Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Serena withdraws because of Achilles injury

   One player's quest to tie a record for career Grand Slam singles titles ended for the year while another's continued.
   Sixth-seeded Serena Williams withdrew from the French Open today with an Achilles tendon injury suffered in her semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka in the recent U.S. Open.
   Williams, who turned 39 on Saturday, had been scheduled to play Tsvetana Pironkova, a 33-year-old Bulgarian, in a second-round matchup of mothers.
   Williams has been stuck on 23 Grand Slam singles crowns, one short of Margaret Court's record, for the past three seasons. The three-time French Open and Stanford champion did not reach a major final this year.
   This is the second time in the last three seasons that Williams has withdrawn from Roland Garros because of injury. In her first Grand Slam tournament since giving birth, she pulled out before her scheduled match against Maria Sharapova with a chest muscle problem in the fourth round in 2018.
   Williams said doctors advised her to rest for four to six weeks, adding that she "more than likely" will not play the rest of the year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, almost every scheduled tournament has been canceled until 2021.  
   Also today, second-seeded Rafael Nadal dismissed Mackenzie McDonald, a 25-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3 in 1 hour, 40 minutes.
   Nadal, seeking his fourth consecutive French Open crown and 13th overall, never faced a break point. He can tie Roger Federer's mark of 20 Grand Slam singles titles.
   Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia ousted Azarenka, the 10th seed and U.S. Open runner-up, 6-2, 6-2 for her second consecutive victory over a Grand Slam champion. Schmiedlova, 26, eliminated 40-year-old Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 in the opening round.
   Schmiedlova, who has plunged from a career-high No. 26 in 2015 to No. 161, came to Paris with a 12-match losing streak in Grand Slam main draws dating back five years. 
   Qualifier Martina Trevisan, a 5-foot-3 (1.60-meter) left-hander from Italy, surprised 16-year-old Coco Gauff of Delray Beach, Fla., 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 to reach the third round of a major for the first time.
   Gauff, the French Open girls singles champion at 14 in 2018, committed 19 double faults, including four straight at one point.
   Fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens, a French Open semifinalist in 2016, saved a match point and overcame cramps in her 7-6 (5), 3-6, 9-7 victory over 33-year-old Italian qualifier Sara Errani, the 2012 runner-up to Sharapova at Roland Garros, in 3 hours, 11 minutes.
   Bertens, who had been 0-5 against Errani, left the court in a wheelchair. Errani committed 14 double faults.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep, who won the 2018 French Open for the first of her two Grand Slam singles titles, beat fellow Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-4 to set up a rematch against 25th-seeded Amanda Anisimova, a 19-year-old American. 
   Anisimova, who won her first professional title in the 2017 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger at 15, stunned Halep 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of last year's French Open. 
   In the first round of men's doubles:
   —Third-seeded Rajeev Ram, a volunteer assistant coach at the University of California, Berkeley, and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain beat French wild cards Gregoire Barrere and Quentin Halys 6-4, 7-6 (1). 
   —Second-seeded Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina edged California natives Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey, who was born in San Francisco, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
   In Northern California Challenger singles, Granollers advanced to the 2018 final in Tiburon, Johnson won the Aptos crown in 2012 and 2019, and Querrey swept the three-week swing in 2014.
   —Ninth-seeded Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia downed Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and former Cal star Ben McLachlan, a New Zealand native who plays for his mother's native Japan, 6-4, 7-6 (4).
   Koolhof and Mektic reached the U.S. Open final, losing to Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares of Brazil.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Stephens coasts, Querrey blows big lead in French Open

Sloane Stephens, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., routed Russian Vitalia Diatchenko
6-2, 6-2 today in the first round of the French Open. 2016 photo by Mal Taam 
   Sloane Stephens earned her first clay-court victory of the year, while Sam Querrey's struggles continued today.
   Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno, Calif., product seeded 29th, dispatched Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia 6-2, 6-2 in 66 minutes in the opening round of the French Open in Paris.
   Diatchenko, 30, hit only six winners and committed 28 unforced errors.
   Stephens, who reached the 2018 final and 2019 quarterfinals at Roland Garros, had lost in the first round in Rome and Strasbourg in the previous two weeks. She is now based in Florida.
   No. 13 seed Andrey Rublev, a 22-year-old rising star from Russia, topped Querrey, a 32-year-old San Francisco native now living in Las Vegas, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 in 3 hours, 17 minutes for his first main-draw victory in the French Open.
   Querrey, who has never advanced past the third round at Roland Garros in 13 appearances, led 5-2 in the third set. 
    Overall, the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Querrey blasted 29 aces and committed 11 double faults. The 6-foot-2 (1.87-meter) Rublev had 23 and two, respectively.
   Querrey, who became a father in February, fell to 0-4 since the ATP and WTA tours resumed in early August after a five-month layoff caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Only 1,000 fans are allowed at Roland Garros each day because cases have skyrocketed in France recently.
   Rublev, the French Open boys singles champion in 2014, reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the second time this month and won his third title of the year on Sunday in Hamburg on clay.   
   Stephens, who has tumbled from a career-high No. 3 in 2018 to No. 34, is scheduled to play Paula Badosa, a 22-year-old New York native who plays for Spain, for the first time on Thursday.
   Badosa, the 2015 French Open girls singles champion, defeated Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. The 87th-ranked Badosa had 41 winners and only 15 unforced errors.
   Meanwhile, 17-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark saved two match points and stunned 21st-seeded Jennifer Brady, a U.S. Open semifinalist, 6-4, 3-6, 9-7 in 2 hours, 45 minutes for her first Grand Slam main-draw victory.
   Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won the 2016 French Open to complete a career Grand Slam, routed Mikael Ymer of Sweden 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in 1 hour, 38 minutes to improve to 32-1 this year.
   Djokovic's only loss of 2019 came when he was defaulted in the fourth round of the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball. The line judge gasped for air but was not seriously injured.
   Fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece topped Spain's Jaume Munar 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. Rublev defeated Tsitsipas in the Hamburg final and Munar in the 2014 French Open boys singles final.
   In the first round of men's doubles, Marton Fucsovics of Hungary and Cameron Norrie of Great Britain beat Mackenzie McDonald, who was born and raised in Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
   Norrie won back-to-back singles titles in Northern California Challengers in 2017, defeating Sandgren in the Tiburon final

Monday, September 28, 2020

McDonald breaks through, braces for Nadal

Mackenzie McDonald, a San Francisco Bay Area product,
defeated qualifier Steven Diez of Canada in the first round
of the French Open. File photo by Paul Bauman
    The good news for Mackenzie McDonald is that he won a main-draw match in the French Open for the first time.
   The bad news is he plays Rafael Nadal next.
   McDonald, a 25-year-old product Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, defeated qualifier Steven Diez, a 29-year-old Canadian based in Spain, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 today in a matchup of undersized players in chilly Paris.
   Diez, 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 167 pounds (75 kilograms), broke with McDonald serving for the match at 5-3 in the fourth set, but McDonald broke right back to advance.
   McDonald, 5-foot-10 (1.77 meters) and 160 pounds (72 kilograms), pounded 11 aces and committed two double faults in the first-time meeting.
   McDonald played at UCLA for three years (2014-16), turning pro after winning the NCAA singles and doubles titles in 2016 as a junior. He won his first Challenger title in Fairfield, Calif., 40 miles (64.4 kilometers) north of Piedmont, in 2017 and advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018.
   Last year, McDonald reached a career-high No. 57 in April but underwent right hamstring surgery in June and sat out the rest of the season. Now ranked No. 236, he is playing with a protected ranking.
   Nadal, seeking his fourth consecutive French Open title and 13th overall, beat Belarus' Egor Gerasimov, a semifinalist in last year's Aptos (Calif.) Challenger, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Nadal and McDonald, now based at the USTA National Campus near Orlando, Fla., are set to meet for the first time on Wednesday. 
   Like McDonald, CiCi Bellis was born and raised in the Bay Area, trains at the USTA National Campus and is rebounding from surgery. She lost to left-hander Bernarda Pera, a 25-year-old American born in Croatia, 7-6 (3), 6-1.
   Bellis, a right-hander who had three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow in 2018-19, played in the French Open for the first time since reaching the third round in 2017.
   Sixth-seeded Serena Williams, a three-time champion at Roland Garros, eliminated Kristie Ahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate, in straight sets in the first round for the second consecutive Grand Slam tournament. Williams triumphed 7-6 (2), 6-0 after beating Ahn 7-5, 6-3 in the U.S. Open.
   Meanwhile, fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia and eighth-seeded Gael Monfils, a 34-year-old Frenchman, lost in the opening round. 
   Marton Fucsovics of Hungary ousted Medvedev, the U.S. Open runner-up in 2019 and a semifinalist at Flushing Meadows this month, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-1. Fucsovics, ranked No. 63, had been 0-14 against top-10 players. Medvedev, 24, fell to 0-4 in the French Open.
   Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik, the champion of the 2017 Aptos Challenger, downed Monfils 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. The 23-year-old Bublik, ranked No. 49, had been 0-5 against top-10 players. Monfils, a Roland Garros semifinalist in 2008, committed 12 double faults.
   Third-seeded Dominic Thiem, the runner-up in the last two French Opens, outclassed Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion playing on his 32nd birthday, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
   Thiem, 27, played for the first time since winning his maiden Grand Slam title in the U.S. Open. He defeated Cilic in four sets in the third round at Flushing Meadows.
   Lorenzo Giustino, a 29-year-old Italian qualifier, topped Corentin Moutet, a 21-year-old left-hander from France, 0-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3), 2-6, 18-16 in 6 hours, 5 minutes for his first Grand Slam victory. The fifth set lasted 3 hours. 
   The match fell 28 minutes short of the Roland Garros record, Fabrice Santoro's victory over fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement in the first round in 2004.
   Iga Swiatek, 19, of Poland eliminated 15th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova, last year's runner-up to Ashleigh Barty at 19, 6-1, 6-2 in 63 minutes. Vondrousova, a 21-year-old left-hander, had left-wrist surgery last summer and sat out for the rest of the year.
   In 2018, Swiatek won the Wimbledon girls singles title and the French Open girls doubles crown with American Caty McNally.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Teens Gauff, Sinner oust seeds as French Open begins

Coco Gauff, a 16-year-old American making her French Open
main-draw debut, surprised ninth-seeded Johanna Konta, a semi-
finalist at Roland Garros last year, 6-3, 6-3 today in the opening
round. 2018 photo courtesy of JFS Communications
   Two teenagers pulled off upsets today as the French Open began in Paris.
   Coco Gauff, a 16-year-old American phenom making her Roland Garros main-draw debut, dismissed ninth-seeded Johanna Konta, a French Open semifinalist last year, 6-3, 6-3.
   Konta, an Australia native who plays for Great Britain, won the first of her three WTA singles titles in the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2016.
   Jannik Sinner, a 19-year-old Italian competing in the French Open for the first time, outclassed Belgium's David Goffin, the 11th seed and a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2016, 7-5, 6-0, 6-3 in the first match ever played under the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.
   Sinner, who won 11 consecutive games from 5-5 in the first set to 3-0 in the third set, beat Goffin for the second time this year. Sinner also stunned sixth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round of last week's Italian Open.
   Gauff, the French Open girls singles champion at 14 in 2018, and Sinner, who reached the second round of last year's Aptos (Calif.) Challenger one week after winning the Lexington (Ky.) crown, will face qualifiers in the second round.
   Gauff, ranked No. 51, will meet 5-foot-3 (1.60-meter) Martina Trevisan, a 26-year-old left-hander from Italy. Sinner, ranked No. 75, will play Benjamin Bonzi, 24, of France.
   Also falling today were 17th-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 24th-seeded Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, 25th-seeded Alex de Minaur of Australia and 32nd-seeded Daniel Evans of Great Britain.
   France's Caroline Garcia, formerly ranked No. 4, topped Kontaveit, who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in this year's Australian Open, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
   Daria Gavrilova, a Moscow-born Australian playing her second tournament after a one-year layoff, surprised the 20-year-old Yastremska 6-4, 6-3. 
   Italy's Marco Cecchinato, a French Open semifinalist in 2018, eliminated the 21-year-old de Minaur, who advanced to his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in the recent U.S. Open, 7-6 (9), 6-4, 6-0.
   Former world No. 4 Kei Nishikori, who had elbow surgery last October, outlasted Evans 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-4 in a 3-hour, 49-minute battle of diminutive players.
   Meanwhile, 16th-seeded Stan Wawrinka overwhelmed Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in 97 minutes in a matchup of three-time Grand Slam singles champions in their 30s rebounding from multiple surgeries.
   Murray won the first of his 46 tour-level singles titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif., at 18 in 2006 and repeated the following year.
   Sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev, the U.S. Open runner-up, beat Dennis Novak of Austria 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.
   Argentina's Diego Schwartzman, seeded 12th, whipped Miomir Kecmanovic, 21, of Serbia 6-0, 6-1, 6-3 in 1 hour, 47 minutes.
   Schwartzman, only 5-foot-7 (1.70 meters) and 141 pounds (64 kilograms), shocked Rafael Nadal in the Italian Open quarterfinals en route to his first Masters 1000 final.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep, playing on her 29th birthday, outplayed Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain 6-4, 6-0 for her 15th straight victory. Halep won the first of her two Grand Slam singles titles in the 2018 French Open.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Bay Area native falls in Strasbourg doubles semifinals

   Top-seeded Nicole Melichar, a Czech-born American, and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands beat third-seeded Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan 6-2, 7-6 (3) today in the semifinals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg.
   Shibahara, 22, was born in Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area and starred at UCLA. 
   Melichar and Schuurs are scheduled to play fourth-seeded Hayley Carter of Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Luisa Stefani of Brazil, on Saturday for the title. 
   Carter and Stefani — former standouts at North Carolina and Pepperdine, respectively — eliminated second-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday.
   Aoyama and Shibahara reached the final of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., a 20-minute drive from Mountain View, last August. The unseeded pair lost to top-seeded Melichar and Kveta Peschke, who was 44 at the time, 6-4, 6-4.
   Carter and Shibahara won the $60,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger in 2018, edging American Quinn Gleason and Stefani 7-5, 5-7 [10-7].

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Stanford grad Ahn draws Serena again in French Open

Stanford graduate Kristie Ahn will meet Serena
Williams in the first round for the second consecutive
Grand Slam tournament. 2019 photo by Paul Bauman
   Until Sept. 1, Kristie Ahn had never played Serena Williams.
   Now, the Americans will meet in a Grand Slam tournament for the second time within one month.
   Three weeks after Williams, a three-time winner of the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, defeated Ahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate, 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the U.S. Open, they drew each other in the French Open.
   Williams, who will turn 39 on Saturday, is seeded sixth at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday. Ranked ninth, she seeks her fourth singles title in the French Open and record-tying 24th in a Grand Slam tournament. Williams has not reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros since falling to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final.
   Williams withdrew from last week's Italian Open with an Achilles tendon injury suffered during her three-set loss to Victoria Azarenka in the U.S. Open semifinals two weeks ago. Ahn, ranked No. 102, will play in the main draw of the French Open for the first time.
   The winner of the match could face the 10th-seeded Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up to Naomi Osaka, in the fourth round. Osaka withdrew from the French Open with a hamstring injury.
   Fresno, Calif., product Sloane Stephens, the 29th seed and 2018 French Open runner-up to Simona Halep, is scheduled to play Vitalia Diatchenko, a 30-year-old Russian ranked No. 115, for the first time. 
   Stephens is 3-10 this year with eight first-round losses in 10 tournaments. Ranked a career-high No. 3 in 2018, she has plunged to No. 34.
   Diatchenko reached the third round at Wimbledon in 2018 as a qualifier, ousting 2004 champion Maria Sharapova in the first round.
   Stephens or Diatchenko could play second-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the third round. Pliskova retired from Monday's Italian Open final against Halep with a left-thigh problem.
   CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up down the peninsula in Atherton, is set to meet left-hander Bernarda Pera, a 25-year-old American born in Croatia, for the first time. 
   Bellis will play in the French Open for the first time since reaching the third round in 2017. She underwent three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow in 2018-19, 
   The survivor of the Bellis-Pera match likely will play 25th-seeded Amanda Anisimova, an American who advanced to last year's French Open semifinals at 17, in the second round. Anisimova won her first professional title in the 2017 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger at 15.
   In the men's draw, Sam Querrey, a 32-year-old San Francisco native now based in Las Vegas, will take on 13th-seeded Andrey Rublev, 22, of Russia.
   Rublev, who reached his second U.S. Open quarterfinal this month, seeks his first main-draw victory at the French Open.
   Querrey, who became a father in February, is 0-3 since the ATP and WTA tours resumed in early August. He has never advanced past the third round at Roland Garros in 12 appearances.
   Mackenzie McDonald, a 25-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, drew a qualifier to be determined. McDonald reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2017 but underwent hamstring surgery in June 2019 and missed the rest of the season.
   McDonald or the qualifier will face either second-seeded Rafael Nadal, seeking his 13th French Open crown, or Belarus' Egor Gerasimov, a semifinalist in the $81,240 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger last year.
   Other intriguing first-round matchups in the French Open are:
   —No. 16 seed Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion and 2017 runner-up, versus Andy Murray, the 2016 runner-up, in a matchup of three-time Grand Slam singles winners rebounding from multiple surgeries.
   —Third-seeded Dominic Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in the last two French Opens and reigning U.S. Open champion, against Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open titlist.
   —Ninth-seeded Johanna Konta, a semifinalist last year at Roland Garros and the 2016 Bank of the West champion, versus 16-year-old Coco Gauff

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Report: Dzumhur might sue French Tennis Federation

   Damir Dzumhur, one of five men forced to withdraw from French Open qualifying because of coronavirus concerns, reportedly is threatening to sue the French Tennis Federation.
   The FFT confirmed that two players and a coach tested positive, while three others with close contact to the coach also were forced to pull out, according to tennisnow.com.
   "In line with tournament health protocols, the five players will not compete in the qualifying tournament and will self-isolate for a period of seven days," the FFT said in a statement. "In total, some 900 tests have been carried out since Sept. 17."
   Later Monday, an unidentified player in the women's qualifying draw also tested positive, tennisnow. com reported, bringing the total to six.
   Dzumhur, ranked No. 114, revealed that his coach, Petar Popovic, tested positive.
   "(Popovic) didn't get a chance to do a second test, and we're sure he was false positive because my coach has antibodies," said Dzumhur, 28, of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
   French sports newspaper L'Equipe quoted FFT doctor Bernard Montalvan as saying that samples that test positive are tested again to confirm the result.
   Main-draw matches in the French Open begin Sunday. Tournament organizers plan to allow up to 5,000 spectators a day during the two-week event, even though coronavirus cases are rising in France.
   Dzumhur, only 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 150 pounds (68 kilograms), reached the third round of the 2018 French Open and climbed to a career-high No. 23 that July. He struggled with back, abdominal, shoulder and stomach injuries last year. As the top seed in the $81,240 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger in August, he advanced to the quarterfinals
   Andreescu done for year — Bianca Andreescu, who won the 2019 U.S. Open at 19, announced on Tuesday that she will sit out the rest of the 2020 season.
   "I have come to the difficult decision to skip the clay court swing this year and will be taking the remainder of the season off to focus on my health and training," the 20-year-old Canadian tweeted. "As hard as it was to come to this conclusion, I have much to look forward to in 2021, including the Olympics; I want to use this time to focus on my game so I can come back stronger and better than ever."
   Andreescu, ranked No. 7, has not played since retiring from a WTA Finals match last October with a left-knee injury. She skipped the recent U.S. Open, citing concerns about the coronavirus and inadequate preparation time.
   WTA Tour — Third-seeded Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan defeated Kateryna Bondarenko, a 34-year-old Ukrainian mother of two, and Sharon Fichman of Canada 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg. 
   Aoyama and Shibahara, a 22-year-old native of Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area who starred at UCLA, are scheduled to face top-seeded Nicole Melichar, a Czech-born American, and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands on Friday.
   Aoyama and Shibahara advanced to the final of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., last August, falling to Melichar and then-44-year-old Kveta Peschke 6-4, 6-4.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Klahn, Jovic lose heartbreakers in French Open qualies

Stanford graduate Bradley Klahn won only two of 14 break
points against Roman Safiullin of Russia in the first round
of French Open qualifying. File photo by Paul Bauman
   Two players with Northern California ties suffered tough losses today in the first round of French Open qualifying.
   Stanford graduate Bradley Klahn, seeded 22nd, fell to Roman Safiullin of Russia 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in 2 hours, 11 minutes in Paris.
   Safiullin, making his French Open debut at 23, held serve in the last game after trailing 0-40 and saving a fourth break point. Klahn, a 30-year-old left-hander based in Los Angeles, won only two of 14 break points.
   Jovana (Jaksic) Jovic, a 26-year-old Sacramento, Calif., resident from Serbia, lost to Ankita Raina, the top Indian at No. 176, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in 2 hours, 47 minutes. Raina, only 5-foot-4 (1.62 meters), broke serve in the last game.
   Klahn, ranked No. 135, and Jovic, ranked No. 234, climbed as high as No. 63 and No. 102, respectively, in 2014 before injuries derailed their careers.
   Safiullin, who won the Cherbourg Challenger in February, is ranked No. 190.
   ATP Tour — Second-seeded Rajeev Ram, a volunteer assistant coach at the University of California, Berkeley, and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain endured an even tougher loss in the opening round of doubles in the Hamburg European Open.
   Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia, the runners-up in the recent U.S. Open, saved a match point in their 6-4, 6-7 (0) [12-10] victory over Ram and Salisbury, the reigning Australian Open champions.
   Meanwhile, Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania advanced when top-seeded Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia retired at 6-6 because of Cabal's right hip injury. Both teams have won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open for their two Grand Slam men's doubles titles. 
   WTA Tour — Third-seeded Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan beat Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia and Oksana Kalashnikova of Georgia 6-2, 6-4 in the first round of the Internationaux de Strasbourg.
   Aoyama and Shibahara, a native of Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area who starred at UCLA, are scheduled to play Kateryna Bondarenko, a 34-year-old Ukrainian mother of two, and Sharon Fichman of Canada on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Djokovic breaks record; Halep breaks through

Novak Djokovic won the Italian Open for his 36th Masters 1000 title, breaking
the record he had shared with Rafael Nadal. 2017 photo by Mal Taam
   The temper is still there, but so is the phenomenal game.
   In his first tournament since being defaulted from the U.S. Open, top-ranked Novak Djokovic defeated eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 today for his fifth Italian Open title in Rome.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep won the women's title for the first time, beating second-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 2-1, retired (left thigh) in a matchup of 28-year-olds and former world No. 1s.
   Djokovic, who received warnings for smashing a racket in anger in the quarterfinals and uttering an obscenity in the semifinals, won his 36th Masters 1000 (the highest level besides the Grand Slams) crown to break a tie with Rafael Nadal for the record.
   The 33-year-old Djokovic, the only player to win all nine Masters 1000 tournaments at least twice and the oldest player to win the Italian Open, passed his idol, Pete Sampras, with 287 weeks at No. 1 for second behind Roger Federer's 310.  
   Djokovic lost only one set in his five matches in Rome but was extended to a tiebreaker in the third round and lost the first three games (two service breaks) against Schwartzman.
   "It was a great week, a very challenging week," Djokovic, who improved to 31-1 this year, said in an on-court interview. "I don't think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week, but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most, the decisive moments today, yesterday, practically every match. That makes me definitely very satisfied and proud."
   Djokovic now turns his attention to the French Open, which begins Sunday. A four-time finalist at Roland Garros, he won the 2016 title to complete a career Grand Slam.
   Schwartzman, only 5-foot-7 (1.70 meters) and 141 pounds (64 kilograms), rose two spots to No. 13, two short of his career high in June 2018. The 28-year-old Argentine beat Nadal, a nine-time Italian Open champion, for the first time in 10 matches in the quarterfinals and edged 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4) in 3 hours, 15 minutes in the semifinals.
   Halep recorded her 14th consecutive victory and 19th in her last 20 matches. The Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, she lost her opening match there last year to Marketa Vondrousova, who was 19 at the time.
   "I've finally won it," Halep, who will turn 29 on Sunday, gushed in an on-court interview. "I love this tournament, and I play well here almost every year – besides last year, of course.
   "I started my rise up the rankings at this tournament in 2013, so I've always dreamed of having this title. I'm really happy that it happened today."
   Halep has reached three French Open finals, winning the first of her two Grand Slam titles in 2018. Pliskova, the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, said she hopes to be ready for Roland Garros.
   WTA Tour — Japan's Nao Hibino, who won the inaugural Stockton (Calif.) Challenger in 2015 at 20, beat eighth-seeded Sloane Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno product, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round of the Internationaux de Strasbourg. 
   Stephens, the runner-up to Halep in the 2018 French Open, has lost in the opening round of eight of her 10 tournaments this year.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Diego digs deep to reach first Masters 1000 final

   It would have been easy for Diego Schwartzman to suffer a letdown after shocking Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
   Instead, the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) Argentine gutted out a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4) victory over Denis Shapovalov of Canada today in the semifinals of the Italian Open in Rome.
   Shapovalov, seeded 12th, served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, which lasted 1 hour, 27 minutes. Schwartzman, seeded eighth, ultimately prevailed in 3 hours, 15 minutes to reach his first Masters 1000 (the highest level besides the Grand Slams) final. 
   Schwartzman, ranked 15th, is scheduled to face top-ranked Novak Djokovic on Monday not before 8 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). If the 28-year-old Schwartzman wins, he will crack the top 10 for the first time. If he loses, the 14th-ranked Shapovalov, 21, will do the same.
   "I have two dreams tomorrow," Schwartzman said on atptour.com. "One is winning a tournament like this, and the second one is (being in the) top 10. I need to play more than my 100 percent. I don't want to say (it will be) impossible, because it's not. I know I can beat him, but it's going to be very difficult."
   Djokovic, who won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015, beat unseeded Casper Ruud, a semifinalist in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger in 2018 at 19, 7-5, 6-3 to improve to 30-1 this year. 
   Djokovic, 33, advanced to his 10th Italian Open final. He is 4-0 against Schwartzman, including a 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3 win in the Rome semifinals last year. 
   Top-seeded Simona Halep is set to play second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova in the women's final at 5:30 a.m. PDT in a showdown of 28-year-olds and former world No. 1s.
   Halep, the Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, outlasted ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 for her 13th consecutive victory and 18th in her last 19 matches. Both players have been ranked No. 1 and won two Grand Slam singles titles, coming at the French Open and Wimbledon.
   Pliskova, the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, outplayed 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova, a finalist in last year's French Open at 19, 6-2, 6-4 in an all-Czech affair. Vondrousova, a left-hander, had left-wrist surgery last summer and sat out for the rest of the year. 
   The second-ranked Halep, who will turn 29 on Sunday, is 7-4 against Pliskova, ranked fourth, but Pliskova has won three of the last four encounters. They have split two clay-court matches, including Halep's 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win in the semifinals of the 2017 French Open.   
   In today's men's doubles final, fourth-seeded Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina edged unseeded Frenchmen Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin 6-4, 5-7 [10-8] for their third title of the coronavirus-shortened season.
   Granollers, the singles runner-up in the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger in 2018, won his second Italian Open title in his fourth Rome final. He took the 2012 crown with compatriot Marc Lopez.
   Top-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei of Chinese Taipei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic claimed the women's doubles title, dominating unseeded Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany and Raluca Olaru of Romania 6-2, 6-2. Hsieh and Strycova improved to 21-1 this year with four titles.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Schwartzman shocks Nadal; Italian has Ruud awakening

Rafael Nadal lost to Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 7-5 today in the Italian Open
quarterfinals in Rome. Nadal, who was seeking his third straight title in the
tournament and 10th overall, had been 9-0 against the diminutive Schwartz-
man. File photo by Mal Taam
   Raise your hand if you saw this one coming.
   In a monumental upset, eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina defeated second-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-5 today to reach the Italian Open semifinals in Rome for the second consecutive year.
   They are the only two semifinal appearances in a Masters 1000 tournament, the highest level besides the Grand Slams, in the 28-year-old Schwartzman's career.
   Nadal has won nine Italian Open titles, including the last two, and had been 9-0 against the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) Schwartzman.
   Today's second set featured five consecutive service breaks until Schwartzman held serve for the match on his second attempt.
   "For sure, it's my best match ever," Schwartzman said on atptour.com. "I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I'm very happy."
    The second-ranked Nadal, 34, was playing in his first tournament since winning Acapulco for the third time in February. He chose not to play in the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.
   The 15th-ranked Schwartzman is scheduled to play 14th-ranked Denis Shapovalov of Canada for the first time on Sunday not before 10 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel).
   Shapovalov, a 21-year-old left-hander seeded 12th, beat 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in the Battle of (One-Handed) Backhands. Shapovalov reached his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in the recent U.S. Open.
   Meanwhile, both No. 4 seeds lost to 21-year-olds in contrasting fashion.
   Unseeded Casper Ruud of Norway edged Matteo Berrettini, the last remaining Italian, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in 2 hours, 57 minutes in Rome to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal.
   On the women's side, 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic dismissed Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the 2017 and 2018 Italian Open champion, 6-3, 6-0 in 1 hour, 20 minutes.
   Ruud, a semifinalist in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger in 2018 at 19, improved to 12-2 on clay this year. He reached two finals in three tournaments on the South American swing in February, winning his first ATP title in Buenos Aires and finishing as the runner-up in Santiago.
   Ranked a career-high No. 34, Ruud has surpassed his father Christian, who peaked at No. 39 in 1995.
   Berrettini, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was attempting to become only the second Italian to reach the Rome semifinals since 2000. Filippo Volandri advanced to the semis in 2007.
   Ruud is set to take on top-ranked Novak Djokovic for the first time on Sunday not before 5 a.m. PDT. Djokovic, who won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015, topped German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in the $81,240 Aptos, Calif., Challenger last year, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to improve to 29-1 this year.
   Djokovic, who was defaulted from his fourth-round match in the U.S. Open, smashed his racket on the clay court after he was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3.
   "It's not the first nor the last racket that I'll break in my career," Djokovic, who received a warning from the chair umpire, told reporters. "I've done it before, and I'll probably do it again. I don't want to do it, but when it comes, it happens. 
   "That's how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger, and it's definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don't encourage that — definitely."
   Before the Italian Open, the left-handed Vondrousova had only two wins in seven tournaments since reaching the Adelaide quarterfinals in January in her first event of the year. She advanced to last year's French Open final, losing to Ashleigh Barty. After falling in the first round at Wimbledon three weeks later, Vondrousova underwent left-wrist surgery and missed the last half of 2019.
   Vondrousova, ranked No. 19, is set to face fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, the second seed and defending champion, on Sunday not before 7 a.m. Pliskova, a former world No. 1 and the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, outplayed 11th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.
  Pliskova defeated Vondrousova 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of last year's Miami Open on a hardcourt in their only previous meeting.
   In Sunday's other women's semifinal, top-seeded Simona Halep is scheduled to meet ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza at 3 a.m.
   Halep, the Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, beat unseeded Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, 6-2, 2-0 (retired, lower back) for her 12th consecutive victory and 17th in her last 18 matches.
   Muguruza outlasted unseeded Victoria Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up to Naomi Osaka, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of two-time Grand Slam singles champions and former world No. 1s.
   Both Muguruza and Azarenka won doubles titles in the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic, and Azarenka won the singles crown at Stanford 10 years ago.
   Muguruza is 4-2 against Halep, but the Romanian has won both clay-court clashes. The players have much in common, although the 6-foot (1.82-meter) Muguruza is six inches (15.2 centimeters) taller. Halep also has been ranked No. 1 and won two majors, the same ones as Muguruza (the French Open and Wimbledon).

Friday, September 18, 2020

Italian teenagers Sinner, Musetti fall in Rome

   Both Italian teenage sensations lost in men's singles today, leaving fourth-seeded Matteo Berrettini as the only homegrown player in the Italian Open quarterfinals in Rome.
   Fifteenth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria outlasted 19-year-old wild card Jannik Sinner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, and Dominik Koepfer of Germany defeated 18-year-old Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-0 in a matchup of qualifiers.
   Sinner was coming off a victory over third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas on Wednesday. Musetti stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, and Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, in the first two rounds.
   Wawrinka underwent two operations on his left knee in August 2017, and Nishikori had right elbow surgery for the second time last October.
   Both Koepfer and Sinner played in last year's $81,240 Aptos, Calif., Challenger. Koepfer, who starred at Tulane University in New Orleans, reached the final to earn $6,360, and Sinner advanced to the second round one week after winning the Lexington, Ky., Challenger. Three weeks later, Koepfer reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open as a qualifier to pocket $280,000.
   Koepfer, a 26-year-old left-hander ranked 97th, is scheduled to face top-ranked Novak Djokovic on Saturday not before 5:30 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). Djokovic, a four-time Italian Open champion, beat fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (7), 6-3 to improve to 28-1 this year.
   Berrettini, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, topped countryman Stefano Travaglia, a wild card, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1) to set up a match against unseeded Casper Ruud, 21, of Norway. Ruud, the son of former top-40 pro Christian Ruud, reached the semifinals of the $100,000 Fairfield, Calif., Challenger in 2018.
   In the bottom half of the draw, Dimitrov will meet 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov of Canada, and second-seeded Rafael Nadal will play eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.
   Shapovalov, a 21-year-old left-hander, advanced to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in the U.S. Open. Nadal seeks his third consecutive Italian Open title and 10th overall. 
   Highlighting the women's quarterfinals will be a showdown between two-time Grand Slam singles champions Garbine Muguruza, seeded ninth, and Victoria Azarenka, who's unseeded. Azarenka has won 15 of her last 16 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Also, top-seeded Simona Halep will face Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist. Halep, a two-time Italian Open runner-up, has won 11 straight matches and 16 of her last 17.
   Second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic will meet 11th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium, and fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine will play 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
   Osaka out of French Open — Osaka, who won her second U.S. Open singles title on Saturday, withdrew from the French Open because of a left-hamstring injury.
   Osaka pulled out of the Western & Southern Open final on Aug. 29 because of the hamstring and played in the U.S. Open with her left thigh wrapped. 
   Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty chose not to play in the U.S. Open or defend her French Open title because of coronavirus concerns. Roland Garros is scheduled for Sept. 27 to Oct. 11.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Azarenka annihilates Kenin 6-0, 6-0 in Italian Open

Victoria Azarenka crushed third-seeded Sofia Kenin 6-0, 6-0
in 61 minutes today in the second round of the Italian Open
in Rome. 2018 photo by Mal Taam
   With the French Open 10 days away, Victoria Azarenka and Sofia Kenin are heading in opposite directions.
   In a clash of past or present Australian Open champions, the unseeded Azarenka blitzed the third-seeded Kenin 6-0, 6-0 in 61 minutes today in the second round of the Italian Open in Rome.
   Azarenka, the Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013, did not face a break point. Kenin, who stormed to her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne early this year, still seeks her first WTA quarterfinal on clay.
   Azarenka has won 14 of her last 15 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Kenin, who received a first-round bye, suffered her second consecutive one-sided loss. Seeded second in the U.S. Open, the 21-year-old American fell to 16th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round. 
   The week before the U.S. Open, Kenin lost her opener in the Western & Southern Open at the same site in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., to then-No. 60 Alize Cornet of France.
   Azarenka, 31, of Belarus and Kenin have had great success in Northern California at different levels.
   In the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on the WTA Tour, Azarenka won the 2010 singles title and the 2011 doubles crown with Maria Kirilenko of Russia. Azarenka also reached the doubles final at Stanford in 2007 with Anna Chakvetadze of Russia.
   Kenin captured NorCal Challengers in 2016 at 17, 2017 and 2018.
   Azarenka is scheduled to play qualifier Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Friday for a quarterfinal berth. Kasatkina, who has slumped from a career-high No. 10 in 2018 to No. 74, dispatched Katerina Siniakova, formerly ranked No. 1 in doubles, 6-2, 6-3.
   Kasatkina, 23, also coasted past compatriot Vera Zvonareva, a 36-year-old wild card who climbed as high as No. 2 in 2010, 6-2, 6-2 in the opening round.
   Also falling today were fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, eighth-seeded Petra Martic of Croatia and 14th-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. 
   Polona Hercog of Slovenia topped Bertens, an Italian Open semifinalist last year and in 2017, 6-4, 6-4. Bertens played her first official match since February after skipping the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.
   Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, outlasted Martic 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 35-year-old Russian and two-time Italian Open runner-up, stopped Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. 
   Ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza, a Rome semifinalist in 2016 and 2017, eliminated 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.
   Four seeds also lost on the men's side: No. 5 Gael Monfils of France, No. 7 Fabio Fognini of Italy, No. No. 9 Andrey Rublev of Russia and No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada.
   German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in last year's Aptos, Calif., Challenger, downed Monfils, playing his first match since February, 6-2, 6-4. Koepfer, a 26-year-old left-hander, will meet 18-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, guaranteeing that a qualifier will reach the quarterfinals.
   Musetti, who stunned three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the first round, beat Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3, 6-4. Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, had right elbow surgery last October. 
   Ugo Humbert, a 22-year-old left-hander from France, knocked off Fognini, who had arthroscopic surgery on both ankles on May 30,  7-5, 7-6 (4).
   Hubert Hurkacz, 23, of Poland took out Rublev, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2, and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia beat Raonic, the runner-up to Novak Djokovic in the Western & Southern Open, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2.
   In the second round of men's doubles, 40-year-old Rohan Bopanna of India and Denis Shapovalov of Canada ousted top seeds and two-time defending champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia 6-3, 3-6 [10-5]. Bopanna reached the 2013 Italian Open final with countryman Mahesh Bhupathi.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Another Italian teenager scores big upset in Rome

Third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece lost to 19-year-old wild card Jannik
Sinner of Italy in three sets today in the second round of the Italian Open in Rome.
2019 photo by Mal Taam
   An Italian teenage man pulled off a major upset in the Italian Open for the second consecutive day today.
   One day after 18-year-old qualifier Lorenzo Musetti stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, 19-year-old wild card Jannik Sinner ousted third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-1, 6-7 (9), 6-2 in the second round in Rome. 
   Sinner, ranked No. 81, led 6-1, 5-2, but the 22-year-old Tsitsipas, ranked sixth, won four straight games to serve for the second set and saved two match points in the tiebreaker.
   Sinner recorded his second victory over a top-10 player. He knocked off No. 10 David Goffin in the second round in Rotterdam in February.
   Sinner, who reached the second round of last year's Aptos, Calif., Challenger one week after winning the Lexington, Ky., title, is set to face 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria on Friday for a quarterfinal berth.
   Dimitrov, a 2014 Rome semifinalist who climbed as high as No. 3 in 2017, demolished Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 6-1, 6-0 in 55 minutes. Dimitrov won 24 of 25 points on his first serve.
   Another Italian wild card, 28-year-old Stefano Travaglia, surprised unseeded Borna Coric, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist last week, 7-6 (2), 7-5. Travaglia, ranked No. 84, is scheduled to take on countryman Matteo Berrettini, seeded fourth, on Friday.
   Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, playing his first match since getting defaulted from the U.S. Open on Sept. 6, outclassed Italian wild card Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-2.
   Djokovic, a four-time Italian Open champion, next will meet fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato.
   Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, playing his first official match since winning Acapulco in February, overwhelmed Spanish countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, a U.S. Open semifinalist, 6-1, 6-1 in 73 minutes. 
   Nadal, seeking his third consecutive Rome title and 10th overall, will play the winner of Thursday's match between 13th-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia.
   Both sixth seeds lost today. Marin Cilic, an Italian Open semifinalist in 2018 and a two-time Rome quarterfinalist, routed Goffin 6-2, 6-2. Qualifier Danka Kovinic of Montenegro dominated Belinda Bencic, playing her first match since February, 6-3, 6-1.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep, a two-time Italian Open runner-up, beat Italian wild card Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-4 for her 10th straight victory and 15th in her last 16 matches.
   In a matchup of former world No. 1s and Bank of the West Classic champions at Stanford, Victoria Azarenka eliminated 40-year-old Venus Williams 7-6 (7), 6-2.
   Azarenka has won 13 of her last 14 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Williams lost in the first round for the third consecutive tournament and fell to 1-7 this year. Her only victory is over Azarenka in the opening round in Lexington last month.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Musetti, 18, stuns Stan in first round of Italian Open

Stan Wawrinka, 35, had two operations
on his left knee in August 2017. File
photo by Paul Bauman 
   Lorenzo Musetti's first tour-level victory was a big one.
   The 18-year-old Italian qualifier stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, 6-0, 7-6 (2) today in the opening round of the Italian Open in Rome.
   "When I was young, I used to come see champions like Rafa, Federer, Wawrinka," the 249th-ranked Musetti told reporters. " ... I think it's a dream that comes true. I'm still not believing what I did tonight."
   Musetti had played only one tour-level match, losing to then-No. 14 Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-4 in the first round at Dubai in February as a qualifier.
   Musetti, formerly ranked No. 1 in the juniors, won the 2019 Australian Open boys singles title by edging American Emilio Nava 14-12 in a third-set tiebreaker.
   Unlike Italy's eight top-100 men, Musetti has a one-handed backhand.
   "This kid's backhand is incredible!" commentator and former world No. 1 Jim Courier crowed during Tennis Channel's broadcast.
   Wawrinka, 35, won a Challenger in Prague last month. He reached the Italian Open final in 2008 (losing to Novak Djokovic) and semifinals in 2015 and underwent two operations on his left knee in August 2017.
   Musetti is scheduled to face Kei Nishikori, 30, of Japan on Thursday. Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 7-6 (3) on Monday for his first win since Flushing Meadows in 2019. He had right elbow surgery last October.
   Another qualifier, Pedro Martinez of Spain, beat Sam Querrey, a 32-year-old San Francisco native, 6-3, 7-6 (3) today. Querrey, the Italian Open doubles champion in 2011 and runner-up in 2010 with John Isner, is 0-3 since advancing to the third round of the Australian Open in January.
   In a women's matchup of Grand Slam singles champions, ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain outplayed Sloane Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno, Calif., product, 6-3, 6-3. 
   Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017. Stephens captured the U.S. Open in 2017 and reached the Roland Garros final in 2018, losing to Simona Halep.
   Muguruza will play 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff, who defeated Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-4, 6-3. Gauff rebounded from two consecutive opening-round losses in New York, including the U.S. Open, to win her first tour-level main-draw match on clay. 
   Jabeur, the 2011 French Open girls singles champion, reached her first Grand Slam women's quarterfinal in the Australian Open in January.
   Wawrinka wasn't the only three-time Grand Slam singles champ who lost in the first round. Angelique Kerber, seeded 15th, fell to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1 in 68 minutes. 
   Siniakova, formerly ranked No. 1 in doubles, ended a five-match losing streak at the WTA main-draw level dating to Dubai in February and defeated Kerber, the champion of the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, for the first time in four career meetings.
   Clay is Kerber's worst surface, which is odd because defense is her biggest strength. She has won every Grand Slam tournament except the French Open, in which she is a two-time quarterfinalist.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Thiem pulls off historic comeback for U.S. Open title

Dominic Thiem hosts the trophy at the 2019 BNP Paribas
Open in Indian Wells, Calif. In the background are runner-
up Roger Federer, left, and tournament director Tommy
Haas. Photo by Mal Taam
   For two-plus sets in today's U.S. Open men's final, Alexander Zverev dominated Dominic Thiem.
   Zverev, the underdog, looked relaxed while Thiem was clearly nervous as both players tried to seize a golden opportunity to win their first Grand Slam title.
   Suddenly, much like Naomi Osaka in Saturday's women's final, Thiem calmed down. He gradually clawed his way back into the match, which culminated in a dramatic fifth-set tiebreaker. 
   Experience ultimately prevailed, as it usually does, as Thiem triumphed 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in 4 hours, 1 minute despite suffering leg cramps late in the fifth set at nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. No fans were allowed at the tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
   Both players served for the match before the decisive tiebreaker. With the second-seeded Thiem serving at 4-5 in the fifth set, the fifth-seeded Zverev twice was two points from victory.
   "Somehow, the belief today was stronger than the body, and I'm super happy about that," Thiem told reporters.
  It was the first time since Pancho Gonzales in 1949 that a player came back from a two-set deficit to win the U.S. championships and only the second Grand Slam final decided by a fifth-set tiebreaker. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 13-12 (3) in the fifth set at Wimbledon last year, when the tournament instituted a final-set tiebreaker at 12-12.
   Thiem, 27, became the first new Grand Slam singles champion since Marin Cilic of Croatia in the 2014 U.S. Open and joined Thomas Muster (1995 French Open) as the only Austrian men to win a major singles title.
   Thiem had been 0-3 in major singles finals, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open and Djokovic in this year's Australian Open
   Neither Nadal (coronavirus concerns), the 2019 U.S. Open champion, nor Federer (two arthroscopic surgeries on his right knee this year) played in this year's tournament. Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   Federer, 39, owns a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal, 34, ranks second with 19, and Djokovic, 33, is third with 17. 
   Zverev, the son of former pro Alexander Zverev Sr. from Russia and younger brother of pro Mischa Zverev, played in his first major final. The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Hamburg native was bidding to become the first German to win the U.S. Open since Boris Becker in 1989 and the tallest Grand Slam singles champion along with Cilic.
   "I was a few games away, a few points away," said Zverev, who rallied from two sets down to beat Carreno Busta in the semifinals. "I'm 23 years old. I don't think it's my last chance."
   Zverev's shaky second serve proved critical in his loss. He broke serve to lead 2-1 in the third set, but Thiem broke right back as Zverev committed two of his 15 double faults. 
   Thiem scored the only break of the fourth set to lead 5-3 as Zverev double-faulted and netted a forehand on the last two points of the game.
   In the fifth set, Zverev and Thiem served for the match at 5-3 and 6-5, respectively. Zverev led 2-0 in the tiebreaker, but Thiem leveled at 2-2 on a double fault. Zverev double-faulted again for 3-5 but saved two championship points to pull even at 6-6. 
   Thiem earned a third championship point at 7-6 with a forehand passing shot down the line as Zverev charged the net. Zverev then slugged a cross-court backhand wide to end the suspense.
   Thiem, who earned $3 million, will remain No. 3 in Monday's new world rankings. Zverev, who received $1.5 million, will stay at No. 7.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Osaka overcomes poor start, vanquishes Vika for title

Naomi Osaka, shown at 16 in 2014, became the first
woman to win the U.S. Open after dropping the open-
ing set since 1994. Photo by Paul Bauman
   This time, there was no controversy, crying or crowd.
   There was, however, a comeback.
   In a matchup of former world No. 1s and two-time Grand Slam singles champions, Naomi Osaka overcame a terrible start to defeat resurgent Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in today's U.S. Open final in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Osaka, 22, became the first woman to win the tournament after dropping the opening set since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat Steffi Graf 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in 1994. It was Osaka's second U.S. Open title in three years and third major crown overall.
   Two years ago, Osaka defeated heavily favored Serena Williams in a tumultuous final at Flushing Meadows for her first Grand Slam title. Williams was assessed a game penalty late in the match for her third code violation. During the awards ceremony, tears rolled down Osaka's cheeks as the pro-Williams crowd booed. 
   With no fans allowed at 23,770-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth-seeded Osaka trailed the unseeded Azarenka 0-2 in the second set before finding the range on her powerful serve and groundstrokes. After hitting only five winners and committing 13 unforced errors in the opening set, Osaka had 29 and 13, respectively, the rest of the way. 
   "I thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour, so I just (told myself I) have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude," Osaka, who made her WTA main-draw debut at 16 in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, said during the awards ceremony.
   Osaka led 4-1 in the third set, but Azarenka won the next two games to get back on serve. Osaka broke right back and held serve for the match, converting her second championship point when Azarenka netted a backhand after another in a long line of furious rallies.
   Osaka improved to 3-0 in Grand Slam finals after failing to reach the quarterfinals in four consecutive majors. She also ended Azarenka's winning streak at 12 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open two weeks ago in Flushing Meadows.
Victoria Azarenka played in her first major singles
final in seven years. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Azarenka, 31, played in her first major singles final since losing to Williams in three sets in the U.S. Open title match for the second consecutive time in 2013.
   "I thought third time was the charm, but I guess I'll have to try again," the two-time Australian Open champion, who ousted six-time U.S. Open winner Williams in the semifinals (by the same score as in the final), said during the awards ceremony.
   After 2013, Azarenka struggled with injuries and depression. She played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute that ultimately was ruled in her favor, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017. Azarenka then went 0-3 from August 2019 until last month's Western & Southern Open.
   Osaka, who will vault six places in the world rankings to No. 3 on Monday, collected $3 million for winning the title. Forbes magazine reported in May that the Japanese icon is the highest-paid female athlete ever with $37.4 million in endorsements and prize money in the preceding 12 months.
   Azarenka, who will jump 13 spots to No. 14, pocketed $1.5 million as the runner-up.  
   Both finalists played with social or political issues in the back of their minds. 
   Osaka — who has a Haitian father, was born in her mother's native Japan and grew up in Florida — has been a prominent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. She wore a mask showing the name of a different victim of racial violence for each of her post-match interviews during the U.S. Open. Osaka also sparked a one-day postponement of the Western & Southern Open to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. 
   "I just want people to have more knowledge," Osaka said on time.com. "I feel like the platform that I have right now is something that I used to take for granted, and I just feel like I should be using it for something."
   Azarenka's native Belarus, meanwhile, has been rocked by mass protests against autocratic President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994. He has brutally suppressed demonstrations since claiming a landslide victory in the Aug. 9 election, The New York Times reported.
   "That's breaking my heart to see what's happening, because not being able to be there and understand the whole situation, it's really sad," Azarenka, who lives in Manhattan Beach in the Los Angeles area, reportedly said last month. "I can't even speak without tears in my eyes when I think about it."
   Serena out of Italian Open — Williams withdrew from next week's Italian Open in Rome, citing a strained Achilles tendon. She suffered the injury early in the third set of her loss to Azarenka on Thursday.
   The French Open is scheduled for Sept. 27 to Oct. 11 in Paris. Williams — the Roland Garros champion in 2002, 2013 and 2015 — remains one Grand Slam singles title short of Margaret Court's record of 24.

Friday, September 11, 2020

After big comeback, Zverev will take on Thiem for title

Alexander Zverev won for the first time after trailing two sets
to none. 2016 photo by Paul Bauman
   Alexander Zverev's demons were returning.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) German climbed to No. 3 at age 20 in 2017 but, feeling the pressure of great expectations, underachieved in Grand Slam tournaments until this year.
   He came out flat today in his second consecutive major semifinal and quickly trailed two sets to none in the U.S. Open.
   Suddenly, the fifth-seeded Zverev found his explosive game and topped 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first Grand Slam final. Zverev will play second-seeded Dominic Thiem on Sunday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN). 
   Zverev, now ranked seventh, scored the only break of the fifth set in the opening game to become the first German man to reach the U.S. Open final since Michael Stich lost to Andre Agassi in 1994.
   "I was actually looking at the scoreboard when I was down to sets to love," the 23-year-old Zverev, who have never come back from that deficit, said in an on-court interview. "I was like, I can't believe it. I'm playing in a (Grand Slam) semifinal where I'm supposed to be the favorite, and I'm down two sets to love, and I have no chance. I'm playing that bad. I knew I had to come up with better tennis and be more stable.
   "The conditions today were completely different. ... The ball wasn't as fast, so my serve wasn't as effective. But I'm through to my first Grand Slam final, and that's all that matters."
   Zverev still blasted 24 aces, 20 more than the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Carreno Busta, in the 3-hour, 23-minute match.
   Carreno Busta, who also was seeking his first Grand Slam final, took a medical timeout for a hip problem after the fourth set but didn't appear inhibited. He had advanced to the quarterfinals when top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   Thiem overcame an Achilles tendon injury to beat third-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, was rattled by a non-call in the first set and led by a service break in the second and third sets.
   Thiem is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open and Djokovic in this year's Australian Open.
   Thiem, a 27-year-old Austrian, leads Zverev 7-2 (3-1 on hardcourts) in the head-to-head series. Thiem won the last meeting 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in the Australian Open semifinals in January.
   Women's singles final — Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka, 22, of Japan will meet unseeded Victoria Azarenka, 31, of Belarus on Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN) in a matchup of former world No. 1s and two-time Grand Slam singles champions.
   Osaka, who made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, is 2-1 against Azarenka, who won the Stanford title 10 years ago. But both of Osaka's victories came on clay. Azarenka routed Osaka 6-1, 6-1 in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open in their first meeting, but Osaka was only 18 at the time.
   Osaka won consecutive Grand Slam titles in the 2018 U.S. Open, shocking Serena Williams in a tumultuous final, and 2019 Australian Open.
   Azarenka will play in her first major final since winning her second straight Australian Open title in 2013. She extended her winning streak to 12 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, after going 0-3 since August 2019. 
   Azarenka played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017.
   Women's doubles final — Playing in their first tournament together, unseeded Laura Siegemund of Germany and Vera Zvonareva of Russia beat third-seeded Nicole Melichar of the United States and Yifan Xu of China 6-4, 6-4.
   Siegemund, 32, and Zvonareva, a 36-year-old mother, also knocked off seventh-seeded Azarenka and Sofia Kenin in the second round and second-seeded Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka, the defending champions, in the quarterfinals.
   Melichar, 27, and Xu, a 32-year-old left-hander, did not play a seeded team in the tournament.
   Zvonareva earned her third major women's doubles crown and first since the 2012 Australian Open with compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova. Zvonareva, a two-time runner-up in women's doubles at Stanford (2005 and 2008), also won the 2006 U.S. Open with Nathalie Dechy of France.
   Zvonareva, formerly ranked No. 2 in singles, also owns two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, including the 2004 U.S. Open with ex-Stanford All-American Bob Bryan.
   Siegemund played in her first major women's doubles final but won the U.S. Open mixed doubles crown of Mate Pavic of Croatia in 2016. Pavic captured the men's doubles title at Flushing Meadows with Bruno Soares of Brazil on Thursday.
   Melichar and Xu each fell to 0-2 in Grand Slam women's doubles finals. They were the Wimbledon runners-up in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with other partners. 
   Xu and Melichar won the doubles title at Stanford in 2015 and San Jose, Calif., last year, respectively, with other partners.
   Siegemund and Zvonareva split $400,000 for today's victory, and Melichar and Xu shared $240,000.
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