TENNIS – Day 4 ladies action was going along quite placidly until the match up of Serena Williams v Heather Watson. Watson came within two points of scoring this major upset but alas the 20-major champion Williams hung tough for the win Cordell Hackshaw
Serena Williams (1) found herself in an unexpected battle against British hopeful Heather Watson on Centre Court. It goes without saying that Williams was the clear favourite. However, after the American took the opening set 6-2 in 25 minutes. However, in the 2nd set, things got complicated. Watson spurred on by the clearly partisan crowd, broke Williams for a 3-2 lead. Williams broke back and was up 4-3. One figured that Williams would take control of the match but it was Watson who went into the ascendancy. She broke Williams for 5-4 and served it out to level the match at a set apiece.
The crowd was rabid. They were fervently cheering on their countrywoman. Watson fed off this charge and spurred herself on into the the 3rd set as Williams became noticeably rattled by the fever pitch. Williams was erratic and soon found herself down 0-3, a double break. Williams put her head down and reeled off 4 straight games for a 4-3 lead. However, serving to extend this lead at 4-4, she was broken at love. Watson served for the match up 5-4 and the crowd was delirious. Serena looked to be on her way out and her hopes of a “Serena Slam” and the “Grand Slam” were in serious jeopardy.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played the crowd here like that. They were really vocal – in between points, during points… I’ve never heard boos here, that was new for me. They were rooting for their champion. You can’t blame them – I would be too,” said Serena.
As Watson served for the match, Serena quickly asserted herself to get two break points to level it. The crowd became utterly unstoppable, calling out during points and at one point booing Serena, a 10-time champion here. It was distasteful. Serena held it together to level the match 5-5. Watson missed her opportunity as she came within 2 points of winning the match at deuce. Serena sensing the hesitation and the need for her own urgency, broke Watson and held comfortable for 6-5.
Now the pressure was all on Watson’s shoulder to serve to stay in the match. The Briton could not withstand the moment as Serena soon broke her to take the match 6-2 4-6 7-5 in 2 hours and 14 minutes. Watson said this of the match, “I was two points away so I’m pretty disappointed. Even now I just wish I could go back and play one point different to see if it would have changed things. It was a tough, tough ask. I was super, super close. That’s what hurts the most.”
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to win … How I pulled through I really don’t know. I was thinking I would be hanging around to watch Venus play. I couldn’t keep up with her. I thought maybe it just wasn’t my day. I should have won the second set and I didn’t. This was a match I think I would have lost last year or the year before. Mentally I’m stronger now. The older I get, the tougher I get upstairs,” said Serena after the match.
Serena will play her older sister Venus Williams (16) in the Round of 16 on Monday. Venus took out Aleksandra Krunic 6-3 6-2 in an hour and 11 minutes. Venus is looking to be in impeccable form. Her serve in particularly which has recently been a liability is now a valued asset. Venus is winning 85% of the points on her 1st serve and 73% behind her 2nd serve. These are amazing numbers which would definitely bode well for her against Serena.
Maria Sharapova (4) and Victoria Azarenka (23) both were tested in their matches but got through in straight sets. Sharapova was broken by Carmila Begu (29) in the opening game of the match. However, Sharapova broke back and ran away with the match up 6-4 5-0 before Begu was able to break her again. However, Sharapova closed out the match 6-4 6-3. Azarenka had to contend with Kristina Mladenovic. Mladenovic was able to break Azarenka but she could not get a significant lead. Azarenka remained dogged in her pursuit to get back to major form. She took out the Frenchwoman 6-4 6-4.
There were several interesting matches on the day. American Coco Vandeweghe found herself down 0-2 at the start of her match against Australian Sam Stosur (22). Vandeweghe then reeled off 12 straight games to take it 6-2 6-0. Stosur capitulated inexplicably but then again, this has come to be her norm at Wimbledon. Bethanie Mattek-Sands looked to be in full control of her match verses Belinda Bencic (30) up 5-1 in the opening set. However, Bencic called for the trainer and upon resumption of play, took the next 6 games to take the set 7-5. In the 2nd set, Bencic got another crucial break for 6-5 and served out the match 7-5 7-5.
Sloane Stephens started off her match against Lucie Safarova (6) in good form. She was up 6-3 and had break points in the opening game of the 2nd set. Stephens failed to convert any of those break points and that allowed Safarova the leverage she needed to take over the match. Stephens never looked the same thereafter. Safarova broke Stephens and raced to a 4-1 lead to later take the 2nd set 6-3. Stephens just lost her way in the match as she only won a single game in the decisive set. Safarova through to the Round of 16 3-6 6-3 6-1.
In the other ladies’ match of the day, Zarina Diyas upset another seeded player at this tournament. She took out Flavia Pennetta (24) in the opening round and not has knocked out Andrea Petkovic (14) in the 3rd round 7-5 6-4. Diyas was leading 4-1 in the 2nd set, double break in hand when Petkovic broke down in tears. However, the tears helped as Petkovic was able to level to get one of the breaks back and saved two match points. Diyas sensing the door of opportunity for her to win this match might be closing, quickly closed out the match 7-5 6-4. This is the 2nd year in a row that Diyas has made it to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon. Unfortunately, she will face Sharapova as she did at the Australian Open.
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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