Alexander Zverev leads the field in Davis Cup Qualifiers - UBITENNIS
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Alexander Zverev leads the field in Davis Cup Qualifiers

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Twenty-four nations will go head-to-head across 12 ties. The winning teams of this week-end ’s Qualifiers will secure their spot in the inaugural Davis Cup Finals next November in Madrid. On 18-24 November 2019. We provide some of the highlights of this weekend’s matches.

 

Germany vs Hungary

Alexander Zverev will be the stand-out name in the Davis Cup Qualifiers this weekend. The world number 4 and 2018 ATP Finals champion will lead Germany against Hungary at the Fraport Arena in Germany. Zverev will be joined by Phillip Kohlschreiber, Jan-lennard Struff and Peter Gojowczyk and doubles specialist Tim Puetz. Zverev, who will be looking to bounce back from his fourth round defeat at the Australian Open, has a mixed record of four wins and four defeats in his previous appearances in the Davis Cup. Germany is favourite against an Hungarian team which will not feature its best player Marton Fucsovics. Germany will meet Hungary for the sixth time in Davis Cup, but it will be their first clash in 41 years.

Kohlschreiber will play in the first rubber match on Friday against world number 371 Zsombor Piros. Alexander Zverev is the strong favourite against a familiar name Peter Nogy, who beat the German at Future level. Jan Lennard-Struff and Tim Puetz, who are unbeaten in the three Davis Cup doubles ties they have played together, will face Gabor Bosos and Peter Nagy.

Australia vs Bosnia and Erzegovina

This year’s Sydney ATP 250 champion Alex De Minaur leads the Australian team against Bosnia Erzegovina at the Memorial Drive Tennis Club in Adelaide. The team captained by Lleyton Hewitt also features John Millman, Jordan Thompson, this year’s Australian Open doubles finalist John Peers and Alexei Popyrin, who will make his debut in the Davis Cup after reaching the third round at the Australian Open. World number 47 Damir Dzumhur and Mirza Basic lead the Bosnian team. Millman will play against Dzumhur in the first match on Friday followed by the second round match between De Minaur and Basic. Peers and Thompson will take on Basic and Brkic in Saturday’s doubles match. The Saturday’s programme features two singles matches (De Minaur vs Dzumhur and Millman vs Basic).

Thirty-year-old Australian doubles specialist John Peers thinks that it is going to be a fascinating weekend of tennis.

“It will be a very intense tie. It will be interesting to see the workload of the guys making the switch from five sets to three sets. It will be the first time we have seen it at the very top level of Davis Cup, so it will be interesting to see how the guys handle that one, whether it changes their mindset if they play all the three rubbers. It could be a longer day on Saturday or it could be a quicker day”, said John Peers.  

 India vs Italy

A strong Italian team featuring 2018 Roland Garros champion Marco Cecchinato, this year’s Sydney finalist Andreas Seppi, Matteo Berrettini, Thomas Fabbiano and doubles specialist Simone Bolelli starts as favourite against India in Kolkata on grass. The Indian team capatained by Mahesh Bhupathi is led by world number 109 Prajnesh Gunneswaran. India scored their only win against Italy in their five head-to-head matches in 1985. The home team features Ramkumar Ramanathan, Saketh Myeni, doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan.

World number 37 Seppi will face Ramanathan in the first singles match on Friday.

“Playing at home is an advantage for us. I have to try and stay aggressive and hopefully the team wins in the end”, said Ramanathan.

In the second match Gunneswaran will take on Berrettini who will make his debut in the Davis Cup.

 “It’s gonna be my first time and I am very excited to play. I played Ramkumar last year. So I know him quite well and it’s gonna be a tough match especially on grass”, said Berrettini.

In Saturday’s doubles match Bopanna and Sharan will clash against Berrettini and Cecchinato.

Italy won their previous Davis Cup ties in 1928, 1952, 1958 and 1998 and lost only one match on grass in Kolkata in 1985.

Switzerland vs Russia

A strong and young Russian team featuring world number 11 and 2018 Paris Bercy champion Karen Khachanov, number 19 Danil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Evgeny Donskoy and Konstantin Zhzhenov will start as favourite in the Swiss town of Biel against a Swiss team, which includes world number 142 Henri Laaksonen, Marc Andrea Huesler, Jakub Paul, Sandro Ehrat and 15-year-old debutant Jerome Cyrill Kim. Switzerland meets Russia for the first time since 2002. Medvedev reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open and won a set against eventual champion Novak Djokovic. In the first Friday match the Russian 22-year-old player will face Laaksonen, who reached the second round in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in his career.

“I like the new Davis Cup format. It’s like blitz chess. We have the chance to win it”, said Medvedev.

Slovakia vs Canada

Two Next Gen players Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime plus Peter Polansky will lead Canada against Slovakia at the NTC Arena in Bratislava. The stand-out name of the Slovakian team is world number 40 and former Rotterdam champion Martin Klizan. Russia has not won the Davis Cup since 2006. As Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil will be absent and Daniel Nestor has now retired, Canadian hopes will be carried by a young team led by Shapovalov and Auger Aliassime. Shapovalov will play in the inaugural match against another young player Filip Horansky in the first Friday’s match. Auger Aliassine will make his debut in the Davis Cup against Martin Klizan in the second Friday’s singles match. An all- Next Gen team Shapovalov and Felix Aliassine will play in the doubles match against Filip Polasek and Igor Zelenay.

“I remember when I and Denis were part of the team that won the Junior Davis Cup, we had messages of congratulations from Milos and Vasek. We both said it would be great one day to be leading the team in the Davis Cup. The dream has become a reality and it’s great to have a friend in Denis alongside me this weekend”, said Auger Aliassime. 

Japan vs China

Japan will not feature Kei Nishikori, who is still recovering from the thigh injury he sustained at the Australian Open, but Japanese captain Satoshi Iwabuchi has named a talented team for the Asian tie against China in Guangzhou.

Japan includes world number 66 Yoshihito Nishioka, who won the Shenzhen Open last year, Taro Daniel and doubles specialist Ben McLachlan. Nishioka will face world number 262 Li Zhe in the first match. Taro Daniel will face Zhang Ze in the second rubber match. Japan is hoping that Naomi Osaka’s recent triumph at the Australian Open will serve as inspiration for this weekend’s Davis Cup match.

Czech Republic vs Netherlands

Czech Republic will face the Netherlands in a tie, which features a mix of young and experienced players. Jiri Vesely will face 22-year-old Dutch player Tallon Griekspoor. World number 130 Lukas Rosol will take on Robin Haase, who made his debut 13 years ago.

 “After Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek finished their careers we have to change a bit the teams with the young players. That’s why I bring two young players. They improved the last years very well. So I hope they gain experience with our team. I hope in the future they will come to the team”, said Czech team captain Jaroslav Navratil.

Brazil vs Belgium:

The Brazilian team captained by Joao Zwetsch will host the team against two-time finalist Belgium in Uberlandia. Belgium won all three of their previous Davis Cup ties with Brazil. The home team features Thiago Monteiro, who won a Challenger title in Punta del Este last week, Rogerio Dutra Silva and a very strong team formed by Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo. Belgium will not feature David Goffin and veterans Ruben Bemelmans and Steve Darcis, who helped Belgium reach two finals in 2015 and 2017.

Austria vs Chile:

Dominic Thiem will not feature in the Austrian team, which faces Chile on the indoor clay of the Salzburg Arena. Chile won all their previous three ties against Austria.

Thiem withdrew from the Davis Cup tie following his retirement from the second round match at the Australian Open. Austrian captain Stefan Kobek has named teenager Jurij Rodionov, who will make his debut in the Davis Cup in the inauguaral rubber match against Chile’s world number 41 Nicholas Jarry. Austrian Dennis Novak will face 22-year-old Chilean player Christian Garin. Austrian strongest hopes are set on Saturday’s doubles match, where Jurgen Melzer and Oliver Marach will play against Julio Peralta and Hans Podlipnik Castillo.

“Without Dominic we are a different team. He is a top 10 player and if you have him in the team it’s a different story, but we are strong enough to play against Chile”, said Stefan Koubek.

Uzbekhstan vs Serbia:

Serbia will travel to Tashkent to face Uzbekhstan on indoor court in Tashkent. These countries will face for the first time since 2009, when Serbia won 5-0 in a World Group play-off in Belgrade.

Dusan Lajovic will play against Uzbeki’ world number 424 Sanjar Fajziev in the first Friday’s singles tie. World Number 72 Filip Krajnovic will face world number 104 Denis Istominin. Viktor Troicki and Nikola Milojevic will take on Istomin and Fayziev in Saturdays’s doubles.

Colombia vs Sweden:

Seven-time champions Sweden will make a very long trip to Bogotà to face Colombia on an indoor clay court. Colombia will rely on one of the strongest doubles teams formed by Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.

“It will be huge. It’s been our goal now to be in the World Group, but with the old format we were not able to make it. We played a play-off tie six times in 2010, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and we were always only a couple of points away in a couple of ties. For us it is a good chance to finally make it to the top level. It’s a big monkey on our back right now for Colombia as a team. I feel like to give that happiness to the crowd, to the country will be very good for us”.

 Sweden rest its hopes in brothers Elias and Mikael Ymer. Elias has won five of his last seven Davis Cup ties, while Mikael has won five of his six singles matches. Elias will play in Friday’s first match against Santiago Giraldo. Mikael will take on Colombia’s number 1 player Daniel Galan. Cabal and Farah will meet Sweden’s Robert Lindstedt and Markus Eriksson in Saturday’s doubles match.

“Of course, I would be lying if I denied that. It’s something we dreamed of since a young age. Seeing Venus and Serena Williams and Andy and Jamie Murray and watching Davis Cup live at the age of 10, sometimes you have to stop and remind yourself like: “Wow look how far we have come. Every time we put the Swedish shirt on our body it is always very emotional”,said Mikael Ymer.

Kazakhstan vs Portugal:

Portugal will face a very tough task against Kazakhstan, who have won 10 of their 11 home ties in Astana. The Kazakh team fields world number 52 Mikhail Kukushkin, Alexander Bublik, Alexander Nedovyesov, Denis Yevseyev and Timur Khabibulin. Portugal will be looking to reach the Davis Cup Finals after achieving their best result at this event in 1994 and 2017, when they reached the World Group Play-Off. Portugal’s world number 39 Joao Sousa is the highest ranked player to take part in this tie. The Portuguese team also fields Pedro Sousa, Joao Domingues and Gastao Elias.

“We are expecting a tough tie. We are playing away, so we are expecting a strong team from them. For them it’s going to be a tough one for us. We will prepare as good as we can, we will give our best and we will try to win”, said Sousa.

 

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Madison Keys battles past Simona Halep to reach the quarter final in Cincinnati

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Madison Keys beat this year’s Wimbledon champion Simona Halep 6-1 3-6 7-5 to advance to the quarter final at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati for the second consecutive year.

 

Madison Keys stopped a five-match losing streak against Simona Halep after a thrilling three-set match scoring her first win over the Romanian player in five years.

After beating Halep in their first head-to-head match in 2014, Keys lost five consecutive matches against her Romanian rival, including four in 2016. They met for the first time since the 2016 WTA Finals, where Halep beat Keys 6-2 6-4 in a round-robin match.

Keys never faced a break point and dropped just eight points in four service games and reeled off nine of the eleven points on Halep’s first serve to cruise through to a 6-1 win in 20 minutes.

In the second set Halep dropped her serve twice, but she converted three of the ten break points. The Romanian player held her serve at love for the first time in the match to win the second set sending the match to the third set.

Keys went up a 3-0 lead in the decider and earned four break points for 4-0. Halep converted her fifth break points at deuce and held serve at love to draw level to 3-3. Keys did not convert a match point at 5-4, but she sealed the win by breaking serve with a forehand winner in the 12th game at deuce to the delight of the home crowd.

“I think I played really smart tonight. Obviously I played a really good first set, and I don’t think she played her best tennis in the first set. I think the third set we played a pretty high level of tennis. I think it was the first time that I played a little bit more within myself and didn’t try to do too much too soon. She has been number 1 for a reason, won Grand Slams for a reason. I knew that she wasn’t just going to give up or give in. I knew the entire time I had to fully win the match before I could take a deep breath. I am really happy after losing my lead in the third set, I was able to get back. It definitely reminds me that when I am in the right mindset and playing some good tennis, I can compete with anyone”, said Keys.

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Cincinnati Open Thursday Preview: The Round of 16

All round of 16 singles matches will take place on a loaded day of tennis.

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Naomi Osaka (photo via Twitter, @PorscheTennis)

The women’s singles draw is particularly loaded, with seven of the top 10 seeds advancing this far. That leaves us with some stellar third round WTA matchups. And it includes all three women currently contending for the world No.1.

 

You cannot say the same about the men’s singles draw. The bottom half has just been decimated, with the withdrawals of Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, and yesterday’s upsets of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kei Nishikori, and Sascha Zverev. That opens up a huge opportunity for a surprise finalist in this Masters 1,000 event. But in the men’s top half, four of the top five seeds on this half remain, including Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Normally this daily preview contains one men’s match and one women’s match, but with so many great women’s matches today, let’s dig deeper into two WTA matchups.

Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh

Osaka has been talking openly about having fun on court for the first time since the Australian Open. However, after watching her play the past few weeks, I’m not fully convinced that’s the case. I’m sure having fun is her goal, but she may be overcompensating. Naomi has been giving Kevin Anderson a run for his money in the fist-pumping department, and can often be seen talking to and laughing at herself on court. It’s nice to see her trying to stay positive, though it appears she may be masking a bit of fragility. And Osaka cannot afford to be feeling fragile against this opponent. Hsieh can be one of the most frustrating players on tour with her unique style. While Osaka owns a 3-1 record against her, Hsieh was the victor in their only previous North American hard court meeting, which was earlier this year in Miami. Naomi is currently in a three-way race for the No.1 ranking, and a loss today would open the door for Ash Barty or Karolina Pliskova to surpass her heading into the US Open. Osaka didn’t play her best yesterday, but hung on to win in three sets. If she doesn’t up her level today, she very well may go down in defeat.

Elina Svitolina (7) vs. Sofia Kenin

This will be their third meeting. They split the previous two, both of which occurred on a North American hard court earlier this year. Svitolina was victorious in Indian Wells, while Kenin’s win came just last week in Toronto. The 20-year-old American has been building a stellar resume this season, with 33 match wins and two titles. 22 of those match wins are on hard courts, and half of those have taken place in North America. Kenin is on the verge of breaking into the top 20, and is currently 14th in the year-to-date rankings. Meanwhile Svitolina is coming off a considerable breakthrough last month at Wimbledon, where she finally won a Major quarterfinal in her fifth try. But the American appears to be the more in-form player, and will benefit from the energy of a night session crowd in her home country. She has a more aggressive playing style than Svitolina, which the courts in Cincinnati should reward.

Other notable matches on Thursday:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Anett Kontaveit. This is a rematch from the semifinals in Miami earlier this year, where Barty prevailed 6-3, 6-3.

Simona Halep (4) vs. Madison Keys (16). Halep owns a 5-1 record against Keys, with Madison’s only victory coming in their first match nearly six years ago.

In a battle between former Major champions, Sloane Stephens (8) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Donna Vekic vs. Venus Williams. Venus claimed their only other encounter, at Wimbledon in 2016.

Karolina Pliskova (3) vs. Rebecca Peterson (Q). The 24-year-old from Sweden already has victories this summer over Sloane Stephens, Barbora Strycova, and Johanna Konta.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (Q). A US Open semifinalist two years ago, Carreno Busta is now ranked outside the top 50, and is 0-2 against Djokovic.

Roger Federer (3) vs. Andrey Rublev (Q). Similar to Carreno Busta, Rublev was a US Open quarterfinalist two years ago, but is now ranked 70th in the world.

In men’s doubles, Feliciano Lopez and Andy Murray (PR) vs. Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock (WC). Harrison and Sock are both now ranked outside the top 150 in singles as they’ve struggled with form and injuries.

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Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s Big Four reunion in Cincy

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ATP Cincinnati, Andy Murray, Western and Southern Open
Photo Credit: Western and Southern Open Twitter

A few years before, there existed a quartet called Big Four in men’s tennis. At certain points in their time-line of dominance, injuries plagued each member of this four-member group. However, the severity of their affliction in one player, Andy Murray, saw his name erased from this elite pocket. Thus, the Big Four was reduced to the Big Three with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer making up the troika.

 

At the 2019 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, three of the erstwhile Big Four troupe reunited as they re-entered the circuit’s circus. And each player had a different path leading up to the event, too, underlining how divergent their careers had become despite overlapping scheduling.

The 2016 season was the common catalyst leading to this divergence. From Federer’s injury to him pausing his season to focus on rehab after Wimbledon, to Djokovic pushing his boundary as a marauder and completing the non-calendar Slam, and to Murray ending the season as the world no. 1. The year in consideration also threw up other names – Nadal’s season ended in an agony of injury, while Stan Wawrinka won his third Major at the US Open. In its bounty of giving and taking, 2016 changed how we looked at these players – especially the first four – and the irrevocability of assumption that these guys could get past any hurdles stopping their way.

Juxtaposing with Cincinnati, in the three years since 2016, Federer and Djokovic have vaulted past their share of physical problems. Yet, in the Ohioan city, they have different motivations guiding them. This is the first time that Djokovic has entered the Cincinnati draw as the defending champion. Meanwhile, after having been drawn in the same half as the Serbian, Federer has the proverbial score to settle against him. “I can’t wait for my next rematch with Novak or my next time I can step on a match court and show what I can do,” the 20-time Slam champion said in one of his pre-tournament media interactions in Cincinnati.

There are a few opponents to get past before their slated semi-final meeting occurs. Nonetheless, their sustained competitiveness adds its fervour to the already-hefty top-half of the men’s draw. In the midst of their respectively successful opening rounds, Murray’s first-round defeat to Richard Gasquet in straight sets became a contextual misnomer for comebacks.

Yet, Murray’s was the most stirring return. This was not because of the emotional crossroads that had sprung up at the 2019 Australian Open regarding his retirement. But on account of how farther Murray had leapt to put his physical frailties behind and re-join the singles Tour. And, the Briton’s determination to do so is reminiscent of 2016, all over again. It’s the completion of the circle of how Murray had pushed hard to become the world’s best player and now, he is trying just as much to regain his footing back.

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