French Open Day 14 Preview: The Women’s Final - UBITENNIS
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French Open Day 14 Preview: The Women’s Final

Sloane Stephens in 6-0 in tournament finals. Simona Halep is 0-3 in major finals. Will both of those streaks be extended or extinguished?

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Simona Halep (zimbio.com)

World Number One Simona Halep has a lot of demons to exercise on Saturday, especially Parisian ones.  Twice before she’s made it to this stage of the French Open, and twice before has fell just short of the finish line.

Four years ago, she played an over three-hour, grueling final against Maria Sharapova, losing 6-4 in the third. That loss in her first major final was tantalizing, yet digestible.  It was her loss here last year that was a real crusher. She was up a set and a break against a 20-year-old who had never won a WTA title of any kind, yet still went down in defeat. And just this year in Melbourne, she survived match points in two separate prolonged battles, as well as an ankle injury, yet lost another three-set major final 6-4 in the third.  Despite all of that baggage, Simona continues to get right back on her feet and put herself into a winning position again. She’s now held the number one ranking for the better part of the past year, and finds herself in her third final out of the last five majors. The top-ranked player now leads the tour with 34 wins in 2018. Can Simona finally have her Grand Slam moment?  Or will she join a list of players to lose their first four major finals, which includes Ivan Lendl, Kim Clijsters, and Andy Murray? If you’re Simona, that list should relieve some tension from your body on Saturday, as those three players all went on to win multiple majors. If she were to lose today, all hope is not lost. In the semifinals on Friday, she brought her best stuff and outhit an in-form Garbine Muguruza in impressive fashion.  But can she do the same for two full sets in today’s final?

Newly-Anointed American Number One Sloane Stephens’ comeback story is pretty remarkable.  A year ago, she was just returning to the court after missing almost a full year of tennis due to a foot injury.  Strangely enough, it was following a loss to Halep in Washington DC last summer when she went on a 15-2 run on the North American hard courts, including a shocking run to her first major title.  Then she startlingly went on an eight-match losing streak from September of last year until February of this year. A return to the USA helped Sloane get her groove back, as she won her first Premier Mandatory event in Miami.  And after a lackluster clay court season, she’s now found success outside of the US, and is into her second major final. Sloane does not shrink on big occasions such as this: in fact, she plays her best tennis.

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Halep has a 5-2 edge in their head-to-head, and has prevailed the last four times they played.  That dates back to their only meeting at Roland Garros in 2014. On clay, Halep is 2-0. All seven of their matches have been straights sets, which is not shocking considering how streaky Stephens can be, as well as Halep’s old tendency to go away when she’s down early in a match.  That old habit can still pop up from time to time, though Simona has put a lot of mental energy into correcting that pattern. Exhibit A would be her quarterfinal comeback against Angelique Kerber after going down two breaks to start that match.

Both players have similar games: great defensive skills, a low number of unforced errors, and high-percentage offense at the right times.  However, the deciding factor in this match may go beyond the X’s and O’s. It may come down to who can play more freely at the decisive moments, and history shows Stephens is the much more likely candidate for that role.  Halep is the more likely candidate to have an off day following a top-notch semifinal effort, especially under the weight of this occasion. All things considered, the result here is very much in doubt. In yet another Grand Slam event, the women’s draw has been more unpredictable and intriguing.  Hopefully we get a high-quality final, but we’re guaranteed an emotional one.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas: “I am happy that I reached my goal, but that’s just the starting point to go deeper”

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Stefanos Tsitsipas was surprised with the level of his performance during his quarter final match against Roberto Bautista Agut following his sensational win over Roger Federer in the fourth round on Sunday.

“I was a little surprised. You have a bigger picture of your opponent when he is going to come out. You think that he is going to do some extraordinary things. Roberto was playing great today. He played some good tennis the entire week”, said Tsitsipas in the press conference after his win over Roberto Bautista Agut.

 The reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion admitted that it was difficult to sink in what he achieved against defending champion Federer.

“It was really tough. The first night was tough to process. In the beginning it was tough to fall asleep to be honest with you. I had pain in my toe which kept me awake. In general, I felt a bit of pain in my body and tension. The first night was tough. I slept less than six hours. I was worried about my next match, if I am going to be able to get some good sleep the day before. I wanted to concentrate on my next match. I knew that win against Federer was important, played a huge role in my image, like I am. I knew that the biggest challenge was today’s match, that I can prove myself once again. I am happy that I reached my goal, but that’s like the starting point to go deeper. That’s like the minimum. I would call it”.

Tsitsipas admitted that he was not aware of the dramatic impact of his recent results on the number of subscribers to his personal Youtube channel, which has doubled.

“Oh, my God, really ? I did not know it was going to have such a big impact. I didn’t check yet. I am not sure. I think I am going to be more careful what I am going to post on my next video. I am going to continue doing it. It does not change anything as a person. I am going to try to remain the same. It’s nice to be having those nice results, but it’s important to stay who you are, not think too much of yourself. I am going to continue making those videos. There is no pressure, not all all. I have no clue of what the reaction has been back home in Greece. The only thing I have seen is some posts, some magazine photos. I really want to know what it is back there, how it is back there. I received a lot of messages of support from home, which I have not replied to yet, otherwise it would take too much time. People seem to care. That’s a nice feeling”.

 Posting videos on Youtube helped his professional tennis life and gives him satisfaction away from the court.

“I started posting my videos on Youtube. When I am desperate sometimes, when I feel down, I do these videos. I actually feel better. It makes me realize that tennis is not the most important thing in life, that we all have some other talents that we don’t know about. It makes me more relaxed. Film making and photography give me a better understanding and idea of life. There is a lot of things you can learn from that. It relaxes me. I see it as a hobby. Actually it’s a good hobby, because I can carry this stuff to all these locations that I visita round the world, create things.”.

Tsitsipas booked his spot in his first Grand Slam semifinal, where he will face 2009 Melbourne champion Rafael Nadal, who beat Frances Tiafoe in straight sets. Nadal beat Tsitsipas in both their head-to-head matches in two finals played last season in Barcelona and in Toronto.

“I played against Nadal once on clay in Barcelona and once on hard-court in Toronto. On clay it was a different story. I felt like I had no chance after losing 6-1 6-2 in Barcelona. I felt like he was on completely another level on clay that on hard court. I felt very close of beating himin Toronto, though the score was 6-2 7-6. I remember coming back to the locker room and promising to myself I am going to do much better against him next time. I felt like I understood a bit better what he was doing on the court after that match, and especially on hard court”

 Tsitsipas grew up in a sports family and started playing tennis inspired by his parents Apostolos Tsitsipas and his mother Julia Salnikova, who was a tennis player. His grandfather Sergei Salnikov (father of Julia) won the Olympic gold medal in football in Melbourne 1956. Stefanos could follow in the footsteps of his grandfather by writing a new chapter in his family’s history in the Australian city.

“It’s very important to have both parents involved in tennis from a very young age. It’s good to have a family that’s so well connected with tennis, he has a good understanding of what’s going on. Many parents have no clue of what they should do for their kids. I feel lucky that I have such parents that know a lot about this game.

 Tsitsipas frequently trains in France at the Mouratoglou Academy in Nice.

“Patrick brings me a lot of confidence in my game. He actually is not talking much, but whatever he says is so right and so on point that if I do that, most of the time he is actually right and it’s working. That’s kind of a skill, I would say, from people to be so direct and so right on what they are saying one time, not talking too much here and there, making you feel confused. That’s what I appreciate and admire about him”, said Tsitsipas.

 

 

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Novak Djokovic Seals Semi-Final Spot After Nishikori Retirement

Novak Djokovic is into the semi-finals of the Australian Open after Kei Nishikori retired at 6-1 4-1 down to the Serb.

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Novak Djokovic (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Novak Djokovic’s bid for a seventh Australian Open continues after he reached the semi-finals with Kei Nishikori retiring 6-1 4-1 down. The world number one will now play Lucas Pouille on Friday evening for a place in the final.

The Japanese star showed effects from his epic week in Melbourne where he was forced to a fifth set in three of his four matches leading up to his quarter-final.

It was a run which included winning two last set super tiebreaks against Ivo Karlovic and Pablo Carreno Busta but he had no energy left to take on Djokovic.

After the match Nishikori revealed it was a right leg injury, “Before the match, I was okay. Of course, I wasn’t, like, fresh, fresh. I thought I was going to be okay,” the former US Open finalist explained.

“After third game or fourth game when I was serving, I felt pretty heavy to my right leg. After that I couldn’t really bend my knees and couldn’t jump up. Yeah, I decided to stop.”

As for the world number one he still played some good tennis only dropping two of the twelve games played as he heads into the semi-finals with a lot of energy in the reserves.

This was important for the six time champion considering his previous two matches were four set matches against Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev.

After the match Djokovic said it feels good to be back in the final four after many injuries, “Feels great.  This has been my most successful Grand Slam throughout my career, the first one that I won back in 2008,” Djokovic explained.

“Yeah, past two years have been a bit tough with the elbow injury and everything. Over the past 10 years, I’ve had plenty of success here. Obviously that has helped to kickstart the season in a great fashion, obviously served as a great confidence boost for what was coming up after that.”

The Serb will look to reach his seventh Australian Open final on Friday evening when he takes on Lucas Pouille after the Frenchman stunned Milos Raonic in four sets.

A showdown between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the final is everybody’s dream final and for now that match is still on the cards.

The Spaniard will play Stefanos Tsitsipas in the other semi-final on Thursday evening.

 

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Australian Open Day 10 Preview: The Quarter-Finals Conclude

The semi-final line-up will be complete after day ten as we move a step closer to finding out who will win the opening grand slams of the 2019 season.

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Serena Williams (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

By Matthew Marolf 

Seven-Time Champion Serena Williams and Six-Time Champion Novak Djokovic each have three players standing in their way of returning to the finals in Melbourne.

The seeds in the top half of the women’s draw have held to this stage, with the only exception being World No.1 Simona Halep.  She was knocked out by Serena Williams on Monday night. On the men’s top half, the seeds have held in Djokovic’s section, but we have Milos Raonic and Lucas Pouille in place of Sascha Zverev and Dominic Thiem. Are we in for any upsets in Wednesday’s semi-finals? Let’s take a closer look at each matchup.

Karolina Pliskova (7) vs. Serena Williams (16)

This is a rematch from last September’s US Open quarter-finals, where Serena took out Pliskova in straight sets.  That avenged a loss from two years prior at the same tournament, when Pliskova upset Serena in the US Open semi-finals. Serena prevailed in their only other meeting, at Stanford in 2014.  Serena’s victory over Halep in a fierce battle was perhaps the best win since her comeback almost a year ago.  This will be Serena’s astounding 50th Major quarterfinal.  She is 36-13 in this round at the Slams, and 8-3 at the Australian Open.

For Pliskova, it’s her seventh Major quarter-final, and her third straight in Melbourne. However, she’s only 2-4 in previous Slam quarterfinals.  Karolina is 9-0 this season, and is coming off an impressive win over Two-Time Major Champion Garbine Muguruza, where she dropped just four games. With two great tennis minds in her coaching box, Rennae Stubbs and Conchita Martinez, Pliskova has been consistently building momentum over the past six months.  If she’s on in this match, she’s fully capable of defeating Serena.

One criticism many had of Serena’s performance on Monday was her slow movement when pulled side-to-side by Halep. The keys for Pliskova will be to stay inside the baseline, take time away from Serena, and to spread the court.  I expect a prolonged three-setter here, but I’m not betting against the will of Serena Williams.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Kei Nishikori (8)

Novak Djokovic (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

This should be completely smooth sailing for Djokovic. He’s 15-2 lifetime against Nishikori, and hasn’t lost since Kei’s upset in the 2014 US Open semi-finals. That’s 14 straight victories. Djokovic has reached the quarter-finals rather comfortably, only getting slight resistance from Next Gen players Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev.

To the contrary, Nishikori’s road to this point has been extremely turbulent, and he’s actually lucky to be at this stage. He’s survived three five-setters in four matches, twice coming back from two sets down.  Most recently against Pablo Carreno Busta, he was down 8-5 in the fifth set tiebreak (first-to-10 format) before a controversial call completely threw Carreno Busta off his game. That match just two days ago lasted for over five hours. In total, Nishikori has spent almost 14 hours on court, a full five hours more than Djokovic. This is a terrible matchup for Kei on a good day, so I can’t imagine he’ll be able to put up much of a fight on Wednesday.

Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Elina Svitolina (6)

Elina Svitolina (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Is Svitolina finally ready to reach her first Major semi-final? She’ll have to take out the reigning US Open champion to do so. Svitolina is 0-3 to date in Slam quarterfinals. Her most haunting of those matches was Roland Garros in 2017. Elina was up a set and 5-1 over Simona Halep, but couldn’t close out the match despite having a match point.  One year ago at this tournament, she played terribly in her quarterfinal against an unproven player at that time, Elise Mertens, winning just four games and losing the second set 6-0. Svitolina looked shaky at times in both of her last two rounds here, including a bizarrely up-and-down match against Madison Keys. The scoreline in that one was 6-2, 1-6, 6-1.  Early in that third set, Elina won a game that included 11 deuces, and Keys unraveled thereafter. Madison was unable to sustain her big hitting to win two sets, but the more well-balanced game of Osaka may be more successful in taking advantage of Svitolina’s soft second serves.

And as we saw in Naomi’s last two matches against tricky opponents, Su-Wei Hsieh and Anastasija Sevastova, Osaka was able to make the necessary adjustments after dropping the first set. Svitolina is 3-2 lifetime against Osaka, and won both of their 2018 meetings, which were both on hard courts. Elina should draw confidence from her title at the 2018 WTA Finals. But I still give the edge to Osaka, who has proven herself to be more comfortable at this stage of a Major. Remember, Naomi is on an 11-match win streak at Grand Slam events, dating back to her US Open title.

Milos Raonic (16) vs. Lucas Pouille (28)

Lucas Pouille (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

I fear this men’s quarterfinal may be as straightforward as the other. Raonic is 3-0 against Pouille, having never dropped a set. They played in Melbourne three years ago, with Milos winning 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. The 28-year-old has served extremely well during this fortnight, and only lost one set thus far against heavy opposition by the names of Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka, and Sascha Zverev. This is his fourth Australian Open quarterfinal out of the past five years.

Pouille is coming off a few lackluster seasons, with this being his best result at a Major since he upset Rafael Nadal at the 2016 US Open. He arrived in Melbourne on a four-match losing streak. And prior to this year, Lucas had never won a match at the Australian Open in five appearances. His new coach, Amelie Mauresmo, is already paying dividends. Pouille outlasted a game 19-year-old from Australia, Alexie Popyrin, in five sets before upsetting the 11th seed, Borna Coric, on Monday. I just don’t see too much in Pouille’s skillset that can threaten Raonic when he is serving at this level. Milos should comfortably advance to his fourth Major semifinal, and first since 2016.

 

 

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