By Matthew Marolf
Out of today’s 16 singles matches, seven will be contested between seeded players. On the women’s side, this is the first Major in over a decade that all top 10 women’s seeds advanced into the third round. With a lack of significant upsets through two rounds, we’re in for some marquee matchups as the first weekend of the tournament commences.
Karen Khachanov (16) vs. Nick Kyrgios (23)
When these two last met, Kyrgios turned a second round loss in Cincinnati into quite the circus. Nick was hit a record fine of over $100K, with his worst offenses including cursing at (and spitting in the direction of) the chair empire. In the second round two days ago, Kyrgios had a few similar outbursts directed towards his team. But otherwise Nick has appeared focused and motivated through two rounds.
Normally he would be an underdog against Khachanov in a best-of-five match, as the Russian has been the better player at the Majors over the past few seasons. However, Karen barely survived a gruelling second round match against Mikael Ymer on Thursday evening, which went over four-and-a-half hours and was decided in a fifth set tiebreak. Khachanov looked emotionally and physically drained following that encounter, and struggled to even get back to his feet when falling to the court after match point. With the Aussie crowd behind him, and a possible match against Rafael Nadal looming in the next round, I expect an inspired Kyrgios to prevail.
Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Garbine Muguruza
It’s startling to see no number next to Muguruza’s name, as the two-time Major winner is unseeded at a Slam for the first time in six years. That’s due to a dismal 2019 where she went 22-16 overall, and just 6-4 at the Majors. But she’s shown signs of rediscovering her confidence this month, with seven match wins to start the year. And she pulled out both her matches here in Melbourne despite suffering from illness. Muguruza made a coaching change in the offseason which should surely help her game, reuniting with Conchita Martinez, who helped guide her to a Wimbledon title a few years ago.
Garbine will need all the energy and confidence she can muster against one of the WTA’s best defenders. While Svitolina had a rough start to the year, losing 6-1, 6-1 to Danielle Collins in Brisbane, she’s yet to drop a set this week. She is 6-4 lifetime against Muguruza, and 5-1 on hard courts. I expect Muguruza to have a strong year ahead, but I suspect Svitolina will prove to be too much for her to handle on this day.
Stan Wawrinka (15) vs. John Isner (19)
Wawrinka’s had a rough road thus far, playing nine sets and over six-and-a-half hours through two rounds. By contrast, Isner has played two less sets and spent nearly two less hours on court. The American has benefited from drawing clay court specialists in his first two rounds. While Isner is the lower seed, he’s 3-1 against Wawrinka, though it’s worth noting three of those matches took place in 2011 or earlier.
But Stan has achieved significantly better results at this event, with Isner possessing almost as many losses as wins in Melbourne. And John has struggled to recapture momentum after suffering a stress fracture in his foot last March during the Miami Open final. With the Melbourne courts playing a bit slower than usual, and the weather a bit cooler, that will slow down Isner’s big serve, and allow Wawrinka extra time to set for his big groundstrokes. I like the Stanimal to reach the round of 16 here for the seventh time.
David Goffin (11) vs. Andrey Rublev (17)
It’s one of tennis’ speediest players against one of its biggest strikers. Their only previous meeting was also arguably the biggest win of Rublev’s career. In the fourth round of the 2017 US Open, the Russian prevailed in straight sets to reach his first Major quarterfinal. But soon after, a back injury would derail Andrey’s career, with his ranking dropping outside the top 100 a year ago. Rublev finally got his mojo back last summer, with wins in August over Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, and Stefanos Tsitsipas. And he’s only gotten hotter from there. In October, he won the Kremlin Cup in his home country on his 22nd birthday. He then went 4-0 at the Davis Cup in November. And Rublev is undefeated in 2020, already accumulating 10 match wins and two titles. Overall he’s on a 14-match winning streak, and is 22-3 since October.
While not quite as impressive, Goffin also had a nice summer and fall. And he went 3-1 to start the year at the ATP Cup, defeating both Grigor Dimitrov and Rafael Nadal. David’s defense will force Rublev to hit a few more winners than normal, and likely draw more errors. And as great as Rublev has been, the high volume of tennis he’s played this month will catch up with him sooner than later. However, I’m not betting against a player as confident as Rublev, who has the firepower to control his destiny in this match.
Karolina Pliskova (2) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (30)
Is Karolina Pliskova finally ready to win a Major? The general consensus is she’s the best player yet to claim one, and she’s reached the second week at the last seven hard court Slams. She’s hoping the additions of Dani Vallverdu and Olga Savchuk to her coaching team will help get her over the hump. She certainly started off 2020 the right way, winning the title in Brisbane. And she’s the only player since September to defeat defending champion Naomi Osaka. Karolina faces a player today who likes playing in Australia.
Pavlyuchenkova has reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne two of the last three years. And the 28-year-old Russian is coming off a strong fall season, as she was a finalist in both Osaka and Moscow. The problem for Anastasia is she’s 0-5 against Pliskova, winning only one of the 11 sets they’ve played. They have similar styles, though Karolina possesses a bit more power, control, and speed. While Pliskova should comfortably advance, this match may be a good gage of how serious a contender she should be considered.
Other notable matches on Day 6:
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (27). Rafa has a history of dominating his fellow Spaniards, and he’s 4-0 against Carreno Busta.
Dominic Thiem (5) vs. Taylor Fritz (29). Both men survived five-setters in their last round. Thiem is 2-0 against Fritz, with two four-set victories at recent US Opens.
Simona Halep (4) vs. Yulia Putintseva, who upset Danielle Collins on Thursday 7-5 in the third.
Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. 20-year-old Australian Alexei Popyrin. They played six months ago at Wimbledon, with Medvedev prevailing in four.
US Open semifinalist Belinda Bencic (6) vs. Anett Kontaveit (28). They were due to play in this same round of last year’s US Open, but Kontaveit withdrew due to illness. Anett sat out the rest of 2019 as she battled that illness and also had a small operation.
Players Face Sanctions If They Make Pro-Putin Statements At French Open, Warns Mauresmo
The tournament director of the French Open admits there is ‘no fair decision’ regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the Grand Slam.
Amelie Mauresmo, who is a former WTA No.1 player herself, confirmed that players from those countries will be allowed to play during an interview with French radio. Although they will only be allowed to play under a neutral status in line with the rules which have been adopted by other governing bodies of the sport. The action has been taken in response to Russia’s military assault on the Ukraine which began on February 24th. Belarus is suspected of supporting Russia in the conflict which has already killed thousands of people.
The stance of officials in Paris is a stark contrast to that of Wimbledon who has controversially implemented a ban on those players, as well as the LTA. Making it the first time The All England Club has excluded players due to their nationality since the World War Two Era when German and Japanese players weren’t allowed to participate. The ATP Tour is reportedly considering removing the allocation of points to the event in response to the ban.
Speaking about the issue, Mauresmo confirmed that action could be taken against any player who decides to make pro-Putin statements during the tournament. Although she didn’t elaborate on what penalties could be used if such a situation occurs.
“We have thought a lot, and I have the impression that there is no fair decision, one way or the other,” said Mauresmo. “We are in line with what European sports ministers have decided, we do not welcome teams but individual athletes. Obviously if an athlete speaks in the press for example and supports Vladimir Putin, sanctions will be taken. “
Providing an update on the upcoming tournament, Mauresmo says she is confident that this year’s tournament will have an almost full attendance. Confirming that “tickets are sold at more than 90-95%” of its capacity in what she hails as a ‘real success’ for the tournament. Last year’s edition took place with a restricted capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s French Open will begin on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejcikova are the defending champions.
French Open Prize Money Pool Up By Nearly 7% From 2019 But Singles Champions Will Win Less
More then 40 million euros will be up for grabs during this year’s tournament.
The prize money pool for this year’s French Open will be increased by around 6.8% compared to 2019 which was the last time the event was held before the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 43.6 million euros (about $46 million) will be distributed by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) throughout the tournament with the most noticeable increase concerning first round matches. Those participating in the first round will receive 62,000 euros which is a 35% increase compared to 2019 and a 3% increase on what was offered last year.
Another substantial rise concerns the qualifying tournaments with the money pot being 66% higher than 2019 and 30% more than 2021. The amounts on offer in the three-round qualifying tournament are €14,000, €20,000 and €31,000.
“The increase in prize money for the first round of the singles main draws and the qualifying competitions is designed to help the players who have suffered the most as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the FFT outlined in a statement.
This year’s singles champions will each take home €2.2M which is just slightly down on the tally of €2.3M that was offered back in 2019. On the other hand it is an increase of €700,000 compared to last year when the tournament was operating under various restrictions due to the pandemic.
This year’s French Open main draw will get underway on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejčíková are the defending champions.
2022 French Open Prize money breakdown
|ROUND||PRIZE MONEY (€)|
|Qualifying – R3||31,000|
|Qualifying – R2||20,000|
|Qualifying – R1||14,000|
Decision By Wimbledon And LTA To Ban Players Over Ukraine War Backed By Nordic Federations
Britain’s controversial move has split opinion in the sport but a group of four countries have endorsed the ban due to ‘the hostility of the Russian and Belarusian states.’
After recent days of criticism towards British officials over their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from tournaments this year, the first tennis federations have publicly expressed their support.
During their spring press conference on Wednesday, Wimbledon chiefs said they have ‘no viable option’ but to issue the ban in order to prevent the possibility of “being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime”. Russia launched a military attack on Ukraine on February 24th and it is highly suspected that Belarus is supporting them. According to the UN at least 2,729 civilians have been killed and another 3111 injured but the figures are feared to be higher.
The move has split opinion in the sport with both the ATP and WTA both criticizing the decision. Earlier this year the sport’s seven governing bodies issued a statement saying that players from the two countries will still be allowed to participate in tournaments but only as neutral players. Steve Simon, who is the head of the WTA, has hinted that there will be a ‘strong reaction’ from his organization. It is understood that both the ATP and WTA will meet in the coming days during the Madrid Open. In the most extreme scenario, they could decide to revoke their licenses to LTA events or remove their ability to award ranking points.
“We recognize that whatever decision we took, we’ll be setting a precedent,” said Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton. “We made our judgment in the context of the scale of the response to an international war, the consequences of which reach far wider than the sport of tennis. We appreciate that this is an immensely difficult decision on which people have different views, which we respect and we understand, and we are deeply regretful of the impact that this will have on every single player who is affected.”
Ian Hewitt, who is chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, says the ban was influenced by guidance given by the British government on the matter.
“We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances and that, within the framework of the government’s position, there is no viable alternative to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation.” He said.
It remains to be seen if other countries will take similar actions in the future. It is understood that the Italian government is currently considering whether to allow Russian and Belarusian players to participate at the upcoming Internazionali BNL d’Italia. A Masters 1000 event for the men and WTA 1000 for the women.
Meanwhile, the tennis federations of four nordic countries have issued a joint-statement in support of the ban by Wimbledon and the LTA. Officials from Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway have backed the move. The only country from the region not to co-sign is Denmark but it is unclear as to why.
“We, the undersigned federations, support the position the LTA and AELTC have taken regarding Russian and Belarusian players competing in events in Great Britain. In these exceptional times, tennis must do all it can to stand with the people of Ukraine against the hostility of the Russian and Belarusian states.” The statement reads.
Besides the statement issued from the four countries, no other tennis federations are yet to formally comment on the matter. Furthermore, there has been no statement issued by the International Tennis Federation.
The ban applies to all ATP and WTA events set to take place in Britain this year, as well as Wimbledon.
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