Australian Open Day 6 Preview: The Australian No.1’s Will Play Without a Crowd on Saturday Night - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Day 6 Preview: The Australian No.1’s Will Play Without a Crowd on Saturday Night

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Ash Barty is vying to reach the second week of the Australian Open for the third straight year (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Ash Barty and Alex de Minaur will have no Aussies rooting them on from the stands, as fans will not be allowed inside Melbourne Park for at least the next five days.

 

In action between top 20 seeds, two of the sport’s biggest young ball strikers, Matteo Berrettini and Karen Khachanov, collide in what should be a crackling third round clash.  Men’s title contenders Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, and Andrey Rublev will also play on Saturday.  On the women’s side, Karolina Pliskova faces a fellow countrywoman who upset her 13-11 in the third at Wimbledon two years ago.  And in another matchup featuring top 20 players, Belinda Bencic takes on Elise Mertens, who has won 10 of her last 11 matches.

Each day during this fortnight, this preview will analyze the day’s most prominent matches, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova (29) – Not Before 7:00pm on MCA

While Barty didn’t play for nearly a full year prior to last week, she’s now prevailed in 17 of her last 19 matches.  This will be her first encounter with Alexandrova, a 26-year-old Russian who won her first WTA title last year on a hard court.  But Ekaterina has never been beyond the third round of a Major, and doesn’t possess the firepower or guile to threaten Barty when Ash is at her best.  However, Barty wasn’t at her best on Thursday despite winning in straight sets.  She became quite frustrated on court, and was visibly hampered by a left leg injury.  Ash pulled out of her scheduled doubles match yesterday.  So Alexandrova could be a good litmus test for just how healthy the world No.1 truly is.

Matteo Berrettini (9) vs. Karen Khachanov (19) – Not Before 5:00pm on JCA

They played three times in 2019, with the Italian victorious on all three occasions.  Berrettini won twice in straight sets on grass, though they went to a decider in their own hard court meeting.  Khachanov was the first of these two 24-year-olds to breakthrough on tour, reaching the second week at five Slams between 2017 and 2020, and winning the 2018 Paris Masters.  He’s 5-1 this month in Melbourne, though he lost his only match against a player ranked inside the top 70.  Berrettini was ranked outside the top 50 until 2019, when he won two ATP titles and reached the US Open semifinals.  He’s also 5-1 over the last few weeks, but owns victories over three top 15 players.  These fast-playing courts in Melbourne should favor Matteo, as Karen likes having more time to set up his groundies.  Berrettini will likely extend his record to 4-0 against Khachanov.

Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Karolina Muchova (25) – First on RLA

In the fourth round of the 2019 Wimbledon, these two Karolinas played for three hours and eighteen minutes, with Muchova outlasting Pliskova to reach her first Slam quarterfinal.  Their only other previous matchup was two years ago at this event, with Pliskova winning in straight sets.  Neither woman has dropped a set through two rounds.  Pliskova will of course have the power advantage, while Muchova possesses many more options in her eclectic game.  With new coach Sascha Bajin on her team, I expect Pliskova to come out with a good mindset today, and a better plan on how to overcome her talented countrywoman.

Belinda Bencic (11) vs. Elise Mertens (18) – Third on RLA

Expect a lot of dynamic, prolonged rallies in the first career meeting between these two players with well-rounded skillsets.  After an excellent 2019 in which she won nearly 50 matches and returned to the top 10, Bencic went just 8-8 last year, and missed some play due to injury.  Unfortunately, that’s just the latest of many injury layoffs throughout the young career of the 23-year-old.  Meanwhile, Mertens has reached the quarterfinals or better at seven of her last eight events.  And the 25-year-old won the Gippsland Trophy just last week.  Benic required three sets in both of her first two rounds, while Mertens won both in straights.  All evidence supports a Mertens victory on Saturday.

Fabio Fognini (16) vs. Alex de Minaur (21) – Last on MCA

What will Fognini have left after a dramatic four-hour affair just 48 hours ago?  He saved match points and prevailed in a fifth set tiebreak against Salvatore Caruso.  Fabio then exchanged some heated words with his countryman after the match, with the Italians having to be physically separated.  De Minaur was heartbroken to miss last year’s Australian Open after suffering an injury at the ATP Cup, so the 21-year-old will be extra motivated to reach the round of 16 at his home Slam for the first time.  And he’ll certainly be the fresher man today, as he’s advanced without losing a set.  In another first career meeting, De Minaur should be favored despite the lack of an Aussie crowd.

Other Notable Matches on Day 6:

20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Cameron Norrie, a fellow lefty who has never advanced farther than this round at a Slam.

2018 WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Yulia Putintseva (26).  Putintseva won their first match back in 2012, but Svitolina has claimed their last five.

2019 ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) vs. Mikael Ymer, a 22-year-old from Sweden who is into the third round of a Major for the first time.

2020 ATP Finals champion Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Filip Krajinovic (28).  Their only previous meeting went to Krajinovic in straight sets, two years ago at Indian Wells.  Medvedev is on a 16-match winning streak.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Feliciano Lopez.  Rublev has taken 27 of his last 31 matches.  39-year-old Lopez hasn’t reached the fourth round at a Major since 2015.

Saturday’s full order of play is here.

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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.

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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.

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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Sascha Zverev Plays Matteo Berrettini for the Men’s Championship

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Italian No.1 Matteo Berrettini, on Saturday in Madrid (twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen)

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.

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Sabalenka Wins 10th Career Title In Madrid

Aryna Sabalenka won her 10th career title in Madrid with a three set win over Ash Barty.

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Aryna Sabalenka (@MutuaMadridOpen - Twitter)

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.

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