Melbourne Media Day Frenzy: Sabalenka, Osaka And Others Speak Out Ahead Of Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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Melbourne Media Day Frenzy: Sabalenka, Osaka And Others Speak Out Ahead Of Australian Open

After their 14/15 day quarantine players returned to the world of virtual press conferences with plenty to say. Including Naomi Osaka comparing tennis to a video game, Iga Switek’s ‘long-term’ goal and even the possibility of Johanna Konta becoming a senior tennis official in the future.

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Tennis is back with what will perhaps be one of the most chaotic weeks in recent history which is matched only by the early rounds of a Grand Slam or Wimbledon’s traditional ‘Manic Monday.’

 

Six tournaments will take place in Melbourne over the coming week with three of those being WTA 500 events. Leading up to those events, Sunday saw a series of top women’s player speak to the media about their form, future goals and pretty much everything else. Literally thousands of words were written by those working at ASAP Sports, who are the official transcriber of Tennis Australia.

With so much to take in, here is a breakdown of the key things UbiTennis learned from the stars of the WTA Tour.

Sabalenka on living in the moment

As one of the most inform players currently on the WTA Tour the expectations for high for Aryna Sabalenka heading into the Australian Open. The Belarusian has won her three most recent WTA Tournaments and is currently on a 15-match winning streak.

However, the 22-year-old is yet to make a big impact in the Grand Slams with her best performance being a run to the fourth round of the 2018 US Open.

“I already forget what happened in the past, to be honest. I’m going to focus on my game, prepare myself for the Grand Slam,” she said.
“We (my team) are still having focus on the Grand Slam. I am going to do some things on the court that can help me in the Grand Slams.This is where my mind is. I would say I’m ready to go.”

Sabalenka is playing in the Gippsland Trophy this week with her first round opponent being the at times tricky Kaia Kanepi. Although winning the tournament isn’t her top priority.

“I would say this tournament for me is preparation for the Australian Open. Of course I want to win one more tournament. If I can, I will do everything to win this one.”

Svitolina on Grand Slam dream

Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina says it is a ‘tough question’ when asked what she needs to do in order to win a Grand Slam title. The world No.5 has reached the semi-finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open during 2019, as well as the quarter-finals of the French Open last year.

“I think the most important thing is to be consistent, to get another chance to play the quarterfinals, semifinals. It’s all the time these kinds of matches that you have to go through to win the title, those tough moments. Every match really matters, and there are tough opponents who are there to give you a hard time,” she said.
“It’s very tough to pick one thing that I have to improve. I’ve been in the semifinals (of a Grand Slam). I wish I could play better that time, but it didn’t happen. Hopefully I get a chance another time and will try to play better.”

Svitolina is the only top-five player yet to win a Grand Slam title. She is the third seed in Gippsland this week and will play Andrea Petkovic in the first round.

Osaka – Tennis is like a video game

As one of only a few active players to have won three or more Grand Slam titles, Naomi Osaka say she is intrigued by the depth of women’s tennis. The WTA Tour has been subjected to criticism from some over the consistency of women’s players. Six out of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments have been won by different players.

“I feel tennis is very interesting because it’s like a video game where you can select a character and everyone’s different. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses. I think that’s what’s really unique about it,” she commented.
“For me, I find it really fun to watch everyone else play because I personally watch them. I’m like, Oh, I would have gone for this shot, but they do something different. For me, it’s something that I learned from.”

There is one player in particular who has stood out for Osaka and this time it isn’t her idol Serena Williams. The Japanese star has hailed the rise of Iga Swiatek who stunned the Tour with her run to the French Open title last year at the age of 19.

“I was really inspired by Iga. I thought it was really amazing how she was able to be super focused in all her matches. I was watching the finals. I thought it was really nice to watch because I ate dinner with her last year here. She was talking about how she might go to college. I was telling her, like, she’s really good, and I think she’s going to do really well. So maybe don’t try to divert your energy to college just yet. I’m glad she was able to win a Grand Slam so fast. Hopefully she’ll, like, continue to grow, which I know she will.”

Osaka also had some thoughts about Williams too of course.

The former world No.1 has also confirmed that she will not be travelling to the Middle East after the Australian Open. Instead her next tournament after Melbourne will be Miami.

Swiatek’s ‘long-term’ goal

Polish No.1 Iga Swiatek says she hopes to maintain consistency in her game but admits that it could take years before she reaches that goal due to her age. All eyes will be on Swiatek this week in Melbourne where she plays her first WTA event since winning the French Open.

“It’s not that I want to be consistent right now because I know it takes sometimes years to achieve that. But obviously I know that the first tournament of the season can always be different and weird and more stressful,” she commented.
I don’t think I reached my highest level and I can be a consistent player the whole year because I’m still only 19,” she added.

As for the upcoming Australian Open, Swiatek insists that her French Open triumph will have no impact on the pressure she will face.

“I wouldn’t say it takes off pressure and I wouldn’t say I have more pressure. It’s kind of like the same. It’s constant. It only depends on how I approach these things. I try to keep my expectations low and keep doing what I did because it works.”

Swiatek is the sixth seed in Gippsland.

Konta a future leader?

Britain’s top player Johanna Konta was caught slightly off-guard during her press conference when asked if she would consider working in the sport after her playing career. The question came about after Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley reportedly said the former Wimbledon semi-finalist ‘will go far after her tennis career has ended.’

“I’m not sure, has Craig Tiley offered me a job post tennis? Is that what he specifically said? It’s on the record, Craig. It’s on the record,” konta joked.
“Whatever I will be doing, it’s still a way away. I haven’t really thought too much into it. I am very enjoying my time on the council, which has definitely opened my eyes into how the WTA runs. Therefore, we’ve had a lot of contact with a lot of individual tournaments, some of the slams. It’s nice to see the inner workings of our sport and the different arms that our sport has.”

Konta is once again working alongside Dimitri Zavialoff. The two had parted ways last summer due to a ‘change in personal circumstances’ for the French coach. They reunited in November.

“In a way it never really felt like we stopped working. Obviously we always maintained a very good relationship even after the initial break back at the beginning of last year.”

Barty ready to get the party started

Almost 11 months have passed since Ash Barty last played a match on the WTA Tour. The world No.1 showed glimmers of her current form in an exhibition match in Adelaide last Friday where she lost to Simona Halep in a final set tiebreak. Barty’s lengthy absence was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.

“I think it’s excitement more than anything. I feel excited. I feel excited as I’ve ever been, as eager as I’ve ever been to get out here and play. Drawing on the memories from last Australian summer, they’re great memories,” Barty commented on her upcoming return.
“It was a hugely successful summer. So I think we just draw from those memories. We stick to our processes and enjoy it. This is a time of year that I love. I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to do it all again.”

Describing herself as ‘well-prepared’ for the upcoming tournaments, Barty believes her position at the top of the rankings is justified.

“I feel like I’ve done all the work. I feel like I’m well-prepared. I certainly don’t feel like I’m more of a favourite than anyone else (at the Australian Open). We (my team) had a fantastic 2019. I feel like we deserved to be world No.1.”

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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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