Tough wins for Azarenka and Errani early on Day 4 - UBITENNIS
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Tough wins for Azarenka and Errani early on Day 4

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US Open – Two-time US Open finalist (2012-2013) Victoria Azarenka (20) and 2012 semifinalist Sara Errani (16) both had to dig deep to get passed their 2nd round opponents as they were both facing upsets. Azarenka was able to get the job done in straight sets 7-5 6-4 against Yanina Wickmayer and Errani battled hard to escape the clutches of qualifier Jelena Ostapenko 0-6 6-4 6-3.

Azarenka was under pressure from the beginning of the match as Wickmayer jumped out to a 2-0 lead. She would sustain this lead until the 8th game when Azarenka broke back for 4-4. Wickmayer broke back for 5-4 and serve for the set but again was unable to hold the lead as Azarenka got back the break and broke her again in the 12th game for the set as Wickmayer was serving to stay in it, 7-5. In the 2nd set, Azarenka was able to be in control of the points better but could not serve out the match when she was up 5-3. Wickmayer on the other hand again could not hold serve when it counted the most. Serving to stay in the match down 4-5, the Belgian could not come up with the goods and so was bounced from the tournament 5-7 4-6. This has to be a tough loss for Wickmayer who has yet to equal her 2009 result when she made the semifinals. Since then, she has only gone past the 2nd round once. Azarenka moves through to the 3rd round where she will play Angelique Kerber (11) who beat Karin Knapp 7-5 6-2.

Errani looked well out of sorts at the beginning of her match. She lost the opening set 0-6 to Ostapenko who was simply on top of every shot. Errani had a medical time out and got some treatment which seemed have helped as the Italian raced out to a 4-0 lead in the 2nd set. Ostapenko was able to get back the double breaks for 3-4. However, Errani remained relentless as she broke back for 5-3 and despite being unable to serve out the set in the 9th game, she broke Ostapenko again to take it 6-4. The 3rd set saw 6 successive breaks of serves for 3-3. However, Errani allowed her experience to shine through as she held serve for 4-3 and broke Ostapenko for the 4th time in the set for 5-3. Errani then fought through the pain and serve it out 0-6 6-4 6-3 in 2 hours.

Errani is set to play Sam Stosur (22), 2011 champion here, who virtually stormed through to the 3rd round with a 6-1 6-1 thrashing of Evgeniya Rodina in just 51 minutes. The Australian had 8 aces added to her total of 29 winners. Rodina only had 1 ace and 7 winners altogether for the match. “I’m very happy with the way I played. I thought I played great from start to finish. [N]ice to get on and off very quickly, especially when it’s hot and I’ve got doubles later today. [M]y first two matches have been really good,” Stosur said after the match.

American Varvara Lepchenko took out Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko who earlier in the tournament upset Lucie Safarova (6). Lepchenko won 7-6 6-2 in just over an hour an a half. Andrea Petkovic (18) was also able to take out her opponent in straight sets. The German got by Elena Vesnina 6-3 7-6. Vesnina was able to gain a 5-3 lead in the 2nd set but was unable to serve it out at 5-4 and could not get much traction in the breaker.

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EXCLUSIVE: Ana Ivanovic’s 2024 French Open Picks

The former world No.1 tells Ubitennis her favourites for this year’s title, what underdogs to look out for and speaks about Dominic Thiem’s farewell.

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Ana Ivanovic pictured with the 2008 French Open trophy (image via https://x.com/anaivanovic)

16 years have passed since Ana Ivanovic was the player lifting the French Open trophy. 

In 2008, the Serbian socred back-to-back wins over Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina en route to the first and only Grand Slam title of her career. At the French Open, Ivanovic won more matches (37) than at any other major event and was also runner-up in 2007 to Justine Henin. 

Now retired from the sport, the 36-year-old continues to keep an eye on what is happening on the Tour in both the men’s and women’s events. So what does she think about this year’s French Open? 

The women’s draw – Is the title Swiatek’s to lose?

Iga Swiatek is targeting a fourth title in Paris which would make her only the fourth female player to achieve this milestone in the Open Era. The Pole is currently on a 12-match winning streak after claiming titles in Madrid and Rome. As for those who are the biggest threat to her, Ivanovic has two names in her mind. 

“I think the biggest threat is Ayna Sabalenka – they (her and Swiatek) played an amazing match in Madrid. It was a very tight one. And Elena Rybakina even though clay is probably not her favourite surface,” Ivanovic tells Ubitennis via email. 

Another player Ivanovic tips as a dark horse is Danielle Collins, who is playing the last season of her career. Since January she already rocketed up the rankings from 54th position to 12th, winning the biggest trophy of her career in Miami. On clay, she won the Charleston Open and more recently reached the semi-finals in Rome. 

“Danielle Collins had an amazing tournament winning back-to-back Miami and Charleston and also playing well in Rome again. I think she is a dark horse for the French Open.” She said.
“She seems to play very freely and enjoy herself out there. She has been in very good form this year, winning a lot of matches. She has a big chance to come far into the second week of the French Open.”

The last player ranked outside the top 10 to win Paris was Barbora Krejcikova in 2021 and the last American to do so was Serena Williams in 2015. 

As for other contenders, Ivanovic hopes a rising star of the sport will perform well. 

“I think now in women’s tennis we see more similar faces in the semifinals and finals. But I would really like to see Mirra Andreeva go far.” She commented about the Russian 17-year-old, who is currently ranked 38th in the world. 

The men’s draw – will Djokovic regain his form in time?

It can be argued with good reason that the men’s draw is the most open it has been in recent editions. Defending champion Novak Djokovic is still to win a title this year and experienced a turbulent time in Rome where he received a blow to the head during a freak accident. Meanwhile, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz have been hindered by injury setbacks in recent weeks with both of them missing the last Masters event. 

“There have been a lot of new players in the last few weeks reaching far in the tournaments and beating some top players,” Ivanovic said about the state of men’s tennis.
So we are going to see many new faces on the men’s side. Of course Novak is still the strongest contestant for the title, but also Alcaraz and Sinner.”
“Novak had a little bit tougher clay court season so far than usual, but I think he is for sure peaking his full form for the French Open.”

As for the ‘strongest contestant’, the former world No.1 picks Djokovic and Alcaraz. Although there is a chance of a new Grand Slam champion. So who would Ivanovic pick for glory out of Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud?

“Out of the other 3, I would pick Zverev as the highest chance to win the French Open.” She replied.

Thiem’s Paris Swamsong 

Beside chasing for glory, one of the storylines of this year’s event will be the depature of Dominic Thiem who will play in Roland Garros for the last time before retiring later this year. The two-time finalist is playing in the qualifying draw after being controversially denied a wildcard. Whilst some ruled the decision as unfair, Thiem later said he has no hard feelings. 

“Honestly I had a long time to be in a good ranking,” he told reporters earlier this week. “I had enough tournaments and enough time to climb up the ranking and I didn’t do it, so I kind of didn’t deserve it and that’s fine. I had 10 main draw appearances in the last years so that’s more than enough.”

The former US Open champion has been praised by Ivanovic who says it is ‘always great’ to watch him play. Ivanovic played her last Tour-level match in 2016 which was the same year Thiem reached his first of four French Open semi-finals. 

“Dominic had a great career and it’s been always great to watch him play,” she said. 
“It has been very unfortunate with his injuries the last years so it has been tough years for him. I really hope he can do well at the French Open and has a nice farewell.”

During her career, Ivanovic played in 48 Grand Slam main draws and won 15 WTA titles. She held the No.1 ranking for 12 weeks during 2008. 

The French Open main draw will get underway on Sunday. 

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Caroline Wozniacki’s Father Criticises WTA For Lack Of Help For Mothers On Tour

Caroline Wozniacki was not given a wildcard for Rome or Roland Garros.

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Piotr Wozniacki has labelled the WTA as ‘amateur’ for their treatment of mothers on tour as he claims that Caroline Wozniacki should have had more wildcards.

The former Australian Open champion has played ten events since she announced her comeback last year.

Wozniacki has recovered her ranking to 117 in the world and her comeback has resulted in a fourth round appearance at the US Open as well as a quarter-final result at Indian Wells.

However the Dane has not been successful in gaining wildcards recently with both Rome and Roland Garros not offering Wozniacki one.

It’s a decision that Wozniacki’s father, Piotr, has not been happy with as he explained with Sport.PL, “The WTA believes that it is operating in an amateur fashion in the world of the largest professional women’s sport of all sports in the world. They sign contracts with the players and the players are obliged to do certain things under these contracts. And what do they get? Nothing, really nothing!” Piotr was quoted by tennisuptodate as saying.

“All wild cards, and there were 8 of them, were given to the Italians. I understand promoting their players, but how can you give the right to play in a tournament of this rank to such girls who should not even think that they could play in a Masters yet?

“Caroline was number one in her ranking. She won a Grand Slam tournament, won the Masters, played in almost 60 finals of their tournaments and won 30. So we are talking about a complete tennis player, someone who did a great job, who certainly increased the popularity of tennis, who earned a lot of money herself, but let them earn money. even much more.

“And it turns out that when someone like Caroline Wozniacki comes back as Caroline Wozniacki and family, she is no longer welcome. We can’t even prepare Caroline’s starting plan! We train, we prepare, and it turns out that there is nothing to do.

“This is happening because today in tennis everything is based only on relationships, on acquaintances, and not on clear rules. The thing is that if we know the organizers or tournament directors, we get a chance to play, but if we don’t know someone somewhere, they don’t want us there.

“Naturally, after the maternity break, my daughter had zero points. It takes a lot of time to start from scratch and reach the top, but we would do it patiently, but how can we do it when you don’t let a girl like that work for it? The rules in tennis today are such that there is no longer a mandatory wild card for someone who was once in the top 20, had a long break and came back.

“This card was really helpful for tennis players coming back after having a baby and for those coming back from serious injuries. And now Caroline, Angelique Kerber or Naomi Osaka are dependent only on someone else’s decisions. Since last year, all wild cards are the property of the tournaments, and the WTA washes its hands of them.”

It’s clear the Wozniacki family is disappointed as the Dane could be set to cancel her comeback next year.

However there is optimism that Wozniacki will receive one at Wimbledon as she has had past success on grass courts.

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Steve Flink: The 2024 Italian Open Was Filled with Surprises

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

In sweeping majestically to his sixth career Masters 1000 title along with a second crown at the Italian Open in Rome, Germany’s Sascha Zverev put on one of the most self assured performances of his career to cast aside the Chilean Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 7-5 in the final. By virtue of securing his 22nd career ATP Tour title and his first of 2024, Zverev has moved from No. 5 up to No. 4 in the world. That could be crucial to his cause when he moves on to Roland Garros as the French Open favorite in the eyes of some experts.

Zverev is long overdue to win a major title for the first time in his storied career. Not only has he won those six tournaments at the elite 1000 level, but twice— in 2018 and 2021—he has triumphed at the prestigious, year end ATP Finals reserved solely for the top eight players in the world. This triumph on the red clay of Rome is a serious step forward for the 27-year-old who has demonstrably been as prodigious on clay as he is on hard courts.

Seldom if ever have I seen a more supreme display of serving in a final round skirmish on clay than what Zverev displayed against Jarry on this occasion. He never faced a break point and was not even pushed to deuce. Altogether, Zverev took 44 of his 49 service points across the two sets in his eleven service games. He won 20 of 21 points on his deadly delivery in the first set and 24 of 28 in the second. He poured in 80% of his first serves and managed half a dozen aces and countless service winners. His power, precision and directional deception was extraordinary.

Although the scoreline in this confrontation looks somewhat close, that was not the case at all. Jarry was thoroughly outplayed by Zverev from the backcourt, and despite some stellar serving of his own sporadically, he could not maintain a sufficiently high level. He did manage to win 78% of his first serve points, but Jarry was down at 35% on second serve points won. In the final analysis, this was a final round appointment that was ultimately a showcase for the greatness of Zverev more than anything else. Jarry was too often akin to a spectator at his own match as Zverev clinically took him apart.

Zverev and Jarry arrived in the final contrastingly. The German’s journey to the title round was relatively straightforward. After a first round bye, he handled world No. 70 Aleksandar Vukic. Zverev dismissed the Australian 6-0, 6-4. The No. 3 seed next accounted for Italy’s Luciano Darderi 7-6 (3), 6-2. In the round of 16, Zverev comfortably disposed of Portugal’s Nuno Borges, ousting the world No. 53 by scores of 6-2, 7-5. Perhaps Zverev’s finest match prior to the final was a 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal dissection of Taylor Fritz, a much improved player on clay this season. Zverev did not face a break point in taking apart the 26-year-old 6-4, 6-3 with almost regal authority from the backcourt.

Only in the penultimate round was Zverev stretched to his limits. Confronting the gifted Alejandro Tabilo of Chile, he was outplayed decidedly in the first set against the left-hander. The second set of their semifinal was on serve all the way, and the outcome was settled in a tie-break. With Tabilo apprehensive because he was on the verge of reaching the most important final of his career, Zverev was locked in. After commencing that sequence with a double fault, Zverev fell behind 0-2 but hardly put a foot out of line thereafter.

He did not miss a first serve after the double fault and his ground game was unerring. Zverev took that tie-break deservedly 7-4, and never looked back, winning 16 of 19 service points, breaking an imploding Tabilo twice, and coming through 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2. Zverev displayed considerable poise under pressure late in the second set to move past a man who had produced a startling third round upset of top seeded Novak Djokovic.

As for Jarry, the dynamic Chilean had a first round bye as well, and then advanced 6-2, 7-6 (6) over the Italian Matteo Arnaldi. Taking on another Italian in the third round, Jarry survived an arduous duel with Stefano Napolitano 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. He then cast aside the Frenchman Alexandre Muller 7-5, 6-3.

Around the corner, trouble loomed. Jarry had to fight ferociously to defeat No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who had by then established himself in the eyes of most astute observers as the tournament favorite. Tsitsipas has been revitalized since securing a third crown in Monte Carlo several in April. And in his round of 16 encounter, the Greek competitor had looked nothing less than stupendous in routing the Australian Alex de Minaur 6-1, 6-2.

Unsurprisingly, Tsitsipas seemed in command against Jarry in their stirring quarterfinal. He won the first set and had two big openings in the second. Jarry served at 3-3, 0-40. Tsitsipas missed a lob off the backhand by inches on the first break point before Jarry unleashed an ace followed by a service winner. The Chilean climbed out of that corner and got the hold. Then, at 5-5, Tsitsipas reached double break point at 15-40 but once more he was unable to convert. He got a bad bounce on the first break point that caused him to miss a forehand from mid-court. On the second, Jarry’s forehand down the line was simply too good.

Now serving at 5-6, Tsitsipas had not yet been broken across two sets. One more hold would have taken him into a tie-break and given him a good chance to close the account. But Tsitsipas won only one point in that twelfth game and a determined Jarry sealed the set 7-5.

Nonetheless, Tsitsipas moved out in front 2-1 in the third set, breaking serve in the third game. Jarry broke right back. Later, Tsitsipas served to stay in then match at 4-5 in that final set. He fought off three match points but a bold and unrelenting Jarry came through on the fourth to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. That set the stage for a semifinal between Jarry and a surging Tommy Paul, fresh from back to back upset wins over Daniil Medvedev and Hubert Hurkacz.

Jarry and Paul put on a sparkling show. Jarry took the opening set in 42 minutes, gaining the crucial service break for 5-3 and serving it out at 15 with an ace out wide. When Jarry built a 4-2 second set lead, he seemed well on his way to a straight sets triumph. But Paul had broken the big serving Hurkacz no fewer than seven times in the quarters. He is a first rate returner. The American broke back for 4-4 against Jarry and prevailed deservedly in a second set tie-break 7-3 after establishing a 4-0 lead.

Briefly, the momentum was with Paul. But not for long. Jarry saved a break point with an overhead winner at 2-2 in the final set, broke Paul in the next game, and swiftly moved on to 5-2. At 5-3, he served for the match and reached 40-0. But he missed a difficult forehand pass on the first match point and Paul then released a backhand down the line winner and a crosscourt backhand that clipped the baseline and provoked a mistake from Jarry. 

The Chilean cracked an ace to garner a fourth match point, only to net a backhand down the line volley that he well could have made. A resolute Paul then advanced to break point but Jarry connected with a potent first serve to set up a forehand winner. The American forged a second break point opportunity but Jarry erased that one with a scorching inside in forehand that was unanswerable. Another ace brought Jarry to match point for the fifth time, and this one went his way as Paul rolled a forehand long. Jarry was victorious 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3.

Meanwhile, while all of the attention was ultimately focussed on the two finalists, it was on the first weekend of the tournament that the two dominant Italian Open champions of the past twenty years were both ushered out of the tournament unceremoniously. First, Rafael Nadal, the ten-time champion in Rome, was beaten 6-1, 6-3 in the third round by Hurkacz as he competed in his third clay court tournament since coming back in April at Barcelona.

He had lost his second round match in Barcelona to De Minaur. In his next outing at Madrid, Nadal avenged that loss to the Australian and managed to win three matches altogether before he was blasted off the court by the big serving and explosive groundstrokes of Jiri Lehecka. In Rome, the Spaniard won one match before his contest with Hurkacz. The first two games of that showdown lasted 27 minutes. Nadal had five break points in the opening game and Hurkacz had two in the second game. Neither man broke and so it was 1-1.

A hard fought and long encounter seemed almost inevitable, but the Polish 27-year-old swept five games in a row to take that first set, saving two more break points in the seventh game. He was mixing up his ground game beautifully, hitting high trajectory shots to keep Nadal at bay and off balance, then ripping flat shots to rush the Spaniard into errors. In the second set, Hurkacz broke early and completely outclassed Nadal. He also served him off the court, winning 16 of 17 points on his devastatingly effective delivery. With one more break at the end, Hurkacz surged to a 6-1, 6-3 triumph.

A day later, Djokovic, the six-time Italian Open victor, met Tabilo in his third round contest. Djokovic had played well in his second round meeting against the Frenchman against Corentin Moutet to win 6-3, 6-1. But afterwards, Djokovic was hit in the head by a water bottle while signing autographs. He had the next day off but when he returned to play Tabilo, the Serbian was almost unrecognizable. Beaten 6-2, 6-3, Djokovic never even reached deuce on the Chilean’s serve. On top of that, Djokovic, broken four times in the match, double faulted on break point thrice including at set point down in the first set and when he was behind match point in the second. Tabilo was terrific off the ground and on serve, but Djokovic was listless, lacking in purpose and seemingly disoriented. Some astute observers including Jim Courier thought Djokovic might have suffered a concussion from the freakish water bottle incident, but he did tests back in Serbia which indicated that was not the case.

Now Djokovic has decided to give himself a chance— if all goes according to plan— to potentially play a string of much needed matches at the ATP 250 tournament in Geneva this week. All year long, he has played only 17 matches, winning 12 of those duels. But nine of those contests were at the beginning of the season in Australia. Since then, he has played only eight matches. On the clay, he went to the semifinals in Monte Carlo where he benefitted from four matches, but he skipped Madrid and hoped to find his form again in Rome.

Realizing that losing in the third round there left him not only lacking in match play but not up to par in terms of confidence as well, Djokovic will try to make amends in Geneva. A good showing in that clay court tournament— either winning the tournament or at least making the final—would send the Serbian into Roland Garros feeling much better about his chances to win the world’s premier clay court championship for the third time in four years and the fourth time overall in his career.

How do the other favorites stack up? It is awfully difficult to assess either Carlos Alcaraz or Jannik Sinner. Alcaraz missed Monte Carlo and Barcelona and probably rushed his return in Madrid, losing in the high altitude to Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals. Then he was forced to miss Rome. He is clearly underprepared. As for Sinner, he played well in Monte Carlo before losing a semifinal to Tsitsipas. He advanced to the quarterfinals of Madrid but defaulted against Felix Auger-Aliassime with a hip injury.

Will Alcaraz and Sinner be back at full force in Paris? I have my doubts, but the fact remains that Sinner has been the best player in the world this year, capturing his first major in Melbourne at the Australian Open, adding titles in Rotterdam and Miami, and winning 28 of 30 matches over the course of the season. Alcaraz broke out of a long slump to defend his title at Indian Wells, but missing almost all of the clay court circuit en route to Rome has surely disrupted his rhythm.

I would make Zverev the slight favorite to win his first Grand Slam tournament at Roland Garros. If Djokovic can turn things around this week and rekindle his game, there is no reason he can’t succeed at Roland Garros again. I make him the second favorite. Out of respect for Alcaraz’s innate talent and unmistakable clay court comfort, I see him as the third most likely to succeed with Sinner close behind him. But that is assuming they are fit to play and fully ready to go.

Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud must be taken seriously as candidates for the title in Paris. Tsitsipas upended Medvedev and Zverev in 2021 to reach the Roland Garros final, and then found himself up two sets to love up against Djokovic before losing that hard fought battle in five sets. Ruud has been to the last two French Open finals, bowing against Nadal in 2022 and Djokovic a year ago. They started this clay court season magnificently, with Tsitsipas defeating Ruud in the Monte Carlo final and Ruud reversing that result in the final of Barcelona. Both men figure to be in the thick of things this time around at Roland Garros.

Where does Nadal fit into this picture? He will surely be more inspired at his home away from home than he was in his three other clay court tournaments leading up to Roland Garros, but it will take a monumental effort for the 14-time French Open victor to rule again this time around. With a decent draw, he could get to the round of 16 or perhaps the quarterfinals, but even that will be a hard task for him after all he has endured physically the last couple of years. Nadal turns 38 on June 3. If he somehow prevails once more in Paris, it would be the single most astonishing achievement of his sterling career.

The battle for clay court supremacy at Roland Garros will be fierce. The leading contenders will be highly motivated to find success. The defending champion will be in full pursuit of a 25th Grand Slam title. Inevitably, some gifted players will be ready to emerge, and others will be determined to reemerge. I am very much looking forward to watching it all unfold and discovering who will be the last man standing at the clay court capital of the world.

NOTE: All photos via Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

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