Bianca’s advice for Emma
If there’s one person who knows what it’s like to explode onto the tennis scene as a teenager then deal with a slew of injuries, while trying to get accustomed to the rigours of the women’s tour, so soon after being a junior, it’s Bianca Andreescu.
The Canadian had a huge 2019, winning Indian Wells, Toronto and the US Open within the span of six months – she turned 19 halfway through – before struggling with a series of injuries that hampered her progress.
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After her win over Emma Raducanu in Rome on Tuesday, via retirement, Andreescu was asked if she had any advice for the British teenager, who became the first qualifier in history to win the US Open last year, and has been dealing with various physical issues in her first full season on the women’s tour.
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“I think that you really have to experience it to really know what you need,” said Andreescu. “But you're playing the best players, you really have to have the right nutrition, the right game plan, like physically, mentally, emotionally, everything.
“It's not easy being on tour. From January to end of October, that's a long time. You really have to schedule your training properly, your competition, all of that.
“You also have to know that injuries are a part of the game. But the best thing you can do is try to prevent. I think that's kind of the advice I can give her.”
A guiding voice
Raducanu, who retired in Rome with a back injury she picked up last week in Madrid, admits she has yet to figure out when to push her body and when to choose not to play, and says if it were up to her, she’d compete every week.
The British 10th seed, who has chosen not to hire a full-time coach at the moment, said she wished she had a “voice” that could help her make such decisions when it comes to playing versus resting.
Andreescu was asked who that “voice” was for her over the past few years.
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“I feel like now I know myself and my body more and more, so I'm able to make that decision for myself,” said the 21-year-old Canadian.
“But I do have an amazing team, as well, that's very experienced and has been in the sport for a long time, so they also help me. I feel like I'm the type of player that always wants to go. Maybe just like her. I would love to play every week.
“When they do see me like that, they also help me. They'll tell me to chill. I'll take maybe a day off, two days off. Even after the two days off, I play even better than maybe if I played those two days.
“It's kind of like a back-and-forth thing.”
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A meteoric rise
Sebastian Baez started last season ranked outside the top 300. Today he is 37 in the world, a title-winner on the ATP tour and enters his Rome second round clash with No.2 seed Alexander Zverev on Wednesday carrying an eight-match winning streak.
“He's going up very fast,” Diego Schwartzman said of his fellow Argentine Baez.
“It's his first year for him playing ATP, totally first year. Last year he didn't play much. For the first year already, he is almost top 35; maybe has the chance, if he does well here, to be in the 32 top seeds in Roland Garros.
“Argentinian tennis is happy, very happy about him.”
Baez is just 21 years old and rocketed up the rankings last year when he won a record six Challenger titles in one season.
A French Open junior finalist in 2018, Baez contested his first Grand Slam main draw as a professional this year in Melbourne after starting his 2022 campaign ranked just inside the top 100.
As the 15th-ranked Schwartzman pointed out, Baez now has a chance to be seeded at this month’s Roland Garros, should he enjoy a decent run in Rome this week.
‘Person is first, before being a tennis player’
The Buenos Aires native won his maiden ATP title last month in Estoril, then extended his winning streak by earning two qualifying victories in Rome before battling past Tallon Griekspoor in his main draw opener on Tuesday.
The gritty Argentine squandered two match points in the second-set tiebreak against Griekspoor and trailed 0-2 in the decider before he rolled through the next six games to set up a second round against Zverev.
Baez is what you’d describe these days as ‘good people’. He shares a special connection with his coach Sebastian Gutierrez, who has worked with him since 2015.
Gutierrez’s philosophy, which he has passed onto Baez, is that you have to be a good human being in order to be a good tennis player.
Baez has really bought into that and believes his coach’s approach is “something different” in this sport.
“The person is first, before being a tennis player. And he’s (my coach is) right. Because when you go out on the court, it’s a person, not a tennis player, it’s not Baez, it’s Sebastian,” he explained.
“So that’s something different. He’s a great guy, we have a big connection always, since the first time I met him until now. He’s a different person and so special.”
Baez lists three key values instilled in him by Gutierrez.
“Respect, work a lot, every day, and try to search for the perfections in the little things. For me those three parts are the key,” he said.
Baez’ rhetoric is also quite different. When asked about his title run in Estoril, his first instinct was to highlight how everyone at the tournament was so nice to him; from the staff, to the transportation personnel to the crowd, and he believes that is why he felt good energy on the court while competing.
When I offered to conduct our interview in Spanish to make him feel more comfortable, he dismissed the suggestion and said he wanted to practice his English.
“In English I try. I have to learn,” he said with a smile.
‘Federer is the king’
Baez does not come from a tennis family and succinctly describes how he got into the sport in one line.
“I had racquet in my house, I took it when I was two years old and after that I took it for life,” he says.
His idol? “Roger Federer is the king. He’s perfect,” he reveals without hesitation.
People back home draw comparisons between Baez and Schwartzman – something the young Argentine is not too keen about and he insists the only thing they have in common is their similar height.
“We are different players. They shouldn’t compare us to one another; that’s bad. Diego is Diego. Seba is Seba. He has a big career, I am just starting; we will see,” he added.
It’s been quite the start so far. Keep an eye on Seba at the French Open!
Comeback of the day
Things were not looking good for Baez’s Diego Schwartzman when he lost 15 points in a row, and six consecutive games, to trail in-form Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic 2-6, 6-3, 3-0 in their first round on Tuesday.
The No.12 seed managed to stop the bleeding and levelled the decider for 3-3 but was in trouble once again, staring down two match points on his serve at 4-5.
Schwartzman saved both and went on to secure a hard-fought victory 6-2 3-6 7-6 (7/3) after two hours and 43 minutes of play.
“It was difficult to know what happened at the beginning of the third because I was not able to win a point,” reflected Schwartzman.
“But at the end, this is tennis. You know sometimes you are going to have the chance.
“I lost the match against (Thanasi) Kokkinakis this year. I had a match point. I was playing much better than him. Last year (Roberto) Bautista. (Stefanos) Tsitsipas in Monte-Carlo.
“Tennis on clay, if you are there and wait for the chance, maybe you have. I think at the end he was playing much better than me on the third. I was lucky, to be honest, but I was ready for the chance.”
His reward is a second-round meeting with American lucky loser Marcos Giron.
Point of the day
A brilliant drop shot get and an even better volley winner to finish it off, Novak Djokovic takes away point of the day honours with this beauty late in his first set against Aslan Karatsev.
“You always hope you can play some exciting and attractive points and you could come out as a winner of those points and celebrate with the crowd obviously that’s what the crowd is looking for,” Djokovic said of that point after the match.
“They’re looking for energy, excitement, they’re looking for fight and they want to see some good tennis. We had some nice points today. It’s always great to play in the ‘Coliseum of tennis’, it certainly is this stadium.”
Stat of the day
Djokovic, a five-time champion in Rome, picked up a 60th career match-win at the Italian Open on Tuesday. It is the fifth tournament where the Serb has won at least 60 matches, along with the four Grand Slams.
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