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

Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates after winning against USA's Coco Gauff at the Women's WTA Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on May 16, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 17 May 2024
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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.
 


Ons Jabeur ‘avoids risk’ by missing Paris Olympics

Updated 18 June 2024
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Ons Jabeur ‘avoids risk’ by missing Paris Olympics

  • Earlier in the day, world number three Aryna Sabalenka said she would also miss the Olympics to protect her fitness

PARIS: Three-time Grand Slam runner up Ons Jabeur said on Monday she will sit out this summer’s Paris Olympics to avoid further injury to her knee.
Tunisian Jabeur, 29, will miss the Games, between July 27-August 4. The competition being played Roland-Garros, meaning a switch back to clay immediately after the grass season and before the hard-court run up to the US Open.
Last year Jabeur underwent surgery on her right knee.
“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending to the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur said on her social media accounts.
“Unfortunately I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Olympics,” she added.
Jabeur reached the final at Wimbledon in 2022 and 2023 and at the US Open in 2022. She competed at the Olympics in London in 2012, in Rio in 2016 and in Tokyo five years later.
Wimbledon starts on July 1 with the US Open beginning on August 26.
Earlier in the day, world number three Aryna Sabalenka said she would also miss the Olympics to protect her fitness.


Alcaraz defeats Zverev in final for his third Grand Slam title

Updated 09 June 2024
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Alcaraz defeats Zverev in final for his third Grand Slam title

  • Carlos Alcaraz is a 21-year-old from Spain who grew up watching countryman Rafael Nadal win trophy after trophy at Roland Garros — a record 14 in all

PARIS: Carlos Alcaraz came back to defeat Alexander Zverev 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 on Sunday and win the French Open for his third Grand Slam title.

Alcaraz is a 21-year-old from Spain who grew up watching countryman Rafael Nadal win trophy after trophy at Roland Garros — a record 14 in all — and now has eclipsed Nadal as the youngest man to collect major championships on three surfaces. Nadal was about 1.5 years older when he did it.

Sunday’s victory — in which he trailed two sets to one, just as he had in the semifinals against Jannik Sinner on Friday — allowed Alcaraz to add the clay-court championship at Roland Garros to his triumphs on hard courts at the US Open in 2022 and on grass at Wimbledon in 2023. Alcaraz is now 3-0 in Grand Slam finals.

Zverev dropped to 0-2 in major title matches. The 27-year-old from Germany was the runner-up at the 2020 US Open after blowing a two-set lead against Dominic Thiem.

This time, Zverev lost after surging in front by reeling off the last five games of the third set. Alcaraz’s level dipped during that stretch and he seemed distracted by a complaint over the condition of the clay at Court Philippe Chatrier, telling chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein it was “unbelievable.”

But Alcaraz reset himself and surged to the finish, taking 12 of the last 15 games while being treated by a trainer at changeovers for an issue with his left leg.

No. 3 Alcaraz and No. 4 Zverev were making their first appearance in a French Open final. Indeed, this was the first men’s title match at Roland Garros since 2004 without Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer.

Nadal lost to Zverev in the first round two weeks ago; Djokovic, a three-time champion, withdrew before the quarterfinals with a knee injury that required surgery; Federer is retired.

There were some jitters at the outset. Zverev started the proceedings with a pair of double-faults — walking to the sideline to change rackets after the second, as though the equipment was the culprit — and eventually got broken. Alcaraz lost serve immediately, too, framing a forehand that sent the ball into the stands — which he would do on a handful of occasions — and double-faulting, trying a so-so drop shot that led to an easy winner for Zverev, then missing a backhand.

Let’s just say they won’t be putting those initial 10 minutes in the Louvre. A lot of the 4-hour, 19-minute match was patchy, littered with unforced errors.

Alcaraz managed to come out strong in the fourth set, grabbing 16 of the first 21 points to move out to a 4-0 edge, including one brilliant, sliding, down-the-line forehand passing winner that he celebrated by thrusting his right index finger overhead in a “No. 1” sign, then throwing an uppercut while screaming, “Vamos!”

No, he is not ranked No. 1 at the moment — Sinner makes his debut at the top spot on Monday — but he has been before and, although a “2” will be beside Alcaraz’s name next week, there is little doubt that he is as good as it gets in men’s tennis right now.


Paolini beaten again as Gauff, Siniakova win French Open doubles

Updated 09 June 2024
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Paolini beaten again as Gauff, Siniakova win French Open doubles

  • Coco Gauff, the reigning US Open singles champion, wins her first Grand Slam doubles title

PARIS: French Open singles runner-up Jasmine Paolini suffered another defeat in Sunday’s women’s doubles final as she and partner Sara Errani lost 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to Coco Gauff and Katerina Siniakova.
Gauff, the reigning US Open singles champion, won her first Grand Slam doubles title. The 20-year-old American was a losing finalist at the 2021 US Open and 2022 French Open in doubles.
Siniakova, 28, captured her eighth Grand Slam doubles crown and third at Roland Garros. She claimed the other seven titles with fellow Czech Barbora Krejcikova.


Swiatek dismantles Paolini to win third straight French Open title

Updated 08 June 2024
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Swiatek dismantles Paolini to win third straight French Open title

  • Swiatek’s 21st straight victory at her happiest hunting ground put her in fourth place in the list of longest winning streaks at Roland Garros
  • The diminutive Paolini went toe to toe with Swiatek from there but cracked in the sixth game

PARIS: Iga Swiatek strengthened her reputation as the queen of clay by capturing a third straight French Open crown with a crushing 6-2 6-1 victory over 12th seed Jasmine Paolini on Saturday to claim her fifth Grand Slam title.
Swiatek’s 21st straight victory at her happiest hunting ground put her in fourth place in the list of longest winning streaks at Roland Garros in the Open era behind only Chris Evert (29), Monica Seles (25) and Justine Henin (24).
The 23-year-old, who arrived in Paris in the form of her life having lifted titles in Madrid and Rome, extended her run of victories on clay this year to a career-best 19 matches and celebrated with her fourth French Open title in five years.
Swiatek came out all guns blazing early in the contest but after narrowly missing the chance to break from 0-40 down in the second game, the top-seeded Pole made heavy weather of the next to surrender her serve, before bouncing right back.
The diminutive Paolini, only the third Italian woman after Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani to reach the Roland Garros final since the sport turned professional in 1968, went toe to toe with Swiatek from there but cracked in the sixth game.
With the momentum shifting, claycourt specialist Swiatek began to dominate the exchanges from the baseline, superbly working the angles and sealing the opening set in 37 minutes after winning 20 out of 24 points since going down a break.
A shell-shocked Paolini smiled and soaked up the support and applause from the crowd on the main showcourt when she won the odd point early in the next set, but her challenge faded in the afternoon sun as Swiatek broke twice to build a 4-0 lead.
Swiatek, who dropped only one set throughout the tournament in a second-round epic with Naomi Osaka, won 10 successive games before Paolini got on the scoreboard, but there was to be no late comeback drama and the knockout blow was not long in coming.
Swiatek closed out the victory when Paolini sent a shot long and rejoiced by dropping to her knees and pumping her fists, letting out a huge roar, before joining her entourage in the stands for another round of celebrations.


Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final

Updated 07 June 2024
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Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final

  • Alcaraz, 21, will play fourth seed Alexander Zverev or two-time Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud on Sunday
  • “It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve played for sure,” said Alcaraz

PARIS: Carlos Alcaraz beat incoming world number one Jannik Sinner 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Friday to reach the French Open final and continue his bid for a third Grand Slam title.
Alcaraz, 21, will play fourth seed Alexander Zverev or two-time Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud on Sunday after becoming the youngest man to reach Grand Slam finals on all three surfaces.
“It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve played for sure,” said Alcaraz.
“The toughest I’ve played in my short career have been against Jannik. I hope to play many, many more like this.”
“You have to find the joy in suffering,” the Spaniard added.
Alcaraz has won both of his two previous major finals — at Wimbledon last year and the 2022 US Open. Victory on Sunday would see him head to the Australian Open next January seeking a career Grand Slam.
Both Alcaraz and Sinner arrived in Paris under an injury cloud, gradually finding their best level over the course of the tournament to set up a meeting billed as the match “everybody wants to see.”
The ninth chapter of an enthralling rivalry destined to shape the future of the sport was the youngest Grand Slam semifinal pairing since Andy Murray beat Rafael Nadal at the 2008 US Open.
It was their first Grand Slam meeting since a spectacular five-set quarter-final two years ago in New York, and while perhaps not as exhilarating this one was no less gripping.
Alcaraz, who was hampered badly by cramp in last year’s semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic, had said that playing Sinner was like running a marathon, and it was the Spaniard doing much of the chasing early.
Sinner pinned Alcaraz on the back foot straight away as he broke in the very first game, blending impenetrable defense with searing groundstrokes as he went on the attack.
After holding with ease the Australian Open champion belted a forehand winner for another break opportunity in the third game, sweeping 3-0 in front following an Alcaraz miscue.
Alcaraz finally got on the board in the fifth game before retrieving a break, but he handed it right back and Sinner bagged the first set when the Spaniard dumped a drop-shot into the net.
Sinner began the second set in identical fashion, earning another break after a loose Alcaraz service game and consolidating for a 2-0 edge on a picture-perfect day in Paris.
Alcaraz belatedly spluttered into life though as Sinner struggled to maintain his sky-high standards from the opening set and presented his rival three break points with a double-fault.
A brilliant cross-court winner hauled Alcaraz back on serve, with the Spaniard soon accelerating 5-2 ahead following another break as Sinner sprayed his forehand wide.
Sinner temporarily slowed the Alcaraz charge, ending his five-game winning stretch, but the third seed levelled up the match the next game.
The early onslaught from Sinner felt a distant memory as Alcaraz pounced to break for a 2-1 lead in the third set, flicking a sublime backhand passing shot beyond a powerless Sinner.
Yet the momentum was quickly back with Sinner.
He ripped a blistering one-two combination of forehands to get back on serve and then resisted four break points in a lengthy fifth game before holding for 3-2.
Sinner received a massage from the physio for apparent cramp in his right forearm, but he brushed off any physical issue as he hammered a backhand return past Alcaraz to break again.
A tame Alcaraz forehand into the net handed Sinner the third set. A sense of calmness enveloped the fourth, with not a single break point on offer until a sizzling Alcaraz backhand brought about a set point.
He didn’t flinch and sent the match to a decider with a winner into the open court.
Alcaraz’s approach to grind Sinner down coupled with timely shotmaking allowed him to strike the critical blow in the second game of the fifth set.
Sinner, while visibly flagging more than his re-energised rival, did not go down without a fight, but Alcaraz finally put him away after four hours of another seismic showdown.