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Australian Open Plays Down Safety Fears Over Combustible Cladding

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Officials at the Australian Open has insisted that their courts are safe after it was revealed that the Hisense Arena is covered by a highly combustible material.

 

A report conducted by ABC News Australia has found that the exterior of the premier court at the Melbourne major is covered by 20% of ‘suspect materials.’ A highly combustible cladding that has been subject to investigation by many countries in recent months. Last year over 70 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Investigators concluded that the 24-story building came alight so quickly because of the cladding. Cladding is the application of one material over another to provide a layer.

It is understood that the Australian Open is planning to remove the material from the Hisense Arena next year. It has been deemed safe by both the local government and relevant authorities. The chief executive of the Olympic Park Trust, Brian Morris, has insisted that the proper precautions have been made to ensure the 10,000 capacity arena is safe.

“We’ve done things like removing any potential ignition points, we’ve put on extra staff to review areas that could possibly be at risk, we’ve probably increased our response capability and the MFB [Metropolitan Fire Brigade] will be on board during the Australian Open,” Morris told ABC.

The Victorian Cladding Taskforce reported in December that up to 1400 buildings in the Australian region could contain the hazardous material, including eight hospitals. Many have blamed the outcome on poor regulation of materials and the desire to save money during construction.

The AUS$65 M Hisense Arena was built in 2000. Apart from tennis, the venue has also been used to stage a variety of other sports. Including National Basketball games, the World Track Cycling Championships and even held an exhibition Ice Hockey series.

There is no information about if any of the controversial cladding has been used elsewhere at Melbourne Park. The Australian Open will get underway on January 15th.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Iga Swiatek Goes for her 31st Consecutive Victory

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A shot from the grounds of the French Open (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

This century, as per the WTA, Iga Swiatek is tied for fifth-most 6-0 sets won in a season.  And it’s still only May.  The 2020 champion will look to continue her dominance on Saturday against Danka Kovinic, won who an ITF-level clay event earlier this month.

 

Other third round action on Saturday includes Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Paula Badosa.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Saturday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Cristian Garin – 11:00am on Court 14

Rublev won a clay event in Belgrade last month, yet went just 2-2 between Madrid and Rome.  Thus far, he’s dropped a set in each of his first two matches.  So Andrey is not currently in his top form.  And his history at this event is rather up-and-down: he reached the quarterfinals in 2020, but lost in the first round in his other two previous appearances.  Garin excels on this surface: all five of his career ATP titles have come on clay, and he advanced to the fourth round here a year ago.  After surprisingly struggling on clay this February in South America, where he went 0-3, the Chilean was a semifinalist in Houston and a quarterfinalist in Madrid.  Andrey is 2-0 against Cristian, which includes a win on clay three years ago in Hamburg.  Garin should certainly test Rublev, and if he does, Andrey needs to avoid allowing his temper to get the best of him as it recently has.  But the seventh seed has the necessary fire power to dictate play and prevail.


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Danika Kovinic – 12:00pm on Court Philippe Chatrier

Kovinic is a 27-year-old from Montenegro who, after never getting beyond the second round of a Major for eight years, is now into the third round at the second consecutive Slam  At January’s Australian Open, she upset US Open champ Emma Raducanu.  And she’s 12-4 this year on clay at all levels.  But defeating another Slam champ on Saturday will be a daunting task.  Swiatek has not lost since February 16th, and she’s 16-2 lifetime at this event, with her only losses coming against top 10 opposition (Halep, Sakkari).  Iga is a huge favorite to make the second week of this event for the fourth straight year, something she’s never failed to do.


Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Miomir Kecmanovic (28) – Second on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Coming off a near two-month layoff for hernia surgery, and an 0-1 record on clay this season, not much was expected of Medvedev heading into this fortnight.  But he’s played at a high level this week, and is yet to drop a set.  However, Kecmanovic will be a big step up in competition.  The 22-year-old is in the top 20 of the year-to-date rankings, thanks to 25 match wins.  Miomir has achieved six quarterfinals this season, and he’s coached by a man who knows plenty about playing on clay: two-time French Open semifinalist David Nalbandian.  Medvedev and Kecmanovic have never played before, and an upset of the No.2 seed would not be shocking considering Miomir’s recent form, as well as Daniil’s lack of play and lack of love for this surface.


Paula Badosa (3) vs. Veronika Kudermetova (29) – Third on Court Suzanne Lenglen

This is their third meeting this season, and Badosa crushed Kudermetova in their first two.  In Indian Wells, Paula won 6-3, 6-2.  In Madrid, it was 6-3, 6-0.  However, Veronika claimed their three earlier encounters, two of which occurred last year, and one of which was on clay.  Kudermetova reached a clay final last month in Istanbul, but then promptly lost three straight matches heading into this event, including the Madrid loss to Badosa.  Paula was an excellent 17-3 on clay last year, though she’s yet to play at her top level this season on this surface.  But based on their recent history, Badosa is a considerable favorite to even their overall head-to-head.


Holger Rune vs. Hugo Gaston – Not Before 8:45pm on Court Philippe Chatrier

These are two of the ATP’s most exciting young stars, who will deservedly receive the spotlight of the night session on Saturday night in Paris.  21-year-old Gaston made his Major breakthrough at this event two years ago, as the Frenchman electrified the Parisian audience with his surprising run to the fourth round.  Hugo defeated two-time finalist Dominic Thiem in five sets, and then almost upset another Major champion Stan Wawrinka, eventually losing in five, but not before hitting an astounding 58 drop shots.  19-year-old Rune made a name for himself at last year’s US open by taking a set off Novak Djokovic.  And within the last two months, Rune has claimed two clay titles, one at Challenger level and one at tour level.  Holger is yet to drop a set this week, while Hugo again enthused his home country with a victory over Alex de Minaur in a fifth-set tiebreak.  The French crowd played a huge role in that outcome, and they’ll look to do the same on Saturday evening.  But in their first career meeting, the more in-form player should be favored, and that definitively is Rune.  Prior to this tournament, Gaston was only 4-9 on the year.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Aryna Sabalenka (7) vs. Camila Giorgi (28) – These are two of the WTA’s hardest ball strikers.  They have split two previous meetings, with their clay court matchup going to Sabalenka.

Jessica Pegula (11) vs. Tamara Zidansek (24) – Pegula has required 19 match points across her first two matches to advance.  Zidansek was a surprise semifinalist here a year ago, but had a losing record on the year coming into this event.  Two years in Auckland, Pegula defeated Zidansek 6-2, 6-3.

Hubert Hurkacz (12) vs. David Goffin – Hurkacz has advanced via two three-setters, while Goffin has advanced via two four-setters.  Just a few weeks ago in Rome, Goffin overcame Hurkacz in two sets decided by tiebreaks.

Marin Cilic (20) vs. Gilles Simon (WC) – Simon is one of the best stories of this first week.  Gilles was 1-4 at tour level this season, but in his last Roland Garros, the Frenchman has thrilled the Parisian crowd with surprising victories over Pablo Carreno Busta and Steve Johnson.  And he’s 6-1 lifetime against Cilic, with Marin’s only win coming in a five-setter at the 2014 US Open.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Mikael Ymer – Tsitsipas has really struggled through two rounds, already spending nearly eight hours on court.  Ymer is yet to go beyond the third round of a Slam, and is 0-3 against the Greek.

Elena Rybakina (16) vs. Madison Keys (22) – Rybakina was a quarterfinalist here a year ago, though Keys has reached the quarters or better twice.  This is their first meeting.

Casper Ruud (8) vs. Lorenzo Sonego (32) – Despite owning seven ATP titles on clay, Ruud is 0-3 in the third round of Roland Garros.  Sonego reached the fourth round two years ago, and is yet to drop a set this week.  Ruud is 3-0 against Sonego, and has won six of their seven sets.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Seeds Collide as Third Round Action Begins

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Carlos Alcaraz on Wednesday in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Third round singles action commences on Friday in Paris, featuring some big names and some big matchups.  Major champions Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka, and Sloane Stephens will all be in action, as will Carlos Alcaraz and Sascha Zverev, both of whom had to save match point on Wednesday.  Overall, six singles matches see seeded players face off.

 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Amanda Anisimova (27) vs. Karolina Muchova – 11:00am on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Both players have already earned impressive wins this fortnight: Anisimova over Naomi Osaka, and Muchova over Maria Sakkari.  And both are Major semifinalists: Amanda at this event three years ago, and Karolina last year in Melbourne.  But due to an abdominal injury, Muchova has only played eight matches since last August.  Anisimova is a strong 22-8 on the year, and has reached the quarterfinals or better at every clay event she’s played in 2022.  In their first career meeting, Amanda’s superior level of confidence, paired with her impressive backhand, make her the favorite to prevail.


Diego Schwartzman (15) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (18) – 11:00am on Court Simonne Mathieu

Schwartzman is the far more accomplished clay court player, but Dimitrov is the player who has advanced much more comfortably to this stage.  Grigor has dropped only 10 games across six sets, while Diego has survived a four-setter and a five-setter.  And Dimitrov is 3-1 against Schwartzman, having taken their last three meetings.  That includes a dominant win on clay just a few weeks ago in Madrid by a score of 6-0, 6-3.  Based on recent evidence, Dimitrov may be poised to advance to the second week of this tournament for just the second time in his career. 


Belinda Bencic (14) vs. Leylah Fernandez (17) – 12:00pm on Court Philippe Chatrier

In the last round, Bencic earned an impressive straight-set win over another young Canadian, Bianca Andreescu.  Neither Belinda nor Leylah has dropped a set through two rounds.  Bencic was a champion on clay last month in Charleston, but Fernandez has struggled at WTA clay events this season, with a record of only 2-3 before arriving in Paris.  Yet it’s worth remembering Belinda’s past struggles at this event, as she held a 5-5 record prior to this fortnight.  And as we learned at last year’s US Open, Fernandez thrives on big stages.  Their only previous encounter occurred two years ago in the Billie Jean King Cup, which went to Fernandez in straight sets.  And I give Leylah the slight edge to defeat Belinda again on Friday after what will likely be an extended tussle.


Rafael Nadal (5) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp (26) – Third on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Nadal arrived in Paris with questions swirling regarding the status of his chronically-injured foot, which was obviously bothering him in Rome.  But it hasn’t impacted his performance thus far, as he’s dropped only 14 games through six sets.  Van de Zandschulp made his Major breakthrough at last year’s US Open, when he was a surprise quarterfinalist as a qualifier ranked 117th in the world.  And he’s followed that up with more good results, such as reaching the final in Munich last month.  But defeating the King of Clay, who is 107-3 at Roland Garros, would be a truly shocking result, though I’m curious to see if Botic can provide Rafa with his first real test this week.


Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Sebastian Korda (27) – Not Before 8:45pm on Court Philippe Chatrier

Korda remains the only player to defeat Alcaraz on clay this year, which he did in Monte Carlo.  It was quite a dramatic three-hour affair.  Carlitos was fresh off the biggest title of his career in Miami, so a letdown was only normal.  And Alcaraz hasn’t lost since.  The 19-year-old Spaniard is on a 12-match winning streak, and is now 30-3 this season.  Korda has earned up-and-down results this clay court season, with some first-round losses as well as a semifinal run in Estoril.  Their other prior meeting was the championship match of November’s NextGen Finals, which Carlitos won in straight sets.  And considering Alcaraz will likely play more freely on Friday after escaping near-defeat in the last round, he is a clear favorite to be victorious on Friday night under the lights on Chatrier.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Coco Gauff (18) vs. Kaia Kanepi – When these players met last year on clay in Parma, Gauff prevailed after two tight tiebreak-sets.

Angelique Kerber (21) vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich – The only other time since 2016 Kerber has advanced out of the first round, she made the quarterfinals.  Sasnovich took out Emma Raducanu on Wednesday.  Angie leads their head-to-head 2-0, which includes a three-set match just last week in Strasbourg.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Aljaz Bedene – Djokovic hasn’t lost in the third round of a Major since Wimbledon 2016, when he was upset by Sam Querrey.  Bedene has never gone beyond the third round at a Slam, and is 0-3 against Novak, having never claimed a set.

Victoria Azarenka (15) vs. jil Teichmann (23) – This is a rematch from the second round of the last Major, when Azarenka comfortably dismissed Teichmann 6-1, 6-2.  Jil is 10-3 on clay this season, while Vika is 6-2.

Sloane Stephens vs. Diane Parry – Coming into this event, Stephens was 0-4 on clay this year, yet has toughed out two three-setters this week.  Parry is a 19-year-old Frenchwoman who upset defending champion Barbora Krejcikova in the first round.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Brandon Nakashima – Zverev saved match point in the last round against Sebastian Baez.  This is 20-year-old Nakashima’s first appearance in the third round of a Major.  Two years ago at the US open, Sascha defeated Brandon in four.

Cam Norrie (10) vs. Karen Khachanov (21) – Khachanov has reached the fourth round in four of the last five years.  Norrie is yet to do so at any Slam, with an 0-4 record in this round.  But the Brit is 3-2 against Karen, and 2-0 on clay.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Iga Swiatek Goes for her 30th Consecutive Win

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Iga Swiatek practicing in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Over the past three months, Iga Swiatek has dominated the WTA tour, more so than any player since Serena Williams.  Swiatek has won 29 straight matches, and 5 straight titles.  In the second round, she goes for her 30th consecutive win over American Alison Riske.

 

Thursday also sees other top seeds in second round action, such as Daniil Medvedev, Paula Badosa, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.  And the women finally receive the spotlight of the night session, with two players who have a flair for the dramatic: France’s Alize Cornet, and 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Laslo Djere – 12:00pm on Court Philippe Chatrier

Medvedev missed nearly two months of action due to hernia surgery, playing only one match on clay ahead of this event, yet still easily advanced on Tuesday.  But in the second round, he faces a player who had some nice results on clay this season.  Djere reached the semis of Marrakech, and thoroughly tested fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic in Belgrade.  He’s also 1-0 against Medvedev, though that victory came five years ago, and with Medvedev retiring mid-match, back when he was ranked 184th in the world.  Now the world No.2, Danill should be able to prevail over Djere despite his recent inactivity, and his aversion to this surface.


Frances Tiafoe (24) vs. David Goffin – Second on Court Simonne Mathieu

Following six first round losses at this event, which included four five-setters, Tiafoe finally earned his first French Open victory on Tuesday over Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi.  Goffin has a much richer history at this tournament.  It was 10 years ago when the Belgian made his Major breakthrough, advancing to the fourth round in his first main draw appearance at a Slam.  Then in 2016, he was a quarterfinalist in Paris.  Goffin missed much of 2021 due to injury, but has rebounded nicely in 2022, winning a clay court title last month in Marrakech.  Tiafoe reached a clay final in Estoril, though he arrived in Paris on a three-match losing streak.  David leads their head-to-head 3-1, and considering his far-better results at Roland Garros, he is a considerable favorite to make that 4-1 after what should be an entertaining battle.


Madison Keys (22) vs. Caroline Garcia – Second on Court Philippe Chatrier

After a dismal 2021 season, one in which Keys openly admits she lost the joy in her game, Madison had an excellent start this year.  In January alone, the American won more matches than in all of 2021.  Yet since reaching the quarterfinals of Indian Wells, Keys has again struggled, and is just 2-3 on clay.  Garcia was a top five player less than four years ago, but over the last few seasons, has lost as many matches as she’s won.  Prior to this event, Caroline missed the entire clay court season due to a foot injury.  Keys is 2-1 against Garcia, and claimed their last two encounters in straight sets.  Keys often peaks at the Majors: since 2015, she’s reached the second week of Slams 16 times.  And with the pressure of the Parisian crowd weighing on an unconfident Garcia, I like Madison’s chances to be victorious.


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Alison Riske – Third on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Swiatek has not only been winning a lot, she’s been winning extremely efficiently.  Out of her 29 straight wins, 23 have been in straight sets.  On Monday, she crushed Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-0.  And she is 2-0 against Riske, with both wins coming last season on clay.  Riske was a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in 2019, when she upset then-world No.1 Ash Barty.  But before this week, she was 1-7 lifetime at Roland Garros, and between 2019 and 2021, went 0-8 on clay.  So another upset over a world No.1 on Thursday would be shocking.  This should be another straightforward victory for Iga.


Jelena Ostapenko (13) vs. Alize Cornet – Not Before 8:45pm on Court Philippe Chatrier

Since her shocking run to the championship five years ago, Ostapenko is a meager 3-4 at this event, with three first-round losses.  But she advanced easily on Tuesday, as did Cornet.  And Alize coming off a huge milestone at the last Major, where she achieved her first Slam quarterfinal.  This is Cornet’s 18th consecutive appearance at the French Open, where she owns a 20-17 record.  She is vying to reach the third round for the first time in five years.  They have split four previous meetings, all of which occurred on hard courts.  Both players arrived in Paris on significant losing streaks: Cornet had lost four in a row, while Ostapenko had list five.  But Alize can often thrive on big stages, and will surely relish the chance to play in the night session on Chatrier.  An inspired effort from the Frenchwoman, and a boisterous French crowd, could easily get under the thin skin of Jelena.  I would not be surprised to see Cornet prevail under the lights.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Paula Badosa (3) vs. Kaja Juvan – Badosa easily won her opening round 6-2, 6-0.  Juvan is a 21-year-old from Slovenia who was a finalist just last week on clay in Strasbourg. 

Steve Johnson vs. Gilles Simon (WC) – Johnson defeated Jiri Vesely on Tuesday in four sets, while Simon upset Pablo Carreno Busta in a late-night, five-set thriller.  The Frenchman took their only career meeting eight years ago in Tokyo.

Simona Halep (19) vs. Qinwen Zheng – Halep needed three sets to get past a qualifier on Tuesday.  Qinwen dropped only four games in her first round contest.  Earlier this season in the semifinals of an Australian Open tune-up event, Halep defeated Qinwen 6-3, 6-2.

Danielle Collins (9) vs. Shelby Rogers – The Australian Open runner-up is just 3-2 on clay this year, though Rogers was 0-3 on this surface coming into this event.  They have split two previous meetings, both of which occurred last August.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Zdenek Kolar (Q) – Tsitsipas came back from two sets down to outlast Lorenzo Musetti on Tuesday.  Kolar is a 25-year-old from the Czech Republic who defeated France’s Lucas Pouille in his first main draw match at a Major, after failing to qualify at 16 previous Slams. 


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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