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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Perspective And Fatigue: The Two Sides Of Iga Swiatek’s Dubai Defeat

Iga Swiatek spoke about perspective and fatigue after her semi-final exit in Dubai.

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Iga Swiatek showed two sides to her defeat in Dubai as the world number one surprisingly failed to win the title despite being the favourite in the semi-finals.

Heading into her semi-final in Dubai, Swiatek was heavy favourite to win her second consecutive WTA title after claiming the title in Doha the week before.

However Swiatek was unsuccessful in her bid to reach the final as she lost to Anna Kalinskaya 6-4 6-4.

It was a bitterly disappointing defeat for Swiatek who missed a golden opportunity to establish even more dominance ahead of Indian Wells.

As all champions do Swiatek offered perspective to her defeat as she looks ahead to the rest of the season, “I mean, I’m angry but on the other hand, there aren’t many players that actually survive these kinds of tournaments so I just kind of have to let it go and accept it,” Swiatek was quoted by Tennis Majors.

There was not only perspective offered but also fatigue as expectations and pressure can force simple mistakes from the best players in the world.

The world number one acknowledged Kalinskaya’s performance but did admit her own performance contributed to the defeat, “Today I would say, I mean she [Kalinskaya] played well and for sure she deserves to be in the final, but I feel like it was more about me and my level,” Swiatek told Tennis Majors.

“I wanted to be focused on myself and I wasn’t really able to implement any tactics that I had. Usually, when I tell myself what to do, I can improve my game but today I was so out of power and tired that I just couldn’t. Day by day, it was a little bit worse.”

Swiatek will hope to re-energize herself ahead of the sunshine double in America.

Last year Swiatek lost to eventual champion Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals at Indian Wells before withdrawing from Miami.

The Pole will look to improve last year’s performance when she plays Indian Wells, which starts on the 6th of March.

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‘Speechless’ Mensik Reaches Maiden ATP Final In Doha

Jakub Mensik is into his first ATP final in Doha.

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Jakub Mensik admitted he was left speechless after reaching his first ATP final in Doha.

The 18 year-old continued his remarkable week with a 6-4 1-6 6-3 semi-final victory over Gael Monfils.

The Czech Republican produced clinical tennis as he beat the 2018 champion to reach his maiden ATP final.

After the match Mensik admitted he was left ‘speechless’ and spoke about the influence Monfils had on his career, “It is amazing. Hopefully not the last one [final]. Incredible week so far,” Mensik told the ATP website.

“Today again with Gael, he played unbelievable. I know it is tough to play against him, especially with his good movement. For me every point I have to play my best game.

“I have to say this performance was one of the best in my entire life. I am so glad I reached this level in the semis, so hopefully tomorrow I play like this. An amazing feeling with my first ATP final. I am speechless.

“I told him when I was young I watched him a lot on the TV. One of the biggest showman on court. He is a great guy, so hopefully in the future we will meet once again. The rallies were so fun with him.”

Mensik has so far beaten three former champions this week as he also defeated Andy Murray and Andrey Rublev this week.

Now Mensik will aim to win his first ATP title as he takes on Karen Khachanov in Saturday’s final.

Should Mensik win the title he could climb to 75 in the world as he started the week at 116 in the world.

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Acapulco Faces Safety Issues Ahead Of ATP 500 Tournament

Acapulco faces safety and infrastructure issues before the ATP 500 tournament next week.

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Acapulco has faced safety concerns ahead of the tournament as players have been advised to stay in the tournament hotels or tennis venues.

As exclusively revealed by James Gray of the i newspaper, Acapulco is facing security and infrastructure concerns ahead of the tournament.

ATP players have reportedly been told in an email to stay confined to the tournament hotels and the tennis venue as crime rates have increased in the city.

Organisers in Mexico have reassured people that players will be able to train safely with the following statement, “The Arena GNP, venue for the Mexican Open of Tennis, and the host hotel are currently operational to carry out the tournament,” the tournament organisers told the i newspaper.

“Since Tuesday, we have been receiving players in Acapulco, and they have already had the opportunity to train at the venue.”

However there are still infrastructural problems including lack of flights to Acapulco as well as other safety concerns which have been affected by Hurricane Otis.

Despite the problems the ATP seem confident that the event will be safe and secure ahead of the ATP 500 event, “It is not uncommon for players to receive security advisories from ATP as a precautionary measure across more than 250 Tour and Challenger Tour events each season,” A spokesperson told the i newspaper.

“The advisory sent for Acapulco factors in the additional complexity of Hurricane Otis’ disruption. There have been major efforts and investment to restore the Acapulco venue in recent months.”

The ATP 500 event in Acapulco will take place next week with Alex De Minaur being the defending champion.

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