MELBOURNE, January 18, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Australia’s own Ashleigh Barty got rid of any nerves she may have had lingering as Day 5 at the Australian Open unfolded on a rainy Friday in Melbourne. It helped that the large and friendly crowd inside Rod Laver Arena cheered mostly in the Aussie’s favor.
Playing with the roof closed, the No. 15 seed Barty became the first woman to advance to the fourth round with her 7-5, 6-1 win over 41st-ranked Maria Sakkari of Greece. It was her third consecutive straight-set victory and she has only lost a total of 15 games in three matches. It also marked the first time the 22-year-old Barty has reached the fourth round at the Australian Open.
Using a blend of what Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim described as “power and craft,” Barty hit 13 service aces, pounded out 24 winners, and won 77 percent of her first-serve points during her 1 hour and 22 minute match. She used a really good slice backhand to disrupt Sakkari’s rhythm. Additionally, Barty broke Sakkari four times, dropped serve only once, and caused the Greek into committing 26 unforced errors.
In her on-court interview with Australian TV that followed, Barty said, “The lively conditions suit both of us so it took time get used to how dead and slow it is in here with the roof closed. There wasn’t going to be much in it the whole match and Maria is a great friend of mine and we have had exceptional matches in the past. So, I’m extremely happy to come through in straight sets and find my way towards the end there.
“I haven’t played a full match with the roof closed before and it is absolutely phenomenal and to hear all the Aussies out here is just unbelievable.”
Although Barty caused a bit of a scare by needing a medical time-out after the first set to treat an apparent abdominal strain, after the match, she admitted that she had her afternoon all figured out: “Ice bath, physio, coffee, cricket. I’m good!”
Barty’s victory earned her a place in Sunday’s order of play against either defending champion and No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki or former champion and No. 30 seed Maria Sharapova. Either would be a formidable opponent for the Queenslander.
Meanwhile, with only three covered courts – Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Melbourne Arena – available at the start of the day because of the persistent rain, it meant a limited schedule of matches started on time.
• On Margaret Court Arena, Stefanos Tsitsipas became the lone remaining Greek in the tournament following the loss by Sakkari earlier in the day. The No. 14 seed and Next Gen ATP star found himself in a back-and-forth battle with No. 19 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia. They split identical 6-3 sets before Tsitsipas pulled ahead by winning a third set tie-break 9-7. Then, Tsitsipas made it through to the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the second time in his career – and first time in Melbourne – by staying focused and composed in the fourth set, which he won 6-4. It added up to a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4 victory for Tsitsipas as he became the first Greek male player in history to reach the round of 16 at a Grand Slam more than once.
Tsitsipas was asked his thoughts on who he would rather play in the next round. He answered the interviewer’s question playfully: “If Roger wins, it’s means playing on Rod Laver,” Tsitsipas said, breaking out in laughter. Then, after a pause for dramatic effect, he admitted, “But, I really hope Taylor wins.”
• On Rod Laver Arena, Roger Federer looked like he was in a hurry to be somewhere besides the tennis court. Maybe, he was looking forward to some extra family time. Regardless, the 20-time Grand Slam winner and six-time Australian Open champion played very quickly – 1 hour and 28 minutes – and efficiently, with 10 service aces and 34 winners, in advancing to the fourth round. It prompted British tennis writer Simon Cambers to tweet this observation: “Federer’s court position is so tight to the baseline that he hits so many half-volleys from the baseline. Such a difficult thing to do but he makes it look easy.”
Federer’s 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win over 50th-ranked Taylor Fritz of the United States, in which he dropped just three points on his first serve, moved the 37-year-old Swiss maestro one step closer to another Australian Open title in his 20th year of playing in Melbourne, and it set up a Sunday showdown with Tsitsipas, 17 years his junior, whom he beat two weeks ago at the Hopman Cup in Perth.
Federer was upbeat during an off-court interview with Tennis Channel after beating Fritz. He said, “I played really well. All three sets, I was able to protect my serve and in spells really put Taylor under pressure. I think I can be pretty happy. I was able to relax a little bit, hit a few drop shots, play serve and volley. It all worked out. I’m pleased with the result.”
The thought of a Tsitsipas-Federer match-up prompted David Law, co-host of “The Tennis Podcast,” to tweet: “Tsitsipas has the timing and self belief to beat Federer if the great man isn’t absolutely on it.”
Late night tennis, anyone?
At 3:12 a.m. Melbourne time (AEDT) early Friday, the last match on Thursday’s night session schedule was officially over when 18th-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain beat No. 38 Jo Konta of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5, in front of just a few hundred scattered spectators, who remained to the very end in Margaret Court Arena, with the roof closed.
The second-round match between Muguruza and Konta began at 12:30 a.m. Friday in what is believed to be the latest start to a match in Australian Open history, and it following the conclusion of the previous match, won by No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany over Jeremy Chardy of France that lasted five sets and took three hours and 46 minutes to complete. For the few hundred fans who stayed to watch Muguruza face Konta, they were rewarded with one of the best played matches of the first week.
Despite the late hour, both Muguruza and Konta played quality tennis. Each went toe to toe with the other, attacking and absorbing the other’s pace. Muguruza finished the two hour and 42 minute match by hitting 41 winners, which included nine service aces, and committed just 19 unforced errors. Konta countered with 46 winners, but made 37 unforced errors. There were just two service breaks, both won by the Spaniard. Muguruza won on total points, 111-108.
As the third set began at 2:25 a.m., tied at a set apiece, Stuart Fraser, tennis correspondent for The Times of London, tweeted: “I bow at the feet of Australian Open organisers for introducing a 10-point tiebreak at 6-6 this year.”
Muguruza saved everyone – spectators and tennis writers – from a third-set “super” tiebreak by breaking Konta in the final game and winning on her first match-point opportunity.
“I can’t believe there’s people (still) watching us,” said an exasperated but relieved Muguruza during an on-court interview afterward. Asked by the interviewer what she would do between now and her next match, against No. 192 Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, Muguruza quipped, “I’ll go have breakfast now. … No, I’ll try to recover as much as I can because it was a tough match. Tomorrow is a day off, but I have to concentrate. The tournament is not over.”
Meanwhile, in a brief interview outside the locker room with BBC5 Live Sport, Konta said: “I don’t agree with athletes having to physically exert themselves in the wee hours of the morning. I don’t think it’s healthy. I think it’s quite dangerous.”
Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova, who is an analyst for the Tennis Channel broadcasts beamed back to the United States, said, “To have a starting time that is much further beyond any time that you would normally play is crazy. You’ve got to make it uniform and make is realistic. I’d rather play two matches back-to-back than to be finishing at three in the morning. Then, you have built-in jet lag for the rest of the tournament. Let’s be realistic.”
Adidas: Recycled waste meets high-end fashion
It’s summertime in Melbourne and among the images we think of as we watch the Australian Open, whether in person on or TV, include the sun, the ocean and the beautiful beaches. With those images in mind, a year ago, Adidas’s Melbourne collection drew its inspiration from beachware. Fast forward to 2019, and recycled waste is meeting high-end tennis fashion that you see players like Alexander Zverev, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber wearing. What? The European sports clothing giant has joined with Parley for the Oceans in its new collection for this year’s Australian Open. With a goal of raising awareness about “the plastic pollution in our precious waters,” the collection’s blue color palette represents a celebration of oceans.
Adidas has included Parley Ocean Plastic™, which is “intercepted from beaches and coastal communities before it reaches the ocean”.
What they’re saying
• Tomas Berdych, 33, of the Czech Republic, former World No. 4 who is currently ranked No. 57 following a six-month hiatus to recover from a back injury, as quoted by the Australian Open website: “It was definitely a very good thing for me. After all those many years and all those seasons basicallly melted all in one and just keep going for such a long time, to take a break like this, it was – I almost want to say it was the best thing that I’ve done for a really long period. … It just opened up my eyes a lot, gave me a different view and perspective on tennis. I also basically got to experience how life can be when you stop one day, so it’s also nice to have that experience. It was a nice experience so it’s something I can even look forward to, not to be afraid of what’s going to happen after (I retire). It was a very positive six months.”
On Friday afternoon, Berdych defeated No. 18 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, in a three-hour, third-round match on Melbourne Arena with the roof closed, to reach the fourth round for the 11th time in his career. Next, Berdych will face either No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal or No. 27 seed Alex de Minaur in the fourth round on Sunday. If it’s Nadal, it would be a rematch of the 2010 Wimbledon final.
• Lucas Pouille of France, the only player in the ATP Tour’s Top 100 who is currently coached by a woman outside his immediate family (two-time Grand Slam champion Amélie Mauresmo), addressed the issue of his coach’s gender with Ben Rothenberg, tennis correspondent for The New York Times: “For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a man, woman, grandfather, grandmother – I don’t care. As long as they know what they’re talking about. In women’s sports or men’s sports, in the end you’re dealing with the same stuff on the court.”
Pouille has won his first two matches at the Australian Open this week and next faces 149th-ranked Australian wild card Alexei Popyrin on Saturday.
By the numbers
For the first time since Wimbledon in 2009, the top eight women’s singles seeds at a Grand Slam tournament have all punched their tickets for the third round.
What they’re tweeting
Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey), tennis columnist for The New York Times, on the late start for Thursday night’s Jo Konta-Garbiñe Muguruza match on Margaret Court Arena: “No Grand Slam tennis match should start after midnight. Time for a rule. Brutal on the players, the spectators on site and the tournament staff even if good for draw symmetry and viewers in other time zones.”