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Mannarino Doesn't Check Draws; His Next Surprise? A Wawrinka Showdown

  • Posted: Oct 03, 2022

Mannarino Doesn’t Check Draws; His Next Surprise? A Wawrinka Showdown

Auger-Aliassime to face stiff test against Bautista Agut

Adrian Mannarino will sleep well Sunday night on the eve of the Astana Open. He’s one of those tennis players who chooses not to dwell on what lies directly ahead.

“I don’t want to talk about the draw or who I’m facing or whatever because I’m not looking,” the 34-year-old said at the beginning of a Sunday interview. “The quality of the tournament? I don’t know anything.”

Given the formidable ATP 500 field gathered in Kazakhstan, it’s probably just as well Mannarino doesn’t know that he’ll be facing three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the tournament’s very first match (12 noon, local time) on centre court at the National Tennis Centre.

Yes, at the moment, you actually know more than he does. Mannarino is coming off a first-round loss in Tel Aviv, where he was the seventh seed, to fellow Frenchman Constant Lestienne. The good news? He beat Wawrinka in the only match they ever played in the second round of the 2015 Miami Open presented by Itau – prevailing in a pair of taut tie-breaks.

This is one of six first-round singles matches, featuring three seeded players, that will unfold Monday.

Following the opening match, seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz faces Francisco Cerundolo. The night session (6 p.m. local) kicks off with eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime versus Roberto Bautista Agut – perhaps the finest quality matchup in the first round. The nightcap is fifth seed Andrey Rublev against qualifier Laslo Djere.

The only doubles match: Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek against the Kazakhstani wild-card team of Grigoriy Lomakin and Denis Yevseyev.

The first match of the day on Court 1 has Botic Van de Zandschulp opposite Kazakhstan wild card Beibit Zhukayev.

Van de Zandschulp has a fascinating backstory. He’s played 58 matches so far this year at the tour-level – previously, he had only played 27.

The 26-year-old from the Netherlands is ranked No. 35, but a year ago he had to qualify for all four Grand Slam events. He went a searing 11-1 in those qualifying matches, reaching the main draw at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open. As it turned out, he got into the Wimbledon field as a lucky loser.

At last year’s US Open, the Dutchman became only the third male qualifier to reach the quarter-finals. There, he faced Daniil Medvedev – and was the only player to take a set from the eventual champion. He finished the season as the Netherlands’ No. 1 and has been adapting to this, his first full season on the ATP Tour.

“Yeah, I think I did quite all right,” Van de Zandschulp said in an interview. “It was pretty tough, actually, playing first time Cincinnati and Montreal, four matches in total. I was not ashamed to lose to [Cam] Norrie or [Daniil] Medvedev.

“Winston-Salem [semi-finals] was good. It’s still figuring out what the best schedule is for me. There’s ups and downs, and hopefully I can manage things to the end of the year.”

The Dutchman will play Astana and is scheduled for Antwerp, Basel and Paris. And then – after “a small vacation” – there is some unfinished business in Australia, where the Netherlands will play in the November Davis Cup quarter-finals. Van de Zandschulp was a big part of the victory in Glasgow, Scotland, where he and his team defeated Kazakhstan, Great Britain and the United States to win Group D.

This season, he said, has involved a steep learning curve. With access to so many tournaments, it’s been difficult to keep his schedule manageable. Previously, when he was playing Challengers, his travel was generally restricted to Europe, with two major trips to Australia and the United States. Traveling more and playing fewer matches – against better opponents – has been challenging.

“You learn a lot from the experience,” Van de Zandschulp. I want to finish the season strong and be in the Top 30 at the end of the year – seeded in Australia. That’s the end goal for the year.”

Unlike Mannarino, he fully understands what is at stake here in Astana. If he manages to defeat Zhukayev, 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic could await in the second round.

“On paper, Novak’s the toughest one in the draw,” said the Netherlands star. “Never played him before, and hopefully I can if I win my first match and he wins his. So, yeah, really looking forward to it.

“It’s always nice to play someone for the first time, especially him.”

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Team-Minded Ram Climbs To Doubles World No. 1: 'It's Pretty Amazing'

  • Posted: Oct 03, 2022

Team-Minded Ram Climbs To Doubles World No. 1: ‘It’s Pretty Amazing’

38-year-old swaps places with partner Salisbury

Rajeev Ram made history on Monday when he became the oldest first-time World No. 1 in Pepperstone ATP Doubles Rankings history. The American climbed from World No. 2, swapping places with partner Joe Salisbury of Great Britain.

“It’s pretty amazing. I’ve obviously had quite a long career, which I’m grateful for. But it’s been over the past three or four years with Joe that it’s really felt like we’ve been at the top of the game and been contending for all the major titles,” Ram told “It’s a lot of hard work that a lot of people put in, not just me, to get me to this point.”

The 38-year-old has been World No. 2 since 4 April, and he climbed to World No. 1 when Salisbury dropped 250 points he earned from capturing the San Diego Open title last season with Neal Skupski. Ram positioned himself to earn the achievement when he partnered Salisbury to their second consecutive US Open title last month.

Although Ram “used to shy away” from record-related talk, he appreciates making the top of the men’s doubles mountain aged 38. The previous-oldest first-time World No. 1 was the first doubles World No. 1: Bob Hewitt, who was 36 in 1976.

“I certainly appreciate that now because I feel like it shows the fact that you can wait long. As long as you’re resilient [and] persistent, things can happen, even much later,” Ram said. “Everyone is on their own path and maybe it’s even a little bit sweeter if it takes a little bit longer.”

<a href=''>Joe Salisbury</a>/<a href=''>Rajeev Ram</a>
Ram and Salisbury at this year’s US Open. Photo: Elsa/Getty Images.
The American played college tennis at the University of Illinois, where in 2003 the team won the national title and Ram claimed doubles glory with Brian Wilson. He then enjoyed a successful singles career in which he climbed to a career-high World No. 56 in 2016 and lifted two ATP Tour trophies (both in Newport).

But in 2017, Ram shifted his focus to doubles and has not looked back since.

“I felt like I restarted my career in 2017 when I started playing doubles. I don’t feel like it’s been that long in the sense of it feels like I’ve just really played doubles for about five years,” Ram said. “It feels a little different than it would have [if] I played doubles my whole career and all of a sudden at 38 I got to this point.

“I needed to focus every bit of attention I had to maximise my skill in doubles, I felt like. That’s sort of what I did. To have a steady partner, to have a group around us that we all believe in and we trust, I think these results are a [result] of that.”

Both Ram and Salisbury were clear that they have always put the team above the individual in their partnership. They have won eight tour-level titles together — including three Grand Slam crowns — and qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals in four consecutive seasons.

“These accolades are great, but I think our focus was to be the No. 1 team,” Ram said. “Now the fact that we both will [have been] the No. 1 player is just a testament to the team effort that we’ve put in.”

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Ram had a hunch things would go well with Salisbury after their first training block together at the end of 2018 in Florida, and that has proven prophetic. Salisbury had plenty of praise for his partner.

“Massive congratulations to Rajeev for being the World No. 1. I’m very happy for him and it’s definitely well deserved. It definitely feels right that he’s No. 1 now. I’m very happy to be moving back to be No. 2,” Salisbury said. “Obviously it’s a huge team effort, we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved. To be the No. 1 team at the moment, I think it’s definitely right that we share being No. 1. I’ve enjoyed having it while I have, but I’m really happy for him. He’s been an incredible partner the whole time we’ve been playing together.

“[Even though] we think more about the team than the individual accolades, it’s definitely nice that he has the No. 1 ranking now.”

Mike Bryan, who was doubles World No. 1 for a record 506 weeks, congratulated his countryman on ascending to the top spot.

“Rajeev really deserves this honour and it’s great to see him having so much success in his late 30s,” Bryan told “He’s always been one of the most talented and dangerous doubles players on Tour, but to reach the top of the mountain this late in his career is amazing. It’s a huge testament to his dedication and hard work. Congrats RR!”

Although he is excited to reach World No. 1, Ram is hungry to continue honing his craft and to work with Salisbury to remain the top team in the sport.

“It’s just the idea of trying to maintain and keep improving my own game, because everyone else is going to improve as well. No one is just going to sit there, so obviously if we don’t get better, we’re going to fall behind,” Ram said. “It’s just constant motivation to keep pushing as hard as we can to go as far as we can go.”

Did You Know?
Ram is the 57th player and 18th American to climb to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Rankings.

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Khachanov Reflects On US Open Run, Confidence & Turin Push

  • Posted: Oct 03, 2022

Khachanov Reflects On US Open Run, Confidence & Turin Push

The 26-year-old is making his Astana debut

Karen Khachanov was 21 years old and ranked No. 48 in the world when the 2018 season began. The first signs that he was carving a new trajectory came early in Marseille, where he defeated Tomas Berdych and Lucas Pouille – both Top 20 players – on the way to his second career title. Stellar results followed – he made the fourth round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon and was a semi-finalist in Toronto.

The big leap came in the fall, when he won the titles in Moscow and, almost inexplicably, the regular-season finale in Paris. His last three victories came against No. 5-ranked Alexander Zverev, No. 8 Dominic Thiem and, in the final, No. 2 Novak Djokovic. Khachanov, the first unseeded player to win an ATP Masters 1000 since David Nalbandian 11 years earlier, won 46 matches that season, was the first alternate at the year-end Nitto ATP Finals in London and finished the year ranked No. 11.

How on earth did that happen?

“To be honest with you,” Khachanov said Saturday from the Astana Open, “I don’t know. Sometimes, things happen that you cannot predict. I had a great run at the end of 2018. Because with one result you can make it into the Top 10.”

And while Khachanov rose to a career-high No. 8 early the following year, in the four seasons since that breakthrough – with the exception of a silver medal in singles at the Olympics played in Tokyo a year ago – he has never regained those giddy heights. But there are signs that when he plays American Maxime Cressy in a first-round match at the Kazakhstan National Tennis Centre you might see him starting to again approach that level.

In a year that has seen him win 31 matches, his finest moments came in the most recent event he played, the US Open. His eighth trip to New York, including qualifying, produced his best result: a berth in the semi-finals, a career-best major effort.

He defeated No. 15-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta in the fourth round (in five sets) and No. 25 Nick Kyrgios in the quarter-finals, in another match that went the distance. After five consecutive victories, the run finally ended against Casper Ruud.

“I was wishing, of course, to have a cherry on the pie and to lift the trophy,” Khachanov admitted. “The deeper you go, the more you believe that you can do it.”

Khachanov has always had a formidable serve and a forehand to go with it. At the US Open, he was using them in a devastating one-two combination. The confidence that carried him so well four years ago, seemed to return.

“Confidence, obviously, is a very interesting thing,” Khachanov said. “It’s what matters most. You can believe in yourself [going in] – that you can do it – but once you achieve the result, that’s the actual thing that you can feel.”

Khachanov should be feeling it in Kazakhstan; his ranking moved up 13 spots after the New York fortnight, to No. 18. He’s scheduled to play here, then Antwerp, Vienna and Paris. He’s currently 17th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, but a title at one of his remaining events could put him within striking distance. His history, he knows, suggests he’s capable of a late run.

“It’s still a long way,” he said. “And still a lot of points to be played. It’s been a great run and I use it was a motivation for the next achievements. I think this is a step forward.

“I think step by step I’m improving and raising my game. And I think I’m a better player today than I was [four years ago]. At the end of the day, the results, they don’t show that. But, hopefully, in the long run, it will show.”

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Kokkinakis & Kyrgios Lead Tokyo Doubles Draw

  • Posted: Oct 02, 2022

Kokkinakis & Kyrgios Lead Tokyo Doubles Draw

Wimbledon champions Ebden and Purcell also in action

Two Grand Slam-winning teams headline the doubles draw at the 2022 Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships.

Australian Open champions Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios lead the way as the top seeds, followed by Wimbledon winners Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell. The Australian teams met in January in the Australian Open final, and will need three more wins each to book a rematch in the Tokyo final.

The Tokyo event is the seventh this season for Kokkinakis and Kyrgios as a team. The ‘Special Ks’ will open against Japanese wild cards Yoshihito Nishioka and Kaichi Uchida in the draw’s top half as they seek their third title of 2022.

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Alex de Minuar and Frances Tiafoe are also in the top half and loom as potential semi-final opponents for Kokkinakis and Kyrgios. Teaming for just the second time, the duo will face Mackenzie McDonald and Marcelo Melo in the first round.

Fourth seeds Daniel Evans and John Peers round out the top half, with the British-Australian pairing meeting Sweden’s Andre Goransson and Japan’s Ben McLachlan in Monday’s lone doubles match.

In the draw’s bottom half, second seeds Ebden and Purcell face Alexei Popyrin and Ramkumar Ramanathan, while third seeds Rafael Matos and David Vega Hernandez play Hans Hach Verdugo and Miomir Kecmanovic.

The Japanese wild card duo of Toshihide Matsui and Kaito Uesugi will open against qualifiers Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen of Belgium.

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Five #NextGenATP Challenger Tour Players To Watch In October

  • Posted: Oct 02, 2022

Five #NextGenATP Challenger Tour Players To Watch In October

Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals will take place 8-12 November

Just over a month from now the world’s Top-8 21-and-under players will compete at the coveted Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. Held in Milan, Italy, players dream of using the tournament as a launching pad for their career and this year is proving to be a close battle on who will qualify.

Just under 150 points separate 10th and 20th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan, leaving the margins slim as players dash to collect the maximum points in the coming weeks. looks at five Challenger Tour players to watch in October as they strengthen their hopes of being in Milan.

Ben Shelton (USA)

The lefty has been building upon his NCAA singles title in May, reaching four semi-finals of the five Challenger Tour events in which he has competed. Shelton, 19, finished runner-up at the ATP Challenger 80 events this summer in Rome, Georgia and Chicago, Illinois.

In July, the teenager cruised to victory for his maiden Tour-level win in Atlanta, defeating Ramkumar Ramanthan before pushing countryman John Isner to a third-set tie-break. Shelton was given a wild card into the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he upset then-World No. 5 Casper Ruud in straight sets.

Boasting a 14-5 Challenger match record in 2022, Shelton is due to play the next two weeks at the ATP Challenger 80 tournaments in California: Tiburon and Fairfield. The American is 16th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan.

<a href=''>Ben Shelton</a> delivers a serve at the 2022 <a href=''>US Open</a>.
Ben Shelton delivers a serve at the 2022 US Open. Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

Luca Nardi (ITA)
The 19-year-old is the only #NextGenATP star with three or more Challenger titles this season: Forli-1, Lugano, and Mallorca. Nardi, who climbed to a career-high No. 142 in August, is the youngest (19 years, one month) of the 18 Italians ranked within the Top 200 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. At the beginning of the year, Nardi made new commitments to himself, which have helped him achieve success this season.

“I started training harder and with more intensity. I also started a diet and eating better,” Nardi told in May. “Everything is going better from that. I’m trying to be as professional as I can. In general, it is the same training, with maybe some extra work on the forehand and backhand, but the intensity is much different. That is the difference.”

Nardi, who is 13th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan, this weekend will attempt to qualify for the ATP 500 event in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Luca Nardi prevailed on home soil to win the Forli-1 Challenger in January. Credit: NEN Events

Matteo Arnaldi (ITA)
The 21-year-old has reached two Challenger finals this season, including in Francavilla al Mare, where he claimed his maiden Challenger title. At the San Marino Challenger in August, the World No. 157 didn’t drop a set until the final, falling short to Pavel Kotov. Arnaldi also reached the semi-finals at the Split and Como Challengers.

Arnaldi is one of six Italian #NextGenATP youngsters who have claimed a Challenger title in 2022: Nardi, Lorenzo Musetti, Flavio Cobolli, Francesco Maestrelli, and Francesco Passaro have also triumphed this season. Now inching closer to his 2022 goal of being ranked in the Top 150, Arnaldi is aiming to play in front of a home crowd in Milan.

“The Next Gen Finals is my goal for the rest of the year,” Arnaldi told “But I don’t like to check the points every week. I just like to play and do my best.”

The Sanremo native, who is 14th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan, will next play the Alicante and Saint-Tropez Challengers.

<a href=''>Matteo Arnaldi</a> in action at the Como Challenger.
Matteo Arnaldi in action at the Como Challenger. Credit: Bettina Musatti

Shang Juncheng (CHN)
In August, the Beijing native became the youngest Chinese champion in Challenger Tour history. During a nine-match winning streak, the 17-year-old triumphed at the Lexington Challenger and finished runner-up in Granby, Canada (l. Diallo). He is the youngest player to win a Challenger title since Carlos Alcaraz at Alicante in 2020.

Shang is one of three Chinese players ranked inside the Top 200, alongside Wu Yibing and Zhang Zhizhen.

Shang, 13-8 at the Challenger level this year, is 22nd in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan. The teenager will join fellow lefty Shelton at the Tiburon and Fairfield Challengers as he looks to qualify for Milan.

Shang Juncheng claims the Lexington Challenger at 17.
Shang Juncheng claimed the Lexington Challenger in August. Credit: Lexington Challenger presented by Meridian Wealth Management

Filip Misolic (AUT)
The Austrian, who is 11th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan, surged onto the Challenger scene in May, when he advanced through qualifying en route to capturing the Zagreb Challenger title. The next week, Misolic continued his hot streak as he reached the semi-finals at the Tunis Challenger (l. Brouwer).

In July, the 21-year-old made the best possible use of a wild card at the ATP 250 event in Kitzbuehel. Competing in his first Tour-level event, Misolic made a run to the final on home soil, falling short to Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.

Misolic, who began the season ranked outside the Top 350, reached a career-high No. 136 in August. He is set to compete the next two weeks at the Parma and Saint-Tropez Challengers.

Filip Misolic triumphed at the Zagreb Challenger in May. Credit: Inga Cuzic/Zagreb Open

The fifth edition of the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals will take place 8-12 November. The previous champions are Hyeon Chung (2017), Stefanos Tsitsipas (2018), Jannik Sinner (2019), and Carlos Alcaraz (2021).

ATP Challenger Tour 

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Scouting Report: Alcaraz & Djokovic Headline Astana, Ruud Leads Tokyo Field

  • Posted: Oct 02, 2022

Scouting Report: Alcaraz & Djokovic Headline Astana, Ruud Leads Tokyo Field

An executive summary of what every fan should know about the coming week

A hard-court ATP 500 double-header lights up the ATP Tour this week as Astana and Tokyo play host to some of the world’s finest players.

World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz headlines the field at the Astana Open, where Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic are also competing in a stacked field at the indoor event in Kazakhstan.

Casper Ruud is the top seed outdoors at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, where the World No. 2 seeks his first hard-court title of the season and the first ATP 500 trophy of his career. Nick Kyrgios is also in action in Japan, where the Australian is trying to add to his 2016 victory at the tournament. looks ahead at five things to watch at each event.

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View Draws: Astana | Tokyo

1) World No. 1 Alcaraz Returns: Alcaraz is set to compete in his first ATP Tour event since becoming the youngest World No. 1 in the history of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings with his triumph at the US Open in September.

The 19-year-old will face Sunday’s Sofia finalist Holger Rune on tournament debut in Kazakhstan as the Spaniard chases his third ATP 500 crown of the season following. Earlier this year Alcaraz triumphed on clay in Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona.

2) Medvedev Pursuing Indoor Groove: Second seed Medvedev is also taking to the hard courts of Astana for the first time this week. The 26-year-old is currently fifth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin as he seeks to qualify for November’s season-ending Nitto ATP Finals for the fourth consecutive year.

Despite falling to Stan Wawrinka in his first indoor match in 2022 in Metz 10 days ago, Medvedev can look to the fact that he has won six of his 14 tour-level titles on indoor hard courts for confidence as he prepares to take on Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the first round in Astana.


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3) Dialled-In Djokovic: Djokovic made a strong start to his indoor hard-court season in Tel Aviv this week, with the Serbian set to take on Marin Cilic in Sunday’s final in Israel. Djokovic will then head to Astana, where he will be the fourth seed on tournament debut as he chases his first ATP 500 crown since his 2020 triumph in Dubai.

4) Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin: With Alcaraz and third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas already qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals, a host of top names arrive in Astana seeking to bolster their chances of reaching the season-ending showpiece, to be held in Turin from 13-20 November.

Andrey Rublev (sixth) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (seventh) both currently occupy qualification spots, while Hubert Hurkacz (ninth) could overtake both with a title run in Kazakhstan depending on their results. All three are making their Astana debuts this week.

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Felix Ready To Continue Success In Astana

5) Can Top Seeds Puetz/Venus Boost Turin Hopes?: Dubai champions Tim Puetz and Michael Venus seek their second ATP 500 crown of 2022 in Astana, where a strong run will also boost their Nitto ATP Finals hopes.

The German-Kiwi pairing are currently eighth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Teams Rankings. Their rivals in Kazakhstan this week include second seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (fourth in the Doubles Teams Race), and Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (fifth in the Doubles Teams Race). Santiago Gonzalez, who triumphed in Astana in 2021 alongside Andres Molteni, plays with Lukasz Kubot.

1) Ruud Headlines Field: Top seed Ruud arrives in Tokyo chasing his maiden ATP 500 crown. The Norwegian has excelled on hard courts in 2022, reaching finals on the surface in Miami in March and at the US Open in September. The 23-year-old will hope to maintain that form when his bid for his fourth ATP Tour title of the season begins against Jaume Munar.

2) Fritz & Tiafoe Lead American Charge: This week in Tokyo could be crucial for Taylor Fritz’s hopes of joining Ruud in qualifying for November’s Nitto ATP Finals. The 23-year-old is 10th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, but has not won a match in three previous main-draw appearances in the Japanese capital.

Fritz’s countryman, Frances Tiafoe, is seeded fourth in Tokyo, where he returns to action for the first time since he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas to clinch the Laver Cup for Team World in London a week ago. Brandon Nakashima, Mackenzie McDonald and Steve Johnson are the other contenders looking to become the first American to triumph in Tokyo since Pete Sampras in 1996.

3) Former Champ Kyrgios: Kyrgios lifted his maiden ATP 500 crown in Tokyo in 2016 and the show-stopping Australian is seeded fifth for his first appearance at the event in four years. The 27-year-old has been in red-hot form in recent months and holds a 35-10 record for the season, which includes a title run in Washington and his maiden Grand Slam final appearance at Wimbledon.

4) Home Hope Nishioka: Yoshihito Nishioka could not have asked for a better lead-in to his home tournament. The top-ranked Japanese player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings downed Denis Shapovalov to lift his second ATP Tour title in Seoul on Sunday. Nishioka takes on Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round as he attempts to become the first home winner in Tokyo since Kei Nishikori won the event for the second time in 2014.

5) ‘Special Ks’ Top Seeds: Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis will begin their campaign for their third tour-level doubles title of the season against the home pairing of Nishioka and Kaichi Uchida in Tokyo. The Australians are currently seventh in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Teams Rankings as they seek to reach the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time.

Among Kokkinakis and Kyrgios’ rivals in Tokyo this week are Wimbledon champions Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell, while two-time champion and home favourite Ben McLachlan, who won in 2017 (w/Uchiyama) and 2018 (w/Struff), partners Andre Goransson.

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Medvedev, Auger-Aliassime Enjoy Hit At Astana Landmark

  • Posted: Oct 02, 2022

Medvedev, Auger-Aliassime Enjoy Hit At Astana Landmark

Medvedev seeded second, Auger-Aliassime seeded eighth

The Astana Open is an ATP 500 event played indoors at the National Tennis Center, but two of its top stars were hitting outdoors on Sunday.

For one day only, though.

Daniil Medvedev and Felix Auger-Aliassime, the second and eighth seeds, respectively, exchanged leisurely strokes as part of a pre-tournament activity at the city’s famous Baiterek observation tower.

Looking on was the president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, Bulat Utemuratov, and he would have been pleased with the feedback from both players.

“They set up a full-size tennis court in the heart of the city so it’s a great effort from them to make everything nice,” said Auger-Aliassime, who posted victories over new World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic in back-to-back weeks in September. “And I think it shows how much they have [had] attention to detail.

“From the first moment we got here as players, they’ve been really meticulous with every detail of the tournament. I’m glad we’re here and I’m glad we had the chance to play on this court.”

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Medvedev, last year’s US Open champion, recalled that he played an ATP Challenger Tour event in Astana six years ago. Back then he was ranked No. 174 and made the quarter-finals, defeated by Denis Istomin.

“I have to say I love Kazakhstan,” said Medvedev. “It’s really close to my culture. I can speak my language here. I’m always happy to come back here, and as Felix said, the tournament is doing a really great job.”

Auger-Aliassime, who did not compete in Astana when it hosted an ATP 250 the previous two seasons, was also impressed with the capital.

“Not too far from Europe but also Asia, so I think we have a bit of mix of cultures, and it’s a beautiful city,” the Canadian said.

Visitors to Astana often flock to the Baiterek, which Lonely Planet partially describes as “a white latticed tower crowned by a large glass orb. This embodies a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree, beyond human reach.”

It stretches 97 metres above the ground.

Who will be flying highest on the court this week remains to be seen.

Medvedev begins against Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Auger-Aliassime meets another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut. Alcaraz and Djokovic are part of the impressive field, too.

Medvedev and Auger-Aliassime have battled in the past in the latter stages of the Australian Open and US Open, Medvedev winning on both occasions.

They could duel again in the quarterfinals this week, with the stakes higher than on Sunday at the Baiterek.

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Nishioka Sinks Shapo For Seoul Crown

  • Posted: Oct 02, 2022

Nishioka Sinks Shapo For Seoul Crown

26-year-old triumphs in South Korean capital to lift second ATP Tour trophy

Yoshihito Nishioka produced a stunning counter-punching display against Denis Shapovalov at the Eugene Korea Open Tennis Championships on Sunday to claim his second ATP Tour title in style at the ATP 250 event in Seoul.

The 26-year-old Japanese downed the fourth seed 6-4, 7-6(5) with a performance full of blistering shotmaking from deep. Despite Shapovalov finding improved rhythm behind his serve and powerful forehand as the match wore on, Nishioka’s movement and stoic defence proved key as he rallied from a 1-3 deficit in the second set before staying solid in the tie-break to secure a one-hour, 55-minute victory.

“This week was amazing for me,” said Nishioka after the match. “I played very well on the court, my mentality and attitude. I just focused on the play, which was very important I think. A couple of matches it was very close, but I played very well, tried to figure out how to beat the opponent, and every match I fought. I needed to play like this in all the matches [so that] I had a chance to beat each of the players.”

A pivotal hold from 0/40 in the seventh game of the match was an early demonstration of the sort of resilience that had taken Nishioka past Daniel Evans and Casper Ruud en route to the final in Seoul. The Japanese appeared to garner confidence from that recovery as his lightning movement around the court made it difficult for Shapovalov to hit through him. After Nishioka carved out his first set point at 5-4, 30/40, the Canadian netted a relatively straightforward forehand volley for Nishioka to move ahead.

Shapovalov responded well to that disappointment, firing a series of blazing forehand winners to lead 3-1 in the second, but Nishioka once again used his defensive abilities to engineer an impressive comeback and force a tie-break. The unseeded Japanese was the more solid player from then on, ultimately sealing victory despite only hitting 14 winners to Shapovalov’s 38.

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“I think my returning was great today,” said Nishioka, who now leads Shapovalov 2-0 in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series. “I know he has a big serve and a big forehand, but I didn’t need to worry about that if it was too good. I just focused on playing many balls and putting pressure on him, and if I had chances to just go for it. But first of all, just make a lot of balls, and hit a lot to his backhand, and try to move him.”

Nishioka lifted his maiden ATP Tour title in Shenzhen in 2018 and was appearing in his second championship match of 2022 at that level after reaching the Washington final in August, a run that included wins against Alex de Minaur, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev. His triumph in Seoul lifts the 26-year-old 15 spots to No. 41 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

“First and foremost, congrats to Yoshi. I mean you’re playing incredible this year. You’re super annoying to play,” joked Shapovalov when addressing Nishioka at the trophy presentation ceremony. “it was super frustrating for me, I tried to find a way and I think I did everything I could, so congrats, and to your coach as well, you guys deserve it.”

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