Rybakina beats Sabalenka to win Indian Wells WTA title

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Elena Rybakina in action against Aryna Sabalenka in the final during the BNP Paribas Open on March 19, 2023 in Indian Wells, California. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Aryna Sabalenka reacts in her match against Elena Rybakina in the final during the BNP Paribas Open on March 19, 2023 in Indian Wells, California. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 20 March 2023

Rybakina beats Sabalenka to win Indian Wells WTA title

  • Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, the world number 10, had ousted top-ranked defending champion Iga Swiatek in the semifinals

INDIAN WELLS, California: Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina edged Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (13/11), 6-4 on Sunday to win the Indian Wells WTA title and avenge her loss to the Belarusian in the Australian Open final.
Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, the world number 10 who ousted top-ranked defending champion Iga Swiatek in the semifinals, followed up with her first victory over second-ranked Sabalenka in five career meetings.
While Sabalenka had the edge from the baseline in a hard-fought battle, Rybakina’s fierce pressure saw the serve demons that beset Sabalenka last year resurface.
Her 10 double faults in the opening frame ultimately proved too much to overcome.
After fending off three break points in a marathon fourth game, she broke Rybakina to gain the advantage, but Sabalenka handed back the break with a double fault to close the eighth game.
She gifted Rybakina a set point with another double fault in the 12th game and while the Kazakhstan player couldn’t capitalize, she would do so finally in the tiebreaker.
Unable to convert her own two set points in the decider, Sabalenka’s 10th double fault of the set gave Rybakina her sixth set point and she took it.
Sabalenka, struggling to quell her emotions, was broken to love to open the second set and that was all the opening Rybakina needed.
The Moscow-born Kazakh saved a pair of break points to push her lead to 3-1 and, with Sabalenka in survival mode, she ripped a backhand return up the line for a break that put her ahead 5-2.
Sabalenka wouldn’t go quietly, breaking Rybakina to love and holding serve with ease with the wind at her back.
But Rybakina polished it off with confidence on her first match point when Sabalenka smacked a service return into the net.

 

 


Nadal faces ‘five months recovery’ after keyhole surgery on hip

Updated 03 June 2023

Nadal faces ‘five months recovery’ after keyhole surgery on hip

  • The 22-time Grand Slam title winner, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Saturday, could in theory be back in time for the Davis Cup finals in November
  • Nadal said last month that the hip injury had not healed as well as he had hoped and therefore he was taking more time out of the sport

MADRID: Rafael Nadal’s keyhole surgery on his injured hip was “positive” but he will require a five-month recovery period before playing again, his spokesman said Saturday.
The 22-time Grand Slam title winner, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Saturday, could in theory be back in time for the Davis Cup finals in November.
However, it is likely he will sit out the rest of the season before resuming in 2024 which he has already said will be the last year of his career.
“The surgery was positive,” said his spokesman of the procedure which was carried out in Barcelona.
“The normal recovery process is estimated at five months.”
Nadal said last month that the hip injury had not healed as well as he had hoped and therefore he was taking more time out of the sport.
The Spaniard missed the ongoing French Open, which he has won 14 times, for the first time since 2004.
He will also sit out Wimbledon, where he is a two-time champion, next month.
Nadal had hoped the injury he suffered in a second round loss to Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open in January would heal in six weeks.
While he recovers, old rival Novak Djokovic has the chance to break out of the tie for 22 majors by winning a third French Open.
On Friday, Djokovic reached the last 16 in Paris for the 14th successive year and will face Juan Pablo Virallas, the 94th-ranked Peruvian, on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals.


French Open lets Belarus’ Sabalenka skip standard news conference after questions about Ukraine war

Updated 02 June 2023

French Open lets Belarus’ Sabalenka skip standard news conference after questions about Ukraine war

  • Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, didn't appear at a news conference Friday after reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros for the first time
  • Sabalenka said she “did not feel safe” at her news conference Wednesday and wanted to protect her “mental health and well-being”

PARIS: Two years after Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open when she was fined, then threatened with disqualification, for skipping news conferences, another top tennis player — No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion — was allowed to avoid the traditional postmatch session open to all accredited journalists and instead speak Friday with what was described as a “pool” of selected questioners.
Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, didn’t appear at a news conference Friday after reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros for the first time with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Kamilla Rakhimova.
After each of her previous two wins this week, Sabalenka was asked about her stance on the war in Ukraine, which began in February 2022, when Russia invaded that country with help from Belarus.
Sabalenka said she “did not feel safe” at her news conference Wednesday and wanted to protect her “mental health and well-being.” Sabalenka’s desire to bypass the standard Q-and-A was supported by the tournament and the WTA. She will not be fined.
The topic of the war was raised at both earlier news conferences by Daria Meshcheriakova, a part-time journalist from the Ukraine for a sports outlet she said gets 7 million views per month. Meshcheriakova, who said she used to be an employee of the German embassy in Kyiv, left Ukraine 10 days after the war began and moved to the Netherlands.
Sabalenka’s first match at this French Open was against a player from Ukraine, Marta Kostyuk, who refused to shake hands at the net afterward — as she’s done against all opponents from Russia or Belarus since the attacks began. Kostyuk was booed by fans apparently unaware of why she declined the usual gesture.
Two spokespeople for the French Tennis Federation wouldn’t say who was allowed to talk with Sabalenka on Friday, but a transcript was distributed to the media. The first “question” was: “Before we start, I know there was a tense situation in your second-round press conference, and if you wanted to address it at all.”
The response, according to the transcript: “After my match, I spoke with the media like I normally do. I know they still expect some questions that are more about the politics and not so much about my tennis. For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts. These questions do not bother me after my matches. I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday I did not feel safe in (the) press conference. I should be able to feel safe when I do interviews with the journalists after my matches. For my own mental health and well-being, I have decided to take myself out of this situation today, and the tournament has supported me in this decision. It hasn’t been an easy few days, and now my focus is (to) continue to play well here in Paris.”
What followed were topics such as how Sabalenka played Friday, her previous track record at Roland Garros, her fitness training and what types of movies she has been watching.
At the 2021 French Open, Osaka — a four-time major champion and former No. 1 — shined a light on the issue of athletes’ mental health by saying she did not want to speak to the media during the tournament. She was docked $15,000 for skipping the news conference after her first-round victory in Paris, then was threatened by all four Grand Slam tournaments with possible additional punishment, including disqualification or suspension, if she continued to sit out those availabilities.
Osaka then pulled out of the competition, saying she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media and revealed she has “suffered long bouts of depression.”


Rybakina beats Czech teen to reach 3rd round at French Open, Keys loses

Updated 01 June 2023

Rybakina beats Czech teen to reach 3rd round at French Open, Keys loses

  • The Wimbledon champion, the No. 4 seed at Roland Garros, beat 18-year-old Linda Noskova 6-3, 6-3 on Court Suzanne Lenglen
  • “I cannot say that here it’s easy for me. It’s still every match getting better and better,” Rybakina said on court

PARIS: Elena Rybakina’s comfort on clay improved as she eased into the third round at the French Open by beating another Czech teenager on Thursday.
The Wimbledon champion, the No. 4 seed at Roland Garros, beat 18-year-old Linda Noskova 6-3, 6-3 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
“I cannot say that here it’s easy for me. It’s still every match getting better and better,” Rybakina said on court. “It was a bit slippery for me today, I don’t know why.”
She ought to be feeling cosy on dirt after winning the Italian Open, but the 6-foot (1.8-meter) Kazakh is banking most of her confidence on her height advantage.
“This is my good weapon,” she said, “but, at the same time, to move on clay it’s not easy. It’s always I need more to prepare and, of course, be more patient during the rallies.”
The Australian Open runner-up hit 30 winners to Noskova’s 16, though both players had 26 unforced errors.
“I was struggling a lot on her serves,” the Moscow-born Rybakina said.
Rybakina, who beat Brenda Fruhvirtova in the first round, will next face Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain.
No. 20 Madison Keys committed a whopping 74 unforced errors in her 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 loss to fellow American player Kayla Day on Court Simonne Mathieu.
The 23-year-old Day, who won the girls’ title at the 2016 US Open, is ranked 138th and came through qualifying to make her Roland Garros main-draw debut. She beat French wild card Kristina Mladenovic in the first round.
Later, defending champion and No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek faces Claire Liu of the United States. Coco Gauff — last year’s runner-up — takes on Julia Grabher of Austria.
Top men in action include two-time major finalist Casper Ruud, No. 8 Jannik Sinner and No. 12 Frances Tiafoe.
No. 18 Alex de Minaur of Australia lost to Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3.


Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy

Updated 31 May 2023

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy

  • Djokovic scrawled the message "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence" on a camera following his first-round match
  • "It was a message that is very activist, that is very political," Amelie Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2

PARIS: Novak Djokovic will take to Court Philippe Chatrier in Wednesday’s French Open night session under fire for his recent comments about clashes in Kosovo, after world number one Carlos Alcaraz also plays in the second round.
Djokovic, who is chasing a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, scrawled the message “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a camera following his first-round match.
The 36-year-old faces Hungarian Marton Fucsovics for a place in the last 32 but the focus has been on his political views, with the French sports minister on Wednesday condemning the two-time Roland Garros champion.
“It was a message that is very activist, that is very political,” Amelie Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2.
“You shouldn’t get involved, especially in the current circumstances, and it shouldn’t happen again.”
She added that tournament director Amelie Mauresmo had spoken to Djokovic and his entourage.
Thirty peacekeepers from a NATO-led force in Kosovo were injured in clashes with ethnic Serb demonstrators on Monday during protests about the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo.
“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, center of the most important things for our country... There are many reasons why I wrote that on the camera,” Djokovic told Serb media after writing his message.
Djokovic will be hoping for less drama on the court against an opponent he has beaten four times in as many meetings.
He has not failed to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since the 2017 Australian Open.
In Wednesday’s early action, Stefanos Tsitsipas cruised into the third round with a straight-sets win over Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.
The Greek fifth seed, the runner-up to Djokovic in 2021, claimed a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 win on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Tsitsipas will next face either Argentinian Diego Schwartzman or Portugal’s Nuno Borges for a place in the second week.
Elina Svitolina battled back from a break and a set down to beat Storm Hunter, just 12 hours after her husband Gael Monfils’ late-night escape act.
Ukrainian Svitolina, playing at a Grand Slam event for the first time since the 2022 Australian Open, downed qualifier Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Home favorite Monfils claimed his first win in nine months in a five-set first-round thriller against Sebastian Baez which finished after midnight in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“Yes, I watched him, but not live. I was screaming in my room so if someone heard me, it was me cheering for Gael,” said Svitolina, who was being supported on Court Simonne Mathieu by Monfils.
American third seed Jessica Pegula booked her spot in the last 32 when opponent Camila Giorgi retired injured after losing the first set 6-2.
Former champion Jelena Ostapenko crashed out, though, losing 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to the United States’ Peyton Stearns.
Later, Alcaraz continues his bid for a second major title against Japan’s Taro Daniel, while world number two Aryna Sabalenka plays Iryna Shymanovich in an all-Belarusian women’s tie.


French Open’s No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev loses to 172nd-ranked qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild

Updated 31 May 2023

French Open’s No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev loses to 172nd-ranked qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild

  • Seybolt Wild needed to win three matches in qualifying rounds last week just to make it into the men’s bracket
  • It’s the first time the second-seeded man lost in the first round of the French Open since 2000

PARIS: If anyone thought a couple of recent runs to Week 2 at the French Open and a clay-court title a little more than a week ago made Daniil Medvedev a little fonder of the red stuff, forget it.

A first-round loss as the No. 2 seed at Roland Garros — against Thiago Seybolt Wild, a qualifier ranked 172nd who never had won a Grand Slam match anywhere until Tuesday — sure reminded Medvedev of his distaste for the slow surface used in Paris.

“I had a mouthful of clay since probably the third game of the match, and I don’t like it. I don’t know if people like to eat clay, to have clay in their bags, in their shoes, the socks — white socks, you can throw them (into the) garbage after clay season,” said Medvedev, who won the 2021 US Open and reached three other major finals on hard courts. “Maybe some people like it. I don’t.”

Seybolt Wild needed to win three matches in qualifying rounds last week just to make it into the men’s bracket — something he’d failed to do on eight previous attempts at Slams — but looked very much like he belonged on Court Philippe Chatrier. He hit big forehands and kept his nerve down the stretch to oust Medvedev 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

It’s the first time the second-seeded man lost in the first round of the French Open since 2000, when Pete Sampras — no fan of clay himself — was eliminated by Mark Philippoussis.

“It definitely was the happiest day of my life,” said Seybolt Wild, a 23-year-old from Brazil. “I knew it was going to be a tough match, but I knew how to play. I have watched him play 1,000 times already. I just had to believe in myself.”

So what was his game plan going in?

“Walking on the court, I really just wanted to get the angles, try to get to the net as much as possible, try to use my forehand against his,” Seybolt Wild explained. “It worked pretty well.”

Did it ever.

Employing a high-risk, high-reward style, Seybolt Wild compiled a 69-45 edge in total winners, including 47-15 on the forehand side.

He hadn’t even played a tour-level main-draw match at all in 2023, instead competing on the lower-level ATP Challenger Tour. At his most recent event, in Turin, Italy, Seybolt Wild made it to the quarterfinals and left with a paycheck for $5,950.

“His life is going to be better if he plays like this every match,” Medvedev said. “He’s going to get more money, more sponsors, win big titles. But he has to play like this. Not once on the Philippe Chatrier, but a lot of times in different tournaments all over the world throughout the year.”

At his news conference, Seyboth Wild drew the sort of attention and questions that arrive when a relatively unknown player pulls off a stunning win.

One reporter pulled out some puns related to Seyboth Wild’s last name, including references to whether this was his “wildest victory” and exceeded his “wildest dreams” — to which the response was: “I honestly don’t know how many times I have heard that joke, but it never gets old.”

Later, a query arrived about a far more serious matter: The Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors’ office charged Seyboth Wild in June 2022 with domestic violence against his ex-partner. He has denied any wrongdoing; a ruling is expected sometime this year.

“I don’t think it’s a subject we should talk about ... right here,” Seyboth Wild said. “I don’t think it’s a question you should be (asking).”

Medvedev’s exit was the most significant result as the first round closed. The top women’s seeds in action all advanced, including defending champion Iga Swiatek, 2022 runner-up Coco Gauff, reigning Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina and two-time major finalist Ons Jabeur. So did No. 4 Casper Ruud (the runner-up to Rafael Nadal a year ago), No. 6 Holger Rune, No. 9 Taylor Fritz and No. 16 Tommy Paul among the men.

Good as he’s always been on hard courts, Medvedev never was known for his prowess on clay: He began his French Open career with a 0-4 record. But he’s been showing signs of improvement, reaching the quarterfinals in Paris in 2021 and the fourth round last year, and claiming the trophy on the surface in Rome this month.

He just could never quite get the upper hand during a 4-hour, 15-minute contest.

Medvedev, who was treated by a trainer for a nosebleed in the third set, didn’t help himself by double-faulting a career-high 15 times, something he blamed in part on the wind that topped 15 mph.

By turns, Medvedev credited Seybolt Wild for playing well, saying the guy could end up ranked in the top 30 by year’s end, but also seemed a bit miffed.

“I honestly hope he’s going to play like this later on,” Medvedev said, “because if not, I’m going to be disappointed. I’m going to be like, ‘Why today? Why not in two days?’”

He was asked how he would characterize his relationship with clay, now that this portion of the tour calendar is done.

“Every time it finishes, I’m happy,” Medvedev replied. “So I’m happy. I’m happy again.”