Rublev, Tsitsipas Win Rotterdam Openers; Shapo Falls

20-year-old Czech qualifier bounces Shapovalov

Defending champion Andrey Rublev produced an accomplished display to brush past Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament on Tuesday afternoon.

It was the Russian’s first ATP Tour meeting with Laaksonen and the World No. 7 admitted he needed some time to work out his opponent in Rotterdam as a break in each set was enough to claim victory in one hour and 12 minutes.

“I didn’t know what to expect from Henri,” said Rublev after the match. “I know how tough he is because he had some great matches and great wins against great players. Even in Australia, he lost to [Daniil] Medvedev first round, and after the match Daniil told me he was super tough to play against. I didn’t know which level to expect, so I needed to analyse a bit. I’m happy with my performance and I’m happy with the way I was playing today.”

The eight-time ATP Tour champion offered few opportunities on his own serve to the Swiss, saving the lone break point he faced in the match when serving for the first set and completing the win having claimed 82 per cent (27/33) of points behind his first serve.

He is optimistic but also cautious about his chances of defending his title in a strong Rotterdam field. “I just try to focus match by match,” said Rublev. “This tournament is super tough, you have so many great players,” said Rublev. His next opponent will be either Frenchman Hugo Gaston or South Korean Soonwoo Kwon.

Top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas steadied after dropping the second set to defeat rising Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-5, 6-7(1), 6-4. The Greek will be looking to improve his performance on serve in his next clash with Lloyd Harris or Ilya Ivashka. The former Nitto ATP Finals champion dropped serve four times and put just 56 per cent of first serves into play Davidovich Fokina, whom he praised post match.

"It was a great battle; he gave me some of the best tennis I have seen him play,” Tsitsipas said. β€œHe was very fired up today and making the best out of every single shot. He was hitting huge winners from behind the baseline. He's one of the best young players who I have played."

Home favourite Tallon Griekspoor saved two match points before going on to upset seventh seed Aslan Karatsev 2-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(0). World No. 14 Karatsev and No. 62 Griekspoor both occupy career high spots in the ATP Rankings, but Griekspoor has shown pedigree in Rotterdam before, having beaten Stan Wawrinka in 2018 and Karen Khachanov in 2019 for his only previous victories over Top-20 players.

It was the second first-round defeat in a row for Sydney champion Karatsev, having also lost his opener against Elias Ymer last week in Pune.

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After Karatsev reeled off four games in a row to take the first set, the first meeting between the pair was decided by the Dutchman’s ability to up his game for the second and third-set tie-breaks. Karatsev’s trademark explosive style brought him 32 winners but also 37 unforced errors, and Griekspoor stayed solid to come through in front of a delighted home crowd.

It was the second first-round defeat in a row for Sydney champion Karatsev, who also lost his opener against Elias Ymer last week in Pune. Griekspoor now faces Filip Krajinovic or Marton Fucsovics in the second round.

Karen Khachanov did make it two Russians safely through on Tuesday, holding his nerve to edge out Australia’s Alexei Popyrin 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-6(6).

World No. 28 Khachanov also needed a final set tie-break to win his only previous encounter with Popyrin in Dubai last year, but he looked to have taken control of the match in Rotterdam after breaking twice to ease to a one-sided second set. Popyrin found his game again in the third, however, as the players exchanged breaks before Khachanov eventually sealed victory in a tense deciding tie-break with his third match point after two hours, 33 minutes.

Jiri Lehecka is riding a wave that shows no signs of stopping.

Having only broken into the Top 300 of the ATP Rankings as recently as last season, the Czech qualifier announced himself at ATP Tour level on Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over World No. 12 Denis Shapovalov.

It may have been the first ATP Tour main-draw match of the 20-year-old’s career, but he seemed completely comfortable in his surroundings as he took out the fifth-seeded Canadian in one hour, 31 minutes.

The World 137-ranked Czech was particularly impressive under pressure. After breaking early, he recovered from 0/40 down to hold for 4-2 before going on to take the first set.

There were more signs of nerves in the second as Shapovalov began to exert more pressure on the Lehecka serve. The Canadian ultimately endured a disappointing afternoon, however, unable to find the consistent hitting that powered him to the Australian Open quarter-finals two weeks ago.

Shapovalov converted just one of 11 break point opportunities and hit 33 unforced errors compared to just 12 from Lehecka. This solid foundation gave Lehecka the upper hand throughout and he completed a dream debut in Rotterdam in style, serving out to love for his victory.

Lehecka has shone on the big stage before, taking 2021 BNP Paribas Open winner Cameron Norrie to three sets at the Davis Cup Finals in November. That performance capped a strong year for the Czech in which he also won his first two ATP Challenger Tour titles in Tampere, Finland and Bucharest, Romania.

Lehecka has progressed alongside another promising young Czech, World No. 117 Tomas Machac, and the pair also teamed up to force two-time Nitto ATP Finals doubles champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert to three sets at the Davis Cup in November.

The next challenge for Lehecka, who also recently made his Grand Slam debut after qualifying for the Australian Open, will be a second-round clash with either home favourite Botic van de Zandschulp or Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles.