Same Match Up, Same Result As Victoria Azarenka Shines In Melbourne - UBITENNIS
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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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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Goes for his 19th Major Title Against Stefanos Tsitsipas

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An airborne Novak Djokovic on Friday in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

In 2006 at this event, Novak Djokovic reached his first Slam quarterfinal.  15 years and 18 Major titles later, the 34-year-old has become one of the greatest players of all-time.  On Friday, in a fantastic semifinal, he became the only man to ever defeat Rafael Nadal twice at the French Open.  A win today would pull him within one Major title of not only Nadal, but also Roger Federer.  And it would make him the first man to win each Grand Slam tournament twice since Rod Laver in 1969.

 

In 2016 at this event, Stefanos Tsitsipas made his Slam debut.  Five years and four Major semis later, the 22-year-old has reached his first Slam final.  On Friday, he survived a dramatic five-set semifinal against Sascha Zverev.  A win today would make him the youngest man to win a Major since Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009.  And it would make him the first man to win in his first Grand Slam final appearance since Marin Cilic in 2014.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles championship will be decided, with the two most recent French Open women’s singles champions on opposite sides of the net.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Not before 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Djokovic leads their head-to-head 5-2, and 3-0 on clay.  After winning two of their first three encounters, Tsitsipas has now lost the last four.  Last October in the semifinals of this tournament, Djokvoic was up two-sets-to-love when Tsitsipas came storming back to even the match, yet Novak closed out the fifth set decisively.  They also met just a few weeks ago in Rome, where Djokovic won an extremely-tight three-setter, which took over three hours to decide, and was played over the course of two days.

The last time Djokovic defeated Nadal at Roland Garros, in 2015’s quarterfinals, he was upset in the championship match by Stan Wawrinka.  Will Tsitsipas play the role of Wawrinka on Sunday?  Both men played grueling matches on Friday, but Novak’s ended about five hours later, was over 30 minutes longer, and undoubtedly was more physically and emotionally draining.  And Tsitsipas should fine some confidence in knowing his last two matches against Djokovic on clay have been anything but blowouts.

Novak is 18-10 in Major finals, with four of his losses coming in Paris.  He will fully understand what a huge opportunity this is to win the French Open for a second time, after eliminating Rafa on Friday.  I expect Djokovic to be much more prepared for this moment than he was six years ago against Wawrinka, and than Tsitsipas will be in his first Slam final.  Novak Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his 19th Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek (14) – Saturday was the biggest day of Krejcikova’s career, winning her first Major in singles.  Less than 24 hours later, she looks to be a double champion.  Her and Siniakova were two-time Slam winners in 2018.  Swiatek was of course the champion here in singles last October, while Mattek-Sands has won all five women’s doubles finals she’s ever played at Majors, and all with her former partner, Lucie Safarova.

Sunday’s full schedule is here.

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Barbora Krejcikova Wins Her First Major At Roland Garros

Czech Barbora Krejcikova defeats Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets. For her it’s the first Major title and a Top 20 debut

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Barbora Krejcikova - Roland Garros 2021 (photo Twitter @RolandGarros)

At the beginning of the second week the idea that the same player would win both the women’s singles and the women’s doubles title started being floated in tennis circles, but everyone thought that the player to accomplish this remarkable feat would be Polish 20-year-old Iga Swiatek. Not many considered former doubles world no. 1 Barbora Krejcikova to be in the conversation, at least for the singles title. After all, she had never been past the Round of 16 in a Slam, reached only once at Roland Garros in 2020.

 

But as the 25-year-old Czech, n. 33 of the WTA Ranking, raised towards the Parisian sky the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen handed to her by legend Martina Navratilova while still in the double’s final with her long-time partner Katerina Siniakova, the world realized there is a new name in women’s tennis to deal with.

In a nerves-filled final between two debutantes at this level of a Major, Barbora Krajcikova from Ivancice, Czech Republic, defeated Russian 29-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in 1 hour, 58 minutes and brought home her first Grand Slam title, the first for a player from her country since July 2014, when Petra Kvitova won the Wimbledon title defeating Eugenie Bouchard in the final.

The match was full of ups and downs. The first two sets risked being almost symmetrical, as in set one, Krajcikova shook off some initial jitters and an inaugural break before winning six games in a row to win the first set by 6-3 in just 30 minutes. Her backhand was working just like a treat, keeping Pavlyuchenkova at bay and, above all, behind the baseline. However, in the second set things seemed completely reversed, as Pavlyuchenkova seemed to be able to take control of the rallies and unleash her powerful shot to climb to a 5-1 lead, but failed to complete the reversed 6-1 by not converting a set-point in the seventh game, before wrapping up the set just a game later.

Pavlyuchenkova had to request a medical time-out at 2-5 in the second set to get some treatment for her left thigh which ended up heavily strapped until the end of the match.

The decisive moment of the match came on the sixth game of the final set, when Krejcikova went on a 12-points-to-3 streak, taking her to a 5-3 lead and allowing the Czech player to serve out the match despite missing the first match point with a double fault.

This accomplishment not only earns Krejcikova the 1.4 million Euro cheque for the first prize, but also means she will reach her career best ranking next Monday at no. 15, making it into the Top 20 for the first time.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova Play for the Women’s Championship

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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

10 years ago at this event, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached her first Major quarterfinal.  As a teenager, she was up a set and 4-1 against defending champion Francesca Schiavone, but failed to close out the match, losing 7-5 in the third.  The Russian would reach 10 more Slam quarters in both singles and doubles, yet lose every one of them.  At the age of 29, she’s reevaluated her career, and rededicated herself to training and achieving bigger accomplishments.  This week, on her 12th try, she finally broke through to the semifinals at a Major, and promptly won her semi in straight sets to reach her first Slam final.

 

Five years ago at this event, Barbora Krejcikova reached her first Major semifinal.  That was in women’s doubles, alongside her long-time partner, Katerina Siniakova.  They would go on to win this tournament in 2018, the same year they won Wimbledon.  That was a year after her coach and inspiration, Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, sadly passed away from cancer.  On Sunday, Krejcikova and Siniakova will play for their third Major title as a team.  But this past year, Barbora has made huge strides in singles.  Last autumn, she arrived in Paris ranked outside the top 100 in singles, yet reached the second week of a Major for the first time.  Eight months later, the 25-year-old saved a match point in an epic semifinal against Maria Sakkari to reach her first Slam final.

Also on Saturday, the men’s doubles championship will be decided, with Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut playing for their fifth Major title.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (31) vs. Barbora Krejcikova – 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

This will be new territory in multiple ways: not only their first singles championship match at a Major, but also their first career meeting.  They have met twice in recent years in doubles, with Krejcikova and her partner Siniakova prevailing both times in straight sets.  It took Anastasia a record-breaking 52 Slams to reach her first final, while this is only Barbora’s fifth time in the main draw of singles at a Major.  As Christopher Clarey highlighted on Twitter, this will mark the sixth consecutive year the women’s singles champion will be a first-time Slam champ.

Pavlyuchenkova has long been a dangerous draw, as she’s built a reputation for taking out top players.  Her victory last week over Aryna Sabalenka was the 37th top 10 win in her career.  As per WTA Insider, that’s the most top 10 wins ever by a player who themselves has never been ranked that high.  But it’s Krejcikova who has put together the stronger season, with a record of 24-8.  Barbora reached the final in Dubai, and is currently on an 11-match win streak, coming off a title run just two weeks ago in Strasbourg.  Between singles and doubles, she’s won 16 matches over the last 20 days.

In each of her six victories to this stage, Pavlyuchenkova has avoided having a lower second-serve-points-won percentage than her opponent.  Krejcikova did so against five of her six opponents, with the exception being Elina Svitolina, who converted only two of seven break points, and failed to protect her own serve.  The percentage of second-serve-points-won should be the key statistic to track during this match. 

That would seem to favor Pavlyuchenkova, who is the stronger and more consistent baseline player.  But this match will likely come down to who better manages the emotions of this momentous occasion.  In her 15th year of Grand Slam competition, will Anastasia be motivated or overwhelmed by the knowledge of how rare an opportunity this can be?  Based on the composed way she has handled herself through six rounds, it feels as if Pavlyuchenkova is ready to capture the moment, and win her first Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut (6) vs. Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev – The French team were champions here three years ago, and have narrowly escaped defeat four times this fortnight, most recently saving three match points in the semifinals against Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.  Bublik and Golubev have defeated two seeded teams in just the fourth tournament of their partnership.

Saturday’s full schedule is here.

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