Belinda Bencic overcomes first hurdle while Keys breezes through at Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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Belinda Bencic overcomes first hurdle while Keys breezes through at Australian Open

Belinda Bencic won a tricky encounter against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova while Madison Keys hammered Daria Kasatkina.

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Belinda Bencic (@sport3laguna on Twitter)

Belinda Bencic secured safe passage through to the second round of the 2020 Australian Open with a hard-fought 6-3 7-5 victory over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

 

The Swiss, 22, enjoyed an excellent 2019. She reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open, won two WTA Premier titles and returned to the top ten after a three-year absence caused by a series of injuries.

Now the pressure is on for Bencic as she seeks to consolidate her ranking, so she was understandably relieved to negotiate the first hurdle at the first major of the year.

“I think every first round is very difficult,” the Swiss said in her on-court interview. “It’s really tough to find rhythm so I think it’s all about fighting and I’m really happy I got through.”

The first set was a bit of a scrappy affair. Bencic capitalised on a poor start from Schmiedlova to move 4-0 up. Then the Slovakian benefitted from some sloppy tennis from the Swiss as she dragged herself back into the set at 4-3.

Games eight and nine could have gone to either player. However, Bencic made fewer errors than her opponent and that proved crucial as she won both to take the set 6-3.

Bencic recovers after slow start

Although she won the opening set, the World No.6 looked very frustrated as she walked to her chair. And that annoyance came through in her tennis for the next three and a half games as she struggled to find the court.

When Bencic did get the ball in, she frequently landed it short. And Schmiedlova punished her with a series of excellent winners.

Then, just as the set seemed to be running away from the Swiss player at 3-0 with the Slovakian serving, she re-discovered her rhythm.

Bencic hit a couple of winners and outlasted Schmiedlova in a couple of long rallies to prolong the game and force two break points. Then she benefitted from an error by the World No.202 which gave her the break she needed.

For the next two games, the World No.6 looked in total control. She bossed the points and quickly levelled the set at 3-3.

The Slovakian responded superbly. She cracked three big winners to break her opponent for the second time in the set.

This time, however, Bencic refused to let her get away. She broke back immediately and then held her serve to love to move 5-4 ahead.

Schmiedlova held comfortably in game ten. Then the Swiss player battled through a very difficult service game. She let out a roar of ‘come on!’ when her opponent’s last ball travelled beyond the baseline.

Buoyed by this, Bencic attacked the Slovakian’s serve. She extracted two errors from the World No.202’s racket and cracked a forehand winner to make it 0-40. Then she seized the third of her match points with a deep backhand that Schmiedlova could not get back over the net.

Keys powers past Kasatkina

Madison Keys started her 2020 Australian Open campaign in style as she thumped Daria Kasatkina 6-3 6-1 in just 57 minutes.

The American began in blistering style as she hit seven winners in the first five games to move 4-1 up. Then she gathered herself after a brief blip to close out the set 6-3.

The second set was even more one-sided. Keys crunched 19 winners and broke Kasatkina three times to take it 6-1 in 26 minutes. She will now face either Magda Linette or Arantxa Rus in round two.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of 2022 Begins on Sunday

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A shot from the grounds of the French Open (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

The second Major of the year is upon us, with its unique Sunday start.  Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam event where first round singles play is spread across three days. 

 

The men’s draw is headlined by 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s breakout star of the last 12 months, Carlos Alcaraz.  The 19-year-old Spaniard will play his opening match on Sunday, as will top ATP names like Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev.

The women’s draw features 12 Major singles champions, five of whom have won this event: Iga Swiatek, Barbora Krejicikova, Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, and Garbine Muguruza.  The 28-year-old Spaniard plays perpetual draw-buster Kaia Kanepi on Sunday.  The Order of Play also includes the red-hot Ons Jabeur and US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, who faces France’s Kiki Mladenovic.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Ons Jabeur (6) vs. Magda Linette – 11:00am on Court Philippe Chatrier

Outside of Iga Swiatek, Jabeur is the WTA player with the most momentum heading into Paris.  Before losing to Swiatek in the final of Rome, Ons was on an 11-match win streak, coming off her title run in Madrid.  She’s now 17-3 on clay this season, and has reached the fourth round of this tournament the last two years.  She’ll be a considerable favorite against Linette on Sunday, though Magda could easily test the sixth seed.  The 30-year-old from Poland was a quarterfinalist this year at clay events in Charleston and Strasbourg, and she owns victories over some top names at Majors, including Ash Barty and Elina Svitolina.  They’ve met twice before on clay, with both matches going to Jabeur.  That includes a three-set encounter at this event a year ago.  I expect a similar result on Sunday.


Hugo Dellien vs. Dominic Thiem (PR) – 11:00am on Court Simonne Mathieu

Thiem is a two-time French Open finalist, but he is still fighting for his first win in over a year.  Since coming back from his wrist injury, he is 0-6 at all levels, with all those matches occurring on clay.  Earning that elusive win in the best-of-five format may prove challenging for an out-of-form player.  This will be Thiem’s first match against Dellien, a 28-year-old from Bolivia who has played 43 matches on clay this season at all levels.  He’s accumulated 30 wins, and advanced to two Challenger finals.  However, Hugo is yet to defeat a top 40 player this year.  While Dominic is not currently a member of that group, and is not performing at that level, taking out a Major champion at a Grand Slam event remains a daunting task.  At a tournament where Thiem has fond memories of success, I expect Dominic is earn his first win since last May.


Garbine Muguruza (10) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Second on Court Simonne Mathieu

Muguruza is a two-time Major champion, and won the third-biggest title of her career at November’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara.  But since that title run, Muguruza has struggled mightily, with a record of 7-8 in 2022.  She’s won back-to-back matches only once this season.  And in the opening round, she’s drawn one of the sport’s most dangerous floaters.  Kanepi has made a career out of upsetting top seeds at Majors.  As per Tennis Abstract, she owns nine top 10 wins at Grand Slam events, over the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and most recently at January’s Australian Open, Aryna Sabalenka.  Kaia is a seven-time quarterfinalist at Majors, including two times at Roland Garros.  Her only previous meeting with Muguruza took place eight years ago in Melbourne, when Muguruza prevailed in three sets.  But considering Garbine’s recent form, and Kaia’s history at Majors, this match is definitely deserving of an upset alert.


Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Juan Ignacio Londero (Q) – Fourth on Court Philippe Chatrier

Alcaraz has rapidly become one of the ATP’s players.  Carlitos is 28-3 in 2022, with four titles.  He is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings, and is within 200 points of the two players ahead of him (Nadal, Tsitsipas).  The teenager arrives in Paris on a 10-match win streak on clay, having taken back-to-back titles in his home country.  Londero is a former top 50 player who reached the fourth round of this event in 2019.  But he is coming off multiple seasons with a losing record, and hasn’t played a match since early-April.  Alcaraz should not have much trouble dismissing Londero on Sunday, though it is always a treat to see the Spaniard’s formidable skills on display.


Leylah Fernandez (17) vs. Kiki Mladenovic – Fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Fernandez has not immediately been able to follow-up on her thrilling US Open run from last summer.  Despite winning a title in Monterrey, she hasn’t reached a quarterfinal at any other event this year.  But still only 19-years-of-age, Leylah undoubtedly has some big results ahead of her.  Mladenovic was top 10 player in 2017, the same year she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam.  But the Frenchwoman is 2-4 in Paris since, and only 2-10 this season at all levels.  While Kiki will certainly be motivated by the Parisian crowd, it would be surprising if she could upset Leylah, as the Canadian remains a dogged competitor who thrives on big stages.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Sloane Stephens vs. Jule Niemeier (Q) – Stephens was the 2018 runner-up in Paris, and reached the fourth round a year ago.  But she’s 0-4 on clay in 2022.  Niemeier is a 22-year-old German who won an ITF-level event on clay last month.

Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Marcos Giron – Dimitrov is only 12-11 lifetime at Roland Garros, though he was a semifinalist in Monte Carlo this season.  This is a rematch from last year’s French Open, when Giron defeated Dimitrov after Grigor retired during the fourth set.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Juan Pablo Varillas (Q) – Auger-Aliassime is still looking for his first main draw win at Roland Garros.  He is 8-6 on clay this year.  Varillas is a 26-year-old from Peru who has won 19 matches on clay this season at all levels.

Maria Sakkari (4) vs. Clara Burel – Sakkari has some scar tissue to overcome at this event, as in last year’s semifinals, she was one point away from defeating eventual champion Barbora Krejicikova.  Burel is a 20-year-old from France who is a former junior No.1.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Sebastian Ofner (Q) – Zverev has reached the second week of this tournament four consecutive times.  Ofner is a 26-year-old from Austria who prevailed at a Challenger event in Prague last month.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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REPORT: French Open Qualifying Match Under Investigation Over Irregular Betting Patterns

An unusual number of bets were placed on the match in three different countries.

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A first round match at this week’s French Open qualifying tournament is being looked into after an abnormally high number of bets was placed, according to a leading French newspaper.

 

L’Equipe have cited police sources saying that the clash between eighth seed Bernabé Zapata Miralles and Dudi Sela has flagged up irregular patterns. Miralles defeated his Israeli rival 6-3, 6-0, in less than an hour. It is understood that the focus of the investigation is on the second set which lasted less than 20 minutes. A total of 32 points was placed in that set with Sela only winning seven of those.

According to the source, an unusually high number of bets were placed on the match in three different countries – Cyprus, Ukraine and Armenia. Prompting judicial authorities to look into the possibility that the match could have been fixed but at present no formal investigation has been confirmed.

“There is no business,” the French Tennis Federation (FFT) was quoted by Le Parisien as saying on the matter.

37-year-old Sela is currently ranked outside the world’s top 400 but managed to get into the qualifying draw with the use of a protected ranking. He has only played in two singles tournaments so far this season with the other being at the Australian Open where he also lost in the first round of qualifying.

Sela confirmed in January that 2022 would be his last as a professional. A former top 30 player, he has reached the final of two ATP events in China (2008) and Atlanta (2014). He also reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2009 and has beaten three top 10 players during his career.

Meanwhile, Miralles sealed his place in the French Open main draw on Thursday after coming from a set down to beat Luca Nardi 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that either player has been involved in match-fixing. According to statistics from L’Equipe, there has been a 177% increase in online bets concerning the French Open over a five-year period to 128M euros in 2021.

This year players who lose in the first round of qualifying at the French Open will earn €14,000, which is a 40% increase on 2021.

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‘Time To Accept The Situation And Fight’ – Rafael Nadal Targets French Open Despite Foot Concern

After recently returning to the Tour following a rib injury, a flare up of another issue threatens to spoil Nadal’s Paris dreams.

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Image via Roberto Dell’Olivo

Just over a week before the start of the French Open Rafael Nadal once again finds himself nursing a long-term condition that sidelined him from the Tour for months last year.

 

The 21-time Grand Slam champion looked to be in visible discomfort during parts of his clash with Denis Shapovalov in the third round of the Italian Masters on Thursday. After clinching the opening set, Nadal fell 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, to the Canadian who registered his first-ever win over a top 10 player on clay and his 10th overall. He now faces a race against time to be ready for the French Open which he has won a record 13 times.

“I am not injured. I am a player living with an injury. That’s it, it is nothing new. It’s something that is there,” Nadal told reporters in Rome.

35-year-old Nadal suffers from Mueller-Weiss syndrome, which is a degenerative disease that causes a deformity of one of the bones in the central part of the foot. Due to the condition last year he was only able to play in one tournament over a six-month period. In September that year he underwent treatment on his foot but not surgery.

“My day-by-day is difficult, honestly. Even like this, I am trying hard. Of course, it’s difficult for me to accept the situation sometimes,” the former world No.1 said of his condition. “It can be frustrating that a lot of days I can’t practice the proper way.”

The setback occurred during what was only Nadal’s second tournament since returning to action following a rib injury. At last week’s Madrid Open he reached the quarter-finals before losing to compatriot Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal’s recent misfortunes follow what has been a blistering start to the season for him. He started 2022 by winning 20 matches in a row before losing to Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells. His win-loss for the season currently stands at 23-3 with three titles won, including the Australian Open.

During his visit to Roland Garros this year Nadal will be joined by his doctor who will be keeping a close eye on his foot. As to how much the condition could hinder his campaign in the French capital, the Spaniard admits that he doesn’t know due to its unpredictability.

First thing that I need to do is to not have pain to practice, that’s it. And the negative thing is today it’s not possible for me to play. But maybe in two days things will be better, that’s the thing that I have with my foot,” he explained.

Nadal is the most successful player in French Open history with a total of 105 main draw wins. In fact, the only players to have ever beaten him at the tournament are Novak Djokovic twice and Sweden’s Robin Soderling.

“It’s time to accept the situation and fight. That’s it. Honestly, I can’t say anything more now,” Nadal continued.
“I still have a goal (to be ready for the French Open) in one week and a couple of days. I’m going to keep dreaming about that goal.”

Nadal has played just five matches on clay this season heading into the French Open.

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