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Updated: 51 min 15 sec ago

Bautista Agut's Best Kept Secret

3 hours 36 min ago

"You’re working as hard as ever, but now, ‘hard as ever’ isn’t enough.”

Coach Pepe Vendrell had those words to say to Roberto Bautista Agut following the Doha champion’s 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over sixth seed Marin Cilic in the fourth round of the Australian Open. The victory over last year’s runner-up marked a breakthrough for Bautista Agut: In his 10th fourth-round appearance at a Grand Slam, the 30-year-old finally reached his first quarter-final.

Back to work on Court 16 at Melbourne Park to prepare for his inaugural quarter-final match, coach and player are devising a plan to build on what’s already been the ideal start to 2019. The 22nd seed Bautista Agut is tied with #NextGenATP Aussie Alex de Minaur for most tour-level wins this year (9), and he claimed his ninth ATP Tour title by lifting the Qatar ExxonMobil Open trophy to begin the campaign.

So what’s the secret to his boost in form?

“The maximum effort has always been there,” Vendrell said. “But I think we’re maturing as a team, in terms of processing information and understanding what’s happened and why it happened, as opposed to focusing on just whether Roberto won or lost. I’m analysing things from a different perspective now. We won a tournament, but how did we go about doing that? We’re into the quarter-finals [at the Australian Open], but what did we do differently to achieve this?”

Bautista Agut agrees.

“These days, I’m able to single out the small differences I made during my matches. I can look back and see a subtle change in the way I handled a certain moment and how it differs to ways I reacted to those types of situations in the past,” Bautista Agut said. “I’m more level-headed as well. I focus more on myself and less on my opponents. In that regard, I feel more confident when I step on the court.”

Already this year, Bautista Agut has wins over Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka and Cilic, the latest coming after three hours and 58 minutes in Melbourne on Sunday. The victory means the Spaniard has met a goal he set for himself in the preseason: to break through that fourth-round barrier at a Grand Slam.

“One of my goals before the start of 2019 was to reach the quarter-finals of a major,” Bautista Agut said. “Marin made that very difficult, but I think I played at a very high level against a top-level player. I’ve been in-form here and I feel especially good playing on these courts and under the current conditions.”

After 14 hours and 18 sets in four matches, Bautista Agut has been dubbed “Marathon Man” and for good reason: Before defeating Cilic, the Spaniard also needed five sets to overcome Andy Murray (6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(4), 6-2) and John Millman (6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-7(6), 6-4) in the opening two rounds in Melbourne, before defeating 10th seed Karen Khachanov in straight sets. Despite all that time on court, the World No. 24 feels he isn’t any worse for the wear and he is eager for more success.

“I was forced to battle my way past Cilic, but I’ve been fighting throughout the tournament,” Bautista Agut said. “But I’m not tired. I’m holding up well physically and I’m used to recovering quickly after these types of matches.”

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The excellent level of play and bounds of confidence are there, and the results have been stellar so far. After working hard with his charge throughout the pre-season, Vendrell isn’t surprised with Bautista Agut’s recent surge.

“He’s talented, committed and a hard worker, and he’s working especially hard every day to raise his game,” Vendrell said. “So it doesn’t surprise me when I see Roberto earning victories like these, and I say that with humility and all due respect for his opponents. But it’s no coincidence Roberto is stringing together wins like he has been. We’ve stressed recently the importance of focusing on what we have to do in critical situations and not on what the opponent might do. We can’t control that, but we can control how to handle those big moments.”

Fast starts to the year are nothing new to Bautista Agut. He kicked off 2016 by lifting the trophy in Auckland. In 2017, he captured the title in Chennai. In 2018 he again conquered Auckland and this year he emerged victorious in Doha. But this season is proving more special than years past, for both player and coach.

“With all the victories I’ve had so far, I consider this to be the best January of my career,” Bautista Agut said.

“It’s not by accident when you accomplish something like that four years in a row,” Vendrell added. “It suggests that this time of the year suits us. I’m in tune with Roberto and I’m aware these types of conditions suit his style of play. We’re starting the season well-rested but also having laid the groundwork by planning and preparing in practice. I think we found the ideal approach to start a season.”

With nothing to prove and even less to lose, Bautista Agut will step on Rod Laver Arena for the first time in this year’s Australian Open campaign with another tough task to handle. He’ll face reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who upset six-time titlist Roger Federer in the previous round.

“Tsitsipas is a great player. He's playing a top level,” Bautista Agut said of the 20-year-old from Greece. “He's one of the top players in the world. He will be one of the best, for sure. He's playing at a very high level.”

The same can be said of Bautista Agut.

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Five Things To Watch From The QF Of The Australian Open

4 hours 35 min ago

1) Novak Continues Pursuit Of History
Entering the fortnight, both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer began their pursuit of history in Melbourne. Djokovic, Federer and Aussie great Roy Emerson each own six Australian Open titles, tied for the tournament record.

But with Federer eliminated in the fourth round by Stefanos Tsitsipas, Djokovic is the lone player remaining with a chance to earn his seventh trophy at the year’s first Grand Slam. The 31-year-old can also break a tie with Pete Sampras for the third-most major titles in the Open Era, as they are knotted at 14 apiece.

Djokovic will focus on the challenges in front of him before thinking of glory, though, as he clashes with eighth seed Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals. The Serbian owns a 15-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead against the Japanese star, also defeating Nishikori in the last eight of the Australian Open three years ago in straight sets. Djokovic’s last loss against him came in the semi-finals of the 2014 US Open.

2) Rafa Pushes To Complete Dream Comeback
Before arriving at Melbourne Park, Rafael Nadal’s most recent match came at last year’s US Open, where the Spaniard retired after two sets of his semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro. Inevitably, there were questions regarding the 2009 champion’s status entering the Australian Open, but the left-hander has put all of those questions to rest.

Nadal has been sharp in every match so far this fortnight. Not only is he the only player who has not dropped a set, but he has been pushed to just one tie-break. Sydney champion Alex de Minaur and former World No. 4 Tomas Berdych both took momentum into matches against Nadal in the past two rounds, but Nadal dropped a total of 13 games in the six sets he played against them.

The second seed next takes on first-time major quarter-finalist Frances Tiafoe of the United States. Only one player ranked as low as World No. 39 Tiafoe has ousted Nadal at the Australian Open, and that was former Top 10 player Fernando Verdasco (then No. 45) in the first round three years ago. Nadal has also claimed 20 straight matches against Americans at the majors.

If Nadal moves past Tiafoe and eventually wins the title, it would be 18th Grand Slam championship, bringing him to within two of Federer’s Open Era record. How about that for the World No. 2’s first tournament in more than four months?

3) Stefanos Tries To Step Into The Sun
Reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas had proven himself before arriving at the Australian Open. Last year, the Greek beat four Top 10 players, including Djokovic, to reach the final of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Toronto.

But defeating six-time champion Roger Federer to advance to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time may have been the biggest win of Tsitsipas’ career. The 20-year-old now plays Doha champion Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the last four in Melbourne.

Tsitsipas would be the youngest man to make the last four of a major since Andy Roddick did so in Australia 16 years ago. He’d be the youngest man to advance to the semi-finals of any Slam since Djokovic at the 2017 US Open. And furthermore, the Greek can guarantee that he will crack the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time on 28 January if he battles into his maiden major final.

4) Tiafoe Tries To Maintain Melbourne Magic
#NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe had reached the third round of a Grand Slam just once in 11 previous tries before this Australian Open. But Tiafoe is the youngest American to make the last eight at this tournament since Roddick in 2003. The run will send him soaring into the Top 30 of the ATP Rankings for the first time next Monday.

But with that being said, Tiafoe is not done yet. And he hopes to earn his first Top 5 victory against Nadal on Tuesday evening. He could become the youngest man to reach a Slam semi-final since Juan Martin del Potro was 20 years old at the 2009 US Open.

If Tiafoe stuns Nadal, suddenly he would face Tsitsipas or Bautista Agut to make a major final. But the American is focused on the player in front of him, who he touted as one of the best to ever play the sport. But before departing the court after defeating 2017 Nitto ATP Finals semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, Tiafoe showed that he does not fear playing Nadal; he’s ready to embrace the challenge.

“He better get ready,” Tiafoe said, cracking a smile.

5) Bryan Brothers Pursue Trophy In First Slam Back
Mike Bryan is the No. 1 player in the ATP Doubles Rankings, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and the Nitto ATP Finals last year with Jack Sock. But his usual partner, twin brother Bob Bryan, underwent hip surgery last August to deal with an injury he suffered in the Mutua Madrid Open final earlier in the year.

So could Bob Bryan possibly return in peak form just five months after major surgery? The results speak for themselves. Bryan/Bryan are into the quarter-finals, three matches from extending their record number of Australian Open titles to seven.

The fourth seeds play reigning Roland Garros titlists Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut next, against whom they have won just one of six FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings. But if Bryan/Bryan continue their momentum to eventually claim their 17th major title, it will certainly be a run that nobody will soon forget.

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Nadal Tries To Stop Tiafoe's Dream Run In The Australian Open QF

6 hours 11 min ago

After Stefanos Tsitsipas shocked Roger Federer in Melbourne on Sunday evening, 2009 champion Rafael Nadal became the favourite to move through the bottom half of the Australian Open draw. The Spaniard will look to continue his pursuit of a second title at the event when he faces #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe in Tuesday’s quarter-finals.

Tiafoe, who turned 21 on Sunday, when he upset 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov, is the youngest American to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park since former World No. 1 Andy Roddick in 2003. This time last year, Tiafoe had never reached a tour-level quarter-final. But he is eager to walk on Rod Laver Arena for the biggest match of his life against Nadal.

“I'm so excited to play Rafa. We're going to have some fun, going to have some long rallies,” Tiafoe said. “Playing arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all-time. Just have some fun out there.”

Nadal holds a 29-7 record in major quarter-finals, with six of his seven losses coming against Top 10 opponents. But the Spaniard is preparing to be at his very best, expecting a stern challenge from Tiafoe.

“He has everything: He's quick. He serves well. [He has a] very quick forehand. He's a very dynamic player, aggressive one. Of course, he's dangerous. He's in the quarter-finals. He won great matches during the whole event. [It’s] going to be a tough one,” Nadal said. “You cannot expect an easy match. I just can say from my side, I'm happy to be in that round. I played some good matches until that round, and now is the moment to keep [making] steps forward to... give myself chances to keep going.”

Tiafoe has waited for a moment like this his entire life. The spotlight will be on him as he tries to defeat a living legend. But rather than showing nerves, Tiafoe plans to bring the battle to Nadal. Smiling towards the end of his on-court interview after defeating Dimitrov, Tiafoe made that clear.

“He better get ready.”

In Tuesday’s other quarter-final, Tsitsipas will try to back up his upset of Federer against in-form Doha champion Roberto Bautista Agut. While Tsitsipas showed what he is capable in the fourth round against the six-time champion, Bautista Agut is 9-0 on the season, with five wins against players who have reached the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings. This will be the pair’s first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, and neither player has reached a Grand Slam semi-final before.

“Tsitsipas is a great player. He's playing at a top level,” Bautista Agut said. “He's one of the top players in the world. He will be one of the best, for sure. He's playing at a very high level.”

Tsitsipas does not plan on being content leaving Melbourne Park with the Federer victory and a quarter-final loss. The first Greek man to reach the last eight at a major wants to further improve his level and go all the way.

“That's why I'm here. That's why I'm playing, for the trophy, for the title,” Tsitsipas said. “I feel good. I really want it badly. I really want to proceed further in the tournament to make myself happy and the people that are cheering for me happy. I really like this atmosphere that's on the court, the whole dynamic of it… I really want to stay here as long as possible. That's my goal.”

Tsitsipas and Bautista Agut do have contrasting gamestyles, which should make for an interesting tactical match. Tsitsipas can employ plenty of variety off his forehand wing, and he uses a one-handed backhand. The Greek is also unafraid of the forecourt, coming to net 68 times against Federer and winning an impressive 71 per cent of those points.

Bautista Agut hits very deep, flat groundstrokes while managing to make few mistakes. The Spaniard tallied just 38 unforced errors to Marin Cilic’s 73 in their five-set thriller in the last round. The depth of Bautista Agut’s shots, as well as his consistency, can force players out of their comfort zone, as there aren’t many good opportunities for them to step into the court and play aggressively without incurring an excessive amount of risk.

“I do feel like my game is pretty good at the moment. I feel confident. That's very important. I'm really pumped and excited to be competing in the quarter-finals,” Tsitsipas said. “I'm really waiting for that moment.”

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Nishikori Proud Of Comeback Against Carreno Busta

8 hours 27 min ago
Kei Nishikori reflects on his comeback from two sets down against Pablo Carreno Busta to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Video courtesy of Tennis Australia.

Djokovic Reveals Funny Moment At Net After R16 Win At Australian Open 2019

9 hours 30 min ago
Novak Djokovic reflects on his fourth-round win at the Australian Open and reveals a funny moment at the net with his opponent, Daniil Medvedev. Video courtesy of Tennis Australia.

Nishikori Pushing For Top 5 Return; Tsitsipas Seeks Top 10

9 hours 39 min ago

Only eight players remain at the 2019 Australian Open, with the year’s first Grand Slam trophy on the line. There are just seven singles matches to be played at Melbourne Park, but plenty is at stake with the next ATP Rankings to be released on 28 January.

ATPTour.com looks at the various ATP Ranking possibilities as the ATP Tour’s stars enter the last eight.

Kei Can Return To The Top 5
This week last year, Kei Nishikori was making his return to action from a right wrist injury on the ATP Challenger Tour. The Japanese star, then No. 24 in the ATP Rankings, did not play in the Australian Open, losing in the first round of the Newport Beach Challenger. He would fall as low as World No. 39 last April.

But now, Nishikori is just two victories from guaranteeing a return to the Top 5 for the first time since the week of 17 April 2017. Nishikori, who outlasted Pablo Carreno Busta in his second fifth-set tie-break of the event (also d. Karlovic in the second round) is currently projected to ascend to World No. 7 with 4,110 points.

If Nishikori advances to his second Grand Slam final (also the 2014 US Open), the 29-year-old will move to 4,950 points and return to the Top 5, surpassing Roger Federer (4,600) and Kevin Anderson (4,845). If the recent Brisbane titlist wins his maiden major crown, he would move past Juan Martin del Potro (5,060) and return to his career-high of World No. 4.

Nishikori's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 4,110)

 Australian Open Champion  Finalist  Semi-finalist  5,750  4,950  4,470

Tsitsipas Eyes Breakthrough To Top 10
One year ago, Stefanos Tsitsipas, then No. 82 in the ATP Rankings, lost in the first round of the Australian Open. The #NextGenATP Greek owned just six tour-level wins.

But now, not only is he the World No. 15, but the 20-year-old has a chance to take it even further. If Tsitsipas advances to the Australian Open final, he will soar into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time. A trip to the championship match on Rod Laver Arena would send Tsitsipas to No. 9, while a dream run to the title would catapult him to No. 8.

Tsitsipas' Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 2,445)

 Australian Open Champion  Finalist  Semi-finalist 4,085   3,285  2,805

Tiafoe To Crack The Top 30
Regardless of his result against 2009 champion Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals, Frances Tiafoe is guaranteed to earn a new career-high ATP Ranking on 28 January, cracking the Top 30 for the first time.

While the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier and reigning Delray Beach Open champion, who is the youngest American quarter-finalist at the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2003, is projected to reach No. 30 should he lose to Nadal (1,430 points). He can make a massive jump by reaching the semi-finals or better. Tiafoe would climb to No. 22 or 23 should he stun the Spaniard, pending the result of Lucas Pouille’s quarter-final against Milos Raonic.

Tiafoe's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 1,430)

 Australian Open Champion  Finalist  Semi-finalist  3,070  2,270  1,790

Bautista Agut Pushing Towards Career-High
Bautista Agut, like Nishikori (8-0), is off to a perfect start in 2019 (9-0). If the 30-year-old is able to continue his good form to advance further in Melbourne, he could potentially earn a new career-best ATP Ranking.

The Spaniard lost in the first round of the Australian Open last year, so he had just 10 points to defend at the season’s first major. Since Bautista Agut will gain at least 350 points after reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final, he is already poised to climb from No. 24 to No. 17, so long as Tiafoe and Pouille fail to reach the final.

But if Bautista Agut defeats Tsitsipas, he could potentially soar to No. 14, pending Raonic’s quarter-final result against Pouille. Bautista Agut, who achieved his career-high of No. 13 in October 2016, would guarantee himself at least a return to that mark by reaching the final, and he would crack the Top 10 for the first time at No. 9 by claiming the trophy.

Bautista Agut's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 1,955)

 Australian Open Champion  Finalist  Semi-finalist  3,595  2,795  2,315

Raonic Surging
Raonic is no stranger to climbing the ATP Rankings, as he ascended to World No. 3, his top mark, on 21 November 2016. But the Canadian entered the Australian Open as the No. 17 player in the world.

If Raonic defeats Pouille to reach his fourth Grand Slam semi-final and his second in Melbourne (also 2016), he will move to at least No. 14 on 28 January, and as high as No. 12, depending on the results of Tsitsipas-Bautista Agut and Nadal-Bautista Agut. Like Bautista Agut, Raonic can earn a spot in the Top 10 next Monday by winning his first major title, which would propel him to World No. 9.

Raonic's Round-By-Round ATP Rankings Projection (Current Points: 2,250)

 Australian Open Champion  Finalist  Semi-finalist  3,890  3,090  2,610 .videoWrapper { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; /* 16:9 */ padding-top: 25px; height: 0; } .videoWrapper iframe { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

Tiafoe Prepares For Nadal Showdown

11 hours 14 min ago
Watch Frances Tiafoe prepare for his quarter-final match at the 2019 Australian Open against 2009 champion Rafael Nadal.

Pouille Reveals Key To Coric Win At The Australian Open

11 hours 16 min ago
Lucas Pouille reflects on his fourth-round win at the Australian Open against Borna Coric. Video courtesy of Tennis Australia.

Raonic: 'I Think I Can Always Give Myself A Chance'

11 hours 16 min ago
Milos Raonic expresses pleasure with his performance after defeating fourth seed Alexander Zverev in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Video courtesy: Tennis Australia.

Djokovic Works Hard To Beat Medvedev At Australian Open

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 11:33pm

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic took another step towards a record-breaking seventh Australian Open crown in the early hours of Tuesday morning by reaching the quarter-finals.

The Serbian, who has won 14 Grand Slam championship crowns, was made to work to beat Russian No. 15 seed Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-3 over three hours and 15 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. The match ended at 12:43 a.m. local time at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic, who has now reached 10 or more quarter-finals at each of the four major championships, will prepare to meet eighth-seeded Japanese star Kei Nishikori. Djokovic leads Nishikori 15-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

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“I had to do post-match, all of the part of my recovery program, because I didn't feel so great in the last 20 minutes or so of the match,” said Djokovic. “So we'll see tomorrow how the body reacts, but I'm confident I can recover and I can be ready for next one.

“Kei won another marathon match. Congratulations to him for fighting back from two-sets-to-love down and break down. He's a fighter. He's a very talented player. One of the quickest players on the tour. A hard worker. I have lots of respect for him.”

Djokovic turned the tables on Medvedev in the first set, saving one break point at 30/40 in the fifth game, before applying the pressure to take a 4-2 lead, courtesy of three straight errors from his Russian opponent. Medvedev tightened up his game and broke Djokovic to recover to 4-5, but Djokovic sealed the 39-minute set in the next game with a backhand, his 11th winner.

“I thought I played a good match. I was a set and a break up, something similar like against to [Denis] Shapovalov," said Djokovic. "Unfortunately, I, again, lost my serve and got him back into the match. The tie-break was not that great for me."

In an enormously physical match, Djokovic began to wear down Medvedev, who grit his teeth to save five-break points in an 11-minute second game of the second set. The Serbian broke for 3-1 and came within one point of a 5-1 advantage, but Medvedev held his nerve to win three straight games. Medvedev won the first three points of the tie-break and saw three set point chances — from 6/2 up — come and go, before Djokovic hit a forehand into the net.

“After that, the first four games of the third set were crucial, and that's where I felt like he dropped physically a bit, and that's when I got on top of him to win the third set. In the fourth he started playing well again," said Djokovic. "Even though it was three sets to one, it seems like a five-set match, really. It was draining physically a lot, because you just could not rely on one-two punch tactics, you know, in today's match so often.”

Medvedev looked in the ascendency with a 2-1 lead in the third set, when he had Djokovic at 0/40. However, the World No. 1 escaped, before breaking in the following game and winning 12 of the next 15 points — including a second break at 4-2 — as Medvedev began to noticeably tire.

Three errors from Medvedev, under mounting pressure, saw Djokovic break for a 2-1 lead in the fourth set. The 22-year-old Medvedev continued to fight, but was unable to convert a break point at 2-3. Djokovic struck a forehand winner, his 43rd, to break and record his seventh win in eight matches in 2019.

“It was hard to go through him,” said Djokovic. “It was kind of a cat-and-a-mouse game for most of the match. That's why it was so lengthy. We had rallies of 40, 45 exchanges. That's why I think it was physically exhausting because of the fact that we didn't really allow each other to think that we can make a lot of unforced errors and give away points. His backhand is very, very solid. He didn't give me much from that side, but, you know, you can't always play on the forehand. You have to open up the court and try to be patient and construct the point."

The 31-year-old Djokovic guaranteed he will remain at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings on 28 January by reaching the Australian Open fourth round.

Marathon Man Nishikori Outlasts Carreno Busta In Fifth Set Tie-break

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 10:27pm

Kei Nishikori is the marathon man of the 2019 Australian Open, winning his third five-setter in four matches to reach the quarter-finals for the fourth time (also 2012, 2015-2016).

The Japanese star fought back from two-sets-to-love down for the fourth time in his career on Monday night at Melbourne Park with a 6-7(8), 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-6(8) victory over Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, the No. 23 seed, in five hours and five minutes.

"I don't even know how I came back," Nishikori said. "But [I'm] very happy to win today."

Eighth-seeded Nishikori, who also recovered from 5/8 in the deciding set tie-break by winning five straight points, hit 81 winners, including 15 aces. Carreno Busta committed 57 unforced errors to Nishikori’s 67. Nishikori had previously earned five-set victories in the first and second rounds last week, against Kamil Majchrzak and Ivo Karlovic.

"There were many tough moments," Nishikori said. "I just tried to fight through every point, and luckily I got five points in a row [in the] last tie-break."

He will now hope to have enough fuel in the tank to challenge World No. 1 and six-time former champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia on Wednesday. Djokovic leads 15-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head.

In an edgy opening, the pair each broke serve twice before settling into the match. Nishikori took a 2/0 lead in the tie-break, but Carreno Busta capitalised on three errors to recover. Three set point opportunities for the Spaniard went begging at 6/5 (Nishikori forehand winner), 7/6 (backhand error) and 8/7 (forehand error), before clinching the set with a forehand — his 16th winner.

Carreno Busta carried the momentum into the second set, rifling two forehand winners to break Nishikori in the third game, prior to saving two break points at 2-1. The Spaniard missed out on two set-point chances at 5/3, with Nishikori serving at 15/40, when he made two forehand errors, but in the next game, the World No. 23 closed out to love.

"Of course I was really disappointed. I should [have] won the first set. I had so many chances in the first set. And second set, he was playing better," Nishikori said. "Credit to him, but I just tried to play good tennis again. I wasn't thinking too much, and I just tried to play one game at a time."

Nishikori would now need to recover from two-sets-to-love down for the fourth time in his career. It didn’t look good when the Japanese star was broken in the fifth game of the third set, however he immediately broke back. In a second tie-break, Nishikori tightened up his game, dictated with his backhand and waited for errors from Carreno Busta.

Four straight groundstroke errors from Carreno Busta saw Nishikori break at the start of the fourth set, but a backhand error from the eighth seed in the fourth game cost Nishikori. The 29-year-old rallied immediately, getting the better of the baseline duels, and soon came within a point — on three occasions — of a 5-2 advantage. Three straight love service holds helped Nishikori keep the pressure on his opponent going into the decider.

Nishikori broke for a 2-1 lead in the fifth set and recovered from 15/40 in the sixth game, but with the finish line in sight the right-hander got tight when serving for the match at 5-4. Carreno Busta did the basic, getting the ball back in play and soon the pressure moved to Nishikori, serving second in the pair’s first meeting.

In a deciding tie-break both players made nervous starts, but Carreno Busta became more assured in his ball-striking to open up a 4/2 advantage. Carreno Busta edged closer to the finish, gaining an 8/5 lead, but like he did throughout, Nishikori battled back, winning five straight points to clinch his thrilling victory. The Japanese star finished with an ace — his 15th of the match — to improve to 21-7 in five-setters.

"I know that Kei is a great player, and he's fighting all the time. So when I won the second set, I knew that I needed to continue playing my best tennis if I would like to win the match. I didn't play bad the third and the fourth set, but Kei played good also," Carreno Busta said. "It was very close match, and I think that I played probably one of the best matches of my career."

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Zverev: 'It's Not The End Of The World'

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 10:21pm
Alexander Zverev speaks after his fourth-round loss to Milos Raonic at the Australian Open. Video courtesy: Tennis Australia.

Pouille Books Raonic Quarter-final In Melbourne

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 7:30pm

Lucas Pouille recovered from a set down to reach his third Grand Slam quarter-final on Monday, beating Borna Coric 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5, 7-6(2) at the Australian Open.

The 28th seed, who also advanced to the last eight at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2016, landed 57 winners and won 66 per cent of second-serve return points (23/35) to advance after three hours and 15 minutes. Pouille becomes the 13th Frenchman to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals in the Open Era and the first since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2017.

"It's good to be back in the quarters [of a major]. That's where I want to be. We worked very hard during the pre-season and during the beginning of the year, so I think that, as we say, hard work pays off," Pouille said. "The tournament is not over, but I'm very happy to be here now and I'm going to focus on the next match tomorrow to try to reach my first semi-final. It will be great."

With his 25th Grand Slam victory (25-19), Pouille improves to 4-7 against Top 20 opposition at Grand Slam events. The 24-year-old will look to add a fifth victory to that record when he meets 2016 semi-finalist Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals. Pouille is yet to win a set against Raonic in three FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings.  

Last year, Pouille reached a career-high No. 10 in the ATP Rankings shortly after advancing to his third tour-level final in four weeks at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (l. to Bautista Agut) in February. But Pouille struggled for form throughout the remainder of the season, before taking the decision to hire Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach. Having now earned four consecutive tour-level victories for the first time since his appearance in Dubai last year, that decision could prove to be the catalyst for a rise up the ATP Rankings during the 2019 ATP Tour season.

After trading breaks in the opening four games of the match, both men held serve with relative ease to reach a first-set tie-break. From 4/4, Pouille clipped the tape on back-to-back points to hand Coric two set points, but the Croatian needed just one, sliding his ninth ace of the match out wide to take a one-set lead.

But Pouille earned the only break of the second set to level the match. The Frenchman ripped a forehand return winner to open the seventh game and charged to net to gain a 0/30 lead, before Coric gifted Pouille the break with his fourth double fault of the match and a misplaced forehand.

A second tie-break appeared likely with both players holding serve through the first 10 games of the third set, but Coric once again found himself 0/40 down on serve and, despite saving the first two break points, Coric could not stop Pouille from converting the third with a forehand winner.

Pouille rode the momentum with an immediate break of serve in the opening game of the fourth set, and, despite conceding his break advantage for 4-4, the Frenchman clinched the win on his first match point as Coric fired his 55th unforced error of the match.

"That's one goal, to mix it up a lot and to be more consistent, especially from the baseline. When you don't have to go for it, then you have to be patient and try to play a good shot in the good zone," Pouille said. "We're working a lot on this, so it worked pretty good today."

Coric was bidding to become just the seventh Croatian to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final. Goran Ivanisevic, Goran Prpic, Ivan Ljubicic and Marin Cilic are the only to have achieved the feat at Melbourne Park.

Did You Know?
Coric and Pouille entered the 2019 Australian Open with a combined 0-9 record. The Croatian had lost each of his four first-round matches, while Pouille owned a five-match losing streak at Melbourne Park.

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Raonic: "I'm Playing Some Extremely Good Tennis"

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 7:25pm

Milos Raonic continued his serene, under-the-radar progress into the Australian Open quarter-finals on Monday, with just his third Top 5 victory at a Grand Slam championship. His 6-1, 6-1, 7-6(4) victory over World No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany was another stepping stone on his journey back to top form.

Wins over Nick Kyrgios, 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka and Pierre-Hugues Herbert at Melbourne Park in the past week, have only strengthened his belief that he’s moving in the right direction once more.

“It's not fun, necessarily, before the tournament starts to look at it and say, ‘Hey, you play Nick, to most likely play Stan in the first two rounds.’ You're sort of hoping for a bit more time to really work your way into things. But then on the other end of it, I dealt with those challenges really well. Right now, I'm here playing some extremely good tennis, I believe. Hopefully I can make that count.”

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In full flow on serve, having won 84 per cent of his first-service points (233/276) and struck a tournament-leading 107 aces through his first four matches, the Canadian is turning a corner on injuries to his right calf, right knee and right elbow that have hindered his performances and time on the court in recent years.

“I had a really good off-season,” said Raonic. “I put in some of the best hours in a long period of time, maybe, if ever. I'm not the kind of guy that needs a lot of matches. For me, it's about being sharp, moving well, and being efficient with my serve and this kind of thing.

“If I can get those kind of things, my serve always buys me time in matches and in tournaments to sort of figure things out. It can keep me alive for a while. As long as I have the freedom to put in the work and with no physical hindrances, I think I can always give myself a chance.”

With a 3-10 record against Top 5 opponents at major championships, Raonic’s victory over Zverev on Monday afternoon added to two former wins over then No. 4-ranked Wawrinka in the 2016 Australian Open fourth round and against No. 3-ranked Roger Federer in 2016 Wimbledon semi-finals. The 28-year-old will now prepare to face French No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille for a shot at reaching the Australian Open semi-finals for the second time (also 2016, l. to Andy Murray).

When asked if he’s playing his best tennis since 2016, when he reached the Wimbledon final, the World No. 17 said, “I think I'm a better player than I was back then. I think back then I just found some situations a little bit easier to deal with, because I had three or two good years from 2014 to 2015 before that... Instinct takes over when you have played that many matches consecutively.

“Now you always have to think about things a bit more because you're always trying to search for that rhythm, that sort of what should you do, whereas in those situations I don't think I was really asking myself. I was trusting a lot more.

“I think I'm getting better at the net, because since 2016 I have made an effort every single time I have been healthy, and I could move well and be efficient, to come forward. In the first five years of my career I probably only hit a couple thousand volleys. I'm sure over the past three years I've probably hit tens of thousands of volleys. I think, in that scenario, things are bound to get better.

Looking ahead to his goals for the year, Raonic admitted, “I think I have to re-establish my ranking and consistency throughout a year… I know when I do my things right, I can give myself a chance, and I don't necessarily worry too much about what other people are going about, and what other players are doing. I just sort of try to be on top of my own things and try to deal with them as best as I can.

“If you can't trust [your body], it's going to be a miserable time. You give it what you can, and hopefully it can get you through.”

Murray/Soares Save 3 M.P. To Reach Quarter-finals In Melbourne

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 5:18pm

Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares saved three consecutive match points to beat Kevin Krawietz and Nikola Mektic 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5 at the Australian Open on Monday.

Serving at 4-5 (0/40) in the third set, the 2016 champions reeled off 13 of the next 16 points, including five straight points to reach 5-5, to book their place in the quarter-finals after two hours and nine minutes. Murray and Soares saved all eight break points they faced and won 82 per cent of first-serve points (56/68) to book a quarter-final meeting against 2017 titlists Henri Kontinen and John Peers.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut were also made to work for their place in the last eight, rallying from 2/5 down in a second-set tie-break to beat Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4. The fifth seeds will face six-time champions Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan for a semi-final spot.

Lukasz Kubot and Horacio Zeballos also claimed a place in the quarter-finals, beating Aussie wildcards Blake Ellis and Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 7-6(4). The seventh seeds converted four of eight break points en route to victory and will meet Ryan Harrison and Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals. Harrison and Querrey recovered from a set down to beat countrymen Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Milos Masterclass: Raonic Soars Into Quarter-Finals

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 3:58pm

If this is the new and improved Milos Raonic, the rest of the ATP Tour better take notice in 2019.

Raonic produced a glittering performance on Rod Laver Arena on Monday afternoon, efficiently dismissing Alexander Zverev 6-1, 6-1, 7-6(5) in a tidy one hour and 59 minutes. The Canadian booked his spot in the Australian Open quarter-finals for the fourth time in five years. He now faces Lucas Pouille, a four-set winner over Borna Coric. Read Report

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"The tension was palpable in the end," Raonic said after sealing the win on his fourth match point. "I tried to keep him off pace and make him as uncomfortable as possible. It worked today."

For the first hour and three minutes, Raonic could do no wrong. He broke a rattled Zverev four times in a row to surge to a 6-1, 6-1 lead. The German claimed the initial advantage with a break in the opening game of the match, but it was one-way traffic from there for the Canadian. Zverev managed to win just five of 22 points behind his second serve in the opening two sets.

"I have been struggling with my second serve the whole week," said Zverev. "I don't have a lot of rhythm on it, so I tried to figure that out, I tried to work on that. Hopefully I will be better next time."

One of Raonic's 15 aces sealed the first set and a return winner gave him the second. Zverev started to find his rhythm in the third set, but it was too late. He saved two match points at 4-5 15/40 and one more at 4/6 in the ensuring tie-break, but Raonic would eventually clinch the victory with a volley winner on his fourth opportunity.

"I'm happy with how I dealt with numerous situations throughout the match and how I played. I think I did some things extremely well," said Raonic.

Raonic now owns a 2-1 lead in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, having also prevailed in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2017. Zverev's lone win came at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome earlier that year.

The former World No. 3 continues his quest to return to the Top 10 after suffering from a litany of injury issues. He most recently withdrew from the Rolex Paris Masters in October with an elbow injury, after undergoing a wrist operation the year before. Now sitting at No. 17 in the ATP Rankings, the 28-year-old is projected to rise to at least No. 14 with his quarter-final run.

Raonic has enjoyed great success this fortnight against tricky competition. After defeating Nick Kyrgios in straight sets, he proceeded to rally past former champion Stan Wawrinka and edge Pierre-Hugues Herbert, before routing World No. 4 Zverev. It was Raonic's first Top 5 win since last year's Mutua Madrid Open, when he ousted Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.

"I think there are obviously benefits [to a tough draw]," said Raonic. "It's not fun necessarily before the tournament starts to look at it and say, 'Hey, you play Nick to most likely play Stan in the first two rounds.' You're sort of hoping for a bit more time to really work your way into things.

"But then, on the other end of it, I dealt with those challenges really well. Right now, I'm here playing some extremely good tennis, I believe. Hopefully I can make that count."

Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Zverev was aiming to become just the second German since Tommy Haas in 2007 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals. In 2017, Zverev's older brother, Mischa Zverev, achieved the feat, beating Andy Murray to advance to the last eight.

"I played bad. The first two sets especially I played horrible," said Zverev. "It's just tough to name on one thing. I didn't serve well and didn't play well from the baseline. Against a quality player like him, it's tough to come back from that."

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Hall of Fame Announces Kafelnikov As 2019 Inductee

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 9:12am

Former World No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam singles titlist Yevgeny Kafelnikov will soon be able to call himself a “Hall of Famer”.

The Russian, who retired in 2003, will be inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame this July in Newport. Kafelnikov, who was Russia's first Grand Slam singles champion, said, “I’m very honoured to become a Hall of Famer and to represent Russia among tennis’ greatest champions.”

The Sochi native captured his first major singles title in 1996 at Roland Garros. That same event, he partnered with Daniel Vacek to win the doubles title. No man since has won the singles and doubles titles at the same major.

Kafelnikov was also the singles champion at the 1999 Australian Open, and he won four Grand Slam doubles titles – three at Roland Garros and one at the US Open. In all, Kafelnikov won 26 tour-level singles titles and 27 tour-level doubles titles.

The Russian complemented his No. 1 ATP Ranking in singles with a doubles career-high of No. 4. Kafelnikov is also an Olympic gold medalist, having won at the 2000 Games in Sydney, and he was integral to Russia’s 2002 Davis Cup title.

He will be inducted alongside former WTA greats Li Na of China and France's Mary Pierce. The three are being inducted in the Player Category. This is not a year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame’s other two categories – Contributor and Wheelchair.

The three former players will join an elite group of just over 250 individuals hailing from 23 nations who have received the honour, which recognizes their career as being among the most accomplished and impactful in the history of tennis.

“It’s a pleasure to congratulate Li Na, Mary Pierce, and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and to welcome them to the International Tennis Hall of Fame,” stated Hall of Fame President Stan Smith. “They are three incredibly hard-working athletes who set and achieved goals at tennis’ highest levels. This is a well-deserved honour, and we look forward to celebrating them as Hall of Famers in Newport in July.”

Li Na, Pierce, and Kafelnikov will be officially inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on 20 July, during Hall of Fame Weekend in Newport, Rhode Island. Ticket packages for the weekend are on sale now on tennisfame.com/enshrinement with individual Induction Ceremony tickets going on sale on 1 February.

Additionally, the Class of 2019 will be celebrated in a tribute exhibit in the museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, chronicling their lives and careers, which will open in June and be displayed for one year. 

Day 8 Preview: Djokovic Eyes QF Berth

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 7:48am

The day after shockwaves were sent through the tennis world with #NextGenATP Stefanos Tsitsipas’ impressive win against six-time champion Roger Federer at the Australian Open, top seed Novak Djokovic and reigning Nitto ATP Finals winner Alexander Zverev will look to avoid the upset bug on Monday as they continue on a semi-final collision course in Melbourne.

Djokovic, who is tied with Federer and Roy Emerson for the most Australian Open titles (6), plays 15th seed Daniil Medvedev for a spot in his 10th quarter-final at the year’s first Grand Slam. While Djokovic won their two previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, those were both two years ago, and the Russian has quietly become a force to be reckoned with on the ATP Tour in the past five months.

“It’s a good challenge. I think he is in great form right now. He’s won the past two Grand Slams. He knows how to manage the five-set matches. He knows how to manage the momentum and everything,” Medvedev said. “It’s going to be a tough match and I’m going to try to show what I have and I think if I manage to do it, he won’t like me.”

Medvedev, who has won his first three tour-level titles since the start of last season (2018 Sydney, Winston-Salem & Tokyo), has climbed from No. 68 in the ATP Rankings last August to as high as No. 16. The 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier strikes one of the flattest balls in the sport off both baseline wings, and he moves well for a player who is 6’5”.

“I think what is good about Novak is he gives you time. It’s not Roger, who takes the ball so early. It’s not let’s say [Milos] Raonic, where you know you’re going to run like crazy all match,” Medvedev said. “He gives you time, he lets you play. After this he never misses and he plays deep [in the court]. Of course he’s a great player, but at least you can build your game. This gives you some chances.”

If Medvedev wins, he would become the first Russian to reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne since Nikolay Davydenko in 2010. If Djokovic makes the last eight, he will equal Stefan Edberg for the most quarter-final showings at the event (10).

Fourth seed Zverev, whom Djokovic could possibly meet in the semi-finals if they both make it that far, faces former World No. 3 Milos Raonic for a spot in the last eight. The German is trying to reach his second major quarter-final, after also doing so last year at Roland Garros.

The pair has split two previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, neither of which came on a hard court. Perhaps surprisingly, in the seven sets Zverev and Raonic have played, there have been 14 breaks of serve.

“He's playing very well. Only lost a set to Stan [Wawrinka] in the tournament so far,” Zverev said. “It's going to be a fun match. Obviously not a lot of rallies, not a lot of long points. We'll see how it goes.”

People may wonder how Zverev will handle the pressure of the moment, as he is one of the favourites in the tournament, with a chance to climb as high as No. 2 in the ATP Rankings pending results the rest of the fortnight. But Raonic is focused solely on himself.

“I’ve got to use my game to put pressure on him,” Raonic said. “I don't know if the situation will get to him or not.”

Eighth seed Kei Nishikori will try to reach his third consecutive major quarter-final when he clashes with 2017 US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta for the first time.

“There is going to be many rallies. He's very solid from baseline. He can move well, [he has a] good serve,” Nishikori said. “I'm sure it's going to be a tough match.”

Eleventh seed Borna Coric and 28th seed Lucas Pouille both arrived in Melbourne this year without a win at the Australian Open to their name, but they will battle for a spot in the quarter-finals. Coric has won both of the duo’s previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, including a three-set victory on the hard courts of Vienna last year.

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LeBron, Pickle Juice & A Dream Run In Melbourne For Tiafoe

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 5:11am

Frances Tiafoe is not your typical tennis player. Growing up, his father, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, was a janitor at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Maryland. Tiafoe and his brother, Franklin, spent much of their time at the facility as children, sometimes even sleeping there in a small office that their father converted into his apartment.

Tiafoe vowed to become great at tennis, not just for the sake of being a fantastic player, but to make a difference for his family. In March 2017 the American bought a house for his mother in Maryland, and he got his father an apartment in Orlando, Florida, where Tiafoe trains.

On Sunday, the #NextGenATP American defeated 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. That victory guarantees him at least $460,000. It’s safe to say he has come a long way.

“At the beginning, that was just my goal as a kid,” Tiafoe said of his desire to take care of his family. “It's crazy, man. Obviously if you guys know anything about me, [my] story in tennis, I obviously wasn't a normal tennis story. The beginning of my career, I was playing for them, trying to do everything for my family. Obviously now I put them in a great place. Now I'm trying to do it for me.”

"I wanted it. And now I'm doing it."

Federer Intends To Compete On Clay In 2019

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 3:29am

Roger Federer announced that he will play on clay in 2019 after losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday evening.

The Swiss’ last match on the surface came at the 2016 Internazionali BNL d’Italia. Federer did not compete on clay in 2017-18 to give his body a break ahead of the grass season. According to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, the 37-year-old ranks third among active players (behind Nadal and Djokovic) in winning percentage on clay at 75.9 per cent.

"I'm at a moment where I think it would be nice to do it," said Federer, in French. "I can say I have missed it, I did the right thing skipping it last year, the year before as well, and the year before that I was injured. So I felt I wanted to do it again."

The 2009 Roland Garros champion and four-time finalist may have surprised some with his decision. But for the Swiss, his rationale is simple, and it has to do with his love for the sport.

"I'm in a phase where I want to have fun,” he said.