Australian Open Daily Preview: Seeds Collide in Several Blockbuster Third Round Matchups - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: Seeds Collide in Several Blockbuster Third Round Matchups

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Frances Tiafoe on Monday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

On Friday in Melbourne, third round singles action begins, as seeds run into each other in the draws for the first time.

 

Reigning Wimbledon Champion Elena Rybakina takes on 2022 Australian Open Runner-up Danielle Collins.  Two-time Australian Open Champion Victoria Azarenka faces 2017 US Open Runner-up Madison Keys.  In a battle of 2022 US Open semifinalists, Frances Tiafoe goes up against Karen Khachanov.  And 2021 US Open Champion Daniil Medvedev plays promising American Sebastian Korda.

And all that doesn’t even include a matchup of top 20 seeds and two Major semifinalists, as Hubert Hurkacz battles Denis Shapovalov.  Plus Iga Swiatek, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, and many more stars are in third round action on Friday.

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


Elena Rybakina (22) vs. Danielle Collins (13) – Not Before 2:00pm on Kia Arena

With her knee wrapped up, Collins has already survived two grueling three-hour encounters this week.  On Monday afternoon, she overcame Anna Kalinskaya 6-4 in the third.  Late on Wednesday night, and actually into Thursday morning, she outlasted Karolina Muchova in a final-set tiebreak.

Rybakina has remained as off the radar as you’ll ever see a reigning Wimbledon champion at a Major.  And her disrespectful scheduling continues, as she’s out on the tournament’s fourth largest court while playing last year’s runner-up.  But Elena has quietly yet decisively advanced without dropping a set.   

Collins and Rybakina just played two weeks ago in Adelaide, with Elena prevailing in three sets.  But Danielle claimed their other previous meeting, two years ago in San Jose.  In the rubber match, Rybakina will definitively be the fresher player, which gives her a considerable edge.


Madison Keys (10) vs. Victoria Azarenka (24) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

Keys’ best Major result may have been in New York, but she’s a two-time semifinalist in Melbourne.  And she now has more wins at the Australian Open than any other Slam.  The Aussie heat and fast-playing hard courts feel like home to the hard-hitting Floridian.  Madison collected 11 wins in Australia last January, and is now an undefeated 7-0 down under to start this season.

However, she is 0-3 against Azarenka.  That includes a three-setter just a few months ago on a hard court in Guadalajara.  But while Vika advanced to the second week of this event for eight straight years between 2009 and 2016, she’s only done so once since, reaching the fourth round a year ago.  She was absent from this tournament in three recent years, and lost in the first round in two others.

Friday’s weather is forecasted to be rather mild in Melbourne, which favors Azarenka.  And based on their history, it makes sense to favor Vika to go 4-0 against Keys, especially after Azarenka dropped only one game in her second round victory.  But coming off the Unites States’ title run at the United Cup, which Keys described as the best two weeks of her career due to the fun team atmosphere, I’m picking a confident and rejuvenated Madison to earn her first win over Azarenka.


Karen Khachanov (18) vs. Frances Tiafoe (16) – Not Before 7:00pm on John Cain Arena

At the last Major, both men achieved their first Slam semifinal.  Tiafoe defeated three top 16 seeds in New York, most notably taking out Rafael Nadal in an exhilarating fourth round contest.  And Frances pushed eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz to five sets in the semifinals.  Khachanov won consecutive five-setters over Pablo Carreno Busta and Kick Kyrgios to make the semis, where he lost to Casper Ruud in four.

These two players also had nearly identical record last season: Tiafoe was 35-25, while Khachanov was 36-25.  Frances is now an undefeated 7-0 to start this season, coming off his title run in the United Cup with Team USA.  Khachanov is 5-2 on the year, having reached two quarterfinals in back-to-back tournaments in Adelaide.

Karen is 2-0 against Frances, with both their matches taking place in the third round of another Major: The Championships.  In 2018, Khachanov won in five.  In 2021, Khachanov won in straights.  But in 2023 on a hard court, and with American men having a great tournament thus far, I like Tiafoe’s chances to prevail on Friday.


Sebastian Korda (29) vs. Daniil Medvedev (7) – Last on Rod Laver Arena

Medvedev has not dropped a set to this stage, and is now 5-1 on the year.  Two weeks ago in Adelaide, he lost to Novak Djokovic in a straight-set semifinal.  Daniil has been a finalist at this event in both of the last two years.

Korda make his breakthrough in 2021, going from 119th to 39th in the rankings, winning 36 matches and his first ATP title.  In 2022, he suffered a bit of a sophomore slump for much of the year, but ended the season reaching back-to-back hard court finals in Gijon and Antwerp.  And to start 2023, he advanced to a final in Adelaide, where he even held match point against Djokovic, before succumbing in three sets.

Their only prior meeting took place two years ago in Bercy, where Medvedev prevailed in three.  I like Korda to have a very strong 2023, and he could easily push Daniil in this matchup.  But despite Medvedev’s struggles since his heartbreaking loss in last year’s final to Nadal, Daniil still has to be favored on a hard court.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Tallon Griekspoor – Tsitsipas is now 6-0 this season, and has not dropped a set this week.  But Griekspoor is also 6-0, coming off a title run in Pune, and is also yet to lose a set this week. 

Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Anhelina Kalinina – Pegula has been a quarterfinalist in both of the last two years in Melbourne.  Kalinina beat Petra Kvitova in straight sets on Wednesday to achieve her first third-round appearance at a Slam.  Pegula went 3-0 last year against Kalinina, which includes a three-set victory at this event.

Mackie McDonald vs. Yoshihito Nishioka – Can McDonald follow-up on his upset of Rafael Nadal?  These are two of the ATP’s speediest players.  Mackie has twice before reached the fourth round at Majors.  He’s 1-3 against Nishioka, which includes a straight-set loss just two weeks ago in Adelaide.  But Yoshi has never advanced beyond the third round at a Slam.

Bernarda Pera vs. Coco Gauff (7) – Gauff defeated Emma Raducanu in two tightly-contested sets on Wednesday night, and is now 7-0 on the year.  Pera is a fellow American who upset Qinwen Zheng in the last round. 

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Cristina Bucsa (Q) – Swiatek is vying to reach the second week at eight of the last nine Majors.  Bucsa is a 25-year-old qualifier who took out Bianca Andreescu in the last round. 

Hubert Hurkacz (10) vs. Denis Shapovalov (20) – Hurkacz survived a five-setter on Wednesday against Lorenzo Sonego.  Shapovalov reached the quarters here a year ago, but hasn’t been to the second week of a Slam since.  Hubi is 3-1 against Denis, with all four matches occurring on hard courts.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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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

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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?

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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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Matteo Berrettini Looks To Draw Inspiration From Jannik Sinner

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner ahead of his comeback to the ATP tour.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner as Berrettini is continuing his recovery from his injury.

 

The former Wimbledon finalist has had a horrible run of injuries which has seen the Italian fall down the rankings as he is now at 124 in the world.

After suffering a horrible injury at the US Open during his match with Arthur Rinderknech, Berrettini was looking to make his return at the Australian Open as he was set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

However just before the match, Berrettini withdrew as he decided to delay his comeback to the tour as he will aim to return to the court as soon as possible.

If Berrettini needed any inspiration then Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open could be that much needed spark as the Italian beat Novak Djokovic on his way to capturing a first Grand Slam title.

Speaking an interview Berrettini explained that he is still not 100% and admits he is looking to draw inspiration from Sinner’s form, “I’m better, but I’m not yet 100%,” Berrettini was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

“The goal is to play the whole season, and without these setbacks which are destroying my body and my head. Sinner did a miracle. I will also use this energy for my tennis. I was happy with what Jannik said.

“We have a good relationship, which has strengthened in recent months. We are different but similar. We are pursuing the same dream.”

Berrettini will hope Sinner’s success will have a positive influence on his recovery and quicken his return to the tour as the former world number six aims for a successful return to the tour.

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