Defending champion Stan Wawrinka, who captured the Geneva title on Saturday, finds himself in demand on his arrival at Roland Garros.
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Stan Wawrinka made it to Roland Garros on Saturday night, hours before the first day of play at the season's second Grand Slam. It marks the latest Wawrinka has ever arrived at a Grand Slam during his 15-year career.
But the Swiss star said he still feels prepared to try and defend his Roland Garros title and go for his third Grand Slam championship. “For sure it's late arriving for a Grand Slam, especially if you want to go far in a Grand Slam, but I think I'm feeling good. I'm feeling fit. My tennis is there, and I'm ready to play my first match tomorrow,” Wawrinka said on Sunday during his pre-tournament press conference.
The World No. 4 had good reason to arrive later than usual. Wawrinka prevailed against World No. 11 Marin Cilic in straight sets to win the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open on Saturday afternoon. It was the first time Wawrinka has won a title in his home Switzerland. The win also gave him his first clay-court crown of the season and ended a string of earlier exits on clay this year.
Wawrinka reached the quarter-finals of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters before falling to Rafael Nadal in straight sets. At the Mutua Madrid Open, Wawrinka lost the first match he played, bowing out in the second round to Nick Kyrgios in straight sets. And in Rome, the two-time Grand Slam champion reached the third round before losing to then-World No. 114 Juan Monaco in three sets.
“It was good to win the trophy yesterday. It gives me a lot of confidence and happiness,” Wawrinka said.
Arriving just in time at a Grand Slam can be positive, too, he said. Since he was focused on Geneva, Wawrinka wasn't thinking about Roland Garros days before the tournament started.
“It's also quite good to arrive here a few days before to practise on the court and to get ready and everything," Wawrinka said. "But since they put that tournament in Switzerland in Geneva close from my home the week before, I took the decision to play and to change a little bit the rest of the schedule, and last year it happened to be really good for me.”
“He's still playing amazing tennis, if you look what happened this year already, and since last year in the final,” Wawrinka said of the Serb. “He's for sure the big favorite, and he's going to be really difficult to beat.”
Wawrinka will try to become the third player in the past 17 years to win back-to-back titles at Roland Garros (Nadal, Kuerten). On Monday, he opens his defence against Lukas Rosol, whom he beat in three sets last week in Geneva. Wawrinka also leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 4-0.
“He's a dangerous player. He's serving big. He's going for his shots,” Wawrinka said of Rosol. “You never know what to expect, really. You need to be really solid and stay there.”
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic celebrates his 29th birthday at Roland Garros with Guy Forget, the new Tournament Director. Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images
The upbringing that Taro Daniel had has made him truly international, but his success across the globe on the ATP Challenger Tour is what propelled him into the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.
The 23-year-old from Japan won his first ATP Challenger Tour title last spring at the $50,000 event in Vincenza, Italy, followed by another clay-court crown last June at the $50,000 tournament in Furth, Germany. Daniel also went on a tear last fall on home soil, winning on the hard courts of Yokohoma and finishing runner-up in Kobe.
Now competing full-time on the ATP World Tour, he hasn't slowed down in 2016, with his big moment coming at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters last month. Daniel qualified for his first Masters 1000 main draw and reached the second round, before falling to Dominic Thiem in three sets.
After spending his formative years growing in Japan, Daniel’s family moved to Spain then he was 14 and he has since set up his training base in the city of Valencia. He credits his all-surface success with training in Spain, allowing him access to top players to practise with and the chance to hit regularly on clay courts.
“Spain has had the most players in the Top 100 and many people in the Top 10. The fact they play a lot on clay is important because if you can play on clay, you can play on any surface,” said Daniel. “That’s a positive for me because not a lot of Asian players get to practise regularly on it. I like hard courts as well, but can say that clay might be my favourite surface.”
Daniel’s rise up the rankings has also meant he has gotten to spend more time with World No. 6 Kei Nishikori. He made his Davis Cup debut for Japan last year against Colombia and teamed up with Nishikori once again to take on Great Britain this March.
“We’ve gotten a lot closer since Davis Cup. We all respect him a lot, but we have a relationship where we can talk to each other about close things,” said Daniel. “He’s definitely an inspiration, so you can only receive positive things from being around somebody like that for a week."
The 23-year-old’s affable nature means that he has developed plenty of close friendships with players on tour. Because he studied at American schools in Japan and has now lived in Spain for nearly a decade, he’s fluent in three languages and able to easily mingle with players from most nationalities.
“I have no problem communicating with the Japanese players,” said Daniel. “For me, it’s a little boring to hang out with only the Japanese players or only the Spanish players. I like that I get to go with one group and can move to another.”
Most players are starting to wind down their singles careers in their 30s, but Stephane Robert has been peaking in his.
The 36-year-old from France has made a remarkable push this year back into the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. He won the $50,000 ATP Challenger Tour event this February in New Delhi, India, then finished as runner-up the following month at the $100,000 tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico. Robert even gave World No. 1 Novak Djokovic all he could handle last week in a tight two-set loss at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome.
Having started the year at No. 208 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, Robert is now comfortably back inside the Top 100 at No. 89. He's now hoping for a deep run on home soil at Roland Garros, having been granted direct entry into the main draw following a strong start to the season on the ATP Challenger Tour.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence coming into this year, so the beginning I’ve had is surprising for me,” said Robert. “This is the best beginning I’ve had in my 15-year career.”
Although injuries pulled him out of the Top 100 in 2010 (the same year he reached his career-high Emirates ATP Ranking of No. 61) and again in 2014, Robert has enjoyed many of the ATP Challenger Tour events he's played while rebuilding his ranking. He had particularly good things to say about the $50,000 tournament this April in Turin, Italy.
“The organization there is very good and I really liked the stadium,” said Robert. “I also liked the history and architecture of the city.”
With relatively minimal points to defend until late fall, it’s possible that Robert could even surpass his current career-high Emirates ATP Ranking before the end of the year. However, the Frenchman said he isn’t thinking about the possibility and is only concerned about the next match in front of him.
“I’ve never worried about what my ranking is. If you think about this, you won’t have the same positive results,” said Robert. “I just focus on each match so I can play with full focus and without pressure.”
The 21-year-old Australian saved two set points, down 4/6 in the second set tie-break, before sealing a two-set lead with a rifled backhand winner down the line. Kyrgios then earned the first break of the match in the fifth game of the third set, courtesy of a Cecchinato double fault, and went on to seal victory.
"I thought it was really tough," said Kyrgios. "I thought when I woke up this morning and saw the rain I knew it was going to be heavy conditions. I knew it was going to be a bit of a leveller out there. We were both going to be a little bit cold.
Kyrgios claimed his 22nd win of the season, highlighted by winning his first ATP World Tour title in Marseille (d. Cilic). He goes on to face World No. 123 Igor Sijsling, who defeated Adrian Ungur 6-1, 6-2, 7-6(5).
Looking ahead to his next match, Kyrgios said, "He's been on tour for a long time, and I know he's probably played a lot of Grand Slams. My good friend Thanasi [Kokkinakis] played him a while ago, so I know what kind of game style he plays. I'm just glad I got through today and got a couple of days off and can do everything I can to prepare for that."
French contender Benoit Paire was fired up in a dramatic 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 victory over qualifier Radu Albot. The 19th-seeded Paire won just five points more than the No. 137-ranked Albot and converted 10 of his 19 break points to reach the second round in Paris for the fifth straight year.
"It's a relief," said Paire. "It was not easy today. Heavy conditions today. I didn't serve well. So the match was tough for me, even though I did get off to a good start. First round at the French Open, it was complicated, but I'm delighted because I have advanced to the next round. I think I dug deep today."
After heavy and prolonged rain interruptions throughout the afternoon, play was cancelled for the day at 6:30pm local time.
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Watch highlights as home favourite Stan Wawrinka defeats Marin Cilic in the Geneva final on Saturday.
Watch highlights as Dominic Thiem wins his sixth ATP World Tour title with victory over Alexander Zverev in the Nice final.
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Mike Dickson of The Daily Mail, Barry Flatman of The Times and New York Times contributor Ben Rothenberg provide their Roland Garros views.
Nick Kyrgios discusses his surge in confidence and how he is feeling at a career-high No. 19 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
Earlier this year, weeks before Denis Kudla was preparing to play Dusan Lajovic in the first round of Roland Garros, the American was sliding on Har-Tru, trying to find his footing at ATP Challenger tournaments.
Kudla has been ranked inside the Top 100 Emirates ATP Rankings for almost a year now, since last July. But the 23 year old still finds ATP Challenger tournaments worth his time and commitment. At Challenger events, Kudla said, players of all rankings can try to string together a few nice wins and gain some much-needed confidence. With that self-belief, he said, most players can have a chance of beating almost anyone in the world.
“There's so many good players here,” Kudla said in Savannah. “No matter what tournament you're playing, what level you're at, if you have confidence, you can pretty much play with anybody.”
Kudla played in two ATP Challenger events on Har-Tru earlier this year, the Sarasota Challenger and the Savannah Challenger. The Ukrainian-born American enjoyed varied results. In Sarasota, Kudla was the top seed but fell to then-World No. 190 Noah Rubin 7-5, 2-6, 7-6(8).
“The Challengers haven't been so great for me this year,” Kudla said before starting in Savannah.
But he became more comfortable on the crushed stone. In Savannah, Kudla won his first-round match by coming back from a set down to beat clay-court veteran Giovanni Lapentti of Ecuador. In the second round, Kudla dismissed Brian Baker, a former World No. 52 who's making another comeback from injuries.
Kudla then dispatched Nicolas Jarry but lost in the semi-finals to Bjorn Fratangelo, who would later win the USTA Pro Circuit Roland Garros Wild Card Challenge and gain direct entry into Roland Garros.
This week will mark Kudla's fourth time playing in Paris but only his second in the main draw. (He lost to Jan Hajek in the first round in 2013.) Kudla is hoping his recent success on the Challenger Tour helps his play at upcoming tour-level events, much like it did last year during a career breakthrough.
It was early June, and the right-hander had just finished up the clay-court season with disappointing results. Kudla failed to win a round at qualifying at Roland Garros and was 2-6 during tour-level play for the season. His ranking also had dropped 16 places since the start of the year to No. 139. “I wasn't in a great place,” Kudla said.
With his new coach, Billy Heiser, Kudla headed to grass-court ATP Challengers to jumpstart his season. At the Surbiton Challenger, Kudla strung together four wins to make the final before falling to Matthew Ebden of Australia in a third-set tie-break. The next week, at the Illkley Challenger, Kudla won four more matches and then beat Ebden 6-3, 6-4 to capture his fifth ATP Challenger title.
That success led him to bigger things at tour-level events. He posted a career-best showing at a Grand Slam by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon. His All-England Club run featured wins over then-World No. 23 Pablo Cuevas, #NextGen star Alexander Zverev and then-World No. 60 Santiago Giraldo of Colombia. In the fourth round, Kudla grabbed a set from then-World No. 9 Marin Cilic before falling in four sets.
Later that year, Kudla earned his best showing at a tour-level event by making the semi-finals of the BB&T Atlanta Open. “I was in a new mindset, just trying to stay positive,” Kudla said. “Everything just kind of came together in a really short period of time, which is not easy to do. But I took advantage of it and I kept going. I felt like it was one of the first times in my career where I played really well for a long period of time.”
With more Challenger success behind him, Kudla will try to start another impressive run this week at Roland Garros.
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