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Updated: 56 min 36 sec ago

Nadal Not Surprised By Tsitsipas' SF Run

8 hours 15 min ago

Stefanos Tsitsipas has surprised thousands of fans – especially those of Roger Federer – and even himself during his run to the Australian Open semi-finals. But he hasn't shocked Rafael Nadal, whom Tsitsipas will face in tonight's final-four matchup.

Nadal, who has beaten the #NextGenATP Greek twice, saw this type of performance coming from the No. 15 player in the ATP Rankings.

“His rise? It doesn't surprise me because before the season started we predicted who was going to be in the Top 10, like we do every year, and I predicted that he would finish in the Top 10,” Nadal said.

“It's logical that the young players are improving, and they are well prepared mentally.

“There are a lot of people that can play well, lots of other young players and others not so young who are also playing very well. Tsitsipas has started the year well and is playing with confidence. He has earned his spot in the semi-finals, and it will be a difficult match.”

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The World No. 2 beat Tsitsipas in two finals last year – the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on clay and the Coupe Rogers on hard.

“I felt very close to beating him in Toronto, though the score was 6-2, 7-6,” said Tsitsipas, who's playing in his maiden Slam semi-final. “I remember coming back to the locker room and promising to myself, 'I'm going to do much better against him next time.' It felt like I understood a bit better what he was doing on the court after that match, and especially on hard court.

“It's going to be interesting. I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.”

Nadal, despite not playing a tour-level match before the season's first Slam, has won all 15 sets he's played and is into his sixth Australian Open semi-final and 30th at any Slam.

“I didn't come here thinking things would go badly. If I go out there thinking that I haven't played for four months, things won't go well for me, I'll lose. No, I'm here to compete,” Nadal said.

“Of course, if before the tournament someone had told me that I'd be where I am without having lost a single set, it would have surprised me. Maybe I am where I am because every day I've played at the level I had to to advance, every day I've improved.

“I'm not spending all day thinking about what I expect from myself; the only thing I'm expecting is that I do my best day in, day out, with the right attitude and trusting that things will go well.”

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9 hours 16 min ago

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Pouille: I Was Not Expecting This

13 hours 34 min ago
Lucas Pouille talks about his quarter-final win against Milos Raonic at the Australian Open. Video courtesy: Tennis Australia

Raonic: I Wish I Would Have Played Better

13 hours 34 min ago
Milos Raonic reflects on his Australian Open quarter-final run. Video courtesy: Tennis Australia.

SF Preview: Can Nadal Neutralise Tsitsipas' Surge?

13 hours 37 min ago

Reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas made what was his biggest breakthrough at the time last August at the Rogers Cup. The Greek defeated four Top 10 opponents en route to the final of the ATP Masters 1000 event, showing his ability to compete against the best players in the world on one of tennis’ biggest stages.

But in the championship match, Tsitsipas ran into a bulldozer in Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard dismissed the second-time ATP Tour finalist in straight sets to lift his record 33rd Masters 1000 title.

“I remember coming back to the locker room and promising to myself I'm going to do much better against him next time,” Tsitsipas said after beating Roberto Bautista Agut in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday. “It felt like I understood a bit better what he was doing on the court after that match, and especially on hard court.”

Tsitsipas will have a chance to prove what he learned, and that opportunity just happens to come in the biggest match of his life. The 20-year-old, competing in the last four of a major for the first time, confronts Nadal in the semi-finals of the year's first Grand Slam on Rod Laver Arena.

Watch Highlights Of The 2018 Toronto Final:

Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion, is not thinking about that match in Canada. In fact, he's not looking back at the pair’s first FedEx ATP Head2Head clash last year in the Barcelona final — in which the Spaniard lost just three games in a 78-minute victory — either.

“He's a player that, what happened in the past, I don't know if it’s going to have a great impact or not [on] what can happen [in the semi-finals],” Nadal said. “When you face these young players, they are in permanent improvement. He's with confidence. He won a lot of good matches. [It] will be a tough one.

“You are in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, you can't expect an easy opponent. Stefanos is one of the best players of the world. To have the chance to be in that final, I need to play my best, and that's what I am looking for.”

Nadal has been ruthless off the ground in his first tournament since the 2018 US Open semi-finals, showing no rust after four months away due to injury. In five matches, the Spaniard has hit 169 winners to just 99 unforced errors, playing aggressively without making many mistakes. He is the only man remaining who has not dropped a set.

But Tsitsipas brings an intriguing game to the court. His forehand is his strength, like Nadal. But while a player like Juan Martin del Potro is dangerous off that wing with his ability to blow opponents off the court, the Greek uses tremendous variety with his forehand to create openings in which he finishes points.

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Tsitsipas strikes his inside-out forehand with a bit of sidespin that makes the ball tail away from opponents. Tsitsipas is also comfortable hitting an inside-in forehand, which means he goes down the line from the backhand side of the court. The Greek does not fear the forecourt, either, winning 65 per cent (124/192 points) of his net points this fortnight.

In the fourth round, Tsitsipas earned his stepping-into-the-sun moment by rallying from the brink of a two-set deficit against six-time champion Roger Federer to oust the Swiss legend in four sets. Tsitsipas impressed in his Toronto run in 2018, won his maiden ATP Tour title later in the year in Stockholm and capped it off with a splendid performance in Milan to capture the Next Gen ATP Finals crown. But this was arguably the 6'4" right-hander's best performance yet, and he will look to replicate that against Nadal.

“He's a charismatic player. Good shots from both sides, good serve,” Nadal said. “It’s a good challenge for me. I hope to be ready for it. I think I am playing well.”

And the second seed has been doing just that for quite some time. While this may be Nadal’s first tournament in four months, the Spaniard is 117-15 since the start of 2017. During that time, Nadal has lost just six times against opponents ranked outside the Top 10. Two of those six losses came against Federer and Novak Djokovic.

But don't expect Tsitsipas to shy away from the moment because of that. In the past nine months, he owns a 7-7 record against Top 10 opponents and if he defeats Nadal, he will crack the Top 10 himself for the first time, which is an incredible accomplishment considering this time last year the #NextGenATP star owned just four tour-level wins.

“We know that Stefanos is one of these players that can win against everybody,” Nadal said. “It was a surprise but not a very big surprise [that he beat Federer]. I know Stefanos is ready to win against everybody.”

The question on Thursday will be, is he ready to beat Nadal in a Grand Slam semi-final?

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Pouille: 'I Had Low Expectations'

14 hours 3 min ago

The form of Lucas Pouille coming into the Australian Open was a worry. With four straight losses, the main goal was to simply survive the first match, under the guidance of his new coach, former WTA No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo.

By Wednesday evening, 10 days into the first Grand Slam championship of the year, the Frenchman was a very different prospect. A player competing with confidence, showcasing the kind of form that had taken him to a career-high No. 10 in the ATP Rankings just 10 months earlier.

“Coming here the goal was not, ‘Okay, let's try to be second week or quarter-final,’” said Pouille, after his four-set win over Milos Raonic. “It was really to take it step-by-step and try to focus on my game, what I needed to do on the court and try to [replicate] what I worked so much during the pre-season.

“I had low expectations, for sure. I think if I asked someone, ‘What did you think I would do in this Australian Open?’ I'm not sure someone would have said semi-final or maybe more. There was some low expectation from outside of my team, even from myself. I was not expecting to do semis or quarters. I just wanted to take it step-by-step. The first goal of the tournament was to win the first match, and so on.”

The trigger for the turnaround in fortunes came against Alexei Popyrin in the Australian Open third round, a gritty five-set dual that Pouille won 7-6(3), 6-3. 6-7(10), 4-6, 6-3. “The five-set match against Popyrin gave me a lot of confidence,” he admitted on Wednesday. “I needed this kind of tough battle to bring my confidence back.” The 24-year-old then followed it up with wins over No. 11 seed Borna Coric and No. 16 seed Raonic for a place in the semi-finals.

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Last month Mauresmo, who coached former World No. 1 Andy Murray for two years until May 2016, came on board and Pouille immediately got to work. Pouille had split up his former coach, Emmanuel Planque, following a season that saw him drop to No. 32.

“I think she's bringing a lot of confidence to my game, to my personality, to my state of mind,” said Pouille. “The goal is to improve my tennis, to put what I work on during practice into the match. That gives me less pressure. I'm just trying to focus on my game, not on the consequences and the results.

“I think she’s just a great, great coach. [She is] really motivated. She's focused on every single ball during the practice. At the same time there is a cool atmosphere. We're not too serious when we were on the bench. We can laugh. We can make jokes. Once we go and hit the balls, we are really into it. That's good to have the good balance.”

Pouille, who had reached quarter-finals at Wimbledon and at the US Open in 2016, will now challenge World No. 1 and six-time former champion Novak Djokovic on Friday in Melbourne.

It’s quite the transformation for a player who experienced motivation issues last year. “I lost that joy being on the court, lost the joy going to practice, practice hard," said Pouille. "For some reason, I don't know really know why it happened, it did. Then you lose one match, two matches, three matches, then you lose confidence. It's tough to come back when you don't enjoy it.

“I took some time to think about myself, about my career, about what I wanted to do. I said, ‘Okay, you have maybe 10 more years on tour. Do you want to spend them like this or do you want to enjoy it? To enjoy playing on the biggest courts of the world in front of some unbelievable crowds, achieve some great goals, great titles.’”

“I said, ‘Okay, now you have to move your ass a little bit and go back to it. Even if you don't want to practice one day, don't do it. Just do it when you want.’ That's how I came back.”

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Djokovic: 'I Always Try To Push Myself Here'

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 10:40pm

Twelve months ago after a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open, when he nursed an elbow injury, Novak Djokovic was searching for his game and motivation. Today, the Serbian sits atop the ATP Rankings and is fully focused on the job at hand: to win a record seventh title in Melbourne.

“It feels great,” said Djokovic, who advanced to the semi-finals on Wednesday. “This has been my most successful Grand Slam throughout my career, the first one that I won back in 2008. The past two years have been a bit tough with the elbow injury and everything, but over the past 10 years, I've had plenty of success here. Obviously, that has helped to kick-start the season in a great fashion [and], obviously, served as a great confidence boost for what was coming up after that.

“I think that's one of the reasons why I think I always try to push myself really, to focus here and to play as best as I can so I can really start off the season well. Obviously, I'm not the only one. Everyone tries to get their hands on one of the four biggest titles in the sport. But Australia has been really kind to me throughout my career.”

Six of his 14 Grand Slam championship trophies have come in Melbourne, where he has a 66-8 match record.

By going back to basics, Djokovic went on a tear midway through 2018, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and becoming the first player in ATP Masters 1000 history to complete the Career Golden Masters of all nine tournaments.

When asked to reflect on the past 12 months, the 31-year-old said, “I think it always has to start or go back to the very essence of why I play the sport: it's love and passion for the game. I think I had to really I think dig deep to kind of inspire myself even more after an injury and surgery.

“I did not plan to end my career, but different thoughts were going through my mind, without a doubt [during] that period. Having achieved a lot throughout my career, obviously puts things in a different perspective. At the same time I still enjoy playing tennis, competing of course as well. Just for the sake of holding the racquet in my hands and playing on any court, whether it's a public court or a Grand Slam court.

“I think that kind of pure emotion got me going. Of course, support of loved ones is essential.”

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On Friday, Djokovic will challenge Lucas Pouille, the seventh Frenchman in the Open Era (since April 1968) to reach the Australian Open semi-finals. The pair will play for the first time.

“I always thought he's a great quality player. I mean, what he has done this tournament is fantastic. He has won against some top players. Of course Milos [Raonic] and [Borna] Coric. He struggled a little bit with consistency of his results in the past two years.

“But with the quality of the tennis that he possesses, he deserves to be definitely Top 15, maybe Top 10 in the world. He's got that quality and potential, no question about it.

“It's funny that we're going to play first time against each other. We've practised many times. We've known each other obviously for a long time… We both, I'm sure, want to get to the finals. Hopefully we can both be fresh and fit and put on the great show.”

Raonic Disappointed By Lack Of Firepower

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 9:20pm

Milos Raonic was riding on the crest of a wave – his game, seemingly, back at its dominant best. The Canadian had won 94 per cent of his service games in four matches, he’d faced just five break points and struck 107 aces at this year’s Australian Open. But Lucas Pouille stopped his surge on Wednesday for a place in his first Grand Slam championship semi-final.

Raonic was clearly disappointed to make a last-eight exit at Melbourne Park for the third time (also 2015 and 2017), admitting, “I felt at the beginning of the match I was tossing the ball a little bit too far forward. It was not helping my serving percentage.

“I knew he was going to make things difficult. I wish I would have just served better and cleaned up some aspects of my game where I felt like I was just a little bit behind.”

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The 28-year-old, who reached the Wimbledon final in July 2016, went on to offer some advice to Pouille as the Frenchman prepared to face World No. 1 and six-time former champion Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.

“Not to expect that he needs to do too much more, and just to play within himself,” said Raonic. “I think that's the biggest thing. It's not so much only the opponent you're facing, but it's also the situation, which is a completely new one for him.

“I think he has to stay true to himself, try to do the things he does well, really focus on that aspect more than anything else.”

Raonic will now leave Melbourne to access a right knee that hindered his time on-court in 2018. “There is damage inside my knee that I'm aware," he said. "I'm trying to avoid potentially having to have surgery on. I don't know if I can afford that risk at this moment.”

The Canadian is next scheduled to compete at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, which begins on 11 February.

Djokovic To Play Pouille In Australian Open Semi-finals

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 6:51pm

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic booked his place in the Australian Open for the seventh time on Wednesday night when Kei Nishikori retired due to injury in the second set.

Djokovic, a six-time former champion at Melbourne Park, was leading 6-1, 4-1 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.”

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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 FedEx ATP Head2Head 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. [So] I decided to stop.”

It brings to an end Nishikori’s eight-match winning streak in 2019. The 29-year-old captured his 12th ATP Tour title at the Brisbane International (d. Medvedev) in the first week of the season.

The 31-year-old Djokovic will remain at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings when the new lists are published on 28 January.

Djokovic: 'Australia Has Been Really Kind To Me'

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 6:17pm
No. 1 Novak Djokovic talks about how he's been so successful at the Australian Open. Video: Tennis Australia

Nishikori Reflects On Australian Open QF Run 2019

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 6:17pm
Kei Nishikori talks about reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals. Video: Tennis Australia.

Determined Pouille Fights Into Australian Open Semi-finals

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 5:45pm

Lucas Pouille, playing some of the best tennis of his career, booked a place in his first Grand Slam championship semi-final on Wednesday evening at the Australian Open.

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 Milos Raonic 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-4 in three hours and two minutes.

“I didn't have to face a break point for almost three hours,” said Pouille. “Even if I lost the third set, in my mind it was clear I had to stay focused on my service game, taking care of that, then trying to put as many returns as I can. In the third set I had some break points. He always saved it really well with a good serve, good points. Then he played a good tie-break.

“Here we are. It's a fourth set. I'm still leading two sets to one, so I don't have to panic. I really needed to stay positive, still doing what I did great for two hours [and] 30 minutes.”

Pouille had never won a match at Melbourne Park and had made only two major championship quarter-finals (2016 Wimbledon, US Open) before this month. But on Friday, he'll face World No. 1 and six-time former champion Novak Djokovic, who defeated eighth seed Kei Nishikori, for a place in the final at Melbourne Park.

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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 match, 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, 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, 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.

“I wish maybe I would have played better,” said Raonic, when asked what he would have done differently. “That's the only thing. But I saw the way he's been playing this week. The past few matches, he's been playing extremely well. I knew he was going to make things difficult. I wish I would have just served better and cleaned up some aspects of my game where I felt like I was just a little bit behind.

“A few times he did surprise me. But then, no, when I sort of had the chance to look back at it, I don't think I put in a high first-serve percentage today relative to the other days. I just didn't take care of the things I needed to take care of.”

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Herbert/Mahut End Bryans' Run In Melbourne

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 1:53pm

Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Nicolas Mahut reached their second Australian Open semi-final on Wednesday, ending Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan's quest for a 17th Grand Slam title as a team.

Herbert/Mahut fell down a break in the second set, and the Bryans served to level the quarter-final. But Herbert/Mahut broke back in the ninth game and pulled away in the tie-break to advance 6-4, 7-6(3).

The Bryans were playing their first Slam together since last year's Australian Open, since Bob missed the final six and half months of the 2018 season because of a right hip injury that required surgery.

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Herbert/Mahut made the 2015 final but lost to Italians Simone Bolelli/Fabio Fognini. The Frenchmen will next meet Americans Ryan Harrison/Sam Querrey, who upset seventh seeds Lukasz Kubot/Horacio Zeballos 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.

On the top half of the draw, 2017 Australian Open champions Henri Kontinen/John Peers won 88 per cent of their first-serve points (29/33) and knocked out third seeds Jamie Murray/Bruno Soares 6-3, 6-4.

The 12th seeds will play Leonardo Mayer/Joao Sousa for a chance to return to the final. Mayer/Sousa beat sixth seeds Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus on Tuesday.

Nadal Strikes First, Asks Questions Later

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 1:13pm

The rampaging Spanish bull has reinvented his game Down Under.

The Rafael Nadal who stormed into the 2019 Australian Open semi-finals without dropping a set is cleverly crafting a sizable advantage in the first four shots of the rally much more than we have ever seen before from Nadal.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis comparing the Spaniard Down Under in 2017, where he lost in a thrilling five-set Australian Open final to Roger Federer, to his first five matches in Melbourne this year, identify two vastly different game styles.

The 2017 Rafa had the consistent, grinding “Spanish Method” stamped all over it. His first five matches this year remarkably have seen him play fewer long rallies than the tournament average. Nadal is striking first this year, and asking questions later.

The following comparison identifies how he is constructing many more points in shorter rallies than longer ones compared to 2017.

Rafael Nadal 2017 & 2019 Australian Opens / 2019 Australian Open Tournament Average

Rally Length

2017 Australian Open

2019 Australian Open (First five matches)

2019 Australian Open Tournament Average

0-4 Shots

62%

71%

71%

5-8 Shots

23%

21%

19%

9+ Shots

14%

8%

10%

The percentage shift from 2017 to 2019 is astonishing. The nine percentage-point uptick in shorter points, from 62 per cent to 71 per cent, shows a willingness to fully embrace an aggressive hard-court strategy – not just try and modify his successful clay-court style.

He has almost slashed in half the amount of long rallies he is playing, reducing them from 14 per cent to eight per cent. Why win the point in 13 shots when you can win it in three?

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In his first two rounds against James Duckworth and Matthew Ebden, Nadal won a total of 200 points, with only 10 of them (5% total points won) coming in the nine-plus rally length. His average rally length to the semi-finals has been just 3.7 shots, which is slightly shorter than his semi-final opponent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is averaging 3.73 shots.

Competitive Advantage
Nadal is playing more shorter points, and correspondingly, carving out a much bigger advantage in points won and lost in the zero-to-four shot rally length. It’s one thing to just play a lot of shorter points, but Nadal is actually thriving against his opponents in shorter points, winning almost 100 more points than he has lost (344 won - 249 lost = +95) in the zero-to-four shot rally length.

Points Won / Lost At Each Rally Length vs Opponent

Rally Length

2017 Australian Open

2019 Australian Open (First five matches)

0-4 Shots

+52

+95

5-8 Shots

+24

+30

9+ Shots

+39

+14

The added advantage of a more urgent game style for the Spaniard is that a “first strike” strategy provides less wear and tear on his body. To the semi-final, the Spaniard had played only 70 points in the nine-plus shot rally length, while Tsitsipas has played 120.

Rafa is back to peak form, and will arrive fresher into the semi-final courtesy of his upgraded hard-court strategy. A fresh bull is always more dangerous than a wounded one.

Can Nishikori Stop Djokovic's Pursuit Of History?

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 6:09am

After Novak Djokovic completed a grueling four-set win in the fourth round of the Australian Open in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Serbian stepped back on the court to speak with former World No. 1 and on-court interviewer Jim Courier. The American asked how Djokovic was holding up after a physical battle against Daniil Medvedev.

“Since I guess my next opponent is watching, I’m feeling fantastic. I’ve never felt fresher in my life,” he said.

Djokovic was joking. But he’ll certainly hope he feels fresh, because another tough test looms in the quarter-finals. The top seed faces Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori, who triumphed in a fifth-set tie-break in the fourth round, on Wednesday with a spot in the last four on the line.

“Kei won another marathon match. Congratulations to him for fighting back from two-sets-to-love down and a break down,” Djokovic said. “He's a fighter. He's a very talented player. One of the quickest players on the Tour. I have lots of respect for him.”

Nishikori’s victory against Pablo Carreno Busta was not his first marathon at Melbourne Park this year. The eighth seed rallied from two sets down in the opening round, and then outlasted 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic in a fifth-set tie-break in the second round. Time and time again Nishikori has been tested this fortnight, but despite spending 13 hours and 47 minutes on court — that total leads the four players in the top half of the draw and is three hours and 22 minutes more than second seed Rafael Nadal has spent in action advancing to the semi-finals — he has kept on winning, and that’s what counts.

“I'm really glad how I came back,” Nishikori said after overcoming a 5/8 deficit in his final-set tie-break against Carreno Busta. “I don't even know how I come back, but [I’m] very happy to win.”

Another obstacle he’ll have to overcome is what has been a lopsided FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Djokovic. The six-time Australian Open champion, who is trying to separate himself from Roger Federer and Roy Emerson by winning a record seventh trophy at the tournament, has won 15 of their 17 clashes, including 14 in a row.

“Every year is different, so every match that you play against each other is different, so I expect him obviously to come out, to try something new,” Djokovic said. “I have beaten him many times that we played against each other in the past couple of years and we played on different surfaces. [There were] a couple of very close matches. I expect a tough one.”

The winner of that battle will face either former World No. 3 Milos Raonic or 28th seed Lucas Pouille. While Raonic advanced to the semi-finals in Melbourne just three years ago, Pouille had not won a match at the season’s first Grand Slam before this edition of the event.

“We worked very hard during the pre-season and during the beginning of the year, so I think that, as we say, hard work pays off,” Pouille said. “The tournament is not over, but I'm very happy to be here now and I'm going to be focused on the next match tomorrow to try to reach my first semi-final. It will be great.”

Perhaps nobody has faced a more difficult road to this stage of the tournament than Raonic. In the first round, he had to play talented Aussie Nick Kyrgios, and then 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round. The Canadian ousted reigning Nitto ATP Finals titlist Alexander Zverev in the fourth round to set his match against Pouille.

“It's not fun necessarily before the tournament starts to look at it and say, ‘hey, you play Nick to most likely play Stan in the first two rounds.’ You're sort of hoping for a bit more time to really work your way into things,” Raonic said. “But then on the other end of it I dealt with those challenges really well. Right now I'm here playing some extremely good tennis, I believe. Hopefully I can make that count.”

Pouille will face a challenge in trying to work his way into Raonic’s service games. The 16th seed Raonic has won 94 per cent of them in his first four matches, facing just five break points in the tournament. He also is the tournament’s co-leader (w/Opelka) in aces with 107. Raonic has won their three previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings without dropping a set, and losing serve just once in seven sets.

Pouille arrived in Melbourne having lost five of his past six matches.. But with new coach Amelie Mauresmo by his side, he is set to compete in his third major quarter-final.

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Nadal: 'It's Special To Be Back Where I Am'

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 3:32am
Rafael Nadal discusses his quarter-final win at the Australian Open against Frances Tiafoe and reflects on the status of his comeback in his first tournament since the 2018 US Open. Video courtesy of Tennis Australia.

Tiafoe: 'I Didn't Know This Was Going To Happen'

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 3:04am
Frances Tiafoe reflects on his dream run to the Australian Open quarter-finals, what it was like to play Rafael Nadal on Rod Laver Arena, and more. Video courtesy of Tennis Australia.

The #NextGenATP Is On The Rise At The Australian Open

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 1:58am
ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot takes a look at the impressive success of many #NextGenATP stars at the 2019 Australian Open.

From Milan To Melbourne, The #NextGenATP Is Shining

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 1:23am

Stefanos Tsitsipas accomplished plenty of personal history on Tuesday when he became the first Greek man to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam at the Australian Open. It’s a tremendous result for the 20-year-old, who had never previously advanced past the fourth round of a major.

But Tsitsipas’ effort is also a sign of an interesting pattern that has formed. Last year, he won the Next Gen ATP Finals, and two months later he is into the last four of the Australian Open. In 2017, Hyeon Chung claimed the inaugural title at the prestigious 21-and-under event in Milan. And in 2018, the South Korean reached the semi-finals in Melbourne.

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So has the Next Gen ATP Finals served as a springboard heading into the new season? It certainly seems that way. And while Tsitsipas and Chung have stood out, they haven’t been the only ones to enjoy immediate success. At this year’s Australian Open, eight of the 14 automatic qualifiers from the first two editions of the Next Gen ATP Finals advanced to the third round or better at Melbourne Park.

#NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe, who turned 21 on Sunday, when he defeated 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov, advanced to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time. He had only made the third round of a major once before.

“Rafa and these cats ain't getting any younger, you know what I'm saying?” Tiafoe said. “We're playing good, playing good. Put us in the right situation at the right time, we'll take it. Granted, I didn't tonight, but it's coming.”

When the new ATP Rankings are released on 28 January, seven players in the Top 30 will have competed in the Next Gen ATP Finals. Tsitsipas, who can crack the Top 10 for the first time by advancing to the championship match, played Tuesday’s first quarter-final, so he did not yet know if he would face 2009 champion Rafael Nadal or Tiafoe in the last four. While Nadal advanced, Tsitsipas was excited at the prospects of an all-#NextGenATP semi-final.

“[He’s a] good Next Gen player. Funny guy, as well. Nice to have guys like him on the Tour, entertaining, just a different personality. I do respect Tiafoe as well. We played a good match in Milan a few months ago at the Next Gen ATP Finals. It was a good show,” Tsitsipas said. “If Tiafoe wins, I think it will be nice also for the NextGen campaign to have a semi-final of two Next Gen players face one another in such an important tournament.”

Not only that, but the #NextGenATP has earned plenty of respect from the very best players in the sport. Nadal may have beaten Tsitsipas in two finals in 2018, but he knows he must be at his best to defeat the Greek in the next round.

“I know they are good,” Nadal said after beating Tiafoe. “I know they will be fighting for the most important things during the next couple of years.”

Tsitsipas, like Chung last year, has shown he is ready to compete for the biggest titles now. And he’ll look to move one step closer to Melbourne glory when he faces Nadal in the semi-finals.

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Checking In With The Stars At The 2019 Australian Open

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 12:26am
ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot catches up with some of the best players on the ATP Tour at the Australian Open to gauge their thoughts on their outlook at the year's first Grand Slam. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images.