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Mannarino Earns Nadal Showdown… But He Doesn't Know It

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Adrian Mannarino will face a stiff challenge on Sunday when he plays Rafael Nadal for a spot in the Australian Open quarter-finals. The thing is, the Frenchman has no idea he is facing Nadal.

The lefty, who had just won a marathon four-setter 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4 against 2021 semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev, sat down to speak to the media at about 3:20 a.m. Saturday morning in Melbourne.

“I don’t know who I’m going to play against next. I don’t like to watch [the draw] and I don’t want to know,” Mannarino said. “It’s 3 a.m. Just finished my match. I don’t really care about who I’m playing next. It’s the last thing I’m going to think about.

“I just want to enjoy the moment right now. We’ve got time to see for the next one.”

This was not something he said just because it was past 3 a.m. following a gruelling match. Mannarino generally does not look at draws.

Nadal, however, was aware he might play Mannarino. The 20-time major champion, who defeated Karen Khachanov in the third round, noticed Mannarino’s play earlier in the event when the Frenchman upset 2021 Nitto ATP Finals competitor Hubert Hurkacz.

“Mannarino is playing great,” Nadal said. “I think the match against Hubert [was] a surprise. He was playing at I think a very high level. To win against a player like Hubert in straight sets with that result is because you did a lot of things well. I saw a little bit of that match, he was playing well.”

Adrian Mannarino
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
The World No. 69 has proven a menace for opponents this week with his flat groundstrokes and consistency. Mannarino made just 22 unforced errors against Karatsev and lost just nine games in three sets against Hurkacz. He also defeated home favourite James Duckworth in five sets in the first round.

“I just won three matches. I don’t think you can say I’m bothering so many guys. The matchup was pretty good tonight. I think that Aslan is the kind of player who makes me play well. So was Hurkacz in the second round,” Mannarino said. “I think I’m moving pretty well on court. I’m just trying to be consistent. I’m keeping a good attitude on court and just trying to fight the most I can, not thinking about what’s going to happen or what’s happening on the court at the moment.

Mannarino added: “With my type of game, this is what I can do. I’m not going to serve, like, 220 kilometres or make lots of winners. I’m just the kind of player who is grinding and put one more time the ball in the court. This is what I’m doing.”

This is the first time the 33-year-old is into the fourth round at a major outside of Wimbledon. Mannarino is 0-2 in his ATP Head2Head series against Nadal, but if he could turn that around, he will reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final.

“Of course I’m kind of exhausted right now. It’s been long. It’s like 3 a.m.,” Mannarino said. “That was a good battle on court, lots of rallies. He was hitting hard. I think that was a good match, good fight, and happy I got through. Even if I’m tired now, I don’t really think about it. I’m just happy that I won.”

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Alcaraz: 'I’m Close To The Top Players'

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Carlos Alcaraz is ready to go again against the top talent on the ATP Tour.

The Spaniard was naturally disappointed after narrowly failing to complete a stunning comeback against World No. 7 Matteo Berrettini in the Australian Open third round on Friday, but the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion doesn’t think he is far away from winning similar matches in future.

“I feel I’m close to the top players,” said Alcaraz in his post-match press conference after his five-set defeat. “Berrettini is World No. 7 as of today, and I almost defeated him. I’ve already beaten some Top 10 players. With the level I showed today and the feelings I have, I think that I’m ready to be among those kinds of players.

“When I’ve played against the top players, apart from against Rafa [at the 2021 Madrid Masters 1000 tournament], I was close. I think I have the level to play against the top players. I’m getting closer every tournament that I’m playing.”

Alcaraz cited seventh-seeded Berrettini’s performance as a good example of the sort of level he needs to maintain to push on from his current career-high ATP Ranking of No. 31.

“Berrettini played an amazing match,” said the 18-year-old. “You have to recognise what your opponents do well. He showed a huge level during the whole match, that’s why I congratulated him at the net. He went for it and deserved the victory.”

Alcaraz had an unbeaten record in fifth sets until the Berrettini defeat. He successfully went the distance with Yasutaka Uchiyama at Wimbledon in 2021, and then beat both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Peter Gojowczyk in deciding sets on his way to a first Grand Slam quarter-final at the US Open in September.

However, this was the first time he found himself two-sets-to-love down in his young career, and the Spaniard was delighted with the way he reacted to this novel situation.

“I’m very proud of the performance today,” said Alcaraz. “To be able to come back the way I did, I gave everything on the court. That’s the thing that I want to do, give everything on the court and I’m very proud of the way that I did.

“Juan Carlos [Ferrero, Alcaraz’s coach] congratulated me for the fight. It is not easy to come back from two sets to love, be toe-to-toe with your opponent and try to win the match. He told me I gave everything, and that was the goal. Give your best and leave the court with no regrets. You give everything and fight until the end.”

Carlos Alcaraz
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
The pain of defeat still stings, but Alcaraz’s performances at the US Open and in Melbourne confirm he is now a bona fide threat on all surfaces, not just his beloved clay.

“I’m feeling comfortable playing on hard courts, as well as clay courts. It’s really important to have a really good game on hard courts, most tournaments are on hard courts,” Alcaraz said. “You have to be ready to play really well on that surface, and I think I adapt my game really well.”

Alcaraz will next turn his attention back to clay at the Rio Open presented by Claro in mid-February, before returning to test his hard-court prowess once again at the ATP 500 tournament in Acapulco.

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Nadal Stays Perfect At Aussie Open

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Rafael Nadal survived a third-set bombardment from Karen Khachanov Friday to maintain his ruthless start to the season, overcoming the 28th seed 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open for a staggering 15th time.

Prior to January, Nadal had not competed in a tour-level event since Washington in August due to a foot injury. But the sixth seed is playing as if he has never been away, with his victory over Khachanov extending his perfect 2022 record to 6-0.

“It is a very special week for me, coming back,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “Every single time I am able to play here is very special. Tonight I played against a great player and a good friend on Tour. It was my best match since I have come back without a doubt.”

The Spaniard, who captured his 89th tour-level title at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month, dropped only one point on serve in the opening set against Khachanov and recovered from losing just his second ever set against the Russian to eventually advance after two hours and 50 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Nadal is aiming to win a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne, having lifted the Australian Open trophy in 2009. He fired 39 winners and committed 30 unforced errors to improve to 8-0 in his ATPHead2Head series against Khachanov.

“I have gone through some very tough times over the past year,” Nadal added. “But nights like tonight mean everything. I keep fighting and going every day. I put a lot of effort in to be back with where I am today, so I am happy.”

In a brutal heavy-hitting performance, Nadal took time away from the Russian with his aggressive topspin ball striking in the first two sets, pulling Khachanov one way and then the other as he pinned the 25-year-old behind the baseline.

The 13-time Roland Garros champion, who broke Khachanov five times, looked on course for a routine win as they moved into the third set. But from 1-2, 40/0 in the set, Nadal lost serve for the first time in the match as Khachanov started to close the net to great effect. The Russian continued to unsettle the sixth seed with his powerful hitting and he gained a foothold in the clash by holding to love to seal the set. 

All this did was fire up the Spaniard though, with Nadal breaking in stunning fashion at the start of the fourth set with a backhand pass down the line. The former World No. 1 let out a roar and punched the air in delight, before he raced to finish the line to advance. Only Roger Federer (18) has advanced to the fourth round at Melbourne Park more than Nadal.

The World No. 5 will next play Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the last 16. Mannarino eliminated surprise 2021 semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev, this year’s 18th seed 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4 after four hours and 38 minutes in the match, which ended at 2:33 a.m.

The lefty made just 22 unforced errors compared to 86 for Karatsev. Mannarino trails Nadal 0-2 in their ATP Head2Head series (0-4 in sets).

Did You Know?
Nadal is attempting to become just the second man behind Novak Djokovic to win all four majors at least twice.

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Kokkinakis/Kyrgios Shock Mektic/Pavic

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

After delighting energised home fans with carefree and entertaining shotmaking, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios celebrated with a chest bump on match point after upsetting No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in straight sets in the second round of doubles at the Australian Open Friday.

With both Australians out of the singles after Kyrgios’ defeat to World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on Thursday, the duo played loose seemingly with nothing to lose on Kia Arena in front of a raucous home crowd.

The top-ranked Croatian pairing was undone by a strong serving performance from their opponents, who fired 17 aces and won 88 per cent of points behind first serves. Kokkinakis and Kyrgios took the first set tie-break with their fourth set point, before securing the only break of the second set to run out 7-6(8), 6-3 winners.

The defeat leaves World No. 1 Pavic and World No. 2 Mektic still searching for their second Grand Slam title, after their victory at Wimbledon in 2021.

This is the fourth time Kokkinakis and Kyrgios have played together at the Australian Open but their first time reaching the third round. Their next opponents will be either the 15th seeds, Uruguayan Ariel Behar and Ecuadoran Gonzalo Escobar, or all-German pairing Jan-Lennard Struff and Dominik Koepfer.

Third seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos lost just 10 points on their own serve in a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win over Brit Jonny O’Mara and Belarussian Andrei Vasilevski. Spaniard Granollers and Argentine Zeballos advanced to a second appearance in the Australian Open third round with ease. The four-time ATP Masters 1000 winners are bidding for a first Grand Slam crown in Melbourne.

Two-time Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies continued to impress in their second tournament back together since Mies’ recovery from knee surgery. The 12th-seeded Germans beat Americans Austin Krajicek and Sam Querrey 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-4, facing only one break point in the match as they reached the third round in Melbourne for the first time.

Their next opponents will be fifth seeds Australian John Peers and Slovak Filip Polasek. They faced a second all-Australian team in a row, winning 92 per cent of points behind first serves on their way to beating wild cards Rinky Hijikata and Tristan Schoolkate 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

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Berrettini Edges Alcaraz In 5-Set Thriller

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Italian powerhouse Matteo Berrettini withstood a spirited comeback from Carlos Alcaraz and a heavy fall in the final set to claw his way into the fourth round of the Australian Open Friday.

The World No. 7 squandered a two-sets lead and rolled his right ankle in the second game of the fifth set before pulling off a courageous 6-2, 7-6(3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6(10-5) win on Rod Laver Arena.

Reflecting on almost letting slip his two-sets lead, Berrettini said, “I felt confident, and that momentum was on my side in the third set but then I got broken. My energy wasn’t right in the fourth set and in the fifth I just started to think about fighting for every point. In every match something happens [like the ankle injury] but I fought through it.”

Avenging a third-set tie-break loss to the 18-year-old Spaniard in Vienna last year, Berrettini produced a serving masterclass early in the match that didn’t allow Alcaraz to work his way into the first two sets.

But Alcaraz struck back in third and fourth sets when he put 100 per cent of Berrettini’s second serves back into play.

Berrettini badly rolled his right ankle in the second game of the fifth set but after receiving treatment from the physio his movement did not appear to be significantly compromised.

After hitting long a swinging forehand volley – that he could have let bounce – Alcaraz was forced to stave off a match point at 5-6, 30/40, when, to his relief, Berrettini dumped a routine forehand second-serve return into the middle of the net.

Little separated the players in a tense decider, which came down to a first-to-10 tie-break, but four miscued forehands cost Alcaraz dearly, with Berrettini advancing after four hours and 10 minutes.

Berrettini was glowing in his praise of Alcaraz’s game and fight in his on-court interview. “At his age I didn’t have an ATP point and he will only improve,” Berrettini said. “He showed everyone his potential today.”

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