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Nadal: 'I Need Battles Like This'

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2023

Nadal: ‘I Need Battles Like This’

Spaniard beaten by Norrie and De Minaur

While he will not leave the inaugural United Cup with a title for Team Spain, Rafael Nadal can take away the experience of two titanic tussles in Sydney as he looks to recapture his top form. The 36-year-old lost a pair of three-setters at the United Cup, to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur, as Spain were eliminated from the mixed-gender event in the group stage.

It’s a very different start to the season compared to 2022, when Nadal won a personal-best 20 straight matches to open the year, including two titles Down Under at the Melbourne Summer Set and the Australian Open. But despite his 0-2 record, Nadal was happy to compete for nearly six hours across the contests, both of which he lost from a set up.

“I need hours on court. I need battles like this,” he said in a post-match press conference. “I didn’t play many official matches the last six months, almost seven.

“Days like these two help. Of course with victories the process is faster, but I need to keep fighting. That’s it. For moments I played very good level of tennis. Playing very good with the backhand. Changing directions with the forehand.”

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While he rued missed chances and “important mistakes” against Australia’s De Minaur, Nadal still found plenty of positives from his United Cup experience — not least the unique opportunity to play alongside some of the WTA’s best, including teammate Paula Badosa

“I have two weeks before the Australian Open starts,” he continued. “I can’t say that the situation is ideal, but at the same time, I can’t say that it’s very negative, because for moments I was playing good. I think that two matches is going to help me. I need to win couple of matches. But the level was not that bad, putting in perspective that I arrived needing a little bit more time.

“I’m going to try hard these two weeks to be physically better,” he later added. “In terms of tennis, probably playing sets and practising for the next two weeks with good guys, I think that can help me to be more consistent. That’s what I’m going to look for. It’s just the beginning, and honestly, I am not too alarmed, too negative about what happened. I think there was a real chance to lose these kind of matches… I had my chance against two great players, not able to convert it. That says that I have an important room to improve, and I really believe that I can do it. I was very close to win against two great players.”

While Nadal’s singles work is done in Sydney, Team Spain still has one more day of play on Tuesday. The World No. 2 plans to do some sight-seeing on Wednesday before heading to Melbourne to begin his Australian Open preparations in earnest.

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'Sergeant Stan' Relishing Captain's Role At United Cup

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2023

‘Sergeant Stan’ Relishing Captain’s Role At United Cup

Team Switzerland provides insight into Wawrinka’s leadership

Fans are used to seeing Stan Wawrinka in the spotlight. Years of bludgeoning one-handed backhands and lifting trophies on tennis’ biggest stages will do that.

But this week the 37-year-old has shown fans a different side. ‘Stan The Man’ has evolved into ‘Captain Stan’ as Switzerland’s playing captain in Brisbane at the inaugural United Cup.

“He seems really strict,” team member Jil Teichmann said on Media Day, cracking a laugh. “Like, picky.”

It did not take long for the three-time major winner to lay down the law.

“I’m enjoying being really strict against someone who was late today,” Wawrinka said as the team erupted into laughter. “We are sorry, it was Belinda [Bencic]. It’s going to be the last time we’re going to be late!”

Although Wawrinka spoke like ‘Sergeant Stan’ rather than ‘Captain Stan’, the reality is that the Swiss legend has embraced his role and has created a familial atmosphere that has his country in contention in Brisbane. If Switzerland defeats Poland on Tuesday, it will advance to the Brisbane City Final.

Wawrinka has been visibly invested in all of his teammate’s matches, constantly standing from his bench in the Team Zone to urge them on during matches.

“Tactics-wise, obviously he sees the game and everything,” Bencic said. “But also, he was really positive and like [fist] pumping every point. I think that’s how it should be. I feel like we were used to each other very quickly.”

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Photo Credit: Tennis Australia
“To have Stan on the bench it’s very special. I thanked him before already,” Teichmann said. “I told him it’s really nice to have him there. He really keeps you calm, he’s really good, gives you these wise tips.”

The 37-year-old said that he is “really proud” that he was selected captain of the team. Although he played down how much he is able to help the players during matches, he has certainly tried.

“It’s a new experience for sure. As I say, I think it’s going to be really interesting to watch them play from the court, talk with them. At the end of the day they all know what to do,” Wawrinka said. “They are great players, they know how to win. I’m just going to be here if they need more help.”

The Swiss has visibly enjoyed digging into the small details of matches. One of the most common scenes inside Pat Rafter Arena has been Wawrinka with his hands on his knees or in a crouch in his Team Zone during changeovers, diving into a discussion with a player like a professor.

Between that and the emotions he showed during his singles win against Alexander Bublik in Switzerland’s opening tie, it is abundantly clear Wawrinka loves the sport and all that comes with it.

“I love the emotion that I can get. I’m sure the day I will stop playing tennis I will never find that emotion anymore,” Wawrinka said. “Then I love the game, the competition, to compete, I love the process to get there. Even if it’s tough, even if you have to push yourself, day by day I think it’s something I really enjoy, to improve, to be at my best, and to compete at the highest level.”

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Wawrinka’s teammates grew up watching him compete at the top of the tennis world. Besides Wawrinka, the oldest player on the team is Alexander Ritschard, who is 28. When Stan claimed his first major trophy at the 2014 Australian Open, Ritschard was 20. Now, the playing has empowered Ritschard, making him acting captain during Wawrinka’s own match.

The team has looked up to Wawrinka for years, as the former World No. 3 is a national icon. Along with Roger Federer, he led Switzerland to Davis Cup glory in 2014. That moment is still engrained in Marc-Andrea Huesler’s memory.

“I watched the complete doubles there and I was amazed by how they both were playing, how they competed themselves and the whole energy in that stadium was pretty amazing,” Huesler said. “And also I’d probably even say I saw Stan play best of five matches in Australia against Novak, losing the first couple and then being able to win. Complete epic matches, also in Paris, the finals of Paris was absolutely insane the way he was playing.

“Those memories, when you see that, those are the biggest [memories] that I have of him. I haven’t practised with him that often in the past, but he’s a great guy and it’s also cool to be sharing this team with him and trying to basically win together.”

On a week-to-week basis, Wawrinka is able to focus on himself. But his coach, former World No. 2 Magnus Norman, sees how much his charge is enjoying leading his country’s team at the United Cup.

“I can see that Stan really likes it. He likes team events and where he is right now in his career I think also it’s something new, it’s something different,” Norman said. “When you’ve been on the Tour for so long it’s always the same tournaments. The Tour is amazing, but it’s always the same, so if you do something new, it makes everything a little bit more fresh, so I really feel that he enjoys it a lot.”

In front of the press, the team joked about ‘Strict Stan’. But beyond that facade has been a caring, dedicated leader. Who is stricter, Norman as Wawrinka’s coach or Captain Stan?

“I don’t know, it’s tough to answer,” Norman said, cracking a laugh. “But I think I’m maybe a little bit more strict as a coach.”

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United Cup Day 6 Preview: Italy's Berrettini Meets Ruud With Chance To Clinch Group

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2023

United Cup Day 6 Preview: Italy’s Berrettini Meets Ruud With Chance To Clinch Group

Garcia aims to spark comeback for Team France

A year ago, Matteo Berrettini reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open — losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal — and seemed headed for another sensational season when the hand of fate intervened.

Actually, it was the Italian’s right hand that underwent surgery after Indian Wells. Berrettini was sidelined for three months and never regained the form that lifted him to a career-high No. 6 Pepperstone ATP Ranking.

On Tuesday, Berrettini will know exactly where he stands when he faces World No. 3 Casper Ruud. Berrettini is looking to help Italy capture Group E with a victory over Norway. Italy leads 2-0 after wins from Lorenzo Musetti and Martina Trevisan on Monday.

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The Italian team is loaded with talent, particularly on the men’s side. Vincenzo Santopadre, Berrettini’s coach of nearly a dozen years, is the team captain.

“Like I said yesterday, unfortunately the captain is not the best we can have, but we’re going to figure out during the matches,” Berrettini said when the team met the media, tongue in cheek. “No, it’s great I can experience something like this with my coach, with my good friends. Yesterday at dinner we were thinking about when we started. We were 12.”

Santopadre, smiling, countered, “I really agree with everybody. Of course, not with Matteo. Unfortunately we have this player with us. We have to share moments together.”

France Turns To Garcia

The scenario is straightforward: The winner of the matchup between France and Croatia will advance to the City Final in Perth. After Monday’s results, the score is 2-0 Croatia. 

The pressure turns to Caroline Garcia, who is first up Tuesday, when she takes on Petra Martic in the first of three more Group F matches. 

But if there’s someone you want in this situation, it’s Garcia. 

Four years ago, she went on a tear and landed inside the Hologic WTA Tour Top 10. And then, after a series of injuries and the doubts that came with them, she scuffled for three seasons, ending 2021 at World No. 74.

Committing fully to her ultra-aggressive game, Garcia was rejuvenated in 2022, culminating with the title at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth. At the age of 29, she sits at World No. 4, matching her career high.

Does it feel different this time?

“Yeah, I think five years changes a lot in the way you manage things,” she told reporters before the United Cup began in Perth. “I think I got experience from the past as well, and obviously the ranking is important but it doesn’t mean who you are, how you play or whatever. I just try to do my thing, practise as well as I can. Maybe [the ranking] just helps to get some practice courts, things like that, makes your life easier, but after, you’re still the same person.”

If Garcia can prevail, it will be up to France’s Adrian Mannarino to continue the comeback. He faces Croatia’s Borna Gojo. A mixed doubles rubber would ultimately decide the group winner if both Garcia and Mannarino win. 

Garcia got off to a terrific start for Team France, dropping only two games to Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska. France was a 5-0 winner, but has some work to do against Croatia on Tuesday. Both teams entered the pivotal Group F contest with a 1-0 record, but on Monday Donna Vekic gave Croatia an early 1-0 lead, edging Alize Cornet. Arthur Rinderknech and Borna Coric played the late match, won by Coric.

Garcia has beaten Martic four of five times. Still, the two split last year with Martic winning in the Lausanne semi-final and Garcia prevailing in the first round at Cincinnati. Garcia is also scheduled to play mixed doubles with captain Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

“Petra is also a good test, a good challenge,” Garcia said. “We had a few matches very tight in the past, and we have some kind of the same weapons, so we’ll see who can use them the most.”

The next step for Garcia is a Grand Slam singles title. After reaching the semi-finals at the US Open last fall, she wants more.

“For sure it gave me a lot of confidence,” Garcia said. “It was something I was not really able to achieve in the past, so my dream and my goal is always to win a Slam, so obviously make it more concrete to be able to make it to the semifinal, but it’s still the highest steps to reach, and I will try.”

Also In Action

Brisbane will host two marquee men’s singles matches on Tuesday. After Berrettini and Ruud square off in the day session, Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz will meet Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka in the evening. That Group B matchup, the winner of which will advance to the City Final, is knotted at 1-1. The winner of the first ATP Head2Head meeting between Hurkacz and Wawrinka will put his country within one victory of clinching the group.

Team Greece must win one of its three matches on Tuesday to advance in Perth, with Maria Sakkari taking on Belgium’s Elise Mertens in the day’s first rubber. The tie is knotted at 1-1, but Greece would top the Group A even with a 3-2 defeat.

The winners of both Sydney groups have already been decided, with the United States and Great Britain set to square off in the City Final. Jessica Pegula and Frances Tiafoe will look to complete a 2-0 group run for the Americans, who lead France 2-0. Spain and Australia will also compete in Sydney, with that tie level at 1-1.

Day 5: What’s on the line

City Final qualification scenarios

Group B:
Poland and Switzerland are tied 1-1 after Monday. The winner will qualify for the City Final.
Group E: Italy leads Norway 2-0 after Monday. If the Italians wins, they will qualify. If Norway makes a comeback, Brazil will qualify.

Group A:
Greece and Belgium are tied 1-1 after Monday. If Greece defeats Belgium or loses 3-2 to Belgium, Greece will qualify. If Belgium defeats Greece 4-1, Belgium will qualify.
Group F: Croatia leads France 2-0 after Monday. The winner of the tie will qualify.

Group C:
The U.S. leads Germany 2-0 after Monday, but the Americans have already qualified for the Sydney City Final.
Group D: Great Britain has already qualified. Spain and Australia are tied 1-1 after Monday.  

United Cup: Day 6 Order of play (local time)

Sydney, Ken Rosewall Arena

United States (1-0) vs. Germany (0-1) (Group C)
USA leads 2-0
Jessica Pegula (USA) vs. Laura Siegemund (GER), 10 a.m.
Frances Tiafoe (USA) vs. Oscar Otte (GER), to follow
Jessica Pegula and Taylor Fritz (USA) vs. Julia Lohoff and Fabian Fallert (GER), to follow

Spain (0-1) vs. Australia (0-1) (Group D)
Tied 1-1
Paula Badosa (ESP) vs. Zoe Hives (AUS), 4:30 p.m.
Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) vs. Jason Kubler (AUS), to follow
Paula Badosa and Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Samantha Stosur and John Peers (AUS), to follow

Perth, RAC Arena

Greece (1-0) vs. Belgium (0-1) (Group A)
Tied 1-1
Maria Sakkari (GRE) vs. Elise Mertens (BEL), 10 a.m.
Michail Pervolarakis (GRE) vs. Zizou Bergs (BEL), to follow
Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) vs. Elise Mertens and David Goffin (BEL), to follow

France (1-0) vs. Croatia (1-0) (Group F)
Croatia leads 2-0
Caroline Garcia (FRA) vs. Petra Martic (CRO), 4:30 p.m.
Adrian Mannarino (FRA) vs. Borna Gojo (CRO), to follow
Caroline Garcia and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) vs. Donna Vekic and Borna Coric (CRO), to follow

Brisbane, Pat Rafter Arena

Italy (1-0) vs. Norway (0-1) (Group E)
Italy leads 2-0
Matteo Berrettini (ITA) vs. Casper Ruud  (NOR), 10 a.m.
Lucia Bronzetti (ITA) vs. Ulrikke Eikeri (NOR), to follow
Camilla Rosatello and Andrea Vavassori  (ITA) vs. Ulrikke Eikeri and Viktor Durasovic (NOR), to follow

Poland (1-0) vs. Switzerland (1-0) (Group B)
Tied 1-1
Hubert Hurkacz (POL) vs. Stan Wawrinka (SWI), 4:30 p.m.
Magda Linette (POL) vs. Jil Teichmann (SWI), to follow
Iga Swiatek and Hubert Hurkacz (POL) vs. Belinda Bencic and Stan Wawrinka (SWI), to follow

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Krajinovic Fends Off Home Favourite Nagal In Pune Battle

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2023

Krajinovic Fends Off Home Favourite Nagal In Pune Battle

15-Year-Old Dhamne makes Tour debut as Griekspoor, Djere win

Filip Krajinovic made a winning start to his 2023 season Monday at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune, but not before the sixth-seeded Serbian was given a mighty scare by home favourite Sumit Nagal.

After Krajinovic took the opening set of the pair’s maiden ATP Head2Head meeting, Nagal converted his first break point of the match in the 10th game of the second set to draw level in the first-round clash at the ATP 250 event in India. It was Krajinovic who found something extra to break at the tailend of the deciding set, however, as he completed a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win.

There was no dream victory for Nagal’s 15-year-old countryman Manas Dhamne on his ATP Tour debut, but the #NextGenATP talent still produced some moments of magic for the home fans in his first-round clash against American Michael Mmoh.

Dhamne, who only turned 15 on 29 December, is currently No. 80 in the ITF Junior Rankings, and highlights of his tour-level debut included breaking the World No. 113 Mmoh to love in the second set. The American held firm to complete a 6-2, 6-4 victory against the young wild card, however, and he will face Krajinovic next.

There were a pair of first-round upsets on Monday in western India as Laslo Djere and Tallon Griekspoor both dismissed seeded opponents in straight sets. Djere fired 12 aces en route to his 6-2, 6-4 victory against fifth seed Alex Molcan, and the Serbian will next face Elias Ymer or Maximilian Marterer.

Greikspoor kicked off his 2023 season by easing past seventh seed Jaume Munar 6-4, 7-5. The Dutchman, who is currently No. 95 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings but reached a career-high No. 44 in August, will meet Marco Cecchinato in the second round after the Italian downed five-time tour-level titlist Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-2, 6-2.

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De Minaur Downs Nadal In United Cup Thriller

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2023

De Minaur Downs Nadal In United Cup Thriller

Team Australia leads Team Spain 1-0

Alex de Minaur delivered a stunning performance under the lights in Sydney Monday when he overcame World No. 2 Rafael Nadal 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 to give Team Australia a 1-0 lead against Team Spain in Group D at the United Cup.

With a capacity crowd watching on, the 23-year-old rallied from a set-and-a-break down to earn the biggest win of his career by Pepperstone ATP Ranking after two hours and 44 minutes.

In a thrilling encounter, De Minaur showed an abundance of grit and quality to delight his raucous home supporters. The World No. 24 scampered around the baseline to hang in rallies, shortening his backswing off his groundstrokes to take away time from Nadal and turn the tables. With his statement victory, the 23-year-old improved to 1-3 in his ATP Head2Head series against Nadal.

De Minaur, who lost against Briton Cameron Norrie in his opening match of the season, has now earned eight Top 10 wins in his career.

Nadal, who also fell to Norrie at the mixed-teams event, tasted success on Australian soil last year, winning an ATP 250 title in Melbourne before he lifted his second Australian Open trophy. However, he is still searching for his first win of the new season.

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After a slow start on Ken Rosewall Arena, Nadal came to life. He rallied from a break down in the first set, consistently hitting his spots on serve while he pulled De Minaur around the court with his heavy forehand, striking an array of winners to lead.

However, after Nadal gained an early break at the start of the second set, momentum quickly shifted as De Minaur started to time the ball cleanly to force the Spaniard back. The Australian began to find great depth on return, locking down from the baseline to enjoy success on Nadal’s serve and level.

With a third set left to decide the clash, it was De Minaur who found a way, gaining the decisive break in the 11th game before holding his nerve to triumph. The 23-year-old let out a roar following his win before he embraced Nadal at the net.

Maddison Inglis will aim to double Australia’s lead in the Group D tie when she faces Nuria Parrizas Diaz in the last match of the day in Sydney. Neither Spain or Australia can qualify for the City Finals, with both nations falling to Great Britain.

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Trevisan Wins 3-Hour Epic To Give Italy Lead Against Norway

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2023

Trevisan Wins 3-Hour Epic To Give Italy Lead Against Norway

Musetti to play Durasovic at No. 2 men’s singles

World No. 27 Martina Trevisan fought off an inspired performance from World No. 321 Malene Helgo to deliver an early 1-0 lead for Italy over Norway on Day 5 of the United Cup in Brisbane. The 29-year-old Italian needed more than three hours to dispatch the Norwegian, winning 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 to post her first win of the season.

Lorenzo Musetti will look to extend Italy’s lead in the second singles match of the day when he faces Viktor Durasovic. 

Having defeated Brazil 3-2 in its opening tie, Italy needs a victory over Norway to advance to the Brisbane City Finals. If Norway can engineer an upset over the fifth seeds, Brazil will finish at the top of Group E and advance to Wednesday’s City Finals.

Helgo, who made her WTA Tour debut in her opening loss to Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, gave the heavily favoured Italians a scare. Behind her phenomenal ball-striking from the baseline, the 23-year-old played well above her sub-300 ranking to build an early 5-2 lead over Trevisan. 

But the 2022 French Open semi-finalist dug in to pull off a gritty comeback to take the opening set. Trevisan used her physicality and court vision to extend the points and shrink the court for Helgo, who began to misfire under pressure. The Italian saved two set points en route to running off five consecutive games to take the first set.

Undeterred, Helgo again built an early lead on the Italian veteran in the second set. This time she would not relinquish it. The final set was another see-saw set, as Helgo clawed her way back from a 4-1 deficit to level at 4-4 before Trevisan broke her one last time to seal the hard-fought win after three hours and two minutes.

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Brkic/Escobar Oust Djokovic/Pospisil In Adelaide

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2023

Brkic/Escobar Oust Djokovic/Pospisil In Adelaide

Unseeded duo clutch under pressure on packed Showcourt 1

The first match of the season for Tomislav Brkic and Gonzalo Escobar will certainly be a memorable one. The unseeded duo eliminated Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil 4-6, 6-3, 10-5 to reach the second round of the Adelaide International 1.

The standing-room-only crowd backed Djokovic, with several fans waving Serbian flags and encouraging the No. 1 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. But Brkic and Escobar remained calm under pressure, saving six of the seven break points they faced in their one-hour, 29-minute victory.

Djokovic and Pospisil had their share of high moments in the clash, including an impressive volleying display early in the second set, which led to a team chest bump. But they fell behind early in the Match Tie-break and never recovered.

This was Djokovic’s first doubles match since last year’s Laver Cup, where he partnered Matteo Berrettini past Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock. The World No. 1 will now turn his focus to his first singles match of the year against Frenchman Constant Lestienne.

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