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.

ATP

Australian Open: Novak Djokovic Seals Final Showdown With Tsitsipas After Paul Victory

Novak Djokovic will look to capture his tenth Australian Open title on Sunday.

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Novak Djokovic (@atptour - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic is into the Australian Open final after a 7-5 6-1 6-2 victory over Tommy Paul.

 

Djokovic will have the chance to claim his tenth Australian Open title and his 22nd Grand Slam title after a dominant straight sets victory.

Paul gave a good account of himself in his first Grand Slam semi-final but was ultimately outmuscled by Djokovic.

Djokovic’s bid for history will now go through Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday.

Competing in his first Grand Slam semi-final, Paul settled into the match playing some dynamic tennis to force Djokovic into early errors.

Djokovic started the match in rather erratic fashion but managed to save a break point to hold in the opening game.

However the former world number one found his range eventually as some world-class returning capitalised on nerves from the American as he broke and held for a 3-0 lead.

The Serb’s variety in pace and depth of shot was too much for the American as he dictated the tempo of the rallies.

Once Paul held serve to settle into the match in the fourth game, Djokovic’s onslaught continued as another break in the next return game secured another break and a comfortable 5-1 lead.

What would follow would not be in the script though as Djokovic produced more and more errors with Paul’s stubborn and dynamic style finding confidence as he punched holes through the Serb’s game.

Djokovic couldn’t convert set point and was broken twice as Paul reeled off four games in a row to level the opening set at 5-5.

In the end Djokovic would produce his best tennis when it mattered most with the Serb holding to love and then breaking on his first opportunity to take a tight opening set 7-5.

Although the opening set was littered with errors and erratic from both players, Djokovic produced a consistent standard in the next two sets as he improved the level on serve.

Once again Djokovic took a 5-1 lead in the second set and despite late resilience from Paul, the Serb held his nerve to wrap up a two sets to love lead.

The world number 35 had his moments of world-class tennis but ultimately it was Djokovic who was too strong as a further two breaks of serve sealed his place in a tenth Australian Open final.

After the match Djokovic commented on the state of his hamstring injury, “It’s great, and perfect and 100%,” Djokovic gladly commented in his on-court interview.

“Yeah – we’ll say against Stefanos in two days! Of course you are not as fresh as at the beginning of the tournament but we put in a lot of of hours in the off season. I know what’s expected and I have been in so many positions in my career.

“It’s a great battle, with yourself and the opponent. Long rallies and you could feel the heavy legs in the first set but I was fortunate to hold my nerves. After that I was swinging through the ball more and I am just pleased to get through another final.”

Djokovic and Tsitsipas will face each other in a second Grand Slam final after Djokovic won the Roland Garros final in 2021 in five sets.

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Novak Djokovic’s Father Say Australian Open Flag Incident Was ‘Unintentional’

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Srđan Đoković - foto: Fonet

The father of Novak Djokovic has said he will not be attending his son’s semi-final match at the Australian Open to avoid the possibility of any ‘disruption’ after being caught up in an incident on Wednesday.

 

Srdjan Djokovic has been forced to issue a statement after a video surfaced online of him posing with fans waving Russian flags with one of those also bearing the face of Vladamir Putin. Witnesses reported there was pro-Russian chanting with one of those also wearing a T-shirt bearing the letter ‘Z’ which is a symbol for the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags, as well as items with the Z symbol, are banned from the Australian Open as a result of the war in Ukraine. Tournament organisers have implemented the rule since day two of the Grand Slam following an incident involving a Ukrainian player Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl in her match against Kamilla Rakhimovaon on the first day. 

62-year-old Srdjan said he never had any intention of causing controversy and said his family only want peace in the world. Although in his press release, he didn’t offer any apology for taking part in the photos. There had been claims that Srdjan was heard saying a pro-Russian phrase in the video but this has since been disproven. Journalist Sasa Ozmo confirmed the phrase used by him was ‘Ziveli, Ljudi’ which translates to ‘Cheers guys’ and also means goodbye. 

“I am here to support my son only,” Srdjan said in a statement on Friday. 
“I was outside with Novak’s fans, as I have done after all of my son’s matches, to celebrate his wins and take pictures with them. I had no intention of being caught up in this.
“My family has lived through the horror of war, and we wish only for peace.
“So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home.”

No explanation has been given as to why Srdjan decided to pose for the pictures to begin with when it was visibly clear that the fans were holding a Russian flag. Especially given the current political situation with the war in Ukraine which the United Nations say has caused at least 18,358 civilian casualties, including 7,031 deaths. 

Ukraine’s Marta Kosytuk, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open women’s doubles tournament, said she was upset by the incident that took place. Speaking to reporters on Friday, she didn’t weigh in on saying if Srdjan should be banned from the tournament altogether but did point out that such situations ‘can’t be left unseen.’ 

“It hurts a lot because there were specific rules, they were printed out outside that this is not allowed to bring flags and so on,” said Kostyuk.
“Really hurts that they were out there for some time, they were on the court, in the stands as well.
“I don’t know, I just don’t understand, it really hurts and I don’t understand how this can be possible.”

As for Djokovic, he hasn’t commented on the matter leading up to his semi-final clash with Tommy Paul. The former world No.1 is bidding to win the Australian Open title for a historic 10th time in his career.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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On Friday in Melbourne, the men’s singles semifinals will be played.

On Friday in Melbourne, the men’s singles semifinals will be played.

 

Novak Djokovic is just two matches away from tying Rafael Nadal with 22 Major singles titles, the most-ever in men’s singles.  Djokovic is 18-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals, and hasn’t lost a match in Australia in over five years.  Can anyone prevent the nine-time champion from winning this event for a 10th time?

In the semifinals, Djokovic faces Tommy Paul, who prior to this fortnight had never advanced beyond the fourth round at a Major.  In the other men’s semifinal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 in Australian Open semis, takes on Karen Khachanov, who is into his second semifinal in as many Majors.

Also on Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will be played, as well as the mixed doubles championship match.  The women’s doubles semis include top singles names such as Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff, and Jessica Pegula, while the mixed doubles final will serve as Sania Mirza’s retirement match.


Karen Khachanov (18) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Tsitsipas has achieved his fourth semifinal in Australia out of the last five years, but he is yet to advance farther.  And he’s only claimed one of 10 sets in his three previous Australian semis, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2019, and Daniil Medvedev in both 2021 and 2022.  Stefanos is now a perfect 9-0 in 2023, and has only dropped one set during this fortnight.

Khachanov is into his second consecutive Major semifinal.  The 26-year-old is vying for his first Slam final, and his first final at any event in over a year.  Karen has dropped two sets through five matches, and has now defeated three straight seeded players (Tiafoe, Nishioka, Korda).

Tsitsipas has dominated their rivalry to date, leading their head-to-head 5-0.  Four of those matches were on hard courts, and three of them were straight-set victories for the Greek.  As per Tennis Abstract, out of the 13 sets they’ve played, Karen has only managed to break seven times, while Stefanos has broken 17 times.  And with plenty of Greek support in the crowd at this event, Tsitsipas is a considerable favorite to reach his second Major final.


Novak Djokovic (4) vs. Tommy Paul – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic has claimed 22 of his last 24 sets in Australian Open semifinals and finals, with the only two sets lost both coming in the 2020 final against Dominic Thiem.  His domination in the last two rounds of this tournament throughout his career is only rivaled by that of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.  Despite the hamstring injury that Novak suffered leading up to this tournament, he has only dropped one set to this stage.  In his last six sets, he’s only allowed his opposition an average of two games per set.

Paul has taken advantage of an open quarter of the draw, in which seven of the eight seeds lost within the first two rounds (Ruud, Fritz, Zverev, Berrettini, Schwartzman, Kecmanovic, Davidovich Fokina).  Yet even as many pointed to Tommy as the favorite to make the semis amidst younger, inexperienced Americans in this quarter (Brooksby, Wolf, Shelton), Paul did not faulter.  The 25-year-old is one of the fastest players on tour, and will debut inside the top 20 on Monday.

In their first career meeting, of course Djokovic is a huge favorite.  Prior to this fortnight, Paul had only once reached the second week of a Major, when he advanced to the fourth round six months ago at Wimbledon.  As per ESPN’s Brad Gilbert, Novak has beefed up his forehand this fortnight, averaging five mph’s more on that wing than a year ago.  And he’s also been serving excellently – Djokovic has only been broken three times in the entire tournament, with all three breaks coming against Grigor Dimitrov.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna vs. Luisa Stefani and Rafael Motos – This is Mirza’s last event before retirement, following a storied doubles career where she has won three Majors in women’s doubles and three Majors in mixed doubles.  Her and Mahesh Bhupathi won this event as a team 14 years ago, the first of Sania’s six Slam titles.  Bopanna won the mixed doubles event at Roland Garros in 2017.  Stefani was a bronze medalist in women’s doubles at the Tokyo Olympics.  This is a first Major final for both her and Motos.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) vs. Marta Kostyuk and Elena-Gabriela Ruse – Krejcikova and Siniakova have won six Majors as a team, three of which came last year, including this tournament.  This is Kostyuk and Ruse’s first event as a team since Roland Garros, where they made the quarterfinals.

Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (10) vs. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (2) – Gauff and Pegula were finalists at Roland Garros last June.  This is Aoyama and Shibahara’s third Major semifinal, but they’re yet to go farther at a Slam.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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