Garbine Muguruza secures her spot in the semifinal in Rome - UBITENNIS
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Garbine Muguruza secures her spot in the semifinal in Rome

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World Number 4 and number 3 seed Garbine Muguruza has become the first player to secure a spot in the semifinals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome after beating Timea Bacsinszky 7-5 6-2 in the first quarter final. Muguruza will take on either Madison Keys or Barbora Strykova.

 

Muguruza had to face a break point in the 14-point first game. The Spanish player earned three break points but failed to convert them. The opening set went on serve until the seventh game when Bacsinszky went 15-40. Muguruza saved the first break point chance but Bacsinszky converted her second chance to 30 to take a 4-3. Muguruza broke straight back to 30 to draw level to 4-4 and consolidated her break by holding her service game for 5-4. The Spanish player of Venezuelan origin held her serve at 5-5 before getting another break on her third set point after a long 12th game to win the first set 7-5 in 74 minutes. Muguruza has qualified for her first semifinal since the 2015 WTA Finals in Singapore

In the third game of the second set Bacsinszky did not convert her two break point chances. Both players went on serve until the sixth game when Muguruza broke serve to 30. She got the double break to win her fourth consecutive game at deuce in the 8th game for 6-2.

Muguruza has advanced to her first semifinal in 2016 without dropping a set in the whole tournament. Earlier this week Muguruza hit 20 winners to just 5 unforced errors en route to a dominant 6-1 6-0 win over Ekaterina Makarova in just 47 minutes before beating Jelena Ostapenko 6-1 6-4 in the third round.

Bacsinszky won her first two matches against Yanina Wickmayer and Lesia Tsurenko before clinching a hard-fought 5-7 7-5 6-2 win over Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round.

Muguruza has extended her win-loss record to 4-0 in their head-to-head matches. All their previous three matches were played in 2015. Muguruza prevailed in three sets at the Australian Open and in straight sets at Wimbledon and Beijing.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev And Taylor Fritz Looking Forward To Diriyah Cup

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz will start their Australian preparations in Saudi Arabia next week.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (@WeAreTennisTR - Twitter)

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz are looking forward to boosting their Australian Open preparations when they compete in the Diriyah Cup in Saudi Arabia.

 

The tournament takes place from the 8th-10th of December with the 12 player tournament offering the perfect preparation for the first Grand Slam of the year.

As well as Tsitsipas, Rublev and Fritz, the field includes some of the world’s best players including Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Cameron Norrie, Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka.

Speaking ahead of the event Tsitsipas claimed that the event will be very good preparation ahead of the Australian Open which starts on the 16th of January, “This is going to be very good preparation for me,” Tsitsipas told The National.

“Most players choose to have an off period from tennis but for me, it’s very important to get matches in before I travel to Australia. So having good competitors to compete against (top players), this is the best preparation that I can have before starting the 2023 season.

“I know that the people in Saudi Arabia may not have the opportunity to see tennis players like us very often. So, for sure, I’m going to give it my best. I’m going to have a good time.”

Saudi Arabia has held a whole host of events including formula one and Golf events with there being more and more concerns from fans over sports-washing given the country’s human rights record.

However the Greek isn’t too concerned about that and is looking forward to exploring the country’s culture:

“I’m happy they’re introducing a big event like this, and in the heart of Saudi Arabia to give opportunities to citizens from all over the world to explore this beautiful country, through its sports, through its very rich heritage and culture, and through other activities that are available within the country.”

As for Fritz, the American is coming off a career best season having won his maiden Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells as well as reaching the semi-finals at the ATP Finals.

The 25 year-old said that playing against the best players in the world will only help his preparations for the Australian Open, “I think it’s going to help prepare for the Australian Open and for the rest of the year because I can start out by playing against the best players in the world,” Fritz claimed.

“The field is so strong, so it’s always great to surround yourself with a lot of great players. People should come to support because hopefully it’ll be a lot of good tennis.

“Hopefully they’ll be cheering for me to win. They can expect a lot of big hitting, big serving, and hopefully some nice shot-making.”

Finally Rublev said that competing in Saudi Arabia will help find his level with the Russian having an inconsistent end to the season at the ATP Finals.

Rublev is looking to break more ground in 2023 as he searches for his Grand Slam breakthrough, “I think it’s really great because sometimes when you finish the season and you have eight weeks of not playing tournaments, you start to feel a bit stressed or nervous because you can’t tell if you’re improving or not,” Rublev admitted.

“So these kind of events help to check how your level is at the moment because you compete against other great players.”

The tournament begins on Thursday and will last for three days.

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INTERVIEW: Brandon Nakashima Poised for A Productive Year in 2023

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Image via https://twitter.com/nextgenfinals/

As the curtain closed on the ATP Tour season in 2022, the youngest American competitor among the top 50 in the world was proud about where he stood, but determined to keep moving up the international ladder across the next couple of years. 

 

He was appreciative of his many accomplishments, yet eager to explore new horizons in 2023. He seemed poised to achieve on an even wider scale in the year ahead, quietly confident about the player he has become, and secure with who he is and where he might be headed.

I spoke on the telephone not too many days ago with 21-year-old Brandon Nakashima. This was not the first time I had interviewed the appealing Californian over the past couple of years but, even in his understated way, it struck me that this young man has now become surer of himself, more aware of his capabilities, and better able to understand what it will take for him to make deeper inroads in the sport he plays so passionately for a living.

We started the conversation, of course, with his recent season-ending triumph at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. That eight man event is reserved exclusively for the top 21-and-under players, showcasing their current status in the sport, signaling the prominent role many of them will play in the future shaping of tennis. This round robin tournament experiments with the rules significantly. Rather than the standard six games to win a set, a player needs only four to succeed. Tie-breaks were contested with the game score locked at 3-3 rather than 6-6. Best of five set matches were played for the entire tournament as always has been the case. Time limits between points were reduced from 25 seconds down to 15 after an ace, a double fault or a missed return of serve.

Nakashima felt he handled the difficulty of a demanding format well in Milan. He told me, “With these shorter sets it can go either way. You get down a break and you are pretty much moving on to the next set. It takes away the element of trying to come back when you are down because it is so difficult to do. This was a good experience for me to win with this format. Personally I prefer the normal scoring format for tournaments, but it is a good concept to try it out for the Next Gen Finals. The shorter sets are more entertaining for the fans.” 

Nakashima dealt with it all exceedingly well, and surely benefitted from playing the Next Gen Finals a year ago and reaching the semifinals.

As he told me, “I think it definitely helped to have played it the year before. I got used to the format a little bit. But I was still nervous coming into my first match this year. I didn’t know what it was going to be like with these new players. It was still kind of new to me. I knew I had a good chance of doing well there and I had high expectations going into the event. I was happy with my level the whole tournament. It was a fun event for me to play.”

Nakashima endured some stressful moments in his opening round Robin clash before overcoming the Italian Matteo Arnaldi in five sets. He took the second and third set in tie-breaks, lost a tie-break in the fourth, but prevailed 4-2 in the fifth. 

Asked if he felt that hard fought and tense skirmish did him some good going forward, he replied, “I think so. The first match of any tournament is always going to be tough as you get used to the conditions out there. I was a little nervous coming out there and he was an Italian who had the crowd behind him, so it definitely wasn’t easy. It helped me for the later stages of the tournament in terms of my mindset on the crucial points.”

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Next on the agenda for Nakashima in the round robin was world No. 74 Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic. He took that match in straight sets and then concluded his round robin assignments by taking apart the Italian Francesco Passaro (ranked No. 119 in the world) 4-3 (6), 4-2, 4-1.

Now Nakashima had advanced to the semifinals, and in that penultimate round he stopped the formidable left-handed British player Jack Draper 4-3 (6), 1-4, 4-2, 4-3 (5), winning both the first and fourth set tie-breaks with characteristic poise under pressure. Nakashima was happy with his own performance and impressed with his opponent.

He explained, “Jack played a really good match against me. Both of us played high quality tennis and had great rallies from the beginning to the end of the match. He has a very big game with a good lefty serve that is tricky with the different spins he can get. He is very solid from the baseline as well. He has a good all around game to be at the top level of tennis, so I am sure this is not going to be the last time I play against him on the tour. We will be pushing each other far into the future.”

Having reached the Milan final, Nakashima found himself up against Lehecka for the second time in one week, with this meeting mattering much more than the initial contest. Nakashima was the better player on the biggest points in a high quality meeting. He came through 4-3 (5), 4-3 (6), 4-2 to take the title deservedly. 

“It is definitely not easy playing the same guy twice in the same tournament,” admits Nakashima. “I kind of knew the first match against him didn’t mean much going into the final. Obviously we knew more about each other’s games. I knew he would want to get revenge and he got off to a pretty good start from the back of the court. I had to weather the storm. Both of us played well. A couple of points at the end of both tie-breaks made the difference. It could have gone either way. I was fortunate to pull it out.”

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Asked about the significance of closing his 2022 season on such a high note, Nakashima responds, “It definitely means a lot ending this year with a title. It was a great year for me all around. I learned a lot and grew as a player. Finishing the year with a title against the best young and up and coming players is a great achievement. This tournament will be a good stepping stone for me.”

The Next Gen ATP Finals was not the only important prize that Nakashima added to his collection in 2022. In late September, he realized a longtime dream by capturing his first ATP Tour title, taking the 250 event in his hometown of San Diego, defeating countryman Marcos Giron in the final. That was a reward he will relish forever.

Nakashima says, “At the beginning of the year it was always a goal of mine to try and win my first ATP Tour title some time during the year. I always knew I had the game to do it, but it was just about having the right opportunity at the right time. To be able to win my first title in my hometown was super special. Having all my friends and family come out there to support me was really nice. I grew up learning the game of tennis in San Diego. I will never forget winning that tournament.”

Meanwhile, Nakashima impressively displayed his court craft at three of the four majors, reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon before losing to Nick Kyrgios in five sets after ousting 2021 semifinalist Denis Shapovalov, going to the third round of Roland Garros where he lost 7-6 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5) to Sascha Zverev, and making it to the third round at the U.S. Open with a good win over Grigor Dimitrov before he was beaten in four tough sets by Jannik Sinner.

Those showings were abundant proof that Nakashima can compete against the best players in the world. Nakashima realized after doing so well in those big tournaments that he is not far away from moving to another level of the game.

As he points out, “I had the opportunity to play against some of the top players and I played some of my best tennis against them. It gave me a lot of confidence. Playing in those big stadiums like the Centre Court at Wimbledon and Armstrong at the U.S. Open was a cool experience. Even though I lost some tough matches to Zverev, Kyrgios and Sinner, I took a lot of positives from those. Maybe my favorite moment was beating Dimitrov at the U.S. Open. He had beaten me in Rome. At the Open I had the crowd behind me. It was great to win that match there and it was one of the highlights of my year.”

Over the course of 2022, Nakashima made some changes in his coaching camp that he feels will make a significant difference in the coming year and beyond. He now has in his corner Eduardo Infantino and Franco Davin. Davin, of course, worked in the past with a number of accomplished players including 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro.

Speaking about some of the coaching expertise that has come his way, Nakashima starts with the wise council he received from 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, who was with him in a crucial period up until the end of 2020.

Nakashima says, “I had a great time with Pat. We spent a lot of time together and I learned a lot from him, especially coming forward to the net as much as possible. I am grateful for the help he gave me and we will always have a good friendship. But at the time we stopped working together, I was looking for something else. I tried a bunch of coaches. Now I have Eduardo and Franco. It has been going really well. It is such a strong team and I have a physio as well. In terms of the coaching, Eduardo and Franco share it and they collaborate and communicate a lot, so having both in my corner has been great. They both add a lot of value to my tennis game.”

Being the youngest American in the world’s top 50 (at No. 47) is an honor not lost on Nakashima. He is prideful about his rise at the age of 21 into the elite of the game, and hopeful that the coming year will provide him with a chance to accomplish on an even wider scale.

As Nakashima explains, “It is a great achievement for me to end 2022 in the top fifty. American tennis right now is being played at a super high level. You have a bunch of guys in the top 50 and the top 100 always having consistent results. American tennis is in a very good spot. So for me to be inside the top fifty is great, but I want to keep getting better. My goals for next year are to break into the top 25 or 30 and go deep at all of the Grand Slams as well. I am still pretty young at 21 so I am building up my fitness and getting stronger and faster. One of the keys next year will be lasting longer in these best of five set matches. I felt that Sinner at the U.S. Open definitely lasted longer than me in those long rallies and the really physical games. So I am working hard to get fitter and fitter. I know what a difference that can make for me.”

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Rafael Nadal Surprises Fans In Mexico With Unexpected Announcement 

Thousands attended the Bullring in Mexico City to watch the world No.2 play.

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Rafael Nadal - Parigi-Bercy 2022 (Twitter @RolexPMasters)

On the final leg of his South American Tour, Rafael Nadal has told journalists in Mexico that his exhibition match in the country on Thursday will likely be the last time he will play there. 

 

The 22-time Grand Slam champion played in front of 30,000 people at the bullring in Mexico City where he defeated Casper Ruud 7-6(7) 6-4. At the event, which was called The GNP Tennis Fest, there was also a mixed doubles match with Leylah Fernández and Jack Sock facing Santiago Gonzalez and Renata Zarazua.

Shortly before taking to the court, a candid Nadal revealed that there is a strong likelihood that he will not play in Mexico again after ruling himself out of the 2023 Acapulco Open which takes place during the last week of February. 

“It will most likely be the last time I play in Mexico, Acapulco 2023 is not on my calendar and the 2024 season seems far away,” Nadal said on Thursday. “Now is the time to enjoy this moment to the fullest and play in an emblematic setting, with many people and in a country where I have always felt loved.”

Nadal is one of only three players to have won the Mexican Open four times during their careers. The others are Thomas Muster and David Ferrer. Nadal first won the tournament back in 2005 which was his first International Golf Series title (now known as ATP 500). He also won the title in 2013, 2020 and 2022. 

Whilst it appears that Nadal’s time playing in Mexico is over, he has no plans of retiring from the sport just yet. The 36-year-old heads into the start of the 2023 season looking to defend his title at the Australian Open. Apart from the French Open, he hasn’t won the same major event two years in a row. 

“For me the main thing right now is to be able to get to the important tournaments in full physical condition. I continue to enjoy day-by-day and I continue to have goals that excite me at a professional level. I’m going to try to achieve them until my body or mind says enough. At the moment, that hasn’t happened so I want to continue,” Nadal explained.
“I am happy doing what I do, I love competing on the big stages and the love of the people encouraged me to continue,” he added. 

Nadal holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles won by a male player and has won a total of 92 Tour titles so far in his career. Only Ivan Lendl, Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors have won more than him. 

The majority of Nadal’s career has been defined by his rivalry with Federer and Novak Djokovic. Between the trio, they have won a staggering 63 major titles and 102 Masters 1000 events. Federer is the first of the trio to have retired from the sport. 

Looking ahead to the future, Nadal said he would be open to participating in an exhibition series with his two peers once all of their professional careers have ended. 

“We have lived a very nice rivalry and I hope that we can do a joint tour in which we play against each other in places that could not enjoy our history,” he commented. 

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