Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: A Look at Two Appetizing Second Round Matchups on Friday - UBITENNIS
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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: A Look at Two Appetizing Second Round Matchups on Friday

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“Minister of Happiness” Ons Jabeur this week during media day (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

Another two-week combined event is already underway in Rome, with second round ATP and WTA action taking place on Friday.

The top eight men and the top eight women in the world are all present in the capital of Italy.  After missing Madrid due to injury, Novak Djokovic makes his return in Rome, and plays his first match on Friday.  Meanwhile, second-seeded Carlos Alcaraz is making his Foro Italico debut, and looking to remain undefeated this season on European clay.

Iga Swiatek is the top seed in the women’s draw, and is the two-time defending champion in Rome.  Iga also plays her first match on Friday.  But she is not headed for a third consecutive championship showdown with Aryna Sabalenka, as the second-seeded Madrid champion was upset on Thursday night by 2020 Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin

Friday’s play is headlined by two second round clashes between notable names, as Ons Jabeur faces Paula Badosa, and Grigor Dimitrov plays Stan Wawrinka.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Stan Wawrinka vs. Grigor Dimitrov (26) – Second on Grand Stand Arena

Wawrinka is now 12-9 on the year, after defeating Ilya Ivashka 6-2, 6-4 in the first round on Wednesday.  Stan is 25-16 lifetime in Rome, having reached the final 15 years ago, and the semifinals eight years ago.

Similarly, Dimitrov is 11-8 this season, and just 3-2 on clay.  Throughout his career, he’s 10-10 at this tournament, having reached a semifinal in 2014 and a quarterfinal in 2020, when this tournament was staged in September.

Their rivalry dates back to 2011, which Wawrinka leads 7-5 overall.  Stan has claimed five of their last six encounters, though they’ve haven’t played in over three years.  On clay, they’re locked at 2-2, yet they’ve never previously played in Rome.  But in the 13th meeting between these two one-handed backhands, I give Wawrinka the slight edge.  Even though Stan has struggled to regain his form after multiple surgeries, he remains a more formidable threat on this surface.


Ons Jabeur (4) vs. Paula Badosa – Third on Center Court

Jabeur is only 11-5 in 2023, as she’s missed significant time this year due to multiple injuries.  Most recently, she suffered a calf injury in Stuttgart, forcing her to retire from the semifinals of that event, and miss Madrid altogether.  This is her first match in three weeks, at a tournament where she is the defending runner-up, having lost last year’s final in straight sets to Swiatek.

Similarly, Badosa missed time this season as well due to injury, and is only 14-7 thus far.  In Madrid, she scored an impressive 6-3, 6-0 victory over Coco Gauff, before losing to Maria Sakkari.  Paula already survived a first round scare in Rome, prevailing in a third-set tiebreak against Anna Lena Friedsam.  This is only Badosa’s second appearance in Rome, after going 1-1 here last year.

Badosa leads their head-to-head 2-1, and 1-0 on clay.  The Spaniard took their last two meetings: two years ago at Indian Wells, and last year in Stuttgart.  With Jabeur just returning from injury, I like Badosa’s chances of making it three in a row on Friday.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Thanasi Kokkinakis (Q) vs. Jannik Sinner (8) – Sinner is 26-6 this season, but missed Madrid due to illness.  Kokkinakis is 9-7 at tour level, and just 1-1 on clay, with both those matches against Jamue Munar, who retired from their first round match on Wednesday after just six games.  Jannik is 2-0 against Thanasi.

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – Swiatek is 25-5 on the year, though she’s coming off a tough loss in the final of Madrid to Sabalenka.  Pavlyuchenkova has only played eight matches this season at tour level, after missing the last six months of 2022 due to a knee injury. 

Arthur Fils (Q) vs. Holger Rune (7) – Rune is 22-9 in 2023, and 8-2 on clay, having won the title in Munich after saving match points.  Fils is an impressive 18-year-old from France who is 20-7 this year at all levels. 

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Tomas Martin Etcheverry – Djokovic is 17-3 this year, and 64-10 lifetime in Rome.  He is a six-time and defending champion, having defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the 2022 final.  Etcheverry was already a finalist this season at two clay court events (Santiago, Houston).

Marketa Vondrousova vs. Bianca Andreescu (24) – Andreescu is just 9-8 on the season, and 0-1 on clay, after suffering an awful ankle injury in Miami.  Vondrousova is a strong 17-7, and beat Kaia Kanepi in the opening round. 

Jasmine Paolini vs. Elena Rybakina (7) – Rybakina is 24-7 this year, but has lost her last two matches, including a retirement in Stuttgart due to a lower back injury.  Paolini is a 27-year-old Italian who ousted Xinyu Wang in the first round.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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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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