Australian Open success whetted Sabalenka’s appetite for more glory

Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka poses with the 2023 Australian Open winner's trophy in Royal Botanic Garden in Melbourne on January 29, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2023
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Australian Open success whetted Sabalenka’s appetite for more glory

  • The 24-year-old Belarusian admits it took her some time to fully realize she has become a Grand Slam champion but has no intention of slowing down

DUBAI: Aryna Sabalenka says her maiden Grand Slam triumph at the Australian Open last month has further fueled her hunger for success, as she looks to add more silverware to her cabinet.
The world No.2 is undefeated so far in 2023, having won both tournaments she has contested to accrue a perfect 11-0 record.
Sabalenka will put her winning streak on the line in Dubai this week, where she will make her first on-court appearance since lifting the trophy in Melbourne with victory over Elena Rybakina in the final three weeks ago.
The 24-year-old Belarusian admits it took her some time to fully realize she has become a Grand Slam champion but has no intention of slowing down.
“I couldn’t believe it in the beginning. Then for the next week I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I did it. Yes, it happened’,” Sabalenka told reporters in Dubai on Sunday.
“I was having this conversation in my head that, ‘Wow, that happened’. It’s so amazing. Now I have even more motivation to work hard, just to feel it again.”
Sabalenka opens her campaign in the Emirates against either Swiss Jil Teichmann or Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in the second round and is feeling good about her chances at the WTA 1000 tournament.
“This year is different because they changed the balls,” she said.
“The surface is new. It’s different than it was last year. Last year was super fast. The balls were flying.
“Right now I feel like I have more chances to do well in this tournament just because of these changes.”
Sabalenka believes focusing on herself and blocking out all the outside noise was the key to her title run in Australia and she is looking for more of the same moving forward.
She insists not much has shifted in her world since achieving major glory.
“I still have to work hard. I still have to prove every time on the court that I’m in the right place. Nothing changed much,” she added.

Meanwhile, world No.5 Caroline Garcia is in search of the top form that saw her soar up the rankings last season, which she finished by claiming the prestigious WTA Finals crown.
With a fourth-round showing at the Australian Open, and runner-up in Lyon earlier this month, Garcia’s start to 2023 has been promising.
However, the Frenchwoman confessed she has not been too pleased with her level and is trying to lower her expectations after a standout 2022.
“I wish it would be better, better results in the beginning of the year. I didn’t feel very good on court,” she said.
“I didn’t really feel like playing my game completely free, completely relaxed, completely like letting things go.
“It’s definitely something we were working on since a week. We want to stop comparing to how things were last year, full of confidence, full of playing I don’t know how many matches,” added the 29-year-old, who plays 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys in the second round.
The Dubai tournament runs from February 19 to 25 with world No.1 Iga Swiatek headlining the field.


Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open

Updated 17 April 2024
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Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open

  • Nadal, a 12-time champion at the clay-court tournament, said he was never at full strength at the center court named after him, especially when serving
  • World No. 8 Andrey Rublev smashed his racket to the ground several times after a 6-4, 7-6 (6) loss to American Brandon Nakashima

BARCELONA, Spain: Taking it easy after months away from competitive tennis, Rafael Nadal was good enough to earn a comfortable first-round win at the Barcelona Open on Tuesday.

Nadal looked injury-free in a 6-2, 6-3 win over Flavio Cobolli to advance to the second round in his first tournament in more than three months.

Nadal converted on his second match point to seal the victory over the 21-year-old Italian ranked 62nd in the world. The Spaniard will next face Alex de Minaur, who had a first-round bye.

“Taking everything into consideration, it was a good first round,” Nadal said. “I played the kind of match that I needed to play. I’m happy for the victory and happy to be playing at home again.”

Nadal, a 12-time champion at the clay-court tournament, said he was never at full strength at the center court named after him, especially when serving.

“I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t make sense right now,” he said. “I’m not going to go out there and serve like crazy. I have to take it easy because that’s what’s needed at the moment.”

Nadal broke serve twice in each set. He finished with eight winners and 22 unforced errors.

Nadal was returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. The 22-time Grand Slam champion had last played a tournament in Brisbane in January, when he played only three matches before skipping the Australian Open.

He withdrew from Monte Carlo saying he his body wasn’t ready yet. Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month.

The 37-year old Nadal said it will likely be his last time playing the Barcelona Open. The Spaniard had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

FRUSTRATED RUBLEV

World No. 8 Andrey Rublev smashed his racket to the ground several times after a 6-4, 7-6 (6) loss to American Brandon Nakashima.

It was the third consecutive first-round defeat for the second-seeded Rublev, who also lost in straight sets in Monte Carlo and Miami. He also lost in straight sets in the second round in Indian Wells.

It was only the second win over a top-10 opponent for the 22-year-old Nakashima, and the first on clay. The world No. 87 had beaten Holger Rune in Shanghai last October.

“I’m still out here competing as hard as I can,” said Nakashima, who reached No. 43 in the world in 2022. “I’m happy with getting my level back to where it was. Playing in front of these crowds and on this court was super special.”

OTHER RESULTS

Also Tuesday, Facundo Diaz Acosta defeated 15th-seeded Borna Coric 6-2, 7-5. Tomas Machac beat Shang Juncheng 6-4, 6-4 to set up a meeting with 11th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Roberto Carballes Baena defeated Hugo Grenier 6-2, 6-4, while Jaume Munar cruised past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 6-1.


Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

Updated 13 April 2024
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Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

  • Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud
  • Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall

MONACO: Casper Ruud finally got the better of Novak Djokovic, beating the top-ranked Serb 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 on Saturday to set up a Monte Carlo Masters final against two-time champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas won the earlier semifinal against a tiring Jannik Sinner 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to hand the Australian Open champion only his second defeat of the season.
Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud. He had never even taken a set off Djokovic before, including at last year’s French Open final.
Djokovic trailed 4-1 in the deciding set but held his next serve and broke a nervous-looking Ruud’s serve to love to pull back to 4-3.
At 15-15 in the eighth game, Djokovic turned and shouted an expletive toward someone in the crowd. Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani urged fans not to call out during a rally, but did not issue a verbal warning to Djokovic despite the loudly audible expletive, which was followed by an angry glare.
A sloppy 10th game in the deciding set saw him trailing love-40 on serve, and the eighth-seeded Ruud received the victory on his third match point.
Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall.
The record 24-time men’s Grand Slam champion Djokovic still hasn’t won a title this year, and remained on 98 in his glittering career.
Sinner, who has three titles in 2024, looked in control in the deciding set when he led Tsitsipas 4-3 with a service game to follow.
But he called for a medical timeout during the changeover and a trainer massaged his right knee and thigh. Although a smiling Sinner shared a joke with the trainer, things got more serious in the next game when Tsitsipas broke his serve at the fifth attempt to level the score.
Sinner limped a little at the end of the next game and clutched the hamstring area of his left leg, then had both legs massaged. His movement was restricted in the ensuing game, and Tsitsipas clinched victory on his first match point when Sinner’s backhand from the back of the court went long as he struggled for balance.
“He is one of the toughest opponents I have faced so far and to find ways when there weren’t that many, I am proud of that,” Tsitsipas said.
American actress Zendaya, British actor Josh O’Connor and other cast members from the tennis movie “Challengers” were among the crowd enjoying the sunshine at Monte Carlo Country Club. Italian fans crossing the nearby border made Sinner feel at home, but Tsitsipas enjoys strong support here after winning in 2021 and 2022.
Tsitsipas broke Sinner and held for 3-1 in a commanding first set where he used angles well to disrupt Sinner’s more rhythmical play.
The level of intensity from both players increased in the second set. A long ninth game lasting 13 minutes saw the second-seeded Sinner save five break points before holding to level the match.
He broke Tsitsipas in the first game of the deciding set and held easily.
At this point, another final looked increasingly certain.
The Italian was enjoying himself and smiled to his coaching team after winning one point with an audacious sliced dropshot in the fifth game.
But Tsitsipas, who took Djokovic to five sets in the French Open final in 2021, showed trademark endurance and clawed his way back as Sinner started fading.


Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona

Updated 13 April 2024
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Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona

  • THE 22-time Grand Slam champion missed virtually all of the 2023 season through injury

PARIS: Rafael Nadal will make his return to ATP competition for the first time since January when he plays Flavio Cobolli in the Barcelona Open next week.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion has played just once, in an exhibition match, since he felt a hip injury flare-up during his quarter-final defeat by Jordan Thompson in the Brisbane Open.
The tournament has also been boosted by the return of Nadal’s compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, the world No.3, who withdrew from this week’s Monte Carlo Masters due to a right arm injury.
Unlike Nadal the two-time defending Barcelona champion gets a first round bye due to being seeded.
Nadal, 37, missed virtually all of the 2023 season through injury and has only played at the Brisbane International this season.
The injury in Brisbane prompted the record 14-time French Open winner’s withdrawal from the Australian Open as well as Doha and Indian Wells, where he had first intended to make his comeback.
His one appearance since Brisbane came in an exhibition match against Alcaraz in Las Vegas in March where observers noted some discomfort in his back.
With this potentially Nadal’s last year on tour, he will be desperate not to miss any more clay court preparation time as he seeks to win a record 15th French Open title in June.


Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

Updated 12 April 2024
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Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

  • Djokovic: I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player
  • De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin

MONTE CARLO: Novak Djokovic avenged last year’s Monte Carlo Masters defeat by Lorenzo Musetti to reach the quarterfinals Thursday along with Jannik Sinner, while Daniil Medvedev launched into a furious tirade during his defeat.

World No. 1 Djokovic made a poor start and endured a second-set wobble before coming through 7-5, 6-3 against the 24th-ranked Musetti, the man who beat him at the same stage 12 months ago.

“I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player,” Djokovic said.

“I am really glad to overcome the challenge and look forward to the next one.”

Djokovic goes on to play Alex de Minaur, the 11th seed from Australia, in the last eight.

The Serbian top seed dropped serve in the opening game against Musetti before working his way back to level at 4-4, and then snatched the set on a double fault by his opponent.

Djokovic broke twice early in the second set either side of losing his own serve to surge 4-1 ahead. Musetti clawed back to within a game but Djokovic broke again for 5-3 before closing out the win.

Djokovic has struggled to find his best form in recent times in Monte Carlo. He has not won the tournament since the last of his two titles in 2015, failing to advance beyond the quarter-finals in seven subsequent appearances.

Australian Open champion Sinner improved his record to 24-1 this season with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Jan-Lennard Struff.

The world No. 2 broke at 4-4 en route to pocketing the first set and won nine of the final 11 games to sweep to victory.

“I broke him quite early and then he broke me back. I knew it was going to be really tough, but I guess I returned really well, especially on second serves. I can be very happy,” said Sinner.

Sinner next faces Holger Rune who defeated the Italian in the semifinals last year before finishing runner-up to Andrey Rublev.

Rune made the last eight after a three-hour 30-minute 7-6 (11/9), 3-6, 7-6 (7/2) win over Grigor Dimitrov, saving two match points in the 12th game of the deciding set.

“It was a great match,” said Rune. “I thought I played a very good first set, it was very long, one-and-a-half hours. So it was tough physically.”

Like Dimitrov, Rune had earlier completed a rain-delayed third round clash.

“I had a match earlier today which was two sets, so I played five sets today actually, which is pretty brutal,” added the Dane.

Medvedev tore into the officiating for the second day running as he was beaten 6-3, 7-5 by Karen Khachanov.

Medvedev was hit with a point penalty to start the final game after berating chair umpire Carlos Bernardes and then became embroiled in a heated discussion with the tournament supervisor.

The world No. 4 had already been warned after hurling his racquet when he double-faulted to lose his service game and leave Khachanov a game away from victory.

Medvedev, who took issue with two line calls in his second-round win on Wednesday, felt aggrieved when a Khachanov forehand was not called out during a rally that resulted in the latter earning two break points at 5-5.

The arrival of the physio to treat a finger bleed at the ensuing changeover tipped Medvedev over the edge, with the Russian yelling “did I ask for the physio!” at the umpire.

He then demanded of the supervisor “who will take responsibility?” for the decisions.

Television replays appeared to show the shot in question from Khachanov had landed wide of the court.

“It’s second day in a row. Guys, open your eyes. Do something. It’s out,” raged Medvedev.

“The mark is out. They don’t know how to referee anymore. Who will take action?

“Yesterday the ball is out, it’s called in. Who will take action. This ball is out there. Who will take responsibility? It’s not my responsibility to referee the matches.

“It’s this guy in the glasses (the line judge). He doesn’t need glasses because he doesn’t see anything. He should not be a referee.”

Khachanov’s reward is a quarterfinal Friday against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who saw off fifth seed Alexander Zverev 7-5, 7-6 (7/3).

De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin.


Sinner looks smooth on clay at Monte Carlo Masters;  defending champion Rublev is ousted

Updated 11 April 2024
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Sinner looks smooth on clay at Monte Carlo Masters;  defending champion Rublev is ousted

  • The second-seeded Sinner won 95 percent of points on his first serve and saved all three break points in improving his record to 23-1 this year
  • The sixth-seeded Rublev dropped his serve three times against Popyrin, who next faces No. 11 Alex de Minaur in an all-Australian contest

MONACO: After dominating on aggressive hard courts, Jannik Sinner made a smooth transition to softer clay by beating Sebastian Korda 6-1, 6-2 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Wednesday.

But defending champion Andrey Rublev was eliminated after a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Alexei Popyrin.

The second-seeded Sinner won 95 percent of points on his first serve and saved all three break points in improving his record to 23-1 this year. He has three titles in 2024, including the Australian Open — his first major trophy — and recently the Miami Open.

“I moved quite well in these conditions,” said the 22-year-old Italian, who reached the semifinals at Monte Carlo last year. “Every year it is tough to come here and perform well but I am happy with the performance.”

Sinner faces Jan-Lennard Struff on Thursday in the third round, where he will join two-time champions Novak Djokovic — who won on Tuesday — and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 12th-seeded Tsitsipas routed Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6-1, 6-0 and next faces No. 5 Alexander Zverev in a contest between big servers. Djokovic takes on unseeded Italian Lorenzo Musetti.

The sixth-seeded Rublev dropped his serve three times against Popyrin, who next faces No. 11 Alex de Minaur in an all-Australian contest at the Monte Carlo Country Club, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.

“I am feeling really comfortable on (clay) and happy to beat a guy who was in form, confident and the defending champ,” Popyrin said. “It was an awesome match.”

De Minaur rallied past unseeded Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev, who is chasing his first title of the year, won 6-2, 6-4 against French veteran Gael Monfils, and two-time French Open runner-up Casper Ruud — seeded eighth — downed Alejandro Tabilo 6-2, 6-4.

Later Wednesday, last year’s runner-up Holger Rune faced qualifier Sumit Nagal of India and No. 9 Grigor Dimitrov played Miomir Kecmanovic.

Also in the second round, there were wins for No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 14 Ugo Humbert, No. 15 Karen Khachanov and lucky loser Lorenzo Sonego, who replaced the injured Carlos Alcaraz after the Spaniard pulled out on Tuesday with a right forearm injury.

Record 11-time Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal pulled out with a lingering injury before the tournament.