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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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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