US Open Daily Preview: The Most Improbable Major Final of All-Time - UBITENNIS
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US Open Daily Preview: The Most Improbable Major Final of All-Time

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Leylah Fernandez after winning her semifinal on Thursday evening (twitter.com/usopen)

Two months ago, Leylah Annie Fernandez lost in the first round of Wimbledon 6-1, 6-2.  Following that one-sided loss, Fernandez described she felt “embarrassed” by that effort, and vowed to improve.  Well just one Major later, she has made gigantic strides forward.  Leylah has won four consecutive three-setters over top players, including three top five upsets (Osaka, Svitolina, Sabalenla).  She turned 19-years-old during this event, yet has demonstrated more composure than her superiors in crucial moments.  Leylah is the daughter of an Ecuadorian father and a Filipino Canadian mother, an immigrant family who have become emotional when speaking of how Canada opened its doors and helped their dreams come true. 

 

Two months ago, Emma Raducanu was ranked 338th in the world.  She was offered a wild card into Wimbledon qualifying, which she declined, and her coach successfully fought for a wild card into the main draw.  The 18-year-old thrilled British audiences, reaching the fourth round without dropping a set.  Emma would have to retire from her fourth round match due to breathing issues, as it seemed the pressure and scrutiny that came with her overnight success was a bit too much.  But the way she has rebounded so quickly, becoming the first qualifier to ever reach a Major singles final, and winning nine consecutive straight-set matches, is an extraordinary accomplishment.  Emma is the daughter of a Romanian father and a Chinese mother, and shares a Canadian connection with Leylah, as she was born in Toronto.

Both Leylah and Emma have taken full advantage of their older, more-experienced opponents tightening up under the pressure of facing a teenager, exposing the fragility of their superiors.  They will compete in the first unseeded final in Grand Slam history, and it will be fascinating to watch.

Leylah Fernandez vs. Emma Raducanu (Q) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Three years ago, these two players met in the second round of the junior event at Wimbledon, with Raducanu prevailing 6-2, 6-4.  This will be the first of what the tennis world hopes will be many matches at tour level.  Their roads to this championship match have been strikingly different.  Fernandez has endured six extremely tight matches, going 5-0 in tiebreaks this fortnight.  Raducanu has claimed all 18 sets contested since qualifying, and done so without even playing a tiebreak.  Emma’s best chance of winning may be to avoid tiebreaks and keep the sets straightforward, as unlike Leylah, her poise is yet to be tested in a tiebreak.

Both players have been hugging the baseline, taking shots early and taking time away from their opponents.  Raducanu’s serve and groundstrokes provide her with a stronger opportunity to dictate play, and she’s kept her stats extremely clean.  Through six rounds, she has struck 132 winners, and only 88 unforced errors, and she’s only been broken five times.  But how will her game hold up against the lefty-craftiness of Fernandez, which has frustrated so many right-handed opponents? 

The biggest factors today will go beyond tactics.  Leylah has spent over five hours longer on court across their six main draw matches, which must have taken a toll.  And we’ve seen many times before how the player who upsets many top seeds on the way to the final often loses that final.  However, the most important factor will be which teenager better handles this incredible moment.  Fernandez has thrived as the underdog throughout this event, but how will she perform as the higher-ranked player?  Raducanu has looked nothing like the player who could not complete her fourth round match at Wimbledon, showing a remarkable amount of growth in such a short time.  Considering she will be the fresher player, and should feel less pressure as the lower-ranked competitor, I like Emma’s chances of becoming the 2021 US Open women’s singles champion.

Also on Saturday, the mixed doubles championship will be decided, as the No.2 seeds Desirae Krawczyk and Joe Salisbury play Giuliana Olmos and Marcelo Arevalo at 1:00pm local time on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

ATP

Cincinnati Daily Preview: Serena Williams Plays Emma Raducanu, Venus Faces Karolina Pliskova

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Serena Williams practicing on Monday in Cincinnati (twitter.com/cincytennis)

In what is expected to be the next-to-last event of her storied career, Serena Williams will play her opening round match on Tuesday.  And in a blockbuster matchup, she faces reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu.  Can the 19-year-old defeat the GOAT, or can Serena pull off one more high-profile victory before her career comes to an end?

 

Tuesday’s schedule in Cincinnati features many other top names as well.  Center Court alone also includes Naomi Osaka, Daniil Medvedev, Nick Kyrgios, and Venus Williams, who takes on Karolina Pliskova in a battle between two of the WTA’s all-time best servers.

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


Karolina Pliskova (14) vs. Venus Williams (WC) – Second on Center Court

This will only be Venus’ third singles match of the season, as multiple injuries have hampered the 42-year-old in recent years.  Williams has only earned one singles win in the last 18 months.  Pliskova has struggled this season since a hand injury caused her to miss the first two months of 2022.  But Karolina had her best run of the season last week in Toronto, where she reached the semifinals, which included a three-set win over fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari.  Venus and Karolina played three times between 2015 and 2017, with Pliskova taking two of those three encounters.  Their most notable match was in the fourth round of the 2016 US Open, which Karolina won in a third-set tiebreak.  In 2022, Pliskova is a considerable favorite to prevail.


Serena Williams (DA) vs. Emma Raducanu (10) – Not Before 7:00pm on Center Court

This will only be Serena’s fourth singles match of the season, and she’s 1-2 since returning at Wimbledon.  Last week in Toronto, she made a tearful exit from the court after her straight-set loss to Belinda Bencic, as the Canadian crowd gave the 23-time Major singles champion a standing ovation.  With this mini-retirement tour being new territory for Serena, how will she react to what will be a boisterous American crowd on Tuesday?  She’ll surely feel nervous, but Raducanu will as well, as she likely assumed she would never get to play Serena.  Emma has understandably struggled since her shocking, life-changing run a year ago at the US Open, as she’s just 11-14 on the year.  But she’s still played a lot more tennis of late than Serena.  This match was originally scheduled for Monday evening, and reports indicated it was postponed until Tuesday due to an injury concern regarding Serena.  That’s advantage, Emma.  But as we’ve learned over the course of the last several decades, Serena is fully capable of willing her way to victory even when she’s far from her best.


Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Naomi Osaka vs. Shuai Zhang – Osaka is just 1-2 this summer, and was forced to retire last week in Toronto due to a back issue.  She is 3-2 against Shuai, though they haven’t played in nearly four years.

Nick Kyrgios vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – Kyrgios has won 14 of his last 16 singles matches, and is on an eight-match win streak in doubles.  Davidovich Fokina is only 4-9 this season on hard courts.

Coco Gauff (11) vs. Marie Bouzkova (Q) – Gauff is now the new world No.1 in doubles, and is on the brink of making her top 10 debut in singles.  Bouzkova has claimed 18 of her last 22 matches at all levels. 

Mackenzie McDonald (WC) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – McDonald was a finalist last year in Washington, but arrived in Cincinnati on a three-match losing streak.  Alcaraz was upset last week in an extended affair with another American, Tommy Paul.  Earlier this year at Indian Wells, Carlitos beat Mackie 6-3, 6-3.

Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp – Medvedev needs to win at least two matches this week to ensure he maintains his No.1 ranking.  He’s 2-0 against van de Zandschulp, taking seven of their eight sets contested, all on hard courts.


Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Emma Raducanu Unfazed By Rankings Drop Ahead Of US Open Title Defence

Emma Raducanu talked about pressure as she takes on Serena Williams in Cincinnati.

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Emma Raducanu (@marioboc17 - Twitter)

Ahead of her US Open title defence in a couple of weeks, Emma Raducanu remains unfazed about her potential drop down the rankings.

 

Emma Raducanu is set to defend her US Open title in a couple of weeks after winning her maiden grand slam title as a qualifier last year.

The Brit will have 2,000 points to defend and an early exit risks a huge rankings drop in what has been a big experience for the 19 year-old this year.

Raducanu enters the last grand slam of the year without form or momentum on her side having only won back-to-back matches at three events this year.

Speaking in Cincinnati, Raducanu told the press that she is prepared to start from the bottom again if she has to, “If I lose 2,000 points so be it, I’ll start again from the bottom,” Raducanu told reporters.

“I know I can do something that no one else has done. I qualified and won the US Open, so I can start from the beginning, I can start from zero and I’m not afraid of that.

“I just think that everything that’s happening right now has probably just meant to be in my journey and I need to go through those development stages at some point because I did miss them. I went from playing 25ks to winning the US Open.”

Raducanu’s rise has been incredibly quick and the Brit will be anticipating that anything can happen over the next few months in terms of her development.

Defending the grand slam is huge pressure and it will be interesting to see if returning to the US Open will inspire her to raise her level.

Before Raducanu goes to the US Open, she competes in Cincinnati and faces 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams in her opening round.

Williams is currently on her farewell tour and Raducanu admits it’s going to be an unforgettable experience to play her, “I think it’s gonna be an exciting match. I’m looking forward to it,” Raducanu said.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to play probably the best the best tennis player of all time. It’s probably going to be my last opportunity to ever play her. I think that, for our careers to have crossed over, I think I’m really fortunate that I get to play her.

“Whatever happens, I think it’s gonna be a really good experience for me and something that I will remember for the rest of her life.”

The match will now likely take place on Tuesday after originally been scheduled for Monday evening.

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Cincinnati Daily Preview: Major Champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka Square Off

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Andy Murray practicing this past week in Cincinnati (twitter.com/cincytennis)

For the second consecutive week, a combined ATP Masters/WTA 1000 event is being staged in North America.  This week, it’s the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The singles draws in American’s heartland are loaded: the ATP draw features 14 of the world’s top 16, while the WTA draw features all 16 top-ranked players.

 

Most notably, Serena Williams will play what is assumedly the next-to-last event of her career, and will face reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the first round.  And Rafael Nadal will play his first match since withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinals due to his ongoing left foot issues.

Monday’s action is headlined by Major champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who will play each other for the 22nd time. 

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


Stan Wawrinka (PR) vs. Andy Murray – Third on Center Court

Their rivalry dates all the way back to 2005, when Wawrinka defeated Murray in Davis Cup.  Their most prominent encounter took place in the 2017 Roland Garros semifinals, when Stan outlasted Andy in a five-setter that lasted over four-and-a-half hours.  And neither man has been the same since that grueling battle.  Just weeks later, Murray’s hip problems derailed his career, while Wawrinka would undergo knee surgery.  Both men have now battled multiple serious injuries over the last five years.  Overall Andy is 12-9 against Stan, and 8-4 on hard courts.  Murray has gritted his way to 22 victories this year, while Stan is only 3-7 since returning from foot surgery this spring.  Based on current form, as well as Murray’s history at this event, where he is a two-time champion, the Brit is the favorite on Monday.


Matteo Berrettini (12) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Not Before 7:00pm on Center Court

Berrettini returned from surgery on his right hand in June, and promptly went on a 12-match win streak.  However, he unfortunately missed Wimbledon due to testing positive for COVID-19.  And last week in Montreal, Matteo lost in the opening round, though that one-sided loss to Pablo Carreno Busta doesn’t look quite as bad after Pablo’s fantastic run to his first Masters 1000 title concluded on Sunday.  Meanwhile, it’s been a disappointing year for Tiafoe, who is only 20-17 and has suffered some painful losses.  At Wimbledon, he lost a four-and-a-half hour fourth round match to David Goffin despite having a two-sets-to-one lead.  And just last week in Montreal, Frances was up 4-0 in the third over Taylor Fritz before losing the last six games of the match.  Their only previous meeting occurred four years ago on clay in Rome, where Matteo was victorious in his home country in straight sets.  Can Tiafoe avenge that loss in his own home country?  Frances often excels during night matches in the United States, with his five-set win over Andrey Rublev at last year’s US Open serving as a prime example.  But Matteo has been the much stronger performer for a few years now, and his potent serve/forehand combo makes him the favorite.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Amanda Anisimova vs. Daria Kasatkina (9) – Anisimova has reached the second week of every Major this season, while Kasatkina has won 18 of her last 24 matches, which includes a title run this month in San Jose.  Amanda leads their head-to-head 2-0, and dominated Daria 6-2, 6-0 at the beginning of this year.

Jil Teichmann vs. Petra Kvitova – Teichmann was a surprise finalist here a year ago.  Kvitova is only 17-15 this season, though she did win a title on grass in June.  They’ve played three times since last year, with Jil claiming two of those three matches.

Denis Shapovalov vs. Grigor Dimitrov (16) – Shapovalov has now lost nine of his last 10 matches dating back to May.  Meanwhile it’s been over four months since Dimitrov has won more than two matches in a row.  Grigor is 2-1 against Denis, and 2-0 on hard courts.

Sloane Stephens (WC) vs. Alize Cornet – It’s been a streaky season for Stephens, with nine of her 11 victories coming at just two events.  Cornet has achieved two noteworthy results this season: reaching her first Major quarterfinal in Melbourne, and ending Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon.  This is their first career meeting.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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