Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer Fulfil Superstar Status With Opening Wins In Shanghai - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer Fulfil Superstar Status With Opening Wins In Shanghai

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Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

SHANGHAI: And the day finally came. The two superstars of the Shanghai Rolex Masters made their official debut in the tournament, after days of teasing the fans with promotional appearances, funny dances with Disney characters and training sessions on a Court 5 bursting at the seams with people, always surrounded by dozens of armed guards to maintain order.

Tennis in China is mainly based on the star power of some of its main characters, and Roger and Rafa are the brightest stars of all, just what the doctor ordered for a very ambitious tournament with the lowest attendance figures of all the Masters 1000. Scheduled one after the other in the evening session, they took the court about an hour late, just before 7pm, owing to the puzzling decision by the tournament to move Simon-Goffin to Center Court after rain had severely disrupted play on side courts. It wasn’t difficult to predict a long match between the Frenchmen and the Belgian, but they were given the honor of the retractable-roofed Qizhong Arena to fill the gap after Aljaz Bedene retired just four games into his second round match with Sascha Zverev.

The show opener was Nadal, who disposed with ruthless efficiency of the young Jared Donaldson, who managed to keep his tidy tennis composed until 2-2 and then got merciless routed with the score of 6-2, 6-1. “Well, was a very quick match in all aspects – said Rafa in his press conference – I think Jared started playing very well at the beginning, serving big, and then hitting very strong from the baseline, no? But of course I was happy to have that break in the 3-2 in the sixth game. Helps me that he made some double faults, two double faults. Then I played some good points, I think. After that I think I played a great match. Not many mistakes. Playing very aggressive with the backhand/forehand. My serve worked well. I don’t know the percentage, but probably was high. And when I was serving, the second serve was a big second serve too, no? Happy with everything. For me it was difficult to imagine a better start.”

Federer’s tough start

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Right after that, Roger Federer made his appearance in front of a finally-crowded arena where choreographies had been prepared for him: “It feels great to get support – the Swiss commented after the match – have played in so many different atmospheres around the world. I feel like I can handle anything. Plus, if they are on my side, you know, and cheering for me, I feel it only helps me. I thought the flag was awesome. It was great. It was big. They were all just the same, all had the same banners.   You can tell that there was a lot of effort put into it. Also tried to sit all together. I think that’s a lot of fun for me, as a player, to see that, because usually you only see that with sort of soccer clubs or team sports. Individual sports, for fans to get together, is rare.”

His second round match with Argentinian Diego Schwartzmann was no picnic: the diminutive man was coming from a good string of results, including the semifinals in Tokyo last week, and gave the the Swiss master a good run for his money: “Yeah, tough match. You know, I knew going in it was not going to be easy. He’s had a great run in recent weeks and months. I really felt that he was confident, you know. Shaking off misses, no problem. He was serving well. You could see he was taking the right decisions, you know, on his groundstrokes.And as an opponent, you feel that. You could see there was a sort of an ease about his game today. I felt like that was going to be dangerous down the stretch of any set. I felt that tiebreaker was tough. I was down and then came up with some really good shot-making after that in the breaker to really turn it around.”

Federer lost an early break in mid first-set but could turn it around in the tie-break and cruise to the third round with an easier second round. Eventually winning 7-6(4), 6-4.

The two superstars will repeat the double-header on Thursday evening, when Rafael Nadal will meet humoral Italian Fabio Fognini, who has already defeated him in three out of the previous 12 encounters, while Federer will have to stave off the talented game of Dolgopolov.

Match highlights

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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