Australian Open Day 2 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 2 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

In only the third week of the year, 2019’s first Major is already underway.

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On the men’s side, the “Big Five” own 54 of the last 56 Major titles, spanning the last 14 years. Their incredible dominance will inevitably come to an end soon, but perhaps not quite yet. Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win his third straight Major, and will remain world No.1 regardless of this fortnight’s results.

 

On the women’s side, the last eight Majors have been won by eight different players. An astounding 11 different women were capable of ending this tournament as the world No.1 at the start of play on Monday. And none of those 11 players are the odds makers’ favorite to win, with that of course being 23-time Major Champion Serena Williams. Her opening round match is one of the five matches previewed below.

Milos Raonic (16) vs. Nick Kyrgios
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This is a blockbuster first round matchup, made possible by Kyrgios’ subpar 2018 season. The 23-year-old is now only the No.4-ranked Australian man, currently at 52nd in the world. He usually gets up for big matches like this, but in recent years has reacted in different ways to playing tight matches in Melbourne. Two years ago, he was booed as the home crowd sensed a lack of effort during an early round loss to Andreas Seppi. Last year however, Kyrgios played some great tennis in upsetting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in an electric Rod Laver Arena. Raonic has quietly rebuilt his ranking after missing much of 2017 due to injury, though he hasn’t won a title in over three years. They’ve split six previous meetings, with Kyrgios taking their only match on a hard court, in 2016 in Miami. With two of the biggest servers on tour, we’re in for a plethora of aces, and likely a tiebreak or two. As Kyrgios prefers, and usually requests, this will be a night match on the newly-renamed Melbourne Arena (formerly Hisense). The grounds-pass crowd of rowdy Australians will be eager to get behind Nick. This is a tough one to pick, but I slightly favor the steadier and more reliable player in Raonic.

Simona Halep (1) vs. Kaia Kanepi
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This is a rematch from the opening round of the last Grand Slam event, when Kanepi upset the world No.1 at the US Open last August in straight sets. Since that time, Halep has only played three matches, and is 0-3. A back injury has hampered her play, and put an early end to her 2018 season. Last week in Sydney, she was taken out by Australian No.1 Ashleigh Barty. Simona is also now without Darren Cahill on her team, and is going without a coach for the time being. Halep is certainly far from her best right now. However, Kanepi herself hasn’t played at all since the US Open, due to an undisclosed injury. While an upset here feels entirely possible, and I don’t like Halep’s chances to advancing deep into the second week, I feel Simona will find a way to avenge her US Open loss on Tuesday.

Serena Williams (16) vs. Tatjana Maria
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This will be Serena’s first match since the infamous US Open final last year. She did play two exhibition events leading up to this fortnight. In Abu Dhabi, she lost to her sister Venus in a third set decided by a 10-point tiebreak. But Serena went 3-0 in singles at the Hopman Cup two weeks ago. Notably at the Hopman Cup, she did hold her shoulder several times as the tournament progressed, so I’ll be curious to see if she is 100% here. If so, considering she made the final at both of the past two Majors so early into her comeback, I agree that she’s the favorite to win this tournament. And I’m confident she’ll be more determined than ever to win after feeling she was so wrongfully treated at the US Open. In her opening round, she’ll face a fellow mother. The 31-year-old Maria is ranked 73rd in the world, and shouldn’t give a healthy Serena too much trouble in their first career meeting. But all eyes will be on Serena in her first official match in over four months.

Mihaela Buzarnescu (25) vs. Venus Williams
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Serena’s sister will also play her opening round match on Tuesday. Venus made a thrilling run to the final here two years ago, but is coming off a pretty lackluster 2018. Last season, she went just 17-11, and 4-4 at the Majors. She’s now ranked 36th in the world, and subsequently is unseeded here. She also arrives without a coach, as she parted ways with her longtime coach, David Witt, during the offseason. Venus though did get a nice win over Victoria Azarenka in Auckland to start her season. In Buzarnescu, Venus has actually gotten a relatively kind draw. Mihaela had the best season of her career last year, breaking into the top 20 thanks to her first career WTA title in San Jose. Unfortunately, just a few days later in Montreal, Buzarnescu rolled her ankle while deep into a third set against Elina Svitolina. This was quite an upsetting scene, as Mihaela laid on the court and screamed out in pain for several minutes. And sadly, Buzarnescu has lost all the momentum she had before the injury, going 0-5 since Montreal. These two have never played before, and both could use a win to gain some confidence. After going out in the first round of this tournament a year ago to Belinda Bencic, I think Venus will be keen to get the win here. If she plays well, she should be able to dictate play and get through this one.

Stan Wawrinka vs. Ernests Gulbis
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The 2014 Australian Open champion never got back to the peak of his abilities in 2018 coming off serious knee surgery the year prior. A year ago, Wawrinka was clearly still physically struggling, and went out in the second round of this tournament to Tennys Sandgren. Overall he went just 17-17 last year, though he did show signs of rediscovering his form as the season progressed. Meanwhile it’s also been a rough few years for Gulbis, who has battled multiple injuries. 18 months ago, Ernests was ranked 589th in the world. But Gulbis is now back inside the top 100, and is coming off a run to the final in Stockholm last October. However, the 30-year-old Latvian has only two wins in his entire career at the Australian Open. He’s 2-8 lifetime in Melbourne, and hasn’t won a match since 2014. These two veterans have surprisingly only played once before, and that was almost a decade ago on clay. I like Wawrinka’s chances to advance here, in which case he’d play the winner of the Raonic/Kyrgios match on Thursday.

Other notable matches on Day 2:
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  • Six-Time Champion Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Qualifer Mitchell Krueger
  • US Open Champion Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Magda Linette
  • ATP Finals Champion Sascha Zverev (4) vs. Aljaz Bedene
  • WTA Finals Champion Elina Svitolina (6) vs. Qualifer Viktorija Golubic
  • Dominic Thiem (7), who went 0-3 in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago vs. the unpredictable Benoit Paire.

Order of play

Rod Laver Arena

  • D. Aiava (WC) vs M. Keys (17)
  • T. Maria vs S. Williams (16)
  • A. Zverev (4) vs A. Bedene

evening session

  • N. Djokovic (1) vs M. Krueger (Q)
  • N. Osaka (4) vs M. Linette

Margaret Court Arena

  • K. Majchrzak (Q) vs K. Nishikori (8)
  • T. Zidansek vs D. Gavrilova
  • V. Williams vs M. Buzarnescu (25)

evening session

  • S. Halep (1) vs K. Kanepi
  • B. Paire vs D. Thiem (7)

Melbourne Arena

  • K. Muchova (Q) vs Ka. Pliskova (7)
  • B. Coric (11) vs S. Darcis
  • L. Siegemund vs V. Azarenka
  • S. Stosur vs D. Yastremska

not before 0800 (GMT)

  • N. Kyrgios vs M. Raonic (16)

1573 Arena

  • F. Fognini (12) vs J. Munar
  • E. Bouchard vs S. Peng (WC)
  • P. Andujar vs D. Shapovalov (25)
  • V. Golubic (Q) vs E. Svitolina (6)

Court 3

  • J. Konta vs A. Tomljanovic
  • S. Zheng vs G. Muguruza (18)
  • T. Daniel vs T. Kokkinakis (Q)
  • S. Wawrinka vs E. Gulbis

Court 5

  • I. Ivashka vs M. Jaziri
  • N. Vikhlyantseva (Q) vs V. Lepchenko (Q)
  • F. Krajinovic vs M. Cecchinato (17)

Court 7

  • E. Mertens (12) vs A. Schmiedlova
  • A. Bolt (WC) vs J. Sock (WC)
  • C. Giorgi (27) vs D. Jakupovic
  • J. Tsonga (WC) vs M. Klizan

Court 8

  • Q. Wang (21) vs F. Ferro
  • H. Chung (24) vs B. Klahn
  • P. Kohlschreiber (32) vs Z. Li (WC)
  • D. Cibulkova (26) vs S. Zhang

Court 10

  • P. Parmentier vs A. Potapova
  • L. Vanni (Q) vs P. Carreno Busta (23)
  • J. Chardy vs U. Humbert

Court 12

  • Z. Diyas vs A. Krunic
  • L. Djere vs E. Donskoy
  • M. Granollers vs M. Copil
  • S. Kenin vs V. Kudermetova (Q)

Court 13

  • A. Ramos-Vinolas vs M. Fucsovics
  • D. Kasatkina (10) vs T. Bacsinszky
  • S. Voegele vs S. Hsieh (28)
  • A. Popyrin (WC) vs M. Zverev

Court 14

  • L. Harris (Q) vs D. Medvedev (15)
  • B. Fratangelo (Q) vs G. Simon (29)
  • C. Suárez Navarro (23) vs C. Burel (WC)
  • Kr. Pliskova vs A. Blinkova

Court 15

  • N. Jarry vs L. Mayer
  • B. Andreescu (Q) vs W. Osuigwe (WC)
  • L. Zhu (Q) vs M. Gasparyan
  • M. Marterer vs G. Sakharov (Q)

Court 19

  • I. Karlovic vs H. Hurkacz
  • M. Brengle vs M. Doi (Q)
  • L. Pouille (28) vs M. Kukushkin
  • I. Swiatek (Q) vs A. Bogdan

Court 20

  • S. Querrey vs P. Herbert
  • M. Barthel vs A. Sevastova (13)
  • D. Goffin (21) vs C. Garin
  • V. Kuzmova vs K. Kozlova

Court 22

  • J. Vesely vs R. Harrison
  • G. Pella vs J. Sousa
  • A. Cornet vs L. Arruabarrena

 

ATP

Roger Federer Can Win Australian Open, Says Laver

The 81-year-old speaks out about the world No.3.

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Roger Federer (@usopen on Twitter)

Tennis legend Rod Laver has back world No.3 Roger Federer to add to his record-breaking grand slam tally in the future.

 

The 38-year-old currently holds the record for most major singles won by a man at 20. However, both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are closing in on that tally. Djokovic is currently on 16 and Nadal in one adrift on 19 following his latest triumph at the US Open. Meanwhile, Federer has only featured in the final in one out of the last six grand slam tournaments. Doing so at Wimbledon in July where he failed to convert two championship points against Djokovic. His last major title took place at the 2017 Australian Open.

Despite the recent lack of major silverware for the Swiss Maestro, Australian great Laver believes he can still challenge for the biggest titles in the sport. Saying that it is possible that Federer could continue playing until the age of 40.

“He seems to be fine and that’s what counts. If you love the game as much as you do, that’s fine.” He commented on Federer’s longevity in the sport.
“I also give Roger a very good chance of winning the Australian Open again in Melbourne in January.”

Laver admits that it is possible that the two other members of the Big Three could end their careers with more titles than Federer. Nadal is five years younger than him and Djokovic is six. However, he believes there is one thing that separates him from the others.

“Nadal, Djokovic and Federer are all big champions. But Roger surpasses tennis, the world of sport, and sports in general in a way that no one in history has done before him. He is the most recognized athlete in the world and a figurehead for this great game.

The first encounter between Laver and Federer took place 13 years ago in Melbourne at the Australian Open. Since then, the two have formed a bond with Laver saying they ‘clicked’ straight away.

The biggest example of the friendship between the two is perhaps best illustrated by the Laver Cup. An annual team tournament where Europe takes on the rest of the world. Similar to that of Golf’s Ryder Cup. Named in honour of the tennis great, Federer is one of the co-founders of the event. Which has since been granted a place within the ATP Calendar. Although no ranking points are on offer.

This year’s edition will be held in Switzerland for the first time. Critics have been quick to point out the disparity between the two teams. Europe consists of all players ranked inside the top 20 compared to one from the world team. However, Laver dismissed the significance.

“I do not think so. The team World has excelled in both Laver Cups in doubles and also celebrated one or two big victories in singles. I expect it to be exciting.” He said.

The three-day 2019 Laver Cup will get underway in Geneva on Friday.

List of players participating

 Team Europe
Captain:  Björn Borg
Vice-captain:  Thomas Enqvist
Player Rank
 Rafael Nadal 2
 Roger Federer 3
 Dominic Thiem 5
 Alexander Zverev 6
 Stefanos Tsitsipas 7
 Fabio Fognini 11
 Team World
Captain:  John McEnroe
Vice-captain:  Patrick McEnroe
Player Rank
 John Isner 20
 Milos Raonic 24
 Nick Kyrgios 27
 Taylor Fritz 30
 Denis Shapovalov 33
 Jack Sock 208

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Daniil Medvedev Gave Rafa Fans The Scare Of A Lifetime

Charleston Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on the US Open men’s final and what the future might have in store.

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NEW YORK — Rafa, you gave your followers quite a scare.

 

No. 19 looked like it was in the books when you got the first break point of the ninth game of the third set. But it wasn’t, and the second break point flew by as well.

Oh well, it was just 5-4, Daniil Medvedev. There was still time to close out the match in three sets. But after deadlocking the set at 5-5, you won only one point in the last two games of the set.

IT MIGHT BE A LONG NIGHT

Settle back, Rafa Nadal fans. It might be a long night.

The men’s final of Sunday’s U.S. Open was going the distance, even though Nadal served with double game points in the decisive 10th game of the fourth set, but still lost the set.

Nadal even served for the match with a 5-2 lead in the fifth set. He lost that one on a time violation first-serve penalty leading to a double fault to end the game.

Was it time to get worried about Rafa getting No. 19 this night? Was this going to be a Serena-like  case of bad fortune for Nadal? Of course, Serena Williams one day earlier had failed again for an all-time tying No. 24 Grand Slam title.

It could have happened to Nadal, too. Anything could have, judging from the way his tall and amazingly agile and quick Russian opponent was playing.

MIGHTY SERVE ENDED A HISTORIC FINAL

Nadal looked like he had a lock on No. 19 again before wasting two match points with Medvedev serving the ninth game of the fifth set.

Rafa even had to fight off a break point in the 10th game before ending the nearly five-hour marathon with a perfectly place serve down the middle.

He went flat on his back in disbelief, and Medvedev went around the net. The two embraced.

It, indeed, was one of the most memorable moments in the history of Grand Slam tennis.

Finally, a 7-5, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory that pushed Nadal’s Grand Slam championship total to within one of Roger Federer’s all-time record.

AN AMAZING PERFORMANCE BY BOTH PLAYERS

This was simply an amazing match that left a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, mostly of Nadal supporters, drained. It was that riveting.

This had to be one of the greatest U.S. Open finals ever.

Medvedev put on an unthinkable display of grit and talent, a sheer desire to win. Medvedev and Nadal  were like acrobats at times as they moved around the court to pull off amazing tennis stunts. Anything was possible because of the two players’ athletic abilities.

Nadal is definitely for real. But if his 23-year-old Russian opponent is for real, as he certainly appeared Sunday night, the Australian Open isn’t going to be a picnic for Federer, Nadal or the injured Novak Djokovic, or anyone else.

And then there’s the French Open where Rafa will be heavily favored to get No. 20 if he fails in Melbourne. Of course, if Rafa plays the way he did in the first two sets on Sunday, he may notch No. 20 Down Under.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? WHY NOT A DRAW?

What happens if both Nadal and Federer are tied for the all-time lead with 20 Grand Slam titles each?

If they’re deadlocked in another year or two, it might be time for a permanent dual timeout for both players. As sad as such a day would be, it would be a day to celebrate. Co-record holders wouldn’t be a bad way to go since retirement is inevitable for these two great players.

Although Federer demonstrated at Wimbledon and Nadal showed Sunday night, they can still rival the best tennis has to offer, but the rest of the men’s tennis game isn’t going to take a break waiting for these two greats to retire. Medvedev and his likes will continue to close the gap until there isn’t one.

PRESSURE WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD

As a result of what happened in Sunday’s U.S. Open final, the days ahead will add even more pressure for both Nadal and Federer each time a Grand Slam rolls around.

Federer already has felt that pressure, both here and at Wimbledon, as he tried to widen his lead over Nadal and Djokovic. Even Nadal seemed to feel some of the same pressure Sunday night while trying to close out Medvedev.

After defeating Federer in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic called Federer “one of the greatest ever” in his acceptance comments after the match. Federer frowned, but Djokovic was right.

Djokovic knows, because he’s not out of the all-time race just yet.

It would be nice if Federer and Nadal could/or would retire at the same time, and join Rod Laver as the greatest men’s tennis players ever. But just not quite yet.

 

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at 

http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

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US Open A Ratings Hit In North America

Both the men’s and women’s finals managed to attract some record TV viewing figures.

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Bianca Andreescu’s win over Serena Williams in the final of the US Open was the most watched women’s final on ESPN of all time, according to official figures.

 

The Canadian 19-year-old rallied to a 6-3, 7-5, win over the former world No.1 to claim her first grand slam title. Her triumphed attracted an overnight rating of 2.7 million on ESPN. A 13% increase on last year (2.4) when Naomi Osaka defeated Williams. At its peak, which was towards the end of the second set, the rating was as high as 3.9. ESPN has also confirmed that the 2019 women’s final was their joint-highest US Open rating of all time.

Across the border, Andreescu’s win also made history in her home country of Canada. An average audience of 3.4 million watched her match on TSN and RDS with a peak of 5.3 million. Making in the networks most watched tennis match in history. It is also the most-watched broadcast since the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championships. TSN has also noted that Andreescu’s run has helped them achieve a 69% rise in views compared to 2018 to 10.7 million people watching the grand slam at some point. Meanwhile, their digital platforms have achieved a 145% year-on-year rise with 13 million impressions on TSN’s social media platforms.

There was also success for the networks with the men’s final. Rafael Nadal edged out Daniil Medvedev in a dramatic five-set encounter. The Spaniard was leading by two sets, before his opponent drew back to draw level. Forcing a tense decider. Their encounter was ESPN’s most popular men’s US Open final since 2015 and a 33% increase on 12 months ago. It attracted an overnight rating of 2.0. The 2015 clash between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer scored a 2.4 rating.

The strong broadcast numbers coincide with what has been a record year for the New York major. A record 737,872 fans attended the event over two weeks with the Arthur Ashe Stadium managing to have 23 out of 24 sell out sessions. The number doesn’t include the ‘Fan Week’ that took place before the start of the main draw. 115,355 people attended that to bring the overall figure to 853,227.

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