Western & Southern Open Day 1 Preview: The Men’s And Women’s Match of the Day - UBITENNIS
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Western & Southern Open Day 1 Preview: The Men’s And Women’s Match of the Day

Eight months into the year and the main draw of the first combined tournament will finally get underway on Saturday.

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The Grandstand will be used as the main stadium for the Western & Southern Open (wsopen.com)

 

Professional tennis is back in a big way after months of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While this is the fourth weekend in August, it marks just the first combined ATP Masters/WTA Premier tournament of 2020.  This year the event has been moved from Mason, Ohio to New York City.  It will be played on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, also home of the US Open, which starts in just nine days.  The USTA is holding these tournaments back-to-back at the same location in order to create a safe bubble for the players in one place.

Seven of the ATP’s top 10 are in this Masters 1,000 draw, with only Rafael Nadal, an injured Roger Federer, and Gael Monfils not playing.  The WTA attendance is a bit more lacking, with only four top 10 players present in Flushing Meadows.  But this event features top names like Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka, and Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, as well as wild card entrees Venus Williams and Andy Murray.

It will be most interesting to see how everyone performs in their first big tournament since January or February of this year, as tennis players rarely take a six-month break from competition outside of a serious injury.  This seven-day event will conclude on Friday with the singles and doubles championships.  Each day, we’ll take a closer look at one men’s and one women’s match from that day’s schedule of play.

Denis Shapovalov (12) vs. Marin Cilic

These two men’s careers have been going in opposite directions of late.  The 21-year-old Canadian closed out last season in excellent fashion, winning Stockholm and reaching the Masters 1000 final in Bercy.  Cilic meanwhile had a subpar 2019, going just 22-19.  However, Cilic did fight his way to the round of 16 in Melbourne this past January.  They have split their two previous matches, both contended on hard courts.  Shapovalov should be favoured based on recent form, though making predictions for an unprecedented restart such as this is a tough business.  The time off could have easily helped Cilic recharge and refocus, and there’s no way to know just how dedicated any of these players have been in their training during the time off.  But if both men come out of the gates strong, this could be a crackling opening round contest.

Dayana Yastremska (16) vs. Venus Williams (WC)

While the tours were on hiatus, Venus Williams turned 40-years-of-age.  While her results in recent years have been mixed, she’s played her best tennis on the hard courts of her home country.  In 2019, 11 of her 19 wins came in the USA.  Last week in Lexington, she took out Victoria Azarenka before succumbing to her younger sister Serena in a tight three-setter.  Today she faces a Ukrainian half her age who has quickly climbed the rankings.  Coached by Sascha Bajin, who is a former member of Serena’s team, Yastremska has won three WTA titles in the last two years, and was a finalist in Adelaide at the start of 2020.  She accumulated four wins over top 20 players earlier this year.  Like Venus, Dayana is an aggressive player who usually controls the rallies.  This match-up between two of the WTA’s harder hitters will likely be decided by the player who can better manage their unforced error tally.

Other Notable Matches on Day 1:

In a battle of wild cards, Frances Tiafoe (WC) vs. Andy Murray (WC).  This will be Murray’s first match of 2020, as he missed the beginning of the season due to a pelvic injury.  Tiafoe is a measly 21-30 since his breakout run at last year’s Australian Open.  This is their first career meeting.

Donna Vekic (15) vs. Victoria Azarenka.  Vekic leads their head-to-head 2-0, with both victories coming last year on American hard courts.  Azarenka has not won a match since the first round of this event a year ago.

Kyle Edmund vs. Kevin Anderson (PR).  Edmund won the New York Open back in February shortly before the tour shut down.  Anderson entered the draw on a protected ranking, having missed the majority of 2019 due to multiple injuries.  They’ve split their two previous matches.

Maria Sakkari (13) vs. Coco Gauff.  The 16-year-old phenomenon Gauff picked up where she left off last week in Lexington, reaching the semifinals.  Sakkari had a nice start to the year, winning nine matches between January and February.  This will be the first time these two rising stars have played.

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Internazionali d’Italia Day 4 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day

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Court Pietrangeli at Foro Italico (internazionalibnlditalia.com)

On Thursday in Rome, the prevailing theme will be established veterans taking on the new generation.

 

A trio of two-time Major champions will face three of the WTA’s most impressive young talents: an American teenager who was tennis’ breakout star last summer, a 24-year-old who already has 23 wins in this abbreviated season, and a 21-year-old who was the shocking winner of this year’s Australian Open.  On the men’s side, 30-somethings Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini will all battle opposition approximately a decade their junior.  What will win out on Thursday: experience, or youth?

Sofia Kenin (3) vs. Victoria Azarenka (SE)

In their only prior encounter, youth prevailed.  18 months ago in Acapulco, Kenin pulled out one of the most significant wins of her burgeoning career, 7-5 in the third.  But this is a very different Azarenka that Kenin faces today.  After years of injuries, personal setbacks, and tough draws, Vika is back in a big way.  Following four consecutive losses prior to last month’s Western & Southern Open, Azarenka is now on a 12-1 run.  Once she got a few wins under her sails, the floodgates have opened.  While Kenin is rarely an easy out, she also doesn’t possess any significant weapons to contain a reborn Azarenka, who remains one of the game’s best returners.  The two-time Australian Open champion should be favored to overcome Melbourne’s most recent victor.

Kei Nishikori vs. Lorenzo Musetti (Q)

Musetti has a lot of the tennis world talking after his startling upset of Stan Wawrinka on Tuesday night.  Lorenzo, the 249th-ranked player in the world, was the junior champion of the Australian in 2019.  Two evenings ago, he dominantly took the first set from Wawrinka 6-0.  But even more impressively, he did not fold after donating a second-set lead, persevering to complete the win in straights.  His one-handed backhand is a thing of beauty, and his composure is noteworthy.  Is Italy’s new star ready to dismiss another top name?  Kei Nishikori missed a year of action due to an elbow injury and the pandemic, and is 1-1 since returning.  Nishikori certainly has a solid clay resume, but he’s currently far from his best.  In a week where Italian men have exceled, another Roman conquering is not out of the question.

Other Notable Matches on Day 4:

Garbine Muguruza (9) vs. Coco Gauff.  Coco routed an in-form One Jabeur in the last round, while Muguruza comfortably excused another American, Sloane Stephens.

Anett Kontaveit (14) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Their only previous meeting occurred in Rome two years ago, with Kontaveit winning after two tight sets.

In his first match since February, Gael Monfils (5) vs. Dominik Koepfer (Q), who upset Alex de Minaur in a third set tiebreak on Tuesday.

Fabio Fognini (7) vs. Ugo Humbert.  The 22-year-old Frenchman won his first ATP title earlier this year in Auckland.  Fognini has only once reached the quarterfinals in twelve past appearances at his country’s biggest tournament.

In a rematch of a dramatic fourth round match from 11 days ago at the US Open, Petra Martic (8) vs. Yulia Putintseva.

And in a battle between two rising ATP prospects, Andrey Rublev (9) vs. Hubert Hurkacz.

Full order of play is here.

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Internazionali d’Italia Day 3 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day

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The Grand Stand at Foro Italico (internazionalibnlditalia.com)

The favorites to win this event will play their first singles matches on a busy Wednesday in Rome.

 

For defending champion Rafael Nadal, this will be his first match in over six months, against a fellow Spaniard who reached the semifinals of last week’s US Open.  And this is the first time we see Novak Djokovic on court since he was defaulted two Sundays ago for hitting a lineswoman in the throat with the tennis ball.  On the women’s side, top seed Simona Halep arrives on a nine-match winning streak.  She was the champion in Dubai back in February and in Prague last month.  Simona is joined today by recent Rome champions Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina.  But the day’s most marquee women’s matchup features the US Open runner-up against the last player to beat her prior to that run in New York.

Victoria Azarenka (SE) vs. Venus Williams (WC)

Last month in Lexington, Williams comfortably defeated Azarenka 6-3, 6-2.  It was right after that loss Vika went on her 11-match win streak, becoming the champion of the Western & Southern Open and a US Open finalist.  By contrast, Venus is 0-3 since beating Azarenka, though her three losses have come against top 30 players.  Neither woman would describe clay as their favorite surface, but Vika reached the quarterfinals here last year, with impressive victories over Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza.  By contrast, Williams is just 2-5 on clay over the last three years.  However, Venus has the 6-2 edge in their head-to-head.  That includes their two most recent meetings, though Azarenka claimed their only match on clay.  Even though it was only four days ago she played her first Major final in seven years, Vika’s confidence level should be enough to get her through this tough opening round.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta

There has been much speculation regarding Rafael Nadal leading into his first match since the 29th of February.  He and his team have spoken openly of how affected he has been by the pandemic, which caused him to opt out of traveling to New York to defend his US Open title.  And in his return to professional tennis, Nadal faces a man who just five days ago reached his second Major semifinal.  But this is a matchup that significantly favors Nadal.  He is 5-0 against Carreno Busta, with Pablo securing only one of 11 sets completed.  Rafa also has a history of dominating his fellow Spaniards.  And Pablo is not your typical Spaniard who excels on the red clay.  He actually went just 7-9 on this surface last season.  But it will be intriguing to see how Nadal performs today coming off such a long layoff.  It’s been a challenging six months for everyone, with Rafa seemingly more impacted than other players.  And while Nadal is easily the best clay court player of all-time, he’s also a player who is at his best when he’s match tough.  He will be eager to gain some significant court time over the next week in Rome.

Other Notable Matches on Day 3:

Four-time champion Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Salvatore Caruso (WC), a 27-year-old Italian who came back to defeat Tennys Sandgren yesterday in a final set tiebreak.

In a match between the two most recent ATP Next Gen Finals champions, Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Jannick Sinner (WC).  This is Tsitsipas’ first match since his epic loss to Borna Coric in New York.  Sinner survived the soap opera that was his opening round against Benoit Paire two days ago.

Two-time champion Elina Svitolina (4) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  Anastasia leads their head-to-head 3-1, though they’ve never played on clay.

Two-time finalist Simona Halep (1) vs. Jasmine Paolini (WC), who upset Anastasija Sevastova in the first round.

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova (2) vs. Barbora Strycova.  Pliskova is 4-1 against her fellow Czech.

David Goffin (6) vs. Marin Cilic.  Goffin is 4-3 lifetime against Cilic, though Marin prevailed when they met in Rome three years ago.

Italian No.1 Matteo Berrettini (4) vs. Federico Coria (Q), an 18-year-old Argentine who came through qualifying and already has four match wins this past week.

Full order of play is here.

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Does Finishing A Match Require The ‘Big Three’?

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on the US Open.

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Dominic Thiem has finally arrived at 27 years old.

 

He’s been good enough for several years to have arrived earlier, but there was always the “Big Three” of  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic standing in his way, along with a list of others waiting to “arrive.”

Alexander Zverev is still waiting with the “others” after being a part of Thiem’s historic rally from two sets down to win Sunday’s U.S. Open men’s final despite both players winning an equal number of games in Thiem’s 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory.

THIEM TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION

Of course, if Thiem had been playing any of the game’s “Big Three” on Monday, it’s highly unlikely that Thiem would have rallied from two sets down to capture his first Grand Slam title.

Superstars Federer, Nadal and Djokovic obviously know how to finish matches since they are the top three all-time leaders in Grand Slam titles, Federer leading the way with 20 titles, followed by Nadal’s 19 and Djokovic’s 17.

Federer and Nadal skipped New York, and Federer also is not entered in Paris where the red clay event will start in less than two weeks.

But you’ve got to hand it to Thiem. Those forehand passing shots by Thiem against Zverev in critical situations near the end were a thing of beauty, the kind of shots Federer, Nadal and Djokovic might hit in pressure situations.

NADAL MAY BE TOO GOOD IN PARIS

It should be all Nadal in Paris as he chases Federer’s record-setting 20th Grand Slam title, but Djokovic will be there to keep Nadal in check.

But what about Thiem?

The amazing Austrian should be more relaxed this time in Paris — if he is fully recovered from Sunday night’s ordeal in New York. And, of course, Daniil Medvedev and Zverev both are fully capable of  winning their first Grand Slam title.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MEDVEDEV AND ZVEREV?

But what happened to Medvedev and Zverev in New York may haunt them for awhile, Zverev especially after blowing a two-set lead against Thiem.

Zverev is a real puzzle after coming back from two sets down to defeat Carreno Busta in the semifinals and then dominating Thiem in the first two sets on Sunday, only to lose.

Maybe Thiem just lucked up this time, hot having Federer, Nadal or Djokovic on the other side of the net in the U.S. Open final. Someone else had to win.

THE AZARENKA PUZZLE

That’s as puzzling as Victoria Azarenka’s last two rounds in New York, not showing up in a first-set rout by Serena’s Williams before taking the last two sets. Azarenka had the exact opposite result in her loss in Saturday’s women’s final to Naomi Osaka, with Azarenka winning, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, over Serena and then Osaka beating Azarenka by the same score.

So, what’s going on in tennis? It’s almost as unpredictable as the coronavirus.

But “tennis things” may return a little closer to normal in the French Open. It’s highly unlikely that Djokovic will hit another lines person with a ball as he did at the U.S. Open, which led to his ejection. And Nadal is virtually money in the bank in Paris.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

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