Master 1000 Rome: Djokovic withstood the charge of young upstart Raonic - UBITENNIS
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Master 1000 Rome: Djokovic withstood the charge of young upstart Raonic

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TENNIS Master 1000 Rome – In the battle of the ATP stars; Novak Djokovic (2) against Milos Raonic (8), it was the legitimate star, Djokovic who was able to withstand the barrage of shots from the raising star Raonic to get to another Roma final. Cordell Hackshaw

Interviews, results, order of play, draws of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome

In the battle of the ATP stars; Novak Djokovic (2) against Milos Raonic (8), it was the legitimate star, Djokovic who was able to withstand the barrage of shots from the raising star Raonic to get to another Roma final 6-7 7-6 6-3. “It is a big win because it gives a lot of strength and belief that I can carry into tomorrow’s final and also to the continuation of the season” Djokovic said after the match. However, there many instances in the match where it looked as though Djokovic was not going to get to the final and Raonic was on the verge of one of the biggest wins of his young career. The Canadian threw everything he had at the Serbian including 17 aces for the match but in the end, Djokovic showed why he is at the top of the game.

The tension in the match was high from the very onset as both players were showing their A-games. Raonic was serving well in addition to his monster forehands and Djokovic had his trademark defensive skills and backhand on full display. All break point opportunities were quickly dismissed by the servers including the first set point Raonic had in the 10th game to take the set 6-4. A huge serve from the Serbian saw the Canadian pushing the backhand long. With such high quality tennis as both players won most of the points on their 1st serve (79% Raonic and 77% Djokovic), a tiebreaker seemed best to decide the matter of the first set. Djokovic raced out an early 3-0 lead but then Raonic showed why he is most definitely on track to be a future world’s number one. Raonic won the next 6 points earning himself three more set points. Djokovic was able save two but Raonic would not be denied a fourth time. He took the set 7-6(5) in just over 70 minutes.

Raonic was not about to rest on his laurels. He knew that if he wanted this match, he had to take it in straight sets. He became aggressive on the Djokovic serve and earned himself early break points but he was unable to capitalize as his opponent sensed the imminent danger of being down a set and a break in the match. Djokovic pressed the issue in the 4th game and earned himself a break point. Raonic missed the first serve for the first time on break point and Djokovic was all over the weaker 2nd serve and earned the break. However, he was unable to consolidate the break as Raonic broke back. Both players remained on serve avoiding any more break chances for the remainder of the set. Hence a tiebreaker would yet again decide the matter. The Serbian again took an early lead in the breaker but this time, he produced some of his best tennis of the match to maintain it and was able to take the set 7-6(4).

Raonic blinked and perhaps forgot that he was dealing with an opponent of the highest caliber in the form of Novak Djokovic. Opportunities for an upset of this magnitude are rare in these Master Series 1000 events and Raonic had his chances and he let them slipped. Djokovic wrest control of the decisive set with an early break going up 2-0. Raonic did all he could to maintain his serve and get the break back but Djokovic proved too strong. The world’s number 2 broke again in the 9th game to close out the set 6-3 and take the match 6-7 7-6 6-3.

“He played better than me and he deserves to win.” Raonic stated after the match. He added that his main game plan was to hold serve which would allowed him to be more aggressive on his return game. However, he acknowledged how difficult it is to do this against the current top players like Djokovic. It should be some consolidation for the Canadian that Djokovic had high praise for him in the press conference noting that he is definitely the future of the game singling out his serve and movement around the court. However, Djokovic will be concentrating on dealing with Rafael Nadal who he will face in yet another Master Series 1000 finals. Djokovic’s mind is also on the devastating floods taking place in his homeland of Serbia right now stating that his thoughts are ever with victims.

ATP

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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