Tennis: Defending champs Alcaraz and Sabalenka win opening matches at Madrid Open

AP , Saturday 27 Apr 2024

Carlos Alcaraz didn’t need to put his tender right arm to the test while easing to victory in his opening match at the Madrid Open on Friday.

Alcaraz
Spain s Carlos Alcaraz returns the ball to Russia s Alexander Shevchenko during the 2024 ATP Tour Madrid Open tennis tournament singles match at Caja Magica in Madrid on April 26, 2024. AFP

The two-time defending champion was playing for the first time in nearly a month after his injured arm ruled him out of Monte Carlo and Barcelona. And after doubting this week he would be good to go in Spain’s capital, Alcaraz admitted he could afford to hold back a little in a 6-2, 6-1 win over Alexander Shevchenko.

“I didn’t hit my forehand 100%. I hit it softer than I used to hit it, but I think it helped me, you know, to, let’s say, stay relaxed,” Alcaraz said. “But the first thing that I was thinking about when I was stepping on the court is to stay healthy.

“I was really happy to not feel anything in the forearm, and after that I could increase my intensity a bit. It was great for me this match.”

Defending women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka faced tougher resistance in her opening match while beating Magda Linette 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 on the Caja Magica clay.

This was Alcaraz’s first match since the Miami Open quarterfinals nearly one month ago. Madrid is the Spaniard’s first appearance on the European clay court swing — he struggled in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro in February — as he aims to win his first French Open title next month.

“Right now I’m thinking to be better or get better every day, and I’m thinking to be closer to my 100% here in Madrid.” the two-time major champion said. “Let’s see how it’s going to be the next few weeks. But the main thing is to be ready for next tournament and obviously to Roland Garros.”

In Madrid, the third-ranked Alcaraz is seeded second behind Jannik Sinner and both enjoyed first-round byes.

Alcaraz played with a compression sleeve on his right arm from his wrist up past his elbow. But he looked pretty much like the same aggressive player who has dominated here for the past two years and given Spanish tennis fans hope there is life after Rafael Nadal.

Alcaraz broke Shevchenko’s serve four times and will next face Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil.

Seyboth Wild upset Daniil Medvedev at last year’s French Open and should offer a stiffer challenge to Alcaraz in the round of 32.

Fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev, another two-time Madrid champion, saw off Borna Coric 6-3, 6-2 and will face Denis Shapovalov next.

Seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating Facundo Bagnis 6-1, 6-4. Rublev’s last win came at Indian Wells in March.

Holger Rune was just two points from defeat against Mariano Navone before he rallied to force a second-set tiebreaker and finally prevailed 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

Eighth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz beat Jack Draper 6-1, 7-5. Last year’s finalist Jan Lennard Struff, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Alejandro Davidovich, and Sebastian Baez also moved on.

SABALENKA’S SLOW START

The second-ranked Sabalenka struggled with her serve at times against Linette, but the two-time Australian Open winner struck her 10th ace on match point.

Sabalenka got some help from the net to get a key break and go up 5-3 in the third set when Linette was unable to reach a shot by the Belarusian that clipped the top of the tape.

Sabalenka has either won it all in Madrid as she did in 2021 and last year, or gone out in the first round as she did in 2018, 2019 and 2022.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a good sign and I will keep it like that,” she said. “I either lose in the first or I win (the title).”

Fourth-seeded Elena Rybakina beat Lucia Bronzetti 6-4, 6-3 to take her season-leading win haul to 27 as she seeks her fourth title of 2024.

Rybakina will next face Egypt’s Mayar Sherif after she upset Marta Kostyuk 6-2, 7-5 to reach the third round.

Danielle Collins extended her career-best win streak to 14 matches after beating Serb qualifier Olga Danilovic 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8) from 6-4, 3-1 down.

Fifth-seeded Zheng Qinwen, who lost the Australian Open final to Sabalenka, withdrew with a right thigh injury while trailing Yulia Putintseva 7-5, 2-0.

Sixteen-year-old Mirra Andreeva, who made her breakout at Madrid last year, bettered 19-year-old Linda Noskova 4-3, 6-3, 6-3.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Carolina Garcia, and Jasmine Paolini also advanced.

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