Category Archives: Tennis

Rafael Nadal cruises past teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid Open

In a much-anticipated clash of generations, Rafael Nadal showed he is still clearly the man to beat in Spanish tennis, cruising to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the second round of the Madrid Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, seeking his sixth title in Madrid and looking to regain top form ahead of the French Open, was never threatened by Alcaraz, who turned 18 on Wednesday.

In the women’s draw, Paula Badosa defeated Belinda Bencic 6-4, 7-5 to become the first Spanish woman to reach the semifinals in Madrid. She will face top-ranked Ashleigh Barty, who got past Petra Kvitova 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

The 120th-ranked Alcaraz was coming off his first victory at a Masters 1000 event and had called the match versus his idol a “dream come true.” He has been touted by many as the successor to the 34-year-old Nadal.

After the crowd at the “Magic Box” center court sang “Happy Birthday” to him, Alcaraz squandered a break point in the first game and then struggled to keep up with the 20-time Grand Slam champion. The wild-card entry was hampered by unforced errors, earning his lone break toward the end of the second set.

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Alcaraz needed medical attention in the third game after losing a long rally, apparently hurting his arm or shoulder while going for an overhead smash.

The two Spaniards had never played a match against each other but practiced together at the Australian Open, where Alcaraz reached the second round.

“It was a difficult match against a youngster who has been playing very well and who has an enormous potential ahead of him,” Nadal said Wednesday. “All he needs is some time. In addition to being a great tennis player, he also has great values, which is something society needs right now.”

After the match, tournament director Feliciano Lopez, who lost to Alcaraz in the Andalucia Open last month, brought out a birthday cake, and Nadal also joined the celebration.

“It’s amazing to spend my birthday playing against Rafa, learning from him,” Alcaraz said. “It could (be) better if I could win, but I really enjoy (it). I think this match made me grow up as a player.”

Nadal will next face Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin, who defeated Jannik Sinner 7-6 (5), 6-2. Fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost to Nadal in the Barcelona final, advanced to the third round by beating Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-2.

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Basilashvili claims fifth ATP Tile at Munich Open

Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili claimed the fifth ATP Tour title of his career and the second in 2021 with a 6-4 7-6 (7-5) victory over Jan-Lennard Struff after 86 minutes at the BMW Open in Munich. Basilashvili did not a set in five matches this week. 

Basilashvili won eight of the first nine points and broke Struff in the first game. The match was suspended by rain, when Basilashvili was leading 4-2.

The Georgian player never looked back and dropped just three service games to close out the first set after 35 minutes.  Struff did not convert one break point in the sixth game of the second set, which went on serve en route to the tie-break.

Both players went on serve in the tie-break until the ninth point, when Basilashvili earned the decisive mini-break at 4-4 when Struff hit a backhand into the net.

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Basilashvili sealed the 14th match of his campaign on his second match point with a forehand winner.

Basilashvili has already won a title on German clay in Hamburg in 2019.

Earlier this year he defeated Roberto Bautista Agut in Doha and beat Struff 7-5 4-6 6-3 in the quarter finals of the Sardegna Open in Cagliari. 

“It wasn’t easy and I was super tight at the end. It was very difficult. It’s never easy to play against Jan. He is a very big fighter and serves well. I am super happy. It seems like German conditions suit me. This is my fifth ATP Tour title and i twill give me confidence for the upcoming season”, said Basilashvili. 

Struff, who was playing in his ATP Tour final, was bidding to become the seventh different German champion at the ATP 250 in Munich after Jurgen Fassbender in 1974, Rolf Gehring in 1980, Michael Stich in 1990, Phillip Kohlschreiber in 2007, 2012 and 2016, Tommy Haas in 2013 and Alexander Zverev in 2017 and 2018. 

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Halep starts clay season with dominant win over Vondrousova

Simona Halep returned from injury to begin her clay-court season with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Marketa Vondrousova on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the Porsche Grand Prix.

The third-ranked Romanian was back on court for the first time since a shoulder injury forced her out of the Miami Open last month, and it was only her second match since her straight-sets loss to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals in February.

“Starting the clay-court season makes me very happy and motivated, extra motivated actually,” Halep said in a post-match news conference.

“I missed playing matches. I had a few weeks without an official match and it was kind of tough when I started the match, but my mind was strong enough just to give focus on what I have to play. So, I did it great and today it was a great match.

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“I was a little bit nervous before the match because I played twice against her and she beat me every time.

There was no sign of rust as Halep wrapped up her victory over Vondrousova in less than an hour without facing a single break point.

Halep will play Ekaterina Alexandrova in the quarterfinals after the Russian upset eighth-seeded Belinda Bencic 6-1, 7-5.

Elina Svitolina came through a tougher test as she defeats three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 7-6 (4), 6-3. Svitolina was 3-1 down in the tiebreaker before winning six of the next seven points, and she didn’t face a break point in the second set. The fourth-seeded Ukrainian will face Petra Kvitova in the quarters.

Karolina Pliskova hit 21 aces as she beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-3 to set up a meeting with top-ranked Ash Barty.

Fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka swept past Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-4, 6-2. Sabalenka next faces Anett Kontaveit, who eliminated Sofia Kenin on Wednesday.

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Roger Federer to play the French Open, will prepare for it with tournament in native Switzerland

Roger Federer revealed Sunday he will play at the French Open, and the Swiss star is preparing for it on home clay at a tournament in Geneva next month.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion revealed his plans on his official Twitter page.

“Happy to let you know that I will play Geneva and Paris. Until then I will use the time to train. Can’t wait to play in Switzerland again,” Federer wrote.

Federer will aim for his 104th career title at the Geneva Open, which takes place May 16-22 — shortly before Roland Garros starts in Paris on May 30.

The 39-year-old Federer won his only French Open in 2009 and lost to 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in the semifinals two years ago.

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He did not play there last year.

Federer had a repeat operation on his right knee after a first procedure in February 2020. When that bothersome knee kept swelling up after bike rides or walks with his four children, he announced in June that he had had a second surgery.

The seventh-ranked Federer made his comeback from a 13-month injury layoff at the Qatar Open last month, defeating Daniel Evans in three sets and then losing in three to Nikoloz Basilashvili after failing to convert a match point.

Federer is also trying to earn Wimbledon for a record-extending ninth time, having lost to Novak Djokovic in a fifth-set tiebreaker two years ago. Federer served for the match and had two championship points.

The grass-court major was canceled last year for the first time since 1945 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is arranged to be played June 28 to July 11.

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Andrey Rublev knocks off Rafael Nadal to reach Monte Carlo semifinals

Andrey Rublev produced an audacious display of attacking tennis to hand record 11-time champion Rafael Nadal a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 defeat on clay in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Friday.

The sixth-seeded Russian might have won even more convincingly, with Nadal saving break points at 3-1 down in the second set.

Nadal clawed his way back to win that set and seemed to have settled down, but Rublev broke him instantaneously at the start of the decider in which the 34-year-old Nadal looked very tired.

Rublev clinched his first win versus third-seeded Nadal on his first match point with a typically powerful winner on forehand — a weapon Nadal struggled to contain all match.

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“I don’t even know what to say. I cannot imagine being in the situation of Rafa, knowing that you are the best player on clay,” Rublev said. “I think for him it must be incredibly tough.”

Having beaten the 20-time Grand Slam champion on one of his clay strongholds, Rublev’s next opponent is unseeded Norwegian Casper Ruud.

The 22-year-old Ruud, who has just one career title compared to 86 for Nadal, also defeated a former champion by knocking out 2019 winner Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-4, 6-3.

“(Casper) is playing really well. I have known him a long time,” said Rublev, who is 3-0 against him overall. “He finished today much earlier. I will try to recover as best as I can.”

There are no former champions left, with Nadal and 15th-seeded Fognini joining two-time winner Novak Djokovic at the exit before the last four.

Nadal last won the tournament in 2018 and had high hopes after saying he was in good shape for clay. It certainly seemed so when he swept aside Grigor Dimitrov in under an hour Thursday in the third round.

It was a different story versus the 23-year-old Rublev, who drained Nadal after 2½ hours on court. Nadal hit seven double-faults, conceded 15 break points and dropped serve seven times — on his dominant surface and one of his favorite courts.

The aggressive Rublev upset Nadal’s rhythm in a first set where the Spaniard got only 48% of his first serves, made five double-faults, and hit 13 unforced errors.

By the second game of the second set, Nadal was angrily shouting at himself and — in a rare gesture of agitation — wildly swatted a ball away.

When Rublev saved break point in the fourth game of that set, Nadal stood perplexed with hands on hips. Then, he took 11 minutes to hold serve and stop Rublev leading 4-1.

The 13-time French Open champion drew on his immense physical resources to claw back, forcing Rublev into mistakes and breaking him in the 10th game to level matters. But Rublev showed just why he’s such a rising star.

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Defending champ Ash Barty returns to Miami Open final

In her first match at this year’s Miami Open, Ash Barty was one point from elimination.

Now she’s one win from becoming a repeat champion. The top-ranked Barty returned to the final by defeating No. 5-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday.

Barty has gained momentum after starting the tournament by saving a match point versus qualifier Kristina Kucova. That was Barty’s first match outside her native Australia since February 2020.

“Whenever you come back from a match point, it’s a little bit of a strange feeling,” Barty said. “You have to be more open with what the possibilities the rest of the tournament could be, and keep going out there and keep fighting, knowing you could have just as easily been out of the tournament.”

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Barty, who is assured of maintaining her No. 1 ranking next week, will play for the title Saturday versus the winner of the second semifinal between No. 8 Bianca Andreescu and No. 23 Maria Sakkari.

Barty was locked down for a year in Australia because of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 Miami Open. She won the event in 2019, and said her run to that title was different from this year’s matches in Miami.

“Chalk and cheese,” the Aussie said. “The conditions have been different here this week. It has been a lot warmer and physically very demanding.”

Barty had been 1-5 previously against Svitolina, but took charge with two early breaks and used her strong serve and deep slices to keep the Ukrainian on the defensive.

Midway through the second set, Svitolina made a rare trip to the net, and Barty responded with a perfect lob winner that drew an appreciative pat of the racket strings from her opponent. On match point, Barty closed out the triumph with a forehand winner and a fist pump.

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Ashleigh Barty edges Kristina Kucova after saving match point at Miami Open

Because of canceled flights, it took Ashleigh Barty 45 hours to travel from her native Australia to Florida for a tennis tournament.

Her stay at the Miami Open will be longer than that, thanks to an incredible comeback Thursday.

The top-ranked Barty rallied from a big third-set deficit and overcame a match point to win her opening match versus qualifier Kristina Kucova 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

“Matches like that are extremely fulfilling, knowing you’ve done the work over an extended period to get just over the edge,” Barty said. “That was a really tough one today, and I enjoyed every single second of it.”

Barty, who won the most recent Miami Open title in 2019, trailed 5-2 in the final set. In the next game, she faced a match point, which she saved by ripping a weak serve for a winner.

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Barty fell behind 0-40 serving in the final game but again rallied against Kucova, a Slovak ranked 149th.

Barty closed out the triumph with a service winner and then tapped her temple with her index finger, a gesture of tribute to her mental fortitude.

“We never give up,” she said, “no matter what we’re feeling.”

Playing away from Australia for the first time in more than a year, Barty won despite an unreliable forehand. She whacked 40 unforced errors on that side, but she compensated somewhat with 15 aces.

Barty acknowledged that jet lag and the time difference between Miami and Australia made the match a challenge.

“You kind of forget how much it can take out of you,” she said. “But you have to accept that’s the way it is. It worked in my favor this morning — I got to watch some Aussie football back home.”

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Roger Federer out of Miami Open, will train to ‘work his way back’

Roger Federer is withdrawing from this month’s Miami Open so he can spend extra time preparing to “work his way back out on tour,” his agent told The Associated Press on Monday.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has not competed in more than a year after having two operations on his right knee during last campaign.

Federer, who turns 40 in August, is booked to make his return to the tour next week in a hard-court tournament at Doha, Qatar. He posted a photo of himself on Twitter this past Friday with the caption: “The countdown to Doha begins.”

That will be his first event since he reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in February 2020.

As of now, he also is slated to participate in the hard-court tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that starts March 14.

Federer also had been on the entry list for the Masters 1000 stop in Miami, where play begins on March 24.

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But his agent, Tony Godsick, wrote Monday in an email to the AP that Federer will not play there.

“After Doha and maybe Dubai, (Federer) will go back and do a training block to continue to slowly work his way back out on tour,” Godsick wrote.

Miami Open tournament director James Blake said he hopes Federer will return in 2021 to an event he has won four times, including two years ago.

“We certainly would have loved Roger to return to Miami to defend his title. However, as a former player, I understand that you need to tailor your travel and playing schedule to properly work your way back to 100 percent fitness when coming off an injury,” Blake said. “Roger is an incredible ambassador for the sport, so the longer he is able to play on tour, the better it is for all of tennis.”

Federer beat John Isner 6-1, 6-4 in the final to win the Miami Open in 2019, the last time it was held. The tournament was one of dozens that were called off last year when the professional tennis tours went on hiatus for several months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That was Federer’s fourth title at the hard-court event, following trophies he collected there in 2005, 2006 and 2017.

Federer is currently No. 5 in the ATP rankings. He has spent 310 weeks total at No. 1, an ATP record tied by Novak Djokovic on Monday. Federer’s tally of 103 tour-level titles is the second most in the professional era of men’s tennis, trailing only Jimmy Connors, who won 109.

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Novak Djokovic rolls to 9th Australian Open title, 18th career Grand Slam

Maybe, just maybe, the thinking went, Novak Djokovic would be just a tad more susceptible to trouble this time around at the Australian Open.

After all, he tore an abdominal muscle in the third round and wasn’t sure he could continue to compete. Entering Sunday, Djokovic ceded five sets in the tournament, the most he ever dropped en route to a major final. And to top it all off, he was facing Daniil Medvedev, owner of a 20-match winning streak.

Yeah, right. We’re talking about Djokovic at Melbourne Park, where his supremacy is most certainly intact, now with nine championships in nine finals. Plus, he’s still gaining on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Grand Slam standings, now up to 18 overall, two shy of the men’s record those rivals share.

Djokovic used improved serving, along with his usual relentless returning and baseline excellence to grab 11 of 13 games in one stretch and defeat Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for a third straight Australian Open trophy.

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“Definitely, emotionally, the most challenging Grand Slam that I ever had, with everything that was happening — injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines,” Djokovic said. “A roller-coaster ride.”

When the match ended after less than two hours, Djokovic went to the sideline, lifted his white shirt and peeled pieces of beige athletic tape from his stomach.

“I was quite worried,” Djokovic said about the injury. “I did not [think] realistically that I could actually play. I didn’t know until two hours before the fourth-round match.”

Dealing with what he called “bearable” pain, Djokovic improved to a combined 18-0 in semifinals and finals on Melbourne’s hard courts.

“Probably, it’s not your last one,” Medvedev said. “I have no words to say.”

Djokovic, a 33-year-old from Serbia, has acquired six of the last 10 majors and will stay at No. 1 in the rankings at least through March 8. That will give him 311 weeks there, breaking another mark held by Federer.

His goals now are squarely on Grand Slams, even more than before.

Put Djokovic’s nine triumphs in Australia alongside five at Wimbledon, three at the US Open and one at the French Open. The math looks good for him: He is about a year younger than Nadal and 6½ younger than Federer.

“I do enjoy the success every single time even more,” Djokovic stated, “because I know that the longer the time passes, the more difficult it’s going to become.” The No. 4-seeded Medvedev was appearing in his second Slam final; he was the runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 US Open.

The 25-year-old from Russia had won 12 in a row versus top-10 opponents, but trying to solve Djokovic in Australia is a unique challenge.

“He’s really good [at] reading an opponent’s game,” Medvedev said, “knowing what you will do next, how to beat you.”

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Novak Djokovic ends Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev’s golden run

Novak Djokovic had a perfect record in Australian Open semifinals, and he was playing almost flawless tennis to protect it.

It didn’t matter that across the net was Aslan Karatsev, a 114th-ranked, 27-year-old Russian who had come through qualifying to make his debut in a Grand Slam tournament after nine failed attempts.

Djokovic made only one unforced error in more than 50 minutes.

It was tight for the first seven games — before Djokovic reeled off eight consecutive points to win the first set — and again when Karatsev went on an all-or-nothing roll late in the second set.

Sensing a shift in support for the underdog — there was a vocal crowd at Rod Laver Arena after a five-day span when fans were barred during a local COVID-19 outbreak — Djokovic moved up a gear and finished off his opponent 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

He’s now 9-0 in semifinals at the season-opening major, and one victory from a ninth Australian title.

“The more I win, the better I feel coming back,” the top-ranked Djokovic said. “The love affair continues.”

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Djokovic, 33, will have a day off Friday when No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is coming off a five-set victory over Rafael Nadal, meet in the other semifinal. Djokovic said he’d have a rest and get the popcorn ready to watch and see who he gets to face in Sunday’s final.

Given his past success in Melbourne, Djokovic should feel confident going into another championship match.

He already owns a record eight Australian titles, and he’s aiming for an 18th major title, which would reduce the gap to Roger Federer and Nadal, who share the men’s record at 20.

Djokovic also is aiming to be only the second man to attain nine or more titles at one of the four Grand Slams. Nadal has 13 at Roland Garros. Djokovic, in Australia, and Federer, with eight at Wimbledon, currently share second place.

“Recovery is the priority right now,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had enough match play, enough practice.

“Right now it’s just gathering all the necessary energy for the most important match of the Australian Open.”

Djokovic has been bothered by an abdominal muscle problem since the third round. He initially stated it was a tear, but has since refused to talk about the details until after the tournament.

After his victory over Karatsev, he said it’s “the best as I’ve felt the entire tournament.” “I felt great. I could swing through the ball. No pain. Best match so far,” Djokovic said. “It came at the right time. I’m thrilled to feel this way.”

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