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.

ATP

Auger Aliassime overcomes slow start to beat Seppi in Washington

The Canadian looked down and out early in the match but bounced back to avenge a loss he suffered at the French Open in June.

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Second seed Felix Auger Aliassime survived a huge scare in his opening match at the Citi Open in Washington.

The Canadian was on the verge of being upset by the Italian Andreas Seppi but battled back to beat him 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 59 minutes. Blasting a total of 25 winners and nine aces in the win.

 

“In my mind, I wanted to find a way to come back. To get that early break in the second really helped me a lot and I think I served a little bit better and I put more volume and height on my shot,” said Auger-Aliassime. “I was more patient and in the first set I was missing too quickly in the rallies so digging deep physically and mentally allowed me to come back nicely in the match and to finish strong in the third set. I am happy with the way things turned around for me today”.

It was the world number 88 with the better start to the match and after both players held their opening service games he had two chances to get the early break and took a 2-1 lead. After consolidating the break, the Italian set up another breakpoint with a stunning forehand winner, broke again for a 4-1 lead, and served out the first set.

Auger-Aliassime was keen on getting back into the match and wanted to avoid a second straight upset loss to the Italian. After holding serve in the first game of the second set he had two chances to take an early lead and broke for the 2-0 lead with a forehand up the line of his very own on breakpoint. That was enough for him to serve out the second set and send the match into a decisive third set to decide the winner.

It was the Canadian who repeated what he did in the second set holding the opening service game and breaking Seppi’s serve with a sublime passing shot. The Italian responded the next game by breaking right back but failed to consolidate the break as the world number 15 broke again with his powerful backhand winner.

At 5-2, the Auger-Aliassime found himself at match point and it took him five attempts before being able to convert and seal the match. Avenging a loss he suffered at Roland Garros.

After the match in his post-match press conference, the Canadian was asked if he had the loss to Seppi at the French Open in the back of his mind during the match.

” In a way yes of course because we played once and he beat me and as a player, you never want to go down twice in a row against a player but it happens but in my case, I really wanted to find a way to win that match and get revenge just for myself to try and get the win”. he said.

Auger Aliassime will now face the winner of the second-round match between Jenson Brooksby or Frances Tiafoe in the third round.

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National Bank Open Suffers Tripple Blow As Top 10 Stars Pull Out

Canada’s most prestigious tennis event will be missing some top names in the women’s draw but organisers remain confident the tournament will still be a hit.

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The tournament director of the National Bank Open says he is ‘still counting on exceptional players’ after a series of high-profile names pulled out of the women’s draw in Montreal.

 

Naomi Osaka and Iga Swiatek have pulled out of the event after competing in the Olympic Games. Osaka, who lit the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony, lost to Marketa Vonmdrousova in the third round. Meanwhile, Swiatek fell in the second round to Spain’s Paula Badosa.

“I am sorry to be missing out on Montréal this year,” said Osaka who reached the quarter-finals in 2019. “Sending my best to all the fans there, the tournament and the staff. I hope to see you all in Canada next year.”

Former French Open champion Swiatek said her decision to not play in Canada is because she wants to have a break after an ‘intense’ first half of the season. So far this year the world No.8 has won 28 out of 35 matches played, winning two titles in Rome and Adelaide. She has played at the Canadian event only once in her career which was two years ago when she reached the third round as a qualifier before losing to Osaka.

“I am very sorry but this year I will not be able to play in Montréal,” said Swiatek. “The first part of the season was so intense that I need a couple of days off to rest and prepare for the next few months. I’m looking forward to playing in Canada in 2022.”

Sofia Kenin completes the trio of withdrawals from the WTA 1000 event. The American is still recovering from a foot injury that has sidelined her from the Tour since Wimbledon.

“I’m really disappointed to withdraw from the event in Montréal next week,” said Kenin. “While I’m making progress, my foot injury is not where I need it to be to play at the highest level. I feel another week of recovery and rehab is necessary. I want to thank Tennis Canada for all its efforts in holding the event during such challenging times. Best of luck to all the players.”

Commonly known as the Canadian Open, both a men’s and women’s event are held during the same week but in different locations. This year the women will be playing in Montreal and men in Toronto. Each year they alternate between the two cities. Last year’s edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tournament director Eugène Lapierre is confident this year’s women’s draw will still live up to expectations despite the absence of some top names.

“We are still counting on exceptional players in the draw, including the 2019 champion, our very own Bianca Andreescu, as well as World No.3 Aryna Sabalenka and two-time National Bank Open champion Simona Halep. Fans should expect a few surprises because the draw has so much depth. Anything is possible, and that means some exciting tennis is in store!” He said.

Sabalenka will be the top seed in the women’s draw. The main draw will start on Monday.

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ATP

Vasek Pospisil survives scare at Citi Open

The Canadian battled back from a set down in what was a tricky opening encounter.

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Vasek Pospisil was pushed to limits by qualifier Emilio Gomez in his opening match at the Citi Open.

The Canadian required three sets to beat the Ecuadorian qualifier 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 after two hours and 11 minutes of play. He hit a total of 10 aces en route to the second round.

 

” It’s always good to get through a tough one and I felt dialed in during the second set,” said Pospisil. “I was a little bit distracted during the first set but I am glad to get match play and getting the win is important so I am happy I got it done”.

The first three games of the opener went on serve and at 2-1 the Canadian had three chances to take an early break but the world number 165 saved all three and held serve. At 3-3, Pospisil played a poor service game and Gomez took full advantage by breaking him at love. That one break of serve was enough for him to serve out the first set.

The Canadian was determined to stay alive in the second and broke the Ecuadorian early to take a 2-0 lead and managed to turn it into a double break for a commanding 4-0 lead. Gomez got one of the breaks back but it wasn’t enough as the world number 61 would serve out the second set to force a decider.

The third set started with three breaks of serve but it was the Canadian that was finally able to hold serve and consolidate a break. That break was enough for him to serve out the match and complete the comeback.

Pospisil will next face the young American Sebastien Korda in the third round who is the 12th seed this week in the American capital.

” It’s going to be a tough one because he is playing some great tennis this year and he is an up and comer and a great player,” he said of Korda. “I will have to play really well to win that one because he is a dangerous player so I will have to serve well and return well”.

Other results

It was a busy day one at the Citi Open being held at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC with some thrilling matches. Kei Nishikori beat Sam Querrey in straight sets 6-4, 6-3 and Marcus Giron pulled a three-set comeback against Ilya Marchenko 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.

In the battle of the Belorussians, Ilya Ivashka beat Egor Gerasimov in straight sets 7-5, 6-4. Meanwhile, Jenson Brooksby avenged a loss to the South African Kevin Anderson by beating him in straight sets 7-5, 6-3.

Andreas Seppi needed three sets to dispatch Yasutka Uchiyama of Japan 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, Ricardas Berankis beat the American qualifier Mitchell Kreuger in straight sets 7-6, 6-2, and Daniel Elahi Galan beat another American Tommy Paul in straight sets 6-4, 6-3.

Finally, in the last match of the day an American favourite, Jack Sock advanced to round two after his Japanese opponent Yoshito Nishioka was forced to retire due to injury during their match.

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