US Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches - UBITENNIS
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US Open Day 8 Preview: Five Must-See Matches

After the shocking scenes of Sunday, when heavy favourite Novak Djokovic was defaulted for his careless behaviour, what is next at this unique and bizarre US Open?

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Arthur Ashe Stadium (usopen.org)

As the second week of the fortnight commences, this tournament has a renewed air of unpredictability.  With Novak’s hasty exit, we are guaranteed to have a new men’s Major winner for the first time since 2014.  And with two multi-Slam winners upset by Americans yesterday, the women’s draw feels as volatile as ever. 

 

Serena Williams (3) vs. Maria Sakkari (15)

This will start the day’s order of play on Arthur Ashe Stadium at noon local time.  It is a rematch from 13 days ago on these same grounds, which was a bizarre affair.  Serena served for the match in the second set, but failed to close it out.  After Sakkari grabbed the set in a tiebreak, an exhausted Serena half-tanked the third set, losing it 6-1.  Serena will surely be eager to avenge that defeat.  The six-time US Open champion has looked better with each passing round, especially in the second two sets of a comeback win over former champion Sloane Stephens.  Sakkari is into her second consecutive round of 16 at a Major, but is yet to advance farther.  Her movement and defense frustrated Serena two weeks ago, but it’s hard to imagine a repeat of that feat.  Just four match wins from her 24th Major, Serena will be much more motivated to fight for the victory today.

Dominic Thiem (2) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (15)

In the next match on Ashe, is Felix ready for his breakout moment at a Major?  If his form through three rounds is any indication, the answer may be yes.  After overcoming a stern test from Thiago Monteiro in the first round, he dominated a depleted Andy Murray.  But his most impressive performance came on Saturday, as he dismantled Corentin Moutet with the loss of just five games.  Auger-Aliassime has been serving expertly, is a great mover, and can thump his groundstrokes.  But the second seed is a big step up in competition.  Despite a bad showing two weeks ago at the Western & Southern Open, Thiem looked strong in week one.  This will be their first career meeting, and Auger-Aliassime’s first appearance in the fourth round of a Slam.  I’m curious to see Thiem’s return position against the Canadian’s first and second serve, and if he adjusts for each.  Dominic usually stands close to the lines judges behind the court while returning.  Felix has one of the best first serves on tour, yet his second serve can be suspect.  Thiem is the favorite, though Auger-Aliassime may be motivated to join his close friend Denis Shapovalov as the first Canadians in the US Open quarterfinals.  And with Djokovic gone, Thiem will know what an opportunity this is to secure his first Major.

Matteo Berrettini (5) vs. Andrey Rublev (10)

This will be the third match of the day over on Louis Armstrong Stadium.  And it’s a rematch from this same round a year ago, when the Italian pulled off what was considered an upset over the 2017 quarterfinalist.  Berrettini went all the way to the semis last year, and is playing well again in New York this year.  He’s the only player left in either singles draw who is yet to be broken.  But Rublev has been one of 2020’s strongest performers.  He started the year on an 11-match win streak, earning him back-to-back hard court titles in Doha and Adelaide.  Berrettini leads their head-to-head 3-1, and 2-1 on hard courts.  This seems to be a matchup that favors Matteo, who is not bothered by the strong ball coming off Rublev’s racquet.  However, Rublev is an improved player from a year ago, and fully capable of the win, especially if Berrettini’s serving quality dips.  This should be a good one.

Daniil Medvedev (3) vs. Frances Tiafoe

This will start the night session on Ashe.  Last year’s runner-up is 2-0 against the 22-year-old American, which includes a four-set win earlier this year in Melbourne.  Tiafoe has been impressive during this fortnight, especially in coming back from two-sets-to-one down against the ultra-fit John Millman.  An Australian Open quarterfinalist in 2019, Frances struggled mightily following that career highlight.  However, he’s recaptured his mojo with the help of new coach Wayne Ferreira, a two-time Australian Open semifinalist.  But Medvedev has looked stellar here thus far, comfortably claiming all nine sets played and averaging less than two hours on court per match.  As we saw here a year ago, the Russian is hard to beat when he builds momentum. 

Sofia Kenin (2) vs. Elise Mertens (16)

In the last match of the evening, it’s the American No.1 and Australian Open champion.  Is it possible for the second seed and most recent Major champion to be advancing quietly?  That seems to be the case with Kenin, who keeps proving doubters such as myself wrong.  She did not drop a set in the first week, which included a tricky match against One Jabeur two days ago.  But she faces another tough opponent today in Mertens, who already has 11 match wins since the tour restart.  They’ve played twice before, both times in 2019.  While both were tight three-setters, Kenin came out on top both times.  With her game clicking, Kenin should be favored to make it 3-0 despite the consistency of the Belgian.

Other Notable Matches on Day 8:

Karolina Muchova (20) vs. Victoria Azarenka.  Muchova narrowly escaped defeat on Saturday, prevailing 9-7 in a third set tiebreak against Sorana Cirstea.  Azarenka is 8-0 in the last two weeks, dropping only one of seventeen sets played.

Alex De Minaur (21) vs. Vasek Pospisil.  The Australian is 2-0 against the Canadian, with both matches decided on hard courts.  De Minaur is vying for his first Major quarterfinal, while Pospisil was a quarterfinalist five years ago at Wimbledon.

In a match between two good friends, Alize Cornet vs. Tsvetana Pironkova.  Cornet is 0-4 in her career at this stage of a Major.  Pironkova has been the story of the tournament, defeating two top 20 seeds in her first event since Wimbledon 2017.

Grand Slam

REPORT: French Open Attendance To Be More Than Halved Amid COVID-19 Threat

It is understood that the number of fans allowed to attend daily has been cut by roughly 55%.

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This year’s French Open has been forced to dramatically reduce their initial plans for 11,500 daily visitors, according to information obtained by L’Equipe newspaper.

 

The number has reportedly been cut to just 5000 following a ‘governmental decision’ linked to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Organisers had originally set out plans for three separate zones with two holding up to 5000 people and an additional welcoming 1500. However, it has now emerged the new number will only be applied to one specific zone where the premier Philippe-Chatrier Court is located. Meaning that it is possible that matches played on courts Suzanne-Lenglen and Simonne-Mathieu will not be opened to the public.

In recent days France has seen a rise in coronavirus cases and reported 9784 new infections in the country on Wednesday. A slight dip of France’s all-time high of 10,561 which was recorded last Saturday. It is understood that the decision to reduce the crowd size at Roland Garros is also based on spikes in other countries apart from France.

There has been no official comment from the French Tennis Federation (FFT) but L’Equipe reports that the change has been made in line with new local government guidance. The ruling will have no impact on next week’s qualifying tournament which is being played behind closed doors.

Leading up to the clay-court major some players have voiced caution about attending the event with crowds. Outspoken player Nick Kyrgios, who is not playing in Paris this year, went as far as accusing organisers of not taking the pandemic seriously enough. Former champion Simona Halep has also voiced her own concerns.

“I just read that they will have fans,” Halep told reporters earlier this week. “But I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be very strict.
“We cannot be with the fans, we cannot be with the people that are not in the bubble, so I think they will be separate. Hopefully it’s going to be safe, and we will feel like here, like in the bubble.”

The French Open will start on September 28th. Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty are the reigning champions but Barty will not be defending her title due to travelling concerns related to COVID-19.

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‘Her Values Are Not What Tennis Stands For’ – Andy Murray Backs Calls To Rename Margaret Court Arena

The British tennis star is the latest top name to hit out at Court over her history of anti-gay comments.

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Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray has said the Australian Open should consider renaming one of their premier courts after Margaret Court due to her controversial views.

 

The former world No.1 says 78-year-old Court, who holds the record for most singles Grand Slam titles won, doesn’t represent the values of the sport. Despite being one of Australia’s most decorated tennis players of all time, Court has a history of making various anti-gay views but maintains that she is not homophobic. She once said that the women’s tour was ‘full of lesbians‘ and during her playing career described rival Martina Navratilova as a ‘bad role model’ due to her sexuality. In other incidents she also boycotted Qantas airlines due to their support of marriage equality and publicly criticised former player Casey Dellacqua for having a baby with her same-sex partner.

Murray joins a list of figures calling for a change along with Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe who both held an on-court protest back in January calling for the name change. The Brit argues that the controversy surrounding Court takes focus away from tennis and this should not be the case. This year the Australian was honoured at the Melbourne major with a low-key event to mark the 50th anniversary of her calendar Grand Slam.

“She has obviously offended and upset a lot of people over the years. I think the players certainly have spoken up, which is a positive thing,” Murray told pridelife.com.
“As far as renaming the venue. I think that yes, it’s something the sport should consider. I don’t know who makes the final decision on that but I don’t think her values are what tennis stands for. When you get to the Australian Open you want to concentrate on the tennis. Court’s views detract from that.”

Tennis Australia, who oversees the Australian Open, has previously distanced themselves from Court’s views. In a statement previously issued they said the decision to recognise the 50th anniversary of her triumph was solely due to her achievements and they do not endorse her views.

“Court was given a ceremony at the Australian Open this year to mark her achievements in the game, but the reception she received from the public was lukewarm,” Murray commented.

The issue of gay rights is rarely spoken about in the world of men’s tennis. Unlike the women’s game there are no openly gay male players and only a handful have publicly spoken about their sexuality in recent years. The most well known being former top 100 American player Brian Vahaly who came out after he retired from the sport.

“I think, certainly in men’s tennis, there have been a number of players who have come out as gay, but not while they’re competing. I think there’s still a stigma around it which obviously shouldn’t be the case,” said Murray.

There are various theories about the reasons where there may be no openly gay players on the Tour. Murray says he has never witnessed or heard homophobic comments whilst playing in the sport, but admits that it may be different if somebody did come out.

“I wouldn’t say that I have heard it in the locker room. If more gay men came out it’s something you might see more of potentially,” he explained.
“There have been a few things said in articles I’ve read where players have made homophobic comments, but I’ve not been in the presence of anyone when they have made homophobic comments in the locker room.”

Murray will return to action in less than two weeks time at the French Open in Paris.

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Nick Kyrgios Slams French Open Over Crowd Decision

The world No.41 explains why he is ‘disappointed’ with the French major as other players also voice caution about playing in front of crowds.

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Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios has accused officials at the French Open of not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously following their decision to allow spectators to attend.

 

The clay-court Grand Slam has created three separate zones where fans are allowed to attend with each of those having a daily capacity limit. The zones including court Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen will hold up to 5000 each. Meanwhile an additional 1500 spectators will be allowed to visit the area surrounding the third court, Simonne Mathieu. The French Tennis Federation (FFT) says strict measures will be in place and their plans have been drafted following ‘advice from a committee of expert scientists.` Masks must be worn at all times by those attending.

Despite the measures that have been put in place, former top 20 player Kyrgios has criticised the move amid the number of cases in the country. France has recently seen a surge in their daily toll. On Tuesday they reported 7852 newly confirmed cases within a 24-hour period compared to 6158 the day before. Last Saturday the number surpassed the 10,000 mark.

“I am most likely not going to play,” Kyrgios told News Corp.
“Especially with the cases rising there. I don’t feel comfortable to go there and play.
“They are thinking about doing it with crowds. I don’t think the tournament is taking it seriously. It’s disappointing the level of seriousness they are taking towards it.”

Kyrgios hasn’t played a competitive match since February after choosing to skip the North American swing over concerns related to the pandemic. A decision that was also taken by the likes of Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep. Although he also previously hinted that it is unlikely that he will be travelling to Europe this year and therefore ending his season early. A approach that was also taken by compatriot Ash Barty.

The 25-year-old isn’t the only player to have express concerns about crowds at Roland Garros. 2018 champion Halep told reporters at this week’s Italian Open, which is being held behind closed doors, that she is hopeful that officials at the venue will be ‘strict’ with the measures.

“I just read that they will have fans,” she said. “But I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be very strict.
“We cannot be with the fans, we cannot be with the people that are not in the bubble, so I think they will be separate. Hopefully it’s going to be safe, and we will feel like here, like in the bubble.”

Meanwhile, cautiously-speaking Nadal says it is a case of wait and see what happens in Paris. This year he is bidding to win the major for an historic 13th time.

“I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what’s the situation’s going to look like in Roland Garros,” he told journalists on Monday when questioned about the French Open.
“Let’s see how the virus evolves the next couple of weeks. Hopefully in a good way. Doesn’t look like that, no? Let’s see. We need to be patient and we need to wait to see how the situation improves.”

Unlike the main draw, the qualifying rounds will be held behind closed doors in order to make it easier for players to move around the venue. The tournament gets underway on September 21st with the main draw starting the week after.

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