10 intriguing ties of the Australian Open Men's First Round (5-1) - UBITENNIS
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10 intriguing ties of the Australian Open Men’s First Round (5-1)

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Andy Murray has a tough test against Alexander Zverev (image via olympictennis.net)

Continued from yesterday’s article, I finish the countdown of ten interesting matches from the first round with my top 5 highlighted matches.

 

5. Dan Evans vs Feliciano Lopez (18): This list of some matches that could provide shocks would not be complete without mentioning Dan Evans. After all, the Briton is very talented, and a strong hard-court player. His run at the 2013 US Open saw him defeat Bernard Tomic and Kei Nishikori, who would play in the final of the 2014 US Open. Evans has had issues with commitment, notably failing to turn up to a Futures tournament with no explanation, but he has a chance against veteran Feliciano Lopez. Lopez epitomises the exact opposite of stereotypes for Spanish players. Sure, he may not be bad on clay, but he excels on grass. A wicked left-handed serve followed by an eagerness to get to the net is a distinct trait of the 2014 Queens Finalist. Lopez is now though a veteran on the ATP Tour, and has spells where he plays beneath his ranking of no.19. Lopez played an epic five-setter in the Australian Open first-round last year, forced to save match points against Denis Kudla. If Lopez plays at a level similar to that day, then Evans, who beat top seed Luca Vanni in qualifying, has more than just a fleeting chance. Pick: Evans in four sets.

4. Taylor Fritz vs Jack Sock (25): Okay, so we like Taylor Fritz on this site. But there is a good reason for that. Players like Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev have taken plaudits for the way they have taken to professional tennis with consummate ease, and those two play an exciting, attacking brand of tennis. But Fritz is perhaps the most rounded player, even when compared to Zverev and Coric. He has a nice if not dominating serve, defends well, and has a never-say-die tenacity about his game. Take the fact that he was down love-four in the deciding set against Mischa Zverev, having spurned a lead in the second set tiebreak. He came back and won the last six games, this against a big-serving German in Zverev. Wins against Dustin Brown, including one where he saved more than fifteen break points, shows he can deal with big-servers. Having said that, Jack Sock could well be a step too far. The American number two is arguably the most complete American on tour at the moment, if you compare his game to everything John Isner possesses, Sock wins everywhere except serve, and Sock’s serve has improved a lot. Sock proved he’s in the form of his career with wins over Kevin Anderson and David Ferrer in Auckland, and he could be in for a career-run at a grand slam. No matter the result, the match is significant just to see two of American tennis’ finest talents meet for the first time. Pick: Sock in straight sets.

3. Alexander Zverev vs Andy Murray (2). A lot of people like the young German Zverev and why not? The 6’6 German is part of a new generation of tennis stars. He naturally has a big serve and a good forehand, but he has not displayed yet the kind of game to beat the top players consistently, his over No.14 Kevin Anderson in Washington DC last year, and a win over No. 19 Mikhail Youzhny in 2014 represent his only two wins over top thirty players. Andy Murray does have the birth of his first child looming, and that could prove a distraction. However, Murray is professional enough to deal with it and he has an excellent record over big-servers. He is noted as being perhaps the second-best returner in the game, and his ability to potentially neutralise Zverev’s biggest asset does not bode well for the young German. Pick: Murray in straight sets.

2. Philipp Kohlscreiber vs Kei Nishikori (7). Philipp Kohlscreiber must be the unluckiest player when it comes to drawing seeds in early rounds, unless your name is Ryan Harrison. The German is more accustomed to being seeded himself, but is unlucky to miss out at this event, ranked this week at no.34. His reward is a meeting with seventh seed Kei Nishikori. The last time Kohlscreiber failed to gain a seeding he was ranked no.33 at Wimbledon in 2015 and drew Novak Djokovic in the first round. This one though while tough, does hand him at least a chance of causing the upset. Nishikori is a very good player, still in that zone just behind the likes of Djokovic, Federer, Murray, and Wawrinka, but still comfortably ahead of most others. That said, his 2015 season was very inconsistent, highlighted by early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open. He did pick up titles at other points of the year though. These two have net met before, and with inconsistencies highlighted in Nishikori’s form, Kohlschreiber surely fancies his chances. Pick: Nishikori in five sets.

1. Rafael Nadal (5) vs Fernando Verdasco: Those whose memories stretch back to the 2009 Australian Open semi-finals will remember a match that stands up there as one of the greatest semi-finals in Australian Open history. Nadal defeated an inspired Verdasco in five sets that day, in a match featuring sublime tennis from both men. It might be unrealistic to expect the same to happen this year, though the match will certainly be entertaining. Verdasco has suffered a dramatic loss of consistency since that incredible run, and Nadal is coming off the back of a very uncertain 2015 season. Nadal is still one of the game’s best and though Verdasco does not produce form like that which saw him finish 2009 in the top ten, he still produces flashes. Errors are perhaps going to be as much the decider in this match as sensational rallies. A win for Verdasco could see him lose badly in the second round, that is just the nature of his game these days. A loss for Nadal, whose confidence is still fragile despite some return to form at the end of 2015, could be disastrous. Pick: Nadal in four sets.

Highlights of the fourth set tiebreak between Nadal and Verdasco in 2009.

 

Honourable mentions: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a tough match against Marcos Baghdatis. This did not make my countdown because Tsonga leads the Head-to-head 5-0, and Baghdatis has not been past the third round of a slam for six years. But its Marcos Baghdatis. I still predict Tsonga to win.

Gilles Simon will not enjoy taking on Vasek Pospisil in the opening round. The Canadian has a good serve, and Simon suffered an early defeat to Grigor Dimitrov in Brisbane, his only event so far this year.

ATP

The Year-End Rankings: The Rise Of Alcaraz And The Eternals, Djokovic and Nadal

Image via ATP Twitter

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By Roberto Ferri

Let’s start our last article on the ATP rankings by quoting the words which are said to be the last of emperor Augustus: “The play is over, applaud”.

 

We cannot but applaud Novak Djokovic, six-time ATP Finals winner just like Roger Federer. And we applaud the season, which, for good or ill, has been unique. Just consider the most striking events: Carlos Alcaraz rising to No. 1, Roger Federer’s retirement, all the issues involving Djokovic and the Wimbledon affair.  

The top positions of the ranking have been significantly impacted by Djokovic’s absence from two Majors (Australian Open and US Open), four Masters 1000 (Indian Wells, Miami Open, Canadian Open, Cincinnati) and by ATP’s decision to not award points for Wimbledon.

If we compare the ATP rankings published after the ATP Finals in 2021 and 2022, this fact is clearly noticeable. 

22 NOVEMBER 2021

PositionPlayerCountryPts 
1DjokovicSerbia11540
2MedvedevRussia8640
3ZverevGermany7840
4TsitsipasGreece6540
5RublevRussia5150
6NadalSpain4875
7BerrettiniItaly4568
8RuudNorway4160
9HurkaczPoland3706
10SinnerItaly3350
11Auger-AliassimeCanada3308
12NorrieGB2945
13SchwartzmanArgentina2625
14ShapovalovCanada2475
15ThiemAustria2425
16FedererSwitzerland2385
17GarinChile2353
18KaratsevRussia2351
19Bautista AgutSpain2260
20Carreno BustaSpain2230

14 NOVEMBER 2022:

PositionPlayerCountryPts
1AlcarazSpain6820
2NadalSpain6020
3RuudNorway5820
4TsitsipasGreece5550
5DjokovicSerbia4820
6Auger-AliassimeCanada4195
7MedvedevRussia4065
8RublevRussia3930
9FritzUSA3355
10HurkaczPoland2905
11RuneDenmark2888
12ZverevGermany2700
13Carreno BustaSpain2495
14NorrieGB2445
15SinnerItaly2410
16BerrettiniItaly2375
17ShapovalovCanada2105
18CilicCroatia2075
19TiafoeUSA2000
20KhachanovRussia1990

Novak Djokovic ended 2021 with 4720 points more than Carlos Alcaraz; also Medvedev and Tsitsipas earned more points than the Spaniard, who would not have reached 7000 points even counting the 135 points he wasn’t awarded at Wimbledon.

A few comments on the 2022 rankings:

  • Casper Ruud, the ATP Finals finalist, concludes his excellent year in third place, overtaking Stefanos Tsitsipas with an impressive final rush.
  • Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal are the only top 10 players born in the 80s; the other 8 were born in the second half of the 90s.
  • Cameron Norrie and Pablo Carreno Busta are the survivors of the lost generation, born between 1990 and 1995 and that was most overpowered by the Big Four dominance. 
  • Only North America, beyond Europe, is represented at the very highest: Auger Aliassime, Fritz, Shapovalov and Tiafoe.
  • Holger Rune has gained 92 positions since the start of the year. Carlos Alcaraz “just” 31.
  • A final note: Kei Nishikori ends 2022 without a ranking. Does this suggest he’s going to retire?

BEST RANKING

Owing to earned and dropped points, as well as results in the Challenger events, five players in the top 100 have achieved their career highest this week:

Emil Ruusuvuori – 40

Quentin Halys – 64

Christopher O’Connell – 79

Roman Safiullin – 89

Nuno Borges – 91

A special applause for the 20-year old Ben Shelton, a bright prospect for USA tennis, who has made his debut in the top 100. Thanks to his victory in the Champaign-Urbana Challenger he’s now ranked 97.

Is that all? Not yet! Just a quiz for everybody: which was the last year which saw the first two places in the rankings occupied at the end of the season by two players of the same nationality?

That’s really all for now. We’ll be back in 2023.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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ATP Finals Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Casper Ruud in the Championship Match

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Novak Djokovic on Saturday in Turin (twitter.com/atptour)

The biggest ATP non-Major final of 2022 takes place on Sunday in Turin, Italy.

 

2022 has been a bizarre year in the career of Novak Djokovic.  It started with his deportation from Australia, forcing the unvaccinated Djokovic to miss the first Major of the year.  That would be one of six prominent events that Novak would miss this season due to COVID-19 entry rules (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal, Cincinnati, US Open).  Yet Djokovic was still able to accumulate a record of 41-7, and win his 21st Slam at Wimbledon.  He is now 17-1 at indoor ATP events this fall, and will end the year as the World No.5  With a win on Sunday, he would tie Roger Federer for most all-time ATP Finals titles.

2022 has been a groundbreaking year in the career of Casper Ruud.  He had already established himself as a top 10 player, but prior to this season, was predominantly thought of as a clay court specialist, with five of his six ATP titles coming on that surface.  Yet that all changed this season, starting in Miami when he reached his first Masters 1000 finals.  Casper would go on to also reach his first two Major finals, in Paris in New York.  He is now 51-21, and into his fourth big final of the year.


Sunday’s action in Turin starts at 4:00pm local time with the doubles championship match, featuring Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (4) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (2).  Both teams are an undefeated 4-0 this past week.  This is Ram and Salisbury’s second consecutive year in the final, having lost a year ago to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.  Mektic won this title two years ago alongside Wesley Koolhof, while this is Pavic’s first appearance in the final of this event.  These teams have not met since the semifinals of this tournament last year, when Ram and Salisbury prevailed.


Casper Ruud (3) Novak Djokovic (7) – Not Before 7:00pm

Ruud is 3-1 this past week, with his only loss coming in a dead rubber against Rafael Nadal.  Prior to his three top 10 victories across the last seven days, Casper only had two all season (Zverev, Auger-Aliassime).  And he is yet to win a title above 250-level in his career, with the aforementioned three losses this year in big finals.  Ruud was a semifinalist here a year ago in his ATP Finals debut.

Djokovic is an undefeated 4-0 this week, which includes an arduous effort to defeat Daniil Medvedev on Friday in a dead rubber.  Novak is now 10-3 against top 10 opposition in 2022, having taken nine of his last 10 against the top 10.  He is 4-2 in finals this year, though he lost his most recent one, two weeks in Bercy, to Holger Rune.  Djokovic is an eight-time finalist here, though he hasn’t won this title since 2015.

Djokovic has played a lot more tennis across the last two days than Ruud.  On Friday, Novak spent over three hours on court, while Ruud had the day off.  But Djokovic still looked plenty fresh for his semifinal on Saturday against Taylor Fritz, and was able to prevent the American from extending that tight contest to a third set.  Novak is 3-0 against Casper, which includes a straight-set victory at this same event a year ago.  And considering Ruud’s poor record in significant finals, Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his sixth title at the ATP Finals on Sunday.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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ATP Finals: Fritz Close But No… Final, Djokovic Advances

Novak Djokovic beats Taylor Fritz in two tie-breaks and is just one win away from his sixth title at Nitto ATP Finals

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Novak Djokovic - 2022 Nitto ATP Finals Turin (photo Twitter @atptour)

[7] N. Djokovic b. [8] T. Fritz 7-6(5) 7-6(5)

 

Even when physically not at his best, Novak Djokovic can still count on his incredible ability to play the most effective tennis in the most important moment. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the opponent misses an easy shot while attempting to close out the set, but the pressure Djokovic puts on whomever is on the other side of the net makes even the easiest shot look a little bit harder.

The former world no. 1 has put together a clinical display of efficiency during the first semifinal of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin edging Taylor Fritz by two points in the tie-breaker of each set to reach his eighth finals in the end-of-year Championship.

It was not the best Djokovic, and it was not the best match: lots of errors on both sides, and a huge opportunity for Fritz to take the match to the distance when he served at 5-4 in the second set and then missed an easy backhand sitter to go a set-point up at 40-30, blaming an idiot spectator who indeed shouted in the middle of the point, when he really should have been able to put away that point blindfolded.

Fritz did not start the match in the best possible way: 10 unforced errors during the first five games, a break conceded at love at 2-2 and Djokovic appeared destined for a relatively quiet afternoon. But it was not going to be that easy: errors started flowing also on the Serbian side, and Fritz was able to equalize at 3-3. A tie-break was then needed to decide the winner of the first set, and the deciding point was a laser forehand down the line by Djokovic who swept point and set at 6-5 and headed off to the toilet for a comfort break after taking a one-set advantage.

But the break did not do him much good: unforced errors kept coming from the baseline, and Fritz blitzed 2-0 up with a break. At 4-3, the American wowed the Italian crowd with a magical backhand stop-volley to recover a service game where he found himself down 0-30, but when it was time to serve out the set, he missed that easy backhand we described earlier to give Djokovic another chance to close out a match in two sets.

And another chance is the last thing Djokovic should be gifted, although on a day like today, with Christmas time upon us, gift trading became the thing of the match. Two great points at 4-4 in the tie-break warmed the 12,000-strong crowd at Pala Alpitour to what could have possibly been a great end of the set, but Djokovic first earned a match point to be played on his serve with a good action from the baseline closed by a volley and then squandered it all with a very unusual unforced error on a routine backhand. But on his second match point, just a minute later, Fritz badly missed an inside-out forehand putting an end to the match and gifting Djokovic a chance to win his sixth title at the Nitto ATP Finals, the first in Turin.

On Sunday he will face either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev: he has never lost to Ruud in three previous matches (3-0) and the only time he did not beat Rublev (2-1) was last spring in Belgrade in the final of the tournament organized by his family.

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