Bits & Pieces from the World of Tennis: 3rd of March 2014 - UBITENNIS
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Bits & Pieces from the World of Tennis: 3rd of March 2014

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TENNIS – Mahesh Bhupathi’s International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) is taking shape. The AEGON Championships are looking for a new director. Who is skipping Indian Wells, Shanghai Dubai and Queen’s win awards and Bubka Jr.’s comeback.

 

Bhupathi’s IPTL
Some of the biggest names in today’s (and yesterday’s) tennis have signed up to play for Mahesh Bhupathi’s International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), a team competition set to debut on 28th November 2014 and last for 16 days, right in the middle of the tennis offseason.

The creation of this tournament has caused some controversies in the tennis world, given that many tennis players have spent the last years complaining about the length and arduousness of the regular tennis season. World No.1 Rafael Nadal has been one of the most vocal critics, claiming that “…the bad thing about the calendar is how it is made and obligates you to play tournaments all year”.

The project, however, has attracted major interest from many players and would appear to be a huge success (I guess money cures fatigues!). More than 70 players, current and retired, signed for an American style draft that took place yesterday in Dubai.

The competition format is that of matches played between 4 city-based teams (Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore and Bangkok), home and away. Each match will consist of five separate sets disputed in men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, mixed doubles and legend’s doubles. There will be no-ad scoring, and a tiebreak will be played on the score of 5-5.

Each team is allowed to sign a maximum of 10 players, with team owners still able to add players even after yesterday’s draft.

Team Rosters so far:
Mumbai: Rafael Nadal, Gael Monfils, Pete Sampras, Rohan Bopanna, Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza, Fabrice Santoro

Dubai: Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Goran Ivanisevic, Janko Tipsarevic, Nenad Zimonjic, Malek Jaziri, Martina Hingis
Singapore: Tomas Berdych, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Serena Williams, Bruno Soares, Pat Rafter, Daniela Hantuchova, Nick Kyrgios
Bangkok: Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Victoria Azarenka, Daniel Nestor, Carlos Moya, Kirsten Flipkens

Of the 28 players drafted so far, 21 are Grand Slam champions and 14 are present or past No.1s.

AEGON Championships looking for director
Ross Hutchins, Andy Murray’s great friend, is in the running to become the new AEGON Championships (aka Queen’s) tournament Director, according to the PA.

The 29 year old doubles player was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in December 2012 and underwent more than six months of chemotherapy before revealing he was in remission in July 2013. He then made his competitive comeback in January 2014 and lost his first two matches partnering fellow Brit Colin Fleming before finally recording his first win in the first round of the 2014 Australian Open.

The name of the new director is set to be announced within the next two weeks.

Who’s missing Indian Wells?
The 2014 BNP Paribas Open (aka Indian Wells) starts today with the women’s qualifying draw. It’s a mandatory tournament for both men and women, so all players eligible are forced to play and can opt out only due to injury.

Two men’s seeds have withdrawn before the start of the tournament: World No.4 David Ferrer pulled out due to an adductor injury while 28th seeded Benoit Paire is out with a knee injury. Bernard Tomic, Janko Tipsarevic and Filippo Volandri are among the non-seeded players sitting out the tournament due to injury.

Of the 32 women’s seeds, four are missing from the tournament: Maria Kirilenko and Jamie Hampton are out due to injury, while Serena and Venus Williams are continuing their 13 year long boycott of the tournament. British No.1 Laura Robson, who hasn’t played since her first-round loss to Kirsten Flipkens at the Australian Open, is also out due to her ongoing wrist problem.

Bubka Jr comeback
Sergei Bubka Jr, son of world-famous pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka, made his return to the ATP major tour 15 months after suffering a near-fatal incident in Paris, when he fell from a third-story apartment trying to exit a bedroom he was blocked in.

Bubka lost his first round qualifying match in the Dubai 500 tournament but it was still a great achievement for someone who spent more than six months on crutches and is lucky to be walking, let alone playing competitive tennis.

The Ukrainian has also played three other qualifying matches in 2014, winning one in the Bergamo Challenger three weeks ago.

Shanghai, Dubai and Queen’s win 2013 ATP Awards
The Shanghai Rolex Masters, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the AEGON Championships have all been announced as the Tournaments of the Year 2013 in their respective categories (ATP World Tour Masters 1000, ATP 500 and ATP 250).

It was the fifth straight win for the Shanghai tournament since its first edition at this level in 2009. The Dubai Championships collected the trophy for the 10th time in the last 11 years, while the AEGON Championships ended the longest reign in the ATP Awards (11 straight wins for Bastad at ATP 250 level) winning the honour for the first time.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina Play for the Women’s Championship

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Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

2022 was a trying year for Aryna Sabalenka.  She completely lost her form on her second serve, striking double-digit double faults in many of her matches.  And in her third Major semifinal within a 14-month period, she again lost in heartbreaking fashion, by a score of 6-4 in the third for the third straight time.  Many athletes never recover from such issues and scar tissue.  But in just the first month of 2023, and after working with a biomechanics specialist to fix her serve, a calmer, more confident Sabalenka has achieved her first Major singles final.

 

2022 was a milestone year for Elena Rybakina.  Six months ago, the 23-year-old had only won two WTA titles at smaller events, and reached one Major quarterfinal.  Then she surprised the tennis world by winning Wimbledon this past July.  However, she was granted no ranking points due to the controversial backlash to Wimbledon’s ban of Russian and Belarussian athletes.  And in the ensuing months, Elena was often banished to outer courts at bigger events, including this one, with court assignments unbefitting of a reigning Wimbledon champion.  Rybakina used all of this as motivation, and has achieved her second Major final just six months after her first.

Also on Saturday, the men’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Will an Aussie team triumph for a second year in a row?  Wild cards Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler will face Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski, in a first Major final for both of these partnerships. 


Elena Rybakina (22) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (5) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Sabalenka is a perfect 10-0 in 2023, and 20-0 in sets.  This is the fourth time out of the last six Majors she has advanced to the semifinals or better, and she already owns two Slam titles in women’s doubles with Elise Mertens.  Regardless of Saturday’s result, Aryna will reach a new career-high of No.2 on Monday.

Rybakina had lost five of her last eight matches heading into this fortnight, but has found her form as the event has progressed.  She has dropped only one set through six matches, to last year’s runner-up Danielle Collins.  Elena will debut inside the top 10 on Monday, as high as No.8 if she wins this final.  And she would be solidly inside the top five with her points from Wimbledon.

Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 3-0, though all three matches have gone three sets.  In fact in all three, Sabalenka won the first and third sets, while Rybakina won the second.  They’ve played four years ago in Wuhan, two years ago in Abu Dhabi, and two years ago at Wimbledon. 

Aryna’s vastly-improved serve and demeanor have been crucial in advancing her to her first Major singles final.  But can she avoid double faulting, and remain calm, in what is the biggest match of her career?

No player’s serve has been more effective during this tournament than Rybakina’s.  As per Tumaini Carayol on Twitter, more than 50% of Elena’s serves have gone unreturned, which results in a lot of easy points.  And no player remains more calm on court than Rybakina, despite the berating comments her coach may share during the match

I expect Elena’s experience winning Wimbledon six months ago to prove extremely valuable on Saturday, and slightly favor Rybakina to win her second Major.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic Seals Final Showdown With Tsitsipas After Paul Victory

Novak Djokovic will look to capture his tenth Australian Open title on Sunday.

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Novak Djokovic (@atptour - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic is into the Australian Open final after a 7-5 6-1 6-2 victory over Tommy Paul.

 

Djokovic will have the chance to claim his tenth Australian Open title and his 22nd Grand Slam title after a dominant straight sets victory.

Paul gave a good account of himself in his first Grand Slam semi-final but was ultimately outmuscled by Djokovic.

Djokovic’s bid for history will now go through Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday.

Competing in his first Grand Slam semi-final, Paul settled into the match playing some dynamic tennis to force Djokovic into early errors.

Djokovic started the match in rather erratic fashion but managed to save a break point to hold in the opening game.

However the former world number one found his range eventually as some world-class returning capitalised on nerves from the American as he broke and held for a 3-0 lead.

The Serb’s variety in pace and depth of shot was too much for the American as he dictated the tempo of the rallies.

Once Paul held serve to settle into the match in the fourth game, Djokovic’s onslaught continued as another break in the next return game secured another break and a comfortable 5-1 lead.

What would follow would not be in the script though as Djokovic produced more and more errors with Paul’s stubborn and dynamic style finding confidence as he punched holes through the Serb’s game.

Djokovic couldn’t convert set point and was broken twice as Paul reeled off four games in a row to level the opening set at 5-5.

In the end Djokovic would produce his best tennis when it mattered most with the Serb holding to love and then breaking on his first opportunity to take a tight opening set 7-5.

Although the opening set was littered with errors and erratic from both players, Djokovic produced a consistent standard in the next two sets as he improved the level on serve.

Once again Djokovic took a 5-1 lead in the second set and despite late resilience from Paul, the Serb held his nerve to wrap up a two sets to love lead.

The world number 35 had his moments of world-class tennis but ultimately it was Djokovic who was too strong as a further two breaks of serve sealed his place in a tenth Australian Open final.

After the match Djokovic commented on the state of his hamstring injury, “It’s great, and perfect and 100%,” Djokovic gladly commented in his on-court interview.

“Yeah – we’ll say against Stefanos in two days! Of course you are not as fresh as at the beginning of the tournament but we put in a lot of of hours in the off season. I know what’s expected and I have been in so many positions in my career.

“It’s a great battle, with yourself and the opponent. Long rallies and you could feel the heavy legs in the first set but I was fortunate to hold my nerves. After that I was swinging through the ball more and I am just pleased to get through another final.”

Djokovic and Tsitsipas will face each other in a second Grand Slam final after Djokovic won the Roland Garros final in 2021 in five sets.

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Novak Djokovic’s Father Say Australian Open Flag Incident Was ‘Unintentional’

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Srđan Đoković - foto: Fonet

The father of Novak Djokovic has said he will not be attending his son’s semi-final match at the Australian Open to avoid the possibility of any ‘disruption’ after being caught up in an incident on Wednesday.

 

Srdjan Djokovic has been forced to issue a statement after a video surfaced online of him posing with fans waving Russian flags with one of those also bearing the face of Vladamir Putin. Witnesses reported there was pro-Russian chanting with one of those also wearing a T-shirt bearing the letter ‘Z’ which is a symbol for the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags, as well as items with the Z symbol, are banned from the Australian Open as a result of the war in Ukraine. Tournament organisers have implemented the rule since day two of the Grand Slam following an incident involving a Ukrainian player Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl in her match against Kamilla Rakhimovaon on the first day. 

62-year-old Srdjan said he never had any intention of causing controversy and said his family only want peace in the world. Although in his press release, he didn’t offer any apology for taking part in the photos. There had been claims that Srdjan was heard saying a pro-Russian phrase in the video but this has since been disproven. Journalist Sasa Ozmo confirmed the phrase used by him was ‘Ziveli, Ljudi’ which translates to ‘Cheers guys’ and also means goodbye. 

“I am here to support my son only,” Srdjan said in a statement on Friday. 
“I was outside with Novak’s fans, as I have done after all of my son’s matches, to celebrate his wins and take pictures with them. I had no intention of being caught up in this.
“My family has lived through the horror of war, and we wish only for peace.
“So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home.”

No explanation has been given as to why Srdjan decided to pose for the pictures to begin with when it was visibly clear that the fans were holding a Russian flag. Especially given the current political situation with the war in Ukraine which the United Nations say has caused at least 18,358 civilian casualties, including 7,031 deaths. 

Ukraine’s Marta Kosytuk, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open women’s doubles tournament, said she was upset by the incident that took place. Speaking to reporters on Friday, she didn’t weigh in on saying if Srdjan should be banned from the tournament altogether but did point out that such situations ‘can’t be left unseen.’ 

“It hurts a lot because there were specific rules, they were printed out outside that this is not allowed to bring flags and so on,” said Kostyuk.
“Really hurts that they were out there for some time, they were on the court, in the stands as well.
“I don’t know, I just don’t understand, it really hurts and I don’t understand how this can be possible.”

As for Djokovic, he hasn’t commented on the matter leading up to his semi-final clash with Tommy Paul. The former world No.1 is bidding to win the Australian Open title for a historic 10th time in his career.

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