Dominic Thiem and Lucas Pouille Move Past Tricky Openers - UBITENNIS
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Dominic Thiem and Lucas Pouille Move Past Tricky Openers

6th seed Dominic Thiem opened his Roland Garros campaign on Suzanne Lenglen Court with a 6-4 6-0 6-2 win over Bernard Tomic. Simultaneously on Philippe-Chartier Court, 16th seed Lucas Pouille battled past his fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau 7-6(6) 3-6 4-6 6-3 6-4.

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Dominic Thiem has been red hot through the clay season, reaching finals in Barcelona and Madrid. This makes the 23 year-old Austrian one of the top contenders for the title in Paris. Thiem’s opening round against Tomic would be very closely followed a couple of years ago, but with Tomic’s performance this year, it was pretty much a forlorn conclusion. Tomic seemed to be really trying in the first set, finding odd angles and pushing Thiem to the edge of his abilities. There is a nice contrast in styles between the two, with Thiem’s power+spin game facing off.  Despite that, Thiem managed to get a break and overcame Tomic 6-4 in the first set. After that, Tomic basically gave up and perhaps “tanked” the rest of the match. Thiem was winning points easily, where Tomic could have pushed him further, but didn’t. Thiem won the match 6-4 6-0 6-2 in just 80 minutes, and will face Simone Bolelli or Nicolas Mahut in the second round.

“The confidence is there also. I played a very good clay-court season but everyone starts from zero here.” Said Thiem

In a far more competitive and entertaining match, 16th seed Lucas Pouille faced Julien Benneteau. Pouille arrived in Paris with question marks about his form. Early in the clay season, Pouille made the semifinals in Monte Carlo and won Budapest, but then followed two first round losses in Madrid and Rome, to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Sam Querrey respectively. Pouille was the favorite in both matches, so there were questions about his fitness and form. Julien Benneteau started a comeback at the beginning of 2016 from outside the Top 500 after missing the majority of 2015. In the past two seasons, the 35 year-old veteran clawed his way through Challengers and is now back to Top 100, currently at No. 98. In the lead-up, Benneteau opted to play French challengers instead if qualifying for the European Masters events. The Frenchman lost in quarterfinals of both Aix En Provence and Bordeaux, beating players like Lukas Rosol, Gastao Elias, or Jurgen Melzer. Benneteau retired from the Bordeaux quarterfinal two weeks ago, but definitely seemed ready for this match.

The first set was a great battle which cumulated into a tiebreak won 8-6 by Pouille. Benneteau took advantage of serving first in the second set, putting Pouille under pressure and eventually breaking him. Benneteau took the second set 6-3. The veteran took an early break over Pouille in the third, and despite a strong serve he kept it and won the third set as well, 6-4. When Benneteau got an early break in the 4th set, it seemed to be over for Pouile. Then came a small and expected dip in performace by the 35 year-old after several grueling hours on court in the 31 Celsius heat. Pouille came back into the match, won the 4th set 6-3 and didn’t let go. Pouille dictated the 5th set and was completely in control. At 3-5 0-30 in the final set on Benneteau, one of the spectators in the lower seats close to the court seemed to faint, and the match was shortly suspended. After a couple of minutes play resumed, and Benneteau looked reborn. He won 4 points in a row and went to 4-5. Pouille helped himself by strong, consistent first serves, and won the match 7-6(6) 3-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 after 3 hours and 21 minutes.

Pouille was quite reliant on his first serve, winning 85% of points that came after it, as Benneteau successfully returned only 54% of serves. The match between these two was very physical, full of grinding rallies. It was mostly Pouille’s serve that made the difference. Benneteau’s big weapon was his net game, weakened by the surface but still very effective. The 2014 Roland Garros Men’s Doubles champion finished 37% of points after his serve at the net, and it is a tactic that worked almost perfectly.

The rolandgarros.com Live Blog posted: For a fleeting moment I had a sinking feeling that Benneteau was going to retire there, but fear not. With tears in his eyes – and speaking in French – he tells the crowd… “I don’t have a choice, I can’t serve 210 kph, 215 kph. The only thing I know how to do is fight, and be physical. I enjoy the pleasure of playing in front of you. Frankly, what you made me experience today makes me want to come back. I’m not promising anything, I’ll do my best to be back here next year. Lucas really deserves the win. I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom and my wife”

Lucas Pouille commented: “We had a great time on the court, he’s a great player. He has worked hard to get to the top level. I believed right until the end. I was having trouble letting go but at one point things went my way and I managed to get ahead.  I hope to go as far as possible, I want to win a Grand Slam. I know it’s not easy but I will see where I can get to.”

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Rafael Nadal To Play Laver Cup In Berlin

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Rafael Nadal has eased speculation that he might be retiring from the sport soon after signing on to play in the Laver Cup later this year. 

The 22-time Grand Slam champion is the latest player to join the line-up for this year’s team competition which features Europe taking on the rest of the world over three days. It will be Nadal’s fourth appearance in the competition and his first since 2022. He competed in the inaugural edition of the event back in 2017 alongside co-founder Roger Federer. 

“I am very happy to be playing Laver Cup in Berlin for Team Europe,” Nadal said in a press release. “I have some really special memories from my Laver Cup experiences, including all the emotions from London two years ago playing alongside Roger for the last time.”

Nadal’s decision to play comes amid questions about his future in the sport. The former world No.1 has previously indicated that this year could be his last on the Tour but he has stated that no decision has been made. In recent months he has been sidelined from action due to injury setbacks and has only been able to play in two tournaments so far this year. 

“At this stage in my career I really want to go out there and make the most of every opportunity I am given,” he explains.
“Teaming up is always an incredible experience and I have always enjoyed it, the competition is different and exciting. I’m looking forward to going to Berlin and helping Team Europe win back the Laver Cup.”

Other European players confirmed to be playing are Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev. Meanwhile, Alex de Minaur, Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul have agreed to play for Team World. This year’s event will be held in Belin at the Uber Arena between September 20-22. 

The Laver Cup was inspired by golf’s Ryder Cup. It was co-founded by Federer’s Team8 management company (which he formed with agent Tony Godsick), businessman Jorge Paulo Lemann and Tennis Australia. In 2019 it became an official ATP sanction event and now has a place on the official calendar. 

Nadal is set to return to competitive action at the Madrid Masters which he has won on five previous occasions. He has been drawn to play teenage wild card Darwin Blanch in the first round. If he wins, Nadal will then play Alex de Minaur who knocked him out of the Barcelona Open last week. 

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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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