Kei Nishikori weathers Fernando Verdasco storm, reaches French Open quarterfinals - UBITENNIS
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Kei Nishikori weathers Fernando Verdasco storm, reaches French Open quarterfinals

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Eighth seed Kei Nishikori battled past big-hitting Spanish lefty Fernando Verdasco, recovering from a rough first set to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 to advance to the French Open quarterfinals.

 

Japanese eighth seed Kei Nishikori fought off the barrage of big-hitting from veteran Spanish lefty Fernando Verdasco, weathering a 6-0 opening set from Verdasco to come back and win 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 to reach his second French Ope quarterfinal. Nishikori, who has been pushed to four or five sets in three of his four matches so far this fortnight, has spent a grueling amount of time on court, but the Japanese superstars’ trademark strength in four or five set matches allowed him to outlast his 33-year-old opponent, who was the oldest competitor remaining in the men’s draw in the round of 16.

In the opening set, it was Nishikori, a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2015, under siege by a barrage of Verdasco’s trademark lefty forehands, as the Spaniard was dominant on serve and return in the opening four games to grab a double break lead for 4-0. The unseeded Verdasco saved a break point in the fifth game of the set to hold on for 5-0, consolidating that double break advantage and forcing Nishikori to serve to stay in the opening set. Verdasco, a former champion in Barcelona, was ruthless in punishing the Japanese’s serve, breaking to love to seal the dominant bagel set 6-0 in under 30 minutes.

The second set was a far different affair, as the red-hot Verdasco forehand seemed to cool down, allowing the eighth seed a pipeline back into the match. The pair exchanged breaks of serve in the first two games of the set before serve reigned dominant for the ensuing six games to bring the scoreline to an even  4-all. The unseeded Spaniard had game points to go up 5-4 in the ninth game, but Nishikori’s improved return game paid dividends, surviving a lengthy deuce game to eventually seize the break and give himself the chance to serve to level the match at a set all. Nishikori made no mistake with his opening, serving out the second set comfortably to take the set 6-4 and level the match at a set apiece.

Kei Nishikori hits a serve at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris/Adam Pretty/Zimbio

The third set was very similar to the second, as the 2014 US Open finalist’s level continued to improve whilst the errors begun to pile up for Verdasco. Nishikori broke in the third game of the set for 2-1, but that lead was short-lived as three games later the Spaniard pegged right back, breaking fairly easily to level the set at 3-all. A marathon service game then ensued on Verdasco’s serve, as the unseeded veteran squandered two game points before Nishikori eventually broke through on his fifth time of asking to gain the break and go up 4-3. After the Japanese superstar consolidated the break easily, the 33-year-old left-hander saved a set point on his serve at 5-3 to hold for 5-4 and force Nishikori to serve it out. The eighth seed did just that, holding routinely to take the third set 6-4 and send himself a set from the last eight in Paris.

The fourth set was a complete role reversal of the opening set, as this time around Nishikori’s trademark mental strength and fitness wore down a struggling Verdasco. The 2015 Roland Garros quarterfinalist begun brightly in the fourth, going up love-40 before finally breaking the Verdasco serve to take the break. Nishikori was forced to come back from love-40 himself, saving three break points on his own serve to consolidate the advantage before sealing a double break the following game for 3-0. After a routine hold of serve, the Japanese superstar continued his dominance of the Verdasco serve, continuing to break at will for a 5-0 lead. With an opportunity to serve out the match, Nishikori made no mistake of this chance, holding to love to finish off a bagel set of his own and book his spot in the French Open quarterfinals for a second time 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.

Following the match, Nishikori was asked about the crazy scoreline of his fourth round match. The Japanese eighth seed said, “Yeah, a little bit unusual. I think he started really well, especially this court’s bounce really high today and he was using very heavy forehand and I was running side to side. I couldn’t do anything first set but I try tried to play a little more heavy and a little more aggressive sometimes, and start working a little bit better.”

“But still it was really, really tough battle. There was so many long rallies, second and third sets. I don’t know. I don’t know how I get the second and third. But, yeah, a little bit gained some confidence during second and third. The fourth, I think it was perfect tennis I played.
So, yeah, very tough battle but very happy to win today,” said a relieved Nishikori.

Kei Nishikori hits a forehand at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris/Adam Pretty/Zimbio

Nishikori will next face world number one and defending finalist Andy Murray in the quarterfinals after the Brit recorded a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Russian Next Gen star Karen Khachanov. Murray and Nishikori will battle for a spot in the French Open semifinals on Wednesday in Paris.

Asked about the prospect of facing the top seed on Wednesday in the last eight, Nishikori said, “Yeah, we have been playing so many times. Yeah, he’s great player. Very smart tennis player.”

“It’s never easy, and I think this week he’s been playing well and very — watching some matches. He’s hitting great balls. So I’m sure it’s gonna be tough one, but try to enjoy and try to win the match.” concluded a confident Nishikori.

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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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ATP Finals Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Casper Ruud in the Championship Match

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Novak Djokovic on Saturday in Turin (twitter.com/atptour)

The biggest ATP non-Major final of 2022 takes place on Sunday in Turin, Italy.

 

2022 has been a bizarre year in the career of Novak Djokovic.  It started with his deportation from Australia, forcing the unvaccinated Djokovic to miss the first Major of the year.  That would be one of six prominent events that Novak would miss this season due to COVID-19 entry rules (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal, Cincinnati, US Open).  Yet Djokovic was still able to accumulate a record of 41-7, and win his 21st Slam at Wimbledon.  He is now 17-1 at indoor ATP events this fall, and will end the year as the World No.5  With a win on Sunday, he would tie Roger Federer for most all-time ATP Finals titles.

2022 has been a groundbreaking year in the career of Casper Ruud.  He had already established himself as a top 10 player, but prior to this season, was predominantly thought of as a clay court specialist, with five of his six ATP titles coming on that surface.  Yet that all changed this season, starting in Miami when he reached his first Masters 1000 finals.  Casper would go on to also reach his first two Major finals, in Paris in New York.  He is now 51-21, and into his fourth big final of the year.


Sunday’s action in Turin starts at 4:00pm local time with the doubles championship match, featuring Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (4) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (2).  Both teams are an undefeated 4-0 this past week.  This is Ram and Salisbury’s second consecutive year in the final, having lost a year ago to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.  Mektic won this title two years ago alongside Wesley Koolhof, while this is Pavic’s first appearance in the final of this event.  These teams have not met since the semifinals of this tournament last year, when Ram and Salisbury prevailed.


Casper Ruud (3) Novak Djokovic (7) – Not Before 7:00pm

Ruud is 3-1 this past week, with his only loss coming in a dead rubber against Rafael Nadal.  Prior to his three top 10 victories across the last seven days, Casper only had two all season (Zverev, Auger-Aliassime).  And he is yet to win a title above 250-level in his career, with the aforementioned three losses this year in big finals.  Ruud was a semifinalist here a year ago in his ATP Finals debut.

Djokovic is an undefeated 4-0 this week, which includes an arduous effort to defeat Daniil Medvedev on Friday in a dead rubber.  Novak is now 10-3 against top 10 opposition in 2022, having taken nine of his last 10 against the top 10.  He is 4-2 in finals this year, though he lost his most recent one, two weeks in Bercy, to Holger Rune.  Djokovic is an eight-time finalist here, though he hasn’t won this title since 2015.

Djokovic has played a lot more tennis across the last two days than Ruud.  On Friday, Novak spent over three hours on court, while Ruud had the day off.  But Djokovic still looked plenty fresh for his semifinal on Saturday against Taylor Fritz, and was able to prevent the American from extending that tight contest to a third set.  Novak is 3-0 against Casper, which includes a straight-set victory at this same event a year ago.  And considering Ruud’s poor record in significant finals, Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his sixth title at the ATP Finals on Sunday.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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ATP Finals: Fritz Close But No… Final, Djokovic Advances

Novak Djokovic beats Taylor Fritz in two tie-breaks and is just one win away from his sixth title at Nitto ATP Finals

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Novak Djokovic - 2022 Nitto ATP Finals Turin (photo Twitter @atptour)

[7] N. Djokovic b. [8] T. Fritz 7-6(5) 7-6(5)

 

Even when physically not at his best, Novak Djokovic can still count on his incredible ability to play the most effective tennis in the most important moment. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the opponent misses an easy shot while attempting to close out the set, but the pressure Djokovic puts on whomever is on the other side of the net makes even the easiest shot look a little bit harder.

The former world no. 1 has put together a clinical display of efficiency during the first semifinal of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin edging Taylor Fritz by two points in the tie-breaker of each set to reach his eighth finals in the end-of-year Championship.

It was not the best Djokovic, and it was not the best match: lots of errors on both sides, and a huge opportunity for Fritz to take the match to the distance when he served at 5-4 in the second set and then missed an easy backhand sitter to go a set-point up at 40-30, blaming an idiot spectator who indeed shouted in the middle of the point, when he really should have been able to put away that point blindfolded.

Fritz did not start the match in the best possible way: 10 unforced errors during the first five games, a break conceded at love at 2-2 and Djokovic appeared destined for a relatively quiet afternoon. But it was not going to be that easy: errors started flowing also on the Serbian side, and Fritz was able to equalize at 3-3. A tie-break was then needed to decide the winner of the first set, and the deciding point was a laser forehand down the line by Djokovic who swept point and set at 6-5 and headed off to the toilet for a comfort break after taking a one-set advantage.

But the break did not do him much good: unforced errors kept coming from the baseline, and Fritz blitzed 2-0 up with a break. At 4-3, the American wowed the Italian crowd with a magical backhand stop-volley to recover a service game where he found himself down 0-30, but when it was time to serve out the set, he missed that easy backhand we described earlier to give Djokovic another chance to close out a match in two sets.

And another chance is the last thing Djokovic should be gifted, although on a day like today, with Christmas time upon us, gift trading became the thing of the match. Two great points at 4-4 in the tie-break warmed the 12,000-strong crowd at Pala Alpitour to what could have possibly been a great end of the set, but Djokovic first earned a match point to be played on his serve with a good action from the baseline closed by a volley and then squandered it all with a very unusual unforced error on a routine backhand. But on his second match point, just a minute later, Fritz badly missed an inside-out forehand putting an end to the match and gifting Djokovic a chance to win his sixth title at the Nitto ATP Finals, the first in Turin.

On Sunday he will face either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev: he has never lost to Ruud in three previous matches (3-0) and the only time he did not beat Rublev (2-1) was last spring in Belgrade in the final of the tournament organized by his family.

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