Madrid Open Daily Preview: Naomi Osaka Faces a Fellow Australian Open Semifinalist - UBITENNIS
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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Naomi Osaka Faces a Fellow Australian Open Semifinalist

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Naomi Osaka made a victorious return to clay on Friday in Madrid (twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen)

Karolina Muchova was a surprise semifinalist in Melbourne, her first time advancing that far at a Major.  Today she faces the four-time Slam champ, who is playing her first event on clay in nearly two years.  Other second round action includes two rematches from this year’s Aussie Open, featuring the top two Belarusians: Aryna Sabalenka against Daria Kasatkina, and Victoria Azarenka against Jessica Pegula.

 

Also on Sunday, the ATP main draws begin, with eight first round singles matches.  And a doubles match featuring four top 30 singles players should be most entertaining

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Sunday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Karolina Muchova – 11:00am on Manolo Santana Stadium

Muchova didn’t compete for two months after her Australian Open semifinal due to an abdominal injury, but prevailed comfortably over Qiang Wang on Friday.  Osaka also won in straight sets on Friday, in only her second match on clay since May of 2019.  And while she is yet to win a title on this surface, Naomi went 9-2 on clay two seasons ago.  Muchova has only played 10 tour-level matches in her career on the red dirt, which makes her run to the final of Prague two years ago all the more impressive.

Their only previous meeting was a good one.  Last summer at the Western & Southern Open, Osaka required three sets, and over two-and-a-half-hours, to overcome the 24-year-old from the Czech Republic.  That was Osaka’s first match following the pandemic tour shutdown.  She recovered well after dropping the first set in a tiebreak, and won an outstanding 81% of first serve points.  It will be challenging to replicate that on clay, though it will be important for Naomi to win some easy points on serve considering the aggressive, yet versatile style of Muchova.  This could be another tight encounter, but with Muchova just recently returning from injury, Osaka is the favorite.  Plus, Naomi has won 24 of her last 25 completed matches.

Victoria Azarenka (12) vs. Jessica Pegula – Fifth on Manolo Santana Stadium

At the Australian Open in February, the 27-year-old American upset the two-time champion of that event in the first round 7-5, 6-4.  Azarenka struggled with her serve in that match, striking seven double faults, which helped Pegula create seven break point chances.  Jessica would go on to reach her first Major quarterfinal, taking out Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals.  Pegula has played her best tennis since hiring David Witt as her coach two years ago, with a record of 35-15 since the start of last year.

In 2020, Azarenka achieved her best results in several years, winning the Western & Southern Open and reaching the US Open final.  And while her most notable success has not come on clay, she is a former Roland Garros semifinalist, and a two-time runner-up of this event, though those results were nearly a decade ago.  However, Pegula is an unproven commodity on clay, with only six career main draw wins at tour level.  Azarenka earned a solid victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova on Friday, and I like her chances to avenge her Australian Open loss against Pegula on Sunday.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Daria Kasatkina – Sabalenka has won 28 of her last 34 matches.  Kasatkina has rebounded nicely after a tough few seasons, with a 17-5 record and two titles in 2021.  Sabalenka defeated Kasatkina in straight sets at the two most recent Majors.

Simona Halep (3) vs. Saisai Zheng – Halep has claimed 21 of her last 23 matches in Madrid, dating back to 2016.  Zheng won a clay court title two years ago in her home country of China.  Halep has taken both of their previous meetings in straights.

Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – Pliskova leads their head-to-head 6-1, though their most recent encounter went to Pavlyuchenkova, at last year’s Australian Open.  They’ve never met on clay, and neither player has excelled at this event.

Jennifer Brady (11) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Following her first Slam final in Melbourne, Brady was on a three-match losing streak before defeating Venus Williams on Friday.  Following her first Major title at the 2017 French Open, Ostapenko has accumulated a losing record on clay.  They’ve split two previous meetings, but their clay court encounter went to Ostapenko.

Denis Shapovalov (11) vs. Dusan Lajovic – Shapovalov is a meager 8-8 on the season, though Lajovic has dropped his last four matches, three of which were on clay.  This is their first career matchup.

Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev vs. Fabio Fognini and Diego Schwartzman – The Russians have much more experience as a team, but the Fognini/Schwartzman partnership won two matches last month in Monte-Carlo.

Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Friday’s Rainouts Make for a Busy Saturday in Rome

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The tarps should not be required to cover the courts on Saturday (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

Three singles quarterfinals scheduled for Friday were either not started or not completed, and will be staged at 11:00am on Saturday.  For a look at those quarterfinals (Djokovic/Tsitsipas, Rublev/Sonego, and Svitolina/Swiatek), Friday’s preview is here.  The winners of those matches will have to play twice in one day.  Thankfully, the forecast in Rome looks much dryer on Saturday.

 

This preview will look at the two singles semifinals that are already set for Saturday.  Karolina Pliskova is looking to reach the championship match in Rome for the third consecutive year, but standing in her way is Petra Martic, who is thriving this week with an Italian tennis great as her new coach. 

If there was any doubt Rafael Nadal is the favorite for Roland Garros after a few losses this clay season, those doubts should have certainly been erased this week.  His consecutive victories over Jannik Sinner, Denis Shapovalov, and Sascha Zverev have all been stellar.  On Saturday, Nadal faces a first-time Masters 1000 semifinalist, Reilly Opelka.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Petra Martic – Not Before 12:00pm on Center Court

Over the past two years, this is the only WTA 1000 event where Pliskova has reached the semifinals or better.  She is now 14-5 lifetime in Rome, after surviving a tight, dramatic encounter on Friday against Jelena Ostapenko, which was decided in a third set tiebreak.  For Petra Martic, this is her best result ever at this level, and comes as a surprise in a season where she was just 4-8 prior to this week.  Martic was on a five-match losing streak heading into this event, dating back to February.  Hiring Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone as her coach has brought renewed confidence to her game.

Pliskova and Martic have split four tour-level meetings.  However, their only clay court clash went to Martic in straight sets, which occurred two years ago at the French Open.  But at an event of this magnitude, and in a city Pliskova loves to play in, Karolina should be favored to return to the final.  As impressive as Petra has been this week, she’s yet to face a player ranked inside the top 30.  In fact, Martic hasn’t faced any top 30 opposition since October of last year.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Reilly Opelka – Not before 1:00pm on Center Court

Nadal is just two wins away from his tenth title in Rome.  And he’ll be strongly favored in his first match against 23-year-old Opelka, who before this tournament only owned two career victories at tour level on this surface.  But Reilly is yet to drop a set this week, and has earned solid wins over the likes of Lorenzo Musetti and Aslan Karatsev.  And the near-seven-foot-tall American can make any match extremely tight when he’s serving well.  He’s averaged 10 aces per set through four matches, and has not been broken, saving all six break points faced.  If Opelka can serve like that in the biggest match of his career to date, and force a few tiebreaks, he’s got a shot.  Still, Nadal should advance to his 12th final of this event, especially considering he’s never lost a semifinal in Rome.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

In the other women’s semifinal, 17-year-old Coco Gauff will play either Elina Svitolina or Iga Swiatek.  Gauff was the beneficiary of Ash Barty’s retirement in the quarterfinals.  This is the farthest Coco has advanced in her young career at a WTA 1000 event.

The second men’s semifinal will see the winner of Novak Djokovic vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas take on the winner of Andrey Rublev vs. Lorenzo Sonego.

There are also six doubles matches on Saturday’s schedule, including two quarterfinals carried over from Friday.  In men’s doubles, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic have easily been the best team of 2021, with a record of 35-4, and four titles.  They are drawn to play John Peers and Michael Venus in the semis, who won three titles in 2020.

In the women’s doubles semifinals, Irina-Camelia Begu and Sara Errani have won three matches this week in their first tournament as a team since 2017.  They will face Kristina Mladenovic and Marketa Vondrousova, who had never teamed together before this week.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Coco Gauff reaches Rome Semi-Finals after Barty retires

Coco Gauff is into her first WTA1000 semi-final after Ash Barty retired during their match.

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Coco Gauff (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

The 17 year old American was down a set and 2-1 when the world number one decided to call it.

 

Coco Gauff is into the semi finals of the BNL D’Italia open after her opponent the world number one and Aussie Ash Barty decided to pull out after leading 6-4, 2-1 with a right arm injury.

Under wet and rainy conditions the match began and you had a sense the rain was going to play a big factor in this one and it was the American who had three early chances to break in the first game of the match but the Aussie saved all three and held her opening service game.

The very next game it was Barty turn to apply pressure on the Gauff serve but the American did a good job saving the breakpoint and holding her serve before eventually breaking the Aussie serve the very next game.

The world number one responded the very next game breaking right back and that’s when the rain started to pour and the match was suspended.

Two hours later play resumed and literally after playing one game there was another slight delay for a down pour and a couple of minutes later play resumed one more time.

It stayed on serve until 5-4 with the American serving to stay in the set and it was the world number one putting more pressure and after saving four set points the Aussie would break with a stunning cross court forehand winner to take the first set.

The second set stayed on serve until 2-1 when Barty called for the trainer and after a brief discussion to everyone surprise decided to retire with a right arm injury.

Gauff now awaits the winner of the quaterfinal match between Elina Svitolina and Iga Swiatek.

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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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