Ash Barty Reacts To Comeback Win In Adelaide - UBITENNIS
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Ash Barty Reacts To Comeback Win In Adelaide

The world No.1 survived a big scare in what was her first match in four months.

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Ashleigh Barty (AUS) Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

Ash Barty has kicked-off her 2022 season with a roller-coaster victory over American rising star Coco Gauff at the Adelaide International.

 

The top seed was pushed to her limits throughout the tussle which lasted more than two hours. At one stage Barty looked to be on the verge of suffering a shock loss after trailing by a set and a break before fighting back to prevail 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. The encounter marked the first time the Australian had played on the WTA Tour since her third round loss at the US Open last September.

This old body might be a little bit sore tomorrow morning I think,” Barty joked during her on-court interview.
“I felt like I played a pretty good quality match considering it was my first match in a few months. Coco played great and she forced me to hit a lot of balls. I felt like I got better and better as the match went on.”

Given her break from competitive tennis there were inevitably signs of rust from the reigning Wimbledon champion against the world No.22. Best illustrated by the 53 unforced errors she produced which was 20 more than that of her opponent. Nevertheless, she continued battling on the court against her opponent who notably started to tire as the match progressed into its closing stages. Barty broke Gauff in three out of her last six service games.

“I felt like I just wanted to be really clear on how I wanted to play. I wanted to continue playing aggressive, keep looking for my forehand,” Barty commented on her comeback.
“I felt like I went through a 10-15 minute period where I didn’t execute my forehand and wasn’t getting that momentum (in my shots).”

Barty is using this week to tune up her game ahead of the Australian Open where she will be bidding to become the first home player to win the women’s singles title since 1980. In the next round she will take on the winner of Sofia Kenin and Ajla Tomljanović. She has played Kenin six times before on the Tour and has won four of those meetings. Her only clash with Tomljanović was at Wimbledon last year when she won in straight sets.

According to OptaAce, Barty is the first women’s world No.1 to start her season by coming back from a set down to win since Serena Williams at the 2003 Australian Open.

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Steve Flink: The Story Of Novak Djokovic’s Emotional Australian Open Triumph

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image via https://twitter.com/ATPTour_ES

Sports fans who have followed the trajectory of Novak Djokovic’s stellar career with never-ending fascination and frequent astonishment were provided with a rare glimpse inside the 35-year-old’s psyche after the charismatic Serbian took his tenth Australian Open title and a record-tying 22nd major crown in the process, rising once more to the familiar territory of No. 1 in the world. Djokovic defeated an unwavering Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) in a hard fought and well played final, and then climbed into the stands to greet his entourage, hugging his mother, brother and others in his box for longer than usual because his latest landmark triumph was among the most gratifying victories he has ever secured.

 

As Djokovic said in the presentation ceremony under the Melbourne skyline, “I have to say that this has been one of the most challenging tournaments that I have ever played in my life, considering the circumstances, not playing last year, and coming back this year. I want to thank all of the people that made me feel welcome and made me feel comfortable to be in Melbourne and to be in Australia. There is a reason why I have played my best tennis throughout my career in Australia and on this court. Only my team and family knows what we have been through the last four or five weeks and this probably I would say is the biggest victory in my life.”

He was referring, of course, to being barred from competing in Melbourne a year ago because he is unvaccinated. But that was only a part of what he was talking about. On an even larger scale, Djokovic was alluding to the hamstring injury he suffered during a semifinal triumph over Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals of the ATP Tour event in Adelaide, which he won the following day from match point down against Sebastian Korda.

That injury hampered Djokovic considerably in his preparation for the Australian Open, restricting his practice sessions significantly, leading to increasing doubts about his fitness and viability as the man many considered the overwhelming favorite to take the title “Down Under”. Djokovic would later explain that he had deep concerns about participating at all.

All through the first three rounds, his off and on pain was unmistakable. He was not troubled terribly in the first round but despite a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 scoreline against Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena his alacrity around the court was clearly subpar. Nonetheless, Djokovic cast aside the world No. 75 easily. But his next two matches were unpleasant experiences for the No. 4 seed.

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He beat qualifier Enzo Couacaud of France 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 in the second round but required medical timeouts as his ailing leg was a cause for consternation. That was the only set he dropped over the fortnight, and Djokovic, even though he pulled away inexorably in the end, was not a happy camper. He was burdened again when he took on the No. 27 seed Grigor Dimitrov, an Australian Open semifinalist six years ago.

Although Dimitrov had defeated Djokovic only once in ten previous clashes, he played inspired tennis this time around before Djokovic emerged with a 7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-4 triumph, but not before saving three set points in the critical opening set. He then took a medical timeout to ease his hamstring pain. Leading by two breaks in the third set, Djokovic, very worried about his injury, took another medical timeout.

But the turning point in his crusade to recapture the crown he had worn nine times before was a fourth round appointment against the industrious Alex De Minaur. Djokovic had never played the No. 22 seed prior to that evening, but for the first time in the tournament he was covering the court with characteristic force and speed. He took the Australian apart comprehensively 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 with a scintillating display of his court craft and strategic acumen.

Now at long last the essential Djokovic came to the forefront. As he mentioned afterwards, not until he devoured De Minaur did the Serbian believe he had what it took physically to win the tournament. Confronting Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals, Djokovic was in similarly sparkling form, obliterating the No. 5 seed 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Rublev had prevailed in the match of the tournament over the No. 9 seed Holger Rune of Denmark in the round of 16. 

Trailing 2-5 in the fifth set of that confrontation, Rublev made it back to 5-5. Behind again at 5-6, he held on from 15-40, erasing two match points. And then, astoundingly, Rublev rescued himself one last time from 0-5 in the conclusive tie-break to win that sequence 11-9. It was the mightiest comeback of Rublev’s career as he came through 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (9). He was euphoric following that win. But seldom has the No. 5 seed looked more forlorn after a loss as he did against a top of the line Djokovic, who took him apart systemically. That set the stage for Djokovic to meet Tommy Paul in a semifinal appointment.

The American had reached the penultimate round for the first time at a major tournament, which assured him of a place among the top 20 in the world. Djokovic was in a commanding position at 5-1, 40-30 in the opening set, only to send a forehand down the line into the net on set point. Improbably, Paul rallied to 5-5. But Djokovic recovered his confidence, taking 14 of the last 17 games to topple Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2. Paul had accounted for the popular left-handed American Ben Shelton, who was playing outside of the United States for the first time. In their quarterfinal, Paul was the victor in four sets.

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Meanwhile, in the top half of the draw, another American was making inroads. Korda—fresh from his stirring final round performance against Djokovic in Adelaide when the Serbian put away an overhead emphatically at match point down— kept moving onwards and upwards in Melbourne. He stunned the No. 7 seed Medvedev 7-6 (7), 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the third round. The Russian was runner-up to Djokovic in 2021 and Nadal a year ago, but he had no answers for the smooth craftsmanship of the young American. Not resting on his laurels, the No. 29 seed Korda knocked out No. 10 seed Hubert Hurkacz in a spellbinding contest that went the distance. In the fifth set tie-break, Korda battled back to win six points in a row from 1-3 to take a 7-3 lead. Hurkacz then collected four points in a row to make it 7-7, but a composed Korda took three in a row from there to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7).

Korda thus moved on to the quarterfinals but injured his wrist midway through a disappointing loss to Karen Khachanov. The Russian prevailed 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-0 retired. But, predictably, Khachanov was beaten by a tougher and more disciplined Tsitsipas in a four set semifinal.

And so it all came down to Djokovic versus Tsitsipas for the first major title of 2023. Unbeknownst to many casual fans, Tsitsipas was victorious in two of the first three matches he played against Djokovic back in 2018 and 2019, achieving both of his wins on hard courts. But since then, Djokovic had won nine in a row over the Greek stylist, including their only previous Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in 2021 when the Serbian recovered from two sets down to prevail in five sets.

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They had met four times last year between May and November, including two final round duels. All of those matches were hotly contested, but each and every time Djokovic declared himself the better player on the biggest points. The most striking example was their semifinal at the Masters 1000 indoor event in Paris. Tsitsipas was serving with a 4-3 lead in the tie-break before a perspicacious Djokovic collected four points in a row for the win.

In this appointment, the consequences for both players were immense. Djokovic knew he could tie Rafael Nadal for the most men’s major titles at 22. He realized he could return to the summit of the sport and reside once more at No. 1. He understood that, even if he is a very young 35, opportunities at this stage of his career must be seized, and so that gave him an even larger sense of urgency. As for Tsitsipas, he had been waiting for a long time to get a chance like this. After a shocking first round loss at the U.S. Open last summer, he played high level tennis across the autumn and at the start of this season in the United Cup. He sorely wanted a first major. He was on a quest to establish himself as the first Greek singles victor at a Grand Slam championship.

Although he was less dominant than Djokovic in Melbourne, the fact remains that Tsitsipas dropped only three sets in six matches en route to the title round contest. Jannik Sinner took Tsitsipas to five sets in the round of 16, but was ultimately outplayed by the persistent No. 3 seed, who fended off 22 of 26 break points. 

This is a man who has often been outstanding on the hard courts “Down Under”. He reached the semifinals in 2019, striking down Roger Federer along the way before losing to Rafael Nadal. Two years later, he brought down Nadal after being behind two sets to love, bowing in the semifinals again— this time against Medvedev. And last year Tsitsipas was ushered out of the tournament once more by Medvedev in the semis.

He was delighted to reach his first Australian Open final this time around, and seemingly confident about his chances. But while Djokovic was primed from the outset and ready to release his finest tennis, Tsitsipas was initially apprehensive. In the crucial opening set, Djokovic was serving magnificently, hitting all of his spots, finding the corners regularly, keeping his adversary off guard.

Djokovic won 20 of 25 points on his delivery in the first set and was not even pushed to deuce in his five service games. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, was struggling early on. He escaped from 15-40 in the second game but was broken the next time when he double faulted long on break point. Djokovic moved ahead 3-1 and never looked back. Serving for the set at 5-3, Djokovic missed only one first serve. At 30-15, he went to a heavy kicker on the first serve to elicit an errant backhand return, and then on the following point produced an impeccable slice serve wide in the deuce court that Tsitsipas could not handle. That wide serve was tremendously effective all match long for the Serbian.

The second set was well played on both sides of the net. There were no breaks but good opportunities for both players. At 3-4, Djokovic held on from 15-30 but Tsitsipas sent out two aces on his way to 5-4. In the pivotal tenth game of the set, Tsitsipas reached break point for the first time in the match. Djokovic was in a perilous position at 4-5, 30-40, set point down. Tsitsipas thus found himself one point away from evening the match at one set all. The two competitors had a 15 stoke exchange that Djokovic concluded with a forehand inside in winner struck with plenty of margin for error. Tsitsipas was cautious during that backcourt exchange, but Djokovic unhesitatingly seized the initiative.

Djokovic held on for 5-5. Soon they moved to a tie-break. Djokovic served with a 4-1 lead but tightened up flagrantly, netting a two-hander off a looped shot from Tsitsipas and double faulting into the net. A body serve to the forehand from Tsitsipas provoked an error from Djokovic to make it 4-4. Tsitsipas  then erred off the forehand. Forehand to forehand, Djokovic was the better man in this match, and backhand to backhand it was the same story.

Djokovic picked on the Tsitsipas backhand to win the next point, and sealed the tie-break 7-4 with another excellent slice serve wide drawing a netted forehand return. It was two sets to love for the 35-year-old.

Surprisingly, Djokovic opened the third set after a bathroom break with a loose game on serve. He suffered his only lost service game of the match, opening with a double fault and getting broken on an errant backhand approach. But he broke right back to prevent Tsitsipas from building any momentum. The rest of that set, Djokovic was unstoppable on serve again. In his last five service games he conceded only two points, concluding the set with four love games in a row on his delivery. Tsitsipas did not hold as comfortably, but he, too, was unflagging. 

On to another tie-break went the two gladiators. As was the case in the second set, Djokovic took a commanding lead. This time he was ahead 5-0 but on the following point a fan screamed out just before Djokovic made contact with a backhand, and the favorite was distracted into a mistake. Tsitsipas closed the gap to 5-3 but Djokovic opened up the court for a clean winner down the line off the forehand.

That placement gave Djokovic triple match point, but Tsitsipas fought off two of them on his own serve. Serving at 6-5, Djokovic made the third match point count, sending a forehand inside-in to provoke an error from the 24-year-old Greek competitor. In two hours and 56 minutes, Djokovic had raised his record in Australian Open finals to a stellar 10-0. It was demonstrable in Melbourne that Djokovic’s serve is better than ever; he was broken only six times in seven matches and his pace and precision were exemplary. Moreover, he is hitting the forehand harder than ever, but making very few errors off that side. His court awareness and tactical acuity are at an all time high. He has reached a new level of excellence as a match player.

It was in Melbourne 15 years ago that Djokovic garnered his first Grand Slam title. He demonstrated his prowess as a big occasion player in the process. But, as the years passed, he lost some very consequential matches. In fact, after a four set setback against Nadal in the 2014 Roland Garros final, Djokovic had a 6-7 record in Grand Slam tournament finals. Since then, however, he has been stupendous, capturing 16 of his last 20 title meetings at the majors. He now stands at 22-11 for his career.

Djokovic has been nothing less than magnificent since winning his seventh Wimbledon last July. He has won six of his last seven tournaments (including two majors and the prestigious ATP Finals) since that time, and 38 of 40 matches. Only Felix Auger-Aliassime at Laver Cup and Holger Rune in Paris has beaten the best player in the world during this remarkable span.

As he emphasized in Melbourne, Djokovic is taking nothing for granted. He wants to make the most of the next couple of years and exploit each and every opening he has to win the premier prizes in the sport. He should be able to compete in all three remaining Grand Slam tournaments later this year. It would not surprise me in the least if he wins two of them. He should secure at least one more Grand Slam title this season. It seems entirely possible he will be in the forefront of the game for two or perhaps three more years.

Novak Djokovic came into Melbourne awfully worried about his plight, aggravated by an injury, and pessimistic about his chances. But he leaves with a renewed sense of his superiority and an inner feeling that the rest of 2023 is going to be both productive and exhilarating as he realizes his largest dreams and pursues his wildest ambitions. At 35, he just might be playing the best brand of tennis he has ever put on display for the world.

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Australian Open: Stefanos Tsitsipas Determined To Make Grand Slam Dream Reality After Djokovic Defeat

Stefanos Tsitsipas is still determined to achieve his Grand Slam dream after losing the Australian Open final.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (@CitiOpen - Twitter)

Stefanos Tsitsipas is remaining determined to achieve his Grand Slam dream after he lost in the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic.

 

Playing his second Grand Slam final, Stefanos Tsitsipas was dominated by Novak Djokovic in a 6-3 7-6(4) 7-6(5) defeat with Djokovic claiming his tenth Australian Open title.

The result won’t downplay Tsitsipas’ impressive start to the season as he will now climb up to world number three when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Even though Tsitsipas’ dream of winning a Grand Slam title may not have been realised in Melbourne, the Greek is more determined than before to make it a reality in the future.

Speaking after the match Tsitsipas said he was happy with the two weeks as he looks to win more trophies in the near future, “Look, I’m not thinking about the match anymore,” Tsitsipas said in his press conference.

“I’m just happy that I’m in another Grand Slam final. Of course, I was dreaming about the trophy, lifting that trophy. I even dreamt it last night in my sleep. The desire is really there. I really, really want it badly.

“But just dreaming about it won’t make it happen. You got to act. You got to do something out there. You got to be present even more and do better. Today I felt like there were moments that I was close, but the tiebreak didn’t really show that both ways. Just bad starts. So I’ll just eliminate it, take the good things, move on from there.

It’s a long season. It’s an exhausting season. I got to be physically ready for the difficult matches that I will have to play this year against the best players in the world.”

It’s clear that Tsitsipas wants to move onto the future where he will look to improve in winning the biggest titles on the tour.

However the new world number three also reflected on the past and how this year’s loss feels in comparison to the one in Paris where he lost from two sets down to Djokovic.

Tsitsipas said the one in Paris was more heart-breaking and has learnt from that experience, “Well, Paris was heartbreaking. I was two sets to love up. I wasn’t really thinking that I was two sets to love up. I mean, I was aware of it, but it didn’t occupy too much of my thought process,” the Greek explained.

“Let’s say I did some technical decisions there that were wrong, which I’m pretty sure I’m not going to repeat again in my career. Just pure stubbornness from my side. I can’t see or feel the same again, because that was a different final from what we had today.

“That was disappointing, for sure. A lot of not-such-nice things happened for me that day, losing my grandmother the day of the final, not knowing about it but finding out later.

“There was something in the air that day that made it feel that there was something odd about that day. I still remember it. I don’t want to remember it because it’s not a nice feeling.”

Motivated by his two losses in Grand Slam finals, Tsitsipas will now look to have the desire and consistency to achieve his world number one goal.

Concluding his press conference Tsitsipas said that he’s not lowering his expectations despite recent results, “I want to max out in what I do in my profession. No. 1 is on my mind. It doesn’t come easy, I know that. I got to work harder to make that happen,” Tsitsipas claimed.

“What I can say is being on the tour for a few years now, I get a lot of different experiences, I get a lot of different things that I’m faced with.

“It’s my time to aim for something like this. I don’t see any reason to be lowering my expectations or my goals. I am born a champion. I can feel it in my blood. I can feel it as a competitive kid that I was when I was young. It’s
something that is within me.

“I want to harvest that, make it bloom, make it even stronger and fonder, work hard towards those goals.”

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas Play for the Men’s Championship

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Novak Djokovic this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

A year ago, Novak Djokovic experienced quite an embarrassing debacle.  After the unvaccinated Djokovic was initially granted an exemption and allowed to enter Australia, he was later detained, and eventually deported and prevented from competing at this tournament.  His refusal to get vaccinated continues to prevent Novak from competing in North American tournaments, missing Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Cincinnati, and the US Open last year. 

 

But at the events Djokovic has been allowed to participate in over the past seven months, he has been nearly unstoppable.  Since the beginning of Wimbledon last June, he is now 37-2, with five titles.  Novak comes into this championship match on a 16-match winning streak, with seven of those victories against top 10 opposition.  With a win on Sunday, Djokovic not only ties Rafael Nadal in their ongoing race for history with 22 Major titles, but he also regains the World No.1 ranking, despite all the tennis he’s missed.

However, standing in his way is a hungry and confident Stefanos Tsitsipas.  This is the Greek’s second Major final, and the second time he’s encountered Djokovic in this round of a Slam.  Two years ago in the championship match of Roland Garros, Tsitsipas secured the first two sets, before losing to Novak in five.  If Stefanos can win one more set on Sunday, he’ll not only win his first Major title, he’ll also become the World No.1 for the first time.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who have won six Majors as a team, face Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who are vying for their first Major as a team. 


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic’s excellence in the latter rounds of the Australian Open is rivaled only by Nadal’s excellence at Roland Garros.  Novak is now 19-0 in the semifinals and finals of this tournament, which is quite staggering.  He’s also won his last 27 matches at this event, and his last 40 in Australia in general, a streak that dates back over five years.  While Novak suffered a hamstring injury a week before this fortnight, he has still advanced to this final rather easily, dropping only one set through six matches.

Tsitsipas has now reached the semifinals or better in four of the last five years at the Australian Open, but this is his first time reaching the final.  He enjoys plenty of Greek support at this event, and appears to have some extra swagger in his step during this fortnight.  Stefanos has dropped three sets to this stage, and has been superb at saving break points.  Through six matches, he has saved 44 of 53 break points faced.

Both men feel fully at home on Rod Laver Arena, and have described it as their favorite court.  But this is their first meeting on RLA.  They’ve met plenty of times on other courts though, in a rivalry that’s been thoroughly dominated by Djokovic.  The Serbian leads 10-2, and has claimed their last nine matches.  That includes four matches that took place in 2022, in which Novak won eight of their nine sets.  They played three times within a six-week period this past fall on indoor hard courts, with their closest and best matchup taking place in the semifinals of Bercy, where Djokovic prevailed in a final-set tiebreak.

Djokovic is undeniably a huge favorite to win his 10th Australian Open.  But that common knowledge takes a lot of pressure off Tsitsipas, who was so close to defeating Novak the last time they met in a Slam final.  Djokovic has been rather unbothered by all competition during this tournament, even with an injured hamstring.  Can Stefanos pull off one of the bigger surprises in recent tennis history?  I expect him to challenge Novak on Sunday, but Tsitsipas’ backhand remains a liability. And with Djokovic determined to avenge what he sees as mistreatment a year ago in Australia, a Novak loss would be truly surprising.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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