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.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

 

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

 

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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Matteo Berrettini Looks To Draw Inspiration From Jannik Sinner

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner ahead of his comeback to the ATP tour.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner as Berrettini is continuing his recovery from his injury.

 

The former Wimbledon finalist has had a horrible run of injuries which has seen the Italian fall down the rankings as he is now at 124 in the world.

After suffering a horrible injury at the US Open during his match with Arthur Rinderknech, Berrettini was looking to make his return at the Australian Open as he was set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

However just before the match, Berrettini withdrew as he decided to delay his comeback to the tour as he will aim to return to the court as soon as possible.

If Berrettini needed any inspiration then Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open could be that much needed spark as the Italian beat Novak Djokovic on his way to capturing a first Grand Slam title.

Speaking an interview Berrettini explained that he is still not 100% and admits he is looking to draw inspiration from Sinner’s form, “I’m better, but I’m not yet 100%,” Berrettini was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

“The goal is to play the whole season, and without these setbacks which are destroying my body and my head. Sinner did a miracle. I will also use this energy for my tennis. I was happy with what Jannik said.

“We have a good relationship, which has strengthened in recent months. We are different but similar. We are pursuing the same dream.”

Berrettini will hope Sinner’s success will have a positive influence on his recovery and quicken his return to the tour as the former world number six aims for a successful return to the tour.

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