Dubai: Grand Slam tournament winners Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams withdrew from their tune-up tournaments, their focus already on the Australian Open, well before Alexander Zverev tweaked his back in the second set of his must-win ATP Cup match against Daniil Medvedev.
He left the court for treatment on Saturday and returned, taking the match to three sets before Medvedev finally converted to secure Russia’s win over Germany and a spot in the final.
No. 4-ranked Medvedev lifted when Zverev started to struggle but he got tight in the end, twice double-faulting on match point before serving out for 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Andrey Rublev had earlier beaten Jan-Lennard Struff 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
“Crazy match,” Medvedev said. “Happy to win even if many things I didn’t like. Most important thing is to win for the country and be in the final.”
Russia will meet Italy in the final after Fabio Fognini beat Pablo Carreno 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 and Matteo Berrettini swept Roberto Bautista 6-3, 7-5 to account for 2020 runners-up Spain. Rafael Nadal didn’t play for Spain during the week because of lower back soreness but did practise and is expected to be OK for the Australian Open, where he’s aiming for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title.
Zverev had helped Germany to a 2-1 quarter-final win over defending champions Serbia, rebounding from a narrow loss to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the singles with a victory in the deciding doubles.
But in the semis, his movement and serve slowed after getting a medical timeout for treatment in the second set. Medvedev rallied and set up victory with a service break in penultimate game, and Zverev shattered a racket in frustration.
“It helped me he started moving slower, serving slower in the second set,” Medvedev said. “I felt like in the beginning of the third, I could stay in front and get the match done easy. But in the heat of the match, he started feeling better. I had to stay in it as much as I could.”
MUGURUZA INTO FINAL
A day after beating 2020 champion Sofia Kenin in a rematch of last year’s Australian Open final, Garbine Muguruza beat eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-0 to set up a final against top-ranked Ash Barty at the Yarra River Classic.
“Very happy for sure - it’s another final,” Muguruza said. “I played well today. My serve was working in the right moments.”
She knows she’ll have to step it up against Australian star Barty, who will have the crowd - however small it may be during the COVID-19 pandemic - on her side.
“Very exciting. Always good to play the top players,” Muguruza said. “We’ve had some tough matches. I’m expecting another battle.”
Barty had the day off after Serena Williams withdrew Friday night from their match, citing a sore shoulder. Williams attended a news conference instead on Saturday, and said she was feeling good for her shot at a record 24th Grand Slam title.
“I’ve gotten a lot of treatment already on my shoulder but I’m super confident it’s going to be great,” Williams said. “Getting ready for hopefully the next two weeks. It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to deal with, and knowing that going into the tournament definitely helped.”
No. 3-ranked Osaka pulled out of her Gippsland Trophy semi-final against Elise Mertens after a shoulder tweak caused her problems this week.
Osaka won the US Open in 2018 and last year and won the Australian title in between, in 2019. She said she’s had a “slight shoulder thing since like 2018” and needed to rest ahead of the Grand Slam. Mertens got a walkover into a final against Kaia Kanepi, who had a 6-3, 7-6 win over Ekaterina Alexandrova.
“It kind of flared up again because I played, like, a lot of matches back-to-back,” Osaka said. “But, yeah, for me, my main focus is, like, hoping I can rest enough before the Open.”
Organizers put on six tournaments this week to give all players who flew into Australia and had to quarantine for 14 days some high-level matches to prepare.
A 24-hour suspension during the week - when 507 people, including 160 players, had to go back into isolation and get tested because a hotel quarantine worker was infected with the coronavirus - meant the semi-finals and finals were crammed into the last weekend.
“I would say it is a factor because, for me, I don’t normally play the tournament right before a Slam,” Osaka said. “But I felt like it was really necessary to get matches in. I think everyone felt that way. I’m kind of sad that I wasn’t able to play today. But I thinkin the end it’s the right decision.”
Fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari beat three-time major winner Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-2 in a rescheduled opener on Margaret Court Arena to reach the Grampians Trophy semi-finals against No. 6 Anett Kontaveit, who got a walkover in the quarter-finals when two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka withdrew because of a lower back problem. Seventh-seeded Jennifer Brady moved into the semis with a 7-6, 6-4 win over Barbora Krejcikova.