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.

Editorial

A new documentary, and the rekindling of Serena Williams’ tryst with 2018 US Open destiny

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Serena Williams, 2019 US Open, Patrick Mouratoglou
Photo Credit: US Open/USTA

It’s almost a year since Serena Williams got embroiled in a war of words with chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the 2018 US Open final. The subject is yet to ebb entirely from memory though. The first episode of ESPN’s new documentary series Backstory – featured on the incident involving the 23-time Grand Slam champion – does its bit to ensure that on the eve of the 2019 US Open, attention is centred on what occurred a year ago.

 

Titled Serena vs the Umpire, the episode is an extrapolation of the match’s progression and what transpired within it. It presents facts through the pros and cons of Williams and Ramos’, and also of Patrick Mouratoglou’s actions that charted the match. Yet, in spite of this, the program makes Williams out as the wronged one.

First, by her coach, Mouratoglou, who displayed his commitment as a mentor by using hand signals to try and guide her. Then, by Ramos who penalised her for the Frenchman’s infraction. Without heeding her vehemence that she was not a party to her coach’s decision-making. The narrative of the program puts it out that regardless of Williams’ behaviour that saw her scream and rant at the umpire and call him a liar and thief, she did not deserve to be termed as the pariah of the match.

The program’s one-sided leaning does not change the problematic aspects of Williams’ and Mouratoglou’s behaviours. Williams, in protesting her innocence about receiving (and accepting) coaching, did cross the line with her aggressiveness. There was – and is – no denying her disrespect towards the authority on the chair officiating the match. And, rationales like the momentousness of the occasion getting to her do not justify her stance at all. Rather, they hinted at her being ill-equipped to handle the scenario in what turned out be the proverbial repeating of history, at the same tournament.

Mouratoglou’s near-immediate (after the end of the match) admission that he tried to help her – and his maintaining to do so, even now – also debilitates Williams’ position. The 49-year-old’s statements about what he thought was Ramos’ inability in letting the match spiral out of bands, is a bemusing segue as well.

“Ramos’ job is also to keep the match under control. He totally lost control of the match, completely, because he reacted with emotions. And he’s not supposed to — he’s a chair umpire, he’s not a player,” Mouratoglou said. Ironically, had Ramos lashed out emotionally instead of abiding the rules, the repercussions would have been far serious for Williams for name-calling him and for continuously challenging his authority.

Mouratoglou’s comments are revealing of how the program does not consider the ramifications of that fracas for Ramos.

Since the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) rules do not permit Ramos from speaking to the media – including to ESPN for this program – the 48-year-old has been short-changed as he cannot present his point-of-view countering the acclaimed coach. Also, in the year that has almost gone by, the veteran official’s on-court calls have been scrutinised and compared with his umpiring of that match. Moreover, Ramos will not be umpiring any of Williams’ matches at Flushing Meadows in 2019. All of these are indicative of how Ramos’ professionalism has been denigrated.

Players have the right to request to not have certain umpires officiate their matches and many have done so for reasons of their own. The avoidance of the tension between such a player and umpire is undeniably a positive to come out of the move. Yet, what does it leave the umpire with, since, irrespective of how a player behaves with the official, the latter does not have the same means to put forth his officiating preference.

Speaking of preferences, proffering his concluding thoughts on the match, Mouratoglou opined, “It was horrible for us. It was horrible for Serena. It’s fantastic for tennis. It was unbelievable, that was the best moment in tennis of the past 10 years. Tennis was everywhere. You don’t have any drama in tennis. We have drama in all the other sports, but not tennis. People should be allowed to be herself and show emotion. You want passion, that’s why people watch sport. They want things to happen. They want to feel emotion, they want to root for someone, they want to be shocked, they want to be happy, they want to be sad. That’s what they want and everybody felt something that day.”

Indeed, the match prompted reactions from everybody who watched it. Nonetheless, its proceedings overshadowed the game of tennis so much so that the bigger picture was not that of the sport but that of egoism.

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Janko Tipsarevic retires from tennis

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Janko Tipsarevic has announced that he will retire from professional tennis at the age of 35 next November. The Belgrade native enjoyed his best seasons in 2011, when he qualified for the ATP Finals, and in 2012, when he reached the quarter final at the US Open for the second consecutive year. In 2012 he reached the quarter final or better in 14 tournaments, including the semifinal at Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Toronto.

 

He reached his best ranking of world number 8 in April 2012 after qualifying for the quarter final in Miami. He won four titles in his career and reached the fourth round at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Australian Open.

He returned to action at the Australian Open last January after a long absence of 16 months following two harmstring surgeries. The Serbian player lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the first round at the Australian Open. Later this year he reached the quarter final in Houston.

Tipsarevic is planning after the Davis Cup finals in Madrid next November.

“It has been a great 16 years. After a lot of sour searching and thinking what is important to me in this stage of my life and what does make make me happy, I have decided to retire from professional tennis. My last competition will be the Davis Cup in Madrid. In the following years my focus will be my family, franchising our Tennis Academy and International coaching for several weeks per year. Thank you for your ongoing support”, announced Tipsarevic via social media.

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Cincinnati Open Final Preview: Will Kuznetsova And Medvedev Achieve Double Glory For Russia?

It’s Championship Sunday in Cincy, with two unlikely yet intriguing singles finals.

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Svetlana Kuznetsova – Western & Southern Open (foto via Twitter @CincyTennis)

Both world No.1’s were upset on Saturday by Russian opposition, opening up a golden opportunity for today’s singles finalists.  For three of the four, it’s a chance to win the biggest titles of their careers to date. And for the fourth, it’s a chance to win their biggest title in a decade.

 

Madison Keys (16) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (WC)

15 years ago, Kuznetsova was a teenage who shocked the tennis world by winning the US Open.  Five years and three Major finals later, she’d win a second Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.  But recent times haven’t been as kind to Svetlana, who has struggled with injuries, coaching changes, and visa issues.  As per the WTA’s Courtney Nguyen, Sveta missed the beginning of the US hard court swing due to those visa issues, and contemplated retirement with her ranking at risk of dropping outside the top 200 due to her inability to travel.  But just a few weeks later, she’s into her biggest final in over two years, thanks to four victories this week over players ranked 11th or higher.  But in today’s final, she faces a competitor she’s never beaten.  Keys owns a 3-0 record in their head-to-head, with all three of those matches played on hard courts.  Madison is yet to drop a set to Svetlana. And just like Kuznetsova, Keys has looked really strong this week.  She’s been just clubbing the ball, and taking the match completely out of her opponents’ hands. But as a player who has choked in big matches before, can Madison maintain her form in this final?  Based on how well she’s fought this week and made slight adjustments when needed, and with a boisterous American crowd behind her, I think Keys will be ready for this moment.

Daniil Medvedev (9) v. David Goffin (16)

After a set-and-a-half against Novak Djokovic yesterday, it appeared the world No.1 would be cruising to a straight set victory.  Novak had been dominating opponents all week, and Daniil was receiving treatment on his right arm, which looked quite painful. But it seemed the 23-year-old Russian decided if he was going down, he was going down swinging.  Medvedev started going for his second serves, striking some just as hard if not harder than his first serves. He’d hit a total of 16 aces in the match. That, combined with his strong ground game which suddenly wouldn’t miss, infuriated Djokovic to the point where it seemed the world No.1 just wanted off the court before the final game had even been decided.  Danill is now into his third final in as many weeks, but lost in the final of his last two tournaments. His opponent today capitalized on an extremely open half of the draw. But the tennis gods definitely owe Goffin some luck after the bizarre injuries that have recently sidetracked his career. He injured his eye when a ball glanced off his racket, and injured his ankle when he slipped on the tarp at the back of the court at the French Open.  These two have met twice before, with both matches occurring earlier this year. Medvedev prevailed in straight sets at the Australian Open, while Goffin outlasted Daniil 7-5 in the fifth at Wimbledon. This will be Medvedev’s 16th singles match within the past 20 days, which is a ton of tennis no matter your age or your level of fitness.  And coming back less than 24 hours after a thrilling victory over the world No.1 is never easy. But against an opponent that hasn’t been playing with much confidence, and who is also vying for the biggest title of their career, I suspect Daniil will power his way to the winner’s circle again today.

Other notable matches on Sunday:

In the men’s doubles final, Wimbledon champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah (1) vs. Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek, who were Wimbledon semifinalists.

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