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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Australian Open Daily Preview: The Round of 16 Concludes on Monday

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Marin Cilic on Saturday in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

On Monday in Melbourne, the remaining singles quarterfinalists will be decided.  Major champions such as Simona Halep, Marin Cilic, Daniil Medvedev, and Iga Swiatek seek further Grand Slam glory.  Meanwhile, players like Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Aryna Sabalenka are looking for their first Major title.

 

Each day, this preview will highlight the most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Elise Mertens (19) vs. Danielle Collins (27) – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena

Collins was a surprise semifinalist here three years ago, and is coming off an intense three-set battle against Clara Tauson on Saturday.  Mertens was a semifinalist in the year prior, and has quietly advanced thus far without dropping a set.  Notably, both women are still alive in the doubles draw as well, so they’ve accumulated plenty of wins this past week in both disciplines.  Collins will look to dictate play with her aggressive groundstrokes, while Mertens will utilize her consistency and guile.  They have split two previous meetings, with Collins claiming their hard court encounter, which was just a few months ago in Chicago.  When the American is striking the ball as much confidence as she is now, she is tough to beat in these fast conditions.


Simona Halep (14) vs. Alize Cornet – Not Before 1:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

After an injury-laden 2021, Halep appears fully healthy and ready to contend for her third Major title.  She’s allowed her opposition only 12 games through six sets, and won a warm-up event on these same grounds.  Cornet considered retirement last year, but the 32-year-old is surely glad she decided not to, as she’s reached the fourth round of this event for the first time since 2009.  After upsetting Garbine Muguruza in the second round, she came back from a set down to take out another seed, Tamara Zidansek.  Surprisingly, Cornet is 3-1 against Halep, though they haven’t played in nearly seven years.  And based on Simona’s current form, the Romanian is a considerable favorite to achieve her sixth Australian Open quarterfinal.


Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Marin Cilic (27) – Not Before 2:00pm on John Cain Arena

It’s been two years since Cilic had advanced to the second week at a Major, and he’s now vying for his first quarterfinal since 2018.  Auger-Aliassime is seeking his third consecutive quarterfinal at a Major.  The 21-year-old Canadian crushed Dan Evans in the last round, while the 2014 US Open champion upset fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev in four sets.  Their head-to-head has been quite lopsided to date.  In three matchups since July of 2019, Cilic has been victorious all three times, and has claimed six of seven sets contested.  And Marin has done so during a span where his best tennis has often alluded him.  Felix will surely be eager to join his close friend Denis Shapovalov in the quarters, but I give the slight edge to Cilic considering their history.


Jannik Sinner (11) vs. Alex de Minaur (32) – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Both these young players have taken advantage of kind draws to this stage, as this will be the first seeded player either has met.  For Sinner, this is his third appearance in the round of 16 out of the last four Majors, and he was a quarterfinalist at the 2020 French Open.  De Minaur reached the quarters at the 2020 US Open, and this is the farthest he’s been at a Slam since.  Their only previous encounter also occurred in 2020, which went to the Italian in three sets, in the quarterfinals of Sofia.  De Minaur will be the underdog, as he does not possess the offensive weaponry of Sinner.  However, the Australian thrives when competing for his country, and will likely make this a compelling affair.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Taylor Fritz (20) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

On his eighth attempt, Fritz has finally broken through to the fourth round of a Major, with a five-set victory over Roberto Bautista Agut, who as usual was not an easy out.  Tsitsipas arrived in Melbourne without much match play, and without many expectations, due to an elbow injury that forced him out of the ATP Finals in November.  But the Greek has advanced rather comfortably to the second week of this fortnight for the third time in four years.  When these two met at the Paris Masters in 2019, Tsitsipas prevailed in straight sets.  I expect Fritz to play rather freely coming off such a big, nerve-wracking win, and knowing he’s not the favorite in this matchup.  The 24-year-old American has the ability to apply plenty of pressure to the Roland Garros finalist with his strong serve and penetrating groundstrokes.  And considering Stefanos’s last few Majors ended with upsets to less-accomplished players (Tiafoe, Alcaraz), it would not be shocking to witness another upset on this day.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Maxime Cressy – With Zverev eliminated from the tournament, Medvedev is an even stronger favorite now to win his second consecutive Major.  It will be interesting to see how his game matches up with the serve-and-volley style of Cressy, who has won 11 matches this month in Australia (including qualifying).

Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Sorana Cirstea – Swiatek has methodically dismissed her opponents thus far, which is reminiscent of her title run at Roland Garros two years ago.  Cirstea has already upset two top 20 seeds (Kvitova, Pavlyuchenkova), and is looking for her first Major quarterfinal since the 2009 French Open. 

Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Kaia Kanepi – The way Sabalenka continues to advance despite her double faulting woes is one of the most inspiring stories of this event.  Kanepi is 6-3 lifetime in the fourth round of Slams, and gained plenty of wins towards the end of last season, winning two ITF events.  When they played in a tune-up event last year on these same grounds, Kanepi won in three.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Italian perfection as Matteo Berrettini outlines Australian Open title credentials

Matteo Berrettini is into the Australian Open Quarter-Finals where he will face Gael Monfils.

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Matteo Berrettini (@Tennis - Twitter)

Italy’s Matteo Berrettini put on a masterclass performance to beat Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in straight sets.

 

Across some media outlets before the match, there was concern that previous abdominal and other injury issues may catch up with the seventh seed.

As well as the physical effects of the long five-set tussle with young star Carlos Alcaraz in the previous round, dubbed Matteo’s Escape from Alcaraz.

Berrettini swatted aside such doubts to outlast the Spaniard 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 in two hours and 22 minutes, to set up a mouth-watering quarter final against Gael Monfils.

The 35-year-old Frenchman is yet to drop a set. The two played out a five-set classic back in 2019, in the US Open quarter finals, where the Italian edged it.

Against Carreno Busta, however, the first set was nip and tuck with both players holding strong on serve.

In the first ever meeting between the pair, the Rod Laver Arena crowd knew they were in for a treat, as Berrettini nailed a fine passing shot down the line at two games all, 30-0 down.

And this was Berrettini’s hallmark throughout the match, fighting for every point against the Carreno Busta serve.

The 25-year-old Italian pounced at five games all, converting the first of two break points, and served out the set with some thunderous tennis, 7-5.

Carreno Busta had to play some clutch tennis in the second set, holding serve all the way through just to stave off the 6 ft 6 giant that is Berrettini.

It went to a tie-breaker where five successive points from the Italian’s racquet threw up four set points.

The 19th seed and two-time US Open semi-finalist saved two of them, with a monster forehand for the first.

But Berrettini was serving bombs, and Carreno Busta was powerless to return, and the Italian gladiator let out a roar as he stole the second set.

The third set was equally as impressive from Berrettini, who must surely be considered a serious title contender to match Daniil Medvedev, on this performance.

Carreno Busta was doing everything at the beginning of the third set just to keep in touch with the Italian.

At 2-1 up, Berrettini sensed an opening and nearly had the Spaniard, with four deuces, but Carreno Busta just about held on.

Out of nowhere, the end was nigh at 5-4 to the Italian, as Berrettini battled back from 15-40 down to deuce, and Carreno Busta completely capitulated, handing his opponent match point.

The seventh seed made no mistake and sealed an impressive straight sets victory, and with it a first quarter final in Australia.

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America’s Jessica Pegula Stuns Maria Sakkari At The Australian Open

Jessica Pegula is into the Australian Open quarter-finals for a second year in a row.

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Jessica Pegula (@FirstServeTnnis - Twitter)

Jessica Pegula’s love affair in Melbourne continues as she made a second quarter final in Australia in the space of 12 months.

 

It’s safe to say that Sakkari, having reached last year’s French Open and US Open semi-finals, has had better days.

And the Greek will be disappointed at how she didn’t turn up today, going down 7-6 (7-0), 6-3 to Pegula.

The American goes on to face the world number one, Ash Barty, who beat Amanda Anisimova, and has still not dropped a set in these championships.

Pegula got the perfect start as she broke the world number eight in the opening game, and won eight consecutive points, and soon built a 3-1 lead.

But Sakkari,26, broke back to level the opening set at 3-3.

The 21st seed begin to throw in some fine slices and drop shots and was rewarded as she broke again, and held serve to go 5-3 up.

The Greek then showed why she is so highly regarded in the sport, as she broke back and levelled at five-all.

The fifth seed had to dig deep as she held her serve, covering the net well.

But Pegula, 27, dominated the tie-break with some powerful groundstrokes and sealed it 7-0 with an ace.

The 21st seed, kept her level high in the second set and broke in game four, and a powerful cross-court backhand winner saw her race into a 4-1 lead.

Sakkari held her next two service games, but so did Pegula as she confirmed her place in the last eight on her second match point.

The rise of the New Yorker from 61 in the world last January, to hovering above the top 20, is some story.

After the match, she had this to say on Margaret Court Arena.

“It was a hot out there today, so I didn’t really want to play a lot of long points. I really had to step up and be aggressive when I had the chances to,” she said.

“Luckily, I was able to capitalize on that today and play a pretty clean match.”

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