French Open: Laaksonen, Nishikori, Tsitispas, Zverev, Djokovic, Barty advance

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Laaksonen credits clay court success to long Finnish stint

Henri Laaksonen, the 29-year-old Swiss who accounted for his first top 20 player in his career when he defeated 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in Round 2 of the French Open, said his aggressive play had finally paid off on Wednesday.

“Today was just an amazing match for me. I was playing really aggressive and it paid off,” the world No.150, who arrived at Roland Garros without a tour-level win this season, said after his 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Laaksonen credited his success to the first 16 years of his life spent playing on the clay courts in the Finnish city of Hyvinkaa.

“They opened the clay courts really early, sometimes [at the] end of March. Sometimes we were playing when it was snowing a little bit. I just like it generally when I have a little bit more time for my strokes and slower conditions, so [the clay] fits me,” Laaksonen told atptour.com

Laaksonen suffered health issues in 2018, when he started feeling “intense pain throughout my body” whenever he would salmon.

It affected his training. But once he stopped eating the fish, his condition improved. “My body is starting to work again in a more normal way,” Laaksonen said.

On what took him so long to make an impression on the circuit, Laaksonen said: “I wasn’t playing bad. It was just missing one, two, three per cent, and that makes the difference at this level. Either you win those matches or you lose.

“I didn’t feel bad actually on court. I was just missing a couple parts on my game. Here it has been going my way so far, so it’s close always. And I wasn’t really happy and I’m still not happy. My ranking is 150. That’s not my goal, but that’s what it is. I just try to improve.”

Nishikori, Tsitispas, Zverev and Djokovic advance

Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori fought back in a marathon four-hour match to beat Russian 23rd seed Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 and secure a place in the French Open third round.

Three days after another five-set comeback over Italian Alessandro Giannessi, world No.49 Nishikori — ranked fourth in the world during his peak — refused to give up and set up a clash with Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen.

Laaksonen, the world No. 150, held his nerve to defeat 11th seed, Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in two hours, 21 minutes.

Laaksonen, 29, struck 53 winners, including nine aces, in his first top 20 win of his career.

World No.5 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece breezed into the third round following a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Spaniard Pedro Martinez. He will take on American world No. 34 John Isner in the third round after the latter eased past Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-1, 7-6(5).

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany used all his energy to overcome Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin 7-6(4), 6-3, 7-6(1) to secure a spot in the third round.

World No.6 Zverev, who recovered from two sets down against qualifier Oscar Otte of Germany on Sunday, took 60 minutes to win the nerve-wracking opening set against Safiullin.

Zverev will next play Serbian Laslo Djere, who defeated compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

Zverev was broken when serving for the set at 6-5, but got off to a strong start in the tie-break to win 7-6(4). This is the fifth time Zverev has progressed to the French Open third round, with his best showing coming in 2018 and 2019 when he reached the quarter-finals.

In the first ever men’s night session on Court Philippe-Chatrier late on Tuesday evening, world No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia eased into the second round after a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over American 66th ranked player Tennys Sandgren.

Djokovic will next face a top 100 player from Uruguay, Pablo Cuevas, who advanced after a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory against Frenchman Lucas Pouille.

Djokovic, beaten by world No. 3 Rafael Nadal of Spain at the Roland Garros final last year, has now won his previous 16 first-round matches in Paris.

No. 11 Belinda upset, Victoria in 3rd round, Barty survives

Russian world No.37 Daria Kasatkina upset Swiss world No.11 Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-2 in the second round of the French Open here on Wednesday.

Daria will meet Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, who overcame world No. 97 Martina Trevisan of Italy 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

World No. 16 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus secured a spot in the third round of the French Open for the first time since 2015, with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Clara Tauson, a fast-emerging teenager from Denmark.

Former world No.1 Victoria, whose best showing here was a semi-final finish in 2013, added to her first-round victory over former French Open champion, Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Victoria, 31, will face world No. 24 Madison Keys in the third round. Madison defeated Leylah Fernandez of Canada, 6-1, 7-5.

Australian world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty survived a scare before overcoming 70th ranked Bernarda Pera of the USA 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the first round and extending her winning streak at French Open to eight.

Czech Republic’s former world No. 2, Petra Kvitova, gave a walkover to Russia’s Elena Vesnina before the second-round match due to an ankle injury while Ekaterina Alexandrova, the world No. 32 from Russia, got the better of seven-time Grand Slam title winner and former finalist, Venus Williams, 6-3, 6-1 in the opening round.

Venus, the 2002 finalist, was competing in her 24th French Open.

Ekaterina converted six of her seven break points to set up a second-round clash with world No. 33 from the Czech Republic, Barbora Krejcikova.

Barbora, who won her maiden career WTA singles title in Strasbourg last week, defeated compatriot Kristyna Pliskova, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

Ashleigh, winner of the title here in 2019, had skipped the 2020 edition held in October due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ashleigh seemed to have completely recovered from the arm injury she suffered during her quarter-final against American teenager Coco Gauff at the Italian Open in Rome a fortnight ago, where she was forced to retire.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra withdrew prior to her second-round match due to injury. The 11th-seeded Czech, who had entered the semi-finals here last year, posted on social media that she had injured her ankle after a fall during her first-round victory on Sunday.

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