ATP

Sinner and Djokovic to clash for first time at Monte Carlo Masters

By Sports Desk April 13, 2021

Novak Djokovic will tackle teenage rising star Jannik Sinner for the first time in a tantalising clash of tennis generations on Wednesday at the Monte Carlo Masters.

World number one Djokovic is returning to action this week, having taken time away from the tour since banking an 18th grand slam title by winning the Australian Open in February.

He received a first-round bye, but waiting for him in the last 32 is Sinner, who on Tuesday saw off 2017 Monte Carlo runner-up Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3 6-4, again illustrating the 19-year-old Italian's great potential.

World number 22 Sinner is the only teenager ranked inside the top 80 in the men's game and is coming off his first run to a Masters final, at the Miami Open.

The switch from hard courts to clay is one that Sinner is having to deal with, and seeing off a specialist on the surface in round one represents an impressive start, although facing two-time former champion Djokovic will be a step up.

"It's always good for me to see what I can do on clay," Sinner said, quoted on the ATP website. "Obviously, I am not in the best form on clay now for the first week.

"But I think today was a solid match from my side. It was not easy. He's not giving [away] one point, so you have to stay there the whole match. I think I played a good match from my side."

Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the last 16 with a 6-3 6-4 win over Russian Aslan Karatsev, but there was disappointment at the same stage for Italian eighth seed Matteo Berrettini, beaten 7-5 6-3 by Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Those were the only second-round matches of the day.

Surprise Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz made a winning start, battling to a 6-3 3-6 6-3 first-round success against Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano to reach round two.

Roberto Bautista Agut, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and Fabio Fognini each booked places in round two thanks to straight-sets wins.

Qualifier Federico Delbonis was a 7-5 6-1 victor over France's Adrian Mannarino, meaning the Argentinian faces the ultimate test in clay-court tennis next, a tussle with Rafael Nadal, the 11-time former champion in Monte Carlo.

Nadal has won all four of their previous matches, and their fifth encounter will immediately follow the Djokovic-Sinner match on Wednesday.

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    Rafael Nadal conceded that Novak Djokovic will likely end his career with the most grand slam singles titles in men's tennis history, ahead of the Spaniard and Roger Federer.

    The so-called 'Big Three' of tennis have long dominated the ATP Tour, with all three sitting on 20 major titles after Djokovic collected three from a possible four in 2021.

    Djokovic, who secured a year-end number one ranking for a record seventh time, would have completed a clean sweep if it were not for Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final.  

    Nadal, by contrast, missed large parts of the season with a foot injury, while Federer was similarly ruled out for a substantial period after requiring a third knee operation in the space of 18 months.

    Nadal could make a return for the Australian Open in January, an event that the world number one may miss due to a vaccine mandate, but he still expects Djokovic to hold the record for major titles when the trio has retired.

    "Djokovic is best positioned to be the [men's] player with the most grand slams," Nadal said to Movistar.

    "You don't have to fool yourself – Federer is where he is and I am where I am. However, Djokovic is playing well and in a good moment.

    "That is the reality, and you can't ignore it. We don't know what is going to happen in nine months' time, but he is the favourite right now."

    Nadal triumphed at Roland Garros in 2020 but has only appeared at two majors since, while Federer – who hopes to return to tour-level action in 2022 – last collected a grand slam title at the Australian Open in 2018.

    Nadal is glad that the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Medvedev, who only dropped one set across the entire tournament as he denied Djokovic the perfect year, are taking over.

    "They are no longer the Next Gen, we do not have to make it eternal," Nadal said of the new 'Big Three' in tennis.

    "Players like Medvedev, Zverev or Tsitsipas have already passed that stage of the Next Gen, they are the current generation, the present."

  • Djokovic supports WTA suspending China events amid Peng Shuai uncertainty Djokovic supports WTA suspending China events amid Peng Shuai uncertainty

    Novak Djokovic has backed the stance of the WTA after it suspended all tournaments in China amid ongoing concerns of the safety and wellbeing of Peng Shuai.

    Peng made sexual assault allegations in early November against Zhang Ghaoli, the ex-vice-premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, and has not been seen in public since.

    She posted the allegations on Chinese social media site Weibo, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts have been unclear.

    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has held two video calls with Peng, including one on Thursday, but the WTA chairman Steve Simon said neither the first call nor an email allegedly received from the tennis player alleviated concerns.

    The WTA, who run the women's tennis tour, suspended its upcoming tournaments in China on Wednesday amid continuing concerns over Peng's safety and Djokovic agrees with the organisation's stance.

    "I support fully the WTA's stance because we don't have enough information about Peng Shuai and her well-being," the men's world number one told reporters at Thursday's Davis Cup news conference.

    "I think the position of the WTA is very bold and very courageous."

    The IOC said it will hold a "personal meeting" in January with Peng as they released a statement on the same day as the second call to repeat the message of the "quiet diplomacy" route that was being taken with Chinese sport bodies.

  • Olympic chiefs hold new Peng Shuai video call and stick to 'quiet diplomacy' stance after WTA takes direct action Olympic chiefs hold new Peng Shuai video call and stick to 'quiet diplomacy' stance after WTA takes direct action

    The International Olympic Committee says it has spoken to Peng Shuai for a second time and will hold a "personal meeting" in January with the Chinese tennis star amid continuing concerns for her safety.

    In a statement issued on Thursday, the Olympic body repeated a previous message that it was taking a "quiet diplomacy" route and speaking to Chinese sport bodies about what it described as "the difficult situation she is in".

    Peng made allegations in November of sexual assault against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee. The two-time doubles grand slam winner posted the allegations on social media site Weibo, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts since have been unclear.

    The WTA, which runs the main women's tennis tour, suspended its upcoming tournaments in China on Wednesday owing to its ongoing worries about Peng's wellbeing.

    An email allegedly sent by Peng was received recently by WTA chairman Steve Simon, with the message saying the sexual assault allegations were false and that the tennis star was safely at home. Simon said that email only heightened his worries over Peng's safety.

    International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach was pictured in conversation by video link with Peng last month, and now the IOC says there was further contact on Wednesday with the 35-year-old former French Open and Wimbledon doubles winner.

    The IOC said: "We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her. We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.

    "There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety. We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations.

    "We are using 'quiet diplomacy' which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.

    "The IOC's efforts led to a half-hour videoconference with Peng Shuai on 21 November, during which she explained her situation and appeared to be safe and well, given the difficult situation she is in. This was reconfirmed in yesterday's call. Our human and person-centred approach means that we continue to be concerned about her personal situation and will continue to support her."

    Beijing, China's capital, is due to host the Winter Olympics in February. There could be a heightened focus on Peng should the situation not be satisfactorily resolved by then.

    There has been no suggestion of the Games being in any doubt due to the global concern over Peng, but the women's tennis tour will not be visiting China for the foreseeable future, barring a change in circumstances.

    WTA chairman Simon said on Wednesday: "In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault."

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