Milestones And Records Galore In Houston As Jack Sock Leads American Surge - UBITENNIS
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Milestones And Records Galore In Houston As Jack Sock Leads American Surge

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Jack Sock (zimbio.com)

Thursday at the US Men’s Tennis Championships was a day for the seeded players to celebrate with seven progressing to the quarter-finals at the tournament for the first time since 1986.

The dismal performance of team USA in last weekend’s Davis Cup proved to be a distant memory with all five Americans triumphing in their second round match. Headlining those was top seed Jack Sock. Taking to the court against 39-year-old veteran Tommy Haas, the world No.16 battled his way to a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, triumph.

“I knew it was going to be fun to go out there. Who knows how many he has left in him,” said Sock, who saved four out of five break points. “He gave his all. I had to come through with some good tennis in the end to win.”

Illness failed to deter John Isner from smashing 19 aces past Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer to win 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3. The two-and-a-half-hour epic saw both men display their best service ability. In the entire match, only once did a player drop serve (Mayer in the deciding set). The display was even more impressive considering Isner’s ongoing struggle with his health, which he refuses to use as an excuse.

“I woke up this morning and didn’t feel great. Fortunately, a lot of times it can be really humid here, but it wasn’t bad today. It’s been a lot worse. But there’s no excuses. Jack, Sam and Steve are all in the same boat as me. We were on the same flights. Those guys feel better than me, so they did something smarter than I did.” he explained.

Awaiting Isner will be the youngest player left in the draw, 20-year-old Ernesto Escobedo. The wildcard entrant continued his dream run in Houston by downing Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Breaking into the top-100 earlier this year, Escobedo will now play in his first ATP quarter-final.

Completing the American dream day was seeds Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson. Two-time runner-up Querrey was near perfect on his first serve (winning 32 out of 33 points) during his 6-4, 6-4, triumph over Horacio Zeballos. Meanwhile, Steve Johnson overcame a marathon first set to dismiss Dustin Brown 7-6(12), 6-4.

This year sees five American’s in the last eight at the Houston tournament for the first time since 2002. It is a rare occurrence to see for a nation that normally thrive on the hard-courts. An American man hasn’t won the French Open since Andre Agassi in 1999.

“(Today, Thursday) shows Americans can play on clay,” rising Escobedo said about his country’s triumph. “We just have to stay mentally tough. If we stay patient, it’s great surface for us, too. I started slow, but I told myself to dictate as much as I could with the forehand and, once I did that, I fell into a zone. When I do that, I feel unstoppable.”

Verdasco clinches 200th win on clay

Houston isn’t just about the American contingent. Tour veteran Fernando Verdasco ensured that he would be part of the memorable day. The former champion carefully eased his way past Nicolas Kicker 7-6(4), 6-1. The victory rewarded the 33-year-old his third appearance in an ATP quarter-final this season and more importantly, his 200th career win on the clay.

“It’s always nice to achieve something like this,” Chron.com quoted Verdasco as saying. “It’s why one works so hard for so long.”

Five out of the seven titles won be Verdasco has occurred on the clay, including the 2014 Houston Championships.

Verdasco will be joined in the next round by compatriot Feliciano Lopez. The sixth seed battled back to defeat Hyeon Chung 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Quarter-final line-up

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Karolina Pliskova Finding Her Footing With The Help Of New Coach Krajan

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Karolina Pliskova (CZE) playing against Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) in the semi-final of the Ladies' Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 10 Thursday 08/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Karolina Pliskova’s resurgence on the Tour comes at a time when she has formed a new partnership with a well-known coach. 

After her first round loss at the Australian Open to Elena Rybakina, the Czech won nine consecutive matches on the Tour. In Romania, she claimed her 17th WTA title at the Winners Open before reaching the semi-finals of a WTA 1000 event in Doha. However, she was unable to play her semi-final clash against Iga Swiatek due to a lower back injury. During this period she has improved her ranking from 77th to 36th. 

Pliskova began the season without a coach at her side but is now working with Croatia’s Zeljko Krajan. A partnership she believes is showing promising signs already. 

“Personality-wise, I think he’s kind of similar to me,” Pliskova told WTA Insider. “Not really high or low. Relaxed and very like calm. 
“We didn’t really plan yet anything because now the schedule was difficult. I might be in qualifying in Indian Wells. Maybe I enter San Diego. So I don’t really know what’s gonna be. I’m just living day by day at the moment.” 

Krajan has worked with a series of players on both the WTA and ATP Tour’s. He guided Dinara Safina to three Grand Slam finals between 2008 and 2010. He has also worked with Borna Coric, Laura Robson, Marcos Baghdatis, Jelena Jankovic and Dominika cibulkova.

Pliskova, who is a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, has endured a roller-coaster journey on the Tour in recent months with mixed results. Last season she failed to win back-to-back matches at 11 consecutive tournaments. 

So how has she managed to regain her form on the Tour?

“Motivation was never really a problem for me,” Pliskova said. “If I go on the court no matter how bad or good I feel, I always want to win. I always want to compete. 
“But my game is based on confidence and I need to feel that. Even if I’m not playing well or winning many matches, I just need to find that confidence in that moment or in that game because it’s just so risky. My shots are so flat, so I go for mostly lines. If something is not going well or you start to doubt, then of course you miss a little bit. Everything is about this.”

Unseeded at this week’s Dubai Tennis Championships, Pliskova beat China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round. She will next play Ashlyn Krueger in the second round on Tuesday.

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Elena Rybakina Eases Past Kasatkina To Win Abu Dhabi Open

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Elena Rybakina has captured her second title of the season after beating an erratic Daria Kasatkina in straight sets at the Abu Dhabi Open. 

The world No.5 stormed to a 6-1, 6-4, win over the Russian in just over an hour. It is the third time in Rybakina’s career that she has beaten Kasatkina on the Tour and she now leads their head-to-head 3-2. The triumph comes a month after she won the Brisbane International, which is also a WTA 500 event. 

Rybakina’s latest match saw her capitalise on her opponent’s costly mistakes. Kasatkina struggled with her serve throughout the majority of the final and only managed to hold twice in eight attempts. Opening the door for the former Wimbledon champion who hit 17 winners against 12 unforced errors en route to victory. 

“I want to thank the fans who came this week,” said the new champion. “It has been an amazing atmosphere, especially to see flags from Kazakhstan. It means a lot, thank you so much.”

A one-sided 25-minute opening set saw Rybakina claim four straight games to clinch an early lead. During to the opener, Kasatkina only managed to win 26% of her service points. It was the fourth time in the tournament that the Kazakh had won a set by conceding two or fewer games. 

Fortunately for world No.14 Kasatkina and the crowd, there was more of a battle in the second frame. Twice in a row Rybakina worked her way to a break advantage before losing it in the following game. Then at 4-4, she dealt the decisive blow by hitting a clean forehand winner to break yet against and this time had a chance to serve for the title. With the rain starting to fall, she converted her first championship point with the help of another error from across the net. 

The defeat for Kasatkina comes a day after she came through a marathon three-hour semi-final match before criticising the WTA over their tournament scheduling. She is currently set to play in the Qatar Open with her opening match taking place tomorrow. It is the sixth time in a row she has been beaten by a top-five player on the Tour. 

“Congratulations to Elena, you’ve had a great week,” she said.
“Thanks to my team who has always been next to me. I am really proud of the job we’ve done and how we are doing. Thanks for always believing in me.”

Rybakina also referred to the demanding calendar during the trophy presentation. 

“Tough week (for Kasatkina), especially the last matches. Tomorrow there is already a match in Doha but hopefully, we will both recover and do well there. Maybe also play (against each other) in the final there,” she said. 

Unlike Kasatkina, Rybakina has a first round bye in Doha. She has now won seven WTA trophies so far in her career. 

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Ons Jabeur Hoping For Better Fortunes In Doha Despite Injury Concerns

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Ons Jabeur (TUN) playing against Venus Williams (USA) on No.1 Court at The Championships 2021. Credit: AELTC/Jon Super

Ons Jabeur is optimistic that she will be ready in time to play at her next event in Doha after suffering an emotional exit from Dubai on Friday. 

The two-time Wimbledon finalist was in tears during her straight sets loss to Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarter-finals. Jabeur later revealed that her emotional reaction was linked to the reoccurrence of a knee injury in recent days which has troubled her in the past. She said the pain can differ at various tournaments but in Dubai, it was causing her significant discomfort. 

“I’m an open book, an emotional person. I like to show myself. One thing I have learned is to accept the emotion, and if I try to hide it, it will not make me feel good,” Jabeur told reporters in Doha at a pre-tournament press conference. 
“So it’s good to let it out and be done with it than to keep it inside and probably will make more problems for you later.”

Despite the setback, the world No.6 intends to play at the Doha Open which gets underway today. She will be the fourth seed in this year’s draw and will be playing in the event for the first time since 2022. Last year she was forced to skip the Middle East swing after having surgery to treat an enlarged nodule which was obstructing her airway and preventing oxygen from reaching her lungs. 

“I’m very happy to be back. I’m obviously happier than last year,” she said. “I’m glad to be united with my fans here, and hopefully it’s going be a great week for me.
“I have been struggling with the knee for a long time, and last week was very, very tough. Hopefully, I can recover in time and then play better here in Doha.”  

This time of the year has always meant a lot to the Tunisian, who has spoken on numerous occasions about her aim to inspire more players from her region to take up tennis. She is the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final, crack the top 10 in the WTA rankings and qualify for the season-ending Tour Finals. 

“It is very important to be here to connect with Arabic crowds. I feel so much love here in the region, and obviously, that’s one of the reasons I chose to play Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai, because I feel so good here.” She said.

Declaring she is ‘happy’ with her rhythm on the court, Jabeur will begin her campaign in Doha against either Lesia Tsurenko or Turkish wild card Zeynep Sonmez.

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