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Long Journey, Great Reward: Shevchenko Claims Tenerife Challenger

  • Posted: Jan 23, 2023

Long Journey, Great Reward: Shevchenko Claims Tenerife Challenger

Shimabukuro wins maiden Challenger title

After suffering a first-round defeat in the Australian Open qualifying, Alexander Shevchenko took the long trip from Melbourne to Tenerife to compete at the ATP Challenger Tour event on the Canary Island.

Although the journey may have been halfway across the world, it paid off as the 22-year-old didn’t drop a set all week en route to claiming the Tenerife Challenger 1, where he downed Austrian Sebastian Ofner 7-5, 6-2 in the final.

“The final was very tough,” Shevchenko said. “I had to go more aggressive and also had to win some points playing defence. A lot of fun emotions that I will remember for the rest of my career.”

ATP Challenger Tour 

Shevchenko is coached by Gunter Bresnik, who has worked with prominent players such as Boris Becker, Patrick McEnroe, Dominic Thiem, and Gael Monfils.

After claiming his maiden Challenger title in Bratislava this past season, Shevchenko was a two-time semi-finalist in the latter half of 2022 (Milan, Szczecin). The Challenger 100 title in Tenerife lifts him to a career-high No. 116 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

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“I’m close [to the Top 100],” Shevchenko said. “But I’m not there, so I have to work hard from next week on, forget about this week, and start the new week.”

On the clay courts of Piracicaba, Andrea Collarini dispatched four of the Top-9 seeds, including World No. 102 Alejandro Tabilo, to win his first Challenger title since August 2019 (L’Aquila). The Argentine defeated Chilean Tomas Barrios Vera in the final 6-2, 7-6(1) to capture the Brasil Tennis Challenger.

“I can’t wait to celebrate with my wife and my family,” Collarini said. “I’m happy because I won a Challenger again. The last one was three years ago and this past year I reached two finals (Tigre-2, Vicenza) but I couldn’t win them. I’ve had good weeks and bad weeks. Now I’m happy because in those bad weeks I wondered if I would be able to win a tournament again, and I finally did.”

<a href=''>Andrea Collarini</a> triumphs at the <a href=''>Brasil Tennis Challenger</a>.
Andrea Collarini triumphs at the Brasil Tennis Challenger. Credit: João Pires

Following a record-setting 23 Challenger titles in 2022, players from Argentina are off to fast start to surpass their own milestone. Juan Manuel Cerundolo collected a pair of titles in the first two weeks of the season and now Collarini joins the fellow lefty as Argentine Challenger champions this month.

The title at the Challenger 75 event propels the 2010 Roland Garros boys’ singles finalist to a career-high 186 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

At the Bangkok Open 3, Japan’s Sho Shimabukuro collected his maiden Challenger crown. En route to title, the 25-year-old took down top seed James Duckworth and ended Frenchman Arthur Cazaux’s 13-match winning streak in the final 6-2, 7-5.

Shimabukuro is building upon his career-best season in 2022, when he made his Davis Cup debut in September and narrowly escaped former World No. 33 Denis Istomin. The following month, Gifu native advanced through qualifying to compete in his maiden Tour-level tournament, the ATP 500 event in Tokyo.

<a href=''>Sho Shimabukuro</a> in action at the <a href=''>Bangkok Open 3</a>.
Sho Shimabukuro in action at the Bangkok Open 3. Credit: The Lawn Tennis Association Of Thailand

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Djokovic: Dominant Win ‘Gives Me Reason To Believe’

  • Posted: Jan 23, 2023

Djokovic: Dominant Win ‘Gives Me Reason To Believe’

Serbian delighted with progress of ongoing hamstring issue

Novak Djokovic’s straight-sets win against Alex de Minaur on Monday answered some big questions related to the Serbian’s 2023 Australian Open title bid. Not just for those watching on as he dismantled the home favourite on Rod Laver Arena, but also for the nine-time champion himself.

“A week ago I didn’t really think about the title, I just thought about being in a good enough condition to play the next match,” acknowledged Djokovic after easing past De Minaur 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 in two hours and six minutes. “Until tonight. Tonight, the way I played, the way I felt, gives me reason now to believe that I can go all the way.”

Djokovic sustained a left hamstring injury en route to lifting his 92nd tour-level title at the Adelaide International 1 earlier this month, and he appeared to be affected by it at various times throughout the opening three rounds at Melbourne Park. That was not the case against De Minaur on Monday, when he moved with freedom throughout his imperious win.

“I always believe I can go all the way in terms of my tennis,” said the nine-time Australian Open titlist. “But the way my leg felt before tonight wasn’t giving me too many hopes, so to say, for the entire tournament, to go all the way through. Tonight, I feel that, so I feel positive about it.”

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Djokovic Dispatches De Minaur, Remains On Track In Melbourne

Djokovic delivered a near-flawless performance on Rod Laver Arena, with De Minaur later calling it ‘Novak very close to his best’. The 35-year-old, who will return to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings should he lift the trophy in Melbourne, was reluctant to get too carried away with his display but acknowledged it as his best of a 2023 season in which he now holds a 9-0 record.

“I don’t know [if it was the best] ever, but definitely the best tennis I’ve played this year, this tournament, so far this season,” said Djokovic. “[The] best match. I’m really glad because obviously as the tournament progresses, the matches are going to get tougher. I’m really glad to manage to win the way I did tonight.”

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Djokovic possesses by far the most Grand Slam experience of the eight players left in the draw at Melbourne Park. Aside from the Serbian, only 2021 Roland Garros finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas has reached the champiobnship match at a major, while Karen Khachanov is the only other player to have reached a semi-final. Yet the fourth seed is taking nothing for granted as he bids to draw level with Rafael Nadal’s record tally of 22 Grand Slam titles.

“Being the only guy remaining in the tournament that has won a Grand Slam, of course [that] flatters me, but I don’t think it’s going to make too big of a difference, to be honest,” said Djokovic. “Maybe it will to some extent for me, but maybe not for the other guys.

“I know Tsitsipas, for example, probably the most experienced guy out of all of them… He’s someone that looks ready to go for the title, and the way he has been playing, he’s been coming closer and closer.

“But you have the other guys, some young American guys, that are doing extremely well at this tournament. Anything is possible, I think. We’ll just have to take it day by day.”

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Playing With 'Freedom', Shelton Thriving In Melbourne

  • Posted: Jan 23, 2023

Playing With ‘Freedom’, Shelton Thriving In Melbourne

American into quarter-finals on Australian Open debut

To say Ben Shelton’s first trip outside of the United States has been a success would be an understatement.

When the American set off for Australia, he was stepping into the unknown. Fast forward one month and the 20-year-old is playing like a seasoned pro, with his victory against J.J. Wolf propelling him into the quarter-finals on debut at the Australian Open.

Speaking after his five-set win on Monday, Shelton admitted that his run in Melbourne has surpassed all expectations.

“[It is] definitely a surprise,” Shelton said. “I got on the plane with no expectations. I know that it’s very hard to adjust to Australia from the United States just with the jetlag, time change and everything. It being my first time, never being out of the United States, I knew it would be a struggle.

“But I think it has helped me a little bit having that expectation or the feeling that I have to perform, but being able to just go out there, be myself and play free. I think that’s been a big contribution to my success.”

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One year ago, Shelton was No. 569 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and still in college at the University of Florida. The lefty was not yet in the top spot of his team’s lineup. Following his victory against Wolf, the 20-year-old is up to No. 43 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

“I feel great. It’s been a pretty special week for me,” said Shelton, who is still taking online college classes. “Definitely a lot on my plate, playing my first Grand Slam outside of the United States, starting school this week. It’s been a lot. But I’m really enjoying it so far.

“Each match that I’ve won here has felt the same. It’s a mixture of joy, relief. I just have that feeling of ecstasy. When the last ball lands, I did it. To be able to do that on this stage four times in a row, that feeling over and over again, has been pretty cool.”

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Shelton made his Grand Slam debut at the US Open in September, losing against Nuno Borges as he struggled physically in a five-set, first-round defeat. Despite playing 16 sets across his four matches in Melbourne, the 20-year-old feels ready to push further when he takes on Tommy Paul in the quarter-finals, marking the rapid progress he has made fitness-wise.

“I think I’m in a pretty good place physically,” Shelton said. “I think that since the last Grand Slam I played, in the US Open, where I was really struggling, five sets in the heat, I barely survived. My fitness wasn’t near what I needed it to be. So I’ve worked really hard these past five or six months to get to where I want to be.

“I’m still not there. There’s still a lot of improvements that I can make. I’m young and I have time to make those improvements. But I feel pretty confident in my ability in the upcoming hopefully matches that I can go out there and I can last five sets with anybody. I’m definitely taking care of my body the right way, trying to bring myself to peak performance for these matches.”

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Tsitsipas Meets Lehecka, Khachanov & Korda Collide In Australian Open QFs

  • Posted: Jan 23, 2023

Tsitsipas Meets Lehecka, Khachanov & Korda Collide In Australian Open QFs

Two semi-final spots up for grabs on Day 9 at Melbourne Park

The men’s singles field at the 2023 Australian Open is down to eight and Tuesday’s action sees half the remaining competitors bidding for a semi-final spot.

Stefanos Tsitsipas seeks to halt the dream run of Jiri Lehecka in the night session on Rod Laver Arena, where the third-seeded Greek is chasing his third consecutive Australian Open semi-final appearance. Earlier on Tuesday, Karen Khachanov and Sebastian Korda are in action, with both players appearing in their maiden Australian Open quarter-final. previews the quarter-final matchups on Day 9 at Melbourne Park.

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[3] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) vs. Jiri Lehecka (CZE)

Tsitsipas passed the toughest test of his Melbourne run on Sunday, holding off a furious charge from Jannik Sinner in a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4 victory. The Greek credited his late surge to his ability to relax and reset, with a loose arm helping him find the groove on his serve as he made 24 of 26 first serves in the final set.

With the stakes even higher in the quarter-finals, Tsitsipas is not feeling any added pressure as he seeks his first Grand Slam title.

“I play my game. Titles come if I play good. That takes care of itself,” he said in a post-match press conference. ”If you’re able to play the best you can produce on the court, I feel like the rest just follows naturally. It’s a natural flow of things.”

After falling in the first round of the 2022 US Open — where he admitted the weight of playing for the top spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings affected him — Tsitsipas again could become World No. 1 by lifting the trophy in Melbourne.

Standing in his way is 21-year-old Lehecka, who has moved up 32 places to No. 39 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings behind his Melbourne run. Prior to this fortnight, he was 0-4 at the majors, losing in the first round of each in 2022. Now, he will look to earn his first win against Tsitsipas, after a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 loss to the Greek last February in the Rotterdam semi-finals.

“I’ll be super excited,” Lehecka said of the matchup, before it was confirmed by Tsitsipas’ victory. “I will go for that revenge, for sure. I know that he will remember how we played last year in Rotterdam. One set I was the better player on the court. Then he overtook the match.

“But I think that he will remember, and he will know what my strengths are. He will feel that I can get him under pressure. At the same time, I know that he’s a great player… I know how to play against him. Of course, the match last year from the Rotterdam semi-finals will help me a lot, how to imagine some things, how it went over there, how to prepare for this next matchup.”

Lehecka has taken huge strides since then, and and he has been a different player since his run to the title match at the Next Gen ATP Finals in November.

“I think at the Next Gen Finals, I finally found my game and I found how to play what I want to play, and how to beat great guys in big stadiums,” he said. “I saw all the media attention over there. It was kind of a [gateway] to the big tennis.”

It doesn’t get much bigger than facing the World No. 4 in Rod Laver Arena.

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[18] Karen Khachanov vs. [29] Sebastian Korda (USA)

If Khachanov and Korda’s previous Grand Slam meeting is anything to go by, the Rod Laver Arena crowd could be in for a wild ride on Tuesday afternoon. In the fourth round at Wimbledon 2021, Khachanov edged the American 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 10-8 to reach his second major quarter-final.

Korda has since defeated Khachanov twice to establish a 2-1 lead in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series, but both players enter Tuesday’s clash flying high having already hit their own respective Grand Slam milestones this fortnight.

After breezing past Yoshihito Nishioka for the loss of just six games in Melbourne, Khachanov has now reached the quarter-finals at all four Grand Slams. The 26-year-old has no desire to let up as he bids to move past Korda and equal his best performance at a major, his semi-final run at last September’s US Open.

“Obviously [reaching the quarter-finals at all four Slams] gives me some kind of compliments on what I achieved so far,” said Khachanov after routing Nishioka 6-0, 6-0, 7-6(4) on Sunday. “I’m just happy to do it. Hopefully I can continue even further on even bigger things.”

In contrast, Tuesday’s clash will be Korda’s maiden Grand Slam quarter-final, although the 22-year-old has already shown remarkable progress in a 2023 season that is just over three weeks old. He held championship point before falling to a narrow defeat against Novak Djokovic in the final of the Adelaide International 1 in early January, and he believes that past disappointments in close matches against top players have helped him this year in Melbourne, where he notched a statement three-set win against Daniil Medvedev in the third round.

“I think I’ve had a tough match with Rafa [at Indian Wells last year], serving for it a couple times,” said Korda, speaking after edging Hubert Hurkacz in a five-set fourth-round thriller on Sunday. “Match point with Djokovic [in Adelaide]… I think all those little moments that I’ve gone through, kind of learning from them, staying patient, staying positive, going through the process. I think [they] have really helped me going forward.”

In Doubles Action…

The men’s doubles draw also reaches the quarter-final stage Tuesday, when third seeds Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer bid to reach the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time. They take on unseeded French duo Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin on Kia Arena, with both teams yet to drop a set after their first three matches in Melbourne.

In Day 9’s other last-eight clash, Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski hope to back up their third-round upset of second seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury when they face another all-French pairing, Benjamin Bonzi and Arthur Rinderknech.

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Quarter-Final Bound! Paul Powers Past Bautista Agut At Australian Open

  • Posted: Jan 23, 2023

Quarter-Final Bound! Paul Powers Past Bautista Agut At Australian Open

25-year-old faces Shelton after reaching last eight at a Slam for the first time

The Americans are out in force in the 2023 Australian Open quarter-finals, and among them is Tommy Paul.

The 25-year-old delivered a rock-solid fourth-round performance Monday at Melbourne Park, where he prevailed 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in a clean-hitting matchup against Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam for the first time.

”It was a really physical, tough match,” said Paul after his hard-earned victory on Margaret Court Arena. “Any time you play Bautista it’s going to be a war. So I was prepared for that match and I thought I executed really well today. It’s always fun playing on this court, I think it was my third time playing here and it’s always a blast.”

Paul was a constant menace to the Spaniard in his return game throughout the pair’s fifth tour-level meeting. He converted six of 15 break points to maintain the upper hand for much of the match, despite a second-set Bautista Agut revival. Against a player renowned for his ability to regularly hit through opponents, Paul outhit Bautista Agut by 58 winners to 35 to seal his 11th-straight victory against Spanish opponents in three hours and 19 minutes.

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“I felt like I was running a lot, so I definitely wanted to be on offence a little bit more there towards the end of the match,” added Paul. “I feel like the first set, I was kind of controlling everything, and then he was finding so many forehands later in the match and making me run. That wasn’t a lot of fun, but I’m happy to get through that one.”

The win improved Paul’s record for 2023 to 5-1 and reduced his ATP Head2Head series deficit against Bautista Agut to 2-3. As a result of his run in Melbourne so far this fortnight, the American has risen seven spots to No. 28 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

Paul takes on Ben Shelton next after the 20-year-old downed J.J. Wolf in five sets to extend his dream Australian Open debut. With Sebastian Korda also into the quarter-finals, this marks the first time since 2000 that three American men have reached the last eight in Melbourne — and the first time at any Slam since the 2005 US Open.

“I think he [Shelton] was down two-sets-to-one when I came on court, so I had no idea who I would play if I won, but I was happy with either [Shelton or Wolf],” said Paul. “I’m really happy to be playing an American in the quarters. There’s going to be an American in the semis for sure, so I’m really excited for that, and hopefully you guys can come out and watch that one too.”

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