Premier Mandatory in Beijing: Sara Errani fought back from a set down to beat Andrea Petkovic - UBITENNIS
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Premier Mandatory in Beijing: Sara Errani fought back from a set down to beat Andrea Petkovic

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World Number 20 Sara Errani rallied from a set down to overcome number 21 Andrea Petkovic with 3-6 6-3 6-2 after two hours and two minutes in a match marked by a lot of unforced errors and a lot of breaks of serve. With this win Errani has reached the third round of the China Open WTA Premier Mandatory in Beijing after beating Petra Kvitova and Caroline Garcia in the previous two rounds.

 

Errani broke serve on Petkovic’s first service game before holding her serve in the second and the fourth games to take a 3-1 lead but the German reeled off five consecutive games to clinch the first set with 6-3.

Petkovic did not convert a break point in the first game of the second set with two unforced errors but she broke serve to love two games later for 2-1. Errani broke straight back as Petkovic sent her backhand into the net before taking the 3-2 as the German his her forehand wide. Errani got the break in the 8th game before holding her serve to love in the next game. Errani sealed the win in the second set with 6-3 as Petkovic hit her return into the net.

The third set started with three breaks of serve in the first three service games. Errani reeled off four consecutive games from 3-3 in the second set to build a 6-3 1-0 lead with a break of serve in the first game of the third set. Petkovic broke straight back but she dropped her serve again to trail 1-2 as she made two consecutive double faults and sent a forehand wide. Petkovic broke straight back for 2-2 but Errani broke again for 3-2 before holding her serve in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead. Errani pulled away to 5-2 with a new break and served for the match. In a very long final game Petkovic saved three match points at deuce before Errani sealed the third set with 6-2 after 49 minutes on her fourth match point. The Italian had already beaten the German in the third round of the 2015 Roland Garros with 6-3 6-3.

Errani, who is ranked 19th in the Road to Singapore, has still a small chance to qualify for the WTA Finals but she would need to win the Beijing tournament and defend her position in one of the tournaments after Beijing (Tjanjin, Hong Kong, Linz, Moscow and Luxemburg).

The 28-year-old Italian player will face the winner of the match between Timea Bacsinszky and Carla Suarez Navarro. For the first time in a Premier Mandatory Tournament three Italian players have reached the third round. Tomorrow US Open champion Flavia Pennetta will play against Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova, while Roberta Vinci will face Bethanie Mattek Sands

Number-5 seed Garbine Muguruza is one match away from qualifying for the WTA Finals in Singapore after cruising to 6-2 6-1 over US qualifier Irina Falconi in her opening match in the Chinese capital.

Muguruza, who finished runner-up to Venus Williams last week in Wuhan, built up a 6-2 4-0 lead by reeling off eight consecutive games from 2-2 in the first set en route to closing out the match with 6-2 6-1. If Muguruza wins her next match, she will become the first Spanish player to qualify for the WTA FInals since Aranxta Sanchez Valero in 2001

Muguruza will face Mirjana Lucic Baroni. They are tied 1-1 in their previous two head-to-head matches. In their last match earlier this year Muguruza beat the Croatian player en route to reaching the Wimbledon final. Lucic Baroni beat Muguruza at last year’s US Open.

“I am happy. I tried to keep the level I had in Wuhan and Tokyo. It was hard because I didn’t play for two days and here the conditions are not the same, so I am happy. I didn’t know that I was one win away from Singapore. I knew obviously if I did a great tournament here, I would qualify for the WTA Finals but I didn’t know which round it was. That’s a very good motivation. I want to finish the year in a good year. I want to on holiday and say: “Look. I had a great year. I did everything I could to go off the court feeling that I gave it all my effort”, said Muguruza.

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Monte-Carlo Masters Tuesday Preview: Two Australian Open Semifinalists Meet in the Second Round

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Aslan Karatsev, yesterday in Monte-Carlo (twitter.com/ROLEXMCMASTERS)

World No.5 Stefanos Tsitsipas will play his first match on clay since reaching last fall’s Roland Garros semifinals, when he lost to Novak Djokovic in five sets.  He will face Aslan Karatsev for the first time, who prevailed over Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti on Monday.  Two other top 10 seeds, Matteo Berrettini and Roberto Bautista Agut, are also scheduled for their opening matches.

 

Rain disrupted play for much of the day on Monday, resulting in some matches getting rescheduled for Tuesday.  Yesterday’s preview (here) details many of those matches.  With rain forecast again on Tuesday, it could become challenging to complete the full Order of Play.

Throughout the week, this preview will analyze the most prominent match of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the day’s schedule.  Tuesday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Aslan Karatsev – Third on Court Rainier III

Yesterday against Musetti, Karatsev played some stellar service games despite the slow, heavy conditions.  The 27-year-old Russian won 78% of first serve points, and saved all four break points faced.  And Karatsev is now 18-2 on clay at all levels (including qualifying matches) since the tour restart last August.  As impressive as Aslan has been, his resume is overshadowed by that of Tsitsipas.  The 22-year-old’s success on clay is often underappreciated.  Since the start of 2018, he is 37-14 on this surface, with four appearances in tour finals, and a French Open semifinal.  Stefanos should be considered a slight favorite on this day, though first-time meetings are quite unpredictable.  Karatsev has risen over 200 rankings spots in the past eight months, though a victory would break new ground in his career, as he’s 0-2 against top five players thus far.

Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Roberto Bautista Agut (9) vs. Taylor Fritz – The Spaniard leads the American 4-1, but they’ve split their two meetings on clay.  Bautista Agut is just 12-9 on clay over the last two seasons.  Fritz reached the semifinals of the clay event in Cagliari last week.

Matteo Berrettini (8) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – the Italian No.1 hasn’t played since injuring his abdomen at the Australian Open.  The 21-year-old Spaniard defeated Alex de Minaur yesterday in straight sets.  These two have never before played.

Jannik Sinner vs. Albert Ramos-Vinolas – Here’s another first-time matchup pitting Italy against Spain.  This will be Sinner’s first match since losing the final in Miami nine days ago.  Ramos-Vinolas is already 9-3 on clay this season, and has reached the semifinals or better of the three clay events he’s played.

Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Naomi Osaka And The (Other) Surfaces

Just 23, Osaka already boasts four Slam titles – all of them, however, have come on hardcourt’s. How far can she go on clay and grass?

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With her win at the 2021 Australian Open, Naomi Osaka has won the fourth Grand Slam title of her career and separated herself, Slam-wise, from all active tennis players but the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters (if we consider Kim as an active player). Actually, only four players have won more Majors than Naomi in the 21st century: Serena, Venus, Justine Henin, and Maria Sharapova.

 

It should be considered that Osaka is only 23 years old (she was born in October 1997), and therefore it is not unthinkable that she could increase the tally. In terms of the age of the fourth title, once again only the Williams sisters have a clear advantage over her – Henin is only slightly ahead, while Sharapova’s performance lags far behind. In fact, if I have not miscalculated, this is the age when the aforementioned players reached the fourth Grand Slam win: Serena won the fourth title at 20 years and 11 months, Venus at 21 years and 4 months, Henin at exactly 23 years. Then we have Osaka (23 years and 5 months). Sharapova notched her fourth Grand Slam title aged 25 years and 1 month, while Clijsters at 27 years and 8 months.

In short, Osaka is building an exceptional career for herself, albeit with some limitations to consider. The first is that, in spite of her success at the Majors, she has won “just” three more WTA titles: Indian Wells 2018, Beijing 2019 (both of them Premier Mandatory events), and Tokyo 2019 (a Premier tournament). For this reason, up to now, she’s led the world rankings for just a few weeks, 25 in total. In essence, Osaka has been had rather short peaks – using a cliché, it could be said that she chooses quality over quantity.

The most relevant nugget of information, however, is the distribution of the surfaces on which she’s won: every single one of her wins have occurred on hardcourts. Even taking into consideration the tournaments in which she’s reached the final without winning (Tokyo 2016, Tokyo 2018, Cincinnati/New York 2020), the surface is always the same.

This fact is even more striking when we widen our focus a little and take into consideration the percentage of victories on the major circuit (WTA tournaments, Slams, Billie Jean King Cup). Before Miami, Osaka had won 173 matches and lost 88, as follows:

  • 69.4% on hard (136 won/60 lost)
  • 59.5% on red and green clay (25 won/17 lost)
  • 52.2% on grass (12 won/11 lost)

Basically, from whichever point you look at it, the situation appears clear and unambiguous: Naomi’s performance changes, and a lot, depending on the surface. Why? Since this trend has emerged for a number of years, the explanation I gave myself has to do with her training as a young girl. In fact, Osaka did not undertake the classic path of a junior player, travelling the world with a schedule that, at least for the Grand Slams, follows that of the professionals. Instead, Naomi grew up without playing junior tournaments, transitioning directly into the ITF circuit and mostly on American soil. This means that, compared to her opponents, she never played that much on grass and clay.

A few weeks ago, she confirmed it herself in the press conference that was held after her victory at the Australian Open. She was asked: “You have won four Grand Slams on hardcourts. Which will be the first outside [these surfaces], clay or grass?” Naomi initially replied with a joke: “I hope on clay, because it comes first!”

But then she delved more extensively into her training regime and said that in 2019 she began to feel better on clay, while she still believes she has very little experience on grass. The numbers seem to confirm this, even if she did play a couple of ITFs on grass in Japan when she was very young; in 2015, she reached the final in the 50k event in Surbiton, losing to Diatchenko in a tournament that featured Hsieh, Kontaveit, Cetkovska, Minella, Paszek and Buzarnescu.

Anyway, we are talking about very few matches. It is inevitable, therefore, to ask whether Osaka will be able to overcome the difficulties she has had on clay and grass in order to transform herself into a more complete player, perhaps so complete as to be able to win the European Grand Slams. Before addressing the issue, I think it is useful to consider some players with similar situations and look at how things went for them.

On page 2, how other top players fared on their least favourite surfaces

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Monte-Carlo Masters Monday Preview: Two of the ATP’s Fastest-Rising Stars Meet in the First Round

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Lorenzo Musetti on court last week at the Sardegna Open (twitter.com/ATP)

19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti and 27-year-old Aslan Karatsev have skyrocketed up the rankings since the tour restart last summer, and their first career meeting will open Monday’s play.  We’ll also get our first look at Felix Auger-Aliassime with new coach Toni Nadal on his team, as he faces one of the ATP’s best clay court players.  And the defending champion of this event from 2019, Fabio Fognini, will play his opening match against a 21-year-old who won his first ATP title last September on clay.

 

Eight of the top 10 players in the world are entered into this draw, all of whom received first round byes.  Only Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem are absent from this event.  World No.1 Novak Djokovic, new No.2 Daniil Medvedev, and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal are the top seeds.

With rain and cool temperatures forecast for this week in Monte-Carlo, slow conditions, along with weather delays, should be anticipated.

Throughout the week, this preview will analyze the most prominent match of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the day’s schedule.  Monday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Aslan Karatsev vs. Lorenzo Musetti (WC) – 11:00am on Court Rainier III

When tour events re-started last August, Karatsev was ranked 253rd in the world.  And the veteran had never been inside the top 150.  But after training hard and playing many exhibitions during the tour shutdown, the Russian’s career exploded.  Since August, he is an astonishing 42-9 at all levels, with two Challenger titles and one tour-level title.  And in his first-ever main draw appearance at a Major, he reached the semifinals in Melbourne, with victories over three top 20 seeds.  Despite the current two-year frozen ranking system, he’s risen all the way into the top 30. 

When tour events re-started last August, Musetti was ranked 284th in the world.  But he made an indelible impression at his home country’s Masters event.  After coming through qualifying in Rome, he defeated both Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori.  The very next week, also in Italy, he won his first Challenger title.  Lorenzo started off 2021 by reaching two more Challenger finals, and then made a thrilling run to the semifinals in Acapulco, with wins over Diego Schwartzman, Frances Tiafoe, and Grigor Dimitrov.  And just last week, he saved four match points to upset top-seeded Dan Evans in Cagliari.  He recently debuted inside the top 100, with a further rise seemingly inevitable.

Both men accumulated excellent records last season on clay: Karatsev was 17-2 at all levels, while Musetti went 20-6.  However, while Lorenzo has played 11 matches on this surface in 2021, this will be Aslan’s first clay match of the year.  And the slow, heavy conditions on Monday will not bolster the powerful groundstrokes of Karatsev.  At an event featuring nine Italians in the singles draw, Musetti should be favored to likely join several of his fellow countrymen in the second round.

Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Cristian Garin (16) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime – Felix shocked the tennis world last week by announcing the addition of Toni Nadal to his coaching team.  Garin loves playing on clay: all five of his ATP titles have come on this surface.  They have split two previous meetings, both in February of 2019 on clay in South America.

Fabio Fognini (15) vs. Miomir Kecmanovic – Fognini won the biggest title of his career two years ago on these grounds.  Kecmanovic was the champion of the clay event in Kitzbuhel seven months ago.  These two have never before played.

Hubert Hurkacz (13) vs. Thomas Fabbiano (Q) – This will be Hubi’s first match since winning the Miami Open eight days ago.  Fabbiano is one of four Italian men to qualify for this event, though he hasn’t won a tour level match since upsetting Dominic Thiem at the 2019 US Open. 

Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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