Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova Play for Gold - UBITENNIS
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Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova Play for Gold

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Belinda Bencic was understandably quite emotional after her semifinal win on Thursday (twitter.com/ITFTennis)

The women’s singles gold medal match headlines Saturday’s schedule, featuring two surprising finalists.  Prior to this event, both Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova had almost as many losses on the year as wins, and no titles between them.  But on Saturday, they will compete for the biggest win of their careers.

 

Day 8 at the Ariake Tennis Park also includes four bronze medal matches.  For the fourth day in a row, Novak Djokvoic will play twice.  In men’s singles, he faces Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.  In mixed doubles, the men’s singles No.1 will be across the court from the women’s singles No.1, Ash Barty.  And the bronze medalists will also be decided in women’s singles and doubles.  Bronze medal matches at the Olympic Games often provide some of the most emotional moments of the year, as the losers leave Tokyo with no hardware whatsoever.

Saturday’s play gets underway at 3:00pm local time, and it is forecast to be another toasty day in Tokyo.

Novak Djokovic (1) [SRB] vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (6) [ESP] – 3:00pm on Centre Court

This is the third time out of the last four Olympics that Djokovic finds himself in the men’s singles bronze medal match.  13 years ago in Beijing, Novak defeated James Blake to win the bronze.  Nine years ago in London, he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro, and walked away empty-handed.  On Saturday in Tokyo, he faces a player he is 4-1 against, with his only loss coming in the form of his shocking default at last summer’s US Open.  That was the day Djokovic struck a ball in anger after losing the 11th game of the first set, which hit a lines judge in the throat.  If not for that error in judgment, Novak might already own 21 Major titles.  He avenged that embarrassing loss to Carreno Busta a month later in Paris, defeating the Spaniard in the fall version of Roland Garros.  Outside of the 2020 US Open, their only hard court encounter was a year earlier in Cincinnati, which Djokovic won in straight sets. 

Novak was remarkably despondent after suffering two losses on Friday, especially after failing to close out Sascha Zverev despite being up a set and a break.  He played some lackluster tennis in the second half of that semifinal, and he will not enjoy playing at 3:00pm on Saturday, the hottest part of the day.  But he is still a favorite to win his second bronze medal in men’s singles, as there’s nothing on court Carreno Busta does especially better than Djokovic.  Novak should be able to control his destiny on this day.

Belinda Bencic (9) [SUI] vs. Marketa Vondrousova [CZE] – Third on Centre Court

This should be a highly-compelling battle, between two players who utilize the variety in their games extremely well.  Their only previous meeting took place earlier this year on a hard court in Miami, with Vondrousova prevailing 6-4 in the third.  The 22-year-old Czech was a shocking finalist two years ago at the French Open.  She was sidelined by injury for about six months shortly thereafter, and didn’t fully rediscover that form until this past week.  She only possesses one career WTA title, which came over four years ago at a WTA 250 event in Switzerland, Bencic’s home country. 

24-year-old Belinda has endured plenty of injury setbacks in her career, but is the more accomplished player with four career titles, all of them at either the 500 or 1000 level.  Her backhand may be the best shot on the court, but Vondrousova’s lefty serve, paired with frequent drop shots, have proven to be a dangerous combination throughout this event.  In her last eight sets played, no opponent has won more than four games.  And those opponents include two top four seeds: Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina.  Bencic has survived much tighter battles to this stage, claiming a trio of consecutive three-setters. 

Between her victories over Osaka and Svitolina, Vondrousova averaged 77% of first serve points won.  If she can maintain that against Bencic, she’ll be hard to overcome.  But with a gold medal in the balance, Belinda’s experience edge in big matches should prove crucial.  And she has previous success representing her country, as she won back-to-back Hopman Cups alongside Roger Federer.  Belinda Bencic is the favorite to stand atop the medal podium on Saturday night in Tokyo.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Elina Svitolina (4) [UKR] vs. Elena Rybakina (15) [KAZ] – They have split their two previous matches, though neither were on a hard court.  While this is not exactly a tournament final, it’s worth noting Svitolina is 15-3 lifetime in career finals, which is a lot different than Rybakina’s record of 2-5, with her most recent loss in a final coming at the hands of Svitolina.

Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina [ROC] vs. Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani [BRA] – Kudermetova and Vesnina were narrowly defeated in the Wimbledon final 9-7 in the third, and lost another close match in Thursday’s semifinals, decided by a 10-point tiebreak.  Pigossi and Stefani do not usually team together, but they saved four match points in their second round matchup.

Ash Barty and John Peers [AUS] vs. Nina Stojanovic and Novak Djokovic [SRB] – It is an extremely rare occasion for both the men’s and women’s No.1’s, as well as the reigning Wimbledon champions, to share a court.  Barty and Peers are the far more experienced doubles players, though Djokovic will surely play some inspired tennis as he tries to win another medal for Serbia.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic Seals Final Showdown With Tsitsipas After Paul Victory

Novak Djokovic will look to capture his tenth Australian Open title on Sunday.

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Novak Djokovic (@atptour - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic is into the Australian Open final after a 7-5 6-1 6-2 victory over Tommy Paul.

 

Djokovic will have the chance to claim his tenth Australian Open title and his 22nd Grand Slam title after a dominant straight sets victory.

Paul gave a good account of himself in his first Grand Slam semi-final but was ultimately outmuscled by Djokovic.

Djokovic’s bid for history will now go through Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday.

Competing in his first Grand Slam semi-final, Paul settled into the match playing some dynamic tennis to force Djokovic into early errors.

Djokovic started the match in rather erratic fashion but managed to save a break point to hold in the opening game.

However the former world number one found his range eventually as some world-class returning capitalised on nerves from the American as he broke and held for a 3-0 lead.

The Serb’s variety in pace and depth of shot was too much for the American as he dictated the tempo of the rallies.

Once Paul held serve to settle into the match in the fourth game, Djokovic’s onslaught continued as another break in the next return game secured another break and a comfortable 5-1 lead.

What would follow would not be in the script though as Djokovic produced more and more errors with Paul’s stubborn and dynamic style finding confidence as he punched holes through the Serb’s game.

Djokovic couldn’t convert set point and was broken twice as Paul reeled off four games in a row to level the opening set at 5-5.

In the end Djokovic would produce his best tennis when it mattered most with the Serb holding to love and then breaking on his first opportunity to take a tight opening set 7-5.

Although the opening set was littered with errors and erratic from both players, Djokovic produced a consistent standard in the next two sets as he improved the level on serve.

Once again Djokovic took a 5-1 lead in the second set and despite late resilience from Paul, the Serb held his nerve to wrap up a two sets to love lead.

The world number 35 had his moments of world-class tennis but ultimately it was Djokovic who was too strong as a further two breaks of serve sealed his place in a tenth Australian Open final.

After the match Djokovic commented on the state of his hamstring injury, “It’s great, and perfect and 100%,” Djokovic gladly commented in his on-court interview.

“Yeah – we’ll say against Stefanos in two days! Of course you are not as fresh as at the beginning of the tournament but we put in a lot of of hours in the off season. I know what’s expected and I have been in so many positions in my career.

“It’s a great battle, with yourself and the opponent. Long rallies and you could feel the heavy legs in the first set but I was fortunate to hold my nerves. After that I was swinging through the ball more and I am just pleased to get through another final.”

Djokovic and Tsitsipas will face each other in a second Grand Slam final after Djokovic won the Roland Garros final in 2021 in five sets.

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Novak Djokovic’s Father Say Australian Open Flag Incident Was ‘Unintentional’

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Srđan Đoković - foto: Fonet

The father of Novak Djokovic has said he will not be attending his son’s semi-final match at the Australian Open to avoid the possibility of any ‘disruption’ after being caught up in an incident on Wednesday.

 

Srdjan Djokovic has been forced to issue a statement after a video surfaced online of him posing with fans waving Russian flags with one of those also bearing the face of Vladamir Putin. Witnesses reported there was pro-Russian chanting with one of those also wearing a T-shirt bearing the letter ‘Z’ which is a symbol for the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags, as well as items with the Z symbol, are banned from the Australian Open as a result of the war in Ukraine. Tournament organisers have implemented the rule since day two of the Grand Slam following an incident involving a Ukrainian player Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl in her match against Kamilla Rakhimovaon on the first day. 

62-year-old Srdjan said he never had any intention of causing controversy and said his family only want peace in the world. Although in his press release, he didn’t offer any apology for taking part in the photos. There had been claims that Srdjan was heard saying a pro-Russian phrase in the video but this has since been disproven. Journalist Sasa Ozmo confirmed the phrase used by him was ‘Ziveli, Ljudi’ which translates to ‘Cheers guys’ and also means goodbye. 

“I am here to support my son only,” Srdjan said in a statement on Friday. 
“I was outside with Novak’s fans, as I have done after all of my son’s matches, to celebrate his wins and take pictures with them. I had no intention of being caught up in this.
“My family has lived through the horror of war, and we wish only for peace.
“So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home.”

No explanation has been given as to why Srdjan decided to pose for the pictures to begin with when it was visibly clear that the fans were holding a Russian flag. Especially given the current political situation with the war in Ukraine which the United Nations say has caused at least 18,358 civilian casualties, including 7,031 deaths. 

Ukraine’s Marta Kosytuk, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open women’s doubles tournament, said she was upset by the incident that took place. Speaking to reporters on Friday, she didn’t weigh in on saying if Srdjan should be banned from the tournament altogether but did point out that such situations ‘can’t be left unseen.’ 

“It hurts a lot because there were specific rules, they were printed out outside that this is not allowed to bring flags and so on,” said Kostyuk.
“Really hurts that they were out there for some time, they were on the court, in the stands as well.
“I don’t know, I just don’t understand, it really hurts and I don’t understand how this can be possible.”

As for Djokovic, he hasn’t commented on the matter leading up to his semi-final clash with Tommy Paul. The former world No.1 is bidding to win the Australian Open title for a historic 10th time in his career.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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On Friday in Melbourne, the men’s singles semifinals will be played.

On Friday in Melbourne, the men’s singles semifinals will be played.

 

Novak Djokovic is just two matches away from tying Rafael Nadal with 22 Major singles titles, the most-ever in men’s singles.  Djokovic is 18-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals, and hasn’t lost a match in Australia in over five years.  Can anyone prevent the nine-time champion from winning this event for a 10th time?

In the semifinals, Djokovic faces Tommy Paul, who prior to this fortnight had never advanced beyond the fourth round at a Major.  In the other men’s semifinal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 in Australian Open semis, takes on Karen Khachanov, who is into his second semifinal in as many Majors.

Also on Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will be played, as well as the mixed doubles championship match.  The women’s doubles semis include top singles names such as Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff, and Jessica Pegula, while the mixed doubles final will serve as Sania Mirza’s retirement match.


Karen Khachanov (18) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Tsitsipas has achieved his fourth semifinal in Australia out of the last five years, but he is yet to advance farther.  And he’s only claimed one of 10 sets in his three previous Australian semis, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2019, and Daniil Medvedev in both 2021 and 2022.  Stefanos is now a perfect 9-0 in 2023, and has only dropped one set during this fortnight.

Khachanov is into his second consecutive Major semifinal.  The 26-year-old is vying for his first Slam final, and his first final at any event in over a year.  Karen has dropped two sets through five matches, and has now defeated three straight seeded players (Tiafoe, Nishioka, Korda).

Tsitsipas has dominated their rivalry to date, leading their head-to-head 5-0.  Four of those matches were on hard courts, and three of them were straight-set victories for the Greek.  As per Tennis Abstract, out of the 13 sets they’ve played, Karen has only managed to break seven times, while Stefanos has broken 17 times.  And with plenty of Greek support in the crowd at this event, Tsitsipas is a considerable favorite to reach his second Major final.


Novak Djokovic (4) vs. Tommy Paul – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic has claimed 22 of his last 24 sets in Australian Open semifinals and finals, with the only two sets lost both coming in the 2020 final against Dominic Thiem.  His domination in the last two rounds of this tournament throughout his career is only rivaled by that of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.  Despite the hamstring injury that Novak suffered leading up to this tournament, he has only dropped one set to this stage.  In his last six sets, he’s only allowed his opposition an average of two games per set.

Paul has taken advantage of an open quarter of the draw, in which seven of the eight seeds lost within the first two rounds (Ruud, Fritz, Zverev, Berrettini, Schwartzman, Kecmanovic, Davidovich Fokina).  Yet even as many pointed to Tommy as the favorite to make the semis amidst younger, inexperienced Americans in this quarter (Brooksby, Wolf, Shelton), Paul did not faulter.  The 25-year-old is one of the fastest players on tour, and will debut inside the top 20 on Monday.

In their first career meeting, of course Djokovic is a huge favorite.  Prior to this fortnight, Paul had only once reached the second week of a Major, when he advanced to the fourth round six months ago at Wimbledon.  As per ESPN’s Brad Gilbert, Novak has beefed up his forehand this fortnight, averaging five mph’s more on that wing than a year ago.  And he’s also been serving excellently – Djokovic has only been broken three times in the entire tournament, with all three breaks coming against Grigor Dimitrov.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna vs. Luisa Stefani and Rafael Motos – This is Mirza’s last event before retirement, following a storied doubles career where she has won three Majors in women’s doubles and three Majors in mixed doubles.  Her and Mahesh Bhupathi won this event as a team 14 years ago, the first of Sania’s six Slam titles.  Bopanna won the mixed doubles event at Roland Garros in 2017.  Stefani was a bronze medalist in women’s doubles at the Tokyo Olympics.  This is a first Major final for both her and Motos.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) vs. Marta Kostyuk and Elena-Gabriela Ruse – Krejcikova and Siniakova have won six Majors as a team, three of which came last year, including this tournament.  This is Kostyuk and Ruse’s first event as a team since Roland Garros, where they made the quarterfinals.

Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (10) vs. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (2) – Gauff and Pegula were finalists at Roland Garros last June.  This is Aoyama and Shibahara’s third Major semifinal, but they’re yet to go farther at a Slam.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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