US Open Daily Preview: Can Teenagers Leylah Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz Extend Their Thrilling Runs? - UBITENNIS
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US Open Daily Preview: Can Teenagers Leylah Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz Extend Their Thrilling Runs?

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Leylah Fernandez on Sunday after defeating Angelique Kerber (twitter.com/usopen)

Leylah Fernandez and Carlos Alcaraz are two of three teenagers to reach the US Open quarterfinals, along with Emma Raducanu, who will play on Wednesday.  It was only two years ago when a then-19-year-old Bianca Andreescu won this title.  Will another teenager become champion this week in New York?

 

Fernandez and Alcaraz have two well-established stars standing in their way: Elina Svitolina and Felix Auger-Aliassime.  They are joined on Tuesday’s schedule by another improbable quarterfinalist, qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp, who will face 2019 runner-up Daniil Medvedev.  And the day’s most blockbuster matchup sees two top 10 seeds square off, in Aryna Sabalenka and Barbora Krejickova.

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Botic Van de Zandschulp (Q) – 12:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

What an effort by the 25-year-old Dutchman, ranked 117th in the world, to advance to the quarterfinals.  Botic dropped the first set in each of his three qualifying matches, as well as his first three matches in the main draw.  He’s taken out two top 15 players in Casper Ruud and Diego Schwartzman, the two best wins of his career.  But what could be possibly have left after 18 sets played across four main draw matches, and 27 sets played over the last 13 days?  Meanwhile, Daniil Medvedev has been purely dominant through four rounds, dropping only 32 games through 12 sets.  This should be a straightforward victory for the World No.2, who is looking to advance to the US Open semifinals for the third straight year.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Leylah Fernandez – Second on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Can Leylah Fernandez upset a third consecutive top player?  Her shocking wins over Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, each after losing the first set, exhilarated the New York crowd.  The Canadian will be the underdog again on Tuesday, and will certainly have the audience behind her.  If she can maintain her level from the last two sets of her last two matches, while taking balls early and using her lefty-ness to create sharp angles, she has a legitimate shot of becoming a semifinalist.  However, Svitolina is yet to drop a set this fortnight, and is playing with supreme confidence coming off her Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo.  She’s also on a nine-match winning streak, dating back to her title run two weeks ago in Chicago.  Svitolina claimed their only previous meeting in straight sets, last year in Monterrey, which incidentally is the event where Fernandez won her first WTA title this year.  Elina’s speed around the court will counteract some of Leylah’s offense, and her experience should prove to be a crucial asset.  Svitolina was a semifinalist in her last appearance here two years ago, and I like her chances to repeat that feat.

Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Barbora Krejcikova (8) – 7:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

The biggest question in this match could be the condition of Krejcikova.  At 6-5 in the second set of the last round against Garbine Muguruza, Barbora took an extended medical timeout off court, later describing that she couldn’t breathe and felt dizzy.  Once returning to court, Krejcikova would close out the match in a second set tiebreak, much to the chagrin of Muguruza and her team, who were not happy about the long break, or the time Barbora was taking between points.  If the French Open singles and doubles champion is fully recovered, she’s the favorite on this day.  Krejcikova has now won 29 of her last 32 matches, and is another player who has not dropped a set thus far.  Notably, Sabalenka did take their only prior meeting in three sets, last fall in Linz.  But Barbora is a completely different player now, with few holes in her game, and more variety than Aryna. 

Felix Auger-Aliassime (12) vs. Carlos Alcaraz – Last on Arthur Ashe Stadium

This is the only singles quarterfinal of the day where neither player has previously reached a Major semifinal.  Auger-Aliassime was one match away from doing so at Wimbledon, but lost in four sets to eventual runner-up Matteo Berrettini.  Alcaraz only debuted at the Grand Slam level this year, and is now the youngest men’s singles quarterfinalist of the Open Era, and the youngest man into the quarters of any Major since Michael Chang at 1990’s French Open.  These two men both find inspiration in the Nadal family.  Carlos idolizes Rafa, while Felix is currently coached by Rafa’s uncle and longtime coach, Toni.  Felix’s considerable edge in experience, as well as his superior serve, should enable him to achieve his first Major semifinal.  However, this is another case where the crowd will be firmly cheering on the teenager, and Carlos has embraced that energy and used it to propel himself to victory.  Alcaraz plays with a level of belief rarely found in players his age, while Auger-Aliassime has been known to tighten up under pressure.  But the Canadian has displayed impressive composure in recent wins over Sascha Zverev and Frances Tiafoe, and I think he’s ready to take his career another step forward.

Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Opportunities Abound in the Bottom Halves of the Draws

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Felix Auger-Alisassime earlier this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

In the bottom half of the women’s singles draw, only nine of the 16 seeded players have survived the first two rounds.  And of the players remaining, only two have won a Major (Halep, Swiatek).  In the bottom half of the men’s draw, 10 seeds remain, and again only two Slam champs (Medvedev, Cilic).  There is plenty of room for new names to make extended runs into the second week of this Major.

 

Each day, this preview will highlight the most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Marketa Vondrousova (31) – Second on Margaret Court Arena

It would usually sound ridiculous to say it’s quite shocking to see the second seed reach the third round, but that’s the case with Sabalenka, who has persevered despite the embarrassing service issues she’s currently enduring.  However, Vondrousova will be a considerable step up in competition, as Aryna’s first two opponents were ranked 100th or lower.  And Marketa arrives with a lot of confidence.  The 2019 Roland Garros runner-up was the Olympic Silver Medalist six months ago in Tokyo, and followed that up by achieving three semifinals between September and October.  She’s yet to drop a set this week, which includes a victory over one of the WTA’ fastest rising players, Ludmilla Samsonova.  While Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 2-1, which includes a straightforward win last March in Miami, that was well before her serving woes.  Through four matches in 2022, Aryna has averaged nearly 18 double faults per match.  If that continues on Saturday, Vondrousova will surely take advantage and advance.


Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Dan Evans (24) – Not Before 5:00pm on John Cain Arena

This is a rematch of the championship match from a warm-up event on these same grounds a year ago.  On that day, both men were vying for their first ATP title.  Evans met the moment, comfortably winning 6-2, 6-3.  For Auger-Aliassime, that’s one of eight finals he’s reached in his career, and he’s yet to even win a set.  However, Felix is the much more accomplished player at Majors, having achieved his first quarterfinal in July at Wimbledon, and his first semifinal in September at the US Open.  Dan is yet to advance that far at a Slam.  The Canadian has complicated matters for himself this week, playing two grueling matches, averaging four hours on court each day.  By contrast, Evans received a walkover in the last round, and spent less than two hours winning his opening round in straights.  Despite all that, I expect Felix to recover fairly well, and be able to dictate play against the British No.2. 


Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Daria Kasatkina (25) – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena

This should be a compelling matchup between two aggressive players with plenty of variety and high tennis IQ’s.  And they are both in excellent form.  They have combined to allow their opponents only 16 games through eight sets thus far.  And both accumulated some solid wins heading into this event: Swiatek defeated Leylah Fernandez and Victoria Azarenka, while Kasatkina beat Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza.  Their only previous meeting occurred last June on the grass of Eastbourne, with Kasatkina prevailing in three.  That was part of a resurgent season for the 24-year-old Russian, who started the year ranked 72nd, but ended it ranked 26th.  Yet Daria has not advanced beyond this round of a Major since Wimbledon 2018, while Iga was the only WTA player to reach the fourth round at every Slam last year.  And when Swiatek starts dominating as she has this week, it’s extremely challenging to deter her.


Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Marin Cilic (27) – Last on Margaret Court Arena

After competing in an exhibition event last month in Abu Dhabi, Rublev was one of many players to test positive for COVID-19.  After quarantining and recovering, he has described how physically spent he was after practicing in the days leading up to this fortnight.  But he has been dominant through two rounds, dropping only 13 games across six sets.  And the Russian has recently owned his rivalry with Cilic.  While Marin claimed their first meeting, which was seven years ago on clay while Andrey was ranked outside the top 200, Rublev has taken the last four.  All of them have been on hard courts, and three of them were decided in straight sets.  However, since last June, Cilic has been playing his best tennis in years.  He won Stuttgart, and reached back-to-back finals in Russia.  I expect the 2014 US Open champion to make this a highly competitive affair, yet Rublev’s fire power should enable him to prevail.  On what is forecast be another scorching day in Melbourne, his groundstrokes will be even more punishing.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Benoit Paire – Tsitsipas overcame an impressive challenge from Sebastian Baez on Thursday night, while Paire upset Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the day.  The Greek is 3-1 against the Frenchman, and has only lost seven games in their last five sets.

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp – This is a rematch from the US Open quarterfinals, where Medvedev downed the Dutch qualifier in four.  Medvedev was not pleased with how certain members of the Aussie crowd treated him on Thursday while facing Nick Kyrgios, and I’m curious to see if they continue to bother him on Saturday.

Simona Halep (14) vs. Danka Kovinic – Halep’s set scores thus far have been 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, and 6-0.  The 2018 finalist is looking fully healthy after injuries sidetracked her last season.  Kovinic upset another Major champion, Emma Raducanu, on Thursday. 

Roberto Bautista Agut (15) vs. Taylor Fritz (20) – Bautista Agut lost only four games in the second round.  Fritz is yet to lose a set, and soundly defeated fellow American Frances Tiafoe on Thursday.  Roberto is 5-1 against Taylor, and has claimed their last three encounters in straight sets.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: Italy’s Matteo Berrettini edges past talented Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in five sets

Matteo Berrettini outlasted Carlos Alcaraz to reach the Australian Open second week.

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Matteo Berrettini (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Number seven seed Matteo Berrettini defied the bookies to beat Spain’s rising star Carlos Alcaraz at the Australian Open.

 

Rod Laver Arena was treated to a stunning five sets of tennis as Berrettini came through 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (10-5).

After 4 hours and 10 minutes, the Italian goes on to face Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in round four.

A sublime lob from Alcaraz at 2-1 up in the first set, showcased exactly what Berrettini would be up against.

This was arguably more of a fourth-round or quarter final match-up, considering the high calibre of both players.

But at 2-2, last year’s Wimbledon finalist turned the screw and broke the El Palmar native gobbled up his first break point and consolidated the break to move 4-2 up.

Berrettini was flying as he snatched the double break, winning five consecutive games to tie up the first set 6-2.

The Spanish number four (behind Rafa Nadal, Roberto Bautista Agut and Carreno Busta) began the second set nervously as he was clinically broken by the 25-year-old Italian.

Berrettini soon forged a 4-2 lead but was pegged back by the Spaniard who won three consecutive games to move 5-4 up.

Both players served impeccably taking the second set to a tie-break where Berrettini produced one of the shots of the match at 3-1 up, a thundering backhand winner down the line, leaving Alcaraz stranded.

Four set points down Alcaraz ripped a stunning forehand winner but it wasn’t enough as Berrettini nicked the set 7-3.

All of a sudden, momentum shifted in the third set as Alcaraz produced some sublime tennis, breaking in game nine and taking the third set 6-4.

At 2-1 down, it was Alcaraz’s turn to win five successive games as he secured the double break, with the wind in his sails, he had stormed back from two sets down to level the match.

The fifth and final set went on serve, but the world number seven had just enough in the tank to win the super tie-break 10-5, and see off the sleeveless Nadal protégé in a thriller.

After the match, Berrettini was full of praise for the 18-year-old.

“Unbelievable, when I was 18, I didn’t even have my first ATP point. He’s impressive and can only improve playing matches like this,” he said.

“He’s shown everybody his potential, so congrats to him.”

Legends of the sport Mats Wilander, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and Eurosport commentator Alex Corretja predicted big things from the Spanish prodigy.

Wilander said: “He’s unbelievable in pretty much every department. Physically he’s so strong already. He’s so fast on the court.

“Emotionally he’s as excited as Rafael Nadal, and I really think this kid is going to be number one in the world because he won’t stop until he’s at the top of his game.”

Corretja added: “Alcaraz is showing you can be young, but you can be brave. You can show the world you can be humble but at the same time you can be ambitious,” he said.

“He works crazy to become the best in the world, and as Mats said, he wants to be the number one in the world, and I honestly believe he will achieve it. He will win Majors.”

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Home hope Ash Barty stays on course to win the Australian Open

Ash Barty has cruised into the second week at the Australian Open without dropping a set.

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Ash Barty (@TennisAustralia - Twitter)

World number one Ash Barty comfortably confirmed her place in week two of the Australian Open beating Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3.

 

In recent seasons, Barty had been weighted down by expectations on her home territory.

This was far from the case against Giorgi as Barty snuffed out any chance of an upset with a near fault-less performance.

Both players came out striking the ball well, but it was the top seed that broke first racing into a 2-0 lead.

Giorgi was landing some stunning groundstrokes, but this was not enough to stop Barty, who broke again at the end of the first set to clinch it 6-2.

The Australian held to love at the beginning of the second set as the Italian looked to find a way back into the match.

Barty began to find her groove and moved her opponent around the court with some sublime shot making.

The Italian kept things interesting but was eventually broken as the top seed took a 4-2 lead.

With the crowd behind her, Barty continued to hold serve, engineering three match points, but she only needed one.

After the match, Barty chatted to former champion Jim Courier and had this to say.

“Yeah, I thought tonight was really clean. I thought I looked after my service games really well. I did well to come out of a really tricky one at love-40 down. Overall, a pretty good performance I think,” she said.

The home favourite also praised Giorgi’s performance.

“Yeah, I thought I was out of my weight class, that’s for sure. The way she hits the ball and can control the centre of the court is incredible.

“It was my job to get her off that baseline, whether it was short, or it was deep, or it was out of her strike zone.

“It’s tough when you’re up against the wind but I think I was able to use my slice effectively,” she said.

A much tougher test awaits the Aussie in American star Amanda Anisimova, as the 20-year-old stunned four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka in three sets.

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