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    Fans came back to the stands after a five-day lockdown in Melbourne.

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storyHow Naomi Osaka Beat Serena Williams at the Australian OpenFans came back to the stands after a five-day lockdown in Melbourne.Feb. 17, 2021, 9:45 p.m. ETFeb. 17, 2021, 9:45 p.m. ETFans were allowed to return to the Australian Open for the first time after a five-day lockdown for residents in the state of Victoria.Credit…Darrian Traynor/Getty ImagesThat crowd noise in Melbourne Park is real today after the Australian state of Victoria re-emerges from a five-day lockdown to curb an outbreak of coronavirus cases that is not related to the tournament.Only 7,477 fans will be allowed in per session, putting the stands at about 50 percent capacity, according to the tournament’s director, Craig Tiley. Fans are required to wear masks while indoors or when they are unable to socially distance, in line with procedures that were in place at the beginning of the tournament.“Last week we had our first real experience of live sport with fans in the stands and the atmosphere was electric,” Tiley said in an announcement inviting fans back. “The players appreciated the opportunity to compete in front of crowds for the first time in almost a year, and many spoke about how emotional it was to connect with fans again.”Ready to welcome all of our mates back 😀🔜 return of the fans to #AO2021 👉 https://t.co/21ujUHgcU2 pic.twitter.com/73TDLMNG58— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 17, 2021
    Australia went into a snap lockdown last Friday after Victoria’s case count rose to 13. The heightened restrictions, which prevented residents who were not considered essential workers to stay home with minimal exceptions, ended at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria announced, after no new cases were announced out of more than 39,000 tests.There were still 25 active cases of the virus in the last 24 hours, one of which was attributed to an individual quarantining from out of the country, according to Victoria’s health department.The lockdown did not affect the players or many others associated with the Australian Open because they were considered essential workers by the government.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Rafael Nadal Is Out of the Australian Open

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TonightWilliams-Osaka ShowdownThe Fast CourtsFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyRafael Nadal Is Out of the Australian OpenStefanos Tsitsipas upset Nadal in five sets in Melbourne, ending his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam men’s singles championship.Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open run ended in a five-set loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas.Credit…William West/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 17, 2021Updated 10:05 a.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal’s bid for a record 21st Grand Slam men’s singles title ended Wednesday night when he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.Tsitsipas dropped the first two sets but came back to defeat Nadal, the second-ranked player in the world, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5, in a grueling, four-hour duel for the biggest Grand Slam win of his career.Nadal, of Spain, played a near flawless first three sets, not allowing a break of his serve or even a break point, and he appeared in full control of the match. But in the third-set tiebreaker, he missed two overheads and sent a backhand wide to give Tsitsipas the tiebreaker and a lifeline.Then what had been a rout turned into a street fight. Playing on fresh legs after winning his fourth-round match in a walkover, Tsitsipas became increasingly stingy on his serve, refusing to give Nadal a chance to seize an advantage and forcing him into sloppy errors as he grew more fatigued.Tsitsipas dropped the first two sets against Nadal but seemed to gain energy as the match wore on.Credit…Dave Hunt/EPA, via ShutterstockTsitsipas, who at 22 years old is 12 years younger than Nadal, seemed to gain energy and a bounce in his step as the warm evening wore on, getting to balls that had been out of his reach earlier and forcing Nadal to hit extra shots and battle to hold his serve in nearly every game.In the fifth set, Nadal and Tsitsipas traded service games, with Tsitsipas’s serve becoming increasingly untouchable — he served four consecutive aces to knot the set at 3-3 — and Nadal fighting for nearly every point to stay level. Serving at 5-5 in the fifth set, Nadal made two errors to lose the first two points of the game, then missed wide on the forehand to give Tsitsipas his chance to serve out the match.With only his friends and support team in the stands because of a snap lockdown amid a small coronavirus outbreak, Tsitsipas dropped his racket when it was over, made a cross on his chest and look toward the sky.The final game was a microcosm of the match. An early lead for Nadal, followed by Tsitsipas storming back, Nadal fighting off two match points to give himself a chance to survive, before netting a forehand volley and watching Tsitsipas blast a backhand down the line to clinch the match.“Moments like this haven’t happened a lot in my career,” said Tsitsipas, who also won the ATP Tour finals in 2019 and knocked off Roger Federer on this same court two years ago. “The fact that I came back the way I did, the way I fought against Rafa, that was something extra.”Nadal controlled the match through the first three sets but missed a chance to finish off Tsitsipas in the third-set tie-breaker.Credit…William West/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFor Nadal, the loss prevented him from pushing ahead of Roger Federer of Switzerland in their duel to collect the most Grand Slam singles championships.Federer has been sidelined with a knee injury since last year’s Australian Open and has missed all three Grand Slams since tennis returned in August just before the United States Open. He plans to return to competition in the coming weeks.Nadal skipped the United States Open as well, but he returned for the French Open weeks later and won it to tie Federer with 20 singles titles.Nadal was not the favorite in this tournament, which he has won just once, in 2009, though he has come close on other occasions, most notably in 2012, when he lost in five sets to Novak Djokovic in a match that last a record five hours, 53 minutes. The tournament is contested on fast hardcourts, which challenge Nadal far more than the slow red clay in Paris or the softer grass at Wimbledon, which inflicts less wear and tear on his body.Nadal complained of lower back pain earlier in the tournament, but said Wednesday night it was not an issue against Tsitsipas.“Another story in my tennis career, another match I lost in Australia,” a frustrated Nadal said shortly after the loss. “I have to go home and practice to be better. That’s it.”Nadal’s loss is likely to make Djokovic’s bid for a record ninth Australian Open singles title far easier. Djokovic plays Aslan Karatsev, ranked 114th in the world, in the semifinals on Thursday. If he wins that, he will face either Tsitsipas or Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the finals.Nadal strained muscles in his lower back while training in Adelaide before this tournament. The injury prevented him from following his usual practice routine for nearly three weeks, but after his third round win here over Cameron Norrie of Britain he said the problem had largely been resolved. He dominated Fabio Fognini of Italy in the fourth round and had not lost a set at the tournament before facing Tsitsipas.Tsitsipas had just one win in seven tries against Nadal coming into Wednesday night’s match. At first he tried to prevail by ending points quickly and avoiding the long rallies that Nadal uses to wear down his opponents. But Nadal kept hitting shots within inches of the lines that Tsitsipas struggled to get his racket on.With Nadal tiring though, Tsitsipas stayed back and pursued something like tennis rope-a-dope, keeping the ball in play until Nadal blasted an error or gave Tsitsipas an opportunity for a winner. He finally broke Nadal in the ninth game of the fourth set, and won it in the next one as Nadal hit into the net to turn the match into a one-set battle.It was only the third time Nadal had lost after winning the first two sets.“There are going to be matches you lose like today against one of the best players in the world,” Nadal said. “It is something that happens.”Tsitsipas now faces Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the semifinal. He said he woke up Wednesday in a state of serenity, with a sense that things would go his way.“Really, nothing was going through my head,” he said when asked what he was thinking as he began to turn the match his way. “I was in a kind of nirvana. Playing, and not thinking.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Serena vs. Naomi Osaka: Time, Channel, Streaming and More

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TonightWilliams-Osaka ShowdownThe Fast CourtsFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story2021 Australian Open: What to Watch For in Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka’s SemifinalWilliams and Osaka will play for the second time at a Grand Slam. Plus, Novak Djokovic faces an unlikely semifinal opponent: a 27-year-old in his first Grand Slam main draw.Serena Williams last faced Naomi Osaka in 2019 at a tournament in Toronto. Their lone Grand Slam meeting was the 2018 United States Open final.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesFeb. 17, 2021, 1:34 a.m. ETThe Australian Open semifinals begin on Wednesday night, headlined by the match between the 10th-seeded Serena Williams of the United States and the third-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan. It will be their first Grand Slam meeting since the 2018 United States Open final, an Osaka victory in which Williams received three penalties from the chair umpire.The victor will face the winner of the other semifinal match: between No. 25 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic and No. 22 Jennifer Brady of the United States.Here’s what to look for in the match, which will start around 10 p.m. Eastern in Rod Laver Arena.Can Williams close?Williams, 39, started her career as one of the greatest closers at the end of Grand Slam events. In her first 28 trips to a Grand Slam semifinal, she won the title 21 times. But dating to her shocking loss to Roberta Vinci in the 2015 U.S. Open semifinals, Williams has struggled to wrap up Slam victories, winning the title only twice in 11 trips to a semifinal.Since her victory in the 2017 Australian Open, Williams has remained stuck at 23 Grand Slam titles, one of the loftiest plateaus in sports history. Though she already holds the career record for Grand Slam titles in the Open era, which began in 1968, Williams has long had her eye on Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles.Can Osaka lose?Naomi Osaka is on a career-long winning streak.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesOsaka, 23, who grew up idolizing Williams, has been flawless at closing out Grand Slam victories early in her career. Osaka has made three previous Grand Slam quarterfinal runs; each time, she won the tournament. By reaching the semifinals this week, Osaka improved her record in the past three rounds of Grand Slam events to 10-0.Osaka enters the semifinal against Williams, whom she has beaten in two of three meetings, having won 19 consecutive matches, the longest streak of her career. Her last loss came more than a year ago, in a Fed Cup match last February.Williams gets defensive.All three previous Osaka matches against Williams came after Williams’s return from maternity leave in 2018. Osaka will have never seen Williams moving as well as she has this week.Williams joked after her quarterfinal win over the second-seeded Simona Halep that she was motivated to get in shape by the form-fitting catsuit that she knew she would have to wear on the court in Melbourne. Her improved conditioning has been reflected in her foot speed, allowing her to play breathtaking defense and extend rallies in ways she could not attempt in recent years.Osaka, who can match Williams for power, won’t be able to rely on an advantage in foot speed as she had in their previous meetings.Osaka and Williams have moved past the 2018 U.S. Open final.The 2018 U.S. Open final descended into chaos as Williams incurred escalating penalties from the chair umpire Carlos Ramos for repeated code violations, whipping the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium into anger. Osaka was in tears after the match, and some criticized Williams for ruining her moment.But despite opportunities to do so if she had wished, Osaka has never publicly blamed Williams for any aspect of that day’s mayhem. Williams and young up-and-comers have not always had warm relationships (see: Sloane Stephens), but she has always shown appreciation for Osaka.The two have remained on good terms since the 2018 U.S. Open, and played an exhibition match in Adelaide last month.“I think she’s a great competitor and she’s a cool cat,” Williams said of Osaka on Tuesday.All coverage will air from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on ESPN2 in the United States; streaming is available on the ESPN+ and ESPN3 apps. Here are the other semifinal matchups.Novak Djokovic vs. Aslan KaratsevAslan Karatsev, 27, is in his first Grand Slam main draw. He has never played Novak Djokovic.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesThe top-seeded Novak Djokovic had a health scare in his third-round win over the 27th-seeded Taylor Fritz, injuring his abdomen as he slipped on the court midway through the third set. Visibly struggling, Djokovic needed five sets to prevail over Fritz.Despite lingering concerns, and Djokovic saying that the injury would have forced him to pull out from the tournament were it not an all-important Grand Slam event, Djokovic has played well in his subsequent two matches, beating No. 14 Milos Raonic and No. 6 Alexander Zverev both in four sets.His next opponent is a considerably less familiar one: Aslan Karatsev, a Russian who is playing in his first Grand Slam main draw at age 27, and has turned into the Cinderella story of the event.Karatsev, who qualified for the Australian Open by winning three matches at a qualifying event in Qatar last month, has used clean, powerful groundstrokes off both wings to dismantle other players, including No. 8 Diego Schwartzman and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime. Karatsev advanced to the semifinals after his quarterfinal opponent, No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov, was limited by back spasms.Djokovic should be expected to advance comfortably if he’s healthy, but if he’s not, no player has proved quite as opportunistic as Karatsev.Karolina Muchova vs. Jennifer BradyThough decidedly an undercard to the preceding Osaka-Williams clash, the semifinal between Karolina Muchova and Jennifer Brady could also prove compelling.Muchova, an all-court player, has been able to outlast many opponents playing near their top form, including the top-seeded Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals. After struggling with the heat and taking a medical timeout midway through the match, Muchova dominated the later stages, staying steady and purposeful on her powerful forehand as Barty’s game went wayward.For Brady, whose game is more built around power from the baseline, the run in Australia is a consolidation of her strong effort last summer, when she won a WTA tournament in Lexington, Ky., and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open, where she lost to Osaka. Brady spent 14 days in hard quarantine before the tournament began, and she was the only player in those circumstances to reach the fourth round of the women’s singles draw.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Ashleigh Barty Loses in Australian Open Quarterfinals

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TodayHow to WatchThe Players to KnowFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyAshleigh Barty Loses in Australian Open QuarterfinalsBarty, the No. 1 seed in the women’s singles draw, had won the first set comfortably but fell to the 25th-seeded Karolina Muchova.Ashleigh Barty waiting for Karolina Muchova to return to the court during a medical timeout. Barty played more inconsistently after the stoppage.Credit…Dave Hunt/EPA, via ShutterstockFeb. 16, 2021Updated 9:59 p.m. ETThe top-seeded Ashleigh Barty, who represented her country’s best chance for a homegrown Australian Open champion, lost in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, falling 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, to the 25th-seeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.Barty began the match in dominant form, leading Muchova by a set and a break at 6-1, 2-0 at Rod Laver Arena.Muchova took an off-court medical timeout early in the second set, with doctors checking her vital signs and cooling her down with ice.“My head was spinning, so I took a break,” Muchova said in her on-court interview after the match.After Muchova returned to the court, Barty became inconsistent. At 2-1, she hit four unforced errors to drop her serve and level the second set. She finished with 19 unforced errors in the second set, after having only six in the first.As Barty faltered, Muchova played with increasing poise and patience, exemplified by one rally in the second set in which she hit five overhead smashes before Barty finally made an error.Barty’s focus continued to drift in the third set. She made many errors on shots that should have been simple, not adjusting well to Muchova’s changes of pace. Barty seemed to regain her concentration in the final game, earning three break points, but she could not convert any of them.Muchova closed out the victory with an ace on her first match point. Muchova, a rare player who can match Barty’s all-court play and versatility, was playing in her second Grand Slam quarterfinal after making it to that round at Wimbledon in 2019.Barty’s departure from a court that hosted no fans for a fifth consecutive day was a blow for the tournament. Fans had been kept from the grounds for five days after a so-called circuit breaker lockdown imposed by the government because of a small coronavirus outbreak, but they are set to be allowed to return Thursday for the semifinals.Barty did not travel internationally to rejoin the tour when it resumed last year from its pandemic pause, but she retained her No. 1 ranking because the WTA largely froze its ranking system and her points from winning the French Open and the WTA Finals in 2019 did not expire.Barty had won a tournament, the Yarra Valley Classic, held in Melbourne the week before the Australian Open began. She had struggled with a left leg injury early in the tournament that forced her to withdraw from the doubles draw to reduce her workload, but showed few ill effects from it in the second week of the tournament.Barty’s exit means that there will be a player ranked outside the Top 20 in the Australian Open final. Muchova will face an American, either the 22nd-seeded Jennifer Brady or unseeded Jessica Pegula, in the semifinals.No Australian woman has won the Australian Open singles title since Chris O’Neil in 1978. Barty had reached the semifinals of the Australian Open last year, losing to Sofia Kenin, who won the tournament.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    2021 Australian Open: What to Watch on Tuesday Night

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TodayHow to WatchThe Players to KnowFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story2021 Australian Open: What to Watch on Tuesday NightTwo Americans, Jennifer Brady and Jessica Pegula, feature in a quarterfinal at the Australian Open.Jessica Pegula of the U.S. has dropped only one set on her way to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.Credit…Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/ReutersFeb. 16, 2021Updated 10:14 a.m. ETHow to watch: 6 to 9 p.m., Eastern time on the Tennis Channel and 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on ESPN2 in the United States; streaming on the ESPN+ and ESPN3 apps.The quarterfinals of the Australian Open continue on Tuesday night. As Ashleigh Barty and Rafael Nadal look to continue their dominance, young challengers will try to unseat them on the way to the final.Here are some matches to keep an eye on.The times for individual matchups are estimates and may fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.Rod Laver Arena | 7 p.m. TuesdayAshleigh Barty vs. Karolina MuchovaAshleigh Barty withdrew from the WTA tour in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, deciding to stay in Australia to keep herself and her team safe. Critics believed that it would be nearly impossible for Barty, the No. 1 seed, to meet expectations, but she has been in scintillating form. She has not lost a match in the past two weeks, winning the Yarra Valley Classic and not dropping a set on her way to the Australian Open quarterfinals.Karolina Muchova has reached the quarterfinals after two exceptional performances against Karolina Pliskova and Elise Mertens, the sixth and 18th seeds. The 24-year-old may have won both matches in straight sets, but she needed to win seven games in each to complete her upsets. Now, up against the consistent Barty, Muchova will need to temper high unforced error counts if she’s to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.Rafael Nadal of Spain is a clear favorite to make the final at the Australian Open.Credit…Dave Hunt/EPA, via ShutterstockRod Laver Arena | 9 p.m. TuesdayJennifer Brady vs. Jessica PegulaAfter Jessica Pegula upset the No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina, she turned to the camera and finished off her signed message with, “See you in the next round Jen B.” Jennifer Brady returned the love after her victory over Donna Vekic, writing, “Bring it Jess.” The two Americans are good friends and have been supportive of each other’s progress.Before this tournament, Pegula had never reached the round of 16 at a major event. With wins over two top-20 players her run to the quarterfinals has been impressive with only one set dropped. Her aggressive style is well suited to the faster courts at this year’s Australian Open.Brady, who reached the semifinals at the United States Open in September, was the only female player placed in a more restrictive quarantine after arriving in Melbourne to reach the second week. On average, Brady has lost fewer than five games per match on her way to the quarterfinals, and it’s hard to see how Pegula might be able to upset the 22nd seed.Rod Laver Arena | 11 p.m. TuesdayAndrey Rublev vs. Daniil MedvedevAndrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev secured the ATP Cup for Russia earlier this month, with neither player losing a singles match throughout. In their three meetings on the ATP Tour, Medvedev has come out on top each time, including in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in September.This may be Rublev’s chance to finally overcome his friendly rival. He has looked particularly dominant, not dropping a set throughout the tournament. His match against Casper Ruud ended after only two sets when the Norwegian withdrew with an injury. Going into the quarterfinals, Rublev has led the field in both percentage of first service points won and second service points won, a sign of how hard it has been for opponents to break his serve.Medvedev has also been playing well, aside from a chaotic, disorganized third round match against Filip Krajinovic. He has now won 18 matches in a row, with his last loss coming in October at a tournament in Vienna. Although the fast surface fits Medvedev’s flat baseline shots, Rublev’s open stance is well suited in defense, and we’re sure to see many dynamic, aggressive points.Rod Laver Arena | 3:30 a.m. WednesdayRafael Nadal vs. Stefanos TsitsipasRafael Nadal, the No. 2 seed, has moved smoothly through the first four rounds, no surprise for a player with 20 Grand Slam titles. Although Nadal won his only Australian Open title over a decade ago, he has reached the finals on four other occasions since, and is a clear favorite in his half of the draw to do so again. Nadal’s powerful topspin shots are well-suited to clay courts where he can drag opponents around with tightly angled shots. Nadal’s ability to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses with relentless pressure can break most players on their best days.Stefanos Tsitsipas, the ATP finals winner in 2019, is a study in unpredictability. The fifth seed has a capable all-court game, but lacks the consistency to execute match after match. The 22-year-old has worked to improve this aspect of his game, but needed five sets to push back unseeded Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round. After receiving a walkover in the round of 16, Tsitsipas will be well rested and hoping for an advantage against one of the most mentally tough players on tour.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Aslan Karatsev of Russia Continues an Unlikely Run at Australian Open

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TodayHow to WatchThe Players to KnowFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyAslan Karatsev of Russia Continues an Unlikely Run at Australian OpenThe unknown Russian became one of the few players to make the semifinal of a Grand Slam after surviving the qualifying tournament.Aslan Karatsev of Russia serving in his Men’s Singles Quarterfinals match against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria during Day 9 of the  Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.Credit…Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesFeb. 16, 2021Updated 9:26 a.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — He is the mystery man who few in the sport had heard of just days ago. But Aslan Karatsev of Russia has landed in the semifinals of the Australian Open.Karatsev on Tuesday became one of the few players to make the final four of a Grand Slam after surviving the qualifying tournament when he beat an ailing Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in four sets, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.He will face Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1, in the semifinals. Djokovic beat Alexander Zverev in four sets in their quarterfinal on Tuesday night.Karatsev, 27, was born in Russia and moved to Israel when he was 3. His maternal grandfather is Jewish. He then returned to Russia for his teenage years to pursue better tennis training. That began a meandering journey back and forth across Europe, with stops in Moscow, Germany, Spain and Belarus, where he has been training for three years.“I was moving around too much,” he said on Tuesday night following his victory.He has been playing in the tennis hinterlands for several years with little success and even considered quitting in 2017 when he was suffering from a knee injury. He had never qualified for a Grand Slam before this tournament. He won three straight matches at the Australian Open qualifying event in Doha to win a spot in the main event and came in ranked No. 114 in the world. He has never been ranked higher than No. 111.He has won $618,354 during his professional career. In this tournament, he has already secured a $662,000 paycheck. Another victory would boost it to $1.17 million.Dimitrov, the No. 18 seed, appeared to have the match under control after the first set but suffered back spasms beginning late in the second set. The pain and stiffness worsened in the third set, and he appeared to be on the edge of retiring for the rest of the match, but returned to the court for the fourth set after receiving medical treatment.He said his back initially spasmed on Monday and he struggled to put on his socks before the match. “We just couldn’t fix it in time,” Dimitrov said.Just four other players have made the semifinals of a Grand Slam after getting through the qualifying event.Ahead of the Australian Open, Karatsev played doubles for Team Russia in the ATP Cup, a team event in which players represent their countries. Russia won the competition, but not because of Karatsev, who lost all three matches in which he played, with two different partners.His teammates, however, noticed that he was playing as well as they had ever seen, and yet none of them would have predicted anything like this.“We felt like he could do something amazing,” Daniil Medvedev, Russia’s top player and the No. 4 seed in the Australian Open, said when Karatsev made it through the fourth round. “To be honest, being in your first Grand Slam main draw? Making quarters is something exceptional. He’s not over yet.”He certainly is not.After his win set up a meeting with Karatsev in the semifinals, Djokovic said he had not seen Karatsev play before this tournament but has been impressed the last 10 days.“Very strong guy physically, moves well, has a lot of firepower from the back of the court, great backhand,” Djokovic said. “The Russian school of tennis.”Karatsev was already the lowest-ranked player to reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open since Patrick McEnroe in 1991. Karatsev was the first qualifier to make the final eight at a Grand Slam in 10 years.Karatsev’s magical run in Melbourne began with two victories over lesser players last week, though his second-round win over Egor Gerasimov of Belarus hinted at bigger things to come. Karatsev beat Gerasimov, ranked No. 79 in the world, 6-0, 6-1, 6-0. After that, he dispatched eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman in three sets. It was an impressive win, but Schwartzman’s best results have come on clay rather than the slick, hard courts at Melbourne Park.In the fourth round, Karatsev stormed back from two sets down to defeat Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, the No. 20 seed, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. Auger-Aliassime is one of the world’s top young players and looked as if he would easily handle Karatsev after the first two sets.Then Karatsev took a bathroom break. He used the toilet and splashed some water on his face; and when he returned to the court, he found his comfort zone. He began firing aces and winners on his serve with abandon and pushed Auger-Aliassime farther and farther back into the court with his deep groundstrokes.Karatsev looked to be following a similar script on a warm, humid Tuesday afternoon.“I was a bit nervous at the start,” he said.The nerves were certainly justified, but the court he was playing on had an unlikely resemblance to the countless courts where he has competed for years in lower-tier events in front of rows of empty bleachers. On Friday night, health officials instituted a five-day lockdown after more than a dozen people tested positive for Covid-19. There were no spectators other than a few journalists, tournament employees and the players’ support teams.No one other than Dimitrov and the few people around him knew that he was taking the court at less than 100 percent. Dimitrov, one of the most talented and physically gifted players on the tour, had breezed through his first four matches, including his three-set dismantling of Dominic Thiem, the No. 3 seed.Karatsev’s nerves showed in the first set, when he made 19 unforced errors and double-faulted three times. In the second set, though, he started standing toe to toe with Dimitrov, playing longer points, sending balls deep into the court and forcing Dimitrov to exert himself and put stress on his back. By the end of the third set, Dimitrov could barely stand.Less than an hour later, Karatsev was in the semifinals.“I’m trying to enjoy the moment, not thinking about it too much, just playing from round to round,” he said.Can he win the tournament?“We will see,” he said. “How can I say?”As unlikely as it might seem, Dimitrov said he was not surprised to see Karatsev, who four months ago had a goal of making the Top 100, surging to the final four.“He’s a great player,” Dimitrov said of Karatsev. “To be here, clearly you’ve done something right. You’ve put in the work; you’ve gone through the qualifiers, went through tough and good matches, built up confidence. There’s so many positives, so why not for him to go further?”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Serena Williams Wins and Will Face Naomi Osaka in Australian Open Semifinals

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TodayHow to WatchThe Players to KnowFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storySerena Williams Wins, Setting Up Showdown With Naomi OsakaWilliams dispatched Simona Halep to avenge an embarrassing defeat in their previous meeting. Next up? Osaka in a star-studded semifinal.Serena Williams is now two wins from her 24th Grand Slam singles title.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 16, 2021, 8:45 a.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams was not about to let Simona Halep derail her run to a 24th Grand Slam singles championship. Not again.The summer of 2019 may seem like a lifetime ago in a world reeling from a pandemic that is taking a second lap of the calendar. But for Williams, the scab from her humbling loss to Halep in the Wimbledon final that July remains as fresh as the day Halep held her to four games on the All-England Club’s hallowed grass.Williams’s 6-3, 6-3 victory against Halep on Tuesday in the Australian Open quarterfinals was not as surgical as the dismemberment that Halep administered in their previous meeting, a performance that Billie Jean King described as “one of the most perfectly executed matches I’ve ever seen.”On Tuesday night, Williams put only 55 percent of her first serves in play, a much lower rate than she expects of herself. She finished with more unforced errors (33) than winners (24). But on the key points, Williams’s moxie and her motor won the day.Williams finished with more unforced errors (33) than winners (24) against Halep.Credit…Paul Crock/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWith Halep serving at 3-3 in the second set, Williams won a 20-stroke rally to earn a break point, then secured the break on a 12-stroke point. Two days after she was extended to three intense sets and more than two hours by Aryna Sabalenka, Williams, 39, was spry enough to outrun and outlast the second-ranked Halep, who is 10 years younger.“I feel pretty good with that performance,” Williams said. “I feel like I needed to have a good performance obviously today, especially after my last match against her.”The 2019 Wimbledon final was the third of four that Williams has played since she won the 2017 Australian Open to pull within one Grand Slam title of equaling the career record held by Margaret Court. She is one victory from earning another shot at it, but to get there she will have to defeat another player who derailed an earlier run.That would be the third-ranked Naomi Osaka, who handed Williams a 6-2, 6-4 defeat in the 2018 United States Open final — the first of Osaka’s three Grand Slam titles. Osaka, 23, who won the U.S. Open again last year, extended her winning streak to 19 matches earlier Tuesday with a straight-set victory against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei.Williams was brimming with confidence after returning to the semifinals. She will face Naomi Osaka next.Credit…Loren Elliott/ReutersAfter her victory, Osaka said she planned to stay up to watch the battle between Halep and Williams, though not necessarily to find out who she would face next.“I always watch Serena play,” Osaka said.She was not alone. No fans were allowed inside Rod Laver Arena because of a five-day lockdown imposed after the Australian authorities detected a cluster of coronavirus infections in the area. But Williams and Halep had a crowd of roughly five dozen spectators anyway, as people associated with the tournament slipped into seats to watch.“I feel like everyone in the tournament watches her,” Osaka said, referring to Williams. “Like, whenever I go to the locker room or whatever, there’s always just people lounging around and stuff, watching her match.”Since Williams last won a Grand Slam title, a lot of the attention in women’s tennis has shifted to Osaka. In 2020, she supplanted Williams as the highest-earning woman in sports on the strength of more than $30 million in off-court endorsements. Her rise led a reporter on the eve of this tournament to ask how she was dealing with being seen as the face of women’s tennis.“As long as Serena’s here,” Osaka replied, “I think she’s the face of women’s tennis.”Naomi Osaka stormed into the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Hsieh Su-wei.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWho is Williams to argue? She has worn a diamond-encrusted “QUEEN” necklace during all her matches.Thursday’s meeting with Osaka will be Williams’s 40th Grand Slam semifinal. It will also be her first time squaring off against Osaka in a Grand Slam since their 2018 final in New York, a match that turned turbulent when Williams argued with the chair umpire, who called three code-of-conduct violations against her. The incident turned the crowd against him, and indirectly, Osaka, souring her moment of victory.In the afterglow of her quarterfinal victory, Williams’s smile didn’t waver when she was asked about her relationship with Osaka.“I think we both have had closure,” Williams said of the 2018 final. She added, “I think she’s a great competitor and a cool cat.”Williams and Osaka might have squared off in another U.S. Open final last year if not for the heel injury that hampered Williams in her semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka. Unlike Osaka, who skipped last fall’s rescheduled French Open because of a strained hamstring, Williams played at Roland Garros less than three weeks after the Open. She won her first match before pulling out of the tournament, a decision that proved providential.When the start of the Australian Open was pushed back three weeks because of the pandemic, Williams was gifted with three open months on her calendar, a welcome block of time that she used to heal her injury and improve her conditioning.According to Patrick Mouratoglou, who has been Williams’s coach since 2012, she rededicated herself to the unglamorous work of improving her fitness, with an emphasis on footwork and speed.“It’s a lot of little details that make a big difference,” he said.“I feel like I needed to have a good performance obviously today,” Williams said of facing Halep, “especially after my last match against her.”Credit…Brandon Malone/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe daily conditioning grind she endured through November and December has allowed Williams to run down balls and extend rallies in February. Known for her attacking style, Williams’s best offense in her past two matches has been her defense.“She’s moving better,” conceded Halep, adding: “It’s much easier for her to hit the balls. It’s tougher for the opponents to finish the point.”Williams “has a really good game,” Halep said. Then she caught herself. Laughing, she said, “She always did.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Daniil Medvedev Finds Another Way of Playing Professional Tennis

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TodayHow to WatchThe Players to KnowFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyDaniil Medvedev Finds Another Way of Playing Professional TennisHow is this elite tennis player different from all other tennis players? Let us count the ways. But can he win a Grand Slam title?Daniil Medvedev has carved out a quirky game in a sport driven by powerful strokes.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 16, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — Men’s tennis in 2021 can feel like a fairly homogeneous affair. Big people. Big forehands. Big serves. A lot of guys seemingly trying to hit the ball through the wall behind the back of the court, even on their one-handed backhands.And then there is Daniil Medvedev, a lanky Russian who provides any number of answers to the question of how he’s different from other tennis players.Where to begin?There’s the bizarre service motion, in which Medvedev bounces the ball twice, then tosses it in the air without first bringing it into contact with his racket (try it sometime — it’s super awkward). In an era of ripped physiques built for power, Medvedev takes the court with a wiry 6-foot-6 frame and a slouching posture that seems like the creation of a caricature artist. Often, he likes to turn a furious baseline rally on its head with a sudden, deadly drop shot from the back of the court. Or a moonball. Or a twisting, beguiling slice.Medvedev has honed a quirky and creative mix of spins and surprise. He seems to care little about trying to dictate the terms of a match, and more about deducing which weapons the match requires and forever looking out for another trick.“That’s what I work on in practice, to have a lot of different weapons,” Medvedev said earlier this month as he was leading Russia to the ATP Cup, in which players compete for their countries. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the opponent is too good, sometimes you don’t play good. It depends. It’s tennis.”Medvedev’s approach has made him the player who now elicits the lusty praise of the tennis aesthetes. Jim Courier, the former world No. 1 and two-time Australian Open champion, has called Medvedev a “shape shifter” because of his talent for taking points where no one thought they would go and finding the undiscovered angle. John McEnroe, the seven-time Grand Slam champion and ESPN analyst who was a favorite among tennis snobs of a previous generation who could tolerate his temper tantrums, said Medvedev was his favorite player to watch right now.“He’s like a chess master,” McEnroe said during a recent conference call. “He just plays old school a little bit. He’s strategizing, he’s thinking ahead. These are the types of guys that we need.”Whether tennis gets them remains to be seen. So many players in the emerging generation rely so heavily on their cannon-like serves and forehands. Also, Medvedev, who does have a booming serve and the ability to blast groundstrokes when he needs to, is already 25 and has yet to win a Grand Slam title. Each year that passes without a major championship will only increase the questions about whether his creativity can prevail during repeated five-set showdowns in the biggest tournaments. (It takes seven consecutive victories to claim a Grand Slam title.)Medvedev hitting a return against Mackenzie McDonald in the fourth round.Credit…William West/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesMedvedev’s next test occurs Wednesday, when he faces Andrey Rublev, a fellow Russian, close friend and tennis alter ego, in an Australian Open quarterfinal. Rublev rarely sees a ball he does not want to pound into oblivion, or a point he does not want to end as quickly as possible.At 23, Rublev is two years younger than Medvedev and grew up playing junior tournaments against him in Russia. For a long time Rublev, seeded No. 8, and Karen Khachanov, 24, the third member of Russia’s latest golden generation, were better than Medvedev. The rise for Medvedev came in 2018 and 2019, when he nearly beat Rafael Nadal in the 2019 United States Open final.“He reads the game really well,” Rublev said of Medvedev. “It’s amazing, the patience he has to stay so long in the rallies, to not rush, to take the time, because in the end these little details, they make him who he is.”Russia is the only country with two players in the top 10. Khachanov gives it three in the top 20. Aslan Karatsev, 27, another Russian ranked No. 114, came out of nowhere to make the quarterfinals here in his first Grand Slam tournament.Medvedev comes into the quarterfinal on perhaps the best roll of his career. He has won 18 consecutive singles matches. He won the ATP Tour finals in London in November, pulling off the nifty trick of beating the world’s top three players — Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Dominic Thiem — in a single tournament. For Russia at the ATP Cup, he beat Alexander Zverev of Germany, a 2020 U.S. Open finalist, in a tight, three-set match in the semifinal round.Medvedev spent his early childhood in Moscow and played few sports other than tennis growing up. He worshiped Russia’s last golden generation, which included Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who were in their prime when he was a young child. He moved to France to train as a teenager and became fluent in English and French.Medvedev could be heard screaming at his coach, Gilles Cervara of France, in French during his third-round match against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, as he frittered away a two-set lead before recovering to win the final set, 6-0.As Krajinovic controlled the match in the third and fourth sets, Medvedev screamed at Cervara — who is prohibited from coaching during the match — to leave him alone and just let him play.It was a flash of Medvedev’s personality from a few years ago, when, as he put it, he “could go crazy” at any moment.“Sometimes that can still get out, and usually it doesn’t help me to play good,” he said.Ultimately, it’s not clear how much any guidance can really affect such an idiosyncratic player and person, someone inclined to go his own way.For instance, Medvedev has spoken with nutritionists about his diet. He is not so strikingly thin because he watches what he eats. He has the appetite of a horse and one of those metabolisms that allows him to sample all the offerings at a Viennese table and never gain a pound, which is good, because he has a major weakness for desserts. Tiramisù, pie, candy; if it is sweet, he wants it.“Many people hate me probably for this,” he said. “I know that with age it can change, so I need to be careful about this because you never know when it’s coming.”He swears he cuts back on his sugar intake during Grand Slam tournaments, but he also said he had several cakes waiting for him in his room for after the tournament.He is hoping the cakes can wait a few more days and serve as a reward for him and his unique style.“I’m 25. I am playing good tennis,” he said. “I have zero Slams.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More