Australian Open Day 1 Preview: Naomi Osaka Opens Play Against a Dangerous First Round Opponent - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 1 Preview: Naomi Osaka Opens Play Against a Dangerous First Round Opponent

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These seats won't be empty for long, as a limited number of fans will be allowed on the grounds of Melbourne Park (ausopen.com)

Osaka headlines Monday’s loaded order of play alongside Serena and Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, and Stan Wawrinka. 

 

As Jon Wertheim recently highlighted on Twitter, Naomi and Serena are two of four women that arrive in Melbourne having won their last match at a Major.  The other two are 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu and 2020 Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek.  All four of those women will play their first round matches on Monday.  For Andreescu, it will be her first match in 16 months.

Turning to the men’s side, the Australian Open has been the best Major in the career of Grigor Dimitrov, but he drew the unseeded 2014 US Open champion in his opening round.  Meanwhile, 2014 US Open runner-up Kei Nishikori is still fighting his way back from elbow surgery, and will face a top 15 seed who has twice reached the US Open semifinals.  And in what may be Monday’s most anticipated encounter, 21-year-old Denis Shapovalov takes on a fellow rising phenom in 19-year-old Yannik Sinner, who won his second ATP title on Sunday.

Each day during the coming fortnight, this preview will analyze the day’s most prominent matches, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Monday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Naomi Osaka (3) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – First on RLA

A year ago at this event, Osaka was upset by then-15-year-old Coco Gauff.  Since that day, Osaka has only played three events, winning one (the US Open) and withdrawing at the latter stages of the other two as a precaution due to their proximity to the start of a Major.  Pavlyuchenkova is a six-time Slam quarterfinalist, and has advanced that far three of the last four years in Melbourne.  They’ve split two previous meetings, both contested on hard courts.  Most recently, Osaka prevailed in straight sets in her home country during September of 2019.  Naomi looked pretty sharp in the three matches she played this past week, while Anastasia won two rounds before becoming one of Garbine Muguruza’s many victims.  The 29-year-old Russian is just 6-7 since last year’s Australian Open quarterfinals.  And Pavluchenkova’s strengths are outmatched by that of Osaka’s.  Recent form dictates Naomi being considered the favorite to survive a tough first round draw.

Bianca Andreescu (8) vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu (LL) – Third on JCA

In 2019, Andreescu went on a stretch where she won 46 out of 50 matches at all levels, including titles at Indian Wells, the Rogers Cup, and her maiden Major in New York.  After losing her last three matches that season, she did not play at all in 2020, due to injuries and pandemic restrictions.  Bianca was scheduled to make her return to action last week, but decided to hold off until today, as she was one of the players put under hard quarantine upon arrival in Australia.  Buzarnescu is a 32-year-old veteran who debuted inside the top 20 during the summer of 2018, but immediately suffered an ugly ankle injury and has not been able to recapture her form.  She hasn’t won a WTA-level match in 18 months.  When they played two years ago in Acapulco, Andreescu prevailed in straight sets.  Despite her recent inactivity, Bianca is a strong favorite to win again today.

Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Marin Cilic – Third on on Court 3

Cilic leads their head-to-head 4-2, and 4-1 on hard courts.  Their only meeting at a Major was at the 2019 French Open, which Dimitrov took in five sets.  Three of Grigor’s five Slam quarterfinals have come at this event, while Marin has reached the second week for three consecutive years, which includes a run to the final in 2018.  Cilic has struggled over the past few seasons, and is just 6-9 since the tour restart.  This could easily become a prolonged battle, with Dimitrov a slight favorite based on current form.

Pablo Carreno Busta (15) vs. Kei Nishikori – Not Before 4:30pm on 1573 Arena

The only previous time they played was epic.  In 2019 at this event, when Nishikori prevailed in a fifth set tiebreak after five hours and five minutes.  But Kei is only 2-6 since returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2019 season.  And the steady, fit Carreno Busta is not a good player to draw when you’re trying to regain your confidence and match legs.  Pablo has reached the quarterfinals at two consecutive Majors.  The 29-year-old Spaniard should be able to avenge his painful loss from two years ago.

Denis Shapovalov (11) vs. Jannik Sinner – Last on MCA

This could be a great match, if Sinner is still standing today.  Just yesterday, the Italian won his second consecutive ATP title, coming off his first in Sofia last November.  But in Sunday’s final, he looked exhausted, if not slightly injured, in his fifth match in six days.  On Saturday and Sunday alone, Sinner was on court for over five hours.  Shapovalov went 0-2 in the ATP Cup, but played well against both Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverev.  And more importantly, he’s had four days of rest.  Their first career meeting may not be as exciting as hoped, but these young stars likely have many more to come.

Other Notable Matches on Day 1:

Serena Williams (10) vs. Laura Siegemund.  Serena claimed both of their previous meetings in straight sets.

Venus Williams vs. Kirsten Flipkens.  At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Flipkens upset Venus 7-6 in the third.

Eight-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Jeremy Chardy.  Djokovic is 13-0 against the veteran Frenchman, and has won all 30 sets they’ve contested.

2014 champion Stan Wawrinka (17) vs. Pedro Sousa, who reached four ATP and Challenger finals last season on clay.

2016 champion Angelique Kerber (23) vs. Bernarda Pera.  The 26-year-old American reached a career-high ranking of No.59 last year.

Two-time Major champion Petra Kvitova (9) vs. Greet Minnen (Q), who only owns one main draw win at a Slam, which came at this event a year ago.

Two-time Major champion Simona Halep (2) vs. Lizette Cabrera (WC), a 23-year-old Australian ranked 140th in the world. 

US Open champion Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Mikhail Kukushkin.  Thiem went 1-1 at this past week’s ATP Cup.

French Open champion Iga Swiatek (15) vs. Arantxa Rus, who is the player that defeated Swiatek last year in Rome right before Iga’s Roland Garros title run.

In an appetizing matchup of unique styles, Su-Wei Hsieh vs. Tsvetana Pironkova (Q), who was a shocking 2020 US Open quarterfinalist in her first tournament since 2017.

Monday’s full order of play is here.

Grand Slam

French Open 2021: ‘Philanthropic’ Prize Money, Hour Of Freedom For Players And Murray’s Possible Wildcard

Details about the upcoming Grand Slam event have been revealed.

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The French Open has vowed to support those who have been the most severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic after publishing details of their plans.

 

A ‘Philanthropic’ prize money fund has been set out by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) which has been designed to help lower ranked players on the Tour participating. The money pot for this year’s event will be 34m euros which is a fall of roughly 4m euros compared to 2020. However, there will be no changes made to the winnings on offer during qualifying and the first two rounds of the singles tournaments.

In light of the current situation, we are proud to have once again opted for a philanthropic prize fund, which allows us to support the players who have been severely affected by the health crisis, financially-speaking,” tournament director Guy Forget said.

After delaying the start date of the tournament by a week earlier this year, the French Open will welcome fans to their event. Under an agreement with the government, 5388 spectators will be allowed to attend each day between 30th May to 8th June. Then from the 9th June they will welcome 5000 spectators with a ‘health passport’ to the Philippe Chatrier Court and the number allowed inside the stadium will increase to 13,146. However, only one out of the 10 night sessions will be opened to the public this year due to the 9pm curfew. The only exception will be on June 9th when the curfew is extended to 11pm.

As for the players, they will have to abide by a strict health and safety protocol which has been ‘inspired by the one adapted by the WTA and the ATP.’ Upon arrival at their hotels, they will be required to have a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their first match. They will only be granted permission to attend Roland Garros if that test is negative. From then on, they will be tested every four days.

However, players will be allowed one hour each day to spend time ‘outside their social distance bubble.’ The idea being that they can go out for a jog or enjoy some ‘fresh air.’

“Our goal is not to put them in a necklace and attach them to their hotel or to the Roland Garros stadium,” Forget stated.

Forget says players will have access to restaurants and fitness facilities in their hotels but will not be allowed to train at Roland Garros on the day they don’t have matches.

Murray a wildcard contender

Former world No.1 Andy Murray faces a wait to see if he is eligible for a wildcard this year but Forget says he does ‘deserve’ one given his credentials. The Brit has fallen down to 123rd in the world and as it currently stands will have to take part in the qualifying tournament if he wishes to play at the Grand Slam.

“I know that Andy entered the qualifying (rounds), I know he’s practising right now in Rome, I saw him play some games and sets with Novak Djokovic,” Forget said.
“Andy is a great player, he sure deserves one (a wildcard). It is a discussion we have to have with him and our team. We want to see him in good shape, I hope he feels well.
“He hasn’t played any matches yet, which is obviously what any player wants to do before committing to a big tournament, especially when you are going to play the best-of-five sets.”

Murray is yet to play a singles match on the clay this season but is taking part in the doubles tournament at the Italian Open this week after receiving a last-minute entry. He is paired up with Liam Broady.

“It’s the French Open’s decision what they want to do – I’d love the opportunity to play there but I also respect they have lots of good players, lots of players ranked between 120 and 160, and I haven’t been fit for the last three or four months,” Murray told BBC Sport.
“I appreciate for them they would want to see me play matches. I’ve done all the training and physically I’m fit but it is different playing matches and that’s where I obviously need to prove myself.”

The French Open qualifying tournament will start on May 24th followed by the main draw a week later. Officials are yet to reveal which players they will issue wildcards to.

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Outlook Positive For French Open But Rules Could Change Again, Warns Government

There is growing hope that a significant number of spectators could be allowed to attend but it can’t be guaranteed.

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A recent announcement concerning the number of spectators allowed to attend this year’s French Open should be met with caution, according to a senior government official.

 

Recently the French government outlined their plan for lifting the national lockdown which includes allowing fans back to sporting events. Under their current guidelines, the Grand Slam is set to welcome 1000 spectators per day initially with that number increasing to 5000 in the last five days. The reason for the increase is because the tournament takes place during the same time the country enters ‘phrase three’ of their plans which allows bigger public events providing attendees have been vaccinated or can provide a negative COVID-19 test.

The decision has brought delight to the French Tennis Federation (FFT) who delayed the start of the tournament by a week in hope they would be able to welcome more fans. Furthermore, L’Equipe has reported that up to 12,500 people could be allowed to attend the tournament should it get a ‘test event’ status.

“I am delighted that the discussions with the public authorities, the governing bodies of international tennis, our partners and broadcasters, and the ongoing work with the WTA and ATP, have made it possible for us to postpone the 2021 Roland-Garros tournament by a week. I thank them for this,” Gilles Moretton, president of the FFT said in a statement on the Roland-Garros website.

However, the FFT are not celebrating just yet amid a warning that it is still possible that rules relating to spectators could still change in the coming weeks depending on the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has told Reuters it is possible that the latest roadmap out of lockdown could be adjusted.

“Something that may be decided today may change a week before the event, or two days before the event, depending on the evolution of the health crisis,she said.
“If we offer this visibility to the participants and organizers today, they know that this visibility can be modified according to the evolution of the transmission of the virus.”
I hope that there are no last-minute changes (in the health situation) and that we can work on these protocols sufficiently in advance to know where we stand,” Maracineanu added.

As for players attending the Grand Slam they have been ‘strongly advised’ not to visit any ‘Bright Red’ countries leading up to the event. In a recent email sent to players from the ATP, anybody arriving from India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa will be required to go into a 10-day quarantine.

France’s daily Covid infection fell to an almost two-month low on average on Monday but hospitalizations increased by 132.

The French Open will start on 30 May and run until 13 June.

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Ash Barty Ready To Embrace Wimbledon Bubble But Konta Hopes For Rule Change

The two top 20 players speak out about the rules that will be enforced at the grass-court major this year.

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MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021 FOTO: A.NEVADO/MMO

Women’s world No.1 Ash Barty says the new restrictions being implemented at this year’s Wimbledon Championships are worth it if she gets to play at the Grand Slam again.

 

The grass-court major is set to take place this year with players facing the strictest rules in the tournament’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All participants will be required to stay within a biosecure bubble at approved hotels. Private housing will not be allowed and even those who may have a house in the city will not be allowed to stay there during their time at Wimbledon. Anybody who breaks the rules faced being disqualified from the event, as well as a fine of up to £14,000.

“It will be strange, without a doubt. But to be a little bit strange, to still be able to play Wimbledon, is certainly my preference,” Barty said following her first round win at the Madrid Open on Wednesday. “It would be a shame to not be able to play that incredible tournament.”

Last year’s Wimbledon Championships got cancelled for the first time in the Open Era due to the pandemic. Unlike the other majors it had the luxury of a pandemic insurance which helped cover the costs. Chairman Ian Hewitt said the total insurance payout amounted to £180 million.

This year there is no pandemic insurance available and officials are planning for a 25% capacity. The tournament is set to start a week after the UK is scheduled to end all of their national restrictions related to the pandemic. Although the timeline could change in the coming weeks depending on case numbers.

“We’re still a couple months away yet. Hopefully in the UK things can settle down, and some sort of normality outside would be brilliant for everyone,” Barty commented.

Konta holding on to hope

MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021. FOTO: A.MARTINEZ/MMO

Britain’s top player Johanna Konta is less enthusiastic about the prospect of entering another bubble at her home Grand Slam. The world No.18 reached the semi-finals back in 2017 when she became the first British woman to do so since 1978.

“I’m still very hopeful that that might shift and change. As of now I’m just holding onto that hope,” she said about the prospect of having to stay in a hotel instead of her home.

Another blow to the grass season this year is the fact it’s duration has been cut by a week due to the French Open. The French Tennis Federation announced a seven-day delay in a move to maximise their chances of opening their event up to the public. France is currently in a national lockdown.

“I definitely don’t think it’s ideal for the build-up. Wimbledon has obviously lost that week, hopefully just for this year,” Konta admits. “However, I think everyone is just trying to do what’s best for themselves but overall best for the events being put on.”

Earlier this week Wimbledon conducted their annual spring press conference where they revealed plans to introduce play on the middle Sunday. AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton also played down the chances of their bubble plans being changed.

The minimised risk environment we created for the players is a requirement from the government to bring athletes without them going into quarantine upon entry into the UK,” Bolton told reporters.

The Wimbledon Championships will start on June 28th.

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