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Serena sails through but Venus falls at the first hurdle in Parma

By Sports Desk May 17, 2021

Serena Williams had no problems in her opening match at the Emilia-Romagna Open, but sister Venus was unable to join her in the last 16.

Top seed Serena eased to a 6-3 6-2 triumph over teenage qualifier Lisa Pigato in the highlight of Monday's action in the clay-court tournament, wrapping up the result in 68 minutes.

Pigato, 17, was making her debut in the main draw of a professional event having come through qualifying in Parma.

She enjoyed early success against the legendary Williams, too, claiming a break of serve in the opening game, but the 23-time grand slam champion soon got to grips with the task at hand.

"The first game, she played really good and I needed to adjust to get back," Serena said afterwards. "It was a bit of both, figuring out her game as well."

Next up for the American, who accepted a wildcard into the event after an early exit at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome last week, will be Katerina Siniakova, a 6-1 6-3 winner over Clara Tauson.

Venus, however, failed to make it beyond her opening outing, losing out to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova despite taking the opening set.

The Slovakian made it four wins in five meetings against the seven-time major champion, eventually prevailing 5-7 6-2 6-2 after two hours and 39 minutes on court.

Elsewhere, Sloane Stephens defeated fellow American Caty McNally in two sets, while seventh seed Sara Sorribes Tormo overcame Bernarda Pera 6-4 6-2.

There was also a win in straight sets for eighth seed Caroline Garcia, who got the better of Paula Ormaechea in a contest that saw both players serve impressively.

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    Daniil Medvedev did not take kindly to a question over the controversy surrounding Russian athletes at the Tokyo Olympics after he battled through sweltering conditions to reach the quarter-finals.

    Medvedev beat Italy's Fabio Fognini 6-2 3-6 6-2 on Wednesday in a match that was paused for 10 minutes due to on-court temperatures reaching 31 degrees Celsius, with humidity then adding to that.

    The world number two had to receive medical attention on two occasions before he prevailed to tee up a last-eight tie with Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain.

    Top seed Novak Djokovic continued his march towards the medal matches with a routine win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, though in the doubles, Andy Murray's hopes of winning a historic fourth Olympic prize were shattered.

     

    MEDVDEV'S TEMPER FRAYS IN THE HEAT

    It had already been a stressful day for Medvedev. The 25-year-old replied "I can finish the match but I can die. If I die, are you going to be responsible?" when asked by chair umpire Carlos Ramos whether he could carry on playing against Fognini following two medical timeouts. 

    Medvedev's temper then boiled over in the media mixed zone when he was questioned over the contentious nature of Russian athletes competing at the Games.

    The Russian flag is not represented in Tokyo due to sanctions against the country for state-sponsored doping offences. Russia is suspended from competing in global sporting events for two years – a ban that was reduced from an initial four-year punishment. Instead, athletes are competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).

    Medvedev was asked if he feels the Russian athletes are "carrying a stigma of cheaters".

    Seemingly misunderstanding the question, Medvedev hardly held back in his reaction, saying: "That's the first time in my life I’m not gonna answer a question, man. And you should be embarrassed of yourself."

    Before leaving the room, Medvedev subsequently told the press officer: "I think you should [remove] him from either the Olympic Games, either the tennis tournament. I don't wanna see him again in my interviews. Thanks."

    MURRAY'S PARIS PARTICIPATION IN DOUBT

    There was to be no fairytale title tilt for former world number one Murray. He won gold in the singles in London and Rio, and also managed a silver medal at the 2012 Games in the mixed doubles, but he and Joe Sailsbury suffered a defeat to Croatian pair Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig in the quarter-finals.

    The British pair won the first set but failed to make their advantage count, with Croatia's duo coming back to win 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 10-7.

    Murray will be 37 by the time the Paris Games come around, and as he continues to carefully manage his return from hip surgery, the Scot could well have made his Olympic farewell.

    "I don't know. I don't know if I'll get the opportunity to play [in the Olympics] again," he conceded.

    "I love every minute of playing the Olympics. I wish that today would have gone differently. I had another chance with Joe to win a medal. We were so close and that is just disappointing. There was some stuff I wish I could have done at the end of the match to try and help out more. But yeah, very disappointing."

    MIXED BAG FOR TSITSIPAS

    While Medvedev, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev all progressed into the last eight in the singles, there was no place for Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose hopes were ended by Ugo Humbert.

    The Greek world number four suffered a seemingly innocuous leg injury in the second set tie-break and failed to recover in the decider as Frenchman Humbert claimed the biggest win of his career.

    However, Tsitsipas was swiftly back on court to play in the mixed doubles alongside partner Maria Sakkari, and the duo claimed a comfortable 6-3 6-4 victory over Canada's Gabriela Dabrowski and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

    Asked after that win to discuss what went wrong in his earlier defeat, Tsitsipas replied: "I figured out a few things later during the match, like really, really late. 

    "I think if I've had the same mindset or the same attitude, same vision that I had towards the very end of the match, I think things would have gone much, much smoother and better for me. It's something that I learned."

    He also confirmed his injury was "nothing serious."

    DJOKOVIC ON A ROLL

    As expected, Djokovic is one win away from a shot at a medal in the singles, and he then followed up his victory over Davidovich Fokina by combining with Nina Stojanovic in the mixed doubles.

    The Serbian pair beat Marcelo Melo and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-3 6-4 in just 70 minutes to book their place in the next round.

    Djokovic will have the host nation against him in his next match, however, as he takes on Kei Nishikori, who is Japan's only hope of a singles medal after Naomi Osaka's exit.

  • 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).

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