Australian Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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Grand Slam

Australian Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

The second week begins with eight stellar fourth matchups.

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The eight women that play in singles today possess eight distinctly different styles and personalities, making for some intriguing clashes. On the men’s side, all eight players are inside the top 20 on the live rankings, creating some marquee matchups. But the most talked-about match of the day is certainly Nadal/Kyrgios.

 

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Nick Kyrgios (23)

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These two men were playing nice when speaking to the press on Saturday, but make no mistake: they do not get along. Kyrgios’ coming out party occurred at the expense of Nadal at the 2014 Wimbledon, when the then-wild card upset Rafa in the fourth round on Centre Court. More recently, they split two meetings in 2019. After Kyrgios defeated Nadal in Acapulco last year, Rafa presented Nick with a less-than-thrilled handshake. A few months later on the “No Challenges Remaining” podcast, Kyrgios described Nadal as acting “salty” whenever Nick defeats him. Rafa, like many, respects Nick’s talent, though not all his on-court antics, or the all-too-common lack of effort. Kyrgios certainly gave full effort on Saturday, in his fifth-set tiebreak win over Karen Khachanov. But what will Nick have left after the longest match of his career? He spent a total of nine-and-a-half hours on court in the first week, compared to just five-and-a-half for Nadal, who has steamrolled the competition without the loss of a set. If Nick were 100%, I’d give him a considerable shot at winning in front of a raucous Australian crowd. But a depleted Kyrgios won’t have much chance of keep up with the 19-time Major champion.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Stan Wawrinka (15)

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When these two met four months ago in the US Open quarterfinals, Wawrinka had no answers for Medvedev’s unique style of play. Stan’s offense was muffled by Daniil’s movement and variety on that day. Their only other encounter was at Wimbledon in 2017, when Medvedev upset an injured Wawrinka in Stan’s last match before undergoing knee surgery. The 23-year-old Russian has certainly been the better player over the last six months. Daniil has a lot of confidence coming off his run of six straight hard courts finals last season. Wawrinka has struggled at tour events of late, while at the Majors he’s shown he still has some magic left in him. The US Open was his second Slam quarterfinal of 2019. He reached the same round at the French Open, thanks to his epic, five-hour victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas. And despite playing nine sets in his first two rounds, he should be relatively fresh after receiving a second-set retirement from John Isner on Saturday. That was certainly welcome after Wawrinka revealed he was battling illness earlier in the week, and even vomited multiple times during his five-setter against Andreas Seppi. I expect Stan to arrive on court with some better tactics this time out, but still give Medvedev the slight edge in what could easily become an extended affair.

Simona Halep (4) vs. Elise Mertens (16)

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Halep leads their head-to-head 2-1, though Mertens prevailed when they last played a year ago in Doha. That was on Elise’s way to her first WTA Premier title. Mertens’ best results in her career have been on hard courts. She was a quarterfinalist in New York last year, and a semifinalist here two years ago. Other than a tiebreak set she lost to Cici Bellis in the last round, she was dominant in week one, losing only six games in her other six sets. Simona has also looked sharp thus far, having yet to drop a set. The slower conditions this year in Australia should favor the defense and movement of Halep. I suspect this will be a tight matchup, but favor Halep to advance.

Dominic Thiem (5) vs. Gael Monfils (10)

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This is a fourth round battle between two top 10 players, and two of the sport’s most impressive athletes. But they have a rather unique and one-sided history. Thiem is 5-0 against Monfils, having taken 11 of 13 sets played. They were due to meet on three other occasions, but withdrawals by both players prevented those matches from happening. Monfils had less troubling advancing to this stage than Thiem, who played a total of nine sets in his last two matches. In both those rounds, Thiem held significant leads, but let his opponent back into the match. Neither Thiem nor Monfils has historically been a strong performer at this Major, though Dominic is much-improved on hard courts since 2018. And with such a lopsided head-to-head, Thiem should possess the necessary confidence and fire power to reach his first Australian Open quarterfinal.

Sascha Zverev (7) vs. Andrey Rublev (17)

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Rublev has been on fire since the Davis Cup last November, and is currently on a 15-match winning streak. Meanwhile Zverev has not been at his best, suffering with service issues and battling off-court distractions. 2019 was not his best year, but it also wasn’t all that ugly. Zverev still managed to qualify for the ATP Finals despite struggles both on and off the court. But Sascha should be feeling good about his tennis coming off week one, where he didn’t drop a set through three rounds. And he owns a 3-0 record against Rublev, who has never taken a set off him. While Andrey may be a bit worn down from playing so much tennis this month, he just has so much more momentum than Zverev. And the 22-year-old Russian will be the first real test for Zverev in this tournament, so we’ll see how the German’s serve holds up under pressure. I foresee Rublev’s groundstrokes proving too much for Zverev, leading Andrey to his second Major quarterfinal.

Other notable matches on Day 8:

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  • 2016 champion Angelique Kerber (17) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (30). The 28-year-old Russian has a slight 7-6 edge in their head-to-head, and claimed their most recent encounter last September. Pavlyuchenkova is 5-1 in the fourth round at Majors, having not lost at this stage in 10 years.
  • Kiki Bertens (9) vs. Garbine Muguruza. Reuniting with Conchita Martinez has already paid dividends for Muguruza, who just destroyed Elina Svitolina on Saturday, hitting 31 winners and only 9 unforced errors. Garbine is 2-0 against Kiki in both of their recent hard court meetings, and Bertens had a losing record in Melbourne prior to this fortnight.
  • Anett Kontaveit (28) vs. 18-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland. Kontaveit dominated Belinda Benic two days ago, losing only one game in a 49-minute match. Swiatek is one of the WTA’s most talented and fastest-rising stars, set to debut inside the top 50 next week. Kontaveit won their only previous encounter last summer in Cincinnati.

Grand Slam

The Cincinnati Western&Southern Open May Relocate To New York

A proposal by the USTA is offering to co-locate the Cincinnati tournament and the US Open at Flushing Meadows

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The Stadium Court at Cincinnati (photo Twitter @cincytennis)

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is continuing to work tirelessly to put in place a health protocol that would allow the US Open to start on 24 August as planned. But another alleged initiative by the USTA, reported by the New York Times reporter Christopher Clarey, is planning another shake-up of the traditional North American tennis summer line-up: some sources internal to the US Tennis Federation have confirmed the existence of a plan to relocate the Western&Southern Open from the Lindner Family Tennis Center of Mason, Ohio to the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows, New York City.

 

The Cincinnati area hosts every year a combined tournament that sees an ATP Masters 1000 tournament being played at the same time as a WTA Premier 5. The USTA has informed both the ATP and the WTA of the existence of a project that would see the event being played in its current calendar slot (17-23 August) but at the same location as the US Open. This would see the pro circuit “settle down” in the New York City area for a 4-week period that would include the Western&Southern Open and the US Open, which would start as scheduled on 24 August with the singles qualifying draws.

The idea behind this proposal is to create some economies of scope and scale as the same safety protocols being prepared for the US Open would not have to be replicated in Ohio a couple of weeks earlier, and players and their entourages would be able to remain at the same location for the entire duration of their stay in the United States, thus eliminating the risks connected to internal flights and getting in touch with more people as they change cities and accommodation.

The ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati is owned by the USTA itself, while the WTA Premier 5 is owned by the sports management company Octagon.

As far as the US Open is concerned, there will be no junior or legend competitions, and the cancellation of the wheelchair tennis draws are still under consideration. It appears that the USTA has accepted the introduction of coaching, similarly to what happens in the WTA Tour, in order to increase the entertainment value of a product for which the ESPN is paying 75 million dollars a year until 2025 and that some sources seem to believe is not currently delivering as expected.

At the moment all professional tennis tournaments have been cancelled until the end of July, and the ATP Tour is expected to resume on 3 August with the ATP 500 Citi Open in Washington, DC, while the WTA Tour sees the Mubadala Silicon Valley Open in San Jose, California, as its first event on the schedule. On the following week, the tours were supposed to move to Canada for the annual appointment with the Rogers Cup, however the WTA version in Montreal has already been canceled by the organizers due to a decision by the Province of Quebec (where Montreal is located) to prohibit all mass events until the end of August. However, the ATP Masters 1000 version of the Rogers Cup, scheduled to take place in Toronto, is still officially on the calendar, and the organizer Tennis Canada has confirmed that no decisions pertaining its cancellation will be made before 15 June when both ATP and WTA will update their respective schedules.

 

 

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Grand Slam

The Biggest Problem Of Holding The US Open Behind Closed Doors Could Be The Players

Many are eager to return to the Tour, but are they willing to play without fans?

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The United States Tennis Association appears determine to stage this year’s US Open despite the threat of COVID-19. One option is slowly emerging as a strong possibility but there is already opposition from some of the sport’s top names.

 

Held at the Billie Jean Tennis Centre in Flushing Meadows, the Grand Slam is located in the epicentre of the outbreak in America. The state of New York has recorded 367,625 cases of the coronavirus with 203,569 of those testing positive living in New York City. As on Monday more than 29,000 people have died from the virus. Nevertheless cases in New York are coming down and their infamous stock exchange is opening back up. Yet, still the prospect of hosting an event with thousands of people attending seems a long way off. 

Given the situation, numerous options are being weighed up regarding the US Open, including the possibility of hosting it in another part of the country. However, one path previously classed as ‘highly unlikely’ by the head of the USTA is slowly gaining momentum. 

A fan-less US Open could be the best possible solution to ensuring the event could be held in New York. Undoubtedly the USTA would still take a big financial hit considering 737,872 fans visited the 2019 event. Although the USTA’s Chief Revenue Officer, Lew Sherr, believes it could still be financially viable. 

“Two months ago, it just didn’t feel like you could stage the celebration or the spectacle that is the U.S. Open in a no-fan scenario and have it be what we think of as the U.S. Open,” Sherr told Sports Business Daily on May 21st.
“As we’ve gone forward, I’ve come around to recognizing what an achievement it would be to play, and how much our fans are missing the game and would be excited to see the competition, and that you need to think about it differently. It’s a different event. It would be broadcast differently, it would be consumed differently, it’s not just playing the U.S. Open as you know it, with empty seats.”

Sherr said he has received key backing from sponsors over the potential plan with many viewing it as a ‘historic event.’ Pointing out that media-right deals will still enable those sponsors to be promoted worldwide. 

However there is one problem that the USTA most probably didn’t want to encounter – a lack of enthusiasm from some of the sports stars. It all started when 2014 champion Marin Cilic told Reuters that such a move could ‘devalue’ this year’s US Open. The Croat is one of two players outside of the Big Four to have won the event within the past decade along with Stan Wawrinka (2016).

“I just feel that it’s going to more or less feel like practice matches,” Cilic argues.
“It’s always going to be … in the years to come, ‘oh, you know that guy won a U.S. Open in 2020 without fans’. I don’t think it’s going to have that weight…
“It wouldn’t be the best scenario.”

Roger Federer admits that he will find it difficult to play without a crowd cheering him on. The Swiss tennis star is usually one of the star attractions at Flushing Meadows and is a five-time champion. Although he hasn’t featured in a final there since 2015. For Federer how would rather wait than take the path of playing behind closed doors. 

“For us, of course, it is possible to play without any fans,” he said. “But on the other hand, I really hope that the circuit can return as it normally is. May we wait for the appropriate time to return to normal mode again. At least a third of the stadium or half full. But for me, completely empty when playing in big tournaments is very difficult.”

It isn’t just the men who have expressed their concerns. Petra Kvitova is another star to voice her opposition. The two-time Wimbledon champion has said she would rather have the event canceled altogether. Like Cilic, the Czech believes playing a major without fans could harm its image. 

“I have my age and of course I would like to play another Grand Slam, but if it’s like this, I’d rather cancel them,” said Kvitova.
“Playing a Grand Slam is the greatest thing there is and playing without fans who are our engine doesn’t look nice to me and the Grand Slam doesn’t deserve it.”

Kvitova is playing in an all-Czech tournament in Prague this week which is being played behind closed doors. 

Despite the trio of objections, not everybody is against the plan. British player Dan Evans believes such an occasion could be ‘iconic’ for the sport. Arguing that it will send out a message that the sport is ready to get going.

“Me, personally, I would love it to go ahead,” Evans told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I think it would send out a real statement that we can get back going.
“It could be an amazing spectacle that tennis goes ahead with no-one in the stadium, and everybody watching on telly.”

The US Open is set to take place between August 30th – September 13th. The USTA will make a final decision regarding the event next month. 

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‘He Could Become An Excellent Player’ – Remember Roger Federer’s Grand Slam Debut 21 Years Later

More than two decades ago on this day was the start of where it all began for the former world No.1. But what did he and his opponent think about his first match played at a major?

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Roger Federer at the 1999 French Open

On this day 21 years ago the most decorated grand slam champion in the history of men’s tennis began his major career.

 

Roger Federer embarked upon the 1999 French Open as the youngest player in the field and yet to break into the world’s top 100. Aged 17, the Swiss player was yet to play in the final of an ATP Tournament and only managed to enter the Roland Garros main draw thanks to a wild card. His opponent was third seed Pat Rafter who at the time was at the peak of his career. The Australian had won back-to-back US Open titles leading up to the tournament.

Undoubtedly the odds were piled heavily against a young and inexperienced Federer, but he still managed to make his mark. Surprisingly taking the first set before Rafter fought back to eventually win 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2.

“The young man from Switzerland could be one of the people who will shape the next ten years,” the French sports newspaper L’Equipe wrote at the time.

Rafter echoed a similar view to L’Equipe during his post-match media engagements. He went on to become one of the few players to have a perfect winning record against Federer of 3-0. Also defeating him twice during the 2001 season.

“The boy impressed me very much,” he said. “If he works hard and has a good attitude, he could become an excellent player.”

Rafter’s prediction came true but even he at the time didn’t expect the 17-year-old to go on and become one of the greatest. Now Federer holds the records for most grand slam titles (20), most weeks as world No.1 (310) and has won more ATP Awards than anybody else (37). Approaching the age of 39, he remains a prominent fixture in the world’s top 10 18 years on from his debut.

Federer has spoken about his first taste of a grand slam a few times in the past. One of his most notable observations was during a conversation he had with Rafter at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships. When speaking about losing his one set lead, the Swiss maestro said it was partly to do with his mental weakness and showing too much respect to the top guns at the time.

”I was up a set and I was just 17 years old and I wasn’t expected to win,” Federer recounted. ”I think I got broken in the second set and I was like ‘Oh, God, what am I doing?’
”Next thing you know I’m losing 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. It was very mental. I had a lot of respect for the older generation who were already accomplished. Obviously stars like Pat were, for me, people I really looked up to, even though I knew I could beat them. Mentally I was not so solid.”

Rafter has also admitted that his 1999 victory was partly down to the mental weakness of his rival during a 2018 interview with Blick newspaper. However, he blames losing the first set on never playing Federer before.

“I met Roger for the first time at the French Open in 1999. It was his grand slam debut. Since I did not know his game at the time, it took me some time to adjust to him. That’s why I lost the first set,” he said.
“Roger’s biggest handicap was his mental maturity, he was only 17 years old. That was one of the reasons why I came back and win in four sets.”

Whilst the French Open was where it all began for Federer, his record in the major is the worst out of the four grand slams. It is the only one he has failed to win multiple times, claiming his sole title back in 2009. Overall, he has played in the main draw 18 times with a win-loss of 70-17.

How old was the current top 10 when Federer made his grand slam debut?

  1. Novak Djokovic – 12
  2. Rafael Nadal – 12
  3. Dominic Thiem – 5
  4. Roger Federer – 17
  5. Daniil Medvedev – 3
  6. Stefanos Tsitsipas – 9 months
  7. Alexander Zverev – 2
  8. Matteo Berrettini – 3
  9. Gael Monfils – 12
  10. David Goffin – 8

(numbers in years unless otherwise stated)

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