So He Isn’t Injured? Feliciano Lopez Backtracks On Rafael Nadal Back Issue Comment
As the online gaming tournament gets underway, there have been conflicting reports about the health of the world No.2.
It is without a doubt that Rafael Nadal will be the star attraction at this week’s inaugural Virtual Madrid Open but there are now questions about his physical fitness.
The 19-time grand slam champion kicked-off his campaign with a 4-3(3) win over Canada’s Denis Shapovalov on Monday. He was then meant to play Youtuber DjMario in a charity match but withdrew from it. Instead, he unexpectedly asked for it to be postponed until tomorrow.
Commenting on the reason, Madrid Open director Feliciano Lopez said it was due to a ‘back issue’ during a YouTube Livestream. Triggering the inevitable questions such as how did he suffer it and why would it affect him playing a video game? A total of 32 players are taking part in this week’s online competition, which aims to fill the void of the Madrid Open being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He had an issue on his back and was a bit injured so he requested to play DjMariio tomorrow,” Lopez said.
“I got a text from Rafa before he played Shapovalov saying he injured himself. I don’t know if he was working out or what it was. But he was worried about the injury.
“He said ‘let me play the match against Shapovalov and that’s it for today, then tomorrow I will try to play against DjMariio’.”
Nadal is no stranger to injury, but it is the first time it has forced him to delay playing one online. Although to add to the mystery surrounding the world No.2, Lopez later took to social media where he seemingly went back on his back issue comment. Instead saying that it was nothing but a joke.
“Guys, I was joking, of course… I said Rafa had a back injury from the pressure of playing on the PS4. We might need some sense of humour please!By the way he has shown great skills playing virtual tennis,” he wrote on Twitter.
With no comment from the 33-year-old as of yet, there remains confusion as to what actually happened and if there is a back issue or not. The only guarantee is that the king of clay will continue to play in the online event over the coming days. He is drawn in the same group as Andy Murray, who defeated Benoit Paire in his opening match.
The virtual tournament being played through the videogame Tennis World Tour (Nacon Gaming) on the PlayStation 4. A total of 300,000 euros will be up for grabs at the charity event which aims to help fellow tennis players during the Tour suspension. The men’s and women’s champions will decide how much to donate. Furthermore, the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro will donate a total of 50,000 euros to the Madrid Food Bank to help reduce the social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: Inspiring Stories Abound on Wednesday
Second round singles action begins on Wednesday in Paris.
Top names like Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Aryna Sabalenka, and Stefanos Tsitsipas will all be considerable favorites on Wednesday, so this preview will focus on what are likely to be Day 4’s more competitive matchups. And they include some inspiring stories: a 38-year-old former champion fighting back from injury for one more deep run at a Major, the American No.1 playing while thinking about her seriously ill mother, and a former top 10 player from France who has battled his way back from depression and alcohol issues.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Wednesday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Camila Giorgi vs. Jessica Pegula (3) – 11:45am on Court Philippe-Chatrier
Earlier this year in an essay for The Players’ Tribune, Pegula divulged the healthy crisis her family has been enduring. Her mother, Kim, went into cardiac arrest last June and nearly died. Kim’s has improved considerably, but she’s still battling significant health issues a year later. Jess has spoken about how her mom’s fight has inspired her tennis in recent months.
Pegula sits at a career-high ranking of No.3 in singles, and is No.2 in doubles. The 29-year-old American has advanced to the quarterfinals at four of the last five Majors, including this one a year ago. Jess also claimed her first WTA 1000 title last October is Guadalajara.
Giorgi is also a WTA 1000 champion, having won at that level two years ago in Canada. She is 14-9 on the year, and ousted France’s Alize Cornet in straight sets in the first round.
They have met nine times at all levels, with Pegula leading 7-2, taking their last four encounters. Giorgi’s last victory over Pegula came during that 2021 Montreal title run. Jess is the superior clay court player, and should advance comfortably despite the always-dangerous power the Italian possesses.
Marketa Vondrousova vs. Daria Kasatkina (9) – Second on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
Vondrousova was a surprising runner-up here four years ago as a 19-year-old. But multiple surgeries have disrupted her young career, with her only final since that 2019 French Open run coming at the Tokyo Olympics, when she took home a silver medal after losing to Belinda Bencic. Yet Marketa is back in strong form, with a record of 20-8 this season, and recent clay court victories over the likes of Maria Sakkari and Bianca Andreescu.
Kasatkina may be a top 10 seed, but she is only 13-12 in 2023. A semifinalist here a year ago, Daria would drop out of the top 10 with a loss on Wednesday, which puts a lot of pressure on her shoulders.
This should be a fun matchup, with both players possessing plenty of variety in their games. And they have split four prior meetings, and are 1-1 on clay. But based on recent form, Vondrousova is a slight favorite to take out the ninth seed.
Stan Wawrinka vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis (WC) – Second on Court Simonne-Mathieu
Wawrinka’s title run in Paris came eight years ago, with recent years filled with surgeries and a whole lot of rehab. Yet that made his first-round five-set victory over Albert Ramos-Vinolas all the more satisfying. Stan is looking to reach the third round of a Major since this tournament in 2020.
Kokkinakis’ career has been sabotaged by injuries from a very young age. But the 27-year-old Australian has been enjoying the healthiest stretch of his career across the last few seasons. Thanasi is 24-12 this year at all levels, and upset Dan Evans in straight sets in the first round.
Their first career meeting feels like it could go either way. The much-younger Kokkinakis should be the fresher player on the day. However, in the second round of the last Major, Thanasi suffered an excruciating loss to another aging Slam champ, in a near six-hour affair with Andy Murray. That is the kind of loss that sticks with you for a long time, especially when it happens at your home Major. With that in mind, I favor the Stanimal to pull out another tight victory on Wednesday.
Lucas Pouille (Q) vs. Cameron Norrie (14) – Last on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
Currently ranked 675th in the world, Pouille has won four matches since the start of qualifying, even defeating lucky loser Jurij Rodionov twice, once in qualifying and once in the main draw. Both of his victories over Rodionov were emotional: one was spent shedding tears of joy while holding his young son, the other spent singing La Marseillaise along with the Parisian crowd. After the demons Lucas has faced in recent years, each victory is as sweet as a French crepe.
Meanwhile, Norrie has become one of the sport’s most reliable performers since upping his physical fitness a few years ago. The 27-year-old is 28-10 in 2023, and survived a five-setter in the opening round against another Frenchman, Benoit Paire.
They have split their two prior meetings, both of which took place at Majors, and both of which were close. Five years ago at this tournament, Pouille prevailed in a fourth set tiebreak. Two years ago at Wimbledon, Norrie prevailed 7-5 in the fourth. In the rubber match on Wednesday, Cam must be favored despite what any French heartstrings may say.
Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:
Roberto Carballes Baena vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Tsitsipas required four sets, and was nearly pushed to a fifth, against Jiri Vesely on Sunday. Carballes Baena won in straights, and won at ATP title on clay last month in Marrakech. When they met five years ago on clay in Estoril, Stefanos narrowly prevailed in a third-set tiebreak.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Taro Daniel – Alcaraz dropped just seven games on Monday, in his first match at a Major as a Slam champion and World No.1. Daniel also prevailed in straight sets, and is now 8-6 this year at tour level. At a clay court Challenger tournament two years ago, Carlitos defeated Taro in three sets.
Iryna Shymanovich (Q) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2) – Sabalenka easily won her opener on Sunday, while 25-year-old qualifier Shymanovich claimed her first victory at a Major in her debut at this level. Aryna could become the new World No.1 this fortnight depending on how far she and Iga Swiatek advance.
Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Marton Fucsovics – Djokovic claimed his 86th French Open victory on Monday in straight sets. Fucsovics claimed his seventh, and is 0-4 against Novak, though he’s taken a set in three of their four meetings.
Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: Swiatek, Krejcikova, Azarenka, Andreescu Play on Tuesday
Day 3 in Paris sees the conclusion of first round singles play.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka plays US Open champ Bianca Andreescu in a matchup that headlines Tuesday’s Order of Play. Day 3 also features the 2023 Roland Garros debuts of the two most recent women’s singles champions: Iga Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova. Other action includes standouts from this season such as Daniil Medvedev, Elena Rybakina, and Holger Rune. Plus, last year’s singles finalists, Coco Gauff and Casper Ruud, will both play their opening matches.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Tuesday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Lesia Tsurenko vs. Barbora Krejcikova (13) – Second on Court 7
Krejcikova was the champion here two years ago in both singles and doubles. An elbow injury derailed her career last season, but she’s 20-10 in 2023, having won a WTA 1000 title in Dubai. However, she’s only 5-4 this year on clay, so she does not arrive in Paris with much momentum.
Tsurenko celebrates her 34th birthday on Tuesday, and was a US Open quarterfinalist in 2018. She is an impressive 25-8 this season at all levels (including qualifying matches, which don’t officially count). At Indian Wells, the Ukrainian withdrew from her match with Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka, citing a panic attack after what she described as shocking comments regarding the war in Ukraine from WTA CEO Steve Simon.
Their first career meeting is a tricky first round draw for the 2021 champion. Yet Krejcikova remains the favorite to advance, and is a potential fourth round draw for the 2020 and 2022 champion, Iga Swiatek.
Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Cristina Bucsa – Third on Court Philippe-Chatrier
Swiatek is 28-6 on the year, and 12-2 on clay. She’s 21-2 lifetime at Roland Garros, having won 42 of 48 sets contested. But is Iga 100% healthy? Just over a week ago in Rome, she retired during the third set of her quarterfinal against Elena Rybakina, citing a thigh injury. However, she’s indicated it is not a considerable injury.
Bucsa is a 25-year-old from Spain who upset Bianca Andreescu at the last Major in Melbourne, coming from a set down to win 6-4 in the third, after saving a match point in the second. But in the very next round, she only managed one game against her opponent on this day, Swiatek.
On Tuesday, a similarly-comfortable victory should be expected from Iga.
Holger Rune (6) vs. Christopher Eubanks – Third on Court Simonne-Mathieu
Rune made his big breakthrough at this tournament a year ago, achieving his first Major quarterfinal thanks to upsets over Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas. And the recently-turned-20-year-old has continued to make strong strides ever since, winning the Masters 1000 event in Bercy by outlasting Novak Djokovic in the final, and reaching two Masters finals on clay this season. Holger is now 27-10 in 2023.
Eubanks made a breakthrough of his own two months ago in Miami, where he came through qualifying and advanced all the way to the round of 16, achieving a career goal of cracking the top 100. The 27-year-old is now ranked 74th, but has still spent the majority of the past year on the Challenger circuit. The tall American has a big serve, and is not the easiest of opening round draws.
In their first career meeting, Rune is a clear favorite. However, I am curious to see how Holger handles this moment, as this is the first time in his young career that he is defending a result quite as big as his quarterfinal appearance from 2022.
Victoria Azarenka (18) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Last on Court Simonne-Mathieu
This is a marquee first-round encounter, though neither player comes into this tournament with much form, nor would either refer to clay as their favorite surface. Azarenka is 13-9 on the year, and just 2-2 on clay, after withdrawing from Rome due to a right leg injury. Andreescu is just 9-9 on the year, and 0-2 on clay, coming off a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Marketa Vondrousova in Rome.
Vika is 28-15 lifetime in Paris, having reached a semifinal 10 years ago. Bibi is only 2-2 in Paris, and is yet to advance beyond the second round at any Major outside of New York. So in another first-time meeting on the day, Azarenka must be favored to advance.
Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:
Elias Ymer (Q) vs. Casper Ruud (4) – Ruud reached two Major finals last season, but is just 16-11 in 2023, and would fall out of the top five with an early loss in Paris. Elias is the elder brother of another tennis pro, Mikael, and his only career win at a Slam came at this event. When they met four years ago at a hard court Challenger in Phoenix, Casper prevailed in three sets.
Thiago Seyboth Wild (Q) vs. Daniil Medvedev (2) – Medvedev is a stellar 39-5 on the year, and coming off a surprising Masters 1000 title on clay in Rome. Seyboth Wild has accumulated 36 match wins at all levels this year, all on clay.
Rebeka Masarova vs. Coco Gauff (6) – Gauff is 19-8 this year, yet is yet to win back-to-back matches in 2023 on clay. But Coco did win a hard court title to begin this season, defeating 23-year-old Masarova in the final of Auckland by a score of 6-1, 6-1.
Elena Rybakina (4) vs. Brenda Fruhvirtova (Q) – Rybakina is 30-7 this season, and just a week ago claimed the WTA 1000 title in Rome. Brenda and her sister Linda are two teenage Czech teenagers making strong strides in the sport at a very early age.
Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.
Novak Djokovic Cruises Past Kovacevic To Keep History Bid Alive
Novak Djokovic began his bid for a 23rd Grand Slam title with a straight sets win over Aleksandar Kovacevic.
Novak Djokovic’s historic bid for a 23rd Grand Slam title is alive after a 6-3 6-2 7-6(1) victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic.
The Serb broke on five occasions as he produced a clinical performance over the American, who idolised Djokovic as a kid.
Djokovic will now face tricky Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in the second round as he looks to send a statement of intent in the opening rounds.
The world number three had a tricky start to the match as Kovacevic more than held his own, using his backhand to effectively power past Djokovic’s defence.
However Djokovic did find a way through in the sixth game as he took his second break point of the set to seal a 4-2 lead.
Despite only winning five matches leading up to Roland Garros, Djokovic started the contest in confident fashion as the one break of serve was enough to seal the opening set.
The two-time champion only conceded three points on serve in the opening set and that dominance continued in the second set as he worked harder to break Kovacevic.
Although the American was resilient, the pressure was too much as Djokovic found a way through in a long opening game.
Djokovic continued to be consistent on return, using depth and power to force unforced errors from Kovacevic.
In this set, it was only four points dropped on serve as the Serb sealed another break, taking a 4-1 lead.
That was all Djokovic needed a two set lead was established after 1 hour and 18 minutes.
It was a more complicated third set for Djokovic even if he did break to love in the opening game.
Djokovic allowed his opponent back into the match after taking his foot after the gas with Kovacevic creating some break points in the third ste.
The American’s determination was rewarded with a break in the sixth game before Djokovic broke for a fifth time in the match to take a 4-3 lead.
Just as when Djokovic was cruising to victory, a poor service game saw Kovacevic break back for 5-5 as the world number 114 would eventually force a third set tiebreak.
However Djokovic raised his level when he needed to as he won seven of the eight points played to seal his place in the second round.
A dominant performance to start his bid for a 23rd Grand Slam title, which would put him ahead of Rafael Nadal on Grand Slam titles won.
Tougher tests await including Marton Fucsovics who awaits on Wednesday.
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