Rafael Nadal plays down ATP Finals hopes after crushing Stan Wawrinka - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal plays down ATP Finals hopes after crushing Stan Wawrinka

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Rafael Nadal in action during the 2015 ATP World Tour Finals in London (image via ESPN)

Rafael Nadal has distanced himself away from any association with being one of the favorites to win the ATP Finals following his comprehensive win against Stan Wawrinka.

 

Nadal’s route to this year’s season-end championship has been a roller-coaster experience for the 29-year-old. After slipping down to his lowest ranking in ten years, followed by failing to reach the last four at any Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2005, Nadal is ending 2015 on a high note. Since last month the Spaniard has reached the final of the Shanghai Masters and the Swiss Indoors. He was able to continue the upsurge in his form with his victory against the French Open champion at the O2 Arena yesterday.

Speaking about his triumphant start to the ATP Finals, the 29-year-old has played down his chances of winning the prestigious event for the first time in his career.

“I won the first match, that’s all”. Nadal said.
“I haven’t won enough this year to think about winning the title”.

The 9-time French Open champion said that the slow surface as well as the tough competition is the reason behind why he doesn’t think that he is one of the favorites. Despite being known by many as ‘the king of clay’, Nadal admitted that he performs well in tournaments with faster surfaces. Due to his frequent success on the clay court surface, many think that Nadal would have preferred slower surfaces.

“I don’t play well on slow surfaces, I play better on fast”. Said Nadal.
“The thing about the hard courts, is that I have had the biggest success on the faster surfaces. Montreal is one of the fastest courts and I have had a lot of success there. Also, when I won the Olympics, it was a very fast court’.

The next match for Nadal will be against second seed Andy Murray. He will be eager to get revenge against the Brit after suffering a crushing defeat in the final of the Madrid Masters earlier this year. Despite that defeat, Nadal does have a positive head-to-head against the world No.2 of 15-6. Looking ahead to his 22nd clash against Murray, Nadal said that he was ‘excited’ about the prospect.

“It is an opportunity for me to play against the world no. 2 in the world, a player who has had a great season, a fantastic player on every surface, especially this one”. The 29-year-old said.
“I am excited to play the match. I only see this match as an opportunity to play against him and hopefully play a good match’.

Nadal also said that his performance this week is important for the start of the 2016 season. He is hoping to end the year with a confidence boost as he bids to claim his 15th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January.

“”If I am able to play well here. I think it would be great news because it enables me to start next year with positive feelings, which is my main goal”. He concluded.

Nadal is scheduled to play Murray at the O2 Arena on Wednesday afternoon at 14:00 CMT.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Swiatek, Krejcikova, Azarenka, Andreescu Play on Tuesday

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A look at the grounds of the French Open (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Day 3 in Paris sees the conclusion of first round singles play.

 

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka plays US Open champ Bianca Andreescu in a matchup that headlines Tuesday’s Order of Play.  Day 3 also features the 2023 Roland Garros debuts of the two most recent women’s singles champions: Iga Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova.  Other action includes standouts from this season such as Daniil Medvedev, Elena Rybakina, and Holger Rune.  Plus, last year’s singles finalists, Coco Gauff and Casper Ruud, will both play their opening matches.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Tuesday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Lesia Tsurenko vs. Barbora Krejcikova (13) – Second on Court 7

Krejcikova was the champion here two years ago in both singles and doubles.  An elbow injury derailed her career last season, but she’s 20-10 in 2023, having won a WTA 1000 title in Dubai.  However, she’s only 5-4 this year on clay, so she does not arrive in Paris with much momentum.

Tsurenko celebrates her 34th birthday on Tuesday, and was a US Open quarterfinalist in 2018.  She is an impressive 25-8 this season at all levels (including qualifying matches, which don’t officially count).  At Indian Wells, the Ukrainian withdrew from her match with Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka, citing a panic attack after what she described as shocking comments regarding the war in Ukraine from WTA CEO Steve Simon.

Their first career meeting is a tricky first round draw for the 2021 champion.  Yet Krejcikova remains the favorite to advance, and is a potential fourth round draw for the 2020 and 2022 champion, Iga Swiatek.


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Cristina Bucsa – Third on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Swiatek is 28-6 on the year, and 12-2 on clay.  She’s 21-2 lifetime at Roland Garros, having won 42 of 48 sets contested.  But is Iga 100% healthy?  Just over a week ago in Rome, she retired during the third set of her quarterfinal against Elena Rybakina, citing a thigh injury.  However, she’s indicated it is not a considerable injury.

Bucsa is a 25-year-old from Spain who upset Bianca Andreescu at the last Major in Melbourne, coming from a set down to win 6-4 in the third, after saving a match point in the second.  But in the very next round, she only managed one game against her opponent on this day, Swiatek.

On Tuesday, a similarly-comfortable victory should be expected from Iga.


Holger Rune (6) vs. Christopher Eubanks – Third on Court Simonne-Mathieu

Rune made his big breakthrough at this tournament a year ago, achieving his first Major quarterfinal thanks to upsets over Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas.  And the recently-turned-20-year-old has continued to make strong strides ever since, winning the Masters 1000 event in Bercy by outlasting Novak Djokovic in the final, and reaching two Masters finals on clay this season.  Holger is now 27-10 in 2023.

Eubanks made a breakthrough of his own two months ago in Miami, where he came through qualifying and advanced all the way to the round of 16, achieving a career goal of cracking the top 100.  The 27-year-old is now ranked 74th, but has still spent the majority of the past year on the Challenger circuit.  The tall American has a big serve, and is not the easiest of opening round draws.

In their first career meeting, Rune is a clear favorite.  However, I am curious to see how Holger handles this moment, as this is the first time in his young career that he is defending a result quite as big as his quarterfinal appearance from 2022.


Victoria Azarenka (18) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Last on Court Simonne-Mathieu

This is a marquee first-round encounter, though neither player comes into this tournament with much form, nor would either refer to clay as their favorite surface.  Azarenka is 13-9 on the year, and just 2-2 on clay, after withdrawing from Rome due to a right leg injury.  Andreescu is just 9-9 on the year, and 0-2 on clay, coming off a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Marketa Vondrousova in Rome.

Vika is 28-15 lifetime in Paris, having reached a semifinal 10 years ago.  Bibi is only 2-2 in Paris, and is yet to advance beyond the second round at any Major outside of New York.  So in another first-time meeting on the day, Azarenka must be favored to advance.


Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Elias Ymer (Q) vs. Casper Ruud (4) – Ruud reached two Major finals last season, but is just 16-11 in 2023, and would fall out of the top five with an early loss in Paris.  Elias is the elder brother of another tennis pro, Mikael, and his only career win at a Slam came at this event.  When they met four years ago at a hard court Challenger in Phoenix, Casper prevailed in three sets.

Thiago Seyboth Wild (Q) vs. Daniil Medvedev (2) – Medvedev is a stellar 39-5 on the year, and coming off a surprising Masters 1000 title on clay in Rome.  Seyboth Wild has accumulated 36 match wins at all levels this year, all on clay.

Rebeka Masarova vs. Coco Gauff (6) – Gauff is 19-8 this year, yet is yet to win back-to-back matches in 2023 on clay.  But Coco did win a hard court title to begin this season, defeating 23-year-old Masarova in the final of Auckland by a score of 6-1, 6-1. 

Elena Rybakina (4) vs. Brenda Fruhvirtova (Q) – Rybakina is 30-7 this season, and just a week ago claimed the WTA 1000 title in Rome.  Brenda and her sister Linda are two teenage Czech teenagers making strong strides in the sport at a very early age.


Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Novak Djokovic Calls For Peace In Kosovo After French Open Win

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Novak Djokovic said his decision to write a message on a camera lens at the French Open calling for calm in Kosovo was the least he could do. 

 

The 22-time Grand Slam champion kicked off his campaign at Roland Garros with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(1), win over Aleksandar Kovacevic. Just moments after the match, he wrote on the camera lens ‘Kosovo is in the heart of Serbia! Stop violence.” His gesture coincides with a flare-up of tensions in the region. 

Kosovo is a largly ethnic Albanian-populated region which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Its independence has been recognised by around 100 countries, according to the Associated Press. However, Serbia still considers it as part of its territory. The recent tension centres around an election in northern Kosovo which was boycotted by Serbs who represent a large majority of people in that region. Subsequently, Albanian mayors have been elected to office which has prompted Serbs from trying to stop them from doing so. Both Kosovo and Serbia are led by nationalist leaders. 

The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR) confirmed on Monday that at least 25 of their peacekeepers have been injured in the clashes. 

“I am not a politician, nor do I intend to enter into debates. As a Serb, it hurts me what is happening in Kosovo, our people have been expelled from the municipalities,” Djokovic commented on the situation.
“This is the least I could do. As a public figure, regardless of the area, I feel an obligation to show support for our people and all of Serbia. I think many do not know what the future holds for Kosovo, but it is important to show harmony in situations like this.” He added. 

However, Djokovic’s message of support has prompted outrage from Kosovo’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Petrit Selimi, who claimed on social media that the former world No.1 has ‘a history of support for Serbian nationalistic causes.’ It can be argued that Djokovic’s gesture is an example of political messaging which is usually banned at Grand Slams but it is unlikely he would be penalised in any way. 

“I don’t know if someone will punish me or something like that, But I would do it again. I am against wars and conflicts of any kind,” Djokovic stated. 
“Of course I have sympathy for all people, but the situation with Kosovo is a precedent in international law and according to the UN charter, we all know about resolution 1244. I’m sorry we’re in the situation that’s happening. I feel the responsibility as a public figure to provide support, and I especially feel it as the son of a man who was born in Kosovo. There are many reasons I wrote this.” 

A similar situation occurred earlier this year at the Australian Open when Karen Khachanov, who is half-Armenian, wrote messages of support for those living in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh which prompted anger from Azerbaijan. Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan but its population is largely Armenian. The two countries have engaged in fighting over the region.

Djokovic will play Marton Fucsovics in the second round at the French Open. 

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Carlos Alcaraz Storms Into French Open Second Round

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Carlos Alcaraz has begun his quest for French Open glory with a comprehensive win over Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli. 

 

The world No.1 produced an impressive display throughout his 6-0, 6-2, 7-5, win on the Suzanne-Lenglen Court. Alcaraz didn’t drop a game in the match until 35 minutes in as he blasted 26 winners past Cabolli who tried his best to be as competitive as he could. However, the disparity in level between the two was evident. Whilst Alcaraz has recorded 16 wins over top-10 players so far in his career, his opponent has yet to beat anybody ranked in the top 50 on the Tour. 

Coming into this year’s tournament, the Spaniard suffered a minor blip in Rome where he suffered a shock loss to World No.135 Fabian Marozsan who is the lowest-ranked player to beat him since 2021. Despite that setback, he was back to top form at Roland Garros where he produced some sublime athletic movement around the court. Breaking down his use of heavy shot-making with some delicate drop shots. 

“It’s great to play here. It was my first time on the Suzanne-Lenglen court. I enjoyed playing my first round match here,” Alcaraz said during his on-court interview.
“It was not so good when you lose 5-4 when serving (for the match) but I had to forget that. I think I forgot it really quickly.” He added.

After racing through the first two sets by winning 51 out of 73 points played, Alcaraz was tested by his opponent in the third frame who was cheered on by the crowd. Cobolli had two break point opportunities to break for a 3-1 lead but failed to do so. Nevertheless, the underdog refused to go down without a fight he produced some inspired play to finally break Alcaraz when he was serving for the match at 5-4. Eventually, Alcaraz weathered the storm by breaking once again for a second chance to serve the match out which he successfully did.

Monday’s triumph marked the first time the 20-year-old has played a Grand Slam match since winning the US Open last September. He was forced to pull out of the Australian Open in January due to a leg injury which delayed his start to this season. Since returning to action, he has won 31 matches and claimed Four ATP titles. 

“I try to enjoy myself on the court. I love playing tennis and for me, that’s the most important thing,” Alcaraz replied when asked about his approach to the sport.
“I heard that Stefanos (Tsitsipas) started to enjoy playing thanks to me. For me, it is great to hear this from other players. That’s something I try to do in every match and that’s the most important thing is to enjoy myself on court.”

Awaiting Alcaraz in the second round will be Japanese world No.112 Taro Daniel who beat Chris O’Connell 6-0, 6-2, 6-4. Despite his current ranking, Daniel has already posted wins over Alexander Zverev, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud this season. Although all of those wins were on a hardcourt.  

Alcaraz is the youngest man to be the top seed at the French Open since Bjorn Borg (19) in 1976. He has now won 25 Grand Slam main draw matches.

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