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Serve Secrets Helping Rodionov Build Further Success In Kazakhstan

  • Posted: Sep 30, 2023

Serve Secrets Helping Rodionov Build Further Success In Kazakhstan

24-year-old Austrian plays Mannarino in Astana quarter-finals

Facing two straight match points in the first round of the Astana Open on Thursday, Jurij Rodionov wanted to hit aces against Gregoire Barrere.

The left-handed qualifier not only pulled it off at 4-5 in the third set, but did so going against his preferred serving patterns.

“At that point I felt he was stronger than me from the baseline, so I wanted to avoid the rallies as much as possible, and I was just going for it,” said the Austrian. “I went out wide on the deuce side and down the tee on the ad-side, which are my least favourite serves.

“Usually I use the lefty advantage, but I went against that and surprised him.”

Rodionov edged a third-set tie-break, then upset second seed Sebastian Baez in straight sets on Friday for a place in his second career ATP Tour quarter-final.

In the first one, on grass in Stuttgart in 2021, he also saved a match point against Alex de Minaur en route to the semi-finals.

“Maybe it’s a pattern,” Rodionov said.

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Judging by his past performances, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the 24-year-old is flourishing in Kazakhstan. His maiden title on the ATP Challenger Tour came as a qualifier in Almaty in 2018 and a month later, Rodionov found himself in the semi-finals of a Challenger in Astana.

In 2021, Rodionov landed in the final of yet another Challenger in Astana. He likes the people and atmosphere in Kazakhstan, while speaking the language puts him at ease.

“Maybe I got a bit lucky winning my first Challenger in Almaty,” he said. “And since then, I think you can say it’s my lucky charm.”

Rodionov knew that victory over Baez would lift him beyond the career-best No. 100 achieved in late August in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and was pleased it didn’t hinder his performance.

The former junior World No. 7’s rise means he is getting ever closer to a direct berth into January’s Australian Open, where he has never competed in the main draw. Defeating 2020 Astana finalist and fellow lefty Adrian Mannarino on Sunday would boost Rodionov’s prospects even further. The Austrian notched his first Top 50 win against the Frenchman at a Challenger in Rennes in 2019.

“Honestly, I don’t really like playing against lefties because it’s very uncomfortable,” said Rodionov, despite winning nine of his last 10 matches versus left-handers.

Overall he calls this season his best so far, despite some “ups and downs”. Even when those ‘downs’ occur — Rodionov had lost six of seven matches entering Astana — his mantra is to “just hang in there.”

“Never give up, try to improve day by day and always try to be positive because no matter how bad things look, there is always going to be a way out,” he said. “Just try to do the best you can.”

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Thiem Advances To Astana QFs In Final-Set Tie-Break

An Austrian semi-finalist is guaranteed in Astana, where Dominic Thiem plays Sebastian Ofner in the other quarter-final in the bottom half of the draw. It marks the first time that three Austrians have reached the last eight of the same ATP Tour event.

Former World No. 3 Thiem holds a 3-0 record against Ofner, having beaten him most recently in three sets on clay at this year’s Millennium Estoril Open.

“I’m looking forward to it, because I think he is playing better right now,” Ofner said. “I’m also in good shape.”

Top-seed Tallon Griekspoor challenges fifth-seed Sebastian Korda, with fourth-seed Jiri Lehecka encountering 20-year-old wild card Hamad Medjedovic at Kazakhstan’s National Tennis Center. Both are first-time meetings.

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Top Seeds Dodig/Krajicek Make Fast Start In Beijing

  • Posted: Sep 30, 2023

Top Seeds Dodig/Krajicek Make Fast Start In Beijing

Murray/Venus upset in Astana

Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek made a confident start to their first tournament together on Chinese soil with a 6-2, 6-4 triumph against Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz at the China Open.

The top seeds Dodig and Krajicek converted four of five break points they earned in Saturday’s first-round clash to book a quarter-final spot in Beijing. The Croatian-American pair is chasing its fifth tour-level crown of the year in the Chinese capital, and its first on outdoor hard courts.

The leading team in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Teams Rankings as they chase a second consecutive appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals, Dodig and Krajicek will take on Marcelo Melo and Alexander Zverev in the last eight. Dodig is a defending champion in Beijing, where he lifted the trophy at the previous edition of the ATP 500 event in 2019 alongside Filip Polasek.

Fourth seeds Santiago Gonzalez and Edouard Roger-Vasselin also reached the quarter-finals with a 6-2, 6-2 triumph against Tomas Martin Etcheverry and Nicolas Jarry. Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski beat Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen 7-6(5), 6-4, and the experienced duo of Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos overcame singles stars Alex de Minaur and Jannik Sinner 7-6(2), 6-3.

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Cabral/Matos Spring Upset In Astana
Francisco Cabral and Rafael Matos stunned top seeds Jamie Murray and Michael Venus 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday at the Astana Open, where the Portuguese-Brazilian team converted four of its six break points to charge to a 68-minute first-round win.

There were no such problems for second seeds Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow, who beat Tallon Griekspoor and Bart Stevens 6-4, 7-5. Meanwhile Ariel Behar and Adam Pavlasek became the first team to reach the semi-finals when they defeated Gonzalo Escobar and Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-3, 4-6, 10-5.

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Humbert Upsets Rublev With Late Charge In Beijing

  • Posted: Sep 30, 2023

Humbert Upsets Rublev With Late Charge In Beijing

Frenchman defeats fifth seed, meets Medvedev next

Ugo Humbert earned his first Top 10 win in more than a year with a dramatic victory against Andrey Rublev on Saturday night in Beijing. In the second round of the China Open, the Frenchman pulled out a 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory against the fifth seed, improving his career record to 8-8 against Top 10 opponents.

In an eventful match that saw 10 breaks of serve evenly split, Humbert denied Rublev’s attempt to serve out a win at 5-3 in the final set and leaned on his rock-solid baseline game to close out the victory in a one-sided tie-break.

“I was really focussed from the beginning of the second set and the level was high,” Humbert said after two hours, 48 minutes on court. “It’s not easy against him because he plays very fast. I’m very proud that I did it.”

Humbert improved to 8-8 against the Top 10 and 1-3 this season, with his most recent such victory coming against Casper Ruud last year at Wimbledon. He will have a chance for another Top 10 win in the quarter-finals when he takes on World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, against whom he holds a 2-0 Lexus ATP Head2Head edge.

The 25-year-old Humbert reached a career-high of World No. 25 in 2021, but was outside the Top 100 for much of the 2022 season and as recently as this January. His quarter-final run in Beijing has lifted him two places to No. 34 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

“I was outside the Top 100 last year. I feel I played very well the last few weeks in Davis Cup, here,” he assessed. “I’m very happy to win against [Rublev].”

Rublev was seeking his 10th quarter-final of the season. Despite the defeat, he remains comfortably inside the top eight places in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin. If Alexander Zverev wins the Beijing title, however, the Geman will replace Rublev in fifth place.

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Thiem Advances To Astana QFs In Final-Set Tie-Break

  • Posted: Sep 30, 2023

Thiem Advances To Astana QFs In Final-Set Tie-Break

Griekspoor, Korda, Ofner also through to last eight

For the second straight match at the Astana Open, Dominic Thiem earned a hard-fought victory by winning a closing tie-break. After taking a second-set tie-break against Juan Pablo Varillias in the first round, the Austrian edged Marcos Giron 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2) on Saturday at the ATP 250.

The result saw Thiem through to his 76th tour-level quarter-final, his fourth of 2023 (Estoril, Munich, Kitzbühel) and his first on hard courts since reaching the 2022 Antwerp semis (l. To Korda).

“It was a very close match again. It’s obvious that here with these conditions there are many close matches, so many tie-breaks as well,” he said, later explaining how the fast indoor conditions favour the server. “I was expecting a really tough one. I was starting very well, very aggressive, so that was good. Second set he started to play much better and the third set was a very close battle — I saved some break points, he did [also].

“I played a very good tie-break. This was the best part of the match.”

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Both men broke serve twice in the match, with Thiem creating nine break chances to Giron’s seven. Giron failed to serve out the second set at 5-3 but responded by breaking for the second time to seal the set.

Austria’s Thiem saved three break points in the final set, including two from 15/40 at 3-4. On the first, he wrong-footed Giron with a deep forehand volley after the American hit a booming forehand at his approaching opponent. Thiem varied his game to great effect down the stretch, mixing in delicate shots at opportune moments to complement his baseline power.

From 2/2 in the decisive tie-break, the Austrian won the final five points of the match with rock-solid play, while Giron’s level dipped. Thiem will next face countryman Sebastian Ofner, who upset third seed Alexander Bublik 6-4, 6-2 to close Saturday’s play in Astana. Ofner saved both break points he faced against the Kazakh home favourite.

Earlier on Saturday, top seed Tallon Griekspoor earned a 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-1 win against Japan’s Sho Shimabukuro. The Dutchman saved the only two break points he faced in the match, firing 16 aces and wining 86 per cent of his first serve points on a stellar serving day.

Griekspoor dominated the final set by claiming the only three breaks of the match and will next meet American Sebastian Korda, who followed up a three-set opening win against Alexei Popyrin with a 6-4, 7-6(4) win against Nuno Borges on Saturday. Both players created three break chances in the match, with Korda converting two to his opponent’s one.

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Medvedev Breaks De Minaur Resistance In Beijing

  • Posted: Sep 30, 2023

Medvedev Breaks De Minaur Resistance In Beijing

Second seed will play Humbert in ATP 500 quarter-finals

Daniil Medvedev steadied himself to overcome a typically resilient Alex de Minaur on Saturday and book a last-eight spot at the China Open.

The second-seeded Medvedev prevailed 7-6(3), 6-3 in Beijing after his Australian opponent had rallied from 2-5 in the first set to force a tie-break. It was the third time in four tour-level events that the pair had met (Toronto, US Open, Beijing), and Medvedev was not surprised by De Minaur’s tenacity.

“[It was] tough, tough like always,” said Medvedev. “Alex has this ability, everyone knows it that when he’s down, he starts to play better. That’s what happened today. First set, I didn’t manage to count him down, as he was playing better because he was down. Second set I managed to play just unbelievable.

“It’s crazy how every time he is down in a match, you know he is going to start playing like he is No. 1 in the world. Tough to play against him, a tough victory, but I am happy with my level.”

Medvedev converted three of nine break points he earned for his Tour-leading 40th hard-court win of the season and improved to 6-2 in his Lexus ATP Head2Head series with De Minaur. Having lost to the Australian in the Toronto quarter-finals in August, he was delighted to make it two straight wins against the World No. 12, against whom he also triumphed in four sets at last month’s US Open.

“Confidence is key. When I am in good shape and good form, I have this ability to win these kinds of matches in straight sets,” said Medvedev. “If I’m missing just two per cent of what I’m doing right now, that’s when it’s tougher. That’s what happened in Toronto. I should have won the first set [there]. It’s a matter of a few points, at this moment it’s working and I’m going to try to keep going.”

Now into the quarter-finals for the 13th time in 18 tour-level tournaments in 2023, Medvedev will meet Ugo Humbert next in the Chinese capital after the Frenchman upset fifth seed Andrey Rublev 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(3).

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Draper Builds 'Strength Of Character' In Challenging 2023 Season

  • Posted: Sep 30, 2023

Draper Builds ‘Strength Of Character’ In Challenging 2023 Season

The Briton is in action this week at the Orleans Challenger

Jack Draper hit a career-high No. 38 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in January following a semi-final run at the Adelaide International 2. The 21-year-old was poised to continue his rapid rise in 2023. Injuries soon struck the Briton and have been an unfortunate theme this season for last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals semi-finalist.

Draper reached the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open before an abdominal injury forced him to retire against Carlos Alcaraz. A shoulder injury suffered at Roland Garros forced him to miss three months of action, in which he was unable to compete at his home Slam, Wimbledon.

Despite the time away from the Tour, Draper stayed positive and used it as a teaching moment.

“With this year, having so many injuries and having to come back from them, it definitely builds a lot of strength of character,” Draper told the ATP Challenger Tour media team this week in Orleans. “I knew I just had to get myself in a good place physically and mentally to be at the top of my game.

“I feel like this year, although it’s been really difficult, dropping out of the Top 100 and all these things, I’ve learned so much and I’m a much better player now than I was nine, 10 months ago. I’m proud of myself, but it’s definitely been difficult.”

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Draper has especially leaned on the support of his team and family in the midst of this season’s obstacles.

“The thing with being a tennis player is it’s an individual sport, it’s lonely and stuff, that’s where having amazing people around you, who are always looking out for you, always there for you is so important,” Draper said.

“My coach, James Trotman, I’ve been with him for two years now and we have an incredibly close relationship. Obviously we are working towards a goal, we are very professional and stuff. But it’s definitely a weird dynamic, I spend more time with him than with my mum and my dog. It’s quite funny. Without them, I am no one.”

When Draper returned to action in August, he quickly found a high level. The lefty reached the fourth round of a major for the first time at the US Open and then made his Davis Cup debut, defeating Thanasi Kokkinakis en route to Great Britain’s 2-1 victory over Australia.

Draper briefly exited the Top 100 for six weeks, but after earning 180 points at Flushing Meadows and this week’s deep run at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Orleans, France, he has climbed 10 spots to World No. 96 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

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After the injury layoff in the first half of the season, Draper is hoping to flip the script by finishing the year strong and build upon his momentum in 2024.

“Next year, [the goal is] to carry on where I’ve left off at the end of this year. The main thing for me is always to just keep developing physically,” Draper said. “My goal is not to be a Top 100 or a Top 50 player. My goal is to be one of the best in the world.

“There’s many things that need to fall into place for that, but I think if I keep competing and keep working hard day in and day out and doing all the things I need to do physically and mentally to be at the top of the game, there’s no reason why I don’t have the game and the ability to go all the way in this sport.”

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Griekspoor Relishing Top Seed Status: 'It's A Bit Surreal'

  • Posted: Sep 29, 2023

Griekspoor Relishing Top Seed Status: ‘It’s A Bit Surreal’

The Dutchman has won two tour-level titles this season

Tallon Griekspoor finds himself as the top seed at an ATP Tour event for the first time this week at the Astana Open.

And the Dutchman is fully aware of it.

“Yeah, I know,” Griekspoor said ahead of his opener on Saturday against Japanese qualifier Sho Shimabukuro on the indoor hard courts of the National Tennis Center. “It’s something special. If you look at the draw, you see some big names and you see your name on the first line.

“It’s something you worked for all your life. It’s a bit surreal at this point and maybe a little extra pressure here. I think it’s a good sign to see your name at the top of the list.”

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The 27-year-old entered Astana at a career-best No. 24 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, with second-seed Sebastian Baez at a career high, too, of No. 27. Both Baez and Griekspoor have bagged multiple titles in 2023. Griekspoor will want to avoid the Astana fate of the Argentine, however, who fell to a qualifier Jurij Rodionov on Friday.

Griekspoor gets recognised a little more now, which he light-heartedly said doesn’t hurt when trying to land football or concert tickets.

Winning the first tournament he played of the new season — at the hard-court Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune — did wonders for his confidence. So did what happened in the next few tournaments.

Griekspoor made the third round at a major for the first time at the Australian Open before beating Alexander Zverev on the way to the semi-finals of February’s ABN AMRO Open at home in Rotterdam. It took Jannik Sinner to stop him in two tight sets, 7-5, 7-6.

“The first six weeks of the year were probably a turning point for my mental side,” said Griekspoor, who acknowledged he is ‘maybe working a bit harder’ than before. “For me the most important thing was the belief to have this ranking, the belief to win tournaments. That’s something that this year was really there and helped me a lot.”

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If he wasn’t far off from triumphing indoors in Rotterdam, Griekspoor did get his hands on a trophy at home by claiming June’s Libema Open on grass in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Given he won six of his unprecedented eight ATP Challenger Tour titles in 2021 on clay, he is an all-rounder. Which surface does he enjoy the most? Griekspoor chuckled when asked.

“I always said it was clay until I started winning ATP [tournaments] on hard courts and grass,” he said. “I enjoy playing on all surfaces and I think that’s a good thing.”

Griekspoor is ready to make a charge the rest of this season after taking extra rest post-Wimbledon and the US Open. The opportunity to gain Pepperstone ATP Ranking points certainly exists since he last year lost five straight matches from the end of September to the end of October.

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“Schedule wise, I did a lot better this year,” he said. “As I’m feeling now, I’m feeling great. Now it’s an advantage that I didn’t win anything last year. Back then it was different.”

Griekspoor opens against Shimabukuro, who edged countryman Taro Daniel in three hours, 33 minutes to make the main draw and then toppled Roberto Carballes Baena in the opening round.

Alexander Bublik, Kazakhstan’s highest-ranked men’s player at No. 35, defeated Griekspoor last year in the first round in Astana, but it didn’t stop the Dutchman from returning.

“It’s a really nice tournament, which made me come back,” said Griekspoor.

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Koolhof/Skupski Cruise In Beijing Opener

  • Posted: Sep 29, 2023

Koolhof/Skupski Cruise In Beijing Opener

Haase/Van De Zandschulp advance in Astana

Second seeds Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski wasted no time Friday when they cruised past home hopes Sun Fajing and Zhou Yi 6-1, 6-4 in the China Open first round.

Koolhof and Skupski won 23 of their 27 first-serve points and needed just 66 minutes to advance, setting up a second-round meeting with Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski or Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen.

The Dutch-British duo of Koolhof and Skupski, who are second in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Teams Rankings, have earned two titles this season: Wimbledon and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They are aiming to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals for a second consecutive year.

Glasspool/Heliovaara Upset In Astana
Ariel Behar and Adam Pavlasek upset third seeds Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara 7-6(12), 4-6, 10-7 at the Astana Open. The Uruguayan-Czech pair will next face Gonzalo Escobar, who has won three-tour level titles with Behar, and Aleksandr Nedovyesov.

Robin Haase and Botic van de Zandschulp also advanced after they downed wild cards Egor Gerasimov and Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-2.

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Alcaraz Returns To Action With Beijing Debut Win

  • Posted: Sep 29, 2023

Alcaraz Returns To Action With Beijing Debut Win

Spaniard faces Musetti next

Exactly three weeks after he exited the US Open in the semi-finals, Carlos Alcaraz made a winning return to action on Friday at the China Open. The Spaniard defeated qualifier Yannick Hanfmann 6-4, 6-3 at the Beijing ATP 500 to begin his late-season charge to return to the top of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

With victory in his first ATP Tour match in China, Alcaraz improved to 14-0 this season in first-round matches and 59-7 overall, his 59 wins leading the ATP Tour. Alcaraz also leads the ATP Tour in titles (8) and finals (6) this season, both personal bests.

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He began the Asian swing behind World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, but could close that gap to 315 points by winning his first title since Wimbledon in Beijing.

“Hopefully I have a lot of years to come here to China. Creating my chapter here in China would be great for me,” Alcaraz said after receiving a warm welcome on his debut in the nation. “To finally be able to come here to China and show my tennis in front of the Chinese people is something that I wanted a long time ago and I’m really happy to do it, hopefully the first of many here.”

Alcaraz made a strong start in Beijing with an early break, but showed signs of rust as he twice lost a break lead in the opening set. At 4-4, a punishing forehand broke the resistance of Germany’s Hanfmann, who battled to save eight of 11 break points in the set.

Both players improved on serve in set two, with Alcaraz’s early and late breaks proving enough to claim the set and the match. The top seed did not face a break point in the second set as he worked through the gears, dialling in both on serve and from the ground. He finished the match with five breaks of serve in 16 chances.

Hanfmann pushed Alcaraz with powerful baseline hitting and a few successful drop shots, but Alcaraz was better in both aspects overall and ultimately won the pair’s first Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting in one hour, 37 minutes.

“I’m really happy to be able to win this match in straight sets,” Alcaraz assessed. “Yannick’s playing great. He’s a really dangerous player, big shots. He was playing big bombs in this match so I had to be really focussed, trying to not let him dominate the match.

“I tried to be really focussed on every part of my game. I have to improve a little bit so I’m really happy to do it and have another chance to be better in the next round.”

The Spaniard will next face Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti, a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 winner against Karen Khachanov earlier on Friday. Khachanov saw his perfect start to the Asian swing end after he won the Zhuhai title on Tuesday, beating Yoshihito Nishioka in the final.

Also in the top quarter of the draw, Casper Ruud closed Friday’s play with a 7-6(5), 6-3 win against Jan-Lennard Struff. The seventh seed will next meet Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry, with the winner of that match to take on Alcaraz or Musetti. Norway’s Ruud is now 9-9 this season on hard courts.

Andrey Rublev was also a Friday winner in Beijing. The fifth seed earned a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory against Cameron Norrie, setting up a second-round meeting with Ugo Humbert. Rublev improved to 3-2 in his Lexus ATP Head2Head series against Great Britain’s Norrie with the result, gaining revenge after a defeat in Indian Wells in their most recent meeting.

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