Felix, Sinner Highlight Lyon Field

#NextGenATP stars Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jannik Sinner will join the likes of Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini at the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon, which begins on 16 May. Auger-Aliassime reached the final at the tournament’s most recent edition in 2019 (l. to Benoit Paire).

David Goffin, Gael Monfils, Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev have also entered the ATP 250 clay-court event that is typically held the week before Roland Garros, the clay-court Grand Slam. Frenchmen joining Monfils as home favourites in the field are Jeremy Chardy, Richard Gasquet and Ugo Humbert.

World No. 9 Schwartzman is the highest-ranked player entered, and he will attempt to add to his Argentina Open title, which he won in March. The  Argentine will make his Lyon debut and is seeking his fifth ATP Tour title.

Sinner, who captured his second ATP Tour title at the Great Ocean Road Open in February and reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Miami Open presented by Itau, broke into the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time this week.

An in-form Daniel Evans will also play. The 30-year-old Briton reached his first Masters 1000 semi-final in Monte-Carlo, complete with an upset of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. 

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Kvitova on Clay? Legit and Improving All the Time

The Czech is into the quarters in Stuttgart, where she is the defending champion. By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday April 21, 2021

Tennis fans tend to think of Petra Kvitova as a grass-court demon and a woman that prefers a faster-paced court to anything else. And both of those assumptions are true, but it does not mean that we should shy away from giving the Czech superstar her due when it comes to her performance on the clay.

Tennis Express

Today Kvitova booked her spot in the quarterfinals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, where she is the defending champion, by edging Maria Sakkari, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. It was further proof that Kvitova is a formidable foe on what many would consider to be her worst surface.

Kvitova has now won 95 matches on clay against just 44 losses, and today’s win boosts her record on clay to 31-7 since the start of 2018. During that time Kvitova has titles in Prague, Madrid and Stuttgart, as well as a Roland-Garros semifinal. She's also 10-3 vs. the Top 20 on clay in that span.

The numbers add up. Kvitova is the real deal on clay.

"I'm not really thinking about it, so to know these numbers, it's actually very good for me for my mental side and for knowing that I can play well on the clay,” Kvitova said on Wednesday after her victory. “Of course I remember my semifinal from last year in the French Open, but overall it's a really great achievement."

The Czech, now 31 and ranked 10 in the world, likes to think of her clay prowess as a work in progress.

“I'm not really a player for clay, I would say, but yes, I think in the last couple of years I am really trying to find the rhythm and finding the moving and everything," she said. "So I'm really glad that we are working on it with my team and my coach and so forth, so I'm really glad for that. I won three titles on it, I've been twice in semifinals on the French Open, so I definitely can play on it, but it's just about the few things which sometimes are not clicking. So I really have to work on it, but so far it's good."


Asked if she had a shot that she most enjoys hitting on the clay, Kvitova said it was the forehand topspin, crosscourt.

"Wow, I would say it's the forehand crosscourt, I think. I can really use it more with the topspin which I'm not really playing it normally, that's what I like. Actually I was sliding a little bit as well today, so I enjoyed even the sliding."

Adding to Kvitova’s mystique this week is the fact that at Stuttgart the surface is fast and there is a roof over head. The Czech has always been lethal—on any surface—with a roof over her head, and she says it gives her that extra bit of confidence.

"Definitely because it's indoor, I love to play indoor for sure, and it's a bit fast as well," she said. "It just seems that if I'm playing aggressive it's really paying off and that's how I think it's pretty fast, the surface as well."

But don't think it's just the roof or the speed of the clay – as Kvitova has proven over the last four years, the surface works for her and she does good work on it.

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Cabal/Farah Book Evans/Skupski Rematch In Barcelona

Top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah stormed past Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 6-2,6-4 on Wednesday to book a spot into the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell quarter-finals. 

The defending Barcelona champions made a strong start in both sets against Herbert and Mahut, rallying to a 4-0 lead in the first set and starting the second with an early break. The Colombians never dropped serve, saving all six break points faced en route to victory. 

Cabal and Farah will face the unseeded Daniel Evans and Neal Skupski for the second time in as many weeks. The Brits stunned Cabal and Farah in a roller coaster 7-6(0), 2-6, 10-4 victory on their way to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final last week. 

Also in action at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona 1899, Ivan Dodig and Jamie Murray cruised past Spanish wild cards Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez 6-3, 6-1. Dodig and Murray needed just 61 minutes and combined for four aces to take down the 2018 champions.

Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin triumphed in a marathon all-French battle against qualifiers Adrian Mannarino and Benoit Paire. Mannarino and Paire saved match point in the second set to bring up a Match Tie-break, but their countrymen edged past them 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 10-8.

Brkic/Cacic Battle Through In Belgrade
At the Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade, Tomislav Brkic and Nikola Cacic took down fourth seeds Marcelo Arevalo and Matwe Middelkoop 6-4, 7-6(5) to make a winning start to their Serbia Open campaign.

[WATCH LIVE 1]

The Argentina Open champions had to save three set points late in the tight second set as Arevalo and Middelkoop fought to take them into a Match Tie-break, creating chances on both the Bosnian-Serbian duo’s serves. But Brkic and Cacic, who combined to save nine of the 11 break points they faced, held firm to win in straight sets after an hour and 33 minutes.

They will next face Simone Bolelli and Maximo Gonzalez in the quarter-finals. The Italian-Argentine team fought past Serbian wild cards Miomir Kecmanovic and Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 6-4 to advance.

Elsewhere at the Novak Tennis Centre, Croatian wild cards and twin brothers Ivan Sabanov and Matej Sabanov took down Aljaz Bedene and Divij Sharan 6-1, 6-3 to become the first team to reach the semi-finals. Australians John Millman and John-Patrick Smith also advanced to the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Marcelo Demoliner and Santiago Gonzalez.

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Felix On Budding #NextGenATP Rivalries: ‘We’re Pushing Each Other’

Felix Auger-Aliassime won a three-setter against fellow #NextGenATP star Lorenzo Musetti on Wednesday at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. It was a different type of match for the Canadian, though: Twenty-year-old Auger-Aliassime was the oldest player on the court.

During his rise on the ATP Tour, Felix has always been the young gun. But now the likes of 19-year-old Musetti, 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner and 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz — all of whom are younger — are pushing the World No. 20 and his colleagues to find an even higher level.

“I think I’m in the middle of that group where I have some really good players now a little bit older than me, some younger than me,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But of course I think we motivate each other, we’re pushing each other, not directly, but in a way. I think there’s very high competition and that is what tennis is about.”

[WATCH LIVE 1]

The 10th seed was impressed by Musetti, who has played well in recent weeks. The Italian made his first ATP 500 semi-final in Acapulco and advanced to the third round in Miami.

“I feel like I was in his place not so long ago, just two years ago. He’s a great player, he’s already [in the] Top 100. He’s had some great victories last year and also this year in Acapulco,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I’ve been seeing him quite a lot and it was actually the first time I’ve played someone younger than me, so time goes fast.

“It was good for me to compete with a guy like this, who I’m going to play many more times in the future. But I think he has a great game, a great touch and great tennis IQ. I think he will for sure be good in the future.”

Auger-Aliassime is fully focussed on playing seventh seed Denis Shapovalov on Thursday in Barcelona. But in the long term, his top priority is to raise his level.

“I want to improve and that’s the way I’m going to win more matches. I’m going to be able to put myself in a position to win titles,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Of course, I think like every year [my goal] now [is] to win a title, or more than one would be amazing for me.

“I have to keep improving, there’s no other way, because I can want to win all I want. If I’m not playing at a high level, then I don’t deserve it yet in a way. I need to improve and that’s my main goal and my main focus this year.”

The Canadian hopes to crack the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin this year. But he knows there is a lot that goes into achieving those feats.

“It would be a great achievement for me. But I have to see how I can do it,” Auger-Aliassime said. “The main focus, again, is to keep working well, to improve and to fight every match.”

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Trouble For Djokovic & Nadal? Novak Says ‘I’m Not Too Concerned’

At the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who have won a combined 13 titles at the tournament, were both upset early. In his Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell opener on Wednesday, Nadal lost a set against World No. 111 Ilya Ivashka.

Is there trouble brewing for two of tennis’ all-time greats? Djokovic isn’t concerned.

“We probably made a lot of people think that we can play perfect tennis every single week for the rest of our lives, but that’s not possible,” Djokovic said, cracking a laugh. “I don’t think there is anything strange, it’s just a bad week, [if] our opponents have a very good day, they win a tennis match. It’s as simple as that.”

If anything, the Serbian has been impressed by some of the young stars rising up the FedEx ATP Rankings. That is giving the Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer even more motivation to push themselves.

“I think Rafa, myself, Roger have been very successful and dominant in the past 15 years or more and you have a new generation of tennis players coming up and we have to adapt ourselves,” Djokovic admitted. “We have to understand how to improve, how to get better, how to adjust our game to this new group of players that are challenging us for the top spots of the world and for the biggest trophies in the world.”

Djokovic bounced back from his third-round loss in Monte-Carlo with an impressive straight-sets victory on Wednesday against Soonwoo Kwon to reach the Serbia Open quarter-finals in his hometown of Belgrade. Although Nadal had a tougher time with Ivashka, Djokovic was quick to compliment his great rival.

“I’m not too concerned, especially when it comes to Rafa on clay. I don’t think one or two matches or two weeks is going to change the way he plays on clay or for the upcoming tournaments,” Djokovic said. “But obviously it’s interesting for our sport to see us maybe losing to some new players, making things a little more interesting for tennis fans. Obviously we don’t want to lose, I think we both want to keep that level of performance and quality of tennis really high for as long as we possibly can.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas is one of the young players who has installed himself near the top of the sport. Last week, the Greek claimed his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Monte-Carlo.

After his victory in the Principality, Tsitsipas credited breathing exercises as part of the reason for his success. Djokovic uses various forms of meditation, too.

“It has been one of the focal points of my everyday life, not just preparation for the tennis matches and practices. I have incorporated those aspects into my daily routines because they make me feel good,” Djokovic said. “As professional athletes in a very dynamic sport, we’re constantly active and we have to have high doses of energy on the court and a really high level of focus for those couple of hours or even more.

“So I think with today’s technology and everything that is happening and all the distractions that we have and the amount of information, we probably don’t pay too much attention and importance to mindfulness and to just relax and sit back and breathe and try to recharge and rejuvenate.”

Djokovic will continue his pursuit of a third Belgrade title against countryman Miomir Kecmanovic on Friday.

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Berrettini Blasts Through In Belgrade

Matteo Berrettini earned his first win since the Australian Open on Wednesday, defeating fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals of the Serbia Open in Belgrade.

The second seed has struggled with an abdominal injury, which forced him to withdraw in Melbourne ahead of his fourth-round match. This is just his second tournament since, and last week he lost his Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters opener against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

“First of all I’m happy to be back on the court,” Berrettini said. “It was tough for me. I never had this kind of injury, so I didn’t really know how it would get better, get worse. It was tough. Also mentally, it’s not easy to go and serve full [on] when you know that something happened there.

“But I’m happy now. I’m happy with my performance and also for my physical conditioning. I think it’s good. In this moment, with my team, we said that I have to play as many matches as possible, so that is what we are trying to do.”

But Berrettini’s performance against the 2018 Roland Garros semi-finalist was a step towards his best form. The World No. 10 broke Cecchinato’s serve three times and saved all three break points he faced to advance after one hour and 21 minutes.

Berrettini did not overplay against the gritty World No. 93. Instead, he played with heavy topspin deep in the court to push Cecchinato back, and that paid dividends in the key rallies.

Before his injury, Berrettini got off to a strong start to his 2021 season. The Italian earned three Top 15 wins to lead his country to the final of the ATP Cup.

[WATCH LIVE 1]

“Confidence is something that goes away, it comes back. For sure I know that is my level. I know that I can play that kind of tennis,” Berrettini said. “I work hard to be there, to be in good shape. It obviously was a shame. I was sad about my injury, but I know that I can play and I can play well on clay, on grass, on hard.

“It’s just about time. I need time to be back, to be back at my best shape. But I think today was a big step in that direction.”

The Italian will next play home favourite fifth seed Filip Krajinovic, who beat countryman Nikola Milojevic 6-1, 6-1. Berrettini beat Krajinovic in their only previous ATP Head2Head meeting in the Budapest final in 2019.

“It’s going to be very tough. He’s Top 10, he’s a huge champion,” Krajinovic said. “He’s very tough to play against. I played him once in the final of an ATP [Tour event] and he beat me, so I know how to play. It’s going to be very tricky, very tough, but I will give my best playing on my court. We’ll see how it goes.”

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Nadal Overcomes Ivashka Scare In Barcelona

Top seed Rafael Nadal was pushed to the brink by qualifier Ilya Ivashka on Wednesday, but the 11-time champion rallied from a set down to kick off his Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell campaign with a victory on his namesake Centre Court.

The 34-year-old Spaniard raised his level after dropping a tight opening set, roaring back to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory after two hours and 20 minutes on Pista Rafa Nadal.

“He played well. He played at a very high level, and I didn’t, especially at the beginning,” Nadal said in an on-court interview. “And then I think I changed a little bit the way I played. I was more aggressive later, and the match changed a lot. I’m happy I [fought] hard today to be in the third round. That’s what I needed after the loss at Monte-Carlo.”

Nadal arrived in Barcelona looking to shake off a Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters quarter-final upset at the hands of Andrey Rublev, but he quickly found himself in trouble as Ivashka made a fast start. The qualifier, ranked 108 spots lower in the FedEx ATP Rankings than the World No. 3 and seeking his first Top 10 victory, earned the first break to go up 2-0.

Nadal’s 38-0 record on clay against qualifiers seemed to be in danger as 27-year-old Ivashka kept the Spaniard under pressure with his flat and powerful hitting. The top seed stayed within touching distance, despite an uncharacteristically high unforced error count (two winners to nine unforced errors in the first set). But a second break of serve sealed the set for Ivashka after 53 minutes.

The Spaniard set the tone early on in the second with his first break of the match, connecting with his signature inside-out forehands to punish the Belarusian’s backhand wing. Nadal powered ahead to claim the second set, and earned the decisive break in the third at 4-3 to seal the victory.

“I’m sure that I’m going to have the chance to play better, and I’m going to fight for it,” Nadal said. “I have the confidence that I’m not very far [from playing well], even if the last two matches [here and in Monte-Carlo] haven’t been perfect. But here I am, and I am with the right energy to try hard. It’s a process… I’m confident that by working every day I’m going to find [right] the solutions.”

With the victory Nadal extended his record in Barcelona to 62-4, and booked a spot into the round of 16 for the 16th consecutive time. He will next face former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori, who needed three sets to take down 13th seed Cristian Garin 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-1. The Japanese player saved nine of the 13 break points he faced en route to victory in two hours and 23 minutes.

[WATCH LIVE 1]

Elsewhere at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona 1899, Diego Schwartzman was near the exit, but he rallied past Frances Tiafoe 3-6, 7-5, 6-1. Tiafoe led 6-3, 5-3, but he was unable to close out the fourth seed.

“I think I was playing a good match,” Schwartzman said in his on-court interview. “Tennis is crazy sometimes. I’m always trying to battle.”

Schwartzman will next play Frenchman Corentin Moutet, who needed three hours and 10 minutes to take down 16th seed and Monte-Carlo semi-finalist Daniel Evans, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles also advanced to the third round after leading 6-0, 4-4 (def.) against ninth seed Fabio Fognini. Fognini was defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct after verbally abusing a line umpire. Zapata Miralles set an all-Spanish clash against sixth seed Pablo Carreno Busta, who cruised past Jordan Thompson 6-4, 6-0.

Did You Know?
Rafael Nadal won 41 straight Barcelona matches between 2005-2014, sweeping titles in 2005-09 and 2011-13. (He did not play in 2010.)  

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Djokovic ‘Pretty Flawless’ In Belgrade Opener

Novak Djokovic shrugged off the disappointment of a third-round exit in Monte-Carlo with a dominant 6-1, 6-3 win against Soonwoo Kwon on Wednesday to reach the quarter-finals of the Serbia Open. 

The World No. 1 was sharp from the first game of the match, showing no residue from his loss against Daniel Evans last week. The home favourite broke the South Korean’s serve five times to advance after 68 minutes.

“I thought I played very well from the very beginning, except that service game that I lost at 5-2 in the second [set]. I thought it was a pretty flawless performance,” Djokovic said. “I moved well, I was mixing up the pace quite well, making him play. I served well in the important moments, [and] overall I just felt great.”

[WATCH LIVE 1]

During his pre-tournament press conference on Monday, Djokovic spoke about the importance of competing in his hometown. There was last an ATP Tour event here in 2012.

The Serbian, who won this tournament in two of his three appearances (2009 and 2011), made it clear with his performance against Kwon that he is the strong favourite to claim a third trophy in Belgrade. The 18-time Grand Slam champion was especially pleased to play well in front of family and friends.

“It gives you an extra push, an extra motivation, energy to really give your best and leave it all out on the court,” Djokovic said. “I think also that made me feel comfortable and confident on the court and I played really good. I’m really pleased with the quality of tennis.”

This was the pair’s first ATP Head2Head meeting, and Djokovic, who is now 11-1 on the season, immediately put pressure on the World No. 85 by breaking serve in his first return game. 

Kwon showed his fighting spirit and aggressive baseline game, but Djokovic had an answer for almost anything the 23-year-old tried. The Serbian got another early break in the second set, at 1-1, sprinting forward for a drop shot and finding an acute angle for a winner. 

Although the South Korean earned his first break point at 2-5 in the second set — and converted it — it was far too late, as the top seed broke in the next game to seal his victory.

Djokovic will next play countryman Miomir Kecmanovic, who battled past French qualifier Arthur Rinderknech 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 earlier in the day. The 21-year-old was pleased to get through.

“When I was 0-5 down in the second set, I was already thinking about the third [set], so I began practising some shots and started to come back,” Kecmanovic said. “My game started to work, but I think it helped me to get a good start in the decider and finish him off.”

The Serbian earned five service breaks and withstood 10 aces from the World No. 129. This will be the eighth seed’s first crack at Djokovic. 

Did You Know?
The last time Djokovic competed in Belgrade, in 2011, he had not yet ascended to No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. He has now spent 317 weeks atop tennis’ mountain, more than any player in history.

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Auger-Aliassime on Shapovalov Rematch and Goal

Young Canadians have split four career meetings.
Assertiveness more than adjustment is key to beating buddy Denis Shapovalov says Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The Canadian clash between talented young stars and former roommates will be the pair's fifth pro-level meeting. They've split the prior four matches with Auger-Aliassime prevailing in straight-sets at the Australian Open in February and in their lone clay-court clash at the 2019 Madrid. The seventh-seeded Shapovalov won both of their meetings at the US Open.

More: Fognini Disqualified in Barcelona

The 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime says there are no surprises between the pair, which is why taking the initiative in exchanges is crucial.

"We've played each other on clay before," Auger-Aliassime said. "Of course it's good I won the last time, but definitely a tough match. I'm sure we both want to win.

"He's gonna bring his best tennis. He's going to adjust from last time I will also try to find solutions on court. The main thing is focusing on my game really rather than adjusting too much."



Playing his second tournament with coach Toni Nadal in his corner, Auger-Aliassime streaked through nine consecutive games to defeat 17-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti today.

The 10th-seeded Auger-Aliassime said focusing on daily improvement while aiming toward winning his first title after seven ATP finals and cracking the Top 10 are his ultimate goals.

"I want to improve: that's the way I'm gonna win more matches and I'm gonna put myself in position to win more titles," Auger-Aliassime said. "Every year to win a title more than one would be amazing would be great. I think I have to keep improving there's no other way.

"If I'm not playing at a high level than I don't deserve it yet. So I need to improve, that's my main goal this year. I would love to be part of Top 10 or the Masters at the end of the year, I have to see how I can do it. The main focus is to keep working well to improve."

Photo credit: Barcelona Open BancSabadell – Trofeo Conde de Godo

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