Kokkinakis & #NextGenATP Lead Way Into Final Round Of Australian Open Qualies
Three #NextGenATP players will compete for spot in main draw
Home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis has competed in nine Grand Slam main draws. And on Friday, he’ll have a chance to make it 10 when he competes in the final round of qualifying at the Australian Open. The 22-year-old, seeded 32nd, defeated Austrian Sebastian Ofner 6-4, 7-6(4) on Thursday to earn a clash against No. 10 seed Peter Polansky, who beat Slovak Blaz Rola, 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-3.
Kokkinakis has proven his ability to compete with the best players in the world, defeating Roger Federer last year in Miami, and also beating big-serving Milos Raonic on the grass of The Queen’s Club in 2017, just before the Canadian made the Wimbledon final. While the Aussie has dealt with plenty of injuries in recent years, Kokkinakis will look to move forward, starting with his match against Polansky, which can earn him his fourth main draw berth in Melbourne.
Polansky also is an interesting story, as the Canadian became the first player to claim ‘lucky loser’ entry into all four Grand Slams in the same season in 2018. The pair’s only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting came two years ago in Los Cabos, with Kokkinakis winning in a third-set tie-break. They’ve split their two non-tour-level meetings, with Kokkinakis winning in Brisbane qualifying in the first week of the season.
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Three #NextGenATP players will have a chance to advance to the main draw as well. Japanese Yosuke Watanuki, who qualified for Tokyo last year and beat Robin Haase in the main draw at the ATP 500 event, defeated Metz finalist Matthias Bachinger 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-3. The 20-year-old will face No. 6 seed Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who ousted Enrique Lopez Perez 6-3, 6-3.
No. 16 seed Miomir Kecmanovic, a former junior World No. 1, beat Maxime Janvier 6-4, 7-5(5). The 19-year-old Serbian will clash against No. 17 seed Thiago Monteiro, who defeated Gregoire Barrere 6-3, 6-3. Eighteen-year-old Rudolf Molleker, who last year became the youngest player from Germany to win an ATP Challenger Tour title since a 17-year-old Alexander Zverev in Braunschweig in 2014, beat 2018 Newport finalist Ramkumar Ramanathan 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(10-6) to earn his spot in the final round of qualifying. Molleker will face compatriot Oscar Otte, who got past No. 9 seed Juan Ignacio Londero 6-2, 6-2.
Other intriguing final-round qualifying matches in Melbourne include No. 4 seed Paolo Lorenzi-Daniel Evans, 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals alternate Lloyd Harris-Dustin Brown and Viktor Troicki-Darian King.
Law enforcement officials in Spain have arrested 15 people in an investigation into tennis match-fixing by an Armenian criminal gang.
Spain’s Civil Guard said 83 people were implicated, among them 28 players from the ITF Futures and Challenger tours.
One of the players competed at last year’s US Open, it said.
EU police agency Europol said 11 house searches had been carried out in Spain in which 167,000 euros (£151,000) in cash were seized, along with a shotgun.
It added that more than 50 electronic devices, credit cards, five luxury vehicles and documentation related to the case were also seized.
Forty-two bank accounts have also been frozen.
“The suspects bribed professional players to guarantee predetermined results and used the identities of thousands of citizens to bet on the pre-arranged games,” Europol said in a statement.
“A criminal group of Armenian individuals used a professional tennis player, who acted as the link between the gang and the rest of the criminal group.”
The Civil Guard added that “once they got the bribe, the Armenian members went to the places where the matches were being played to make sure the player went through with what they had agreed, making the most of their imposing size”.
“Fifteen people have been detained, among them the leaders of the organisation, and 68 others have been investigated.”
None of those investigated has been named.
The Civil Guard said the organisation had been operating since at least February 2017, while Europol said at least 97 ITF Futures and Challenger matches had been fixed.
The investigation started in 2017 after the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) grew concerned about “irregular activities” relating to pre-arranged matches in the tournaments, Europol added.
A joint BBC and BuzzFeed News investigation uncovered suspected illegal betting on tennis matches in January 2016.
Last month a final report into corruption in tennis by the Independent Review Panel said there should be no live streaming, or scoring data provided, at the lowest tier of professional tennis.
The ITF Futures and Challenger tournaments are below the top-tier ATP and WTA Tours.
The International Tennis Federation estimates there are 14,000 players trying to make a living from the sport, half of whom do not make any money at all.
Five Must-See First-Rounders At The Australian Open
Former World No. 1 Murray faces stern test against Bautista Agut
Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Andy Murray If Murray was looking for a match to play his way into form, he did not receive that when the Australian Open draw came out. The former World No. 1 may lead Bautista Agut 3-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, including a win in the final of the 2016 Rolex Shanghai Masters. But the latter just triumphed at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, where he upset Novak Djokovic, beat former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka and defeated a sharp Berdych in the final.
Bautista Agut’s game may not follow what you might expect from a Spaniard, as he hits a flatter ball than many of his compatriots. But nevertheless, Bautista Agut makes his opponents play a lot of balls, and makes few mistakes. When he is firing on all cylinders and is comfortable going after his shots, even the very best players in the world need to be at their best to come through.
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So former World No. 1 Murray will need to be at his top form if he hopes to avoid his first opening-round exit at a Grand Slam since the 2008 Australian Open. If Murray plays defensive tennis behind the baseline, relying on his legs to win him this encounter, it may be a difficult day for the Scot. But if he is feeling the ball well and willing to step into the court and be aggressive, this match may be what Murray needs to spark a return to the top of the sport.
Kyle Edmund vs. Tomas Berdych Edmund broke through in a major way last year in Melbourne, advancing to the semi-finals. The British No. 1’s tremendous run started with a difficult opening match-up against eventual Nitto ATP Finals qualifier Kevin Anderson, a clash that would go five sets. Edmund’s first-rounder is no easier this year, as he confronts Doha finalist and former World No. 4 Berdych.
Berdych won the pair’s only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting at 2016 Doha with the loss of just five games. But Edmund was just 20 at the time, and Berdych was the No. 6 player in the ATP Rankings. Now, the Czech is at the beginning of his comeback from a back injury that kept him out for six months after the Fever-Tree Championships last year. However, Berdych looked sharp in his first tournament back, in Doha, where he lost in a thrilling three-set final against Roberto Bautista Agut.
Edmund, who claimed his maiden ATP Tour title in Antwerp less than three months ago, has the more heavier forehand of the pair, and if given time, can control play with that shot. But Berdych does a good job of staying on top of the baseline against all of his opponents and dominating rallies with first-strike tennis. If he can do so against Edmund, this may be a match to remember.
Milos Raonic vs. Nick Kyrgios Of all the first-round match-ups in Melbourne this year, the big-serving Raonic and the talented Aussie Kyrgios could have met in the second week of the year’s first major. In fact, Raonic defeated a 19-year-old Kyrgios in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in 2014. They are now knotted at 3-3 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with Raonic claiming their most recent meeting in three sets at The Queen’s Club in 2016.
Raonic and Kyrgios are two of the biggest servers in tennis. They have played at least one tie-break in each of their previous clashes. So while you can expect both of them to win a slew of free points, the difference may very well be who can initiate the first strike in rallies when points do extend beyond a few shots. Kyrgios is the more dynamic of the two players from the baseline in that he has more variety with his strokes — the World No. 51 can blast forehands or create angles off that wing, while his backhand is simple and efficient. Raonic on the other hand hits a flatter ball, especially with his forehand, and is unafraid of playing first-strike tennis, using a big shot to then go even bigger on the next ball or go to net.
Expect the difference to be just a few points here and there in front of Kyrgios’ home crowd. Whomever is able to convert on a higher percentage of their break point opportunities or even mini-break chances in what are seemingly inevitable tie-breaks may advance to the second round to face the winner of former Top 10 players Stan Wawrinka and Ernests Gulbis.
Marin Cilic vs. Bernard Tomic One year ago, Cilic came within a set of claiming his second Grand Slam championship, falling just short in a five-set thriller against Roger Federer. On his return to the Australian Open, the Croat received a tricky draw in the first round against former World No. 17 Tomic. While the Aussie is currently World No. 85, Tomic won his first ATP Tour title in more than three years in September at Chengdu.
These two talented ball-strikers have only played once since the 2011 US Open — in Montreal in 2015, won by Tomic — but Cilic has won two of their three FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings. Tomic is the sort of player who can take opponents off their game. The Aussie is almost never the first player to initiate aggression in a rally, preferring to place his shots so as to make opponents uncomfortable. And then, after placing them on the back foot, Tomic is happy to go after the ball.
But Cilic is one of the favourites to make a deep run in Melbourne, and if he is able to use his typically strong serve placement to elicit short returns, he might not give Tomic much of a chance in rallies with his massive first strikes. Can a home favourite thrill the Australian crowd and oust a tournament favourite?
Stan Wawrinka vs. Ernests Gulbis There are two first-round match-ups in Melbourne between players who have cracked the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings (also Dimitrov vs. Tipsarevic). But the clash that stands out the most is Former World No. 3 Wawrinka against 2014 Roland Garros semi-finalist Gulbis. These two veterans have competed against one another just once before, and that was a Wawrinka win nearly nine years ago at 2010 Monte-Carlo.
The 30-year-old Gulbis has shown he has plenty of tennis left in him, winning three consecutive five-setters at Wimbledon last year, including a third-round win against Alexander Zverev. But Wawrinka showed some of his vintage form in Doha, where he ousted talented World No. 11 Karen Khachanov in straight sets. Both players’ stronger wing is the backhand side. So perhaps the player who is able to best deal with pressure on their forehand side will advance to face Raonic or Kyrgios.
Honourable Mentions John Isner vs. Reilly Opelka This is the tallest Grand Slam match-up in history, as Isner (6’10”) looks to back up his career-best 2018 season against Opelka (6’11”), who is competing in just his second Grand Slam main draw.
Dominic Thiem vs. Benoit Paire If you are a fan of the backhand, this is a must-watch. Thiem is one of if not the most physical players on the ATP Tour, with a bruising one-handed backhand, while Paire, who owns a strong two-hander, has some of the best racquet skills out there.
Coverage: Daily live commentaries on the BBC Sport website, listen to Tennis Breakfast daily from 07:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and watch highlights on BBC TV and online from 19 January.Full coverage details
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Bryans, Klaasen/Venus Move Into Auckland Semi-finals
McLachlan/Struff win in two tie-break sets
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan continued their pursuit of a 117th team crown on Thursday by reaching the ASB Classic semi-finals.
The second-seeded Americans, contesting their first tournament together for eight months, knocked out Austin Krajicek and Artem Sitak 7-6(2), 2-6, 10-2 in 87 minutes. The Bryans led 4/1 in the first set tie-break, but needed to save one set point at 5/6.
It was their third match together since Bob Bryan sustained a right hip injury on 13 May 2018 in the Mutua Madrid Open final.
They will next challenge third seeds Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus, who recovered from a slow start to overcome Guido Pella and Joao Sousa 7-5, 6-3 in the quarter-finals.
Ben McLachlan and Jan-Lennard Struff edged past last week’s Brisbane International champions Marcus Daniell and Wesley Koolhof 7-6(4), 7-6(5) in 88 minutes to set up a semi-final against top seeds Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic.
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Italy’s Andreas Seppi knocked out top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas with a nerve-free performance 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday at the Sydney International. The 34-year-old Italian saved six of seven break points against Greece’s #NextGenATP star, and when it came time to serve for the match, Seppi didn’t flinch.
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The Italian, who broke at 4-4 in the third, served out the quarter-final to love to reach his third Sydney semi-final (2013, 2016). “I always play my best tennis in Australia so I really enjoy playing here,” Seppi said.
Tsitsipas, No. 15 in the ATP Rankings, hit 15 aces but donated seven double faults to the Italian veteran, who will meet either third seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina or Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the semi-final.