Australian Open Day 6 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 6 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

Saturday’s schedule is filled with compelling matches, as seeds begin to clash in these halves on the singles draws.

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Nick Kyrgios (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

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

Elina Svitolina (@TennisChannel – Twitter)

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)

Stan Wawrinka (@WeAreTennis – Twitter)

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)

Karolina Pliskova (@thefield_in – Twitter)

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 (@AustralianOpen – Twitter)

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.

 

Grand Slam

Australian Open Stats: The Strength Of Djokovic In Deciders, The Diversity Of The Women’s Tournament

The Serbian is 31 out of 41 in 5th set situations, and 4 out of 5 in Slam finals. 28 players have reached the semis in a female Slam in the last 3 seasons, while Zverev was the only player under 25 to reach the quarter finals.

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1 – the man under 25 (Alexander Zverev) to have reached the final 8 in Melbourne, with 3 more (Raonic, Sandgren, Thiem) who are under 30. Therefore, the NextGen has failed once more in the first Slam, despite the status of contenders reached by several of its members in the past few months, and despite the presence of 8 players under 25 in the Top 20 – Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Berrettini, Rublev, Shapovalov, Khachanov, Kyrgios. The failure becomes even more blatant if the sample is extended to the fourth round of the tournament, with just Kyrgios, Medvedev, and Rublev joining Sascha – the latter two are also the only ones who are still to turn 23. After all, the youngest Major winner is still Marin Cilic, born in 1988, and the world N.1 has constantly been a player over 30 since May 2017 – always members of the Fab Four, who have been holding on to the top spot since February of 2004. On the other hand, the women’s draw kept alive the opposite trend, with the oldest player reaching the quarter finals being Petra Kvitova, who turns 30 next month, a result that is in line with the rankings, in which Serena and Kerber are the only “mature” features, and more in general with the tendency of WTA tennis as a whole. As a matter of fact, since Serena’s last Slam triumph (3 years ago), all such tournaments have ended up in the grasp of players under 30 years of age (except for Wimbledon 2018, won by Kerber), and in some cases we’ve had teenagers (Osaka, Ostapenko, Andreescu) taking home the big prize.

 

10 – the months in which Dominic Thiem’s career has turned around. The Austrian had already reached the 4th spot in the rankings, in November of 2017, yet exclusively due to his clay-court prowess. At the end of 2018, Thiem had a meager 53% win rate on matches played on surfaces that weren’t his beloved, red realm: before his win in Saint Petersburg in the autumn of that year, he had played in 34 tournaments on fast courts without reaching a final, since the one he lost in Metz in 2016. The same dynamic occurred in his match-ups with other Top-10 studs: up to that point, he was 4-18 in matches played on hard or grass. The beginning of 2019 was very much the same, with an early retirement at the Australian Open, but then the collaboration with Nicolas Massù started, and with that some immediate relief happened, with his first Master 1000 win in Indian Wells, beating an experienced player like Gilles Simon and two members of the Top 20, Milos Raonic and Roger Federer. And while some people thought this would be a solitary spring flower, Thiem dispelled all doubts with an outstanding coda to the season, winning in Beijing and Vienna and reaching the semis in Shanghai and losing by inches at the ATP Finals in London against Tsitsipas. A further token of his exceptional play is the quality of the opponents he’s toppled in this stretch: among the current Top 8, he’s beaten everyone but Medvedev (although with Tsitsipas, Berrettini, and Djokovic he’s also lost), and he’s 12-6 against Top 10 opponents since 2019 Indian Wells. 3 Slam finals lost, plus the ATP Finals defeat, could lead to believe that Thiem isn’t a natural winner (especially when considering how close the last 2 nail-biter defeats were), but they’re more likely a testament to his improvements and to the close distance between him and a Slam win.

28 – the amount of players who have reached the semis in a women’s Major since Serena’s last win. After her 23rd trophy was lifted at the 2017 Australian Open, a kind of anarchy has taken over the WTA circuit. It’s incredibly hard to establish who the best athlete has been in this time-span, let alone for the fact that 7 different players have topped the rankings (Kerber, Pliskova, Muguruza, Halep, Wozniacki, Osaka, Barty), and for the fact that Williams herself has played 4 more finals and returned to the Top 10 despite playing a limited amount of tournaments. Had she won in Melbourne, the mercurial Muguruza might have well claimed the mantle of the most successful (she won at Wimbledon in 2017, reached the semis in Paris in 2018, and indeed reached the final in Melbourne last week), but that wasn’t to be. To draw a comparison, only Halep and Williams have reached more Slam semifinals, and Madison Keys is the only player who, aside from the Spaniard, has reached 3 (final at Flushing Meadows in 2017, semis in Paris and New York again in 2018). Since the spring of 2017, there’s only a pair who’s won multiple Slams: Simona Halep, who’s the most constant with 2 wins (Paris 2018 and Wimbledon 2019) and 2 finals (Paris 2017 and Melbourne 2018) and Naomi Osaka, who won twice in a row (the only woman to achieve that, at the 2018 US and the 2019 Australian Open) but has since lost her mojo, and is very close to falling outside the Top 10. The fact that the Rumanian seems to be the only regular performer in the last few years is confirmed by the 64 weeks she’s spent as the WTA N.1, almost thrice as much as the 25 weeks of Osaka and the 22 (and counting) of Barty.

35 – the number of weeks as world N.1 that separate Novak Djokovic from Federer’s record tally of 310. Currently on a 16-wins streak (he’s 22-2 in his last 24 encounters as well), he’s won his eighth Australian Open crown at the end of an edge-of-the-seat final against Dominic Thiem in which he’s adfirmed once again his status as an incredible deciding set performer – he’s 31-10 in 5-setters – and specifically in bouts with history at stake, sitting at 4-1 in Slam finals that go the distance. The Serbian now leads the Big Trophies race against his ever-present rivals, having won 56 between Slams, ATP Finals, and Master 1000 titles (Federer and Nadal have 54 each, 55 for Rafa when including the 2008 Olympic gold medal).  Above all, he’s now closer on the Slam tally, having won his 17th trophy, right behind Nadal’s 19 and Federer’s 20. In terms of weeks as the number one, Djokovic is now 10 weeks away from Pete Sampras, a gap he should fill quite easily before setting his eyes on Federer. In order to overtake the Swiss, Djokovic needs to keep the throne until October: till then, Djokovic has to retain a considerable amount of points (2000 at Wimbledon, 1000 in Madrid, 720 in Paris, 600 in Rome, 500 in Tokyo), but, given his current form, that doesn’t look like an impossible feat for him, especially with basically a full season’s schedule to be played still, and, given his continuity since 2008 (bar the first half of 2018), odds are that he’ll be able to reach this lofty milestone.

Article originally published on ubitennis.com and translated by Tommaso Villa

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Tennis Great Margaret Court Claims Unfair Treatment At Australian Open

The 24-time grand slam winner has responded to a high-profile protest against her in Melbourne by two former players for the first time.

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Controversial tennis figure Margaret Court has come out fighting following her appearance at the Australian Open by accusing the organisers of unfairly treating her.

 

The 77-year-old was invited to the tournament to mark the 50th anniversary of her career grand slam. When she won all four major titles during 1970. However, the appearance was one that caused controversy. The Australian, who is now a Christian pastor, has been criticised over the years for her controversial views and statements. She said earlier this year that LGBT teaching in schools is ‘controlled by the devil.’ In other incidents she has said that the women’s tour was ‘full of lesbians‘, once described rival Martina Navratilova as a ‘bad role model’ due to her sexuality, boycotted Qantas airlines due to their support of marriage equality and publicly criticised former player Casey Dellacqua for having a baby with her same-sex partner.

Nevertheless, Tennis Australia proceeded to mark Court’s anniversary. However, they released a statement saying that their decision was to mark her achievements and not her as a person. During an on-court presentation, the 24-time grand slam champion wasn’t given a microphone to speak to the crowd. Something she has since blasted.

“They think because I’m a preacher I’m going to preach the gospel,” Court told Court’s Channel 9 News. “There is a time to speak and a time to not.
“I think they (Tennis Australia) said they were going to honour me but not celebrate me because of my stance and my views on gay marriage and all those areas, which I’ve got nothing against people who are gay.
“From the tennis side of it, where they pointed the finger at me and tried to discriminate against everything that I’ve done.”

Tennis Australia (TA) has since played down Court’s cries of discrimination. In a statement they confirmed that the tennis legend were flown into Melbourne from Perth with 20 family members and were issued with 100 tickets for the tournament. She also had a launch in her honour. The organisation has called out the former player for not expressing her displeasure until now.

“TA covered the cost of flights, accommodation, breakfasts and executive club access, for the family, along with hospitality at the event, which included more than 100 tickets over the two weeks,” the statement said.
“Margaret agreed to all these arrangements … prior to her arrival in Melbourne. We are very disappointed to hear now of her complaints, none of which were expressed to us during her time at the Australian Open.”

‘I feel sorry for him’

Ongoing calls to remove Court’s name from one of the premier facilities at the Australian Open were highlighted by two other former tennis greats. John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova held a banner which publicly called for the name of the arena to be changed to four-time champion Evonne Goolagong. Navratilova took to the microphone to speak with the crowd after playing her legends match, but was cut off.

Court has claimed she tried to have a ‘one-to-one’ talk with Navratilova, but was unable to. She has also partly expressed remorse for once sayingMartina is a great player, but I would like someone at the top who the younger players can look up to. It is very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality.’ Navratilova won 59 major titles during her career with 18 of those occurring in singles.

“That’s going back 30 years or more. I apologised to her if it hurt her.” She replied when challenged.
“Just the two of us on our own, I would have like to speak with her and that didn’t happen.”

Even more vocal in their opposition to Court was McEnroe, who described her as ‘offensive and homophobic’ during a three-minute monologue broadcasted on Eurosport. Not that deters her in any way.

“I always thought I got on quite well with John McEnroe and I’ve always respected him. I feel sorry for him that he speaks like that and that he can’t separate one part of life to another,” she said.

As to the protest by Navratilova and McEnroe, the Australian has slammed it as ‘very wrong.’ Arguing that it was inappropriate for such actions to occur. Although they both insists that they have no regrets despite breaking protocol at the tournament.

“I’d never go to another nation, whatever I thought of the person, I would never say, ‘Hey, you should take their name off a building.’ And I think that was very, very wrong.” She states.
“You know, there are a lot of those people who do agree with me.
“I walked around and people touched me on the shoulder and said, ‘Thank you for being my voice.’ I’ve never had one person come and say: ‘I hate you’.”

Court remains the most decorated singles player in grand slam history with 24 titles.

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10 Facts To Know About Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open Triumph

Ubitennis’ guide to Djokovic’s eighth Australian Open win and its significance in the world of tennis.

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Novak Djokovic (image via https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Once again Novak Djokovic has his hands on the Australian Open crown after coming through a roller-coaster encounter with Dominic Thiem on Sunday.

 

The world No.2 looked at times to be down and out, but conjured up a way to battle back in a thriller that lasted one minute shy of the four-hour mark. Coming out on top to win 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in front of a record 31,020 fans on the Rod Laver Arena. It gifts the Serbian his 17th major title to edge him nearer to Roger Federer’s all-time tally of 20.

“I am grateful to have an opportunity to win another Australian Open trophy.” Djokovic said during his press conference.
“Obviously at this stage of my career, Grand Slams are the ones I value the most. They are the ones I prioritize. Before the season starts I try to set my form, shape for these events where I can be at my prime tennis, mental and physical abilities.”

Besides a payment of AUS$4,120,000 for winning the Melbourne major, Djokovic has also achieved a series of milestones in his record-breaking career.

Here are 10 facts about his historic victory down under.

  1. Back on top: Sunday’s triumph in Melbourne means Djokovic will rise back to world No.1 in the ATP rankings for the first time since November 3rd last year. He has already held the position for 275 weeks in what is the third longest reign of all-time. Only Pete Sampras (286 weeks) and Federer (310 weeks) have held the position longer.
  2. Another decade, winning: The Serbian has become the first man in the Open Era (1969 or later) to win a major title over three different decades. Something that has only been achieved by Ken Rosewall between 1953-1972.
    Decade Titles won
    2000-2009 Australian Open – 2008
    2010-2019 Australian Open – 2011-2013, 2015-2016, 2019
    French Open – 2016
    Wimbledon – 2011, 2014-2015,2018-2019
    US Open – 2011, 2015, 2018
    2020-present Australian Open – 2020
  3. Age is just a number: Djokovic is the fourth man in the Open Era to win multiple titles at the Australian Open after their 30th birthday. Joining Rosewall, Federer and Andre Agassi. Overall, he has won five grand slams since reaching the milestone age. Something only previously achieved by Rafael Nadal on the men’s tour.
  4. Melbourne magic: Since 1969 the Australian Open men’s title has been successfully retained on 14 occasions. Djokovic now accounts for four of those following his triumph over Thiem. He also retained the title in 2012, 2013 and 2016. Over the past 20 years, only two men have managed to retain the title apart from Djokovic. Agassi did it once in 2001 and Federer did it twice in 2008 as well as 2018.
  5. The eight-time winners club: Besides extending his record as the most decorated male singles player in Australian Open history, Djokovic joins another prestigious group. He is only the third man to win the same grand slam eight or more times. The other two are Nadal with 12 French Open titles and Federer with eight at Wimbledon.
  6. Surpasses McEnroe: Djokovic has now won 78 ATP titles so far in his career. Overtaking John McEnroe to sit in fifth place on the all-time list. He is also just six trophies behind rival Nadal. However, Djokovic still has a long way to go if he wishes to break Jimmy Connors’ record. The American ended his career with 109 titles, which is six more than Federer’s current tally.
  7. Melbourne momentum: Djokovic has now won 75 main draw matches at the Australian Open. The second highest in history after Federer with 102 victories. Although the Swiss Maestro is six years older than Djokovic.
  8. Top five successes: Since his grand slam debut back in 2006, the 32-year-old has defeated 31 top five players. Becoming the first member of the Big Three to do so. At the Australian Open specifically, he has recorded a total of 15 wins. More than twice of what he has achieved at any other grand slam.

    Top five wins:-
    -Australian Open 15
    -French Open 5
    -Wimbledon 5
    -US Open 6

  9. The comeback: It might have been his 26th appearance in a major final, but Djokovic encountered a new territory against Thiem. It was the first time he has come back from two sets down to win. He has previously contested five-set finals on multiple occasions, but in all of those meetings he had an initial lead of two-sets.
  10. Sweet 13: Djokovic has now won all 13 of his first matches on the ATP Tour this season. Something he last achieved back in 2016. So far this year, nine out his 13 wins were in straight sets.

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