Australian Open 2020: Two Weeks At Melbourne Park, From A to Z - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open 2020: Two Weeks At Melbourne Park, From A to Z

Some final notes about the first Major of the year, letter by letter

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After 17 intense days spent at Melbourne Park, the time has come to look at what this last Major tournament has left us. The final day of the 2020 Australian Open was a very pleasant summer day that ended with a 4 hours, 10 minutes final between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem and was a far cry from the almost dramatic first days of the qualifying tournament, three weeks earlier, when Melbourne was the most polluted city on the planet and there were talks of postponing or canceling the event because of poor air quality caused by the raging bushfires that have devastated the country throughout the summer.

 

We are going to make an alphabetised list of (almost) all the memories we are taking back from the tournament as we are flying halfway around the world to our respective homes, hoping not to forget anything.

A for ATP Cup – the ‘rookie’ team competition that has inaugurated the 2020 men’s tennis season has provided a very similar format to the new Davis Cup Finals, but with a better position in the calendar and less pathos due to the lack of tradition. It also gave us a lot of good tennis, perhaps even too much, as Australian n.1 Alex de Minaur was forced to withdraw from the Australian Open due to an injury that occurred in Sydney during the final stages of the ATP Cup. It was the first edition, we all need to adjust to the competition, including the players, who will need to get their priorities right: sometimes representing their country makes them overplay and Demon’s misfortune will need to serve as a warning for future years.

B for Barty – Ashleigh got to her home tournament as no.1 in the world and Australian newspapers went nuts over it. Even before getting to Melbourne she said: “I’m sick of seeing my face on the front pages”. She’ll probably have to get used to it. Her tournament ended in the semis, beaten by the eventual champion Sofia Kenin. “I had set point in both sets, so I was two points away from winning the match in straight sets”, said Barty in the post-match press conference, as she was holding her 12-week old niece Olivia. “Because there are other important things in life”.

C for Margaret Court Smith – Tennis Australia has decided to officially celebrate the 50th anniversary of her 1970 calendar Grand Slam, despite her convinced homophobic opinions do not align with the position of the Australian Federation. She has given a replica of the women’s singles trophy, but was not allowed to speak at the ceremony (a pre-recorded video was played instead) and American Lindsay Davenport was preferred to her for the trophy presentation on women’s final day. Tennis Australia tried to work both sides of the street but ended up disappointing almost everyone.

D for Dad – Women’s champion Sofia Kenin owes her career and her tennis to her dad, who left Russia in the 1990s to give her daughter the “American Dream” and has been her coach since the very beginning. Alexander Kenin got to New York with a few dollars in his pockets and worked as a taxi driver to raise his daughter and allow her to play tennis. More or less like Yuri Sharapov got to Florida many years before with her young daughter Maria.

E for Eight – Novak Djokovic enters the very exclusive club of players who have won at least eight times a Grand Slam tournament. Roger Federer has won eight Wimbledon, and Rafael Nadal has triumphed at Roland Garros an unbelievable 12 times. Another astonishing record he shares with the players that have monopolized tennis for over 15 years: since 2004, they have won a combined 56 Grand Slam titles out of the 65 tournaments player.

F for France – Three out of four semi-finalists in the boys’ tournament were French players, including the two finalists. No. 1 seed Harold Mayot defeated fellow countryman Timo Legout in the semi-final and won the title beating his long-time friend Arthur Cazaux in the final.

G for GreenSet – the new surface has been introduced this year at the Australian Open, replacing the Plexicushion that had been used since 2008. Courts resulted considerably slower, especially due to the combined effect of the new, rougher surface of GreenSet courts and the new Dunlop balls (introduced in 2019) that become very big after a few games, making hitting winners very complicated. Furthermore, during most of the 2020 Australian Open, temperatures remained unseasonably mild, slowing down the playing conditions even further and therefore creating a lethal mix for attack players.

H for Hosts Drama – Australian Open TV hosts and former champions John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova staged an original protest after a Legends’ match on Margaret Court Arena, advocating for a change to the name of the venue, motivated by the homophobic views professed by Court. Navratilova tried to make a speech using the umpire’s microphone but was cut off, then together with McEnroe unrolled a banner suggesting that the building be named after Evonne Goolagong. Tennis Australia reprimanded the two legends saying they had broken protocol: both Navratilova and McEnroe apologized and the incident was closed without consequences. Given Tennis Australia’s stickiness for rules, any other “perpetrator” with a lesser pedigree would have probably been de-credentialed and banned from the tournament.

I for Italians Slayer – American player Tennys Sandgren reached the quarterfinals where he squandered seven match points against Roger Federer by eliminating the Top 2 Italian players of the ATP Ranking; Matteo Berrettini, world n. 8, in the second round and Fabio Fognini, n. 12, in the Round of 16.

J for John Millman – The 30-year-old player from Brisbane proved his win over Roger Federer in 2018 over Roger Federer was not an accident when he forced once again the Swiss maestro to pull out a special performance in his second-round victory by 10-8 in the fifth set tiebreak. Millman was leading 8-4 in the decider but lost the final six points allowing Federer to continue his 15th semifinal run at the Australian Open.

K for Kenin – born in Moscow and raised in Florida, the 21-year-old stunned the world becoming the 11th different lady Grand Slam champion in the last 13 tournaments. She spectacularly turned the tables on Muguruza in the final by coming back from 0-40 on 2-2 in the deciding set with four winners and one ace. From that moment onwards she had won over the crowd’s support, after they had been cheering for her opponent during most of the match. That performance confirmed her reputation as a clutch player after she had come back from a set down in the Round of 16 against teenage sensation Coco Gauff and had edged out home favourite and world no.1 Ashleigh Barty in the semi-final canceling a set point in each of the two sets.

L for Legacy – The news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death hit the tournament quite hard: before his marquee match with Nadal, Nick Kyrgios warmed up wearing the retired Los Angeles Lakers n. 24 jersey; Novak Djokovic recreated a “KB 24” black symbol on his warm-up jacket, as Bryant was one of his mentors; Naomi Osaka kept posting on her social media very sad statuses and seemed to be hardly coping with the grief the entire world was experiencing.

M for Muguruza – After splitting up with her coach Sam Sumyk and returning to the cares Conchita Martinez, who had already led her to a Wimbledon title, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza has returned to a Major final after that Wimbledon and, more importantly, has been able to show that her power game is still there, it just needed to be allowed out again. She was just a few games away from her third Grand Slam title, stopped only by Kenin’s fury and determination. But her return to the big stage is good news for the WTA world: she had already been invited by Vanity Fair to the Oscars a few years ago, and women’s tennis desperately needs mainstream characters since the current ones are on their way to retirement (or already there).

N for Nick Kyrgios – The old brat that swears at umpires and smashes racquets seems to have remained in 2019. In this 2020 we have been treated to a new and improved version of Nick Kyrgios, who has enjoyed once more the team spirit he loves so much both during the Davis Cup Finals and again for the ATP Cup, starting a charity contest that has so far raised over 5 million dollars in favour of the populations hit by the terrible fires in Australia. His match with Rafael Nadal during the Australia Day weekend received more media attention than the semifinals – eventually Nadal’s game proved too much for him, but if Nick from Canberra can keep up this positive attitude, he can be a great addition to the men’s circuit.

O for Ons Jabeur – the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals in a Major tournament, and one that can play a very complete tennis. Ons from Tunisia had people stay up very late (or get up very early, whichever way you want to see it) to follow her matches on TV and hopes she can lead the way for other Arab players who don’t have rich federations behind them: “I am 100 percent a product of Tunisia” she proudly claimed after her Round-of-16 win over Qiang Wang. After an early loss during the final tournament of the 2019 season, she gathered her team and she said: “I want more, I want the Top 20 and I am ready to put in whatever work is needed”. She kept her promise, and results followed.

P for PM – the abbreviation “PM”, usually followed by a number, stands for “particulate matter”, and the number indicates the size of the particulate in question. This relatively obscure scientific indicator became very popular among everyone in Melbourne during the qualifying week when the Australian metropolis became the most polluted city in the world, with concentration of PM 2.5 arriving close to 1000 (anything above 300 is considered “hazardous”). Slovak player Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire due to breathing issues that occurred during the air emergency when all normal outdoor activities were stopped by the city of Melbourne but Tennis Australia decided to continue playing. “Would they risk it with Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?” some qualifying players said on social media, feeling they were being considered as B-class human beings. Fortunately, it all dissolved in the air (quite literally) when it started raining a couple of days later, but Tennis Australia did not have its finest hour.

Q for Qiang Wang – the Chinese player scored the most important win of her career sending Serena Williams packing in the third round. Serena was the usual sore loser (“I can’t make as many mistakes as I have made today, it’s not professional”), but Wang played a very smart match forcing the American to take too many chances on a bad day.

R for Record – the 2020 Australian Open broke the 800,000-spectator barrier (812,174 to be precise) for the first time, firmly placing itself as the best-attended tennis event in the calendar. Great facilities, a permanent party atmosphere contribute to make this tournament one of the fans’ favourites.

S for Southbank – after many years staying in the Central Business District, accommodation availability issues made us switch to the residential neighborhood of Southbank, South of the River Yarra. It was a very pleasant surprise: very convenient to Melbourne Park, full of good restaurants, bar and supermarkets, it made our commute a relaxing diversion from the long days at the venue.

T for Thiem – those two break points at 2-1 in the fourth set during the final were probably his chance to take home the Australian Open trophy, but it wasn’t meant to be. The slow surface probably helped his tennis, but he deserves full credit for the wins over Nadal in the quarters and Zverev in the semis.

U for Ubaldo Scanagatta – the flamboyant Chief Editor of Ubitennis was interviewed during the morning show of Channel 9, the Australian TV host of the tournament, and was specifically requested by Djokovic to ask him the first question during the post-final press conference. Need we say more?

V for Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva – Andorra got on the map of Grand Slam winners thanks to this 14-year-old girl who won the girls single’s title. She moved to Barcelona a couple of years ago, and now trains in her dad’s academy in Catalunya, but he still proudly represents the Pyrenean country where only one indoor court exists.

W for Wozniacki – Caroline Wozniacki ended her career in Melbourne with a third-round defeat to Qiang Wang. “I find it befitting that my last match was a three-setter and my last point was a forehand unforced error,” said the Dane immediately after the match. Her departure from the WTA Tour gave us all one more reason to sing “Sweet Caroline” and get all teary and emotional.

X for eXtreme heat rule – a few years ago Tennis Australia decided to introduce a deterministic rule to determine whether play should be suspended due to excessive heat, as a result of increasing complaints about the decisions by the tournament referee. This rule establishes that, if a certain index resulting from a combination of temperature, humidity, wind and sun activity reaches the level of 5 all play needs to be suspended on external courts and all matches on show courts should be played indoor. However, during women’s semifinals Thursday all matches were stopped on outside courts while girls on Rod Laver Arena kept playing outdoors on a scorching day when said index remained at 4.9 for several hours.

Y for “You’re the voice” – the iconic song by John Farnham was heavily used by the Australian Open DJs to fire up the crowds during changeovers and medical timeouts. And so was “YMCA” by Village People and… “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Since they had to buy the rights for Caroline Wozniacki’s last match, they had to sweat their asset…

Z for Zverev – after the spectacular meltdown showcased during the ATP Cup, the young German reached his first Grand Slam semifinal and showed great improvements in his serve, now a potentially lethal weapon that could very soon deliver him to even more prestigious goals.

 

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Jelena Ostapenko cruises into the second round with a straight-set win over Petra Martic in Ostrava

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Former Roland Garros champion and world number 44 Jelena Ostapenko cruised past number 5 seed Petra Martic 6-3 6-1 after 57 minutes to reach the second round at J&T Banka Ostrava Open. 

 

Martic won her previous two head-to-head matches against Ostapenko at Indian Wells in 2018 and in Birmingham in 2019. 

Ostapenko has scored her milestone 20th career over a top-20 rival. The Latvian player hit 30 winners to 15 unforced errors. 

Martic got an early break in the first game and consolidated it with a hold of serve to take a 2-0 lead. Ostapenko saved two break points and held serve for 1-2 before breaking serve with a forehand passing shot in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. The Latvian player reeled off five consecutive games to open up a 5-2 lead. Martic held serve to claw her way back to 3-5. Ostapenko served out the set at love. Ostapenko hit 20 winners to 10 unforced errors. 

Ostapenko got an early break with a forehand crosscourt winner. The 2017 French Open champion went up a double break and hit a series of forehand winners to race out to a 4-0 lead extending her winning streak to five consecutive games. Martic held serve in the fifth game to close the gap to 1-4. Ostapenko held serve easily to build up a 5-1 lead with a crosscourt backhand winner. In the next game Ostapenko earned two match points, as Martic hit the netcord with a dropshot and closed out the match with a forehand down the line. 

“I think I played really well well today. I just got used to playing the first couple of games, but then I played really well and I did not give her any chances to play her game, and I made so many winners. I played very smart and also used dropshots and mixed it up a little bit, which helped me, but in the deciding moments I was still aggressive. I knew Martic was going to make a lot of balls in play and I would have to be very focused and very consistent to beat her”, said Ostapenko. 

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Maria Sakkari reaches her third quarter final of the season in Ostrava

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Maria Sakkari got through to her third quarter final of the season after beating Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-3 at the J&T Banka Open in Ostrava with five breaks and 32 winners. 

 

Sakkari has already reached two quarter finals in 2020 in St. Petersburg and at the Western and Southern Open in New York and scored the fourth win of her career against a top 5 player. 

Sakkari went up a 3-0 lead with a double break. Svitolina pulled one of the two breaks back in the fourth game to claw his way back to 1-3. Sakkari converted his third break point in the eighth game to win the first set 6-3. 

Svitolina earned her first break in the third game of the second set to take a 2-1 lead. Sakkari battled to deuce four times and converted her third break points in a marathon fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Sakkari earned another brek to open up a 5-3 lead to close out the match after 1 hour and 16 minutes. 

“Obviously winning against a player like Elina, the way I played I think that made me happy today. I think playing like me gives me a lot of confidence. Getting another top 5 win is very important for me. When I was starting my career, I had people telling me that I cannot play indoors. I think it was a big mistake listening to them. I have beaten very good indoor players in St. Petersburg and here in Ostrava. I have developed my game in a way that I can now be dangerous indoor sas well. My serve is big, and I am playing a little bit more aggressive. So I am super happy. I have proved these people wrong”, said Sakkari.

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Grigor Dimitrov rallies from one set down to beat Pablo Andujar in Antwerp

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Grigor Dimitrov came back from one set down to beat Pablo Andujar 4-6 6-3 6-4 at the European Open in Antwerp.

 

Andujar earned the break in the ninth game to win the first set 6-4. Dimitrov went up an early break in the second game to take the second set 6-3. The Bulgarian player raced out to a 4-1 lead with a double break in the decider. Andujar pulled one break back in the sixth game for 2-4. Dimitrov saved four match points in the eighth game to hold serve at deuce and converted his first match point in the 10th game to win the third set 6-4. 

Ugo Humbert came back from one set down to beat this year’s US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7 6-3 6-4 after 2 hours and 33 minutes Humbert earned an early break in the second game of the opening set to build up a 5-2 lead. Carreno Busta fought back by winning five consecutive games with two breaks in the ninth and eleventh games to win the first set 7-5. 

Humbert saved four break points in the fifth game before breaking serve in the eighth game to win the second set sending the match to the third set. Humbert fended off four break points at 2-3 in the third set and broke serve to love to take a 5-4 lead, when Carreno Busta made three consecutive groundstroke errors. Humbert has improved his win-loss record to 18-11 and won the ASB Classic title in Auckland last January. The Frenchman scored the biggest win of his career when he beat Danil Medvedev in the Hamburg quarter final. 

Humbert will face either US Taylor Fritz or South African qualifier Lloyd Harris. Fritz dropped six of his first service points in his 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 win over his compatriot Reilly Opelka. 

Milos Raonic beat Aljaz Bedene 6-3 7-6 (7-4) in 86 minutes setting up a second round match against Cameron Norrie. Bedene fended off two match points, when he was serving at 5-6 15-40 to force the second set to the tie-break. Raonic rallied from 1-3 down to win the tie-break 7-4. The Canadian player reached the final at the Western and Southern Open in New York and lost to Borna Coric in the semifinal in St. Petersburg.  

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