Roland Garros Men's Singles Preview: Kind start for Murray, plenty of potential pitfalls - UBITENNIS
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Roland Garros Men’s Singles Preview: Kind start for Murray, plenty of potential pitfalls

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Paire will have a home crowd and a big stage when he takes on Rafael Nadal (Zimbio.com)

The French Open will be upon us before the conclusion of the weekend, and there are some early tests for big players. Key matches through the draw (top to bottom)have been selected for

Top seed Andy Murray faces what many might suggest is a difficult first round opponent in Andrey Kuznetsov. Certainly, that may have been the case last year. This year the Russian is struggling. He has won consecutive matches in a main draw ATP event just twice this year. He took Kei Nishikori to five exciting sets in the Australian Open. Nishikori was hurt though through much of the tournament. Therefore though Murray may not have a lot of confidence at present, it likely his opponent does not have much either.

Murray’s potential seeded meeting in the third round is Juan Martin del Potro, a tough task on any surface. However, del Potro has been suffering from a shoulder injury and the other tough player in Murray’s section, Nicolas Almagro, has not played since Rome. The Spaniard was forced to retire with a painful looking knee injury against Rafael Nadal.

Nadal himself has one of the most awkward first round matches. Benoit Paire is amongst the most inconsistent players, capable of stunning tennis that has seen him defeat Stan Wawrinka, or ugly matches where he loses quickly. Nadal’s confidence is likely at its highest point since he last won in Paris, having claimed titles in Madrid and Barcelona. Nadal knows Paire’s strengths and weaknesses and though it should be an enjoyable watch, it should also be a quick one.

Undoubtedly the meeting of the first round is that between ninth seed Alexander Zverev and Fernando Verdasco. Zverev won the most recent clay Masters in Rome. Whilst Verdasco is a former Grand Slam semi-finalist at the 2009 Australian Open, his form has fluctuated since. Yet the Spaniard is known for being one of the few to seriously trouble Nadal on clay on his day. Zverev has proven his ability to win in best of three set matches against the top players, but has yet to seriously prove it in five. This is just the kind of match that a dialled in Verdasco would enjoy. Zverev’s section is tough, with Madrid semi-finalist and clay specialist Pablo Cuevas potentially a hard third-round match.

Nishikori has a history of fitness struggles in grand slam events, with injury hitting him often on the biggest stage (Zimbio.com)

Looking to the next section, Kei Nishikori has arguably a favourable draw. He starts against Thanasi Kokkinakis on his return from injury. Sam Querrey is his seeded opponent in round three and the American has historically performed poorly on European clay. However, Querrey has displayed a confidence in the last twelve months befitting his younger self that climbed into the top 20, and he was within a whisker of defeating Dominic Thiem in Rome. A tougher potential match than some might expect.

Former winner Stan Wawrinka starts against the qualifier Jozef Kovalik. On paper everything points to a Wawrinka win. But this is Kovalik’s surface, and though the Slovak has struggled on hard courts he does have a win against Marin Cilic this year. Stan does have a history of losing early in events to unlikely players in ATP events. The Swiss is a different story entirely at slams though. Complacency cannot be present though, as an off-key Wawrinka could quickly see things go downhill against Kovalik. A much tougher match than it looks.

Frances Tiafoe is one of the hottest players on the Challenger circuit this season, with two titles at that level on clay this year, including one in Aix-en-Provence. It has seen his ranking surge into the Top 70. Fabio Fognini remains one of the best at being consistently inconsistent. The Italian can perhaps only be rivalled in that department by Benoit Paire, and formerly Ernests Gulbis. As improved and talented as Tiafoe is, this match probably rests on Fognini and his mental state. Fognini on song will leave Tiafoe packing his bags early. Anything else and the American probably wins this one.

Richard Gasquet has another qualifier. Like Wawrinka’s match though, Arthur de Greef is not an easy prospect. A strong showing in Bordeaux and qualifying. Gasquet has only played two events since late February after injuries, and results have not been great. Defeats to Yuichi Sugita and Kevin Anderson on clay suggest the Frenchman is not at his best yet. Also, while Gasquet’s backhand remains a thing of beauty, his forehand is not packing a punch that it once did and the Frenchman has vulnerabilities in his game that certainly did not exist two or three years ago.

How could matches be previewed and not include Dustin Brown vs Gael Monfils? The most entertaining match for pure shotmaking at least is sure to be the German’s match with a home favourite. This surface does no good for Brown, whose amazing reflexes and turns are suited for fast grass not slow clay. Monfils can work this surface and will likely have enough firepower and defensive flexibility to make this a quick, if exciting encounter.

It has been a slow year for Philipp Kohlschreiber. A final appearance in a weak draw in Morocco has helped the veteran German flatter to deceive for the most part in 2017. He gave the tennis world one of the most exciting matches of the year to date when he nearly took out World No.1 Andy Murray in Dubai. Kohlschreiber has a tendency to falter later in matches though. He has a chance against Nick Kyrgios, who has been discussing injury issues. If Kohlschreiber can use his wide-sweeping backhand to good effect and keep Kyrgios from his attacking game then the veteran German can do well. A tough draw for Kyrgios.

Feliciano Lopez is unseeded in a slam for the first time in years. The veteran Spaniard’s age is finally catching up with him, and he faces a tough qualifier in Bjorn Fratangelo. Like his famous namesake Fratangelo is most at home on clay and is a former Roland Garros Junior winner. These two met in Houston. However, the faster American clay suited Lopez, whereas the slower French clay suits Fratangelo.

Other potential seeded shocks include Gilles Simon’s match with Nikoloz Basilashvili. The Frenchman seems on a slow decent from a ranking that has stayed inside the Top 30 for much of the last decade. Ivo Karlovic typically has short runs in Paris, and he faces a young Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas who will fancy his chances.

 

 

 

 

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Rafael Nadal Boosts Olympic Preparations With Norrie Victory, Advances To Maiden 2024 Quarter-Final

Rafael Nadal reached his first ATP quarter-final in Bastad.

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Rafael Nadal boosted his preparations for the Olympics with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Cameron Norrie in Bastad.

The win means that Nadal is into his first ATP quarter-final of the season with an impressive straight sets win.

It didn’t all go Nadal’s way as the Spaniard was tested in the opening set with Norrie producing some consistent and attacking play.

The British number two managed to create some tough moments for Nadal but ultimately Norrie lacked that killer instinct to make it count.

That was the difference between him and Nadal as the Spaniard used the forehand to move Norrie out of position, therefore finishing the points off with ease.

A break in the seventh game put Nadal in control but the former champion in Bastad had to work hard to close out the opening set with Norrie pushing for the break.

However, Nadal did secure the opening set 6-4 with some incredible hitting.

As expected though Nadal’s level dropped in the second set as he still hasn’t managed to find his consistent level.

A sensational passing shot at the net saw Norrie break before consolidating to take a 4-1 lead.

It was an incredible turnaround for the Brit but a lack of composure and concentration allowed Nadal a chance to get back in the match.

Get back in the match Nadal did as he managed to sustain a high level of play throughout the next period of the match, securing five games in a row to claim the win.

After the match Nadal spoke about how crucial it was for him to improve his rhythm, “I think I played in some moments good tennis, in some moments I need to play a little bit more aggressive, but that is part of the journey today,” Nadal told the ATP website.

“Great feelings. I’ve been a while without playing on the Tour, since Roland Garros.  To have the chance to compete well against a great player like Cameron is a great feeling.

“I haven’t been competing very often, so matches and victories like today help. To be in rhythm the whole match and hold the pressure on the opponent the whole match, that’s something that I need to improve, because I didn’t play enough.”

Nadal will now aim for a tenth win of the season when he plays fourth seed Mariano Navone on Friday.

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Billie Jean King Cup Relocates From Sevilla To Malaga, Takes Place Alongside Davis Cup Final Eight Tournament

The Billie Jean King Cup has been relocated from Sevilla to Malaga.

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The Billie Jean King Cup Finals will now take place in Malaga and will be alongside the Davis Cup final eight tournament.

The ITF announced the news today that the Billie Jean King Cup Finals will be relocated from Sevilla to Malaga.

It will take place on the 13th-20th November and will be alongside the Davis Cup final eight tournament which will start on the 19th of November and will conclude on the 24th of November.

Speaking about the change tournament director Conchita Martinez spoke about the passion Malaga will bring to the event and has revealed that they have contacted existing ticket holders about the change, “I know that Malaga, just a two-hour drive from Sevilla, will deliver the exceptional atmosphere and passion that fans of the Billie Jean King Cup have come to know and love,” Martinez stated.

“We have informed all existing ticket holders of the changes and will be reissuing tickets for the new location, with the option of refunds for those who require them. We are set for a blockbuster fortnight of tennis this November and I can’t wait to welcome the tennis world to Malaga this November.”

The news will be disappointment to some ticket holders about the late change as the ITF continue to be unorganised when it comes to logistical events around the team competitions.

However, Malaga will aim to bring a unique atmosphere as the event will aim to boost the attendances of both team competitions.

The event will see four first round matches, four quarter-finals, two semi-finals and a final.

Here is the draw below with Canada looking to defend their title from last year.

Canada v BYE

Germany v Great Britain

Australia v BYE

Slovakia v USA

Spain v Poland

Czech Republic v BYE

Japan v Romania

Italy v BYE

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Carlos Alcaraz for the Gentlemen’s Singles Championship

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Carlos Alcaraz after winning his semifinal on Friday (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 14 at The Championships hosts the championship matches in gentlemen’s singles and mixed doubles.

One year ago, Novak Djokovic was on a 34 match Wimbledon win streak, playing for his fifth consecutive title, and had not lost a match on Centre Court in a full decade.  But in a spectacular five-hour five-setter, Carlos Alcaraz upset the all-time great to win his first Wimbledon title.  On Sunday, we get the rematch, as Djokovic looks to avenge that painful loss, and Alcaraz looks to defend a Major title, and win back-to-back Majors, for the first time.


Carlos Alcaraz (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (2) – 2:00pm on Centre Court

They followed up last year’s championship match here with another fantastic final just a month later in Cincinnati, where Djokovic saved championship point to eventually win in a third-set tiebreak, and after nearly four hours of play.  Novak would go on three weeks later to win the US Open, while Carlitos was not the same player for some time.  Alcaraz would not reach another final at any event for over six months, until this past March in Indian Wells. 

Despite a few surprising losses, and an injury that disrupted his season, Alcaraz is now a strong 32-6 on the year, and a superb 17-1 at Majors.  Carlitos has been able to quickly rebound from upsets at smaller events, like his loss to Jack Draper a few weeks ago at Queen’s Club, and up his level for the big events.  He’s dropped five sets through six matches, most of which have contained some sloppy play at times, yet Carlitos has played his best when it mattered most to reach his fourth Major final.  And he’s 3-0 thus far in Major finals.

2024 has been a surprisingly subpar season in the illustrious career of Djokovic.  Not only has he not won a title to date, he hadn’t advanced to a final until now.  Playing a more limited schedule, he’s just 23-6 this season.  And it was just a month ago that he was forced to withdraw from the Roland Garros quarterfinals after suffering a knee injury, which required surgery and put his Wimbledon status in doubt.  Yet Novak has recovered almost miraculously, dropping only two sets to this stage, though he did receive a quarterfinal walkover of his own from an injured Alex de Minaur.

Overall Djokovic is 3-2 against Alcaraz, and they’ve split two meetings at Majors, both of which took place a year ago.  In the 2023 Roland Garros semifinals, Carlitos started cramping after just two sets of play, and provided little resistance in sets three and four.  That made his five-set victory in this final a month later all the more surprising.

Novak has not appeared to be significantly hampered by his surgically-repaired knee, though there’s no way it can be 100%.  So if another five-setter takes place on Sunday, that has to favor Carlitos, especially since he is an amazing 12-1 when pushed to five sets in his young career.

But the Djokovic CV at this tournament, and at this stage of Majors, is beyond formidable.  Since the start of The Championships in 2014, he is 59-3 at SW19.  And during the same span at all Majors, he is 42-8 in semifinals and finals.  Novak just very rarely loses matches like this, especially on Centre Court.

On a that surface usually favors the aggressor, Djokovic has been able to change that narrative with his stifling defense and court coverage.  However, Alcaraz is one of the only players Djokovic has ever faced who can match him defensively, and at times dictate play against him with his risk-taking style.  We saw here a year ago just how frustrated Novak became by Carlitos’ game, damaging the net post by breaking his racket against it after getting broken in the fifth set.

Yet as many have mentioned these last two weeks, Djokovic “has that look about him,” meaning the steely determination and confidence that he was lacking during the first six months of this year appear to be back.  He is extremely motivated to reassert himself atop the game, in a season where the new generation of Alcaraz and Sinner won the first two Majors. 

If Carlitos gets off to another slow start on Sunday (he’s lost the first set in three of his six matches thus far), or suffer lapses in his level again, Novak will take advantage of that better than any of the defending champion’s previous opponents.  And while he’ll surely do so at some point in his career, until Alcaraz defends a Major title, or wins back-to-back Majors, it’s hard to favor him to do so.  I’m backing Djokovic to win his eighth Wimbledon title, and his historical 25th Major singles title, the most of all-time.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Santiago Gonzalez and Giuliana Olmos vs. Jan Zielinski Su-wei Hsieh (7) – The Mexican team of Gonzalez and Olmos are playing for their first Major title, as Olmos is 0-1 in Major finals, while 41-year-old Gonzalez is 0-4.  Zielinski and Su-wei won this year’s Australian Open as a team, the first Major title of Zielinski’s career, while Su-wei has now won eight between women’s doubles and mixed, and is 8-1 in Major finals.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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