Australian Open Daily Preview: Djokovic, Murray, Sabalenka Face Familiar Foes - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: Djokovic, Murray, Sabalenka Face Familiar Foes

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Andy Murray on Friday morning in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

On Saturday in Melbourne, third round singles action concludes, with plenty of room for new names to advance after the bottom half of both singles draws saw a plethora of upsets on Thursday.

Andy Murray won an epic encounter in the last round, defeating Thanasi Kokkinakis after five hours and forty-five minutes, in a match that ended after 4:00am.  After already spending over 10-and-a-half hours on court this week, what will Murray have left on Saturday against Roberto Bautista Agut, who had seemingly sent Andy into retirement four years ago at this same event?

Meanwhile Nine-Time Champion Novak Djokovic has struggled his way through two rounds with a significant leg injury, as his movement was obviously hampered on Thursday.   In the third round, he faces Grigor Dimitrov for the 11th time.  Dimitrov has advanced comfortably without dropping a set.

And Aryna Sabalenka is playing some of the best tennis of her career.  But on Saturday, she faces her friend and former doubles partner Elise Mertens, who partnered with Sabalenka to win this tournament in 2021.

Each day this preview will highlight the four most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time. 


Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Elise Mertens (26) – Third on Margaret Court Arena

Sabalenka has cruised to this stage, losing only nine games across four sets.  And she’s now taken all 12 sets she’s contested in 2023, coming off a title run last week in Adelaide.  Aryna has reached the fourth round in each of the last two years in Melbourne.

Mertens has achieved that same feat in each of the last three years, and was a semifinalist here in 2018.  She was a modest 29-23 last season in singles, but won a hard court title in October.

Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 6-2, and has won their last five meetings.  Most recently, she defeated Mertens in the fourth round of the 2021 US Open 6-4, 6-1.  On Saturday, based on her recent strong form, Aryna is the favorite to defeat Elise for the sixth straight time.


Linda Fruhvirtova vs. Marketa Vondrousova – Third on 1573 Arena

Vondrousova upset Ons Jabeur in the last round, who was the runner-up at the last two Majors.  Marketa was a Major runner-up herself four years ago in Paris, but injuries have hampered her career ever since.  Still just 23-years-old, there’s seemingly plenty of time for the Czech to become a contender again.

Fruhvirtova is also a Czech player, though she’s six years younger than Vondrousova.  The 17-year-old is into the third round of a Slam for the first time, and her younger sister Brenda was also in this main draw, as a qualifier.  Linda first made waves on tour last March in Miami, where she upset Mertens and Azarenka on her way to the fourth round.  She won her first WTA title this past September in Chennai. 

Both players possess plenty of variety in their games, so this should be a fun contest.  But based on Vondrousova’s experience edge, especially at this level, I like her chances to advance.  Plus, since November, Marketa is now 12-2 at all levels on a hard court. 


Grigor Dimitrov (27) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic looked seriously hobbled at times during his second round match against Enzo Couacaud.  He suffered a hamstring injury two weeks ago in Adelaide, and admitted after his second round victory that his injury “is not ideal.”  Dimitrov is a considerable step up in competition for Novak, as his first two opponents were ranked 75th and 191st in the world.

The Australian Open is easily the best Major in Grigor’s career.  The Bulgarian has advanced to the quarterfinals or better four times since 2014.  But he was only 26-22 last season, and only 4-4 at Slams.

Djokovic has dominated their head-to-head 9-1, and 6-0 on hard courts.  Dimitrov’s only victory came 10 years ago on clay in Madrid.  While not knowing the full extent of his hamstring inury, after watching Djokovic fight his way through an abdominal injury to win this event two years ago, it’s hard not to pick Novak to fight his way to another victory over Grigor on Saturday.


Andy Murray vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (24) – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena

Murray can’t possibly recover enough to contend in this matchup, right?  Coming back from back-to-back five-setters, the second of which lasted nearly six hours and ended close to breakfast time, seems impossible for almost any athlete, much less a 35-year-old with a metal hip.

While Bautista Agut is also coming off a five-setter, against American qualifier Brandon Holt, his lasted nearly three hours less, and ended even more hours earlier.  Roberto is off to a strong start in 2023, as he was a runner-up just last week in Adelaide, where he lost the final in a third-set tiebreak to Soon-woo Kwon.

Four years ago in the first round of this tournament, Bautista Agut defeated Murray in a four-hour five-setter, with an on-court ceremony held thereafter for a thought-to-be retiring Andy.  But here Murray is, still gritting his way through five-setters and defeating players nearly 10 years his junior.  Roberto also beat Andy twice last year on hard courts, winning those four sets by score lines of 6-0, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.  Murray claimed their first three meetings, which occurred between 2014 and 2016.

But on this day, a drained Andy has to be considered a huge underdog, as he tries to reach the fourth round at a Major for the first time in six years.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (Q) vs. Belinda Bencic (12) – Bencic is now 6-0 to start the year, coming off a title run in Adelaide.  She’s split two previous meetings against Schmiedlova on hard courts.

Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Dan Evans (25) – Rublev is vying to reach the second week for the ninth time out of his last 12 Majors.  Evans has only twice accomplished that.  These players are 4-4 against each other at all levels.

Tommy Paul vs. Jenson Brooksby – Brooksby took out second-seeded Casper Ruud in four sets on Thursday, while Paul outlasted Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in five.  This past summer in Cincinnati, Tommy defeated Jenson 6-3, 6-2.

Laura Siegemund vs. Caroline Garcia (4) – Garcia managed to defeat Leylah Fernandez in straight sets in the last round despite a stern test from the Canadian.  Two years ago at Roland Garros, Caroline easily prevailed over Laura, dropping just four games.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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Andrey Rublev Reflects On Recent Struggles Ahead Of Monte Carlo Title Defence

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Andrey Rublev admits he continues to struggle to maintain his emotions on the court after his disqualification from a tournament earlier this year.

The Russian world No.6 hopes to get back on track after a disappointing American swing where he won just one out of three matches played. In Indian Wells, Rublev beat ex-No.1 Andy Murray before falling in straight sets to Jiri Lehecka. Then in Miami, he lost his opening match against Tomas Machac. 

“At Indian Wells, I was so focused on trying to control my movements that I was completely stuck,” the 26-year-old recently commented
“I had no energy left, I had no strength. And in Miami, I exploded. I could no longer control myself, my actions, my nerves. I felt paralyzed, I couldn’t move.”

As to why Rublev felt so paralyzed, he acknowledges it could be linked to an incident that happened earlier in the season. At the Dubai Tennis Championships he was defaulted from his semi-final clash against Alexander Bublik for unsportsmanlike conduct after he was accused of saying an obscenity in his native language at an official. He then successfully appealed against the penalty and retained the ranking points and prize money he earned, barring a fine of $36,400 for a code violation.

“Maybe what happened in Dubai remains in my mind,” said Rublev. 

Rublev’s focus now switches to his title defence at the Monte Carlo Masters. It is the only Masters 1000 event he has won so far in his career. 

“I feel better. These last two weeks I have been training a lot. But it’s one thing to train well, it’s another to play well in a match.” He evaluated of his current form. 

Rublev has yet to defend a Tour-level title so far in his career. Should he do so, he will become only the fifth player in the Open Era to win multiple Monte Carlo trophies. 

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