Roland Garros Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Rafael Nadal for the 58th Time - UBITENNIS
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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Rafael Nadal for the 58th Time

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Novak Djokovic was quite fired up on Wednesday (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

The most prolific men’s rivalry of the Open Era continues on Friday, with history on the line.  Rafael Nadal is two wins away from not only his record-extending 14th Roland Garros title, but also two wins away from surpassing Roger Federer with his 21st Major.  If Djokovic can win the next two rounds, he will be the first out of “The Big Three” to have won each Slam twice, and will pull himself within one Major title of both Nadal and Federer.  A Djokovic win would be a turning point in the ongoing GOAT debate.

 

The other men’s semifinal is also a blockbuster, featuring 2021’s best male clay court players not named Nadal.  Stefanos Tsitsipas has now reached three consecutive Slam semifinals, but is trying to advance one round farther for the first time.  Sascha Zverev did just that at last summer’s US Open, and is surely eager to put that disappointing, ugly loss behind him.

Also on Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will be decided on Court Simonne-Mathieu.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) vs. Sascha Zverev – 2:50pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Tstisipas is 21-3 this year on clay, with a Masters title in Monte-Carlo, and a 250-level title in Lyon.  Zverev is 14-3 this year on clay, with a Masters title in Madrid.  Along with Andrey Rublev, they are the only players who own victories in 2021 over Rafael Nadal.  Tsitsipas did so in best-of-five, while Zverev did so on clay.

The 22-year-old from Greece leads their head-to-head 5-2, though the 24-year-old from Germany claimed their only encounter this year, in Acapulco on a hard court.  Prior to that, Tsitsipas had won five in a row against Zverev, including their only match on clay, two years ago in Madrid.  Stefanos has dropped just one set this fortnight, while Zverev has won 15 in a row since losing his first two of the tournament. 

If Zverev can have a big serving day, and suppress the double fault woes of his recent past, he has a fair chance of prevailing.  Through five rounds, he’s struck 36 aces and 29 double faults, which is not bad, but also not overly impressive.  Tsistipas is 0-3 thus far in Major semifinals, but based on the way he’s played this season, the fourth time might just be the charm.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (3) – Not before 5:30pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Overall, Djokovic leads this bountiful rivalry 29-28.  At Slams, Nadal leads 10-6.  On clay, Rafa leads 19-7, which includes their last five meetings.  And at Roland Garros, it’s 7-1 Nadal, with Novak’s only victory coming in 2015’s quarterfinals.  Djokovic hasn’t beaten Nadal on clay in over five years, and only once in a best-of-five match

So can Novak find a way to overcome a confident, healthy, in-form King of Clay on the grounds that now feature a statue of the 13-time champion?  Rafa’s 105-2 record at this event, paired with his 26-0 record in semifinals and finals, are gargantuan feats.  Novak’s quarterfinal match ending around midnight was not helpful to his recovery efforts.  And the weather will do Djokovic no favors, with warm and dry temperatures forecast for Friday evening in Paris.  With Nadal’s ball jumping up and through the court in the heat, he’s a heavy favorite to even this rivalry at 29-all. 

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Magda Linette and Bernarda Pera – Krejcikova has a chance to play in the finals of both singles and doubles, after defeating Maria Sakkari in an epic singles semifinal on Thursday.  Linette and Pera are 6-1 as a team since forming in Rome, and have already eliminated two top 10 seeds from this event.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek (14) vs. Irina-Camelia Begu and Nadia Podoroska – Swiatek was eliminated from singles, but she still has a chance to be a French Open champion for a second year in a row.  Begu and Podoroska were just 1-2 as a team before this tournament.

Friday’s full schedule is here.

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Australian Open: Men’s First Round Blockbusters On Day One

Cameron Norrie is among those in action on the men’s side on the first day.

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Cameron Norrie (@the_LTA - Twitter)

The draw for the Australian Open 2022 has been made and the schedule has also been released ahead of tomorrow’s opening day.

 

Writer James Spencer picks out the men’s matches to look out for.

The match I am most looking forward to is Britain’s Cameron Norrie up against the young American hotshot Sebastian Korda.

Both players had breakout year’s last year in 2021 on the ATP Tour.

Norrie established himself as British number one and shocked many to win a first Masters 1000 title, triumphing at a re-arranged winter edition of Indian Wells, back in October, coming from a set down to beat Nikoloz Basilashvili.

That win propelled him into featuring as a reserve at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.

Korda, son of the great Petr Korda who won the 1998 Australian Open and a finalist at the 1992 French Open, has also exceeded expectations.

And revenge could be in the air for Norrie, who was beaten by Korda in Delray Beach last year, as the young American made his first ATP final before losing to Hubert Hurkacz.

https://twitter.com/_TennisCoaching/status/1411041877374107649

The world number 40 reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon last year, upsetting the likes of Australian Alex de Minaur and Britain’s Dan Evans.

The year before, in the re-arranged COVID impacted winter French Open, he reached the round of 16 for the first time in his career beating Andreas Seppi and John Isner, before succumbing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal.

Another intriguing match-up is Australia’s John Millman, who famously knocked out Roger Federer in five sets in the third round of the 2020 US Open, who takes on Spain’s Feliciano Lopez.

Still going strong at 40-years-old, the grass-court specialist who will be well known to British tennis fans for winning the Queens Club title in 2017 beating Marin Cilic and in 2019 overcoming fellow veteran Gilles Simon.

Millman will have the home support of the Melbourne faithful but Lopez will be eager to show that he’s still got it.

Having reached last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finals, and the last-16 of the Australian and French Open’s two years ago, Hungary Marton Fucsovics is a powerful player and can cause some serious damage.

He faces Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, a Monte Carlo Masters finalist back in 2019, over on Court 14. With only five places separating the pair in the ATP rankings, I expect this match to go the distance.

If you’re into big-servers then the 23rd seeded American Reilly Opelka will clash with former Wimbledon and US Open finalist Kevin Anderson.

Expect both players to put on a serving clinic in firing down the aces.

And finally, talented Italian Lorenzo Sonego takes on former Wimbledon semi-finalist Sam Querrey.

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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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Will Sydney Tennis Classic Be The Launchpad For Andy Murray In 2022?

Andy Murray is looking to build on his good start to the season, but what can the Brit achieve in 2022?

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Andy Murray (@atptour - Twitter)

Sir Andy Murray may have lost the final of the Sydney Open to an impressive Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 6-3 but what does the rest of the season have in store for him?

 

After a gruelling week consisting of four wins on his way to the final, the British number three must quickly recharge his batteries ahead of the Australian Open.

In Melbourne Murray will have to contest the best of five sets, adding extra importance to keep the points and matches shorter, to conserve energy throughout the tournament.

The former world number one will no doubt take a lot of confidence from the week he has had. Nearly three years to the day that Murray stunned the world that he would be retiring from tennis due to long standing hip problems he has since defied expectations.

Following a hip-resurfacing operation to insert a metal hip, Murray won the Queens doubles title that year in 2019 alongside friend and talented grass-court specialist, Feliciano Lopez.

He also appeared alongside Serena Williams at Wimbledon, in a mixed-doubles dream team to make any tennis fan foam at the mouth. Most impressively, however, later that year he beat fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka from a set down to win in Antwerp.

Since then, a worldwide pandemic has disrupted sport but this hasn’t stopped Sir Andy. Last year, Murray crept into form securing notable wins over Roger Federer’s Wimbledon conqueror Hubert Hurkacz and ATP rising stars Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz.

The 34-year-old ended 2021 by beating old rival Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Abu Dhabi Mubadala Championships before falling short in the final against the talented Andrey Rublev.

However, something seems different with Murray this year. Is it the sharp new haircut or the colourful Castore clothing? Or is he simply enjoying his tennis again?

By stringing together more matches on court, Murray’s form and fitness have increased dramatically. He may have looked forlorn and disappointed that it was not him who lifted the Sydney Open trophy yesterday, but he had a glint in his eye to suggest he is back and fighting for the best tennis trophies in the world again.

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