Australian Open Day 1 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 1 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

Day 1 at the Australian Open will certainly be newsworthy, as it may just be the last match in the great career of Andy Murray.

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The big news heading into this fortnight is Murray announcing at a pre-tournament press conference that he will retire this year due to his ailing hip. Andy said he’d like to play his last match at Wimbledon in July, but admitted his hip may force him to make the Australian Open his last professional tournament. The former world No.1 described how his much pain his hip is causing, as he’s unable to even tie his shoes pain-free.

 

Monday will also see the opening round matches of both defending singles champions, Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki. In addition, both world No.2’s, Rafael Nadal and Angelique Kerber, will take to the court. They’ll all be heavy favorites on Day 1 (as long as Nadal is healthy), so this preview will focus what should be Monday’s more intriguing matchups around the grounds.

Roberto Bautista Agut (22) vs. Andy Murray

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A three-time Major champion, and five-time runner-up in Melbourne, Murray will play his first Australian Open match since 2017, when he was upset in the fourth round by Mischa Zverev. Andy played only 12 matches last year, and lost to Daniil Medvedev in his second match of this season two weeks ago in Brisbane. This past week in Melbourne, he barely got a few games off Novak Djokovic in a practice match, and couldn’t even finish out the second set due to his hip. This foreshadowed Andy’s retirement announcement just a few days ago. In what could be his last match, he’ll face a man who is rarely an easy out, and who arrives in strong form. Bautista Agut already has a title in 2019, which he won in Doha. That run featured victories over Tomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka, and World No.1 Novak Djokovic. It was Roberto’s first title since February of last year, as well as the first title since the sudden passing of his mother last May. While Murray is 3-0 versus Bautista Agut, having never dropped a set, I expect a very different story to be told on this day. It will obviously be an emotional occasion for Murray, though playing against Andy under these circumstances will not be an easy task for Roberto. But with questions as to whether Murray will even be able to play out the match, Bautista Agut is the clear favorite.

Kyle Edmund (13) vs. Tomas Berdych

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We go from the former British men’s No.1 to the current. A year ago, this tournament was the breakout event for Edmund, where he made his first Major semifinal thanks to upset wins over Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov. A year later, Kyle arrives in Melbourne with a lot of points to defend, and at less than 100% physically. He ended his 2018 by withdrawing from the Paris Masters in October due to a knee injury. After losing in the first round of Brisbane two weeks ago, he withdrew from Sydney last week, with his knee still bothering him. Currently ranked at a career-high of 14th in the world, Edmund could see that number as much as double with an early loss here. His opponent on Monday is also coming off an injury layoff, as Berdych was sidelined for much of 2018 with a back injury. But the former world No.4 started off 2019 with a strong performance in Doha, where he advanced to the final, losing to Bautista Agut in three sets. Berdych prevailed in his only previous meeting with Edmund, at the Doha event in 2016. Even though that was over three years ago, Tomas may very well be the favorite today considering Edmund’s knee issues.

Barbora Strycova (32) vs. Yulia Putintseva

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This should be a fun one in the late afternoon out on Court 5. While it’s unlikely either woman will contend for this title, these are two of the spunkiest players on tour. Strycova, a 32-year-old veteran, is coming off another Fed Cup title in November. She’s 0-2 so far this season, though she’s advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open in each of the last three years. Barbora is a feisty competitor, but so is Yulia. Just last week in Sydney, we saw how fiery Putintseva can be on court. She was emphatically encouraging the crowd to get behind her during a comeback victory over Sloane Stephens. The 24-year-old has been a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in two of the last three years, but is yet to get out of the first week at any other Major. Strycova holds a 2-1 edge in their head-to-head, though Putintseva won the last time they played, in last year’s French Open fourth round. Since she’s currently playing with a bit more confidence, I like Yulia’s chances to pull off what would be a slight upset.

Katerina Siniakova vs. Belinda Bencic

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The winner of the Court 13 contest will play the winner of the Strycova/Putintseva match. Here we have two young players who come into 2019 with good momentum. Like Strycova, Siniakova was a part of the Fed Cup championship team from the Czech Republic. Katerina went 2-0 in singles that weekend, which included a near four-hour dramatic victory over American Sofia Kenin, which clinched the title for her country. The 22-year-old also won the doubles title at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year. Bencic was a standout on the WTA tour as a teenager, making the US Open quarterfinals at the age of 17, and winning the Rogers Cup a year later by taking out both Serena Williams and Simona Halep. Injuries have forced her to miss huge chunks of the last several seasons, as this former top 10 player has been playing a mix of WTA and ITF events to rebuild her ranking. Last year in Melbourne, she upset Venus Williams in the opening round. Bencic had a strong end to 2018, going 13-3 at her last four tournaments. She’s also coming off her second consecutive Hopman Cup title with Roger Federer, and was a semifinalist last week in Hobart. Belinda will feel at home playing in Australia, and should be favored to defeat the dangerous Siniakova in their first-ever tour-level meeting.

Marin Cilic (6) vs. Bernard Tomic

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It’s hard to be sure what to expect in this late night battle on Margaret Court Area. Cilic, a finalist one year ago, could fall outside the top 10 with an early loss in Melbourne. He’ll certainly be feeling pressure on Monday, and we’ve seen Marin choke away so many leads over the past six months. And while Cilic is coming off a Davis Cup triumph to end 2018, he comes into 2019 with a knee injury that forced him to withdraw from Pune earlier this month. An encouraging sign came a few days ago at the exhibition event in Kooyong, where Marin defeated Kevin Anderson. And then there’s Bernard Tomic. A year ago, instead of playing the Australian Open, he had a short, embarrassing stint on the Australian reality show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” The former Australian No.1 wasn’t ranked high enough to play in the main draw in Melbourne, and was eliminated in qualifying. His ranking plummeted to as low as 243rd in the world as of last May. But courtesy of a challenger title in Mallorca, and an ATP 250 title in Chengdu, Bernard is now back inside the top 100. But is he ready to defeat a former Major champion in front of his home country? If he gives his best effort on Monday, I expect the Australian crowd to get behind him. But he could just as easily not, in which case I would not be surprised if they booed him. These two played nine years ago at the Australian Open, with Cilic prevailing in five sets. They’ve split two other career meetings, and haven’t played since 2015. Cilic should pull this one out, though he’s been anything but reliable as of late.

Other notable matches on Day 1:

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  • Two-Time Defending Champion Roger Federer (3) vs. Denis Istomin, who famously upset Novak Djokovic here two years ago.
  • Defending Champion Caroline Wozniacki (3) vs. Alison Van Uytvanck.
  • Rafael Nadal (2), in his first match since the US Open, vs. Australian Wild Card James Duckworth.
  • 2016 Champion Angelique Kerber (2) vs. Polona Hercog.
  • In the tallest Grand Slam singles match to ever be contested, 6’10” John Isner (9) vs. 7’0” Reilly Opelka.

FULL ORDER OF PLAY

ROD LAVER ARENA — Day session
M. Sharapova (30) versus H. Dart (Q)
J. Duckworth (WC) versus R. Nadal (2)
P. Hercog versus A. Kerber (2)
Night session
A. Van Uytvanck versus C. Wozniacki (3)
D. Istomin versus R. Federer (3)

MARGARET COURT ARENA — Day session

J. Goerges (14) versus D. Collins
S. Stephens (5) versus T. Townsend
Not before 3:00pm AEDT
A. de Minaur (27) versus P. Sousa
Night session
From 7:00pm AEDT
A. Barty (15) versus L. Kumkhum
M. Cilic (6) versus B. Tomic

MELBOURNE ARENA

K. Anderson (5) versus A. Mannarino
M. Sakkari versus J. Ostapenko (22)
K. Edmund (13) versus T. Berdych
Not before 6:00pm AEDT
R. Bautista Agut (22) versus A. Murray
Not before 7:00pm AEDT
P. Kvitova (8) versus M. Rybarikova

1573 ARENA

J. Ponchet (Q) versus C. Garcia (19)
G. Dimitrov (20) versus J. Tipsarevic
A. Riske versus K. Bertens (9)
Not before 5:00pm AEDT
M. Ebden versus J. Struff

Court 3

A. Kalinskaya (Q) versus A. Sabalenka (11)
S. Tsitsipas (14) versus M. Berrettini
E. Perez (WC) versus Y. Wang
F. Lopez versus J. Thompson

COURT 5

C. Eubanks (Q) versus N. Basilashvili (19)
M. Puig versus A. Pavlyuchenkova
Y. Putintseva versus B. Strycova (32)
I. Begu versus A. Petkovic

COURT 7

A. Sharma (Q) versus P. Hon (WC)
P. Badosa Gibert (Q) versus K. Birrell (WC)
P. Gojowczyk versus K. Khachanov (10)
F. Delbonis versus J. Millman

COURT 8

D. Vekic (29) versus K. Mladenovic
B. Mattek-Sands versus Z. Hives (WC)
R. Opelka versus J. Isner (9)
G. Monfils (30) versus D. Dzumhur

COURT 10

M. Mmoh versus R. Albot
O. Jabeur versus T. Babos
A. Rublev versus M. McDonald

COURT 12

K. Boulter versus E. Makarova
B. Haddad Maia (Q) versus B. Pera
M. Basic versus H. Laaksonen (Q)
Not before 5:00pm AEDT
C. Norrie versus T. Fritz

COURT 13

M. Kecmanovic (Q) versus F. Verdasco (26)
J. Kubler (WC) versus T. Fabbiano
B. Bencic versus K. Siniakova
Not before 4:00pm AEDT
K. Flipkens versus A. Sasnovich

COURT 14

H. Watson versus P. Martic (31)
G. Garcia-Lopez versus R. Haase
M. Polmans (WC) versus D. Kudla

COURT 15

S. Cirstea versus R. Peterson
F. Tiafoe versus P. Gunneswaran (Q)
A. Kontaveit (20) versus S. Sorribes Tormo
Not before 5:00pm AEDT
A. Seppi versus S. Johnson (31)

COURT 19

Y. Bonaventure (Q) versus S. Vickery
L. Tsurenko (24) versus E. Alexandrova
T. Ito (Q) versus D. Evans (Q)
Not before 5:00pm AEDT
Y. Nishioka versus T. Sandgren

COURT 20

M. Vondrousova versus E. Rodina
P. Cuevas versus D. Lajovic
R. Molleker (Q) versus D. Schwartzman (18)
Not before 4:00pm AEDT
V. Lapko versus J. Larsson

COURT 22

S. Travaglia (Q) versus G. Andreozzi
M. Niculescu versus A. Anisimova
V. Troicki (Q) versus R. Carballes Baena

ATP

Roger Federer Pulls Out Of French Open Following Surgery

The unexpected announcement means the former world No.1 will be out of action for at least almost four months.

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20-time grand slam champion Roger Federer will miss the entire clay-court season after confirming that he has undergone surgery on his right knee.

 

The world No.3 underwent arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday in his native Switzerland following consultation with doctors. A minimally invasive procedure that involves the examination and treatment of the joint. Federer said his right knee was ‘bothering him for a little while’ and that doctors are ‘very confident of a full recovery.’ The 38-year-old also missed six months of the 2016 season due to a knee injury.

In a statement, Federer confirmed that he will not be playing another tournament until the grass season. Ruling him out of the upcoming North American hard-court swing, as well as the French Open. The only clay court tournament he was due to play in 2020.

“My right knee has been bothering me for a little while.” Federer said on social media.
“I hope it would go away, but after an examination, and discussion with my team, I decided to have arthroscopic surgery in Switzerland yesterday (Wednesday).”
“After the procedure, the doctors confirmed that it was the right thing to have done and are very confident of a full recovery.”
“As a result, I will unfortunately have to miss Dubai, Indian Wells, Bogotá (exhibition), Miami and the French Open. I am grateful for everyone’s support. I can’t wait to be back playing again soon.”

Concerns about Federer’s current form started during his run at the Australian Open where he lost in the semi-finals to Novak Djokovic. In Melbourne, the Swiss player experienced issues with his right leg. He described played down the issue as ‘pain and problems’ following his quarter-final win over Tennys Sandgren, which he took a medical time-out during.

“Of course, you want to be 100% to be able to train again, then get ready for hopefully Dubai. Right now it’s only guessing. I’m very happy that I don’t feel any worse than when I started (the match). That’s for me super encouraging.” He told reporters on January 30th,

Nevertheless, Federer has recently been in action. Almost two weeks ago, he took on Rafael Nadal in an exhibition match in South Africa and won 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.  The clash was in aid of the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports early childhood education in six southern African countries, including South Africa. An estimated $3.5 million was raised, according to the associated press.

Should everything goes to plan, Federer’s next tournament will now be the Halle Open, which he has a lifetime contract to play at unless injured or ill. The tournament starts on June 15th.

It is only the second time in his career, Federer has undergone the knife whilst playing on the tour. The first was back in 2016 when he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

 

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Australian Open Stats: The Strength Of Djokovic In Deciders, The Diversity Of The Women’s Tournament

The Serbian is 31 out of 41 in 5th set situations, and 4 out of 5 in Slam finals. 28 players have reached the semis in a female Slam in the last 3 seasons, while Zverev was the only player under 25 to reach the quarter finals.

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1 – the man under 25 (Alexander Zverev) to have reached the final 8 in Melbourne, with 3 more (Raonic, Sandgren, Thiem) who are under 30. Therefore, the NextGen has failed once more in the first Slam, despite the status of contenders reached by several of its members in the past few months, and despite the presence of 8 players under 25 in the Top 20 – Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Berrettini, Rublev, Shapovalov, Khachanov, Kyrgios. The failure becomes even more blatant if the sample is extended to the fourth round of the tournament, with just Kyrgios, Medvedev, and Rublev joining Sascha – the latter two are also the only ones who are still to turn 23. After all, the youngest Major winner is still Marin Cilic, born in 1988, and the world N.1 has constantly been a player over 30 since May 2017 – always members of the Fab Four, who have been holding on to the top spot since February of 2004. On the other hand, the women’s draw kept alive the opposite trend, with the oldest player reaching the quarter finals being Petra Kvitova, who turns 30 next month, a result that is in line with the rankings, in which Serena and Kerber are the only “mature” features, and more in general with the tendency of WTA tennis as a whole. As a matter of fact, since Serena’s last Slam triumph (3 years ago), all such tournaments have ended up in the grasp of players under 30 years of age (except for Wimbledon 2018, won by Kerber), and in some cases we’ve had teenagers (Osaka, Ostapenko, Andreescu) taking home the big prize.

 

10 – the months in which Dominic Thiem’s career has turned around. The Austrian had already reached the 4th spot in the rankings, in November of 2017, yet exclusively due to his clay-court prowess. At the end of 2018, Thiem had a meager 53% win rate on matches played on surfaces that weren’t his beloved, red realm: before his win in Saint Petersburg in the autumn of that year, he had played in 34 tournaments on fast courts without reaching a final, since the one he lost in Metz in 2016. The same dynamic occurred in his match-ups with other Top-10 studs: up to that point, he was 4-18 in matches played on hard or grass. The beginning of 2019 was very much the same, with an early retirement at the Australian Open, but then the collaboration with Nicolas Massù started, and with that some immediate relief happened, with his first Master 1000 win in Indian Wells, beating an experienced player like Gilles Simon and two members of the Top 20, Milos Raonic and Roger Federer. And while some people thought this would be a solitary spring flower, Thiem dispelled all doubts with an outstanding coda to the season, winning in Beijing and Vienna and reaching the semis in Shanghai and losing by inches at the ATP Finals in London against Tsitsipas. A further token of his exceptional play is the quality of the opponents he’s toppled in this stretch: among the current Top 8, he’s beaten everyone but Medvedev (although with Tsitsipas, Berrettini, and Djokovic he’s also lost), and he’s 12-6 against Top 10 opponents since 2019 Indian Wells. 3 Slam finals lost, plus the ATP Finals defeat, could lead to believe that Thiem isn’t a natural winner (especially when considering how close the last 2 nail-biter defeats were), but they’re more likely a testament to his improvements and to the close distance between him and a Slam win.

28 – the amount of players who have reached the semis in a women’s Major since Serena’s last win. After her 23rd trophy was lifted at the 2017 Australian Open, a kind of anarchy has taken over the WTA circuit. It’s incredibly hard to establish who the best athlete has been in this time-span, let alone for the fact that 7 different players have topped the rankings (Kerber, Pliskova, Muguruza, Halep, Wozniacki, Osaka, Barty), and for the fact that Williams herself has played 4 more finals and returned to the Top 10 despite playing a limited amount of tournaments. Had she won in Melbourne, the mercurial Muguruza might have well claimed the mantle of the most successful (she won at Wimbledon in 2017, reached the semis in Paris in 2018, and indeed reached the final in Melbourne last week), but that wasn’t to be. To draw a comparison, only Halep and Williams have reached more Slam semifinals, and Madison Keys is the only player who, aside from the Spaniard, has reached 3 (final at Flushing Meadows in 2017, semis in Paris and New York again in 2018). Since the spring of 2017, there’s only a pair who’s won multiple Slams: Simona Halep, who’s the most constant with 2 wins (Paris 2018 and Wimbledon 2019) and 2 finals (Paris 2017 and Melbourne 2018) and Naomi Osaka, who won twice in a row (the only woman to achieve that, at the 2018 US and the 2019 Australian Open) but has since lost her mojo, and is very close to falling outside the Top 10. The fact that the Rumanian seems to be the only regular performer in the last few years is confirmed by the 64 weeks she’s spent as the WTA N.1, almost thrice as much as the 25 weeks of Osaka and the 22 (and counting) of Barty.

35 – the number of weeks as world N.1 that separate Novak Djokovic from Federer’s record tally of 310. Currently on a 16-wins streak (he’s 22-2 in his last 24 encounters as well), he’s won his eighth Australian Open crown at the end of an edge-of-the-seat final against Dominic Thiem in which he’s adfirmed once again his status as an incredible deciding set performer – he’s 31-10 in 5-setters – and specifically in bouts with history at stake, sitting at 4-1 in Slam finals that go the distance. The Serbian now leads the Big Trophies race against his ever-present rivals, having won 56 between Slams, ATP Finals, and Master 1000 titles (Federer and Nadal have 54 each, 55 for Rafa when including the 2008 Olympic gold medal).  Above all, he’s now closer on the Slam tally, having won his 17th trophy, right behind Nadal’s 19 and Federer’s 20. In terms of weeks as the number one, Djokovic is now 10 weeks away from Pete Sampras, a gap he should fill quite easily before setting his eyes on Federer. In order to overtake the Swiss, Djokovic needs to keep the throne until October: till then, Djokovic has to retain a considerable amount of points (2000 at Wimbledon, 1000 in Madrid, 720 in Paris, 600 in Rome, 500 in Tokyo), but, given his current form, that doesn’t look like an impossible feat for him, especially with basically a full season’s schedule to be played still, and, given his continuity since 2008 (bar the first half of 2018), odds are that he’ll be able to reach this lofty milestone.

Article originally published on ubitennis.com and translated by Tommaso Villa

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Tennis Great Margaret Court Claims Unfair Treatment At Australian Open

The 24-time grand slam winner has responded to a high-profile protest against her in Melbourne by two former players for the first time.

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Controversial tennis figure Margaret Court has come out fighting following her appearance at the Australian Open by accusing the organisers of unfairly treating her.

 

The 77-year-old was invited to the tournament to mark the 50th anniversary of her career grand slam. When she won all four major titles during 1970. However, the appearance was one that caused controversy. The Australian, who is now a Christian pastor, has been criticised over the years for her controversial views and statements. She said earlier this year that LGBT teaching in schools is ‘controlled by the devil.’ In other incidents she has said that the women’s tour was ‘full of lesbians‘, once described rival Martina Navratilova as a ‘bad role model’ due to her sexuality, boycotted Qantas airlines due to their support of marriage equality and publicly criticised former player Casey Dellacqua for having a baby with her same-sex partner.

Nevertheless, Tennis Australia proceeded to mark Court’s anniversary. However, they released a statement saying that their decision was to mark her achievements and not her as a person. During an on-court presentation, the 24-time grand slam champion wasn’t given a microphone to speak to the crowd. Something she has since blasted.

“They think because I’m a preacher I’m going to preach the gospel,” Court told Court’s Channel 9 News. “There is a time to speak and a time to not.
“I think they (Tennis Australia) said they were going to honour me but not celebrate me because of my stance and my views on gay marriage and all those areas, which I’ve got nothing against people who are gay.
“From the tennis side of it, where they pointed the finger at me and tried to discriminate against everything that I’ve done.”

Tennis Australia (TA) has since played down Court’s cries of discrimination. In a statement they confirmed that the tennis legend were flown into Melbourne from Perth with 20 family members and were issued with 100 tickets for the tournament. She also had a launch in her honour. The organisation has called out the former player for not expressing her displeasure until now.

“TA covered the cost of flights, accommodation, breakfasts and executive club access, for the family, along with hospitality at the event, which included more than 100 tickets over the two weeks,” the statement said.
“Margaret agreed to all these arrangements … prior to her arrival in Melbourne. We are very disappointed to hear now of her complaints, none of which were expressed to us during her time at the Australian Open.”

‘I feel sorry for him’

Ongoing calls to remove Court’s name from one of the premier facilities at the Australian Open were highlighted by two other former tennis greats. John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova held a banner which publicly called for the name of the arena to be changed to four-time champion Evonne Goolagong. Navratilova took to the microphone to speak with the crowd after playing her legends match, but was cut off.

Court has claimed she tried to have a ‘one-to-one’ talk with Navratilova, but was unable to. She has also partly expressed remorse for once sayingMartina is a great player, but I would like someone at the top who the younger players can look up to. It is very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality.’ Navratilova won 59 major titles during her career with 18 of those occurring in singles.

“That’s going back 30 years or more. I apologised to her if it hurt her.” She replied when challenged.
“Just the two of us on our own, I would have like to speak with her and that didn’t happen.”

Even more vocal in their opposition to Court was McEnroe, who described her as ‘offensive and homophobic’ during a three-minute monologue broadcasted on Eurosport. Not that deters her in any way.

“I always thought I got on quite well with John McEnroe and I’ve always respected him. I feel sorry for him that he speaks like that and that he can’t separate one part of life to another,” she said.

As to the protest by Navratilova and McEnroe, the Australian has slammed it as ‘very wrong.’ Arguing that it was inappropriate for such actions to occur. Although they both insists that they have no regrets despite breaking protocol at the tournament.

“I’d never go to another nation, whatever I thought of the person, I would never say, ‘Hey, you should take their name off a building.’ And I think that was very, very wrong.” She states.
“You know, there are a lot of those people who do agree with me.
“I walked around and people touched me on the shoulder and said, ‘Thank you for being my voice.’ I’ve never had one person come and say: ‘I hate you’.”

Court remains the most decorated singles player in grand slam history with 24 titles.

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