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)

ATP

Danil Medvedev beats Andrey Rublev in all-Russian quarter final in St. Petersburg

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Danil Medvedev beat Andrey Rublev 6-4 7-5 in all-Russian quarter final in St. Petersburg.

 

Medvedev has won 20 of the 23 matches during his North American campaign. He won his maiden Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, but he lost the finals in Washington to Nick Kyrgios and in Montreal to Rafael Nadal.

Medvedev hit 12 aces and won 70 % of his second serve return points.

Rublev earned the first break of the match in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead. Medvedev broke straight back in the fifth game and held his serve to draw level to 3-3. Medvedev broke for the second time in the ninth game to win the first set 6-4.

Both players traded breaks twice in the second set en route to drawing level to 5-5. Medvedev broke for the third time in the 11th game and served out the win on his first match point.

Medvedev will face Belarusian qualifier Egor Gerasimov, who beat this year’s US Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3). Berrettini is currently ninth in the ATP Race to London.

Both Gerasimov and Berrettini held their serve in the first seven games without facing any break points. Berrettini held his serve at deuce in the eighth game. Gerasimos saved a break point at 5-5 with a serve and volley. Gerasimov got a decisive mini-break at 5-5 with a drop-shot error from Berrettini to win the tie-break.

Gerasimov saved two break points on the fourth game at deuce to draw level to 2-2. Berrettini saved three break points in the ninth game with a smash and two aces and three more chances in the 11th game. Gerasimov held his serve at 15 to draw level to 6-6. The tie-break went on serve until 3-4 before Berrettini made a double fault and a forehand error. Gerasimov sealed the win on the first of his three match points.

Fourth-seeded player Borna Coric came back from one set down to beat Casper Ruud 3-6 7-5 6-3 setting up a semifinal against Joao Sousa, who beat 2010 St. Petersburg champion Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 (10-8) 6-2.

 

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Team Europe Leads 3-1 After Day 1 of Laver Cup

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Just like the previous two editions in Prague in 2017 and in Chicago in 2018, the 2019 Laver Cup in Geneva is off to a very entertaining start. And just like the previous two editions, Team Europe has a 3-1 lead after the opening day of competition.

Team Europe, led by 5 of the Top 8 players in the World, won two of the three singles matches on Day One and then Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev closed out the night winning their doubles match in straight sets over Team World’s Denis Shapovalov and Jack Sock to give them the Europeans the lead heading into Saturday.

Friday started with Dominic Thiem saving three match points to defeat Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 5-7, 13-11 in the opening match. The one hour 46 minute singles opener didn’t disappoint the packed crowd of 17,000+ at the Palexpo as Theim moved to 2-0 in Laver Cup play for his career. It was a welcome win for the Australian who was upset in Davis Cup qualifying match just last weekend The 20-year old Canadian fell to 0-2. Both players played in the inaugural event two years ago.

The second match was an upset as heavily favoured Fabio Fognini fell in straight sets 6-1, 7-6 to American Jack Sock. Sock was 0-4 in singles play in 2019 and had won just four of 23 singles matches dating back to May of last year.

In the night session, a battle of 21-year olds saw Stefanos Tsitispas escape with a 6-2, 1-6, 10-7 win over Taylor Fritz. After a dominant opening set in which Tsitispas won 93-percent of his first serve points and all seven points at the net, the young American turned the tables on the World No. 7. In the second set it was Fritz who won 92-percent of his first serve points and was a perfect eight of eight at the he net to even the match.

In the ten-point super tiebreak, the Greek got off to an early 5-2 lead but Fritz, who won his first career ATP event at Eastbourne this past summer, battled back to take a 6-5 lead. A double fault at 7-7 gave Tsitispas an opening and he won the next three points to seal the match.

In the lone Doubles contest of the night, the Swiss crowd got their chance to see their hero. Federer played some solid tennis, more impressive the fact he rarely plays doubles anymore. Shapovalov and Sock did have their chances but weren’t able to convert. They were 1 for 16 in break point attempts in the match.

“We are very happy with 3-1 I can tell you that,” said Federer. “I was looking at 2 all before the day, just the feelings I had. I was just a little bit worried somehow, that maybe we were even going to be behind or 2-all.”

Saturday’s lineup is stacked with quality matches. It kicks off at 1pm local time with two big servers Alexander Zverev taking on John Isner. That will be followed by Roger Federer vs Nick Kyrgios.

The night session sees a Rafael Nadal double header. The reigning US Open champ will face Milos Raonic in singles and he will then partner with Tsitsipas in doubles to face Kyrgios and Sock.

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As The Laver Cup Grows, So Does The Uncertainty Concerning Men’s Team Events

Within the past four years the landscape of men’s tennis has gone from one team competition struggling to survive to three bidding to outdo each other.

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This weekend a group of the world’s best male tennis players will join forces to compete in an event that has been placed on the ATP calendar less than three years after it was created.

 

The Laver Cup, which is named after Australian great Rod Laver, is the master plan of a series of prestigious figures. Including 20-grand slam champion Roger Federer and his Team8 management company, as well as Tennis Australia. Emulating Golf’s Ryder Cup, team Europe takes on the rest of the world over a three-day period.

“The first two years were beyond everybody’s expectations, especially the first year when no-one really knew what to think going into it, but Roger and his team put on an incredible event,” Jack Sock told lavercup.com earlier this week.

The popularity of the event is best illustrated by its attendance figures. Officials say 83,273 people attended the 2017 event in Prague, Czech Republic and 93,584 visited the following year in Chicago. Mercedes Benz, Credit Suisse and Rolex are just some of the sponsors. The event is now officially included in the ATP Calendar. Meaning it has access to certain services such as marketing provided by the governing body of men’s tennis.

It is no doubt that the Laver Cup has been a success story so far. But what about the original men’s team tournament?

Founded in 1900, the Davis Cup pride themselves on tradition. Although 2019 marks a new chapter for the event following a highly debated revamp that has removed the prospect of home and away finals being played. In November 18 teams will feature in a week-long competition in a similar format to that of the football World Cup.

“It was very exciting, especially home ties. Now that those situations no longer exist, that you don’t have the advantage of playing at home, it may be different.” Former top 10 player Tommy Haas said during an interview with EFE News.
“Some changes were needed, but I’m not sure if those were the best for players in general, due to the dates at the end of the year. It’s better to be in one place, when it’s so late on the calendar and you try to gather all the players.’
“I’m looking forward to seeing how this will work out, who will play and how the competition will take place.”

In the wake of the revamp, Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique has become a kind of kingmaker in the tennis world. His investment company Kosmos has pledged to invest millions into the Davis Cup over the next two decades. Something that has drawn both praise and criticism. Federer once warned against the idea of turning the event into the ‘Pique Cup.’ A term the Barcelona-born player has dismissed.

“I just want to bring one of the most important tennis competitions to the top again,” Pique told The Financial Times in August.

Plenty of passion, but little agreement

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Few can dispute Pique’s determination and resilience. However, can the men’s tour cope with three team events within a year? Bearing in mind five years ago the tour had one which was struggling financially. Besides the Laver and Davis Cup’s, from January the ATP will be reviving their own event in Australia. More significant is that the ATP Cup has the ability to offer both prize money ($15 million) and ranking points (up to 750).

“To me personally, it seems like we have gone from Davis Cup being on life support to this radical change that took place after far too long.” John McEnroe commented on the current situation.
“The Laver Cup was a big success and now we have the ATP Cup.’
“It seems like something is going to shake-out.”

If McEnroe is right, the question is which of these events would as he put it ‘shake-out’? All three has had millions invested and have numerous sponsorship deals in place. Pointing to what seems to be the only logical solution – collaboration. Something that is easier said than done.

In recent months, Federer has criticised aspects of the Davis Cup revamp. On top of that, the Swiss player is set to play in a series of exhibition matches during the same time as the Davis Cup finals with Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev. Meanwhile, the ITF has previously cast shade on the ATP for reviving their team tournament.

Finding a common ground has been something the parties have failed to achieve. For ITF president David Haggerty, his hope is that his team can form a bond with whomever replace Chris Kermode in the future. Kermode’s term as ATP CEO ends later this year.

“There is leadership change coming and once that’s completed we will continue discussions to see what’s the best date.” Haggerty told Sport Business.
“We need to have the first Davis Cup finals in November and the ATP Cup will be in January and then we will have more facts and have a good discussion.”

Ambiguity is perhaps the best word to describe the state of team events in men’s tennis. All three are continuing to do their own thing, but how long is it before one of the start to suffer?

Team tennis undoubtedly has a future in the sport. However, nobody knows what it will look like in the future. Not even those working on those events. This is perhaps the most worrying problem  of them all.

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