Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
Andy Murray is through to the last 16 of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (ATP)
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Updated 27 February 2024
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Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
  • Briton fights back from a set down to secure landmark 500th hard court career win and safe passage at ATP 500 event
  • Frustrated sixth-seed Mannarino falls to the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp in straight sets after warning for on-court anger

DUBAI: Former champion Andy Murray dug deep to edge out Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in front of a jubilant center court crowd at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night.

The come-from-behind victory saw Murray — who claimed a solitary Dubai title in 2017 — register a landmark 500th career win on hard courts. He becomes only the fifth player to achieve the feat, joining luminaries of the game Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi.

“It’s not bad, is it?” Murray said after reaching the milestone. “Hard courts have been a great surface for me over the years, and getting to 500 is a lot of matches. I am very proud of that, not a lot of players have done it, so it’s great to do it before I’m done.”

In challenging winds, the twilight ATP 500 round of 32 match started with eight consecutive service holds as both players found early rhythm. The first break points arrived in game nine, as Shapovalov found the outer corners of center court with a pair of dazzling one-handed backhand winners. After squandering the first chance, the 24-year-old grabbed the second to move 5-4 up, then held serve to claim the first set.

With both players holding serve for the first three games of the second set, Murray finally broke the big-serving Shapovalov in game four. The Brit’s ecstasy, however, immediately turned to agony as Shapovalov instantly broke back, then held, to make it 3-3.

As Murray, 12 years his opponent’s senior, increasingly threatened the Shapovalov serve, the Canadian’s monstrous first service cannons got him out of jail on numerous occasions. Murray, receiving, regularly stood some way behind the Dubai signage adorning the hardcourt beyond the baseline. The tactic proved fruitless, as Shapovalov unleashed 215-km serves time after time with pinpoint accuracy.

Battle-worn and grimacing repeatedly after several points near the end of the second set, Murray found emergency reserves of energy to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-5 to level the match — much to the delight of an adoring crowd.

Murray then broke Shapovalov in the opening game of the third set, which progressed on serve until 5-3 when Shapovalov suddenly found himself serving to stay in the match. With unforced errors now littering the Canadian’s game, Murray unleashed a glorious backhand winner at 30-30 to set up match point. It proved to be the only opportunity the British veteran needed, as Shapovalov volleyed Murray’s return of serve into the net.

In the ATP 500 event’s opening match on center court, the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp upset sixth seed Adrian Mannarino, the world No. 19, in straight sets. With both players holding serve and almost politely swapping breaks enroute to a 6-6 stalemate, Van de Zandschulp, the world No. 75, managed to pull clear in the tiebreak to seal it 7-3.

After the umpire handed Mannarino a conduct warning between sets for smashing his racquet in frustration, the second set remained a tight affair. Eleven consecutive holds of serve suggested another tiebreak lay in wait, but Van de Zandschulp got the better of his French opponent’s service game at exactly the right time to triumph 7-6, 7-5 in just under two hours.

In the evening games under the lights, world No. 5 Andrey Rublev safely negotiated his route to the round of 16, defeating Zhizhen Zhang 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. The former Dubai champion was made to fight by his opponent, however, with the serve of the world No. 46 looking particularly formidable as he claimed the first set.

“It was a really tough match,” said Rublev. “I started well, but he was serving unreal. I don’t know how high his percentage was on the first serve, but it feels like some games lasted only one second, and serves were around 220 and super tough to return.”

A center court surprise came even closer in the following match as world No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz came within two match points of crashing out in the first round. His tie with German Jan-Lennard Struff went the distance as both men held their thumping serves for three straight sets, before the Pole squeezed through on the decisive set tiebreak to claim a 7-6, 4-7, 7-6 win.

“He’s such a great guy and great opponent,” said Hurkacz, who will face either Christopher O’Connell or Maximilian Marterer in the round of 16. “In the end, I got a little bit lucky, but I tried to compete until the last point and that is what I always try to do. It could have gone either way.”


Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals
Updated 19 April 2024
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Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

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 loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona
Updated 18 April 2024
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Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona
  • Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal
  • Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory

BARCELONA, Spain: Rafael Nadal’s first tournament since January lasted only two matches with the Spaniard losing 7-5, 6-1 to Alex de Minaur at the clay-court Barcelona Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, back from an injury layoff, looked like his old self for brief moments in the second-round match but couldn’t keep up with the 11th-ranked De Minaur.

“The moment I lost the first set, the match was over,” Nadal said. “I can’t play a three-hour match right now. This wasn’t the place for me to give everything I have. We’ll see what happens in Paris. I want to be competitive there, that’s where I have to give it all.”

Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month. He said he will try to play at the Madrid Open next week but didn’t fully commit.

“I didn’t want to take any risks,” Nadal said. “The important thing here was to play and I played. To be on the court is great news.”

The 22-time Grand Slam champion had comfortably defeated 62nd-ranked Flavio Cobolli in straight sets in the first round on Tuesday in what was his first competitive match in more than three months.

Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal.

It was only his fifth defeat at the Barcelona Open, a tournament he has won a record 12 times.

“It’s natural that this was probably my last match here,” Nadal said. “I really enjoyed playing here. It was unimaginable to win it 12 times.”

Nadal is returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. Before this week, he had played only three competitive matches this year — all in Brisbane in January — before skipping the Australian Open.

Nadal also withdrew from Monte Carlo, saying he his body wasn’t ready.

The 37-year old Nadal had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

BAUTISTA AGUT’S 400TH

Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory.

The 35-year-old Spaniard is the 13th active player with at least 400 ATP Tour wins.

“To me it’s just a number,” Bautista Agut said. “The important thing is that I’ve done great work over these years, that I’ve had a very consistent career, a career that I can feel proud of.”

OTHER RESULTS

Third-seeded Casper Ruud advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alexandre Muller, while sixth-seeded Ugo Humbert lost 6-4, 6-4 to Dusan Lajovic.

Ninth-seeded Nicolas Jarry lost 7-6 (5), 6-3 to qualifier Marco Trungelliti, and 14th-seeded Jordan Thompson got past Jaume Munar 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.


Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open

Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open
Updated 17 April 2024
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Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open

Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open
  • Nadal, a 12-time champion at the clay-court tournament, said he was never at full strength at the center court named after him, especially when serving
  • World No. 8 Andrey Rublev smashed his racket to the ground several times after a 6-4, 7-6 (6) loss to American Brandon Nakashima

BARCELONA, Spain: Taking it easy after months away from competitive tennis, Rafael Nadal was good enough to earn a comfortable first-round win at the Barcelona Open on Tuesday.

Nadal looked injury-free in a 6-2, 6-3 win over Flavio Cobolli to advance to the second round in his first tournament in more than three months.

Nadal converted on his second match point to seal the victory over the 21-year-old Italian ranked 62nd in the world. The Spaniard will next face Alex de Minaur, who had a first-round bye.

“Taking everything into consideration, it was a good first round,” Nadal said. “I played the kind of match that I needed to play. I’m happy for the victory and happy to be playing at home again.”

Nadal, a 12-time champion at the clay-court tournament, said he was never at full strength at the center court named after him, especially when serving.

“I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t make sense right now,” he said. “I’m not going to go out there and serve like crazy. I have to take it easy because that’s what’s needed at the moment.”

Nadal broke serve twice in each set. He finished with eight winners and 22 unforced errors.

Nadal was returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. The 22-time Grand Slam champion had last played a tournament in Brisbane in January, when he played only three matches before skipping the Australian Open.

He withdrew from Monte Carlo saying he his body wasn’t ready yet. Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month.

The 37-year old Nadal said it will likely be his last time playing the Barcelona Open. The Spaniard had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

FRUSTRATED RUBLEV

World No. 8 Andrey Rublev smashed his racket to the ground several times after a 6-4, 7-6 (6) loss to American Brandon Nakashima.

It was the third consecutive first-round defeat for the second-seeded Rublev, who also lost in straight sets in Monte Carlo and Miami. He also lost in straight sets in the second round in Indian Wells.

It was only the second win over a top-10 opponent for the 22-year-old Nakashima, and the first on clay. The world No. 87 had beaten Holger Rune in Shanghai last October.

“I’m still out here competing as hard as I can,” said Nakashima, who reached No. 43 in the world in 2022. “I’m happy with getting my level back to where it was. Playing in front of these crowds and on this court was super special.”

OTHER RESULTS

Also Tuesday, Facundo Diaz Acosta defeated 15th-seeded Borna Coric 6-2, 7-5. Tomas Machac beat Shang Juncheng 6-4, 6-4 to set up a meeting with 11th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Roberto Carballes Baena defeated Hugo Grenier 6-2, 6-4, while Jaume Munar cruised past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 6-1.


Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final
Updated 13 April 2024
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Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final
  • Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud
  • Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall

MONACO: Casper Ruud finally got the better of Novak Djokovic, beating the top-ranked Serb 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 on Saturday to set up a Monte Carlo Masters final against two-time champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas won the earlier semifinal against a tiring Jannik Sinner 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to hand the Australian Open champion only his second defeat of the season.
Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud. He had never even taken a set off Djokovic before, including at last year’s French Open final.
Djokovic trailed 4-1 in the deciding set but held his next serve and broke a nervous-looking Ruud’s serve to love to pull back to 4-3.
At 15-15 in the eighth game, Djokovic turned and shouted an expletive toward someone in the crowd. Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani urged fans not to call out during a rally, but did not issue a verbal warning to Djokovic despite the loudly audible expletive, which was followed by an angry glare.
A sloppy 10th game in the deciding set saw him trailing love-40 on serve, and the eighth-seeded Ruud received the victory on his third match point.
Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall.
The record 24-time men’s Grand Slam champion Djokovic still hasn’t won a title this year, and remained on 98 in his glittering career.
Sinner, who has three titles in 2024, looked in control in the deciding set when he led Tsitsipas 4-3 with a service game to follow.
But he called for a medical timeout during the changeover and a trainer massaged his right knee and thigh. Although a smiling Sinner shared a joke with the trainer, things got more serious in the next game when Tsitsipas broke his serve at the fifth attempt to level the score.
Sinner limped a little at the end of the next game and clutched the hamstring area of his left leg, then had both legs massaged. His movement was restricted in the ensuing game, and Tsitsipas clinched victory on his first match point when Sinner’s backhand from the back of the court went long as he struggled for balance.
“He is one of the toughest opponents I have faced so far and to find ways when there weren’t that many, I am proud of that,” Tsitsipas said.
American actress Zendaya, British actor Josh O’Connor and other cast members from the tennis movie “Challengers” were among the crowd enjoying the sunshine at Monte Carlo Country Club. Italian fans crossing the nearby border made Sinner feel at home, but Tsitsipas enjoys strong support here after winning in 2021 and 2022.
Tsitsipas broke Sinner and held for 3-1 in a commanding first set where he used angles well to disrupt Sinner’s more rhythmical play.
The level of intensity from both players increased in the second set. A long ninth game lasting 13 minutes saw the second-seeded Sinner save five break points before holding to level the match.
He broke Tsitsipas in the first game of the deciding set and held easily.
At this point, another final looked increasingly certain.
The Italian was enjoying himself and smiled to his coaching team after winning one point with an audacious sliced dropshot in the fifth game.
But Tsitsipas, who took Djokovic to five sets in the French Open final in 2021, showed trademark endurance and clawed his way back as Sinner started fading.


Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona

Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona
Updated 13 April 2024
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Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona

Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona
  • THE 22-time Grand Slam champion missed virtually all of the 2023 season through injury

PARIS: Rafael Nadal will make his return to ATP competition for the first time since January when he plays Flavio Cobolli in the Barcelona Open next week.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion has played just once, in an exhibition match, since he felt a hip injury flare-up during his quarter-final defeat by Jordan Thompson in the Brisbane Open.
The tournament has also been boosted by the return of Nadal’s compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, the world No.3, who withdrew from this week’s Monte Carlo Masters due to a right arm injury.
Unlike Nadal the two-time defending Barcelona champion gets a first round bye due to being seeded.
Nadal, 37, missed virtually all of the 2023 season through injury and has only played at the Brisbane International this season.
The injury in Brisbane prompted the record 14-time French Open winner’s withdrawal from the Australian Open as well as Doha and Indian Wells, where he had first intended to make his comeback.
His one appearance since Brisbane came in an exhibition match against Alcaraz in Las Vegas in March where observers noted some discomfort in his back.
With this potentially Nadal’s last year on tour, he will be desperate not to miss any more clay court preparation time as he seeks to win a record 15th French Open title in June.