Getty Images

Nadal back in Paris, no title to defend, no Federer to face

Leave a comment

PARIS — Through the years, Rafael Nadal grew accustomed to a couple of givens at the French Open: He would arrive as the defending champion, and Roger Federer would be somewhere in the draw, often awaiting a showdown in the final.

This time around, neither is the case.

Federer withdrew a few days before Sunday’s start of the clay-court Grand Slam tournament, ending his record run of 65 consecutive major appearances.

“For the fans, for the tournament, for the world (of) tennis, in general, is … very negative news, no?” Nadal said.

Nadal won the title at Roland Garros every year from 2005-08 and from 2010-14 – a record nine in all, beating Federer in four of those finals – but returns to town trying to earn back the trophy after relinquishing it in 2015.

He is seeded fourth.

“It’s a tournament that I know I can play well,” said Nadal, who lost in the quarterfinals to Novak Djokovic a year ago. “If I am playing well, I know I can do good things.”

Nadal, who owns 14 major championships in all, could face No. 1 Djokovic in about two weeks in the semifinals – on what would be the Spaniard’s 30th birthday.

Asked about that milestone, Nadal waxed philosophical.

“You know, time never stops. Nobody stops the time,” he said. “That’s not a good thing, but at the same time, I am happy with my life. I enjoyed all these years on the tour, and I hope to keep enjoying the next couple of years.”

After dealing with health problems and a crisis of confidence last season, Nadal has been playing better on his favorite red clay of late.

He is 19-4 on the surface this season, including titles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Not bad, but not up to his old standards. In his past two tournaments, Nadal lost in the Madrid semifinals to Andy Murray, and the Rome quarterfinals to Djokovic.

“A lot of tournaments in a row playing well,” said Nadal, who faces Sam Groth in the first round in Paris. “I need to just keep going.”

Other things to know about the French Open, which begins Sunday:

SERENA’S `DROUGHT’: Much was made of Serena Williams’ title in Rome last weekend being her first trophy in nine months. She does not consider that gap a big deal. “I guess when you win all the time, if you go a couple of tournaments and don’t win them, it’s like you’re in a drought,” Williams said. She is the defending champion and seeded No. 1 at Roland Garros, and another title would be her 22nd at a Grand Slam tournament, equaling Steffi Graf for the most in the Open era, which started in 1968.

SECURITY STEPPED UP: From patdowns at entrance gates to a 25 percent rise in the number of security agents, there is an obvious increase in protective measures at the tournament, about six months after terrorist attacks around the French capital. “I notice more security pretty much everywhere,” No. 2-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska said.

OLYMPIC PUSH: A Grand Slam tournament is a Grand Slam tournament, so there is plenty at stake as always over the next 15 days, but there is an added incentive for some players: the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The ATP and WTA rankings of June 6 – the day after the men’s final in Paris – will be the basis for Summer Games qualification.

DOPING TALK: Two recent events put the topic of performance-enhancing drugs on the table in tennis. Maria Sharapova’s positive test for meldonium and provisional suspension are keeping her out of the field at a tournament she won in 2012 and 2014. And Nadal filed a defamation lawsuit in Paris last month against France’s former minister for health and sport, Roselyne Bachelot, after she said on a television show the player’s seven-month injury absence in 2012 probably was due to a positive drug test.

CHEATING: A report about whether tennis was doing enough to investigate possible corruption stirred things up at the start of the Australian Open in January. While the chatter has mostly subsided, the French Open revoked the wild-card entry granted to a French player, Constant Lestienne, because the Tennis Integrity Unit said he violated a rule.

 

Nadal into 3rd round; Wozniacki saves 2 MPs to advance

AP Photo
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal had to wait while Caroline Wozniacki saved two match points and worked her way back into the Australian Open in the preceding match on Rod Laver Arena.

Nadal, the 2017 runner-up, wasted no time in reaching the third round, dropping only one service game – while serving for the match – and making just 10 unforced errors in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) win over Leonardo Mayer on Wednesday.

“It’s an important victory for me, I mean, he’s a tough opponent. Leonardo is a player with big potential,” said Nadal, who won the French and U.S. Opens last year but had his preparation for Australia delayed because of an injured right knee. “After a while without being on the competition … second victory in a row, that’s very important.”

There was more drama earlier on the center court and Margaret Court Arena, when second-seeded Wozniacki and 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had to come back from big deficits.

Wozniacki was 5-1 down and facing two match points in third set against No. 119-ranked Jana Fett before deciding she had no choice but to attack.

“That was crazy,” Wozniacki said after winning the last six games in a memorable 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory. “I don’t know how I got back into the match. I was like, `This is my last chance.

“At 5-1, 40-15, I felt like I was one foot out of the tournament. She served a great serve down the T – it was just slightly out. I was kind of lucky.”

Wozniacki won the next nine points, and 24 of the 31 points played from when she first faced match point. She clinched a 75-minute third set on her first match point when Fett netted a backhand.

The former No. 1-ranked Wozniacki will next play No. 30 Kiki Bertens, who beat Nicole Gibbs 7-6 (3), 6-0.

Tsonga rallied from 5-2 in the fifth to overcome Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a 3-hour, 37-minute match that contained one of his nonchalant between-the-legs shots on an important point. And 38-year-old Ivo Karlovic overcame Yuichi Sugita 7-6 (3), 6-7 (3), 7-5, 4-6, 12-10.

Marta Kostyuk came from the other angle, the 15-year-old qualifier followed up her first-round win over 25th-seeded Peng Shuai with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over wild-card entry Olivia Rogowska.

The Australian Open junior champion last year, who entered the season-opening major ranked No. 521, Kostyuk became the youngest player since Martina Hingis in 1996 to win main draw matches at the season-opening major.

Things will get harder for her now, against fellow Ukrainian and No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina, who had a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Katerina Siniakova.

Another Ukrainian, Kateryna Bondarenko, beat No. 15-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3 and will next play No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova.

Belinda Bencic had a letdown two days after upsetting Venus Williams, losing 6-1, 6-3 to Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum.

Bencic, who combined with Roger Federer to win the Hopman Cup for Switzerland earlier this month, saved three match points on her serve before netting a backhand to give No. 124th-ranked Kumkhum a spot in the third round for the first time.

“I tried to reset and focus on the next match,” Bencic said. “I think it was also a very tough second round, for me the toughest I could get.”

French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko struggled at times before beating Duan Yingying 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Among the seeded men advancing were No. 6 Marin Cilic, who beat Joao Sousa 6-1, 7-5, 6-2, and No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, who was leading 6-2, 3-0 when Gilles Simon retired from their second-round match with a thigh injury.

No. 23 Gilles Muller outlasted Malek Jaziri in five sets, Kyle Edmund had a straight-sets win over Denis Istomin – who beat then defending-champion Novak Djokovic in the second round here last year – and No. 28 Damir Dzumhur beat John Millman.

Ryan Harrison beat No. 31 Pablo Cuevas 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

—–

More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Major moment: McDonald takes 3rd-ranked Dimitrov to 5 sets

AP Photo
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Mackenzie McDonald knew he was ready to turn pro after his junior year at UCLA. He had just won the NCAA singles and doubles titles and believed he was ready to take the next step.

After his surprise showing at this year’s Australian Open, he certainly made the right decision.

The 22-year-old McDonald emerged from qualifying to give a scare to No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov in the second round of the Australian Open on Wednesday night, taking the Bulgarian to the distance at Rod Laver Arena before eventually falling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 8-6 in nearly 3+ hours.

“I was soaking it all in,” McDonald said. “It was a long match and I enjoyed every single moment of it.”

McDonald, who entered the tournament ranked No. 186, failed to get through qualifying at the majors three times last year, but his luck changed at this year’s Australian Open where he defeated French journeyman Stephane Robert in three sets in the last qualifying round to claim a spot in the main draw.

McDonald then beat fellow qualifier Elias Ymer of Sweden in the first round – his first win anywhere at the elite tour level. It was the boost he needed after struggling on the lower-tier pro circuits following his decision to leave college in 2016.

“Especially when you’re starting out, you have doubts,” he said after his first-round match. “You feel like some times are really rough, especially like when you lose early at a Future or Challenger (tournament). . You just have to stay really level-headed with this sport.”

Going into the second-round match against Dimitrov, McDonald was the heavy underdog. The highest-ranked opponent he had ever faced was No. 69 Rajeev Ram in Newport in 2016.

But instead of being overawed by the situation, McDonald broke ATP Finals champion Dimitrov’s serve to capture the first set and then hung in when the more experienced Bulgarian stormed back to claim the next two.

McDonald appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he took the fourth set 6-0 and extended the match deep into the fifth, pumping his fists after winners and repeatedly waving his arms over his head to rally the crowd to his side.

“I know how close I was to winning,” McDonald said afterward. “But he’s a good player. He’s been out here a while. I’d overall say there’s so many more positives than negatives.”

Fellow American Sam Querrey knows McDonald well, having spent time with him in California, and he’s not surprised by his rapid improvement in the last couple years.

“Even when he was in college, he was a freshman, a couple times I’d give him a ride home after practice and he’d ask me questions the entire car ride home, like, `What do you do on your forehand here?,’ `What’s the travel like?”‘ Querrey said. “He was just like always super inquisitive, so I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”

McDonald has also practiced with Dimitrov, and spent time hitting with Roger Federer. His success also shows there’s a path for tennis players who decide to go to university instead of turning pro in their teenage years.

“I went to college and I didn’t really have as many opportunities to play as many ATPs as some of these other guys,” he said. “Once you go (pro), you have to give it your all. That’s what I feel I’ve been doing since I stepped foot out of UCLA.”