Jan 25, 2022

2022 Australian Open Men's & Women's Quarterfinals Writeup

Monfils vs Berrettini :

This is the best result for Monfils in a long time. He’s picked up the odd title here and there, but the quarterfinals of a major is something that he really only used to achieve during his peak, and at that stage it was the classic moment where he’d fold up against one of the big 3 despite seeming competitive with them. The strange cat and mouse game he’d resort to seemed purely mental, and the question for him in this match is whether he believes he can win. He had a long and drawn out battle with Kecmanovic, one where Monfils elevated his shotmaking in the last section of each set. He was able to hit his forehand right by Kecmanovic when he wanted to, and he served well. It’s the serve that I think makes him a tough game for Berrettini than PCB. Pablo played his usual game, and I’m starting to see comparisons between him and Mertens from the WTA. They both beat everyone they’re supposed to, and they both play the top 10 extremely close. Having every shot is excellent, but it seems like both lack a single weapon to resort to to get them through service games. Berrettini faced a number of difficult situations, and was able to swing his arm once or twice and get out of them. Collins (Mertens’ opponent) plays behind her backhand and it makes life easy when it comes to directing traffic.

Pablo earns his points by gradually creating angles. It makes for beautiful tennis but it means the tangible pressure mounts as you convert more and more rallies without error. If you’ve isolated the backhand of your opponent 19 times successfully, chances are on the 20th you decelerate or make an error trying to force the issue. Pablo did as well as he could, but it just seems like earning your points on these fast Australian Open courts is not going to be the best approach. For Berrettini, very little changes in this matchup. His serve looked much better against PCB than it did against Alcaraz. His forehand was a rocket and all the peppering his backhand has been receiving has it in a somewhat decent rhythm. He still looks very awkward on his two-hander but he doesn’t hesitate to use it to try to apply a bit of pressure. Monfils is a good returner, but his own serve is what gives him a decent chance here. Berrettini beat Kozlov and Nakashima fairly easily, and even though he dropped a set he wasn’t really in danger. He beat Alcaraz badly early in the match, but things turned when Alcaraz started holding serve easily in the 3rd. Monfils doesn’t serve as accurately as Matteo, but it’s the biggest serve Berrettini has faced. If Monfils played PCB in his current form, I’d expect him to squeak by, so this comes down to who is able to change their opponents game. You know you’re going to see some insane rallies with both hitting the ball so fast that the old British guy asks “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!” but who is going to try to do too much on the last ball and give up errors that inspire the other to keep swinging for the fences.

Yesterday, it seemed like Monfils was the more complete player. I felt like his speed around the court would let him defend better than Pablo, and having Djokovic absent from this and a swarthy pirate in his box were all the freedoms he needed to get tough on the court. He did a bunch of his usual “doubling over” stuff though. After rallies that he thinks looked tiring, he doubles over. He then looks around. If he makes eye contact, he makes exaggerated “oof so tired” faces and reactions. He’s a great showman but it’s a distraction from the game. At this stage, Berrettini is the more professional player, and his attitude on court is one of focus and resolve. This will likely be very close, but I think Berrettini will edge it out. Berrettini in 5. (Also, I’ve been spelling Berrettini’s name wrong (with one t) for a long time. Thanks for Cesca12 for pointing this out and sorry to Matteo if you’re reading this.)

Nadal vs Shapovalov :

Rafael Nadal is not interested in how he gets to the next round, he just wants to get there. After Mannarino dispatched Hurkacz and Karatsev, there had to be some worry in the Nadal camp. The first set didn’t do much to calm that down, as Mannarino held serve fairly easily throughout. There’s something about the lack of pace and how he holds the shot til you move that makes him able to convert the points that are his against any opponent. The quick courts benefitted him a great deal, and he probably should have won the tiebreaker a few times. Nadal looked somewhat unable to impose his will on this match, resorting to big forehands that landed short over and over. He’s clearly trying to get the ball to kick up with topspin, but it just isn’t happening and it reminded me a bit of Zverev’s forehands during his match. A huge swing, a loud sound, but the ball was landing too short in the court to really make anyone miss. When push came to shove, Nadal resorted to using his legs to win. He began slicing every single backhand, and just challenged Mannarino to come up with a winner. It yielded a few insanely long rallies (the tiebreaker was 28 minutes) and a few soul-poking errors. By the end of the first set tiebreaker, the match had that familiar Nadal feeling. A heart-broken opponent, and Nadal ready to break their serve a bunch. That exactly how it went, and though Mannarino broke back once or twice, he really only physically had the strength to compete for 2 sets here.

Nadal took the long route to win his match, while Shapovalov just went directly through. The prince who refuses to turn back into a pumpkin has garnered belief over the past few months, and I genuinely got surprised that Zverev showed up and played the exact same poor tennis that had him losing to anyone on tour at any moment for a few seasons. Last season it looked like he had reached a level of physical strength where these lapses just wouldn’t occur, and I started to make my peace with the idea of him winning a major. I’m happy to watch him lose, but it was very depressing the way he did it. In Shapo’s defense though, he made this match very hard to win. Zverev hit his forehand way too short in the court. He looked nervous, and like he was trying to apply some spin or weight to the ball that would simply make his opponent miss. That’s not really how it works with Shapovalov, but Denis was really consistent from the start. Once he saw that Zverev was pushing, he worked the ball to Zverev’s forehand as often as he could and played measured offense. He served well, and was efficient about getting to net. Where he really sealed the deal though was returning serve. He has a really good ability to control his body on returns to adjust his swing to place the ball deep in the court. If he has to swing softer, he does so. If it has to be a chip return, that’s fine. It makes me wonder further how the weaker players are able to hold serve against him, but he’s a guy who plays to the level of his opponent very often, and the early rounds are the most dangerous places for him.

Zverev admitted to playing terribly in his press conference, which is a good sign. If he tried actually dealing with adversity instead of shutting down whenever it arrives, he might have the maturity to navigate this situation. He had three sets to change his approach, and just got worse as it went. Knowing there is a problem, and gritting against it is not a solution. Admit there is a problem first, and then glance around. Usually, you will find the moon has not exploded. No one is coming to tattoo your forehead with a painting of the issue. It is just you, alone, and completely free and untethered to go about fixing the problem in the moment. No one is coming to say “YOU THERE, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM I SEE YOU! HOW TERRIBLE YOU ARE!” Zverev is a child in an adult’s body, and that is his current problem. It may take a little bit of time, but no one is going to argue or fight him if he wants to change it. When you look to better yourself you will be surprised how quickly the world gets out of your way, but in the meantime, he’s a pusher.

Shapovalov has done well against Nadal in the past, and I don’t think we’ll see him succumb to the fatigue that Mannarino did. I found the opening price of -275 for Nadal about as low as you’ll see Nadal offered, and I think this match is dead even. Shapovalov is playing great ball, is familiar with his opponent, and has nothing to lose. Nadal is not at his best on the hyper-fast courts, and he’s already resorted to just defending to try to get through matches. If Shapovalov wants to take any confidence into this match, let it be that his execution is the only thing he needs to manage. He hits big enough to be even in most rallies, and he’s a solid enough returner to get breaks back if he goes down in the match. This is another one that seems dead even. Shapovalov has shown the better tennis thus far, but it was against a very flat Zverev. Nadal will see 3 matches left until 21, and a draw that is difficult but also as wide open as any major he’s ever competed for. He’s been able to break down Berrettini’s backhand in the past, Monfils is sure to give up against him, so this is the more difficult hurdle to overcome. The guy is easy to doubt because he’s not playing his best, but he’s found a way to win anyway. Listening to Nadal’s press conferences you can see that his perspectives are all things that allow him to thrive and be in the present moment in whatever shape it takes, rather than judge and keep score on what the world owes him. Another match that yesterday, I thought Shapovalov would win, and today I am not so sure. I expect this to go 5, and the level that Nadal brought against Mannarino will likely lose in that 5. A letdown after a huge win could come from Shapovalov though, and that would give a tiny edge to Nadal. I’m not sure, but while I’m typing this Nadal’s line has moved from -275 to -323 and it just jumped again to -370. This isn’t a betting article, but it’s useful to note that the later rounds of tennis tournaments are generally terrible times to place wagers. The books have significantly more information than you about fatigue issues, injury statuses, and who practiced well and what tactics they practiced. Add in that everyone left is playing at or near their peak, and most of the H2H info you have to go off is from different surfaces, different rounds, and situations where you don’t aptly remember who was playing their best tennis. Form is a huge predictor for matches, way more so than H2H or name alone. The opening price for Nadal at -275 is right. It’s costly enough to respect his ability to navigate any situation and his will to win, but it’s low enough to respect the fact that Shapovalov is better suited to these courts, is comfortable with Nadal’s game, and was the better player last round. Anyway, Shapovalov in 5, but I am very open to seeing #21.

Tsitsipas vs Sinner :

Zverev and Fritz losing in the same round? Don’t mind if I do. Tsitsipas has been one of the more-annoying fellows on tour for a stretch here with his bathroom breaks and coaching issues, but he seems like the lengthy slump and the injury issues have motivated him. I love anytime someone is genuinely enjoying playing their sport, and he seems to be. If you like 6-4 sets, this was the match for you. Despite the loss, Fritz can hold his head high here, because this match could have gone either way. Tsitsipas is not the same player that made a semifinals run at the AO last year, but it’s still difficult to beat in over the course of 5 sets. This physical strength is something he’ll need to rely on in his next match, because he has somehow found an even lankier opponent. Jannik Sinner represented the problem De Minaur has always had on tour; a guy who hits with power. It was a strange match in some ways. De Minaur had a number of break opportunities in the first set, often up 15-40. Somehow, he couldn’t get over the hurdle though. Watching, the score told a different story from the match. Sinner was in control of nearly every point, and De Minaur was making an awful lot of little effort noises while he scrambled around. Sometimes the amazing retrievals can frustrate an opponent, but Sinner wasn’t really redlining at all here. He was ready for the retrieves, and when he hit his forehand cross-court is pretty much took De Minaur completely out of contention in most rallies. True to his reputation, Alex fought hard and made things close, but he just couldn’t get a moment to breathe. Interesting to see Tsitsipas opened as an underdog here, however if Sinner were I would probably take him. He has the type of game from the baseline that makes you think he can beat anyone on his day. There are stretches where he’s been somewhat impatient and error-prone, but he’s in good form this week and Tsitsipas has made some simple rally-ball errors that will creep up in this match. Returning from injury generally means you’re not in the best shape, and Tsitsipas looks a notch off his peak. He did serve well in stretches against Fritz, so this is another match I think will be close. Tsitsipas has working for him a few things. One, he has the devil’s curly hair. Two, he is very experienced. Three, he defends well to the forehand side. I say this all the time, but it lets him get back on even terms so often. Sinner will want to make a home on Stefanos’ backhand and given the number of shanks we’ve seen so far in this event, Jannik’s pace will give him a lot of trouble. Sinner’s got a pretty light frame, so the 3/5 structure isn’t a thing he’ll be guaranteed to thrive in just yet. Still, this is a somewhat vulnerable opponent who’s played a lot more tennis this week, on ultra-fast courts against one of the fastest hitters on tour. Sinner in 5.

Auger-Aliassime vs Medvedev :

There’s nothing more captivating than watching Cilic swing huge and land every shot in. In the first set of his match against Felix, it seemed like another straightforward win was on the menu. Felix wasn’t landing first serves, and after having 1-0 and 15-40 on Cilic’s serve, he really never got another look. Cilic hit winners from anywhere and everywhere, and FAA had trouble adjusting to the pace. I often think though that losing a lopsided set is better than losing an emotional tiebreak, so the second set felt key. FAA has never comeback from 2-0 down, so when this went to a tiebreaker in the second it felt like whoever won would seal the deal. Cilic was still playing at a really high level, but FAA had started to make inroads into his service games and his first serve was starting to land. There is something special about Felix’s ability to take an extra second before a serve, and produce an ace or a solid point. For most people, they’re fighting nerves or thinking about the moment, or thinking they should take an extra second. For Felix, it seems like he just is concentrating and is unaware of the world around him. I do think he’s the next #1 from the nextgen groups, mostly because his serve and forehand are among the most easily repeatable, and his backhand is constantly improving. He was able to roll a very fatigued looking Cilic in the third, and the match looked mostly over. Huge credit to Cilic for playing the fourth well though, and he had some looks on FAA’s serve. In the end, FAA was able to seal things in the tiebreaker with a few aces, and there is no reward.

Medvedev seems like the kind of guy who camps you in a video game, and then after the 4th time he does it sends you a message that says “hey are you ok? you keep dying” I really enjoy his attitude on court, his open expression, and his tennis. It seemed mundane at first but as he’s progressed on tour it’s become sharper and more varied. When he hits a dropshot, his opponents don’t even move. When he runs to make a pass, you don’t ever expect him to miss. I realized from some angry reactions to Cressy’s game on r/tennis that people might not realize how good Medvedev really is, but this match proved it. Maxime’s serve and volley has been fun to watch for a few seasons, but only recently has it been effective. He frustrated people, but generally lost. His overall tennis has gotten so much better in the past few months, and he’s in a great rhythm, but the plot here was how long he could drag the match out, not whether he could win. If I watched a servebot take out a top player, I definitely would be frustrated and would feel robbed of further wins. I never for a second considered that Cressy could actually win this match though. Medvedev was not redlining here, and looked to be having fun for huge chunks of it. It might look like he was threatening because of how often he bailed himself out of trouble, but Cressy’s situation here was a stressful 3+ hours of constantly having to execute or immediately lose the set. Medvedev has at least as good a serve as Cressy, and is practically robotic with putting the ball back in play. Cressy’s performance was enjoyable for me because he was giving me extra tennis, but I might be dumb because I never felt like Medvedev was in danger. If you guys and gals wanna enjoy Cressy more, just be dumb like me!

Medvedev did have some lower/upper/middle butt issues towards the end of the match, but they didn’t see to hamper his movement, and I think it was partially a cramping issue from some of their more dynamic stretches he had done on retrieving Cressy’s volleys. It didn’t affect his game too much, nor his serve so I don’t think it was a permanent injury. If I could, I’d swap Felix to the top of the draw right now so they could play in the finals. No one else has played the quality of tennis that Felix and Medvedev have in this event, and this is likely to be very exciting. Last time they met I thought that FAA’s forehand might break down Medvedev’s defenses a bit, and nope. Just nope. Medvedev can go toe-to-toe with FAA in the serving department, and he can defend against the extra power. This is a match where I think Felix will make a few more errors than he has so far. Against Cilic he had to hit a few extra balls in each rally, and he missed some early when he had break points but was hitting his 3rd or 4rd forehand inside-out. Daniil presents the same issue. His height gives him extra reach, and FAA hits huge but expends more energy with his average game than Med does. Can anyone really shut out FAA at this point in his career though? I’ll probably watch this one with the same type of idiot-parade energy, cheering for FAA to extend the match but never really considering that I might lose my precious octopus. Medvedev in 3-4.

Barty vs Pegula :

Barty had held something like 59 times in a row before Anisimova finally broke her. This was a tense one where both sets felt like they were over very quickly. Matches like that are dangerous for the 1 seed because it doesn’t lend her an opportunity to utilize her full game. Long rallies and a physical battle are a safer environment, and short points and super-hyped up pressure moments are probably not. Anisimova had chances to win honestly, but she missed a number of returns by trying to go big that she might not have against another opponent. Scary section of the draw (Osaka/Sakkari) has opened up a bit, but Pegula represents an interesting battle. Jessica had been content to hang back and keep the ball in play early in this event. Not to be outdone, Sakkari went full pushmode from very early on. Her on-court tactics seem very strange at times. She’ll go for a few impatient shots in the early games, then completely stop going for anything. Her forehand decelerated and she was just lifting it in, her serve disappeared completely, and moving back is not good for her backhand. Her backhand is a short swing and is great for reflecting power quickly from the baseline. Her fast-twitch reactions are great and her forehand is a very low-to-high offering which also means she can stay further up. It was the type of performance I had expected to cost her in earlier rounds, and I was a bit surprised it came after she had cleared so many tricky hurdles so easily.

Pegula didn’t hesitate in this match, and the shot that she really dominated with was her backhand down the line. This is the one shot in tennis that seems to indicate peak form. When a player is able to redirect down the line, the court becomes instantly bigger. It also makes the serve out wide from the duece side so much more useful because your opponent can’t just hit down the middle anymore on returns. It’ll be tough to do the same thing to Barty that she did to Sakkari, simply because Barty can actually play the defensive game. She doesn’t have a hole in her game, and her plan B is likely to be executed well if she has to go there. Will she? Barty’s serve is going to be tough to deal with, and her forehand is occasionally the fastest shot on the court. She’s barely swinging on a number of shots because the contact she’s making is so clean and precise she doesn’t need to. Her slice will make it tough for Pegula to bring the ball over the high part of the net, so the dtl backhand might be as prevalent here. What Pegula does have is incredible court coverage and power. This means Barty will need to hit a few more shots to win rallies than she did against Anisimova, who generally goes big on every shot to hide her slightly less than stellar movement. Barty should be up to the task, but this should feature a lot of 10+ shot rallies. Barty in 2 close sets.

Keys vs Krejcikova :

Well, wow. Keys. Wow. Madison. Amazing. I mean, what can you even say after watching that. Keys battered Badosa’s serve every swing she got. She hit the ball cross the court and down the line as hard as she possibly could, and didn’t miss. It was the type of performance that makes you check the draw again to see if anyone can really even stop her. Badosa fought hard and held serve in some games where it looked nearly impossible, but Keys never really faltered. She gave up a break in the second, but broke back immediately. While all this great baseline play was going on, she also created 16 break points, landed her first serve in 67% of the time, and won half her second serve points. This makes it really tough to beat her, so it’ll be interesting to see what Barbora brings to this match. Krejcikova was playing a very game Azarenka, but things didn’t work out as Vika planned. Krejcikova has the same swing on her backhand as Anisimova, where it looks like they’re slowly dragging through it but the ball goes flying through the court. It looks like a composed version of Paire’s backhand, and Krejcikova’s fluid game is something that should scare most opponents. Azarenka just got outhit in this one, and it’s the power that Krejcikova brings that gives her a slight chance against Keys. Badosa is a great defender, and could barely keep the ball in play. Krejcikova’s movement isn’t nearly good enough to defend here, so the plan will have to be going into Madison’s backhand with enough pace that she can’t redirect the ball.

I don’t know if it will be enough. The way Keys is playing is the type of play that wins a major, and I think my Barty hopes are factoring in when I hope Krejcikova has a chance here. If Krejcikova gets in a rhythm, she can take the racquet out of her opponents hands, but she had a big edge in power against Azarenka and won’t against Keys. This is a shootout where Keys serving well might be a tiny edge. Keys in 3.

Collins vs Cornet :

The first set of Collins and Mertens was so rewarding. Mertens was Mertensing, and Collins got Mertensed. There was no point in this match where either player really dominated, but Collins’ aggressive returning is what sets her apart from so many players when it comes to big matches. Her backhand redirects the ball so well down the line when she’s receiving from the duece side, and Mertens was efficient with her slice, but it wasn’t enough. When Collins went crosscourt against Tauson, Tauson used her two-hander and generally lifted the ball a bit. This let Collins lean into the next one and create even larger angles. It’s a safe pattern for Collins which yielded a lot of points. Mertens sliced this ball though, which saved her a lot of extra steps, and made Collins create her own pace on the next shot. This could have gone the other way, but Mertens just doesn’t win these close matches in the later rounds. She’ll need to work on her serve mainly, because Collins looked so dangerous to break at the end of the match.

Alize Cornet wins the award for first tears of the AO (definitely not mine though). She was given very little shot by oddsmakers (although these lines often reflect predictions of public investment) despite leading the H2H 3-1. These matches were very long ago, but early on it was clear why Halep has such a hard time with her. Halep was bossing the rallies, and moving Cornet around endlessly. Alize did not seem to care. Her defensive retrieving is top-tier, and she doesn’t give her opponent any pace to work with. The result was Simona swinging hard on shot after shot, and not really getting a great reward for it. She looked exhausted only halfway through the first set, and though Cornet was tired as well, the scoreline had given her hope. Hope generally yields adrenaline in competition, and Cornet probably hit 1,000 balls in this match but every one was worth it. Doubled over after and during points, Halep somehow mounted a comeback and stole the second set. There was even a point in the third where Halep bent over to breathe during a rally, and when she looked up and saw Cornet had made the get she had to pop back up and scramble. You really couldn’t see two players more visibly exhausted yet still battling. The win meant everything to Cornet, and she apologized for going full cocoon mode on the floor after her win. Halep was gracious, and Cornet (who had lost a heartbreaker 13 years ago to make the quarters and play Jelena Dokic) looked genuinely happy. I stuck around for the interview (with the same Jelena Dokic, who now works as a commentator), where Cornet was again super gracious to the crowd and honest about how much that loss had meant to her. I had a few raindrops on my face at the time (not tears), but as the interview ended Cornet said “no no one more thing.” She then went on to praise the interviewer for how she had moved on in her career, and told her how she was an amazing tennis player and had gone on to become an amazing commentator. You could tell what it meant to Dokic because she started crying too (not that I was crying). Anyway, I definitely didn’t cry then, nor am I crying now rewatching it.

Cornet had a few tremendous wins, and yet I feel she’s about to get the business here. Physically, there can’t be a lot left, and Collins is fired up. She hits bigger than Halep, and doesn’t give up as much court position. Cornet has always lost to the players who could actually move her side to side with power, and Collins has just done this to a very similar defender in Mertens. Cornet will drag this out if she can, but Collins is likely to get a lopsided win here. She’s serving decent, and is much fresher. The biggest factor I think is that Cornet’s serve is very slow at times. Halep takes a deeper return position because she’s a bit shorter, but Collins will be standing on the baseline for every single iteration, and once she gets inside the baseline it’s very tough to stop her. Collins in 2.

Swiatek vs Kanepi :

Cirstea was the other player given very little respect by oddsmakers, but she had already beaten Kvitova so a win of this caliber wasn’t entirely out of the question. This match was one of the best of the day, with Cirstea and Swiatek both refusing to take a step backwards. Cirstea looked sharper in many ways, especially on her backhand side. When she had control, she took her backhand down the line and when forehands came back, she was nearly automatic. Swiatek was just a bit more steady here, but in the third Cirstea had a number of break chances to go up 3-1 that could have gotten her the match. It might have been a tough loss, but it should motivate Cirstea to train a bit harder. She’s already in tremendous shape, but it’s clear from this match that her offense is good enough to beat the top players in the game. With a little more consistency, she’d have won this. It just seemed at times that she wanted it to be done. She’d hit 5-6 great shots, win a point, and then miss a return on the next one. Whether it’s mental resolve or physical strength, a little more commitment to steeling her nerves would go a long way. Swiatek gets half a reward here as she isn’t facing Sabalenka.

Sabalenka is all kinds of inconsistent, but is still one of the scarier players to play for someone like Swiatek. Having one of the best serves, and power that can negate any defense means that Swiatek could lose this match even if she played well. Against Kanepi though, it’s the same story as Cirstea. Swiatek will just need to compete and she is likely to come out on the other side. Kanepi’s serves can be great, but Swiatek’s is as well. Kanepi has big power on both wings, but Swiatek is pretty quick around the court. I see this as a spot where Swiatek just needs to put a few extra balls in play. Kanepi has started slow in most of her matches and dropped the first set a few times, and Swiatek is unlikely to have that letdown in level that Sabalenka did. Honestly, Sabalenka tried to lose every round in this tournament but is just a bit too good to do so in most matches. It’s back to the drawing board for her, yet it’s a 4th round appearance so is it really that bad? Kanepi has had a great run, but Swiatek’s ability to defend should clear this hurdle. Swiatek in 2.