US Open Daily Preview: Major Champions Iga Swiatek and Sloane Stephens Collide - UBITENNIS
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US Open Daily Preview: Major Champions Iga Swiatek and Sloane Stephens Collide

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Iga Swiatek this past June in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Thursday’s schedule on Arthur Ashe Stadium features some of the sport’s biggest names.  The day session starts with a meeting of Major singles champions, as two-time Roland Garros champ Iga Swiatek takes on 2017 US Open champ Sloane Stephens.  The night session begins with Serena and Venus Williams playing what is likely their last tournament as a team.  And the day ends with Rafael Nadal facing Fabio Fognini, who upset Nadal at this event seven years ago.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Borna Coric (28) vs. Jenson Brooksby – 11:00am on Grandstand

Coric was a shocking champion two weeks ago in Cincinnati.  Ahead of that event, he was only 4-8 at tour level since missing a year of action due to shoulder surgery.  In Cincy, he took out five top 20 players (Nadal, Bautista Agut, Auger-Aliassime, Norrie, Tsitsipas).  His serve has dramatically improved, averaging less than one break per match in Cincinnati.  Yet on Tuesday, he scarcely survived the opening round, coming from behind in the fifth set to prevail 7-5.  Brooksby made a name for himself last summer by reaching the final of Newport, the semifinals of Washington, and the fourth round of this event, where he took a set off Novak Djokovic.  He mixes an unorthodox style with a tremendous amount of grit.  And he had a much easier opening round than Borna, losing only two games before receiving a third-set retirement from Dusan Lajovic.  Yet in their first career meeting, Coric should be favored.  Borna arrives in New York with far more momentum, and should play more freely after narrowly escaping defeat in the first round.


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Sloane Stephens – 12:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

This is a rematch from just two weeks ago in Cincinnati, when Swiatek prevailed in two tight sets.  Iga is a stellar 51-7 this season, and at one point won 37 matches in a row.  But her victory over Stephens is only one of Iga’s three wins on hard courts this summer.  Sloane has endured an up-and-down year, with a record of 13-13.  She came back from a set down on Tuesday to defeat Greet Minnen.  Of course Sloane was the champion here five years ago, and reached the quarterfinals the year after, but hasn’t returned to the second week since.  We know she’s capable of playing her best tennis on this court, yet Swiatek remains the favorite.  Her all-court game is superior to Sloane’s in 2022.


Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova vs. Serena Williams and Venus Williams (WC) – 7:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

This is an extremely rare occasion where a doubles match is scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium, much less headlining the night session.  And it’s the first time Serena and Venus have played as a team since 2018, and the first time at a Major since Wimbledon in 2016.  They are an outrageous 14-0 in Slam finals.  But getting to another final in what is presumed to be their last tournament as a team will be extremely challenging.  Hradecka is a highly-accomplished doubles veteran with three Major titles of her own between women’s doubles and mixed.  Noskova is a 17-year-old ranked outside the top 100 in singles, and outside the top 200 in doubles.  And perhaps most importantly, this is Hradecka and Noskova’s first event as a team.  That, along with a partisan crowd of 23,000 inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, makes the Williams sisters the favorites to prolong their doubles career as a team by at least one more match.


Fabio Fognini vs. Rafael Nadal (2) – Last on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Seven years ago in New York, Fognini handed Nadal his first-ever loss from two-sets-up at a Major.  Fabio simply outhit in the last three sets of that late-night match to prevail.  Overall Rafa leads their head-to-head 13-4, and 7-1 on hard courts.  That 2015 US Open victory is the Italian’s only win over Nadal on a hard court, as well as the only one at a Slam.  Most recently they met at last year’s Australian Open, where Rafa prevailed in straight sets.  Nadal is now 36-4 this year, and still yet to be defeated at a Major.  Fognini has underperformed this year, especially at the Slams, where he was 1-3 before arriving in New York.  Yet on Tuesday, Fabio pulled off another comeback victory from two-sets-down, this time over Aslan Karatsev.  But despite Nadal’s recent abdominal injury, and his ongoing foot issues, Rafa is the clear favorite to avenge that painful loss from seven years ago.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Federico Coria vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – Alcaraz is now 45-9 on the year.  Coria is a 30-year-old who defeated Carlitos in their only previous meeting, two years ago on clay in Rio de Janeiro.

Garbine Muguruza (9) vs. Linda Fruhvirtova (Q) – Muguruza earned just the tenth win of her season on Tuesday.  Fruhvirtova is a 17-year-old who advanced to the fourth round of the Miami Open this year with impressive victories over Elise Mertens and Victoria Azarenka.

Leylah Fernandez and Daria Saville vs. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (2) – This is Fernandez and Saville’s first event as a team.  Gauff is the newly-crowned world No.1 in doubles.  Her and Pegula have won two titles this season, and reached the final of the French Open. 

Kaia Kanepi vs. Aryna Sabalenka (6) – Kanepi was a finalist earlier this summer in Washington.  And she is 2-0 against Sabalenka, which includes a tight fourth-round match this past January at the Australian Open, decided by a final-set tiebreak.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Statistical Deep Dive: Sinner At Rotterdam One Year Later

Jannik Sinner’s Rotterdam title compared with his run to the final last year.

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By Federico Bertelli

Let’s delve into Jannik Sinner’s triumphant journey at the ABN Amro Open and compare it with his 2023 campaign. Service and down-the-line backhands were the keys to victory.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. This is the version of Sinner that his opponents tasted, and it’s also the title of a Daft Punk song; the clip particularly reflects what the rest of the ATP circuit has been thinking about Jannik for some months now: an android emerging after a heavy upgrade. Jokes aside, as the sunshine double is about to start, we thought it wise to rewind and closely examine Sinner’s recent victories.

The focus of our analysis is the Rotterdam tournament: Sinner’s performance was spotless, a feat not seen since 2001 when Lleyton Hewitt, after his victory at Flushing Meadows over Pete Sampras, managed to repeat his success in Tokyo. If the Italian were to win next week under the California sun as well, he would be the first in ATP tennis history to win two consecutive ATP tournaments after the first Slam. But before we dive into the action of the Indian Wells, let’s scratch the surface of Sinner’s victory in the Netherlands a bit. The comparison is plausible as the Italian reached the final in both editions, playing 5 matches in each case.

Draw: The 2024 run was undoubtedly smoother compared to 2023, both on average and in absolute terms. In 2023, the average ranking of Sinner’s opponents increased significantly, from 50.6 in 2023 to 97 in 2024. This means that, in general, we can assume that the journey, at least on paper, was easier. Also, in absolute terms – considering the lowest ranking of an opponent faced – there was a notable difference. In 2023, the insurmountable obstacle was the Russian Medvedev, then the blue’s nemesis and number 3 in the rankings. In 2024, it was a more approachable De Minaur – number 11 in the ATP ranking – against whom the H2Hs have also always been in favour of Jannik.

Source, ATP data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Comparison of Opposing Players’ Rankings

Break Points: One aspect frequently discussed about Sinner in the last 12 months is his overall growth in all areas: technical, physical, and mental. However, it’s not news that Jannik is mentally tough. Surely, Sinner will continue to tirelessly work on this aspect, as he has always stated, but his starting base has always been enviable. And the results are there for everyone to see. Despite facing a number of break points in the tournament equal to 20 in both 2023 and 2024 – which perhaps was unexpected given the more modest caliber of opponents – the Italian’s response was undeniable. An 80% break point save rate, compared to 65% in 2023 and against an ATP tour average of 61%. (Note: The tour average refers to the average of the last 52 weeks of players who have competed in ATP level tournaments). This figure, among other things, underscores Jannik’s solidity, already above average in 2023.

Source, ATP data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Comparison of Break Points Saves, Years 2023-2024

Service – Overall Statistics: Another aspect that has been frequently discussed is Jannik’s improvement in his service game; indeed, the data speaks for itself. Both in terms of the percentage of first serves in play and in terms of effectiveness in converting such a play situation into a point, Sinner has significantly elevated his game. Working on the percentage of first serves in play was the number one priority to improve the Italian’s game performance, and the efforts of Vagnozzi, Cahill & co. have paid off handsomely. In 2023 in Rotterdam, the percentage of first serves in play was 57%, in line with the general performances recorded by Sinner up to that point. Considering that the ATP tour average was 62%, it’s clear this was an aspect still needing improvement until last year. However, the conversion rate from good became excellent. In 2023 in Rotterdam, the conversion rate of points on the first serve stood at 74%, a figure above the tour average, which is at 72%. In 2024, however, we witnessed a further leap forward, reaching the 80% threshold.

Source, ATP Data, ATP 500 Tournament Rotterdam: Service Performance Comparison

To understand how high this figure is, just look at the leaderboard rankings of the last 52 weeks. In terms of first serves converted into points, 80% is the threshold of absolute excellence. Consider that the two most impressive serving machines ever seen on a tennis court, Karlovic and Isner, had career averages of 83% and 80%, respectively.

ATP Leaderboard

Finally, a somewhat surprising data point is the success performance on the second serve. The Italian won 60% of the points on his second serve in 2023, while in 2024, “only” 56%. This rate is evidently more than sufficient to win matches and tournaments, but in 2023, it was not a problem at all, on the contrary.

Delving further into detail and referring to more detailed analyses (for the metrics used, we also refer to the general description found here), the analysis is further enriched. The data reported are the result of TennisViz processing, on data owned by Tennis Data Innovations (TDI).

Service – Detailed Data: The service performance, in terms of precision and reliability of the shot under pressure, has improved from all perspectives. Among the various metrics available, there are some of interest. Starting with the accuracy on the first serve, i.e., the distance with which the serve is placed from the service lines, measured in cm. Referencing a post from the X Tennis Insights account, we have an overview.

Source: TennisViz on TDI Data

In Rotterdam in 2023, Sinner executed this shot with an accuracy of 57 cm, better than what was measured over the course of the year. But in 2024, this figure impressively dropped to a notable 52 cm, in line with that of Hurkacz. We’ll spare you the statistical details, but the result (highly debatable, given the small sample size) is as follows.

Of course, there are many other variables that explain the yield on the first serve, but the inverse correlation between serve speed and precision is not bad, and generally leads us to say that serving at 125 mph with an accuracy of 52 cm, combined with an average quality in return shots, guarantees an untouchable performance of 80% of points won on the first serve. If the quality is that of Sinner’s serving machine, even less will suffice.

Continuing with the quality of the service shown by Sinner, another data point that deserves further exploration is that of unreturned serves, where the opponent fails to return the serve back into play. Here too, Jannik performed exceptionally well, with aces and opponents’ missed returns bringing home an impressive 40% in 2023 and an exceptional 42% in 2024. Remember, in tennis, variations of 1% can make the difference between a solid top ten player and a Grand Slam title winner. To put it in perspective, the ATP average is 38%.

Source: @Tennisinsight

Finally, to conclude the chapter on the serve, one last piece of data, which we’ve kept in reserve for the most deserving who have persisted in reading up to this point; do you know what the percentage of first serve balls on break points was in 2023? And in 2024? Well, we’ll present it to you in a table, and we’ll add nothing more:

Source: TenniViz on TDI Data

In 2023, when serving on break points, the first serve landed much less than usual in crucial moments. In 2024, however, the Italian did not lose his composure at all, serving as if it were any other point… not bad at all.

Performance in rallies: in this case, we rely on [metrics developed by TDI and TennisViz, which obviously carry the ATP brand](https://www.atptour.com/en/news/insights-introduction); (bonus: if you happen to watch a match on ATP TV, these advanced metrics are just a click away, in the stats section of the App).

Source: TenniViz on TDIData

It’s notable how Jannik has leveled up both in his ability to convert points where he had the advantage (conversion score) and in managing to seize the initiative from opponents when they were in a favorable position during the rally (steal score). Lastly, the final data point: from the baseline, with the current form of Jannik, it’s tough to come out on top, and if we consider his aptitude for turning defense into offense, the puzzle for his opponents is almost unsolvable. Indeed, this explains the overwhelming 56% of points won from the baseline, significantly above the ATP average. This data also finds an explanation in a significant tactical adjustment, the more pronounced use of the down-the-line backhand variation. The backhand crosscourt is already a comfort zone for Sinner, which he can comfortably use to extract points, like a boxer working his opponent with jabs; if we add that now Sinner is also able to find the down-the-line solution at the right moment, again, it spells trouble for his opponents. In 2023, Sinner hit 19.5% of his backhands down the line, while in 2024 this percentage rose to 31.4% in the Rotterdam tournament. A change that helped him tip the scale further in his favor in baseline battles.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero Remaining Positive Despite Carlos Alcaraz’s Poor Form

Juan Carlos Ferrero remains confident of Carlos Alcaraz’s abilities despite his poor form.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero is looking on the positive side despite Carlos Alcaraz’s poor form.

After winning Wimbledon last year, many people thought that Carlos Alcaraz would dominate the ATP tour over the next year.

However since then, Alcaraz has lost his world number one ranking with the Spaniard not winning a trophy since capturing his second Grand Slam title at SW19.

There are concerns that Alcaraz’s form is dipping with Jannik Sinner potentially overtaking him in potential to challenge Novak Djokovic at the big events.

Despite the lack of titles to Alcaraz’s name, there is no reason to worry for coach Juan Carlos Ferrero as he is confident that the Spaniard’s lack of form is normal, “He has been achieving good results,” Ferrero claimed in an interview with Marca.

“The Cincinnati tournament was a shame because we were one point away. At the US Open, he made the semi-finals. When you play with such good people, it is difficult to win every tournament.

“For any player, not winning tournaments can affect your confidence level. For very good players, it is important to achieve the results that one sets in their path. Of course Carlos wants to win, but I see him well, I don’t see him with any type of desire, and that is very important.

“He doesn’t have the stress of I want to win, I want to win. He wants to do things well and wants to improve in every aspect that he can, and at 20 years of age there are many. The objectives are there. Every tournament that goes, the objective is to achieve a good result.

“And if he is physically well, a great result for him is to win. When you have that level and that potential, it is not bad to think that. Then, when you don’t get it, you have to know how to manage it and come out just as motivated.”

Ferrero brings a great level of experience and composure to the Alcaraz team having been in the Spaniard’s position many times when he was a player.

The Spaniard’s experience is evident as he claimed that failure isn’t a bad thing for Alcaraz to go through, “Not every year you can win six or seven tournaments and that doesn’t mean it will be a failure,” Ferrero was quoted by tennis 365 as saying.

“[Michael] Jordan and Tiger [Woods] didn’t win every Grand Slam and every ring every year. We cannot call that a failure. There are many positive things in a year even if you have earned less.

“You may have evolved in aspects that can be useful for the future. That’s where we are. The most important thing is that he is happy, that he trains well, that traveling makes him happy and from there he generates good tennis, which is what he loves. We all agree on that.”

Alcaraz will look to return to his best when he looks to defend his title in Indian Wells which starts on the sixth of March.

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Daria Kasatkina And Alejandro Davidovich Fokina Lead Calls For VAR In Tennis

There have been calls for VAR to be introduced into the sport.

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(@LadiesOpenPA - Twitter)

Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina have called for VAR to be implemented in tennis.

The calls have came after Andrey Rublev was disqualified from his semi-final with Alexander Bublik in Dubai.

As Bublik lead 6-5 in the final set, Rublev shouted in the face of an umpire allegedly swearing in Russian which was picked up by one of the officials.

This saw Rublev be disqualified from the event with Bublik reaching the final in Dubai.

However as a result of the incident players have called for a VAR review system with the video showing inconclusive proof of whether Rublev did swear in Russian.

Leading the calls for such innovation are Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina as the duo called for VAR to be introduced on twitter, “So you can just disqualify a player, take away all his points and money, without even checking the video? What a joke, yet another confirmation that we need VAR in tennis and an electronic appeal system in all tournaments,” Kasatkina said on social media.

VAR has been implemented in football and also a similar system in rugby with mixed results.

It’s clear though that more technology would help umpires identify whether a grounds for disqualification would be necessary.

So far VAR has been trialled at the Next Gen Finals and the Nitto ATP Finals.

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