By Cheryl Jones
Yesterday’s wind and rain played havoc with matches at Roland Garros. But, for all those who believe that there is a silver lining behind every cloud, today should be known as the Silver Lining Day. The scheduled play on all courts had to be changed to accommodate the many postponed matches from Tuesday. Wednesday’s a veritable five-star tennis smorgasbord with virtually something for everyone.
Court Philippe Chatrier opened with a match between two Spanish players. Pablo Carreno Busta and Rafael Nadal. To no one’s surprise, Nadal came out on top after his countryman had to retire due to an abdominal muscle strain early in the second set, (6-2, 5-2, Retired). It was an unexpected setback for Carreno Busta who said, “I felt pain when I (was) serving. And I tried to continue, but I preferred to stop, because it was – I felt the pain all the time. And I don’t know if the muscle is broken, but I prefer to stop for no broken.” It was a wise move on his part.
Rafa spoke after the match about a similar injury he dealt with at the 2009 US Open, “I played during the whole event with this. And I started with a strain – 7 millimeters on the abdominal, and I finished it with 27 or 28. So was stupid for my part, but I played event, no? But, I think is much better what he did, and that’s probably the best way to keep going without wait for a lot of weeks.”
Sharing that bit of history, Rafa continued, almost in the same breath, “I am in semifinals. That’s all. I am in semifinals and with a very positive feelings. I played well all the matches here.” This win today will give him a 25th Grand Slam semifinal and he will move one step closer to a tie with Andre Agassi who has twenty-six. (Roger Federer has forty-one, and he looks good to stay in the lead. Novak Djokovic and Jimmy Connors are tied at 31.)
Speaking of Djokovic, he had an opportunity to ooze ahead of Connors with a win today, but with a stunning loss to Dominic Thiem 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 in the first match of the day on Court Suzanne Lenglen he remains at 31. Thiem, who lost to Bjorn Fratangelo of the United States in the Junior Boys final in 2011 is from Austria and is presently ranked 7 in the world. He played smart all match. Since Shanghai in 2014, this was the sixth time the two had stood across the net from each other. Djokovic had won every match up to today, most recently in the Rome 1000 in late May. It wasn’t even a squeaker; it was a rout. Djokovic took all the marbles, 6-1, 6-0 there. Today wasn’t revenge. The simple fact was that Thiem played better.
After the match, Djokovic tried to comment on that abysmal third set, “All in all, it was decided I think in the first set. You know, I tried. I lost that crucial break in the beginning of the second, and he started serving better, you know, backing it up with the first shot. He deserved to win. He was definitely the better player on the court today.”
Last year, the Serbian was on top of the world having won his own version of a “Serena Slam”. (That’s loosely defined as winning four consecutive slams, but in two different years. Those wins were 2015 Wimbledon, the 2015 US Open, the 2016 Australian Open, and 2016 Roland Garros.) He said, “I mean it’s unfortunate to finish Roland Garros the way I have done today. You know, I obviously always expect a lot from myself, but it’s a fact that I’m not playing close to my best, and I know that. Again, I’m trying, as everyone else, to work on the game, and you know, work on things. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.”
He has spent the last several months wondering just how to turn his game back into the one that put him on top of the rankings in days gone by. He just turned thirty years old and he has been grappling with issues that may or may not be tennis related. He wound down his press conference saying, “Well, as I said, the next chapter for me. So now I’m just figuring it all out and obviously there are things to think about and to work on, and we’ll see where it takes me.” Those are stellar thoughts for the man who was bidding to record his 234th Grand Slam match win today. He didn’t make it and will remain tied with Jimmy Connors at 233. (Everyone still in competition who’s on that list will have a difficult time catching up to Roger Federer who has recorded 314 match wins in Grand Slams.)
Next up will be the semifinal matches. It will be the experienced Nadal versus the younger, Thiem, who at 23 years of age has impressed everyone, including me since he began his professional career in 2011. It should be a match worth watching. Still, I have my imaginary money on Rafael Nadal who is looking as good as ever, to make real history when he takes a bite out of the Coupe de Mousquetaires after the final ball is struck at Roland Garros.
There will be another man waiting across the court from the victor of that semifinal. Today’s smorgasbord had another couple of choice matches. The other Swiss champion, Stan Wawrinka vanquished Croatian, Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in a rapid 1 hour and 40 minutes. It means that Wawrinka will reach his third straight Roland Garros semifinal. He is the oldest man to reach that level here in Paris since Jimmy Connors did it in 1985. (For those interested in the minutia of tennis facts, he is 32 years, 75 days old today and Connors was 32 years, 280 days old when he played in the last four.) He will face world number one, Andy Murray in that other semifinal on Friday. Murray managed to squeak out a win over Kei Nishikori of Japan, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-1, who by the way is the highest ranked Japanese man ever. He has come into Roland Garros at number nine. The match was just a bit under an hour longer than the Wawrinka/Cilic competition.
Predictions aside, there will be some top-notch tennis on the docket on Friday. The winners of those two matches will each bring their best to Sunday’s final and the world of tennis will know if Rafael Nadal can take a tenth bite out of that famous trophy, or will it be Murray, Thiem or Wawrinka?
Australian Open Daily Preview: Olympic Gold Medalists Face Differing Challenges
Six months ago in Tokyo, Sascha Zverev and Belinda Bencic earned the biggest achievements of their young careers: winning an Olympic Gold Medal for their country. Now they have their sights set on claiming their first Major, though neither has a straightforward second round draw.
Wednesday’s schedule also includes top names like Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Daniil Medvedev. However, with all of those stars being strong favorites on Day 3, other matches featuring some of the sport’s most exciting performers may be the day’s most compelling affairs.
Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Wednesday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Victoria Azarenka (24) vs. Jil Teichmann – 11:00am on Kia Arena
It was 10 full years ago when Azarenka won her first Major in Australia, a feat she would repeat just 12 months later. Despite reaching three finals in New York, she’s still trying to secure her third Slam title. Injuries sidelined her several times throughout 2021, yet she still put together a strong 28-9 record on the year. Teichmann had a breakout 2021, reaching semifinals in both Adelaide and Duabi to start the year, and upsetting three top 12 players during a run to the final in Cincinnati. But she may be overmatched against an in-form two-time former champion, who dropped only four games in the first round.
Belinda Bencic (22) vs. Amanda Anisimova – Third on Kia Arena
Anisimova was very close to being eliminated from this tournament in the first round. The 20-year-old American was down a set and a break to Arianne Hartono, and a point from going down a double break in the second set, before storming back to win in three. However, that near-defeat is not revealing of her recent form, as she started the season by winning a title on these very grounds. Anisimova has been working with Darren Cahill on a trial basis in Australia, which has already paid dividends. Bencic has continued to play well following her Tokyo triumph, where she won medals in both singles and doubles. Three years ago on grass in Mallorca, Belinda defeated Amanda 6-2, 6-2. Coming off such a close call on Monday, I suspect Anisimova will play freely on Wednesday, and I would not be surprised if she upset the Olympic Gold Medalist. When her groundstrokes are on, especially her backhand, there aren’t many players who can tame Anismova’s aggression.
Carlos Alcaraz (31) vs. Dusan Lajovic – Third on 1573 Arena
Coming off his star-making run in New York, Alcaraz went right back to work in the opening round here, easily prevailing in less than two hours. Lajovic required nearly twice as long to overcome Marton Fucsovics in five. The 31-year-old Serbian advanced to the second week of this event a year ago. However, the rest of his 2021 season didn’t go as well, ending the year with a record of 18-28. And he started 2022 by going 0-3 at the ATP Cup. I expect to see some extra fight out of Dusan during this tournament, as I anticipate many of the Serbian players will be motivated by what occurred over the past two weeks with Novak Djokovic. But taking out one of the sport’s most formidable newcomers, especially when you’re coming off a five-setter, is a tall task.
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. John Millman – Last on Rod Laver Arena
Following his first round victory, Zverev admitted things had not gone to plan, and he had not played his best. Despite that, Sascha still prevailed in straight sets, escaping two tight sets via tiebreaks. He may not be able to afford such dips in his level against one of Australia’s grittiest competitors. Millman will certainly enjoy plenty of crowd support, and he has taken out big names at Majors before. At the 2018 US Open, he upended Roger Federer in extremely hot and humid conditions. And at the 2019 French Open, though he lost, Millman pushed Zverev to five sets. However, I fully expect Sascha to up his game on Wednesday. The German won 41 hard court matches last year, and claimed five titles, including the ATP Finals. He seems primed to make his second Slam final sooner than later, perhaps even at the end of next week.
Gael Monfils (17) vs. Alexander Bublik – Last on Margaret Court Arena
Well this match is pretty much guaranteed to be entertaining, featuring two players who often choose the more fun shot over the smarter shot. Monfils struggled to find any form following the pandemic shutdown, as playing in front of empty seats did not inspire him. But with fans back in the stands, Gael’s results have improved. He started the year by winning his first title in two years. By contrast, Bublik played well in the first half of 2021, propelling him to a career-high ranking some September, yet his results fizzled later in the year. During 2020’s autumn edition of Roland Garros, Bubik defeated Monfils in four sets. But with his mojo back, the Frenchman is the favorite to avenge that loss on Wednesday.
Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:
Ash Barty (1) vs. Lucia Bronzetti (Q) – On Monday, Barty needed less than an hour to dismiss Lesia Tsurenko 6-0, 6-1. Bronzetti is a 23-year-old Italian who reached five lower-level finals last season.
Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Yannick Hanfmann (Q) – Nadal was another straight-set victor in the first round. Hanfmann is a 30-year-old German who took out Thanasi Kokkinakis with the loss of just seven games, as the Australian was drained from his title run last week in Adelaide. Three years ago at Roland Garros, Yannick earned only six games against Rafa.
Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Xiyu Wang (WC) – Krejickova advanced almost as easily as Barty, by a score of 6-2, 6-0. Xiyu is a 20-year-old from China who on Monday gained her first victory in the main draw of a Major.
Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Stefan Kozlov (WC) – Berrettini overcame some considerable stomach issues to secure a four-set win on Monday. Kozlov is a 23-year-old American who is making his Slam debut, thanks to claiming two Challenger titles in November to earn his wild card.
Naomi Osaka (13) vs. Madison Brengle – Osaka won comfortably in the opening round, while Brengle beat Dayana Yastremska by the bizarre score line of 6-1, 0-6, 5-0(RET), with Yastremska retiring one game from defeat.
Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.
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 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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