Australian Open Day 11 Preview: The Semifinals Commence - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 11 Preview: The Semifinals Commence

On Thursday in Melbourne, we’ll see the first men’s semifinal, as well as both women’s semifinals.

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We were one point away from the huge US Open rematch the tennis world was anticipating… until Karolina Pliskova’s stunning comeback over Serena Williams. Instead, Pliskova and Naomi Osaka will battle it out to make their second Major final. In the other women’s semifinal, one of the most inspiring semifinalists in recent memory takes on one of the most shocking. And three of the four remaining women are fighting to become the new world No.1. In the men’s semifinal to be played on Thursday, it’s the second year in a row where the ATP Next Gen Finals champion will face an all-time great in their first Major semifinal.

 

Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Karolina Pliskova (7)

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Pliskova holds a 2-1 edge over Osaka in their head-to-head. Karolina prevailed at the 2017 Rogers Cup in a match where Osaka retired early in the third set. Osaka won last March at Indian Wells, on the way to her big breakthrough title on the WTA tour. And in September of last year, Pliskova won in straight sets. Osaka handily took out Elina Svitolina in her quarterfinal, and should be totally fresh today. Just yesterday, Pliskova played an over two-hour, dramatic match with Serena Williams. Karolina was all but eliminated from the tournament, down 5-1 in the third set. That is until Serena was called for a foot fault on match point, then hurt her foot as the point played out, and lost the next six games. It was one of the most shocking turn of events ever seen in a Major quarterfinal. It’s also one of the biggest wins in Pliskova’s career, and the second time she’s upset Serena at a Major. But you have to expect that emotional match will be hard to come back from just one day later. Osaka is the better all-around player, with much better defensive skills, and more speed around the court. Pliskova though has been serving extremely well, and is undefeated this season, just like her Czech countrywoman in the other semifinal. Could we have an all-Czech final on Saturday? Perhaps, but I would give the slight edge to Osaka to advance to her second straight Major final.

Petra Kvitova (8) vs. Danielle Collins

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Kvitova is into her first Major semifinal since Wimbledon 2014, and her first since the home intrusion that left her with nerve damage in her left hand. Last year, she led the WTA with five titles, yet struggled at the Majors with a 4-4 record. But Kvitova has downed her opposition quite comfortably at this Major, and is yet to drop a set. It was heartwarming to see Petra brought to tears with happiness after her quarterfinal when asked by Jim Courier if she thought she’d ever be back in a Slam semifinal. She’ll face the unlikeliest of opponents, a 25-year-old American who had never won a match at a Major prior to this tournament. In that way, her run at this tournament is reminiscent of Marco Cecchinato’s semifinal run from Roland Garros last year. Collins has ruffled some feathers with her cocky demeanor and in-your-face attitude, but she’s backed it up with some ferocious groundstrokes. She hit Angelique Kerber right off the court in less than an hour, and then came back from a set down to dominate Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a one-sided 6-1 third set. These two actually just played a few weeks ago in Brisbane, their only career meeting. Kvitova prevailed in an extremely tight three-setter that lasted three full hours. It’s hard to imagine the unseeded and unproven Collins getting to the final, but it’s entirely possible if she gets hot again. And Kvitova is usually good for at least one poor performance at every Major, and she hasn’t had one yet. Also, the weather could play an important factor today. Temperatures are forecasted to get extremely toasty, and we’ve seen previously how Kvitova’s level can be impacted by the heat. All things considered, I would still expect the much more experienced Kvitova to find a way to defeat the relative unknown in a Major semifinal on Rod Laver Arena.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (14)

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Is Tsitsipas capable of taking down another GOAT contender at this tournament? Nadal is the man who put a stop to both of Stefanos’ other two breakout runs this past year. In the Barcelona final in April, Nadal lost just three games. And at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last August, Tsitsipas had defeated four top 10 players before Nadal beat him in straight sets in the final. And judging by Rafa’s form over the past 10 days, he’ll likely end Tsistipas’ tournament here as well. Nadal has won 15 sets and lost none, which is exactly what the doctor ordered for a man who has withdrawn or retired from the vast majority of hard court tournaments he’s entered in the past 15 months. Rafa is into his 30th career Major semifinal, and holds a phenomenal 24-5 record at this stage. He is however 0-2 in his last two Slam semifinals, with losses to Djokovic at Wimbledon and Del Potro at the US Open. But the following statistic supplied by ATP Media Info on Twitter is in Rafa’s favor: against players 21-and-under, he is 9-0 at the Australian Open, and 34-3 at all Grand Slam events. More good news for Nadal? He has only spent about 10 hours on court thus far, while Tsitsipas has spent about 50% more. Stefanos has shown his game is just as much substance as flash at this tournament, not only in his upset of Roger Federer, but also following up that career highlight by defeating Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals. While just about all the statistics support a Nadal victory, I’m interested to see how much resistance Tsitsipas can provide.

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Iga Swiatek double bagels Karolina Pliskova to win Rome

Iga Swiatek dominated Karolina Pliskova for 46 minutes to win the Rome title.

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Iga Swiatek (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek is the 2021 BNL D’Italia Open champion after beating Karolina Pliskova, the number ninth seed, in 46 minutes. The Pole thrashed her opponent 6-0, 6-0 with the help of 17 winners as she lost only 13 points the entire match.

 

“I’m really happy, I’m kinda overwhelmed because at the beginning of this tournament I wouldn’t even dream of winning and it was super tough, we have to fight and obviously Karolina (Pliskova) had a great run here,” said Swiatek.

The number 15 seed got off to the best possible start having no issues in her opening service game and in the following game it was visible her Czech opponent was having issues with her serve.

Pliskova would serve a double fault to give the first breakpoint of the match and the Pole took to take an early 2-0 lead and from there it was one way traffic.

The number nine once again would double fault to gift another breakpoint at 3-0 and the 19 year old pounced with her powerful forehand to go up a double break and would break one more time to seal the first set in 19 minutes.

Fans at the Foro Italico were expecting a response in the second set from Pliskova but it was utter dominance from the Pole and again the number nine seed again struggled with her serve double faulting on breakpoint at 1-0 to once again give the early break.

There was a mini fight back from the Czech at 2-0 when she managed to earn two breakpoints to try and get back in the match but the number 15 seed would save both and hold serve.

The next game she continued to attack and play her aggressive game style earning two more breakpoints and breaking one more time to take a 4-0 lead and you could sense this match was going to be over very quickly.

Swiatek would seal the win with another one of her trademark forehand winners to take the match and the title which will boost her on Monday to number nine in the world and her first appearance in the top 10.

After the match Pliskova admitted today was not her day, “You have days like this in where things are not going your way,” Pliskova said in her trophy ceremony speech.

“That was the day today I still tried but it was not working for me. I will just quickly forget about today. I had some great matches here. Final is always a great week, great tournament.”

Both players will now head to Roland Garros with Swiatek looking to successfully defend her title.

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Championship Sunday in Rome

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Novak Djokovic expended a lot of energy and emotion on Saturday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

On Sunday, it will be the 57th installment of the most prolific men’s rivalry of the Open Era, as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal play for the men’s championship.  Djokovic is going for his record-extending 37th Masters 1000 title, and his sixth in Rome, while Nadal is looking to tie Djokovic with 36 Masters titles by winning Rome for the 10th time.  After playing for nearly five hours on Saturday, what will Djokovic have left in the championship match?

 

In women’s singles, Karolina Pliskova has reached her third consecutive final in Rome.  She’ll face the reigning Roland Garros champion, Iga Swiatek, who is making her WTA 1000 final debut.  In men’s doubles, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic are one match away from an astounding sixth title of the season.  And in the women’s doubles, the final is yet to be set, as one semifinal is still to be played.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not before 2:30pm on Center Court

Each of these players have saved match points to reach this championship match: Pliskova against Ostapenko, and Swiatek against Barbora Krejcikova.  Outside of the match against Krejcikova, Swiatek has not dropped a set this week.  But unlike Pliskova, Swiatek had to play both her quarterfinal and semifinal on Saturday, spending almost twice as long on court.

Iga has now claimed 14 of her last 15 matches on clay, with her only loss coming at the hands of world No.1 Ash Barty.  Meanwhile, Karolina hasn’t reached a final or semifinal at any event held outside of Rome since January of last year.  As much as Pliskova has excelled the last three years in Italy, Swiatek’s recent form makes her the favorite in their first career meeting.  Iga’s more versatile game, and more positive attitude, give her a distinct advantage.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (2) – Not before 5:00pm on Center Court

Djokovic leads their overall head-to-head 29-27, but Nadal leads 18-7 on clay, and 5-3 in Rome.  This is their first match since last year’s Roland Garros final, which went decisively to Nadal in straight sets.  On clay, Rafa has now taken their last four encounters, with Novak’s last victory on this surface coming in the final of this event five years ago.

After saving match points and surviving an epic clash with Denis Shapovalov on Thursday, Nadal has won his last four sets by scores of 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.  That includes a straight-set victory over Sascha Zverev, who defeated him just a week prior in Madrid.  Following a few subpar performances this clay court season, Rafa appears to have found his top level, just in time for Roland Garros.  This is a familiar pattern for Nadal, and a big problem for Djokovic, who will certainly be playing on tired legs.  Neither of these men have been a Masters champion this year, but that will change on Sunday, and it will likely be Nadal.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (5) – Mektic and Pavic are a sensational 36-4 in their first season as a team.  Ram and Salisbury won last year’s Australian Open, but lost to Mektic and Pavic earlier this year in Miami.

Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (4) vs. Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos – the winners of this semifinal will face Kristina Mladenovic and Marketa Vondrousova in the championship match later in the day.

Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Nadal cruises past Opelka to reach 12th final in Rome

Rafael Nadal is into yet another final in Rome after beating Reilly Opelka.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The Spaniard eased his way past his 7ft American opponent to reach another final in the Italian capital.

 

Rafael Nadal is into his 12th final in Rome after beating the American Reilly Opelka in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 in 92 minutes in his 500th match on clay and only needed to hit 13 winners in the victory.

“It’s not an easy and beautiful match to play against a player like Reilly (Opelka) who only gives you a few options on your return and he can also play quite aggressive from the baseline, he has good shots and it was important for me to save those breakpoints at the beginning of the match”.

It was actually the American with the first chance to break in the match at 2-1 when he earned four chances to break but the Spaniard pulled out his big serve and saved all four before holding serve.

The very next game the Manacor, Mallorca native went on the offensive and earned his first breakpoint of the match and managed to convert on it to take the early 3-2 lead.

After consolidating the break the American saved three breakpoints with the Spaniard pushing for the second break but managed to hold serve and the number two seed would serve out the first set.

The second set followed a similar pattern to the first with both players holding their opening service games with ease and this time it was the world number three with the first chance to break.

Nadal would break at the third time of asking to once again take an early 2-1 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve out the match and set up a clash with either Novak Djokovic or Lorenzo Sonego.

In his post match interview Nadal spoke about the prospect of playing another final on Sunday in Rome.

“The work is done, I think I did a lot of things well, I had a good spirit the entire week, there are a lot of positive things I did on court this week and it’s important for my confidence to be back in such an important final, I will have a tough opponent either Djokovic or Sonego but I need to be ready, I need to play my best tennis and that is what I am looking for”.

Djokovic currently leads the head to head with Nadal 29-27 while Sonego has yet to face the Spaniard.

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