Category Archives: Tennis

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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Daniil Medvedev lifts Russia past Italy for ATP Cup title

After celebrating their ATP Cup triumph as teammates for Russia, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev will go their own ways at the Australian Open next week and might meet at Melbourne Park as rivals in the quarterfinals.

Medvedev improved his winning streak to 14 matches and secured Russia’s 2-0 triumph over Italy in the ATP Cup final on Sunday when he beat Matteo Berrettini 6-4, 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena. Rublev had given his team a commanding start with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Fabio Fognini.

The No. 4-ranked Medvedev has certainly been peaking, winning his last 10 matches versus top-10 players, including a sweep of the top three at the ATP Finals last year and a close victory over Alexander Zverev in the semifinals here.

“It’s a confidence boost,” he said.

The Australian Open starts Monday but Medvedev and Rublev, who has won five titles and 45 singles matches since the start of 2020, get a day off before their first-round matches.

As for having such a run of big matches so close to a major, Medvedev said he wouldn’t know for a couple of weeks whether it was ideal preparation for a major or not.

“Get the momentum going, sometimes it helps you – I did last year (when) I won two tournaments in a row,” he said. “At the same time it’s tiring. Played four tough matches, yesterday especially.”

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The Russians didn’t lose a singles match during the group stage or the playoffs this week, and were the second team to win the ATP Cup after Novak Djokovic led Serbia to the inaugural title last year.

The first edition featured 24 countries and was staged in three Australian cities: Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Because of restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a two-week quarantine for all international arrivals, this year it was cut to 12 teams and played entirely at Melbourne Park. Along with five other tuneup tournaments.

Italy veteran Fognini was in the team that lost to Russia in the group stage last year. In the final, he said it was a bit of a blur.

“We played with the two best shape guys in the circuit at the moment,” Fognini said. “Especially in my case, it’s tough to say, but I don’t have these kind of matches, this kind of speed during the point. At the moment was too much.”

It seems that Rublev and Medvedev hadn’t looked too far ahead in the Australian Open draw, until Russia team captain Evgeny Donskoy raised the topic of their projected quarterfinal match at the post-match news conference.

“I’m just actually more happy for the guys that they’re achieving the level that is going to be out of the limit soon because they’re playing unbelievable tennis,” Donskoy said. “Yeah, just wishing them to play the same like they played today in the main draw of Australian Open. If the level going to be the same, these guys going to see each other in the quarterfinals.”

Medvedev, who is seeded fourth and opens versus Vasek Pospisil, said: “Yeah, it’s going to be great. You cannot change the draw. If it happens, it’s perfect.”

Rublev, who is seeded 7th and opens versus Yannick Hanfmann, said, “I wish.”

“It’s too far to say something about it now. We have to go match by match. Daniil [has a] tough first round. Me, I have as well. We’re not going to meet in second round, so we need to win a couple of matches first.”

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Ashleigh Barty offers no guarantees beyond Melbourne Park

Sports fans should savour Ash Barty’s return to tennis because it could be fleeting.

While Barty hopes Friday night’s [AEDT] comeback match in Adelaide marks the beginning of a “long season” ahead, the world No.1 is offering no real guarantees beyond the Australian summer.

Barty hasn’t played since last February, deciding not to leave Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 24-year-old sat out the US Open in September and even opted against defending her French Open crown three weeks later in Paris.

With coronavirus still rampant around the world, the Queenslander confesses she and coach Craig Tyzzer have yet to commit to a concrete calendar beyond the Australian Open starting on Feb. 8.

“Not a lot’s changed. Obviously it’s still quite a delicate situation and we have a couple of plans,” Barty told AAP ahead of her exhibition match versus world No.2 Simona Halep on Friday night.

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“We have options A, B, C and D to kind of go through and we have to wing it a little bit, honestly, because we can’t know quite what to expect.

“But what ‘Tyzz’ and I have spoken about is that our kind of stance remains the same – the priority for us is the health and wellbeing of not only us two on the road, but also our families back home.

“So, for us, that’s a really important thing, regardless of what tournaments may be on.

“Our decisions will always be prioritized by our health and by the bigger picture for us of more than just hitting tennis balls.”

And with that approach, Barty plans on enjoying the summer – and her second Australian Open bid as top seed – rather than fretting about trying to break the country’s infamous 43-year singles title drought in Melbourne.

“It’s been a trying time for everyone down here in Victoria, in particular. So we have to be extremely grateful and understand just how lucky we are that we have an opportunity to play,” she stated.

“So I’ll go out there to try and do the best that I can to enjoy it but also go out there and try and do everyone proud knowing that we’ve got the tennis back and hopefully it’s going to be a really good month.”

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Hubert Hurkacz beats Sebastian Korda in Delray Beach Open final for second career ATP Tour title

Hubert Hurkacz was too good for Sebastian Korda in the final at the Delray Beach Open and, on the last point, a little lucky.

Hurkacz hit a cross-court lob winner corner to corner to close out a 6-3, 6-3 triumph Wednesday for his second career ATP Tour title. With a laugh, he acknowledged he hit the last shot with more of his racket than intended.

“Most of the frame. A little bit of string,” he said. “I thought after I hit it, ‘Wow, it might be good.'”

It was, as were many of Hurkacz’s more orthodox shots. Seeded fourth, the 6-foot-5 Hurkacz displayed rangy defense and a wide variety of strokes when on the attack, even winning one point with a serve and volley on a second serve.

Hurkacz’s only other title was in 2019 at Winston-Salem, where he became the second Polish tour-level champion in the Open era.

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Korda was slowed by an upper leg injury that required treatment in the second set. He broke at love in the opening game but didn’t have a break-point opportunity the rest of the way versus Hurkacz’s strong serve.

Hurkacz said he was buoyed by the fans, even though there were less than 2,000 because of limits imposed due to COVID-19.

“It feels really amazing to win the title here,” he said. “It was really nice to play with a crowd. That was helpful. I enjoyed a lot playing here.”

Hurkacz didn’t drop a set in the tournament and benefited from the draw, becoming the first player since Steve Johnson at Newport in 2018 to win a title without facing a top-100 player. He’ll climb to 29th in the next rankings.

Korda, who had never previously reached even a quarterfinal, stamped himself as a young player to watch in 2021. He beat four players ranked in the top 100 and will climb to a career-best 103rd.

“It hasn’t fully sunk it how well I played this week,” Korda said. “Only good things are going to come from this for sure.” Korda, 20, is the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, and the brother of LPGA Tour winners Jessica and Nelly Korda.

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