The Picks on clay: Charleston and Houston: Wednesday, April 5

Paula Badosa
Mal Taam/MALTphoto


Leylah Fernandez over Paula Badosa (written before play began)
The 20-year-old Fernandez can look startling, but then, she will stop where she is going. She is very briskly, running, and she can be fitting, but she doesn’t go enough to smash the ball.  At the 2021 U.S. Open, she reached the final, and it looked like that she is going close to the top, but now, she is ranked No. 51. That is surprising, and currently, she has to do a lot more work.

The Spaniard Badosa had a decent  year in 2022, as she finally realized that if she can kick down the excellent players, when she could grab a lot of matches.  She looked very good, in the three months, and then after that, she began to slink. This year,  she was respectable in Adelaide, but after that, she did very little. Fernandez has come close to winning some matches in 2023 against the very terrific players, many times, but she lost. However, she will nail some fine lines. This time the Canadian Fernandez  will win in three long sets.

Shelby Rogers over Caty McNally
Can Rogers come back and won more matches this year? It is up in the air, because while she can compete, the 30-year-old has no answers when her forehand and her backhand can be to short. Yes, she can be adventurous, but she doesn’t fool enough. However, at some point, she will start to surge again.

At the end of the year, McNally won Midland, an old tournament. Very few of the top players will play in early November, but there are other people who are trying to move up the latter, especially with the young set. The 21-year-old  has scored a couple good wins over the past 12 months, but she isn’t there yet to knock down with the fantastic players. Because of that, Rogers will win in two sets.

Frances Tiafoe over Steve Johnson
At this point, Tiafoe is struggling, inside the courts. Of course he can beat just about anyone, except on the clay, when he is still is not comfortable when he is crawling. Of maybe not, as on the hardcourts, he is almost all of it. Off court, he is a very nice person, but when he is competing, he can frustrate himself. However, he can crash his forehand, his backhand and his first serve. It is really hard to see that he can win a major title in Europe on the clay, and on the grass in England, but at least this week in Houston, he is the top seed. So right now, he really has to bring it.

As we wrote yesterday, Johnson does like to play almost every week, and he does have some solid stokes, but Tiafoe is more potent and fierce. Tiafoe will win in two sets.

John Isner over Gijs Brouwer
Where is Isner going? Yes he will play until he realizes that it is time to stop, because the 37-year-old is playing OK, in the singles, but this year he has not beat a player in the top 40. The former No. 8 American did win some tremendous matches, but physically he is slowing down, when he is running. However, he does think that when he continues to play more, he will begin to throw in his massive serves, and his forehand, too.

His first match in Houston will be against the against the Netherlands,
Brouwer, who has yet to crack the top 100, ever. However, he wants to. given that he is 27-year-old. If he does that, the No. 123 will have a candle. Isner will win in two tiebreakers, once again.

Matt’s current week picks

Correct: Jason Kubler over Fernando Verdasco 
Correct: Steve Johnson over Facundo Bagnis 
Correct: Victoria Azarenka over  Sloane Stephens
Claire Liu over Bernarda Pera

3 out of 4: 75% correct


No. 1 Iga Swiatek is looking upward

Iga Swiatek
Mal Taam/MALT photo

There are times when Iga Swiatek starts to miss it. Not a lot, but here and there. When she misses and with an easy shot, a few years ago, she would be frustrated, and then point to point, she could lose it.

But not now, even though when you walk on the court, when she is practicing, or in the matches, your rackets can disappear. But she does try to problem-solving. The No. 1  has to, especially when she is losing.

“Well, most of the times I feel like I have improved, but there are some matches where I feel like a little bit in chaos, and I don’t know which way to go that it’s gonna work.  But honestly, it’s not happening often. In more cases I kind of choose the right solution, and then I’m playing better,” Swiatek said. “Then the momentum changes and, yeah, I just go with the flow.”

Swiatek has won three Grand Slams, and exactly a year ago, she won Indian Wells, beating Maria Sakkari in the final. She then won Miami, Stuttgart, Rome, Roland Garros, the U.S. Open and San Diego, and this year, in Doha. That is a lot, but over the past two and a half months, she looked pretty good, but not flawless. She still has work to do, and she knows that.

“After Australian Open [when she lost against Elena Rybakina], honestly I did a lot of work to not feel like I’m playing not to lose. So right now I don’t feel that way. Well, just reminding yourself, getting rid of the pressure a little bit, reminding yourself that you’re there to run, to play those longer rallies, and not to expect that you’re going to make every shot perfect because you’re doing it in practices. I just change my mindset, and I was really like digging into everything tennis-wise, so it kept my mind busy from all the fuss that is around to the rankings and everything.”

She has a huge first serve, her forehand and her backhand are gigantic, and she is full tilt. Immediately, she can attack, and then when it is right, she can bash it, into the corners, or down the line. As long she has a chance to win the match, then she can be patient and thoughtful. In her last match, she edged over Bianca Andreescu, who was playing almost as well as she could, but Swiatek out hit her. She was smarter.

On Wednesday, Swiatek dominated again and took out 2021 US Open champion, Emma Raducanu 6-3, 6-1.

Before the match, Swiatek said, “I just know how her shots feel on the racquet, because before I haven’t even practiced with her.  So it helps that way, but on the other hand, it’s great because we are playing on hard court, and there was clay, but actually this surface is slower. So I think I have to, like, really take care of the tactics anyway, and we’ll see. Honestly, like every day is different. Stuttgart match was like almost a year ago. So long time ago.”

NOTES
Aryna Sabalenka edged Barbora Krejcikova 6-4 in the third set, in a very good match. The No. 2 Sabalenka finally won a Slam at the Australian Open, and she was always very mighty, but her serve was spotty, and she threw together so many faults. But now, she figured it out, at least mentally, and if she continues to be stable, then she will eventually be No. 1. Or not. But this year?

 On Tuesday, the wind kicked in at Indian Wells, very hard, and it was difficult to control it. However, there were three, long matches, and when it finished, and Coco Gauff , Karolina Muchova and Petra Kvitova came through. Even if they did not play great, they didn’t droopy.

That was a dramatic match, although there were some many errors, but Kvitova beat Jessica Pegula  6-2, 3-6, 7-6(11). The two time champion Kvitova  can hit the ball so hard,  and she can put it away, but she can also disappear. But not today, during the heavy wind,  she waited until she could made a terrific shot. That was fine win. 

How he managed to win, when Daniil Medvedev won it 6-7(5), 7-5(5), 7-5 over Alexander Zverev even though he got hurt in the second set. But he has now won 16 in a row. He is on fire, again.

Frances Tiafoe continues to move on. On Tuesday, after a slow start, then he was much more consonant . However, each day it will get tougher, and he will face off a solid player, Cameron Norrie. That would be a three setter. As he said, “I think I was much more raw, kind of just went out and played. I think now you overthink it a little bit and now you’re older and your perspective and, back then I was just playing and enjoying, but you don’t really understand the magnitude of things.”

Will the Americans go into the top 5?

Taylor Fritz
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

We can talk about Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal and then we will find out who has more Grand Slam winners. It is tied, 22 huge wins, but they cannot play until June, at Roland Garros. So that is months from now. Instead, it is more important to find out who can try to reach into the top 5 this year, and beat the those nearly untouchable players.

No. 8 Taylor Fritz does has a chance to repeat at Indian Wells in March and Frances Tiafoe have another opportunity to win his first ATP 1000. The No. 15 Tiafoe has been better over the past year and a half, but he also can be inconsistent.

Fritz looked very good going into the Australian Open, after he beat four good players. But in the second round in Melbourne, he went down against Alexei Popyrin. That was a big shocker. If he can re-set immediately, then he can start to turn on the jets. Coming up, he will play in the Dallas Open,

Tiafoe, who looked stellar in Melbourne until the third round, when he went down to the resurgent Karen Khachanov.

Another American, Tommy Paul, had a fantastic two weeks at the Australian Open, as he reached into a Grand Slam semi for the first time. He has so locked in, and his forehand and his backhand were more than muscular. However, in the last two sets, Djokovic wiped him out. For Paul, he finally made it into the top 20, and for sure, if he wants to leap into the top 10, then he will have to continue improving.

The American men have not won a Grand Slam since 2003 when Andy Roddick grabbed the US Open. That is almost 20 years ago. Eventually, someone will, but this year at RG, Wimbledon, and the US Open? That would be a somewhat astonishing, such as beating Djokovic, Nadal, and the teenager Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. Or you can throw in Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the Aussie Open final. In the two out of three, it is possible to play great and upset the opponent, but in the three out of five, then you have to sit there for hours. If you get tired, or you become nervous, then you can slip in the fifth set. It has happened so many times.

This week in Dallas, there are lots of players competing such as Brandon Nakashima, John Isner, J.J. Wolf, and Marcos Giron. Whomever wins can think that when he eventually goes to Indian Wells, he will be totally pumped up and ready to chop down everyone.

Breakthrough: Alycia Parks wins first title
Speaking of which, who would have thought that Alycia Parks won her first WTA singles title in Lyon, upsetting Caroline Garcia, 7-6(7), 7-5? Last year, the American was going up and down, winning and losing a lot. Yet in the fall, the 22-year-old kept going into the net, and putting away losts of volleys. Plus, she is fast, and her strokes go deep. Last year, she beat Karolina Pliskova and Maria Sakkari in Ostrava. After that, she knew that she could be much more daring on the court.

“I think the key was to stay focused and take my time,” Parks said. “Every time I passed myself, I kind of lost points, so I told myself to slow down. All this week I’ve been kind of chilled this week and just kept playing my game and getting into it.”

2023 Australian Open favorites

The women

Jessica Pegula
Rick Limpert

With the women, clearly, the favorite is No. 1 Iga Swiatek. But, she has never won in Melbourne. She can be very aggressive on the hardcourts. Last year, Ash Barty won it and then retired. However, one of the Americans, Sofia Kenin, won it in 2020, but then she went straight downhill. Maybe she will get going again but she has to turn thing around quickly, because she has to face Vika Azarenka in the first round. Azarenka won it twice in 2012 and 2013. Now she is playing decently, but she is not great right now. Both of them are super fierce and then they can go for the lines. Sometimes they miss it, the other times they can control play in the backcourt. But, to win it, that would be very surprising.

Three American women should reach the second week or to get into the final: Coco Gauff, Madison Keys, and Danielle Collins. But 18-year-old Gauff, who reached into the final at Roland Garros, would have to beat Świątek in the quarters if they both advance to that round.

Keys is a former US Open finalists and Collins reached that level at the Australian Open. No one won, but at least they played were tough outs all the way to the finals. Maybe something occurred, either they were too nervous, or maybe they were not strategic.

Another veteran, Jessica Pegula, is ranked No. 3, which means that she has been much more assertive with her ground strokes. She won Guadalajara in the fall and that was her best tournament ever. However, she has yet to go deep at the Slams, so this will be a huge challenge for her to show she can dominate in a major.

There are others who can win a Slam for the first time: Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Daria Kasatkina, Belinda Bencic and Amanda Anisimova. The big question is: Does anyone here have a real shot?

Stefanos Tsitsipas

The men

To win the Australian Open, you have to be super patient and also mash the ball. Novak Djokovic has won it eight times,and Rafa Nadal grabbed it twice. Serena Williams also won it many times, but she retired last year. Naomi Osaka, took it twice, but now she is not playing because she is pregnant.

There are some people who can win a major for the first time. How about the men? Yes, Djokovic and Nadal, who won it last year, are the favorites,. But, there are more than a few who can win it for the first time like Nick Kyrgios, Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and Americans Taylor Fritz, Sebastian Korda and Frances Tiafoe.

Here is what is odd: among active men only Djokovic, Nadal and Stan Wawrinka have won Aussie Open in the past 25 years. Repeat: no one managed to grind it and nail the shots. Plus, those three really understand what to do during the matches. Plus, their strokes, serves and returns are fantastic. Medvedev managed to reach the final against Nadal last year. He was so coherent all the time, but in the finalps fifth set, Nadal threw some astonishing shots and he beat him 7-5. The Russian can look so steady, but after that he was mentally down. If he rises again, then perhaps he can be much more solid.

The Aussie Kyrgios is one of the hardest hitter on court. He can slug his forehand, he can clip his first serve and he really likes to be creative during the points. 

There are some who have a real chance to control matches and go deep at the Slams, such as the basher Andrey Rublev, the thoughtful Casper Ruud, the hustling Felix Auger-Aliassime and the Mr. Variety Matteo Berrettini. Now there are three American men who are seeded and can go deep too: Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Sebastian Korda. Fritz won Indian Wells last year, upsetting Nadal. At the ATP Finals, he looked very good, but it will be different at the Slams. Tiafoe reached the 2022 US Open semis and he was spinning around, and he hit some unreal shots. So if he can go into the semis, then perhaps he can take the gloves off. Korda’s dad, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open. So, if Sebastian can lock in early, then without a doubt, he can reach into the second week — or further.

Three players have outside chances to the final at Melbourne, such as Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem. They have all won a Slam — not on the Australian Open — but they have took it on the hardcourt. It is possible that they can win more than a few matches, but to win it all, that would be almost shocking.

Coco Gauff wins, preps for Australian Open

Coco Gauff
Mal Taam/MaltPhoto

The 18-year-old Coco Gauff had a stellar week in Adelaide, winning the tournament and easily beating Rebeka Masarova 6-1, 6-1 in the final.

When she gets going, Gauff can be forceful and reactive. She can move forward when she is feeling good. Last week, she rarely went backwards. She has yet to win a huge tournament, but she has now won three small events in Linz, Parma and now the 2023 Auckland.

Next week, she will still be ranked No. 7. When she arrives at the Australian Open, she will be thinking that she can take a huge shot of winning a Slam. She is not quite there yet. If she keeps her focus in the first week, then should could power through to a title. However, at the AO last year, she lost to Carolina Garcia, the current No. 4. If they match up again, then Gauff is going to have to play almost 100 percent to win it, as the Frenchwoman can be spectacular.

Speaking of another American, Sebastian Korda was so close of beating Novak Djokovic, but he came short, losing when the Serb 6-7(8), 7-6(3), 6-4. That was a marathon, yet Djokovic kept changing, hitting his astounding backhand, solid volleys and big spin in his forehand.

Korda played a wonderful week, not because he lost, but he was very patient and mixed it up a lot. He also knew that to win the match, he had to try seriously hard, and many times over the past few years, he would slide into mediocracy. He was so-so last summer, but in the fall, he began to rise. For the first time, at the Australian Open, he will be seeded.

Djokovic is clearly on fire again. He has now won 92 career titles, which is a huge amount. He has won the Australian Open eight times, and in Melbourne, he is favored again. But he is not a huge favorite, just by a slight edge, Last year he arrive in but then was asked to leave Australia because he hadn’t taken the COVID-19 vaccine. When he is on the court, in a match, there will some fans who will boo him. That is a fact.

American men and the women won the United Cup with Jessica Pegula, Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Madison Keys. Clearly, they played very consistently and made sure they dominated. All of them were having a great time.

None of them have reached the final at the AO, and of course, they really like the hardcourts. So they have a realistic shot to beat down the excellent players. Pegula has never gone deep at the Slams. Tiafoe reached the US Open semis when he played terrific last year, but, in the fifth set against Carlos Alcaraz, the Spaniard rose way high. Tiafoe will have another chance to prove himself. He actually lost to his friend Fritz and the San Diego resident won 2022 Indian Wells, the best he had ever played. He has yet to win a Slam, a big test.

Keys has put in a few wild and fun matches at Melbourne, and she went into the semis twice. She can mash the ball, but when she cannot run that fast, then she can lose when she is mentally down. Keys looked very good until the semis, and then the former No.1 Ashel Barty crushed her.

Aryna Sabalenka just won an event, beating newcomer Linda Noskova. The former No. 2 Sabalenka can rock and roll, but she can throw in a lot of double faults. If she can hit a lot of first serves then sure, she has a chance to win it all.

There has to be at least 10 women who can grab the Aussie title, given that Barty retired.

TennisReporters.net’s top 32 in 2022: men 20-16

Karen Khachanov, Frances Tiafoe, Denis Shapovalov, Marin Cilic, Matteo Berrettini

Matteo Berrittini
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

No. 20: Karen Khachanov
The tall Russian reached the semis at the US Open, knocking down Nick Kyrgios in five tough sets, one of his best matches this year. He can really blast the ball. However, the reason why he won’t reach the final at the Grand Slam is because he can lose control and then he can throw in to many errors. In the semis, Casper Ruud moved him around and when he had a real chance, the Russian didn’t go for it.  Khachanov had a very decent year, but both Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic had no problem beating him. If Khachanov wants to improve a lot, then he has to return much better and more respectable at the net. Add bring more game, please.

No. 19: Frances Tiafoe
The American had his best year, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas, Rafa Nadal, and Andrey Rublev. In the US Open semis, the now No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz edged him in five brutal sets. When he is feeling rational, he can chop anyone in the match, but other times, he can be ticked off. He can mash his forehand and his backhand, and his first serve is very stout. He is OK at the net. But his returns are spotty. He still is young, and he is better than he was five years ago. If he wants to reach into the top 10, then he will have to enhance the return, second serve, and for sure, net game. He needs to continue to battle, using one of his greatest strengths.

No. 18: Denis Shapovalov
The Canadian is so up and down. When his game is off, his ground strokes come up too short. Two years ago, he reached the top 10 and it looked like he had a fine chance to go further, but he did not, losing some critical matches. He split a couple matches against Rafa Nadal, going down in five sets in the Australian Open in the quarters, and then later, on clay in Rome, Shapovalov beat the Spaniard in three sets. He loves the rallies. If he can find an extra level of consistency, then without a doubt he can reach into the top 5 eventually. Perhaps in 2023.

No. 17: Marin Cilic
It has been so long ago since he won the 2014 US Open, when this immense hitter was so consistent and patient. Yes, the now 34-year-old is very strong, and he can shatter his forehand. He also can be measured with his backhand. While he is very tall, he can bend down and pick up low shots. However, he plays almost every week, which was OK.when he was young. But, when you are age, you have to take more time off. People have asked him, and he said, “I just want to play.” Go ahead, then, and see if your body is 100 percent. He will find out shortly.

No. 16: Matteo Berrettini
At times the Italian had a terrific year, reaching No. 6 after he reached the semis at the Australian Open, before he lost to Nadal in four sets. He is so swift and he can also switch which way he is going. He has big shots that he can strike into the corners, down the middle and with a lot of top spin. He returns pretty good, but his serve is so-so. He did win Stuttgart over Andy Murray on the grass. Then he won Queens. Then after that, at various tournaments, he fluctuated between good and mediocre. He has won on clay and grass, but he has yet to win a hard court. I would think that has thought about it a lot. To do it in 2023, he will have to do something different.

2022 US Open: Four picks for Wednesday

Jessica Pegula
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Iga Świątek vs. Jessica Pegula
Pegula has had a surprising week. Yes, over the past two years, Pegula began to play much better, improving her strokes, first serve and return. Before that, she liked to hit the ball after the serve starts, and she was OK with the rallies, but if she didn’t dominate early, so she was struggling. Finally, she changed her mind, and she pushed herself. She is not perfect by any means, but she does know how to make the most of her size. Before she became No. 1, Swiatek was suspect. She would play fantastic and win, and then the next day, she would be foggy and lose. But in February, she totally changed her mental approach. She would go on the lines, almost immediately, because she realized that if she attacks, very deep on the corners, then the players would freeze up. But not Pegula, who has been incredibly consistent. Right now, Swiatek is a better than she is, stroke by stroke. The Pole will win in straight sets.

Andrey Rublev vs. Frances Tiafoe
The American stunned Rafa Nadal, and he played one of the best matches, ever. He sprinted, he dove, and clocked more than a few winners with his big backhand. He said that before the match that now he is much better, and he can really think on court. He also said that if he plays fantastic again, perhaps he can win it all. But they all are, too. Rublev was also had a fine nine days, displaying a terrific forehand, powerful serve and superfast speed. Sure, he can be moody, but now he is intense. Both of them can dug it in, and slog to grab a rally. The Russian thinks he can wear down Tiafoe. But the crowd will the American up again, and Tiafoe will zoom. He will win in four hard-fought sets.

Aryna Sabalenka vs. Karolina Pliskova
Two of the biggest servers will face off, and it is almost seems that it is boxing, trying to knock each other to the floor. It is the punching bag, toe-to-toe. Pliskova has hit a huge number of aces, and when she is right there, she will go for the lines. Sabalenka is certainly faster, and she can pop her forehand and her backhand. However, when she serves, she has double faulted a lot. Both think they are ready for a Grand Slam trophy. Pliskova has always been straight forward in press conferences about not winning a major. But she makes a lot of mistakes. That’s why in the third set, Sabalenka will bite her.

Carlos Alcaraz vs. Jannik Sinner
How did the Spaniard win an amazing five-setter against Marin Cilic? It looked like he was mentally tired, and then, he continued to scrabble, point after point. Now he has to beat another very good player in Sinner. The Italian also has had a terrific week, changing it up, working hard and made some crucial decisions. His is alert, he can return well, and his decisions have improved a lot. Both have to decide whether they can be very patient or swing super hard immediately. Alcaraz can be amazing, but if it goes into the fifth set, then he will be very tired. The same thing goes for Sinner, but he seems to be more ready in Flushing Meadows. Sinner will win in  five demanding sets.

Day 2, 2022 US Open, the picks

Alize Cornet
Mal Taam/MALT photo

Emma Raducanu vs Alize Cornet
Raducanu, ranked No. 11, won the 2021 US Open last year. Oh, really? Who knew that before Flushing Meadows that this teenager would play her so steady forehand and backhand, set after set after set. But, she did and then everyone knew that she can be terrific. But in the last 12 months, she has been up and down. The pressure is totally on. The Frenchwoman knows that, and also, she has been pretty good even last week in Cleveland when she reached the semis. She has played so many matches, and sometimes she is so consistent and other times, she is flat. There will be some fascinating points, with some wild backhands. Cornet really wants to reach the second week at the US Open, but Raducanu wants to rise, again. She will win in three sets.

Danielle Collins vs. Naomi Osaka
Talk about a pick-em. Yes, Osaka has won it twice, and when she did it, she was so strong and so focused. But, in the past year and a half, due to the vicious COVID-19, she was hit with depression. After that, she didn’t want to play in the matches. So far, since she made it into the final at Miami, she has won one match, and four lost. Osaka is now ranked No. 44, and given that she won the US Open in the 2018 and 2020, she can be mentally off. Maybe she can be motivated against Collins. However, the No. 19 Collins is very forceful, and she also goes for it immediately. It should be a bangup match, and Osaka will finally be happy and win it in three dramatic sets.

Diego Schwartzman vs. Jack Sock
The Argentine has been for years, and he always get into the rally, and grind it. Plus, when he has a chance, Schwartzman can swing away, and when he does, he can pocket a lot of winners. Years ago, the American actually got into the top 10, winning Paris. After that, his body got hurt and he wasn’t trying hard enough in the singles. In the doubles, yes, he is very good. In singles he has improved slightly, but he is ranked No. 107. Not good enough. He did say that he is trying again, and he thinks that if he is 100 percent, he will win many more matches. But not against the No. 16 Schwartzman, who knows that he wants to push him side to side, and tire him out. He will, and he will win in four sets.

Frances Tiafoe vs. Marcos Giron
Talk about a matchup, as both of them have practiced a lot, so they know each other well. Tiafoe is in the top 26, and Giron is in the top 56, too, meaning that at the US Open, they really want to reach the second week. But only one can win it, and when they are playing, they certainly be very creative and attack when it is right. They have to hit a lot of first serves — not second serves — smack their forehands, and bend down low at the net. It doesn’t look like that they will be nervous, so the most important is to be very focused. Tiafoe will edge him in five sets.

Matteo Berrettini: Will he take a big leap forward at Wimbledon?

Matteo Berrittini
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Italian Matteo Berrettini can really go very deep at Wimbledon next week. There are some notable players, like Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, but the quick-footed Berrettini really likes to smash the ball on the grass.

Last year at Wimbledon he beat Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarters and then he defeated Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals. In the final, Djokovic was super steady and he beat Berrettini in four sets.

However, the dogged Italian likes to go down really low, and he also can jump with some huge shots. He just returned to playing after wrist surgery this year, that sidelined him for three months.

Last week, he won Stuttgart, beating the three-time Grand Slam Andy Murray in three sets. And then, exactly one year ago Berrettini won Queen’s, beating Cameron Norrie in the final.

But he can be irritable on court.

“Sometimes in order to flip the match around or the energy level and your mindset, you have to scream. You have to do something that gets into your body, into your mental mindset in that moment,” Berrettini said. “I don’t feel comfortable throwing rackets or throwing balls, it’s not something I like to do. But sometimes screaming at yourself helps.”

Now he is ranked No. 11, and the 26-year-old is an inferno, finding the lines and corking it up.

“There are so many emotions,” Berrettini said. “The last thing I expected was to come back from surgery and win two titles in a row, defend my title here at one of the most prestigious tournaments we have. I don’t want to cry. Most of the job is thanks to my team and my family. I just can’t believe it.”

He has won seven titles, which is pretty good, but it was a bit odd that he has yet to win a hard court event. However, at the 2022 Australian Open, he reached into the semis, when he pushed back Gael Monfils in five sets. But, Nadal hit him into the wall. The 6’5” guy still has to improve before next week, because the Slam winners are ready to win another title. It is up to Berrettini to leap forward.

NOTES
Murray has improved the year in the singles, but in the three-out-of-five, he might not be able to go in the distance. He has won Wimbledon two times, but we all know that he almost retired due to his injuries. He has always been a grinder, but he needs to shorten the points. If he does not, he has no chance to win it again …

Ig Reilly Opelka is hurt, then maybe he eil pull out of Wimbledon. In April, he won Houston, when the tall man was playing super ball. But after that, he has gone two wins and seven losses. Is it mental, or something else? …

In Eastbourne, there are a number of the American players. There were three wins today by Brandon Nakashima, Tommy Paul and Maxime Cressy. Ousted were Opelka, Sebastian Korda (who just pulled out at Wimbledon), Frances Tiafoe and Jenson Brooksby. Tiafoe will be seeded at the Big W. But, he has lost many matches this year. He has to go to the net more on the slick grass …

The two top men cannot play at Wimbledon: the No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. (Wimbledon banned Russians and Belarussian players due to the war.), and Alexander Zverev (who is injured). Other than Djokovic and Nadal, there are a few very good players who can rush into the second week.

Here are 10 more: Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Carlos Alcaraz, Auger-Aliassime, Hurkacz, Berrettini, Cameron Norrie, Jannik Sinner , Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, Alex De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios. But of you want another one, throw in John Isner. Yes, he is aging, but his first serve is still called “Mr. Ace.”

Frances Tiafoe: ‘We genuinely want to see each other do well.’

Frances Tiafoe
MALTPhoto

At Indian Wells, the American men won the ATP Masters 1000 with John Isner winning Miami in 2018. But that was four years ago. Then Taylor Fritz won it this year, upsetting Rafa Nadal in the fin

Now they are in Miami, and some of the Americans believe they are moving up. Frances Tiafoe, who just won two matches in Florida, is one of the so-called kids are now more mature and better overall.

Tiafoe believes that it is time to fly.

“I think it’s been interesting. Like, I mean, Fritz, we’re kind of the first guys to break top 100,” he said. “Fritz made final of a 250 when we were super young. I made quarterfinal of Australia really young. Top 30, 20 years old, 21 years old. Reilly [Opelka] kind of figured out, Reilly breaks through, Tommy [Paul] starts to break through. You have [Sebastian Korda], these guys.


“I think seeing guys that you grew up with doing well, you’re like, ‘Well, fuck, this guy can do it. Shit, I grew up with him. I’ve beaten him how many times. Why not?’ But it’s all good. We genuinely want to see each other do well. It’s good. And then also finally there is a little opening in tennis. The big guys don’t play every Masters, for example, this one. Big guys, you know what I mean, the big three [like Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer].


“So there is a little space for guys. I mean, there was a while there where you go deep in an event, and you run into Rafa and them, I’m probably going home. But now guys can win it.”
 
Maybe all of them can win it, this year. But as Tiafoe said, there is a huge difference to win a Grand Slam when it is three out of five, not two out of three. Combined, Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic have won 60 Slams. The current U.S. players have won nothing — yet.

Eventually, those three will retire. The good news is that Tiafoe is now more consistent, and his forehand has is more forceful. He also thinks a lot during the match. Not all the time, but the 24 year old can more tactful. But the 31 ranking is totally realistic.

“It’s crazy. I was playing end of last year still injured, to be honest. Just poppin’ pills, kind of masking my pain in my elbow,” he said. “I was playing so well, I can’t stop. Then I got a late call to Davis Cup [in late November]. Had a bothered Achilles, elbow. The offseason I didn’t have time at all. Started the season. I mean, honestly, I don’t really count Australia, my team told me not to go. I still wanted to go, me being stubborn. Coming back, much more fit, looking good, arm is healthy.


“Beat Brandon [Nakashima] pretty convincingly last week. Lost to Andrey [Rublev] who was on a stupid match-winning streak. I thought I actually played all right. Not to where I know I can play, but I thought I still put a decent performance.

Here, able to win a couple rounds, thanks to Matteo Berrettini for opening that up for me a little bit (he was smiling). Any win right now counts. It’s still early in the year. I count my year as fine right now.”

NOTES

Jenson Brooksby won the match over Roberto Bautista Agut. He was down 0-4 in the third set and he just kept chugging. He will face against the No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, and to win it, he is going to have to really mix it up because the Russian will play forever.

Andy Murray lost pretty quickly in straight sets to Medvedev, who showed his defensive skills.

‘He makes a lot of returns back from where he stands. That’s a big strength of his,” Murray said. “You know, even from back there he’s very successful.”

Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz has now won 13 matches and just two losses. The teenager is incredibly talented. He actually has a chance to win Miami. He ousted Stefanos Tsitsipas in straights, 7-5, 6-3.

There is a piece I did about Nick Kyrgios, and at least this year, he has decided to practice and play as much as he can. He didn’t do that last year, but know he is feeling good. Here is the piece. https://www.tennis.com/news/articles/nick-kyrgios-credits-fitness-and-improved-mentality-with-sunshine-surge

Still, he totally melted down in his quarterfinal loss to Jannik Sinner 7-6(3), 6-3. The Aussie racked up code violations leading to a game penalty in the opening game of the second set.