Novak Djokovic Enters The Australian Open With Optimism And Belief, But Fears Remain - UBITENNIS
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Novak Djokovic Enters The Australian Open With Optimism And Belief, But Fears Remain

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For Novak Djokovic it is an achievement in itself that he has been able to get back to full fitness in time for the start of the first grand slam of 2018.

 

The six-time Australian Open champion hasn’t played on the tour for six months due to an elbow injury. Instead of opting for surgery, Djokovic chose to instead rest and naturally recover. After secretly hoping in recent years that he could spend more time with his family, the Serbian got his wish as he had his first taste of what life is like without tennis. It was a period that he relished, but he always had the desire to return.

“I’m just glad to be back playing tennis, having an opportunity to compete yet again in the big tournaments.” Djokovic told reporters in Melbourne.

During his rehabilitation period, the former world No.1 confirmed the continuation of his collaboration with Andre Agassi and the appointment of recently retired Radek Stepanek. Within the first couple months they have already worked on adjusting Djokovic’s service motion. It is the serve that is causing the most discomfort in his elbow. Yet to test it out on the tour, the new approach seeds his take-back shorter to relieve the pressure on his elbow.

“It was obviously the part of my game that I had to address because of the elbow issues.” He explained.
“So far it’s been working really well. I had only (the) Kooyong match where I could really try it out. I had a lot of practice sets. I’m happy with the new service motion. I don’t want to say ‘new serve’, but new service motion.” He continued.

Djokovic is not the first player to have changed their serve in order to accommodate an injury. His coach Agassi suffered from a wrist problem during the 1990s and changed his service motion. To a degree Agassi’s previous misfortune is a benefit for Djokovic as he was able to discuss what he went through. Providing a silver lining to an otherwise bleak time of his career.

The journey back to the top

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As a result of his absence, Djokovic has fallen down to 14th in the world. To put this into perspective, the last time he started a season outside of the top 10 was back in 2006. His upcoming return at the Australian Open will be a landmine of challenges. Bidding to reach the second week in Melbourne for the tenth time in his career, he could face recent Doha champion Gael Monfils in round two and then world No.4 Alexander Zverev in the fourth round.

The path to a dream comeback may not be the easiest, but it had had little impact of the belief of the 12-time grand champion. Who will get his campaign underway on Tuesday against Donald Young.

“I still know what I’m capable of, and I believe in my own abilities to win against the best players in the world.” Said Djokovic.
“I know that if I get myself to desired level of performance – mental and physical – that I can actually have a good chance to go far in the tournament.
“Whether my approach is different to this year’s Australian Open to other previous years, probably yes. It’s different circumstances. But it is exciting. Honestly, it’s a good place to be.”

Djokovic heads into the tournament with a 89% winning record. Losing only seven matches in 13 previous appearances.

Into the unknown

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Despite his positive outlook, anxiety surrounds the Djokovic camp. At the start of the year, he was set to make comeback appearances in Abu Dhabi followed by Doha. Both of those were cancelled due to his ongoing elbow injury. Even now, three days before the Australian Open, Djokovic admits that his elbow is ‘not 100%.’

“Throughout the tournament, I don’t know how it’s going to behave. Even if it’s 100% healed, after six months of no competition, you never know how you’re going to react.”

To a degree there is a sense of mystery over the troublesome elbow. He has been asked directly to say what his injury is and if he is taking any injections to aid his recovery. To both of those questions, he apologised before saying that he doesn’t want to go into any details.

The next two weeks in Melbourne will not be about how Djokovic fairs against the best in the world. His biggest challenge will be if his body can cope with the physical demands of five-set matches. Something that Djokovic himself doesn’t even know.

Djokovic is back, but the uncertainty remains.

 

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Former Champions Nadal, Halep Headline Monday’s Play

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Simona Halep after her first round victory (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep are both currently on 10-match win streaks.  Nadal has won his last 10 matches overall, going back to his 22nd Major title run in Paris.  Halep has won her last 10 matches at Wimbledon, going back to her title run in 2019.  On Monday, both face seeded opposition on Centre Court.  Rafa takes on one of the sport’s fastest-rising players of the last 12 months, Botic van de Zandschulp, while Simona faces the No.4 seed 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.  Monday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Nick Kyrgios vs. Brandon Nakashima – 1:30pm on Centre Court

Kyrgios helped create yet another circus during his four-set win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the last round, in a match where both players behaved quite terribly.  But Nakashima is a player who will not fall for Nick’s theatrics, as he is extremely composed on court.  The 20-year-old American was ranked outside the top 100 a year ago, yet is projected to debut inside the top 50 with this result, his deepest run at a Major.  Brandon collected 45 match wins at all levels last season, with two Challenger titles and two ATP-level finals.  Nakashima is a consistent player, with strong groundstrokes off both sides.  But he does not possess the serving prowess of Kyrgios, nor the experience on big stages.  And there’s no bigger stage than Centre Court, Wimbledon.  Nick has fond memories on this court, as it’s where he made his Major breakthrough eight years ago with an upset over Rafael Nadal.  That remains only one of two Slam quarterfinals Kyrgios has achieved.  But in his first career meeting against Nakashima, he’s the favorite to reach that stage at a Major for the first time in over seven years.


Alize Cornet vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Second on No.2 Court

Cornet became the player to end Iga Swiatek’s 37-match win streak, and she did so with a comprehensive straight-set win.  This is the Frenchwoman’s 18th season of Grand Slam play, and she finally achieved her first Major quarterfinal six months ago in Australia, where she took out both Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep.  Tomljanovic achieved the same milestone a year ago at this event, when she defeated Emma Raducanu, Jelena Ostapenko, and Cornet.  On that day, Ajla prevailed over Alize 6-3 in the third.  Overall they have split four previous meetings.  Neither player was having a stellar season prior to this tournament, with both owning losing records on the year.  But on this surface, and in a highly-important matchup, I give the spunky competitive spirit of Cornet the slight edge.


Paula Badosa (4) vs. Simona Halep (16) – Second on Centre Court

Their only prior encounter occurred earlier this season in Madrid, where Halep was easily victorious by a score of 6-3, 6-1.  And while Badosa possesses the better ranking at this time, Halep actually has a better record on the year.  And Simona is now 9-1 on grass in 2022, which was the same record she had on grass in 2019, when she last played on this surface.  The two-time Major champion missed this event last year, as well Roland Garros and the Tokyo Olympics, due to a calf injury.  Neither player has dropped a set this fortnight, with Badosa taking out another two-time Slam champ, Petra Kvitova, in the last round.  That was a high-quality affair, with both Paula and Petra effectively applying their aggressive nature on this surface.  While Halep is the much more accomplished grass court player, I favor Badosa’s strong baseline game to again be rewarded on Monday, and to even her head-to-head with Halep.


Amanda Anisimova (20) vs. Harmony Tan – Third on No.1 Court

Both of these players already achieved phenomenal wins during the first week.  Anisimova came back from a set down to defeat Coco Gauff, while Tan prevailed over Serena Williams after over three hours of play.  Tan had never advanced beyond the second round of a Major, but followed up the biggest win of her career with two straight-set victories.  Anisimova is vying for her best result at a Slam since her 2019 run to the Roland Garros semifinals.  And it was during that run when her only previous matchup with Tan took place, with Amanda prevailing 6-3, 6-1.  Anisimova is in the midst of a strong season, with a record of 28-10.  Her outstanding backhand should allow her to dictate play and earn another win over Tan, despite Harmony’s diverse game filled with guile, drop shots, and tweeners.


Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp (21) – Third on Centre Court

This is a rematch from the third round of the last Major, when Nadal won in straight sets at his beloved Roland Garros.  Rafa did not look his best during his first two rounds here, but upped his level significantly in a comfortable victory over Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday.  Van de Zandschulp’s rise the last 12 months in his mid-20’s has been remarkable.  He reached the US Open quarterfinals as a qualifier, and has now advanced to the third round or better at the last four Slams.  And just a few weeks ago on grass at Queen’s Club, Botic was a semifinalist.  He may provide Nadal with his sternest test of this tournament yet, but defeating the 22-time Major champion, and ending Rafa’s bid for the calendar-year Grand Slam, would be extremely surprising.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Cristian Garin – De Minaur has only dropped one set to this stage, though he’s yet to face opposition ranked higher than 80th in the world.  Garin is into the fourth here for the second straight year, and also has only lost one set.  Alex leads their head-to-head 3-0, which includes a grass court contest right before this event in Eastbourne.

Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Petra Martic – Every set Rybakina has played in these Championships has been a tight one, but she’s yet to lose one.  Martic has also claimed all her sets thus far, which includes a victory over the eighth seed, Jessica Pegula.  Both players are vying for their second Major quarterfinal.  Elena is 1-0 against Petra, as she prevailed in two tiebreak sets a couple years ago in Dubai.

Taylor Fritz (11) vs. Jason Kubler (Q) – Fritz is on a seven-matchwin streak, dating back to his title run a week ago in Eastbourne.  Across the last two weeks, his serve has only been broken four times.  Kubler is a 29-year-old Australian who has been plagued by a heredity knee condition throughout his career.  He was 2-6 in the main draws of Slams prior to this fortnight.  At the 2018 US Open, Fritz was up two-sets-to-one over Kubler when Jason was forced to retire.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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WIMBLEDON: Day Five Talking Points Cameron Norrie and Heather Watson through to week two

It was double delight for British tennis fans as Cameron Norrie and Heather Watson are into the second week.

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Cameron Norrie (@atptour - Twitter)

Friday day five of Wimbledon saw joy for Britain as both Cameron Norrie and Heather Watson recorded impressive wins.

 

It marks their furthest appearance at a Grand Slam.

Norrie, on Centre Court, comprehensively beat American Steve Johnson in straight sets 6-4, 6-1, 6-0.

The loss of just one game in the final two sets, with a bagel final set.

The British number one must surely fancy himself as the dark horse at this year’s tournament.

With the overwhelming support of the home crowd, surely, he has every chance.

And then Heather Watson, now 30, has also broken new ground.

She beat 21-year-old Kaja Juvan of Slovenia on Court One in straights 7-6 (8-6), 6-2.

The former British number one clinching a tight first set proving decisive.

Alcaraz and Sinner continue to impress

The world of tennis often looks forward to assess which players can carry the game into the future.

And two stars haven’t failed to impress this week.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, possibly not on his strongest surface, has performed well on grass.

He overcame Germany’s Oscar Otte in a comfortable straight sets victory 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.

Italy’s Jannik Sinner also looks at home on the grass.

After John Isner had impressively overcome Britain’s Andy Murray on Wednesday, this appeared to be a difficult match for the young Italian.

But Sinner came through unscathed in two hours and 20 minutes, taking a straight sets win 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.

And defending champion Novak Djokovic enjoyed a very easy win against countryman Miomir Kecmanović.

His opponent playing a poor first set without winning a single service game.

Djokovic winning 6-0, 6-3, 6-4.

It was also a good day for the American’s Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul and Jack Sock who all made it through.

Shocks – Sakkari and Kerber out

A huge shock occurred on the women’s side as Greece’s Maria Sakkari was beaten by 34-year-old Tatjana Maria.

The veteran German winning in straight sets 6-3, 7-5.

But it was contrasting fortunes for Germany’s Angelique Kerber, champion four years ago, as she was beaten by Elise Mertens.

The Belgian triumphing 6-4, 7-5.

But impressive grass-court performers Caroline Garcia and Jeļena Ostapenko made it through to round four with assured victories.

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Saturday Features Several Blockbuster Matchups

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Coco Gauff during her second round match on Thursday (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Saturday’s Order of Play boats many high-profile matchups.  No.4 seed Paula Badosa faces two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.  Roland Garros finalist Coco Gauff takes on a former RG semifinalist Amanda Anisimova.  And another RG finalist, Stefanos Tsitsipas, will do battle with Nick Kyrgios

 

And that’s not even to mention Rafael Nadal going for his 17th consecutive match win at a Major this season, or Iga Swiatek playing for her 38th consecutive win overall.

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.


Coco Gauff (11) vs. Amanda Anisimova (20) – 1:30pm on Centre Court

This is a rematch from the 2017 US Open girls singles final, when Anisimova defeated Gauff 6-0, 6-2.  At the time, Amanda was 16-years-old while Coco was just 13.  Gauff avenged that loss last year in their only professional encounter, when she prevailed 6-3, 6-3 on clay in Parma.  That tournament was Coco’s last title run, with last month’s Roland Garros being her first final since.  Coco is 11-2 since the start of the French Open, which is the same as her current record at Wimbledon (including qualifying rounds).  She is yet to fail in advancing to the fourth round here, though she’s yet to advance farther.  By contrast, Anisimova is only 3-2 lifetime at The Championships, with this being her first appearance in the third round.  Gauff struggled significantly in her first round, but recovered strongly on Thursday, dropping only five games.  At this event, where Coco made her memorable run to the fourth round as a 15-year-old, Gauff is the favorite to prevail. 


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Alize Cornet – Second on No.1 Court

Swiatek has not lost a match since February 16th of this year.  During that time, she has collected six titles, including her second French Open crown.  But Cornet knows all about upsetting top players at Wimbledon.  In 2014, she overcame Serena Williams in this same round.  And a year ago, she dismissed Bianca Andreescu.  Alize is coming off a semifinal appearance last week in Bad Homburg, and earlier this year achieved her first Major quarterfinal.  She has a grass court game that can draw errors off the racket of Swiatek, who played a subpar match on Thursday.  In their first career meeting, Iga remains the favorite, but an Alize upset would not be shocking.  Swiatek’s remarkable win streak will likely come to an end sooner than later, and grass has been her worst surface to date in her young career.


Paula Badosa (4) vs. Petra Kvitova (25) – Second on Centre Court

Two-time champion Kvitova is on a seven-match win streak of her own, after winning her first title in over a year just last week on grass in Eastbourne.  Badosa is a solid 26-12 on the year, but she hasn’t claimed a title since the beginning of the season in Sydney.  And she arrived at this event just 5-7 on grass in her career.  Yet Paula has easily advanced to this stage, dropping only eight games across her first two matches.  Their only prior matchup also occurred at a Major, when Kvitova prevailed 7-5, 7-5 two years ago at the Australian Open.  It’s been a long time since Petra has made a deep run at The Championships.  She reached the quarterfinals or better every year between 2010 and 2014, but has not done so since.  And before the grass court season, she was only 10-13 in 2022.  Yet on grass, a rejuvenated Kvitova should be favored.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Third on No.1 Court

These two men just played a couple weeks ago on grass in Halle, where Kyrgios was victorious 6-4 in the third.  Nick is actually 3-0 against Stefanos, with his other two wins coming on hard courts.  Kyrgios barely survived his opening round contest, but played some of his best tennis in a straight-set win on Thursday over an in-form Filip Krajinovic.  Tsitsipas was only 3-4 at Wimbledon ahead of this fortnight, and was on a three-match losing streak here, but has dropped only one set through two rounds.  And just last week, he was a champion on grass in Mallorca.  To many, Kyrgios appears to be the favorite.  However, he is only 1-5 in his last six appearances in the third round of a Major.  And as per Tennis Abstract, he hasn’t defeated a top five player since 2019 (Stefanos just re-joined that group this week).  Also, Kyrgios will know many expect him to win this match, and pressure is something Nick often reacts to poorly on court.  Tsitsipas is looking fully comfortable on grass, and I have a feeling he’s primed to earn his first victory over Kyrgios.


Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Lorenzo Sonego (27) – Third on Centre Court

Nadal is yet to reach his top level this week, but survived his first two matches in four sets.  He is now an outstanding 32-3 this season, and is on a nine-match win streak.  Sonego has now advanced to the third round of all three Majors this year, and reached the round of 16 here a year ago.  While he does own two career victories over top five opposition (Djokovic, Thiem), he does not possess the offensive weaponry to threaten the 22-time Major champion.  Assuming the condition of Nadal’s foot does not worsen, his form should improve as his first tournament on grass since 2019 progresses.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Harmony Tan vs. Katie Boulter (WC) – Both of these players already earned the biggest wins of their careers this week: Tan upset Serena Williams, while Boulter took out Karolina Pliskova.  This is a first-time meeting between the two.

Barbora Krejcikova (13) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Both players reached the second week of this event a year ago, but only one will in 2022.  This is another first-time encounter.

Botic van de Zandschulp (21) vs. Richard Gasquet – Van de Zandshulp is into his fourth straight third round at a Slam, just a year after he was ranked well outside the top 100.  Gasquet is a two-time Wimbledon semifinalist, though this is his first time advancing to the third round since 2016.  This is a rematch from this January’s Australian Open, when Botic prevailed after Richard retired mid-match.

Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Liam Broady (WC) – De Minaur defeated another British wild card, Jack Draper, on Thursday.  Broady is a 28-year-old who won two five-setters this week to achieve his first appearance in the third round of a Major.  These players met last year on grass in Eastbourne, with the Australian prevailing in straight sets.

Simona Halep (16) vs. Magdalena Frech – Halep is on a nine-match win streak at SW19, dating back to her title run in 2019.  Frech is a 24-year-old who defeated Camila Giorgi in the first round.  Simona has claimed both of their previous matches in straight sets, including earlier this season at the Australian Open.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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