Madrid Open Daily Preview: Two-Time Champion Simona Halep Faces Elise Mertens in the Third Round - UBITENNIS
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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Two-Time Champion Simona Halep Faces Elise Mertens in the Third Round

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Simona Halep, while recently speaking to the media (twitter.com/WTA)

Simona Halep has reached the Madrid final in three of her last four appearances, but could be tested by another of the WTA’s most consistent performers, Elise Mertens.  Tuesday’s other three women’s third round matches should also be engrossing, as they feature many of the sport’s most impressive rising stars.  On the men’s side, both first round and second round matches will be played.  Notably, two-time Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem will make his 2021 clay court debut.  But the day’s most intriguing ATP matchup sees two of the top Italians in the world square off for only the second time.

 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Tuesday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Simona Halep (3) vs. Elise Mertens (13) – Not Before 1:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

Halep leads their head-to-head 4-1, and 3-0 on clay.  She has never dropped a set to Mertens on this surface.  Mertens’ only victory came on a hard court two years ago in the final of Doha.  Their most recent meeting came last August on clay, with Halep taking out Mertens in the final of Prague.

That was one of three titles last year for Halep, and part of a stretch where she won 17 consecutive matches.  While she is 11-3 this season, Simona is yet to reach a final in 2021.  Her best result thus far occurred two weeks ago in Stuttgart, where she was soundly defeated in the semifinals by Aryna Sabalenka. 

No one won more matches last season than Mertens, who accumulated 34 wins.  However, that included no titles, and only two finals.  Elise did pick up a winner’s trophy earlier this year, in a WTA 500 event in Australia, which was her first title in two years.  But most concerning in this matchup with Halep is not only their history, but also her record against top players.  Since the start of 2020, Mertens is just 3-9 against top 20 opposition.  Elise doesn’t have the firepower of players like Sabalenka or Serena Williams, which Halep often struggles against.  This matchup favors Simona, who should advance to the quarterfinals of this event for the fifth straight time.

Matteo Berrettini (8) vs. Fabio Fognini – Fourth on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium

Their only previous meeting took place four years ago in Rome, when Berrettini was a wild card and ranked 249th in the world.  Fognini prevailed easily that day, but Matteo is now a much different player.  His breakout year was 2019, when he won 48 matches, reached the US Open semifinals, and debuted inside the top 10.  He’s now the No.1 Italian in the world, and is coming off a title run two weeks ago in Belgrade.

Fognini now finds himself as the third-ranked Italian, as the younger generation of Berrettini and Jannik Sinner have surpassed him in the rankings.  The 33-year-old has struggled since the start of 2020, with a record of 16-19.  And the same week Berrettini was winning the event in Belgrade, Fognini got defaulted in Barcelona for verbally abusing a line judge, which was not exactly shocking given Fabio’s history of misbehavior.

However, Fognini remains a highly-accomplished and dangerous player, capable of defeating almost anyone when he’s on.  That’s especially true on this surface.  Eight of his nine career titles have come on clay, most notably the Masters event in Monte-Carlo two years ago.  Fabio should be motivated to upstage the new Italian No.1 on his best surface, while I’m curious to see how Matteo handles the pressure of facing his country’s best male player of the past decade.

Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Jessica Pegula – Sabalenka has now won 29 of her last 35 matches.  Pegula is 18-6 this season, and received a walkover in the last round from Victoria Azarenka.  They split their two encounters last year, though Sabalenka comfortably prevailed on clay at Roland Garros. 

Jennifer Brady (11) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – Brady defeated two Majors champions in her first two rounds: Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko.  Pavlyuchenkova defeated two Major finalists: Madison Keys and Karolina Pliskova.  This is their first career meeting.

Maria Sakkari (16) vs. Karolina Muchova – These are the only two players to notch victories over Naomi Osaka in the past year.  And both have similar records this season: Sakkari is 15-7, while Muchova is 14-6.  This will be another first-time matchup.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Marcos Giron (Q) – Thiem has not played in over six weeks, as he took a break from the tour and rehabbed an injured knee.  Giron played for well over three hours just yesterday, and has spent more than eight-and-a-half hours on court through three matches over the last three days.

Andrey Rublev (6) vs. Tommy Paul – Rublev is still looking for his first 1000-level title, but reached the semifinals or better at the last two Masters events.  Paul has never advanced beyond the second round at a Masters.  Rublev is 2-0 against the 23-year-old American.

Karen Khachanov vs. Kei Nishikori – Nishikori was a finalist at this event in 2014, but is just 10-12 since returning to action last September.  Khachanov has also struggled of late, losing six of his last 10 matches.  They’ve split their four previous clashes.

Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: Championship Sunday

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Paula Badosa earlier this week at Indian Wells (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Sunday’s men’s and women’s singles championship matches feature a two-time champion and three first-time finalists at this level.  Victoria Azarenka won this event in 2012 and 2016, two of 10 WTA 1000 titles to her credit.  Paula Badosa, Cam Norrie, and Nikolaz Basilashvili are all vying for the biggest title of their careers, during what has become their best seasons to date.

 

Paula Badosa (21) vs. Victoria Azarenka (27)  – 1:00pm on Stadium 1

For Azarenka, this result is a bit of a surprise, despite all she’s achieved in the sport.  Her record of 28-8 is more than solid, but she’s dealt with multiple injuries throughout 2021, forcing her to withdraw during five different events.  This is her first final since nearly a full year ago in Ostrava. 

For Badosa, this result has been expected for some time.  She’s been most impressive this season, accumulating 40 match wins, and a record of 10-3 against the top 20.  Paula herself will debut inside the top 20 on Monday, and would be just a few points shy of the top 10 with a win on Sunday.

Azarenka will attempt to win her first final since April of 2016.  While she was the champion of last year’s Western & Southern Open, she received a walkover in the championship match from Naomi Osaka.  Vika is 0-3 in her last three finals, all on hard courts.  This is only the second WTA final for Badosa, who claimed the title in Belgrade this past May on clay.  Based on the way the Spaniard has been clubbing her groundstrokes, and her comfort level on these slow-playing courts, I’m going with Badosa to win the second title of her young career.

Cameron Norrie (21) vs. Nikoloz Basilashvili (29)  – Not Before 4:00pm on Stadium 1

Norrie has been one of the most surprising and remarkable stories of 2021.  Prior to this season, he had never been ranked inside the top 40.  But like Badosa, he will debut in the top 20 on Monday, thanks to a record of 46-20 on the year. 

Basilashvili has made news for other reasons, as he was arrested last year on domestic abuse allegations from his former wife.  On the tennis court, he’s been quite streaky this season.  Between January and March, he went on a five-match losing streak before winning the title in Doha, which includes victories over Roger Federer and Roberto Bautista Agut.  He was also the champion in Munich, and came through qualifying to reach the semis in Halle.

Basilashvili’s last loss before his successful run in Doha was at the hands of Norrie, who prevailed 6-0, 6-3 in Rotterdam.  Cam has dominated his last two matches this week in similar fashion, defeating Diego Schwartzman and Grigor Dimitrov while dropping only eight games across four sets.  The Brit has now won his last six semifinals, but his record in finals in striking different.  He’s only 1-4 this year in championship matches, and lost to Casper Ruud two weeks in San Diego 6-0, 6-2.  Meanwhile, Nikoloz has taken his last five finals, dating back to July of 2018.  With the biggest title of their careers on the line, Basilashvili is the favorite to utilize his powerful groundstrokes to secure victory.

Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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Grigor Dimitrov after his quarterfinal win on Thursday (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Saturday’s men’s singles semifinals are quite surprising, featuring four players ranked outside the world’s top 25.  Cam Norrie and Grigor Dimitrov will square off in the first semi, in a rematch from earlier this season in Miami.  The second semifinal is also a rematch from March of this year, as Nikoloz Basilashvili and Taylor Fritz actually played in back-to-back weeks seven months ago, during the two weeks when this tournament normally takes place.

 

Also on Saturday, the men’s and women’s doubles championship matches will be contested.  The women’s final will start the day at 11:00am local time, while the men’s final will close out play after the singles semifinals are completed.

Cameron Norrie (21) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (23)  – Not Before 1:30pm on Stadium 1

What a breakout season this has become for Cam Norrie.  The Brit is now 45-20 this year, and has been victorious in his last five semifinals.  Since his run to the final of San Diego two weeks ago, Cam has defeated four top 20 players: Shapovalov, Rublev, Bautista Agut, and Schwartzman.  Dimitrov also gained crucial momentum in San Diego, advancing to the semis and narrowly going down in defeat to eventual champion Casper Ruud.  Prior to that, 2021 had been a poor season for Grigor, as he was only 15-14.  Dimitrov’s last two wins this week were his most impressive in a long time.  He first came back from a set and two breaks down against top-seeded Medvedev, then survived a third-set tiebreak against Hubert Hurkacz.  When Norrie and Dimitrov met at the Miami Masters event in March, Cam prevailed 7-5, 7-5.  In the last round, Norrie simply walloped Diego Schwartzman 6-0, 6-2.  Based on his current level of play, I like Cam to win his sixth straight semifinal.

Nikoloz Basilashvili (29) vs. Taylor Fritz (31) – Third on Stadium 1

What a comeback Fritz staged on Friday.  Down 5-2 in the third and two match points against a red-hot Sascha Zverev, he fought back to eventually prevail in a tiebreak for what was the best and most exciting win of his career.  Taylor has now taken out three consecutive top 15 players: Zverev, Sinner, and Berrettini.  Basilashvili had compiled an up-and-down year, but when he’s on, he’s been tough to defeat.  He’s already claimed two titles this year, in Doha and Munich.  It was in Doha where Basilashvili overcame Fritz in the semifinals.  A week later, Fritz avenged that loss in Dubai, in a match decided by a third-set tiebreak.  Their only other meeting occurred four years ago in Chengdu, when Taylor won as a qualifier ranked 94th in the world.  Coming off the emotional high of his huge, thrilling victory on Friday, I expect it will be difficult for the American to recover and be at his best on Saturday.  That leaves Nikoloz with an enormous opportunity to reach the biggest final of his career, and he possesses strong groundstrokes which enable him to dictate the outcome.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) vs. Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Rybakina – Hsieh and Mertens are looking for their second title as a team, after prevailing at Wimbledon in July.  Kudermetova and Rybakina just began teaming in August, when they reached the semifinals in Canada.

John Peers and Filip Polasek (7) vs. Aslan Karatsev and Andrey Rublev – Peers and Polasek were finalists two weeks ago in San Diego.  The Russians have won their last eight matches as a team, dating back to their title run in Qatar this past March.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Daniil Medvedev Withdraws From Moscow

Daniil Medvedev has withdrawn from Moscow as he looks to recover for the last two tournaments of the season.

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Daniil Medvedev (@BNPPARIBASOPEN - Twitter)

US Open champion Daniil Medvedev has withdrawn from his home tournament in Moscow as he looks to get fully fit for the rest of the season.

 

The world number two suffered a disappointing exit in the fourth round of Indian Wells when he lost to Grigor Dimitrov from a set and 4-1 up.

After that disappointment Medvedev has decided to take some time off and therefore withdraw from the Kremlin Cup next week in Moscow.

Citing not being at 100% the Russian will now look to be fit for the rest of the season which ends at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, “Hello everyone! I am really sad to announce that this year I won’t be participating in Kremlin cup,” Medvedev announced on his social media platforms.

“It’s always special to have a chance to play in front of Russian fans. I signed in to give myself best chances to play, but with calendar this year being extremely tough I felt that my body is not ready 100% anymore.

“This decision was very tough for me but it has to be done in order to be able to finish 2021 season strong! Thank you and see all soon!”

Medvedev will next play the last Masters 1000 event in Paris-Bercy before finishing his season in Turin as he looks to finish his historic season with a flourish.

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