Australian Open Day 11 Preview: Serena Williams Plays Naomi Osaka in a Blockbuster Semifinal - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 11 Preview: Serena Williams Plays Naomi Osaka in a Blockbuster Semifinal

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Today marks a 40th Major semifinal for Serena Williams (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

With fans allowed back onto the grounds of Melbourne Park on Thursday, and Rod Laver Arena at 50% capacity, this should be an exciting day of tennis.

 

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka took part in one of the most controversial matches in recent history at the 2018 US Open.  The winner today will be the favorite in Saturday’s championship match, as Serena vies for her 24th Major, and Osaka for her fourth out of the last nine.  Serena is 15-1 when advancing to this stage of the Australian Open, while Naomi is 10-0 in the quarters, semis, and finals of Majors.

In the other women’s semifinal, Jennifer Brady has achieved her second consecutive semifinal at a hard court Slam, and looks to reach her first Major final against Karolina Muchova, who is a making her Slam semifinal debut.  And the first men’s semifinal also takes place on Thursday, with 17-time Major champion Novak Djokovic facing one of the most shocking Slam semifinalists in the Open Era.

Each day during this fortnight, this preview will analyze the day’s most prominent matches, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Thursday’s singles semifinals will begin at 2:00pm local time on Rod Laver Arena.

Naomi Osaka (3) vs. Serena Williams (10)

Osaka leads their head-to-head 2-1.  Naomi claimed their first meeting three years ago in Miami, which was only Serena’s fourth match back after child birth.  Of course they met later that year at the US Open, with Osaka prevailing in a final where Serena and the chair umpire dominated the headlines.  Their most recent encounter was 18 months ago in Canada, where Serena earned her first victory over Naomi.  Both women have played extremely well this fortnight, and escaped near-losses in the fourth round: Osaka against Garbine Muguruza, and Williams against Aryna Sabalenka.  And they’ll both feel extra stress on this day, not only because of the caliber of their opponent, but knowing the winner will be a heavy favorite in the final.  It’s rare that a player has the serving and power advantage over Serena, but that just may be the case in this matchup.  Osaka’s first serve speed has averaged a bit higher than Serena’s, and she’s out-aced Serena during this tournament.  As Patrick McEnroe highlighted on ESPN, it’s Serena’s consistency and improved movement that could be the difference against Osaka.  Coming out of the pandemic, Serena has spoken of putting less pressure on herself to win her 24th Major, and feeling more relaxed on court.  And she’s moving better now than she has since becoming a mother.  I don’t think Serena will be denied on this day.

Jennifer Brady (22) vs. Karolina Muchova (25)

Unlike Williams and Osaka, these semifinalists did not receive a day of rest, and are both coming off three-set battles just yesterday where they came back from a set down.  Muchova’s victory came with some criticism.  She took an extended medical timeout when down a set and a break, as she was struggling in the heat.  When she came back on court, the match totally turned in her favor.  Thursday is forecast to be another hot day in Melbourne, which could easily impact Muchova’s play once again.  Karolina also has no experience at this stage of a Major, compared to Jenn who played an excellent semifinal against Osaka less than six months ago at the US Open.  Muchova is the better returner, and possesses more of an all-court game, while Brady is a great server, owns a potent forehand, and isn’t as bothered by the heat.  On a hot day in Melbourne, I like Brady’s chances of reaching her first Slam final.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Aslan Karatsev (Q)

This is Djokovic’s 39th Major semifinal, and he’s accumulated 301 match wins at Slams in his career.  Meanwhile, this is not only Karatsev’s first Major semi, it’s his first Major altogether.  Until last summer, the 27-year-old Russian had never been ranked inside the top 150.  But after the tour restart in August, he went 26-6 at all levels, and is projected to move up to 42nd in the world with this semifinal run.  Could he pull off the improbable and advance to the finals in his Major debut?  It’s possible, as he possesses a powerful and consistent ground game, and has thus far appeared unbothered by the magnitude of what he’s accomplished.  And Djokovic is at less than 100%, as he’s been battling an abdominal injury.  But upsetting the eight-time champion of this event, who is 16-0 in semis and finals on this court, is a monumental task.  And one has to assume Karatsev will be feeling the weight of this moment in what is by far the biggest match of his life.  Djokovic should advance rather comfortably to his ninth final in Melbourne.

Other Notable Matches on Day 11:

In the men’s doubles semifinals, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek (9).  Mektic and Pavic are undefeated since teaming up this season, and they defeated Dodig and Polasek in the final of Antalya last month.

In the mixed doubles semifinals, Barbora Krejicokova and Rajeev Ram (6) vs. Storm Sanders and Marc Polmans (WC).  Krejicokova and Ram are both still alive in the women’s and men’s doubles draws respectively, and both own Major titles.  Australians Sanders and Polmans have never before advanced this far at a Slam.

Thursday’s full order of play is here.

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Andy Murray Skips French Open To Focus On The Grass

The decision has been made after the Brit experienced some ‘discomfort’ during his time in Rome.

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Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray has delayed his return to competitive tennis after deciding to not play any more tournaments on the clay this year.

 

The former world No.1 has confirmed that he will not be playing at the French Open, according to multiple British media sources. Murray’s decision comes less than a week after he was in Rome training with some of the Tour’s top players. During one of his practice sessions in the Italian capital, he had a hit with world No.1 Novak Djokovic who said afterwards he was impressed by the current form of the Brit.

“I was very happy to see him. I haven’t seen him in a while, and it was great to hit with him. I thought he played very well on the court,” Djokovic told reporters last week.
“He moves well considering it’s clay which is not the best surface for his hips. But considering what he has been through lately, I think it seems like he’s been feeling well on the court. That’s what he’s saying, and that’s what it appears on the court itself.”

It is understood that Murray experienced some discomfort in Rome where he participated in the doubles tournament with Liam Broady after receiving a last-minute entry. It is unclear as to where the pain is located and how serious it is. Although it has been deemed significant enough for him to decline a wildcard into next week’s Geneva Open and pass on the French Open where he would have possibly had to play in the qualifying draw.

Murray will now switch his focus to the grass ahead of Wimbledon. He is currently scheduled to next play at The Queen’s Club where he has a contract to play there for the rest of his career. The tournament will start on June 14th with Murray saying he is looking forward to playing in front of a British crowd again. Under current restrictions, Queen’s will welcome 25% of its 9000-spectator capacity.

“It’s been such a difficult time for everyone and it will be great to play in front of home fans in Britain again,” said five-time champion Murray. “The tournament at Queen’s has always meant a lot to me – it’s where I won my first ATP match, I’ve won the singles at Queen’s more than any other in my career, and I’ll never forget our doubles title in 2019. I can’t wait to get back out there.”

34-year-old Murray has played just 11 Tour matches since winning the European Open in Antwerp back in 2019. He is currently ranked 123rd in the world.

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Novak Djokovic Outlasts Tsitsipas To Reach Rome Semis

Novak Djokovic survived a brutal test from Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the semi-finals in Rome.

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Novak Djokovic (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic survived Stefanos Tsitsipas over two days as a 4-6 7-5 7-5 win ensured his place in the last four of Rome.

 

The world number one came back from a set and a break down to ensure his place in the semi-finals in Rome.

It’s the second time in the space of a few weeks that Tsitsipas has lost to Djokovic and Nadal in three hour epic matches.

Next for Djokovic will be Lorenzo Sonego who beat Andrey Rublev 3-6 6-4 6-3 in his delayed quarter-final.

It was a bright start from Tsitsipas who was aggressive from the first ball and took the match to the world number one.

An early break helped settle the Greek down who was producing tennis of the highest from the baseline and at the net as he rushed Djokovic into errors.

That became a double break as the Serb was distracted by the rainy conditions as he couldn’t hit through Tsitsipas’s consistent defence.

After breaking back and consolidating after some nice combinational patterns of play, rain halted play for a few hours.

Once they came back it was Tsitsipas who continued to dictate the points to his favour and with accurate serving was able to close out the first set in in 51 minutes.

The start of the second set was no different, after both players held serve to love Tsitsipas grinded out a crucial break taking advantage of a lack of concentration from Djokovic.

However once again rain halted play and Djokovic had a whole night to figure out how to turn the match around as play was abandoned for the day.

As play resumed the next morning, Tsitsipas continued where he left off from yesterday as he was the aggressor dictating points and putting Djokovic under pressure.

That was until the eighth game as Djokovic raised his level and managed to make a lot of deep returns to cause Tsitsipas trouble.

Tsitsipas managed to save four break points with some clutch tactical serving and bold high-margin play.

On the fifth break point Djokovic finally punched a hole through Tsitsipas’ defence to level the set at 4-4 as he let out a huge roar.

The Greek remained valiant and produced a higher level of base play throughout the rest of the set as he earned two opportunities to break back.

However this time it was Djokovic’s turn to produce clutch serves and unlike Tsitsipas, the Serb held for 5-4.

Big moments were meant for big players and you can always rely on the world number one to produce those. A big final return game from Djokovic sealed with clever tactical played allowed him to break and let out another huge roar as he levelled this match at one set all.

In the final set, there was ball-striking of the highest quality as both players looked to out manoeuvre and out-hit each other.

The first break of the set went to Tsitsipas as Djokovic’s shot failed to reach the other side of the net as the Serb smashed his racket into the side barrier of the court.

After holding for a 3-1 lead, Tsitsipas looked to finish the match out as he had four opportunities for a double break lead.

A combination of erratic decisions and clutch serving from the world number one saw them saved as the Serb would hold on.

In typical Djokovic fashion he would break in the next game comfortably as this was turning out to be one of the best final sets of the season.

Tsitsipas would have the chance to close out the match after breaking for a 5-4 lead but the Serb’s court coverage was too good and he continued to hit insane returns for 5-5.

After 3 hours and 15 minutes of play over two days, Djokovic produced a near-perfect final game to deny Tsitsipas the win as he made his way into the semi-finals.

Next for the world number one will be Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday evening for a place in the final.

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French Open Chief: Roger Federer Would have Won Multiple French Open Titles If It Wasn’t For Nadal

Guy Forget also predicts how far the 39-year-old could go in the draw this year.

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The decision by Roger Federer to play at the French Open is the most logical step ahead of Wimbledon, according to tournament director Guy Forget.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match on the surface since June 2019. Last year he missed most the season due to a right knee injury which required two surgical procedures, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this year he has only played in one tournament which was at the Qatar Open where he reached the semi-finals.

Federer will return to the court next week at the Geneva Open in his native Switzerland. It is the only event he will play before heading to Roland Garros. An event he had only played in once out of the past five editions. Forget, who is a former top 10 player himself, believes the match play is exactly what Federer needs.

“That Roger comes to play Roland Garros seems logical to me. This will allow him to play, and especially to test himself. Clay is a surface that requires you to be precise in your movements. The better Federer is at Roland Garros, the better he will be at Wimbledon,” he told reporters earlier this week.

The Swiss Maestro has only won the French Open once in his career which was back in 2009. Although he has reached the final on four other occasions. It was at the 1999 French Open where he made his main draw debut in a major at the age of 17. Overall, 11 out of Federer’s 103 ATP titles have been won on the clay.

However, Forget believes Federer would have won many more French Open titles if it wasn’t for the formidable Rafael Nadal. A player who has won more ATP trophies on the dirt than any other player in history, including 13 at the French Open alone.

“If Rafael Nadal hadn’t existed Federer would have had at least 5 or 6 titles at Roland, I’m sure of that.” Forget commented.
“Regarding this edition, I think it can happen that he could go into the second week.” He added.

Federer has lost to Nadal in all six of their meetings at the French Open – four times in the final and twice in the semi-finals. He trails their overall head-to-head 16-24.

The French Open will get underway on May 30th.

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