Kerber Makes her Debut Grand Slam Final - UBITENNIS
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Kerber Makes her Debut Grand Slam Final

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After her upset over Azarenka just 2 nights ago, Angelique Kerber emerged victorious once more against Johanna Konta 7-5, 6-2 to book her place in a Grand Slam final for the first time at 28 years of age.

 

Kerber celebrates her win over Konta (courtesy of zimbio)

Konta, who was born in Australia, made history herself by setting up this semi final clash with her German opponent. Unfortunately, her pile of unforced errors tonight proved to be the deciding factor. Kerber, who returned very well against Azarenka, continued to do so in this match, rising to the occasion. In many ways this was quite the unexpected semifinal match up.

Serving first to begin the match, Konta found herself immediately down 0-40 due to errant groundstrokes. She saved all 3 break points, only yo dump a forehand into the net to give the early break. In her next service game, she repeated the same mistake for 0-3. The rallies were intense but often cut short from an error off Konta’s racket. Nerves looked to be the big factor, which is understandable. Finally, she earns a break point with a big forehand neat the sideline, and followed it in with an overhead to get on the scoreboard. In the 6th game, a net cord goes against Kerber, and it was back on serve at 3-3 in almost the blink of an eye. Konta carried the momentum to hold at love for 4-3, a dramatic turnaround. At 5-5 however, the German who is ranked over 40 places higher than the Brit, broke to serve out the set. Just then out of nowhere a slight rain drizzle forced a delay. Play was suspended, and it looked as if luck was on Konta’s side. But once play resumed, it was clear that Kerber picked up right where she left off, going up 40-0 for 3 set points. In a split decision Konta mixed things up by going for a dropshot, but Kerber chased it down with time to spare and hit into the open court to take the set.

Set 2 began with a break as well for Kerber to take a commanding 2-0 lead. The next game Konta held serve but Kerber responded by holding her own at love for 3-1. As she has done throughout the week, the German anticipated well and often took the ball early on the return of serve to set up the point. Konta quickly faced more break points at 15-40, but she saved both to deuce. For the few instances where Kerber’s big return failed to win her the point, Konta instead chose to pull the trigger instead of staying in the point, and thus allowed another break for 1-4. This point perfectly illustrated the theme of this match. Indeed, Konta racked up 36 errors compared to just 11 for Kerber. Down 1-5, Konta made a formidable push and held for 2-5. Then the next game at 40-30, first match point on Kerber’s racket, she went for a slice serve out wide. You guessed it: Konta made her final error of the day with a return that landed long.

An elated Kerber thanked the Rod Laver Arena crowd profusely as she did last match “it’s unbelievable feeling to play here on center court….I was trying to give everything today on court.” When asked about her the Final with Williams she said “looking forward to play Serena…I have nothing to lose.”  The German did openly plead for help from her tennis Idol, announcing on court “Steffi [Graf] write me please!” to the delight of the crowd. And as she walked off teh stadium, chants of “Angie! Angie!” trailed behind her.

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US Open Daily Preview: Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud Play for the Men’s Singles Championship

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Carlos Alcaraz at the end of Friday’s semifinal (twitter.com/usopen)

History will be made on Sunday at the US Open.  In an unprecedented men’s championship match, the winner will not only earn their first Major title, but also become the World No.1 for the first time.  So much is on the line for both 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz and 23-year-old Casper Ruud.

 

Alcaraz comes from humble beginnings, growing up in a small village called El Palmar in Murcia, Spain.  His father was a semi-professional tennis player, and Carlitos picked up the game from a very young age.  In 2018, he joined the tennis academy of former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who quickly recognized the talent and potential of Alcaraz, and has been his primary coach ever since.  His idol is fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

Ruud is the son of former top 40 player Christian Ruud, who also serves as his coach.  Casper grew up in Oslo, Norway, and continues to set new records for Norwegian players: the first to win an ATP title, to reach a Major final, and to be ranked in the top 10.  And like Alcaraz, his idol is Rafael Nadal.


Casper Ruud (5) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Alcaraz is looking to become the youngest World No.1 in history, and the first teenager to ever achieve that feat.  He is the youngest men’s finalist at a Major since Nadal at Roland Garros in 2005.  Just last year, Carlitos was ranked outside the top 100.  But since last summer, he has skyrocketed up the rankings.  He leads the tour with 50 match wins in 2022, and is 5-2 lifetime in ATP finals.

Ruud, currently ranked No.7, is looking to make the biggest rankings jump to No.1 of all-time.  This is his second Major final out of the last three, after being a surprise finalist three months ago in Paris.  In that championship match, he was routed by Nadal 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.  Overall, Casper is 9-4 in finals.

Alcaraz is 2-0 against Ruud, having claimed both those matches in straight sets.  They occurred a year ago on clay in Marbella, and six months ago in the final of the Miami Masters on a hard court. 

It’s hard to fathom Carlitos will be close to 100% physically on Sunday.  He is coming off three consecutive five-set wins that went late into the night or the morning, and even had to save a match point in his especially epic five-setter against Jannik Sinner.  As per Ravi Ubha, Alcaraz is the first player since Andre Agassi in 2005 to win three straight five-setters in the round directly before a Major final.  However, the youngster is remarkably fit, and continues to recover surprisingly well from his grueling five-set battles.

The second half of Ruud’s road to this championship match was considerably less complicated, spending over four hours less on court than Alcaraz since the fourth round.  Casper will be the much fresher competitor, yet even though he possesses previous experience in a Major final, he has much less experience in defeating top players.  He is 0-5 at Slams against top 5 opposition.

Unlike Ruud, Alcaraz has a favorable record against the top 10, having claimed seven of his last nine matches.  His incredible mix of speed and power make his game nearly impenetrable when he’s at his best.  And considering his comfortable victories over Casper in the recent past, Carlitos is the favorite to win his first Major title and become the new World No.1.


Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles championship match will be played at 1:00pm local time.  It’s Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (3) vs. Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend.  Krejcikova and Siniakova are vying for their sixth Major as a team, and their third of the season.  This title would complete their career Grand Slam.  McNally was a finalist at last year’s US Open alongside Coco Gauff.  Townsend is a two-time Slam semifinalist, including earlier this season at Roland Garros.  This is only Katy and Taylor’s second event as a team.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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US Open Daily Preview: Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur Play for the Women’s Singles Championship

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Iga Swiatek during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/usopen)

The championship match in women’s singles at the last Major of the year is fittingly between the two best players of 2022.  They are also two of the sport’s most likable competitors, with plenty of flair and aggression in their games.

 

Iga Swiatek 56-7 this season, with six titles, all of which were accumulated during a 37-match winning streak.  The world No.1 has more than double the points of all other players this season.  And the two-time Roland Garros champion has now achieved her first Slam final on a hard court.

Ons Jabeur is 44-13 on the year,with two titles.  She will reach a career-high ranking of No.2 based on this result, her second Major final this summer.  Ons is the first woman to achieve back-to-back Major finals since Serena Williams in 2019.


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Ons Jabeur (5) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Swiatek’s best tennis has often escaped during her this event, and she’s spoken openly regarding the court speed and tennis balls not being to her liking.  But she has still advanced to this final fairly economically, dropping only two sets through six matches.  Iga has now claimed her last nine matches against top 10 opposition, and is a perfect 9-0 in tournament finals within the last two years, claiming all nine of those in straight sets.

Jabeur was only 10-8 this season on hard courts prior to this fortnight, and went just 2-3 on this surface in August after her highly disappointing loss in the championship match at Wimbledon, where she won just four of the last 16 games after securing the first set.  However, she dropped only one set in her first six rounds, and dominated a red-hot Caroline Garcia in the semifinals by a score of 6-1, 6-3.  Ons is 2-3 in finals this year, and only 3-6 lifetime.

Swiatek and Jabeur have split four previous meetings, and split their two encounters on hard courts.  They played once before at a Major, with Ons prevailing in three sets in the round of 16 at last year’s Wimbledon.  When they met this season, in the final of Rome on clay, Iga was comfortably victorious 6-2, 6-2.

Swiatek will look to dictate play from the baseline, but will need to cut down on her unforced error count.  In all of her six matches this tournament, she has struck more errors than winners, averaging a -8 differential.  Jabeur is an excellent server, especially for her height, but will need to dramatically increase her first serve percentage.  In her semifinal against Caroline Garcia, it was only 43%.  Iga’s aggressive returns would easily exploit that on Saturday.

Based on her play this year, as well as her outstanding record in finals, Swiatek is the favorite to win her third Major title.  But regardless of the outcome, if these two competitors both play anywhere near their best tennis, they could create one of the most memorable finals in recent memory.


Also on Saturday, the mixed doubles championship match will be played at 12:00pm local time.  It’s the Aussie team of Storm Sanders and John Peers (4) vs. Kirsten Flipkens and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Peers and France’s Roger-Vasselin have both previously won a men’s doubles titles at their respective home Slams.  Flipkens retired from singles after this year’s Wimbledon.  Her and Sanders are both vying for their first Major title.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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US Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals (twitter.com/usopen)

The men’s semifinals feature four players all vying for their first Major title.  Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud is the only remaining man who has previously played in a Slam semifinal.  Carlos Alcaraz, Frances Tiafoe, and Karen Khachanov are all making their debut at this stage of a Major.  And both Ruud and Alcaraz have a chance to leave New York as the new world No.1 if they win the title, or if one reaches the final and the other loses in the semifinals.  Which two men will advance to Sunday’s championship match, and which one will become a first-time Slam champ? 

 

Also on Friday, the men’s doubles final will be played.  And it is a blockbuster between the top two seeds.


Karen Khachanov (27) vs. Casper Ruud (5) – Not Before 3:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Ruud has reached this semifinal rather efficiently, dropping only three sets.  And in the one five-setter he played, he comfortably claimed the fifth set 6-0.  Casper previously had the reputation of being a clay court specialist, but he’s now 17-6 this season on hard courts, and was a finalist at the Masters 1000 event in Miami.

Khachanov was a two-time Major quarterfinalist before this fortnight, yet those results came on clay and grass.  He had never previously advanced beyond the third round of a hard court Slam.  None of his matches at this event have been easy, as he lost at least set in each.  Karen is coming off consecutive five-setters against Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios.

Their only prior encounter occurred two years ago on clay in Rome, with Ruud prevailing 6-1 in the third.  And Casper looked extremely sharp in the last round against another big server, Matteo Berrettini, returning aggressively and breaking the Italian five times across three sets.  Ruud will also be the fresher competitor on Friday, despite each player having two full days of rest.  Casper should be favored to reach his second final out of the last three Majors.


Carlos Alcaraz (3) vs. Frances Tiafoe (22) – Not Before 7:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

These are two of the sport’s most exciting, charismatic young stars.  But only one will reach their first championship match at a Major this week.

Tiafoe has exhilarated the New York audience, and dropped only one set through five matches.   He is a perfect 6-0 in tiebreaks during this tournament, and spent significantly less time on court than Alcaraz.

Carlitos has played consecutive epics that ended early in the morning.  In the fourth round, he came back from a set down in the fifth to defeat Marin Cilic.  In the quarterfinals, he played for five hours and fifteen minutes, and until nearly three in the morning, to overcome Jannik Sinner in what was easily the best match of the year to date. 

Tiafoe and Alcaraz have only played once, a year ago on clay in Barcelona, with Frances winning in straight sets.  Even though that was only 17 months ago, Carlitos was ranked outside the top 100 at the time, and he’s now the ATP’s winningest player in 2022.  However, while he’s one of the fittest athletes in the sport, he can’t possibly be 100% coming into this semifinal.  Even by five-hour match standards, that quarterfinal with Sinner was incredibly taxing, with an extremely high level maintained throughout the match.  And that will be a huge advantage for a confident Tiafoe, who also thrives playing in front of big crowds, and in night matches in his home country.  I like Tiafoe’s chances of becoming the first American man to reach a Major singles final since Andy Roddick.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (1) vs. Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski (2) – Ram and Salisbury are the defending champions, while Koolhof and Skupski are easily the best men’s doubles team of 2022, with six titles.  These teams split two meetings earlier this year on hard courts.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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