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Simona Halep leads the pack on the last day of second round action at the Mutua Madrid Open - preview all the action here on wtatennis.com.
Azarenka beats Cornet to advance to 3rd round in Madrid
Upon lifting his second ATP Challenger Tour trophy in Savannah one week ago, Bjorn Fratangelo echoed the sentiments of all players on the circuit: “Hopefully, I won’t be back here next year.”
No disrespect intended, just the reality of life on the circuit. Players battle against world-class competition with the hope of ascending the Emirates ATP Rankings and realising their dreams on the ATP World Tour. The piece of silverware in Fratangelo's hands was the reward for not just one strong week, but rather months, if not years, of hard work.
The 22-year-old American had made 33 Challenger appearances before stepping into the spotlight for the first time at the tour-level last year, making his debut at the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. The moment of contesting a first ATP World Tour event is filled with elation; it’s the goal of every player who fights to make a living in professional tennis. But, for players who return to the Challenger level in the coming weeks, it can be fleeting, leaving another, even bigger, target to strive for.
“It’s a little different, I'm one of the hunted ones now in Challengers,” said Fratangelo, who claimed his first ATP World Tour match win last month in Indian Wells, also snatching a set off World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. “It's the beauty of tennis. No week is going to be the same. It can be tough in terms of the atmosphere of the tournament and the hustle and bustle. You come back down to a smaller Challenger that's more laid back with not as many people and you have to refocus.”
Frances Tiafoe, a member of the ATP’s Next Generation, made his ATP World Tour debut in Washington in 2014 – nearly one year prior to competing in his first ATP Challenger Tour main draw in Sarasota. The taste of tennis at the highest level gave the 18-year-old added incentive to fight even harder for another bite.
“I had a bunch of good weeks here last year so it makes me feel good,” said Tiafoe. “It's another chance to build your ranking and another chance to keep improving.”
In the past year, Tiafoe has competed in a Challenger the week after contesting a tour-level event on four occasions. Just one month removed from attaining a career-high No. 167 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, after notching his first match win at the Masters 1000 level in Indian Wells, the #NextGen star reached his third Challenger final last week in Tallahassee. Not fazed by the constant state of transition, Tiafoe understands that it’s all part of the process.
“That result (in Indian Wells) meant a lot to me and then losing to (David) Goffin 7-6 in the third was big. I was playing great tennis there, but it's a whole different game here. You have a great result like that and you become more of a target on the Challenger Tour. They are going to come after you and every match you have to play your hardest. There are no easy matches.”
While Fratangelo and Tiafoe had little trouble adapting, a monumental result on the ATP World Tour can often yield significant growing pains in the months to come, as expectations grow. In 2016, Gerald Melzer has exploded out of the gates on the Challenger circuit, setting the pace with a 24-5 mark and three titles. On the precipice of cracking the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, the Austrian has come a long way since surging onto the scene with a stunning run to the semi-finals at the ATP World Tour event in Munich exactly one year ago. He had won five matches in seven days as a qualifier, including an emotional three-set victory over countryman and current World No. 15 Dominic Thiem.
But with sudden success comes mounting pressure and Melzer admits he struggled thereafter, winning a combined eight matches from 10 Challenger events the rest of the season. It was all a learning experience.
“Munich was my biggest result ever, and after that I felt I could go for it as I didn’t have anything to defend for the rest of the summer,” said Melzer. “But the expectations were higher than they should have been. I felt more pressure to win more matches and get to the Top 100. I learned a lot from the last year and it’s helping me take the next step in my career.
“I wasn’t too confident at the beginning of the year, but then I started winning and round-by-round I was feeling better. I won almost all my three-set matches. Now I feel that if I hang in the match and do my best, I will always have a chance to win. All of a sudden I won three of my first six tournaments. I’m more than happy with that.”
Fratangelo looks at his breakthrough success on the ATP World Tour as a turning point in his career. The Pittsburgh native would go on to claim the USTA’s wild card into Roland Garros with a dominant run on the green clay in Sarasota and Savannah. He says the transition is different than anything he’d previously experienced, but stresses that it instilled a critical sense of clarity and confidence in his game.
“I learned a lot from those two weeks. Even just from the Djokovic match. How disciplined I was. It took a lot of mental effort to stay with him. If I was going to have any chance I had to be more disciplined in my shot selection. I couldn't do the normal things I do and I now know that I can use that at this level.
“Can I play better? Of course. I've proven that. You take the opportunities as they present themselves, which I did. Wins are wins, no matter what level they are at.”
Leonardo Mayer helps to remove a pesky bat during his first-round match at the Madrid Mutua Open 2016. Watch live Madrid matches at TennisTV.com.
Roger Federer has withdrawn from the Mutua Madrid Open because of a back injury, the World No. 3 announced on Monday. The Swiss was scheduled to play on Wednesday in just his second tournament back since undergoing knee surgery in February.
“Sorry to the tournament for coming and leaving without playing,” Federer said. “I arrived and I was okay, and then I practised on Saturday and hurt my back a little bit in practice and then stopped early.”
The three-time Madrid champion said he was scheduled to practice for two hours but had to quit after one hour and 15 minutes. He skipped practice altogether on Sunday and Monday. “At this point I don't want to take more chances as I know I'm not going to be fully ready for Wednesday,” he said.
Federer has struggled with injuries this season. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus on 3 February and was scheduled to return at the Miami Open presented by Itau in March. But the all-time great had to withdraw from the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament because of a stomach virus. Instead, he returned to tour-level action last month at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, making the quarter-finals.
Federer had hoped to continue his clay-court season at Madrid. He even rearranged his schedule to play at the season's fourth Masters 1000 tournament. “I'm very disappointed, to say the least. I was hoping to play,” he said. “This is not really what I wanted to do, come here and do a press conference about pulling out.”
He took some solace in that his back was bothering him and not his left knee. The 24-time Masters 1000 champion has endured back pain in recent years. “This is normal back things I've had in the past, which I guess is good because I know how to handle it. I know how long it can take. Sometimes it can vary by a few days here or there,” he said.
Federer hopes to be ready for next week's Internazionali BNL d'Italia, another Masters 1000 tournament on clay. “It's been a tough year,” he said, “so I hope it gets better from here.”
Roger Federer withdraws from the Mutua Madrid Open with a back injury. Watch live matches from Madrid at TennisTV.com.
Raonic, who's back into the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time since 2015 October, beat Thomaz Bellucci 7-6(4), 6-1 in one hour and 21 minutes. The Canadian hit five aces and never faced a break point against the Brazilian. In the second round, the No. 11 seed will face Alexandr Dolgopolov, who beat American Steve Johnson 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4). Raonic and Dolgopolov's FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry is tied at 1-all.
Simon, the No. 16 seed, beat Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 24 minutes. The Frenchman erased six of eight break points and won despite winning one less point than Baghdatis (93 to 94). Simon also evened their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry at 3-all. He will face Pablo Carreno Busta or Grigor Dimitrov next.
Lopez avenged a 2015 Madrid loss and beat Argentine Leonardo Mayer 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4. The Spaniard won 78 per cent of his first-serve points to move into the second round. “It was a complicated match. He is an overall complete player. He hits the ball very well and serves pretty good,” Lopez said. “It's not easy to return his balls because they're very heavy. In the end, I think it was a pretty tight match.”
The 34 year old is the only player in the tournament's 15-year history to have participated in every singles draw. “I'm a very fortunate player. I've been playing tennis a lot of years. I didn't think to be able to play so many years and have such a long career. I feel very proud and fortunate to be able to still be competitive with my age,” Lopez said. “Secondly, well, I'm very lucky to have a tournament like this in my city where I live since it started until today. I said it yesterday, that it's been 15 great years with a lot of the matches and things to remember.”
Get a backstage look as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga sit down for their pre-tournament interviews at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Andy Murray recalls his memories of wining the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open. Watch live online at TennisTV.com.
Watch Hot Shot as Feliciano Lopez rushes the net, only to see Leonardo Mayer play an all or nothing backhand on Monday at the Mutua Madrid Open. Watch live online at TennisTV.com. Photo: Getty Images
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Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray look ahead to the Mutua Madrid Open, while David Ferrer, Milos Raonic and Richard Gasquet win their first-round matches Monday. Watch live tennis at TennisTV.com.
Federer drops out of Madrid with back injury
Stan Wawrinka looks ahead to the Mutua Madrid Open, which includes every member of the Top 10 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. Watch live online at TennisTV.com.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reflects on his return to top form and his rise to No. 7 in the Emirates ATP Rankings ahead of the Mutua Madrid Open. Watch live online at TennisTV.com.
Watch highlights of the 2016 TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open final, featuring Diego Schwartzman and Grigor Dimitrov.