A round after Adrian Mannarino had Roger Federer on the brink of defeat before injuring himself and eventually retiring, Thursday sees the 8-time Wimbledon champion play another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet. Two other Major champions, Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko, are both coming off grass court titles last week, and are contenders to claim another Slam next Saturday. However, both will take on dangerous opposition in the second round.
It was two years ago at The Championships when a 15-year-old Coco Gauff made a name for herself by upsetting Venus Williams in the first round. Now she’s a top 20 seed, and will play a three-time Major champ in doubles, Elena Vesnina. And 2014 semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov faces one of the game’s most-improved and most-entertaining competitors, Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik. With many of these matches scheduled at the same time, multiple screens are recommended to keep up with all the action around the grounds.
Each day of the fortnight, this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule. Thursday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time on all outer courts, 1:00pm on No.1 Court, and 1:30pm on Centre Court.
Coco Gauff (20) vs. Elena Vesnina – Second on Centre Court
After her breakout 2019 season, Gauff suffered a bit from the infamous sophomore slump, especially following the pandemic tour shutdown. But Coco has quickly rounded back into form. On clay this season, she was a stellar 16-4, which included a title in Parma, and her first Major quarterfinal in Paris. Vesnina returned to the tour this year after missing two years while becoming a mother. She’s only played five singles matches in her comeback, and her two victories have come over players ranked 98th and 138th in the world. Gauff has great memories from two years ago on Centre Court, and is a strong favorite to earn another victory on this hallowed lawn.
Angelique Kerber (25) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo – Third on No.2 Court
The 2018 champion went just 7-6 last season, but she’s rediscovered her mojo on the grass. Last week in her home country, she won the Bad Homburg Open, which included a great semifinal victory over Petra Kvitova. Sorribes Tormo also reached the semifinals of that event, which is the latest accomplishment in a strong 2021 for the 24-year-old from Spain. Sara was the champion in Guadalajara, and owns three wins over top 30 players. All of those came at the Miami Open in three sets, a tournament in which Sorribes Tormo displayed tremendous fight and stamina. Her persistence has made her a very tough out, but Kerber should be able to overcome her on this surface.
Daria Kasatkina (31) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Third on No.3 Court
Ostapenko raised the winner’s trophy last week in Eastbourne, her first title in nearly two years. In the quarterfinals, she defeated Kastakina in three sets. That was their second time meeting in Eastbourne, with both matches going to the 2017 Roland Garros champion. Kasatkina claimed their other two tour-level encounters, though neither were on grass. Following a few subpar seasons, Kasatkina is playing revitalized tennis in 2021, which has earned her two titles and 27 match wins. Both players achieved success at this event in 2018: Daria was a quarterfinalist, while Jelena was a semifinalist. Kasatkina’s diverse style of play is capable of diffusing the power of Ostapenko, who is known for becoming error-prone and visibly irritated on court. But when Ostapenko is playing with confidence, as she is now, she’s hard to subdue.
Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Alexander Bublik – Third on Court 12
Dimitrov made a nice run to the quarters of February’s Australian Open, before a back injury hampered his performance against Aslan Karatasev. Since leaving Melbourne, he’s only 6-7, and had to retire at Roland Garros due to another injury. Thankfully, he appeared fully healthy during his first round win over Fernando Verdasco. But in recent months, Bublik has been the better player. Prior to this tournament, he possessed twice as many 2021 wins as Dimitrov, reaching two finals earlier this season. The only previous meeting between these two took place in September of 2019, with Bublik prevailing in a third set tiebreak on a hard court in Chengdu. Also in 2019, Bublik reached the final of Newport on grass. By contrast, Dimitrov is 2-4 on this surface over the last three. So based on recent form, both on and off grass, Bublik feels like a serious threat to upset the 18th seed.
Roger Federer (6) vs. Richard Gasquet – Third on Centre Court
Federer played a few poor sets of tennis on Tuesday, as he continues to search for the level that won him 20 Majors. But this is a matchup that should enable him to build some momentum. Roger leads the head-to-head against Richard 18-2, with both of Gasquet’s wins coming over 10 years ago on clay. On grass, the Frenchman has only managed one of nine sets contested. Overall, Federer has accumulated their last 22 sets. And Gasquet is far from his top form, as he’s 9-7 on the year, and hasn’t advanced beyond the second round of a Major since the 2018 US Open. While the outcome doesn’t feel in question, the comfort with which Roger is able to close out the match may be quite telling of his chances going forward in the draw.
Other Notable Matches on Thursday:
Ash Barty (1) vs. Anna Blinkova – 22-year-old Blinkova had lost eight of her last nine matches prior to this event. Barty hasn’t lost to a player ranked as low as Blinkova (No.89) in nearly two years, and that was a loss to two-time Major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Danill Medvedev (2) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (WC) – The second seed survived a tough first round draw in Jan-Lennard Struff. Alcaraz is an impressive 18-year-old who reached the third round a few weeks ago at Roland Garros, and has claimed four Challenger titles on clay over the past year.
Elina Svitolina (3) vs. Magda Linette – Svitolina is 2-0 against the 29-year-old from Poland. Both matches were decided in straight sets, though both were on clay.
Sascha Zverev (4) vs. Tennys Sandgren – Zverev easily prevailed in his opening round on Tuesday. Sandgren advanced to the round of 16 here two years ago. In 2017, Sascha defeated Tennys 7-5, 7-5 in Washington.
Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Botic van de Zandschlup (Q) – Queen’s Club champion Berrettini has taken 19 of his last 22 matches. His 25-year-old Dutch opponent has never been beyond the second round of a Slam.
Barbora Krejcikova (14) vs. Andrea Petkovic – French Open champion Krejcikova is on a 13-match win streak, and won the women’s doubles title here three years ago. Petkovic is a former top 10 player who is only 4-9 on the year.
Kei Nishikori vs. Jordan Thompson – Nishikori was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in both 2018 and 2019, and on Wednesday defeated another Australian, Alexei Popyrin. Thompson upset Casper Ruud in five sets a round ago.
Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.
‘Super happy’ Holger Rune Reacts To Winning First Match Since Wimbledon In Beijing
Holger Rune says he is pain-free and has gained confidence since reuniting with his former coach after ending his seven-match losing streak at the China Open.
Rune, who is the third seed in Beijing this week, beat former top 10 player Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-4, in his opening match on Friday. The Dane fired 15 winners compared to only three unforced errors during the 85-minute encounter. It is the first time he has won a match on the Tour since Wimbledon in July.
“It feels very good. I had a tough period both with my body and with matches,” said Rune. “I’m happy to be back feeling good and feeling mentally well off the court. I’m super happy with my level today.”
The 20-year-old is experiencing a roller-coaster season where he reached the final of two Masters 1000 events and won a title in Germany during the first six months. However, recently he has struggled for wins on the Tour and ended his collaboration with Patrick Mouratoglou.
On top of that, Rune has also been hampered by a back injury which he recently underwent treatment on before coming to China. He previously told Danish TV that he had a pinched nerve in the fifth lumbar vertebra in his spine since the clay-court season. As a result, he has had to make adjustments to his service motion to overcome this problem.
“I didn’t feel any pain in my body,” he stated following his latest match.
“I’m feeling healthy and taking care of my body. Mostly I’m happy to play without pain and enjoy myself.”
Guiding the world No.4 now is Lars Christensen who he has previously worked with since childhood.
“It has helped my confidence. After some tough periods, he knows me so well,” Rune commented. “He knows when I’m back at my best level so it is easy for us to communicate and find the best version of Holger. That we did today.”
Rune will next play Grigor Dimitrov who staged an epic comeback to defeat Mackenzie McDonald. The Bulgarian was a set and 5-2 down before fighting back to prevail 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-1, over the American who was experiencing problems with his shoulder.
Medvedev, Sinner though in contrasting matchesEmbed from Getty Images
In other matches at the tournament, second seed Daniil Medvedev stormed to a 6-2, 6-1, win over Tommy Paul. He has now recorded 39 hardcourt wins on the Tour so far this season which is more than any other player.
“It’s not easy for both of us. Both of us a little jet lagged. Him maybe more, coming from Vancouver,” Medvedev said afterward. “Maybe that made the difference, but if I think only about myself, I’m happy with my level.
“I played great. The start of the match was not easy, but it’s never easy first round, especially in another part of the world. Then I was playing better and better during the match, so I’m happy about my level.”
This week is the first time Medvedev has played since losing to Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. He is seeking to win his fifth title of 2023.
Also through to the next round is Italy’s Jannik Sinner who struggled at times with his fitness during his troublesome 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-3, win over Dan Evans. The world No.7 served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but failed to capitalize on the opportunity, lost a 3-0 lead in the decider and then started limping on the court. During the closing stages, he also fell when trying to return a ball and appeared to hurt himself. Despite all the drama, Sinner still managed to seal the win.
Sinner is now 16-1 in opening matches this season. He is bidding to reach his 12th tournament quarter-final in Beijing.
Roger Federer Targets Djokovic And Alcaraz For Laver Cup 2024 After Team World Thrashes Europe
Roger Federer says he would love to see the two highest-ranked players on the men’s Tour play in the next Laver Cup after this year’s tie ended in a crushing defeat for Europe.
Team World, which is captained by John McEnroe, dominated the clash in Vancouver after surging to a 10-2 lead heading into the final day of competition. On Sunday they were required to win only one match to claim the overall title which they did in the opening doubles match. Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe ousted the European duo of Andrey Rublev and Hubert hurkacz 7-6(4), 7-6(5).
“I am proud of these guys. We brought together a great group of some youth and experience, guys that have been here before. Everybody played well,” McEnroe said of his team’s 13-2 victory.
“It was an awesome week. We kicked some ass.”
“Winning is a whole lot better than losing. We struggled the first couple of years, and now we have tasted winning and it feels good.”
In contrast, Europe didn’t have much joy at the event with their only victory being from Casper Ruud who defeated Tommy Paul on the second day of the tie. Since the start of the competition in 2017, Europe won four consecutive titles but 2023 is the second year in a row that they have been defeated.
Hoping that this losing streak will come to an end next year when the event is held in Berlin, Federer says he wishes Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will play. Djokovic has played in the Laver Cup twice before but Alcaraz is yet to make his debut.
“They destroyed Team Europe. Team World played fantastic, they really brought the energy. Everybody brought a point, they were stronger in the doubles. In the singles too, they were moving fast, they were ready to go. They thoroughly deserved victory,” said Federer.
“I would like to see Novak again, Alcaraz and Novak on the same team. Sascha Zverev would be great for the German market. Someone like [Holger] Rune, that really hurt Team Europe. Rune and [Stefanos] Tsitsipas pulling out. [Daniil] Medvedev would be great. I like watching [Andrey] Rublev, and maybe someone will come through,” he added.
Federer is a co-founder of the Laver Cup with his management company Team 8 partnering up with Tennis Australia and Jorge Paulo Lemann to create the event. In 2019 the team competition was awarded ATP Tour status with a spot on the official calendar and access to marketing facilities under an agreement. However, ranking points are not awarded to players.
Due to the nature of the format, only one match was played on Sunday with fans not getting the chance of watching any singles. Something two-time French Open champion Ruud admits is a problem.
“Two of the times that I have played was maybe in a way a little bit unfortunate with only one deciding doubles (match) on Sunday,” Ruud commented.
“The crowd didn’t get to see a singles (match) after or whatever. That’s not in my hands to decide what the format looks like.’
“But last year in London was great in many ways because you had so many great players and it came down to almost the last match. When I watched on TV the first series, it was so exciting because Roger played a couple of times, the final match of the Sunday and clutched it for Team Europe. It’s been a couple of years without playing that last singles match. But it’s a great initiative. Me, as a golf fan, watching the Ryder Cup all my life in my childhood, it’s great for tennis to have this event.”
The 2024 Laver Cup will be held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin between September 20-22.
India’s Sumit Nagal Receives Sponsorship Boost After Revelling Financial Struggles
A leading food and drink company has pledged to support India’s highest-ranked men’s player who was unable to train at his usual facility in Germany earlier this year due to a lack of money.
Earlier this week world No.159 Sumit Nagal made a public plea for financial support to help him continue his career as a tennis player. In recent years he has been based at the Nansel Tennis Academy in Germany but was unable to train there during the first three months of the 2023 season due to a lack of funds. During this period he relied on his friends, including former player Somdev Devvarman, to help maintain his fitness.
“If I look at my bank balance, I have what I had at the beginning of the year. It is 900 euros. I did get a bit of help. Mr Prashant Sutar is helping me with MAHA Tennis Foundation and I also get monthly (salary) from IOCL but I don’t have any big sponsor,” Nagal told the Press Trust of India.
“I am investing whatever I am making. The yearly cost where I travel with one coach is costing me around Rs 8 million to Rs 10 million (90,000-113,000 euros) and that is just with one travelling coach (no physio). Whatever I have made I have already invested,” he added.
Nagal, who is 26 years old, has reached the semi-finals of better at five tournaments on the lower-level Challenger Tour so far this season. His only Grand Slam result was at the US Open where he lost in the first round of qualifying to Taro Daniel. It was at the US Open where he took a set off Roger Federer before losing in 2019.
Despite being the only player from his country to be ranked in the top 400, Nagal is currently not part of the Target Olympics Podium Scheme. An initiative set up by the Indian government to provide support to their top athletes.
After learning about Nagal’s ongoing struggles on the Tour, a leading company has decided to support the tennis player by signing a three-year deal with him. Gatorade specializes in sports drinks and is manufactured by PepsiCo. Under the deal, Nagal will receive support with his recovery and nutrition from experts at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI).
“I am deeply moved and grateful to join hands with Gatorade. This association comes to me at a pivotal time, and I am thankful my hard work and passion is getting recognized and appreciated. With Gatorade by my side, I am sure I will reach new heights and give it my all both on and off the court,” the Indo-Asian News Service quoted Nagal as saying on Thursday.
Speaking about the new partnership, Ankit Agarwal from PepsiCo India has hailed the collaboration. Agarwal is the company’s Associate Director of Energy & Hydration.
“Sumit is a role model for the new-gen athletes of India with his career being a true example of hard work and sweat that makes talent shine,” he said.
“As a brand that is dedicated to supporting athletes in removing barriers to sporting success, we are delighted to welcome Sumit to the Gatorade squad.”
Nagal has been ranked as high as No.122 in the world. So far in his career, he has won four Challenger titles with two of those occurring this year in Italy and Finland.
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