Category Archives: Tennis

Daniil Medvedev defeats top 3 to win first ATP finals

Nearing defeat, Daniil Medvedev suddenly switched tactics at the ATP Finals and collected the biggest title of his career by defeating US Open champion Dominic Thiem 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 on Sunday.

The fourth-ranked Medvedev became the first player to beat each of the men who were Nos. 1-3 in the season-ending championship — and only the fourth to do it at any tour event in the past 30 years.

The comeback versus No. 3 Thiem, which lasted more than 2½ hours, added to victories Medvedev produced against No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the round-robin portion of the tournament and No. 2 Rafael Nadal in Saturday’s semifinals on an indoor hard court. Spectators were barred because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Medvedev, 24, went 5-0 in all, quite a turnaround from a year ago, when he went 0-3 at the ATP Finals. The tournament now ends its 12-year run in London, moving to Turin, Italy, next year. Medvedev, of Russia, closed 2020 by going 10-0 in November, including seven wins against members of the Top 10. He had zero victories over Top 10 opponents over the preceding 12 months.

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Thiem’s defense and power from the baseline put him on top early, and strong serving at key moments allowed him to save the first eight break points he faced. But Medvedev, the runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 US Open, finally converted on his sixth break chance of the third set — and ninth of the match — by sneaking forward behind a return, making a forehand volley winner and going up 3-2.

That was enough, because Medvedev never faced a break point the rest of the way; he concluded with 12 aces.

A key shift came in the second-set tiebreaker, thanks to a change in style from Medvedev.

Thiem had grabbed a 2-0 lead before Medvedev stormed back, using an element of surprise by rushing to the net more often than usual — both behind serves and returns — and reeling off the next seven points.

Medvedev continued with that strategy to great effect in the final set, too. It seemed to throw off Thiem, who had won three of the pair’s previous four matches, including in consecutive sets in the semifinals in New York in September en route to his first Grand Slam trophy.

In the second set Sunday, Thiem had break opportunities to take a 4-3 edge, but he badly missed a short shot on one, reacting by putting his hands on his hips, and Medvedev produced an ace on the other.

Thiem stumbled and tumbled to the court in the next game, but appeared to be OK.

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Rafael Nadal outlasts Stefanos Tsitsipas to make ATP Finals semifinals

Rafael Nadal advanced to the semifinals at the ATP Finals for the first time in five years and knocked out the defending champion in the process, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 Thursday at the O2 Arena.

It is the sixth time in 10 appearances that Nadal has reached the semifinals of the season-ending tournament, which is the biggest title he has yet to win in his illustrious career.

Tsitsipas won it on his first try last year but exited after a second loss of the group stage, done in by a shaky serve in the third set, during which he was broken three times.

Earlier, the already eliminated Andrey Rublev beat US Open champion Dominic Thiem 6-2, 7-5 in a contest that had little real consequence for either player. Thiem was assured of winning the group after defeating Tsitsipas and Nadal in the first two rounds.

Nadal never looked threatened on his serve versus Tsitsipas until the final game of the second set, when he double-faulted to hand the Greek player a way back into the match. “I think I was winning my serves quite comfortably until that moment,” Nadal said. “After that, everything changed.”

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Suddenly, neither player could hold serve as the third set started with three consecutive breaks, with Nadal taking a 2-1 lead. The Spaniard finally held and broke again for a 5-2 lead before clinching the victory on his second match point.

Nadal, who improved to 6-1 versus Tsitsipas, will play Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals on Saturday. Thiem will face the winner between Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev on Friday.

The early match between Thiem and Rublev was delayed after the lights went out unexpectedly at the O2 Arena.

Thiem was short of energy, too, when play eventually began.

“It was difficult to keep that amazing intensity like I had in the first two matches,” Thiem said. “I wanted to win the match, 100 percent, but the first two matches were pretty tough, pretty long.

“So with the fact I was already qualified, in the back on my mind it was difficult to keep the intensity alive.”

Rublev played like someone with nothing to lose, overwhelming Thiem with his serve and fierce groundstrokes to take the Austrian’s first two service games and clinch the first set in less than 26 minutes. He dropped only three points on serve and had no unforced errors in that set.

The second set was much closer, though Rublev was on top and serving at 4-3 when he lost eight consecutive points to get back on serve.

Rublev regrouped, broke Thiem after a long next game featuring some intense rallies, then served out the match for his first victory in his debut at the season-ending tournament.

“It was not easy for Dommy,” said Rublev, who has won five events on the tour this year in a breakthrough season. “I think he [was] focused on the semis. I wish him good luck — he deserves to be where he is and he deserves to win the title.”

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Alexander Zverev defeats Diego Schwartzman in straight sets for back-to-back Cologne titles

COLOGNE, GERMANY – OCTOBER 25: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Alexander Zverev of Germany celebrates during day seven of the Bett1Hulks Championship tennis tournament at Lanxess Arena on October 25, 2020 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Alexander Zverev’s nickname is ’Sascha’, but for now you can call him ‘The King Of Cologne’.

The World No. 7 acquired his second title in as many weeks in the German city on Sunday, defeating second seed Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1 for the bett1HULKS Championship crown.

“I know in finals you have to play your best tennis to have a chance, so obviously [I am] extremely happy with my performance. Probably the best match of the past two weeks here. Diego is someone that you can really struggle with. He is somebody who doesn’t miss from the baseline,” Zverev said. “You really have to win the match against him and I felt like that’s what I did.” 

When Zverev arrived at the bett1HULKS Indoors last week, he was fresh off a disappointing fourth-round loss at Roland Garros versus Jannik Sinner. But the German made himself at home in more ways than one in Cologne, winning all eight of his matches to double his ATP Tour title count in Germany to four.

The 23-year-old is now a 13-time tour-level champion. “Being back in Germany is obviously amazing,” Zverev said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”

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In both Cologne ATP 250s, Zverev saved his best tennis for the championship match.

Last Sunday, he cruised by Felix Auger-Aliassime. But his best performance from his two tournament victories came versus the red-hot Schwartzman.

Zverev played scintillating tennis, aggressively going after the ball to hit through the speedy Argentine. The German sometimes relies on his defensive skills to win matches, but he took it to the World No. 9 without hesitation, winning all seven of his service games en route to an impressive one-hour, 11-minute triumph.

“Today was a day when I felt like I could try things out on the court and a lot of things were working,” Zverev said. “I’m obviously very happy with how I played.”

Zverev fittingly ended the match with a forehand winner, earning 250 FedEx ATP Ranking points and €13,320 in prize money.

“It’s getting better,” Zverev said of his form during the trophy ceremony. “I think we’re going to be on top of the game very soon.” This is the third time Zverev has captured an ATP Tour title in back-to-back weeks. He also did so in August 2017 (Washington, Montreal) and May 2016 (Munich, Madrid).

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Nadal into semis, will face Diego Schwartzman in French Open

The 12-time champion at Roland Garros Rafael Nadal withstood an early challenge from 19-year-old Jannik Sinner and pulled away to gain their quarterfinal 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-1 in a match that ended at nearly 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Paris on a windy night with the temperature in the low 50s.

Competition can continue that deep into the night this year because it’s the first time artificial lights are being used for play at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

“Of course, it’s not ideal [to] finish a match at 1:30 in the morning,” said Nadal, 34. “But the problem is the weather. It’s too cold to play. Honestly, it’s very, very cold to play tennis, no?”

He added that it was a “little bit dangerous for the body play with these very heavy conditions.”

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Their quarterfinal initiated after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. It was the last match of the day’s packed schedule at Court Philippe Chatrier, which went longer than anticipated thanks to No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman’s five-hour, five-set triumph over No. 3 Dominic Thiem.

“I really don’t know why they put five matches on Chatrier today,” Nadal said. “That was a risk.”

No. 2 Nadal will take a 9-1 head-to-head edge against Schwartzman into their match in Friday’s semifinals.

“Two days to practice, to rest a little bit and to recover, and just try to be ready,” Nadal said.

Schwartzman has this going for him: He won their most recent matchup, beating Nadal last month on clay at a tuneup in Rome.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to have a lot of confidence,” Schwartzman stated, “but, yeah, I know … that I can beat him. That’s important.”

Nadal is trying to win a 13th French Open title and 20th Grand Slam trophy overall, which would equal Roger Federer’s mark for men. Among the many statistics that stand out about Nadal’s track record in Paris: He is 98-2, which includes 24-0 in semifinals and finals.

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Murray out of US Open in straight sets defeat

The Canadian, 20, destroyed the double Olympic champion in ruthless style to win 6-2 6-3 6-4 in two hours and seven minutes.  

The No.15 seed hit 52 winners – versus only nine by Murray – and did not face a break point.  

It was a chastening loss for Murray, 33, in his first Grand Slam back with a metal hip. 

But the three-time Major winner, who was playing only his second event of the year, stated: “I would say even after tonight I’m more positive about what I could do in Grand Slams than I was before I came over here.  

“You guys obviously don’t know how I was feeling even just a couple of months ago.  “So to come over here and play, you know, I played a couple of tough matches in Cincinnati and I played certainly one very tough match here, and my right hip felt good. That’s really, really positive. 

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“There are other things that need to get better, but I would say that I’m more positive now than what I was a couple of months ago, that’s for sure. 

“In terms of winning Grand Slams again, that’s going to be extremely difficult to do.  

“It was hard enough when I had two normal hips. So it will be difficult, but I’ll keep trying, like, why not? Why shouldn’t I try my hardest to do that? And if I don’t, that’s all right. But I might as well shoot for the stars. And if I don’t get there, then that’s all right. But I’m trying my best to get the most out of what my body gives me now. 

“I’m ranked 115, 120 in the world and my game reflects that just now. So I’ll need to get better if I want to move up the rankings and be more competitive.” 

Murray defeated world No.7 Alex Zverev at the Western & Southern Open last week and came through an epic five-set victory over Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round. 

And he now plans to fly home before playing the French Open which begins on September 27.

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Serena wins, Venus falls in 1st round at US Open

Making quick work of an opponent for a change, Serena Williams wrapped up her 102nd career US Open match victory to break a tie with Chris Evert for the most in the professional era. Then Williams headed back out to the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands Tuesday night, her dog in tow.

Williams had a match to watch – her older sister’s, which did not work out as well. Serena Williams, who turns 39 this month, overpowered Kristie Ahn 7-5, 6-3. But Venus Williams, who is 40, lost in the US Open’s first round for the first time in 22 appearances, beaten 6-3, 7-5 by No. 20 Karolina Muchova.

It is the fourth time in the past five Grand Slam tournaments that Venus exited in her opening match.

“I just ran out of time today,” Venus stated. Venus, who won two of her seven major singles championships in New York, was trying to become only the third woman in her 40s to win a US Open singles match.

“We would have never thought we would still be out here, to be honest. I love my job. At the end of the day, I love what I do. I’ve always said, ‘You can’t do it forever’. One of these days, it’s going to end,” Serena said after delivering 13 aces and dropping only six points on her serve.

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She has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in the professional era, which started in 1968; only Margaret Court collected more, with 24. Six of Serena’s trophies came at the US Open, and she also was the runner-up four times, including each of the past two years.

Entering Tuesday, Serena had been 3-2 since tennis matches resumed after a hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic – and all five went three sets. So Tuesday’s match was a welcome change. “It’s been years – since the ’90s – since I won a match in straight sets,” Serena joked.

“I’ve been playing a ton of tight matches. I felt like, all right, I just wanted to be ‘Serena-focused’ from the first point to the last point, no matter what happens,” she said.

Her career mark at the hard-court event is 102-13, a winning percentage of .887. “In a weird way, I feel like every time I come here, I’m being told I broke another record. It’s cool. I don’t think I appreciate it enough, which is unfortunate. But I’m in the middle of a Grand Slam, so it’s not the time to be focused for me on records when I’m thinking about winning a tournament,” Serena stated.

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Djokovic avoids upset bug in New York

Bothered by a bad neck that a trainer massaged twice, Novak Djokovic double-faulted seven times and trailed by a break in each set before avoiding the rash of upsets at the Western & Southern Open by taking the last four games for a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over Ricardas Berankis on Monday.

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic was playing his first ATP match in six months because of the coronavirus pandemic. He withdrew from the doubles event on Sunday because of his neck.

“I’m trying to deal with it on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s been like that for the past three or four days.”

Djokovic improved to 19-0 in 2020 as he prepares to seek a sixth title in the past eight Grand Slam tournaments when the US Open begins in a week. That major championship’s site in Flushing Meadows is hosting the Ohio-based Western & Southern Open as part of an unusual doubleheader with no spectators.

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Djokovic got by, even though he was wincing and stretching his neck between points.

He wound up lying on his back — with a medical mask and protective glasses on his face — while having his neck manipulated after the first set.

While the tours were shut down, Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 in June after a series of no-social-distancing exhibition matches that he organized in Serbia and Croatia.

As tennis ramps up — this is the first tournament of the resumption for the men; the women returned earlier this month — there has been a host of surprises, including defending women’s champion Madison Keys’ 6-4, 6-1 departure versus Ons Jabeur in an hour Monday night.

No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem, a three-time major finalist, wasn’t competitive in a 6-2, 6-1 defeat to Filip Krajinovic, and No. 5 Alexander Zverev hit 11 double faults — five in his last two service games — while being defeated by Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

Like Djokovic, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka emerged with difficult victories, and two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, the No. 6 seed, lost Monday. Each of the top two women’s seeds, Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin, were defeated Sunday.

Djokovic next meets American Tennys Sandgren, a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (5) winner over No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who accumulated 15 double faults. Another American, Reilly Opelka, eliminated No. 9 seed Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 7-6 (4).

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Halep defeats Mertens to win Prague title

World number two Simona Halep said she will reveal on Monday whether she will play at the U.S. Open.

Speaking after her triumph over Elise Mertens in the Prague Open final, the 28-year-old Romanian said “she just needed her time” to make a decision.

Halep was playing her first event since coronavirus pandemic shut down tennis in March, picking up where she left off six months ago when she won the title in Dubai.

After some rusty performances during the week, Halep found her groove to win 6-2 7-5 and said she was encouraged by her form and the health protocols put in place in Prague.

“We felt really safe here and all the rules were respected,” she told reporters. “It’s a bit stressful but the fact that everyone was good these 10 days means everything was done well.”

Halep had struggled past Polona Hercog in her first match of the week and was also far from her best versus Barbora Krejcikova and compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu. But apart from some understandable fatigue, she looked far more like herself versus Belgian Mertens, winning in one hour 33 minutes to earn her 21st career WTA trophy.

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Mertens blazed into a 2-0 lead with a flurry of winners, but Halep found her range from the baseline responded by reeling off seven successive games to take control.

Halep did not have things all her own way though and was broken back early in the second set as Mertens again went on the attack. A wobbly service game permitted Halep to move a break ahead again in the fifth game, although Mertens retaliated again to level the second set at 4-4.

Halep broke to lead 6-5 though and finished it off with a heavy forehand.

“Second set I was 4-2 up but dead and felt very tired,” she said. “But today, mentally I was really strong which allowed me to win in two sets.”

With world number one Ash Barty and 2019 U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal, as well as a host of other top players, already deciding against playing at Flushing Meadows, organizers will be hoping Halep says yes.

Halep has appeared reluctant to make the trip to the U.S., which is still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said this week she needed to see what “changes” the organizers would make in terms of “travelling and stuff”.

The U.S. has around 5.5 million cases of COVID-19 and almost 172,000 people have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Concerns remain whether players would face mandatory quarantine if they travel to Europe from the U.S. for claycourt events in September, although Halep said she now believed that players would not need to quarantine. U.S. Open organizers are creating a bio-secure bubble in New York with tough protocols to hold the tournament from Aug. 31 without fans.

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Djokovic: I will break Grand Slam record

Novak Djokovic maintains that he will win the most Grand Slam titles and become the longest-reigning world No. 1 by the time he is ready to retire.

Djokovic’s 17 Grand Slam titles are three shy of Roger Federer and two behind Rafael Nadal. Djokovic’s total number of weeks at No. 1 rests at 282, which trails Federer (310) and Pete Sampras (286).

“I’m always very confident in myself,” Djokovic said during an interview on “In Depth with Graham Bensinger.”

“I believe I can win the most slams and break the record for longest No. 1. Those are definitely my clear goals.” Djokovic, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, was on a roll prior to the sports world being brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic. He captured the ATP Cup with Serbia, an eighth Australian Open title and a fifth victory at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

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Djokovic, soon to turn 33, might have to make a decision should it become mandatory for tennis players to be vaccinated against COVID-19, once the treatment is established.

“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic said last month while talking to other Serbian athletes in a Facebook live chat.

“But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter, and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.

“Hypothetically, if the season was to resume in July, August or September, though unlikely, I understand that a vaccine will become a requirement straight after we are out of strict quarantine, and there is no vaccine yet.” Medical experts are working overtime to prepare a vaccine for COVID-19, but a ready-for-market vaccination is not expected until 2021.

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Tennis club apologizes for letting Djokovic train

The tennis club where Novak Djokovic broke confinement rules in Spain stated Tuesday it mistakenly let the top-ranked Serb to practice and apologized for the error.

Djokovic released a video of him training on Monday in apparent violation of Spain’s current rules amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The video posted on Instagram showed Djokovic exchanging shots with another man at the club in the coastal city of Marbella, where the Serb has been staying for the past several weeks.

Djokovic filmed the video while hitting shots and wrote he was “so happy to play on clay .. well, just for a bit with my phone in the hands.”

Spain has eased some of the lockdown measures that had been in place since mid-March, allowing professional athletes to return to practice, but most training centers and sports facilities must stay closed until next week.

“We are sorry that our interpretation of the regulation could have been erroneous, and this could have inconvenienced Mr. Djokovic or any other citizen acting in good faith,” the Puente Romano Marbella Tennis Club said in a statement.

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The statement, which was relayed by Djokovic’s management team, said the club got a request from the player to practice and gave him the go-ahead with the “understanding that from May 4 all professional sports players were authorized to train.” The club said it therefore believed he was “permitted to train in our facilities.”

It said it later received a “clarification” from the Spanish tennis federation and “both parties have agreed that training should resume” only next week.

Rafael Nadal stated he also went to train on a court this week, but he did it on private property because the rules weren’t fully clear to him.

Soccer players were among the exceptions who could start training inside sports facilities beginning this week.

Spain has been one of the countries most affected by the pandemic but it started loosening some of its restrictions on movement as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 started to go down recently. The nation went into a lockdown on March 14.

Djokovic recently stated he was against taking a vaccine for the coronavirus if it became mandatory to travel once the pandemic subsides, though he later said he was open to changing his mind.

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