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Lucas Pouille won his maiden title earlier this afternoon, defeating top seed and No. 10-ranked Austrian Dominic Thiem 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the final of the Moselle Open in Metz. Ever since reaching the semifinals at the Rome Masters in May, Pouille has been on quite a roll. The 22-year-old Frenchman backed up his performance in Italy with quarterfinal appearances at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and came into Metz ranked No. 18 in the world. Pouille, seeded third, put the hammer down and tightened the vice grips on Thiem much as he had on Rafael Nadal in his fourth-round upset of the Spaniard at Flushing Meadows. Every time Thiem seemed ready to take control of the match, Pouille squelched the initiative. “I’m very happy with my week,” Pouille said. “Winning a title is a big step, it’s an objective I wanted to achieve this year. It was a well-played final. We both played at a high level.” Pouille improved to 30-18 in 2016 with his fifth Top 10 win of the year. The Grande-Synthe native had just 15 tour-level wins coming into this season. Neither player yielded so much as a break point opportunity through the first nine games, with Pouille dropping just two points in his first five service games. Thiem flinched first, but saved three set points serving at 4-5 and then raced to a 4-0 lead in the tie-break. Pouille won seven of the next eight points courtesy of three mini-breaks to take the opener and deflate much of Thiem’s resolve. The Frenchman garnered a break to open the second set and then another in the seventh game before serving it out with an ace on his first match point. It was a tidy victory in just one hour and 18 minutes. “I think the first set was a pretty high level from both of us,” Thiem said. “I should have won the tie-break, but had an easy volley mistake. All in all, he was the better player and had more chances in my service games. He deserved to win today. I think he put pressure on me all the time and was serving really well.” Pouille hit 10 aces and won 83 percent of his first service points and 73 percent of his second. Thiem had six aces, while winning 76 percent of his first deliveries and just 46 percent of his second. Poulle won the battle of winners 27-26 and committed 17 unforced errors to 28 for the Austrian.

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olivetti-2016-1

Big-serving Frenchman Albano Olivetti knocked off top-seed Sam Barry of Ireland 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the quarterfinals of the French F18 Futures in Mulhouse earlier this afternoon. Olivetti served up 23 aces against the 24-year-old Irishman, including at least one in each of his 10 service games. The 6-foot-8 Frenchman saved all four break points against his serve, including three set points while serving at 5-6 in the opening set. Four aces in the game helped save the day for Olivetti, who steamrolled the rest of the way after forcing a tiebreaker. Olivetti improved to 5-0 against the No. 293-ranked Barry. He will play fellow Frenchman Laurent Lokoli in the semifinals tomorrow. Today’s performance was one of Olivetti’s best since returning to the tour in January, following an 18-month injury hiatus. The 24-year-old Frenchman hung tough in the crucial moments and served his way out of trouble whenever it presented itself. Playing almost exclusively on the Futures and Challenger circuits, Olivetti has clawed his way back from being unranked at the start of the year to a current No. 445 in the world. Barry proved to be a real test in today’s match, at least in the first set anyway. The Irishman landed 91 percent of his first serves in the opener and won 90 percent of those points, while not facing a break point. His only failing was suffering a mini-break on the fifth point in the tiebreaker. The second set was all Olivetti, with the Frenchman capturing service breaks in the second and sixth games, while facing just one break point, that being a harmless one in the final game. Olivetti served three double faults, while winning 78 percent of the points on his first serve and 59 percent on his second.

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Wawrinka Powers Past Djokovic to Win U.S. Open

by John on September 12, 2016

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Stan Wawrinka spotted defending champion Novak Djokovic the first set and then rallied to take the next three, defeating the top-ranked Serb 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the U.S. Open late yesterday afternoon. The title, Wawrinka’s first at Flushing Meadows, was the No. 3-ranked Swiss’ third Grand Slam crown in three Grand Slam finals and ran his win streak in tour-level finals to 11 straight. All three runs at the majors have included wins over the World No. 1 in the championship match. Wawrinka defeated Rafael Nadal for the 2014 Australian Open crown and Djokovic in the French Open final last year. “This is amazing,” Wawrinka said afterward. “I came here without expecting to win it. When I stepped on the court, I tried to win every match. I did everything today against Novak. The crowd and atmosphere was something I’ve never had before. It’s an amazing night.” Wawrinka improved to 5-19 against Djokovic, so he hasn’t exactly had the Serb’s number in the past. But Sunday he did. After starting slowly, Wawrinka took control of the baseline and outhit the best baseliner in the game. The Swiss had 46 winners to 30 for Djokovic, while committing 51 unforced errors compared to 46 for the Serb. Wawrinka also saved 14 of 17 break points against perhaps the best returner on the tour. There was no quit in the 31-year-old Swiss. “Today I was trying to stay with him,” Wawrinka said. “I was trying to be tough with myself, trying not to show anything, not to show any pain, not to show any cramps, not to show anything. I was suffering on the court, but I’m happy and proud with what I have achieved today.” Djokovic, who won the Australian and French Opens, along with five other tournaments earlier in the year, hasn’t quite been the same player since a first-round loss at the Rio Olympics. A lingering sore left wrist, picked up just before Brazil, and problems with both shoulders and his right elbow during the New York fortnight, along with a foot issue in the final, certainly didn’t help the Serb. But Djokovic offered no excuses. “I lost my nerves in the important moments. He kept his cool. I think that’s what decided the match,” Djokovic said. “I guess sometimes it happens, even though you have the experience and know what to do. Just the heat of the moment and importance of the match, I guess, was too strong for me at certain periods of the match. Just if you lose your cool, the match can go away.” Serving at 5-3 in the final set, Wawrinka fell behind 0-30 and for just a moment it seemed Djokovic might get back in it. But the Swiss won five of the last six points, and victory was his after three hours and 55 minutes. Wawrinka won 144 points, Djkovic 143, and both players were spent. “There is no secret. If you want to beat the No. 1 player in the world, you have to give everything,” Wawrinka said. “You have to accept to suffer and you have almost to enjoy to suffer. Because I think this Grand Slam was the most painful, physically and mentally that I ever played.”

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Lucas Pouille

It was a match neither player deserved to lose. Frenchman Lucas Pouille stunned No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6) in a fourth-round thriller at the U.S. Open late yesterday afternoon. The final blow of the contest came when Pouille crushed his 59th winner of the day, an unplayable forehand down the line on the 22-year-old Frenchman’s fourth match point in a tiebreaker. Pouille collapsed on the court in exultation. Each player won 156 points in the 4-hour, 6-minute seesaw affair, which featured punishing ground games and dogged determination by both. Pouille, a rising star ranked No. 25 in the world and seeded 24th at Flushing Meadows, has come into his own this year, also reaching the quarterfinals at Brisbane and Wimbledon, the semifinals at Rome and the finals at Bucharest. “I think because mentally I’m stronger, physically I’m stronger, [that] gave me a lot of confidence before the match,” Pouille said. “I knew if I wanted to win that, it’s not going to be like three sets, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. It would be long. So I was ready for it.” The young Frenchman will play fellow countryman Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Pouille started the match on fire, breaking Nadal in the second and sixth games of the opening set, and faced but one break point, that coming in the final game which he closed out with an ace. Nadal turned the tables in the second set with breaks in the second and eighth games to level the match. The Frenchman parlayed a break in the opening game of the third set to regain control and a two sets to one lead. In the fourth set, Nadal captured breaks in the sixth game and then again in the eighth, after Pouille had broken back in the seventh, to knot the match at 2-2. The Spaniard looked to be in the driver’s seat when he broke to open the final set and jumped out to a 3-1 lead. Undaunted, Pouille broke back in the eighth game and four games later a tiebreaker would determine the outcome. The Frenchman led 4-1 and 6-3 before Nadal leveled at 6-6. At that juncture, with Pouille serving, Nadal missed a short forehand put-away which would have given him a match point on his serve. Instead, Pouille followed with the decisive forehand winner for the mini-break to seal the win. “I learned that it’s never over until the last point,” Pouille said. “I was a break down in the fifth, I came back and led 6-3 in the tie-break and he came back. Yeah, it’s never done until the last point is over.” Although he only landed 46 percent of his first serves, Pouille had 11 aces and won 66 percent of the points on his first delivery and 58 percent on his second. The Frenchman saved six of 11 break points, Nadal nine of 14. “I fight until the end, until the last ball,” Nadal said. “It was a very close match. I congratulate my opponent, he played with better decisions than me the last couple of points.” Joining Monfils and Pouille in the quarterfinals is a third Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who like his compatriots, also won his fourth-round match on Sunday. The trio become the first three Frenchmen to reach the final eight of a Grand Slam since 1947.

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Karlovic Defeats Lopez for Los Cabos Title

by John on August 14, 2016

Karlovic at Los Cabos (2)

Big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic’s red-hot summer continues. The 37-year-old Karlovic defeated top seed Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the final of the inaugural Abierto Mexicano Mifel in Los Cabos last night. For the third-seeded Karlovic the title was his second of the summer and the eighth of his career. The 6-foot-11 Croatian won at Newport last month and was a finalist at Washington the following week. Doctor Ivo has posted a 14-2 record during the summer streak. Lopez, also a greybeard at 34, was denied back-to-back titles after winning at Gstaad last week. Karlovic improved to 6-3 against Lopez, while winning his fourth match in a row over the Spaniard. “It was a difficult match in the beginning,” Karlovic said. “He was playing really well. I was a little lucky at the end of the first set, but that gave me confidence for the rest of the match. I realized what he was doing and took my opportunities.” There were no breaks of serve in the first set, in fact nary a break point, and thus a tiebreaker was needed to decide the opener. Karlovic captured a mini-break on the fifth point and raced to a 5-2 lead. Lopez coughed up another mini-break at 3-5 to trail 6-3 with Karlovic serving for the set. The Croat gave back the two mini-breaks on his next two serves, but Lopez’s serve failed him again at 5-6 and Karlovic had a one-set lead. The second set was all Karlovic. Doctor Ivo broke the Spaniard in the sixth game, courtesy of a double fault and a perfectly executed drop volley, and the eighth when the Spaniard double-faulted on the first match point. It was over in one hour and 22 minutes. Karlovic served 21 aces and won 76 percent of his first service points. Lopez had five aces and won 81 percent of his first serves. The Spaniard served up five double faults, including the two crucial ones. “I thought I could have won, but I committed a few unforced errors in the tie-break and two big double faults in the second set and was broken twice,” Lopez said. “It was complicated because he does not give you many chances on his serve. It’s difficult to take positives today, but I believe that these recent weeks have been great for me. It’s another final and I have great memories from Cincinnati and New York, so I hope to play well.” Both players will compete in the Cincinnati Masters this coming week.

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Opelka v Young

Reilly Opelka has done it again. The 18-year-old American wild card defeated No. 7 seed Donald Young 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the BB&T Atlanta Open in the last match of the day session this afternoon. Opelka, ranked No. 837 coming into Atlanta, has now won three straight matches in his third ATP Tour level event. The 6-foot-11 American lost in the first round at both Washington, two weeks ago, and Houston in April. Young, ranked No. 53 in the world, had no answer for Opelka’s incredible serving and aggressive all-court game. Opelka hit 10 aces and won 80 percent of his first serves and 63 percent of his second. He erased the only two break points he faced. Opelka broke a sluggish Young in the opening game of the match and frustrated the 27-year-old Chicago native throughout. Young had break point opportunities on Opelka’s serve in the fourth and eighth games of the opener but failed to cash either one. Opelka took the set in just 39 minutes. Set number two was a one break deal also as Opelka broke in the fifth game. The big guy served it out at 30 to seal the upset in one hour and 11 minutes. “In the first set, he had a couple of break points. I was able to step up with some big serves,” Opelka said. “Then I started serving even better, and he barely had any chances in the second set. I have a lot of belief in my game and in my level right now. I’ve been doing a really good job with my movement, winning points on my opponent’s serve. The way I am serving now, I know I can at least get to a tie-break. But being able to hit good returns and passing shots is huge.” Young had four aces and seven double faults, and saved two of four break points. Opelka will take on John Isner in tomorrow’s semifinals.

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Opelka at Atlanta

Eighteen-year-old American wild card Reilly Opelka staved off two match points and held on to upset No. 3 seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5 in the second round of the BB&T Atlanta Open earlier this afternoon. The 6-foot-11 Opelka won his first ATP Tour match on Monday and came into the tournament ranked No. 837 in the world. Anderson, a tall fellow himself at 6-foot-8, served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, but couldn’t cash either of two match points in the four deuce game. Opelka played with poise, youthful exuberance and dogged determination. The youngster, who has competed almost exclusively on the Futures circuit and was the junior Wimbledon champion last year, just refused to back down. Opelka served 20 aces to 14 for the big-serving Anderson, who was plagued by 14 double faults on the hot muggy afternoon. Anderson, ranked No. 28, broke to take a 3-1 lead in the opening set, but was broken right back. Both players held the rest of the set to force a tiebreaker, although not without peril. Anderson needed to save four break points in the ninth game and Opelka two in the 12th. A mini-break by Anderson on the second point was the difference in the tie-break. Opelka broke in the fourth game of the second set and raced to a 4-1 lead. The Michigan native struggled to hold serve in the seventh game, erasing three break points, and then served it out at 30, leveling the match at a set apiece. Anderson appeared to be cruising to victory after saving three break points in the third game of the final set and breaking in the fourth. He pushed his lead to 5-2 before Opelka captured service breaks in the ninth and 11th games. The young American served a love game to close out the win in two hours and 49 minutes. Opelka won 80 percent of his first service points and saved seven of nine break points. Anderson defended 14 of 18 break points. Opelka will take on fellow American and seventh seed Donald Young in the quarterfinals.

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Djokovic Rogers Cup Final 2016

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic defeated third seed Kei Nishikori 6-3, 7-5 in Toronto this afternoon to win his fourth Rogers Cup title and his record 30th Masters Series crown. Djokovic also won the Rogers Cup, also known as the Canadian Masters, in 2007 and 2011-12, and improved to 10-2 against Nishikori with his ninth straight win over the Japanese. The loss dropped Nishikori’s record in Masters finals to 0-3. Djokovic hadn’t played a tournament since losing to Sam Querrey in the third round at Wimbledon in early July and it showed earlier this week. “My two best performances came in the semi-finals and the final,” Djokovic said. “It came at the right moment for me. It’s a process like any other that has happened many times in my career, where I would start a tournament still feeling a little bit uncomfortable on the court and searching for my rhythm, and then, as the tournament goes on, I find that proper comfort level with shots, with the way I feel, with my mental attitude.” The two traded blows back and forth through the first five games of the opening set before the Serb broke through in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead. That was the only opening Djokovic needed as he wrapped up the set in 31 minutes. Nole got an early break in the second set to go up 2-1, but the tenacious Nishikori broke back in the sixth game to level things at 3-3. Both players held through the next four games before Djokovic captured the deciding break in the 11th game. The Serb served it out to seal the win in one hour and 22 minutes. “Today I think he stepped it up,” Nishikori said. “He raised his level a lot from these past couple days. He played really deep, and he didn’t give me any free points. He was especially serving really well, so I didn’t have many chances for my return game. I was really feeling the pressure every game.” Djokovic served five aces and won 81 percent of his first service points. Nishikori had four aces and won 63 percent of his first serves. Djokovic saved one of two break points, Nishikori two of five. Djokovic will now turn his focus to winning an Olympic gold medal in Rio, something that has eluded him throughout his magnificent career. He did win an Olympic bronze medal, though, in Beijing in 2008.

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Karlovic at Rogers Cup

“Ol’ Man River” just keeps rolling along. Thirty-seven-year-old Ivo Karlovic toppled No. 8 seed Marin Cilic 6-4, 7-6 (3) in a second-round battle of fellow Croats earlier today at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Karlovic, ranked No. 27 in the world, has certainly been on a roll lately, winning at Newport two weeks ago and reaching the final at Washington last week. The big-serving Karlovic blasted 20 aces and never faced a break point in taking down Cilic, while evening his record against his compatriot at 2-2 and winning for the 10th time in his last 11 matches. Karlovic captured the only break of the match in the third game of the first set and jumped out to an early 3-1 lead. The 6-foot-11 Croat yielded just four points on his serve and pounded out 12 aces in the 33-minute opener. Cilic struggled getting his first serve in, landing just 41 percent of his first deliveries, while saving two of three break points ( the only ones he faced in the match). The second set was all about serving as neither player faced any difficulties holding. Cilic upped his first service percentage to 60 percent and served two of his three aces. Karlovic stayed steady throughout. Doctor Ivo dominated the tie-break, capturing three of the four mini-breaks to wrap things up in one hour and 22 minutes. Karlovic won 82 percent of his first service points and hit 33 winners, while committing 20 unforced errors. Cilic had 19 winners and just 11 unforced errors.

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A. Olivetti (1)

Frenchman Albano Olivetti’s return to the ATP Tour after an extended injury layoff has had its ups and downs, but as of late it appears to be on the upswing. The big-serving Frenchman was on the sidelines for 18 months after surgery for a cervical hernia following Wimbledon in 2014, and only returned to the tour this January. Prior to the injury, suffered in an auto accident, the 24-year-old Olivetti had established a reputation as one the Top Guns of Fast Serve. The 6-foot-8 Frenchman cracked a 160-mph serve at the Bergamo Challenger in February of 2012 and thus the legend grew. Only Sam Groth’s 163.7-mph missile three months later at Busan tops it. Olivetti also has a 158-mph bomb on his resume. More important than the locker room bragging rights that the monster serve could afford him was the fact that Olivetti had reached a career-high No. 161 ranking on May 26, 2014, shortly before the injury. The big Frenchman’s career was on the rise and his upside looked very promising. Olivetti started the comeback trail unranked and posted a 4-4 record in four Futures events, before gaining entry in February to the Wroclaw Challenger via protected ranking. He reached the quarterfinals before losing to German Dustin Brown. That would unexpectedly start a string of eight consecutive losses leading up to Wimbledon. Olivetti got his mojo back in London, winning three qualifying matches at Roehampton, before losing one of the best matches of the early rounds at the All England Club. Fellow qualifier Matt Barton of Australia defeated Olivetti 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 14-12 in an epic first-round marathon stretched out to three days due to rain stoppages. Olivetti served 56 aces in the match, the fourth most ever in a men’s contest. Since Wimbledon, the Frenchman has reached the quarterfinals at the Portugal F8 Futures (upping his ranking to No. 552) and Wednesday lost to top seed and 80th-ranked Evgeny Donskoy 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (5) in the second round of the Recanati Challenger. Olivetti served 26 aces in the match and never faced a break point. The improvement shown in his last three tournaments should give the Frenchman a boost in confidence. That and more match play could be the answer to a significant climb up the ladder. Olivetti certainly has the talent and the athleticism. And the serve.

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