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Nadal beats a 2-set lead in Australia against Tsitsipas

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Nadal beats a 2-set lead in Australia against Tsitsipas

 

By taking the first two sets of a Grand Slam match, Rafael Nadal entered his Australian Open quarterfinal with a 223-1 record.

The mark is now 223-2, thanks to his own mistakes and some spirited play by Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Nadal’s undoing started with a few uncharacteristically careless overheads and a framed backhand in a third-set tiebreaker, and his bid here for a men’s record 21st major championship eventually ended Wednesday with a loss of 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 to the younger, sharper Tsitsipas.

That was just a little bit of everything, no? In the tiebreak, I missed a few balls that I wasn’t supposed to miss if I wanted to win. And that’s it,” said Nadal, who, after gripping his cramping right hamstring, momentarily left the Spanish part of his post-match news conference.

“Nadal said, “I have to go back home and practise to get better.”

Nadal went ahead very effortlessly at his put-the-ball-where-he-wants-it best in the early going, winning 27 straight points on his serve in one stretch and extending his streak of consecutive sets won in major tournaments to 35, one short of the professional-era mark of Roger Federer.

In the history of a sport dating back to the late 1800s, Nadal and Federer are currently linked to 20 Grand Slam singles titles, more than any other individual.

But Tsitsipas never wavered and that shockingly bad Nadal tiebreaker, looking too far ahead, maybe? — helped to hand the third set over and launch the epic comeback.

“I started out very nervous, I’m not going to lie,” said the fifth-seeded Tsitsipas. “But after the third set, I do not know what happened. I was just like a little bird fluttering. It’s all been working for me. The feelings are indescribable at the very end.

As Tsitsipas played a “very, very high level of tennis” over the last two sets, in Nadal’s estimation, the 34-year-old Spaniard’s play dipped significantly.

In the first two sets combined, Nadal made a total of just 10 unforced errors, then 32 the rest of the way — 11 in the third, 14 in the fourth, seven in the fifth.

The only other chance in which Nadal went from a two-set lead to a Slam loss came in the U.S. in 2015. Fabio Fognini Open Against (who just so happened to have lost to Nadal in the fourth round at Melbourne Park this year).

But instead, instead of Nadal seeking to conquer Federer, Tsitsipas, a Greek 22-year-old with a dazzling game, will face the U.S. in 2019. Open semi-final runner-up Daniil Medvedev on Friday.

Tsitsipas and Medvedev did not win the Grand Slam tournament.

Novak Djokovic will meet 114th-ranked qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the other men’s semifinal, 17-time major champion and No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who is making his Grand Slam debut.

The Thursday (Wednesday night EST) women’s semifinals are Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka, and Jennifer Brady vs. Karolina Muchova.

Nadal won the Australian Open in 2009, but it’s the only major he’s not won at least twice, with 13 Roland Garros titles, four in the U.S. Wimbledon Open and Two.

“Things go well sometimes,” said Nadal, “and things get worse sometimes.”

He came into the first major this year with concerns about his back, citing that as his reason for pulling out of the Australian Open’s preceding ATP Cup team competition and claiming the issue prevented him from training properly for about three weeks.

However, after the loss to Tsitsipas, Nadal said that his back was not a concern.

In four matches, Nadal did not cede a set at Melbourne Park; he also took all 21 sets he played at the French Open last year, where he won his 20th Slam trophy (Williams has 23, Margaret Court 24).

After two knee operations, Federer hasn’t played in over a year.

With squawking seagulls at Rod Laver Arena offering a strange nighttime soundtrack, but no spectators, because during a local COVID-19 lockdown they were barred, and would not return until Thursday, Nadal always had an answer to everything Tsitsipas attempted at the outset.

Give the net a rush? An angled passing shot is coming up here. At the baseline, hang out? Good luck trying to snatch Nadal out of there.

It looked like when Nadal dominated Tsitsipas and allowed him to win just six games, it could be a replay of their 2019 semifinal in Australia.

But this time, after three full days off, Tsitsipas came in, because Matteo Berrettini, the man he was expected to face in the fourth round, No. 9, withdrew with an abdominal injury.

That may have led to Tsitsipas being fresher in the late going as they played past four hours, and a 12-year age gap. In the French Open semifinals in October, Tsitsipas, who has been pegged as a potential star for years, almost pulled this kind of shocker off against Djokovic, going from two sets to forcing a fifth.

Back then, Tsitsipas couldn’t close the contract.

Against Nadal, he did.

By breaking at love as Nadal flubbed a set of shots, Tsitsipas eventually pushed out front at 6-5 in the sixth, then served the victory by converting his third match point with a backhand winner.

“I am speechless. I don’t have words to explain what just happened on the court,’ said Tsitsipas. “To be able to fight at such a level and just be able to give it my all out on the court is an incredible feeling.”

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Djokovic wins 9th Australian Open, 18th Slam title

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Djokovic wins 9th Australian Open, 18th Slam title

 

Perhaps, perhaps, the thought went, Novak Djokovic will be just a tad more vulnerable to trouble at the Australian Open this time around.

In the third round, after all, he ripped his abdominal muscle and wasn’t sure he could continue to play. Djokovic ceded five sets in the tournament as he entered Sunday, the most he had ever lost en route to a major final. And to top it all off, Daniil Medvedev, owner of a 20-match winning streak, was facing him.

Well, well, yes. At Melbourne Park, where his supremacy is most definitely intact, we are talking about Djokovic—nine finals, nine championships. Plus, in the Grand Slam rankings, he’s also gaining on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, now up to 18 overall, two short of the men’s record those rivals share.

In addition to his usual relentless return and baseline excellence, Djokovic used enhanced serving to win 11 of 13 games in one period and beat Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for a third consecutive Australian Open trophy.

“The most challenging Grand Slam I’ve ever had, definitely, emotionally, with everything that was going on, injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines,” Djokovic said. “A coaster-roller ride.”

After less than two hours, when the match ended, Djokovic marched to the sideline, lifted his white shirt and peeled from his stomach strips of beige athletic tape.

‘I was very concerned,’ said Djokovic of the injury. “Realistically, I didn’t (think) that I could really play. Until two hours before the fourth-round match, I didn’t know.

Djokovic, struggling with what he called “bearable” pain, improved to a combined 18-0 in semifinals and finals on the hard courts of Melbourne.

“It is probably not your last one,” said Medvedev. “I don’t have words to say.”

Serbia’s 33-year-old Djokovic has won six of the last 10 majors and will remain at No. 1 in the rankings at least until 8 March. That’s going to give him 311 weeks, breaking another mark Federer keeps.

His objectives are now squarely on the Grand Slams, even more than before.

Placed the nine triumphs of Djokovic in Australia alongside five at Wimbledon, three at the U.S. Accessible and one at the French Open, respectively. For him, the math looks good: he’s about a year younger than Nadal, and about 6 1/2 younger than Federer.

“Every single time, I enjoy success even more,” Djokovic said, “because I know that the longer time passes, the harder it becomes.”

In his second Slam final, the No. 4-seeded Medvedev appeared; he was the runner-up to Nadal in the 2019 U.S. Uh, free.

Russia’s 25-year-old won 12 in a row against Top 10 rivals, but trying to overcome Djokovic is a unique challenge in Australia.

“He’s very good at reading the game of an opponent,” Medvedev said, “knowing what you’re going to do next, how to beat you.”

Medvedev bounced his white racket off the blue court as stuff fell away, then utterly smashed it with a full-on spike. He kept looking up at his coach with his palms up, as if he were saying, “What can I do here?” ”

In this stadium, it’s a familiar feeling: Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem, all Grand Slam champions, all beaten by Djokovic in Melbourne’s semifinals or finals.

An event postponed three weeks on a cool, gloomy evening because of the coronavirus pandemic closed with a reported attendance at Rod Laver Arena of 7,426. Due to a COVID-19 lockout, spectators were barred for five days earlier in the tournament, but they were finally allowed back in at 50 percent capacity.

“With tennis players coming to Australia, there are a lot of mixed feelings about what has happened in the last month or so,” Djokovic said. “But I think it was a successful tournament for the organisers when we drew a line at the end.”

And on behalf of him.

At first, Medvedev’s flat, wrap-the-racket-around-his-neck forehand was iffy, missing in the initial 10 minutes, big, long and into the net. Djokovic got 13 of the initial 16 points of the match and a quick 3-0 lead. However, soon enough, it was 3-all, then 5-all.

But it was then that Djokovic stepped up, and Medvedev stepped down. Djokovic kept in love, then broke to win the set when Medvedev slapped a forehand into the net just after the point was called out by someone in the crowd.

With a fault in the net, Djokovic started the second set, then shook his left arm and flexed his shoulders. That point ended with a backhand missing out on the net, and he glanced at his guest box. Medvedev was gifted a break by another netted backhand.

But it revealed the extreme difference in experience. Medvedev relinquished his next two service games immediately. In all, Djokovic broke seven times and made just seventeen unforced mistakes against Medvedev’s 30.

“Masterpiece,” said the 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, who is one of Djokovic’s coaches.

At 4-2 in the third, Medvedev seemed to have a tiny opening, getting to 15-30 with a forehand winner on Djokovic’s serve and waving to the crowd to make noise. Djokovic took the next three points and the win, as if seeing it as a personal affront, then pointed his right index finger to his temple and gritted his teeth.

It was soon done.

“It always brings me that extra dose of confidence when I come to Australia,” Djokovic said, “because of my record here and because of how I play.”

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Osaka Targets 4th Australian Open Final Slam Title

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Osaka Targets 4th Australian Open Final Slam Title

 

Whether or not Naomi Osaka claims the Australian Open championship, she will be expected to win, and make no mistake, this seems certain: Tennis has a new dominant power.

Sure, it’s obviously likely that Osaka will be beaten in Saturday’s title match at Melbourne Park by 22nd-seeded American Jennifer Brady.

After all, thanks to a big serve and a big forehand, Brady is also emerging as a power on hard courts. Before losing to her in the U.S, she forced Osaka to three sets. Last September’s open semifinals, then shook off a two-week rough quarantine in Australia to reach her first Grand Slam final.

However, it was No. 3-seeded Osaka who dominated and defeated Serena Williams on Thursday in the semifinals.

Who’s riding a winning 20-match run dating to last season.

Who has already spent some time in the No. 1 rankings.

Who’s looking for her second Australian Open title and fourth trophy in the Slam, and she’s just 23 yet.

Like 23-time major champion Williams, there is a resilience that Osaka continues to display when the finish line is close to the most critical stages of their sport: in Grand Slam quarterfinals, semifinals and finals, she has run her record to a combined 11-0.

Whether at lower-level WTA tournaments or at any Grand Slam event, Osaka always talks about needing more consistency.

Occasionally, she stumbles early in the majors, such as a third-round exit a year ago as Australia’s defending champion or a Wimbledon first-round defeat in 2019.

But she seals the deal until she gets down to the end.

“I have this attitude about me, where people don’t remember the runners-up. “Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father before the family moved to New York when she was 3, explained, “You could, but the name of the winner is the one that is engraved.

I think I’ll be fighting the hardest in the final,” she went on.” “That’s where I think you kind of set yourself apart.”

In the Australian Open semifinals, Williams was 8-0 before Osaka put an end to it by winning 6-3, 6-4, reeling off the last eight points of the game after the second set was even 4-all.

This is what went through Osaka’s mind when they hugged on the net at the end: “Always a surreal moment, just to see her close up in real life, like.”

The 39-year-old Williams has long been regarded by Osaka as an idol.

At the most basic level, their games are very similar: speedy serves, dangerous forehands and the steely attitude on court.

During the thrilling match against Osaka last year in New York, Brady got a sense of that.

She just puts a lot of pressure on you to serve well, because in, like, 45 seconds, she’s holding the servant. … With a lot of force, she’s coming at you, so it puts a lot of pressure on you to be aggressive and try and get the first hit. “Brady, a 25-year-old from Pennsylvania who played college tennis at UCLA, said, “Otherwise, you’re the one going, and I don’t want to run. “She is simply putting a lot of pressure on you to perform well.”

Brady admitted that this time, she expects to struggle with some nerves toward Osaka.

Given the stakes, that’s only normal.

The key would be to restrict how much that affects her playing, and for how long.

Listen, on Saturday, I don’t know how I’m going to feel. I would tell that I can enjoy the moment and just try to not really worry too much about playing tennis. But there’s going to be moments, there’s going to be games, there’s going to be points, where I’m going to be thinking, ‘Wow, this could be my first Grand Slam title,’ said Brady, who in the last game needed five game points to close her three-set semifinal win over Karolina Muchova.

“Yeah, I’m definitely going to have these thoughts,” she said. “But it really is more than just trying to control emotions.”

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In the Australian Open SF, Osaka beats Williams

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In the Australian Open SF, Osaka beats Williams

In the Australian Open SF, Osaka beats Williams

 

The 39-year-old American paused and placed her hand on her chest as thousands of spectators rose to cheers as Serena Williams walked off the court after her latest so-close-yet-so-far bid for a 24th Grand Slam title ended with a loss to Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open.

Was this, Williams was questioned after the 6-3, 6-4 semifinal loss at a news conference, her way of saying goodbye?

“If I ever say goodbye,” she answered with a smile, “I’m not going to say it to anyone.”

On Thursday (Wednesday night EST) when the next question returned the topic to the subject of Williams’ many errors-twice as many unforced mistakes, 24, as winners, 12-she shook her head, teared up, said, “I’m done,” and suddenly left the session with reporters.

At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Osaka will face first-time Grand Slam finalist Jennifer Brady of the United States for the championship, local time (3:30 a.m. EST). In an epic, 18-point final game, the 22nd-seeded Brady, who is from Pennsylvania and played college tennis at UCLA, prevailed to beat No. 25 Karolina Muchova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals.

After saving a trio of break points, Brady fell to her back at the baseline, then converted her fifth match point when Muchova sent out a long forehand.

“It’s shaking my legs,” said Brady. “Racing is my heart.”

In a three-set thriller in the U.S, she lost to Osaka. Last September’s open semifinals.

“Whenever they play their first final, everyone’s really excited,” Osaka noted about what awaits Brady, “but they’re really nervous too.”

Williams hoped to get to her 34th Grand Slam final, but again, she couldn’t get the job done to add another Grand Slam trophy to her 23rd set and tie Margaret Court for the most in the history of tennis.

In the chaotic 2018 U.S., Osaka, who also defeated Williams The Open final, which ended with the booing of the crowd and both women in tears, entered her fourth major title match and extended her winning streak to 20 matches by taking the last eight points.

“I don’t know if there are any kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play,” Osaka, 23, said of Williams, “and it’s a dream for me just to be on the court playing against her.”

The Grand Slam set of No. 3-seeded Osaka also contains last year’s U.S. Open and the Australian Open in 2019 and she is the most dangerous hard-court player in the women’s game at the moment, without a doubt.

That, of course, used to be Williams. But in this contest, she was too off-target.

“I would have won. I should have been up 5-Love,’ Williams said, taking a 2-0 lead at the start before losing the next five games instead. “I have simply made so many mistakes.”

Her forehand, in particular, went awry, alone in the first set with no less than 10 unforced mistakes off that foot.

She said, “Too many mistakes there.” “Easy errors.”

Early in the second set, Williams’ frustration was made clear when she leaned over and screamed, ‘Make a shot! Make a fucking shot! ”

Williams has reached four major finals and lost them all after collecting her professional era-record 23rd Slam singles trophy at Melbourne Park while pregnant in 2017.

She has lost twice in the semifinals in the past three majors, too.

For top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won 14 of his last Grand Slam semifinals, that stage was no problem. His record in the Melbourne Park semifinals is perfect, improving to 9-0 with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win late Thursday over Aslan Karatsev, a Russian qualifier ranked No. 114 and making his major debut.

Djokovic is seeking a ninth title in the Australian Open and an overall 18th Grand Slam trophy. In his first Grand Slam tournament, Karatsev played.

Rafael Nadal, who lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals after blowing a two-set lead, and Roger Federer are tied for the 20th men’s record.

On Thursday, spectators were back in the stands after being barred from attending the tournament during a local COVID-19 lockdown for five days. About 7,000 people, roughly half the capacity, were allowed into the Williams-Osaka stadium.

Ushers walked at changeovers through the aisles to remind fans that they needed to wear a mask over their nose and mouth.

The temperature exceeded 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) on the hottest day of the hard-court tournament so far, Osaka got out to a shaky start, perhaps prodded into pressing a booming cross-court backhand return winner from Williams on the second point of the match in her opening service game.

A double-fault, a wild forehand and, eventually, a netted backhand that handed over a break followed that. Quickly, after another double-fault by Osaka, Williams went up 2-0, then held another break point with an opportunity to lead 3-0.

Osaka, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. when she was 3, said, “I was just really, like, nervous and scared, I think, at the start.” “And then I eased my way into it somewhat.”

It didn’t take long for her to right herself.

It was suddenly Osaka powering in aces, placing groundstrokes right where she needed, so well covering the court. In Melbourne, Williams’ action was terrific, but this time she was flat-footed.

Osaka has never tried to hide how much she admires Williams and models her American game after him.

Both are based on the same fundamental elements of big serves and fast-strike forehands, and on this day, not only did Osaka do both better, she also sounded like her idol, shouting “Come on!” “Several key shots later.

For Osaka, there was one last test. She wound up with eight for the match, a trio of double-faults in one game, allowed Williams to break for 4-all.

But another point wouldn’t be won by Williams.

Osaka quickly recovered her composure, with the aid of a pair of backhand winners and a double-fault from Williams, breaking back into love, then hanging on to love to finish it.

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