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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Roger Federer tapped the Fountain of Youth once again. The 35-year-old Swiss Maestro defeated longtime rival Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 yesterday afternoon to win the Miami Open and capture the Sunshine Double for the third time. Federer won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells two weeks ago and has now won three tournaments on the year, while posting an ATP Tour best 19-1 record. The Swiss won his previous two Indian Wells-Miami back-to-backs in 2005 and 2006. Federer defeated Nadal in the final of the Australian Open in January and then again en route to the title at Indian Wells, and has won four straight against the Spaniard, improving to 14-23 head-to-head all-time. Prior to this year the two hadn’t met since 2015 when Federer beat the Spaniard in the final at Basel. Sunday’s title was the 91st of Federer’s career. The Swiss served big, hitting five aces and numerous service winners, while winning 87 percent of his first service points. Federer won two of nine break points and erased all four on his own serve, capturing a service break in each set. His winners to unforced errors ratio was superb at 29/19. Sunday’s conditions on Key Biscayne were quite testing, with 85 degree temperatures and heavy air (75 percent humidity), and just a light breeze. Play was sloppy at the start as Federer needed to save two break points in the opening game, and one in the fifth and another in the seventh before dialing in on his serve. Those were the only sniffs at a break Nadal would get the rest of the day. Federer failed to capitalize on five break point chances himself ( two in the fourth game and one in the sixth) before breaking through in the eighth game on the third of three break point opportunities. After eight straight holds in the second set, Federer captured the crucial break to go up 5-4. When Nadal sailed a return long in the next game, it was over after one hour and 34 minutes of play. “I think it was a close match,” Federer said. “Maybe if you didn’t see the match and you were sitting somewhere around the world and you see the score you’re thinking it was straightforward with couple breaks and that was it. That’s not the full story. I thought he had his chances in the first and in the second. It was close. I think on the big points today I was just a little bit better. Why, I have no explanation. I just think it fell that way today.” Nadal, who hit 15 winners and committed 23 unforced errors, agreed with Federer’s assessment of the match. “I think that I was close,” the Spaniard said. “I think I was close enough to win the first set. It was not my day. It is true that when somebody is coming with that dynamic like him that he’s winning a lot, all the things are going your way.”

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Qualifier Maxime Tabatruong saved two match points in the second set and rallied from a break down in the third to upset fellow Frenchman Albano Olivetti 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the final of the France F7 Futures in Villers-les-Nancy Sunday afternoon. Tabatruong improved to 14-8 on the year, while evening his record to 1-1 against the fifth-seeded Olivetti. The title was the third of the 27-year-old qualifier’s career, all on the Futures circuit. Tabatruong played tenacious tennis throughout the 2-hour and 31-minute contest, never backing down and pressuring Olivetti’s serve relentlessly. The big-serving Olivetti blasted 23 aces and saved 12 of 14 break points, but contributed to his demise with 15 double faults. Tabatruong had four aces and double-faulted five times. Despite serving up nine of his double faults in the first set, Olivetti won the opener with a lone break, that coming in the 10th game. Olivetti needed to save five break points in the first game and four in the seventh to hold serve throughout. Both players held serve six times each to force a tiebreaker in the second set, although Tabatruong, with nerves of steel, had to save two match points at 4-5 to keep the contest going. Olivetti suffered the lone mini-break in the tie-break serving at 5-6 to knot the match at a set apiece. Tabatruong dropped serve in the opening game of the third set and trailed 3-1 and 4-2. Olivetti, serving at 4-3 and having held 14 straight times despite needing to erase 12 break points to do so, appeared poised to serve it out and seal the win. It was not to be. Tabatruong broke at love in the 8th game and at 15 in the 10th to complete the stunning upset. Olivetti dropped to 9-8 on the year with the disappointing loss.

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Belgian David Goffin withstood the heavy artillery of #NextGen star Karen Khachanov to defeat the 20-year-old Russian 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a spirited second-round matchup at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells yesterday. The 11th-seeded Goffin went toe-to-toe with the big-hitting Khachanov and eventually wore down the 6-foot-6 Russian with his quickness and superb ball striking. Khachanov’s youthful exuberance at times betrayed him with indecision and poor shot selection, but his big serving and powerful ground game gave Goffin all he could handle. Goffin, ranked No. 12 in the world, will next play 22nd seed Albert Ramos -Vinolas of Spain in the third round. The Belgian broke Khachanov to open the match on a hot desert afternoon, but was broken back in the fourth game to level things at 2-2. Khachanov would break again for a 4-2 lead, but the tenacious Goffin fought back with breaks in the seventh and ninth games and then saved two break points in the 10th to take the opening set. The Russian, after saving four break points in the first game of the second set, pulled himself together and held serve with ease the rest of the set. His break of Goffin’s serve in the fourth game was all he needed to even the match at a set apiece. Both held serve through the first four games of the third set, before Khachanov captured what looked to be a decisive break in the fifth game. Goffin had gallantly fought off four break points in the game but succumbed on the fifth and things looked ominous for the Belgian. The dogged Goffin dug in once more, broke in the ensuing game and again in the eighth before serving it out. Khachanov had nine aces to four for Goffin and won 78 percent of his first serves. Goffin won 68 percent of his first deliveries, but topped the Russian on second serves, winning 50 percent of the points to 33 percent for Khachanov. Goffin saved seven of 11 break points, Khachanov nine of 14.

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