Canada Daily Preview: The Top Women’s Seed and Top Canadian Man Face Formidable Americans - UBITENNIS
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Canada Daily Preview: The Top Women’s Seed and Top Canadian Man Face Formidable Americans

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Aryna Sabalenka practicing over the weekend in Montreal (twitter.com/OBNmontreal)

No.1 seed Aryna Sabalenka broke through to her first Major semifinal last month at Wimbledon, and already has won four WTA 1000 events.  On Wednesday, she faces 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.  It was Stephens’ surprising run to the semifinals of this event four years ago which helped propel her to her first Major title.

 

Canadian No.1 Denis Shapovalov also broke through to his first Major semifinal last month at The Championships, and has reached the semifinals or better of five Masters 1000 events.  The first of those came four years ago at this tournament, highlighted by his electrifying, breakthrough win over Rafael Nadal in a third set tiebreak.  On Wednesday, he faces Frances Tiafoe, who upset Stefanos Tsistipas a few weeks ago at The All England Club.

Each day, this preview will analyze the most intriguing men’s and women’s matchup, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Wednesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Aryna Sabalenka (1) vs. Sloane Stephens – Second on Centre Court in Montreal

The hard courts in Canada would seem to be conducive to Sabalenka’s authoritative groundstrokes, but she’s only 2-2 lifetime at this event.  Against Stephens, she’s 1-0, but that was a Billie Jean King Cup match from four years ago.  Sloane’s aforementioned run at this tournament that same year came out of nowhere, as she was coming off an injury layoff which lasted almost a year.  That week, she defeated Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, and Lucie Safarova.  Her defensive skills, and her ability to turn defense into offense, will be critical in overcoming the power of Sabalenka.  Sloane was unsuccessful in doing so last week against another big-hitter, the red-hot Danielle Collins, though no one has been able to subdue Collins the last few weeks.  Still, Aryna remains a slight favorite considering how well she has performed since October of last year.

Denis Shapovalov (5) vs. Frances Tiafoe (LL) – Not Before 7:00pm on Stadium Court in Toronto

Shapovalov has won four of their five encounters, including the last four.  Tiafoe’s only win came in 2018 at Delray Beach, which was also the only ATP title of Frances’ career.  Most recently, they met in June at Queens Club, a match Denis won in straight sets.  Tiafoe actually lost in qualifying over the weekend, but took advantage of a lucky loser spot and defeated Yoshihito Nishioka on Tuesday.  The 23-year-old American has shown signs of rediscovering his best level from a few years ago, yet has struggled to sustain it.  He has the firepower to contend with any player on any day, and Shapovalov may feel some nerves playing at home as his country’s top-ranked male.  But Denis has become a much more consistent, polished player over the last 12 months, and should be able to advance to the third round after some flashy shot-making on both sides of the net.

Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Elina Svitolina (3) vs. Johanna Konta – Svitolina is coming off a bronze medal run in Tokyo, while Konta had to withdraw from the Olympics due to testing positive for COVID-19.  Svitolina has never lost to Konta in five previous hard court meetings at all levels.

Andrey Rublev (4) vs. Fabio Fognini – The Italian is 5-3 against Rublev, though the Russian claimed both of their meetings this year.

Simona Halep (6) vs. Danielle Collins – This will be Halep’s first match in three months, after injuring her calf in Rome.  Collins is on an 11-match win streak after taking back-to-back titles in Palermo and San Jose on two different surfaces.

Hubert Hurkacz (7) vs. Kei Nishikori – Hurkacz was a semifinalist last month at Wimbledon, while Nishikori was a semifinalist last week in Washington.  Hubi is 2-0 against Kei, with both matches occurring on hard courts on 2019.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Dusan Lajovic – The 31-year-old Serbian took their only previous meeting, last January at the ATP Cup.  Felix is 3-2 in his career at his country’s biggest tournament.

Maria Sakkari (11) vs. Veronika Kudermetova –  Both players recently reached career-high rankings, and both narrowly missed out on medals in Tokyo.  Two years ago on clay in Istanbul, Kudermetova defeated Sakkari in straight sets. 

Ons Jabeur (13) vs. Daria Kasatkina – This should be a fun one, featuring two of the sport’s most eclectic players.  Kasatkina leads their rivalry 2-1, though Jabeur prevailed most recently, two months ago on grass in Birmingham.

Aslan Karatsev (15) vs. Karen Khachanov – Karatsev went on a tear following the pandemic tour shutdown, but has cooled off recently, winning only three of his last nine matches.  And he lost his only prior tour-level encounter against Khachanov, last October in St. Petersburg.

Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Italian Journalist rates Camila Giorgi, Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Sonego’s Australian Open hopes

The Italians are making big strides in Melbourne as they search for a place in the second week.

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Matteo Berrettini (@Tennis - Twitter)

The Australian Open continues on Friday with day five of the action.

 

In the women’s draw, world number one and home favourite Ash Barty takes on Italy’s Camila Giorgi on Rod Laver Arena.

But before that, top ranked Italian and last year’s Wimbledon finalist, Matteo Berrettini, continues his campaign against rising star Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.

On 1573 Arena, 25th seed Lorenzo Sonego goes in search of his first fourth-round appearance in Australia, as he entertains Miomir Kecmanovic.

Saturday will see 2019 Next Gen Finals winner, Jannik Sinner, play Andy Murray’s conqueror, Taro Daniel, for a place in round four.

I managed to catch up with our very own Vanni Gibertini, and ask for his thoughts on Italian tennis’ hopes for this tournament.

Question 1: On Friday, can Camilla Giorgi cause Ash Barty any problems, if any? What is the strongest part of the Italian’s game?

Answer: Camila has only one way to try to win this match; just prevent Barty from playing tennis, going all-out on any chance she gets.

Barty has too much tennis for her. Actually, Barty has too much tennis for just about anyone on the WTA Tour, so she could be overpowered.

Luckily for Camila, that’s the game she’s been playing all her life, but she will need to be at the top of her game, and her serve needs to help her in a big way.

Question 2: Is this the Slam that we will see Jannik Sinner make a real statement of intent, in your opinion?

Answer: Sinner has not been very lucky with draws at Slams, except for Roland Garros 2020 when he faced a very subdued David Goffin in the first round (the Belgian had just had his wedding postponed by the pandemic).

He then went on to reach the quarter-finals where he lost to Rafa Nadal.

In this tournament, he finds himself with a viable path to the quarter-finals, and needs to prove to the world, and, himself, he belongs in the top 10 club he entered in, at the end of 2021.

I see him getting to the quarters where he will face Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the semis.

Question 3: Is the draw opening up for Lorenzo Sonego to get past Miomir Kecmanovic and go further on in this tournament?

Answer: This is a chance of a lifetime for Sonego.

Kecmanovic in the 3rd round of a Major, with the prospect of Gaël Monfils or Cristian Garin to reach the quarter finals, is a draw that would raise a lot of money, if it was auctioned off.

But the same goes for Kecmanovic, so it will be a fight.

Sonego worked on his shots during the off-season: the motion of his serve has been tweaked, as well as his backhand grip.

That may take time to digest, so it’s a question mark whether this Sonego 1.2 will pass the stress test.

But he’s in good shape, eager to play and has a great heart, and he won’t give up until he hasn’t a drop of energy left in his body.

Question 4: With Novak Djokovic‘s absence, could Matteo Berrettini win the Australian Open, or will the powerhouse of Carlos Alcaraz provide a potential stumbling block to his tournament hopes?

Answer: Matteo is an example of self-belief, so he definitely believes he’s in the mix to raise the trophy a week on Sunday.

Physically he’s probably still around 60%, and he’s going into a match with Alcaraz where he has everything to lose.

Bookmakers have him as the underdog, but he has the weapons to make his own fortune.

If he can get past the young Spaniard, it could be the win he needs to go very deep into this tournament.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Friday Provides Many Excellent Third Round Matchups

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Ash Barty on Wednesday in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Seeded players begin to collide in the draws on Friday, making for some stellar contests throughout the day.  Major champions Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Victoria Azarenka all face significant opposition, while some of the ATP’s most impressive young stars will square off to secure their spots in the round of 16.

 

Normally this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.   But with so many great matchups on Day 5, that number has been expanded to six.  Friday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Elina Svitolina (15) vs. Victoria Azarenka (24) – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena

Azarenka has been dominant through two rounds, losing only seven games.  She’s keeping her momentum going after her great run at Indian Wells in October.  By contrast, Svitolina came into this tournament on a four-match losing streak, dating back to a dismal 6-1, 6-1 loss at the hands of Jessica Pegula at Indian Wells.  And this rivalry has been completely one-sided to date.  Azarenka leads 4-0, and that includes a straight-set victory last March in Doha.  With warm temperatures forecast for Friday, conditions will be quick, which should reward the dictating style of Azarenka.  I like Vika’s chances to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in six years.


Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (31) – Third on Rod Laver Arena

This should be a lot of fun, with two of the ATP’s heaviest hitters trading blows.  They first played just a few months ago in Vienna, in an extremely tight match which Alcaraz claimed in a third set tiebreak.  Berrettini is yet to play his best tennis this month.  Coming off an oblique injury that forced him out of the ATP Finals, Matteo went only 1-2 at the ATP Cup, and needed four sets to prevail in both of his first two rounds.  Meanwhile, Alcaraz has looked phenomenal, not dropping a set at the next Major after his thrilling Grand Slam breakthrough in New York.  Berrettini will need a high percentage of first serves, and a high number of winners off his blistering forehand.  But over the course of five sets, a fully-fit Alcaraz should be able to wear down the Italian and advance.


Denis Shapovalov (14) vs. Reilly Opelka (23) – Third on Margaret Court Arena

Shapovalov has struggled his way through two rounds, playing a total of nine sets.  On Wednesday, he spent nearly four-and-a-half hours on court against Soon Woo Kwon.  Opelka has required three less sets, and four less hours, to reach the third round.  This will be the first main draw meeting between the left-handed Canadian and the big-serving American.  Reilly seems primed for a deep run at a Major.  Last season, he reached two Masters 1000 semifinals, and made his first appearance in the fourth round of a Slam in New York.  If he can push several sets to a tiebreak, he has a strong chance to prevail, especially if Denis is feeling physically drained.  But considering Shapovalov’s returning prowess, Denis remains the favorite.  He’s a great shot-maker, and enjoys having a target to aim for.  Opelka will likely provide him with plenty of targets, as he came to net 30 times during his three-set win on Wednesday.


Ash Barty (1) vs. Camila Giorgi (30) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

Barty’s victories thus far have been comprehensive, allowing her opposition a total of three games through four sets, and spending less than an hour on court in each match.  Giorgi has been impressive as well, having yet to drop a set.  And it was only five months ago, on this same surface, when Camila earned the biggest title of her career, at the WTA 1000 event in Canada.  She has made great strides in better controlling her aggression, and choosing when to go for a winner.  But she is 0-3 against Barty, with their most recent encounter occurring four years ago at this event.  Giorgi is capable of beating almost anyone on almost any day, but Ash’s well-rounded game makes her a significant favorite.


Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Amanda Anisimova – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena

Both women are undefeated to start off 2022.  Osaka won three matches in a tune-up event on these same grounds before withdrawing, while Anisimova won a tune-up event at Melbourne Park.  With Darren Cahill added to her coaching team, Amanda has rediscovered the form that made her a French Open semifinalist in 2019.  Her backhand is formidable, yet overall her groundstrokes and serve don’t quite compare to that of Osaka’s.  Naomi has appeared rather confident on court despite taking a near-four-month break from competition to end 2021.  But a matchup against an in-form player of Amanda’s caliber is a dangerous draw for Osaka, who has only played five matches since early September.


Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Karen Khachanov (28) – Last on Rod Laver Arena

Nadal has also only played five matches since last summer, when he underwent a procedure on his foot.  And he’s often been tested by Khachanov, most notably at the 2018 US Open, when they played a high-quality four-setter which lasted well over four hours.  Out of their last 10 sets played, six of those sets have been decided by tiebreaks, and two of the others ended with a score of 7-5.  Yet, Rafa has managed to prevail all seven times they’ve met, with five of those occasions coming on hard courts.  The big-swinging Russian possesses a style which has often flustered Nadal throughout his career, but is yet to maintain a high enough level to secure more than one set in a match.  And all six of those aforementioned tiebreaks have gone the way of Rafa.  Despite Nadal not being fully match tough, there’s not much evidence to support a probable outcome other than an eighth victory for the 20-time Major champion.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Jelena Ostapenko (26) – It’s a matchup of surprising Roland Garros champions.  In Dubai last March, Krejcikova allowed Ostapenko only four games.

Paula Badosa (8) vs. Marta Kostyuk – When asked about facing Kostyuk after her second round win, Badosa stated “When they ask me who can be the next star, I always say Marta.”  Kostyuk took out Sara Sorribes Tormo on Wednesday, while Badosa has lost only seven games through four sets.

Maria Sakkari (5) vs. Veronika Kudermetova (28) – Neither woman has lost a set yet.  Last summer in Canada, they participated in an extended contest, with Sakkari prevailing 6-4 in the third.

Cristian Garin (16) vs. Gael Monfils (17) – Through two rounds, Garin has played 10 sets and spent over nine hours on court, while Monfils has easily claimed all six sets he’s played, and spent only three hours on court.  Two years ago at the inaugural ATP CUP, Monfils defeated Garin in straight sets.

Pablo Carreno Busta (19) vs. Sebastian Korda – Both men prevailed after grueling five-set battles on Wednesday.  After testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia, and barely practicing leading into this event, what will Korda have left after a nearly five-hour second round match? 

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Radu Albot (Q) – Zverev is yet to drop a set, and Albot is yet to face a player ranked inside the top 100.  Though three years ago at the US Open, Radu pushed Sascha to five sets.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: Daniil Medvedev powers past home favourite Nick Kyrgios

Daniil Medvedev edged past Nick Kyrgios in four sets to reach the third round at the Australian Open.

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Daniil Medvedev (@TennisChannel - Twitter)

2nd seed Daniil Medvedev kept his hopes of winning successive Grand Slam titles alive as he beat a fired-up Nick Kyrgios.

 

The US Open champion overcame tricky conditions, with the Rod Laver Arena crowd firmly behind their Aussie hopeful.

But Medvedev was simply too good for Kyrgios, who’s lack of match practice eventually showed, going down 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

To his credit, Kyrgios put on a real show. Although, question marks remain about his long-term commitment to the sport.

Medvedev, 25, goes on to face Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp, who was one-set all and 4-0 up before injury forced Richard Gasquet to retire.

In this highly anticipated match-up between two feisty figures of our sport, both players demonstrated their astounding serving ability.

The first set saw an exchange of breaks, however, as Medvedev broke the Australian in his second service game, to take a 2-1 lead.

But Kyrgios showed the fighting spirit that has made him a regular selection in John McEnroe’s Laver Cup team.

At 4-2 down and the crowd behind him, Kyrgios roared back breaking Medvedev and holding serve to take a 5-4 lead.

Both players remained resolute as the first set went to a tie-break with Medvedev edging it 7-1.

The second set went on serve until at 5-4 up, Medvedev showed why he was one of the best returners of serve in the game as he applied pressure on Kyrgios.

The 26-year-old could only fire long, after a tense baseline exchange, as Medvedev took a two-set lead.

The crowd did their best to fire-up Kyrgios and Rod Laver Arena erupted at 3-3 in the third set.

With Medvedev serving, Kyrgios found himself 30-15 up and earned two break points in arguably the point of the match.

Both players were simply bludgeoning the ball from the baseline.

Medvedev tried the drop-shot to shorten the point, but Kyrgios magnificently got to it.

And Medvedev’s driving backhand cannoned off the Kyrgios racquet into the open court, sending the Melbourne crowd into raptures as Kyrgios raced around the back of the court in celebration.

Kyrgios captured the break of serve to move 4-3 up and another majestic point soon followed.

At 30-0 up, it looked like being a comfortable hold for Kyrgios but Medvedev began to mix it up, slicing and dicing, and played a cheeky drop-shot.

Kyrgios reached it, only for Medvedev to lob the Australian, who sprinted back and delighted the crowd with his signature hotdog shot.

Kyrgios began to return everything Medvedev was throwing at him, and blasted the ball straight at him, unable to return it, the ball bounced in to send the crowd into hysteria.

Kyrgios served out the third set 6-4, sealing it with a classy drop shot.

At 3-2 in the fourth set, Kyrgios began to wilt and was broken by Medvedev.

A smashed racquet and a point violation saw the wheels eventually come off Kyrgios’ challenge, as he was overheard saying to wheelchair tennis player Dylan Alcott: “I’m throwing the kitchen sink at him.”

It wasn’t enough however, as Medvedev proved far too strong sealing another break in the final game, to wrap up the fourth set 6-2 and his place in round three.

After the match, Medvedev voiced his displeasure with the crowd, after some boos during his service games.

Legend Jim Courier tried to diplomatically restore peace and order, but Medvedev won’t care.

He professionally swept aside a raucous crowd and a dangerous opponent, and will only get stronger as the tournament progresses.

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