Australian Open Day 5 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 5 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

Federer, Nadal, Kerber, Wozniacki, and Sharapova will be featured on Friday, with those last two names facing off in a blockbuster third round match-up.

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Caroline Wozniacki (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

With the third round of play already upon us, Friday will be the day seeded players start to collide in the singles draws. On the halves of the draws playing today, 18 of the 32 seeds have made it this far. The Wozniacki/Sharapova clash will take top billing on the women’s schedule, while Rafael Nadal’s first-ever meeting with an exciting Australian teenager will be the marquee men’s match of the day.

 

Caroline Wozniacki (3) vs. Maria Sharapova (30)

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It’s the 2008 Australian Open champion vs. the 2018 champion. Both women have looked extremely sharp through two rounds. Neither have dropped a set, and Sharapova has only lost three games in the four sets she’s played. Sharapova is 6-4 lifetime against Wozniacki, dating back to their first meeting almost 11 years ago, though they haven’t played since 2015. Wozniacki’s four victories have all come on hard courts, including the two previous times they’ve squared off at a Major (the 2010 and 2014 US Opens). The deciding factor here will be if Sharapova can keep her unforced error and double fault counts down despite Wozniacki’s defensive abilities. Caroline will force Maria to hit more shots to end a rally than Sharapova’s previous opponents. Maria hit seven double faults in the first round, but cut that number down to only two in the second round. However, I suspect Wozniacki’s movement and down-the-line groundstrokes will spell trouble for Sharapova.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Alex de Minaur (27)

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If the Australian No.1 has anything left after his four-hour victory on Wednesday, this could be a lot of fun. De Minaur is the third straight Australian that Nadal has faced this week. There were a lot of questions as to Rafa’s condition ahead of this fortnight, his first event since the US Open. He worked to heal multiple injuries in the fall, but still had to pull out of Brisbane two weeks ago with a thigh strain. Nadal though showed no signs of being less than 100% in his first two rounds. De Minaur must be a bit tired coming off Day 3’s five-setter, and considering he’s now played seven matches over the past 11 days. Alex claimed his first career title just last week in Sydney, and is now at a career-high ranking of 29th in the world. Hopefully the physically fit 19-year-old can recover ahead of this encounter. One thing we know for sure is he will give 100% of whatever energy he has left. With former Australian No.1’s Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic struggles, both losing in the first round, de Minaur now finds himself sharing the Australian spotlight with the country top female player, Ashleigh Barty. But both de Minaur and Barty have seemed to embrace the pressure of playing at home so far this year. Still, defeating Nadal in the best-of-five format remains one of the sport’s tallest tasks. De Minaur’s speed and fighting spirit should make this an exciting affair, but Rafa is still the favorite to advance.

Aryna Sabalenka (11) vs. Amanda Amisimova

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This could be a thrilling glimpse into the future of tennis, with two powerful young players who will likely contend for Major titles sooner than later. Sabalenka is actually some pundits’ pick to win this tournament. The 20-year-old from Belarus has already become a force in the sport. She burst onto the scene last year, accumulating a tally of 51 match wins in 2018. Her momentum built as the year progressed, winning her first tour-level titles in August and September. Her success has continued in 2019, winning the Shenzhen event to start the year. Anisimova, a 17-year-old American, started to turn heads last year at Indian Wells, with straightforward upsets over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Petra Kvitova. She’s been most impressive this week in Melbourne, especially in her victory over the 24th seed, Lesia Tsurenko, where she dropped only two games. The older and more experienced Sabalenka is the favorite, but the red-hot Anisimova is capable of making this very interesting.

Diego Schwartzman (18) vs. Tomas Berdych

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Surprisingly, this will be the first career meeting between these two veterans. Schwartzman’s best result in Melbourne came one year ago, when he advanced to the fourth round and gave Nadal all he could handle in a stellar match. Berdych is a two-time semifinalist at this tournament, and has made the quarterfinals or better in seven out of the last eight years. The Australian Open has easily been Tomas’ most consistent Major. Berdych is coming off a long injury layoff in 2018, but has quickly returned to good form. The 33-year-old made the final in his first tournament since June in Doha, and won his first two matches in Melbourne in straight sets. That included a first run victory over the 13th seed, Kyle Edmund, who was a semifinalist last year. Schwartzman meanwhile has already played nine sets of tennis this week, and barely survived his second round against Denis Kudla. Diego was down 4-2 in the final set before taking the last four games and the match. That near-four hour battle will surely leave Schwartzman’s tank less than full. And with Berdych playing well again, Tomas should be able to defeat another seed on Friday.

Petra Kvitova (8) vs. Belinda Bencic

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Kvitova is attempting to make inroads at a Major for the first time in a long time. Twice a Wimbledon champion, she has only made two quarterfinal appearances at Majors in her 16 most recent Grand Slam events. Petra has been extremely successful outside the Majors, winning five tournaments last year, and taking the title in Sydney just last week. She eased through her first two rounds here, losing only nine games. Kvitova is noticeably slimmer and fitter to start off the 2019 season, which will hopefully help her as the fortnight progresses. Bencic is still working to rebuild her career after multiple injury setbacks. She defeated two tough unseeded opponents thus far in Melbourne, in Katerina Siniakova and Yulia Putintseva. And she knows how to beat a big-serving and big-hitting top name at the Australian Open: last year she upset Venus Williams in the opening round. Kvitova is 2-0 lifetime against Bencic, winning all four sets they’ve played. Judging by Kvitova’s form this month, she’ll dictate play and be a tough out. But Petra’s level can greatly vary from match-to-match, and she can ill afford a dip against the talented and resurgent 21-year-old.

Other notable matches on Day 5:

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    Roger Federer (3) vs. 21-Year-Old Taylor Fritz, who upset Gael Monfils on Wednesday
  • Angelique Kerber (2) vs. Australian Wild Card Kimberly Birrell
  • In a battle of countries with vocal supporters in Melbourne, Australian No.1 Ashleigh Barty (15) vs. Maria Sakkari of Greece
  • Sloane Stephens (5) vs. Petra Martic (31), who advanced to the fourth round here a year ago
  • Karen Khachanov (10), who won the Paris Masters in November, vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (22), who has already survived two dramatic five-setters this week.

Order of play

Rod Laver
Barty v Sakkari
Fritz v Federer
Sharapova v Wozniacki
De Minaur v Nadal
Kerber v Birrell

Margaret Court
Tsitsipas v Basilashvili
Anisimova v Sabalenka
Stephens v Martic
Collins v Garcia
Cilic v Verdasco

Melbourne Arena
Berdych v Schwartzman
Sasnovich v Pavlyuchenkova
Dimitrov v Fabbiano
Kvitova v Bencic

1573 Arena
Bautista Agut v Khachanov (third on)

Court 3
Tiafoe v Seppi (second on)

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Jannik Sinner: “Rafa Nadal is superior in his head and knows exactly what to do and when to do it”

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Jannik Sinner made a major breakthrough season in 2020 winning his maiden ATP title in Sofia becoming and reached his first Grand Slam quarter finals at Roland Garros in his debut at this tournament at the age of 19. He has become the youngest player to win an ATP Tour title. 

 

“After the final in Sofia I felt emotional. I am human, but I feel the emotions inside me. I was very happy but I know that I have to work very hard. Before the victory ceremony I was a bit angry as I was still trying to understand why I had lost the second set. It was a strange season. I would have liked to play more matches and learn more about the life on the Tour and how to train with the biggest players on the circuit. I am now feeling more comfortable than last year”, said Sinner.

The Italian player is the first debutant beat Alexander Zverev en route to reaching the Roland Garros quarter final since Rafael Nadal achieved this feat in 2005 en route to his first French Open title. 

He lost to Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals in Paris after playing at great level in the first two sets. En route to the quarter final in Paris Sinner beat David Goffin, Benjamin Bonzi, Federico Coria and Alexander Zverev. 

“Rafael Nadal is superior in his head. He pulls very hard but above all he understands the decisive moments. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it. It’s really something else a tennis player. What I am missing to get there ? Well, the blows and the body, as well as the body. Let’s say a little bit of everything. The doctor said I still have to finish growing and developing. The truth is that I have to improve myself in every aspect, both physically and mentally. It takes time to get there”, said Sinner in an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. 

Sinner was disappointed about Zverev’s comments after their match at Roland Garros. 

“I respect Zverev a lot because he has got more experience on the circuit, and he is great player. However, I do not respect his statements after his defeat to me at Roland Garros. He contradicted himself a lot. He said he had fever, but in the third and fourth sets, he ran more than me”, commented Sinner. 

Sinner became the youngest quarter finalist at a Grand Slam tournament since Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon 2011 and at Roland Garros since Novak Djokovic in 2006. The player coached by Riccardo Piatti earned the biggest win in his career when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his his maiden third round at Masters 1000 level in Rome.

Jannik has reached his career best ranking at world number 37. 

In the interview Sinner talked about his passions outside tennis.  

“I like to go karting and play football every now and then. I cheer on AC Milan because my first roommate was an AC Milan fan and he also and he also made me passionate as the days went by. In general I also follow the chairs on Netflix and I believe that in Australia. ”, said Sinner. 

Sinner talked about his relationship with Riccardo Piatti. 

“Riccardo is my coach, but also a good friend. We talked about tennis all the time. During the lockdown we watched a lot of past tennis matches together”. 

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ATP Finals Day 8 Preview: Championship Sunday

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Dominic Thiem earned his 300th career victory yesterday in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

Today either Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev will win this event for the first time.

 

A year ago, Dominic Thiem was just a few points from winning this tournament, going down in defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third set tiebreak of the championship match.  Thiem went on to reach his third Major final at January’s Australian Open, but couldn’t hold on to a two-sets-to-one-lead.  At the next Slam, he would finally win his first Major title, in a dramatic, nerve-wracking five-set final against Sascha Zverev.  For the second consecutive year, he’s reached the championship match of this event after beating two of “The Big Three.”  Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal in a high-quality affair during round-robin play, and overcame Novak Djokovic in yesterday’s semifinals despite blowing four match points in the second set tiebreak, and despite going down 0-4 in the final set tiebreak.

A year ago, Daniil Medvedev came into this event on a 29-4 run, a stretch that saw him win three titles and reach six consecutive finals.  But the fatigued Russian went 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  In this abbreviated 2020 season, he did not advance to a tournament final until just two weeks ago, when he won first title in over a year at the Paris Masters.  Now he’s on a nine-match winning streak, having gone undefeated in the round-robin stage.  And just yesterday, he earned his first victory over Rafael Nadal in comeback fashion, after Nadal served for the match in the second set.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4)

Thiem is 3-1 against Medvedev overall, 2-1 on hard courts, and 1-0 indoors.  Their first meeting was two years ago in Daniil’s home country, where Dominic survived 7-6 in the third.  Last summer in Canada, Medvedev easily prevailed, losing only four games.  And in this year’s US Open semifinals, Dominic was victorious in straight sets.  Neither man will be fully fresh today, coming off semifinal matches just 24 hours ago against the top two players in the world, each of which approached three hours in length.  Thiem’s encounter with Djokovic seemed slightly more draining, both physically and emotionally. 

When they met two months ago in New York, Medvedev got off to a terrible start, losing the first set 6-2.  He struck almost twice as many errors as winners, winning only 65% of first serve points and a dismal 25% on his second serve.  But this week he’s served excellently, averaging 79% of first serve points won.  And some easy service games have enabled Daniil to apply more pressure to his opponents’ serve.  The result has been an average of over three breaks per match, Comparatively, Thiem has broken his opponent’s serve only once per match.  But an underrated aspect of the Austrian’s game is his ability to protect his own serve.  Outside of his dead rubber against Andrey Rublev, Dominic has only been broken two times in three matches.  And that includes clashes with two of the sport’s all-time great returners: Nadal and Djokovic. 

Thiem should be slightly favored based on their head-to-head, as well as his considerable edge in experience.  Regardless of the winner, let’s hope these two men provide us with an extended, enthralling encounter.  With the Australian tennis summer in doubt, it may be quite awhile before we see professional tennis of this caliber.

Doubles on Day 8:

In the doubles championship, it’s Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  Yesterday in the semifinals, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin came back from 1-7 down in the match tiebreak and saved a match point to advance.  Koolhof and Mektic prevailed on Saturday in straight sets.

Full order of play is here.

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ATP Finals Day 6 Preview: Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverev Play for the Final Qualifying Spot

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Novak Djokovic hasn't won this event since 2015 (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

The winner will join Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s semifinals.

 

Djokovic is a five-time champion of this event, yet is looking to avoid failing to advance out of the round-robin stage for the second straight year.  Zverev was the champion here two years ago, and is vying for his third consecutive semifinal.  Friday’s other singles match has no implications on the semifinals, as Daniil Medvedev has already advanced, while Diego Schwartzman cannot.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Sascha Zverev (5)

Zverev has a chance today to achieve what very few top players have: an even or better head-to-head record against Novak Djokovic.  Sascha is currently 2-3 against Novak, and 1-2 on hard courts.  They played twice at this event in 2018, with Djokovic easily prevailing in the round-robin stage, and Zverev avenging that loss a few days later in the final to win the biggest title of his career.  Their most recent encounter came last year at Roland Garros, with Novak winning in straight sets.  Notably, all five of their matches have been straight-set encounters, with none of the 11 sets even reaching a tiebreak.  So based on their history, grabbing the first set today will be extremely crucial.  Djokovic appeared unwilling to play long rallies on Wednesday against Medvedev, and admitted during his post-match press conference that he wasn’t feeling 100%.  Zverev hasn’t played his best this week either, but was able to tough out a three-set victory over Schwartzman two days ago to keep his advancement hopes alive.  If Djokovic is feeling fresher today, his 40-4 record on the year makes him a clear favorite.  If not, and if Zverev can limit his double faults, Sascha’s indoor hard court prowess makes him fully capable of eliminating the world No.1 from this tournament.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8)

On Thursday, having already qualified for the semifinals, Dominic Thiem seemed rather uninterested in supplying resistance to Andrey Rublev.  In today’s dead rubber, which comes just 24 hours prior to the semifinals, will Medvedev fight to defeat Schwartzman?  Daniil knows he has an appointment on Saturday with Rafael Nadal, which he can safely assume will be a grueling task.  So I’m sure he’ll be looking to avoid an extended battle today.  And Schwartzman will be keen to not go 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  Medvedev is 4-0 against the Argentine, having won eight of nine sets played, which includes a straight-set win just two weeks ago at the Paris Masters.  Under normal circumstances, Daniil would be a strong favorite. But we’ll see how motivated the Russian is today, especially if Diego gains an early advantage.  These two men have a contentious history, going back to their intense battle in January at the ATP Cup where Schwartzman felt Medvedev was taunting him.  Diego would surely enjoy gaining his first win against Daniil.  And despite their lopsided head-to-head, that’s entirely plausible.

Doubles Matches on Day 6:

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (1) vs. John Peers and Michael Venus (6).  The winning team will secure the last remaining semifinal birth.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (4) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  This is a dead rubber, as Granollers and Zeballos have already advanced, while Melzer and Roger-Vasselin have been eliminated.

Full order of play is here.

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