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

 

Grand Slam

Government Minister Sheds Light On Australian Open Schedule

A member of the Victorian Government has given a new update concerning the first Grand Slam of 2021.

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It is likely that the Australian Open will not be getting underway on its planned date of January 18th following recent comments by a government minister.

 

Negotiations between Tennis Australia and local officials are ongoing amid uncertainty over when the Grand Slam event will start. Last week plans for next year suffered a heavy blow after it was confirmed that players will not be allowed to enter the country in December as previously hoped. Instead they can enter from January 1st but will then have to go through a 14-day quarantine where they will not be allowed to play any competitive tennis.

In the wake of the ruling, speculation is mounting that the Australian Open will be delayed. If not, players will only have a four-day period between finishing their quarantine and playing their first tournament of the new year.

Martin Pakula, who is the sports minister for the Victorian Government, said on Wednesday that it was likely there would be a slight delay to the start of the competition due to what he describes as ‘very complex negotiations.’

“I still think it’s much more likely that it will be a shorter rather than longer delay. I don’t want to unduly repeat myself but these are very complex negotiations,” The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Pakula as saying.
“I’m still confident we’ll have an Australian Open, and we’ll have one in the early part of the year.”

It is also still unclear as to what will be happening to other tournaments that were set to be held in the country such as the ATP Cup, Brisbane International and others. Tennis Australia had previously said they intend to relocate some of their events to Melbourne in order to minimise travel. However, due to the delay in players arriving those plans are in doubt. If they were held after the Australian Open, it would have a significant impact on both the ATP and WTA Tour calendars.

“There’s a number of potential dates on the table. I’ve seen reports that suggest that it’s likely to be delayed by a week or two. I think that’s still most likely,” said Pakula. “But it’s not the only option. As you know, the French Open was delayed by many months and Wimbledon didn’t occur at all.
“I still think it’s much more likely that it will be a shorter [delay] rather than a longer one.”

Pakula has also confirmed that the conditions of the ‘biosecure bubble’ which players will be kept in are yet to be finalized. Although he says there will be a rigorous testing system in place.

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said over the weekend that a date for the Australian Open should be confirmed within 14 days.

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Rafael Nadal Urges Calm Over Australian Open As Officials Search For Solution

The world No.2 has confirmed his intentions to play at the Grand Slam but there are fresh doubts over when it will be getting underway.

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20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal has urged his peers to remain patient amid growing uncertainty over what the start of the 2021 season in Australia will look like.

 

Earlier this week it was confirmed that the government of Victoria refused a plan for 550 players to travel to the region next month in a move that could force a delay to the start of the Australian Open. Instead players will not be allowed to arrive until January 1st and then they will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine process. As it stands during that time they are reportedly allowed to train but not play in tournaments.

The ATP has already acknowledged that ‘new challenges’ have arisen in an internal letter issued to their players. Should the Australian Open dates remain unchanged, there will only be a four-day break between quarantine ending and the Grand Slam starting.

Questioned about the situation following his exit from the ATP Finals on Saturday, Nadal said he and others just need to ‘accept the situation’ by respecting any decision taken by the government.

“I don’t know what’s the situation going to be yet,” he said. “We need to wait about what the (state) government there in Victoria says.
“We can’t do much from ATP position or just wait. We have nobody to say what they feel is better for his country.
“We just need to be patient and accept the situation that we are facing. That is difficult for everyone. We need to be flexible to understand the situation and to find a way to play as many tournaments as possible next year.”

The head of Tennis Australia, Craig Tiley, has tried to allay concerns in a statement released on Sunday. Providing an update on the current situation, he says a plan taking into account the ‘needs of the players, fans, partners and staff’ is currently being drawn up alongside the Victorian Government. Although it is unclear as to when it will be finalised or what the final decision will be.

“We are continuing our urgent talks with local health authorities regarding quarantining and bio-security requirements and are confident we will have decisions soon,” said Tiley.
“Tennis Australia is acutely aware of the need for certainty, but also conscious of reaching a solution with the State Government that ensures the safety of the entire community.”

The Australian Open isn’t the only issue, it is what will happen with other events such as the ATP Cup. Originally it was hoped that various tournaments which usually take place around the country would be moved to Melbourne in order to minimise travelling. Now due to the later than planned arrival dates and quarantine, it is possible some of these events could be axed. So far the only event confirmed to have the chop is the Australian Open junior tournament, which will take place later in the year.

Amid the uncertainty, Nadal says he is hopeful that the Tour would return to a degree of normality in the future.

“Hopefully with the vaccine, that ends soon and we can come back at least to close to normal in a couple of months, but now is a difficult situation,” Nadal concluded.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this week’s ATP Finals is taking place behind closed doors for the first time in its history.

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Bombshell Puts Australian Tennis Events In Doubt

It is looking increasingly likely that players will not be allowed to play any tournament leading up to the first Grand Slam of 2021.

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The start of the 2021 tennis season has been dealt a massive blow as it has emerged that players hoping to travel to Australia next month will not be allowed to.

 

It is being reported that initial plans by Tennis Australia to allow roughly 550 players to enter their ‘bubble’ within the coming weeks have been blocked by the government in a move which may force the cancellation of any tournament set to take place prior to the Australian Open. A plan had been set out for players to arrive in December so they can enter into a mandatory 14-day quarantine. However, it now appears that the proposal has been denied due to COVID-19 protocols.

Unless there is a change of heart, players will not be allowed into the country until January 1st and then they will have to go through quarantine. Then under the current schedule the Australian Open will start just four days after. Players are not allowed to play any tournaments whilst in quarantine. The ATP, which is the governing body of men’s tennis, has issued an internal statement acknowledging that there are ‘new challenges’ concerning arrival times.

“In discussions with Tennis Australia over the past 24 hours, we have been informed there are some new challenges around the previously planned arrival dates for players and team members,” the ATP told its members.
“We continue to work with Tennis Australia on confirming plans for January, and we will provide an update as soon as more information is available in the coming days.
“We understand there is uncertainty about the start of the 2021 season, and we are working as hard as possible to deliver the best possible calendar of events to players, maximising points, jobs and prize money opportunities.”

Less than a week before the bombshell, Tennis Australia confirmed their desire to relocate various tournaments to Melbourne due to travel restrictions. The idea was for events usually held in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Hobart to be moved to the area. However, it is now unclear as to what if any will go ahead now.

There have been rumours of the Australian summer potentially being extended into February which will allow for more events outside of the Australian Open to take place in the region. However, this has not been confirmed and there is no indication yet that the date of the Grand Slam will be moved back.

“Whether (players) need to be here in December… I don’t know that that necessarily means there isn’t an Australian Open,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Wednesday.
“Whether there are lead-in tournaments, that’s to be worked through.”
“It has to be done safely, it has to be done properly. We are working very, very closely with Tennis Australia. They are working (with) all of their partners and we’re confident that we’ll finish up with an Australian Open.” He later added.

There is yet to be any public comment from Tennis Australia regarding the latest development. Although the CEO of the organisation, Craig Tiley, has confirmed to The Tennis Channel that the tune-up events for the Australian Open are now in jeopardy.

The Australian Open is scheduled to start on January 18th.

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