Australian Open Daily Preview: Several Top Seeds Face Significant Unseeded Opposition - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: Several Top Seeds Face Significant Unseeded Opposition

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Casper Ruud on Tuesday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

Thursday will be a busy day in Melbourne, featuring 32 second round singles matches, and 42 first round doubles matches.

Casper Ruud, a two-time Major finalist in 2022, faces a frustrating foe in Jenson Brooksby.  WTA Finals Champion Caroline Garcia takes on 2021 US Open Finalist Leylah Fernandez.  And Aryna Sabalenka, the fifth seed, plays Shelby Rogers, who has a history of upsetting big names at Slams.

Plus fresh off his five-set win over Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday, Andy Murray goes against Australia’s own Thanasi Kokkinakis.

And Day 4 also sees Novak Djokovic and Ons Jabeur play their second round matches.

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


Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Shelby Rogers – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena

A year ago, Sabalenka endured one of the toughest spans of her career.  She was striking double-digit double faults in the majority of her matches, and lost a heartbreaking fourth round match at this tournament to Kaia Kanepi in a final set tiebreak.  Yet Aryna improved on her service woes as the year progressed, reaching her third Major semifinal in New York, as well as the championship match at the WTA Finals.  And she’s off to a 5-0 start in 2023, coming off a title run in Adelaide where she didn’t drop a set.

Rogers owns some big victories over top names at Majors, such as Ash Barty, Petra Kvitova, and Simona Halep.  But Shelby had a losing record in 2022, and lost both of her main draw matches at Australian Open tune-up events earlier this month.

Sabalenka is 2-0 against Rogers, with both matches taking place last year.  In ‘s-Hertogenbosch on grass, she prevailed in straights.  In Cincinnati on a hard court, she prevailed in three.  On Thursday, Sabalenka is the favorite to prevail again, as she’s one of the top contenders to make a deep run in Melbourne. 


Jenson Brooksby vs. Casper Ruud (2) – Not Before 12:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Ruud started the season going just 1-2 ahead of this fortnight, and survived a tough four-setter against Tomas Machac in the first round.  Casper missed last year’s Australian Open due to an ankle injury, before of course achieving his first two Major finals later in the season.

Brooksby also won in four sets on Tuesday, but spent nearly an hour less on court than Ruud.  After having a breakout season in 2021, when he accumulated 49 match wins at all levels, Jenson fell into the dreaded sophomore slump in 2022, going just 27-23.  But the 22-year-old is off to a more promising start in 2023, coming off a semifinal run last week in Auckland.

Ruud and Brooksby played last May on clay in Rome, with Casper prevailing in straights.  But on a quicker surface in Melbourne, Jenson has a strong chance to upset the second seed.  Almost all of the American’s good results have come on hard courts, and his in-your-face, impudent attitude can annoy many opponents, as it did Borna Coric at last summer’s US Open.  And following all the career-changing success Ruud attained last year, he feels due for a letdown.


Leylah Fernandez vs. Caroline Garcia (4) – Third on Rod Laver Arena

Since the 19th of June, Garcia is 41-10, with four titles on three different surfaces.  That includes the WTA Finals, the biggest title of her career to date.  And Caroline also achieved her first Major semifinal in New York.  She easily prevailed in straight sets in the first round.

Fernandez was the runner-up in New York a year prior, but went just 21-15 last season.  A foot injury she suffered in the Roland Garros quarterfinals derailed her year, and she’s only 8-9 since.  On Tuesday, she earned her first-ever victory at the Australian Open over another Frenchwoman, Alize Cornet.

In their first career meeting, Garcia must be favored based on her superb recent form.  But Fernandez is one of the WTA’s most dogged competitors, and as we saw two years ago at the US Open, she loves to upset top seeds at Slams.


Andy Murray vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis – Last on Margaret Court Arena

What will Murray have left after his epic first round encounter against Berrettini, which lasted nearly five hours and was decided by a fifth-set tiebreak?  The last few times Andy has won a five-setter at a Major, he’s lost the next round in straight sets.  That includes the 2020 US Open (defeated Nishioka, lost to Auger-Aliassime), Wimbledon 2021 (defeated Otte, lost to Shapovalov), and the 2022 Australian Open (defeated Basilashvili, lost to Daniel).  And the Berrettini match went longer than any of those previous five-set victories.

Kokkinakis easily prevailed in his first round, dropping only five games to Fabio Fognini in a match spread across two days.  He’s coming off a semifinal run last week in his hometown of Adelaide, where he beat the likes of Andrey Rublev.  And a year ago, he teamed with close friend Nick Kyrgios to win the men’s doubles title at this event.

Their only previous meeting occurred eight years ago in Davis Cup, where Murray easily beat Kokkinakis when the Aussie was just 19-years-old.  Andy is keen to reverse his recent pattern at Slams, and make his first run to the second week in six years.  But there’s no way his body will be 100% after such a grueling battle.  And with the Aussie fans going wild for Kokkinakis, I like Thanasi’s chances of reaching the third round at his home Slam for the first time.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Alize Cornet and Sam Stosur (WC) vs. Hao-Ching Chan and Zhaoxuan Yang (11) – Stosur has announced this will be the final tournament of her career.  Hao-Ching and Zhaoxuan are a new partnership for 2023, and are 0-2 thus far.

Taylor Fritz (8) vs. Alexei Popyrin (WC) – Fritz defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili in a tight four-setter on Tuesday, while Australian Popyrin came back from two-sets-to-one down to win in five.  Last August in Washington, Fritz beat Popyrin in straights.

Enzo Couacaud (Q) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – Djokovic looked pretty sharp on Tuesday despite the hamstring injury he’s been recovering from.  Couacaud is a 27-yea-old Frenchman who on Tuesday won only his second main draw match at a Major.

Marketa Vondrousova vs. Ons Jabeur – Jabeur prevailed in three sets on Tuesday over Tamara Zidansek.  Vondrousova was a surprise finalist at the 2019 French Open, but her career has been hampered by injuries for the last several years.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Jack Draper Wins In Stuttgart, Potentially Faces Andy Murray in Round Two

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Jack Draper – ATP Monaco di Baviera 2024 (foto via Twitter @atptour)

Britain’s Jack Draper tight first round win headlined the opening day’s results at the Boss Open 2024 in Stuttgart – and possibly faces a second-round match with Andy Murray who takes on Marcos Giron tomorrow.

Less than 24 hours from the last ball being hit at Roland Garros, the ATP Tour had already switched surfaces onto the grass, and 22-year-old Draper was well tested but ultimately came through in two tie-breakers over Sebastian Ofner.

The sixth seed’s 7-6, 7-6 win contained just one break of serve each, both coming in the second set, as serve dominated proceedings on the faster grass courts in Germany.

While the Austrian won 75% on his first serve, Draper won a whopping 89% behind his first delivery as well as hitting eight aces. These kind of service stats will surely take him far during the grass court season.

“I thought it was a really good match,” Eurosport quoted Draper saying after his match. 
“Both of us played really clean tennis, executing really well.
“When it came down to it, I’m glad I competed really well and got over the line – it’s good to be back on the grass as well.”

There were also wins for Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann who won 6-3, 6-3 over wildcard Henri Squire, while compatriot Dominik Koepfer won in three sets over China’s Zhizhen Zhang 4-6, 7-6, 7-6. 

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Carlos Alcaraz Still Owns A Magical Racket

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The legend of Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket lives on.

The 21-year-old Spaniard executed one magical shot after another with his racket and legs  Sunday afternoon in the French Open final. That bit of magic spelled defeat for Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

This was a final to remember, one of the great matches of all the Grand Slams. It just wasn’t in the cards for the 26-year-old Zverev to finally win a Grand Slam title.

HE HAD IT, THEN HE DIDN’T

Both players seemed to play a game of “he had it and then he didn’t.”

Alcaraz appeared to have everything under control in the first set, but Zverev rushed through the second set and then made a comeback from 5-2 down in the third set to win five straight games.

Zverev had everything going for him when he started the fourth set with a two-set advantage. It appeared that all the 6-6 Zverev had to do was to continue playing his masterful game of big serves and mighty ground strokes.

But Zverev couldn’t get started in the fourth set until he was down 4-0. So much for a smooth and easy ride to a Grand Slam title. By then, the magic of Alcaraz was heating up.

MAGIC OF ALCARAZ HEATING UP

Zverev still had his chances, even when he fell behind 2-1 in the fifth set. He had to feel pretty good about his chances when he took a triple break point lead against Alcaraz’s serve and appeared ready to even the set at 2-2. Even after Carlos came up with a winner to bring the  game score to double break point.

Zverev still was ready to even the entire match.

That’s when everything seemed to go haywire for the German, while all the while, Alcaraz was able to repeatedly come up with his magical shots as the Spaniard made critical shots that looked almost impossible to make.

ALCARAZ HEADED FOR GREATNESS

Everything for Zverev was lost in the magical racket of Alcaraz.

What was then initially called a game-ending Alcaraz double fault and a 2-2 deadlock quicky reversed itself and Alcaraz stayed alive by winning the next three points while taking a 3-1 advantage.

Zverev did get back to a 3-2 deficit and had a break point in the sixth game, but that was it for the hopes of Zverev. The last two games went rather easily in favor of Alcaraz to wrap up a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory for Alcaraz.

That moved the Spaniard to a higher level of success on the ATP Tour. He became the youngest man to win Grand Slam titles on all of the different surfaces, clay, grass and hard courts.

Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket appear to be headed for greatness.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Tsitsipas Brothers Hit With Trio Of Fines At French Open

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Stefanos Tsitsipas and his brother Petros have been fined more than 20,000 euros for multiple violations of the coaching rules at this year’s French Open. 

The brothers received a financial penalty during three different matches that they played in. Two of those were in the second and third rounds of the men’s doubles tournament. Furthermore, Stefanos was also penalised during his singles quarter-final match against Carlos Alcaraz, which he lost in straight sets. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, all three of those fines were issued as a result of coaching rules being broken.

Ironically, coaching is allowed during matches at the French Open but certain rules must be followed. ‘Verbal’ coaching can only be issued from the coaches and their team if they are sitting in the designated player’s box. Instructions must be limited to a few words and can only be given if the player is in the same half of the court as their coach. Although non-verbal coaching is allowed regardless of what side the player is on. Finally, players can’t start a conversation with their coach unless it is during a medical break, a bathroom break or when their opponent is changing clothes.

However, the Tsitsipas brothers have been found in violation of these rules, which is likely due to their animated father in the stands who is also their coach. Apostolos Tsitsipas has been given coaching violations in the past at other events, including the 2022 Australian Open. 

The value of the fines are €4,600 and €9,200 for the Tsitsipas brothers in the doubles, as well as an additional €7,400 just for Stefanos in the singles. In total, the value of their fines is €21,200. However, the penalty is unlikely to have an impact on the duo whose combined earnings for playing in this year’s French Open amount to roughly €495,000. 

So far in the tournament, the highest single fine to be issued this year was against Terence Atmane who hit a ball out of frustration that struck a fan in the stands. Atmane, who later apologised for his actions, managed to avoid getting disqualified from the match. Instead, he was fined €23,000. 

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