Australian Open Day 4 Preview: Top Women’s Seeds May Be Tested on Thursday - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 4 Preview: Top Women’s Seeds May Be Tested on Thursday

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Coco Gauff on Tuesday in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Defending champion Sofia Kenin, as well as the fifth and sixth seeds Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova, will all face challenging second round opposition.

 

However, top-seeded Ash Barty will be a heavy favorite, especially after how excellently she played on Tuesday.  In the men’s draw, Rafael Nadal is just six matches away from winning a record-breaking 21st Major title, and should advance comfortably today despite his lower back issues.  Young Australian talent will be involved in the day’s most appetizing men’s matchups, with Alex de Minaur and Thanasi Kokkinakis taking on two of the ATP’s flashiest shot-makers. 

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 play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Danielle Collins – 11:00am on RLA

Just last week in the Yarra Valley Classic, Collins took out Pliskova in two tiebreak sets.  That was the only previous meeting between these two Australian Open semifinalists from 2019.  For Pliskova, that was her seventh time reaching the quarterfinals or better out of the last 10 Majors.  But over the past two years, Karolina hasn’t done so once.  In the offseason, she hired Sascha Bajin as her coach, who formerly worked with Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.  Collins advanced to the quarters at the last Slam in Paris, defeating Garbine Muguruza along the way.  Both women have collected a lot of wins down under to start the last few seasons.  Collins’ level can fluctuate from week-to-week, but she’s hard to stop once she picks up momentum within a tournament.  And based on last week’s result, I’d call the American a slight favorite on Thursday.

Sofia Kenin (4) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Not Before 1:00pm on MCA

Kanepi spent the fall on the ITF circuit, but accumulated 15 match wins and three titles on both clay and hard courts.  And she earned four wins last week, reaching the final of the Gippsland Trophy, her first final since 2013.  Kaia has made a career out of upsetting players at Majors, and has reached six Slam quarterfinals.  22-year-old Kenin has played in two of the last three Major finals, but is yet to play her best tennis in 2021.  She lost in the quarters of Abu Dhabi to Maria Sakkari, dropping 12 of the last 14 games.  And Kenin was walloped last week by Garbine Muguruza 6-2, 6-2.  This match is a definite upset alert, though Kenin has exhibited how good she is at finding ways to win even when her best tennis escapes her.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis (WC) – Third on RLA

Kokkinakis’ career has been quite challenging to say the least.  The 24-year-old has experienced multiple serious injuries, so many that he even considered retiring from the sport.  The ATP has a detailed outline of his struggles here.  Prior to Tuesday, it had been two years since he won an ATP-level match, and six years since prevailing at his home Slam.  It’s no wonder he got emotional two days ago after a decisive 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 victory.  But is Thanasi ready to challenge a top five player on his country’s biggest court?  That’s a big ask for a man who has only played two matches since September of 2019.  And especially considering Tsitsipas only allowed Gilles Simon four games on Tuesday.  But this should be a fun one to watch, with a raucous Aussie crowd inside Rod Laver Arena.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Coco Gauff –  Not Before 7:00pm on RLA

Over the past two years, Gauff has upset Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Johanna Konta at Majors.  But the 16-year-old experienced a bit of the sophomore slump coming out of the tour shutdown last year, and has struggled with her serve.  She looked sharp on Tuesday though, advancing in straight sets.  Svitolina did as well, though she was thoroughly tested in a two-hour two-setter by Marie Bouzkova.  The Ukranian has reached the third round of this event in six out of the last seven years.  Elina can often become too defensive on court, allowing her opponents to dictate play.  If Coco can serve well and fully utilize her power on these fast courts, this could be her next big moment at a Slam.

Alex de Minaur (21) vs. Pablo Cuevas – Not Before 7:00pm on MCA

These are two of the quickest men in the sport, which should result in some incredible rallies.  Cuevas has made a name for himself by striking highlight reel-worthy shots each year.  He also drew rave reviews for his highly-entertaining social media posts during the hard quarantine in Melbourne.  But the 35-year-old from Uruguay excels on clay, and has never been beyond the second round of a hard court Major.  Last year, Pablo went just 2-7 on this surface.  Meanwhile 21-year-old de Minaur already nabbed a hard court title to start the year.  The Australian No.1 should be able to advance without too much trouble, to the delight of the night session crowd.

Other Notable Matches on Day 4:

2009 champion Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Michael Mmoh (Q), a 23-year-old American who survived a four-hour five-setter two days ago against Viktor Troicki.  Nadal easily prevailed on Tuesday, but spoke after the match of how his lower back injury is negatively impacting his play.

In a battle of Australians, Ash Barty (1) vs. Daria Gavrilova (WC), a former top 20 player who is fighting her way back from serious foot issues.  On Tuesday, Barty required only 44 minutes in a 6-0, 6-0 drubbing of Danka Kovinic.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Roberto Carballes Baena.  Medvedev is on a 15-match winning streak, while the 27-year-old Spaniard only has 10 career ATP wins on hard courts.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Thiago Monteiro.  Since the start of 2020, Rublev is 46-10, though he lost his only previous encounter with the 26-year-old Brazilian, in 2019 on clay.

Belinda Bencic (11) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Bencic is 3-2 against the two-time Major champion.  They played twice last February, and split those two hard court meetings.

Thursday’s full order of play is here.

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Iga Swiatek double bagels Karolina Pliskova to win Rome

Iga Swiatek dominated Karolina Pliskova for 46 minutes to win the Rome title.

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Iga Swiatek (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek is the 2021 BNL D’Italia Open champion after beating Karolina Pliskova, the number ninth seed, in 46 minutes. The Pole thrashed her opponent 6-0, 6-0 with the help of 17 winners as she lost only 13 points the entire match.

 

“I’m really happy, I’m kinda overwhelmed because at the beginning of this tournament I wouldn’t even dream of winning and it was super tough, we have to fight and obviously Karolina (Pliskova) had a great run here,” said Swiatek.

The number 15 seed got off to the best possible start having no issues in her opening service game and in the following game it was visible her Czech opponent was having issues with her serve.

Pliskova would serve a double fault to give the first breakpoint of the match and the Pole took to take an early 2-0 lead and from there it was one way traffic.

The number nine once again would double fault to gift another breakpoint at 3-0 and the 19 year old pounced with her powerful forehand to go up a double break and would break one more time to seal the first set in 19 minutes.

Fans at the Foro Italico were expecting a response in the second set from Pliskova but it was utter dominance from the Pole and again the number nine seed again struggled with her serve double faulting on breakpoint at 1-0 to once again give the early break.

There was a mini fight back from the Czech at 2-0 when she managed to earn two breakpoints to try and get back in the match but the number 15 seed would save both and hold serve.

The next game she continued to attack and play her aggressive game style earning two more breakpoints and breaking one more time to take a 4-0 lead and you could sense this match was going to be over very quickly.

Swiatek would seal the win with another one of her trademark forehand winners to take the match and the title which will boost her on Monday to number nine in the world and her first appearance in the top 10.

After the match Pliskova admitted today was not her day, “You have days like this in where things are not going your way,” Pliskova said in her trophy ceremony speech.

“That was the day today I still tried but it was not working for me. I will just quickly forget about today. I had some great matches here. Final is always a great week, great tournament.”

Both players will now head to Roland Garros with Swiatek looking to successfully defend her title.

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Championship Sunday in Rome

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Novak Djokovic expended a lot of energy and emotion on Saturday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

On Sunday, it will be the 57th installment of the most prolific men’s rivalry of the Open Era, as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal play for the men’s championship.  Djokovic is going for his record-extending 37th Masters 1000 title, and his sixth in Rome, while Nadal is looking to tie Djokovic with 36 Masters titles by winning Rome for the 10th time.  After playing for nearly five hours on Saturday, what will Djokovic have left in the championship match?

 

In women’s singles, Karolina Pliskova has reached her third consecutive final in Rome.  She’ll face the reigning Roland Garros champion, Iga Swiatek, who is making her WTA 1000 final debut.  In men’s doubles, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic are one match away from an astounding sixth title of the season.  And in the women’s doubles, the final is yet to be set, as one semifinal is still to be played.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not before 2:30pm on Center Court

Each of these players have saved match points to reach this championship match: Pliskova against Ostapenko, and Swiatek against Barbora Krejcikova.  Outside of the match against Krejcikova, Swiatek has not dropped a set this week.  But unlike Pliskova, Swiatek had to play both her quarterfinal and semifinal on Saturday, spending almost twice as long on court.

Iga has now claimed 14 of her last 15 matches on clay, with her only loss coming at the hands of world No.1 Ash Barty.  Meanwhile, Karolina hasn’t reached a final or semifinal at any event held outside of Rome since January of last year.  As much as Pliskova has excelled the last three years in Italy, Swiatek’s recent form makes her the favorite in their first career meeting.  Iga’s more versatile game, and more positive attitude, give her a distinct advantage.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (2) – Not before 5:00pm on Center Court

Djokovic leads their overall head-to-head 29-27, but Nadal leads 18-7 on clay, and 5-3 in Rome.  This is their first match since last year’s Roland Garros final, which went decisively to Nadal in straight sets.  On clay, Rafa has now taken their last four encounters, with Novak’s last victory on this surface coming in the final of this event five years ago.

After saving match points and surviving an epic clash with Denis Shapovalov on Thursday, Nadal has won his last four sets by scores of 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.  That includes a straight-set victory over Sascha Zverev, who defeated him just a week prior in Madrid.  Following a few subpar performances this clay court season, Rafa appears to have found his top level, just in time for Roland Garros.  This is a familiar pattern for Nadal, and a big problem for Djokovic, who will certainly be playing on tired legs.  Neither of these men have been a Masters champion this year, but that will change on Sunday, and it will likely be Nadal.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (5) – Mektic and Pavic are a sensational 36-4 in their first season as a team.  Ram and Salisbury won last year’s Australian Open, but lost to Mektic and Pavic earlier this year in Miami.

Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (4) vs. Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos – the winners of this semifinal will face Kristina Mladenovic and Marketa Vondrousova in the championship match later in the day.

Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Nadal cruises past Opelka to reach 12th final in Rome

Rafael Nadal is into yet another final in Rome after beating Reilly Opelka.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The Spaniard eased his way past his 7ft American opponent to reach another final in the Italian capital.

 

Rafael Nadal is into his 12th final in Rome after beating the American Reilly Opelka in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 in 92 minutes in his 500th match on clay and only needed to hit 13 winners in the victory.

“It’s not an easy and beautiful match to play against a player like Reilly (Opelka) who only gives you a few options on your return and he can also play quite aggressive from the baseline, he has good shots and it was important for me to save those breakpoints at the beginning of the match”.

It was actually the American with the first chance to break in the match at 2-1 when he earned four chances to break but the Spaniard pulled out his big serve and saved all four before holding serve.

The very next game the Manacor, Mallorca native went on the offensive and earned his first breakpoint of the match and managed to convert on it to take the early 3-2 lead.

After consolidating the break the American saved three breakpoints with the Spaniard pushing for the second break but managed to hold serve and the number two seed would serve out the first set.

The second set followed a similar pattern to the first with both players holding their opening service games with ease and this time it was the world number three with the first chance to break.

Nadal would break at the third time of asking to once again take an early 2-1 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve out the match and set up a clash with either Novak Djokovic or Lorenzo Sonego.

In his post match interview Nadal spoke about the prospect of playing another final on Sunday in Rome.

“The work is done, I think I did a lot of things well, I had a good spirit the entire week, there are a lot of positive things I did on court this week and it’s important for my confidence to be back in such an important final, I will have a tough opponent either Djokovic or Sonego but I need to be ready, I need to play my best tennis and that is what I am looking for”.

Djokovic currently leads the head to head with Nadal 29-27 while Sonego has yet to face the Spaniard.

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