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  • How Djokovic 'Turns Into A Student' Around Stars Like Kobe Bryant & Cristiano Ronaldo

    Tennis players often speak about the other players — current and former — they learn from and how those lessons impact their own games and careers. But it’s not every day that a superstar from another sport enters the conversation.

    Seven-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic revealed on Saturday during an off-day interview with ESPN that he has learned a lot from retired basketball legend Kobe Bryant, especially when the Serbian fell outside the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings two years ago while he was dealing with an elbow injury.

    “Kobe has been one of my mentors,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had several phone conversations with him and also of course when we see each other live in the past couple of years. When I was going through the injury with my elbow and struggling to mentally and emotionally handle all of these different things that were happening to me and dropping in the Rankings and then having to work my way up, he was one of the people who was really there for me to give me some very valuable advice and guidelines to kind of believe and trust in myself, trust the process that I’ll be back.

    “I’m very grateful to him for being there for me, for being very supportive. I love Kobe, who doesn’t? He’s an amazing guy and one of the best basketball players and athletes of all-time.”

    Almost forgot. Me and Djokovic right before team mtg pre game! #differentanimalsamebeast pic.twitter.com/cLW6sMsZBG

    — Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 4, 2013

    Bryant visited the US Open last year, and at the time, in his own interview with ESPN, he reflected on one specific conversation he had with Djokovic about overcoming hurdles such as an injury and adjusting to the games of rising stars while getting older.

    “He was going through a process of, ‘Physically, I’m not where I used to be. How did you adjust and change your game?’” Bryant recalled. “We talked about it for a while and having the acceptance of an athlete to say, ‘I’m not what I used to be.’

    “Novak’s my guy. We have a relationship. We’ve had a relationship for a long time.”

    [ATP APP]

    Djokovic posted a video in December of himself training in a gym with football star Cristiano Ronaldo. Both men were leaping up in an attempt to touch their head to a piece of string as if they were going up for a header.

    “He was basically teaching me how to jump. He is considered as one of the greatest football, soccer players of all-time, obviously. What I love about that guy is his work ethic and his constant need to improve. He’s such a professional,” Djokovic said. “He’s got at home all these recovery devices and things. He’s always trying to find a way how to be best in the world and make a huge mark not just in his sport, but all sports. He’s a beast, he’s an unbelievable athlete. We trained together that day, and it was a great experience.”

    Ronaldo x Djokovic 😍

    This is some serious content 🀣 πŸ‘

    πŸŽ₯: @Cristiano | @DjokerNole pic.twitter.com/yP63nW5roK

    — ATP Tour (@atptour) December 27, 2019

    [MY POINT]

    Djokovic takes all of these interactions very seriously, seeing an opportunity to not just spend time with some of the best athletes in the world, but to also learn from them as he tries to improve his game.

    “To be surrounded with the people like Kobe and Cristiano is obviously a huge pleasure and honour for me. When I’m next to them, I turn into a student. I try to have my ears wide open and listen to what they have to say and ask questions,” Djokovic said. “I’m not afraid to ask questions and they are not as well. I think that’s a great way of exchanging some experiences and things that maybe you could use in your sport, in your life, in your career. It’s just amazing to share those life stories with them.”

    Djokovic faces No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday.



  • Sunday Preview: Federer Tries To Bounce Back; Djokovic Faces Schwartzman

    Roger Federer was just two points from defeat in his third-round match at the Australian Open against John Millman in the early hours of Saturday morning. But the 20-time Grand Slam champion survived in a fifth-set tie-break, and now he’ll have a chance to continue his pursuit of a third title in Melbourne in four years.

    The 38-year-old Swiss will next play Hungarian Marton Fucsovics for a spot in the quarter-finals. Fucsovics has never advanced past the fourth round of a major, and Federer leads their ATP Head2Head series 2-0.

    “The goal for me was really trying to be focussed on my own game and take it to him and play tough,” said Federer after beating Fucsovics 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-2 in the fourth round of the 2018 Australian Open. “But he hung with me for a long time. So it was a good match.”

    Federer has now made the Round of 16 at Melbourne Park 18 times in his past 19 appearances, advancing to at least the semi-finals 14 times during that span. But the six-time champ certainly got a scare from Millman, who led Federer 8/4 in the fifth-set match tie-break.

    “It was crazy, fun, and I couldn't be more happy, of course,” Federer said. “Big relief.”

    Most Grand Slam Round Of 16 Appearances

     1. Roger Federer  67
     2. Novak Djokovic  50
     3. Rafael Nadal  47
     4. Jimmy Connors  43
     T5. Andre Agassi  42
     T5. Ivan Lendl  42

    World No. 2 Novak Djokovic did not face such difficulties in his third-round match, ousting the speedy Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka with the loss of only seven games. But he will have to raise his level against No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman, who has not lost a set. The Argentine has won all but one of those sets by a margin of 6-4 or greater.

    Djokovic has won all three of his previous battles against Schwartzman, but their two most recent meetings have gone to a deciding set. The Argentine may stand 5’7”, but he will try to be the aggressor and step into the court against the elastic Serbian, who has played some of his best tennis at Melbourne Park.

    What’s scary for the field is that Djokovic is serving lights-out at this year’s Australian Open. Through three rounds, he has hit 47 aces and won 86.8 per cent of his first-serve points.

    “I ended up this tournament last year with two fantastic performances against Pouille in the semis and Rafa in the finals. Those were some of the best performances I ever had in the Grand Slam semis and finals,” Djokovic said. “I love playing on [this] court. I like the conditions. I'm starting to feel very, very comfortable and compact on the court. I'm going to try to keep that going.”

    Djokovic's Serving In Melbourne Through Three Matches - 2019 vs. 2020

     Category  2019  2020
     Aces  23  47
     Double Faults  7  10
     First-Serve Percentage  67.8% (164/242)  69.7% (152/218)
     First-Serve Points Won  77.4% (127/164)  86.8% (132/152)
     Second-Serve Points Won  64.1% (50/78)  56.1% (37/66)
     Break Points Saved  6/12  2/6

    There will also be an intriguing battle between two former World No. 3s. No. 32 seed Milos Raonic will play unseeded Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion.

    “[Against] Marin, it's going to be tough. He's won two very good matches, past two and even the first one he won comfortably against a guy who played [in the Doha] final, who I lost to in the first tournament of the year,” Raonic said. “So I'm going to have to focus on my things. I think we're both going to be trying to move the other guy around, be the one dictating. It's going to be important for me to get ahead early in the points, take care of my serve, and be the aggressor.”

    Cilic has won two of the pair’s three clashes, but they have played just once since 2013. Perhaps surprisingly only one of their seven sets has gone to a tie-break.

    Although both players will try to be aggressive, it will be interesting to follow the ways in which they do. Raonic likes to work his way into the net, while Cilic prefers to build the point from the baseline. However, the Croat is coming off a grueling five-setter against the always-tough Roberto Bautista Agut, and Raonic will be fresher after upsetting reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets.

    “I think I will be okay for the next match, absolutely. Another great thing to it was today was nice weather to play. And then also in the Melbourne Arena it’s not too hot in there,” Cilic said after his victory. “So I'll be okay. We were lucky with the weather there. We didn't get too [many] crazy hot days. It was definitely easier to play with that.”

    Marin Cilic beats Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets at the Australian Open on Friday.

    The final fourth-round match on the top half of the draw pits No. 12 seed Fabio Fognini, the Melbourne marathon man, against 2018 quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren in a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon third round, won by Sandgren in straight sets.

    Fognini has followed an adventurous route to the second week of the season’s first Grand Slam, needing five sets to beat big-serving Reilly Opelka and home favourite Jordan Thompson. After a far less dramatic third-round victory against No. 22 seed Guido Pella, the Italian No. 2 will now try to exact revenge against the American, who is trying to make his second major quarter-final.

    This matchup promises to be a baseline duel, with the offensive-minded Fognini looking to spray the ball around the court against World No. 100, who enjoys crafting points defensively. Sandgren already earned one big upset this fortnight against No. 8 seed Matteo Berrettini, Fognini’s countryman.

    “You gear your schedule to peak in these weeks,” Sandgren said after eliminating Berrettini. “I’m getting better at that as I get older. Maybe I’m just getting older and wiser.”



  • Kyrgios Survives Khachanov Thriller, Sets Nadal Showdown

    Nick Kyrgios survived a five-set thriller to beat Karen Khachanov 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-7(7), 7-6(10-8) and book a blockbuster Round of 16 clash against World No. 1 Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open on Saturday night.

    “That's definitely one of the best wins of my career, I think," said Kyrgios.

    The 24-year-old advanced to the fourth round in Melbourne for the third time, landing 97 winners en route to victory. The six-time ATP Tour titlist failed to convert match points in both the third and fourth-set tie-breaks, but maintained his composure to advance after four hours and 26 minutes. Competing in his 20th match at the opening Grand Slam of the year (14-6), Kyrgios levelled his ATP Head2Head series against Khachanov at 1-1.

    "That was definitely one of the craziest matches I've ever been a part of. It was insane," said Kyrgios. "Had a match point in the third, a match point in the fourth. Then 8/7 down, I had all the thoughts. I thought I was going to lose. I was thinking about everything... It was crazy.”

    Nick Kyrgios celebrates his five-set win over Karen Khachanov.

    Kyrgios will attempt to reach 4-4 in his ATP Head2Head series against Nadal on Monday. The World No. 26 owns two wins from three matches on hard courts against the 19-time Grand Slam champion, including a final-set tie-break victory en route to the Acapulco title last year.

    β€œI'm super excited, honestly. Playing one of the greatest tennis players on centre court at your own Slam, it's pretty damn cool,” said Kyrgios. β€œI've got a lot of time between now and then. Obviously, it's going to be another physical battle. Nothing comes easy with him. He had a relatively routine match today, so he's going to be feeling good. I'm looking forward to it. That's why you play.”

    In front of a packed crowd on Saturday night at Melbourne Arena, Kyrgios mixed topspin forehands and flat backhand strokes to great effect. The highest-ranked Australian in the draw took advantage of groundstroke errors from his opponent to claim the opening set after 34 minutes.

    A tie-break was required to decide the outcome of the second set, with both players unable to convert the only break-point chance they created. Kyrgios kept his composure, using great feel to shorten points while picking the right moments to increase the speed of his groundstrokes. The Aussie claimed a two-set lead with a powerful serve up the T.

    Kyrgios was handed the first break of the third set at 2-2, as Khachanov committed two double faults and made groundstroke errors. But the Russian fought back to level the set at 4-4, landing pinpoint returns as Kyrgios attempted to shorten points. After saving match point with a powerful serve at 5/6 in the tie-break, Khachanov forced a fourth set as Kyrgios misfired with a cross court forehand.

    Karen Khachanov is the 16th seed at this year's Australian Open.

    Kyrgios entertained the crowd in the fourth set, diving across the court and moving to the net to win rallies with great variety. But Khachanov matched the Aussie to reach a third tie-break, dropping just five points behind his serve. The 6’6” right-hander moved up the court to take time away from his opponent, saving a second match point before taking the match to a decider following success in an extended backhand rally.

    Neither player manufactured a break-point opportunity in the deciding set, with the match requiring a 10-point tie-break to decide the winner. Kyrgios claimed an immediate mini-break, snapping Khachanov’s run of 19 consecutive points on serve to gain a 3/0 lead. But Khachanov soon ended his opponent’s own serving streak of 12 points to get level the score. Trailing a mini-break at 7/8, Kyrgios won three straight points to claim the win.

    The match came down to three backhands. Kyrgios took a chance and found the corner to level for 8/8, before Khachanov missed the mark on consecutive points. The Aussie collapsed to the court in celebration after securing the win, soaking in the cheers from all corners of Melbourne Arena.

    [ATP APP]

    β€œI think the crowd is awesome,” said Kyrgios. β€œThey get a bit rowdy in there. Adding tonight's experience on that court, I've had such good memories in there. I love playing there. I don't know, I just feel at home.”

    Khachanov was aiming to reach the Round of 16 at Melbourne Park for the first time. The 23-year-old, who fell at the same stage last year (l. to Bautista Agut), drops to 6-3 this year. Khachanov opened the 2020 ATP Tour season with four wins from five matches, as Team Russia reached the semi-finals at the inaugural ATP Cup.

    β€œ[Karen is] not given enough credit," said Kyrgios. "He played like four hours [and] something in his previous match. To come back out and put on a performance like that, I thought the level at the end was crazy.”



  • Medvedev Russian Into Second Week

    Fourth-seeded Russian Daniil Medvedev is through to the Australian Open fourth round for a second consecutive year after a routine 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over ailing Australian Alexei Popyrin Saturday night.

    Popyrin, who was hampered by a left thigh injury, never got into the match against last year’s US Open finalist, and made more than double the number of unforced errors (44 to 19).

    “I am happy to win it in straight sets,” Medvedev said on court. “I have good memories from last year, which was my first time in the second week of a Grand Slam and hopefully I can make it even further this year. I just try to win as many matches as I can; hopefully I can win seven here.”

    [LISTEN AO]

    Next up for Medvedev is a clash with veteran Stan Wawrinka, who advanced to the second week when John Isner retired with a left foot injury with the Swiss leading 6-4, 4-1.

    Wawrinka said, “You never want your opponent to pull out. I was playing well again today. I was really happy the way I was moving, the way I was playing. That's very positive.

    “It's great to be back in the second week, that's for sure. Feeling way better. Positive to have a good practice tomorrow and to be ready for the next one.

    Medvedev took the opportunity to hone one area of his game which may still need a little sharpening: his volleys. He won 15 of 16 of his net approaches, including one on match point.

    Looking ahead to his meeting with Wawrinka, Medvedev said, “It’s a very tough opponent for the fourth round. He’s won three majors and has gone deep a lot of times. It’s never going to be an easy match against Stan and I will have to show my best game to have a chance.”

    [ATP APP]



  • 'Happy' Zverev To Face Unbeaten Rublev For QF Spot

    Germany's Alexander Zverev started the season disheveled. He was 0-3 at the inaugural ATP Cup in Brisbane and harboured little confidence. But you wouldn't know by how he finished the first week of the Australian Open on Saturday night.

    The 22-year-old routed Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to make the second week Down Under in back-to-back appearances. Zverev hit 34 winners to 22 unforced errors and quickly recovered anytime the 2009 semi-finalist grabbed momentum.

    Verdasco broke for a 4-2 lead in the third set as the Margaret Court Arena crowd backed the underdog. But Zverev broke twice more to finish in straight sets.

    The seventh seed was taking it to Verdasco, charging forward and showing no signs of nerves. For the second consecutive match, Zverev hit zero double faults. Last year, the German was plagued by service yips and averaged 5.9 double faults a match, second on Tour to only France's Benoit Paire.

    It's so far been a good week for me. As I said, it's going to be a process in every match. It has been getting better. Today was the best match I think I've played so far. I'm happy to be through in straight sets against someone we know can play well on these courts, can beat anybody,” Zverev said.

    The two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist has pledged all of his prize money to bushfire relief efforts if he wins his first major championship title this fortnight. Zverev said he feels as if he's playing for others this week, and he's enjoying himself.

    [MY POINT]

    I'm happy outside the court, happy on the court, happy in life. Then I think you play your best,” Zverev said. “I have a pretty calm life right now, which is nice for me. I have all the people that are supporting me, all the people that do their jobs here with me.”

    He will next face 17th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev, who improved to 11-0 in 2020 with a 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, 7-6(4) win against 11th seed David Goffin of Belgium.

    [ATP HERITAGE]

    During the first two weeks of the season, Rublev won ATP Tour titles in Doha and Adelaide. Zverev leads their ATP Head2Head series 3-0 and has won all six sets they've played.

    “Eleven matches in a row to start the year. I hope I can break that winning streak. But he's been playing amazing, winning both titles back-to-back, making the fourth round here, beating quality players. It's amazing to see him doing the things that he does because I've [been] friends with him since we were 10 years old,” Zverev said.

    “He's one of the most hard-hitting players on Tour. Out of every position, he can hit a winner. He improved a lot. I think he improved his serve a lot. He improved his movement a lot, as well.”



  • Rublev Upsets Goffin, Extends Winning Streak

    Fast-rising Russian Andrey Rublev rallied from a set and a break down to upset 11th seed David Goffin and reach the fourth round of the Australian Open, his second consecutive appearance in the second week of a major.

    Champion in Doha and Adelaide in the first two weeks of the season, Rublev extended his winning streak with a 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, 7-6(5) win over the Belgian.

    Goffin looked destined for an early afternoon leading 6-2, 3-1, stepping in to take the ball early but also hitting heavy himself when deeper behind the baseline. Surprisingly, the match didn’t turn on Rublev’s ability to hit more winners; he actually hit two fewer (42 to 44).

    [ATP APP]

    Perhaps feeling pressure to take the fight to Rublev by being more aggressive from the baseline, Goffin made 27 unforced errors to Rublev's 13 in the final two sets.

    Rublev attributed his comeback win to more than just his hot form. “Everything is great with the confidence, but sometimes it's not about confidence. Today I wasn’t serving as well as I did in the second round and it became more about the mental side. How you accept this, how you still be positive instead of being negative. Mental is the main important thing in tennis.

    "I was giving him so many free points on his serve in the first two sets. Then I say to myself, 'Okay, if the day is like this, this is what I have today, this is how he is today, looks like he's much better than me today'.

    "[I told myself] I can't accept this, don't show emotions, try to keep fighting, try to be positive just to see if in an important moment somehow I will get lucky and have one breakpoint or something like that."

    At a career-high No. 16 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Rublev improved to 11-0 on the season and 15-0 dating back to the first of four match wins in last year’s Davis Cup Finals. Including his home title run in Moscow last October, the 22-year-old has won three of his past five tournaments.

    Rublev, who reached the fourth round of the US Open last year and the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows in 2017, next meets 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev, who beat Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. Zvere has beaten Rublev all three times they've played.



  • Second Seeds Kubot/Melo Stunned In Second Round Of Australian Open

    Santiago Gonzalez and Ken Skupski played just one tournament together before arriving in Melbourne. But the Mexican-Briton duo has certainly made its mark on the Australian Open.

    Gonzalez and Skupski stunned No. 2 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo 7-5, 7-6(4) on Saturday to reach the third round after one hour and 35 minutes. They were not broken in the match, putting 84 per cent of their first serves in play to put pressure on the favourites.

    Gonzalez and Skupski lost in the first round of their team debut at last week's ASB Classic. They will now face No. 16 seeds Austin Krajicek and Franko Skugor, the duo that beat them in Auckland.

    [My Point]

    Kubot and Melo were not the only seeds to fall on Saturday. Fifth seeds Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic were eliminated as well. Aussie wild cards James Duckworth and Marc Polmans beat the Dutch-Croat team 7-5, 6-3 after one hour and 23 minutes.

    Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey saved four match points to overcome Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(14-12). The Americans found themselves one point from elimination on three occasions at 4-5 in the decider and saved a fourth match point at 10/11 in the Match Tie-break, before converting their seventh match point to move into the third round.

    Querrey and Johnson won 76 per cent of first-serve points (70/92) throughout the two-hour, 37-minute contest and will meet Alexander Bublik and Mikhail Kukushkin for a spot in the quarter-finals. Bublik and Kukushkin reached the third round with a 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-5 triumph against wild cards Ji Sung Nam and Min-Kyu Song. The Kazakhs upset 2019 Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies in the first round.

    [ATP APP]

    Sixth seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos struck 45 winners to beat Pablo Cuevas and Guido Pella 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. The Spanish-Argentine pairing will next face 11th seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, who needed just 59 minutes to move past Tennys Sandgren and Jackson Withrow 6-3, 6-3.

    Henri Kontinen and Jan-Lennard Struff came from a set down to defeat 15th seeds Maximo Gonzalez and Fabrice Martin 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Kontinen and Struff will meet Simone Bolelli and Benoit Paire, who beat defending champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, in the third round.



  • Nadal Enters Beast Mode, AO Second Week

    Chasing a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title, Rafael Nadal cruised to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Pablo Carreno Busta on Rod Laver Arena in a crisp one hour, 38 minutes to reach the second week of a major for the 48th time (third in the Open Era behind Roger Federer, 68, and Novak Djokovic, 50).

    "It's my best match of the tournament without a doubt," Nadal said. "I'm very happy to be in the fourth round.

    “Today I did very well with my serve and started to hit some good forehands down the line, which is a key shot for me.”

    [ATP APP]

    Nadal broke the opening service games of the 27th seed in the first and second sets and again in the fifth game of the third set. He won 87 per cent of first-serve points, 78 per cent of second-serve points and did not face a break point in the match.

    He also clubbed double the winners of his opponent (42 to 21) while making just seven unforced errors.

    The 2009 Australian Open champion extended his ATP Head2Head against his countryman to 5-0 and his winning streak against fellow Spaniards to 18 matches.

    The 33-year-old, now just 16 match wins away from achieving 1000 tour-level victories in his career, is looking to become the first man in the Open Era – and only the third man in history (Rod Laver and Roy Emerson) to win each major twice.

    Nadal is guaranteed to remain at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings if he reaches the semi-finals at Melbourne Park. He next faces Nick Kyrgios, who defeated Karen Khachanov in a final-set tie-break at Melbourne Arena. Nadal leads the Australian 4-3 in their ATP Head2Head series, which includes a four-set victory in their most recent encounter at Wimbledon last year.



  • Thiem Set For Monfils 'Show' In Fourth Round

    Dominic Thiem matched his best showing at the Australian Open on Saturday, continuing his Grand Slam mastery against American Taylor Fritz 6-2, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4 to reach the fourth round for the third time.

    Thiem saved six of seven break points against the 22-year-old American, who was trying to reach his first Round of 16 at a Grand Slam but must have felt like it was déjá vu against the World No. 5.

    Three years ago, when they faced off for the first time at the 2017 US Open, Fritz converted only two of his 18 break chances and lost in four sets.

    On Saturday afternoon, in warm conditions (28 degrees Celsius), Fritz again had his chances against the Austrian. But Thiem kept the 6'4” American on the move on the big points and avoided another five-setter. Thiem needed five sets in the second round against Aussie Alex Bolt.

    I also have to say, honestly, that I got pretty lucky in the three meetings against him. I remember at US Open and also today, I think especially in the second set, saved six... break points,” Thiem said. “Somehow in the meetings so far, the US Open and here, I pulled myself out of very close situations. In the Laver Cup, he turned the tables. He's serving great. You have to expect close matches against him. That was today again the case.

    "Again, I pulled it out. For sure [it's] going to be different stories in some future matches.”

    [MY POINT]

    Thiem will play for a spot in his first Australian Open quarter-final against France's Gael Monfils, who beat Latvian Ernests Gulbis 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-3. The Frenchman won 78 per cent (52/67) of his first-serve points and broke Gulbis five times.

    “Even if you play against him on court, it's nice to see his show,” Thiem said of Monfils.

    Thiem leads their ATP Head2Head series 5-0, which includes a straight-sets win at 2019 Roland Garros.

    It's always fun to play against him. Such a great athlete. Such a great sportsman. We had fun and great encounters in the past. I expect similar,” Thiem said. “[It's] going to be a nice atmosphere, as well. He's such a good shot-maker, always amazing rallies against him. He got back into Top 10 last year, playing great as well in the beginning of this year.

    I'm expecting a tough encounter. But second week of a Slam is special. Every opponent is playing outstanding tennis. It's going to be a really good and tough match.”



  • Typically High-Flying Monfils Quietly Into The Second Week

    Gael Monfils is well-known for his flair and entertainment, from leaping into rocket-like groundstrokes to hustling around the court to play jaw-dropping defence. This time, Monfils is quietly through to the second week of the Australian Open.

    The World No. 10 defeated 2014 Roland Garros semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis in a cat-and-mouse match 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-3. Although it was by no means a one-sided affair, the Frenchman was never in trouble in his two-hour, 27-minute victory.

    "I'm very happy the way I played today," Monfils said on court after his triumph. "It was a great atmosphere again today, so thank you so much. I feel great. Always we say the second week [of a Grand Slam] is special, so I hope this one will be special for me."

    [ATP APP]

    Monfils will now have a chance to reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the second time when he faces No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem or No. 29 seed Taylor Fritz. He will try to reach two consecutive major quarter-finals for the first time, having made the last eight at Flushing Meadows last September.

    The pressure was on the 10th seed against World No. 256 Gulbis, who was trying to become the lowest-ranked man to reach the Round of 16 in the history of the Australian Open. But for the most part, Monfils went about his business with few hiccups, playing within his comfort zone and out-pointing Gulbis in the shotmaking department. The eight-time ATP Tour titlist made only 22 unforced errors and broke serve five times.

    Both men were content to start rallies slowly, trading calm groundstrokes like pawns on a chessboard, baiting one another to make the first bold move so they could then take advantage with strong counter-punching. Although Gulbis showed improvements in his forehand from the technique that has drawn plenty of attention in recent years and struck his crisp two-handed backhand well, he was unable to take advantage of Monfils’ lack of aggression.

    [MY POINT]

    The Latvian, who eliminated #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the first round, came to net more often than Monfils — winning 15 of 23 approaches — but he also made more unforced errors, which led to his demise. Gulbis struck 33 winners to 52 unforced errors in his loss.

    The qualifier competed well in the third set, but those errors caught up to him. At 3-3, Gulbis swooped into net to save one break point. But during the next rally, he decelerated on a forehand, launching it long to give the Frenchman the advantage and allow him to close out the match.

    Monfils has now won eight straight matches against qualifiers at Grand Slams, and is 18-2 against them overall. He is 4-0 in his ATP Head2Head series against Gulbis.