Archive for January, 2012

My Melbourne Derby VI Preview

The great thing about Melbourne is that another sporting event is always around the corner.  As we say farewell to the World’s best tennis players for another year, Melbournians prepare themselves for their biggest non AFL rivalry – The Melbourne Derby.

Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart will go toe to toe this Saturday night at AAMI Park.  This marks the sixth meeting between the two clubs, after the introduction of the Heart last season.  Victory are still the schoolyard bully, with the majority of support and the bigger name players but this year the little brother have outshone the bigger, more fancied Victory.

The 2011/12 season has been nothing short of disastrous for the star studded Victory, the manager has been sacked, support if wavering and Socceroo legend Harry Kewell has barely fired a shot.  Languishing 8th on the table, the much fancied Victory have almost completed their annus horribilis.

On the Red side of town John Van’t Schip and his boys (most of them still are) are having the time of their careers.  One stage reaching the dizzy heights of second, until the current 5 game slump they find themselves.  With superstar Fred out with injury the Heart looks a different team, seeming to lack leadership and polish without the Brazilian. 

So what will Derby VI produce, apart from a near sell out crowd at the premiere football venue in the Country I expect to see some really attacking playmaking from the Victory, the last derby performance for the older statesman was nothing short of embarrassing for the large legion of Victory fans.  Derby VI is the most significant for Melbourne’s blue team, not only is their season on the line, but they must reinstate some much needed pride to the terraces.

On the other side of the coin, the Heart must see this as a coming of age.  Having dominated Derby V the boys in Red have stamped their authority on these situations.  No longer wanting to be the little brother JVS will be looking end Victory’s season on Saturday night. 

The quirkiness of a six team finals series gives you the appearance that you are never out of playoff contention.  At present Victory are only a few good results away from seeing some playoff action, and if their attacking options all start to fire could be a wildcard in April.

So what’s my prediction for Saturday night? As a Heart member I feel a little uneasy about the upcoming game.  I’m predicting that the Blue part of Melbourne will be a lot happier that those wearing Red.  Victory has far too much riding on this game, and Heart has hit a speed bump.  Big money signing Harry Kewell will finally score his first Derby goal guiding the Victory to a 2-0 win.

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Two weeks at the Open – My Open Wrap

First of all WHAT A FINAL.  Almost six hours of pure tennis.  To those who missed it, watch it.  To those who watched it, wow.  And finally to those of you privileged enough to be there, I hate you.  You guys got to witness something that may never be seen again in our time.

The Winners

Victoria Azarenka – The Belarusian (and now World number 1) finally showed her true capabilities, winning her first Grand Slam title.  Destroying Maria Sharapova in a lopsided final Vika showed her powerful hitting game.  Taking the prized scalp of Clijsters in the Semi final, Vika showed she could well be number one for the rest of 2012.

Novak Djokovic – What more needs to be said.  His last two matches lasted almost 11 hours in total, against two of the best four players in the world.  Djokovic should look back at the 2012 Open as a time he mentally and physically dominated.  Don’t be surprised if Djokovic completes the Grand Slam in 2012.

Men’s Doubles

Leander Paes/Radek Stepanek def Mike Bryan/Bob Bryan 7-6 6-2

Mixed Doubles

Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Horia Tecau def Elana Vesnina/Leander Paes 6-3 5-7 10-3

Women’s Doubles

SvetlanaKuznetsova/Vera Zvonareva def Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci 5-7 6-4 6-3

The Highlights

The Kimback

Facing consecutive match points against Li Na in a 2010 Final rematch, Kim Clijsters produced the best comeback of the tournament.  Clijsters stunned the crowd, winning the tie breaker 8-6, and then going on to win the deciding set 6-4.

Both Men’s semi finals

Four men gave us almost 9 hours of tennis of the highest quality.  I can’t remember such quality tennis in the space of 48 hours.  Federer and Murray didn’t get a shot at the final, but all players showed the huge gulf between the top four and the rest. 

Casey Dellacqua

Sure she was thrashed by eventual champion Victoria Azarenka, but for Casey to step onto Centre court after the last few years have been destroyed by injury was an achievement in itself.  I watched Casey in her first round victory against Bojana Jovanovski, and 2012 should be a good year.

The Players

Once again we have been spoilt by the personalities of the tennis professionals.  Whether it be the Tsonga dance, comic genius Novak Djokovic, America’s Bryan brother’s or that random 132nd ranked player signing autographs after a gutsy second round win players endear themselves to fans, more than most other sports.  Melbourne looks forward to seeing them in only 50 weeks time.

The Lowlights

Sam Stouser

Whether she be mentally weak, or physically unprepared the US Open champion and local hope went out without a whimper.  Promising to come back better next year, and making light of the ‘not many points to defend’ Stouser once again left the Australian public wanting.

Linespeople

Has the game sped up too much for the human eye, or do we need to make bulk appointments at OPSM.  Although they have not been terrible, most linespeople will hope they finish 2012, better than it has started.

Andy Roddick’s injury

Due to no fault of his own, Roddick was forced to withdraw against Aussie Lleyton Hewitt.  In a match that promised so much, and was delivering some classic old school tennis Andy was forced to retire due to a hamstring injury.  Call me old fashioned but I enjoyed the Hewitt/Roddick clash far more than the slicefest that was Dolgopolov/Tomic.

My personal Highlight/Lowlight

Highlight – Having the privilege to watch Tommy Haas in his round 1 match.  Sure the match was on court 7, and he against a little known opponent, but to watch Haas give his fans so much enjoyment from his win was priceless.  Haas confirmed his crowd favourite status staying for countless photos and autographs after the match.

Lowlight– The withdrawal of Andreas Beck with a back complaint robbed thousands (and me) of Hisense fans a glimpse of tennis superstar Roger Federer.  Through no fault of the organisers, it was to be Federer’s first non Rod Laver appearance since 2004.  Oh well there’s always next year.

And then there were two

If for anything else the 2012 Australian Open will be remembered for two remarkable semi finals. 

Andy Murray and Roger Federer fought hard, but found themselves on the wrong end of tough results.  Novak Djokovic took almost FIVE hours to dispose of Andy Murray, while Federer once again fell to the Spanish bull Rafael Nadal.

So it’s World number 1 vs. 2, between them they hold all four Grand Slam titles, and are playing great tennis.  Nadal has 24 hours extra rest over Djokovic and won’t be coming off a crucial five setter, but will have to overcome a 0-6 record in 2011 when playing against the Serbian, including two Grand Slam finals.

Djokovic dug deep to get passed Scotsmen Andy Murray, coming from two sets to one down, and looked exhausted throughout the match.  It was Novak’s mental toughness that got him through to the final.  In what was one of the best semi finals, but also one of the most defensive.  Djokovic will have to be mindful of Nadal’s passing shots, and outstanding court coverage.

Nadal faced one of the hardest tennis assignments known to man, Roger Federer.  On paper it appeared an easy win for Rafa, but he had to fight hard against the Swiss master.  The first serve percentage of 77% is something that Nadal will be looking to repeat against the World number one.

So who is going to win? If you have followed my last few blogs you know that my advice isn’t always great.  It’s hard to go against the World‘s best, but the Andy Murray match took too much out of Novak.  The extra day’s rest will be a godsend to Nadal, and he should overcome his poor recent history against Djokovic.

How it will pan out

1st Set

Nadal – 6-4 Both players will come out firing, but a late break in serve to Nadal will hand him the set.

2nd Set

Nadal – 7-5 Another tough set, with early breaks to both players.  Once again a late break will hand the set to the Spaniard.

3rd Set

Djokovic – 6-3 A steely Djokovic will take advantage of a mid set lapse from Nadal. 

4th Set

Nadal – 6-3 Physically Novak will be spent by now, relying heavily on his mental attitude Djokovic will make too many unforced errors to see Rafa Nadal take the fourth set, and the Men’s 2012 Australian Open title.

NADAL 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3

Will 17 ever happen?

Is the greatest player of all time stuck on 16 Grand Slam titles forever? It would appear that way with Roger Federer unable to get passed the semi finals stage once again.

There is no disputing that Federer is still playing great tennis, Federer hasn’t missed a Grand Slam quarter final since Roland Garros 2004 and doesn’t look like missing another one soon.  The main concern for Federer and his legions of fans is the fact he hasn’t won a major since January 2010, and while Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic stay fit he doesn’t look like winning another one in the near future.

Federer is not the same player he was when dominating the ATP tennis circuit from 2003-2009.  At times Roger even appears human (I know, hard to believe) making various unforced errors at critical times.  His racket is still a magical wand, but at times the magician looks out of tricks. 

Federer will have no problems beating most players on the circuit, but needs to beat Djokovic and Nadal.  Nadal owns Federer on court with a head to head record of 18-8, and world Number 1 Djokovic has beaten Federer 4 of the last 5 times they have met.

Federer knows that he struggles against the two big guns at the moment, and must play more aggressively against the two.  Being more aggressive leads to more mistakes, and Federer is feeling the effects of this.  The Australian Open is Federer’s best chance to win a slam these days, with conditions suiting his game. 

Nadal seems to have a mortgage on Clay tournaments, while last year Novak almost completed the Grand Slam, winning 3 majors.  This is now 12 months off again, and only injury or a dramatic form slump from Djokovic and Nadal will see Federer winning his 17th grand slam title.

Federer v Nadal – An Absolute Classic

Two weeks ago when the men’s Australian Open draw was done everyone was talking about the Federer v Nadal semi final.  Sure it was a little premature, but with 26 Grand Slam titles between them who could argue.

Both players have had little trouble on their way to the most anticipated game of the tournament.  Federer had no trouble conquering big hitting Argentine Juan Martin del Porto, whereas Rafael Nadal had a few more hiccups against the number 7 seed Thomas Berdych.  Nadal started off the slower against Berdych, but with crowd support, and some advice from Uncle Tony he went on to win in four tough sets.

If there is one player on the circuit that feels the most comfortable against the Swiss master, it’s Nadal.  He holds a very impressive 17-9 head to head record against Federer, and in Grand Slams the record is 7-2.  Maybe it’s a mental edge that Nadal has over Federer, but I think that 2012 will be different.

Out of the top 3 players Federer has had by far the easier journey to the semi finals.  Cruising through the first week of play Federer cranked up his level against Del Porto.  Looking close to unstoppable against the dangerous Argentine, Federer turned back the clock to stamp his authority on the tournament.  Not winning a Grand Slam event in 2011 will only make Federer hungrier for success.

Nadal has reached this stage, but I have never seen him rely on raw emotion so much, the classic passing shots are still there for Rafa but he is making too many unforced errors to win this year’s title.  Nadal drew off the energy from the crowd against villain Berdych, but will find the going a lot tougher coming up against the pro Federer crowd. 

The stage is set for a classic Australian Open semi final.  The television ratings will be through the roof on our National day and what better way to spend it than watching Tennis being played at its optimum level.

I’m predicting Federer in four tough sets; I have been known to be very wrong this tournament but am quietly confident with this selection. 

Enjoy tennis fans, for this will be an absolute classic.

What next for Lleyton?

What a gallant performance from Aussie stalwart Lleyton Hewitt, making the fourth round of his home slam, and taking a set off World number 1 Novak Djokovic. 

So what does the rest of 2012 hold for the multiple Grand Slam winner, and former World number one.  Does he push his injury riddled body once more around the gruelling circuit or does he rely on sponsors and wildcards. 

If it were up to Hewitt, he would probably play in as many tournaments as possible and try to get back into the top 20, that’s fine in theory but he will need to manage his body through the year and choose his tournaments wisely.  Any mismanagement of the Hewitt body, and he will either result in a very short year on the ATP circuit, or see him struggling to walk to the shops when he reaches 40. 

If I was Hewitt’s manager I would be contacting the places where Hewitt has played well and be on the lookout for tournament opportunities.  As a former winner Hewitt should be a certainty to receive entries for Wimbledon and the US Open, and Indian Wells.

Roland Garros has not been kind to Hewitt, and I think that he should bypass this tournament.  During this time Lleyton should be making preparations for one last Wimbledon assault.

The 2013 Australian Open is a bridge too far for Lleyton, sure he would get a wildcard a centre court appearance would await.  There is no such word as can’t in the Hewitt dictionary so don’t be surprised if you see him on court rather that alongside Bruce McAveney and Jim Courier in the Channel Seven commentary box.

Love him or hate him, Hewitt has given himself every opportunity in his tennis career, leaving everything on the court, and all tennis fans must respect him.

Lleyton Hewitt’s Career

Winner

Davis Cup 1999 2003

US Open 2001

Wimbledon 2002

ATP Tour Finals 2001 2002

Indian Wells Masters 2002 2003

Won over US $19 million in prize money

Is del Potro Federer’s kryptonite?

We all know how great Roger Federer is, the man could be the greatest player of all time.  Winner of 16 grand slams, you run out of superlatives with the Swiss master.  So what has happened to him in recent times, he hasn’t won a grand slam since January 2010.  Is Federer human after all?

Federer handed Australian young gun Bernard Tomic a tennis lesson last night, and you would expect him to build on his incredible slam record, but in the quarter finals Superman Federer meets his version of Kryptonite Argentinean Juan Martin del Potro

del Potro has won two out of his last three matches against Federer, and could have been 3 out of 4 if he held his nerve at Roland Garros in 2009, losing in five.  The last time the pair met in a grand slam was back in 2009, when the Argentine won in five sets.

 del Potro was floored by injury in 2010, and started off slowly in 2011 but finished off well, making the fourth round at Wimbledon, and winning the ATP comeback of the year.

Federer has a more that healthy respect for del Porto and rates his extremely highly, and for good reason to, del Potro seems to have something most players don’t have in their tennis bag, a belief that he can beat Federer every time they step onto court. 

Federer will be hopeful that he can repeat the 2011 straight sets performance in Cincinnati, and will have the bulk of the Rod Laver crown behind him, but del Potro is playing some of his best tennis since his 2009 US Open win only dropping a single set in his Open campaign.

Call me crazy, but I think the Argentine will beat Federer packing in four set, and will be hard to stop for the remainder of the tournament. 

The road so far

Federer

1st Round – def Alexander Kudryavtsev 7-5 6-2 6-2

2nd Round – def Andreas Beck – walkover

3rd Round – def Ivo Karlovic 7-6 7-5 6-3

4th Round – def Bernard Tomic 6-4 6-2 6-2

del Porto

1st Round – def Adrian Mannarino 2-6 6-1 7-5 6-4

2nd Round – def Blaz Kavcic 6-4 7-5 6-3

3rd Round – def Yen-Hsun Lu 6-2 6-3 6-0

4th Round – def Philipp Kohlschriber 6-4 6-2 6-1