Australian Open Daily Preview: The Quarterfinals Begin on Tuesday - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: The Quarterfinals Begin on Tuesday

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Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

On Tuesday in Melbourne, the men’s and women’s singles quarterfinals commence.

 

Three of the four WTA players in Tuesday’s quarterfinals are Major singles champions: Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Ostapenko, and Elena Rybakina.  They are joined by the highest seed remaining in the draw, Jessica Pegula.

Tuesday’s ATP quarterfinals include no Major singles champions.  This is the best result at a Major to date for 22-year-old Sebastian Korda and 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka, while Stefanos Tsitsipas and Karen Khachanov are looking to return to a Slam semifinal.


Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Jelena Ostapenko (22) – Not Before 12:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

This battle between Major champions will feature a whole lot of firepower, as these are two of the WTA’s hardest ball strikers.  And both are coming off significant victories on Sunday.  Rybakina took out World No.1 Iga Swiatek, while Ostapenko eliminated Coco Gauff.

Rybakina has been serving excellently, averaging seven aces and only one double fault in her last two matches against aggressive returners (Swiatek, Collins).  As usual, Ostapenko has been striking tons of winners and unforced errors, but has averaged a good ratio of 34 winners to 27 errors across her last two matches.  Both players have only dropped one set to this stage.

Ostapenko is 2-0 against Rybakina, and 4-0 in sets.  Jelena prevailed four years ago on a hard court, as well as two years ago on grass.  They also played in doubles just last week during this event, with Rybakina and her partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeating Ostapenko and her partner Lyudmyla Kichenok in straight sets.

But Elena’s game has progressed substantially since their last meeting, and she has spoken openly regarding how the lack of ranking points for her Wimbledon victory, as well as being scheduled on outer courts earlier in this event, has made her feel slighted.  And with her calm demeanor, I don’t see her as a player that will be emotionally drained after taking out the World No.1 in the last round.  I like Rybakina to advance to the semifinals of the 2023 Australian Open.


Karen Khachanov (18) vs. Sebastian Korda – Not Before 2:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

What a fortnight it’s been for Sebastian Korda.  After ousting two-time defending finalist Daniil Medvedev in the third round, he followed that up by overcoming Hubert Hurkacz in a dramatic fifth-set tiebreak.  Khachanov defeated another top American, Frances Tiafoe, before beating Yoshihito Nishioka in a bizarre fourth round contest, during which Karen won the first 14 games, and took 24 of 26 points in the second set.

These two players created quite a bizarre fourth round match of their own two years ago at Wimbledon.  Khachanov eventually prevailed 10-8 in the fifth, in a fifth set that included 13 breaks of serve, and some rather ugly and nervy tennis.  But their two most recent encounters went to Korda: last August in Cincinnati, and last October in Antwerp.  Both were hard court matches which Sebi won in straight sets.

While a Major quarterfinal is new territory for Korda, and he won’t be the fresher player after his extended five-setter on Sunday, I expect him to play more freely coming off such a tense, anxious battle against Hurkacz.  And based on the level of his tennis this fortnight, I slightly favor Sebi to achieve his first Major semifinal.


Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Victoria Azarenka (24) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

Pegula is yet to drop a set this tournament, and is 8-1 to start the season, with her only loss coming at the hands of Petra Kvitova during the United Cup.  Azarenka dropped the opening set in both of her last two matches, but came back to pretty decisively win the second and third sets.  She is now 6-2 in 2023.

This is Pegula’s fourth quarterfinal out of the last five Majors, and her fifth overall.  However, she’s 0-4 in Slam quarterfinals to date.  Jess has only secured one of nine sets in those quarterfinals, and went 0-6 in quarterfinals sets last year, though it’s worth noting all three of those 2022 quarterfinals were against the World No.1 at the time (Barty, Swiatek).

This is a sixth Australian Open quarterfinal for Azarenka, but her first since 2016.  Overall at Majors, she’s lost five of her last sixth quarterfinals, dating back to 2014. 

These players have split four previous meetings.  But the two most relevant ones went to Pegula: two years ago at this same event, and just a few months ago on a hard court on Guadalajara.  Despite Azarenka’s previous success in Melbourne, as well as Pegula’s past struggles in Major quarterfinals, I think this will be Jess’ breakthrough to a Slam semifinal.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Jiri Lehecka – Last on Rod Laver Arena

Tsitsipas survived a five-setter in the last round against Jannik Sinner, and is vying for his fourth semifinal in Melbourne out of the last five years.  Lehecka is one of many surprises in this Australian Open men’s singles draw, as he had previously never won a match at a Major.  But he’s impressed this fortnight by taking out the likes of Borna Coric, Cam Norrie, and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

A year ago, Jiri was ranked outside the top 140.  Yet thanks to 42 wins at all levels last season, as well as his run here, he’ll debut inside the top 40 next week. 

Their only previous meeting occurred last February on an indoor hard court in Rotterdam, where Tsitsipas prevailed in three sets.  And Stefanos is a considerable favorite to prevail again on Tuesday against an inexperienced opponent at this level, and at the Major where the Greek owns more victories than any other.


Tuesday’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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