It will be a Serena v Venus Williams Affair in the US Open Quarterfinals - UBITENNIS
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It will be a Serena v Venus Williams Affair in the US Open Quarterfinals

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US OPEN – Serena Williams (1) has ensured that there would be one Williams sister in the US Open semifinals this year when she knocked out fellow American Madison Keys (19) in straight sets 6-3 6-3 in 68 minutes. Serena will face her sister Venus Williams (22) who earlier took out qualifier Annett Kontaveit in straight sets 6-2 6-1. It will be the 27th meeting between the two sisters with Serena leading the head to head 15-11; she is also ahead in their meetings at majors with 8-5. Serena, however, has won the last 6 of 7 meetings between the two.

 

This match up between Serena and Keys was build to high expectations; current generation and future generation of American tennis. Keys does possess the big game to take on the likes of Serena and despite it not being stated more often enough, Keys can out hit Serena. However, the most underrated part of Serena’s game, her all court game as well as her ability to play subtle tennis, is what is particularly difficult for Keys if she is not playing her best tennis. Today against, Keys, she played the patient game. Unlike her other matches, Williams was very clean on her service game as she never faced a single break point for the entire match. Whenever Serena is holding serve comfortably, it means that she is far more relaxed on her return game putting the pressure on her opponent. Keys soon felt that pressure, down 3-4 in the opening set when she double faulted twice to give Serena the crucial break for a 5-3 lead. Recognizing the type of player Keys is, Serena wasted no time to close out the set on her serve for 6-3 in 27 minutes.

In the 2nd set, Serena increased the pressure as she created several early break point opportunities on the Keys serve which were rare in the opening set. Keys was able to fight off most of them but Serena converted in the 7th game for a 4-3. She consolidated for 5-3 and forced Keys to serve to stay in the match. Again the pressure was too much as Keys double faulted on match point. It was the 6th double fault for Keys as opposed to none from Serena who took the match 6-3 6-3 in just over an hour. “She was playing really, really well today. I feel like I had to play my absolute best … It was one of those things where if I wasn’t hitting a winner, I feel like she was. she wasn’t giving me many unforced errors,” Keys said after the match.

The numbers were very impressive from Williams with only 6 errors for the entire match compared to 19 from Keys. Both players had a lot of winners with Keys at 24 and Serena at 18. However, it was the serve that was most critical particularly the 2nd serve where Serena was winning 70% of her second serve points and Keys only 36%. In fact Serena only dropped 12 points on serve for the match. Keys is confident about her game and looks forward to the rest of the season. As to whether she will be cheering Serena for the “Calendar Slam” now that she has lost, “[D]efinitely I want her to make history and win.” 

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EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’

Marcelo Demoliner celebrated his birthday in quarantine, his doubles partner isn’t allowed to leave his room for 14 days and he believes there is a difference in treatment between the top players and others. Yet, he refuses to complain about the situation he finds himself in.

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Marcelo Demoliner pictured during the 2020 Australian Open. image via https://www.facebook.com/mdemoliner89)

Like his peers, Brazil’s Marcelo Demoliner passes his time in Melbourne quarantine by training, sleeping, eating and posting amusing videos on social media.

 

Demoliner, who currently has a doubles ranking of world No.44, is required by Australian law to abide by a strict isolation period before he is allowed to play any professional tournament. Although he is allowed to train unless he is deemed to be a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. An unfortunate situation 72 players find themselves in, including Demoliner’s doubles partner Santiago Gonzalez

During an email exchange with UbiTennis the Brazilian sheds light on what he labels as an ‘usual experience’ that has prompted criticism from some players. Roberto Bautista Agut was caught on camera describing conditions as a ‘prison’ in a video leaked to the press. Although he has since apologised for his comments. Demonliner himself is not as critical as others.

“It is an unusual experience that we will remember for a long time,” he told UbiTennis. “It is a very complicated situation that we are going through. Obviously, it is not ideal for us athletes to be able to go out for just 5 hours a day, but mainly for the other 72 players who cannot go out, like my partner Santiago Gonzalez. They have a complicated situation of possibly getting injured after not practicing for 14 days, but it is what it is.’
“We need to understand and adapt to this situation considering Australia did a great job containing Covid.”

With three ATP doubles titles to his name, Demoliner is playing at the Australian Open for the sixth year in a row. He has played on the Tour for over a decade and has been ranked as high as 34th in the world.

Besides the players complaining about food, their rooms and even questioning the transparency of the rule making, Tennis Australia also encountered a slight blip regarding the scheduling of practice.

“I was a little lucky because I stayed in one of the hotels that we don’t need to take transportation to go to the training courts. It made the logistics issue much easier. The other two hotels had problems with transportation and logistics in the first two days, but I have nothing to complain about, honestly.”

Demoliner remains thankful for what Tennis Australia has managed to do in order for the Australian Open to be played. Quarantine can have a big impact on a person mentally, as well as physically. Each day players spend at least 19 hours in their hotel rooms which was no fun for the Brazilian who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.

“Without a doubt, it is something we have never been through before. I’m luckily having 5 hours of training daily. I am managing to maintain my physical preparation and rhythm. It is not the ideal, of course, but I can’t even imagine the situation of other players who are in the more restricted quarantine.”

image via https://www.instagram.com/MDemoliner/

Priority given to the top names

As Demoliner resides in Melbourne, a selected handful of players are spending their time in Adelaide. Under a deal struck by Tennis Australia, officials have agreed for the top three players on the ATP and WTA Tour’s to be based in the city. The idea being is that it will relieve the strain on Melbourne who is hosting in the region of 1200 arrivals.

Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, has insisted that all players will have to follow the same rules wherever they are based. Although some feel that those in Adelaide have some extra privileges such as a private gym they can use outside of the five-hour training bubble. Japan’s Taro Daniel told the Herald Sun: “People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there’s some resentment towards that as well.” Daniel’s view is one echoed also by Demoliner.

“I do believe they are receiving preferential treatment, quite different from us. But this is part of the tour,” he said.
“The top tennis players always had these extras, we are kinda of used to it. We came here knowing that they would have better conditions for practicing, structure, hotels… they also have merits to have achieved all that they have to be the best players in the world. I don’t know if it’s fair, but I believe the conditions could be more similar than they are in this situation.”

Some players were recently bemused by a photo of Naomi Osaka that surfaced on social media before being removed. The reigning US Open champion was pictured on a court with four members of her team, which is more people than what those in Melbourne are allowed to train with.

https://twitter.com/mdemoliner89/status/1351079924719898632

As the Adelaide contingent continues their preparations, those most unhappy with them are likely to be the 72 players who are in strict quarantine. Demoliner is concerned about the elevated risk of injury that could occur due to the facts they are not allowed to leave their rooms. All players in this situation have been issued with gym equipment to use.

“I think that they will be at a considerable disadvantage compared to who can train. But we need to obey the law of the country, there is not much to do … until the 29th they will have to stay in the room and that is it,” he said.
“Whether it is fair or not, it is not up to me to say because I am not in this situation. The thing about having the other players who didn’t have contact with the positive cases to also stay in the rooms is the concern about the risk of injury, specially for singles players. It will be a tough challenge, especially at the beginning of the season.”

In recent days, officials have been holding video calls with players to discuss ways to address these concerns ahead of the Australian Open. Which will start a week after they are allowed to leave their rooms.

When the tournaments do get underway there are also questions about how the public will react to players who have made headlines across the country for their criticism of the quarantine process. A somewhat sore point for Australian’s with some nationals unable to return home due to the government restrictions. On top of that, people in Melbourne are concerned about a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

It is a very complex situation. I fully understand the reaction of the Australian population considering the recent events… the effect that the players are bringing, the risks to the population,” Demoliner said of the current circumstances.
“We know this and obviously they are concerned with the whole situation, which is still very uncertain. On our side, though, they did allow us to come here to play. It is important to remember that the decision to welcome us was approved by the Australian Government, otherwise we would not be here.”

Demoliner is one of three Brazilian doubles players ranked to have a top 100 ranking on the ATP Tour along with Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo.

SEE ALSO EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’

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EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’

UbiTennis speaks to a leading WTA coach about the current controversy surrounding the Melbourne tennis bubble which he is currently part of and if he believes players are right to express their frustration.

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Less than a week into the mandatory 14-day quarantine process for players in Australia and there has already been plenty of drama.

 

Approximately 1200 players and their teams have travelled to Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open. Under government rules they are required to stay in their hotel rooms but are allowed to train up to five hours each day unless they have been in close contact with somebody who has tested Positive for COVID-19. Although things haven’t entirely gone to plan. There has been social media complaints about the food, insects in rooms and issues with practice sessions. Roberto Bautista Agut even went as far as describing the situation as a ‘prison’ in a personal video call that was published by an Israeli website without his permission.

The amount of negativity surrounding quarantine is substantial but is it really as bad as what it sounds?

Spanish coach Carlos Martinez is currently one of those living inside the bubble. With a wealth of experience in working with WTA players under his belt, he is currently mentoring former top 10 star Daria Kasatkina. Martinez has clarified some of the controversies surrounding the quarantine, including comments from players that they were misled about the rules upon arrival.

“They (Tennis Australia) made like, I don’t know how many, but hundreds of zoom’s (video conferences). They would inform us about everything, how it is going to be and the quarantine. We were getting messages and emails every single week,” Martinez told Ubitennis.net.
“Tennis Australia was doing a great job in my opinion. The only thing that was a bit unclear was about the quarantine when somebody gets infected on the plane. They were talking like they were going to make sections inside the plane so if they found somebody in a section (who tests positive) they would isolate those people,’
“But in the end the government didn’t want to do this and they preferred to isolate all on the plane because it was safer for everyone.”

So far Martinez has been fortunate not to have gone into strict isolation which at least 72 players have entered. Due to a series of flights having a passenger test positive for the virus, those on board must stay in their room throughout their quarantine. Those affected have been provided with exercise equipment of some sort.

“We know what we came for and how it is going to be. Of course, where you arrive everything seems more difficult than it is. But in my opinion they made a big effort and a super job to make the event. We can’t complain much.”

A frosty atmosphere with teething problems

(Martinez pictured with Kasatkina)

Martinez has a lot of admiration for Tennis Australia’s management in order to enable the first Grand Slam of the season to go ahead but he himself has also experienced some minor setbacks in the bubble. Undergoing daily testing, the Spaniard said he was kept inside his room for three and a half days without proper clarity about what was happening. Eventually he was informed that an issue with the practice schedule resulted in his first session with Kasatkina being cancelled. Fortunately, those issues have been resolved and they have now resumed practice.

“We are keeping to our plan. We are four days in and it is nothing compared to the others in the hotel,” Martinez said of Kasatkina’s preparation.
“She’s feeling good, she’s feeling happy and I’m not feeling anything strange.’
“Daria hasn’t lost any shape. We are coming from Abu Dhabi in what was a good week for us. She lost in the third round but was playing quite well in my opinion.”

https://twitter.com/DKasatkina/status/1350401479207575553

While the problems are starting to be resolved Martinez admits that there remains what he describes as a ‘strange and complicated’ atmosphere within the bubble. Frustration, anger and criticism from the public is a bit of a nightmare scenario for anybody preparing for a Grand Slam. On top of that, the two types of quarantine occurring is leading to concerns of an uneven playing ground.

“It is a strange atmosphere because there are 72 players in (stricter) quarantine. We can say that maybe it’s unfair because it’s true that we will not have the same opportunity. For example, we are practising for two hours a day plus fitness. They are in their rooms and can’t move. Of course it is not the same,” he commented.
“It is a bit complicated because I have found many people complaining and some of them talk about some things which are not right. That’s not nice at the moment.”

Amid the tension, the real question is how much of a disparity will there be between the players who are able to train on court during these two weeks and those who can’t? Some have called for the Australian Open to be delayed and for the men’s matches to be reduced from best-of-five to best-of-three sets. Two things which are unlikely to happen at present unless there is a mass rebellion.

Perhaps the media and players are reading too much into it? Martinez believes the impact will not be as significant as some are suggesting. Although he admits those 72 players are unlikely to be ready to play their tournament leading up to the Melbourne major.

“In my opinion, it’s not like they are going to lose all of their shape because most of them have equipment in their room and can make something. Of course it is not the same but I think in one week they can practice a lot and recover their shape,” he said.
“In the end, I think it will not be that bad. Of course it is not the same because they cannot compete in the first tournament and it is important to go into a grand slam with a few matches. But in the end it is going to be better than they think.”

The public is right to be unhappy

Players arriving in Australia

The series of player comments about their conditions in quarantine has prompted some backlash from the Australian public, highlighted best by The Sydney Morning Herald who published a series of letters criticising them. Meanwhile Novak Djokovic’s attempt at changing the quarantine rules by submitting his own letter outlining a series of suggestions were greeted with a flat out ‘No’ from the government. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters earlier this week ‘I think it’s just time people followed the rules, do their quarantine, play Tennis.’

As the public gets bemused by the situation, some are wondering how players will be received by fans during their tournaments in Melbourne Park?

“There are people living out of Australia who cannot come back and that’s why they (the public) can be a little bit unhappy with us,” said Martinez.
“I don’t think they will react badly because the public will be very happy to go to Melbourne Park to watch matches and see the top players in the world doing their job. There will not be any inconvenience for anyone.”

Like others within the tennis community, such as Victoria Azarenka, the Spaniard said it is vital that everyone look at the wider picture concerning the pandemic. On January 16th the worldwide death toll for COVID-19 surpassed 2 million people.

In the end, we have to understand why players can not act like spoiled people. Complaining about the hotel, room and that when there are other people worse off in really tough moments. Many people are losing their jobs and in the end for us we can be very proud with what Tennis Australia is doing. Otherwise, we are home crying that we cannot play tennis.” He concluded.

The Australian Open is set to start on February 8th.

SEE ALSOEXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’

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What Does The Future Hold For Ekaterina Alexandrova?

The anomalous story of a Russian tennis player who perfected her game in Czechia and now has reached a crucial moment in her career.

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The WTA season is set to begin in 2021 amidst countless difficulties, with many of the same issues as last year. One of the current peculiarities was on show during the Abu Dhabi tournament: the first round was played midweek and the final was scheduled seven days later, on a Wednesday. Luckily, the tournament scheduling didn’t prevent us from finding some good talking points, because the matches played in the first rounds in the UAE were interesting, like the one between Elina Svitolina and Ekaterina Alexandrova, a hard-fought affair won by the Ukrainian 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 after 2 hours and 35 minutes. During the third-set tiebreak, won by the World No. 5 for 10-8, Alexandrova missed two match points at 6-5 and 7-6.

 

The score illustrates a tough match, and yet, while watching it, I was sure that Svitolina would defeat her opponent, even when the Russian had those match points. I am not saying that to toot my own horn, or because I have special clairvoyant skills, but because we are talking about one of the classic situations in which the performance of one the player rises and falls in relation to the score. In the second part of the match, actually, Alexandrova seemed to have something more than her opponent, both physically and technically, but she couldn’t beat the pressure of the score. When she was lagging behind, the Russian struck the ball very well, finding the court with greater regularity; but when she had to reap the rewards of her supremacy, she was unable to. Ekaterina gave her best at the end of the second set (when she needed to even the score) and at the beginning of the third set, taking the lead with the first break of the decider. At 4-2, she could have pulled ahead for good, but she was unable to take advantage of three more break points. Once she missed the opportunity to land a knockout punch, the match changed: Svitolina broke her serve at 5-4, and then the Russian was defeated in the decisive tie-breaker, after 18 points.

While I was watching the game, I wondered how far Alexandrova could go in the near future. At 26, she’s reached a crucial moment in her career: she has been playing pretty well for a couple of seasons, breaking into the Top 30 and thus being seeded in the Grand Slam tournaments. However, the question needs to be asked as to whether she will be able to enhance the privilege she has conquered by achieving some important results.

It is not easy to answer. It could be said that her uncertain future is the epitome of what Russian women’s tennis has been experiencing in recent seasons – after soaring in the first decade of the 2000s, nowadays it struggles to maintain itself on levels of excellence. Moreover, it is normal wondering who could further the legacy of Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva & Co. 

Currently, Alexandrova is 33rd in the WTA Ranking and the highest-ranked Russian this week. Hers is a peculiar case, because her progress has mostly happened in another country.

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