Serena Williams recovers from a slow start to beat Christina McHale in Rome - UBITENNIS
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Serena Williams recovers from a slow start to beat Christina McHale in Rome

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Three-time Rome champion Serena Williams recovered from a slow start to beat her compatriot Christina McHale 7-6 (9-7) 6-1 in one hour and 41 minutes to reach the quarter finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. She will face Svetlana Kuznetsova in a re-match of the recent round of 16 match in Miami where the Russian player upset the US legend en route to reaching the final.

 

Serena Williams went down an early break in the fifth game when Kuznetsova converted her eighth break point of the set to take a 3-2 lead. Williams rallied to break back in the 10th game for 5-5 when McHale was serving for the set. McHale fended off two match points before earning a set point in the tie-break. Williams recovered to clinch the opening set on her third set point.

Williams converted three of her seven break points and fended off both break points she faced en route to winning the second set 6-1. The  dropped just one first-serve points.

Williams clinched 72 of her last 76 matches on clay and her 40th career win in the Eternal City.

“I feel good, because I feel like she hits a lot of balls back. I wanted to get a match in like that where she gets a lot of balls back and see how I was able to do against that and see how I was physically after that. Every day is a new day for me and I just try to see when I wake up. I just go from there”,

Serena’s next rival will be Svetlana Kuznetsova, who battled past Australian rising star Daria Gavrilova 6-2 2-6 6-3 to qualify for the quarter finals in Rome for the first time since 2009. Williams leads 8-3 in her head-to-head matches against Kuznetsova.

Garbine Muguruza beat Jelena Ostapenko 6-1 6-4 to reach her third quarter final this year setting up a quarter final against Timea Bacsinszky, who defeated Carla Suarez Navarro 5-7 7-5 6-2. Bacsinszky came within two points of defeat when she went down 4-5 in the second set. The Swiss player bounced back by breaking twice to win the second set 7-5 to force the match to the third set.

Bacsinszky got the double break in the decider to race out to 5-1. Suarez Navarro got one of the two breaks back in the seventh game but Bacsinszky broke again to clinch the third set 6-2.

Ostapenko earned an early break point chance but failed to convert her opportunity. Muguruza broke serve with her forehand return to take a 2-0 lead. The Spanish player got the double break in the sixth game for 5-1 en route to winning the opening set. Ostapenko bounced back by breaking serve to take a 3-1 lead with a cross-court backhand. Muguruza rallied by winning the final five games to take the win thanks to a double break in the seventh and ninth games.

Romania’s Irina Camelia Begu eased past Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina 6-1 6-4 to advance to her second quarter final in consecutive weeks after Madrid. Begu broke serve three times to take the first set. She got a triple break lead to race out to 5-0 lead. Kasatkina got two breaks back to claw her way back to 4-5 but Begu served out for the match tp 30.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Goes for his 19th Major Title Against Stefanos Tsitsipas

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An airborne Novak Djokovic on Friday in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

In 2006 at this event, Novak Djokovic reached his first Slam quarterfinal.  15 years and 18 Major titles later, the 34-year-old has become one of the greatest players of all-time.  On Friday, in a fantastic semifinal, he became the only man to ever defeat Rafael Nadal twice at the French Open.  A win today would pull him within one Major title of not only Nadal, but also Roger Federer.  And it would make him the first man to win each Grand Slam tournament twice since Rod Laver in 1969.

 

In 2016 at this event, Stefanos Tsitsipas made his Slam debut.  Five years and four Major semis later, the 22-year-old has reached his first Slam final.  On Friday, he survived a dramatic five-set semifinal against Sascha Zverev.  A win today would make him the youngest man to win a Major since Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009.  And it would make him the first man to win in his first Grand Slam final appearance since Marin Cilic in 2014.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles championship will be decided, with the two most recent French Open women’s singles champions on opposite sides of the net.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Not before 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Djokovic leads their head-to-head 5-2, and 3-0 on clay.  After winning two of their first three encounters, Tsitsipas has now lost the last four.  Last October in the semifinals of this tournament, Djokvoic was up two-sets-to-love when Tsitsipas came storming back to even the match, yet Novak closed out the fifth set decisively.  They also met just a few weeks ago in Rome, where Djokovic won an extremely-tight three-setter, which took over three hours to decide, and was played over the course of two days.

The last time Djokovic defeated Nadal at Roland Garros, in 2015’s quarterfinals, he was upset in the championship match by Stan Wawrinka.  Will Tsitsipas play the role of Wawrinka on Sunday?  Both men played grueling matches on Friday, but Novak’s ended about five hours later, was over 30 minutes longer, and undoubtedly was more physically and emotionally draining.  And Tsitsipas should fine some confidence in knowing his last two matches against Djokovic on clay have been anything but blowouts.

Novak is 18-10 in Major finals, with four of his losses coming in Paris.  He will fully understand what a huge opportunity this is to win the French Open for a second time, after eliminating Rafa on Friday.  I expect Djokovic to be much more prepared for this moment than he was six years ago against Wawrinka, and than Tsitsipas will be in his first Slam final.  Novak Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his 19th Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek (14) – Saturday was the biggest day of Krejcikova’s career, winning her first Major in singles.  Less than 24 hours later, she looks to be a double champion.  Her and Siniakova were two-time Slam winners in 2018.  Swiatek was of course the champion here in singles last October, while Mattek-Sands has won all five women’s doubles finals she’s ever played at Majors, and all with her former partner, Lucie Safarova.

Sunday’s full schedule is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova Play for the Women’s Championship

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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

10 years ago at this event, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached her first Major quarterfinal.  As a teenager, she was up a set and 4-1 against defending champion Francesca Schiavone, but failed to close out the match, losing 7-5 in the third.  The Russian would reach 10 more Slam quarters in both singles and doubles, yet lose every one of them.  At the age of 29, she’s reevaluated her career, and rededicated herself to training and achieving bigger accomplishments.  This week, on her 12th try, she finally broke through to the semifinals at a Major, and promptly won her semi in straight sets to reach her first Slam final.

 

Five years ago at this event, Barbora Krejcikova reached her first Major semifinal.  That was in women’s doubles, alongside her long-time partner, Katerina Siniakova.  They would go on to win this tournament in 2018, the same year they won Wimbledon.  That was a year after her coach and inspiration, Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, sadly passed away from cancer.  On Sunday, Krejcikova and Siniakova will play for their third Major title as a team.  But this past year, Barbora has made huge strides in singles.  Last autumn, she arrived in Paris ranked outside the top 100 in singles, yet reached the second week of a Major for the first time.  Eight months later, the 25-year-old saved a match point in an epic semifinal against Maria Sakkari to reach her first Slam final.

Also on Saturday, the men’s doubles championship will be decided, with Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut playing for their fifth Major title.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (31) vs. Barbora Krejcikova – 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

This will be new territory in multiple ways: not only their first singles championship match at a Major, but also their first career meeting.  They have met twice in recent years in doubles, with Krejcikova and her partner Siniakova prevailing both times in straight sets.  It took Anastasia a record-breaking 52 Slams to reach her first final, while this is only Barbora’s fifth time in the main draw of singles at a Major.  As Christopher Clarey highlighted on Twitter, this will mark the sixth consecutive year the women’s singles champion will be a first-time Slam champ.

Pavlyuchenkova has long been a dangerous draw, as she’s built a reputation for taking out top players.  Her victory last week over Aryna Sabalenka was the 37th top 10 win in her career.  As per WTA Insider, that’s the most top 10 wins ever by a player who themselves has never been ranked that high.  But it’s Krejcikova who has put together the stronger season, with a record of 24-8.  Barbora reached the final in Dubai, and is currently on an 11-match win streak, coming off a title run just two weeks ago in Strasbourg.  Between singles and doubles, she’s won 16 matches over the last 20 days.

In each of her six victories to this stage, Pavlyuchenkova has avoided having a lower second-serve-points-won percentage than her opponent.  Krejcikova did so against five of her six opponents, with the exception being Elina Svitolina, who converted only two of seven break points, and failed to protect her own serve.  The percentage of second-serve-points-won should be the key statistic to track during this match. 

That would seem to favor Pavlyuchenkova, who is the stronger and more consistent baseline player.  But this match will likely come down to who better manages the emotions of this momentous occasion.  In her 15th year of Grand Slam competition, will Anastasia be motivated or overwhelmed by the knowledge of how rare an opportunity this can be?  Based on the composed way she has handled herself through six rounds, it feels as if Pavlyuchenkova is ready to capture the moment, and win her first Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut (6) vs. Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev – The French team were champions here three years ago, and have narrowly escaped defeat four times this fortnight, most recently saving three match points in the semifinals against Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.  Bublik and Golubev have defeated two seeded teams in just the fourth tournament of their partnership.

Saturday’s full schedule is here.

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Novak Djokovic Overcomes Slow Start To Stun Nadal In French Open Thriller

Djokovic has become the fourth oldest man to reach the final at Roland Garros after coming through a gripping encounter with nemesis Nadal.

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image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros/

Novak Djokovic avenged his loss from last year’s French Open final by producing a emphatic display to defeat Rafael Nadal and reach the final in what was one of the best matches of their entire rivalry on the Tour.

 

The two tennis giants locked horns on court Philippe Chatrier for a marathon four hours and 11 minutes before Djokovic prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2, in what was a roller coaster encounter. Becoming the first player in history to have defeated Nadal at the tournament on multiple occasions. In his latest match the Serbian fired a total of 50 winners and broke eight times en route to what he later described as one of the most memorable wins of his career.

“It was a privilege to be on the court with Rafa ( Nadal) and this incredible match, it is probably the biggest match of my life here in Paris, that’s for sure, and also with the best atmosphere for both players,” Djokovic said during his on-court interview.

The world number one started to apply the pressure from the word play and earned the first breakpoint of the match in the opening game and managed to have two looks but the Spaniard saved both with his booming serve. Nadal responded the very next game earning his first breakpoint and breaking the Belgrade native to take an early 2-0 lead and at 3-0 managed to go up a double break in just 20 minutes. Which was enough for him to take the first set.

Djokovic once again respond at the beginning of the second set earning three breakpoints at 1-0 and breaking to take a 2-0 lead before the Spaniard would bounce back breaking back to go back on serve. The Serb had another chance to take the lead at 3-2 when he had three chances and broke to take a 4-2 lead. That break proved crucial as Djokovic would serve out the second set to level the match at one set apiece.

The third set was a much tighter affair and at 1-1 it was Djokovic who had the first chance to break but Nadal saved and held serve. At 2-2 the world number had another chance to get the crucial break and at the third time of asking he broke the Spaniard serve but relinquished it the very next game.

The Serb would break again the following game and managed this time to hold serve and had a chance to serve for the set at 5-4 but Nadal came up with some crazy forehand winners to set up a breakpoint and break back.

The Serb had two chances again to get the break back but the world number three saved both and held serve before applying pressure once again. Earning a set point on the world number one serve but he managed to save and force a tiebreaker.

The breaker was just as tight and at 4-3 Nadal missed a crucial put away at the net and that break was enough for the Djokovic to win the breaker and the third set.

The Spaniard had the better start to the fourth set earning a breakpoint in the opening match and broke to take an early 1-0 lead but at 2-1 the world number responded once again earning two chances to break and breaking to level the match at 2-2. At 3-2 Djokovic had more chances to break and he earned the crucial one once again. Going on to serve out the match to book his spot in Sundays final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

After the match in his post match on court interview Djokovic was asked how he was able to handle the pressure and focus on his game in a match like that.

“Evidently if you want to beat Rafa (Nadal) on his court you have to play your best tennis and tonight was the night of my best tennis, the pressure to play against him is quite special”.

Djokovic currently holds a 5-2 record against his Greek opponent and they most recently played a couple weeks ago in Rome with the world number one winning in three sets.

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