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

REPORT: French Open Qualifying Match Under Investigation Over Irregular Betting Patterns

An unusual number of bets were placed on the match in three different countries.

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A first round match at this week’s French Open qualifying tournament is being looked into after an abnormally high number of bets was placed, according to a leading French newspaper.

 

L’Equipe have cited police sources saying that the clash between eighth seed Bernabé Zapata Miralles and Dudi Sela has flagged up irregular patterns. Miralles defeated his Israeli rival 6-3, 6-0, in less than an hour. It is understood that the focus of the investigation is on the second set which lasted less than 20 minutes. A total of 32 points was placed in that set with Sela only winning seven of those.

According to the source, an unusually high number of bets were placed on the match in three different countries – Cyprus, Ukraine and Armenia. Prompting judicial authorities to look into the possibility that the match could have been fixed but at present no formal investigation has been confirmed.

“There is no business,” the French Tennis Federation (FFT) was quoted by Le Parisien as saying on the matter.

37-year-old Sela is currently ranked outside the world’s top 400 but managed to get into the qualifying draw with the use of a protected ranking. He has only played in two singles tournaments so far this season with the other being at the Australian Open where he also lost in the first round of qualifying.

Sela confirmed in January that 2022 would be his last as a professional. A former top 30 player, he has reached the final of two ATP events in China (2008) and Atlanta (2014). He also reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2009 and has beaten three top 10 players during his career.

Meanwhile, Miralles sealed his place in the French Open main draw on Thursday after coming from a set down to beat Luca Nardi 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that either player has been involved in match-fixing. According to statistics from L’Equipe, there has been a 177% increase in online bets concerning the French Open over a five-year period to 128M euros in 2021.

This year players who lose in the first round of qualifying at the French Open will earn €14,000, which is a 40% increase on 2021.

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‘Time To Accept The Situation And Fight’ – Rafael Nadal Targets French Open Despite Foot Concern

After recently returning to the Tour following a rib injury, a flare up of another issue threatens to spoil Nadal’s Paris dreams.

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Image via Roberto Dell’Olivo

Just over a week before the start of the French Open Rafael Nadal once again finds himself nursing a long-term condition that sidelined him from the Tour for months last year.

 

The 21-time Grand Slam champion looked to be in visible discomfort during parts of his clash with Denis Shapovalov in the third round of the Italian Masters on Thursday. After clinching the opening set, Nadal fell 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, to the Canadian who registered his first-ever win over a top 10 player on clay and his 10th overall. He now faces a race against time to be ready for the French Open which he has won a record 13 times.

“I am not injured. I am a player living with an injury. That’s it, it is nothing new. It’s something that is there,” Nadal told reporters in Rome.

35-year-old Nadal suffers from Mueller-Weiss syndrome, which is a degenerative disease that causes a deformity of one of the bones in the central part of the foot. Due to the condition last year he was only able to play in one tournament over a six-month period. In September that year he underwent treatment on his foot but not surgery.

“My day-by-day is difficult, honestly. Even like this, I am trying hard. Of course, it’s difficult for me to accept the situation sometimes,” the former world No.1 said of his condition. “It can be frustrating that a lot of days I can’t practice the proper way.”

The setback occurred during what was only Nadal’s second tournament since returning to action following a rib injury. At last week’s Madrid Open he reached the quarter-finals before losing to compatriot Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal’s recent misfortunes follow what has been a blistering start to the season for him. He started 2022 by winning 20 matches in a row before losing to Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells. His win-loss for the season currently stands at 23-3 with three titles won, including the Australian Open.

During his visit to Roland Garros this year Nadal will be joined by his doctor who will be keeping a close eye on his foot. As to how much the condition could hinder his campaign in the French capital, the Spaniard admits that he doesn’t know due to its unpredictability.

First thing that I need to do is to not have pain to practice, that’s it. And the negative thing is today it’s not possible for me to play. But maybe in two days things will be better, that’s the thing that I have with my foot,” he explained.

Nadal is the most successful player in French Open history with a total of 105 main draw wins. In fact, the only players to have ever beaten him at the tournament are Novak Djokovic twice and Sweden’s Robin Soderling.

“It’s time to accept the situation and fight. That’s it. Honestly, I can’t say anything more now,” Nadal continued.
“I still have a goal (to be ready for the French Open) in one week and a couple of days. I’m going to keep dreaming about that goal.”

Nadal has played just five matches on clay this season heading into the French Open.

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Players Face Sanctions If They Make Pro-Putin Statements At French Open, Warns Mauresmo

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The tournament director of the French Open admits there is ‘no fair decision’ regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the Grand Slam.

 

Amelie Mauresmo, who is a former WTA No.1 player herself, confirmed that players from those countries will be allowed to play during an interview with French radio. Although they will only be allowed to play under a neutral status in line with the rules which have been adopted by other governing bodies of the sport. The action has been taken in response to Russia’s military assault on the Ukraine which began on February 24th. Belarus is suspected of supporting Russia in the conflict which has already killed thousands of people.

The stance of officials in Paris is a stark contrast to that of Wimbledon who has controversially implemented a ban on those players, as well as the LTA. Making it the first time The All England Club has excluded players due to their nationality since the World War Two Era when German and Japanese players weren’t allowed to participate. The ATP Tour is reportedly considering removing the allocation of points to the event in response to the ban.

Speaking about the issue, Mauresmo confirmed that action could be taken against any player who decides to make pro-Putin statements during the tournament. Although she didn’t elaborate on what penalties could be used if such a situation occurs.

“We have thought a lot, and I have the impression that there is no fair decision, one way or the other,” said Mauresmo. “We are in line with what European sports ministers have decided, we do not welcome teams but individual athletes. Obviously if an athlete speaks in the press for example and supports Vladimir Putin, sanctions will be taken. “

Providing an update on the upcoming tournament, Mauresmo says she is confident that this year’s tournament will have an almost full attendance. Confirming that “tickets are sold at more than 90-95%” of its capacity in what she hails as a ‘real success’ for the tournament. Last year’s edition took place with a restricted capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s French Open will begin on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejcikova are the defending champions.

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