US Open Daily Preview: Friday Provides a Fantastic Order of Play - UBITENNIS
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US Open Daily Preview: Friday Provides a Fantastic Order of Play

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Garbine Muguruza practicing last week in New York (twitter.com/usopen)

In what has been an incredibly busy few months in the tennis world, fans have been spoiled with some truly awesome daily schedules.  But Friday’s lineup is one of the best yet.  The women’s singles matches alone feature seven Major singles champions, with two clashes seeing those champions colliding. 

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

Garbine Muguruza (9) vs. Victoria Azarenka (18) – 12:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

This pair of two-time Slam champs have split four previous meetings.  But their most relevant encounter may be their first one.  Five years ago in Miami, Azarenka took out Muguruza in two consecutive tiebreaks.  The reason for the relevancy is based on geography.  Aside from a title run four years ago in Cincinnati, Garbine is yet to play her best tennis in North America.  She was 7-8 lifetime at the US Open before this fortnight, while Azarenka is now 42-13 at this event.  Vika is a three-time runner-up here, including a year ago, and has won seven WTA 1000 titles on this continent.  Additionally, Muguruza has struggled to rebuild momentum after injury sidetracked her season in the spring.  This should be a great battle with some blistering groundstrokes, but the location makes Azarenka the favorite.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Daria Kasatkina (25) – Third on Grandstand

The prior matchup may lack finesse, but this one surely will not.  Expect a steady helping of dynamic, dramatic rallies, with every part of the court fully utilized.  Svitolina has been consistent yet unspectacular in 2021, reaching eight quarterfinals, but only achieving her first final and title just last week in Chicago.  And most notably, she won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.  Kasatkina’s season has been a bit more up-and-down, but she’s advanced to four finals, winning two of them.  While their roads have been different, both players hold 34 match wins on the year.  But what has not been even is their rivalry.  Svitolina leads 5-0, and has taken 10 of 12 sets played.  That information makes Elina is a definitive favorite to reach the fourth round for her fourth consecutive appearance.

Angelique Kerber (16) vs. Sloane Stephens – Not Before 4:00pm on Louis Armstrong Stadium

Speaking of lopsided head-to-heads, this has been all Sloane.  Except for the first time they played nearly 10 years ago, Stephens has dominated Kerber.  Overall the 2017 champion is 5-1 against the 2016 champion.  Across their last four matches, contested between 2015 and 2018, Angie has managed only 14 games in eight sets.  This week has presented Stephens with a truly brutal draw: first her good friend Madison Keys, then Coco Gauff, and now the three-time Major champion.  Kerber has been on a tear the last few months, claiming 15 of her last 17 matches, with the only two losses coming at the hands of World No.1 Ash Barty.  But she does not enjoy this matchup, and considering how Stephens has been ripping her forehand, Sloane may earn herself another tough draw in the round of 16: Naomi Osaka.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (12) vs. Robert Bautista Agut (18) – 7:00pm on Louis Armstrong Stadium

Two years ago in the round robin stage of the revamped Davis Cup in Spain, Bautista Agut defeated Auger-Aliassime in straight sets.  Last October in Cologne, the Canadian avenged that loss in three sets.  This will be the rubber match.  The Spaniard is certainly the more proven commodity in best-of-five, but Roberto hasn’t played his best this season.  Bautista Agut hasn’t advanced to a final in nearly six months, and is just 6-3 at Slams.  Felix broke through to his first Major quarterfinal at Wimbledon, taking out Sascha Zverev in five.  His subsequent loss to friend Matteo Berrettini in that quarterfinal was the start of a 1-4 run for the 21-year-old, yet he earned two impressive victories in Cincinnati, over Berrettini and Olympic silver medalist Karen Khachanov.  Bautista Agut has been completely unchallenged through two rounds, but he has not advanced beyond the third round here since 2015.  This feels like Felix’s moment to shine, especially with Toni Nadal in New York and a part of his team.

Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Last on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Earlier this year in Miami, Tiafoe made himself the late night delight, thrilling crowds with consecutive comeback victories during the evening sessions.  Frances will again play under the lights on Friday, against one of the ATP’s best performers of the last two years.  Rublev is coming off his second Masters 1000 final of the season, and has reached the second week of this event three out of the last four years.  This will be the first time Rublev and Tiafoe play, and Frances sounds ready for it.  After his victory on Wednesday, when told who his next opponent would be, the American proclaimed, “That’s what I want, I want him bad.”  A motivated Frances is quite dangerous, but Miami is the only tour-level event this year where Tiafoe has won three matches.  Winning his third match of this fortnight against the fifth-seed is a tall task, though he should make this a highly-entertaining affair regardless of the result.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Simona Halep (12) vs. Elena Rybakina (19) – Last year in Dubai, they had an epic encounter, with Halep prevailing in a third set tiebreak.

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Pablo Andujar – 35-year-old Andujar has attained some good results this season, including victories over Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem.  But taking out Medvedev on a hard court would be his most impressive upset yet.

Barbora Krejcikova (8) vs. Kamilla Rakhimova (LL) – Krejcikova continues to be red-hot, allowing her competition only eight games through four sets this week.  Rakhimova is an 18-year-old Russian who took Johanna Konta’s place in the draw as a lucky loser, and has taken full advantage of the opportunity.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Carlos Alcaraz – Much has been said regarding Tsitsipas time spent off the court this week, but he’s refused to let that distract from his tennis.  Alcaraz is an extremely promising 18-year-old who won his first ATP title this summer in Umag. 

Elise Mertens (15) vs. Ons Jabeur (20) – Mertens saved six match points in her opening round to stay alive in the draw, and immediately burst into tears upon victory.  Jabeur has 39 wins this year, and dropped just one game in the last round.

Naomi Osaka (3) vs. Leylah Fernandez – Osaka received a walkover on Wednesday, so it will be interesting to see how that impacts her form, as she’s short on matches this summer.  Fernandez is an 18-year-old Canadian who won Monterrey back in March.

Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Danielle Collins (26) – This will be another slugfest, or will it be?  Sabalenka took a hard fall on Wednesday, and Rennae Stubbs reported Aryna’s playing hand was severely bruised.  If they do play, Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 2-0, which includes a three-set win three years ago in New York.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Andy Murray Makes Retirement Hint After 500th Hard Court Win In Dubai

Andy Murray won his 500th hard court match in Dubai, placing him fifth on the all-time list.

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Andy Murray further hinted at retirement after securing a 500th hard court win of his career in Dubai.

The former world number one picked up his second win of the year with a 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over Denis Shapovalov.

In typical Andy Murray fashion, the Brit came back from a set down to defeat the out-of-sorts Canadian as he progressed to the second round.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUVj537F-wQ

The win means Murray now has 500 career wins on a hard court and that is an achievement the world number 67 is proud of, “It’s not bad,” Murray told the ATP website as he sits fifth on the all-time list of hard court wins.

“Obviously hard court has been a great surface for me over the years and 500 is a lot of matches so I’m very proud of that. There are not many players that have done that, so great to get to 500 before I’m done.”

However those post-match comments weren’t the most shocking ones as Murray once again hinted at retirement this season.

The Brit has made subtle remarks that this year may be his last one but Murray’s comments today suggests that he may have already made his decision, “I probably don’t have too long left but I’ll do as best as I can these last few months,” Murray was quoted by ESPN as saying.

“I still love competing and still love the game but it gets harder and harder to compete the older you get, to keep your body fit and fresh.”

If the end is near for Murray than the Brit will look to end his career on a high for the next few months.

Before thinking about retirement Murray will look to go further in Dubai when he takes on either Ugo Humbert or Gael Monfils in the second round.

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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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