Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Poland's Iga Swiatek plays Belgium's Elise Mertens during their WTA tennis tournament match in Stuttgart Thursday. (AP)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.


Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

Updated 25 May 2024
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Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

  • “There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open,” said the Spaniard
  • Nadal has 22 Grand Slam titles

PARIS: Rafael Nadal said Saturday that it is likely he is appearing at the French Open for the final time but cautioned it was “not 100 percent certain.”
“There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open, but I cannot say that I am 100 percent certain that it will be the last,” said the Spaniard.
Nadal, who has won the French Open 14 times and will celebrate his 38th birthday on June 3, faces world number four Alexander Zverev in the first round in Paris on Monday.
The Spanish legend has racked up 112 wins in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning 2005 debut when he was just 19.
He has 22 Grand Slam titles — second only to Novak Djokovic’s 24 on the all-time men’s list — but his career has been plagued by injuries.
Nadal has played just four tournaments since January last year after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear.
As a result, his ranking has slumped to 276 in the world and comes into the French Open unseeded.


‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

Updated 24 May 2024
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‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

PARIS: Daniil Medvedev said he was “happy” not to have been drawn to face 14-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open first round as the great Spaniard prepares to bid an emotional farewell to the tournament.
Nadal, who has only lost three times in 115 matches at Roland Garros since his title-winning debut in 2005, is playing the French Open for the last time.
In a blockbuster first match, unseeded Nadal will face fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev and world number five Medvedev could not be more delighted.
“I’m not shy to say I’m happy it’s not me playing against him first round,” admitted Medvedev on Friday, a day after practicing with Nadal.
Former world number one and 22-time Grand Slam title winner Nadal, whose ranking has slumped to 276 after featuring in just four tournaments since January last year, will turn 38 on June 3.
However, Medvedev warned Zverev that Nadal is far from a fading force.
“There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of mental effort. Sometimes people forget he has a lot of talent in his hands also,” said the Russian.
“We were warming up serves and then he did three in a row, volley, dropshots, banana ones, with backspin, and it was funny.
“We were saying, ‘Yeah, no talent, just hard work!’“
Nadal holds a 7-3 winning head-to-head record against Zverev with five of those victories coming on clay.
The last time they met was in the 2022 semifinals in Paris when the German was forced to retire after suffering a serious ankle injury.
“It’s tough to play Rafa,” added Medvedev.
“He has the capability to spin the ball not like other players, get these high balls especially on clay, is not easy.
“Then we go to where he fights for every point, he brings intensity to every point. You know you’re going to be tired, you know it’s going to be tough. It’s not easy.”


French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

Updated 23 May 2024
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French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

  • Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries

PARIS: Rafael Nadal is in the French Open field, after all, and the 14-time champion was set up for a challenging first-round matchup against Alexander Zverev from Thursday’s draw.
Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries, including a surgically repaired hip that forced him to miss his favorite tournament a year ago.
After a loss at the Italian Open this month, Nadal said he needed to think about whether to play in Paris. But he has been practicing on the red clay at Roland Garros this week and his name was officially in the bracket.
Unseeded.
His matchup against the No. 4-ranked Zverev is a rematch of their 2022 semifinal that ended when Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle.
The French Open begins on Sunday.


Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

Updated 22 May 2024
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Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

  • The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court

GENEVA: Novak Djokovic celebrated his 37th birthday on Wednesday with a much-needed win as he gears up for his French Open title defense, progressing to the Geneva quarter-finals.
The world number one downed Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann 6-3, 6-3 in the second round at the Parc des Eaux-Vives grounds.
Djokovic took a wild card to play in Geneva in a bid to rescue an alarming dip in form ahead of next week’s French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court following his win.
He lifted the cake and showed it off to the crowd, having a nibble before offering some to the ball boys and girls.


Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

Updated 22 May 2024
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Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

  • The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005
  • As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic

PARIS: Rafael Nadal will bring down the curtain on his 19-year French Open career with the likelihood of adding to his 14 titles greatly diminished before he leaves behind a record and reputation unlikely ever to be matched.

The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005. A week on Monday, he will celebrate his 38th birthday.

A former world No. 1, who is now at 276 in the world, Nadal has only played 15 matches since January last year as a hip injury and then a muscle tear were added to a depressing history of physical ailments which have forced him to miss 12 Grand Slam tournaments in his career.

Whether or not the 2024 French Open becomes No. 13 will soon become apparent as the draw for the event takes place on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m going to play the tournament thinking that I can give my all, 100 percent,” explained Nadal after a second round exit in Rome last week.

“And if 100 percent is not enough to win a match, I’ll accept that. But I don’t want to step onto court knowing that I have no chance. If there’s a 0.01 percent chance, I want to explore that and give it a go.”

As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic.

He is also held in remarkably high esteem.

At his first training session on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros on Monday an estimated 6,000 people turned up to watch, many chanting his name.

“We have to enjoy the time he has left on court, evaluate it, and be aware that it’s very unlikely that something like that will happen again,” said coach Carlos Moya during the recent Madrid Open.

“Personally, I’m never on court when he enters or leaves, but I am this year because I like seeing the love he gets from the people when he steps on court.

“He’s one of the great stars of this sport, he’s about to retire, and it’s really amazing to see that.”

Nadal isn’t the only A-list talent under a Paris cloud ahead of the tournament start on Sunday.

Defending champion and record 24-time Grand Slam title winner Djokovic, whose three titles in Paris put him alongside Gustavo Kuerten, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, is enduring a title dry spell unseen since 2018.

Back then, he also reached May without a trophy before crashing to a shock last-16 defeat at the French Open to unheralded Marco Cecchinato of Italy.

This season, Djokovic has lost his Australian Open title and has yet to make a final on tour.

Adding injury to insult, he was hit on the head by a falling water bottle in Rome, a freak accident which he claimed caused nausea and dizziness.

In an attempt to gather a degree of clay-court confidence ahead of the French Open, Djokovic, who turns 37 on Wednesday, grabbed a late wild card in the ongoing Geneva tournament.

Between them, Nadal and Djokovic have carved up the last eight French Open titles while 2009 was the last time a final at Roland Garros did not feature at least one of them.

World No. 2 Jannik Sinner, the man who succeeded Djokovic as Australian Open champion, has been laid low by a hip injury which caused him to skip the Rome Open.

The 22-year-old Italian reached the quarterfinals of the French Open on his debut in 2020 where he was defeated by Nadal in straight sets.

Sinner has an extra incentive to progress deep in Paris as he could depose Djokovic as world No. 1.

Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champion, also skipped Rome to nurse an arm injury.

The world No. 3 took the first set off Djokovic in their semifinal last year before body cramps saw his slip to defeat.

The Spanish crowd-pleaser admitted that his sudden and dramatic diminished physical state was caused by the fear of facing Djokovic.