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Halle’s Last 8 Club

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Roger Federer (zimbio.com)

Winning a Grand Slam tournament title of any sort confers prestige. It places a player in a unique and very special group. It goes without saying that the achievement is career defining.

 

For those who never realize the ultimate dream, there is another, often overlooked, accomplishment that once it is realized, is cherished. Reaching the quarterfinals at a major provides automatic membership into a very prestigious organization – the Last 8 Club.

Though the Gerry Weber Open is an ATP Tour 500 series tournament and not a Grand Slam, reaching the quarterfinals in Halle, Germany is significant. In the event’s previous twenty-four tournaments, those who have joined the Last 8 Club are most certainly, among the game’s best players.

The members of this year’s Last 8 Club offer a captivating mix of “something old, something new”. Going a descriptive step further, it would be fair to say it is a veteran and youth collage, with a touch of surprise adding to the feature.

Roger Federer, the No. 1 seed, has won Halle eight times and been a finalist on three other occasions. With such an illustrious record, it is not surprising in the least, that he is the Last 8 Club appearance leader for the 2017 members. What is astounding is that he has played the tournament 14 times and has earned a place in the quarters on every occasion. In fact, his worst performances on the lawns at the Gerry Weber Open took place in both 2000 and ’01 when he dropped quarterfinal decisions to Michael Chang of the US and Patrick Rafter of Australia, respectively.

Florian Mayer, the 2016 champion who is unseeded in Halle just a year later, has competed nine times in the event. Impressively, the German’s has reached the quarterfinals six times. Alexander Zverev, the No. 4 seed, lost to Mayer in the all-German title round a year ago, in three sets. He has played Halle twice and achieved the Last 8 Club once previously. Unseeded Richard Gasquet of France has had four Gerry Weber Open adventures. Other than reaching the semifinals in 2010, he has never visited the quarters.

Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, the No. 7 seed, had never before participated in the tournament. Making the quarterfinals in his first go in Halle substantiates his prominence as an ATP performer. Karen Khachanov of Russia, who is another unseeded player, highlighted his first Halle appearance by playing his way into his first quarterfinal.

In 2016, Andrey Rublev of Russia was defeated in the first round. Given a wild card in this year’s edition of Halle, he has justified the “free pass” into the main draw by claiming his inaugural quarterfinal position.

For many, the performance by veteran Robin Haase of the Netherlands defines what makes the Gerry Weber Open a storybook event. His six previous showings were, at best, forgettable. In two of them, he was unable to advance beyond the qualifying. In 2014, he won his only GWO match then, lost in the second round. Now, three years later, Haase has put on a show by reaching the quarterfinals and becoming a Last 8 Club member.

The Last 8 Club is not a group where a membership can be bought. Hard work, skill and practice are the only price of admission.

 

 

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Frances Tiafoe scrapes through in five, faces Taylor Fritz next at the Australian Open

Frances Tiafoe battled past Marco Trungelliti to set up a second round meeting with Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open.

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Frances Tiafoe (@usta - Twitter)

America’s Frances Tiafoe needed to dig deep on day two of the Australian Open to defeat a spirited Marco Trungelliti 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

 

In the second round the 23 year-old will play a familiar face in fellow American Taylor Fritz, who by contrast prevailed in straight sets against German qualifier Maximilian Marterer, 7-6 (10-8), 6-3, 6-2.

Fritz and Tiafoe know each other well from their junior days and also featured in the second edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals back in 2018.

Fritz will certainly be the fresher of the two when they face off in the all-American clash on Thursday.

There will be some regret from Tiafoe that he didn’t get the job done in four sets, but the Argentine qualifier played well above his ranking of 198 in the world.

Trungelliti was crunching the ball from the baseline, throwing up two break points, only for Tiafoe to save them with some big hitting of his own.

A monstrous backhand down the line sealed the opening game.

The 31-year-old from Santiago del Estero continued to hustle the Tiafoe serve, breaking the American in the third and ninth games to seize the opening set 6-3.

A sublime lob from Trungelliti saw him race into a 2-1 lead in the second set and threaten an unlikely upset.

However, the 2019 Australian Open quarter-finalist suddenly burst into life at 2-2, as he tucked away a backhand winner to seal his first break of the match.

Tiafoe roared with delight and soon levelled the match at one set all with a tidy ace.

The American’s hard-court prowess eventually began to show in the third, as he eventually took his third break point to move 2-1 ahead.

He then secured the double-break with a rasping cross-court forehand return to leave Trungelliti on the brink.

Tiafoe duly wrapped up the third set 6-2 with some big serves.

The fourth set began on serve and a cheeky Tiafoe serve and volley saved a crucial break point, as the American held on for 2-2.

However, the Argentinian was not to be denied as he broke the world number 34 to move 4-2 ahead.

Trungelliti then served out the fourth set, just as the sun was beginning to set in Melbourne, taking it 6-3 to level the match at two sets all.

With the crowd urging him on, Tiafoe nailed a crucial volley at the beginning of the fifth to hold serve.

He then broke Trungelliti for a 2-0 lead, who could only volley into the net.

Tiafoe never looked back and served out a morale boosting win with an ace to seal his place in round two.

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Grigor Dimitrov downs Jiri Lehecka to begin Australian Open campaign

Grigor Dimitrov began his Australian Open campaign with a four set victory.

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Grigor Dimitrov - Indian Wells 2021 (foto Twitter @BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov continued his good form as he saw off the challenge of Czech qualifier Jiri Lehecka.

 

The former world number three came through 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

He will next play boisterous Frenchman Benoit Paire in round two, which promises to be a fairly even match-up.

Lehecka, who came through three rounds of qualifying, tested Dimitrov throughout.

In the Bulgarian’s opening service game, four break point opportunities came the way of the Czech.

Some clutch serving and an exquisite backhand volley at the net, saved the critical fourth break point as Dimitrov hung on.

At 2-1 down, Lehecka served and volleyed to save two break points as the set stayed on serve.

The qualifier continued to impress as he cracked a forehand winner to level up at 3-3.

Eventually Dimitrov adapted to his new surroundings, playing on court 7 show court, as the decisive moment came at 5-4 where he finally broke Lehecka to clinch the opening set.

Dimitrov saved a break point at the beginning of the second set, as Lehecka began to apply pressure to the Bulgarian’s serve.

The point of the match soon came at one-all 40-30, as a quick flick of the wrist from Dimitrov saw him execute a fine trademark backhand cross-court winner. Lehecka was left standing and simply had no chance.

In the tennis world, the Bulgarian is seen as possessing one of the best backhands in the world alongside Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet.

More serve and volleying from Lehecka dug him out of a hole at 2-1 down as he saved a break point. A thumping forehand from the Czech levelled the set at 2-2.

A rare double fault at 3-3 from Dimitrov gave Lehecka the break and he closed out the set with an ace, 6-4.

In the third, Dimitrov held to love in his opening service game and broke the youngster in the second game to seal a crucial break.

With the set on a knife edge at 5-3, 40-30, Lehecka went long after a lengthy baseline exchange as Dimitrov moved two sets to one up.

The fourth set was perhaps the most compelling as both players refused to back down on serve.

At 5-4 down Dimitrov continued to serve strongly and duly held, before nailing the critical break at 5-5 with a dipping forehand winner that landed in, to the delight of his Bulgarian supporters.

The 26th seed was then taken to deuce but it wasn’t enough as Dimitrov sealed it 7-5 to move into yet another second round at Melbourne Park.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Olympic Gold Medalists Face Differing Challenges

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Belinda Bencic on Monday in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Six months ago in Tokyo, Sascha Zverev and Belinda Bencic earned the biggest achievements of their young careers: winning an Olympic Gold Medal for their country.  Now they have their sights set on claiming their first Major, though neither has a straightforward second round draw.

 

Wednesday’s schedule also includes top names like Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Daniil Medvedev.  However, with all of those stars being strong favorites on Day 3, other matches featuring some of the sport’s most exciting performers may be the day’s most compelling affairs.

Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.   Wednesday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Victoria Azarenka (24) vs. Jil Teichmann – 11:00am on Kia Arena

It was 10 full years ago when Azarenka won her first Major in Australia, a feat she would repeat just 12 months later.  Despite reaching three finals in New York, she’s still trying to secure her third Slam title.  Injuries sidelined her several times throughout 2021, yet she still put together a strong 28-9 record on the year.  Teichmann had a breakout 2021, reaching semifinals in both Adelaide and Duabi to start the year, and upsetting three top 12 players during a run to the final in Cincinnati.  But she may be overmatched against an in-form two-time former champion, who dropped only four games in the first round.


Belinda Bencic (22) vs. Amanda Anisimova – Third on Kia Arena

Anisimova was very close to being eliminated from this tournament in the first round.  The 20-year-old American was down a set and a break to Arianne Hartono, and a point from going down a double break in the second set, before storming back to win in three.  However, that near-defeat is not revealing of her recent form, as she started the season by winning a title on these very grounds.  Anisimova has been working with Darren Cahill on a trial basis in Australia, which has already paid dividends.  Bencic has continued to play well following her Tokyo triumph, where she won medals in both singles and doubles.  Three years ago on grass in Mallorca, Belinda defeated Amanda 6-2, 6-2.  Coming off such a close call on Monday, I suspect Anisimova will play freely on Wednesday, and I would not be surprised if she upset the Olympic Gold Medalist.  When her groundstrokes are on, especially her backhand, there aren’t many players who can tame Anismova’s aggression.


Carlos Alcaraz (31) vs. Dusan Lajovic – Third on 1573 Arena

Coming off his star-making run in New York, Alcaraz went right back to work in the opening round here, easily prevailing in less than two hours.  Lajovic required nearly twice as long to overcome Marton Fucsovics in five.  The 31-year-old Serbian advanced to the second week of this event a year ago.  However, the rest of his 2021 season didn’t go as well, ending the year with a record of 18-28.  And he started 2022 by going 0-3 at the ATP Cup.  I expect to see some extra fight out of Dusan during this tournament, as I anticipate many of the Serbian players will be motivated by what occurred over the past two weeks with Novak Djokovic.  But taking out one of the sport’s most formidable newcomers, especially when you’re coming off a five-setter, is a tall task.


Sascha Zverev (3) vs. John Millman – Last on Rod Laver Arena

Following his first round victory, Zverev admitted things had not gone to plan, and he had not played his best.  Despite that, Sascha still prevailed in straight sets, escaping two tight sets via tiebreaks.  He may not be able to afford such dips in his level against one of Australia’s grittiest competitors.  Millman will certainly enjoy plenty of crowd support, and he has taken out big names at Majors before.  At the 2018 US Open, he upended Roger Federer in extremely hot and humid conditions.  And at the 2019 French Open, though he lost, Millman pushed Zverev to five sets.  However, I fully expect Sascha to up his game on Wednesday.  The German won 41 hard court matches last year, and claimed five titles, including the ATP Finals.  He seems primed to make his second Slam final sooner than later, perhaps even at the end of next week.


Gael Monfils (17) vs. Alexander Bublik – Last on Margaret Court Arena

Well this match is pretty much guaranteed to be entertaining, featuring two players who often choose the more fun shot over the smarter shot.   Monfils struggled to find any form following the pandemic shutdown, as playing in front of empty seats did not inspire him.  But with fans back in the stands, Gael’s results have improved.  He started the year by winning his first title in two years.  By contrast, Bublik played well in the first half of 2021, propelling him to a career-high ranking some September, yet his results fizzled later in the year.  During 2020’s autumn edition of Roland Garros, Bubik defeated Monfils in four sets.  But with his mojo back, the Frenchman is the favorite to avenge that loss on Wednesday.


Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Lucia Bronzetti (Q) – On Monday, Barty needed less than an hour to dismiss Lesia Tsurenko 6-0, 6-1.  Bronzetti is a 23-year-old Italian who reached five lower-level finals last season.

Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Yannick Hanfmann (Q) – Nadal was another straight-set victor in the first round.  Hanfmann is a 30-year-old German who took out Thanasi Kokkinakis with the loss of just seven games, as the Australian was drained from his title run last week in Adelaide.  Three years ago at Roland Garros, Yannick earned only six games against Rafa.

Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Xiyu Wang (WC) – Krejickova advanced almost as easily as Barty, by a score of 6-2, 6-0.  Xiyu is a 20-year-old from China who on Monday gained her first victory in the main draw of a Major. 

Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Stefan Kozlov (WC) – Berrettini overcame some considerable stomach issues to secure a four-set win on Monday.  Kozlov is a 23-year-old American who is making his Slam debut, thanks to claiming two Challenger titles in November to earn his wild card.

Naomi Osaka (13) vs. Madison Brengle – Osaka won comfortably in the opening round, while Brengle beat Dayana Yastremska by the bizarre score line of 6-1, 0-6, 5-0(RET), with Yastremska retiring one game from defeat. 


Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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