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Which Celebrities Are Top Of Djokovic’s ‘Still-To-Meet’ List?

  • Posted: Feb 10, 2021

Novak Djokovic’s first ATP Head2Head meeting against Frances Tiafoe proved a real test for the World No. 1, but he found a way through in four sets at the Australian Open on Wednesday to keep his hopes of a reunion with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup alive.

When the 17-time Grand Slam champion isn’t meeting rivals for the first time on the court, or holding ‘Norman’ above his head after a successful fortnight in Melbourne, Djokovic has been known to interact with his sporting heroes. The Serbian enjoyed a strong relationship with the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who he described as a ‘mentor’, and he has also spent time in the gym with football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

As one of the greatest athletes of all time, Djokovic has had the opportunity to meet many famous faces from the world of sport. Following his win over Tiafoe on Rod Laver Arena, the eight-time Australian Open champion revealed the sports star at the top of his ‘still-to-meet’ list.

“Michael Jordan. I didn’t meet Michael,” said Djokovic. “Obviously I’m not the only one. He’s one of my childhood heroes, [one of the] people I was looking up to, [that is] probably [true for] most of this world. That [meeting] would be really nice. We have a lot of common friends.”

If Djokovic got the opportunity to meet the six-time NBA champion, he would like to go head-to-head with the basketball legend at a neutral sporting venue.

“I hear he loves golf,” said Djokovic. “Maybe I can catch him on some of the golf courses in the future.”

Djokovic’s celebrity meetings wish list is not limited to sports stars. The six-time year-end World No. 1 is also keen to meet actor and comedian Jim Carrey.

“Jim Carrey, I would love to meet [him],” said Djokovic. “He’s very interesting, [a] very interesting guy. His views of the world are very intriguing to me. I would love to have a chat with him about that.”

Djokovic will hope he is too busy to meet Jordan and Carrey over the next two weeks. The top seed will continue his bid for a ninth Australian Open crown on Friday, when he meets American Taylor Fritz for the third time (2-0).

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Kyrgios: 'I'm Hurting Thinking About Playing Thiem'

  • Posted: Feb 10, 2021

Nick Kyrgios went through a variety of emotions in saving two match points against Ugo Humbert on Wednesday night at the Australian Open. So much so, that the Australian doesn’t want to even think about his next opponent, third seed Dominic Thiem.

“Now I feel old,” said Kyrgios. “I just want to have a glass of red wine after my match… I’m hurting thinking about playing Thiem right now.”

Kyrgios has beaten the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the past, but he admits that his 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 second-round win over Humbert on John Cain Arena may be one of the most memorable victories of his career.

“I don’t think I’ve saved match points at the Australian Open before, I’ve had match points and lost,” said Kyrgios. “It was a crazy one. I’ve been a part of many matches and this one is a match that I’m still kind of in awe about.

“The stadium didn’t feel half full, it was insane. I was just speaking to my physio, who has seen me play matches, epic five sets that had everything, and that match had everything. It is definitely one of my most memorable matches.”

Kyrgios, who is making just his second tournament appearance since returning from a 12-month absence from the ATP Tour, said it was his experience at Melbourne Park that helped him reach the Australian Open third round.

“I felt like I didn’t have anything against him in the fourth and fifth sets,” said Kyrgios. “I thought he was playing better from the ground and maybe I was serving a little bit better than him. All I had today was experience. I’ve been in so many big matches, on that court in particular. I felt like I was an old, savvy veteran who had too much experience.

“I don’t think he’s been involved in too many five-set matches, in Australia, with that kind of crowd. I tried to make him play and somehow got out of jail.”

The 25-year-old went on to praise Humbert, predicting a bright future for the Frenchman.

“He is one heck of a player and I don’t think he is getting enough credit for the year he had last year. He is only going to get better. He is a really good player. He is a lefty, he has a really good serve, he can hit all the flat serves, wide on the Deuce [court], T on the Ad [court], unbelievable backhand, good forehand, volleys and he’s a good competitor.

“I think he is one to watch out for, he’s going to be very good. It was insane, he was one point away from winning and I hope he doesn’t take it too hard on himself. He just needs to keep his head up and he’ll do special things.

“In one moment in the fourth set, I thought to myself, ‘Dude, this could be one of the most memorable matches of your career. You owe it to yourself.’ I put myself in a position to have moments like this and I keep surprising myself. I felt fresh in the fifth set, which is pretty crazy when I haven’t played for 12 months.”

Kyrgios meets last year’s US Open champion Thiem on Friday.

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Day 4 Preview: Can Medvedev, Rublev Stay On Course?

  • Posted: Feb 10, 2021

Daniil Medvedev had just put the finishing touches on Russia’s dominant run to the 2021 ATP Cup title, having defeated Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, 6-4, 6-2. With his teammates roaring courtside, the 24-year-old Muscovite took a bow and swept his hand across his body in a near-Boroquian gesture.

Then came the Volga-wide grin.

As he so often does to his opponents, Medvedev had left us guessing. Where in the world did that come from? It turns out he borrowed it from former Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez, the onetime Bundesliga scoring machine who occasionally applied some flair to his post-goal celebrations.

Medvedev later enlightened us: “He was my favourite player at the time. I really liked it, so I tried to copy it. I don’t think I did well, but it was funny.”

Teammate Andrey Rublev was the first to embrace Medvedev, the other half of a dynamic duo that combined for a spotless 8-0 singles record over the five-day, 12-country showdown.

In truth, there wasn’t much time to celebrate. The Australian Open would kick off the following day and, as luck would have it, both players had landed in the same quarter of the draw. They’ve been facing off against each other since their days as admittedly cantankerous juniors. Now, after teaming up to represent their country, they might be on opposite sides of the net again soon.

“If the level is going to be the same, these guys are going to see each other in the quarter-finals,” asserted Russia’s ATP Cup player-captain, Evgeny Donskoy.

Daniil Medvedev

On Day 4 at Melbourne Park, the fourth seed Medvedev will look to extend his 15-match win streak when he faces Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena in the second round. It would be an ideal birthday gift for the Russian, who will turn 25 on Thursday. Meanwhile, the seventh seed Rublev, who won more tour-level titles than any other player in 2020, will meet Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro. Will these two stars, as Donskoy suggested, take another step toward an all-Russian quarter-final?

“I wish,” said Rublev.

“If it happens, it’s perfect,” said Medvedev

Two more Russians will be in action on Thursday: No. 19 seed Karen Khachanov vs. Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, and qualifier Roman Safiullin vs. Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie.

The ninth-seeded Berettini and 16th seed Fabio Fognini, who combined to lead Italy to the ATP Cup final, will also be in action on Day 4. Berrettini will take on #NextGenATP Czech Tomas Machac, and Fognini will face a challenge from countryman Salvatore Caruso.

Tennis fans held their breath when Rafael Nadal took the court on Tuesday against Serb Laslo Djere. The Spaniard, chasing a record 21st major singles title, had been experiencing tightness in his lower back, which had kept him from representing his country at the ATP Cup. But there was a collective sigh of relief when Nadal sent the Serb packing in orderly fashion, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. Though he was forced to tweak his service motion, he did all he had to do to advance in straight sets. Next up for the 34-year-old on Day 4 is American qualifier Michael Mmoh.

“My back is not perfect,” said Nadal, who’s into the second round of the Australian Open for the 15th time. “Every day I go through, there are probably more chances for it to get better. There is always a chance to improve. That’s why I’m here, fighting to get better, to give myself a chance.”

The atmosphere is sure to be lively for the second-round clash between fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Aussie wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis, who’s into the second round of the Australian Open for the first time in six years. Beset by injuries and having fallen to No. 267 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Kokkinakis is relishing the opportunity to compete again at his home Grand Slam.

“It’s going to be exciting,” said Kokkinakis of the matchup with his next opponent, who’s into the second round here for the third straight year. “He’s a phenomenal player, one of the favourites for this tournament. It’s going to be fun. I just can’t wait to get out there. I’m hoping there’s a decent crowd that will get rowdy, have some Greek fans, Aussie fans. Hopefully, it’s pretty loose.”

Also on the Day 4 schedule are: 22nd seed Borna Coric vs. Mackenzie McDonald; Feliciano Lopez vs. 31st seed Lorenzo Sonego; 24th seed Casper Ruud vs. Tommy Paul; and Pablo Cuevas vs. 21st seed Alex de Minaur of Australia.

“He’s a very tough opponent, very solid,” said De Minaur of Cuevas, No. 72 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. “He’s going to make me play a lot of balls. It’s another tough match. I’m going to have to try to focus on my side of the court and try to execute. At the end of the day, that’s what we’ve been working on — trying to control the controllables.”

This time last year, De Minaur was in Spain, sidelined by an abdominal tear. It’s never easy to sit out a Grand Slam, but it hurts even more when it’s the only one held in your homeland.

“I had to switch off social media. It was devastating. It was a tough time,” said De Minaur, who’ll turn 22 next week. “All my mates out here in the summer doing what they do best — I didn’t want any part of it.”

In his most recent appearance at the Australian Open, in 2019, he recorded his best tournament performance by reaching the third round (l. to Nadal). Can he match (or better) that result in 2021?

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Kyrgios Saves 2 M.P., Now Plays Thiem

  • Posted: Feb 10, 2021

Backed by a passionate crowd on John Cain Arena, Nick Kyrgios saved two match points under the lights to record a 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 victory against Ugo Humbert.

The 2015 quarter-finalist was on the brink of elimination as Humbert served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set, but he stepped in with his forehand and fired a backhand passing shot winner to extend the match and begin his comeback.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I did that. I don’t even know what to say. I am lost for words. That is one of the craziest matches I have ever played,” said Kyrgios, in an on-court interview.

This is the second straight year that Kyrgios has won an epic five-set encounter on John Cain Arena. In last year’s third round, Kyrgios overcame Karen Khachanov 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-7(7), 7-6(8) in four hours and 26 minutes.

“I haven’t played for a year and he has been playing some great tennis last year,” said Kyrgios. “The one thing I probably have on him right now is experience. I have just drawn from experience so much on this court… I’ve had so many experiences and I just had to draw on that, put my head down and just try to make him play.”

Kyrgios’s reward on that occasion was a meeting with 2009 champion Rafael Nadal. This year, he will face 2020 runner-up Dominic Thiem in his next match.

Kyrgios was making only his second tournament appearance since retiring from his match against Humbert at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC last February. Following the suspension of the ATP Tour, the Aussie decided to miss the remainder of the 2020 season.

Kyrgios improved to 4-1 this year with his win against Humbert. In his return event last week, Kyrgios claimed back-to-back wins to reach the Murray River Open quarter-finals.

In a first set with limited break opportunities, Humbert claimed the opener with a late break at 6-5. Two games after saving set point with a powerful first serve, Kyrgios gifted Humbert the first set with poor shot execution. The Aussie struck three drop shots in the 12th game, the first landed in the net and Humbert charged up the court and finished the following points with winners.

Humbert handed Kyrgios an early opportunity in the second set, as he missed a series of groundstrokes at 1-1. The Aussie stepped inside the baseline on his return and attacked Humbert’s backhand to take his chance and gain the only break of the second set. Kyrgios came to the net behind his serve to level the match.

The third set followed a similar pattern to the first, with neither player able to find success in their return games. At 3-4, Humbert ripped two winners up the line to reach 30/30 on Kyrgios’ serve. The Aussie committed a double fault and dropped serve when Humbert took advantage of another drop shot. The Frenchman closed the set with a love service hold to move one set from victory.

Ugo Humbert was aiming to reach the Australian Open third round for the first time.

Humbert increased his advantage in the opening game of the fourth set. The two-time ATP Tour titlist benefitted from back-to-back double faults from his opponent, who made two further errors at 30/30 to drop serve. Humbert served with pace and precision to escape three break points at 4-3, but could not convert match points in his next service game. Kyrgios attacked with his forehand and landed backhand passing shots to stay in the match and dominate the fourth-set tie-break.

With the momentum, and crowd, firmly in his favour, Kyrgios stepped inside the baseline and attacked with his backhand to claim a crucial break at 1-1 in the decider. On his first match point, the Aussie fired a serve out wide and collapsed to the court in celebration as Humbert’s backhand return failed to find the court.

Humbert was attempting to reach the Australian Open third round for the first time. The Frenchman claimed a four-set win against Yasutaka Uchiyama on Monday to record his first win at the opening major championship of the year.

“He is a heck of a player. One of the most improved players last year,” said Kyrgios. “You can see why. He played amazing tennis.”

Grigor Dimitrov needed one hour and 50 minutes to clinch his place in the third round. The 2017 semi-finalist broke serve on four occasions to move past Aussie wild card Alex Bolt 7-6(1), 6-1, 6-2.

Dimitrov will face 15th seed Pablo Carreno Busta for a spot in the Round of 16. The Spaniard withstood 36 aces en route to a 6-3, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-4 triumph against Jiri Vesely.

Did You Know?
Nick Kyrgios owns an 8-2 record in five-set matches. Six of those encounters have been contested at the Australian Open (4-2).

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Pavic/Mektic Extend Winning Streak; Tsitsipas Brothers Beaten In Melbourne

  • Posted: Feb 10, 2021

Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic extended their winning streak to nine matches on Wednesday when they began their bid to capture a third consecutive title. The second seeds struck 31 winners, including 10 aces, past Yen-Hsun Lu and Sam Querrey in a 7-6(4), 6-3 victory at the start of their Australian Open campaign.

The Croatian tandem, a new team for the 2021 season, come into the first Grand Slam championship of the year on the back of lifting ATP Tour titles at the Antalya Open (d. Dodig/Polasek) and last week’s Murray River Open (d. Chardy/Martin).

The 27-year-old Pavic won the 2018 Australian Open with Oliver Marach. Mektic, 32, captured the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals crown in November alongside Wesley Koolhof.

They will next challenge Americans Mackenzie McDonald and Tommy Paul, who got the better of Greek wild cards Stefanos Tsitsipas and Petros Tsitsipas 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in one hour and 45 minutes. The Tsitsipas brothers hit 29 winners, including eight aces, but were broken twice in the deciding set.

Tsitsipas brothers

Sixth seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, who reunited for the 2021 season, worked hard to extending their winning streak to five matches. The British-Brazilian team, who captured the Great Ocean Road Open crown (d. Cabal/Farah) on Sunday, saved one set point at 5/6 in the first set tie-break of a 7-6(6), 6-3 victory over Marcos Giron and Cameron Norrie in 85 minutes. The 2016 Australian Open titlists now face Laslo Djere and Stefano Travaglia, who were 6-3, 6-4 winners over Australian wild cards Andrew Harris and Alexei Popyrin.

Eighth-seeded Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, who completed the Career Grand Slam by capturing the 2019 Australian Open doubles crown, lost just six of their service points in a routine 6-2, 6-3 win over Gianluca Mager and Yoshihito Nishioka in 66 minutes.

Tenth seeds John Peers and Michael Venus came through 6-3, 6-2 over Australians Alex de Minaur and Matt Reid for a second-round meeting against Ji Sung Nam and Min-Kyu Song. The South Koreans knocked out Rohan Bopanna and Ben McLachlan 6-4, 7-6(0). Peers won the 2017 Australian Open with Henri Kontinen.

Last year’s finalists, Max Purcell and Luke Saville, the Australian No. 15 seeds, got off to a strong start by breaking four times in a 6-3, 6-3 win over Guillermo Duran and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in 65 minutes. They now face their compatriots, Matthew Ebden and John-Patrick Smith, who were 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-4 victors over Pablo Cuevas and Guido Pella in two hours and three minutes.

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Djokovic Dodges Tiafoe's Upset Bid, Reaches Third Round

  • Posted: Feb 10, 2021

Novak Djokovic took several shots from Frances Tiafoe on Wednesday inside Rod Laver Arena. But like you’d expect from the World No. 1, the Serbian found a way to withstand them and prevail.

Djokovic defeated the 23-year-old American 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(2), 6-3 behind 26 aces to reach the third round of the Australian Open. The top seed wasn’t always at his best, but he played well in key moments to triumph after three hours and 30 minutes.

“It was a very tough match, very warm and a lot of long rallies,” Djokovic said on court. “I want to say that Frances put up a really good fight. The matches are only going to get tougher. I was fortunate to get through the third set today. It was anyone’s game and Frances served great.”

The World No. 1, who is pursuing a record-extending ninth title at this event, had not played Tiafoe before walking onto the court inside Rod Laver Arena for their second-round clash. But Djokovic got all he could handle and then some. However, he showed his champion’s mettle as he pushes for an 18th major trophy.

“When you win a lot on Rod Laver Arena, you feel comfortable,” Djokovic said. “It feels like my living room, although I’m not sitting on my couch – I’m running all over the place. This is the quickest court conditions in the 15 years that I’ve played here.”

Tiafoe, who made a dream run to the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2019, showed how he accomplished that with an inspired performance in front of a raucous crowd. The American had very few lapses of concentration and showed no fear of the moment, instead embracing it and trying to get the crowd involved. There was even a group of young fans holding a sign titled “Church of Frances Tiafoe”.

But while Tiafoe showed stretches of splendid shotmaking and composed play to challenge Djokovic, the few momentary slips of concentration he did have were costly. Djokovic converted five of his 14 break points and went into his trademark “lockdown mode” in the critical third-set tie-break, which made Tiafoe’s prospects of an upset even more daunting.

The final blow came at 3-3 in the fourth set. Facing break point, Djokovic’s forehand return bounced high off the top of the net, and the American rushed in to hit a backhand approach shot. Tiafoe’s problem was that Djokovic guessed the right direction and made the World No. 64 pay by lacing a backhand passing shot up the line for a winner.

The match slipped away from Tiafoe quickly after that. He fought hard throughout, but struck his eighth double fault on match point.

Did You Know?
Djokovic has not lost before the fourth round of a Grand Slam since the 2017 Australian Open. The last time it happened before that was 2008 Wimbledon.

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