Rezai stuns Venus to win Madrid tennis title

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
MADRID — Unheralded Aravane Rezai thrust herself into contention as a Roland Garros threat on Sunday with a stunning 6-2, 7-5 victory over Venus Williams to win the Madrid Masters after a week-long, giant-killing run.

"The French Open is another tournament and I will try my best at the first match," said the winner. "Every match is difficult. I have to take it one match at a time and we'll see."

The upset in just under one and three-quarter hours marked the biggest success in the career of the Frenchwoman, whose previous two WTA titles were in Strasbourg and Bali.

Sunday's victory was Rezai's third major triumph this week after knocking out former number one players Justine Henin in the first round and Jelena Jankovic in the quarters.

"It's the best week of my career and I'm very happy," said Rezai. "I played very well, I'm very proud of myself because it was a very tough tournament and a lot of players were here.

"I just believe in myself and I am happy for that.

"I had a tactical plan and it worked very well today. I had to be very calm and relaxed for it to work. I have to be very focused and motivated and lucid to play against Venus.'

Williams, who was chasing a 44th career crown, was run down in the 27-minute opening set and was unable to take advantage of a 4-1 lead in the second.

Instead of folding and saving strength for a deciding third set, Rezai, who hits every ball with brute force, managed to claw her way back, saved a Williams set point in the eighth game and five more a game later to hold for 5-all.

A break of the frustrated American gave Rezai a 6-5 lead, with the number 24 calmly serving out the biggest victory of her career a game later.

Williams, winner of nine clay titles, limited herself to one sentence during the painful trophy ceremony: "She played well, congratulations," said the American, who despite the setback will return to the world number two ranking on Monday behind sister Serena.

"I think she played really well, I have to give her that," said Williams. "If she can come out and consistently play like that I definitely think that she'll have good things in the future.

"In the second set my positioning was wrong; I was too far behind the baseline. I give her credit for playing really well.

"This has been a great week, I feel like I'm playing well, I played well this weekend, last week."

The American added: "I feel confident in my game. I'm looking forward with pride to the next tournament."

Rezai now stands 9-4 on clay this season and will have it all to prove with the French Open getting underway on Sunday and where she will be added to the list of dangerous outsiders.

The 23-year-old of Iranian heritage has had limited success on clay until this week, going only into the second round at Marbella, losing in the first round at Barcelona, and going 1-1 in Fed Cup against Germany on the surface.

She then lost in the Rome second round last week.

Rezai made the most of her chances, refusing to roll over in what looked to be the start of a Williams fightback midway through the second set.

The Frenchwoman converted on five of ten break points while Williams managed to break just twice on 13 opportunities.

Williams came in with titles at her last three clay finals - Acapulco in 2009 and 2010 and Istanbul five years ago.

The veteran was playing in her 70th WTA final and stands 43-27.

Rezai will move into the top 20 as a result of her efforts and stands 2-1 over Williams after beating the American in Istanbul in 2007 while losing that year at Amelia Island, both times on clay.

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Even Roger Federer can blow a tennis shot badly

Monday, May 17, 2010

MADRID — Take heart, tennis hackers: Roger Federer has shown that even the best can look pretty bad on a shot.

An important shot, at that. One point from losing the Madrid Masters final to Rafael Nadal, Federer prepared to hit a forehand off a ball that bounced a few feet in front of him. Instead of flying back over the net, the ball kept sailing and landed behind the 16-time major champion, giving Nadal a 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory.

A quick look appears to show Federer whiffing entirely. Replays — various clips are available Monday on YouTube — make it appear possible that Federer's racket tipped the ball.

Either way, Federer managed to laugh at himself, saying after Sunday's loss: "Well, I've had more beautiful match points. ... I decided to take a chance, and it didn't pay off."

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Nadal, Murray pleased after opening Madrid tennis wins

Thursday, May 13, 2010

MADRID — Former champions Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray both booked their passage to the third round of the Madrid Masters on Wednesday as the countdown to Roland Garros began to heat up.

Nadal took the first step towards a third clay title this season by defeating Ukrainian qualifier Oleksandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 6-3.

Murray, seeded third and desperate to start turning a so-so season on clay, beat Juan Ignacio Chela for the fourth time in a row, earning a 6-3, 6-3 opening victory after a bye in the first round.

"I was pleased with the win," said Murray. "I served well and was able to move him around the court.

"It will be the same tomorrow (when he plays Romanian Victor Hanescu). He's a tall guy and the serves will be booming. I have to take control to win."

Nadal and Murray both won the event when it was played indoors on hardcourt during the autumn, with Nadal taking the title in 2005 and Murray following up in 2008.

The Spaniard, second seed behind Roger Federer, didn't need to produce much second-round spectacle for his eager home fans as he methodically dispatched number 62 Dolgopolov with three breaks of serve and little else required.

Nadal, who has titles this season from Masters 1000 outings at Monte Carlo and Rome, won his 11th match in a row on clay this season in just under 90 minutes.

"It was difficult to play against him, he's very fast, said Nadal, calling the win "an important victory for me".

"I'm happy with it, but sometimes I did not have the match under control. I must do better tomorrow."

Nadal will have to lift his game on Thursday when he takes on 2.05-metre American John Isner, a comeback winner over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 1-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-2.

The 13th-seeded Isner made a breakthrough at the weekend as he lost in a rare all-American European clay final in Belgrade.

"Isner is one of the most dangerous players on tour," said Nadal.

"The pressure is very big on your serve. If you lose it against him you are unlikely to be able to come back in the set."

Marin Cilic, the Croatian eighth seed, beat Argentine Edoardo Schwank 6-3, 6-0. Latvian Ernests Gulbis, a semi-finalist in Rome, upset Russian number 10 Mikhail Youzhny 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.

French 12th seed Gael Monfils needed only 11 minutes to go through as German Philipp Petzschner quit at 1-1 with a leg injury after informing his friend in advance that he was in pain.

But Monfils's compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew as a precaution with back pain after losing a first set 6-2 to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

"This is something I've had before. It usually takes about a week to heal. I first felt it last Friday practising, so I thought it would be smarter to withdraw as a precaution since Roland Garros is now so close," said Tsonga.

Stanislas Wawrinka set up a third-round meeting with Federer after Argentine Leonardo Mayer quit with an arm problem at 6-4, 4-2 in their match.

Off-court, Andy Roddick was forced out before his second-round start after unsuccessfully trying to overcome a stomach virus.

The pullout from the fifth seed and world number eight came before his opening match against Madrid's Feliciano Lopez, who later defeated Oscar Hernandez of Spain 6-1, 6-2.

In women's WTA play, Jelena Jankovic said she took little notice of compatriot Ana Ivanovic across the net, emerging with a scratchy 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win in a Serbian struggle for the third round.

"I treated it as just another match," said the seventh seed, a beaten finalist in Rome last weekend.

"Maybe at the start of our careers it was important. Now you just want to play your tennis."

Spain's Arantxa Parra Santonja claimed the last of the third-round places, defeating China's Peng Shuai 1-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3.

In the third round, Venus Williams beat Italian Francesca Schiavone 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 but top seed Serena crashed out to Nadia Petrova 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.


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Tennis ace Jankovic downs compatriot Ivanovic

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

MADRID — Jelena Jankovic said she took little notice of compatriot Ana Ivanovic across the net Wednesday, emerging with a scratchy 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win in a Serbian struggle to reach the third round of the Madrid Masters.

"I treated it as just another match," said the seventh seed who played the Rome final last weekend. "Over the years you play so many matches and go through so many things.

"Maybe at the start of our careers it was important, Now you just want to play your tennis. You try your best and try to win."

2008 Roland Garros champion Ivanovic led the series 6-2 going into the contest after making a move back to form last week in Rome with a semi-final which improved her ranking to 42nd on the WTA.

But the one-time number one was bedevilled on serve with a dozen double-faults which did not help her cause in the struggle lasting just over an hour and three-quarters.

Jankovic probably didn't even notice. "It doesn't matter if it's a Serb or anyone else. I just played my tennis.

"It was not my best and I didn't expect to play so great after a long week in Rome. But it's the first match in Madrid with the altitude. I got through it and I get to play again tomorrow."

Ivanovic faced 20 break points in the battle, losing 11 while Jankovic was broken eight times in the sloppy victory showing.

In men's ATP play, Croatian eighth seed Marin Cilic notched up a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Argentine Edoardo Schwank in the second round while number 12 Frenchman Gael Monfils got a break as German Philipp Petzschner quit at 1-1 with a leg injury after just 11 minutes.

Argentine Juan Monaco put out Brazil's 16th seed Thomaz Bellucci 6-2, 6-2.

Making later starts were second seed Nadal, facing Oleg Dolgopolov of the Ukraine, third-seeded Scot Andy Murray and French Open finalist Robin Soderling of Sweden.

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Tennis needs Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry to resume

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On Sunday afternoon, it will be a full year since Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal last played each other.

Theirs is arguably the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis, better than Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, more compelling than Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, and in the 2008 Wimbledon final they produced some extraordinary drama. Yet, since Federer defeated Nadal to win the title at Madrid’s Caja Magica last season, the 20-match series has been on hold.

Though they have been on opposite sides of the net in charity doubles matches, tennis could do with Federer and Nadal resuming their rivalry for real, either here, in Paris, or in London.

The Swiss and the Spaniard are seeded to meet in the final on the clay here, ahead of the French Open a week on Sunday, yet it cannot be said with any certainty that the projected match is going to happen in the Spanish capital.

Since winning a 16th grand slam title at the Australian Open, Federer has failed to reach another final, let alone win another tournament.

On the clay, the French Open champion’s form has been particularly scratchy, as he lost his opening match in Rome to Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis and last week was defeated in the semi-finals of the Estoril tournament by Albert Montanes, of Spain.

He did not have everything his own way as he opened his tournament in Madrid against Benjamin Becker, needing a tie-break to complete his straight-sets, second-round, 6-2, 7-6 victory over his German opponent.

In the 3½ months since Federer won the Australian Open, the only one of the top four to have won a title is Nadal, the champion at the clay-court tournaments in Monte Carlo and Rome.

Novak Djokovic, ranked second behind Federer, had to retire from a match in Belgrade last week because of allergies and breathing problems, and he decided against coming to Spain, and Andy Murray has had his difficulties since that night at Melbourne Park.

So far on the clay this season, Murray has won one match. The Scot, who had a bye through the first round here, will open his tournament against Juan Ignacio Chela, an Argentine qualifier on Wednesday.

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Williams sisters into Rome quarterfinals

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ROME — The Williams sisters have reached the quarterfinals of the Italian Open.

Top-ranked Serena Williams defeated Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 on Wednesday as she plays her first tournament in three months. Venus Williams also advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Shahar Peer of Israel 6-3, 6-4.

The sisters are back from knee injuries, and could meet in the semifinals after being placed in the same half of the draw.

Serena Williams had been off the tour since she won the singles and doubles at the Australian Open, and was a wild-card entry in Rome. Against the 49th-ranked Petkovic, her game was erratic at times. She closed the match with almost as many winners as unforced errors, 25 to 21.

Williams got off to a good start, winning the first set with a five-game streak. But she quickly fell 4-1 behind in the second, came back to 4-3 but conceded another, decisive break to Petkovic. In the third set, she picked up her game and played aggressively.

The fourth-seeded Venus Williams, sidelined with a knee problem since losing the Key Biscayne final, broke once in the first set and dropped just four points on her serve. Both players then lost serve early in the second, and Venus had to save two break points at 4-4 before getting the decisive break in the next game with a forehand winner.

She saved another break point when serving for the win before converting her second match point.

Also, Nadia Petrova of Russia won 6-0, 3-6, 6-2 against Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania, who knocked out defending champion Dinara Safina on Tuesday.

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Nadal Takes Low-Impact Road Toward French Open

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
A week to win a tennis tournament. A week to recover. It is not Rafael Nadal’s traditional approach during the clay-court season that has often felt like his clay-court season, but his new rhythm certainly seems like the right rhythm at this sensitive stage of Nadal’s career.

For all his victories and his celebrity, he is still just 23 years old, and yet the mileage and the method mean more than the birth date in professional tennis. Nadal runs harder, plays harder than just about all of his peers.

He has the fragile knees to prove it, and after trying and failing to make it to the French Open in fine fettle last season, he is now making himself scarcer and is on a mission to peak in Paris later this month.

It seems strange that it could mean quite so much to Nadal to win a Grand Slam tournament that he has already dominated four times, but the tennis temple that made him a star is also the place where he suffered the biggest setback and upset of his career: to Robin Soderling in the fourth round last year.

Nadal craves number five at Roland Garros. Wanting something too much has been problematic for some tennis luminaries (think Ivan Lendl, who never won Wimbledon, or Martina Hingis, who never won the French Open), but an excess of desire has never seemed to build much of a mental block for Nadal.

At his best, the Spaniard has defined in-the-moment focus; has defined keeping it simple between the lines (even if he has to feed his superstitions by clearing them of red dust). And after nearly a year without a tournament victory, he has feted his return to his favorite surface by sweeping his first 10 clay-court matches of the season.

As great as ever in Monte Carlo, Nadal had to settle for being good enough in Rome last week, where Ernests Gulbis gave him a three-set scare in the semifinals. Now Nadal has the week off while his yang, Roger Federer, plays for a big appearance fee at the minor clay-court event in Estoril, Portugal.

Their paths are scheduled to converge next week in Madrid, where Federer jump-started his climb back to the top of the pyramid by beating a tired Nadal in the final last year. They have not played each other since, which is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for one of the best rivalries in sports; the matchup that gave us the 2006 Rome final and 2008 Wimbledon final.

For the moment, with Nadal ranked No. 3, they are no longer guaranteed to face off only in finals. Nor is there any guarantee that Federer is going to be in the kind of form required to go that far. He has a 3-3 record since winning the Australian Open. But the difference this spring is that he is not facing any cosmic questions about possible decline: his inquisitors remembering all too well what happened the last time they doubted his ability to keep winning the big ones.

Perhaps there’s more meaning to this microslump and all those errant forehands than the tennis world imagines, but Federer was so good in the heart of the season last year and so good in Australia this year that he has earned this conspiracy of courtesy.

Nadal has earned plenty of goodwill himself. His movement and positive energy are clearly there again. So is his forehand. But there is grist for contrarians. He has not beaten a member of the top eight on any surface in nearly a year and has yet to play on clay this season against any of his main rivals, including Federer, Novak Djokovic , Andy Murray or Juan Martin Del Potro.

There is also the unsettling feeling that the tall and very powerful Gulbis has much in common with the tall and very powerful Soderling, Both were intent on keeping the points short on clay against Nadal. Both were intent on robbing him of time by hitting with enormous pace. Both have enough height to avoid having to reach up to cope with Nadal’s nasty, high-bouncing topspin.

Bring on similar body types and tactics in Madrid and Paris, but even so, with Nadal eager and fresher by design, it requires little imagination to see him holding up the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the fifth time .

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Nadal Takes Low-Impact Road Toward French Open

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
A week to win a tennis tournament. A week to recover. It is not Rafael Nadal’s traditional approach during the clay-court season that has often felt like his clay-court season, but his new rhythm certainly seems like the right rhythm at this sensitive stage of Nadal’s career.

For all his victories and his celebrity, he is still just 23 years old, and yet the mileage and the method mean more than the birth date in professional tennis. Nadal runs harder, plays harder than just about all of his peers.

He has the fragile knees to prove it, and after trying and failing to make it to the French Open in fine fettle last season, he is now making himself scarcer and is on a mission to peak in Paris later this month.

It seems strange that it could mean quite so much to Nadal to win a Grand Slam tournament that he has already dominated four times, but the tennis temple that made him a star is also the place where he suffered the biggest setback and upset of his career: to Robin Soderling in the fourth round last year.

Nadal craves number five at Roland Garros. Wanting something too much has been problematic for some tennis luminaries (think Ivan Lendl, who never won Wimbledon, or Martina Hingis, who never won the French Open), but an excess of desire has never seemed to build much of a mental block for Nadal.

At his best, the Spaniard has defined in-the-moment focus; has defined keeping it simple between the lines (even if he has to feed his superstitions by clearing them of red dust). And after nearly a year without a tournament victory, he has feted his return to his favorite surface by sweeping his first 10 clay-court matches of the season.

As great as ever in Monte Carlo, Nadal had to settle for being good enough in Rome last week, where Ernests Gulbis gave him a three-set scare in the semifinals. Now Nadal has the week off while his yang, Roger Federer, plays for a big appearance fee at the minor clay-court event in Estoril, Portugal.

Their paths are scheduled to converge next week in Madrid, where Federer jump-started his climb back to the top of the pyramid by beating a tired Nadal in the final last year. They have not played each other since, which is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for one of the best rivalries in sports; the matchup that gave us the 2006 Rome final and 2008 Wimbledon final.

For the moment, with Nadal ranked No. 3, they are no longer guaranteed to face off only in finals. Nor is there any guarantee that Federer is going to be in the kind of form required to go that far. He has a 3-3 record since winning the Australian Open. But the difference this spring is that he is not facing any cosmic questions about possible decline: his inquisitors remembering all too well what happened the last time they doubted his ability to keep winning the big ones.

Perhaps there’s more meaning to this microslump and all those errant forehands than the tennis world imagines, but Federer was so good in the heart of the season last year and so good in Australia this year that he has earned this conspiracy of courtesy.

Nadal has earned plenty of goodwill himself. His movement and positive energy are clearly there again. So is his forehand. But there is grist for contrarians. He has not beaten a member of the top eight on any surface in nearly a year and has yet to play on clay this season against any of his main rivals, including Federer, Novak Djokovic , Andy Murray or Juan Martin Del Potro.

There is also the unsettling feeling that the tall and very powerful Gulbis has much in common with the tall and very powerful Soderling, Both were intent on keeping the points short on clay against Nadal. Both were intent on robbing him of time by hitting with enormous pace. Both have enough height to avoid having to reach up to cope with Nadal’s nasty, high-bouncing topspin.

Bring on similar body types and tactics in Madrid and Paris, but even so, with Nadal eager and fresher by design, it requires little imagination to see him holding up the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the fifth time .

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Roddick pulls out of Rome Masters; Venus injury prevents Fed Cup slot

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Andy Roddick has pulled out of the Rome Masters while Venus Williams' knee injury will prevent her from playing in the Fed Cup against Russia this weekend.

Roddick, the world number seven, cited personal reasons for missing the Masters in Italy that starts Sunday.

The tournament is classed as mandatory for top-ranked players but Roddick will not face any sanctions for dropping out. He is allowed one free exemption per year because he has competed in over 600 matches on the ATP tour.

The tour said they expected Roddick to return to action for the Madrid Masters on May 9, which is two weeks before the French Open.

Meanwhile, Venus Williams has been removed from the U.S. squad for their Fed Cup semifinal with Russia due to a knee injury she picked up at the Miami Masters.

Her sister Serena, the world number one, will also miss the event in Alabama.

Venus said in a statement to United States Tennis Association Web site: "I am continuing to rehabilitate my knee and regret that I will not be able to participate in the Fed Cup tie.

"I waited until this moment in the hope that I would have an opportunity to play but I am being advised by my medical support team that I will need more time to recover.

"I will be rooting for a United States win and look forward to returning to Fed Cup competition."

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The Net Post: Roger Federer unsurprised by Rafael Nadal’s comeback

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Roger Federer insisted he did not watch a single stroke of Rafael Nadal’s staggering exploits in Monte Carlo the week before last when the Spanish leviathan won the title for a sixth time in succession, losing 14 games in the process. Did the results surprise him? “I was more surprised that everybody thought Rafa wasn’t playing so well any more,” the world No 1 said. “The critics in this sport are at a pretty high level. I went through the same thing before.”

The higher you rise, the greater the praise, and the more intense the scrutiny becomes if the wheels should start to lack traction. The Wimbledon champion knows how the game is played. By “high level” the 16-time grand slam champion did not mean that he bowed to the quality of the questions raised against Nadal, but more that he found a lot of what had been written about his friendly foe rather disquieting.

“He (Nadal) should have clearly won Doha in the first week of the year when he was playing incredible tennis, he was toying with (Nikolay) Davydenko in the final before Davydenko got a little lucky, saved a match point and ended up playing an incredible third set,” Federer said. “He was playing really well in the Australian Open before he had to pull out (against Andy Murray) and everybody started to get negative. There has been too much of that about him in my opinion. Surely you would have to assume that once the clay-court season came around, he was going to be back to his A-game.”

It was A+ in Monte Carlo and now that he is rested by choosing not to repel all invaders in Barcelona for a sixth time – Fernando Verdasco, beaten 6-0, 6-1 by Nadal in the Monaco final, collected that title, defeating Robin Soderling yesterday – Nadal ought to be refreshed for the formidable challenges ahead.

Federer looked pretty bloomin’ blossoming as he did his usual frenetic media rounds at the Foro Italico. It has got to the point where women with babies in pushchairs ask Tony Godsick, his manager, to pose for pictures with their offspring, hoping no doubt that the acumen with which he has delivered Federer’s off-the-field splendour will rub off on them.

Of the nine current Masters in which he has competed (Federer did not play in Shanghai last year when it became a Masters 1000 for the first time), Rome is only one of three, along with Paris and Monte Carlo, that he has not won. He did have two match points on his racket in the extraordinary five-set final here in 2006, which would have satisfied an awful lot of people not named Federer. He did not baulk at the point made to him that this is Nadal’s title to lose.

“His record would suggest that for sure,” Federer said. “He has been on an absolute tear on clay, he has only ever lost one match at the French Open and though I would love to say that I’m the big favourite here and in Paris, it would not seem quite right. Rafa has proved again in Monaco just how tough he is but I think there are guys out here who can challenge him.”

Federer was intriguing, too, on the travails of Murray and Novak Djokovic, the young pretenders who have hit the odd stumbling block recently. Djokovic has returned, lock, stock and barrel to Marian Vajda, his long-time coach, having believed that Todd Martin, the American, may have been able to offer him solace and a new understanding of his game. Sometimes, if it ain’t really broke, there is no need to seek out a different fixer. Murray’s travails are well known.

“I was always pretty impressed at how incredibly solid they were in the Masters events, always in the semis or quarters,” Federer said, “because I know how hard that is to do. I never took those kind of achievements for granted, even when they were expected of me. They are obviously feeling it more now, when they aren’t winning the Masters and have not won a grand slam in the last year. The aura can fade and now, with Nadal winning Monaco, the situation has changed again. It will be interesting to see how it turns out and if they can bounce back.”

Djokovic called it a “crisis that everyone has to go through” and yet the Serbian is No 2 in the world, he is a grand slam champion and he is not 23 until next month. “I have got my thoughts back together, I’m working on some things, but it’s been mentally exhausting for me.”

The greater concern among the protagonists in the men’s game is the continued inactivity of Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, the US Open champion, who has not played since Melbourne because of an injury to his right wrist. There is still pain there, the Net Post is told, and he is considered only a ‘maybe’ for the Mutua Madrilena Masters in Madrid the week after next.

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