In recent years, Novak Đoković‘s primary focus has been on winning Grand Slam titles rather than retaining the world No. 1 ranking. The Serbian tennis legend chose to skip the entire Asian swing this season. After a four-year hiatus due to the extended effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in Asia, professional tennis made its return to Shanghai, but in a new format. This marked the first time that the tournament extended over two weeks, allowing for an expanded draw from 56 to 96 players.
The event witnessed a flurry of upsets. Notably, among the Top 15 players in the world, only one managed to reach the quarterfinals – Andrey Rublev, who eventually finished as the runner-up. The semifinal lineup was comprised of four players who are native Slavic speakers (Russian, Bulgarian, Czech & Polish).
In an exciting final, Polish player Hubert Hurkacz, coincidentally on the day of parliamentary elections in Poland, emerged victorious. Hurkacz showcased his resilience as he saved a match point with a powerful serve. His path to victory was aided by a favorable draw. Before the semifinals, he defeated four consecutive opponents who could have participated in a strong Challenger tournament. This included a victory over the local favorite, Zhizhen Zhang, who arrived in Shanghai after clinching the gold medal in the Asian Games held in Hangzhou. Hungarian Fábián Marozsán , one of Hurkacz’s victims, is worth mentioning because he has just played five main-level events, already reaching 4th round in his Roman debut, and the quarterfinal in China, having defeated top 10 players in both events, thus it’s not super risky to put forward a thesis that he would achieve more than the current best Hungarian of the 21st Century, Márton Fucsovics… Poor weather conditions in Shanghai led to the last few matches being played under a closed roof and it was reflected in good results for players who prefer faster conditions. Thanks to the injection of 1000 ranking points, Hurkacz now unexpectedly finds himself in contention for a spot at the season-ending event in Turin. In the Singles Race rankings, he made a significant leap from No. 16 to No. 11. With his second Masters 1000 title (previous in Miami two years ago), Hurkacz has effectively settled the debate over ‘who is the best Polish player in the Open Era’ surpassing Wojtek Fibak, who was the champion of 15 titles at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s… The hottest players at the end of 2022 lately suffer big crisis: Holger Rune has a 1-7 record since Wimbledon while Félix Auger-Aliassime 1-8 since Roland Garros. Despite the slump, the young Dane is still in a good position to play in Turin.
Sydney witnessed an unexpected turn of events as Jaime Yzaga, a Peruvian player who was nearly 26 years old and ranked 54th at the time, emerged as the tournament champion. Yzaga, who stood as the shortest player in the Top 100 at 170 cm (weaker in hierarchy Olivier Delaître the same height), was predominantly known for his performances on clay or outdoor hardcourts. Therefore, it was quite surprising that he managed to defeat four Top 20 players consecutively under the Australian roof. His quarterfinal victory over Jim Courier was particularly remarkable, and versatile Yzaga himself acknowledged it as the best win of his career. Although he didn’t go on to play another ATP final following this tournament, in 1994, he matched his career-best Grand Slam result by reaching the quarterfinals of the US Open, with an even more valuable victory over Pete Sampras in the fourth round… Jonathan Canter , a forgotten US player who had won an event in Melbourne ’85, drifting in the Satellites, suddenly reached the quarterfinals at the age of 28 as a qualifier, and was within a few games from stunning Wayne Ferreira in straight sets. Notably, Canter had not won an ATP match since 1990, making the quarterfinal run a shocking feat, and his “swan song”.
In southern France (Occitania region), a delightful event unfolded for local fans. Two 24-year-old Frenchmen faced off in the final, and Arnaud Boetsch, who enjoyed much more support from the crowd, outlasted Cédric Pioline in a 2-hour and 42-minute battle. Interestingly, the year before, they had also faced each other in the same event, with Boetsch emerging as the quick winner in round two. Previously, two French players met in the final in Bordeaux ’91.
Jordi Arrese, the Olympic silver medalist ranked 88th, did not meet expectations throughout 1993, primarily focusing on his beloved clay courts. However, in the Greek capital, where the tournament had been held from 1986 to 1994, he managed to capture his sixth and final title. On his path to victory, Arrese survived two matches that were decided in the third-set tie-breaks. This tournament highlighted a period when Greek tennis meant a catastrophe; there were no “Hellenes” performing even at the Challenger level. Consequently, in that year, the organizers granted ‘wild cards’ to two unranked Athenians, both over 30 years (!): Konstantinos Effraimoglou and Georgios Kalovelonis. These obscure players, despite a lack of competing at similar level for years, avoided losing sets to ‘love’. Arrese defended his title, a year before winning an all-Spanish affair too. Quite peculiar that he finished the year playing twelve consecutive three-setters, initiated that streak in Greece.
Ivan Lendl, widely regarded as the greatest player of the 1980s, secured his final title as a 33-year-old defending champion at an event in Japan. This victory marked a positive turnaround in Lendl’s season. Despite entering the tournament on an 11-tie-break losing streak, the Czech-American managed to win two consecutive matches where deciding third-set tie-breaks were required. Lendl triumphed in the Seiko Super Tennis for the fifth time. He held a special affinity for Japan, not only for its unique culture but also because a Japanese company (Mizuno) crafted tennis rackets tailored specifically to his preferences. Greg Rusedski, who was ranked 130th, had previously won a title in Newport that year, and reaffirmed his potential to be a challenging opponent on faster surfaces. The Canadian, who would become a British citizen two years later, advanced to the semifinals after defeating three Top 20 players in a row, with each match featuring dramatic three-setters where he was on the brink of losing.
Jonathan Stark , an American player two years older than Rusedski, delivered an incredible serving performance (~50% of points directly behind the serve in his last two matches) in the largest city of South Tyrol. Stark nearly lost in the opening round against the defending champion but then breezed through another four matches, including a dominant victory in the final over Cédric Pioline – the only seed in the last eight. Although Rusedski would go on to achieve more successes at the end of the Century; in the mid-90s, both he and Stark appeared to be at the same level as one-dimensional big-servers. Stark’s willingness to regularly play doubles may have contributed to block his development in singles (he became the best doubles player in the world in 1994). Similar story with other US player, David Pate, who belonged to the fastest servers in the late 80s, but put an emphasis on his doubles career. 18-year-old Thomas Johansson (Aussie Open champion nine years later) received a ‘wild card’ being unranked and advanced to the quarterfinal where he played a competitive match!
A remarkable match took place in the Tel Aviv quarterfinal, where Andrey Cherkasov defeated Andrea Gaudenzi 6-7, 7-6, 7-5 after 3 hours and 54 minutes (the Russian withstood three match points). This contest was the longest “best of three” match in ATP history until 2009 when Rafael Nadal overcame Novak Đoković after a 4-hour battle. In the meantime, Nadal had equaled Cherkasov’s record in the first week of 2008. The Tel Aviv title went to Stefano Pescosolido, an intriguing player who ended his career with a notably low win/loss ratio (40%) and never broke into the Top 40 in the rankings. Despite these statistics, Pescosolido claimed two titles in only two final appearances, defeating higher ranked Jewish players: American Brad Gilbert in Scottsdale ’92 and Israeli Amos Mansdorf in Tel Aviv.
Shanghai (Masters 1K; hard semi-indoors)
(16)🇵🇱Hubert Hurkacz d. (5)🇷🇺Andrey Rublev 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(8) – 1 m.p.
Sydney ($875K; hard indoors) – week 40
🇵🇪Jaime Yzaga d. (6)🇨🇿Petr Korda 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(7)
Toulouse ($375K; hard indoors)
(5)🇫🇷Arnaud Boetsch d. (2)🇫🇷Cédric Pioline 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3
Athens ($175K; clay outdoors)
🇪🇸Jordi Arrese d. (3)🇪🇸Alberto Berasategui 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Tokyo ($875K; carpet indoors) – week 41
(9)🇺🇸Ivan Lendl d. (10)🇺🇸Todd Martin 6-4, 6-4
Bolzano ($290K; carpet indoors)
🇺🇸Jonathan Stark d. (2)🇫🇷Cédric Pioline 6-3, 6-2
Tel Aviv ($175K; hard outdoors)
🇮🇹Stefano Pescosolido d. (2)🇮🇱Amos Mansdorf 7-6(5), 7-5
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