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Sinner Sinks Daniel, Reaches R4

  • Posted: Jan 22, 2022

Jannik Sinner was made to work hard Saturday to book his place in the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time, moving past Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 on Kia Arena.

The 11th seed breezed through his opening two matches in straight sets against Joao Sousa and Steve Johnson in Melbourne. But he found the going much tougher against an inspired Daniel, who was fresh off an impressive victory over former World No. 1 Andy Murray.

“I am very happy about my match wins [this week],” Sinner said in his post-match press conference. “But talking about the match today, it was a tough match for me. I didn’t know him very well. I started well but after that I made a couple of unforced errors and he raised his level, not missing many balls in the second set. It was not the most clinical performance but I am through into the second week.”

After a strong start, Sinner, who is making his third appearance at Melbourne Park, had no answer for Daniel’s powerful hitting in the second set, struggling to find his range from the baseline.

However, with the pressure on, the Italian successfully switched into top gear in the third and fourth sets, striking the ball with more aggression and consistency to advance after two hours and 41 minutes in their first ATP Head2Head meeting.

The 20-year-old will next face World No. 83 Pablo Andujar or 32nd-seeded Australian Alex de Minaur. With his victory, Sinner has become the first man since Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009 to advance to the fourth round at a Grand Slam for the fourth time before turning 21 years old. The 2019 Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion reached the last 16 at Roland Garros and the US Open in 2021, with his best result at a major coming in Paris in 2020, when he advanced to the quarter-finals.

Sinner, who fired 57 winners against Daniel, enjoyed a standout 2021 season, winning four tour-level titles, before he made his debut as an alternate at the Nitto ATP Finals on home soil in Turin.

In an entertaining match, Sinner took time away from Daniel in the first set as he took the ball early to outmanoeuvre the World No. 120. He broke three times in the set to move ahead, but could not build on his lead at the start of the second set as Daniel raised his intensity.

The 28-year-old committed just six unforced errors in the set to level, but could not stay with the Italian in the third set, with Sinner gaining the crucial break in the eighth game. The World No. 10 then held to seal the set on serve, before storming away to victory as he finally broke Daniel’s resilience.

Daniel was aiming to reach the fourth round at a major for the first time in what was his 18th appearance at a Grand Slam.

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Auger-Aliassime Takes Short-Cut Past Evans

  • Posted: Jan 22, 2022

After spending plenty of time on court at the Australian Open already this week, Felix Auger-Aliassime has had plenty of time to settle into his groove.

The ninth-seeded Canadian brought his top level to his third-round clash, overpowering Briton Daniel Evans 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 in one hour and 53 minutes Saturday on John Cain Arena.

“It’s definitely one of the best Grand Slam performances I’ve had,” said Auger-Aliassime after the match. “It was a tight first set, I was fortunate to get that break point to serve out and after that for some reason everything was working for me today. I’m really happy because the first two matches were really tough for me, so I’m happy to be through in straight sets.”

The Canadian had battled through a five-set thriller with Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in his opening clash in Melbourne, before spending more than four hours fighting past Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the second round.

His opponent on Saturday couldn’t have had a more different path to the third-round meeting. World No. 24 Evans gave up just seven games in a one-hour, 48-minute first-round win over David Goffin, and then received a walkover in the second round after Arthur Rinderknech withdrew with a wrist injury.

It was another short afternoon for Evans, but not in the way he would have wanted. The extra time off court appeared to have done the Brit no favours and he struggled for rhythm as Auger-Aliassime showed off the tools that took him to a first major semi-final at the US Open in September.

The Canadian hit 40 winners as he broke his opponent six times on his way to a comfortable victory. He edged a tight first set by seizing his only break point opportunity and it was one-way traffic from then on. Evans seemed to lose concentration to concede an early break in the second set with a double fault, and his opponent made him pay. Auger-Aliassime finished with 16 aces and won 91 per cent (39/43) of points behind his first serve, piling the pressure onto Evans’ service games.

Auger-Aliassime next faces either fifth seed Andrey Rublev or former World No. 3 Marin Cilic. The Canadian has never beaten either player before, holding an 0-3 ATP Head2Head record against Cilic and trailing Rublev 0-2.

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Understanding Benoit Paire

  • Posted: Jan 22, 2022

Above all else, Benoit Paire wants the world to know one thing about him — he is human.

Sometimes, like on Thursday when he defeated Grigor Dimitrov to reach the third round of the Australian Open, life is great. The Court 3 crowd was enthralled by his stunning shotmaking. Fans roared their approval throughout the four sets, and Paire could only smile after he clinched his first berth in the third round of a major since Wimbledon in 2019.

The 32-year-old cried tears of joy during an on-court interview. Paire lives for entertaining. Mix that with great tennis and the result was a perfect day at the office.

“I feel very happy. It was a good match today. [For a] long time I didn’t win any matches in Slams,” Paire said. “I think mentally I was very good today, so I’m very proud of myself.”

The Frenchman is well aware he is imperfect and that his days at the office have not always been so sweet. In 2021, Paire struggled to a 13-30 tour-level record. The former World No. 18 can compete with some of the best players in the world on his day. But on some occasions, he admittedly does not have it physically or mentally.

In Paire’s mind, he is no different from you. Everyone has bad days at the office, right?

“I really like tennis. I really like to be on court. I don’t like to practise, but I just like to be on court,” Paire told “I love the support and the crowd and everything. That’s why for me at this time [during the pandemic], it was a bit complicated to play in front of an empty stadium. For me, it’s a little bit more difficult maybe than [for] other players.”

Benoit Paire
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Sometimes Paire’s shot selection on court borders on inexplicable. The Frenchman might be the only player on the ATP Tour who is more comfortable hitting a half volley between his legs or trying to carve a drop volley that bounces back to his side of the court than he is punching the ball into the open court.

But when Paire is at his flying best and those shots work, the crowd loves it. And there is nothing Benoit loves more than making fans happy.

“I think people come to see me just for this. I have to do it, even if I miss. I have to try. I think it’s good. Even if I miss, I want to enjoy and have fun on court. That’s the only thing I want,” Paire said. “I have a connection with the people. I want people to leave the stadium and be happy. Even if I missed or if I lost the match, I want people to go home and say, ‘Oh, did you see what Benoit did? It was crazy or I want to try it!’ That’s what I like.”

Outside of forehands and backhands, Paire will be the first to admit he loses focus more often than most. On those “bad days”, that is even clearer.

“Some people like me and some people really hate me. The people who like me, they say, ‘Okay’. The people who enjoy playing only once a week who make a match with a team in France, they say, ‘Okay we all like Benoit. We like to enjoy, we have a beer after the match’,” Paire said. “Most of the people say, ‘Okay, he’s not serious enough to be a professional tennis player, he’s not thinking enough about tennis.’ But what can I say? It’s my life.”

Paire does not ask people to accept his every move. But he would like fans to keep things in perspective.

“I think people sometimes forget we are just humans,” Paire said. “We just like to enjoy life. We just like to be with family. We like to visit the country a little bit. For me, that’s how I am.”

One way Paire differentiates himself has nothing to do with his tennis. He has changed his hair colour several times over the years. Right now, it’s his typical dark colour. Once in a while, he’ll turn blonde. Sometimes he goes with something different, like pink.

“[I am] like every person. When you want, you do something. For me, it’s the same. The problem for me is it’s on TV and everybody knows. That’s the difference. People do the same at home, but for them there is no impact,” Paire said. “For me, the difference is when I do my hair blonde or something and I arrive at Roland Garros, people say, ‘Okay, he’s crazy. He changed his hair.’ But that’s what I like. I did pink one day and I really enjoyed it.”

Benoit Paire
Photo Credit: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour
According to Paire, he gets the same question from almost everyone he comes across: ‘Benoit, why do you have a big beard?’ The truth is, the Frenchman says he doesn’t know. But because he is a public figure, he is asked more than most.

“Honestly, being on TV is not a problem for me. I like it,” Paire said. “I have some people who are fans of me, so for me I really enjoy it. I can’t complain about it. I have no problem being on TV and to change my hair colour, no problem.”

In fact, Paire embraces that. He does not see himself as a celebrity. If someone he comes across randomly in the street is kind to him, why wouldn’t he be kind back?

“If you want to say hello and take a picture, I will never say no,” Paire said. “Why? I’m normal.”

Paire’s perfect day has nothing to do with tennis. If Benoit had his way, he would play football with friends, have an Aperol after work and then make a barbecue with his friends (he will take a burger). “Like normal people do,” he said.

The Frenchman also does not filter what he puts on his social media. If he is at the pool relaxing with a drink, he is unafraid of posting that. Paire wants fans to see him as he is.

“People see me sometimes a little too relaxed and too much enjoying life and they say it’s because you made a party or you drank red wine or a beer. That’s why you lost in tennis. No,” Paire said. “For me, if I don’t do this, for sure I’m going to lose because I don’t feel good. I’ve won three titles, I was No. 18 in the world. I’m a tennis player.

“I’m more focussed for sure on my tennis when it’s a tournament. I don’t make a party before my match or something. But I like to just be like a normal human who visits a country or a different city.”

Paire would be happy to remain in the sport after his playing career ends. Okay, he would like at least a couple of years off. But the Frenchman can envision himself on Tour as a coach.

“If someone needs help and they come to see me and it’s a good project, why not?” Paire said. “I like tennis, so why not be on Tour? The only thing is maybe I will be too strict. I will be the opposite of [the way I am now]. Let’s see.”

For now, Paire will focus on his third-round match at the Australian Open against fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday in Melbourne. The Frenchman will do his best to give the crowd a show. He will certainly be himself.

“I am like you, and I want to show I am like you,” Paire said. “It’s not because I am a tennis player and I won money and tournaments that I’m not like you. I am exactly like you.”

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Mannarino Earns Nadal Showdown… But He Doesn't Know It

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Adrian Mannarino will face a stiff challenge on Sunday when he plays Rafael Nadal for a spot in the Australian Open quarter-finals. The thing is, the Frenchman has no idea he is facing Nadal.

The lefty, who had just won a marathon four-setter 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4 against 2021 semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev, sat down to speak to the media at about 3:20 a.m. Saturday morning in Melbourne.

“I don’t know who I’m going to play against next. I don’t like to watch [the draw] and I don’t want to know,” Mannarino said. “It’s 3 a.m. Just finished my match. I don’t really care about who I’m playing next. It’s the last thing I’m going to think about.

“I just want to enjoy the moment right now. We’ve got time to see for the next one.”

This was not something he said just because it was past 3 a.m. following a gruelling match. Mannarino generally does not look at draws.

Nadal, however, was aware he might play Mannarino. The 20-time major champion, who defeated Karen Khachanov in the third round, noticed Mannarino’s play earlier in the event when the Frenchman upset 2021 Nitto ATP Finals competitor Hubert Hurkacz.

“Mannarino is playing great,” Nadal said. “I think the match against Hubert [was] a surprise. He was playing at I think a very high level. To win against a player like Hubert in straight sets with that result is because you did a lot of things well. I saw a little bit of that match, he was playing well.”

Adrian Mannarino
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
The World No. 69 has proven a menace for opponents this week with his flat groundstrokes and consistency. Mannarino made just 22 unforced errors against Karatsev and lost just nine games in three sets against Hurkacz. He also defeated home favourite James Duckworth in five sets in the first round.

“I just won three matches. I don’t think you can say I’m bothering so many guys. The matchup was pretty good tonight. I think that Aslan is the kind of player who makes me play well. So was Hurkacz in the second round,” Mannarino said. “I think I’m moving pretty well on court. I’m just trying to be consistent. I’m keeping a good attitude on court and just trying to fight the most I can, not thinking about what’s going to happen or what’s happening on the court at the moment.

Mannarino added: “With my type of game, this is what I can do. I’m not going to serve, like, 220 kilometres or make lots of winners. I’m just the kind of player who is grinding and put one more time the ball in the court. This is what I’m doing.”

This is the first time the 33-year-old is into the fourth round at a major outside of Wimbledon. Mannarino is 0-2 in his ATP Head2Head series against Nadal, but if he could turn that around, he will reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final.

“Of course I’m kind of exhausted right now. It’s been long. It’s like 3 a.m.,” Mannarino said. “That was a good battle on court, lots of rallies. He was hitting hard. I think that was a good match, good fight, and happy I got through. Even if I’m tired now, I don’t really think about it. I’m just happy that I won.”

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Alcaraz: 'I’m Close To The Top Players'

  • Posted: Jan 21, 2022

Carlos Alcaraz is ready to go again against the top talent on the ATP Tour.

The Spaniard was naturally disappointed after narrowly failing to complete a stunning comeback against World No. 7 Matteo Berrettini in the Australian Open third round on Friday, but the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion doesn’t think he is far away from winning similar matches in future.

“I feel I’m close to the top players,” said Alcaraz in his post-match press conference after his five-set defeat. “Berrettini is World No. 7 as of today, and I almost defeated him. I’ve already beaten some Top 10 players. With the level I showed today and the feelings I have, I think that I’m ready to be among those kinds of players.

“When I’ve played against the top players, apart from against Rafa [at the 2021 Madrid Masters 1000 tournament], I was close. I think I have the level to play against the top players. I’m getting closer every tournament that I’m playing.”

Alcaraz cited seventh-seeded Berrettini’s performance as a good example of the sort of level he needs to maintain to push on from his current career-high ATP Ranking of No. 31.

“Berrettini played an amazing match,” said the 18-year-old. “You have to recognise what your opponents do well. He showed a huge level during the whole match, that’s why I congratulated him at the net. He went for it and deserved the victory.”

Alcaraz had an unbeaten record in fifth sets until the Berrettini defeat. He successfully went the distance with Yasutaka Uchiyama at Wimbledon in 2021, and then beat both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Peter Gojowczyk in deciding sets on his way to a first Grand Slam quarter-final at the US Open in September.

However, this was the first time he found himself two-sets-to-love down in his young career, and the Spaniard was delighted with the way he reacted to this novel situation.

“I’m very proud of the performance today,” said Alcaraz. “To be able to come back the way I did, I gave everything on the court. That’s the thing that I want to do, give everything on the court and I’m very proud of the way that I did.

“Juan Carlos [Ferrero, Alcaraz’s coach] congratulated me for the fight. It is not easy to come back from two sets to love, be toe-to-toe with your opponent and try to win the match. He told me I gave everything, and that was the goal. Give your best and leave the court with no regrets. You give everything and fight until the end.”

Carlos Alcaraz
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
The pain of defeat still stings, but Alcaraz’s performances at the US Open and in Melbourne confirm he is now a bona fide threat on all surfaces, not just his beloved clay.

“I’m feeling comfortable playing on hard courts, as well as clay courts. It’s really important to have a really good game on hard courts, most tournaments are on hard courts,” Alcaraz said. “You have to be ready to play really well on that surface, and I think I adapt my game really well.”

Alcaraz will next turn his attention back to clay at the Rio Open presented by Claro in mid-February, before returning to test his hard-court prowess once again at the ATP 500 tournament in Acapulco.

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