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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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Novak Djokovic Withdraws From Masters 1000 Event In Madrid

Novak Djokovic will miss the Masters 1000 event in Madrid and will look to build up his Roland Garros preparations in Rome.

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Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the Masters 1000 event in Madrid as he aims for quality over quantity in his bid for Roland Garros glory.

The world number one has had a rough start to the season by his standards as he is yet to win a title this season after a semi-final defeat to Jannik Sinner at the Australian Open.

Djokovic was hoping a change of surface would bring a change of fortunes but the Serb was defeated in three sets in the semi-finals of Monte-Carlo.

Now it seems that result has made Djokovic rethink his schedule as the current Roland Garros champion has withdrawn from Madrid.

No official reason has been given although the news seems to be not that surprising given Djokovic’s history in the Spanish capital.

The Serb hasn’t played since 2022, where he was beaten by Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals, and has now won the title there for five years.

It looks like Djokovic will be putting his faith into more favourable conditions in Rome, which is the most similar to Roland Garros in terms of conditions.

Djokovic is a six-time champion in the Italian capital and will aim for a seventh title when he plays there on the 8th of May.

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Thanasi Kokkinakis Questions ‘Insane’ Drug Testing

Thanasi Kokkinakis has been tested three times within the last six days.

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Thanasi Kokkinakis has questioned persistent drug testing after he revealed he was tested three times in six days.

The Australian is in good form at the moment having won the Sarasota Challenger in Florida.

Kokkinakis claimed glory with a three set win over Zizou Bergs in the final as he continues to climb the rankings.

However that glory has been overshadowed by the fact that Kokkinakis has revealed he was drug tested three times within a six day period.

The world number 94 described it as ‘insane’ and it comes after Alexandre Muller complained of persistent drug testing after his recent defeats.

Doping has been a huge topic of conversations with Simona Halep losing two years of her career after testing positive after the US Open before the Court Of Arbitration For Sport shortened her case.

Kokkinakis will be hoping that this is the last time he has to deal with persistent drug testing as he continues his clay court season.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Saves Two Match Points To Extend Winning Streak In Barcelona

Stefanos Tsitsipas survived a scare to reach the Barcelona semi-finals.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas saved two match points to defeat Facundo Diaz Acosta 4-6 6-3 7-6(8) in Barcelona.

The former finalist saved two match points against the inspired Argentinian as Tsitsipas reached the semi-finals.

It means Tsitsipas is 9-0 in the clay court season and has the chance to set up a potential rematch with Casper Ruud in the final.

The duo met in last week’s Monte-Carlo final where Tsitsipas claimed his third title in Monaco.

Speaking after the match Tsitsipas admitted it was difficult to sustain his level, “I was coming close [to losing] at certain moments in the match. It seemed like a mountain,” Tsitsipas stated to the ATP website.

“I reminded myself that I have a headband that I wear here that has a mountain and that I need to climb it, so it kept me going. It was difficult. It was extremely difficult to sustain the same level throughout the entire match and I think he played incredible.

“I think he left everything out there. He is a good clay-court player. He has a title on the ATP Tour for a reason and today it was a level he was able to bring out on the court that made it quite obvious.

“I got a little bit tense on my serve, I won’t lie. I think I started decelerating a lot, but once I got a hold of that I was conscious of that, it went back to where it belonged and helped me a lot in the tie-breaker because if I didn’t figure it out, I don’t know. It was very mental in general. I really had to go to uncomfortable places mentally and go over the limit at some point.”

Tsitsipas is currently seven in the world in the live rankings as the Greek is looking to claim his first title in Barcelona.

Next up for the Greek will be either Dusan Lajovic or Arthur Fils while Tomas Martin Etcheverry takes on Casper Ruud in the other semi-final.

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