ATP

Nadal returns with strong start in Monte Carlo, unforgiving Djokovic eliminates Sinner

By Sports Desk April 14, 2021

Rafael Nadal's bid to win a 12th Monte Carlo Masters title got off to an emphatic start as the Spaniard swept Federico Delbonis aside after Novak Djokovic had also booked his passage to the third round.

Nadal, 34, has won the competition more times than anyone else in its history and looked in good shape as he returned to the court for the first time since losing to Stefano Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarter-finals on February 17.

He needed just 81 minutes to get past the Argentinian qualifier 6-1 6-2 as he improved his record in the tournament to 72-5, breaking Delbonis' serve five times and only dropping his own once.

He is not getting carried away, however, with Grigor Dimitrov likely to provide a sterner test in the next round after beating Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (7-3) 6-4.

"It was solid match, I think. Of course, a very positive result. He's a good player on clay. [It was a] positive start for me," Nadal said in his post-match interview.

"I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong. Just a solid match, a positive start. I think I did what I had to do."

On Dimitrov, Nadal added: "We've had some great matches. In Melbourne, of course... we played another great match in Beijing, another one in Shanghai. He's a good friend, a good guy, and a great player. It's going to be a tough test in my second round.

"It's going to be his third. I need to be ready for it. I hope to be ready for it. I am just excited to play a tough match very early in the tournament."

A little earlier in the day, world number one Djokovic was in a similarly unforgiving mood as he overcame the potentially tricky obstacle of Jannik Sinner, the Serbian and two-time Monte Carlo champion winning 6-4 6-2.

Like Nadal, Djokovic was back in action for the first time since the Australian Open – which he won – and appeared fresh as he gave the promising young Italian something of a lesson in game management, reaching 10 matches unbeaten at the start of a season for the sixth time.

"It feels great [to be back and] also playing in Monaco, where I reside," Djokovic said. "I have used this club as a training base for almost 15 years, so it feels like playing at home."

Despite the rather commanding nature of his win, Djokovic was keen to pay tribute to the 19-year-old Sinner, adding: "It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match [and] a big challenge for me. Jannik is in form. He played the final [in] Miami and has been playing well. I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time.

"He has got a lot of talent and he has proven that he is the future of our sport. Actually, he is already the present of our sport. He played a final [in an] ATP Masters 1000 [tournament] already. He is making big strides in professional tennis."

Dan Evans awaits Djokovic after an impressive 6-4 6-1 win over Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz, while Alexander Zverez and Andrey Rublev – the fifth and sixth seeds – moved into the next round with respective straight-set victories over Lorenzo Sonego and Salvatore Caruso.

There were mixed fortunes for the other two top-10 seeds in action on Wednesday, as Pablo Carreno-Busta defeated Karen Khachanov 6-2 6-3, but Diego Schwartzman was sent packing by Casper Ruud, the Norwegian winning 6-3 6-3.

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  • Tokyo Olympics: ITF pushes start times back amid player anger over heat and humidity Tokyo Olympics: ITF pushes start times back amid player anger over heat and humidity

    The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has confirmed matches at the Tokyo Olympics will now start later in the day after concerns over player health and welfare.

    World numbers one and two Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev have been among the players to complain about games starting too early in the day, citing the heat and humidity at Ariake Tennis Park as a major issue.

    Indeed, on Wednesday, 25-year-old Medvedev struggled with the conditions as he battled to a 6-2 3-6 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini.

    Despite being allowed 10 minutes off court at one stage, Medvedev was in visible discomfort during the last-16 tie, and had two medical timeouts before being asked by chair umpire Carlos Ramos whether he could continue.

    "I can finish the match but I can die," the Russian replied to Ramos, per ESPN. "If I die, are you going to be responsible?"

    The 72 per cent humidity meant 31 degrees Celsius felt like 37 degrees Celsius on the heat index. Medvedev was not the only player to suffer on Wednesday, with Paula Badosa having to be taken from the court in a wheelchair as she retired against Marketa Vondrousova due to heatstroke.

    Earlier in the week, Medvedev had questioned the approach of starting matches in the late morning, while top seed Djokovic suggested scheduling the first games for 15:00 local time.

    The ITF has now agreed, with start times pushed back to 15:00, meaning the majority of matches in the closing stages of the Olympic tennis will be played during the slightly cooler evening hours.

    "In the interests of player health and welfare and following extensive consultation, the ITF has announced a change of schedule due to the increasing heat and humidity currently being experienced in Tokyo," an ITF statement read.

    "The decision to start matches at 3pm JST from Thursday is possible due to the outcomes of today’s matches across the five competitons being staged and the size of the player field.

    "[The decision] is designed to further safeguard player health."

  • Tokyo Olympics: Badosa taken from court on a wheelchair as temperatures soar Tokyo Olympics: Badosa taken from court on a wheelchair as temperatures soar

    Paula Badosa was forced to withdraw from her quarter-final against Marketa Vondrousova and taken from the court on a wheelchair after suffering from heatstroke at Tokyo 2020.

    Tuesday saw heavy downpours in the Japanese capital, but the hot and humid conditions from earlier in the week returned early on Wednesday with temperatures at times going above 30 degrees Celsius.

    Vondrousova, who had shocked home favourite Naomi Osaka in the previous round, won the first set 6-3 at Ariake Tennis Park but her opponent was clearly struggling as she prepared to play the second set.

    She required medical assistance to depart the court, as Vondrousova progressed to the final four.

    VONDROUSOVA COMMENTS ON THE HEAT

    The conditions for the tennis in Tokyo have been a quite literal hot topic with both Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic stating matches should start at 3pm so the majority can be played as temperatures cool.

    Vondrousova explained how it was playing in the searing heat, saying: "It was a big struggle from the beginning.

    "I warmed up in the morning and I felt it was really hot and humid. Also, I was a bit tired from yesterday because I had doubles too.

    "But I knew she had too [singles and doubles]. I felt like we both were struggling from the beginning.

    "I was just thinking, you have to stay there mentally, just fight for every point and just see what happens. It's good for me that I can have some rest now.

    "It's all about the head too. You have to stay there mentally and fight. Even when you lose the point, you have to get up and fight again. It's really a struggle here with the weather, but that's it, we have to fight."

    OLYMPICS LIKE A SLAM FOR SVITOLINA

    Next up for Vondrousova is a last-four meeting with Elina Svitolina, the fourth seed and highest-ranked player left in the women's draw.

    The Ukrainian was a 6-4 6-4 victor over Camila Giorgi and talked up the significance of winning Olympic gold.

    "I know that for Ukraine, [the Olympics] is a really big thing," Svitolina said. 

    "I value the Olympics as a grand slam, and I tried to prepare to bring my best tennis. Here I am in the semi-final, and I can get a chance to get a medal. It's very special for me, but I try to take one match at a time."

    Belinda Bencic (9) came through 6-0 3-6 6-3 against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the other side of the draw. She will face Elena Rybakina (15), who was too good for seventh seed Garbine Muguruza in a 7-5 6-1 win.

    Ash Barty was beaten along with partner Storm Sanders in the women's doubles quarter-finals earlier on Wednesday but the world number one bounced back to win her first-round mixed doubles match with partner John Peers.

    The Australian duo beat Argentina's Horacio Zeballos and Nadia Podoroska 6-1 7-6 (7-3).

  • Tokyo Olympics: I can finish the match but I can die – Medvedev struggles with suffocating heat Tokyo Olympics: I can finish the match but I can die – Medvedev struggles with suffocating heat

    Daniil Medvedev told the chair umpire "I can finish the match but I can die" as he struggled with the suffocating heat at Tokyo 2020.

    A 6-2 3-6 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini on Wednesday was enough to see Medvedev through to the last eight at Ariake Tennis Park.

    But the world number two struggled with 72 per cent humidity that meant an already hot 31 degrees Celsius felt like 37 degrees Celsius on the heat index.

    An extreme heat rule meant Medvedev and Fognini were allowed to leave the court for 10 minutes at one stage of the contest.

    Medvedev was in visible discomfort before serving, between points and at changeovers. 

    He had two medical timeouts before being asked by the chair umpire Carlos Ramos whether he could continue.

    "I can finish the match but I can die," the Russian replied to Ramos, per ESPN. "If I die, are you going to be responsible?"

    After the match, Medvedev – who along with Novak Djokovic has been vocally calling for matches to start later in the day to counteract the heat – described his struggles.

    He said: "Even from the first set, I didn't feel good enough with my breathing. That's why I called the physio. I felt like my diaphragm had blocked. 

    "I couldn't breathe properly. I think it was the most humid day we have had so far.

    "Then, on the second set, I just had darkness in my eyes, like between every point I didn't know what to do to feel better. 

    "I was bending over, and I couldn't get my breathing together. I was ready to just fall down on the court.  

    "I knew there was a 10-minute break. So I went under the cold, freezing shower.

    "When you have such a change of temperature and go out on the hot court, you can fully cramp, and it finishes the match for you, either that or you feel better. I was lucky I felt better.

    "I don't care too much [about closing the roof], to be honest because I don't know if they have AC [air-conditioning]. 

    "It can be actually more humid and hot when they close it, but they should start the matches later. I said it in the first round, and I'll continue saying it.

    "All the players I know said this is not normal to start at 11am [local time]. 

    "[Djokovic] went to ITF and talked to them, and they gave him reasons - I heard maybe from tomorrow they're going to change it, but let's see."

    Following the Medvedev match, organisers were quoted as saying they were "considering" making a change, starting from Thursday's action.

    Paula Badosa also struggled on Wednesday and ultimately had to leave the court in a wheelchair after retiring with heatstroke from her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. 

    The Spaniard also withdrew from her mixed doubles match later alongside Pablo Carreno Busta, ending their hopes.

    Carreno Busta is still in the singles and will face Medvedev next.

    Vondrousova, who had won the first set before her opponent withdrew, said: "It was a big struggle from the beginning because I warmed up in the morning and I felt it was really hot and humid.

    "Also, I was a bit tired from Monday because I had doubles too. But I knew [Badosa] had [played singles and doubles] too. 

    "I felt like we both were struggling from the beginning. I was just thinking, you have to stay there mentally, just fight for every point and just see what happens."

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