WTA Finals & ATP Paris Masters Daily Preview: Rafael Nadal Returns to Action - UBITENNIS
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WTA Finals & ATP Paris Masters Daily Preview: Rafael Nadal Returns to Action

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Rafael Nadal practicing in Bercy on Tuesday (twitter.com/RolexPMasters)

Outside of his Laver Cup doubles match with a retiring Roger Federer, Wednesday will mark Rafael Nadal’s first match is nearly two months, since he was upset in the fourth round of the US Open by Frances Tiafoe.  In his return, Nadal faces Tommy Paul, who defeated another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, on Tuesday.  Other action in Paris includes big names such as Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

In Fort Worth, the second round of round-robin action begins.  After the higher seeds in this group were both upset on Monday, Ons Jabeur and Jessica Pegula will play each other to secure their first win, while Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka will do battle to remain undefeated.  As per the WTA, Wednesday’s advancement and eliminations possibilities are as follows:

  • If Sakkari wins in straights, she advances.
  • If Sakkari and Pegula both win, Sakkari advances and Jabeur is eliminated.
  • If Sabalenka and Jabeur both win, Sabalenka advances and Pegula is eliminated.
  • If Pegula loses in straights, she is eliminated.

Each day, this preview will analyze the most intriguing matchup from both the WTA Finals and the ATP Paris Masters, while highlighting the other matches on the schedules.  Wednesday’s play in Paris begins at 11:00am local time, while play in Fort Worth begins at 3:00pm local time.


Tommy Paul vs Rafael Nadal – Not Before 7:30pm on Court Central in Paris

Despite dealing with injuries throughout the season, Nadal is 38-5 with four titles, including two Majors.  But since withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinals, he’s only played five singles matches in four months.  Paul has collected 36 wins this year, but went just 3-3 in October.  However, he does own two victories in 2022 over top five opposition (Zverev, Alcaraz), both on hard courts.  Their only prior matchup occurred earlier this season in Acapulco, with Rafa prevailing in straight sets.  Based on Nadal’s lack of match play, and at only one of two Masters 1000 tournaments he’s never won, an upset on Wednesday would not be shocking.  But Rafa has never failed to reach the quarterfinals or better in his eight appearances in Bercy, and he’s continued to find ways to win this year, often without being in top form.  


Maria Sakkari (5) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (7) – Not Before 7:00pm in Fort Worth

Sakkari overcame Pegula in two tiebreaks on Monday, while Sabalenka outlasted Jabeur in a grueling three-setter.  Both Maria and Aryna share a common bond: suffering some heartbreaking losses in semifinals across the past two seasons.  Sakkari lost two Major semifinals last year, even holding a match point at Roland Garros against eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova.  She also went down in defeat in the semis of this event a year ago.  Sabalenka has now lost three Slam semis, all of which ended 6-4 in the third.  Aryna is 4-2 against Maria, with all six matches taking place on hard courts.  The most recent one was a year ago at this same event, when Sakkari was victorious during round-robin play in three sets.  But based on their history, as well as Sabalenka’s come-from-behind win over Jabeur in a high-quality affair, I give a confident Aryna the slight edge on Wednesday.


Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) vs. Dan Evans – Tsitsipas is 56-21 this season, yet has only accumulated two titles despite seven appearances in finals.  He is 3-0 against Evans, with the Brit managing only 12 games across their six sets contested.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Alex de Minaur – Medvedev is 45-15 in 2022, and is coming off a title run last week in Vienna.  De Minaur took out Sebastian Korda after an extended late-night battle on Monday night.  Daniil leads their head-to-head 4-0.

Mikael Ymer (Q) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (8) – Auger-Aliassime is the hottest player on tour, with 13 consecutive wins, three titles in as many weeks, and 86 straight service holds.  He is 1-0 against Ymer, having defeated him in four sets last year at Wimbledon.

Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Yoshihito Nishioka – Alcaraz holds a significant 830-point lead over Nadal in the race for the year-end No.1.  He is 55-12 on the year, though went just 3-2 in October.  Nishioka was the champion in Seoul a month ago.

Taylor Fritz (9) vs. Gilles Simon (WC) – Fritz needs to win the title this week to qualify for the ATP Finals.  A retiring Simon came back from a set and 3-5 down on Monday to upset Andy Murray and extend his career by at least one more match.  They have split two previous meetings.

Hubert Hurkacz (10) vs. Holger Rune – Like Fritz, Hurkacz needs to win the title to qualify for Turin.  Rune defeated Stan Wawrinka in a tight three-setter on Tuesday evening. 

Ons Jabeur (2) vs. Jessica Pegula (3) – Jabeur is 3-2 against Pegula, and claimed both of their encounters this season.  Their most prominent matchup was this year in the final of Madrid, where Ons prevailed in three sets.


Wednesday’s full Order of Play at the WTA Finals is here, and the Paris Masters schedule is here.

ATP

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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Matteo Berrettini Looks To Draw Inspiration From Jannik Sinner

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner ahead of his comeback to the ATP tour.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner as Berrettini is continuing his recovery from his injury.

The former Wimbledon finalist has had a horrible run of injuries which has seen the Italian fall down the rankings as he is now at 124 in the world.

After suffering a horrible injury at the US Open during his match with Arthur Rinderknech, Berrettini was looking to make his return at the Australian Open as he was set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

However just before the match, Berrettini withdrew as he decided to delay his comeback to the tour as he will aim to return to the court as soon as possible.

If Berrettini needed any inspiration then Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open could be that much needed spark as the Italian beat Novak Djokovic on his way to capturing a first Grand Slam title.

Speaking an interview Berrettini explained that he is still not 100% and admits he is looking to draw inspiration from Sinner’s form, “I’m better, but I’m not yet 100%,” Berrettini was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

“The goal is to play the whole season, and without these setbacks which are destroying my body and my head. Sinner did a miracle. I will also use this energy for my tennis. I was happy with what Jannik said.

“We have a good relationship, which has strengthened in recent months. We are different but similar. We are pursuing the same dream.”

Berrettini will hope Sinner’s success will have a positive influence on his recovery and quicken his return to the tour as the former world number six aims for a successful return to the tour.

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