Belinda Bencic Stuns Venus Williams, Advancing To The Second Round Of The Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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Belinda Bencic Stuns Venus Williams, Advancing To The Second Round Of The Australian Open

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The in-form Belinda Bencic caused a minor upset by sending fifth seed and last year’s runner-up Venus Williams packing in the first round of the Australian Open on the Rod Laver Arena. The former world number seven was victorious, 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 53 minutes.

 

When both draws were revealed in the men’s and women’s singles draw at the Australian Open last Thursday, all eyes were firmly fixed on the mouthwatering first round clash between Bencic and Williams. The Swiss has been in-form since winning the Hopman Cup with Roger Federer in Perth as she has returned from injured which kept her out of the game for five months.

Both players held onto their serves with ease in the early exchanges of this first round encounter with no break points in sight. The duo were hitting the ball cleanly and hard, with no margin for error as both players were looking to dictate the play.

However, it was the 20-year-old who seized the opportunity by breaking Williams’ serve to lead 4-3, furthermore, after having five break point opportunities and a rain delay in between the chaos, Bencic consolidated the break, leading 5-3 with the roof closed on the Rod Laver Arena.

The world number 77 claimed her third successive game on the bounce by breaking the former world number one’s serve to love, claiming the opening set, 6-3 in 58 minutes.

Bencic beats Williams for the first time

Last year’s runner-up started the second set by breaking Bencic’s serve for the first time in the match but she was immediately broken back, and the duo traded breaks a further, two more times in succession. It was the consistent Bencic who edged out in front with a 3-2 lead over the 37-year-old American.

Williams managed to hold onto her serve to restore parity at 3-3, and she was threatening the former top ten player’s serve but Bencic’s blistering forehands bailed her out of trouble with the former world number one continuing to commit unforced errors.

The second set was destined for a tiebreak but Bencic had other ideas, and she upset the two-time Australian Open runner-up with a scorching forehand winner placed sweetly down the line with Williams unable to get there.

It was the Swiss’ first win over Williams in five meetings after she lost to the American in the third round of the US Open back in 2015, which was their last encounter. Her victory also snapped Williams’ amazing run of reaching the second week at the last seven Slams on the bounce, dating back to the 2016 French Open.

On-court interviewer Rennae Stubbs congratulated Bencic and asked Bencic on her thoughts about playing Williams when the draw came out, after playing Serena in the first round last year.

“Honestly not the first reaction of everyone was bad luck (laughs), of course it would have been nice to have faced someone easier in the first round and get through it but on the other side, it’s a big court and I have another chance to play Venus or Serena and I think it’s amazing because when I was a little girl, I was watching them on TV, I never thought that I would have the chance to play them.”

Bencic also spoke about how her outlook on tennis has changed.

“Of course it was a difficult five months, I think the perspective changes a lot and I just came back and I enjoy it much more, I appreciate that I can play, I’m not thinking about winning and losing and happy to be on the court, it taught me a lot in a frustrating time.”

Roger Federer’s parents were in attendance to watch Bencic’s first round clash and it was an honor for her to have them in her box.

“No definitely not, I was so happy that they wanted to watch my match, thank you for supporting me, we had a great week in the Hopman Cup with Roger, no pressure I just felt support.”

Bencic will play Lusika Kumkhum or Johanna Larsson in the second round and a potential fourth round clash with 12th seed Julia Goerges or 23rd seed Daria Gavrilova over the horizon.

Grand Slam

Nick Kyrgios Backs Australian Open Ban On Unvaccinated Players But Opposes Mandatory Vaccinations

The world No.90 landed himself in some hot water after making some comments on the No Boundaries podcast.

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Tennis star Nick Kyrgios says recent comments made by him on a podcast were taken out of context after he was accused of calling for next year’s Australian Open to be cancelled.

 

The former top 20 player spoke about the upcoming event and other issues on the No Boundaries podcast which he is a co-founder of. During one part of the discussion, Kyrgios said that he doesn’t think that the Australian Open should go ahead due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The country has had one of the strictest rules in the world regarding the pandemic with many cities being placed into a lockdown for almost a year and heavy restrictions being placed on international travel.

I don’t think the Aus Open should go ahead, just for the people in Melbourne – you’ve got to send a message,’ Kyrgios said on the podcast.
‘How long did (Melbourne) do in lockdown? 275 days or something?’

However, the 26-year-old later clarified his comment and said his point was more about the people living in Melbourne and not that the tournament should be cancelled. Kyrgios reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open back in 2015 and has made eight consecutive appearances in the main draw. This year he reached the third round before losing to Dominic Thiem in five sets.

“To say that I’d want the Australian Open cancelled, I think that was the sentence that got taken out of context,” he said in a video on his Instagram account. “It’s more so for the people of Melbourne who have gone through hell and back. I think it’s been … nearly 300 days of lockdown and your freedom has been, you know, taken away from you.”

Next year’s Melbourne major is still yet to publicly confirm their entry requirements amid growing speculation that players will only be allowed to play in the tournament if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This is due to a health mandate being implemented in Victoria which requires all essential workers, including elite athletes, to be vaccinated. Premier Daniel Andrews has previously told journalists that he would not be making any exceptions to the rules for players.

Weighing in on the topic of vaccinations, Kyrgios said the idea of having a policy on Tour which requires all players to be vaccinated is ‘morally wrong.’ Novak Djokovic is among a group of players who have not revealed their vaccination status. Prompting speculation over if he will travel to Australia next January or not.

“(NBA player) Kyrie (Irving), Novak (Djokovic), these guys have given so much, sacrificed so much,” Kyrgios commented. “They’re global athletes who millions of people look up to and I just feel like it’s so morally wrong to force someone to get vaxxed. There’s other solutions around it.”

However, Kyrgios has also said that he thinks it is ‘morally wrong’ for unvaccinated players to be allowed in Melbourne.

I don’t think it’s morally right to accept players from overseas that aren’t vaccinated to come into our country.” He stated.

Although Tennis Australia is yet to confirm their policy, media sources are reporting on Tuesday that unvaccinated players will be banned from the tournament. According to ABC Australia, Victorian Sports minister Martin Pakula told reporters that unvaccinated players would be banned from the Australian Open along with unvaccinated fans and staff.

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Roger Federer Unlikely To Play Australian Open Next Year

One of Federer’s coaches has issued an update concerning his recovery from injury.

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Roger Federer Wimbledon 2021
Roger Federer (SUI) playing against Adrian Mannarino (FRA) in the first round of the Gentlemen's Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 2 Tuesday 29/06/2021. Credit: AELTC/Jed Leicester

It appears that Roger Federer’s return to professional tennis will not occur in Australia after one of his coaches described the chances of him playing in the first Grand Slam of 2022 as ‘very few.’

 

Ivan Ljubicic has issued an update on the 20-time Grand Slam champion who has not played since his quarter-final loss to Herbert Hurkacz at Wimbledon. Shortly after that defeat, Federer underwent a third operation of his knee following a consultation with his medical team. He has already undergone two minor surgeries on his knee during the first half of 2020, as well as a separate procedure back in 2016.

Speaking in Zurich during a sponsor event for Mercedes-Benz back in September Federer said ‘the worst is behind him’ but he is taking his recovery slowly. Speaking about his progress earlier this week, coach Ljubicic said the Swiss maestro is unable to recover ‘as quickly as he used to’ due to his age. Admitting that the prospect of Federer returning to action at Melbourne Park is unlikely.

“I think there are very few chances, he is still recovering and knowing him, he wants to be sure he can play to win the tournament and be at 100%,” Ljubicic told Stats Perform.
“So I think the Australian Open is not a real possibility right now. But he will go step by step because he is 40 years old now and he needs to be patient. He cannot recover as quickly as he used to.”

Federer has won six out of his 20 major titles at the Australian Open with the most recent occurring back in 2018. He also missed the tournament this year due to his knee. Prior to this, he had made 21 consecutive appearances at Maelbourne Park (2000-2020).

However, Ljubicic is optimistic that Federer will return to competition and retirement talk is currently not on the cards despite his age. According to the ATP, only six players older than Federer have an official ranking but none of those are currently ranked in the top 200. Although Feliciano Lopez is the same age as him but is a couple months younger.

We have spoken and I can guarantee he wants to return to playing tennis. When he decides to stop he will retire, but I don’t think it’s going to happen all of a sudden.” Ljubicic stated.

During his career, Federer has won 103 ATP titles and has earned more than $130M in prize money.

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Australian Open To Outline Plans Next Week As Victorian Premier Says No To Granting Exceptions

It is looking increasingly doubtful that unvaccinated players will be allowed to play in the Grand Slam.

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With just over two months until the start of the Australian Open there is still confusion over what the entry requirements will be for players who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

 

There is speculation that those who have not been jabbed against the virus may be banned from playing at the Grand Slam tournament which will begin on January 17th. This is due to a health mandate implemented in Victoria which requires all essential workers, including athletes, to have their vaccinations. However, no official announcement has been made despite the new season beginning in less than eight weeks time.

Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, was questioned if unvaccinated players will be allowed to play in Melbourne on Tuesday at a special media event marking the announcement of Dylan Alcott’s retirement. However, the tennis official refused to shed light on the current situation.

I just want this to be about Dylan today and then I’ll take any of those questions another time,” the Australian Associated Press quoted Tiley as saying.

It is understood that more information about the 2022 Australian Open will be announced next week at the ‘official launch’ of the event. However, this doesn’t mean that all details about the event will be disclosed.

On the same day as Tiley’s comment, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reiterated his stance on the matter by stating he will not be applying for any exceptions to be made for tennis players. In a leaked letter issued by the WTA Players Council, one of the possibilities being discussed was allowing unvaccinated players to participate providing they go through a strict quarantine upon arrival in the country.

I’m not going to have people sitting in the grandstands having done the right thing, only to have millionaire players that ought be vaccinated running around the place being essentially at such higher risk of spreading this – getting it and giving it,” Andrews said.

Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, who contested the final of this year’s Australian Open, have refused to disclose details about their vaccination status. Meanwhile, others such as world No.9 doubles player Pierre-Hughes Herbert admits he is yet to be fully vaccinated.

“It’s a bit complex, because personally I’m not vaccinated. I don’t know if I will have time to do the two jabs and be vaccinated,” Herbert told reports in Paris on Sunday.
“It’s a bit difficult to tackle this subject right now. This situation in Australia is not very much open for discussion and open.”

Fellow French doubles player Nicolas Mahut said he received one vaccination shot three months after testing positive for COVID-19. Although this may not be enough to guarantee him entry into Australia.

“If I need a second jab after the Davis Cup, we don’t have a large window, so that’s it. The situation is not easy for me, as well,” he commented.

According to figures provided by both the ATP and WTA, more than 50% of players have been fully vaccinated.

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