Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of the Year Begins on Sunday - UBITENNIS
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Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of the Year Begins on Sunday

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Naomi Osaka will play the first match of the tournament on Court Philippe-Chatrier (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

A year after this event was delayed by four months due to the pandemic, main draw play gets underway on Sunday after only a one-week delay this year.

On the men’s side, can anyone stop Rafael Nadal from winning an astonishing 14th French Open title?  Novak Djokovic is one of only two other men in the draw who has won this event, but he hasn’t defeated Nadal on clay in over five years.  The other is Roger Federer, who is just 1-2 since missing over a year of action due to knee surgeries.  Dominic Thiem has reached the final in two of the last three years, but he’s an extremely modest 4-3 on clay this season.  So if anyone is going to dethrone the King of Clay, the most likely candidates may come from the ATP Next Gen.  Stefanos Tsitsipas, Sascha Zverev, and Andrey Rublev are the three men who have defeated Nadal in 2021.

The women’s singles draw is much wider open, though there are definitely some favorites.  2019 champion and world No.1 Ash Barty chose not to travel to Paris to defend her title last fall, but she’s here this year, and arrives in great form.  Also in great form is defending champion Iga Swiatek, who is coming off the most one-sided championship victory in recent memory: a 6-0, 6-0 demolition of Karolina Pliskova two weeks ago in Rome.  However, no one has won more WTA matches since the last French Open than Aryna Sabalenka, who is the third seed in the absence of an injured Simona Halep.  The draw also features four other Roland Garros singles champions, including Serena Williams, who is still looking to achieve her 24th Major milestone.

Sunday’s schedule is highlighted by several fascinating women’s matchups.  A pair of two-time Major singles champions collide in the opening round, while Sabalenka faces a tough opening draw in a rejuvenated Ana Konjuh.  And four-time Major champ Naomi Osaka is on a 14-match winning streak at Slams, as she now focuses on converting her hard court success to the clay.

Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Patricia Maria Tig – First on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Osaka has won four of the last six hard court Majors, but she’s yet to even reach the second week at a Major played on clay or grass.  This is her first Grand Slam event outside of a hart court in two full years, as she did not play at last autumn’s Roland Garros.  There’s been much talk about her lack of success on this surface, and that was amplified by her 1-2 record on clay this season.  There’s also been much talk about her refusal to talk to the media at this event, and I wonder if that situation will serve as a distraction or as motivation for Naomi.  Regardless, she’s certainly a favorite against Tig, a 26-year-old Romanian who is 3-7 lifetime at Majors.  And Osaka claimed their only previous meeting six years ago in Hua Hin, back when Naomi was ranked outside the top 200.

Dominic Thiem (4) vs. Pablo Andujar – Second on Court Philippe-Chatrier

While Thiem has advanced to the quarterfinals or better the last five years in Paris, he arrives this year a bit undercooked.  Uncharacteristically, Dominic took a break from the tour for nearly two months this season.  He only played two clay court events, though he did reach the semifinals in Madrid despite his lack of match play.  His opponent on Sunday is a clay court specialist.  35-year-old Andujar has reached nine tour finals on this surface, and none on any other.  And Pablo is coming off a semifinal run in Geneva, where he defeated Roger Federer in three sets.  However, the Spaniard has not won a match at Roland Garros since 2015, and has never won a set against Thiem in three meetings on clay.  This should be a comfortable victory for the reigning US Open champion.

Victoria Azarenka (15) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova – Third on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Neither of these multi-time Slam champs has played much of late.  Multiple injuries have kept Azarenka off court for much of 2021, competing in only one match since March.  And Kuznetsova hasn’t played at all since March, though that month, she proved she’s still capable of beating top players.  In Dubai, she took out Elina Svitolina in three.  Azarenka leads their head-to-head 6-4, and has prevailed in their last five matches without dropping a set.  Kuznetsova hasn’t defeated Vika since way back in May of 2009.  However, Sveta’s last two wins in this rivalry both came on clay.  And Azarenka is just 4-5 in her last five appearances here.  So this is a dangerous draw for Vika, especially if she remains less than 100%.

Aryna Sabalenka (3) vs. Ana Konjuh (Q) – Third on Court Suzanne-Lenglen

Speaking of dangerous draws, this is precisely that for Sabalenka.  Konjuh was a breakout star at the 2016 US Open, making the quarterfinals as an 18-year-old.  However, Ana’s career was soon disrupted by four surgeries.  The WTA has a great piece on her journey here.  Now that she’s healthy again, she’s quickly returned to good form.  As a wild card in Miami, Konjuh defeated both Madison Keys and Iga Swiatek.  And just recently in Belgrade, she came through qualifying and raced all the way to the final.  In qualifying for this event, she did not drop a set.  So while Sabalenka remains a favorite, this is a tough first-round, first-ever matchup.  And as impressive as Aryna has been on tour, she’s failed to advance farther than the round of 16 at any Major, so she’ll certainly feel pressure to change that narrative.

Veronika Kudermetova (29) vs. Amanda Anisimova – Fourth on Court 9

Anisimova was a surprise semifinalist in Paris two years ago, and earned two dominant victories here a year ago before getting walloped by Simona Halep.  The 19-year-old American is a modest 4-4 on clay this season, but her last three losses all came against top 30 players.  Kudermetova has been in great form this year, already accumulating 24 match wins.  And she recently debuted inside the top 30 after earning the WTA 500 title on the green clay of Charleston.  In a first-time matchup between two players with similarly-aggressive playing styles, I give the slight edge to the Russian No.1 based on her winning ways.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) vs. Jeremy Chardy – Other than Nadal, no man has been better on clay this season than Tsitsipas, who is 16-3 with two titles.  He’s 2-1 at tour level against Chardy, a 34-year-old Frenchman who lost in the first round of this event the last two years.

Sascha Zverev (6) vs. Oscar Otte (Q) – 27-year-old Otte is a fellow German ranked outside the top 150, and only owns one career win at a Major.  Zverev was the champion in Madrid earlier this month, and is a two-time French Open quarterfinalist.

Kei Nishikori vs. Alessandro Giannessi (Q) – While Kei is just 4-3 on clay this year, his losses were only against top players: Nadal and Zverev.  Sunday is Giannessi’s 31st birthday, as well as his Roland Garros main draw debut.

Sunday’s full schedule is here.

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Rafael Nadal makes a winning come-back against Flavio Cobolli in Barcelona

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Rafael Nadal made a winning come-back by beating Italy’s Flavio Cobolli 6-2 6-3 in 1 hour and 26 minutes at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. The twelve-time Barcelona champion won his third match this year. 

Nadal is playing just his second tournament of the year and his first since last January, when he reached the quarter final in Brisbane. 

Nadal converted two of his eight break points and held four service games in the first set. The Spaniard held serve from 0-30 down in the first set. Cobolli faced two break points in the fourth game and saved them. The Italian player wasted a game point and was broken on Nadal’s third break point after a backhand error. Nadal consolidated the break by holding serve with a service winner to take a 4-1 lead. Cobolli faced four break points in the sixth game, but he saved three of these break points with service winners and held serve with a powerful serve to reduce the gap to 2-4. Nadal held serve at love in the seventh game with a service winner.

Cobolli missed a game point after Nadal’s backhand crosscourt winner, as he was serving to stay in the set in the eighth game. Nadal earned a set point after a forehand error from Cobolli and converted it, when the Italian player netted a forehand. 

Cobolli earned his first break point in the opening game of the second set. Nadal fended it off with a drop shot winner to hold serve after Cobolli’s forehand error. 

Nadal earned two break points, as Cobolli netted a backhand in the second game. The home star converted his break point to open up a 2-0 lead, as Cobolli hit a forehand long. Cobolli broke back in the third game after Nadal made a backhand error. 

Nadal broke serve again in the fourth game to open up a 3-1 lead, when Cobolli made a double fault. The former world number 1 player held his service game with a service winner in the fifth game to open up a 4-1 lead. 

Cobolli held serve to love in the sixth game with a forehand winner to reduce the gap to 2-4. Nadal held serve in the seventh game after a forehand error from Cobolli to open up a 5-2 lead forcing the Italian player to serve  to stay in the match. Cobolli held at love to cut the deficit to 3-5. 

Nadal served out the win with a hold at 15 after Cobolli’s backhand error. Cobolli made 41 unforced errors, including 27 in the opening set. 

Nadal set up a second round match against Alex De Minaur. The 92-time titlist leads 3-1 in his four head-to-head matches against his Australian opponent. 

“Every time it is more difficult and especially when you are at an advanced age. It makes things even tougher. I am going through tough moments but at the same time, when I am able to be on Tour for a few days and practise with the guys then be able to compete a little bit, it means a lot to me. It’s still enjoyable enough to keep going. I am happy to start with a victory without a doubt”, said Nadal.

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Rising Star Mirra Andreeva Teams Up With Wimbledon Champion Martinez

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Mirra Andreeva – Australian Open 2024 (foto: X @WTA)

Teenage sensation Mirra Andreeva has begun working with a former Grand Slam champion on a trial basis ahead of the French Open.

The 16-year-old has linked up with Conchita Martinez, who is overseeing her run at this week’s Rouen Open in France. Martinez peaked at a ranking high of No.2 during her career and won 33 WTA titles. After retiring from the sport, she has coached Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova. 

Andreeva’s latest partnership was formed with the help of her agent ‘two or three weeks ago.’ According to the WTA website, their practice week went well and now they are testing working together during a tournament. 

“So far, so good,” said Andreeva“I like it, I hope she likes it too. We will see how it will go and then we will decide about our next tournaments. I cannot say there are special aspects we are working on. But the first thing we worked on was my slice, because she was a good slicer. So she told me some tricks, and I’m trying to use it when I have time and a good possibility on court.”

Andreeva is currently ranked 43rd in the world and is the youngest player in the top 100. She has already reached the fourth round of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open but is yet to win a WTA title. So far this year the Russian’s best result was a quarter-final appearance at the Brisbane International. 

Martinez, who also reached the last 16 of a major at the age of 16, spoke about the teenager with Ubitennis during last year’s Wimbledon Championships. At the time she pointed out that consistency is key for the youngster.

“The most important thing is that she keeps practising and focusing on what she has to do to get better. It’s great what she is doing now but she has to maintain it,” she commented.

Andreeva kicked off her campaign in Rouen with a 6-1, 6-3, win over Nadia Podoroska. 

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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