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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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Denis Shapovalov Handles Opelka To Reach Australian Open Fourth Round

The Canadian managed to get past his 6ft 11 American opponent in a match that lasted over three hours.

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Denis Shapovalov - Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Denis Shapovalov is into the fourth round of the Australian Open after beating 23rd seed Reilly Opelka 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and two minutes on Margeret Court Arena.

 

The Canadian hit 39 winners and served 10 aces while limiting Opelka to just 17 aces. In contrast the American finished the match with a costly 46 unforced errors as Shapovalov booked his spot in the second week of the tournament.

” I think I did a really good job against Reilly (Opelka) today and I took a lot of my chances and managed to get a read on his serve,” said the world No.14.

Both players were doing a good job early on when it came to holding serve and at 3-3 it was the Toronto native who had three chances to break. On his third opportunity broke serve with his trademark backhand winner.

However, that break didn’t last long for Shapovalov as he struggled to consolidate the break and ultimately gave the break right back with a poor service game and it was back on serve at 4-4.

The first was decided by a tiebreaker and Shapovalov got the crucial break to take a 3-1 lead in the breaker which was enough for him to take the first set.

The second frame was much like the first with both players holding serve until 3-3 when Opelka broke serve. He was able to consolidate and serve out the set to level the match.

The third set stayed on serve until 3-2 and the momentum swung back in the Canadians favor. He got the break of serve this time using his forehand to great effect and served out the third to take a two sets to one lead.

Just like the third set the fourth set had no breaks until 3-2 when again the number 14 seed broke Opelka serve again and that break of serve was enough for him to serve out the match and the win.

After the match in his post-match interview, he was asked how he was able to limit his opponent to just 17 aces in the match.

” It’s never easy against Reilly (Opelka) but I am happy I was able to pull through and make it to the next round”. He said.

Shapovalov will face the number three seed Alexander Zverev in the round of 16.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon

For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime (Manuela Davies/USTA)

Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.

 

The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.

The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.

It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.

The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.

The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.

The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.

For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.

Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.

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‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open

Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.

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World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.

 

The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.

Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.

“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.

A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.

O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.

“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”

Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.

“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”

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