Australian Open Day 1 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 1 Preview: Five Must-See Matches



The 2017 Australian Open was one of the most thrilling and dramatic Grand Slam events of all-time. Can the 2018 version match last year’s excitement?


It will have to do so without several big names: Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, and Kei Nishikori are all absent. In addition, major champions like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, and Garbine Muguruza arrive in Melbourne with many questions surrounding their physical condition.

The upcoming Australian fortnight will surely be full of intriguing and surprising storylines, as all Grand Slam events are. Let’s take a look at some of the most enticing matches on Day 1’s schedule.

Rafael Nadal vs. Victor Estella Burgos

This will be Nadal’s first official match in two months, since his loss (and subsequent withdrawal from the tournament) against David Goffin at the ATP Finals. As Christopher Clarey of the New York Times recently reported, Nadal has never won a major without a playing a warm-up event, and usually needs a tournament win leading into a major to give himself momentum. How will his knees react to returning to best-of-five set matches on hard courts? There’s definitely many doubts regarding Rafa’s chances, but he did easily win the last hard court major just a few months ago. And he’ll surely be eager to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss in the Australian Open final against Roger Federer. Nadal be a big favorite on Monday, and hopefully this match reveals where his game is and how his body is feeling.

Venus Williams vs. Belinda Bencic

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Last year, Bencic was drawn to play Serena Williams in the first round of the Australian Open. Bencic was not in good form a year ago, but this year she’s playing extremely well heading into her first round match against Venus. After suffering multiple injuries, the 20-year-old returned in September and subsequently went 28-3 at lower-level tour events. She won four titles and ended 2017 on a 15-match win streak. Just last week, Bencic won the Hopman Cup with partner Roger Federer. Momentum clearly favors Bencic, as Venus lost her only match thus far in 2018 to a resurgent Angelique Kerber. That being said, Venus is 4-0 lifetime against Belinda, having never dropped a set. This is an extremely tough challenge in the opening round for last year’s Australian Open finalist.

Jack Sock vs. Yuichi Sugita

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Sock’s seeding at number eight is by far the highest of his career, coming off the best results of his career at the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals. Can Sock transfer that success to the majors? He’s never advanced farther than the fourth round at a Grand Slam event. Just two weeks ago, he was playing Sugita at the Hopman Cup when he was forced to retire after dropping the first set due to a hip injury. Jack subsequently lost in his opening round match last week in Auckland. Sugita also defeated Sock in their other previous meeting, just last summer in Cincinnati. Ranked 41st, Sugita is one of the highest-ranked players Sock could draw in the first round. Considering all this, Sugita should be considered the favorite on Monday.

Andrey Rublev vs. David Ferrer

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This is a rough first round draw for Rublev in his first major as a seeded player. Ferrer struggled to win matches through the first half of last year, but in the summer he played more like the David of old. Ferrer won the title in Bastad, and made the semifinals at the Masters 1,000 event in Cincinnati. And just last week, Ferrer advanced to the semifinals in Auckland. Meanwhile, 2017 was a breakout year for Rublev. He won his first tour title in Umag, and made his first major quarterfinal at the US Open. Rublev started 2018 by making the final in Doha. This will be the first meeting between two players hitting with confidence, and could easily become a prolonged four or five set battle.

Denis Shapovalov vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas

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The ATP Next Gen campaign will be on full display here, with the 18-year-old Canadian against the 19-year-old Greek. Shapovalov has made more waves than Tsitsipas thus far, but Tsitsipas impressed many already in 2018 with his upset of Richard Gasquet in Doha. He also defeated David Goffin in October, so it’s obvious the teenager has game. In a recent article on the ATP website, Stefanos stated he expects to advance to at least the third round at the Australian Open. That’s a big goal for a man who is yet to get his first win at a major. After taking the tennis world by storm last summer, Shapovalov has simmered a bit. He’s just 3-8 in his last 11 matches. This may a good chance for Tsitsipas to upset his younger, yet more accomplished opponent.

Full order of play for day 1

Rod Laver Arena
Jelena Ostapenko (7) vs Francesca Schiavone
Venus Williams (5) vs Belinda Bencic
Grigor Dimitrov (3) vs Denis Novak

Night session (from 7pm local/8am GMT)
Rafael Nadal (1) vs Victor Estrella Burgos
Daria Gavrilova (23) vs Irina Falconi

Margaret Court Arena
Sloane Stephens (13) vs Zhang Shuai
Matthew Ebden vs John Isner (16)
Samantha Stosur vs Monica Puig

Night session (from 7pm local/8am GMT)
Mihaela Buzarnescu vs Caroline Wozniacki (2)
Kevin King vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (15)

Hisense Arena
Sofia Kenin vs Julia Goerges (12)
Timea Babos vs Coco Vandeweghe (10)
Yen-Hsun Lu vs Marin Cilic (6)

Not before 6.45pm local/7.45am GMT
Nick Kyrgios (17) vs Rogerio Dutra Silva

Court 2
Taylor Townsend vs Magdalena Rybarikova (19)
Dominika Cibulkova (24) vs Kaia Kanepi
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Denis Shapovalov

Not before 4pm local/5am GMT
Yuichi Sugita vs Jack Sock (8)

Court 3
Kevin Anderson (11) vs Kyle Edmund
Jaimee Fourlis vs Olivia Rogowska

Not before 3pm local/4am GMT
John Millman vs Borna Coric
Ivana Jorovic vs Elina Svitolina (4)

Court 5
Kirsten Flipkens vs Alison Riske
Philipp Kohlschreiber (27) vs Yoshihito Nishioka
Gerard Melzer vs Nikoloz Basilashvili
Jana Fett vs Misa Eguchi

Court 7
Irina-Camelia Begu vs Ekaterina Makarova (31)
Vitkor Troicki vs Alex Bolt
Peng Shuai (25) vs Marta Kostyuk
Ruben Bemelmans vs Lucas Pouille (18)

Court 8
Pablo Carreno Busta (10) vs Jason Kubler
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (15) vs Kateryna Kozlova
Marcos Baghdatis vs Yuki Bhambri

Court 10
Duan Ying-ying vs Mariana Duque-Marino
Federico Delbonis vs Gilles Muller (23)
Denisa Allertová vs Pauline Parmentier
Elias Ymer  vs Mackenzie Mcdonald

Court 12
Pablo Cuevas (31) vs Mikhail Youzhny
Aleksandra Krunic vs Anett Kontaveit (32)
Viktorija Golubic vs Kateryna Bondarenko
Nicolas Jarry vs Leonardo Mayer

Court 13
Pierre-Hugues Herbert vs Denis Istomin
Jennifer Brady vs Magda Linette
Gilles Simon vs Marius Copil
Anna Karolína Schmiedlová vs Daria Kasatkina (22)

Court 14
Monica Niculescu vs Mona Barthel
David Ferrer vs Andrey Rublev (30)
Luksika Kumkhum vs Johanna Larsson
Salvatore Caruso vs Malek Jaziri

Court 15
Alize Cornet vs Wang Xinyu
Kiki Bertens (30) vs Catherine Bellis
Paolo Lorenzi v Damir Dzumhur (28)
Dustin Brown vs Joao Sousa

Court 19
Alexandr Dolgopolov vs Andreas Haider-Maurer
Maria Sakkari vs Katerina Siniakova
Carla Suarez Navarro vs Magdalena Fręch
Casper Ruud vs Quentin Halys

Court 20
Alison van Uytvanck vs Petra Martic
Andreas Seppi vs Corentin Moutet
Ivo Karlovic vs Laslo Djere
Viktória Kužmová vs Elise Mertens

Court 22
Dudi Sela vs Ryan Harrison
Diego Schwartzman (24) vs Dusan Lajovic
Nicole Gibbs vs Viktoriya Tomova


Novak Djokovic’s Moment Too Big For Tsitsipas



Image via Australian Open twitter

Perhaps, it was too much for Stefanos Tsitsipas to think about achieving in one day. That’s beating Novak Djokovic and winning his own initial Grand Slam title, not even to think about the bonus part of the package — becoming the No. 1 player in the world.


At any rate, it obviously wasn’t meant to be for Tsitsipas to derail Djokovic.

Djokovic accomplished it all in one neat package.  Say hello to the player many tennis experts are now calling the greatest player ever. Of course, that’s a little premature due to the fact Rafa Nadal was all alone with 22 Grand Slam titles before Djokovic matched the total on Sunday by winning the Australian Open’s men’s singles title.


Then,  there’s the great Roger Federer, in reality, possibly the greatest player who ever lived.

So, forget GOAT. It doesn’t matter, whether Nadal or Djokovic wins another Grand Slam title.

Poor Federer. He’s probably home with his children laughing about all of this.

And Rod Laver? Of course, Laver was on hand to watch Djokovic’s superhuman effort.

Back to reality. The moment.

Djokovic lived there Sunday night.


Tsitsipas wasn’t ready for the challenge. Djokovic certainly was.

It’s as simple as that.

Novak played great. Tsitsipas didn’t give himself a chance to win.

Djokovic stayed in the moment. Tsitsipas allowed the situation to take over his game and apparently his mind.

Tsitsipas must have been back home in Greece where he would be crowned if he could be No. 1 in the world and win a Grand Slam.


Tsitsipas had his chances, even though he was down 4-1 in the first set before you could blink an eye.

He actually was two points from winning the second set in regulation, then quickly fell behind, 4-1,  in the tiebreaker.

Tsitsipas took the third set to another tiebreaker, but lost the first five points and then lost the match, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5).

He never seemed to be keyed into the match, repeatedly miss-hitting key shots, even to open courts.

Meanwhile, Djokovic was near-perfect. He surely is a great one, a legend.

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 

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Novak Djokovic Saves The Day In This Australian Open



Novak Djokovic - 2022 Nitto ATP Finals Turin (photo Twitter @atptour)

It’s a good thing the Aussies allowed Novak Djokovic to stay in Melbourne this year.


Otherwise, the young crowd of players might have taken over completely in this Australian Open. After all, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Daniil Medvedev and Iga Swiatek among others didn’t stick around very long.

Novak is saving the day Down Under for the great ones.

This is an Australian Open unlike any in recent years. It’s almost like the Australian Open, with its usual midnight to early-morning Eastern Time matches has taken a step backward in world tennis. 

American fans apparently no longer can watch those great matches that start at 3 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. ET, except on ESPN+.


This Australian Open appears to be kind of lost in the shuffle this January, virtually taking away its major status.

In the absence of those early-morning battles, I guess it’s okay that most of the top men and women other than Novak, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Tommy Paul, Elena Rybakina and Jessie Pegula have sang their Aussie songs and headed elsewhere, except maybe for doubles.

Don’t overlook the tall Russian Rybakina on the women’s side. She’s two wins away from her second Grand Slam title, having upended the top-ranked Swiatek in the round of 16 and then taking care of former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals.


Ben Shelton and J.J. Wolf are certainly outstanding American college level talents that came racing out of the winter red-hot.

But like MacKenzie McDonald, who thrashed an unprepared Nadal with a college-like all-power game only to falter the next round against a journeyman player like Yoshihito Nishioka, it’s doubtful that either Shelton or Wolf can stand the test of the only great one left — Djokovic.

In the long run, Shelton especially and Wolf likely will be stars. But these newcomers aren’t likely to hit the tour with the greatness that Carlos Alcaraz displayed when he was healthy during the last half of 2022.


Other stars from last year such as Jannik Sinner, Cameron Norrie, Casper Ruud, Matteo Berrettini, Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev and Felix Auger-Aliassime will make their own noise once the tour hits Europe and America.

As far as Americans other than Paul, I like the looks of young Jenson Brooksby, who upended the second-ranked Ruud in the second round. The 22-year-old Brooksby looks like a future star, that is if he gets in better physical condition.

Thus, Novak appears to be an almost certainty to sweep to his 22nd major title in an event that has been his own private playground for much of his career. That shouldn’t change on Sunday in the Australian Open final. 

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 

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A Dream Week For Holger Rune In Paris



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Across the springtime of 2022 and culminating at the end of summer, a 19-year-old Spaniard named Carlos Alcaraz made history of the highest order in his profession.


Alcaraz was astonishing during that span, establishing himself as the first teenager in the men’s game since Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros in 2005 to capture a major when he took the U.S. Open title. This electrifying performer now resides at No.1 in the world and will probably conclude the year at the top despite an abdominal injury preventing him from competing at the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin.

To be sure, Alcaraz has been the sport’s “Man of the Year” in so many ways. And yet, a fellow teenager has now joined the Spaniard in the top ten, and that surely is no mean feat.

Denmark’s Holger Rune celebrated the most stupendously successful week of his career by improbably toppling the six-time champion Novak Djokovic to win the Rolex Paris Masters crown. Rune upended the game’s greatest front runner with a final round triumph he will surely remember for the rest of his life. Somehow, despite being in one precarious position after another—and finding himself dangerously low on oxygen at the end— Rune fended off a tennis icon who had swept 13 matches in a row over the autumn. Rune upended an unwavering yet apprehensive Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to garner his first Masters 1000 title. The grit and gumption he displayed on this auspicious occasion was ample evidence that he authentically has a champion’s mentality, a wealth of talent and a reservoir of courage that must be deeply admired.

It was a fascinating contest from beginning to end. Djokovic was unstoppable in the first set, breaking Rune in the fourth game when the precocious Dane served two double faults which seemed largely caused by overzealousness. Djokovic won 21 of 26 points on serve, nursed the one break he got very professionally, and outmaneuvered Rune time and again from the backcourt. His controlled aggression was first rate. Serving for that opening set at 5-3, Djokovic closed it out at love.

He then reached 0-40 on the Rune serve in the opening game of the second set, but squandered that opportunity flagrantly with an errant backhand passing shot, a netted forehand second serve return and a cautious overhead that eventually cost him the point. Rune held on sedulously, and soon moved to 3-0. That opening game was critical, changing the complexion of the set and allowing Rune to believe he was in with a chance.

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Rune held serve the rest of the way to make it one set all. But, once more, Djokovic took command. He broke the Dane for a 3-1 third set lead when Rune went for broke on a big second serve down the T and double faulted. Djokovic sought to cement his advantage in the fifth game, opening up a 30-0 lead and later advancing to 40-30. He stood one point away from a 4-1 lead which might have proved insurmountable, but Rune made the Serbian pay for a backhand approach lacking sting and direction, passing Djokovic cleanly down the line off the backhand.

Rune managed crucially to break back, closing the gap to 3-2 and denying Djokovic a hold he should have had. Djokovic was visited at the changeover by the trainer, who attended to a left quad issue that was burdening the Serbian. But thereafter Djokovic seemed physically fine and appeared to be wearing Rune down. Leading 4-3, Djokovic pressed hard for a break, but again Rune obstinately stood his ground and came up with the goods in the clutch.

There were two deuces in that eighth game, but the Dane refused to allow Djokovic to reach break point. On both deuce points, the 19-year-old unleashed dazzling backhand winners down the line before holding on gamely. The set went to 5-5, and Rune’s opportunism was again showcased. Djokovic was ahead 30-0 but Rune collected four points in a row to seal the break, taking the last two on unprovoked mistakes from Djokovic.

And so Rune served for the match in the twelfth game of the third set with a 6-5 lead. His lungs were almost empty as Djokovic probed time and again to climb into a tie-break. It was hard to imagine if Djokovic managed to break back that Rune would be able to stay with him in that playoff. He was exhausted from the mental, emotional and physical strain of the hard fought third set.

Six times in that last game Djokovic stood at break point, but he could not convert. Rune’s temerity when it counted was almost breathtaking. He erased the first break point by lacing a forehand down the line for a winner, and then benefitted from a shocking Djokovic netted running forehand on the second. Then Djokovic had complete control on his third break point, only to send a backhand drop shot into the net.

Rune remained unrelenting, saving the fourth break point with an overhead winner, and erasing the fifth when Djokovic pulled a backhand pass wide with a clear opening. Rune reached match point for the first time but his explosive second serve landed long for a double fault. Djokovic advanced to break point for the sixth and last time, only to be stymied by a service winner from the Dane. Soon Rune was at match point for the second time, and he closed out the account stylishly with a forehand pass at the feet of Djokovic, who was coaxed into a netted half volley. For the first time ever in 31 Masters 1000 tournament finals, Djokovic had lost after securing the opening set. Walking on court with Rune in Paris, Djokovic’s career record overall after winning the first set was 891-38 (just shy of 96%), which is a higher success rate than any other male player in the Open Era.

Through nearly the entire last game of the encounter, Rune knew full well he had to finish it off there. Djokovic was well aware that his opponent was physically spent. Both players understood that the match was totally on the line; Djokovic would almost surely have prevailed in the tie-break had they gone there. For Djokovic, the loss was disappointing but not necessarily devastating. He put himself in a position to win twice, but did not realize his goal.

Yet he recognized that perhaps the match he played in the penultimate round against Stefanos Tsitsipas had taken a toll on him mentally. He had crushed Tsitsipas in the first set. From 2-2 in the first set he won five games in a row and then had a 0-30 lead on the Greek competitor’s serve early in the second set. Tsitsipas escaped and stretched Djokovic to his limits before the Serbian came through from a mini-break down at 3-4 in the third set tie-break to win four points in a row. Djokovic was victorious 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4) but that victory required an inordinate amount of emotional energy.

An exuberant Rune was ready to pounce if given the opportunity. He did just that.

In fact, Rune set a Masters 1000 tournament record with five wins over players ranked in the top ten. His Paris indoor journey started when he fought back valiantly to defeat Stan Wawrinka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), saving three match points in the process (two in the second set, one in the third). After that escape, Rune stopped Hubert Hurkacz 7-5, 6-1, Andrey Rublev 6-4, 7-5, Alcaraz 6-3, 6-6 retired, Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 6-2 and then Djokovic.

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Rune’s dynamic rise into the top ten has not happened by accident. He has won 19 of his last 21 matches, appearing in four consecutive ATP Tour finals during that remarkable span. He was beaten in the title round contest at Sofia by Marc-Andrea Huesler, won Stockholm over Tsitsipas, lost to Auger-Aliassime in the Basel final and now is the Rolex Paris Masters champion. Auger-Aliassime had won three straight titles before Rune stopped him in Paris. Djokovic had not lost since Auger-Aliassime defeated him at the Laver Cup. Rune refused to be intimidated by the size of their reputations and the strength of their recent records.

Rune wisely decided to skip the Next Gen ATP Finals this week in Milan. He will fittingly be the first alternate for the Nitto ATP Finals coming up in Turin starting on November 13. I have no doubt he will be ranked among the top five in the world by this time next year, and perhaps even reside among the top three. What impressed me the most in his match with Djokovic was his adaptability. Although Djokovic often set the tempo in that duel, Rune’s tactical skills were outstanding. At times he looped forehands and sent soft and low sliced backhands over the net to prevent Djokovic from feeding off of his pace. In other instances, Rune hit out freely and knocked the cover off the ball. He constantly shifted his strategy and Djokovic could not easily anticipate what was coming next. Rune employed the backhand down the line drop shot skillfully as another tool to keep Djokovic off guard.

No one in the game opens up the court better than Rune to set up forehand winners produced with a shade of sidespin that fade elusively away from his adversaries. Djokovic was the only player all week in Paris to comfortably return Rune’s serve, but on the big points Rune had an uncanny knack for finding the corners and landing big first serves. He saved ten of twelve break points against Djokovic. Moreover, he converted all three of his break points against a renowned opponent. Djokovic broke him twice but Rune would have lost his serve three more times if he had not performed mightily when his plight looked bleak.

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What was most demonstrable at the Rolex Paris Masters was Rune’s propensity to play with immense poise under pressure. Not only did he survive that skirmish with the three time major champion Wawrinka in the opening round, but he somehow overcame Djokovic despite winning five fewer points across the three sets (97 to 92). Rune played the biggest points better than one of the most formidable match players of all time. He is a highly charged young player who has rubbed some players the wrong way with his high intensity bouts of abrasiveness on the court, but his comportment in Paris was very impressive and he did not put a foot out of line during his appointment with Djokovic. He handled the occasion awfully well under the circumstances.

In the weeks and months ahead, Rune will become a target of lesser ranked players looking to enlarge their reputations by virtue of striking down more accomplished adversaries. He will feel a different kind of pressure when he moves through the 2023 season in search of the premier prizes. But this is an enormously ambitious individual who is reminiscent of Alcaraz in terms of his outlook, sense of self, and mentality. They may well develop a stirring rivalry over the next five to ten years that will captivate galleries all over the world. Throw Auger-Aliassime into the mix with Alcaraz and Rune as well.

Tennis will be in exceedingly good shape in the years ahead. Djokovic remains in the forefront of the sport and he is a very young 35. The 36-year-old Nadal is not yet done by any means. But the younger generation is upon us, and it is apparent that Holger Rune is going to take his place among the game’s most illustrious players with increasing force, persuasion and urgency.

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