Nadal claims 10th Barcelona title with win over Thiem to solidify status as French Open favourite

Sport360 staff 30/04/2017
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A perfect 10: For Rafa.

Rafael Nadal hailed a “dream start” to his clay court season after romping to his 10th Barcelona Open on Sunday after sweeping aside Austria’s Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1.

The Spaniard also claimed his 10th title at the Monte Carlo Masters last week as he gears up for to go for his 10th French Open title next month.

“It is two consecutive weeks winning, in Monte Carlo and here, two special tournaments for me, it is a dream start on clay,” said Nadal. “It means a lot for me to reach number 10 here in Barcelona, in front of the people of my club, I am very happy and emotional.”

Nadal won in Barcelona between 2005-2009, 2011-13 and now in the last two years. The 14-time Grand Slam champion also looks like the man to beat at Roland Garros after winning on a Barcelona court named after him and where he didn’t drop a set all week.

Thiem had shocked world number one Andy Murray in Saturday’s semi-finals and showed some early resistance. The world number nine even had his only break point of the match in the first game.

But Nadal, returning to top form at age 30, upped his intensity at the crucial moment and took the set with the only break in the 10th game.

“The first set was vitally important,” added Nadal. “It was hard. I was having a few more chances than him but it was very even and that is why I celebrated with so much energy at the end.”

The second set was a procession as Thiem’s frustration at his inability to break through Nadal’s defences saw him consistently fire long. The Austrian held off three break points in his opening service game, but was powerless to stop Nadal thereafter as he won the last five games to seal victory in just over 90 minutes on court.

However, Thiem wasn’t too disheartened after losing out to the king of clay after what had been a productive week.

“I really enjoyed the week in Barcelona,” he said. “There are worse things than to lose against the greatest player on clay ever.”

The 23-year-old is now 9-20 against top-10 opposition and is yet to claim back-to-back top-10 victories.

Just like all the other nine times Nadal had triumphed in Barcelona, he leapt into the pool of the tennis club along with the ball kids to celebrate a stunning 10th success in Catalunya.


* From AFP

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Porsche Tennis: Sharapova beaten by Mladenovic in Stuttgart semi-final

Sport360 staff 29/04/2017
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Sharapova's run in Germany is over.

Maria Sharapova lost in the semi-finals in Stuttgart on Saturday, her controversial comeback from a 15-month doping ban ending in defeat to one of her biggest critics.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner and former world number one, lost 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to Kristina Mladenovic as the Russian exited her first tournament back from a ban after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

“I’m not angry, I’d have loved to have used the opportunity when I was ahead in the second set, so I had a bit of a let down which allowed her to get back in the match, gain confidence and play well,” said Sharapova.

Mladenovic has been a vocal critic of Sharapova’s return to tennis and on the eve of their semi accused her of getting “extra help”, having been handed wild cards to play at the Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome tournaments.

Having started her comeback with a world ranking of zero on Wednesday, due to her ban, reaching the semi-final means Sharapova has already moved up to 260th in the world.

Sharapova refused to blame a lack of fitness for her defeat, but says she needs match practise after her enforced break.

“If at the start of the week I’d said I’d be in this position, I’d be pretty happy with that,” she said.

“The way I played, I was really happy with that. You are never sure what level you are going to come onto the court with, but I feel this is a great base with which I started here.”

Sharapova will learn on May 16 whether she will be given a wild card for the main draw at Roland Garros and Mladenovic was complimentary of the Russian after her semi-final victory.

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Sharapova claims statement victory over Vinci in her first match back from doping ban

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Here her roar: Maria Sharapova.

It was like she never left. Maria Sharapova was sliding, grunting, battling and eventually winning a tough encounter with Roberta Vinci in her first match back from a 15-month doping suspension on Wednesday night in Stuttgart.

The Russian former world No1 fought hard to claim a statement victory over Vinci, 7-5, 6-3 in one hour 43 minutes to booked a last-16 clash with her compatriot Ekaterina Makarova.

Walking out on centre court at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix under much scrutiny for receiving special treatment from the tournament organisers, who allowed her to play her first round on day three so she could serve out her suspension, Sharapova did what she does best – she withstood the pressure and won a tennis match.

While she could not escape some early nerves – she double-faulted once on her way to a 0-2 deficit – she recovered immediately to draw level.

The dramatic build-up to her return from suspension did not subside once she stepped on court. Sharapova coming back to tennis after 15 months was a big deal and it seemed like the whole world was watching. Even some of her fellow players were in the stands including Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Makarova.

Dramatic entrance: For Sharapova.

Dramatic entrance: For Sharapova.

Vinci, down to No35 in the world after peaking at No7 back in 2015 when she made the US Open final, saved one break point after the other as Sharapova kept upping the pressure on the Italian’s serve with some signature return winners.

She produced a clutch hold that included two aces to level at 5-5 and finally converted a break point in the next game to inch ahead. She served out the set comfortably to wrap up a 59-minute opening stanza.

Sharapova quickly went up a break in the second set, mixing up her shots with the odd dropper, and serving well when she needed to. She finished the contest with an impressive tally of 11 aces to move into the second round.

“It’s the best feeling in the world to walk out (on court), it’s been a stage of mine since I was a young girl and it was very special,” said Sharapova who celebrated her win with a succession of double fist pumps and a broad smile before blowing kisses to all corners of the Porsche Arena. “I have been waiting for this a long time.”


The victory came on the same day the French Tennis Federation (FFT) revealed they will make the announcement of their decision on whether they will grant Maria Sharapova a wildcard for the Roland Garros main draw via a Facebook Live on May 16.

Sharapova – who has already moved up to a provisional live ranking of 510 – must reach the Stuttgart final in order to clinch a spot in the Roland Garros qualifying draw. Much has been made on whether the 30-year-old, who is now a doping offender (CAS ruled that it was unintentional), should be granted wildcards into the majors and other events.

Canadian former Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard is the latest to oppose tournaments’ decision to invite Sharapova (she has wildcards for Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome so far) and went full blast on her former idol saying: “She’s a cheater. I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.”

Ex-world No1 Andy Roddick said it was naive to fault tournaments for doing what is best for them.

The American said in an interview with www.insidetennis.com: “It seems a little a naive to me. I have a hard time having people trying to play judge and jury after time has been served…Do I think she deserves a wildcard? Sure, I think the wildcard should go to the people who can generate the most interest.

“How do you define wildcard? It should go to someone who generates the most interest, someone who can actually make a run [in the tournament] or some of the best players available to a given tournament. She fits the criteria of all of those. I don’t have a problem with it and I’m not going to criticize a tournament for doing what’s in their best interest.”

POST-MATCH VERDICT

As expected, Sharapova looked in great shape in her first match back. She spent 15 months preparing for this moment and delivered in impressive fashion. In a high-pressure situation, she rose above it all and got the win. Her movement was great, she showed variety in her shots and fired 11 aces. Her first serve percentage was a bit low – 59 per cent – but was only broken once, in her first service game. She is 6-0 head-to-head against Makarova and can be expected to move into the quarter-finals.

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