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Tsitsipas stuns Nadal, Djokovic downs Thiem in Madrid

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Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated five-time champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. Photo: Twitter

Madrid: ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas earned one of the biggest wins of his career on Saturday, defeating five-time champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to reach the final of the Mutua Madrid Open.

“It means the world. I’m really happy that I proved myself today. I played one of my best games this year,” Tsitsipas said.

“I’m really happy that I’m fighting, I’m in the zone. I’m enjoying tennis at its fullest potential. It’s really nice to be able to play this way. Today’s victory is just an unbelievable feeling.”

It is the three-time ATP Tour titlist’s second ATP Masters 1000 final, after also making the championship match at the Rogers Cup last year, losing to Nadal.

Thanks to his victory, the 20-year-old is projected climb to a career-high ATP Ranking of at least No. 7 on Monday pending his result against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the final.

Djokovic downs Thiem

Djokovic reached his third Mutua Madrid Open final by beating fifth seed Dominic Thiem 7-6(2), 7-6(4).

The Serbian, who is into his first final since triumphing at the Australian Open, ended the recent Barcelona champion’s eight-match winning streak, eliminating the Austrian after a physical baseline battle that lasted two hours and 22 minutes.

“I played the best match of the clay-court season so far, for me, against arguably the best tennis player in the world on this surface, so far [this season],” said Djokovic.

“[Dominic] had an amazing tournament in Barcelona and here he beat Roger yesterday in a thrilling match. So he was in form… I just managed to hold my nerves and play the best when it was most needed.”

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Federer wins on French Open return, Kerber beaten

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Roger Federer defeated Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Paris: Swiss tennis star Roger Federer made a triumphant return to French Open after three-year absence, easing past Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego in straight sets in the men’s singles first round, while fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber was shocked by Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova in the women’s singles here.

Federer enjoyed one-sided ovation from the crowds in a redecorated Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday, while competing at the clay major for the first time after 2015.

“The reception I got today was crazy. It was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this. It was a beauty. So I’m very, very happy,” Federer told a news conference.

The Swiss third seed used one hour and 41 minutes to overcome Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 through 36 winners, setting up a second round encounter with Germany’s Oscar Otte.

The 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, seeded No. 6, lived up to high expectation on him by conquerring Germany’s Maximilian Marterer 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Seventh-seeded Kei Nishikori and No. 11 seed Marin Cilic also secured men’s singles second round berths in straight sets.

But last year’s semifinalist Marco Cacchinato found it unable to replicate success 12 months ago as the No. 16 seed lost a gruelling five-set thriller to local favorite Nicolas Mahut 2-6, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 after three hours and 18 minutes.

In her Roland Garros debut, the 81st-ranked Potapova, 18, produced the biggest upset of the opening day action by seeing off three-time Grand Slam winner Kerber 6-4, 6-2.

Potapova won 82% on first serve and led winners 28-16, registering her first career top 10 victory.

The Russian continued her momentum following a 6-4 opening set victory to take four games in a row into the second set.

Kerber cut the deficit to 4-2 afterwards, but failed to come closer and crashed out from the competition with a forehand sailing wide in the eighth game.

She was unable to complete a career Grand Slam at least this year following victories in the 2016 Australian Open and US Open, and 2018 Wimbledon.

Potapova will next face Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who knocked China’s Wang Yafan out of the competition 6-4, 6-3.

Both players traded breaks early on. Then Vondrousova showed crosscourt skills to lead 4-1 midway through the first set. Wang moved closer to Vondrousova with two games in a row afterwards, but the Czech steadied for a 6-4 win.

Vondrousova had an early break in the second set and went on to build a 4-2 advantage. Although Wang came back from 40-0 down in the seventh game to maintain her serve, Vondrousova managed to secure her second round berth at 6-3 with her fifth break of the match.

No 2 seed Karolina Pliskova and last year’s beaten finalist Sloane Stephens also sailed through the first round. The ninth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine saw off American veteran Venus Williams 6-3, 6-3.

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NADAL’S QUEST FOR H12STORY AT FRENCH OPEN

Karthik Swaminathan

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Defending champ Rafa Nadal attends the Roland Garros draw at L'Orangerie on Thursday. Photo: Julien Crosnier/FFT

Familiar foe Djokovic pursues a second ‘Djoker Slam’

Toronto: When the year’s first major concluded Down Under, there was only one thing on most people’s lips: Novak Djokovic, following his demolition job of Rafael Nadal, had guaranteed himself a third shot at a ‘Novak Slam’. Could he do it… again?

The Serb had been unsuccessful in his first attempt seven years ago (l. Nadal), but he wouldn’t be denied on the terre battue in 2016 (d. Andy Murray) when he became the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

Since that historic win, Djokovic’s pursuit of titles plateaued; he needed to do some soul-searching before returning with a bang—and how. The 32-year-old is three-for-three at Grand Slams, commencing Wimbledon last season (d. Kevin Anderson).

The Serb again went missing after his exploits in Australia this January and he wouldn’t make another final till the Madrid Open earlier this month where he beat fast-rising 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas for his 33rd Masters 1000 title.

Talks of a “comeback”, however, were short-lived. Another conspicuously missing name had sprung back to life.

The ‘King of Clay’—who had himself endured a title-less streak since victory at the Rogers Cup (d. Tsitsipas) in Toronto last August—bludgeoned everyone in his path as he steamrolled to a record-extending 34th Masters 1000 crown at the Italian Open. Capping off his Roman conquest was a 6–0, 4–6, 6–1 humbling of the World No. 1.

The Coupe des Mousquetaires and Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen will be up for grabs this coming fortnight.  Photos: Twitter @rolandgarros

[Quick trivia: Nadal dished out four bagel sets en route the title in Rome—Fernando Verdasco, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Jeremy Chardy being the other three recipients]

The gauntlet had been thrown. The dice cast. The Tour, currently in Nadal’s territory, was approaching the man’s citadel: Roland-Garros, where he has won an eye-popping eleven times. Yes, he has made all of the crushed earth his own over the course of an outlandish career, but with no title to show going in to this month’s showdown at the Foro Italico, the murmurs were getting louder. Even if only momentary, Nadal’s ruthless displays did their bit to quash all talks.

Of course, the clay court season thus far has had other storylines: such as Fabio Fognini’s maiden Masters 1000 triumph in Monte Carlo (d. Dusan Lajovic), Dominic Thiem winning Barcelona (d. Daniil Medvedev) without dropping a set and the return of 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who had not played on clay since May 2016.

Roger Federer will have to bring his A game to progress to the semifinals.

All said, however, while 126 other players will contest for the Coupe des Mousquetaires this fortnight, it doesn’t require much effort to predict the bout people expect to materialise on the third Sunday of the event: will it be a second four-for-four major sweep, or an unprecedented twelfth title at a Slam?

Sport, though, is a great leveller and success only comes through sheer effort. For both Djokovic and Nadal to cross swords for a 55th time on June 9—already an Open Era record (men’s) in terms of matches they’ve contested against one another—each has to overcome six challengers.

The draw ceremony took place on May 23 and revealed some surprises. Thiem and his good friend Sascha Zverev find themselves in the top half along with Djokovic, while Federer and Kei Nishikori have been drawn in Nadal’s side of the draw. Here is a look at how the four sections seem to shape up:

Men’s seeds:

1. Novak Djokovic 2. Rafael Nadal 3. Roger Federer 4. Dominic Thiem
5. Alexander Zverev 6. Stefanos Tsitsipas 7. Kei Nishikori 8. Juan Martín del Potro
9. Fabio Fognini 10. Karen Khachanov 11. Marin Cilic 12. Daniil Medvedev
13. Borna Coric 14. Gaël Monfils 15. Nikoloz Basilashvili 16. Marco Cecchinato
17. Diego Schwartzman 18. Roberto Bautista Agut 19. Guido Pella 20. Denis Shapovalov
21. Alex de Minaur 22. Lucas Pouille 23. Fernando Verdasco 24. Stan Wawrinka
25. Félix Auger-Aliassime 26. Gilles Simon 27. David Goffin 28. Kyle Edmund
29. Matteo Berrettini 30. Dusan Lajovic 31. Laslo Djere 32. Frances Tiafoe

First quarter:

Top seed and 15-time major winner Djokovic opens his challenge against young Hubert Hurkacz, a strapping 22-year-old from Poland. While no one expects the 6’5” Hurkacz to trouble Djokovic in what will be the pair’s first face-off, the Serb can expect some resistance given his opponent’s big-hitting game style—centered around a big serve and flat, powerful groundstrokes off both wings. Another beanpole, the 6’6” Sam Querrey, could lie in wait in round two (Djokovic leads their head-to-head 8–2). The American famously knocked out Djokovic when they last faced off (Wimbledon 2016). World No. 28 Gilles Simon is a projected third round opponent (Djokovic leads 11–1) while Borna Coric could lie in wait in the last 16 (Djokovic leads 3–0). Sascha Zverev is a possible quarterfinalist (head-to-head equal 2–2).

Other players in this section include the swashbuckling 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Canada, the mercurial pair of Fognini and Nick Kyrgios, and Roberto Bautista-Agut.

Semifinalist pick: Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has a good chance to complete a ‘Novak Slam’ at the French Open.

Second quarter:

Thiem, the World No. 4, is the highest seed in this quarter. A runner-up last year (l. Nadal), the 25-year-old has been among the three best clay court players in the last three years but has not had much silverware to show for his efforts. The Austrian commences his campaign against USA’s Tommy Paul and could face Sascha Bublik and Kyle Edmund respectively in the second and third rounds. A mouth-watering last-16 clash with either Gaël Monfils (Thiem leads 4–0) or Fernando Verdasco (Verdasco leads 4–0) is a possibility which would, quite literally, be a near-perfect appetiser ahead of another big-hitting showdown, potentially against the Tower of Tandil—Juan Martín del Potro (del Potro leads 4–0), the World No. 9.

Del Potro, meanwhile, has his hands full right from the get-go as he faces 23-year-old Nicolas Jarry, the 6’5” Chilean. The prodigiously talented 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime of Canada could provide the Argentine a sterner test should they meet in the last 32. Lucas Pouille, the second-highest ranked Frenchman (behind Monfils), and the towering Karen Khachanov are some of the other powerful shot-makers in this loaded quarter.

Semifinalist pick: Dominic Thiem

World No. 4 Dominic Thiem has shown tremendous form of late and is a possible semifinalist.

Third quarter:

Whatever may be at stake for the two best players as they enter this tournament, no one will argue about the status of the current World No. 3: the biggest crowd-puller there is in tennis today. Federer, who famously got the monkey off his back when he triumphed on Court Philippe Chatrier a decade ago, makes his return to the French Open for the first time since the 2015 edition when he lost to compatriot and eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. Federer’s return to active clay court competition this year, while not forgettable, had its share of highs and lows. The 37-year-old played at a high level—despite squandering match points in a defeat in Madrid (l. Thiem) and an eventual walkover in Rome (to Tsitsipas)—and enters the second major with a 22–3 record for the year (including titles in Miami and Dubai besides a runner-up showing in Indian Wells).

Italians lurk in the third seed’s path. First up for Federer is Lorenzo Sonego while Matteo Berrettini and Marco Cecchinato could, respectively, be potential third and fourth round adversaries. Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri is a probable second round opponent (Federer leads 2–0). The promising Tsitsipas could lie in wait in the quarterfinals.

Other prominent names in this section include Wawrinka, Diego Schwartzman and Marin Cilic besides youngsters Casper Ruud and Frances Tiafoe.

[Quick trivia: Currently, Cecchinato is the last player to have beaten Djokovic in a major]

Semifinalist pick: Stefanos Tsitsipas

Fourth quarter:

Nadal, the most decorated clay-court player of all time, headlines the final quarter and couldn’t have asked for a better start to his title defense. The Spaniard will open against qualifiers in the first two rounds before a possible last 32 clash against David Goffin (Nadal leads 3–1). Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili is a projected fourth round adversary (Nadal leads 3–0) while Nishikori could pose the second seed’s earliest challenge in the quarterfinal (Nadal leads 10–2).

Medvedev, Alex de Minaur and Laslo Djere are some of the promising youngsters in this part of the draw.

Semifinalist pick: Rafael Nadal

Prediction

Semifinal 1: Djokovic d. Thiem

Semifinal 2: Nadal d. Tsitsipas

Final verdict: Nadal d. Djokovic

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Nadal beats Djokovic to win ninth Rome title

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Rafael Nadal has now won 34 ATP 1000 titles. Photo: Twitter

Rome: Rafael Nadal made a clear statement on Sunday: if he is not back in top form, he is very close to it.

The World No. 2 won his ninth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title, overcoming a stern challenge from top seed Novak Djokovic to triumph at the Foro Italico 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 after two hours and 25 minutes.

Nadal also broke a tie with Djokovic by claiming a record 34th ATP Masters 1000 crown.

Nadal entered his 50th Masters 1000 final pursuing his first trophy of any kind this season. It was the first time the 32-year-old entered Rome without a victory since 2004, the year he claimed his maiden tour-level crown.

And the second seed’s hunger showed, moving to 9-2 in Rome finals to earn a title for the 16th consecutive year.

Djokovic, who still leads the pair’s epic head-to-head series 28-26, did well to overcome the first ‘bagel’ set he has lost since the 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finals against Dominic Thiem.

But it appeared that the two tough three-setters he had to go through in the quarter-finals and semi-finals against Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman, respectively, wore on the Serbian’s legs towards the end of this clash.

Pliskova beats Konta to win 2019 Italian Open title

Karolina Pliskova clinched the 2019 Italian Open title on Sunday after beating Johanna Konta in straight sets.

Pliskova, who earned her second title this season after her 2019 Australian Open victory, needed one hour and 25 minutes to defeat Konta 6-3, 6-4 and win her first ever trophy at the Foro Italico.

“It was a great week for me and my team,” Pliskova said after the win.

“There were a couple of tough matches so I was happy to fight through them. I was a little bit nervous today, but it was the final, so that’s to be expected,” she added during the trophy ceremony.

“It’s my first final in Rome, but hopefully not the last.”

The Czech player will climb to world No. 2 after securing her 13th career title and will celebrate the victory with her coach Conchita Martinez, a four-time Italian Open champion when she was a tennis player.

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