Wawrinka Survives, Joins Nadal, Stephens, Murray, and Berdych Among Big Names to Advance at day 4 of the Miami Open
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Esam Taha for Tennis Atlantic
Stan Wawrinka narrowly avoided his second shocking opening round match loss in a row, as he had to scrape past the gritty Carlos Berlocq 6-7(9) 7-5 6-2, on a windy afternoon at the Miami Open. Wawrinka opened the match in the same poor form that had seen him exit the Indian Wells masters tournament to underdog Robin Haase in his last match, and Berlocq clearly was spurred on by that previous upset, as he fully believed he could win the match, at least for the first two hours of it.
Berlocq staved off two match point chances to hold 2-2 in the first, and then shockingly broke Wawrinka for 4-3. Wawrinka would calmly, and easily break him back, evening the match up, but the Swiss couldn’t convert a set point chance 5-4 up, on the Argentine veteran’s serve to clinch the opening frame. Berlocq ball bashed his way to a first set tiebreak, and it was handled incredibly poorly by both players. Wawrinka had to save a multitude of set points, some of which were on Berlocq’s serve, and couldn’t convert his own, eventually letting the Argentine close it out 11-9, in an error filled, and sloppy first set. At the end of the set, Wawrinka sent his racquet on a ride enraged at having blown his chance at a routine victory against an underdog opponent, and guaranteed the need for three sets of tennis if he was to come back, which is never something a top player wants in the opening round.
Wawrinka got off to a good start in set 2, and broke Berlocq at love, as the Argentine was perhaps still delirious from his tiebreak triumph. He would recover, breaking back for 2-2. He later saved break points for a 4-3 lead, but Wawrinka would save a pair serving 3-4 to prevent the Argentine from having the chance to serve out the match. Berlocq would be broken on the third break point chance of the game at 5-5, and Wawrinka would eventually close out the second set 7-5 on his third set point chance, as it was a long and grinding game.
Come the third set, Wawrinka had the momentum, and the hopes of Berlocq began to fade, Wawrinka rushed out to a 5-1 lead, and though Berlocq would save a match point on his own serve, in what was a long game at 1-5, Wawrinka would close the match out on his fourth chance to do so, finishing 6-2, as the third set was still quite long, and more challenging than the scoreline would indicate for the Swiss number 2. All the same, he will be pleased with his tenacious victory, having mentally overcome the horrors of Indian Wells.
Joining Wawrinka in the third round is another player top player who has been prone to be upset this year, that being Spanish lefty Rafael Nadal, as he blitzed past his countryman, and occasional rival Nicolas Almagro 6-4 6-2.
Rafa was trademark quality in his opening match in Miami (photo credit Esam Taha)
The world #3 took on a somewhat on form Almagro in a tricky matchup. Almagro had to battle past Sergiy Stakhovsky in the 1st round, who’s in the form of his career, and staved off a massive collapse to do so. Nico himself has been finding his rhythm lately after the injury layoff, making a deep run in Buenos Aires before losing to Monaco in the semifinal. Nadal meanwhile has been looking like a shadow of his old self since returning from injury. Having said that he looked much better in Indian Wells, although he would lose to a Raonic that he would’ve likely put away a couple of years ago. Playing well in Miami would provide the Spaniard with a pivotal confidence boost entering the clay season.
The first set didn’t start off the way Rafa would’ve liked, piling on unforced error early on as he struggled to hold serve. Almagro meanwhile looked much sharper, getting nice pace on his forehands and placing the one-handed backhand well. However, completely against the run of play, Nadal would find a way to break Almagro to take a 2-1 lead, as the latter double faulted and missed a forehand sitter. Nadal would consolidate the break to go up 3-1. Nico would not be let down by the break and continue to put Nadal on the backfoot with some attractive attacking tennis, holding at love to keep the lead at a single break. Nadal still seemed a bit shaky with several shanks and uncharacteristic misses, but managed to hold serve to keep the lead at 4-2. Nico’s level at this point would start to deteriorate, committing error after error, but he still managed to hold.
At this moment in the match the tennis wasn’t of the highest quality. Almagro would sum that period of play by producing back to back double faults, falling into a 0-30 hole. He would regain his composure with some good serving and force Rafa to serve out the set at 5-4. Almagro would somehow keep himself in that pivotal game despite not playing his best tennis, and eventually generate double break point. Nadal however would step his game up, he had started to find his groove towards the tail-end of the 1st set. Both break points were be saved. Almagro would have another break chance but blew that as well. The set was be sealed with the point of the match. Nadal played incredible defense to keep himself in a point, that Almagro virtually won twice, before turning defense into offense with a blistering DTL forehand winner to freeze a stunned Almagro. The Miami crowd going wild at the beautifully played point.
Nico was feisty on the day but came up short (photo credit Esam Taha)
Almagro still had some fight left in him, he would hold with relative comfort to kick things off in the 2nd. Nadal would hold easily and it was clear to the crowd that the 4-time Miami Open finalist had elevated his level. Rafa was now hitting his spots and Almagro was having trouble dealing with the massive top spin the former generates. It didn’t surprise the crowd when Nadal broke a game later on double break point to go up 2-1. He would follow that with a quick love hold and generating break points again on Nico’s serve. Rafa would flash some of his doubles skills with some almost super-human reflexes at the net to generate those break points, leaving Almagro standing with his hand on his hips completely deflated. Nadal would get the break and put a firm grip on the set going up 4-1. Even when Nadal gifts Nico a couple of double faults, the latter found a way to not take advantage, this time he would miss a routine overhead smash. Nadal would serve at 5-2 to close out the match, and face little resistance from Almagro as he wrapped up a relatively routine 2nd round victory 6-4, 6-2.
Vamos! (photo credit Esam Taha)
After the match Nadal commented on his ankle in press, “I am well, no? I had just a little bit, how do you say, small torn in the beginning, so it was going to be tough. The day after I had pain, but after 2 days I improved 50% and stays the same. It’s not limiting my movements.” It appears Nadal is growing in confidence the more hard court matches he plays this season, as he was better here than in most of his Indian Wells matches.
Tomas Berdych, who may be on a track to face Nadal later on in the tournament, was also a winner today 6-3 6-4, as he had the early match against the South Korean teen Hyeon Chung, and adapted well to the conditions, and his unfamiliarity with Chung. The Korean young gun hung in there with the powerful Czech until he was broken to go down 4-2 in the first set, and though he responded boldly by breaking back, he couldn’t hold his serve in the next game, and eventually Berdych held to take it 6-3.
In the second set, Chung shockingly broke Berdych for 3-1, and was at one point 4-1 up, only to lose the plot, and find Berdych come back on him to even it up at 4-4. His inexperienced showed at that point, as he lost the next two games, and in fact five consecutive games from 4-1 in the second set, to lose the match in straight sets. He has a lot of raw potential, but it’s still going to be some time, and experience needed before he is a true threat to upset top 10 players like Berdych.
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Tomas’s doppleganger, and most frequent opponent on the ATP Tour, Kevin Anderson, snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat 6-7 7-6 6-4 against Sam Querrey, a player he has struggled with before, and did for large parts of today. Though big Kev is ranked more than two spots higher than Querrey in the rankings, they were quite evenly matched on court. With big serving and powerful forehands the norm, Anderson saved a pair of break points in the first set, eventually forcing a tiebreak. Shockingly, both players saw their serve desert them in that tiebreak, but eventually Querrey would convert his second set point chance to take it.
In the second, Anderson had to break back Querrey twice, once 3-4 down, and the second time 5-6 down, when Querrey was serving for the match. The South African number 1, who rarely breaks his opponents serve, amazingly broke a choking Querrey from 0-40 in that final game of the second set. They went to another tiebreak, and Anderson continued his momentum, racing out to a 5-1 lead, that he never looked back from, finishing it off 7-3 to force a third set.
Querrey is severely lacking confidence in his game, and just like in Indian Wells where he lost a set and a break up against Sergiy Stakhovsky, he lost hope in the third, Anderson broke in the opening game, and then bludgeoned the American on serve to eventually close it out on his only match point chance 6-4.
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We could see Anderson matchup with Andy Murray, playing at his personal training facility this week, later in the tournament. Murray dominated Donald Young yet again, 6-4 6-2. Murray had a minor slip up, after gathering a big lead 5-1 in the first, but otherwise Young was abysmally confident as he got ran off the court by the time the second set came around.
Austin Krajicek put up a valiant effort at an upset, but he would be the final domino that would confirm an 0-3 record for American men in day 4. Krajicek fell to Bernard Tomic 7-6 7-5, in a closely contested match, as Tomic had to work his way back into form from injury problems in Indian Wells, where he was a quarter-finalist. Other players into round 3 include Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (6-4 6-4 over J.L. Struff), Leonardo Mayer (6-4 7-6 over Jarkko Nieminen), Santiago Giraldo, who regained some form of his own, and snapped Robin Haase’s sudden momentum, with a 6-2 3-6 6-0 victory, and Dominic Thiem, who beat Feliciano Lopez for the second time in his career.
The Spanish slice server Flopez, who remains markedly improved as of late compared to his previous history, played a solid first set and got off to a strong start, but he failed to maintain his break of serve 4-2 up, and later he would be forced into a tiebreak, as Thiem would erase any chance at another break of serve. In that tiebreak, Thiem played brilliant tactically and technically, getting the one minibreak of serve he needed to go up a set. Lopez fought back, breaking to go up 4-2 in the second, and this time he fought off break point chances (two of them to be exact at 4-3), to eventually hold and force a third set. Lopez almost seemed fatigued in the third, as Thiem played some of his best tennis, and perhaps his best match of 2015, to score what is in fact the best win of the year for the Austrian young gun. He saved a trio of break point chances at 1-1 in the third, and never looked back, breaking for 3-1 and holding serve for a 7-6 4-6 6-3 victory. Thiem masterfully dealt with Lopez’s serve and volley aggressive, not getting rushed, or forcing his shots too much, his gameplan was executed to its peak, and he hit some masterful shots, especially passing shots, to the thrill of the crowd, in what was a high quality contest, with either player likely to beat many other players in the field, had they faced someone else.
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Stephens, Bencic, Halep lead WTA winners
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All of the big names got through their 2nd round singles matches on Friday in Miami on the WTA side. Sloane Stephens beat fellow American Madison Keys in a slugfest 6-4 6-2, in what was a big win for her. Belinda Bencic beat Casey Dellacqua in an unexpected 3 set struggle 6-2 4-6 6-2, and Simona Halep ended, what would have been a cinderella run, from comeback kid Nicole Vaidisova 6-2 2-6 6-1. Still the Czech has to be pleased with her performance this tournament as a wild card, and taking a set off an elite WTA player bodes well for the rest of her season.
Sabine Lisicki beat her countrywoman Julia Goerges 7-6 6-7 6-4 in a matchup featuring power tennis at its best, Cici Bellis continued to make everyone feel old, as the 15 year old shocked a listless Zarina Diyas, the world number 32 in a mere hour 6-2 6-1. Italians Flavia Pennetta and Camila Giorgi both had the mojo to win, Pennetta 6-7 6-3 6-3 over Tsvetana Pironkova. and Giorgi more easily 6-3 6-2 over Alison Van Uytvanck. Garbine Muguruza was another seeded winner 6-1 6-3 over Sesil Karatantcheva, Ana Ivanovic avoided a collapse and slipped past American Irina Falconi 7-5 6-7 6-3. Ivanovic had three match points in the second set and served for the match. Victoria Azarenka destroyed Jelena Jankovic, who was likely fatigued, 6-1 6-1, Svetlana Kuznetsova relied on her experienced to beat Alison Riske 6-2 6-2 and Johanna Larsson upset Lucie Safarova 7-6 6-2, one of the few WTA upsets on the day.
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Djokovic/Tipsarevic prevented from advancing in doubles
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The big doubles match of the day, and one of the biggest matches on the day in general, featured Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic, good friends and both leaders of Serbian tennis, teaming up to take on Robert Lindstedt and Jurgen Melzer. It was Tipsarevic’s first match back on tour in over a year, since more surgeries and a benign tumor in his foot kept him sidelined. The Serbian veteran baseliner was happy to be back on court, and not only seemed to relish playing with Novak, he also played well for himself, hitting some great shots, as did the world number 1. However, Lindstedt/Melzer play doubles much more often for a living, and their experience helped them to a 6-4 3-6 10-7 victory.
After the match, Novak did press, and here is what he had to say about his role in supporting his former top 10 countryman and friend, Tipsarevic.
“Yeah. It’s incredibly sad story with him in last 17 months. I know him for such a long time. We are great friends. His last official match was in October 2013, and ever since then he was suffering from injuries. Mostly from the heel that he had to operate I think two or three times. Along the way he also hurt some other muscles and joints. Just a very dreadful time for him. I tried to, as a friend and as a colleague, be close to him, to give him support, to let him know that I’m there and I wish him to have a speedy recovery and to come back as quick as possible. So the opportunity to play today with him was very special for me, really, as a friend and I cared very much to win this match today. I got very tight in the super-tiebreaker, I have to say, because it was a very tough match. We lost to two of the great, very good doubles players. But we talked after the match, and he appreciated the fact that he can actually play. Just feel that match play you know, have that sensation of how it feels and what it takes to be on the court. 17 month is a long time for injuries, and he’s also not young. You know, he’s now 31 this year, but he’s eager to play. He’s motivated. He feels 100% and he decided actually it’s better to skip this tournament in singles because he needed to a little bit more time to get in to it. Hopefully this doubles match today can help him. When he plays now in Houston after Miami he can perform his best. He can relax. He know, that’s the top 10. I really wish him that.”
Tipsarevic seemed to be pleased with his level of play, and given his general ease out there, I expect to see him fit, healthy, and perhaps causing some surprises the rest of the season, just like another Serb who made a recent comeback, Viktor Troicki did.
The other ATP doubles winners were Ryan Harrison/Rajeev Ram (1-6 6-4 10-4 over Eric Butorac/Sam Groth), and Nicolas Mahut/Edouard Roger-Vasselin (6-3 1-0 ret. over Viktor Troicki/Roberto Bautista Agut).
Martina Hingis and her partner Sania Mirza advanced over Bodgan/Melichar in WTA doubles 6-1 6-0, and in other scores, Babos/Mladenovic beat Date-Krumm/Pliskova 6-2 6-7 13-11, Dabrowski/Rosolska beat Medina/Tomljanovic 7-6 6-3, Hlavackova/Hradecka beat Aoyama/Voracova 7-5 4-6 10-5, and Makarova/Vesina, an all Russian pair, beat Krajicek/Zahlavova-Strycova 6-2 2-6 10-4.
Rain suspension adds to busy Saturday schedule in Crandon Park
The night matches were canceled due to rain in Miami, meaning the Saturday schedule is jam packed. Serena Williams, Aga Radwanska, and Caroline Wozniacki will all be action on stadium court in WTA singles, while top men’s players on stadium will be Novak Djokovic in the evening, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Grigor Dimitrov during the day.
Kei Nishikori will take to grandstand, as will top American John Isner, Venus Wiliams, and Milos Raonic, the Manitoba missile. American Jack Sock got pushed onto court 1, along with David Ferrer, talented shotmaker Alex Dolgopolov, and the Bryan Brothers.
Eugenie Bouchard, Gael Monfils, Borna Coric. Ernests Gulbis, and many other other intriguing, and fan favorite players have been pushed onto the outer courts given the tight schedule tomorrow.
As for matches in progress before the rain delay, Adrian Mannarino and Albert Ramos were locked in a struggle, one set each, before the rains came, and they will conclude with the third set of their match on Saturday. Two other WTA singles matches were also well underway at the time the rain struck, Heather Watson had dropped the first set to Angelique Kerber 7-5, and Sara Errani was on the verge of closing out Anatasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 4-1.
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