Australian Open Day 6 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 6 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

Simona Halep and Novak Djokovic face tricky tests on Day six of the Australian Open as they look to make the second week.

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Simona Halep (zimbio.com)

By Matthew Marolf

 

With cooler temperatures and no rain in the forecast, Saturday should deliver some high-quality tennis on the courts of Melbourne Park.

On the halves of the singles draws playing today, 22 of 32 seeds have held true to the third round. That’s  an impressive number by recent standards, especially in regards to the WTA. As Pam Shriver highlighted on Twitter, this is the first Major since Wimbledon 2009 that the top eight women’s seeds all advanced to the third round.  Consequentially, we’re in for some great matchups heading into the first weekend of the tournament.

Simona Halep (1) vs. Venus Williams

Both of these Major champions survived dramatic matches to reach this blockbuster third round encounter.  After coming back from a set and a break down against Kaia Kanepi on Tuesday, Halep came back from 2-4 down in the final set to defeat Sofia Kenin on Thursday. Venus also needed three sets in her first two matches, but soundly won the third set against both Mihaela Buzarnescu and Alize Cornet.

I would assume both of these players will be less than 100% physically on Saturday, as they’ve each spent almost five hours on court. And Halep hurt her leg during her second round, though she downplayed the severity of the injury following the match. Venus and Simona have played five times before. Venus took the first three meetings, while Simona prevailed in the last two. Venus actually hasn’t won more than two games in a set in those two most recent matches, including their Rogers Cup contest in August.

Venus is eager to start off 2019 strongly after a disappointing 2018, and this is a great opportunity to get a big win over the world No.1, who is not at her best. But we’ve seen so many cases of Halep’s fighting spirit both this year and last year in Melbourne. I’m not betting against Simona’s ability to find a way to win this one as well.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Denis Shapovalov (25)

Novak Djokovic (zimbio.com)

This will the first career meeting between the 14-time Major champion and the 19-year-old Canadian phenom.  Shapovalov struggled a bit heading into this tournament, going 1-5 at his last five events. As Tennis Channel in the US outlined, his team was working to make some adjustments to his groundstrokes, and his form suffered as a result. But Denis won both of his first two rounds in Melbourne in straight sets, so it seems he’s feeling more comfortable on court again. Djokovic also is yet to drop a set, and has been playing magnificent tennis since July of last year.

Of course the world No.1 is the favourite here, but the lefty shot-maker has a fighting chance if he continues to rack up the winners. In his first two matches, he hit a combined 94 winners, while only striking 58 unforced errors.  Djokovic’s movement though will force Shapovalov to find even sharper angles and hit closer to lines, so maintaining such a positive winner-to-error ratio will be extremely challenging.

Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh (28)

Naomi Osaka (zimbio.com)

Here we have two of Asia’s highest-ranked players on the WTA tour. Osaka has quickly become one of the world’s best players, as well as one of the most popular.  Unlike many of her peers, Naomi has thus far avoided a drop in form following her maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open. The 21-year-old had strong results in Asia in September, and comfortably won both of her opening rounds this week in Melbourne. Hsieh has one of the more unique styles on tour, playing with little pace, and a mix of flat groundstrokes and low-bouncing slices.

Hsieh gives her opponents different responses than most other players, often throwing them off balance.  The 33-year-old from Taipei is a two-time Major doubles champion, and former doubles No.1.  2018 was one of her best seasons of singles results. A year ago in Melbourne, she upset both Garbine Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska.  Hsieh then went on to upset Halep in a great match at Wimbledon. She’s a lot of fun to watch, and could cause nightmares for Osaka. In their only previous meeting, Osaka prevailed in three sets at a small grass court event in 2015. Naomi should pull through here as well as long as she doesn’t let Hsieh’s play prevent her from playing her game.

Elise Mertens (12) vs. Madison Keys (17)

Elise Mertens (zimbio.com)

This could be a good one, between two former Australian Open semi-finalists.  Keys has been one of the WTA’s most consistent performers at the Majors, reaching the quarterfinals or better at four of the last five. She’s done so while struggling outside the Grand Slam events, and while dealing with some injuries. At non-Majors last year, she went just 13-10.  Madison is coming off another yet another injury in her career, as her left knee caused her to skip the tournaments leading up to this one. And she has a new coach this season in Jim Madrigal, who previously coached a few American ATP players.

Keys is 1-0 against Mertens, having defeated her in straight sets on her way to the 2017 US Open final. Elise though is a much better player now, coming off a breakout 2018 which saw her claim 46 match wins. Her rise started in earnest a year ago in Australia, winning the title in Hobart and making the semi-finals in Melbourne. While Mertens does not possess the weapons of Keys, she’s a much steadier player who will rarely defeat herself.

Neither player has a dropped a set thus far during this fortnight. As with most of Madison’s matches, she can control the result here if she plays her best. She’s looked confident and comfortable on court this week, and I have a feeling she’ll successfully overpower Mertens on this day.

Daniil Medvedev (15) vs. David Goffin (21)

Daniil Medvedev (zimbio.com)

Medvedev is not a guy who garners a lot of headlines, but he’s a dangerous player with a big game who has quickly climbed the rankings. The 22-year-old Russian first made an impression on tour a year ago, when he came through qualifying to claim the title in Sydney. He would go on to win two further hard court titles last year, in Winston-Salem and Tokyo. And he started off 2019 by making the final in Brisbane, with victories over Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Through two rounds in Melbourne, no opponent has taken more than three games in a set off Medvedev. Daniil is the real deal, and could easily soon contend for Major titles.

However, Goffin is the type of opponent that can diffuse the power of Medvedev. Goffin is great as using the opposition’s pace against them, and is one of the quickest players around the court. David reached a career-high ranking of No.7 in the world in 2017, but never reached his peak level of play last year as he sustained multiple injuries. The style clash between these players should make for an entertaining four or five setter. Medvedev is yet to get farther than the third round at a Major, but I suggest that will change today.

Other notable matches on Day 6:

Serena Williams (16) vs. 18-Year-Old Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska, who already knocked out Sam Stosur and Carla Suarez Navarro.

Sascha Zverev (4) vs. Australian Wild Card Alex Bolt, who saved four match points to defeat Gilles Simon in five sets on Thursday.

Italy’s Fabio Fognini (12) vs. Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta (23), who are both yet to drop a set this week.

 

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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka Meet in a Second Consecutive Final

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Aryna Sabalenka has steamrolled her way to Saturday’s final (twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen)

Just 13 days ago in Stuttgart, Barty and Sabalenka competed in the championship match, with Barty coming back from a set down to win the title, claiming 12 of the last 15 games.  On Saturday, Sabalenka looks to avenge that loss, and even their head-to-head at 4-4.  The women’s doubles championship will also be decided, between two of the top three seeds.

 

On the men’s side, the singles and doubles semifinals will be played.  Sascha Zverev hit a subpar Rafael Nadal right off the court on Friday, and just 24 hours later will try to take out the next-best clay courter of the last few years, Dominic Thiem.  Saturday will be a busy day for Zverev, as he’s also a semifinalist in doubles.  In the other singles semifinal, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud will do battle, with the winner achieving their first Masters 1000 final. 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 1:30pm local time.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Sascha Zverev (5) – Not Before 4:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

This will be their first encounter since their dramatic, yet rather ugly US Open final, where Thiem came back from two sets down to eventually prevail in a fifth set tiebreak.  Overall Dominic leads their head-to-head 8-2, and 4-1 on clay.  The Austrian has claimed their last four meetings, with Zverev’s last victory coming in the final of this event three years ago.  

Both men struggled with some nagging injuries prior to this event, but both have looked sharp to this stage.  Thiem overcame a one-set deficit on Friday against John Isner, while Zverev is yet to drop a set.  Defeating Nadal on clay is always a big achievement, especially when it’s your first time doing so.  It will be interesting to see if Sascha can maintain his high level from a day prior.  Zverev struck 28 winners on Friday, compared to only six by Nadal.

In last year’s US Open final, the winner of each set was the player who won a higher percentage of first serve points.  If you’re Sascha Zverev, there has to be some baggage from blowing a two-set lead in his first career Major final.  In a rivalry that has strongly favored Thiem, I like the reigning US Open champion to reach his third final in Madrid.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (5) – Not Before 6:30pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

They’ve already met twice this year, in Miami and Stuttgart, with Barty taking both matches in a third set by a score of 6-3.  In their Stuttgart final, converting break points was a key difference.  Barty broke five times, while Sabalenka only claimed two out of 10 break points.  That exemplifies the composure of the world No.1, who has won 16 out of her last 18 deciding sets. 

Sabalenka hasn’t faced a deciding set this fortnight, as she’s been dominating all competition.  No opponent has claimed more than three games in a set.  Aryna has spent about three less hours on court than Barty, though that shouldn’t be a significant factor on Saturday.  Both players had a day of rest on Friday, and comfortably won their Thursday semifinals in straight sets.

Barty has amassed several impressive streaks: 9 straight match wins, 16 straight on red clay, and 10 straight victories over top 10 opposition.  She’s also prevailed in 10 of her last 12 finals.  Similarly, Sabalenka has won seven of her last nine finals.  Yet as impressive as the Belarusian has been, winning 32 of her last 38 matches, she’s only 1-3 during that span against the top 10.  If these two go the distance again, it’s harder for Sabalenka to maintain her level than Barty.  And Ash possesses many more backup plans in her arsenal.  In what should be another tight contest, I give the slight edge to Barty to earn her fourth title of the year.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Matteo Berrettini (8) vs. Casper Ruud – Berrettini is on a seven-match win streak, dating back to his title run two weeks ago in Belgrade.  Ruud is into his third consecutive Masters 1000 semifinal on clay, and all 14 of his wins at this level have come on this surface.  Casper has been serving spectacularly, as he’s yet to be broken at this event, facing only one break point thus far.  They’ve split two previous meetings, with the clay court clash going to Ruud in straight sets, two years ago at Roland Garros.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Demi Schuurs (3) – Krejcikova and Siniakova won the Gippsland Trophy earlier this season, and reached the final of the Australian Open.  This is the first tournament for Dabrowski and Schuurs as a team.

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen – Mektic and Pavic have now won 31 of 34 matches since teaming up for 2021.  Their Belgian opponents won the Singapore Open earlier this year, then went on a five-match losing streak before reaching the final of Munich last week.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (3) vs. Tim Puetz and Sascha Zverev – Granollers and Zeballos are looking to reach their second final of the season.  This is Puetz and Zverev’s second event this season as a team.  In Miami, the Germans defeated Granollers and Zeballos in straight sets.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Alexander Zverev Powers Past Erratic Nadal To Set Thiem Showdown

Alexander Zverev secured his best win of his career on a clay court by beating Rafael Nadal in Madrid.

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Alexander Zverev (@ATPTour_ES - Twitter)

Alexander Zverev powered past an erratic Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-3 to reach the semi-finals in Madrid.

 

After a slow start Zverev produced some stunning tennis to knock out the five-time champion Nadal, who had an error-prone day at the office.

The German will now play Dominic Thiem in the last four in a rematch from the 2018 final.

It was the 20-time grand slam champion who started off the fastest as he looked to target the Zverev forehand early with uncomfortable spins and heights.

Eventually Nadal would get his rewards for an accurate tactical game-plan as a Zverev double fault handed him the break.

However that advantage was to be short-lived as the first point of the seventh game would change the momentum of the match with Nadal putting in simple unforced errors especially on the forehand side.

The German took advantage as he used his backhand to dictate points from the baseline. Furthermore, Zverev used his superior net play to his advantage by shortening the points and creating a faster tempo.

An unusual first set from Nadal’s perspective was complete as the fifth seed reeled off four games in a row to seal the opening set 6-4.

At the start of the second set, the Spaniard tried to up his level and intensity as he used some drop-shots at unexpected moments and attempted to bring the crowd into the match.

Despite this Nadal’s return game was lacking its usual ferocity as he couldn’t capitalise on Zverev’s second serves.

There was a lack of confidence in the Spaniard when implementing effective patterns of play as Zverev had a lot of success dictating play and winning the baseline and net rallies.

Another break in the fifth game ensured that Zverev’s dominance was being rewarded.

Although a double break advantage was denied, Nadal couldn’t deny victory for Zverev as the German sealed his first clay court victory over the ‘King of Clay.’

After the match Zverev admitted it was one of the biggest wins of his career, “Definitely one of the biggest wins of my career so far, especially on clay against Rafa. It is the toughest thing to do in our sport,” Zverev said in an on-court interview.

“Beating him in his house, in Spain, is incredible but the tournament is not over yet.”

Lots to ponder for Nadal as an error-prone performance sees him looking to improve in Rome next week.

As for the German, he sets up a 2018 final rematch with Dominic Thiem in the last four as he secured his best victory on this surface of his career.

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Dominic Them reaches semifinal in Madrid after three-set battle with Isner

Dominic Thiem is into the Madrid semi-finals after an impressive three set win over John Isner.

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Dominic Thiem (@atptour - Twitter)

The Austrian booked his spot in the semifinals after coming back to beat the American in three sets.

 

Dominic Thiem needed one hour and 55 minutes to beat the world number 39 John Isner in three sets 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 hitting 20 winners in the win while his opponent hit 26 unforced errors.

“We all know that he is one of the best servers in history and this altitude in Madrid makes it even tougher to return his serve but I was a little bit surprised by his return games, I think he attacked both my first and second serves and it took me a while to get used to it and I think the match changed when I saved those three breakpoints in the second set”.

It was the American who got off to the faster start holding his opening service game and then going on the offensive earning a breakpoint the following game and taking an early 2-0 lead.

The Greensboro, North Carolina native had a chance to go up a double break but the world number four saved both breakpoints he faced and managed to hold his first service game of the match.

That break was enough for the American to serve out the first set and he was one set away from the semifinals.

The second set stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Dallas, Texas resident had four breakpoints but failed to convert and the match was starting to turn with the American looking gassed.

In the next game the Austrian had three breakpoint and converted for his first break of the match as he served out the second set to send it to a deciding third set.

Isner was put under pressure early in the third set facing a breakpoint in the first game of the set but managed to save it and hold serve and it stayed on serve until 4-4.

That’s when the world number four earned two chances to break and on the second time of asking he would break and served out the match to book a date with either Alexander Zverev or Rafael Nadal.

After his match in an on court interview he gave this thoughts on a potential matchup with either Nadal or Zverev.

“It’s going to be a good one, I’ve played two big matches here against Rafa ( Nadal) and one big match against Sascha ( Zverev), and against either one of them it’s going to be an incredible challenge and it’s going to be exciting tomorrow”.

With the loss today by Isner when the new rankings come out on Monday it will be the first time in the open era and since the rankings came out that an American will not feature in the top 30 players in the world.

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