Maria Sakkari called this one of the best weeks in her career. Jessica Pegula spoke for team USA, stressing their excitement for what’s to come. Poland are deadly in unison and we’re only halfway through: the United Cup’s final four nations were sealed after a manic day’s action – with a few surprising results as expected across tour-level tournaments elsewhere today.
United Cup as USA, Poland and Croatia/Greece all through
USA 4-1 Great Britain
Cameron Norrie admitted afterwards that he got tight deep in set two and played a loose game after having break point chances, but importantly showed his mettle when it mattered most.
He recovered from 3-1 down in the deciding set, remaining steady and composed en route to a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 win over Tokyo champion Taylor Fritz.
Prior in the tie’s first encounter, Madison Keys rallied back from a set down to overwhelm Katie Swan and give US an early advantage: 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Jessica Pegula played some unconscious tennis at times, en route to a comprehensive win over Harriet Dart – 6-2, 6-0 in 57 minutes.
Frances Tiafoe recovered from a set and early break down to hammer the final nail in the coffin for team GB, as he was a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 winner over Daniel Evans.
The final rubber was competitive, but Pegula/Fritz executed big points better and were eventually 6-4, 6-4 winners in mixed doubles against Evans/Dart.
“It’s fun to spend time with these guys, we’re excited for the semifinals,” Pegula said during the group winners’ celebration afterwards. They next play a strong Poland side on Friday, after their fate was decided by the final rubber – mixed doubles – with a strong pairing proving pivotal.
Poland 3-2 Italy
World no. 1 Iga Swiatek was eventually a 6-2, 6-4 winner against Martina Trevisan, though set two was gruelling with lengthy service games for the Italian – the 29-year-old struggling to hold serve and Swiatek flirting with a flurry of break points that were often saved (7/9 in second set).
Beforehand, Lorenzo Musetti got Italy off to the perfect start – a 58-minute match, dropping just two games (6-1, 6-1) against Daniel Michalski. The 22-year-old is now 0-3 in United Cup play.
Hubert Hurkacz had chances to give Poland a 2-1 lead in the tie, but ultimately found himself overpowered by a resurgent Matteo Berrettini display as the 2021 Wimbledon finalist recovered from a sluggish set two by his standards, beating the world no. 10 – 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 the final score.
A 223km/h serve and 168km/h forehand winner were among the pick of his most potent shots, as the winner count was firmly in his favour too: 12 forehand winners to Hubi’s 3, and three backhand winners to 2.
“The level was really high, Hubi is a great player, we fought in the past and will again in the future, I’m a bit tired now but happy. Feels good [to hit with such consistent power], felt a lot of power in my racquet, worked on it my whole life.
My coach believed in me, used to do kick serves on clay but he told me you’re gonna be tall so have to let it go. It works pretty well, the key was mental toughness, I wasn’t playing as well as yesterday but tennis is like this, I did it.”
- Berrettini on his battles with Hurkacz and his fearsome power
Magda Linette was a comfortable 6-1, 6-2 winner against Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti, meaning the tie’s winner would be decided by the final match.
Swiatek/Hurkacz were dominant early on and led 6-1 after 24 minutes, before a pair of brief but sudden rain-enforced interruptions saw Italy make their doubles clash more competitive.
They could better plan their intentions and keep rally exchanges competitive, but while they improved, it wasn’t enough against a pairing who were far too strong for them – delay or not.
SWIATEK: “It’s better to win as a team than individually, today’s match was really stressful because we don’t usually play mixed doubles.
Hubi pushed our opponents, made it easy for me so I’m happy we played a nice game – he has better tactical knowledge, understands the geometry of doubles better but we complement each other well.
There’s a great locker room vibe, we appreciate the time we have together, whoever came up with the idea to merge the ATP-WTA here, thanks!”
HUBI: “Italy are super strong, an interesting matchup but a lot of fun to decide it with mixed doubles. It feels something special to win as a team, having Iga as a partner… the way she hits the ball is amazing! The girls carried us today.”
- Swiatek and Hurkacz’s joint post-match interview, describing their chemistry dynamic on court and what it means to prevail in a team setting
Greece 3-2 Croatia
Perth champions Greece will play Italy in Friday’s other semi-final, after the Italians finished with the best record of all three losing nations – narrowly edging a higher set won percentage (64%).
San Diego runner-up Donna Vekic dropped just two games en route to a 6-2, 6-0 win over Greece’s Despina Papamichail.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, much like Norrie, also recovered from 3-1 down in set three to overwhelm Croatia’s Borna Coric 6-0, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 – a result which levelled the Greece-Croatia tie at 1-1.
Borna Gojo spoke about how he struggled to physically recover properly post-match and said Stefanos Pervolarakis had a free hit, entering their contest as a heavy underdog.
That didn’t matter much to the 24-year-old – a 6-4, 6-2 winner – meaning another of the United Cup ties would be settled by a mixed doubles rubber after Maria Sakkari outplayed Petra Martic (6-3, 6-3) in straight-sets a few hours prior.
Originally slated to be Sakkari-Tsitsipas against Martic-Coric, instead Gojo stepped up to the plate for Croatia and helped create a competitive fight not long after his own singles victory.
However, they trailed 7-6 (8-6), 5-4 after 90 minutes and it was his double-fault and overzealous forehand at the net which cruelly set up two match points for the Greeks.
He saved one with a timely 212km/h ace, before netting another forehand return mid-rally to seal Greece as Sydney champions during an entertaining doubles clash with plenty at stake.
SAKKARI: “I’m so proud of this team, you come into the season not knowing what form you’re in… but we’re all in pretty good form now.
I’ve said it in the past, since day one, our first mixed doubles [match] was on this court, our games are clicking and we know each other really well, great on-court chemistry and that’s key. The more we develop as players, that adds up and makes us play better for sure. It’s one of the best weeks in my career.”
TSITSIPAS: “I gotta say we had [to play against] a very difficult team today, wanna congratulate Croatia for the amazing effort. We had to deal with difficulties, each and everyone of the Croatians played very well, we had to elevate our games as much as we could.
Hopman Cup a few years ago was the beginning of what me and Maria have developed in Greek tennis, this was an unbelievable night, Croatian and Greek fans came to light up the court too.”
- Sakkari and Tsitsipas were pumped after their latest achievement
ADELAIDE 1, ATP250
In a rematch from their US Open encounter, one ending regretfully with injury for Jack Draper, it was US Open semifinalist Karen Khachanov who prevailed – 6-4, 6-2 – over the 21-year-old Brit.
He saved the only break point he faced, at 1-0 in set two, and utilised his early break of serve before gladly storming away to a straight-sets victory against a tricky opponent.
It’ll be an all-Russian quarter-final against former world no. 1 Daniil Medvedev next, after he needed just 68 minutes to dismiss the challenge of Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic – 6-0, 6-3.
In the fourth H2H meeting between the pair, it was Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka who backed up his Holger Rune scalp with a straight-sets win (6-4, 6-3) over America’s Mackenzie McDonald.
He’ll play home hopeful Alexei Popyrin next, after the 23-year-old Australian backed up his Felix Auger-Aliassime scalp with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over McDonald’s compatriot Marcos Giron.
ADELAIDE 1, WTA500
Bianca Andreescu got off to the perfect start and led 4-0. No-one could’ve predicted what would happen next.
However things suddenly unravelled rather quickly as Veronika Kudermetova defended well, improved her serving and constructed points more efficiently – winning 12 games in a row – during a remarkable turnaround victory over the 2019 US Open titlist.
Andreescu saved three match points, down 0-5, but skewed a forehand wide and hit one into the net on Kudermetova’s fourth chance and it was all over.
She’ll play either Irina-Camila Begu or Jelena Ostapenko next, with their matchup taking place tomorrow.
Marketa Vondrousova, who sits at a deceptive world no. 77 after her latest win, ensured there was to be no fuss against giantkiller Kaia Kanepi – beating the Estonian 6-0, 6-4 in 68 minutes.
She’ll play Aryna Sabalenka next, after the three-time Grand Slam semifinalist held her nerve in two tiebreak sets – 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-3) against Luidmila Samsonova, who beat her during their first meeting in Guadalajara in October.
Ukrainian qualifier Marta Kostyuk was all smiles afterwards, and rightly so after earning one of her best career wins – recovering from 7-6 down to beat Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-7, 6-2, 6-3.
The 20-year-old recorded 34 winners and 16 unforced errors, compared to 25-18 for Rybakina. There were only 10 total points won between them (111-101), but Rybakina’s inability to seize the bulk of her break point opportunities proved costly (1/10).
AUCKLAND OPEN, WTA250
2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin began her season with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 win over China’s Xinyu Wang, setting up a second H2H meeting against compatriot and tournament top seed Coco Gauff.
The 18-year-old has improved significantly since their three-set encounter (R4, Australian Open) this time three years ago, en route to her first and only Grand Slam triumph to date.
Speaking of Americans, Lauren Davis is into R2 after making quick work of Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek: 6-2, 6-1. She’ll play Danka Kovinic next, after the seventh seed ousted Japanese qualifier Nao Hibino 6-1, 6-4.
Karolina Muchova might’ve dropped out of the world’s top 100, but the Czech’s climb back up the rankings continues after Xiyu Wang retired down 5-3 with an injury against the 26-year-old.
Muchova will play Elena Gabriel Ruse tomorrow, after the Romanian’s hard-fought win over home hopeful and doubles specialist Erin Routliffe yesterday.
Spanish qualifier Rebeka Masarova KO’d Sloane Stephens, seeded second, with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) victory against the 2017 US Open champion. Masarova will play Russia’s Anna Blinkova in R2.
There was a trio of surprises to start the day’s play in Pune:
German qualifier Maximilian Marterer won 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 against Serbia’s Laslo Djere – he served much better (11 aces, 73% first serve percentage) and returned with more consistency too.
The tournament’s fourth seed, Sebastian Baez, once led but was overwhelmed by an improved Pedro Martinez display in the subsequent two sets: 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the Spaniard’s favour.
Speaking of seeds, France’s Benjamin Bonzi knocked out Emil Ruusuvori, seeded third, winning 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) as he ensured the Finnish fightback was stopped in its tracks.
Djere might’ve lost, but there’s still a Serbian left in the draw after Filip Krajinovic was again taken to a third set – this time recovering from behind to overwhelm America’s Michael Mmoh 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. The sixth seed will play the aforementioned Bonzi next, in a first H2H meeting tomorrow.
Tallon Griekspoor was a 6-4, 6-4 victor against Italy’s Marco Cecchinato, and will play top seed Marin Cilic next on Thursday after he reset emphatically to reel off five straight games after Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena forced the Croatian into a deciding set during their encounter.
6-3, 3-6, 6-1 the 2014 US Open champion eventually prevailed in just over two hours, after what was a first H2H matchup against a 29-year-old whose inconsistent form stung him throughout 2022, despite winning a Challenger clay tournament in his native Sevilla last September.
2021 Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev didn’t have it all his own way, and saw three match points disappear without warning, but outlasted Tim van Rijthoven 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (10-8).
The 29-year-old Russian led by a set, 4-2 and was 40-0 up on serve, but the Dutchman pegged him back to deuce and eventually broke him in the match’s longest game.
It was a tough end to an admirable effort from van Rijthoven, who double-faulted on the fourth match point to finish with an anticlimax having done all the hard work – including two set point opportunities – to level the scores at one set apiece.
“It was a tricky match, the first set was decided by one point and I was supposed to close it earlier but got tight… happy I closed it. I don’t know what happened in my mind, as I said, just got tight.”
Botic van de Zandschulp showed his powers of recovery, twice rallying from an unfavourable position in sets against 20-year-old Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli to win 7-5, 6-4.
In the Dutchman’s first match since three straight defeats to finish his 2022, he was 5-2 down (set one) and trailing 4-1 (set two), but won five consecutive games in both instances to win.
Picture source: Getty Images