Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Greece’s Top Players Face Significant Opposition on Tuesday - UBITENNIS
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Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Greece’s Top Players Face Significant Opposition on Tuesday

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Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday in Tokyo (twitter.com/ITFTennis)

Greece, the home of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, saw its top male and female tennis player both suffer substantial heartache last month at Roland Garros.  In the men’s singles championship match, Stefanos Tsitsipas was up two-sets-to-love against Novak Djokovic, before succumbing to the world No.1 in five sets.  In the women’s singles semifinals, Maria Sakkari held a match point, but lost 9-7 in the third to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova.  Stefanos and Maria are entered into the mixed doubles event as a team, which will begin on Wednesday.  But on Tuesday, they will partake in what should be two of the most competitive singles matches of the day.

 

Tuesday is scheduled to host all eight women’s singles round of 16 matches, as well as the eight remaining men’s singles second round matches.  Also, the second round of both men’s and women’s doubles is scheduled to conclude.  However, “scheduled” is the key word in those sentences, with potential rain in Tokyo’s forecast for the morning and the evening.

Each day, this preview will analyze the most intriguing men’s and women’s matchup, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Tuesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) [GRE] vs. Frances Tiafoe [USA]– 11:00am on Centre Court

This is a rematch from the first day of Wimbledon, when Tiafoe upset Tsitsipas on Court No.1 in straight sets.  Tsitsipas was just 15 days removed from his French Open final defeat, and hadn’t played any matches on grass ahead of The Championships.  Stefanos had claimed their first two meetings in straight sets.  Frances played well in the opening round of both singles and doubles, as he and Rajeev Ram beat Russia’s Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev.  But the slow-playing hard courts in Tokyo should certainly favor the Greek.  Tsitsipas went 23-5 on clay this season, compared to Tiafoe’s subpar record of 3-5.  And overcoming Philipp Kohlschreiber in a tight three-set battle on Sunday should boost the confidence of the third seed.

Elina Svitolina (4) [UKR] vs. Maria Sakkari (14) [GRE] – Third on Centre Court

Svitolina has barely reached this stage, winning consecutive matches 6-4 in the third.  By contrast, since falling behind in the opening set of her first round against Anett Kontaveit, Sakkari has rolled, dropping only five games across her last three sets.  Sakkari also leads their head-to-head 2-1, and has prevailed in both their previous hard court meetings.  Svitolina’s only victory came two years ago on the grass of The All England Club.  Maria’s defensive skills rival that of Elina, but Svitolina’s offensive is not nearly as commanding as Sakkari’s.  The combination of this slow surface and the speed of these two competitors should result in some grueling, compelling rallies.  In the end, this is another matchup where Greece should be favored to prevail.

Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Naomi Osaka (2) [JPN] vs. Marketa Vondrousova [CZE] – Osaka is yet to be tested through two rounds.  This will be her first meeting with Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up who has struggled to rediscover her form after getting injured shortly thereafter.

Marcos Giron [USA] vs. Kei Nishikori [JPN] – Nishikori upset fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev in the first round.  Giron is a 28-year-old American who recently reached a career-high ranking of 64th in the world, and is currently ranked four spots higher than Kei.

Barbora Krejcikova (8) [CZE] vs. Belinda Bencic (9) [SUI] – Roland Garros champion Krejcikova has now won 22 of her last 23 singles matches.  Bencic hasn’t defeated a top 20 player since October of 2019.  This clash of top 10 seeds is another first-time encounter.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) [CZE] vs. Paula Badosa and Sara Sorribes Tormo [ESP] – Krejcikova also won the women’s doubles tournament at the French Open with partner Siniakova, their third Major as a team.  Badosa and Sorribes Tormo are good friends who have been rooting each other on in singles, where both have reached the round of 16.  Earlier in the day, Badosa will play Nadia Podoroska, while Sorribes Tormo will play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz [GER] vs. Andy Murray and Joe Salisbury [GBR] – Murray and Salisbury upset Roland Garros champions Herbert and Mahut in the first round.  Krawietz and Puetz are both ranked inside the top 32 in men’s doubles, but they do not normally play as a team.

Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Australian Open: Steve Flink Talks Djokovic’s Fitness, Nearest Rivals And Future Of American Tennis

Tennis Hall of Famer Steve Flink joins Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta to discuss Novak Djokovic’s tenth Australian Open title.

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Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic won his tenth Australian Open title last week but what does the future hold for the Serb?

 

This was something that was discussed between hall of fame writer Steve Flink and UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta.

After Djokovic’s stunning straight sets win to claim a 22nd Grand Slam title, the pair discussed who the Serb’s future rivals may be for the rest of the season.

Flink stated that Alcaraz is Djokovic’s nearest challenger and would love to see them face off several times this season, “I think the smallest gap is between Djokovic and Alcaraz, I think we’ll found that out,” Flink explained.

“I think that’s what we need to see this year, Ubaldo. Is Alcaraz going to pick up where he left off last year, winning his first major, finishing the year number one. Has the temperament, has the game?

“I want to see Djokovic and Alcaraz play this year, I hope maybe 3-4 times at least and I think that could be great for the game and that maybe the biggest test would be to play the young Alcaraz who’s so fearless.”

Reflecting on the Australian Open Flink was very impressed with the way the world number one played over the two weeks especially managing his injury.

Flink thinks that Djokovic getting to world number one is a great achievement given the circumstances, “Just imagine how far ahead he would be in the rankings,” the Serb explained.

“If he had 2000 points for Wimbledon as he should have received, he’d be way way ahead of the pack. But just the fact he got back to number one which no one was really expecting since last fall is a great achievement.

“He was all along the overwhelming favourite to come back and win the Australian Open for the tenth time. However I honestly believe that he was genuinely very worried about his leg. Some people didn’t want to believe that but I definitely believed it because he got hurt in Adelaide and then you saw he was cancelling practice sessions in the middle of the leading up to the Australian Open.

“He was very worried and he kept wearing that strapping on his leg. Plus there was those medical time-outs he was taking in the earlier rounds and I don’t think it was until he played De Minaur in the fourth round that he was physically close to his best. And then from that point on he looked pretty invincible but I do think coming in he had deep concerns about his physical condition.”

Also in their chat, they discussed other rivals to Novak Djokovic such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud, Daniil Medvedev, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Holger Rune and Sebastian Korda.

There was also much encouragement from Flink over the future of American men’s tennis with him comparing the current generation to the mid 1990’s, “This is the best group we’ve had since you have to go back, I mean we can look at the Roddick-Blake-Fish era and yes I mean Roddick was the last American man to win a major singles title at the 2003 US Open. And Blake was in the top five in the world and Fish had some great exploits but this group has more depth,” Flink explained.

“This is more like the mid-90’s, I’m not saying we’re going to have a Sampras, Courier, Chang, Agassi, you know the greatest American generation but all of these guys starting with Fritz and Tiafoe and then Korda who we already mentioned and Tommy Paul, his first major semi-finals despite the fact he lost to Djokovic in straight sets, Tommy Paul has burst into the top 20.

“And we’ve got an awful lot of talent in the top 50 now, I haven’t been this encouraged in a long time. I think it’s a very impressive American line-up.”

Below you can see the full video where they also discuss who has the most potential between Jannik Sinner, Matteo Berrettini and Lorenzo Musetti.

Video Breakdown:

00:00: Intro

00:26: Discussion over Djokovic’s level and injury concerns at Australian Open.

3:40: Reflecting on Djokovic’s post Wimbledon form

4:38: Reflecting on Djokovic’s physical state in comparison to Nadal and Djokovic’s competition

7:23: Discussion about Tsitsipas

12:45: Further discussion about Alcaraz  

14:55: Talk about Medvedev’s disappointing form

16:32: Talk about Ruud’s style of play

18:10: Talk about Auger-Aliassime

20:24: Discussion about Holger Rune, Sebastian Korda and American Tennis

24:26: Discussion about biggest potential amongst Sinner, Berrettini and Musetti

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Andreescu edges Kostyuk to reach semis in Hua Hin

Bianca Andreescu is into the semi-finals in Thailand.

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Bianca Andreescu (@BenLewisMPC - Twitter)

The Canadian is into the final four in Thailand after beating the Ukrainian in straight sets.

 

Bianca Andreescu booked her spot in the semifinal of the Thailand Open in Hua Hin after beating the Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in straight sets 6-0, 7-6 in one hour and 28 minutes.

The number one seed hit 19 winners and won 69% of her first serve points in a match where she had an amazing start but was dealt some adversity in the second set.

“I don’t think I started playing bad in the second set,” Andreescu said. “I think she just raised her game and she is always a tough opponent so I wasn’t expecting anything easy.”

The Toronto native who was making her first trip to Thailand came out to a flying start breaking three times in the first set en route to serving a bagel 6-0 set in a mere 25 minutes on court.

Riding the momentum into the second set, the Canadian broke again in the first game and at 3-1 went up a double break and found herself up 5-1 and a game away from the semis.

That’s when the number five seed started fighting back and at 5-2 broke Andreescu for the first time in the match and won the next two games to level the set at 5-5, using her powerful forehand to do it.

The set and the match were ultimately decided by a tiebreaker where the top seed got the early lead at 4-2 and served out the set and match at 6-3 in the breaker to secure the win.

After the match in her on-court interview, she was asked about her chances in the next match.

“I am hoping to win the tournament and I really believe in myself and if I get the support I need hopefully I can win the next two matches.”

Andreescu will face another Ukrainian in the semi-finals Lesia Tsurenko who had no issues getting past the German Tatjana Maria in straight sets 6-1 6-1 in one hour and 16 minutes.

In the other two quarterfinal matches, Lin Zhu of China beat the Slovenian Tamara Zidansek in straight sets 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 15 minutes to set up an all-Chinese semi-final with the number seven seed Xinju Wang.

Wang needed three sets to get past the Brit Heather Watson 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 in two hours and 40 minutes.

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Steve Flink: The Story Of Novak Djokovic’s Emotional Australian Open Triumph

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image via https://twitter.com/ATPTour_ES

Sports fans who have followed the trajectory of Novak Djokovic’s stellar career with never-ending fascination and frequent astonishment were provided with a rare glimpse inside the 35-year-old’s psyche after the charismatic Serbian took his tenth Australian Open title and a record-tying 22nd major crown in the process, rising once more to the familiar territory of No. 1 in the world. Djokovic defeated an unwavering Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) in a hard fought and well played final, and then climbed into the stands to greet his entourage, hugging his mother, brother and others in his box for longer than usual because his latest landmark triumph was among the most gratifying victories he has ever secured.

 

As Djokovic said in the presentation ceremony under the Melbourne skyline, “I have to say that this has been one of the most challenging tournaments that I have ever played in my life, considering the circumstances, not playing last year, and coming back this year. I want to thank all of the people that made me feel welcome and made me feel comfortable to be in Melbourne and to be in Australia. There is a reason why I have played my best tennis throughout my career in Australia and on this court. Only my team and family knows what we have been through the last four or five weeks and this probably I would say is the biggest victory in my life.”

He was referring, of course, to being barred from competing in Melbourne a year ago because he is unvaccinated. But that was only a part of what he was talking about. On an even larger scale, Djokovic was alluding to the hamstring injury he suffered during a semifinal triumph over Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals of the ATP Tour event in Adelaide, which he won the following day from match point down against Sebastian Korda.

That injury hampered Djokovic considerably in his preparation for the Australian Open, restricting his practice sessions significantly, leading to increasing doubts about his fitness and viability as the man many considered the overwhelming favorite to take the title “Down Under”. Djokovic would later explain that he had deep concerns about participating at all.

All through the first three rounds, his off and on pain was unmistakable. He was not troubled terribly in the first round but despite a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 scoreline against Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena his alacrity around the court was clearly subpar. Nonetheless, Djokovic cast aside the world No. 75 easily. But his next two matches were unpleasant experiences for the No. 4 seed.

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He beat qualifier Enzo Couacaud of France 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 in the second round but required medical timeouts as his ailing leg was a cause for consternation. That was the only set he dropped over the fortnight, and Djokovic, even though he pulled away inexorably in the end, was not a happy camper. He was burdened again when he took on the No. 27 seed Grigor Dimitrov, an Australian Open semifinalist six years ago.

Although Dimitrov had defeated Djokovic only once in ten previous clashes, he played inspired tennis this time around before Djokovic emerged with a 7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-4 triumph, but not before saving three set points in the critical opening set. He then took a medical timeout to ease his hamstring pain. Leading by two breaks in the third set, Djokovic, very worried about his injury, took another medical timeout.

But the turning point in his crusade to recapture the crown he had worn nine times before was a fourth round appointment against the industrious Alex De Minaur. Djokovic had never played the No. 22 seed prior to that evening, but for the first time in the tournament he was covering the court with characteristic force and speed. He took the Australian apart comprehensively 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 with a scintillating display of his court craft and strategic acumen.

Now at long last the essential Djokovic came to the forefront. As he mentioned afterwards, not until he devoured De Minaur did the Serbian believe he had what it took physically to win the tournament. Confronting Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals, Djokovic was in similarly sparkling form, obliterating the No. 5 seed 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Rublev had prevailed in the match of the tournament over the No. 9 seed Holger Rune of Denmark in the round of 16. 

Trailing 2-5 in the fifth set of that confrontation, Rublev made it back to 5-5. Behind again at 5-6, he held on from 15-40, erasing two match points. And then, astoundingly, Rublev rescued himself one last time from 0-5 in the conclusive tie-break to win that sequence 11-9. It was the mightiest comeback of Rublev’s career as he came through 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (9). He was euphoric following that win. But seldom has the No. 5 seed looked more forlorn after a loss as he did against a top of the line Djokovic, who took him apart systemically. That set the stage for Djokovic to meet Tommy Paul in a semifinal appointment.

The American had reached the penultimate round for the first time at a major tournament, which assured him of a place among the top 20 in the world. Djokovic was in a commanding position at 5-1, 40-30 in the opening set, only to send a forehand down the line into the net on set point. Improbably, Paul rallied to 5-5. But Djokovic recovered his confidence, taking 14 of the last 17 games to topple Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2. Paul had accounted for the popular left-handed American Ben Shelton, who was playing outside of the United States for the first time. In their quarterfinal, Paul was the victor in four sets.

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Meanwhile, in the top half of the draw, another American was making inroads. Korda—fresh from his stirring final round performance against Djokovic in Adelaide when the Serbian put away an overhead emphatically at match point down— kept moving onwards and upwards in Melbourne. He stunned the No. 7 seed Medvedev 7-6 (7), 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the third round. The Russian was runner-up to Djokovic in 2021 and Nadal a year ago, but he had no answers for the smooth craftsmanship of the young American. Not resting on his laurels, the No. 29 seed Korda knocked out No. 10 seed Hubert Hurkacz in a spellbinding contest that went the distance. In the fifth set tie-break, Korda battled back to win six points in a row from 1-3 to take a 7-3 lead. Hurkacz then collected four points in a row to make it 7-7, but a composed Korda took three in a row from there to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7).

Korda thus moved on to the quarterfinals but injured his wrist midway through a disappointing loss to Karen Khachanov. The Russian prevailed 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-0 retired. But, predictably, Khachanov was beaten by a tougher and more disciplined Tsitsipas in a four set semifinal.

And so it all came down to Djokovic versus Tsitsipas for the first major title of 2023. Unbeknownst to many casual fans, Tsitsipas was victorious in two of the first three matches he played against Djokovic back in 2018 and 2019, achieving both of his wins on hard courts. But since then, Djokovic had won nine in a row over the Greek stylist, including their only previous Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in 2021 when the Serbian recovered from two sets down to prevail in five sets.

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They had met four times last year between May and November, including two final round duels. All of those matches were hotly contested, but each and every time Djokovic declared himself the better player on the biggest points. The most striking example was their semifinal at the Masters 1000 indoor event in Paris. Tsitsipas was serving with a 4-3 lead in the tie-break before a perspicacious Djokovic collected four points in a row for the win.

In this appointment, the consequences for both players were immense. Djokovic knew he could tie Rafael Nadal for the most men’s major titles at 22. He realized he could return to the summit of the sport and reside once more at No. 1. He understood that, even if he is a very young 35, opportunities at this stage of his career must be seized, and so that gave him an even larger sense of urgency. As for Tsitsipas, he had been waiting for a long time to get a chance like this. After a shocking first round loss at the U.S. Open last summer, he played high level tennis across the autumn and at the start of this season in the United Cup. He sorely wanted a first major. He was on a quest to establish himself as the first Greek singles victor at a Grand Slam championship.

Although he was less dominant than Djokovic in Melbourne, the fact remains that Tsitsipas dropped only three sets in six matches en route to the title round contest. Jannik Sinner took Tsitsipas to five sets in the round of 16, but was ultimately outplayed by the persistent No. 3 seed, who fended off 22 of 26 break points. 

This is a man who has often been outstanding on the hard courts “Down Under”. He reached the semifinals in 2019, striking down Roger Federer along the way before losing to Rafael Nadal. Two years later, he brought down Nadal after being behind two sets to love, bowing in the semifinals again— this time against Medvedev. And last year Tsitsipas was ushered out of the tournament once more by Medvedev in the semis.

He was delighted to reach his first Australian Open final this time around, and seemingly confident about his chances. But while Djokovic was primed from the outset and ready to release his finest tennis, Tsitsipas was initially apprehensive. In the crucial opening set, Djokovic was serving magnificently, hitting all of his spots, finding the corners regularly, keeping his adversary off guard.

Djokovic won 20 of 25 points on his delivery in the first set and was not even pushed to deuce in his five service games. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, was struggling early on. He escaped from 15-40 in the second game but was broken the next time when he double faulted long on break point. Djokovic moved ahead 3-1 and never looked back. Serving for the set at 5-3, Djokovic missed only one first serve. At 30-15, he went to a heavy kicker on the first serve to elicit an errant backhand return, and then on the following point produced an impeccable slice serve wide in the deuce court that Tsitsipas could not handle. That wide serve was tremendously effective all match long for the Serbian.

The second set was well played on both sides of the net. There were no breaks but good opportunities for both players. At 3-4, Djokovic held on from 15-30 but Tsitsipas sent out two aces on his way to 5-4. In the pivotal tenth game of the set, Tsitsipas reached break point for the first time in the match. Djokovic was in a perilous position at 4-5, 30-40, set point down. Tsitsipas thus found himself one point away from evening the match at one set all. The two competitors had a 15 stoke exchange that Djokovic concluded with a forehand inside in winner struck with plenty of margin for error. Tsitsipas was cautious during that backcourt exchange, but Djokovic unhesitatingly seized the initiative.

Djokovic held on for 5-5. Soon they moved to a tie-break. Djokovic served with a 4-1 lead but tightened up flagrantly, netting a two-hander off a looped shot from Tsitsipas and double faulting into the net. A body serve to the forehand from Tsitsipas provoked an error from Djokovic to make it 4-4. Tsitsipas  then erred off the forehand. Forehand to forehand, Djokovic was the better man in this match, and backhand to backhand it was the same story.

Djokovic picked on the Tsitsipas backhand to win the next point, and sealed the tie-break 7-4 with another excellent slice serve wide drawing a netted forehand return. It was two sets to love for the 35-year-old.

Surprisingly, Djokovic opened the third set after a bathroom break with a loose game on serve. He suffered his only lost service game of the match, opening with a double fault and getting broken on an errant backhand approach. But he broke right back to prevent Tsitsipas from building any momentum. The rest of that set, Djokovic was unstoppable on serve again. In his last five service games he conceded only two points, concluding the set with four love games in a row on his delivery. Tsitsipas did not hold as comfortably, but he, too, was unflagging. 

On to another tie-break went the two gladiators. As was the case in the second set, Djokovic took a commanding lead. This time he was ahead 5-0 but on the following point a fan screamed out just before Djokovic made contact with a backhand, and the favorite was distracted into a mistake. Tsitsipas closed the gap to 5-3 but Djokovic opened up the court for a clean winner down the line off the forehand.

That placement gave Djokovic triple match point, but Tsitsipas fought off two of them on his own serve. Serving at 6-5, Djokovic made the third match point count, sending a forehand inside-in to provoke an error from the 24-year-old Greek competitor. In two hours and 56 minutes, Djokovic had raised his record in Australian Open finals to a stellar 10-0. It was demonstrable in Melbourne that Djokovic’s serve is better than ever; he was broken only six times in seven matches and his pace and precision were exemplary. Moreover, he is hitting the forehand harder than ever, but making very few errors off that side. His court awareness and tactical acuity are at an all time high. He has reached a new level of excellence as a match player.

It was in Melbourne 15 years ago that Djokovic garnered his first Grand Slam title. He demonstrated his prowess as a big occasion player in the process. But, as the years passed, he lost some very consequential matches. In fact, after a four set setback against Nadal in the 2014 Roland Garros final, Djokovic had a 6-7 record in Grand Slam tournament finals. Since then, however, he has been stupendous, capturing 16 of his last 20 title meetings at the majors. He now stands at 22-11 for his career.

Djokovic has been nothing less than magnificent since winning his seventh Wimbledon last July. He has won six of his last seven tournaments (including two majors and the prestigious ATP Finals) since that time, and 38 of 40 matches. Only Felix Auger-Aliassime at Laver Cup and Holger Rune in Paris has beaten the best player in the world during this remarkable span.

As he emphasized in Melbourne, Djokovic is taking nothing for granted. He wants to make the most of the next couple of years and exploit each and every opening he has to win the premier prizes in the sport. He should be able to compete in all three remaining Grand Slam tournaments later this year. It would not surprise me in the least if he wins two of them. He should secure at least one more Grand Slam title this season. It seems entirely possible he will be in the forefront of the game for two or perhaps three more years.

Novak Djokovic came into Melbourne awfully worried about his plight, aggravated by an injury, and pessimistic about his chances. But he leaves with a renewed sense of his superiority and an inner feeling that the rest of 2023 is going to be both productive and exhilarating as he realizes his largest dreams and pursues his wildest ambitions. At 35, he just might be playing the best brand of tennis he has ever put on display for the world.

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