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.
Team World One Win Away From Victory in Laver Cup
Team World take a huge 10-2 lead over Team Europe heading into the final day
After losing the first four editions of the Laver Cup, Team World look set to win the event for a second time as the event reaches its conclusion tomorrow.
Team World Captain John McEnroe was thrilled with the day’s results but warned against complacency: “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. The job’s not done but we’re pretty close.”
American duo Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe both earned straight sets wins over Andrey Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz, while Felix Auger-Aliassime and Ben Shelton beat Hurkacz and Gael Monfils.
“I want to play well for the guys,” said Tiafoe after his singles victory. “I played really well tonight. Just being in a team environment is so foreign to us as tennis players, it’s such an individual sport.”
After winning his third singles match in three appearances at the Laver Cup, Fritz was also motivated to do well:
“Yesterday, all the guys played really well. I felt that and wanted to come out on court and show what I can do. That definitely motivated me. Any type of team environment, I feel like it always elevates my game. I feel like my record in team events is really strong because I have a team cheering for me. I get pumped up. I’m excited to play for them. It just adds more pressure and fire to it. I think I play better in those situations.”
The doubles was a typically dynamic and feisty affair, and after the match Shelton was full of praise for his partner:
“It’s amazing, when you play with a guy who serves and returns like Felix, is as athletic as him, and goes back for the overhead as strong as him, it’s a fun time,” said Shelton. “We call him ‘Laver Cup Felix’ because he turns into something special this week, just glad I got to share the court with him at least once.”
Auger-Aliassime returned the compliments: “The best comes out of me when I’m playing not only for myself but for team-mates. Ben carried me through the end of that match, it was tough for me to get it done.”
Casper Ruud, meanwhile, beat Tommy Paul for Europe’s only points so far.
Matches on the final day are worth three points each – meaning that Team Europe would have to win all four remaining matches to prevent Team World from winning the trophy.
T. Fritz def A. Rublev 6-2, 7-6
F. Tiafoe def H. Hurkacz 7-5, 6-3
F. Auger-Aliassime & B. Shelton def H.Hurkacz & G. Monfils 7-5, 6-4
C. Ruud def T. Paul 7-6, 6-2
ATP RANKINGS UPDATE: Novak Djokovic, No.1 once more
After the US Open the Serbian champion reclaims top spot. Alexander Zverev is back in the Top 10
By Roberto Ferri
“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion”
Rudy Tomjanovich coined this maxim just after his Houston Rockets won the NBA championship in 1995. He was paying homage to Akeem Holajuwon. It perfectly suits the heart of Daniil Medvedev, who proved 99% of tennis fans in the world to be wrong, convinced as they were that he would lose the semifinal to former No 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
But his dream to win a second US Open, after his triumph in 2021, was shattered by another champion, whose heart and class is even greater: that’s Novak Djokovic, who affixes his seal on his return to No.1, equalling Margaret Court Smith’s record of 24 majors.
Djokovic dethroning Alcaraz is not the only change in the top 20: Sascha Zverev is back in the top 10 after almost one year and Ben Shelton, great protagonist of the Us Open, debuts in the top 20 best players in the world.
A few comments:
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrei Rublev and Alexander Zverev gain 2 positions.
Ben Shelton devours 28 positions.
Sinner, Tiafoe, Norrie and Dimitrov lose one.
Casper Ruud and Karen Khachanov, runner up and semi-finalist respectively at the 2022 US Open, drop 4 positions.
One step forward for Fritz, de Minaur, Paul, Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz.
ATP NITTO FINALS
From 12 to 19 November the 8 best players of the ranking based on the points earned in the ongoing solar season will be playing the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.
Will Novak Djokovic succeed in winning a second straight title? He appears to be heading in the right direction.
Thanks to his triumph at the US Open the Serbian overtakes Alcaraz also in the Race to Turin.
Jannik Sinner holds fourth spot while Andrei Rublev overtakes Stefanos Tsitsipas and is now fifth.
The eighth position is occupied by Alexander Zverev.
Last year runner up, Casper Ruud is currently 10th. This means he would feature in Turin as a reserve.
ATP NEXT GENERATION FINALS
The Next Gen Finals, dedicated to the best under 21s, (8 effectives and 2 reserves) of the season will take place this year in Gedda, Saudi Arabia.
The 2022 winner, Brandon Nakashima, will not be defending his title, since he was born in 2001.
Taking for granted that Alcaraz and, most likely Rune, will be playing the ATP Finals, we have included in the chart the 12 current top under 21s.
Besides Ben Shelton, other 11 players have achieved their career highest this week.
We tribute a double applause to the four players who are making their debut in the top 100.
The 25-year-old Croatian Borna Gojo, 22-year-old Australian Rinky Hijkata and the Swiss next gen Dominic Stricker all reap the reward for their brilliant runs at the US Open. Seyboth Wild, the Brazilian who stunned Medvedev in the first round of Roland Garros leaps to No.76 after winning the Challenger in Como last week.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
COMMENT: Novak Djokovic Proves His Greatness At US Open
Love him, or hate him. But respect him.
No tennis player has ever been better than Novak Djokovic.
Even Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have to take their hats off to Novak, and admire him.
Now that Rafa and Roger have left Djokovic on his own stage at least for now, tennis fans love Novak.
DJOKOVIC WENT ONE STEP FURTHER
Djokovic’s performance on Sunday evening in the U.S. Open final was simply amazing. Daniil Medvedev also played his heart out, but Djokovic went one step further. He was sensational.
It was a thrill-a-minute three-set match. It lasted well into the night after starting at mid-afternoon. The second set alone lasted 104 minutes.
Djokovic was the winner, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3, but New York still loves 2021 champion Medvedev.
A FOURTH AND 24TH TITLE, AND A 24 TRIBUTE
At 36, the oldest U.S. Open men’s champion ever, Djokovic obviously has a special place in his heart for the number four. It’s the number of times he has won this tournament and the 24th time he has won a Grand Slam title.
The number 24 also was displayed prominently on the white jacket. Novak, his team members and family wore for the victory celebration as a tribute to the No. 24 jersey of deceased friend Kobe Bryant.
Djokovic lost his footing at least three times in the tight second set, stumbling to the surface once, apparently due to the length of the rallies.
Djokovic could look like he was almost completely wiped out of it physically one minute, and then play like Superman the next minute.
THREE POINTS MAY HAVE BEEN DECISIVE
Both men played great tennis, especially in the thrill-a-second second set in which Medvedev gained one set point in the 12th game before Djokovic recovered to force a tiebreaker.
Medvedev appeared to be in charge after out-playing Novak to win one of his drop shots to take a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. The match may have been decided on the next three points, all won by Djokovic on errors by the 6-6 Russian.
The big question now is what happens next January in the Australian Open. Right now, Djokovic probably wants to play . . . and win what has been his favorite tournament as far as success. But things can change quickly for players in their mid-30s. Just ask Roger or Rafa.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
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