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Melbourne Summer Series Daily Preview: The ATP Cup Begins on Tuesday

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Novak Djokovic and his fellow countrymen are the defending ATP Cup champions (twitter.com/ATPCup)

In an utterly insane day of tennis, 83 matches are scheduled for Tuesday at Melbourne Park.

 

On the first day of the second annual ATP Cup, the world’s top four players will all be in action.  And with three of them facing top 12 opposition, the 2021 season is going straight to fifth gear.  Meanwhile second round action is underway in two WTA 500 events, with five of the world’s top 10 competing on Tuesday.  Add onto that matches from two ATP 250 events, and you have one of the busiest schedules in recent tennis memory.

Today’s preview will focus on the ATP Cup and the WTA 500 tournaments, as the top players in the ATP 250 events will not play until Wednesday.

Tuesday’s ATP Cup matches will be played on Rod Laver Arena and John Cain Arena (formerly the Melbourne/Hisense Arena) starting at 10:00am local time.  The WTA 500 and ATP 250 events will begin at 10:30am on the outer courts, and at 11:00am on Margaret Court Arena and 1573 Arena.


The ATP Cup, a Round Robin Team Event between 12 Nations

Top Players: All of the ATP top 10 will compete except the injured Roger Federer.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Denis Shapovalov (CAN) – Second Match on RLA

This will be Djokovic’s first match since the ATP Finals, where he lost in the semifinals to Dominic Thiem in a third set tiebreak.  A year ago at this event, a third set tiebreak went his way against his opponent today.  That’s the closest the 21-year-old Canadian has come to defeating Novak, as Denis is 0-5 against the world No.1.  And despite Djokovic’s hand blisters, that’s unlikely to change today on Rod Laver Arena, a place where Novak is usually at his best.  With Denis’ fellow countryman Milos Raonic a favorite against Dusan Lajovic, the Serbia/Canada matchup may come down to doubles, where Shapovalov and Raonic are scheduled to team against Nikola Cacic and Filip Krajinovic.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs. Matteo Berrettini (ITA) – Second Match on JCA

They have split their four previous meetings, and all have been tight matches.  But Berrettini struggled in 2020, with a record of just 9-6 coming of an injury layoff.  Thiem is the favorite in this matchup, though if the erratic Fabio Fognini beats Dennis Novak (as he should), the Austria/Italy battle may also come down to doubles.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Alex de Minaur (AUS) – Not Before 7:00pm on RLA

This is another rematch from last year’s event, when Nadal required three sets to subdue the inspired Australian in the semifinals.  That’s the only time de Minaur has wrestled a set away from Rafa, whom he is 0-3 against.  In his first match since November, Nadal should prevail again today despite the fight of the Australian No.1.  And with Roberto Bautista Agut favored over John Millman, Spain may not need the doubles point to prevail. 

Daniil Medvedev (RUS) vs. Diego Schwartzman (ARG) – Not Before 7:00pm on JCA

A year ago at this event, these two got heated.  Schwartzman did not appreciate Medvedev taunting him and his fellow Argentines, and wasn’t shy about letting Daniil know.  Schwartzman is 0-5 against Medvedev, which includes two further hard court clashes this past November.  While Diego would surely like to avenge last year’s loss, the reigning ATP Finals champion is currently on a 10-match win streak, and will be hard to subdue.  And with Andrey Rublev, one of 2020’s best players, taking on Guido Pella in the other singles match, this looks to be a straightforward victory for the Russians.


The Yarra Valley Classic, a WTA 500 Event

Top seeds: Ash Barty, Sofia Kenin, Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza

Sofia Kenin (2) vs. Camila Giorgi – First Match on MCA

The Australian Open champion will be eager to gain some momentum ahead of her title defense, especially coming off a disappointing loss last month in Abu Dhabi to Maria Sakkari where she lost 12 of the last 14 games.  The go-for-broke style of Giorgi can be dangerous, but Kenin’s all-court skills should get her through.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Ana Bogdan – Not Before 6:30pm on MCA

This will be the world No.1’s first match since February 28th of last year, as the Australian chose not to leave her country during the pandemic.  Despite her lack of play, Barty should advance comfortably against the 28-year-old Romanian ranked 93rd in the world.

Garbine Muguruza (6) vs. Alison Van Uytvanck – Fifth Match on 1573

Like her fellow 2020 Australian Open finalist Kenin, Muguruza was a victim of Maria Sakkari in Abu Dhabi.  And with only five hard court matches played since leaving Melbourne a year ago, Garbine could use a few wins on this surface ahead of next week.  She’s 2-1 against Van Uytvanck, and 2-0 on this surface, so I like Muguruza’s chances.

Petra Kvitova (4) vs. Venus Williams – Last Match on MCA

This is the most marquee women’s match of the day, between two multiple-time Wimbledon champions.  When they last met, two years ago at Indian Wells, Venus came from behind to upset Kvitova in a thrilling encounter.  While Petra is 4-3 overall against Venus, the American has claimed their last two matches, meaning Kvitova hasn’t beaten her since 2014.  Venus looked sharp against Aranxta Rus on Sunday, so she has a real shot to make it three in a row against Kvitova.


The Gippsland Trophy, a WTA 500 Event

Top seeds: Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina, Aryna Sabalenka, Johanna Konta, Iga Swiatek

Johanna Konta (5) vs. Bernarda Pera – First Match on 1573

Konta has not played in four months, and is 2-3 in her last three tournaments.  Surprisingly, she actually has a losing record against the 26-year-old American, who has taken two of their three meetings.  This is a tricky opening round for the British No.1.

Aryna Sabalenka (4) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Second Match on MCA

Who is going to stop Aryna Sabalenka?  The 22-year-old is on a 15-match win streak, with three straight titles.  However, Kanepi owns an 11-match win streak of her own, and won three titles ITF titles this fall.  But Sabalenka is a big step up in competition.

Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Alize Cornet – Third Match on MCA

Speaking of win streaks, Osaka hasn’t lost in a full year, although that only covers the two events that were staged in the New York bubble last summer.  This will be her first match since winning her third Major at the US Open.  Considering Cornet is coming off a two-and-a-half-hour battle just yesterday, Naomi is a heavy favorite in her return.

Iga Swiatek (6) vs. Kaja Juvan – Fourth Match on 1573

Swiatek is another player on a winning streak, and who hasn’t played since winning a Slam, her first on the red clay of Paris.  Iga has already proven her skills transfer nicely to other surfaces, as she reached the second week in Melbourne last year.  She shouldn’t face too much resistance from Juvan, a 20-year-old Slovenian ranked outside the top 100.


Tuesday’s full order of play is here.

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Friday Delivers Several Blockbuster Quarterfinals

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Seeing fans back in the stands was a welcome sight on Thursday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

But will we be able to see those quarterfinals on Friday?  The forecast in Rome looks rather rainy, especially later in the day, so it may be challenging to complete play.

 

In men’s singles, two of the quarterfinals feature four of the top six players in the world.  Only one day after a three-and-a-half-hour epic against Denis Shapovalov, nine-time champion Rafael Nadal must face Madrid champion Sascha Zverev, who defeated him in the quarters just last week.  And five-time Novak Djokovic takes on Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has claimed 17 of his last 20 matches on clay.

In women’s singles, two-time champion Elina Svitolina plays a Roland Garros champion for the second consecutive day.  On Thursday, Svitolina took out Muguruza in straight sets.  On Friday, she’ll do battle with Iga Swiatek, who has won 12 of her last 13 on clay.  Another French open champ, Ash Barty, will play 17-year-old Coco Gauff for the first time, as Coco looks to upset a seeded player for the third round in a row.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play begins at 10:00am local time.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Sascha Zverev (6) – Not Before 12:00pm on Center Court

What will Nadal have left after Shapovalov took him to the limit on Thursday?  Zverev will certainly be the fresher player, and will walk onto court with plenty of confidence.  While Rafa claimed their first five meetings, Sascha has now grabbed their last three, and all in straight sets.  That includes his victory just seven days ago in Madrid, which is part of Zverev’s current seven-match win streak.  And during that span, he’s dropped only two sets.  

In recent years, the quarterfinals of this event have been a stumbling block for Nadal.  He’s lost in the quarters four out of the last six years.  It’s difficult to ever refer to Rafa as an underdog on clay, even when he’s behind in a match.  However, he just might be the underdog on this day.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not Before 6:00pm on Center Court

Svitolina has been solid yet unspectacular in 2021.  She’s accumulated a 19-8 record, though she hasn’t reached a final since last September in Strasbourg.  As of today, Swiatek has compiled a record of 16-5, which exactly matches her record from 2020.  The reigning French Open champ also won the title in Adelaide this past February.  This will be their first career meeting, and it will be interesting to see how the defense skills of Svitolina match up with the more offensive style of Swiatek. 

Elina won this tournament in 2017 and 2018, so this may be the best venue for her to elevate her season.  And despite Iga’s great successes early in her career, this is the farthest she’s ever been at a WTA 1000 event.   Notably, this is scheduled to be the last match of the evening session on Center Court.  If the match gets onto court, it will likely be played in slow, wet conditions.  Even though Swiatek thrived in cooler weather last fall at Roland Garros, those conditions should favor the game of Svitolina.  And Elina has a huge edge in experience at this level, as she looks to reach her 12th WTA 1000 semifinal.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Djokovic leads their head-to-head 4-2, and 2-0 on clay.  That includes their most recent clash last October at Roland Garros, when Tsitsipas came back from two sets down, only to lose in five.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Coco Gauff – Barty is now 27-4 on the year, and is vying for her fifth semifinal.  Gauff is yet to reach a semifinal this season, but this week she’s played her best tennis in quite some time, taking out both Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Pliskova has advanced to the championship match in Rome each of the last two years.  This is Ostapenko’s second quarterfinal here, and her first in three years.  Pliskova is 4-3 against Ostapenko, and prevailed when they met last month on clay in Stuttgart.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Lorenzo Sonego – Rublev is already playing for his 30th win of the year.  Sonego survived an over-three-hour battle with Dominic Thiem, which ended at 11:00pm local time on Thursday night.  Last October in the final of Vienna, Rublev took out Sonego 6-4, 6-4.

Petra Martic vs. Jessica Pegula – Prior to this week, Martic hadn’t won three consecutive matches since last year’s US Open.  Pegula continues to take her career to new heights, as she’s set to debut in the top 30 next week.  The 27-year-old American upset Naomi Osaka two rounds ago.  When they played on clay two years ago in Charleston, the match went to Martic in three sets.

Reilly Opelka vs. Federico Delbonis (Q) – Opelka defeated Aslan Karatsev on Thursday to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal.  For 30-year-old Delbonis, this is his first-ever quarterfinal at this level.  Opelka and Delbonis have never played before, but whoever wins will make their Masters semifinal debut.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Nadal survives three-set marathon with Shapovalov in Rome

Rafael Nadal saved match points to edge out Denis Shapovalov in Rome.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The King of Clay needed three sets and over three hours to claim the win and avoid an upset.

 

Rafael Nadal needed three hours and 27 minutes to beat the Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 at the Italian Open in Rome hitting 29 winners while his counterpart hit 46 unforced errors in the loss.

To everyone’s surprise it was the world number 14 who came out with the faster start earning two breakpoints in the first service game of the match with a stunning forehand winner.

He would break to take an early 1-0 lead and continued to have momentum earning another break and the Spaniard found himself staring at 3-0 defecit.

At 4-1 the world number three would get one of the breaks back but it wasn’t enough as the Toronto native would break one more time at 5-3 on his fourth breakpoint of the game to take the first set.

Once again we saw some really strong play from the Canadian in the beginning of the second set we saw history repeat itself when the world number 14 held serve and get the early break this time with his powerful forehand.

Nadal was fighting to stay in the set and the match and managed to earn a breakpoint but it was quickly saved with a big ace from Shapovalov. The very next game the Canadian had a chance to get another break but this time the Spaniard would deny him the opportunity.

After the world number three held serve he went on the attack looking to go back on serve and after three chances would get the break back. He would end up winning five games in a row and would take the second set to send it to a decider.

The third set remained on serve until 2-1 when the Canadian had a chance to break and he would take to jump out to a 3-1 lead. The break didn’t hold as Nadal came storming back the very next game breaking the world number 14 to love and equaling the set at 3-3.

The set and the match would ultimately be decided by a tiebreaker and in that breaker is when the Spaniard would take over winning it 7-3 to book his spot in the quarterfinals.

He will next face either Alexander Zverev or Kei Nishikori on Friday for a spot in the semifinals.

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Iga Swiatek Saves Two Match Points To Edge Out Krejcikova In Rome

Iga Swiatek survived a 2 hour and 50 minute clash to advance to the Rome Quarter-Finals.

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Iga Swiatek (@TickTockTennis - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek saved two match points to defeat Barbora Krejcikova 3-6 7-6(5) 7-5 to reach the last eight in Rome.

 

The defending Roland Garros champion battled and clawed to victory in 2 hours and 52 minutes after saving two match points.

Swiatek will now play the winner of the match between Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals tomorrow.

A summary of the match would be a lot of errors and tentative play throughout as the Pole was too aggressive in the opening set allowing a lot of unforced errors into her game.

Meanwhile Krejcikova was solid but was aggressive with the right angles in the right moments.

This proved crucial for the Czech Republican as she took advantage of Iga’s inability to produce first serves.

A crucial hold at 4-2 was enough for Krejcikova as there were six breaks of serve in the opening set. A long ninth game ended with the Czech taking the set 6-3.

In the second set it was more of the same with Swiatek as she was not able to produce her best tennis.

After going down an early break, Swiatek knew she had to build the points up slowly and gain her confidence. This is what occurred as she got the break back immediately and started to hold serve more comfortably.

Even though the world number 15 looked more confident with her shots and started to construct points better she could not successfully get into Krejcikova’s service games.

Towards the end of the set Swiatek saved two match points as this dramatic contest went to a second set tiebreak.

Swiatek’s mini-break lead was reduced but her fighting spirit was not as Krejcikova felt the pressure and a double fault from her gave the Pole a lifeline as she forced a deciding set.

After spending the change of ends being emotional, Swiatek regained similar form in the final set with her drop-shots being effective.

Krejcikova held nerve of her own as she continued to force the Pole to make unforced errors and just be as solid as she could be.

Swiatek saved three break points in the seventh game to lead 4-3 and then pounced in the 12th game with some heavy returns to take the match and move into the last eight.

Next for the Pole after a mammoth clash will be Garbine Muguruza or Elina Svitolina as she climbs into a new career ranking of 14 in the world.

In other results today Coco Gauff knocked out Madrid Champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5 6-3 for one of the best wins of her career.

The vibrant American faces world number one Ash Barty who continued her amazing season with with a 6-3 6-3 win over Veronika Kudermetova.

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