Category Archives: Reviews and Previews

Robson proves she can advance to Wimbledon quarters

Laura Robson  Carine06 flickr

Laura Robson must quickly recover from her scrappy victory over Marina Erakovic and prepare for a gruelling fourth-round encounter with Kaia Kanepi this Monday, a match that will define her success at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.

The British number one came through Saturday’s clash 1-6 7-5 6-3 but her performance was far from what the Court Two crowd expected from this promising 19-year-old. Having performed a masterclass of tennis just a day before the fans expected Robson to power through an opponent ranked 33 places lower than the world number 38 but early proceedings suggested this wouldn’t be the case.

Robson lost the first three games and was easily broken twice in the opening set as the Wimbledon home crowd’s expectations got to her. Her footwork on the baseline was off and she failed to make those powerful backhands that proved so significant during her routine victory over Mariana Duque the previous round.

Robson looked like a rabbit in the headlights and only after a sit down and introspective critique of her own game did she come out of her shell and prove just what potential she has to impress on the WTA. A close second set saw the Brit find her serving mojo and by the third there was only one player in it.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Robson has struggled with third-set confidence over the past two months but there was no lacking here as she thumped her opponent around the court, using that springing muscle in her backhand to carve open Erakovic.

Disappointing first-set stats

Disappointing first-set stats

Now into the last 16, the left-hander faces her toughest challenge yet in Kaia Kanepi, the Estonia world number 46 who breezed through the third round with an untroubled straight-sets victory against wildcard Alison Riske.

The last-16 tie is set to dominate Wimbledon’s headlines on Monday as British support gets behind their last remaining women’s star. Robson has the ability to overcome Kanepi with ease but how she handles the pressure will again come under scrutiny. The difference may even fall to who serves first in the match, for Robson struggled to recover in the opening set after going a game down so easily to the imposing Erakovic and only began her comeback when back level in the second.

She proved her mettle in the third set and that pressure visibly lifted. Her head was up and shoulders back that gave her the imposing, confident posture to reverse her fortunes. This was missing at Roland Garros and previous spring tournaments but that glimmer of class should see her through to the last eight.

Although hopes are high for Robson’s further advance, the quarters are as far as anyone can expect her to go, for Serena Williams lurks in the top side of the draw and is deserved favourite to win Wimbledon for a sixth time. Robson has the power to match Serena for about three shots a rally but her arm just isn’t developed enough to handle the 31-year-old’s punch.

Make no mistake, a Robson v Serena clash on Centre Court would be fitting for a tournament that has already seen major upsets this summer but we should not ask too much of a player so new to the Grand Slam game.

Photo: Carine06, flickr

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AEGON International preview

AEGON International

Wimbledon is just a week away and for many in the WTA the AEGON International at Eastbourne is the last chance to get some game time before Grand Slam tennis begins.

The top seeds have all come through difficult clay seasons and now it’s time to concentrate on grass. While Roland Garros finalists Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take an extended break from their efforts in Paris, five of the WTA top 10 are in town ready for the Wimbledon precursor.

First seed Agnieszka Radwanska deserves her favourite tag but will come up against a tough Li Na if the pair reach the final. Radwanska has had a difficult time on clay and is far more adept to grass; she was unlucky to have drawn clay specialist Sara Errani in the fourth round at the French Open but last year’s Wimbledon finalist will have her heart set on singles glory this July.

A victory at Eastbourne would greatly boost Radwanska’s chances in SW19, something that can also be said of Li. The Chinese world number six has also had an uneasy few months but did make the Stuttgart final in April. Since then, however, early defeats in Madrid and Rome made her an unlikely prospect in Paris and she failed to perform, crashing out in round two to the USA’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

If neither top seeds make the most of their tournament then Petra Kvitova – Wimbledon champion in 2011 – is a great shout to win Eastbourne. The Czech has an easy route to the quarters – where she’ll face either Maria Kirilenko or the in-form Bojana Jovanovski – and should beat assumed semi-finalist Anna Ivanovic.

Ivanovic at Eastbourne Photo: jamesboyes, flickr

Ivanovic at Eastbourne
Photo: jamesboyes, flickr

As for the fellow high seeds – Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki – neither carry any sort of form that suggests they’ll turn heads next week. Kerber is much better on clay than grass and didn’t perform on the red surface this spring, while Wozniacki is in terrible form and is a good punt to crash early against Austria’s Tamira Paszek.

While Kvitova looks good for the title this summer Britain’s four hopefuls are unlikely to shine. Elena Baltacha is out of form and condition, losing in the first round at Nottingham this week, while Johanna Konta shouldn’t be much of a threat for Taiwan’s impressive Hsieh Su-wei.

Both Laura Robson and Heather Watson boast the potential to win this tournament but they’ve stuttered in 2013 and neither are ready to challenge for titles this season. The pair meekly dropped out in round one of Nottingham and Watson may suffer the same ignominy against Varvara Lepchenko on Monday.

Watch the AEGON International on Eurosport and the BBC next week, although the former do a lot more for women’s tennis throughout the year so that’s where I’ll be watching.

Head photo: bertiebassett25, flickr

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Roland Garros: Saturday morning round-up

Roland Garros 2013

Now the second rounds and half the third have been completed at Roland Garros, it’s time to look back at who’s impressed so far and who has the potential to make the finals stages late next week.

Both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova look strong – as they should do – but the latter’s 6-2 6-4 win over Eugenie Bouchard rose a few questions. While Sharapova won 80% of her first service points, on the second serve she was down at a 53% conversion rate. Effectively, she has no insurance on that second serve and that could cost her at important moments later in the tournament.

As for Serena, the world number one has powered through to round four having dropped just six games so far. There’s a reason she’s favourite to win this tournament and Serena’s only challenge before the final will be Sara Errani.

Williams against Caroline Garica. Photo: y.caradec, flickr

Williams against Caroline Garica
Photo: y.caradec, flickr

It’s pleasing to see the top five in the WTA have all made it through but Li Na’s exit on Wednesday was a surprise. The Chinese world number six crashed in three sets to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who took her opportunity as Li faltered.

Caroline Wozniacki, too, fell in the second but this is of no astonishment. The Dane has struggled on clay ever since that quarters appearance in Charleston and she’s now exited the last five tournaments before the third round. Her only victory since 1 April was over an unconvincing one over Laura Robson here in Paris, and it was no surprise she lasted little time against Mattek-Sands.

If you’re looking to back an outsider in this race then Sara Errani is your girl. The Italian world number five has been in impervious form so far, dropping just nine games from six sets. Although she was pushed to a 6-0 6-4 win the second set by Sabine Lisicki, that extra game time may come in handy if and when she meets Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters.

Errani looks good for a semis berth Photo: Frédéric de Villamil, flickr

Errani looks good for a semis berth
Photo: Frédéric de Villamil, flickr

As for forgotten world number three Victoria Azarenka, few can see her surpassing Sharapova in the semis but the Belarusian should at least make it to the last four because of Li’s exit in her side of the draw.

The French Open looks likely to be hotly contested heading into next week and this weekend should provide a couple of upsets. The big one of Saturday may be Angelique Kerber’s demise, for the German has struggled to combat opponents so far and faces the in-form Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Head photo: y.caradec, flickr

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Big names safely through in Indian Wells

Bnpparibasopen indian wells

Indian Wells has proven testament to the competitive strength of the WTA after all big names survived first round matches at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday.

With world number one Serena Williams boycotting the tournament, the competition is fierce to win this prestigious event which offers major prize money and important ranking points.

The top three seeds Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska all progressed without dropping a set while Angelique Kerber (4), Petra Kvitova (5) and Sara Errani (6) all went through with relative ease.

The biggest name to drop at round two is 15th-seed Sloane Stephens, who lost 6-3 6-4 to Radwanska’s younger sister Urszula. Stephens will be relatively disappointed with the result but it doesn’t come as a surprise. The American has dropped out early in both Doha and Dubai since making the Australian Open semis.

Sloane StephensPhoto: Keith Allison, flickr

Sloane Stephens
Photo: Keith Allison, flickr

Heading into round three, nine of the 16 remaining ties pit seeds against each other. Azarenka should have no problem against Belgian Kirsten Flipkens while Sharapova will dispose of 25th-seed Carla Suarez Navarro with ease.

The most unpredictable match-up heading into round three is Nadia Petrova (10) against Julia Goerges (21). Russia’s Petrova breezed past Stefanie Vögele in the first round and made the quarters of Dubai last month, while Goerges is in good form after making the Melbourne last-eight.

With neither player showing any particular weakness from round two this tie may well prove a close battle.

Certainly Indian Wells will produce a deserved winner this year and the crème has already started to rise to the top. It is refreshing and pleasing to see that while we champion the underdog spirit those who boast top ranks in the WTA deserve to be where they are.

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Indian Wells 2013 tournament preview

Bnpparibasopen indian wells

The WTA is gearing up for one of the most eagerly anticipated BNP Paribas Open tournaments in Indian Wells for years, as the absence of world number one Serena Williams blows the field wide open.

Serena was always scheduled to sit out of Indian Wells – she hasn’t played there in over a decade – and would have struggled to compete anyway after suffering a back injury before play in Dubai two weeks ago.

With the American’s absence, Victoria Azarenka has a great chance to prove her dominance on the tour once again and is clear favourite to claim her third title of the season so far. The Belarusian beat her adversary 7-6 2-6 6-3 in the Doha final two weeks ago but also pulled out of Dubai days later, citing a foot injury.

Clearly the strains of maintaining your place at the top of the tour is affecting Azarenka’s physical state but with Serena already out she should have no problem making the final.

Azarenka with the Aus Open trophy

Azarenka with the Aus Open trophy

So who will Azarenka meet on the hard court on 11 March? Second seed Maria Sharapova will be hoping to improve on a promising yet sparse start to 2013 where, in her two tournaments, she has fallen at the semi-final stages.

Her impressive run at the Australian Open was quickly cut short by Li Na, who will fancy her chances in another semi should the pair be drawn in the same half, while Serena smoothly dispatched of the Russian over two sets in Doha.

Sharapova should progress at Indian Wells but one feels she isn’t tough enough to withstand a strong top order, with Li and Agnieszka Radwanska more than capable of taking down the 25-year-old.

Kvitova in Dubai

Kvitova in Dubai

Further down the seeds, Petra Kvitova is in bullish form after beating Sara Errani in three sets for the Dubai title last week and has played a lot of tournaments this year for little reward. The Czech started 2013 badly and failed to impress in her second-round defeat to Laura Robson in Melbourne, yet after a controlled run to the Dubai final suddenly she looks the part once again.

Errani herself had a chance of getting back into that final but looked physically exhausted in the Dubai humidity come set three and had nothing more to give, but will have used this past week of recovery to build her fitness ahead of Indian Wells.

Two players that should be expelled from this list of potential finals candidates are Caroline Wozniacki and – dare I say it – Angelique Kerber. Wozniacki’s form this season has been as erratic as ever, the former world number one making the semis in Dubai before crashing out of the first round in Thailand.

That Thai result is a major blow to her aspirations of climbing up the WTA rankings, for it was a relatively weak field she should have walked through. The Dane lost 6-2 6-7 1-6 to China’s world number 186 Qiang Wang: the kind of result that is becoming less of a shock each time she falls early in tournaments.

Wozniacki lacks formPhoto: Charlie Cowins

Wozniacki lacks form
Photo: Charlie Cowins

Kerber, meanwhile, has exited early in her last two outings despite a long rest since making the Melbourne last 16. A disappointing second set against Roberta Vinci in Dubai pretty much sums up where Kerber is right now – stuck in a rut and unlikely to bypass any lower-ranked opponent with a bit of fight in them.

For the British contingent, both Robson and Heather Watson will want to improve on recent results that have left quite a bit to be desired. Robson dropped out early in Dubai but claims the chest infection that has plagued her recent outings is now almost gone, while British number one Watson should really have made the semis in Memphis last week.

For what it’s worth, my money is on Radwanska to meet Azarenka in the final so long as she’s placed in the bottom half of the draw. If the pair are scheduled to clash in the semis, then a finals run is Sharapova’s for the taking although both Li and Petrova will pose fierce opposition.

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Australian Open: Week One round-up

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Because the Australian Open is played under the blistering daytime heat of the southern hemisphere, Three_Sets has struggled to live as a night owl in the UK. This is worse viewing than an away Ashes series, where at least you have the morning to catch up on the day’s play.

Possibly the one great discouragement about watching the Aussie Open in Europe is the fact that it spans sleeping hours and so, rather than attempt to provide up-to-date news, views and features, a Week One round-up feels far more sufficient.

And what a week it has been for the WTA side of this year’s first Grand Slam. We’ve seen (or for some parts watched back in the highlights) two British players reach the third round, Caroline Wozniacki pick up her form and some big hitters already crash out under the Melbourne sun.

The top seeds – Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska – are all safely though to round four, having dropped just one set between them from a combined 12 matches – naughty naughty Miss Azarenka!

Serena looked as strong as ever when taking apart Ayumi Morita of Japan in the third round, while Sharapova won her first 24 games of the tournament before facing Venus.

Credit must go to Radwanska, however, who looks primed to cause a minor upset this championship and is Three_Sets’ outside tip to reach the final. She plays a much-improved Anna Ivanovic in round four but should have enough to see off the 13th seed, before an expected date with Li Na in the quarters.

Radwanska is on hot form this winterPhoto: Christopher Johnson

Radwanska is on hot form this winter
Photo: Christopher Johnson

Radwanska has won both Auckland and Sydney already this year and is in the form of her life as she aims to take her maiden Grand Slam. With the Pole set to avoid Serena until the final she has a real chance to claim the Aussie Open this January.

Britain’s Laura Robson and Heather Watson have also lit up Week One after both impressing to reach round three. This so rarely happens yet UK fans were still disappointed they both fell at the third hurdle – so good had they been in the opening two rounds.

Robson took down eighth seed Petra Kvitova in round two, a stunning performance that overran by quite a while as the Brit came back to win 2-6 6-3 11-9. That third set was a mammoth task in the sticky heat of the Melbourne evening and may have taken its toll on Robson, who lost to Sloane Stephens two days later.

As for Watson, an elbow injury heading into the tournament didn’t help but she swatted away Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan in three sets. Up against the formidable Radwanska Watson had little chance of claiming even a set and the Pole used the advantage of three years more experience on the circuit to cruise through 6-3 6-1.

Certainly the two disappointments so far are Kvitova – who still struggles to reach the form that won her the 2011 Wimbledon crown – and home favourite Sam Stosur, who is turning into the Tim Henman of Melbourne. Stosur has struggled to live up to home expectations since her debut tournament in 2002 and the ninth seed crashed out 6-4 1-6 7-5 to China’s Zheng Jie in the second.

Kvitova between games last season

Kvitova between games last season

The disappointment in the stands was evident and Stosur, a defeated and depleted wreck, left the court in ignominy yet again. At 28 she’s running out of chances to match the expectations of this home crowd – for Stosur hasn’t progressed further than fourth round in 11 attempts.

Week Two offers an even greater spectacle and Three_Sets will hopefully follow it more closely that the scattergun of matches afforded to us in the opening rounds. Can Azarenka, world number one, see off Serena in an expected semi or will she fall just as in Istanbul late last year? Can Sharapova win her second Aussie crown? And could Ivanovic even find the form that has eluded her for so long?

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Melbourne interest to give chasing pack Brisbane chance

Petra Kvitova at BrisbanePhoto: tripletrouble

Petra Kvitova at Brisbane
Photo: tripletrouble

The Brisbane International marks the start of WTA season when it gets underway on 30 December. Many of the world’s top-ranked players are already down to compete in the tournament that acts as the ultimate precursor to the Australian Open, yet one major competitor may not be fit to contribute.

Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and home favourite Sam Stosur will all compete in Brisbane, but one woman the fans will be desperate to see take part is Serena Williams, who recently revealed she’s had surgery to her big toes over the past week.

Williams has pulled out of an exhibition event in Thailand on 29 December and will instead rest her feet before the big clash Down Under. She expects to be “fit and ready” for the event and we all hope she will make the $1,000,000 tournament.

With Williams potentially not fully fit for Brisbane there is a real opportunity for her rivals to claim an early lead in the race for 2013 ranking points. World number one Azarenka will defend her Australian Open title in January and must be hoping for a good result in Brisbane to kick-start her campaign.

Sharapova, meanwhile, could do with an early win. She’s made the quarter-finals or better in each tournament since Wimbledon yet wasn’t able to secure a tour title in the second half of the 2012 season before the winter break last month. Yet we all know of Sharapova’s brilliance and if Williams feels the effect of that minor surgery the Russian could swoop down and claim the top prize.

However, we must be careful not to ‘over talk’ the top three in the world. Their sole mission this winter is the win the Australian Open and as nice as the Brisbane trophy would be, they won’t risk their bodies and energy levels with a Grand Slam just around the corner.

The books are therefore slightly more balanced and we could see another face lift the Brisbane title this season. Petra Kvitova has now fully recovered from her illness problems that blighted the back-end of the 2012 season while Sara Errani looks set to kick on after last year’s impressive season.

Wozniacki also has a chancePhoto: Haruneskar

Wozniacki also has a chance
Photo: Haruneskar

Sam Stosur has the home crowd for support yet one player who really could turn up trumps is Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane finished 2011 as world number one yet slumped down the ranks this year after a number of disappointing outings. The old adage that form is temporary and class permanent should be applied here, however, for 2012 is over and done with and the 22-year-old can start her tennis afresh after a decent winter break.

The draw hasn’t been made yet but if Wozniacki can avoid one of the top three until the quarters she could provide an upset in the Pat Rafter Arena. Not that a Wozniacki title would be an upset – she’s 10th in the world for goodness sake – but the eyes of Brisbane will be on Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka, meaning this Dane could slip through and thrive without the pressure of last year.

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