Australian Open: Fast courts suit Kyrgios ahead of blockbuster against 'super physical' Thiem

By Sports Desk February 11, 2021

Nick Kyrgios has the weapons to overcome the "super physical" Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open on Friday.

The eccentric Australian continued to excite at Melbourne Park with a five-set win over Ugo Humbert in the second round, saving two match points.

Kyrgios, 25, is into the third round of a grand slam for the 15th time in his career, but it has been a difficult hurdle for him to cross. He is 6-8 in the third round of majors, although three of those wins – and just one loss – have come at the Australian Open.

While he has all the weapons, Kyrgios faces third seed Thiem, the US Open champion and last year's runner-up in Melbourne.

"He's probably one of the most physical guys on tour. He's an extremely good player. I have actually seen him progress. He's a bit older than I am. I actually saw him in juniors and then I saw him struggle for a couple years, futures, challies, and then to see him get to the top of the game. It's been actually pretty cool to see him develop and finally find what he needs to do to win matches," Kyrgios said about Thiem after overcoming Humbert.

"He trains like an absolute animal. He's consistent every day. And I actually have a lot of respect for him. I think his style of tennis is not easy to play. He's super physical, but I'm not even thinking about it. Like, I'm just hurting thinking about playing him right now."

He added: "Whatever happens against Thiem happens. I'm going to go out there, serve, play with instinct, and if it's enough, it's enough. If it isn't, I'm all right with that."

With much of the talk at the year's first major focused on the fast courts, Kyrgios' serve will be vital.

The Australian has seen 50 per cent of his first serves in the opening two rounds go unreturned, with 44 aces. He has also served at 72 per cent and won 81 per cent of the points when his first serve has gone in.

Thiem has recorded wins over Mikhail Kukushkin and Dominik Koepfer to begin the tournament, winning 13 of 27 return games. Kyrgios has won eight of 42 return games.

Kyrgios has been among the men more willing to serve and volley to begin the event, playing 26 such points and winning 16. He has also won 39 of 55 net points, while Thiem is an impressive 31 of 36.

Novak Djokovic is among those who have talked about the fast courts at Melbourne Park this year, and the world number one said that would suit the big servers. Thiem said he had never played on courts as fast at a grand slam so far in his career.

"I prefer last year's courts, if I could choose. It's pretty fast, as I said the days before. It's probably one of the fastest grand slam tournaments I've played so far," he said. "Well, we have to get used to it, yes. But if I have to choose, I would choose the last year's condition."

The opportunity is there for the big-hitting Kyrgios, but he will need to be at his best.

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    Naomi Osaka is taking pride from her Australian Open campaign despite suffering a shock third-round exit to unseeded Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

    The two-time Melbourne champion fell short in her latest title defence with a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) loss to Anisimova in a thrilling contest on Margaret Court Arena.

    Osaka, who eased past Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets in the first two rounds, squandered two match points to overcome 20-year-old opponent Anisimova.

    It means the Japanese star has now failed to defend any of her four major crowns, with Victoria Azarenka the last women's player to do so at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013.

    But competing in her first competitive event since exiting the US Open to Leylah Fernandez in September, Osaka was pleased with her efforts.

    "I fought for every point. I can't be sad about that," said Osaka, who nearly walked away from tennis last year.

    "I'm not God, I can't win every match. It would be nice to win the tournament, but I can't think of winning the grand slam at the start of the year every time.

    "I feel like I grew a lot in this match. The last time I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude, so I'm really happy, even though I lost. I'm happy how it went."

    Osaka's Australian Open title defence has been halted by a breakthrough American talent for the second time, having previously lost to Coco Gauff at the same stage in 2020.

    Despite match points passing the world number 13 by, she refused to be too downbeat by the manner of the defeat.

    "There are days that I'm going to have bad days, and there are days that I'm going to have great days," she said. 

    "It's always random, and I never know, but no matter what happens for me, I just want to leave the court knowing that I fought for every point.

    "Today, of course there were things I felt I could improve on, but even with that, I had two match points, and I think that's something that I can be proud of myself for."

    Osaka had dropped just one set in her first five matches this season and looked in the mood as she raced ahead against Anisimova.

    But Anisimova hit more than twice the number of winners that Osaka managed (46 to 21) to pull off a huge upset and set up a last-16 clash with top seed Ash Barty.

    The American lifted her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 earlier this month and has now won 10 of the last 11 matches she has played, including all eight in 2022. 

    It is the first time Anisimova has won from match point down since the 2019 Mallorca Open and the youngster was lost for words in her on-court interview.

    "I'm speechless. I absolutely love playing in front of you guys [the crowd] in Melbourne. It's honestly so much fun. I can't stop smiling," she said.

    "I knew I had to be playing sharp if I wanted to give myself a chance, Naomi is always going to be playing well and she's an absolute champion. 

    "I knew I had to step up my game and try to be aggressive, I think that's what I started doing in the second set.

    "I'm so grateful I was able to play well and get this win, it means a lot. Stepping on to the court, all I'm thinking is having fun. Every day here is an amazing opportunity."

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    Jota scored twice in a 2-0 win for the Reds at Arsenal on Thursday in the second leg of their EFL Cup semi-final.

    Once more shorn of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who are on international duty with Senegal and Egypt respectively at the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool progressed with relative ease to set up a final against Chelsea next month.

    It is the first time the Reds have made a cup final since 2019, when they won the Champions League by defeating Tottenham in Madrid.

    Liverpool spent £41million to sign Jota from Wolves in September 2020 and he has gone on to score 27 goals in 57 appearances across all competitions.

    Since he made his debut on September 24, 2020, only seven Liverpool players have featured more times across all competitions than Jota, with just Salah (51) able to better the Portugal international's goal tally.

    Jota averages a goal every 138 minutes, once again a rate bettered only by Salah (120), while the 25-year-old has had the third-most attempts in Liverpool's squad since his arrival (141), behind Salah (245) and Mane (178).

    Of outfield players to have featured at least five times, Jota has the third-best shooting accuracy (excluding blocks), with 59.1 per cent.

    Jota is second in the Premier League scoring charts this season with 10 goals from 20 appearances, trailing only team-mate Salah (16), although he has slightly underperformed his expected goals (xG) of 11.4, suggesting he has missed some big opportunities.

    After the win at Emirates Stadium, Klopp hailed Jota as a "world-class striker" and, in Friday's news conference to preview the trip to Selhurst Park, Liverpool's manager explained that the forward's quality was already there before he joined the club.

    "Work," Klopp answered when asked what the trick to Jota's success was. "But if you don’t have the basis, nobody can perform miracles.

    "Diogo came in and he was an outstanding player, but it helps if you are a striker when your team has more of the ball. Yesterday he had to do an awful lot to make it happen.

    "Diogo is a really impressive person. Really grown up, a really mature young man. Loves football, loves working, training.

    "He was in the middle of the team after three weeks, there was no time to adapt. I'm really happy for him. If you have this quality it’s nice that you can show it and that's what he's done."

    Klopp also stressed the importance of Liverpool switching focus back to the Premier League and putting thoughts of the EFL Cup final to one side.

    "The boys really wanted it and made it happen and are really looking forward to the final. The only problem is six or seven games to play until then. So we have to put it to the side a little bit but keep the feeling," he said.

    "We were flying after the game, the boys were in a really good mood. That's how it should be. It gives us confidence, everything that was said without [Mane, Salah and Naby Keita] available, it's good for us.

    "But we have to create a different mood until Sunday because Palace away, they don't give any presents, so we have to be in the fighting mood again.

    "We will be, we are not kids anymore. We take the feeling, hopefully can use it but we have to be greedy again, aggressive and fight with all we have. Palace will ask for that. That's what I'm concerned about, not how we can keep this feeling before the final."

    Liverpool have won their last six Premier League away games against Palace, including a 7-0 victory in the corresponding fixture last season, though Klopp is expecting a much sterner test this time.

    "A one-off, a freak of nature. That day was incredible, we scored pretty much with each shot," Klopp added. 

    "We don't expect that again. They've changed and improved under Patrick [Vieira], they look like a really stable team. It's a really good Premier League team with a few unlucky results."

  • Australian Open: Barty had no expectations of Osaka meeting Australian Open: Barty had no expectations of Osaka meeting

    Ash Barty insisted she had no expectations Naomi Osaka would be her fourth-round opponent at the Australian Open after the Japanese star's surprise loss.

    Barty and Osaka were on track to meet in the last 16 in Melbourne before the latter suffered a three-set loss to Amanda Anisimova on Friday.

    World number one Barty, who crushed Camila Giorgi 6-2 6-3, always felt there were no certainties despite all the talk about a potential clash against Osaka.

    "That was your expectation. My expectation was whoever it would be. I mean, each match is uncertain," she said.

    "Each match of tennis, there are no certainties. You have no idea what's going to happen. You just have to navigate your way through as best you can that given moment.

    "I have done a good job of that this week. Now it's exciting to get to play Amanda again. We've played before. It will be nice to play each other again in a big match."

    Barty and Anisimova will meet for the first time since their 2019 French Open semi-final, which the former won on her way to a maiden grand slam title.

    That match was a "turning point" in Barty's career. After losing the first set despite leading 5-1, Barty fell 3-0 behind in the second, only to fight back for a 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-3 victory.

    "I try to forget, but also, I remember that I learned a lot from that moment," Barty said.

    "That was a turning point in my career, and you have to be able to take learnings from those moments, as hard as they are sometimes, and I was able to navigate and find a way through.

    "At that point in my life, in my career, it was a massive turning point.

    "Obviously it feels like it's a lifetime ago, but some of those memories are still really vivid. Without a doubt we will take that and use that experience, use those feelings and those emotions as best we can come Sunday."

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