Hopefuls many, no clear winner

Melbourne: Picking a women’s singles champion at the Australian Open could resemble a lucky dip this year with Serena Williams’ continued absence again leaving the door ajar. Who will kick it open is a question that a legion of tennis pundits find difficult to answer with any degree of certainty.

The American decided against trying to defend her title, stating she was not yet fully up to speed. In her absence the spotlight falls on those hoping to try and establish themselves as long-term successors to the greatest player the women’s game has seen.

Simona Halep arrives as World No.1 but is yet to win a Grand Slam title, having fallen agonisingly short at the French Open last year when she was ambushed by the ferocious hitting of Latvian Jelena Ostapenko. The others in fray are Garbine Muguruza, Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams and not to forget Russian Maria Sharapova along with German Angelique Kerber.

“We have nobody who can take the bull by the horns, since Serena has been out of the game, started her own dominance,” twice Australian Open champion Chris Evert said here Friday. “On the other side of the coin, it’s probably more intriguing because you have 20 players that can win a Grand Slam. You couldn’t have said that 10 years ago, even five.”

Evert, however, believes it could be Romanian Halep’s turn. “I say this without a lot of conviction, but I feel like Halep had such a disappointing 2017 in the Majors, and I feel she is determined to turn that around,” Evert informed. “I just feel like she’s playing the best tennis right now, playing the most solid tennis.”

With so many players in contention and so much firepower, handling the stress will be the key, according to former men’s winner Mats Wilander. “They are so wild and raw that it’s hard to pick a winner,” the Swede stated. “The way they serve and the speed they hit the ball you can be out of the tournament in 45 minutes.”

 

DelPo sets up Agut date

Wellington, Jan 12: Juan Martin del Potro reached his third final in his last four tournaments when he beat David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4 to set up an Auckland Classic tennis tournament decider against Robert Bautista Agut here, Friday.

The Argentine World No.12 now goes into a final against 2016 Auckland champion Bautista Agut, who came from behind in an epic a battle against Dutchman Robin Haase featuring three tie-breaks.

After nearly three hours on court, the classic encounter was settled by a Bautista Agut lob that landed on the line, ending the match at 6-7(7/9), 7-6(7/3), 7-6(7/5).

“Unfortunately the match cannot have two winners and I’m so happy I won,” said the relieved Spaniard, who sank to his knees at the end. “The end was unbelievable when I saw the ball in I went crazy, I was so happy.”

The pair battled in a match highlighted by long rallies mixing powerful drives into the corners with cross-court floaters.

Del Potro and Ferrer’s rallies were generally shorter as they slugged it out from the baseline. After Del Potro raced through the first set, Ferrer held breakpoints when leading 2-1 and 4-3 in the second set as the Argentinian, seeded 12th in the Australian Open next week, struggled with his first serve.

But both times Del Potro was able to rely on his running forehand to save himself and at 4-4 he broke the Spaniard before successfully closing out the match with two aces on his own serve.

Results

Juan M Del Potro bt David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4

Roberto Bautista Agut bt Robin Haase 6-7(7/9), 7-6(7/3), 7-6(7/5)

agence france-presse

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