Djokovic tested by Etcheverry in opening Italian Open win; Swiatek cruises

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in action during his round of 64 match against Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry at the Italian Open — Foro Italico, Rome on May 12, 2023. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 12 May 2023

Djokovic tested by Etcheverry in opening Italian Open win; Swiatek cruises

  • Aiming for a seventh title on the red clay of the Foro Italico as he prepares for the French Open, Djokovic twice had to recover from deficits during a tight first set
  • In his previous two tournaments on red clay, Djokovic had consecutive early exits

ROME: Novak Djokovic was tested by 61st-ranked Tomas Martin Etcheverry in a 7-6 (5), 6-2 opening win at the Italian Open on Friday.
Aiming for a seventh title on the red clay of the Foro Italico as he prepares for the French Open, Djokovic twice had to recover from deficits during a tight first set.
Djokovic was returning after three weeks off due to a lingering issue with his surgically repaired right elbow.
In his previous two tournaments on red clay, Djokovic had consecutive early exits.
He lost in the round of 16 at Monte Carlo to Lorenzo Musetti. Then Dusan Lajovic beat him in the quarterfinals of the Srpska Open in Bosnia and Herzegovina, dealing him his first loss to a fellow Serbian in 11 years.
After his serve was broken in the opening game of the match — after which he put a black sleeve on over his right elbow — Djokovic fell behind 3-1 before eventually getting back on serve.
Djokovic had two set points on Etcheverry’s serve at 5-4 in the first but the Argentine produced two big serves that Djokovic couldn’t return.
Then Etcheverry took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker before Djokovic again rallied back — this time taking control for good.
Djokovic said he was “still not at the desired level, still finding the shots, finding that groove on the court.
“But it’s always a little tricky playing somebody for the first time. He’s a clay-court specialist and he started better than I did. I started pretty slow but I kind of found my groove toward the end of the first.”
While it was up and down at the start, there were also moments of vintage Djokovic. Like when he produced a delicate forehand stop volley winner to conclude a long rally midway through the first set, after which he pumped his fist and motioned with his arms for the crowd to cheer louder.
Etcheverry, who reached clay finals in Santiago and Houston this year, also impressed when he hit a tweener shot between his legs early in the second set, to which Djokovic replied with a volley into the net — prompting him to grin as he shook his head.
Djokovic was unhappy with the condition of the clay on Campo Centrale and he told the chair umpire at one point during the first set that the court was an “absolute disaster.”
“Every bounce is different. It seems like there’s too much clay. A half meter in, half meter out,” Djokovic said as workers smoothed the court out.
Djokovic’s third-round opponent will be Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-6 (3).
In the same half of the draw as Djokovic, local hope Jannik Sinner was nearly unbeatable on his serve as he defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-1, 6-4.
Also, Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin wore down Felix Auger-Aliassime over more than three hours by 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 — leaving the 10th-ranked Auger-Aliassime still without a win on clay this season.
Italian veteran Fabio Fognini celebrated a 6-3, 7-6 (6) win over Miomir Kecmanovic by bringing his 5-year-old son, Federico, out onto the court with him on the statue-lined Pietrangeli stadium.
Fognini next faces seventh-seeded Holger Rune, who ousted 18-year-old French qualifier Arthur Fils 6-3, 6-3. It’s a potentially explosive matchup, with both Fognini and Rune known for misbehaving on the court, combined with the raucous fans in Rome.
In women’s action, top-ranked Iga Swiatek opened her bid for a third straight Rome title with a 6-0, 6-0 rout of former French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for her 12th consecutive win in the Italian capital.
“I feel pretty confident here,” Swiatek said. “I feel like these are the right circumstances and right conditions for me to play my solid game.”
Paula Badosa defeated Ons Jabeur, last year’s runner-up, 6-1, 6-4; and ninth-seeded Maria Sakkari beat Barbora Strycova 6-1, 6-3.
Karolina Muchova eliminated the top Italian woman, 18th-seeded Martina Trevisan, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Sinner won all 16 of his service points in the first set and 36 of 39 overall behind strong home support.
A group of five orange-clad fans in the upper deck on Campo Centrale were dressed as carrots, a tribute both to Sinner’s red — or nearly orange-colored — hair and to how he used to eat the vegetable on changeovers at the start of his career.
The last Italian man to raise the trophy at the Foro Italico was Adriano Panatta in 1976. Raffaella Reggi won the 1985 women’s tournament in Taranto.
“It’s just a very special tournament for me,” Sinner said. “I feel ready to compete. ... I feel the fans’ affection. It’s positive pressure.”
Ranked a career-high No. 8 this week, Sinner skipped the Madrid Open so he could better prepare for this tournament. He arrived in Rome early and worked on his serve.
“It’s still not a perfect serve,” Sinner said, noting he’s trying to improve his timing by lowering his ball toss.
Sinner will next play Russian qualifier Alexander Shevchenko, who advanced past Sebastian Baez 6-3, 6-4.

‘Out of my mind’: Alcaraz collapse sends Sinner to China Open final

Updated 04 October 2023

‘Out of my mind’: Alcaraz collapse sends Sinner to China Open final

  • Sinner pointed to a key turning point when, serving at 2-1 in the second set, he recovered from 0-40 to open up a healthy lead
  • The China Open is taking place for the first time since 2019 after Beijing ditched its isolationist zero-COVID policy

BEIJING: Carlos Alcaraz said he went “out of my mind” during the second-set collapse that cost him his place at the China Open on Tuesday and handed Italy’s Jannik Sinner a spot in the men’s final against Daniil Medvedev in Beijing.

The world No. 2 had chances to take a decisive lead in a breathless first set but it tipped Sinner’s way when he cracked a blistering return off the Spaniard’s second serve to take the all-important tie-break.

Alcaraz — the Wimbledon champion and tournament favorite in Novak Djokovic’s absence — then fell apart, gifting Sinner three service games in an error-laden second set to give the world No. 7 a 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 victory.

Sinner and Medvedev will go toe-to-toe for the trophy on Wednesday.

“In the second set, I was out of my mind,” said Alcaraz at a post-match news conference.

“I was just complaining a lot, (and) it’s really difficult to play your best if you’re complaining or mad at yourself,” the 20-year-old added.

“(I’ve been) trying to take my chances. Today, (I didn’t),” he said.

Sinner pointed to a key turning point when, serving at 2-1 in the second set, he recovered from 0-40 to open up a healthy lead.

“There are a couple of points (that) can change the momentum completely,” the 22-year-old said.

“I managed somehow to win these kinds of moments today, which obviously helped me in the following games to stay very calm mentally and play with a lot of confidence,” he said.

Earlier, third-ranked Medvedev hailed a “perfect service match” as he eased into the men’s final with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Alexander Zverev.

The match got off to a close-fought start but Medvedev then notched a crucial break of serve and managed to see out the first set.

It was a similar story in the second set, with the Russian breaking for 5-3 and serving out the match with a pair of fierce aces.

“I don’t think there was one bad thing I can say about my serve (today),” Medvedev said at a post-match news conference.

“I think the fact that the play was faster — the faster the court is, the easier you can hit aces... (and) the easier you feel when stepping into the serve,” the 27-year-old said.

The top-ranked women’s player Aryna Sabalenka said her performances in “key moments” were crucial to surviving a major scare in the second round, after she defeated unseeded Katie Boulter 7-5, 7-6 (7/2) in Beijing.

Sabalenka saved seven break points at 5-5 and then forced the stubborn Briton, ranked 56th in the world, into a rare backhand error to clinch the opening set.

The Belarusian notched another must-win break in the second set to again draw level at 5-5 before triumphing in a tie-break by slamming down an unreturned serve.

She will battle Italy’s Jasmine Paolini in the next round for a place in the quarterfinals.

“I think what made the difference was that in the key moments I played a little bit better than her,” Sabalenka said at a post-match news conference.

“I think it was all about those last games in each set. She had the opportunity and I’m super glad that I didn’t give her those sets easily.”

US Open champion Coco Gauff also had to dig deep to get the better of Croatia’s Petra Martic in a rollercoaster tie that lasted three hours.

Martic was serving for the match against Gauff but the world number three fought back to take the game and went on to dominate the ensuing tie-break, winning 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (7/2).

“Today was a mental victory. I was happy I was able to get through it,” said Gauff, who will face Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova in her next match.

World number two Iga Swiatek shook off a rain delay to glide past France’s Varvara Gracheva 6-4, 6-1 and set up a date with fellow Pole Magda Linette.

Fourth-ranked Jessica Pegula bounced back from a set down to beat Russia’s Anna Blinkova 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 6-1.

The China Open is taking place for the first time since 2019 after Beijing ditched its isolationist zero-COVID policy.

Alcaraz and Medvedev advance to semifinals at China Open

Updated 03 October 2023

Alcaraz and Medvedev advance to semifinals at China Open

  • Iga Swiatek wins on debut in Beijing, beating Sara Sorribes Tormo
  • Seventh-seeded Ons Jabeur, winner of the Ningbo Open last week, beats Ashlyn Krueger 6-3, 6-4

BEIJING: Second-ranked Carlos Alcaraz eased to his 12th semifinal appearance of the season with a 6-4, 6-2 win over seventh-seeded Casper Ruud at the China Open on Monday.

The top-seeded Spaniard recovered from falling a break behind in the first set before he overpowered Ruud with 30 winners and four breaks of serve to advance.

“To be able to beat a player like Casper in straight sets is really good,” Alcaraz said. “It means you are playing well. It is really tough, big rallies at the beginning of the match, but I am really happy with the level.

“Being able to find solutions after the start of the first set. These kind of matches give you extra confidence.”

Alcaraz will meet sixth-seeded Jannik Sinner in Tuesday’s semifinals after the Italian downed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

Third-ranked Daniil Medvedev overcame a second-set stumble to beat Frenchman Ugo Humbert 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.

The Russian struggled to find his usual fluid game in the first two sets but sprung to life in the third set to shake off the 36th-ranked Humbert and progress to his 10th semifinal of the year.

His semifinal opponent will be eighth-seeded Alexander Zverev, who needed three sets to prevail over Nicolas Jarry 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3.

Swiatek, Gauff advance

Making her first appearance at the China Open, second-ranked Iga Swiatek advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Sara Sorribes Tormo.

The Pole fired 27 winners and made 25 unforced errors, breaking serve a total of seven times in the win.

“You have to be patient with her because she’s running for every ball,” Swiatek said of her No.55-ranked Spanish opponent. “I kind of wanted to just be solid and be intensive but not make too many mistakes with risking.”

Swiatek will next face Varvara Gracheva.

Third-ranked Coco Gauff defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova 7-5, 6-3. The US Open winner plays Croatian Petra Martic next.

Fifth-seeded Elena Rybakina cruised to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over China’s Zheng Qinwen. Seventh-seeded Ons Jabeur, winner of the Ningbo Open last week, beat Ashlyn Krueger 6-3, 6-4 and ninth-seeded Caroline Garcia was a 6-2, 6-4 winner over Kateryna Baindl.

China’s Wang Xinyu beat wildcard Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 6-3 and 11th-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated Mayar Sherif 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8).

Jelena Ostapenko, seeded 13th, had a walkover into the round of 16 after Linda Noskova withdrew due to illness. Ostapenko will face either fourth-seeded Jessica Pegula or Anna Blinkova next.

Also in the second-round, Anhelina Kalinina defeated Daria Saville 6-2, 7-6 (5) and Jasmine Paolini beat Yuan Yue 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Magda Linette was leading Jennifer Brady 3-1 when the American retired from the match, and Liudmila Samsonova beat 12th-seeded Petra Kvitova 6-4, 7-5.

Astana Open

Fifth-seeded Sebastian Korda beat wild card Hamad Medjedovic 6-7 (8), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3) to advance to the final of the Astana Open and a shot at a second career title.

The 23-year-old American will meet sixth-seeded Adrian Mannarino in Tuesday’s final after the Frenchman beat Sebastian Ofner 6-4, 6-2 in the other semifinal.

Alcaraz, Sabalenka sail through at China Open

Updated 01 October 2023

Alcaraz, Sabalenka sail through at China Open

BEIJING: Top seeds Carlos Alcaraz and Aryna Sabalenka both breezed into the next round of the China Open with routine victories on Sunday.

Alcaraz sealed a place in the men’s quarter-finals with a smooth 6-2, 6-2 victory over Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in Beijing.

The world No. 2 overpowered his opponent and seized the first set when Musetti whacked a baseline backhand into the net.

The Spaniard then broke serve twice in the second set and saw out a comfortable match with an unreturned serve.

He will next face Casper Ruud after the world No. 9 came back to beat Argentina’s Tomas Etcheverry 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7).

“I feel great, honestly. It was a good performance against a really tough opponent,” Alcaraz said at a post-match news briefing.

“(My level) didn’t (go) up and down. I stayed at a high level, high quality, during the whole match,” the 20-year-old said.

The match balls have been a sticking point in the tournament’s early rounds, with Alcaraz’s main challenger Daniil Medvedev describing them on Saturday as “like a grapefruit.”

Alcaraz said Sunday he had also felt the distinct quality of the balls, which Medvedev said were also quick to fluff up, “since day one.”

“It’s something tough, but tennis players have to get used to the balls in every tournament,” he said in response to a question from AFP.

“Here, in just one or two games, the balls become really different from (when they’re) new. It’s a kind of different (style of) play,” he said.

Also on Sunday, world No. 7 Jannik Sinner obliterated Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 6-2, 6-0.

The Italian will play a quarterfinal against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov after he upset fourth-ranked Holger Rune 6-3, 7-5.

World No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka earlier sailed into the second round of the women’s draw with an imperious 6-1, 6-2 defeat of American Sofia Kenin.

The Belarusian pummeled Kenin with a succession of mighty serves and groundstrokes and wrapped up the opening set with an ace after just 23 minutes.

The 25-year-old broke serve twice more in the second set as Kenin — playing with heavy strapping on her left thigh — failed to muster a response.

Sabalenka sealed the match with yet another unreturned serve to set up a tie against Britain’s Katie Boulter, ranked No. 54 in the world.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect to play that good on my serve — in practice, it didn’t work very well,” Sabalenka said at a post-match briefing.

“But I was super hyped that I was able to bring that level on my serve today. I think it helped a lot,” she said.

Djokovic not setting any limit on Grand Slam titles

Updated 11 September 2023

Djokovic not setting any limit on Grand Slam titles

  • The 36-year-old Djokovic defeated Medvedev in straight sets to pull level with Margaret Court’s all-time mark for most major singles crowns

NEW YORK: Novak Djokovic said he plans to play as long as possible while he is still capable of competing for the biggest prizes after winning a record equaling 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday.

The 36-year-old Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev in straight sets to pull level with Margaret Court’s all-time mark for most major singles crowns.

Half of Djokovic’s Grand Slam triumphs have come since he turned 30. The Serbian has also won seven of the past 10 majors he has entered.

“I’m going to keep going. You know, I feel good in my own body. I still feel I got the support of my environment, of my team, of my family,” said Djokovic.

“Grand Slams ... have been always the highest goal and the priority of mine in the whole season.

“I don’t play as much in terms of other tournaments, so I try to, you know, prioritize my preparation so that I can peak in Slams.”

Djokovic will return to world No. 1 Monday for a record-extending 390th week, replacing Alcaraz at the top. Alcaraz is the only man to have beaten Djokovic this year at a Grand Slam.

His five-set win in the Wimbledon final ruined the Serbian’s bid for a calendar Grand Slam, but any indication that signalled the passing of the torch was shown to be premature in New York.

“Knowing that I play at such a high level still and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, yeah, I don’t want to get rid of this sport,” said Djokovic.

“I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top, if I’m still playing the way I’m playing.”

Djokovic admitted there are times he questions his future in a sport he has dominated for well over a decade.

“Occasionally asking myself, why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done, you know? How long do I want to keep going? I do have these questions in my head, of course,” he said.

But his habit of setting himself increasingly lofty goals as his career has progressed means there are few thoughts of calling it a day any time soon unless his body dictates otherwise.

“I don’t put any number right now in my mind on how many Slams I want to win until the end of my career. I don’t really have any number,” said Djokovic.

“I’ll continue to prioritize them as my most important tournaments and where I want to play the best tennis.

“So that will not change. That will stay the same in the next season or I don’t know how many more seasons I have in my legs. So let’s see.”

His coach Goran Ivanizevic joked that Djokovic’s unquenchable thirst for success could see him carry on until the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

He also said there was little chance Djokovic would hang up his racquet if he won next year’s Australian Open to claim the outright record with a 25th Grand Slam crown.

“He just enjoying, he likes the challenges. Like you ask me 25, yeah, if he wins 25, he’s going to think, If I win 25, why not 26? It’s always one more, something more.”

Djokovic downs Medvedev at US Open to win record-tying 24th Grand Slam

Updated 11 September 2023

Djokovic downs Medvedev at US Open to win record-tying 24th Grand Slam

  • The Serbian is the first man to win three Grand Slam events in the same season four times

NEW YORK: Novak Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev in straight sets on Sunday to win his fourth US Open and a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, avenging his loss to the Russian in the final two years ago.
The 36-year-old Djokovic won 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to become the oldest men’s champion in New York in the Open era and match Margaret Court’s all-time mark for most Grand Slam victories.
The Serbian is the first man to win three Grand Slam events in the same season four times, crowning his impending return to world number one in the most fitting of ways inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Medvedev defeated Djokovic in straight sets in the 2021 final to prevent the Serbian from becoming the first man to win all four Grand Slams in the same year since Rod Laver in 1969.
Djokovic admitted to feeling overwhelmed on that occasion, but there were few senses of nerves as he quickly took command of Sunday’s championship match.
The second seed burst out of the gate with a confident hold sealed by successive aces and struck at the first opportunity, punishing Medvedev for a double-fault to break for a 2-0 lead.
A third ace consolidated his advantage before Medvedev got on the board in the fourth game.
The pair traded holds largely untroubled until Djokovic again put pressure on Medvedev as the third seed served down 2-5.
Medvedev dug in to twice stave off set points, but Djokovic calmly made the set his the following game.
Medvedev dethroned last year’s champion Carlos Alcaraz with a “12 out of 10” performance in the semifinals, but he struggled to replicate his very best consistently against an imperious Djokovic.
Attempting to be the first player to beat the top two seeds en route to the title since 1975, Medvedev once more repeatedly found himself under the pump early in the second set.
He was able to resist, hitting a sweeping volley to fight off break point as he secured a gutsy hold for 4-3 before finally asking questions of Djokovic.
A leaping overhead gave Medvedev his first break chance of the contest the very next game, but Djokovic responded with a brilliant scoop on the half-volley to save it.
Djokovic wobbled serving at 5-6, double-faulting twice as Medvedev brought up set point. But Djokovic was waiting as Medvedev went cross-court, and put away the volley to force a tie-break.
Medvedev seemed to have the momentum on his side after winning an astonishing rally to nose 5-4 ahead only for Djokovic to bag the next three points, snatching a marathon 104-minute second set and closing in on a historic triumph.
Djokovic sportingly offered to help Medvedev to his feet after the Russian took an awkward tumble early in the third set, but there was no such goodwill when two break points came about soon after.
Medvedev pumped a backhand long to hand Djokovic a 3-1 advantage. He gave the break straight back, but Medvedev faltered again and there was no mistake second time around as Djokovic wrapped up the title before the emotions started to pour out.