Same Match Up, Same Result As Victoria Azarenka Shines In Melbourne - UBITENNIS
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Grand Slam

Same Match Up, Same Result As Victoria Azarenka Shines In Melbourne

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Victoria Azarenka has booked her ticket into the quarterfinals once more after her win over Barbora Strycova in straight sets today 6-2 6-4.

It was a sunny day on Rod Laver Arena as both players took to court, Victoria with her trademark earphones on. Strycova, who arrives after her huge upset over Muguruza in the previous round, is 0-4 thus far against the tall Belarusian. In fact, the two faced each other here at last year’s Australian Open as well.

Most fans know Azarenaka’s big hitting game, but were treated to the same from the other side of the net as well. Indeed, it was a battle of power today, and it was Strycova’s errors that proved too costly in the end. She racked up 33 total, more than double Azarenaka’s 14.

The first set, first game Strycova came out firing right away with an ace to hold serve. On her next service game however, the crowd is reminded why Azarenaka can be so dangerous, as she is able to hit with pace even when out of position, earning her 3 break chances. A fierce competitor herself, Strycova wisely saved break point off a dropshot, the first of many to come this match. After saving all 3 break points, she followed it up with a big forehand winner and then serve to hold for 2-1. This was not going to be the cakewalk akin to Azarenaka’s previous rounds.Victoria responded with conviction however, continuing to go big on her shots making the much shorter player run from side to side to win the point. She even threw in her own dropshot as if to say “I can do it too.” To Strycova’s credit, she stuck to her game plan and executed without nerves, but not the desired result. After hitting yet another dropshot winner, she then missed a forehand long to face break point. This time, Azarenka immediately stepped inside the baseline to return and Strycova then dumped her shot into the net for the break 1-3. Azarenka kept her momentum going, staying aggressive and coming to net to finish points. In the 7th game, Strycova has kept pace with a big forehand down the line. She then also ventured up to net but Azarenka blasted a backhand pass her to secure the double break for 5-2. The Czech player refused to lose in the power game as she kept going for bigger, but it merely ended in free points to Azarenka, this time for set point. And instead of making Azarenka win it, she missed again to give away the set. To be sure, the match was tighter than the score indicated however.

The game plan was sound, but Strycova’s lack of execution continued as set 2 got underway. She was never able to threaten Victoria on her service games due to her high error count. She managed only 2 break chances for the match, and converted 0. But one thing she does do better is the dropshot, which she continued to amaze the crowd with here and there for easy free points. Victoria on the other hand stood her ground at the baseline where she is much more comfortable, taking the ball early and redirecting it almost at will, forcing Strycova from side to side until the next error. More aggressive tennis from both sides ensued, with big returns off Strycova’s racket while Azarenka made a trip up to net to crush a backhand into the open court for 2-2. In the next game Azarenka had a chance for a break when Strcova double faults, but she then missed her own forehand. Both players remained dedicated to their power game plan, with Strycova adding in the dropshot element to stay toe to toe at 30-30. Once again, Azarenka earned break point with a big backhand into the corner but failed to convert with a missed return. As if the first set wasn’t tight enough, it looked dead even halfway through the 2nd set. In the 7th game, Azarenka applied the pressure non stop, returning from inside the baseline on each serve, and finally connects on a swinging volley that made Strycova slide into a fall in her attempt to chase the ball down. And then the unexpected happened: Strycova’s next drop shot floated high, which gave Azarenka plenty of time and she put it away for the lead 4-3. The finish line was in sight, but the very emotional Strycova continued her battle in the very next game, which began with a very long point that featured several lobs and overheads, ending with a bad call and a challenge that went in her favor. Azarenka showed some nerves herself, and proceeded to double fault to deuce. She then floated a forehand long to give Strycova the break chance right back. But the former champion fought off 2 more break chances and closed out the game at net with a winner down the line. 5-3. Whereas Victoria is most comfortable at the baseline, Strycova showed that she is much more an all court player as she came to net with winning volleys and overheads. She held fairly easy for 4-5. It was back on Azarenka’s racket to serve it out. And she only needed the first of two match points to cross that finish line.

Afterwards it was quite clear her mind was not focused on the tennis that she just played as she surveyed the entire Rod Laver crowd “Can somebody please tell me the Broncos win?”, to which the confirmation led her to then announce “I am so happy right now…I have a headache before the match” referring to her refusing to watch the NFL before coming out to play. On a more serious note, she then spoke about the match “I am just so happy I went through…I played smart…the 4 games I lost all the credit to Barbara…I am living my dream everyday.”

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ATP

Novak Djokovic Confident Of Peaking At French Open As 14-Time Champ Nadal Ponders One Last Hurrah

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Novak Djokovic believes he is on the right track to reaching his best form at the French Open despite missing two out of the last three Masters events.

The world No.1 returns to action this week in Rome at the Italian Open which he is seeking to win for the seventh time in his career. Djokovic last played on the Tour on April 13th when he lost in the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Open to Casper Ruud. So far this season he has won 11 out of 15 matches played.

After opting to skip Madrid to rest his body, the revitalised Serbian told reporters on Wednesday that he is raring to go ahead of what will be a packed summer. Besides two Grand Slam events, he will also be chasing after his first-ever Olympic gold medal in Paris. 

“I had plenty of time to also rest and train. Had a good training block.” Said Djokovic.
“I think I’m on a good route to peak at Roland Garros in Paris. Hopefully, in Rome, I can play better than I did in Monte Carlo. The wish is always to go far. But let’s see. 
“It’s a different concept now. It’s the first time that Rome and Madrid are almost two-week events, like Indian Wells and Miami. It gives you more time to recover between matches if you keep going in the tournament, which I think is useful for me.”

In recent weeks Djokovic has also seen changes in his team following the departure of coach Goran Ivanisevic. More recently, he stopped working with fitness coach Marco Panichi and has now rehired his former longtime trainer Gebhard Gritsch.

“I am working currently with a fitness coach that I worked with for many years. It didn’t take much time to adapt to his program and approach,” Djokovic explained.
“We know each other really well. That’s why I feel like we’re synchronized from the very beginning in terms of what we want to do, how we want to approach the program of training on and off the court. 
“I’m pleased with the way the last 10 days, 14 days went in terms of training, in terms of preparation and looking ahead to this tournament, but particularly Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Olympic Games. That’s the block for which we are preparing the most.”

Nadal continues goodbye Tour

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Whilst 24-time major winner Djokovic is already planning for the next major, one of his nemesis is yet to commit to playing.

Rafael Nadal will continue what many view as a farewell Tour in Rome where he will be unseeded in the draw. At his most recent tournament in Madrid, the Spaniard beat top 10 player Alex de Minaur en route to the third round. Shortly after his run, the 37-year-old confirmed that it would be the last time he played there. 

“I can’t have a clear answer,” Nadal replied when asked how he feels about potentially playing his last French Open in 2024. 
“First of all, I want to play Rome. I don’t think after that. If after that I feel ready to play Roland Garros, I cannot predict what kind of emotions I going to have there.
“I just want to enjoy every day. I am enjoying playing tennis. It always depends on my body how far I can keep going in terms of timing. I am happy doing what I’m doing. 
“When I’m talking about retirement it is not because I’m not happy anymore playing tennis or I’m not feeling myself competitive enough. That’s not the case. It’s about the body was not able to play weeks in a row and was not able to allow me to practice on a daily basis.”
“Now is my third week on the tour almost in a row, so… It’s a good moment, even if the results are not what used to be. But I am increasing my level. I want to keep going.”

Unlike Djokovic, Nadal doesn’t have a first round bye in Italy and will begin his campaign against qualifier Zizou Bergs. Compared to previous years he will be more of an underdog in the draw. A role he is taking in his stride.

“All the matches are tough for me today and more unpredictable than what the matches used to be for me, especially on clay.” He said.
“I accept that role. I accept that challenge. I am excited about the way that I can be able to play if I keep working the proper way and my body allows me.”

Djokovic and Nadal are currently ranked in the top two on the all-time list when it comes to most Masters titles won. Djokovic leads with 40 trophies ahead of his opponent who is on 36. 

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Grand Slam

Australian Open Considering Switching Women’s Final To Sunday In Future

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The Australian Open could become the first Grand Slam to break away from the tradition of women playing their singles final first. 

According to a report from the Australian Associated Press, tournament chief Craig Tiley is open to making such a move which wouldn’t require any approval from either the WTA or ATP. However, they would likely need to consult with players first and no changes are set to be made in 2025. 

The reasoning for making such a change is due to the women’s final usually being shorter than the men’s best with it being a best-of-three set match. Compared to the men who play the best-of-five. Their thinking is that due to the length of men’s matches increasing in recent years, staging it on a Saturday would enable more people to watch the entire match compred to a Sunday when many are consious about staying up late due to the working week starting on Monday. 

This year’s Australian Open saw Jannik Sinner bounce back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a epic encounter that lasted three hours and 46 minuites. Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka required an hour and 17 mnuites to beat China’s Qinwen Zheng and capture the title. 

Should such a switch take place, it is estimated that the Sunday finale would end at around 10:30pm local time instead of after midnight, which would make it more appealing to fans. Furthermore, it could throw the women’s final more into the spotlight. 

However, there will be obstacles that need to be addressed. The most significant for the Australian Open will be trying to ensure that their 48-hour recovery period between best-of-five-set men’s matches will still be followed. 

This year was the first time in history that the Melbourne major took place over 15 days with play starting on a Sunday. Organisers claimed that the move was done in order to prevent the number of late-night finishes. However, it has little effect on any matches that took place after the first round. 

It is throught that now the event is held over 15 days, it gives more room for organisers to schedule the men’s final for a Saturday. The proposal was discussed during this year’s Australian Open’s official debrief. 

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Grand Slam

It Wasn’t The Same Old Story On Sunday Down Under

Jannik Sinner won his first Grand Slam title on Sunday.

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(@janniksin - Twitter)

It’s been the same old story at the Australian Open for a long time in the men’s game.

One of the greats almost always would take the top prize Down Under. Either Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or even Stan Wawrinka always prevailed since 2006 at Melbourne.

And then came Jannik Sinner in 2024.

None of the other superstars were still around for Sunday’s final.

A DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Yes, this time it was a different Australian Open.

But actually Sinner may have written his own story when he upended Djokovic in the semifinals. Without that experience, the slender Italian may not have been able to handle the pressure that Daniil Medvedev sent his way in the final.

Sinner was ready for the finish line after shocking Djokovic in the semifinals. It just took time to get there.

Sinner played within himself most of the last three sets of the final. A first-time Grand Slam finalist, Sinner played as if he belonged there in those three sets.

But, oh, those first two sets when Medvedev dominated play with his backhand from the middle of the court. Backhands usually are reserved for the backhand side of the court, but not with the tall Russian on the court.

SINNER DIDN’T PLAY HIS GAME AT FIRST

In a similar manner as women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka, Sinner followed up a big semifinal win with his own Australian Open title. Only, Sinner had to fight for five sets to accomplish his dream Down Under with a 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Medvedev.

Sinner appeared to play far differently from his victory over Djokovic when he controlled the court with his aggressive play and power.

This time, Sinner started things conservatively with few aggressive winners, repeatedly leaving the corners wide open for Medvedev’s crafty, but hard hit strokes. Medvedev made Sinner  pay a price with a style of play that was just the opposite.

Medvedev played close to the baseline and aggressively hopped on balls with his backhand in whip-lash fashion. He hardly had to move as he conserved energy.

THE STRATEGY ALMOST WORKED TO PERFECTION

Medvedev’s strategy worked like a charm until Sinner served the ninth game of the third set as Medvedev once needed only six points for a possible Grand Slam title. Sinner managed to overcome a deuce score to win that game.

Medvedev fell behind 30-0 serving the 10th game of the set and then Sinner got his first set point. Sinner made it stand up and it was a new game after that.

Sinner didn’t appear to be ready for Medvedev’s game the first two sets, but the Italian then came alive. He became prepared for Medvedev, even after losing the first two sets.

Of course, Sabalenka got her boost from a surprising, but solid win over talented Coco Graff in the women’s semifinals. Sabalenka then was never really challenged by Qinwen Zheng in the final.

Sinner’s final was much different.  He was somewhat lucky to escape with  a win.

Medvedev almost wrapped up the title in the ninth game, but it didn’t happen. As a result, Sinner may have started his own success story in Grand Slam finals.

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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