Tag: australian open

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

Osaka wins fourth Grand Slam title in convincing fashion

JAPAN’s Naomi Osaka produced a dominant performance on Saturday night to defeat American Jennifer Brady 6-4 6-3 and win her fourth Grand Slam title. Although the two sets were quite different, Osaka was far more consistent with her groundstrokes throughout the contest. Brady committed 31 unforced errors and four double faults for the match, far too many mistakes when you are competing against someone of Osaka’s calibre.

Osaka started the match well, holding her first service game to love and looking calm in the high-pressure environment. In contrast, Brady appeared to be very nervous (and excited) at the beginning of her first Grand Slam final. These nerves got the better of Brady in the fourth game, as she served a pair of double faults and handed Osaka the break to love. Osaka was hitting her forehands with great speed and accuracy from the middle of the court at this stage.

Brady immediately got the break back thanks to some powerful groundstrokes of her own that put Osaka under significant pressure. The 22nd seed started to get more comfortable as the set progressed, hitting numerous backhand winners down the line and surprisingly out-hitting Osaka from the baseline. As a result, Osaka started going for too much with her shots and made some unforced errors of her own.

Brady earned herself another break point opportunity at 4-4, but Osaka saved it with a well-placed forehand down the line. The match turned very quickly in the next game, as Brady cost herself the set with a pair of horror forehand errors.

Once Osaka had the first set in the bank, the match was played on her terms. She immediately held serve then played a brilliant crosscourt backhand to earn herself a break point in the second game. Another forehand error from Brady gave Osaka that all-important break, before the third seed won two more consecutive games and went 4-0 up. From there, it was difficult to see a scenario where Brady could come back.

Brady fought hard to get herself a break back, but forehand errors continued to haunt her. Osaka was simply a class above, holding serve from 4-2 onwards to claim her second Australian Open title.

Four of Osaka’s seven career titles to date have been in Grand Slams on hard courts, an incredible statistic that demonstrates her level of dominance on the quicker surfaces. Additionally, Osaka is now riding a 21-game winning streak and remains undefeated in Grand Slam finals. After the match, she thanked the Australian fans for their support throughout the tournament.

“I didn’t play my last Grand Slam with fans, so just to have this energy it means a lot,” Osaka said. “Thank you so much for coming. I feel like playing a Grand Slam is a super privilege right now and it’s something I won’t take for granted. Thank you for this opportunity.”

For Brady, it was an amazing effort to reach the final given she was one of the players that dealt with strict quarantine rules for two weeks leading into the tournament. She was full of praise for her opponent after the match.

“[Osaka’s] such an inspiration to us all and what she is doing for the game is amazing in getting the sport out there, and I hope young girls at home are watching and are inspired by what she is doing,” Brady said. “Hopefully I’m on this stage next time with this girl over here (referring to the winner’s trophy).”

Overall, both players will be happy with their performances over the last two weeks given the trying circumstances caused by the pandemic. Let’s hope the other three Grand Slams in 2021 run without too many complications.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN’S FiNAL RESULT:

[3] Naomi Osaka (JAP) defeated [22] Jennifer Brady (USA) 6-4 6-3

 

Picture credit: Getty Images

 

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Australian Open Men’s Semi-Final wrap: Medvedev books spot to face Djokovic in final

FOURTH seed Russian Daniil Medvedev will lock horns with world number one Novak Djokovic in a massive Australian Open final after earning his spot in the decider last night. The Russian won through in straight sets over fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-4 6-2 7-5 in two hours and nine minutes in an impressive performance.

Medvedev’s serving was on point, dominating Tsitsipas with 17 aces to three, at a high volume of 68 per cent efficiency. That was all he needed as he won 88 per cent of his first serve points – dropping just seven – as well as almost half of his second serve points. On the other hand, while Tsitsipas served at a 69 per cent efficiency, he won just 61 per cent of his first serve points.

The fourth seed was ruthless across the court, hitting 46 winners to 19 across the match, and only 21 unforced errors to 30 in a message to Djokovic to show he is ready to win a Grand Slam title. He broke five times from nine chances compared to his Greek opponents’ one from three, as well as winning 42 per cent of his receiving points compared to the fifth seed’s 23 per cent. One positive for Tsitsipas was his net dominance, claiming 24 of the 31 approach shots, while Medvedev won 54 per cent.

“It was definitely not easy, because we saw the match with Rafa (Nadal) was kind of the same score after two sets. [In] the third set, Rafa was dominating but didn’t manage to win the match, so I got a little bit scared and tight,” Medvedev said post-match. “It is the semi-final of a Slam… It was not easy, but I am happy I managed to switch my game on, especially in some tight moments on my serve and I am really happy to be in the final.”

The near-clinical second set was a highlight for the Russian, smashing 14 winners to only four unforced errors, while Tsitsipas claimed six and 11 respectively. Medvedev produced a whopping 84 per cent efficiency, and only dropped three points on serve, while his opponent won just 14 of 30 and was broken twice. The third set was closer as Tsitsipas tightened up with only one more unforced error to winner (eight to seven), but Medvedev stepped it up to slam home 18 winners to eight unforced errors and break a crucial second time in the final game of the match off a couple of forced errors to book his place in the final.

Medvedev’s victory meant the Russian has won 20 consecutive matches, including the clean sweep at the ATP Finals last year in a remarkable effort. The most in-form player on the ATP Tour will play the greatest Australian Open player in Djokovic when the pair meets tomorrow night.

”I don’t have an answer [to explain my run]. I was just working hard all my life and I am really happy at this moment,” Medvedev said. “It is going to stay with me… It is a great achievement.”

”I like that I don’t have a lot of pressure, because he (Djokovic) never lost in the eight times that he was here in the final. “It is he who has all the pressure, getting to Roger (Federer) and Rafa in the Grand Slam [leaderboard]. I just hope that I am going to get out there and show my best tennis. As we have seen, I can beat some big names if I play good so that is the main part. He has more experience, but he has more things to lose than me.”

SEMI-FINAL RESULT:

[4] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) defeated [5] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 6-4 6-2 7-5

Picture credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Australian Open Women’s semi-final wrap: Osaka and Brady to contend for Australian Open crown

NAOMI Osaka and Jennifer Brady will go head-to-head for the 2021 Australian Open Title on Saturday evening after downing their respective foes, Serena Williams and Karolina Muchova in the semi-finals. Whilst Osaka had a relatively straightforward time against the women’s champion in Williams, Brady required the full three sets and almost two hours to dispose of the 25th seed in Muchova, who ranks just three behind the American and was unwilling to relinquish control.

Osaka came out flying in her 6-3 6-4 victory over her idol in Williams, utilising every trick in her arsenal to replicate her past encounters with the champion – who she has faced on four occasions and has now beaten three times, including the famous 2018 US Open final. It was the respective first serve winning rate that won and lost the match, as Osaka’s whopping 85 per cent winning rate off her first serve was clinical, including six aces and matching Williams on the serving speed with ease.

Despite her excellent winning form over the past 18 months, 23-year-old Osaka still had to give herself a stern talking to as Williams almost extended to a 3-0 start to the match before the Japanese talent pulled back the margin to 2-1.

“There was a point when I got broken today, and I was going up to the line to return her serve, in my head I had all these thoughts about how she’s the best server, I’m probably not going to be able to break her,” Osaka said. “But it is what it is.

“Then I told myself to erase those thoughts and just to, like, in a way I was telling myself I don’t care because I can only play one point at a time and I’m going to try my best to play every point as well as I can.

“I think when it was like 2-0, I was just telling myself to control what I can control and try to play within myself instead of thinking about what she would do or anything like that.”

Whilst Osaka will look to raise her service game efficiency in her final encounter with Brady, with eight double faults off a 45 per cent first serve clip, she hit 20 winners to Williams’ 12 and has not lost a single final in her WTA career, making her a huge threat for the 22nd seed American.

Brady’s improved form over the past 12 months has all culminated in her maiden grand slam final appearance, as the 25-year-old looks to upset the Japanese firepower. Whilst her whopping 38 unforced errors and lower service efficiency could have been the American’s downfall, she overcame all odds with her excellent work rate, booming forehand, and speed to come away with a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory over Czech 24-year-old, Muchova.

“It took a lot longer than I hoped for,” Brady said of the final set, which took 48 minutes to complete. “I was just so nervous. I couldn’t feel my legs. My arms were shaking. I was just hoping she would miss and she didn’t, and she was playing more aggressive. Then I would say I started rambling, mumbling on and on and on and on. It was just point by point, point by point, and eventually I was able to close it out.”

Whilst the closeness of the contest was evident, Brady played more service games and made the most of her chances with her serve speed allowing her to create issues for the Czech talent.

Osaka and Brady will go head-to-head on the evening of February 20. The two have faced each other three times before, with Brady only defeating Osaka once in 2014 at the ITF New Braunfels TX 50K event, well before the Japanese talent hit her ongoing peak. This will be Brady’s maiden grand slam final appearance, while Osaka will look to collect her fourth hard court grand slam trophy, with two US Open titles – including the 2020 title – and an Australian Open title back in 2019.

SEMIFINALS RESULTS

[3] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated [10] Serena Williams (USA) 6-3 6-4
[22] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated [25] Karolina Muchova (CZE) 6-4 3-6 6-4

Australian Open Quarter Finals wrap: Muchova and Brady book semi-final spots

A FIRST-time Grand Slam finalist will be crowned at the end of the semi-finals after 22nd seed Jennifer Brady and 25th seed Karolina Muchova both came back from a set down to win their respective quarter finals. It is an unlikely semi, though it is Brady’s second career Grand Slam semi-final after reaching the last four at the US Open last year.

The 25-year-old American reached the semis of the US Open after not playing a Top 20 player. To her credit, Brady did not drop a set, before running into eventual winner Naomi Osaka who won in three sets. Ironically, that could be the Australian Open final if both players win their semi-finals. Since the semi-final run at the US Open, Brady has reached two semi-finals.

Against compatriot Jessica Pegula, Brady fought back after dropping the first set to win 4-6 6-2 6-1 in an hour and 40 minutes. Brady served seven aces to zero and dominated her service games, with an 82 per cent winning record off her first serve. Unfortunately for the higher ranked player, she only recorded a 49 per cent serving efficiency, and won 38 per cent of of her second serve points.

Pegula does not have the same power off her serve, but she was more consistent, and it showed in the first set. Breaking four times herself, Pegula hit the same amount of in-court winners (15-15), and only three more unforced errors (32-29) during the loss.

“I think I felt really good out there physically,” Brady said post-match. “I could maybe see on the other side of the net, maybe Jess was a little bit tired there. That definitely helped me mentally.

“It just gave me a little bit more confidence knowing that I’m doing pretty good, maybe she’s a little bit tired, now is my chance to really step up here and take advantage of that.”

The big surprise of the day was giant-killer Muchova’s upset come-from-behind win over top seed and home nation hero Ash Barty. The Czech 25th seed won 1-6 6-3 6-2 in just under two hours of match play, with a lot of the talk centered around a controversial injury timeout for Muchova to clear her head. Barty had no problems with it post-match, though it was a turning point, as Muchova broke back and then took the second and deciding set to win in an hour and 57 minutes.

Barty hit four more winners (21-17) as well as four more unforced errors (37-33) but could not capitalise on break point chances after the first set, breaking just once in the last two sets, as Muchova broke four times in that period. After struggling early, the Czech came good, winning 63 per cent of her second serve, much higher than Barty’s 50 per cent. Both players were fairly even, though Muchova’s higher efficiency at the net, with 13 of 23 points helped her get an upperhand there.

“I actually have one memory from here when I was a kid and got my first notebook,” Muchova said post-match. “I put it as a wallpaper Rod Laver, the stadium. I was just, like, I hope one day it would be nice to play there or to look at the arena or whatever. Now I just won a match and make it to semifinals. It’s amazing.”

Brady said she was looking forward to taking on Muchova, with the Czech holding a 1-0 advantage over the American in their head-to-head battle.

“She’s crafty,” Brady said. “She looks to move forward, has an all-court game. She’s really athletic. I hope it will be a good, competitive match. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”

QUARTER FINALS RESULTS:

[25] Karolina Muchova (CZE) defeated [1] Ash Barty (AUS) 1-6 6-3 6-2
[22] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated Jessica Pegula (USA) 4-6 6-2 6-1

Picture credit: Getty Images

Australian Open Quarter Finals wrap: Tsitsipas stuns Nadal to face Medvedev in Australian Open semi-final

STEFANOS Tsitsipas has joined an incredibly rare club that features just Roger Federer and Fabio Fognini, in coming from two sets to love down to defeat Rafael Nadal in a five-set match. The fifth seed Greek sensation looked down and out when the Spaniard raced to a 6-3 6-2 lead in the pair’s semi-final, but Tsitsipas refused to give in, winning a crunch third set tiebreaker, then finding a way to plough through and win in four hours and five minutes, 3-6 2-6 7-6 6-4 7-5.

Each set was a little different, with both players hitting seven winners – including two aces – in the first set, but Tsitsipas was a bit loose with his shots, committing 12 unforced errors to five. The King of Clay only dropped eight points on serve, but the fifth seed was even more efficient with only six points lost, though somehow Nadal took full advantage to break him from the one opportunity the world number two had. The second set was more dominant for Nadal, whom while both served at just 50 per cent efficiency, the Spaniard won nine of 10 first serve points and seven of 10 second serve points, breaking twice from two chances. Nadal also hit 11 winners to six and had five unforced errors to eight. At two sets to love up, Nadal had hit 18 winners for only 10 unforced errors, while Tsitsipas had 13 and 20, though the key was Nadal taking all three break point chances as his Greek opponent had not created one yet.

Then the tide began to slowly turn. First it was off his serve, with Tsitsipas – though still serving at 56 per cent compared to 77 per cent – only dropped four points on serve, the same as Nadal. Neither player was giving an inch when on serve, with Nadal picking up the power for 14 winners, but he reached double-figure unforced errors with 11, while Tsitsipas went the other way, with nine and four. A 7-4 tiebreaker win gave the fifth seed a glimmer of home. Then Nadal’s serving started to uncharacteristically drop off as Tsitsipas stepped up. The Spaniard won just 65 per cent of his first serve points, and 45 per cent of his second serve points; Tsitsipas maintained a strong 86 and 73 per cent record. Again the Greek talent was more measured with nine and six winners and unforced errors respectively, but crucially picked up his first break from four chances, without conceding a break point. The stage was set for a ripping fifth set.

As if powered on by the imaginary crowd, Tsitsipas found a way to do something that so few had done before, lift against Nadal in the fifth set and go to another level. He produced a match-high seven aces in the deciding set, and served at a whopping 78 per cent efficiency. Nadal also lifted to go up to 70 per cent, and neither could break. Tsitsipas and Nadal both hit double-figure winners with 18 and 12 respectively, while the Greek fifth seed had just one break point opportunity, though in the weirdest of circumstances. As if the pressure had got to him, in a completely un-Nadal style, the Spanish number two hit four consecutive unforced errors to lose the eleventh game of the fifth set to love, and whilst he had a break point chance in the final game, and saved a match point, Nadal eventually went down thanks to a backhand winner from Tsitsipas who sealed the most remarkable win.

“I have no words to describe what has just happened on the court, my tennis speaks for itself,” Tsitsipas said post-match. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to fight at such a high level and leave it out on the court. “I started very nervously. “I don’t know what happened after the third set. I flew like a bird and everything worked for me.”

It was one of the games of the tournament with Nadal smashing 58 winners to 49, and Tsitsipas having four less unforced errors (38-42). The Spaniard broke three times from four chances, while Tsitsipas broke twice from five, and just three points separated them by game’s end, as Tsitsipas won 145 total points to Nadal’s 142 to book his spot in the semi-final against Russian Daniil Medvedev.

“[Medvedev] plays very well and has been very consistent, with lots of consecutive wins,” Tsitsipas said. “I need to recover and have a good ice bath. I am looking forward to the match and each match I play here is an opportunity to play my best tennis. It will be amazing to see the crowds again.”

Medvedev’s win over compatriot Andrey Rublev was a little more clinical, winning 7-5 6-3 6-2  in two hours and five minutes. Both players have been in great form of late, and the fourth seed came through with the goods thanks to a dominant serving performance. Medvedev produced 14 aces to three, and won 80 per cent of his first serve points off a 60 per cent efficiency, while hitting 30 winners to 20 and conceding six less unforced errors (33-39). The higher ranked Russian also broke five times from 11 chances and won 38 per cent of his receiving points, while Rublev broke the once from five chances and won 27 per cent of his receiving points.

“Andrey was definitely one of the favourites to go far in this tournament,” Medvedev said. “To win this match in three sets, especially [with] how physical it was, was [an] amazing level from me. I’m really happy about it…. We had some unbelievable rallies. I think the match was high quality. It’s the first time to be honest [that] I saw Andrey tired.”

The quarter finals results mean that Nadal’s bid to win a standalone record 21 Grand Slams comes to an end, as does a bid to snatch the number one spot if he was to win the title over Novak Djokovic. Instead, Djokovic will break Federer’s record for the most weeks in the number one spot at 311. Djokovic takes on Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev tonight to decide the first finalist.

QUARTER FINALS RESULTS:

[4] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) defeated [7] Andrey Rublev (RUS) 7-5 6-3 6-2
[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) defeated [2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) 3-6 2-6 7-6 6-4 7-5

Picture credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Australian Open Women’s Quarter finals wrap: Williams and Osaka to face off in semi

A REMATCH of the 2018 US Open final will take place on Saturday for the 2021 Australian Open semi-final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. For the rising Osaka, she will attempt to win her fourth Grand Slam, and second Australian Open – having won in 2019 – while Williams is gunning for a record-equalling 24th major title. While both players will still need two wins to do it, it promises to be a blockbuster semi-final.

In the quarter finals, both players won through in straight sets as Williams took down second seed Simona Halep 6-3 6-3 in convincing fashion. The match lasted just 81 minutes as the greatest player of the modern era left nothing on the court as she powered her way to victory. Slamming home 24 winners to nine, and only the 33 unforced errors to 19, the two differing styles were on show.

“I feel like I needed to have a good performance today, especially after my last match against her,” Williams said post-match. “So it was really important to try to play well today. … I knew I couldn’t play worse [than last time]. So that was a good thing.”

In the end, it was Williams’ six breaks to three that was the difference, as her serving – whilst inconsistent at 55 per cent – was hard to match when in with a 77 per cent success rate off her first serve. Williams also served four aces and hit five return winners in an impressive smashing.

Earlier in the day two-time Grand Slam winner Osaka breezed past giant-killer Hsieh Su-Wei, ending the run of the Chinese Taipei talent. The Japanese star won 6-2 6-2 in a quick 66 minutes to book her spot in the final four. Near unbeatable off her first serve, Osaka only dropped two points (23 of 25) and produced seven aces.

“Today it was really important to have a plan, just because she’s an opponent that I’m not really sure what’s going to happen,” Osaka said post-match. “So just having something to structure myself and not get carried away with what she’s going to do was definitely really important.”

Remarkably, it could have been even more clinical, as Osaka only served at 48 per cent efficiency. She was much stronger off her service game though, as Su-Wei won just 13 of 52 points, whilst Osaka was impressive on the return with a 42 per cent success rate. The third seed also capitalised on four of 12 break point opportunities, whilst saving three chances for her opponent. With 10 more winners (24-14) and nine less unforced errors (14-23), Osaka was dominant in her victory.

“I feel like every time I play her, it’s really challenging because I never know exactly what she’s going to do with the ball,” Osaka said. “I think today I just really focused on my game plan. I think it was kind of very clear what I thought I had to do.”

QUARTER FINALS RESULTS:

[10] Serena Williams (USA) defeated [2] Simona Halep (ROU) 6-3 6-3
[3] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Su-Wei Hsieh (TAI) 6-2 6-2

Picture credit: Getty Images

Australian Open Men’s Quarter finals wrap: Russian’s run continues to set up ultimate semi-final challenge

NO one would have been surprised if prior to the tournament you had said eight-time Australian Open champion, world number one Novak Djokovic would be facing off in yet another semi-final at Melbourne Park. However his opponent on the other hand, 114th ranked qualifier Aslan Karatsev is an obscure for a pick that proves sometimes real life can be better than fiction.

The 27-year-old had won three – yes just three – matches coming into the Australian Open in his career. In fact, the Russian had only played a total of 13  ATP Tour matches. Including qualifying, Karatsev has now piled on eight wins on the trot, though only five of those come as official ATP Tour wins. Not enough could be said about the sheer remarkable ability of his feat.

He knocked off Italian Gianluca Mager to bring up his first ever Grand Slam main draw win, which is more like a light applause and back patting. Then, he made Belarusian Egor Gerasimov – who has had his fair share of upsets over the years – look like a midweek social pennant player by destroying him 6-0 6-1 6-0 in 93 minutes. That caught everyone’s attention, but it was his straight sets dismissal of world number nine and eighth seed, Diego Schwartzman that really had jaws dropping.

Schwartzman might not have the most weapons, but her rarely drops games to much lower opponents, but he was bundled out in straight sets as well, 6-3 6-3 6-3 in the third round. When Karatsev was two sets to love down against Canadian young gun Felix Auger-Aliassime, it looked like the dream was over. Think again. After three hours and 25 minutes, Karatsev fought his way back from the brink to win 3-6 1-6 6-3 6-3 6-4 to book a quarter finals appearance.

Then, in his most recent outing, he came back from a set down against 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov – who was coming off a straight sets win over world number three and reigning Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem – to win 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2. That match lasted two hours and 32 minutes, and kept the fairytale alive for the unlikely Russian qualifier who sent historians flicking through the history books to remember the last time a qualifier made the final four.

The fact of the matter was, Karatsev had actually made history. He became the first ever qualifier in the Open Era at the Australian Open to make a semi-final, and the first ever one on main draw debut to do so. He did it thanks to a powerful play against Dimitrov where he matched it with him blow-for-blow and then overcame him with 34 winners to 21, and only 10 more unforced errors (44-34).

“It’s an unbelievable feeling. Of course it’s my first time playing [a Grand Slam] main draw, first time [in the] semis,” Karatsev said post-match. “It’s incredible.”

Both players hit nine aces, and Karatsev was more clinical on his serve with a 67 per cent first serve success rate, and 55 per cent second serve success rate. He broke eight times from 11 chances, making more of his opportunities than his Bulgarian opponent (four of 14), to book his place in the final four. Now the comparisons to his new opponent are mind-blowing before you even get into it.

Karatsev has won eight matches on the trot, the same number of Australian Open’s that Djokovic has. The world number one is vying for his 18th Grand Slam title, Karatsev still only has eight ATP Tour wins in his career. The Russian qualifier has more than doubled his career prize money from his run at the Australian Open, whereas for Djokovic, it is a drop in the ocean.

The official numbers say that heading into the 2021 Australian Open, Karatsev had earned $618,354 USD career prize money, whereas the world number one has pocketed a casual $145,861,177 in his time. The 3-10 win-loss record is compared to a remarkable 936-192 for the Serbian star. Finally, 81 career titles to zero. The head-to-heads could go on forever, but the storyline remains the same, the journeyman underdog who no one saw coming is now up against the world’s best player, at his most dominant tournament.

Djokovic got there thanks to a four-set win over sixth seed Alexander Zverev, defeating the German 6-7 6-2 6-4 7-6 to roll into the semis showing a potential injury was not going to impact him. He served 23 aces to 21, had a 73 per cent to 64 per cent serving efficiency, and broke six times to three throughout the match. He also produced three more winners (48-45), though was not as clinical as usual with 18 more unforced errors (56-38), a rare stat to lose to the usually inconsistent Zverev. In the end, he made his way through to face an opponent he never would have predicted in his wildest dreams.

“Down to the very last shot, it was anybody’s game, anybody’s match,” Djokovic said post-match. “[There were] a lot of nerves out there, a lot of pressure. Emotionally, [I] feel a little drained, honestly. It was a great battle. Congratulations to Sascha for a great tournament and a great battle today. Tough luck today, but we pushed each other to the limit.”

While Djokovic might not have expected Karatsev as an opponent, he had done his homework on him and is not taking him lightly given his strengths.

“To be honest, I hadn’t seen [Karatsev] play at all before the Australian Open,” Djokovic said. “Of course, I have seen him play during the Australian Open… He is a very strong guy. “Physically, he is just very strong. “He moves well [and] just has a lot of firepower from the back of the court. [He has a] great backhand. “[He is straight] from the Russian school of tennis, [they] always have great backhands. “He serves well and he is motivated. “He has nothing to lose.”

Already Karatsev is a winner in the rankings, bolting up a mammoth 72 spots from 114th to 42nd, even if he loses the semi, going ahead of names such as Kei Nishikori, Marin Cilic and Nick Kyrgios in the process. If he wins, he will end his run in the Top 25 amongst the very top players on Tour, and everyone will be watching to see how he fares after what is a breakout tournament for the 27-year-old.

Unfortunately for the Russian, the other eight previous times Djokovic has reached an Australian Open semi-final, he has gone all the way. The winner of their semi-final will face the winner of the other semi-final, with two quarter finals to be completed today. An all-Russian battle between Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev takes place, as does world number two Rafael Nadal up against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

QUARTER FINALS RESULTS:

[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) defeated [6] Alexander Zverev (GER) 6-7 6-2 6-4 7-6
[Q] Aslan Karatsev (RUS) defeated [18] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2

Picture credit: ATP Tour

Australian Open Men’s Round of 16 wrap: Russians advance as Nadal set to face rested Tsitsipas in semis

JUST two matches were fully completed in the Australian Open men’s Round of 16 on day eight of the competition, with a total of eight sets played across the four matches. Second seed Rafael Nadal and fourth seed Daniil Medvedev moved through in straight sets, while fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas strolled into the quarter finals, and seventh seed Andrey Rublev only played two sets before booking his place in the final eight.

Nadal booked his spot in the quarter finals with a 6-3 6-4 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini in two hours and 16 minutes. Playing a consistent brand of tennis all tournament, the world number two stepped it up a gear against the talented Fognini, only hitting 20 unforced errors to the Italians’ 35, whilst having just eight less errors.

“When you go on court against Fabio you worry,” Nadal said post-match. “There can always be problems. I was just lucky that when he broke me [in the second set] I responded immediately and held the score. Today was very humid and quicker during the day, which I like, but I have to adapt to every condition.”

Fognini served one extra ace (7-6), but Nadal was more consistent with a whopping 77 and 69 per cent success rate from his first and second serve, dropping just 19 points for the match. By comparison, Fognini only won 64 and 41 per cent of his first and second serve points, and broke twice from six chances, though defended bravely to save 13 break points. It mattered little however as Nadal did break six times during the straight sets win.

Next up is Tsitsipas, who did not even take to the court after the other Italian remaining in the Australian Open draw, Matteo Berrettini, pulled out prior to the match due to injury.

“It will be a big challenge and today’s win was good for my confidence,” Nadal said. “I will need to be ready. “My back is holding up and tomorrow’s practice will be important preparation.

“[The] first set, without a doubt, was my best level in the tournament. My physical condition needs to keep improving, but I think [today’s] match helps. I was not able to practise the proper way for the past 19 days, but yesterday I started again to increase the amount of work in practice.”

It is an all-Russian quarter final in the other match following Medvedev’s straight sets triumph over American talent Mackenzie McDonald. The world 192nd had a solid win, with four set victories over Marco Cecchinato and 22nd seed Borna Coric, before toppling Lloyd Harris in the Round of 32. He was no match for the impressive Medvedev, who won 6-4 6-2 6-3 in just 89 minutes.

In that time Medvedev broke six times from seven chances, and won 78 per cent of his first serve points. McDonald was competitive with only eight less winners (21-29) and only two less non-ace winners after Medvedev produced seven aces to one. It was the Russian’s consistency with his shots, producing 15 unforced errors to McDonald’s 23, while winning 60 per cent of his second serve points and 40 per cent of his receiving points compared to his American’s 43 and 25 per cent respectively.

“It’s an exciting moment [to be] in [the] quarter-finals in Australia for the first time, that’s a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said post-match. “I want more all the time, but step by step. “So this is amazing.

“When you play Mackenzie, many times he’s going to be in control of the games and you just need to defend,” Medvedev said. “I knew that I needed to play a lot of low balls, because he plays really flat and aggressive. “If you give him high balls, he’s going to try to destroy them. “That’s what he did in a few moments.

“I was just trying to stay as much as possible in the points… and I managed to take all my chances today.”

An abdominal injury to Norway’s Casper Ruud allowed in-form rising Russian talent Rublev to book an all-Russian battle with Medvedev in the quarter final. Leading 6-2 7-6, the seventh seed was in control over the 24th seed who was playing in his first Grand Slam fourth round match. It became too much though, and after losing the second set, opted to pull out and hand Rublev safe passage into the final eight.

In those two sets, Rublev won nine of his 10 points approaching the net, breaking four times to two, and winning 77 and 57 per cent of his first and second serve points, Ruud was still solid with a 61 per cent success rate off his first serve, but only 44 per cent off his second. He also had a winner to unforced error ratio of 20-21, while Rublev was slightly better at 22-17.

Like Medvedev, Rublev was thinking of his nation and friends when it came to taking on the world number four.

“At least one of us [Russian players] will be in the semis,” Rublev said post-match. “At least that’s the good news. But it’s going to be a tough match. I mean, last time he beat me in the quarters in the US Open. Now we’re again in quarters in the Australian Open. So we’ll see what’s going to happen. I hope we can show a great fight and great level.”

The results mean for the first time, three Russian will compete in the quarter finals at the same Grand Slam as qualifier Aslan Karatsev is set to take on 18th seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov today. World number one Novak Djokovic will hope to pull through injury worries when he locks horns with sixth seed Alexander Zverev in the other quarter final played today.

ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) defeated [16] Fabio Fognini (ITA) 6-3 6-4 6-2
[4] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) defeated Mackenzie McDonald (USA) 6-4 6-2 6-3
[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GER) defeated [9] Matteo Berrettini (UTA) Walkover
[7] Andrey Rublev (RUS) defeated [24] Casper Ruud (NOR) 6-2 7-6 RET

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