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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French Open Player Avoids Disqualification After Striking Fan With Ball

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Terence Atmane - photo by Ubitennis

Officials at the French Open opted not to default a player from his match after he hit a ball out of frustration that struck a fan on the first day of the tournament. 

Terence Atmane, who received a wild card into this year’s draw, was involved in a tough five-set battle against Sebastian Ofner on Sunday evening. During the fourth set, Atmane found himself down 1-4, 30-30, when the incident unfolded. After hitting a shot that landed out, the Frenchman blasted a ball which unintentionally hit somebody in the crowd.

As a result of the incident, the match was halted for 15 minutes while the umpire and tournament referee addressed the situation, which included speaking to the person who got hit. Following the lengthy discussion, it was decided that Atmane would be issued with a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct but would not be disqualified. Prompting surprise from Ofner who went on to win the match 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 7-5.

“For me, it was a bit surprising, because if you do something like that on a small court, you have to be punished, you know?” The Associated Press quoted Ofner as saying after the match. “Because it’s not like you hit the ball normally. It was full power. The ball was so fast. Straight in the crowd. There were people disqualified for less.”

In the past players have been disqualified from a match for similar actions, including Novak Djokovic who was defaulted from his fourth round match at the 2020 US Open after hitting a lines judge with a ball. More recently, at last year’s French Open, doubles player Miyu Kato and her partner were defaulted after she accidentally but a ball girl. 

Ofner, who is currently ranked 45th in the world, says he was told that Atmane avoided a big punishment because the person the crowd was fine and ‘saw the ball coming.’ 

“The referee said, ‘Oh, yeah, I was talking with the lady. The lady said at the beginning it was hurting but now it’s fine, and everything was OK. She saw the ball coming. So it’s not enough for disqualification.’ I think if he would see how it was, maybe he would decide different,” he said. “A little bit more unlucky and it’s going directly in the face. And then something can happen (like) a broken nose or whatever.”

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) has so far made no public comment on the matter.

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French Open: Stan Wawrinka Beats Murray In Battle Of Former Grand Slam Champions

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Stan Wawrinka - Parigi 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Stan Wawrinka produced a solid display to beat long-time rival Andy Murray in what could be the Brit’s final appearance at the French Open.

Wawrinka, who won the Paris title back in 2015, rallied his way to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-1, win over former world No.1 Murray in what was the second-oldest match-up to take place at the tournament this century. At the age of 39, Wawrinka has become the oldest player to win a match in Paris since his compatriot Roger Federer did so three years ago. The Swiss No.1 hit 35 winners past his opponent in what was their 23rd meeting on the ATP Tour. 

“My first words were respect for a great champion,” Wawrinka said about the exchange the two had at the net afterwards. 
“I love watching him (Murray) play and fighting against him. We have had a lot of good fights in the last 15 years. A lot of emotion when we played here (at Roland Garros).”

Coming into the tournament, there have been questions raised about the current form of both players. Wawrinka had only won three matches in his four previous tournaments played and is yet to score consecutive wins this year. Meanwhile, Murray’s start to the clay swing was marred by an ankle injury and he has only played three matches on the clay this season before Paris. 

However, it was Wawrinka who managed to come out on top with the use of some of his signature backhand winners. Throughout the first two sets, he won 75% of his first service points without dropping serve and broke Murray once in each of those. 

Then at the start of the third frame, he pounced once again with yet another backhand winner to break as a lacklustered Murray continued to produce costly errors. Paving the way for Wawrinka to storm to a largely one-sided victory. He earned his first match point with a winner down the line before closing the clash out with an almost identical shot. 

“I love to work a lot in front of a crowd like this,” Wawrinka explained. 
“I’ve shared a lot of emotion with this crowd and they gave me a lot of energy to fight.
“In my head, I am still a young guy, I am still a kid. I just want to live this moment in front of this crowd.”

Murray’s loss occurs in what could be his last-ever French Open appearance. In recent months he has spoken about ending his career in 2024 but it yet to make a formal announcement. Should this be the case, he ends his Roland Garros career with a win-loss record of 39-12. His best run was to the final in 2016. 

This year is Wawrinka’s 19th appearance at Roland Garros and he is one of only two players in the Open Era to have won 11 five-set matches at the Grand Slam. The other to do so is Gael Monfils. It is the second time he has beaten Murray in the first round of the tournament after 2020. 

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French Open: Jack Draper Serves Up Trouble and is Upset by Dutch Qualifier De Jong

Brit Draper loses his longest ever tennis match in only his second five-setter of his career.

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Jack Draper crashed out at the first hurdle at the French Open after a 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 3-6, 6-3 loss to world number 176 Jesper de Jong – a qualifier who had come through three rounds to reach the main draw – who next faces third seed Carlos Alcaraz. 

In a titanic tussle lasting over four hours, the British number two could not find any rhythm on his serve, getting just 50% of his first deliveries in while winning only 51% of his second serves – resulting in him being broken an alarming nine times over the five sets.

“My serve has been a problem this year,” said Draper after the match. “I’m trying to change it to make it better, and obviously I’ve made those changes in the last few weeks. So, it’s not comfortable, especially in a grand slam playing in a fifth set on a second serve. You know, the confidence isn’t there at the moment on my serve, and it’s a problem I’m going to have to work on with coaches and see where I can make it more consistent because, yeah, it’s really letting me down.”

Dutchman De Jong took the opening two sets and was heading for a surprising routine victory before Draper showed some admirable fight to win the third on a tie-breaker before taking control of the fourth to push the match into a decider after a one-hour rain delay.

Draper, still only 22 with huge potential, still has time to understand how to navigate the fluctuations of long five setters and will be disappointed with the outcome of the fifth when he threw in yet another double-fault at 30-40 down in the seventh game to hand his opponent the initiative.  “I battled my way back, started playing a decent level. There was a lot of ebbs and flows in the match. That’s five-set tennis. I’m kind of learning that the more I play,” he added. 

Elsewhere in other results, sixth seed Andrey Rublev dropped a set in a tough battle against Japan’s Taro Daniel and next faces Spain’s Pedro Martinez, while eighth seed Hubert Hurkacz survived going two sets to one down before coming through easily in five against Shintaro Mochizuki from Japan. 

Bulgaria’s 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov recorded a routine win against American Aleksandar Kovacevic and French veteran, and wildcard Richard Gasquet was arguably more impressive in his straight sets win over Borna Coric of Croatia and potentially plays second seed Jannik Sinner next. 

However, in perhaps the biggest upset of the day, French number one and 17th seed Ugo Humbert lost 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 to Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego in a match close to three hours and in front of home fans on Suzanne-Lenglen stadium court. 

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