Tag: australian open men’s

Djokovic claims remarkable ninth Australian Open title

WORLD number one Novak Djokovic has edged ever closer to joining Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam titles after taking home his ninth Australian Open Grand Slam in straight sets last night. Taking on the in-form Daniil Medvedev, Djokovic fought past a tougher first set, to dismiss the reigning ATP Finals winner in straight sets, 7-5 6-2 6-2 and claim his 18th ATP Tour major.

“I think it was a very successful tournament and I’d like to praise [tournament director] Craig Tiley for a tremendous effort,” Djokovic said. “It was challenging on many different levels and Tennis Australia should be very proud for making it possible.”

Fans heading down to Rod Laver Arena predicted the night to be a nail-biter considering the form of Medvedev, and the muscle tear that has been plaguing Djokovic throughout the tournament that almost saw him bow out to Taylor Fritz in the fourth round. But instead it was the Serbian who raced away to a strong start going 3-0 up with an early break, forcing his opponent on the back foot. Medvedev fought back to secure a break himself, but with Djokovic up 6-5 in the first, he saw his chance. He lifted his aggression in the twelfth game and set up three set points, of which he made good on the third one to win the opening set 7-5.

The Serbian was far from clinical though, only serving the two aces and hitting 12 winners for seven unforced errors, compared to 12 and nine for Medvedev. His work at the net was already causing headaches for the Russian with all of his seven net charges being successful. The game became more about which player would yield first as Djokovic was not hitting his high volume of winners credit to Medvedev’s work rate across the court, but the Russian was also not able to really able to hold his own serve either, broken three times to one in the second set. Despite only winning seven less points than his opponent (20-27), Medvedev could not capitalise off the Serbian’s serve, and struggled on his own second serve.

The third set was even stranger with neither player serving an ace, but Djokovic well and truly in control of the match with consistent serving. He actually hit three less winners (4-7) but had eight less unforced errors (5-13) which was the story of the match. The world number one also broke twice from his two chances, and was more clinical at the net (83 to 67 per cent success), as he won seven more points than Medvedev for the set again (28-21). In the end, the match lasted just one hour and 53 minutes with the world number one taking home a remarkable ninth crown.

“I would like to thank this court, I would like to thank Rod Laver Arena, I love you each year more and more – the love affair keeps going,” Djokovic said.

“It has been definitely emotionally the most challenging Grand Slam that I ever had with everything that was happening, injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines. It has been, least to say, a roller-coaster ride in the last four weeks,” he revealed.  “It was very challenging for me to keep my mind serene and keep my focus directed into what matters the most. I have put a lot of energy and time, along with my team, to be here sitting with a trophy. “So I’ll take a lot of positives out of this month here in Australia.”

While the disappointment for Medvedev was real – the Russian is still yet to win his maiden Grand Slam – he did receive some good news, with the fact he will become the world number three today, rising above US Open winner and last year’s Australian Open runner-up, Dominic Thiem.

“Congratulations to Novak and your team,” Medvedev said post-match. “Nine Grand Slams in Australia and 18 in total is an amazing thing and it is probably not your last one.”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN MEN’S FINAL RESULT:

[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) defeated [4] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 7-5 6-2 6-2

Picture credit: ATP Tour

Australian Open Men’s Round of 16 wrap: Dimitrov destroys tired Thiem as Karatsev’s giant-killing run continues

A COUPLE of massive upsets in the Round of 16 blew one quarter of the Australian Open men’s draw right open following day seven’s results yesterday. Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev looked finished when he was two sets to love down against 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, only to claw his way back and win in a mammoth come-from-behind five-set win. Karatsev’s victory was not the only upset of the day, with 18th seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov destroying a tired Dominic Thiem in straight sets.

In a match that lasted three hours and 25 minutes, the 114th ranked Karatsev – who had previously never won a Grand Slam main draw match won his seventh consecutive match, and the toughest thus far, coming from being 6-3 6-1 down against the 20-year-old Canadian. Finding a way through, he bounced back to win the final three sets 6-3 6-3 6-4 in a classic contest.

“It was really tough in the beginning to play with him,” Karatsev said post-match. “He’s a really good player and he’s playing really fast. It took me two sets to find a way how to play.”

Auger-Aliassime hit 11 aces to nine, and was more efficient upon return with five of his six break point opportunities taken, but it was Karatsev’s consistency with a 77 per cent first serve winning percentage, and controlling the net (80 per cent success), as well as hitting eight more winners (37-29).

It is beyond belief that the Russian journeyman has made a Grand Slam quarter final, having a career Tour record of 3-10 and winning just over $600,000 USD in prize money. If Karatsev can topple Dimitrov in the quarter finals, he will have made more money in the Australian Open than he has in his entire career, with a $653,225 USD paycheck.

Dimitrov’s straight sets triumph over Thiem was nowhere near the same level of tightness, with the Bulgarian 18th seed winning the first two sets narrowly 6-4 6-4 after being down breaks in both, before blowing the Austrian away 6-0 in the final set. He won the last eight games of the match to book his spot in the next round.

“I think the key was that I was able to keep a consistency throughout the whole match,” Dimitrov said. “I was playing well. He was up a break in both [the first and second] sets. “It was 3-1, 40/15 in the first set. I could have easily slipped that set.”

Now the Bulgarian goes from last year’s Australian Open runner-up and ATP Finals runner-up to a little known 27-year-old Russian qualifier. Despite the consistent quality difference in his two opponents, Dimitrov is not reading anything into rankings.

“I will treat this match no differently,” he said. “I will still go through my routines. “I’m still going to do my work. “It’s just honestly another match. “I’m not going to think of what the guy has done, what he has accomplished or what is going on. “Clearly, in order for him to be here, he’s done something right, and he’s playing great tennis right now. “Of course, he’s a dangerous player.”

Returning to normal programming, top seed Novak Djokovic overcame big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the late match last night in four sets, whilst German sixth seed Alexander Zverev won in straight sets over 23rd seed Dusan Lajovic 6-4 7-6 6-3. The winners will now face off in a massive quarter final.

In today’s fourth round clashes, world number two Rafael Nadal takes on Italian firebrand Fabio Fognini for the right to face either fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or ninth seed Matteo Berrettini. While outside Rod Laver Arena, fourth seed Daniil Medvedev clashes with giant-killing Mackenzie McDonald, as seventh seed Andrey Rublev locks horns with 24th seed Casper Ruud.

ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) [14] Milos Raonic (CAN)
[18] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) defeated [3] Dominic Thiem (AUT) 6-4 6-4 6-0
[6] Alexander Zverev (GER) defeated [23] Dusan Lajovic (SRB) 6-4 7-6 6-3
[Q] Aslan Karatsev (RUS) defeated [20] Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-3 6-4

Australian Open: Men’s Day 2 review – Gulbis winds back clock with first round upset

ON Day 2 of the 2020 Australian Open, a second top 20 Canadian seed fell – this time to a qualifier – while a number of others had to fight hard in order to survive against stiff opposition.

In the top eighth of the draw, world number one Rafael Nadal started off his Australian Open campaign without a hiccup, winning 6-2 6-3 6-0 against Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien. Nadal barely left second gear as he hit 38 winners and won 83 per cent of his net points, breaking eight times to two during the contest. He only hit the 21 unforced errors across the three sets and had a nice tune-up for the later rounds, with his next direct opponent being Argentinian, Federico Delbonis.

Delbonis toppled Portugal’s Joao Sousa in straight sets, winning 6-3 6-4 7-6 in two hours and 19 minutes. In that time, the Argentinian served up 11 aces and 46 winners with only four double faults and 31 unforced errors, winning all the key statistical categories against his opponent. He broke twice during the contest which was enough to net him the first two sets, avoiding being broken himself then winning the third set tiebreaker, 7-3 to book a spot in the second round.

On track for a third round clash with his top countryman, Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta moved through to the Round of 64 after downing lucky loser, Jozef Kovalik. The Slovenian won the second set against the 27th seed, but ultimately Carreno Busta was the cleaner player, triumphing 6-4 3-6 6-1 7-6 in two hours and 37 minutes. The Spaniard hit 41 winners and only 27 unforced errors, while controlling his first serve with a winning percentage of 87 per cent.

Peter Gojowczyk won the battle of the qualifiers, with the German downing his American counterpart, Chris Eubanks 7-6 6-3 4-6 6-0 to set up a clash with Carreno Busta in the second round. Gojowczyk hit 34 winners with 27 unforced errors, breaking four times and controlling with his serve, recording 74 and 64 winning percentages on his first and second serve respectively. Eubanks was solid with 40 winners of his own and 22 aces, but he could not do enough to impact and faded in the final set.

Also through to the next round was 16th seed, Karen Khachanov who posted a four-set win over Spanish qualifier, Mario Vilella Martinez. The Spaniard surprised the top 20 player by winning the first set, but Khachanov got back on top after that, saluting 4-6 6-4 7-6 6-3 to book a spot in the second round. Khachanov was too strong across all areas, smashing home 59 winners and 10 aces as his serving percentages of 81 and 71 for first and second serve points won was elite. He only broke twice, but his serve was strong enough to hold sway and not be broken after the first set.

Swedish young gun, Mikael Ymer also moved through to the next round after a straight sets win over Yasutaka Uchiyama of Japan. Ymer won 6-4 6-1 6-2 to set up a chance against the 16th seed, with the 21-year-old winning every statistical category. He was sensible with 28 winners and 22 unforced errors, also dominant on serve (77 per cent of his first serve points off 75 per cent efficiency) and at the net (79 per cent success rate). He was able to also dig deep on Uchiyama’s serve to win 46 per cent of his receiving points.

Frenchman Gilles Simon continued his winning record against Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas with a swift 6-1 6-3 6-3 victory on Court 3. Simon took just under two hours, but never really looked troubled winning 81 per cent of his first serve points, while collecting almost half of his opponents serve points. He struggled a bit with efficiency just putting 55 per cent of his first serves in, but hit 26 winners for only 16 unforced errors, and won nine of the 10 approach shots. He now takes on Australian Nick Kyrgios who toppled Italian Lorenzi Sonego, 6-2 7-6 7-6 in two hours and 13 minutes of play.

[1] R. Nadal (ESP) defeated H. Dellien (BOL) 6-2 6-3 6-0
F. Delbonis (ARG) defeated J. Sousa (POR) 6-3 6-4 7-6
[Q] P. Gojowczyk (GER) defeated [Q] C. Eubanks (USA) 7-6 6-3 4-6 6-0
[27] P. Carreno Busta (ESP) defeated [LL] J. Kovalik (SLO) 6-4 3-6 6-1 7-6
[23] N. Kyrgios (AUS) defeated L. Sonego (ITA) 6-2 7-6 7-6
G. Simon (FRA) defeated P. Cuevas (URG) 6-1 6-3 6-3
M. Ymer (SWE) defeated Y. Uchiyama (JPN) 6-4 6-1 6-2
[16] K. Khachanov (RUS) defeated [Q] M. Vilella Martinez (ESP) 4-6 6-4 7-6 6-3

Ernests Gulbis produced the upset of the Australian Open first round with the Latvian qualifier downing 20th seed, Felix Auger-Aliassime. In a bad couple of days for Canada, Auger-Aliassime joined 13th seed and countryman, Denis Shapovalov in exiting the tournament, after Gulbis triumphed 7-5 4-6 7-6 6-4 in three and a half hours. Gulbis hit 41 winners to 35 and played an impressive service style with 79 per cent success rate off his first serve, and 60 per cent off his second. He broke three times to the Canadian teenager’s twice, and the 19-year-old struggled to combat the Latvian throughout the contest though it was a matter of a few points here and there that were the difference.

Gulbis now faces Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene who came from behind to defeat Australia’s James Duckworth in five sets. After winning the first set 6-4, Bedene conceded the next two in tiebreakers to the Aussie, before picking up the slack again to secure a Round 2 spot courtesy of a 6-4 6-7 6-7 6-2 6-4 victory. His first and second serve points winning percentages of 87 and 62 were superb, as he broke four times while not being broken himself. Also hitting 72 winners, and only 47 unforced errors, Bedene showed he could be a handful for anyone. Granted though, Duckworth was not as clinical as he could have been with just 51 winners and 71 unforced errors in the contest.

Tenth seed, Gael Monfils breezed past Yen-Hsun Lu in straight sets, downing the world number 532nd winning 6-1 6-4 6-2. While Lu was strong at the net, Monfils was too strong on serve, producing six aces and a 79 per cent winning ratio on his first serve, while attacking Luc’s second serve with a 61 per cent record. Monfils will need be playing a slightly different player to the slower serving Lu in Round 2, after 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic booked a spot in the match.

Karlovic averaged 207kmh first serves and just a casual 195kmh second serves on his way to metaphorically blowing Canadian Vasek Pospisil off the court in straight sets. Despite Pospisil holding a positive head-to-head record against the Croatian, he was no match for Karlovic who powered his way to victory with 13 aces and an 89 per cent first serve winning percentage. Karlovic also broke twice while not being broken himself, and while Pospisil was able to win 83 per cent of his first serve points and hit 49 winners, he could not crack into his opponents’ serve, winning just 15 of a possible receiving 94 points.

Fifth seed, Dominic Theim also moved on in the tournament, overcoming Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino who is far from an easy first round matchup. The Austrian triumphed 6-4 7-5 6-2 in two hours and 21 minutes, breaking five times and winning 42 per cent of his receiving points. He also won 77 per cent of his first serve points and produced 36 winners, though was not as clean as he could have been with 34 unforced errors as well. He now has the task of breaking Australian hearts when he takes on wildcard Alex Bolt in the Round of 64.

World number 140, Bolt upset Albert Ramos-Vinolas, a player who is ranked 98 places higher on the ATP rankings, in five tight sets 7-6 1-6 6-7 6-1 6-4. Despite being down two sets to one, Bolt never gave in to turn the match around and run out winning it in just under three and a half hours. Bolt can be erratic with his play producing 69 unforced errors, but also hit 55 winners while serving up 11 aces and winning 67 per cent of his points at the net. His serve-volleys troubled the Spaniard who still broke five times, but could not get it done despite his impressive second set and tiebreak-winning third set.

Also having to come back from two sets to one down in order to win, South African veteran Kevin Anderson posted a five-set win over Belarusian qualifier, Ilya Ivashka. Anderson won the first set but trailed after three, before finally stepping up to win 6-4 2-6 4-6 6-4 7-6, finishing off his younger opponent 10-8 in the super tiebreaker. The world number 122 took almost four hours to get across the line, but served up 16 aces and 48 winners as he challenged Ivashka with his net approaches, winning 71 per cent of the time he did. He was a bit rushed with 67 unforced errors, but his power and smarts got him over the line and into the second round.

Finishing off the eighth of the draw, 29th seed Taylor Fritz booked a spot in the Round of 64 with a straight sets win over Dutch qualifier, Tallon Griekspoor. Fritz won 6-3 6-3 6-3 to book a date with Anderson in the next round, serving 17 aces and only losing a remarkable one point on his first serve. He hit 39 winners and overpower Griekspoor in a stunning performance which showed why he could a dark horse for the tournament. Just as impressive as his power and serving prowess, Fritz hit just 14 unforced errors for the match, and won 86 per cent of his net points.

[10] G. Monfils (FRA) defeated Y. Lu (TAI) 6-1 6-4 6-2
I. Karlovic (CRO) defeated V. Pospisil (CAN) 7-6 6-4 7-5
A. Bedene (SLO) defeated J. Duckworth (AUS) 6-4 6-7 6-7 6-2 6-4
[Q] E. Gulbis (LAT) defeated [20] F. Auger-Aliassime (CAN) 7-5 4-6 7-6 6-4
[29] T. Fritz (USA) defeated [Q] T. Griekspoor (NED) 6-3 6-3 6-3
K. Anderson (RSA) defeated [Q] I. Ivashka (BLR) 6-2 2-6 4-6 6-4 7-6
[WC] A. Bolt (AUS) defeated A. Ramos-Vinolas (AUS) 7-6 1-6 6-7 6-1 6-4
[5] D. Thiem (AUT) defeated A. Mannarino (FRA) 6-3 7-5 6-2

One of the tournament favourites has moved through to the second round despite a challenge from his American opponent. Fourth seed Russian, Daniil Medvedev stepped up after being a set-all to defeat Frances Tiafoe, 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-2 in an exciting two and a half hour contest. Medvedev’s serve was not always perfect with 13 aces but a huge 12 double faults for just 53 per cent accuracy on the first serve. He did enough to win overall, mainly breaking nine times to five off the back of a 44 per cent success rate when receiving. He also hit 42 winners for the match and was strong without being outstanding to move through to Round 2 where he actually faces a lower ranked opponent than top 50 Tiafoe.

That opponent is Spanish qualifier, Pedro Martinez who defeated Dominik Koepfer of Germany to keep his Australian Open dream alive. Martinez won 6-3 6-4 7-5 to set up a clash with Medvedev in the Round of 64 after an impressive showing of 41 winners and only 25 unforced errors in his Round 1 contest. He also won 80 per cent of points when approaching the net which will be crucial against the world number four, and had a consistent serve throughout the match despite only producing one ace.

An injury retirement has opened up that eighth of the draw, with 28th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bowing out to Australian Alexei Popyrin, who showed concern for a player he considered his hero, post-match. Popyrin won 6-7 6-2 6-1 before Tsonga called time, having had to have painkillers to get through the match to that point. Ranked 96th in the world, Popyrin was strong in his own right during the match with a low 16 unforced errors and 34 winners, while keeping his first and second serve points won above 75 per cent.

The Australian takes on Spain’s Jaume Munar who bundled out French wildcard, Hugo Gaston in four sets. Sitting at a set apiece, Munar stepped it up a notch in the third and fourth sets to run out a 7-5 5-7 6-0 6-3 winner. It took three and a half hours, but Munar had 44 winners to 37 unforced errors, compared to his opponent with 56 and 73 respectively. He also won 48 per cent of his receiving points and broke nine times to five to guarantee he moved at least one round further in the tournament.

In a surprise to no one, American 19th seed John Isner had a tournament-high four tiebreakers in his win over Brazilian, Thiago Monteiro. The biggest server on the ATP Tour is virtually unbreakable when on song, and it contributes to epic clashes. In three hours and 27 minutes, Isner got up 6-7 7-6 7-6 7-6, with a casual 46 aces and 89 winners. Credit has to go to Monteiro for forcing tiebreakers with those kinds of numbers, though the Brazilian produced 18 aces and 68 winners himself in one of the best games of the round. Both had elite first serve points won percentages, while they were also quite dominant at the net. Now the 34-year-old, 208cm American progresses through to take on Chilean qualifier, Alejandro Tabilo.

In an equally long clash with fellow qualifier, Colombian Daniel Elahi Galan, Tabilo won 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-7 6-4 to book a spot in the Round of 64. Tabilo reached 50 winners for the game and won 79 per cent of his net points, while breaking five times to three, including a crucial one in the deciding set. His second serve winning percentage of 62 was impressive, while Galan was good enough to win with a 72 per cent first serve winning percentage, but could not quite get it done with the match on the line in the final set.

Someone who could get it done despite a challenge from his opponent was 15th seed Stan Wawrinka who defeated Damir Dzumhur as one of our matches of the day yesterday. He now takes on Italy’s Andreas Seppi who won in straight sets over Serbian, Miomir Kecmanovic 6-4 6-4 7-6. The Italian served up 10 aces in two hours and hit 48 winners for only 30 unforced errors, broken just once while returning the favour to the Serbian three times. Seppi has not been in super form of late, but he has made it through to a Round of 64 where Wawrinka will be a massive challenge for the 35-year-old veteran.

[4] D. Medvedev (RUS) defeated F. Tiafoe (USA) 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-2
[Q] P. Martinez (ESP) defeated D. Koepfer (GER) 6-3 6-4 7-5
J. Munar (ESP) defeated [WC] H. Gaston (FRA) 7-5 5-7 6-0 6-3
A. Popyrin (AUS) defeated [28] J. Tsonga (FRA) 6-7 6-2 6-1 RETIRED
[19] J. Isner (USA) defeated T. Monteiro (BRA) 6-7 7-6 7-6 7-6
[Q] A. Tabilo (CHI) defeated [Q] D. Galan (COL) 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-7 6-4
A. Seppi (ITA) defeated M. Kecmanovic (SRB) 6-4 6-4 7-6
[15] S. Wawrinka (SUI) defeated D. Dzumhur (BIH) 7-5 6-7 6-4 6-4

There was just the one surprise in the bottom eighth of the men’s singles top half of the draw with 98th ranked Egor Gerasimov downing top 50 Norwegian prospect, Casper Ruud in five sets. Gerasimov looked to be on top early taking the first two sets 6-3 7-6, before Ruud bounced back with his own two sets, 6-1 6-4 to level the scores at two sets apiece. In fitting circumstances, the three and a half hour battle came down to a super tiebreak where the Belarusian got up 10-6 for a 6-3 7-6 1-6 4-6 7-6 triumph out on Court 13. Gerasimov serve 21 aces to 13 and hit 74 winners in a powerful display as neither player wanted to give in, but in the end it was the Belarusian who emerged victorious to set up a Round 2 match with seventh seed, Alexander Zverev.

It was a lot smoother for Zverev in a straight sets win over Italian, Marco Cecchinato, though it was far from easy with the tight three-set victory taking two hours and 23 minutes. Zverev’s serve was back on in the game after a shaky ATP Cup, winning 72 per cent off his first serve points off 84 per cent first serve in. He produced eight aces and hit 35 winners to 28, whilst keeping his unforced errors down to a low 28. The German also broke five times to three during the match and claimed 43 per cent of his receiving points to move through to the next round.

Eleventh seed David Goffin also moved through to the Round of 64 with a straight sets triumph of France’s Jeremy Chardy. Goffin won 6-4 6-3 6-1 with the Belgian winning 83 per cent of his first serve points, while breaking six times to one in a fairly comprehensive win. He only hit the 20 winners showing an area of improvement for the future, but did enough throughout the one hour, 48 minute match to book a date with Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the second round.

Herbert came from two sets to one down to post a tight win over Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie on Court 15. The match lasted almost four hours as Herbert hit 58 winners and produced 14 aces with plenty of net action throughout. The pair played a total of 100 points that involved one approaching the net, with Norrie marginally higher at 67 to 63 per cent success rate. Herbert will be keen to lower his unforced error count which reached 76, but is building nicely for the tough clash against the world number 11.

In a rather odd match that had the result expected but with a mid-match twist, Russian Alexander Rublev continued his unbeaten 2020 with a win over Australian wildcard, Chris O’Connell. The Round 1 match was closer than many anticipated with the world number 115 returning from injury against the top 20 player, but held up his own, even winning a set to love during Rublev’s 6-3 0-6 6-4 7-6 win. In that second set, the Australian restricted Rublev to four winners and seven unforced errors, as well as just 10 total points won, while hitting 13 winners himself and breaking three times. The class of Rublev shown through overall despite hitting less winners (41-52), also having a manageable 27 unforced errors as he won 75 per cent of his first serve points, and more importantly, 57 per cent of his second serve points. Both players were solid at the net, but the Russian stepped up when it counted and got the job done in a fourth set tiebreak.

Rublev now moves on and faces Japan’s Yuichi Sugita who smashed Frenchman, Elliot Benchetrit. The French qualifier has now best been known for his ‘banana stunt’ in qualifying where he handed a ball girl a banana to unpeel for him before being scolded by the chair umpire. It might have been his only moment of fame (or infamy) for the whole tournament as he just won five games in Sugita’s 6-2 6-0 6-3 easy win. The Japanese world number 91 won 85 per cent of his first serve points compared to Benchetrit’s 39 per cent, and had only eight unforced errors for 24 winners in an ultra-economical match. He broke six times in the process and moved through to take on Rublev.

It was another tough battle out on Court 12 where Georgian, Nikoloz Basilashvili just escaped from South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon. The 26th seed led two sets to one at one stage, but was forced into a deciding set before getting up 6-7 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3 in just under four hours of matchplay. Basilashvili served 22 aces and hit 61 winners, too strong on his first serve with a winning ratio of 73 per cent, as well as breaking seven times to five. His second serve is an area of improvement with Kwon recording 12 return winners from a game-high 66 total winners.

Fernando Verdasco continues to defy age and posted a 7-5 6-2 6-1 victory over lucky loser, Evgeny Donskoy. The 36-year-old Spaniard enjoyed a smooth run after a tight first set with the Russian, hardly faltering on serve. Verdasco recorded a 75 per cent first serve percentage, then won 85 per cent of those serves, while claiming two thirds of his second serve. All up, he lost just 14 points and was not broken once, but broke his opponent five times, four of which came in the last two sets. Not known for being a huge hitter, the counter puncher produced 21 winners and 14 unforced errors compared to Donkoy’s 20 and 35 respectively. He now faces Basilashvili in the second round.

[11] D. Goffin (BEL) defeated J. Chardy (FRA) 6-4 6-3 6-1
P. Herbert (FRA) defeated C. Norrie (GBR) 7-5 3-6 3-6 7-5 6-4
Y. Sugita (JPN) defeated [Q] E. Benchetrit (FRA) 6-2 6-0 6-3
[17] A. Rublev (RUS) defeated [WC] C. O’Connell (AUS) 6-3 0-6 6-4 7-6
[26] N. Basilashvili (GEO) defeated S. Kwon (KOR) 6-7 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3
F. Verdasco (ESP) defeated [LL] E. Donskoy (RUS) 7-5 6-2 6-1
E. Gerasimov (BLR) defeated C. Ruud (NOR) 6-3 7-6 1-6 4-6 7-6
[7] A. Zverev (GER) defeated M. Cecchinato (ITA) 6-4 7-6 6-3

Australian Open men’s preview: Number eight no worries for Novak?

THE question on everyone’s lips is can Novak Djokovic win an eighth title at Melbourne Park? It seems like regardless of what happens over the next two weeks history will be made. If Federer wins, he moves one more Grand Slam clear of his rivals, and levels Djokovic on seven Australian Open titles. If Nadal breaks through for his second Australian Open, then he joins Federer on a mind-boggling 20 Grand Slams. It could of course be someone different, and with the exception of Stan Wawrinka, would be a first time winner of the Australian Open, making history in the process.

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FAVOURITE:

Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
Rank: #2
Seed: #2

There is not much you need to say about the world number two who when it comes to Melbourne Park, is the undisputed favourite nearly every year. He has taken over the mantle from Roger Federer who used to be considered a monty for the title and he now holds a record seven titles here at the Australian Opens. He seems to be getting better with age at the tournament, having claimed a straight sets win over Rafael Nadal as if the Spaniard was just a run-of-the-mill player. His seventh title moved him one clear of second favourite in this event – Federer – after the Swiss Master won the past two. With the exception of Stan Wawrinka in 2014, Djokovic and Federer have had the stranglehold over the title winning all of the other years from 2010-2019, and prior to that won three of the past four with only Rafael Nadal causing a massive five-set upset over Federer.

Heading into the 2020 event, Djokovic has been in good form to start the year, winning every match at the ATP Cup, including wins against Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Denis Shapovalov and Gael Monfils who are all inside the top 15 players in the world. Put simply, it would take an unbelievable effort to knock Djokovic off his perch. Barring something spectacular that very few outside of Federer or maybe Nick Kyrgios could produce, it is hard to see the Serbian losing here. In fact, Kyrgios is the only player on tour that Djokovic has a losing record against, going down in both games they have played. But unless Kyrgios is able to make it all the way to the Australian Open final, the pair is unlikely to face-off this year.

Why he can win it?

– Seven Australian Open titles
– Best hard court player in the world
– Most consistent of the ‘Big 3’
– Dominated the Australian Open last year, only dropping two sets and smashing Rafael Nadal in the final
– Beat Rafael Nadal in the ATP Cup on hard court in Australia

The knocks?

– He won his first Aus Open title in three years last year, so there was a mini period of not being completely dominant at Melbourne Park
– His title-winning habits throughout the year have slowed since his dominant mid-decade exploits
– He lost to Federer and Dominic Thiem at the ATP Finals

CONTENDERS:

Roger Federer (Switzerland)
Rank: #3
Seed: #3

The Swiss Master is only one title behind Novak Djokovic here at Melbourne Park, so you can never discount the star who will always make it to the pointy end of the Grand Slam. He might be 38-years-old now and coming into the twilight of his career, but no-one underestimates Federer who is predicted to at least make it to another semi-final if not a final. Over his career, Federer has clocked up a mind-boggling 103 titles including 20 Grand Slams – the most of all-time. Remarkably with Nadal one behind and Djokovic back on 16, it is somewhat scary to think what one of these players could have been on had it not been an era with three champions. Federer has only lost one final he has competed in at the Australian Open – that five-set thriller to Rafael Nadal. He will need to be at his best to topple Djokovic here, but he will also be aware that Nadal will likely level him on Grand Slams when the French Open rolls around again so keeping one ahead would be important.

Why he can win it?

– A six-time winner
– The greatest of all-time in the sport to-date
– He defeated Djokovic at the ATP Finals and is better than Nadal on clay
– Universally respected as someone who is capable of beating Djokovic at Melbourne Park

The knocks?

– Djokovic is incredibly hard to beat at Melbourne Park
– He is now 38-years-old
– Did not win a Grand Slam last year

Rafael Nadal (Spain)
Rank: #1
Seed: #1

The King of Clay is only one title behind Federer for the overall all-time leader, and given he is five years Federer’s junior, Nadal has some extra time to catch up. He has 19 Grand Slams to his name, though 12 of them are at Roland Garros, and a further four at the US Open with only one coming at Melbourne Park. He can get it done on the biggest stages, but is a rung below the other two when it comes to Melbourne Park. Not landing in Federer’s half at this year’s event is important and paves the way for another finals appearance. Hard court is actually his weakest surface statistically, and while he has won the 21 titles compared to four on grass, has an overall lower win-loss record. Nonetheless, Nadal is always a threat and never out of the contest and he would love to hunt down a title against the odds here.

Why he can win it?

– He is world number one for a reason
– Has won a Grand Slam title here against Federer
– Won a Davis Cup last year on hard court with great shot play
– One of the biggest endurance bases and work rates on court

The knocks?

– He is the King of Clay and struggles against Djokovic and Federer on hard court, especially in Australia
– Has a 1-4 record in finals at Melbourne Park
– Has lost to Djokovic at the ATP Cup

Daniil Medvedev (Russia)
Rank: #4
Seed: #4

Let’s be honest, after the top three there is a bit of a gap, but just quietly Daniil Medvedev might be a little pleased to have ended up in Rafael Nadal’s half than Novak Djokovic’s one. Nadal is susceptible on hard court compared to clay and Medvedev is a future Grand Slam winner on the surface. He has beaten Djokovic on hard court, as well as a host of other top 10 players and became the youngest Grand Slam finalist when he reached the US Open final. Unfortunately he went down to Nadal in an almost five-hour thriller after being two sets down, but became the first Russian in a final since Marat Safin in 2005. He had some injury concerns earlier in the year, but is predicted to be the next Grand Slam winner if he can maintain his form and confidence. He did have a disappointing ATP Finals last year, losing all three of his matches, but heads into 2020 as a genuine contender for the Australian Open title.

Why he can win it?

– Building form over the past couple of years
– Ready to hit his prime and avoids Novak Djokovic until the final if he makes it
– Won his first two ATP Masters 1000 titles last year at Shanghai and Cincinnati
– Is a natural hard court player
– Had the most overall wins in 2019 (59) of which 46 came on hard court

The knocks?

– Has a 9-18 record against top 10 players
– Has an 0-5 record in Grand Slam deciding sets
– Lost all three games at the ATP Finals to Alexander Zverev, Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas

Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
Rank: #6
Seed: #6

After being named the 2018 Most Improved Player, the Greek star took his game to another level in 2019, moving up to sixth overall in the rankings and followed on from his Next Gen ATP Finals win in 2018 to win the ATP Finals last year on debut. His rise to stand up in the biggest tournament of the year was superb and at 20 years of age became the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist since Andy Roddick in 2003 when he reached the final four at Melbourne Park. He could very well get there again and given he was able to beat the best players on hard court at the ATP Finals, he is hard to fault as a genuine contender. Tsitsipas had an up-and-down ATP Cup this year, losing to both Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios, though he smashed an out-of-sorts Alexander Zverev in straight sets. He has not had another tournament since so enters Melbourne Park rested.

Why he can win it?

– Won the ATP Finals last year after the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2018
– Made semi-finals in both hard court events at the US Open and Australian Open
– Has beaten Federer and Djokovic on hard court
– Along with Medvedev seems the next best chance to break the cycle of Grand Slams to the ‘Big Three’

The knocks?

– Still young and unpredictable
– His best is sublime but can drop games to lower ranked players
– Lacks experience compared to others

Stan Wawrinka
Rank: #15
Seed: #15

It is a very rare club to have won an Australian Open in the past 14 years if your name is not Djokovic or Federer. In fact, only Nadal and Stan Wawrinka feature in that club, with the Swiss number two winning back in 2014. That year he cleaned up Novak Djokovic in a five-set thriller that saw him get up 9-7 in the fifth, and went all the way to the final, getting past Tomas Berdych and Nadal to claim the title. He has also won Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros and the US Open and regularly makes the final eight at the Grand Slams. He is one of the very few capable of beating Djokovic on hard court, as he did so in the US Open final and in that run to the Australian Open title. Wawrinka also pushes Federer in their matches and defeated Djokovic again in the US Open where the Serbian had to retire, but Wawrinka was 6-4 7-5 2-1 up at the time. He deserves to be a contender.

Why he can win it?

– Has won an Australian Open title, along with two other titles
– Has some of the most powerful, clean hits on tour with a backhand to savour
– Can knock off Djokovic on hard court
– Reached quarter finals at both the US Open and Roland Garros last year, including a win over Novak Djokovic

The knocks?

– Is now 34-years-old and in the twilight of his career
– Has had some injury concerns of late

ROUGHIES:

Dominic Thiem (AUT)
Rank: #5
Seed: #5

The top five Austrian had his best year yet in 2019. He is a few years older than the names around him outside of the ‘Big Three’, but won five tournaments last year, with his best one coming in the ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells. He also came runner-up in the ATP Finals, going down to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. His 2020 season did not start according to plan, losing to 28th ranked Borna Coric and 37th ranked Hubert Hurkacz at the ATP Cup, with only a win over Diego Schwartzman the saving grace. He has not played since so comes in with not a great deal of form this year, but showed late last year what he is capable of on a hard court in big matches.

Why he can win it?

– Won his first ATP Masters 1000 tournament on the back of his best year
– Had a strong ATP Finals series to reach the final, defeating both Federer and Djokovic in the tough group
– Knows how to beat the top players on hard court

The knocks?

– Still inconsistent at times
– Had a disappointing start to 2020, dropping to fifth with his ATP Cup performance and missing out on the coveted number four seed at the Australian Open

David Goffin (BEL)
Rank: #11
Seed: #11

Considered a journeyman to some extent over the years, Goffin has picked a time to really stand out with some terrific performances at the ATP Cup. He came from behind against Grigor Dimitrov, then took down world number one Nadal in straight sets. His 2019 finish to the year was terrible with four out of five games being losses. His last run of back-to-back wins before the ATP Cup this year was at Shanghai in October, and one of them was a retirement. A sole win over Alexander Zverev was the only top 10 victory Goffin mustered up last year, but if you are only as good as your last game, then his straight sets win against Nadal has to count for something. There is no doubt Goffin does not have the upside of others on the list, but he seems like he could be the player that just happens to pick the right time to go on a hot run and he is on his preferred surface at Melbourne Park. He’s a consistent player finishing in the top 20 for four of the last five seasons, but yet to take the step up into the game’s elite.

Why he can win it?

– In red-hot form from the ATP Cup, defeated Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov
– Very impressive in tight games, a 12-4 fifth set record over his career
– Hard court is his preferred surface

The knocks?

– He is now 29-years-old and yet to win a Grand Slam
– has not won a title since 2017, and only four to his name
– Has a career record of 16-53 against top 10 players
– Had a terrible finish to the year last year

Alexander Zverev (GER)
Rank: #7
Seed: #7

The towering German is still only 22-years-old and one of the game’s brightest stars for the future. He is one of the most frustrating talents at times because he can blow opponents off the park, yet can completely go to water at times as well. At the ATP Cup he took it up to Alex de Minaur, but was blown off the park by both Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov because his inconsistent serving was nothing short of a horror show. It was hard to believe he was the same player that dismantled Rafael Nadal at the ATP Finals last year, but that is exactly what you get with Zverev. His best is as good as anyone’s and possibly better at times, but his worst is arguably the worst of anyone’s in the top 10. He made it to the fourth round last year at Melbourne Park before a straight sets loss to Milos Raonic ended his run. His disappointing first round loss at Wimbledon soured an otherwise promising year – though it did not reach the heights of 2017-18 – finishing with 11 titles to his name from his career.

Why he can win it?

– First player to beat all of ‘Big Three’ at the ATP Finals with Nadal last year and Federer and Djokovic in 2018
– Consistently thereabouts in big tournaments and has been dominating outside of Grand Slams with 10 titles in the past three years
– Has won an ATP Finals series and three ATP Masters before
– His best can beat anyone

The knocks?

– Inconsistency, particularly on serve, hurts him
– Can lose the plot at times and confidence drops
– Has not made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam outside of Roland Garros

Andrey Rublev (RUS)
Rank: #18
Seed: #17

If there was one player in the best possible form heading into the Australian Open, then it is hard to look past Russian young gun, Andrey Rublev. The 22-year-old entered the top 20 for the first time in his career this year with two titles in Doha and Adelaide and is unbeaten in 2020 thus far. He had a great run at the 2019 US Open before being stopped by Matteo Berrettini in the fourth round, but he knocked off both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios on the way to the Round of 16. He only made it to the Round of 32 at the Australian Open in 2018 and was bundled out in the first round last year, along with the 2018 US Open and a second round exit at Wimbledon in 2019. His quarter final run at the US Open in 2017 was still his best, but he is yet to replicate it. Based on the form he has shown this year, the hard-hitting Russian could be a surprise packet at Melbourne Park for his best finish yet.

Why he can win it?

– In red-hot form and unbeaten in 2020, winning at both Doha and Adelaide
– Had a career-high 38 wins last year in his best season yet
– Entered the top 20 for the first time this year

The knocks?

– Yet to do too much damage in Grand Slams
– Has a 2-3 record from minimal games in five sets and 5-12 record against top 10 players

Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
Rank: #26
Seed: #24

The Australian firebrand has improved his image over the past six months as he has begun to learn what it takes to be one of the best in the world. Make no mistake, at his best, Kyrgios could beat anyone, he has done it before and stands up in big games. He just has not had the consistency or at times determination to really put the foot down against lesser opponents, while he has a ridiculous record against the world’s best. He has beaten all of the ‘Big 3’ but has struggled against Federer with a 1-6 record, while his 3-4 record against Nadal is solid – with a 2-1 record on hard court. Most impressively he has won both encounters with Djokovic and is the only player to have a winning record against the Serbian, but has ended up in the opposite half of the draw at Melbourne Park this year. If he can piece together all his ability and playmaking, Kyrgios can continue the form he showed at the ATP Cup – where he almost lifted Australia to a title – then he could be the perfect example of a roughie.

Why he can win it?

– Only player in the world with a winning record over Novak Djokovic
– Has the ability to be the best in the world
– On home soil and loves the energy of the crowd
– Has all the physical tools to become one of the best on tour

The knocks?

– On-court attitude always a talking point, despite his off-court nature very different
– Can tend to fade out of games or have cold streaks at different points and can lack consistency
– Yet to really stamp his authority at a Grand Slam

DARK HORSES:

Roberto Bautisa Agut (ESP)
Rank: #9
Seed: #9

Mr Reliable from Spain is the player that will beat anyone who is down on their game but has always struggled against the game’s elite. Not for of a lack of trying, but more there are just others that have more weapons. Roberto Bautisa Agut, commonly referred to as ‘RBA’, has always been a player that opponents have to be wary of because he rarely plays a poor game, but can just be outclassed. His record against top 10 players is pretty bad with a 11-50 run over his career, and until last year had an 0-9 record in Grand Slam fourth rounds. He was your perennial Round of 16 exit. Just as RBA looked to be heading into the twilight of his career, he produced a career-best season and bolted into the top 10 where he finds himself seeded at this year’s Australian Open. He is also unbeaten in 2020 after a superb run at the ATP Cup, though in fairness he won against players outside the top 100 – bar Nick Kyrgios and Dusan Lajovic in that time – but all the wins were impressive in comfortable straight sets.

Why he can win it?

– Consistent as they come
– Had a career best year in 2019, breaking into the top 10 for the first time in August and finished the year at number 9
– Made his first Grand Slam semi-final last year at Wimbledon and quarter final at Australian Open
– Past seven titles have come on hard court

The knocks?

– He is 31-years-old and until last year looked nothing more than a solid player
– Still yet to make a Grand Slam final
– Has never won more than two titles in a year
– Has an 11-50 record against top 10 players

Grigor Dimitrov (BLR)
Rank: #19
Seed: #18

Once considered a future Grand Slam winner, the now 28-year-old Belarusian is yet to taste the ultimate glory. He has been a difficult player to face over the past decade, but slipped to as low as 78th last year, his lowest rank since 2012. He bounced back up the order with a Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open, where he defeated Federer for the first time in eight attempts in the third round. He dropped out in the first round at Wimbledon, third round at Roland Garros and fourth round at the Australian Open. He has remarkably lost three times to Stan Wawrinka in Grand Slams over the past two years – twice in the first round. His best appearance at an Australian Open was a semi-finalist in 2017, and also made a quarter final the year after. One expected to potentially force his way into the final eight.

Why he can win it?

– Always impressive at Melbourne Park
– Broke his winless drought against Federer last year
– Still has the shot play to do damage against the world’s best
– Had his equal best performance at a Grand Slam last year since his semi-final in 2017

The knocks?

– Has not quite reached the heights predicted of him when he first joined the tour and was cracking inside the top 10
– Only played the ATP Cup in the lead-up to the Australian Open, though beat Daniel Evans and Radu Albot before losing to David Goffin
– Yet to make a Grand Slam final
– Is under an injury cloud with blisters reportedly impacting him

Matteo Berrettini (ITA)
Rank: #8
Seed: #8

The highest ranked player in our dark horses section, Berrettini only has the three titles to his name in his career and is yet to win one on hardcourt. His form at the end of last year was shaky, with a great win over Dominic Thiem in the ATP Finals in straight sets in between six losses either side of that victory. Berrettini bolted up the ATP rankings with a semi-finals appearance at the US Open after being ranked 54th this time last year and bowing out in the first round to the 15th seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas. He will be better for the run this year, but is still far from the finished product. Most importantly, Berrettini finished the year in eighth, avoiding playing any of the top eight players until the quarter finals.

Why he can win it?

– Had a career-best year shooting up from the 50s to top 10 by years-end
– Made his first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open
– Still young and ready to blossom and take the next step in his career

The knocks?

– Yet to impact at the Australian Open
– Had a disappointing end to 2019
– Still an unknown quantity at Melbourne Park or consistently at an elite level

Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
Rank: #13
Seed: #13

It could be a good year for Canada with a pair of young guns potentially looking to crack into the top 10 and provide the nation with some exciting tennis over the next decade. Shapovalov is 20-years-old and already among the most exciting to watch. He has only won the one title in his career, breaking through for his maiden one at Stockholm last year. In 2020 already he has beaten Zverev and Tsitsipas in straight sets, and narrowly lost to Djokovic in a third set tiebreaker. His end to the end was fairly impressive with a Davis Cup Final, and a final at the ATP Masters 1000 in Paris, defeating Zverev, Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini along the way. At last year’s Australian Open, Shapovalov reached the third round where he unluckily ran into eventual winner Djokovic.

Why he can win it?

– Is building into something special
– Has beaten top 10 picks already this year
– Raw and talented and plays without fear

The knocks?

– Struggles against Djokovic in head-to-heads like many others
– Yet to impact too much in a Grand Slam
– Inconsistency at times

Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN)
Rank: #22
Seed: #20

A year younger than Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime enters the 2020 Australian Open as the only teenage seed in the men’s draw. With Kei Nishikori and de Minaur pulling out of the Open, Auger-Aliassime moved up to be seeded 20th overall. He is still new in his ATP Tour career with only 76 matches under his belt and a record of 40-36 and no titles to speak of just yet. In fact, he did not even make it into the main draw of the Australian last year, losing in the second round of qualifying. He has not been able to compete consistently with the top 10 players, losing eight of a possible 10 matches, and his start to 2020 has not been ideal with losses to John Millman, Jan-Lennard Struff and Dusan Lajovic in the ATP Cup. Auger-Aliassime made back-to-back finals at Lyon and Stuttgart before a semi-finals appearance at Queen’s Club following wins over Kyrgios and Tsitsipas.

Why he can win it?

– Young and exciting
– Has plenty of upside and could show it being seeded here in Australia
– Has the gameplay to worry the top players even if he is yet to show it consistently

The knocks?

– Only won two matches at Grand Slams from five appearances
– Did not make the main draw at Australian Open last year
– Inexperienced and is yet to play a five-set match

Prediction: Novak Djokovic to defeat Daniil Medvedev in the final.