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Nadal on course to set ATP record as he eases into Barcelona semis

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Rafael Nadal moved a step closer to setting an ATP record as he eased into the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open with a straight-set victory over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.

Nadal, 32, is bidding to become the first player to win the same event 12 times and breezed through this quarter-final match, winning 7-5 7-5.

The former world number one will next face 2017 finalist Dominic Thiem.

“I’m feeling better in my game,” said the Spaniard.

“I hope to keep improving here at home,” added Nadal, who last week suffered a shock semi-final defeat to Italian Fabio Fognini at the Monte Carlo Masters – an event he has also won 11 times.

Nadal also had a struggle in the early rounds in Barcelona, losing a set at the event for the first time in four years in his win over Leonardo Mayer on Wednesday.

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Austrian Thiem also had a comfortable passage into the semi-finals, overcoming Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-2.

Meanwhile, Japan’s two-time champion Kei Nishikori beat Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4 7-5 to reach the semi-finals of the tournament for the fourth time.

Nishikori will take on Russian Daniil Medvedev on Saturday after the seventh seed defeated lucky loser Nicolas Jarry of Chile 6-3 6-4.

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How Clay Aided Kei Nishikori's Resurgence

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

How Clay Aided Kei Nishikori’s Resurgence

Japanese star is into the Barcelona semi-finals

Entering the 2018 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Kei Nishikori had won just four tour-level matches all year. The Japanese star was 36th in the ATP Rankings, still recovering from a wrist injury.

But Nishikori reached his second clay-court ATP Masters 1000 final at that tournament, defeating Top 5 players Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev along the way. That served as a springboard, as he qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals and returned to the world’s Top 10.

“Playing the clay-court season, I started getting more confidence and more feel for the ball,” Nishikori said in his ATP My Story delivered by FedEx. “I started playing better on clay. I think there were more rallies and more hitting. Beating Tomas Berdych, Cilic and Sascha, those great players [in Monte-Carlo], I got more confidence and since then I’ve been more confident and playing much better.”

Nishikori, who is into the semi-finals this week at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, has long been successful on clay. While he has won 10 of his 12 ATP Tour titles on hard courts, Nishikori has a higher winning percentage on clay.

According to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record, the 29-year-old has won 71.3 per cent of his clay-court matches compared to 68.2 per cent on hard courts. Nishikori currently ranks fifth among active players on the surface, and 25th in the Open Era.

“I played many matches before and I think maybe the clay courts helped a little bit with more time and more rhythm,” Nishikori said of his comeback last season. “From Monte-Carlo, I was a different guy.”

It’s easy to forget that 15 months ago, Nishikori was competing on the ATP Challenger Tour to try to find a rhythm. But last year’s clay season helped him find his best tennis and now, he is trying to make a splash on the red dirt again.

“I think I’m enjoying tennis a little more than before I got injured,” Nishikori said. “I’m really happy to be coming back with my tennis and coming back to this level. I’m really happy to compete with those great players.”

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Nadal Holds Off Struff, To Face Thiem Next

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Nadal Holds Off Struff, To Face Thiem Next

Top seed into 12th Barcelona SF

In his first meeting against Rafael Nadal, Jan-Lennard Struff had the right game plan – serve and volley and hit every ball as hard as he could. But Nadal weathered Struff’s most aggressive best, and is now two wins away from a record-setting 12thBarcelona Open Banc Sabadell title.

The 32-year-old Spaniard made his 12th Barcelona semi-final on Friday, overcoming the big-hitting Struff 7-5, 7-5 on Pista Rafa Nadal. Nadal has never lost in a Barcelona semi-final (11-0), but will have a challenge on his hands when he faces fifth seed Dominic Thiem. The Austrian battled past Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-2.

“It was a pressure match because he’s a very aggressive player, difficult to be on rhythm with him. I’m happy for the victory, happy to find a way to win that match and I hope to be ready for the semi-finals,” Nadal said. “I’m trying to be focused every single moment because one mistake, and you lose the set against this kind of player. I’m happy the way that I managed it.”

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Nadal leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Thiem 8-3, but the Austrian is the only player to have beaten Nadal on clay the past two seasons (2018 Madrid, 2017 Rome). Thiem also pushed Nadal to five sets during their epic US Open quarter-final last year.

“It’s always one of the biggest challenges possible in tennis to play Rafa on clay, to play him at the tournament which he won already 11 times, with his own crowd in the back, with his Spanish crowd. So it’s going to be unbelievably tough. But we had great matches in the past, and I think we are both playing quite well so I hope that’s the same case tomorrow, and I think we can expect a good match,” Thiem said.

Struff had made his second quarter-final of the season by crushing 31 winners, including 18 from his forehand, against last year’s finalist and No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. The German knew his quarter-final against Nadal would be short-lived if he tried to hang with Nadal from the back of the court, so every opportunity the 6’5” German had – while serving or facing a short ball – he raced forward.

Nadal broke in the fourth game with a first-serve return winner that landed just inside the baseline, but Struff broke back in the seventh game with an aggressive return down the line. Nadal, however, with the crowd coming alive, cranked up his level to break to love in the 12th game and take the opener.

Struff wisely stuck to his strategy in the second, but he couldn’t find a way into any Nadal service games. The Spaniard landed 83 per cent of his first serves in the second set, winning 79 per cent of those points, and broke Struff once more in the 12th game.

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Nishikori Keeps Hopes Of A Third Barcelona Title Alive

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Nishikori Keeps Hopes Of A Third Barcelona Title Alive

Japanese star to face in-form Medvedev for spot in the final

Kei Nishikori on Friday kept alive his hopes of earning a third Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell title, battling past home favourite Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 7-5 to reach the semi-finals.

The 2014-15 Barcelona champion arrived in Spain on a three-match losing streak, but he has raised his level at the ATP 500 tournament with three straight-sets victories. The World No. 7 won all but six first-serve points (39/45) en route to his one-hour, 53-minute triumph.

Nishikori will face in-form Daniil Medvedev for a spot in Sunday’s championship match. The Japanese star has won two of the pair’s three FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, including their only match on clay last year in Monte-Carlo. But the Russian was victorious in their biggest battle, in the final of Tokyo last season.

It was not an easy quarter-final for the fourth seed, who was made to fight hard by Carballes Baena, the 2018 Quito champion. The Spaniard did well to neutralise Nishikori’s offence as best he could, taking any opening he could find to dictate play. But after saving the first eight break points he faced in the second set, Carballes Baena could not hold off Nishikori, who also made the 2016 final here.

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Seventh-seeded Russian Medvedev lost just two of his first-service points and broke once in each set to stop the giant-killing run of Chilean lucky loser Nicolas Jarry 6-3, 6-4 in 86 minutes for a place in the last four. Jarry had beaten second seed Alexander Zverev and No. 13 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the two previous rounds.

“I think it was really tough conditions to play. It was dry and windy, so the balls were flying a lot,” Medvedev said. “I needed to win it. I needed to be in the semi-finals. I won it and I’m happy.”

Medvedev, who captured his fourth ATP Tour title at the Sofia Open (d. Fucsovics) in February, has a tour-leading 24-7 match record on the season.

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Medvedev had two tour-level clay-court wins entering the year, and he now has seven this season alone (including a run to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semi-finals).

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Krajinovic Fights Back To Beat Coric In Budapest

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Krajinovic Fights Back To Beat Coric In Budapest

Basilashvili meets Djere later in the day

Qualifier Filip Krajinovic broke down the serve of second-seeded Croatian Borna Coric on Friday in a 6-4, 7-5 victory to book his place in the Hungarian Open semi-finals.

Krajinovic fought back from a 2-4 deficit in the first set, at a point when Coric had lost just three of his service points in as many games. The 27-year-old saved three set points on serve at 4-5 in the second set, prior to breaking Coric in the next game.

The Serbian will now prepare to contest his first ATP Tour semi-final since February 2018 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, against France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who was a 6-3, 6-4 victor over Hungarian wild card Attila Balazs in Budapest. In November 2017, Krajinovic reached the Rolex Paris Masters final (l. to Sock).

“I’m really proud of myself to play the match that I played. It’s never easy to play in front of the home crowd. They were supporting him from the first until the last point,” Herbert said. “He was playing actually some great tennis this week, so I expected a tough match. That’s what it was.”

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Later in the day, Italian Matteo Berrettini advanced to his third ATP Tour semi-final by beating Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in one hour and 52 minutes. He now plays fifth-seeded Serbian Laslo Djere, the Rio Open presented by Claro champion in February, who defeated fourth-seeded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 45 minutes.

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Queen's wheelchair tournament to be ranking event

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

The 2019 Fever-Tree Wheelchair Tennis Championships at Queen’s will be the first grass-court ranking tournament to take place outside of Wimbledon.

Wheelchair tennis made its Queen’s debut as an exhibition event in 2018.

The tournament will take place from 21-23 June and ranking points will contribute towards qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

“Last year’s tournament was a huge success,” said tournament director Stephen Farrow.

“We are delighted to be able to run it as a tour event with ranking points this year. Wheelchair tennis is a great sport for fans to watch, and the event is a fantastic addition to the Fever-Tree Championships.’

In 2018, Britain’s Paralympic gold medallist Gordon Reid and silver medallist Alfie Hewett reached the singles semi-finals at Queen’s, and finished second in the round-robin doubles tournament.

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Raonic, Dimitrov and Wawrinka to play Queen's

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic says Queen’s is the “best way to prepare” for the All England Club after signing up to play this year’s event.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka and 2014 Queen’s winner Grigor Dimitrov have also been confirmed.

“We are excited about the line-up of established champions and talented young players we have assembled,” said tournament director Stephen Farrow.

The Fever-Tree Championships take place at Queen’s from 17-23 June.

British number one Kyle Edmund, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, plus Canadian youngsters Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, are also set to be among a strong field.

Former world number one Andy Murray has a career-long commitment to the ATP 500 event, but is recovering from hip surgery.

BBC Sport will have live coverage from the west London club across television, radio and online.

Wimbledon starts at the All England Club a fortnight later on 1 July.

Farrow added he expected “more big names to be revealed” when the entry list is finalised next month.

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Meanwhile, Great Britain will play the United States in a new junior team competition named in honour of former British Davis Cup captain Paul Hutchins, who died last month.

The Paul Hutchins Trophy, which will become an annual event, will be played on 21 and 22 June, with four junior players from each nation representing their respective countries.

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Tennis Scotland say 10 new facilities 'on track' for completion by 2025

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Tennis Scotland says it’s on track to deliver at least 10 new indoor facilities in the next six years.

Chief executive Blane Dodds gave an update on the £15m plan at Thursday’s annual general meeting in Stirling.

Building work at Greenock’s Rankin Park is expected to begin later this year while four other proposals are at the technical design and planning permission stage.

It is hoped two facilities per year can be established between 2020 and 2025.

Tennis Scotland recorded income of £1.97m for 2018, up £110,000 on the previous year.

“Overall it was a very strong 2018 and we have carried that positive momentum into this year, which is already showing a significantly improved financial performance to reinvest in tennis across Scotland,” said Dodds.

  • Scotland ‘deserves’ more tennis funding
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Barcelona Open: Rafael Nadal beats David Ferrer with improved display

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Eleven-time champion Rafael Nadal gave a much improved performance to beat David Ferrer 6-3 6-3 and reach the quarter-finals of the Barcelona Open.

Nadal, 32, lost a set for the first time in four years at the event in a win over Leonardo Mayer on Wednesday.

His struggles followed defeat by Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo on Saturday, but here he dominated Ferrer.

The Spaniard will now play Jan-Lennard Struff after the German beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4 3-6 6-2.

“I had to improve on yesterday, not just the result but overall,” said Nadal, who needed four match points to seal the win.

“It was important to do better and play with more energy than yesterday. I did that so I can go back to my hotel feeling much happier.”

Elsewhere, Japan’s Kei Nishikori eased into the last eight with a 6-1 6-3 victory over Felix Auger Aliassime and will play Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena.

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Five Years After Retiring, Balazs Reaches Budapest QFs

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2019

Five Years After Retiring, Balazs Reaches Budapest QFs

Hungarian wild card posts his best result in seven years

It was only a few years ago that Attila Balazs was coaching tennis. This week, he’s giving lessons to his opponents at the Hungarian Open.

The 30-year-old, currently No. 246 in the ATP Rankings, has made full use of his wildcard by advancing to the quarter-finals. His upset victories over Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and sixth seed John Millman of Australia marked the first time in seven years that Balazs has reached the last eight at this level (2012 Bucharest SF, l. to Fognini).

His run in Budapest is even more surprising considering that he’s in the early stages of coming back from a hip injury. Balazs returned to action in March after being sidelined for seven months.

“It means a lot to me. It’s a special feeling to play in front of friends and family, so I’m really enjoying the support,” said Balazs. “This result is a surprise for me and a very positive sign for the upcoming weeks. I was hoping to be back very quickly, but wasn’t expecting to do so well at that point.”

Injury woes were what prompted Balazs to retire from the tour in August 2014, four years after reaching his career-high ATP Ranking of No. 153. But life as a tennis coach wasn’t what he envisioned and thoughts of a comeback soon entered his mind.

“It was just too boring,” laughed Balazs. “I said that I’m too young for coaching and felt the motivation in myself to make a comeback. I felt that I had nothing to lose and obviously now I’m very happy with the decision.”

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Balazs returned to action in August 2016 and won 10 ITF Futures events in his first year back. He has primarily competed in clay-court ATP Challenger Tour events since then because “the best weapons I have are my kick serve and my drop shot. Those shots work better on clay than some other surfaces.”

Happiness off the court – his daughter, Izabella, was born in February 2017 – has translated into success on the court. With no ATP Rankings points to defend in the last four months of this season, Balazs is convinced he can crack the Top 150 for the first time and climb even higher.

“This week has given me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I’m going to play some Challengers after this and I feel good for those events. I know that I can do well now against the players I’ll need to face at that level.”

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