And will eight-time champion Novak Djokovic be able to play after suffering an injury on Friday?
Rod Laver Arena will be the court to watch on Day 7, featuring seven Major singles champions who own a total of 49 Slam titles. That of course assumes Novak Djokovic takes the court on Sunday, as he felt as if he tore his oblique muscle during a five-setter against Taylor Fritz in the third round. And three other fourth round singles matches on Margaret Court Arena may also prove to be quite compelling.
Each day during this fortnight, this preview will analyze the day’s most prominent matches, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule. Sunday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Naomi Osaka (3) vs. Garbine Muguruza (14) – 11:00am on RLA
This will be the first career meeting between the 2019 champion and the 2020 runner-up. Osaka has now won her last 17 completed matches, while Muguruza has claimed 15 of her last 19. Neither woman has dropped a set this week, as both have dominated all comers. Osaka has allowed her opponents just 13 games, while Muguruza has allowed only 10. This has the feel of a Major final, but in reality it’s a fourth round encounter. Through three rounds, Osaka has won 80% of first serve points, and only been broken twice. Comparatively, Muguruza has won 74% on her first serve, and been broken just once. Naomi is the slightly better server, and the better mover, though this match will likely be decided by slim margins. It may come down to who is stronger mentally at the crucial moments. I can’t wait to see which champion that is.
Aryna Sabalenka (7) vs. Serena Williams (10) – Not Before 1:00pm on RLA
This is another first-time matchup between two extremely powerful women who love to bludgeon the ball. And just like Osaka and Muguruza, neither of these women have lost a set to this stage. Sabalenka has prevailed 18 of her last 19 matches, with three consecutive titles before arriving in Melbourne. Serena is 15-3 since the tour restart last summer. The 23-time Major singles champion played an ugly first set two days ago against Anastasia Potapova, but escaped it and comfortably won in straights. Serena’s second serve points won is an important stat to keep an eye on. In her first two matches, she won 57%, but that dropped dramatically to 32% in her third round. Serena needs to get that back up above 50% against Sabalenka, which is where Aryna’s percentage has averaged. And notably, Sabalenka hasn’t allowed any of her opponents to reach 50% of second serve return points won. It would also help Serena to get a higher percentage of first serves in, as she’s at 60% through three rounds. Sabalenka is an extremely aggressive returner and will look to control Serena’s second serve points from the start. But Serena is excellent at elevating her game in big moments, so I expect her to be extremely sharp today. And Sabalenka could easily be pretty tight in her first match against the GOAT, and as she tries to reach her first Slam quarterfinal. That’s advantage, Serena.
Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (18) – Not Before 3:00pm on RLA
On Friday, Thiem played 42 more games than Dimitrov. Dominic of course took part in a thrilling five-setter with Nick Kyrgios, coming back from two-sets-to-love down. Grigor was up 6-0, 2-0 when Pablo Carreno Busta retired due to injury. But Thiem actually spent less than three-and-a-half hours on court, so he should be relatively fresh on Sunday. Dimitrov has been quietly moving through this draw, without dropping a set. And Grigor leads their head-to-head 3-2, and 3-1 on hard courts. Dimitrov’s last two victories came on fast-playing hard courts, most recently at the 2019 Paris Masters. But Thiem’s confidence on this surface has increased substantially over the last few seasons, and he’s still the favorite in this battle of one-handed backhands.
Simona Halep (2) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not Before 7:00pm on RLA
Four months in the fourth round of Roland Garros, Swiatek crushed Halep 6-1, 6-2 in just 68 minutes. But in their only other previous encounter, a year prior in the same round of the same event, Halep walloped Swiatek 6-1, 6-0 in just 45 minutes. I suspect this meeting will be much more competitive. After Simona escaped near-defeat in the second round against Ajla Tomljanovic, she bounced back strongly, allowing Veronika Kudermetova only four games on Friday. Meanwhile, reigning French Open champ Swiatek has comfortably won her last 10 matches at Majors in straight sets, with no opponent winning more than four games in a set. Surely Halep will arrive on court with some revised tactics to counter Swiatek’s recent brilliance, as Simona has one of the best coaches in the sport, Darren Cahill. But Iga has spoken of how her work with a full-time sports psychologist has helped her enormously, and her mentality on court is usually much more positive than Halep’s. Based on Swiatek’s recent level of play, I’m not betting against her.
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Milos Raonic (14) – Last on RLA
If Djokovic is able to play, he couldn’t ask for a much more favorable round of 16 matchup. He’s 11-0 lifetime against Raonic, taking 26 of 29 sets. And the rallies shouldn’t be quite as grueling against the big-serving Canadian as they would against many other opponents. Milos has reached the quarterfinals or better in Melbourne five of the last six years, but this matchup has been a terrible one for him. So this match will come down to just how hampered Novak is by his injury.
Other Notable Matches on Day 7:
2019 Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova (19) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh, who is 0-3 lifetime in the fourth round of Majors, but claimed her only previous meeting with Vondrousova last month in Abu Dhabi 7-6 in the third. Vondrousova’s run to the French Open final is the only time she’s advanced beyond this round at a Slam.
20-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime (20) vs. Aslan Karatsev, a 27-year-old Russian who had three career ATP match wins prior to this week. He’s made a shocking run to the round of 16 without dropping a set, and upset Diego Schwartman in the last round. Felix defeated close friend Denis Shapovalov on Friday, and is vying for his first Major quarterfinal.
2020 US Open finalist Sascha Zverev (6) vs. Dusan Lajovic (23), who is into the fourth round at a Slam for the first time in nearly seven years. Their only two previous encounters occurred in consecutive years at Roland Garros, with Zverev winning both matches 6-2 in the fifth.
Sunday’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.
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