Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer Fulfil Superstar Status With Opening Wins In Shanghai
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
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.
Miami Open Daily Preview: Two Matches Between Top 10 Seeds Headline Fourth Round ATP Action
All ATP fourth round singles matches will take place on Tuesday in Miami.
And in a rarity, two of those fourth round matches include meetings between top 10 seeds. 2022 Indian Wells champ Taylor Fritz takes on 2022 Bercy champ Holger Rune. And in a battle of the gingers, Andrey Rublev faces Jannik Sinner. Other ATP matches on Tuesday include three of the four top seeds: Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Also on Tuesday, the WTA quarterfinals begin. American No.1 Jessica Pegula will look to avenge a loss her doubles partner Coco Gauff experienced earlier in the tournament to Anastasia Potapova. And Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina plays Italy’s Martina Trevisan, who took out another Major champ, Jelena Ostapenko, on Monday.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Tuesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.
Jannik Sinner (10) vs. Andrey Rublev (6) – 11:00am on Grandstand
Rublev is a modest 13-7 this season, but was a semifinalist in Miami two years ago. He comfortably defeated Miomir Kecmanovic in the last round by a score of 6-1, 6-2.
Sinner is a strong 18-4 this season, and is coming off a semifinal run at Indian Wells. He was the runner-up at this tournament two years ago.
These two have split four prior meetings, the last three of which occurred on clay. Their only hard court matchup took place three years ago in Vienna, with Sinner retiring after just three games. But considering Jannik’s impressive form this season, he should be favored to advance on Tuesday.
Taylor Fritz (9) vs. Holger Rune (7) – 12:00pm on Stadium
Dating back to the end of September, Rune is now 33-8. The 19-year-old achieved four consecutive finals to end last season, winning two of them (Stockholm, Bercy). This is his Miami Open debut.
Fritz is 19-5 in 2023, and is vying for his fifth consecutive quarterfinal of the year. This would mark his seventh Masters 1000 quarterfinal, all achieved since the start of 2021. But Taylor is 0-2 in the fourth round of this tournament, losing in the past two years to Bublik and Kecmanovic.
In their first career meeting, it’s hard to pick a winner. Fritz has become a pretty reliable performer, while Rune remains quite a streaky player, with impressive highs and some immature lows. Both possess similar weapons on court, and neither have dropped a set through two matches. I’ll give the slight edge to Holger based on his recent hard court success.
Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:
Martina Trevisan (25) vs. Elena Rybakina (10) – Rybakina has now won nine matches in a row. Trevisan was only 3-8 on the year ahead of this quarterfinal run. This is another first career meeting.
Karen Khachanov (14) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (2) – Tsitsipas survived a tight three-setter against an in-form Cristian Garin on Monday, while Khachanov easily dispatched of up-and-coming 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka. Stefanos is 6-0 against Karen, which includes a four-set victory at this year’s Australian Open.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Tommy Paul (16) – Alcaraz is now 16-1 this season, and has claimed his last 17 completed sets. Paul is 16-5, and was a semifinalist in Melbourne, as well as a finalist in Acapulco. Tommy took their only previous encounter, last summer in Montreal, in a three-set match that lasted three hours and 20 minutes.
Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Anastasia Potapova (27) – Pegula has now reached the quarterfinals or better at seven of the last nine WTA 1000 events. This is Potapova’s first quarterfinal at this level in over two years. At the last WTA 1000 event, in Indian Wells, Pegula came from behind to beat Potapova 7-5 in the third.
Quentin Halys vs. Daniil Medvedev (4) – Medvedev is 25-3 on the year, and received a walkover on Monday from Alex Molcan. Halys upset Alex de Minaur on Saturday, and had never won a main draw match at Masters 1000 level prior to this fortnight.
Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.
Miami Open Daily Preview: Major Champions Sabalenka and Krejcikova Meet Again on Monday
All WTA fourth round singles matches will take place on a busy Monday in Miami.
2023 Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka and 2021 Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova will meet for the third time in as many events. Krejcikova prevailed in three sets in Dubai, while Sabalenka prevailed in three sets at Indian Wells. Who will win the rubber match on Monday?
Meanwhile, ATP third round action concludes on Monday. Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev are the top seeds on the bottom half of the draw, and are just a few rounds away from a semifinal which would renew a bitter rivalry that started five years ago in this very city. But many formidable foes, like Felix Auger-Aliassime, Hubert Hurkacz, and Frances Tiafoe, stand in their way. However, Medvedev’s path has become a bit easier, as he has received a walkover on Monday from an injured Alex Molcan.
Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule. Monday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.
Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Magda Linette (20) – Not Before 1:00pm on Stadium Court
Pegula is 17-5 in 2023, and was a semifinalist here a year ago. Linette is 12-6, and reached her maiden Major quarterfinal in Melbourne, a feat Jessica is still trying to achieve. Magda currently sits at a career-high ranking of 19th in the world, and would improve on that with a deep run at this tournament.
In their first career meeting, the American should be favored. Her consistency, paired with her penetrating groundies, have made her one of the WTA’s toughest outs across the last few seasons. But Linette has plenty of finesse and defensive skills that could drag more errors out of Pegula, so this could be an interesting contest.
Barbora Krejcikova (16) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – Not Before 8:30pm on Stadium Court
Overall Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 3-1, with all matches taking place on hard courts. Three years ago in Linz, Aryna was victorious in three sets. Two years ago at the US Open, she was again victorious, this time in straights. They’ve also both met many times in doubles, as both are Slam champs in women’s doubles as well.
Sabalenka is now 19-2 on the year, and has dropped only 10 games in her four sets played so far in Miami. Krejcikova is 15-5, and has also advanced to this stage without dropping a set.
I expect another tight battle on Monday between two of the WTA’s top five performers of the year. But with her huge serve and groundstrokes clicking, and with all the confidence she’s currently playing with, Sabalenka must be considered the favorite.
Other Notable Matches on Monday:
Cristian Garin (Q) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (2) – Tsitsipas is 11-3 this season, and is yet to play a match this fortnight, as he received a walkover in his opening round from Richard Gasquet. Having now qualified for both Indian Wells and Miami, Garin has won nine matches between the two events. But he is 0-2 against Stefanos at tour level, though both matches were on clay.
Felix Auger-Aliassime (5) vs. Francisco Cerundolo (25) – Auger-Aliassime survived a prolonged two-set battle against Thiago Monteiro on Saturday, which lasted nearly three hours. Cerundolo was a shocking semifinalist here a year ago. Felix has already defeated Francisco twice this year, at both the Australian Open and Indian Wells.
Elena Rybakina (10) vs. Elise Mertens – Rybakina is 18-4 on the year, and the Indian Wells champ is currently on an eight-match win streak. She’s already won two three-setters this past week in Miami, and Elena is 2-1 against Elise, having taken both of their hard court encounters.
Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Adrian Mannarino – Hurkacz saved five match points against Thanasi Kokkinakis on Saturday night, winning the longest three-set match of the year at tour-level. Mannarino took out breakout American Ben Shelton in three sets on the same evening. Hubi is 2-1 against Adrian.
Lorenzo Sonego vs. Frances Tiafoe (12) – Tiafoe loves playing in Miami, as he’s vying for his fifth consecutive fourth round appearance at this event. Frances overcame a stern test from Yosuke Watanuki on Saturday, but has split two previous matches against Sonego, both of which took place this past fall.
Monday’s full Order of Play is here.
Juan Martin Del Potro Not Giving Up On Return To Tennis
Juan Martin del Potro will resume training to see if his body would be able to withstand a potential return to professional tennis later this year.
The former world No.3 hasn’t played a match since losing in the first round of the 2022 Argentina Open in what was a highly emotional encounter for the Argentine who at the time acknowledged that he was unsure if would be able to return to the sport again. Del Potro’s career has been tainted by injury woes with the latest concerning his knee. He has undergone eight surgeries since 2010 to prolong his career. One on his right wrist (2010), three on his left wrist (2014-2015) and four on his knee (2019-2021).
It could be easy for the 34-year-old to call it a day once and for all considering what he has already achieved in the sport. He has won 22 ATP titles, including the 2009 US Open, and has recorded 10 wins over world No.1 players which are the most by somebody on the ATP Tour who has never topped the rankings. Furthermore, his career prize money earnings are almost $26M.
However, Del Potro is leaving the door open for a return with his sight set on this year’s US Open. During a recent TV interview, the Argentine confirmed that he is prepared to test his body once again.
“I love tennis, it will never be a problem to pick up a racquet and see how I feel. The physical problem and my knee are things I work on every day. I’m going to leave that window open, at least until the US Open as I said. This is the most special tournament for me. I still have time, I will start training, see how my leg and knee react and if I can do it or not,” del Potro was quoted as saying by We Love Tennis.
Whilst he has not been seen on the court, Del Potro has maintained his ties with the sport. Earlier this month he was in Sao Paulo attending a Roland Garros junior series event which he was an ambassador for. During his time there, he gave advice to those participating. It was at the event that he also spoke about not being able to reach world No.1 due to the presence of the Big Three.
“The only thing I lacked was being world No 1,” he said. “It was always a dream and I worked hard for it. I’m proud of my career but I never made it because there was always Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.”
“When I look at the rankings and the years of my career and who was fighting to be No 1, I see that it was beautiful that these were the ones who didn’t let me make it, this dream.”
Del Potro is one of only a few players to have recorded four or more Tour wins against every member of the Big Three.
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