Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

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

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 ready for emotional French Open farewell

Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell
Updated 22 May 2024
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Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

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.


Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown
Updated 22 May 2024
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Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown
  • The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007
  • Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome

PARIS: Iga Swiatek admits she is the favorite and “confident” ahead of her bid to become only the fourth woman to win four Roland Garros singles titles in the Open era.

The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007.

Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome.

The only female player in history to complete a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros treble in the same season is Serena Williams.

But Swiatek is not daunted by what she could achieve.

“I’m No. 1 so I’m the favorite everywhere if you look at rankings,” she told reporters after swatting aside second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in the Rome Open final last weekend.

“But rankings don’t play, so... I’ll do everything step by step and we’ll see.

“Obviously I am confident. I feel like I’m playing great tennis. But it doesn’t change the fact that I really want to stay humble and really focused.”

The 22-year-old Pole has plenty of years ahead of her to chase records but is wasting little time — her four WTA 1000 titles this season have taken her career total to 10.

That is already only 13 short of Serena Williams’ all-time record.

With four Grand Slam titles, Swiatek has not struggled to translate that form to the major tournaments in the past, but insists it is tougher to lift the sport’s biggest trophies.

“Grand Slams are different. There is different pressure on the court and off the court,” she added.

“I love to come to Paris again and be there. It’s a great place for me to be. I really enjoy my time there anyway. These are hard seven matches that you need to win, so I don’t take anything for granted.”

Swiatek is aiming to join Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Henin in lifting the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen four times in the Open era.

The biggest obstacle standing in her way is Sabalenka.

The Belarusian missed three match points before losing to Swiatek in a thrilling Madrid final and will be hoping to get another crack at her rival after a one-sided loss in Rome.

Sabalenka, the two-time reigning Australian Open champion, has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.

She is also the only woman to beat Swiatek in a final on clay — in Madrid last year — since the Pole lost her first WTA title decider as a teenager in 2019 at a low-key event in Switzerland.

Sabalenka has an 8-3 losing record against Swiatek, but insisted after Rome that she wanted to face her again in Paris.

“Even though I lost these two finals, I mean, I never focus on the past,” she said.

“No matter how many times I lose to the player, I know anyway if I’ll be there, if I’ll be fighting, I’ll be focusing on myself, I know that I can get that win.

“I mean, I’m going there with the confidence that I can do well there.”

Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semis.

“I’m definitely not the favorite probably there,” she said.

“But at the same time I do feel that I can actually go for it.

“It’s 50/50, you know? But I prefer to be underdog. I really hope I’m going to make it to the final and I really hope I’ll be able to get that win, if it’s Iga or not.”

Elena Rybakina, the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this year, was being touted as part of a new ‘big three’ 12 months ago.

But the Kazakh has failed to make the last four at a Slam since losing the 2023 Australian Open final to Sabalenka and has been passed in the rankings by US Open champion Coco Gauff.

American Gauff, playing in a major for the first time since turning 20, will be hoping to go one better than when she lost the 2022 French Open showpiece to Swiatek.


PIF, WTA sign multiyear partnership to speed up global growth of women’s tennis

PIF, WTA sign multiyear partnership to speed up global growth of women’s tennis
Updated 20 May 2024
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PIF, WTA sign multiyear partnership to speed up global growth of women’s tennis

PIF, WTA sign multiyear partnership to speed up global growth of women’s tennis
  • PIF will become first naming partner of the WTA rankings
  • PIF to continue to be a catalyst for growth of women’s sport

NEW YORK: The Public Investment Fund and the Women’s Tennis Association on Monday signed a multiyear partnership to support the growth of women’s professional tennis and inspire more females around the world to take up the sport.
The partnership also aims at enhancing and developing initiatives that support players at all levels.
As a global partner of the WTA, the PIF will become the first naming partner of the organization’s rankings, the highest official rankings for professional women tennis players.
And through the partnership with the WTA, the PIF will continue to be a catalyst for the growth of women’s sport, according to Mohamed Al-Sayyad, the fund’s head of corporate brand.
Al-Sayyad said: “We look forward to working with the WTA to increase participation and inspire the next generation of talent. Underpinned by PIF’s four strategic sponsorship pillars, this partnership aligns with our ambition to elevate the game and bring positive growth to the sport around the world.”
The PIF WTA rankings will track players’ journeys, and the PIF will work with the WTA to celebrate and support players’ progress.
WTA’s CEO Marina Storti said: “We are delighted to welcome PIF as a global partner of the WTA and our first-ever official naming partner of the WTA rankings.
“Together, we look forward to sharing the journey of our talented players across the season, as we continue to grow the sport, creating more fans of tennis and inspiring more young people to take up the game.”
As part of its commitment to inspire youngsters, the PIF will work with the WTA to expand existing initiatives and develop new opportunities for young players, providing a significant boost to the game’s next generation of stars.
The PIF announced its partnership with the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) in February and became the official naming partner of the PIF ATP rankings. The PIF has now become the only global partner across both the WTA and ATP tours.
The new partnership between the WTA and the PIF follows the recent announcement that the season-ending WTA Finals will be hosted in Riyadh for the next three years, starting in 2024.


Zverev serves his way to Italian Open title and sets himself up as a contender in Paris

Zverev serves his way to Italian Open title and sets himself up as a contender in Paris
Updated 20 May 2024
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Zverev serves his way to Italian Open title and sets himself up as a contender in Paris

Zverev serves his way to Italian Open title and sets himself up as a contender in Paris
  • It’s been a long road of recovery for the fifth-ranked Zverev after tearing three ligaments in his right ankle during the 2022 French Open semifinals against Rafael Nadal
  • This year’s French Open starts next Sunday and now Zverev has established himself among the favorites again

ROME: Alexander Zverev put on a serving clinic in a 6-4, 7-5 win over 24th-ranked Nicolas Jarry to claim his second Italian Open title Sunday and earn his biggest trophy since tearing his ankle apart two years ago.

Zverev opened the match with three straight aces and won 20 of his 21 service points in the first set. The German didn’t drop a point on his first serve until late in the second set when the 6-foot-7 (2.01 meter) Jarry ran down a well-placed drop shot and replied with a cross-court winner.

In all, Zverev won 44 of his 49 service points — helped by getting in 95 percent of his first serves.

It’s been a long road of recovery for the fifth-ranked Zverev after tearing three ligaments in his right ankle during the 2022 French Open semifinals against Rafael Nadal.

When Zverev broke Jarry to convert his fourth match point, he dropped to his knees on the red clay court, leaned back and let out a scream.

“The last two years have been extremely difficult,” Zverev said during the trophy ceremony. “I didn’t know whether I was ever going to be on this stage — regardless of winning or losing — so this moment is extremely special.”

This year’s French Open starts next Sunday and now Zverev has established himself among the favorites again — especially with top-ranked Novak Djokovic and 14-time Roland Garros champion Nadal both struggling lately. Djokovic and Nadal were eliminated in the second and third rounds, respectively, in Rome.

There are also injury concerns for second-ranked Jannik Sinner (hip) and third-ranked Carlos Alcaraz (right forearm) — who both withdrew from Rome.

“The focus is on Paris,” Zverev said. “But let me enjoy this one for a day or so, and then I’ll have my full focus on Paris.”

Zverev, who has disputed a penalty order from a German court over allegations that he caused bodily harm to a woman, faces a trial starting during Roland Garros. He said recently that he won’t attend the start of the legal proceedings.

And Zverev isn’t 100 percent healthy either. He had the pinky on his left hand bandaged due to a fall in his quarterfinal win over Taylor Fritz, after which he said he “tore a capsule” and that his finger was “crooked.” The German plays right-handed but uses a two-handed backhand.

Zverev will also be defending his gold medal when the Paris Olympics tennis tournament is held at Roland Garros starting in late July.

Jarry, a Chilean playing in his first Masters Series final, upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals.

“This has been an incredible week,” Jarry said.

Jarry was cheered on by his grandfather, Jaime Fillol, who was a top-20 player and who gave Jarry his first racket as a kid. Fillol was on Chile’s Davis Cup team that lost the 1976 final to Italy.

Jarry’s wife and two sons were also courtside and he grew emotional during the trophy ceremony and had to look away from his family to regain his composure.

“This is a fantastic example of what a family life on tour can look like,” Zverev said.

“I’m not so emotional,” Zverev added. “My dad cries, I don’t cry. It’s a good mix.”

It was Zverev’s third final in Rome. He won in 2017 by beating Djokovic in straight sets for his first Masters Series title then lost to Nadal in the title match a year later.

It was also Zverev’s first Masters final since getting beat by Alcaraz at the 2022 Madrid Open. The only previous titles he won since his ankle injury came in Hamburg, Germany, and Chengdu, China, last year.

Zverev earned a winner’s check of €963,225 (more than $1 million).

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek beat No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the women’s final on Saturday.

In the women’s doubles final, Coco Gauff double faulted on match point to hand Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini of Italy the title with a 6-3, 4-6, (10-8) victory. Gauff teamed with Erin Routliffe.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos beat Marcelo Arevalo and Mate Pavic 6-2, 6-2 for the men’s doubles title.


Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title

Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title
Updated 18 May 2024
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Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title

Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title
  • She became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win at Madrid and Rome in the same season
  • She will next defend her French Open crown later this month

ROME: Iga Swiatek won the Rome Open on Saturday after sweeping aside Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-3 in the final to claim her third Foro Italico title.

World number one Swiatek comfortably prevailed against second-ranked Sabalenka in the last major tournament before she defends her French Open crown.
In front of a packed center court crowd Swiatek won her 12th successive match on clay and became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win at Madrid and Rome in the same season.
Swiatek will be red-hot favorite to win her fourth title, and third in a row, at Roland Garros which starts later this month after besting Belarusian Sabalenka as she did at the recent Madrid final.
“Another final, another great battle. After Madrid I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, it can always go both ways,” said Swiatek on court.
“We’ll see about that Roland Garros final!“
The Pole took her winning record over Sabalenka to 8-3 in another hugely impressive display from what has been an almost flawless tournament from the four-time Grand Slam champion, who didn’t drop a single set on her way to another championship victory.
Saturday’s match was less dramatic than Madrid’s three-set thriller as Sabalenka, who has won the two most recent Australian Opens, gave herself too much to do.
Swiatek took the opening set in just 36 minutes in a clinical display of tennis against Sabalenka, who has said repeatedly that Rome is her dream tournament to win.
Going into Saturday’s final Swiatek had won 97 percent of her matches in which she went one set ahead since the start of 2022 and Sabalenka didn’t help her cause by wasting seven break points over two games in the second set.
After Swiatek broke Sabalenka’s serve in game seven it was only a matter of time before she closed out the match and championship.
“I would say the first set I didn’t play well at all. I wasn’t, I don’t know, feeling my game well,” Sabalenka told reporters.
“In the second set I just tried to stay a little bit more aggressive... I just tried to put her a little bit under pressure.
“I had couple of opportunities to break her serve. Probably if I would take that opportunity, the match would go differently. I didn’t use it, so it is how it is.”
On Sunday Alexander Zverev bids to win his second Rome title when he faces Nicolas Jarry in the men’s final.
Zverev is in his 11th Masters final, equalling Boris Becker’s record for the most by a German since the series began in 1990.