Medevdev, eyeing No. 1 ranking, tops Murray at Miami Open

2022 Miami Open - Day 6
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Daniil Medvedev never gave Andy Murray a chance.

The top-seeded Medvedev opened his bid to reclaim the No. 1 ranking by topping Murray 6-4, 6-2 in the second round of the Miami Open. Medvedev never faced a break point in any of his nine service games.

He can regain the No. 1 spot by making the Miami semifinals.

“Definitely, I have a lot of motivation to try and get it back,” Medvedev said.

Only five men in the past 18 years have held the No. 1 ranking that is currently held by Novak Djokovic. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are also past No. 1’s – while Medvedev and Murray are the others. Murray was No. 1 from November 2016 through August 2017, and that distinction was handed off between Djokovic, Federer and Nadal since before Medvedev got there for the first time on Feb. 28.

Medvedev’s stay was brief; his three-week reign ended officially on Monday when Djokovic returned to the top of the rankings. But with three more wins in Miami, Medvedev would be back on top.

“I still felt like in the rallies and stuff I could hang with him, and I didn’t feel like from the back of the court I was getting like really outplayed,” said Murray, who got into Miami on a wild card and is continuing his comeback after undergoing hip resurfacing surgery. “I’m sure some people will think otherwise.”

Murray is a two-time Miami Open winner, those victories coming at the tournament’s former home in nearby Key Biscayne. His loss meant only one past Miami men’s winner remains in the field – that being defending champion Hubert Hurkacz, the No. 8 seed who defeated Arthur Rinderknech 7-6 (5), 6-2 and moved into the third round.

Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka moved into the fourth round without ever taking the court. Osaka – the former women’s No. 1-ranked player who got straight-set wins on Wednesday and Thursday to get into Round 3 – got a walkover victory Saturday when Karolina Muchova withdrew citing a need for recovery.

“I’m sad that I cannot put up a battle against Naomi today,” Muchova wrote on Twitter. “After a long break from tennis, 2 tough matches in row have been a lot for my body and I need longer to recover.”

Muchova missed about seven months because of an abdominal injury and hadn’t played since the U.S. Open before returning in Miami. She recorded straight-set wins over Tereza Martincova and Leylah Fernandez in Miami, but neither was easy – three of the four sets went to tiebreaks and she spent nearly five hours on the court.

Osaka topped No. 13 Angelique Kerber in the second round and won’t have to face another seed until at least the quarterfinals. The earliest No. 22 seed Belinda Bencic could see one is in the semifinals; Bencic, one of only three seeds – out of a possible 16 – to make the third round on the top half of the draw, rolled past Heather Watson 6-4, 6-1.

“It depends on me, how I play, how I feel,” Bencic said. “I’m not always looking at the draw so I have no idea what’s going on.”

Another seeded third-round winner on the women’s side was Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins of the U.S. The No. 9 seed played through some neck soreness and downed Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-4.

No. 8 Ons Jabeur also got an easy win, topping Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-0.

A number of men’s seeds were beaten in their second-round matches Saturday, including No. 7 Felix Auger-Aliassime, No. 12 Denis Shapovalov, No. 18 Nikoloz Basilashvili, No. 23 Karen Khachanov, No. 24 Daniel Evans, No. 27 Christian Garin and No. 32 Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Sebastian Korda of the U.S. saved a match point on the way to topping Ramos-Vinolas 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

Tommy Paul of the U.S. got the upset over Khachanov, winning 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3). Paul improved to 14-7 on the year and will next meet No. 11 Taylor Fritz, the highest-ranked American. Fritz – coming off a win at Indian Wells, even after injuring an ankle – needed three sets to beat qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin on Saturday.

“I was a little worried about my ankle,” Fritz said. “I have been definitely kind of holding back in practice the last couple of days, kind of just went once a day, took it easy. Today it felt great, honestly. It’s getting better and better every day.”

Another American, Jenson Brooksby, had the upset over Basilashvili, 6-3, 6-1.

Other seeded men’s winners included No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 14 Carlos Alcaraz, No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 21 Marin Cilic, No. 25 Alex De Minaur and No. 29 Aslan Karatsev.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.