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Sunday, April 05, 2020

Australian Open Day 7: Kvitova silences ‘soccer’ crowd, Gauff’s campaign ends

Kvitova advanced to the quarterfinals of Australian Open but 15-year old tennis sensation Coco Gauff's Melbourne campaign came to an end.

By: Reuters | Updated: January 26, 2020 5:18:15 pm
Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova in action during her match against Greece’s Maria Sakkari. (Source: Reuters)

Petra Kvitova compared the atmosphere created by Greek Maria Sakkari’s supporters on Rod Laver Arena to “a soccer match” but cut through the noise and battled back from a set down to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on Sunday.

After Sakkari rode that boisterous support to a first set tiebreak win, Czech seventh seed Kvitova came firing back to clinch a quarter-final place with the 6-7(4) 6-3 6-2 victory.

“When I was shaking the hand with the umpire, I told him it was like a soccer match today,” Kvitova told reporters of the atmosphere on the main showcourt.

“It’s nice on one side. On the other side, it’s the tennis, and it’s not a Fed Cup.

“It’s strange. But … it didn’t bother me at all.”

It is the second time this week that players have noted the noise generated by Melbourne’s large Greek community, who were also in full voice when supporting Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The men’s sixth seed, however, has said there was a difference between the behaviour expected of tennis and soccer crowds and his own fans had probably crossed a line.

Sakkari, 24, had never been in the fourth round of a Grand Slam before but had won the last two of her three previous matches against Kvitova, all of which were played last year.

She broke early but blew her first chance to seal the opening set when she lost serve leading 5-4, but made up for it in the tiebreak when Kvitova wasted an opportunity to go 3-0 up.

Both players lost their serving rhythm in the second set with Kvitova dropping serve twice but also breaking Sakkari on four occasions, the last of which when the Greek double-faulted on set point.

Sakkari’s shoulders appeared to sag during the set and she frequently argued with her support team sitting courtside.

Kvitova jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the decider then let her emotions show for the first time in the fifth game, a bellow of celebration coming after a forehand winner put her 4-1 ahead.

The Czech completed the win when a Sakkari return smacked into the net, setting up a meeting with either top seed Ash Barty or Alison Riske, who play later on Sunday, in the last eight.

Kvitova said it had not been her best performance but was pleased with the way she managed to loosen up as the match wore on.

“I didn’t feel the best. I was just too tight and everything was flying somewhere,” she said. “But with the time on court I just get probably used to and I started to play a little bit better, more free.”

Kenin brings Gauff’s Melbourne run to an end

Crowd favourite Coco Gauff’s giant-killing run at the Australian Open came to an end on Sunday as the American teen bowed out in the fourth round after a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-0 defeat to compatriot Sofia Kenin.

‘Cocomania’ has gripped Melbourne Park since the 15-year-old beat seven-times Grand Slam winner Venus Williams in her opener and ousted 2019 champion Naomi Osaka in the third round — all on her Australian Open debut.

With the majority of the packed Melbourne Arena crowd egging her on, Gauff showed the hype was not misplaced with strong serves mixed with booming groundstrokes that often left her compatriot rooted to the spot.

She fought back from a slow start to level the first set and then built a comfortable lead in the tiebreaker to close it out.

“I got the Aussie chant today. I don’t know if it was because it is Australia Day,” said Gauff. “I really didn’t think I would be such a favourite.”

But Kenin did not fold.

The 14th seed, who at 21 is six years older than Gauff, did not try to match her opponent winner for winner in their first career meeting, instead focusing on keeping errors to a minimum.

That approach paid dividends, as while Gauff hit 39 winners to Kenin’s 28 the 15-year-old had 26 more unforced errors.

“My short-term goal is to improve,” said Gauff. “I’m doing well right now at 15. I still have so much I feel like I can get better on. I don’t even think this is close to a peak for me.”

Undeterred by chants of, ‘Let’s go, Coco, let’s go’, Kenin who fought her way back into the match, getting the crucial break in the second set when Gauff served three double faults in the fourth game.

Gauff had problems with her ball toss throughout the match, incurring seven double faults and managing to get just 56% of her first serves in while facing 12 breakpoints.

Kenin had three breaks of Gauff’s serve in the third set and burst into tears when her opponent’s backhand went long to send her into her first Grand Slam quarter-finals, bettering her fourth-round defeat at Roland Garros last year.

“I didn’t do it for the hype. I did it for myself because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” Kenin said. “I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I’m there, why I belong. I’m doing that.”

She will next meet Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who beat Serena Williams’ conqueror Wang Qiang of China 7-6(4) 6-1 on the Margaret Court Arena, for a place in the last four.

Jabeur hopes to inspire Arab women after reaching Melbourne quarters

Ons Jabeur hopes her success at the Australian Open will inspire other players from her region after the Tunisian became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final on Sunday.

The 25-year-old dazzled the crowd at Margaret Court Arena with her variety and power, striking 29 winners to defeat China’s Wang Qiang 7-6(4) 6-1 in the 77-minute contest.

“(I am) trying to inspire many young generation back home either in Tunisia or the Arabic world, especially in Africa, which is amazing,” she said. “It’s not impossible. I made it.”

Jabeur, who sent former world number one Caroline Wozniacki into retirement in the previous round, described herself as a “100% Tunisian product” having turned down opportunities to train abroad to continue developing her game at home.

“I got a lot of offers to go to college in the U.S. — wasn’t really an option for me,” said Jabeur, who is ranked 78th in the world.

“I wanted to really go pro directly. I knew if I play in college, I cannot play professional tournaments.

“We don’t have much experience in Tunisia. But hopefully now we can see more and more.”

Jabeur and Wang struggled with their serves at the start of the match, each losing an early break, before the Tunisian found her range and claimed the first set with a forehand winner in a tie-break.

The 27th-ranked Wang, who had defeated 23-times Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the third round, faltered in the second set, going down two breaks as Jabeur kept her off balance with the variety and speed of her shots.

Jabeur capped the victory in style, serving out to love and finishing with another forehand winner.

“The first set was tricky little bit because I started good, but then went down little bit, couldn’t win my serve,” Jabeur said.

“Obviously second set was amazing for me. I was really relaxed… I’m happy that I went through.”

 

She next faces American 14th seed Sofia Kenin, who defeated her teenage compatriot Coco Gauff to make her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final.

Barty celebrates Australia Day with comeback win over Riske

World number one Ash Barty celebrated Australia Day with a comeback win on Sunday, defeating Alison Riske 6-3 1-6 6-4 to make the Australian Open quarter-final for the second year in a row. The Australian top seed cruised through the first set against Riske but began misfiring early in the second, hitting 13 unforced errors to allow the American to level the match at one set all.

The deciding set was a tighter affair as Riske fought back from a breakdown but was unable to keep up her standards on serve. Barty clinched the victory after Riske double-faulted on match point to set up a meeting with last year’s finalist Petra Kvitova.

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