Cramping Steve Johnson seals second career title with win over Thomas Bellucci in Houston - UBITENNIS
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Cramping Steve Johnson seals second career title with win over Thomas Bellucci in Houston

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Steve Johnson fought cramps but was able to take down Thomaz Bellucci for his first Houston title (Zimbio.com)

Home favourite Steve Johnson managed to negotiate a particularly painful bout of cramps deep in the third set to win the Houston title with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 win over Thomaz Bellucci in sunny Texas.

The American, who had spoken of his delight in being able to play for a title on home soil for the first time won the first set before losing the second. Johnson went down a break in the third but broke back just before the cramps started. Bellucci looked the favourite in the tie break but looked tight with his opponent in obvious agony, and Johnson was able to win the title.

Things had started well for the Brazilian, breaking in Johnson’s first service game as the American struggled to deal with the sunny and windy conditions in the southern state. Johnson retrieved the break three games later, but failed to register above 50% first serve delivery for the duration of the set. Johnson was serving first though and was able to apply some scoreboard pressure when up 5-4. Bellucci hit his first two double-faults of the match back-to-back to hand the American two set points at 15-40, and Johnson duly converted the first when Bellucci framed a forehand.

Johnson was the player under pressure for much of the second set as Bellucci forced five break points. Johnson saved the first four, but was finally broken in the ninth game and Bellucci produced a comfortable hold to send the match to a decider.

Bellucci was looking to set a tournament record of winning all of his matches en route to the title in deciding sets since the tournament moved to the best-of-three set format. The clay expert got the third set off to the best possible start from his perspective, breaking an irate Johnson in the first game. Johnson loosened up and started making inroads on the Bellucci serve, breaking back in game nine.

Johnson held quickly for 5-4, but problems in the game became apparent as the American was failing to push off the ground as cramps attacked both his legs and his hands, his serve speed dropping noticeably. Johnson was served with a time violation warning at 40-30 at 5-5. With Johnson barely able to stand, Bellucci failed to make a second serve return and Johnson was able to receive medical treatment during the change of ends (since ATP rules do not allow interruptions for cramps as they are deemed a conditioning issue and not an injury.) Johnson has a history of being beset by cramps, having been forced to retire from a match at the 2014 US Open against Tatsuma Ito, despite leading by a set and a break at the time.

Bellucci quickly held, with four service winners as Johnson saved his energy for the tiebreak. Bellucci won the first point against the Johnson serve, but short returns from Johnson forced the Brazilian to the net and allowed Johnson to pass to lead by taking both points from Bellucci. Another pass gave Johnson the 4-2 lead as the players changed ends, and the American fought his way to 6-3 and match points. Bellucci looked tight and shaky, with a second serve barely rolling in and a smash that he played close to the sideline, but he asked Johnson the question.

Johnson then served down the tee, producing a good return from Bellucci that forced Johnson to run wide. Johnson rolled the dice on a forehand up the line, and it went in, sealing Johnson’s first title of the year, his first on clay and on home soil in the United States, and his second overall after taking his first on the grass of Nottingham last year.

 

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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