Australian Open, Melbourne January 14-27, 2019; 128 draw (32 seeds); Surface – Hard
Summaries taken from ATP articles with my blue notes…
Final: (1)Novak Djokovic d. (2)Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3
Djokovic completed one of the finest performances of his career on Sunday to capture a record-breaking seventh Australian Open crown at Melbourne Park. The World No. 1 outclassed No. 2-ranked Nadal, the 2009 champion, throughout the 53rd meeting of their legendary rivalry for a victory in 2 hours and 4 minutes for his 15th major championship trophy, to pass Pete Sampras (14) in the all-time Grand Slam singles title list. “It ranks right at the top,” said Djokovic. “Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, I mean, it’s amazing. Obviously back-to-back semi-finals [against Lucas Pouille] and final, I think I made 15 unforced errors in total in two matches. It’s quite pleasantly surprising to myself, as well, even though I always believe I can play this way, visualise myself playing this way. At this level… it was truly a perfect match. (Sampras) was someone that I look up to. When I was started to play tennis, one of the first images of tennis in general was him playing Wimbledon, winning I think his first title back in ’93. I was a small boy in Kopaonik, this mountain resort in the south of Serbia. Nobody had ever touched a tennis racquet before me. I did not have a tennis tradition in my family. I did have sports tradition. So it was definitely a sign of destiny to start playing tennis, to aspire to be as good as Pete. To surpass him with Grand Slam titles, I’m speechless.” Djokovic won 56 of his 59 service points, hit 34 winners and committed just nine unforced errors. Nadal, who dropped his serve five times, won 51 per cent of his first-service points and made 28 unforced errors. Seven years ago in the 2012 final, Djokovic beat Nadal in five sets over 5 hours and 53 minutes. “I think he played fantastic,” said Nadal. “When he’s playing that way, I think I needed something else. I was not able to have that extra ‘thing’ tonight. [It] was unbelievable the way that he played, no doubt about that… I played fantastic tennis during both weeks, but [by] probably playing that well, I didn’t suffer much. Five months without competing, having that big challenge in front of me, I needed something else… That’s my feeling, to compete at this super high level.”Stats of the final
2nd semifinal: (1)Novak Djokovic d. (28)Lucas Pouille 6-0, 6-2, 6-2
World No. 1 Djokovic moved to within one victory of breaking a tie with Roy Emerson and Roger Federer for the most Australian Open singles titles on Friday night in a ruthless performance against first-time major semi-finalist Pouille, the No. 28 seed from France. Djokovic, who will look to clinch his seventh crown at Melbourne Park for his 15th major championship overall, won the first seven games of his victory over Pouille in 83 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. The Serbian star committed just five unforced errors and won 45 of his 53 service points. “Today was a perfect match for me from the first to the last point,” said Djokovic. “I executed everything that I intended to and even more than I had expected.” The 31-year-old Djokovic will now attempt to improve upon his 27-25 record against 17-time Grand Slam champion Nadal: “He has played impressively well throughout the entire tournament. He hasn’t dropped a set. He looked as good as ever on a hard court throughout these couple of weeks. I haven’t played bad myself [in the] last couple of matches. I think that this final comes at the right time for both of us. I’m sure we’re going to have a blast on the court.” Pouille came under the hammer immediately, double faulting to gift Djokovic his opening service game after saving two break points. The Frenchman appeared to be overpowered by greater weight of shot in longer rallies, and any error meant that the pressure mounted. Consecutive forehand errors handed Djokovic a second break of serve, and it wasn’t until the Serbian served for the set in the sixth game that he made his first error, striking a backhand drop shot into the net. Ruthless Djokovic kept Pouille on the edge, striking 11 winners and losing just three of his first-service points. Pouille, who lost five straight first rounds at the Australian Open prior to this year, remained nervous, and, as a result, his movement became impaired. With four-and-a-half more hours of tennis in his legs at Melbourne Park this year — 15 hours, 7 minutes for Pouille to Djokovic’s 10 hours, 36 minutes coming in — the greatest cheer came after 31 minutes, when Pouille got himself on the board to break a seven-game streak for Djokovic. The pressure to survive for Pouille was relentless. He double faulted once more to gift his opponent the third game of the 2nd set, and Djokovic later broke for a fifth time to win the longest game of the match after 57 minutes. It was one-way traffic in the third set as Djokovic broke in the fourth game, roaring in excitement as Pouille hit a forehand into the net. The Serbian completed one of his best matches on Rod Laver Arena when Pouille struck a backhand into the net to improve to 67-8 lifetime at Melbourne Park. “As you can imagine, it’s not easy,” said Pouille. “I was trying to find a solution, but couldn’t find any. I think his first mistake came after maybe one set. If I wanted to get closer or arrive at the end of one set [at] 4:4, I [would have] had to serve [at] 90 per cent or 100 per cent first serve… I think he just played amazing. He was too good today.”Stats of the match
1st semifinal: (2)Rafael Nadal d. (14)Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4, 6-0
Nadal, with his refined service motion and devastating forehand, continued his dominant streak at this year’s Australian Open on Thursday for a place in his fifth final at Melbourne Park. Nadal, who has won 17 Grand Slam championship trophies, including the 2009 Australian Open, didn’t put a foot wrong against Tsitsipas. “I played well, of course,” said Nadal. “I have been playing well during the whole event. Every match, more or less, I think I did a lot of things well. Tonight, was another one. I played solid – with my serve, playing aggressive. Probably the backhand was better today than the rest of the days.” Nadal is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era (since April 1968) – and only the third man in history – to win each of the four Grand Slam championship titles twice. Australians Roy Emerson and Rod Laver are the only players to have won each major on two or more occasions. Nadal was at his aggressive best from the very start, dominating on serve and constantly placing Tsitsipas under pressure. Nadal broke first by rushing the net in the third game and forcing Tsitsipas into error and took a 5:2 lead with a drop shot winner. Minutes later, Nadal wrapped up the 31-minute opener by firing down a serve to Tsitsipas’ backhand, which came back long. The Spanish superstar lost just three service points, all on his second serve, and hit 26 winners. Nadal, locked-in, maintained his hold over Tsitsipas, who saved three break points at 2-all, 0/40, in the 2nd set courtesy of two forehand winners and a backhand error from the World No. 2. Nadal, holding serve with ease, broke through for a 5:4 advantage after Tsitsipas made three forehand mistakes and in clinching the set he’d lost just seven of his service points. Tsitsipas tried new things, mixing up his service placement, coming to the net and using the angles of the court to create an opening, but Nadal was simply too good. As evidenced when the Spaniard broke serve in the first game of the 3rd set, when Tsitsipas responded to Nadal’s ground-stroke fire-power, but was left motionless when the 2009 champion ripped a backhand cross-court winner. Nadal showcased great court-craft throughout the match and lost just eight points in the third set. “Honestly, I have no idea what I can take from that match,” admitted Tsitsipas. “It’s not that I was even close to get to something. I only got six games from that match. I feel very strange. I feel happy with my performance in this tournament, but at the same time I feel disappointed. I feel like I could do a bit better today. I don’t know. That’s how I felt. But it’s a very, very weird feeling. Almost felt like [I] just couldn’t play better… Nadal plays tennis from a different dimension.”Stats of the match
4th quarterfinal: (1)Novak Djokovic d. (8)Kei Nishikori 6-1, 4-1 ret.
World No. 1 Djokovic booked his place in the Australian Open for the seventh time on Wednesday night when Nishikori retired due to injury in the second set. Djokovic, a six-time former champion at Melbourne Park, was comfortably leading when eighth seed Nishikori called time on the match after 52 minutes of play. The Serbian will now contest his 34th Grand Slam championship semi-final against French No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille. It will be a first-time meeting. “I’m really sorry to see Kei go through pain,” said Djokovic. “He’s had some tough injuries in the past couple of years. I’m sure he’s not feeling great about ending a Grand Slam this way. But he’s had some marathon matches this tournament that probably have taken the toll on his body… I knew that if he’s fit, he’ll battle hard and he’ll put in the fight, obviously wanting to win.” Nishikori, with four hours more court time than Djokovic in his legs, immediately came under pressure in his first service game when Djokovic nailed a backhand winner down the line for break point. The Japanese star, with three five-set clashes under his belt in four rounds, then dumped a backhand into the net and soon Djokovic lead, rather ominously, 3:0. Once Djokovic broke again for a 5:1 advantage, Nishikori called for a trainer and as the 31-minute set ended, he received treatment for a right thigh complaint. Djokovic won 16 of the first 17 points in the set and upon breaking for a 4:1 lead, Nishikori walked to the net to end the pair’s 18th meeting (Djokovic now leads 16-2). “Before the match, I was okay,” explained Nishikori. “Of course, I wasn’t fresh, fresh. I thought I was going to be okay. After third game or fourth game when I was serving, I fell pretty heavy to my right leg. After that I couldn’t really bend my knees and couldn’t jump up.”
Pouille, playing some of the best tennis of his career, booked a place in his first Grand Slam championship semi-final on Wednesday. The Frenchman’s decision to hire former WTA No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, a one-time coach to Andy Murray, is reaping dividends after a spell-binding performance on serve to knock out Canadian No. 16 seed Raonic in three hours and two minutes. Pouille had never won a match at Melbourne Park. Few have surprised more this fortnight than the 24-year-old Frenchman, who cracked the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings last March, but ended the year outside the Top 30. He struggled with motivation and confidence, and began losing. Pouille made three finals – the Open Sud de France, the Open 13 Provence and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships – last February, but advanced to only one semi-final for the remainder of the year. “I didn’t really enjoy my time on court. You lose one match, two matches, then it’s tough for you to come back,” he said. He split with long-time coach Emmanuel Planque, who had been in his corner when Pouille knocked out Rafael Nadal at the 2016 US Open to make the quarter-finals. Last month, Pouille started working with Mauresmo, a two-time Grand Slam champion. Credit Mauresmo, a fresh start in Australia or a new attitude from Pouille, but whatever combination has spurred his change, it’s working. On Wednesday, Pouille lost just 13 of his first-service points, withstood 25 aces from Raonic, and hit three more winners than the World No. 17 (62 to 59). Pouille fell behind a break early against Raonic (trailed 0:3, two points away at 5:6), but found ways inside the service games of the Canadian, who had powered through one of the toughest paths to the quarter-finals, beating Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Alexander Zverev. Pouille was hitting winners off of Raonic’s serves, and when he didn’t, he often turned the match into a baseline affair, with Raonic craving a chance to come forward, but Pouille playing the aggressor from inside the baseline. The Frenchman took the opening tie-break, and behind a break of serve, ran away with the second. Raonic had come back from two-sets down once before, and he saved four break points in the third set to stay in it. In the tie-break, the Canadian locked in and won the first six points. With just one break point on Raonic’s serve at 0:1, 30/40 in the fourth set, it looked destined for a tie-break. But Pouille grit his teeth in the 10th game to clinch his third match point chance, courtesy of a backhand error from Raonic, to complete his fifth tour-level victory in a row. Raonic, who also lost in the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2015 (l. to Djokovic) and 2017 (l. to Nadal), had previously beaten Pouille on three occasions not dropping even a set, including a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win in Melbourne three years ago.
2nd quarterfinal: (2)Rafael Nadal d. Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
Nadal was business-like and at times ruthless in his victory over Tiafoe on Tuesday night at the Australian Open. The 2009 champion ended the run of the American in 1 hour and 47 minutes for a place in his 30th Grand Slam championship semi-final. The second-seeded Spanish superstar, who is bidding to capture his 18th major crown in his first tournament since September 2018 at the US Open, won 84 per cent of his first service points and struck 29 winners past Tiafoe, who committed 34 unforced errors. “I came here with positive feelings,” said Nadal. “I have done a lot of things well before the tournament started. Then, you have to compete, you have to win matches, because if you haven’t competed for a while it’s always a challenge. It’s so special to be back where I am today. It means that I started the season in a good way again, and that’s very positive for me.” Nadal will next challenge No. 14 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece for the third time. He leads their series 2-0, with final wins in 2018 on the clay of the Barcelona Open and on the hard courts of the Rogers Cup. “Stefanos is one of the best players in the world,” said Nadal. “To have the chance to be in the final, I need to play my best, and that’s what I am looking for.” Nadal won 14 of the first 17 points – including the first service break in the second game – in an electric start by keeping his groundstroke length consistently deep to push Tiafoe around the court and behind the baseline. At 0:3, Tiafoe slowed down his serve to settle his nerves, and began to work his way into the match, but Nadal went 15 for 15 on first serve and finished the opener with consecutive forehand winners. From 5:3 up in the first set, Nadal won 12 of the next 13 points to maintain control against Tiafoe, who missed out on two break point chances – due to forehand errors – when his Spanish opponent served at 2:1 in the second set. Tiafoe found his service rhythm, but at times he rushed and hit closer to the lines. Nadal was simply ruthless in striking anything short for a winner, yet Tiafoe resisted the pressure to save three set points when serving at 3:5. Nadal closed out to love in the next game, finishing with a smash winner from the baseline. Tiafoe, with a 1:5 record in fifth sets, lost his first service game for the third time to immediately be placed on the back foot in the third set. Three groundstroke errors handed Nadal another break for a 5:2 advantage, before the World No. 2 closed out to 15 with Tiafoe hitting a backhand wide. Only Roger Federer (43), Novak Djokovic (34) and Jimmy Connors (31) have reached more major semi-finals than Nadal in the Open Era (since April 1968). “It was tough,” said Tiafoe. “I mean, he’s a hell of a player, man. His ball is kicking up like crazy. [The] court was really slow. Yeah, it was just tough to really hit the room. I felt like I was hitting a lot of balls long early. Probably overplaying. I got in a decent rhythm there for a hot sec, but he’s just tough and he’s played on that court, so he’s more comfortable than me.”
It didn’t have the flair or style of his victory against Roger Federer, but Tsitsipas’ win against Bautista showed an entirely different – and maybe more impressive – side of the 20-year-old Greek. Where he wowed the Federer crowd with shake-your-head winners, against Bautista, Tsitsipas showed the hustle and grit it might take for him to win his maiden Grand Slam title this fortnight. The reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion reached his first Grand Slam semi-final on Tuesday, ending the ironman run of Spain’s Bautista under the baking Melbourne sun. Tsitsipas admitted even he is surprised by his form. “You have a bigger picture of your opponent when he’s going to come out,” he said. “You think he’s going to do some extraordinary things. But Roberto was playing great today. He showed some good tennis the entire week. What I realised recently, your opponent feels the exact same thing you feel. It’s a pretty balanced match. The difference is who is going to press more and be more aggressive than the other. But I did surprise myself a little bit with my performance.” The Greek was slow to start his first quarter-final and fell behind a break in the first three sets, including deficits 0:2 in 1st 2:4 in 3rd set. But he returned to his net-charging play that helped him knock out Federer and woke up his cadre of Greek fans, who had been quiet for much of the quarter-final, before controlling the fourth-set tie-break with more aggressive play. Tsitsipas becomes the youngest man (20 years 168 days) to reach the Australian Open semi-finals since Andy Roddick (20 years 149 days) in 2003 and the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since Novak Djokovic (20 years, 110 days) at the 2007 US Open. Tsitsipas, who had reached only one fourth round at a Slam before this fortnight, set three main goals to start the year: crack the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings, make the Nitto ATP Finals in November, and reach a Grand Slam semi-final. Three full weeks into the season, and he’s a third of the way there. He will face 17-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. “I’m just living the dream, living what I’ve been working hard for. I mean, I feel a bit emotional but not too much because I know, again, I really worked hard to get here, the semis of a Grand Slam,” Tsitsipas said. The Greek had to endure a nervy start inside Rod Laver Arena, dumping an overhead into the net to lose his opening service game. Bautista somehow looked the fresher, despite having played three five-set matches out of four to make his first quarter-final. The 30-year-old was moving Tsitsipas from tramline to tramline and landing passing shots at the 20-year-old’s ankles when the Greek sprinted forward. But Tsitsipas began to probe Bautista’s legs, hitting behind the Spaniard again and again, and he broke in the 12th game to take the opener. Another slow start in the second, however, doomed Tsitsipas’ chances, as Bautista never let up and Greece’s star lacked the precision that helped him knock off his idol on the same court two days earlier. A five-set match became a three-set match, and Tsitsipas honed in his focus, pounding Bautista’s backhand, making the Spaniard, who was finally showing the effects of his marathon run, stretch with both hands and stay home. Two, three, four consecutive topspin-heavy shots to the backhand, and Tsitsipas would then step in to rip a forehand down the line or race forward for a putaway. “Tsitsipas was playing very good. I had my chances in the first set and in the third set. I lost both sets… He played really good at the end of both sets,” Bautista Agut said. The fourth set was a serving contest until the tie-break, when Tsitsipas, the fresher of the two, had just enough left to take the tie-break and book a spot in the final four. He might land that Top 10 ATP Ranking he’s chasing this fortnight as well. Tsitsipas is projected to climb to No. 12 and, if he makes the final, he’s projected to enter the Top 10. Bautista lost first match of 2019 having won the initial nine of the season – his career longest winning streak.