Novak Djokovic Overcomes Injury Woe And Anger To Down Thiem In London - UBITENNIS
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Novak Djokovic Overcomes Injury Woe And Anger To Down Thiem In London

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Novak Djokovic (zimbio.com)

Defending champion Novak Djokovic was pushed to his mental and physical limits during the opening day of the ATP World Tour Finals as he struck down Dominic Thiem 6-7(10), 6-0, 6-2.

 

Few could dispute the Significance of the London event for the multiple grand slam champion. Hampered by injury issues as well as losing his world No.1 ranking in the second half of the season, Djokovic was eager to start his final tournament of 2016 on a high as he bids to return back to the top.

Three games into the match, apprehension struck the Djokovic camp after he called a trainer to treat a problem with his right thumb.The issue didn’t appear too troublesome as he proceeded with his game without displaying any signs of discomfort. The problem for the Serbian was that he was unable to find a solution to tame the Austrian’s spirited play throughout the opening set.

Boasting a three-match winning streak over Thiem going into their London meeting, Djokovic was matched game by game by the 23-year-old, who received the benefit of some gigantic cheering from the crowd inside the O2 Arena. With such little disparity between the two men, a dramatic tiebreaker decided proceedings.

Thiem was on course to claim his first ever set against the former world No.1 with ease after one of his signature backhand winners elevated him to three set points at 6-3. Things failed to turn out that simple after back-to-back double faults combined with an error on the backhand side reignited Djokovic’s chances. Three further opportunities came and went for the Austrian before he finally struck gold. With everything to play for at 10-10, a Djokovic shot drifted out of the court to hand Thiem his seventh chance to take the set, which he did with a backhand winner.

Dropping the first set, many feared that Djokovic’s recent run of below-par results would continue in London. The frustration got the better of him after he received a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct for hitting the ball into the direction of his coaching box. It was an action that few have seen him do before.

” It is not an issue for me. It’s not the first time I did it.” The world No.2 replied when asked about his action.

Despite the current state of Djokovic’s relationship with Boris Becker and co, his response to Thiem’s early supremacy was to hand the youngster a taste of his own medicine. It was as if a different man had walked onto the court. One more consistent and ready to pounce. The Thiem momentum was destroyed with a flawless 22-minute set bagel from the second seed. Dropping only four points behind his serve, Djokovic raced to 6-0 to force the match into a decider.

The somewhat dramatic turn of events came to a halt with Thiem holding at the start of the third set, triggering a cheer from the supportive crowd. Despite the spirited start by the tournament debutant, it was the veteran that came out on top. Intensifying his pressure against Thiem, a backhand slice from Theim allowed Djokovic to break for 2-1 and once again lead the match. To the relief of the thousands of spectators at the O2 Arena, Thiem did continue to battle, but it wasn’t consistent enough to trouble the favourite. Another break of service elevated Djokovic to a game away from victory. The roller coaster comeback was then completed when a serve out wide from the Serbian was unsuccessfully returned by his rival.

“It felt very good. Even though I lost the first set, I thought I didn’t do too many things wrong. It was just the very high quality of his game that prevailed in the first set.” Said Djokovic in his press conference.
“I knew after that, the first opening couple games of the second set would be crucial for me to start with a break up, which I did. I felt more comfortable. I started swinging more freely in the second set. Obviously made him play an extra shot. He started making more errors, which I used.”

Djokovic’s latest win is his 28th victory in the year-end championships since his debut in 2007.

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Canada Daily Preview: A Huge Day of Action Headlined by Serena/Bencic and Medvedev/Kyrgios

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Serena Williams on Monday in Toronto (twitter.com/NBOtoronto)

On Tuesday, Serena Williams announced her retirement from the sport in a poignant essay.  With only a month left before one of the greatest players of all-time retires, Serena will play only her third match in the past 14 months on Wednesday, as she faces fellow Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic.

 

In Montreal, the two ATP singles champions from last week will collide, as Los Cabos champ and world No.1 Daniil Medvedev takes on Washington champ and Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios

Those are just two of a plethora of high-profile second round matches on Wednesday.  Overall seven of the WTA top 10 and six of the ATP top 10 will be in action in a jam-packed day of tennis.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Wednesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time in both Toronto and Montreal.


Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Not Before 1:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Medvedev did not drop a set during his title run last week in Mexico, and is the defending champion of this event.  But Kyrgios is having the best summer of his career.  He’s now claimed 12 of his last 13 matches, which of course includes his first Major singles final at Wimbledon.  And Nick is 2-1 against Daniil, though they’ve split two hard court meetings.  Three years ago in the final of Washington, Kyrgios prevailed thanks to two tiebreaks.  But at this year’s Australian Open, Medvedev was victorious in four.  Last year at this tournament, Daniil defeated a few other big servers such as Hubi Hurkacz, John Isner, and Reilly Opelka.  On Wednesday, his defensive skills may again prove to diffuse Nick’s serving prowess.  And as seen in the Wimbledon final, Kyrgios can get easily frustrated by opponents who can play elite-level defense.


Belinda Bencic (12) vs. Serena Williams – Not Before 7:00pm on Centre Court on Toronto

These next few weeks will be the last in perhaps the most remarkable career in tennis history.  Serena has said she does not want a lot of fanfare surrounding her last tournaments, but fans will surely be clamoring to see the all-time great one last time.  In just her third match this year, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in women’s singles faces the most recent gold medalist.  Bencic is now 28-13 this season, and two of her best results this season have come in the US.  She was a semifinalist in Miami, and the champion in Charleston.  Serena is 2-1 against Belinda, though Bencic’s only victory occurred in this same city seven years ago, when the Swiss star won this title as an 18-year-old.  Williams played some good tennis during her straight-set victory on Monday, and both players will assumedly be quite nervous knowing this is one of Serena’s final matches.  But considering Williams has not defeated a top 20 player since the 2021 Australian Open, Bencic should be favored on this day.  Regardless, this opportunity to watch Serena compete will be cherished by her millions of fans.


Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Swiatek is now 48-5 on the year, and has won her last three hard court tournaments dating back to February (Doha, Indian Wells, Miami).  Tomljanovic reached her second consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinal last month.  Their only previous meeting also occurred in Toronto, when three years ago the Australian retired after only five games.

Elena Rybakina vs. Coco Gauff (10) – The new Wimbledon champion played for a full three hours on Tuesday, eventually defeating Marie Bouzkova 6-1 in the third.  On the same day, Gauff dropped only four games to fellow American Madison Brengle. 

Tommy Paul vs. Carlos Alcaraz – Alcaraz is now 42-7 in 2022, and is coming off back-to-back finals at clay events in Europe.  Paul has accumulated 25 wins of his own this season, 16 of which have come on hard courts.

Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Leylah Fernandez (13) – Fernandez gritted her way to a three-set victory on Monday night in her first match since injuring her foot at Roland Garros.  Haddad Maia has 34 wins on the year, and won back-to-back grass court tournaments in June.  Earlier this season in the semifinals of Monterrey, Leylah prevailed over Beatriz in straight sets.

Qinwen Zheng vs. Ons Jabeur (5) – Jabeur went 1-1 last week in her first two matches since her losing effort in the Wimbledon final.  Qinwen also lost to Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon, after two tight sets in the third round of that event.

Bianca Andreescu vs. Alize Cornet – Andreescu overcame injury to defeat San Jose champion Daria Kasatkina on Tuesday evening, requiring multiple medical timeouts in the first set alone.  Earlier in the day, Cornet took out Caroline Garcia in three sets.  Alize is 2-0 against Bianca.

Yoshihito Nishioka (SE) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (6) – Nishioka was a surprise finalist last week in Washington, where he earned impressive victories over five top 40 players, including Andrey Rublev.  Auger-Aliassime has now lost four of his last six matches.  Yoshi leads their tour-level head-to-head 2-1, which includes a dramatic three-set win three years ago at Indian Wells in a third-set tiebreak.

Jack Draper (Q) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Tsitsipas has not played since his embarrassing behavior in a third-round defeat at the hands of Kyrgios at Wimbledon.  20-year-old Draper has earned 35 match wins at all levels this season. 


Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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6, 5, 4…is the rise of Carlos Alcaraz going to continue this week?

Canadian Open and Cincinnati Masters 1000 may allow the Spaniard’s ranking to reach new zeniths

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CARLOS ALCARAZ OF SPAIN - PHOTO: ANGEL MARTINEZ / MMO

By Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Numbers are fascinating, even worshipped by some, unquestionable and reassuring. We may forget the fallibility of subjective evaluation and rejoice with the sense of power that comes with belief that any reality, from outer space to the inner world, can be measured, and expressed with numbers.

 

And numbers have been fuelling tennis headlines over the last weeks as Carlos Alcaraz has been heading on, his rise in the rankings unblemished by the losses to Musetti and Sinner in the finals in Hamburg and Umag and ticking on like an ultimate countdown.  

In the next two weeks Alcaraz will have limitless opportunities to reap points in the two Masters 1000 leading up to the US Open since he will only be dropping the points he earned last year in Cincinnati where, after qualifying, he reached the round of 32 before losing to Lorenzo Sonego.

There is more at stake for those he is chasing: Medvedev, winner in Canada and semi-finalist in Cincinnati is surely capable of bettering such results, but it will not be a walkover. Zverev is fully committed to rehab and unable to defend his Cincinnati 2021 crown. Nadal, who missed all the second part of the last season and could be a serious challenger in terms of point harvesting, has just had to pull out from Montreal owing to his still-healing abdominal injury.    

Nitpickers may suggest that the most recent hurdles cleared by Alcaraz have not coincided with immaculate victories and that what had seemed for a long time to be a perfect set-up engine, meticulously fine-tuned, has been starting to misfire.

No doubt that his 2022 campaign had been a crescendo up to his triumph in the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, where he brushed aside Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev. The match with Djokovic was of supreme quality and will stand out as one of the gems of the year.

Till then, his loss to Korda in Monte Carlo was the only lapse and could be considered an incident, as it may occur to any guy setting foot on clay for the first time in months, adorned with a new status as a tennis prodigy after his win in Miami and awaited by a roaring buzz of expectations.

In Paris, a first yellow alert did appear when he was on the brink of defeat in round 2 with Ramos-Vinolas in a match stained by 74 unforced errors. Then followed shining performances against Korda and Khachanov before falling in the quarter-finals to Zverev who overpowered him throughout most of their match. But Zverev was formidable that day and Alcaraz strove to the very end to find an escape way and was close to coming back, missing a set point in the fourth set tiebreak that would have tugged him into a decider.

His star seemed to be shining at Wimbledon after his impressive dominance over Otte, but two days later was obscured by Sinner. On this occasion, for the first time in his newly established career, his game appeared blunted.

Was his body starting to remind him he’s a teen, capable of formidable performances, but still to develop that endurance and resilience which are needed to maintain peak cruising over longer stretches?

Then followed defeats in Hamburg and Umag finals on clay. A final itself cannot be considered a disappointing result, but his halo of invincibility was dimmed.

Particular concern was his second defeat in a month to Sinner, where he appeared at loss for solutions over the last one hour and a half, his boisterous self-confidence slowly deflating and his body language revealing frustration. In his press conference, Alcaraz admitted such a sense of helplessness and said to be determined to figure out a way to win against the Italian. 

The point is that Alcaraz made such a great impression in the first part of this season that it has become hard to believe he can lose a match.

At his best, he can deliver any shot at any moment, with a variety rarely seen before. In an inspired instant, he can switch from herculean ball-striking to caressing a dropshot, which will land, bounceless, a few inches after the net. What about his eagerness to volley, often following his wondrously effective kick serve? Not to mention his serve which alternates power and spin, his endurance in winning long rallies, scuttling far and beyond to fling in a winner from out of the blue. Opponents cannot but be befuddled. 

And then, is clay really the surface that best suits his game? In an interview with Marca, he said he’s comfortable on all surfaces but feels that his dynamic game most suits hard courts. If we couple this statement with his enthusiasm for being in Montreal and playing the Canadian Open for the first time, after throwing in some hard work for a successful transition from clay to hard, we can be positive that the fire has been kindled, and the countdown for reaching the highest ranking orbits is running once again.      

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Canada Daily Preview: Andreescu, Osaka, Raducanu Face Formidable Opposition

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Canada’s Bianca Andreescu won this title in 2019 (twitter.com/NBOtoronto)

Tuesday’s schedule in Toronto features several Major singles champions taking on recent tournament finalists.  2019 US Open champ Bianca Andreescu faces San Jose champ Daria Kasatkina.  Four-time Slam champ Naomi Osaka plays Washington runner-up Kaia Kanepi.  US Open champ Emma Raducanu faces defending champion Camila Giorgi.  And another US Open champ, Sloane Stephens, plays Indian Wells runner-up Maria Sakkari.

 

In Montreal, many matches have been carried over from Monday due to rain, including Andy Murray against Taylor Fritz, which was previewed here.  Also on Tuesday, Italy’s Matteo Berrettini takes on Pablo Carreno Busta.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Tuesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time in both cities.


Camila Giorgi vs. Emma Raducanu (9) – Second on Centre Court in Toronto

Giorgi was a surprising champion of this event a year ago, as she was ranked outside the top 70 at the time.  And she has failed to follow-up on that title run.  Camila promptly lost her next four matches, and in 2022, she’s just 13-13.  Of course Raducanu also won the biggest title of her career last summer, and has similarly struggled ever since, with a record of 11-13 on the year.  In their first career meeting, the pressure will be on Giorgi, as she’s never before defended a title of this caliber. That makes Raducanu the favorite to advance in her Canadian debut.


Daria Kasatkina (11) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Not Before 7pm on Centre Court in Toronto

What a season Kasatkina is having.  She is now 32-14, and is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings.  Last week in San Jose, she defeated two top six players en route to the title (Badosa, Sabalenka).  And at the same time, she’s influencing social change, as the Russian recently came out as gay, and spoke out against that subject remaining “taboo” in her home country.  In her own home country, Andreescu achieved great success three years ago, winning this title just weeks before becoming a US Open champion.  But the last few years have thoroughly tested Andreescu, as she’s battled injuries, COVID, and mental health issues.  Just a week ago in San Jose, she retired mid-match due to back pain.  In her first match in Toronto since her title run, it’s hard to imagine she’ll be fully healthy.  A confident, happy, and in-form Kasatkina is a strong favorite to continue her winning streak despite their history.  Bianca leads their head-to-head 2-0, which includes a three-set victory three years ago at this same event.


Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Pablo Carreno Busta vs. Matteo Berrettini (11) – This will be Berrettini’s debut at this event, while Carreno Busta is only 2-2 lifetime here.  Their only previous meeting occurred at this year’s Australian Open, which Matteo claimed in straight sets.

Kaia Kanepi vs. Naomi Osaka – Kanepi lost the final of Washington on Sunday to Liudmila Samsonova 6-3 in the third.  This will only be Osaka’s third match since May, and she’s coming off a straight-set loss last week in San Jose to Coco Gauff.  When they played five years ago at the US Open, Kanepi prevailed 7-5 in the third.

Maria Sakkari (3) vs. Sloane Stephens – Stephens was up a set and 5-2 over Sofia Kenin on Monday before eventually prevailing 7-5 in the third on her sixth match point in a highly-dramatic affair.  Sakkari was decisively defeated last week in San Jose by Shelby Rogers.  This is their first career encounter.


Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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