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



A look at Saturday's sunset in Melbourne (

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.


Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro



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One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro



Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?



Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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