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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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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