Casper Ruud plays in a crescendo and overcomes Cilic to reach French Open final - UBITENNIS
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Casper Ruud plays in a crescendo and overcomes Cilic to reach French Open final

After winning the first set in the manner of his previous matches Cilic runs out of steam and gives way

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

By Kingsley Elliot Kaye 

The second Roland Garros semi-final was a double-face match.  In a confrontation between two players whose game revolves around their forehand, especially the inside-out, and relentless pacing and footwork, it was the younger who prevailed in the long run, and quite vehemently, 3-6 6-4 6-2 6-2. Ruud’s high rotation spin was expected to be tougher to master than the flatter groundstrokes of Cilic’s previous opponents, Rublev and Medvedev, but it was some surprise that the Croatian’s capacity to move in and reap comfortable points off his forehand came unstuck after losing the second set.     

”I played a really solid first set and served really well and mixed it up nicely. I played aggressive off the ground.  I have to say that somewhere there in the second set, you know, just things started to turn around a bit.  At the end of the second set, start of the third, there was just a little bit of a difference,” admitted Cilic

The first six games went with serve.  Although Cilic had to save two break points after missing two smashes and throwing in a double fault in the fourth game, he ended up holding serve well supported by his mighty and angled first service.

Ruud instead missed two first services at the start of the seventh game, and Cilic rose to 0-30 with his effective aggression on the Norwegian’s second service, a little too tame. Then he adjusted his return to the first serve of Ruud as well and ripped the break in a flash. 

Serving for a 5-3 lead he suddenly lost control of his forehand, and had to save another break point, but he got away with it. An ace and a winning serve consolidated his margin.

In spite of the odd unforced error, Cilic was overpowering Ruud, taking command from the first shot, also with his weaker groundstroke, his backhand. He reached set point on Ruud’s service and danced leftward to hit his inside-out forehand and seal the first set.

 From the very start of the second set Ruud appeared resolved to swing the script around, raising first serve speed and length as well as trying to find depth and greater lift off both groundstrokes so as to move his opponent to and fro.

“I was too defensive. I figured I had to step up a little bit, counterattack and hit faster shots,” said Ruud.

The strategy yielded revenues when Cilic concentration slipped in the second game and he actually lost service, too often missing the target off his forehand.

“It was unfortunately a little bit of a drop in the level comparing to these last 10 days. It might be due to just a little bit more emotional drainage from the last match,” Cilic said, while giving due credit to his opponent.
“And, you know, today it was obviously a big task to play Casper, who is definitely in great form.”

However Cilic instantly rebooted and Ruud had to stave off a break point in the third game by  stealing his opponent’s tactics: service out wide to set up a forehand winner. A dropshot did the rest of the job and he raced to 3-0.

Ruud was able to keep up consistency and served for the set 5-4. 

He tightened up, though, and missed three forehands. He had to save two breakpoints with forehand winners to recover to deuce. Then an ace, his fifth in the set followed by a backhand down the line and he was back even.

Cilic started the third set still trying mounting up pressure but too many errors were seeping in. Then came the rally of the match. Cilic finalized constant pressure with a first forehand inside-in and a second one inside-out, but the Norwegian erected a solid defence and then fired a backhand winner down the line. Cilic robustly saved second break point, but immediately conceded another unforced error. When he hit a smash way out or the first time in the match Ruud was leading.

Cilic’s tennis was now longer flawless. Mental energy was thinning and fatigue was eroding his footwork. Ruud took a second break with an exquisite sliced backhand passing shot.

The match was most unexpectedly interrupted due to a court invasion by a young woman who chained herself to the net. The incident brought no damage, yet some concerns may be raised about the efficiency of the French Open security services.

When the match was resumed, Cilic earned two break points to get back into the set but failed to convert. It felt like the last fling.

Ruud served at 5-1. He missed his first two set points and had to erase a break point on the way to settling the matter 6-2.

He drummed on with such momentum at the kick off of the fourth set: he first sprinted after a dropshot and earned a break point, then he broke after landing a fabulous inside-in forehand  directly off the return.

By now Ruud was returning Cilic’s blunted and no longer angular serve with ease. He conquered three break points for a double break and converted the second when a Cilic slammed a dejected forehand into the net.

Shortly Ruud was serving for the match. He was by no means overwhelmed by tension and held to love, with an ace, a domain in which he had most surprisingly outclassed Cilic, 16-10, proving his worth off return as well.  

“It was a great match from my side. I didn’t start very well but Marin played very well in the first set.  I was able to break him in the second set and that got it going. From that game I played some of the best of this year, playing aggressive, serving well. I’m super happy with my performance,” Ruud reflected.

Asked about his next match, against Nadal, whose academy he joined in 2018 he said:  “Playing against Nadal will be a very special moment for me, and a little bit for him as well. He’s played so many finals, but at least he’s playing a student from his Academy this time. It’s going to be fun.”

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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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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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