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Djokovic & Medvedev To Meet In Blockbuster Dubai SF

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

Djokovic & Medvedev To Meet In Blockbuster Dubai SF

Both stars advance in straight sets

Novak Djokovic is moving closer to his devastating best.

The World No. 1 answered all the questions fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz asked Thursday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where he defeated the Pole 6-3, 7-5 to reach the quarter-finals. There will be a blockbuster showdown in the last four, with Djokovic set to face former World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev for a place in the final.

“It was a challenging match as it always is against Hubert. One of the best guys on the Tour, definitely,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “Fantastic personality. Very lovable guy, a great relationship with everyone. He’s always respectful. I wish him all the best for the rest of the season.”

Hurkacz threw everything in his deep arsenal at Djokovic on centre court. From winning a point after hitting a tweener in the early moments of the match to putting pressure on the Serbian by moving forward, the Pole tried to take the 35-year-old out of his comfort zone.

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It was to no avail. Djokovic dominated on serve — he did not face a break point — and chipped away to earn opportunities until he broke through. The top seed converted two of his eight opportunities to advance after one hour and 21 minutes and take a 5-0 lead in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series.

Hurkacz was closest to breaking through at 5-4 in the second set, when he took a 0/30 advantage. But after Djokovic served his way out of trouble, he seized the match in the next game.

The Pole fended off the first four break points he faced in the game, but Djokovic unleashed a trademark backhand down the line to claim his fifth chance, before successfully serving for his place in the semi-finals.

“I think he’s got one of the best serves in the game, so in the second set until that 11th game in the second set, I didn’t really have too many chances against his serve,” Djokovic said. “He was winning his service games comfortably. Fortunately for me, I also found the rhythm on my serve throughout the second set and held my serve.

“Love-30 at 5-4 for him, found a couple of good serves, good plays. Really one or two points can always decide [the winner] of matches like this. There’s not much that is separating both players. But I’m really, really glad with the way I played under pressure.”

Djokovic’s Best Starts To A Season

 Year  Record
 2011  41-0
 2020  26-0
 2013  17-0
 2023  15-0*
 2016  14-0

*Current season
Djokovic, who before arriving in Dubai had not competed since lifting his 10th Australian Open trophy, is now 15-0 on the season, marking his fourth-best winning streak to start a season.

In the first round, he needed a final-set tie-break to claw past Tomas Machac. Now Djokovic is two wins from capturing his sixth title in Dubai and his 94th tour-level crown overall. That would tie him with Ivan Lendl for the third-most titles in the Open Era.

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Djokovic will be fully focused on the match in front of him though. He will face Medvedev, who ousted eighth seed Borna Coric 6-3, 6-2 in the last match of the day. The third seed won the final 21 points of the match to send a message to his next opponent.

“To win 21 points in a row, I don’t know if that’s my personal record on the ATP Tour,” Medvedev said. “I managed to hit some lines, I managed to play good. Borna was missing a little bit, but generally happy with my level, I’m happy with the ending of the match for sure.”

Medvedev will try to overcome a 4-9 ATP Head2Head deficit against Djokovic, who is not the only one bringing good form into the match. The 27-year-old has won back-to-back titles in Rotterdam and Doha, and is trying for a third in Dubai. He is on a 12-match winning streak and has not dropped a set this week.

“I’m playing good right now,” Medvedev said. “But when you play Novak, Novak is always the favourite.”

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Comeback Kings! Murray, Rublev Deliver Match Point Magic In 2023

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

Comeback Kings! Murray, Rublev Deliver Match Point Magic In 2023

Pair has saved combined 19 match points en route to victories this season

There is nothing quite like coming back from the brink to claim victory. Just ask Andy Murray and Andrey Rublev.

Both players have saved at least one match point en route to a win three times in 2023, a remarkable tally considering the season is just more than two months old. Between them, the pair is responsible for more than 27 per cent (6/22) of all such comebacks completed on the ATP Tour in the year so far.

Andy Murray & Andrey Rublev: Victories After Saving Match Point In 2023

Murray Rublev
Saved 1 MP Vs. Berrettini, Australian Open R128  Saved 2 MPs Vs. Rune, Australian Open, R16
Saved 3 MPs Vs. Sonego, Doha R32 Saved 3 MPs Vs. Griekspoor, Doha R16
Saved 5 MPs Vs. Lehecka, Doha SF Saved 5 MPs Vs. Davidovich Fokina, Dubai R16

The most recent of these unlikely comebacks took place on Wednesday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where Rublev rallied from 1/6 in the second-set tie-break before defeating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in three sets. It is the third tournament in a row in which the World No. 6 has saved match points to prevail, and he later spoke of the unique emotions that such victories produce.

“These matches, when they’re over, and somehow you win them, it’s always special,” said Rublev after his second-round win. “I have no words to describe it.

“One time, maybe you feel lucky, you feel super tight and emotional because you almost lose, and somehow you win it. When it happens a third time, you think now there is no chance, it is impossible, now it’s over for sure.”

Rublev’s comeback victories against Holger Rune, Tallon Griekspoor and Davidovich Fokina will be especially welcome for the 25-year-old given that he has become more accustomed to being on the wrong side of such turanrounds in recent years.

Since 2015, Rublev has lost five matches in which he held at least one match point, most recently in 2021 against Adrian Mannarino in Moscow. In contrast, from 2015 until the start of this year, he saved a match point en route to a win just once.

“When it never happens, sometimes you hope, ‘Maybe I will be lucky today and I will make it’”, said Rublev in Dubai. “When you’re three times lucky, [in the] last three tournaments — Australian Open, Doha and Dubai — three tournaments in a row, it’s like, ‘How many more Christmas presents [do I have]’?”

In contrast, fans of Murray have long been accustomed to the former World No. 1’s penchant for heartstopping comebacks. Between 2015 and 2022, he saved at least one match point en route to a win five times. Only once since 2015 has he held match point and gone on to lose a match — the Briton let slip seven of them before losing against Dominik Koepfer at the 2021 Rolex Paris Masters.

Yet the Briton’s 2023 season has been dramatic even by his own standards. He fended off a match point to defeat Matteo Berrettini in five sets at the Australian Open and then downed Lorenzo Sonego and Jiri Lehecka in Doha after saving three match points and five match points, respectively.

“I don’t know [how I won],” said a disbelieving Murray after his 6-0, 3-6, 7-6(6) semi-final victory against Lehecka in Qatar six days ago. “That was one of the most amazing turnarounds I’ve had in my career. You obviously had the three match points at 5-4, but also [two] when I was serving at 5-3, and then I don’t know.”

Murray’s extraordinary efforts certainly did not escape the attention of Daniil Medvedev prior to his match against the Briton in the Doha final. He acknowledged the 46-time tour-level titlist’s rare ability to stay focused until the very last ball.

“It’s unbelievable [what Murray has done this week],” said Medvedev, who ultimately prevailed against Murray in straight sets to lift the trophy in Qatar. “[It’s like] as soon as someone arrives at match point, that’s where the match starts.”

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The Royal Connection That Helped Jordan's Shelbayh Make It On Tour

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

The Royal Connection That Helped Jordan’s Shelbayh Make It On Tour

‘Uncle Toni’ & Rafa Nadal Academy also play key roles in developing 19-year-old Manama Challenger finalist

Abdullah Shelbayh made tennis history in February. Throughout his professional breakthrough, the 2021 Rafa Nadal Academy graduate, who played at the University of Florida for one year before turning pro, has received encouragement and guidance from some well-known names within the sport.

The 19-year-old followed up a run to the final at the Manama Challenger (l. Kokkinakis) by traveling to the ATP 250 event in Doha, where he became the first Jordanian to play a Tour-level match.

“Ben Shelton texted me before the final in Bahrain. He wished me luck,” Shelbayh said. “He’s a great friend, we were at University for one year together. One of my closest friends there actually. He’s doing pretty well for himself.

“Rafa’s team texted me. His coach Carlos Moya and Uncle Toni were reaching out quite often during those two weeks. They’re always in touch when I’m at tournaments.”

ATP Challenger Tour 

At the Challenger 125 in Manama, Bahrain, the Amman native secured his first Top-100 win in the quarter-finals by taking out top seed Jason Kubler. He did not stop there. In just his third Challenger appearance, Shelbayh became the first Jordanian and the youngest Arab to reach a Challenger final.

“It was kind of unexpected,” Shelbayh said. “I knew I was playing well, better and better throughout the year. But, [in my] third Challenger, I didn’t expect to go that far in the tournament. Then to play against [Thanasi] Kokkinakis in the final, one of the players I used to watch on TV, it’s a great opportunity. Something you don’t really expect. It was a big thing for me.

“I represent my country in every tournament I play, so to be able to represent it well is an honour for me. Jordan is unfortunately not a country that’s known for tennis. I hope it becomes one of those countries someday. It’s an achievement for myself but we also didn’t have many players before me to have that opportunity.”

In August, Shelbayh was ranked No. 654 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings when he first came onto the scene by securing his maiden Challenger main-draw victory against top seed Dominic Stricker at the Rafa Nadal Open. Shelbayh’s February surge helped lift him to a career-high 276.

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Jordan’s Shelbayh Makes ATP Challenger Tour History At Rafa Nadal Open

Although his first Challenger main-draw win came far from his Jordan home, it was only fitting that it came at the Rafa Nadal Academy, where Shelbayh has trained since 14. How does a teen who lives far away from Mallorca end up training at the prestigious academy? Through a connection between Toni Nadal and Shelbayh’s representative, Princess Lara Faisal, who is part of the royal family of Jordan. Uncle Toni flew to Jordan when Shelbayh was 13-years-old to recruit him to the island.

“They built a relationship when they were in Doha together in 2016,” Shelbayh. “Toni invited Princess Lara over to the academy. She also invited him to a festival she had in Jordan. Toni was able to come in 2017. She told him a little bit about me and he wanted to see me. When he saw me there, he very much wanted me to join the academy whenever I was ready to. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy because I was still a kid but he said, ‘Whenever you’re ready!’”

All Rafa Nadal Academy students dream of one day getting an opportunity to hit with the 22-time major champion Nadal. Shelbayh, who is left-handed in everything besides tennis like Rafa, admitted he was a little starstruck when he first got a chance to practise with the 92-time tour titlist, but now sees Nadal more as a mentor and friend.

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“He always gives me tips in terms of tennis. He also always makes sure that I don’t have too many people around me,” Shelbayh said when asked what advice Nadal has offered to him. “[He tells me that] you have to have a few people that you trust so you don’t get too crazy in your head of who to listen to. If you have too many people around you, they give you different [advice] and you don’t know who to listen to. Surround yourself with the right guys, it doesn’t have to be many, but if you trust them, that’s perfect.”

After pushing World No. 68 Soonwoo Kwon to three sets at the ATP 250 in Doha, Shelbayh is hoping to build upon his strong start to the year with hopes of competing at the three remaining Grand Slams, finishing the year in the Top 200, and qualifying for the 2023 Next Gen ATP Finals, which showcases the season’s best 21-and-under players.

Off the court, Shelbayh is a family-oriented person. Despite being far from home, the teen stated that he calls or FaceTimes his parents and three older sisters daily. In 2022, his 15-year-old brother, Zaid, joined him by moving to the Rafa Nadal Academy.

After just a few months as a professional tennis player, Shelbayh has already made history, competed in a Challenger final, and has enjoyed a rapid rise in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Tennis fans out to keep an eye on the teenager this season and for the years to come.

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Zverev Defeats Sonego In Dubai To Reach First Semi-final Of 2023

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

Zverev Defeats Sonego In Dubai To Reach First Semi-final Of 2023

Seventh seed to meet Rublev or van de Zandschulp in semi-finals

After a long road back, Alexander Zverev is showing plenty of promising signs this week at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

The German defeated Lorenzo Sonego 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday at the hard-court ATP 500 to reach his first semi-final since he suffered a serious ankle injury at Roland Garros in 2022. In a clash between two of the biggest servers on Tour, Zverev clinched a decisive single break in both sets for his sixth tour-level win of the year.

“It’s been a very difficult time for me over, I would say, the last nine months,” said Zverev in his on-court interview. “I haven’t played tennis at all for such a long period for the first time in my life. It definitely shows that the hard work is paying off and I’m extremely happy with my progress and how I’m playing right now.

“I’m happy to be in my first semi-final since the injury. Hopefully it won’t be my last and hopefully there’s much more to come here.”

Zverev has been searching for his best level since returning to competitive action after seven months at the United Cup. The former World No. 2 had won just two tour-level matches this season prior to this week, but he has dropped only one set in his opening three rounds against Jiri Lehecka, Christopher O’Connell and Sonego in Dubai.

Although both Zverev and Sonego showcased high-quality volleying throughout their one-hour, 52-minute encounter, the German 19-time ATP Tour titlist was more consistent from the baseline. He hit just eight unforced errors to Sonego’s 16.

Zverev faced six break points — three in his first service game of the match three serving for victory in the final game — but saved all of them to stay perfect on serve. He was pleased with the way he had handled the situation at 5-4, 0/40 in the second set as Sonego threatened a late comeback at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

“In those moments, you’ve got to go back to the basics,” said Zverev. “You’ve got to play each point by itself, you’ve got to remember what you can control. That is always your serve, that’s the only shot in tennis you can control purely by yourself. It obviously helps that I hit five first-serves in a row and then the match was over.”

With Thursday’s win, Zverev advanced to his maiden semi-final in Dubai on his second appearance at the event. His opponent in the final four will be defending champion Andrey Rublev or World No. 33 Botic van de Zandschulp.

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McDonald/Shelton Take Down Cabal/Farah In Acapulco

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

McDonald/Shelton Take Down Cabal/Farah In Acapulco

Mektic/Pavic reach semi-finals in Dubai

Mackenzie McDonald and Ben Shelton sprung an opening-round upset on Wednesday at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, where the American pairing took out fourth seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 7-6(5), 6-4 at the hard-court ATP 500.

McDonald and Shelton converted four of eight break points in Acapulco to notch their maiden ATP Tour win together at the second attempt. They held firm to win a first-set tie-break in which they were never behind before rallying from 2-4 in the second set to clinch an 89-minute victory.

Having played together for the first time at Tour-level in Delray Beach two weeks ago, McDonald and Shelton will now face Andre Goransson and Ben McLachlan in their maiden ATP Tour quarter-final as a team.

In other doubles action in Acapulco on Wednesday, William Blumberg and Casper Ruud downed Nicolas Mahut and Joe Salisbury 6-4, 6-4, while Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Marseille champions Santiago Gonzalez and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-4, 7-6(3).

Mektic/Pavic Move On In Dubai
At the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic booked a semi-final spot for the third consecutive year with a 3-6, 6-3, 10-7 win against Tomislav Brkic and Gonzalo Escobar.

The 2021 and 2022 finalists Mektic and Pavic held their nerve in a Match Tie-break to complete an 87-minute triumph at the hard-court ATP 500. Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen also advanced to the final four on Wednesday with a 7-6(4), 7-6(3) victory against Ilya Ivashka and Andrey Rublev.

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Gonzalez/Molteni Make Fast Start In Santiago
Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni wasted little time kick-starting their Movistar Chile Open campaign on Wednesday, when they raced past Juan Manuel Cerundolo and Camilo Ugo Carabelli 6-1, 6-1 in just 52 minutes.

The top-seeded Argentine duo will next play home wild card pairing Tomas Barrios Vera and Alejandro Tabilo at the clay-court ATP 250, where Gonzalez lifted the trophy in 2020 alongside Simone Bolelli.

There was one upset on Wednesday in the Chilean capital, however — Indian duo N.Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan held their nerve in a Match Tie-break to down second seeds Andrey Golubev and Aleksandr Nedovyesov 7-5, 4-6, 11-9.

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Fritz Sees Off Shapo As Berrettini, Rune Set QF Clash In Acapulco

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

Fritz Sees Off Shapo As Berrettini, Rune Set QF Clash In Acapulco

McDonald, Paul also advance at ATP 500 event in Mexico

Taylor Fritz delivered a clinical display Wednesday at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, where the American advanced to the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Denis Shapovalov.

The World No. 5 converted three of five break points to defeat Shapovalov in 78 minutes at the ATP 500. He fired 20 winners, including seven aces, to reach the last eight in Acapulco for the third time in five appearances.

“I’m [pleased] with how I played a lot of the big points today,” said Fritz, one of the stars of Netflix’s Break Point, after his victory. “I was very aggressive on the big points. I don’t necessarily love it when I play very tight and safe on big points. I feel really good when I’m being aggressive and taking my chances on those ones.”

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Fritz’s quarter-final opponent in Mexico will be Frances Tiafoe, who he leads 5-1 in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series. The 25-year-old Fritz admitted that his friendship with Tiafoe added something extra to their on-court meetings, the most recent of which came in the Tokyo final last October.

“Frances and I are really close friends, but we’re also rivals as well,” said Fritz, who won a pair of tie-breaks to lift the title on that occasion in Japan. ”We’ve played each other a lot and I know I usually approach it like any other match, but I feel like whenever we play there’s probably a little bit of extra pressure. I think both of us really want to beat the other one.”

The other quarter-final in the top half of the Acapulco draw will also feature a pair of Americans. Tommy Paul was leading 6-4, 2-2 when his opponent Michael Mmoh retired from their second-round clash, and the Australian Open semi-finalist will next play Mackenzie McDonald, a 6-2, 6-0 winner against Brandon Nakashima.

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Another heavyweight quarter-final was set for Thursday’s schedule in Mexico by Holger Rune and Matteo Berrettini, who both enjoyed comfortable straight-sets wins to book their spot in the last eight.

The fourth-seeded Rune needed just 60 minutes to defeat Portuguese World No. 85 Nuno Borges 6-0, 6-2. The 19-year-old Dane, who is playing in Acapulco for the first time this week, has now won 29 of his past 35 matches dating back to September last year.

Rune’s next opponent Berrettini eased past Elias Ymer 6-3, 6-3. The Italian had not played a competitive match since 17 January prior to this week, but he cruised into the quarter-finals by striking 27 winners and winning 84 per cent (27/32) of points behind his first serve in a 95-minute win.

Rune and Berrettini have played just once before on Tour, with the Italian prevailing 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 at last year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

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Daniel Shocks Ruud In Acapulco

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

Daniel Shocks Ruud In Acapulco

Japanese qualifier will next play De Minaur

It was a night Taro Daniel will never forget.

After Casper Ruud hit a final forehand into the net on the centre court of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado for HSBC, the 30-year-old Japanese player fell to his knees and held his arms out in celebration. The qualifier had saved two match points en route to ousting World No. 4 Ruud 7-5, 2-6, 7-6(5) after two hours and 58 minutes to reach the quarter-finals in Acapulco.

“I think every time these victories feel more like my own. The first time I beat Djokovic, it felt a little bit like he was not playing very well,” Daniel said. “But this time I felt like I was really playing against Casper at a high level. I mean obviously he’s still coming back, he’s a bit rusty and all that. But still, I had to win it.

“It was a very physical battle, great atmosphere, so happy.”

Entering the match, Daniel had upset then-World No. 13 Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells in 2018, but had never earned a win against a Top 10 opponent (previously 0-8). The New York-born righty will face eighth seed Alex de Minaur for a place in the semi-finals. 

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Ruud, who before the week had not played since losing in the second round of the Australian Open, never found the rhythm that he did so consistently on hard courts last year. His heavy forehand, which is typically a reliable weapon, proved not to be in Mexico, contributing to the 46 unforced errors he made in the match.

But some of that was because Daniel played fearless tennis and was willing to take the action to his opponent. Even so, the Norwegian earned two match points on the Japanese player’s serve at 5-6 in the third set.

On the second seed’s first opportunity, Daniel hit a Ruud-like inside-out forehand, which the favourite was unable to slice into the court. Later in the game, Ruud mishit a backhand return well out. The qualifier took full advantage of his second life in the match by playing a composed tie-break.

“I’ve always really loved playing here, but I kind of struggled with the conditions because it’s so hot,” Daniel said. “But I think I’ve been working really hard on my fitness and also my mental skills in order to cope with the humidity and cope with the suffering of the physical side of it. It’s definitely paying off and to be able to beat a guy like this, it definitely shows.”

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De Minaur’s victory had far less drama. The Australian ousted Italian qualifier Jacopo Berrettini, the younger brother of Matteo Berrettini, 6-1, 6-0. Jacopo earned his first ATP Tour win Tuesday evening against Oscar Otte.

In other action, Frances Tiafoe defeated wild card Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 7-6(6). The 41-year-old Spaniard Lopez was trying to become the oldest ATP Tour quarter-finalist since 42-year-old Jimmy Connors in 1995 at Halle, but the American did not allow him to claw into a final set.

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Munar Upsets Musetti In Santiago

  • Posted: Mar 02, 2023

Munar Upsets Musetti In Santiago

Hanfmann also advances to quarter-finals

Jaume Munar caused an upset Wednesday at the Movistar Chile Open, where he ousted top seed Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals.

The Spaniard had won both his previous meetings with Musetti, but both had come on the ATP Challenger Tour. A change in level did not change the result, as World No. 66 Munar advanced after one hour and 30 minutes.

“It was difficult for me to play today. [The court is] so much faster than on Monday night, and I tried to be focussed very much on my serve, tried to have variety in my game,” Munar said. “I knew that Lorenzo, he’s a great player. Of course he didn’t play his best today, but I tried to use my skills to move the opponent [out of] the comfort zone and I think I did it great today.”

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Munar, who won 87 per cent of his first-serve points against the Italian, is pursuing his first ATP Tour title this week. The 25-year-old is not getting ahead of himself, though.

“I’m here to try my best,” Munar said. “I wasn’t feeling ready before the swing here because I wasn’t playing my best. I was not on top of my fitness and I think I’ve been managing day by day by working hard. I think my team is doing also an extremely good job. And I think right now in quarters after these two matches, competing the way I’m competing, let’s hope for the best.”

Musetti struggled to find his best game during the “Golden Swing” in South America, tallying a 1-3 record in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. The World No. 18, who won four matches for Team Italy at the inaugural United Cup to start the year, will try to discover his top form at the BNP Paribas Open.

Earlier in the day, qualifier Yannick Hanfmann reached his first ATP Tour quarter-final of the season with a 7-6(6), 6-2 win against Roberto Carballes Baena.

The German has made all nine of his tour-level quarter-finals on clay. Like Munar, he is also trying to secure his maiden ATP Tour trophy in Santiago.

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