Some Days, It’s Just Not Good To Be A No. 1 Seed

Sloane Stephens (photo: Abierto GNP Seguros)

DUBAI/MONTERREY/WASHINGTON, March 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

It doesn’t happen often, but it did on Tuesday. The top seeds in two different tournaments were upset. Spread across 10 time zones – and with their matches occurring just a few hours apart – both No. 1 seed Dominic Thiem at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and No. 1 seed Sloane Stephens in the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey, Mexico, lost. Both are out of their respective ATP and WTA outdoor hard court tournaments after just one match.

First, in Dubai, Thiem fell to unheralded 81st-ranked Lloyd Harris of South Africa 6-3, 6-4, in just 73 minutes, for his second consecutive loss and third in his last four going back to his loss against Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

“There were too many mistakes from the baseline on my side,” Thiem commiserated during his virtual press conference after the loss. “I’m not playing my best level.”

To wit, Thiem won just one point out of 30 on Harris’ first serve. He never won more than four consecutive points of any kind and never won more than one game at a time.

“I’m going to reset myself so that I can go fresh into the clay season,” Thiem continued. He joins the growing list of big names, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who will skip next week’s Miami Open“Right now, I’m in a tough period and it wouldn’t be the right thing to go to Miami. After a little reset and regroup, hopefully I’ll have a good clay season. After these tough weeks, that’s my goal now.”

Later, the No. 48 Stephens was ousted by 151st-ranked Kristina Kucova of Slovakia, 6-2, 6-2, winning just 32 percent of her first-serve points while being broken seven times. Stephens lost the final six straight games and never mounted much of a serious threat. It ended in one hour and 11 minutes and Tuesday’s match was her fifth straight setback, dropping her win-loss record to 0-4 this year.

Afterward, Stephens’ virtual press conference resembled a therapy session and she didn’t dodge any questions from the international media. Instead, the media sat as good listeners and the 2017 US Open champion set the tone early – not holding back anything but in a polite and respectful tone of voice – by suggesting: “This was just a really sh–ty day.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Stephens what she could learn about herself after a tough, disappointing loss, the American from South Florida, said: “I just want to put this one out of my head. I’ve had the training, but I think just the lack of matches and not playing a lot has put me in kind of a slump. It can happen. … I’m not going to take this one too hard. I’ve had a lot of hard ones recently.

“I’m just going to try to bounce back. Hopefully, things will start to click – eventually. They can’t stay bad forever, like, they can’t possibly. So, I’m going to train some more and hopefully, get that first win in Miami.”

A solid win for Kasatkina over Danish teen Tauson

Former World No. 10 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, now ranked 58th, ended Danish teen Clara Tauson‘s unbeaten run at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy on Tuesday. Tauson, whose title win in Lyon two weeks ago lifted her into the Top 100 at No. 96, fell in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (0).

The No. 8 seed Kasatkina, who has won eight of her last 10 matches on hard courts – including the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne – is No. 3 on tour with a 63.1 percent efficiency in second-serve return points won – and it was her return game that contributed to her victory. The loss ended a 14-match winning streak for Tauson going back to early February in Altenkirchen, Germany, at a W25 indoor carpet event.

Tennis TourTalk asked Kasatkina during a virtual press conference, conducted in both Russian and English, what she thought about Tauson’s game and also what it does for her confidence. She said: “I was surprised that Clara was playing super aggressive. I realized she probably won in Lyon because she likes to play indoors and she’s going to be very dangerous on the hard courts and indoors especially.

“Of course [the victory] means a lot because every match you win at home, it counts twice,” said Kasatkina, whose record improved to 11-4 and advanced her to the second round against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. “I wasn’t happy about my draw, when I found out the qualifier I’m going to play. But it was a very good match and I was happy that I was able to win it.”

Kei Nishikori: On learning and confidence building

On Tuesday evening, Japan’s Kei Nishikori scored a hard-fought victory 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory No. 5 seed David Goffin in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Championships. It marked the first time this season that the World No. 41 has scored back-t0-back wins. In beating the World No. 13 Goffin to improve to 4-5 on the young season, the Belgian represents the highest-ranked player that Nishikori has beaten this year.

Afterward, Tennis TourTalk asked the Japanese No. 1 what a victory over Goffin does for his confidence and what he learned about himself. He said: “It was very good. I think I played very solid, especially the first set. I was very happy. I hit many winners with my forehand and backhand. Maybe, I could have come in a little more, but it was solid. In the second set, he played better and I got a little bit tight. If that combination got mixed up, anything could happen. But I’m happy with my game.”

Asked why Nishikori matches up so well with Goffin despite never having lost to him in four career head-to-heads, he deadpanned, “Oh, really? I haven’t lost to him? I feel like it was an even match. We always play a tough match. I don’t look at him playing easy; I don’t expect an easy match from him. I always think of him as a tough opponent. I don’t know why, maybe, he gives me good rhythm and I can step in a little more. We play very similar.”

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