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  • Back From Covid & 6 Straight Losses, Opelka Strikes It Big In Rome
    el día 14 mayo, 2021 a las 1:55 am

    Reilly Opelka has shown great form at this week’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia, reaching his second ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final without dropping a set. On Thursday, he ousted red-hot Russian Aslan Karatsev, who defeated World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the second round. Nobody would have expected such a run if they knew the 23-year-old arrived in Rome on a six-match losing streak, carrying a 2-7 record on the season. The big-serving right-hander is one of the most dangerous players on the ATP Tour, but despite playing some good matches early in his slump, he slowly began to lose confidence. Following the Miami Open presented by Itau, where he suffered his fifth consecutive loss, things got worse when after the tournament Opelka contracted COVID-19. He had four days of bad symptoms, the most significant of which was “really bad heartburn”. “It was keeping me up at night and I was shivering. The heartburn would get bad whenever I would lay down or even sit down. I literally spent the entire first night in my backyard doing laps around my pool in sweatpants and it was super hot out,” Opelka said. “I had to walk in order for the heartburn not to be there. It was there for two or three days and I had only had heartburn once or twice before… It was really weird and then I was throwing up and then I did have a really bad fever and aches and headache and stuff.” When Opelka isn’t playing his best tennis, he is eager to practise and work on his game. But when the two-time ATP Tour titlist tested positive, he had to quarantine. “It was kind of like getting kicked when you’re down,” Opelka said. “To be in a dark place with my tennis as it was after a tough loss in Miami, a bunch of tough losses, the one thing I wanted to do was get back out there and work.” Opelka went through a difficult period dealing with the virus. But the time in which he was forced to get away from his normal training routine allowed him to turn the page on his tennis struggles. “I reset completely, which I needed to do,” Opelka said. “I was able to spend some time training, I felt refreshed. [When I came back in] Madrid I was still rusty… but I’m still glad I went because it made me comfortable enough for this week. Now I feel comfortable and I have some confidence in me.” Now Opelka, who said he is “completely fine” in terms of his recovery from COVID-19, is firing on all cylinders at the Foro Italico, and he has a big opportunity to reach his first Masters 1000 semi-final against Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis. It’s not a coincidence that Opelka is playing well after a few enjoyable days in Madrid and Rome. The World No. 47 has historically enjoyed good results when he is having fun outside of tennis. Opelka won his first ATP Tour title at the 2018 New York Open, during which he would travel to Manhattan in the evenings for New York Fashion Week events. Before entering the Internazionali BNL d’Italia bubble, he got his cultural fix in. “I was practising and I went to some art museums and art galleries. I actually went with Venus Williams to the Borghese Museum and I got my arts and crafts in prior to checking into [the] Rome [bubble],” Opelka said. “In Madrid when I lost, I checked out of the bubble hotel the same night and I went to the Prado Museum, which was probably the greatest museum I’ve ever been to. This one was unreal.”   View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Reilly Opelka (@reillyopelka) As Opelka puts it, he is “a guy who’s on the go”. The 23-year-old certainly does his job and focusses on becoming the best tennis player he can be. But during non-COVID times, it is rare to find him simply hanging out in his hotel room. Two years ago in Basel, Opelka was set to play Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarter-finals. But a musician friend from Florida, Blackbear, was performing at a concert an hour and a half away. The American went to the concert, but there were no taxis back to Basel at the late hour. He stayed in a local hotel overnight, woke up, had breakfast, returned to Basel, where he defeated Bautista Agut in three sets. “There have been some matches where I think most guys would stress out about some situations I’ve put myself in,” Opelka said. “I’ve been in some restaurants before big matches with a course-tasting menu with some weird food on it, just trying different things that I probably shouldn’t do before a match. I don’t normally do it. But I don’t really stress that stuff. “It’s not a weekly occurrence. I’m not a partier, I’m not drinking. I’m going to enjoy [life], and I don’t sleep much as it is.” That isn’t by choice. Opelka generally doesn’t get much sleep, which is something he is working on. The 23-year-old wears a sleep ring at night to track it. “I can stay in my hotel room and have no plans and I won’t fall asleep before 1 a.m., no chance. It’s just how I’m wired,” Opelka said. “I’ll wake up at 6, no alarm, wide awake. Last night I was first on at 10 a.m. so I had to get up at 6. I wear an Oura ring to track my sleep because my sleep is really bad… but last night I slept 56 minutes.” How did Opelka respond? He defeated Karatsev, the breakthrough star of 2021, in straight sets. Not bad for a player who began this event with a 2-10 tour-level record on clay. “I actually love clay. I think I should be extremely dangerous on it, depending on getting the right conditions. I grew up on it and my run in 2018 was pretty good,” said Opelka, who won the Bordeaux Challenger on clay that year. “I think I have a lot of potential to be dangerous on clay, similar to Isner.” Opelka gives a lot of credit for his success to his team, led by coaches Jay Berger and Jean-Yves Aubone. According to the American, Berger “changed my view on the sport completely. He’s made me a total student of the game, a total fan of the game. It’s not a job for me. I love being home when I’m training. “I think if a lot of guys lost six first rounds in a row, they would consider rearranging things,” Opelka said. “That never even crossed my mind. If anyone suggested anything like that, it wouldn’t even be an option.” Now Opelka can put his recent tennis and health struggles behind him and focus on his chance to reach the Rome semi-finals. But don’t be surprised when you see that he is not tense at all on the court Friday. “I want to win a Grand Slam. Am I there yet? No. These are just areas for me to keep learning, keep getting better and I want to get my ranking up to a point where I can hopefully be seeded at the Slams,” Opelka said. “Obviously these tournaments matter for me, but I’m not going to be playing my best tennis until 2024, 2025.”

  • Splitsville: Why Doubles Break Ups Can Be Smart To Do
    el día 14 mayo, 2021 a las 1:29 am

    Two new high-profile doubles teams this season were Marcelo Melo/Jean-Julien Rojer and Wesley Koolhof/Lukasz Kubot. Those four have combined to win 98 tour-level doubles titles. Koolhof lifted last year’s Nitto ATP Finals trophy alongside Nikola Metic and the other three stars have each won multiple Grand Slam crowns. But it is just five months into the year, and both teams have decided to go their separate ways. Kubot and Melo, former longtime partners who split at the end of 2020, will rejoin forces, and the all-Dutch team of Koolhof and Rojer will compete together. Why didn’t things work out? According to Melo, sometimes new duos simply don’t click, no matter previous success. “The main reason of course was the results. We did not get the results that we expected, even though we were losing matches in the Match Tie-break many times,” Melo said. “But at one point we need to make some changes.” Melo and Rojer first played each other at an ATP Challenger Tour event in 2005, and they have been good friends for years. But despite the success they’ve had with other partners for years, they tallied just a 2-8 record together. They tried switching return positions, and making any adjustments they could, but the wins never came. “It’s tough to point exactly what the problem was. Of course me and Jules, we wanted badly to work it out because we’ve been friends for a long time already. But sometimes, it does not click,” Melo admitted. “The friendship normally helps to find the problem [so you can] keep going. But we want to win so badly, it could cause anxiety a little bit more. Then you need to control this, because you really want to make it happen. We tried everything.”  It was a similar situation for Koolhof and Kubot. Koolhof learned just a few days before the start of last year’s Nitto ATP Finals that Mektic would be moving forward with fellow Croatian Mate Pavic. The Dutchman thought teaming with Kubot would work out well. “We were not really playing badly or practising badly, but the feeling wasn’t really there and the click wasn’t there,” Koolhof admitted. “You have to be realistic at the end of the day and tell each other for the moment it’s not going to work.” The one benefit Kubot and Melo have is that they competed in the past four Nitto ATP Finals together, which should make getting back together relatively seamless. “Of course this is nice, because for sure we are going to try to do as best we can. We still believe a lot in each other,” Melo said. “The main reason we split was because we were playing for four years, so maybe we’ll come back with a fresh mind, which could make things better.” Like Melo and Rojer, there was no bickering or drama for Koolhof and Kubot. But at 8-8 this year, they struggled to break through. Both teams decided to split after Barcelona, and it was almost by coincidence that they were immediately able to find a full-time partner. For Koolhof, Rojer was someone he looked up to for years at the No. 1 Dutch doubles player. They are into this week’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals. “Jules is a little bit from the Spanish mentality, which I like. He’s very open to everything, he’s a hard worker, a good mentality, fire and spirit. He has a little bit of a different game style from Kubi. Also like Mektic, a bit different. But everyone has their qualities,” Koolhof said. “I think I fit good next to him. I moved to the ad side on return for the moment, which is also a little bit new for me. I’m enjoying it. The team spirit is there. So far everything is going very good.” It has been an unusual six months for Koolhof, who is onto his third partner during that span. Mektic, with whom he triumphed at The O2 in London last year, has won five titles this season with Pavic, including two ATP Masters 1000 victories. “To be honest I would be more upset if they did not do well. But it just shows that Mektic made the right call. I know we could have also been there together, but there are no hard feelings, no regrets or anything that he chose Mate and that they are doing well,” Koolhof said. “Happy for them and happy for Mektic that he is doing well… It just proved that he made the right choice.”

  • Roman Feast Friday: Djokovic v Tsitsipas, Nadal v Zverev
    el día 13 mayo, 2021 a las 11:03 pm

    The last time Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas met on a tennis court, the pair battled for almost four hours in a classic Roland Garros semi-final. On that occasion, Djokovic dropped a two-set lead but regained his composure in the decider to reach his fifth Roland Garros final with a 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 win. The pair will be prepared for another intense clash on Friday, when they meet on Centre Court at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. “[Djokovic] has won here a lot of times. I am just expecting to go out there [and] give my best performance,” Tsitsipas said. “He can play on all surfaces. We played each other at Roland Garros. I see this as an opportunity for me to do something better this time. I hope to be able to play the same tennis that I have been playing so far and be a challenge for him.” “Tomorrow is going to be a huge challenge for me,” Djokovic said. “I’m going to be ready for it. I’ve been practising well and feeling good. I’ll make sure I prepare myself well for the next match.” [WATCH LIVE 1] Tsitsipas enters his seventh ATP Head2Head contest with the 36-time ATP Masters 1000 champion (Djokovic leads 4-2) in peak form. The Greek has compiled a 12-2 record on clay this season, highlighted by his run to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title (d. Rublev), and has claimed straight-sets wins against former World No. 3 Marin Cilic and Madrid runner-up Matteo Berrettini. Djokovic has shown signs of his best level in Rome after starting his European clay swing with three wins from five matches across Monte-Carlo and Belgrade. The top seed, who is chasing his sixth title in the Italian capital, is competing in his 15th straight Rome quarter-final (2007-’21). While the Top 5 stars will be both be focussed on securing a place in the final four in Rome, they may also have another Italian city on their minds: Turin. Tsitsipas is currently in pole position to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, which will be held in the north Italian city for the first time in 2021. Djokovic, who is 610 points behind the Greek in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin, can leapfrog Tsitsipas in the Race if he lifts the trophy on Sunday. Tsitsipas is aiming to become the first player to defeat Djokovic before the semi-finals in Rome since Tomas Berdych in 2013. The World No. 5 has already proven he can beat the six-time year-end World No. 1 on hard courts, with wins at the 2018 National Bank Open Presented by Rogers and the 2019 Rolex Shanghai Masters, but can he take the next step on the dirt? Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal are set for a blockbuster rematch of last week’s Madrid quarter-final, with the German looking for a fourth consecutive victory over the nine-time Rome champion. Both men rallied from a set down Thursday, with Zverev ousting Kei Nishikori and Nadal saving two match points to deny Denis Shapovalov. Zverev, a champion himself in 2017 at the Foro Italico, expects a different kind of battle than the one played at altitude in Madrid. «I think there’s a big difference [in the conditions]. I think there’s also a difference in our physical state. I think last week and now this match for me is going to come together tomorrow, but I’m going to give it my best,» Zverev told «At the end of the day, he’s one of the biggest competitors in the world and I’m going to try to be one myself tomorrow.» Zverev, who has not dropped a set during his current three-match winning streak against the Spaniard, said he relished the challenge. «I enjoy playing against the best players in the world. That’s what you’re here for. That’s what you play tennis for,» Zverev said. «You want to be the best and you want to play against the best. It’s going to be a tough challenge, it’s going to be a tough battle, but I’m also looking forward to it.» With the exception of last season when Monte-Carlo and Madrid were not played due to the pandemic, Nadal has never failed to reach the final of at least one of the three clay-court Masters 1000 finals since his breakout year in 2005. And 2015 was the only non-pandemic year in which he failed to win at least one of the three titles. The lefty won a 12th title in Barcelona last month and is looking this week to make Rome the fourth tournament he was won 10 or more times (also Roland Garros 13 and Monte-Carlo 11). Andrey Rublev, who will become the new leader of the FedEx ATP Race To Turin should he win his first Masters 1000 title this week, will take a 1-0 ATP Head2Head record against Lorenzo Sonego into their quarter-final meeting, having defeated the Italian 6-4, 6-4 en route to the Vienna title last year. The Russian is tied with Race leader Stefanos Tsitsipas for most wins on Tour this year (29) and would meet the Greek in the semi-finals should both win Friday. Sonego upset two-time Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem under lights Thursday night, in a three-hour 24-minute marathon. “It’s amazing, an unbelievably emotional moment for me because I’m in Rome, in my Italy with fans for two sets,» Sonego said in his on-court interview. The 26-year-old is chasing his first Masters 1000 semi-final and has his eyes set on rising from No. 33 to top his career-best FedEx ATP Ranking of 28. There is also a big opportunity for Reilly Opelka and Federico Delbonis to break new ground in Rome. The unseeded stars, who are both bidding to reach their first Masters 1000 semi-final. Opelka entered the tournament on a six-match losing streak, but he has claimed straight-sets wins against 2011 semi-finalist Richard Gasquet, #NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti and red-hot Russian Aslan Karatsev. Delbonis has made it through a tough section of the draw to reach his first Masters 1000 quarter-final. The Argentine qualifier has already claimed five wins in Rome, including main draw victories against Karen Khachanov, 12th seed David Goffin and #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. ORDER OF PLAY – FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021 CENTER COURT start 10:00 am WTA – P. Martic (CRO) vs J. Pegula (USA) Not Before 12:00 noon ATP – [6] A. Zverev (GER) vs [2] R. Nadal (ESP)  ATP – [1] N. Djokovic (SRB) vs [5] S. Tsitsipas (GRE)  Not Before 6.00PM WTA – [15] I. Swiatek (POL) vs [5] E. Svitolina (UKR) GRAND STAND ARENA start 10:00 am ATP – [Q] F. Delbonis (ARG) vs R. Opelka (USA)  Not Before 12.00PM WTA – [9] K. Pliskova (CZE) vs J. Ostapenko (LAT) WTA – [1] A. Barty (AUS) vs C. Gauff (USA) Not Before 7:00 pm ATP – L. Sonego (ITA) vs [7] A. Rublev (RUS)  PIETRANGELI start 10:00 am ATP – [Alt] M. Arevalo (ESA) / M. Middelkoop (NED) vs [7] W. Koolhof (NED) / J. Rojer (NED)  ATP – A. Mannarino (FRA) / B. Paire (FRA) vs [2] N. Mektic (CRO) / M. Pavic (CRO)  ATP – [8] K. Krawietz (GER) / H. Tecau (ROU) vs J. Peers (AUS) / M. Venus (NZL)  ATP – [4] M. Granollers (ESP) / H. Zeballos (ARG) vs [5] R. Ram (USA) / J. Salisbury (GBR)  COURT 1 start 10:00 am WTA – [4] S. Aoyama (JPN) / E. Shibahara (JPN) vs [6] H. Chan (TPE) / L. Chan (TPE) WTA – [OSE] K. Mladenovic (FRA) / M. Vondrousova (CZE) vs [2] B. Krejcikova (CZE) / K. Siniakova (CZE) WTA – [WC] I. Begu (ROU) / S. Errani (ITA) vs [ND] E. Vesnina (RUS) / V. Zvonareva (RUS) After Suitable Rest WTA – [ALT] S. Fichman (CAN) / G. Olmos (MEX) vs C. Gauff (USA) / V. Kudermetova (RUS)

  • Sensational Sonego Stuns Thiem In 3-Hour, 24-Minute Marathon
    el día 13 mayo, 2021 a las 9:12 pm

    The rise of Italian tennis has been a major talking point in the tennis world in recent months, with Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini leading their country to the ATP Cup final and #NextGenATP stars Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti rapidly rising in the FedEx ATP Rankings. But outside of Italy, Lorenzo Sonego has not been spoken about as often. On Thursday evening, the 26-year-old showed why he should be part of the conversation, upsetting fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(5) to reach the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. “It’s amazing, an unbelievably emotional moment for me because I’m in Rome, in my Italy with fans for two sets,» Sonego said in his on-court interview. «I’m so happy for this victory, for this match. Thiem is with Nadal the best player on clay.” Sonego entered the match 1-6 against Top 10 opponents, with his lone victory coming in straight sets last year against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Vienna. However, the home favourite looked full of belief at the Foro Italico, eliminating the reigning US Open champion after a marathon that lasted three hours and 24 minutes. Thiem had won their only previous ATP Head2Head encounter 6-3, 7-6(6) two years ago in Kitzbuhel, and he served for the match in the third set in the last match of the evening inside Grand Stand Arena. But Sonego is now playing some of the best tennis of his career, and he showed commendable grit to reach his second ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final. The two-time ATP Tour titlist made the last eight in Monte-Carlo two years ago. [WATCH LIVE 1] Thiem showed his champion’s mettle, producing stunning shotmaking to get through the second-set tie-break, just like he did against Marton Fucsovics in the second round. At times, the Austrian’s one-handed backhand up the line dominated the match. But after a 22-minute delay to clear fans out of Grand Stand Arena due to curfew, Sonego came out firing in the third set to take a 2-0 lead. “It’s not easy to play two sets with fans and one more set with no fans,» Sonego said. «But I had my team and they supported me always. I’m happy.” Thiem, who reached the Rome semi-finals in 2017, remained solid to rally and earn a chance to serve for the quarter-finals at 5-4. But Sonego did not go away. The Italian fought until the end and showed more consistency to set a clash against seventh seed Andrey Rublev. Entering the week, Sonego had just a 2-4 record in Rome. This was his third win of the week.

  • Rublev Grinds Down Bautista Agut To Reach Quarter-Finals
    el día 13 mayo, 2021 a las 8:25 pm

    Seventh seed Andrey Rublev closed out the action on Pietrangeli with a hard-fought 6-4, 6-4 victory over 10th seed Roberto Bautista Agut on Thursday to reach his first quarter-final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. It was the pair’s third meeting of the season, with Bautista Agut ending Rublev’s nine-match winning streak at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha and the Russian gaining his revenge en route to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final a few weeks later. At the Foro Italico, the Russian fired 23 winners to Bautista Agut’s 12 (including five aces) to improve his ATP Head2Head record against the Spaniard to 3-3 and claim a tour-leading 29th victory (tied with Tsitsipas) of the year. Into his seventh quarter-final of the season – and his first in Rome – Rublev awaits the winner of fourth seed Dominic Thiem and home favourite Lorenzo Sonego. Rublev got off to an early break in both sets, but the 10th-seeded Spaniard never let him race too far ahead. He met Rublev blow-for-blow at the baseline, and honed in on his vulnerable second serves to get a break back for 4-2 in the opening set, and saved four more break points to get within a game of levelling the score. But Rublev slammed the door shut with a series of forehand winners late in the set to maintain his one-break lead and close out the opening set. [WATCH LIVE 1] With night falling in Rome  – and the Eternal City’s 10pm curfew rapidly approaching – Rublev and Bautista Agut remained locked in battle with one break apiece in the second set as fans cleared out of Pietrangeli. After the brief delay, it was Rublev who refocussed first, quickly breaking to 30 at 5-4 before closing out the victory in an hour and 29 minutes. Doha finalist Bautista Agut was bidding to reach his first clay-court quarter-final of the year, and had won three of his last four matches against the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings coming into the match.

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