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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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Friday Delivers Several Blockbuster Quarterfinals

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Seeing fans back in the stands was a welcome sight on Thursday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

But will we be able to see those quarterfinals on Friday?  The forecast in Rome looks rather rainy, especially later in the day, so it may be challenging to complete play.

 

In men’s singles, two of the quarterfinals feature four of the top six players in the world.  Only one day after a three-and-a-half-hour epic against Denis Shapovalov, nine-time champion Rafael Nadal must face Madrid champion Sascha Zverev, who defeated him in the quarters just last week.  And five-time Novak Djokovic takes on Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has claimed 17 of his last 20 matches on clay.

In women’s singles, two-time champion Elina Svitolina plays a Roland Garros champion for the second consecutive day.  On Thursday, Svitolina took out Muguruza in straight sets.  On Friday, she’ll do battle with Iga Swiatek, who has won 12 of her last 13 on clay.  Another French open champ, Ash Barty, will play 17-year-old Coco Gauff for the first time, as Coco looks to upset a seeded player for the third round in a row.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play begins at 10:00am local time.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Sascha Zverev (6) – Not Before 12:00pm on Center Court

What will Nadal have left after Shapovalov took him to the limit on Thursday?  Zverev will certainly be the fresher player, and will walk onto court with plenty of confidence.  While Rafa claimed their first five meetings, Sascha has now grabbed their last three, and all in straight sets.  That includes his victory just seven days ago in Madrid, which is part of Zverev’s current seven-match win streak.  And during that span, he’s dropped only two sets.  

In recent years, the quarterfinals of this event have been a stumbling block for Nadal.  He’s lost in the quarters four out of the last six years.  It’s difficult to ever refer to Rafa as an underdog on clay, even when he’s behind in a match.  However, he just might be the underdog on this day.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not Before 6:00pm on Center Court

Svitolina has been solid yet unspectacular in 2021.  She’s accumulated a 19-8 record, though she hasn’t reached a final since last September in Strasbourg.  As of today, Swiatek has compiled a record of 16-5, which exactly matches her record from 2020.  The reigning French Open champ also won the title in Adelaide this past February.  This will be their first career meeting, and it will be interesting to see how the defense skills of Svitolina match up with the more offensive style of Swiatek. 

Elina won this tournament in 2017 and 2018, so this may be the best venue for her to elevate her season.  And despite Iga’s great successes early in her career, this is the farthest she’s ever been at a WTA 1000 event.   Notably, this is scheduled to be the last match of the evening session on Center Court.  If the match gets onto court, it will likely be played in slow, wet conditions.  Even though Swiatek thrived in cooler weather last fall at Roland Garros, those conditions should favor the game of Svitolina.  And Elina has a huge edge in experience at this level, as she looks to reach her 12th WTA 1000 semifinal.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Djokovic leads their head-to-head 4-2, and 2-0 on clay.  That includes their most recent clash last October at Roland Garros, when Tsitsipas came back from two sets down, only to lose in five.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Coco Gauff – Barty is now 27-4 on the year, and is vying for her fifth semifinal.  Gauff is yet to reach a semifinal this season, but this week she’s played her best tennis in quite some time, taking out both Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Pliskova has advanced to the championship match in Rome each of the last two years.  This is Ostapenko’s second quarterfinal here, and her first in three years.  Pliskova is 4-3 against Ostapenko, and prevailed when they met last month on clay in Stuttgart.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Lorenzo Sonego – Rublev is already playing for his 30th win of the year.  Sonego survived an over-three-hour battle with Dominic Thiem, which ended at 11:00pm local time on Thursday night.  Last October in the final of Vienna, Rublev took out Sonego 6-4, 6-4.

Petra Martic vs. Jessica Pegula – Prior to this week, Martic hadn’t won three consecutive matches since last year’s US Open.  Pegula continues to take her career to new heights, as she’s set to debut in the top 30 next week.  The 27-year-old American upset Naomi Osaka two rounds ago.  When they played on clay two years ago in Charleston, the match went to Martic in three sets.

Reilly Opelka vs. Federico Delbonis (Q) – Opelka defeated Aslan Karatsev on Thursday to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal.  For 30-year-old Delbonis, this is his first-ever quarterfinal at this level.  Opelka and Delbonis have never played before, but whoever wins will make their Masters semifinal debut.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Nadal survives three-set marathon with Shapovalov in Rome

Rafael Nadal saved match points to edge out Denis Shapovalov in Rome.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The King of Clay needed three sets and over three hours to claim the win and avoid an upset.

 

Rafael Nadal needed three hours and 27 minutes to beat the Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 at the Italian Open in Rome hitting 29 winners while his counterpart hit 46 unforced errors in the loss.

To everyone’s surprise it was the world number 14 who came out with the faster start earning two breakpoints in the first service game of the match with a stunning forehand winner.

He would break to take an early 1-0 lead and continued to have momentum earning another break and the Spaniard found himself staring at 3-0 defecit.

At 4-1 the world number three would get one of the breaks back but it wasn’t enough as the Toronto native would break one more time at 5-3 on his fourth breakpoint of the game to take the first set.

Once again we saw some really strong play from the Canadian in the beginning of the second set we saw history repeat itself when the world number 14 held serve and get the early break this time with his powerful forehand.

Nadal was fighting to stay in the set and the match and managed to earn a breakpoint but it was quickly saved with a big ace from Shapovalov. The very next game the Canadian had a chance to get another break but this time the Spaniard would deny him the opportunity.

After the world number three held serve he went on the attack looking to go back on serve and after three chances would get the break back. He would end up winning five games in a row and would take the second set to send it to a decider.

The third set remained on serve until 2-1 when the Canadian had a chance to break and he would take to jump out to a 3-1 lead. The break didn’t hold as Nadal came storming back the very next game breaking the world number 14 to love and equaling the set at 3-3.

The set and the match would ultimately be decided by a tiebreaker and in that breaker is when the Spaniard would take over winning it 7-3 to book his spot in the quarterfinals.

He will next face either Alexander Zverev or Kei Nishikori on Friday for a spot in the semifinals.

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Iga Swiatek Saves Two Match Points To Edge Out Krejcikova In Rome

Iga Swiatek survived a 2 hour and 50 minute clash to advance to the Rome Quarter-Finals.

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Iga Swiatek (@TickTockTennis - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek saved two match points to defeat Barbora Krejcikova 3-6 7-6(5) 7-5 to reach the last eight in Rome.

 

The defending Roland Garros champion battled and clawed to victory in 2 hours and 52 minutes after saving two match points.

Swiatek will now play the winner of the match between Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals tomorrow.

A summary of the match would be a lot of errors and tentative play throughout as the Pole was too aggressive in the opening set allowing a lot of unforced errors into her game.

Meanwhile Krejcikova was solid but was aggressive with the right angles in the right moments.

This proved crucial for the Czech Republican as she took advantage of Iga’s inability to produce first serves.

A crucial hold at 4-2 was enough for Krejcikova as there were six breaks of serve in the opening set. A long ninth game ended with the Czech taking the set 6-3.

In the second set it was more of the same with Swiatek as she was not able to produce her best tennis.

After going down an early break, Swiatek knew she had to build the points up slowly and gain her confidence. This is what occurred as she got the break back immediately and started to hold serve more comfortably.

Even though the world number 15 looked more confident with her shots and started to construct points better she could not successfully get into Krejcikova’s service games.

Towards the end of the set Swiatek saved two match points as this dramatic contest went to a second set tiebreak.

Swiatek’s mini-break lead was reduced but her fighting spirit was not as Krejcikova felt the pressure and a double fault from her gave the Pole a lifeline as she forced a deciding set.

After spending the change of ends being emotional, Swiatek regained similar form in the final set with her drop-shots being effective.

Krejcikova held nerve of her own as she continued to force the Pole to make unforced errors and just be as solid as she could be.

Swiatek saved three break points in the seventh game to lead 4-3 and then pounced in the 12th game with some heavy returns to take the match and move into the last eight.

Next for the Pole after a mammoth clash will be Garbine Muguruza or Elina Svitolina as she climbs into a new career ranking of 14 in the world.

In other results today Coco Gauff knocked out Madrid Champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5 6-3 for one of the best wins of her career.

The vibrant American faces world number one Ash Barty who continued her amazing season with with a 6-3 6-3 win over Veronika Kudermetova.

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