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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Canada Thumps Australia To Win Historic Davis Cup Title 

The dream of the North American team has finally become a reality.

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MALAGA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 27: Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals 2022 at Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena on November 27, 2022 in Malaga, Spain. (Photo by Silvestre Szpylma / Quality Sport Images / Kosmos Tennis)

109 years after making their Davis Cup debut, Canada has finally claimed the trophy after producing two clinical wins over Australia in the final on Sunday. 

 

The duo of Denis Shapovalov and Felix-Auger Aliassime both shined in their matches to give the North American nation an unassible 2-0 lead in the three-match tie. It is the first time Canada has won the title with 2022 being only the second time they have reached the final. Three years ago they missed out on the title to Spain. 

“The emotions are tough to describe,” said Auger-Aliassime. “All of us here, we’ve dreamt of this. All of these guys grew up together dreaming of this moment, dreaming of winning the Davis Cup. It’s a great moment for me and my country…. I am happy we were able to get our first Davis Cup with this group.”

Shapovalov kicked-off the final with a 90-minute 6-2, 6-4, win over Thanasi Kokkinakis who also lost his semi-final match against Borna Coric. The world No.18 blasted 28 winners past his opponent and broke him four times in the match. Besides handing Canada the crucial lead, it was a much-needed confidence boost for Shapovalov who earlier in the week lost to Lorenzo Sonego and Jan-Lennard Struff. 

“I’m very happy with my performance today,” said Shapovalov. “I had a long one against Sonego yesterday and was struggling with my back a little bit. So huge credit to the medical staff for putting me back in shape. There were a lot of doubts if I’d be ready to play today. It was amazing to play pain-free today.”

Closing in on the title, Felix Auger-Aliassime secured victory for his country with a 6-3, 6-4, triumph over world No.24 Alex de Minaur. Producing a total of six aces and saving all eight break points he faced. 

Canada’s run to their first title occurred with a bit of luck on their side. Originally they were eliminated from the finals after losing to the Netherlands at the start of this year. However, they received a wildcard to play in the group stages following the removal of Russia from the competition. Russia and Belarus are currently suspended from team events due to the war in Ukraine. 

In Group B they scored wins over South Korea and Spain to secure a place in the finale this week. Before dismissing Australia, they beat Italy 2-1 in the semi-finals and Germany 2-1 in the quarter-finals. 

“From juniors it was our dream, growing up watching Vasek (Pospisil), Milos (Raonic), and [Daniel Nestor] taking Canada to new [heights],” Shapovalov said. “We wanted to grow up and help the country win the first title. It’s so surreal right now. After we lost in the final in 2019, we really wanted this bad. It’s such a team effort; everyone was putting in 120 percent every day.”

Canada’s team captain is former player Frank Dancevic who has held the role since 2017. 

 “This is a historic moment,” Dancevic commented on the achievement. “We’ve never won this title in the past. It’s the first time for us. It’s an incredible feeling.”

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Lleyton Hewitt Admits Pride After Australia Reach First Davis Cup Final For 19 Years

Lleyton Hewitt admitted he is proud after Australia reached their first Davis Cup final since 2003.

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Lleyton Hewitt (@CopaDavis - Twitter)

Lleyton Hewitt admitted he was proud of his Australian Davis Cup Team after they reached their first Davis Cup final for 19 years.

 

Australia reached their first Davis Cup final for 19 years after defeating Croatia 2-1.

After singles wins for Borna Coric and Alex De Minaur it was Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson who pulled off the upset over Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic to seal victory for Australia.

The Aussie pairing were victorious in a 6-7(3) 7-5 6-4 victory as they sealed Australia’s place in the Davis Cup final for the first time since 2003.

It’s a proud moment for captain Lleyton Hewitt, who will be competing in his fourth Davis Cup final but a first as captain, “I just couldn’t be prouder of these guys and the heart and the passion and the pride that they are playing with out there,” Hewitt told Tennis Australia’s website.

“It’s great. Obviously Australia has a really rich history in this competition, and we have been fortunate enough to win it on a lot of occasions, back a long time ago.

“I know how much it meant for me as a player to get the opportunity to play in finals. So I’m thrilled that these boys get that opportunity on Sunday.”

Sunday will be Australia’s 48th Davis Cup final as they seek to win a 29th Davis Cup title.

The last time Australia competed in a Davis Cup final was back in 2003 in front of a full house at the Rod Laver Arena where Hewitt was influential in a 3-1 victory over Spain.

Although Hewitt admitted it would be nicer to play the final in Melbourne, the Australian captain said that winning the title would mean a lot, “I’d love it to be in Australia,” Hewitt said.

“I’m disappointed the boys don’t get to play in front of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena. It would be very satisfying and especially if you do it with a lot of my good mates around in the coaching staff as well, it would mean a lot.”

The final will take place on Sunday with Australia facing the winner of the second semi-final between Italy and Canada.

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The Year-End Rankings: The Rise Of Alcaraz And The Eternals, Djokovic and Nadal

Image via ATP Twitter

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By Roberto Ferri

Let’s start our last article on the ATP rankings by quoting the words which are said to be the last of emperor Augustus: “The play is over, applaud”.

 

We cannot but applaud Novak Djokovic, six-time ATP Finals winner just like Roger Federer. And we applaud the season, which, for good or ill, has been unique. Just consider the most striking events: Carlos Alcaraz rising to No. 1, Roger Federer’s retirement, all the issues involving Djokovic and the Wimbledon affair.  

The top positions of the ranking have been significantly impacted by Djokovic’s absence from two Majors (Australian Open and US Open), four Masters 1000 (Indian Wells, Miami Open, Canadian Open, Cincinnati) and by ATP’s decision to not award points for Wimbledon.

If we compare the ATP rankings published after the ATP Finals in 2021 and 2022, this fact is clearly noticeable. 

22 NOVEMBER 2021

PositionPlayerCountryPts 
1DjokovicSerbia11540
2MedvedevRussia8640
3ZverevGermany7840
4TsitsipasGreece6540
5RublevRussia5150
6NadalSpain4875
7BerrettiniItaly4568
8RuudNorway4160
9HurkaczPoland3706
10SinnerItaly3350
11Auger-AliassimeCanada3308
12NorrieGB2945
13SchwartzmanArgentina2625
14ShapovalovCanada2475
15ThiemAustria2425
16FedererSwitzerland2385
17GarinChile2353
18KaratsevRussia2351
19Bautista AgutSpain2260
20Carreno BustaSpain2230

14 NOVEMBER 2022:

PositionPlayerCountryPts
1AlcarazSpain6820
2NadalSpain6020
3RuudNorway5820
4TsitsipasGreece5550
5DjokovicSerbia4820
6Auger-AliassimeCanada4195
7MedvedevRussia4065
8RublevRussia3930
9FritzUSA3355
10HurkaczPoland2905
11RuneDenmark2888
12ZverevGermany2700
13Carreno BustaSpain2495
14NorrieGB2445
15SinnerItaly2410
16BerrettiniItaly2375
17ShapovalovCanada2105
18CilicCroatia2075
19TiafoeUSA2000
20KhachanovRussia1990

Novak Djokovic ended 2021 with 4720 points more than Carlos Alcaraz; also Medvedev and Tsitsipas earned more points than the Spaniard, who would not have reached 7000 points even counting the 135 points he wasn’t awarded at Wimbledon.

A few comments on the 2022 rankings:

  • Casper Ruud, the ATP Finals finalist, concludes his excellent year in third place, overtaking Stefanos Tsitsipas with an impressive final rush.
  • Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal are the only top 10 players born in the 80s; the other 8 were born in the second half of the 90s.
  • Cameron Norrie and Pablo Carreno Busta are the survivors of the lost generation, born between 1990 and 1995 and that was most overpowered by the Big Four dominance. 
  • Only North America, beyond Europe, is represented at the very highest: Auger Aliassime, Fritz, Shapovalov and Tiafoe.
  • Holger Rune has gained 92 positions since the start of the year. Carlos Alcaraz “just” 31.
  • A final note: Kei Nishikori ends 2022 without a ranking. Does this suggest he’s going to retire?

BEST RANKING

Owing to earned and dropped points, as well as results in the Challenger events, five players in the top 100 have achieved their career highest this week:

Emil Ruusuvuori – 40

Quentin Halys – 64

Christopher O’Connell – 79

Roman Safiullin – 89

Nuno Borges – 91

A special applause for the 20-year old Ben Shelton, a bright prospect for USA tennis, who has made his debut in the top 100. Thanks to his victory in the Champaign-Urbana Challenger he’s now ranked 97.

Is that all? Not yet! Just a quiz for everybody: which was the last year which saw the first two places in the rankings occupied at the end of the season by two players of the same nationality?

That’s really all for now. We’ll be back in 2023.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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