Tag: Lorenzo Sonego

ATP 250 wraps: Humbert saves match points as Popyrin win ensures all-Australian quarter final

THERE were some huge results across the ATP Tour’s three tournaments played in France, Argentina and Singapore, as we wrap up the day’s action below.

Ugo Humbert overcame multiple match points to put away Dutch qualifier Tallon Griekspoor in a thrilling match of the day in the Open Sud de France at Monypellier. In three nail-biting tiebreakers, Humbert lost the first one 7-4, then backed up with 7-5 and 7-5 in the final two tiebreakers, but it was Humbert’s fighting spirit looking down and out midway through the second set that shone through. The Frenchman was 7-6 5-2 down and had to fight off three match points in the ninth game to fight off the 160th ranked Griekspoor.

In a match that lasted two hours and 50 minutes, Humbert served one more ace (10-9) and two less double faults (2-4) as well as a superior 83 to 74 per cent first serve points success rate. In the end just seven points separated the players, with Humbert converting one of two break points in that second set, and saving eight of nine in a terrific defensive effort throughout the match.

“It was tough today. [Griekspoor] played at a great level,” Humbert said post-match. “I tried to stay combative. It was tough. [We played] three tie-breaks and I am super happy to win this match.”

Also having a fight on his hands, second seed Belgian David Goffin survived a thriller against French wildcard Benjamin Bonzi. Goffin has not been in the greatest form of late, but showed equal fighting spirit to come from a set down to win in three. The Belgian crucially broke the Frenchman in the eleventh game of the deciding set to successfully serve for the match, 4-6 6-4 7-5 after saving a break point in the final game.

Seventh seed Lorenzo Sonego made his way into the quarter finals with a straight sets win over American Sebastian Korda. The Italian had an easier time of it than his fellow seeds, getting up 6-3 6-2 to book his spot in the final eight.

Meanwhile in other results, the remaining three Round of 32 matches were completed with a couple of upsets. Slovenian Aljaz Bedene upset Italian young gun Jannik Sinner in a come-from-behind win 6-7 7-6 7-6, and French qualifier Gregoire Barrere set Georgian Top 40 talent Nikoloz Basilashvili packing in straight sets, 6-4 6-4. In the other first round match, Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina had to navigate three sets to knock off compatriot and qualifier, Berabe Zapata Miralles 7-6 5-7 6-2.

OPEN SUD DE FRANCE ROUND OF 16:

[6] Ugo Humbert (FRA) defeated [Q] Tallon Griekspoor (NED) 6-7 7-6 7-6
[7] Lorenzo Sonego (ITA) defeated Sebastian Korda (USA) 6-3 6-2
[2] David Goffin (BEL) defeated [WC] Benjamin Bonzi (FRA) 4-6 6-4 7-5

OPEN SUD DE FRANCE ROUND OF 32:

Aljaz Bedene (SLO) defeated [5] Jannik Sinner (ITA) 3-6 6-2 7-6
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ESP) defeated [Q] Berabe Zapata Miralles (ESP) 7-6 5-7 6-2
[Q] Gregoire Barrere (FRA) defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) 6-4 6-4

 

The first four players are through to the quarter finals in Singapore, with three seeds joining Australian Alexei Popyrin in the final eight. Thanks to Popyrin winning, it has guaranteed an Australian will make the semi-finals, with the other two remaining Aussies – second seed John Millman and wildcard Matthew Ebden – facing off later today to take on Popyrin in the quarter finals.

Popyrin fought hard to overcome Bulgarian wildcard Adrian Andreev, 6-1 5-7 6-3 to book his spot in the quarter finals. Also making their way into the last eight were a trio of seeds, with the third, fourth and fifth seeds all winning. Third seed Marin Cilic accounted for Japan’s Taro Daniel 7-5 6-4, while fourth seed Alexander Bublik and fifth seed Yoshihito Nishioka brushed aside Turkish qualifier Altug Celikbilek and American Maxime Cressy in straight sets respectively.

The last of the Round of 32 matches were also completed yesterday, with eighth seed Soonwoo Kwon surviving a thriller against United States qualifier, Thai-Son Kwiatkowski 4-6 6-3 6-4 to move into the second round. In the other results, Ebden defeated Indian Yuli Bhambri in straight sets 6-3 7-6, while Italian Roberto Marcora earned a date with top seed Adrian Mannarino later today after taking care of Latvian Ernests Gulbis, 7-5 6-4.

SINGAPORE OPEN ROUND OF 16:

[3] Marin Cilic (CRO) defeated Taro Daniel (JPN) 7-5 6-4
[4] Alexander Bublik (KAZ) defeated [Q] Altug Celikbilek (TUR) 6-2 6-2
[5] Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) defeated Maxime Cressy (USA) 6-4 6-2
Alexei Popyrin (AUS) defeated [WC] Adrian Andreev (BUL) 6-1 5-7 6-3

SINGAPORE OPEN ROUND OF 32:

[8] Soonwoo Kwon (KOR) defeated [Q] Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (USA) 4-6 6-3 6-4
Roberto Marcora (ITA) defeated Ernests Gulbis (LAT) 7-5 6-4
[WC] Matthew Ebden (AUS) defeated [PR] Yuli Bhambri (IND) 6-3 7-6

 

There were plenty of fans who went home happy from the Cordoba Open, with six of the nine winners on the opening day coming from Argentina. The three other winners did not knock off an Argentinian either, so the maximum amount of talent from the host nation advanced through to the Round of 16, which allowed a minimum of two Argentinians to reach the quarter finals after setting up all-Argentinian Round of 16 matches.

Federico Coria caused the upset of the day, bundling out sixth seed German Dominik Koepfer in straight sets, 6-1 6-4. He advanced through to the next round to face compatriot and wildcard, Francisco Cerundolo. The 135th ranked Cerundolo upstaged Italian Gianluca Mager, coming back from a set down to win, 6-7 6-1 6-4.

Facundo Bagnis will get plenty of experience against his fellow Argentinians, having defeated wildcard Nicolas Kicker in straight sets in the first round, and will face eighth seed Federico Delbonis in the Round of 16. The qualifier defeated Kicker 6-1 6-4 to set up the Delbonis meeting, with the seed knocking off Portugal’s Pedro Sousa for the Round of 16 spot.

Another qualifier to advance through to the Round of 16 was Juan Manuel Cerundolo who toppled Brazilian young gun Thiago Seyboth Wild. Winning in two eight sets 7-5 7-6, Cerundolo will now have the tough task of taking on third seed Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic who had a bye in the opening round. Meanwhile Tomas Martin Etcheverry booked his Round of 16 spot with an upset win over Slovenia’s Andrej Martin, 6-3 7-6 and will take on Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the next match.

Other winners on the day was Thiago Monteiro who won through thanks to a straight sets victory over compatriot and lucky loser, Brazilian Joao Menezes, 6-3 6-3. Italian Marco Cecchinato advanced through to take on top seed Diego Schwartzman with a 6-2 4-6 6-1 win over Bolivian Hugo Dellien, while Robert Carballes Baena was too strong for Joao Sousa, winning 6-3 6-1 and the Spaniard will now take on Monteiro in the next round.

CORDOBA OPEN ROUND OF 32:

Federico Coria (ARG) defeated [6] Dominik Koepfer (GER) 6-1 6-4
[7] Thiago Monteiro (BRA) defeated [LL] Joao Menezes (BRA) 6-3 6-3
[8] Federico Delbonis (ARG) defeated Pedro Sousa (POR) 6-4 6-4
Marco Cecchinato (ITA) defeated Hugo Dellien (BOL) 6-2 4-6 6-1
Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP) defeated Joao Sousa (POR) 6-3 6-1
[Q] Facundo Bagnis (ARG) defeated [WC] Nicolas Kicker (ARG) 6-1 6-4
[Q] Tomas Martin Etcheverry (ARG) defeated Andrej Martin (SLO) 6-3 7-6
[WC] Francisco Cerundolo (ARG) defeated Gianluca Mager (ITA) 6-7 6-1 6-4
[Q] Juan Manuel Cerundolo (ARG) defeated Thiago Seyboth Wild (BRA) 7-5 7-6

Picture credit: ATP Tour

ATP 250s wraps: Tsonga beaten on return as Popyrin claims win in Singapore

GRAND SLAM finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made his long-awaited return to the ATP Tour at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier yesterday, though it did not go plan. The former Top 10 talent was easily beaten by American Sebastian Korda in the first round of the ATP 250 event.

The match lasted just 72 minutes with Korda claiming the spoils, 6-4 6-2, dominating on serve and only dropping eight points in total, saving both of his opponent’s break point opportunities. Tsonga was far from his best, but getting through the match was the key, still winning 69 per cent of his first serve points, and serving five aces throughout the match. He saved three of six break points, but ultimately could not do enough against a player who has built form over the past 12 months.

It was better news for sixth seed Ugo Humbert, whose rise up the ATP Rankings continues following his straight sets win over Slovakian Norbert Gombos. Humbert won 6-4 7-6 in 78 minutes, slamming home 18 aces and winning 88 per cent of his first serve points off an elite 79 per cent efficiency to never give his opponent a chance. In Gombos’ defence, he held up well, actually breaking Humbert once from two chances, while the Frenchman broke him from both his opportunities. Overall the class of Humbert stood out and he advanced to the Round of 16.

In the final match played on day one of the main draw event, seventh seed Lorenzo Sonego battled past young Frenchman Hugo Gaston. The Italian won 6-3 6-7 6-1, holding his nerve in the third set after dropping the second set tiebreaker 9-7, to win in two hours and 19 minutes. He served seven aces and broke six times from 12 chances, while only being broken three times himself.

In today’s action, there are plenty more Frenchman on show, with Lucas Pouille taking on compatriot and wildcard Benjamin Bonzi, while Gilles Simon faces Austrian Dennis Novak. The match of the day could be either British wildcard and Grand Slam winner Andy Murray taking on Belarusian Egor Gerasimov, or Swede Mikael Ymer locking horns with Jiri Vesely.

OPEN SUD DE FRANCE ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[6] Ugo Humbert (FRA) defeated Norbert Gombos (SVK) 6-4 7-6
[7] Lorenzo Sonego (ITA) defeated [WC] Hugo Gaston (FRA) 6-3 6-7 6-1
Sebastian Korda (USA) defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) 6-4 6-2

Five first round matches were completed in Singapore, with a mixed bag for the two seeds on court. Fifth seed Japanese counter puncher Yoshihito Nishioka defeated improving American Michael Mmoh 6-2 3-6 6-3, while seventh seed South African Lloyd Harris went down in three sets to Bulgarian wildcard Adrian Andreev.

Nishioka needed almost two hours to defeat Mmoh, surviving 11 aces to bring up 10 break point opportunities, albeit only taking three. It was two more than Mmoh who broke once in the second set, but could not do it again in the match. Meanwhile Andreev took two hours and 19 minutes to knock off the fast-serving Harris, not needing to serve and ace and even holding off 12 of 15 break point chances for the South African to win 1-6 6-3 6-4. The Bulgarian bounced back from a disappointing first set to post the impressive win over the developing Harris.

Andreev now takes on Australian Alexei Popyrin who knocked off American qualifier, Christopher Eubanks in two tiebreakers, 7-6 7-6, both of which were 7-5 tiebreakers. The match lasted one hour and 46 minutes, with Popyrin powering home 15 aces and saving 10 of 11 break points in a remarkable feat. He won 72 per cent of his first serve points, and also only broke Eubanks once, holding firm in the crucial tiebreakers to claim a narrow straight sets win.

In other Singapore results, United States’ Maxime Cressy became his nation’s sole winner on the day, downing Chinese Taipei’s Jason Jung in straight sets 7-6 6-2, while Japan’s Taro Daniel joined compatriot Nishioka in the second round after a tight three-set win over India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan, 6-3 6-7 6-3.

In today’s action, three Australians are out on court, with Marc Polmans up first against Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama. Following that match, qualifier John-Patrick Smith has to find a way to upstage sixth seed Macedonian Radu Albot, before James Duckworth takes to the court at night against German, Yannick Hanfmann.

SINGAPORE ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[5] Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) defeated Michael Mmoh (USA) 6-2 3-6 6-3
[WC] Adrian Andreev (BUL) defeated [7] Lloyd Harris (RSA) 1-6 6-3 6-4
Maxime Cressy (USA) defeated Jason Jung (TAI) 7-6 6-2
Taro Daniel (JPN) defeated Ramkumar Ramanathan (IND) 6-3 6-7 6-3
Alexei Popyrin (AUS) defeated [Q] Christopher Eubanks (USA) 7-6 7-6

At the time of publishing, none of the day one matches had been completed in Cordoba, with the Argentinian tournament finishing off the third round of qualifying earlier in the day. The night session featured two Round of 32 matches which will be covered in tomorrow’s wrap, with Colombian Daniel Elahi Galan facing Slovakian Jozef Kovalik, followed by Spaniard Jaume Munar taking on Chilean wildcard Nicolas Jarry.

Picture credit: ATP Tour

2021 ATP 250 previews: Montpellier, Cordoba and Singapore

THREE ATP Tour 250 events will take off immediately after the Australian Open this weekend, with a number of mid-tier talents gaining some extra match practice following disappointing exits from the Australian Open. The top ranked player across the three tournaments is Diego Schwartzman (ninth) at Cordoba, while Roberto Bautista Agut (13th) is top seed in Montpellier, and Frenchman Adrian Mannarino (36th) leads a lower-ranked field in Singapore.

CORDOBA:

Schwartzman is the standout candidate on the clay tournament and honestly he should put this one in the bank without too much trouble. His nearest rival is 29th ranked Frenchman Benoit Paire, who has opted for Spain rather than his home nation at Montpellier. Paire is in a career slump since reaching the Auckland final 13 months ago, and will struggle up against a ton of clay court regulars.

Miomir Kecmanovic and Guido Pella round out the top five, with 46th ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas the other Top 50 player in the draw. This tournament looms as one where, if Schwartzman pulls out or has a shocker, could be spread across any number of players. Thiago Monteiro is one who has been in good form, the likes of Marco Cecchinato and Juan Ignacio Londero can never be discounted on clay, and even rising Spaniard Jaume Munar is a chance.

The number one alternative at the time of publishing was Thiago Seyboth Wild who has all the talent if he can harness it, and genuinely could grab a Top 100 spot with a good run here. Spanish talents and South Americans make up the majority of the draw, with only half a dozen automatic entries from Europe, and none from the United States or Asia/Oceania.

MONTPELLIER:

Bautista Agut was aggravated at the Australian Open organisation, and now he returns to France in a reverse-Paire rather than going to his home nation in Spain. He and 15th ranked David Goffin – who both suffered disappointing shock losses at the Grand Slam – will be the clear standouts in a tournament that has the highest quality of the three by a fair way. Goffin should be the favourite still, but there are plenty in the running.

Aside from having two Top 20 players, as well as an additional two Top 30 players in Dusan Lajovic and Hubert Hurkacz, there is an abundance of youth, and returning experience that has signed up for the Montpellier event. Jannik Sinner and Ugo Humbert who are arguably the two most exciting Next Gen talents in the world are seeded, as are Lorenzo Sonego – most famously known for his upset of Novak Djokovic last year – and German Jan-Lennard Struff who ran into form at the ATP Cup.

The likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray have been named amongst the candidates to play, like fans have teleported back to the mid 2000s. Both will be returning from injury if they take to the court, amongst a host of Frenchman entered. Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Lucas Pouille are all in, with Nikoloz Basilashvili and Jiri Vesely also amongst the automatic entries.

SINGAPORE:

The weakest of the three draws by a fair margin, the lowest automatic entry comes in at 187th in the world. To be fair, it is former Top 10 player Ernests Gulbis, but the Latvian is far from his glory days of a decade ago. He still has the most titles of anyone in the draw however, with some real solid competitors, though a lack of top-end talent has to be said.

Singapore could mark a rematch between Frenchman Mannarino and Australian John Millman from last year, which saw the Australian win his first ever ATP Tour title at the Astana Open. They are the standouts for the Asian event, with Marin Cilic and Alexander Bublik rounding out the four seeds. The eighth highest ranked player is Soonwoo Kwon (97th), with fair talents Yoshihito Nishioka, Radu Albot and Lloyd Harris the other seeds.

The unseeded players have some potential, with Michael Mmoh showing good form at Melbourne Park, and Alexei Popyrin and James Duckworth always dangerous. Japanese duo Yasutaka Uchiyama and Taro Daniel join Nishioka at the event, though Mannarino and Millman are clearly the standouts to take home the ATP 250 event trophy.

Picture credit: Getty Images

Australian Open Men’s Round of 64 wrap: Tsitsipas survives epic thriller from brave Kokkinakis

A NEVER-say-die attitude from fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Australian favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis was on full display in yet another Rod Laver classic match yesterday at the Australian Open. The second round encounter had the Greek star overwhelming favourite against the talented local who has battled with injuries over the past few years, but clearly has the talent to be a top ATP Tour player.

In an unbelievable four-hour and 32-minute slog fest, Tsitsipas finally got up 6-7 6-4 6-1 6-7 6-4 but Kokkinakis lost no fans along the way – including Tsitsipas himself – having pushed the 2019 ATP Finals winner to the brink.

“I think he has a huge forehand, [a] very good serve,” Tsitsipas said of Kokkinakis’ game post-match. “All the potential is there. I really hope he stays injury-free, because it can be very frustrating. I have dealt with it, and I know it’s very difficult mentally to go through things like this. “I just wish him good health and that he can compete an entire year without any pain or anything bothering him.”

Kokkinakis had a well balanced game and out-served Tsitsipas with 23 aces to 17 and two less double faults (8-10), though the Greek star won 86 and 56 per cent of his first and second serve points compared to 72 and 46 per cent. The big factor was the break point conversions, with Tsitsipas breaking five times from 22 chances to the Australian’s zero from three. The fifth seed also hit 78 winners to 58, and 16 less unforced errors (46-62).

“[It was a] great match towards the very end, and I fought like a lion,” Tsitsipas said. “I fought like a real warrior out there, and it was an amazing ending with lots of emotion and great spirit.”

Tsitsipas will have to recover quickly to take on Swede Mikael Ymer tomorrow who took care of Spanish qualifier and wonderkid, Carlos Alcaraz after dropping the first set, 2-6 6-4 6-4 7-5. Ymer was one of just six unseeded players to advance through to the next round, with most at the expense of Australians. Macedonian Radu Albot knocked off wildcard Christopher O’Connell in straight sets, 6-2 7-5 7-6, while South Africa’s Lloyd Harris needed five sets to post a win over another wildcard in Alexei Popyrin, 6-2 1-6 6-3 6-7 6-3. After only dropping one game in his first match, Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin was brought back to earth, losing in four sets to Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie.

The only two other unseeded players to make it to the Round of 32 were those who knocked out a couple of seeds in United States’ Mackenzie McDonald and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez. McDonald knocked off 22nd seed Croatian Borna Coric 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-4, while Lopez toppled 31st seed Lorenzo Sonego 5-7 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4 coming back from two sets to love down to win in three hours and 18 minutes over the Italian out on Court 7.

It was certainly an interesting day for the Italians to say the least, with 16th seed Fabio Fognini and compatriot Salvatore Caruso going toe-for-toe over five sets on John Cain Arena, and then a little more post-match. Fognini won 4-6 6-2 2-6 6-3 7-6, including 14-12 in the deciding tiebreak, where the Top 20 player was questioning Caruso’s luck throughout the match and the supervisor had to physically separate them. Nonetheless, Fognini joined fellow ATP Cup finalist, Matteo Berrettini in the next round after his younger compatriot knocked off Czech rising qualifier, Tomas Machac in four sets.

Other winners on the day were Russian duo, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov who waltzed through in straight sets, as did the top two players on display in the night session, Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev. Alex de Minaur was the sole Australian through to the next round in that half of the draw, joining Nick Kyrgios in the third round of the men’s competition, while Casper Ruud and FIlip Krajinovic also won though after defeating their respective opponents in four sets.

Entering the third round tomorrow, there are a number of mouthwatering clashes, as Berrettini and Khachanov do battle, as do de Minaur and Fognini. Russian pair Medvedev and Rublev seem to have an easier run to a potential quarter final now with 24th seed Ruud and 28th seed Krajinovic the sole remaining seeds in that quarter of the draw.

In today’s action, all eyes will be on the all-Canadian battle between Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, as well as the blockbuster battle between third seed and last year’s runner-up Dominic Thiem taking on Australian Nick Kyrgios. Adrian Mannarino locking horns with Alexander Zverev is an underrated battle, while 27th seed Taylor Fritz will take his shot at world number one and tournament favourite Novak Djokovic.

ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) defeated [Q] Michael Mmoh (USA) 6-1 6-4 6-2
[4] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) defeated Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP) 6-2 7-5 6-1
[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) defeated [WC] Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) 6-7 6-4 6-1 6-7 6-4
[7] Andrey Rublev (RUS) defeated Thiago Monteiro (BRA) 6-4 6-4 7-6
[9] Matteo Berrettini (ITA) defeated [Q] Tomas Machac (CZE) 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-3
[16] Fabio Fognini (ITA) defeated Salvatore Caruso (ITA) 4-6 6-2 2-6 6-3 7-6
[19] Karen Khachanov (RUS) defeated Ricardas Berankis (LTU) 6-2 6-4 6-4
[21] Alex de Minaur (AUS) defeated Pablo Cuevas (URU) 6-3 6-3 7-5
[PR] Mackenzie McDonald (USA) defeated [22] Borna Coric (CRO) 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-4
[24] Casper Ruud (NOR) defeated Tommy Paul (USA) 3-6 6-2 6-4 7-5
[28] Filip Krajinovic (SRB) defeated Pablo Andujar (ESP) 6-2 5-7 6-1 6-4
Feliciano Lopez (ESP) defeated [31] Lorenzo Sonego (ITA) 5-7 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4
Radu Albot (MDA) defeated [WC] Christopher O’Connell (AUS) 6-2 7-5 7-6
Lloyd Harris (RSA) defeated [WC] Alexei Popyrin (AUS) 6-2 1-6 6-3 6-7 6-3
Mikael Ymer (SWE) defeated [Q] Carlos Alcaraz (ESP) 2-6 6-4 6-4 7-6
Cameron Norrie (GBR) leads [Q] Roman Safiullin (RUS) 3-6 7-5 6-3 7-6

Picture credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Australian Open Men’s Round of 128 wrap: Aussie upsets rule day two

IT was a memorable day for the home nation at the Australian Open, as four more Aussies moved through to the second round of the Grand Slam yesterday. Two of those results were major upsets, with none bigger than wildcard Alexei Popyrin‘s come-from-behind five set win over 13th seed David Goffin. The Australian won 3-6 6-4 6-7 7-6 6-3 in three hours and 43 minutes, hitting 50 winners to 42, and capitalising off his second serve to put the Belgian away.

The result marked Goffin’s second first round exit to start 2021, after going down to Spanish young gun Carlos Alcaraz in the lead-up tournament. Speaking of Alcaraz, he booked his passage into the second round with a comprehensive 6-1 6-4 6-4 victory over fellow qualifier, Dutchman Botic Van de Zandschulp. Remarkably there were three all-qualifier battles out on court today, with rising Czech talent Tomas Machac overcoming Spaniard Mario Viella Martinez when leading two sets to one and 3-0 in the fourth before Martinez retired hurt. American Michael Mmoh was the other qualifier to oust a fellow qualifier, defeating Viktor Troicki in a 7-6 6-7 3-6 7-6 7-5 in a whopping four hours and six minutes.

For all of Mmoh’s great work, he gets the reward of playing Rafael Nadal in the second round, with the King of Clay shrugging off the talented Laslo Djere in straight sets, 6-3 6-4 6-1. Roman Safiullin was the fourth qualifier to make it through to the next round, toppling Ilya Ivashka of Belarus, 6-4 6-3 6-4 to set up a date with Cameron Norrie in the Round of 64. The Brit talent upset his top ranked compatriot Daniel Evans, with the 30th seed coming off his maiden ATP Tour title just two days earlier.

Back on the Australians, 21st seed Alex de Minaur took out 2020 Australian Open quarter finalist, Tennys Sandgren in three sets, 7-5 6-1 6-1 to move through to the Round of 64. Joining him were compatriots Thanasi Kokkinakis who made his successful return via a straight sets win over Soonwoo Kwon, and Christopher O’Connell who stunned German talent Jan-Lennard Struff by saving six break points and only conceding 23 unforced errors in the 7-6 7-6 6-1 victory. The other big upset of the day was Moldovan Radu Albot stunning 12th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in four sets. Bautista Agut expressed his displeasure in being locked away in quarantine for two weeks, but due to his first round performance can now sightsee for another fortnight, having gone down to Albot 6-7 6-0 6-4 7-6.

Looking at the top seeds, all bar Goffin made it through, with only Karen Khachanov dropping a set – to Australian wildcard Aleksandar Vukic – and Casper Ruud winning via a Jordan Thompson retirement whilst two sets to love up. Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini, Fabio Fognini, Borna Coric and Lorenzo Sonego breezed through to the second round without dropping a set, while Filip Krajinovic (28th seed) had to go to four sets to win against Dutchman Robin Haase. Aside from Goffin and Evans, the third seed to bow out at the first hurdle was 26th Polish seed, Hubert Hurkacz who went down to Swede Mikael Ymer in five sets after leading two sets to one, 3-6 6-3 3-6 7-5 6-3.

Of the unseeded battles, There were a number of Americans who made it through in Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald joining Mmoh in the next round, while Spanish trio Feliciano Lopez, Pablo Andujar and Roberto Carballes Baena all made it into the Round of 64. Elsewhere, Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas set up a second round date with di Minaur, while South Africa’s Lloyd Harris, Italian Salvatore Caruso, Brazillian Thiago Monteiro and Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis all won their respective singles matches.

Looking to day three, it will be a mini-ATP Cup style battle between Canada and Australia when Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime take on Bernard Tomic and James Duckworth respectively with the winners of those clashes to face off. Nick Kyrgios will have a stern test against 29th seed Ugo Humbert, while Alex Bolt also takes on a seed in 18th seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. A couple of exciting matches to watch out for include 32nd seed Adrian Mannarino up against Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, while another Serbian Dusan Lajovic takes on Alexander Bublik. Top seed Novak Djokovic will look to fend off the Americans as he takes on Frances Tiafoe in the second round before facing the winner of 27th seed Taylor Fritz, and his compatriot Reilly Opelka.

ROUND OF 128 RESULTS:

[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) defeated Laslo Djere (SRB) 6-3 6-4 6-1
[4] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) defeated Vasek Pospisil (CAN) 6-2 6-2 6-4
[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) defeated Gilles Simon (FRA) 6-1 6-2 6-1
[7] Andrey Rublev (RUS) defeated Yannick Hanfmann (GER) 6-3 6-3 6-4
[9] Matteo Berrettini (ITA) defeated Kevin Anderson (RSA) 7-6 7-5 6-3
Radu Albot (MOL) defeated [12] Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 6-7 6-0 6-4 7-6
[WC] Alexei Popyrin (AUS) defeated [13] David Goffin (BEL) 3-6 6-4 6-7 7-6 6-3
[16] Fabio Fognini (ITA) defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) 6-4 6-2 6-3
[19] Karen Khachanov (RUS) defeated [WC] Aleksandar Vukic (AUS) 6-3 6-7 7-6 6-4
[21] Alex de Minaur (AUS) defeated Tennys Sandgren (USA) 7-5 6-1 6-1
[22] Borna Coric (CRO) defeated Guido Pella (ARG) 6-3 7-6 7-5
[24] Casper Ruud (NOR) defeated Jordan Thompson (AUS) 6-3 6-3 2-1 RET
Mikael Ymer (SWE) defeated [26] Hubert Hurkacz (POL) 3-6 6-3 3-6 7-5 6-3
[28] Filip Krajinovic (SRB) defeated Robin Haase (NED) 7-6 6-3 4-6 6-2
Cameron Norrie (GBR) defeated [30] Daniel Evans (GBR) 6-4 4-6 6-4 7-5
[31] Lorenzo Sonego (ITA) defeated Sam Querrey (USA) 7-5 6-4 6-4
[Q] Carlos Alcaraz (ESP) defeated [Q] Botic Van de Zandschulp (NED) 6-1 6-4 6-4
Pablo Andujar (ESP) defeated [Q] Quentin Halys (FRA) 6-4 7-5 7-5
Ricardas Berankis (LTU) defaeted [WC] Sumit Nagal (IND) 6-2 7-5 6-3
Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP) defeated Attila Balazs (HUN) 7-5 3-6 6-2 6-3
Salvatore Caruso (ITA) defeated [Q] Henri Laaksonen (SUI) 6-2 6-4 6-3
Pablo Cuevas (URU) defeated Andreas Seppi (ITA) 6-4 4-6 6-2 6-2
Lloyd Harris (RSA) defeated [LL] Mikael Torpegaard (DEN) 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2
[WC] Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) defeated Soonwoo Kwon (KOR) 6-4 6-1 6-1
Feliciano Lopez (ESP) defeated [WC] Li Tu (AUS) 6-7 6-4 7-6 6-4
[Q] Tomas Machac (CZE) defeated [Q] Mario Vilella Martinez (ESP) 6-7 7-5 6-0 3-0 RET
[PR] Mackenzie McDonald (USA) defeated Marco Cecchinato (ITA) 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-2
[Q] Michael Mmoh (USA) defeated [Q] Viktor Troicki (SRB) 7-6 6-7 3-6 7-6 7-5
Thiago Monteiro (BRA) defeated Andrej Martin (SVK) 7-6 6-1 6-2
[WC] Christopher O’Connell (AUS) defeated Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) 7-6 7-6 6-1
Tommy Paul (USA) defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) 6-4 7-6 6-4
[Q] Roman Safiullin (RUS) defeated Ilya Ivashka (BLR) 6-4 6-3 6-4

Picture credit: Brandon Malone/AFP

ATP 250 wraps: Intriguing results as men’s Summer Series begins

A HUGE day of action around the ground saw a flurry of players return to the court ahead of the Australian Open, with both the Great Ocean Road Open and Murray River Open starting. With a number of players across both tournaments returning to the court with protected rankings from injury, there were plenty of intriguing results at play.

At the Great Ocean Road Open, just one seed in Aljaz Bedene proceeded through to the second round after both Laslo Djere and Feliciano Lopez fell to lower ranked opposition. Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak, who was enabled entry via his protected ranking, disposed of Djere in straight sets 6-3 6-4, while South African Kevin Anderson was huge in his encounter with Lopez, hitting a whopping 17 aces on his way to 6-4 7-5 victory. Bedene was well and truly tested by his opposition however, with Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama testing the Slovenian throughout the 7-6 7-6 contest in just under two hours, coming back from a 1-4 deficit in the first set to reign supreme.

All three Australians made it through to the second round with wildcard Max Purcell and Aleksander Vukic disposing of their opposition in straight sets, while Chris O’Connell had a tougher time against Dominik Koepfer, with the German taking out the first set 7-5 before the Aussie lifted, flying out of the gates after winning the second set to win 5-7 6-4 6-1.

Italians Salvatore Caruso and Stefano Travaglia both came away with victory on day one, with the former downing compatriot Andreas Seppi in a tight 7-5 7-6 outing, while the latter overcame a slow start to run out 2-6 7-5 7-6 victor against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena. The final match saw Soonwoo Kwon outlast a tough Andrej Martin, 6-3 6-7 7-6.

GREAT OCEAN ROAD OPEN ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

Salvatore Caruso (ITA) defeated Andreas Seppi (ITA) 7-5 7-6
Kamil Majchrzak (POL) defeated [12] Laslo Djere (SRB) 6-3 6-4
[13] Aljaz Bedene (SLO) defeated Yasutaka Uchiyama (JAP) 7-6 7-6
Kevin Anderson (RSA) defeated [16] Feliciano Lopez (ESP) 6-4 7-5
Soonwoo Kwon (KOR) defeated Andrej Martin (SVK) 6-3 6-7 7-6
Christopher O’Connell (AUS) defeated Dominik Koepfer (GER) 5-7 6-4 6-1
[WC] Max Purcell (AUS) defeated Norberrt Gombos (SVK) 6-4 6-4
Stefano Travaglia (ITA) defeated Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP) 2-6 7-5 7-6
Aleksander Vukic (AUS) defeated Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE) 6-4 7-5

At the Murray River Open, Australia was not so lucky with four of its seven competitors facing off, and only one other reigning supreme in a difficult draw. Alex Bolt and Harry Bourchier were the victors out of the all-Aussie battles, disposing of returnee Thanasi Kokkinakis – entered via his protected ranking – and Marc Polmans, respectively. Wildcard Jason Kuber joined Bolt and Bourchier on the winners list after an excellent outing against Italian ninth seed and world number 34 Lorenzo Sonego, with the Australian playing well above his ranking of 265 to take out the 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory. Meanwhile, wildcards Blake Mott and Li Tu were also unsuccessful, going down to Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Pedro Sousa, respectively.

Sonego was not the only seed to fall, joined on the sidelines by Croatian Marin Cilic, who was defeated by Jeremy Chardy in a tight battle – with the Frenchman saving five match points to get the win – and Richard Gasquet, who was downed by American Mackenzie McDonald in just over 90 minutes. On the flip side, the likes of Adrian MannarinoTommy Paul and Marton Fucsovics all defeated their respective unseeded opposition.

In the remaining matches, Ricardas Berankis, Federico Coria, Egor Gerasimov and Corentin Moutet all reigned supreme, and will proceed into the Round of 32.

MURRAY RIVER OPEN ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

Jeremy Chardy (FRA) defeated [11] Marin Cilic (CRO) 2-6 6-3 7-6
[WC] Jason Kuber (AUS) defeated [9] Lorenzo Sonego (ITA) 3-6 6-3 6-4
[10] Adrian Mannarino (FRA) defeated Mikael Ymer (SWE) 7-5 6-2
[12] Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP) defeated [WC] Blake Mott (AUS) 6-2 6-4
Mackenzie McDonald (USA) defeated [14] Richard Gasquet (FRA) 7-6 7-5
[15] Tommy Paul (USA) defeated Cameron Norrie (GBR) 4-6 7-6 6-3
[16] Marton Fucsovics (HUN) defeated Marco Cecchinato (ITA) 7-6 6-3
Ricardas Berankis (LTU) defeated Sumit Nagal (IND) 6-2 6-2
Alex Bolt (AUS) defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) 2-6 6-4 6-3
Harry Bourchier (AUS) defeated Marc Polmans (AUS) 6-4 6-4
Federico Coria (ARG) defeated Radu Albot (MDA) 7-6 6-4
Egor Gerasimov (BLR) defeated Lloyd Harris (RSA) 6-3 7-5
Corentin Moutet (FRA) defeated Frances Tiafoe (USA) 3-6 6-4 6-4
Pedro Sousa (POR) defeated Li Tu (AUS) 6-4 7-6

Hopman Cup hypothetical teams: Italy & Germany

ONE of the most unique tennis tournaments which features both ATP Tour and WTA Tour players is the Hopman Cup. Given the world circumstance and the fact it was already skipped on the eve of last year, it looks to be either delayed later in 2021, or perhaps at the turn of the New Year in 2022. However, in this new series we wanted to look at some hypothetical Hopman Cup teams and what they might look like if there was no COVID-19 pandemic, and if the famed mixed tournament did go ahead.

We continue the series with Italy and Germany who have some serious up-and-talent coming talent as well as some future stars who would be amongst the top teams in the hypothetical Hopman Cup competition.

Italy: Jannik Sinner & Camila Giorgi

This Italian team would have no shortage of players to pick from, particularly from the ATP Tour side, but it would be hard to look past Next Gen rising star Jannik Sinner fresh off his first ATP Tour title this year. The 19-year-old became the youngest winner on Tour when he took out the title in Sofia, which capped off his year at 19-11 after an 11-10 previous record on the ATP Tour. He would be the first choice to excite the crowd on the indoor hard courts, but that is not to take away from Top 10 player, Matteo Berrettini and fellow talent Fabio Fognini. Lorenzo Sonego who most famously destroyed Novak Djokovic in October, would be another astute choice, all of whom rank inside the Top 40.

From the WTA Tour, Camila Giorgi is the top ranked Italian and deserves the first-up crack if offered a spot at the Hopman Cup. While the women’s Tour does not have as many strong top-end talents as the ATP Tour for Italy, Giorgi is a solid player who reached the Top 30 at her best a couple of years ago and has won a couple of titles in her career. The 28-year-old is getting on in her career, with former Top 5 player Sara Errani also thereabouts. Italian teenager Elisabetta Cocciaretto might be a good shout if they wanted to blood a youngster, but she would be an exciting pick to team up with fellow 19-year-old Sinner.

Germany: Alexander Zverev & Angelique Kerber

With two genuine A-Graders at their best, Germany would be a formidable opponent in the Hopman Cup and there are no better choices than the two top ranked players on the Tours. Alexander Zverev would be the standout choice for the men’s spot, as an impressive indoor hard court player and the youngest of the Top 100 Germans at 23-years-old. Ranked seventh in the world and a US Open runner-up this year, Zverev took a step forward in terms of his Grand Slams performance and would start the season off strongly with a nice warm-up event at the hypothetical event. Others who might be considered are 36th ranked 30-year-old Jan-Lennard Struff and 66th ranked 26-year-old Dominik Koepfer.

The WTA Tour has some lower ranked options, which makes Angelique Kerber the standout choice. While the 32-year-old is in the twilight of her career, she is a proven performer at Grand Slam level. What makes the Zverev-Kerber pairing much more likely is that they competed in the 2019 event, so are happy to take to the court at the Hopman Cup. Outside of Kerber, the next three Germans are also 30-plus, with Laura Siegemund (50th, 32-year-old), Andrea Petkovic (102nd, 33) and Tatjana Maria (109th, 33) all having the experience against a wide variety of opponents.

Picture: Tennis World USA

Is Kazakhstan an underrated tennis nation?

WHEN many think of strong up-and-coming tennis nations, countries such as the United States, Australia, Italy and Russia come to mind, but when it comes to quality over quantity and over both the ATP and WTA Tours, it is hard to discount Kazakhstan as an underrated nation. The country that is best known for the Borat franchise, Kazakhstan has plenty of promise on the tennis court with three players aged 24 and under in the top 60 of the world, whilst a host of teenagers are pushing their case going forward.

On the women’s tour, the two top stars are Elena Rybakina and Yulia Putintseva. Many might not have been too familiar with the 21-year-old Rybakina coming into this year, but the talented youngsters took the world by storm in 2020, becoming the top ranked Kazakh and moving as many as 20 places into the top 20 and leapfrogging Putintseva.

Rybakina could have been in the top 10 had all her finals gone to plan. Coming into 2020, the then 20-year-old had won a title in Bucharest, before coming runners-up in Nanchang. Six finals later, Rybakina would add just the one title in Hobart at the start of the year, but make finals in Shenzhen, St Petersburg, Dubai and Strasbourg, three of that quartet in the first half of the season. She reached 17 in the world and announced herself on the biggest stages.

Her Round of 32 run at the Australian Open was her debut win at a major, having bowed out in the first round at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows last year. A straight sets loss to world number one Ash Barty was hardly a disgrace, and her other finals losses came to Ekaterina Alexandrova, Kiki Bertens, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina, the latter three of whom were all in the top 10. Rybakina became a lot more consistent, and while her year finished off in disappointing fashion – back-to-back losses in the second round at Roland Garros and first round at Ostrava – the youngster showed what she is capable of in the future.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old Putintseva does not quite have the same accolades, having won the one title in 2019 at Nurnberg after runners-up titles in St Petersburg and Guangzhou the years preceding that title. Having played at Grand Slams since she was a teenager, Putintseva has made two quarter finals at Roland Garros and in 2020, cracked through to the quarter finals at the US Open.

She will be disappointed she was unable to progress past that final eight after stunning Petra Martic before going down to giant-killer Jennifer Brady. A week later she beat Martic again, as well as Rybakina, before losing to Halep in Rome. Her second round exit at Roland Garros to eventual finalist Nadia Podoroska was disappointing, but she was fairly consistent in the ones she beat below her this year.

On the ATP Tour circuit, Alexander Bublik is still only 23, and has shown moments of absolute brilliance, but inconsistency. A huge server, Bublik won against his first Top 10 player this year at Roland Garros when he downed Gael Monfils. The issue being, it was his only Grand Slam win all year with first round losses at the Australian Open and US Open. He finished with a 14-16 record in 2020 which is hardly glamorous, but he seems to do well in deciding sets, winning five of seven this year, backing up his overall 19-8 record.

Since reaching the quarter finals at Hamburg – notching up wins over Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Tommy Paul along the way, he has only won two of six matches and finished the year with a less than ideal straight sets loss to Lorenzo Sonego after a straight sets loss to Mackenzie McDonald. That came in Nur-Saltan in his home country after defeating McDonald a fortnight earlier in St Petersburg.

He has the talent – the aforementioned wins and other victories over Benoit Paire, Denis Shapovalov and Hubert Hurkacz earlier in the year attest to that – but he just has to put it all together, and in Grand Slams, if he is to step up to the next level. Nonetheless, Bublik is a great white hope for Kazakhstan going forward, and is quickly joining his two female compatriots in the top 50 of the world.

Picture: Getty Images

2020 ATP Finals preview: Elite eight to close out Tour

AFTER a tumultuous year with the players having to negotiate a global pandemic, limited events and a five-month break in between tournaments, the top eight fit players in the world will descend on London this week for the start of the 2020 ATP Finals. For those that do not know, the ATP Finals is for the best of the best, an invite-only tournament of the eight top-ranked players on Tour at year’s end. Whilst world number five Roger Federer ruled himself out mid-year after going in for knee surgery, the list still remains illustrious with two first-time players who have had ripping seasons.

The eight players are sort into two groups which this year are named Tokyo 1970 and London 2020 marking the 51st year since the first event was held back in Japan in 1970. In this preview we take a look at all eight players and whether or not they can take out the huge $5 million USD prize money.

GROUPS:

Group Tokyo 1970
[1] Novak Djokovic
[4] Daniil Medvedev
[7] Alexander Zverev
[9] Diego Schwartzman

Group London 2020
[2] Rafael Nadal
[3] Dominic Thiem
[6] Stefanos Tsitsipas
[8] Andrey Rublev

PLAYERS:

Novak Djokovic (Serbia)

The world number one will always be favoured to win the event, coming in as favourite having successfully claimed five previous ATP Finals titles. A win at the 2020 event would see the Serbian level the injured Federer on a record six ATP Finals titles, surpassing the great Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl on five apiece. Djokovic has surprisingly not won a title since 2015 which might shock a few people given his dominance on the ATP Tour in that time, coming runner-up in 2016 to Andy Murray, and then in 2017 to Alexander Zverev. He did not even make the semis here last year in an even bigger shock result.

Rafael Nadal (Spain)

The world number two King of Clay has never won an ATP Finals title, which is very surprising considering his Grand Slam equal-record of 19 majors. Whilst his dominance on clay has been well documented, Nadal is not nearly as effective on hard court, let alone indoor hard court, and he has come runner-up twice. Nadal lost to Federer in 2010 and Djokovic in 2013 as his two finals appearances. This has traditionally not been a great event for him and he will be hoping to reverse that trend.

Dominic Thiem (Austria)

Like Nadal, Thiem is a traditional clay courter but as he has shown over the past 18 months, he can also get it done on hard court, reaching the Australian Open final and winning the US Open title this year. The indoor hard courts should present no fear for the Austrian, who reached the final here last year, but went down to eventual winner Stefanos Tsitsipas, who he will face in the group stage. Thiem has a tough group, but they are all tough matches, so he will need to be at his best.

Daniil Medvedev (Russian)

The only player entering the event with a winning record, the fourth ranked player has the momentum behind him after a disappointing 2020 by his standards. He is one of four players here who is yet to reach an ATP Finals decider, and in fact yet to win a match at this event, losing all three group matches on debut last year despite coming in as the fourth ranked player there as well. Winning form over Zverev at Paris Masters which is also indoor hard court should give him confidence here.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece)

The fifth ranked player in the absence of Roger Federer, Tsitsipas has a real chance to go back-to-back given his group. The Greek talent won the title last year in remarkable fashion, losing to Nadal on the final day of the round robin matches, making it through then taking down Federer and Thiem to claim the title on debut. If he can go back-to-back from as many ATP Finals events, then watch out in the future as he looks to build a serious end-of-year CV against the world’s best.

Alexander Zverev (Germany)

The world number seven will be back for another year after claiming the title in 2018 and then reaching the semi-finals of the event last year. He knocked off both Nadal and Medvedev in his group, before losing back-to-back matches against eventual finalists Tsitsipas and Thiem to bow out at the penultimate stage. He is in ripping form winning two titles and reaching a final in his past three events, so it is hard to fault his form and if he can turn around his Paris Masters loss to Medvedev, he is a real shot.

Andrey Rublev (Russia)

Definitely the dark horse in the event given his form. Rublev has a real well-rounded game and over the 2020 season, he made sure he rose up to join Medvedev inside the top 10 after injuries derailed his career in the early days. He won a season-record 40 wins and five titles this year and throughly deserved his place at this event. He might be a bit raw compared to the other players, but Tsitsipas and Zverev both won their ATP Titles on debut at the event, so anything is possible for the eighth ranked Russian.

Diego Schwartzman (Argentina)

The feel-good story of the tournament, the last possible qualification place went to the diminutive Argentinian who is just an honest battler. He had a really good year in 2020 and you cannot knock some of his form this year, beating Nadal for the first time in 11 tries, and finishing with a 25-12 record. Can Schwartzman win here? It would be the biggest upset in ATP Finals history if it happened, but the Argentinian will not leave anything out on the court.

HEAD-TO-HEADS:

TOKYO 1970:

Djokovic has a 4-2 head-to-head over Medvedev, a 3-2 record over Zverev and a 5-0 record over Schwartzman. On indoor hard court, Djokovic is 1-0 against Medvedev, 1-1 against Zverev and is yet to play Schwartzman on the surface.

Medvedev trails Djokovic as above, and has a 2-5 record against Zverev, though a 4-0 record over Schwartzman. On indoor hard court, Medvedev has a 1-2 record against Zverev, and a 2-0 record over Schwartzman. Zverev has a 2-2 record against Schwartzman, but both his wins have come on indoor hard court.

Novak Djokovic 12-4 / 2-1
Daniil Medvedev 8-9 / 3-3
Alexander Zverev 9-7 / 5-2
Diego Schwartzman 2-11 / 0-4

LONDON 2020:

Nadal has a 9-5 record over Thiem, a 5-1 record over Tsitsipas and a 1-0 record over Rublev. On indoor hard court, Nadal has not played Thiem or Rublev on the surface, and has a 1-0 record over Tsitsipas – here last year – on the surface.

Thiem trails Nadal as above, has a 4-3 record over Tsitsipas, and a 2-2 record with Rublev. On indoor hard court, Thiem trails Tsitsipas 0-1 – the Final here last year – and 1-1 with Rublev. In the last matchup, Tsitsipas and Rublev have a 2-2 record, while Tsitsipas is 1-0 on indoor hard court.

Rafael Nadal 15-6 / 1-0
Dominic Thiem 11-14 / 1-2
Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-11 / 2-1
Andrey Rublev 4-5 / 1-2

PREDICTIONS:

TOKYO 1970:

The easiest prediction is Schwartzman not winning a game. The Argentinian will make life difficult for the trio, but it is hard to see him getting up in any of the matches unless Medevev’s form at ATP Finals, or Zverev’s inconsistent serving comes back. Djokovic is the obvious choice to top the group, but both his opponents are coming in with great form and more tennis under their belt. A shock loss to Lorenzo Sonego last start will have hurt the Serbian, though he had one eye on this tournament anyway. The rematch between Medvedev and Zverev will be a cracker. The latter is one of the best on this surface, he could win all the games, or at least the two to qualify.

Prediction: Djokovic and Zverev to advance.

LONDON 2020:

This group is much harder to predict. The two best players are not overly favoured on this surface, though Thiem did reach the final here last year. Nadal has never won a title, whilst Tsitsipas did, and is probably the best suited to the indoor hard courts. Rublev is in the form of his life and has nothing to lose, this is the kind of group where the two lower ranked players could genuinely advance. However, given Thiem’s progression on hard court this year with finals at the two hard court Grand Slams, the Austrian is a danger to any competitor anywhere, and he might have the edge over Rublev in this scenario. The question is whether he is fit or not coming off an injury at Paris. A fit Thiem makes it through, otherwise he bows out. A horror group for Nadal, only thing worse would have been Zverev instead of Rublev.

Prediction: Tsitsipas and Thiem (if fit) to advance.

The feeling is we might get a Djokovic-Tsitsipas final which would be exciting as Djokovic goes for the record, whilst Tsitsipas fights for back-to-back titles. If Djokovic takes on Thiem you would back the Serbian to get up, whilst the Tsitsipas and Zverev battle would be intriguing. If Zverev plays to his best (or faces Thiem) he will likely get up, which would potentially set up a rematch with Djokovic in the final, or Tsitsipas, either way it would be a huge final.

Picture: Evening Standard

Canadian, Australian duo lead field into Sofia Open

IN what will be the final event of the ATP Tour year – barring the invite-only ATP Finals – a young Canadian duo and Australia’s top two ranked men’s players are among the seeds at the Sofia Open. Held in Bulgaria, there is enough top-end talent and some tough competitors at the event to make it an entertaining contest. There is no Next-Gen Finals series this year, which has allowed a host of Next-Gen eligible players to enter the tournament.

Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex de Minaur are the top three seeds and would have been eligible for the Next-Gen finals series, whilst reigning Next-Gen champion Jannik Sinner is also in the draw. The top four seeds – including Jan-Lennard Struff – have byes in the first round, with three of the other four seeds either playing a qualifier or wildcard. Fifth seed Frenchman Adrian Mannarino takes on a qualifier in the first round, with sixth seed John Millman facing Bulgarian wildcard Adrian Andreev, and eighth seed Croatian Marin Cilic locking horns with Czech wildcard Jonas Forejtek. Seventh seed Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili is the outlier, having to take on unseeded but automatic entrant, Italian Stefano Travaglia.

Picking a winner here is difficult. Shapovalov should be the standout competitor as the only player ranked inside the top 20. But the Canadian world number 12 is coming off back-to-back shockers, losing to Frenchman Gilles Simon in Cologne, then Austrian wildcard Jurij Rodionov in Vienna. The latter 6-4 7-5 loss was his most disappointing since being humbled by compatriot Vasek Pospisil back in Montpellier at the start of the year.

Shapovalov will know plenty about playing the other top two contenders, having lost to de Minaur twice in the past 12 months – in the Davis Cup and then again in the ATP Cup. But after that latter defeat, Shapovalov beat Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev in straight sets. But therein lies the issue. He is better against the power hitters than the grinders, which is why he would perform strongly against Auger-Aliassime but struggle against the likes of de Minaur and Struff – who also beat him earlier this year in Cincinnati. If you look at some of his wins in the past couple of months – Grigor Dimitrov and Stan Wawrinka –  compared to some of his losses – Pablo Carreno-Busta and Roberto Carballes Baena – it further affirms these claims.

The third seed de Minaur could argue to be favourite as he excels on hard courts. His form is good, having reached the quarter finals at the US Open, as well the Round of 16 at the Paris Masters. He ran into eventual US Open winner Dominic Thiem and third seed Daniil Medvedev in those tournaments respectively. His dominant performance over the in-form Lorenzo Sonego two starts back was mighty impressive and he could well get the job done here.

Auger-Aliassime has not quite backed up his breakout 2019, but he has been solid nonetheless. Possessing a 23-18 record, the Canadian young gun will be hoping to reverse a run of three straight losses since reaching the semi-finals at Cologne. Prior to his first round losses to Pospisil in Vienna and Cilic in Paris, Auger-Aliassime reached the final of the Cologne Indoors, then the semis of the Cologne Championships, stringing together five wins in six matches. Like de Minaur, it should suit him here, but he has a likely match with Cilic in the quarter finals which he will need to turn around the result from their last clash.

Those three are clearly the standouts in the tournament, but Sinner has to be considered as a genuine chance at this event. Since the Rome Masters, Sinner has looked a different player to the one that was inconsistent to start the year. The Italian teenager won the Next-Gen Finals then a Challenger event 12 months ago, before free-falling into a 6-10 record for 2020 prior to Rome. Even his six wins came against pretty ordinary opponents aside from David Goffin, with the 50th ranked Radu Albot the next highest scalp back in Rotterdam. Since Rome, Sinner has won 10-4 and turned his form around, with 22nd ranked Dimitrov the lowest loss, with the others being ATP Finals entrants, Rafael Nadal, Andrey Rublev and Zverev.

Among the other contenders are Astana Open championMillman and finalist Mannarino who both feature here. Mannarino could play Shapovalov in the quarter finals, whilst Millman has an easier draw with Struff in his quarter and likely to reach the semis if he plays to his potential. Sinner has a first-up tough encounter against Marton Fucsovics who is a hot-and-cold player but his best is good enough, while Egor Gerasimov and Pospisil can never be discounted from events of this quality.

Picture: Simon Bruty/USTA