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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Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman

The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.

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Diego Schwartzman (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired. 

 

The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona. 

Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori. 

“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”

The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas. 

Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33. 

“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said. 
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”

The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match. 

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup

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The lineup for Day 3 (twitter.com/lavercup)

Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar.  Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup.  Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first. 

 

Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time.  And each match on Sunday is worth three points.


Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm

Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles.  So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday.  Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday.  Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist.  If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)

Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles.  While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever.  Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.

Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay.  It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1).  And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday.  Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary

Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games.  He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts.  However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.


Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary

Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday.  If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday

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The lineup for Day 2 (twitter.com/lavercup)

In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2.  And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit.  With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup? 

 

Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day.  Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm.  And each match on Saturday is worth two points.


Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm

These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions.  Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event.  Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati.  Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup.  Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.


Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session

Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play.  Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive.  Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17.  Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon.  They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets.  Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm

Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday?  He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock.  Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios.  The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.

Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5.  Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York.  Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets.  Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day.  But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.


Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session

Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here.  This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals.  Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2.  De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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