Hantuchova: Experience aids Osaka, Djokovic in Australian Open finals

Hantuchova: Experience aids Osaka, Djokovic in Australian Open finals

The former world No. 5 makes her picks for what promises to be an exciting weekend of championship matches in Melbourne.

Two weeks removed from her pre-tournament picks, Daniela Hantuchova still finds predictions as difficult to make as ever.

"It's arguably even harder because all of the finalists are there for a reason," she said after the championship match-ups were revealed.

In two clashes featuring experience against momentum, the former world No. 5 takes stock of what promises to be an intriguing finals weekend at the Australian Open, and makes her picks for who will end the first Grand Slam fortnight of 2021 with titles.

[3] Naomi OSAKA (JPN) vs [22] Jennifer BRADY (USA)

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Daniela's Preview: What an exciting contrast of styles we’re going to see between Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady.

Jennifer is having the tournament of her life. Her story is so beautiful to watch and follow. She is so humble and friendly that everyone is so happy to see her in the final. After having been in the hard quarantine, she never complained and used the time positively. I’m so glad she has been able to deliver this kind of message, because there are so many more things happening in the world right now than a 14-day quarantine. It was just so cool of her to go about it that way, and I believe she’s been rewarded for that attitude because that extra mental energy has helped her play so well on the court.

She’s so fit, and so much more disciplined, and I think that comes down to Michael Geserer, her coach. I think she has more of that German kind of attitude instilled in her. She has always had so many weapons to her game, but she’s using them much more constructively.

Playing in her first Grand Slam final, Jennifer's key to success against Naomi will come down to how well she can serve—because one thing Naomi has improved so much is her return. We saw that shot played to deadly effect against Serena, something like 75 percent of returns put back into play.

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Speaking of Naomi, we’ve seen how well she’s been able to handle playing under pressure, and just how incredibly mentally strong through the huge matches she’s won over the years. Once you have that kind of confidence, you start to feel like you’re unbeatable, and I think that’s why she’s hitting the ball even harder—not just because of how much stronger she is, but also because of the belief she has. It’s incredible how she’s become such a great champion in such a short amount of time.

I expect her to be able to come out and play her best tennis, and if she does that, chances are she can win another title.

Daniela's Pick: I have to go with Naomi Osaka, because, as much as I think the match will be close, she has been in these kinds of situations much more often. A final comes down to those small details, so having that past experience will help her big time.

[1] Novak DJOKOVIC (SRB) vs [4] Daniil MEDVEDEV (RUS)

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Daniela's Preview: We are looking at the best player at the Australian Open against arguably the best player on tour at the moment in Novak Djokovic against Daniil Medvedev.

Novak was my pick to win the tournament when the draw came out. I still stand behind what I said before the tournament, but Medevedev fills me with as much doubt as I ever could have imagined after how well he played his semifinal.

The main thing in Novak’s corner is just how many times he has won Down Under before. Like Osaka, he has been in this situation so many more times than his opponent. Unlike Brady, Medvedev has been in a Grand Slam final before, but even more helpful will be the 20-match winning streak he takes into the final. This isn’t 20 Challenger matches; we’re talking about beating the best of the best 20 times in a row! He’s a completely different player than he was at the 2019 US Open—and even there he came very close to defeating Rafael Nadal in that final—so he has every reason to come into this match against Novak believing that he can go all the way.

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The more I think about it, the harder it is not to pick Medvedev for the title!

Daniela's Pick: I definitely think it will go five sets, and a couple of points may decide the match, but I still have to go with Novak Djokovic. I picked him before the tournament, and I believe the first instinct is always right.

Nestled between January's summer swing of tournaments in Australia, and March's Sunshine Double in the U.S., February can be overlooked in tennis. But not in 2021, with the Australian Open's temporary move to the second and shortest month of the calendar. Beyond that, February is Black History Month, and also a pivotal time for the sport in its rebound from the pandemic.

To commemorate this convergence of events, we're spotlighting one important story per day, all month long, in The 2/21. Set your clock to it: it will drop each afternoon, at 2:21 Eastern Standard Time (U.S.).