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Updated: 4 weeks 3 days ago

The Ecuador Open Will Have A New Champion

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 10:26pm

Thursday was a dangerous day to be a seeded player at the Ecuador Open.

Four seeds, including the only champion the tournament has ever had, all fell in a wild day of tennis in Quito. Three-time champion Victor Estrella Burgos was the first to fall. The Dominican had been 16-0 in Quito, by far his favourite place to play.

But Estrella Burgos, who came back to beat Thomaz Bellucci on Monday, fell for the first time in the Ecuadorian capital, dropping his second-round match to Austrian Gerald Melzer 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Melzer saved three of four break points to improve to 2-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

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“I want to congratulate my opponent, he played a good match... He attacked well with his crosscourt forehand,” Estrella Burgos said. “I have won three times here. I would be arrogant saying I’m sad today. How many players would like to have three ATP titles? I hope to be back next year.”

Melzer said: “He won 16 matches in a row here and the previous times we played, we always had a battle. I knew it was going to be a very tough match, and I knew I had to play very well to beat him here.”

Melzer will next meet Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who was one of only three seeded players to advance to the quarter-finals. The second seed toppled Ecuador's No. 1 Roberto Quiroz 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Third seed Gael Monfils, playing in his first ATP World Tour match in South America, also needed three sets to move into the quarter-finals. The Frenchman beat #NextGenATP Casper Ruud of Norway 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Monfils is looking to celebrate his second title of the season after winning the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha during week one.

“I think Casper is a very talented guy... I'm very happy to come through,” Monfils said.

Eighth seed Nicolas Jarry of Chile reached his first ATP World Tour quarter-final, escaping past Stefano Travaglia of Italy 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3. Jarry won the ATP Challenger Tour event in Quito last September (d. Melzer).

But no other singles seeds who were in action on Thursday found themselves still on the Quito draw sheet at the end of play. Top seed Pablo Carreno Busta, World No. 10, fell to No. 156 Andrej Martin of Slovakia 6-4, 6-2 in just 65 minutes. It was Martin's first Top 10 win (1-2).

“The biggest key for me was I had already played two matches here, this was my third match, so I was already used to these conditions,” said Martin, who qualified for the ATP World Tour 250, “and also I really like these conditions here.”

Fourth seed and 2017 finalist Paolo Lorenzi of Italy fell in straight sets to Spain's Roberto Carballes Baena 7-6(4), 7-5; and #NextGenATP Frenchman Corentin Moutet saved a match point at 5/6 in the third-set tie-break and knocked out seventh seed Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 7-5, 6-7(3), 7-6(6).

DID YOU KNOW?
Estrella Burgos is the only player in ATP World Tour history with three or more titles at one tournament and zero titles at all other events.

Tsonga Claims All-French Showdown

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 7:17pm

French tennis fans had a field day of good homegrown tennis on Thursday at the Open Sud de France, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga led the way in Montpellier.

The third seed never broke countryman Nicolas Mahut, but Tsonga still prevailed past the serve-and-volleying Mahut 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 7-6(4). Tsonga saved three break points, and Mahut saved four in the second-round match that lasted two hours and 24 minutes.

Tsonga has made the semi-finals both times he’s played Montpellier, 2010 and 2017, and in the quarter-finals, he'll meet #NextGenATP Russian Andrey Rublev.

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Three other Frenchmen also advanced, including second seed Lucas Pouille, who dropped only one point on his first serve (22/23) to breeze past #NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Taberner 6-1, 6-2.

Three-time champion Richard Gasquet made another Montpellier quarter-final, toughing out a three-setter against countryman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3. In the decider, Gasquet converted his lone break point and didn't let Herbert see such an opportunity. Benoit Paire, 2013 finalist (l. to Gasquet), hit 17 aces to knock out Aussie John Millman 6-4, 7-6(4).

In other action, fourth seed Bosnian Damir Dzumhur broke seven times to advance past Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 7-5, 6-4, and Russian Karen Khachanov overcame winning less than 40 per cent of his second-serve points to move past Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 6-2, 7-6(11).

DID YOU KNOW?
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has won eight of his 16 tour-level trophies on French soil.

Wawrinka Overcomes Slow Start, Outlasts Klizan

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 4:40pm

If Stan Wawrinka was looking for a confidence booster, he definitely got one on Thursday.

The Swiss, still on the road to recovery, overcame a shaky start to outlast Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 at the Diema Xtra Sofia Open

Klizan pressed the action early and claimed the first set in 37 minutes, but Wawrinka settled down and battled back, managing to break Klizan in the fourth game of the second set. His confidence restored, Wawrinka broke again at 5-2 to close out the set.

"I expected a tough match; he's already played a few matches here," Wawrinka said of Klizan, who qualified for the event. "I just tried to focus on my game, find the right shots and be aggressive."

The top-seeded Wawrinka was playing in his first match since a second-round loss at the Australian Open last month, and just his third match since Wimbledon last year (knee injury). Wawrinka will face Viktor Troicki in the next round. Troicki, a finalist in Sofia in 2016, was also pushed to three sets before overcoming Denis Istomin, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(5). 

"I know Viktor is playing really well here and I'm expecting a tough match; I'm going to try and rest now to be ready for tomorrow," Wawrinka said.

DID YOU KNOW?
Stan Wawrinka has won seven of his 16 tour-level titles on European soil, with his last European-based crown coming in May 2017 at the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open (d. M. Zverev).

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Muller Passes Serious Test In Sofia

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:10pm

Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller got the better of Italian Andreas Seppi for the fourth successive time on Thursday for a place in the Diema Xtra Sofia Open quarter-finals. In a tense seventh FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, third seed Muller struck 23 aces to edge past Seppi 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(2) in two hours and 34 minutes.

"To play Andy is never easy; he's a great competitor," said Muller. "In a close match like that, you have be lucky, and luck was a little bit on my side at the end. Overall, I'm happy with my performance."

When asked about his comeback from a set down, Muller added, "You just have to hang in there. I had a few chances to come back in the first set and I didn't take them. Obviously, I was a little upset about that, but I told myself to just keep going because I knew I might get a few more chances."

Muller won six of the first seven points in the deciding set tie-break - including two aces - to move to within one win of his first ATP World Tour semi-final of 2018. Two years ago, at the inaugural tournament in Sofia, Muller reached the semi-finals (l. to Bautista Agut) and he will next prepare to challenge Romania’s Marius Copil, who swept past Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia 6-2, 6-2 in 67 minutes.

Marcos Baghdatis rallied from a set down to upset second seed Adrian Mannarino, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-1. The Cypriot will play qualifier Jozef Kovalik for a spot in the semi-finals. Kovalik, ranked 187 in the world, was a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 winner over Lukas Lacko.

"I played really smart today; I changed the rhythm a lot and broke him down," Baghdatis said. "It will be another fight tomorrow (against Kovalik); all I'm thinking about now is getting a good night's sleep tonight and how to recover."

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Elsewhere, sixth seed Viktor Troicki was also pushed to a third set tie-break before outlasting Denis Istomin, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(5). Troicki stormed to a 6/2 lead but squandered three match points before clinching the match on his fourth opportunity.

Afterwards, the Serbian felt nerves and a lack of focus threw him off his game. "I didn't really play good; I was tight throughout the match," Troicki said. "I hope I can loosen up and play more aggressively tomorrow."

World No. 83 Maximilian Marterer, who is targeting a Top 50 finish in the year-end ATP Rankings, held his nerve to knock out eighth-seeded Portuguese Joao Sousa 7-5, 7-6(0) in one hour and 40 minutes. He’ll now face Bosnia & Herzegovina qualifier Mirza Basic in the last eight.

DID YOU KNOW?
Gilles Muller has struck 5,155 aces since turning pro in 2001, according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats.

Eubanks, Mmoh Take In Night Of Hoops In San Francisco

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:38am

On Wednesday, they will face off in the second round of the Kunal Patel San Francisco Open. But on Tuesday evening, Americans Christopher Eubanks and Michael Mmoh tossed aside their racquets for a night of basketball across the bay.

Eubanks and Mmoh attended the blockbuster basketball game between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena. A second encounter on the tennis court awaits them, following Mmoh's three-set victory at the Challenger in Charlottesville last year, but the two friends put aside their budding rivalry to watch the NBA's elite players do battle. Behind a dominant performance by superstar Russell Westbrook, the Thunder pulled the upset by a score of 125-105.

"It was awesome," said Eubanks. "It's something that I don't get to do very often. Usually when I come to tournaments, I'm more focused on the tennis and going to the hotel. It was definitely a fun experience, being able to come here and see some of the best athletes in the world. These are two of the best teams and to be able to soak it all up and take a step away from tennis, it refreshes the body and the mind. It puts you in a good place mentally and lets you go out and play again."

Was an amazing night of

The Improbable Title Streak of Estrella Burgos In Quito

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 11:21pm

The numbers defy anyone's logic.

In Quito, Victor Estrella Burgos has been unbeatable, literally. The 37-year-old has won all 16 of his matches at the Ecuador Open. That run includes three ATP World Tour titles – the only three of his career and every edition of the Ecuador Open (2015, 2016, 2017) – and his first-round victory on Monday, his fourth win against Thomaz Bellucci in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, all of which have come in Quito.

Read More: King of Quito Estrella Burgos Survives Opener

But outside of the Ecuadorian capital, Estrella Burgos has struggled to play up to his “King of Quito” label. The Dominican Republic native is 29-59 (.330) in ATP World Tour and Grand Slam matches held in every city not named Quito, Ecuador. He remains the only player in ATP World Tour history with three or more titles at one tournament and zero titles at all other events.

“Quito has become a very special spot for me... The altitude suits my game, it’s an important factor for this tournament,” Estrella Burgos said of Quito, which has an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,800 metres) above sea level.

“Also, I always feel the love from the fans, they bring to me lots of energy and support... The most special thing about Quito is that it brought my maiden ATP title. It was a dream come true. Being able to conquer it three times in a row is unbelievable for me.”

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It was an unexpected trio of titles for Estrella Burgos. He entered the 2015 tournament with an ATP Ranking of No. 73 and as the eighth seed. Before February 2015, he had been to only one tour-level semi-final, 2014 Bogota, when he lost to eventual titlist Aussie Bernard Tomic.

But Estrella Burgos won 10 of his 11 sets that week and beat Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(5) in the final to win his maiden title. The next year, Estrella Burgos, the fifth seed, beat Bellucci in a tight three-set match to win back-to-back titles, and last year, he twice saved match points, including in the final against Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, to win his third consecutive Quito crown.

“There are many good memories. Lots of fans come and create an special atmosphere,” Estrella Burgos said.

Can he win back-to-back-to-back-to-back titles in 2018? Of course he can, because he's Victor Estrella Burgos, and because he's playing at his favourite place in the world, the Ecuador Open in Quito.

DID YOU KNOW?
Estrella Burgos saved match points in two different matches during his 2017 Quito title run. In his second-round match, Estrella Burgos saved three match points against Ivo Karlovic, and in the final, he saved a match point at 5/6 in the third-set tie-break to beat Lorenzi.

The Sure Way Dimitrov Used To Climb The ATP Rankings

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 7:01pm

You can draw a straight line between rising up the ATP rankings and improving your second-serve return.

The first serve is always an asset for players because of the raw power, but win percentages surrounding second serves can easily flip into the liability column, especially against a good returner.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the best returners from the 2017 season shows that the second-serve return can evolve into a bigger weapon than the second serve itself.

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For example, Grigor Dimitrov won 48.2 per cent (1033/2142) of his second-serve return points in 2016 from 65 matches. Everything under 50 per cent sits in the liability column, and this was not an obvious strength of the Bulgarian’s game two seasons ago, when he finished No. 17 in the 2016 year-end ATP Rankings.

But fast forward to 2017 and Dimitrov surged all the way up to No. 3, winning 52 per cent (1092/2101) of second-serve return points from 68 matches. He was 34th best on tour in 2016 in this specific category, and he moved up to ninth best last season.

2017 Season: Top 10 Second-Serve Return Points Won

Ranking

Player

Second-Serve Return Win Percentage

Points Won

Total Points

1

Diego Schwartzman

56.13%

1213

2161

2

Rafael Nadal

55.63%

1289

2317

3

Roberto Bautista Agut

54.13%

1187

2193

4

Richard Gasquet

54.08%

776

1435

5

David Goffin

53.91%

1343

2491

6

Hyeon Chung

53.37%

697

1306

7

Pablo Carreno Busta

53.01%

994

1875

8

Fernando Verdasco

52.49%

897

1709

9

Grigor Dimitrov

51.98%

1092

2101

10

Lucas Pouille

51.56%

924

1792

Diego Schwartzman, the 25-year-old Argentine, finished first on tour in 2017 with second-serve points won, at just over 56 per cent. The only other player to be above 55 per cent was World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who won 55.6 per cent of his second-serve return points.

Roberto Bautista Agut and Richard Gasquet were both above 54 per cent, while David Goffin, Hyeon Chung and Pablo Carreno Busta were all north of 53 per cent.

Rounding out the Top 10 in this category were Fernando Verdasco, Dimitrov and Lucas Pouille. Overall, there were 24 players on tour that were able to generate a winning percentage returning second serves.

The ideal target with this specific shot is right down the middle of the court at the server. Big shots go to big targets, and aggression with second-serve returns is more about power, spin and depth, than direction hitting away from the server.

It’s a pretty clear lesson. Improve your second-serve return, and see your ranking improve.

Quito's High Altitude Treats Karlovic Well

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 6:52pm

Croatian Ivo Karlovic will turn 39 later this month, but the big right-hander still remains one of the very best servers on the ATP World Tour. The 6'11” Karlovic used his best weapon to much success again on Wednesday, not facing a break point during his 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-6(4) win against American Ernesto Escobedo at the Ecuador Open.

The seventh-seeded Karlovic struck 24 aces and won 95 per cent (53/56) of his first-serve points to move into the second round in Quito. Karlovic will next meet #NextGenATP Frenchman Corentin Moutet.

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“It was a really difficult match as you can see, with the result. With the altitude it is always difficult because the ball bounces higher... so there is not a lot of control of the ball... but all in all I am happy with the win,” Karlovic said of playing in Quito, “The City In The Sky”, which has an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,800 metres) above sea level.

Chile's Nicolas Jarry also needed three sets to advance past Argentine Facundo Bagnis 6-7(4), 6-2, 7-6(5). In a battle of former college teammates at the University of Southern California, Ecuador's No. 1 Roberto Quiroz defeated Germany's Yannick Hanfmann 7-6(5), 6-3.

In other action, Italy's Alessandro Giannessi converted both break points to beat Peter Polansky of Canada 6-3, 6-4, and Austria's Gerald Melzer made quick work of Marco Cecchinato of Italy 6-4, 6-2.

Basic, Copil Shock Seeds In Sofia

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 4:57pm

Mirza Basic stunned No. 4 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5, 7-6(5) at the Diema Xtra Sofia Open to reach his second quarter-final of the season on Wednesday.

The No. 129, who reached the last eight at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open (l. Pella), broke serve in the 12th game of the first set to take a one-set lead and secured a crucial mini-break at 5/5 in the second set tie-break to upset the German after one hour and 41 minutes.

Kohlschreiber, who has captured one tour-level title in each of the past four seasons, remains winless in 2018 while Basic awaits the winner of Thursday’s second-round match between Maximilian Marterer and No. 7 seed Joao Sousa.

Germany’s Marterer continued his strong start to the season with a 7-6(3), 6-4 win over Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri. Marterer, who is targeting a Top 50 place in the year-end ATP Rankings, hit 13 aces to set up the second-round clash with seventh seed Joao Sousa.

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Romania’s Marius Copil also produced an upset to beat No. 5 seed Robin Haase 7-6(5), 6-4 and book his place in the second round. The No. 93 defeated the Dutch No. 1, winning 88 per cent of points on serve, and will next face Slovenia’s Blaz Kavcic. The 30-year-old took just 78 minutes to beat Serbia’s Laslo Djere 6-4, 6-4.

Italy’s Andreas Seppi will meet third seed Gilles Muller for a place in the quarter-finals after dispatching of No. 92 Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-4. Qualifier Jozef Kovalik came from 2-5 down in the third set and saved one match point to beat countryman Lukas Lacko 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 while Marcos Baghdatis recovered from an early first-set deficit to beat lucky loser Salvatore Caruso 7-6(3), 6-3.

Federer Has Shot At No. 1 Next Week After Taking Rotterdam Wild Card

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 3:18pm

Roger Federer is taking a wild card into next week’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, where he will have the chance to reclaim the No. 1 ATP Ranking for the first time in more than five years.

Federer, who last held the top spot on 4 October 2012, moved to within 155 points of Rafael Nadal after claiming his 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and could dethrone Nadal as World No. 1 if he reaches the semi-finals in Rotterdam.

Federer has previously played the ATP World Tour 500 tournament eight times, taking the title in 2005 and 2012.

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Federer, 36, first rose to No. 1 14 years ago on 2 February 2004 and holds the record for most weeks spent at No. 1 (302). He is attempting to eclipse Andre Agassi (33) as the oldest World No. 1.

Nadal, who is not scheduled to play again until Acapulco in the last week of February, has held No. 1 for the past 25 weeks (since 21 August 2017). The Spaniard has been No. 1 in the ATP Rankings a total of 166 weeks since first taking over on 18 August 2008. Nadal is seventh all-time in most weeks at No. 1 in the history of the ATP Rankings (since 1973).

Rotterdam Tournament Director Richard Krajicek said: "We are thrilled that Roger has chosen to come to the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament last minute. After his fantastic result at the Australian Open, it is tremendous news that he will be joining us in Rotterdam. It is a crown to the celebration of the history of our tournament.”

Federer said: "The tournament is special for me. I remember playing for the first time in 1999 as it was one of the first events where I got the chance to play at the highest level. It feels good to join in the celebrations of the 45th edition.”

Federer has a 23-6 record at the tournament. In addition to his two titles, he reached the final in 2001 and semi-finals in 2003. His last appearance at the Rotterdam Ahoy stadium in The Netherlands was 2013, when he lost in the quarter-finals to Julien Benneteau.

Did You Know?
Federer won two ATP World Tour 500 titles last year, in Halle (where he captured his ninth title at the Gerry Weber Open), and at the Swiss Indoors Basel (where he won his eighth title).

Rafa Reveals His Personal Text Message To Roger

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 12:58pm

It didn't take long for Rafael Nadal to congratulate Roger Federer on his Grand Slam triumph in Melbourne, even if fans aren't hearing about it until now.

"I immediately sent him a text message (after the Australian Open final)," Nadal said on Monday at the formal opening of the Mapfre Clinic of Tennis Medicine in Madrid, where the current ATP World Tour No.1 fielded questions with the hashtag #AskRafaNadal during a Twitter Q&A session. "I usually congratulate people I know in private rather than publicly. I've had a very good relationship with Federer for years now. I was happy for him; I congratulated him and I told him I'm always happy when he does well."

Federer's victory at the Australian Open nudged his Grand Slam haul to 20, four more majors than Nadal, his closest rival. But according to Nadal, he isn't keeping count -- and it’s for the better.

"I'm always looking at what's in front of me, not what's around me," the Spaniard said. "There's always someone who has achieved more than you or who has earned more than you. You can't let that frustrate you; instead, it's better to be satisfied with what you do, so long as you're giving it your all."

There's a difference between setting high standards and becoming consumed with success, according to Nadal. That extends to the rivalry he shares with his contemporary, Federer. Ultimately, Rafa stressed the importance of being content.

"It's great to be ambitious, but not to excess," Nadal explained. "You'll go insane if you obsess on wanting more and more and more ... the most important thing is to be happy with yourself. Of course, I do everything possible to win the maximum number of tournaments, but I'm not going to spend all my life thinking, 'Federer has won more than me.' I just concentrate on what I can control and focus on that."

Nadal, who turns 32 in June, doesn't know how much longer he'll compete, but he's sure about two things. The first: that he's cherishing the fact that he's still able to play at the highest level -- something he never imagined several years ago. The second: He still believes there's room to improve every day.

"I'm not tired of playing; I'm fortunate and happy to be in this situation at 31 years old," Nadal said. "Years ago, I didn't think I'd be where I am today. I figured that at this point, I'd be retired and dedicating myself to something else. But now, I'm keeping the illusion alive that I can still get better and better. I still have the drive to get up every morning and train with the aim to improve. For as long as that lasts, I'll keep enjoying my time on the Tour and competing week in and week out."

Goffin Advances In Montpellier

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 12:07pm

Belgium’s David Goffin booked his place in his first quarter-final of the 2018 ATP World Tour season at the Open Sud de France after beating Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-2 on Wednesday.

The match was dominated by the returner in the early stages, with seven breaks of serve in the opening set, before Goffin finally took advantage with timely first serves proving crucial to secure the first set.

From there, Goffin grew in confidence with a much improved serving performance and continued his assault on the Tata Open Maharashtra champion’s serve with two more service breaks before closing the match out with two aces and an unreturned serve to seal his spot in the last eight.

The World No. 7 awaits the winner of the second-round match between Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis and Russia’s Karen Khachanov, who are scheduled to play on Thursday.

Three-time former champion Richard Gasquet wasted no time in advancing to the second round, needing just 56 minutes to beat Sydney International champion Daniil Medvedev 6-0, 6-3. Gasquet broke the Russian on five occasions and lost just three points on his first serve in front of his home fans to book a meeting with compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Herbert will be facing his second French opponent in as many rounds after battling past qualifier Kenny De Schepper 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 6-4. In a match with just three breaks of serve, the 26-year-old broke at the perfect time as De Schepper served to stay in the match at 4-5 in the decider.

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Andrey Rublev took 61 minutes to secure his spot his spot in the quarter-finals. The #NextGenATP contender dropped just three games to beat France’s Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-1. The 20-year-old saved all three break points on his serve and coverted four of five opportunities created on his opponent’s delivery.

Rublev will meet the winner of the all-French encounter between Nicolas Mahut and No. 3 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Mahut advanced to the second round in unfortunate fashion, after Germany’s Dustin Brown was forced to retire, due to a back injury, just one game from victory at 7-6(2) 5-2.

Australia’s John Millman came from a set down to beat Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. The No. 107 lost just one point behind his first serve in the third set to set up a meeting with home favourite Benoit Paire.

Ruben Bemelmans also advanced in southern France with a rapid, 49-minute, 6-1, 6-2 victory over French wild card Calvin Hemery.

Wawrinka Enjoys Sofia Sights

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 11:41am

Stan Wawrinka took time out on Wednesday to stop at the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the centre of Sofia.

The Neo-Byzantine style cathedral is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, holding 10,000 people and is one of the capital’s primary tourist attractions.

Top seeded Wawrinka starts his DIEMA XTRA Sofia Open campaign on Thursday night against qualifier Martin Klizan, in what will be his first match since his second-round Australian Open loss to Tennys Sandgren.

“I feel much better since Australia,” said Wawrinka. “The first day I came home I started practising really hard, especially fitness wise, trying to get my knee better.”

The three-time Grand Slam champion emphasised the need for more match play in order to get back to his best level. “I know I am not yet at my top level because it takes more time, I need matches and tournaments and that is the reason why I am here because right now… for me, it is really good to be here.”

Wawrinka spoke to home favourite Grigor Dimitrov about the event and looks forward to his debut in front of a large crowd at the Arena Armeec Sofia. “I talked with Grigor when he played last year. It was a great tournament. He played at home so the atmosphere was amazing, the centre court is really big so there are a lot of people. I heard some good things and I am happy to see it by myself and to be here playing this tournament.”

Ivo Karlovic, 38, Faces The Truth In Quito: He's Old... But Still Very Good

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 8:20am

Ivo Karlovic admits it: For a tennis player, he's old. But, as Karlovic continues to show during the 2018 ATP World Tour season, the Croatian is also still very good.

Just last month, the 38-year-old achieved yet another marker for the history books. The 6'11” Karlovic struck 53 aces to beat Japan's Yuichi Sugita 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 7-5, 4-6, 12-10 in four hours and 33 minutes. With the win, Karlovic became the oldest player to compete in the Australian Open third round since Australian Ken Rosewall, aged 44, in 1978, when the draw was 64 players. Karlovic also became the oldest player in the Australian Open third round since the advent of a 128-player draw in 1982.

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Then again, these types of accomplishments have become something of an annual tradition – if not more often – for Karlovic. In 2017, he was the oldest player to reach the third-round at a Grand Slam since 38-year-old Jimmy Connors at the 1991 US Open. In 2016, Karlovic finished the year at No. 20 – a career best – and was the oldest player in the Top 20 since 43-year-old Rosewall in July 1978.

“It means a lot, because it means that even at my old age I can still do good results. That means a lot,” Karlovic told ATPWorldTour.com. “I am old, I know. But I don't feel like I'm getting old.”

He harbours no intentions of stopping soon, either. Karlovic, who turns 39 on 28 February, wants to stay healthy throughout 2018. Last year, bumps and niggles to his knee, back and left ankle forced him to miss four events.

But if Karlovic, who has won eight ATP World Tour titles, can stay healthy this year, look forward to plenty more “oldest-ever” records for him again this season. “If I could be healthy all year that would really help a lot,” Karlovic said. “As long as my ranking is up where I can be in all the events, I won't consider quitting.”

Did You Know?
Karlovic holds the record for most aces served in his career. He has served 12,428, 2,000 aces more than Roger Federer, who is in second place on the all-time list. Learn more in Infosys Scores & Stats.

Simon Survives Scare; Khachanov Battles Back

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 8:54pm

Russian Karen Khachanov came back from a set down against one of the toughest competitors on the ATP World Tour to advance on Tuesday at the Open Sud de France. The 21-year-old Khachanov beat Spain's David Ferrer 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4, avoiding a single break point in the decider to reach the second round in Montpellier.

Both players were coming off of good runs in Auckland, before the Australian Open. Khachanov reached the quarter-finals at the ASB Classic, Ferrer the semi-finals. They both lost to Juan Martin del Potro. In fact, Khachanov's two losses this season have come against Del Potro (also second round Australian Open).

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Khachanov will next face Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis, who battled past 36-year-old Frenchman Julien Benneteau. Berankis, the World No. 117, saved five of six break points and sealed the win on his second match point.

Gilles Simon needed a third-set tie-break to beat German qualifier Yannick Maden 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(3). Simon, who won the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune to open his 2018 ATP World Tour campaign, looked to be cruising after a 6-1 first set in front of a supportive home crowd. But the 33-year-old ran into trouble as Maden, competing in just his fourth ATP World Tour match, raised his level.

Simon was forced to claw his way back from 2-4 down in the decider, before triumphing in a final-set tie-break to move to 7-2 in 2018. Simon will meet top seed David Goffin in a mouth-watering second-round encounter.

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There were contrasting results for #NextGenATP contenders on the second day of play in southern France.

Jeremy Chardy came from a set down to deny #NextGenATP Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas a place in the second round with a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 win after two hours, 13 minutes. Tsitsipas has now lost his past four tour-level matches since reaching the quarter-finals at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.

Carlos Taberner, competing in his first match on the ATP World Tour, defeated World No. 137 Norbert Gombos 7-6(5), 7-6(1) in one hour, 53 minutes. The 20-year-old Spaniard was cool under pressure, saving 10 of 11 break points he faced to book a second-round meeting with No. 2 seed Lucas Pouille.

Marterer Targets Top 50, Reflects On Australian Open Run

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 6:45pm

After a stellar end to 2017 and a breakthrough performance at this year’s Australian Open, Maximilian Marterer looks set to be the next German tennis star to break through on the ATP World Tour.

The 22-year-old German won 21 of his 23 matches on the ATP Challenger Tour in September and October to secure three titles, before announcing himself on the world stage with a run to the third round at this year’s Australian Open.

Currently at a career-high No. 82 in the ATP Rankings, Marterer made his intentions clear when asked, ahead of his first-round match against Malek Jaziri at this week’s Diema Xtra Sofia Open, whether he had any goals after breaking into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings late last year.

“I think [setting goals] should never stop,” said Marterer. “The next goal is, at the end of this year, to get to the Top 50.”

The determined left-hander is the second-youngest of eight German players currently in the Top 100 and, as one of the emerging stars in a leading tennis nation, has the benefit of a wealth of experienced compatriots to seek advice from when practising at home in Bavaria.

“We are always practising together so it is good to have them around and get advice from them. There are many experienced players like Florian Mayer and also sometimes Philipp Kohlschreiber there working with us. They are world-class players and have been in the business a long time, so it is good to have them around you,” said Marterer.

Marterer won his first two tour-level matches at the Australian Open last month, with a strong win over fellow German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe before taking out 2009 semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco in a thrilling five-set triumph.

The run came to an end at the hands of fellow breakout star Tennys Sandgren in the third round, but Marterer had plenty of reasons to feel confident that his week in Melbourne was the start of a successful career on the ATP World Tour.

“It was very special for me to get the wins in a Grand Slam,” reflected Marterer. “I think I found a good way of playing my game in these matches and how to win the points.

“I played a really strong match; especially in the fifth set [against Verdasco]. The conditions were really tough, on one of the hottest days of the two weeks, so in the end I was really, really happy to win that match. It was great to see that physically I am fit for five sets against such a top player.”

That confidence and knowledge, gained in Melbourne, looks likely to help Marterer as he continues his quest to end the year inside the world's Top 50. Next stop: Sofia.

Hall of Fame Announces Germany's Stich As 2018 Inductee

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 2:07pm

In a special ceremony at the Australian Open, it was announced that Michael Stich has been elected for induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2018. Hall of Fame induction is the ultimate honour in tennis, indicating that one’s career was among the most accomplished and impactful of all-time.

Since the Hall of Fame’s inception in 1954, just 252 individuals have been honoured, hailing from 23 nations. Stich is the sixth German to be inducted, joining the ranks of Boris Becker, Stefanie Graf, and 1930s tennis greats Barron Gottfried Von Cramm, Hans Nusslein, and Hilde Krahwinkel Sperling.

Joining Michael in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 is Czech tennis legend Helena Sukova, a 14-time major champion in doubles and mixed doubles. Stich and Sukova will be officially inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on 21 July, during Hall of Fame Weekend in Newport, Rhode Island.

“Michael’s laser focus and the versatility in his game made him a Wimbledon champion, and today, those skills and accomplishments make him a Hall of Famer,” said Hall of Famer Stan Smith, who also serves as president of the Hall of Fame.

“Being elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame ensures that their careers and accomplishments will forever be distinguished as being among the greatest in our sport’s history. It’s a well-deserved honour for Helena and Michael, and we look forward to celebrating with them in Newport in July.”

Stich said, “It’s quite an honour to become part of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I’m humbled to be included among this elite group of tennis athletes, many of whom I so greatly admired and was inspired by throughout my career.”

A versatile player with a full arsenal of skills, Stich achieved a ranking of world No. 2 and became a Wimbledon champion and Olympic gold medalist.

The highlight of Stich’s Hall of Fame career came in 1991 when he won the Wimbledon title, skillfully battling past two former champions and grass-court stars in Stefan Edberg and Becker. A year later, he partnered with John McEnroe to win the doubles title at Wimbledon in a five-hour match that spanned two days. Stich made two more finals appearances at Grand Slam tournaments — at the US Open in 1994 and Roland Garros in 1996.

A skilled player at both the baseline and the net, Stich was successful on all surfaces throughout his career. In 1991 and 1993, he won professional tournaments on all four surfaces.

Stich appeared in 31 finals and won 18 career singles titles, including particularly momentous victories at season-ending events. In the 1992 Grand Slam Cup, Stich defeated Stefan Edberg, Richard Krajicek, Pete Sampras, and Michael Chang to win the title. A year later, he closed the season with wins over Michael Chang, Jim Courier, and Pete Sampras to capture the Nitto ATP Finals title.

Stich was an accomplished representative of Germany throughout his career. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he partnered with Boris Becker to win the Gold Medal in doubles. In 1993 Davis Cup final, he won all three points versus Australia to win the title for Germany.

Today, Stich is the Tournament Director for the German Tennis Championships 2018, an ATP World Tour 500 event in Hamburg. In 1994 he created the Michael Stich Foundation, a robust charity focused on programs aimed at HIV and AIDS awareness, as well as helping children in need.

Class of 2018 Induction Ceremony
The Class of 2018 will be officially inducted on 21 July, during Hall of Fame Weekend at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. Tickets for the Induction Ceremony will go on sale on 5 March. In addition, the class will be celebrated in a tribute exhibit in the museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which will open in June and be displayed for one year.

Edmund Making It All Click In Melbourne

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 1:53pm
Kyle Edmund and his coach, Fredrik Rosengren, explain how everything in the young Brit's game has come together on his stunning run through to the Australian Open semi-final.

What Edmund Improved To Make The Australian Open SF

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 12:23pm

Kyle Edmund’s first serve has caught fire Down Under.

The 23-year-old Brit served 315 aces during 60 matches in 2017 to help power himself to a year-end ATP Ranking of No. 50. Solid numbers, but nothing like what he has done during his run to the semi-finals of the 2018 Australian Open.

Edmund has hit 78 aces through five matches in Melbourne – which is remarkably already 25 per cent of his season total from last year. Five of Edmund’s aces have come behind second serves.

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Edmund is currently ranked 32nd on the Infosys ATP Stats Serve LEADERBOARD, which reflects good serving, but clearly shows he is not yet one of the serving greats on the ATP World Tour. Edmund’s 78 aces so far in Melbourne have him fifth highest for the tournament in that category, with his fastest serve being 205 km/h (127mph). That serve speed ties him for 42nd fastest for the tournament, so it’s clearly not pure heat that is fueling the ace count.

Edmund has been hitting his spots extremely well the past two weeks, with 68 per cent (53/78) of his aces being struck in the Deuce court, and 32 per cent (25/78) in the Ad court.

Ace Location

Deuce Court Wide = 28% (22)

Deuce Court T = 40% (31)

Ad Court Wide = 14% (11)

Ad Court T = 18% (14)

Edmund’s favourite location has been down the T in the Deuce court, where 40 per cent (31) of his aces have been hit.

2018 Australian Open: Edmund Ace Location vs. Opponent

Ace Location

Dimitrov

Seppi

Basilashvili

Istomin

Anderson

TOTAL

Deuce Court - Wide

3

10

6

0

3

22

Deuce Court - T

6

8

7

4

6

31

Ad Court - Wide

2

4

4

1

0

11

Ad Court - T

2

3

3

4

2

14

TOTAL

13

25

20

9

11

78

What’s interesting is that while Edmund’s ace total has sharply risen, his double faults have not. Edmund averaged 1.9 aces per double fault in the 2017 season, but that has skyrocketed to 5.2 aces per double fault in Melbourne.

His first-serve percentage in 2017 was 58 per cent. He is at 63 per cent in Melbourne the past two weeks. His first-serve points won has risen from his 2017 average of 74 per cent, to 78 per cent at the Australian Open.

You would naturally think that Edmund’s second-serve performance would also be sharply higher, but it’s simply not the case. Edmund won 53 per cent of his second-serve points in 2017, and that’s only up one percentage point to 54 per cent in Melbourne.

Edmund plays Marin Cilic in the Australian Open semi-finals on Thursday evening. Cilic has pumped 96 aces so far, committing just 17 double faults. Expect aces to flow freely on Rod Laver Arena.

Note: Statistics at the Australian Open are recorded by SMT.

Preview: Cilic Seeks Third Slam Final; Edmund Looking To Continue Career Run

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 11:14am

If you like your tennis powerful, you will want to watch Thursday's Australian Open semi-final between Marin Cilic and Kyle Edmund.

The Croatian and Brit, without an ounce of hyperbole, have two of the strongest forehands on the ATP World Tour, and the booming shot has helped both of them achieve career milestones this fortnight Down Under.

Edmund has used his to make himself comfortable during the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time. Before this fortnight, the unseeded 23-year-old had never won two five-set matches at the same tournament or reached past the fourth round of a Grand Slam (2016 US Open).

And his path, just like Cilic's, has made him outplay some of the hottest players on the ATP World Tour. Edmund knocked off US Open finalist Kevin Anderson in the first round, and the Brit upset Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.

“In the key moments I maybe stepped up well and was brave, really went for my shots, and they came good. I believed that I could pull off some good stuff,” Edmund said after beating Dimitrov.

The 29-year-old Cilic collected his second win against a World No. 1 when he beat Rafael Nadal in five sets to advance to the semi-finals, the Croatian's second in Melbourne and his fifth overall (2-2). Cilic, a Top 10 player the past two seasons, also erased a six-match losing streak against Top 5 opposition.

“Extremely pleased with my own game. Even in these other matches before this one, I played great tennis. Very, very high level,” Cilic said after advancing when Nadal retired down 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5), 2-6, 0-2.

Both players, but especially Edmund, are at a different level to start the 2018 season, but they do have a past FedEx ATP Head2Head encounter. Last year at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, Cilic dismissed the Brit in straight sets 6-3, 7-6(5).

Cilic easily has the experience edge as well, having won the 2014 US Open (d. Nishikori) and reached the 2017 Wimbledon final (l. to Federer). It's only the second time in his five semi-finals that Cilic will not face a member of the “Big Four” – Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Cilic's Past Grand Slam Semi-Finals

Tournament

Opponent

Result

Score

2017 Wimbledon

(24) Sam Querrey

Won

6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5

2015 US Open

(1) Novak Djokovic

Loss

6-0, 6-1, 6-2

2014 US Open

(2) Roger Federer

Won

6-3, 6-4, 6-4

2010 Australian Open

(5) Andy Murray

Loss

3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2

“I'm going to prepare for that match like for any other one. Kyle had amazing run here. A lot of tough matches, played great tennis. He's also very entertaining to watch. Big hitter, great serve, great forehand. Plays great on the hard courts,” Cilic said.

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“For me a big focus is to continue with my own game. I cannot influence him much across the net, but going to try to take care of my things on my part of the court. Hopefully I'm going to have another great match.”

But Edmund also had never beaten Dimitrov (0-2) before their quarter-final on Tuesday. “The main thing I focus on is I'm in a good place,” Edmund said. “There's no reason why I can't go out there and put a good level on the court, enjoy the occasion again... Just try to take it in my stride as best as I can.”

DID YOU KNOW?
Edmund, by reaching the semi-finals, became only the sixth British male in Open Era history (April 1968) to make a Grand Slam semi-final. Edmund joined countrymen Roger Taylor, John Lloyd, Greg Rusedski, Tim Henman and Andy Murray.

Cilic made Croatian history by reaching the last four as well. He became the first Croatian player – man or woman – to reach multiple semi-finals at two different Grand Slams.