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A 7 Footer Wins Big At Wimbledon

Reilly Opelka shines in his Wimbledon debut.

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Reilly Opelka - Australian Open 2019 (foto via Twitter, @AustralianOpen)

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Stan Wawrinka, a Grand Slam winner, took his tennis defeat by an American with grace. Unlike the way The Sun, the tabloid, took England’s soccer defeat by America.

This was the day after, some 24 hours of regret for England’s team, beaten Tuesday night, 2-1 — or as The Sun printed it, 1-2 — by the United States in the semifinal of the Women’s World Cup.

This also was the day of success, Reilly Opelka of Florida upsetting Wawrinka, 7-5. 3-6. 4-6. 6-4, 8-6, Wednesday in a Wimbledon second-round match.

“He went bigger than me,” Wawrinka said, a statement that, since Opelka is 6-foot-11, could be taken literally. “And he deserved to win.”

So did the U.S. women’s team, albeit the way at least one American player, Alex Morgan, celebrated after her goal, America’s second, mimicking someone sipping tea, was unneeded.

In the United Kingdom they call instant replay VAR, or video assistant referee, and it was a replay that showed England was offside when scoring the apparent tying goal with eight minutes remained in regulation time.

Then the low penalty kick by England’s Steph Houghton was grabbed by goalie Alyssa Naeher to preserve the victory.

Or as the headline in The Sun put it, “LIONESSES LOSE TO V.A.R.MERICA”

Some clever people there, if some disenchanted ones. In The Sun, Martin Lipton called Houghton’s penalty kick “awful.” Hey, they did get to the semis, interestingly the same stage the men’s team reached in the 2018 men’s World Cup.

How far Opelka can go in this Wimbledon debut is problematical, especially because in the next round he faces Milos Raonic, who also has a huge serve and was also a finalist here three years ago.

Still, an another American male who actually can win tennis matches — the way American women win soccer matches — is to be appreciated.

Not that you expect to see him on a tennis court instead of a basketball court. And so Opelka, an inch shorter than 7 feet, was asked quickly enough, “Why are you here and not in the NBA?”

Without hesitation, Opelka responded, “Good question.” 

To which the 21-year-old could only answer, “I wish I was. I regret it every day. And yeah, that’s pretty much all I’m going to say.”

Other than basketball is his favorite sport, other than tennis, which now is his profession. “I don’t play (basketball) much anymore,” he said. “When I’m home I shoot every day. I go to the court and play all the time. But like I never played serious or anything.”

The 6-foot-9 John Isner, who’s been on the tennis tour more than a decade, was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year; he’s often said if as a kid he knew how tall he’d become, his choice would have been hoops. Opelka beat Isner in the first round of this year’s Australian Open.

The man has an advantage serving and a disadvantage returning. It was Isner who was locked into that 11-hour, three-day match against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, Isner winning 70-68 in the fifth set, when each player hit serves that couldn’t be returned.

Wawrinka, an even 6 feet, who has won the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, was asked if tennis would become the domain of the really big guy, such as the one who whipped him, Opelka.

“Against the big server, you’re not going to have a lot of chances,” said Wawrinka, “but no I don’t think. We’ve been thinking that for 10 years. But no, I don’t think we’re going in that direction.”

Who knows what direction Opelka is going, but beating a Grand Slam champ, even though Wawrinka is now 34, is hardly unimpressive.

“I had to adjust a lot,” said Opelka. “My mind was always thinking, especially after I lost the third set. He was in every return game.

“I played the big points really well on my serve, and that’s what good players do. They find other ways to win that you’re not always comfortable with.” 

Comfortable and uncomfortable, as Opelka pointed out, don’t matter.

As they say in golf, it isn’t how; it’s how many or how much. Opelka had as much as he needed. Just as the night before, the U.S. women soccer team had as much as it needed.

Note: story posted from http://artspander.com with permission from the author. 

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Daniil Medvedev Targets French Open Breakthrough After Rome Disappointment

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Daniil Medvedev believes there will be more title contenders at the French Open than previous editions with the Russian hoping to be one of them. 

The world No.4 heads into the Grand Slam after what has been a mixed clay swing. Medvedev suffered a third round defeat in Monte Carlo before bouncing back in Madrid where he reached the quarter-finals before retiring from his match with a minor injury. Meanwhile, at this week’s Italian Open, his title defence came to an end in the fourth round on Tuesday when he fell 6-1, 6-4, to Tommy Paul. 

“Mentally I had to be much better,” Medvedev said of his latest performance.
“I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.’
“It’s disappointing, but that’s how sport is. You lose and you go for the next tournament, which is a pretty important one.” He added. 

28-year-old Medvedev recently stated that he is seeing improvements in his game when it comes to playing on the clay. A surface which he has struggled on during stages of his career. Out of the 38 ATP Finals he has contested, only two of those were on the clay. Barcelona in 2019 when he finished runner-up and Rome last year which he won. 

As for the French Open, he has lost in the first round on five out of seven appearances. But did reach the quarter-finals in 2021 and the last 16 the following year. So could 2024 be his year?

“Now it’s maybe a little bit more open than it was ever before,” he said of this year’s event. 
“Good for me, too, because usually in Roland Garros I don’t play that well. The more open it is, the better it is for me.”

All of the top three players on the men’s tour are currently experiencing problems. Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Italian Open and recently underwent a medical assessment after getting hit in the head by a bottle in a freak accident. Jannik Sinner is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the French Open due to a hip issue and Carlos Alcaraz has been hindered by a forearm injury in recent weeks. 

“I’m feeling much better on clay,” Medvedev commented. “What is tough for me on clay sometimes is getting used to conditions. Every court – in every tournament in the world – is a bit different.
“On hard courts it’s the same: every court is different. On hard courts I have this ability to kind of quite fast get used to it. On clay, I need more time.”

Medvedev aims to become only the second Russian man in history to win the French Open after Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1996. The tournament will begin a week on Sunday. 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Says Expanded Masters Events ‘Playing A Massive Role’ In Player Injuries

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Stefanos Tsitsipas has slammed the decision to extend the length of Masters 1000 tournaments to two weeks by warning that more injuries could occur in the future as a result. 

This week’s Rome Masters is taking place without two out of the world’s top three players. Jannik Sinner pulled out of his home event due to a hip injury and Carlos Alcaraz has been troubled by a forearm issue in recent weeks. Other players missing from the draw include Tomas Machac (Illness), Ugo Humbert (Left Knee) and Stan Wawrinka (Right Wrist). 

The tournament is taking place immediately after the Madrid Open which is also a Masters event that has been expanded to a two-week format in recent years. Supporters of the move argue that a bigger draw provides lower-ranked players with more opportunities to play in these events whilst others will have a day off between matches. 

However, world No.8 Tsitsipas isn’t completely happy with the schedule which he openly criticised on Monday following his 6-2, 7-6(1), win over Cameron Norrie. The Greek has won 12 out of 14 matches played on clay so far this season. 

“It’s a type of thing that hurt the sport a little bit, to have these types of things happen to the highest of the players,” Tsitsipas commented on his rival’s injuries.
“Without them, the show is not kind of the same. You have obviously the guys behind them (in the rankings). These kinds of tournaments deserve names like this to be playing and have the opportunity to play in front of these big stadiums and crowds.
“I’ve spoken about the fact that the schedule has a big toll on our bodies. It starts from the mental side, and it follows to the physical side. The extension of the days in the Masters 1000s I think plays a massive role and contributes a lot to the fact that these players are getting injured.”

The ATP’s extended format is set to be applied to seven out of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments from 2025. The only two yet to make or plan for such changes are Monte Carlo and Paris. However, Tsitsipas has called for changes to be made to the schedule.

“It was perhaps already a lot the way it was before with the seven-day events. Adding more days to that, well, you got to be some type of superhero to be consistent back-to-back 10 days in each event getting to the very end of it.” He commented.
“It’s not a very easy thing to do. Some people need to try it first to get an understanding and how it is to pull that off. Then they should make decisions based on that.
“I think this is not going to be the first time we see these types of things (player injuries). If these types of things continue with the same schedule not being adjusted or customized to the needs of the players, we might see more of these things occur in the future.”

It is not the first time a player has raised concerns about the extended format. Alexander Zverev previously said that the schedule is a disadvantage for the top players. Meanwhile, on the women’s Tour Caroline Garcia has criticised the move to expand WTA 1000 tournaments whilst Maria Sakkari said achieving the Madrid-Rome double has become harder to do

On the other hand, Daniil Medvedev has spoken in favour of the new format and describes injuries on the Tour as ‘part of the sport.’ The former US Open believes the issue is related to the quick surface changes players face and not the duration of tournaments. 

Tsitsipas will play Alex de Minaur in the fourth round of the Italian Open on Tuesday. 

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Novak Djokovic To Undergo Medical Check After Rome Thrashing, Bottle Incident

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Novak Djokovic – ATP Roma 2024 (foto: Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis)

Novak Djokovic has indicated that he will speak to doctors following his lacklustre performance at the Italian Open where he crashed out in straight sets. 

The five-time champion was far from his best against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo as he struggled to generate any rhythm in his tennis or a single break point opportunity. Djokovic’s below-par performance caught many off guard, including the tennis player himself who admitted afterwards that he was ‘completely off’ his game. 

Trying to find the reason behind his latest performance, the world No.1 isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might be linked to an incident that took place at the tournament two days ago. Following his win over France’s Corentin Moutet, Djokovic suffered a blow to his head after a fan accidentally dropped a metal bottle from the stands. Immediately afterwards, he experienced nausea, dizziness and bleeding for up to an hour but was checked by medical officials.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I have to check that.” Djokovic replied when asked if the incident affected his form on Sunday.
“Training was different. I was going for kind of easy training yesterday. I didn’t feel anything, but I also didn’t feel the same.
“Today under high stress, it was quite bad – not in terms of pain, but in terms of this balance. Just no coordination. Completely different player from what it was two nights ago.
“It could be. I don’t know. I have to do medical checkups and see what’s going on. “

The tennis star said he managed to sleep fine after his head blow but did experience headaches. He looked to be in good spirits the day after it happened and even turned up to practice in Rome wearing a safety helmet.

Djokovic’s concerns come two weeks before the start of the French Open where he is seeking a record 25th Major title. He will undoubtedly be one of the contenders for glory but admits there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the coming days. 

“Everything needs to be better in order for me to have at least a chance to win it,” he said.
“The way I felt on the court today was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. Just no rhythm, no tempo, and no balance whatsoever on any shot.
“It’s a bit concerning.”

The French Open will begin on Sunday 26th May. 

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