Victoria Azarenka Handed Australian Open Wildcard - UBITENNIS
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Grand Slam

Victoria Azarenka Handed Australian Open Wildcard

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Former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka is set to return to grand slam tennis next month after being awarded a wildcard for the Australian Open.

Azarenka, who is a two-time winner in Melbourne, hasn’t played on the tour since Wimbledon and has only participated in two tournaments in 2017. Winning four out of six main draw matches played. Her season was forced to come to an early end due to an ongoing custody battle. The Belarusian gave birth to a baby boy Called Leo in December 2016. Her former partner, Billy McKeague, launched a legal battle earlier in the year.

Under the terms of the ongoing dispute, the courts have ruled Leo is not allowed to leave California until the case is resolved. Meaning that Azarenka isn’t allowed to travel to tournaments without her son. Resulting in her absence from the tour in recent months.

News of Azarenka’s wildcard for Melbourne was confirmed by The New York Times. The tournament director of the Australian Open, Craig Tiley, has stressed that he wants to support the two-time champion, who has slipped down to 210th in the world.

“Vika’s current situation is obviously very difficult for her, and we have reached out to offer any support we can,” said Tiley.

It is unclear if the custody dispute will be resolved before the start of the new season. If it isn’t, Azarenka will be forced to play at the major with Leo staying in America. Despite the issue, she appears to pressing ahead with her preparations for the new season. Azarenka has also been given a wildcard for the ASB Classic in Auckland, which will take place during the first week of January.

“I am very much looking forward to getting back on the court to compete in January and I can’t think of a better place to start the 2018 season than in Auckland.” She said last month.

Azarenka will return to the tour with a new team, which is yet to be confirmed. Recently, she parted ways with Coach Michael Joyce. Joyce is now working with British No.1 Johanna Konta. Another recent departure was her former fitness coach Ashcon Rezazadeh.

“I’m so excited about coming back to Melbourne for the Australian Open – it’s my favourite tournament.” Azarenka said. “I’ve won there twice and always feel so comfortable on court and the city is great.
“It’s been a tough year and being able to come back to the AO will be a really positive way to start 2018.”

ATP

Novak Djokovic Confident Of Peaking At French Open As 14-Time Champ Nadal Ponders One Last Hurrah

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Novak Djokovic believes he is on the right track to reaching his best form at the French Open despite missing two out of the last three Masters events.

The world No.1 returns to action this week in Rome at the Italian Open which he is seeking to win for the seventh time in his career. Djokovic last played on the Tour on April 13th when he lost in the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Open to Casper Ruud. So far this season he has won 11 out of 15 matches played.

After opting to skip Madrid to rest his body, the revitalised Serbian told reporters on Wednesday that he is raring to go ahead of what will be a packed summer. Besides two Grand Slam events, he will also be chasing after his first-ever Olympic gold medal in Paris. 

“I had plenty of time to also rest and train. Had a good training block.” Said Djokovic.
“I think I’m on a good route to peak at Roland Garros in Paris. Hopefully, in Rome, I can play better than I did in Monte Carlo. The wish is always to go far. But let’s see. 
“It’s a different concept now. It’s the first time that Rome and Madrid are almost two-week events, like Indian Wells and Miami. It gives you more time to recover between matches if you keep going in the tournament, which I think is useful for me.”

In recent weeks Djokovic has also seen changes in his team following the departure of coach Goran Ivanisevic. More recently, he stopped working with fitness coach Marco Panichi and has now rehired his former longtime trainer Gebhard Gritsch.

“I am working currently with a fitness coach that I worked with for many years. It didn’t take much time to adapt to his program and approach,” Djokovic explained.
“We know each other really well. That’s why I feel like we’re synchronized from the very beginning in terms of what we want to do, how we want to approach the program of training on and off the court. 
“I’m pleased with the way the last 10 days, 14 days went in terms of training, in terms of preparation and looking ahead to this tournament, but particularly Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Olympic Games. That’s the block for which we are preparing the most.”

Nadal continues goodbye Tour

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Whilst 24-time major winner Djokovic is already planning for the next major, one of his nemesis is yet to commit to playing.

Rafael Nadal will continue what many view as a farewell Tour in Rome where he will be unseeded in the draw. At his most recent tournament in Madrid, the Spaniard beat top 10 player Alex de Minaur en route to the third round. Shortly after his run, the 37-year-old confirmed that it would be the last time he played there. 

“I can’t have a clear answer,” Nadal replied when asked how he feels about potentially playing his last French Open in 2024. 
“First of all, I want to play Rome. I don’t think after that. If after that I feel ready to play Roland Garros, I cannot predict what kind of emotions I going to have there.
“I just want to enjoy every day. I am enjoying playing tennis. It always depends on my body how far I can keep going in terms of timing. I am happy doing what I’m doing. 
“When I’m talking about retirement it is not because I’m not happy anymore playing tennis or I’m not feeling myself competitive enough. That’s not the case. It’s about the body was not able to play weeks in a row and was not able to allow me to practice on a daily basis.”
“Now is my third week on the tour almost in a row, so… It’s a good moment, even if the results are not what used to be. But I am increasing my level. I want to keep going.”

Unlike Djokovic, Nadal doesn’t have a first round bye in Italy and will begin his campaign against qualifier Zizou Bergs. Compared to previous years he will be more of an underdog in the draw. A role he is taking in his stride.

“All the matches are tough for me today and more unpredictable than what the matches used to be for me, especially on clay.” He said.
“I accept that role. I accept that challenge. I am excited about the way that I can be able to play if I keep working the proper way and my body allows me.”

Djokovic and Nadal are currently ranked in the top two on the all-time list when it comes to most Masters titles won. Djokovic leads with 40 trophies ahead of his opponent who is on 36. 

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Grand Slam

Australian Open Considering Switching Women’s Final To Sunday In Future

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The Australian Open could become the first Grand Slam to break away from the tradition of women playing their singles final first. 

According to a report from the Australian Associated Press, tournament chief Craig Tiley is open to making such a move which wouldn’t require any approval from either the WTA or ATP. However, they would likely need to consult with players first and no changes are set to be made in 2025. 

The reasoning for making such a change is due to the women’s final usually being shorter than the men’s best with it being a best-of-three set match. Compared to the men who play the best-of-five. Their thinking is that due to the length of men’s matches increasing in recent years, staging it on a Saturday would enable more people to watch the entire match compred to a Sunday when many are consious about staying up late due to the working week starting on Monday. 

This year’s Australian Open saw Jannik Sinner bounce back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a epic encounter that lasted three hours and 46 minuites. Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka required an hour and 17 mnuites to beat China’s Qinwen Zheng and capture the title. 

Should such a switch take place, it is estimated that the Sunday finale would end at around 10:30pm local time instead of after midnight, which would make it more appealing to fans. Furthermore, it could throw the women’s final more into the spotlight. 

However, there will be obstacles that need to be addressed. The most significant for the Australian Open will be trying to ensure that their 48-hour recovery period between best-of-five-set men’s matches will still be followed. 

This year was the first time in history that the Melbourne major took place over 15 days with play starting on a Sunday. Organisers claimed that the move was done in order to prevent the number of late-night finishes. However, it has little effect on any matches that took place after the first round. 

It is throught that now the event is held over 15 days, it gives more room for organisers to schedule the men’s final for a Saturday. The proposal was discussed during this year’s Australian Open’s official debrief. 

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Grand Slam

It Wasn’t The Same Old Story On Sunday Down Under

Jannik Sinner won his first Grand Slam title on Sunday.

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(@janniksin - Twitter)

It’s been the same old story at the Australian Open for a long time in the men’s game.

One of the greats almost always would take the top prize Down Under. Either Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or even Stan Wawrinka always prevailed since 2006 at Melbourne.

And then came Jannik Sinner in 2024.

None of the other superstars were still around for Sunday’s final.

A DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Yes, this time it was a different Australian Open.

But actually Sinner may have written his own story when he upended Djokovic in the semifinals. Without that experience, the slender Italian may not have been able to handle the pressure that Daniil Medvedev sent his way in the final.

Sinner was ready for the finish line after shocking Djokovic in the semifinals. It just took time to get there.

Sinner played within himself most of the last three sets of the final. A first-time Grand Slam finalist, Sinner played as if he belonged there in those three sets.

But, oh, those first two sets when Medvedev dominated play with his backhand from the middle of the court. Backhands usually are reserved for the backhand side of the court, but not with the tall Russian on the court.

SINNER DIDN’T PLAY HIS GAME AT FIRST

In a similar manner as women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka, Sinner followed up a big semifinal win with his own Australian Open title. Only, Sinner had to fight for five sets to accomplish his dream Down Under with a 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Medvedev.

Sinner appeared to play far differently from his victory over Djokovic when he controlled the court with his aggressive play and power.

This time, Sinner started things conservatively with few aggressive winners, repeatedly leaving the corners wide open for Medvedev’s crafty, but hard hit strokes. Medvedev made Sinner  pay a price with a style of play that was just the opposite.

Medvedev played close to the baseline and aggressively hopped on balls with his backhand in whip-lash fashion. He hardly had to move as he conserved energy.

THE STRATEGY ALMOST WORKED TO PERFECTION

Medvedev’s strategy worked like a charm until Sinner served the ninth game of the third set as Medvedev once needed only six points for a possible Grand Slam title. Sinner managed to overcome a deuce score to win that game.

Medvedev fell behind 30-0 serving the 10th game of the set and then Sinner got his first set point. Sinner made it stand up and it was a new game after that.

Sinner didn’t appear to be ready for Medvedev’s game the first two sets, but the Italian then came alive. He became prepared for Medvedev, even after losing the first two sets.

Of course, Sabalenka got her boost from a surprising, but solid win over talented Coco Graff in the women’s semifinals. Sabalenka then was never really challenged by Qinwen Zheng in the final.

Sinner’s final was much different.  He was somewhat lucky to escape with  a win.

Medvedev almost wrapped up the title in the ninth game, but it didn’t happen. As a result, Sinner may have started his own success story in Grand Slam finals.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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