Challenger Circuit: Clay rehearsal for Ward and Edmund as they try to impress ahead of Davis Cup Final - UBITENNIS
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Challenger Circuit: Clay rehearsal for Ward and Edmund as they try to impress ahead of Davis Cup Final

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Can James Ward convince Leon Smith he deserves to play as the second singles player in the Davis Cup Final?

Yes the main season may be all but over, with only the Davis Cup and ATP World Tour Finals for the very top players to look forward to, but that does not mean that some very high class tennis is still going on.

 

The Challenger Circuit is a place where young players trying to climb the rankings play, old-timers trying to stay in the big-time, and even top players trying to recover ranking points after long-term injury. This week sees James Ward and Kyle Edmund try and gain some clay court action ahead of the Davis Cup Final against Belgium. Find out below where they’re playing and who they might come up against.

Events this week, selected ties, and predictions:

Bratislava, Slovakia: Lukaz Rosol is the top seed, but the draw also features the likes of veterans  Mikhail Youzhny, Radek Stepanek, and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Young players to keep a look out for: Elias Ymer, Mikael Ymer, (they’re brothers) and Andrey Rublev. Blockbuster match-up : Stepanek vs (7) E. Ymer (Wednesday)

 

Mouilleron le Captif, France: If a Grand Slam were to be played on current ranking, Benoit Paire would be seeded (23). As it is, he’s playing a Challenger in France, where he’s the top seed. In fact all eight seeds are ranked in the top 100, with Adrian Mannarino, Lucas Pouille, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and  Marcel Granollers, very familiar names. Pouille will be looking to regain points dropped in Paris. Look out for: Karen Khachanov and Maxime Hamou.

There was an early win for second seed Mannarino, as he defeated Jonathan Eysseric 6-2, 7-6. Jan Mertl and Maxime Janvier join Mannarino in Rd 2 as other opening day victors.

 

Oritesi, Italy: Just the top two seeds ranked in the Top 100 here, in Ricardas Berankis and Evgeny Donskoy, but that doesn’t make for a less intriguing tournament! Third seed Rajeev Ram is still trying to ensure direct entry into next years Australian Open, and a good result here would aid that quest. Also, see if former Top 30 player Dmitry Tursunov can make an impact as a wildcard after battling injury the last few years. Look out for: Salvatore Caruso, who is a young Italian trying to climb the rankings.

Aldin Setkic caused the first shock of the tournament, defeating the flamboyant Dustin Brown, who was the fourth seed, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3. No such problems for seventh seed Mirza Basic, who progressed after three sets against Yannick Jankovits.

 

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Clay runs just about all year either on the main tour and/or the Challenger circuit. This is good news for recognisable names such as Federico Delbonis, Diego Schwartzmann, and Guido Pella, who all excel on the red stuff. The real news in Buenos Aires though, is the presence of James Ward and Kyle Edmund, both trying to impress Leon Smith to back-up Andy Murray in Belgium. Edmund is the fifth seed, and starts with a clay veteran in Andre Ghem, whilst Ward has been handed a favourable tie against lucky loser Hugo Dellien, but could face Rogerio Dutra Silva in Rd 2. Should Edmund win, his opponent is already known, as Renzo Olivo defeated Tomas Lipovsek Puches 7-5, 6-2.

Potential shock: (1) Federico Delbonis vs Gastao Elias: Elias is a tough competitor on clay, and a nightmare first round match-up for Delbonis. There may be more than 80 places between them in ranking, but Elias has won two-from-two against Delbonis in the past, including an encounter on clay.

 

Kobe, Japan: Australia and Japan dominate this draw, with John Millman and Matthew Ebden the top two seeds. I’m predicting an early-ish exit for Ebden, who’s best results have come on grass. Perhaps the quarter-finals if he faces Konstantin Kravchuk or young Aussie Omar Jasika.

Look out for: Teenagers Omar Jasika and Duckhee Lee (Lee already won his 1st Rd match convincingly 6-3, 6-1 against Japanese wildcard Sho Katayama).

Blockbuster match-up: John Millman vs Duckhee Lee Rd 2 (Wednesday)

 

Knoxville, USA: The American Challengers have scarcely seen such competitiveness in recent years, but the likes of Taylor Fritz, Stefan Kozlov Jared Donaldson, Tommy Paul, Noah Rubin, Francis Tiafoe make the likes of Ryan Harrison and Bjorn Fratangelo look like veterans in comparison. A true goldmine of potential future talent this week, and that’s without discussing seeds Malek Jaziri, and Austin Krajicek.  Potential shocks (and there are truly too many to mention here): (1) Jaziri vs Kozlov,(Jaziri lost in Rd 1 of Charlottesville last week) and (3) Smyczek vs Paul.

Look out for: Noah Rubin – flown a bit under the radar compared to the likes of Fritz and co, but leapt up more than two hundred places in the rankings last week by winning Charlottesville Challenger (def. Paul). He starts with a tough match against second see Austin Krajicek.

 

 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas reaches his seventh quarter final of the season in Barcelona

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Last week’s Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters champion Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Alex De Minaur 7-5 6-3 in 84 minutes to secure his spot in the quarter finals at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. Tsitsipas has extended his win-loss record to 24-5 in the 2021 ATP Tour season.

 

The first set went on serve with no break points until the 12th game, when De Minaur made his seventh unforced error of the set to give Tsitsipas two set points. De Minaur saved a set point with a drop shot winner. Tsitsipas hit a forehand to get the first break of match on the next point to seal  the first set 7-5.

De Minaur converted his third break point in the first game of the second set and held his serve to take a 2-0 lead. Tsitsipas won five of the next six games with two breaks of serve in the fourth and eighth game to clinch the second set 6-3. 

The young Greek star has reached at least the quarter finals at all seven tournaments he has played in 2021. 

Tsitsipas set up a quarter final against Felix Auger Aliassime, who beat Denis Shapovalov 6-2 6-3. Tsitsipas leads 3-2 in his five head-to-head matches against Auger Aliassime and beat his younger Canadian rival 7-5 4-6 6-3 in the Acapulco quarter final. 

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Andrey Rublev sets up quarter final clash against Jannik Sinner in Barcelona

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Last week’s Monte-Carlo finalist Andrey Rublev battled past Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 after 2 hours and 27 minutes to reach the quarter finals at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.

 

Rublev opened up a 4-1 lead with a break in the fourth game of the opening set. Ramos Vinolas broke back in the seventh game to draw level to 4-4. Rublev claimed the first set 6-4 with his second break in the 10th game. 

Ramos Vinolas saved two break points to hold serve after six deuces for 3-3. The next games went on serve en route to the tie-break. The Spanish player won the tie-break 7-4 with two mini-breaks. 

Rublev went up a 4-2 lead with a break in the fifth game of the third set, but Ramos Vinolas recovered once again by breaking back in the eighth game to draw level to 4-4. Rublev converted his second break point in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead. Ramos Vinolas was not able to convert four break points at 4-5 and Rublev closed out the third set with a forehand winner. 

“Nothing has changed. I didn’t learn my lessons. The most important thing is that I managed to win today. When you are not doing something correctly, but you are still winning matches, it gives you confidence. Albert was playing much better than me early in the third set, but you never know which way it will go”, said Rublev.  

Rublev set up a quarter final against Jannik Sinner, who edged past Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (11-9) 6-2 after 1 hor and 52 minutes. Rublev met Sinner only once in the Vienna Round of 16 last year, but the Italian was forced to withdraw from the match withdrew from the match due to a right foot injury.  

Bautista Agut earned his first break in the third game, but Sinner broke straight back to draw level to 2-2. Sinner saved a break point in the fifth game to hold serve fo 3-2 at deuce. The world number 19 broke serve in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead, but he wasted a set point in the ninth game. Bautista Agut broke back to draw level to 5-5. Both players held their next service games en route to the tie-break. 

Sinner saved three set points at 5-6, 7-8 and 8-9 in the tie-break of the first set before winning the tie-break 11-9 on his third set point. 

Sinner earned an early break in the first game and saved a break-back point to open up a 2-0 lead. The Italian player saved three break points to hold his serve in a very long fourth game. The 2019 Sofia Open and Great Ocean Road Open champion went up a double break to take a 5-2 lead. Sinner has improved his head-to-head record to 3-0 against Bautista Agut. Earlier this year the Italian Next Gen player beat his Spanish rival in three sets in the Dubai Round of 16 and in the Miami semifinal.

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Ash Barty Insists No Queue Jumping Involved As She Gets Covid-19 Vaccine

The world No.1 says she is pleased to have a ‘small layer of protection.’

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Ash Barty has confirmed that she was one of the players to receive a COVID-19 vaccination during a Tour event in Charleston.

 

The tournament and Plantation Pharmacy, a local drugstore, formed an agreement which offered all players a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccination to players participating in two events. The Volvo Open and 2021 MUSC Health Women’s Open which took place at the same venue the week after.

Barty confirmed for the first time earlier this week that she and her coach Craig Tyzzer took up the offer. Speaking to reporters from the Stuttgart Open, the former French Open champion stated that she ‘didn’t jump any queues’ to get the vaccine. Joining the likes of Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka who have also had their doses earlier in the year.

“We were looking at different avenues to try and get vaccinated without jumping the queue in Australia to see what our options were, and we weren’t able to get much of an answer before we left in March,” said Barty.
“We were able to get the vaccine, as were a lot of other players, through the Tour and that they had organised through a certain pharmacy that had extras, and that was important to me knowing that those who were the most vulnerable were able to get it first.”

The 24-year-old missed most of the season last year due to travelling concerns related to the pandemic. In total she missed nearly 11 months of the Tour before returning to action in Melbourne in February. Since then, Barty has won the Yarra Valley Classic and Miami Open.

“It was nice to know that we have got that small layer of protection,” she added.
“We still do the right things and abide by all the rules and the guidelines set in place by the Tour but knowing that we had that little bit of extra protection puts us at ease a bit more.”

This week the Australian is seeking her first trophy on the clay since her triumph in Roland Garros back in 2019. The top seed in Stuttgart, she kicked-off her campaign on Wednesday with a 6-0, 7-5, win over former champion Laura Siegemund. She will play either Jelena Ostapenko or Karolina Pliskova in the next round.

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