Australian Open Day 9: Our Preview and Predictions! - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 9: Our Preview and Predictions!

Can Maria Sharapova finally beat Serena Williams for the first time since 2004? Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are expected to face tough competition and win if they want to set up a clash in the semi-finals. Our preview and predictions for day 9 at the 2016 Australian Open.

Ivan Pasquariello

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In bold the player we believe will be the favourite to win their quarter-final match

 

Rod Laver Arena

 

Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)[4] vs. Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)[10]

Carla has managed to find her best tennis as the tournament progressed, finally showing what she can achieve also on hard courts. It was since Rome 2015 that the Spaniard hasn’t looked convincing enough on court and surely a lot changed when she beat in-form Gavrilova in the 4th round in three sets. Radwanska looked flawless before she almost surrendered to German Friedsam in the last 16. Aga was lucky enough that the German got injured with cramps in time to let the Pole back in the third set and into the match. Surviving the scare has however turned on the alert light for Radwanska, who is yet to lose a match this year (9-0 so far) and who knows she will need to bring her A-game to beat the Spaniard.

Radwanska leads the head-2-head by 3-2, but has lost the last match played against Suarez Navarro in Miami last year by 5-7 6-0 6-4. Considering the new self awareness Aga has claimed for her since winning the WTA Finals last year, I believe the Polish player will have the confidence she needs to win the match in three sets. Agniezka should manage to reach the semis in Melbourne for a second time after 2014.

Serena Williams (USA)[1] vs. Maria Sharapova (RUS)[5]  

Episode 21 in the rivalry, with Serena leading the Head-2-Head by 18-2. What if it was time for Maria to take revenge over Serena? Life teaches that things happen when we expect them the least, and that could clearly be Sharapova’s case. After losing an appalling total of 17 consecutive times to the American, having beaten Serena last time in 2004 (when Djokovic had zero ATP titles, the loud mouths like to remind), not many would expect Maria to beat the World No.1 in Melbourne at this point. Not to mention that Maria entered the tournament thinking she could exit soon, being followed by a leg injury that took her out of the last part of 2015 – with the exception of the WTA Finals – and also has forced her to start the season right in Melbourne instead of defending her title in Brisbane. Clearly the Russian can’t be considered the favourite here.

On the other hand, Serena hasn’t looked her best either, unable to step on court again after finishing 2015 three sets shy of a historical calendar Grand Slam in New York. Serena needed the last months of last year to grieve and to regain her physical health, saying that she played most of last season injured. The American was a question mark before the start of the tournament, but hasn’t lost a set en route to the quarters.

What makes me believe Maria can win are two factors: the Russian’s serve and her road to the quarters. Beating Bencic in the 4th round, Maria fired an impressive total of 21 aces. It has been a while since we have last seen Sharapova firing so many aces in a match, being dominant with her serve. Due to a shoulder injury, Maria’s serve had become the weakest part in her game, betraying her with double faults on topic moments. Now, the Russian has fully recovered her serve and has a major weapon back in her game. Compared to Serena, Maria faced a tougher competition to reach the last 8, having to beat Belinda Bencic in the 4th round, but also being tested early on, losing a set to Lauren Davis in the third round. The way Sharapova dug deep to perform her best in both occasions shows she is playing free of pressure and is finding her best feeling with the ball.

Obviously Serena on a good day could still easily roll over Sharapova, but for once I risk it and take the Russian as winner in three sets.

Roger Federer (SUI)[3] vs. Tomas Berdych (CZE)[6]

Against David Goffin, Roger Federer seemed dancing on court rather than playing tennis. Turning on the magic, the Swiss enchanted with his aggression, game at the net and most importantly with his backhand down the line. Federer has so far been just impressive at the Australian Open, losing a set with Dimitrov, but recovering right away to teach yet another lesson to the Bulgarian. Berdych has become the great talented player that always loses to the top competitors in the game, as his results in 2015 confirm. Tomas has last beaten Federer in 2012, at the US Open and in 2013 in Dubai, when Federer faced back problems and seemed ready to hang his racket to the wall and call off his tennis career.

Since then, the Swiss has won 4 times against the Czech, including a 6-4 6-0 victory last year in Indian Wells. Considering the way Federer is playing and what is at stake, I believe the Swiss will win in four sets, under three hours, to complete victory number 16 against Tomas.

Novak Djokovic (SRB)[1] vs. Kei Nishikori (JPN)[7]

Some believe Novak’s 5-set battle with 100 unforced errors would be a symptom of a sudden lack of form for the World No.1. Truth is that each and every time Novak has slipped in the past, he has always managed to come out on top showing his very best in the following matches, when it mattered the most. Just think of the ATP Finals last November in London. Novak lost to Federer in the Round Robin, appeared below par against Berdych, then from the semis up to the final where he took revenge against the Swiss he was just flawless.

The battle with Simon I believe has only turned on the alarm light for the Serb, who I am sure went back to the practice courts training harder than ever, knowing he could lose against Nishikori and needs to bounce right back. He is probably going to do just that. It is true that Nishikori has beaten the Serb in the semis of the US Open in 2014, but it is also true that since that match Kei has lost four times in a row against Novak, including an embarrassing 6-1 6-1 defeat in London at the O2 Arena. Is there a chance to see great tennis? Yes, I hope and think so, but I don’t see Djokovic losing this match. Novak should win in 4 sets.

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US Open: Shelby Rogers Delivers; Serena Still A Threat To Win 24th Major

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Serena Williams - US Open (photo Twitter @usopen)

After all of these years of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelby Rogers is finally a seeded player.

 

The Charleston, S.C., native has been playing America’s premier tennis event almost continuously since her debut in New York in 2010. She’ll turn 30 years old in a few weeks and has worked her way up the rankings to 31st in the world.

That’s a big achievement from the little girl who hung on the fences more than two decades ago to watch her older sister Sabra play high school matches that eventually led to an Al-American career for Sabra at Emory University. Sabra became a psychologist and, of course, is one of  Shelby’s biggest fans.

LOOK OUT FOR ROGERS?

Rogers took the direct route. She didn’t play high school tennis, but left the classroom before high school to train in tennis, study online and play the junior circuit. She turned pro in 2009 at age 16.

Monday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, It took Rogers awhile to start living up to her ranking. But once she turned the corner after dropping the first set in nine games, Shelby started looking like a seasoned top 30 player.

Rogers sort of blew The Netherlands’ slim Arantxa Rus away, taking a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Rogers especially played the deciding 28th game of the match like the veteran pro she is. She hit one long forehand and netted one ball in that game, but otherwise she rode her big serve to victory in the clinching game. At 40-30, she delivered a huge first serve down the middle that Rus couldn’t put into play.

WOMEN’S RACE TO TOP PRIZE WIDE OPEN

The way things are on the women’s tour these days, with no true leader while once-amazing top-ranked Iga Swiatek tries to regain her dominance, anything is possible.

Yes, even finally a 24th Grand Slam title for Serena Williams.

But this is about Shelby Rogers. She is playing the best tennis of her career nearly a decade and a half after her life as a professional tennis player started.

With any kind of luck, Rogers could leave New York ranked among the top 25 players in the world, or maybe higher if she continues to serve and play the kind of big-ball tennis she played  in the last 19 games Monday night.

WHO’S NEXT IN LINE

So, what’s after Swiatek, who started the year on fire with a long unbeaten streak that went through the French Open and rewarded her with as many points as the confined totals of the Nos. 2 and 3 players. Of course, Ashleigh Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open opened the door for Swiatek’s rise to the top.

And then Wimbledon’s grass took care of Swiatek.

Nos. 2-5 Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur are all outstanding players, but none currently fit in the great column. They appear to be waiting in line for Swiatek or another Barty-like player to step forward to rule the women’s tour.

WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE’S DARIA!

Then there are almost totally unknown players such as Ukraine’s Daria Snigur. I hadn’t given Snigur much chance at all on the pro tour until her shocking U.S. Open first-round victory over multi-Grand Slam tournament winner and seventh-ranked Simona Halep. 

The last time I had thought about Snigur was when she upended Charleston’s Emma Navarro in the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and then won the Junior Grand Slam tournament.

At Junior Wimbledon in 2019, I thought Navarro, who also is now on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 145th in the world, would roll past Snigur the way she had in the 2019 Junior French Open quarterfinals. But Snigur is so deceptive with her ground strokes that strike like lightning, she dominated Navarro at that Junior Wimbledon.

So, maybe the currently 124th-ranked Snigur may be ready to make a mark on the tour after scoring her first tour victory by defeating Halep.

NO NOVAK, BUT RAFA IS THERE

Without Novak Djokovic, the men are about as unpredictable as the women, with the exception of one player. Rafa Nadal, of course, entered this U.S. Open, with a perfect 19-0 record this year in Grand Slams.

Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, but even though he is ranked No. 1 in the world, it’s a long road to the final for the Russian. Medvedev hasn’t always been predictable.

And already, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has been eliminated by a complete unknown, Daniel Elahi Galan.

Wow! The Greek star probably was about as much of a favorite as Medvedev.

And poor Dominic Thiem was cast on an outside court. And he lost. Just a couple of years ago, Thiem was winning the U.S. Open.

My top five picks in order would be: Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev and Andy Murray. Yes, Andy looks pretty fit.

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James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Will Rafael Nadal Keep The Grand Slam Winning Feeling Going In New York?

Rafael Nadal has injury doubts heading into his search for a 23rd grand slam title in New York.

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Rafael Nadal (@usopen - Twitter)

Rafael Nadal will look to repeat successes from Melbourne and Paris by answering his doubters with triumph in New York.

 

The Spaniard enters the last grand slam with injury doubts having only just come back from an abdominal injury suffered in his Wimbledon quarter-final against Taylor Fritz.

It was injury that saw his calendar grand slam dream come to an end and ever since then has been recovering in the hopes of finishing the grand slam year strong in New York.

However in his first match back Nadal was defeated in three sets to Borna Coric in New York which has put doubts on whether the Spaniard can be a threat in the US.

Nadal will likely not have to worry about Novak Djokovic but a victory in New York could see him be world number one with current number one Daniil Medvedev defending the title.

The likes of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be standing in Nadal’s way and if the Spaniard isn’t match-fit then he could face an early exit.

However as tennis pundit Barbara Schett pointed out, ruling out Nadal at this stage would be foolish and the Spaniard always raises his level at the grand slams, “The match is always different from practice,” Schett told Eurosport.

“And whoever had an abdominal injury and a tear on the abdominal muscles knows how it feels. You have to be extremely cautious. You’re worried that you’re going to reinjure it again.

“And I think that’s what we’ve seen on Wednesday. When he played against Coric, he was a little bit uncertain how the body was going to hold up. And for sure he’s going to feel better and better.

“If there’s no damage to the abdominal muscle, then he still has a week and a half to improve his health, to improve the trust also that he can extend and he can’t bend on the serve because that’s the trickiest shot, the serve and the smash.

“When that is the case, Rafa Nadal certainly can be dangerous again at the US Open. I mean, he’s so fired up at every single Grand Slam. We’ve seen this year playing the best tennis of his life. You can never, ever write him off.”

Nadal is currently undefeated at grand slams and if fit, the Spaniard will certainly fancy himself to win another seven matches at the US Open this year.

Whatever it should be interesting to see if Nadal improves before the US Open with the tournament starting on the 29th of August.

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Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?

Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.

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Iga Swiatek (@TennisHandshake - Twitter)

The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.

 

First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.

However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.

After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.

Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.

But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.

As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.

“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.

“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit. 

“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”

It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.

It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.

The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.

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