Fresh off his semi-final run at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka is ready to continue his strong start to the 2020 season at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
The 34-year-old Wawrinka, who beat Rafael Nadal in the 2014 final, is the 15th seed at the season's first Grand Slam and will meet Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia & Herzegovina in the first round.
“It’s another year and still after all these years on Tour, I’m always very happy to be here. I prepared very well and I feel good here. I practised all week, feeling good, and I hope to get a good start into this tournament,” Wawrinka said.
“It’s the first Grand Slam of the season. It’s summer here and we come from the European winter. It’s more or less the first time we see the sun here usually. There are many fans here and a great atmosphere all day on all courts. I won my first Grand Slam here. I also like the conditions and am happy to be back here.”
Dzumhur, a three-time ATP Tour champion currently ranked No. 92 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, leads their ATP Head2Head series 2-1, which includes their most recent contest last year on clay in Geneva. The two split their hard-court meetings in Dubai (2017) and St. Petersburg (2018).
“I know Dzumhur well, I played him several times. I have lost and won against him in the past. He plays mostly from the baseline, moves well, returns well, does everything well. I think it will depend on how I play and if I can impose my game. I hope that I can do that,” Wawrinka said.
The Swiss last won a Grand Slam title at the 2016 US Open, but he remains the last player outside the Big Three of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to have won a major championship. The legendary trio have won the past 12 Grand Slam men's singles titles (Nadal, five; Djokovic, four; Federer, three).
Wawrinka, however, will bring confidence from his Doha semi-final. The Swiss fell to Frenchman Corentin Moutet in three sets.
“It was the first tournament, and of course you always want to improve and do better. I had my chances, which I didn’t take sadly,” Wawrinka said. “Nevertheless it was a good start to the year. I’m very happy about my 10 days in Doha before coming here... I’m happy about the level of my game and how practice goes. Now I can’t wait to play my first match.”
Australian Max Purcell reached a career milestone at the Australian Open on Friday, qualifying for his first Grand Slam main draw with a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Jozef Kovalik.
The Sydney native, who edged back-to-back three-set matches to reach the final qualifying round, landed 24 winners and converted four break points to cruise into his first major championship after 72 minutes. Purcell entered the tournament with one win from seven previous Grand Slam qualifying encounters.
Joining Purcell in the main draw will be Ernests Gulbis, who defeated Prajnesh Gunneswaran 7-6(2), 6-2 in 80 minutes. Gulbis will be making his 10th appearance in the main draw at the first Grand Slam of the season, where he has reached the second round on two occasions.
Norbert Gombos did not drop a set through his three qualifying matches, booking his spot with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Pedja Krstin. The Slovakian will be joined in the main draw by Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, who landed 21 winners to defeat Constant Lestienne 6-2, 6-3 in 65 minutes.
In second-round action, top seed Dennis Novak beat Filip Horansky 6-1, 6-4 to move one win away from a place in the main draw. The Austrian, who cracked the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time on Monday, will meet Hiroki Moriya of Japan. Moriya overcame 23rd seed Steven Diez 6-4, 7-5 in one hour and 37 minutes.
Kimmer Coppejans moved past third seed Brayden Schnur of Canada 7-6(3), 6-3. The 25-year-old Belgian will meet Christopher Eubanks of the United States in the final qualifying round.
Top 5 seeds Emil Ruusuvuori and Andrej Martin were both defeated by French opposition. Elliot Benchetrit outlasted fourth seed Ruusuvuori 6-4, 0-6, 7-6(3), while Mathias Bourgue edged fifth seed Martin 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-5.
Alexander Zverev has had a week of preparation before a Grand Slam unlike any other in his career this week in Melbourne.
Two-a-days? The 22-year-old has been enduring three practices a day and logging five to seven hours on court ahead of the season's first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, which starts Monday.
The week before a Grand Slam is typically a lighter week of practice for players, especially those in the Top 10. But Zverev was disappointed with his ATP Cup showing for Germany in Brisbane – he went 0-3 against Aussie Alex de Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Canadian Denis Shapovalov – and wanted to fix on the practice courts what troubled him.
“I need to get my tennis back because how I was playing at the ATP Cup was just not going to be good enough to do well at a Grand Slam. I know that, my team knows that, my coaching staff knows that. The hours are in now. Now it's just about getting the final preparations right,” Zverev said on Friday in Melbourne.
The seventh seed is looking to reach past the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time. Zverev has twice reached the Roland Garros quarter-finals (2018, 2019). His best showing in Melbourne came last year when he made the fourth round before falling to Milos Raonic of Canada.
“This was more like a training block for me really than a preparation for a Grand Slam. But it's also different: I've never been past a quarter-final at a Grand Slam. Maybe this will also be something new and something different and maybe it will work as well,” Zverev said.
Zverev said, in particular, he worked on his serve, which had troubled him in Brisbane and at times last year. His serve was working well in practice, he said, which typically bodes well for his matches.
“I'm also not a player that gets too nervous or too emotionally down when I play matches. When something doesn't work in practice, that's when it doesn't work in matches,” he said.
“For example, at ATP Cup, I was not able to serve in practice as well. It was just bad with the timing. It was just off. Normally when it gets better in practice, it also will automatically get better on the match court. Maybe not in the first match or the first set, but I think gradually it will improve as well on the match court.”
[WATCH LIVE 1]
Zverev isn't counting himself as a favourite to win the season's first major championship, but he's not counting himself out, either, as he expects the usual flurry of upsets Down Under during the first month of the season.
“Other players are playing better than me. So this is also a process. I'm happy to know that I can go out there and feel comfortable. Maybe go through a few matches, and then, normally what happens with me is the further I can go in the tournament, the better I start playing,” he said.
“I think a lot of young guys have a chance this year, maybe more than the last few years. It's going to be interesting to see. I think there will be some upsets during the week, I think some young guys maybe will lose earlier than we think they will. But I also think some young guys maybe will do better than we think they will.”
And although the three-time ATP Masters 1000 titlist doesn't arrive in Melbourne with heaps of momentum, he's prepared to fight his way through the draw.
“I will still try my best. I will still work my butt off to win every single point that I play out there. If it works, great, if it doesn't, I will do the same and train again,” Zverev said.
As he knows, practice is great but it's not match play.
“The day when you're on court everything changes," he said, "and nobody really cares what you've done the weeks before.”
Benoit Paire avenged his Winton-Salem Open final loss to Hubert Hurkacz on Friday, beating the sixth seed 6-4, 6-7(1), 6-2 at the ASB Classic to reach his ninth ATP Tour championship match.
The fifth seed broke Hurkacz’s serve on six occasions to level his ATP Head2Head against the Pole at 1-1. Paire improves to 8-5 at the ATP 250 event, where he also reached the quarter-finals in 2012.
“It was not easy. Not everything was perfect, but against Hubert it is never easy,” said Paire. “He is a very good player and a tough opponent, so I hope tomorrow will be better and I hope to enjoy [the final].”
The 30-year-old has been forced to work hard for a place in his maiden Auckland final, winning each of his four matches in deciding sets. Prior to his maiden win against Hurkacz, Paire also edged Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner, Thiago Monteiro and John Millman.
The Frenchman has won six of his seven matches to open the 2020 ATP Tour season. Competing as the No. 2 singles player for France, Paire won two of his three matches in Group A at the inaugural ATP Cup.
[WATCH LIVE 2]
Paire’s win guarantees a first French champion in Auckland, following Ugo Humbert’s 7-6(5), 6-4 win against John Isner. Paire rallied from a set down to defeat his countryman in their only previous ATP Head2Head encounter in Winston-Salem last year.
“I am very happy to play against a compatriot tomorrow,” said Paire. “He is a very nice guy and we will see, but I am very happy to be in the final. It was the first time for me in the semi-finals and now the first time for me in the final.”
Humbert won each of his 38 first-serve points against two-time champion Isner to reach his maiden ATP Tour championship match. The 21-year-old is through to his first final on his fourth attempt, following semi-final losses in Marseille, Newport and Antwerp last year.
”I am really happy about this win,” said Humbert. “It was a great match. I returned very well and I played good [on the] key points. I am really, really happy to reach my first final.”
The World No. 57 has defeated two of the Top 4 seeds in Auckland to reach the final. After wins over in-form Norwegian Casper Ruud and Marco Cecchinato, Humbert also beat second seed Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals.
Andrey Rublev extended his unbeaten streak to 11 matches on Friday, overcoming second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6(5), 6-7(7), 6-4 at the Adelaide International.
The 22-year-old saved nine of 10 break points to advance to his sixth ATP Tour championship match (3-2) in just under three hours. Rublev, who failed to convert two match points in the second set, arrived in Adelaide after picking up his third tour-level trophy in Doha without dropping a set.
”This match was unreal,” said Rublev. “I think people enjoyed it and that is why we are playing tennis. I hope we will bring more and more matches like this.”
[WATCH LIVE 1]
Rublev is the first player since 2004 to reach back-to-back finals in the opening two weeks of the season. On that occasion, two men accomplished the feat. Dominik Hrbaty won trophies in Adelaide and Auckland, while Carlos Moya lifted the Chennai trophy and finished as runner-up in Sydney.
”I didn’t expect that I was going to do two finals,” said Rublev. “I didn’t expect that I was going to start the season that well, so we will see what is going to happen next. The most important thing is to keep going, to keep working and to keep improving.”
Rublev improves to 2-0 in his ATP Head2Head series against the Canadian. The Doha champion also beat Auger-Aliassime when the pair met for the first time at the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag in 2018.
Auger-Aliassime was bidding to join Alexander Zverev as only the second player since 2008 to reach four ATP Tour finals as a teenager (excluding Next Gen ATP Finals). The Canadian reached his first three tour-level championship matches last year, finishing as runner-up in Rio de Janeiro, Lyon and Stuttgart.
Rublev will face first-time ATP Tour finalist Lloyd Harris for the title. The South African needed two hours and nine minutes to overcome American Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-3.
”I know that [Harris] is a tough player. He won so many great matches here,” said Rublev. “He is my age. We played juniors in the past, so it is going to be interesting. It is going to be one more battle between two young guys and we will see what is going to happen.”
Last year, Harris made his first tour-level quarter-final and semi-final in Chengdu as a lucky loser. But the World No. 91 has gone one step further in Adelaide, blasting 13 aces and winning 85 per cent of his first-serve points against the man who is one spot ahead of him in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
"I'm so excited to be in the final here in Adelaide. Just ecstatic with the match I played," Harris said. "Looking forward to [the final] tomorrow."
This was the first ATP Tour semi-final between two qualifiers since Roberto Carballes Baena beat Andrej Martin in Quito in 2018. Harris was on the back foot towards the end of the second set, despite recouping a break to force a tie-break, as Paul was taking control of rallies more often and not allowing the South African to dictate play.
But Harris, who defeated fourth seed Pablo Carreno Busta and sixth seed Cristian Garin earlier in the ATP 250 tournament, was undeterred. He lost just two first-serve points in the decider en route to his victory.
Did You Know?
This is only the second tournament since the 2004 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to feature four semi-finalists under the age of 23 (also 2018 Washington, D.C.).
New balls, please…
With the Australian Open on the horizon, an Infosys ATP Insights deep dive of serve performance with new balls over the past five seasons uncovers how players take advantage of the fresh, faster balls on hard, grass and clay courts.
Serving With New Balls - Holding Serve 2015-2019
Surface Player Service Games Held % Grass Milos Raonic 100% Hard Roger Federer 94.58% Clay John Isner 95.24%
1. Roger Federer Leads On Hard Courts
Breaking Roger Federer’s serve on hard courts when he is serving with new balls is an almost insurmountable task. Federer has lost serve only 11 times out of 203 service games on hard court in the past five years when serving with fresh balls. Overall, John Isner has won the most service games on hard with new balls with 214 service games, while Dominic Thiem has played the most, with 233 service games.
The five best performers holding serve with new balls on hard (minimum 20 attempts) in the past five seasons:
1. Roger Federer = 94.58% (192/203)
2. Ivo Karlovic = 94.01% (157/167)
3. Nick Kyrgios = 93.79% (166/177)
4. Reilly Opelka = 93.24% (69/74)
5. John Isner = 92.24% (214/232)
2. Milos Raonic Is Perfect On Grass Courts
In the past five years, Milos Raonic has played 43 matches on grass and served with new balls 64 times. He has impressively won every one of those service games. Overall, Raonic has won 70 per cent (49/70) of his matches on grass throughout his career, proving to be his most successful surface. Surprisingly, he has not yet won a grass-court event, but was a finalist at Wimbledon and Queens in 2016, and Stuttgart in 2018.
The five best performers holding serve with new balls on grass (minimum 20 attempts) in the past five seasons:
1. Milos Raonic = 100% (64/64)
2. Ivo Karlovic = 98.31% (58/59)
3. Matteo Berrettini = 95.45% (21/22)
4. Kevin Anderson = 94.92% (56/59)
5. Marin Cilic = 94.74% (54/57)
3. John Isner Surprises On Clay Courts
You would not naturally think of the 34-year-old American Isner as a leader in clay-court performance metrics, but his form is unsurpassed on the surface with new balls, holding serve 95.24 per cent (60/63) of the time. In fact, Isner’s hold percentage on clay with new balls is better than on grass or hard.
John Isner Winning Percentage Holding Serve With New Balls (2015-19)
Surface Winning Percentage Clay 95.24% (60/63) Grass 92.59% (50/54) Hard 92.24% (214/232)
The five best performers holding serve with new balls on clay (minimum 20 attempts) in the past five seasons:
1. John Isner = 95.24% (60/63)
2. Kevin Anderson = 93.75% (45/48)
3. Hyeon Chung = 91.43% (32/35)
4. Steve Johnson = 91.07% (51/56)
5. Juan Ignacio Londero = 89.47% (34/38)
Serving with new balls offers a distinct advantage for the server. Breaking it down by the surface helps identify which players naturally perform better on which surface.
Novak Djokovic led Team Serbia to the inaugural ATP Cup, but that was not the 32-year-old’s first big win of 2020.
Djokovic and his wife, Jelena Djokovic, have once again matched all donations to his Novak Djokovic Foundation from its ‘Season of Giving’ campaign, for which donors contributed $140,000. The Djokovic family’s personal contribution brings the campaign’s total to a whopping $280,000 to help build more preschools in Serbia.
“Thanks to your donations we have exceeded the goal of this year’s 'Season of Giving' too and reached the incredible amount of USD 140,000 which will help us open new preschools and implement new preschool programs for children in Serbia,” Djokovic said in a statement. “I am proud and my heart is full when we are playing on the same team for the same cause, that’s why Jelena and I decided to double your donations this year too!”
The campaign, which lasted from 3 December 2019 through 8 January 2020, will allow more than 200 children an opportunity to go to preschool for the first time.
“United in doing good and noble deeds, we can bring smiles to the faces of our children and give them hope for a better tomorrow,” Djokovic said. “Thank you very much for believing in our Foundation, your selflessness and all the messages you left on the website together with your donations. Thank you for this victorious start to 2020, because if this is how it starts, it will surely be a fantastic year.”
The Novak Djokovic Foundation, which was one of nine recipients of a 2020 ATP ACES For Charity grant, focusses its efforts on helping young children gain access to preschool education, enabling kids from disadvantaged communities to grow up, play and develop in stimulating, creative and safe settings. Djokovic’s wife, Jelena Djokovic, is the Co-Founder and Global CEO of the foundation, and she is thrilled that this ’Season of Giving’ campaign exceeded its original goal of $100,000.
“Thank you for helping, year after year, so that a growing number of children in Serbia can have an opportunity to participate in preschool education programs. At the end of September last year, we opened the 44th preschool, in Svilajnac, providing space for another 75 children from this municipality and the neighboring villages. We opened a kindergarten in Macvan Prnjavor near Sabac, which allowed more than 150 children from Prnjavor, and other villages near Sabac, to attend kindergarten for the first time,” she said. “There is an ongoing process for opening a kindergarten in Inđija as well, but we will not stop there. Our goal is to change the lives of children in our country.”
Did You Know?
The Novak Djokovic Foundation received an ATP ACES For Charity grant in 2013, 2017 and 2020. In 2012, Djokovic was named the ATP Tour's Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year in the ATP Awards.