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More Than A Pretty Face

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Bethanie Mattek-Sands (zimbio.com)

By Cheryl Jones

 

When Bethanie Mattek-Sands first made an appearance on the professional tennis scene, she was something of a “freak-show”. It was the beginning of the new century. There was something about her though that was more trying to be hip and cool. She had managed to toss together outfits that were quite different from virtually anyone else on the tour. At first glance, it was the knee socks that are actually compression socks that older folks often wear to deal with swelling that might be a precursor to serious health issues for anyone – young or old. Then, there were the outlandish shorts or skirts and blouses that more than made a statement on their own.

It was more than fifteen years ago and she didn’t have a clothing contract. From the looks of things, that’s likely the case today. She was with Under Armour for a number of years and often played wearing decals that advertised the company, utilizing cheek bone black lettering – just like football players. Manly looking, she’s not. She’s not very tall by today’s tennis player standards. She’s just 5’6” tall and fit as can be.

This time out she’s been wearing a top emblazoned with giant strawberries. She has tattoos; but then these days, it’s the oddity to not have one if one is under the age of forty. She has received a good deal of publicity and has been called the “Lady Gaga” of tennis. (There haven’t been any beef steaks used for Malttek-Sands’ tennis garb, but I don’t want to give her any ideas.) A pre-Wimbledon party in 2011 gave her a chance to be decked out in a fluorescent green dress that was from designer Alex Noble. It was festooned literally covered with tennis balls.

Lest the world think that she is only out for a laugh; that’s not the case. She has been an outstanding doubles player who is now ranked Number One. Her singles ranking has been up and down repeatedly. Now it’s at 117 and she had to qualify to receive a place in the singles draw. Today, in her second-round match, she managed to eke out a win in two sets over a much more highly ranked player, Petra Kvitova, who had the horrendous injury to her playing hand after being attacked by home invaders. She had to work hard during both sets to take the match 7-6, 7-6.

Mattek-Sands spoke after the match and said, “I saw Petra before the tournament started. I gave her a big hug and I was really happy to see her back. You know she’s an inspiration. That’s what I told her at the end of the match (today). She not only came back from all of that; she came back playing well.” She followed that up with, “You know, we’re both competitors out on the court.” And that’s the thing with Mattek-Sands, she is all business when it comes to competition.

She plays mixed doubles, doubles and singles. That’s a tiring schedule for anyone, but as she said today, “You know what? I’m a competitor. I love playing matches.” She is a stickler for practice and beyond that, she loves to hear the fans while she marvels at the stadium in which she’s competing. She is a young lady from Minnesota, and she is hungry to see the world. She’s done it. And she’s done it her way; via a tennis court.

She loves Paris. She loves it in the spring when it drizzles as it did last year, and this year she loves it in the heat. She actually gushed with a litany of praise for the city that loves tennis and everything about it. And, to quote her once again, “I love red clay. I feel comfortable on it. I feel comfortable sliding.” And it’s apparent she does. She will face Sam Stosur in the next singles match. It won’t be easy for her, but with determination, she may just reach the Round of Sixteen that could lead her as far as she’s ever traveled in the singles bracket in Paris.

Reflecting on Stosur and the upcoming match, she said, “She’s coming off a win in Strasbourg. So she’s feeling confident on the red clay. Hits a big heavy ball. I’ll be ready for it.” And if the past is any indicator, she certainly will.

 

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Casper Ruud rallies from one set down to beat local star Matteo Berrettini in Rome quarter finals

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Norway’s Casper Ruud came back from one set down to beat local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) after nearly 3 hours on the famous Nicola Pietrangeli Court reaching the first Masters 1000 of his career at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. 

 

Ruud has improved his win-loss record to 12-2 on clay this season after winning the Buenos Aires title and reaching the final in Santiago de Chile in last February’s Golden Swing last February. 

Ruud now leads 2-1 in his three head-to-head matches against Berrettini. The Scandinavian player player Berrettini at Roland Garros last year. Berrettini scored his only win over Ruud at the US Open this year. 

Ruud has improved on his father Christian’s record at Masters 1000 level. Christian reached his only quarter final at this level in Monte-Carlo in 1997. 

Berrettini broke serve after a double fault from Ruud on the break point in the first game. The 2019 US Open semifinal saved a total of three break points in the second, sixth and tenth games. Berrettini closed out the first set with a drop-shot on the set point and closed out the first set 6-4 with a forehand volley.

Ruud earned his first break in the second game of the second set to build up a 3-0 lead taking advantage of forehand errors from Berrettini. 

Berrettini saved a double break point with an ace at 2-5. Ruud held serve at love with a backhand error from Berrettini to close out the second set 6-3 forcing the match to the decider. Ruud converted his fourth break point in the first game to take a 1-0 lead with a forehand winner up the line. Berrettini broke back on his second chance in the sixth game to draw level to 3-3. Ruud came back from 2-4 down to win the tie-break 7-5 claiming his 17th win of the season. 

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Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal Hail Return Of Fans To Italian Open

The top two players on the ATP Tour give their reactions to the return of a crowd in Rome.

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Tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have welcomed a government decision allowing fans to attend the Italian Open during its final two days.

 

On Friday Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora confirmed that 1000 people will be allowed to attend the event on both the semi-final and final days. A move the government minister describes as a ‘first but significant, step toward the return of normalcy in sports.’ Until now the tournament had been held behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic amid fears that allowing a crowd to attend the event may trigger an outbreak of the virus. As part of the conditions there will be rules in force concerning mask wearing, social distancing and reserve seating.

“If we are going to have 1,000 people, it’s better than no people for sure because we all miss the fans, and part of our professional careers in sport is playing in front of them,” Djokovic said following his third round win over Filip Krajinović.
“I’m really glad that that’s going to happen.” He added.

The Italian Open will be the first major tennis tournament on the men’s Tour to welcome fans since resuming after its five-month break due to the pandemic. Both the Western and Southern Open, as well as the US Open, were held behind closed doors. Meanwhile, at the upcoming French Open plans for 11,500 fans to attend the event daily has been more than halved to 5000 following a ruling from French officials.

“The situation is how it is. Very difficult and very unpredictable, so it is normal that things are changing quickly,” Nadal commented on the changes surrounding crowd capacities.
“It is normal that the people who have to make decisions, they do with the best precaution possible. I don’t expect easy decisions and I don’t expect things are prepared in advance because it’s difficult to know how the pandemic evolves during day situations.’
“Changes can change a lot. So if the situation is good enough, fantastic.”

When it comes to where the semi-finals and finals of the tournament could be played due to the admission of fans, world No.1 Djokovic is hoping officials will stick to the premier court. Arguing that it is ‘much better quality’ than the other courts at the Foro Italico.

“I heard also they are considering to use Pietrangeli or NextGen court for semi-finals and finals,” he said.
“I hope it’s not the case, because the quality of the clay and quality of the centre court is, in my opinion, much better than the other courts.”

In order for both Djokovic and Nadal to play in front of Italian fans they must both come through their quarter-final matches. Djokovic will play German qualifier Dominik Koepfer and Nadal locks horns with eighth seed Diego Schwartzman.

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Novak Djokovic Survives Krajinovic Battle To Seal Last Eight Berth In Rome

Novak Djokovic reached an 85th Masters 1000 Quarter-Final in Rome.

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Novak Djokovic (@ATPTour - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic survived a tough battle in Rome to beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6(7) 6-3 to reach the last eight.

 

Although the World Number one got the victory, it was a tough battle as he fought his compatriot for a place in the Quarter-Finals.

Breaks were shared to start the match as Krajinovic brought his fearless game to the top seed.

Djokovic created a total of ten break points, with only one executed as Krajinovic saved two set points in the tenth game to hold for 5-5.

After two comfortable holds, a tiebreak settled the winner of the first set as Djokovic was having a hard time to contain Krajinovic’s power.

The world number one battled from 3-0 down to edge the tiebreak 9-7 and win the opening set in 88 minutes.

Once Djokovic had survived the Krajinovic stormed, he took control and went into another gear as a break of serve in the third game was all that was needed to seal his place in the quarter-finals.

Winning 47% of his 2nd return points was key as Djokovic reaches his 85th Masters 1000 Quarter-Final of his career.

Next for Djokovic will be either talented teen sensation Lorenzo Musetti or Dominik Koepfer.

In other results today, Denis Shapovalov and Grigor Dimitrov set a last eight showdown after tight three set wins.

Shapovalov edged out Ugo Humbert 6-7(5) 6-1 6-4 while Dimitrov defeated Jannik Sinner 4-6 6-4 6-4 in a tough match.

There were also third round wins for Casper Ruud and Matteo Berrettini.

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