By Matthew Marolf
The first month of the year included an inordinate amount of dramatic highs and lows, both on and off the court, so we decided to highlight January 2019’s most emotional moments.
January 2nd: Wang Xinyu cramps and is forced to retire while leading her idol, Maria Sharapova.
The 17-year-old was up a set and a break in her home country before cramps set in. In a touching moment, Sharapova came over to console her young opponent, who was in tears after giving up the match.
January 5th: The thrilling end of the Hopman Cup final.
In the finals between Switzerland and Germany, it came down to the mixed double match featuring Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic against Sascha Zverev and Angelique Kerber. And in the final set tiebreak under “FAST4 scoring,” the championship ended up being decided by one final point, with the winners of the point winning the event. Federer and Bencic would win the dramatic last rally, and were ecstatic about defending their title in what will likely be the last Hopman Cup event.
January 6th: Julia Goerges cries after defending her title in Auckland.
The 30-year-old had been just a few points from being upset in the final by 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, but crumbled to the court in tears after mounting a comeback to win this event for the second straight year.
January 10th: Andy Murray announces he plans to retire this year.
In easily the month’s most emotional moment, Murray told the press ahead of the Australian Open that he would be retiring due to his ongoing hip issues. Andy hoped to play until Wimbledon, but allowed for the possibility that the Australian Open may be his last professional event. Perhaps Murray’s hip resurfacing surgery at the end of the month will enable Andy to return to the court.
January 12th: Kvitova outlasts Barty in an epic Sydney final.
Kvitova was too exhausted to properly celebrate after this back-and-forth match that was decided in a final set tiebreak.
January 12th: Alex de Minaur wins his first ATP title.
The 19-year-old Australian did so on home soil, and after playing his semifinal match earlier that same day.
January 14th: Roberto Bautista Agut’s five-set win over Andy Murray.
Murray fought through the pain to comeback from two sets down, only to succumb to Baustista Agut in the fifth. It was a highly emotional scene on Melbourne Arena, with Andy’s mother Judy watching on with tears in her eyes.
January 15th: Kamil Majchrzak cramps and retires after holding a two-set lead over Kei Nishikori.
The 23-year-old was on the verge of the biggest win of his career, before losing 15 of the last 17 games in the match as his body gave out.
January 15th: Victoria Azarenka break down during her press conference.
This was hard to watch. Following a disappointing first round loss, Azarenka was asked about how she can draw strength from all she’s been through. Her time on the tour has been severely disrupted over the past few years by the birth of first child, and the subsequent nasty custody battle with the child’s father. After a long pause to let out some tears, Azarenka would say, “I’ve been through a lot of things, you know, in my life, and sometimes I wonder why I go through them. But I think they’re gonna make me stronger. I wanna believe that, and I’m gonna work hard for it.”
January 18th: Frances Tiafoe’s comeback win over Andreas Seppi.
Just two days after upsetting Kevin Anderson, Tiafoe came back from two-sets-to-one down to take out Seppi in five. Following a shirtless LeBron James-esque celebration, the 21-year-old was overcome when he sat back down. He would then go on to upset Grigor Dimitrov to advance to his first Major quarterfinal, which brought on even more tears, and another shirtless victory celebration.
January 20th: Stefanos Tsitsipas’ upset of Roger Federer.
In perhaps the Australian Open’s most memorable moment, the 20-year-old couldn’t seem to believe he had just upset the all-time great. His little brother was visibly emotional after watching Stefanos’ victory.
January 21st: Pablo Carreno Busta explodes after an over five-hour loss to Kei Nishikori.
Carreno Busta was ahead in the final set tiebreak, but didn’t win another point after a close call did not go his way. He had a right to be angry, as the umpire did not handle the situation well, but he allowed the call to completely unravel himself. His emotions came raging out as he left the court, an episode he would apologize for soon after.
January 22nd: Petra Kvitova brought to tears after reaching her first Major semi-final in five years.
When interviewed on-court by Jim Courier following her quarterfinal win, Petra broke down when asked if she ever doubted she would be back in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event.
January 23rd: Karolina Pliskova’s unlikely comeback victory over Serena Williams.
It was a bizarre scenario where Serena was called for a foot fault on match point, and then twisted her ankle as the point played out. Pliskova saved four match points overall after being down 5-1 in the third set, and the tears came quickly after she capitalized on a match point of her own.
January 26th: The great women’s final was emotional for both the victor and runner-up.
It was fulfilling to see Osaka get to fully enjoy a Major title, but the most emotional moment was when Kvitova thanked her team for sticking by her after the in-home attack that almost robbed her of her career.
January 27th: Novak Djokovic wins his third straight Major.
Djokovic never played better than in this dismantling of what he calls his greatest rival. His 15th Major obviously meant a lot to him.
Madison Keys battles past Simona Halep to reach the quarter final in Cincinnati
Madison Keys beat this year’s Wimbledon champion Simona Halep 6-1 3-6 7-5 to advance to the quarter final at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati for the second consecutive year.
Madison Keys stopped a five-match losing streak against Simona Halep after a thrilling three-set match scoring her first win over the Romanian player in five years.
After beating Halep in their first head-to-head match in 2014, Keys lost five consecutive matches against her Romanian rival, including four in 2016. They met for the first time since the 2016 WTA Finals, where Halep beat Keys 6-2 6-4 in a round-robin match.
Keys never faced a break point and dropped just eight points in four service games and reeled off nine of the eleven points on Halep’s first serve to cruise through to a 6-1 win in 20 minutes.
In the second set Halep dropped her serve twice, but she converted three of the ten break points. The Romanian player held her serve at love for the first time in the match to win the second set sending the match to the third set.
Keys went up a 3-0 lead in the decider and earned four break points for 4-0. Halep converted her fifth break points at deuce and held serve at love to draw level to 3-3. Keys did not convert a match point at 5-4, but she sealed the win by breaking serve with a forehand winner in the 12th game at deuce to the delight of the home crowd.
“I think I played really smart tonight. Obviously I played a really good first set, and I don’t think she played her best tennis in the first set. I think the third set we played a pretty high level of tennis. I think it was the first time that I played a little bit more within myself and didn’t try to do too much too soon. She has been number 1 for a reason, won Grand Slams for a reason. I knew that she wasn’t just going to give up or give in. I knew the entire time I had to fully win the match before I could take a deep breath. I am really happy after losing my lead in the third set, I was able to get back. It definitely reminds me that when I am in the right mindset and playing some good tennis, I can compete with anyone”, said Keys.
Cincinnati Open Thursday Preview: The Round of 16
All round of 16 singles matches will take place on a loaded day of tennis.
The women’s singles draw is particularly loaded, with seven of the top 10 seeds advancing this far. That leaves us with some stellar third round WTA matchups. And it includes all three women currently contending for the world No.1.
You cannot say the same about the men’s singles draw. The bottom half has just been decimated, with the withdrawals of Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, and yesterday’s upsets of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kei Nishikori, and Sascha Zverev. That opens up a huge opportunity for a surprise finalist in this Masters 1,000 event. But in the men’s top half, four of the top five seeds on this half remain, including Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Normally this daily preview contains one men’s match and one women’s match, but with so many great women’s matches today, let’s dig deeper into two WTA matchups.
Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh
Osaka has been talking openly about having fun on court for the first time since the Australian Open. However, after watching her play the past few weeks, I’m not fully convinced that’s the case. I’m sure having fun is her goal, but she may be overcompensating. Naomi has been giving Kevin Anderson a run for his money in the fist-pumping department, and can often be seen talking to and laughing at herself on court. It’s nice to see her trying to stay positive, though it appears she may be masking a bit of fragility. And Osaka cannot afford to be feeling fragile against this opponent. Hsieh can be one of the most frustrating players on tour with her unique style. While Osaka owns a 3-1 record against her, Hsieh was the victor in their only previous North American hard court meeting, which was earlier this year in Miami. Naomi is currently in a three-way race for the No.1 ranking, and a loss today would open the door for Ash Barty or Karolina Pliskova to surpass her heading into the US Open. Osaka didn’t play her best yesterday, but hung on to win in three sets. If she doesn’t up her level today, she very well may go down in defeat.
Elina Svitolina (7) vs. Sofia Kenin
This will be their third meeting. They split the previous two, both of which occurred on a North American hard court earlier this year. Svitolina was victorious in Indian Wells, while Kenin’s win came just last week in Toronto. The 20-year-old American has been building a stellar resume this season, with 33 match wins and two titles. 22 of those match wins are on hard courts, and half of those have taken place in North America. Kenin is on the verge of breaking into the top 20, and is currently 14th in the year-to-date rankings. Meanwhile Svitolina is coming off a considerable breakthrough last month at Wimbledon, where she finally won a Major quarterfinal in her fifth try. But the American appears to be the more in-form player, and will benefit from the energy of a night session crowd in her home country. She has a more aggressive playing style than Svitolina, which the courts in Cincinnati should reward.
Other notable matches on Thursday:
Ash Barty (1) vs. Anett Kontaveit. This is a rematch from the semifinals in Miami earlier this year, where Barty prevailed 6-3, 6-3.
Simona Halep (4) vs. Madison Keys (16). Halep owns a 5-1 record against Keys, with Madison’s only victory coming in their first match nearly six years ago.
In a battle between former Major champions, Sloane Stephens (8) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Donna Vekic vs. Venus Williams. Venus claimed their only other encounter, at Wimbledon in 2016.
Karolina Pliskova (3) vs. Rebecca Peterson (Q). The 24-year-old from Sweden already has victories this summer over Sloane Stephens, Barbora Strycova, and Johanna Konta.
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (Q). A US Open semifinalist two years ago, Carreno Busta is now ranked outside the top 50, and is 0-2 against Djokovic.
Roger Federer (3) vs. Andrey Rublev (Q). Similar to Carreno Busta, Rublev was a US Open quarterfinalist two years ago, but is now ranked 70th in the world.
In men’s doubles, Feliciano Lopez and Andy Murray (PR) vs. Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock (WC). Harrison and Sock are both now ranked outside the top 150 in singles as they’ve struggled with form and injuries.
Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s Big Four reunion in Cincy
A few years before, there existed a quartet called Big Four in men’s tennis. At certain points in their time-line of dominance, injuries plagued each member of this four-member group. However, the severity of their affliction in one player, Andy Murray, saw his name erased from this elite pocket. Thus, the Big Four was reduced to the Big Three with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer making up the troika.
At the 2019 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, three of the erstwhile Big Four troupe reunited as they re-entered the circuit’s circus. And each player had a different path leading up to the event, too, underlining how divergent their careers had become despite overlapping scheduling.
The 2016 season was the common catalyst leading to this divergence. From Federer’s injury to him pausing his season to focus on rehab after Wimbledon, to Djokovic pushing his boundary as a marauder and completing the non-calendar Slam, and to Murray ending the season as the world no. 1. The year in consideration also threw up other names – Nadal’s season ended in an agony of injury, while Stan Wawrinka won his third Major at the US Open. In its bounty of giving and taking, 2016 changed how we looked at these players – especially the first four – and the irrevocability of assumption that these guys could get past any hurdles stopping their way.
Juxtaposing with Cincinnati, in the three years since 2016, Federer and Djokovic have vaulted past their share of physical problems. Yet, in the Ohioan city, they have different motivations guiding them. This is the first time that Djokovic has entered the Cincinnati draw as the defending champion. Meanwhile, after having been drawn in the same half as the Serbian, Federer has the proverbial score to settle against him. “I can’t wait for my next rematch with Novak or my next time I can step on a match court and show what I can do,” the 20-time Slam champion said in one of his pre-tournament media interactions in Cincinnati.
There are a few opponents to get past before their slated semi-final meeting occurs. Nonetheless, their sustained competitiveness adds its fervour to the already-hefty top-half of the men’s draw. In the midst of their respectively successful opening rounds, Murray’s first-round defeat to Richard Gasquet in straight sets became a contextual misnomer for comebacks.
Yet, Murray’s was the most stirring return. This was not because of the emotional crossroads that had sprung up at the 2019 Australian Open regarding his retirement. But on account of how farther Murray had leapt to put his physical frailties behind and re-join the singles Tour. And, the Briton’s determination to do so is reminiscent of 2016, all over again. It’s the completion of the circle of how Murray had pushed hard to become the world’s best player and now, he is trying just as much to regain his footing back.
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