Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Australia’s Alex de Minaur in the Fourth Round - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Australia’s Alex de Minaur in the Fourth Round

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Novak Djokovic on Saturday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

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.

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Daniil Medvedev Targets French Open Breakthrough After Rome Disappointment

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Daniil Medvedev believes there will be more title contenders at the French Open than previous editions with the Russian hoping to be one of them. 

The world No.4 heads into the Grand Slam after what has been a mixed clay swing. Medvedev suffered a third round defeat in Monte Carlo before bouncing back in Madrid where he reached the quarter-finals before retiring from his match with a minor injury. Meanwhile, at this week’s Italian Open, his title defence came to an end in the fourth round on Tuesday when he fell 6-1, 6-4, to Tommy Paul. 

“Mentally I had to be much better,” Medvedev said of his latest performance.
“I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.’
“It’s disappointing, but that’s how sport is. You lose and you go for the next tournament, which is a pretty important one.” He added. 

28-year-old Medvedev recently stated that he is seeing improvements in his game when it comes to playing on the clay. A surface which he has struggled on during stages of his career. Out of the 38 ATP Finals he has contested, only two of those were on the clay. Barcelona in 2019 when he finished runner-up and Rome last year which he won. 

As for the French Open, he has lost in the first round on five out of seven appearances. But did reach the quarter-finals in 2021 and the last 16 the following year. So could 2024 be his year?

“Now it’s maybe a little bit more open than it was ever before,” he said of this year’s event. 
“Good for me, too, because usually in Roland Garros I don’t play that well. The more open it is, the better it is for me.”

All of the top three players on the men’s tour are currently experiencing problems. Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Italian Open and recently underwent a medical assessment after getting hit in the head by a bottle in a freak accident. Jannik Sinner is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the French Open due to a hip issue and Carlos Alcaraz has been hindered by a forearm injury in recent weeks. 

“I’m feeling much better on clay,” Medvedev commented. “What is tough for me on clay sometimes is getting used to conditions. Every court – in every tournament in the world – is a bit different.
“On hard courts it’s the same: every court is different. On hard courts I have this ability to kind of quite fast get used to it. On clay, I need more time.”

Medvedev aims to become only the second Russian man in history to win the French Open after Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1996. The tournament will begin a week on Sunday. 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Says Expanded Masters Events ‘Playing A Massive Role’ In Player Injuries

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Stefanos Tsitsipas has slammed the decision to extend the length of Masters 1000 tournaments to two weeks by warning that more injuries could occur in the future as a result. 

This week’s Rome Masters is taking place without two out of the world’s top three players. Jannik Sinner pulled out of his home event due to a hip injury and Carlos Alcaraz has been troubled by a forearm issue in recent weeks. Other players missing from the draw include Tomas Machac (Illness), Ugo Humbert (Left Knee) and Stan Wawrinka (Right Wrist). 

The tournament is taking place immediately after the Madrid Open which is also a Masters event that has been expanded to a two-week format in recent years. Supporters of the move argue that a bigger draw provides lower-ranked players with more opportunities to play in these events whilst others will have a day off between matches. 

However, world No.8 Tsitsipas isn’t completely happy with the schedule which he openly criticised on Monday following his 6-2, 7-6(1), win over Cameron Norrie. The Greek has won 12 out of 14 matches played on clay so far this season. 

“It’s a type of thing that hurt the sport a little bit, to have these types of things happen to the highest of the players,” Tsitsipas commented on his rival’s injuries.
“Without them, the show is not kind of the same. You have obviously the guys behind them (in the rankings). These kinds of tournaments deserve names like this to be playing and have the opportunity to play in front of these big stadiums and crowds.
“I’ve spoken about the fact that the schedule has a big toll on our bodies. It starts from the mental side, and it follows to the physical side. The extension of the days in the Masters 1000s I think plays a massive role and contributes a lot to the fact that these players are getting injured.”

The ATP’s extended format is set to be applied to seven out of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments from 2025. The only two yet to make or plan for such changes are Monte Carlo and Paris. However, Tsitsipas has called for changes to be made to the schedule.

“It was perhaps already a lot the way it was before with the seven-day events. Adding more days to that, well, you got to be some type of superhero to be consistent back-to-back 10 days in each event getting to the very end of it.” He commented.
“It’s not a very easy thing to do. Some people need to try it first to get an understanding and how it is to pull that off. Then they should make decisions based on that.
“I think this is not going to be the first time we see these types of things (player injuries). If these types of things continue with the same schedule not being adjusted or customized to the needs of the players, we might see more of these things occur in the future.”

It is not the first time a player has raised concerns about the extended format. Alexander Zverev previously said that the schedule is a disadvantage for the top players. Meanwhile, on the women’s Tour Caroline Garcia has criticised the move to expand WTA 1000 tournaments whilst Maria Sakkari said achieving the Madrid-Rome double has become harder to do

On the other hand, Daniil Medvedev has spoken in favour of the new format and describes injuries on the Tour as ‘part of the sport.’ The former US Open believes the issue is related to the quick surface changes players face and not the duration of tournaments. 

Tsitsipas will play Alex de Minaur in the fourth round of the Italian Open on Tuesday. 

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Novak Djokovic To Undergo Medical Check After Rome Thrashing, Bottle Incident

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Novak Djokovic – ATP Roma 2024 (foto: Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis)

Novak Djokovic has indicated that he will speak to doctors following his lacklustre performance at the Italian Open where he crashed out in straight sets. 

The five-time champion was far from his best against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo as he struggled to generate any rhythm in his tennis or a single break point opportunity. Djokovic’s below-par performance caught many off guard, including the tennis player himself who admitted afterwards that he was ‘completely off’ his game. 

Trying to find the reason behind his latest performance, the world No.1 isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might be linked to an incident that took place at the tournament two days ago. Following his win over France’s Corentin Moutet, Djokovic suffered a blow to his head after a fan accidentally dropped a metal bottle from the stands. Immediately afterwards, he experienced nausea, dizziness and bleeding for up to an hour but was checked by medical officials.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I have to check that.” Djokovic replied when asked if the incident affected his form on Sunday.
“Training was different. I was going for kind of easy training yesterday. I didn’t feel anything, but I also didn’t feel the same.
“Today under high stress, it was quite bad – not in terms of pain, but in terms of this balance. Just no coordination. Completely different player from what it was two nights ago.
“It could be. I don’t know. I have to do medical checkups and see what’s going on. “

The tennis star said he managed to sleep fine after his head blow but did experience headaches. He looked to be in good spirits the day after it happened and even turned up to practice in Rome wearing a safety helmet.

Djokovic’s concerns come two weeks before the start of the French Open where he is seeking a record 25th Major title. He will undoubtedly be one of the contenders for glory but admits there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the coming days. 

“Everything needs to be better in order for me to have at least a chance to win it,” he said.
“The way I felt on the court today was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. Just no rhythm, no tempo, and no balance whatsoever on any shot.
“It’s a bit concerning.”

The French Open will begin on Sunday 26th May. 

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