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Steve Flink: “Djokovic and Nadal will end up with more Slams than Federer”

A final word on the 2021 Australian Open. Thiem was the biggest letdown of the fortnight, but which was the best match or the biggest upset?

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The men’s singles at the Australian Open ended in the most predictable way, with Novak Djokovic clinching his ninth title. However, the road to victory was laden with difficulties, as Hall-of-Famer tennis writer Steve Flink highlights in his third video chat about the tournament with Ubitennis founder and CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta. How close is the Next Gen to pushing out the Big Three? Was this Karatsev’s one shining moment or will he keep shocking the tennis world? This and more in the following chat:

 

0:00 – The men’s final: “I wasn’t sure Djokovic would be able to pull this off after his injury against Fritz, but after he beat Zverev I knew he’d win again.” Was such a trouncing of Medvedev at all predictable though?

5:00 – The keys to the Serbian’s masterclass win.

8:10 – “Medvedev had won most of his last meetings with Djokovic, but a Major final is a different story…” Did Djokovic actually tear an abdominal muscle?

14:30 – How close is the Next Gen to actually taking over?

17:30 – What was the impact of the 2-week quarantine on the tournament? “Many players struggled with injuries throughout the fortnight, but others, like Nadal, were already ailing at the beginning of the event.”

20:40 – Can Federer make another comeback? “His serve is so good that he can win many quick points, that will help him even if his fitness level isn’t up to par.”

24:30 – The best match of the tournament was…

29:45 – Who was the outbreak star? This is an easy one…

32:20 – What about the biggest letdown?

37:20 – A look into the future: will Djokovic end up surpassing Federer and Nadal’s 20-Slam tally?  

41:30 – The Serbian is also about to break the record for the most weeks spent at the top of the rankings – will he remain the world N.1 for much longer?

Transcript by Antonio Flagiello; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Australian Open Daily Preview: The First Major of 2022 Begins

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Matteo Berrettini in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

A year after this event was delayed until February due to the pandemic, the Australian Open is back on schedule in 2022.  While Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic will not be present, top names like Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Daniil Medvedev are all playing.

 

The men’s singles draw only includes four Major singles champions (Nadal, Murray, Cilic, Medvedev).  Will this be the second straight Slam where a new Grand Slam champion is crowned?  Following the deportation of Djokovic, reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev is now the favorite.  But how will he react to that pressure?  And recent Slam finalists like Sascha Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Matteo Berrettini are eager to take advantage of this opportunity.

The women’s singles draw features 14 Major singles champions.  As the trend has been for many years, the last nine Slams have been won by eight different women.  Will someone such as Barty or Osaka assert their Major prowess, or will another new name prevail?  And how will Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez perform after their electrifying runs at the US Open?

Monday’s schedule sees three of 2021’s most improved Americans taking on top ATP names: Nadal, Berrettini, and Norrie.  WTA action includes the 2020 champion taking on a title winner from just 48 hours earlier, while another of Saturday’s champs faces the No.2 Australian.  And defending champion Osaka, as well as top-seeded Barty, will also play their opening matches.

Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.   Monday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Brandon Nakashima – Second on Margaret Court Arena

With Djokovic removed from the draw, Berrettini is now the highest seed in his quarter.  Six months after reaching his first Major final, Berrettini is seeking put last year’s Australian Open disappointment behind him, when he was forced to withdraw from his fourth round match against Stefanos Tsitsipas due to an abdominal injury.  Injuries have unfortunately been a recurring theme in Matteo’s career.  Just two months ago at the ATP Finals, the Italian was heartbroken when an oblique injury knocked him out of the event’s debut in his home country.  In his return from injury at this month’s ATP Cup, Berrettini went only 1-2, though he did push Medvedev to three sets in a high-quality affair.  Nakashima is a 20-year-old American who won two Challenger titles last season, and reached back-to-back hard court ATP finals in July.  Brandon earned six top 40 victories in the second half of 2021.  He can definitely test the Italian No.1, but he cannot match Berrettini’s fire power, which should enable Matteo to dictate his fate.


Cam Norrie (12) vs. Sebastian Korda – Third on Kia Arena

Kia Arena is a new 5,000-seat on the grounds of Melbourne Park, and is now the tournament’s fourth-largest venue.  Norrie had a tremendous 2021, going 52-25 with two titles, including his first Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells.  However, he’s currently on a four-match losing streak, and went 0-3 two weeks ago in the ATP Cup.  Meanwhile, Korda rose 80 spots in the rankings last season, finishing inside the top 40.  The now-21-year-old claimed his first ATP title in Parma, and was the runner-up of the ATP Next Gen Finals.  Last January, in the Delray Beach semifinals, Korda defeated Norrie 6-3, 7-5.  Sebi is yet to compete in 2022, as he tested positive for COVID upon arriving in Australia.  With neither player currently possessing a considerable amount of momentum, 12th-seeded Norrie is the favorite to advance based on his recent success and significant edge in experience.


Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Marcos Giron – Not Before 4:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

As Gaspar Ribeiro Lanca highlighted on Twitter, this will be the first Major of Nadal’s long career without both Federer and Djokovic in the draw.  But Rafa does not arrive with much match play, which is usually crucial to his chances at a Slam.  This will only be Nadal’s fourth match since the first week of August.  He only required three wins to prevail at a lead-up event two weeks ago in Melbourne, his first tournament since undergoing a procedure to address a lingering foot injury.  Overall Rafa was 24-5 in 2021.  At this event a year ago, he let a two-set lead slip in the quarterfinals against Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Giron is a 28-year-old American who achieved a career-high ranking of No.56 this past October.  Between June and October, he reached four ATP quarterfinals.  However, upending  a player as formidable as the 20-time Major champ is a feat Marcos is yet to achieve.  But he should offer enough to resistance to reveal just how ready Nadal’s body is for this Major, in his first best-of-five match since June.


Sofia Kenin (11) vs. Madison Keys – Not Before 5:00pm on John Cain Arena

Last week was huge for the career of Madison Keys.  After going 11-15 last season, she gained her first title since 2019 by becoming the champion in Adelaide.  Similarly, Kenin also had a rough 2021, and is hoping to rediscover the form that made her 2020’s WTA Player of the Year by bringing her father back as her coach, just six months after he left her team.  Kenin has a 2-2 record thus far in 2022.  These Americans played three times in 2019, with Keys taking both of their hard court matchups.  Based on that history, and their current form, Madison should be favored to eliminate the 2020 champion. 


Paula Badosa (8) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Last on Margaret Court Arena

On Saturday in the Sydney final, Badosa overcame Barbora Krejickova in a third-set tiebreak after a dogged fight by both players.  The Indian Wells champ has now won 13 of her last 16 matches.  Tomljanovic advanced to her first Major quarterfinal six months ago at The Championships, but has lost almost as many matches as she’s won since that time.  And just this past Wednesday in Sydney, she was defeated by Badosa in their first meeting.  Assuming Paula is fully recovered from Saturday’s grueling final, the Spaniard should be able to eliminate the Australian for the second time in as many weeks.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Naomi Osaka (13) vs. Camila Osorio – This will only be Osaka’s fourth match since her US Open upset at the hands of Leylah Fernandez.  Osorio is 20-year-old from Colombia who ended 2021 at a career-high ranking thanks to reaching her second WTA final in October.  This is their first career meeting.

Reilly Opelka (23) vs. Kevin Anderson – Opelka achieved his first two Masters 1000 semifinals last year, and debuted inside the top 20.  Anderson has struggled to regain his level of a few years ago after battling multiple injuries.  Six years ago in Atlanta, when Reilly was ranked 837th in the world, he upset Kevin in three sets.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Lesia Tsurenko (Q) – Barty was a stellar 42-8 in 2021, and started this season by winning a WTA title in Adelaide.  Tsurenko is a 32-year-old who came through qualifying without dropping a set, and was a quarterfinalist at the 2018 US Open.  Both of their previous encounters have occurred in Australia, with each prevailing once.

Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Andrea Petkovic – The reigning French Open champion is coming off the aforementioned demoralizing loss on Saturday to Paula Badosa.  Last summer, Petkovic earned her first WTA title since 2015.  But she also lost to Krejcikova last summer, as Barbora was victorious in straight sets at Wimbledon.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Daniel Altmaier – Zverev accumulated 59 wins last year, and has advanced to the second week at the last eight Majors.  Altmaier is a fellow German who ended 2021 by winning a Challenger tournament in Puerto Vallarta.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Grand Slam

Australian Open Men’s Draw: Novak Djokovic Top Seed But Still No Guarantee He Will Be Allowed To Play

Who will be crowned the men’s champion in Melbourne this year?

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Novak Djokovic returns a shot during a Men's Singles quarterfinal match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 8, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Jed Jacobsohn/USTA)

There was a delay to the Australian Open draw taking place on Thursday after rumours emerged that authorities were on the verge of their decision concerning whether to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time.

 

The draw was postponed by more than an hour amid a press conference from Prime Minister Scott Morrison which was set to take place. However, it was later confirmed that no such announcement would be made and it was up to immigration minister Alex Hawke to have the final say. Morrison told reporters that his government still has yet to decide on the fate of the tennis star despite the fiasco going on for more than a week. It is understood that Djokovic’s team has presented further evidence to support his stay in the country.

Should the Serbian remain in Australia, he will kick off his campaign in next week’s Grand Slam with a meeting against compatriot Miomir Kecmanović. A former junior world No.1 who has been ranked as high as 38th on the men’s Tour last year. Should he win, Djokovic will take on either Tommy Paul or a qualifier in the following round. Later in the draw he could also play Lorenzo Sonego and Gael Monfils or Chrsitian Garin during the first week. The 34-year-old has already won the Australian Open a record nine times. Should he prevail once again this year he would also become the first male singles player to claim a historic 21st Grand Slam title.

Reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev headlines the other half of the draw. The world No.2 will take on Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen in the first round before potentially facing Nick Kyrgios. However, Kyrgios’ tournament preparation has been hampered after he recently tested positive for COVID-19. Medvedev could play Hugo Humbert in the third round followed by Diego Schwartzman. Should he win the Melbourne title, the Russian would become the first player outside the Big Three to win back-to-back major titles since Andre Agassi more than 20 years ago.

Rafael Nadal, whose only triumph at the Australian Open was in 2009, headlines section four of the men’s draw. He will play world No.66 Marcos Giron in the first round who has lost his opening match at two tournaments already played this year. Other seeded players in Nadal’s section include Karen Khachanov, Aslan Karatsev and Hubert Hurkacz.

Elsewhere, third seed Alexander Zverev starts against Daniel Altmaier, Stefanos Tsitsipas faces Mikael Ymer and Andrey Rublev will play Gianluca Mager.

As for first round matches to look out for, 24th seed Dan Evans might be given a firm test against former top 10 player David Goffin who is currently on the comeback from injury. Matteo Berrettini will take on American rising star and world No.68 Brandon Nakashima. Finally, Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie will be locking horns with Sebastian Korda whose father won the men’s title back in 1998.

The full draw

Top half

Bottom half

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Grand Slam

Vaccinated Russian Player To Miss Australian Open Due To COVID-19 Rules

Players participating in the Melbourne Major are required to be double vaccinated but some will still not be allowed to play.

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Image via kremlincup.ru

A former top 60 player has been forced to withdraw from the upcoming Australian Open due to their COVID-19 vaccination not being recognised by government authorities.

 

Natalia Vikhlyantseva has been doubled jabbed against the virus with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccination. However, the vaccination is not one of those formally recognised by the Australian authorities and therefore the tennis player will not be allowed into the country.

Next month’s Grand Slam requires all players to be double vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they are eligible for a medical exemption. The rules are in line with a health mandate which has been implemented in the state of Victoria which is where the Australian Open is held. Those attending and working at the tournament must also be fully vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, I will not participate in this year AO event. I’m really happy with a level of tennis I showed on a last few events and I wish to play in, but Sputnik is not verified yet. Good luck for all participants and AO team, who always made amazing events!” Vikhlyantseva wrote on Twitter.

Vikhlyantseva has been ranked as high as 54th in the world and has played in the main draw of the Australian Open on three previous occasions. She reached the second round in 2017 and 2019 in what is so far the only Grand Slam wins she has achieved in her career. Vikhlyantseva’s best WTA result was reaching the final of the 2017 Rosmalen Grass Court Championships.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia has approved a total of four COVID-19 vaccinations to be used in the country. They are Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen. Furthermore, Sinovac, AstraZeneca (Serum Institute of India), Sinopharm China and Bharat Biotech have been given the green light for use in travelling to Australia. In a news article published by ABC on November 23rd the TGA said the reason why they have not approved the Sputnik V because there is ‘insufficient data and information available to adequately demonstrate the protection offered.’

Besides Vikhlyantseva, at least two other players are skipping the Australian Open because they don’t want to be vaccinated. Former world No.1 doubles player Pierre-Hugues Herbert and rising star Olivia Gadecki have both refused to play due to their stance.

The Australian Open will get underway on January 17th.

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