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Twin Towers Isner, Opelka Lead American Charge

  • Posted: Jun 02, 2021

Big servers John Isner and Reilly Opelka were among four Americans who charged into the third round of Roland Garros Wednesday in a long-overdue run of good form in Paris from American men. The last time at least four American men advanced to the third round was in 1996, when six survived the second round.

Isner fired down 23 aces to defeat Serbian Filip Krajinovic in straight sets, 7-6(6), 6-1, 7-6(5).

“I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. I just want to go out and play free and try to play loose and be happy with the result either way. That’s what I have done very, very well this year,” Isner said. “The times that I have lost this year I have been happy. I have been fine. I slept fine that night, and that’s the mentality I’m taking.”

The World No. 34 was in ruthless serving form, winning 91 per cent of his first-serve points and saving all three of the break points he faced in the match. Isner will next meet fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who leads their ATP Head2Head series 3-2 in their head-to-head.

Opelka also moved on, converting five of his seven break points against Jaume Munar to win 6-3 6-2 3-6 7-5. Opelka, normally known for his big serving, was able to break Munar’s serve five times in the match, hitting 61 winners along the way while his opponent only managed 18.

“I’m excited. I’m thrilled. I’ve only been in the third round [at a Grand Slam] once before in Wimbledon,” Opelka said. “My body was in much worse condition than it is now. It’s just a testament to how hard I’ve been working in the gym. It just shows that I’m getting better.”

It was an impressive win for Opelka considering Munar is extremely comfortable on the clay. In fact, the 24-year-old Spaniard has played all 13 of his tournaments at all levels in 2021 on the surface.

Marcos Giron, the No. 84 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings, defeated Argentine Guido Pella 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-7(3), 6-4 to make the third round at a major for the first time.

In the first round, Grigor Dimitrov led the Californian 6-2, 6-4, 5-1, 0/40 on Giron’s serve. But the American battled back to force a fourth set, in which the Bulgarian retired due to a back injury. Giron has had to endure physical issues of his own throughout his career, having surgery on both of his hips between 2015 and 2016, and he will next play 22nd seed Cristian Garin.

Read Feature: Why Giron’s Hip Surgeries Are ‘A Distant Memory’

The fourth American to go through on Wednesday was Steve Johnson. In the second to last match of the day, Johnson beat Brazilian Thiago Monteiro 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-3 after three hours and 49 minutes.

Johnson, who also won a five-setter in the first round, hit 19 aces and converted seven of his 15 break points to reach the third round in Paris for the fourth time. He began the tournament without a tour-level win in 2021.

Mackenzie McDonald had two match points in the third-set tie-break against Garin, but the Chilean rallied for a 4-6, 4-6, 7-6(9), 6-3, 8-6 victory.

Garin was unable to convert a match point of his own at 6-5 in the fifth, but managed to make good on his second attempt a few games later, ending a battle that lasted more than four hours.

Tommy Paul made an early push to join his fellow Americans in the third round when he took the first set against Daniil Medvedev. But the second-seeded Russian rebounded strongly to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.

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Medvedev Growing In Confidence On Clay

  • Posted: Jun 02, 2021

Could Daniil Medvedev be growing fond of the clay at Roland Garros?

Much has been made of the second seed’s lack of previous success in Paris, but Medvedev advanced to the third round of the year’s second Grand Slam on Wednesday with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 win against American Tommy Paul.

The two-time major finalist arrived in France with an 0-4 record at Roland Garros. But Medvedev has only lost one set through two matches, and he will next play big-serving American Reilly Opelka for a spot in the fourth round.

After his first-round win against Alexander Bublik, Medvedev said, “I’m feeling that here, at least this year with this weather, with these balls, I can play like on hard courts.”

On hard courts, Medvedev often finds a “lockdown mode” in which he makes few unforced errors and frustrates his opponents. Despite a slow start against the 2015 Roland Garros boys’ singles champion, that’s exactly what Medvedev did on Wednesday inside Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Medvedev, who uncharacteristically sprayed shots in the first set, made just three unforced errors in the second to claim the momentum. Instead of falling well behind the baseline and taking risks from tough court positions, the 10-time ATP Tour titlist settled down and tested Paul’s consistency and patience.

Medvedev broke the World No. 52’s serve eight times and won 80 per cent of his first-serve points to advance after two hours and 18 minutes.

The World No. 2’s next opponent, Opelka, battled past Spaniard Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 earlier in the day. The 32nd seed had never won a match at Roland Garros before this week.

“Medvedev [is] one of the best returners in the world,” Opelka said.

Their clash promises to be a tight one. Medvedev leads their ATP Head2Head series 2-1, but all three of their clashes have gone the distance. This will be their first meeting on clay.

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Christian Ruud On Son Casper: 'I'm Very Happy He Has Beaten All My Records'

  • Posted: Jun 02, 2021

There have been many cases over the years of professional tennis talent running in the family. The Ruud family may just be one of the most successful cases, as father, Christian Ruud, and son, Casper Ruud, are the two greatest players in the history of Norwegian tennis.

Casper, who on Tuesday advanced to the third round at Roland Garros, has established himself as one of the best clay-court players in the world, and is viewed by many, including his father, to be a threat at this Grand Slam for years to come.

“He has the game for it, he has the weapons and he has a good clay-court game,” Christian told Chris Bowers for ATP Tennis Radio. “I think there are a lot of good players coming behind [Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic], and I think Casper is one of them, especially on the clay.”

Listen To ATP Tennis Radio Interview:

Christian Ruud has a dual role as his son’s father and coach. He also doesn’t seem to mind that Casper has eclipsed many of his own achievements from when he was a player. Christian reached a career-high No. 39 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, while his son is now at a career-best World No. 16.

“Casper is quite easy to coach I would say. I think that inside he has a big drive and he shows that every day when he goes to practice,” Christian said. “My goal is for him to become as good as possible so in that sense I am very happy that he has beaten all of my records now.”

Casper has thrived on clay the most during the early stages of his career. He possesses a 17-4 record on the surface so far in 2021, winning a title in Geneva (d. Shapovalov) and making  semi-final appearances in two clay-court ATP 1000 Masters events this year, in Monte-Carlo and Madrid.

The 22-year-old’s level on the clay has put him in 10th place in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin. With a successful campaign in Paris, the Norwegian could climb even higher into contention for a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals. 

While Ruud has reached the third round at Roland Garros in 2019 and 2020, he carries more momentum into this major than ever before. His father believes that winning the tournament this year is not such a far-fetched notion.

“I think that bigger surprises have happened before,” Christian said. “I think we have to respect guys that have won here many times before like Rafa, and [other stars like] Djokovic, but I think certainly (that) Casper is in the mix of contenders a little bit this year.”

According to Christian, Casper has big aspirations, and his results this year have backed up that self-belief.

“I think he believes that he can become a Top 10 player and I think he dreams about being No. 1 and winning a Grand Slam,” Christian said. “He’s playing well at the moment and feels like he belongs, especially among the clay-courters in that ranking. We had a good start of the year and we’re really happy with the position he’s in, so I think he’s optimistic about the rest of the year and the future.”

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De Minaur/Reid Save 5 M.P. In Roland Garros Win

  • Posted: Jun 02, 2021

On Wednesday, doubles teams kicked off their Roland Garros campaigns with two Australian teams saving a flurry of match points.  

Alex de Minaur and Matt Reid escaped with a 3-6, 7-6(11), 6-4 win over Federico Delbonis and Divij Sharan. The Aussies saved five match points in the second-set tie-break to advance. De Minaur is seeded No. 21 in the singles draw and faces Marco Cecchinato first on Thursday before retuning for more doubles. 

Aussies Max Purcell and Luke Saville outlasted French wild cards Gregoire Barrere and Albano Olivetti 6-2, 6-7(2), 7-6(10), saving three match points before closing out the win.

Home favourites Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut survived a challenge from Brits Cameron Norrie and Jonny O’Mara. The French duo, who won the Roland Garros title together in 2018, moved on with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory. 

Two other seeded teams advanced: No. 14-seeded Germans Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen 6-4, 6-4 over Italians Lorenzo Sonego and Andrea Vavassori, and No. 15-seeded Raven Klaasen and Ben McLachlan 6-3, 6-2 over Frenchmen Mathias Bourgue and Lucas Pouille.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and his partner Dan Added took out Ricardas Berankis and Albert Ramos Vinolas 7-6(1), 6-2 to set up a showdown with second seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.

Top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic withdrew and were replaced by Pablo Andujar and Pedro Martinez. The Spaniards will play an alternate team in the first round.

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Laaksonen Makes Breakthrough At Roland Garros, But Still 'Not Satisfied'

  • Posted: Jun 02, 2021

Henri Laaksonen arrived in Paris without a tour-level win this season. But on Wednesday, the Swiss stunned 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

“Today was just an amazing match for me,” Laaksonen said. “I was playing really aggressive and it paid off.”

The 29-year-old’s major breakthrough is on a comfortable surface for the World No. 150. Although Laaksonen is Swiss, he spent his first 16 years in Finland and grew up in Hyvinkää, which is north of Helsinki.

“They opened the clay courts really early, sometimes [at the] end of March, beginning of April already. Sometimes we were playing when it was snowing a little bit,” Laaksonen said. “I just like it generally when I have a little bit more time for my strokes and slower conditions, so [the clay] fits me.”

Henri Laaksonen
Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
As a junior, Laaksonen’s best result came at Roland Garros. In 2009, he reached the semi-finals of the boys’ singles event, and in 2010 he climbed to a career-best World No. 20 in the junior rankings. But it would take until July 2017 to break into the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.

In February 2018, however, he ran into an issue. Laaksonen ate a lot of seafood growing up, especially salmon. But he began feeling intense pain throughout his body whenever he would eat it.

Laaksonen would have seafood one night, then would only be able to practise for a short time the next day and the resulting inflammation would force him to stay in bed for two days. But once he stopped eating salmon, things would get better.

“My body is starting to work again in a more normal way,” Laaksonen told in 2019.

Now Laaksonen has been battling to find the form that has helped him to two ATP Tour semi-finals and a career-high World No. 93 in 2017. The Swiss snapped a five-match losing streak at all levels two weeks ago in Geneva, where he qualified for the main draw. Laaksonen then qualified for the Roland Garros main draw for the third time.

“I wasn’t playing bad. It was just missing one, two, three per cent, and that makes the difference on this level. Either you win those matches or you lose,” Laaksonen said. “I didn’t feel bad actually on court. I was just missing a couple parts on my game. Here it has been going my way so far, so it’s close always. And I wasn’t really happy and I’m still not happy. My ranking is 150. That’s not my goal, but that’s what it is. I just try to improve.”

Laaksonen reunited a few weeks ago with coach David Pultr, whom he had previously worked with two years ago.

“I think we communicate well. We have good relationship,” Laaksonen said. “I think that’s important for a player to feel comfortable and to perform well.”

Things are moving in the right direction for the 29-year-old, who admitted he’s “not satisfied if I’m 140, 130, or 150” in the FedEx ATP Rankings. For now, he will focus on trying to make the fourth round at a major when he plays Kei Nishikori, who has needed five sets to win his first two matches.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that I [would] win today, so first I have to enjoy this one,” Laaksonen said. “Then I think I have a day off tomorrow. I’ll do my practise, and then when I have the next match, I’ll try to continue from there where I left today.”

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Zverev Battles Into Roland Garros Third Round

  • Posted: Jun 02, 2021

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev dug deep on Wednesday as he defeated Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin to advance to the Roland Garros third round.

Safiullin did not show any signs of being overwhelmed on the big stage, but it was Zverev who emerged the victor, 7-6(4), 6-3, 7-6(1), in what was another intense battle against a player who came through the qualifying stages.

The 24-year-old Zverev, who is now 20-8 on the season, will next play a Serbian: Laslo Djere or Miomir Kecmanovic.

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Zverev, who recovered from two-sets-to-love down against qualifier Oscar Otte on Sunday, was given a stern test in the 60-minute first set. He was broken when serving for the set at 6-5, but got off to a strong start in the tie-break. The German came back from 1-3 down in the second set, and a 1-4 deficit in the third set.

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