Sunday, January 31, 2016

Djokovic ties Laver, Borg with 11th major singles title

Novak Djokovic, shown en route to the title at Indian Wells last year,
defeated Andy Murray 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) for his record-tying sixth Aus-
tralian Open singles crown. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Serena Williams failed to rise on the all-time list of Grand Slam singles champions this week.
   But not Novak Djokovic.
   The 28-year-old Serb continued his domination of Andy Murray -- and everyone else -- today to tie Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg for fifth place with 11 major titles.
   Playing in Rod Laver Arena with the legend in attendance, Djokovic defeated his longtime rival 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) in Melbourne for his fifth Australian Open title in six years and sixth overall, equaling Aussie Roy Emerson's record.
   "I have to say I'm extremely honored to be mentioned alongside the legends of our sport, like Rod Laver," Djokovic said during the awards ceremony. "Thank you, Mr. Laver, for coming along tonight and making this match special. Mr. Roy Emerson, who is not here tonight, it's a great privilege to match the record of one of the greatest players to have played this game."
   Laver was barred from Grand Slam tournaments for five years in his prime until professionals were allowed beginning in 1968. Emerson, who remained an amateur, won 10 of his 12 Slams during Laver's absence. Borg, a victim of burnout, retired at 26.
   Federer holds the men's record with 17 Grand Slam singles titles. Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal are tied for second with 14.
   Angelique Kerber of Germany stunned Serena Williams, attempting to tie Steffi Graf for second place with 22 major singles crowns, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the Australian Open women's final on Saturday.
   Murray fought hard after a sluggish start, but Djokovic outclassed him with his impeccable movement and groundstrokes for his fourth title in the last five Slams and fifth in the last seven.
   "I'm proud that I got into this position," Murray, whose wife is back home in Great Britain expecting their first child soon, said on ausopen.com. "Just quite looking forward to getting home now."
   Murray owns two major singles crowns, but he set a record for a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era by falling to 0-5 in Australian Open finals. Four of the losses have come against Djokovic, who improved to 22-9 in the head-to-head series with 11 wins in the last 12 matches.
   The players were born one week apart in 1987 and have known each other since they were juniors.
Murray, playing at Indian Wells last year, fell to 0-5 in
Australian Open singles finals. Four of the losses have
come against Djokovic. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Murray went undefeated in two appearances in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, winning his first career ATP World Tour title there 10 years ago and repeating in 2007.
   Djokovic, ranked No. 1, was fresher physically and mentally than No. 2 Murray in today's final.
   Djokovic had an extra day to rest after his 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, on Thursday. Murray needed 4 hours, 3 minutes to subdue No. 13 seed Milos Raonic in five sets on Friday.
   It was an emotional tournament for Murray. He was prepared to fly home immediately if his wife, Kim, had gone into labor during the tournament.
   Also, Kim's father and Ana Ivanovic's coach, Nigel Sears, collapsed during Ivanovic's third-round night match against Madison Keys at Rod Laver Arena. Sears was removed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. He flew to the United Kingdom, where he is resting.
  "Regardless of today's result, it's been hard," Murray said. "Had I lost in the third or fourth round, it still would have been difficult with everything that's happened.
   "(Kim) has been amazing. Handled everything unbelievably well. I have to thank her for allowing me to play here with everything that was going on.
   "I've never been in this position before, so it's as close as I've been to leaving a Grand Slam. It was a tough, tough couple of days. Thankfully, (Nigel) is fine now. Yeah, I just want to get home."
   Djokovic, meanwhile, has reached 17 straight finals, winning 13, since falling to 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the Doha quarterfinals last January. 
   Djokovic is 38-1 since the beginning of the U.S. Open, losing to Federer in the round-robin phase of the ATP World Tour Finals in London. Djokovic went on to win the ATP title for the fourth straight year and fifth overall.
   In the next Grand Slam tournament, May 22-June 5, Djokovic will try to win the French Open for the first time. He has lost in the final three times, including in each of the past two years.
   In the Australian Open mixed doubles final, fifth-seeded Elena Vesnina of Russia and Bruno Soares of Brazil edged unseeded CoCo Vandeweghe of Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area and Horia Tecau of Romania 6-4, 4-6 [10-5].
   Soares also won the men's doubles title with Jamie Murray, Andy's older brother, on Saturday. The Murrays became the first brothers to reach the singles and doubles finals of a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era (since 1968).
   Vandeweghe, 24, was the runner-up to Serena Williams in the 2012 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford and played for the now-defunct Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis at 17 in 2009 and in 2012.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kerber shocks Serena for first Grand Slam title

Angelique Kerber poses with a stuffed bear, the symbol
of California and San Francisco-based Bank of the West,
after winning the title at Stanford last August.
Photo by Mal Taam
   Less than six months after winning the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, Angelique Kerber earned her first Grand Slam title in stunning fashion.
   Kerber, who lost in the first round of last year's Australian Open and survived a match point in the opening round this year, shocked Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 today in Melbourne.
   "When I was match point down (in the first round), I actually had one leg in the plane back to Germany," Kerber, fighting back tears of joy, told the crowd afterward. "I got a second chance, and I took that chance to be here in the finals to play against Serena. I'm really honored to be in this final and to win it. My dream came true tonight.
   "My whole life I was working really hard, and now I'm here, and I can say I'm a Grand Slam champion, and it sounds really crazy. These have been the best two weeks of my life."
   Kerber, seeded seventh, played her trademark outstanding defense against Williams and showed unusual composure in her first major final.
   The top-seeded Williams, meanwhile, was jittery in her attempt to tie Steffi Graf -- Kerber's fellow German, idol and mentor -- for second place with 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court of Australia has 24.
   Williams, who committed 46 unforced errors to Kerber's 13, succumbed to nerves and a gritty, inspired opponent for the second straight Grand Slam tournament.
   Trying to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Graf in 1988, Williams lost to unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci, playing in her first major semifinal at age 32, in the U.S. Open in one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
Serena Williams displays the Bank of the West trophy
after beating Kerber for the 2014 title. Tri Nguyen/
TryNguyenPhotography.com
   Kerber, a 28-year-old left-hander, broke Williams' serve to lead 4-2 in the third set on her fifth break point of the game. Kerber then held serve at love for 5-2, but the title would not come easily.
   Williams, 34, fought back to serve at 4-5. From deuce, she netted a cross-court forehand and floated a forehand volley long to end the 2-hour, 8-minute battle.
   Kerber, who became the first German woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Graf in the 1999 French Open, tossed her racket and fell flat on her back along the baseline with her arms outstretched above her head. Once she rose, Williams graciously walked to Kerber's side of the net, gave her opponent a warm smile and embraced the euphoric champion.
   "Angie, congratulations," Williams, the defending and six-time Australian Open champion, said during the awards ceremony. "You really deserved it. Let me be the first to congratulate you. I hope you enjoy this moment."
   Williams, who smiled and laughed with Kerber during the ceremony, was the happiest loser of a Grand Slam final in memory. It helps when you've won 21 of them, but she also might have been relieved that she won't have to relive the pressure of pursuing a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2016.
   Williams had been 5-1 against Kerber with a four-match winning streak. In their last meeting before today, Williams triumphed 7-6 (1), 6-3 in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic for her third Stanford title. Kerber led 5-1 in the first set and had two set points at 5-2.
   In last year's Bank of the West final, Kerber defeated 6-foot-1 (1.86-meter) Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Williams, citing a right elbow injury, withdrew before the Aug. 3-9 tournament.
   Kerber will rise from No. 6 to a career-high No. 2 behind Williams when the new rankings are released on Monday.
Jamie Murray, shown at the U.S. Open last Septem-
ber, and Bruno Soares won their first Grand Slam
men's doubles title today. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   The Australian Open men's doubles final followed Kerber's dramatic victory. Seventh-seeded Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, playing their first Grand Slam tournament together, outlasted unseeded Daniel Nestor of Canada and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
   It was the maiden Grand Slam men's doubles title for both Murray, who was playing in his third straight major final, and Soares. The left-handed Murray will turn 30 on Feb. 13, and Soares will be 34 on Feb. 27.
   Murray won the doubles title in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose in 2007 with American Eric Butorac, and younger brother Andy Murray took the singles title.
   Nestor, 43, and Stepanek, 37, were the oldest men's doubles finalists in a Slam in the Open era. Nestor has won eight majors in the event and Stepanek two. Both have captured the Australian Open once, Nestor in 2002 with Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Stepanek in 2012 with Leander Paes of India.
   Stepanek swept the singles and doubles titles in the 2009 SAP Open. He played doubles with Tommy Haas of Germany.
   Andy Murray is scheduled to play Novak Djokovic for the Australian Open men's singles title on Sunday at 12:30 a.m. PST (ESPN).
   Murray, who had said it would be too stressful for him to watch Jamie's final, made a surprise appearance in the players' box during the awards ceremony and filmed the trophy presentations on his cellphone.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Murray brothers make history in Australian Open

Andy Murray, playing at Indian Wells last year, will try to win his
first Australian Open title in his fifth final in Melbourne. Photo by
Paul Bauman 
   Nine years ago, Andy Murray won the singles title in the SAP Open in San Jose, and his older brother, Jamie, took the doubles crown with Eric Butorac.
   The Murrays will have a tough time repeating that feat in the Australian Open, but they became the first brothers in the Open era to reach the singles and doubles finals in a Grand Slam tournament.
   No. 2 seed Andy Murray of Great Britain outlasted No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2 in 4 hours, 3 minutes today to reach his fifth singles final in Melbourne. Raonic was treated for a groin injury after the third set.
   On Wednesday (PST), No. 7 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares of Brazil advanced to the doubles final.
   "You're not going to see it very often," Andy Murray said on ausopen.com of the brothers' feat. "We should enjoy it and be proud of it because it's a tough thing to do."
   Not as tough as his next challenge, though. Murray, seeking his third Grand Slam singles title but first in the Australian Open, will face top-ranked Novak Djokovic on Sunday at 12:30 a.m. (ESPN) in a rematch of last year's final won by the Serb 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-0.  
   "Last year here is a good match for me to look at because the tennis, in my opinion, wasn't miles apart," Murray said. "It was a very close match for three sets. The most important thing for me is to sustain my level for long enough, not just for one set here or there, a few games here or there. I need to do it for a very long period if I want to get the win. That's my challenge on Sunday.
   "I have a very good shot on Sunday if I play my best tennis. I don't think many people are expecting me to win on Sunday. I have to just believe in myself, have a solid game plan, and hopefully execute it and play well. There's no reason it's not possible for me to win."
Jamie Murray, shown at last year's U.S. Open,
will attempt to win his first Grand Slam men's
doubles title in his third straight major final.
Photo by Paul Bauman
  Possible, yes. Likely, no.
  The 28-year-old Djokovic, who's one week younger than Murray, is 5-0 in Australian Open finals. By beating Murray, he can match Roy Emerson's record of six Melbourne titles and tie Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg for fifth all-time with 11 major singles crowns.
   Plus, Djokovic is 21-9 against Murray with 10 wins in the last 11 matches. Djokovic is 4-0 against Murray in the Australian Open, including three finals (2011, 2013 and 2015).
   As if all that's not enough, Djokovic has an extra day to rest after his 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over four-time Australian Open champion Roger Federer on Thursday.  
   Both Murray and Raonic won their first ATP World Tour titles in San Jose and went undefeated in the tournament, which was discontinued after the 125th edition in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013.
   Raonic, in fact, never lost a set in San Jose while winning the last three titles. Murray also claimed the championship in 2006 at 18 years old in his only other appearance.
   Jamie Murray, a left-hander who will turn 30 on Feb. 13, and Soares, who will be 34 on Feb. 27, will meet unseeded Daniel Nestor, 43, of Canada and Radek Stepanek, 37, of the Czech Republic after Saturday's women's final between No. 1 seed Serena Williams and No. 7 Angelique Kerber.
   ESPN will televise the women's final at 12:30 a.m., and Tennis Channel will show the men's doubles final at about 2:30 a.m.
   "I find it pretty stressful to watch, so I won't watch the match," Andy Murray said of the men's doubles final.
   Jamie Murray will play in his third straight Grand Slam final but first with Soares. Both seek their initial major title.
   Nestor has won eight Grand Slam men's doubles crowns and Stepanek two. Both have captured the Australian Open once, Nestor in 2002 with Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Stepanek in 2012 with Leander Paes of India.
   Stepanek swept the SAP Open singles and doubles titles (with Tommy Haas of Germany) in 2009.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Djokovic plays a match for the ages against Federer

Novak Djokovic, shown en route to the title at Indian Wells last
year, said he played "flawless tennis" in the first two sets of his
6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Roger Federer today in the Aus-
tralian Open semifinals. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Never mind that the head-to-head series between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer was tied 22-22 entering their much-hyped showdown in the Australian Open semifinals early today (PST).
   Or that Federer has won a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles to Djokovic's 10.
   The relevant numbers are 28 and 34. Those are the ages of Djokovic and Federer, respectively. In other words, Djokovic is in his prime, and Federer is near retirement.
   That was never more apparent than in Djokovic's 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory in Melbourne. 
   "I think these first two sets have been probably the best I've played against (Federer) throughout my career," the top-seeded Djokovic said. "I've had some moments against him in sets where I've played on a high level, but this was a different level than before. I've just very, very pleased that I was able to perform the way I did from the very beginning till the end.
   "It's not always possible to play this way. You strive to be the best you can be. When you're playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger's resume, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination and a different preparation for that matchup than most of the other matches. So that's why I came out with a great deal of confidence and intensity and concentration. I played flawless tennis for the first two sets, no doubt about it."
   Federer, seeded third, lost in the semifinals at Melbourne for the fifth time in six years.
   "My rhythm, my timing, all that, was a bit off in the beginning," said Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion whose last major title came at Wimbledon in 2012. "He took advantage of that and did an unbelievable job for a long, long time tonight."
   Djokovic can equal Roy Emerson's record of six Australian Open singles titles. He will face the winner of Friday's match between No. 2 seed Andy Murray and No. 13 Milos Raonic (12:30 a.m., ESPN). 
   Murray, 28, and Raonic, 25, are tied 3-3 in their head-to-head series. Both won their first career title and went undefeated in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose. Murray triumphed in 2006 and 2007, and Raonic prevailed from 2011 through the last tournament in 2013.
Serena Williams displays her trophy after beating Angelique
Kerber for the title in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at
Stanford. They will meet for the Australian Open title on Satur-
day at 12:30 a.m. PST. Tri Nguyen/TriNguyenPhotography.com
   In the Australian Open women's final, No. 1 Serena Williams will play No. 7 Angelique Kerber (Saturday, 12:30 a.m., ESPN) in their first meeting since the 2014 Bank of the West Classic final at Stanford. Williams won 7-6 (1), 6-3 to improve to 5-1 with a four-match winning streak against Kerber.
   Williams dispatched No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-4 in 64 minutes, and Kerber outclassed unseeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain 7-5, 6-2.
   The left-handed Kerber won last year's Bank of the West Classic, defeating Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the final. Williams, citing a right elbow injury, withdrew before the tournament, which she has won three times. 
   Williams and Kerber are also 34 and 28, respectively, but Williams will be playing in her 26th Grand Slam singles final and Kerber her first.
   Williams can tie Steffi Graf with 22 major singles crowns, second behind Margaret Court's 24. Kerber trained with her fellow German and idol, Graf, in Las Vegas last year. 
   Djokovic has reached 17 straight finals, winning 12, since falling to 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the Doha quarterfinals last January. 
   Djokovic is 37-1 since the beginning of the U.S. Open, losing to Federer in the round-robin phase of the ATP World Tour Finals in London. Djokovic went on to win the ATP title for the fourth straight year and fifth overall.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Venus to end boycott, join Serena at Indian Wells

Venus Williams
2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Serena Williams ended her boycott of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells last year.
   Venus Williams will join her this year, tournament officials announced today.
   Venus will play at Indian Wells for the first time since an incident there 15 years ago. The BNP Paribas Open is scheduled for March 7-20.
   Controversy erupted at Indian Wells in 2001 when Venus defaulted to Serena with knee tendinitis minutes before their scheduled semifinal. Some fans thought their father, Richard, had arranged the default because he didn't want Venus and Serena to play each other.
   Two days later, the crowd booed Serena throughout her final against Kim Clijsters. Richard got into shouting matches with fans, Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, and told reporters that the boos had been racially motivated.
   The vitriol nearly brought Serena to tears, but she won.
   Serena advanced to the semifinals at Indian Wells last year but withdrew against eventual champion Simona Halep with inflammation and pain in her right knee. Serena won the Miami title two weeks later, as did Venus in 2001.
   Venus has reached the singles final of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford seven times, winning in 2000 and 2002. She made her pro debut in the tournament at 14 in 1994, when it was held indoors in Oakland.    
   The Williams sisters grew up in Compton, a two-hour drive west of Indian Wells in the Los Angeles area.
   Venus, 35, has won seven Grand Slam singles titles but none since Wimbledon in 2008. She was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, a chronic energy-sapping disease, in 2011.
   Seeded eighth in the ongoing Australian Open in Melbourne, Venus lost to Johanna Konta of Great Britain in the first round.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kerber 'upsets' Azarenka in clash of Stanford champs

Angelique Kerber rips a forehand in her victory over Karolina
Pliskova in the final of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford
last August. Photo by Mal Taam
   Despite being seeded higher, Angelique Kerber was considered a big underdog against Victoria Azarenka today in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
   Kerber was 0-6 against Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion who appeared to have regained her form after battling injuries for two years.
   Only 2 1/2 weeks ago, Azarenka dominated Kerber 6-3, 6-1 in Brisbane to win her first title since August 2013. But that was on a faster court than at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, favoring the 6-foot (1.83-meter) Azarenka over Kerber, a 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter) left-hander.
   In a matchup of reigning and former champions of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, the seventh-seeded Kerber surprised the 14th-seeded Azarenka 6-3, 7-5 to reach her third Grand Slam semifinal but first in Melbourne.
   Kerber trailed 5-2 in the second set and erased five set points.
   "I can't actually describe this in words," Kerber, a 28-year-old German who won the Bank of the West Classic last August and was the runner-up to Serena Williams in 2014, breathlessly told the crowd afterward. "I said to myself, just go for it today and believe that you can beat her.
   "I was playing my game from the first point," added Kerber, who bolted to a 4-0 lead in the opening set. "I was more aggressive this time. She (didn't) lose it; I actually won it."
   Kerber, who saved a match point in the first round against Misaki Doi of Japan, will be a heavy favorite to reach her maiden Grand Slam final when she faces unseeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain for the first time on Wednesday at about 8:30 p.m. PST (ESPN2).
   On the men's side, No. 2 Andy Murray of Great Britain and No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada each won in four sets to set up a semifinal meeting.
   Murray beat No. 8 David Ferrer of Spain 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3, and Raonic topped No. 23 Gael Monfils of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
   Both Murray and Raonic went undefeated in the now-defunct San Jose (Calif.) stop on the ATP World Tour. Raonic won the title three times (2011-13) and Murray two (2006 and 2007).
Even at the beginning of the Australian Open,
14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka was considered
perhaps the biggest threat to Serena Williams.
Kerber took care of that. 2014 photo by
Paul Bauman 
   No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Roger Federer will renew their rivalry in the semifinals on Thursday at 12:30 a.m. (ESPN). The head-to-head series is tied 22-22.
   Even at the beginning of this year's Australian Open, Azarenka was considered perhaps the biggest threat to the top-seeded Williams.
   "Mentally, I didn't commit myself enough today," Azarenka, who won the 2010 Bank of the West Classic, said on ausopen.com. "I didn't push myself into making a difference. I was too flat."
   It now appears that only a collapse by Williams will prevent her from winning a seventh singles title in Melbourne and tying Steffi Graf for second place with 22 Slams (Margaret Court has 24).
   Not that Williams would ever choke. Of course, the calendar-year Grand Slam is not at stake this time (although a loss would prevent that possibility in 2016), nor is the tournament in her home country.
   Williams will meet fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in Wednesday's first semifinal at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2). Williams has lost only one set to Radwanska in eight career matches.
   Both Williams and Radwanska have had success in the Bank of the West Classic. Williams won the title in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Radwanska was the runner-up to Dominika Cibulkova in 2013.
   Konta, a 24-year-old Sydney native ranked 47th, eliminated qualifier Zhang Shuai of China 6-4, 6-1 to become the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Jo Durie in 1983.
   Konta lost in the first round of qualifying in last year's Australian Open and was 0-2 this year when she arrived in Melbourne.
   Zhang, who turned 27 on Thursday, had been 0-14 in Grand Slam tournaments before she stunned No. 2 seed Simona Halep in the opening round of the Australian Open.
   Halep revealed on Sunday that she has been struggling with nose, ear and stomach infections. She said she will have nose surgery and be out of action until March.
   Halep is the reigning champion in the BNP Paribas Open, scheduled for March 7-20 at Indian Wells.
   In the mixed doubles quarterfinals in Melbourne, unseeded CoCo Vandeweghe of Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area and Horia Tecau of Romania edged second-seeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands of Phoenix and Bob Bryan of Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., 6-3, 6-7 (5) [10-6].
   Vandeweghe was the runner-up to Williams in the 2012 Bank of the West Classic. Bryan attended Stanford in 1997 and 1998, helping the Cardinal win the NCAA team title each year.

Now that's more like it -- Djokovic rolls into semis

Novak Djokovic, serving at Indian Wells last year, dominated Kei Nishikori in
the Australian Open after struggling against Gilles Simon.  Photo by Paul Bauman
   Relax, Novak Djokovic fans.
   Both of you.
   The top seed and defending champion's game appears to be back on track in the Australian Open.
   After committing 100 unforced errors in his five-set victory over No. 14 seed Gilles Simon of France in the fourth round in Melbourne, Djokovic dominated Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 today in the quarterfinals.
   Djokovic made 27 errors against Nishikori, who played was treated for a groin injury in the second set.
   "That was the goal, to decrease the unforced errors," Djokovic, who skipped practice to rest the day after his win over Simon, said on ausopen.com. "I've done that. ...
   "I was solid. I was determined, focused. In important points and moments, I managed to stay composed and make him play an extra shot. Overall, it was a very solid performance."
   Djokovic improved to 6-2 against Nishikori, whose last victory in the series came in the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals. The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Nishikori then lost to 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Marin Cilic of Croatia.
   Djokovic seeks his sixth Australian Open singles title, which would tie him with Aussie Roy Emerson for the record. Djokovic came within one match, a loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final, of becoming the first man to win a calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
   But Djokovic does not get the respect he deserves -- hello, Sports Illustrated, which chose Serena Williams as its 2015 Sportsperson of the Year -- partly because he comes from a small European country.
   So does Roger Federer, who will renew his rivalry with Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals. But at least Americans associate Switzerland with watches, chocolate, army knives, banking, mountains, skiing and neutrality. They know nothing about Serbia except possibly that it was involved in a 1990s war.
Serena Williams, practicing during the 2014 Bank
of the West Classic at Stanford, extended her win-
ning streak over Maria Sharapova to 18 matches
in the Australian Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Also, the 34-year-old Federer has captured a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles. Djokovic, 28, has won "only" 10.
   Federer, the No. 3 seed, is trying to claim his fifth Australian Open singles crown but first since 2010. He defeated No. 6 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4.
   Federer and Djokovic are tied 22-22 in the head-to-head series, but Djokovic has won the last three Grand Slam meetings, including two last year.
   Meanwhile, No. 1 seed Williams extended her winning streak over No. 5 Maria Sharapova to 18 matches with a 6-4, 6-1 quarterfinal decision.
   Williams, the defending and six-time Australian Open champion, will meet No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in the semifinals. Radwanska dismissed No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-1, 6-3 to reach her second Australian Open semifinal.
   Radwanska, 26, has won one set in eight career matches against Williams, 34.
   Both players have had success in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. Williams won the title in 2011, 2012 and 2014, and Radwanska was the runner-up to Dominika Cibulkova in 2013.
   In the men's doubles quarterfinals in Melbourne, unseeded Adrian Mannarino and Lucas Pouille of France stunned top seeds and reigning Wimbledon champions Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-4.
  The highest remaining men's doubles seeds are No. 7 Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil. Murray is the older brother of Andy Murray, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion who's seeded second in Melbourne.
   Both Murrays won titles in the 2007 SAP Open in San Jose. Andy captured his second straight singles crown in the tournament, which was discontinued after the 125th edition in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013, and Jamie took the doubles crown with American Eric Butorac.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Raonic upsets Wawrinka to reach quarterfinals

Milos Raonic, playing at Indian Wells last year,
defeated Stan Wawrinka today for the first time
in five career matches. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Milos Raonic took a big step today in the quest for his first Grand Slam title.
   Raonic, seeded No. 13, outlasted No. 4 seed and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 in Melbourne to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals for the second straight year.
   Raonic, a 25-year-old Canadian, defeated Wawrinka for the first time in five career matches.
   Afterward, ESPN2 commentator Mary Joe Fernandez called Raonic, whose best Grand Slam result is the 2014 Wimbledon semifinals, "the ultimate professional. He does everything he can to be the best he can be."
   Both Raonic and Wawrinka were undefeated this year entering the match, which lasted 3 hours, 44 minutes. Raonic won the Brisbane title, defeating Roger Federer in the final, and Wawrinka took the Chennai (India) crown for the third consecutive year.
   Raonic will play No. 23 seed Gael Monfils, a 29-year-old Frenchman who beat unseeded Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time in his 11th attempt.
   Raonic never lost a set in 13 career matches in the SAP Open in San Jose, winning the last three titles. The tournament was discontinued in 2013 after 125 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.
   In the other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the Australian Open draw, No. 2 Andy Murray of Great Britain will meet No. 8 David Ferrer of Spain.
   Murray also went undefeated in San Jose, winning the first of his 35 tour-level titles (fourth among active players) there at 18 in 2006 and repeating in 2007 in his only two appearances.
   In the top half of the Australian Open draw, No. 1 Novak Djokovic will face No. 7 Kei Nishikori, and No. 3 Federer will take on No. 6 Tomas Berdych.
   On the women's side, unseeded Johanna Konta became the first British woman since Jo Durie 32 years ago to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Konta, a 24-year-old Sydney native, edged No. 21 Ekaterina Makarova, a semifinalist last year, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6.
   Konta will face Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai, who defeated No. 15 Madison Keys 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Keys, a semifinalist last year at 19, suffered a leg injury in the second set.
   Zhang was 0-14 in majors before stunning No. 2 Simona Halep in the first round.
   Halep revealed on Sunday that she has been struggling with nose, ear and stomach infections. She said she will have nose surgery and be out of action until March.    
   Also in the bottom half, No. 7 Angelique Kerber will meet No. 14 Victoria Azarenka, the Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013. Azarenka and Kerber won the singles title in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2010 and last year, respectively.
   In the top half in Melbourne, No. 1 Serena Williams will play No. 5 Maria Sharapova in a rematch of last year's final, and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska will meet No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro.
   Williams defeated Sharapova for her sixth Australian Open title last year. Sharapova won her only Australian Open crown in 2008.
   Williams is 18-2 against Sharapova with a 17-match winning streak.
   Meanwhile, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan lost in the third round of men's doubles for the third straight year after winning their sixth Australian Open title in 2013. The No. 3 seeds and former Stanford stars fell to No. 13 Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Rajeev Ram of Carmel, Ind., 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
   Ram, 31, won the SAP Open doubles title in 2011 with Scott Lipsky, another ex-Stanford star.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Djokovic prevails despite 100 unforced errors

Novak Djokovic
2015 photo by Paul Bauman
   Novak Djokovic committed 100 unforced errors.
   Agnieszka Radwanska trailed 5-2 in the final set.
   And Tomas Berdych was extended to a fifth set.
   All three high seeds, however, advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   Djokovic, the top seed and defending champion seeking his sixth Australian Open title, subdued 14th-seeded Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 today (PST) in 4 hours, 32 minutes.
   Radwanska, seeded fourth, rallied to beat unseeded Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany 6-7 (6), 6-1, 7-5. The 82nd-ranked Friedsam, who will turn 22 on Feb. 1, struggled with leg cramps in the last three games.
   Berdych, the No. 6 seed, outlasted No. 24 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals for the sixth straight year.
   Djokovic advanced to his 27th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, tying Jimmy Connors for second place in the Open era behind Roger Federer (36).
   Djokovic will face No. 7 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan in the quarters. Nishikori dismantled No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the runner-up to Djokovic in the 2008 Australian Open, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
   Berdych will meet No. 3 seed Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion who outclassed No. 15 David Goffin of Belgium 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
Agnieszka Radwanska
2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Radwanska, the runner-up in the 2013 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, will play No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, who topped unseeded Daria Gavrilova of Australia 0-6, 6-3, 6-2.
   Both Gavrilova, a 21-year-old Moscow native, and Suarez Navarro, a 27-year-old Spaniard, have won doubles titles in Northern California.
   No. 1 seed Serena Williams, the defending and six-time champion, and No. 5 Maria Sharapova, the 2008 titlist, won in straight sets to set up a rematch of last year's final.
   Williams, a three-time Bank of the West champion, is 18-2 against Sharapova, the Stanford runner-up in 2010, with a 17-match winning streak.
   Meanwhile, Lleyton Hewitt's career ended with a loss in the third round of doubles. No. 9 seeds and 2014 Wimbledon champions Vasek Pospisil of Canada and Jack Sock of Kansas City, Mo., defeated Australia's Sam Groth and Hewitt 6-4, 6-2.
   Hewitt won the now-defunct San Jose stop on the ATP World Tour in 2002 and reached the final there in 2006.
   In the first round of mixed doubles, Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia and Robert Lindstedt of Sweden edged seventh-seeded Raquel Atawo (formerly Kops-Jones) of San Jose and Raven Klaasen of South Africa 6-7 (4), 6-2 [10-4].  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tragedy, health scare mar Day 6 of Australian Open

Canada's Milos Raonic, serving at Indian Wells last year,
dedicated his third-round victory in the Australian Open
to shooting victims in Saskatchewan. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Off-the-court issues overshadowed Day 6 of the Australian Open.
   During the day session on Friday (PST) in Melbourne, No. 13 seed Milos Raonic of Canada dedicated his 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 21 Viktor Troicki of Serbia in the third round to shooting victims in a remote community in Saskatchewan. Four people died, and at least two were injured.
   "Today, before I stepped out on court, it was a difficult day back home," the 25-year-old Raonic, from Thornhill, Ontario, in the Toronto area, told the crowd. "I want to take a moment and give thoughts to that community. Today's victory was for that community, and a quick recovery and all of Canada, and I'm sure the world is behind you."
   During the night session (early today PST), the third-round match between No. 15 Madison Keys of Boca Raton, Fla., and No. 20 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia was suspended for an hour after Ivanovic's coach, Nigel Sears, collapsed in the stands at Rod Laver Arena.
   Sears, the father-in-law of No. 2 seed Andy Murray, was removed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. He reportedly was alert and sitting up.
   Murray was playing No. 32 Joao Sousa of Portugal at Margaret Court Arena at the time and apparently unaware of the emergency. His wife, Kim Sears, is back home in Great Britain awaiting the birth of their first child.
   Ivanovic, the 2008 Australian Open runner-up to Maria Sharapova, led 6-4, 1-0 when play was halted. But Keys, a semifinalist in last year's Australian Open at 19, rallied to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 after trailing 3-0 in the third set. Murray won 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Ana Ivanovic's match against Madison Keys
was suspended for an hour after her coach,
Nigel Sears, collapsed in the stands. Keys
eventually won. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Early on Day 6, two top-10 women's seeds lost. No. 3 Garbine Muguruza of Spain fell to Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2, and No. 9 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic exited against No. 21 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-3, 6-2.
   Muguruza, the runner-up at Wimbledon last year, won the doubles title in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford with countrywoman Carla Suarez Navarro.
   Pliskova was the singles runner-up to Angelique Kerber of Germany in last year's Bank of the West Classic.
   Kerber is the highest remaining seed in the bottom half of the Australian Open draw, but No. 14 seed Victoria Azarenka looms as the biggest threat to No. 1 Serena Williams in either half.
   Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, appears to have regained her form after battling injuries for two years.
   In the second night match at Rod Laver Arena, No. 16 Bernard Tomic defeated fellow Australian John Millman, who won the 2015 Aptos and 2010 Sacramento Challengers, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
   Millman became the first No. 1 seed in the 28-year history of the Aptos tournament, the longest-running Challenger in the United States, to win the title.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN 
In Melbourne
(Northern California results only)
Men's doubles
Second round
   Dominic Inglot, Great Britain, and Robert Lindstedt (11), Sweden, def. Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky (former Stanford All-American), United States, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-4.
Women's doubles
Second round
   Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, Croatia, and Barbora Strycova, Czech Republic, def. Raquel Atawo (San Jose resident, former Cal All-American) and Abigail Spears (6), United States, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-2.
   Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic (3), France, def. Maria Sanchez (Modesto native), United States, and Stephanie Vogt, Switzerland, 6-2, 6-1.
Mixed doubles
First round
   Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Bob Bryan (former Stanford All-American) (2), United States, def. Jessica Moore and Marc Polmans, Australia, 6-2, 6-1.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Federer, Sharapova achieve career milestones

Roger Federer
2015 photo by Paul Bauman
   Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova reached milestones on Thursday in the third round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   Federer, seeded No. 3, defeated No. 27 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-4, 3-6 6-1, 6-4 to become the first man with 300 Grand Slam victories.
   "It's very exciting, I must tell you," Federer, who will turn 35 in August, said on ausopen.com. "Like when I reached 1,000 (overall match victories) last year, it was a big deal for me. Not something I ever aimed for or looked for, but when it happens, it's very special.
   "You look deeper into it, where it's all happened and how. Yeah, so it's very nice. I'm very happy."
   A distant second on the list in the Open Era is Jimmy Connors at 233 Grand Slam wins. Federer needs seven more to surpass Martina Navratilova for the overall record, which he should achieve at Wimbledon this summer.
   Dimitrov, 24, has been called "Baby Fed" because his talent and playing style are similar to Federer's. Both have sensational one-handed backhands.
   Sharapova, the No. 5 seed and 2008 champion, topped Lauren Davis of Boca Raton, Fla., 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-0 to become the 16th woman with 600 career wins.
   "Oh, wow, I've won 600 matches?" Sharapova, 28, mused on ausopen.com. "Oh, boy. Is this like a friendly reminder that I'm getting older?"
Maria Sharapova
2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Sharapova, who at 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) is 1 foot (30.5 centimeters) taller than Davis, was the runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in the 2010 Bank of the West Classic. Davis reached the quarterfinals of the 2011 Redding Challenger at 17.
   Daria Gavrilova, who won the doubles title in the 2014 Sacramento Challenger (with fellow Australian Storm Sanders) in her first tournament back from reconstructive ACL surgery, upset a seed for the second straight match.
   After knocking off No. 6 Petra Kvitova, the 21-year-old Moscow native edged No. 28 Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-4, 4-6, 11-9.
   Gavrilova will face No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, who took the doubles crown in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic with fellow Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, for a quarterfinal berth.
   In the second round of men's doubles, 13th-seeded Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Rajeev Ram of Carmel, Ind., defeated California natives Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
   Johnson, a Southern Californian who won the 2012 Aptos Challenger, and Querrey, who was born in San Francisco, advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals last September, ousting top seeds and defending champions Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in the first round.
   Klaasen and Ram will face the third-seeded Bryan twins for a berth in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
   Querrey, 28, and Ram, who will turn 32 in March, won the doubles title in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose with separate partners. Querrey triumphed with now-retired Mardy Fish in 2010, and Ram prevailed with former Stanford All-American Scott Lipsky in 2011.
   Ram was the singles runner-up to Wayne Odesnik in the Sacramento Challenger 10 years ago. Odesnik, a 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) left-hander from Florida, was suspended for 15 years last March for his second doping violation.
   Ram also reached the Sacramento doubles final in 2008 with John Isner. They lost to fellow Americans Brian and Dann Battistone.
   Brian Battistone employed a unique volleyball-style jump serve, switching his racket hand in mid-air. Both Battistones used a bizarre two-handled racket.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hewitt's singles career ends with loss to Ferrer

Lleyton Hewitt, returning serve in the 2013 SAP Open in San Jose,
lost to eighth-seeded David Ferrer 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 today in the second
round of the Australian Open. Hewitt won the San Jose title in 2002
and reached the final there in 2006. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Fittingly, Lleyton Hewitt's singles career ended against David Ferrer.
   In the featured night match at Rod Laver Arena, the eighth-seeded Ferrer of Spain dispatched Australia's Hewitt 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 today in the second round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   Hewitt, who won the title of the now-defunct San Jose (Calif.) tournament on the ATP World Tour in 2002 and reached the 2006 final there, announced last year that he would retire after this Australian Open. He and countryman Sam Groth are scheduled to play eighth-seeded Henri Kontinen of Finland and John Peers of Australia today in the second round of men's doubles in Melbourne.
   Groth holds the unofficial record for the world's fastest serve of 163.7 mph (263.4 kph) in the 2012 Busan, South Korea, Challenger.
   Hewitt is not entered in mixed doubles in the Australian Open.
   Hewitt and Ferrer are similar in age, size and playing style. Hewitt, who will turn 35 next month, is 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters). Ferrer, who will be 34 in April, is 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters). Both compensate for their small size with tenacity.
   Hewitt, however, is more accomplished.
   He has won three Grand Slam titles (two in singles and one in men's doubles), while Ferrer's best result in a major is runner-up in singles in the 2013 French Open.
   Hewitt remains the youngest man to reach No. 1, at 20 years, 8 months in 2001. That's one month younger than Marat Safin of Russia in 2000. Ferrer climbed to a career-high No. 3 in 2013.
Ferrer, practicing at Indian Wells last March, said Hewitt
"is a mirror for me." Photo by Paul Bauman
   Ferrer has the edge in Davis Cup championships, three to two.  
   After today's match, video tributes to Hewitt from Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were shown in the arena.
   "Out on the court, obviously you've got so many things going through your head," Hewitt said on ausopen.com. "You're trying to soak it up as much as possible out there one last time. It was an unbelievable atmosphere out there. A couple of the roars during the match tonight were as loud as I've ever played in front of. I was getting goose bumps at times.
   "Obviously just watching the video and hearing those great players talk about you in that light was pretty emotional. ... It's sort of a strange feeling because you're obviously disappointed not to keep going but obviously proud of everything we've done as well."
   Ferrer discussed Hewitt before the match.
   "He's a mirror for me," Hewitt said on ausopen.com. "I remember when I was younger, my game was similar. It's not like he was my idol, because I don't have an idol, but it's similar to idol."
   Hewitt was one of the five active singles champions in the San Jose tournament, which ended in 2013 after 125 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, to play on Day 4 of the Australian Open.
   Winning were No. 2 seed Andy Murray (2006 and 2007) of Great Britain and No. 13 Milos Raonic (2011-13) of Canada. Losing, in addition to Hewitt, were 32-year-old Fernando Verdasco (2010) of Spain and 37-year-old Radek Stepanek (2009) of the Czech Republic.
   Verdasco fell to 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) Dudi Sela of Israel 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (4) after upsetting Rafael Nadal, the 2009 champion and a two-time runner-up in the Australian Open, in 4 hours, 41 minutes in the first round.
Australian John Millman, playing in the U.S. Open last
September, reached the third round of a Grand Slam
tournament for the first time. Millman won the 2015
Aptos and 2010 Sacramento Challengers. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   Australia's John Millman, who won the 2015 Aptos and 2010 Sacramento Challengers, advanced to the third round of a Slam for the first time. Millman, 26, outlasted Gilles Muller, a 32-year-old left-hander from Luxembourg, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
   The 38th-ranked Muller, a quarterfinalist in the 2008 U.S. Open as a qualifier, served at 4-3, 40-0 in the second set but was broken.
   "It's probably a breakthrough win," Millman, ranked 95th, said in an understatement on ausopen.com. "I managed to turn the tables around today when I was being outplayed at the start of the match. I was down a set and a break (and) had to dig deep today and change things up and find a way."
   Millman is scheduled to face countryman Bernard Tomic, seeded 16th, for the second time on Friday (PST). Tomic won 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6) in the second round of the 2011 Caloundra (Australia) Challenger.
   On the women's side, No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany outclassed Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania 6-2, 6-4.
Seventh-seeded Angelique Kerber, shown after winning
the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford last summer,
will play American Madison Brengle, the runner-up in
the 2013 Sacramento Challenger, in the third round of
the Australian Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kerber, a 28-year-old left-hander who won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford last summer, is set to play 25-year-old American Madison Brengle, who defeated Johanna Larsson of Sweden 6-5, 4-6, 6-1, on Friday.
  Brengle lost to Mayo Hibi of Japan in the final of the 2013 Sacramento Challenger while playing with a debilitating stomach illness. Hibi was 17 at the time.
  Naomi Osaka, an 18-year-old qualifier from Japan, eliminated 18th-seeded Elina Svitolina, a 21-year-old Ukrainian who lost to Kerber in the semifinals at Stanford last year, 6-4, 6-4 today.
   As a 16-year-old qualifier in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic, Osaka saved a match point to shock Samantha Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, in the first round.
   The 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Osaka, a hard hitter with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, will meet 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013 and the Bank of the West Classic in 2010.
   The player with the world's fastest women's serve also lost. No. 30 seed Sabine Lisicki, a German who uncorked a 131.0-mph (210.8-kph) delivery at Stanford in 2014, fell to Denisa Allertova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Former Sacramento doubles champ ousts Kvitova

Daria Gavrilova, left, and Storm Sanders pose with their trophies
after winning the doubles title in the 2014 Sacramento Challenger.
Photo by Rob Vomund
   In her first tournament back after reconstruct- ive ACL surgery, Daria Gavrilova won the doubles title in the 2014 Sacramento Challenger with fellow Australian Storm Sanders.
   Gavrilova hasn't slowed down since.
   The 21-year-old Moscow native upset sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, 6-4, 6-4 today in the second round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   It was Gavrilova's fourth victory over a top-10 player in the past 12 months. She knocked off Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, both formerly ranked No. 1 in the world, and Lucie Safarova in 2015.
   Gavrilova, the 2010 U.S. Open girls champion, did not play singles in Sacramento in 2014. She was named the 2015 WTA Newcomer of the Year after skyrocketing from No. 233 to No. 36 in the year-end rankings.
   As if Kvitova hasn't had enough trouble in the Australian Open -- the 6-foot (1.82-meter) left-hander lost in the third round or earlier in Melbourne for the fourth straight time after making a semifinal run in 2012 -- she had played only one set this year entering the tournament because of a gastrointestinal illness.
   Meanwhile, Gavrilova teamed with Nick Kyrgios two weeks ago in Perth to give Australia its first Hopman Cup title since 1999.
   "Coming into this match, I was pretty confident that I could beat Petra," Gavrilova said on ausopen.com. "I knew that she didn't have enough matches before. She didn't even play anything before (the Australian) Open. So I thought it was a good chance tonight."
   Gavrilova, 5-foot-5 (1.68 meters), will play another 6-footer, 28th-seeded Kristina Mladenovic of France, in the third round.
   Mladenovic, who advanced with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) victory over ex-Stanford All-American Nicole Gibbs, reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open last September.

Gibbs loses in second round of Aussie Open again

Ex-Stanford star Nicole Gibbs, playing in the 2014
Sacramento Challenger, fell to 28th-seeded Kristina
Mladenovic of France 6-1, 7-6 (4) today in the second
round of the Australian Open. Photo by Rob Vomund
   Give Nicole Gibbs credit for consistency.
   For the second straight year, the 22-year-old former Stanford All-American lost to a low seed in the second round of the Australian Open.
   Gibbs, a 106th-ranked qualifier living in Marina del Rey in the Los Angeles area, fell to No. 28 Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-1, 7-6 (4) today in Melbourne.
   The 6-foot (1.84-meter) Mladenovic, also 22, won the last five points of the tiebreaker against the 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) Gibbs.
   Gibbs, a direct entrant in last year's Australian Open with a ranking of No. 96, lost to No. 26 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) in the second round.
   The 30th-ranked Mladenovic, who beat 2014 Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova in the first round, will face Australia's Daria Gavrilova, who surprised sixth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4.
   Mladenovic reached the U.S. Open singles quarterfinals last September and the 2014 Wimbledon doubles final with Timea Babos of Hungary. Mladenovic also won mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the Australian Open in 2014, both with ageless Daniel Nestor of Canada.
   Gibbs, the NCAA singles champion in 2012 and 2013, advanced to the third round of singles in the 2014 U.S. Open.
   In another Australian Open second-round match, top-seeded Serena Williams dominated Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan 6-1, 6-2. Williams has won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford three times (2011, 2012 and 2014). Hsieh captured the 2013 Wimbledon women's doubles title with Peng Shuai of China.
   On the men's side, Americans Austin Krajicek and Denis Kudla -- the runners-up in the Aptos and Tiburon Challengers, respectively, last year -- lost to seeds in the second round.
   Krajicek, 25, fell to No. 7 Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3. The roomed together as juniors at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
   Kudla, 23, bowed out to No. 28 Andreas Seppi of Italy 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. Kudla was the only U.S. man to reach the second week of Wimbledon last year, falling to 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia in the fourth round. Seppi stunned Roger Federer in the third round of last year's Australian Open before losing to rising star Nick Kyrgios of Australia in the next round.
   Americans Steve Johnson, the 2012 Aptos singles champion, and Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native, defeated Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic and Igor Zelenay of Slovakia 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the opening round of men's doubles.
   Johnson and Querrey advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals last September, ousting top seeds and defending champions Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in the first round.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Halep, Nadal, Venus fall in first round of Aussie Open

Second-seeded Simona Halep lost to qualifier Zhang Shuai
of China 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of the Australian Open.
2014 photo by Paul Bauman  
   Zhang Shuai's first Grand Slam victory in 15 attempts came against an unlikely opponent.
   The Chinese qualifier, who will turn 27 on Thursday, stunned second-seeded Simona Halep of Romania 6-4, 6-3 today in the first round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   Zhang's victory came shortly after 32-year-old Fernando Verdasco, who reached a career-high No. 7 in the world in 2009 and won the now-defunct SAP Open in 2010 in San Jose, ousted fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in a 4-hour, 41-minute battle of Spanish left-handers.
   Earlier, Johanna Konta, a Sydney-born British player, took out eighth-seeded Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2.
   In late first-round matches:
   --Dmitry Tursunov, a 33-year-old Russian who trains in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, retired with a hip injury while trailing No. 4 seed and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 7-6 (2), 6-3. Tursunov was playing in his first Grand Slam tournament since the 2014 U.S. Open after missing more than a year with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and pain in his left ankle.
   --No. 25 seed Jack Sock outlasted 18-year-old qualifier Taylor Fritz, making his Grand Slam debut, 6-4, 3-6, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 in an all-American matchup. Fritz, last year's ITF junior world champion, won the Sacramento and Fairfield Challengers back-to-back last October at 17.
   --Lleyton Hewitt, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion who will retire after the Australian Open, beat fellow Aussie James Duckworth 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4. Hewitt, who will turn 35 next month, won the SAP Open in 2002 and reached the final there in 2006.
Fernando Verdasco, awaiting serve in last year's U.S. Open,
ousted fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Halep, an Australian Open quarterfinalist in the previous two years, withdrew Brisbane two weeks ago with left Achilles' inflammation but advanced to the Sydney semifinals last week.
   Both Zhang (2014) and Halep (2011) are 0-1 in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   Verdasco pummeled his serve and groundstrokes to avenge a 5-hour, 14-minute loss to Nadal on the same court, Rod Laver Arena, seven years ago in the Australian Open semifinals. It was the longest match in Australian Open history at the time.
   Nadal, who has won 14 major singles titles, lost in the opening round of a major for only the second time in his career. He fell to Steve Darcis in the first round at Wimbledon in 2013.
   Nadal has failed to reach the fourth round in his last three Slams.
   Konta, 24, was making her Australian Open main-draw debut. Williams, 35, has won seven Grand Slam singles titles, the last one coming at Wimbledon in 2008. In her only Australian Open final, she lost to younger sister Serena in 2003.
   Venus Williams has reached the Bank of the West Classic final seven times, winning in 2000 and 2002 and losing in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2009. She made her pro debut in the tournament at 14 in 1994, when it was held in Oakland.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Qualifier Gibbs advances in Australian Open

Nicole Gibbs, playing in the U.S. Open
last September, beat Klara Koukalova
in the first round of the Australian Open.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   This year's Australian Open is looking a lot like last year's for Nicole Gibbs.
   Which isn't such a bad thing.
    The 22-year-old former Stanford All-American reached the second round in Melbourne for the second straight year on Sunday (PST), beating 33-year-old Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 2-6, 6-1. 
   And for the second straight year, Gibbs will face a low seed in the second round. After losing to No. 26 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) in 2015, Gibbs will play No. 28 Kristina Mladenovic of France for the first time on Tuesday. 
   The big difference is that Gibbs qualified this year with a ranking of No. 105 after gaining direct entry last year at No. 96. 
   Mladenovic, also 22, dispatched Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open runner-up to since-retired Li Na, 6-3, 6-4.
   Gibbs, only 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), didn't have to worry about being overpowered by the 5-5 (1.66-meter) Koukalova. Not so against rising star Mladenovic, who stands 6 feet (1.84 meters).
   Mladenovic, ranked 30th in singles, already has built an impressive resume in all three events. She reached the U.S. Open singles quarterfinals last September and the 2014 Wimbledon doubles final with Timea Babos of Hungary. Mladenovic also won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 2013 and the Australian Open in 2014, both with ageless Daniel Nestor of Canada.
   Gibbs' best Grand Slam result is the third round of singles in the 2014 U.S. Open.
   Meanwhile, Sam Querrey continued to struggle. The 28-year-old San Francisco native, ranked No. 58 after climbing to a career-high No. 17 in 2011, retired while tied with Dusan Lajovic of Serbia at two sets apiece.
   Querrey won the first two sets 7-6 (5), 6-4 and dropped the next two 6-4, 6-2. The reason for his retirement was not immediately available.
    Americans Austin Krajicek and Denis Kudla -- the runners-up in last year's  Aptos and Tiburon Challengers, respectively -- won their openers.
   Japan's Nao Hibino, last summer's Stockton Challenger champion making her Grand Slam debut at 21, lost to Maria Sharapova, the fifth seed and 2008 Australian Open titlist, 6-1, 6-3.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Players to watch in the Australian Open

   The Australian Open begins today at 4 p.m. PST on ESPN2 and continues through Jan. 31. Here are players to watch (seedings in parentheses):
Novak Djokovic, shown en route to the title at Indian Wells
last year, has won four of the last five Australian Opens.
Photo by Paul Bauman
MEN
   Novak Djokovic (1) -- Has won four of last five Australian Opens, including last year, and five overall. Half of his Grand Slam titles have come in Melbourne. Northern California connection: None. 
   Andy Murray (2) -- Two-time Grand Slam singles champion is 0-4 in Australian Open finals. Awaits birth of first child next monthNorCal connection: Won first of his 35 tour-level singles titles (fourth among active players) in now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose at 18 in 2006 and repeated in 2007. Also won Aptos Challenger in 2005.
   Roger Federer (3) -- Won last of his four Australian Open titles six years ago. Hasn't won Grand Slam title since 2012 Wimbledon. Will turn 35 in August. NorCal connection: None.
   Stan Wawrinka (4) -- Captured first of his two Grand Slam singles titles in 2014 Australian Open. NorCal connection: None.
   Rafael Nadal (5) -- Australian Open champion in 2009, Spaniard lost to Djokovic 6-1, 6-2 in last week's Doha final. NorCal connection: None.
   Kei Nishikori (7) -- Two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist is coming off first-round loss to Benoit Paire of France in U.S. Open after reaching 2014 final at Flushing Meadows. Faces German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, highest-ranked unseeded player at No. 34, in first round. NorCal connection: Lost in second round of SAP Open in all three appearances (2008, 2009, 2011). Brad Gilbert of San Rafael coached Nishikori in 2011.
   Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (9) -- Will meet Marcos Baghdatis, 2014 Aptos Challenger champion, in first-round matchup of 30-year-old former Australian Open runners-up. NorCal connection: None.
   Milos Raonic (13) -- Hard-serving Canadian beat Federer 6-4, 6-4 in last week's Brisbane final. NorCal connection: Never lost a set in 13 career matches in SAP Open, winning the last three titles (2011-13) before tournament was discontinued.
   Nick Kyrgios (29) -- Mercurial Australian reached quarterfinals of home Slam last year at 19. Teamed with Daria Gavrilova, who won doubles title in 2014 Sacramento Challenger with fellow Aussie Storm Sanders, to give Australia its first Hopman Cup title since 1999 last week in Perth. NorCal connection: Reached semifinals of 2013 Sacramento Challenger at 18 despite soreness in right (playing) arm.
Serena Williams seeks her 22nd Grand Slam singles title, which would
tie her with Steffi Graf for second all-time. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
WOMEN
   Serena Williams (1) -- Seeks 22nd Grand Slam singles title, which would tie her with Steffi Graf for second place on all-time list behind Margaret Court (24), and seventh Australian Open crown. Withdrew during Hopman Cup in Perth last week because of inflammation in left knee but says it's fine. NorCal connection: Won Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
   Simona Halep (2) -- Australian Open quarterfinalist for past two years. Withdrew from Brisbane last week with left Achilles' inflammation, then advanced to Sydney semifinals before losing to eventual champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets. NorCal connection: Lost in first round of 2011 Bank of the West Classic in only appearance at Stanford.
   Garbine Muguruza (3) -- Advanced to first Grand Slam final last year, losing to Williams at Wimbledon. Retired from only match of 2016 last week in Brisbane with plantar fasciitis. NorCal connection: Won doubles title in 2014 Bank of the West Classic with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.
   Agnieszka Radwanska (4) -- Australian Open semifinalist in 2014 and four-time quarterfinalist won Shenzhen last week but withdrew from Sydney this week with left leg injury. NorCal connection: Runner-up to Dominika Cibulkova in 2013 Bank of the West Classic.
  Maria Sharapova (5) -- Australian Open champion in 2008 and three-time runner-up, including last year, has yet to play a match in 2016. Right-hander withdrew from Brisbane with left forearm injury. Could face Williams, against whom she is 2-18 with 17 straight losses, in quarterfinals. NorCal connection: Runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in 2010 Bank of the West Classic.
   Petra Kvitova (6) -- Two-time Wimbledon champion has not advanced past third round of Australian Open since reaching 2012 semifinals. Retired from first-round match in Shenzhen last week with virus and withdrew from Sydney for same reason. NorCal connection: None.
   Venus Williams (8) -- Australian Open runner-up in 2003 and quarterfinalist last year, now 35, has tough first-round matchup against Johanna Konta of Great Britain. Konta, 24-year-old Sydney native, reached fourth round of U.S. Open last year (beating top-20 players Muguruza and Andrea Petkovic) as qualifier . NorCal connection: Seven-time Bank of the West finalist, winning in 2000 and 2002 and losing in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2009. Made pro debut in tournament at 14 in 1994, when it was held in Oakland.
   Victoria Azarenka (14) -- Ironically, might be healthiest contender after battling injuries for past two years. Two-time Australian Open champion (2012 and 2013) won Brisbane last week without losing more than three games in a set, but top three seeds (No. 1 Halep, No. 2 Muguruza and No. 3 Sharapova) either withdrew or retired. NorCal connection: Won Bank of the West Classic in 2010.
   Madison Keys (15) -- Australian Open semifinalist last year at 19, powerful right-hander -- surprise -- withdrew from Sydney this week with left forearm injury. NorCal connection: Has lost in second round of Bank of the West Classic in both appearances there (2013 and 2015).

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fritz, 18, stages big rally to qualify for Australian Open

Taylor Fritz, shown en route to the title in the Fairfield
(Calif.) Challenger in October, overcame a 4-0 deficit
in the third set to reach the men's singles main draw in
a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. Photo by
Paul Bauman 
   Taylor Fritz is at it again.
   Fritz, who won the Sacramento and Fairfield Challengers back-to-back shortly before turning 18 on Oct. 28, rallied from a huge deficit to reach the men's singles main draw in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
   Fritz stormed back from 0-4 in the third set to stun 28-year-old left-hander Mischa Zverev of Germany 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 in Australian Open qualifying in Melbourne.
   "It was just having the heart and guts to keep going," the 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Fritz, from Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area, said on ausopen.com. "A lot of people don't expect their opponent to try so hard when down a double break. I think I caught him a little off guard.
   "It was such a big match qualifying for the Australian Open. I think just my continued pressure on him was what won it for me."
   Zverev, a Moscow native, climbed to a career-high No. 45 in 2009. He was the runner-up to James Blake in the 2012 Sacramento Challenger.
   Fritz, who won last week's Happy Valley (Australia) Challenger, improved to 8-0 this year. His Sacramento and Fairfield titles were part of a 17-match winning streak that began with the U.S. Open boys title.
    In the second round of the Sacramento Challenger, Fritz saved three match points against third-seeded Dustin Brown of Germany. The 31-year-old Brown is 2-0 against Rafael Nadal, with both victories coming on grass.
   Fritz, who has skyrocketed from No. 694 in the world on Oct. 5 to No. 154, might have caught a break in the first round of the main draw. Although he is scheduled to face 25th-seeded Jack Sock of Kansas City, Mo., on Monday (PST), Sock retired from the Auckland final on Friday with flu-like symptoms while trailing Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-1, 1-0.
   Fritz's countryman, 28-year-old Tim Smyczek, also rallied to reach the main draw in Melbourne. The third-seeded Smyczek, who won the Tiburon Challenger last October and got married in November, beat No. 29 Kenny De Schepper of France 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
   Smyczek, 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) to De Schepper's 6-foot-8 (2.03 meters), will meet Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain on Monday in the opening round.
   Smyczek gained worldwide acclaim when he gave Nadal an additional serve late in the fifth set in the second round of last year's Australian Open. Nadal, battling stomach cramps and dizziness, prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-5 in 4 hours, 12 minutes.
   Also in Australian Open qualifying on Friday, No. 32 seed Dennis Novikov of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area lost to No. 12 Yuichi Sugita of Japan 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
   Novikov tweeted: "Unfortunately couldn't qualify today at Aussie open, had my chances but you live and you learn. Onto the next -- Hawaii!"
   On the women's side, No. 2 seed and former Stanford star Nicole Gibbs advanced to the main draw with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Ivana Jorovic, 18, of Serbia.
   Gibbs, a 22-year-old resident of Marina del Rey in the Los Angeles region, will face Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic on Sunday. The winner will play either No. 28 Kristina Mladenovic of France or Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 runner-up from Slovakia.
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