US Open Daily Preview: 2021’s Last Major Begins with a Stellar Day 1 Schedule - UBITENNIS
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US Open Daily Preview: 2021’s Last Major Begins with a Stellar Day 1 Schedule

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A look at Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (twitter.com/usopen)

For the first time since January of 2020, a Grand Slam event will be staged with 100% capacity, a welcome change from the fan-less US Open of a year ago.  And Monday’s Order of Play offers some big names, blockbuster matchups, and compelling stories.

 

Action on Arthur Ashe Stadium kicks off with a rematch of the 2017 women’s singles final, followed by the 2012 men’s singles champion taking on the third seed.  The night session features a two-time champion, as well as a 2019 finalist facing a 2013 semifinalist.  And elsewhere on the grounds, two of the sport’s most tenured, well-liked players may contest the last matches of their respective careers.

Each day, this preview will analyze the five most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Simona Halep (12) vs. Camila Giorgi – 11:00am on Grandstand

Since tearing her left calf muscle three months ago in Rome, Halep has only played two matches, as she also suffered an adductor injury in Cincinnati.  Her coach Darren Cahill revealed on ESPN that Simona has been skipping some practice days this past week to rest that latest injury.  So the two-time Major champion is not 100%, short on match play, and only 1-2 at this event since 2017.  That’s the year she drew 2006 champion Maria Sharapova in the first round.  A year later, she was upset by the always-dangerous Kaia Kanepi.  In 2019, she was taken out in a third set tiebreak by American Taylor Townsend.  Now she faces the red-hot Italian, who just two weeks ago won the biggest title of her career in Montreal.  Giorgi has taken 14 of her last 19 matches, and she’s exactly the type of player that Halep can feel helpless against: a big-hitting baseliner.  Camila has become more selective as to when she goes for her signature winners, often waiting until she’s in a winning position.  Their only other match occurred six years ago in Miami, which went to Halep in straight sets.  But an injured Simona, and a much-improved Camila, could be the recipe for another first round upset.

Madison Keys vs. Sloane Stephens – 12:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

The women’s championship match from four years ago was the pinnacle of both players’ careers.  But 2021 has not been kind to either woman.  Madison’s season has never recovered since a positive COVID test prevented her from traveling to Melbourne.  She has a 10-12 record, and is on a four-match losing streak.  Sloane started the year on a four-match losing streak of her own, and suffered tremendous personal loss, as multiple close family members passed away due to COVID.  Stephens found some success on clay, but went just 2-3 this summer on hard courts.  Overall Sloane leads their head-to-head 4-2, though they’re 1-1 this year, having split two clay court contests.  They have not played on this surface since their US Open final.  In their return to Arthur Ashe Stadium, I favor the 2017 champion.  Sloane is the better player in longer rallies, and has a bit more confidence than Madison currently possesses.

Stefanos Tsistipas (3) vs. Andy Murray – Second on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Murray is one of only three men in the draw who have won this event (Djokovic, Cilic).  Like Keys, Andy wasn’t able to travel to Melbourne due to a positive test.  He is only 6-6 on the year at tour level, and 0-4 against top 20 players, failing to secure a set.  That’s a bad sign when you draw the No.3 seed in the opening round.  And no one has won more matches this year than Tsitsipas, who is 48-14.  Defeating one of the world’s best players in the best-of-five format feels like too tall a task for a man who has battled multiple severe injuries over the last four years.  At an event painfully missing four all-time greats (Serena, Venus, Federer, Nadal), it’s great to have Andy competing.  Let’s just hope this isn’t the last time we see him on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Naomi Osaka (3) vs. Marie Bouzkova – Not Before 7:30pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

No one in the tennis world has garnered more attention over the last three months than Osaka, from her decision to skip press conferences and eventually withdraw from the French Open, to lighting the torch at the Tokyo Olympics.  Yet almost none of the talk about Naomi has related to her actual tennis, as she’s only played five matches this summer.  That is not ideal preparation for the defending champion, who inspired many a year ago not only with her performance, but her social activism.  While currently not in top form, she remains a heavy favorite on Monday evening, against a player who is 1-9 lifetime at Majors.  However, the 23-year-old from the Czech Republic is far from a pushover, and has earned victories within the last few years over the likes over Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, and Simona Halep.  So this should serve as a litmus test of how confident the four-time Major champ is feeling.

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Richard Gasquet – Last on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Over the last few years, Medvedev has been the best hard court player not named Djokovic.  The second seed has gone 56-11 on this surface since last season, with five titles.  And as per Tennis Abstract, he’s won 23 of his last 24 hard court matches against players ranked outside the top 20.  That’s a category Gasquet falls into, as the former World No.7 is now ranked 79th.  The 35-year-old Frenchman is 1-8 against the top 10 within the last two years.   However, he’s yet to be dominated by Daniil.  Last fall in St. Petersburg, Medvedev required three sets to put away Gasquet.  And three years ago in Montpellier, the veteran defeated the Russian 6-3, 6-0.  But in 2021, Daniil is a far more developed player, and should be able to easily dispatch of Gasquet in front of a New York crowd that went from loathing to loving Medvedev in 2019.

Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Garbine Muguruza (9) vs. Donna Vekic – The US Open has easily been the worst Major in Muguruza’s career, as she’s 7-8 lifetime.  Vekic was a quarterfinalist two years ago, though she’s only 10-10 this season, and underwent knee surgery in February.  They have split two previous meetings.

Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Ivo Karlovic (Q) – Rublev has now collected 41 wins in each of the last two seasons.  Karlovic came through qualifying, and the 42-year-old has stated this may be his last professional event. 

Danille Collins (26) vs. Carla Suarez Navarro – Similarly, a cancer-free Carla announced she will retire after this tournament.  Collins went on a tear this summer, winning 12 straight matches and two titles.  They’ve also split two prior encounters.

Marin Cilic (30) vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber – The 2014 champion has achieved the third round or better at this event in every appearance since 2011.  He’s 5-7 against the 37-year-old German, though Kohlschreiber has lost four of his last five matches.

Angelique Kerber (16) vs. Dayana Yastremska – The 2016 champion is 14-2 in her last three tournaments.  Yastremska missed much of 2021 due to a doping suspension, which was eventually reversed.  She’s just 3-5 since returning to action

Casper Ruud (8) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Ruud has amassed 50 wins over the last 12 months, while Tsonga is only 1-8 during the same span, as he’s long battled lower back issues. 

Daria Kasatkina (25) vs. Tsvetana Pironkova – This should be a fun matchup between two of tennis’ most creative players.  Pironkova was the surprise of last year’s event, with a run to the quarterfinals in her first tournament since 2017.  Kasatkina has rediscovered her form this year, resulting in 33 match wins and four finals.

Barbora Krejcikova (8) vs. Astra Sharma (Q) – Krejcikova has now claimed 25 of her last 28 matches.  Sharma is a 25-year-old Australian who was a mixed doubles finalist in Melbourne two years ago.

Victoria Azarenka (18) vs. Tereza Martincova – Azarenka was the runner-up last year, but is yet to reach a tour final this season.  Martincova is a 26-year-old Czech who advanced to the final of Prague last month.

Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Nina Stojanovic – Sabalenka has accumulated 38 wins this year, but is only 4-3 since reaching her first Slam semifinal at Wimbledon.  Stojanovic is 1-6 in her singles career at Majors. 

Roberto Bautista Agut (18) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Bautista Agut is surprisingly only 2-3 the last three years at this tournament, and a subpar 25-20 in 2021.  Kyrgios has only played 13 matches in the last 18 months due to the pandemic as well as injuries, and went 1-3 on hard courts this summer. 

Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Felix Auger Aliassime Wins First Ever Roland Garros Match In Five Sets

Felix Auger-Aliassime earned his first ever victory at Roland Garros.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime (@MatchPointCAN - Twitter)

The Canadian found himself down two sets to none but fought back to pull off the comeback in a thrilling five set victory.

 

Felix Auger Aliassime is into the second round of the French Open for the first time in his career after battling back to beat the Peruvian qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas in five sets 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in three hours and 14 minutes.

The Montreal native finished the match serving 14 aces and hitting 52 winners in a match that featured a lot of long rallies from behind the baseline.

“It was a dream for me to play here, it was an honor and my first time on Phillipe Chatrier and my first win at Roland Garros and I had to work hard to get it and credit my opponent he played very well today.”

The Peruvian started the match by breaking the number nine seed right out of the gate and at 3-1 managed to turn that break into a double break as he served out the first set with ease.

The first two games of the second went on serve but again the world number 122 seemed to play better as the Canadian looked stunned, searching for answers.

The Lima native once again took an early lead to take a 3-1 lead and again that seemed like enough for the Peruvian as he served out the second set and was one set away from an improbable upset.

The third set is where the Canadian started to turn things around and his groundstrokes seemed to have more precision. At 2-1 it was the Montreal native who got the first break of serve.

After consolidating the break the world number nine was hungry for more and turned that break into a double break and it looked like the match was turning in his favour.

The Canadian served out the third set to send it to a fourth looking to send it to a decider.

The Montreal native rode the momentum from winning the third into the fourth set where after holding the opening service game got the early break once again taking a 2-0 lead.

At 5-3 with the Peruvian looking to stay in the set, Auger Aliassime managed to get another break to win the set and send the match to a fifth set.

The fifth set stayed on serve until 4-3 when the Canadian had four chances to break and at the fourth time of asking he was able to break and serve out the match to complete the comeback.

After the match in his on court interview he was asked about the adjustments he made in the third set to turn the match around and pull off the win.

“I tried to give myself some more space and a little more time, my opponent at the beginning was playing very quick, aggressive, and flat so I tried a couple things and I also served better and after that it was easier.”

The Canadian will next face either Aslan Karatsev or Camilo Ugo Carabelli in the next round.

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Ons Jabeur Suffers Shock Exit At Roland Garros To Magda Linette

Magda Linette handed out the first upset of Roland Garros by defeating Ons Jabeur.

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Magda Linette (@RolandGarros - Twitter)

Ons Jabeur has become the first major casualty of this year’s Roland Garros after a 3-6 7-6(4) 7-5 defeat to Magda Linette in the opening round.

 

The Tunisian was one of the most in-form players of the clay court swing having won Madrid and made the final of Rome.

However Linette took the match to Jabeur and played some of the best tennis of her career to stun the sixth seed.

Linette will play Martina Trevisan or Harriet Dart in the second round.

Jabeur made a great start to the match as she broke the Pole early for a 2-1 lead with a good mix of power and variety.

However Linette seemed confident in her tactics and shot-making as she broke straight back, seemingly deflecting everything the Tunisian had to offer.

Jabeur used her experience and great angles though as she improved her level as the set went on, breaking in the fifth and ninth games to claim the opening set.

The Pole went off court to have a medical time-out after the opening set after finding some pain in the upper leg.

Despite the break Jabeur continued to cause Linette troubles with the Pole having to dig deep and save a couple of break points with bold patterns of play.

In the eighth game Linette turned up the aggression and made Jabeur cover a lot of ground as the Tunisian was forced to save three break points in the eighth game.

Jabeur was becoming frustrated and a comfortable straight sets victory turned into a second set tiebreak with the Tunisian looking tighter than usual.

Linette capitalised on this and continued her confident ball-striking and decision making to take the tiebreak 7-4 and force a deciding set.

The Madrid champion lacked a clinical edge and with the rain falling in Paris, Jabeur couldn’t find a consistent answer to Linette’s power.

A break to the Pole saw the Tunisian contingent in Philippe-Chatrier stunned but like the champion she is Jabeur fought back with an immediate break back.

Some big serving in the eighth game fended off another wave of Linette aggression as Jabeur created a half-chance in the tenth game to seal a break to claim victory.

However Linette continued to be bold and was met with the ultimate reward as from 40-15 up, Jabeur missed a smash to give the Pole hope.

That was all the world number 56 needed as Linette converted her only match point with a forehand unforced error from Jabeur as the first shock of this year’s Roland Garros occurred.

A disappointing result for Jabeur given her clay court form and she would have felt she was the best placed to challenge Iga Swiatek for the title.

However Swiatek’s compatriot Linette played the match of her life to seal a place in the second round at Roland Garros where she will play Martina Trevisan or Harriet Dart.

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Naomi Osaka Speaks About Mental Health And Lack Of Preparation Ahead Of Roland Garros

Naomi Osaka has a blockbuster opening round against Amanda Anisimova at Roland Garros.

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Naomi Osaka (@RolandGarros - Twitter)

Naomi Osaka has spoken about mental health and lack of preparation ahead of this year’s Roland Garros.

 

It was this time last year that Osaka decided to withdraw from Roland Garros and Wimbledon due to her mental health after her announcement about not participating in press conferences.

Fast forward 12 months and the three-time grand slam champion is in a good shape mentally as she aims to be back at the top of the sport.

Speaking in her pre-tournament press conference, Osaka spoke about mental health and reflected on her experiences from last year, “I know like after last year’s French Open that the next slam I played was the US Open and they have like these little like retreats or things like that in the players lounge,” the Japanese star said.

“I found it to be a very interesting experience to go to the Olympics and to like walk through the Village and people were thanking me and stuff. So I think athletes kind of all go through the same thing. It’s just like people don’t really talk about it.

“Like when I first came here, I was very worried. I was just kind of worried if there would be people that like — of course I also didn’t like how I handled the situation, but I was worried that there were people that I offended some way and I would just kind of bump into them.

“But I think like everyone has been really positive, for the most part. Of course I’m still thinking about it, and I’m like kind of also prepping just in case like I go on the court and a fan says something like in Indian Wells. Yeah, for the most part I think I’m okay.”

It’s good to see Osaka in a good mental state as she looks to face her demons and continue to make progress up the rankings.

On the court, it’s been a frustrating clay-court swing for Osaka who faced an early exit in Madrid before withdrawing from Rome.

Speaking in her press conference Osaka said there was no way she was going to miss the event in Paris, “There is no way I’m not going to play this tournament, so like of course you kind of have to manage things, but at the same time, like, I’m going to pop a few painkillers, like it is what it is,” Osaka admitted.

“I have actually played a lot of Grand Slams with something. I actually, Australia, when I played Kvitova, like for five matches I had this really bad back thing. So I think maybe there is a possibility I could play really good when I have an injury, because I feel like I don’t have anything to lose.

“I don’t know, for me I find it a bit ironic, like this clay court season is the one that I spent the most like preparation on, and it was really unfortunate that I had to pull out from Rome and I couldn’t do that well in Madrid.”

Osaka will begin her Roland Garros campaign against the in-form Amanda Anisimova.

The duo met at the first grand slam of the season in Melbourne where Anisimova edged out the match in a last set tiebreak.

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