Steve Flink: Jannik Sinner Will Be World Number One By The End Of The Season - UBITENNIS
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Steve Flink: Jannik Sinner Will Be World Number One By The End Of The Season

Jannik Sinner is the new world number two and his rise could take him to the top of the world rankings by the end of the year.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

And so the so-called “Sunshine Double” of Indian Wells followed by Miami is over, and the time has come for the leading players to turn their attention and adjust their games to the rigors of clay court tennis.

Both the BNP Paribas Open in California and the Miami Open in Florida were showcases for hard court tennis at its very best. The fans in both places witnessed inspiring speed, power and athleticism from a wide range of players, observed their share of spellbinding matches, and were present for springtime festivals that we look forward to each and every year.

This time around, Carlos Alcaraz snapped out of a slump at Indian Wells resoundingly, ousting Sascha Zverev in the quarterfinals, Jannik Sinner in the penultimate round and Daniil Medvedev in the final (for the second year in a row) to both defend his prestigious title and capture his first crown since Wimbledon last July. The essential Alcaraz sparkled once more on the slow courts in California and gave himself a much needed boost in the process of reasserting his authority. His triumph could not have been more timely. Alcaraz had not even reached a final since Cincinnati last August. His swagger was largely gone in recent months, but the victory at Indian Wells was a well deserved reward for his remarkable spirit, virtuosity and professionalism.

But in Miami Sinner won his third tournament of the four he has played in 2024, and came through convincingly. The win there has taken the 22-year-old Italian up to a career high No. 2 in the world. I have no doubt that Sinner will finish the 2024 season at the top of his profession, lodged at No. 1.

He took his first major in Melbourne at the Australian Open this year, and it is almost inevitable that he will win one more Grand Slam title in 2024–and perhaps two. His  growling self assurance and his invulnerability from the backcourt, coupled with a serve that has become the most reliable in the sport, have made Sinner the best tennis player in the world at the moment— regardless of the rankings.

Only once in Miami was Sinner in a precarious position. Facing an audacious Tallon Griekspoor in the third round, he dropped the opening set and was locked at 5-5 in the second set before sweeping eight of the last nine games to prevail 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 over the Dutchman. Sinner, who had opened with a 6-3, 6-4 win over countryman Andrea Vavassori, moved through and past the rest of his opposition ruthlessly. He cast aside Chris O’Connell 6-4, 6-3, easily dismissed Tomas Machac 6-4, 6-2, and then took on Daniil Medvedev.

This was an eagerly anticipated matchup. Medvedev had toppled Sinner the first six times they collided, upending the Italian once in 2020, two more times in 2021, once in 2022, and in their first two meetings last year. But since then Sinner has now defeated his rival from Russia five times in a row. The Sinner turnaround started in the final of Beijing last autumn when he was victorious in a pair of tie-breaks. He triumphed 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3 the next time they met in the Vienna final.

In the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Sinner was victorious over Medvedev 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-1. And then they clashed in their most important match yet in Melbourne two months ago, with Sinner somehow rescuing himself from two sets down in the Australian Open final, coming through 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to claim his first major title.

Despite the recent sway of history and the way Sinner had managed to overcome Medvedev in so many settings, the cognoscenti was not anticipating anything but another hard fought and closely contested encounter in Miami. Medvedev had played well, and was coming off a final round showing at Indian Wells. In all four of his previous losses to Sinner, Medvedev had been beaten in battles that hung delicately in the balance. Most of the game’s authorities were expecting a bruising skirmish once more.

Not so on this occasion. Medvedev had been ultra aggressive in Melbourne and, despite his much riskier approach from the baseline, nearly succeeded. He tried at the outset to employ similar tactics in Miami but this time Sinner seemed far better prepared for the onslaught. His defense was outstanding and, as soon as he could take control and go on offense, Sinner did just that. He took a 2-0 opening set lead but fell behind 15-40 in the third game. Once Sinner worked his way out of that jam, he never looked back. At 15-40 his body serve provoked an errant backhand return from Medvedev. On the following point, Medvedev had an opening but netted an inside out forehand. Sinner soon held.

He was unstoppable now, breaking in a long game for 4-0, and holding at 15 for 5-0. Although Medvedev held at last in the sixth game, Sinner closed out the set with authority, holding at love in the seventh game. Sinner commenced the second set with a dazzling display, breaking at love with a backhand return winner down the line off a first serve. He held at 15 for 2-0 before Medvedev gained some ground. The 28-year-old held in the third game and reached break point in the fourth. But Sinner erased it with a strong first serve setting up an unanswerable forehand down the line. Sinner followed with two aces for the hold to 3-1. From that juncture he took three of the next four games to complete a 6-1, 6-2 victory in just under 70 minutes. Sinner won 80% of his first serve points while Medvedev was at only 53%. On second serve points, Sinner took 59% while Medvedev was 20% lower.

No wonder Sinner came into the final with Grigor Dimitrov so calm, resolute and serene. He had every reason to be confident after losing only one match all year long.

And yet, Dimitrov was playing some of the best tennis of his life, perhaps even a better brand than he had shown the world back in 2017 when he finished the season at a career high No. 3 in the world after capturing the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals. Dimitrov had a scintillating autumn of 2023, surprising Alcaraz in Shanghai on his way to the semifinals. Then he made it to the final of the Paris Masters 1000 event in November, knocking out Medvedev, Alexander Bublik, Hubert Hurkacz and Stefanos Tsitsipas before losing to Novak Djokovic.

Earlier this season, Dimitrov won the ATP 250 tournament in Brisbane and was a finalist in Marseille. At 32, his maturity and match playing flexibility have been the twin motors of his success. In Miami, he was on the brink of defeat against the Chilean Alejandro Tabilo. Although Dimitrov released 23 aces in that match and did not lose his serve, he lost the first set in a tie-break and went into another tiebreak in the second. Dimitrov trailed 2-5 in that critical sequence. But he collected five points in a row for the set and completed a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-2 win.

Having survived that harrowing skirmish, Dimitrov crushed Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann 6-1, 6-0. But he had another taxing battle in the round of 16 against Hurkacz. They went to a final set tie-break, and at 2-2 Hurkacz seemingly hit a winner. But his foot had touched the bottom of the net, and it cost him that point. Dimitrov came through that grueling contest 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3). The No. 11 seed was so spent after that rigorous contest that he did not even practice the following day.

But by the time he took on Alcaraz in the quarterfinals, Dimitrov was suitably rested and ready. In my view, he played the match of his career to strike down the Spaniard 6-2, 6-4. Dimitrov seemingly could not miss, coming over many backhand returns with impeccable timing, serving deceptively into the corners, taking control off his forehand and forcing Alcaraz into a lot of uncomfortable positions.

Dimitrov had a break point for 5-1 in the second set but missed a forehand return off a second serve. Alcaraz rallied to 4-4, but Dimitrov was unflustered. He held at 15 in the ninth game, producing a superb second serve kicker out wide on the line for 40-15 and closing that game with an ace down the T at 40-30. He then easily broke Alcaraz one last time to get the job done. The Spaniard later joked that he felt like a 13-year-old getting a tennis lesson in that duel. Dimitrov followed up with a three set win over Sascha Zverev, a player who had beaten him seven consecutive times. Dimitrov won that one 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4 without losing his serve across three sets.

And so the Bulgarian thoroughly earned his final round meeting with Sinner. Early on, he created his one and only chance against the man currently playing better tennis than anyone in the world. Dimitrov did not drop a point on serve in establishing a 2-1 lead, and then had a break point in the fourth game. He made a terrific return off a 128 MPH first serve from Sinner, and was gaining  traction in the rally before missing wide on an inside out forehand. Sinner held on for 2-2 and never looked back.

Dimitrov was down 15-40 in the fifth game but saved a break point there. But he could not escape at 30-40. Sinner connected impeccably with a forehand down the line passing shot, advancing to 3-2. He held at 15 for 4-2 with an ace. Dimitrov struggled through three deuces in the seventh game before holding for 3-4, saving two break points. But Sinner held at 30 for 5-3 and then broke for the set on another sparkling passing shot. This one was a backhand down the line beauty of a winner on the dead run.

The second set was no contest. Sinner won 16 of 19 points on serve, broke Dimitrov twice and finished off a polished and professional performance 6-3, 6-1. He has won 25 of his last 26 matches. The loss to Alcaraz was perhaps a jolt he needed to raise his motivation again. This was especially sweet for the Italian since he had not only lost the 2023 final to Medvedev but also the 2021 title round contest to Hurkacz.

So how are we to assess the combined events at Indian Wells and Miami? Medvedev played some tremendous matches in both tournaments and maintained his customary consistency, but was beaten by Alcaraz 7-6 (5), 6-1 in the Indian Wells final and then was taken apart by Sinner in the semifinal of Miami. Winning only three games in defeat had happened to him only twice before in his career. So the world No. 4 will not be feeling great about himself as he heads back out onto the clay. He did win the Italian Open last year but clay remains his worst surface. Despite being routed by Dimitrov in Miami, Alcaraz relishes competing on clay and will have a bright outlook because of his Indian Wells revival. Dimitrov is a formidable player on clay who will be riding high. Zverev, who had decent results at both Indian Wells and Miami, is always comfortable on clay.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic will be determined to make amends for a slow start in 2024 after a splendid 2023. He will make he presence known and there will be a larger sense of urgency than usual in his preparation for the French Open, where he has won two of the past three years and thrice altogether. And, of course, all eyes will be on Rafael Nadal as the greatest clay court player in the history of the game tries to find a path toward a fifteenth French Open title.

But no one will be more confident on clay than the redoubtable Sinner. His hard court results have been superior overall to those he has achieved on clay, but the fact remains that he knows what he is doing on the dirt. These are heady days for the Italian. He approaches every match fully believing in himself and his chances. He expects to win just about anytime he steps on a tennis court. Jannik Sinner is right where he wants to be at the moment, dominating the game with an uncluttered mind, enjoying what he is doing, and looking forward to stamping his authority on the game for as long as he possibly can.

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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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