TENNIS AO2015 – Viktoria Azarenka, twice Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013, beat last year’s US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets with 6-4 6-2 in over an hour and a half in a blockbuster second round match between two former Number 1 players. It has been the first time that two former Number 1 players met in a second round at the Australian Open since 2008 when Maria Sharapova beat Lindsey Davenport. Diego Sampaolo
Azarenka is coming back after a rough 2014 season plagued by a foot injury which forced her to miss five months, including the French Open where she reached the semifinals in 2013. She failed to get through the quarter finals in two other Grand Slams losing to Agnieszka Radwanska at the Australian Open and to Ekaterina Makarova in the US Open. At Wimbledon she lost to Bojana Jovanovski in three sets in the second round.
Vika started the 2015 season with a defeat in the opening match in Brisbane against Czech rising star Karolina Pliskova in three sets after a 3-hour and 13-minute match in which Vika earned a match point at 6-4 5-4. As a result Azarenka did not defend her finalist point of last year and dropped in 44th place and entered the Australian Open unseeded after falling to Number 44 in the WTA Ranking.
However, the atmosphere of the Australian Open once again inspired Vika who won two titles in 2012 and 2013 and won 19 of her last 20 matches at Melbourne Park. Azarenka scored her first win against a top-ten player since Brisbane 2014 when she defeated Jelena Jankovic.
Azarenka, who beat 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens in the first round, showed her superb form breaking Wozniacki in the first eight-minute game of the match and raced to a 3-0 lead with a double break but she hit five unforced errors from 4-3 40-0 allowing the Danish player to break back to draw level to 4-4. From that point Vika reeled off eight of her next ten points. She converted on her fourth break point in the ninth game to take the 5-4 lead before serving out for the set in the second set Vika fought back from 0-3 to win the second game before breaking serve twice in the third game for 2-1 and then in the seventh game for 5-2 when she converted on the first of her three break point chances. Vika earned her match point with an ace and converted it with a backhand volley to close out the match after one hour and 38 minutes. Caroline failed to earn a single break point in the second set. The Dane was broken five times and won just six of her 19 second-serve points. On the contrary Azarenka hit 31 winners and won 81 percent of her net points.
Azarenka celebrated the win with a dance after the match.
Azarenka, who will take on Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the third round round, is favorite to reach the quarter finals where she could face 18-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams who beat Vera Zvonareva 7-5 6-0 in a re-match of the 2010 Wimbledon final. Williams, who has not got through the quarter final stage in Melbourne since 2010, went down 3-5 15-40 on her serve but she saved three set points before reeling off nine consecutive games. Williams hit a 204 km/h ace. Williams will face Elena Svitolina in the third round.
“I think it was a very good match, very high quality. I am happy with the way I stayed consistent throughout the whole match. I think there are always things you can improve but it’s a great progress from one match to another. I just want to keep trying to stay in that path and continue to grow. My net game was pretty well today. I think I took those chances and really went for it. I am mostly pleased about that today. I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. I just want to be able to control what I can. It’s my preparation towards the next match. That’s really what I am going to do and not think about what’s going to happen. Just be really well prepared”, said Azarenka.
“I wish I would have won. You can always look back and say: I wish I had done this. At the end of the day she played better than me today and hats off to that.. I just need to go back and work hard. It’s early, still beginning of the year. I have still 10 months to make up for this. Hopefully it’s still going to be a good year”, said Wozniacki.
“Vika feels great here. I think it’s a curse I have gotten here. I have made semis, then quarters, then fourth round, then third round, this year second round. It’s kind of gone that way the last few years. Hopefully I am going to break that next year and start going the other way. I love this tournament and I am so sad to be out already. Obviously it was a tough draw for both of us. But you know, she came on top and played better. There is always a little bit of luck in the draw. Sometimes it looks tougher, but it’s opponents you like to play. Sometimes it looks easy, but it’s some maybe you don’t feel comfortable playing. At the end of the day you can see there have been so many upsets. There is nothing that comes easy. I am sure I could have had it a little bit easier”
“When you play against a top player like Caroline, she is capable of doing pretty much anything on the court. She is not going to give anything away. She is really going to try to make you miss and go for bigger shots. I think the level of play is required to step up your game to play against a player like her. We had a lot of long rallies, high quality of tennis. When you face somebody who is that good, you have to raise your level.”
Azarenka has always played well in Melbourne. During the post-match press conference she explained the reason of her success Down Under.
“Love the energy of people here. The whole country is like sport nation. They really love sport. I am really excited. It’s the first Grand Slam of the year. What the tournament has been doing to improve is very impressive. I think you feel very excited every time you come here to play. I guess like I am going to adopt an Aussie kid or something like that”
Coach Of Elena Rybakina Dismisses Allegations Of Poor Behavior At Australian Open
Stefano Vukov explains why he believes his actions were appropriate during Rybakina’s semi-final win over Aryna Sabalenka.
The coach of Elena Rybakina has denied accusations that he was berating his player during her clash with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open by saying he was just doing his job.
Stefano Vukov was seen multiple times during Rybakina’s semi-final match being highly animated and making a series of critical gestures towards his player when she produced mistakes. The display prompted criticism on social media with former player Laura Robson saying on Eurosport ‘I don’t know how she (Rybakina) copes. He seems to be so negative on the side.”
Croatian-born Vukov has been working with the reigning Wimbledon champion since 2019 and previously coached Anhelina Kalinina. He was briefly a player on the Futures and Challenger Tour before going to America to study. Growing up his family left Croatia when he was a child due to the war and he spent roughly 15 years living in Italy.
“It’s easy to just take clips and then make something controversial. This is part of our sport, it’s normal,” Vukov told Fox Sports Australia when quizzed about his behaviour.
“There’s 10,000 people out there, to get the attention of the player is definitely not easy and people don’t understand that. I have to scream out something if she’s off track.
“People can interpret that how they want but at the end of the day we’re just doing our job. Coaching is now allowed and she’s using it in the best possible way.”
This year is the first time that coaching is allowed during matches at the Australian Open but it is only allowed if players and coaches are on the same side of the court and there is no hindrance towards their opponent.
Continuing to hit back at the criticism, Rybakina’s mentor says during the match there are key moments where he needs to remind her of certain tactics. Dismissing suggestions from some that his approach is heavy-handed in any way.
“I think with all the emotions, sometimes the player doesn’t understand which situation of the match they are, which is absolutely normal,” he said.
“You know, you’re flowing, you’re into a rhythm, which has happened also yesterday, for example, against Azarenka. A set, 3-1 up, two breakpoints. She stopped playing, Elena, for a couple of games, for example, instead of going for the point a little bit more.
“There are moments we try to remind her, Hey, this is the moment to push. This is the moment to defend.
“It’s normal. There are moments of the match the player doesn’t remember, for example, or in a pressure point, which side to defend more, where to serve more.
“We are there to remind them. So obviously I think that coaching is very important. I think that the player, if the player wants to listen, obviously, they should use it as much as possible, because there is some matches that a few points make the difference. Look at the beginning of yesterday. 3-2 down, two bad choices. That’s it. That’s it. She could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up.
“I don’t know, something like this. Not to be negative, but it’s just our job, right? That’s what we are there for.”
In a previous interview with Tennis Majors last year, Vukov said he and Rybakina clicked together due to ‘his energy against her calmness.’ He also described the world No.25 as ‘a hardworking perfectionist, which sometimes works against her because sometimes she gets frustrated when things are not perfect.’
Rybakina will play Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open final on Saturday. As a result of her run in Melbourne, she will crack the top 10 next week for the first time regardless of how she performs in the final.
Australian Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals
On Friday in Melbourne, the men’s singles semifinals will be played.
Novak Djokovic is just two matches away from tying Rafael Nadal with 22 Major singles titles, the most-ever in men’s singles. Djokovic is 18-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals, and hasn’t lost a match in Australia in over five years. Can anyone prevent the nine-time champion from winning this event for a 10th time?
In the semifinals, Djokovic faces Tommy Paul, who prior to this fortnight had never advanced beyond the fourth round at a Major. In the other men’s semifinal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 in Australian Open semis, takes on Karen Khachanov, who is into his second semifinal in as many Majors.
Also on Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will be played, as well as the mixed doubles championship match. The women’s doubles semis include top singles names such as Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff, and Jessica Pegula, while the mixed doubles final will serve as Sania Mirza’s retirement match.
Karen Khachanov (18) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena
Tsitsipas has achieved his fourth semifinal in Australia out of the last five years, but he is yet to advance farther. And he’s only claimed one of 10 sets in his three previous Australian semis, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2019, and Daniil Medvedev in both 2021 and 2022. Stefanos is now a perfect 9-0 in 2023, and has only dropped one set during this fortnight.
Khachanov is into his second consecutive Major semifinal. The 26-year-old is vying for his first Slam final, and his first final at any event in over a year. Karen has dropped two sets through five matches, and has now defeated three straight seeded players (Tiafoe, Nishioka, Korda).
Tsitsipas has dominated their rivalry to date, leading their head-to-head 5-0. Four of those matches were on hard courts, and three of them were straight-set victories for the Greek. As per Tennis Abstract, out of the 13 sets they’ve played, Karen has only managed to break seven times, while Stefanos has broken 17 times. And with plenty of Greek support in the crowd at this event, Tsitsipas is a considerable favorite to reach his second Major final.
Novak Djokovic (4) vs. Tommy Paul – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena
Djokovic has claimed 22 of his last 24 sets in Australian Open semifinals and finals, with the only two sets lost both coming in the 2020 final against Dominic Thiem. His domination in the last two rounds of this tournament throughout his career is only rivaled by that of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Despite the hamstring injury that Novak suffered leading up to this tournament, he has only dropped one set to this stage. In his last six sets, he’s only allowed his opposition an average of two games per set.
Paul has taken advantage of an open quarter of the draw, in which seven of the eight seeds lost within the first two rounds (Ruud, Fritz, Zverev, Berrettini, Schwartzman, Kecmanovic, Davidovich Fokina). Yet even as many pointed to Tommy as the favorite to make the semis amidst younger, inexperienced Americans in this quarter (Brooksby, Wolf, Shelton), Paul did not faulter. The 25-year-old is one of the fastest players on tour, and will debut inside the top 20 on Monday.
In their first career meeting, of course Djokovic is a huge favorite. Prior to this fortnight, Paul had only once reached the second week of a Major, when he advanced to the fourth round six months ago at Wimbledon. As per ESPN’s Brad Gilbert, Novak has beefed up his forehand this fortnight, averaging five mph’s more on that wing than a year ago. And he’s also been serving excellently – Djokovic has only been broken three times in the entire tournament, with all three breaks coming against Grigor Dimitrov.
Other Notable Matches on Friday:
Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna vs. Luisa Stefani and Rafael Motos – This is Mirza’s last event before retirement, following a storied doubles career where she has won three Majors in women’s doubles and three Majors in mixed doubles. Her and Mahesh Bhupathi won this event as a team 14 years ago, the first of Sania’s six Slam titles. Bopanna won the mixed doubles event at Roland Garros in 2017. Stefani was a bronze medalist in women’s doubles at the Tokyo Olympics. This is a first Major final for both her and Motos.
Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) vs. Marta Kostyuk and Elena-Gabriela Ruse – Krejcikova and Siniakova have won six Majors as a team, three of which came last year, including this tournament. This is Kostyuk and Ruse’s first event as a team since Roland Garros, where they made the quarterfinals.
Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (10) vs. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (2) – Gauff and Pegula were finalists at Roland Garros last June. This is Aoyama and Shibahara’s third Major semifinal, but they’re yet to go farther at a Slam.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka Outlasts Linette To Reach Maiden Grand Slam Singles Final
Aryna Sabalenka is into her first Grand Slam singles final where Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina awaits.
Aryna Sabalenka overcame a tricky opening set to defeat Magda Linette 7-6(1) 6-2 to reach her first Grand Slam singles final.
Sabalenka committed a handful of errors in the opening set but was more consistent in the second set.
Linette has a lot to be proud of having reached her first Grand Slam semi-final but couldn’t match Sabalenka’s power throughout the match.
The fifth seed will compete for her first Grand Slam singles title against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Saturday.
It was Linette who made the fast start as she waited for the errors from the erratic Belarusian.
After conceding an early 2-0 deficit, Sabalenka found her range and came roaring back with some great angles to move the pole off the court as she levelled the opening set at 2-2.
However the Pole continued to be aggressive and take the match to Sabalenka, playing a perfect counter-attacking match with some incredible backhand down-the-line winners.
Sabalenka continued to serve well but when it came to the pressure points on return, handed points to Linette with some clumsy unforced errors.
In total there were 15 unforced errors as Linette secured a late service hold to force an opening set tiebreak.
Sabalenka recomposed herself as she played a stunning tiebreak with her backhand doing most of the damage.
The Belarusian sealed the tiebreak 7-1 to take the opening set with the second set seeing her go from strength to strength.
Sabalenka continued her sustained pressure in the second set as she broke twice for a 4-1 lead.
There was a resilient fightback from Linette as she created three break points in the next game and after failing to break, saved three match points to force Sabalenka to close out the match.
However Sabalenka obliged with sealing the win and reaching her first Grand Slam singles final.
After the match Sabalenka admitted she played great tennis once she found her rhythm, “I’m super happy that I was able to get this win, she’s an unbelievable player, she played really great tennis,” Sabalenka was quoted by the BBC as saying in her on-court interview.
“I didn’t start really well and then in the tie-break I found my rhythm, started trusting myself, starting going for the shots. It was great tennis from me on the tie-break.
“I actually felt like I hit really slow balls today but I’ve got good genetics I guess.”
Sabalenka will now play Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s showdown with the Belarusian leading the current head-to-head 3-0.
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