10 intriguing ties of the Australian Open Men's First Round (10-6) - UBITENNIS
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10 intriguing ties of the Australian Open Men’s First Round (10-6)

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The Auckland winner has a tough opening match in Melbourne (image via currentevents.today)

The first round of a Grand Slam is often the most exciting, with sixty-four matches to be played, there is always scope for shocks, new names rising to the occasion, or an veteran rolling back the years to re-awaken past glories. I preview some interesting matches that could perhaps go under the radar, others that could provide potential shocks, and the matches that many will naturally be drawn to in the opening round.

 

10. Pierre-Hugues Herbert vs Pablo Andujar: So neither of these two players are seeded. So what? Andujar is ranked 59th compared to Herbert’s 167th. That in itself is enough to make this match interesting. Andujar has a shocking record on hard-courts recently, winning just two matches on the surface in 2015 (excluding Davis Cup). He beat 251st-ranked Frank Dancevic and a Jarkko Nieminen well on the way to retirement. It is worth mentioning that he lost in the first round last year to Marius Copil, who was ranked 194th, and that is a lower ranking than Herbert currently possesses. Herbert is also in fine form, having had to defeat Gastao Elias and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in qualifying. Pick: Herbert in straight sets. 

9. Julien Benneteau vs Nicolas Almagro: In previous years at a grand slam this match-up would not have taken place in the first round, and odds are that in a draw these men would both have a bracket with a number next to their names indicating a seeding. But those days are gone for both. They have struggled with injury. For Almagro, a nasty foot injury curtailed most of his 2014 and he has yet to rescale the heights that took him to a top-ten ranking. Benneteau missed all of 2015 post Indian Wells. Almagro at least most of 2015 even if his form was not great, and this event two years ago brought his best-ever run at a grand slam, when he served for a place in the semi-finals against David Ferrer. Benneteau played a Challenger event last week, and was well off the pace in a defeat to Alejandro Falla, where he picked up just three games. Pick: Almagro in straight sets.

8. Martin Klizan vs Roberto Bautista-Agut (24): Bautista-Agut will be cursing his luck to have been drawn against Klizan because this meeting is fraught with danger. These two have never met at a grand slam before, but have played each other five times (three times at ATP events and twice further down the ranks of professional tennis). The problem for Baustista-Agut is that though owning a 4-1 lead in all meetings, he has only been able to win in straight sets once. Matches involving players like Klizan are always about the day, and whilst he probably does not boast the upset potential that the likes of Ernests Gulbis or Marcos Baghdatis have claimed in the past, the Slovakian left-hander will be hard to defeat. Bautista-Agut is in fine form though, picking up the Auckland title, and will hope to carry that form into the the first slam of the year. Pick: Bautista-Agut in five sets. 

7. Noah Rubin vs Benoit Paire (17): This is one for the romantics of shocks out there but this match is undoubtedly an interesting one. Rubin is one of the lowest-ranked players in the draw, by virtue of his winning the USTA Challenger competition that yielded an Australian Open wildcard to the American who performed best over three Challengers towards the end of last season. An in-form Benoit Paire is one who can defeat the very best, as Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Nick Kyrgios, and Grigor Dimitrov will all testify, having lost to the Frenchman in 2015. He may have improved his ranking considerably over 2015, in fact he lost in the first round of qualifying in Melbourne last year. But his year was still punctuated by losses to the likes of Tim Puetz and Marco Chuidinelli. A lot will depend on which version of Paire will show up. Rubin has not had a lot of experience at this level, and this is in fact just his second appearance in the main draw of a slam, and his first at the Australian Open. Pick: Paire in four sets.

6. Dominic Thiem (19) vs Leonardo Mayer: Mayer is perhaps the most difficult draw for seeds in the first round. The Argentinian is a good server, at home more than most of his countrymen on hard-courts, and he reached his career high ranking of 21 just last year. Thiem is one of those youngsters on the rise, along with Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios. But there are times where Thiem still looks out of his league against experienced opponents, and is not immune to surprising defeats. They have played three times including a match in a qualfying draw, with Thiem leading 2-1. Thiem’s wins were both tight, whilst Mayer won comfortably in the other. Pick: Thiem in five sets.

Highlights of Thiem vs Mayer from the Nice ATP final in 2015.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds8PP4MGgNY

 

 

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Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman

The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.

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Diego Schwartzman (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired. 

 

The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona. 

Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori. 

“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”

The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas. 

Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33. 

“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said. 
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”

The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match. 

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup

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The lineup for Day 3 (twitter.com/lavercup)

Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar.  Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup.  Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first. 

 

Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time.  And each match on Sunday is worth three points.


Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm

Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles.  So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday.  Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday.  Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist.  If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)

Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles.  While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever.  Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.

Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay.  It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1).  And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday.  Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary

Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games.  He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts.  However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.


Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary

Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday.  If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday

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The lineup for Day 2 (twitter.com/lavercup)

In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2.  And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit.  With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup? 

 

Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day.  Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm.  And each match on Saturday is worth two points.


Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm

These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions.  Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event.  Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati.  Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup.  Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.


Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session

Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play.  Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive.  Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17.  Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon.  They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets.  Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm

Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday?  He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock.  Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios.  The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.

Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5.  Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York.  Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets.  Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day.  But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.


Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session

Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here.  This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals.  Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2.  De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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