Djokovic overcomes Nishikori in the first round - UBITENNIS
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Djokovic overcomes Nishikori in the first round

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Former world no.1 Novak Djokovic is into the second round of the Madrid Open after overcoming Kei Nishikori 7-5 6-4 in a minute shy of the 2 hour mark here at the stadium court of La Caja Mágica.

 

The two time champion (2011 and 2016) was far from his best, but found enough in his game to edge out Nishikori in straight sets. The Serb came into the match with an encouraging 11-2 head to head lead going back as far as 2010, winning the last 10 for the loss of just three sets.

Today the Serb, ranked 12 and seeded 10, started out tentatively on serve as he was forced to save two break points after serving three double faults. He came through that test, but dropped his serve in the fifth game, going well long on his backhand. The Japanese couldn’t maintain his break advantage as Djokovic levelled at 3-3 when Nishikori double faulted at break point. When the Serb held serve in the seventh game having saved two break points, he looked over to his camp where the recently reinstated Marian Vajda sat and let out a primal roar of defiance.

ATP Masters Series: Monte Carlo Rolex Masters - Day Two

Having failed to convert a set point on the Nishikori serve in the tenth game, Djokovic clinched the opening set at the second time of asking 7-5 in 67 minutes, with a forehand return winner accompanied by another elated roar.

The second set saw games going with serve, with both men holding their ground from the baseline which created some great rallies for the almost packed stadium court to enjoy. However, it was the Japanese who cracked first when serving to stay in the match. Despite going 40-15 up on serve, Nishikori quickly found himself match point down as a flurry of winners flowed from the racket of his illustrious opponent. When Nishikori’s backhand drive sailed long, Djokovic’s arms went up in relief as he strode triumphantly into the second round.

Djokovic served 6 aces and 5 double faults, with 63% of first serves from which he won 72% of the points. He converted 3/7 break points and saved 5/6 break points against him.

“It was strange, I must admit playing Kei in the first round”, Djokovic said. “Our rankings have dropped due to injuries and everything else that has happened to us in the last year. It can happen and it did happen here. I have played Kei many times in the big tournaments on the big occasions in the finals and semi-finals. It was different to play him in the first round and was a big test for both of us and I’m glad the match went my way, it could have gone his way as well. There were very few points that determined the winner today. I managed to play the right shots in the important moments. First and second sets I made breaks to win both sets in the final stages of both sets, so it was exactly what I needed for my confidence and for my game. I’m just happy to go through this one.”

Djokovic’s opening service game produced three double faults and the Serb was mightily relieved that that inauspicious start was not a sign of things to come.

“It’s never easy to open up the match on serve and he is one of the best returners in the game and I was feeling pressure on the second serve. I was going for my serves a little bit more. But I remember more the good serves today, especially the two after the horrendous miss I had (smash into the net at the net), probably the biggest one in my career”, Djokovic said laughing. “And I had a service winner and an ace after that, so that’s a great way to bounce back. In altitude and conditions like this you need a big weapon and that’s usually the serve, and obviously holding serve and winning some free points on the first serve is definitely something that we as players are looking for. So I’m glad I was able to get myself out of trouble a couple of times with the serve and, of course, with other shots as well, but I still need consistency and I’m still looking for that, but all in all it was a great test and a great match.”

Earlier today, Benoit Paire upset compatriot Lucas Pouille (15), 6-2 6-3 on Manolo Santana Stadium court. Despite coming into the match with an inferior 0-3 head to head record, Paire looked the more composed off the ground and made far less errors than his erratic opponent who was well below his best from start to finish. Two breaks of the Pouille serve saw Paire clinch the opening set in 40 minutes, and despite losing his serve and his cool at 3-1 up in the second set which saw water bottles flying which resulted in the obligatory code violation being issued, he regrouped and closed out the match with ease.

ATP

Cincinnati Daily Preview: Major Champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka Square Off

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Andy Murray practicing this past week in Cincinnati (twitter.com/cincytennis)

For the second consecutive week, a combined ATP Masters/WTA 1000 event is being staged in North America.  This week, it’s the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The singles draws in American’s heartland are loaded: the ATP draw features 14 of the world’s top 16, while the WTA draw features all 16 top-ranked players.

 

Most notably, Serena Williams will play what is assumedly the next-to-last event of her career, and will face reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the first round.  And Rafael Nadal will play his first match since withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinals due to his ongoing left foot issues.

Monday’s action is headlined by Major champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who will play each other for the 22nd time. 

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.


Stan Wawrinka (PR) vs. Andy Murray – Third on Center Court

Their rivalry dates all the way back to 2005, when Wawrinka defeated Murray in Davis Cup.  Their most prominent encounter took place in the 2017 Roland Garros semifinals, when Stan outlasted Andy in a five-setter that lasted over four-and-a-half hours.  And neither man has been the same since that grueling battle.  Just weeks later, Murray’s hip problems derailed his career, while Wawrinka would undergo knee surgery.  Both men have now battled multiple serious injuries over the last five years.  Overall Andy is 12-9 against Stan, and 8-4 on hard courts.  Murray has gritted his way to 22 victories this year, while Stan is only 3-7 since returning from foot surgery this spring.  Based on current form, as well as Murray’s history at this event, where he is a two-time champion, the Brit is the favorite on Monday.


Matteo Berrettini (12) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Not Before 7:00pm on Center Court

Berrettini returned from surgery on his right hand in June, and promptly went on a 12-match win streak.  However, he unfortunately missed Wimbledon due to testing positive for COVID-19.  And last week in Montreal, Matteo lost in the opening round, though that one-sided loss to Pablo Carreno Busta doesn’t look quite as bad after Pablo’s fantastic run to his first Masters 1000 title concluded on Sunday.  Meanwhile, it’s been a disappointing year for Tiafoe, who is only 20-17 and has suffered some painful losses.  At Wimbledon, he lost a four-and-a-half hour fourth round match to David Goffin despite having a two-sets-to-one lead.  And just last week in Montreal, Frances was up 4-0 in the third over Taylor Fritz before losing the last six games of the match.  Their only previous meeting occurred four years ago on clay in Rome, where Matteo was victorious in his home country in straight sets.  Can Tiafoe avenge that loss in his own home country?  Frances often excels during night matches in the United States, with his five-set win over Andrey Rublev at last year’s US Open serving as a prime example.  But Matteo has been the much stronger performer for a few years now, and his potent serve/forehand combo makes him the favorite.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Amanda Anisimova vs. Daria Kasatkina (9) – Anisimova has reached the second week of every Major this season, while Kasatkina has won 18 of her last 24 matches, which includes a title run this month in San Jose.  Amanda leads their head-to-head 2-0, and dominated Daria 6-2, 6-0 at the beginning of this year.

Jil Teichmann vs. Petra Kvitova – Teichmann was a surprise finalist here a year ago.  Kvitova is only 17-15 this season, though she did win a title on grass in June.  They’ve played three times since last year, with Jil claiming two of those three matches.

Denis Shapovalov vs. Grigor Dimitrov (16) – Shapovalov has now lost nine of his last 10 matches dating back to May.  Meanwhile it’s been over four months since Dimitrov has won more than two matches in a row.  Grigor is 2-1 against Denis, and 2-0 on hard courts.

Sloane Stephens (WC) vs. Alize Cornet – It’s been a streaky season for Stephens, with nine of her 11 victories coming at just two events.  Cornet has achieved two noteworthy results this season: reaching her first Major quarterfinal in Melbourne, and ending Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon.  This is their first career meeting.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Canada Daily Preview: Championship Sunday Features Halep/Haddad Maia and Hurkacz/Carreno Busta

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Hubi Hurkacz this week in Montreal (twitter.com/OBNmontreal)

On Sunday in Toronto, Simona Halep plays for her third title at this event.  She faces a surging 26-year-old in Beatriz Haddad Maia, who has already defeated four top 15 players this week, including world No.1 Iga Swiatek.

 

In Montreal, Hubi Hurkacz is vying for his second Masters 1000 title, after winning his first last year in Miami.  In Sunday’s championship match, he plays Pablo Carreno Busta, who at 31-years-old has reached his first Masters 1000 final in his 52nd appearance.


Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Simona Halep (15) – 1:30pm on Centre Court in Toronto

What a season Haddad Maia is having.  She started the year ranked 83rd in the world, but with 43 match wins and three titles at all levels, she will debut inside the top 16 on Monday.  She is the first Brazilian to reach a WTA 1000 singles final.  Beatriz credits her 2022 success to focusing on being more aggressive.  But Halep is a player who has achieved much success by absorbing her opponents’ power and using it against them.  And after a solid yet underwhelming season, Simona says her fire is back this week in Toronto.  This will be her fourth meeting with Haddad Maia, and her third this year.  She leads Beatriz 2-1, though they split their two 2022 encounters.  In a match of this magnitude, which is new territory for Haddad Maia, Halep’s experience and more consistent style make her the favorite to win her third title in Canada.


Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta – Not Before 4:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Hubi’s path to this final has been a complicated one.  All four of his matches went the distance, and he even had to save a match point against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.  Meanwhile, Pablo had advanced to his first Masters 1000 final rather decisively, only dropping one set to this stage.  Hurkacz and Carreno Busta are 1-1 at tour level, as each earned a hard court victory over the other last year.  Three of the four sets they contested were decided by tiebreaks, which is not surprising given their contrasting styles.  Hubi will look to dictate matters with his serve, while Pablo will look to extend points and force Hurkacz into long baseline rallies.   However, Hubi often doesn’t mind participating in long rallies.  As impressive as Carreno Busta’s level has been this week, Hurkacz has been the better player this season.  Hubi’s serve and powerful groundstrokes make him a slight favorite to win his second Masters 1000 crown.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez – Gauff and Pegula were finalists this year at Roland Garros.  If they win on Sunday, Gauff will become the new world No.1 in doubles, and be the youngest player to do so since Martina Hingis.  Melichar-Martinez and Perez have already defeated three seeded teams this week.

Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski (3) vs. Dan Evans and John Peers – Koolhof and Skupski lead the year-to-date doubles rankings, and are playing for their sixth title of the season.  This is only the second event in 2022 for Evans and Peers as a team.  Evans was also a semifinalist this week in singles.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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ATP Montreal: Ruud Thrashes Auger-Aliassime To Reach Semis, Mixed Results For Brits

Casper Ruud eased past Felix Auger-Aliassime to set up a semi-final meeting with Hubert Hurkacz in Montreal.

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Casper Ruud (@OBNmontreal - Twitter)

Casper Ruud only dropped three games against Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the semi-finals in Montreal.

 

The Norwegian is into the semi-finals in Canada after a dominant performance over home favourite Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Ruud dominated from the start of the match as he produced a sublime performance only committing nine unforced errors throughout the match to reach the last four.

Ruud has had a good season on hard courts this season and is looking to make his second consecutive hard court Masters 1000 final after reaching the final in Miami.

Speaking after the match Ruud admitted he got a bit lucky but is happy to be in the last four in Canada, “It was one of those days where everything goes in one favour and luckily it was in my favour,” Ruud told the ATP website.

“With a player like Felix, you need to rely on some margins going your way. I didn’t expect them to all go on my side. It was a bit of a difficult start. I got broken but then was able to turn everything around. I hit my spots, made the shots I needed to and make him hit a lot of balls. That was the game plan and it worked well.

“The last hard-court tournament I played in was in Miami where I reached the final. I wanted to make a deep run here. I didn’t think it was too likely, being the first hard-court tournament back, but I have been playing great from the first point in the first match.”

Ruud will look to claim his first Masters 1000 title this week and rise to four in the world in the ATP rankings.

Next for Ruud is the only Masters 1000 champion left in the draw in the form of Hubert Hurkacz.

Hurkacz defeated the in-form Nick Kyrgios 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 6-1 to reach the semi-finals in Canada.

The eighth seed produced some big-serving and bold decision making as he reached his first semi-final since winning the Halle title.

Heading into their match, Ruud leads the head-to-head 1-0 where the Norwegian was victorious at Roland Garros this year.

Mixed results for British hopefuls

Meanwhile it was a mixed night for British players as Dan Evans reached his second career Masters 1000 semi-final while Jack Draper exited the tournament in the last eight.

Evans defeated Tommy Paul 1-6 6-3 6-4 to reach a landmark moment in his career in Montreal.

After his win Evans described the win as ‘extra special’ as he looks forward to a semi-final meeting with Pablo Carreno Busta, “The crowd, that’s what they buy their tickets for. That’s live sport,” Evans told the ATP website.

“You never know what’s going to happen. It was an amazing match, amazing atmosphere. I played on the court before. In the day it was amazing, but at night, there’s something about playing sport at night, it’s extra special.”

Evans will now play Carreno Busta in the last four after the Spaniard defeated British qualifier Jack Draper 7-6(4) 6-1.

Draper defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier in the week but was no match for the resilient Spaniard.

Saturday’s semi-final will be the first meeting between Evans and Carreno Busta.

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