Monica Puig produces stunning upset to defeat Caroline Wozniacki in Miami

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Monica Puig

World No2 Caroline Wozniacki and rising star Naomi Osaka became early round casualties while veteran Venus Williams survived a scare to book her third round spot at the Miami Open.

Wozniacki slumped to a shock 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Monica Puig of Puerto Rico while Osaka’s bid for the “Sunshine Double” of Indian Wells and Miami Open titles ended with a 6-4, 6-2 loss to fourth seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.

The 24-year-old Puig compared her win over reigning Australian Open champion Wozniacki to her gold medal triumph at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“It felt like Rio all over again,” Puig said. “I have been waiting for this and to finally start finding myself again.”

The 27-year-old Wozniacki appeared to be headed to an easy victory after winning the first set in less than 30 minutes before the wheels fell off. World number 82 Puig clinched the win with a blistering forehand winner on the second match point.

“I just tried to stay positive,” she said. “I didn’t think I played that poorly in the first set. She’s a great player so I had to stay focused and keep fighting.”

Puig became the first Puerto Rican athlete to win gold in any sport at the Olympics when she beat Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the final.

It was another disappointing exit for Wozniacki, who finally silenced her critics earlier this year with her maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne, where she defeated Simona Halep in the final.

Wozniacki drops to 17-5 on the season as she has now crashed out of her last two tournaments in stunning fashion. In her most recent WTA event in Indian Wells, Wozniacki was upset in the round of 16 by Russian dynamo Daria Kasatkina.

Japan’s Osaka came into the second-round match against Svitolina on an eight-match winning streak that included her dream run to the Indian Wells title and a first-round triumph here over 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.

But it was Svitolina who emerged with a victory thanks to a solid service performance that saw her win nearly 80 percent of points on her first serve.

Four service breaks

Svitolina saved five of six break points she faced and broke Osaka four times en route to the victory in an hour and 23 minutes.

Osaka saved two match points before holding for 5-2 in the second set, but she was unable to convert three break points in the next game as Svitolina sealed the win.

“It was challenging. I’m very happy the way I handled this match today and the way I was playing,” Svitolina said.

In other second-round action on Friday, seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams stormed back from deficits in each set to defeat world number 88 Natalia Vikhlyantseva 7-5, 6-4.

The 37-year-old American improved to 7-3 on the season as she clinched the victory on the second match point when the 21-year-old Russian smacked a forehand wide.

Williams trailed 2-5 in the first set but won five straight games to take the opener. She also rallied in the second set, falling behind 0-3 before winning six of the next seven for the victory.

Ninth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova defeated 19-year-old Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

Provided by AFP Sport 

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"I'm trying, but it's not working" - Novak Djokovic suffers another setback in Miami

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A dejected Novak Djokovic

Six-time champion Novak Djokovic “ran out of gas” in a straight sets loss to Benoit Paire, while the red-hot Juan Martin Del Potro won his opening match at the ATP Miami Masters.

It was another setback for the Serbian star Djokovic as he bids to return from the elbow injury that sidelined him for six months and finally saw him have “minor” surgical intervention after a disappointing Australian Open.

“I’m trying, but it’s not working,” said Djokovic, who lost his opener 6-3, 6-4. “That’s all it is. I mean, obviously I’m not feeling great when I’m playing this way.

“Of course I want to be able to play as well as I want to play. Just, it’s impossible at the moment. That’s all.”

While Djokovic is struggling, world number six Del Potro is headed in the opposite direction. The 29-year-old Argentine showed why he is the hottest player on the ATP Tour right now with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over Robin Haase in his second round match.

Paire broke Djokovic at love to seal the win, Djokovic dumping a backhand into the net on the Frenchman’s first match point.

“I felt I started the match well, first six games,” Djokovic said. “Then I just ran out of gas. He was serving well. I just wasn’t able to break him down. He was just coming up with the good shots at the right time. It happened very fast.”

Djokovic had also lost his opening match at the Indian Wells Masters last week. But he was encouraged in Miami this week to find himself playing without pain for the first time “in years.”

He said a lack of match fitness was “one of the things” preventing him from gaining any steam in his bid to return to his top form.

But he said that in attempting to play through injury for so long, “I compromised my game and the movement and everything … I’m trying to figure things out.

“I wanted to come to Indian Wells and Miami because I wanted to see whether I can play a match,” he said. “I love playing on the hard court. I wanted to get a couple of tournaments before the clay court season starts.

“I obviously wasn’t ready for that.”

Although he had planned for the two Stateside hardcourt tournaments to be a precursor to a full clay court season, Djokovic sounded unsure after the defeat.

“That was the plan,” he said when asked if he felt ready to head into the Monte Carlo Masters Aril 14-22. “But let’s see what happens.”

Del Potro notches another win

Former US Open winner Del Potro extended his win streak to 12 straight matches as he seeks his third straight ATP title after winning back-to-back in Acapulco and Indian Wells.

Del Potro blasted five aces and won 79 percent of his first-serve points in the two hour and nine minute match.

Del Potro moves on to the third round where he will battle 26th seeded Kei Nishikori who needed three sets to eliminate Aussie qualifier John Millman 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-3

In other matches on Friday, second seed Marin Cilic, of Croatia, eased past Pierre-Hugues Herbert, of France, 7-5, 6-3; Canada’s Milos Raonic rolled over Swede Mikael Ymer 6-3, 6-3; third seeded Grigor Dimitrov defeated Maximilian Marterer 4-6, 6-2, 6-1; and South Korea’s Chung Hyeon toppled unseeded Matthew Ebden 6-3, 7-5.

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Juan Martin del Potro and Naomi Osaka crowned champions - Three things learned from Indian Wells

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There’s a reason why they call it the ‘Fifth Slam’. Indian Wells is truly incredible!

From its picturesque location in the Coachella Valley in California to its unrivalled facilities, made possible by tournament owner Larry Ellison, the BNP Paribas Open is exactly what the organisers advertise it as – a ‘tennis paradise’.

And it was only fitting that a fortnight of top-notch tennis ended with two exciting match-ups in the men’s and women’s finals.

Unseeded Japanese Naomi Osaka defeated fellow 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina in a final we can expect to see many repeats of in the future while No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro valiantly fought off five-time champion and world No. 1 Roger Federer in a third-set tiebreak win to capture a first Masters 1000 crown.

Both the youngsters and the veterans delivered at Indian Wells, leaving us with lots to deliberate in the wake of it all.

Here are three things learned from the 2018 BNP Paribas Open…

WTA’S FUTURE IS BRIGHT

Both Osaka and Kasatkina’s runs to the final cannot get more legitimate than this.

Osaka took out: five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, ex-world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza conqueror Sachia Vickery, fiery Greek Maria Sakkari, world No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and world No. 1 Simona Halep en route to the title match.

Kasatkina’s victims before the final were: Katerina Siniakova, US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Australian Open title holder Caroline Wozniacki, two-time Major winner Angelique Kerber and seven-time Slam champion Venus Williams.

Yes, Kasatkina and Osaka combined to defeat five Grand Slam champions and six current or previous world No. 1s during their two weeks at Indian Wells.

Kasatkina is up to No. 11 in the world while Osaka is also enjoying a career-high ranking of 22.

They both have very attractive yet opposite games. They’re both very interesting yet different personalities. At their age, they are fearless on the court, and thoughtful off of it.

Kasatkina is not afraid to sit in a press conference and say she can’t wait to hog the prime time 7:00pm centre court slot and show the world what she can do. She lived up to her own hype and defeated the eighth-seeded Venus in a thrilling three-setter. Her topspin, shot variety, and never-say-die attitude were all full display throughout the tournament, barring the final in which she was outplayed by Osaka.

Osaka boasts a big game and has shown tremendous progress over the past few weeks. Her partnership with her new coach Sascha Bajin end of last year is paying dividends and she’s exhibiting growth in every single match she plays. Her composure is what gave her first career title in Indian Wells on Sunday. She dealt with Kasatkina the same way she did with the top-ranked Halep. No letting up, no mercy.

Don’t be fooled by the giggly, less than coherent speech Osaka gave during the trophy ceremony. When sat in front of her, face-to-face, Osaka listens carefully to every question she is asked and responds with shocking honesty and thoughtfulness.

Neither one of them is a fluke. And they’re both a breath of fresh air in tennis. Stay tuned for more from the pair.

DEL POTRO LOVES A FEDERER FINAL

When I told Federer after the semi-finals that Del Potro says he loves facing him in finals, and would always choose the Swiss to take on in a title match, Federer asked me: “Is that a good thing?”

The world No. 1 said that it sounded like bad news for him and turns out, he was not wrong.

Federer owns a relatively comfortable 18-7 head-to-head record against Del Potro in career meetings. But a closer look reveals an interesting fact that Del Potro leads their head-to-head 4-2 when it comes to finals.

The 36-year-old Federer doesn’t have a clear explanation as to why that is the case.

“I mean, who knows? I don’t know. You could read into it whatever you want. Should I have won the US Open finals? I could have, should have. I don’t know. I didn’t. Same today. So that would have changed the whole thing around,” said Federer on Sunday.

“But he stuck around and like most players who go deep in a tournament, the better they start playing. So clearly the tougher they seem to beat. But of course I have had a few wins against him when he was still younger, where I almost had to win because he wasn’t quite there yet.

“So that’s why I also have a better head-to-head, but I did win the last four or five, I guess. Yeah, I’m not sure why the final record is the way it is. A lot of them have been extremely tight. 7-6 in the third set in Basel, another three-setter in Basel I lost. Most of them have gone the distance, so it’s been tough against him.”

It seems that Del Potro is able to get under Federer’s skin. Both had arguments with the umpire during the final but Federer looked particularly irritated and wouldn’t discuss what he told Fergus Murphy, adding that it “had no effect on the outcome of the match”.

Federer was so wound up that he hit Del Potro with a volley during the contest, didn’t apologise, then received quite the glare from his Argentinean opponent.

All of these things make us love this match-up even more because it brings out a new level of competitiveness from both, which results in breathtaking tennis and nail-biting exchanges. More of the same please!

BORNA’S BREAKOUT MOMENT

Croatian 21-year-old Borna Coric has had several standout moments in the past. As a 17-year-old, he beat Rafael Nadal in Basel in 2014. Coric beat the Spaniard again in Cincinnati in 2016. He upset Andy Murray in Dubai in 2015, then again defeating the Brit when he was ranked No. 1 in the world last year in Madrid.

Compared to Novak Djokovic from a young age, Coric somehow stagnated for a while as he witness his fellow NextGen stars passing him by. He won his first, and sole, ATP title in Marrakech last year but his performances at the Majors have been mostly forgettable.

A change in his entire team saw him join forces with Riccardo Piatti, Milos Raonic’s ex-coach, and it looks like their work together is paying off. In Indian Wells, Coric defeated Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut (who beat Coric in the Emirates just a week earlier), and fought past seventh-seeded Kevin Anderson before he nearly beat Federer in his first Masters 1000 semi-final.

While I’m still scratching my head as to how Coric lost that Federer match (he was up a set and a break, and was up a break twice in the decider), Indian Wells was surely a breakthrough event for the young Croat, who incidentally is managed by Federer’s coach Ivan Ljubicic.

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