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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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Friday’s Rainouts Make for a Busy Saturday in Rome

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The tarps should not be required to cover the courts on Saturday (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

Three singles quarterfinals scheduled for Friday were either not started or not completed, and will be staged at 11:00am on Saturday.  For a look at those quarterfinals (Djokovic/Tsitsipas, Rublev/Sonego, and Svitolina/Swiatek), Friday’s preview is here.  The winners of those matches will have to play twice in one day.  Thankfully, the forecast in Rome looks much dryer on Saturday.

 

This preview will look at the two singles semifinals that are already set for Saturday.  Karolina Pliskova is looking to reach the championship match in Rome for the third consecutive year, but standing in her way is Petra Martic, who is thriving this week with an Italian tennis great as her new coach. 

If there was any doubt Rafael Nadal is the favorite for Roland Garros after a few losses this clay season, those doubts should have certainly been erased this week.  His consecutive victories over Jannik Sinner, Denis Shapovalov, and Sascha Zverev have all been stellar.  On Saturday, Nadal faces a first-time Masters 1000 semifinalist, Reilly Opelka.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Petra Martic – Not Before 12:00pm on Center Court

Over the past two years, this is the only WTA 1000 event where Pliskova has reached the semifinals or better.  She is now 14-5 lifetime in Rome, after surviving a tight, dramatic encounter on Friday against Jelena Ostapenko, which was decided in a third set tiebreak.  For Petra Martic, this is her best result ever at this level, and comes as a surprise in a season where she was just 4-8 prior to this week.  Martic was on a five-match losing streak heading into this event, dating back to February.  Hiring Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone as her coach has brought renewed confidence to her game.

Pliskova and Martic have split four tour-level meetings.  However, their only clay court clash went to Martic in straight sets, which occurred two years ago at the French Open.  But at an event of this magnitude, and in a city Pliskova loves to play in, Karolina should be favored to return to the final.  As impressive as Petra has been this week, she’s yet to face a player ranked inside the top 30.  In fact, Martic hasn’t faced any top 30 opposition since October of last year.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Reilly Opelka – Not before 1:00pm on Center Court

Nadal is just two wins away from his tenth title in Rome.  And he’ll be strongly favored in his first match against 23-year-old Opelka, who before this tournament only owned two career victories at tour level on this surface.  But Reilly is yet to drop a set this week, and has earned solid wins over the likes of Lorenzo Musetti and Aslan Karatsev.  And the near-seven-foot-tall American can make any match extremely tight when he’s serving well.  He’s averaged 10 aces per set through four matches, and has not been broken, saving all six break points faced.  If Opelka can serve like that in the biggest match of his career to date, and force a few tiebreaks, he’s got a shot.  Still, Nadal should advance to his 12th final of this event, especially considering he’s never lost a semifinal in Rome.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

In the other women’s semifinal, 17-year-old Coco Gauff will play either Elina Svitolina or Iga Swiatek.  Gauff was the beneficiary of Ash Barty’s retirement in the quarterfinals.  This is the farthest Coco has advanced in her young career at a WTA 1000 event.

The second men’s semifinal will see the winner of Novak Djokovic vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas take on the winner of Andrey Rublev vs. Lorenzo Sonego.

There are also six doubles matches on Saturday’s schedule, including two quarterfinals carried over from Friday.  In men’s doubles, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic have easily been the best team of 2021, with a record of 35-4, and four titles.  They are drawn to play John Peers and Michael Venus in the semis, who won three titles in 2020.

In the women’s doubles semifinals, Irina-Camelia Begu and Sara Errani have won three matches this week in their first tournament as a team since 2017.  They will face Kristina Mladenovic and Marketa Vondrousova, who had never teamed together before this week.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Coco Gauff reaches Rome Semi-Finals after Barty retires

Coco Gauff is into her first WTA1000 semi-final after Ash Barty retired during their match.

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Coco Gauff (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

The 17 year old American was down a set and 2-1 when the world number one decided to call it.

 

Coco Gauff is into the semi finals of the BNL D’Italia open after her opponent the world number one and Aussie Ash Barty decided to pull out after leading 6-4, 2-1 with a right arm injury.

Under wet and rainy conditions the match began and you had a sense the rain was going to play a big factor in this one and it was the American who had three early chances to break in the first game of the match but the Aussie saved all three and held her opening service game.

The very next game it was Barty turn to apply pressure on the Gauff serve but the American did a good job saving the breakpoint and holding her serve before eventually breaking the Aussie serve the very next game.

The world number one responded the very next game breaking right back and that’s when the rain started to pour and the match was suspended.

Two hours later play resumed and literally after playing one game there was another slight delay for a down pour and a couple of minutes later play resumed one more time.

It stayed on serve until 5-4 with the American serving to stay in the set and it was the world number one putting more pressure and after saving four set points the Aussie would break with a stunning cross court forehand winner to take the first set.

The second set stayed on serve until 2-1 when Barty called for the trainer and after a brief discussion to everyone surprise decided to retire with a right arm injury.

Gauff now awaits the winner of the quaterfinal match between Elina Svitolina and Iga Swiatek.

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Friday Delivers Several Blockbuster Quarterfinals

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Seeing fans back in the stands was a welcome sight on Thursday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

But will we be able to see those quarterfinals on Friday?  The forecast in Rome looks rather rainy, especially later in the day, so it may be challenging to complete play.

 

In men’s singles, two of the quarterfinals feature four of the top six players in the world.  Only one day after a three-and-a-half-hour epic against Denis Shapovalov, nine-time champion Rafael Nadal must face Madrid champion Sascha Zverev, who defeated him in the quarters just last week.  And five-time Novak Djokovic takes on Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has claimed 17 of his last 20 matches on clay.

In women’s singles, two-time champion Elina Svitolina plays a Roland Garros champion for the second consecutive day.  On Thursday, Svitolina took out Muguruza in straight sets.  On Friday, she’ll do battle with Iga Swiatek, who has won 12 of her last 13 on clay.  Another French open champ, Ash Barty, will play 17-year-old Coco Gauff for the first time, as Coco looks to upset a seeded player for the third round in a row.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play begins at 10:00am local time.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Sascha Zverev (6) – Not Before 12:00pm on Center Court

What will Nadal have left after Shapovalov took him to the limit on Thursday?  Zverev will certainly be the fresher player, and will walk onto court with plenty of confidence.  While Rafa claimed their first five meetings, Sascha has now grabbed their last three, and all in straight sets.  That includes his victory just seven days ago in Madrid, which is part of Zverev’s current seven-match win streak.  And during that span, he’s dropped only two sets.  

In recent years, the quarterfinals of this event have been a stumbling block for Nadal.  He’s lost in the quarters four out of the last six years.  It’s difficult to ever refer to Rafa as an underdog on clay, even when he’s behind in a match.  However, he just might be the underdog on this day.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not Before 6:00pm on Center Court

Svitolina has been solid yet unspectacular in 2021.  She’s accumulated a 19-8 record, though she hasn’t reached a final since last September in Strasbourg.  As of today, Swiatek has compiled a record of 16-5, which exactly matches her record from 2020.  The reigning French Open champ also won the title in Adelaide this past February.  This will be their first career meeting, and it will be interesting to see how the defense skills of Svitolina match up with the more offensive style of Swiatek. 

Elina won this tournament in 2017 and 2018, so this may be the best venue for her to elevate her season.  And despite Iga’s great successes early in her career, this is the farthest she’s ever been at a WTA 1000 event.   Notably, this is scheduled to be the last match of the evening session on Center Court.  If the match gets onto court, it will likely be played in slow, wet conditions.  Even though Swiatek thrived in cooler weather last fall at Roland Garros, those conditions should favor the game of Svitolina.  And Elina has a huge edge in experience at this level, as she looks to reach her 12th WTA 1000 semifinal.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Djokovic leads their head-to-head 4-2, and 2-0 on clay.  That includes their most recent clash last October at Roland Garros, when Tsitsipas came back from two sets down, only to lose in five.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Coco Gauff – Barty is now 27-4 on the year, and is vying for her fifth semifinal.  Gauff is yet to reach a semifinal this season, but this week she’s played her best tennis in quite some time, taking out both Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Pliskova has advanced to the championship match in Rome each of the last two years.  This is Ostapenko’s second quarterfinal here, and her first in three years.  Pliskova is 4-3 against Ostapenko, and prevailed when they met last month on clay in Stuttgart.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Lorenzo Sonego – Rublev is already playing for his 30th win of the year.  Sonego survived an over-three-hour battle with Dominic Thiem, which ended at 11:00pm local time on Thursday night.  Last October in the final of Vienna, Rublev took out Sonego 6-4, 6-4.

Petra Martic vs. Jessica Pegula – Prior to this week, Martic hadn’t won three consecutive matches since last year’s US Open.  Pegula continues to take her career to new heights, as she’s set to debut in the top 30 next week.  The 27-year-old American upset Naomi Osaka two rounds ago.  When they played on clay two years ago in Charleston, the match went to Martic in three sets.

Reilly Opelka vs. Federico Delbonis (Q) – Opelka defeated Aslan Karatsev on Thursday to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal.  For 30-year-old Delbonis, this is his first-ever quarterfinal at this level.  Opelka and Delbonis have never played before, but whoever wins will make their Masters semifinal debut.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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