By Matthew Marolf
To kick off the night session on Arthur Ashe Stadium, defending champion Naomi Osaka faces 15-year-old American phenomenon Coco Gauff. Earlier in the day on Ashe, another fast-rising teenager, Bianca Andreescu, takes on last year’s Australian Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki. And on the men’s side, some of the ATP’s most exciting players are in action: Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils, Denis Shapovalov, and Rafael Nadal.
Naomi Osaka (1) vs. Coco Gauff (WC)
Osaka is on a 16-match winning streak at hard court Majors, dating back to last year’s US Open. There were a lot of questions coming into this event regarding her knee, which forced her to retire in Cincinnati. While she struggled a bit in her opening match, she easily advanced in straight sets on Thursday. But now she’ll face a situation eerily similar to last year’s ugly US Open final, where the crowd will be squarely against her, and exuberantly cheering on her opponent.
Coco Gauff has electrified the audience on Louis Armstrong Stadium this week, enduring two thrilling three-setters. Tonight she makes her Arthur Ashe Stadium debut, and looks to advance to the round of 16 for the second consecutive Major. As impressive as Coco has been, expecting a 15-year-old to defeat the defending champion and world No.1 on tennis biggest stadium may be too much. And I’m not sure how much Gauff will have left emotionally after already playing two dramatic matches this week. Osaka’s experience on this court, as nightmarish as some of it is, should pay dividends. If Naomi maintains her level from the last round, she should advance here.
Bianca Andreescu (15) vs. Caroline Wozniacki (19)
What 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu has achieved this year is quite something. The Canadian came out of nowhere to win two Premier events, at Indian Wells and in her home country’s biggest tournament, the Rogers Cup. Overall this year at all levels, Andreescu is 38-4. Her four losses are all to current top 30 players. One of those was a mid-match retirement, and the other three were tight three-setters. While she missed several months of the year letting her body recover from injury, she hasn’t lost a completed hard court match in six months. Her talent and fight have been on full display in 2019.
One of her first hard court victories this season came at the expense of Wozniacki, back during the first week of the year in Auckland. Caroline is a two-time finalist in New York, and loves playing here. But she’s been struggling with rheumatoid arthritis over the past year, and has only played 40 matches since last year’s US Open. After coming back from a set down twice already this week, I’m not sure how much she’ll have left today. I like Bianca’s chances to advance to the fourth round of a Major for the first time in her career.
Nick Kyrgios (28) vs. Andrey Rublev
This will be the late night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Whoever decided to schedule Kyrgios late on a Saturday night is asking for trouble. Despite showcasing some of his usual drama, Nick has played extremely well through two rounds. He’s yet to drop a set this week. And he beat Rublev in their only prior encounter, last year on a hard court in the Russian’s home country.
But a year later, Rublev is a much stronger player, having recovered from a lower back injury that side-tracked his career. The 21-year-old upset Roger Federer two weeks ago in Cincinnati, as well as Stefanis Tsitsipas earlier this week. He’ll surely be a tough out, but I suspect Kyrgios will be motivated in front of the late night crowd, as he was on Tuesday night against Steve Johnson. And considering Nick’s immense talent, the match will be on his racket.
Gael Monfils (13) vs. Denis Shapovalov
Monfils has rather quietly put together a solid year, with a title and three other semi-final appearances. He’s on the verge of cracking back into the top 10 with a few more nice runs this season. And the US Open has been the Frenchman’s second best Major: three times he’s reached the quarterfinals or better. Meanwhile two years ago here, Shapovalov reached his first round of 16 at a Slam in just his second Major main draw. But Denis is yet to repeat that feat.
Prior to Winston-Salem last week, the 20-year-old Canadian had a losing record on the year, though he’s already accumulated five match wins since adding former US Open semi-finalist Mikhail Youzhny to his team at that event. This will be the first career meeting between these two, and they’ll open the night session on Louis Armstrong Stadium. While most eyes will be on Osaka and Gauff at that time, I imagine this match will draw a good crowd of day session ticketholders who won’t be able to get into Ashe at night. Monfils loves a good audience, and he’s the favourite here based on recent form. He should be able to negotiate a large amount of errors out of Shapovalov.
John Isner (14) vs. Marin Cilic (22)
It’s the American No.1 against the 2014 US Open champion. However, neither man has experienced a good 2019. Isner’s year started off pretty well, reaching three semi-finals before advancing to the final in Miami. But John suffered a stress fracture in his foot during that final, and missed three months of the year. And while he did win the grass court title in Newport, he went just 3-3 on North American hard courts leading up to this event.
On the other side of the net, Cilic has been a shell of his former self. Marin has been battling his nerves for the past year, and more recently some service yips have become evident. Cilic leads their head-to-head 8-3, but Isner has claimed three of their last five meetings. Their most notable encounter was at Wimbledon in 2015, when Cilic prevailed 12-10 in the fifth. This will be a mid-afternoon match on the Grandstand, which will surely be filled with vocal American support for Isner. Considering the way Cilic has choked under pressure so many times of late, Isner should be favoured in a match that will likely involve a few tiebreaks.
Other notable matches on Day 6:
Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Hyeon Chung (WC). It’s nice to see Chung healthy and back in the mix, but I’m not sure how much he’ll have left after barely surviving against Fernando Verdasco in a fifth set tiebreak on Thursday night.
Sascha Zverev (6) vs. Aljaz Bedene. Zverev has already played two five-setters this week, and Bedene is another player who came through in a fifth set breaker on Thursday.
Kiki Bertens (7) vs. Julia Goerges (26). Bertens leads their head-to-head 2-1, though they’ve never played on a hard court.
Belinda Bencic (13) vs. Anett Kontaveit (21). This will be their first career meeting, with the winner playing either Osaka or Gauff.
2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko vs. Kristie Ahn (Q), a 27-year-old American who had never won a match at a Major prior to this week.
Quarantine Drama: Players And Support Staff Warned For ‘Challenging Behaviour’ Amid Argument Over Rules
Officials and players are at a disagreement over the rules concerning who is deemed a ‘close contact’ of somebody who test positive for COVID-19.
The Commissioner for COVID-19 Quarantine in Victoria says she will tolerate no rule breaking by those staying in quarantine ahead of the Australian Open after a fourth confirmed test emerged on Sunday.
Emma Cassar said that there have been incidents of ‘challenging behaviour’ from both players and members of their teams in relation to the rules set out. Due to the pandemic, everybody has to go into a 14-day quarantine but the process has turned more complicated following a series of positive tests by those travelling on plans funded by Tennis Australia. The latest case involves a member of the broadcast team flying from Los Angeles.
The Australian government has ruled that everybody on board a plane where somebody has tested positive for the virus must go into a stricter form of quarantine where they must remain in their room and are not allowed to train outside. This has affected more than 40 players on two different flights from Abu Dhabi and another from Los Angeles. As it currently stands 62 people have been deemed close contacts of the four cases, three of which were announced on Saturday, according to Fox Australia.
To add to the drama, Cassar has confirmed that some players and their team members have already been given a warning for what she says is ‘challenging behaviour.’ Branding their actions as ‘dangerous acts that we can’t tolerate.’
“I can give you two examples – a player who opened his door to try and have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway. Again, he’s got a phone, you can pick up the phone and use the telephone as opposed to putting you and others at risk,” she said.
“The other was another gentleman who shouted some UberEats to some other people on the floor and was praising his great efforts and opened his door to do so.
“It is very low level, but they are dangerous acts that we cannot tolerate … they have been formerly warned, and Victoria Police will continue to follow up those who haven’t been spoken to yet.”
Even more extraordinary is the confirmation that extra police have been sent to the hotels where players are quarantined. Repeat offenders have been warned they could be fined or even transferred to a ‘complexed care hotel’ where a police officer stays outside their door.
Did the players know?
In regards to the quarantine process, some have questioned the transparency of the rules which has been set out. Critics have argued that they were never informed that should someone test positive on a plane everybody on board would have to isolate for 14 days.
World No.12 Belinda Bencic has gone as far as saying that the rules have been changed upon arrival in Melbourne. A view that has also been expressed by Alize Cornet, Yulia Putintseva and Sorana Cirstea.
“We made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us. Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about,” Bencic wrote on Twitter.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has addressed those statements by saying that all players were informed that this would be a possible scenario that they would face. Leading up to the quarantine, all players and their teams should have been sent documents detailing their stay.
“The determination of who was and who wasn’t a close contact was going to be entirely up to the health department, and they’re doing what is necessary in order to keep our community safe,” he told Channel 9 TV.
“Obviously what has changed over the last several weeks is the new UK strain, which is more infectious, and there’s obviously a great desire by all of us to make sure that doesn’t come into our community.
Although the motion that the rules have changed in some capacity is disputed by Commissioner Cessar who stated that no adjustments to the policy will be made in the coming days.
“The rules of close contacts haven’t changed, and there’s no other way you can consider this. If you’re on a plane for 16 to 24 hours in air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact,” she said.
“The program is set up to keep people safe. We will not be modifying the program or watering it down under any circumstances.”
Whilst there are ongoing discussions concerning the scheduling of tournaments taking place during the first week of February, Tiley has confirmed that the Australian Open start date of February 8th will remain unchanged.
24 Players In Isolation After Positive COVID-19 Tests On Australian Open Charter Flight
It is understood that Kei Nishikori and Victoria Azarenka are among those to be affected by the latest development.
Tennis Australia has been dealt a new blow to their preparations for the Melbourne Grand Slam after it was confirmed two people tested positive for COVID-19 on one of their flights.
A member of the flight crew and one passenger who was on Flight QR793 from Los Angeles Airport have tested positive for the virus. It has been reported by journalist Pablo Amalfitano that the coach of Lauren Davis, Edward Elliot, is the passenger who has tested positive. Although he reportedly claims that the result is a false positive.
A total of 79 people were on the flight with 24 of those being players such as Kei Nishikori, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Alison Riske, Vaskek Pospisil and Tennys Sandgren. Sandgren did test positive prior to the fight but was given the all clear to travel after it was deemed that he was ‘viral shedding.’
Due to their possible exposure to COVID-19 Australian health officials have instructed all players to isolate for 14 days and they will not be allowed to leave their room to train in what will be a big setback to their preparations.
“The Chief Health Officer has reviewed the flight and has determined that everyone on board needs to isolate and will be confined to their rooms for the 14-day quarantine,” a leaked email sent to players read. “We know this is not how you imagined your preparations for the AO would start but our entire team is here to support you and do everything that we can to get you through this.”
News of the positive tests was first reported online by the players themselves after they uploaded a leaked email detailing what had happened before Tennis Australia had a chance to publish a statement.
“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley commented.
“Our thoughts are with the two people who tested positive on the flight and we wish them well for their recovery.”
Doubles specialist Artem Sitak, who was on board the plane, commented on the situation by giving an update to his followers on Instagram. The Russian-born New Zealand player is currently ranked 78th in the world and has won five ATP titles so far in his career.
“We’re all deemed close contact. I asked for a bike, so hopefully I’ll get one and stay in shape,” Sitak said. “We’ll probably be out on the 29th of January and head straight into the ATP 250 a few days after.
“Obviously not great, but that’s the risk we were all taking. They kind of warned us this was going to be at the discretion of the Australian government, Australian health authorities if something like this happened. It’s just unlucky that two of them contracted the virus.”
In a later update the 34-year-old confirmed that he has had a bike delivered to his room. |
Meanwhile, Japanese media have confirmed that all of Nishikori’s team has tested negative for the virus but the former US Open finalist will be training alone in his room.
The first series of tournaments are set to take place in Melbourne a week before the Australian Open on January 31st.
List of affected players
- Victoria Azarenka
- Sloane Stephens
- Kei Nishikori
- Tennys Sandgren
- Nicholas Monroe
- Santiago Gonzalez
- Artem Sitak
- Guido Pella
- Alison Riske
- Marcos Giron
- Vasek Pospisil
Note – list is incomplete and compiled via news agencies
Tennis Australia Back Tennys Sandgren To Fly Internationally Despite Positive COVID-19 Test
The world No.50 is said to be allowed to fly following intervention from tennis boss Craig Tiley.
Tennis Australia has insisted that adequate health and safety protocols are being followed after it was confirmed that one player will be allowed to enter their bio-secure bubble less than a week after testing positive for CVOVID-19.
Tennys Sandgren, who reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last year, posted a series of tweets detailing his dilemma. The American said he tested positive for a second time on Monday after also doing so during Thanksgiving before going on to cast doubt on his abilities to travel. However, in a separate tweet written less than two hours later he confirmed that he was on a plane before calling Australian Open director Craig Tiley ‘a wizard’ for his intervention.
“Wait, hold on I think they are trying to get me on 15 minuets after the plane was supposed to depart.. my bags still aren’t checked,” Sandgren wrote.
“Wow I’m on the plane. Maybe I just held my breath too long.. Craig Tiley is a wizard,” he later added.
The decision to allow Sandgren to head to the ‘bio-secure bubble’ in Melbourne comes amid what has been dubbed as one of the strictest COVID-19 measurements taken by a country for athletes. All players arriving in Australia are required to go through a 14-day quarantine period where they will be only allowed to leave their rooms for training. Should anybody break the rules they face a fine of up to AUS$20,000 and even deportation.
As to why Sandgren is allowed to enter the bubble despite testing positive is a due to the fact those who recover from the virus can still continue to test positive over the coming weeks. Tennis Australia says their decision has been made after the local health authority reviewed Sandgren’s medical file. Although it is unclear as to what evidence they had to prove that Sandgren didn’t contract the virus for a second time which is possible.
“In the case of Tennys Sandgren, who has self-disclosed that he previously tested positive in late November, his medical file had to be reviewed by Victorian health authorities,” a Tennis Australia statement reads.
“Upon completion of that review he was cleared to fly. Any recovered case must go through this process in order to have an opportunity to travel here for the Australian Open . No one can travel without either proof of a negative test or this special clearance from authorities confirming they are not infectious.’
“Upon arrival all players are immediately placed in a secure quarantine environment for 14 days under the authority of COVID Quarantine Victoria, and will undergo a more rigorous testing schedule than most returning travellers.”
Lisa Neville, who is the Australian Minister for Police and Emergency Services, confirmed that Sandgren has been declared as somebody who is ‘viral shedding from a previous virus’ according to health experts. Neville also stated that anybody who test positive for COVID-19 the first time or are ‘infectious’ would not be allowed to play in the Grand Slam.
It is estimated that around 1200 players and their teams will be landing in Australia within the next few days to begin their quarantine. Under protocols set out by the local government and Tennis Australia, they will all be subject to daily COVID-19 tests and allowed to train upto five hours a day. Most of the players will be staying at hotels in Melbourne however, the top three players on both the ATP and WTA Tour’s will be staying in Adelaide.
The Australian Open will start on February 8th.
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