Monday, January 30, 2023

Djokovic, alone in front of the democratization of the Australian Open

Round after round, without exception, the Australian Open has accumulated surprises until leaving a quarterfinal draw with little presence of the main seeds. Just Stefanos Tsitsipas (3), Novak Djokovic (4) and Andrey Rublev (5) represent the Top 10 among the eight best in the men’s draw, while Jessica Pegula (3) and Aryna Sabalenka (5) They do the same in the feminine. The rest, a priori secondary actors who have been presented with the opportunity, perhaps the only one, to be protagonists in a ‘major’.

For the first time since the ATP rankings were introduced in 1973, a Grand Slam will not have the presence in the fight for the semifinals of its four main seeds. Without Rafael Nadal (1) or Casper Ruud (2), both knocked out of the tournament in the second round, The men’s circuit continues to take steps towards a metamorphosis that already began to be glimpsed at the last US Openwhich a few months ago in the same round did not have any champion of a major tournament.

A situation that, together with losses due to injury such as that of Carlos Alcaraz, number one in the world, finalist in 2022, has opened the way for almost unknown playerssuch as the young Ben Shelton, who is playing his first tournament outside the United States, or the Czech Jiří Lehečka, 71st in the ranking, and veterans of the circuit like the Russian Karen Khachanov (18). “It is a guarantee of what I am as a tennis player. I am proud of my achievements, but I want to achieve something bigger”, assured the Russian, who after completing his presence in the quarterfinals of all the Grand Slams in Australia seeks to go one step further and get into the fight for a great tournament.

Clear path for Djokovic

Against this background, the figure of Djokovic, a nine-time winner in Melbourne, emerges as the undisputed favorite to win the first Grand Slam of the season. Without the presence of Nadal or Alcaraz, and after the defeat in the round of 16 of the 2022 finalist, Daniil Medvedev, Nole has been clearing the way to what would be his 22nd ‘major’ based on setbacks from his theoretical rivals. But it is not the draw that most worries the Serbian, but the problems in the left thigh that he has been dragging since the final of the Adelaide tournament.

“I’m worried, it’s really not ideal. It is a roller coaster, it requires a lot of physical and mental energy that is spent when dealing with the game and with my rival. Before the tournament, I came to think that I wouldn’t be able to play, but I’m still here and I’m still holding on”, explained the Serbian in the preview of the duel against Alex de Miñaur, whom he later swept in three sets (6-1, 6-1 and 6-2) to meet Rublev in the quarterfinals after meeting again, suddenly, with his best physical version.

“It was my best game of the year, I hardly felt any discomfort in my leg,” he acknowledged after sign his 25th consecutive victory in Australia the only survivor of the men’s draw who knows what it is to succeed in a big one. In search of matching Nadal in the race that both maintain for being the greatest tennis player in history and regain number one in the ranking, Djokovic, always a source of suspicion about the real magnitude of his injuries, took a breather against the Australian, advancing without any apparent trace of injury and without resorting to the physio, something he had done in all their matches so far.

Swiatek says enough

Even more unpredictable than usual has remained, for its part, the women’s team, which in recent times had found its reference in Iga Swiatek after the decline of Serena Williams. The number one, a great dominator in 2022, came to Australia as a rival to beat after last year’s semifinals but, diminished by the pressure, ended up giving in to a bone like Yelena Rybakina, winner of the last Wimbledon and 22nd in the ranking (a position that does not reflect his true level as he is weighed down by the 2,000 points he did not add as they were not awarded in the British tournament for not allowing Russian tennis players to participate).

“She has done very well, but I must work on my mentality and relax a little more, maybe he wanted the title too much; I feel that I have taken a step in approaching these tournaments. I felt the pressure and I have focused more on not losing than on winning”, lamented Swiatek, double champion in Paris (2020 and 2022) and the US Open (2022) but who continues to resist the tour of the Antipodes.

Without the presence of the Polish woman or that of Ons Jabeur, the second seed, the range of options in the great oceanic has been opened wide. The returns to the front line of Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azárenkawinner more than a decade ago in Australia, or the mighty Jessica Pegula and Aryna Sabalenka appear as applicants to inherit the throne of the retired Ashleigh Barty.

“People are always surprised because they lost this one or that one. It’s a sport, so anything is possible, no surprises for me. Every day is different. In the last two years there are not only 20 tough opponents, but 150. If you are not there that day, you can lose. I think Sabalenka is the favorite on this side of the draw for the title. Pegula has been playing great tennis, I’m glad she’s not going for my part”, explained Karolina Pliskova, another of the veterans who are still in contention.

Bautista falls and Spain is left without representatives in Australia

Roberto Bautista (25 ATP) from Castellón fell in the round of 16 of the Australian Open against American Tommy Paul (35) 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 and 7-5, after three hours and 19 minutes, so Spain was left for the first time since 2006 without any representative in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Paul, who defeated Alejandro Davidovich (30) from Malaga in the second round, confirms himself as the black beast for the Spaniards after overcoming his last eleven matches against tennis players of this nationality.

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