ATP

Murray into Stuttgart Open final with victory over Kyrgios

By Sports Desk June 11, 2022

Andy Murray reached his first tour-level final on grass since 2016 with a straight-sets victory over Nick Kyrgios at the Stuttgart Open on Saturday.

The three-time major winner stunned Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round – his first win over a top-five opponent in six years – and followed that up with another fine victory.

Murray, who last contested a final on grass when winning Wimbledon for a second time, prevailed 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 against Kyrgios.

He moves up to 47th in the live ATP rankings – the first time he has been in the top 50 since May 2018 – and will face Matteo Berrettini in what will be his 70th career final.

Aiming to keep alive his hopes of a ninth career title on grass, Murray saved both break points faced in the first set and showed good resolve to edge Kyrgios in the tie-break.

The second set was not as tightly contested, with the 35-year-old showing few signs of fatigue as he twice broke Kyrgios' serve to reach Sunday's final in Germany.

 

Berrettini had earlier defeated Oscar Otte 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (7-5) to reach his first tour-level final of an injury-hit season.

The world number 10 fired 18 aces en route to overcoming home favourite Otte in a time of one hour and 48 minutes.

"I am really happy," Berrettini said in his on-court interview. "Arriving at the tournament, that was the goal [to reach the final].

"From thinking about it and actually making it is a big difference. I am happy I am here and have another chance to play another final after months without playing.

"This means this is my level and I have proved once again I am comfortable at this level and on this surface. I really like it here at Stuttgart."

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  • LaLiga 2022-23: Real Madrid still the team to beat – Stats Perform AI predicts LaLiga 2022-23: Real Madrid still the team to beat – Stats Perform AI predicts

    LaLiga, home to the European champions, returns on Friday for another season.

    Real Madrid ended the previous campaign by winning the Champions League, the prize they covet most, but it was also a successful year in domestic action.

    Carlo Ancelotti's men eased to a record-extending 35th league title by 13 points – that is the gap Barcelona have sought to bridge in the transfer market during the close season. So, just how successfully have they done that?

    Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

    These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, with Barca seemingly left still with plenty to do.

    MADRID MAINTAIN BUFFER TO BARCA

    Given their 35 titles, given their 13-point gap, given their status as European champions, it is surely no surprise Madrid are considered the clear favourites to scoop Spanish football's top prize once again.

    The data makes Ancelotti's side 58.75 per cent favourites to retain their crown.

    Barca recovered from a dismal start last season to finish second, and they are forecast for the same result again after investing hugely in Robert Lewandowski and Co.

    But there is only a 17.0 per cent chance of the title heading to Camp Nou, with Atletico Madrid a predictable third in the rankings and rated as a 12.3 per cent shot.

    Those three clubs have accounted for the past 18 championships since Valencia finished top in 2003-04. Now, under Gennaro Gattuso, Valencia have a mere 0.08 per cent chance of returning to the summit, deemed ninth favourites among 11 teams with any hope at all.

    Sevilla (4.74 per cent) and Villarreal (4.66 per cent) are the sides most likely to upset the established order.

    PRECIOUS FOURTH PLACE UP FOR GRABS

    There realistically remains only one of the four Champions League places on offer after taking into account Madrid (95.68 per cent), Barca (79.31 per cent) and Atletico (71.56 per cent). Last season, that belonged to Sevilla.

    Yet despite Sevilla's high ceiling seeing them fourth favourites for the title, Stats Perform AI expects them to be pushed out of the top four.

    After losing defensive duo Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are given a 47.45 per cent of qualifying for the Champions League, just behind former coach Unai Emery's Villarreal (48.66 per cent), who were seventh last season but reached the semi-finals of Europe's elite club competition.

    Real Sociedad (24.79 per cent) and Real Betis (20.39 per cent) are both firmly in the mix, too, although every team in the league have at least a 0.04 per cent hope of contending for Champions League glory.

    Athletic Bilbao are expected to be on the outside looking in from eighth place (7.48 per cent for Champions League, 7.42 per cent for Europa League and 10.51 per cent for Europa Conference League).

    NO ESCAPE THIS TIME FOR MALLORCA

    The fight against the drop went right to the wire last term, with three teams still in the mix on the final day.

    Granada were the surprise victims of a dramatic scrap, relegated just two weeks after winning 6-2 at Mallorca. Mallorca then earned seven points from their next three games to stay up alongside Cadiz at Granada's expense.

    That late recovery may have rescued Mallorca for another year, but Stats Perform AI predicts their LaLiga stay will last no longer than that.

    They are 41.27 per cent favourites to go down, even considered more likely for demotion than Girona (39.95), who were promoted via the play-offs.

    Real Valladolid, another promoted side, are ranked as the third relegated team (32.74 per cent), yet there is very little to choose between a clutch of clubs, with Cadiz (31.8 per cent) again at risk alongside Elche (31.48 per cent), second-tier champions Almeria (28.86 per cent) and Rayo Vallecano (27.46 per cent).

  • Real Madrid: Ancelotti tempting fate by not signing a Benzema backup as he eyes elusive third season Real Madrid: Ancelotti tempting fate by not signing a Benzema backup as he eyes elusive third season

    Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid last year came as something of a surprise to most.

    While the job he'd done at Everton was generally seen as fine, there was nothing about his time at Goodison Park that suggested the Italian would be back at the top of the game in his next job.

    His appointment at the Santiago Bernabeu could've almost been interpreted as a pointed dig at Clasico rivals Barcelona, where managerial hirings tend to be based around 'philosophy' – few could say that about Ancelotti, a coach arguably regarded more for his motivational skills, tactical flexibility and winning than for sticking to one defined brand of football.

    Regardless of how surprising Ancelotti's return was, he certainly got the job done. Madrid looked certainties for the title virtually all season and pulled off great escape after great escape to eventually win the Champions League, traversing one of the toughest routes to European Cup glory ever seen.

    But let's not forget, Ancelotti's won the Champions League with Madrid before. Last time, in 2014, he lasted only another year and a day before he was discarded.

    From Milan dynasty to short-term guarantee

    Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock, given many of the clubs he's coached have been among the biggest – and that usually means impatient by extension – teams in Europe, but Ancelotti hasn't been in charge of a single club for more than two consecutive full seasons since leaving Milan in May 2009.

    Granted, his spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Everton ended essentially because Madrid came calling, so who's to say how long he'd have been in charge. But clearly there has been a pattern in his working life since Milan.

    Ancelotti will be acutely aware of the expectations upon him at Madrid as he's lived through them before and paid the price for failing to achieve his targets.

    But you have to wonder if anything will be different this time around.

    Ancelotti's dismissal in 2015 came down to the fact Madrid didn't win a (major) trophy in the 2014-15 season. Florentino Perez's decision at the time wasn't universally popular, though no one would've been surprised.

    In the culture created by Perez at the club, a lack of success simply equates to failure, and clearly even the good will attained by winning La Decima – Madrid's 10th European crown – only lasts you so long.

    Perez's statement to the media even seemed to admit there being a degree of not knowing what else to do, as he said: "It was a very difficult decision to make; the demands at this club are the utmost because Madrid always wants to win silverware.

    "The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him. What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know. The demands here at Real Madrid are very high."

    Essentially, since his Milan days, Ancelotti has been brought in by teams to achieve success quickly and, for the most part, he's done that almost everywhere he's been – but long-term success in one place has eluded him.

    Presumably then, Ancelotti will have to again win at least one of LaLiga or the Champions League to stick around for a third season. That stands to reason at Real Madrid, and there's no reason they would be considered incapable on either front, but expecting everything to fall into place like last season is asking for trouble.

    Tempting fate?

    Who's to say Madrid won't cruise to the title again with Karim Benzema conquering every team in his path? It's entirely possible.

    The key differences this time around are the fact Madrid are heading into the season without a defined back-up striker for Benzema, and Barcelona have strengthened significantly.

    Firstly on Barca, if we assume they are able to register all of their new signings in time for the season's start, they'll have bolstered a team that finished the 2021-22 season very well. In fact, since the start of 2022, their 45 points was more than any other LaLiga team.

    Granted, Madrid played one game less (19), but if they had contested a 20th match and won it, they'd still have been two points shy of Barca.

    The change inspired by Xavi cannot be overstated and, as much of a mess as the club is off the pitch, there's every reason to expect them to be a force on it this season.

    For Madrid and Ancelotti, again their hopes will be pinned on Benzema. Of course, on the face of it that's not an issue. He's scored at least 21 league goals in each of the past four seasons and never made fewer than 27 top-flight appearances for Los Blancos.

    As a difference-maker and consistent presence, he's their Mr Reliable. But what if he does pick up a major injury: who will Madrid rely on to fill the Benzema void?

    Vinicius Junior enjoyed a remarkable season but wouldn't be suited to the Benzema role, stylistically or as a leader. Again, when Eden Hazard is fit, he is not a central striker, while Mariano Diaz has started just 11 league games in four seasons.

    Madrid's decision to get rid of Luka Jovic was probably the right one given how underwhelming the Serbian had been, and there's no guarantee anyone else brought in as a backup would've been more effective.

    But it does seem an unnecessary risk for a club like Madrid to go into a season without a second striker – or without a second striker who's got a better track record than Diaz. That's the decision Florentino Perez has reportedly made.

    Even if they were granted special dispensation to sign another LaLiga-based striker out of the transfer window, mid-season integration for that player would be tough in every way.

    Yes, yes, yes, it's all hypothetical and no one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but surely it's better to plan for that possibility than to leave it to chance? Perhaps Ancelotti has a master backup plan hidden up his sleeve in the event of losing Benzema for a while – we'll only find out if it happens.

    But if it does and his answer is to rely on Diaz, there's little hope of Ancelotti reaching that elusive third season.

  • Serena Williams exits Canadian Open in second round, Swiatek cruises as Badosa and Jabeur retire Serena Williams exits Canadian Open in second round, Swiatek cruises as Badosa and Jabeur retire

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    The 23-time major winner was unable to claim back-to-back WTA singles wins for the first time since last year's French Open, having defeated Nuria Parrizas-Diaz for her first victory in 430 days on Monday.

    Bencic triumphed in one hour and 17 minutes, winning 84.2 per cent of first-serve points and converted five of eight break points throughout the match.

    Williams' power was on show with 13 winners, but Bencic was physically more capable and decisively managed 25 winners with only 13 unforced errors.

    Elsewhere, 2019 US Open winner and local hope Bianca Andreescu edged Alize Cornet in a see-sawing clash in the evening, winning 6-3 4-6 6-3 in two hours and 26 minutes.

    Fourth seed Paula Badosa and fifth seed Ons Jabeur, who was last month's Wimbledon runner-up, were forced to retire due to injury.

    Spanish 24-year-old Badosa withdrew against Yulia Putintseva 7-5 1-0 due to muscle cramping, while Zheng Qinwen had a walkover against Jabeur 6-1 2-1 due to abdominal pain.

    Top seed Iga Swiatek brushed aside Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1 6-2 in 64 minutes. The win means Swiatek is the first player to win 15 WTA 1000 matches in straight sets in a row since 2009.

    Canadian 13th seed Leylah Fernandez also bowed out, going down 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 to Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia, who will face Swiatek in the third round.

    Second seed Anett Kontaveit lost 6-4 6-4 to Jil Teichmann in one hour and 27 minutes. Teichmann will next face Simona Halep who won in 71 minutes against Zhang Shuai 6-4 6-2.

    Sixth seed Aryna Sabalenka got past Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4 6-3 to set up a third-round meeting with Coco Gauff after she defeated Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-4 6-7 (8-10) 7-6 (7-3) in an epic that lasted two hours and 49 minutes.

    Jessica Pegula won 6-2 7-5 over American qualifier Asia Muhammad to progress through to face Camila Giorgi after she knocked off Elise Mertens 7-3 7-5.

    Third seed Maria Sakkari triumphed in three sets 6-2 4-6 6-2 over Sloane Stephens and will face Karolina Pliskova next after the Czech beat Amanda Anisimova 6-1 6-1.

    Eighth seed Garbine Muguruza won 6-4 6-4 against Kaia Kanepi and Alison Riske toppled 16th seed Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (7-2) 0-6 7-5.

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