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Indian Wells: the first few days

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TENNIS – Both the ATP and WTA tours have stopped in the US for just over 3 weeks of action with the first stop being the desert location of Indian Wells California. The biggest “shocker” of the tournament thus far will have to be the early exit of 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka who lost in straight sets to American Lauren Davis 6-7, 0-6. Cordell Hackshaw

 

Both the ATP and WTA tours have stopped in the United States for just over 3 weeks of action with the first stop being the desert location of Indian Wells California, BNP Paribas Open (March 6 – March 16). This event, the most attended tennis event outside of the majors, is always special for fans as it gives them an opportunity to see many of their favourite players in one place at a fairly decent price. These premier hardcourt events are also the last stops before we head into the clay court season which culminates at the French Open in May. However, despite its desert locale, the tennis action at the BNP Paribas Open has been somewhat cold for the most part over the first 3 days. The biggest crowd draw thus far has been the doubles match up of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka v Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. The 2011 finalist and 2008 Olympics gold medalists Swiss duo won 6-2, 6-7, 1-0.

The biggest “shocker” of the tournament thus far will have to be the early exit of 3rd seed Victoria Azarenka who lost in straight sets to American Lauren Davis 6-7, 0-6. Azarenka who was clearly hampered in the match, later admitted that she is suffering from nerve damage in her foot which has been plaguing her for some time. She added that she may have been a bit too stubborn to have not adhered to medical advice to not play this event. Despite this upset, other top women’s seed managed to hold their own to move through to the 3rd round: Agnieszka Radwanska (2), Simona Halep (6), Jelena Jankovic (7), Sara Errani (9), Carolina Wozniacki (10), Roberta Vinci (13), Carla Suarez-Navarro (14), Eugenie Bouchard (18), Alizé Cornet (22), Lucie Safarova (26) and Magdalena Rybarikova (31). A pair of qualifiers Casey Dellacqua and Yaroslava Shvedova took out seeded players Kristen Flipkens (19) and Kaia Kanepi (24). They will be joined by Annika Beck who took Elena Vesnina (30). Two time champion (2002 and 2007) Daniela Hantuchova (29) was also upset by Varvara Lepchenko in straight sets in the 2nd round.

With this being a 96 field draw and seeded players getting a bye into the 2nd round, Days 1 and 2 had some interesting match ups for the avid tennis fan. Russia’s Vera Zvonareva (2010 Wimbledon and US Open semi-finalist) saw her comeback to top level play cut short when Shuai Peng of China took her out in 3 sets. Peng went on to lose to Bouchard in the 2nd round. Fellow Russian Nadia Petrova had to retire from her match against Silvia Soler-Espinoza after just 2 games. While on the subject of veteran players trying to get back in major form, 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone took out young German Mona Barthel in the 1st round. She will face her opponent in that major final, Sam Stosur for a place in the 3rd round. Promising players of the likes of Julia Goerges and Monica Niculescu are also through to the 2nd round. Other results saw the comeback efforts of Andrea Petkovic and Urszula Radwanska halted by Camila Giorgi and Aleksandra Wozniak respectively.

There were many young up and coming players also in action in the 1st round here at Indian Wells. Great Britain’s Heather Watson won over the 16-year over Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. Although Watson lost in the 2nd round to Aga Radwanska in straight sets, it was a good effort against the top player. Not surprisingly, the United States put forward many of their young talents in the field. Shelby Rogers, Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe and Taylor Townsend all won their 1st round matches. Fellow Americans Victoria Duval, Alexandra Kiick, Alison Riske, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Christina McHale and Vania King were not so lucky. Keys went on to lose to Vinci in 2nd round.

On the men’s side, main draw action began on Thursday and like the women’s draw, the top 32 seeds were given byes into the 2nd round. Veteran and two time major winner, Lleyton Hewitt proved that he still has something left in the tank when he took out his countryman Matthew Ebden in 3 sets. Another veteran on tour Mike Russell of the US took out his fellow countryman Donald Young. Russell was joined by his compatriots Sam Querrey, Ryan Harrison and Tim Smyczek in the 2nd round. Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin won over Benjamin Becker in straight sets. It must be noted that it was a very lackluster performance from the German in this match up. There were so many careless errors from his racquet that at times it looked as though they were intentional. Nonetheless, a good win for the Frenchman.

Other winners included Radek Stepanek surprisingly over Denis Istomin. Stepanek will get for his 2nd round opponent, world’s number 1 Rafael Nadal. Speaking of Nadal, Lukas Rosol won his 1st round encounter and will try for another major upset as he faces Andy Murray in the 2nd round. Jeremy Chardy, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Ivo Karlovic and Juan Monaco also moved through to the next round. Tour veterans such as Feliciano Lopez, Jarkko Nieminen, Teymuraz Gabashvili, Nikolay Davydenko, Julien Benneteau and Victor Hanescu are also through to the 2nd round where they will all face seeded players.

The top seeds begin play on Saturday with Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and recent Australian Open champion Stanislav Wawrinka all set to play. The tournament is sure to come alive from here on end or so one would hope.

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Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman

The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.

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Diego Schwartzman (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired. 

 

The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona. 

Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori. 

“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”

The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas. 

Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33. 

“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said. 
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”

The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match. 

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup

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The lineup for Day 3 (twitter.com/lavercup)

Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar.  Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup.  Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first. 

 

Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time.  And each match on Sunday is worth three points.


Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm

Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles.  So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday.  Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday.  Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist.  If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)

Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles.  While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever.  Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.

Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay.  It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1).  And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday.  Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary

Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games.  He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts.  However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.


Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary

Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday.  If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday

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The lineup for Day 2 (twitter.com/lavercup)

In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2.  And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit.  With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup? 

 

Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day.  Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm.  And each match on Saturday is worth two points.


Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm

These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions.  Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event.  Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati.  Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup.  Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.


Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session

Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play.  Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive.  Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17.  Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon.  They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets.  Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm

Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday?  He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock.  Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios.  The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.

Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5.  Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York.  Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets.  Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day.  But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.


Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session

Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here.  This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals.  Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2.  De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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