Australian Open Daily Preview: Reigning Major Champions Swiatek and Rybakina Face Off in the Round of 16 - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: Reigning Major Champions Swiatek and Rybakina Face Off in the Round of 16

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A look at Saturday's sunset in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

In 2022, Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina combined to claim three out of four Majors.  But only one of them will advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, as these Slam champs collide in the fourth round.

 

Sunday’s other three WTA round of 16 matchups also include Major singles champions.  A resurgent 2021 Roland Garros Champ Barbora Krejcikova takes on a red-hot Jessica Pegula.  2017 Roland Garros Champ Jelena Ostapenko faces 2022 Roland Garros Runner-up Coco Gauff.  And Two-Time Australian Open Champ Victoria Azarenka plays Lin Zhu, who has never before advanced this far at a Slam.

Men’s fourth round action on Sunday also includes a few blockbuster matchups, most notably Stefanos Tsitsipas battling Jannik Sinner.  And after upsetting two-time finalist Daniil Medvedev in the last round, how will Sebastian Korda fare against Hubert Hurkacz, who outlasted Denis Shapovalov in a five-setter?

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


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Elena Rybakina (22) – Not Before 12:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Swiatek has seemingly settled nicely into this tournament as it’s progressed, losing only one game in her third round matchup.  But she’s yet to face a player ranked higher than 69th in the world, and if Rybakina had received points for her Wimbledon title, she’d be well inside the top 10.  Elena overcame Danielle Collins in the last round, who was a finalist here a year ago.

Overall Rybakina went 40-21 last season, with Wimbledon her only title.  Swiatek was a dominant 67-9 with eight titles, two of them being Majors (Roland Garros, US Open).

Their only prior meeting occurred two years ago in Ostrava, which Iga took in straight sets.  But based on the way Elena has looked this week, I would not be surprised if she upset the World No.1.  When her power game is clicking, as it currently is, Rybakina can dictate play against almost anyone on tour.  And the fast-playing in hard courts in Melbourne favor her game over Swiatek’s.


Hubert Hurkacz (10) vs. Sebastian Korda (29) – Third on Rod Laver Arena

Korda’s victory over Medvedev in the last round was the biggest win of his career to date.  Since October, the 22-year-old American is now 15-4.  This is his third time in the round of 16 at a Major, but reaching a quarterfinal would be breaking new ground.

Hurkacz underperformed at Slams in 2022, going just 4-4.  And he’s now coming off back-to-back five-setters against Lorenzo Sonego and Denis Shapovalov, though both of those lasted under four hours, so they weren’t too taxing as far as five-setters go.

Two years ago in Delray Beach, Hubi defeated Sebi 6-3, 6-3.  But two years later in Melbourne, at a tournament his father won 25 years ago, I like Korda’s chances to prevail.  His level in all three sets against Medvedev was impressive, and Hurkacz is yet to play his best tennis this fortnight.


Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Barbora Krejcikova (20) – Not Before 5:00pm on John Cain Arena

Pegula has become the WTA’s most consistent performer not named Swiatek.  She is vying to reach her fourth quarterfinal out of the last five Majors, and her third consecutive quarterfinal in Melbourne.  Jess was 42-21 last season, and is now 7-1 to start this season, having not lost a set this week.

After a stellar 2021, during which Krejcikova achieved her first Major singles title and went 45-19, an elbow injury derailed her 2022 season.  However, she ended the year by winning back-to-back hard court titles in Tallinn and Ostrava.  Like Pegula, she’s not dropped a set to this stage.

Their first career meeting is a tough one to call.  Both players are current playing with supreme confidence, and seem primed for a deep run this fortnight, had they not drawn each other in the fourth round.  I give the slight edge to Pegula on these fast hard courts, especially considering her recent success at Slams.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Jannik Sinner (15) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

Tsitsipas has advanced rather comfortably, taking all nine sets he’s contested.  And with Nadal and Medvedev eliminated from this half of the draw, it’s a huge opportunity for Stefanos to reach his second Major final.  He’s reached the semifinals of this event in three of the last four years, but is yet to advance farther.

Sinner recovered well after dropping the first two sets on Friday to Marton Fucsovics.  This is the sixth consecutive Major where the Italian has reached the second week, and he’s vying for his fourth quarterfinal out of the last five.

Tsitsipas is 4-1 against Sinner, with four of those matches taking place on clay.  Their only hard court meeting was in the quarterfinals of this same tournament a year ago, when Stefanos easily prevailed in straight sets.  A year later, I fully expect Jannik to make this a much closer contest, but I still favor Tsitsipas to advance after a prolonged encounter.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Jelena Ostapenko (17) vs. Coco Gauff (7) – Gauff is an undefeated 8-0 in 2023, and is yet to lose a set this year.  This is the farthest Ostapenko has ever advanced at a hard court Major.  Four years ago in the final of Linz, Gauff defeated Ostapenko to win her first WTA title.  

Yoshihito Nishioka (31) vs. Karen Khachanov (18) – Nishioka has not dropped a set to this stage.  Khachanov eliminated Francies Tiafoe in the last round.  Karen leads their head-to-head 2-1, though their most recent encounter went to Yoshi, last August in Washington.

Jiri Lehecka vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (6) – 21-year-old Lehecka had never previously won a match at a Major prior to this past week.  Auger-Aliassime has dropped at least one set in all of his first three matches.  This is their first career meeting.

Victoria Azarenka (24) vs. Lin Zhu – Azarenka came back from a set down to oust Madison Keys on Friday evening.  Lin has already upset two seeds in Jil Teichmann and Maria Sakkari.  This is another first-time meeting.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Dominic Thiem Rules Federer Out Of GOAT Debate

The Austrian puts forward his theory on who should be regarded as the best player in history.

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Dominic Thiem; e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Martin Steiger, 27.10.2022

The honour of which player deserves to be regarded as the greatest of all time (GOAT) should be decided based on one factor, according to Dominic Thiem. 

 

The former world No.3 has weighed in on the debate by suggesting that the argument should be settled by the number of Grand Slam titles a player has won as they are the most prestigious tournaments in the sport. In tennis, the four major tournaments are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. 

Thiem’s GOAT criteria have therefore ruled Roger Federer out of contention. The Swiss maestro was at one stage the frontrunner due to the numerous records he has broken throughout his career. However, he retired from the sport last year with 20 Grand Slam trophies under his belt which is less than both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who are currently on 22 each. 

“In my opinion, the Grand Slam titles should be the defining criteria when determining the best of all time, they are the four most important tournaments in tennis,” Eurosport quotes Thiem as saying. 
“Everything else is fine, but it’s not the same. The Slams are what counts, so the GOAT will probably be the one with the most Grand Slams.”

Others will argue that more factors should be taken into account in the subjective debate. For example, Federer has won 103 ATP titles which are more than his two rivals, Djokovic holds the record for most weeks as world No.1 and Nadal has won more tournaments on clay than any other player in history. Furthermore, there is the players’ win-loss rate on the Tour and their records against the top 10 players. 

Recently at the Australian Open Djokovic won the men’s title for a historic 10th time in his career. An achievement that has been hailed by Thiem who was runner-up to the Serbian at Melbourne Park in 2021. 

“I am not very surprised, Djokovic still looks young,” he said. “Physically and mentally, because of the way he moves on the court. It’s like he was 25 years old.
“We have to be honest, he is the best, so his victory was not very surprising.”

Thiem has won one Grand Slam title which was at the 2020 US Open when he became the first man in the Open Era to come back from two sets down to win in the final. He has also been runner-up at the French Open twice, as well as the Australian Open once. 

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Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open Injury ‘Hard To Believe’ In The Eyes Of His Opponent

Some details surrounding Djokovic’s battle with a hamstring issue ‘doesn’t make sense,’ according to Enzo Couacaud.

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Image via Adelaide International Twitter

The only man to take a set off Novak Djokovic during the Serbian’s run to a historic 10th Australian Open title believes there are unanswered questions over his injury. 

 

France’s Enzo Couacaud took a set off the world No.1 before losing their encounter in the second round at Melbourne Park. At the tournament Djokovic was dealing with a hamstring problem which he picked up at the Adelaide International earlier this year. Throughout the tournament, he was wearing strapping on his leg and there was uncertainty about if he would be able to continue playing in the Grand Slam event. 

Despite the issue, Djokovic claimed a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title by disposing of Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in the final. Afterwards his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, claimed that 97% of players would not have played if they were in a similar situation. The exact diagnosis of Djokovic’s injury hasn’t been addressed by his team but Australian Open director Craig Tiley said he suffered a 3mm tear. 

However, Couacaud has questioned the significance of the injury to begin with. During an interview with Tennis Actu, the world No.172 believes that some of the details appear to be ‘far-fetched’ as he draws parallels with Rafael Nadal, as well as footballer Kylian Mbappe.  

“Novak claimed he was playing with an injury, a big injury,” said Couacaud. “When athletes are injured in combat sports, they often can’t continue. When Rafael Nadal is injured, he can’t run. Kylian Mbappe, for example, is out for two weeks.
“And those are the greatest athletes, not those who don’t have access to top-notch care. It is therefore difficult to believe that only one man in the world can continue with an injury.
“When you take the examples of Nadal or Mbappe, but especially Rafa, with an injury to Wimbledon, he couldn’t even serve. When you see the greatest who can’t set foot on the pitch and another who wins a Grand Slam by playing every day for 15 days. It still seems a bit far-fetched.
“There are little things that don’t make sense to me. I was always told not to stretch with an injury. You saw Novak stretching all the time. You say to yourself, either they have a new method in Serbia, or it’s weird. Little things like that, he has his staff, but I’m too far to judge the authenticity of anything. It is true that it seems hard to believe.”

It is not the first time Djokovic has faced accusations that he has in some way exaggerated the significance of an injury. He encountered a similar situation during the 2021 Australian Open where he suffered an abdominal injury. After winning the tournament, he confirmed that he sustained a tear in the region. 

Speaking to journalists at Melbourne Park last month, the tennis star once again hit back at his critics and claimed that he was being singled out. 

“I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt,” Tennis Majors quoted Djokovic as saying in Serbian following his fourth round win over Alex de Minaur. “Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I am faking it. It is very interesting… I don’t feel that I need to prove anything to anyone.
“I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying. It is fun, it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situation. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”

Djokovic has won 93 ATP titles during his career which is the fourth-highest tally in history. Only Ivan Lendl (94), Roger Federer (102) and Jimmy Connors (109) have won more. 

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Novak Djokovic ‘Hurt’ By Father’s Absence From Australian Open Final

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Novak Djokovic - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto dell'Olivo)

Novak Djokovic said he mutually agreed with his father that he did not attend his latest Australian Open match but admits it was a bitter pill to swallow. 

 

Srdjan Djokovic had attended his son’s matches throughout the majority of the tournament but has recently been caught up in controversy. On Wednesday a video surfaced on social media of the 62-year-old posing for a photo with pro-Russian supporters with one of the fans waving a flag with the face of Vladimir Putin on it. Another fan was also wearing a t-shirt with the ‘Z’ symbol on it which is used to support the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags were banned from the tournament this year following an incident in the first round. A Russian flag was shown during a match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova. Prompting anger from Ukraine with its ambassador to Australia calling for a ‘neutral flag’ policy to be implemented. 

Srdjan has since issued a statement saying the incident was ‘unintentional’ and said his family ‘only wish for peace in the world.’ He subsequently also missed Djokovic’s semi-final match to avoid any possible ‘disruption’ before doing the same for Sunday’s final.

“I thought things would calm down in terms of media and everything, but it didn’t. We both agreed it would probably be better that he is not there,” Djokovic said after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title
“That hurts me and him (Srdjan) a lot because these are very special, unique moments. Who knows if they repeat again? So it was not easy for him.”

Whilst he was not in the stands, Djokovic was reunited with his father shortly afterwards. Although the tennis star said Srdjan ‘was not feeling his best’ due to the situation. 

“It is what it is. I think in the end also what he told me is that it’s important that I feel good on the court, I win the match, and he’s here for me,” Djokovic continued. 
“If it’s going to be better for me as the outcome of the match so that he’s not in the box, then so be it. That was the whole conversation.’
“In a way, I’m also sad that he was not there, present, in the stands. But he was throughout the entire tournament, so it’s fine. In the end, we have a happy ending.”

Djokovic has now won five out of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments he has played in. At the Australian Open alone he has won 28 matches in a row.

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