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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Emma Raducanu Looking For Experience After Splitting With Coach

Emma Raducanu revealed her post-US Open plans as she prepares for life on the main WTA tour.

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Emma Raducanu (@CambridgeAwe - Twitter)

Emma Raducanu is looking for more experience in her team after splitting from her short-term coach Andrew Richardson.

 

The US Open champion revealed the news at the ‘homecoming party’ set up at the National Tennis Centre in London where the Duchess of Cambridge was present.

Speaking at the event Raducanu said that she needed more experience as she will now play on the main tour on a regular basis, “At this stage of my career I really need someone that has had that WTA Tour experience at that high level,” Raducanu was quoted as saying by the BBC website.

“Especially right now as I’m so new to it, I think I really need someone just to guide me who has already been through that themselves. “Never did I even dream of winning the US Open and now I’m ranked 22 in the world, which is pretty crazy to me.”

Richardson was always a short-term arrangement with him now committed to improving his 10 year-old son.

As for Raducanu she is now 22 in the world and faces unfamiliar territory in playing a full-time schedule.

After winning the US Open as a qualifier, Raducanu has received unlimited amount of attention and expectation which is something she will need guidance with.

Now Raducanu will set out a schedule in the next few days with the Brit set to return as early as Indian Wells which starts on the 6th of October, “I got back on court a few days ago, and yesterday I did a full training day,” she explained.

“I was feeling pretty good about myself and my game, and I am very excited to compete again. All the opportunities I am getting have been very fun, but where I really want to be is on the tennis court, as I’m just thriving out there.

“I haven’t decided on my schedule yet – I will decide in the next few days where I am going to go to – but wherever I play next, I’m going to make sure I’m ready. I don’t want to jump into things too early.”

Should the 18 year-old make a strong end to the season then she could make the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

Although she is 14th in the race, players such as Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka could miss the event and it’s something that is on the back of the mind of Raducanu, “The WTA Finals I would never even dream of before, because it was just so far out of reach and out of sight, but coming reasonably close to it now, I think it would be great if I qualified,” she admitted.

“But if not, it’s a complete bonus, because my priority is just putting in the best possible pre-season that I can, so I can start strong next year and next season.”

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Berrettini pulls off comeback win over Auger Aliassime at Laver Cup

Matteo Berrettini contributed to a 3-1 overall scoreline for Team Europe over Team World after day one of the Laver Cup.

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Matteo Berrettini (@LaverCup - Twitter)

The Italian fought back from a set down to beat the Canadian and give team Europe a commanding lead.

 

In the longest match in Laver Cup history so far Matteo Berrettini needed a match tiebreak to beat the world number 11 and good friend Felix Auger Aliassime 6-7, 7-5, 10-8 in a match that lasted two hours and 52 minutes.

The Italian hit 15 winners and served seven aces while the Montreal native hit 37 unforced errors in the loss.

“I was fighting and I felt the match was really hard and Felix (Auger-Aliassime) was playing well and he didn’t give me anything and he made no mistakes and he was serving really well and I felt a different energy because we are playing for a team, not just myself and they helped me a lot”.

The first set stayed on serve until 2-2 when it was the Italian with the first two breakpoints of the match but the Canadian was able to save both and hold serve.

The next game was a rollercoaster and the Montreal native responded by earning four chances to break and after 13 minutes finally made the breakthrough to take a 4-2 lead.

At 5-3, the world number 11 found himself with two set points but failed to convert and the Italian fought back and got the break back and at 6-5 the Canadian had five more set points but again the Italian saved all five and the set was decided by a tiebreaker.

Auger Aliassime got the early break to take a 2-0 lead and that break was enough for him to finally serve out the first set and take a 1-0 set lead. The world number seven was keen to bounce back and had two early chances to break at 1-1 but the Canadian saved both and held serve once again.

The very next game it was the Montreal native turn to apply the pressure on the Berrettini serve but the Italian managed to save both breakpoints he faced and held serve.

At 5-5, the Canadian kept pushing earning two more break points but couldn’t get the breakthrough, and the very next game the Rome native pounced and managed to get the crucial break to win the second set and force a match tiebreak.

The breaker was extremely tight until 3-3 when the Canadian managed to get the break and jumped out to a 5-3 lead before losing two straight points and the breaker was even at five.

Once again the world number 11 got the break again and was up 7-5 but again lost two straight points and we were even at seven and then at 9-8 Berrettini with the rally of the match sealed the win with a great passing shot.

After the match in his post-match interview, the Italian was asked about being selected to play doubles in the night session.

“I am going to be honest when they told me I would be playing singles and doubles I didn’t expect to play a match that long so I spoke with the captain and we will see but I am still young”.

Day 1 results

Casper Ruud got the ball rolling for Team Europe as he beat the American Rielly Opelka in the first match of the day in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 to give his team the first point of the tournament.

In the first match of the night session Andrey Rublev gave Team Europe a convincing 3-0 lead as he came back to beat the Argentine Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 11-9 in the match tiebreaker.

Finally in the last match of the day Team World got their first point as the duo of John Isner and Denis Shapovalov came back from a set down to beat the doubles pairing of Matteo Berrettini and Alexander Zverev 4-6, 7-6, 10-1.

Day 2 preview:

Day 2 features some amazing matchups in both the day and night session with Stefanos Tsitsipas starting the day against the Aussie Nick Krygios before John Isner takes on Alexander Zverev.

In the night session Denis Shapovalov takes on the US Open champion from Russia Danil Medvedev with another doubles match wrapping things up as the team of Andrey Rublev and Tsitispas will take on John Isner and Nick Kyrgios.

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ATP Moves Closer To Staging Five More 12-Day Masters 1000 Events After Board Approval

Changes are coming to the men’s Tour which includes a brand new ‘profit-sharing formular’ for players.

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Masters tournaments in North America, Europe and Asia are set to be expanded over the coming months after the ATP Board recently approved some ‘key aspects’ of their strategic plan.

 

In a letter issued to players, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said an agreement has been reached concerning a variety of topics, which include the expansion of various Masters 1000 events. It is understood that the plan is for Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati and Shanghai to be increased to 12-day events instead of just one week. Putting them more in line with Indian Wells and Miami. Tennis.com reports that under the new structure, ATP 250 events will also take place during the second week of those tournaments and they could receive a subsidy from the ATP Tour, provided by extra fees paid by the Masters tournaments.

Masters 1000 events are the third highest-ranked category events in men’s tennis after Grand Slams and the ATP Finals in terms of prize money and ranking points on offer. The series was first introduced back in 1990 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the name ‘Masters 1000’ was born. The number represents how many ranking points the winner receives.

Besides the proposed changes to the Masters series, the Board has also given a green light to “a new Profit-Sharing formula” and “long-term prize money levels.” The prize money increase is reportedly said to be 2.5 percent of a base level, plus a bonus pool with a 50 percent share of the collective profit of the Masters events.

“This represents significant progress for our sport and the way our player and tournament members operate under the equal partnership of the ATP Tour. It is only through the spirit of this partnership, transparency, and alignment of interests that we can truly maximise your potential and switch our focus to the competition we face in the border sports and entertainment landscape,” Gaudenzi wrote in his letter to players.

Part of the plan also include making changes to ATP Media, who are in charge of broadcasting the events. At present it is currently jointly owned by the Tour and each of the Masters 1000 events. However, in the future it has been proposed that those tournaments trade in their ownership rights for shares in ATP media. Exact details about this process have not been publicly disclosed and it is unclear if all of the tournaments would agree to such a move.

The ATP also wants to create a ‘Tennis Data Innovations’ which will be an independent entity.

All of these proposed changes are still subject to further agreement around additional matters. The ATP have been working on details of their strategic plan for the past 18 months.

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