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Djokovic Shines Under The Lights, Downs Sandgren In Paris

  • Posted: Jun 01, 2021

Late in the evening in the City of Lights, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic christened the first ever men’s night session on Court Philippe-Chatrier with a victory over Tennys Sandgren on Tuesday to reach the second round at Roland Garros.

Djokovic improved to 4-0 in his ATP Head2Head against Sandgren after winning 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in their first clay-court meeting. Sandgren took a set off Djokovic in their 2018 US Open second-round clash, but the American was unable to repeat the feat in Paris as Djokovic saved all six break points he faced en route to victory. 

“It was strange, honestly, but I’m also honoured to be the first men’s night session match [in the] history of this tournament, of this court,” Djokovic said, after playing without fans on Chatrier due to the 9 p.m. curfew in Paris. “I had great support [at the ATP 250 event] in Belgrade last week, and I was kind of filled with a good vibe, good energy from those matches that I played in front of a crowd. So I didn’t mind playing in front of an empty stadium tonight.”

The 2016 champion arrived in Paris in red-hot form after lifting his 83rd tour-level trophy at the Belgrade Open on Saturday, backing up his run to the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final (l. Nadal). Djokovic owns a 21-3 record on the season, which includes a record-extending ninth Australian Open title in February, his 18th Grand Slam crown. 

“Overall from [the] later stages of the Rome tournament until now, I’m just finding my groove on the court and striking the ball well,” Djokovic said. “Very pleased with the way I am feeling and playing on the court.”

Djokovic wasted no time in taking the lead against Sandgren on Chatrier, which was outfitted with floodlights for the first time in 2020. The top seed’s backhand was firing as he surged ahead to an early break at 1-0, and didn’t face a break point himself as he closed out the opening set with another at 5-2.

He was in for a battle in the second set as Sandgren, who previously reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2018 and 2020, tried to fight his way back after going down another early break at 1-0. Djokovic faced three break points as the American rushed the net, catching his opponent out with a booming passing shot to take a 0/40 lead – but Djokovic held firm to stay in control.

Djokovic kept his cool against an increasingly frustrated Sandgren, reeling off five games in a row to open up a 5-1 lead in the third set. Sandgren saved match point to extend his stay in the contest, but couldn’t hold back the World No. 1 and his backhand down-the-line as Djokovic sealed the victory after an hour and 58 minutes.

“I thought I played really well. Moved really well,” Djokovic said. “I’m going to try to keep that up. Obviously it’s a long shot. It’s a long tournament. But I’ll take it match by match. And physically I’m also fit. I’m [as] motivated as anybody.”

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Into the second round at Roland Garros for the 17th consecutive time, Djokovic will next face Pablo Cuevas. The Uruguayan player advanced after securing a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory against Frenchman Lucas Pouille.

Did You Know?
2016 champion Djokovic is seeking his second Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy this fortnight in Paris. A victory would make him the first man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam championship twice.

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Nadal, Medvedev Among ATP Stars Celebrating Carla Suarez Navarro

  • Posted: Jun 01, 2021

Rafael Nadal led a chorus of ATP stars celebrating the emotional return of Carla Suarez Navarro from her battle with cancer at Roland Garros on Tuesday.

The Spaniard returned to Roland Garros to take on Sloane Stephens. She came within two points of taking the match in straight sets before the American rallied to win 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4. But it was a gutsy fight befitting her courageous return to the court.

Nadal was among myriad players delighted to see the 32-year-old back on tour. “I just want to congratulate you for the attitude and everything that you have transmitted during these complicated months. You are a champion,” Nadal said. “You were already one on court, but now you showed us that you’re also one away from the court, and I just wanted to congratulate you and tell you that I’m very, very happy for your recovery. I send you a big kiss and congratulations.”


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Along with 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal, Top 10 players Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev were among those who sent out messages of encouragement.

“Carla you were always fighting on the court and I think you got the win in your biggest fight, it is really inspiring and I hope you come back even stronger on the tour, win some tournaments. We are all with you, it is amazing,” Medvedev said.

Zverev added: “Carla, welcome back, we all missed you and we are all incredibly proud of you for dealing with what you had. It is amazing how much of a fighter you are. You showed it on the court all the time but now you have shown it in life as well so we are all proud of you and we are extremely happy to have you back and will be cheering for you this week.”

Suarez Navarro announced that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, last summer. But she has returned to the sport just five weeks after revealing she had recovered.

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Matteo Berrettini, the World No. 9 was another who shared his thoughts about the good news. “So nice to see you back. We’ve been texting and I actually met you here, so I am really happy that you are here practising and fighting. You have been an inspiration to all of us.”

Diego Schwartzman further echoed this, saying: “I am very, very happy to see you again here. When I saw you a few days ago we shared the smiles because we are friends outside the court, so I am very happy. You are a girl that many people have to follow and have to know how hard you fight to be here again. I hope to see you soon, competing on court at the max level.”

Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov also sent their support, with #NextGenATP talent Carlos Alcaraz telling his fellow Spaniard: “I just want to tell you that for me and for all the Spanish people it’s a pride to see you back on the courts. To have overcome everything you have gone through, it is really incredible. We wish you all the best on your comeback.”

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Murray/Soares Battle Through Roland Garros Opener

  • Posted: Jun 01, 2021

Seventh seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares got their Roland Garros campaign underway with a hard-fought victory on Tuesday as they battled past British pair Luke Bambridge and Dominic Inglot 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-3 in two hours and 43 minutes. The British/Brazilian team, who reunited this year, reached the 2017 quarter-finals and will face either Oliver Marach and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi or Marcelo Demoliner and Santiago Gonzalez.

Second-seeded Colombians Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, who have reached the semi-finals on three occasions in Paris, overcame British brothers Ken Skupski and Neal Skupski 6-4, 6-4 in 83 minutes. The pair saved all three break points they faced to improve to a 17-8 record on the season.

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Australian Open champions and fifth seeds Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek needed three match points and two hours and 45 minutes to overcome Andres Molteni and Frederik Nielsen 7-5, 6-7(6), 7-6(6). The Croatian-Slovakian tandem hit eight aces, winning 82 per cent of their first-service points. They now play Kazakhstanis Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev, who defeated wild cards Sadio Doumbia and Fabien Reboul 7-6(7), 6-1, having saved one set point at 6/7 in the first-set tie-break.

Elsewhere, ninth seeds Kevin Krawietz and Horia Tecau were also made to fight for victory, as they beat Ariel Behar and Gonzalo Escobar 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) in one hour and 55 minutes. Krawietz has won the past two Roland Garros doubles titles with fellow German Andreas Mies, who is recovering from right knee surgery. 

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Building 'A Perfect Wall' Brick By Brick: Alcaraz's Physical Evolution

  • Posted: Jun 01, 2021

A champion is gradually being sculpted, thanks to an extraordinary natural talent and a team that knows how to guide him towards success. Carlos Alcaraz is already making his mark at just 18 years old.

The #NextGenATP Spaniard is making his Roland Garros main draw debut, which was a dream when he first visited the tournament a tournament six years ago. When he was a boy, Alcaraz played in the French capital in an Under-13 tournament organised by a Roland Garros sponsor at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

“I clearly remember that I came to play in Paris. I can even remember where I was staying,” revealed the Spaniard. “It was one of my few trips outside of Spain at that age and it was very special.”

Not only did he play just a few kilometres from where his idols were doing the same, he was also invited to watch a match, which was won by Richard Gasquet, on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. In just a few years, the Frenchman has become one of his many peers on the ATP Tour.

“At that time I couldn’t have imagined that I would be here now, having won my first match,” Alcaraz admitted.

At 18, Alcaraz now knows what it is to claim a win in the main draw at Roland Garros. Having come through qualifying, he defeated countryman Bernabe Zapata Miralles 6-3, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) on Monday. He required three hours and eight minutes to open his account on the French clay.

It has been six years since that unforgettable childhood experience, enough time for a radical change in his aspirations. Now he is one of the players on the courts in the Bois de Boulogne Park, under the tutelage of former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero and a team of professionals taking care of his daily progress. Juanjo Moreno works on Alcaraz’s fitness.

“We remind him that every day is like a brick that he has to add as best as possible,” Moreno said. “So that the wall he is building is perfect and none of the bricks are misplaced during his daily work.”

Both Moreno and Alberto Lledó, members of the JC Ferrero Equelite Sport Academy team that guides the Spaniard’s career, have played a part in improving his fitness.

“Since Carlos arrived at the academy, after various tests and evaluations, we decided to focus on the biggest gaps we found,” Moreno said. “We’ve worked extensively to allow him to reach his potential and we’re still working on it to get more results.”

The physical change is evident not only in his appearance, which is becoming one of increasing sturdiness and strength, but also in his capacity to cope with long matches on consecutive days.

“The results are noticeable with that change in appearance, which has never been the goal, but it’s the side effect of a job well done. You can see it in the speed of his serve, the zip in his shots, the strength he hits the ball with, the way he moves on court,” Moreno said. “Obviously Juan Carlos’ work on court is proving to be spectacular and you can see that in his tennis, which is backed up by this fitness work.”

Carlos Alcaraz
Photo Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Alcaraz himself corroborates Moreno’s words.

“I’ve had two tough preseasons as a good tennis player and that’s helping me a lot,” the 18-year-old said. “I have complete confidence in my team and I’ve made huge progress on the physical side. I think it’s very important to be able to cope with adversity and to deal with this kind of match. I have a lot of confidence in my fitness, and I think I’m ready to play really tough and very long matches.”

When the World No. 97 arrived at the facilities in Alicante, a plan was laid out to work on his musculature, tendons and musculoskeletal system to prevent injuries. They also prepared a plan to improve his resistance, strength, speed and coordination.

“We’ve focused more on recovery work, on taking care of the fine details that make up a professional tennis player,” Moreno said. “From the moment he gets up to when he goes to sleep, we try to educate Carlos on all the recovery processes, as he came here with a very good background after working with Néstor Vicente Salar.

“What we’ve done is to make the most of that knowledge he already had to continue highlighting the details that make the difference in the processes of recovery, so that he can be ready to train more intensely the day after a fitness session or intense tennis session. It’s very important to underscore processes such as rehydration, recovery, rest, reparative sleep.”

Alcaraz’s results show that the pieces of the puzzle are coming together perfectly, that the learning process is progressing healthily and that the professional team headed by Ferrero is a perfect guiding light.

“Juan Carlos always tells both Alberto and me the things he thinks need work on and what we can do to work on them. We get to work under the gaze of Juan Carlos’ great technical eye, with which he is able to spot anything that could be improved,” Moreno said.

Alcaraz will play Nikoloz Basilashvili for a spot in the third round.

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