Sabalenka hands Belarus Fed Cup advantage over Australia

Aryna Sabalenka came through a tough battle against Sam Stosur to give Belarus the advantage over Australia in the Fed Cup semi-finals.

The pair fought it out for nearly three hours in the World Group semi-final tie, before Sabalenka earned a 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 win for her country.

“It was an unbelievable match. She played unbelievably well. And I’m so happy that we showed this really good level. It was amazing atmosphere here,” Sabalenka said on court.

“She played an unbelievable level. She played so quick I couldn’t touch the ball from her returns. I just tried my best on her serves and try to come back in this match.

“We’re playing for our countries – we don’t have choices, we just need to show our best and fight until the end.”

Stosur agreed with Sabalenka’s analysis, although she was disappointed she was unable to get over the line

“Obviously disappointed not to get through that one and win it, but I don’t think there’s a lot I could necessarily change or do differently,” she said.

“So I’m really proud of the performance I put on out there and the way I played, I really enjoyed the moment, and was totally enjoying the crowd and really into it.

“I think it was a really good match – unfortunately I came off second best, but there’s not much to be ashamed of.

“I hit the ball well, I hit it hard, I did what I wanted to be doing, and I think a couple of moments in that third set she came up with some pretty clutch returns and little pick ups, and that’s why she’s top 10.”

Nadal wears down Pella to advance to Monte-Carlo semi-finals

Rafael Nadal overcame a slow start to defeat Guido Pella in straight sets and move into the Monte-Carlo Masters semi-finals.

It was Nadal’s 18th successive win in Monte-Carlo, but he had to battle back from 4-1 down in the first set before managing to turn the contest around in the second.

He eventually powered to a reasonably comfortable 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 win, and will now face Fabio Fognini in the last four.

“It was a very tough first set physically and mentally, too,” Nadal said.

“Losing the first three games with my serve was tough. But I found a way at the right time.

“I was lucky at 4-1, he had two points to be 5-1 and with 5-1 it’s almost impossible. I was lucky to escape that moment and then I played better.

“I’m very happy to be through. Being in the semi-finals again here means a lot to me.”

Medvedev dumps Djokovic out of the Monte-Carlo Masters

World No 1 Novak Djokovic was sensationally knocked out of the Monte-Carlo Masters after falling to rising star Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals.

Medvedev entered the match-up having lost all three of his previous matches against Djokovic, but surprised everyone by taking the first set before Djokovic hit back in the second.

The top-ranked Serb seemed to noticeably tire in the third set, however, as he sank to a shock 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 defeat.

Afterwards, Djokovic played down the defeat, and said he was hoping to peak on clay just in time for Roland Garros.

"The French Open is the ultimate goal on clay. It's expected in a way for me to peak right at that tournament, because that's what I'm aiming for," he said.

"This is only the first tournament on clay, and it's a long season. Let's see how it goes.

"Maybe I'm lacking the consistency with the top results in the last couple of years in the best tournaments.

"But I've been playing my best at Grand Slams and that's what I intend to do."

There was better news for Djokovic’s fellow Serb Dusan Lajovic, however, as he overcame Lorenzo Sonego to reach his first Masters-level semi-final.

“Right now it’s a relief and I showed to myself that I could do it,” Lajovic said after his 6-4, 7-5 win.

“The tournament is still not over but I’m extremely happy and satisfied with the way I’ve played this week.”

Rising star Auger-Aliassime buzzing after ‘amazing’ Nadal praise

Felix Auger-Aliassime has admitted that the warm praise he received from Rafa Nadal has left him buzzing and highly positive about what the future holds.

The Canadian teenager is on the brink of cracking the top 40 after a super start to 2019, with his run to the Miami Open semi-finals particularly impressive.

That has seen Auger-Aliassime become a talking point in tennis, with both Greg Rusedski and Roger Federer comparing him to Nadal.

However, it was praise from the man himself that has really made his ears pick up.

“That’s a good sign, of course, if he’s talking good about me it’s great,” said Auger-Aliassime.

“To start with, that he knows me, that he talks about me, it’s just amazing.

“I used to watch him playing on TV, and the distance between he and me was so huge that it was just impossible to be able to play or to be around him at a certain point.

“So this is really amazing. But then I have to work hard, to keep on working hard, as I suppose he did when he was my age.

“But then he worked hard. He won titles. Now it’s up to me to keep on working.”

Djokovic and Nadal notch up emphatic wins in Monte Carlo

Novak Djokovic looked in total control as he beat Taylor Fritz at the Monte Carlo Masters on Thursday, while Rafa Nadal joined him in the quarter-finals with a similarly dominant win.

Djokovic never really got out of second gear in the match, but didn’t have to with Fritz’s game strewn with unforced errors throughout.

It took just 68 minutes for the two-time champion to get the job done, easing to a 6-3 6-0 win.

Djokovic has now bettered his performance in the tournament last year, and he will face an intriguing match-up with Daniil Medvedev in the last eight.

Meanwhile, Nadal was in imperious mood as he swatted away Grigor Dimitrov.

Despite being broken by Dimitrov in the first set, the Spaniard still had more than enough to complete a 6-4, 6-1 victory.

It wasn’t anywhere near as straightforward for fourth-seed Dominic Thiem, though, with the Austrian suffering a surprise defeat to Dusan Lajovic.

Thiem was someway short of his best, and was 0-5 down in the first set before eventually falling to a 6-3, 6-3 loss.

Medvedev through to quarters in Monte Carlo

Daniil Medvedev is through to the last eight of the the Monte-Carlo Masters after his victory over sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday.

The Russian, who maintained his 100% record over Tsitsipas pounced upon a sloppy service game in the third set to seal an impressive 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 success.

“This was a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said. “Everything was perfect today.

“Some wind came up in the second set and I could not get used to it. But in the third, I just worked to put every ball in the court.

“I was pleased to fight back after going a set down in the third set.”

It was Medvedev’s 20th win of the season already, and he says he is being rewarded for a renewed dedication to the sport.

“I’ve been working hard for the past 18 months – since before the start of 2018. I’ve dedicated my life to tennis, which I did not do before.

“I had my best season last year – hopefully this year will be better.”

Medvedev will now face world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

Zverev hits back at critics

Alexander Zverev has placed the blame on injury rather than poor form for his uninspiring performances in 2019.

The German beat Felix Auger-Aliassime on Wednesday in Monte-Carlo, one of a handful of young players that observers have tipped to surpass him in the coming years.

However, Zverev says he is having none of that, and his record should earn him more respect.

“This year I played only two events healthily: Australian Open and Acapulco,” Zverev told reporters in Monte-Carlo.

“In Indian Wells, I was doing bad and in Miami, I had healed but I had not trained a lot and I had not recovered well. I could not play well.

“People doubted of me in the past too. The past year they were asking me the same questions: ‘Why did you start the season so bad?’

“Then you see what happened. It’s funny because I’m 21 years old and I’ve been on Tour for basically five years now.

“I don’t like to say I’m better or everything like this. I mean obviously, my ranking says it and I’ve won bigger titles, but everybody has their own way.

“I’ve played more tournaments than them. I’ve been on Tour longer, but in a few years’ time, nobody will remember that I was there quicker.

“I think those guys are great and I wish them nothing but the best. I think the new generation of tennis will be in good hands”

Rusty Djokovic delighted to pass first tough test on clay

Novak Djokovic said “a win is a win” after being made to work mighty hard for his first win of the season at the Monte-Carlo Masters.

The world No 1 required two hours and 36 minutes to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the second round of the ATP Masters 1000 event on Tuesday.

While the opening set was a straightforward affair for the Serb, the second set was a real scrap as there were seven consecutive breaks of serve as Kohlschreiber drew level.

However, Djokovic then broke in game one of the decider and eventually eased to his 850th win.

“It was a difficult match, there were lots of breaks (a run of eight straight during the second and third sets),” the 15-time Grand Slam winner said.

“There were lots of ups and downs. It was not the prettiest of matches.

“It was pretty rusty, but a win is a win. This was a tough first match of the clay season.

“I had to figure out how I needed to move, this kind of match can be expected. It was probably good for me to spend so long on the court.”

Novak Djokovic stutters to 850th win, Wawrinka crashes out

It was far from easy going, but in the end Novak Djokovic got over the finish line to book his place in the third round of the Monte-Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

The win over Philipp Kohlschreiber was his 850th match win, but it was anything but easy as it went the distance before the world No 1 finally secured a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win in two hours and 36 minutes.

Djokovic saved a couple of break points in the opening set before he got the crucial break in game eight while there were seven consecutive breaks of serve in the second set with Kohlschreiber edging it 4-3.

However, the Serb was quickly back in form in the decider as he broke in the opening game to set up a third-round encounter against either Taylor Fritz, who advanced after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from France retired with the American leading 6-4, 2-0, or Kyle Edmund’s conqueror Diego Schwartzman.

Former champion Stan Wawrinka looked to be en route to an easy win against Marco Cecchinato as he won the opening set to love and broke in game one of the second, but then the Italian stormed back to 0-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory in one hour and 45 minutes.

The only break in the decider came in game six and Cecchinato will face Guido Pella next after the Argentine upset seventh seed Marin Cilic 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.

Eighth seed Karen Khachanov also crashed out as the Russian was stunned by qualifier Lorenzo Sonego with the Italian claiming a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 win.

Djokovic thinks Federer is a serious contender for French Open title

Novak Djokovic doesn't see any reason why Roger Federer can’t win a second title at Roland Garros this year.

Federer’s one and only title at Roland Garros came in 2009, but he will no doubt be looking to add another one to his collection before he retires and he hopes that chance will come this year.

Following a two-year break from clay, the 20-time Grand Slam will make a return to the red dirt as he will compete at the Madrid Open and French Open.

While many people are writing off his chances of winning another French Open, especially with Rafael Nadal still in the mix, world No 1 Djokovic believes the Swiss is a contender to win a second title.

“I thought tennis was missing him [Federer] definitely on clay last year,” he said. “But I think, personally, people understood why he decided as well to skip the clay-court season last year and I also understand why he wants to play. Definitely for our sport, it’s better that he plays.

“He’s been playing some great tennis. Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, he’s won two out of three, played the final in Indian Wells, [which is] as good as it gets. Of course [clay is] a different surface, but in Indian Wells the ball bounces quite high there, which kind of imitates the clay. He’s dealt with high balls really well throughout his career, so I don’t see any particular big issue playing on this surface… you always expect highs from him.”

The Serb added: “So is Federer a genuine contender to claim a second French Open at the end of this two-month sequence? I think so.

“I mean, he has more chance to win other Slams than Roland Garros, but he has won Roland Garros in the past. He hasn’t played it obviously last year or the last few years, but Roger’s level is always there.

“Aside of maybe one year where he changed his racket and was injured for six months, there is maybe two times in the last 15 years where I saw him play 10 or 20 per cent worse. So it’s always expected from my side, on any surface, that he is going to be at his best and among the favourites.”

Nadal hoping to find some rhythm after difficult start to the year

Rafael Nadal admits he is not sure about his form heading into the clay-court season, although he said his knee is feeling “quite good”.

The World No 2 has once again had a disrupted start to the year as he competed in only three events – Australian Open, the Mexican Open and the Indian Wells Masters – so far this campaign.

However, even at Indian Wells he was unable to finish the tournament as he was forced to withdraw from his semi-final against Roger Federer due to a knee problem.

The 17-time Grand Slam winner, though, is set to make his return at the Monte-Carlo Masters on Wednesday, but he concedes it is tough mentally to produce so many “comebacks” due to injury.

“It has been a tough year and a half for me, so it’s tough to have a clear view about how I am,” he said.

“I had too many stops; I didn’t find a way to play three weeks in a row without problems. So it has been hard for me. When you have these things going on, on the mental side it’s up and down. It’s always like a comeback.”

He added: “My knee is quite good. Happy for that. Now I need to work on the tennis. I hope the competition puts me in the rhythm I need.”

As always, though, Nadal is keeping his chin up as he has struggled with injury throughout his career.

“At some point, even if I appreciate everything this sport has given to me, sometimes it’s tough to accept when you have problems in a row,” he said. “Since the beginning of the season again it has been tough. You need to be strong mentally and keep the passion very high.”

Wawrinka, Dimitrov progress at Monte-Carlo Masters

Former champion Stan Wawrinka kicked off his 2019 Monte-Carlo Masters campaign off with an impressive win while Grigor Dimitrov also progressed.

Wawrinka, who won the title in 2014, required just one hour and 15 minutes to ease past Lucas Pouille as he secured a 7-5, 6-3 victory.

The Frenchman actually had the early advantage as he broke early, but Wawrinka claimed two consecutive breaks in games 10 and 12 as he won the final four games of the set.

An early break in the second set was enough for the Swiss to ease into the second round.

Former ATP Tour Finals champion Dimitrov was too good for Matteo Berrettini, winning 7-5, 6-4 in just under two hours.

The Bulgarian lost the opening game of the match, but broke back in game four to draw level at 2-2 and then claimed the important break in game 12.

It was a similar story in the second set as the duo shared breaks before Dimitrov got the job done with a break in game 10.

Borna Coric also booked his place in the second round with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 win over Hubert Hurkacz while Guido Pella came from a set down to beat Laslo Djere 6-7 (2-6), 6-2, 6-4.

Garin captures maiden ATP Tour title

Christian Garin captured his first ATP Tour title when he beat Casper Ruud in the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship trophy on Sunday.

The 22-year-old from Chile won 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-3 as he became the first player from his country to win a singles title since Fernando Gonzalez in Vina del Mar in 2009.

The titanic battle lasted two hours and 30 minutes and the crucial break of the match came in game six of the deciding set when Garin broke to go 4-2 up.

"It was a really intense match today. I think what I did well was to keep playing my game throughout the match," Garin said.

"Of course, now I want more, so I have to keep working hard and improving every day."

Djokovic and Nadal get tough draw

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are up against it in Monte Carlo.

King of Clay and defending champion Rafael Nadal is going for a 12th success in the tournament, while world number one Novak Djokovic is hoping to get his season back underway after disappointing in Indian Wells and the Miami Open.

The pair are projected to meet in the final, but it won’t be easy for either.

Djokovic has Philipp Kohlscrieber, his conqueror at Indian Wells in his quarter of the draw, along with a resurgent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Diego Schwartzman, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Meanwhile, Nadal will have to plot a path through potential match-ups with Roberto Bautista Agut, Denis Shapovalov, Grigor Dimitrov, Stan Wawrinka, and Marin Cilic.

Should he manage to do that, Alexander Zverev may await in the semi-finals, while Djokovic could face a last-four clash with Dominic Thiem.

Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who has a wildcard, will also fancy his chances after being handed a relatively kind draw in Zverev’s quarter.

Former top 10 player backs Andy Murray to win another Grand Slam

Former World No 8 Janko Tipsarevic has backed Andy Murray to “come back stronger than ever” and add at least one more Grand Slam trophy to his cabinet.

Three-time major winner Murray is currently undergoing rehab following hip resurfacing surgery in January, but he has previously admitted that he is not certain if he will be able to return to competitive tennis.

He also acknowledged that even if he does make a comeback, he is unsure if he will be able to compete at the high levels that he used to.

During a wide-ranging interview with The Tennis Podcast that covered his own struggles with injury, his mental health as well as Novak Djokovic’s comeback, Tipsarevic gave Murray his backing.

“Andy Murray will be back stronger than ever,” he said. “This is the first place where your listeners can hear it. He will win another Slam.

“I’m not sure if he will be back to world No 1, but he will be back stronger than ever. I’m 100 per cent sure of it.”

When asked by host David Law how he can be so sure, he replied: “I am sure. Same like when I was speaking to Novak after his elbow surgery. For Novak it was a little bit easier because I was around him.

“I am not a huge religious guy, but I believe that the universe recognises if you really want something. Andy Murray, in my opinion, is completely obsessed about tennis, which is an unbelievable gift and a great thing. If he wants something really badly, there is no way it will not happen.”

Osaka fights back against ‘repugnant’ lawsuit from ex-coach

Naomi Osaka has filed a motion to dismiss a $2million lawsuit against her from a disgruntled former coach, branding the claims “repugnant”.

The world number one has not found life off the court easy since topping the women’s game, and has been targeted by a former coach, Christophe Jean, who claims he is entitled to a share of her earnings.

Jean asserts that in 2012, Osaka’s father agreed to pay him 20% of the future earnings of both Naomi and older sister Mari, including endorsement and sponsorship deals.

However, the Osakas have motioned to dismiss, saying Jean’s claims are “repugnant to Florida law and public policy,” adding that “Florida does not permit child athletes to sign away their lifetime earnings during their infancy.”

Osaka is being represented by high-profile New York lawyer Alex Spiro, who states: “Plaintiff’s facially defective pleadings must be dismissed in their entirety.

“Any other result would permit a fired coach to exploit two minors who never bargained for the invalid deal he seeks to enforce.

“The alleged contract is voidable under Florida law because the Osakas are minors when Plaintiff allegedly entered into the deal.

“As Plaintiff alleges, the Osakas have terminated it, which was their right.”

Alexander Zverev stunned by Jaume Munar in Marrakesh

Alexander Zverev’s first clay-court tournament of the season came to an early end as he was beaten by Jaume Munar in the second round of the Grand Prix Hassan II.

The German had accepted a late wildcard entry into the Moroccan tournament and was solid during his opening win against Denis Istomin, but then lost in three sets against Munar.

The Spaniard claimed his first-ever win over a top-10 player as he secured a 7-6 (7-1), 2-6, 6-3 victory over the world No 3 to set up a quarter-final clash against Benoit Paire.

“Sascha is a great player and this is a magical moment for me,” Munar said. “I’m very happy. I feel very well here and this victory means a lot to me.”

Zverev struggled on serve in the decider as Munar broke the German’s three final service games.

Paire the all-French battle as he came out on top of the 6-4, 6-2 scoreline against Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Seventh seed Philipp Kohlschreiber crashed out as the German suffered a 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 defeat at the hands of Pablo Andujar, who will face Jiri Vesely for a place in the semi-final after the Czech beat Juan Ignacio Londero 6-3, 6-4.

Querrey shines in Houston, McDonald and Sandgren dumped out

Sam Querrey eased past compatriot Bjorn Fratangelo in the first round of the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship, but fellow Americans Mackenzie McDonald and Tennys Sandgren were knocked out.

Eighth seed Querrey claimed a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 win over Fratangelo to set up a second-round encounter against Spain’s Guillermo Garcia Lopez, who beat American Noah Rubin 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-3.

Sixth seed McDonald was sent packing as he suffered a 6-3, 6-4 defeat to Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen, but seventh seed Jordan Thompson had no such problems as he beat Serbian qualifier Pedja Krstin 7-5, 6-2.

Wildcard Janko Tipsarevic won his first match since August 2017 as he beat last year’s runner-up Sandgren 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) and the Serb’s reward is a clash against third seed Cameron Norrie from Great Britain.

Murray 'just happy not to have the pain everyday'

Jamie Murray admits his brother Andy is happy to be pain-free, but admits it is difficult to say what level he will play should he return to competitive tennis.

Three-time Grand Slam winner Andy underwent hip resurfacing surgery in January, but acknowledged that he is unsure if he will be able to make a comeback.

However, he has taken tentative steps in recent weeks and even posted an Instagram Story recently showing him on a tennis court hitting tennis balls again.

Brother Jamie joined The 2 Barrys Tennis Takeaway Podcast and revealed it has been tough for Andy to gauge how well his recovery is going as he doesn’t really have any history to go by in terms of singles players with similar injuries.

“It’s been very difficult for him since he stopped playing at Wimbledon in 2017, I think,” Jamie said. “He’s done absolutely anything and everything he can to get his body right to compete. In Australia he was like ‘I just can’t keep going like this’ because there was just too much pain everyday and he said ‘I need to go and get the surgery done but after that I don’t know what will happen’. There was no sort of history of players doing that.

“The thing is nobody [playing singles] has had the surgery and on top of that nobody had had the surgery and then tried to go back and play tennis again. He didn’t really have anything to go on to know what was possible form the surgery but he doing his rehab and he getting more active as the video showed.

“He saw Bob Bryan in Miami last week having had the same surgery and he’s 41-year-old now, so I’m sure that gives him enough confidence to know he can get back out on court and play. Obviously, doubles is a lot different. You’re getting out and running side-to-side on a singles court and movement plays a huge part in his game.”

He added: “I think he’s probably cautiously optimistic now. He obviously didn’t know what was going to be possible so first and foremost I think he’s just happy not to have the pain everyday because that was so debilitating, so depressing each day to wake up and go through that pain all the time. At least he’s got rid of that now and hopefully he can get back on court, but to what level? We don’t know yet.”

Co-host Barry Mills then asked how Andy would feel if he returned to the game, but is unable to compete at the highest level again.

“I guess when you’ve played at the top for so long and you’ve only every been about winning Grand Slams and Masters Series, I guess that’s the level that you want to come back to,” Jamie said.

“If you told him that you can come back and you can play to 40 in the world, I don’t think that’s inspiring for him when you’re used to playing semi-finals, finals, and all these big matches, but again, I don’t know how much he misses it. I don’t know how much he misses the competition and being back on court competing. I would imagine for him, having had so many incredible moments on a tennis court, if you don’t feel like you can achieve them again then it would be difficult to stay quite motivated.”

Serena Williams to join Osaka and Halep in Rome

Serena Williams will make her long-awaited return to the Italian Open this year, along with several other big-name players.

The American is a four-time champion in Rome and she won her last title in 2016, but was then unable to defend her crown the following year as she was on maternity leave.

She was initially pencilled in to return in 2018, but withdrew two weeks before the start as she was still feeling her way back to competitive tennis following the birth of her daughter.

However, the 23-time Grand Slam winner is set to feature in the event this year along with world No 1 Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina.

World No 7 Svitolina is the two-time defending champion at Foro Italico as the Ukrainian beat Halep in the 2017 and 2018 finals.

The WTA Premier 5 event will take place from May 13-19 this year.