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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(VIADEO) Australian Open Day Eight: Rafael Nadal Muzzles Kyrgios At Night

The match that everybody was talking about on the second Monday of the grand slam lived up to expectations.

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Rafa Nadal - Australian Open 2020 (via Twitter, @AustralianOpen)

Ben Rothenberg from The New York Times joins Ubitennis to look back on Rafael Nadal’s latest win over Nick Kyrgios. The four-set triumph now sees the top seed extend his winning head-to-head record to 5-3. However, was the latest match between the two tennis stars as good as their clash at Wimbledon last year?

 

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Rafael Nadal Protest Innocence Of Fellow Player Over Failed Drugs Test

The 19-time grand slam champion has jumped to the defence of the former top 50 tennis star from South America.

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World No.1 Rafael Nadal has said he is “100% sure” that one of his fellow rivals on the tour didn’t deliberately take an illegal substance after being issued with a provisional suspension by the International Tennis Federation.

 

Nicolas Jarry is currently prohibited from playing on the tour after failing a drugs test during the Davis Cup finals last year. A sample of the Chilean player tested positive for traces of Ligandrol and Stanozolo, which are both banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Jarry, who won his first ATP title at the Swedish Open last July, has since issued a statement in which he believes his failed tests was caused by the consumption of multivitamins made in Brazil.

“Last November, while I was playing Davis Cup for Chile, I underwent two urine tests. The first one was clean but the second one detected two banned substances.” Jarry said.
“The levels of these substances are so incredibly low that they are equivalent to a trillionth of a gram, levels so low that neither substances could have provided me any performance enhancing benefit.’
“I would like to let you know that I have never deliberately or intentionally taken any banned substance in my career as a tennis player and in fact, I am completely opposed to doping.”

Questioned about Jarry’s current suspension following his roller coaster win over Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open, Nadal believes the 24-year-old did not intentionally mean to break the rules. The two have never faced each other on the ATP Tour.

“I am 100% sure it was not of his own accord. I know both Jarry and his family and I know what kind of people they are.” Mundo Deportivo quoted Nadal as saying in Spanish.
“Sometimes things happen unconsciously. We go to restaurants and anyone can leave you in an unprotected situation. From here I want to encourage him and tell him that I believe in him.”

However, it has since emerged that a previous coach of Jarry had also failed a doping test in the past. Former Argentinian player Martin Rodriguez forfeited his prize money earned at the 2002 Swiss Indoors due to an ‘excessive amount of caffeine’ in his sample. It is unclear as to if Jarry is related to Rodriguez by blood. An article published by the ATP says they are, but The Telegraph contradicts this in a separate investigation they conducted.

Nadal isn’t the only player to stand up for Jarry, who has been ranked as high as 38th in the world. Another is Dominic Thiem. The two-time French Open finalist has branded the suspension as ‘ridiculous.’ Thiem is coached by Nicolas Massu, who is the captain of the Chilean Davis Cup team.

“He [Jarry] was tested negative in Paris Bercy,” Thiem told The Telegraph on January 20th. “Then his mother brought him multivitamin tablets to the Davis Cup finals in Madrid. He took them there. Then he was tested positive. For me the whole story, that he was tested positive, is ridiculous.
“First of all, he lost 12 or 13 matches in a row. Then he is not that type of player, where doping would help him.
“In general it is a complete farce how much we are restricted about things. If we forgot our electrolyte drinks at home, we cannot buy anything – not even in a supplement store in the US – without being worried that something is contaminated.”

Jarry is awaiting a hearing with the ITF where a verdict will be made on his future in the sport.

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Garbine Muguruza Doesn’t Care About Her Ranking As Australian Open Run Continues

The Spanish star has now achieved her best grand slam run in almost two years at Melbourne Park.

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After experiencing a roller coaster 2019 on the tour, Garbine Muguruza looks to be back on track at the Australian Open following her latest triumph.

 

The former world No.1 extended her winning run in Melbourne on Monday with a 6-3, 6-3, win over ninth seed Kiki Bertens. Making it the second top 10 player she has defeated in the tournament after Elina Svitolina. In her latest clash, the Spaniard was broken at the start of both sets, but managed to turn her fortunes around with the help of a dominant display behind her first serve. Where she won 28 out of 31 points. Muguruza also hit 19 winners to 18 unforced errors.

“I feel good in this tournament. I’m super concentrated on every single match, especially because I started the tournament so-so. I feel like my body’s getting healthier.” Said Muguruza.
“It’s a Grand Slam, we are all very concentrated here. For me, it’s one of the tournaments that motivates me the most.”

As a result of her latest win, Muguruza is through to the last eight of a major for the first time since the 2018 French Open. It is only the second time she has managed to reach the quarter-final stage in Melbourne and first since 2017.

The surge comes at a time where the 26-year-old is trying to establish her footing on the tour. Unseeded in the draw, she is currently ranked 32nd in the world. 14 places lower than where she was 12 months ago. Not that it bothers her in any way.

“You know what? Who cares about the ranking, honestly. I feel like it’s just a sign of probably the last results. At the end you go out there and you play.” She explained.
“I don’t even know the rankings of the ones I’m playing. I know who they are. I know the matches we’ve had. But it doesn’t affect me so much.’
“Of course, the higher you are, the more beautiful it is. But it’s not that important to me no more after these years.”

Muguruza’s laid back approach to her current position is understandable given the openness of women’s tennis. The past 12 major tournaments have been won by 10 different players. During that period Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep are the only players to win multiple titles. At present there are 16 active grand slam champions playing on the WTA Tour.

The question remains about whether Muguruza has what it takes to go all the way in Melbourne. No Spanish woman has reached the final of the tournament since Conchita Martinez back in 1998, who coincidentally is now coaching Muguruza on the tour.

“She’s very, very aggressive as she was when she was playing her best tennis.” Martinez told reporters about Muguruza’s current form.
“Physically, I see her (playing) very well. She’s getting to the balls early enough. You can see she’s holding her ground really well, accelerating, finishing at the net a lot. That’s always nice to see.’
“Things like that you can see a little bit more and more. So it’s good to see.”

Muguruza will play either Angelique Kerber or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the next round.

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