Jan 27, 2022

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

Semifinals time, and also nap time. Just a reminder rain is scheduled for Melbourne over the next 2-3 days, so these matches might be played under the roof.
Barty vs Keys :

Sometimes I get scared. This is one of those times. It is clear from Barty’s performance to start the year that she is at the peak of her game. She seems to have improved her ballstriking a bit and is playing very controlled tennis. Physically, she appears stronger and fitter than in the past if that is even possible. She’s at her home slam with tremendous crowd support. She won the last two meetings against her opponent in straight set victories, and zipped her last opponent. Yet somehow, I am very nervous. Madison Keys looked great in her warmup event. Fine, but I have been hurt before. Keys looks like she’s going to win the tournament in every victory, and looks like she’s practicing something and doesn’t care about the results in every loss. After a nervous showing against Wang, Keys beat Badosa into submission. She backed this up by keeping Krejcikova from getting anywhere close to some momentum. It’s rare to see acceptance on an opponent’s face, but that’s how well and how quickly Keys is playing. She’s looking to hit winners off her opponents serves and it’s paying dividends. During rallies she’s hitting backhands down the line that her opponents don’t even take a step towards, and her forehand has been fairly consistent despite the huge swing she takes. I thought Krejcikova might be able to take time away from her but so far it’s Madison rushing her opponents 100% of the time.

Barty had the same slow start she did against Anisimova, basically looking perfect in the first game or so and then losing range for a bit. It’s difficult finding your range when you’re dominating affairs, and there’s a tendency to heat check yourself, trying to go a bit closer to the lines and basically trying to paint the court. When there’s resistance, muscle memory takes over, but when you have time you have to focus a lot more on the mechanics and the situation. Taking some pace off at the last minute when you see your opponent guess the wrong direction, realizing you’ve made the shot obvious and trying to change something last minute, and a number of other little nuanced ideas pop up as you’re trying to execute and it’s important to focus on the ball and not treat these thoughts as things that need to be responded to. Changing your shot/swing is automatic. No thought, just do. The funny thing is how far I have to reach to find any problems with Barty’s game. She’s winning so easily that she gets sloppy? Seems like a stretch. Furthermore, Barty’s slice doesn’t seem to yield direct results but it seems like the extended rallies and Barty’s willingness to play them make her opponents fatigued both mentally and physically. Pegula definitely had a letdown in level in the second set, and Barty’s serving had to get her out of trouble in a few games, but it did.

The question with Keys and Barty is how effective Barty is at slowing Keys down. The slices will be effective, but will give Keys time to swing full. Barty is excellent at trading with the forehand, but Keys is crushing the ball. If the answer is just that you can’t hit the ball to either wing of Keys, it sounds like there’s no hope. I do think one of the strategies in the past that’s been extremely successful against Keys has been hitting the ball down the middle. When out wide on the forehand, she’s gone cross-court well and has also smoked some shots down the line. Same story with the backhand. She’s creating bigger angles than her opponents and when she gets there early (cuts off the crosscourt angle and is inside the court or at the baseline) she’s been able to take the ball easily down the line. Barty has many ways to win rallies but if she gets in trouble it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rely on her speed and defense and play a lot of balls deep down the center. Keys isn’t going to create much from there, and when she starts to think and get creative she starts to miss. This just seems like a tricky spot for Barty because with more variety/skill she has more choices to make about how to proceed in this match, and as fast as Keys is playing a few adjustments that don’t work can mean the match is over. I expect a bit of a shootout here. Both can serve aces, and both can play offense that stifles their opponents ability to do anything but scramble. The unforced error count is paramount in most tennis matches, but Keys is the one expect to make more mistakes. The crowd should be rowdy for this one with it being one of the last night matches. The weather forecast has thunderstorms so this should be played under a closed roof and should be electric. Barty being from Australia and Keys training in Orlando, neither one was going to have an issue with the heat anyway but this should negate wind and other issues and let both play their best tennis. The ball being faster might benefit Keys since she hits bigger, but it also might give her less time on her swings and Barty is definitely the player better at making quick adjustments. The H2H gives me hope (I’d like to see Barty win her home slam honestly) but this is a very different version of Keys, and Madison is almost a player who you can completely disregard losses with since you know they came from her own errors. In the end, Barty should be able to serve just well enough to squeak by, and having the crowd at her back will be huge if she’s able to gain momentum, especially since Keys has mostly had the crowd support thus far. Barty in 3.

Collins vs Swiatek :

If you like someone angrily shouting “CMAWN!” after every point, you’re gonna love Danielle Collins. Imagine playing college ball and having to play Collins who is super fired up and smashing you around on shot after shot with no letup. It was the same experience for Cornet, who was on her last legs but fought hard. Collins’ only problem (when her serve and forehand are doing well) is the same fire that she feels when she scores is present in equal amounts when things don’t go her way. Gritting against reality is a universal trait, but clenching against the way things are does you no service. Bad things happen, holy fuzz do they happen, but you only cause yourself further grief and hold yourself back by reacting to them. A letcord here, a tremendous get there, and suddenly Collins was yelling at her box and making all sorts of interesting faces. It let Cornet sneak back into a match that she never really had a way to score points in, and it’s the type of lapse that it shouldn’t take a coach more than a few months to get rid of. It’s not changing human nature, but understanding it. If you know things incite you to anger, then you can recognize that you lose control when you allow them to. How can you compete at your best when outside factors are in control of your actions. Things can go poorly, and you feel that anger brewing, and you can still remain focused on the task at hand. It just takes time. The anger/frustration doesn’t stop coming, but you notice quicker over time when it’s present, and you know it is a natural and temporary thing that comes from thinking of the self. I’m not trying to get too deep, but we all laud Nadal for his attitude on court yet act like it’s unachievable. Let go of the things that don’t serve you, so you can do the work to build the future you want to live in. Collins ran away with the match once she won the first set, because of course she did. She’s a top 10 player whenever she’s healthy, and her ability to return winners off both wings makes her a terror to play in the later rounds of WTA events. It shouldn’t take results within the match to reinforce that, nor should she be upset when she misses since she plays such a high-risk brand of tennis.

While Collins was cruising and getting over-analyzed by a turtle, Swiatek was wondering why Kanepi kept existing. It’s always strange when the less-famous opponent refuses to go away, but Kanepi’s performance in the quarterfinals was incredible. She’d had some slow starts in the past few rounds, but played a steady and great level throughout this match. There wasn’t a ton to separate these two, and Swiatek was often the one to resort to just putting the ball in and hoping for errors. They didn’t come often, and Kanepi closed out the first. Early in the second, Swiatek’s frustrations got the better of her. She seems honest and open in interviews, which is the type of person that will overcome their problemos since they’re able to admit them and see them clearly. Kanepi went up an early break and the match started to look over, but Swiatek dug in on defense. There were a number of great rallies in this, with Kanepi and Swiatek trading forehands crosscourt that made me lean closer to my laptop on every subsequent swing, but the edge in the end was Swiatek’s ability to put more balls back in play. Kanepi was credited with 35 winners but she probably hit 50+ shots that would normally have been worth a point. When two big offenses play each other, the defense often wins. Swiatek got ahead early in the tiebreak, and despite facing some early break points in the third, was able to run away with the match.

Swiatek’s 12 double faults point to a problem for her in this next match. Collins likes to stand in on second serves and Swiatek is prone to frustrations still. This seems like a match where both will have some huge swings of emotion, but Collins being the underdog will need to control these more. If Iga gets confident in her shots, she’ll take the racquet right out of Danielle’s hands, and if they’re trading at the baseline Swiatek is going to hang close which means Collins doesn’t have the advantage of extra time that she did against Cornet and Mertens. Swiatek’s team will have her hitting backhands up the line or neutral down the middle as often as they can here, as the forehand to forehand battles favors Swiatek bigtime. One, because Collins’ forehand can disappear at times, but two, because Swiatek just practiced this rally 100 times with Kanepi in the last match. The same way Nadal thrived because he played two lefties in a row, Swiatek will want to stick with what won her the last match. It is a very similar formula : make the extra ball in and hit big to the forehand corner when she can. I wouldn’t count Collins out of this since Swiatek will always give you ~20 unforced errors in every set, but I think she needs them on big points to break down Swiatek’s mental state. Even after having a war, Swiatek wrote “thanks for the support #tired” on the camera after her match. She’s younger, but I think her mental toughness is dependable enough, and her anger on court comes more from competitive drive than doubt. If it sounds like I’m saying these two are going to be really emotional on court, yes. I’m excited for these two extra spicy nuggets to be put in the same carton, and it should be tough for either to pull away. Swiatek in 3.

Berrettini vs Nadal :

Berrettini is here again. This is the point where historically he has fallen, despite some great efforts. It’s been his backhand that’s held him back against the big 3 at the majors, and not a lot has changed about his game. After a marathon with Monfils, he arrives at what is his best shot at beat one of them. Everything is working in his favor, and he still will have an uphill journey. That’s how good these guys are. Monfils should be happy with his performance, and he staged a great comeback in this match after losing the first two sets to a guy who just performs at a slightly higher level on offense. The problem is that it’s extremely hard to win 3 sets in a row in tennis. Even the early round blowouts see a 7-6 third set or the underdog steal a break. These players are all tremendous, and it’s hard to keep your own level so high that you don’t throw in a poor game here and there, or simply see them guess right. It was almost like watching twins in this quarterfinal, because both basically dominated affairs with their forehands, and were about even on winners to unforced. That might sound average, but in tennis that’s a pretty solid performance. Monfils was only 3/14 on break points, but that’s why Berrettini has time and time again come through in these close matches. His offense isn’t fake, and it doesn’t falter just because there is pressure. He has a legendary Pokemon for a forehand, and an extremely reliable serve. Monfils seemed a little upset but hopeful in the press conference, but I think his goal is a bit too lofty. You can’t let the younger generation get all these valuable reps and big matches in and then expect to overcome them. It’s possible, but it would take such a lengthy run of everything going right in the big moments, and given a career of not exerting fully, it’s not possible to just conjure up that level for long periods. Talent can always turn up in big moments, and go on runs that are beautiful, but it’s a temporary thing. The guys who are training hard and playing serious in every match (the Nadal’s and Rublev’s and Medvedev’s and Ruud’s) are just going to represent a really solid obstacle and there are more and more of them on tour now. Monfils’ resurgence is fun to watch, but he’s not winning a major.

Is Berrettini winning one? Watching FAA almost snag Medvedev, his hopes must have gone up. Watching Nadal board the struggle bus against Shapovalov couldn’t have hurt either. In what was a very strange match, Shapovalov took Rafael Nadal to five sets. He had chances late in the match, and he had chances early in the match. If you told him he’d lose in 5 to Nadal in the quarterfinals of the opening major of the year, him and his team would be very excited about the result. During the match though, he was not. It was clear that Shapovalov had a plan to fight the bear in this one. It’s always good to have a plan to fight the bear, but when the moment actually arrives, things often don’t go as you planned, and a bear eats you while you sing loudly. Does the bear not know that singing loudly scares a bear? Very foolish. Similarly, Shapovalov planned to make an issue out of Nadal’s slow play in this match. It was clear from how early he made it an issue that he’d thought about the moment in his head, how he’d rattle Nadal, get the ref on his side, and win the day. Unfortunately, he went for this at a poor time. Nadal took too long to get ready to receive serve after the first set, but Shapo needs to know that his complaints at this time just look like someone who’s upset that they lost the first set. After complaining a bit, he then waited for the ref to scold Nadal. As an umpire, taking direction from either player is a bit more controversial than allowing a few things to slide, so Carlos Bernardes didn’t assess a warning to Nadal. It took Nadal coming to net asking what was bothering Shapov for him to back off his complaints, which was even sadder because if he felt strongly he could have just said “please play faster” or explained what he was complaining about. The ref telling him he wasn’t ready to serve either because he “came to talk” was goofy, but Carlos is a little bit of a sassafras up there. Small dogs also get more aggressive if you hold them high in the air, but there really were no winners in the exchange and when Shapovalov said “you guys are all corrupt” I felt 0 compassion for him and mostly was cheering for more spicy drama. Childish, but there’s a right and a wrong way to lodge complaints in a match. Respectfully, between games, and with deference to the fact that your opponent is standing there and can hear you.

Time violations are one of the most necessary and unnecessary things in tennis. Nadal takes entirely too long, even if he’s within the shot clock. These guys bouncing the ball 25 times is not necessary, nor is the routine that he goes through for every single thing. He literally will reset the towel over and over to avoid it having wrinkles or laying uneven between points. He’ll adjust his water bottles multiple times to get them to line up. He’s partially about precision and order, because it helps him compartmentalize things and compete, and he’s partially dealing with a mild bit of OCD. So when does the umpire call a time violation warning? When the poor guy is serving facing a break point. This happens over and over and over and it’s the worst. No verbal discussion between games or points to play a bit faster. Just interjecting themselves in the match on crucial points where the warning does nothing other than agitate someone who is in a moment when they need to focus. It’s bad refereeing, and the opposing player isn’t going to rejoice because part of them is horrified at the timing as well. Add in that half the players take a timeout after a violation warning to discuss things with the ref, and you’re really just poking the bear. The umpire just needs to make the game flow and not make themselves an obstacle in the player’s minds.

I think it’s a touchy subject but Nadal’s activities don’t seem like stalling to me. A lot of people came to Osaka’s defense when she vocalized her struggles to deal with anxiety, and a lot of people felt very bad for Cilic when the moment was too much for him in the finals against Federer. Nadal seems genuinely trapped within his process on the court, and nobody approaches it directly by talking to him about it (maybe they do). The shot clock was implemented for him, and it’s such a sideways way to deal with one of your great champions. Struggling with your mental state in isolated moments or situations in your life doesn’t stop you from being a person, and having everyone accept the way you act is probably the best course forward with Nadal but having people make him out to be some sort of villain rather than someone harboring a bit of reflexive fear and superstition is a bit ignorant. It’s a deep topic of course, but treating it like some elephant in the room and making rules for everyone that are mostly about him seems like a strange one. His routine doesn’t affect the game, rather than slow it down, so I think the best course of action would be for the refs to warn him early that he’s going over or close to the time limit (opening a dialogue is always good), and to call it impartially with some leeway on the crucial points.

Anyway, Nadal played a great first set, and Shapovalov made a ton of errors. In the second, it was more of the same. The third and fourth reminded me a little of the French Open loss to Novak last year. Somehow, Nadal hit a physical wall. When he does, he suddenly becomes drenched in sweat, and it’s the kind of water output that makes me think cramping is imminent. Nadal took a somewhat understandable medical timeout, which mostly seemed like a timeout timeout, and he also took the off-court break between the fourth and fifth sets. Is this gamesmanship? If you’re physically fit to compete, and you take a strategic MTO, it’s a bit gross. If you’re suffering from the heat and genuinely need 5 minutes to catch your breath, it almost seems odd that you’d not take it. Changing your gear between sets also seems like something they’d want to mandate, rather than some guilty pleasure or strategy that Nadal could be scolded for. In the end, it wasn’t his stalling or anything else that won him the match, but his fight. Shapovalov had this in hand, and made errors. He allowed external factors to get into his head. He saw the finish line disappearing, and he grasped at it. This was a great match and reminded me a bit of Tsitsipas’ comeback against Djokovic where he ended up losing in 5. Not a huge or epic performance, and not a lot changed in the middle of the match, but it’s a sign that these players are better and closer to the top than they understand. If any of the next gen could calm down in these big moments, they could win. The key is to get comfortable with them, so even a loss in this situation should help Shapovalov once he’s over the sting of it all.

Can Berretini beat Nadal? Thus far, the answer’s been no. There’s rain in the forecast for the next two days in Australia, so it may be played with a closed roof. That’s to Berretini’s advantage since it’ll be easier to serve and the lack of wind will let him adjust better. It’s the same puzzle though for anyone facing Nadal; how will their backhand hold up. Matteo’s won’t. It hasn’t against any of the other opponents he faced, but his serve and forehand have given him an edge that was insurmountable thus far. Nadal’s serving will be the key for him. If he gets himself through his service games, he’s likely to find Berretini’s backhand in a few games across the space of 3 sets, and with the comfort he has playing against him, Nadal shouldn’t make a ton of errors or force too many shots. Struggling with Mannarino a bit, and playing five with Shapovalov isn’t the normal Nadal, and these courts being so fast given people a decent chance against him. The funny thing about Berretini’s game is that he’s kinda throwing darts when he gets up against these guys. You can beat that peak tier offense over and over, but eventually it lands. He’s likely to get to the business end of a few sets, and it gives him the servebot’s chance against Nadal. Across 5 sets, he’ll have to hope for the same type of lapse that Shapo earned, and honestly watching the 5th set I felt like the consistency of Berretini’s execution would have let him win. Getting there was the result of a lot of hard work in rallies by Shapovalov, so it’s a question mark whether Berretini can get there. Here I am, at the end of the section, and I’m not sure who’s going to win. It’s a very tricky version of Nadal we’re looking at here, but he’s very close to the finish line so it’s hard to doubt him (and hard to go against the H2H). Nadal in 4, but if this goes to 5 I have a hard time picturing him being able to break the way he did against Shapovalov.

Tsitsipas vs Medvedev :

I almost forgot about this rivalry. Tsitsipas successfully completed the Nadal move, disappearing for an injury and then coming back to inspire nonstop doubt in his game. Heading into this clash with Sinner he’d made a number of shanks, kinda grinded past a few lower tier players, and was genuinely looking like he might crash out. No such luck though, as Tsitsipas rose to the occasion. He served well from the beginning, and it was a quick reminder of how durable Tsitsipas is in rallies. He kept the ball deep in the court, and when he got forehands he was able to redirect them up the line seemingly effortlessly. The result was that the first set went quickly. Sinner made a few loose errors trying to find range crosscourt with his forehand, and that was that. Tsitsipas kept up the pressure in the second set, and Sinner started to look a bit tentative. He may have been playing tight just hoping for a lapse or some of the errors I’m sure his team expected to come off the backhand wing, but they weren’t there. Tsitsipas used great shot patterns also during rallies and off of serve returns, going behind the lanky Italian and scoring easy points. Getting wrong-footed works doubly well because on the next iteration of that situation you’re very likely to guess wrong again. The serving was particularly what I thought gives Tsitsipas a good chance here, since Medvedev is coming off a 5 set win that had room for spectators to nap mid-match.

Felix is legit a star. His athleticism isn’t flashy, but it’s top tier. His forehand isn’t wild and he isn’t going for hyper-aggressive locations, but it scores point and his footwork is nearly perfect. His backhand isn’t anything special, but he was able to hit it harder this week than ever before and he went down the line in a very fluid manner. The service motion seems normal, but he hits his spots better in big moments somehow. All of this only meant he had a puncher’s chance against Medvedev, but he performed great. Medvedev has shown in the past (against Cilic at Wimbledon) that when his opponent is hot at a major, he’s very willing to look to outlast them. It was almost too late in this one, as FAA raced out to a two sets lead behind nearly unplayable tennis and they were in a tiebreaker in the third. Medvedev’s defense and resolve never left though. It seems like he’s going to get upset or force a shot, but it never seems to happen. I honestly forget that he’s even allowed to miss sometimes. These two competed hard from start to finish in every category, and Felix won in almost all of them. More aces 18-15, fewer double faults 4-9, higher serve percentages 69-64, more break points created (less converted though), etc. The only place where they were dead even was in grunting. At times it felt like David Attenborough would start discussing the mating ritual we were watching, as they both let the lungs go in this one very competitively. The unnnhhhhhhh eennnnnnhhhhhh ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh is normal, but it’s funny to hear them get louder when they know they’ve hit a winner.
Medvedev has dominated the Tsitsipas rivalry, and with good reason. Tsitsipas plays great tennis, but he’s rarely scoring quickly. He’s very good at grinding things out, and goes a bit safe during rallies, preferring usually to use height and depth and look for errors. Against Medvedev, this approach doesn’t work so well. Daniil is the most consistent player on tour right now, and has a cannon of a serve. There will certainly be fatigue from his match with Felix, but he gets an extra day here to recuperate. Tsitsipas’ serving was excellent in the last round, but Medvedev returns at a level that makes it very difficult to score on him. The backhand to backhand exchanges are something also where Tsitsipas will be safe, but have a hard time getting out of. For Tsitsipas, making this a long match is his best bet. Medvedev playing 2 5 setters back to back is going to be very difficult, and Tsitsipas will be fresh and sharp. It’s just hard at this juncture to really expect Medvedev to fold up, and tennis pros are so tight with their physical state that there’s no way to know if Medvedev will show up a bit hampered. I’d expect a closer contest than usual, but one that Medvedev’s experience over the past few months gives him an extra bit of confidence in. Medvedev in 4.