Reilly Opelka defeats Casper Ruud for Australian Open main draw berth, Radek Stepanek also through - UBITENNIS
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Reilly Opelka defeats Casper Ruud for Australian Open main draw berth, Radek Stepanek also through

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The 6’11 Opelka won a match-up of young talent, defeating Norway’s Casper Ruud in straight sets (Zimbio.com)

It was a case of young and old in Melbourne, as a variety of teenagers and veterans alike successfully qualified for the main draw of the Australian Open.

Reilly Opelka was not even born when Radek Stepanek turned pro in 1996, yet the teen and the veteran were on an equal footing in the final round of qualifying, both winning through to the main draw.

(1) Radek Stepanek defeats John-Patrick Smith 62 64. The wily Czech veteran disappointed the home crowds by knocking out Australian Smith in easy fashion. Stepanek has competed in all but one of the Australian Open tournaments between 2003 and 2017, missing only in 2015. He will again feature in the main draw.

(2) Frances Tiafoe defeats (25) Tim Smyczek 36 60 75. Frances Tiafoe will feature in his first Australian Open main draw, as he recovered from a set deficit to defeat fellow seed and compatriot Tim Smyczek. Tiafoe earned two break points at five-four in the fifth, but instead was forced to wait until the next game by Smyczek, but Tiafoe was not to be denied.

(29) Go Soeda defeats Marco Trungelliti 62 36 64. Trungelliti won five matches last year, through qualifying and into the third round. This year he fell in the qualifying round, despite beating third seed Josef Kovalik in the upset of the week. Soeda went up an early double break in third, and survived an attempted comeback from Trungelliti to qualify.

Andrey Rublev defeats (22) Peter Polansky 64 36 63. The young Russian’s development appeared to regress in 2016, with his ranking slumping. However, a great start to the year continues after knocking out the experienced Canadian Polansky in three close sets.

(6) Bjorn Fratangelo defeats Hiroki Moriya 46 64 64. Sixth seed Fratangelo fell at this stage last year, and lost in the main draw to Stephane Robert as a lucky loser. This time the former Roland Garros Junior Champion made sure, even though it took a comeback against the Japanese to ensure his progress.

Ivan Dodig defeats Di Wu 61 75. There was disappointment for Asia as China’s Wu failed at the final hurdle in 2017. The big serving Dodig eased through the first set before Wu kept the second set tight. The former main draw seed ultimately broke late on though to make the first round.

(31) Thomas Fabbiano defeats Andre Ghem 76 64. Ghem had done this section of the draw a favour by knocking out the highest-ranked seed in the form of Joao Souza in the first round. He could not replicate enough of that form in the final round however, going down to the Italian thirty-first seed Fabbiano.

(10) Lukas Lacko defeats (18) Denis Kudla 62 62. These two had met on the ATP tour before in closer circumstances than this match eventually became. Kudla had been forced to battle through the first two rounds, and Lacko himself survived a tough match with Maximo Gonzalez. Lacko ran away with this one though, denying Kudla the chance to defend the second round main draw points he had earned last year.

Noah Rubin defeats (11) Evgeny Donskoy 62 64. Noah Rubin was a wildcard winner in the main draw last year, knocking out Benoit Paire in three tiebreaks. Forced to qualify this time around, the young American did so in style, adding the Russian eleventh seed to the scalp of thirty-second seed Roberto Carballes Baena he had taken in the second round. Arguably the shock of the round on the men’s side.

Blake Mott defeats James McGee 76 36 63. Delight for the home crowd as an Aussie did make it through qualifying. Mott survived a battle with Irishman McGee to make the main draw of his home slam. A great effort and he can look forward to the vociferous support of the crowds at Melbourne Park in the main draw.

Reilly Opelka defeats Casper Ruud 76 63. These are two highly-rated juniors, and it was Opelka who came through. At 6’11 Ruud failed to make any inroads against the American’s serve, and after handing over an early mini break in the tiebreak, he rather fell away quickly, Opelka securing the win after breaking the Norwegian’s serve in the middle of the second set.

Jurgen Melzer defeats (20) Rajeev Ram 62 36 63. A surprise in ranking but not perhaps in form. Ram has mainly competed on the doubles tour for the past few years, and though Melzer is now thirty-five, the former Top ten Austrian still has a fearsome forehand. He found the shot often enough to knock out the American, whose singles game is far more suited to grass.

  • At the time of writing some matches including those of Lee-Bublik, Vanni-Satral, and Bolt-Benneteau had yet to be completed.

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World No.32 Davidovich Fokina Replaces Long-Time Coach With Verdasco

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Fernando Verdasco was spotted earlier this week briefly watching Ons Jabeur play at the French Open but his focus this year is on another player.

The former top 10 player has landed a new coaching job after being hired by compatriot Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Somebody who he once played a Tour-level doubles match alongside back in 2020. Fokina has opted to stop working with Jorge Aguirre, who has been his mentor since he was a child.

The change comes after what has been a mixed start to the season for Fokina who has only managed to win back-to-back matches in two out of 11 tournaments played before the start of Roland Garros. His sole win over a top 20 player occurred at the start of 2024 when he beat Hubert Hurkacz at the United Cup.  

“I will be very brief. I have left it with Jorge (Aguirre) and I start with Verdasco, with whom I have had a good relationship for years. He has not officially retired, but I knew that he was training other players and it was time,” Fokina told reporters after beating Valentin Vacherot in the first round of the French Open.
“It was time to close a stage and start a new one. With his experience, Verdasco can help me a lot to face the games, to assume that pressure and tension of the competition.”

Verdasco has won seven ATP titles during his career and reached the semi-finals of the 2009 Australian Open. At this year’s Madrid Open, he briefly helped Jabeur whose main coach Issam Jellali was unable to attend the tournament. 

Fokina will next play Casper Ruud in Roland Garros.

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Grand Slam Quarter-Finalist Van De Zandschulp Pondering Retirement After French Open Exit

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image via https://x.com/Boticvdz/

Botic van de Zandschulp has revealed he is losing his passion for tennis and is considering retiring from the sport following his exit from the French Open on Monday.

The 29-year-old was knocked out of the tournament in straight sets by Fabio Fognini, who eased his way to a 6-1, 6-1, 7-5, victory. It is the second Grand Slam in a row where he has fallen at the first hurdle with the 2022 Wimbledon championships being the last major event where he won back-to-back matches.   

“I don’t look forward to competitions at all anymore,” Zandschulp told Dutch media.
“I have been asking myself more and more lately whether I want to continue.
“You have to do work that you enjoy. Everyone has a bad day every now and then. But if there are too many, then you have to ask yourself whether you want to continue.” 

Zandschulp has been the top-ranked player in his country with his most notable achievement being a run to the quarter-finals of the 2021 US Open. The former world No.22 is a two-time runner-up at the Munich Open but is yet to win an ATP Tour title. He has registered a total of six wins over top 10 players, including Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev. 

However, recent difficulties on the Tour have left the Dutchman questioning if he wants to continue playing.  

“I like the training. Those are great days. But when I get up in the morning, I no longer look forward to the matches at all.” He commented.

Zandschulp’s remarks could be a reaction to his frustrating loss to Fognini. However, he confirmed that he has been considering retiring for a long time. 

“It was the worst match I have played in my life,” he said. 
“Of course, it is now fresh after the match. That plays a role in my mind, but the thoughts of quitting have been there for a long time. It is not an easy life as a tennis player. You really live your life, play thirty weeks a year and travel from pillar to post.
“If you don’t play, someone else will pass you by (in the rankings). That’s why I now play extra tournaments instead of charging myself at home.”

Zandschulp is currently ranked 102nd in the world and is scheduled to play in the French Open doubles event on Tuesday.

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“It’s Purely Psychological” – Maria Sakkari Berates ‘Unacceptable’ French Open Defeat

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Maria Sakkari - Roma 2023 (foto Francesca Micheli, Ubitennis)

Greece’s Maria Sakkari said she felt ‘intense anxiety’ before her first round match at the French Open after crashing out of the draw on Monday.  

The sixth seed suffered a shock 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, loss to Varvara Gracheva who is currently ranked 88th in the world. Sakkari produced a costly 39 unforced errors and dropped serve five times in her latest match. It is the first time she has lost her opening match at a tournament since February.  

Heading into Paris, the 28-year-old had produced encouraging results on the Tour after reaching the semi-finals in Charleston before making fourth round appearances at WTA 1000 events in Madrid and Rome. 

 “It’s the first time I don’t know what to say…” Sakkari told SDNA
“I’ve been very well these days. It was very sudden for me too, I started feeling intense anxiety before the match. I would really like to give the right answers, but all I have to say is that I have been very well these days. No matter what set I played, no matter what practice I did, everyone could see that I was fine. It’s definitely psychological, purely. It’s nothing else.” 

Since appearing in two Grand Slam semi-finals in 2021, Sakkari has struggled to make an impact at the major events. Her defeat to Gracheva makes it the fourth time she has lost in the first round of a Grand Slam since the start of last year. Overall, she has only managed to win back-to-back matches in two out of her nine most recent appearances at these tournaments. 

 “I won the first set and I kept getting nervous. My pulse was very high throughout the match, especially until the middle of the third set,” she said of her latest performance.
“I was feeling a panic, it’s not like I won the first set and relaxed. Maybe if I had broken the first game of the second set things would have been different. But what can we say now?’  
“It’s purely psychological, I’m not hiding. I will not look for excuses. I put too much pressure on myself, not to lose another game in the first or second round of a Grand Slam. Everyone around me tries to tell me that it happened in New York too, but then I recovered. However, it is not the same. I’ve recovered and I’m playing well in the other tournaments, but it’s proven that I’m not playing well in the Grand Slams. I feel it’s one thing, another thing.” 

Whilst praising her opponent, Sakkari describes her defeat as ‘unacceptable’ and hopes it will serve as a wake-up call for her.  

She now heads to the grass season with a win-loss record of 19-10 so far this year.

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