Kei Nishikori avoids shock to progress into the second round after tough Andrey Kuznetsov encounter - UBITENNIS
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Kei Nishikori avoids shock to progress into the second round after tough Andrey Kuznetsov encounter

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Nishikori looked in trouble, but shrugged off injury doubts to edge Andrey Kuznetsov (Image via Zimbio.com)

Kei Nishikori was forced to work hard for his place in the Australian Open second round, as the Japanese fifth seed came from behind to defeat Russia’ Andrey Kuznetsov 57 61 64 67 62.

 

This match always had a hint of an upset ever since Nishikori admitted that he was suffering from the effects of a hip injury after his three set defeat to Grigor Dimitrov.

From early in the first set, Kuznetsov set the tone for the match, attacking willingly on the Nishikori serve. Despite failing to break, and sporting only a 55% first serve percentage, Kuznetsov was very comfortable on serve for the most part. It was late in the set that the damage was done. Kuznetsov forced break points with relentlessly aggressive returns landing a few feet from the baseline. Nishikori was on the back foot from the off in the game, and though he saved a break point with an aggressive foray to the net, Kuznetsov was not to be denied the first break, finishing with his own volley to lead.

Nishikori rallied in the second set, wrestling control of the baseline exchanges and limiting Kuznetsov to low percentage winners such as a few backhands up the line. The result was a double break for the Japanese to level the scores at a set apiece. Kuznetsov’s disciplined game plan of the first set collapsed, as his measured returning from the regressed to hacking at every opportune ball, the result being a lot of welcome free points for Nishikori.

In a surprising turn of events given the nature of the second set, Kuznetsov broke first in the third, toning down his wild returning. The result was more balls in play and more errors from Nishikori. The break came from such an error, Kuznetsov attacking the Nishikori backhand with some success. As in the first set though, the Russian surrendered the break immediately, a number of errors allowing the Japanese star back in.

The problems continued for Kuznetsov in his next game, as the errors continued to flow. A double-fault at love-thirty did not help his cause, and Nishikori promptly unloaded on the next point, forcing Kuznetsov to dump a slice into the tramlines to lead for the first time in the match. Nishikori continued to dominate the baseline exchanges, and closed out the set comfortably.

Thus, it was again a surprise when Kuznetsov broke early in the fourth, leading two-love, only to mirror the third set by handing the break straight back to Nishikori. This time Kuznetsov did not crumble, forcing Nishikori into an off-balance forehand to bring up break point, and breaking when Nishikori missed a rallying backhand. The break came straight back once again though, a half-volley miss from Kuznetsov was followed by a forehand into the tramlines and the score was again level in the fourth.

Nishikori was forced to save another break point at three-four, whilst Kuznetsov did well to dig himself out of a fifteen-thirty hole at four-all as neither player could claim a comfortable service hold. Nishikori put heavy pressure on Kuznetsov with a love hold to get to five-all. Kuznetsov also managed a good hold, as the fourth looked headed for a tiebreak.

Kuznetsov got a sniff of break, a tremendous forehand helping him to thirty-all, then an all-in return forehand to deuce. Nishikori got out of it without facing a break point, and a tiebreak beckoned.

Nishikori took the lead in the tiebreak, a short ball from Kuznetsov gave the fifth seed an easy backhand put-away. A backhand slice from Kuznetsov drifted wide as Nishikori put some daylight between himself and the Russian. Kuznetsov battled back to serve for the set at six-five, but Nishikori passed him after forcing a shoelace volley from his opponent. Kuznetsov then had a second set point, this time against the Nishikori serve, and took it when Nishikori could only slice a return into the net.

Nishikori looked deflated between the fourth and fifth sets, but rebounded nicely, breaking at two-one for the advantage in the fifth set, and crucially gained the hold of serve. Kuznetov’s challenge then quickly faded, and Nishikori made sure with the double-break to close out the match.

Nishikori will next face France’s Jeremy Chardy on Wednesday, after the Frenchman was the beneficiary of an early retirement from Spain’s Nicolas Almagro.

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‘Another Level’ – Nick Kyrgios Praises Rising Star Jannik Sinner

This week the world No.11 is bidding to win his third consecutive indoor tournament.

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Jannik Sinner (ITA), (Erste Bank Open 2021, Wiener Stadthalle); Copyright: e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Martin Steiger

Jannik Sinner’s recent dominance when it comes to playing tennis indoors hasn’t gone unnoticed with one of his peers praising him on social media.

 

The 20-year-old defeated Reilly Opelka in the second round of the Vienna Open on Wednesday in what is his fifth consecutive win on the Tour. Impressively Sinner has now won 18 straight sets on indoor hardcourts. Last Sunday he claimed his fifth Tour title at the European Open to become the youngest ATP player to win that many ATP trophies since Novak Djokovic back in 2007.

Sinner’s achievements were highlighted on social media by journalist Ben Rothenberg who posted a tweet of the 18 sets he has won. That caught the attention of former top 20 player and two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Nick Kyrgios who paid his own tribute to the Italian.

“He is another level. That’s for sure, played him in Washington doubles. Never played someone who hit the ball as hard,” he wrote.

The two are yet to play against each other in singles competition. In Washington Kyrgios and Frances Tiafoe lost 4-6, 4-6, to Sinner and his partner Sebastian Korda.

Sinner’s latest win in Vienna has boosted his chances of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin next month. He has risen back up the standings to 10th in the race after overtaking Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie. Norrie will play his second round match on Thursday.

“I think I had not so many chances and I used them. I think that was the key today,” Sinner said of his latest win against Opelka. “I served well. My service holds were always quite fast and good. I felt well on the baseline, so I knew when I went in a rally that somehow I was going to win the point. But it’s never easy playing against him. You never have rhythm.”

Awaiting Sinner in the next round will be Austria’s Denis Novak who is currently ranked 116th in the world and is yet to beat a top 10 player in his career.

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Denis Shapovalov Battles Back To Reach The Quarterfinals In St Petersburg

The Canadian got off to a slow start in his first match but was able to recover nicely for a big three-set win.

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Denis Shapovalov (CAN) Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Second seed Denis Shapovalov needed to go the distance at the St Petersburg Open to beat his Spanish opponent Pablo Andujar 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in one hour and 49 minutes.

 

The Toronto native didn’t have the best start to the match but was able to recover and pull off a comeback to take the win. Serving a total of 11 aces to reach the quarterfinals.

” It’s very tough to play Pablo (Andujar) first round of a tournament, he’s a great player and it was a tough start to the match,” said Shapovalov. “I didn’t feel so great but I just told myself to keep going because obviously there is still a lot of tennis to be played and I wanted to turn it around in the second set and I did a really good job.”

It was the Spaniard who got off to a better start, earning a breakpoint in the first game of the match before grabbing the early break and he was able to consolidate it. At 2-0, Andujar had two chances to go up a double break but the Canadian saved both and it stayed on serve until 4-2 when the world number 92 was able to earn another breakpoint. This time converted for the double break lead and served out the first set.

The second set stayed on serve until 2-1 when Shapovalov broke to love and that one break of serve was enough for him to serve it out and send the match into a decider.

The Canadian continued pushing as his level improved. In the first game of the final set, he broke the Spaniard with a perfectly timed cross-court winner to take an early 1-0 lead. After consolidating the break he was hungry for more and broke Andujar’s serve once again to go up a double break. Shapovalov closed the match out with a bagel set.

During his on-court interview, Shapovalov was asked how happy he was back to be in St Peterburg and he mentioned the amazing memories he had playing in the event last year.

” It always feels great to be back and I remember last year playing Andrey (Rublev) in the semifinals. I was one set up and I lost this match but I am happy to be here due to the fact I always get great support from the fans here”. He said.

Shapovalov will face Jan-Lennard Struff in the quarterfinals after the German upset seventh seed Alexander Bublik in straight sets (6-4, 6-3).

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Former World No.8 And Grand Slam Champion Jurgen Melzer Retires

Melzer ends a career which has seen him crack the world’s top 10 in both singles and doubles.

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Jurgen Melzer (AUT) - Alexander Zverev (GER) vs John Peers (AUS) - Filip Polasek (SVK), (Erste Bank Open 2021 #glaubandich Court); Copyright: e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Martin Steiger,

After more than two decades on the Tour, Jurgen Melzer has played his final match after bowing out of the Vienna Open on Wednesday.

 

The 40-year-old confirmed earlier this year that he would end his career at his home tournament. Teaming up with Alexander Zverev in the doubles, the duo lost in straight sets to third seeds Filip Polášek and John Peers. Melzer is a two-time champion in Vienna after winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. He later went on to win the doubles title in 2014.

I was a bit afraid that not so many would come after all. Thank you very much, it was a huge honour for me to leave here,” Melzer said during his on-court interview.
“He (Zverev) didn’t hesitate five seconds to play here with me, that is not a matter of course when you’re at number four and you’re close to the Masters. Unfortunately, it was a short undertaking, but thank you.” He added.

Melzer first rose to prominence as a junior when he became the first Austrian to win the Wimbledon boys’ title back in 1999. He would go on to play in a total of 53 Grand Slam main draws during his professional career with his best run being to the semi-finals of the 2010 French Open. On the ATP Tour he claimed five titles with his most prestigious being at an ATP 500 event in Memphis during the 2012 season.

Against top 10 opposition, Melzer has beaten every member of the Big Three at least once. The most notable being against Novak Djokovic where he battled back from two sets down to stun the Serbian at the 2010 French Open. Overall, he recorded 13 wins over top 10 players during his career.

“My career started here (in Vienna) on an international level almost 22 years ago, in 1999 here in the town hall, where for the first time I was allowed to dream of really going the way as a professional tennis player. 22 years later and I would have signed everything, what I have achieved. It was an unbelievable journey that ends today. That I couldn’t have dreamed of.”

It wasn’t just in the singles where Melzer enjoyed success on the Tour. As a double player he achieved a ranking high of sixth and won two men’s Grand Slam titles with Philipp Petzschner, as well claiming the 2011 Wimbledon mixed doubles trophy with his ex-wife Iveta Benešová. More recently, Melzer reached the final of the 2020 ATP Finals alongside Édouard Roger-Vasselin. That was to be the last Tour final of his career.

“Of course you still hope to be at the top, but at some point you will be realistic enough to be able to assess that it will not be enough. It was an unbelievable journey that was a lot of fun. It is over, but it is also good that way.” He concluded.

Whilst his time on the Tour has come to an end, Melzer will remain involved in tennis. He is currently working as the Sports director of the Austrian Tennis Federation (OTV). A role he has held since January.

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