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Top 10 Questions For Australian Open 2015

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TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2015 – All ready to crack open the ball cans at the year’s first Grand Slam. A top 10 of intriguing questions to be played out at the Australian Open. By Suzi Petkovski

 

1. Can Novak Djokovic become the leading men’s winner in the Open era? A fifth win in Melbourne would elevate the Serbian ace above four-time champs Andre Agassi and Roger Federer. The world No.1 is already the only man to pull off a three-peat at Rod Laver Arena, in 2011-13.

2. Will another surprise winner seize his moment? Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic stunned the tennis world and themselves to emerge shock Australian and US champions in 2014. Can the new guard – led by Kei Nishikori, rapidly improving Brisbane finalist Milos Raonic and shot-maker Grigor Dimitrov – take down the Big 4 in Melbourne?

3. Will Rafael Nadal end his lean run? The 14-time Grand Slam champion is seeded No.3 here, and coming in with just eight matches since Wimbledon – his only ATP hit-out for the year a shock loss to No.127 Michael Berrer in Doha. ‘I don’t consider myself one of the favourites here,’ Rafa declared on Saturday. ‘I’d be lying if I said I was ready to win.’ Nadal faces the battle-hardened Mikhail Youzhny first up and a possible third round with Lukas Rosol – both of whom have beaten him in majors. The first week will be telling. But even if he is ‘nowhere near’ 100 percent, write off Rafa at your peril.

4. Can Roger Federer add to his legend with Grand Slam No.18? Far from creaky at 33, the incomparable Swiss has all the form coming in, and is stronger and more relaxed than a year ago. ‘Clearly things are more calm this year,’ Federer told the press in his pre-tournament presser. ‘Last year, having the new racquet, having gotten through the back issues… I came here also with Stefan Edberg helping me out. There was many changes that took place in the six months leading into [Melbourne].’ The tour-leading match-winner in 2014, Federer is, like Djokovic, eyeing a fifth AO title – a first for the Open era.

5. Can Andy Murray rebound as a grand slam contender? Has it really been 18 months since that historic Wimbledon win? Murray had a transitional year in 2014, in a difficult return from back surgery in September 2013. But he never lost before the quarters in the Slams (making the semis in Paris) and finished the season strongly. The decision to stick with new coach Amelie Mauresmo, promote Kim Sears to fiance, ink a new clothing deal and part ways with his long-time travelling coach and trainer, all confirms Murray has hit ‘reset’ on his career. No better place to announce his return to Big Four status than a deep run at the Slam where the No.6 seed is a three-time finalist.

6. Can Serena end her five-year drought in Melbourne? Since her last sparkling final win over Justin Henin in 2010, the world No.1 was absent injured in 2011, upset in 2012 by Elena Makarova, and hampered by injury in losses to Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic. The 33-year-old was erratic at the Hopman Cup in Perth – starting with her double-espresso win over Flavia Pennetta after losing the first set 6-0 – but no one can elevate their game like Serena. Unseeded champion here in 2007, the American superstar is still full of surprises.

7. Will Maria Sharapova unseat Serena at No.1? The Russian is seeded a hot No.2 and won a cracker Brisbane final over Ana Ivanovic. The upset loss last year to Dominika Cibulkova still stings. ‘I’m determined to do better,‘ Maria vowed in her tournament preview. ‘I lost in the fourth round here [last year]. That’s not a result I want.’ Maria’s Australian Open win in 2008 – also over Ivanovic in the so-called ‘glam slam’ – was the last time a woman won the title without dropping a set.

8. How long can Victoria Azarenka survive as a non-seed? The 2012-13 champion and former No.1, Azarenka is arguably the most dangerous floater ever (Serena Williams was also a two-time winner when she won unseeded in 2007). Out of the top 40 following a first-round loss in Brisbane to Karolina Pliskova, the 25-year-old is battling back from a forgettable 2014 ruined by injury and a romantic break-up. Vika has avoided a seeded player, but the draw has put Sloane Stephens in her path for the third straight year in Melbourne. Theirs is the most anticipated first round of the tournament. Should she keep her unbeaten streak over the American, Vika will likely face No.8 seed Caroline Wozniacki next.

9. Can Simona Halep break through for her first major? The surging Romanian made her first major quarterfinal here only a year ago but bigger things are expected for the diminutive all-courter after her impressive run to the Roland Garros final and rise to No.2 last season. Halep quickly adjusted to new coach Victor Ionita, winning the year’s first event at Shenzhen and has recovered from the bout of gastro that forced her withdrawal from Sydney. How will the 23-year-old deal with heightened expectation? She’s definitely not flying under radar this year.

10. Can one of the Aussie young guns make his move? New No.1 Aussie Nick Kyrgios, 19, his mate Thanasi Kokkinakis, 18, and Brisbane and Sydney quarterfinalist Bernard Tomic, 22, hope to serve up a new Australian era. Kyrgios is battling to be fit, while Kokkinakis, who won his first Grand Slam match here last year, has the toughest draw, in No.11 seed Ernests Gulbis. Tomic, in his seventh Open, has the strongest lead-up form. ‘They have a lot of talent, a lot of potential,’ noted Andy Murray. ‘I think the Aussies are going to have a good time in the next 10 or so years watching all of them play.’ Life after Lleyton could start here.

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ATP Montreal: Ruud Thrashes Auger-Aliassime To Reach Semis, Mixed Results For Brits

Casper Ruud eased past Felix Auger-Aliassime to set up a semi-final meeting with Hubert Hurkacz in Montreal.

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Casper Ruud (@OBNmontreal - Twitter)

Casper Ruud only dropped three games against Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the semi-finals in Montreal.

 

The Norwegian is into the semi-finals in Canada after a dominant performance over home favourite Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Ruud dominated from the start of the match as he produced a sublime performance only committing nine unforced errors throughout the match to reach the last four.

Ruud has had a good season on hard courts this season and is looking to make his second consecutive hard court Masters 1000 final after reaching the final in Miami.

Speaking after the match Ruud admitted he got a bit lucky but is happy to be in the last four in Canada, “It was one of those days where everything goes in one favour and luckily it was in my favour,” Ruud told the ATP website.

“With a player like Felix, you need to rely on some margins going your way. I didn’t expect them to all go on my side. It was a bit of a difficult start. I got broken but then was able to turn everything around. I hit my spots, made the shots I needed to and make him hit a lot of balls. That was the game plan and it worked well.

“The last hard-court tournament I played in was in Miami where I reached the final. I wanted to make a deep run here. I didn’t think it was too likely, being the first hard-court tournament back, but I have been playing great from the first point in the first match.”

Ruud will look to claim his first Masters 1000 title this week and rise to four in the world in the ATP rankings.

Next for Ruud is the only Masters 1000 champion left in the draw in the form of Hubert Hurkacz.

Hurkacz defeated the in-form Nick Kyrgios 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 6-1 to reach the semi-finals in Canada.

The eighth seed produced some big-serving and bold decision making as he reached his first semi-final since winning the Halle title.

Heading into their match, Ruud leads the head-to-head 1-0 where the Norwegian was victorious at Roland Garros this year.

Mixed results for British hopefuls

Meanwhile it was a mixed night for British players as Dan Evans reached his second career Masters 1000 semi-final while Jack Draper exited the tournament in the last eight.

Evans defeated Tommy Paul 1-6 6-3 6-4 to reach a landmark moment in his career in Montreal.

After his win Evans described the win as ‘extra special’ as he looks forward to a semi-final meeting with Pablo Carreno Busta, “The crowd, that’s what they buy their tickets for. That’s live sport,” Evans told the ATP website.

“You never know what’s going to happen. It was an amazing match, amazing atmosphere. I played on the court before. In the day it was amazing, but at night, there’s something about playing sport at night, it’s extra special.”

Evans will now play Carreno Busta in the last four after the Spaniard defeated British qualifier Jack Draper 7-6(4) 6-1.

Draper defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier in the week but was no match for the resilient Spaniard.

Saturday’s semi-final will be the first meeting between Evans and Carreno Busta.

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Canada Daily Preview: Semifinal Saturday Features Ruud/Hurkacz and Pegula/Halep

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Simona Halep on Friday in Toronto (twitter.com/NBOtoronto)

The singles and doubles semifinals will be played on Saturday in Canada.  In Montreal, a new men’s singles champion will be crowned, and Hubi Hurkacz is the only semifinalist to have previously won a Masters 1000 event (Miami, 2021).  Hurkacz is also in the doubles semifinals, so it will be a busy day for Hubi.  In singles, he faces a finalist from this year in Miami, Casper Ruud.

 

In Toronto, Simona Halep is the only former champion remaining, and is two wins away from her third title at this event.  On Saturday, she plays Jessica Pegula, who is into the semifinals in Canada for the second straight year.  Like Hurkacz, Pegula is also in the doubles semifinals.  She’s teaming with Coco Gauff, who will become the new doubles No.1 if they win the title.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Saturday’s play gets underway at 12:00pm local time in Montreal and 1:00pm in Toronto.


Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Casper Ruud (4) – Not Before 3:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Hurkacz ended the winning streak of Nick Kyrgios on Friday, taking him out in three sets for the second time this season.  But Ruud was even more impressive on Friday, bouncing back from a marathon victory on Thursday over Roberto Bautista Agut to overwhelm Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, dropping only three games.  Predominantly known as a clay court player, Casper is also establishing himself as a considerable threat on hard courts.  That’s especially true in North America, where Ruud has claimed 16 of his last 19 matches.  But Hubi’s success on this surface remains superior, as does his serving prowess.  While Ruud prevailed in their only previous encounter, just a few months ago at Roland Garros, Hurkacz is the favorite on a hard court.


Jessica Pegula (7) vs. Simona Halep (15) – 1:00pm on Centre Court in Toronto

Halep has been dominant through four rounds this week, advancing without the loss of a set.  Simona has quietly put together a strong record of 36-10 this season, though she’s yet to achieve a big result, with only one title at the 250 level at the start of the year.  Pegula only dropped one set this week, to defending champion Camila Giorgi.  And similar to Halep, she’s accumulated a solid record this year (29-14) without winning a title.  This will be the first career meeting between these two players.  Considering Halep is now 25-6 lifetime at this event, and the way in which she has easily prevailed all week, her superior movement and defense should be enough to reach her fourth final in Canada.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Pablo Carreno Busta vs. Dan Evans – Carreno Busta has played superbly this week, eliminating the likes of Jannik Sinner and Matteo Berrettini without losing a set to this stage.  Dan Evans has survived two grueling three-setters in as many days.  This is their first career meeting.

Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Karolina Pliskova (14) – Haddad Maia has earned three big wins across the last three days over Iga Swiatek, Belinda Bencic, and Leylah Fernandez.  Pliskova is looking to reach the Canada final for the second straight year.  They have split two previous encounters, both on hard courts.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Canada Daily Preview: Quarterfinal Friday in Montreal and Toronto

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Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime on Thursday in Montreal (twitter.com/OBNmontreal)

Canadian No.1 Felix Auger-Aliassime has thrilled crowds in his home country on back-to-back days in Montreal.  On Friday, he faces Roland Garros finalist Casper Ruud, who outlasted Roberto Bautista Agut on Thursday in a marathon match that went well over three hours.  Other ATP action in Montreal includes Washington champion Nick Kyrgios taking on Halle champ Hubi Hurkacz in a rematch from the Halle semifinals.

 

Coco Gauff has survived two extremely dramatic affairs in as many days, ousting both Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka in third-set tiebreaks.  In the quarterfinals, she plays a two-time champion of this event, Simona Halep.  Toronto’s matches on Friday also feature Jessica Pegula and Karolina Pliskova, both of whom reached the semifinals or better of this tournament a year ago.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play gets underway at 12:00pm local time in Montreal and 1:00pm in Toronto.


Coco Gauff (10) vs. Simona Halep (15) – 1:00pm on Centre Court in Toronto

Between Wednesday and Thursday, Gauff spent exactly six hours on court during the heat of the early afternoon, in two physically and emotionally taxing matches.  By contrast, Halep spent less than half that time on court across those two days, and is yet to drop a set this week.  And their three previous encounters have all been straight-set victories for Simona.  She prevailed on grass three years ago at Wimbledon, on a hard court this year at Indian Wells, and on clay this year in Madrid.  And considering Halep will be the far fresher player on Friday, there’s not much evidence to suggest a different result in her fourth meeting with Coco.


Casper Ruud (4) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (6) – Not Before 2:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

What will Ruud have left after a three-set match that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours?  Auger-Aliassime had a much easier time on Thursday, avenging a loss from less than a week ago in the Los Cabos semifinals over Cam Norrie.  Casper and Felix have split four previous meetings at all levels: two at Challenger events, and two at Masters 1000 events such as this.  Three years ago in Miami on a hard court, Auger-Aliassime won in three sets.  Last year in Madrid on clay, Ruud prevailed in straights.  Accordingly, a hard court would seem to favor Felix, especially considering his superior serving abilities.  Most of Casper’s big results have come on clay, though he did reach the final of Miami earlier this year.  I expected the Canadian to play nervously at this event, as Auger-Aliassime was only 3-3 lifetime here ahead of this week, and had lost four of his last six matches since June.  But Felix has embraced the spotlight of playing in front of a packed Canadian stadium, and should be favored over a depleted Ruud on Friday.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Nick Kyrgios vs. Hubert Hurkacz (8) – Between singles and doubles, Kyrgios is 13-0 over the last 10 days.  Hurkacz saved a match point on Thursday, eventually defeating Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a third-set tiebreak.  Earlier this year in Halle when he played Nick, Hubi also prevailed in a third-set tiebreak.

Karolina Pliskova (14) vs. Qinwen Zheng – Both players were victorious after tough three-setters on Thursday: Pliskova over Maria Sakkari and Qinwen over Bianca Andreescu.  This is their first career meeting.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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