US Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Matteo Berrettini in a Rematch of the Wimbledon Final - UBITENNIS
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US Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Matteo Berrettini in a Rematch of the Wimbledon Final

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Matteo Berrettini walking onto Louis Armstrong Stadium on Monday (Andrew Ong/USTA/usopen.org)

This will actually be the third straight Major where Novak Djokovic and Matteo Berrettini collide.  In the Roland Garros quarterfinals, as well as the Wimbledon men’s singles championship match, Djokovic prevailed in four sets.  This is the round where Novak’s path to the Grand Slam becomes more complicated, with a likely semifinal against Sascha Zverev, and a potential final against Daniil Medvedev, awaiting him.  Can Matteo’s blistering serve-and-forehand combination derail Novak’s quest on these fast courts?

 

Also on Wednesday, Olympic gold medalists Sascha Zverev and Belinda Beneic will take on a pair of first-time Slam quarterfinalists: South Africa’s Lloyd Harris and 18-year-old British sensation Emma Raducanu.  And Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova will do battle with Greece’s Maria Sakkari, who took out 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu in an epic three-and-a-half-hour affair.

Belinda Bencic (11) vs. Emma Raducanu (Q) – 12:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

These are two of the sport’s most in-form players, and that could make for a stellar quarterfinal.  Neither player has dropped a set during this event, and in Emma’s case, that includes three qualifying matches.  Since Wimbledon, the teenager is now 18-4 at all levels (including qualifying), and has completely dominated her last two opponents by scores of 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.  Since the Olympics, Bencic is now 13-1, and impressively outlasted Iga Swiatek two days ago in a first set tiebreak by the score of 14-12.  And comparing Bencic to Raducanu’s last two opponents, Belinda has a lot more offensive weapons than Sara Sorribes Tormo, and is unlikely to make as many errors as Shelby Rogers did on Monday.  Bencic would seem to be the favorite to reach the semifinals in her second consecutive appearance in New York.  However, Emma will certainly feel inspired by seeing fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez upset Elina Svitolina in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, and the crowd will likely get behind the young underdog.

Sascha Zverev (4) vs. Lloyd Harris – Second on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Zverev is two wins away from returning to the final of this tournament, where he was two points from winning a year ago.  He’s won 15 consecutive matches, and only lost three of 36 completed sets during this streak.  And he’ll be a considerable favorite against Harris, who had only once advanced to the third round of a Slam prior to this event.  But the 24-year-old South African is in the midst of a career-changing season.  He was a finalist in Dubai, upset Rafael Nadal in Washington, and took out three significant seeds this fortnight (Khachanov, Shapovalov, Opelka).  They’ve played twice on hard courts within the past year, with both matches going to Sascha.  The German won a deciding set 6-0 last fall in Cologne, and defeated Lloyd in straight sets just a few weeks ago in Cincinnati.  With the way Zverev has been serving and striking his groundstrokes, it’s hard to imagine him not returning to the semifinals.

Karolina Pliskova (4) vs. Maria Sakkari (17) – 7:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Sakkari’s arduous victory over Bianca Andreescu ended at 2:13am Tuesday morning.  She is one of the fittest athletes in the sport, but that had to take a lot out of her both physically and emotionally.  This is easily the Greek’s best result since the heartbreak she suffered at Roland Garros, losing 9-7 in the third of her semifinal against Barbora Krejcikova after holding a match point.  Between the French Open and this event, she was only 5-4.  Pliskova was having a subpar year until Wimbledon, where she reached her second Major final, nearly five years after her first.  Later in the summer, she was a finalist in Montreal and a semifinalist in Cincinnati.  Their two previous encounters occurred in Rome in consecutive years.  In 2018, Sakkari won 7-5 in the third.  In 2019, Pliskova prevailed in straight sets.  In the rubber match, the fresher player will be Pliskova, whose power game on these fast courts should enable her to achieve her first US Open semifinal since 2016.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Matteo Berrettini (6) – Last on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Overall Djokovic leads their head-to-head 3-0.  In addition to their two recent four-setters at Majors, Novak beat Matteo soundly at the ATP Finals by a score of 6-2, 6-1.  So could Wednesday be any different than their three past matchups?  Well, Berrettini’s serve and forehand always provide him with a puncher’s chance, especially on courts as fast as these.  Notably, with a chance of rain on Wednesday evening, this could become an indoor match.  That would seem to favor Djokovic, who has a much better indoor record than Berrettini, and cooler and slower conditions would help smother the Italian’s power.  But the X factor in this match may be the same as many other matches this fortnight: the crowd.  Matteo is an extremely likeable player, and a big underdog in this matchup, so I expect the New York audience to strongly support him against Novak, who has never been a crowd favorite in Flushing Meadows.  Berrettini’s best chance to overcome Djokovic is to use the crowd to energize himself, and to distract Novak from the task at hand.  However, Djokovic is no stranger to people cheering his opponent, and often uses that as fuel.  And let’s be clear: Djokovic remains the favorite to reach his 12th US Open semifinal, as he has never lost in this round of the tournament.

Wednesday’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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