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Nadal Stays Perfect At Aussie Open

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Rafael Nadal survived a third-set bombardment from Karen Khachanov Friday to maintain his ruthless start to the season, overcoming the 28th seed 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open for a staggering 15th time.

Prior to January, Nadal had not competed in a tour-level event since Washington in August due to a foot injury. But the sixth seed is playing as if he has never been away, with his victory over Khachanov extending his perfect 2022 record to 6-0.

“It is a very special week for me, coming back,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “Every single time I am able to play here is very special. Tonight I played against a great player and a good friend on Tour. It was my best match since I have come back without a doubt.”

The Spaniard, who captured his 89th tour-level title at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month, dropped only one point on serve in the opening set against Khachanov and recovered from losing just his second ever set against the Russian to eventually advance after two hours and 50 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Nadal is aiming to win a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne, having lifted the Australian Open trophy in 2009. He fired 39 winners and committed 30 unforced errors to improve to 8-0 in his ATPHead2Head series against Khachanov.

“I have gone through some very tough times over the past year,” Nadal added. “But nights like tonight mean everything. I keep fighting and going every day. I put a lot of effort in to be back with where I am today, so I am happy.”

In a brutal heavy-hitting performance, Nadal took time away from the Russian with his aggressive topspin ball striking in the first two sets, pulling Khachanov one way and then the other as he pinned the 25-year-old behind the baseline.

The 13-time Roland Garros champion, who broke Khachanov five times, looked on course for a routine win as they moved into the third set. But from 1-2, 40/0 in the set, Nadal lost serve for the first time in the match as Khachanov started to close the net to great effect. The Russian continued to unsettle the sixth seed with his powerful hitting and he gained a foothold in the clash by holding to love to seal the set. 

All this did was fire up the Spaniard though, with Nadal breaking in stunning fashion at the start of the fourth set with a backhand pass down the line. The former World No. 1 let out a roar and punched the air in delight, before he raced to finish the line to advance. Only Roger Federer (18) has advanced to the fourth round at Melbourne Park more than Nadal.

The World No. 5 will next play Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the last 16. Mannarino eliminated surprise 2021 semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev, this year’s 18th seed 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4 after four hours and 38 minutes in the match, which ended at 2:33 a.m.

The lefty made just 22 unforced errors compared to 86 for Karatsev. Mannarino trails Nadal 0-2 in their ATP Head2Head series (0-4 in sets).

Did You Know?
Nadal is attempting to become just the second man behind Novak Djokovic to win all four majors at least twice.

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Kokkinakis/Kyrgios Shock Mektic/Pavic

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

After delighting energised home fans with carefree and entertaining shotmaking, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios celebrated with a chest bump on match point after upsetting No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in straight sets in the second round of doubles at the Australian Open Friday.

With both Australians out of the singles after Kyrgios’ defeat to World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on Thursday, the duo played loose seemingly with nothing to lose on Kia Arena in front of a raucous home crowd.

The top-ranked Croatian pairing was undone by a strong serving performance from their opponents, who fired 17 aces and won 88 per cent of points behind first serves. Kokkinakis and Kyrgios took the first set tie-break with their fourth set point, before securing the only break of the second set to run out 7-6(8), 6-3 winners.

The defeat leaves World No. 1 Pavic and World No. 2 Mektic still searching for their second Grand Slam title, after their victory at Wimbledon in 2021.

This is the fourth time Kokkinakis and Kyrgios have played together at the Australian Open but their first time reaching the third round. Their next opponents will be either the 15th seeds, Uruguayan Ariel Behar and Ecuadoran Gonzalo Escobar, or all-German pairing Jan-Lennard Struff and Dominik Koepfer.

Third seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos lost just 10 points on their own serve in a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win over Brit Jonny O’Mara and Belarussian Andrei Vasilevski. Spaniard Granollers and Argentine Zeballos advanced to a second appearance in the Australian Open third round with ease. The four-time ATP Masters 1000 winners are bidding for a first Grand Slam crown in Melbourne.

Two-time Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies continued to impress in their second tournament back together since Mies’ recovery from knee surgery. The 12th-seeded Germans beat Americans Austin Krajicek and Sam Querrey 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-4, facing only one break point in the match as they reached the third round in Melbourne for the first time.

Their next opponents will be fifth seeds Australian John Peers and Slovak Filip Polasek. They faced a second all-Australian team in a row, winning 92 per cent of points behind first serves on their way to beating wild cards Rinky Hijikata and Tristan Schoolkate 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

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Berrettini Edges Alcaraz In 5-Set Thriller

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Italian powerhouse Matteo Berrettini withstood a spirited comeback from Carlos Alcaraz and a heavy fall in the final set to claw his way into the fourth round of the Australian Open Friday.

The World No. 7 squandered a two-sets lead and rolled his right ankle in the second game of the fifth set before pulling off a courageous 6-2, 7-6(3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6(10-5) win on Rod Laver Arena.

Reflecting on almost letting slip his two-sets lead, Berrettini said, “I felt confident, and that momentum was on my side in the third set but then I got broken. My energy wasn’t right in the fourth set and in the fifth I just started to think about fighting for every point. In every match something happens [like the ankle injury] but I fought through it.”

Avenging a third-set tie-break loss to the 18-year-old Spaniard in Vienna last year, Berrettini produced a serving masterclass early in the match that didn’t allow Alcaraz to work his way into the first two sets.

But Alcaraz struck back in third and fourth sets when he put 100 per cent of Berrettini’s second serves back into play.

Berrettini badly rolled his right ankle in the second game of the fifth set but after receiving treatment from the physio his movement did not appear to be significantly compromised.

After hitting long a swinging forehand volley – that he could have let bounce – Alcaraz was forced to stave off a match point at 5-6, 30/40, when, to his relief, Berrettini dumped a routine forehand second-serve return into the middle of the net.

Little separated the players in a tense decider, which came down to a first-to-10 tie-break, but four miscued forehands cost Alcaraz dearly, with Berrettini advancing after four hours and 10 minutes.

Berrettini was glowing in his praise of Alcaraz’s game and fight in his on-court interview. “At his age I didn’t have an ATP point and he will only improve,” Berrettini said. “He showed everyone his potential today.”

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The Nomadic Life With… Miomir Kecmanovic

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Entering the Australian Open, Miomir Kecmanovic had reached the second round at a major seven times, but never advanced further. On Wednesday, the Serbian defeated American Tommy Paul to make the third round at this level for the first time.

Before his third-round clash against 25th seed Lorenzo Sonego, learn more about Kecmanovic’s life off the court in this edition of’s ‘Nomadic Life’ series.

What are two essential non-tennis items you always pack for trips?
A face mask, hand sanitiser, those are the two biggest things right now. I need my phone, iPad, headphones, maybe some snacks, something like that. The neck pillow. Those are the essentials.

What item did you forget to bring one time that caused you distress?
Nothing big. Actually, once I packed the wrong strings for the trip but other than that maybe some clothes or something.

Do you enjoy travelling the world or consider it just something that needs to be done to be a pro tennis player? If you do enjoy it, what do you enjoy about travelling?
I don’t enjoy it as much now as I did before [the pandemic], but I love to travel. You get to see so many cool places, so many different things. It’s pretty cool to see so many things at such a young age.

Can you talk about a time you decided to play a specific tournament in part because you wanted to travel to that city?
I’m saving that for later in my career when I’m getting older and getting closer to retirement. Then I’ll pick where I’ll go because of the sites.

What is your favourite tournament city to visit and why?
I liked Acapulco, that was pretty good. The big ones are Miami, Paris, New York, Melbourne. All the big cities are amazing.

Is there a landmark or somewhere on the roads that was super cool?
Maybe the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower. I haven’t been to many of the World Wonders, but I definitely want to go to Machu Picchu, that’s on the bucket list.

Where is your favourite vacation destination?
Just somewhere where there’s sea. Acapulco was amazing. I used to go a lot to Croatia. The coast is amazing there. I’ve also been to Montenegro once, it was amazing, but I want to go to the Maldives. That’s the next one.

What is your craziest travel story?
[Last year] to get to Cordoba I took a 50-hour trip, so that’s topping my list now. It took forever to get there. [That took] a lot of movies, a lot of sleeping and just trying not to sit the whole 50 hours. The trip was Melbourne-Doha, then a three-hour waiting time, then Doha-Amsterdam, six-and-a-half hours, then Amsterdam-Buenos Aires we waited six hours in Buenos Aires and then to Cordoba.

There was the one time we came to a Futures event in Florida, we rented a house, Airbnb, everything looked good. The house looked big and then we got there and the guy had just rented out the garage and he just put pictures of the house to attract some people there. We slept in the garage for two weeks.

As a tennis player, maintaining your body is of the utmost importance, so how do you take care of it during long trips?
I try to lay down as much as I can because sitting my back starts hurting. I try to lay down if I can and maybe stretch a little bit when I get out to maybe loosen up.

How do you try to overcome jetlag and acclimate to the local time zone?
I just try to push through it. The first couple of days are crucial. When you get there and it’s 5 p.m. and you want to sleep, that’s when you’ve got to resist. Just get to that 10-hour mark, then you’re good.

Do you prefer the sense of novelty and excitement of a tournament in a city you’ve never been to before or the comfort and familiarity of cities you know well?
I like to go to places that I already know, where you know everything. Even the new places, once you’ve figured everything out, it’s always amazing.

Got any tips to get comfortable on a flight? And how do you pass the time?
The good opportunity that I have is that I can afford to fly business on the longer flights, so that’s a really big plus. But when I travel in economy, I try to find as soon as there’s an open spot just take one where there are two to three seats. Got to have the neck pillow always, the socks that go up for the veins, for pressure. [You have to] wear comfortable clothes – no jeans.

Are you someone who gets to the airport with lots of time to spare or do you cut it fine?
Early. I get nervous that maybe there are a lot of people, maybe a queue. ‘What if we miss it?’ So I always like to be a little bit early. I’ve missed a flight, but because of the connection, not because it was my fault.

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Preview: Will Berrettini Hold Off Alcaraz's Australian Open Charge?

  • Posted: Jan 20, 2022

It’s the kind of heavyweight slugfest that usually starts with the ringing of a bell. Two of tennis’ biggest hitters will square off in the Australian Open third round on Friday, when Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz meet for the second time in three months.

The 18-year-old Spaniard scored the knockout in the pair’s quarter-final meeting in Vienna this fall, winning a third-set tie-break before falling to Alexander Zverev in the semis. Since then, Alcaraz won the Intesa Sanpaola Next Gen ATP Finals title before entering Melbourne as the youngest Grand Slam seed in more than 30 years.

“I think I grew up since that match,” he said of that encounter with Berrettini, who he called one of the best servers on Tour. “All I can say is I’m going to have fun [in Friday’s meeting]. I’m going to play my match, and let’s see what happens.”

What happened in Alcaraz’s first two Melbourne matches was nothing short of domination, as he eased past Alejandro Tabilo and Dusan Lajovic in a sleeveless shirt and all-red kit. In his Rod Laver Arena debut, Alcaraz will look to keep his game and his attire consistent.

“I’m really comfortable playing without sleeves,” he said with a smile when asked about a potential wardrobe change. A clay-courter by nature, he’s also growing comfortable — perhaps even moreso — on the ATP Tour’s hard courts.

Carlos Alcaraz
Photo Credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
In the Italian corner, Berrettini may be in for an initial shock against the youngster, who Stefanos Tsitsipas called the hardest-hitting player he’s ever seen following their US Open third-round tussle (Alcaraz won in a fifth-set tie-break).

The seventh seed faced a polar opposite in style in the second round, when he beat wild card Stefan Kozlov, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

“He’s not hitting the ball, I think on purpose, sometimes not that hard,” Berrettini said of the American. “So then your feet are going to go slower and then, I think he did his web, like a spider. And I fell into it.”

Fully recovered from stomach issues that bothered him in the first round, the Italian will have to weave his way through an entirely different puzzle in Alcaraz.

Thursday’s Rod Laver Arena nightcap will see Rafael Nadal take on 28th seed Karen Khachanov. Separated by 10 years of age (35 vs. 25), they are familiar opponents. Nadal is familiar with victory against the Russian, holding a 7-0 edge in their ATP Head2Head record with the loss of just one set in their history.

But that statistic does not account for some very tight sets between the two. Five of their past six sets were decided by tie-breaks, all five going Nadal’s way, spanning matches at the 2018 US Open, 2019 BNP Paribas Open and the 2019 Davis Cup Finals.

The Spanish sixth seed is a perfect 5-0 and has yet to drop a set in 2022, including his title run at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month. But Khachanov will be his first Top 60 opponent of the new year as Nadal looks to step up his comeback from a left-foot injury that kept him out of the US Open.

“As I said before the tournament, things are not going to be perfect, but every day that I spend on court, the chances to play better are higher,” Nadal said following his 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round. “Things that I can improve I have to improve. Winning today allows me to practise again tomorrow, to be ready for another match. After two matches it’s the moment to make a step forward.”

Rafael Nadal
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
With seeded opposition clashing for the first time at the Australian Open in the third round, two more such matches are on the Day 5 slate: Denis Shapovalov against Reilly Opelka in Margaret Court Arena, and Cristian Garin against Gael Monfils in Kia Arena.

Shapovalov, seeded 14th, and 23rd seed Opelka have taken contrasting paths into the third round. The Canadian has played five tie-breaks in nine Melbourne sets, and needed to come from behind in the second round against South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon, ultimately surviving, 7-6(6), 6-7(3), 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-2.

Opelka is 2-0 in tie-breaks on the tournament and has not dropped a set in wins over Kevin Anderson and Dominik Koepfer. He’s been broken just once, compared to eight times for Shapovalov.

It’s a similar story for 17th seed Monfils and Garin. While the Frenchman dropped just five games in each of his first two matches, Garin needed five sets to advance each time. The 16th seed has spent over nine hours on court compared to just over three hours for Monfils. The 25-year-old Chilean will see what he has left in his young legs against the veteran, 10 years his elder.

As the draw whittles down, there are just eight men’s singles matches on the Friday slate. Third seed Alexander Zverev will face Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot, while 18th seed and 2021 AO semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev takes on France’s Adrian Mannarino, who upset 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets in the second round. Rounding out the Day 5 action are 19th seed Pablo Carreno Busta’s meeting with American Sebastian Korda and 25th seed Lorenzo Sonego’s matchup with Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic.

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