Indian Wells: Li Na wins all-Chinese match. Nadal survives Stepanek scare - UBITENNIS
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Indian Wells: Li Na wins all-Chinese match. Nadal survives Stepanek scare

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TENNIS –  On the women’s side, Li Na (1) took on her and beat countrywoman, Zheng Jie who was a dangerous floater in any draw. The first seed won 6-2. 7-5. In the men’s event Rafael Nadal survived an early scare against Radek Stepanek. Cordell Hackshaw

With all 1st round matches concluded over the past 3 days, Day 4 at the BNP Paribas Open has heated up considerably for the 2nd round matches. Many of the top seeds and tour favourites were on court and the fans loved every moment of it. On the women’s side, Li Na (1) took on her countrywoman, Zheng Jie who is a dangerous floater in any draw. This is the highest seeding Li has had at a “major” event and she most definitely was not about to waste this opportunity. Li took the first set easily 6-2 but lost her way a bit as she was down 2-4 in the 2nd set. However, Zheng was unable to close the deal and force a 3rd set as Li cleaned up her game and took the match 6-2, 7-5. She will be joined by Maria Sharapova (4) in the 3rd round who took out Julia Goerges 6-1, 6-4.

Other top seeds were in action and moved through to the next round including Petra Kvitova (8) who took out American wildcard Coco Vandeweghe in straight sets as did Dominika Cibulkova (12), Sam Stosur (16) who took out Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 6-3; a rematch of the 2010 French Open final, and Sloane Stephens (17). Ana Ivanovic (11) had a tough time against her opponent Elina Svitolina. Ivanovic’s inability to stay focus in matches is now legendary and found herself down a set in the early parts of the match 4-6. She was able to take the 2nd set 7-5. However, Svitolina served for the match twice in the 3rd set in a string of six consecutive breaks of serve culminating in a tiebreaker to decide the match. It was at this point that Ivanovic found her range again to take it 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(1). Flavia Pennetta (20) found herself in a somewhat similar fight against 17-year old American Taylor Townsend. Townsend, despite all the talk of her body, has a very solid game and it would be interesting to see how far her career goes in spite of the weight of expectation. Nonetheless, it was not her day today. The American had a break in the 3rd set but could not consolidate and the more experience player in Pennetta simply capitalized to take the match 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.

Other winners of the day included several Russians who will join Sharapova in the 3rd round: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (21), Ekaterina Makarova (23), Svetlana Kuznetsova (27) and unseeded Alisa Kleybanova who took out the 32nd seed Garbine Muguruza in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. It is nice to see Kleybanova back on tour and playing top draw tennis as she did when she rose to No. 20 in 2011. Since then, she has successfully battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which took her off the tour for a considerable amount of time.

There were several upsets, the biggest of which saw Angelique Kerber (5) bounced out of the tournament by Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor in 3 sets 6-2, 6-7, 4-6. Sabine Lisicki (15) continued her inconsistent streak of play as Aleksandra Wozniak took her out on her way to the 3rd round 7-5 1-6 7-6. Soria Cirstea (25) and Klara Zakopalova (28) were also knocked out of the tournament by Camila Giorgi and Karoline Pliskova respectively.

The men’s draw proved to be far more interesting than the ladies in the earlier rounds of the tournament as many of the top men face stiff opposition from their opponents. Andy Murray (5) dropped the 1st set 4-6 to Lukas Rosol, the man who took out Rafael Nadal out of the 2012 Wimbledon Championships. Murray had only 1 winner to the 18 from Rosol in that initial set. However, the Scotsman righted his ship and soon nullified the potential threat that was the Czech. Rosol had the initial break in the 2nd set but was unable to adapt his style of play, the monster serve/forehand combination to the superior tactics of the 2 time major winner. Murray drew Rosol side to side and withstood the barrage of heavy-handed forehands which became more and more erratic as the match went on. In the end, Murray was just too much for Rosol to handle and Murray moved on 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Things were looking very comfortable for Roger Federer (7) against Paul-Henri Mathieu as he was up 6-2, 5-4 serving for the match. However, he gave Mathieu his first looks at break points and Mathieu converted on this rare occasion. Federer then became quite erratic and the match became anything but routine for the Swiss. He barely got the 2nd set to a tiebreaker and was down a mini break. Federer then found his top form again and closed out the match 7-6(5) to move through to the 3rd round. It seemed as though all the top men wanted to complicate their lives as Rafael Nadal too joined in on the action. He dropped the 1st set to Radek Stepanek who was playing a most aggressive style throughout the match. Nadal did his best to avoid the upset and just got by to the 3rd round in under two and a half hours 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. The world’s number one is looking to retain the title here as he did last year when kick started an incredible 2013 for him on hardcourts. He did not lose a match all of last year on the surface.  Milos Raonic (10), Fabio Fognini (13) and Andreas Seppi (29) also had to battle it out in 3 sets to get through to the 3rd round.

Several of the other top seeds figured out how to get to the 3rd round in an easier fashion. Current Australian Open champ Stanislas Wawrinka (3) won in straight sets over the monster serving Ivo Karlovic. Other straight sets winners include Tommy Haas (11), Kevin Anderson (17), Kei Nishikori (19), Gael Monfils (23), Dmitry Tursunov (27) and Alexsandr Dolgopolov (28). In terms of upsets, Jerzy Janowicz (18), one of the potential stars of the tour, lost to Alejandro Falla 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(5). Janowicz was up 5-2 in the 3rd set before becoming unraveled. Pablo Andujar (32) also lost to Jiri Vesely in 3 sets.

It was not just the men’s singles matches that proved to be interested at this tournament. There were many great pairings on the court which has made the men’s doubles event here a hot ticket. Novak Djokovic paired up with his countryman Filip Krajnovic for a chance of doubles glory but it was cut short by the team of Ernests Gulbis and Milos Raonic in straight sets 7-6, 6-1. The giant duo of Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro got together to take on the very experienced team of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic. They also lost their bid for doubles glory as the Nestor/Zimonjic took in the super-breaker 4-6, 6-3, 10-8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and his partner Nicolas Mahut came through against Kevin Anderson and Robin Haase. They will join Richard Gasquet and Jonathan Ehrlich in the 2nd round as they took out the Polish team of Marius Fystenberg and Marcin Matkowski.

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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