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Is 19-year-old Iga Swiatek bound for greatness?

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper tennis columnist James Beck reflects on the potential significance of the French Open women’s final.

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Paris is always magical.

 

The City of Love must be.

Iga Swiatek is the French Open women’s singles champion.

Always talented, always athletic.

But until this fortnight the Polish 19-year-old had never demonstrated any true greatness in  women’s tennis. All of a sudden now, even the great John McEnroe is predicting greater greatness from the latest new star of women’s tennis.

A STRANGE YEAR FOR WOMEN’S TENNIS

What a strange year this is in women’s tennis. Sofia Kenin wins the Australian Open before the coronavirus took over the entire world. Kenin came out of nowhere to achieve this amazing feat.

So, just when it appeared Kenin was ready to keep her amazing success story afloat, another surprise arrived with the name Iga Swiatek. It wouldn’t be real surprising that when this coronavirus disappears, hopefully early in 2021, that Swiatek keeps winning Grand Slam titles. It also wouldn’t be surprising if she retires with just one major title.

Swiatek seems to be just that unpredictable.

DID SHADOWS PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THE WOMEN’S FINAL?

Perhaps this time, Swiatek’s glorious day was achieved due to the uncontrollable nature of nature itself. The sun and its shadows appeared to play a major role in how this Grand Slam final started.

Shadows dominated one end of the court at match time on Saturday in the newly covered Court Philippe Chatrier Stadium.

Visibility was dreadful on the TV screen, and it must have been much the same way in Kenin’s eyes when she played the second and third games of the match on the “shadow end” of the court. The 21-year-old American looked out of sorts as if she was playing in darkness and she couldn’t find the ball while falling behind, 3-0.

SHADOWS BRING BACK MEMORIES OF NADAL-SODERLING

The scene brought back memories of Rafa Nadal’s fourth-round match against Robin Soderling in 2009 at Roland Garros. Going into the 2020 final on Sunday against Novak Djokovic, Nadal has suffered only two losses in 88 matches on the red clay of Roland Garros.

Of course, Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals at the French Open wasn’t a show stopper, especially when you consider that Djokovic is now slipping up on Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam titles and Roger Federer’s 20 in the all-time major title race.

But for Rafa to lose to the big-hitting Soderling was shocking at the time. Rafa also looked like he was playing in darkness that summer day in 2009. He couldn’t find the ball, either.

KENIN WASN’T NORMAL SELF

Seeing what happened on Saturday in the shadows at Roland Garros, it’s now easier to understand what happened to Nadal that day against Soderling.

Kenin had a miserable day on Saturday. She wasn’t herself, maybe due to the shadows or maybe to her heavily bandaged left thigh. Kenin is a better player than the one audiences around the world saw in her 6-4, 6-1 loss to Swiatek.

FANS FORTUNATE TO CATCH THEM BEFORE THEY BECAME STARS

Watching this French Open women’s final made me acknowledge once again how great it is to reside in a great tennis town that brings the ITF world-wide circuit to your city. It happens all over the world, to large cities and small cities.

Of course, Charleston also has the WTA Tour’s Volvo Car Open where the world’s best current players perform for large crowds of paying viewers.

The ITF Circuit is different.

Swiatek, Kenin and Cori Gauff all played in the $100K ITF tournament at LTP Tennis in Charleston during 2018 or 2019. All free of charge for everyone to view in person or even to enter  the current boundaries of social distancing. Autographs, yes. But autograph seekers were rare for these three young stars even that recently.

James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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Carlos Alcaraz wins his third ATP Challenger title in Alicante

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Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz won his third ATP Challenger title of the season at the Juan Carlos Academy in Alicante. The 17-year-old Spanish rising star beat world number 97 and top seed Pedro Martinez 7-6 (8-6) 6-3. 

 

Both players broke twice in the first set en route to the tie-break. Alcaraz saved two set points at 4-6 in the tie-break. The 17-year-old Murcia native player won the final four points of the tie-break and converted his first set point at 7-6 with a backhand down the line in 1 hour and 44 minutes. After a trade of breaks at the start of the second set Alcaraz got another break in the sixth game to claim the second set. Alcaraz has extended his win-loss record to 20-3 since the ATP Challenger tour restarted last August. He also extended his record in tie-breaks to 14-1 and 9-0 in 2020. 

Alcaraz becomes the youngest player in the top 500 in the ATP Ranking. Earlier this year he won two more Challenger tournaments in Trieste and Barcelona. He is now ranked world number 136 and is the only player born in 2003 in the top 500. 

At the age of 17 years and 5 months Alcaraz is the youngest player to lift trophies in consecutive weeks and the second youngest to win three Challenger titles. Only Richard Gasquet was younger than Alcaraz when he clinched his third title in Neaples in 2003. 

Comparing Alcaraz to the current big stars of the ATP Tour, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic claimed two Challenger titles, when they were 17 years old. Only Gasquet did better winning five Challenger titles at Alcaraz’s age. 

Alcaraz joins an elite club of players who have won at least three titles before turning 18 following in the footsteps of Richard Gasquet, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Felix Auger Aliassime. 

Alcaraz opened his 2020 season ranked just inside the top 500 and is now projected to a career-high world number 136. 

Carlos started playing tennis at the age of four thanks to his father. He has been coached by former world number 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero at his Equelite Academy since the age of 15. 

“It feels incredible to win at home in Villena. It was a great match. Pedro is an amazing player and we both played at a high level. It makes me proud to play like this at home and in front of everyone I know. I am very happy and this is motivation to continue fighting for more”, said Alcaraz. 

Alcaraz will play at the Casino Admiral Trophy Marbella this week.  

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Alexander Zverev Confident ATP Finals Will Be Safe To Attend

The US Open finalist speaks out about travelling to the British capital during the pandemic.

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Alexander Zverev at the US Open 2020 (photo Twitter @usopen)

Germany’s Alexander Zverev believes the ATP Finals will be one of the safest places to be amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The world No.7 will head to London next month to play in the season-ending event which features the eight best players in the world of men’s tennis. London has recently been moved from level one to level two on the British Government’s COVID-19 tier system following a rise in cases of the virus towards 100 per 100,000. People from different households are now no longer allowed to mix inside under the new rules. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, recently said that the number of infection cases is doubling every 10 days.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Zverev says he is confident that the event will be safe to attend. For the first time this year it is taking place behind closed doors in accordance with government rules. In 2019 242,883 fans attended the tournament over an eight-day period.

“We will stay in a hotel next to the stadium, which will be bolted. I think this will be the last place, where people are vulnerable to the coronavirus disease,” Zverev told reporters on Sunday.

US Open runner-up Zverev is hoping for a strong end to what has been a testing season for the sport which was halted for five months due to the pandemic. On Sunday he added to his title collection by defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets to win the bett1HULKS Indoors in Cologne. The tournament was also held without fans due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Although we didn’t have any fans inside the arena, I felt the support from home. I had the feeling playing on home soil and I hope that many fans watched the final on TV,” Zverev commented.
“It is different and more difficult this year, as we played less tournaments than usual. I hope that I can keep it up like this.” He added.

At present six players have already qualified for the ATP Finals. Besides Zverev, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev are all set to play. World No.4 Roger Federer has also qualified but will not be playing after deciding to pull the plug on his season due to a knee injury.

The O2 Arena has been home to The ATP Finals since 2009 and has welcomed more than 2.8 million fans to the event over that period. However, the event will be moved to Italy from next year.

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Andrey Rublev claims his fourth title of the season in St. Petersburg

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Third seed Andrey Rublev has claimed his sixth career ATP title and his fourth trophy of a highly successful 2020 season in St. Petersburg with a 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 win over Borna Coric in the final after 1 hour and 39 minutes. 

 

Rublev has become the fifth Russian player to win the St. Petersburg title after Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1995), Marat Safin (2000, 2001), Mikhail Youzhny (2004) and Danil Medvedev (2019). 

Rublev is currently ranked eighth in the ATP Race to London and is 249 points ahead of 2020 Rome Masters 1000 Diego Schwartzman, who holds the final qualifying spot. 

Rublev has won four ATP Tour titles in Doha, Adelaide, Hamburg and St. Petersburg and is now level with Novak Djokovic. The 22-year-old Moscow native player has a 34-7 win-loss record in 2020 and is currently second on the ATP Tour list behind Djokovic, who won 37 of his 39 matches this year. 

The first set featured just one break point and went on serve en route to the tie-break. Coric went up a 5-2 lead in the tie-break. Rublev reeled off five consecutive points to win the tie-break 7-5. 

Rublev held serve in the first game of the second set with an ace. Coric got his first game on the scoreboard after a service winner to draw level to 1-1. Rublev hit a forehand down the line winner to hold his serve in the third game. The home player fired a forehand winner in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead and earned a break point in the sixth game with a return winner. Coric fended it off with an ace. Both players served well in the next games to set up a tie-break. 

Coric built up a 5-2 lead in the tie-break, but he made four forehand errors to trail 5-6. Rublev closed out the tie-break 7-5 with a service winner. Rublev went up a set and a break in the fifth game, as Coric netted a backhand, and held on his serve with a service winner. 

Rublev hit an ace to open up a 5-3 lead forcing Coric to serve to stay in the match. Coric held serve at 30 in the ninth game when Rublev netted a forehand. Rublev held serve at 15 to clinch his first title as the top 10 player. 

“Borna was playing really well. In the tie-break I was down 2-5 I was a bit lucky. Today is my day. Borna is one of the players who are famous for their fighting spirit. He beat a lot of players before. It is also important he is a good person”, said Rublev. 

Coric was bidding to lift his first ATP Tour title since Halle 2018. 

“When I go back home, I can train harder. Next year I will come back for sure and hopefully I can win the title”,said Coric. 

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