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Sharapova vs. Venus headlines Day 5; Keys faces test at Australian Open

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Maria Sharapova (left) and Venus Williams will meet in the third round of the Australian Open. (Getty Images)

Storylines and matches to watch on Day 5 of the Australian Open (click here for the order of play):

Rivalries revisited: In intriguing third-round matches, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams headline the night session on Rod Laver Arena, while Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic turn back the clock (hopefully) to resurrect the rivalry that once determined the No. 1 ranking. “You certainly know what she’s capable of,” Sharapova said of Williams. “But when you’re out on the court, you’re not thinking how many titles she’s won or how experienced she is. You’re thinking about what you need to do to step it up in a certain situation and win as many points as you can.”

The Steps and Djoker Show: Novak Djokovic is in such prime form that he’s an overwhelming favorite to continue his roll against the 34-year-old Czech Davis Cup hero, Radek Stepanek. But Stepanek loves to entertain the crowd, and if he gets down in this match, you can fully expect these two to drop into exhibition mode. Could be fun.

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  • Published On Jan 17, 2013
  • Big opportunity for U.S. women on Day 4 of Australian Open

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    Serena Williams is scheduled to play singles and doubles on Day 4. (Gepa Pictures/Imago/Icon SMI)

    Storylines and matches to watch on Day 4 of the Australian Open (click here for the order of play):

    Serena Williams does double duty: Forty-eight hours after rolling her right ankle in her first-round victory, Williams will start her day against a young Spaniard, Garbine Muguruza (second match, Rod Laver Arena), before playing doubles with her sister Venus in the afternoon. The obvious intrigue is Serena’s health. The five-time Australian Open champion practiced Wednesday in a closed session, avoiding the prying eyes of fans and reporters who wanted to assess her movement. USA Today‘s Doug Robson, one of the few who was invited to the private workout, reports that she was moving relatively well.

    If there were serious concerns about that ankle, I suspect that Serena and Venus would have withdrawn from doubles by now. All signs point to go.

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  • Published On Jan 16, 2013
  • Keys, 17, highlights Day 3 schedule at Australian Open; Harrison gets Djokovic

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    Madison Keys’ opening-round victory was her first win at the Australian Open. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    Storylines and matches to watch on Day 3 of the Australian Open (click here for the order of play):

    Seeds should cruise: Make reservations for a nice dinner with your loved ones, do those three loads of laundry piled up in the corner or, hey, just turn in early to grab some much-needed rest after two days of nonstop action. The Day 3 schedule is one you can probably skip with a fairly clean conscience, as the matchups may not keep even diehard fans glued to their couches. The marquee names in action, such as Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Tomas Berdych, and Agnieszka Radwanska, should sail through against their unseeded opponents.

    Americans offer intrigue: If you are going to stick around, the Americans are your best bet. Ryan Harrison, cursed once again with a tough draw, takes on Djokovic for the second time at a Grand Slam tournament, after losing in straight sets at Wimbledon last year. The 20-year-old Harrison also lost to Djokovic in straight sets in their other matchup (the 2011 Cincinnati Masters), but he’ll be as amped up as ever for his evening clash on Rod Laver Arena.

    Also on Day 3, the only seeded American on the men’s side, No. 20 Sam Querrey will meet Brian Baker for the first time. On Day 1, the 27-year-old Baker made his Australian Open debut by defeating Alex Bogomolov Jr. in five sets.

    But the one to really watch — and I realize I sound like a broken record here — is Madison Keys. The 17-year-old has a great chance to upset the No. 30 seed, Tamira Paszek. Keys’ first-round victory means that she’ll break into the top 100 after the tournament.

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  • Published On Jan 15, 2013
  • Serena, Federer headline Day 2 storylines at Australian Open

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    Serena Williams

    Serena Williams opens her Australian Open against Edina Gallovits-Hall of Romania. (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

    Storylines and matches to watch on Day 2 of the Australian Open:

    Serena Williams starts her campaign: Williams begins her quest for a third straight Slam against No. 108 Edina Gallovits-Hall. The oddest thing is she’s scheduled second on Hisense Arena, the No. 2 show court, after another women’s match that has the potential of going a full three sets. Not the ideal schedule for Williams, who should be off the court in less than an hour. Conventional wisdom says Williams is at her most vulnerable in the first three rounds when she’s still playing her way into form. But with her title run in Brisbane just two weeks ago, there’s no reason to doubt she will come out sharp Tuesday.

    [Wozniacki speaks out about Serena impression]

    Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro take on France: Both men come into the Australian Open with no competitive 2013 match play, and they don’t have easy matches to start. Federer will face Benoit Paire (third match, Rod Laver Arena), a flashy Frenchman (aren’t they all?) on the rise. Expect Federer to come through, but Paire can be tricky because of his unpredictability. Del Potro has drawn another Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino (fourth match, Hisense Arena), probably the toughest qualifier to get into the main draw. Mannarino beat Del Potro in straight sets at Queen’s in 2011. Mannarino will be used to the conditions with three qualifying matches under his belt.

    Bernard Tomic riding eight-match winning streak: Time to put your money where your mouth is, Bernie. Tomic is talking a big game, touting his win over Novak Djokovic at the Hopman Cup despite the fact it was an exhibition (the 20-year-old Aussie also won the Sydney title last week). He’s gone so far as to question Federer’s ability to make their potential third-round date. I wouldn’t expect a letdown for Tomic, who will take on Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer in the first night match on Rod Laver Arena. With an opportunity to show his home crowd that he really is worth the hype, expect Tomic to step up. The key is to get off the court quickly. Long matches early in the tournament won’t bode well for him later, such as the third round.

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  • Published On Jan 14, 2013
  • Djokovic, Sharapova, rising American headline Australian Open Day 1

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    Novak Djokovic

    Novak Djokovic opens his Aussie Open against ex-No. 12 Paul-Henri Mathieu. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

    Preview: Roundtable | American Outlook | Draw AnalysisLindsay Davenport Podcast
    Men: Seed Report | Preview | Women: Seed Report | Preview

    Day 1: Schedule of Play | TV Schedule | Men: Scores | Draw | Women: Scores | Draw

    Storylines and matches to watch on Day 1 of the Australian Open:

    Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova open play: No. 2 Sharapova faces fellow Russian Olga Puchkova at Rod Laver Arena, while No. 1 Djokovic has a slightly trickier task against French veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu. This will be Sharapova’s first match of 2013 after withdrawing from a warm-up tournament because of what she described as a collarbone injury. She’s been practicing hard at Melbourne Park for two weeks, so she should come out firing. Watch for some early rust while she finds her range before she runs away with this one. Puchkova, ranked No. 107, hasn’t won a completed main-draw match since the U.S. Open. Djokovic, whose only warm-up was the Hopman Cup, is 4-1 against Mathieu — the only loss coming in Paris in 2006.

    Nine Americans in action: How many Americans will be left standing after Day 1? No. 25 Venus Williams (first match, Hisense Arena) and No. 20 Sam Querrey (fourth match, Court 6) lead nine U.S. players. They should cruise, but the rest of the slate has dicier propositions. Steve Johnson (first match, Court 3) and Michael Russell (second match, Court 2) face No. 10 Nicolas Almagro and No. 5 Tomas Berdych, respectively. Coco Vandeweghe (first match, Court 8) plays erratic No. 27 Sorana Cirstea. Cirstea knocked Sam Stosur out of Melbourne last year, but she hasn’t had a good start to the season.

    Two others to watch: Ryan Harrison looks to avenge his Olympic loss to Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo (second match, Court 8). Brian Baker’s first career Australian Open match is against Alex Bogomolov Jr. (third match, Court 20).

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  • Published On Jan 12, 2013
  • ATP Buy/Sell/Hold: Expect shuffling, perhaps shakeup, among top four

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    Novak Djokovic

    Novak Djokovic finished at No. 1 for the second straight year. (Erick W. Rasco/SI)

    As the 2013 season approaches, BTB looks at the top crop of players to see who we’d buy, sell or hold. Today we examine the ATP. 

    2013 Preview: WTA Buy, sell, holdRankings risers, sliders | Players under pressure | Del Potro in top four?

    Novak Djokovic (Current rank — No. 1): If you haven’t bought Djokovic’s stock for the long haul by now, you’re probably out of luck. Having successfully defended his 2011 season by once again finishing as the year-end No. 1, Djokovic has demonstrated once and for all that yes, he is this good, and yes, he’s here to stay. After a year of winning the Australian Open, grabbing six titles and making the semifinals or better at 15 of 17 tournaments, Djokovic doesn’t have much left to prove. The one thing he’ll have his eye on in 2013? The French Open. It’s the one Grand Slam missing from his collection, and with Rafael Nadal on the mend he could have a chance to complete the career Grand Slam. Even if he doesn’t, there’s no reason to think Djokovic can’t replicate his 2012 success, if not better it. Verdict: Buy. 

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  • Published On Dec 18, 2012
  • WTA Buy/Sell/Hold: Top three will be tough to break up in 2013

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    Victoria Azarenka

    Victoria Azarenka could be the first non-American since Martina Hingis to repeat Down Under. (Carlos M. Saavedra/SI).

    As the 2013 season approaches, BTB looks at the top crop of players to see who we’d buy, sell or hold. Today we examine the WTA.

    2013 Preview: Rankings risers, sliders | Players under pressure | Del Potro in top four?

    Victoria Azarenka (Current rank — No. 1): If you asked me a year ago about Azarenka, I would have said I knew she was good. I just didn’t know she was this good. The career accomplishments of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams overshadowed Azarenka’s surge to the top this year, so it’s easy to forget that the 23-year-old went on a 26-match winning streak and looked unbeatable through the first quarter of 2012. Can she replicate that success? Probably not. Azarenka is in the same boat Novak Djokovic was last year, where expectations have to be tempered given their breakout years.

    But one thing made clear toward the end of the season was that Azarenka is for real. It would have been tempting to dismiss her undefeated first quarter as taking place during a time when Williams wasn’t exactly at her best. Yet Azarenka showed she had closed the gap in pushing Serena deep into the third set at the U.S. Open and again playing her tough at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. She’s already demonstrated that she can beat Sharapova regularly on hard courts. If Azarenka can prove the same against Serena in 2013 — she’s shown signs of getting closer — she can put all the questions to rest about her legitimacy as a No. 1. Verdict: Hold.

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  • Published On Dec 17, 2012
  • 2013 Preview: Who needs to step up

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    Caroline Wozniacki

    Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki hopes to get back into the top five in 2013. (Carlos M. Saavedra/SI)

    Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Who doesn’t need a strong 2013 season? Those on the cusp of retirement need a strong year to justify soldiering on. Others must hit the brakes on a slide and get their careers back on track. Still others need a solid showing simply to remind pundits, fans and even themselves what they’re capable of doing — that they are still relevant and worthy of great accomplishments.

    That said, here are six players in critical positions going into 2013.

    [2013 Preview: Rankings movers and sliders]

    Caroline Wozniacki: It took a strong push from Wozniacki at the end of the season to remain in the top 10, but it seems like ages ago that she was No. 1. The troublesome aspect of the Dane’s 2012 wasn’t just that she was passed by the likes of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska. The problem is she spent the majority of the year playing well below her level, losing to players she spent much of her young career beating.

    No one expected Wozniacki to defeat Williams or Sharapova on a regular basis — though she finally notched her first win over Serena, in Miami — but Wozniacki’s stable game and competitive tenacity led to reliably consistent results in the past. That consistency went out the window. A crisis of confidence and lack of clarity in her game crept in. She went from a player who bagged six titles in both 2010 and 2011 to going trophy-less until Seoul in the fall. Back-to-back first-round exits at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open didn’t help. The woman who sat atop the rankings for two years became an afterthought.

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  • Published On Dec 11, 2012
  • Rankings risers, fallers in 2013

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    Milos Raonic

    Canadian No. 1 Milos Raonic won two more tournaments in 2012. (Carlos M. Saavedra/SI)

    After two weeks of reviewing 2012, we begin to look ahead to the 2013 season today. Here are five players who should surge and five more who should plummet in the rankings.


    Milos Raonic: He’s already on the verge of the top 10, rising from outside the top 30 at the beginning of 2012 and finishing at No. 13. There were early signs that this might have been Raonic’s year, as he consistently pushed the likes of Roger Federer into tight three-set matches in the first half of the season, seemingly on the cusp of finally notching that signature victory to announce his status as a consistent threat to the top guys. But the 21-year-old-Canadian, not unlike John Isner, repeatedly found himself on the wrong side of razor-thin matches.

    “I’ve been sort of knocking on the door,” Raonic said after losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 25-23 in the third set in the second round of the Olympics. “Hopefully, next time around I can sort of kick it down and make the most of it, really try and sort of find my way through this. If I can get through one of these, it just opens up a lot more doors. The difference is just going to come down to how I deal with the big points.”

    The big-serving Raonic, who led the tour in service games won, proved he had the weapons and fitness to grind through a long season and continue to improve. His primary issue is his return game. That will spell the difference in 2013. I like Raonic’s maturity, hunger and willingness to learn. He’s still the baby of the ATP Tour, at least when it comes to the top 20. I’d be shocked if we didn’t see him at the World Tour Finals next year. 2013 Projection: Top 8. 

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  • Published On Dec 10, 2012
  • Watch List: WTA Championships kick off in Istanbul; ATP race to No. 1

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    Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams at WTA Championships

    Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams headline the WTA Championships in Istanbul. (Tolga Bozoglu/EPA)

    ISTANBUL — The WTA produced some big-time results this year: the triumphant return of Serena Williams, a dominant Slam-winning No. 1 in Victoria Azarenka and the completion of a career Grand Slam for Maria Sharapova with her victory at the French Open.

    With the tour long knocked for its unpredictability and one-and-done champions, the WTA’s elite not only won a flurry of matches but also reliably progressed to the late rounds of tournaments to solidify some long-standing rivalries — or non-rivalries, as it were — and plant the seeds for some new ones. All in all it’s been a great year for the WTA, and it all culminates here this week at the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships at the Sinan Erdem Arena.

    Here’s what you need to know about the year-end Championships.

    The format: The tournament features round-robin play with the eight players drawn into two groups of four. Each player will meet the other three in their group over the first four days of the competition, with the top two women from each group advancing to the semifinals. The first-place player from each group will play the second-place player from the other group in single-elimination semis, with the winners moving on to the championship match. The winner stands to make $1.75 million if she goes undefeated. (For a full breakdown of prize money, click here.)

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  • Published On Oct 22, 2012