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)
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)
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)
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.
Nadal won’t play Acapulco due to lingering back issues
Rafael Nadal’s continued back problems rule him out of Acapulco.
The Spaniard went on social media to announce he is not going to travel to Mexico.
Rafa Nadal went on Twitter today to announce he has decided not to play in Acapulco this year due to a lingering back issue but apparently that’s not the full story.
Nadal also pulled out of Rotterdam which starts on Monday stating the back injury he suffered in Australia was holding him back but another piece was made public today that the main reason Nadal won’t play is the tournament finances.
Usually a player of Nadal caliber will be attracted to smaller events by what is called an apperance fee which is basically a fee paid to the player to show up and play. Due to the pandemic and the fact most tournaments have lost revenue due to no fans or limited capacity budgets have decreased to a fraction.
The Spaniard also stated the reason he played in Australia with the injury was because it was a grand slam and if it was any other tournament he would have pulled out.
We saw another instance where John Isner called the ATP system broken after the Miami Masters cut its prize money and said it’s not fair and that tournaments should be properly audited.
In Nadal case the apperance fee would be roughly estimated from $500,000 to one million dollars and that will most likely include travel and accomodation.
Acapulco is scheduled for Monday March 15th to the 20th which means fans can probably expect to see Nadal back in action in time for Miami.
Gilles Simon To Take Break From Tennis After Montpellier Exit
Gilles Simon looking to take a break from tennis as his ‘heart is no longer’ in the game.
After exiting his home tournament in Montpellier earlier in the week, Gilles Simon has decided to to take a break from tennis.
The veteran Frenchman crashed out in the opening round to Dennis Novak on Tuesday in Montpellier after a frustrating Australia swing.
Simon went out in the opening round of the Australian Open as well, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas, winning only four games.
So it will come as no surprise that Gilles Simon has decided to take a break from tennis in an attempt to regain some motivation.
Speaking on Twitter Simon said he needed to preserve himself mentally, “My heart is no longer there to travel and play in these conditions,” the Frenchman stated.
“Unfortunately I have to take a break in order to preserve myself mentally. Hoping that morale returns as soon as possible. Thank you to all the faithful for your support. See you soon.”
This news could be the start for more players to do the same with prize money decreasing and a potential freezing of the rankings on the horizon, the motivation to compete may decrease at a rapid rate.
Also, the injury list continues to rise with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Sofia Kenin, Karolina Muchova, Kirsten Flipkens and Donna Vekic just to name a few suffering bad injuries over the Australian swing.
What happens next, remains a mystery but nobody can blame Simon’s decision as the 36 year-old contemplates his tennis future.
Rafael Nadal Withdraws From Rotterdam Due To Back Injury
Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from Rotterdam due to ongoing back problems.
Rafael Nadal has announced his withdrawal from next week’s ATP 500 event in Rotterdam due to a back injury.
The Spaniard’s back problems have started since before the Australian Open which he managed to play the tournament in Melbourne with the problem.
Eventually Nadal lost in his Australian Open quarter-final to Stefanos Tsitsipas from 2 sets to love up.
Despite playing in Melbourne, Nadal’s back problems continue to derail his schedule as he has now withdrawn from Rotterdam.
In a statement on Twitter, Nadal said that after consulting his doctor it was not the best idea to play Rotterdam.
“It is with great sadness that I have to forfeit from Rotterdam. As most of the fans know, I suffered back problems in Australia that started in Adelaide and continued in Melbourne,” Nadal said.
“We found a temporary solution that allowed me to play without pain in the second week of the tournament. Once I got back to Spain I visited my doctor and together with my team they’ve advised not to play this upcoming week.”
Nadal’s 10 year hiatus from the tournament continues as he looks to recover from the problem as soon as possible.
The 20-time grand slam champion’s main priority will be the clay-court swing where he can win a record-breaking 21st grand slam title.
Nadal’s next scheduled tournament will be the Miami Masters in late-March.
Meanwhile Nadal could now lose his world number two ranking next week as the top seed which is now Daniil Medvedev could replace him there.
The recent Australian Open finalist will need to reach the final if he wants to become the world number two but will face stiff competition in Holland from the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Milos Raonic.
The tournament will start on the 1st of March.
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