Sinner Chartering New Territory At Sofia Open

Jannik Sinner (photo: Sofia Open/

WASHINGTON, October 1, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

For the first time in his budding pro career, Jannik Sinner is defending an ATP Tour title. Last year, he won his first tour-level crown at the Sofia Open in the capital city of the Balkan nation of Bulgaria. This year, the 20-year-old Italian is back as the top seed of the ATP 250 indoor hard court tournament. While Sinner is chartering new territory, he does so with the hope that he will become more familiar as his career progresses.

Last year, Sinner, who was ranked 44th, defeated Canada’s Vasek Pospisil to win the 2020 Sofia title. En route, he strung together quality wins over Marton Fucsovics, Marc-Andrea Huesler, Alex de Minaur, Adrian Mannarino and Pospisil. Since then, he’s garnered a second ATP 250 trophy at the Great Ocean Road tournament in Melbourne, and in August added an ATP 500 title when he won the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. He arrived this week in Sofia in 11th place in the FedEx ATP Race to Turin.

During pre-tournament press, Sinner said he looks forward to defending his title. “Obviously, when you win the first tournament it’s always a special place and for me it was here. So, I’m very grateful to be back.

“It’s great, a lot of emotions last year.. … This year is very different, obviously. It’d [be] very nice to see me with the trophy, but I’m here trying to defend what I did last year and for this it’s a long way to go.”

On Thursday evening, the World No. 14 Sinner took court against 112th-ranked qualifier Egor Gerasimov of Belarus inside Arena Armeec Sofia to improve his 2021 win-loss record to 34-17. Sinner, who had been idle since losing to Alexander Zverev in the US Open round of 16 in early September, beat Gerasimov 6-2, 7-6 (3) in an hour and 42 minutes, winning on his third match-point opportunity. He’s now won 10 of his last 13 matches.

Sinner was asked during his on-court interview after beating Gerasimov if it felt special returning to Sofia as a defending champion. He said: “It is. Obviously, I’m happy to be back here, a lot of love I shared with the fans. Unfortunately, this year, they are not here. I’m very excited to play here once again. I’m happy about my first match today.”

Sinner won 79 percent (30 of 38) of his first-serve points, which include serving four aces, and saved seven of eight break points. He outpointed Gerasimov 75-56.

“The first set I played well, I felt well and I was returning well,” Sinner said. “The second set was only a couple of points different.”

Quarterfinals take shape in Sofia

Next, Sinner will oppose No. 56 James Duckworth of Australia, who advanced with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No 49 Benoit Paire of France. Duckworth was a finalist last week in Nur-Sultan. They’ve met twice and split their two earlier meetings. Most recently, Duckworth beat Sinner, 6-3, 6-4, in the second round at Toronto in early August.

Duckworth, who is enjoying a career-high ranking, has won 11 of his past 12 matches. “I got off to a little bit of a slow start there,” he said during an on-court interview. “Benoit was playing with a lot of variety, so I found it a bit difficult to find my range at the start. But then I was able to find my range a little bit and come through in the end.”

Also reaching the quarterfinal round were: No. 2 seed Gaël Monfils of France, who advanced by walkover against Ilya Ivashka of Belarus; No. 5 seed Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who defeated fellow Serbian Laslo Djere, ranked 47th, 6-3, 6-0; No 8 seed John Millman of Australia, who beat 151st-ranked qualifier Illya Marchenko of Ukraine, 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3; and No. 67 Marcos Giron of the United States, who upset No. 3 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), for his second straight win in as many weeks against the Australian. De Minaur was attempting to reach the Sofia quarterfinals for the second straight year.

Top two seeds at Astana Open advance to semifinals

Friday’s semifinal round of the inaugural WTA 250 Astana Open in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan will include the tournament’s top two seeds: No. 1 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan and No. 2 Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium. During Thursday’s quarterfinals, the 47th-ranked Putintseva defeated No. 160 Anastasia Gasanova of Russia, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, while van Uytvanck prevailed over No. 7 seed Varvara Gracheva of of Russia, 6-4, 6-4.

Putintseva, who has reached her third WTA semifinal of the season after Bucharest and Portoroz, advanced to play No. 6 seed Rebecca Peterson. The 86th-ranked Swede defeated 80th-ranked Russian wild card Anastasia Potapova, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-4. The 89th-ranked van Uytvanck will play No. 126 Jaqueline Cristian of Romania, who defeated 166th-ranked qualifier Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia, 6-4, 6-3.

Olympic medalists shine at Chicago Fall Tennis Classic

In a rare treat, all three Olympic singles medalists were in action during the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic Thursday at XS Tennis Village on Chicago’s South Side Thursday.

Gold medalist Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, seeded third, beat 53rd-ranked Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 7-6 (5), to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals – her sixth straight quarterfinal berth. Meanwhile, silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova, also from the Czech Republic, advanced to the last eight with a 6-4, 6-3 win over 16th seed Jil Teichmann of Switzerland. Finally, No. 1 seed and bronze medalist Elina Svitolina of Ukraine beat No. 98 Elena-Gabriela Ruse of Romania, 6-3, 6-3.

However, the biggest surprise came on Court 1 when 200th-ranked qualifier Mai Hontama of Japan upset No. 43 Shelby Rogers of the United States, 6-4, 6-7 (1), 6-1, to set up a quarterfinal matchup against No. 2 seed Garbiñe Muguruza. The two-time Grand Slam champion advanced by walkover against No. 14 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. Hontama has enjoyed a week to remember with victories over Caroline Garcia of France, 6-3, 6-0, and No. 11 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia by walkover.

Hontama, whose win over Rogers represents the highest-ranked player she’s beaten this season, has spent much of the season playing in a variety of ITF World Tour and WTA 125 events. Her win-loss record in all competitions this season is 38-12.

Also advancing to Friday’s quarterfinals were: No. 5 seed Elena Rybakina, No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur and No. 10 seed Danielle Collins. The No. 17 Rybakina of Kazakhstan defeated No. 31 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, 7-6 (4), 7-5. The 16th-ranked Jabeur of Tunisia took out No. 9 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States, ranked 24th, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, and the 28th-ranked Collins of the U.S. won over No. 7 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, ranked 18th, 6-2, 6-4.

Ruud into final eight at San Diego Open

World No. 10 Casper Ruud of Norway powered his way past No. 109 Andy Murray of Great Britain, 7-5, 6-4, to advance to the quarterfinals of the ATP 250 San Diego Open Thursday night at the Barnes Tennis Center. On Friday, the No. 2 seed Ruud will play No. 9 seed Lorenzo Sonego. The 23rd-ranked Italian defeated No. 42 Sebastian Korda of the United States 6-4, 6-3.

“On the opposite side of the net from me was a legend of the game [from] the past decade or so. Even what he’s done now the past [few] years, fighting his way back from a very serious injury, it’s been an inspiration for me,” Ruud said during an on-court interview after his victory. “Also for the [past] 10, 15 years, he’s been an inspiration to watch on TV the way he fights and always finds a way to never give up.

“It’s been an unfortunate couple of years for him, but it’s great to see him back and I think he was playing at a high level today.”

Also, advancing the quarterfinals were: No. 4 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, who beat No. 39 Taylor Fritz of the United States, 7-6 (7), 6-2 . He will face No. 28 Cameron Norrie. The British No. 2 defeated British No. 1 Dan Evans, ranked 22nd, 7-6 (3), 6-3. No. 24 Aslan Karatsev of Russia upset World No. 12 and fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. He will oppose No. 29 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who eliminated 901st-ranked lucky loser August Holmgren of Denmark, 6-1, 6-1. Holmgren, who plays collegiately for the University of San Diego, was a late replacement for No. 2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada. The World No. 11 Auger-Aliassime withdrew from the tournament with an adductor strain.

Granollers and Zeballos qualify for Nitto ATP Finals

For the second straight year, Spanish-Argentine duo Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos have qualified for the year-end Nitto ATP Finals. They are the fourth team to earn qualification, which will take place Nov. 14-21 at the Paula Alpitour in Turin, Italy.

Granollers and Zeballos have two two titles – both ATP Masters 1000 events. They’ve won at both Madrid and in Cincinnati without losing a set.

Who’s better, father or son?

Earlier this week at the San Diego Open, Sebastian Korda was asked during an on-court interview whom he thought was the better play at age 21, he or his famous father, Petr Korda?

Happy 41st Birthday, Martina Hingis

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“I think I played really well especially for my first match, especially because I didn’t have much time to get used to the conditions because I arrived Monday late night and I had only one day to practice outdoors here in San Diego.

“So, the first match I played really well and we’ll see what’s gonna happen because the tournament is not about just one match, it’s about five matches. … I always wanted to visit San Diego. And I think it’s really great preparation before Indian Wells, almost the same conditions, so this is exactly what you want before the big event.”

– World No. 5 Andrey Rublev of Russia, the No. 1 seed at the ATP 250 San Diego Open, after his second-round win over Brandon Nakashima at the Barnes Tennis Center on Wednesday evening. Rublev will face No. 6 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in Friday’s quarterfinal round.