Australian Open Day 7 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 7 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

Roger Federer and Petra Kvitova continue their Australian Open campaigns as we approach week two of the Australian Open.

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Roger Federer (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

By Matthew Marolf

 

In the halves of the singles draws that play on Sunday, 49 Major singles titles are represented by the players that remain.

Day 7 features a nice mix of new faces making big waves, veterans looking to recapture past glory, and two leading contenders for the title of GOAT. The round of 16 begins today, which is when the draw really takes a definitive shape, and favourites become more apparent. With temperatures due to remain cool, we should be in for some more tremendous tennis.

Roger Federer (3) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (14)

It’s the first official meeting between the 37-year-old all-time great, and the flashy 20-year-old newcomer.  Though they did unofficially play a few weeks ago at the Hopman Cup, with Roger prevailing in two tiebreakers. Federer has looked exceptionally sharp in his first three rounds this week, having yet to drop a set and having only been broken once. Mary Carillo on Tennis Channel in the US suggested Federer’s current level is more like his superb form of 2017, rather than his slightly lesser form of 2018.

Tsitsipas is the first seeded player Roger will encounter, and it should be a lot of fun to see this clash of generations on Rod Laver Arena. Tsitsipas needed four sets to win each of his first three rounds, and has spent almost three more hours than Federer on court. Taking out the 20-time Major champion in the best-of-five format is a lot to ask of Tsitsipas, in only his second time in the fourth round of a Major, but I’m curious to see how he accounts himself in this occasion.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Tomas Berdych

Rafael Nadal (@AustralianOpen – Twitter)

Nadal holds a 19-4 record over Berdych, and has won an astounding 18 of their last 19 matches. However, Tomas’ sole victory in the past 12 years came at this tournament four years ago, when he won a straight set quarterfinal. The courts in Melbourne are even faster now than in 2015, which should play to Berdych’s advantage, though many have said Rod Laver Arena plays a bit slower this year. These two also met here in 2012, a quarterfinal match which Nadal took in four sets.  Of course their most notable match is the 2010 Wimbledon final, Berdych’s only Major final, which Nadal won in straight sets.

Much like Federer two years ago, Berdych arrived in Melbourne after an extended injury layoff looking healthy and refreshed. And he loves playing at the Australian Open, where he’s 7-0 the last seven times he’s advanced to the round of 16. Tomas has already taken out two top 20 seeds during this fortnight, in Kyle Edmund and Diego Schwartzman. The problem for Berdych is Nadal has also looked really good coming off his own injury layoff.  With a new service motion, Nadal has only dropped serve twice to this stage. As well as Berdych has been playing in 2018, Nadal remains the favourite. But if Rafa is going to contend for this title, it’s crucial to avoid extended matches. Four or five set affairs could aggravate Nadal’s knees, and Berdych is fully capable of making this a long battle.

Ashleigh Barty (15) vs. Maria Sharapova (30)

Maria Sharapova (@AustralianOpen – Twitter)

The Australian No.1 already has seven match wins in her home country this year, going back to last week in Sydney when she lost a stellar final to Petra Kvitova in a third set tiebreak. Barty has won all six sets she’s played this week, and has matched her best result at a Major by reaching the fourth round, which she also did at last year’s US Open.  This will be the biggest match in the career of the athletic yet reserved Australian. Is she ready to overcome against the fierceness of the five-time Major champion?

This week in Melbourne, Sharapova has played some of the best tennis since her return to the sport almost two years ago. Her three-set win over the defending champion, Caroline Wozniacki, was especially impressive on Friday. In recent years though, Sharapova has often struggled to follow up such victories. The only previous time these two stepped onto the court was last year on the clay of Rome, a match Sharapova took in three sets. As talented a ball striker as Barty is, I’m not convinced she’s ready to overcome the will of Sharapova. With speculation she may soon call it a career due to her lack of success, Maria will be keen to prove she’s still a contender to compete for Major titles. It feels like she’s due for a run into the second week at a Slam, and I would not be surprised if Barty is a bit overwhelmed by the occasion.

Petra Kvitova (8) vs. Amanda Anisimova

Petra Kvitova (@AustralianOpen – Twitter)

Wow, how impressive was Anisimova in her shellacking of the red-hot Aryna Sabalenka on Friday? The 17-year-old has everything: power, speed, finesse, and composure. Now that everyone is talking about her as not just a future Major champion, but a contender for this title, will she remain composed under the weight of new expectations?  Well she’ll find reassurance in her 1-0 career head-to-head against the eighth seed.

It was Anisimova’s straight set victory over Kvitova at Indian Wells last year that first put the tennis world on notice.  Much like her previous round with Sabalenka, this match will be almost all offense, from two of the WTA’s biggest sluggers. Kvitova comes into this match on an eight-match win streak, fresh off her title last week in Sydney. That run also saw Kvitova defeat Sabalenka, as well as Kerber and Barty.  Kvitova has only twice advanced farther than the fourth round in her last 16 Majors, though Anisimova had never won a match at a Slam prior to this week.  I have no idea who will prevail here, but I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Marin Cilic (6) vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (22)

Marin Cilic (@AustralianOpen – Twitter)

Cilic is fortunate to find himself back in the round of 16 in Melbourne. He was down two match points in his last match, but luckily he was facing a player who is even more prone to choking leads away than he is, that being Fernando Verdasco.  His opponent today has been anything but a choke artist. Bautista Agut already has two five-set wins in this tournament, including his dramatic match on Day 1 against Andy Murray. Roberto also impressively defeated the 10th seed, Karen Khachanov, in straight sets. Just like Kvitova, Bautista Agut is on an eight-match win streak. He started 2019 by taking the title in Doha, which included a massive win over the world No.1, Novak Djokovic.

Cilic is 4-1 lifetime against Bautista Agut, though Roberto’s only victory also came in their only meeting at the Australian Open. The 30-Year-Old Spaniard prevailed in straight sets here three years ago. As tight as Cilic has played in pressure situations of late, I think Friday’s comeback win over Verdasco will free him up a bit. And Bautista Agut will surely be feeling nerves considering he is 0-9 at this stage of Grand Slam events, having never been to a Major quarterfinal. Is Roberto ready to finally breakthrough?  The winner here will play the winner of Federer/Tsitsipas on Tuesday.

Other notable matches on Day 7:

Angelique Kerber (2) vs. Danielle Collins, who had never won a match at a Major prior to this week.

Sloane Stephens (5) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Grigor Dimitrov (20), with Andre Agassi in his coaching box, vs. 20-year-Old Frances Tiafoe, in his first Major round of 16.

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Madrid And Rome With 48-Player Draws And Finals On Tuesday

To save both Masters 1000, even in the event of a dispute with the US Open and wait for the big names, here are the compromise solutions. Heavily reduced prize money for everyone. June 15th the deadline for the final decision?

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Every day the situation of the tennis calendar seems to be changing. The various hypotheses of summer and post-summer programming follow one another at exorbitant speeds.

 

Just 24 hours ago I wrote a long and detailed article on the situation of the US Open which affects the whole calendar to come, on the possible effects on Madrid and Rome if in New York you had to play regularly (more or less …) ‘US Open.

In fact, some news emerged that seem to change certain sceneries, even for Madrid and Rome whose prize money and draws would be significantly reduced (40 or 50% less prize money for draw limited to 48 tennis players, with 16 byes) and whose finals would not be played on Sunday, but on Tuesday with some rules imposed on the various tournaments to protect the television coverage of the same finals.

Moreover, even virologists seem to emit new pronouncements every day, often contradicting each other and even themselves. The tennis world can’t be an exception.

Meanwhile, a different optimism seems to have leaked – as they say – as if the sensations of a progressively less lethal coronavirus had spread globally (as has almost always happened with the arrival of summer).

I indicated that in the United States the will to give rise to the US Open was strongly characterized and confirmed by what the CEO of the USTA Stacey Allaster said despite a cautious premise “We have not taken any decision, but everything is … fluid”.

Allaster, in an interview granted telephonically to the Associated Press, however, makes it clear that in case that it is decided by June 15th (this seems to be the deadline for everyone) to confirm the dispute of the US Open, the USTA already knows how this thing will go.

In summary charter flights are planned to transport players with small teams and only from certain airports (Rome and Milan are not among them …), COVID-19 test before start of the trip, daily temperature checks at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. Discarded imaginative Indian Wells-like hypotheses, etc. Doors closed to the public. Few officials, locker rooms closed on training days.

But I’m going back to Madrid and Rome. The deadline for all decisions appears to have been set for June 15th. If the virus had given us truce in Europe and not in New York there would be no problems either for Madrid or for Rome. Madrid could take place shortly after early September, Rome soon after.

Otherwise the last idea is to extend the duration of Madrid, which could begin in the first days of the week from September 14th to 20th, but end on Tuesday 22nd. This would allow, with a billboard of 48 tennis players and 16 byes, to wait for any New York finalists for several more days. Theoretically, they could take the field for their first round (second of the tournament) on Thursday 17th or even Friday 18th. There would be five days to carry on the tournament (which has three retractable roofs in case of rain), from Friday to Tuesday .

At the same time, the Internazionali d’Italia could have run smoothly, starting on Monday 21st or Tuesday 22nd September, but to protect Madrid’s TV rights, on the day of the Castilian final (Tuesday 22nd) Rome for one day should not be able to show his games on TV. Or maybe it could be held to a television black-out only for those games simultaneously with the Madrid final (last year in Madrid the women’s final was played on Saturday, the day before compared to the male one, while Rome made them play on the same day).

The finals of Rome should take place on Monday 28th September, simultaneously with the second day of Roland Garros. For Italy there should be no problems of television conflicts: the Masters 1000 are broadcasted by Sky, the Roland Garros by Eurosport.

Paris and Rome, French Federtennis and ATP with Federtennis Italiana should almost certainly find an agreement not to bother with TV rights problems. It is an emergency situation, and everyone should understand it. Players included: they are asked to give up a lot of prize money – a sacrifice that the organizers would like by 50%, perhaps they will agree on 40% or even 35% – but a solution must also be found for those players who would have entered the 56- or 64- player boards and now will be out of it. But in short, it seems that goodwill, even among conflicting interests, will end up prevailing.

Article translated from Italian by Tommaso Villa

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The Tournaments At Stake: Madrid Is A Go, Rome A Definitely Maybe

Angelo Binaghi, the president of the Italian Tennis Federation, seeps optimism. However, there might be just one Master 1000 spot before Paris, were the French and the US Open to both take place, and in that case the Spanish event would prevail.

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Rafael Nadal - Conferenza Roma 2019 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

On Friday, Angelo Binaghi held a press conference to spread his (incautious?) optimism vis-à-vis the Internazionali d’Italia will be taking place in the latter half of September. Honestly, I don’t think he did it exclusively in order to eschew the refunding this year’s tickets, although, as a former PM used to say, to think ill of somebody is a sin, but it’s often the right thing to do.

 

Let me say that I dearly hope his buoyant predictions come true, for his own sake and for those of the Italian Federation, of UbiTennis, of myself, and of all tennis fans. However, it only seems right to go back to my Crystal Bald persona to obsequiously point out that:

  1. The clay season depends on the decision that will be made (collegially) by the US Open and the by the Master 1000 of Cincinnati, the apple of the USTA’s eye, as reported by L’Èquipe, the French sports newspaper, and by our own Vanni Gibertini.
  2. As of today, the Canadian Open is looking a ton shakier than Cincinnati does, and not just because it takes place a week earlier, allowing less time to gauge a potential decrease in the virus’s virulence (as many have speculated), but also because of the stance of the Canadian government on the Covid-19 situation. At the same time, though, were the US Open to be cancelled, no European standout would fly to North America to play solely in Cincinnati – a risky trip for the sake of a then senseless event.
  3. The widely held opinion is that Flushing Meadows will happen.
  4. While Binaghi is pushing to host the Italian Master 1000 event at all costs, regardless of the time of the year (maybe even moving it to Milan or Turin as an indoor tournament), the ownership of the Mutua Madrilena gig is of the unmovable opinion that the event must be played before the French Open, or else, sayonara to next year. Rumour is that there’s a chance that 50% of the usual crowd might be allowed in the Caja Magica – the futuristic building would allow for an easier adherence to the restrictions of the pandemic, something that would be a lot more complicated to pull off in Rome’s antiquated, albeit beautiful, spot.
  5. After perusing among folks with knowledge of the status of things (as I did myself), L’Equipe is reporting that the US Open will take place in the usual spot, between August 31 and September 13 – the likelihood of this happening has dramatically increased over the last 10 days. Inevitably, such punctuality and zest would open just one Master 1000 spot between New York and Paris.
  6. Think about it: how could the Flushing Meadows finalists precipitously fly to Europe to play a Master 1000 event that would begin literally the day after the North American showdown? How could they slither their way through post-match treatments and jetlag in order to play, possibly without fainting, on Wednesday at the latest?
  7. Madrid wouldn’t be game to this arrangement. Ion Tiriac’s tournament would be at the very concrete risk of not having a pair of big names, names that at that point would probably be the biggest, i.e. the US Open finalists who would have to perform a hard-clay switch over a 48-hour span. Even Rafa Nadal, who is the defending champion in New York and who would certainly struggle less than others to find his feet on the beloved red dirt, even he wouldn’t likely take such a risk only for the pleasure of playing in front of a home crowd. Needless to say, Madrid’s sponsors wouldn’t be enthusiastic of the arrangement either, were the tournament orphaned of Nadal himself or of another brace of marquee draws.

Intermission now. Thanks to a few exclusive sources from the organising team of Madrid, I’ve been told that a plan (with a current deadline set at June 15) is being developed in order to solve these logistical issues. The main points are as follows:

  • Both Madrid and Rome would axe eight main draw spots, going from 56 to 48, allowing more scheduling flexibility and allowing the 9-16 seeds to play five matches instead of six;
  • Madrid’s final would take place on Tuesday rather than on Sunday. This means that the best players (and that includes the US Open finalists) could play as late as Friday, which is still not ideal, but a great improvement in the effort to convince the players to fly in on such short notice;
  • Rome would start on the same day, albeit with no TV coverage in order to give the spotlight to the Madrid final – matches in Italy could be broadcast from Wednesday onwards;
  • Consequently, Rome’s final would take place on Monday, potentially a thorny issue, since the French Open is slated to start on Sunday. However, that overlapping would be far less problematic, because the two tournaments have different broadcasting arrangements, and could theoretically coexist on the cathode;
  • Both Madrid and Rome’s prize money would go down a cliff, understandably, seeing a 40-50% decrease, but that’s something athletes will need to get used to in all sporting domains.

what would happen if the pandemic struck again during the US Open?

A contingency plan is therefore being discussed, a very reassuring fact. However, there are a few issues that could still be problematic in this unpredictable year, so, going back to my bald-pated pessimism:

  1. Madrid’s worst fear is that New York ultimately takes place and that players, who are currently not thrilled about flying to the US (their fears are definitely not unfounded), would all end up going anyway, perhaps changing their mind halfway through July, at the latest available opportunity. Sure, the re-structuring of the calendar would work in their favour, but I think it’s fair to assume that a certain quantity of withdrawals could still happen.
  2. The challenge would then be to convince every sponsor that the best players would all play in Madrid anyway, not an easy reassuring pitch, although the current plan seems to work in that direction.
  3. What if someone were to get infected in New York though? Play would be instantly halted, and that wouldn’t be a good look for Madrid, where millions would have already been spent. As things stand, the current loss for a cancellation shouldn’t go over 4/5 million pounds, including marketing expenses and personnel. However, the real financial wormhole would get to be the amount of revenues that have already been budgeted, and the same would happen in Rome, as Binaghi laments every time he gets a mic under his nose.
  4. In the event of a single Master 1000 space becoming available between New York and Paris, Madrid’s brass is extremely confident that, when push comes to shove, ATP and WTA would favour them over Rome. This would be a no-brainer especially for the WTA, since Madrid is one of the few combined events (along with the Slams, Indian Wells, and Miami) with a “non-discriminating” prize money – in short, men and women make the same amount.
  5. At the same time, Madrid’s revenues on the men’s side far exceed those of Rome: the Italian prize money amounts to 9,243,818 euros, 5,791,280 for the men, and 3,452,538 for the women. Madrid’s own bounty is of 13,072,320. Even after the even split, Madrid would still be offering 744,880 euros more than Rome, hardly an inconsequential number – disclaimer, these are the regular amounts, which, as seen, could be heavily reduced, but, even in that case, the principle would stay the same.
  6. It should also be added that, according to Andrea Gaudenzi’s recent statements to the press, the ATP is trying to work towards a fairer distribution of income. Sure, he and ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli are Italian, but that’s actually one more reason why they should try to make a decision that couldn’t run into chauvinism accusations. Therefore, it seems extremely unlikely that the ATP would choose Rome over Madrid.
  7. Anyway, the plan is still quite a tight fit, so, if the US Open does indeed take place, it cannot be ruled out that Rome might have to take place after the French Open, thus losing quite a bit appeal-wise. Binaghi’s dream of having the Internazionali d’Italia take place right before Paris (God knows how much I wish to be wrong; it certainly wouldn’t be in UbiTennis’s best interests) could vanish.
  8. The best hope for Binaghi and the Italian Federation (whose finances would suffer grievously in the event of a cancellation, since over 60% of annual revenues come from Rome) could then be that the North American swing doesn’t happen at all, including the US Open, although that would certainly not be ideal for our readers. With no American hardcourts, the clay season could be salvaged almost in full, which means that both Madrid and Rome would be a go with no further ado. The latter point is also the ATP’s current aim, i.e. to have both Masters 1000 take place. The ATP brass has always declared that the Slams are the absolute priority for tennis – however, the US Open is managed by the USTA, not by the ATP.
  9. It would also be interesting to see what would happen to the Bercy tournament, slated for November 2: the French Open is supposed to be over by October 11, so would it make sense for the players to go back to the same city just three weeks later, when so many other places would have lost their own slots? What if Bercy’s week became the perfect week to make it up for Rome’s disappearance from the French Open’s build-up season, or, if everything goes according to plan, for some other important event? But, if that opportunity were to materialise, where would the event take place? Which Italian arena would be available?

Ubaldo

P.S. Many have noted that the Masters 1000 tournaments, rather than weep in the anguish of no revenues, should have considered putting in place a pandemic insurance like Wimbledon did. That’s all hindsight thinking though, since, throughout a 52-year-long Open Era, nothing like this had ever happened. Moreover, Wimbledon’s way of business is different, as it’s basically an LTA charity, and can afford to spend 180,000 pounds a year, whereas a private investor like Ion Tiriac would never dream of it – he even refused to spend 130,000 pounds for a terrorism insurance after Madrid was attacked.

Article translated by Tommaso Villa

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Australian Tennis Great Passes Away Aged 83

Ashley Cooper is one of only 11 men in history to have won three grand slam titles within the same year.

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Women’s world No.1 Ash Barty has led tributes to multiple grand slam champion Ashley Cooper, who passed away on Friday.

 

Cooper was one of the sports best players in the years leading up to the birth of the Open Era. He was declared the world’s best amateur player in 1957 and 1958. It was during 1958 where he really stood out by winning three out of the four major tournaments within the same season. Something only 10 other players in the history of men’s tennis have been able to achieve. Cooper also achieved success in the doubles by winning another four grand slam titles. In the Davis Cup he led Australia to a 3-2 victory over America in the 1957 final.

Whilst his achievements occurred during the 1950s, Cooper did sort of have a taste of what it was like to place in a major event during the Open Era after featuring in the main draw of the 1968 French Open. He progressed to the second round after his opponent retired before withdrawing from the tournament without playing a single point.

After retiring from the sport, he maintained his links with tennis. Working alongside Tennis Queensland with their player development and was on the Board of Directors for Tennis Australia.

“Ashley was a giant of the game both as a brilliant player and an astute administrator and he will be greatly missed,” said Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley.
“His contribution to the sport went far beyond his exploits on the tennis court. His rich legacy includes the magnificent Queensland Tennis Centre, a project he was passionate about, nurturing the development from the very beginning, and resulting in the return of world-class international tennis to Brisbane.”
“Ashley was also the most humble of champions and a great family man. Our hearts go out to his wife Helen and his family, along with his wide and international circle of friends, including so many of our tennis family.”

Paying her own tribute, French Open champion Barty took to Twitter to send her sympathy to Cooper’s family. Last year she was presented with the Ashley Cooper Medal at the Queensland Tennis Awards. The highest individual honour that can be issued by the organisation named in after the tennis great.

Rod Laver, who is one of Australia’s greatest tennis players of all time, described Cooper as a ‘wonderful champion’ in his tribute.

“So sad to hear of Ashley’s passing. He was a wonderful champion, on and off the court. And what a backhand! So many cherished memories. Farewell my friend. My thoughts are with Ashley’s wife, Helen, and his family.” Laver wrote on Twitter.

The have been no details released on the exact cause of Cooper’s death, but it has been reported that he has been battling ‘a long illness.’ He was 83-years-old.

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