As we enter the second week of the 2023 Australian Open, the remaining men’s field owns 21 Major singles titles, and of course they all belong to Novak Djokovic. The nine-time champion is a huge favorite to tie Rafael Nadal with his 22nd Slam title, but only if his injured hamstring holds up. On Monday, he faces the only Australian left in either singles draw, Alex de Minaur.
Other round of 16 action features tennis’ youth movement, with players like 19-year-old Holger Rune, 20-year-old Ben Shelton, and 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova. And in a battle between two of the WTA’s hottest players to start the year, Aryna Sabalenka takes on Belinda Bencic.
Each day this preview will highlight the four most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Monday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.
Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Belinda Bencic (12) – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena
Sabalenka is now 7-0 in 2023, and 14-0 in sets. During the first week of this tournament, she allowed her opponents just over two games per set. And most importantly, she’s struck just seven double faults through three matches, a stark contrast to the beginning of last year, when she was striking double-digit double faults in most of her matches.
Bencic is now 8-1 in 2023, with her only loss coming to World No.1 Iga Swiatek during the United Cup. Like Sabalenka, she is yet to drop a set this fortnight. And Belinda is now being coached by Dmitry Tursunvov, who previously coached Aryna to the top of the game.
Bencic has never been farther than this round in Melbourne, and came into this tournament with a modest 12-9 record at the Australian Open. This is the third consecutive year Sabalenka has reached the fourth round down under, but she’s also yet to go farther, and was 8-5 here before this year.
They have split two previous meetings, both on hard courts. Five years ago in New Haven, Sabalenka won in straights. Four years ago in Dubai, Bencic won in a third set tiebreak. In the rubber match, I give Aryna and her power game the slight edge at this event, despite the valuable coaching knowledge Tursunov can offer to Belinda.
Donna Vekic vs. Linda Fruhvirtova – Second on Margaret Court Arena
Vekic is a former top 20 player and US Open quarterfinalist. But injuries have disrupted the last few years of her career. Yet she’s undefeated to start 2023, having taken all her United Cup matches in straight sets. And Hall of Famer Pam Shriver has joined her coaching team.
Fruhvirtova is one of many Czech teenagers on the rise, alongside her younger sister Brenda. Less than a year ago, Linda was ranked outside the top 300. But in her second appearance in the main draw at a Major, she’s into the second week for the first time, and is on the verge of cracking the top 50.
In their first career meeting, Vekic must be favored. She has a vast experience edge over Fruvirtova, especially at Majors. And Donna has been serving very well, winning 82% of first serve points across her last two matches.
Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Holger Rune (9) – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena
This is a blockbuster fourth round affair between two top 10 seeds. Rublev has only dropped one set to this stage, and is looking to achieve his third quarterfinal in as many Majors. Andrey went 51-20 last season, and 4-0 in finals, though he lost both of his matches in Australia to start this year before this event.
Rune has not dropped a set, and has only been broken four times across the nine sets he’s played. He’s vying for his second Major quarterfinal, after first achieving that feat last year in Paris. Later in the season in that same city, he won his first Masters 1000 title at the Paris Indoors, upsetting Novak Djokovic in a stellar final.
Earlier in that tournament, Rune defeated Rublev 6-4, 7-5 in their only previous meeting. And based on the way the streaky Danish teenager is currently playing, I favor Holger to defeat Andrey again on Monday.
Alex de Minaur vs. Novak Djokovic (7) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena
Djokovic has managed to overcome his hamstring injury to reach the second week of this event for the 15th time. But will his injured leg be able to keep up with the speedy Australian’s excellent court coverage?
De Minaur loves representing his country, especially at this event. This round of 16 appearance equals his best result at his home Slam, which he first achieved a year ago. Alex best Major result was reaching the quarterfinals at the 2020 US Open. In the lead-up to this tournament, he upset Rafael Nadal at the United Cup, winning 7-5 in the third.
In their first career encounter, an injured Djokovic still must be the favorite. Novak is now 34-2 since the start of Wimbledon last summer, and he’s a man on a mission after missing multiple Majors last year due to his vaccination status. But if de Minaur can use his defensive skills to extend points, and to extend Novak out wide, which the injured nine-time champion has been struggling to cover, Alex has a shot to upset another all-time great this month.
Other Notable Matches on Monday:
Magda Linette vs. Caroline Garcia (4) – Garcia came back from a set down to defeat Laura Siegemund in the last round, and is seeking her second consecutive Slam quarterfinal. Linette is into the second week of a Slam for the first time in her career in her 30th time in a Slam main draw, and at the age of 30. Six years ago in Strasbourg, Caroline beat Magda in straight sets.
Karolina Pliskova (30) vs. Shuai Zhang (23) – Pliskova is yet to drop a set, and is 7-0 against Shuai at all levels. Zhang famously was contemplating retirement before 2016 Australian Open, having gone 0-14 in the main draw of Majors. But then she reached the quarterfinals of this event, a feat she repeated three years later at Wimbledon. She also won the women’s doubles title at this tournament in 2019 alongside newly-retired Aussie Sam Stosur.
Ben Shelton vs. J.J. Wolf – This is the first appearance in the fourth round of a Major for both young Americans. For Wolf, it’s only his third time in the main draw at a Major, after previously advancing to the third round of the US Open in 2021 and 2023. A year ago, he was ranked outside the top 200, but will be inside the top 50 after this fortnight. For Shelton, it’s his second time in the main draw at a Major, and his first time traveling outside the United States in his life. A year ago, he was ranked outside the top 500, but would also move into the top 50 with a win on Monday.
Roberto Bautista Agut (24) vs. Tommy Paul – Bautista Agut eliminated an exhausted Andy Murray on Saturday night, and was a quarterfinalist here four years ago, which was also the last time he defeated Murray down under. Paul is vying for his first Major quarterfinal, after also reaching the round of 16 at last July’s Wimbledon. Bautista Agut is 3-1 against Paul, though Tommy took their most recent meeting, just two months ago in Bercy on a hard court.
Monday’s full Order of Play is here.
Alexander Zverev Deserves More Respect According To Boris Becker
According to Boris Becker, Alexander Zverev deserves more respect from tennis journalists.
Boris Becker has claimed that Alexander Zverev deserves more respect despite Zverev failing to live up to his potential at Grand Slams.
Zverev has only reached one Grand Slam final in his career despite being a regular inside the world’s top ten as well as performing at regular ATP events.
This season Zverev played a limited schedule after recovering from an ankle injury but still managed to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals.
However most critics have been loud when judging Zverev’s career as it was looking likely that he would be a regular Grand Slam champion.
The German has failed to live up to expectations but former Grand Slam champion Boris Becker believes Zverev deserves more respect.
Speaking to Eurosport Becker also said that Zverev’s father being the coach is a more than successful approach when it comes to the former US Open finalist’s career, “In my opinion, he doesn’t get enough respect from the tennis experts internationally,” Becker explained.
“They’re all talking about the young three or four, but don’t give Zverev, Medvedev or Rublev enough respect. He’s playing with his fist in his pocket a little bit, wants everyone show that he is not a thing of the past, but that his best time is yet to come.
“Surely his father knows best what is good for his son, but if you look into the box at the competition, you can also see changes.”
Becker has followed Zverev for most of his career so knows that the best is yet to come from the German.
Alexander Zverev will look to prove himself next season when he starts his 2024 season when he represents Germany at the United Cup.
Juan Carlos Ferrero Analyses Key Areas For Carlos Alcaraz’s Development
Juan Carlos Ferrero has outlined the next steps in Carlos Alcaraz’s development.
Carlos Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero has analysed the key areas for the Spaniard’s development heading into the 2024 season.
The former world number one’s season has come to an end after a successful year which saw him win the Wimbledon title as well as winning two Masters 1000 titles.
Alcaraz capped off an incredible season by reaching the semi-finals at the Nitto ATP Finals, where he lost to Novak Djokovic.
However there is a long way for the Spaniard to go if he wants to consistently go toe-to-toe with Novak Djokovic.
Speaking to Marca Alcaraz’s coach Juan Carlos Ferrero spoke about the Spaniard’s development and said that Alcaraz is too emotional, “Be more regular in games, not open doors. Sometimes there are mistakes and it is something that we have to improve a lot,” Ferrero commented.
“Although it is true that he opens doors, he always competes well and at the highest level. He knows it, the other day he already said that Novak doesn’t give you one. He has to improve his decision making and he will achieve that with experience. Carlos is very emotional and that sometimes helps him and other times not so much.”
It’s clear Alcaraz’s high-quality is there but to consistently do it against Djokovic is another task altogether as the Spaniard looks to go from strength-to strength next season.
One area that is clearly a priority for Alcaraz is physical conditioning especially considering what happened against Djokovic at Roland Garros earlier in the season.
Ferrero said that will be a clear focus heading into 2024 but couldn’t guarantee that Alcaraz will play a tournament before the Australian Open, “Because of the year and the fatigue he has been in, what he needs is rest and disconnecting for 8-10 days with his friends,” Ferrero stated.
“From there, the thinking must go back to working really hard, strong and well to start very strongly in Australia. One can never be sure of that. Sometimes you play a tournament and it doesn’t go well, you left home too early. There are many ways of thinking.
“This year we haven’t played Australia and he finishes number two. That means there is no urgency to play a tournament early. Carlos is a player who enters competition quickly, you don’t usually see him without rhythm.
“Although it is true that he becomes more dangerous from the round of 16, from the quarter-finals. I am confident that the two exhibition matches and the training sessions will help us play a good tournament.”
Alcaraz will be looking to play the Australian Open which starts on the 15th of January after the Spaniard missed last year’s tournament due to a leg injury.
Australian Open Chief Confident Nadal Will Play But Kyrgios’ Participation Uncertain
The tournament director of the Australian Open says he is ‘certain’ that Rafael Nadal will play at the Grand Slam even though the Spaniard has yet to outline his comeback plans.
Craig Tiley told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday he hopes to receive some clarity over Nadal’s intentions in the next couple of weeks but is confident he will play. However, the tennis official had previously claimed in October that the former world No.1 had already committed to play in the event before his team denied that statement.
Nadal, who has won 22 Grand Slam titles, hasn’t played a Tour match since his second round defeat at the Australian Open in January due to a hip injury. He was originally expecting to take an eight-week break but the recovery didn’t go to plan and he ended up having surgery. In May he confirmed that he will take an extended break from the sport to heal his body and admitted that retirement next year is a possibility.
“Rafa has been training, I follow him closely, probably every day because he’s a massive drawcard for us,” the Reuters News Agency quoted Tiley as saying.
“He wants to play, he’s obviously planning on playing. It all depends on how he pulls up.
“Hopefully in the next week or the next two weeks, we get some specific confirmation of that. I’m certain Rafa will be here because he’s not going to want to miss the opportunity to repeat what he did a couple of years ago.”
Earlier this month Nadal confirmed that he intends to return to the Tour but admits that he will continue to experience a degree of pain. Although he has yet to give any information about which tournament he will begin his comeback at. The 2024 season begins during the first week of January.
“I’m well, training, and happy. I’m at a good stage of my life,” atptour.com quoted Nadal as telling reporters in Barcelona.
“Until now I didn’t know if I would play tennis again someday, and now I genuinely believe I will. I’m still not ready to say when, but I’m able to train increasingly longer, and the progress is good.’
Will Kyrgios play?
Another player Tiley is eager to welcome back is home player and former Wimbledon Finalist Nick Kyrgios who has only played one Tour-level match this season due to injury. He underwent knee surgery in January and then tore a ligament in his wrist during the summer. As a result, the Australian currently doesn’t have an ATP ranking due to his inactivity.
“We have spoken to Nick, and he obviously wants to do the best he possibly can to give him the best chance to play in January,” Tiley said of Kyrgios.
“Whether he’s playing, whether he’s doing something else, Nick will be here in January and to get him to play will be great. But we’ve got to take it as it comes and he’s got to make sure he takes care of his health …”
Kyrgios recently worked as an analyst for the Tennis Channel during this year’s ATP Finals in Turin and gave a brief update on his ongoing recovery during a segment.
“After last year, I had such a great year, and I’m so hungry to get back out there,” the 2022 Wimbledon finalist commented.
“So I’m doing everything I can to get back out there. Obviously, you know how injuries are every day, just doing the rehab, doing the gym work.”
The Australian Open will begin on Sunday 14th January. Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka are the defending champions.
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