Barcelona Open: Nishikori and Giraldo into the final - UBITENNIS
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Barcelona Open: Nishikori and Giraldo into the final

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TENNIS – Kei Nishikori beat Ernests Gulbis in the first semifinal of the Barcelona Open, ATP 500 Tournament, with 6-2 6-4 in one hour and 26 minutes setting up a final match against Colombian Santiago Giraldo who upset Rafa Nadal’s conqueror Nicolas Almagro, also in straight sets, with 7-5 6-3. Diego Sampaolo

Four players from four different countries qualified for the semifinals at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell: Kei Nishikori from Japan, Ernests Gulbis from Latvia, Nicholas Almagro from Spain and Santiago Giraldo from Colombia. Spain has been represented by only one player for the first time since 2002.

In the first semifinal Nishikori defeated Ernests Gulbis 6-2 6-4 in their first ever head-to-head match. The Florida-based player did not face a break point chance in the whole match to reach the seventh final in his career (with a record of 4-2 in his previous finals). Gulbis saved seven break points in the second set before dropping her serve.

Nishikori broke serve in the fifth game of the opening set with a forehand winner down the line and backed up the break at 30 for a 4-2 lead after 21 minutes. The Japanese player won 14 of the last 16 points to wrap up the first set in 27 minutes.

Gulbis fended off two of the three break points he faced with a service winner and a ace to hold serve for2-1. In the fifth game Nishikori earned three break points but Gulbis saved them. The next game featured a spectacular 22-shot rally. Gulbis hit a backhand drop-shot into the net to face a fourth break point. The Latvian saved it with an ace before holding serve with another ace for 3-2 before taking a medical time-out to treat a lower back strain. Nishikori broke serve for the third time for 5-4 as Gulbis made a forehand error.

Nishikori made a couple of double faults at deuce in the final game but he closed out the match on the third match point after one hour and 25 minutes.

The Japanese player reached the semifinal for the fourth time this season and his first final in four appearances in Barcelona. Before this week he achieved his best result in 2012 when he lost to Fernando Verdasco in the quarter final.

Nishikori has made history as he has become the first Japanese player to reach the Barcelona final He will be looking to win the second title this year and the fifth in his career.

I was very happy to see lots of Japanese people congratulating me after the match. I love coming to play in Spain. I am playing great and I am particularly pleased with my serve and my forehand”, said Nishikori.

Tomorrow he will be looking to win the second title of the year two months after winning in Memphis when he beat Ivo Karlovic to lift the fourth title of his career. He notably beat Roger Federer in the quarter final in Miami before being forced to withdraw by a groin injury.

The last eleven Barcelona titles have been won by a Spanish player but tomorrow the final will not feature any home players for the first time since 2003 as last year’s Barcelona runner-up Nicholas Almagro was upset by Santiago Giraldo one day after his upset win over eight-time Barcelona champion Rafa Nadal in the re-match of the 2013 final.

Giraldo has become the first player from Colombia to reach the Barcelona final. Giraldo beat Almagro in straight sets 7-5 6-3. Giraldo fended off six of seven break points he faced before closing out the match with an ace,

In the first set Giraldo broke Almagro’s last serving game with a forehand winner. Almagro bounced back breaking early in the second set but Giraldo broke straight back before taking full control of the match.

The Colombian player won for the first time in his six head-to-head matches against Almagro.

Giraldo dropped serve in the third game of the second set but he broke straight back before winning five of the next six games to score his first win in six head-to-head matches against Almagro.

Giraldo hit six aces and 19 winners to score his second win against a top-20 player after beating Fabio Fognini, who withdrew in the second set when he was down 0-6 0-4.

Giraldo has qualified for his second career final after losing to Tommy Robredo in Santiago in 2011. He played in his sixth ATP semifinal after Santiago 2011, Auckland 2011, Acapulco 2012, Vina del Mar 2014 and Houston 2014. In Barcelona Giraldo fended off five match points en route to his three-set win against young Austrian Dominic Thiem with 4-6 6-4 7-5. He qualified for the semifinal after German Phillip Kohlschreiber withdrew because of a leg injury while she was down 4-6 3-4.

In his previous two appearances in the Catalan tournament Giraldo reached the third round losing against Rafa Nadal in 2011 and Andy Murray in 2012. This year he won his 100th match on the ATP Tour in Vina del Mar where he reached the semifinal losing to Leandro Mayer. In April he reached the Houston semifinal where he lost against eventual winner Fernando Verdasco, who beat Almagro in the final.

Nishikori and Giraldo met five times in their career. The Japanese player leads 4-1 and won their last head-to-head match in Indian Wells last March with 6-1 6-3.

The last non-Spanish winner in Barcelona was Gaston Gaudio in 2002. The last non Spanish final in Barcelona dates back to 1996 when Thomas Muster beat Marcelo Rios in four sets.

Bucharest Nastase Tiriac Trophy ATP 250

Grigor Dimitrov qualified for the final of the ATP 250 Tournament in Bucharest when Gael Monfils was forced to withdraw with an ankle injury after 26 minutes when he was trailing 1-5 in the first set. The Frenchman rallied from 0-5 and 2.6 in the tie-break of the second set and saved six match points to beat his compatriot Pierre Henry Mathieu 3-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-2 after a two-hour and 21 minute battle.

The Bulgarian player will face last year’s Bucharest champion Lukas Rosol who fought back from a set down and a 0-2 deficit at the start of the second set to overcome Robin Haase with 3-6 6-3 6-2 in one hour and 47 minutes.

It is disappointing for Gael. As much as I am happy, it is an undeserved win and unfortunately it had to end this way. I hope he will be OK for the coming weeks”, said Dimitrov.

Dimitrov will face Rosol for the first time in his career.

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Canada Daily Preview: Two Clashes Between Top 10 Seeds in the Third Round

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Felix Auger-Aliassime practicing this week in Montreal (twitter.com/OBNmontreal)

On Thursday, all third round matches will take place in both Montreal and Toronto, making for another extremely busy day of tennis.  And two of those third round encounters see top 10 seeds collide.  In Montreal, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime faces Cam Norrie in a rematch from last Friday’s Los Cabos semifinals.  In Toronto, Aryna Sabalenka plays Coco Gauff, who survived an extended battle on Wednesday against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina

 

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time in Toronto and 12:00pm local time in Montreal.


Aryna Sabalenka (6) vs. Coco Gauff (10) – 11:00am on Grandstand in Toronto

Gauff’s second-round victory on Wednesday was a grueling affair.  After failing to convert four match points in the second-set tiebreak, Coco finally prevailed in a third-set tiebreak.  And she did so despite striking 13 double faults, a part of her game that continues to trouble her.  Sabalenka spent over an hour less time on court, defeating Sara Sorribes Tormo in straight sets.  Gauff leads their head-to-head 2-1, though all three meetings have been rather tight.  And of late, Coco has been the much stronger performer.  Going back to her run to the French Open final, Gauff has claimed 15 of her last 19 matches.  By contrast, Sabalenka arrived in Toronto having lost three of her last four.  While Coco will surely feel a bit tired on Thursday, she’ll also feel relieved having escaped what would have been a heartbreaking loss a day earlier, and should play a bit more freely.  And most importantly, she’s currently feeling much more confident than Sabalenka.


Cameron Norrie (9) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (6) – Not Before 4:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Last week in Los Cabos, Norrie took out Auger-Aliassime in straight sets.  However, that was Cam’s first victory over Felix in five tries.  The previous four had all gone the way of the Canadian, including another hard court matchup earlier this year in Rotterdam.  Auger-Aliassime pulled out a dramatic first-set tiebreak on Wednesday night over Washington runner-up Yoshihito Nishioka in thrilling fashion, eventually prevailing in straights.  Earlier in the day, Norrie advanced comfortably, allowing Botic van de Zandschulp only three games.  Just six days removed from their last encounter, Felix will be eager for revenge, especially at his home country’s biggest event.  But playing at home comes with a lot of pressure, and Auger-Aliassime is only 3-4 in his last seven matches.  Cam is the more in-form player, and should be favored to earn his second win over Felix in less than a week.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Jessica Pegula (7) vs. Camila Giorgi – Giorgi is the defending champion, and is yet to drop a set through two matches.  Last year in the semifinals of this same event, she defeated Pegula in three.  But overall the American leads their head-to-head 5-2 at all levels, and has twice defeated Camila since that semifinal.

Nick Kyrgios vs. Alex de Minaur – It’s Australian versus Australian, and the Washington champ against the Atlanta champ.  Kyrgios upset world No.1 and defending champion Daniil Medvedev on Wednesday, and has now won 13 of his last 14 matches.  De Minaur has already defeated Denis Shapovalov and Grigor Dimitrov this week. 

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia – In typical Swiatek fashion, she required just over an hour to prevail over Ajla Tomljanovic in her opening match.  Haddad Maia eliminated Canada’s Leylah Fernandez on Wednesday, and won 13 straight matches on grass in June.

Bianca Andreescu vs. Qinwen Zheng – Andreescu outlasted Alize Cornet on Wednesday night in a tight three-setter.  Qinwen benefitted from Ons Jabeur’s retirement due to abdominal pain during their second round matchup. 


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Canada Daily Preview: A Huge Day of Action Headlined by Serena/Bencic and Medvedev/Kyrgios

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Serena Williams on Monday in Toronto (twitter.com/NBOtoronto)

On Tuesday, Serena Williams announced her retirement from the sport in a poignant essay.  With only a month left before one of the greatest players of all-time retires, Serena will play only her third match in the past 14 months on Wednesday, as she faces fellow Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic.

 

In Montreal, the two ATP singles champions from last week will collide, as Los Cabos champ and world No.1 Daniil Medvedev takes on Washington champ and Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios

Those are just two of a plethora of high-profile second round matches on Wednesday.  Overall seven of the WTA top 10 and six of the ATP top 10 will be in action in a jam-packed day of tennis.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Wednesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time in both Toronto and Montreal.


Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Not Before 1:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Medvedev did not drop a set during his title run last week in Mexico, and is the defending champion of this event.  But Kyrgios is having the best summer of his career.  He’s now claimed 12 of his last 13 matches, which of course includes his first Major singles final at Wimbledon.  And Nick is 2-1 against Daniil, though they’ve split two hard court meetings.  Three years ago in the final of Washington, Kyrgios prevailed thanks to two tiebreaks.  But at this year’s Australian Open, Medvedev was victorious in four.  Last year at this tournament, Daniil defeated a few other big servers such as Hubi Hurkacz, John Isner, and Reilly Opelka.  On Wednesday, his defensive skills may again prove to diffuse Nick’s serving prowess.  And as seen in the Wimbledon final, Kyrgios can get easily frustrated by opponents who can play elite-level defense.


Belinda Bencic (12) vs. Serena Williams – Not Before 7:00pm on Centre Court on Toronto

These next few weeks will be the last in perhaps the most remarkable career in tennis history.  Serena has said she does not want a lot of fanfare surrounding her last tournaments, but fans will surely be clamoring to see the all-time great one last time.  In just her third match this year, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in women’s singles faces the most recent gold medalist.  Bencic is now 28-13 this season, and two of her best results this season have come in the US.  She was a semifinalist in Miami, and the champion in Charleston.  Serena is 2-1 against Belinda, though Bencic’s only victory occurred in this same city seven years ago, when the Swiss star won this title as an 18-year-old.  Williams played some good tennis during her straight-set victory on Monday, and both players will assumedly be quite nervous knowing this is one of Serena’s final matches.  But considering Williams has not defeated a top 20 player since the 2021 Australian Open, Bencic should be favored on this day.  Regardless, this opportunity to watch Serena compete will be cherished by her millions of fans.


Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Swiatek is now 48-5 on the year, and has won her last three hard court tournaments dating back to February (Doha, Indian Wells, Miami).  Tomljanovic reached her second consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinal last month.  Their only previous meeting also occurred in Toronto, when three years ago the Australian retired after only five games.

Elena Rybakina vs. Coco Gauff (10) – The new Wimbledon champion played for a full three hours on Tuesday, eventually defeating Marie Bouzkova 6-1 in the third.  On the same day, Gauff dropped only four games to fellow American Madison Brengle. 

Tommy Paul vs. Carlos Alcaraz – Alcaraz is now 42-7 in 2022, and is coming off back-to-back finals at clay events in Europe.  Paul has accumulated 25 wins of his own this season, 16 of which have come on hard courts.

Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Leylah Fernandez (13) – Fernandez gritted her way to a three-set victory on Monday night in her first match since injuring her foot at Roland Garros.  Haddad Maia has 34 wins on the year, and won back-to-back grass court tournaments in June.  Earlier this season in the semifinals of Monterrey, Leylah prevailed over Beatriz in straight sets.

Qinwen Zheng vs. Ons Jabeur (5) – Jabeur went 1-1 last week in her first two matches since her losing effort in the Wimbledon final.  Qinwen also lost to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon, after two tight sets in the third round of that event.

Bianca Andreescu vs. Alize Cornet – Andreescu overcame injury to defeat San Jose champion Daria Kasatkina on Tuesday evening, requiring multiple medical timeouts in the first set alone.  Earlier in the day, Cornet took out Caroline Garcia in three sets.  Alize is 2-0 against Bianca.

Yoshihito Nishioka (SE) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (6) – Nishioka was a surprise finalist last week in Washington, where he earned impressive victories over five top 40 players, including Andrey Rublev.  Auger-Aliassime has now lost four of his last six matches.  Yoshi leads their tour-level head-to-head 2-1, which includes a dramatic three-set win three years ago at Indian Wells in a third-set tiebreak.

Jack Draper (Q) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Tsitsipas has not played since his embarrassing behavior in a third-round defeat at the hands of Kyrgios at Wimbledon.  20-year-old Draper has earned 35 match wins at all levels this season. 


Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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6, 5, 4…is the rise of Carlos Alcaraz going to continue this week?

Canadian Open and Cincinnati Masters 1000 may allow the Spaniard’s ranking to reach new zeniths

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CARLOS ALCARAZ OF SPAIN - PHOTO: ANGEL MARTINEZ / MMO

By Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Numbers are fascinating, even worshipped by some, unquestionable and reassuring. We may forget the fallibility of subjective evaluation and rejoice with the sense of power that comes with belief that any reality, from outer space to the inner world, can be measured, and expressed with numbers.

 

And numbers have been fuelling tennis headlines over the last weeks as Carlos Alcaraz has been heading on, his rise in the rankings unblemished by the losses to Musetti and Sinner in the finals in Hamburg and Umag and ticking on like an ultimate countdown.  

In the next two weeks Alcaraz will have limitless opportunities to reap points in the two Masters 1000 leading up to the US Open since he will only be dropping the points he earned last year in Cincinnati where, after qualifying, he reached the round of 32 before losing to Lorenzo Sonego.

There is more at stake for those he is chasing: Medvedev, winner in Canada and semi-finalist in Cincinnati is surely capable of bettering such results, but it will not be a walkover. Zverev is fully committed to rehab and unable to defend his Cincinnati 2021 crown. Nadal, who missed all the second part of the last season and could be a serious challenger in terms of point harvesting, has just had to pull out from Montreal owing to his still-healing abdominal injury.    

Nitpickers may suggest that the most recent hurdles cleared by Alcaraz have not coincided with immaculate victories and that what had seemed for a long time to be a perfect set-up engine, meticulously fine-tuned, has been starting to misfire.

No doubt that his 2022 campaign had been a crescendo up to his triumph in the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, where he brushed aside Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev. The match with Djokovic was of supreme quality and will stand out as one of the gems of the year.

Till then, his loss to Korda in Monte Carlo was the only lapse and could be considered an incident, as it may occur to any guy setting foot on clay for the first time in months, adorned with a new status as a tennis prodigy after his win in Miami and awaited by a roaring buzz of expectations.

In Paris, a first yellow alert did appear when he was on the brink of defeat in round 2 with Ramos-Vinolas in a match stained by 74 unforced errors. Then followed shining performances against Korda and Khachanov before falling in the quarter-finals to Zverev who overpowered him throughout most of their match. But Zverev was formidable that day and Alcaraz strove to the very end to find an escape way and was close to coming back, missing a set point in the fourth set tiebreak that would have tugged him into a decider.

His star seemed to be shining at Wimbledon after his impressive dominance over Otte, but two days later was obscured by Sinner. On this occasion, for the first time in his newly established career, his game appeared blunted.

Was his body starting to remind him he’s a teen, capable of formidable performances, but still to develop that endurance and resilience which are needed to maintain peak cruising over longer stretches?

Then followed defeats in Hamburg and Umag finals on clay. A final itself cannot be considered a disappointing result, but his halo of invincibility was dimmed.

Particular concern was his second defeat in a month to Sinner, where he appeared at loss for solutions over the last one hour and a half, his boisterous self-confidence slowly deflating and his body language revealing frustration. In his press conference, Alcaraz admitted such a sense of helplessness and said to be determined to figure out a way to win against the Italian. 

The point is that Alcaraz made such a great impression in the first part of this season that it has become hard to believe he can lose a match.

At his best, he can deliver any shot at any moment, with a variety rarely seen before. In an inspired instant, he can switch from herculean ball-striking to caressing a dropshot, which will land, bounceless, a few inches after the net. What about his eagerness to volley, often following his wondrously effective kick serve? Not to mention his serve which alternates power and spin, his endurance in winning long rallies, scuttling far and beyond to fling in a winner from out of the blue. Opponents cannot but be befuddled. 

And then, is clay really the surface that best suits his game? In an interview with Marca, he said he’s comfortable on all surfaces but feels that his dynamic game most suits hard courts. If we couple this statement with his enthusiasm for being in Montreal and playing the Canadian Open for the first time, after throwing in some hard work for a successful transition from clay to hard, we can be positive that the fire has been kindled, and the countdown for reaching the highest ranking orbits is running once again.      

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