Top seeds Swiatek and Sabalenka target glory at Dubai Tennis Championships

World no.1 Iga Swiatek comes into the tournament fresh from victory in Doha, aiming to claim a maiden Dubai title. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 19 February 2024
Follow

Top seeds Swiatek and Sabalenka target glory at Dubai Tennis Championships

  • In-form No. 1 seed Swiatek comes into the tournament fresh from victory in Doha, and aims to claim a maiden Dubai title this week
  • Back-to-back Australian Open champion Sabalenka is seeded second in field of 14 of world’s top 20 female players

DUBAI: Fresh from claiming a historic third successive title at last week’s WTA Tour event in Doha, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek is optimistic she can carry her dominant form into this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

A beaten finalist in Dubai 12 months ago, the Pole recovered from a chastening straight sets defeat to Barbora Krejcikova by ending the season with a tour-leading six titles. One year on, she returns to the emirate as the No. 1 seed at this week’s WTA 1000 event which runs until Feb. 24 at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

The all-conquering WTA Player of Year in 2022 and 2023 will open her quest for a maiden Dubai title against world No. 39 Sloane Stephens — the 2017 US Open champion — on Tuesday, after the American edged out plucky French qualifier Clara Burel 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 on Sunday evening.

Unsurprisingly, Swiatek’s objective is victory.

“If you want to win a tournament, you have to win against the best in the world anyway,” said the 22-year-old, who has amassed 18 career titles, including a hat-trick of French Open triumphs, and a solitary US Open win in 2022.

“You have to be ready,” she added. “There’s been no preparation because I literally just arrived, but I have the experience from last year, playing one practice, then going to the match. I’m not worried about that. It’s a different year, I feel differently. A lot has happened since (last year). It’s a different tournament.”

Swiatek’s challengers include two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who reached the semifinals in all four Grand Slams last year.

“I’m happy to see the top players constantly at the top and winning titles. I think that’s something women’s tennis was missing,” said Sabalenka, whose views on the WTA’s increasingly competitive playing field are supported by statistics from the 2023 season, which show the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds met in only four tournament finals.

However, the top two seeds have met in four WTA event finals already this year. The last time the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds met in tournament finals more than four times in a season was in 2013. If the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships draw goes to plan, a 10th career showdown between Swiatek and Sabalenka in this year's final would end that decade-long statistic, a mere two months into 2024.

“You’re at the top and you’re competing with the top players now,” added Sabalenka. “It’s not like another top player is going to fall out of the tournament early and give you a better chance. It’s amazing to have for our game.”

The 24th edition of Dubai’s annual WTA event takes place one week before the men’s event at the same venue. The women’s competition will run until Feb. 24, before the 32nd staging of the ATP Tour 500 tournament from Feb. 26 to March 2.


Zverev equals Becker record to reach Rome Open final

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Zverev equals Becker record to reach Rome Open final

  • World number five Zverev battled back to see off the Chilean 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in their semifinal
  • By making Sunday’s championship match, the 27-year-old Zverev has tied Becker’s record for the most Masters finals by a German since the series began in 1990

ROME: Germany’s Alexander Zverev equalled compatriot Boris Becker’s record by reaching an 11th Masters final on Friday when he ended the Rome Open giant-killing run of Alejandro Tabilo.
World number five Zverev, who lifted the Rome trophy in 2017, battled back to see off the Chilean 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in their semifinal.
The 26-year-old Tabilo had shocked Novak Djokovic in the third round and the 32nd-ranked player showed little fear of Zverev until he began to play more passively in the second set tie-break.
Third seed Zverev then raced through the decider to make the Rome final for the third time.
“I was just hanging on in the second set. I brought my energy up. I was really just hanging on and waiting and the patience was kind of good today,” Zverev said on court.
“He hit me off the court in the first set and I did not play well at all, but he was a big reason why. He gave me no rhythm and I am happy I turned it around in the tie-break and ran away in the third set.”
In Sunday’s final, he will take on either another Chilean in Nicolas Jarry or Tommy Paul of the United States.
By making Sunday’s championship match, the 27-year-old Zverev has tied Becker’s record for the most Masters finals by a German since the series began in 1990.


Swiatek into Rome Open final as trophy record beckons, Paul battles through

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Swiatek into Rome Open final as trophy record beckons, Paul battles through

  • World No. 1 Swiatek now stands one victory away from duplicating the Madrid-Rome clay trophy double achieved by Serena Williams 11 years ago
  • American Paul reached a clay court semifinal for the first time in his career with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 upset of Hurkacz

ROME: Iga Swiatek won her 11th straight clay-court match on Thursday as the top seed moved closer to another record with a 6-4, 6-3 semifinal defeat of Coco Gauff at the Rome Open, after Tommy Paul earlier survived a chaotic ending to emerge victorious from his quarterfinal encounter with Hubert Hurkacz.

World No. 1 Swiatek now stands one victory away from duplicating the Madrid-Rome clay trophy double achieved by Serena Williams 11 years ago.

The 22-year-old Pole defeated third-seed Gauff for the 10th time in their 11 encounters, with her only loss in the series coming last summer in a Cincinnati semifinal.

Swiatek, a four-time Grand Slam winner due to defend her Roland Garros title starting a week from Sunday, will play the Saturday Rome final against either second-seed Aryna Sabalenka or American Danielle Collins.

The top seed spent one and three-quarter hours in dispatching Gauff, the reigning US Open champion.

Swiatek ended with 26 winners and broke four times.

“I’m not thinking about statistics or history,” she said after the victory. “I’m just playing day by day.

“It’s easier that way, it lets you play more freely.

“I’ll just try to play as good as possible in the final, no matter who it is.

“I won’t be thinking of any records, there is still work to do.”

On the men’s side, American Paul reached a clay court semifinal for the first time in his career with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 upset of Hurkacz.

The 14th seed is the first American to reach the final four at the Foro Italico since Reilly Opelka in 2021.

The momentum-shifting quarterfinal came down to the wire, with a 15-minute final game capping off nearly two and three-quarter hours on court.

Paul finally came through on his fourth match point as Poland’s Hurkacz sent a return long.

The match featured 13 breaks of serve, with Paul advancing with 29 winners and 41 unforced errors; and Hurkacz having 22 and 44 respectively.

“I started well but it got away from me in the second and start of the third,” Paul said. “I had to stick around in the match.

“I found the energy to get it going again. I was hitting my forehand bigger and with more intensity because Hubii can really crush the ball.”

Paul will play Nicolas Jarry in the semifinals after the 28-year-old Chilean stunned sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to reach his first Masters semifinal in Rome on Thursday.

Hurkacz, who knocked Rafa Nadal out in the Rome second round, was unable to get his massive serve up to speed as he faced Paul, winner over defending champion Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round.

Hurkacz won the clay title in Estoril last month and suffered only his third loss on clay this spring.
 


Daniil Medvedev latest to crash out of Italian Open after loss to Tommy Paul

Updated 15 May 2024
Follow

Daniil Medvedev latest to crash out of Italian Open after loss to Tommy Paul

  • The second-seeded Medvedev has never successfully defended a title and he failed again as he lost to American Tommy Paul
  • In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Iga Swiatek reached the final four when she swept aside former finalist Madison

ROME: The curse of the defending champion struck again for Daniil Medvedev.

The second-seeded Medvedev has never successfully defended a title and he failed again on Tuesday as he lost 6-1, 6-4 to American Tommy Paul to become the latest top player to crash out of the Italian Open.

“It’s disappointing, to be honest,” said Medvedev, who has won 20 tour-level titles. “I wanted to do better here. I was not even close. What can I say? The more titles I win, the more chances I have to defend.

“So the more tournaments in a year I’m going to play where I already won, maybe not defend, but at least win twice the same tournament, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

The opener lasted just 28 minutes as the 14th-seeded Paul broke Medvedev on all three of his service games and then served out the set to love.

“Was a tough one. Mentally I had to be much better,” Medvedev said. “I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.”

Medvedev improved slightly in the second set when he broke immediately but Paul broke straight back and never looked back, securing his spot in the quarterfinals when Medvedev sent a backhand long.

The second-seeded Medvedev followed 10-time champion Rafael Nadal and top-ranked Novak Djokovic with early exits in Rome.

The only other players to have won the men’s tournament at the Foro Italico in the past 19 years are Andy Murray and Alexander Zverev.

The third-seeded Zverev, who won in 2017, eased past Nuno Borges 6-2, 7-5 and will face Taylor Fritz.

Fritz reached the men’s quarterfinals for the first time after recovering from losing a lengthy second-set tiebreaker — during which he let slip match point — to see off Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-7 (11), 6-1.

Alejandro Tabilo backed up his stunning third-round win against Djokovic by edging Karen Khachanov 7-6 (5), 7-6 (10) to reach a Masters quarterfinal for the first time. He will face Zhang Zhizhen, who ousted Thiago Monteiro 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Paul will play Hubert Hurkacz after the seventh seed — who eliminated Nadal in the second round — beat Sebastian Baez 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-4. The other quarterfinal pits Stefanos Tsitsipas against Nicolas Jarry.

In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Iga Swiatek reached the final four when she swept aside former finalist Madison Keys 6-1, 6-3 with the same score she achieved against the American in the Madrid semifinals two weeks ago.

The 16th-ranked Keys grew more frustrated at her inability to convert break points — racking up 10 without converting a single one — and at one point hit her racket against the clay.

Swiatek won the Madrid Open and is attempting to become the first player to win the “dirt double” since Serena Williams and Nadal both did so in 2013.

The two-time champion will next face third-seeded Coco Gauff after the American beat Qinwen Zheng 7-6 (4), 6-1.


Nadal eyes French Open despite Rome exit as Djokovic laughs off bottle drama

Updated 12 May 2024
Follow

Nadal eyes French Open despite Rome exit as Djokovic laughs off bottle drama

  • Nadal: Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say I’m not playing in the most important event of my tennis career. Let’s see what’s going on
  • World No. 1 Djokovic donned a cycling crash helmet on his way to practice to show that he was fit

ROME: Rafael Nadal said Saturday that he is leaning toward playing at the French Open despite his second-round elimination in Rome, as Novak Djokovic laughed off being hit by a bottle which briefly cast doubt on his continued participation.

Clay-court icon Nadal had previously said that he would only play at the French Open, where he has won a record 14 titles, if he feels competitive after a raft of injury problems over the last two years which have left him languishing 305th in the world rankings.

And the manner of his elimination in his first ever encounter with Hubert Hurkacz — winner in straight sets 6-1, 6-3 — seemed a step backwards after reaching the last 16 in Madrid, leaving a question mark hanging over his plans.

“The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today. But if I have to say what’s my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I am going to say to be in Roland Garros and try my best,” Nadal told reporters.

“Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say I’m not playing in the most important event of my tennis career. Let’s see what’s going on, how I feel myself mentally tomorrow, after tomorrow, and in one week.”

Nadal held his own in the first two games in the first set, which took 26 minutes to complete, but then quickly fell away, Hurkacz winning without dropping a service game and seemingly without breaking a sweat.

That level of dominance over Nadal on clay, much less a court where he has won a record 10 titles, would have been unimaginable a few short years ago.

Hurkacz will face Tomas Etcheverry in the third round after likely ending Nadal’s love affair with Rome as the 22-time Grand Slam winner said that he was “98 percent” sure that he would never again grace the Roman clay.

“No-one will ever have a record like him on this surface. He’s just bigger than the sport at the end of the day,” said Hurkacz.

Second seed Daniil Medvedev kicked off his title defense by beating Jack Draper in straight sets 7-5, 6-4 to set up a third-round clash with qualifier Hamad Medjedovic, while Stefanos Tsitsipas came back from a set down to beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-7 (1/7), 6-4, 6-4.

World No. 1 Djokovic donned a cycling crash helmet on his way to practice to show that he was fit and ready to face Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo on Sunday afternoon.

Djokovic was left crouching in agony after being accidentally hit on the head by a hard water bottle while signing fan autographs on Friday night.

But he suffered only minor injuries, and on Saturday he joked “Today I came prepared” with a video of him arriving while wearing the helmet.

Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff all reached the last 16 as the women’s tournament begins to heat up.

Osaka is ranked at 173 in the world after taking a break from the tour to have her first child but is in good form, yet to drop a set after beating 10th-seeded Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-3.

“I’m very grateful to be healthy because I know how much hard work it took for me to be here,” said four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, who will next play seventh-seed Zheng Qinwen.

“I feel like I’m just clawing my way back to hopefully where I think I belong.”

World No. 1 Swiatek will next face Angelique Kerber after seeing off Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-4 as she bids to become the first woman since Serena Williams to claim a third Rome title.

The 22-year-old came into the event having won the Madrid Open last weekend and will also be gunning for a fourth French Open crown later this month.

Third seed Gauff, meanwhile, has Spain’s Paula Badosa in the last 16 after the US Open champion battled to a 6-1, 0-6, 6-3 victory over Jaqueline Cristian.


Djokovic bottle strike overshadows his Rome Open cruise past Moutet

Updated 11 May 2024
Follow

Djokovic bottle strike overshadows his Rome Open cruise past Moutet

  • Should Djokovic be OK as the FITP said, he will face Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo in the third round with a great chance to add to his array of titles at the Foro Italico
  • One of Djokovic’s potential threats, third seed Alexander Zverev, breezed into the third round with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Australia’s Aleksandar Vukic

ROME: Novak Djokovic’s fast start at the Rome Open was overshadowed on Friday after the tennis icon was struck with a hard plastic water bottle while greeting fans following his 6-3, 6-1 win over France’s Corentin Moutet.

World No. 1 Djokovic was left crouched on the ground in agony as the bottle hit him on the back of the head as he was signing autographs while he exited the center court at the Foro Italico.

Djokovic was then led from the arena on foot by security staff who covered the 24-time Grand Slam winner while he made his way into the bowels of the stands.

The ATP did not respond to AFP’s request for an update on Djokovic’s condition, only announcing that he would not speak to the media on Friday evening.

However, a spokesman for the Italian Tennis Federation (FITP) said that Djokovic had been taken back to his hotel with a lightly bleeding head and that there is no risk that he will withdraw from the tournament.

The spokesman said that Djokovic did not need stitches and that the bottle likely fell while a fan tried to get the player’s attention, adding that security camera footage is being consulted to help identify the culprit.

“His condition is not a cause for concern,” said organizers in a short statement before then sending media a video in which it appears that the bottle accidentally slipped from a spectator’s grasp before landing on Djokovic’s head.

Djokovic retiring would be a disaster for organizers of the last major tournament before the French Open as it is already missing two of its biggest stars with Italian world No. 2 Jannik Sinner and third-ranked Carlos Alcaraz both withdrawing from the men’s draw before the start.

Home fans have also been deprived of cheering on Matteo Berrettini and Lorenzo Musetti who both pulled out, Musetti while losing to France’s Terence Atmane on Friday morning.

Should Djokovic be OK as the FITP said, he will face Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo in the third round with a great chance to add to his array of titles at the Foro Italico, where only Rafael Nadal has won more with 10.

The Serbian has made no secret in the past that he loves playing in Italy and with a clutch of big names either out injured or struggling he will fancy his chances of a record-extending 41st Masters 1000 crown.

One of Djokovic’s potential threats, third seed Alexander Zverev, breezed into the third round with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Australia’s Aleksandar Vukic.

Both Casper Ruud and Zverev were put on Djokovic’s side of the draw and German Zverev could face the tournament favorite in the last four.

“I know I’m the sort of player who can lose to anyone, I’ve unfortunately done that in the past but I also know that I’m a player that once I do find my rhythm I can beat anyone and I hope this can be the week where I find it,” said Zverev after his win.

Ons Jabeur’s tough 2024 continued after being dumped out of the women’s tournament in the second round by Sofia Kenin 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

World No. 9 Jabeur was beaten by unseeded American Kenin in a gruelling match which lasted two hours and 17 minutes in the hot Rome sunshine.

Tunisia’s Jabeur, who in 2022 became the first Arab player to win a WTA 1000 title, looked to be on the right track after reaching the quarterfinals in Madrid.

But she slumped to a poor defeat on Friday, continuing a dreadful season so far in which the 29-year-old has had to deal with a chronic knee injury resurfacing.

Jabeur has a losing record for the year, a far cry from the woman who looked like she had the world at her feet ahead of last year’s Wimbledon final, which she lost in straight sets to unfancied Marketa Vondrousova after blasting through a series of Grand Slam champions.