’s aggressive nature made it difficult for her to hit any winners.

The world number 123 made light work of Konta’s usually reliant serving and broke serve four times before sealing the most magnificent victory of her career with a fifth match point.

Defeat was Konta’s eighth in 11 matches, leaving her and new coach Michael Joyce with plenty to work on ahead of the clay season.

Pera initially lost in the qualifying rounds and is only in the main draw as a lucky loser, but this win will surely see her rankings rise well above the top 100.

Novak Djokovic bt. Gael Monfis (4-6 6-3 6-1 6-3)

Temperatures reached 40 degrees on Rod Laver Arena as 14th seed Djokovic came from a set down to beat Frenchman Monfis.

Both players complained about the heat after the match, which lasted two hours and 45 minutes.

Djokovic struggled in the opening set, with four double faults in his opening two service games.

Monfis, who is yet to beat Djokovic in a professional match, then struggled with conditions and had to leave with a doctor after losing the second set.

The Serbian took full advantage of his opponent’s weariness and eased to victory.

Tennys Sandgren bt. Stan Wawrinka (6-2 6-1 6-4)

Former Australian Open champion Wawrinka lost in straight sets to American Sandgren in just his second match back since knee surgery.

The Swiss never looked comfortable on court. The ninth seed was constantly flexing his knee joint, and lost in 88 minutes to the impressive Sandgren.

The world number 93 had never won a Grand Slam match prior to this year’s Australian Open, but now has two back-to-back.

Hsieh Su-wei bt. Garbine Muguruza (7-6 6-4)

Third seed Murguruza also bowed out after suffering a straight sets defeat to Taiwanese Su-wei.

The current Wimbledon champion was another victim of the heat and also need treatment on her foot during the first set.

The Spaniard hit 21 unforced errors against Su-wei, as she now prepares to try and win a second French Open title.

Dominic Thiem bt. Denis Kudla (6-7 3-6 6-2 6-2 6-3)

Austrian Thiem fought back from the brink to defeat American Kudla in a five-set thriller.

The number five seed conceded the first two sets after Kudla produced some masterful tennis, but showed his pedigree in the final three sets to advance.

The 24-year-old has never been past the fourth round at Melbourne Park, but is consider an outside bet to break his Grand Slam duck in Australia.

Other selected results

Men’s

Federer (2) bt. Struff (6-4 6-4 7-6)

Zverev (4) bt. Gojowczyk (6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3)

Benneteau bt. Goffin (7) (1-6 7-6 6-1 7-6)

Women’s

Halep (1) bt. Bouchard (6-2 6-2)

Garcia (8) bt. Vondrousova (6-7 6-2 8-6)

Sharapova bt. Sevastova (14) (6-1 7-6)

 

Australian Open 2018: Top 5 matches (Day Three)

Kyle Edmund, Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki were all back in action on day three in Melbourne. Here are five matches that caught the eye from an action-packed day.

Kyle Edmund bt. Denis Istomin (6-2 6-2 6-4)

The 23-year-old Brit is through to the third round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career after a dominant performance over Uzbekistan’s Istomin.

The world number 60 failed to break Edmund throughout the match, with the contest only lasting 89 minutes.

The British number two is now the highest rank player in his section before the quarter finals, and should be confident that he can make a last eight appearance next week.

Istomin needed a medical timeout at the end of the first set, and never looked like the player that knocked Novak Djokovic out of this competition 12 months ago.

Edmund broke serve five times in the match, and is playing without fear and with a sense of freedom that makes him dangerous in all areas of the court.

The 23-year-old looks to be enjoying his tennis at the moment. This could well be a Grand Slam to remember for him if things continue on this upward trajectory.

Marta Kostyuk bt. Olivia Rogowska (6-3 7-5)

Kostyuk is naturing into a real talent in the women’s game after she became the youngest player to reach the third round of a Grand Slam since 1997.

The 15-year-old Ukrainian was given a wildcard into the tournament after she won the junior women’s tournament 12 months ago.

The world number 521 has now ended her junior career with her ranking expected to fly into the top 250 by the end of the competition.

Kostyuk was rarely troubled in her second round match by Australia’s Rogowska and has nothing to lose going forward. Perhaps this is a very early glimpse at a future Grand Slam champion? Only time will tell.

Grigor Dimitrov bt. Mackenzie McDonald (4-6 6-2 6-4 0-6 8-6)

American qualifier McDonald almost produced the shock of the tournament so far, but was ultimately beaten by third seed Dimitrov.

The five set thriller – which lasted three hours and 25 minutes – had all the twists and turns of a Grand Slam classic.

Dimitrov, who some predict could win his first Grand Slam title in Australia this year, began sluggishly and struggled with the American’s aggressive style.

Having lost the first set, the Bulgarian picked up his game to take the next two sets before McDonald spectacularly took the match to a deciding set.

Dimitrov hit three double faults but kept his composure to seal a dramatic win.

Caroline Wozniacki bt. Jana Fett (3-6 6-2 7-5)

Denmark’s Wozniacki was a set down and then saved two match points before overcoming world number 119 Fett.

Fett found herself 5-1 up in the final set, but the number two seed battled back to win six consecutive games to seal the win.

Nick Kyrgios bt. Viktor Troicki (7-5 6-4 7-6)

22-year-old Kyrgios continued his impressive start to 2018 with a straight sets victory.

The Aussie could be the first home champion since 1976 at Melbourne and after winning in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, the 17th seed powered through with some neat play.

Despite a helicopter hovering over the court, Kyrgios’ maturity shone through. Instead of kicking a fuss, the 22-year-old persevered and was hardly threatened by his opponent.

Is this finally the year that the Aussie breaks out from his controversial shell and makes some great strides in the right direction?

Other selected results 

Men’s 

Nadal (1) bt. Mayer (6-3 6-4 7-6)

Tsonga (15) bt. Shapovalov (3-6 6-3 1-6 7-6 7-5)

Cilic (6) bt. Sousa (6-1 7-5 6-2)

Women’s

Svitolina (4) bt. Siniakova (4-6 6-2 6-1)

Ostapenko (7) bt. Duan (6-3 3-6 6-4)

Cornet bt. Goerges (12) (6-4 6-3)

 

Australian Open 2018: Top 5 matches (Day Two)

Day two of the Australian Open saw the conclusion of the first round of singles matches in Melbourne. Whilst there were some that impressed, others disappointed. News also broke out of a potential boycott of next year’s competition (with Novak Djokovic playing ring leader) due to player’s pay. Here are my top matches from a busy second day of action.

Johanna Konta bt. Madison Brengle (6-3 6-1)

Australia proves to still be a happy hunting ground for Konta after she comfortably overcame American Brengle in straight sets.

The 26-year-old, who was born and raised in and around Sydney before moving to the UK, put in a good opening performance but not a perfect one. She hit eight aces and 37 winners on the way to victory and was hardly threatened by the world number 90 – who was the last woman to beat Serena Williams in a competitive match before she went on maternity leave.

However, the Brit hit 34 unforced errors, 18 more than Brengle, and scampered three match points before finally sealing the win with her fourth. Given the match situation it didn’t prove to be a massive issue, but moving forward Konta will need to be more precise and ruthless, especially around the net.

The ninth seed needed time to find her groove, but once she did she took complete control. Konta moved a double-break up in the first set to lead 5-2. The American broke back instantly but it was too little to late.

An early break saw Konta take a 3-1 lead in the second set and from there she turned on the afterburners and hurried to the finish.

Roger Federer bt. Aljaz Bedene (6-3 6-4 6-3)

Defending champion and tournament favourite Federer made a solid start to his campaign with a straight sets victory over former Brit Bedene.

Bedene switched his allegiance back to Slovenia ahead of the new season, but he was no match for the Swiss, who is seeking his sixth Australian Open and 20th Grand Slam title.

Federer only dropped three points on serve in the first set and hit 41 winners in what was a commanding performance. The 36-year-old has not been knocked out in the first round of a Grand Slam since 2003 and judging by this performance he won’t be packing his bags anytime soon.

Novak Djokovic bt. Donald Young (6-1 6-2 6-4)

It was a comfortable return to competitive tennis for the 30-year-old Serbian as he brushed Young aside in straight sets.

The number 14 seed was playing for the first time since Wimbledon and played with a cast over his elbow, which didn’t seem to affect his playing style.

Djokovic dropped serve just once throughout and won 11 of the first 12 games to establish a lead he was never going to relinquish.

The Serbian also reacted to reports he had called for a boycott of next year’s Australian Open in a feud regarding player’s revenue.

The Daily Mail claimed that Djokovic had asked all officials to leave the players’ meeting, and that the Serb was accompanied by a lawyer to make the case for setting up a players-only union. (See the article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-5268709/Novak-Djokovic-career-earnings-82m-wants-more.html)

The 12-time Grand Slam champion denied the claim and rejected the notion that he was ‘greedy’.

Maria Sharapova bt. Tatjana Maria (6-1 6-4)

The five-time Grand Slam champion made a victorious return in what was her first appearance in the Australian Open since her drug ban.

The Russian was suspended for 15 months back in 2016, and struggle at times against the world number 47 on the Margaret Court Arena.

Sharapova hit 28 unforced errors and found herself a break down in the second, but recovered to claim a morale-boosting win.

Lukas Lacko bt. Milos Raonic (6-7 7-5 6-4 7-6)

Former Wimbledon finalist Raonic has been shown the exit door after crashing out to unseeded Slovakian Lacko.

The Canadian was playing for the first time after a injury-hit second half of 2017, and a lack of match fitness ultimately caught up with him.

Lacko, who is ranked 86th in the world, has always performed at his best in Melbourne, having got as far as the third round on two previous occasions. But to have knocked out 22nd seed Raonic is a big scalp for the 30-year-old.

Other selected results

Men’s singles

Zverev (4) bt. Fabbiano (6-1 7-6 7-5)

Thiem (5) bt. Pella (6-4 6-4 6-4)

Goffin (7) bt. Bachinger (6-7 6-3 6-2 6-4)

Wawrinka (9) bt. Berankis (6-3 6-4 2-6 7-6)

Del Potro (12) bt. Tiafoe (6-3 6-4 6-3)

Berdych (19) bt. De Minaur (6-3 3-6 6-0 6-1)

Women’s singles

Halep (1) bt. Aiava (7-6 6-1)

Muguruza (3) bt. Ponchet (6-4 6-3)

Pliskova (6) bt. Cepede Royg (6-3 6-4)

Garcia (8) bt. Witthoeft (7-5 6-3)

Barty (18) bt. Sabalenka (6-7 6-4 6-4)

Putintseva bt. Watson (7-5 7-6)

Australian Open 2018: Top 5 matches (Day One)

The opening day of this year’s Australian Open didn’t disappoint. We, as well as the thousands that flocked into Melbourne, were all provided with thrilling matches, dominant performances and a few shock exits. By the end of the day 12 American players had been beaten, including some high-profile names. Here are my top five matches from day one.

Kyle Edmund bt. Kevin Anderson (6-7 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4)

A match that as close and as entertaining as their previous encounter at Roland Garros last year, Edmund showed how strong he is mentally after claiming the best win of his career to date over 11th seed Kevin Anderson.

The big South African came into the match in good form. He had reached the final of the US Open back in August and had started the 2018 season in fine spirits by making it to the final in Pune.

Twice Anderson led the match in terms of sets and in the decider he broke early to take a 2-0 lead, but the Brit dug deep to claw himself back into contention and ultimately come away victorious.

Edmund, ranked 49th in the world, produced some excellent tennis in the epic that lasted a minute shy of four hours. He had been working hard on returning serves in the off-season and proved it against a giant of a man who usually dominates with his serving prowess.

This victory was another step in the right direction for the 23-year-old, who will ultimately have to step up to the mantle of British number one once Andy Murray abdicates the crown. If he carries on performing like he did against Anderson, he could go further in this tournament than many anticipate.

Rafa Nadal bt. Victor Estrella Burgos (6-1 6-1 6-1)

Number one seed Nadal needed just 94 minutes to complete a routine win on Rod Laver Arena.

The Spaniard is on the hunt for just his second Australian Open title and only dropped three games against Dominican Republic’s Burgos.

Nadal will have more competitive contests in future rounds but the match was a good workout for his knee, which he injured last November. The injury forced him to miss Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, but he insists he is feeling good and is ready to compete.

Belinda Bencic bt. Venus Williams (6-3 7-5)

Bencic is powering back up the rankings after beating Venus Williams. (Image Credit: AP via. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/tennis/australian-open-belinda-bencic-dumps-venus-williams-in-first-round/news-story/9feeefe1cd156e00b378e31c31f2a2ea)

Labelled as the next Swiss prodigy, 20-year-old Bencic produced the best performance of her young career to stun number five seed Venus Williams.

Bencic reached the top 10 aged just 18 before a wrist injury saw her fall back down the WTA rankings again. But after this showing it will only be a matter of time before she’s once again challenging at the top.

The Swiss pressed last year’s runner up Williams throughout the match, forcing errors and breaking serve numerous times to wrap up the straight sets win.

Victory was Bencic’s 16th in a row and despite being unseeded the world number 78 will be a difficult opponent for even the very top players.

Zhang Shuai bt. Sloane Stephens (2-6 7-6 6-2)

US Open champion Stephens is yet to win a single’s match since the final at Flushing Meadows after she crashed out at the first hurdle in Melbourne to world number 34 Zhang.

The number 13 seed was serving for the match in the second set before China’s Zhang fought back to win the tiebreak.

Stephens then capitulated in the deciding set and has now lost eight matches in a row since her maiden Grand Slam victory in New York.

 Timea Babos bt. Coco Vandeweghe (7-6 6-2)

 Tenth seed Vandeweghe received two court violations during her defeat to Hungarian opponent.

Last year’s semi-finalist refused to restart play due to a ‘lack of bananas on court’ before later swearing at Babos.

The world number 51 didn’t let Vandeweghe’s temperament affect her performance, as she breezed the American aside in the second set.

Other selected results

Men’s singles

Dimitrov (3) bt. Novak (6-3 6-2 6-1)

Cilic (6) bt. Pospisil (6-2 6-2 4-6 7-6)

Sugita bt. Sock (8) (6-1 7-6 5-7 6-3)

Carreno-Busta (10) bt. Kubler (7-5 4-6 7-5 6-1)

Tsonga (15) bt. King (6-4 6-4 6-1)

Ebden bt. Isner (16) (6-4 3-6 6-3 6-3)

Kyrgios (17) bt. Dutra Silva (6-1 6-2 6-4)

Nishioka bt. Kohlschreiber (27) (6-3 2-6 6-0 1-6 6-2)

Women’s singles

Wozniaki (2) bt. Buzarnescu (6-2 6-3)

Svitolina (4) bt. Jorovic (6-3 6-2)

Ostapenko (7) bt. Schiavone (6-1 6-4)

Georges (12) bt. Kenin (6-4 6-4)

Rybarikova (19) bt. Townsend (6-0 7-5)

Gavrilova (23) bt. Falconi (6-1 6-1)

Cibulkova (24) bt. Kanepi (6-2 6-2)

 

 

 

The Swiss and Spanish renaissance: A year to remember for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

They won all four Grand Slam titles between them and will end the year as world number one and two. What a 12 months it has been for the 36-year-old Swiss and 31-year-old Spaniard.

Just when it seemed like two legends of tennis had been chewed up and spat through the exit doors by the impressive, younger stars at the end of 2016, both came rallying back to dominate the 2017 season.

Of course, I’m talking about Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Both subsequently came into this year following injury lay-offs. Federer had been out of action since Wimbledon 2016 with a knee injury, whilst Nadal ended his tour in October of that year after problems with his wrist.

As a result, Nadal was seeded ninth and Federer 17th going into January’s Australian Open.

However, the Swiss beat two of the top 10 seeds in Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori in the early rounds, before defeating Mischa Zverev (Andy Murray’s victor in the fourth round) to become the oldest player to make it to a Grand Slam semi-final since Jimmy Connors in 1991.

Federer battled past fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in five sets to become the oldest singles male player to make a final since 1974, where he would meet old nemesis Nadal.

The Spaniard himself had beaten Zverev’s impressive younger brother Alexander and Gael Monfis before coming out of his five-hour, semi-final grudge match against Gregor Dimitrov victorious.

This was Nadal’s first Grand Slam final since 2014, whilst Federer had not been in a major final since the 2015 US Open.

The subsequent match at the Rod Lever Arena was almost a reincarnation of that exhilarating Wimbledon final of 2008, but this time it was Federer – who was playing in his 100th match at the Australian Open – who came out on top in five sets.

Federer’s win was his first Gram Slam title for five years, but it was also his first Grand Slam win over his old rival since 2007 and the first that wasn’t at Wimbledon.

That win in Melbourne was a historic one for the illustrious Swiss. He became the first man to win five or more times at THREE of the four Grand Slam events and the second-oldest man behind Ken Rosewell to win a major singles tournament.

Titles at Indian Wells, Miami and Halle swiftly followed, but Federer had his eyes on one prize that was close to his heart and had evaded him for half a decade: Wimbledon.

From round one all the way to the final, the Swiss maestro dominated his opponents, and after defeating Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in the final, he managed to win his eighth Wimbledon title without dropping a single set.

Federer became the record holder for most Gentlemen’s singles Wimbledon titles, surpassing both Pete Sampras and William Renshaw who had won it seven times.

He won more trophies in Shanghai and in his native Switzerland at Basel to cap off his best season statistically since 2007.

As for Rafael Nadal, defeat at the Australian Open only spurred him on for the rest of the year.

In April he won his first title of the year at Monte-Carlo, before winning both the Madrid and Barcelona Open back-to-back in his native Spain.

Much like Federer, Nadal had an eye on the one prize he had won so many times- the French Open title.

Roland Garros was like a second home to the 31-year old, and once again he was at his very best in Paris.

He comfortably made it to the final where he would face Wawrinka, but even he was powerless to stop Nadal from winning ‘La Decima’ (“the tenth” in Spanish) and become the first tennis player to ever win 10 titles at the same Grand Slam.

Nadal dropped no sets and only 35 games at Roland Garros this year, the second-lowest return in Grand Slam history.

The final Grand Slam of the year – The US Open – was again dominated by the old guards. After overcoming a difficult test in Juan Martin Del Potro in the semi-finals, Nadal comfortably beat Kevin Anderson in straight sets for his 16th career Grand Slam title.

His final victory of the year came at the Chinese Open in Beijing in October.

In December, the ATP Rankings saw Nadal and Federer ranked as world number one and two respectively, sending a message to the ATP Tour that despite their age they are both far from finished. At 31, Nadal is the oldest man to ever end the year top of the tree.

Despite his and Federer’s successes, 2017 wasn’t so rosy for Novak Djockovic and Sir Andy Murray.  These were two of the leading members of this new, younger, ambitious group trying to push Federer and Nadal out, but now it looks like they will all need to go back to the drawing board.

Djokovic and Murray have both had injury problems this year, with the former splitting with coach Marian Vajda in April.

Beforehand the Serbian had lost to a player outside the top 100 for the first time at a Grand Slam in his career in Australia.

He appointed Andre Agassi as his new coach in the summer but an elbow injury at Wimbledon saw him retire during his quarter-final match with Berdych and ultimately ruled out for the rest of the season.

Murray went into 2017 as world number one following his best season to date the year before. However, an early exit at the Australian Open was just the first of many shock defeats that the Scot endured during the season.

He lost in the first round at Queen’s Club before also exiting Wimbledon at the quarter-final stage.

A hip injury saw him miss the remainder of the season and drop as low as world number 16 in November, his lowest ranking since 2008. He also split with Ivan Lendl for a second time in the autumn, as he now prepares for the new season which starts next month.

All of these developments set up an exciting 2018 for Men’s tennis. With Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka all set to return from injury and both Nadal and Federer in their best form for years, we could see fireworks in the months ahead.

One could even argue that there has never been a greater anticipation for an upcoming ATP Tour since it was established back in 1990.