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
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)
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
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)
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.
Nadal won’t play Acapulco due to lingering back issues
Rafael Nadal’s continued back problems rule him out of Acapulco.
The Spaniard went on social media to announce he is not going to travel to Mexico.
Rafa Nadal went on Twitter today to announce he has decided not to play in Acapulco this year due to a lingering back issue but apparently that’s not the full story.
Nadal also pulled out of Rotterdam which starts on Monday stating the back injury he suffered in Australia was holding him back but another piece was made public today that the main reason Nadal won’t play is the tournament finances.
Usually a player of Nadal caliber will be attracted to smaller events by what is called an apperance fee which is basically a fee paid to the player to show up and play. Due to the pandemic and the fact most tournaments have lost revenue due to no fans or limited capacity budgets have decreased to a fraction.
The Spaniard also stated the reason he played in Australia with the injury was because it was a grand slam and if it was any other tournament he would have pulled out.
We saw another instance where John Isner called the ATP system broken after the Miami Masters cut its prize money and said it’s not fair and that tournaments should be properly audited.
In Nadal case the apperance fee would be roughly estimated from $500,000 to one million dollars and that will most likely include travel and accomodation.
Acapulco is scheduled for Monday March 15th to the 20th which means fans can probably expect to see Nadal back in action in time for Miami.
Gilles Simon To Take Break From Tennis After Montpellier Exit
Gilles Simon looking to take a break from tennis as his ‘heart is no longer’ in the game.
After exiting his home tournament in Montpellier earlier in the week, Gilles Simon has decided to to take a break from tennis.
The veteran Frenchman crashed out in the opening round to Dennis Novak on Tuesday in Montpellier after a frustrating Australia swing.
Simon went out in the opening round of the Australian Open as well, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas, winning only four games.
So it will come as no surprise that Gilles Simon has decided to take a break from tennis in an attempt to regain some motivation.
Speaking on Twitter Simon said he needed to preserve himself mentally, “My heart is no longer there to travel and play in these conditions,” the Frenchman stated.
“Unfortunately I have to take a break in order to preserve myself mentally. Hoping that morale returns as soon as possible. Thank you to all the faithful for your support. See you soon.”
This news could be the start for more players to do the same with prize money decreasing and a potential freezing of the rankings on the horizon, the motivation to compete may decrease at a rapid rate.
Also, the injury list continues to rise with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Sofia Kenin, Karolina Muchova, Kirsten Flipkens and Donna Vekic just to name a few suffering bad injuries over the Australian swing.
What happens next, remains a mystery but nobody can blame Simon’s decision as the 36 year-old contemplates his tennis future.
Rafael Nadal Withdraws From Rotterdam Due To Back Injury
Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from Rotterdam due to ongoing back problems.
Rafael Nadal has announced his withdrawal from next week’s ATP 500 event in Rotterdam due to a back injury.
The Spaniard’s back problems have started since before the Australian Open which he managed to play the tournament in Melbourne with the problem.
Eventually Nadal lost in his Australian Open quarter-final to Stefanos Tsitsipas from 2 sets to love up.
Despite playing in Melbourne, Nadal’s back problems continue to derail his schedule as he has now withdrawn from Rotterdam.
In a statement on Twitter, Nadal said that after consulting his doctor it was not the best idea to play Rotterdam.
“It is with great sadness that I have to forfeit from Rotterdam. As most of the fans know, I suffered back problems in Australia that started in Adelaide and continued in Melbourne,” Nadal said.
“We found a temporary solution that allowed me to play without pain in the second week of the tournament. Once I got back to Spain I visited my doctor and together with my team they’ve advised not to play this upcoming week.”
Nadal’s 10 year hiatus from the tournament continues as he looks to recover from the problem as soon as possible.
The 20-time grand slam champion’s main priority will be the clay-court swing where he can win a record-breaking 21st grand slam title.
Nadal’s next scheduled tournament will be the Miami Masters in late-March.
Meanwhile Nadal could now lose his world number two ranking next week as the top seed which is now Daniil Medvedev could replace him there.
The recent Australian Open finalist will need to reach the final if he wants to become the world number two but will face stiff competition in Holland from the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Milos Raonic.
The tournament will start on the 1st of March.
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