Danielle Collins: Feisty, Fierce, and Up For the Fight

By Owais Majid

Danielle Collins is one of many successful Americans on the WTA circuit. Indeed, there were four of them left in the last sixteen of the Australian Open. However, there is nobody quite like Collins. Coming through the college system – a different route to most of the others on tour – has instilled a mentality in her that is rarely seen among her peers. In her thrilling victory over Elise Mertens in three gruelling sets, she once more demonstrated all of the qualities we have come to expect of her and more. 

Collins raced to a 3-0 lead but her game then took a drastic downturn as she lost five consecutive games, and eventually the set in little under an hour. Throughout the set, she had been grabbing her back which had been appearing to cause her some pain. To further compound her discomfort, the searing heat meant conditions were extremely difficult to compete in. 

At this point, Collins would have been well within her rights to call upon the trainer. Whatever the issue with her back was, it was clearly hampering her somewhat. 

But this is where Danielle Collins comes into her own. She fights like only she knows how. She fought the intensity of the heat, she fought an inspired opponent on the other side of the net, she fought a niggle and she fought fatigue and she dug her heels in and continued through gritted teeth.

The second set started in a similar manner to the first as she went 3-0 up but this time Collins kept her foot on Mertens’ throat. 

Her face a picture of something between anguish and distress, Collins continued to showcase her durability by holding off Mertens’ attempts at a comeback. For all I’ve seen of Collins, this performance had a steeliness beyond what even she had previously produced. The normally expressive, in-your-face attitude gave way to a more zoned, quietly menacing competitor. One winner which was particularly outstanding would have been accompanied by a shout of “Come on!!!” under normal circumstances, however on this occasion, she merely fist pumped. Maybe she was simply conserving energy in such taxing conditions, maybe she knew she was in a real fight and was concentrating so hard that she barely noticed her own brilliance, or maybe, she was simply unable to replace that tortured look, such was the ordeal she was experiencing.   

Lest we forget, her opponent was also here to play. The match took another twist as serving for the set, Collins was broken back by Mertens for 5-4 as the Belgian played flawless tennis to prolong the set. 

However, yet again, adversity brought out the best in the American. Rather than relenting to a rejuvenated Mertens, not to mention everything else she was dealing with, Collins played a truly magnificent return game to immediately break Mertens again and force a decider with nearly two hours already on the clock. Teeth gritted, that pained impression still etched across her sweat drenched face, she dug in and battled on.

Both women, in spite of what they had put their bodies through, continued to display tennis of the highest quality, exchanging service holds full of breathtaking winners and snarly determination. 

Collins celebrates a vital hold of serve for 4-3 in the third. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

The decisive moment came right at the end of the set, and if there was any downer to be put on the match, it would be the manner in which it ended. Serving to stay in the tournament at 4-5, Mertens went 15-40 down. As she saved the second of two match points with a clutch second serve, Collins replied in turn with brilliance of her own to set up a third match point. This time, Mertens had no such success with her second serve as she double faulted to hand Collins the victory. 

As Collins eventually prevailed in nearly three hours, one got the impression that she won because of her personality as much as her tennis, from which we should nevertheless take nothing away. Mertens is almost a polar opposite to Collins in this regard. Naturally far less extroverted, not nearly as expressive  and nowhere near as aggressive, Mertens seemed almost intimidated by the woman across the net who, in spite of everything, was somehow managing to produce stunning tennis. It was that aggression, that expression of emotion that saw Collins stumble over the line.

Her attitude may not be for everyone, she may not be the most popular character in the locker room, some may even consider her bordering on rude, but Danielle Collins is unapologetically herself and boy, has it worked for her thus far. Some players frustrate us because their character doesn’t do their talent justice but with Collins, her on court persona has undoubtedly enhanced her as a tennis player. Were it not for that unwavering will to compete and get the victory at any cost, she would likely not have made it to where she is now.

Having spent little over five hours on court two days prior with her combined singles and doubles court time, and another doubles match to come that same day,  it will take a superhuman effort for her to come back in two days’ time and perform to a similar level, but is anyone prepared to write her off? If anything, it is under these circumstances that Danielle Collins thrives. As she comes up against an Alizé Cornet who has a newfound exuberance about her, that match promises to be a fierce contest between two women who have overcome so much to get to where they are. A thrilling victory over Halep will certainly have boosted Cornet’s confidence, but she too has had her reserves significantly depleted by the Melbourne heat. Either way, we can be sure to expect them to fight it out to within an inch of their lives.


Reviving a Lost Art

By Archit Suresh

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Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel
  • Rod Laver
  • John Newcombe
  • John McEnroe
  • Stefan Edberg
  • Boris Becker
  • Pete Sampras

At this point in the list, tennis fans see legends and former champions of the sport, all with multiple slams to their names.

  • Pat Cash
  • Richard Krajicek
  • Patrick Rafter

Okay, perhaps these players weren’t as successful as the aforementioned, but both were great champions with major title wins and hall of fame careers.

  • Tim Henman

Now hang on a minute, Tim Henman was an exceptional player and had plenty of success in his career, but he was unfortunately never able to capture a coveted grand slam trophy. Why is he on this list?

This is where the picture becomes clearer. Looking through this list again, one realizes a common theme. It is more about the tactic than the titles. All these players went on to have extremely successful careers, thanks in large part to a heavy dosage of serve-and-volley tactics. In recent years, evolution in equipment and court surfaces, along with the arrival of the two-handed backhand effectively ended a player’s ability to rush the net after serving with consistent success. Wider, more powerful graphite rackets and slower court surfaces allow the returner more than enough time to send back a serve with interest. It was now the time of the baseline grinders. Picture Andre Agassi planting himself firmly on the baseline, or Rafael Nadal standing so far back behind the court you think he’s practicing social distancing. For all intents and purposes, this list should end here. Serve-and-volley lived a good life and already had its time at the top of the sport. Many would say the game has moved on. Apparently, no one told Maxime Cressy.

It was 2015 when Cressy, a college freshman at UCLA, was unable to crack the singles line-up and was viewed primarily as a doubles specialist. Down at number 12 in the pecking order, Cressy’s odds of making it to the professional tour were slim to none. When asked about Cressy’s time at UCLA, his former teammate Austin Rapp said the following: “I remember that he was working hard like he was going to be playing, which was a good thing. But he was definitely quite a bit behind. He had the right build obviously: 6’7”, very strong, fit. But not a lot of structure to his game at all. He had a pretty big serve, but not a lot of variety. He didn’t know how to hit a kick serve yet. He wasn’t volleying well yet. He really had no returns, so he was kind of just a big guy with not a ton behind it.” Cressy then turned to Head Coach Billy Martin to elevate his game. After spending countless hours working on court, Cressy and Martin had decoded the answer to unlocking his game – serve and volley. “I think Billy deserves the credit for that. When he fully committed to that, thinking he had a 6’7” super lightning-fast, strong, physical guy and you make that shift it was going to be really hard to beat him if he mastered that game style,” Rapp said. 

Eventually, Cressy would go on to reach the No. 1 singles position at the school and turn pro in 2019. After turning pro, he hit some bumps along the road as he adjusted to life on the tour. with some early losses at tournaments. Eventually, the tides began to turn. After getting a first Grand Slam main draw victory in New York against Jozef Kovalik, Cressy got the opportunity to play the then World No. 6, Stefanos Tsitsipas. At the 2021 Australian Open, Cressy would get another main draw first-round win, only to then run into Alexander Zverev. Later that year at the US Open, Cressy got his breakthrough win at a slam after beating Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain by coming back from 2 sets to love down. Unfortunately, Cressy was unable to back it up as he fell to Nikoloz Basilashvili in the following round. However, it really wasn’t until early 2022 that people began to take notice of Cressy and his unorthodox style of play.

At one of the lead-up tournaments in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open, Cressy began to turn heads. After going through qualifying, he’d make a run to the final, with wins over top players like Reilly Opelka and Grigor Dimitrov along the way. His opponent in the final would be none other than 20 time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal. Faced with the task of going up against a legend of the game, Cressy rose to the challenge. Though he eventually lost in two tight sets to Nadal in the final, he felt that he had competed well and could hold his head up high. “He is one of the only guys where even when relative to what he’s doing [now], he wasn’t as good, he still truly believed in himself to be able to get there. A lot of people as they climb the rankings and reach their goals, they have to readjust their goals,” Rapp said. “He always had the goals of being Top 100 and playing Rafa and all these guys at the Grand Slams even when he was not in the singles lineup at UCLA. I think that’s the thing that sets Cressy apart and allowed him to improve so much.”

Cressy pictured with Nadal at the Melbourne Summer Set trophy ceremony Screenshot: TennisTV YouTube Channel

Cressy then followed his week in Melbourne up quite nicely with a strong run at an ATP 250 in Sydney. In Sydney, he reached the quarters after back-to-back wins over Adrian Mannarino and Dušan Lajović, before losing a tight one to British No. 1 Dan Evans in an entertaining match. With a strong start to the year under his belt, the American was ready for yet another good run Down Under at the Australian Open. Boy, did he deliver! After defeating John Isner in a five-set match, in what was known as a battle of the “Servebots”, Cressy grabbed a win over qualifier Tomáš Macháč to get to the third round. Next up was hometown favorite Christopher O’Connell on Court 3, where Cressy served 28 aces to four double faults to come through in 4 sets. This was by far Cressy’s most efficient match of the tournament to reach the second week of a Slam event for the first time. His ability to fill the stat sheet with his service is unparalleled. In his first two matches, he served 32 double faults as a product of his ultra-commitment to coming on both his first and second serve. But Cressy rolls with the punches like a professional boxer to play the game on his own terms. “The mindset is to go for it. Sometimes I have good days, sometimes bad days, and I feel like on the good days it’s very difficult to beat that style of play going for both serves,” he said. Well, “going for it” is the perfect way to describe what Cressy does on the court. He is all in with serve and volley and says his mission is to be the man that can singlehandedly bring it back to the top of the game. His decision to zig while others zag shows the unwavering self-belief he possesses to be able to commit to something the way he does. In fact, Cressy believes that he can push his game all the way. He even thinks that he could one day potentially be World No. 1.

Q: Is that where you see yourself going, top 10?

Cressy: “Yeah, even No. 1, yeah, I’m very confident. My game style can beat anyone, so starting this year I’m very confident. I played Nadal and I really believe that it really put him in an uncomfortable position.”

He will need every bit of that confidence and a little more as he prepares to face the biggest test of his young career. Waiting for him in the Round of 16 is World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who is now the heavy favorite to win the title. Of course, the Paris-born American remains confident he has what it takes to challenge Medvedev. There is also history that shows Cressy may stand a fair chance. In the 2021 Rolex Paris Masters Final against the Russian, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic decided to switch things up by rushing the net after his serve 22 times over the course of the match. Djokovic felt that he wouldn’t be able to beat Medvedev from the back of the court, so he decided to take it to him. The strategy ultimately paid off as the Serb won the match, and the title as well.

Now, Maxime Cressy is not Novak Djokovic, nor will he try to be. He’ll approach this match the same way he approaches every match. Maybe that’s what more players need to do. I’m not saying I think Cressy will beat the Russian. Medvedev may well prove to be too good from the back of the court for the former UCLA Bruin to make his game work against the best of the best. I’m also not saying that Cressy will reach the heights he thinks he can go. However, I am predicting Cressy to do everything he can to make serve-and-volley a viable tactic again. Who knows? We might one day see many more names added to that list. IF (and that’s a big if) serve-and-volley made a comeback, its success would be due to the man racing around Rhode Island on the front of the Popcorn Tennis website.

  • Maxime Cressy

Keys Flying Under the Radar

By Brenda Parry

As some of the big names on the women’s side, most notably Garbiñe Muguruza, Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina, have already tumbled out of the Australian Open, Madison Keys, the likeable American with a big smile and kind heart, cruised into the quarter-finals in dominant fashion. In her fourth-round match on the Rod Laver Arena yesterday, the 26-year-old Keys, currently ranked 51 in the world, crushed No. 8 seed Paula Badosa of Spain. Badosa was considered a favourite for the title by many, but Keys ran through her 6-3, 6-1 in a little over one hour with some outrageous hitting. 

In her post-match press conference Keys summed up her win: “I’m really happy with how I played today. I think I served a lot better than I did in the last match. I think I returned well. I think overall I just started off either neutral or kind of ahead in the point. I had a lot of opportunities to try to move forward.”

She will face No. 4 seed Barbora Krejčíková, also 26, in a first-ever meeting in the final eight. Although Keys is unseeded at this year’s Australian Open, she is no stranger to the big stage, having reached her first Grand Slam event final at the US Open in 2017, losing to compatriot Sloane Stephens. Keys has been as high as No. 7 in the world. Her match against Krejčíková will be her eighth career Grand Slam quarter-final and her first in Australia since 2018. Keys is also on a nine-match winning streak since the beginning of the year, having won the warm-up tournament 2022 Adelaide International 2 in emphatic fashion.

She explains her recent surge in form on a change of mindset allowing her to enjoy competing and embrace the tough moments. She is also enjoying her time off the court in Melbourne, one of her favourite places on the tour, and knows, it seems, all the best places to eat! There is certainly a good-vibes feeling around Madison Keys and it’ll be very interesting to see where that might take her … 

Photo: Jimmie48 Photography/WTA

Plight of the Underdog

What I wrote before the match

Adrian Mannarino just made the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in his life. He had to battle to get there. James Duckworth had his foot on Mannarino’s neck in the first round, up two sets to one. Mannarino came back to win, losing a total of three games in the last two sets. He faced tenth seed Hubert Hurkacz in the second round and beat him like he was a qualifier on his last legs. Things got trickier in the round of 32 — Mannarino eventually wore down Aslan Karatsev, last year’s semifinalist. Karatsev was having a brutally taxing couple weeks, but in the world of the insanely athletic professional tennis player, running a tired player into the ground is like whacking a concrete wall with a sledgehammer, hoping you’ll eventually break off a big enough chunk to bring it crumbling down. The match took four hours and 38 minutes, and didn’t even go to a fifth set. That’s a barbaric average of 69.5 minutes per set.

Mannarino’s reward for this impressive run — a comeback, an easy upset, a fierce struggle — was a match with Rafael Nadal.

The 33-year-old Frenchman’s run reminded me of Márton Fucsovics’ at Wimbledon last year. He played Andrey Rublev in the fourth round, who had tormented Fucsovics all year. beating him in nine straight sets. Fucsovics, somehow, beat Rublev in five. He was even down two sets to one in the match! It was an upset of epic proportions, a testament to belief, an inspiring story that no matchup was too difficult. Then Fucsovics had to play Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Djokovic didn’t play very well. He won in straight sets anyway. No set was closer than 6-4. Everyone moved on from Fucsovics quickly.


The Big Three era has been joyous for many fans. We’ve gotten to enjoy the best tennis that has ever been played on the ATP Tour. The same time period has been miserable for 99% of the ATP. Hoping that one all-time-great player gets upset, giving you a navigable path to a big title is feasible. Hoping that three of them lose is useless, because it will never happen. Players like Mannarino and Fucsovics might not be good enough to win titles even in weaker eras, but this era shoves that fact in their face. Not only will they not win majors, they will always be several legend-sized steps away.

Professional athletes’ mindsets are refined into ideal stepping stones to success. With that said, I’ve never been entirely convinced that extreme underdogs actually believe they can win at times. Does the extreme self-confidence of a pro tennis player get them to believe and say some crazy things? Absolutely. But did Sam Groth think he could beat Nadal when they stepped on court at Roland-Garros? Self-belief is huge, but I’m not sure it can hold up in a logic vacuum.

Mannarino is 0-2 against Nadal, though three of the four sets they’ve played have been close. By all reasonable predictions, Mannarino will lose to Nadal. Sure, this might take the pressure off — hey, Adrian, just go out there and try your best. And don’t forget to have fun! It’s hard to imagine, though, that the sense Mannarino is playing with house money will last beyond the first time Nadal takes a solid lead in the match. Grim reality sneaks up on you quickly.

From the logical perspective, this leaves Mannarino in a weird position ahead of tonight’s match. He’s probably doomed. His legs are likely wasted from his marathon with Karatsev. The tournament has already been a success for him. It seems almost cruel, like Mannarino should have more time to revel in his run before having to run after Nadal’s forehands. How is he supposed to feel? What if he tries to convince himself he can win and can’t, whether that belief starts flagging pre-match or when he’s down two sets and a break? He’ll be left in a weird Twilight Zone of caring fruitlessly, riding an escalator into a void — during one of the best runs of his career.

The sudden shift from labored joy to a complete loss is reminiscent of Sirius Black’s death in Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix. He’s dueling Lucius Malfoy, and slams him backwards after a series of spells. It’s badass, and fun to watch, because you like Sirius. Then Bellatrix Lestrange appears from nowhere and kills him. It happens in about two seconds, and it’s absurdly anticlimactic, because the charismatic Sirius was part of hundreds of pages and hours of footage, and then he’s utterly gone in a moment. It feels too fast, not because you want him to suffer, but because someone so compelling doesn’t deserve to be wiped from the plane of reality in mere seconds. Mannarino’s plight is similar. He’s written an absorbing book in his first three rounds, and now the hero will die in one lazy breath of the dragon.

There’s also the cold reality that in Mannarino’s case, there is no benefit in losing to Rafa. He is not young. It’s not like he can think that sucked, but it’s a match I’ll win when we play again in two years. He is probably done improving. A loss to Nadal, for Mannarino, will be little more than a painful reminder of where the standard is. He already knows; he has been on tour for over a decade. It is probably discouraging rather than inspiring.

The match

The match itself got to the void-into-the-escalator realm eventually, but not before Mannarino surprised me. I did not expect to be surprised by this match. I thought the Frenchman was spent and that we were in for three uneventful sets. Mannarino, though, chose to shred the script for a little while.

The first twelve games were bad, though there was the expected weirdness that comes with all tennis matches (a fan held up a sign reading “RAFA CAN I HIT WITH U?” He was wearing an RF hat). Neither player could get into a rhythm on the return of serve and held easily, the lone exception being the eleventh game, when Mannarino had a break point he couldn’t convert. The first set went to a tiebreak.

If you saw this tiebreak, you know that nothing can compare to watching it unfold. Nadal went up 6-4 by slinging a forehand passing shot crosscourt clean by Mannarino from way behind the baseline. It looked decisive. Mannarino disagreed, instead deciding to play some of the best tennis of the tournament. At 5-6, he advanced on a short ball and hammered a forehand winner down the line. At 8-9, Mannarino dug in for a grueling 25-shot rally. He dictated the pace through much of it, then Nadal tossed a lob over him and onto the baseline. Mannarino bunted it back, and Nadal crushed an inside-in forehand, an intended knockout punch. On the dead run, Mannarino swiped a crosscourt forehand into the open court, the ball landing smack on the back half of the baseline.

It was constantly brilliant tennis under pressure, so much so that I started to laugh at around 12-all, because there were a handful of shots so good they would have been decisive in many other tiebreaks. As so often is the case against the greats, the underdog did have a chance. At 12-11, Mannarino ran down a bad drop shot and had a look at a backhand down the line putaway. He went crosscourt, and Nadal passed him down the line.

Mannarino didn’t make many mistakes in the tiebreak — on his lone set point on serve at 13-12, Nadal returned a big first serve deep, then capped the ensuing 18-shot rally with a forehand winner down the line. Mannarino saved six set points against one of the most clutch players in history! He pushed Nadal into the longest tiebreak of the Spaniard’s illustrious professional career.

And, to the surprise of few, he lost. Nadal had to save four set points, but eventually won the tiebreak 16-14. The final set point was bizarre; Mannarino had Nadal dead to rights but kept trying to wrong-foot Nadal, who had stayed home in the ad court. Nadal finally blasted a forehand at Mannarino, and watched his volley fly wildly beyond the lines.

Nadal has performed some iconic (and odd) celebrations in the past. His reaction after winning the tiebreak showed how unique the place the match had gone was — he pumped his arms, slowly, one at a time. He had never quite celebrated like that before, even after his wildest sets and matches. It was like he understood the deeply special moment he had just come out on top of and wanted to mark it with an emphatic reaction, but couldn’t make up his mind on what to do.

For Mannarino, the tiebreak might be a fun story to tell a future generation of tennis players one day. And then, kids, after almost five hours in the previous round, I played this tiebreak against Nadal. It was insane. There were so many set points, and the rallies–I think, honestly, that you just had to be there. Maybe he will be able to laugh at the absurdity of it all one day. Maybe he already can.

I hope this is the case, because the rest of the match was brutal. It was obvious after the first few points of the second set that Mannarino’s legs were gone. He may have been injured; he got a visit from the trainer at 2-5 in the second set. When Mannarino was being worked on, Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” blared from the Rod Laver Arena speakers. Tennis has a sadistic sense of humor.

Mannarino fought gamely, flattening out his shots even more in the third set, but the result of the match was painfully clear, so much so that playing it out felt gratuitous. It wasn’t a legend-versus-challenger situation as much as it was a race between a fresh runner and one who had just finished a marathon. I don’t think Mannarino reacted a single time in the third set — no fist-pumps, no frustration. The self-belief was gone, because there were no reasons for it to hang around. Nothing short of Nadal breaking his leg would have prevented the inevitable. Cruelly, it wouldn’t have mattered even if Mannarino had won the first set. The emotional boon might have lasted for a few games, if that, before the mousetraps on the legs reasserted their presence. The finish line was miles too far in the distance.

An empty tank. Note that the first set lasted longer than the last two combined. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

Mannarino, somehow, managed to complete the match without retiring or crying. It looked to me like Nadal asked if he was okay as they shook hands at net, and that Mannarino said yes. Nadal was inquiring about his physical state, of course. I don’t think he can relate to what the Frenchman must be going through emotionally. Nadal has beaten his biggest tormentor 28 times.

Post-match thoughts

For the past fifteen-plus years, underdogs on the ATP have remained enclosed in a cold, unyielding bubble. There are small victories, and that is usually all. A major semifinal becomes the logical dream rather than a major title. Mannarino has reaped some well-deserved joy from his run at this Australian Open. Just look at his smile after beating Karatsev. Still, it feels stingy that after all Mannarino has put into this tournament, this is all he gets. One could argue that he should be encouraged by his high level at the Australian Open, but the uncomfortable truth is that this high level got him one set into his round of 16 match before his body gave out. Presumably, professional tennis players dream of being world number one and winning majors. To be told in no uncertain terms that it’s not going to happen seems like something that cannot be dealt with overnight.

I remembered how Mannarino had suffered more bad luck recently. He was up two sets to one on Federer at Wimbledon last year, then slipped, hurt his knee, and wasn’t able to finish the match. I remembered how he tweeted about it after, saying he wasn’t having the best birthday. I remembered how I expressed my condolences, and how he liked my tweet.

The nature of the Big Three as reliable big-title magnets is not a new phenomenon. Other second-tier players have suffered more intensely and more often than Mannarino. The match today surprised me for almost half an hour — about a sixth of how long the match was in total. The rest went according to the script. The deviation, though, however inconsequential, won’t leave my mind.

Pundits remind us weekly of the fact that the Big Three era is waning. Some fans are tired of the same players winning repeatedly. I’m not really; I will miss the unprecedentedly high quality of tennis Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer brought to the ATP. What I look forward to of a day without the Big Three is the Mannarinos being able to celebrate bigger wins, the plight of the underdog becoming a surmountable challenge.

Jannik Sinner: Lengthening the Battle to Shorten the War

By Siddhant Guru

Jannik Sinner has been on fire in Australia! The Italian upstart has won all six of his matches, dropping just a single set in the process. Only two of the twelve sets that he has won have gone to tiebreaks. The youngster is in a rich vein of form, one that stands in sharp contrast to the tail end of last season when he lost four out of his last five matches before the Davis Cup in late November.

Who or what could be behind this improvement? Sinner has been somewhat coy and mysterious when asked about his coaching team.

The Unforced Error Conundrum

Let’s call our mystery coach “X”. Sinner has been blamed in recent times of being impatient and over-aggressive. He pulls the trigger too early in rallies and that leads to unforced errors piling up. According to Tennis Abstract, Sinner has a career unforced error rate of 16%, i.e. 16% of all his shots are unforced errors.

What we are seeing is that “X” has helped Sinner in cutting down this unforced error rate. It was only 9% vs Steve Johnson in Round 2 and 14% vs Taro Daniel in Round 3 of the Australian Open. In a tight sport such as tennis, that difference of 1-2% could be the deciding factor in a match.

Lengthening the Rallies

In 2021, Tennis Abstract shows that Sinner’s matches had an average rally length of 4.4 shots with the average rally length on his own serve being 4.7 shots and 4.0 on the opponent’s serve. This statistic is a little concerning for Sinner. What this shows is that he’s having to hit more balls on his own serve and is unable to hit as many on his opponent’s serve.

In the 2022 Australian Open, the average rally length is at 4.6 shots. However, it has now flipped around with the average length on his own serve being 4.2 shots while on his opponent’s serve, it’s 4.8 shots. In other words, Sinner is protecting his own serve much better while also being able to lengthen points on his opponent’s serve.

The Move Forward – Net Points

It seems incorrect to think of Net Points as a statistic when we have established that Sinner has been lengthening the rallies. After all, aren’t Net Points shown to be tactics that players use to shorten the points? So, if Sinner is lengthening the rallies, then the frequency of net points in his plays would reduce this year. Right? Guess what, if you think so, you’re totally wrong. What has actually happened is that the frequency of net points in Sinner’s matches has gone up from 8% in 2021 to almost 14% in 2022.

Jannik Sinner punches away a backhand volley winner. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

What is happening here? As it turns out, our mystery coach “X” has got Sinner to lengthen rallies and then find a good angle to sneak into the net and finish off the point. It was a tactic that served him really well vs Taro Daniel who was playing a really good counterpunching match. Sinner is not looking only to hit through his opponent now. He has now got the intent to suffer through long rallies until he finds a shot he is willing to go for.

The End Result – What does this mean?

In the 2021 US Open, Jannik Sinner made it to the second week of a hard court major for the first time in his career. He dropped four sets and took nine hours and 49 minutes to win his first three rounds. His average rally length in those matches? Only four shots.

In the 2022 Australian Open, he has dropped only one set in his first three wins. He has taken only six hours and 29 minutes for those wins. His average rally length in these matches? 4.6 shots.

He really is lengthening the battle to shorten the war.

(P.S. – As for who “X” is, the rumors in the Italian Media is that he is a certain seven-time major Champion…)

Siddhant can be found on Twitter @Siddhantguru.

Auger-Aliassime Advances to the Round of 16

By Brenda Parry

Being a fan of both players, I was really looking forward to the match between the Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, the ninth seed, and Dan Evans, the 24th seed and last British man standing in the singles draw.

Having both started the season in impressive form, the two players could not have reached the third round of the Australian Open in more different ways. Evans enjoyed a comfortable straight-set win in the first round against David Goffin followed by a walkover handed to him by Arthur Rinderknech in the second round. Auger-Aliassime needed a combined total of just over eight hours, to reach the last 32, coming from two sets to one down to beat Emil Ruusuvuori in five sets and fighting past Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in four closely fought (tie-break) sets.

The match got underway as the sun began to set on the John Cain Arena in the late afternoon and a shadow lengthened across the court, making it difficult to see the ball at times. Evans appeared rattled at the start of the match by the sound of a live band which was playing outside the arena but this seemingly channelled his focus and he was the first to create opportunities to break, in the fifth and ninth games. Auger-Aliassime kept his composure however and managed to serve his way out of difficulty. He subsequently converted his first break point when Evans serving to stay in the first set at 4-5 snatched at a forehand drive volley and the ball landed in the net.

As the music faded outside the arena, Evans’ serve and backhand slice deserted him and more unforced errors crept into his game. Still reeling from the loss of the first set, he double-faulted twice in his opening service game of the second set. From that moment on, and with his confidence growing, Auger-Aliassime proved to be stronger in every area. He served better, returned effectively and essentially knew how to win the points at key moments. The momentum having shifted, the match quickly slipped away from Evans, who only won two more games, and there was a degree of inevitability as he put the ball long on match point.

Felix Auger-Aliassime celebrates after beating Dan Evans 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

The 21-year-old Canadian, who is in the fourth round of the Australian Open for a second straight year, has been making strides in the last year and led Team Canada to the ATP Cup title at the beginning of this year. He will face 33-year old Marin Čilić, who upset the fifth seed Andrey Rublev in four sets (7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3) in the last 16.

“I think I’m just more relaxed and more composed and have better self-confidence that I can go into second week, I can go into quarters or more,” Auger-Aliassime said following his victory today.

Let’s wait and see!

Keeping Your Balance


The third round of a major is the first time when seeded players can face each other. It’s not the round that separates the elite from the very good, not quite, but it’s often the first round in which the elite need to battle. Standout performances happen in the third round — many are starting to regard Victoria Azarenka as a title contender after her destruction of Elina Svitolina. The third round was the stage at which Alcaraz beat Tsitsipas at the U.S. Open last year. The third round was the stage at which Novak Djokovic began his two-year decline at Wimbledon in 2016. The third round is treacherous enough that if you go in with any mindset besides wanting to survive, even as a top player, you’re probably pushing your luck.


When the match between Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz started, I was thinking about Rainn Wilson, portrayer of the iconic Dwight Schrute on The Office. His main project these days is a podcast called Metaphysical Milkshake. I haven’t listened to it. It’s about philosophical and scientific questions in life, I think. Rainn Wilson has 2.7 million Instagram followers; despite his repeated promoting of the podcast, the Metaphysical Milkshake account has 9814. Maybe this is because the intersection between fans of a legendary comedy actor and fans of podcasts about complicated questions is fairly small, but I think the greater obstacle is that people want to hear about Dwight, not Rainn, so they follow Rainn in hopes that he might mention Dwight every now and then instead of for anything Rainn himself does. 

Wilson ranted in 2017 that just because he played a great character for 200 episodes, people shouldn’t make jokes about that character’s salient qualities every time they see the man himself. It’s a more than valid point. The paradoxical cruelty, though, is that fans care more about Dwight than they do about Wilson, so much so that they will love Dwight even if the intensity of that love negatively impacts the guy who played him. Wilson posted to promote an episode of Metaphysical Milkshake on January 11th. The post got 92 comments, fewer than half of which had to do with the episode. Several read “it is your birthday,” a reference to a popular episode of The Office. Another read, simply, “beets.” 

Wilson’s most recent post had a caption reading “it is my birthday. Follow @LideHaiti [a foundation dedicated to bringing Haitian girls better health and education] and @metaphysicalmilkshake!” My guess is that more people laughed at the reference than did either of the things he suggested.

Circumstances have changed since The Office wrapped in 2013. A rock he had to lean on for eight years has disappeared, but people act like it still exists. Fans are happy to look at Wilson as Dwight forever even when he does things that have nothing to do with Dwight. Wilson doesn’t have much say in the matter. He was just too good, too iconic in The Office. I feel a bit bad for Wilson that his previous success is inhibiting his current potential to succeed, in a way, but not bad enough to listen to Metaphysical Milkshake. 


The comparisons between Carlos Alcaraz and the Big Three tend to annoy me. Yes, Alcaraz is the best ATP prospect to come along in ages and yes, there are vague similarities, but comparing a green 18-year-old to the greatest players ever? It seems like inviting disappointment. And yet, when Alcaraz began his match against Berrettini by sailing around the court like he had built it himself and knew the best places to step and was crushing every forehand he got a swing at, I couldn’t help it, I thought about Federer. It was breathtaking tennis…

…that didn’t last for very long. I thought it was odd how quickly Alcaraz lost the plot in the first set. When I saw he had spurned four break points in his first return game, I wondered if that would come back to bite him on break points later, but I didn’t expect it to translate into breaking himself with four unforced errors. It took him a while to gather himself; he lost seven games in a row from 2-1 up in the first set. There were times when he was totally off the boil: pasting forehands way long, trying to end rallies too soon, seeming to forget he had a sneaky drop shot in his repertoire. Still, I found myself impressed with how he conducted himself during this period. He looked discontent, to be sure, but he seemed confused rather than panicked. When Daniil Medvedev’s game went haywire in last year’s Australian Open final, he visibly freaked out and began to play faster and more recklessly and faster and faster and faster until it was game, set, match Djokovic. Alcaraz seemed quietly confident that he would find better tennis imminently. When he finally did, breaking back to climb to 4-all in the second set, he bellowed a “siiiiiiiii!” that was audible over the crowd’s roar, ringing of confidence and even a sarcastic hint of about time that happened.

In many ways, this match was reminiscent of last year’s Alcaraz-Tsitsipas U.S. Open thriller: third round, five sets, promising youngster vs. established top-tenner. A lot has changed since that match, though — Alcaraz has made the jump from future star to the future star who is clearly better than his peers in a few short months. There is both external and internal pressure now, lots of it. Alcaraz was seeded 24 spots lower than Berrettini, but the Australian Open odds tracker thought he was the favorite. I thought he was the favorite. Alcaraz had beefed up his serve during the offseason and added a ton of muscle to his frame, so much so that his sleeveless kit didn’t look any weirder on him than it did on a young Nadal.

Alcaraz’s seven-game walkabout early in the match could have been for any number of reasons, but I’d argue it was because of the shifting circumstances. Against Tsitsipas in New York, he could play without fear because he wasn’t supposed to win the match. Here, he played supremely well in the first few games, but when Berrettini matched him, maybe it made Alcaraz think about the challenges of expectation. I’m supposed to play this well for the whole match? Once Berrettini rolled him for a while, it’s possible Alcaraz’s nerves regressed to the mean, allowing him to play more freely. He lost the match, but if a rematch were to occur even later this year, I think most would expect Alcaraz to not spot Berrettini a set-and-a-break lead. And to win the match.

Where today’s match differs from the U.S. Open defeat of Tsitsipas is that Alcaraz had to fight from behind against Berrettini, who was in the thick of a purple patch of form, especially early on. Even in defeat, many of Alcaraz’s competitive assets were on display. Berrettini is one of the best servers on tour. He made a mightily impressive 71% of his first serves during this match, but that didn’t stop Alcaraz had break points in seven different return games. He broke Berrettini four times. He won 54% of second serve return points. His return of serve is probably his biggest, most unique attribute. By comparison, Berrettini broke Alcaraz for the last time early in the second set and had a total of one break point in Alcaraz’s last 20 service games. Being able to break serve reliably in this looming era of giants at the top of the ATP is a precious asset.

Alcaraz was poised throughout the match, even when things weren’t going his way. His self-confidence was reminiscent of Dwight’s (if you haven’t seen The Office, Dwight is a beet farmer, he brings weapons to work, and he loves Battlestar Galactica. He is completely unaware that any of his behavior is eccentric), though the 18-year-old Spaniard doesn’t have any evident weirdness to be ashamed of. His reactions throughout the match blazed with certainty. After earning a mini-break on the first point of the deciding tiebreak, he nodded and tapped his head lightly with his racket. He seemed so utterly sure he would win the match that the fact he didn’t still seems kind of impossible. At 2-all in the fourth set, he worked his way to a break point, and managed to trap Berrettini in an ad-court rally. When Berrettini dropped a backhand slightly short in the court, Alcaraz annihilated it for an inside-in forehand winner. The winner had outrageous pace but was well inside the line, a divine balance. He nodded to his box, cocksure, as in control as he’d been since game two of the match. The shot was thunderous enough to warrant a manic celebration, but Alcaraz merely looked to his team and nodded, totally unconcerned about losing the match, totally in the moment.

Another eye-popping quality of this match was Alcaraz’s movement. Tennis players sprint and slide on cement like it’s ice with such abandon that I sometimes wonder exactly when in their training they stopped being afraid of simultaneously shredding all their ligaments. At 3-4 in the fifth set, Berrettini slammed a del Potro-esque crosscourt forehand, the kind that streaks through the court so quickly that by the time you process what just happened, the shot has either gone for a winner or practically knocked the opponent over with sheer pace. It was immediately evident that Alcaraz was not going to be able to get to the ball. He sprinted for it anyway, got a racket on it, then slid violently to the ground in a split. Alcaraz was moving with such ridiculous force that his rear literally bounced off the court upon impact. It will be far from a shock if he does, but please, tennis gods, don’t let this guy get injured anytime soon.


In rollercoaster matches such as this one, the complexion changes along the way until the players are competing and striving for different things than they were at the beginning. After the fourth set, Berrettini had gone from trying to close out a win to desperately playing to avoid a massive blown lead. Alcaraz went from expecting to win to having to reckon with the fact that 0-2 comebacks against top-ten players do not happen by accident, that they will not beat themselves, that you have to solidly outplay them for three sets to win. He reckoned with the fact, then almost did outplay Berrettini for three sets, falling barely short in the end. That the players have to maintain steady levels of play as motivations fluctuate is an underrated aspect of a match, especially in close contests where so many missed chances accumulate that whoever loses will feel shattered over what could have been. (This was more the case for Berrettini than Alcaraz, but the Spaniard did have a break point early in the fifth and lost six of the last seven points in the final tiebreak.)

Rainn Wilson lived in an abandoned beer brewery without heat or running water for years. There were rats. He was a more established actor when The Office began in 2005, but it was still by far the biggest hit of his career. What do you do after that, after something so big it’s virtually guaranteed you’ll never exceed it? It’s no wonder Djokovic crashed a little bit after Roland-Garros in 2016. You try to move on to bigger and better things, sure, but what if those things don’t exist? Wilson is rich enough to do whatever he wants, but it must be difficult to reconcile with the intersection between the greatest accomplishment of your career and the reason why no one cares about what you do next.

Hell, my circumstances have also changed, even during the four hours it took Berrettini to beat Alcaraz. I was first impressed and then disappointed by the young Spaniard’s play, then impressed again. I figured Alcaraz was toast when he blew a swing volley to go down match point, and when Berrettini failed to convert with a typically awful second serve return, I thought Alcaraz would go on to win the match. I wanted Alcaraz to win, and not just because I’d been talking up his chances to win this match. I admired his less serve-reliant game and love for the fight. I thought he was a better player than Berrettini and one I wanted to watch more going forward.

As the match continued past the two and three-hour mark, I scrapped my plan to sleep a few hours before Nadal-Khachanov and settled on a full all-nighter. My fullness from dinner dissipated and I stared at a jar of blackberry jam on my shelf, wishing I had picked up bread to spread it on. I yawned once and thanked myself for the midafternoon nap I took in preparation for this match. I started to watch in darkness so my roommate could sleep, my laptop a blue slice of light floating in black soup. My ears started to hurt from my earbuds. A Stan Wawrinka tweet about non-fungible tokens popped up on Twitter. When Alcaraz lost the match, I was disappointed, but not as much as I expected to be. Something about the way the finish line sped into view so quickly and how Berrettini refused to choke made me feel at peace with the result.

Different circumstances teach us new things about ourselves, and though Carlos Alcaraz knew he could win this match before it started, I’m not sure he knew he could win it in the way he almost did. He will be wiser for this experience, more prepared to excel the next time his circumstances change. The challenges of tennis are unavoidable; pain is squarely on the path to excellence. Still, Carlos Alcaraz remains farther ahead on that path than any of his peers. He will survive and grow from the next challenge just as he has from this one.


As I finish this piece, I’m watching the end of Osaka-Anisimova, which has also gone to a final-set 10-point tiebreak. Anisimova is able to produce pace from really low contact points. I mean really low. It’s like her swing gently swipes the air but the ball leaves her strings like it was shot out of a cannon. She has so much easy power she could probably tap the wall from Game of Thrones with her racket and it would crumble. Anisimova saves two match points and wins, just as Osaka did last year against Muguruza in the fourth round before going on to win the title. I think about how this means we won’t get Osaka-Barty in two days, and I think about how I don’t care at all because what Anisimova just produced was so amazing.

I start watching Rafa play Khachanov. Nadal is carving up the court with his forehand, and for a second it all just feels like too much. I feel as if I need a break to let my head cool, to let this scintillating tennis simmer, to appreciate what has just happened before it gets buried by the next thing. I don’t need a long distraction, just a few minutes to cool. Like a funny clip from The Office, or something.

The Aftermath

By Claire Stanley

Andy Murray’s Australian Open is over.

This article was about as easy to write as the match was to watch. That’s to say it wasn’t – not at all.

I’ve spent many of the hours since Murray crashed out of the AO in straight sets at the hands of qualifier, and world number 120, Taro Daniel reflecting on what happened and what might have been.

As ever, my unwavering belief in Andy fully expected him to win this match and storm into the third round. At the same time I am always very wary of qualifiers – they’ve had to come much further than many others to get to this stage of the main draw and are on a four match winning streak – in fact, Daniel is yet to drop a set from qualifying until now. He stormed onto the John Cain Arena, unfazed by the crowd or the legend of the game who stood in front of him and refused to be intimidated as he cemented his place in the round of 32.

All at the expense of one Andy Murray of course, who couldn’t seem to do anything right – okay, that’s maybe a slight exaggeration, but it’s not far off – to counter Daniel’s ferocious attack. The 28-year-old Japanese native is in the form of his life right now and Murray simply couldn’t get to grips with his game quick enough.

I have no desire to run through this play-by-play – I think I speak for most, if not all, Murray fans when I say this is a match I would rather not experience again in any form. But reflection is good for the soul and despite the crushing disappointment I feel that yet another Australian Open trophy has slipped from Andy’s grasp, I do feel I can look back on the past couple of weeks and feel positive going forward. Note I said the past couple of weeks – not specifically today – because we’ve seen some real Murray magic and I want more.

A great run in Sydney that lead to a final, and another brilliant win over Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili in round one of the AO isn’t to be dismissed. His body – which was the problem in a lot of his matches in 2020 and 2021 – is improving every day, his physicality is no longer an issue; Murray looks strong, he himself says he feels good and pulls up well even after long physical matches and he acknowledges that sometimes, like against Daniel, he just isn’t playing good enough tennis. That can change – he knows it, we know it – and the season has only just begun.

So be disappointed about today Andy fans – we are entitled to that – but this is just a dip in the Murraycoaster. The only way is up.

Let’s Enjoy Alizé Cornet for What She Is

By Owais Majid

When I tuned into Alizé Cornet’s match against Garbiñe Muguruza at midnight my time, I had no idea I’d be wanting to write about this match in the morning but alas, here I am. Expecting a fairly straightforward win for the third seed and one of the favourites for the tournament, what unfolded next took me and many others by surprise, but should it have done?

From the offset, Cornet played authoritative tennis, breaking the Muguruza serve early doors and consolidating it with ease. For the duration of the set, she had numerous break points which she squandered. In a typical Cornet display, she could easily have succumbed to the disappointment of missing so many opportunities and lost her momentum but she seemed unfazed throughout. She held serve comfortably all the way to take it 6-3. Even then, most would have assumed that Muguruza would make a comeback and the Frenchwoman would naturally have a drop off from the lights-out tennis she was playing in the first set. 

However, the second set was arguably even more impressive from Cornet. If it were possible, Cornet managed to up her level. Whilst the first set could be taken with the caveat that Muguruza was way off her game, she had regained her radar for the second. In spite of this, Cornet held firm to take it 6-3 in a repeat of the first set scoreline. To give some context to how dominant Cornet was on her serve, Muguruza didn’t have a single break point, winning only 15 out of 80 return points. As she crossed the finishing line by breaking serve for the second time in the set and the third time in the match, Cornet’s celebration was evident of just how much this meant to her. Such a monumental victory in such resounding fashion is something she has rarely produced.  

Alizé Cornet celebrates her upset win over Garbiñe Muguruza.

As is often the case when a player of Cornet’s nature scores an improbable victory such as this one, there were questions about why she doesn’t produce this level on a consistent basis. For me, the essence of Cornet was perfectly illustrated by an exchange between the commentators on Aus Open Radio. Abigail Johnson, the lead commentator, posed the question as to why we so rarely see this sort of tennis from the 31-year-old. Cornet has made the fourth round at all the majors over a span of more than eleven years, but has gone no further. Johnson’s co-commentator rather succinctly replied “It’s like wanting Christmas lunch every day.” It’s lazy to compare her to her compatriot Gael Monfils, (on whom Scott incidentally wrote a beautiful piece earlier this week), but it’s difficult to resist when there are so many similarities. Like Monfils, Cornet’s tennis is such that, were she more focused and dialled in, chances are we wouldn’t see some of the highlight reels we do get from her, nor would we find her occasional peaks such as this one so incredibly uplifting. Christmas lunch is so feverishly anticipated because it only occurs once a year. I’d venture that opinions on Brussels sprouts would be far less frequently complimented if they were part of a weekly meal. Cornet has left tennis fans scratching their heads both for better and for worse over her career which I was surprised to see has spanned 16 years. Her amazing stroke play has been compromised by her attitude towards the sport at times. Her rank of 61 in the world does her talent no justice but with a player like her, the ranking is almost academic.

In her on-court interview, Cornet remarked that she went into the match with a mindset of just “having fun which I haven’t been doing a lot.”  I found this particularly intriguing. It’s clear that she plays her best tennis when she adopts this mentality, but as we can all relate to, it’s impossible to maintain this day in and day out and this, ultimately, is why Cornet’s spark doesn’t ignite as often as we may want it to. It’s time we accept that certain players aren’t made for playing ultra-consistent tennis on the day to day grind of the tour. Cornet is definitely one of those and honestly, that’s absolutely fine.

Gaël Monfils: Hope for Tomorrow

He struggled to form words as he brought his hands together on the desk in front of him and dug his fingers around his eyes as though trying to claw them out.

He was the figure of the distraught, his face ashen through with lack of options having searched for solutions long.

Such a strange and sad sight, this man usually filled with so much sun and light, laughter and bright, brought now to a point of anxiousness and searching for something to make everything alright.

When he did speak, it was with acceptance that this would likely continue, that he would roll forwards to the next event and the next event and the one after that too, to be confronted with this terrifyingly same result at all of them.

“I’d like to stand up and tell myself that this nightmare is over but the truth is, I don’t know when it will stop.”

This was Gaël Monfils and this was his real life horror-show, a seventh loss in a row, stretching back to when the ATP Tour had coughed its way back into play following a global pause of movement to counteract Covid-19.

His form prior to that shutdown had been pleasing with results promising, a real push to focus the abilities that everyone knew he had into producing title-taking tournament runs, possibly even maybe perhaps in a major tournament, a notion his detractors would once have scoffed at.

Now though, with crowds gone and atmospheres missing, he was drowning, looking for air in outer space as his game failed him time after time. 

The cause of so many smiles and grins with his fun-house circus-act mirror-maze of tennis play, now sat in a press-conference in disrepair and cried tears that told those watching that he was tired of trying.

And how relatable a feeling it was to oh-so-many, how the necessary disruption of the normal had wedged itself into mindsets the world-over, messing with heads and causing doubts that festered here and fostered there, bad thoughts, dark thoughts, scary mad thoughts, the results of spending hours whiling away and whittling away and chipping away at the hours of the day in the hopes that tomorrow might bring better while knowing that it would not.

As he departed the 2021 Australian Open with a cloud hanging dark above him, Gaël Monfils was not at all alone even if in that moment he looked as though he was.


A world rotation later and Monfils is back at Melbourne Park with a wedding ring on his finger and a spark to his step and a flavour that tastes fresh, spider-webbing his way through two rounds of the tournament in a run that’s set tongues wagging with the whispered chat of potential possibilities.

For the Frenchman though, he seems simply content with the turnaround, memories from this time last year not yet consigned to history, even going as far as to offer them up in on-court interviews as a sign that he’s taking nothing for granted.

“I had a tough time, but now I really feel good. Great. Strong. You guys are back. I’m back. Hopefully I’m doing some really great stuff.”

Those who saw themselves in Monfils twelve months ago should be able to take this as a sign that the end of the tunnel that they’re going down may only ever actually be just a tomorrow away.

Better Days Are Here: Gaël Monfils revels in his good form at the Australian Open 2022 having overcome the difficulties of last year.