Mikael Ymer Has Come Alive In Florence This Week

Mikael Ymer (photo: Giampiero Sposito/UniCredit Firenze Open)

FLORENCE/WASHINGTON, October 12, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Sweden’s Mikael Ymer has truly come alive this week in Florence. Round by round, the 24-year-old Stockholm resident has taken on all comers and succeeded.

After winning two rounds in qualifying (against Italy’s Andreas Seppi and Borna Gojo of Croatia) to graduate to the main draw, Ymer has strung together a pair of satisfying wins over 116th-ranked qualifier Tim van Rijthoven of the Netherlands and No. 5 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia. It advanced Ymer to Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 80 Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, who pulled off the upset of the tournament by beating World No. 16 and second seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 7-5, in three hours and 18 minutes. The outcome shocked the partisan Italian crowd that filled Palazzo Wanny.

Earlier Wednesday afternoon on Campo Centrale, the World No. 99 Ymer rallied nicely in the final set to beat the 39th-ranked Karatsev, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-1. The confidence-building victory placed Ymer into his fourth tour-level quarterfinal of 2022, to go along with reaching the last eight at Adelaide, Montpellier and Metz earlier this season.

The Swedish No. 1 won the last six games of the two-and-a-half-hour match, which included breaking Karatsev’s serve three times. He put away the victory on his first match point. Ymer outpointed Karatsev 104-77.

“I’m really happy that I managed to find a way [to win],” Ymer said during his on-court interview. “He started off, I think, that third set with a very high level. I thought, actually, I was in big trouble at love-1. I thought he was going to keep raising it, but I managed to fight very good. When I got the break back to 1-all, I think it made a big difference. It gave me a lot of energy to keep going. After that, I zoned in very well.”

Ymer, who broke into Top 100 and competed at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in 2019 en route to achieving a career-high No. 67 the next year, improved to 9-5 against Top-50 players this season – including 8-3 on hard courts. Three of those wins came against Top-20 opponents: Jannik Sinner, Gaël Monfils and Diego Schwartzman.

Carballes Baena’s victory is bittersweet for Italian fans

Roberto Carballes Baena gave an astonishing performance – one of the best of the 29-year-old Spaniard’s career – and with it, he stunned World No. 16 and second seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 7-5. The 80th-ranked Carballes Baena won the final five games of the three-hour and 18-minute second-round match.

The victory was the first over a Top-20 player on hard courts for the native of Tenerife, Spain – and third overall – and it lifted him into his 15th career ATP Tour quarterfinal, and first off clay. The ATP Tour’s return to Florence started Monday with seven Italians in the main draw. Now, with Berrettini eliminated, there are just two remaining: World No. 28 and third seed  Lorenzo Musetti and 126th-ranked wild card Francesco Passaro.

With the match deadlocked at a set each, Carballes Baena recovered from a 5-2 deficit in the final set and took advantage of his fifth break of Berrettini’s serve – thanks to the Italian’s 28th unforced error after the Rome native netted a backhand return – to go ahead 6-5 in the third set. By this time, the match had reached three-and-a-quarter hours and it put everyone who filled Palazzo Wanny on the edge of their seats. It also put the Spaniard in the position of serving for a place in Friday’s last eight.

Carballes Baena did not squander the opportunity. He fought exceptionally well – played aggressively with his second serve and kept Berrettini pinned to the baseline – and gave one of the best performances of his career. An overhead smash gave him his 28 winner of the match and a hard-fought but satisfying victory in the end. Although he was outpointed 114-113 – Berrettini finished with 13 aces and hit 52 winners but also committed 29 unforced errors – Carballes Baena was not outplayed by any means.

“I am very happy,” a tired but elated Carballes Baena said, smiling during his on-court interview. “It is a very good win for me, one of the best of my career. I just tried to win every point, to be focused on every one and to return the serve because [Matteo] served very good. I am very happy because I am in the next round.”

Around the Firenze Open

• In the first of two all-American battles that highlighted the Wednesday afternoon session, No. 79 Mackenzie McDonald beat No. 6 seed Jenson Brooksby for the first time in their three career meetings. The 2016 NCAA singles champion from UCLA recovered from a second-set dip and advanced with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 first-round win over the 42nd-ranked Brooksby in two hours and 20 minutes. McDonald broke Brooksby six times in 15 opportunities and outpointed his opponent 94-80.

Next, McDonald will face Italian wild card Francesco Passaro, just 21, who late Tuesday night earned the biggest career victory of his young career – and it was his first tour-level win, too. With World No. 58 David Goffin of Belgium withdrawn due to illness, the 126th-ranked Passaro faced 110th-ranked lucky loser Zhang Zhizhen of China and pulled off a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6) upset that ended after two hours and sent home the capacity crowd that filled intimate Palazzo Wanny happy. He became the first Italian to win a main-draw singles match in Florence following four earlier losses.

Passaro is No. 9 on the Pepperstone ATP Live Race to Milan and hopes to qualify for the upcoming Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. A deep run this week in Florence will help his cause. The Perugia native struck 22 winners to just four unforced errors and fought off all three break points he faced from Zhang. He outpointed his opponent 79-66.

“Of course, for me it’s an amazing day. My first ATP match win, so I’m very happy,” Passaro said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “Now, I am focused for the next round and I’m hungry to win the match and to go up the ATP Rankings.”

• In the second all-American matchup, No. 75 J.J. Wolf earned his second tour-level quarterfinal berth of the season with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 4 seed Maxime Cressy in an hour and 20 minutes. Wolf put away the win, which included a break of Cressy in each set, with a volley forehand winner on his second match point. It improved his win-loss record against U.S. opponents to 3-0.

Wolf hit 19 winners, made just six unforced errors and withstood 12 aces from the 33rd-ranked Cressy. The 23-year-old Wolf from Cincinnati, Ohio, did not face any break points. He outpointed Cressy 60-51.

On Friday, Wolf will face No. 7 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, who dropped just one point on his first serve and took out No. 69 Corentin Moutet of France, 7-5, 6-4, in an hour and 25 minutes. Bublik, the only seeded player remaining in the lower half of the draw, struck 40 winners, faced no break points and outpointed Moutet 65-51 in the final match on Wednesday’s order of play that stretched past midnight.

The victory was Bublik’s ATP Tour-leading 15th indoor win this season and it boosted him into his fifth tour-level quarterfinal of the season.

• In the doubles draw, No. 2 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia – the highest-remaining seeded team after Monday’s upset of No. 1 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain – advanced to the quarterfinal round with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Austrian pair Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler. Mektic and Pavic won their fifth title of 2022 last week at Astana. They’ve also collected titles this season at Eastbourne, Queen’s Club, Geneva and Rome.

Meanwhile, No. 4 seeds Matthew Ebden and John Peers, both of Australia, were upset by French duo Sadio Doumbia and Fabien Reboul, 6-3, 2-6, 10-8.

Wednesday’s UniCredit Firenze Open results

Thursday’s UniCredit Firenze Open order of play

By the numbers

Roberto Carballes Baena improved to 3-19 versus Top-20 players in his career with his three-set upset win over Matteo Berrettini (1-8 on hard courts). The victory lifted him into his 15th ATP Tour quarterfinal and first on a surface other than clay. The loss dropped Berrettini to 15-2 versus players ranked outside the Top 50.

“Quotable …”

“It’s my first here time in Florence. I’m happy I’m playing here. I’m happy with the level I played; I served well, I returned well, and was very solid from the baseline. … Every day I try to improve, whether it’s in the gym or out on the tennis court. I am trying to be a little more aggressive out on the tennis court, taking the right balls and coming to the net as much as possible. We’re doing a pretty good job of that this year. We are always looking for ways to improve.”

– No. 8 seed Brandon Nakashima of the United States, during his on-court interview following his first-round win over Richard Gasquet Wednesday evening.