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Preview: Will Kyrgios Upset Medvedev At The Australian Open?

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2022

If you ask Nick Kyrgios, the best player in the world right now is Daniil Medvedev — the man he’ll be squaring off against on Thursday night in Melbourne. As for Medvedev, his pick to win the 2022 Australian Open hails from Spain.

“I always say that whoever is the highest-ranked is the favourite. So this time I’m going to go with Rafa, because he has 20 Grand Slams,” the World No. 2 said with a laugh in a recent interview.

Of course, Medvedev is the top-ranked man in the Australian Open field following the withdrawal of Novak Djokovic. But Kyrgios has the firepower to pull off what only the World No. 1 has managed to do in the past 12 months: beat the Russian at a hard-court Slam.

“It’s going to be a hell of an experience for me,” said the fan-favourite Aussie. “I’m pretty excited for that moment. That’s why I play the game.”

Kyrgios has made John Cain Arena his home throughout his AO career, and he did so again on Tuesday in a flashy 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 first-round win against British qualifier Liam Broady. On Thursday, he’ll take his talents—underhand tweener serve and all—to Rod Laver Arena.

History says that Kyrgios matches up well with Medvedev. He holds a 2-0 ATP Head2Head record against the reigning US Open champion, though both those matches came in 2019 as Medvedev was first breaking into the Top 10.

Nick Kyrgios
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
You’ll have to go even further back—to late 2017—to see Andy Murray’s name in the Top 10. But the former World No. 1 is increasingly showing that sort of form in recent months. After wins over Jannik Sinner, Hubert Hurkacz and Carlos Alcaraz to close out 2021, Murray has continued to raise the bar in the new year.

On the heels of a run to the Sydney Tennis Classic final, the five-time Australian Open finalist produced a trademark win against 23rd seed Nikoloz Basilashvili to reach the second round in Melbourne. The 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4 result made it two wins over the Georgian in two weeks for Murray, and gave the Scot a win in his first AO appearance since the emotional 2019 tournament at which he announced his potential retirement.

Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel stands between Murray and what would be his second trip to the third round of a Slam since 2017 (Wimbledon 2021).

“I would love to have a deep run here if possible,” Murray said following his first-round win. “It is something I have not had at one of the Slams since I came back from the injury and it is something that motivates me. I have played some of my best tennis here over the years and I feel comfortable here.”

Murray could face a rematch with Sinner, who he beat in Stockholm in November, in the third round. The 11th-seeded Italian faces American Steve Johnson on Thursday in the Margaret Court Arena nightcap.

This is all in a quarter anchored by fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who made a smooth return from an elbow injury in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 first-round win over Sweden’s Mikael Ymer. A semi-finalist last year in Melbourne, the Greek faces Argentina’s Sebastian Baez in the second round.

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
An all-American tussle between 20th seed Taylor Fritz and 2019 AO quarter-finalist Frances Tiafoe will play out on John Cain Arena, with Fritz playing his first Slam as the No. 1 American man. The California native earned that distinction by reaching the semi-finals at Indian Wells in October, and he’s carried that form into 2022 with a pair of three-set ATP Cup wins over Felix Auger-Aliassime and Cameron Norrie.

Other notable matchups in the Tsitsipas section include 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov against Benoit Paire and 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

In the draw’s bottom quarter, veteran Richard Gasquet and rising 26-year-old Botic van de Zandschulp will face off for the right to take on the Medvedev-Kyrgios winner. Playing in his first Aussie Open since 2018, the 35-year-old Gasquet upset fellow Frenchman and 29th seed Ugo Humbert 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(3), 6-3 in the first round. If he can beat the Dutchman on Thursday, he’ll be through to the Round of 32 at a Slam for the first time since 2018.

Van de Zandschulp, who reached a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 56 last week, will be motivated by the prospect of a rematch with Medvedev. The two met for the first time in the US Open quarter-finals, where the Russian advanced in four sets. But the Dutch No. 1, who qualified for the New York main draw, was the only player to take a set off the eventual champion that fortnight.

Andrey Rublev, having shown no signs of rust in his 2022 debut, will take on Ricardas Berankis as he looks to continue on a quarter-final collision course with Medvedev. Rounding out the bottom section’s seeded action are ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime (vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina), 13th seed Diego Schwartzman (vs. Christopher O’Connell), 24th seed Daniel Evans (vs. Arthur Rinderknech) and 27th seed Marin Cilic (vs. qualifier Norbert Gombos).

The Day 4 slate will pave the way for the third round, as just 32 men will be left standing in the singles competition following a full day of action at Melbourne Park.

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Karatsev Rallies Again To Reach AO R3

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2022

More success means more matches, and that doesn’t always make things easy. Just ask Aslan Karatsev.

The 18th seed had treatment on his leg after three games but was able to summon enough energy to battle past American Mackenzie McDonald 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 Wednesday night in the second round of the Australian Open.

There were just 48 hours between the Russian’s victory over Andy Murray in the Sydney Tennis Classic final and his four-hour, 52 minute first-round epic in Melbourne with Jaume Munar on Monday. All the time spent on court appeared to be catching up with him early against McDonald, as he went 3-0 down early in the first set and immediately called for the physio.

World No. 55 McDonald saw out the first set but whatever had bothered the Russian early on seemed to fade away as his powerful baseline game came to the fore and he eased to victory in two hours and 33 minutes on Kia Arena.

It was the first meeting between two players who both made a name for themselves in Melbourne a year ago: Karatsev stunned Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov on his way to the semi-finals (l. to Djokovic), while McDonald made the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time before losing to Daniil Medvedev.

Karatsev has made sustained progress since that run in Melbourne, culminating last week with his third tour-level title in Sydney. A key factor in this success has been his ability to hit clean winners, and he led comfortably in this category once again against McDonald, hitting 43 compared to his opponent’s 19.

After his bright start the American struggled on serve, with Karatsev breaking seven times on his way to victory. The Russian established early leads in the second and third sets and never looked back. Although breaks were exchanged early in the fourth, Karatsev crunched a forehand for another break at 4-2 that was ultimately enough to see him through.

The next test for Karatsev is another player he has never faced before, Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. The World No. 69 set the third-round clash by shocking 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 earlier on Wednesday.

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Zverev Storms Past Millman In Melbourne

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2022

Alexander Zverev showed his rivals he means business at the Australian Open as he produced an efficient performance Wednesday, downing Australian John Millman 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 to reach the third round in Melbourne.

The reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion was strong on serve throughout his one-hour, 59-minute victory, firing 14 aces and winning 85 per cent (47/55) of points behind his first delievery against a resilient Millman, who was backed by a vocal crowd on Rod Laver Arena.

“Sport needs atmosphere and the people,” Zverev said when asked about the crowd on Rod Laver Arena. “It doesn’t matter if you are for me or against me, I enjoy the atmosphere and I enjoy being on court in front of all of you guys. I think spectators bring the emotions, and sport without spectators is like sport without emotions, so I think it is incredible to play in front of everybody.”

The German, who has yet to drop a set in Melbourne, found his range as the match went on, committing seven unforced errors in the third set compared to 15 in the opener. Zverev will next face Radu Albot after the World No. 124 downed Australian wild card Aleksandar Vukic 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-4.

With his victory, the World No. 3 has extended his perfect 9-0 record against players at their home Grand Slams. The 19-time tour-level champion defeated Australian Alex Bolt in the third round in Melbourne in 2019.

Zverev now leads Millman 3-0 in their ATPHead2Head series and has advanced to the third round six years in a row. The 24-year-old’s best result at the first major of the year came in 2020 when he reached the semi-finals.

“My tactic today was to hit the ball as hard as possible,” Zverev added. “Hopefully I can hit it even harder in the next match and then the next match and then even harder against Rafa!”

In a lively start, three breaks were exchanged, with two going Zverev’s way. The German’s timing was slightly off in the opening set from the baseline as he committed 15 unforced errors to 14 winners. However, he kept Millman at bay to move ahead after 47 minutes.

The German was then made to work hard in the second set, saving two break points at 3-2, 15/40, with two big first serves to hold. Millman won one more point (27-26) than Zverev in the set, but the World No. 3 was the better player in the pressure moments as he seized further control.

Zverev produced his best tennis of the match in the third set, dictating from the baseline as he crushed forehands and hammered backhands to outmanoeuvre Millman and advance.

Millman was making his eighth appearance on home soil in Melbourne but could not find the victory that the Aussie crowd craved as he tried to reach the third round for the third time.

In other action, 17th seed Gael Monfils maintained his strong start to the season, downing Alexander Bublik 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 to reach the third round for the 11th time.

The Frenchman, who won his 11th tour-level title at the Adelaide International 1 earlier this month, fired 34 winners and committed just nine unforced errors to dispatch the World No. 37 after one hour and 34 minutes.

“I had a tough time and now I feel great and strong,” Monfils said in his on-court interview. “You guys are back and I am back and hopefully I will do well. I was born ready [on the challenge ahead].”

Monfils will next face Cristian Garin after the 16th seed clawed past Pedro Martinez 6-7(1), 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 after four hours and 35 minutes. It is the first time Garin has advanced to the third round in Melbourne.

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Shapovalov Shows Fighting Spirit, Reaches R3

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2022

Denis Shapovalov took the long road into his third Australian Open third round in a five-set comeback win over South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon. The No. 14 seed had chances to win each of the first three sets but took only one of them before battling to a 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-2 win on Margaret Court Arena.

With the fourth set knotted a 5-all, Shapovalov strung together consecutive breaks to force a fifth and then edge ahead 3-0 In the decider. He saw that advantage home against the World No. 54, advancing after four hours, 25 minutes.

“I’ll probably sleep in the ice bath tonight,” he joked in his on-court interview. ”It was a great match. I’m really happy to get the win today. I just fought through it.”

The match started comfortably for Shapovalov, who opened up a double break lead and served for the opening set at 5-4. Pushed to a tie-break, he sealed the set with an ace after Kwon contributed three crucial errors in the tie-break.

But Kwon’s aggressive tactics at the big moments paid off late in the next two sets. The South Korean showed no fear as he saved a set point on serve at 5-4 in the second, then hit four winners as he powered through the tie-break.

Shapovalov let two leads slip in set three. After surrendering a break advantage midway through, he found himself in danger at 5-6, 30-all. Six big serves later, he was up a mini-break at 5-2 in the tie-break. But Kwon showed punch on his own delivery and took full advantage of a trio of Shapovalov miscues to steal the set.

It was red alert for the Canadian at break point down early in the fourth, but a flicked backhand overhead got him out of danger as he held for 3-2. As the match wore on, the Canadian took control, ultimately winning eight of the match’s last 10 games to escape with the win.

He finished with 29 aces to go along with his seven breaks of serve.

There will likely be more tie-breaks in Shapovalov’s future, as he will take on 23rd seed Reilly Opelka in the third round. The 23rd-seeded American beat Dominik Koepfer, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(4), earlier on Thursday.

“I’ll just try to make as many returns as possible and try to hold my serve,” he previewed. “He’s a great guy and it’ll be a great match.

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New Coach, Same Big Goals For Cabal & Farah

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2022

The new season has just started for Juan Sebastián Cabal and Robert Farah and it already feels like change is afoot. For the first time in almost a decade, the Colombians are no longer coached by the South African Jeff Coetzee, who helped them win their first two Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon and the US Open in 2019) and climb to No. 1 in the ATP Doubles Rankings.

But what has not changed is the team’s ambitions. Under the watchful eye of the Argentine Mariano Hood, former World No. 20 in doubles (2003), Cabal and Farah have come out all guns blazing in 2022, something they made clear in this interview with before their first clash at the Australian Open against the South African Lloyd Harris and Australian Alexei Popyrin.

What were the best and worst parts of 2021?
Juan Sebastián Cabal: The good part was that in such tough circumstances because of COVID-19, we managed to remain among the best. And although we had fitness problems, we were always fighting for the tournaments. We were satisfied. The bad thing was that it was very mentally and physically difficult. Hopefully this year will be different.

Robert Farah: The best thing was that we won three ATP 500s, tournaments that you dream of winning when you’re young. They were really big events: Dubai, Barcelona and Vienna. Also, we capped off a great year at the [Nitto ATP] Finals, where we were playing well. The bad part was the pandemic, that was really hard mentally. Often we were unable to return to our country, as Colombia was on the red list, that made the year very difficult.

What are the goals for 2022?
Cabal: In the longterm, to be at the [Nitto ATP] Finals, to win Grand Slams, fight for the No. 1 spot… Our idea is to set up our schedule to fight for the big tournaments and the final rounds.

Farah: It’ll also be important to look after our health in order to be competing at 100 per cent. To go out onto court and enjoy ourselves. If we can do that, we can win a lot of matches and make ourselves dangerous again at all tournaments.

What will the new team look like for the season?
Cabal: The fitness coach is the same: Jefry Vergara, from Colombia. And the coach is Mariano Hood. In weeks when he can’t, we’ll have people we trust. We’ll also have two Argentine physios, Diego and Andrés, who will alternate weeks.

Why Mariano Hood as your new coach?
Farah: We know Mariano really well, we’ve always known that he’s a great coach. When we left things with Jeff, who we’d been with for eight years and to whom we owe so much because he had a great impact on our career, Mariano was one of the first people who came to mind and I think we’re happy to start a new chapter with him.

What do you hope for from your new coach?
Cabal: We felt that our time with the last coach had come to an end. Everything ended on good terms. He’s a great friend of ours. Now we’re hoping for a new outlook on things. We already know how good we are, what we can achieve. But maybe with a different perspective and a fresh start we can do more, fight for something new.

Juan, you’re 35, and Robert you’re 34, do you feel like veterans or still feel young?
Cabal: We’re not young. Of course, every year that passes takes its toll. But it also depends on your body, and the motivation, how much you want to play. There is life after tennis, but for now we’re still setting ourselves goals and working hard. We’re nearly veterans but our desire is still the same.

How much longer can you play elite tennis?
Farah: I’d like about three more years in elite tennis. From there, personally, I’d like to start new things in my life. But for now we’re really focussed on this season and the following ones. Hopefully we can stay healthy for the final years of our career and perform as well as possible.

You have 70 Grand Slam wins together. Are you ready to break 80 this season?
Cabal: I think so. If we do things well, we can break that barrier and maybe get even more wins. We’re working hard for that.

Where do you think you’ll win your 20th title as a team?
Cabal: We’re not losing sleep over that. The only thing is to give our all because then the results will follow. Sooner or later. Hopefully it will be in Australia.

Farah: I’d like it to come in Australia, that’s the goal.

Who are the opponents to beat this season?
Cabal: The Frenchmen [Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues Herbert], the Croatians [Mate] Pavic and [Nikola] Mektic, [Ram] Salisbury and [Rajeev] Ram, [Marcel] Granollers and [Horacio] Zeballos. Together with them, we’re the most consistent, the ones that are in the fight for the titles and finals.

Farah: It won’t change that much compared to last year. Also, there is a new pair, John Peers and Filip Polasek who finished last year very well. In 2022, they’ll be dangerous. The Belgians [Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen] could be a danger, they’re playing better every year. Bruno [Soares] and Jamie [Murray]. But we know that we have the game to face any of them. If we’re focussed and enjoying the Tour, we can be very dangerous.

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