Australian Open 2018: Talking points (Day Six and Seven)

The first week of this year’s Australian Open concluded with one of the matches of the tournament. Here is a look back at the weekend action before we enter the business end of the competition.

The favourites for the men’s title power through 

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Novak Djokovic receiving treatment. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/907374/Novak-Djokovic-injury-treatment-medical-timeout-Australian-Open)

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic made it into the fourth round after both won in straight sets on Saturday.

Defending champion Federer defeated Richard Gasquet 6-2 7-5 6-4 as the Swiss continued to dominate down under.

Gasquet failed to break the second seed until the third set by which time the match was as good as over.

Djokovic suffered an injury scare during his 6-2 6-3 6-3 win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The Serb had treatment on his lower back and leg early in the second set and struggled throughout the match. He had saved numerous break points before getting over the line, but the scoreline was slightly flattering for the 30-year-old.

Halep still on for maiden Grand Slam

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All smiles from the world number one after a gruelling contest. (Image Credit: AFP via. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/australian-open-simona-halep-result-schedule-draw-next-round-lauren-davis-a8169441.html)

World number one Simona Halep saved three match points as she managed to just about overcome unseeded American Lauren Davis in an epic encounter.

The Romanian – a two-time quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park – needed almost four hours to defeat the world number 76.

With one set a piece, both players gave it their all in the decider, which lasted 142 minutes. Halep saved the match on three occasions before serving out for a 4-6 6-4 15-13 win.

The contest equalled the longest ever in a women’s singles match at the Australian Open, and could hinder Halep’s quest for a first Grand Slam title should she not be able to recover fully ahead of her fourth round match against Naomi Osaka.

Fourth seed Alexander Zverev is out

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Zverev waves goodbye to another Grand Slam. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/907377/Australian-Open-2018-Alexander-Zverev-Hyeon-Chung-Rafael-Nadal)

The German is tipped to be a real star in the men’s game for years to come, but the 20-year-old struggled against the unseeded Hyeon Chung.

Zverev was two sets to one up against the world number 59, but fell to a dramatic 5-7 7-5 2-6 6-3 6-0 defeat.

Despite his world ranking of fourth, the German is yet to make it as far as the fourth round in any Grand Slam. Perhaps a little bit more experience of the longer format will help the young man fulfil his potential.

Grigor Dimitrov battles past home favourite Nick Kyrgios

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Grigor Dimitrov wins epic encounter. (Image Credit: AP via. https://www.iol.co.za/sport/tennis/dimitrov-ousts-kyrgios-to-reach-open-quarters-12837050)

The Bulgarian is the man most likely to upset the big names in the men’s draw and the third seed showed his mental nerve to power past Kyrgios 7-6 7-6 3-6 7-6.

With the Australian crowd fully behind their man, neither Dimitrov or Kyrgios could claw away from their opponent. Both the first and second set went to tiebreaks, which were won by the Bulgarian.

Kyrgios, who hit 36 aces throughout the match, rallied the crowd with some excellent tennis. The 17th seed deservedly got himself back into the match with a 6-3 win in the third.

You could sense the nerves of both players in the fourth set, but Dimitrov produced some excellent stuff to win a third tiebreak of the match to set up a fourth Grand Slam quarter final appearance.

Kyle Edmund making huge strides after fourth round win

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Kyle Edmund is through to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the very first time. (Image Credit: SKY SPORTS via. http://www.skysports.com/tennis/news/12110/11216605/kyle-edmund-defeats-andreas-seppi-at-australian-open-to-reach-maiden-grand-slam-quarter-final)

 

The Briton will face Dimitrov in his first ever Grand Slam quarter-final on Tuesday after coming back from a set down to beat Italian Andreas Seppi.

Edmund won 6-7 7-5 6-2 6-3 and hit 25 aces on his way to a famous victory.

The world number 49 has really come on leaps and bounds since last year’s French Open, and is now just the second British man to make it to the last eight in Melbourne since 1985 (the other being Andy Murray).

His next opponent will be a massive step up on his past three, but it will be one that he will be looking forward to.

Edmund goes into the quarter-final match with nothing to lose and the chance to showcase his ability against the best the game has to offer.

A career high ranking will follow the tournament, one that the 23-year-old will remember for the rest of his life.

 

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Australian Open 2018: Talking points (Day Five)

There was plenty to discuss after yesterday’s action in Melbourne. Money and the weather continued to make the headlines, as did some excellent performances. Here are five talking points from an exhilarating fifth day in Australia.

It’s hot, hot, hot! 

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Alize Cornet struggled to cope with the heat. (Image Credit: http://www.sportingnews.com/au/tennis/news/australian-open-alize-cornet-elise-mertens-heat-break-down/1xuxhqtjbnpfc1izpfp3hnsv8i)

“The extreme hot policy should be re-evaluated!” That’s according to the likes of French player Alize Cornet and top seed in the men’s draw- Rafael Nadal.

Temperatures in Australia have risen to as high as 40 degrees over the last couple of days, and the humidity has taken its toll on some of the players.

Cornet collapsed to the ground during her third round defeat to Elise Mertens due to the heat and Petra Martic, who took two hours to get past Luksika Kumkhum, suffered from blisters because of the sizzling court.

Play was suspended in 2014 due to the rising temperatures on court that year, however the officials have taken a much firmer approach this time around.

Tournament director Craig Tiley insists the rules cannot be altered halfway through the tournament, but admitted that policy will be looked at again once the Australian Open has wrapped up.

Show me the money!

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Roger Federer has had his say on the current issue of player earnings at Grand Slams. (Image Credit: SKY SPORTS via. http://www.skysports.com/tennis/news/31870/11212250/roger-federer-makes-third-round-of-australian-open-but-stan-wawrinka-is-knocked-out)

Roger Federer is the latest person to speculate about the ongoing situation over player’s earnings at Grand Slams.

The issue came into the spotlight just as this tournament was beginning after it was reported that Novak Djokovic suggested that the players form their own union separate from the ATP.

The Swiss, who is the former President of the ATP player council, believes that “change only comes when the players demand it and that the Grand Slams only react when people rally together.”

Federer did go on to say that change doesn’t happen in a day, and that both the players and the slams should collaborate together to reach the best possible agreement.

Edmund’s fairytale run continues 

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Kyle Edmund is through to the fourth round in Melbourne for the first time. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/906834/Australian-Open-2018-Kyle-Edmund-Nikoloz-Basilashvili-third-round)

Onto the action itself, and British hopes are still alive after Edmund came from behind to beat Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The 23-year-old won 7-6 3-6 4-6 6-0 7-5 to advance to the fourth round in Australia for the very first time.

The gruelling three hour and 34 minute swung one way and then the other before Edmund firmly took control in the fourth set.

The world number 49 finished with 70 winners but missed 20 of 27 break points. The conditions made it tough and Edmund admitted after the game that physically it was tough to play at his very best.

But it was another test passed for the Brit, who has been on an upward trajectory since making it to the last 16 in the US Open two years ago.

He will face Italian Andreas Seppi in round four.

Only two previous Grand Slam winners remain in women’s draw. 

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Ostapenko is the next big name heading for the exit door. (Image Credit: ROBERTO DELL’OLIVO via. http://www.ubitennis.net/2018/01/jelena-ostapenko-struggles-australian-open-third-round/)

Latvian Jelena Ostapenko suffered a shock defeat in the third round as another current Grand Slam holder bowed out.

Following Garbine Murguruza’s exit yesterday, world number seven Ostapenko fell to Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 6-3 1-6 6-3.

The French Open champion was on the back foot from the off, as Kontaveit broke in the very first game.

The Latvian powered through the second set, before the world number 33 went on again to break in the final set and wrap up a win that puts her in the fourth round in Melbourne for the very first time.

Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber are now the only two women left in the draw that have previously ever won a Grand Slam. They both face other this weekend.

Nadal looks right at home down under. 

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Unstoppable Rafa. (Image Credit: USATSI via. https://www.cbssports.com/tennis/news/2018-australian-open-results-rafael-nadal-rolls-into-quarterfinals-ostapenko-out/)

World number one Rafael Nadal cruised into the fourth round and is looking the most likely to challenge Federer for the men’s title.

The Spaniard beat Damir Dzumhur 6-1 6-3 6-1, and is yet to drop a set at this year’s Australian Open.

Nadal has only won down under once before, but he is playing with a ruthless nature and is looking increasingly difficult to beat.

Bosnia’s Dzumhur hardly made a dent in Nadal’s push for glory, with the world number one going on to face Diego Schwartzman – a man he has defeated three times previously – in round four.

 

Australian Open 2018: Top 5 matches (Day Four)

Some big names were knocked out of the Australian Open on day four. Here are five matches that caused some of the biggest shockwaves and the best entertainment on a very hot Thursday.

Bernarda Pera bt. Johanna Konta (6-4 7-5)

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Jo Konta beaten in Australia. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/australian-open-2018-johanna-konta-result-bernarda-pera-opponent-exit-third-round-draw-a8165216.html)

Unseeded American Pera broke British hearts after knocking out ninth seed Konta in straight sets.

The 26-year-old Brit struggled to find any rhythm in the Melbourne heat and Pera’s aggressive nature made it difficult for her to hit any winners.

The world number 123 made light work of Konta’s usually reliant serving and broke serve four times before sealing the most magnificent victory of her career with a fifth match point.

Defeat was Konta’s eighth in 11 matches, leaving her and new coach Michael Joyce with plenty to work on ahead of the clay season.

Pera initially lost in the qualifying rounds and is only in the main draw as a lucky loser, but this win will surely see her rankings rise well above the top 100.

Novak Djokovic bt. Gael Monfis (4-6 6-3 6-1 6-3)

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Novak Djokovic recovered from a set down to make it through to round three. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/906350/Novak-Djokovic-Gael-Monfils-Australian-Open-2018-second-round-tennis-news)

Temperatures reached 40 degrees on Rod Laver Arena as 14th seed Djokovic came from a set down to beat Frenchman Monfis.

Both players complained about the heat after the match, which lasted two hours and 45 minutes.

Djokovic struggled in the opening set, with four double faults in his opening two service games.

Monfis, who is yet to beat Djokovic in a professional match, then struggled with conditions and had to leave with a doctor after losing the second set.

The Serbian took full advantage of his opponent’s weariness and eased to victory.

Tennys Sandgren bt. Stan Wawrinka (6-2 6-1 6-4)

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Stan Wawrinka has only just returned from knee surgery. (Image Credit: AFP/GETTY IMAGES via. http://metro.co.uk/2018/01/18/stan-wawrinka-australian-open-amid-ongoing-knee-issue-7239290/)

Former Australian Open champion Wawrinka lost in straight sets to American Sandgren in just his second match back since knee surgery.

The Swiss never looked comfortable on court. The ninth seed was constantly flexing his knee joint, and lost in 88 minutes to the impressive Sandgren.

The world number 93 had never won a Grand Slam match prior to this year’s Australian Open, but now has two back-to-back.

Hsieh Su-wei bt. Garbine Muguruza (7-6 6-4)

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Garbine Murguruza struggled in the heat. (Image Credit: https://www.brecorder.com/2018/01/18/393768/third-seed-muguruza-stunned-by-hsieh-at-open/)

Third seed Murguruza also bowed out after suffering a straight sets defeat to Taiwanese Su-wei.

The current Wimbledon champion was another victim of the heat and also need treatment on her foot during the first set.

The Spaniard hit 21 unforced errors against Su-wei, as she now prepares to try and win a second French Open title.

Dominic Thiem bt. Denis Kudla (6-7 3-6 6-2 6-2 6-3)

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Dominic Thiem came back from two sets down to beat Denis Kudla. (Image Credit: CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.bettingpro.com/category/tennis/dominic-thiem-v-denis-kudla-australian-open-betting-tips-live-stream-20180117-0018/)

Austrian Thiem fought back from the brink to defeat American Kudla in a five-set thriller.

The number five seed conceded the first two sets after Kudla produced some masterful tennis, but showed his pedigree in the final three sets to advance.

The 24-year-old has never been past the fourth round at Melbourne Park, but is consider an outside bet to break his Grand Slam duck in Australia.

Other selected results

Men’s

Federer (2) bt. Struff (6-4 6-4 7-6)

Zverev (4) bt. Gojowczyk (6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3)

Benneteau bt. Goffin (7) (1-6 7-6 6-1 7-6)

Women’s

Halep (1) bt. Bouchard (6-2 6-2)

Garcia (8) bt. Vondrousova (6-7 6-2 8-6)

Sharapova bt. Sevastova (14) (6-1 7-6)

 

Australian Open 2018: Top 5 matches (Day Three)

Kyle Edmund, Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki were all back in action on day three in Melbourne. Here are five matches that caught the eye from an action-packed day.

Kyle Edmund bt. Denis Istomin (6-2 6-2 6-4)

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Kyle Edmund impressed in scorching weather. (Image Credit: REUTERS via. https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/tennis/kyle-edmund-beats-denis-istomin-11864587)

The 23-year-old Brit is through to the third round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career after a dominant performance over Uzbekistan’s Istomin.

The world number 60 failed to break Edmund throughout the match, with the contest only lasting 89 minutes.

The British number two is now the highest rank player in his section before the quarter finals, and should be confident that he can make a last eight appearance next week.

Istomin needed a medical timeout at the end of the first set, and never looked like the player that knocked Novak Djokovic out of this competition 12 months ago.

Edmund broke serve five times in the match, and is playing without fear and with a sense of freedom that makes him dangerous in all areas of the court.

The 23-year-old looks to be enjoying his tennis at the moment. This could well be a Grand Slam to remember for him if things continue on this upward trajectory.

Marta Kostyuk bt. Olivia Rogowska (6-3 7-5)

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A star for the future? (Image Credit: CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/tennis/100669022/Record-breaking-15-year-old-Marta-Kostyuk-into-Australian-Open-third-round)

Kostyuk is naturing into a real talent in the women’s game after she became the youngest player to reach the third round of a Grand Slam since 1997.

The 15-year-old Ukrainian was given a wildcard into the tournament after she won the junior women’s tournament 12 months ago.

The world number 521 has now ended her junior career with her ranking expected to fly into the top 250 by the end of the competition.

Kostyuk was rarely troubled in her second round match by Australia’s Rogowska and has nothing to lose going forward. Perhaps this is a very early glimpse at a future Grand Slam champion? Only time will tell.

Grigor Dimitrov bt. Mackenzie McDonald (4-6 6-2 6-4 0-6 8-6)

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Dimitrov and McDonald played on late into the Australian night. (Image Credit: PA SPORT via. https://www.eurosport.com/tennis/grigor-dimitrov-comes-through-australian-open-rollercoaster_sto6482538/story.shtml)

American qualifier McDonald almost produced the shock of the tournament so far, but was ultimately beaten by third seed Dimitrov.

The five set thriller – which lasted three hours and 25 minutes – had all the twists and turns of a Grand Slam classic.

Dimitrov, who some predict could win his first Grand Slam title in Australia this year, began sluggishly and struggled with the American’s aggressive style.

Having lost the first set, the Bulgarian picked up his game to take the next two sets before McDonald spectacularly took the match to a deciding set.

Dimitrov hit three double faults but kept his composure to seal a dramatic win.

Caroline Wozniacki bt. Jana Fett (3-6 6-2 7-5)

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All smiles for the Dane. (Image Credit: REUTERS via. http://indianexpress.com/article/sports/tennis/australian-open-2018-caroline-wozniacki-battles-back-from-the-brink-5028435/)

Denmark’s Wozniacki was a set down and then saved two match points before overcoming world number 119 Fett.

Fett found herself 5-1 up in the final set, but the number two seed battled back to win six consecutive games to seal the win.

Nick Kyrgios bt. Viktor Troicki (7-5 6-4 7-6)

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Could we seen an Aussie win in Melbourne? (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://thenewdaily.com.au/sport/tennis/australian-open/2018/01/17/australian-open-2018-kyrgios-troicki/)

22-year-old Kyrgios continued his impressive start to 2018 with a straight sets victory.

The Aussie could be the first home champion since 1976 at Melbourne and after winning in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, the 17th seed powered through with some neat play.

Despite a helicopter hovering over the court, Kyrgios’ maturity shone through. Instead of kicking a fuss, the 22-year-old persevered and was hardly threatened by his opponent.

Is this finally the year that the Aussie breaks out from his controversial shell and makes some great strides in the right direction?

Other selected results 

Men’s 

Nadal (1) bt. Mayer (6-3 6-4 7-6)

Tsonga (15) bt. Shapovalov (3-6 6-3 1-6 7-6 7-5)

Cilic (6) bt. Sousa (6-1 7-5 6-2)

Women’s

Svitolina (4) bt. Siniakova (4-6 6-2 6-1)

Ostapenko (7) bt. Duan (6-3 3-6 6-4)

Cornet bt. Goerges (12) (6-4 6-3)

 

Australian Open 2018: Top 5 matches (Day Two)

Day two of the Australian Open saw the conclusion of the first round of singles matches in Melbourne. Whilst there were some that impressed, others disappointed. News also broke out of a potential boycott of next year’s competition (with Novak Djokovic playing ring leader) due to player’s pay. Here are my top matches from a busy second day of action.

Johanna Konta bt. Madison Brengle (6-3 6-1)

 

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Jo Konta in action in Melbourne. (Image Credit: AP via. https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/tennis/5349796/australian-open-2018-jo-konta-berries-madison-brengle-and-moves-into-round-two/)

Australia proves to still be a happy hunting ground for Konta after she comfortably overcame American Brengle in straight sets.

The 26-year-old, who was born and raised in and around Sydney before moving to the UK, put in a good opening performance but not a perfect one. She hit eight aces and 37 winners on the way to victory and was hardly threatened by the world number 90 – who was the last woman to beat Serena Williams in a competitive match before she went on maternity leave.

However, the Brit hit 34 unforced errors, 18 more than Brengle, and scampered three match points before finally sealing the win with her fourth. Given the match situation it didn’t prove to be a massive issue, but moving forward Konta will need to be more precise and ruthless, especially around the net.

The ninth seed needed time to find her groove, but once she did she took complete control. Konta moved a double-break up in the first set to lead 5-2. The American broke back instantly but it was too little to late.

An early break saw Konta take a 3-1 lead in the second set and from there she turned on the afterburners and hurried to the finish.

Roger Federer bt. Aljaz Bedene (6-3 6-4 6-3)

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Roger Federer looked in fine form. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.eurosport.com/tennis/australian-open/2018/roger-federer-charges-into-second-round_sto6479246/story.shtml)

Defending champion and tournament favourite Federer made a solid start to his campaign with a straight sets victory over former Brit Bedene.

Bedene switched his allegiance back to Slovenia ahead of the new season, but he was no match for the Swiss, who is seeking his sixth Australian Open and 20th Grand Slam title.

Federer only dropped three points on serve in the first set and hit 41 winners in what was a commanding performance. The 36-year-old has not been knocked out in the first round of a Grand Slam since 2003 and judging by this performance he won’t be packing his bags anytime soon.

Novak Djokovic bt. Donald Young (6-1 6-2 6-4)

 

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Novak Djokovic made a winning return to court. (Image Credit: SKY SPORTS via. http://www.skysports.com/tennis/news/31870/11209705/novak-djokovic-and-stan-wawrinka-win-australian-open-first-round-matches)

It was a comfortable return to competitive tennis for the 30-year-old Serbian as he brushed Young aside in straight sets.

The number 14 seed was playing for the first time since Wimbledon and played with a cast over his elbow, which didn’t seem to affect his playing style.

Djokovic dropped serve just once throughout and won 11 of the first 12 games to establish a lead he was never going to relinquish.

The Serbian also reacted to reports he had called for a boycott of next year’s Australian Open in a feud regarding player’s revenue.

The Daily Mail claimed that Djokovic had asked all officials to leave the players’ meeting, and that the Serb was accompanied by a lawyer to make the case for setting up a players-only union. (See the article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-5268709/Novak-Djokovic-career-earnings-82m-wants-more.html)

The 12-time Grand Slam champion denied the claim and rejected the notion that he was ‘greedy’.

Maria Sharapova bt. Tatjana Maria (6-1 6-4)

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Sharapova overcame some hurdles in her victory over Maria. (Image Credit: REUTERS via. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2018/01/16/more-sports/tennis/maria-sharapova-angelique-kerber-novak-djokovic-advance-first-round-victories-australian-open/#.Wl5aZJOFhPM)

The five-time Grand Slam champion made a victorious return in what was her first appearance in the Australian Open since her drug ban.

The Russian was suspended for 15 months back in 2016, and struggle at times against the world number 47 on the Margaret Court Arena.

Sharapova hit 28 unforced errors and found herself a break down in the second, but recovered to claim a morale-boosting win.

Lukas Lacko bt. Milos Raonic (6-7 7-5 6-4 7-6)

 

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Milos Raonic looking downhearted as he leaves the court. (Image Credit: DITA ALANGKARA/AP via. http://www.sportsnet.ca/tennis/1st-round-loss-sign-raonic-will-need-time-get-back-form/)

Former Wimbledon finalist Raonic has been shown the exit door after crashing out to unseeded Slovakian Lacko.

The Canadian was playing for the first time after a injury-hit second half of 2017, and a lack of match fitness ultimately caught up with him.

Lacko, who is ranked 86th in the world, has always performed at his best in Melbourne, having got as far as the third round on two previous occasions. But to have knocked out 22nd seed Raonic is a big scalp for the 30-year-old.

Other selected results

Men’s singles

Zverev (4) bt. Fabbiano (6-1 7-6 7-5)

Thiem (5) bt. Pella (6-4 6-4 6-4)

Goffin (7) bt. Bachinger (6-7 6-3 6-2 6-4)

Wawrinka (9) bt. Berankis (6-3 6-4 2-6 7-6)

Del Potro (12) bt. Tiafoe (6-3 6-4 6-3)

Berdych (19) bt. De Minaur (6-3 3-6 6-0 6-1)

Women’s singles

Halep (1) bt. Aiava (7-6 6-1)

Muguruza (3) bt. Ponchet (6-4 6-3)

Pliskova (6) bt. Cepede Royg (6-3 6-4)

Garcia (8) bt. Witthoeft (7-5 6-3)

Barty (18) bt. Sabalenka (6-7 6-4 6-4)

Putintseva bt. Watson (7-5 7-6)

Australian Open 2018 preview: Who will triumph in Melbourne?

The days of Christmas turkey and pigs in blankets are truly behind us as the first Grand Slam of the new year is about to get underway.

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The Australian Open takes place between the 15th-28th January. (IMAGE CREDIT: AP via. http://indianexpress.com/article/sports/tennis/australian-open-to-get-shot-clocks-among-other-major-changes-at-grand-slams-4948525/)

We may only be two weeks into 2018 but the biggest stars in tennis are all in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.

Injuries and late withdrawals have yet again plagued the build up to the tournament, which has been a constant theme since Wimbledon last summer.

So who’s in the running to lift the trophies at the Rod Laver Arena in two weeks time? Here’s all you need to know ahead of tomorrow’s curtain raiser.

THE FAVOURITES (MEN’S SINGLES)

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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are favourites again for glory. (Image Credit: GREG WOOD/GETTY IMAGES via. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2690462-what-made-federer-and-nadals-australian-open-final-a-unique-instant-classic)

The men’s tournament looks set to be a three-horse race according to the bookies. Roger Federer – who looked back to his best in 2017 – will be hoping he can add a sixth Australian Open title to his overcrowded trophy cabinet. Having overcome Rafael Nadal in last year’s magnificent final, the champion beings his title defence against Aljaz Bedene, who switched his allegiance back to Slovenia after three years representing Great Britain.

Returning to competitive tennis after a six-month absence is former world number one Novak Djokovic. The Serbian has not played since Wimbledon but the 30-year old could follow in Federer’s footsteps. The Swiss came back after a long lay-off last year to win two Grand Slam titles, and that should boost Djokovic’s confidence of success. However a tough draw pairs him with American Donald Young in round one, and a potential clash with Frenchman Gael Monfis, who won in Qatar earlier this year, in round two.

Federer and Djokovic could then meet in the semi-finals should they both make it that far.

Nadal may not have played any tennis since the ATP Finals in London last November, but the current world number one says he is ready to challenge for the men’s title. The Spaniard won his tenth French Open and also the US Open in 2017. Last year’s runner up plays Victor Estrella Burgos, the world number 81 from Dominican Republic, in his opening match.

ONES TO WATCH (MEN’S SINGLES)

ATP Finals’ champion Gregor Dimitrov comes into 2018 with a career high ranking of third. The Bulgarian made the semi-finals of this tournament 12 months ago and has now experienced enough Grand Slam tennis to make a serious push for a maiden title. His playing style matured in 2017, and comes into the tournament in the best form of his career.

Alexander Zverev is a star in the making. The 20-year-old German is ranked at world number four and if he continues this radical rise it will be a question of when he wins a major, not if. But a lack of five-set tennis could hinder his chances. Zverev has never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam and after being drawn in the same half as Federer and Djokovic, the German will need to get over his inability to beat a ‘top four’ player in a five-set contest quickly if he is to clinch his maiden major title.

THE FAVOURITES (WOMEN’S SINGLES)

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Karolina Pliskova in action. (Image Credit: SCOTT BARBOUR/GETTY IMAGES via. http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/b98R0sDwrVt/2018+Australian+Open+Previews/GytGiWvdfDj/Karolina+Pliskova)

Karolina Pliskova is the favourite for the women’s title after making the semi-finals at Brisbane a couple of weeks ago. The Czech’s consistency could be a key asset in her arsenal but she also has a powerful serve in her locker that could steer her through the tougher times on court. She may not have won a Grand Slam yet, but she has all the skills to change that.

Simona Halep is the current world number one but has struggled in Melbourne in the past. She exited in round one for the last two years and has never made it past the quarter finals. The Romanian has also yet to win a Grand Slam and her game may not be suited to the fast courts in Australia. However on her day she can beat anyone and can’t be ruled out entirely.

Garbrine Muguruza has struggled in the build-up to the tournament. The two-time Grand Slam champion retired in Brisbane and withdrew in Sydney with a thigh injury and could be touch-and-go in Melbourne. If she can get through to second week she will one to watch out for.

ONES TO WATCH (WOMEN’S SINGLES)

Elina Svitolina burst onto the scene in 2017, winning five WTA titles. Her 2018 season started successfully after winning in Brisbane and now has her sights on a first Grand Slam title. At just 23, she still has some development to do before she is the full package, but like Zverev in the men’s’ draw, it could be a matter of when, not if.

Angelique Kerber won this tournament two years ago to start a memorable 2016. That year she became world number one but things changed drastically for the German in 2017. Early tournament exits saw her drop to world number 22, and will need to be consistent and on top form to get out of a tough quarter of the draw.

REPRESENTING GREAT BRITAIN 

Johanna Konta will be leading the British contingent over in Melbourne. The ninth seed has made it to the quarter and semi-finals in her previous two visits but faces a potentially tough route to the final.

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Johanna Konta insists she is fit despite suffering a hip injury in Brisbane. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/tennis/british-no1-johanna-konta-face-11833337)

Her opening match is a potential banana skin against USA’s Madison Brengle. Should she get past that test, she may have to overcome women’s favourite Pliskova in the fourth round before a likely last eight contest with top seed Halep.

Ahead of the tournament, the 26-year old left the nation on tenterhooks when she withdrew from Brisbane with a hip injury over her own. She recovered enough to take part in Sydney last week, despite losing her opening match to Agnieszka Radwanska.

Konta insists she will be ready to go from Monday, and she will have the whole country behind her as she looks for her first Grand Slam title.

Heather Watson joins Konta in the women’s draw, and starts against Kazakstan’s Yulia Putintseva.

Kyle Edmund has shrugged off an ankle injury, but faces a tough opener against 11th seed Kevin Anderson. The big serving South African won their only other encounter in a Grand Slam.

ANDY MURRAY AND SERENA WILLIAMS MISS OUT 

Three-time Grand Slam winner and former world number one Andy Murray will miss the tournament and the spring season after undergoing surgery on his persistent hip injury.

The 30-year-old hasn’t played a competitive match since Wimbledon, and decided to have the operation in Brisbane before flying back to London to rest and recover.

Serena Williams was hoping to be back in time for this one following the birth of her baby girl Alexis Olympia. However, she felt that she wasn’t yet at the level to be competitive and now looks to add to her 23 single Grand Slams in Paris later on this year.

OTHER NOTABLE ABSENTEES 

World number 22 Kei Nishikori has not played since August because of a wrist injury and the Japanese star has not recovered in time for Melbourne.

Victoria Azarenka will also miss out due to a court hearing, which has yet to finalise. With the Belarusian unable to leave the US with her 11-month old son, she has decided to stay and fight for custody despite her love for Melbourne.

CHANGES TO THE FORMAT

A shot clock will be introduced at the Australian Open after it was trialled last year. The clock will mean players must serve within 25 seconds between points.

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A shot clock like the one above is to be used throughout the tournament. (Image Credit: BEN SOLOMON via. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/07/sports/tennis/no-ad-scoring-players-go-back-and-forth.html)

The idea has been met with some criticism from players, including Nadal, but the Grand Slam board has decided to go with it in a number of changes planned.

Rules regarding prize money have also been changed. Any main draw singles player who is unfit to play and who withdraws after 12:00 noon on the Thursday before the start of the main draw will now receive just 50% of the first round prize money. The replacement lucky loser will receive the remaining 50% plus any additional prize money earned thereafter.

Other possible changes in the future could see the number of seeds drop from 32 to 16 in Grand Slam tournaments from 2019.

We may be without some of the big names, but that won’t stop this being a enthralling two weeks of tennis. The courts in Melbourne are notorious for their fast pace, which should suit a majority of the stars on show.

With the younger generation of players starting to break through the ranks, these Grand Slam tournaments are looking more and more open each year. When that’s the case, we are all usually in for shocks, thrills and memorable matches.

BHAFC: Mathew Ryan signs as Albion begin to show they mean business in the transfer window.

The Australian goalkeeper has put pen to paper on a five-year deal. 

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Ryan was on loan at Genk last season. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. http://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/article/2017/03/17/ryan-helps-genk-advance-uel-quarter-finals

Brighton and Hove Albion have confirmed the signing of Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan from Valencia for a club-record fee.

The 25-year old has signed a five-year deal with the Seagulls, and will join up with his new teammates after the Confederations Cup.

Ryan, who has been capped 32 times by his country, impressed whilst on loan at Genk last season.

There is no doubt he will add much-needed experience to the dressing room. The goalkeeper has a lot of top-flight football under his belt, having played in the Australian, Belgian and Spanish first division. He has also played in European competition.

Ryan’s CV reads many individual and team accolades, which include a Belgian Cup, Belgian Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year 2014 and 2015 and an AFC Asian Cup win with the Socceroos in 2015.

The Australian signed a six-year deal with Valencia two years ago, but failed to secure a spot in the team. He won’t have to worry about that at the Amex, as he will without doubt be the new Albion no.1- especially following David Stockdale’s exit earlier in the week.

The transfer fee hasn’t been published, although we have been told it is a club-record fee. Whispers on social media state the figure to be around the £5m mark, although with four years left on his contract that number strikes a bit too low for my liking.

Saying that, this could be the start of a positive summer for the Seagulls, ahead of their debut season in the Premier League.

One would hope that Brighton’s club-record fee will be broken again (maybe more than once) before the window closes. If the club want to secure a striker who will guarantee goals, or a centre back who will command the penalty area, surely they would cost more than £5m?

You’ve only got to look at other clubs in the league and how much money they are spending on transfers. Leicester City have spent almost £20m on Harry Maguire, whilst Everton splashed £57m yesterday on both Jordan Pickford and Davy Klaassen!

It’s hard to tell until we see Ryan in the Premier League if we got him on the cheap, but if he is just as good as the former Sunderland stopper, a player who cost six times as much, then we can all have a little chuckle to ourselves.

But this shows Brighton’s intent. The club are willing to break their transfer record to bring in the players that they believe will help the team avoid relegation. Chris Hughton has signed two exciting players in Pascal Groß and Ryan, who could become Albion heroes should the club retain their Premier League status.

We should expect more signings in the coming weeks, and following the two deals the club have secured so far, I can’t wait to see who the next person to walk through the Amex doors will be.

2017 SBS Tournament of Champions: Second round report.

Two players lead at the halfway mark, with Jordan Spieth ending his second round in frustration.  

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Justin Thomas has a share of the lead in Kapalua. (Image Credit: golfweek.com)

LEADERBOARD

T1 Moore, Thomas (-12)

T3 Reed, Walker (-11)

5 Dufner (-10)

THE LEADERS

After both hit six-under-par on Thursday, Justin Thomas and Ryan Moore were grouped together for round two. Both seemed to play off one another, as they recorded mirror scorecards. Each carded seven birdies and one bogey to end the day 12-under-par.

Thomas continues to build on his fine start to the 2016-17 PGA Tour season. He is currently second in the standings after his CIMB Classic victory, and his casual stroke-play on the 17th and 18th holes showed us the confidence this young 23-year old is currently waltzing around the Plantation course with.

Playing partner Moore was bogey free on the final nine, scoring five birdies. The 34-year old is currently ranked 51st in the world. A consistent start to the season has seen him finish within the top 25 in each of the three events he has played so far. A breakthrough 2016 season saw him debut in the Ryder Cup for USA.

PATRICK REED SHOOTS ROUND OF THE DAY

2015 Tournament of Champions winner Patrick Reed has always fared well in Kapalua. The American continued that trend as he carded a bogey free round, with a score of eight-under-par. The world number eight hit three consecutive birdies through three, four and five, with four more in the last five holes.

Reed hit every green in regulation for the first time in his PGA career on a day where he also only missed one fairway. He is now only one shot off the lead on 11-under-par, tied with round one leader Jimmy Walker in third.

Both contested a play-off in this event two years ago, with Reed coming out on top. Yesterday was another day that saw Walker fall by the wayside with a disappointing round of three-under-par.

The USPGA champion saw too many putts flirt around the cup, and dropped a shot on the 17th when he overhit his wedge shot to land past the green. A crucial birdie on the final hole might boost his confidence going into the weekend.

BETTER FROM JASON DAY, LESS SO FOR SPIETH 

World number one Jason Day is playing in his first event since September, and after a slow yet steady start on Thursday, the Australian picked up his game in round two.

Day ended on seven-under, after carding four-under-par. Aside from his bogey on the par four 13th, the Aussie hit five birdies, three of which came on par-fives.

A bogey-free third round from the world number one could see him back in contention on the final day.

The same can’t be said for Spieth. The defending champion struck nine birdies on Friday, with five coming consecutively between holes nine to 13.

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Spieth endured another frustrating day in the field. (Image Credit: bleacherreport.com)

However, the 23-year old also carded a double bogey on the par three eighth, and a triple bogey on the par four 17th, to end the day on five-under-par.

Seven shots down, the Texas-born world number five will need to shoot a 62 or 63 to get back in the race, but he sounded very deflated when talking to the media after his performance, claiming his tournament “was effectively over.”

Hungarian born, Australian bred, Britain’s sweetheart. 2017 could be Johanna Konta’s year.

After an unbelievable surge up the WTA Rankings, the British number one will hope to continue her rise towards the top of women’s tennis and possibly compete in this year’s majors, as the new tennis season gets underway.

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Konta following her quarter final win over Kristyna Pliskova in the 2017 Shenzhen Open. (Image credit: indiansportsnews.com)

Back in 1977, ABBA released their hit single ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’, which spent five weeks at number one, whilst George Lucas’s Star Wars opened in cinemas for the first time. On a more tragic note, ‘King of Rock and Roll’ Elvis Presley sadly passed away at his home in Graceland, Memphis aged just 42 in the same year.

But 1977 was also the last time a British woman made it to a Grand Slam single’s final.

Her name was Virginia Wade. Born in Bournemouth, she made it all the way to number two in the world during a successful playing career, which culminated in 55 singles titles.

Wade was also a brilliant doubles player- reaching world number one.

She won three Grand Slam singles championships and four Grand Slam doubles championships, making her the only British woman in history to have won titles at all four Grand Slam tournaments.

Some would’ve hoped that Wade was the first of many competitive and gifted female tennis stars from the UK. Instead, it’s been 50 years without a grand slam finalist.

Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Anne Keothavong have all been hit and miss, and although Andy Murray has won the US Open and Wimbledon twice in the last five years, we haven’t had too much to get excited about on the women’s side of the game.

But now we may have found someone who has the potential to finally follow in Wade’s footsteps.

Johanna Konta may be from Australia, and have Hungarian parents, but she has become a British sweetheart since gaining citizenship in 2012.

In doing so, she has created a sense of excitement in the country.

Her remarkable rise up the rankings in 2016 was a joy to behold for tennis and sports fans, but she has steadily improved her game over the last five years.

In 2012 she won her first ever Grand Slam match at the US Open- a straight sets victory over Timea Babos. She was only 21 at the time, and ranked 203 in the world.

2013 saw her move up in the rankings at a easy pace, and by 2014, she had broken into the top 100.

A drop in form saw her fall back to world no.150 in December 2014, with people beginning to label her as another false hope.

No one saw or even expected what was to come next in 2015.

Despite an opening round defeat to Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon, Konta was able to experience Centre Court for the first time, and went into the US Open that year with subdued optimism.

At Flushing Meadows she went on a remarkable run, reaching the last 16 before being knocked out by Petra Kvitova. Bearing in mind she had only won just the single Grand Slam match prior to the tournament, her name began to once again be talked up by pundits and journalists.

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Konta and Kvitova consult one another following their US Open quarter-final match in 2015. (Image Credit: telegraph.co.uk)

Following on from her US Open displays, Konta performed heroically at the 2015 Wuhan Cup. She defeated former world number one Victoria Azarenka and world number two at the time Simona Halep before agonisingly losing out in the quarter-finals to Venus Williams.

Her runs in both the US Open and Wuhan Cup saw her climb into the top 50 for the first time in her career, and become British number one ahead of Watson.

At this point even the WTA were noticing Konta, which resulted in her becoming a finalist at the end of season awards ceremony for most improved player. She lost out to French Open semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky.

For the first time, Konta went into a season with expectation on her shoulders in 2016, and it looked like it was having an effect on her performances.

An opening round exit at the Shenzhen Open was followed by another early exit at Hobart.

However, at the Australian Open, Konta went on a run which saw her defeat Venus Williams, Zheng Saisai Denisa Allertová, Ekaterina Makarova, and qualifier Zhang Shuai. Her journey in Melbourne ultimately came to an end in the semifinals, where she lost to eventual champion Angelique Kerber in straight sets.

But for the first time in 32 years, a female tennis player from Britain had made it to the last four of a Grand Slam. She also became the first British female player to be seeded at Wimbledon for three decades last June.

To cap off her consistent year, Konta won her first WTA event, beating Venus Williams in the final of the Stanford Classic in California 7-5 5-7 6-2.

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Konta won her first WTA single’s event in July 2016. (Image Credit: skysports.com)

In December 2016 she broke into the top 10 in the world- becoming the first female Brit to achieve the feat since Jo Durie in 1984.

During the off-season, Konta  has changed her coach, with Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia being replaced by Belgian Wim Fissette.

Some may have questioned her choice, but after their first pre-season together, the pair seem to have enhanced her game even more.

At the time of writing, She has made it to the semi-finals of the Shenzhen Open- her first event of 2017.

So what makes Konta such a difficult opponent? Why could she challenge for a Grand Slam title?

Her natural skill and athleticism..yes. But also her incredible mindset. She somehow manages to keeps herself grounded, and goes into every tournament one game at a time.

She doesn’t think about rankings or prize money. She never thinks two or three rounds down the line. She respects each opponent she faces and treats each match like a final.

From watching her on television, Konta seems a calm, cheerful and well tempered individual. It’s rare you’ll see her raise her voice or answer back. She seems comfortable and at ease with the media, and doesn’t let the luxuries of being one of the top 10 players in the world effect her lifestyle.

She has also never given up on her dreams.

Financially, working with Garcia and Carril was a straining business. It was a big gamble. But one that paid off evidently. She stuck by her coaches, and her coaches stuck by her. Despite her funding from the Lawn Tennis Association being slashed, she still managed to earn the money needed to take up necessary training camps in northern Spain.

If there are any young females wanting someone to emulate or grow up to be like, Johanna Konta is a perfect example. Work hard, don’t give up and always follow your dreams.

That is the Konta way.

Moving from another country to pursue in a career is always a challenge, but it’s one that has left a young tennis starlet – and a nation deprived of women’s champions for half a century – very much on the road to glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASHES 2015: Why The 5th Test is as important as any other for England.

For many, the result at the Oval in the final Ashes test of the current series will seem irrelevant, with England already regaining the Ashes up in Nottingham two weeks ago.

But Alastair Cook’s men can’t be complacent on the field, as Australia will look to seek little consolation with victory. It will also be the final test appearances for both Michael Clarke and Chris Rodgers. Both will look to end with a flourish.

Clarke is disappointed with his performances this summer, but is grateful to the Australian Cricket Board for what has been a glittering career.

“I would have liked to have played better in this series, admitted the Australian skipper.

“But I think it’s the right time for me to walk away.

“I’ve given my heart and soul to Australian cricket and every time I’ve walked on I’ve given everything I had for the team.

“I’m very fortunate to be the 43rd Australian cricket captain and I’m very proud and honoured to have had the opportunity.”

England will be attempting to win a fourth home Ashes test in a single series for the first ever time. They will have to do that without James Anderson, who isn’t 100% fit. But with an unchanged side named for the Oval, you can expect England to attack with a similar ferocity as at Trent Bridge.

A win would also see Cook and Co. rise to second in the ICC world rankings, ahead of Australia. Draw or defeat would see Australia retain their ranking of second, with England just behind in third.

For most of the team though, the main reason to put in another top quality performance is so they can carry momentum with them to the UAE this winter, where they face Pakistan.

Players like Adam Lyth and Mark Wood will hope to catch the eyes of the England selectors with solid displays. Lyth has struggled with the bat, scoring the second-lowest average for England in this Ashes series (12.28).

Joe Root will look to cement his place at the top of the batting rankings with a big score at the Oval, with Stuart Broad (rank 2nd) also looking to edge ever closer to Dale Steyn (rank 1st) at the top of the bowling rankings.

Finally, if England win it will be the sixth test victory of the calendar year, the first time that has happened since 2011, when they were ranked the best test team in the world.

So with so much at stake, and a chance for a little bit of payback for the stick and abuse the side suffered down under 18 month ago when they were whitewashed 5-0, why should England ease off?

Australia are on the ropes, with players now calling it a day and injuries, England have never in my lifetime had a better opportunity to rub salt into the very deep Australian wounds.

With a green pitch, fans can expect another wicket-fest like the other test matches this summer. With bounce and swing, the fast pace bowlers can once again commence a fierce attack at the stumps.

It will once again be a very important coin toss when Alastair Cook and Clarke meet on the wicket tomorrow morning- with both teams hoping to bowl first and gain an early advantage.

*Quotes from BBC Sport.