Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Japan’s Kei Nishikori - UBITENNIS
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Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Japan’s Kei Nishikori

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Kei Nishikori on Wednesday at the Ariake Tennis Park (twitter.com/ITFTennis)

Novak Djokovic is just three wins away from a gold medal in men’s singles, the fourth of five milestones required to achieve the Golden Slam.  On Thursday, he faces Kei Nishikori, the 2016 Rio bronze medalist who has now reached the quarterfinals or better at the last three Olympics.  Will Kei be able to disrupt Novak’s quest for history at his home country’s Olympic Games?

Along with the other three men’s singles quarterfinals, Thursday’s play includes the women’s singles semifinals, which should be extremely compelling. They feature four players with quite contrasting styles.  In doubles, the men’s and women’s semifinals will be played, as well as the mixed doubles quarterfinals, which include both the male and female world No.1’s in singles.

Each day, this preview will analyze the most intriguing men’s and women’s matchup, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play gets underway at 3:00pm local time, four hours later than the previous five days in order to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Belinda Bencic (9) [SUI] vs. Elena Rybakina (15) [KAZ] – 3:00pm on Centre Court

On Wednesday, Bencic defeated Rybakina’s recent doubles partner, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, in three sets.  That’s Belinda’s second straight victory over this year’s French Open finalists, following another three-set win over Barbora Krejcikova.  Rybakina has not required three sets in any of her first four rounds, winning all eight sets she’s contested.  In the quarterfinals, she comfortably dismissed two-time Major champion Garbine Muguruza.  And impressively, she’s only been broken twice thus far.  This will be the first career meeting between these top 20 players.  Rybakina started off 2020 very strongly, with a record of 21-5, but it wasn’t until recently she rediscovered her form, after the pandemic layoff interrupted her progress.  Elena’s power provides her with the ability to dictate play against just about anyone, as evidenced by her upset of Serena Williams last month at Roland Garros.  If she can maintain her current form, she’s the favorite.  But doing so against a player with the guile and tennis IQ of Bencic, and with a spot in the gold medal match on the line, is a tall task.  And Bencic is playing with supreme confidence right now, as she’s also in the women’s doubles semifinals with partner Viktorija Golubic.  In what has been another highly unpredictable women’s event, I give Belinda the slight edge to reach Saturday’s gold medal match.

Novak Djokovic (1) [SRB] vs. Kei Nishikori [JPN] – Second on Centre Court

Nishikori won two of their first three meetings, but this rivalry has been all Djokovic ever since.  Novak has claimed their last 15 encounters.  Kei’s last victory came in the 2014 US Open semifinals, and Djokovic has punished Nishikori since that disappointment.  The weather on that day in New York was extremely hot and humid, similar to the conditions for this event in Tokyo.  Kei needs to focus on that, rather than their completely lopsided head-to-head.  Nishikori will certainly be motivated by playing in his home country, but will surely miss having fans inside the stadium.  And no one in the sport displays more passion for representing their country than Djokovic.  The Serbian is a significant favorite to reach the semifinals of men’s singles at the Olympics for the third time.

Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Laura Siegemund and Kevin Krawietz [GER] vs. Nina Stojanovic and Novak Djokovic [SRB] – Djokovic will be pulling double duty for the second consecutive day, as he and Stojanovic are two wins away from guaranteeing themselves a medal in mixed doubles.  But in the quarterfinals, they face two accomplished doubles players from Germany.

Elina Svitolina (3) [UKR] vs. Marketa Vondrousova [CZE] – This is the other women’s singles semifinal.  Svitolina is 3-1 against Vondrousova, and 2-0 on hard courts.  Though in their most recent matchup, last September in Rome, Marketa prevailed 6-3, 6-0.

Karen Khachanov (12) [ROC] vs. Ugo Humbert (14) [FRA] – Both players upset top 10 seeds on Wednesday: Khachanov took out Diego Schwartzman, while Humert ousted Stefanos Tsitsipas.  This is another first-time matchup.

Daniil Medvedev (2) [ROC] vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (6) [ESP] – What will Medvedev have left after a grueling, dramatic three-setter in the heat of the day on Wednesday with Fabio Fognini?  He’s 3-1 against Carreno Busta, including a three-set win just last month in Mallorca.

Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas (2) [GRE] vs. Ash Barty and John Peers [AUS] – Barty, Tsistipas, and Sakkari all experienced tremendous disappointment in singles, and are looking for redemption in the mixed event.  Barty and Peers are the far more experienced doubles players.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) [CZE] vs. Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina [ROC] – The Czech team scarcely survived a challenge from Ash Barty and Storm Sanders on Wednesday, as the Russians dropped only three games in their quarterfinal.  Earlier this month at Wimbledon, Kudermetova and Vesnina upset Krejcikova and Siniakova 9-7 in the third.

Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero Remaining Positive Despite Carlos Alcaraz’s Poor Form

Juan Carlos Ferrero remains confident of Carlos Alcaraz’s abilities despite his poor form.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero is looking on the positive side despite Carlos Alcaraz’s poor form.

After winning Wimbledon last year, many people thought that Carlos Alcaraz would dominate the ATP tour over the next year.

However since then, Alcaraz has lost his world number one ranking with the Spaniard not winning a trophy since capturing his second Grand Slam title at SW19.

There are concerns that Alcaraz’s form is dipping with Jannik Sinner potentially overtaking him in potential to challenge Novak Djokovic at the big events.

Despite the lack of titles to Alcaraz’s name, there is no reason to worry for coach Juan Carlos Ferrero as he is confident that the Spaniard’s lack of form is normal, “He has been achieving good results,” Ferrero claimed in an interview with Marca.

“The Cincinnati tournament was a shame because we were one point away. At the US Open, he made the semi-finals. When you play with such good people, it is difficult to win every tournament.

“For any player, not winning tournaments can affect your confidence level. For very good players, it is important to achieve the results that one sets in their path. Of course Carlos wants to win, but I see him well, I don’t see him with any type of desire, and that is very important.

“He doesn’t have the stress of I want to win, I want to win. He wants to do things well and wants to improve in every aspect that he can, and at 20 years of age there are many. The objectives are there. Every tournament that goes, the objective is to achieve a good result.

“And if he is physically well, a great result for him is to win. When you have that level and that potential, it is not bad to think that. Then, when you don’t get it, you have to know how to manage it and come out just as motivated.”

Ferrero brings a great level of experience and composure to the Alcaraz team having been in the Spaniard’s position many times when he was a player.

The Spaniard’s experience is evident as he claimed that failure isn’t a bad thing for Alcaraz to go through, “Not every year you can win six or seven tournaments and that doesn’t mean it will be a failure,” Ferrero was quoted by tennis 365 as saying.

“[Michael] Jordan and Tiger [Woods] didn’t win every Grand Slam and every ring every year. We cannot call that a failure. There are many positive things in a year even if you have earned less.

“You may have evolved in aspects that can be useful for the future. That’s where we are. The most important thing is that he is happy, that he trains well, that traveling makes him happy and from there he generates good tennis, which is what he loves. We all agree on that.”

Alcaraz will look to return to his best when he looks to defend his title in Indian Wells which starts on the sixth of March.

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Daria Kasatkina And Alejandro Davidovich Fokina Lead Calls For VAR In Tennis

There have been calls for VAR to be introduced into the sport.

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Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina have called for VAR to be implemented in tennis.

The calls have came after Andrey Rublev was disqualified from his semi-final with Alexander Bublik in Dubai.

As Bublik lead 6-5 in the final set, Rublev shouted in the face of an umpire allegedly swearing in Russian which was picked up by one of the officials.

This saw Rublev be disqualified from the event with Bublik reaching the final in Dubai.

However as a result of the incident players have called for a VAR review system with the video showing inconclusive proof of whether Rublev did swear in Russian.

Leading the calls for such innovation are Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina as the duo called for VAR to be introduced on twitter, “So you can just disqualify a player, take away all his points and money, without even checking the video? What a joke, yet another confirmation that we need VAR in tennis and an electronic appeal system in all tournaments,” Kasatkina said on social media.

VAR has been implemented in football and also a similar system in rugby with mixed results.

It’s clear though that more technology would help umpires identify whether a grounds for disqualification would be necessary.

So far VAR has been trialled at the Next Gen Finals and the Nitto ATP Finals.

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Casper Ruud Overcomes ‘Tough Start’ To Set De Minaur Final In Acapulco

Casper Ruud is into his first ATP 500 final after defeating Holger Rune in three sets.

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Casper Ruud is into his second consecutive final in Mexico after defeating Holger Rune 3-6 6-3 6-4 in Acapulco.

The Norwegian had to overcome an electric start from Rune to prevail in 2 hours and 24 minutes.

It was a clinical performance from Ruud who is now into his second consecutive final in Mexico after reaching the final in Los Cabos last week.

Speaking after the match Ruud admitted it was a tough start but he’s pleased to be in another final, “It was a tough start,” Ruud told the ATP website.

“Holger just came out firing bullets from the forehand, from the backhand and I had not too much time to play my game. I was frustrated at times, especially at the end of the first set, beginning of the second.

“I didn’t really feel like I got to play any points how I wanted to, so there was some frustration towards myself, towards my box, because I didn’t feel like we were doing the right thing.

“But luckily with one break in the second, it turned around a bit and in the third set it got a little physical. I think maybe Holger seemed like he was struggling a little bit and started firing even more and a couple of games it went in and he broke me, which is frustrating.

“Some unforced errors crept up on him and I served really well in the last game to close it out.”

Ruud is now into his first ATP 500 final in Acapulco where he will face defending champion Alex De Minaur.

De Minaur overcame Jack Draper after the Brit retired at 4-0 down in the deciding set.

Heading into Saturday’s final, De Minaur leads the head-to-head 1-0 although that was in a completely different scoring format in the Next Gen Finals.

Whatever happens on Saturday, Ruud will return to the world’s top ten.

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