Australian Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

In the eight singles matches to be played on Monday, all sixteen players are seeded, making for some blockbuster round of 16 matchups.

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Serena Williams (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

On the women’s side of the draw that plays on Day 8, all remaining players are top 20 seeds. They include the world No.1, the most recent WTA Finals champion, the 2018 US Open champion, and the GOAT. On the men’s side, 14-time Major Champion Novak Djokovic is joined by seven men playing for the first Major title.

 

Simona Halep (1) vs. Serena Williams (16)

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It’s the current No.1 vs. the most dominant No.1 of the last two decades, who has spent a total of six years atop the rankings. If Halep loses today, she’ll be at serious risk of losing the top spot. Simona came into this tournament on a five-match losing streak, dating back to August. She’s had little match play over the past four months due to a back injury, which also limited her offseason training. Halep was almost down and out in both of her first two matches last week, but fought back to survive. And on Saturday, she easily dispatched Serena’s sister, Venus. Serena meanwhile has been utterly dominant in her first tournament since the highly controversial US Open final. In six sets, she’s lost only nine games. But she’s yet to face a seeded player, much less the world No.1. Serena has owned Halep in the past, winning eight of their nine previous meetings. Halep’s only victory came at the 2014 WTA Finals, a loss which Serena quickly avenged later that same week in the final. Halep also brings a leg injury into this match, though that did not seem to deter her at all against Venus. Simona does not have much in her game that can bother an in-form Serena, but Halep is the type of player whose defense and counter punching can be successful against the 23-time Major champion if she starts spraying errors. Halep’s best chance is to prolong points, and the match, as long as possible. With only eight tournaments played in the last two years, Serena cannot be described as fully match-tough. Still, Serena is the favorite to advance here.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Daniil Medvedev (16)

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Medvedev could be the first real challenge to Djokovic’s title hopes in Melbourne. The 6’6” big-hitting Russian has had a stellar last six months, with 30 match wins and two hard court titles. He’s yet to be challenged this fortnight, having not dropped a set. While he’s 0-2 against Djokovic, they haven’t played since 2017, and Medvedev is a much more dangerous foe today. Djokovic had a startling loss of composure on Saturday, given he was up two-sets-to-love against Denis Shapovalov. He dropped the third set after receiving a code violation for cursing at a fan. That was the only chink in the armor of the six-time champion during the first week of play. As we saw many times during week one, the top players usually have no trouble with the young upstarts of the ATP tour. While Medvedev has the kind of power that can hit through Djokovic, I doubt he can do that for three full sets. And Daniil will surely be a bit overwhelmed by playing against Novak on Rod Laver Arena in his first round of 16 at a Major. I don’t think this will be straightforward for Djokovic, but I fully expect him to prevail.

Karolina Pliskova (7) vs. Garbine Muguruza (18)

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The winner here will play the winner of Halep/Serena. This is a classic example of what Mary Carillo coined many years ago as “big babe tennis:” two power players who will be content to slug it out from the baseline. I was surprised to see Pliskova holds a decisive 7-2 edge over Muguruza. Garbine’s only wins came at Roland Garros in 2013 and two years ago in Cincinnati. Pliskova has taken seven of eight meetings on hard courts, though this will be their first match at a hard court Major. Karolina is undefeated so far this season, having won the title in Brisbane to start the year. She’s on an eight-match winning streak, though she hasn’t been winning easily. Five of those matches went three sets, but she’s been clutch in comfortably closing out all third sets played. Muguruza played one of the best matches of the tournament thus far, a three-set win over Johanna Konta that went past three in the morning. She impressively recovered to take out Timea Bacsinszky in straight sets in the third round. An interesting factor in this matchup in Pliskova’s current coaching team. Rennae Stubbs and Conchita Martinez are splitting coaching duties between them, as television duties prevent Stubbs from being a full-time coach. Martinez is the coach who temporarily stepped in for Sam Sumyk to coach Muguruza at Wimbledon two years ago, a tournament which Garbine won. I was surprised Conchita did not continue as a part of Muguruza’s team following that success. Conchita will certainly be able to share some useful information about Muguruza’s game with Pliskova. Also interestingly, Stubbs did commentary of Pliskova’s match on Saturday for ESPN in the US. It was unique to hear a coach be so forthcoming, and even critical, of her own player on television. Perhaps most revealing was Stubbs speaking of Pliskova’s struggles to remain positive on court. But with two positive mentors on her team, Karolina has been on the upswing of late, while Muguruza has been anything but reliable. This is a great opportunity for Pliskova to get a rare victory over the two-time Major champion.

Sascha Zverev (4) vs. Milos Raonic (16)

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I’m fascinated to see how this one plays out. They’ve split their two prior matches, both taking place in 2017, and neither on a hard court. The last time they played was at that year’s Wimbledon, when Zverev let a two-sets-to-one lead slip away and faded in the fifth. Sascha’s struggles in the best-of-five format are well documented, to the point where his lack of results at the Majors must be a huge mental hurdle for the 21-year-old. This is only Zverev’s third match in the fourth round of a Major, with only one quarterfinal appearance to date. And he’s up against a resurgent Canadian, who has come through a tough draw that already included Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka. Zverev has looked shaky at times, needing five sets to overcome the unseeded Jeremy Chardy in the second round. Sascha is coming off the biggest title of his career two months ago at the ATP Finals, and it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through at a Major. I’m just not convinced it will happen here. Milos has been playing wonderfully, and serving at an extremely high level. The 28-year-old is eager to contend for titles again, as he hasn’t lifted a winner’s trophy in over three years. If he continues to serve as well as he has, this may not be Zverev’s day.

Elina Svitolina (6) vs. Madison Keys (17)

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Speaking of season-ending champions who are yet to advance to a Major semifinal, Svitolina also falls into that category. Despite having 13 career titles to her name, and an astonishing 13-2 record in tournament finals, the quarterfinals are as far as Elina has advanced at a Slam. Madison Keys is the complete opposite: a player who has thrived at Majors, but struggled everywhere else. The 23-year-old is looking for her fifth quarterfinal out of the last six Grand Slam events. Keys has gotten to the round of 16 without any issues, having not dropped a set despite playing no warmup events as she dealt with yet another injury. Svitolina can’t say the same, as she was down 3-0 in the third before mounting a comeback to defeat Shuai Zhang in a near three-hour third round. The vulnerability of Elina’s second serve was fully evident on Saturday, as she spun in serves as slow as the low 60’s (mph). Keys will be happy to wallop such serves if given the opportunity. Madison is 2-0 lifetime against Elina, including a three-set win at the 2017 US Open. I like Madison’s chances of making that 3-0 on Monday based on her current form.

Other notable matches on Day 8:

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  • US Open Champion Naomi Osaka (4) vs. the always tricky, and never boring, Anastasia Sevastova (13)
  • Japan’s other star, Kei Nishikori (8), vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (23), in their first-ever meeting
  • In a battle of countries from 2018’s Davis Cup final, Borna Coric (11) vs. Lucas Pouille (28)

Order of play

Rod Laver Arena | Play begins from 1am GMT

  1. (4) Naomi Osaka (Jpn) v (13) Anastasija Sevastova (Lat)
  2. (4) Alexander Zverev (Ger) v (16) Milos Raonic (Can)
  3. (1) Simona Halep (Rom) v (16) Serena Williams (USA)
  4. (1) Novak Djokovic (Ser) v (15) Daniil Medvedev (Rus)

Margaret Court Arena | Play begins from 12am GMT

  1. (17) Madison Keys (USA) v (6) Elina Svitolina (Ukr)
  2. Alize Cornet (Fra) & Petra Martic (Cro) v Samantha Stosur (Aus) & Shuai Zhang (Chn)
  3. (18) Garbine Muguruza (Spa) v (7) Karolina Pliskova (Cze)
  4. (23) Pablo Carreno-Busta (Spa) v (8) Kei Nishikori (Jpn)

Melbourne Arena | Play begins from 12am GMT

  1. Andreja Klepac (Slo) & Edouard Roger-Vasselin (Fra) v Astra Sharma (Aus) & John-Patrick Smith (Aus)
  2. (13) Kirsten Flipkens (Bel) & Johanna Larsson (Swe) v (2) Timea Babos (Hun) & Kristina Mladenovic (Fra)
  3. (1) Barbora Krejcikova (Cze) & Katerina Siniakova (Cze) v Elise Mertens (Bel) & Aryna Sabalenka (Blr)
  4. (11) Borna Coric (Cro) v (28) Lucas Pouille (Fra)

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Lleyton Hewitt ‘Hugely Honoured’ To Be Elected To Hall Of Fame

The class of 2021 have been confirmed with The Original 9 of women’s tennis also being inducted.

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Former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt celebrated his 40th birthday by being notified that he will be inducted into the prestigious Tennis Hall of Fame.

 

The Australian tennis star will be inducted into the player category after coming in first place in a vote by tennis fans that took place last year and being selected by the official voting group of media, historians and Hall of Famers. Hewitt was one of five candidates up for the vote. He is the first person from his country to enter the Hall of Fame since wheelchair tennis player David Hall did so in 2015.

Hewitt played in 46 ATP finals during his career in which he won 30 titles. In the Grand Slams he defeated Pete Sampras at the 2001 US Open to clinch his maiden major trophy. In the following year he triumphed at the Wimbledon Championships. It was during 2001 when he topped the ATP rankings at the age of 20 to become the youngest player to ever do so since the system was implemented in 1973. A record that he still holds this present day. Hewitt spent a total of 80 weeks as world No.1 which is 10 times longer than John Newcombe, who is the only other Australian man to have held the top spot for multiple weeks.

“The Hall of Famers are people who I admired so much throughout my career – especially people like [Tony] Roche and [John] Newcombe and Rod [Laver] and so many others,” Hewitt said in a statement. “They were all motivating factors in my career and to be recognised alongside them in tennis history is an incredible honour.”

In the Davis Cup Hewitt was instrumental in helping his country win two titles. He holds the Australian Davis Cup record for most ties played (43), most years played (19) and the most total wins in the competition (59). After retiring from the sport he became captain of the team.

“It’s a pleasure to welcome these tennis greats into the International Tennis Hall of Fame,” Hall of Fame President Stan Smith said. “Lleyton Hewitt always competed hard until the last ball was hit, and this is very apparent in the Hall of Fame resume he built, which includes a Wimbledon trophy, a US Open trophy, two Davis Cups, and being World No. 1.”

Original 9 also receive recognition

Also inducted into the class of 2021 are the Original 9 who played a pivotal role in the formation of women’s tennis. The group, who are the first to make the hall of fame, made history in 1970 after signing $1 contracts with Gladys Heldman to take part in a tournament. At the time both playing opportunities and prize money for women were significantly different to that of their male counterparts. The event led to the formation of the Virginia Slims Circuit and then to the birth of the WTA Tour.

“The Original 9 were true trailblazers in tennis history,” said Smith. “It took a lot of courage to do what they did, and we have today’s incredible WTA Tour to thank for it, as well as opportunities for women in so many other sports.”

The members of the Original 9 are Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Tegart Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid.

Finally, tennis coach Dennis Van der Meer will be inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously after passing away in 2019.

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The Most Emotional Moments From The 2021 Australian Open

With everything going on in the world, and the 14 days of quarantine players went through before playing this event, it’s no surprise there were so many emotional moments during this past fortnight.

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Alexei Popyrin provided a refreshing dose of excitement with a loud Aussie crowd in attendance (ausopen.com)

The first Grand Slam of 2021 provided the tennis world with plenty of tears and jubilation throughout it’s two-week period. There was epic match comebacks, injury misfortunes and victories for those who has been absent from the game in recent months due to a variety of issues. UbiTennis looks back at those emotional moments that took place during the Australian Open.

 

Gael Monfils in tears after his first round loss

Prior to the pandemic, Monfils had won two consecutive titles in Montpellier and Rotterdam.  But since the tour restart, he’s now 0-6, and lost in five sets in the opening round to Emil Ruusuvuori.  His comments are in French, but he was asking for “mercy” during his press conference.

“I don’t have any confidence. I would like to get out of this nightmare but I can’t,” Monfils said.
“I don’t know when it’s going to end. It’s hard. Every time I get here I feel judged, I’ve lost again. I can’t serve, I’m playing badly. I’m being honest and it’s going to take time.”

Bianca Andreescu wins her first match in 16 months

The 2019 US Open champion didn’t play at all in 2020, due to injuries and pandemic restrictions.  She’s described many low moments she experienced during that time.  And after going through 14 days of hard quarantine upon arrival in Melbourne, with her coach testing positive for COVID-19, the Canadian was holding back tears after winning her opening round in three sets.

“I feel pretty damn good,” Andreescu said afterwards in an on-court interview. “I mean the match wasn’t easy at all and I’m super, super happy with how I fought it out, especially towards the end.”

Alexei Popyrin saves match points to stun David Goffin

This was the first exciting match to take place in front of a full audience in nearly a year, as Aussies packed Court 3 to cheer on the comeback win of the 21-year-old Australian.  Popyrin saved four match points in the fourth set tiebreak, and the crowd reaction to his victory sounded amazing.

“I think it just shows that the work I did in pre-season, the mentality that I’ve taken on this year is all paying off, and my game is improving, and I can feel that,” Popryin commented on his victory.

Thanasi Kokkinakis wins his first match since 2019

Kokkinakis’ struggles with injuries over the years are well-documented, so it’s understandable the 24-year-old Aussie was brought to tears in picking up his first tour-level win in 18 months, especially at his home Slam.

“At 5-0 (in the third set) I felt this massive roar and cheer from the crowd and I started tearing up,” Kokkinakis said.
“It was a bit of a soft moment but there was just so much stuff behind the scenes to get back to that point that not a lot of people realise.
I definitely got a bit emotional.
“I had a lot of friends and family there watching. They probably made up about 90 per cent of the stands, so I’m appreciative of that.
“Just playing with that energy and crowd and being able to win – there was so much work behind the scenes and so much pain – it’s just a massive relief.”

In the second round Kokkinakis took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets before getting knocked out of the tournament.

 Venus Williams suffers a nasty ankle injury

This was hard to watch.  Venus screamed out in pain and hobbled around the court after injuring her ankle.  And she had arrived on court with an injured knee.  After a long timeout to address both injuries, with a despondent Venus in tears, she showed her grit by finding a way to finish out the match in the event’s most inspiring moment.

You can’t always prepare for the triumph of the disaster in sports or in life. “You can’t control it all. What you can control is how you handle the ups and the downs,” Williams later wrote on Instagram.
“No matter the outcome I always hold my head high and I leave everything I have on the court.
“I never look back in regrets because no matter the odds I give it all.
“You don’t have to look back when you leave it all out there. Always look forward, the deepest dream you could be…”

Nick Kyrgios saved two match points in a five-set epic

In another emotional moment involving an Australian, Kyrgios’ epic 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 win over Ugo Humbert was a thrilling affair on Nick’s favorite court, John Cain Area.

If you were in my head, I was just thinking about all the s*** I was going to cop if I lost that match,” Kyrgios told the Nine Network after the match.
“I don’t know how I did that, honestly, it’s one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played.”

Kyrgios lost in the third round to Dominic Thiem.

Donna Vekic in tears after ousting Kaia Kanepi

Vekic was immediately in tears after converting her own match point, advancing to the second week of the tournament despite losing six straight matches coming into this event.

Matteo Berrettini battles through pain to defeat Khachanov

The Italian suffered an abdominal injury during the third set, and was teary-eyed after closing out the match in straights.  He would have to withdraw from his fourth round match against Stefanos Tsitsipas due to the injury.

““I felt something on my ab. I thought that [it] wasn’t something really big, but the next day when I woke up I felt it was big. So I spoke to the doctors and they told me, ‘Look, it can get [much] worse’. So it’s not worth trying. I’m not 100 per cent. To beat these guys, you have to be 100 per cent. I think it’s not really professional to step [onto court] when you’re not the best.” Berrettini commented on his injury.

Stefanos Tsitsipas fights back to defeat Rafael Nadal

Tsitsipas became only the second man to ever do so at a Grand Slam event, and described himself as “speechless” when interviewed after the match.

Serena Williams’ wave goodbye after her semifinal loss

https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen/status/1362260576446132226

This felt like more than simply “See you next year, Melbourne.” Serena stopped her stride as she exited the court, waving and placing a hand to her heart. After being asked about the moment in press, she broke down and quickly exited the room.

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Australian Open Day 14 Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Daniil Medvedev for the Men’s Championship

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Novak Djokovic is 17-10 in Major finals (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Djokovic is 17-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals.  Medvedev is 20-0 in his last 20 matches.  One of those streaks will end on Sunday.

 

11 years ago at this event, Novak Djokovic won his first Major title.  It would take three more years for Djokovic to win his second, but he went on a tear over the last decade, claiming 16 Slams between 2011 and 2020.  Regardless of today’s result, he is guaranteed to remain the world No.1, and will overtake Roger Federer for the most weeks at No.1.  A win today would place him just two Majors behind Federer and Nadal, with half of his Slam titles coming on Rod Laver Arena.

Four years ago at this event, Daniil Medvedev made his Grand Slam debut, losing in the first round of the 2017 Australian Open to American qualifier Ernesto Escobedo.  Two years later in Melbourne, Medvedev would advance to the second week of a Slam for the first time, and achieved his first Major final later that year in New York.  That was part of a run where he reached six consecutive tournament finals, winning three of those events with a match record of 29-3.  Due to a drop in form, as well as the pandemic tour shutdown, it would be another year before he would win another title.  But now he’s on a similarly impressive streak, winning his last 20 matches, and 12 in a row over top ten opposition.  With a win today, he would not only earn his first Major, he would also ascend to No.2 in the world, becoming the first man outside “The Big Four” to do so since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005.

The men’s doubles final will also take place on Sunday, with the defending champions looking for their second consecutive title in Melbourne.

Sunday’s action will begin at 3:00pm local time with the men’s doubles championship, followed by the men’s singles championship at 7:30pm.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4)

Djokovic leads their head-to-head 4-3 overall, and 3-2 on hard courts.  Their only previous match at a Major occurred at this tournament two years ago, when Djokovic prevailed in four sets, but not without Medvedev exhausting the eight-time champion.  Daniil’s first victory would come later that year on clay in Monte Carlo.  A few months later, at the Cincinnati Masters, Medvedev was down a set and a break when he decided to just start bludgeoning the ball, hitting Djokovic right off the court.  Medvedev also claimed their most recent encounter, comfortably winning in straight sets last November at the ATP Finals.

Djokovic experienced a bumpier road than usual to this championship match.  He played four straight matches that went at least four sets, and struggled mid-tournament with an abdominal injury.  Medvedev picked up his first-ever five-set win over Filip Krajinovic, but otherwise hasn’t dropped a set in his other five matches.  Daniil has served magnificently during this fortnight, striking 74 aces and just 18 double faults, and winning 81% of first serve points.  It will be crucial for the Russian to maintain those levels against the best returner of all-time.  However, that will be extremely challenging considering temperatures are forecast to be quite cool on Sunday evening, resulting in the courts playing a bit slower.  Djokovic has also been serving extremely well, and has hit an inordinate amount of aces this tournament, with 95 aces and 21 doubles.  Both men will look to attack their opponent’s second serve, which Medvedev was much more effective at doing three months ago in London, winning 61% of second serve points compared to only 43% by Djokovic.

Medvedev is vying to become the newest Major champion in the sport, and to become only the third man outside “The Big Four” to defeat one of “The Big Four” in a Slam final (Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Petro).  He’ll surely strut onto the court believing he can win: not only due to his current winning streak, but also recalling the way he was able to push Rafael Nadal to the brink of defeat in his first Slam final.  However, until Novak Djokovic loses a semifinal or final on this court, he must be considered the favorite to win his 18th Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Day 14:

In the men’s doubles final, it’s defending champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (5) vs. Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek (9), who won two tour titles in 2019.  Rajeev Ram already won the mixed doubles title on Saturday with Barbora Krejcikova.

Sunday’s full order of play is here.

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