Italian Open Friday Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Match of the Day - UBITENNIS
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Italian Open Friday Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Match of the Day

World No.1 Simona Halep is set to face her biggest test yet this week at the Foro Italico.

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Simona Halep (zimbio.com)

Friday in Rome, it’s quarter-finals day on both sides of the singles draws, and there’s a lot on the line. For both the men and the women, the number one ranking will be determined by the results of the next few days at Foro Italico. Rafael Nadal needs to win the tournament to recapture the top spot from Roger Federer, as well as to have a chance to be number one following Roland Garros. On the women’s side, Simona Halep needs to advance further than Caroline Wozniacki to remain the number one player, and both women are still alive in the draw. In today’s preview, let’s take a look at the matches scheduled for Friday night in Rome.

 

Simona Halep vs. Caroline Garcia

Not only will Garcia try to dethrone the world number one, she’ll also be vying for her third straight clay semifinal. That would give the Frenchwoman considerable confidence heading into Paris, where she’ll look to improve upon her quarterfinal appearance from last year. It may actually be Halep who’s more in need of confidence, as she hasn’t made a semifinal since Indian Wells two months ago. Simona has a 3-1 edge in their career head-to-head, but they have never met on clay. They’ve played three times in the past year, and Garcia’s sole victory came in the biggest match of her career. At the Premier Mandatory event in Beijing, Garcia took out Halep in the final. The win also qualified Garcia for her first WTA Finals appearance. Halep has barely had any court time so far this week. She lost just one game to Naomi Osaka, and didn’t play at all yesterday as Madison Keys withdrew due to injury. I wonder if that will help or hurt her this evening, especially against an in-form Garcia who hasn’t dropped a set this week. All things considered, I slightly favor Halep’s chances to grind out a victory on the clay in what should be a good one.

Alexander Zverev vs. David Goffin

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While the eyes of Italy will be on the Nadal/Fognini match to start the day, this last match of the evening is the better match on paper, with two top 10 players facing off. Zverev is on a 13-match winning streak, and won two titles over the past two weeks in Munich and Madrid. A potential match against the king of clay in the final looms over the draw, but Goffin is anything but an easy out. David’s excellent defense and movement could prove challenging for Zverev on the clay. These two do not have much history against each other, as their only previous meeting was two years ago. It is worth noting that Zverev prevailed that day on the clay in Munich. The German is a much more evolved player today. Goffin is yet to play his best in 2018 following his excellent play at the end of 2017. However, his year was sidetracked by the unfortunate eye injury he suffered in the Rotterdam final. Goffin seems due for a big result, and Zverev must be a bit drained in his third straight week of tennis. Zverev showed some signs of fatigue as he struggled to close out Kyle Edmund yesterday, needing eight match points in the second set tiebreak and exhibiting obvious frustration. I’m very curious to see how this quarter-final plays out.

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Madison Keys battles past Simona Halep to reach the quarter final in Cincinnati

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Madison Keys beat this year’s Wimbledon champion Simona Halep 6-1 3-6 7-5 to advance to the quarter final at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati for the second consecutive year.

 

Madison Keys stopped a five-match losing streak against Simona Halep after a thrilling three-set match scoring her first win over the Romanian player in five years.

After beating Halep in their first head-to-head match in 2014, Keys lost five consecutive matches against her Romanian rival, including four in 2016. They met for the first time since the 2016 WTA Finals, where Halep beat Keys 6-2 6-4 in a round-robin match.

Keys never faced a break point and dropped just eight points in four service games and reeled off nine of the eleven points on Halep’s first serve to cruise through to a 6-1 win in 20 minutes.

In the second set Halep dropped her serve twice, but she converted three of the ten break points. The Romanian player held her serve at love for the first time in the match to win the second set sending the match to the third set.

Keys went up a 3-0 lead in the decider and earned four break points for 4-0. Halep converted her fifth break points at deuce and held serve at love to draw level to 3-3. Keys did not convert a match point at 5-4, but she sealed the win by breaking serve with a forehand winner in the 12th game at deuce to the delight of the home crowd.

“I think I played really smart tonight. Obviously I played a really good first set, and I don’t think she played her best tennis in the first set. I think the third set we played a pretty high level of tennis. I think it was the first time that I played a little bit more within myself and didn’t try to do too much too soon. She has been number 1 for a reason, won Grand Slams for a reason. I knew that she wasn’t just going to give up or give in. I knew the entire time I had to fully win the match before I could take a deep breath. I am really happy after losing my lead in the third set, I was able to get back. It definitely reminds me that when I am in the right mindset and playing some good tennis, I can compete with anyone”, said Keys.

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Cincinnati Open Thursday Preview: The Round of 16

All round of 16 singles matches will take place on a loaded day of tennis.

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Naomi Osaka (photo via Twitter, @PorscheTennis)

The women’s singles draw is particularly loaded, with seven of the top 10 seeds advancing this far. That leaves us with some stellar third round WTA matchups. And it includes all three women currently contending for the world No.1.

 

You cannot say the same about the men’s singles draw. The bottom half has just been decimated, with the withdrawals of Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, and yesterday’s upsets of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kei Nishikori, and Sascha Zverev. That opens up a huge opportunity for a surprise finalist in this Masters 1,000 event. But in the men’s top half, four of the top five seeds on this half remain, including Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Normally this daily preview contains one men’s match and one women’s match, but with so many great women’s matches today, let’s dig deeper into two WTA matchups.

Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh

Osaka has been talking openly about having fun on court for the first time since the Australian Open. However, after watching her play the past few weeks, I’m not fully convinced that’s the case. I’m sure having fun is her goal, but she may be overcompensating. Naomi has been giving Kevin Anderson a run for his money in the fist-pumping department, and can often be seen talking to and laughing at herself on court. It’s nice to see her trying to stay positive, though it appears she may be masking a bit of fragility. And Osaka cannot afford to be feeling fragile against this opponent. Hsieh can be one of the most frustrating players on tour with her unique style. While Osaka owns a 3-1 record against her, Hsieh was the victor in their only previous North American hard court meeting, which was earlier this year in Miami. Naomi is currently in a three-way race for the No.1 ranking, and a loss today would open the door for Ash Barty or Karolina Pliskova to surpass her heading into the US Open. Osaka didn’t play her best yesterday, but hung on to win in three sets. If she doesn’t up her level today, she very well may go down in defeat.

Elina Svitolina (7) vs. Sofia Kenin

This will be their third meeting. They split the previous two, both of which occurred on a North American hard court earlier this year. Svitolina was victorious in Indian Wells, while Kenin’s win came just last week in Toronto. The 20-year-old American has been building a stellar resume this season, with 33 match wins and two titles. 22 of those match wins are on hard courts, and half of those have taken place in North America. Kenin is on the verge of breaking into the top 20, and is currently 14th in the year-to-date rankings. Meanwhile Svitolina is coming off a considerable breakthrough last month at Wimbledon, where she finally won a Major quarterfinal in her fifth try. But the American appears to be the more in-form player, and will benefit from the energy of a night session crowd in her home country. She has a more aggressive playing style than Svitolina, which the courts in Cincinnati should reward.

Other notable matches on Thursday:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Anett Kontaveit. This is a rematch from the semifinals in Miami earlier this year, where Barty prevailed 6-3, 6-3.

Simona Halep (4) vs. Madison Keys (16). Halep owns a 5-1 record against Keys, with Madison’s only victory coming in their first match nearly six years ago.

In a battle between former Major champions, Sloane Stephens (8) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Donna Vekic vs. Venus Williams. Venus claimed their only other encounter, at Wimbledon in 2016.

Karolina Pliskova (3) vs. Rebecca Peterson (Q). The 24-year-old from Sweden already has victories this summer over Sloane Stephens, Barbora Strycova, and Johanna Konta.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (Q). A US Open semifinalist two years ago, Carreno Busta is now ranked outside the top 50, and is 0-2 against Djokovic.

Roger Federer (3) vs. Andrey Rublev (Q). Similar to Carreno Busta, Rublev was a US Open quarterfinalist two years ago, but is now ranked 70th in the world.

In men’s doubles, Feliciano Lopez and Andy Murray (PR) vs. Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock (WC). Harrison and Sock are both now ranked outside the top 150 in singles as they’ve struggled with form and injuries.

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Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s Big Four reunion in Cincy

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ATP Cincinnati, Andy Murray, Western and Southern Open
Photo Credit: Western and Southern Open Twitter

A few years before, there existed a quartet called Big Four in men’s tennis. At certain points in their time-line of dominance, injuries plagued each member of this four-member group. However, the severity of their affliction in one player, Andy Murray, saw his name erased from this elite pocket. Thus, the Big Four was reduced to the Big Three with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer making up the troika.

 

At the 2019 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, three of the erstwhile Big Four troupe reunited as they re-entered the circuit’s circus. And each player had a different path leading up to the event, too, underlining how divergent their careers had become despite overlapping scheduling.

The 2016 season was the common catalyst leading to this divergence. From Federer’s injury to him pausing his season to focus on rehab after Wimbledon, to Djokovic pushing his boundary as a marauder and completing the non-calendar Slam, and to Murray ending the season as the world no. 1. The year in consideration also threw up other names – Nadal’s season ended in an agony of injury, while Stan Wawrinka won his third Major at the US Open. In its bounty of giving and taking, 2016 changed how we looked at these players – especially the first four – and the irrevocability of assumption that these guys could get past any hurdles stopping their way.

Juxtaposing with Cincinnati, in the three years since 2016, Federer and Djokovic have vaulted past their share of physical problems. Yet, in the Ohioan city, they have different motivations guiding them. This is the first time that Djokovic has entered the Cincinnati draw as the defending champion. Meanwhile, after having been drawn in the same half as the Serbian, Federer has the proverbial score to settle against him. “I can’t wait for my next rematch with Novak or my next time I can step on a match court and show what I can do,” the 20-time Slam champion said in one of his pre-tournament media interactions in Cincinnati.

There are a few opponents to get past before their slated semi-final meeting occurs. Nonetheless, their sustained competitiveness adds its fervour to the already-hefty top-half of the men’s draw. In the midst of their respectively successful opening rounds, Murray’s first-round defeat to Richard Gasquet in straight sets became a contextual misnomer for comebacks.

Yet, Murray’s was the most stirring return. This was not because of the emotional crossroads that had sprung up at the 2019 Australian Open regarding his retirement. But on account of how farther Murray had leapt to put his physical frailties behind and re-join the singles Tour. And, the Briton’s determination to do so is reminiscent of 2016, all over again. It’s the completion of the circle of how Murray had pushed hard to become the world’s best player and now, he is trying just as much to regain his footing back.

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