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Halle Champions Record Book

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Roger Federer (zimbio.com)

ATP tournaments, other than those with major sponsor names in their titles, build prominence in many different ways. The time of year an event takes place and the ambience found in the event’s setting is always a part of the magical appeal potion. The surface on which it is contested adds to the interest it draws. But, after all the secondary factors are examined, a tournament’s notoriety, in essence, its identity, is based on the names engraved on the championship trophy.

 

The Gerry Weber Open, the grass court mid-June tennis extravaganza staged in the picturesque town of Halle, Germany, has had a Hall of Fame collection of singles winners during its twenty-four-year history.

By count, players from seven different countries have claimed the prestigious title. Anyone worthy of the appellation “tennis aficionado” is well aware that Roger Federer of Switzerland is the leader of the winners’ group having earned eight singles trophies (and he has also been a finalist on three occasions). Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov is No. 2 on the champions list with three.

Of the twenty-four trophy tussles played on the Gerry Weber Stadion Court, fully half have gone the three-set distance. As the saying goes – There are three-setters, then there are “three-setters.” The 1997 contest between Kafelnikov and Peter Korda of the Czech Republic was epic. The Russian, after dropping a three-set contest to Nicklas Kulti of Sweden a year earlier, slithered away with his first Halle title, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. Two years earlier, Marc Rosset’s victory over defending champion, Michael Stich was almost as dramatic. The Swiss standout downed his German opponent, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6.

In 1999 and 2000, two German cookie-cutter finals took place. Nicolas Kiefer was 6-3, 6-2 better than Kulti in the first. In the second, countryman David Prinosil downed Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands by an identical score.

Another Halle curiosity is, from one year to another, those who have entered their names in the “Lose One, Win One” ledger. As noted, Kafelnikov was the first performer, in 1996 and ’97, to notch the unique “reversal”. Tomáš Berdych of the Czech Republic joined the club with 2006 and ’07 performances. (Stich, as has been pointed out, reversed the reversal winning in three sets in 1994 and losing by the same count in ’95.)

Federer has been the foremost player in Gerry Weber Open history. In a four-year stretch between 2003 and ’06, the tournament served as his Wimbledon warm-up. He won four consecutive Halle crowns then moved on to London and did the same. Taking the story further, in back-to-back years, (’03 and ’04), he set the tournament standard losing the fewest game in a final. He was at his invincible best, dismissing Kiefer (who had been a finalist the year before to Kafelnikov), 6-1, 6-3, and the following year, he was even better dispatching Mardy Fish, the only US competitor to ever reach the final, 6-0, 6-3.

Though the Gerry Weber Open is merely one of thirteen ATP World Tour 500 series championships, it is like no other because the list of those who have captured its high-status singles title clearly indicates tennis’ best at their best.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas Play for the Men’s Championship

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Novak Djokovic this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

A year ago, Novak Djokovic experienced quite an embarrassing debacle.  After the unvaccinated Djokovic was initially granted an exemption and allowed to enter Australia, he was later detained, and eventually deported and prevented from competing at this tournament.  His refusal to get vaccinated continues to prevent Novak from competing in North American tournaments, missing Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Cincinnati, and the US Open last year. 

 

But at the events Djokovic has been allowed to participate in over the past seven months, he has been nearly unstoppable.  Since the beginning of Wimbledon last June, he is now 37-2, with five titles.  Novak comes into this championship match on a 16-match winning streak, with seven of those victories against top 10 opposition.  With a win on Sunday, Djokovic not only ties Rafael Nadal in their ongoing race for history with 22 Major titles, but he also regains the World No.1 ranking, despite all the tennis he’s missed.

However, standing in his way is a hungry and confident Stefanos Tsitsipas.  This is the Greek’s second Major final, and the second time he’s encountered Djokovic in this round of a Slam.  Two years ago in the championship match of Roland Garros, Tsitsipas secured the first two sets, before losing to Novak in five.  If Stefanos can win one more set on Sunday, he’ll not only win his first Major title, he’ll also become the World No.1 for the first time.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who have won six Majors as a team, face Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who are vying for their first Major as a team. 


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic’s excellence in the latter rounds of the Australian Open is rivaled only by Nadal’s excellence at Roland Garros.  Novak is now 19-0 in the semifinals and finals of this tournament, which is quite staggering.  He’s also won his last 27 matches at this event, and his last 40 in Australia in general, a streak that dates back over five years.  While Novak suffered a hamstring injury a week before this fortnight, he has still advanced to this final rather easily, dropping only one set through six matches.

Tsitsipas has now reached the semifinals or better in four of the last five years at the Australian Open, but this is his first time reaching the final.  He enjoys plenty of Greek support at this event, and appears to have some extra swagger in his step during this fortnight.  Stefanos has dropped three sets to this stage, and has been superb at saving break points.  Through six matches, he has saved 44 of 53 break points faced.

Both men feel fully at home on Rod Laver Arena, and have described it as their favorite court.  But this is their first meeting on RLA.  They’ve met plenty of times on other courts though, in a rivalry that’s been thoroughly dominated by Djokovic.  The Serbian leads 10-2, and has claimed their last nine matches.  That includes four matches that took place in 2022, in which Novak won eight of their nine sets.  They played three times within a six-week period this past fall on indoor hard courts, with their closest and best matchup taking place in the semifinals of Bercy, where Djokovic prevailed in a final-set tiebreak.

Djokovic is undeniably a huge favorite to win his 10th Australian Open.  But that common knowledge takes a lot of pressure off Tsitsipas, who was so close to defeating Novak the last time they met in a Slam final.  Djokovic has been rather unbothered by all competition during this tournament, even with an injured hamstring.  Can Stefanos pull off one of the bigger surprises in recent tennis history?  I expect him to challenge Novak on Sunday, but Tsitsipas’ backhand remains a liability. And with Djokovic determined to avenge what he sees as mistreatment a year ago in Australia, a Novak loss would be truly surprising.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: ‘Confident’ Elena Rybakina Unfazed By Top Ten Debut

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina insisted that her debut in the top ten doesn’t change anything ahead of the rest of the season.

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Elena Rybakina (marioboc17 - Twitter)

Elena Rybakina has remained unbothered by her upcoming top ten debut and admits her confidence has grown despite her Australian Open final defeat.

 

The Wimbledon champion was close to winning a second Grand Slam title in Melbourne but fell just short after a three set defeat to Aryna Sabalenka.

Rybakina took the opening set with some blistering tennis and had her chances against the big-serving Belarusian in the final set.

However it wasn’t her day as Sabalenka just about held her nerve to secure her first Grand Slam singles title.

Reflecting on the match Rybakina said the turning point was Sabalenka raising her level but admitted it has been a great two weeks, “I think Aryna raise her level in the second set. She played really well, aggressive, a bit less mistakes,” Rybakina told the press conference.

“I should have been also more aggressive in some moments. Yeah, I had some chances, for sure, to turn it around. But, yeah, she played really well today. She was strong mentally, physically. Yeah, overall, as I said, it was a good two weeks for me here.”

It was an impressive run from Rybakina who managed to beat three former Grand Slam champions in the form of world number one Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka to get to the final.

Reflecting on the future Rybakina admitted that this tournament has given her more confidence that Grand Slam finals is where she should be, “Well, if it’s going to be like this, it’s great. For sure, that’s the goal, to be in the second week of all the Grand Slam, to play finals,” Rybakina happily claimed.

“Yeah, I mean, now I have more confidence of course even after this final. Yeah, I just need to work hard, same as I did during pre-season and actually throughout the years, be healthy, and for sure the results are going to come.

“Even I would say I’m trying to not think about expectations and everything. Still after a great pre-season like this I was thinking I should show it on the court. Then, of course, the results are going to be there.

“As I said, first few weeks was not that great like maybe the other years I was starting. But, yeah, I think in the end it’s just confidence to go forward, to keep on working.”

Despite not claiming a second Grand Slam title, it has been a very positive week for Rybakina who will now take her place in the world’s top ten.

The Kazakh will be seen as a big threat to the rest of the tour as now she looks to keep performing well at big tournaments.

However Rybakina’s top ten debut won’t change anything according to the Wimbledon champion, “I don’t think tomorrow I’m going to feel different just because of the ranking now,” Rybakina boldly stated.

“But, I mean, for sure it’s going to be different on the smaller tournaments, I would say. I’m going to be seeded. Maybe in some tournaments I’m not going to play first round. So of course there is some benefits out of this. But for sure I don’t really look for the numbers ranking so much.”

Rybakina will look to continue to climb up the rankings when she competes in Abu Dhabi, which starts on the 5th of February.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina Play for the Women’s Championship

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Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

2022 was a trying year for Aryna Sabalenka.  She completely lost her form on her second serve, striking double-digit double faults in many of her matches.  And in her third Major semifinal within a 14-month period, she again lost in heartbreaking fashion, by a score of 6-4 in the third for the third straight time.  Many athletes never recover from such issues and scar tissue.  But in just the first month of 2023, and after working with a biomechanics specialist to fix her serve, a calmer, more confident Sabalenka has achieved her first Major singles final.

 

2022 was a milestone year for Elena Rybakina.  Six months ago, the 23-year-old had only won two WTA titles at smaller events, and reached one Major quarterfinal.  Then she surprised the tennis world by winning Wimbledon this past July.  However, she was granted no ranking points due to the controversial backlash to Wimbledon’s ban of Russian and Belarussian athletes.  And in the ensuing months, Elena was often banished to outer courts at bigger events, including this one, with court assignments unbefitting of a reigning Wimbledon champion.  Rybakina used all of this as motivation, and has achieved her second Major final just six months after her first.

Also on Saturday, the men’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Will an Aussie team triumph for a second year in a row?  Wild cards Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler will face Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski, in a first Major final for both of these partnerships. 


Elena Rybakina (22) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (5) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Sabalenka is a perfect 10-0 in 2023, and 20-0 in sets.  This is the fourth time out of the last six Majors she has advanced to the semifinals or better, and she already owns two Slam titles in women’s doubles with Elise Mertens.  Regardless of Saturday’s result, Aryna will reach a new career-high of No.2 on Monday.

Rybakina had lost five of her last eight matches heading into this fortnight, but has found her form as the event has progressed.  She has dropped only one set through six matches, to last year’s runner-up Danielle Collins.  Elena will debut inside the top 10 on Monday, as high as No.8 if she wins this final.  And she would be solidly inside the top five with her points from Wimbledon.

Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 3-0, though all three matches have gone three sets.  In fact in all three, Sabalenka won the first and third sets, while Rybakina won the second.  They’ve played four years ago in Wuhan, two years ago in Abu Dhabi, and two years ago at Wimbledon. 

Aryna’s vastly-improved serve and demeanor have been crucial in advancing her to her first Major singles final.  But can she avoid double faulting, and remain calm, in what is the biggest match of her career?

No player’s serve has been more effective during this tournament than Rybakina’s.  As per Tumaini Carayol on Twitter, more than 50% of Elena’s serves have gone unreturned, which results in a lot of easy points.  And no player remains more calm on court than Rybakina, despite the berating comments her coach may share during the match

I expect Elena’s experience winning Wimbledon six months ago to prove extremely valuable on Saturday, and slightly favor Rybakina to win her second Major.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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