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Preview: Will Berrettini Hold Off Alcaraz's Australian Open Charge?

  • Posted: Jan 20, 2022

It’s the kind of heavyweight slugfest that usually starts with the ringing of a bell. Two of tennis’ biggest hitters will square off in the Australian Open third round on Friday, when Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz meet for the second time in three months.

The 18-year-old Spaniard scored the knockout in the pair’s quarter-final meeting in Vienna this fall, winning a third-set tie-break before falling to Alexander Zverev in the semis. Since then, Alcaraz won the Intesa Sanpaola Next Gen ATP Finals title before entering Melbourne as the youngest Grand Slam seed in more than 30 years.

“I think I grew up since that match,” he said of that encounter with Berrettini, who he called one of the best servers on Tour. “All I can say is I’m going to have fun [in Friday’s meeting]. I’m going to play my match, and let’s see what happens.”

What happened in Alcaraz’s first two Melbourne matches was nothing short of domination, as he eased past Alejandro Tabilo and Dusan Lajovic in a sleeveless shirt and all-red kit. In his Rod Laver Arena debut, Alcaraz will look to keep his game and his attire consistent.

“I’m really comfortable playing without sleeves,” he said with a smile when asked about a potential wardrobe change. A clay-courter by nature, he’s also growing comfortable — perhaps even moreso — on the ATP Tour’s hard courts.

Carlos Alcaraz
Photo Credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
In the Italian corner, Berrettini may be in for an initial shock against the youngster, who Stefanos Tsitsipas called the hardest-hitting player he’s ever seen following their US Open third-round tussle (Alcaraz won in a fifth-set tie-break).

The seventh seed faced a polar opposite in style in the second round, when he beat wild card Stefan Kozlov, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

“He’s not hitting the ball, I think on purpose, sometimes not that hard,” Berrettini said of the American. “So then your feet are going to go slower and then, I think he did his web, like a spider. And I fell into it.”

Fully recovered from stomach issues that bothered him in the first round, the Italian will have to weave his way through an entirely different puzzle in Alcaraz.

Thursday’s Rod Laver Arena nightcap will see Rafael Nadal take on 28th seed Karen Khachanov. Separated by 10 years of age (35 vs. 25), they are familiar opponents. Nadal is familiar with victory against the Russian, holding a 7-0 edge in their ATP Head2Head record with the loss of just one set in their history.

But that statistic does not account for some very tight sets between the two. Five of their past six sets were decided by tie-breaks, all five going Nadal’s way, spanning matches at the 2018 US Open, 2019 BNP Paribas Open and the 2019 Davis Cup Finals.

The Spanish sixth seed is a perfect 5-0 and has yet to drop a set in 2022, including his title run at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month. But Khachanov will be his first Top 60 opponent of the new year as Nadal looks to step up his comeback from a left-foot injury that kept him out of the US Open.

“As I said before the tournament, things are not going to be perfect, but every day that I spend on court, the chances to play better are higher,” Nadal said following his 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round. “Things that I can improve I have to improve. Winning today allows me to practise again tomorrow, to be ready for another match. After two matches it’s the moment to make a step forward.”

Rafael Nadal
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
With seeded opposition clashing for the first time at the Australian Open in the third round, two more such matches are on the Day 5 slate: Denis Shapovalov against Reilly Opelka in Margaret Court Arena, and Cristian Garin against Gael Monfils in Kia Arena.

Shapovalov, seeded 14th, and 23rd seed Opelka have taken contrasting paths into the third round. The Canadian has played five tie-breaks in nine Melbourne sets, and needed to come from behind in the second round against South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon, ultimately surviving, 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-2.

Opelka is 2-0 in tie-breaks on the tournament and has not dropped a set in wins over Kevin Anderson and Dominik Koepfer. He’s been broken just once, compared to eight times for Shapovalov.

It’s a similar story for 17th seed Monfils and Garin. While the Frenchman dropped just five games in each of his first two matches, Garin needed five sets to advance each time. The 16th seed has spent over nine hours on court compared to just over three hours for Monfils. The 25-year-old Chilean will see what he has left in his young legs against the veteran, 10 years his elder.

As the draw whittles down, there are just eight men’s singles matches on the Friday slate. Third seed Alexander Zverev will face Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot, while 18th seed and 2021 AO semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev takes on France’s Adrian Mannarino, who upset 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets in the second round. Rounding out the Day 5 action are 19th seed Pablo Carreno Busta’s meeting with American Sebastian Korda and 25th seed Lorenzo Sonego’s matchup with Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic.

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Kyrgios: 'I'm Super Proud Of My Performance'

  • Posted: Jan 20, 2022

Nick Kyrgios was all about the positives despite his loss to Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open on Thursday.

“I’m super proud of my performance today,” said the Australian in his post-match press conference. “From where I was with my struggles the last four, five months, to be feeling like this…I’m just proud of the way I responded.”

Kyrgios went into the match with a 2-0 ATP Head2Head series lead over the World No. 2, but with no meeting since 2019 there was intrigue about how the match-up would play out. The Australian underdog rose to the occasion if front of an excited crowd on Rod Laver Arena, proving a stern test for the second seed before the Russian prevailed 7-6(1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

“I’m going to hold my head high, I gave it everything,” Kyrgios said. “I put on a good performance. I think he’s favoured to win the Australian Open. I can’t be too upset.”

The match was just Kyrgios’ second since representing Team World at the Laver Cup in September, but he prides himself on being able to play at his peak with little preparation.

“No matter how little I train or how much I play, I’ll always lift for matches like this,” Kyrgios said. “I’m not going to shy away from it. Obviously, I’m not happy with drawing Daniil Medvedev [in the] second round because my ranking slipped. If I play 95 per cent of people tonight on that court, I think I win, to be honest with you.

“That’s just the way it is. I’m just proud of the way I carried myself. I fought, I gave a good show, and that’s it. I’m not thinking about my next tournaments or anything like that.”

Kyrgios was particularly pleased with his serving performance, winning 74 per cent of points behind his first delivery. “I threw everything I could at him,” he said. “I thought I served consistently at 220 kmh for three-and-a-half hours almost.”

The Australian, who is next scheduled to play at the Dallas Open in February, is confident he can still compete on the biggest stage, despite currently sitting at No. 115 in the ATP Rankings. “People can doubt me as much as they want,” Kyrgios added. “But they know I’m going to show up for matches like this. That’s why the crowd is the way it is, that’s why the tickets are the way they are, that’s why the views are the way they are. It all speaks for itself.”

After winning his first-round match over Liam Broady on John Cain Arena, Kyrgios admitted the move to Rod Laver Arena for the Medvedev clash was something he had revelled in. “I thought the atmosphere was awesome. That’s what sport is,” the 26-year-old said. “You’ve got the most entertaining player playing in his home slam on Rod Laver.

“I don’t take any moment like that for granted. When I was a young kid that was a court that I remember watching a lot of tennis matches on, and one day I thought I was going to be there entertaining millions of people. It became reality. It was a special moment for me tonight.”

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Sinner Puts Foot Down To Reach R3

  • Posted: Jan 20, 2022

Jannik Sinner maintained his perfect start to the season Thursday, cruising past American Steve Johnson 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the third round at the Australian Open for the first time.

The 11th seed is making his third appearance in Melbourne and backed up his first-round win against Joao Sousa with a solid display against Johnson, firing 29 winners and breaking five times to advance after one hour and 43 minutes.

”It is a real pleasure playing here,” Sinner said in his on-court interview. “I played on this court against Shapo [Denis Shapovalov] in the first-round last year, so it is a special feeling coming back here. Thanks for staying out. I like playing here in Australia, so having a night match is very special.”

Following his efficient victory, the Italian is now 5-0 on the year, having recorded three ATP Cup wins earlier this month. He will next play Taro Daniel after the Japanese qualifier upset former World No. 1 Andy Murray 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

“I started the match very well, which gave me a lot of confidence,” Sinner added. “When I had to break in every set, I was quite relaxed. I tried to stay focused on my service games which I think I have done. I am very happy to be through in three sets.”

Sinner enjoyed a standout 2021 season, winning four tour-level titles as he rose from No. 37 in the ATP Rankings to a career-high No. 9 in November. The 20-year-old, whose best Grand Slam performance was a run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2020, now leads Johnson 3-0 in their ATPHead2Head series.

The 2019 Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion made a fast start on Margaret Court Arena, racing into a 4-0 lead as Johnson struggled to deal with Sinner’s flat groundstrokes. The 20-year-old, who hugged the baseline throughout to dictate play, closed out the opener on his first set point and then claimed the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set to seize further control.

Sinner continued to exert relentless pressure on Johnson in the third set in a blink-and-you-would miss-it win, committing just five unforced errors in the set to move through.

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Murray: 'This Is A Really Important Year For Me'

  • Posted: Jan 20, 2022

Andy Murray will not let his Australian Open disappointment impact the rest of his season.

The Brit never got going against Japan’s Taro Daniel on Thursday evening, converting just two of 11 break points as he went down 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to the No. 120-ranked qualifier.

“This is a really important year for me for a number of reasons,” said Murray after his second-round exit, “and I want to perform well in the big events. For me, tonight is not good enough in that respect. Making the second round of Slams is not something I find motivating. I want to be doing better than that.”

Murray acknowledged that Daniel, who won his sole ATP Tour title in Istanbul in 2018, deserved the win on John Cain Arena. “He was solid the whole match, which was what I was expecting from him. He moves well, and he’s very consistent. He doesn’t give matches to you.”

The Brit was still able to take some positives from the defeat, particularly how his body held up after an intense 10 days in which he reached the final of the Sydney Tennis Classic (l. to Karatsev) and battled through a three-hour, 52 minute five-set epic with Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round in Melbourne.

“I felt all right today, physically,” said Murray. “I pulled up pretty well from the [Basilashvili] match the day afterwards. From that respect I was actually quite happy considering the situation.”

The physical strides he has made in recent months made the loss to Daniel hurt more for the former World No. 1. “I’m really disappointed,” he said. “A tough loss for me. That’s for sure.”

One development that Murray hopes will drive his success in 2022 is a change of racquet, and he is willing to give himself time to get up to speed with his new equipment. “It’s not an excuse for losing today,” said Murray, “but I have to factor that into my performances for a couple of months. Everyone I have spoken to around changing racquets [says] that it does take a bit of time to gain confidence in it, so I have to bear that in mind.

“The reason for changing racquets is to improve your performance and to obviously do better in the bigger events, and that didn’t happen this week. That’s frustrating for me.”

Murray will now return home to the U.K. to prepare for his next scheduled tournaments in Doha and Dubai. He spoke emotionally about his family on court following his Sydney loss to Karatsev but was positive about the work-life balance he has been able to strike. “It’s harder leaving home when you know you’ve got four children than it was when I was in my mid-20s,” said Murray, “but I still like when I’m here. I’m able to focus well on the tennis and that process.

“I get to go home now and spend some time with them. My family has been a bit sick the last week. Obviously when that’s the case, you also want to be there to help and feel like you’re contributing.”

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Tsitsipas Passes Baez Test

  • Posted: Jan 20, 2022

Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was pushed hard Thursday by Sebastian Baez, but he found the winning formula, overcoming the Argentine 7-6(1), 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round at the Australian Open for the fourth year in a row.

The Greek never found top form on Margaret Court Arena as he was tested in a physical clash against the resilient 21-year-old. However, he demonstrated an abundance of grit and character,  raising his level in the third and fourth sets to advance after three hours and 22 minutes.

“It wasn’t easy. But I am glad I overcame that obstacle today,” Tsitsipas said in his-court interview. “Lots of fighting, a little bit of swearing, but I am glad to be in the third round. It was a pretty hot day today, but I tried to play with my heart and it paid off in the end.”

The World No. 4 spent the off-season recovering from an elbow injury, which forced him to withdraw from the Nitto ATP Finals in November. He showed no signs of discomfort against Baez though in their first ATPHead2Head meeting and will next face 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov or Frenchman Benoit Paire.

“He is a great player,” Tsitsipas said when asked about Baez. “I know he had a good run at the Next Gen Finals, which is an event I played a few years ago, so in order for him to playing at these tournaments it is an indication he has been doing well. He has one of the biggest forehands I have faced.”

Tsitsipas has fond memories in Melbourne, having upset Roger Federer en route to the semi-finals in 2019, before he advanced to the last four again last year. The seven-time tour-level titlist is aiming to win his first major at the Australian Open, with his best result at a Grand Slam a run to the final at Roland Garros in 2021.

In an enthralling first set, Baez was put under pressure on serve by the Greek but found the answers, saving seven break points before he broke Tsitsipas at 4-4 with aggressive ball striking. However, he was unable to serve out the set as Tsitsipas responded with deep returns, before prevailing in the tie-break.

The diminutive Argentine refused to go away though, matching Tsitsipas from the baseline as he fired 13 winners in the second set. In a tense tie-break, Baez won four points in a row from 3/5 to level, but all this did was fire the Greek up, with Tsitsipas driving his groundstrokes through the court with extra pace in the third set to move back in front.

Tsitsipas found the early break in the fourth set and pinned Baez behind the baseline with his heavy forehand as he demonstrated great footwork to dictate with the stroke to advance. 

Baez, who reached the semi-finals at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in November, was making his Grand Slam debut in Melbourne. The World No. 88 edged Albert Ramos-Vinolas in five sets in the first round.

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