Tsitsipas finds his magic to edge past Rublev - UBITENNIS
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Tsitsipas finds his magic to edge past Rublev

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev will face off in tonight’s second semi-final.

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By Kingsley Elliot Kaye

A 4-4 head to head created expectations for a tight match between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev. Stefanos led 2-0 on clay and had never conceded a set. The Greek came into the match as the favourite. Both matches however, the final in Monte Carlo and the quarter final of Roland Garros, were played in 2021, a year when the Greek was playing spectacular tennis, and was only halted by Djokovic, just one set away from the finishing line, in the final at Roland Garros. Notwithstanding his second triumph in Monte Carlo this year Stefanos is yet to find that magic.

Tsitsipas got off to an impressive start with 7 points in a row and earned 3 break points but failed to convert them. By attacking Rublev’s weakest point, his second serve, and resolving not to lose any backhand vs backhand wrestle, he eventually broke with his fifth break point.

Rublev appeared even more nervous than usual, throwing his racquet around and repeatedly bashing it on his leg out of frustration.

The next games went with serve, but the Greek, in spite of occasional errors, was constantly in control. He unsettled the Russian with continuous changes of pace and tactics, sometimes dragging him to the net with dropshots and mercilessly transfixing him with millimetric passing shots and lobs.

In the seventh game Rublev posed a slight threat when he reached 30 on his opponent’s serve for the first time. But Tsitsipas waved him off following up a serve with one of his flagship shots, a magnificent backhand down the line and maintained his lead.

Rublev proved his growing consistency with an excellent service game but at 5-3 Tsitsipas was impeccable and finished the set off with his fifth ace.

The first point of the second set saw Rublev charge forward on the first point, showing a different mindset to the match.

The first four games went with serve but momentum was shifting. Rublev was increasingly commanding the rallies whereas Tsitsipas was struggling to stave off aggression, his balls falling shorter. In the fourth game an ace and a wrongfooting however still did him the job, as well as a beautifully sliced backhand, which elicited an overcooked forehand from the Russian.

Rublev then held serve losing only one point and snatched the break in the sixth game after a tentative dropshot by Tsitsipas didn’t crawl over the net. With a 12-2 winning point series he dashed to a 5-2 lead.

Tsitsipas was unable to weather the storm and serving to stay in the set was overwhelmed by the power of Rublev’s groundstrokes, and lost the set 6-2, annihilated by a final backhand along the line.

A new set is often a new story and Tsitsipas from the very start appeared rejuvenated, once more battling away from the baseline and serving proficiently.

In the seventh game he found his best depth and aggression and for the first time in the set Rublev was cornered, facing break point. He saved it valiantly with a serve out wide which set up a flying crosscourt forehand and went on to hold.

Crisis was just deferred, for in the next two games Tsitsipas landed an 8 point winning streak, ripping Rublev’s service to love.

When serving for the match doubts came afloat and errors seeped in once more. Rublev grasped his chance and hit through to earn two break points. The plot seemed about to twist but Tsitsipas saved the first by putting away a sound volley, then two errors by Rublev chauffeured him to his first match point.

The Greek did not hesitate and with a kick service opened up the court for a crosscourt forehand in the corner which sealed victory.    

Zverev defeats Auger Aliassime and his own ghosts

The quarterfinal between Alezander Zverev and Roger Auger Aliassime, second and eighth seed of the ATP Mutua Open, presented manifold variables, which may confound the canniest fortune-teller. First of all, the absolute unpredictability associated with Zverev’s 2022 season, which most unexpectedly followed the absolute consistency he had delighted the pubic with just few months before.  

Highs and lows had marked his clay season too: from the amazing quarter final he won against Sinner in Monte Carlo, to his dejected loss to Rune in Munich. Felix Auger-Aliassime indeed is one of the emerging stars of tennis, with one of the most technically complete games across the Tour, yet he still has to prove his full potential on clay. His emphatic win in the previous round against a much more credited clay-courter, Jannik Sinner, surely boosted his perspectives.

Zverev’s recent hardships seemed to have been left behind, the way he stormed into the match. Though he conceded two points in his first service game, he was pounding down groundstrokes off both wings. His superb backhands down the line reaped points. He broke Aliassime in the third game, also helped by a double fault of the Canadian.

He cruised through his next service games, losing just one point. In the ninth game Aliassime, overpowered from the baseline, ventured out into one of his tentative forays to the net, which cost him a 15-30 lag.  Zverev clutched the opportunity and sealed the first set with a second break, playing the powerful, meticulous, overflowing tennis which had flown him to the stars in his second ATP Finals triumph in November 2021.

Zverev showed no signs of relenting pressure in the first service game of the second set, not even bothered by two double faults.  

Auger Aliassime, unable to cope with the greater power of the German, was constantly succumbing after few shots and lost his service again in the second game.

Game 3 was the longest of the match and could have been a turning point. Alternating winners and double faults, Zverev faced a break point, but saved it winning the longest rally of the match so far, 13 strokes. A third double fault brought in a second break point but again he saved it eliciting an error form his opponent with a powerful crosscourt forehand. He finally held serve.

The match was about to swing definitively in favour of Zverev in the fifth game. Serving 1-4 down, not supported by any encouraging percentage of first serves, overpowered from the baseline, Aliassime faced 4 break points. On the brink of defeat, he put up some fight and succeeded in holding a service game which lasted 16 minutes and which saw him win his first long rally of the match, 26 shots. 

This time Zverev appeared shaken. His first serve percentage slumped in the following game, in which he served his sixth and seventh double, and a second quivering serve at 120 kmph which Roger pounced on to chisel his way back in the match.

Aliassime then held serve, surfacing at 4 games all. Winning the first point off Zverev’s following service game, he and moved ahead for the first time in the set. The German didn’t falter and led 40-15. But another double fault and unforced errors poured in and Zverev faced a break point. He saved it with a brave angled crosscourt backhand. And in the next two points hit two serves at 214 km which tugged him to 5-4.

In the tenth game a rash foray to the net and unforced errors off the forehand by Aliassime gifted Zverev a first match point, but the Canadian erased it with a powerful first serve. Roger didn’t finish a smash off and Zverev earned his second match point with a backhand down the line. Auger played three aggressive points and was back even, 5-5.

When Zverev held serve comfortably and Aliassime was 30-0, this rollercoaster set appeared to be heading toward a decisive tiebreak.

Aliassime seemed to be cruising to a comfortable service hold after rising to 30 love then incredibly fell back into a swamp of unforced errors and Zverev closed out the match at 7-5.

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Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro

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Image via https://twitter.com/RioOpenOficial/

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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