Jannik Sinner reaches Miami Open final

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
9 Comments

MIAMI — Jannik Sinner’s groundstrokes consistently travel more than 80 mph, impressive even by pro tennis standards, and the 19-year-old Italian has joined some fast company at the Miami Open.

On Friday, Sinner became the fourth teenager to reach the Miami men’s final. The others: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi.

“It’s nice, but it doesn’t mean anything,” Sinner said. “The road to have a big name is long. It’s not done in one week of a tournament.”

The baseline basher, playing in only his third top-level ATP event, rallied to beat Spanish counterpuncher Roberto Bautista Agut in the semifinal, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Sinner’s next opponent will be the winner of the second semifinal between No. 4-seeded Andrey Rublev and No. 26 Hubert Hurkacz.

Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer skipped the tournament, creating opportunities for the four semifinalists. Each was trying to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title.

“I have a good team. … We knew many players were not coming here, especially the big three,” Sinner said. “We approached this tournament to go very, very far.”

On the women’s side, No. 1-ranked Ash Barty will play for her second consecutive Miami title Saturday against No. 8 Bianca Andreescu, who edged No. 23 Maria Sakkari in a three-setter that ended at 1:35 a.m. Friday.

“I love a challenge,” Andreescu said, “and I know she’s going to challenge me on Saturday.”

The lanky Sinner, seeded 21st, has improved his ranking from 78th at the start of last year. He created a buzz by reaching the quarterfinals in his French Open debut in September, and is projected to climb to at least No. 24 next week.

“He has everything, no?” Bautista Agut said. “He has a big serve, he’s big, he moves well, he has very good groundstrokes. Mentally he’s also great and improving. He has a great future.”

Sinner’s matchup against the No. 7-seeded Bautista Agut was a contrast in styles, with Sinner’s overpowering ground game gradually wearing down his dogged opponent.

Sinner caught a break at 3-all in the second set, when Bautista Agut let a ball go on break point, and it landed on the line.

“I thought that ball was going out, and it touches the line by one millimeter,” Bautista Agut said. “Tennis, sometimes it’s crazy, no? One ball can make a big difference in the match.”

Sinner went on to hold, and broke in the final game of the set to even the match.

Down a break in the final set, Sinner rallied again and closed out the win with one last crushing groundstroke to break at love.

A fist pump was the extent of his celebration. He has an impassive demeanor he attributes to his parents, who make their living at a restaurant in northern Italy – his dad as a cook and his mother as a server.

“They are working every day a simple job,” he said. “They know what it means to work hard.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
Getty Images
0 Comments

SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

Getty Images
3 Comments

LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”