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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Daniil Medvedev Targets French Open Breakthrough After Rome Disappointment

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Daniil Medvedev believes there will be more title contenders at the French Open than previous editions with the Russian hoping to be one of them. 

The world No.4 heads into the Grand Slam after what has been a mixed clay swing. Medvedev suffered a third round defeat in Monte Carlo before bouncing back in Madrid where he reached the quarter-finals before retiring from his match with a minor injury. Meanwhile, at this week’s Italian Open, his title defence came to an end in the fourth round on Tuesday when he fell 6-1, 6-4, to Tommy Paul. 

“Mentally I had to be much better,” Medvedev said of his latest performance.
“I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.’
“It’s disappointing, but that’s how sport is. You lose and you go for the next tournament, which is a pretty important one.” He added. 

28-year-old Medvedev recently stated that he is seeing improvements in his game when it comes to playing on the clay. A surface which he has struggled on during stages of his career. Out of the 38 ATP Finals he has contested, only two of those were on the clay. Barcelona in 2019 when he finished runner-up and Rome last year which he won. 

As for the French Open, he has lost in the first round on five out of seven appearances. But did reach the quarter-finals in 2021 and the last 16 the following year. So could 2024 be his year?

“Now it’s maybe a little bit more open than it was ever before,” he said of this year’s event. 
“Good for me, too, because usually in Roland Garros I don’t play that well. The more open it is, the better it is for me.”

All of the top three players on the men’s tour are currently experiencing problems. Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Italian Open and recently underwent a medical assessment after getting hit in the head by a bottle in a freak accident. Jannik Sinner is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the French Open due to a hip issue and Carlos Alcaraz has been hindered by a forearm injury in recent weeks. 

“I’m feeling much better on clay,” Medvedev commented. “What is tough for me on clay sometimes is getting used to conditions. Every court – in every tournament in the world – is a bit different.
“On hard courts it’s the same: every court is different. On hard courts I have this ability to kind of quite fast get used to it. On clay, I need more time.”

Medvedev aims to become only the second Russian man in history to win the French Open after Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1996. The tournament will begin a week on Sunday. 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Says Expanded Masters Events ‘Playing A Massive Role’ In Player Injuries

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Stefanos Tsitsipas has slammed the decision to extend the length of Masters 1000 tournaments to two weeks by warning that more injuries could occur in the future as a result. 

This week’s Rome Masters is taking place without two out of the world’s top three players. Jannik Sinner pulled out of his home event due to a hip injury and Carlos Alcaraz has been troubled by a forearm issue in recent weeks. Other players missing from the draw include Tomas Machac (Illness), Ugo Humbert (Left Knee) and Stan Wawrinka (Right Wrist). 

The tournament is taking place immediately after the Madrid Open which is also a Masters event that has been expanded to a two-week format in recent years. Supporters of the move argue that a bigger draw provides lower-ranked players with more opportunities to play in these events whilst others will have a day off between matches. 

However, world No.8 Tsitsipas isn’t completely happy with the schedule which he openly criticised on Monday following his 6-2, 7-6(1), win over Cameron Norrie. The Greek has won 12 out of 14 matches played on clay so far this season. 

“It’s a type of thing that hurt the sport a little bit, to have these types of things happen to the highest of the players,” Tsitsipas commented on his rival’s injuries.
“Without them, the show is not kind of the same. You have obviously the guys behind them (in the rankings). These kinds of tournaments deserve names like this to be playing and have the opportunity to play in front of these big stadiums and crowds.
“I’ve spoken about the fact that the schedule has a big toll on our bodies. It starts from the mental side, and it follows to the physical side. The extension of the days in the Masters 1000s I think plays a massive role and contributes a lot to the fact that these players are getting injured.”

The ATP’s extended format is set to be applied to seven out of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments from 2025. The only two yet to make or plan for such changes are Monte Carlo and Paris. However, Tsitsipas has called for changes to be made to the schedule.

“It was perhaps already a lot the way it was before with the seven-day events. Adding more days to that, well, you got to be some type of superhero to be consistent back-to-back 10 days in each event getting to the very end of it.” He commented.
“It’s not a very easy thing to do. Some people need to try it first to get an understanding and how it is to pull that off. Then they should make decisions based on that.
“I think this is not going to be the first time we see these types of things (player injuries). If these types of things continue with the same schedule not being adjusted or customized to the needs of the players, we might see more of these things occur in the future.”

It is not the first time a player has raised concerns about the extended format. Alexander Zverev previously said that the schedule is a disadvantage for the top players. Meanwhile, on the women’s Tour Caroline Garcia has criticised the move to expand WTA 1000 tournaments whilst Maria Sakkari said achieving the Madrid-Rome double has become harder to do

On the other hand, Daniil Medvedev has spoken in favour of the new format and describes injuries on the Tour as ‘part of the sport.’ The former US Open believes the issue is related to the quick surface changes players face and not the duration of tournaments. 

Tsitsipas will play Alex de Minaur in the fourth round of the Italian Open on Tuesday. 

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Novak Djokovic To Undergo Medical Check After Rome Thrashing, Bottle Incident

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Novak Djokovic – ATP Roma 2024 (foto: Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis)

Novak Djokovic has indicated that he will speak to doctors following his lacklustre performance at the Italian Open where he crashed out in straight sets. 

The five-time champion was far from his best against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo as he struggled to generate any rhythm in his tennis or a single break point opportunity. Djokovic’s below-par performance caught many off guard, including the tennis player himself who admitted afterwards that he was ‘completely off’ his game. 

Trying to find the reason behind his latest performance, the world No.1 isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might be linked to an incident that took place at the tournament two days ago. Following his win over France’s Corentin Moutet, Djokovic suffered a blow to his head after a fan accidentally dropped a metal bottle from the stands. Immediately afterwards, he experienced nausea, dizziness and bleeding for up to an hour but was checked by medical officials.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I have to check that.” Djokovic replied when asked if the incident affected his form on Sunday.
“Training was different. I was going for kind of easy training yesterday. I didn’t feel anything, but I also didn’t feel the same.
“Today under high stress, it was quite bad – not in terms of pain, but in terms of this balance. Just no coordination. Completely different player from what it was two nights ago.
“It could be. I don’t know. I have to do medical checkups and see what’s going on. “

The tennis star said he managed to sleep fine after his head blow but did experience headaches. He looked to be in good spirits the day after it happened and even turned up to practice in Rome wearing a safety helmet.

Djokovic’s concerns come two weeks before the start of the French Open where he is seeking a record 25th Major title. He will undoubtedly be one of the contenders for glory but admits there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the coming days. 

“Everything needs to be better in order for me to have at least a chance to win it,” he said.
“The way I felt on the court today was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. Just no rhythm, no tempo, and no balance whatsoever on any shot.
“It’s a bit concerning.”

The French Open will begin on Sunday 26th May. 

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