Eugenie Bouchard may have claimed she had a lot of support from the locker room ahead of her match with Maria Sharapova in Madrid but defending champion Simona Halep assured she was not one of them.
Bouchard, one of Sharapova’s most vocal critics who beat the Russian in three sets on Monday night, said many players came up to her before the contest to wish her luck, which she sees as an indication that they share her strong views against the doping offender.
Halep was asked if she was one of those players who spoke to Bouchard. The Romanian said: I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually. She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.”
The 25-year-old from Constanta does not feel any extra motivation to defeat Sharapova, who is back from a 15-month drugs ban – unlike Bouchard, who said she had a little extra incentive to defeat the Russian, whom she considers “a cheater”.
“And about Maria Sharapova, she’s back. I’m not thinking that much, because many players are difficult in this level of tennis, the highest level of tennis. For me it’s the same if Maria is here, if Maria is not here. I don’t feel extra motivated. I didn’t meet her yet. But it’s the same for me,” assured Halep.
The third-seeded Halep pulled off a remarkable comeback against Roberta Vinci on Tuesday to reach the Madrid third round. Vinci served for the match in the deciding set but Halep struck back to complete a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2) victory over the tricky Italian.
“Her game is not easy to play. Her slices are very difficult to return. She was hitting pretty strong also with the forehand today, serve, everything. She played unbelievable,” said Halep, who next faces Australian Sam Stosur.
“Yeah, I was close to lose the match. But I stayed strong. I stayed focused. I didn’t give up. That makes this match much more like bigger for me. It means a lot.”
Halep has been working hard on keeping a positive attitude during her matches, even if she is behind in the score.
The Romanian is too often hard on herself and the negativity can sometimes take over.
But against Vinci on Tuesday, Halep turned around a 2-5 deficit in the decider and was proud of her performance.
“I worked a lot. I think today I was very good, maybe the best way that I’ve been this year so far,” she said of her attitude.
“I try just to stay positive, even if I was down, like 5-2 also in the third set. I was close to lose it. But, yeah, I just want to stay there positive. It’s tough to stay positive when you are 5-2 down. But still I tried just to play every ball and not thinking about the score.
“It was good this time. I don’t want to repeat it. But it was a good match, strong mentally for me. I’ve been strong till the end. That gives me more confidence that I’m strong mentally.”
Barely 12 months ago, a dejected Grigor Dimitrov sat in a small interview room at Roland Garros following a disappointing first round exit and spoke about his struggles, how he felt insecure on the court, and how it got “scary” sometimes.
He seemed lost, sad, and unsure about how to turn things around.
It is now a year later and Dimitrov is in a far better place. He’s ranked No12 – 24 spots higher than he was at the French Open in 2016 – has won two titles this season, in Brisbane and Sofia, and reached the Australian Open semi-finals in January.
The 25-year-old Bulgarian, who came through a tricky opener against Philipp Kohlschreiber in Madrid on Monday, and faces Ivo Karlovic in round two on Wednesday, has found the confidence that deserted him last year and is happy to leave that difficult chapter behind him.
“It’s been a great journey, I’m always the type of guy that appreciates the journey more than the final destination,” Dimitrov told Sport360° in the Spanish capital of his path over the last 12 months.
“Of course the year itself speaks for itself, so at the same time I don’t want to go back, I just want to own up to what I had to own up to, and face everything that was in front of me in those tough times.
“So yeah, that’s what it is right now. We have three more tournaments until the end of the clay court season, so hopefully that’s going to pay off good for me. I always wanted to play good on clay and have good results. I’m just going to keep up this form and stay focused.”
One of the changes Dimitrov made after a disappointing period last year, that included a bizarre six-match losing streak midseason, was parting ways with Franco Davin and hiring Dani Vallverdu as his coach.
Vallverdu, who used to be Andy Murray’s hitting partner and assistant coach and spent time working with Tomas Berdych, and very briefly with Juan Martin del Potro, seems to play a significant factor in Dimitrov’s surge this year.
Dimitrov admits that having a solid team around him has been key.
“There were a lot of things I had to accept. Change the way I was practicing, the whole team is set right now, everybody knows their spot, everybody knows what they have to do and that’s what they work for, to be me in the best possible position for me in order to go out there and give 100 per cent,” he explained.
“So far in the year, it’s been going great. I haven’t had any injuries, everything has been going well. I had the virus (recently) and all that, a little setback is needed sometimes in a way, I accept it and move forward…
He added: “I accept any obstacle that I have in front of me right now. And focus on each match, each point, each practice, each rehab, everything that is required of me. All my team is working behind the scene to put me in that position so that’s all I can ask for right now.”
At a charity event for children Grigor Dimitrov got down with the dancing!! 😀😍 pic.twitter.com/xlRkIYpQXQ— LaWanda (@lawanda50) April 29, 2017
Clay is not necessarily Dimitrov’s most successful surface – only one of his six titles has come on the red dirt – but his winning record on it (59.5%) is quite similar to his success rate on grass (59.6%) and hard courts (60.6%).
“I always have high expectations of myself. I didn’t start the clay season that well so I’m trying to lower my expectations a little bit so I can accept playing whoever I have to play. The first rounds here are already tough enough. You just got to look for those moments and do everything you can from your side, that’s the only thing I can ask for,” he said.
Dimitrov is 3-2 head-to-head against Karlovic, who saved four match points en route to a 7-6(4), 6-7(9), 7-6(7) win over Roberto Bautista Agut on Tuesday.
A grieving Nick Kyrgios advanced to the second round of the Madrid Open on Monday with a 7-6 (1), 6-4 win over Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
The 22-year-old Aussie had pulled out of the Estoril Open last week so he could attend his grandfather’s funeral in Canberra and only made it to Madrid after he was urged by his family to play.
He fired 14 aces and faced zero break points in his 77-minute win over Baghdatis, but confessed that it’s been difficult keeping his head in the game so soon after his grandfather’s passing.
“It was tough, obviously a lot going on the last week and a half. I haven’t really trained much, it was really tough,” Kyrgios told Sport360° after the match.
“Didn’t really know if I was going to play this week. I didn’t really have high expectations this week. I feel very rusty on the court, I played some doubles yesterday with Jack (Sock), he somehow carried me for the win there. I’m happy to be back out here but obviously my mind isn’t fully invested in tennis at the minute. It’s tough.”
Asked on what pushed him to play Madrid, the young Aussie said: “I guess family. Just my family. They thought ‘you should play, you’ve got a lot of big tournaments coming up’. It was a tough decision. Honestly I wanted to stay home. But ultimately I’m a tennis player, so you know I can’t keep missing tournaments I guess.”
Kyrgios, seeded No16 in the Spanish capital where he awaits either Bernard Tomic or Ryan Harrison in the second round, is having a strong 2017 where he has amassed a 16-4 win-loss record, has made the semi-finals in Marseille, Acapulco, and Miami, and has beaten Novak Djokovic twice.
The world No20 remains uncertain about his own expectations this clay swing but remains hopeful he can replicate the success he’s had earlier in the season.
“Honestly I don’t know yet. I’m just trying to get through every day, one by one, and we’ll see. Hopefully if I’m playing the level I was playing about a month ago in the States, then you know I can do some good things,” said Kyrgios. “But we’ll see. I’m certainly not at that level at the moment. I haven’t really hit in the last two, three weeks, so we’ll see how it goes.”