TENNIS – It is hard to believe that Roger Federer and Serena Williams are well into their 30’s at 34 and 33 years old respectively. This week at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, they both showed why they are truly legends of the game. Federer took out world’s number 1 Novak Djokovic 7-6(1) 6-3 as Serena defeated Simona Halep 6-3 7-6(5). It is incredible to see that both Federer and Serena remain so competitive even at this “advanced age” in tennis and produce some of their best tennis in these big moments against their younger rivals.
Federer came into this tournament having faced Djokovic 4 times already for the year in four finals, Dubai, Indian Wells, Rome and Wimbledon. The Swiss came out victorious only in Dubai. All the others, he was outmatched and outplayed by the Serbian. However, here in Cincinnati, a tournament Federer has won on 6 previous occasions including being the defending champion (2005, 2007, 2009/10, 2012, 2014) he is well used to the conditions. Djokovic had yet to a win a set much more the title at this event where he has made it to the finals on 4 other occasions (2008/09, 2011/12).
Federer started off strong holding serve with ease. In fact for the entire tournament, he has not been broken once only facing 3 break points. In this final match, he would not concede a single break point to Djokovic. However, as per his usual custom, Federer had 4 early break points but was unable to convert in the first set. Djokovic was dogged on his service games and a tiebreaker was needed to determine the winner of the opening set. Federer played an incredible breaker, rushing the net with purpose and precision, thoroughly confounding Djokovic who only won a single point. Federer snatched the opening set 7-6(1) in 52 minutes.
Djokovic is not one to be easily dismissed in a match. He has showed trademark defensive and comeback prowess this week in Cincinnati particularly in his wins over David Goffin and Alexandr Dolgopolov. However, Federer is no regular run of the mill ATP player and conditions such as these highly favoured Federer over Djokovic. Djokovic allowed the disappointment of losing the opening set to linger as he double faulted twice in a row to give Federer the crucial break for a 2-0 lead.
Federer remained aggressive and continued to be precise with his serving and maintained the break advantage to the end. He served out the set at love for a 7-6(1) 6-3 victory. This is the 2nd consecutive week that Djokovic is losing a final including last week in Montreal to Andy Murray. This is his 5th Cincinnati final and he has yet to win a set. Federer now leads the head-to-head 21-20 against Djokovic.
The numbers for Federer were very impressive as he was 21/29 at net emphasizing his aggressive style and refusal to allow Djokovic to dictate play by battling out from the baseline and the back of the court. The Swiss won 83% of his 1st serves and 73% on the 2nd whereas Djokovic was 70% on 1st and 47% on 2nd. Federer had this to say after the match about his performance, “I’ll always mix it up and make it I guess uncomfortable for my opponent. I’m not going to play the way they like it. I’ll always come out and make it an athletic match or make it uncomfortable in the sense that they don’t know what’s coming.”
Serena took on Simona Halep in the final. Both women were looking for their first title of the summer and it was a wonderfully contested final but in the end, Serena proved to be better on the bigger points. Halep broke for a 2-0 lead in the opening set but Serena broke back to level at 3-3. The American raised her level to take the next three games taking it 6-3. Serena carried this momentum into the 2nd set as she served for a 3-1 lead. However, Halep was not going to be deterred having had to retire from her match last week in the Toronto final against Belinda Bencic. Halep weathered the storm that is Serena’s return game and forced Serena to serve to stay in the set. Serena held serve and forced the tiebreaker which was determined by a lone minibreak 7-6(5). It was a wonderfully contested match up, one that fans would hope to see several more times.
This is Serena’s 5th title of the year and 69th overall putting her 5th on all-time most titles list. She is also ahead of the Emirates US Open Series list along with Andy Murray for the men.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.”
French Player Tests Positive For COVID-19 Hours After Australian Open Defeat
The world No.40 was preparing to leave the country.
Ugo Humbert is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 following his first round loss at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Humbert, who was the 29th seed in the men’s draw, is understood to have produced a positive result during a routine procedure players have to conduct before they leave the country. It is unclear as to if he is currently suffering from any symptoms.
Humbert crashed out of the tournament to compatriot Richard Gasquet, who won their match 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6 (3), 6-3, in three hours and 18 minutes. Gasquet also tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia earlier this month but was given the all clear to play at Melbourne Park following a negative test. There was a 15-day period between the 35-year-old announcing on Twitter he had the virus and his first match against Humbert.
“I was tested positive on my exit test yesterday and I’ll stay one more week in isolation in Australia,” Humbert wrote on Instagram.
“Thanks for your support and see you soon.”
The 23-year-old has started his season by winning one out of four matches played. Prior to the Australian Open, he scored one of the biggest wins of his career by defeating Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Cup in the group stages. However, following that victory he suffered losses to Alex de Minaur and Matteo Berrettini.
Tennis Australia is yet to comment on Humbert’s positive test.
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