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Istomin hands Uzbekistan the lead, Sock levels

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Istomin finally secured victory By SweTennis (Denis Istomin) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Istomin finally secured victory
By SweTennis (Denis Istomin) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Denis Istomin overcame the volatile, error strewn display of Steve Johnson to hand Uzbekistan the lead in this Davis Cup World Group Playoff tie. The World number sixty-two survived Johnson serving for the match deep in the fifth set, after he had had his own chance in the fourth, to prevail 6-1, 3-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5. It was a gripping encounter, more for the drama than the actual quality of tennis on show,with both players proving frustratingly inconsistent.

Istomin had started superbly, breaking serve in Johnson’s first service game as the American’s attacking game faltered into standard forehand errors, a sign of things to come. Istomin consolidated with strong serving extended his lead further with a double break for five-one, as Johnson  committed twenty unforced errors in the set. American captain Jim Courier was left to try and rally a despondent-looking Johnson. Istomin secured he opening set with another comfortable service hold.

Johnson regained his composure in the second set, enjoying a much better read on the Istomin serve, as he won nearly half of the points off of Istomin’s first serve delivery. Johnson was striking a much better balance, dictating rather than pushing the play with his forehand, and this resulted in far more winners than errors. Johnson deservedly levelled the match

The third set was a very finely balanced affair, with both players trying to take the initiatives based on their mutual attacking styles. Both players were now employing the drop-shot more frequently, though Istomin far more successfully than Johnson. Each had opportunities to break near the end of the set. Johnson had two break points at five-all, but was wrong-footed as he tried to second guess the Istomin serve, the Uzbek escaping to stay in front on serve. Istomin very nearly had love-thirty the next game, but a line-call error after a Johnson forehand had tickled the tape saw the umpire quickly off the chair to correct. Johnson then escaped fifteen-thirty to ensure a tiebreak.

The tiebreak proved a close affair, with both players tightening up and relinquishing leads. Istomin lead early at two-love, Johnson at four-three, and Istomin once again at five-four. Istomin finally held both his service points, playing a drop shot on set point that Johnson did not run down. Uzbekistan led two sets to one.

Johnson immediately held and fashioned a break point in Istomin’s service game. However the Uzbek again denied him as Johnson blasted long on a forehand. Istomin then rushed the net, forcing Johnson into two passing errors to level affairs. Johnson quickly found himself in trouble, down love-thirty after a forehand found the tramlines again. Johnson staved off a break point with consecutive aces, mirroring Istomin. Istomin again had a break point in the seventh game after more wild cuts from Johnson, but he missed a second serve return to let the American off the hook. At five-all however, the narrative proved to be the same, except this time there was no escape for the American. A driven forehand volley miss from Johnson handed Istomin break points and he sealed the break to serve for the match.

Johnson gamely stayed with him however, and broke back to thirty, forcing a fourth set tiebreak. Johnson took the early lead in the tiebreak when a forehand cross-court exchange ended with Istomin dumping a groundstroke in the net. Istomin quickly recovered the mini break with a short angle backhand. Johnson earned it straight back however, running wide around to hit a forehand return down the middle near Istomin’s feet, who could only reply long. Johnson then held with a forehand winner down the line and a Istomin error to secure set points. He secured the set with another error from Istomin.

The change in the match was remarkable. Johnson was now dominating and immediately put pressure back on the Istomin serve, holding a break point in the first game. Istomin held but, after a quick hold to love, Johnson secured the break when Istomin missed a backhand volley. Incredibly Istomin and Johnson then traded breaks, the American regaining the lead after finally getting a read on a istomin drop-shot before, drop-volleying to lead again. Istomin broke again though, as a horrible Johnson drop-shot and an unsurprisingly wild forehand  leveled things. A better drop shot in the next game again handed Johnson break points. Both were saved, but Johnson broke from deuce to lead yet again. Johnson endured four break points at four-three but saved them, registering the first hold of serve for either play for five games.

The drama continued when Istomin earned a break point as Johnson served for the match. Johnson stopped play insisting a ball was out. The umpire came down from the chair but after examining the mark, referred Johnson to the original call of in and the match continued. Johnson then unnecessarily smashed wide for an Istomin match point. It was saved but another error resulted in a second. Johnson found the net to hand Uzbekistan the opening rubber.

In the later match, Jack Sock quickly dismissed the challenge of Farrukh Dustov, winning ins straight sets 7-5, 6-3,6-2 in what was his Davis Cup debut. The doubles, taking place on Saturday, is likely to see Querrey/Johnson take on Istomin/Dustov. Querrey/Johnson is a Davis Cup debut partnership in the absence of the Bryan brothers.

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Daniil Medvedev Targets French Open Breakthrough After Rome Disappointment

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Daniil Medvedev believes there will be more title contenders at the French Open than previous editions with the Russian hoping to be one of them. 

The world No.4 heads into the Grand Slam after what has been a mixed clay swing. Medvedev suffered a third round defeat in Monte Carlo before bouncing back in Madrid where he reached the quarter-finals before retiring from his match with a minor injury. Meanwhile, at this week’s Italian Open, his title defence came to an end in the fourth round on Tuesday when he fell 6-1, 6-4, to Tommy Paul. 

“Mentally I had to be much better,” Medvedev said of his latest performance.
“I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.’
“It’s disappointing, but that’s how sport is. You lose and you go for the next tournament, which is a pretty important one.” He added. 

28-year-old Medvedev recently stated that he is seeing improvements in his game when it comes to playing on the clay. A surface which he has struggled on during stages of his career. Out of the 38 ATP Finals he has contested, only two of those were on the clay. Barcelona in 2019 when he finished runner-up and Rome last year which he won. 

As for the French Open, he has lost in the first round on five out of seven appearances. But did reach the quarter-finals in 2021 and the last 16 the following year. So could 2024 be his year?

“Now it’s maybe a little bit more open than it was ever before,” he said of this year’s event. 
“Good for me, too, because usually in Roland Garros I don’t play that well. The more open it is, the better it is for me.”

All of the top three players on the men’s tour are currently experiencing problems. Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Italian Open and recently underwent a medical assessment after getting hit in the head by a bottle in a freak accident. Jannik Sinner is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the French Open due to a hip issue and Carlos Alcaraz has been hindered by a forearm injury in recent weeks. 

“I’m feeling much better on clay,” Medvedev commented. “What is tough for me on clay sometimes is getting used to conditions. Every court – in every tournament in the world – is a bit different.
“On hard courts it’s the same: every court is different. On hard courts I have this ability to kind of quite fast get used to it. On clay, I need more time.”

Medvedev aims to become only the second Russian man in history to win the French Open after Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1996. The tournament will begin a week on Sunday. 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Says Expanded Masters Events ‘Playing A Massive Role’ In Player Injuries

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Stefanos Tsitsipas has slammed the decision to extend the length of Masters 1000 tournaments to two weeks by warning that more injuries could occur in the future as a result. 

This week’s Rome Masters is taking place without two out of the world’s top three players. Jannik Sinner pulled out of his home event due to a hip injury and Carlos Alcaraz has been troubled by a forearm issue in recent weeks. Other players missing from the draw include Tomas Machac (Illness), Ugo Humbert (Left Knee) and Stan Wawrinka (Right Wrist). 

The tournament is taking place immediately after the Madrid Open which is also a Masters event that has been expanded to a two-week format in recent years. Supporters of the move argue that a bigger draw provides lower-ranked players with more opportunities to play in these events whilst others will have a day off between matches. 

However, world No.8 Tsitsipas isn’t completely happy with the schedule which he openly criticised on Monday following his 6-2, 7-6(1), win over Cameron Norrie. The Greek has won 12 out of 14 matches played on clay so far this season. 

“It’s a type of thing that hurt the sport a little bit, to have these types of things happen to the highest of the players,” Tsitsipas commented on his rival’s injuries.
“Without them, the show is not kind of the same. You have obviously the guys behind them (in the rankings). These kinds of tournaments deserve names like this to be playing and have the opportunity to play in front of these big stadiums and crowds.
“I’ve spoken about the fact that the schedule has a big toll on our bodies. It starts from the mental side, and it follows to the physical side. The extension of the days in the Masters 1000s I think plays a massive role and contributes a lot to the fact that these players are getting injured.”

The ATP’s extended format is set to be applied to seven out of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments from 2025. The only two yet to make or plan for such changes are Monte Carlo and Paris. However, Tsitsipas has called for changes to be made to the schedule.

“It was perhaps already a lot the way it was before with the seven-day events. Adding more days to that, well, you got to be some type of superhero to be consistent back-to-back 10 days in each event getting to the very end of it.” He commented.
“It’s not a very easy thing to do. Some people need to try it first to get an understanding and how it is to pull that off. Then they should make decisions based on that.
“I think this is not going to be the first time we see these types of things (player injuries). If these types of things continue with the same schedule not being adjusted or customized to the needs of the players, we might see more of these things occur in the future.”

It is not the first time a player has raised concerns about the extended format. Alexander Zverev previously said that the schedule is a disadvantage for the top players. Meanwhile, on the women’s Tour Caroline Garcia has criticised the move to expand WTA 1000 tournaments whilst Maria Sakkari said achieving the Madrid-Rome double has become harder to do

On the other hand, Daniil Medvedev has spoken in favour of the new format and describes injuries on the Tour as ‘part of the sport.’ The former US Open believes the issue is related to the quick surface changes players face and not the duration of tournaments. 

Tsitsipas will play Alex de Minaur in the fourth round of the Italian Open on Tuesday. 

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Novak Djokovic To Undergo Medical Check After Rome Thrashing, Bottle Incident

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Novak Djokovic – ATP Roma 2024 (foto: Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis)

Novak Djokovic has indicated that he will speak to doctors following his lacklustre performance at the Italian Open where he crashed out in straight sets. 

The five-time champion was far from his best against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo as he struggled to generate any rhythm in his tennis or a single break point opportunity. Djokovic’s below-par performance caught many off guard, including the tennis player himself who admitted afterwards that he was ‘completely off’ his game. 

Trying to find the reason behind his latest performance, the world No.1 isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might be linked to an incident that took place at the tournament two days ago. Following his win over France’s Corentin Moutet, Djokovic suffered a blow to his head after a fan accidentally dropped a metal bottle from the stands. Immediately afterwards, he experienced nausea, dizziness and bleeding for up to an hour but was checked by medical officials.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I have to check that.” Djokovic replied when asked if the incident affected his form on Sunday.
“Training was different. I was going for kind of easy training yesterday. I didn’t feel anything, but I also didn’t feel the same.
“Today under high stress, it was quite bad – not in terms of pain, but in terms of this balance. Just no coordination. Completely different player from what it was two nights ago.
“It could be. I don’t know. I have to do medical checkups and see what’s going on. “

The tennis star said he managed to sleep fine after his head blow but did experience headaches. He looked to be in good spirits the day after it happened and even turned up to practice in Rome wearing a safety helmet.

Djokovic’s concerns come two weeks before the start of the French Open where he is seeking a record 25th Major title. He will undoubtedly be one of the contenders for glory but admits there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the coming days. 

“Everything needs to be better in order for me to have at least a chance to win it,” he said.
“The way I felt on the court today was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. Just no rhythm, no tempo, and no balance whatsoever on any shot.
“It’s a bit concerning.”

The French Open will begin on Sunday 26th May. 

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