Elena Rybakina continued her strong start to 2020 by winning the Hobart International title on Saturday.

The Kazakh, 20, proved too good for Zhang Shuai 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 to claim her second WTA Tour crown.

Rybakina is in impressive form to begin the year, having also reached the final in Shenzhen this month.

She delivered in the decider this time, converting all three break points she created on her way to victory in one hour, 33 minutes.

Rybakina will hope to carry her good form into the Australian Open, facing Bernarda Pera in the opening round.

Petra Kvitova admitted she was worried about the air quality in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open, particularly as an asthma sufferer.

The year's first grand slam has been impacted by poor air quality in Victoria's capital after bushfires ravaged Australia in recent months.

Organisers have faced criticism during the qualifying rounds, although air quality has been rated as 'good' in Melbourne since Thursday.

Kvitova, who suffers from asthma, said the air was a concern heading into the grand slam.

"I've been a bit worried about it. Now I'm very happy that, as I mentioned, the sky, it's there again clearly," last year's runner-up told a news conference on Saturday.

"Of course everybody knows that I do have asthma problems, which I wasn't really happy about that if the air is still bad.

"It's same for everybody, so it will be really difficult to breathe for sure. I do have my medicines here, as well.

"Yeah, I'm going to use it if it's important."

However, Kvitova – who faces fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova in the first round – backed officials.

"Well, I'm very comfortable with everything they've taken," she said.

Naomi Osaka believes she is not as fearless as last year as she prepares for her Australian Open title defence.

The Japanese star claimed her second grand slam title in Melbourne in 2019, backing up her US Open success from just months prior.

But the 22-year-old, seemingly more aware of what was at stake, said she felt more fearless last year.

"I feel like last year I was young. Last year I feel like I was young. I was just this young kid that was going out. My goal was to win, and I wasn't going to let anything stop me," Osaka told a news conference on Saturday.

"I feel like now I appreciate more every single win because I know what it took to get it.

"Of course, I want to win every match and I want to go out there and do that. That's what I'm here for.

"I think maybe last year I was a little bit more fearless."

Osaka, the world number three, is again among the favourites and faces Marie Bouzkova in her first-round match.

Ashleigh Barty, the world's top-ranked player, is also expected to challenge and Osaka praised the Australian while talking down suggestions of a rivalry with a player she has met three times since the start of 2018.

"It's super weird. People keep asking me questions like we're rivals or something. She's in the finals of Adelaide right now," she said.

"I think obviously she's a great player. She's the number one ranked player in the world. I don't know, we've played really close matches."

Daniil Medvedev accepts the 'Big Three' will be hard to stop at the Australian Open, but said he was gaining confidence from facing the all-time greats.

After a superb 2019 that included a run to the US Open final, Medvedev is considered one of the contenders in Melbourne, where the year's first grand slam starts on Monday.

But 14 of the past 16 Australian Opens have been won by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, and the trio are again the favourites.

Medvedev, the fourth seed who will face Frances Tiafoe in a tricky opener, said regularly facing the greats gave him confidence.

"I think playing against them from time to time, especially the further you go in the big tournaments, the more chances you have to play them," he told a news conference on Saturday.

"The more times you play them, the more you know where you are comparing to them. For example, match in ATP Cup, Novak was kind of all over me. I managed to get back, almost win the match. I mean, he still won it. They won the whole ATP Cup. But I felt I was really close.

"Matches like this give you confidence to see that you're able to do it, but it's really tough."

Medvedev's run to the final at Flushing Meadows was the first time he had been beyond the fourth round of a grand slam.

The Russian, 23, said he was eyeing at least the quarter-finals in Melbourne this year.

"It's always tough to answer. Good Australian Open is to win it, but if you ask me what I'm going to be happy about, it always depends of course who you play, who you lose to," Medvedev said.

"But I would say I will be happy with quarters. As I always say, for me the first goal is to win it step by step.

"If I'm in quarters, I'm not going to be there and say, 'Okay, I've done my goal, it's enough for this tournament.'

"Any tournament I play, I want to win it. But quarters will be satisfying, I would say."

Andrey Rublev outlasted fellow young gun Felix Auger-Aliassime in a gruelling clash on Friday to reach the Adelaide International final.

The Russian won 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (7-9) 6-4 in a three-hour test, putting him one step away from a second title in 2020.

After triumphing at the Qatar Open last weekend, Rublev, 22, has brought his best form to Australia and had a marginal edge over his 19-year-old Canadian opponent.

At one point Rublev looked like getting the job done in straight sets, but teenager Auger-Aliassime dug deep to force a decider as he sensed the opportunity to grab a first ATP Tour title this weekend.

It went Rublev's way eventually as he advanced to a title match against South African Lloyd Harris, who had earlier beaten American Tommy Paul 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 in a battle between two qualifiers.

Harris and Paul, both aged 22 and ranked respectively 91st and 90th in the world, were unlikely semi-finalists, and Harris will go into the final as the obvious underdog.

The Auckland Open will crown its first French champion after Benoit Paire and Ugo Humbert won through to its final.

Dating back to the 1950s, the tournament crowned a host of the world's elite players in its early years, including Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Bjorn Borg, and its list of winners reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the tour.

Yet French success has been in short supply, until now.

Humbert was a 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 winner against American John Isner, sending the 21-year-old left-hander through to his first tour final.

Paire fended off Poland's Hubert Hurkacz 6-4 6-7 (1-7) 6-2 and will target his fourth ATP title.

"I am very happy to play against a compatriot tomorrow," said 30-year-old Paire, quoted on the ATP website. "He is a very nice guy and we will see, but I am very happy to be in the final. It was the first time for me in the [Auckland] semi-finals and now the first time for me in the final."

Ash Barty produced a superb comeback to reach the final of the Adelaide International, where she will face Dayana Yastremska in an enticing clash before she bids to win the Australian Open.

The world number one was forced to come through a testing last-four encounter with American Danielle Collins but got a victory that ensures she will remain top of the rankings after the first major of 2020.

Her power posed Barty plenty of problems and another shock appeared on the cards when Collins, who defeated Sofia Kenin and Belinda Bencic en route to the semis, claimed the first set.

Collins struggled on serve in the second set, however, and Barty was ruthless in capitalising as she raced into a 5-0 lead.

Powerless to prevent Barty forcing a decider, Collins demonstrated admirable resilience in the third set.

Barty broke for a 4-3 lead with a return winner, but Collins' vicious backhand saw her hit straight back.

The same shot proved her downfall in the decisive tie-break, though, a backhand error securing the match for Barty, who will turn her attention to one of the WTA Tour's rising stars in Yastremska.

Ranked 24th in the world, the 19-year-old overcame world number 12 Aryna Sabalenka, adding the Belarusian to a list of scalps that has this week also included Angelique Kerber.

Sabalenka saw off Simona Halep in the quarter-finals but Yastremska had too much for her as the Ukrainian completed a 6-4 7-6 (7-4) success.

"Especially in the beginning of the year, I think it brings me some confidence before the grand slam, so it's nice to be in the finals," Yastremska said after reaching her first WTA Premier final.

"Here I started really to feel, with each game, that I'm playing better and better."

Meanwhile, at the Hobart International, Zhang Shuai overcame Veronika Kudermetova to set up a final with Elena Rybakina, who beat 2015 champion Heather Watson.

Angelique Kerber is hopeful over her fitness for the Australian Open as she deals with a hamstring injury.

Kerber retired during her second-round match against Dayana Yastremska at the Adelaide International on Wednesday.

The 2016 Australian Open champion, who will face a qualifier in the first round, said she was hopeful ahead of the tournament starting on Monday.

"I'm trusting my team and I mean of course it was not the way I would like to play in Adelaide and finish the tournament before Melbourne," Kerber told a news conference on Friday.

"But I know right now what it is, I'm also in touch with my medical team in Germany and here with my team so I'm hopeful and I'm thinking that it will be fine when I start the tournament."

Kerber revealed she dealt with a similar left-hamstring injury late last year and knows how to cope with the issue.

"I had it before at the end of last year so I know a little bit what it is and we know what we have to do and how to treat that," she said.

"That's actually a good sign that everybody knows how to take care of it."

"By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

"After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Omnisport. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

"It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

"Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

"Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

"So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

"Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

Then there is artificial intelligence. Stats Perform, of which Omnisport is a part of, harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights, though it is relatively untapped in tennis.

"AI is able to crunch some very big data and make sense of it," O'Shannessy added. "The ability to do forecasting through there about percentages and situations. I'm already looking at the best way to incorporate AI and the end result to basically help players win more matches."

Venus Williams' clash with Coco Gauff headlines the Australian Open first round, but former champion Stan Wawrinka also faces an early test in Melbourne.

Williams and Gauff will meet for the second time in what is a blockbuster opening-round encounter.

But there are several intriguing clashes in the first round at the year's first grand slam and we take a look at six of the best.

 

Damir Dzumhur v Stan Wawrinka [15]

Wawrinka would have preferred a friendlier draw than a man he has lost to in two of their three meetings. The Swiss 2014 champion was resurgent last year, while Dzumhur has been unable to replicate the form of his breakout season in 2017. Still, the Bosnian beat Wawrinka in three sets on clay in Geneva last year so the three-time grand slam champion will have to be near his best.

Daniil Medvedev [4] v Frances Tiafoe

Tiafoe thrilled during a run to the quarter-finals in Melbourne last year, but that would prove to be the high point of his 2019. The American has made a slow start to 2020 with first-round losses in Doha and Auckland, but was competitive against Medvedev in a 6-2 7-5 loss in Washington last year. After a spectacular 2019 that included reaching the US Open final, Medvedev shapes as the most likely to stop the 'Big Three', although he will need to get through a somewhat tricky opener first.

Sam Querrey v Borna Coric [25]

While he has dropped off since 2017, Querrey will fancy his chances against Coric after the Croatian's difficult finish to last year. Coric finished 2019 with six straight losses and suffered two more at the ATP Cup, to go with a win over Dominic Thiem. After four consecutive first-round exits in Melbourne, Coric reached the fourth round last year, while Querrey has never been beyond the third round in Melbourne. Coric won their only previous meeting at the French Open in 2015.

Venus Williams v Coco Gauff

Arguably the pick of any first-round match, the 39-year-old Williams meets the 15-year-old Gauff once more. Gauff stunned Williams 6-4 6-4 at Wimbledon last year and her ranking then (313) compared to now (66) tells the story of how she finished 2019 as the teenager followed it up with a title win in Linz. Williams withdrew from Brisbane due to injury, making this a hugely tough task for the seven-time grand slam singles champion.

Kristina Mladenovic v Karolina Pliskova [2]

Pliskova has enjoyed Melbourne in recent years, reaching at least the quarter-finals in each of the past three, but was handed a tough start in 2020. The Czech is coming off a title win in Brisbane and that will give her much-needed confidence ahead of facing former world number 10 Mladenovic. The pair have split their previous four meetings, with Mladenovic winning the last of those in 2017.

Donna Vekic [19] v Maria Sharapova

A wildcard, Sharapova was always going to be the danger in the draw – and she landed alongside 19th seed Vekic. Vekic enjoyed a fine 2019 to rise into the world's top 20, while Sharapova battled injuries and has fallen to 145th in the rankings. Vekic should be the favourite to advance, but if five-time major winner Sharapova can find some form, the Russian is always a threat and last bowed out in the opening round in Melbourne in 2010.

Andy Murray has further delayed his return from a pelvic injury, opting to skip tournaments in Montpellier and Rotterdam next month.

The three-time grand slam champion withdrew from the Australian Open after suffering the injury during last year's Davis Cup Finals.

Murray, 32, was expected to play at the Open Sud de France and Rotterdam Open next month, but announced on Thursday he would not be ready to return.

"The bone bruising is taking longer to heal than first thought," former world number one Murray told UK media.

"So I won't be playing in Montpellier or Rotterdam in February.

"I don't want to rush anything or put a timeline on my recovery, I'm going to listen to my body and step back on the court to compete when the time is right."

After a hip injury threatened to end his career, Murray returned in the second half of last year and won the ATP Tour title in Antwerp in October.

 

Denis Shapovalov was surprisingly beaten in straight sets by 21-year-old Ugo Humbert at the Auckland Open on Friday.

A day after first and third seeds Fabio Fognini and Karen Khachanov were knocked out, second seed Shapovalov was beaten 7-5 6-4.

Humbert, who broke serve in the final game of each set, described the win as "one of the biggest of my career" as he set up a semi-final against John Isner.

The American was taken to two tie-breaks by Kyle Edmund but prevailed 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-5), his 25 aces getting him over the line as he seeks a third title in Auckland.

Benoit Paire reached his first semi-final at the event, coming from a set down to beat John Millman 3-6 6-1 6-4.

The fifth seed will face Hubert Hurkacz, who spurned six second-set match points in a mammoth tie-break before eventually seeing off Feliciano Lopez 6-4 6-7 (11-13) 6-4.

At the Adelaide International, home favourite Alex Bolt was soundly beaten by Felix Auger-Aliassime, the Canadian needing just 55 minutes to win 6-3 6-0.

He will meet Andrey Rublev in the last four after the Russian battled past Dan Evans 6-4 3-6 6-3 in just over two hours.

Spanish hopes were extinguished in the quarter-finals, where Tommy Paul surprised Albert Ramos-Vinolas to win 6-3 6-4 and Lloyd Harris beat fourth seed Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3 6-3.

Garbine Muguruza hopes to be fit for the Australian Open after withdrawing from the Hobart International due to a viral illness.

Former world number one Muguruza withdrew from her quarter-final against Veronika Kudermetova on Thursday.

The two-time grand slam winner is scheduled to face a qualifier in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday. She is in the same quarter of the draw as Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber.

Muguruza tweeted: "I'm sorry I could not play today. I've had a fever for several days and this morning my body said 'enough'.

"I'll rest today and hope to travel to Melbourne tomorrow. I hope to be able to play [the Australian Open].

"I want to thank all the fans in Hobart for their support and love. I hope to return soon."

Heather Watson beat top seed Elise Mertens 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 7-5 to reach the semi-finals, while Kudermetova will take on Zhang Shuai.

At the Adelaide international Simona Halep suffered a 6-3 6-2 quarter-final loss to Aryna Sabalenka.

Second seed Halep lasted just one hour and nine minutes against Sabalenka, who reeled off seven straight games to take the first set and move 5-0 up in the second.

The Wimbledon champion won the next two games but was unable to hold serve to stay in the match.

Sabalenka will take on Dayana Yastremska, who beat Donna Vekic 6-4 6-3, in the semi-finals.

Top seed Ash Barty repeated her French Open final victory over Marketa Vondrousova to reach the final four in Adelaide.

Barty hit 20 winners and saved six of seven break points to secure a 6-3 6-3 triumph and advance to a meeting with Danielle Collins after the American overcame Belinda Bencic 6-3 6-1.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic could meet Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, while Venus Williams has again been pitted against Coco Gauff.

Gauff produced one of 2019's most remarkable results when she beat five-time Wimbledon champion Williams in the first round at the All England club, and the 15-year-old will again face her compatriot in the opening round of 2020's first major.

Serena Williams starts her latest quest for a 24th grand slam singles title against another teenager, Anastasia Potapova, and she could be on for a quarter-final against defending champion Naomi Osaka, who plays Marie Bouzkova in round one.

Ashleigh Barty, who heads into her home slam at the top of the WTA rankings, begins her campaign against Lesia Tsurenko and could meet last year's runner-up Petra Kvitova in the last eight.

Fourth seed Simona Halep takes on Jennifer Brady in round one, with Maria Sharapova facing a difficult opener against Donna Vekic and second seed Karolina Pliskova meeting Kristina Mladenovic.

World number two Djokovic faces a tough start to his title defence in Melbourne against Jan-Lennard Struff, who climbed 20 places in the ATP rankings between January 2019 and this year.

Federer, seeking his 21st grand slam title and seventh in Australia, begins against American Steve Johnson and could face a round-of-16 match with Grigor Dimitrov, who won their last meeting at the quarter-final stage of the US Open.

Djokovic is on course to meet Federer in the semis but Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has beaten the Serbian twice in four meetings, may lie in wait first at the quarter-final stage.

World number one Rafael Nadal meets Hugo Dellien in the first round and could face home favourite Nick Kyrgios in round four.

Dominic Thiem could await Nadal in the quarter-finals, the Austrian beginning his quest for a maiden grand slam triumph against Adrian Mannarino.

World number four Daniil Medvedev has a difficult opening match against Frances Tiafoe, with Alexander Zverev a possible last-eight opponent.

Local hope Alex de Minaur withdrew from the Australian Open due to an abdominal injury.

De Minaur helped Australia into the ATP Cup semi-finals earlier this month, including pushing Rafael Nadal in the last-four loss to Spain.

But the 20-year-old will now miss the year's opening grand slam, where he reached the third round in 2019.

"Unfortunately Australian No.1 @alexdeminaur has withdrawn from #AusOpen 2020 with an abdominal injury," the tournament wrote on Twitter.

World number 21 De Minaur enjoyed a stellar 2019 with a 41-20 win-loss record and three titles.

Craig O'Shannessy knows Novak Djokovic better than most. He was the brains behind the 16-time grand slam champion's revival.

When O'Shannessy teamed up with Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017, there were doubts over the Serbian star and whether he was a spent force on the ATP Tour due to injuries and form.

Djokovic drifted to 22nd in the world rankings during the 2018 season after ending the previous year without a slam crown – Australian Open (second round), French Open (quarter-finals), Wimbledon (quarter-finals) and US Open (absent due to injury).

However, highly regarded Australian strategy analyst and data pioneer O'Shannessy masterminded Djokovic's rise back to the top with three consecutive major championships thanks to a specific gameplan and emphasis on numbers and patterns.

Djokovic won four slams in total with O'Shannessy – the Australian Open (2019), Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and US Open (2018) – before the pair went their separate ways at the end of the 2019 season.

Providing an insight into Djokovic ahead of his quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown in Melbourne, O'Shannessy, who provides players with reports and videos focusing on serving patterns and rally lengths before every match, told Omnisport: "He was really fantastic.

"He was also really receptive, really inquisitive, he is a sponge. There were so many times that I'd give him data and he was locked on to it. He always looked at it as much as possible. He had a real thirst for all the analytics I'd provide him. My job was to make things simple. He is a very smart guy. I think the record and success he had, a big part of that was going onto the court and having the confidence in the gameplan."

O'Shannessy, who now works with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, said: "We met in 2016 and I just showed them the work I could do, which was a lot of video work, analysis of matches, reports that led to video and it was something they weren’t doing at all in their team. We started at the beginning of 2017 and did it for three years, which in tennis years is a substantial amount of time, and it was very successful.

"Early on, I asked him how I could best be an asset for him. I had showed him everything I could do and the big thing was he wanted to see video. He hadn't seen a lot of video from his matches and what he did well. The big thing early on was the confirmation that certain ways and patterns that he gravitates naturally to on the court and didn't know whether they were really the best options.

"A lot of it early on was to show video of his best patterns of play, what worked the most, why he was winning, provide gameplans for every single match over the three years for the opponent, so he never went in blind. We always had a gameplan and knew the tendencies of opponents. Really double down at the big events and against his big rivals, to ensure no stone was left unturned."

At the age of 32, Djokovic – regarded as one of the all-time greats – trails Roger Federer's slam record (20) but can specific training with the use of analytics help prolong his career in pursuit of history?

"Novak is the kind of player that when he's practising, likes to feel the ball, likes to have rhythm, likes to have a large volume of hitting," O'Shannessy added. "But at the same time, there's one element being 'I need to feel good about my game but I also need to spend time working on the patterns that I know will be the most conducive to me winning matches'.

"Being smarter, a lot of the data does direct itself to being smarter on the practice court and not just grinding away, but running patterns of play and serving to a location to receive a ball, then to go to another specific location. For sure that knowing while you win matches and knowing that it's much more in the shorter rallies than the longer rallies, then you go to the practice court and develop those patterns."

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