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Murray Kicks Off 2021 Campaign With Comeback Win In Biella

  • Posted: Feb 09, 2021

Comeback complete! In his first match of 2021, Andy Murray made a winning return at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Biella, Italy. The former World No. 1 rallied from a set down to defeat Maximilian Marterer 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3 on the indoor hard courts of the Biella Challenger Indoor 1.

Murray was made to work as he kicked off his 2021 campaign in the scenic surroundings of northern Italy. The 33-year-old arrived at the Palasport Biella in search of matches, as he competed in his first tournament since October. He would seal the victory over Marterer after two hours and 10 minutes, striking a sublime lob winner that landed smack on the baseline.

Looking to rediscover his rhythm on the court, Murray was tested by the former World No. 45 Marterer from the start. But after dropping the first-set tie-break, he would raise his level as the match wore on. The Scot seized the first break of the match for 2-1 in the second set and cracked the German’s serve three more times before crossing the finish line.

Murray, who scored his first victory since the 2020 US Open (d. Nishioka), won 82 per cent of first-serve points and did not concede a break opportunity during the encounter. This marks his second appearance on the ATP Challenger Tour in three years. In 2019, he reached the quarter-finals in Mallorca, Spain, in the early stages of his comeback from hip surgery.

This time, as he seeks to build confidence and momentum to start the season, Murray is slated to compete in Biella I and Biella II this month. He will face Italy’s Gian Marco Moroni in the second round on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Palasport Biella will host four Challenger tournaments in the coming months, with a 125-level event slated for the week of 15 February. Located in the Italian Alps, the Piedmont region is also the new home of the Nitto ATP Finals in 2021, in nearby Turin.

ATP Challenger Tour 

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Day 3 Preview: Kyrgios Counts His Blessings

  • Posted: Feb 09, 2021

He’s only 25, but Nick Kyrgios says he already feels like a golden-ager.

“I feel old,” Kyrgios confided after his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 ousting of Portuguese qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva in his Melbourne Park opener. “This sport has stressed me out. I feel like an old soul.”

The enigmatic Aussie looked youthful enough against Ferreira Silva on Monday. Despite playing just nine matches in 2020, opting out of both Roland Garros and the US Open amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Kyrgios shook off some rust to smack 14 aces and win 84 per cent of his first-serve points (46/55). Along the way, he clocked service holds of 46 and 52 seconds. However, Kyrgios says the effort didn’t come without some early-season jitters. Sure, he’d won a pair of matches at the lead-up Murray River Open, but this was a whole different level.

“I haven’t been nervous like that for a tennis match in a long time,” said Kyrgios, No. 47 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. “Not competing for a while at a Grand Slam level, I was doubting my confidence a little bit.

“I’m extremely lucky to even be in my position,” said Kyrgios, who reached a career-high No. 13 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in October 2016. “I’m taking every day as a blessing at the moment. I’m healthy. I have great friends, great family, an amazing girlfriend back home. I’m blessed. I’m a wise man now.”

Kyrgios, who’ll next face tricky 29th-seed Ugo Humbert of France, is one of four Australian men who have their work cut out for them on Day 3 in Melbourne. Wild card Alex Bolt meets 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov; James Duckworth takes on 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime; and qualifier Bernard Tomic goes up against 20th seed Denis Shapovalov, who is coming off an impressive 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 triumph over Great Ocean Road Open titlist Jannik Sinner.

“He’s one of the most improved players on Tour,” said Kyrgios of the 22-year-old Humbert, who last year claimed his first two ATP titles in Auckland and Antwerp. “He’s found his form. He’s a good player. I played him in Acapulco. I wasn’t near 100 per cent [Kyrgios retired with a wrist injury], but I could sense he was a young up-and-comer. To be seeded at a Slam, you’ve got to put a pretty good year together.”

As someone who loves the big stage, Kyrgios has extra incentive to win Wednesday. Victory would set a likely prime-time showdown with third seed and 2020 finalist Dominic Thiem in the third round.


The two-time defending champion Djokovic will be the marquee attraction in Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday. The Serb, seeking a record-extending ninth Australian Open trophy, is poised for a first-time matchup with 64th-ranked American Frances Tiafoe. If his form in his first-round, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 victory Jeremy Chardy is any indication, the 17-time major titlist is finding his zone.

Asked if it’s possible to summon that level match in, match out, Djokovic likened it to “muscle memory”.

“I think every time you experience something, it’s there,” he explained. “It’s up to you whether you are able to bring it out from the box again in the next encounter. But each day brings something new, and it’s not always possible to feel aligned, in the zone every single match.”

Third seed Thiem will also take the court on Wednesday. The 2020 US Open champion will meet 70th-ranked left-hander Dominik Koepfer of Germany. The new-look Alexander Zverev, seeded sixth, shed his sleeves for a 6-7(10), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-2 victory over one-time collegiate star Marcos Giron in the opening round, setting the stage for a Day 3 clash with another former UCLA standout, qualifier Maxime Cressy.

It will feel like old times when No. 27 seed Taylor Fritz faces longtime junior foe Reilly Opelka. Fritz boasts a 3-1 ATP Head2Head advantage in tour-level encounters between the Americans, including a 7-6(5), 6-1, first-round victory last year in Antwerp.

Elsewhere, it’s eighth seed Diego Schwartzman vs. lucky loser Alexandre Muller; No. 14 seed Milos Raonic vs. Corentin Moutet; 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka vs. Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics; and Jiri Vesely vs. No. 15 seed Pablo Carreno Busta.

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Tsitsipas Makes Perfect Start In Melbourne

  • Posted: Feb 09, 2021

Stefanos Tsitsipas made the perfect start to his Australian Open title bid on Tuesday, as he cruised past Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena.

The fifth seed produced a dominant serving performance, winning 82 per cent of his first-serve points (27/33) to overcome the 2009 quarter-finalist in one hour and 32 minutes. Tsitsipas limited his opponent to six winners and did not face a break point throughout the match.

Tsitsipas has won all three singles matches he has contested this year in straight sets. Prior to the Australian Open, the 22-year-old represented Greece for the second straight year at the ATP Cup. Tsitsipas claimed a 6-3, 7-5 win against Alex de Minaur and beat Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 7-5 to help his nation finish second in Group B.

Tsitsipas started strongly on Rod Laver Arena, as he dropped only five points in the first five games of the match. The Greek held serve comfortably and attacked with his forehand to gain back-to-back breaks en route to a 5-0 lead.

After wrapping up the first set, Tsitsipas increased his grip on the match with two more service breaks in the second set. The 2019 Nitto ATP Finals champion continued to dictate rallies with his forehand and rushed Simon with regular visits to the net. Through the opening two sets, Tsitispas won 72 per cent of his net points (13/18).

Simon had struggled with double faults in key moments during the first two sets, and that trend continued in the third set. Tsitsipas stepped in on his return and attacked Simon’s forehand to earn three more breaks and his spot in the second round.

“My level is good so far,” said Tsitsipas, in an on-court interview. “I feel good with my service games and I think I am returning really well. I have a clear picture of where I want to return and start the point, so I think I get the upper hand from the very beginning of the rally, which gives me a lot of confidence.

“I know I can press a lot with my forehand and also create damage on my backhand side, with my down-the-line backhand, which is my favourite shot. It has been giving me a lot of points and once it is there, I honestly feel very comfortable playing anyone.”

Earlier in the day, Kokkinakis defeated Soonwoo Kwon 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 on Court 3. The 24-year-old landed 19 aces and converted six of seven break points to defeat the South Korean in one hour and 33 minutes.

Borna Coric earned his place in the second round with a 6-3, 7-6(5), 7-5 victory against Guido Pella. The 22nd seed, who reached the fourth round in 2019, ripped 52 winners to earn his third win of the year (3-1). Coric will next face Mackenzie McDonald, who beat 2018 Roland Garros semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in two hours and 12 minutes.

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Mother Knows Best: Berrettini Overcomes Anderson In Melbourne

  • Posted: Feb 09, 2021

Ninth seed Matteo Berrettini grit his teeth to save eight set points in the first set of a 7-6(9), 7-5, 6-3 victory over former World No. 5 Kevin Anderson on Tuesday night at the Australian Open.

Berrettini, who hit 45 winners — including 14 aces — and committed just 15 unforced errors, will now prepare to face Czech qualifier Tomas Machac in the second round on Thursday.

“I’m very happy with my performance, as I played at a high level,” said Berrettini. “I won in straight sets, but it was really tough. I used the energy and confidence I got from the previous week, but it was a best-of-five [sets] match so it was different.

“I don’t think I saw Kevin’s serve a lot. I knew he was a great server coming into the match. But I served well too. I was fortunate on my second set point [in the first set], when Kevin was ready for a low volley and the ball popped up higher. I apologised, because that’s what my mother taught me to do.”

The 24-year-old led Italy to the ATP Cup final (l. to Russia) last week, winning three of his four singles matches. He beat Austria’s Dominic Thiem and Gael Monfils of France in Group D play, then Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the semi-finals, before losing to Daniil Medvedev in the final.

Berrettini didn’t give in and reaped the rewards, saving seven of eight set points on serve in the first set — at 4/5, 0/40, then in the tie-break at 3/6, 6/7 and 8/9. Anderson saved a set point with aggressive play at 7/8 in the tie-break, but was dealt a hammer blow on the 20th point of the tie-break when Berrettini hit a big forehand approach to leave his South African opponent lunging deep behind the baseline.

To his credit, Anderson didn’t panic after losing the 61-minute opener. He tightened up his game, cutting down on his 13 unforced errors, but at the business end of the second set, Berrettini stepped up again. Rather fortuitously, he broke Anderson at 5-6. A backhand flicked up off the tape, which Anderson volleyed back, but Berrettini responded by ripping a forehand crosscourt into space.

Lapses in concentration cost Anderson at 3-4 in the third set, when he recovered from 0/30 and held a game point. But Berrettini got his reward, on his third break point opportunity, with a powerful forehand that Anderson volleyed into the net. Minutes later, Berrettini closed out with a forehand — his 45th winner of the match

Machac, who is currently No. 199 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, had won 80 per cent of his first-service points before Mario Vilella Martinez of Spain retired in the fourth set. Machac was leading 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-0, 3-0 after two hours and 32 minutes of play.


Elsewhere, Karen Khachanov maintained his perfect record of reaching the Australian Open second round after the Russian No. 19 seed knocked out wild card Aleksandar Vukic of Australia 6-3, 6-7(4), 7-6(2), 6-4 in three hours and six minutes. Khachanov battled back from 2-5 down in the third set.

“First rounds, playing an Australian guy are never easy,” said Khachanov. “I [had] never heard of him, but you heard from other guys that he had a big serve, big forehand [and went] for the shots. So it’s never easy to play guys like this, especially when they feel like they have nothing to lose… So I would say it was a difficult match. I’m happy that I could get through and I [have] really enjoyed playing tennis since the beginning of the year. I’m happy to compete again and I feel fresh. I feel physically ready.”

He will next play Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis, who advanced to the second round for the fifth time after he defeated Indian wild card Sumit Nagal 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 in two hours and 10 minutes.

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Nadal: 'There Is Always A Chance To Improve'

  • Posted: Feb 09, 2021

Rafael Nadal says he adjusted his service motion slightly on Tuesday in his first-round win over Laslo Djere in a bid to put less pressure on his back at the Australian Open.

The Spanish superstar, who has struggled to overcome a back injury over the past couple of weeks, grew in confidence throughout his 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Laslo Djere of Serbia in one hour and 52 minutes.

“My back is not perfect,” said Nadal. “Every day that I’m able to go through, probably there are more chances to get better. There is always a chance to improve, and that’s why I’m here playing and fighting to try to get better and then give myself a chance.

“I needed to change a little bit the motion of my serve. That’s what I tried [to do] to survive [in] this condition today. I have a day off tomorrow, then [on Thursday] another match. I need to go day-to-day and just try to stay positive.

“Of course, every day that I am trying to stay here, is a day with a chance to finally [get] better. [I’m] trying to do all the things possible to be ready to compete.”

Nadal won 50 per cent of his first-service points (13/26) in the first set, but that figure improved in the second set when the 2009 champion won 20 of 22 first deliveries (90 per cent). He lost just two of his first-service points (11/13) in the decider and finished the match with 19 winners.

The 34-year-old, who is bidding to become the first player in the Open Era (since 1968) to win each major singles championship twice, will now prepare to face American qualifier Michael Mmoh on Thursday.

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A Straight-Sets Win: Just What Nadal Ordered At The Australian Open

  • Posted: Feb 09, 2021

Rafael Nadal’s chase for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title is off to a good start.

The World No. 2 defeated Serbian Laslo Djere 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the second round of the Australian Open. The legendary lefty will play one of two qualifiers — Michael Mmoh or Viktor Troicki — in the second round.

“I’m happy to be through to the second round. I think I did a good job today,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “Straight sets, that’s what I needed.”

The Spaniard did not compete in the ATP Cup due to injury. But Nadal put in a solid performance against the World No. 56 to advance after one hour and 51 minutes.

“It’s been a tough 15 days for me, because I had some issues with the back. I needed to survive today, and that’s what I did,” Nadal said. “I just tried to be focussed all the time, tried to get through.”

Nadal did not play overly aggressive, but he did enough from the baseline to keep Djere on the back foot. The second seed saved four of the five break points he faced, and as the match wore on, he began to let loose with his forehand a bit more.

The 2009 champion was never in jeopardy. The Serbian at times fired his forehand, and he hit more winners than Nadal by a 20-19 margin, but Djere didn’t have the weapons to throw the lefty off his game.

Djere is a gritty opponent, who won an ATP 500 title on clay at the 2019 Rio Open presented by Claro. The 25-year-old was pursuing his first Australian Open main draw win on his fourth attempt.

“I wish him all the best for the rest of the season,” Nadal said. “Laslo has a great story. I wish him the best of luck.” 

Did You Know?
If Nadal wins this year’s Australian Open, he will become the first man in the Open Era to win the Career Grand Slam twice.

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