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.”
Australian Open Daily Preview: US Open Champions Collide in the First Round
At the last Major, then-18-year-old Emma Raducanu completed one of the most surprising title runs in sports history. Ranked 150th in the world, she won 10 consecutive matches over the course of qualifying and the main draw without dropping a set, and without even contesting a tiebreak. In only her fourth tour-level event, Emma claimed her first Major title. She has understandably lost a few matches after such a surprising, life-changing feat. And in the opening round of the next Major, she has drawn fellow US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
The other shocking finalist from this past September in New York, Leylah Fernandez, will also return to Grand Slam competition on Tuesday. WTA action also features several multi-time Major singles champions, as well as Anett Kontaveit, who was the hottest player on tour at the end of last season.
Great Britain’s biggest male tennis star, Andy Murray, is a five-time runner-up of this tournament. Three years ago, he played what was thought to be his last match in Australia, which included an emotional sendoff after a five-set loss to Roberto Bautista Agut. But after multiple hip surgeries, Murray has returned to Australia, where just last week in Sydney, he reached his first ATP final since 2019. At that event, he overcame Nikoloz Basilashvili in a grueling three-hour three-setter. On Tuesday, they will meet again.
Other ATP action includes US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, Roland Garros finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur.
Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Tuesday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Nikoloz Basilashvili (21) vs. Andy Murray (WC) – Not Before 3:00pm on John Cain Arena
Since missing last February’s Australian Open due to a positive COVID test, Murray is a modest 19-16 at tour level, yet has shown consistent progress throughout that run. At the end of last season, he earned two top 10 victories (Hurkacz, Sinner). Basilashvili gained 35 victories in 2021, winning two titles and also reaching the final of Indian Wells. But at the Majors, he went only 3-4. In addition to Andy’s victory last week in Sydney, he also defeated Nikoloz in the first round of Wimbledon last June. Both their matches have been tight, but with both going to Murray, the Brit is the favorite on this day as well. He possesses much more variety than Basilashvili, and is eager to prove he can still be a factor at Slams.
Angelique Kerber (16) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Fourth on Kia Arena
Due to suffering from COVID-19 in December, Kerber has not played a match since Indian Wells in October. And as Simona Halep’s former coach Darren Cahill has often stated, Kanepi is one of the last people any player wants to see as their opening round draw. He speaks from experience: Kaia upset Simona in the first round of the 2018 US Open. As per Tennis Abstract, that’s one of eight top 10 victories Kanepi has at Majors, which also includes a win last year here over the defending champion, Sofia Kenin. The 36-year-old Estonian is a six-time Slam quarterfinalist, and claimed two ITF events in the second half of last year. These players have split four previous meetings, though they haven’t played in over eight years. Considering Kerber’s interrupted preparation for this tournament, Kanepi has a great opportunity to score another first round upset at a Major.
Alex de Minaur (32) vs. Lorenzo Musetti – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena
De Minaur loves this first month of the season in his home country. He went 2-1 at the ATP Cup, earning impressive wins over Matteo Berrettini and Ugo Humbert. He’s yet to advance to the second week of his home Slam, but that could change this week in an open section of the draw, where Casper Ruud is the highest-ranked player. Musetti is one of many standout young Italians. The 20-year-old started last season by reaching two Challenger finals, then coming through qualifying to be the runner-up in Acapulco. But his results tapered off from there, losing more matches than he won for the rest of 2021. However, his flashy style should make for a fun contrast to the speed of the Australian. And Alex will certainly feel the pressure of competing in Australia, especially during the night session. This could turn into one of the most compelling matches of Day 2.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Mikael Ymer – Last on Rod Laver Arena
Tsitsipas is still working to get back to 100% after undergoing elbow surgery in the offseason, which casts doubt as to whether he is ready for best-of-five competition. Stefanos had a great 2021, accumulating 55 wins. At this event a year ago, he earned one of the signature wins of his career: a comeback from two-sets-down over Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Ymer is a 23-year-old from Sweden who last year in Melbourne achieved his first appearance in the third round of a Major. But that’s where he ran into Tsitsipas, who comfortably defeated him 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. I would expect their meeting this year to be much closer, yet despite his recent elbow issues, the Greek remains the favorite to advance.
Emma Raducanu (17) vs. Sloane Stephens – Last on Margaret Court Arena
Since the US Open, Raducanu is only 2-4, and is another player who battled COVID-19 in the offseason. In her only match thus far this year, she lost to Elena Rybakina 6-0, 6-1. Considering how talented the 19-year-old is, and with the accomplished Torben Beltz now her coach, good results are assumedly ahead of her. But they may not be immediate, as Emma tries to adjust to her new normal as a huge star, and as a Major champion. Sloane Stephens is someone who can relate to that situation, as her 2017 US Open title run also came as a surprise, coming shortly after missing almost a year of action. The American went just 19-18 last year, and is yet to play in 2022 after recently getting married. But in this battle of US Open champs, Sloane should be favored. Raducanu is going to feel much different at this Major than her last, with all the attention and expectations she is now experiencing.
Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:
Garbine Muguruza (3) vs. Clara Burel – Muguruza is coming off the third-biggest title of her career, winning the WTA Finals in Guadalajara. She was a finalist here two years ago. Burel is a 20-year-old from France who reached four ITF finals and one WTA final last season.
Anett Kontaveit (6) vs. Katerina Siniakova – Kontaveit ended 2021 by going 29-4, and winning an astounding four titles in just over two months. Siniakova is the No.1 doubles player in the world, who earned significant singles victories last year over Serena Williams as well as Muguruza. Anett leads their head-to-head 4-1, which includes two wins within the last six months.
Leylah Fernandez (23) vs. Maddison Inglis (WC) – Like Raducanu, Fernandez has struggled to immediately follow-up on her US Open run, going just 3-2 since. Inglis is a 24-year-old Australian who at a lower-level event three years ago lost to Leylah in a third set tiebreak.
Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Henri Laaksonen – With Djokovic out of the tournament, Medvedev is now the favorite, but how will he perform with that knowledge? Laaksonen is a 29-year-old from Switzerland who advanced to the third round of two Slams last season. During a 2019 Davis Cup tie, Medvedev defeated him in three sets.
Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Storm Sanders (WC) – Sabalenka has endured an awful start to 2022. She is 0-2, and is dealing with some major technical issues on her serve, striking 39 double faults across those two losses. Storm Sanders is a 24-year-old Australian who won a double stitle two weeks ago with Ash Barty. She is seeking her first-ever singles win at a Major.
Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.
Australian Open: Women’s First Round Blockbusters on Day One
The draw for the Australian Open 2022 has been made and the schedule has also been released for opening day
The draw for the Australian Open 2022 has been made and the schedule has also been released ahead of tomorrow’s opening day.
I think the battle of the American’s, Sofia Kenin vs Madison Keys is going to be a fantastic match.
On the one hand, Kenin is a Grand Slam champion having won here in Australia two years ago, beating two-time Major champion Garbiñe Muguruza.
Kenin, 23, may have reached the final of the French Open later that year, but she has largely struggled with injuries since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, Keys reached her only Grand Slam final way back in 2017 at the US Open, losing comprehensively on home soil to compatriot Sloane Stephens.
At 26-years-old, Keys, is no longer the prodigy she once was. Although her form has nosedived in recent years, the world number 87 won the Adelaide title last week to suggest she might be making a comeback.
Both players have a point to prove and hard-courts are arguably their best surface. I am expecting a decent match.
Spain’s Paula Badosa takes on Australian number two Ajla Tomljanovic, partner of men’s player and last year’s Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini.
Badosa made her big breakthrough last year, rising to a high of six in the world that brought with it a first Masters 1000 victory, as she stunned Victoria Azarenka at Indian Wells, in three sets.
Although, she has struggled at the Grand Slams, with a quarter-final appearance at last year’s French Open, her deepest run to date.
However, last week’s triumph in Sydney will give Badosa fresh optimism she can go deep in Melbourne.
Croatian born Tomljanovic may often stand in Ashleigh Barty’s shadow in the Australian women’s game, but she is a talented player and could cause an upset on home soil.
Next up is Belinda Bencic who takes on Kristina Mladenovic.
Swiss Bencic might be remembered by some fans as Roger Federer’s partner in crime, where she helped the 20-time Grand Slam champion win the popular Hopman Cup event in its final edition back in 2019. This backed up their 2018 victory.
Bencic has been inconsistent but still won the Dubai Duty Free Championships that same year and won Olympic Gold at last year’s COVID delayed Tokyo Olympics.
Mladenovic’s form may have plummeted but she is a former top-ten player and a seasoned doubles player, having won five-doubles Grand Slam titles.
Now at 91 in the world, she is unlikely to be a threat to Bencic, but in tennis, anything can happen.
The other matches to look out for would be Czech ace, and current French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who entertains veteran German Andrea Petkovic.
And finally, 2017 French Open champion and last year’s Eastbourne International winner Jelena Ostapenko, 24, plays Anna Schmiedlova.
The Slovakian knows how to cause an upset after big wins over Venus Williams and Azarenka at the 2020 French Open, and another upset could be on the cards.
Australian Open Daily Preview: The First Major of 2022 Begins
A year after this event was delayed until February due to the pandemic, the Australian Open is back on schedule in 2022. While Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic will not be present, top names like Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Daniil Medvedev are all playing.
The men’s singles draw only includes four Major singles champions (Nadal, Murray, Cilic, Medvedev). Will this be the second straight Slam where a new Grand Slam champion is crowned? Following the deportation of Djokovic, reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev is now the favorite. But how will he react to that pressure? And recent Slam finalists like Sascha Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Matteo Berrettini are eager to take advantage of this opportunity.
The women’s singles draw features 14 Major singles champions. As the trend has been for many years, the last nine Slams have been won by eight different women. Will someone such as Barty or Osaka assert their Major prowess, or will another new name prevail? And how will Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez perform after their electrifying runs at the US Open?
Monday’s schedule sees three of 2021’s most improved Americans taking on top ATP names: Nadal, Berrettini, and Norrie. WTA action includes the 2020 champion taking on a title winner from just 48 hours earlier, while another of Saturday’s champs faces the No.2 Australian. And defending champion Osaka, as well as top-seeded Barty, will also play their opening matches.
Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Monday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Brandon Nakashima – Second on Margaret Court Arena
With Djokovic removed from the draw, Berrettini is now the highest seed in his quarter. Six months after reaching his first Major final, Berrettini is seeking put last year’s Australian Open disappointment behind him, when he was forced to withdraw from his fourth round match against Stefanos Tsitsipas due to an abdominal injury. Injuries have unfortunately been a recurring theme in Matteo’s career. Just two months ago at the ATP Finals, the Italian was heartbroken when an oblique injury knocked him out of the event’s debut in his home country. In his return from injury at this month’s ATP Cup, Berrettini went only 1-2, though he did push Medvedev to three sets in a high-quality affair. Nakashima is a 20-year-old American who won two Challenger titles last season, and reached back-to-back hard court ATP finals in July. Brandon earned six top 40 victories in the second half of 2021. He can definitely test the Italian No.1, but he cannot match Berrettini’s fire power, which should enable Matteo to dictate his fate.
Cam Norrie (12) vs. Sebastian Korda – Third on Kia Arena
Kia Arena is a new 5,000-seat on the grounds of Melbourne Park, and is now the tournament’s fourth-largest venue. Norrie had a tremendous 2021, going 52-25 with two titles, including his first Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells. However, he’s currently on a four-match losing streak, and went 0-3 two weeks ago in the ATP Cup. Meanwhile, Korda rose 80 spots in the rankings last season, finishing inside the top 40. The now-21-year-old claimed his first ATP title in Parma, and was the runner-up of the ATP Next Gen Finals. Last January, in the Delray Beach semifinals, Korda defeated Norrie 6-3, 7-5. Sebi is yet to compete in 2022, as he tested positive for COVID upon arriving in Australia. With neither player currently possessing a considerable amount of momentum, 12th-seeded Norrie is the favorite to advance based on his recent success and significant edge in experience.
Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Marcos Giron – Not Before 4:00pm on Rod Laver Arena
As Gaspar Ribeiro Lanca highlighted on Twitter, this will be the first Major of Nadal’s long career without both Federer and Djokovic in the draw. But Rafa does not arrive with much match play, which is usually crucial to his chances at a Slam. This will only be Nadal’s fourth match since the first week of August. He only required three wins to prevail at a lead-up event two weeks ago in Melbourne, his first tournament since undergoing a procedure to address a lingering foot injury. Overall Rafa was 24-5 in 2021. At this event a year ago, he let a two-set lead slip in the quarterfinals against Stefanos Tsitsipas. Giron is a 28-year-old American who achieved a career-high ranking of No.56 this past October. Between June and October, he reached four ATP quarterfinals. However, upending a player as formidable as the 20-time Major champ is a feat Marcos is yet to achieve. But he should offer enough to resistance to reveal just how ready Nadal’s body is for this Major, in his first best-of-five match since June.
Sofia Kenin (11) vs. Madison Keys – Not Before 5:00pm on John Cain Arena
Last week was huge for the career of Madison Keys. After going 11-15 last season, she gained her first title since 2019 by becoming the champion in Adelaide. Similarly, Kenin also had a rough 2021, and is hoping to rediscover the form that made her 2020’s WTA Player of the Year by bringing her father back as her coach, just six months after he left her team. Kenin has a 2-2 record thus far in 2022. These Americans played three times in 2019, with Keys taking both of their hard court matchups. Based on that history, and their current form, Madison should be favored to eliminate the 2020 champion.
Paula Badosa (8) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Last on Margaret Court Arena
On Saturday in the Sydney final, Badosa overcame Barbora Krejickova in a third-set tiebreak after a dogged fight by both players. The Indian Wells champ has now won 13 of her last 16 matches. Tomljanovic advanced to her first Major quarterfinal six months ago at The Championships, but has lost almost as many matches as she’s won since that time. And just this past Wednesday in Sydney, she was defeated by Badosa in their first meeting. Assuming Paula is fully recovered from Saturday’s grueling final, the Spaniard should be able to eliminate the Australian for the second time in as many weeks.
Other Notable Matches on Monday:
Naomi Osaka (13) vs. Camila Osorio – This will only be Osaka’s fourth match since her US Open upset at the hands of Leylah Fernandez. Osorio is 20-year-old from Colombia who ended 2021 at a career-high ranking thanks to reaching her second WTA final in October. This is their first career meeting.
Reilly Opelka (23) vs. Kevin Anderson – Opelka achieved his first two Masters 1000 semifinals last year, and debuted inside the top 20. Anderson has struggled to regain his level of a few years ago after battling multiple injuries. Six years ago in Atlanta, when Reilly was ranked 837th in the world, he upset Kevin in three sets.
Ash Barty (1) vs. Lesia Tsurenko (Q) – Barty was a stellar 42-8 in 2021, and started this season by winning a WTA title in Adelaide. Tsurenko is a 32-year-old who came through qualifying without dropping a set, and was a quarterfinalist at the 2018 US Open. Both of their previous encounters have occurred in Australia, with each prevailing once.
Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Andrea Petkovic – The reigning French Open champion is coming off the aforementioned demoralizing loss on Saturday to Paula Badosa. Last summer, Petkovic earned her first WTA title since 2015. But she also lost to Krejcikova last summer, as Barbora was victorious in straight sets at Wimbledon.
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Daniel Altmaier – Zverev accumulated 59 wins last year, and has advanced to the second week at the last eight Majors. Altmaier is a fellow German who ended 2021 by winning a Challenger tournament in Puerto Vallarta.
Monday’s full Order of Play is here.
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