Garbine Muguruza held off a strong challenge from Coco Gauff to win a riveting second-round match 7-6(3) 3-6 6-3 at the Italian Open in Rome.
The Spaniard, 26, rediscovered some of her best form to reach the Australian Open final in January. And she produced arguably her strongest performance since the restart to overcome the precocious 16-year-old.
There was very little to separate the two players in the opening set. Both Muguruza and Gauff were sporadically excellent. Each hit superb winners at times. But they balanced this out by making sloppy errors.
Consequently, neither player was able to break away. When the American broke in game four, the Spaniard responded immediately to rein her in.
Even though most of the games were closely-contested in the rest of the set, there were no breaks. Therefore, the only way to decide who would take the lead was a tie-break.
It was Muguruza who rose to the occasion. She produced one of the most impressive six-point sequences you are ever likely to see. First, the Spaniard hit a forehand winner that landed on the baseline. Then she hit a huge unreturnable serve followed by an ace. Next, she forced an error from Gauff with a deep backhand. And at 6-3 up, she clinched the set in style with another ace.
Gauff fights back
Gauff approached the second set with steely determination. She did not give anything away and gradually cranked up the pressure on Muguruza.
In game three, the American’s efforts were rewarded. She earned two break points and seized the second with a precise passing shot back behind the Spaniard.
Unlike in the first set, Gauff then held serve to move 3-1 ahead. And the pressure of being behind had an effect on Muguruza. She made a couple of errors to give the American three chances to gain a double break.
The Spaniard dug in and saved the first two. But she was unable to prevent Gauff from taking the third with a powerful backhand followed by a forehand winner.
Muguruza was in no mood to let the second set slip away. She hit a brilliant lob and a stunning forehand winner to earn two break points in game six.
Although the American saved them both, the Spaniard soon earned two more. And she eventually took her fourth break point of the game courtesy of a double fault from Gauff.
Muguruza held comfortably to reduce the deficit to 4-3. However, she did not manage to retrieve the second break, as the American held to move 5-3 ahead. Gauff then profited from a sloppy service game from the Spaniard to clinch the set.
Muguruza stays strong as errors cost Gauff dearly
When Gauff broke to establish a 2-0 lead at the start of the decider, it looked like she was on course for a famous win over the two-time Grand Slam champion.
However, the American wasted her opportunity. She made three consecutive double faults to gift Muguruza three break points. And the Spaniard took the third to break back immediately.
After a steady hold from Muguruza, Gauff made two more double faults in game six. Once again, the Spaniard capitalised. She then held again to open up a 4-2 lead.
The American found her range on serve to reduce the deficit. But the end came quickly for her. Muguruza withstood everything Gauff threw at her during a hold that put her 5-3 up.
The Spaniard then went on the attack. She drove the American back behind the baseline and then hit a forehand winner. Then she forced a couple of errors to make it 0-40. At that stage, Gauff was completely demoralised. She hit a forehand into the net to surrender the match to Muguruza.
In the next round, the World No.17 may get a chance to resume a fascinating rivalry. All four of her meetings with Johanna Konta have gone to three sets. So if the Brit can beat qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu, it could lead to another entertaining encounter.
Coach Of Elena Rybakina Dismisses Allegations Of Poor Behavior At Australian Open
Stefano Vukov explains why he believes his actions were appropriate during Rybakina’s semi-final win over Aryna Sabalenka.
The coach of Elena Rybakina has denied accusations that he was berating his player during her clash with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open by saying he was just doing his job.
Stefano Vukov was seen multiple times during Rybakina’s semi-final match being highly animated and making a series of critical gestures towards his player when she produced mistakes. The display prompted criticism on social media with former player Laura Robson saying on Eurosport ‘I don’t know how she (Rybakina) copes. He seems to be so negative on the side.”
Croatian-born Vukov has been working with the reigning Wimbledon champion since 2019 and previously coached Anhelina Kalinina. He was briefly a player on the Futures and Challenger Tour before going to America to study. Growing up his family left Croatia when he was a child due to the war and he spent roughly 15 years living in Italy.
“It’s easy to just take clips and then make something controversial. This is part of our sport, it’s normal,” Vukov told Fox Sports Australia when quizzed about his behaviour.
“There’s 10,000 people out there, to get the attention of the player is definitely not easy and people don’t understand that. I have to scream out something if she’s off track.
“People can interpret that how they want but at the end of the day we’re just doing our job. Coaching is now allowed and she’s using it in the best possible way.”
This year is the first time that coaching is allowed during matches at the Australian Open but it is only allowed if players and coaches are on the same side of the court and there is no hindrance towards their opponent.
Continuing to hit back at the criticism, Rybakina’s mentor says during the match there are key moments where he needs to remind her of certain tactics. Dismissing suggestions from some that his approach is heavy-handed in any way.
“I think with all the emotions, sometimes the player doesn’t understand which situation of the match they are, which is absolutely normal,” he said.
“You know, you’re flowing, you’re into a rhythm, which has happened also yesterday, for example, against Azarenka. A set, 3-1 up, two breakpoints. She stopped playing, Elena, for a couple of games, for example, instead of going for the point a little bit more.
“There are moments we try to remind her, Hey, this is the moment to push. This is the moment to defend.
“It’s normal. There are moments of the match the player doesn’t remember, for example, or in a pressure point, which side to defend more, where to serve more.
“We are there to remind them. So obviously I think that coaching is very important. I think that the player, if the player wants to listen, obviously, they should use it as much as possible, because there is some matches that a few points make the difference. Look at the beginning of yesterday. 3-2 down, two bad choices. That’s it. That’s it. She could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up.
“I don’t know, something like this. Not to be negative, but it’s just our job, right? That’s what we are there for.”
In a previous interview with Tennis Majors last year, Vukov said he and Rybakina clicked together due to ‘his energy against her calmness.’ He also described the world No.25 as ‘a hardworking perfectionist, which sometimes works against her because sometimes she gets frustrated when things are not perfect.’
Rybakina will play Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open final on Saturday. As a result of her run in Melbourne, she will crack the top 10 next week for the first time regardless of how she performs in the final.
Australian Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals
On Friday in Melbourne, the men’s singles semifinals will be played.
Novak Djokovic is just two matches away from tying Rafael Nadal with 22 Major singles titles, the most-ever in men’s singles. Djokovic is 18-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals, and hasn’t lost a match in Australia in over five years. Can anyone prevent the nine-time champion from winning this event for a 10th time?
In the semifinals, Djokovic faces Tommy Paul, who prior to this fortnight had never advanced beyond the fourth round at a Major. In the other men’s semifinal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 in Australian Open semis, takes on Karen Khachanov, who is into his second semifinal in as many Majors.
Also on Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will be played, as well as the mixed doubles championship match. The women’s doubles semis include top singles names such as Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff, and Jessica Pegula, while the mixed doubles final will serve as Sania Mirza’s retirement match.
Karen Khachanov (18) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena
Tsitsipas has achieved his fourth semifinal in Australia out of the last five years, but he is yet to advance farther. And he’s only claimed one of 10 sets in his three previous Australian semis, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2019, and Daniil Medvedev in both 2021 and 2022. Stefanos is now a perfect 9-0 in 2023, and has only dropped one set during this fortnight.
Khachanov is into his second consecutive Major semifinal. The 26-year-old is vying for his first Slam final, and his first final at any event in over a year. Karen has dropped two sets through five matches, and has now defeated three straight seeded players (Tiafoe, Nishioka, Korda).
Tsitsipas has dominated their rivalry to date, leading their head-to-head 5-0. Four of those matches were on hard courts, and three of them were straight-set victories for the Greek. As per Tennis Abstract, out of the 13 sets they’ve played, Karen has only managed to break seven times, while Stefanos has broken 17 times. And with plenty of Greek support in the crowd at this event, Tsitsipas is a considerable favorite to reach his second Major final.
Novak Djokovic (4) vs. Tommy Paul – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena
Djokovic has claimed 22 of his last 24 sets in Australian Open semifinals and finals, with the only two sets lost both coming in the 2020 final against Dominic Thiem. His domination in the last two rounds of this tournament throughout his career is only rivaled by that of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Despite the hamstring injury that Novak suffered leading up to this tournament, he has only dropped one set to this stage. In his last six sets, he’s only allowed his opposition an average of two games per set.
Paul has taken advantage of an open quarter of the draw, in which seven of the eight seeds lost within the first two rounds (Ruud, Fritz, Zverev, Berrettini, Schwartzman, Kecmanovic, Davidovich Fokina). Yet even as many pointed to Tommy as the favorite to make the semis amidst younger, inexperienced Americans in this quarter (Brooksby, Wolf, Shelton), Paul did not faulter. The 25-year-old is one of the fastest players on tour, and will debut inside the top 20 on Monday.
In their first career meeting, of course Djokovic is a huge favorite. Prior to this fortnight, Paul had only once reached the second week of a Major, when he advanced to the fourth round six months ago at Wimbledon. As per ESPN’s Brad Gilbert, Novak has beefed up his forehand this fortnight, averaging five mph’s more on that wing than a year ago. And he’s also been serving excellently – Djokovic has only been broken three times in the entire tournament, with all three breaks coming against Grigor Dimitrov.
Other Notable Matches on Friday:
Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna vs. Luisa Stefani and Rafael Motos – This is Mirza’s last event before retirement, following a storied doubles career where she has won three Majors in women’s doubles and three Majors in mixed doubles. Her and Mahesh Bhupathi won this event as a team 14 years ago, the first of Sania’s six Slam titles. Bopanna won the mixed doubles event at Roland Garros in 2017. Stefani was a bronze medalist in women’s doubles at the Tokyo Olympics. This is a first Major final for both her and Motos.
Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) vs. Marta Kostyuk and Elena-Gabriela Ruse – Krejcikova and Siniakova have won six Majors as a team, three of which came last year, including this tournament. This is Kostyuk and Ruse’s first event as a team since Roland Garros, where they made the quarterfinals.
Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (10) vs. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (2) – Gauff and Pegula were finalists at Roland Garros last June. This is Aoyama and Shibahara’s third Major semifinal, but they’re yet to go farther at a Slam.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka Outlasts Linette To Reach Maiden Grand Slam Singles Final
Aryna Sabalenka is into her first Grand Slam singles final where Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina awaits.
Aryna Sabalenka overcame a tricky opening set to defeat Magda Linette 7-6(1) 6-2 to reach her first Grand Slam singles final.
Sabalenka committed a handful of errors in the opening set but was more consistent in the second set.
Linette has a lot to be proud of having reached her first Grand Slam semi-final but couldn’t match Sabalenka’s power throughout the match.
The fifth seed will compete for her first Grand Slam singles title against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Saturday.
It was Linette who made the fast start as she waited for the errors from the erratic Belarusian.
After conceding an early 2-0 deficit, Sabalenka found her range and came roaring back with some great angles to move the pole off the court as she levelled the opening set at 2-2.
However the Pole continued to be aggressive and take the match to Sabalenka, playing a perfect counter-attacking match with some incredible backhand down-the-line winners.
Sabalenka continued to serve well but when it came to the pressure points on return, handed points to Linette with some clumsy unforced errors.
In total there were 15 unforced errors as Linette secured a late service hold to force an opening set tiebreak.
Sabalenka recomposed herself as she played a stunning tiebreak with her backhand doing most of the damage.
The Belarusian sealed the tiebreak 7-1 to take the opening set with the second set seeing her go from strength to strength.
Sabalenka continued her sustained pressure in the second set as she broke twice for a 4-1 lead.
There was a resilient fightback from Linette as she created three break points in the next game and after failing to break, saved three match points to force Sabalenka to close out the match.
However Sabalenka obliged with sealing the win and reaching her first Grand Slam singles final.
After the match Sabalenka admitted she played great tennis once she found her rhythm, “I’m super happy that I was able to get this win, she’s an unbelievable player, she played really great tennis,” Sabalenka was quoted by the BBC as saying in her on-court interview.
“I didn’t start really well and then in the tie-break I found my rhythm, started trusting myself, starting going for the shots. It was great tennis from me on the tie-break.
“I actually felt like I hit really slow balls today but I’ve got good genetics I guess.”
Sabalenka will now play Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s showdown with the Belarusian leading the current head-to-head 3-0.
‘It Got To Me’ – Novak Djokovic On Australian Open Controversy Involving Father
Australian Open: Novak Djokovic Seals Final Showdown With Tsitsipas After Paul Victory
Coach Of Elena Rybakina Dismisses Allegations Of Poor Behavior At Australian Open
Novak Djokovic’s Father Say Australian Open Flag Incident Was ‘Unintentional’
Stefanos Tsitsipas Closing In On No.1 Dream After Reaching First Australian Open Final
Rafael Nadal Satisfied With Australian Open Preparation Despite Defeats
Sebastian Korda Perplexed By Australian Open Injury
EXPLAINED: The Story Behind Karen Khachanov’s Post-Match Camera Messages At The Australian Open
Rafael Nadal And Carlos Alcaraz To Feature In Tennis Plays For Peace Fundraiser
Australian Open Announces Record Prize Money For 2023
(VIDEO) Ubaldo Scanagatta On A Week To Remember For Canada At The Davis Cup
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) ITF President David Haggerty ’Satisfied’ With Davis Cup Format Despite Issues
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) ITF President David Haggerty Reacts To Federer’s Retirement
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Elena Rybakina’s Wimbledon Win Was Good But The Level Wasn’t Great
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE): Novak Djokovic Battles Past Norrie, Faces Kyrgios In The Final
Comments3 days ago
Novak Djokovic Saves The Day In This Australian Open
ATP3 days ago
Australian Open Daily Preview: The Quarterfinals Conclude on Wednesday
ATP21 hours ago
Australian Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals
Hot Topics1 day ago
Australian Open Incident With Djokovic’s Father Has Nothing To Do With Novak, Says Azarenka
Hot Topics2 days ago
Tommy Paul Beats Young Gun Shelton To Reach Australian Open Semis
Hot Topics2 days ago
Aryna Sabalenka To Play Underdog Linette For Place In Australian Open Final
Latest news3 days ago
Magda Linette reaches her first Grand Slam quarter final with three consecutive wins against seeded players
ATP2 days ago
Australian Open Daily Preview: The Women’s Semifinals