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: Stefanos Tsitsipas Determined To Make Grand Slam Dream Reality After Djokovic Defeat

Stefanos Tsitsipas is still determined to achieve his Grand Slam dream after losing the Australian Open final.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (@CitiOpen - Twitter)

Stefanos Tsitsipas is remaining determined to achieve his Grand Slam dream after he lost in the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic.

 

Playing his second Grand Slam final, Stefanos Tsitsipas was dominated by Novak Djokovic in a 6-3 7-6(4) 7-6(5) defeat with Djokovic claiming his tenth Australian Open title.

The result won’t downplay Tsitsipas’ impressive start to the season as he will now climb up to world number three when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Even though Tsitsipas’ dream of winning a Grand Slam title may not have been realised in Melbourne, the Greek is more determined than before to make it a reality in the future.

Speaking after the match Tsitsipas said he was happy with the two weeks as he looks to win more trophies in the near future, “Look, I’m not thinking about the match anymore,” Tsitsipas said in his press conference.

“I’m just happy that I’m in another Grand Slam final. Of course, I was dreaming about the trophy, lifting that trophy. I even dreamt it last night in my sleep. The desire is really there. I really, really want it badly.

“But just dreaming about it won’t make it happen. You got to act. You got to do something out there. You got to be present even more and do better. Today I felt like there were moments that I was close, but the tiebreak didn’t really show that both ways. Just bad starts. So I’ll just eliminate it, take the good things, move on from there.

It’s a long season. It’s an exhausting season. I got to be physically ready for the difficult matches that I will have to play this year against the best players in the world.”

It’s clear that Tsitsipas wants to move onto the future where he will look to improve in winning the biggest titles on the tour.

However the new world number three also reflected on the past and how this year’s loss feels in comparison to the one in Paris where he lost from two sets down to Djokovic.

Tsitsipas said the one in Paris was more heart-breaking and has learnt from that experience, “Well, Paris was heartbreaking. I was two sets to love up. I wasn’t really thinking that I was two sets to love up. I mean, I was aware of it, but it didn’t occupy too much of my thought process,” the Greek explained.

“Let’s say I did some technical decisions there that were wrong, which I’m pretty sure I’m not going to repeat again in my career. Just pure stubbornness from my side. I can’t see or feel the same again, because that was a different final from what we had today.

“That was disappointing, for sure. A lot of not-such-nice things happened for me that day, losing my grandmother the day of the final, not knowing about it but finding out later.

“There was something in the air that day that made it feel that there was something odd about that day. I still remember it. I don’t want to remember it because it’s not a nice feeling.”

Motivated by his two losses in Grand Slam finals, Tsitsipas will now look to have the desire and consistency to achieve his world number one goal.

Concluding his press conference Tsitsipas said that he’s not lowering his expectations despite recent results, “I want to max out in what I do in my profession. No. 1 is on my mind. It doesn’t come easy, I know that. I got to work harder to make that happen,” Tsitsipas claimed.

“What I can say is being on the tour for a few years now, I get a lot of different experiences, I get a lot of different things that I’m faced with.

“It’s my time to aim for something like this. I don’t see any reason to be lowering my expectations or my goals. I am born a champion. I can feel it in my blood. I can feel it as a competitive kid that I was when I was young. It’s
something that is within me.

“I want to harvest that, make it bloom, make it even stronger and fonder, work hard towards those goals.”

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas Play for the Men’s Championship

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Novak Djokovic this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

A year ago, Novak Djokovic experienced quite an embarrassing debacle.  After the unvaccinated Djokovic was initially granted an exemption and allowed to enter Australia, he was later detained, and eventually deported and prevented from competing at this tournament.  His refusal to get vaccinated continues to prevent Novak from competing in North American tournaments, missing Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Cincinnati, and the US Open last year. 

 

But at the events Djokovic has been allowed to participate in over the past seven months, he has been nearly unstoppable.  Since the beginning of Wimbledon last June, he is now 37-2, with five titles.  Novak comes into this championship match on a 16-match winning streak, with seven of those victories against top 10 opposition.  With a win on Sunday, Djokovic not only ties Rafael Nadal in their ongoing race for history with 22 Major titles, but he also regains the World No.1 ranking, despite all the tennis he’s missed.

However, standing in his way is a hungry and confident Stefanos Tsitsipas.  This is the Greek’s second Major final, and the second time he’s encountered Djokovic in this round of a Slam.  Two years ago in the championship match of Roland Garros, Tsitsipas secured the first two sets, before losing to Novak in five.  If Stefanos can win one more set on Sunday, he’ll not only win his first Major title, he’ll also become the World No.1 for the first time.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who have won six Majors as a team, face Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who are vying for their first Major as a team. 


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic’s excellence in the latter rounds of the Australian Open is rivaled only by Nadal’s excellence at Roland Garros.  Novak is now 19-0 in the semifinals and finals of this tournament, which is quite staggering.  He’s also won his last 27 matches at this event, and his last 40 in Australia in general, a streak that dates back over five years.  While Novak suffered a hamstring injury a week before this fortnight, he has still advanced to this final rather easily, dropping only one set through six matches.

Tsitsipas has now reached the semifinals or better in four of the last five years at the Australian Open, but this is his first time reaching the final.  He enjoys plenty of Greek support at this event, and appears to have some extra swagger in his step during this fortnight.  Stefanos has dropped three sets to this stage, and has been superb at saving break points.  Through six matches, he has saved 44 of 53 break points faced.

Both men feel fully at home on Rod Laver Arena, and have described it as their favorite court.  But this is their first meeting on RLA.  They’ve met plenty of times on other courts though, in a rivalry that’s been thoroughly dominated by Djokovic.  The Serbian leads 10-2, and has claimed their last nine matches.  That includes four matches that took place in 2022, in which Novak won eight of their nine sets.  They played three times within a six-week period this past fall on indoor hard courts, with their closest and best matchup taking place in the semifinals of Bercy, where Djokovic prevailed in a final-set tiebreak.

Djokovic is undeniably a huge favorite to win his 10th Australian Open.  But that common knowledge takes a lot of pressure off Tsitsipas, who was so close to defeating Novak the last time they met in a Slam final.  Djokovic has been rather unbothered by all competition during this tournament, even with an injured hamstring.  Can Stefanos pull off one of the bigger surprises in recent tennis history?  I expect him to challenge Novak on Sunday, but Tsitsipas’ backhand remains a liability. And with Djokovic determined to avenge what he sees as mistreatment a year ago in Australia, a Novak loss would be truly surprising.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: ‘Confident’ Elena Rybakina Unfazed By Top Ten Debut

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina insisted that her debut in the top ten doesn’t change anything ahead of the rest of the season.

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Elena Rybakina (marioboc17 - Twitter)

Elena Rybakina has remained unbothered by her upcoming top ten debut and admits her confidence has grown despite her Australian Open final defeat.

 

The Wimbledon champion was close to winning a second Grand Slam title in Melbourne but fell just short after a three set defeat to Aryna Sabalenka.

Rybakina took the opening set with some blistering tennis and had her chances against the big-serving Belarusian in the final set.

However it wasn’t her day as Sabalenka just about held her nerve to secure her first Grand Slam singles title.

Reflecting on the match Rybakina said the turning point was Sabalenka raising her level but admitted it has been a great two weeks, “I think Aryna raise her level in the second set. She played really well, aggressive, a bit less mistakes,” Rybakina told the press conference.

“I should have been also more aggressive in some moments. Yeah, I had some chances, for sure, to turn it around. But, yeah, she played really well today. She was strong mentally, physically. Yeah, overall, as I said, it was a good two weeks for me here.”

It was an impressive run from Rybakina who managed to beat three former Grand Slam champions in the form of world number one Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka to get to the final.

Reflecting on the future Rybakina admitted that this tournament has given her more confidence that Grand Slam finals is where she should be, “Well, if it’s going to be like this, it’s great. For sure, that’s the goal, to be in the second week of all the Grand Slam, to play finals,” Rybakina happily claimed.

“Yeah, I mean, now I have more confidence of course even after this final. Yeah, I just need to work hard, same as I did during pre-season and actually throughout the years, be healthy, and for sure the results are going to come.

“Even I would say I’m trying to not think about expectations and everything. Still after a great pre-season like this I was thinking I should show it on the court. Then, of course, the results are going to be there.

“As I said, first few weeks was not that great like maybe the other years I was starting. But, yeah, I think in the end it’s just confidence to go forward, to keep on working.”

Despite not claiming a second Grand Slam title, it has been a very positive week for Rybakina who will now take her place in the world’s top ten.

The Kazakh will be seen as a big threat to the rest of the tour as now she looks to keep performing well at big tournaments.

However Rybakina’s top ten debut won’t change anything according to the Wimbledon champion, “I don’t think tomorrow I’m going to feel different just because of the ranking now,” Rybakina boldly stated.

“But, I mean, for sure it’s going to be different on the smaller tournaments, I would say. I’m going to be seeded. Maybe in some tournaments I’m not going to play first round. So of course there is some benefits out of this. But for sure I don’t really look for the numbers ranking so much.”

Rybakina will look to continue to climb up the rankings when she competes in Abu Dhabi, which starts on the 5th of February.

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