#NextGen rising star German Daniel Altmaier, 18, won his first ATP Tour main draw match earlier today, defeating veteran Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic 7-5, 6-7 (8), 7-6 (5) in the opening round of the Antalya Open. The young German lost in the final round of the qualies, but advanced to the main draw of this first-year grasscourt event in Turkey as a lucky loser when Hyeon Chung withdrew due to an ankle injury. Altmaier, ranked No. 252 in the world, qualified for his first main draw at an ATP Tour event last month in Geneva, but was defeated in the opening round by Sam Querrey. The 36-year-old Estrella Burgos, ranked No. 93, with three ATP Tour titles to his credit, fought tooth and nail for two hours and 56 minutes with Altmaier. There was just one break in today’s marathon, that being by Altmaier in the 11th game of the opening set, and two tight tiebreakers that could have gone either way. Altmaier missed a match point opportunity with Estrella Burgos serving at 7-8 in the second set tie-break and trailed 4-1 in the deciding set tiebreaker before rallying for the victory. “It’s the biggest win of my career. I can’t describe it,” Altmaier said. “I had to refocus after missing the match point, but I wanted to fight out there. I really enjoyed it.” Altmaier hit nine aces and won 84 percent of his first serves, while saving four of four break points. Estrella Burgos served eight aces, won 78 percent of his first service points and defended four of five break points. Next up for Altmaier is Marsel Ilhan, who advanced when his opponent Martin Klizan was forced to retire at 6-6 in the first set.

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Top seed Albano Olivetti defeated fellow Frenchman and No. 2 seed David Guez 6-3, 7-5 in the final of the Israel F10 Futures at Kiryat Shmona earlier today. Olivetti improved to 2-0 against Guez in head-to-head meetings, while winning his second Futures title of the year and fifth of his career. The big-serving Olivetti, ranked No. 299 in the world, won at Sozopol (Bulgaria) last month. With today’s win, Olivetti, 25, upped his record to 26-14 for the year. The 6-foot-8 Olivetti landed 64 percent of his first deliveries and won 79 percent of those service points. He hit eight aces and double-faulted just twice. Guez, a 34-year-old veteran, who has 23 Futures and three Challenger titles to his credit, stayed close, but won only 50 percent of the points on his first serve. That contributed greatly to his downfall. Olivetti was masterful on his returns, winning 38 points against the Guez serve overall, and breaking his compatriot five times. He parlayed service breaks in the seventh and ninth games of the first set to take the opener in 40 minutes. Guez, ranked No. 353, got his nose out in front in the second set, breaking in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. The edge was fleeting, however, as Olivetti broke back immediately and then again in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead. Guez answered with a break of his own for 5-4, but succumbed when Olivetti captured his fifth break of the match three games later. It was over in one hour and 43 minutes. Olivetti saved three of five break points and Guez four of nine.

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Sam Groth is back on the grass and it sure shows. Groth, ranked No. 240 in the world, defeated Brydan Klein 6-3, 6-4 on his favorite surface this afternoon, while advancing to the quarterfinals of the Nottingham Challenger. The win was just the second main draw victory for the big-serving Australian since early January at Canberra. He won in the opening round on Tuesday over Canadian Peter Polansky after scoring three victories in the qualies over the weekend. Moving comfortably on the lawns at the Nottingham Tennis Centre, Groth used his big serve and strong volleying to improve to 4-3 against the No. 209-ranked Brit. Groth served nine aces, won 89 percent of the points on his first serve and was never broken, saving six of six break points, including two in the bizarre last game. After holding at love in the opening game, Groth erased four break points in the third to keep his nose ahead at 2-1. The big Australian got the only break of the set with Klein serving at 2-3 and then closed it out with two routine service holds. Service prevailed through the first eight games of the second set before Groth cashed his fourth break point chance in the ninth game to put himself in position to serve it out. Klein, who had been having some kind of ongoing beef with umpire Mohamed Lahyani earlier, earning himself a warning, received a penalty point on the changeover after an escalated conversation. Groth started the 10th game at 15-0 as a result. After Klein netted a return on his second break point opportunity, pushing the score back to deuce, the Brit shouted: “Stupid, stupid person. Hit it.” Layhani then gave Klein a game penalty and it was game, set, match. Groth looked as stunned as Klein. The Brit played well and didn’t appear to deserve such an outcome. Groth will play fellow countryman John-Patrick Smith tomorrow for a spot in the semifinals.

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Second seed Novak Djokovic rallied from a two-sets to one deficit to defeat a tenacious Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the third round of the French Open Friday afternoon. Djokovic, with new coach Andre Agassi looking on, weathered Schwartzman’s aggressive offensive assault through the first three sets to finally wear the 5-foot-7 Argentine down in three hours and 18 minutes. The Serb improved to 2-0 versus Schwartzman, while picking up his 58th victory (58-11) at the French Open, tying Guillermo Vilas for third on the all-time list at Roland Garros. Djokovic, the defending champion, is bidding to become the third man in history to win each of the four Grand Slams at least twice. Aussies Roy Emerson and Rod Laver are the others. Djokovic broke Schwartzman in the fourth game of the opening set and jumped out to a 4-1 lead before the Argentine came storming back with breaks of his own in the seventh and 11th games. Schwartzman cashed his fifth set point in the 12th game to take the opener. Djokovic, digging in, captured the only break of the second set with the Argentine serving at 3-4, but not before Schwartzman saved five break points in the game. Nole held at love in the ninth game to level the match. Schwartzman refused to back down and continued to pound away in the blistering baseline exchanges. His efforts were rewarded when he broke in the eighth game of the third set to take a 5-3 lead, and then saved four break points in the ninth to take a two-sets to one advantage. By the fourth set, Schwartzman was physically spent. He would hold serve just once more, that being in the fifth set, as Djokovic played flawless tennis the rest of the way. Djokovic certainly knew he’d been in a battle, though. “He definitely deserved the applause he got at the end of the match, because he was fighting, he was playing really well,” Djokovic said. “He was probably the better player for the first three sets.” The Serb will meet Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas, another tough clay-courter, in the fourth round. “Sometimes you need to be challenged in order for certain things to surface, which maybe are not surfacing if you’re winning comfortably,” Djokovic said. “That’s going to happen more as I go deeper in the tournament because the matches and opponents are going to get tougher. I didn’t play too many five-setters the past couple of years. I see a lot of good things in it. I think it will put me in a good place mentally as well.” Djokovic hit seven aces to four for Schwartzman and won 78 percent of his first service points to 62 percent for the Argentine. The Serb hit 43 winners, committed 55 unforced errors and saved three of seven break points. Schwartzman had 26 winners, 58 unforced errors and defended 13 of 21 break points. While the Argentine didn’t win the match or the statistical battle, he certainly won the admiration of the crowd which gave him a rousing standing ovation at the conclusion of the contest. “It took me a while to notice, because I was packing my stuff. I could see that everyone was clapping, and that Djoko was clapping and looking my way,” Schwartzman said. “Then finally I understood and I thought, ‘Okay, get your kit in the bag and try to enjoy the moment.’ It’s a truly extraordinary thing.”

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NextGen tennis star Alexander Zverev powered his way into the NowGen elite of men’s tennis Sunday afternoon. The 20-year-old German upset second seed Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the Italian Open, winning his first Masters title and becoming the only player born in the 1990s to accomplish the feat so far. With the win, the 17th-ranked Zverev will catapult into the Top 10 when tomorrow’s new rankings come out. The 6-foot-6 German star will rise to No. 10 in the world. Djokovic, appearing in his fourth straight Italian Open final, dropped to 4-4 on the final Sunday in Rome. Zverev played with poise and aggression, putting the hammer down in his service games with huge serves and big forehands, and outdueling Djokovic in backhand to backhand exchanges. He took out Andy Murray conqueror Fabio Fognini in the third round, Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals and John Isner in the semis en route to the final. Djokovic hadn’t dropped a set until today, including a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Dominic Thiem in yesterday’s semifinal. Thiem had upset Rafael Nadal the day before. Zverev came out of the chutes with gusto, breaking Djokovic in the opening game with an aggressive forehand return. The break would hold up with the German hitting two aces in the 10th game to serve it out. Zverev hadn’t faced a break point yet and wouldn’t the rest of the day. Sascha broke in the third game of the second set and then again in the ninth when Djokovic sailed a backhand long to close out the match in one hour and 21 minutes. “I’m very happy with the way I played and my performance all week, I think today was one of the best matches I ever played,” Zverev said. “I knew I had to be aggressive from the first point to the last. It was very important for me to be able to stay this aggressive and not let him take over the game.” Zverev served seven aces and won 84 percent of his first serves and 69 percent of his second, while dropping just nine points on serve. Djokovic won 70 percent of his first deliveries, but just 38 percent of his second. Nole saved two of five break points. “He served very well. I just wasn’t able to get any rhythm on my returns,” Djokovic said. “If we would get into a rally, he would smash the ball from the first or second shot. There is no doubt he took time away from me. It happens. If he serves this well and this efficiently, it’s tough to play him on any surface.” Zverev finished the day with 16 winners and 14 unforced errors, while Djokovic hit 11 winners and committed 27 unforced errors.

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Rafael Nadal captured his first win over Novak Djokovic since the 2014 French Open final, beating the second-seeded Serb 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open earlier today. Nadal played with ruthless aggression and purpose on the red clay at the Caja Magica, particularly in the first set, ending a string of seven straight losses to Djokovic. The win was Nadal’s 14th in a row, all on clay, and improved his career mark to 24-26 against Djokovic. Rafa won at Monte Carlo and Barcelona last month and is now 33-5 on the season. Djokovic scarcely knew what hit him at the start as Nadal opened at a blistering pace. The Serb was broken in his first two service games, winning but one point, and quickly fell behind 4-0. Nadal, seeded No. 4, was crunching his ground strokes, opening up the court for sizzling winners, and serving impeccably. Djokovic had no chance, although he did salvage two service holds to make the scoreline a little more respectable in the opening set. Nadal broke at the start of the second set to keep his momentum going, but it was soon apparent that Djokovic was not going to go away. Nole was up 30-15 on Nadal’s serve in the second game and but for an absurd no-look, backhand overhead smash by the Spaniard would have had his first break point opportunity of the match. Djokovic did break through in the fourth game, but was immediately broken back. The Serb held a break point on Nadal in the 10th game, but Rafa erased it and took the game and match on his third match point. “I think I played a really good first set. The second set I was a little bit more nervous,” Nadal said. “I played a little bit shorter. I think then the match was more even. Finally I managed to win it. It’s a very important victory. It gives me the possibility to play another final and to continue in a positive line. I am happy the way I played today, being able to make it to the final once again. I’ll try to be 100 per cent and ready for tomorrow’s match.” Nadal will play either Dominic Thiem or Pablo Cuevas in Sunday’s final. The Spaniard has won the Madrid title, four times (2005, 2010 and 2013-14). Nadal hit 20 winners to 18 for Djokovic, and won 78 percent of the points on his first serve. Djokovic won 56 percent of his first serves. Nadal saved one of two break points, Djokovic two of six. “Rafa was obviously a better player today,” Djokovic said. “He deserved to win. He was controlling the match from beginning to the end. All in all, I did try my best. It wasn’t a very high quality of tennis from my side. I made a lot of unforced errors, especially in the first set.”

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Coachless Novak Djokovic rallied from 3-0 down in the third set to defeat Spanish wildcard Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open Wednesday afternoon. As the second seed, Djokovic received a first round bye. It might not have been the total confidence builder the No. 2-ranked Serb was looking for after losing in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo three weeks ago and severing ties with his coaching team last week, but it certainly helped. For that Djokovic can feel good. With no coaches to commiserate with, or glower at after missed shots, Djokovic appeared calmer than he’s been in quite a while. He pretty much stayed on even keel throughout. None of the emotional highs and lows so apparent over the last year. “Obviously when you’re not winning too many matches, you have to build the confidence level, so to win matches like this definitely helps confidence,” Djokovic said. “[Almagro] loves playing on clay. He was obviously motivated. He has a lot of strength in his shots, a lot of precision. He can, from both corners, hit equally well. If he doesn’t make many mistakes, he can really beat anyone. But I hung in there and knew that eventually I’m going to get my chances and going to get some looks on the second serves. When they were presented, I was ready to use them.” Djokovic started inauspiciously, dropping serve in the opening game, but then roared back to win six straight games and take the set in 26 minutes. Bolstered by a supportive home crowd, Almagro began to play better in the second set, fighting off a pair of break points in both the seventh and ninth games, and holding his own with the Serb. With Djokovic serving at 4-5 to stay in the set, Almagro pounced. The Spaniard cashed his second break point opportunity of the game when Nole netted a cross-court forehand, leveling the match at a set apiece. Almagro kept the pressure on, breaking in the second game of the third set and racing out to a 3-0 lead. Djokovic, showing his experience and grit, broke back in the fifth game and then again in the 11th before serving it out. Almagro served 11 aces to seven for Djokovic, and hit two more winners (28-26). Djokovic committed just 23 unforced errors, while the Spaniard had 37. “I’m still finding my way to that consistency level and quality of tennis that I’m looking for,” Djokovic said. “I’m aware that I’m not playing at my best, but I’m definitely believing in myself and the process. Eventually, the game will come together.” Djokovic will play Feliciano Lopez in the third round tomorrow.

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Austrian gunslinger Dominic Thiem bagged his first win over a World No. 1 Saturday afternoon, defeating Andy Murray 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open. The victory halted Thiem’s string of four straight losses against World No. 1s. The 23-year-old has beaten Roger Federer twice and Rafael Nadal once, but not when they were ranked No. 1. Thiem improved to 1-2 versus Murray and is now 10-1 on clay this season. The hard-hitting Austrian had Murray on his back foot most of the match, firing bullets off both wings and never backing down from his aggressive play. Thiem hit 41 winners, including 25 off his forehand side and 10 on his backhand, along with six aces. He had 19 unforced errors. “It’s the first win [over a World No. 1], so it’s really something special,” Thiem said. “But it’s also the first win over a Top 10 guy this season. There are many positive things to take from today’s match. For me personally, it’s the best victory this year so far. I went down in the third set when he broke me in the first game. But the way I came back mentally was a huge step forward today.” Thiem came out blazing away, breaking in the first and fifth games to lead 4-1. Murray broke back for 4-2, but Thiem immediately answered for a two-break edge and then served it out. Down a set, Murray needed five deuces and a break point save to start the second set, but rolled after that. The Scot captured the only break of the set in the eighth game and leveled the match at a set apiece. Murray kept the momentum going, albeit short-lived, with a break to open the deciding set. Thiem returned the favor in the very next game for 1-1. The two would trade breaks once again in the sixth and seventh games, before Murray, serving at 4-5, would succumb on a perfect lob by Thiem on the first match point, ending two hours and 15 minutes of high drama. “In the first set, I didn’t have many chances, but I started to play better in the second,” Murray said. “It was quite windy out there and difficult to get into a rhythm. He started to hit the ball pretty hard and was pushing me back. When the conditions are like that, it’s important to be the one dictating the points. I started to do a better job of that, but in that last game I missed a couple shots I shouldn’t have.” Thiem saved four of eight break points, Murray four of 10. Murray hit 19 winners, and committed 30 unforced errors. Thiem plays Nadal in tomorrow’s final.

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Karlovic Downs Dzumhur at Hungarian Open

by John on April 26, 2017

 

Second seed Ivo Karlovic beat Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in the second round of the Hungarian Open in Budapest earlier today. The big serving Karlovic, who had lost six of his previous seven matches this year, received an opening round bye. Karlovic improved to 6-7 in 2017 and 2-0 against Dzumhur lifetime. Doctor Ivo served eight aces and had numerous service winners on the red clay of the National Training Center, while being broken just once. Dzumhur, ranked No. 90 in the world, played sluggishly in dropping the opening set, but rallied and gave Karlovic a battle right up until the end. The 24-year-old Bosnian’s biggest claim to fame in his tennis career so far came earlier in the year when he upset world No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in the first round at Dubai. Karlovic parlayed service breaks in the fourth and sixth games of the first set to capture the opener in just 21 minutes. The 6-foot-11 Croatian, having yielded no more than two points in any service game up until the eighth game of the second set, finally cracked then. Karlovic fell behind 0-40 and was broken when Dzumhur cashed his first and only break-point opportunity. A quick hold at love and the Bosnian evened the match at a set apiece. Both players held without any trouble until the 10th game of the final set. Dzumhur, serving to stay in the match at 4-5, fell behind 15-40 and succumbed when Karlovic’s half-volley clipped the net and fell out of reach of the Bosnian’s racket. It was over in one hour and 25 minutes. Karlovic won 75 percent of his first service points and 59 percent of his second. Dzumhur, who served one ace, won 66 percent of his first serves and saved two of five break points. Karlovic will play Aljaz Bedene of Great Britain in the quarterfinals on Friday.

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Top-seeded German Daniel Altmaier rallied from two early breaks to defeat Frenchman Antoine Escoffier 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the Qatar F1 Futures Saturday afternoon. The 18-year-old Altmaier, one of the youngest of the rising NextGen stars, improved to 23-6 on the year, while winning his second title of 2017 and the fifth of his career. Altmaier, ranked a career best No. 288, won the Switzerland F2 Futures in February. Escoffier, No. 551 in the world, had knocked off second seed Albano Olivetti in the opening round and cruised through his first four matches dropping only a set. Saturday was a different story, however, as Escoffier ran into a buzzsaw once the German got untracked. Altmaier, who has a wicked one-handed backhand, couldn’t keep the shot in the court through the first five games, framing some and mistiming others. Escoffier broke the German in the third game, was immediately broken back, but broke again for a 3-2 lead and looked like he was going to go on a roll. At that point Altmaier found his range on the backhand, broke back to level, and proceeded to gain control of the match. Escoffier needed to save three break points to hang on for 4-4, but was broken for the third time in the set serving at 4-5. Altmaier broke for 3-1 in the second set and led 4-1. Escoffier saved three break points in the sixth game for 2-4, but the German held twice more to capture the win in one hour and 13 minutes. Altmaier served seven aces, didn’t double-fault and won 81 percent of his first service points. The German saved one of three break points, Escoffier erased eight of 12.

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