Australian Open Daily Preview: The Quarterfinals Conclude on Wednesday - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: The Quarterfinals Conclude on Wednesday

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Novak Djokovic on Monday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

On Wednesday in Melbourne, the men’s and women’s singles quarterfinals conclude.

 

Nine-time champion Novak Djokovic is just three matches away from tying Rafael Nadal with 22 Major singles titles.  And the hamstring injury that bothered him throughout the first week did not seem to impact his play at all on Monday night in a dominant 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Australia’s Alex de Minaur.  In Wednesday’s quarterfinals, Djokovic faces Andrey Rublev, who survived a dramatic five-setter on Monday afternoon against Holger Rune.

The other men’s singles quarterfinal sees two Americans making their debut at this stage of a Slam, as Tommy Paul plays Ben Shelton.

On the women’s side, Aryna Sabalenka and Karolina Pliskova are one round away from renewing their big-serving rivalry.  But in a tournament that has featured plenty of upsets, can Donna Vekic or Magda Linette pull off another one?


Karolina Pliskova (30) vs. Magda Linette – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena

Reunited with Sascha Bajin as her coach for 2023, and a year after a hand injury forced her to miss this tournament, a fully-healthy Pliskova is back to playing her best tennis.  Karolina has not dropped a set through four rounds, and across her last three matches, the WTA’s self-proclaimed “Ace Queen” has struck 28 aces and just eight double faults. 

Linette upset fourth-seeded Caroline Garcia in the last round, and also beat two other top 20 seeds during the first week (Kontaveit, Alexandrova).  Having never advanced beyond the third round at a Major, 30-year-old Magda is now through to the quarterfinals in her 30th appearance.  Going back to the end of October, Linette is now 13-3 on hard courts at all levels, with six wins over top 30 opposition.  While Magda does not possess the firepower of Karolina, her consistency and defensive skills can frustrate her more powerful opponents, as it did Garcia on Monday.

Pliskova leads their head-to-head 7-2 at levels, but they’ve split their two recent meetings.  At the last Major in New York, Pliskova scarcely survived in a third-set tiebreak, coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the third.  But just two months ago in the Billie Jean King Cup, Linette comfortably prevailed 6-4, 6-1.  Though in a Slam quarterfinal, and on these fast hard courts in Melbourne, Pliskova must be favored to reach her fifth Slam semifinal.


Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Donna Vekic – Not Before 1:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

Sabalenka is an undefeated 8-0 to start the year, and 16-0 in sets.  As Adam Addicott outlined here, a year ago Aryna was having so many issues with her serve, she actually worked with a biomechanics specialist, who helped her correct it.  And the effort has paid off, as it took four matches for her to reach double-digit double faults this fortnight, compared to a year ago when she was hitting double-digits within most of her matches.

Vekic has also brought in a specialist to help her game, adding Hall of Famer Pam Shriver to her team.  After injuries derailed Donna’s career the last few years, she has rediscovered her top form.  Since October, she is now 14-2 at all levels, and an undefeated 7-0 to start 2023.

Fifth-seeded Sabalenka would seemingly be a strong favorite.  However, she’s 1-5 lifetime against Vekic (including qualifying matches).  Aryna’s only victory came four years ago in San Jose.  At the Tokyo Olympics two summers ago, Vekic eliminated Sabalenka in a third-set tiebreak, coming back from 4-2 down in the third.  And just a few months ago in San Diego, Donna again prevailed in three sets.

However, beating this version of Sabalenka, who is red-hot and brimming with confidence, will be a tall task.  And unlike Aryna, who has reached three Major semifinals within the past two years, Vekic has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at a Slam.  I like Sabalenka’s chances of advancing to the Australian Open semifinals.


Ben Shelton vs. Tommy Paul – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Prior to this past month, Ben Shelton had never traveled outside the United States.  The 20-year-old was a college tennis player, coached by his father and former top 60 player Bryan Shelton.  Ben first made a name for himself in the pros in 2022, winning three Challenger titles and upsetting Casper Ruud in Cincinnati.  Now in just his second appearance at a Major, he’s reached the quarterfinals, following a five-set victory on Monday over fellow American J.J. Wolf.

Tommy Paul is a 25-year-old American who has taken his career to new heights this past year.  Prior to the end of 2021, Paul had never been ranked inside the top 50.  But after accumulating 39 wins in 2022, and advancing to the second week of a Major for the first time six months ago at Wimbledon, he is now a top 30 player.  Like Ben, this is Tommy’s first Slam quarterfinal, and he defeated two seeded Spaniards to reach this stage (Davidovich Fokina, Bautista Agut).

Shelton’s serving prowess, powerful groundstrokes, and competitive fire have been on full display through four rounds at this event.  But the gravity of this occasion, which is brand new territory for the youngster, would assumedly weigh heavy on Ben come Wednesday.  The experience and well-rounded game of Paul should be enough to advance Tommy into his first Major semifinal.


Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic seemed to quiet any doubts regarding his condition with his demolition of Alex de Minaur in the last round, his movement no longer as hampered as it was during the first week by his injured hamstring.  Despite his injury, he’s dropped only one set through four matches.  And the last five times Novak has reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne, he’s gone on to win the title. 

Rublev’s win over Holger Rune was an emotionally and physically draining five-setter, during which he saved two match points before eventually winning 11-9 in a fifth-set tiebreak on a net cord winner.  But Major quarterfinals have become an enormous stumbling block in Andrey’s career.  He is now 0-6 in this round, and he’s lost five of those quarterfinals in straight sets. 

Defeating a relatively-healthy all-time great in a Major quarterfinal considering that history would be a huge upset, especially coming off such a long match in the last round.  But Rublev has defeated Djokovic before, just last April in Belgrade on clay.  Novak has claimed their other two meetings in straight sets, both of which were on hard courts.  Djokovic remains a considerable favorite to reach his 10th Australian Open semifinal.


Wednesday’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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