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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Alexander Zverev reaches the fourth round at Roland Garros for the fifth consecutive year

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Alexander Zverev edged past Brandon Nakashima 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 7-6 (7-5) in a hard-fought match on Court Suzanne Lenglen to reach the fourth round for the fifth consecutive year at Roland Garros. 

 

Zverev had reached the quarter finals in 2018 and 2019 and the semifinals in 2021. 

Zverev had saved a match point and came back from two sets down to beat Sebastian Baez in the second round. 

The match between Zverev and Nakashima featured just three breaks of serve, including a trade of breaks in the third set. Zverev fended off two break points in each of the first two sets. 

Zverev broke in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead with a backhand winner and held serve to take a two-set lead. Zverev earned a break in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead, but Nakashima broke straight back to draw level to 3-3. Seven of the 12 points went against serve in the tie-break. Zverev came back from 2-4 down in the tie-break and closed out the tie-break 7-5 with a backhand winner after 2 hours and 48 minutes.

“I think I raised my level today. I prefer this compared to the second round thriller. This is much better for me. I don’t lose too much hair. I can still grow old”, said Zverev. 

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Doubles Player Dream French Open Debut Ended By Instagram Message

Portugal’s Francisco Cabral said he found out he will not be playing in Paris through social media.

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Francisco Cabral - Image via https://twitter.com/EstorilOpen/

Playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam is the pinnacle of many players’ careers but one player missed out on that opportunity due to an unfortunate situation. 

 

Portugal’s Francisco Cabral was set to play in the men’s doubles tournament for the first time at this week’s French Open. The world No.72 is currently at a career-high after winning his maiden Tour title in Estoril last month with compatriot Nuno Borges. In Paris, he entered into the draw alongside Denmark’s Holger Rune. 

However, shortly before he was set to make his Grand Slam debut Rune pulled out at the last minute. Leaving Cabral unable to look for another partner in such a short time. Rune’s withdrawal from the doubles was based on medical advice after he hurt his ankle during his second round clash against Henri Laaksonen. The Dane tripped over the court cover at the back of the court but fortunately wasn’t seriously injured and managed to continue playing. 

“Right now I feel a huge sadness because it’s a dream to play in a Grand Slam tournament. I’ve been here since Saturday training, waiting, watching games, experiencing a new world because it was my first Grand Slam and it’s another dimension and I was really, really looking forward to being able to play,” Cabral told Raquetc. “And having waited until 15 minutes before game time to know that I wasn’t going to play after all, it cost me a lot, but I did everything I could.”

Caral went on to criticize the behavior of Rune who informed him that he would not be playing in the doubles event via a message sent on Instagram. It is unclear why the two never spoke face-to-face. 

“He only told me that he had sprained his foot, that he was at the doctor’s, and that he had told him not to play the doubles. I’m sad about his attitude because he didn’t even say this to my face, he just sent me a message on Instagram. I don’t think it went well, but as I said, I couldn’t have done anything differently, so I’ll just wait for the next opportunity.” He said. 

25-year-old Cabral is targeting Wimbledon as the event where he will play his first main draw match. 

Meanwhile, Rune will continue his singles campaign at Roland Garros on Saturday when he plays Hugo Gaston in the third round. The former world No.1 junior has shot up the rankings this season to a high of 40th. 

Cabral and Rune has been replaced in the draw by Sander Arends and Szymon Walków. 

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Seven Top 10 Seeds Fail To Reach Third Round Of Women’s Draw In French Open First

The series of high-profile exits has set a new milestone but for the wrong reasons.

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Maria Sakkari - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto dell'Olivo)

The first five days of this year’s French Open have been tough going for some of the world’s best players on the women’s Tour.

 

A series of shock early losses has opened up parts of the women’s draw with 14 out of the last 32 players remaining in the tournament being unseeded. Former champions Garbine Muguruza and Barbora Krejcikova fell in the first round, as well as fellow top 10 seeds Ons Jabeur and Anett Kontaveit. Then in the second round Maria Sakkari (No.4), Karolina Pliskova (No.8) and Danielle Collins (No.9) all crashed out.

Heading into the third round seven top 10 seeds have already been knocked out of the French Open which is a new record for Roland Garros. The tournament has featured draws including 10 or more seeds since 1978.

“I knew that I wanted to do well, but things are different every year and we have seen so many upsets over all these years,” Sakkari said following her exit.
“At this level you always have to accept that you cannot go deep in every single tournament or every single big tournament.”

Jabeur was tipped by some as a serious contender for the title this year before losing her opening match to an inspired Magda Linette. Prior to the tournament, she boasted a 17-3 record on the clay this year, winning the Madrid Open title and reaching the final of two other events (Charleston and Rome).

“I wanted to go as far as I could in the tournament because I played well on clay in Madrid and in Rome, and it’s difficult to take that one in,” she said. ”But that’s what sport is like and you need to be smart enough to move forward and get back on court.’
“Maybe it was a good thing to lose. I would rather say this and be really tough with myself than waste all the good energy that I got from Madrid and Rome.”

In recent years the French Open women’s tournament has been full of unpredictability. The past three editions being won by players who didn’t hold a major title of any sort (in singles) coming into the draw.

One player who has managed to buckle the trend of inconsistency is world No.1 Iga Swiatek who has won 30 matches in a row. The fourth longest streak on the WTA Tour since 2000 after both of the Williams sisters and Justine Henin. Swiatek is also the first player to win 13 or more matches in a row whilst at the top of the rankings since Serena Williams back in 2015.

“I was saying from the beginning that for sure I’m going to reach a point where I’m going to lose a match, and it’s pretty normal,” Swiatek said following her 6-0, 6-2, triumph over Alison Riske.
“I have been losing matches in tennis for a long time. For sure the things we (my team) are doing right now are pretty extraordinary but I know in tennis that only one person wins in the end.’
“I will be okay with that. For sure it’s not fun to lose, but I think it wouldn’t be different than any other loss that I had, you know, in my career.”

Other top 10 seeds remaining in this year’s draw are Paula Badosa and Aryna Sabalenka.

Meanwhile, in the men’s draw all top 12 seeds have reached the third round for the first time since 2009.

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