Setting Up Sunday: Djokovic, Korda clash; Italy, U.S. battle for United Cup; Teens Gauff, Noskova seek titlesBy Jan 07, 2023
Novak Djokovic saves match point to defeat Sebastian Korda and capture 92nd ATP title of career in AdelaideBy Jan 08, 2023
Novak Djokovic keeps Daniil Medvedev off balance to win Adelaide 1 semifinal showdownBy Jan 07, 2023
Qualifier Linda Noskova to battle Aryna Sabalenka for Adelaide International 1 crownBy Jan 07, 2023
Novak Djokovic advances to face Daniil Medvedev in Adelaide semifinalsBy Jan 06, 2023
Novak Djokovic records 100th career win in Australia with victory over ShapovalovBy Jan 06, 2023
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Novak Djokovic dismisses Constant Lestienne for winning start to 2023By Jan 03, 2023
Setting Up Sunday: Djokovic, Korda clash; Italy, U.S. battle for United Cup; Teens Gauff, Noskova seek titles
Breaking down a trio of pre-Australian Open storylines closing out the first week of the 2023 season.
Published Jan 07, 2023
Adelaide: Big Chance for Korda, Djokovic Back Down Under
A singles final played prior to the start of a Grand Slam event carries more significance than other weeks of the year. In the case of Sunday’s Adelaide International final, a first-time meeting between Novak Djokovic and Sebastian Korda, the implications are also quite different.
Start with the underdog. Australia carries great meaning for the Korda family. Back in 1998, Sebastian’s father, Petr, won the Australian Open singles title. Five years ago, Sebastian won the juniors at Melbourne Park. Now he’s seeking his second ATP singles career singles title. But that prior victory, earned at Parma in 2021, came versus a much weaker field than Adelaide; only one of the players Korda beat was ranked in the top 50. This week in Adelaide, he’s gotten past resurgent Andy Murray, rugged veteran Roberto Bautista Agut, powerful and promising Jannik Sinner and, in the semis, tough competitor, Yoshita Nishioka. Most impressive was Korda’s win over Sinner. After squeaking out a tight first set, 7-5, Korda was in complete control, rolling through the second, 6-1.
The relaxed, fluid way Korda plays has long given indications that he could become a significant contender. That said, his progress in 2022 was modest. Ranked 41 at the start of the year, he currently stands at 33. Now he’ll have the chance to play Djokovic, a task that’s both no-lose and daunting. Might this be a breakthrough win? Or at least a chance to control the possible – competing effectively?
Then there’s Djokovic. Twelve months ago, he was deported from Australia. Back Down Under, Djokovic has been greeted warmly and played his customary brand of tennis. Just ask Korda, who said, “I think he is so good, if Plan A isn't working, he goes to Plan B, Plan C, plan D. He has all these different tactics he can use against you. He reads his opponents probably the best that anyone can read.”
Competing in Adelaide for the first time since winning the title 16 years ago as a teenager, the 35-year-old Djokovic has yet to lose a set. His Adelaide run began with victories over two Frenchman, Constant Lestienne and Quentin Halys. There followed a pair of 6-3, 6-4 wins versus the always dangerous Denis Shapovalov and the intriguing Daniil Medvedev. Versus Medvedev, though, Djokovic injured his left leg. At 5-2 in the first set, Djokovic left the court, taking a ten-minute medical timeout. “Thankfully it was nothing too serious. If it was, I wouldn’t be able to continue, so I just tried with [a] medical timeout, some anti-inflammatories and kind of settled in after a few games . . . I think the longer the match went, the more my hamstring was warmer and bothering me less, so hopefully for tomorrow it will be fine.”
Djokovic has now won 33 straight matches in Australia, his last loss there coming five years ago when he was beaten by Hyeon Chung in the fourth round of the 2018 Australian Open. While Korda hopes to double his career singles title tally, Djokovic seeks to add yet more jewel: singles victory number 92.
United Cup: A Nation Turns Its Eyes to Tennis
Save for soccer, tennis stretches across the planet so much more than any other sport that grasping the meaning of various events can sometimes require donning multiple lenses. Consider the United Cup. On a global basis, it’s an interesting experiment, a multi-faceted, co-ed, round-robin team event that’s taken place in Brisbane, Perth, and Sydney.
While the tennis has often been engaging, the format is so different than tournament play that it’s not always been so easy to follow. It’s also likely that any results generated from this best-of-five match format – save for a particular match victory such as Jessica Pegula’s upset win over Iga Swiatek – will hardly shape how we view a particular year or even career. In that sense, think of the United Cup as a super-sized version of the Perth-based Hopman Cup, the cozy co-ed team event that from 1989 to 2019 offered a festive start to the tennis year that was fun to watch – notably when Roger Federer and Serena Williams played one another in a mixed doubles match four years ago – but hardly consequential.
But as the saying goes, “Think global, act local.” And that indeed reveals much about what makes this event deeply meaningful. From a December 23 editorial in The Age, Australia’s national newspaper: “This was the year that we stopped talking about ‘learning to live’ with COVID-19 and finally did it. No more grim press conferences, or much-anticipated daily drops of data. . . for all the ongoing threat of COVID-19, this was the year our lives returned to relative normality.”
Severe and lengthy lockdowns have marked Australia’s COVID journey. Now, as the nation seeks to move forward, tennis has its role to play. But from the political twists and turns last year with Djokovic, to financial losses well into the millions, even to rumors that the tournament might relocate to China, it’s been a difficult time for Tennis Australia.
So with a rapid-fire two week leadup to the Australian Open, why not generate interest, excitement and potential viewership and attendance with a co-ed roadshow? Imagine, for example, if two weeks prior to the US Open, the USTA conducted a similar event in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia? Hats off to Tennis Australia.
Sunday’s final in Sydney between the U.S. and Italy could well be highly engaging. Start with world No. 3 Pegula, versus a crafty lefty, 27th-ranked Martina Trevisan. If not nearly as accomplished as the other lefthanded Martina named Navratilova, Trevisan’s fine groundstrokes took her to the semis of Roland Garros last year. Next comes a sizzling matchup between two shot makers, Frances Tiafoe and Lorenzo Musetti (he of the slick one-handed backhand) followed by an intriguing battle between the top-ranked American, Taylor Fritz, and ’21 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini (he of the massive forehand). After that, it’s ’22 Aussie semifinalist Madison Keys and Lucia Bronzetti.
Should the teams split those first four matches, all will be settled by a mixed doubles match between Pegula-Fritz and Trevisan-Berrettini. Should that come to pass, I don’t care what I think about the United Cup in the big scheme of things, that kind of matchup as a decider will certainly be captivating.
WTA: Top Tenners Sabalenka and Gauff to Play Qualifiers in Finals
Top tenners Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff are each favored to win the two finals that will take place. At the Adelaide International, Sabalenka is set to play a qualifier, 102nd-ranked Linda Noskova. In Auckland at the ASB Classic, Gauff is also up against a qualifier, 130th-ranked Rebeka Masarova.
To see the way Sabalenka and Gauff conduct themselves is yet another example of why individual sports like tennis permit – encourage? -- a level of personal freedom quite different than you’ll see in team sports. Let the football players report to their coaches. Let the tennis players hire them. And that has made all the difference.
Sabalenka is tennis’ rollercoaster ride. There is the raw firepower, at its best a visceral and relentless level of depth, pace, and accuracy. At its worse, balls spray as if dispensed from an aerosol can. Then come the emotions, Sabalenka’s demeanor 180 degrees removed from a poker-like manner. Who knows if that volatility hurts or helps? What is known is that Sabalenka has finished the last two years ranked inside the top five. She finished ’22 strong, at the WTA Championships beating the three top players in the world – Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur, and Jessica Pegula – before losing the final to Caroline Garcia. Already a top contender at the Australian Open, a title win here would add further validation.
But she certainly won’t underestimate the 18-year-old Noskova, who this week has beaten top tenners Daria Kasatkina and Jabeur, and also rallied from match point down to beat former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in a third set tiebreaker.
While tremendous competitive intensity landed Gauff onto the tennis radar screen nearly four years ago, what’s kept her on it is a business-like manner. Year by year, she has methodically added skills and generated results. Twenty-two in the world twelve months ago, Gauff cracked the top ten just after the US Open and is currently ranked seventh. She was also the only played ranked inside the top 35 in the Auckland field, a factor that adds a certain kind of pressure: You’re heavily favored to win the tournament, so anything less holds the potential for disappointment.
Gauff has been up to the task, winning eight straights on her way to the finals. Her first two wins came versus surprise ’22 Wimbledon semifinalist Tatjana Maria and ’20 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin (who beat Gauff on the way to that title). In the semis versus seventh-seeded Danka Kovinic, Gauff was in complete control, winning that match 6-0, 6-2. Like Sabalenka, Gauff is also a notable Australian Open contender, keen to arrive in Melbourne with a recent tournament title.