Australian Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Plays Qinwen Zheng for the Women’s Singles Championship - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Focus

Australian Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka Plays Qinwen Zheng for the Women’s Singles Championship

Published

on

Aryna Sabalenka during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

The women’s singles and men’s doubles championship matches are on Saturday in Melbourne.

Just over a decade ago, Victoria Azarenka won back-to-back Australian Open titles, the last time a woman repeated as champion in Melbourne.  On Saturday, another hard-hitting, shrieking Belarussian, Aryna Sabalenka, plays for her second consecutive Australian Open title. 

Exactly a decade ago, Li Na became the first Chinese player to win an Australian Open singles title.  On Saturday, a 21-year-old Chinese player who idolized Li Na, Qinwen Zheng, vies for her first Major title.

Also on Saturday night, the men’s doubles championship match will be played, featuring Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori vs. Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden (2).  Bolelli won this title nine years with another Italian, Fabio Fognini, while Vavassori is playing for his first Major.  Ebden was a runner-up here two years ago with Max Purcell, a partnership that would win Wimbledon six months later.  Bopanna is playing for his first Major title in men’s doubles at the age of 43, and 14 years after reaching his first final at the US Open.


Qinwen Zheng (12) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – Not Before 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

It’s hard to imagine it was only two years ago when Sabalenka was struggling so much on her serve, hitting 20+ double fault in some matches, that she resorted to serving underhand.  Through six dominant rounds this fortnight, during which she hasn’t dropped a set, Aryna has struck 24 aces and just 10 double faults.

She’s the first WTA player in two decades, since Amelie Mauresmo, to reach six consecutive Major semifinals.  And while that round has long been a stumbling block for her, she officially overcame any remaining scar tissue on Thursday, with her strong victory over US Open champion Coco Gauff, avenging a loss in the championship match from New York.

Qinwen achieved her first Major quarterfinal at that same event, and will now debut inside the top 10 thanks to this run in Melbourne.  Like Sabalenka, she possesses a formidable serve, though her ball toss can be a bit problematic.  Zheng has dropped three sets through six rounds, and notably is yet to face a top 10 player, until now. 

After Wim Fissette abruptly left her team a few months ago to rejoin Naomi Osaka, Qinwen rehired Pere Riba, who helped coach Coco Gauff to victory over Sabalenka last September in New York.  So he’ll surely have some good tips for Zheng on how to defeat Aryna.

In the quarterfinals of the that same Major, Sabalenka and Qinwen had their only previous meeting, which saw Aryna comfortably prevail 6-1, 6-4.  With a huge edge in experience, and playing more confidently in big matches than ever before, Sabalenka is a considerable favorite to defend her title on Saturday.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

ATP

Casper Ruud Downplays French Open Chances After ‘Best start’ To Season

Published

on

Casper Ruud says he doesn’t rank himself among the favourites for French Open glory despite a successful clay swing.

The Norwegian comes into Paris with two titles under his belt after winning the Barcelona Open in April followed by the Geneva Open last week. He also reached the final in Monte Carlo, the semi-finals in Estoril and the fourth round in Madrid. Ruud is without a doubt a threat on the surface, especially at the French Open where he has finished runner-up the past two years. 

Although the world No.7 is keen to distance himself from any talk about being a title contender despite his credentials. This year’s men’s draw is being described by some as the most open in recent years with Novak Djokovic yet to find his top level consistently. Meanwhile, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner have both been troubled by injury issues.

This season has been the best start for me, the best kind of five months that I’ve ever had to begin the year,” Ruud told reporters on Sunday.
“Then Madrid and Rome were two disappointing results for me, and that’s also a little bit why I decided to go to Geneva. 
“I wanted to build up some momentum playing matches again. Obviously winning the tournament is a good feeling. It gives you confidence, but it feels like it’s anyone’s tournament and anyone’s game really. 
“If you look at it’s been several different winners on the clay this year, and in the three Masters 1000 alone there’s been three different winners.
“To me even though Novak hasn’t had the best year as he typically has or at the same level, I think he is still the favourite. He is the No. 1 seeded, and he has 24 slams under his belt, so if there’s anyone who knows when to find their peak and form, it’s probably him.”. 

As for his chances of claiming a maiden major title, Ruud says he doesn’t want to consider himself a favourite as it would put too much pressure on him to perform. He is the seventh seed in this year’s draw.

I wouldn’t put myself in the list (of title favourites) because I don’t want to kind of put pressure on myself, but I would put Novak up there definitely.” He said.
“It’s not a big if, but depending on how Carlos, Jannik, and Rafa feel, I feel like those three are also worth mentioning. If they are injury-free, I would consider them, well, four then. I would go with four guys. 
“It’s tough to kind of leave any of those out due to the fact that Rafa has won here 14 times and then Jannik and Carlos have been the sort of best of the younger generation in the past year or two. So I think that’s a good list of four.”

Ruud will begin his French Open campaign against Brazil’s Felipe Alves.

Continue Reading

Focus

Roland Garros 2024: Naomi Osaka Sees Swiatek Challenge As An ‘Honour’ After Rollercoaster Opening Round Win

Naomi Osaka is excited about the prospect of potentially facing Iga Swiatek in the second round.

Published

on

(@WTA_insider - Twitter)

Naomi Osaka is seeing her upcoming potential second round match with world number one Iga Swiatek as an ‘honour’ after winning her opening round match.

The multiple time Grand Slam champion is into the second round after a three set victory over Lucia Bronzetti.

It was a match that Osaka struggled to win but won it nevertheless and described the match as a rollercoaster after the match, “I think for me the match, it really was like a roller coaster,” Osaka said in her post-match press conference.

“I felt like I was extremely focused in the first set and maybe I let it go a little bit, and then I kind of came back in the third but then I let it go a little bit, and then I just got really tight from there.

“I’m really glad I was able to regroup and win and sit here today.”

Next for Osaka will be either world number one Iga Swiatek or Leolia Jeanjean in the second round.

However Osaka admitted she is a player that doesn’t really like to look at her draw and it wasn’t until everyone went quiet about Swiatek’s name that she knew who she could face, “Honestly, I didn’t really know, but then after, I was, like, why does everyone keep asking me about this draw?,” Osaka explained.

“Then I knew that I was in the top half, so I was, like, jokingly, I was, like, Well, it’s not like I’m playing Iga. Then everyone got quiet. So I was like, Oh.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like I tiptoe around it. It’s not stressful for me. I only ever know, like, my next opponent. I don’t like thinking too much in the future.

“I also feel like, in a way, it’s kind of like who am I to even think that I’m going to get there, there, there. So I just really try to focus on one match at a time, and everyone around me knows that I’m like that, so it’s not like they really talk about it or anything.”

Osaka and Swiatek have met on two previous occasions with the pair splitting the wins.

Playing Swiatek can be daunting but Osaka admitted it would be an ‘honour’ to play her and is keeping expectations low, “I’m honestly really excited. I watched her a lot when I was pregnant. And honestly, I think it’s an honor to play her in the French Open, because she’s won more than once here, for sure. I’m going to, it’s like a very big honor and challenge for me,” Osaka admitted.

“I definitely do feel like it’s a test to see where I’m at, but I wouldn’t say I have low expectations of myself. I’m a person that kind of thinks that I can win every match that I play. That’s kind of gotten me this far. I would never play a match thinking lowly of myself, no.

“So I’m kind of taking it as an experience. I don’t really have too many matches on Chatrier, because I’m going to assume we’re going to play there. So taking it as an experience and kind of knowing that I feel like I’m the underdog, and I think I thrive in those situations. So if I do play her, I’d be really excited to.”

The contest will take place on Wednesday, should Swiatek win her opening round match.

Continue Reading

Focus

‘I Feel A Bit Embarrassed’ – Novak Djokovic On French Open Expectations

Published

on

Novak Djokovic says he has ‘low expectations, but high hopes’ heading into the French Open after what has been a turbulent season so far. 

The 24-time Grand Slam champion is yet to claim a title in 2024 with his best results on the Tour being runs to the semi-finals of the Australian Open, Monte Carlo Masters and Geneva Open. His most recent defeat occurred last week in Switzerland where he was sick during his loss to Tomas Machac, who is currently ranked outside the top 40. Before that, in Rome, he suffered a blow to the head in a freak accident when a fan dropped their bottle from the stand. 

It has been far from ideal preparation for Djokovic, who is the reigning champion in Paris and is bidding to extend his record major title tally. 

“It’s tough to talk about. It’s very subjective,” Djokovic said during his pre-tournament press conference on Sunday about managing his expectations. 
“I almost feel a bit embarrassed to say what my expectations are. Anything but a title for me is not satisfactory. It always has been like that. I know it might sound arrogant to a lot of people, but I think I have a career that backs it up. 
“So that’s why my hopes and goals are always the same, but I have to lower the expectations. When I say that I mean maybe not thinking too much ahead in advance in terms of the tournament and who I might face in the later rounds, but really taking it day by day, step by step, and really building my game. Because that’s what I have really been struggling with, not playing at a consistently good level.”

Djokovic, who recently turned 37, has stated on numerous occasions that his priority is peaking at the big events. The last time he failed to reach at least the quarter-final of a Grand Slam was back in 2020 at the US Open when he got disqualified from his match after inadvertently hitting a lines judge with a ball. 

However, his recent struggles on the Tour have opened the door for others to contest for the title at Roland Garros with some saying the draw is the most open it has been for years.

“I know what I’m capable of, and particularly in the Grand Slams I normally play the best tennis, at least I aim always to play the best tennis, and I was most of my career able to do that, so that’s the goal.” A defiant Djokovic stated.
“I have been saying for quite a while that in terms of clay, I want to peak in Roland Garros. Last year I had an amazing year particularly here in Roland Garros, and hopefully, I can have a great tournament. 
“Of course it does affect me, the five months that I had so far in the year haven’t been great in terms of my tennis. That’s why I have a kind of an approach that is focused on a daily basis more trying to build the form and momentum so that I can have a better chance to reach further in the tournament.”

So what has been misfiring for Djokovic who has made substantial changes to his team in recent months? He is no longer working with Goran Ivanisevic and has changed his fitness trainer. He is currently being trained by Gebhard Gritsch who has worked with him in the past. 

Such changes may have contributed to Djokovic’s recent results but the Serbian refused to pinpoint the reasons. 

“it’s various things that were happening in the last couple of months, but I don’t want to get into it.” He said.
“I don’t want to open Pandora’s Box and talk about things. 
“What has happened, happened, and it’s in the past. It’s something that I can’t (let) affect anymore, but I can kind of learn to rectify certain things and right the certain things that are wrong and really not serving the purpose of my highest performance level. 
“That’s what we have been working on as a team, and hopefully it will give us good results here.”

Djokovic faces local player Pierre-Hugues Herbert in his opening match on Tuesday. 

Continue Reading

Trending