Semi-finals preview: Medvedev, Djokovic, Jabeur, Sabalenka step up

7 January 2023, by Dan Imhoff

Novak Djokovic has it all pretty well figured out at this week’s Adelaide International.

The men’s top seed has established how to weather those early on-court storms in his first hit-outs of the new season.

How to shoot and score past coach Goran Ivanisevic in a game of barefoot, four-a-side mini soccer in his post-match warm-downs.

Even the likely reason for a fireworks display that momentarily interrupted his dismissal of Denis Shapovalov on centre court on Thursday night.

“It was probably for Orthodox Christmas. That is tonight,” he beamed.

He also has a fair idea what it will take to beat his semifinal opponent, arguably his toughest hardcourt rival of recent years, Daniil Medvedev – a lot of running, manoeuvring and nailing his spots.

That strategy is largely mutual and hardly secret.

“I don’t think there’s going to be too many short points tomorrow unless we both serve well. Normally when you play Daniil you have to be ready to go the distance, physically, mentally, game-wise,” Djokovic said.

“He’s definitely one of the best players in the world for the past five years. He’s established himself, he’s a Grand Slam winner, he’s former No.1 in the world, so he’s someone that I respect a lot. We had some amazing battles over the years.”

Despite finishing the season as world No.5, Djokovic enters this showdown with a 21-1 record since September, while Medvedev is also in the midst of rebuilding after seeing his ranking dip from world No.1 last February to No.7 at season’s end.

The Serbian holds an 8-4 edge in their head-to-head, with 10 of the 12 showdowns coming on hard courts.

While Medvedev has not won his past eight clashes against top-10 opponents, few would forget his momentous calendar-year Grand Slam foiling act when he collected his maiden major at Djokovic’s expense in the 2021 US Open final.

“Even last year, the two matches we played were crazy, and I feel like I managed to raise my level to one of the best levels I played in 2022… In Australia we played already three times, I think,” Medvedev said after his straight-sets victory over eighth seed Karen Khachanov.

“Not going to touch too much on this, but I lost all of them. This is a challenge to play Novak in Australia.

“Maybe it can be easier in Adelaide than Melbourne, you never know, but it’s a challenge and it’s a great test before Australian Open to play one of the best ones and probably the best player ever in terms of Australian tennis.”

As a 28-year-old world No.2, Ons Jabeur admitted she needed to draw on her years of experience to withstand the shot-making and court-sliding feats of Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk on Thursday night.

The Tunisian did not have it all her own way in a 7-6(5), 7-5 victory over the 20-year-old qualifier and said she would need to send her team on a scouting mission to ascertain how to take on another qualifier in the semifinals, 18-year-old Linda Noskova.

The Czech teenager needed three hours to outlast two-time former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka to reach her first WTA 500 semifinal.

“She’s an amazing player. I saw her, she beat lot of great players here and it’s going to be a tough match for me,” Jabeur said. “Definitely I’ll have to speak to my coach and watch her play more but, yeah, everybody is playing really well here, everybody is hungry to win, so I expect a difficult match.”

In beating Andy Murray in the opening round Sebastian Korda did something his father Petr Korda never managed in his sole appearance in Adelaide 33 years ago – win a match.

Korda Jr was well aware he was yet to scale the heights his dad did as an Australian Open champion and former world No.2.

While closing on his mum Regina Rajchrtova’s career best ranking, he still had some way to go to close the gap on his dad and two golfing sisters, Nelly and Jessica.

“You know I’ve got the worst ranking in the whole family,” he joked after his 7-5, 6-1 victory over sixth seed Jannik Sinner. “My mum was like No.25, my dad was No.2, my sister No.1, my sister No.8, so I’m the worst athlete of the family so far, but I’m trying to catch up.”

The world No.33 Korda sits only three places above Nishioka in the rankings but has the upper hand in the head-to-head, winning both clashes – last year in Antwerp and in 2021 in Parma.

Japanese lefty Nishioka ended the last-remaining Australian Alexei Popyrin’s hopes in three sets on Thursday to continue his charge, having bundled out fifth seed Holger Rune in the first round.

In the first women’s singles semfinal on Saturday, second seed Aryna Sabalenka looks to level a 0-1 record against unseeded Irina-Camelia Begu.

The world no.5 fell to the Romanian in straight sets in Miami last year but has hit her stride this week, downing Marketa Vondrousova on Thursday.

The 32-year-old Begu backed up her upset of seventh seed Jelena Ostapenko with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over fourth seed Veronika Kudermetova.