Australian Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Plays Coco Gauff in a Blockbuster Semifinal - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Plays Coco Gauff in a Blockbuster Semifinal

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Aryna Sabalenka on Tuesday in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

The women’s singles semifinals are on Thursday in Melbourne.

In a rematch of the championship match at the last Major, defending champion Aryna Sabalenka faces US Open champ Coco Gauff in Thursday’s semifinals.  No one has been more dominant through five rounds than Sabalenka, though Gauff leads their head-to-head 4-2.  And both know whoever wins will be a heavy favorite in Saturday’s final, which will only create more tension.

Thursday night’s other WTA semifinal sees two players vying for their first Major final, as newly-minted top 10 player Qinwen Zheng battles Dayana Yastremska, who is trying to pull off a “Raducanu” by winning a Major as a qualifier.

Plus, the men’s doubles semifinals will be staged on Thursday afternoon, featuring three unseeded teams, as well as Australian Matthew Ebden and his partner Rohan Bopanna, who on Monday will become the oldest first-time men’s doubles World No.1 at the age of 43.  And the first women’s doubles semifinal will also be played, featuring two of the top three seeds.


Coco Gauff (4) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

In the US Open final, Sabalenka comfortably took the first set 6-2, but Gauff just as comfortably claimed the second and the third.  Six months prior in the Indian Wells quarterfinals, Aryna crushed Coco 6-4, 6-0.  Yet overall the American has won four of their six meetings, and she holds a 3-2 edge on hard courts.

Sabalenka is now on a 12-match win streak at the Australian Open, and she’s the only WTA semifinalist to have not dropped a set to this stage, losing just 16 games across 10 sets.  This is her sixth consecutive Major semifinal, an extremely impressive feat, yet her history in Major semis remains troubling.  Aryna is just 2-5 in such matches, with her only two wins coming against an experienced first-time Major semifinalist (Magda Linette) and a player who frankly choked away a 6-0, 5-3 lead (Madison Keys).  Sabalenka’s five losses have all been tight three-setters.

Gauff is now on a 12-match win streak at Majors, and is 10-0 to start 2024 after winning the title in Auckland.  She easily claimed her first four matches here in straight sets, then took a page out of her coach Brad Gilbert’s book by “Winning Ugly” in an over three-hour three-setter against Marta Kostyuk.  Coco’s level during the first half of that match was alarming, striking just five winners and 24 unforced errors in the first set.  But unlike Sabalenka, Gauff is 2-0 in Major semis, having won both in straight sets.

Can Coco raise her level after that quarterfinal escape?  Can Aryna hold her nerve in a Major semifinal against a top player?  Based on their history, both shared and individually, I trust Gauff in this situation more than I trust Sabalenka.  I like Coco’s chances of advancing to her third Major singles final.


Dayana Yastremska (Q) vs. Qinwen Zheng (12) – Last on Rod Laver Arena

Qinwen made strong progress in 2023, with a record of 35-19 and winning her first two WTA titles (Palermo, Zhengzhou).  She also achieved her first Slam quarterfinal in New York, upsetting Ons Jabeur in the fourth round.  Zheng possesses a formidable serve, and has lost two sets through five rounds, though she’s notably yet to face a top 50 player.

Yastremska has already won eight matches in Melbourne, after surviving a trio of three-setters two weeks ago in qualifying.  Like Qinwen, she’s lost two sets through five rounds in the main draw, but unlike Qinwen, every player she has taken out has been top 50 opposition (Vondrousova, Gracheva, Navarro, Azarenka, Noskova).  While Dayana’s aggressive baseline game can often spray a lot of errors, she’s played confidently this fortnight, forcing more errors out of her opposition.

This is a rare first-time meeting in a Major singles semifinal, between a 21-year-old from China and a 23-year-old from Ukraine both looking to break new ground in their careers.  Whichever player better handles this huge moment will be the one to prevail on Thursday night.  And based on what I’ve seen, I favor the more even temperament of Qinwen to propel her into her first Major final.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Tomas Machac and Zhizhen Zhang vs. Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden (2) – This is the first tournament for the partnership of Machac and Zhizhen, and they upset four-time Major champs Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury.  Bopanna and Ebden were finalists at the last Major in New York. 

Andrea Vavassori and Simone Bolelli vs. Yannik Hanfmann and Dominik Koepfer – Vavassori and Bolelli hadn’t teamed together since the US Open, where they lost in the first round.  This is only Hanfmann and Koepfer’s fourth tournament as a team, and their first outside of their home country of Germany, yet they’ve already taken out three seeded teams.

Storm Hunter and Katerina Siniakova (3) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) – Hsieh is still alive in both the women’s and mixed doubles draws, and she won two women’s doubles Majors last season.  Su-Wei and Mertens won Wimbledon together back in 2021, six months after Mertens won this event alongside Aryna Sabalenka.  Hunter and Siniakova are a new team for 2024, and in the last round they defeated Siniakova’s former partner Barbora Krejcikova and Laura Siegemund.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Casper Ruud Overcomes ‘Tough Start’ To Set De Minaur Final In Acapulco

Casper Ruud is into his first ATP 500 final after defeating Holger Rune in three sets.

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Casper Ruud is into his second consecutive final in Mexico after defeating Holger Rune 3-6 6-3 6-4 in Acapulco.

The Norwegian had to overcome an electric start from Rune to prevail in 2 hours and 24 minutes.

It was a clinical performance from Ruud who is now into his second consecutive final in Mexico after reaching the final in Los Cabos last week.

Speaking after the match Ruud admitted it was a tough start but he’s pleased to be in another final, “It was a tough start,” Ruud told the ATP website.

“Holger just came out firing bullets from the forehand, from the backhand and I had not too much time to play my game. I was frustrated at times, especially at the end of the first set, beginning of the second.

“I didn’t really feel like I got to play any points how I wanted to, so there was some frustration towards myself, towards my box, because I didn’t feel like we were doing the right thing.

“But luckily with one break in the second, it turned around a bit and in the third set it got a little physical. I think maybe Holger seemed like he was struggling a little bit and started firing even more and a couple of games it went in and he broke me, which is frustrating.

“Some unforced errors crept up on him and I served really well in the last game to close it out.”

Ruud is now into his first ATP 500 final in Acapulco where he will face defending champion Alex De Minaur.

De Minaur overcame Jack Draper after the Brit retired at 4-0 down in the deciding set.

Heading into Saturday’s final, De Minaur leads the head-to-head 1-0 although that was in a completely different scoring format in the Next Gen Finals.

Whatever happens on Saturday, Ruud will return to the world’s top ten.

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Andrey Rublev Disqualified In Dramatic Dubai Semi-Final

Andrey Rublev was disqualified from his semi-final in Dubai.

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Andrey Rublev was disqualified from his semi-final with Alexander Bublik after being accused of swearing in Russian.

The event took place in Dubai where Rublev had more than enough opportunities to win the match having been 4-2 40-0 up in the deciding set.

However Bublik came back into the match as he caught up with Rublev in what was turning into a fascinating contest.

The score was at 6-5 Bublik when Rublev’s frustrations boiled over when he allegedly told the official at the side of the court that he was a ‘f****** moron’ in Russian.

One of the officials on the sidelines at the side of the court reported the incident and the supervisor ruled that Rublev should be defaulted.

The incident below means that Rublev will now lose all his ranking points and prize money, resulting in Rublev exiting the world’s top five.

An ending that didn’t warrant the dramatic contest and after the match Bublik agreed that the consequences, “I highly doubt Andrey said something crazy,” Bublik was quoted by Sports Illustrated.

“He’s not this kind of guy. But I guess that’s the rules. That’s what they did, they just follow the procedure.”

Bublik will hope for a smoother finish to the final when he takes on Ugo Humbert for the title.

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Andy Murray Makes Retirement Hint After 500th Hard Court Win In Dubai

Andy Murray won his 500th hard court match in Dubai, placing him fifth on the all-time list.

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Andy Murray further hinted at retirement after securing a 500th hard court win of his career in Dubai.

The former world number one picked up his second win of the year with a 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over Denis Shapovalov.

In typical Andy Murray fashion, the Brit came back from a set down to defeat the out-of-sorts Canadian as he progressed to the second round.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUVj537F-wQ

The win means Murray now has 500 career wins on a hard court and that is an achievement the world number 67 is proud of, “It’s not bad,” Murray told the ATP website as he sits fifth on the all-time list of hard court wins.

“Obviously hard court has been a great surface for me over the years and 500 is a lot of matches so I’m very proud of that. There are not many players that have done that, so great to get to 500 before I’m done.”

However those post-match comments weren’t the most shocking ones as Murray once again hinted at retirement this season.

The Brit has made subtle remarks that this year may be his last one but Murray’s comments today suggests that he may have already made his decision, “I probably don’t have too long left but I’ll do as best as I can these last few months,” Murray was quoted by ESPN as saying.

“I still love competing and still love the game but it gets harder and harder to compete the older you get, to keep your body fit and fresh.”

If the end is near for Murray than the Brit will look to end his career on a high for the next few months.

Before thinking about retirement Murray will look to go further in Dubai when he takes on either Ugo Humbert or Gael Monfils in the second round.

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