Novak Djokovic Outplays Andy Murray to Win Sixth Australian Open Title

Djokovic

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Novak Djokovic’s (1) 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 defeat of Andy Murray (2) in the Australian Open final brought the world No.1 his sixth Australian Open title and his 11th overall. The Tennis Review takes a look at how Djokovic proved himself to be the most modern, the mentally toughest, and the most eloquent of champions.

There is something poetic about Novak Djokovic, the most modern of players, making the Australian Open, the most modern of slams, his own. The Australian Open- the first slam to have roofs and which sells tickets to the final online rather than through ballots-is about as modern as a slam gets, and Novak Djokovic is about as modern, game-wise, as they come.

The Serbian has now won six trophies at the ‘Happy Slam’ (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016), and is now the holder of 11 slams in all, tied with legends Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg, which means the Australian Open, like Wimbledon with Sampras and Federer, and Roland Garros with Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal, has an all- time Great who has won six or more titles at the event in the Open era.

The Serb has perfected the modern style of tennis that current slower hard court conditions such as Plexicushion on the Rod Laver Arena at night command – an athletic, relentless style which he showcases by running balls down, sending them back with his superb hands wherever he thinks they will serve him best, and then, when he finds himself in the right position, letting loose his brutal, deep and unforgiving ground strokes, particularly on that most modern of stroke, the double-handed backhand, to take control.

Those 21st century qualities were all on display in the first set of the 2016 Australian Open final between the top two seeds. Both Djokovic and Murray are experts of the modern games, but some experts are better than others, and in this contest Djokovic tends to have more answers than the Scot when the rallies go into double digits, his ground-strokes that bit more penetrating, that touch more consistent, and, most crucially, his head much more screwed on (he led Murray 21-9 overall and 4-0 in Melbourne before the match).

That general superiority was seen early on in the first set when Murray failed to covert a break point in the first game- and the modern game is now as much about the return as the serve used to be- only for Djokovic to take his break point chance in the second and convert it. The world No.1 did not look back and wrapped up the first set 6-1 in 33 minutes, continuing where he left off with his defeat of Roger Federer in the semi-finals.

One thing that has not changed about tennis, though, is that the mental side accounts for 80 percent of the game, and the technical side about 20. When Murray’s plan B to hit out began to pay off – the only plan that really stands a chance versus his old rival but which seems to take him a while to adopt- and he stopped feeding Djokovic balls to hit at will, and gave him nothing to work with instead, the Serbian’s level dropped, Murray got him deep into the second set, and it looked like the world No.2 was not just filling up the numbers but was actually challenging for the top spot and the big prizes.

However, though the technical side of things might not have been working for him, Djokovic’s mastery of the mental side of things never faltered, and it was that aspect of the match, that strength of the world No.1, which made the difference.

While the Scot growled and shouted expletives at his box when points did not go his way, despite the fact he was doing much better than many had predicted for him, Djokovic kept calm – you could not tell if he was leading by a set or struggling in the second- and at 5-5, Djokovic went from being at best consistent to being at times brilliant, one backhand down the line on the run winner will go down as one of the shots of the fortnight, notably on the big points. The world No.1 took control of the game from Murray, who led 40-0, breaking Murray and his spirit to take the set 7-5 in 80 minutes.

Djokovic had done what he does so well the past couple of years- he had ridden out his rival’s purple patch, kept himself in it, and then hit another gear when the chance came. He went with the momentum in the third, breaking Murray for 2-0, and looked to be in cruise control.

Djokovic, however, though it seems otherwise at times, is not perfect, and, as we saw in his previous matches versus Simon and Nishikori he is vulnerable to his opponent’s level, so when Murray began to spray more errors, especially on the forehand as he pulled the trigger way too early way too often, Djokovic made more errors, too (both men would end the match with more errors than winners- Djokovic with 31-43, and Murray with 40-65). The Scot broke back, the match got as messy as they get with these two, and Murray stayed with the defending champion until the tiebreak.

The first two points of the breaker symbolized the general play and purpose of both these men, one of them trying to extend his record of Open era titles in Melbourne to six, the other trying to put an end to a run of four losing finals – Murray opened with a double fault while Djokovic started his serving account with an ace for 2-0.

That was all Djokovic needed to take control and he flew through the breaker, helped along by another Murray double-fault. At 6-3 and serving on his third championship point, Djokovic ended the breaker as he started it, sending down another ace, joining Roy Emerson at six Australian Opens, and breaking his own Open era record.

As if being the best player in the world, and the most decorated player at a slam was not enough, Djokovic then showed us what a great ambassador he was for the sport, giving an eloquent trophy acceptance speech that paid tribute to all the qualities that made him and the Australian Open the best in the modern business of tennis- hard work, purpose, and, most of all, a passion for the sport to get up everyday and give your very best. Djokovic, like his favorite slam, not only gives it- they live it, too.

What did you think of the match? Let us know in the comments box below.

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Australian Open 2016 Final Preview Novak Djokovic Vs Andy Murray

Australian Open

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Novak Djokovic (1) and Andy Murray (2) will meet in the Australian Open final this weekend for the fourth time in the last five years. The Tennis Review asks if five time champ Novak Djokovic is going to beat four time runner up Murray once again or if the Scot will finally win that elusive title down under. 

Head to head: Djokovic leads Murray 21-9 overall, and 4-0 in Melbourne. The world No.1 has beaten Murray in three finals (2011, 2013, 2015) and in one semi (2012).

Djokovic has been dominating Murray of late, losing to him just once in their last ten matches.

What’s at stake: The world’s Nos 1 and 2 have contrasting records in Melbourne- Djokovic holds the one for most titles won in the Open era (5) while Murray has the record for the most runner-up plates (4).

If Djokovic reaches six titles at the Australian Open, he would tie Roy Emerson for all time trophy wins down under, and would have 11 slams, tying him with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver. That status would also put him firmly in the Greatest Ever debates.

If Murray wins, he would end any discussion about his world No.2 status, and would have three slams at three different events. Most importantly, though, he would end his record run of losing finals in Melbourne.

Form going into the final: Murray was pushed to five sets by Milos Raonic in his semi, and was a little lucky the in-form Raonic, whom he was 3-3 in their head to head with, got injured.

Prior to that match, Murray had been doing what he does best- getting the job done, beating Bernard Tomic in straights in the last sixteen and defeating David Ferrer in four in the last eight.

Djokovic was a little patchy on his way to his semi-final meeting against Roger Federer. The Serbian hit 100 errors in his match with Simon in the fourth round, and hit 27 errors to 22 winners in his three set quarter-final win over Kei Nishikori. However, neither player gave Djokovic much to work with, Simon’s lack of pace and consistency and Nishikori’s error-strewn performance drawing more errors from Djokovic than is usual.

Djokovic did not disappoint against Roger Federer, though, beating the third seed in four sets. The world No.1 really saved his best tennis for his most dangerous opponent, playing his best from the get-go, and his depth of shot and heavy hitting kept Federer pinned to the baseline and in his hands. The defending champion did have a little bit of luck in the fourth set when a lucky net cord went his way and gave him break point for 5-3, but if anyone has earned a bit of luck, it is the man who has has won the most Australian Open titles (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015) in the Open era.

Who is the favorite?: There has probably never been a heavier favorite in grand slam history than Novak Djokovic in this weekend’s Australian Open final if you consider the tennis he showed versus Federer and his record versus Murray.

Andy Murray can win if: The Scot cannot beat Djokovic in a big match the way Federer or Wawrinka can with their naturally aggressive games. But he can change his game to be more aggressive and get the big wins such as he did at the US Open ’12 and Wimbledon ’13 when he defeated Djokovic for the titles, and to some extent the way he played versus the Serb in last year’s Montreal final.

The second seeded Scot has to have a high first serve percentage, be aggressive on his second, improve his return game which is one of the game’s best but has been inconsequential versus Djokovic in recent matches, play aggressively, attack with his forehand and hit behind the Serb. That is not Murray’s natural game, but if he tries to outhit Djokovic from the baseline and is too defensive, he basically plays into the Serb’s hands, gives him the rhythm he thrives on, and the world No.1 wrestles control and runs away with the match.

Murray has to do what he has done on only a few occasions in big matches- go out of his comfort zone, move inside the court when the chance arises, create those chances, and take time away from the player who is better at controlling it than anyone else. He also has to stay calm, channel his anger positively and not get wound up once Djokovic starts to work his way into his head like he did in last year’s final.

Being aggressive and staying positive- it does not always work for the Scot, even when he tries his best, but when it does, it pays dividends, and it is the only chance he has to put an end to his unfortunate record on the Rod Laver Arena and his rival’s much more impressive one.

Prediction: We know Murray can beat Djokovic, but there is no evidence to make us think it is going to happen this weekend. All the signs point to Djokovic to win, and to most likely do it in four sets.

Do you think Novak Djokovic will win a historic sixth Australian Open trophy or do you think Andy Murray is going to finally win the title? Let us know in the comments box below.

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Australian Open Semi-Final Novak Djokovic Defeats Roger Federer Four Things

Australian Open

Photo courtesy of derbi.mk

Novak Djokovic flattered Roger Federer in the most brutal way, saving his best for his Australian Open semi-final versus his old rival. The Tennis Review looks back at the world No.1’s dominant display.

This is the first time one of their Australian Open matches has gone beyond straight sets

Djokovic’s 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win was the first time one of his matches with Federer down under went beyond straight sets. Federer won the first in three in the 2007 fourth round and Djokovic took the 2008 and 2011 semis without dropping a set.

This match looked like it might go the way of their previous encounters when Djokovic ran away with the first set to the loss of just 11 points in 22 minutes and then dominated the second set 6-2,

Djokovic saved his best for Federer

Federer had to fight hard to make a match of it. The world No.1, who hit 33 winners to 20 errors over the course of the match, struck the ball with such depth and weight that for the first two sets Federer was never able to impose himself and found himself the victim of Djokovic’s rhythm as his defensive skills played into the hands of the Serb.

Djokovic return was brutal, too- he won 6/7 points off Federer’s second serve in the first set, and 8/12 in the second. The world no.1 was also serving at his best. Though his first serve percentage was low in the first set- 51- he won 91 percent of those deliveries, and 6/10 of his second serves. In the second, his serve got even better as he made 74 % of first serves in, won 86% of them, and was successful on 4 of the 5 second serves he struck.

The world No.1 could not keep his sublime level going, though, and as his errors increased and his depth and heaviness of shot dropped off, Federer fought back with better serving and improved returning, saving break point at 2-2 with a smash and then breaking for 4-2 with a cross-court forehand hit mid-court that forced a Djokovic error.

The Swiss then held his next two service games to take the third set 6-3 and started the fourth where he left off,  getting to 0-30 on Djokovic’s serve in the opening game.

The Swiss could not keep his momentum going, however, and missed three second serve returns in a row, a surprise considering he had won 6 of 9 points on his second serve return in the third set, to trail 0-1 in the fourth. The Swiss did not let it get to him, though, and a pumped up Federer stayed with Djokovic right into the heart of the fourth set.

Leading 4-3, and returning, Djokovic had a little piece of luck, and if anyone has worked hard to get some it is him, when his passing shot hit the net cord and tore past Federer, earning him break point. The Serbian did not waste his chance, converting for a 5-3 lead with a ripping return that forced an error.

The defending champion then served out the match, a huge forehand on match point forcing an error off the Federer backhand to grab his third win over the Swiss in the last three slams.

Djokovic leads the head to head for the first time

Djokovic was tied 22-22 with Federer in their head to head prior to this match, and in all his long history with the Swiss he had never managed to lead their head to head. On the previous occasions when Djokovic had the chance to get ahead for the first time, such as in Cincinnati and in the WTF Round robin stage last season, the Serbian had failed, but this time he finally managed it.

The win means Djokovic is now ahead of his all top five rivals in their head to heads- he leads Rafael Nadal (24-23), Andy Murray (21-9), and Stan Wawrinka (20-4).

Djokovic will now play his sixth Australian Open final

Djokovic is already the record holder for most Australian Open titles in the Open era, and will be the heavy favorite to extend that record this Sunday. The Serbian will face either Andy Murray, whom he has beaten in all four of their encounters in Melbourne, including three finals, or Milos Raonic whom he has never lost to and who would be making his slam final debut.

For either Murray or Raonic, making the final might spark mixed feelings- if making an Australian Open final is the stuff players dream of, facing Novak Djokovic in the final, in the form he has shown against Federer, is what nightmares are made of.

Let us know your thoughts on the match in the comments box below

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Australian Open Semi-Final Preview Novak Djokovic Vs Roger Federer

Australian Open Federer Djokovic

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Novak Djokovic (1) and Roger Federer (3) will contest a highly-anticipated Australian Open Semi-final this Thursday. The Tennis Review previews the match and predicts the winner.

This is their third match in Melbourne and Djokovic leads the series 2-1

Back when Federer won their first match in Melbourne in the 2007 last sixteen in straight sets, the Swiss was the dominant world No.1 and reigning champion while Djokovic was ranked 15 and had never been beyond the first round in his previous two visits down under.

A year later when they met again, Djokovic was a very different player having made his first Slam final at the US Open (lost to Federer), had beaten Federer on his way to the ’07 Canadian Masters title and had climbed to world No.3. On a surface on which his aggressive baseline game thrived, the Serbian beat Federer in straights on his way to his first slam title.

The two would not meet again on the Rod Laver Arena until 2011 when once again Djokovic, at the beginning of what would be one of his best seasons ever, defeated Federer without dropping a set.

Djokovic has never lost an Australian Open Semi or Final

No one in the Open era has won more Australian Opens than Djokovic and once he gets to the semis or final he does not lose. The only times he has lost since winning his maiden title down under have been in the quarter-finals to Andy Roddick in ’09, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in ’10 and to Stan Wawrinka in ’14.

But while Djokovic in the last four of the Australian Open is a daunting prospect for his rivals, Federer will still benefit more from meeting him there than in the final.

Slam championship matches, and finals in general, is where Djokovic has tended to play his best tennis since Wimbledon ’14, and if you are going to catch him out, then the matches before the final are your best bet.

Slam semis are also where Federer has played his best tennis at the Majors recently- check out his 2015 Wimbledon win over Murray and his 2015 US Open defeat of Stan Wawrinka. Without the extra pressure of a slam championship match in which he would be trying to win that elusive and historic 18th slam, Federer can relax and play the kind of free-flowing tennis he needs to produce on the big points.

This is the third consecutive slam they have met in

In the last two slams, Djokovic and Federer have met as the number one and two seeds.

Djokovic and Federer met in the Wimbledon and US Open finals with Djokovic winning each time in four sets, riding out Federer’s purple patches, and raising his own level when the Swiss’ dropped.

The US Open is where Federer had the best chance of a win- earning 23 break points- but he could only convert 4 of them, and made some critical errors on the attack on big points.

Both men had contrasting straight sets win to reach the last four

Federer  was very impressive in his straight sets defeat of Berdych winning 83 % of the 69 % of first serve he delivered, claiming 24 of 29 points at the net, and striking 48 winners to 26 errors. The Swiss also took risks on the return and won 5 out of 10 break points.

Djokovic may not have been as impressive as Federer quality-wise, but he was impressive mentally in the way he handled a sub-par Kei Nishikori. The Japanese may have brought down Djokovic’s level (the Serbian made 27 errors to 22 winners), but the world No.1 still won in straights, raising his game as the match came to a close, against an opponent who was expected to trouble him.

Neither Federer’s or Djokovic’s quarter-final wins really reveals much about what will happen in their Semi, however. Federer matches up well with Berdych-he  leads him 16-6 and has not lost to him since Dubai 2013- while Kei Nishikori never demanded Djokovic play his best.

In fact, Djokovic’s poor play up to now might benefit him in the long run- the Serbian has not been close to peaking, and can only get better. He will have to against Federer who will likely play the high quality tennis that will demand the Serbian raises his level.

Federer’s serve and attack will be going up against Djokovic’s return and aggressive baseline game

Playing his best on hard courts against Federer has been Djokovic’s biggest challenge the past year or two. While the world No.1 has some big wins on hard versus the Swiss since Federer committed to his current brand of attacking tennis in 2014 with victories in New York, Indian Wells (twice), and the ATP WTF, Federer has gotten 6 of his 7 wins over the last two seasons against Djokovic on hard- twice in Dubai, twice in Cincinnati, once at the ATP WTF, and once in Shanghai.

Against Djokovic on hard, Federer will mix things up, take charge of inside the court and the net, and win a lot of free points on his serve, not allowing Djokovic to get into any rhythm on his return or his ground game.

When Federer plays his best attacking tennis and wins the first set, he can beat Djokovic, and the Swiss has said he believes the Australian Open’s plexi-cushion surface allow him to produce that kind of tennis.

Going up against an opponent as in form as Federer on hard, and with his current self-belief, is going to be tough for Djokovic, but the Serbian will have one big advantage.

The night time conditions will favor Djokovic

Federer’s serving and his attacking game will be a little offset by the slower night time conditions that favor Djokovic so much, and those little things can make a big difference in these high stakes matches.

The Serbian loves the extra bit of time he gets to track down balls and hit a winning passing shot or force an error or to hit one of his penetrating ground-strokes in whichever direction he desires. Those qualities are his strengths and nothing brings those out more than a night time match on semis or finals night on Rod Laver.

Prediction

Federer will have to play great, will have to take charge early, and will have to be quick. The Swiss can do all that, but as Gilles Simon and Kei Nishikori brought down Djokovic’s level, Federer’s will make him raise it. Expect Djokovic to be focused, business like and to work his way into the Federer game, and into another Australian Open final.

Who do you think will win the Djokovic-Federer Australian Open semi-final clash? Let us know in the comments below.

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Australian Open Fernando Verdasco Defeats Rafael Nadal Five Points

Australian Open

Photo courtesy of www.indianexpress.com

Fernando Verdasco’s five set victory over Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open first round was a headlining result for many reasons. The Tennis Review gives you five of them.

Verdasco was one of the most dangerous unseeded players in the draw

A former top tenner and Australian Open semi-finalist, Verdasco, ranked 45, was one of the most dangerous unseeded players in the draw.

The fact Verdasco had not won back to back matches since Wimbledon did not matter. What really mattered was that he had won back to back matches at Wimbledon, and beat rising star Dominic Thiem and big-hitting Martin Kilizan (13-11 in the fifth) on his way to the last 32 there.

Verdasco is a big match player, has over 12 years of experience of playing five set matches at slams ( he has a 90-51 win-loss record), and has a long history of playing elite players on big slam stages. He is not the kind of player you want to see opposite you in the nervy circumstances of a Grand Slam first round.

Nadal had been getting better results the past six months and was expected to make the last eight at least

Rafael Nadal is nowhere close to where he was the last time he came up against Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open in 2009. Back then he was world No.1 and the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion.

The Nadal who Verdasco beat in Melbourne this Australian Open was ranked no. 5, had not won a slam since Roland Garros 2014, and had not made it past the quarters of one since then.

He is a lot better, however, than when he met Verdasco back at the Sony Open last season when he lost in three sets, losing only his second match to his countryman in 16 matches.

Since that Miami loss, Nadal recovered from a heavy defeat to Djokovic at the French Open, another early Wimbledon loss, and his first loss at a slam from two sets to love up when he went down to Fabio Fognini at the US Open. Nadal got his game in good enough shape to take a set off Federer in the Basel final back in October and by the end of the year had gotten back to the top five and ended the season with ATP WTF wins over Wawrinka, Murray and Ferrer.

More recently, he had been to the Doha finals. That last match though was not a confidence boosting one as Djokovic beat him 6-1, 6-2.

This is not the first time Nadal has gone down in a slam outside of the French Open to a big hitting aggressive underdog

If Nadal was a little shocked by the severity of his Doha Djokovic defeat then the last type of player he needed to meet on a hot day on a hard court was the big hitting, aggressive kind. The kind similar to Dustin Brown or Lukas Rosol. The kind who have a tendency to knock him out of Slams in the early rounds.

Fernando Verdaso was certainly aggressive- he struck 90 winners in a high risk approach, particularly on the forehand and mid-court which also saw him hit 91 errors. Verdasco also served 20 aces and won 25/27 net points. That’s about as aggressive as it gets, and more than Nadal, whose overly defensive game has gotten him into trouble many times on a hard court, can handle.

This was the first time Nadal has gone out in the Australian Open first round and a Hard Court slam’s opening round.

Nadal’s only other first round defeat at a slam was Wimbledon 2013 when he lost to big serving big hitting Steve Darcis whose efforts left the Belgian injured and unable to play his second round match.

Only his second first round loss in 44 slam appearances- that is all that needs to be said about Nadal’s form now compared to back when his losing in the first round was something that was simply unheard of.

Rafael Nadal might need to change his coach.

The sight of Nadal chasing Verdasco winners as that 2-0 final set lead vanished before him told you how helpless he was. You only had to watch Nadal’s press conference to see how shocked he was he had gone out to a man who was supposed to test him not upset him.

The confidence, if it had come back at all, was now back to where it was around the time of his US Open defeat to Fabio Fognini. How Nadal is going to rebuild his A game-the steady at times dangerous serving, the aggressive forehand down the line, the pinpoint accuracy of his ground strokes- is going to be interesting to say the least. Is he going to keep trying to put back together a game that lately so easily falls apart or will he do what Djokovic and Federer have done- bring in a new coach to develop the aggressive sides of their games.

Most likely Nadal would keep Uncle Toni, his lifelong coach, as his boss. Another one is unthinkable it seems. But so was, to many, Nadal losing in the first round of this year’s Australian Open.

What do you think was interesting of the Verdasco defeat of Nadal in the Australian Open’s first round? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Australian Open Who Can Beat Novak Djokovic? Wawrinka Federer Nishikori

Wawrinka BNP Paribas Masters

Novak Djokovic is the heavy favorite to win the Australian Open, but there are a few players who have a legitimate chance of defeating him, namely Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. The Tennis Review looks at what makes them likely candidates, and what, other than the five time Champion himself, stands in their way.

Stan Wawrinka, Champion 2014, Semi-final 2015

Possible match stage: Final

Why he is a candidate: Stan Wawrinka was the last man to beat Djokovic in Melbourne when he knocked him out 9-7 in the fifth of their Australian Open 2014 quarter-final. That was nice revenge for his 10-12 fifth set loss to the Serbian in the fourth round the previous year. Last year, the Swiss also took Djokovic to five sets in their Semi-final.

Wawrinka is not only one of the few men to get in the way of Djokovic’s Australian Open title challenge since 2008 (Tsonga and Roddick are the other two), he is also the man who stopped Djokovic completing his career grand slam when he stunned him in the French Open final last season.

The Swiss’ big serving and aggressive game (he hit 60 winners in that four set Roland Garros final) can overwhelm the world No.1 and the slow court gives Wawrinka plenty of time to get the full swing he needs to really unleash his biggest weapon, that single-handed backhand.

What stands in his way (other than Djokovic): Consistency. The Swiss could bring his A game or he could dramatically flunk. You just never know. That’s part of the fun, and the angst, of being a Wawrinka fan.

Kei Nishikori Quarter-finalist 2015

Possible match stage: Quarter-final

Why he is a candidate: Since Wimbledon 2014, Djokovic has lost only two slam matches- the Roland Garros ’15 final to Wawrinka, and the 2014 US Open final to Kei Nishikori.

The 26 year old is an aggressive baseliner with great athleticism and shot-making skills in the mould of Djokovic and can take on the Serbian at his own game when at the baseline. Whoever can establish a comfortable rhythm first dictates their rallies which can be some of the best you will see on the tour.

If Nishikori is going to break through and fulfill his multi slam winning potential, then, at the age of 26, he needs to do it soon, and it might as well be at the Australian Open on the plexi-cushion which suits his game so well. If Nishikori catches fire the way he did in New York in 2014, and he has four matches to get his game in better shape than it was in his recent error-filled Brisbane loss to Tomic, then watching him go up against Djokovic could be one to savor.

What stands in his way (other than Djokovic): Nishikori may be able to compete with Djokovic in a baseline rally or get the better of him in a set, but he lacks the Serbian’s health and stamina, and by the time Nishikori makes their scheduled last eight match, he might have already run out of gas if his earlier matches have gone the distance.

Roger Federer Champion 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010 Runner-up 2009

Possible match stage: Final

Why he is a candidate: On the days Roger Federer can execute his aggressive game against Djokovic, he has swept him away, most recently at the 2015 ATP WTF.

While Federer has not been able to pull off his game plan versus Djokovic in a slam in their last three slam meetings since 2014, this time he could get the world No.1 in the semis where there would be less pressure and where Djokovic tends to struggle more than he does in finals.

If the Swiss can get through his previous five matches unscathed with no strenuous five setters and get off to a quick start against the Serb – and he will need to finish quick, too- he could find himself in his fourth slam final since his 2014 rejuvenation and for the first time without Novak Djokovic in the way of that elusive 18th slam.

What stands in his way (other than Djokovic): His own bad luck- last season Federer came into the draw with a Brisbane trophy only to get bitten by a bee on his hand and knocked out in the third round by Andreas Seppi.

Federer can also be prone to off days where he is a little flat and a little slow – such as the recent one he had versus Raonic in the Brisbane final- and at the age of 34 it can be harder for him to fight through them than when he was in his prime.

Andy Murray Runner-up 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015

Possible match stage: Final

Why he is a candidate: Andy Murray was one of only four players (Karlovic, Wawrinka and Federer were the others) to defeat Djokovic in 2015 when he beat him in the Montreal final, and as a four time runner up in Melbourne, his chances of making the final this season as the second seed are strong.

When Murray is serving well, striking his forehand with aggression and down the line, and is feeling positive then he can challenge him right down to the wire as he did in their epic 2012 semi-final.

What stands in his way (other than Djokovic): Murray already has the toughest of rivals when he faces Djokovic in Melbourne, but as we saw in last year’s final, Murray is often his own worst enemy when playing the five time champ. The Scot has to keep his cool when Djokovic’s intensity rises and the mind games really begin or he will be holding up his fifth Australian Open runners up plate.

Who do you think has the greatest chance of beating Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open? Share your views in the comments below.

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Australian Open Which Title Outsider Can Beat Djokovic? Nadal Tsonga Raonic

Australian Open Nadal

Photo courtesy of www.arabgt.com

Novak Djokovic is the heavy favorite to lift his sixth Australian Open in a fortnight’s time, and it seems only a handful of players have a legitimate shot at beating him. There are though some worthy title outsiders who if things go right for them could deliver a stunning defeat of the ATP’s dominant No.1. The Tennis Review looks at the chances of Rafa Nadal, Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Rafael Nadal Champion 2009, Runner-up 2014

Round they would meet: Final

Why they have a shot: For Nadal to get to Djokovic at this year’s Australian Open, he would also need to get to the final which is where Djokovic might be the toughest but is also where Nadal would be his most dangerous.

The chances of Nadal making the final look slim- the former Champion has not been to a slam final since Roland Garros 2014, and has not gone beyond the quarters since then so is a little out of practice when it comes to making the business end of majors. (His record at slams since RG ’14 is 4r-DNP-QF-QF-2R-3R).

That should not deter Nadal though, the one time comeback king of tennis, and neither should the opposition who will be laying in wait. At the end of 2015, Nadal started beating top tenners again, getting the better of Raonic and Wawrinka in Shanghai, and then beating Wawrinka again at the ATP WTF and Murray and Ferrer.

If Nadal is to go beyond the quarters of this year’s Australian Open then he would likely have to get past Stan Wawrinka again, the man who beat him in the 2014 Melbourne final,and also more recently in the Paris-Bercy quarters, or Milos Raonic who defeated him at last year’s Indian Wells.

With both those men just coming off warm-up trophies in Chennai and Brisbane, Nadal would have to be playing well to get past them and full of the confidence he was missing in the first half of 2015, but which seemed to be about 70% back by his semi-final finish at the ATP WTF.

In the semis, Nadal would then most likely have to get past Andy Murray who he has a huge mental hold over (witness their ATP WTF match last season) and whom he has a good shot at getting past in a match as big as the Australian Open semis.

High on confidence, in slam-final making form- a slam final really would be the best place for a back to his best Nadal to meet Djokovic who has been dominating him of late, and never in such severe fashion as he did last week in Doha when he dropped just three games.

However, Djokovic has dominated Nadal before only to have that dominance turned around. From Indian Wells 2011-Australian Open 2012 Djokovic beat Nadal in seven finals, three of them slams, only for Nadal to beat him three times in a row in ’12, and then come back from injury in ’13 to beat him in two slam finals and take back the ATP world No.1 ranking from the Serbian.

So if anyone is going to come back to making slam finals and ending Djokovic’s dominance it is going to be Nadal.

Their biggest obstacle: Djokovic is never more dangerous than he is in Australian Open finals. He has not lost a single one, and even when Nadal was at his best in the 2012 final and had chances in the fifth set, the Spaniard could not pull it off.

Nerves will also be an issue. Nadal will dearly want a second Australian Open title- he would then join Laver and Emerson with two titles at each Major- and a 15th slam and that great desire is sure to produce huge nerves, the kind Djokovic is the master of sniffing out and working to his favor.

Milos Raonic Quarter-finalist 2015

Round they would meet: Final

Why they have a shot: Milos Raonic, along with Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov, has been the next big thing for a while now. That status looked set to be under serious threat when the 2014 Wimbledon semi-finalist was sidelined from the tour for much of 2015, but after the Canadian’s breakthrough Brisbane title win over Federer, that status might be ready to be updated to The Big Thing.

Raonic has the big weapons to make that happen, and it is not just his serve anymore which devastates his opponents. The world No.14 has worked hard to build up his all round game and can hit lethal ground strokes from the back of the court and move into the court to put away some fine volleys.

A more complete player and looking healthy, Raonic also has the advantages of flying under the radar and the momentum of his Brisbane run. If he made his first slam final and faced Djokovic the moment could either ruin him or inspire him to great heights to grab a first win over the world No.1 and that all important first slam.

Both- that first Djokovic win and that first slam- seem overdue. The Canadian is just the type of player who troubles Djokovic with his huge serve that his great return can barely touch, and the kind of game that when on can overwhelm him.

Their biggest obstacle: Those debut slam nerves tend to get to  most people, and after a lifetime of dreaming about it, the reality can often turn into a nightmare (Look at what happened to Kei Nishikori in his slam final debut).

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Runner-up 2008

Round they would meet: Quarter-finals.

Why they have a shot: Tsonga can claim to have a major part to play in Djokovic’s illustrious Australian Open history- he was the player Djokovic beat in his first ever slam final, and he is one of only three players to beat Djokovic in Melbourne since that 2008 debut win.

In fact, Tsonga is one of the players who has troubled him the most in his career, beating him 6 times, and most recently to the loss of just four games at the 2014 Canadian Open on a medium slow hard court.

The setting of a grand slam quarter-final will be one Tsonga gets up for, too. As much as the Frenchman has the reputation of letting the big moments get to him, it is also when his high risk aggressive game tends to pay off the greatest for him. Last season he demonstrated how the big occasions bring out the best in him when after a long period of injury problems he returned to the tour and defeated Nishikori at the French Open to make the semis and then took defending champion Marin Cilic to five sets in the US Open quarters.

The Australian open quarters versus Novak Djokovic, it does not get much more high profile than that, and if Tsonga is going to pull off the upset of  the tournament, it will be there. Djokovic is at his weakest before the finals and Tsonga will be ready and waiting to see what he can make happen.

Their biggest obstacle: There is a reason Tsonga has just one slam final to his name considering his considerable talent- his shot-making selection which can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in seconds, and usually it is the former to get to the big point and the latter on it. If Tsonga does push Djokovic to five, like he did at the 2012 French Open, he will have two battles going on- one with the world No.1 who so often plays his best when down, and another with his mind that tends to melt just when he needs it to be its most solid.

Which title outsider do you think has the best shot of getting an upset over Djokovic at this year’s Australian Open? Please share your views with us in the comments box below.

Check out our other Australian Open preview articles here: Why Novak Djokovic is the heavy favorite to win the Australian Open

Who has the best shot at defeating Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open? Wawrinka, Federer, Murray, Nishikori

 

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Australian Open 2016 Novak Djokovic Three Reasons He Is The Heavy Favorite

Australian Open Djokovic

Photo courtesy of alef-yaa.com

Novak Djokovic will go into the Australian Open 2016, which starts January 18th, as the heavy favorite. The Tennis Review gives you three reasons why.

1. He has the record for most Australian Open titles in the Open Era (five titles- 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015).

Djokovic won his first slam at the Australian Open 2008 as a 20 year old, defeating then dominant world No.1 Roger Federer along the way. The Serbian has won four more titles since then (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015).

Some of the wins Djokovic has had on those title runs will go down as the greatest in Slam history such as his 2012 5 hr 53 min final defeat of Rafael Nadal and his 2013 fourth round battle versus Stan Wawrinka.

Only Rafael Nadal (2009), Roger Federer (2010) and Stan Wawrinka (2014) have managed to win titles during Djokovic’s dominance.

In the years Djokovic did not win, he retired injured versus Andy Roddick in ’09, was beaten in five by former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in ’10, and was just bettered in an epic fifth set 9-7 by Stan Wawrinka in ’14.

While being dominant at a slam does not mean you are going to keep winning it, the game’s greats tend to have dominated one, or even two, slams in their primes. Roger Federer dominated Wimbledon (seven titles from 2003-2012), Rafael Nadal has been king at the French winning nine titles in eleven years, and Sampras ruled at Wimbledon (seven titles from 1993-2000).

With Djokovic holding ten slams aged only 28, and with a tennis pro’s career going on into their mid 30s, his place in the top tier greats looks assured, and with his dominance looking to be far from over, it seems only natural that he will continue to display all the reasons for his reign- his  aggressive baseline skills, his solid and smart serve, especially on that all important second delivery, his much improved net game, and his all time great return of serve- at his most prolific slam.

Watch Djokovic winning what many believe to be the greatest Australian Open final ever against Rafael Nadal in 2012 in the video below.

2. Djokovic is perhaps the most dominant No.1 ever.

Right now, with 16, 790 points, (12 titles including WTF, 3 slams, 6 ATP 1000s) on his No.1 ranking, Djokovic has the record for most points while at No.1 and has nearly as many points as the world No.2 (Andy Murray) and no.3 (Roger Federer) combined (17, 110).

Considering that just over 13 months ago Djokovic was being chased by Federer for the top ranking after just taking the top spot from Rafael Nadal with his Wimbledon win, Djokovic has gotten stronger the last 18 months and may be at the top of his game right now.

While the only way may be down, taking into his account his good health and smart scheduling, it is hard to see his fall from the top happening anytime soon, or his grip on the Australian Open title loosening.

3. Djokovic is in great form.

Especially when you look at his recent form- only last week Djokovic pummelled Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-2 in the Doha final, hitting 30 winners in 15 games. Doha may not be the best conditions for Nadal,  but he made the final and as world No.5 and a former Doha champion (2014), was expected to do better than winning 3 games.

Djokovic was in no mood to entertain a Nadal battle and in the manner we have come to expect of him these past 14 months, the Serbian, despite not looking that great in the run up to the final, saved his best till last.

That best, according to Nadal after the match, was better than the Spaniard had ever seen anyone play against him.

That best is what Djokovic will bring with him into this season’s Australian Open. A best that will be almost impossible to better.

What do you think about Djokovic’s chances at the Australian Open?

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Milos Raonic Upsets Roger Federer in Brisbane Final Five Interesting Points

Raonic

Photo courtesy of thestar.com

Milos Raonic surprised the tennis world with a comprehensive 6-4, 6-4 defeat of defending champion Roger Federer in the ATP 250 Brisbane final. The Tennis Review looks back at five interesting things about the world No.14 ‘s victory.

1.The win marks only Raonic’s second victory in eleven matches against Federer

Raonic’s only victory over Federer before this Brisbane win was another straight setter- 7-6, 7-5- in the quarter-finals of the 2014 Paris Masters.

Although Raonic trailed Federer 1-9 before their Brisbane final, Raonic had pushed Federer in many of his losses- most notably in last year’s Brisbane final- and had taken four sets off Federer in his nine losses, and lost four sets on tiebreakers.

With both men having such effective serves, their matches are decided on just a couple of points here and there. Federer’s better all round game, shot selection and the experience he brings to the big points have usually made the difference which is what made him the favorite to win the match.

2.Raonic did not play his best but played better than Federer

Raonic was not a total underdog, though. The Canadian had proven he could beat Federer and his serve and attacking game, which work so well on the Brisbane hard courts, made Raonic the man most likely to defeat Federer in Brisbane.

A Raonic win  would, we thought, be possible, but it would be a tough task- if Federer played his best tennis, then Raonic would have to deliver a career best performance to get the win.

Federer, however, did not play near his best, which can be just as tricky to come up against, but Raonic responded perfectly- he did not produce his best either, Federer never demanded it, but Raonic did something just as vital- he  played the better tennis of the two.

Most crucially, Raonic played the better tennis on the big points. In the first set, Federer was struggling on serve, compiling just 46% of first serves in, and at 4-4, the Swiss was break point down for the fourth time. Raonic did not do much on that point- he hit a backhand return mid-court to Federer’s backhand, followed it up with a deep inside out forehand rally ball to Federer’s feet, then repeated that shot to earn the break as Federer netted a forehand down the line.

The rally was nothing spectacular shot-making wise, but it was solid, asked questions of the shaky Federer ground game, and most importantly, it was better than what Federer was producing.

With that decisive break, Raonic kept his cool and served out the first set to 30.

At 3-3 in the second set, Federer looked to be in control of his serve at 30-0, but Raonic hung in there for 30-30 and then hung in there some more when he picked up a forehand behind the baseline, got it back short to Federer’s forehand. The Swiss looked to have the point won but instead hit an error down the line to give Raonic break point. All the Canadian had done was get the ball back in play, and against a struggling Federer that was all he had to do.

The next point was one of the biggest Raonic would play- a break point against Federer when leading by a set in one of the Australian Open’s biggest warm up events. Raonic got his racket on a service down the line, hit a forehand cross court, and then went down the line on the forehand, striking the ball so flat and deep that it produced a Federer error and all important break of the Federer serve. Everything fell into place for Raonic on that point- his great movement, footwork, and his attacking, positive mindset, and he was on the verge of a career best win.

At 5-4, Raonic held championship point. This time his signature stroke, the shot that has helped him earn the reputation as one of the next big things in tennis, did the hard work for him as he struck a first serve to the Federer backhand and got the service winner to seal his first win over one of the big four in an ATP final.

Watch highlights of Raonic’s Brisbane final win over Federer in the video below.

3.Raonic won 20 of 25 points at the net

That might be the most significant stat of them all from this win. The only way to defeat Federer in a straightforward manner on hard courts is to out-attack him.

Raonic delivered on that front. The Canadian won 20 of 25 points at the net while Federer compiled an unusually low 7 of ten ratio. Raonic was helped by Federer not making passing shots he would on a good day, but the previous year’s finalist played with such confidence you have to think he might have got his racket on those passing shots anyway.

4.The win is an ATP 250 but worth a 1000 in confidence before the Australian Open

The 2016 Brisbane title is Raonic’s eighth title and his seventh ATP 250 trophy.

While the title might not be his biggest- he won the ATP 500 Washington 2014 title- it is his most important one considering the opponent he defeated in the final, the significance the event has as one of the few pre-Australian Open warm up events, and the confidence it will give him going into the season’s first slam after a nine month spell troubled by injury.

5.Raonic is now back to where he left off when he was injured 

Back before Raonic started having injury problems in the spring of ’15, the Canadian was up to world No.4 (11.05.2-15), had an ATP 500 title and a Wimbledon semi-final on his 12 month resume, had earned a first career win over Rafa Nadal at Indian Wells, and pushed Federer close in a tight semi-final.

Raonic’s much improved all round game and step by step breakthroughs had many fans hopeful that the talented 24 year old was going to deliver on the promise he showed when he broke into the top 100 a month after his 20th birthday. But his injury troubles had many worried all his hard work might not pay off.

Raonic’s Brisbane final win over Federer means that his progress is not derailed after all- with both men at the stages of their careers, this probably should have been the result anyway.

It was the result of a lot of hard work, an intelligent strategy, and a lot of heart. A hungry heart. Listen to the roar of Raonic after he got the win and you will know just how hungry he is. The Canadian has a huge appetite when it comes to tennis – expect to hear that roar again.

What did you find most interesting about Milos Raonic’s win over Roger Federer in the Brisbane final? Let us know in the comments box below.

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