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Casper Ruud defeats Alex Molcan to reach BMW Open quarterfinals

Casper Ruud took his time finding his rhythm as he beat Alex Molcan 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals at the BMW Open on Thursday.

Molcan built a 4-0 lead in the first set as Ruud struggled with his serve, but the clay-court specialist fought his way back and broke Molcan at 4-4 in the decider before serving out the match.

“It was not the best start for me, but I was able to find my rhythm a little more as the match went on,” Ruud said. “[Molcan is] a tough player, and good confidence for me to get these types of wins.”

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The 23-year-old Ruud stated he was especially pleased to be playing well at the comparatively high altitude of Munich as preparation for similar conditions at the Madrid Open next week.

It was Ruud’s opening match in Munich after getting a first-round bye.

At a career-high No. 7, the Norwegian is the highest-ranked player left in the draw after Alexander Zverev’s surprise loss to 18-year-old Holger Rune on Wednesday.

Ruud will face eighth-seeded Botic van de Zandschulp in the quarterfinals after the Dutch player defeated Egor Gerasimov 6-2, 6-3.

Germany’s Oscar Otte managed the surprise of the day by beating Reilly Opelka of the United States 7-6 (4), 6-2. Opelka had two set points in the first set, but Otte saved them both before taking the set to a tiebreaker.

Otte’s quarterfinal opponent is Alejandro Tabilo, who was leading 6-2, 2-6, 4-1 when Hugo Gaston retired from their second-round match. Otte cruised past Tabilo 6-0, 6-3 when they played last week at the Serbia Open.

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Title battle too close for comfort, says Mercedes boss Toto Wolff

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff expects the Formula One title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull rival Max Verstappen to rage deep into the 2021 campaign, with the gap between the pair too close for comfort.

The 36-year-old Hamilton turned a five-point deficit to his 23-year-old Dutch rival into a two-point lead in the overall standings after racing to a landmark 100th victory in the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The duo have been engaged in a fierce battle all year long, with Hamilton aiming to become the first driver to win eight Formula One titles, as Verstappen hunts down his first championship triumph.

Thirty-two points is the widest the gap between the two has been, with the overall lead changing hands four times this year and three times in the last five races. There are seven races to go.

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“I think neither driver or neither team can have any comfort in the current situation because there is just no gap in terms of points,” Wolff, whose team is 33 points clear of Red Bull in the team standings, told reporters via video conference on Sunday.

“I think this is going to go very long.”

The 2014 Olympic Park venue that hosted Sunday’s race and Monza, scene of the Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago, have traditionally been tracks that have played to Mercedes’ strengths.

While Hamilton seized back the overall lead in Russia and kept his team’s undefeated run in Sochi intact, he and Mercedes would have hoped to have come away with more.

The points difference between Verstappen and Hamilton was unchanged after the pair put each other out of the race in Monza.

In Russia, Verstappen concluded second, despite having started last after taking on a new engine.

Of the seven races to come, only Turkey, where Hamilton clinched his seventh title last year, appears to be a clear Mercedes favorite.

Hamilton may also need to take on a new power unit, which like Verstappen in Russia, would trigger penalties, sending him to the back of the grid.

“I’ve stopped trying to anticipate whether it’s a historically strong race for us or not because with the new regulation everything has changed so much,” said Wolff.

“But definitely we knew that Monza and Sochi would be coming more towards us and the reality is that we are where we are.”

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