Nadal, Federer seem sure all will be OK at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — As messages on video boards cautioned Australian Open spectators to “be aware we are expecting a reduction in air quality” Saturday, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seemed satisfied that all will be fine at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament despite recent days of smoke arriving from wildfires burning 100 or so miles away.

The haze hanging over Melbourne Park lately lightened as Monday’s start of main-draw action approaches, but even if things worsen, the owners of a combined 39 major championships were among the players saying they’re confident tennis officials will make sure conditions are safe before allowing competition.

Federer and Nadal both said they marched themselves down to the tournament referee’s office to understand what was going on when local news reports were saying people should stay indoors, yet qualifying rounds were taking place outdoors at Melbourne Park.

On Tuesday, one player collapsed in a coughing fit; another sought medical attention for breathing problems.

“I said, ‘I think we’re all confused. Is it super unsafe or is it totally safe to play?”‘ Federer said. “I told them, ‘Look, I just think communication is key for all of us, for everybody. We just need to do more.’ Because I feel like I hadn’t gotten enough information.”

Two weeks ago, as the fires in eastern Australia raged, leading to the deaths of more than two dozen people and millions of animals, defending champion Novak Djokovic wondered aloud whether the event might need to be delayed until the air improved. Tournament director Craig Tiley pointed out a week ago there are three stadiums with retractable roofs, plus eight indoor courts, which could be used if need be.

The hope, of course, is none of that will be necessary. Rain is in the forecast for four of the next five days, which could help matters.

The top-ranked Nadal said he was told air measurements were being taken every four minutes and the standard for how clean samples need to be is more stringent than that used by the International Olympic Committee.

“I really cannot believe that the most important committee in the world wants bad health for the competitors,” Nadal said. “So that answer convinced me. I am here to play.”

Others were not quite so ready to adopt that mindset — or agree with Federer’s stance on the issue, which he summed up as, “I don’t worry.”

Particularly outspoken was Denis Shapovalov, a 20-year-old from Canada who said he didn’t understand the air quality policy issued by the tournament.

“You get an email from the tournament saying that it’s playable, and ‘you guys have to go out and put your life in jeopardy, put your health in jeopardy.’

“You see the effects on players it has right now, the last couple of days,” the 13th-seeded Shapovalov said. “But also you don’t know what it’s going to do later in our lives and how it could affect us if we’re breathing this air in for two weeks.”

He said he wouldn’t play a match if he felt the conditions weren’t safe.

“Obviously, it’s a Grand Slam, a big opportunity, but I’m 20 years old,” Shapovalov said. “I don’t want to risk my life, risk my health, being out there playing in this condition, when I can for the next 10-15 years.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 21-year-old from Greece who upset Federer a year ago in Australia en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal, said he had trouble breathing after an indoor practice session when he first arrived in Melbourne.

“I’m feeling OK now, but I was a bit concerned,” the sixth-seeded Tsitsipas said. “I was coughing a lot.”

Like Nadal and Federer, three-time major semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov took the view that tournament and tour officials have “been looking after us.”

“I never think they’re going to jeopardize our health over anything,” Dimitrov said.

Two players who have asthma, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 2019 U.S. Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini, said they were worried about how they would fare in Melbourne.

Both have been OK so far.

“It’s the same for everybody. It will be really difficult to breathe, for sure,” Kvitova said. “I do have my medicines here.”

Iga Swiatek out of Miami Open with rib injury

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Defending champion Iga Swiatek withdrew from the Miami Open because of a rib injury that she is hoping will heal during a break from competition.

The No. 1-ranked Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland, also will sit out her country’s Billie Jean King Cup qualifier matches against Kazakhstan on April 13-14.

“I wanted to wait ’til the last minute” to decide whether to play in Miami,” Swiatek said at a news conference at the site of the hard-court tournament. “We were kind of checking if this is the kind of injury you can still play with or this is kind when you can get things worse. So I think the smart move for me is to pull out of this tournament because I want to rest and take care of it properly.”

She was supposed to face Claire Liu in the second round.

As a seeded player, three-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek received a first-round bye at an event she won a year ago during a 37-match unbeaten run that was the longest in women’s tennis in a quarter of a century.

“I was also aware at the beginning of the season that it’s going to be hard for me to defend all these (ranking) points,” she said, “because … these streaks, winning all these tournaments – looking logically and statistically, it’s not like it’s going to happen every year.”

Swiatek said after a 6-2, 6-2 loss to eventual champion Elena Rybakina in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals that her rib was bothering her. She explained in Miami that the problem first surfaced late in her quarterfinal victory against Sorana Cirstea a day earlier in California.

“Basically, it’s not like it happened in one minute or one second. It’s not, like, a serious thing, because we caught it … pretty early. So I felt like it was a process,” Swiatek said. “At first with these minor things, your body doesn’t feel anything.”

She said the issue was a problem “in certain movements,” including a “little bit when I served,” but Swiatek also said she’s not too worried about how long she will be sidelined.

The next Grand Slam tournament is the French Open, which Swiatek won last year for the second time. Play begins in Paris on May 28.

Instead of playing Swiatek, Liu will go up against 94th-ranked Julia Grabher, who lost in qualifying but now gets to move into the draw.

Liu advanced Tuesday when her first-round opponent, Katerina Siniakova, stopped playing in the second set because of a hurt wrist. Siniakova also pulled out of the doubles event with Barbora Krejcikova; the Czech duo has won the past four Grand Slam tournaments they’ve entered together, and seven major doubles titles overall.

Giorgi hits 14 double-faults at Miami Open, hangs on to win

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Camila Giorgi hit 14 double-faults, blew a 5-0 lead in the final set and needed four match points before finally pulling out a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4) victory against Kaia Kanepi in the first round of the Miami Open.

The match lasted 3 hours, 32 minutes, tying for the longest on the WTA Tour this season. The players combined for 30 aces – 19 by Kanepi, who also had seven double-faults.

In the third set, Kanepi was not moving well, and Giorgi raced to a big edge. But after dropping just two of her initial 15 service games, the Italian got broken twice in a row while serving for the victory at 5-1 and 5-3 in the third set.

Kanepi saved one match point at 5-3, another at 5-4 and another in the concluding tiebreaker. Giorgi finally ended things on her next chance with a cross-court forehand winner. She’ll next face 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka, a three-time champion in Miami and two-time winner at the Australian Open.

All seeded players at the hard-court tournament received first-round byes. Women’s matches in the main draw began Tuesday; the men start Wednesday.

It was a rough afternoon for the Czech teenage sisters Brenda and Linda Fruhvirtova. First Brenda, who turns 16 on April 2, lost the initial nine games of a 6-0, 7-5 loss to Wang Xiyu. And then Linda, 17, exited with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 loss against qualifier Katherine Sebov, who now meets No. 3 Jessica Pegula.

In other action, Rebecca Marino eliminated Yulia Putintseva 7-6 (4), 6-2 to set up a second-round match against 2022 French Open runner-up Coco Gauff; Irina-Camelia Begu trailed 2-0 in the first set and then 5-1 in the second before coming back in both to beat wild-card entry Alexandra Eala 6-2, 7-5; and Marta Kostyuk was a 6-3, 6-2 winner against Elisabetta Cocciaretto.

Claire Liu, an American who is ranked 59th, advanced to a second-round meeting against defending champion and No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek when Katerina Siniakova stopped playing in the second set Tuesday because of an injured wrist.