That Centre Court affair between Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka should be a quite a battle, though it’s only one of many appetizing matches on Day 5. With a ticket to the second week on the line for all the singles players, Friday should provide us with a plethora of great storylines. However, some of the most anticipated matches are in the mixed doubles event, which gets underway today and features superstars such as Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Andy Murray.
Simona Halep (7) vs. Victoria Azarenka
This is a rematch from two years ago at Wimbledon, when Halep prevailed in straight sets on Manic Monday. Two years prior to that, they played an extremely competitive and compelling quarterfinal at the US Open, which went to Halep 6-4 in the third. Their overall head-to-head is tired at 2-2, with Azarenka taking their other two meetings back in 2012 before Halep was the player she is today. Azarenka continues to receive tough draws like this during the first week of Majors, as she struggles to get her ranking high enough to be seeded. While the fire is still there in the two-time Australian Open champion, it’s now been nearly six years since she’s reached a Grand Slam final. Halep of course finally won her first Major last year at Roland Garros, but has struggled in the past year since suffering a back injury in late-2018, and since splitting with Darren Cahill. Both women have achieved similar results at Wimbledon, both reaching the semifinals on their worst surface. Halep’s movement could be the deciding factor here, but Azarenka has a good shot if she can keep the ball deep in the court and limit her unforced errors. It feels as if Vika is long overdue for a signature win, so I’m giving her the slight edge to fight her way through what should be a great contest.
Karolina Pliskova (3) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh (28)
Pliskova has been the WTA’s second best player through the first six months of 2019. She already has 37 match wins, three titles, and a seven match winning streak on the grass. She now owns three career titles on grass, though that success is yet to translate to The All England Club. Her round of 16 appearance last year was her first time advancing beyond the second round, on a surface that would seemingly be well-suited for her game. Despite that, she’s a favorite to go deep into the second week on the less crowded half of the draw. But this will be a stern test, as Hsieh often drives her opponents crazy with her unorthodox style of play. That was fully evident in her defeat of Jelena Ostapenko on Monday, as last year’s semifinalist spent much of their match whining in frustration. Both of Pliskova and Hsieh’s prior matches have been extended affairs. Pliskova won in Miami last year 7-6 in the third, while Hsieh prevailed earlier this year in Dubai 7-5 in the third. This will likely be another complicated contest, but with all the confidence Karolina has been playing with, and with the wisdom of Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez, she should advance here.
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Hubert Hurkacz
These two just played five weeks in the first round of Roland Garros, with Djokovic easily advancing in straight sets. The 22-year-old from Poland was ranked outside the top 100 a year ago, but is now inside the top 50, with his most notable result coming at Indian Wells in March when he reached the quarterfinals. Many have compared his playing style to that of Andy Murray. While I expect we’ll see him continue to rise in the rankings, he’ll likely be outmatched today by the defending champion. But he should account for himself better on grass than he did on the clay of Paris.
Karen Khachanov (10) vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (23)
Khachanov was truly impressive on Wednesday in his four-set victory over an in-form Feliciano Lopez. Today he’ll face another Spaniard, who is almost always a tough out on any surface. Bautista Agut made a thrilling run to the quarterfinals in Melbourne earlier this year, highlighted by five set wins over Andy Murray, John Millman, and Marin Cilic. It also included a straight set victory over Khachanov. Overall Roberto is 3-2 against Karen. Khachanov’s wins have come on clay, while Bautista Agut has triumphed on both hard courts and grass. The 23-year-old Russian is playing much better tennis than six months ago, having recovered from the hangover of his breakout win at the Paris Masters last fall. Just like the 31-year-old from Spain, Khachanov reached his first Major quarterfinal this season, last month at Roland Garros. I like his chances to hit his way past the veteran, though I expect this to be an extended and back-and-forth encounter.
Daniil Medvedev (11) vs. David Goffin (21)
This should be another good one. Their only previous meeting was in January at the Australian Open, which Medvedev claimed in straight sets. But Goffin has been showing signs of regaining his confidence of late. In no small feat, he took a set of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. He then advanced to the final on the grass of Halle, losing to Roger Federer in the final. David will now look at reach the second week of Wimbledon for the third time, as Daniil vies to make his round of 16 debut here. Despite his success outside the Majors, Medvedev is yet to establish himself at the Slams, with his fourth round appearance in Melbourne being his best result to date. The grass courts should favor the powerful and flat groundstrokes of the 23-year-old Russian, but we’ve seen Goffin diffuse such hitting many times in the past. I have a hunch David will find a way to do so again here and pull out an extremely tight victory.
Other notable matches on Day 5:
If you like big serving, this one’s for you: 2016 finalist Milos Raonic (15) vs. Reilly Opelka, who upset Stan Wawrinka in five sets on Wednesday.
15-year-old phenom Coco Gauff (Q) will make her Centre Court debut vs. Polona Hercog, who took out Madison Keys in the last round.
Another teenage phenom, Felix Auger-Aliassime (19), vs. 21-year-old Frenchman Ugo Humbert.
In mixed doubles, the team of Andy Murray and Serena Williams make their debut vs. Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi.
Also in mixed doubles, the American team of Frances Tiafoe and Venus Williams vs. the British team of Scott Clayton and Sarah Beth Grey.
Simona Halep To Change Grand Slam Schedule Ahead of Olympics
The Romanian is set to play extra events in the majors in a bid to boost her chances of winning a medal in Tokyo.
Former world No.1 Simona Halep has her eyes set on winning more than one medal at the 2020 Olympic Games after confirming she will play extra matches during three grand slam tournaments next year.
The 28-year-old intends to participate in the mixed doubles along with a yet to be decided compatriot. It will be a rare appearance for Halep, who has only played in two mixed doubles tournaments throughout her professional career so far. Doing so at the 2015 US Open and 2016 French Open with Horia Tacu.
Despite her lack of experience in the discipline, the Romanian is hoping to build some momentum in the grand slams next year. A two-time grand slam champion, she has focused solely on singles competition at every major for over four years.
“I have only Melbourne, maybe French Open, and grass. Grass is a little bit dangerous because the surface is tough and you can get hurt a little bit with the men’s serve.” Halep told reporters in Beijing.
“But the goal is to play all the time mixed doubles with my partner to get used to the game, to be able to achieve a good result at the Olympics.”
Halep made her Olympic debut back in 2012, but opted not to play in the 2016 edition. In London she lost in the first round of both the singles and women’s doubles competition. Halep is bidding to become only the third Romanian tennis player in history to win an Olympic medal. Following in the footsteps of Tecau and Florin Mergea, who won a silver medal together in Rio 2016.
“I want to win any medal in the Olympics to fulfil everything I have done in tennis,” Halep said following her triumph at Wimbledon in July. “It is a chance to play for my country and I have always loved to do that. The disappointment from [losing in Fed Cup] this year really hurt me so to play well to get a medal, it would be a dream.”
The world No.6 has also been confirmed as her country’s flag-bearer for the upcoming event in Tokyo.
Playing through the pain
Whilst her long-term goal has been set out, Halep’s focus for the immediate future is on this week’s China Open. She kicked-off her campaign on Sunday with a clinical 6-1, 6-1, win over Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson. Peterson was her first real test since withdrawing from Wuhan due to a back injury. Whilst the score looks positive, she is not getting too ahead of herself.
“I’m not 100 percent recovered, I still feel pain,” said the sixth seed.
“Always when you have an injury, it’s a little bit risky.
“But I accepted it, I took the risk.”
A former runner-up of the tournament, Halep is hopeful of having a strong run. Beijing is her first tournament since turning 28 on Friday. To mark the occasion, she celebrated the milestone at one of the world’s most prestigious landmarks.
“Every year it’s nice to come back here,” she said. “This tournament’s a big tournament and important for everybody, and the atmosphere is very nice. You can see everyone is focused on their job.
“This year I celebrated my birthday at the Great Wall. It was actually the first time I’ve visited the Great Wall after coming here many years in a row. I think it’s going to be a good week for me—even if I was a little bit injured last week, I feel good now. I’m feeling good to play and to win matches.”
Halep will play Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova in the second round on Monday.
Roger Federer Can Win Australian Open, Says Laver
The 81-year-old speaks out about the world No.3.
Tennis legend Rod Laver has back world No.3 Roger Federer to add to his record-breaking grand slam tally in the future.
The 38-year-old currently holds the record for most major singles won by a man at 20. However, both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are closing in on that tally. Djokovic is currently on 16 and Nadal in one adrift on 19 following his latest triumph at the US Open. Meanwhile, Federer has only featured in the final in one out of the last six grand slam tournaments. Doing so at Wimbledon in July where he failed to convert two championship points against Djokovic. His last major title took place at the 2017 Australian Open.
Despite the recent lack of major silverware for the Swiss Maestro, Australian great Laver believes he can still challenge for the biggest titles in the sport. Saying that it is possible that Federer could continue playing until the age of 40.
“He seems to be fine and that’s what counts. If you love the game as much as you do, that’s fine.” He commented on Federer’s longevity in the sport.
“I also give Roger a very good chance of winning the Australian Open again in Melbourne in January.”
Laver admits that it is possible that the two other members of the Big Three could end their careers with more titles than Federer. Nadal is five years younger than him and Djokovic is six. However, he believes there is one thing that separates him from the others.
“Nadal, Djokovic and Federer are all big champions. But Roger surpasses tennis, the world of sport, and sports in general in a way that no one in history has done before him. He is the most recognized athlete in the world and a figurehead for this great game.”
The first encounter between Laver and Federer took place 13 years ago in Melbourne at the Australian Open. Since then, the two have formed a bond with Laver saying they ‘clicked’ straight away.
The biggest example of the friendship between the two is perhaps best illustrated by the Laver Cup. An annual team tournament where Europe takes on the rest of the world. Similar to that of Golf’s Ryder Cup. Named in honour of the tennis great, Federer is one of the co-founders of the event. Which has since been granted a place within the ATP Calendar. Although no ranking points are on offer.
This year’s edition will be held in Switzerland for the first time. Critics have been quick to point out the disparity between the two teams. Europe consists of all players ranked inside the top 20 compared to one from the world team. However, Laver dismissed the significance.
“I do not think so. The team World has excelled in both Laver Cups in doubles and also celebrated one or two big victories in singles. I expect it to be exciting.” He said.
The three-day 2019 Laver Cup will get underway in Geneva on Friday.
List of players participating
Daniil Medvedev Gave Rafa Fans The Scare Of A Lifetime
Charleston Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on the US Open men’s final and what the future might have in store.
NEW YORK — Rafa, you gave your followers quite a scare.
No. 19 looked like it was in the books when you got the first break point of the ninth game of the third set. But it wasn’t, and the second break point flew by as well.
Oh well, it was just 5-4, Daniil Medvedev. There was still time to close out the match in three sets. But after deadlocking the set at 5-5, you won only one point in the last two games of the set.
IT MIGHT BE A LONG NIGHT
Settle back, Rafa Nadal fans. It might be a long night.
The men’s final of Sunday’s U.S. Open was going the distance, even though Nadal served with double game points in the decisive 10th game of the fourth set, but still lost the set.
Nadal even served for the match with a 5-2 lead in the fifth set. He lost that one on a time violation first-serve penalty leading to a double fault to end the game.
Was it time to get worried about Rafa getting No. 19 this night? Was this going to be a Serena-like case of bad fortune for Nadal? Of course, Serena Williams one day earlier had failed again for an all-time tying No. 24 Grand Slam title.
It could have happened to Nadal, too. Anything could have, judging from the way his tall and amazingly agile and quick Russian opponent was playing.
MIGHTY SERVE ENDED A HISTORIC FINAL
Nadal looked like he had a lock on No. 19 again before wasting two match points with Medvedev serving the ninth game of the fifth set.
Rafa even had to fight off a break point in the 10th game before ending the nearly five-hour marathon with a perfectly place serve down the middle.
He went flat on his back in disbelief, and Medvedev went around the net. The two embraced.
It, indeed, was one of the most memorable moments in the history of Grand Slam tennis.
Finally, a 7-5, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory that pushed Nadal’s Grand Slam championship total to within one of Roger Federer’s all-time record.
AN AMAZING PERFORMANCE BY BOTH PLAYERS
This was simply an amazing match that left a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, mostly of Nadal supporters, drained. It was that riveting.
This had to be one of the greatest U.S. Open finals ever.
Medvedev put on an unthinkable display of grit and talent, a sheer desire to win. Medvedev and Nadal were like acrobats at times as they moved around the court to pull off amazing tennis stunts. Anything was possible because of the two players’ athletic abilities.
Nadal is definitely for real. But if his 23-year-old Russian opponent is for real, as he certainly appeared Sunday night, the Australian Open isn’t going to be a picnic for Federer, Nadal or the injured Novak Djokovic, or anyone else.
And then there’s the French Open where Rafa will be heavily favored to get No. 20 if he fails in Melbourne. Of course, if Rafa plays the way he did in the first two sets on Sunday, he may notch No. 20 Down Under.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? WHY NOT A DRAW?
What happens if both Nadal and Federer are tied for the all-time lead with 20 Grand Slam titles each?
If they’re deadlocked in another year or two, it might be time for a permanent dual timeout for both players. As sad as such a day would be, it would be a day to celebrate. Co-record holders wouldn’t be a bad way to go since retirement is inevitable for these two great players.
Although Federer demonstrated at Wimbledon and Nadal showed Sunday night, they can still rival the best tennis has to offer, but the rest of the men’s tennis game isn’t going to take a break waiting for these two greats to retire. Medvedev and his likes will continue to close the gap until there isn’t one.
PRESSURE WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD
As a result of what happened in Sunday’s U.S. Open final, the days ahead will add even more pressure for both Nadal and Federer each time a Grand Slam rolls around.
Federer already has felt that pressure, both here and at Wimbledon, as he tried to widen his lead over Nadal and Djokovic. Even Nadal seemed to feel some of the same pressure Sunday night while trying to close out Medvedev.
After defeating Federer in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic called Federer “one of the greatest ever” in his acceptance comments after the match. Federer frowned, but Djokovic was right.
Djokovic knows, because he’s not out of the all-time race just yet.
It would be nice if Federer and Nadal could/or would retire at the same time, and join Rod Laver as the greatest men’s tennis players ever. But just not quite yet.
James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at
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