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Court Presence Makes A Difference For ‘Big Three’

Who could take the Wimbledon title away from Federer or (especially) Djokovic?

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Court presence is still important in pro tennis, even in this outbreak of new young guns.

 

Take the “Big Three” where first names are almost proper. Novak, Rafa and Roger certainly make their presence felt on the court.

Yes, Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have played the Grand Slams like they owned them most of their careers. Together they have piled up a total of 59 Grand Slam singles titles during their careers.

They have divided Grand Slam titles almost equally for much of the last two decades,  with Federer and Nadal taking home the jewel 20 times each. And when this Wimbledon ends, the odds are that these three greats of the game will have 20 Grand Slam titles each.

IS THIS THE YEAR FOR A CHANGE?

When one of these greats walks out on the court, their opponent must take a deep breath and tell himself that he doesn’t have anything to lose. So, opponents normally go all out with aggression from the start until reality sits in that they are probably going to lose.

Many of the young stars, not including Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and a few others, appear to feel like they are just out there to improve their bank account. They are not ready to win the Grand Slam event, or ready to make it to the final or probably not even make the semifinals.

This time might be different at Wimbledon because Canadian Denis Shapovalov and Italian Matteo Berrettini appear to have good chances of joining Djokovic and Medvedev in the semifinals. Yes, that means Medvedev would have to finish off his suspended round of 16 match against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland with a win and then upend Federer in the quarterfinals.

HAS MEDVEDEV PAID HIS DUES?

Medvedev is for real. He has been in enough big matches in finals at the 2019 U.S. Open against Nadal and this year’s Australian Open against Djokovic to be ready to challenge for the top prize  itself. You might say, these two old-timers have kept the mercurial Russian from owning a pair of Grand Slam titles already.

There also was the loss by Medvedev to eventual champion Dominic Thiem in the semifinals of the 2020 U.S. Open.

 Oh, yes, where is Thiem? He is sitting out Wimbledon with an injured right wrist. Of course, Thiem didn’t win a Grand Slam title until his fourth final.

So, Medvedev has paid his dues in the Grand Slams, too.

That’s why I would pick Medvedev, if he finishes off Hurkacz, to end Federer’s run for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title in the semifinals. But that doesn’t mean I would pick Medvedev to defeat Djokovic in the final. Novak appears to still be just too good as he goes after his eighth title in the last 12 Grand Slam championships.

WILL SHAPOVALOV GET A SHOT AT NOVAK?

Medvedev has looked mostly great for the last two years, but when he got on the court with Djokovic in this year’s Australian Open final he was in complete awe of the Serbian Wonder. That was a real example of court presence by Novak.

But also you have to wonder if Medvedev has fully overcome his collapse against Djokovic in Melbourne.

To stop Djokovic, it might take a superior performance by explosive young Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the semifinals. Of course, lefty Shapovalov has to take care of hard-hitting Russian veteran Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals to get a probable shot at Djokovic.

If the 22-year-old Shapovalov keeps playing the way he has performed in this Wimbledon, Khachanov shouldn’t pose any problems. Shapovalov has never before come close to his current consistency off both sides and his serve. He is playing with awesome power that makes his quickness and athleticism even more difficult to neutralize.

COURT PRESENCE STILL IMPORTANT

Court presence when blended with amazing talent such as Djokovic and Federer have is difficult to beat.

You could even apply that theory to Monday’s round of 16 women’s match pitting world’s No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and reigning French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. Even with a Grand Slam title and a 15-match winning streak for confidence, Krejcikova was no match for the athletic Barty.

Yes, Barty already owns a bit of court presence and awesome tennis ability. If Barty plays to anywhere near her ability, she will be holding another Grand Slam championship award on Saturday.

YOUNG GUNS FALTER TOO EARLY

When you mention the “young guns” of men’s tennis now, you can drop Andrey Rublev from the list. After surprisingly outplaying Nadal on red clay in the quarterfinals at the Monte Carlo Masters back in April, Rublev all of a sudden looked like maybe a better candidate to win a Grand Slam than even Medvedev.

Rublev has appeared to be almost unbeatable at times in the past. But not anymore.

He opened the French Open with a first-round loss in five sets, and Monday he lost another five-setter to Hungarian Marton Fucsovics after being up two sets to one in the round of 16. Those are the kind of matches Rublev has to win to gain confidence and court presence.

Fucsovics is a talented player, but not quite as good as Rublev made him look late in the match.

Rublev really hasn’t changed. He just has minimal court presence and confidence. He hasn’t reached his peak and may never unless he starts believing in his game.

ZVEREV DOESN’T KNOW WHEN TO HIT A SECOND SERVE

Alexander Zverev has to learn when to hit a true second serve before he will make a true mark on the men’s tour. A player can’t hit 20 double faults in a match and expect to win.

The 24-year-old German can be an awesome player, once he figures out when to and when not to hit first serves.

Zverev  dropped the first two sets against Felix Auger-Aliassime, but settled down a bit to win the next two sets in a five-set loss. Double faults again got Zverev into more trouble than he could handle late in the fifth set.

Tsitsipas also is treading lightly after suffering a first-round loss for the third time in his four trips to Wimbledon. Grass just doesn’t appear to be his thing. Mark that off his list as one of the “young guns” until he proves differently. He’s only 22 years old, so he has time.

Remember, the aggressive Greek won the first two sets off Djokovic in this year’s Australian Open final, only to fall apart the last three sets. It wouldn’t be unthinkable for Tsitsipas to bounce back and win the U.S. Open.


See James Beck’s Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com (search on James Beck column). James Beck can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Compelling Matchups Scheduled All Around the Grounds on Thursday

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A look at the grounds of The All-England Club (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 4 play is headlined by top names such as Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Those names are all considerable favorites in their second round matches, so other matchups on Thursday’s schedule may be more compelling and competitive.  And with many of those encounters scheduled at the same time, multiple screens are recommended.

 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Filip Krajinovic (26) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Second on No.2 Court

Despite his usual poor behavior, Kyrgios survived in five on Tuesday against British wild card Paul Jubb, who is ranked outside the top 200 in the world.  But Nick is in strong form this month, with an 8-3 record on grass, having reached the semifinals of both Stuttgart and Halle.  Krajinovic is also in the midst of a strong grass court season, coming off a run to the final of Queen’s Club.  Like Kyrgios, he also required five sets to advance in the first round.  That was actually Filip’s first-ever win at SW19, as he was 0-4 prior to this fortnight.  Krygios leads their head-to-head 3-0 at all levels, though they haven’t played since 2015.  On grass, Nick’s formidable firepower should be plenty to prevail again over Filip, as long as he can maintain his composure.


Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Second on Court 12

On Tuesday, Andreescu achieved her first career victory at The Championships.  Bianca had only played five tour-level matches on grass ahead of this year, though she’s now 5-2 on grass this month.  Rybakina reached the fourth round of Wimbledon a year ago, but lost two of her three grass court matches coming into this event.  In their first career meeting, I give the slight edge to Andreescu based on recent form.  And while Elena has accumulated 22 wins this season, only four of them have come at Majors, and none of those four against a top player like Bianca.


Barbora Krejcikova (13) vs. Viktorija Golubic – Second on Court 18

This is only Krejickova’s fourth singles match since February due to an elbow injury.  Her opening round victory was her first since returning to the tour.  Golubic was a surprise quarterfinalist here a year ago, when she defeated both Danielle Collins and Madison Keys.  Yet she has not been able to follow-up on that result, as she has a losing record since that run.  They have split four previous meetings at all levels.  Their most recent clash occurred two years ago in Dubai, with Barbora prevailing 6-1, 6-2.  But her lack of match play, along with Viktorija’s grass prowess, make Krejcikova an underdog on this day.  While results on other surfaces have not followed, Golubic is now 13-7 on grass since last season, which includes a semifinal appearance earlier this month in Nottingham.


Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Katie Boulter (WC) – 1:30pm on Centre Court

Pliskova was the runner-up a year ago, losing the championship match to Ash Barty 6-3 in the third.  Unfortunately a hand injury forced her to miss the first two months of 2022, and she’s only 9-10 this season as a result.  Boulter is a 25-year-old Brit who pushed Aryna Sabalenka to three sets at last year’s event, and is 8-3 on grass at all levels this season.  And just like week, Boulter beat Pliskova on grass in Eastbourne 6-4 in the third.  Now can Katie repeat that result on her country’s most prestigious court?  She’ll certainly have the full support of the Centre Court audience, and her experience last year on this court could prove extremely valuable.  Considering Pliskova has only twice won back-to-back matches this year, an upset on Thursday feels entirely possible.


Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Jack Draper – Third on No.1 Court

This could easily become the most competitive show court match of the day.  And the British crowd will be vociferously behind Draper, especially late in the day on the tournament’s second biggest court.  Jack is a 20-year-old Brit who last year took a set off Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.  And he’s collected 31 match wins at all levels this season, which includes four Challenger titles as well as a semifinal run just last week in Eastbourne.  But de Minaur is also having a strong season.  The Australian has 25 wins, all at tour level, and was also a semifinalist in Eastbourne.  Both players won their first round matches in straight sets, so they’re surely feeling fresh and confident.  While Alex’s defensive skills will force Jack to strike some extra balls, Draper’s offensive weapons will be rewarded on this surface.  And the crowd’s encouragement may be the x-factor Draper needs to prevail.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Jordan Thompson – Tsitsipas prevailed in four sets on Tuesday, bringing his Wimbledon record to just 4-4.  He’s 1-0 against Thompson, who is only 8-12 this season at tour level.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Ricardas Berankis – Nadal is now 31-3 on the year, and seemed rather unbothered by his chronic foot injury in the opening round.  Earlier this season in Australia, he defeated Berankis in straight sets.

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (LL) – A victory for Swiatek on Thursday would be her 37th consecutive win, tying her with Martina Hingis for the longest women’s singles win streak across the past three decades.  Lesley is a 30-year-old ranked 138th in the world who at last year’s Wimbledon earned for first-ever main draw win at a Major by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Simona Halep (16) vs. Kirsten Flipkens – Halep is on an eight-match win streak at Wimbledon, dating back to her title run in 2019.  36-year-old Flipkens has said this will be her last-ever singles tournament.  She was a semifinalist here in 2013. 

Coco Gauff (11) vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu – Gauff scarcely survived the first round, overcoming Elena-Gabriela Ruse 7-5 in the third.  But Coco should be able to settle into the tournament from here, especially against Buzarnescu.  She’s currently 127th in the world, and on Tuesday won her first WTA-level match in nearly a year.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of 2022 Begins on Sunday

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A shot from the grounds of the French Open (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

The second Major of the year is upon us, with its unique Sunday start.  Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam event where first round singles play is spread across three days. 

 

The men’s draw is headlined by 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s breakout star of the last 12 months, Carlos Alcaraz.  The 19-year-old Spaniard will play his opening match on Sunday, as will top ATP names like Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev.

The women’s draw features 12 Major singles champions, five of whom have won this event: Iga Swiatek, Barbora Krejicikova, Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, and Garbine Muguruza.  The 28-year-old Spaniard plays perpetual draw-buster Kaia Kanepi on Sunday.  The Order of Play also includes the red-hot Ons Jabeur and US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, who faces France’s Kiki Mladenovic.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Ons Jabeur (6) vs. Magda Linette – 11:00am on Court Philippe Chatrier

Outside of Iga Swiatek, Jabeur is the WTA player with the most momentum heading into Paris.  Before losing to Swiatek in the final of Rome, Ons was on an 11-match win streak, coming off her title run in Madrid.  She’s now 17-3 on clay this season, and has reached the fourth round of this tournament the last two years.  She’ll be a considerable favorite against Linette on Sunday, though Magda could easily test the sixth seed.  The 30-year-old from Poland was a quarterfinalist this year at clay events in Charleston and Strasbourg, and she owns victories over some top names at Majors, including Ash Barty and Elina Svitolina.  They’ve met twice before on clay, with both matches going to Jabeur.  That includes a three-set encounter at this event a year ago.  I expect a similar result on Sunday.


Hugo Dellien vs. Dominic Thiem (PR) – 11:00am on Court Simonne Mathieu

Thiem is a two-time French Open finalist, but he is still fighting for his first win in over a year.  Since coming back from his wrist injury, he is 0-6 at all levels, with all those matches occurring on clay.  Earning that elusive win in the best-of-five format may prove challenging for an out-of-form player.  This will be Thiem’s first match against Dellien, a 28-year-old from Bolivia who has played 43 matches on clay this season at all levels.  He’s accumulated 30 wins, and advanced to two Challenger finals.  However, Hugo is yet to defeat a top 40 player this year.  While Dominic is not currently a member of that group, and is not performing at that level, taking out a Major champion at a Grand Slam event remains a daunting task.  At a tournament where Thiem has fond memories of success, I expect Dominic is earn his first win since last May.


Garbine Muguruza (10) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Second on Court Simonne Mathieu

Muguruza is a two-time Major champion, and won the third-biggest title of her career at November’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara.  But since that title run, Muguruza has struggled mightily, with a record of 7-8 in 2022.  She’s won back-to-back matches only once this season.  And in the opening round, she’s drawn one of the sport’s most dangerous floaters.  Kanepi has made a career out of upsetting top seeds at Majors.  As per Tennis Abstract, she owns nine top 10 wins at Grand Slam events, over the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and most recently at January’s Australian Open, Aryna Sabalenka.  Kaia is a seven-time quarterfinalist at Majors, including two times at Roland Garros.  Her only previous meeting with Muguruza took place eight years ago in Melbourne, when Muguruza prevailed in three sets.  But considering Garbine’s recent form, and Kaia’s history at Majors, this match is definitely deserving of an upset alert.


Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Juan Ignacio Londero (Q) – Fourth on Court Philippe Chatrier

Alcaraz has rapidly become one of the ATP’s players.  Carlitos is 28-3 in 2022, with four titles.  He is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings, and is within 200 points of the two players ahead of him (Nadal, Tsitsipas).  The teenager arrives in Paris on a 10-match win streak on clay, having taken back-to-back titles in his home country.  Londero is a former top 50 player who reached the fourth round of this event in 2019.  But he is coming off multiple seasons with a losing record, and hasn’t played a match since early-April.  Alcaraz should not have much trouble dismissing Londero on Sunday, though it is always a treat to see the Spaniard’s formidable skills on display.


Leylah Fernandez (17) vs. Kiki Mladenovic – Fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Fernandez has not immediately been able to follow-up on her thrilling US Open run from last summer.  Despite winning a title in Monterrey, she hasn’t reached a quarterfinal at any other event this year.  But still only 19-years-of-age, Leylah undoubtedly has some big results ahead of her.  Mladenovic was top 10 player in 2017, the same year she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam.  But the Frenchwoman is 2-4 in Paris since, and only 2-10 this season at all levels.  While Kiki will certainly be motivated by the Parisian crowd, it would be surprising if she could upset Leylah, as the Canadian remains a dogged competitor who thrives on big stages.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Sloane Stephens vs. Jule Niemeier (Q) – Stephens was the 2018 runner-up in Paris, and reached the fourth round a year ago.  But she’s 0-4 on clay in 2022.  Niemeier is a 22-year-old German who won an ITF-level event on clay last month.

Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Marcos Giron – Dimitrov is only 12-11 lifetime at Roland Garros, though he was a semifinalist in Monte Carlo this season.  This is a rematch from last year’s French Open, when Giron defeated Dimitrov after Grigor retired during the fourth set.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Juan Pablo Varillas (Q) – Auger-Aliassime is still looking for his first main draw win at Roland Garros.  He is 8-6 on clay this year.  Varillas is a 26-year-old from Peru who has won 19 matches on clay this season at all levels.

Maria Sakkari (4) vs. Clara Burel – Sakkari has some scar tissue to overcome at this event, as in last year’s semifinals, she was one point away from defeating eventual champion Barbora Krejicikova.  Burel is a 20-year-old from France who is a former junior No.1.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Sebastian Ofner (Q) – Zverev has reached the second week of this tournament four consecutive times.  Ofner is a 26-year-old from Austria who prevailed at a Challenger event in Prague last month.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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[VIDEO] Merry Christmas from Ubitennis!

Our CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta sends his greetings to all the readers of ubitennis.net

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From everybody at ubitennis.net, we want to send to our readers our Christmas greetings: thank you for your ever-growing support! Here’s a message from the website’s CEO, Ubaldo Scanagatta:

 

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