Week 3/4

…2023…
An unusual Slam that gathered high-ranked players born in three different decades. Two arguably best players in history born in the 80s, Rafael Nadal [2] and Novak Đoković [5], at the beginning of the new season seem to be in completely different places in terms of expectations. Đoković still looks fresh and is almost unbeaten lately, while Nadal has been struggling with injuries since Wimbledon ’22. The Spaniard was sensationally eliminated in the second round by Mackenzie McDonald [65] whom had humiliated in their only previous meeting at Roland Garros. It’s tough to believe that Nadal would be easily expected to win the French Open again, for the 15th time, but he reinvented himself so many times during clay-court seasons after the poor finish of indoor seasons that everything is actually possible. The Nadal/Đoković’s greatest active rival, rather not considered a title favorite wherever he plays since 2017, Andy Murray [66], displayed one more time his amazing fighting spirit outlasting in very dramatic night session five-setters, two players nine years his junior! Especially his second round match against Thanasi Kokkinakis [159] will be remembered. It lasted 5 hours 45 minutes, ending at 4.05 am. Murray was two points away to lose in three and five sets (in the deciding set of the first round against seeded Matteo Berrettini, he saved a match point which he should have lost because the Italian netted an easy backhand pass).
Despite Carlos Alcaraz‘s absence, three players born in the 21st Century could be expected in the quarterfinals for the first time as far as majors are concerned. Among those three who advanced, there were two revelations: Jiří Lehečka [71] and Ben Shelton [89]. Their path was different though: Lehečka defeated three seeds, while Shelton didn’t face a seeded player even in the lost quarterfinal, nonetheless, it’s tough to believe Shelton wouldn’t play in the last eight at majors again… There were many unexpected results, but the conclusion was more than obvious. Stefanos Tsitsipas finally advanced to the final in Melbourne (three semifinals lost before) playing cards of the crowd favorite, but in the end-match, he faced Đoković, whose successes in the event are incomparable with anyone else. The 35-year-old Serb began the fortnight by signalizing problems with left hamstring. Some people were accusing him of exaggeration, but I have to admit he didn’t look perfectly fit in the first three rounds… in the “sweet sixteen” he destroyed the last Aussie – Alex de Minaur, and his movement in the last four matches was perfect. He was also hitting powerful second serves & forehands with staggering consistency. It’s astonishing how easily he defeated ~10 years younger opponents in the second week. The scoreline of his final is more balanced than its progress – Tsitsipas, in tie-break sets, never led with a comfortable cushion. The 10th Aussie Open for the Serb, it’s rather not the end of his reign in Melbourne, he is hungry and dedicated to consume more glory…
Three potentially seeded players withdrew: Alcaraz [1], Marin Čilić & Nick Kyrgios. Among players with skills to enter the second week, also Gaël Monfils & Reilly Opelka didn’t make trips to Australia. The Frenchman hasn’t played since August ’22 (dropped from no. 20 to 209 within five months!), he’s 36, and it’s plausible he would shortly join his countrymen (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga & Gilles Simon) who finished their careers last year… Andrey Rublev [6] has equalled Tommy Robredo‘s infamous record of seven Slam quarterfinal defeats not reaching the semifinals. This time Rublev shouldn’t be sad because in the fourth round, he won a match he should have lost twice: trailed *2:5 in the decider against Holger Rune (the first Dane in the Aussie Open 4th round since 1993) and 0:5 in the super tie-break. Rublev’s quarterfinal chances against Đoković were illusory, he knew it. Trivia: the third player born in the 21st Century to play a quarterfinal, American Sebastian Korda, defeated in the third round the two-time runner-up Daniil Medvedev. Thirty years ago there was also a 3rd round meeting between Korda & Medvedev. Then, Petr (Sebastian’s father) representing the newly formatted Czechia, ousted Andrei of Ukraine – not related to Daniil of Russia – in four sets.  The last few months and this year’s Aussie Open in particular, bring rejuvenation of the American tennis; there are 10 US players in the Top 50 now, the most since 1995. The situation isn’t totally comparable because the current best US player (Taylor Fritz) is arguably at the level of a 5th best American 28 years ago.
…1993…
The sixth edition at Flinders Park. Two top players, coincidentally the Wimbledon finalists at the time, withdrew (Goran Ivanišević – left foot, Andre Agassi – bronchitis), but finally played Pete Sampras, who had missed the event in the previous two seasons. The American was among the favorites for the title but lost in the semifinal quite an unfortunate match to Stefan Edberg in straight sets having built a big lead in sets 1 and 3. In the final, just like a year before, Jim Courier outplayed Edberg in four sets, that time a bit easier, actually crashing the Swede in the opening two sets. Courier confirmed his status as the best player in the world, it seemed he’d rule the 90s – it didn’t happen though… The event marked the beginning of the end of 33-year-old Ivan Lendl – the best player of the 80s lost his 1R match (it didn’t happen to him at Slams since Wimbledon ’81!). Another two seasons clearly showed that the Czech (American citizenship), couldn’t be a threat in the “best of five” format anymore. Generally from the fourth round onwards, it was a disappointing event with many one-sided encounters. There was only one thrilling match in the second week, as Brett Steven [71] upset the local fans, overcoming Richard Fromberg [78] in a night session battle on Centre Court after 4 hours 36 minutes (the longest match in that edition) saving two match points. Steven’s career-best result; the same experience for two American qualifiers, who sensationally advanced to the fourth round: good doubles player Kelly Jones [447] & unknown Chris Garner [220], who never entered the Top 100 – he enjoyed a super beneficial draw facing three players outside the Top 100. No one could expect then that the 19-year-old Kenneth Carlsen (major debutant) would play his first and last match in the “sweet sixteen”. Carlsen [73], the best Dane of the 90s, didn’t emulate that result in his other 45 attempts!
…Final 2023…
AUSTRALIAN OPEN (34.8M $)
(4)Novak Djokovic d. (3)Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5)
…Final 1993…
AUSTRALIAN OPEN (1.9M $)
(1)Jim Courier d. (2)Stefan Edberg 6-2, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5

Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Week 2

…2023…

A similar story to the one of 2003 when the best Korean of the 00s, Hyung-Taik Lee
[85] stunned Juan Carlos Ferrero [4] in the Sydney final as a qualifier. This time, Lee’s
compatriot Soon-Woo Kwon [lucky loser, 84] edged Ferrero’s compatriot – Roberto
Bautista Agut [18]. “Since being beaten in [qualifying], I told myself I’ve got nothing to lose,
and then I came all the way to the finals,” said Kwon, the 10th “lucky loser” champion
at the main level since 1978. “And why not? I put every energy into it, and that
worked.” Quite intriguing that Kwon overcame Tomáš Macháč [115, second-best Czech currently] in the first round – the Czech player had defeated Kwon in their qualifying meeting. In the final, Kwon came
back from a break point down at 0:2 in the decider against 34-year-old Bautista [26].
The big surprise in Auckland. I considered Richard Gasquet [67] as a finished player
already a few years ago, I thought that he’d sting only in French “250” events
indoors; meanwhile, the 36-year-old Frenchman claimed his 16th title (the first one in
almost five years) outside Europe, under the antipodes scorching sun, producing one of
the best comebacks of his career in the final – he trailed *0:3 (0/40) in the 3rd set
against one of the fittest guys on the tour, a local favorite to some degree (Cameron
Norrie was representing New Zealand until 2013 when as an 18-year-old boy he switched his
allegiance to Great Britain). Gasquet took advantage of several things during the
week: super easy draw in 1R, quite good in the next two rounds, in the semifinal he
didn’t have to enter the court (Lestienne’s walkover), and the temperature was a bit lower than usual in Auckland.
Generally, it was a great week for French tennis which suffers a big crisis lately:
Constant Lestienne [65] reached the semifinal while Quentin Halys [64] advanced to the
quarterfinals and was defeated second straight week 6-7, 6-7. Very good results for the second-tier French guys, new ATP faces, especially for Lestienne. It’s worth mentioning that he needed nine years to finally enter the Top 100 – it occurred last year in August thanks to good results in hardcourt Challengers (Spain, France). The 30-year-old man from Paris will play his first major event next week in Australia!

…1993…

Pete Sampras [3] successfully began his campaign to become not only the best player of
1993, but also the best one in the 90s. The 21-year-old American dropped the inaugural
set (to 18-year-old Andrei Medvedev, 23 – the highest ranked unseeded player), then he went through the Sydney event effortlessly, winning five matches within five days (nonetheless he had to save a set point in the
final against Thomas Muster, 18) wearing a baseball cap which was unusual to him. “I’m
playing pretty well, (but) I’m pretty tired right now,” he stated after the final
referring to high temperatures.
The second week running in Indonesia, this time with a superstar Michael Chang [6], who loved Asian events and decided to make a trip to the resurrected Jakarta Open (not held in years 1975-92). The Chinese American dropped a set only in the final, it was his 10th title, Sampras claimed his 13th – these two prodigies, along with Andre Agassi, were at the same level more or less then: each of them had won one major. Chang will be distanced by Sampras & Agassi soon. Fourth best US player of that generation – Jim Courier – won a six-man lucrative exhibition (180K $) in Adelaide; after two easy group wins, Courier defeated 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 Petr Korda in the final to collect the winner-take-all 100,000 prize money. “Petr has a lot of talent,” Courier said, referring to their French Open 1992 final. “No one gets to the final of a Grand Slam without being able to win it. He is a threat anywhere.” They face each other two weeks later in the Aussie Open quarterfinal, and Courier destroys Korda 6-1, 6-0, 6-4.
…Finals 2023…
Adelaide-2 (ATP 250)
(LL)Kwon Soon-woo d. (4)Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4)
Auckland (ATP 250)
Richard Gasquet d. (1)Cameron Norrie 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
…Finals 1993…
Sydney (275K $)
(1)Pete Sampras d. (7)Thomas Muster 7-6(7), 6-1
Jakarta (275K $)
(1)Michael Chang d. (8)Carl-Uwe Steeb 2-6, 6-2, 6-1
Auckland (157K $)
(2)Alexander Volkov d. (1)MaliVai Washington 7-6(2), 6-4
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Week 1

…2023…

First edition of a new team event combining ATP & WTA – United Cup which replaced the ATP Cup (it’d replaced the Hopman Cup in 2020). 18 teams in the mix, six groups, then specific quarterfinals (one loser with the best ratio goes through!), semifinals & final, everything played in three Australian cities (Perth, Brisbane, Sydney). The Americans had the strongest team with two male and two female players in the Top 20, and they confirmed it by winning all five matches without serious troubles.  Taylor Fritz [9], who seems to be a new force in men’s tennis, gave the decisive point to the US. The event marked the official comeback of Alexander Zverev [12] who was sidelined for seven months due to a terrible injury he suffered at Roland Garros, and participated in a ridiculous exhibition event at the end of the last year. His return to the circuit wasn’t successful – the loss to Fritz could be expected, yet his quick defeat to Jiří Lehečka [81] isn’t a good prognostic for the rest of the season. Both matches also lost Rafael Nadal [2] who experiences one of the most difficult periods of his 20-year-old career. The Spaniard has won only 4 of his last 11 matches. Nonetheless, he lost in Australia rather tight matches against the Top 20 players, it’s perhaps a bit optimistic with the Aussie Open on the horizon. Too early to predict he’s finally finished.
The fifth edition of the event in Pune is won by Tallon Griekspoor [95] – he was three points away from defeat in the final. The Dutchman claimed his maiden ATP title in a relatively poor field (the beaten finalist participated in his first final too). In 2021 Griekspoor was sensationally good at the Challenger level (8 titles), yet in 2022 he didn’t do any damage in ATP. In the Hindu city, he took advantage of Marin Čilić‘s (seeded no. 1) withdrawal in the quarterfinal.
Much better players entered the first of two events held in Adelaide this year – four Top 10ers. It seemed highly unlikely someone else would claim the title, but it almost happened – Sebastian Korda [33] had a match point against Novak Đoković [5] in the final when the Serb was playing his least reliable shot – an overhead, jumping – this time it was successful and the rest is history. The Serb got his title no. 92 equalizing achievement of his biggest rival – Nadal. The Serb will turn 36 this year, but he’s still in such an amazing physical condition that 100 titles should pop up in his CV at some point this decade.

…1993…

The first week of a new season, delivered the first Arabian event in ATP history! The two best players at the turn of the 80s and 90s, Boris Becker [5] and Stefan Edberg [2] arrived in the Arabian Peninsula encouraging other top players to do the same in the years to come. They faced each other in the semifinal, and in the final Becker prevailed against Goran Ivanišević [4] in a dramatic encounter between two of the six best-serving players at the time.
Other two players belonging to the mix of best servers at the time, Michael Stich & Guy Forget played a dramatic semifinal match at Hopman Cup – the unofficial event, yet for the first time 30 aces were served within three sets – Stich did it; Forget was serving to win the match before losing 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-7(2). In the mixed doubles which couldn’t change the final outcome of the Germany-France tie, Stich’s partner Steffi Graf sprained her right ankle. The following day she was able to defeat her long-time rival Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario anyway. Czech Republic appeared on the tennis map, on December 31, 1992, Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries. Czechs lost to Spaniards in the semifinal.
Similarly tight final to that one in Doha, occurred in Adelaide where two Swedes co-created a domestic end-game. “I fought as much as I could and I was lucky to win,” Nicklas Kulti [79] said after the 2-hour, 36-minute win over Christian Bergström [58], who had a double match point at 5:4 in the 2nd set and led 4:2 in the decider. “I’m very pleased to have won. I couldn’t have had a better week,” concluded Kulti capturing the Adelaide title for the second time in three years. For Bergström it was another painful final in Adelaide, a year before he lost to Ivanisevic being two points away from victory. These two finals are the only ones in Bergström’s career which is quite intriguing given his three Grand Slam quarterfinals. He delusionally said: “You can be sure that I will be back until I win this tournament.” The weaker field than in Adelaide was witnessed in Kuala Lumpur where the prize money was distinctively higher. It was the first Malaysian Open since 1975.
…Finals 2023…
“United Cup” – Sydney
USA d. Italy 4-0
Pune (ATP 250)
Tallon Griekspoor d. Benjamin Bonzi 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
Adelaide-1 (ATP 250)
(1)Novak Djokovic d. Sebastian Korda 6-7(8), 7-6(3), 6-4
…Finals 1993…
“Hopman Cup” – Perth
Germany d. Spain 2-1
Adelaide (157K $)
Nicklas Kulti d. Christian Bergstrom 3-6, 7-5, 6-4
Kuala Lumpur (275K $)
(4)Richey Reneberg d. (7)Olivier Delaitre 6-3, 6-1
Doha (450K $)
(3)Boris Becker d. (2)Goran Ivanisevic 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-5
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Comeback!

After a ten-year break, I’ve decided to come back to updating the website on a weekly basis. I didn’t think I’d do something like this in June ’13 when I decided to stop. Now the times are different, there’s finally a refreshment, yet not so big I could imagine ten years ago. The veterans, the best players of the previous decade (Novak Djokovic & Rafael Nadal) are still at the top, yet a few years older than them, the best player of the 00s – Roger Federer – finally decided to quit. We will not see him in action in 2023 – it’ll be the first year without any of his appearances at the main level since 1998! The fourth-best player born in the 80s, Andy Murray, still plays, he’s nowhere near his form of the year 2016 though, when he reached the top, and shortly after he suffered a serious hip injury that forced him to suspend his career with a possibility of retirement.  Four players of the elite when I stopped (David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga & Juan Martin del Potro) – they all have finished their careers, Tsonga & Del Potro did it this year, the Argentine made a cameo actually, likewise Federer.
Predictions are nerve easy, nevertheless, I assume that the year 2023 may bring a new sort of exciting rivalry between four players born in the 21st Century (Carlos Alcaraz, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Holger Rune & Jannik Sinner). My book about the best players of the Open Era, I divided into chapters of decades, and each new chapter was preceded by photos of the four best players born in specific decades. From this perspective the generation of players born in the 90s has been the worst and wasted to some degree (Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas & Daniil Medvedev) – none of these players have won 2 major titles at least! They all have already crossed the boundary separating young perspective players from the experienced ones (the age 23-24 symbolizes it in some regards from my point of view). Apart from Thiem, who is already a veteran, according to pre-21st Century standards, other best guys born in the 90s are still at the top, yet tough to imagine that any of them would be able to dominate the next few years like many great champions before (Bjorn Borg in the second half of the 70s, Ivan Lendl in the 80s, Pete Sampras in the 90s, Federer in the 00s, Djokovic in the 10s). Zverev comes back to the circuit after a seven-month break caused by a serious injury (tearing 3 ligaments in his right ankle ), his future at the top it’s a big question mark. The 19-year-old Alcaraz has recently become the youngest player in history to finish the season as no. 1, nonetheless, there are many question marks considering his future because he still hasn’t done anything impressive on grass and indoors. Auger & Rune finished the ’22 season in great form, certainly, they have the basis to dream about overthrowing Alcaraz soon; I look forward to observing their efforts as well as Sinner’s, who 1.5 years ago seemed like a potential no. 1 this decade, but he hasn’t significantly developed since then, he’s still deprived of a major semifinal, albeit he has almost done it in an arguably most entertaining match of the season. Will he step forward next year? If not, I guess he should be a leading figure anyway, certainly he is good enough to win a few Masters 1K titles at least.
I don’t want to repeat myself, I need a new format, therefore I’ve decided to analyze the year 2023 with flashbacks to the season 1993 – one of the first few I witnessed in my life watching matches week by week. I’m not sure how exactly I’ll be doing this, time will tell… 
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP finals (Turin) – semifinals & final

Final
Alexander Zverev d. Daniil Medvedev    6-4, 6-4    [1:15 h]
Medvedev began to play his best tennis when he was trailing 4-6, *0:2… prior to that moment he had hit just 1 winner! I suppose he was a victim of that what I thought in the middle of his 3rd set vs Sinner. He plays a type of tennis which requires a lot of energy, and he paid the price for three tight three-setters at the round robin stage. Admittedly he defeated Ruud rather easily in the semifinal, but the accumulation of that victory and three preceding ones, probably caused his decision to try saving the energy for a potential 3rd set vs Zverev. When he decided to step up at 0:2 in the 2nd set, it was too late. Zverev converted his first match point with a second serve ace (in ten service games he played ‘deuce’ only once). He has won 5 titles this year (59 matches, more than anyone else), just like the finest player in the world – Djokovic, but the Serb won three majors while Zverev’s two biggest titles (Olympics & Masters) are one level below. The German of the Russian origin is 10 years younger than the Serb, so my bet is that he will finish as no. 1 the next season in which he finally should raise his first major trophy, he’s good enough to actually conquer each of four Slams, not within a season though. “It is special, and I am super thrilled and happy right now,” Zverev added. “There is no better way to end the season than winning here. I am incredibly happy and I am already looking forward to next year.” Stats of the match
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 20/54 (37%), Medvedev 18/58 (31%)… Total points: 61-51
Semifinals
Alexander Zverev d. Novak Djokovic    7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3    [2:28 h]
These two players have faced each other in all biggest hardcourt events this year: Djokovic won their major matches (3-1 in Australia, 3-2 in the USA) while Zverev was better at the Olympics and at Masters (2-1 on each occasion). Only in Australia it was a quarterfinal, another three matches occurred in the semifinals. It was rather obvious that Zverev would defeat Djokovic indoors, only if he delivered his best service performance… and it happened in Turin. In the 1st set there was a set point for the Serb as he led 5:4* – Zverev responded with a service winner followed by another one (223 kph second serve!). The crucial break came as he led 2:1 in the 3rd set. The German finished the contest with an ace down the T to hold at ‘love’. “He’s one of the best servers in the world… He showed tonight why that is a fact. He got himself out of trouble a few times with [his] serve,” Djokovic said. “I was serving pretty good, as well. I just had the one very bad game in the third set. Three forehands, one backhand unforced error, really from pretty easy positions. [I] just really wasted the match in that game. Even though I thought it was quite even, had some chances to come back, 2:4 in the third, just missed again, a forehand long (on break point).” Stats of the match
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 39/96 (40%), Djokovic 39/92 (42%)… Total points: 98-90
Daniil Medvedev d. Casper Ruud    6-4, 6-2     [1:19 h]
They had played before hardcourt outdoors (Australia) & grass (England), and on both occasions Medvedev left the court as a convincing victor. On hardcourt indoors in Italy the situation was the same… maybe on his beloved clay, Ruud would win at least a set. The Norwegian wanted to be aggressive, he risked his second serve at 1-all (deuce) in the opener, committed a double fault and it was the beginning of his end; Medvedev was better in each department, no signs of fatigue after his three demanding group matches. “As soon as you are a set and a break up you feel like you are in control, but that is when the danger is,” Medvedev said in his on-court interview. “You need to stay focused and fight for every point. In the last game I had 0/30 on my serve, and until the last point, it is never over. So I am happy I was able to finish it.” He added: “Just three of us left here, so I am looking forward to a great match tomorrow no matter who I play. I had a few tough matches against Novak lately and a few tough matches against Sascha and one here this week, so it is going to be interesting.” I assume when Ruud retires, the ‘Masters’ semifinal will be one of a few highlights of his career. I rather doubt that he’s going to take part in this event next year.
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 12/47 (25%), Ruud 13/62 (20%)… Total points: 62-47
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP Finals (Turin) – Day 5 & 6

Green Group – day 6
Novak Djokovic d. (alt.)Cameron Norrie    6-2, 6-1    [1:06 h]
An exhibition match actually, but this last ’round robin’ meeting wasn’t similar to yesterday’s between Medvedev & Sinner at all. The difference in skills between Djokovic & Norrie is huge, and their first meeting reflected it. The Serb got an early break and was doing on court whatever he wanted being very relaxed. Great experience for Norrie after a tremendous season anyway. I don’t expect to see him in the Top 20 twelve months from now. “I tried not to think about tomorrow’s semi-final,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “It is not easy to walk on the court knowing you have already qualified and you know your opponent. I tried to be professional and I tried to give my best and I played really well. It was the first time we have played each other. I took the time away from Cameron. I analysed his game and knew the game plan and executed it very well.” Djokovic’s 14th appearance in the season-ending event, and for the 11th time he will play in the semifinals.
Points won directly behind the serve: Djokovic 11/38 (28%), Norrie 7/51 (13%)… Total points: 56-33
Casper Ruud d. Andrey Rublev    2-6, 7-5, 7-6(5)    [2:23 h]
Informal quarterfinal – the winner goes to the semifinal… Rublev was a big favourite having defeated Ruud in all their four previous meetings, including three on Ruud’s best surface – clay. Early on the Russian confirmed his superiority in their H2H, 6-2, *2:1 (40/15)… he lost his serve though, threw his racquet and it was the beginning of bad things to come for him. Ruud did the same what in his previous match vs Norrie – increased the speed of 1st and 2nd serves, and was trying to be more aggressive with his forehand running around his backhand on many occasions. He came back from a break down also in the decider (2:3), saved a mini-match point at 5-all, and fired two aces when it mattered the most on ad-court: first at 4:3 (down the T), then at 6:5 (out-wide). “The court is playing very fast and Andrey plays very fast,” Ruud said in his on-court interview. “He rips the ball harder than anyone on the Tour and serves very well on his first serve. We all want to play under control and with initiative, but it is not easy against Rublev because he makes you run all the time and play defensively all the time. I knew I had to fight fire with fire. On the big points I think I played quite smartly.” Ruud has won all his three matches this year which gone to the deciding 3rd set tie-break.
Points won directly behind the serve: Ruud 30/116 (25%), Rublev 36/92 (39%)… Total points: 98-110
Red Group – day 5
Daniil Medvedev d. (alt.)Jannik Sinner    6-0, 6-7(5), 7-6(8)    [2:29 h]
On paper it was a semi-exhibition encounter because regardless of the final outcome, Medvedev had secured the first place in his group while Sinner couldn’t advance to the semifinals. Sinner began poorly, but playing in front of the supporting crowd, he wanted to stay on the court as long as possible showing positive emotions in the 1st game of the 2nd set, and the match was tense since then to its conclusion two hours later. There was 5-all in the first tie-break when Medvedev chose a surprising solution and delivered a technical serve attacking the net (the previous five TB points he obtained with powerful serves) sending his block-volley wide. The decider was very intriguing: Sinner led 4:2* when Medvedev proposed an extremely fast game on his serve. He held after a few deuces playing at full speed 1st & 2nd serves. It changed the rhythm a bit, and a bunch of Sinner’s errors allowed Medvedev to break back. In the deciding tie-break, the young Italian had two match points on return: 6:5 (Medvedev’s second unreturned serve 201 kph!) & 8:7 (Medvedev’s FH drive-volley winner). Trying to save the second match point, Sinner was perhaps too passive during a baseline rally, and the Russian hit a backhand down the line winner.
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 46/102 (45%), Sinner 21/104 (20%)… Total points: 111-95
Alexander Zverev d. Hubert Hurkacz    6-2, 6-4    [1:02 h]
A match to be quickly forgotten. Admittedly Hurkacz could give his all, win it after a tough battle, and still didn’t qualify to the semifinals (on the assumption he wins, Medvedev must have defeated Sinner to push the Pole to the last four), but there are 200 ATP points (more or less like advancing to a small ATP final) & prestige anyway. Unfortunately the Pole played it like he didn’t care, especially in the first ten minutes – the 1st set he played in a 70/80% mode, the 2nd in 80/90% – the score reflected it. Zverev went through the match actually not being threatened on his serve (one ‘deuce’ in nine service games). “I have played Novak in every single big hard-court tournament this year,” Zverev said about his upcoming semifinal against Djokovic “We are making a habit of playing in the later rounds at big tournaments. It is going to be an entertaining one I think.” Hurkacz has finished the event with a 1-6 record in sets (no chance to win any of those six lost), I don’t expect him to participate in this event again. I doubt that he would end up the 2022 season in the Top 20.
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 27/48 (56%), Hurkacz 17/54 (31%)… Total points: 61-41
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP Finals (Turin) – Day 3 & 4

Green Group – day 4
Casper Ruud d. (alt.)Cameron Norrie    1-6, 6-3, 6-4    [1:51 h]
It’s only the second time in the 52-year-old tournament history, that two alternates appear at ’round robin’ stage with chances to reach the semifinals (previously it happened in 1998 when Rios & Agassi, after their first matches, were replaced by A.Costa & Rusedski). Norrie has replaced Tsitsipas (elbow injury) and very interesting situation all of a sudden: either of  players who seemed to me like potential whipping boys (Norrie had chances to qualify until Paris-Bercy), will have at least one victory… I estimate them at very similar technical-mental level, so Ruud’s 6-0, 6-2 over Norrie in the San Diego final a few weeks ago it was a very surprising scoreline as well as their 1st set in Turin which lasted only 30 minutes. Ruud remained cool with the recent memory of their San Diego match, increased the speed of his serves and his break point chances came – he converted them when led 4:3 in 2nd and at 2-all in 3rd. In the last two sets Ruud didn’t face a break point, he was forced to play ‘deuce’ on serve only in the last game after Norrie had withstood a triple match point.
Points won directly behind the serve: Ruud 24/71 (33%), Norrie 18/83 (21%)… Total points: 78-75
Novak Djokovic d. Andrey Rublev    6-3, 6-2    [1:08 h]
Prior to Turin, Djokovic had faced all the best players born in the 90s except Rublev (not counting a Davis Cup match in doubles two years ago) and Norrie, so I was curious how he’d deal within three days with the fury of baseline strokes of the ginger Russian and an enormous patience of the Scottish Brit. Rublev stormed early, breaking in the opening game, but as the match progressed he was gradually wilting. Djokovic used only one dropshot in the entire match, but his basic strokes were efficient enough to turn Rublev into an error machine, besides that the Serb looked as fresh as a daisy, and he was obtaining points directly behind the serve with astonishing frequency second match running. Djokovic, who has already secured the pole position, admitted: ” Winning the first set I put additional pressure on him, and I started to maybe play more consistently from the back of the court. I served well [and] that helped tremendously.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Djokovic 26/48 (54%), Rublev 12/52 (23%)… Total points: 60-40
Red Group – day 3
(alt.)Jannik Sinner d. Hubert Hurkacz    6-2, 6-2    [1:25 h]
Tuesday… Only four hours before this match it was officially confirmed what I had actually known already on Sunday evening – Sinner replaces the follow Italian, Berrettini. In the 21st Century, before Sinner (20.5) only two younger players had taken part in the season ending event: Lleyton Hewitt (19.9) and Juan M. Del Potro (20.3). Sinner entered the event having lost six straight sets, I knew he would’t lose eight, but it was also tough to expect such a beat-down of Hurkacz. The Pole played pretty good first set, but lost it badly in terms of the score and seemed overwhelmed by the crowd supporting Sinner. Once Hurkacz dropped his serve at 1-all in the 2nd set, the match was basically over because the Pole doesn’t change anything in his game when he is down, he may only count on the opponent’s lapse of concentration. In this case it couldn’t happen because Sinner was constantly stimulated by the crowd and an opportunity to finish the season in the Top 10 opening a door for the semifinal corridor. “I knew around 5 (p.m.) that I would play,” Sinner said. “I was ready to go on court. It is an incredible feeling playing here in Italy with thousands of people cheering for you and I am trying my best. I will enjoy the moment. I played well and felt good in the warm up. It was an incredible match today.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Sinner 21/69 (30%), Hurkacz 13/47 (27%)… Total points: 68-48
Daniil Medvedev d. Alexander Zverev    6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(6)    [2:35 h]
The 11th meeting of “Russian towers” (Zverev represents Germany, but his parents are Russians) and finally very tight encounter adequate to the serving power they possess. I expected a match like this, but the first three games made me wrong. It seemed like a continuation of their Paris semifinal on much slower surface, many rallies, break points in each game, and Medvedev established a 3:0 lead – no break of serve for another two hours of the match. In the first tie-break a linesman helped Zverev considerably calling Medvedev’s foot fault on his second serve at 1-all. In the 2nd tie-break Zverev led 4:2, but Medvedev was well focused and aggressive. He wasted a double match point, but at 6-all played a well-constructed point from the baseline and forced Zverev’s error on the third match point. It’s fifth consecutive Medvedev’s win over Zverev (all within the past twelve months). “Definitely one of the matches to remember,” Medvedev said. “When you win 8/6 in the tie-break in the third, it was 4:2 for him so I was like okay, he serves a few aces it’s done. I made it 6:4 and I was like okay, that’s my moment now. It’s back to 6:6, you get really tight, because I wanted to make a brave move on the 6:5 second serve and volley, didn’t work out at all.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 37/107 (34%), Zverev 36/109 (33%)… Total points: 112-104
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP Finals (Turin) – Day 1 & 2

Green Group – day 2
Andrey Rublev d. Stefanos Tsitsipas    6-4, 6-4    [1:31 h]
Last year they created the most dramatic match at the ’round robin’ stage (the Greek won 6-1, 4-6, 7-6), this time it was pretty one-sided meeting. Tsitsipas held the opening game after 10 minutes, Rublev already showed a good form in it, hitting the ground-strokes with more conviction. The Russian got his breaks at 2-all in both sets, and went through the match not facing a break point. He converted his first match point with a lucky net-cord winner. “I think these are the moments that we are practising for, that we are living for: to be here and to enjoy this atmosphere, to play great tennis and for the spectators to enjoy,” Rublev said in an on-court interview. “[All] I could do my best today, I did and I’m really happy.” Tsitsipas has lost 4 out of his last 5 matches, bad ratio for a guy who was No. 3 in the world this tear.
Points won directly behind the serve: Rublev 19/60 (31%), Tsitsipas 25/75 (33%)… Total points: 72-63
Novak Djokovic d. Casper Ruud    7-6(4), 6-2    [1:30 h]
Among all possible ’round robin’ matches, this match up had the least chance to go the distance, in my opinion. Ruud was a bit lucky in the opening game because when he created a break point, Djokovic stumbled having an initiative, and it certainly helped the Norwegian to get a 3:1* lead. At 4:5 Ruud withstood two set points, but he rarely wins SP-down sets, so even when he led 3:2 in the tie-break on serve, he was still “far away” from taking the set. In the 2nd set the Serb found his rhythm, he was playing looser as a receiver, increased the speed of his 1st serves and there was no equal play, basically. Ruud, who has the weakest serve among all ‘Masters’ participants this year, once delivered 3 aces in a row, then 2 in a row – it confirms – along with Djokovic’s staggering service efficiency – my yesterday’s observation that the surface is very fast. Djokovic said: “The conditions here are quite tough. If you lose your serve, it is difficult to get it back.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Djokovic 28/53 (52%), Ruud 15/69 (21%)… Total points: 72-50
Red Group – day 1
Alexander Zverev d. Matteo Berrettini    7-6(7), 1-0 ret.    [1:41 h]
Zverev was a better player overall before the tie-break, but the local-matador Berrettini could have stolen it anyway. The Italian had saved break points in three different games and put himself in a 6:5* (30/0) position having no chance in Zverev’s preceding five service games. There were two set points in that game, Berrettini missed two returns off his backhand, the first one must have been painful because Zverev delivered a conservative second serve – Berrettini decided to jump and lost his balance. In the tie-break he led *5:3 when missed his powerful forehand. Zverev needed three set points – on his third he played very long return towards Berrettini’s feet. The long set lasted 79 minutes, the Italian took a 5-minute toilet break afterwards. He physically seemed ok, but when he netted his forehand in the 2nd game to make its third deuce, he covered his face in the hands, it was a gesture of despair. He took a medical time-out (excruciating pain on the left side of his torso) but in vain. The first point after the break confirmed that he was unable to continue and retired in tears. “I thought the first set was incredibly high-level tennis. This is all not important,” Zverev said. “The most important thing is that both players at the end of the match can shake hands and are healthy.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 23/54 (42%), Berrettini 23/69 (33%)… Total points: 66-57 (56-51 first set)
Daniil Medvedev d. Hubert Hurkacz    6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4    [2:01 h]
A new chapter in the ‘Masters’ history. After twelve editions at the London 02 arena, the players moved to the Pala Alpitour in Turin – smaller venue than the one in London, but the colours on the court and around it has been preserved. The first match gave me an impression that the court in Italy is much faster than in England. Medvedev and Hurkacz faced each other this year at Wimbledon, I watched it in full, and I think the rallies were considerably longer there… Actually two poor service games of Hurkacz at the beginning of sets 2 and 3 separated them in Turin. The defending champion wasn’t forced to face a break point, the closest he was at 4:5 (15/30) in the opener, in the 2nd set there were two ‘deuce’ games on his serve. The Pole said: “It’s quite fast here. Daniil was serving great, I was serving decent apart from two games, it’s quite quick here.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 37/89 (41%), Hurkacz 36/88 (40%)… Total points: 96-81
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

‘Nitto ATP finals’ 2021, Torino

GREEN GROUP
1. Novak Djokovic (34, Serbia) – 14th appearance (9370 points)
– it’s a new chapter in career of the arguably greatest player ever; after so many years of experiencing tough battles against the best players born in the 80s, he recently tries to maintain the status of No. 1 facing the best players born in the 90s… apart from his first appearance in 2007 (exhausted at the end of a very demanding season), he’s been always a favourite to win the “Masters” title; I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t play in the semifinals this year
Strengths: actually everything to some extent, except the overhead
4. Stefanos Tsitsipas (23, Greece) – 3rd appearance (5695 points)
– along with Medvedev & Zverev, Tsitsipas has established himself as one of the three best players born in the second half of the 90s; he needs to win a major to consider him as a potential best player of this decade; next year should be crucial in terms of awareness of his place in tennis history once he’s retired… I don’t expect him in the Turin final, perhaps the semifinal, really depends on his first match vs Rublev
Strengths: forehand, second serve, footwork
Weaknesses: inability to close out sets/matches on a regular basis
5. Andrey Rublev (24, Russia) – 2nd appearance (4210 points)
– if Rublev is going to win at least one big title in his career, I think there’s no better opportunity than doing it at ‘Masters’… is he able to raise the trophy in 2021? I guess he’s only if he somehow avoids facing Djokovic in the final, and rather impossible in Rublev’s case to go through the event being unbeaten… even though the second part of the season was average for him, I think he has a good shot to go through to the semis, even to the final if he faces Berrettini/Hurkacz on Saturday next week
Strengths: ground-strokes
Weaknesses: second serve; nervousness, impatience & lack of plan B – it’s tough to expect him winning matches when he is trailing from a set down
8. Casper Ruud (23, Norway) – debut (3275 points)
– the first quarter of his career and he already enjoys a status of the best Norwegian player in history; he hasn’t played a Masters 1K final and a major quarterfinal yet, no-one before him managed to advance to the season-ending event without respectable results at the biggest stages… Ruud was obtaining valuable points this year mainly on clay-courts with the highlight in July when he claimed three ATP250 titles within three weeks (Bastad, Gstaad, Kitzbuhel)… I suppose he may end up with a similar ratio to Diego Schwartzman a year before, so just 1 set won and 6 lost
Strengths: footwork, persistence
Weaknesses: first serve, one-dimensional in conducting play
RED GROUP
2. Daniil Medvedev (25, Russia) – 3rd appearance (7070 points)
– the second best player in the world given the past two years (since August ’19 to be precise), already fulfilled after capturing the US Open ’21 title; certainly he wants more, at least to overthrow Djokovic next year at the top – it won’t be easy because there are many (10-15?) good young players born between 1997 and 2003 who may beat him everywhere (less likely on hardcourts outdoors), and Medvedev struggles on clay-courts… big favourite to play in the Turin semifinals
Strengths: tactical self-conscience, ability to improvise when the things don’t go his way; first serve, defence
Weaknesses: nervousness, physical overheating – inability to win ‘best of five’ matches when the opponent has won two sets (it doesn’t matter this week)
3. Alexander Zverev (24, Germany) – 5th appearance (5955 points)
– similar case to Tsitsipas: the next season should be a career defining, he finally needs to win a major if he dreams about being the icon of the 20s… from technical standpoint he seems to have all the tools to make a huge statement in 2022, especially given two factors: his big experience despite the young age and twilight era of the Big 3
Strengths: first serve, ground-strokes
Weaknesses: inconsistency over the course of matches; he wastes too much energy before the final stages of events
6. Matteo Berrettini (25, Italy) – 2nd appearance (4090 points)
– I have to admit he surprised me this year, two years ago he made his Masters debut and I thought it’d be his first and last time among the tennis elite; he recently skipped Paris in order to be perfectly prepared for the event in front of the home crowd; tough to say how important it may be, but if he delivers his best tennis, with the help of the crowd he may beat everyone here… except Djokovic
Strengths: first serve, forehand, consistency in realising his basic game-plan
Weaknesses: backhand
7. Hubert Hurkacz (24, Poland) – debut (3315 points)
– Hurkacz becomes the second Pole to participate at Masters (following Wojtek Fibak who was also 24 in 1976 when reached the Houston final); the tall, rather clumsy Wroclaw native seemed like a Top 20 potential to me two years ago, yet he has somehow advanced to the Top 10 mainly thanks to his triumph in Miami & semifinal at Wimbledon; I assume it’s his first and last appearance in this prestigious event, he has a decent chance to reach the semifinal, considerably bigger than Ruud in my opinion
Strengths: backhand, versatility, consistency of keeping good level for ~two hours when he’s ahead
Weaknesses: passivity in return games, inability to turn matches around being on verge of defeat
9. Jannik Sinner (20, Italy) – debut, as an alternate (3015 points)
– so far the best player born in the 00s, is he good enough to be the first no. 1 born in the 21st Century? too early to predict, he needs to improve a few things in his technical repertoire… this season has confirmed that he usually deals very well with situations under pressure; if he gets more points directly behind the serve, he should be a Top 5 player (at least) soon
Strengths: ground-strokes, concentration at the end of tight sets
Weaknesses: net-play, insecurity when the crowd is against him (it happened this year vs Monfils in New York & Tiafoe in Vienna)
11. Cameron Norrie (26, Great Britain) – debut, 2nd alternate (2945 points)
– No. 11 Norrie came to Turin because No. 10 Nadal wasn’t interested in playing this event already when he was No. 6 in the Race (injury)… I was watching Norrie from time to time, and didn’t expect him even to enter the Top 20, yet he has become a very consistent player, and everything worked in his favour at Indian Wells where he shockingly raised the trophy which is the key to his appearance in the tennis elite, increasing his chances to be a Top 10 guy next year for a while
Strengths: patience in baseline rallies, arrhythmia (he mixes up heavy forehand top-spins with flat backhands)
Weaknesses: monotony, inability to regularly play well tight sets (similarly to Ruud)
My picks for the semifinal spots: Djokovic/Rublev and Medvedev/Berrettini
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

“…from Phil Dent to Jannik Sinner…”

Below this video you have access to my e-book

“…from Dent to Sinner…” and two other files, the biographical e-book updated at the beginning of March ’21, the appendix at the end of May ’21

The 100 best male singles players of the Open Era

Appendix

…from Phil Dent to Jannik Sinner…

Posted in Books | Leave a comment