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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Anett Kontaveit Set To Battle For WTA Finals Spot After Lifting Moscow Crown

It is the third time Kontaveit has won a tournament within the past six months but will she be able to qualify for the season-ending championships?

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Anett Kontaveit (image via https://twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit has continued her recent surge in form on the Tour by fighting back from a set down to win her fourth career title at the Kremlin Cup on Sunday.

 

The world No.20 was on the verge of losing to home favourite Ekaterina Alexandrova before battling to a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, victory. At one stage in the match Kontaveit was trailing by a set and 0-4. Then in the decider she was broken at 4-4 before going on to win three games in a row to clinch the title. Overall, she won 69% of her first service points and broke her opponent five times.

“Of course, I am very happy, the match was extremely difficult, I feel relief and joy,” she said afterwards. “I got lucky at match-point, but during the match there were moments when she (Alexandrova) got lucky too. It always takes a little luck to win. She took the lead, controlled the match, it was very difficult for me, I tried to fight for all the points and this helped me to win.”

Kontaveit, who defeated former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza and Markéta Vondroušová earlier in the tournament, has now won 14 out of the last 15 matches she has played on the Tour. Her only loss was to Ons Jabeur in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells. She has played in five finals this year which is the second-highest on the WTA Tour after world No.1 Ash Barty who has played in six.

The 25-year-old is now on the verge of qualifying for the WTA Finals for the first time in her career. However, the prospect of her playing in the season-ending event depends on the results of next week’s tournaments. Kontaveit is playing in Romania and she needs to win the tournament and for rival Jabeur to lose before the semi-finals to qualify.

Meanwhile, runner-up Alexandrova exits Moscow frustrated with her missed opportunities in the match. It was the first time she has played in a final this season and only the third time in her career. Prior to Kontaveit, she scored back-to-back wins over Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to win, I’m very sorry. But I will work on it and I hope next time I will be able to get a better result,” Alexandrova said during the trophy ceremony.
“I want to congratulate Anett, she played great, it was hard for me to do something.” She added.

Kontaveit, who has won three WTA titles since August, is the first Estonian player to win the Moscow trophy. Compatriot Kaia Kanepi reached the final of the tournament back in 2011.

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Bad news for the Transylvania Open as no fans are allowed

There will be no fans for next week’s event that includes Simona Halep and Emma Raducanu.

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(@TransylvaniaOpn - Twitter)

Mere days before the event was going to start the government announced a new measure that won’t allow for spectators.

 

The Transylvania Open a brand new WTA 250 event being held at the BT Arena in Cluj-Napoca got some bad news when the government announced due to a spike in covid cases the event will be held without fans.

The tournament was able to get some big names for its tournament with the likes of Simona Halep, Paula Badosa, and 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu who were hoping to feed off the crowd energy.

Now they will have to play in an empty stadium which is something that happened a lot last year and another hurdle the players will have to go through, it’s disappointing because things were getting better but the fourth wave of Coronavirus keeps ravaging the world.

This will be the first tournament back for Raducanu after being upset in Indian Wells and was supposed to be a homecoming since she is of Romanian descent.

The tournament went on Twitter to announce the news that they will be hosting the event behind closed doors.

Halep was hoping to be able to also play in front of her home fans but will now look to win another title in her native country without any spectators or fan support.

As mentioned in the tweet the effect won’t happen till Monday so the fans will still be able to attend the qualifying matches that will happen on Saturday and Sunday.

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‘I Know How To Get There’ – Karen Khachanov Targets Return To Top 10

The world No.31 has showed signs of his talent this season with a run to the Olympic final but a lack of consistency and changes to the ATP ranking system has hindered him too.

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Karen Khachanov - Credit: AELTC/Ian Walton

It wasn’t that long ago when Karen Khachanov was the highest-ranked Russian man on the ATP Tour and billed as the next big thing from his country.

 

A breakout 2018 season saw Khachanov claim three Tour titles with the biggest of those being at the Paris Masters which remains his most prestigious trophy to date. He also reached his first major quarter-final at the French Open during the same season and scored five wins over top 10 players. Those triumphs helped elevate him in the ranking to a high of eight.

However, since that breakthrough Khachanov has found himself on a a rollercoaster journey. He is yet to win another title since Paris but came agonisingly close at the Tokyo Olympic Games where he finished runner-up to Alexander Zverev. In his nine previous Grand Slam tournaments his best run was at Wimbledon this season where he reached the last eight before losing to Denis Shapovalov.

Now ranked 31st in the world, the 25-year-old is aiming to claim back up the ladder after the ATP changed their ranking logic to the method used prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The rankings turned out to be a big pun, it was frozen for a year and a half, only now normal counting has begun. I am not fixated on this,” Khachanov told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday. “My main goal is to get back to the Top10. I know how to get there. And the intermediate goals are to be healthy and motivated.”

Khachanov has been ranked outside the world’s top 20 since February and hasn’t been in the top 10 since October 2019. He is currently coached on the Tour by Jose Clavet who has previously worked with a series of top Spanish players such as Feliciano Lopez, Alex Corretja, Tommy Robredo and Carlos Moya.

“He travels with me everywhere, for which I am grateful to him. I trust him as a specialist, as a coach and as a friend,” Khachanov said of Clavet.

Khachanov has returned to his home country this week where he is playing in Moscow at the Kremlin Cup. A tournament he won three years ago by defeating Adrian Mannarino in the final. Seeded third in the draw this time round, he began his campaign on Wednesday with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, win over James Duckworth. In the next round, he faces another Australian in the shape of John Millman which he believes will be a far from easy task.

He is a fighter, a complete player, he does everything well, forehand and backhand with good intensity. He does everything at a good level, but the main quality is that he fights till the end, so it will be hard for me,” he said of his next opponent.

Moscow is the seventh tournament this year where Khachanov has reached the quarter-final stage.

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