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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Rafael Nadal Boosts Olympic Preparations With Norrie Victory, Advances To Maiden 2024 Quarter-Final

Rafael Nadal reached his first ATP quarter-final in Bastad.

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Rafael Nadal boosted his preparations for the Olympics with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Cameron Norrie in Bastad.

The win means that Nadal is into his first ATP quarter-final of the season with an impressive straight sets win.

It didn’t all go Nadal’s way as the Spaniard was tested in the opening set with Norrie producing some consistent and attacking play.

The British number two managed to create some tough moments for Nadal but ultimately Norrie lacked that killer instinct to make it count.

That was the difference between him and Nadal as the Spaniard used the forehand to move Norrie out of position, therefore finishing the points off with ease.

A break in the seventh game put Nadal in control but the former champion in Bastad had to work hard to close out the opening set with Norrie pushing for the break.

However, Nadal did secure the opening set 6-4 with some incredible hitting.

As expected though Nadal’s level dropped in the second set as he still hasn’t managed to find his consistent level.

A sensational passing shot at the net saw Norrie break before consolidating to take a 4-1 lead.

It was an incredible turnaround for the Brit but a lack of composure and concentration allowed Nadal a chance to get back in the match.

Get back in the match Nadal did as he managed to sustain a high level of play throughout the next period of the match, securing five games in a row to claim the win.

After the match Nadal spoke about how crucial it was for him to improve his rhythm, “I think I played in some moments good tennis, in some moments I need to play a little bit more aggressive, but that is part of the journey today,” Nadal told the ATP website.

“Great feelings. I’ve been a while without playing on the Tour, since Roland Garros.  To have the chance to compete well against a great player like Cameron is a great feeling.

“I haven’t been competing very often, so matches and victories like today help. To be in rhythm the whole match and hold the pressure on the opponent the whole match, that’s something that I need to improve, because I didn’t play enough.”

Nadal will now aim for a tenth win of the season when he plays fourth seed Mariano Navone on Friday.

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Billie Jean King Cup Relocates From Sevilla To Malaga, Takes Place Alongside Davis Cup Final Eight Tournament

The Billie Jean King Cup has been relocated from Sevilla to Malaga.

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The Billie Jean King Cup Finals will now take place in Malaga and will be alongside the Davis Cup final eight tournament.

The ITF announced the news today that the Billie Jean King Cup Finals will be relocated from Sevilla to Malaga.

It will take place on the 13th-20th November and will be alongside the Davis Cup final eight tournament which will start on the 19th of November and will conclude on the 24th of November.

Speaking about the change tournament director Conchita Martinez spoke about the passion Malaga will bring to the event and has revealed that they have contacted existing ticket holders about the change, “I know that Malaga, just a two-hour drive from Sevilla, will deliver the exceptional atmosphere and passion that fans of the Billie Jean King Cup have come to know and love,” Martinez stated.

“We have informed all existing ticket holders of the changes and will be reissuing tickets for the new location, with the option of refunds for those who require them. We are set for a blockbuster fortnight of tennis this November and I can’t wait to welcome the tennis world to Malaga this November.”

The news will be disappointment to some ticket holders about the late change as the ITF continue to be unorganised when it comes to logistical events around the team competitions.

However, Malaga will aim to bring a unique atmosphere as the event will aim to boost the attendances of both team competitions.

The event will see four first round matches, four quarter-finals, two semi-finals and a final.

Here is the draw below with Canada looking to defend their title from last year.

Canada v BYE

Germany v Great Britain

Australia v BYE

Slovakia v USA

Spain v Poland

Czech Republic v BYE

Japan v Romania

Italy v BYE

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Carlos Alcaraz for the Gentlemen’s Singles Championship

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Carlos Alcaraz after winning his semifinal on Friday (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 14 at The Championships hosts the championship matches in gentlemen’s singles and mixed doubles.

One year ago, Novak Djokovic was on a 34 match Wimbledon win streak, playing for his fifth consecutive title, and had not lost a match on Centre Court in a full decade.  But in a spectacular five-hour five-setter, Carlos Alcaraz upset the all-time great to win his first Wimbledon title.  On Sunday, we get the rematch, as Djokovic looks to avenge that painful loss, and Alcaraz looks to defend a Major title, and win back-to-back Majors, for the first time.


Carlos Alcaraz (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (2) – 2:00pm on Centre Court

They followed up last year’s championship match here with another fantastic final just a month later in Cincinnati, where Djokovic saved championship point to eventually win in a third-set tiebreak, and after nearly four hours of play.  Novak would go on three weeks later to win the US Open, while Carlitos was not the same player for some time.  Alcaraz would not reach another final at any event for over six months, until this past March in Indian Wells. 

Despite a few surprising losses, and an injury that disrupted his season, Alcaraz is now a strong 32-6 on the year, and a superb 17-1 at Majors.  Carlitos has been able to quickly rebound from upsets at smaller events, like his loss to Jack Draper a few weeks ago at Queen’s Club, and up his level for the big events.  He’s dropped five sets through six matches, most of which have contained some sloppy play at times, yet Carlitos has played his best when it mattered most to reach his fourth Major final.  And he’s 3-0 thus far in Major finals.

2024 has been a surprisingly subpar season in the illustrious career of Djokovic.  Not only has he not won a title to date, he hadn’t advanced to a final until now.  Playing a more limited schedule, he’s just 23-6 this season.  And it was just a month ago that he was forced to withdraw from the Roland Garros quarterfinals after suffering a knee injury, which required surgery and put his Wimbledon status in doubt.  Yet Novak has recovered almost miraculously, dropping only two sets to this stage, though he did receive a quarterfinal walkover of his own from an injured Alex de Minaur.

Overall Djokovic is 3-2 against Alcaraz, and they’ve split two meetings at Majors, both of which took place a year ago.  In the 2023 Roland Garros semifinals, Carlitos started cramping after just two sets of play, and provided little resistance in sets three and four.  That made his five-set victory in this final a month later all the more surprising.

Novak has not appeared to be significantly hampered by his surgically-repaired knee, though there’s no way it can be 100%.  So if another five-setter takes place on Sunday, that has to favor Carlitos, especially since he is an amazing 12-1 when pushed to five sets in his young career.

But the Djokovic CV at this tournament, and at this stage of Majors, is beyond formidable.  Since the start of The Championships in 2014, he is 59-3 at SW19.  And during the same span at all Majors, he is 42-8 in semifinals and finals.  Novak just very rarely loses matches like this, especially on Centre Court.

On a that surface usually favors the aggressor, Djokovic has been able to change that narrative with his stifling defense and court coverage.  However, Alcaraz is one of the only players Djokovic has ever faced who can match him defensively, and at times dictate play against him with his risk-taking style.  We saw here a year ago just how frustrated Novak became by Carlitos’ game, damaging the net post by breaking his racket against it after getting broken in the fifth set.

Yet as many have mentioned these last two weeks, Djokovic “has that look about him,” meaning the steely determination and confidence that he was lacking during the first six months of this year appear to be back.  He is extremely motivated to reassert himself atop the game, in a season where the new generation of Alcaraz and Sinner won the first two Majors. 

If Carlitos gets off to another slow start on Sunday (he’s lost the first set in three of his six matches thus far), or suffer lapses in his level again, Novak will take advantage of that better than any of the defending champion’s previous opponents.  And while he’ll surely do so at some point in his career, until Alcaraz defends a Major title, or wins back-to-back Majors, it’s hard to favor him to do so.  I’m backing Djokovic to win his eighth Wimbledon title, and his historical 25th Major singles title, the most of all-time.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Santiago Gonzalez and Giuliana Olmos vs. Jan Zielinski Su-wei Hsieh (7) – The Mexican team of Gonzalez and Olmos are playing for their first Major title, as Olmos is 0-1 in Major finals, while 41-year-old Gonzalez is 0-4.  Zielinski and Su-wei won this year’s Australian Open as a team, the first Major title of Zielinski’s career, while Su-wei has now won eight between women’s doubles and mixed, and is 8-1 in Major finals.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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