US Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Kei Nishikori in a 2014 Semifinal Rematch - UBITENNIS
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US Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Kei Nishikori in a 2014 Semifinal Rematch

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Novak Djokovic on Thursday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium (twitter.com/usopen)

Seven years ago, on an extremely hot and humid day in New York, Kei Nishikori upset Novak Djokovic in four sets, preventing Novak from reaching the final.  If not for that surprising defeat, perhaps Djokovic would already have 21 Majors.  At the time, that victory brought Kei’s record against Novak to 2-1.  Today, it stands at 17-2 Djokovic.  Novak has brought pain and misery upon Kei ever since that match.  Can Nishikori turn this rivalry around?

Saturday afternoon also sees a young Italian sensation, Jannik Sinner, facing a resurgent crowd favorite, Gael Monfils.  In addition, there are several big WTA matchups, featuring Major champions like Petra Kvitova and Iga Swiatek.  The evening session will include World No.1 Ash Barty, as well as Olympic gold medalist Sascha Zverev.

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

Petra Kvitova (10) vs. Maria Sakkari (17) – 12:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

This will be their sixth meeting since March of 2019, with Kvitova leading 3-2.  In their only match this year, on clay in Stuttgart, Sakkari prevailed in three sets.  These players have almost identical records on the season: Sakkari is 28-14, while Kvitova is 26-14.  The Greek was playing excellently until her Roland Garros heartbreak, where she lost in the semifinals despite holding a match point over eventual winner Barbora Krejcikova.  Since leaving Paris, she’s only 7-4.  Kvitova won the title in Doha six months ago, but has only reached one semifinal since.  Neither woman has a dropped a set through two rounds.  There is not much to separate these two, except the conditions.  The fast courts and cooler temperatures are exactly what Kvitova prefers, and it feels like she’s due for a good result at a Major.

Belinda Bencic (11) vs. Jessica Pegula (23) – Second on Louis Armstrong Stadium

This is a rematch from the opening round of the Tokyo Olympics, which of course Bencic won, on her way to the gold medal.  That match started an 11-1 streak for Belinda, who has described still getting great joy from, and not quite believing, she’s a gold medalist.  That has seemed to release a lot of stress from her game.  Pegula is having the season of her life, with the help of Venus Williams’ longtime coach David Witt.  The American has 31 wins in 2021, and recently advanced to the semifinals in Montreal.  But based on their recent matchup, and Belinda’s current confidence level, Belinda is the favorite.

Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Anett Kontaveit (28) – Second on Grandstand

Swiatek’s recovery in the second round was most impressive.  After going down a set and a break to Fiona Ferro, Iga knelt by her chair and started crying.  The emotional release seemed to help her relax, as she fought her way back to take the second set in a tiebreak, before running away with the third 6-0.  But this is going to be another tough test for last year’s French Open champion, as Kontaveit is 7-0 since teaming up with Dmitry Tursunov.  Kontaveit won the title last week in Cleveland, and has only allowed opponents eight games through four sets this week.  When Anett’s groundstrokes are on, she can rack up a lot of winners.  With Swiatek only 3-2 on hard courts this summer, and with Kontaveit claiming their two prior hard court encounters, this match has the potential for an upset.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Kei Nishikori – Not Before 1:30pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

To answer the question from earlier, it seems highly unlikely Nishikori is ready to turn this rivalry around.  He has now lost 16 consecutive matches to the World No.1, and has won only two of their last 22 sets.  And while Djokovic is coming off a straight-set victory on Thursday, Kei required five sets to overcome Mackie McDonald in an exhausting battle.  Without the weapons required to challenge Novak, this would seem to be another straightforward win for Djokovic, who only needs five more to complete the Grand Slam.

Jannik Sinner (13) vs. Gael Monfils (17) – Third on Louis Armstrong Stadium

Prior to the pandemic, Monfils was on fire.  In February of 2020, he won consecutive titles, and then reached the semifinals of Dubai.  But following the pandemic restart a year ago, he went on a seven-match losing streak, and lost 14 of 17 matches overall.  That changed last month in Toronto, as Monfils has now won back-to-back matches at three consecutive events.  When asked why he has started winning again, Gael explained there is only one reason: the crowd.  This is a player who loves to entertain, and suffered from the lack of an audience for much of the past year.  During that same span where Monfils struggled, Sinner thrived, winning his first three ATP titles, including one earlier this summer in Washington.  The 20-year-old is now 32-16 on the year.  They’ve played twice, with both matches coming in consecutive weeks during October of 2019, and with each prevailing once.  In front of what will be a packed, midday crowd on Louis Armstrong, I suspect the Frenchman will be fully motivated, and use all his speed, power, and sizzle to propel himself to victory.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Bianca Andreescu (6) vs. Greet Minnen (LL) – The 2019 champion remains undefeated at this tournament.  Minnen is a 24-year-old from Belgium who lost in the last round of qualifying, but replaced Jelena Ostapenko in the draw.

Matteo Berrettini (6) vs. Ilya Ivashka – Berrettini arrived in New York still hampered by the leg injury he suffered at Wimbledon, yet is appearing healthier match-by-match.  Ivashka is a 27-year-old from Belarus having the best season of his career, and won his first ATP title last week in Winston-Salem.  Ilya has now won eight matches in a row.  However, in the round of 16 at this year’s Wimbledon, Matteo beat him in straight sets.

Sara Sorribes Tormo vs. Emma Raducanu (Q) – 18-year-old Raducanu is looking to reach the fourth round at her second consecutive Major, in what is also her second career appearance at a Major.  Sorribes Tormo has already defeated two tricky opponents in Karolina Muchova and Su-Wei Hsieh without dropping a set.

Ash Barty (1) vs, Shelby Rogers – The American was a quarterfinalist here a year ago.  However, she is 0-5 against Barty, with four of those losses coming this year.

Sascha Zverev (4) vs. Jack Sock (WC) – The 28-year-old American was ranked 389th in the world a year ago, but is showing signs of his previous form, especially in a five-set win on Thursday over Alexander Bublik.  He’s 1-2 against Zverev, who is on a 13-match win streak, and has soundly defeated his two opponents this week.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

Grand Slam

Australian Open Considering Switching Women’s Final To Sunday In Future

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The Australian Open could become the first Grand Slam to break away from the tradition of women playing their singles final first. 

According to a report from the Australian Associated Press, tournament chief Craig Tiley is open to making such a move which wouldn’t require any approval from either the WTA or ATP. However, they would likely need to consult with players first and no changes are set to be made in 2025. 

The reasoning for making such a change is due to the women’s final usually being shorter than the men’s best with it being a best-of-three set match. Compared to the men who play the best-of-five. Their thinking is that due to the length of men’s matches increasing in recent years, staging it on a Saturday would enable more people to watch the entire match compred to a Sunday when many are consious about staying up late due to the working week starting on Monday. 

This year’s Australian Open saw Jannik Sinner bounce back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a epic encounter that lasted three hours and 46 minuites. Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka required an hour and 17 mnuites to beat China’s Qinwen Zheng and capture the title. 

Should such a switch take place, it is estimated that the Sunday finale would end at around 10:30pm local time instead of after midnight, which would make it more appealing to fans. Furthermore, it could throw the women’s final more into the spotlight. 

However, there will be obstacles that need to be addressed. The most significant for the Australian Open will be trying to ensure that their 48-hour recovery period between best-of-five-set men’s matches will still be followed. 

This year was the first time in history that the Melbourne major took place over 15 days with play starting on a Sunday. Organisers claimed that the move was done in order to prevent the number of late-night finishes. However, it has little effect on any matches that took place after the first round. 

It is throught that now the event is held over 15 days, it gives more room for organisers to schedule the men’s final for a Saturday. The proposal was discussed during this year’s Australian Open’s official debrief. 

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Grand Slam

It Wasn’t The Same Old Story On Sunday Down Under

Jannik Sinner won his first Grand Slam title on Sunday.

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(@janniksin - Twitter)

It’s been the same old story at the Australian Open for a long time in the men’s game.

One of the greats almost always would take the top prize Down Under. Either Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or even Stan Wawrinka always prevailed since 2006 at Melbourne.

And then came Jannik Sinner in 2024.

None of the other superstars were still around for Sunday’s final.

A DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Yes, this time it was a different Australian Open.

But actually Sinner may have written his own story when he upended Djokovic in the semifinals. Without that experience, the slender Italian may not have been able to handle the pressure that Daniil Medvedev sent his way in the final.

Sinner was ready for the finish line after shocking Djokovic in the semifinals. It just took time to get there.

Sinner played within himself most of the last three sets of the final. A first-time Grand Slam finalist, Sinner played as if he belonged there in those three sets.

But, oh, those first two sets when Medvedev dominated play with his backhand from the middle of the court. Backhands usually are reserved for the backhand side of the court, but not with the tall Russian on the court.

SINNER DIDN’T PLAY HIS GAME AT FIRST

In a similar manner as women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka, Sinner followed up a big semifinal win with his own Australian Open title. Only, Sinner had to fight for five sets to accomplish his dream Down Under with a 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Medvedev.

Sinner appeared to play far differently from his victory over Djokovic when he controlled the court with his aggressive play and power.

This time, Sinner started things conservatively with few aggressive winners, repeatedly leaving the corners wide open for Medvedev’s crafty, but hard hit strokes. Medvedev made Sinner  pay a price with a style of play that was just the opposite.

Medvedev played close to the baseline and aggressively hopped on balls with his backhand in whip-lash fashion. He hardly had to move as he conserved energy.

THE STRATEGY ALMOST WORKED TO PERFECTION

Medvedev’s strategy worked like a charm until Sinner served the ninth game of the third set as Medvedev once needed only six points for a possible Grand Slam title. Sinner managed to overcome a deuce score to win that game.

Medvedev fell behind 30-0 serving the 10th game of the set and then Sinner got his first set point. Sinner made it stand up and it was a new game after that.

Sinner didn’t appear to be ready for Medvedev’s game the first two sets, but the Italian then came alive. He became prepared for Medvedev, even after losing the first two sets.

Of course, Sabalenka got her boost from a surprising, but solid win over talented Coco Graff in the women’s semifinals. Sabalenka then was never really challenged by Qinwen Zheng in the final.

Sinner’s final was much different.  He was somewhat lucky to escape with  a win.

Medvedev almost wrapped up the title in the ninth game, but it didn’t happen. As a result, Sinner may have started his own success story in Grand Slam finals.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Daniil Medvedev Plays Jannik Sinner for the Men’s Singles Championship

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Daniil Medvedev during Friday’s semifinals (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

The men’s singles and women’s doubles championship matches are on Sunday in Melbourne.

Across the last 10 hard court Majors, Daniil Medvedev has now advanced to six championship matches, half of which have come in Melbourne.  In those finals, Medvedev is a meek 1-4.  However, this is the first time Medvedev is looking across the net at a man not named Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, the two winningest male singles players of all-time at Grand Slam events.

And Medvedev can thank Jannik Sinner for that, who for the third time in their last four meetings, defeated Djokovic in Friday’s semifinals to reach his first Major final.  Since adding Darren Cahill to his team 18 months ago, one of tennis’s best coaches of all-time, Sinner’s game has continually and significantly improved, most evident in his three victories over Djokovic since November.  On Sunday, the most dominant male player of this fortnight looks to break more new ground in his young career.

Earlier on Sunday, in the women’s doubles championship match, it’s Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko (11) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2).  This is a first Major final for Kichenok, and a first in doubles for Ostapenko.  Su-Wei has won seven Majors in doubles, including her first mixed title earlier this week, and is 7-1 at this stage of Majors.  Mertens has won three Majors in women’s doubles, including Wimbledon in 2021 alongside Su-Wei.


Jannik Sinner (4) vs. Daniil Medvedev (3) – Not Before 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Through six rounds, Sinner has dropped just one of 19 sets, which came against Djokovic in the semis.  But even that match was a rather comfortable win for the Italian, who lost only six games in the three sets he claimed.  Jannik has not just been the best ATP player this fortnight: he’s been the best ATP player since the last Major, with a record of 26-2.  The 22-year-old is 10-4 in ATP finals, with this of course being by far the biggest of his career to date.

Medvedev endured a much more complicated path to this final, completing 25 out of a possible 30 sets, which included three five-setters.  Two of those came in the last two rounds, against Hubert Hurkacz and Sascha Zverev.  Daniil has spent six more hours on court than Jannik, and has played for over 11 hours during the second week alone.  He is 20-16 in ATP Finals, with all 20 titles coming at different events.  But Medvedev can be rather streaky in finals: after losing five in a row, he won seven of eight, yet has now lost his last three.

And those last two losses came at the hands of Sinner, who beat him in both Beijing and Vienna.  Jannik also defeated Daniil in the semifinals of the ATP Finals in November, though all three of those recent matches were tight.  Prior to that, Medvedev had dominated their head-to-head 6-0, which includes two finals earlier in 2023.  All ten of their meetings have taken place on hard courts, and this is their first at a Major.

Based on their recent history, as well as their individual form this fortnight, I favor Sinner to win his first Major on Sunday.  While he’ll surely be nervous in the biggest match of his life, and could experience an emotional letdown coming off ending Novak’s undefeated record of 20-0 in Australian Open semis and finals, Jannik will be the much fresher player on this day.  Plus, he will feel confident after those three recent wins over Daniil, who has a lot of scar tissue to overcome in Major finals.  And after facing Medvedev so much within the past year, Sinner is well-versed on how to take advantage of Daniil’s deep return position.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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