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French junior star the beneficiary of Australian Open Wildcard

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Moutet will feature in the Australian Open for the first time (Zimbio.com)

France’s teenage sensation Corentin Moutet has been awarded a wildcard for the Australian Open the French Tennis Federation has announced. It will be the first time the teenager features in the main draw of a singles grand slam tournament after only featuring in Qualifying for his home French Open in 2017 (though he did receive a wildcard into the main draw for doubles.)

 

Moutet, 18, has had a sensational year that has seen him climb more than 350 places to be the youngest man to finish inside the Top 160.  His year was highlighted by a number of titles at Futures level. He also secured his first Challenger title near the end of the season when he defeated fellow youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas for the Brest trophy.

He also defeated then World no.69 Malek Jaziri in the Bordeaux Challenger for his biggest ranking win to date. Moutet also reached Challenger semi-finals in St Brieuc, Como, and Seville.

Moutet joins Tim Smyczek and Thanasi Kokkinakis in already being announced as winners of wildcards for the Australian Open.

A late surge in form for Smyczek saw the 29 year-old capture two Challenger titles to win the American Reciprocal Wildcard. Injury-hit Kokkinakis was awarded a wildcard by the Australian Tennis Federation.

Grand Slam

Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open Win Was ESPN’S Least-Watched Men’s Final In Years

Despite the historic victory at Melbourne Park, the world No.1’s clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas failed to attract a big audience in America.

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Image via Aus Open twitter

Novak Djokovic’s triumph at the Australian Open might have rewritten the history books but this year’s men’s final wasn’t a hit for ESPN compared to recent editions. 

 

The world No.1 surged to a straight sets win over Stefanos Tsitsipas to become the first man in history to have won the Australian Open for a 10th time. Djokovic has also drawn level with Rafael Nadal for the most major titles won by a male player at 22 each. The win came a year after he was deported from the country after losing a legal battle concerning the legitimacy of his Visa. Djokovic was initially banned from re-entering Australia for three years but that penalty was waived last November.

Despite the recent drama involving the tennis star, ESPN has confirmed that this year’s title match attracted just 430,000 viewers which is the broadcaster’s worst audience for an Australian Open men’s final match in at least a decade. The match took place in the early hours of the morning in America (3:30-7:30am ET) which could be attributed to the figures. However, Rafael Nadal’s five-set triumph over Daniil Medvedev in 2021 attracted 689,000 viewers. This is a year-on-year drop of 36%.

It was a similar situation for the women’s final which saw Aryna Sabalenka oust Elena Rybakin in three sets to win her first major title. 379,000 viewers watched that match which is a 21% drop compared to 2022 which featured America’s Danielle Collins losing in straight sets to Ash Barty.

On Australian TV there were also disappointing figures with the Nine commercial network reporting a 40% decline during the finals weekend. The men’s final was down 300,000 (1.3M vs 1.6M) and the women’s was down a huge 2.83M (1.43M vs 4.26M). Although the 2022 women’s title match triggered huge interest in Australia due to the success of home player Barty. Throughout the entire tournament, Nine attracted a total audience of 10.064M compared to 12.5M in 2022.  

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. According to TV Blackbox, this year’s men’s final was actually first in the overnight metro ratings and interestingly outperformed Cricket’s Big Bash League – the knockout by almost 1M which was shown at the same time on network Seven. The metro ratings are based on TV viewership in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

Both ESPN and Network Nine have recently signed deals to show the Australian Open. According to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN has signed a nine-year deal with Tennis Australia starting this year. Meanwhile, sen.com.au reports Nine will be the home broadcaster until at least 2030 in a deal worth in the region of AUS$500M.

This year’s Australian Open set a new attendance record of 839,192 fans through the gates. 

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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 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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