Kyrgios played in the tournament’s most exciting match thus far, savings match points in a five-set comeback win over Ugo Humbert on Wednesday.
Friday is the day when seeded players begin to collide in the draw, making for some big-time matchups. Two men’s encounters will see a battle of top 20 seeds, including one between two young Canadians who are close friends. Also, the two most recent women’s Major champions, Naomi Osaka and Iga Swiatek, face two of the WTA’s breakout performers of 2020. And with 40 Major singles titles between them, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic with play their third round matches on Friday.
Each day during this fortnight, this preview will analyze the day’s most prominent matches, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule. Friday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Not Before 7:00pm on JCA
Nick’s epic win on Wednesday was certainly mentally and emotionally draining, though it was less than three-and-a-half-hours, which is relatively short by five-set standards. But he’s only played five matches since last February, and has been bothered by a leg injury since last week’s tune-up event, so he’ll certainly be less than 100% physically. Thiem is one of the fittest men in the sport, and should be fully fresh as he’s yet to drop a set this week. They’ve only played seven games previously, with Kyrgios retiring down 4-3 in the first set six years ago in Nice on clay. If Nick can serve big and keep this match less physical, he has a real shot. The faster courts this year at Melbourne Park should favor Kyrgios, as his groundstroke swings take less time to set up than Thiem’s. But the reigning US Open champion has become one of the best hard court players in the world, and should be able to get past a depleted Kyrgios.
Naomi Osaka (3) vs. Ons Jabeur (27) – Not Before 1:30pm on JCA
In her press conference after her win on Wednesday, Osaka spoke of how much she likes Jabeur and respects her game. It was a year ago at this tournament when Jabeur broke through to become the first Arab woman to reach a Major quarterfinal. The 26-year-old from Tunisia has plenty of variety in her game, which she’ll utilize to subdue the power of Osaka. Jabeur successfully did that against a power player at the last Slam, upsetting Aryna Sabalenka in three sets at the French Open. This will be the first career meeting between Osaka and Jabeur. The three-time Major champion has looked extremely sharp through two rounds, dropping just eight games thus far against two tough draws in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Caroline Garcia. Naomi should be favored to overcome another challenging opponent today.
Denis Shapovalov (11) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (20) – Not Before 7:00pm on MCA
Having a second screen available for this match is a good idea, as it’s scheduled to start at the same time as the Thiem/Kyrgios encounter. 21-year-old Shapovalov and 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime had a lot of expectations placed upon them from a young age. Thus far Denis has achieved more success, reaching the quarterfinals of the US Open and the final of the Rome Masters. Felix has only advanced beyond this round of a Major once, and is an alarming 0-7 in ATP finals, and 0-14 in sets. Shapovalov leads their head-to-head 2-1, with victories in back-to-back years at the US Open. Auger-Aliassime’s only victory came on clay. With more experience at big events, and seemingly possessing a mental edge over his good friend, Shapovalov is the favorite to advance.
Pablo Carreno Busta (15) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (18) – Third on MCA
Here’s another clash between top 20 seeds, with a two-time Slam semifinalist and a three-time semifinalist. They have split six previous meetings, though notably Dimitrov has easily won both of their matches on hard courts. They haven’t played in nearly three years. Grigor has not dropped a set through two rounds, which includes a win over former finalist Marin Cilic. Pablo has dropped one set, though he ousted Kei Nishikori in straights on Monday. This could easily become an extended affair, but I give the slight edge to Dimitrov. He has dominated their previous meetings on this surface, and these fast courts should reward his more offensive-minded game.
Iga Swiatek (15) vs. Fiona Ferro – Last on MCA
19-year-old Swiatek has now won her last nine matches at a Major, and has done so without losing a single set. She’s never before played Ferro, a 23-year-old from France who won a clay court title in Palermo last summer, and then reached the round of 16 at her country’s Slam. Fiona impressively upset Elena Rybakina two days ago. While she has the tools to test the Roland Garros champion today, Ferro owns a losing record in her career on this surface. And her skills are a bit overshadowed by the all-around game of Swiatek. I like Iga’s chances to reach the fourth round in Melbourne for the second straight year.
Other Notable Matches on Day 5:
Seven-time champion Serena Williams (10) vs. Anastasia Potapova, a 19-year-old Russian ranked 101st in the world. They played at this same event a year ago, with Serena allowing Potapova just three games.
Eight-time champion Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Taylor Fritz (27). This is the second consecutive American opponent for Djokovic, who was pushed by Frances Tiafoe on Wednesday. Novak is 2-0 against Fritz, dropping only nine games in the four sets they’ve played.
Two-time Major champion Simona Halep (2) vs. Veronika Kudermetova (32), a 23-year-old Russian who reached the final of Abu Dhabi last month.
Two-time Major champion Garbine Muguruza (14) vs. Zarina Diyas, a 27-year-old from Kazakhstan. Their only previous meeting was last year in Shenzhen, with Muguruza prevailing in a tight three-setter.
Sascha Zverev (6) vs. Adrian Mannarino (32). They’ve played three hard court matches over the last six months. All of them were close, but all were won by Zverev.
Aryna Sabalenka (7) vs. Ann Li. Sabalenka has claimed 17 of her last 18 matches, though 20-year-old Li has won 12 of her last 13 at all levels, and is 6-0 this month in Melbourne.
In a women’s doubles match featuring four top 25 singles players, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Ash Barty and Jennifer Brady.
Friday’s full order of play is here.
Felix Auger Aliassime Goes The Distance To Win First Match In Rome
The Canadian was pushed to three sets in his opening match by Filip Krajinovic.
Felix Auger-Aliassime is into the second round of the BNL D’ Italia Masters in Rome after beating his Serbian opponent Filip Krajinovic in three gruelling sets 6-3, 6-7, 6-4.
The marathon encounter saw the Canadian hit 45 winners and 12 aces en route to victory. Avenging his loss to Krajinovic at the same tournament last year. His win-loss for the season now stands at 13-8.
” It’s always a tough match against him and I was happy I was able to win today,” the world No.20 said afterwards.
It was Krajinovic who got off to a fast start earning a breakpoint on the Montreal natives opening service game of the match and broke to take an early 1-0 lead. The Canadian responded at 2-1 earning his first two breakpoints of the match and breaking with a solid forehand winner to get the break back and go back on serve. At 3-2 the world number 20 had a chance to take the lead but it was saved by the world number 36. Nevertheless, he would go on to break for a 5-3 lead before serving out the match.
Auger-Aliassime started the second set with confidence and broke the Serb’s opening service game. It stayed on serve until the world number 20 was serving for the win when he ended up getting broken to level the set at five. The very next game the Montreal native had three looks at a breakpoint but again was denied and the second set would be decided by a tiebreaker.
The tiebreaker stayed on serve until 4-4 when Auger Aliassime managed to get the crucial break but squandered it the following point and gave his Serbian opponent a chance to serve it out which he did following a double fault.
The third and decisive set was a roller-coaster with the Canadian holding his opening service game and than having three more breakpoints which he would convert to take another early 2-0 lead. Krajinovic would respond once again earning a breakpoint the following game and getting the break back to go back on serve until 3-3 when the Serb had his first chance to take a lead in the third set but the Canadian would come up with a huge point to save it.
The next game Auger-Aliassime would have a look at another breakpoint and this time would convert to take a 5-3 and serve for the match but struggled to close it out and the world number 36 broke serve once again.
With the Serb serving to stay in the match the Canadian increased his game to another level and managed to earn two match points. Sealing his first match win in Rome with a huge forehand winner down the line.
After the match in his post match press conference Auger Aliassime spoke about how he was able to overcome the adversity of having two chances to serve it out.
” You have to believe and be resilient at times, I wanted to win badly so I dug deep and I found a way so I am happy that I was able to find a way with all the circumstances,” he said.
Auger Aliassime will next face the number eight seed at the tournament Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine currently has a 1-0 lead in their head-to-head with their last meeting coming last October in Cologne, Germany on a indoor hard court.
Madrid Open Daily Preview: Sascha Zverev Plays Matteo Berrettini for the Men’s Championship
Three years ago in Madrid, Sascha Zverev won this event, defeating Dominic Thiem in the final. That was Zverev’s third Masters 1000 title, all earned within one year. Sascha’s results at Majors have progressed since that time, though Sascha is yet to achieve his fourth Masters title, despite reaching three further finals. The 24-year-old German has not dropped a set this week, which includes noteworthy back-to-back victories over the two best clay court players of the last five years: Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem.
Three years ago in Gstaad, Matteo Berrettini won his first ATP title, and his first of three on clay. The 25-year-old Italian has claimed a total of four 250-level titles, including one just two weeks ago in Belgrade. But this marks Berrettini’s first time advancing to the final of an event outside the 250 Series, though he notably reached the semifinals of the 2019 US Open. Matteo has taken eight of nine sets played this week, and came back from a set and a break down in the quarterfinals against Cristian Garin, winning the last 11 games of that match.
Sascha Zverev (5) vs. Matteo Berrettini (8) – Not Before 6:30pm
Zverev leads their head-to-head 2-1, though they’ve split their two clay court encounters. At the 2018 Rome Masters, Zverev prevailed. A year later at the same event, Berrettini prevailed. Their only other meeting took place at the 2019 Shanghai Masters, which went to Sascha. All three of their matches have been decided in straight sets.
Including his victories this week over Nadal and Thiem, Zverev is now on a three-match winning streak against top 10 opposition, ending a streak of five consecutive losses against the top 10. Berrettini has only played two matches against the top 10 since the 2019 ATP Finals, as injuries have forced him to miss significant time from the tour. Despite that, he’s now 16-3 this season, and currently on an eight-match win streak.
Zverev certainly has the experience edge in matches of this caliber, and has a bit more variety in his ground game, specifically his backhand. Berrettini will look to dictate play with his powerful forehand. Both players are capable of racking up a high ace tally, though Sascha’s second serve can be a recurring weakness. While we’ve had two consecutive Masters events with first-time 1000-level champions crowned, Zverev should be favored to win his fourth Masters title, and his second in Madrid.
Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (3) – 3:30pm
The men’s doubles championship will also be decided on Sunday. Mektic and Pavic are 32-3 in 2021, and looking to win their sixth title of the season. A few weeks ago in the Monte-Carlo semifinals, they defeated Granollers and Zeballos in a deciding set tiebreak.
Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.
Sabalenka Wins 10th Career Title In Madrid
Aryna Sabalenka won her 10th career title in Madrid with a three set win over Ash Barty.
The Belarusian beat the world number one in three sets to claim the title in the Spanish capital.
Aryna Sabalenka is your Mutua Madrid Open champion after beating the world number one and Aussie Ash Barty in three sets 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 hitting 34 winners and serving nine aces in the win.
“I’m really happy with the win, it was a crazy match and I’m really happy and it feels amazing right now”
The Belarusian got off to the best possible start holding her opening service game and going right to work on getting the early break which she did the following at the second time of asking with solid return forehand winner.
The Aussie looked out of sorts and in 25 minutes the number five seed had blitzed through the first set and won it not losing a game.
The world number one was determined to stay in the match and had four chances to break in the very first game of the second set and did at the fourth time of asking to take an early 1-0 lead.
At 2-1 the number five seed earned two chances to get the break back and go back on serve and she did just that with one of her powerful forehand winners.
The very next game the Belarusian struggled on serve and gave the world number one another chance to break after a double fault and she would break again.
That break was enough for the Aussie to take the second set and force a deciding third set for the title.
The first three games went with serve and at 2-1 it was the Aussie once again with two chances to break after another double fault but the number five dug in once again and managed to save both breakpoints and hold serve.
At 4-4 it was the Belarusian turn to apply pressure on the world number one and she earned three breakpoints and she would get the crucial break with a stunning return winner.
She would serve out the match to extract revenge on her Aussie opponent for beating her the previous week in Stuttgart and on Monday will be the new world number four.
After the match in her post match press conference Sabalenka told Ubitennis how she was able to overcome the adversity of losing the second set.
“That is why she is number one, she is always trying to find a way and she did it really well in the second set, the first set was a really quick one and I was surprised and in the second set she started using the slice more and moving better and was a little bit more aggressive, it was a great level during the entire match and I am really happy that I could finish it with a win”
Sabalenka will now travel to Rome to play in the Italian Open and as of Monday will be the new world number four when the new rankings are posted which is a career-high.
Alexander Zverev Fights Back In Thriller To Win Madrid Open
Marcell Granollers and Horacio Zeballos claim their third Masters 1000 title in Madrid
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