French Open 2015: Men’s and Women’s Draw Preview and Analysis

May 24, 2015

by: Tom Cochrane

It is springtime in Paris, which means it is time for the year’s second Grand Slam, the French Open. Commencing at Roland Garros today, the second major of 2015 is a chance for the clay-court specialists to showcase their talents and, in Novak Djokovic’s case, represents a golden opportunity for the Serb to claim the one major trophy missing from his mantelpiece. Read on for my tournament predictions and an overview of the first day’s play.

Tournament Predictions

Men’s Singles

Going into the tournament, all the talk centres around two men: world number one Novak Djokovic, who has been near-invincible in the last six months and who is desperately seeking a maiden French Open crown to complete a career Grand Slam, and Rafael Nadal, the nine-time French Open champion who has so often thwarted Djokovic’s bid for the career Grand Slam but who has been far from his dominant best on the red dirt this season.

Nadal’s underwhelming season to date and an unkind draw mean that he will face Djokovic in the quarter-finals, if both men advance that far. That’s likely to be a boost for Djokovic, as Nadal in his current state needs a number of good wins under his belt if he is to acquire the necessary confidence to beat Djokovic. The conditions in Paris suit Nadal to a tee, but on current form I think Djokovic will play well inside the baseline and attack the Nadal backhand mercilessly to finally notch a win in Paris over the Spaniard.

Andy Murray has been the surprise packet of the clay court season, winning a couple of titles on the red dirt and coming in to Paris with a 10-0 record on the surface. If he can get past the challenges posed by clay-court warriors such as David Ferrer, I fancy his chances of making it through to the final four. Unfortunately for Murray, that is where a hungry Djokovic will most likely be waiting.

In the bottom half of the draw, look for a rejuvenated Roger Federer, having won in Istanbul and made the final in Rome, to cruise through the first week and then take down compatriot Stan Wawrinka to book his place in the semi-finals. Tomas Berdych has been ultra-consistent this year, but I fear he will succumb to the clay-court nous of Kei Nishikori should the pair meet, as predicted, in the quarter-finals.

In many respects, this is probably Federer’s best chance to win the French Open since he claimed his one and only Roland Garros title in 2009. But Djokovic was far too good for the Swiss star in Rome and, with a career Grand Slam at stake, I can’t see Djokovic letting Federer get the better of him.

Champion: Novak Djokovic

Finalist: Roger Federer

Semi-finalists: Murray, Nishikori

*****

Women’s Singles

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: at her best, Serena Williams is undoubtedly the best player on the WTA Tour. At this point in time, the critical words in that sentence are “at her best”, with Williams struggling with an elbow injury which required her to withdraw from last week’s Italian Open. Not only does the injury cause pain, it also affects the American’s ability to serve, thus weakening one of the biggest weapons in the 19-time major winner’s arsenal.

Making matters worse, clay is Williams’ least-favoured surface and Roland Garros is not a particularly happy hunting ground – only a couple of the American’s 19 Grand Slam titles have come in Paris. Of course, being a two-time French Open champion is nothing to be sneezed at, but it’s all relative when one is referring to a modern day legend of the game.

I’ll back Williams to grind her way through her opening matches, which should give her ample opportunity to rest her elbow. A potential quarter-final match-up against close friend Caroline Wozniacki is one Williams should win, but a possible semi-final against Petra Kvitova is a lottery. Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, beat Williams en route to the title in Madrid earlier this month, but the Czech is inconsistent at the best of times and is no certainty to advance to the second week of the tournament. That said, Kvitova’s best is good enough to beat anyone.

In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion and 2015 Italian Open champion Maria Sharapova is the favourite to advance to the final, but she is scheduled to face a stern test in the quarter-finals in the shape of Carla Suarez Navarro. The diminutive Spaniard is in the best form of her life, and only narrowly lost to Sharapova in the final in Rome.  If the pair meets in Paris, I fancy the Spaniard to turn the tables and upset Sharapova. Simona Halep made last year’s final in Paris and, whilst her form to date in 2015 hasn’t been as good, I can see her making a deep run at Roland Garros once again this year.

I think Suarez Navarro can go all the way to the final, given her confidence levels at present and given just how hard it is to beat her on clay – like her compatriot Nadal, she can run all day and has a huge heart. However, if Serena can survive the first week, I’ll back her to lift her game in the second week and use her big-match experience to overwhelm Suarez Navarro in the final.

Champion: Serena Williams

Finalist: Carla Suarez Navarro

Semi-finalists: Kvitova, Halep

*****

Matches of the Day – Day 1

1. Alejandro Falla vs. Roger Federer

In 2010, unheralded Colombian Alejandro Falla gave Swiss superstar Roger Federer the fright of his life, taking the first two sets of their first round match at the All England Club. Federer eventually squeezed through to the second round, completing a 5 set comeback victory, but I’m sure he will remember that Wimbledon encounter when they pair meet again in Paris today.

Falla has a game which is particularly tricky on grass, with a sliding leftie serve and a compact double-handed backhand. But whilst Falla’s game is difficult for opponents on grass, it’s less damaging on clay, a surface on which the ball travels more slowly. Federer played well in Rome last week and I think he will handle Falla with relative ease today. Federer in 3.

2. Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Marsel Ilhan

It’s been an up and down year to date for 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka. Making the semi-finals at Melbourne Park represented a creditable effort in attempting to defend his crown, and he did beat the king of clay, Rafael Nadal, en route to the semi-finals in Rome last week. On the other hand, there have been disappointing results in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo.

Ilhan is Turkey’s leading men’s player and has a decent 6-6 record in 2015 heading into Roland Garros. Wawrinka lost in the opening round in Paris last year, a combination of higher expectations on his shoulders courtesy of his win in Melbourne and a tricky opponent in Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Ilhan is playing in only his second French Open main draw and, whilst I don’t have high hopes for Wawrinka in the tournament overall, I think he will get through this one. Wawrinka in 4.

3. Kei Nishikori vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu

Nishikori had a breakout Grand Slam performance last year, making the US Open final after defeating world number one Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. Having now seen Djokovic conquer almost all before him since that loss to Nishikori, it makes one realise just what a fine performance it was from the Japanese star.

Nishikori couldn’t finish it off in the final in New York, going down to a red-hot Marin Cilic, but I think Nishikori is among the top 4 or 5 contenders in Paris this year. He will need to be switched-on against the dangerous Mathieu, a veteran of the ATP Tour and a former top 12 player, who is sure to receive plenty of support from the Parisian crowd today. Nishikori moves well on clay and, with a former French Open winner in his camp, will have high hopes of emulating the feats of coach Michael Chang. Nishikori in 3.

4. Ana Ivanovic vs. Yaroslava Shvedova

This should be a particularly good contest, pitting the former French Open champion and world number one Ana Ivanovic against the plucky Kazakh, Yaroslava Shvedova. The Kazakh is a two-time quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, making the final eight in both 2010 and 2012, and a solid all-court player who has enjoyed a lot of success in doubles and mixed doubles.

Ivanovic is the better-known and more high-profile of the players but, as far as opening round contests go, this is a tough test for the Serbian star. I’ll back the seventh seed to ultimately prevail, but not without having to work extremely hard. Ivanovic in 3.

5. Garbine Muguruza vs. Petra Martic

It was at Roland Garros last year that Spain’s Garbine Muguruza really announced herself to the tennis world, not just beating defending champion Serena Williams, but thoroughly humbling the American superstar with a 6-2 6-2 beat-down. Williams gained a measure of revenge by beating Muguruza at this year’s Australian Open, but even that involved a 3 set struggle.

Croatia’s Petra Martic has had her own successes at the French Open in the past, making it through to the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2012. However, the Croat has largely struggled since that time, winning only two Grand Slam main draw matches since that run in Paris. Martic was forced to qualify just to make the main draw in Paris this year and, whilst the qualifying matches will have her playing well, I think Muguruza has far too much power in this one. Muguruza in 2.

Put your house on: Roger Federer. The second seed is in good form at present and will be too good for the Colombian Falla, as previewed above.

Upset alert: Ernests Gulbis made the semi-finals in Paris last year, knocking out Federer en route to the final four. This year is quickly shaping up as an annus horribilis for the Latvian, who has a miserable 2-12 win-loss record for the year to date. Igor Sijsling beat the talented Alexander Zverev in qualifying to make the main draw at Roland Garros, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Dutchman takes out the erratic Gulbis in their clash today.

Likely to go the distance: Big-serving Ivo Karlovic and former top tenner Marcos Baghdatis look set to keep the Parisian crowd enthralled with a marathon match today. I’ll take Karlovic down the stretch.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.

Tennis Elbow: Why is nobody talking about Carla Suarez Navarro’s season?

May 18, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps quite the season for an overlooked player.

Her WTA Tour webpage says that Carla Suarez Navarro stands five-foot-four and, for having interviewed her twice, she can’t possibly be much taller.

Yet, she is ranked at No. 8 this morning after losing in the 2015 BNL Internazionali d’Italia final against Maria Sharapova by the score of 4-6, 7-5 and 6-1. That ranking is already quite the progression from the No. 18 echelon she reached at end of the 2014 season and for that, she can thank her performances in 2015.

Indeed, the small one is having quite the large season on the WTA Tour. Suarez Navarro has remained busy in 2015, already competing in 11 tournaments, and she’s certainly made the most of it: after her loss in the Rome final, she now has qualified for the quarterfinals or better at 10 of the 11 events, amassing over $1,273,672 in the process. If the 26-year-old keeps winning at this pace, a spot in Singapore for the year-end WTA Finals seems all but assured.

She’s currently 12-7 against seeded players in 2015, another reason why her season has been amazing. What is amazing, too, is that as far as I can tell there isn’t much fanfare about the kind of tennis the Spaniard is playing. (Maybe there is in Spain, but I can’t speak Spanish and I wouldn’t know.)

Maybe it’s because despite all the excellence, Suarez Navarro isn’t winning the tournaments. She has progressed so far in the draw of so many tournaments, but still hasn’t won in 2015. Maybe that’s why, but that would overlook the fact that she has lost finals against Andrea Petkovic, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who aren’t exactly novice players on the WTA Tour.

Suarez Navarro isn’t winning tournaments and, in that respect, she’s pretty much like the vast majority on players on tour: much is made about the dominance of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the past decade on the ATP World Tour, but only a rare few players actually win tournaments in the WTA too. That’s the nature of tennis anyway—you battle an opponent only for the right, if you win, to repeat it all again the next day and against a new opponent.

In tennis, you’re much more likely not to win the events you do compete in. That doesn’t mean you’re not good enough.

Or maybe it’s not that she isn’t winning tournaments, but the fact that she couldn’t win at the big one. Remember that one tournament where Suarez Navarro couldn’t qualify for the quarterfinals? It happened at the Australian Open early in January, where the Spaniard lost in the first round against a player named Carina Witthoeft; Suarez Navarro’s worst event in 2015 also happens to have been the year’s biggest, and maybe that’s been what has doomed her.

Whatever the reason, I hope this modest column can help shine a light on Suarez Navarro’s excellence. She’s small in stature, but plays an exciting brand of tennis with topspin-heavy groundstrokes, and many attacking shots and volleys. She is equally as compelling off the courts in interviews, when she used her broken English to delight reporters (…on her way to the quarterfinals!) in last summer’s Rogers Cup in Montreal.

Another big tournament starts at the end of this month, with the tennis world descending on the City of Paris. This year at the French Open, Suarez Navarro has quarterfinals points to defend from a year ago; she should be fine.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Reviewing Djokovic’s Roma Victory

May 17, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to review the Rome Masters in Italy during their latest Podcast.

With Rafa Nadal encountering another set back as he heads into his French Open title defense, we discuss the form of the Spaniard and the rest of the field. While Novak Djokovic continues to rack up titles and play the best tennis of his life, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka have also found some form with Paris looming. We finish the show with some fan questions and some thoughts on the second Major of the season.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Djokovic dominates Federer to win Fourth Roma Title

May 17, 2015

Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy

Top seed Novak Djokovic captured his fourth career Roma Masters title on Sunday in Italy, easing past No. 2 seed Roger Federer 6-4, 6-3. Breaking serve once in each set, Djokovic struck five aces and won 84 percent of his first serve points. Allowing Federer to win only 35 percent of his second serve points, Djokovic improved to 35-2 on the season and heads into Roland Garros the heavy favorite.

Federer, who was bidding for his first-ever title in Roma, dropped to 25-5 in 2015. The Swiss legend will be ranked No. 2 in the field when the draw in Paris is released.

The French Open gets underway on May 24th.

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Internazionali BNL d’Italia: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

May 11, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2015 Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

This is it: the last big one before the big one.

The clay court season has just about concluded, as quickly as it has arrived and started. In only two weeks from now, the 2015 Roland Garros Grand Slam tournament will start, and 14 days later we will all move on to prepare for Wimbledon.

That’s tennis in 2015, folks; seldom is there ever any downtime. Andy Murray and Petra Kvitova won the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open titles for men and women just this previous week, and now we get to preview another joint ATP World Tour/WTA Tour venture.

Women’s draw

Serena Williams has finally lost in 2015, but will this matter?

Probably not. Serena Williams has lost, but she remains by far the best player on the WTA Tour and, though she has been dealt a relatively tough draw in Italy, the smart bet is always on the American. Meeting her in the quarterfinals? Fellow American Sloane Stephens.

The second portion of the main draw belongs to Maria Sharapova, who played again this past week in Madrid after taking some time off/losing matches she shouldn’t have. The Russian will be looking to complete her preparation for the French Open and I believe she can equal in Rome the semifinal she reached in Madrid: making it to the final four would pit her up against Serena Williams and, well, Sharapova hasn’t beaten the Williams sister in more than a decade.

Somehow, some way, through the controversy, the new coach and the many, many losses (i.e. six matches in a row now) Eugenie Bouchard is still seeded at No. 6 for a WTA Premier event. If the Canadian doesn’t start winning soon, this is likely to change, as she’ll be hard pressed to equal her French Open semifinal of 2014.

Simona Halep also needs a good showing in Italy, as she’ll hope to use the event as a springboard for a repeat of her 2014 French Open final; she lost her very first match in Madrid, never a good omen. The Romanian has a tricky draw in Rome, with two players in Lucie Safarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova who made the quarterfinals in Madrid.

Quaterfinals: Serena Williams over Sloane Stephens; Maria Sharapova over Angelique Kerber; Petra Kvitova over Carla Suarez Navarro; Simona Halep over Ekaterina Makarova

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova; Petra Kvitova over Simona Halep

Final: Petra Kvitova over Serena Williams

*****

Men’s draw

Can Novak Djokovic keep it going this week? Would a loss hinder his confidence and his preparation for the French Open?

The Serb has played better than everyone in this 2015 season and the next big tournament he loses will be the first in about eight months. His draw is very manageable, but he was still dealt a difficult potential quarterfinal match against Kei Nishikori, a player who has the game to overtake him.

Andy Murray will arrive in Rome high on confidence; whether this is a result of him having won last week’s Mutua Madrid Open or the fact that he approves of Charlotte as the given name of the new Royal Princess, we may never know. Murray’s section of the main draw is littered with big names of players who haven’t played well recently and I wouldn’t be too concerned if I were the Brit. A place in the quarterfinals against David Ferrer should come rather easily for Murray.

We have come to this, yes: Rafael Nadal enters the last clay court tournament before the French Open as the …4th seed? Yep. The Spaniard has been better in recent weeks but in the same way that he can’t reliably count on his health, neither can the tennis world fully count on Nadal. What was once seemingly his given right, to win all clay court events in the world, is now more uncertain than ever. But why not one last vintage performance from Nadal this week?

The final section of the main draw will probably be the most contested of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Masters 1000, with plenty of star power, tricky veterans and players in form. But because the previous three quarterfinals have been fairly conservative, I’ll pick a surprise contestant in Kevin Anderson.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Andy Murray over David Ferrer; Rafael Nadal over Stanislas Wawrinka; Tomas Berdych over Kevin Anderson

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray; Rafael Nadal over Tomas Berdych

Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Reviewing Murray’s Madrid Mastery; Previewing Djokovic’s Roma Return

May 10, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to review the Madrid Masters in Spain and preview the Rome Masters in Italy during their latest Podcast.

While Novak Djokovic is back in action to defend his title in Italy, we discuss the great effort by Andy Murray to win his maiden Masters title on clay. We also look at the form or Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, while finishing our show with some discussion on Serena Williams.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Murray destorys Nadal to win Madrid Masters

May 10, 2015

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid, Spain

No. 2 seed Andy Murray won his first-ever Masters 1000 title on clay in Madrid, Spain on Sunday, defeating No. 3 seed Rafa Nadal 6-3, 6-2 in 88 minutes.

Never losing his serve during the straight set affair, Murray stepped on the court with great confidence after winning the title in Munich, Germany on Monday. Striking three aces and winning 81 percent of his second serve points, Murray improved to 30-5 on the season and captured his first-ever victory against Nadal on clay.

Nadal, who was in search of his second title of the year, continued his poor run of form which has seen him not win a major clay-court title in 2015. Both Nadal and Murray will now head to the Roma Masters in Italy for the final warm up event for the French Open.

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Mutua Madrid Open: Men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

May 4, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open.

The tennis clay court season continues this week, as the world of tennis descends upon the Spanish capital. The Mutua Madrid Open is among the biggest events in the world every year with a joint ATP World Tour/WTA Tour venture, and this year it’s no different. This year, there are a few big names missing on both sides, but by and large the draws are loaded.

Our series of tournament previews continues this week for the Mutua Madrid Open. We have no idea who might win, but that has never stopped us before.

Women’s draw

If Serena Williams intends to keep her strong 2015 season going, she will certainly have to earn it.

The best player on Tour enters as the favourite, but she gets a much tougher main draw than she might otherwise deserve—though, of course, deserving something means nothing. Though she is in Spain, Williams will likely feel right at home, with potentially three matches against fellow Americans just to reach the quarterfinals. Waiting, and getting defeated, will be Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.

The second quarter is full of players who either 1) don’t quite excel on clay or 2) are slumping. The section is wide open, so let’s have a quarterfinal prediction that reflects this.

The same thing could be said about the third quarter, which includes two qualifiers and three wild-card entries, except that there are three pretty large tenors as well. Agnieszka Radwanska has already played in 8 tournaments in 2015, but her results have been extremely poor: only three times has she won at least two matches at a same tournament. Maybe her turnaround can start this week.

The big winner, on paper, is the second-seeded Simona Halep, who gets a draw with very few potential stumbling blocks. Joining her in the quarterfinals will be the other big winner from this final section, American Madison Keys, but only if she can navigate a tricky match against Angelique Kerber in the second round.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Carla Suarez Navarro; Andrea Petkovic over Sara Errani; Maria Sharapova over Agnieszka Radwanska; Simona Halep over Madison Keys

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Andrea Petkovic; Simona Halep over Maria Sharapova

Final: Serena Williams over Simona Halep

*****

Men’s draw

With the absence of Novak Djokovic, the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open is suddenly wide open; we expect (relative) chaos and the unknown to prevail.

Roger Federer isn’t quite the beast on clay that he was once upon a time, but he is still among the best. He will compete in Madrid to avenge a difficult Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and to perfect his preparation for the French Open. After a potential tricky match against Nick Kyrgios, it should be smooth sailing until the quarterfinals against Tomas Berdych for King Roger.

Rafael Nadal is back on the ATP World Tour, but will this be the week that he finally, you know, is back? The Spaniard hasn’t been up to his standards in 2015 and, though he deserves some kind of benefit of the doubt, we’re probably at the point where he shouldn’t be considered the de facto favourite for Roland Garros. A good showing in his home tournament would go a long way toward helping him regain his confidence.

The third section of the main draw is the hometown draw, with no fewer than five Spaniards. Among them? David Ferrer, of whom we like to say that he is the man who simply never loses before, or wins after, the quarterfinals of tournaments…And yet, we see Ferrer bowing down relatively early, a round earlier than usual, against Fernando Verdasco. But Kei Nishikori stands alone in this draw.

Andy Murray hasn’t played in about five weeks and we’ll be curious to see what the birth of a new royal baby will have on his game. We know that the Scot had been beaming with anticipation and that he had managed to master his emotions in 2015, with excellent results at the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open. Alas, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge still haven’t announced the name of their new baby girl and we suspect this might hurt Murray’s chances in Madrid. In his place in the quarterfinals against the Canadian Milos Raonic, count on the Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Quarterfinals: Roger Federer over Tomas Berdych; Rafael Nadal over Fabio Fognini; Kei Nishikori over Fernando Verdasco; Milos Raonic over Gael Monfils

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer; Kei Nishikori over Milos Raonic

Final: Kei Nishikori over Rafael Nadal

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Podcast: Previewing the Madrid Masters from Spain

May 3, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to preview the Madrid Masters in their latest Podcast.

With top ranked Novak Djokovic taking a break this week, we look at the chances of Roger Federer and struggling Spaniard Rafael Nadal as they look to hone their clay court games in time for Roland Garros. We also discuss the women’s draw and the chances of Serena Williams heading into Roland Garros.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Federer wins 85th title in Istanbul; Gasquet beats Kyrgios for Estoril crown

May 3, 2015

TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open, Istanbul, Turkey

Top seed Roger Federer needed sixth match points to capture his 85th career title in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday, defeating Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 7-6(11). Hitting seven aces and breaking serve on two occasions, Federer also won 75 percent of his first serve points. The world No. 2 will be the top seed at the Madrid Masters in Spain next week.

*****
Millennium Estoril Open, Estoril, Portugal

No. 5 seed Richard Gasquet made a strong return to the ATP World Tour this week in Estoril, Portugal, capturing his 12th career title over Nick Kyrgios, 6-2, 6-2. Breaking his powerful young opponent on three occasions, Gasquet won a staggering 94 percent of his first serve points during the straight set affair. Kyrgios, who was looking to win his first ATP World Tour title, will next see action at the Madrid Masters in Spain.

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