Miami Open: Elena Rybakina beats Elise Mertens to reach quarter-finals
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina is through to the Miami Open quarter-finals after beating Elise Mertens in straight sets.
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina is through to the Miami Open quarter-finals after beating Elise Mertens in straight sets.
Editor’s note: This story was translated from ATPTour.com/es
Simply seeing Tommy Paul on the other side of the net on Tuesday at the Miami Open presented by Itau will be a reminder to Carlos Alcaraz of the meteoric rise he has enjoyed since his loss to the American last August in Montreal.
After that tournament, where Alcaraz was one of the top seeds for the first time at an ATP Masters 1000 event, the Spaniard admitted that he had never felt pressure like that day on court against Paul. “I have to be ready to deal with that pressure, to have these kinds of moments and learn to handle them,” he said at the time. But Alcaraz has always been a quick learner.
Despite the fact that only seven months have passed since then, this bump in the road seems to be well behind him. His coach Juan Carlos Ferrero can attest to that.
“I don’t think that Carlos being No. 1 or No. 2 influences him too much in terms of how he approaches matches,” the Spanish coach explained before Tuesday’s tie in Miami. If one person has helped him get to that point, it is the former World No. 1 and 16-time ATP Tour champion.
“It’s true that as you get higher, you often feel the pressure around you, of being a favourite, that you have to win almost all your matches. But if Carlos has his mind on that all the time, his tennis won’t flow. That’s why we’ve tried to focus on this aspect of his growth so that everything goes well in terms of flowing on court,” Ferrero added.
His progress in dealing with being one of the favourites is clear. The 19-year-old Spaniard is now in the midst of his second spell as No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Ranking, and he has won his past eight matches without dropping a set. Although he must now mount a successful defence of his Miami title if he is to stay at the top, so far he has played fearless, nerveless tennis in the Hard Rock Stadium.
In fact, he has won a 6-0 set in each of his two victories this fortnight. “I think he has learned his lesson about his approach in Montreal, with the added pressure, especially after what happened at the US Open,” added Ferrero. “Now Carlos is playing much more freely, and concentrating more on his game than things that are going on around him. And I think that will make him play better than he did last time against Paul.”
However, the 25-year-old American Paul has also taken giant strides since his only previous encounter with Alcaraz. Last August he was yet to break into the Top 30, now he has a place in the Top 20 and is enjoying a great season that includes a semi-final at the Australian Open and a final in Acapulco.
“He’s working well and he’s focused, and he looks more mature on court. That’s making him play better. He’s gained quite a lot of confidence in his game,” says Ferrero. “And apart from serving and returning well, for me his mobility is among the best on tour at the moment. That means he covers the court very well and makes him difficult to beat.”
Paul’s current rich vein of form has allowed him to win his past 12 matches against Spaniards, a streak that includes victories over Rafael Nadal, Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, whom he beat on Sunday in the third round in Miami.
“I know he plays at a very high level against Spaniards, but I’m here to try and end that run,” explains Alcaraz. The top seed is well aware of the magnitude of the challenge he is facing. “Paul is doing everything well. He moves well, he’s fast, he hits great shots. He makes it all look easy. I’ve seen many of his matches and I enjoy watching him play. He’s very talented, so it’ll be a very tough match.”
Ferrero agrees with his understudy. “It’s going to be a match in which Carlos will have to go out on full alert and, from there, create a good match and make the most of his speed on the baseline to try and undo Paul.”
The last Spaniard to do that? Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals in Acapulco in 2022. An inspired Alcaraz will be looking to replicate the feat this Tuesday in the Hard Rock Stadium to earn himself a place in the quarter-finals in Miami.
It was a weekend of comebacks and thrilling championship matches on the ATP Challenger Tour, three of four tournaments were decided in final-set tie-breaks.
Ricardas Berankis and Hugo Grenier survived three-set finals to claim Challenger titles while Alessandro Giannessi fended off a championship point in Zadar, Croatia to win his fourth Challenger crown. In Switzerland, Jurij Rodionov successfully defended his title at the Biel Challenger.
Berankis survived home hope Dan Added in the St. Brieuc Challenger final to win his 14th Challenger title. Despite having two match points in the second set, Berankis was pushed to a decider but ultimately prevailed 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(5) to win the Open Saint-Brieuc Armor Agglomeration.
En route to his first Challenger title since August 2019 (Vancouver), the 32-year-old Berankis ousted top seed Antoine Escoffier in the quarter-finals.
In Las Franquesas Del Valles, Spain, second seed Grenier rallied from a set down in each of his final three matches to claim his fourth Challenger title.
In the championship match, the Frenchman completed a comeback from 2-5 in the deciding set to defeat British qualifier Billy Harris 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(3) and win the Challenger Club Els Gorchs.
Hugo Grenier (left) and Billy Harris at the Las Franquesas del Valles Challenger trophy presentation. Credit: Jordi Ramos
“This week was amazing for me because the beginning of the season hasn’t been easy for me,” Grenier said. “I won [the semi-final and final] in a third-set tie-break so for me it’s an amazing week. It’s always good to win those long matches.”
Harris was competing in his first Challenger final after upsetting top seed Max Purcell in the final four to end the Aussie’s 18-match win streak.
On the clay courts of Croatia, Giannessi saved a championship point at 5/6 in the third-set tie-break to escape Sebastian Ofner 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(6) and win the Falkensteiner Punta Skala Zadar Open.
Despite holding a 4-0, 40/0 lead in the deciding set against Ofner, the 32-year-old Italian was forced to a tie-break before scoring his fourth Challenger title and first since May 2019 (Vicenza).
At the FlowBank Challenger Biel in Switzerland, fans were treated to a final between the 2021 champion Liam Broady and the reigning titlist Rodionov, who dropped just one set en route to defending his title. The Austrian Rodionov led Broady 6-3 before the Brit retired with a wrist injury.
Jurij Rodionov in action Sunday at the Biel Challenger. Credit: Meierhans Fotografie
The 23-year-old Rodionov, who is No. 126 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, earned his sixth Challenger title and first of this season.
“[Biel] is like home to me,” Rodionov said. “I haven’t lost a match on this soil, it just feels great. I hope I can continue my momentum into the next few weeks and gain a lot of points before Roland Garros and Wimbledon to hopefully get into the main draw.
“Unfortunately [Sunday’s] final didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I wish Liam a quick recovery.”
Botic van de Zandschulp claimed the first Top 5 win of his career and extended Casper Ruud’s disappointing 2022 season when he rallied from the brink of a double break in the final set to oust the 2022 finalist 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 at the Miami Open presented by Itau.
In a scrappy match in which both players made more than 30 unforced errors, World No. 4 Ruud ultimately paid the price for converting just two of 15 break point opportunities, including one of eight in the final set.
“It was an unbelievable tough match,” said van de Zandschulp, the 26th seed. “He had so many chances in the third set. When I broke back for 3-2 I was holding and had a feeling that I had a chance in his service games. At 5-4 I had one opportunity and I took it.”
Ruud, who reached Grand Slam finals in Paris and New York last year and the title match of the Nitto ATP Finals, has not won consecutive matches this year. In the final set he led 2-0 and had two break points for a double break. When he handed back the break for 3-all, the Norwegian made two volleying errors.
In the final game a van de Zandschulp dead net cord off a Ruud second serve at deuce brought up match point. Ruud failed to put away a smash and then dumped a high routine forehand volley into the net – perhaps a sign of his low confidence – to seal his own fate.
Van de Zandschulp fired 12 aces and saved three of six break points faced. The Dutchman is up one place to No. 31 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. Van de Zandschulp improved to 3-1 in ATP Head2Head meetings with Ruud and next meets Finn Emil Ruusuvuori. The pair has split their two prior meetings.
Ruud will now head to his beloved clay in the hope that his favourite surface will turn around his 5-6 start to the year. The 24-year-old surged to the title match of the Nitto ATP Finals last year but currently finds himself 81st in the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin.
Jiri Lehecka has taken the ATP Tour by storm over the past four months. After reaching the championship match at the Next Gen ATP Finals, the Czech has sprinted forward with his momentum.
The 21-year-old defeated former World No. 2 Alexander Zverev at the season-opening United Cup and gained momentum from there. Lehecka battled to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, where he upset three current or former Top 10 stars: Felix Auger-Aliassime, Cameron Norrie and Borna Coric.
The son of former professional athletes — father Jiri was a professional swimmer and mother Romana a track-and-field athlete — has the firepower to go blow for blow with some of the best players on Tour.
ATPTour.com caught up with Lehecka in Miami to learn more about his personality off the court.
If you could choose any three people to go to dinner with, who would they be and why?
Michael Jordan, Conor McGregor and Elon Musk. I think that these three guys are on the top of the game at what they do. They know how to do it, they’ve proven it. I think they’ve fulfilled their dreams.
If you could switch places with one person in the world who would it be and why?
That’s a tricky question! I would say I would love to be Rafa for a day when he plays a match on Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris. Of course it’s a Grand Slam, so it’s a great tournament to win. For sure it’s one of the dreams. But I think that for him, he is one of these guys where it just feels like he can’t lose there.
What is your favourite non-tennis memory?
Probably for now jet-skiing with my fitness coach in Dubai. First time. I enjoyed it a lot. I would be able to do it all day.
What is something interesting fans might not know about you?
I don’t know, honestly. I think that I’m just your typical man. I hate spicy foods. I can’t, I just can’t. I love pasta, Italian food. All the entrees, appetizers. I can eat it all day, all week, all month, maybe all year.
What’s your favourite pasta?
Penne for sure and tortellini with tomato sauce all the time. Tomato sauce [on pasta] by itself is quite a good one, I like that.
If you can achieve one thing in your career, what would it be?
To win a Grand Slam and to win every Grand Slam at least once.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do because you’re a tennis player?
I think it would have been in Kitzbühel last year, we had a chance to go paragliding. But I was too scared to do that, so I chose not to do it. I don’t really know if there is something really crazy for me to do because I’m a tennis player.
I had a chance to see the Burj Khalifa. Stuff where for example I wouldn’t be able to go there if it wouldn’t be for tennis. Tennis opened for me the path to see things: the Empire State Building in New York, the Miami Heat game yesterday.
How much do you like basketball?
I’m not the biggest fan. It was my first time being at an NBA game, but it was quite an experience. I liked it.
What was your pinch-me moment on the ATP Tour?
Last year when I achieved my win against Lorenzo [Musetti] in Rotterdam, which meant that I would be in the Top 100.
While teenage World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz is deservedly commanding the attention of the tennis world, 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner is quietly building an impressive season of his own.
In defeating Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-4 Sunday night to reach the fourth round of the Miami Open presented by Itau, the former Next Gen ATP Finals champion moved to 18-4 on the season, his fastest start ever to a season.
Beginning with his title run in Montpellier, Sinner has won 14 of his past 16 matches and last week reached the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open before falling to Carlos Alcaraz.
In a match in which both players hit double the number of unforced errors to winners, Sinner’s victory was underpinned by his dominance of the second serve of Dimitrov, who won just seven of 26 points that began with his second delivery.
“It’s the first time I have played in the evening. I can be very happy with my returning game, especially on second serves, when I tried to be very aggressive,” Sinner said. “He’s such a talented and intelligent player, so I am very happy about how I played today.”
Sinner reached the Miami final (l. Hurkacz) on debut in 2021 and last year reached the quarter-finals before retiring after five games against Francisco Cerundolo. He now boasts a 10-2 record in south Florida.
Sinner, who has risen to No. 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, next faces Andrey Rublev, who is at No. 6 in the live rankings.
World No. 5 Daniil Medvedev is through to the fourth round in Miami for the loss of just three games following the withdrawal of Alex Molcan from their scheduled third-round match Monday.
Medvedev had a bye in the first round and dismissed Roberto Carballes Baena 6-1, 6-2 in his opening match. On Sunday Molcan withdrew from the tournament with a right hip injury.
Medvedev, who has won 20 of his past 21 matches, will next face the winner of Frenchman Quentin Halys and American Mackenzie McDonald. He is seeded to meet 2021 Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals and second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals. Should he make it to the final, Medvedev could face a BNP Paribas Open final rematch with World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
Medvedev has won four of the six ATP Masters 1000 hard court events, triumphing in Cincinnati (2019), Shanghai (2019), Paris/Bercy (2020) and Toronto (2021). Medvedev’s runner-up finish in Indian Wells last Sunday leaves Miami as the only hard court Masters 1000 at which he has not reached the final.
Carlos Alcaraz enjoyed a memorable day on and off the court Sunday at the Miami Open presented by Itau. After defeating Dusan Lajovic 6-0, 7-6(5), the World No. 1 enjoyed two meetings with celebrities.
Straight off the court inside Hard Rock Stadium, the 19-year-old caught up with NBA superstar Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat. Butler, who also watched Alcaraz play in Buenos Aires earlier this year, had plenty of praise for the Spaniard.
“He’s always poised. He’s never rattled and more than anything, it looks like he’s having so much fun out there,” Butler told ATPTour.com. “I think whenever you have fun and you have that mentality that you know you’re the best, you go out there and you play as though you’re the best, results happen and he’s not No. 1 for no reason.”
Later on, Alcaraz posed for photographs with Dominican singer Natti Natasha. The defending champion in his press conference explained how “great” it feels to see celebrities enjoy watching him perform.
Natti Natasha and Carlos Alcaraz. Photo: Andrew Eichenholz/ATP Tour
“I feel a little bit nervous when I see a person like Jimmy, celebrities, when I was playing, like in the US Open. For me it’s unbelievable,” Alcaraz said. “In certain ways I can’t believe that these people enjoy watching my matches for me. It’s crazy.”
Alcaraz will play Tommy Paul for a place in the Miami quarter-finals.
Austin Krajicek and Nicolas Mahut’s seamless transition from doubles rivals to partners continued Sunday at the Miami Open presented by Itau.
Playing their first tournament as a pair, Krajicek and Mahut defeated Rafael Matos and David Vega Hernandez 6-3, 7-5 to reach the quarter-finals at the ATP Master 1000 event. The unseeded duo, which is competing together this week because Krajicek’s usual partner, Ivan Dodig, is out with an injury, backed up its first-round upset of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in style on Court 7.
Their triumph against Brazil’s Matos and Spain’s Vega Hernandez was based on a high-class serving performance. Krajicek and Mahut sent down 10 aces, won 81 per cent (30/37) of points behind their first delivery and saved four of five break points they faced in their 90-minute triumph.
It was a 450th tour-level doubles victory for Mahut, who lifted the Miami trophy in 2016 alongside Pierre-Hugues Herbert. He and Krajicek’s next opponents at Hard Rock Stadium will be Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni or Marcelo Melo and John Peers.