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Caruana: 'I Feel Ready'

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018

Caruana: ‘I Feel Ready’

Learn more about the Italian wild card in Milan

Liam Caruana is currently No. 622 in the ATP Rankings. The 20-year-old has contested just one tour-level match in his career. But after battling through an eight-player 21-and-under Italian wild card event, Caruana has a chance to compete in the prestigious Next Gen ATP Finals.

“It’s new for me,” Caruana said. “But I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

An added element to the event for the Italian is that he grew up playing against two star #NextGenATP Americans. Caruana’s father moved their family to the United States in 2004. Living in San Diego, Caruana first played Taylor Fritz when he was 10 years old. He met Frances Tiafoe when he was 12.

“It’s really cool,” Caruana said of being on a major stage in the sport with childhood friends and rivals. “It obviously means a lot to me because I was growing up playing the juniors with them and now to be in the Next Gen ATP Finals with most of them is a great thing for me and I’m excited to be here.”

It also shows Caruana where he could be if he continues moving his game forward. Fritz and Tiafoe are both set to finish inside the Top 50 of the year-end ATP Rankings. All seven direct qualifiers for the event held at the Fiera Milano have cracked the Top 80 this year.

“It does motivate me to push for more,” said Caruana, whose career-high is No. 375. “I’ve had a tough year with injuries and overall just being consistent. But being with these guys, seeing this type of lifestyle does really motivate me to strive for more.”

While none of his injuries have been major, Caruana hurt his abductor, shoulder and bicep this season, with the physical difficulties limiting his practice for months.

“I feel good physically now,” Caruana said. “I worked hard for the qualifying event for this and now I’m here.”

Caruana got through the qualifying tournament in dramatic fashion, clawing back from two sets down in the semi-finals and behind by a set in the final. He defeated the event’s top two seeds to earn his berth in the Next Gen ATP Finals.

“It was great,” Caruana said. “There was a lot of support at the qualifying event and I was able to showcase some good tennis. It was all for the goal to be here and it’s great.”

Now, Caruana will try to show the tennis that got him to this moment against the best #NextGenATP competitors in the world. And while he knows the competition won’t be easy, Caruana’s goals are simple.

“Just to leave everything on the court and compete to the best of my ability because every match will be very difficult,” Caruana said. “But I feel ready.”

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My Point: Untouchable Guga!

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018

My Point: Untouchable Guga!

In an exclusive article by Guga Kuerten, the Brazilian recalls winning the title at the 2000 season finale in Lisbon, by defeating Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in the semi-final and final, to end the year at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings

It was the week when I went from hell to heaven, from suffering with pain as my body collapsed at the end of a long season, to being about the happiest I have ever been on a tennis court. It was also the week, at the 2000 season finale in Lisbon, when I produced an untouchable performance in the final against Andre Agassi – a perfect, magical match on the most important occasion of my life.

Although it’s now almost 20 years since I won this title, I can still feel the emotions, the sensations and the flavours of Lisbon. There are memories stamped on my mind. I can turn back time and imagine that I’m there again on the court in Portugal. It’s all still so fresh in my mind.

I’m sure this week at the Nitto ATP Finals is going to be emotional – for myself, but also for my family and friends, as it’s a great honour to have a group named after me. I never expected to be honoured like this, and it’s going to be a pleasure to see the greatest of this generation playing in a group with my name on it. It’s good to be proud and to look back at what you achieved and to remember how important it was: winning that title was – I’m very sure of this – the biggest achievement of my career.

Hell was what I experienced after my opening round-robin match. I had arrived in Lisbon with hopes and lots of expectations, with Marat Safin and I in contention to finish the year at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. But then, at the start of the tournament, things went very wrong. I lost that first match to Andre Agassi. Even worse, my body had collapsed, with pain in my muscles, and it felt as though there was no way I could have any happiness that week.

On a day off, I spent around 12 hours in the physio room, doing everything possible to heal my body, and still not knowing whether I would be back on the court again to play Magnus Norman in my second match. I’ll also never forget how my mother had a great impact on me. I remember how I was trying to get to sleep, but my mind kept taking me somewhere, and around 4am I was still rolling around in the bed, still awake. My mother was there with me in the room. She was watching me trying to sleep, much more worried about her son than the tennis player. It was around 5am that I finally got to sleep. I was at the beginning of the Lisbon rollercoaster, and going through a low moment. I was suffering.

But when I woke up, everything was completely different. For months, I had been running like crazy, trying to become No. 1. But that morning, it was like a new world. I had a new appreciation for all the effort and commitment I had put into this. My eyes were opened. I started to laugh again, surfing around the circumstances and not trying to change everything down to the last detail. I left space for the universe, for the circumstances, to happen too.

Like this, I was satisfied and motivated again. I was also very inspired, and I got myself back on track for my second group match. I started to play every single match as if it were my last. I wasn’t so worried about the results, just how I was playing. It was a simple approach, and my game just came back. There were some ups and downs in the match, and suddenly I was steady again in the court. I wasn’t in my best shape, but the self-confidence was there.

I was surprised at the way I played and how I was able to beat Norman in straight sets, and especially how I was able to keep going at the crucial moments. I was in the same mood when I played Yevgeny Kafelnikov in my final group match, and I beat him on a surface that favoured him much more than it favoured me. So I was into the semi-finals, and I felt so happy, probably as happy as I have ever felt on the tennis court. I was happy that the four players left were Safin, myself, Pete Sampras and Agassi. Safin and I were going for No. 1, and Sampras and Agassi had been the best guys around for 10 years. Having suffered so much after my first match, I had gone from hell to heaven.

All week, after losing my first match, I had just been trying to let it roll. But then Safin lost to Agassi in the semi-finals and suddenly I was in control – I could determine whether I finished the year as No. 1 or not. How could I handle that change? Well, from the start of my career, I had always liked to smile on the court, to experience the sensations and the favours, and to enjoy every single moment, and that’s how I handled it.

Just before going on court to play Sampras, Safin was waiting for us, and said to my opponent: “Please, Pete, I need your help.” That was a funny moment. I had never beaten Sampras before. For me, he’s still the best opponent I ever played. But the way I was feeling, and the momentum I had built up during the group stages, that had given me confidence. I lost the first set on a tie-break, and that was hard to digest. But I remember very clearly that, after losing that set, I sat down and immediately knew the steps I had to take to win the match. I was using the strength that I built up when I had been suffering, and during the hard moments. It was the last sprint of the season, and I was through to the final.

I was 100 per cent sure that I was ready to get through to the end and win the tournament. That was a fantastic feeling, though very surprising that I was able to play a final like that against Agassi. In the biggest match of my life, I was able to play at 100 per cent. It was such a high level, an amazing, magical performance. Usually, when you’re playing a big match, and you’re dealing with the pressures and the circumstances, you’re playing at 80 or 90 per cent, and that’s more than enough. But that day my mind was as clear as a crystal. If I could have chosen any match in which to play an untouchable performance, it would have been that one. And that’s what happened.

I did something unbelievable that week in Lisbon. I played to the limit of my capabilities against Agassi, a genius of my generation. I beat Sampras and Agassi in back-to-back matches, playing at an intense level. For me, that was heaven.

This year, on the 10th edition of the Nitto ATP Finals at The O2, the season finale celebrates players who competed at the event in the 2000s.

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Nadal to miss ATP Finals and have ankle surgery

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018
ATP World Tour Finals
Venue: O2 Arena, London Dates: 11-18 November
Coverage: Follow live coverage across BBC TV, radio, the BBC Sport website & mobile app. Live text commentary available on select matches.

Rafael Nadal will miss November’s season-ending ATP Finals in London and have surgery on an ankle injury.

In late October, Nadal withdrew from the Paris Masters with an abdominal muscle injury, meaning Novak Djokovic replaced him as world number one.

With the ATP Finals to begin on 11 November, the Spaniard, 32, said he was still suffering with that injury.

He said it influenced a decision to “take advantage of the moment” and have an operation on his ankle.

American John Isner will take Nadal’s place at the eight-player hard-court event in London. The draw for it takes place on Monday live on The One Show on BBC One from 19:00 GMT.

In a post on social media, 17-time Grand Slam champion Nadal wrote: “It has been a complicated year, very good at the tennis level when I was able to play, and at the same time very bad as far as injuries are concerned.

“Unfortunately, I had the abdominal problem in Paris last week and, in addition, I have a free body in the ankle joint that has to be removed in the operating room today.

“It is true that we had detected it for a long time and from time to time it bothered me. However, since the problem in the abdominal muscle also prevents me from playing in London, we take advantage of the moment to remove the free body and avoid future problems.

“This way I hope to be in full condition for the next season.”

Nadal has retired from two of the three hard-court events he has competed at this season – the Australian Open and the US Open – but won the other, the Rogers Cup.


BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller

Nadal has only been able to take up his hard won place at the Finals three times in the past seven years – and last season was far from fit as he pulled out after just one match.

Any year in which you win an 11th title at Roland Garros, Barcelona and Monte Carlo is hardly a wasted one, and yet this has been a deeply frustrating year for Nadal.

He has had to pull out of 10 tournaments for a combination of hip, knee, stomach and ankle problems, as well as fatigue, and also had to retire through injury in his Australian Open quarter-final and US Open semi-final.

As Nadal looks ahead to eight weeks of preparation for the new season, Novak Djokovic now knows he will end the year as the world number one for the fifth time in his career.

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Spain's Munar Surprises Himself By Making Milan

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018

Spain’s Munar Surprises Himself By Making Milan

Munar arrives in Milan having already achieved both goals he set at the start of the year

Jaume Munar’s momentum for the 2018 season did not start on 1 January. To gain positive energy in this campaign, the Spaniard built his own springboard long before.

In August 2017, the Majorcan triumphed on the ATP Challenger Tour in Segovia, joining a list of champions that includes names such as Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez. There, without knowing it, he built momentum for his breakout 2018 season.

The Spaniard has made many changes this year, including returning to Mallorca, his home, after living and training in Barcelona for a few years. The Spaniard admits he learned to listen better, thanks to his coaches Tomeu Salva and Pedro Clar.

He understood that he should eat better and that it was important to look after himself. And above all, he realised that tennis was his life. That’s why he decided to train at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, under the tutelage, company and constant support of 33-time ATP World Tour Masters 1000 champion Rafael Nadal.

Watch: Munar Makes His March Towards Milan

This season has been a year that Munar has to be immensely proud of after achieving his two main goals. Munar broke into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings and also qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals.

The 21-year-old started the year at No. 188, dropped to No. 200 in April, before a strong European summer led him to climb as high as No. 87 in the ATP Rankings. He soon reached his career-high No. 79 and is now guaranteed to end the season among the Top 100.

Munar, however, at the start of the season did not consider reaching the Next Gen ATP Finals a realistic goal. Not in the preseason, not in January, when he qualified for his first Grand Slam main draw at the Australian Open, and not in June, when he was already climbing positions in the ATP Race To Milan.

“I do not know exactly the numbers but I’m far away because the top ones are extremely good,” Munar said in June.

“The players who dominate [the ATP Race To Milan] are members of the Top 50. They are players who have won a lot. It is still not a real goal. My goal is to finish the year in the Top 100 and if we can go further, fantastic.”

Little did Munar know that he was going to overachieve his goal by a great margin. But who is Jaume Munar? He defines himself.

Watch: Munar Qualifies For Milan

“Jaume Munar is a very normal boy from Santanyí, Mallorca. I started playing tennis for a hobby because I had always played football since I was three years old and I stopped because I liked the tennis environment more. Little by little I have been growing, and today I think I can say that I am a professional tennis player and that I dedicate myself exclusively to it. For me, it is a privilege to be where I am,” he said.

“Beyond tennis, I am a person who likes to give everything. If you have to play from one to 10, always give 10. Give your 100 per cent. If it’s time to study until 10 p.m., then study… If you have to work until five in the morning, then you do it. It’s something that I’ve been taught at home since childhood. That you have to give everything you have in what you like and especially when it’s your job. In the end, it is hardly an effort for me to give that extra because for me it is normal.”

Giving 100 per cent was rewarded when he qualified for Roland Garros, and above all, when he beat 2013 finalist David Ferrer in the first round in an intense five-set thriller. Although he was beaten in the second round by Novak Djokovic, Munar drew many lessons from his time in Paris.

Proof of this were the two consecutive ATP Challengers titles in Prostejov and Caltanissetta. The European summer did not stop there. In July, Munar reached his first ATP World Tour semi-final in Kitzbühel, where he lost to the eventual champion Martin Klizan.

Munar, nominated in the “Newcomer Of The Year” category in the ATP World Tour Awards Presented by Moët & Chandon, continues to make progress. He will go for more in Milan.

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Johanna Konta hires French coach Zavialoff

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018

British number one Johanna Konta has hired French coach Dimitri Zavialoff after a trial at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last month.

Konta, 27, made the semi-finals of the tournament under Zavialoff’s guidance.

The Frenchman was Stan Wawrinka’s first coach, and also helped Timea Bacsinszky break into the world’s top 10.

Konta, who recently parted company with American coach Michael Joyce, reached a career-high ranking of fourth last year but has dropped to 39th.

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  • Kremlin Cup: Britain’s Johanna Konta reaches second semi-final of 2018

Born in Sydney, Konta moved with her family to England aged 14, switching allegiance from Australia to Great Britain after becoming a British citizen in May 2012.

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Towel Rack, Video Review Among New Innovations For Milan

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018

Towel Rack, Video Review Among New Innovations For Milan

Eight of the world’s best 21-and-under players will test out the innovations

New innovations were as common at last year’s inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals as Big Four domination has been during the past decade on the ATP World Tour.

Electronic line calling with Hawk-Eye Live made its world debut; players communicated with coaches in-match via headsets; and the scoring at the 21-and-under event featured more meaningful moments with less down time in matches through shorter sets to four (tie-breaks at three-all) and no-ad scoring.

Read More: Milan Review: A Look Back At The Innovations And Rule Changes

But this year, there will be far fewer new innovations at the Next Gen ATP Finals, to be held 6-10 November in Milan, and it’s an intentional status quo. Rather than applying a completely different set of rules during the second edition, officials are largely sticking with what worked in 2017, while also adding a few new innovations, in an attempt to build a more robust set of data to study and inform potential future changes to the ATP World Tour.

We’ve always said this event could lead to change on tour and to change in the sport, and I think for us to have legitimate research, analytics, buy-in from tennis stakeholders, and for us at the ATP to understand what feels right, we needed more than one year of continuity of the same new innovation rules,” said Ross Hutchins, Next Gen ATP Finals Tournament Director. “Therefore, we decided to add additional changes after the success of the opening year, with legitimate and innovative new potential rule changes that have exciting possibilities for the sport.”

The inaugural tournament, which was won by South Korea’s Hyeon Chung, also featured a shorter player warm-up (five minutes), no lets, a limit of one medical time out per player per match and a 25-second shot clock, which was then used on tour this year during the North American hard-court swing and at the US Open.

Read More: Milan Groups Announced; Tsitsipas, De Minaur Top Seeds

Those innovations, along with the electronic line calling, in-match coaching, shorter scoring with best-of-five sets and a “free movement” crowd policy (except behind the baselines) will remain during the 2018 edition. But the player warm-up will be reduced by a further minute, from five to four, and players will be instructed to use towel racks, which will be positioned at both back sides of the court, rather than relying on ball kids to retrieve and handle the sweaty towels.

ATP officials and players agreed that one more minute could be trimmed from the warm-up, which starts when the second player walks on. “We felt that it is a good time to push it even more, live content is what we feel the audience wants to seeHutchins said.

The towel racks, a point of discussion in tennis of late, will be tried out for a couple reasons, Hutchins said.

Watch Now: Life On Tour With The #NextGenATP

We came up with this concept earlier in the year as we wanted to experiment with this part of the on-court interaction between player and ball kids. We are taking hygiene of ball kids into consideration and also putting the onus on the player between points” he said.“We think there could be some clear logic in this, and ultimately let’s try and do something creative here and try to put the responsibility on the player.”

The award-winning Next Gen ATP Finals will also feature more history. For the first time in men’s professional tennis, video review will be available to further analyse judgement calls from the chair umpire, including the following incidents: double bounces; foul shots, such as a double hit or a carry; touches – when the ball might skim a racquet or clothing; and invasion – when the player, or anything he’s wearing or carrying, makes contact with the opponent’s side of the court while the ball is in play. Players will be able to challenge any such calls.

We’ve seen it across a lot of sports and we felt this could be an extra layer of officiating and excitement in tennis,” Hutchins said of video reviews. “Whenever a sport can add further accuracy of the officiating, I feel that is a positive.”

Read More: Tiafoe Finds Focus In Breakout 2018

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Kecmanovic, 19, Claims Second Challenger Title In Shenzhen

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018

Kecmanovic, 19, Claims Second Challenger Title In Shenzhen

Revisit the week that was on the ATP Challenger Tour as we applaud the achievements of those on the rise and look ahead to who’s in action in the week to come

Shenzhen International Challenger (Shenzhen, China): Miomir Kecmanovic feels right at home in China. The 19-year-old Serbian notched his second ATP Challenger Tour title on Sunday in Shenzhen, defeating Blaz Kavcic 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. Kecmanovic, whose previous crown came in Suzhou in 2017, also reached the final in nearby Liuzhou last month.

The Florida resident is the eighth teenage titlist of the year, joining Rudolf Molleker, Felix Auger-Aliassime (two titles), Alexei Popyrin, Jurij Rodionov, Alex de Minaur and Corentin Moutet. He is up 29 spots to a career-high No. 133 in the ATP Rankings.

Charlottesville Men’s Pro Challenger (Charlottesville, Virginia, USA): Kecmanovic wasn’t the only #NextGenATP to taste success on Sunday. After entering the main draw as a lucky loser, Tommy Paul dominated the competition in Charlottesville, not dropping a set en route to his maiden Challenger title. The 21-year-old American avenged a 2015 final defeat at the indoor hard court event. Learn more about Tommy’s victory…

You May Also Like: Challenger Q&A: Paul Wins Maiden Title In Charlottesville

Challenger Ciudad de Guayaquil (Guayaquil, Ecuador): Guido Andreozzi stands alone. The Argentine secured a tour-leading fourth ATP Challenger Tour title on Saturday evening, lifting the trophy on the clay of Guayaquil. He defeated Pedro Sousa 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 in one hour and 53 minutes to emerge victorious.

Andreozzi has won a quartet of titles in 2018, prevailing on the clay of Punta del Este, Uruguay; Tunis, Tunisia; Szczecin, Poland and Guayaquil, Ecuador. That’s four tournaments on three different continents. He rises 15 spots to a career-high No. 82 in the ATP Rankings.


Apis Canberra International (Canberra, Australia): Third seed Jordan Thompson completed one of the greatest campaigns in ATP Challenger Tour history. Not only did the Sydney native sweep the Aussie swing, going back-to-back in Traralgon and Canberra, but in doing so he claimed a staggering 52nd match win this year. That is the second-most victories in a single season in Challenger history, behind only Carlos Berlocq’s 57 in 2010.

On Sunday, Thompson triumphed in Canberra, defeating 18-year-old Nicola Kuhn 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in one hour and 56 minutes. Kuhn had a break lead in the decider, but was unable to sustain the momentum. 

Behind a 52-17 record and three titles (also Chennai, India), Thompson will look to transition to full-time status on the ATP World Tour in 2019, rising to No. 73 in the ATP Rankings. The 24-year-old added a 17th title for Australia this year, which puts the nation three behind the single-season record.

Challenger Eckental (Eckental, Germany): Antoine Hoang lifted his first ATP Challenger Tour trophy, defeating Ruben Bemelmans 7-5, 6-3 on Sunday in Eckental. There are now 34 first-time winners in 2018, one more than last year. 

Hoang had been building to the moment. The 23-year-old Frenchman reached the semi-finals in Istanbul in September, went one step further in reaching his first final in Orleans, France, and then claimed his maiden title in Eckental.

Top seed and defending champion Lukas Lacko returns to Bratislava, Slovakia, where he will look to reign on home soil once again. Other former champions Norbert Gombos (2016) and Egor Gerasimov (2015) are also in the draw.

The prestigious event in Mouilleron-le-Captif, France, features #NextGenATP stars Ugo Humbert and Felix Auger-Aliassime as its third and fourth seeds, with 2015 winner Benoit Paire leading the field. Defending champion Elias Ymer is also in the draw.

The U.S. indoor swing continues with the $75,000 event in Knoxville. Tennys Sandgren is the top seed, with 2016 champion Michael Mmoh seeded fourth. Tommy Paul bids for a second straight crown. 

Top seed and defending champion Pablo Cuevas returns home to Montevideo and is joined by 2015 winner Guido Pella and US Open junior champion Thiago Seyboth Wild. The tournament is celebrating its 14th edition.

ATP Challenger Tour 

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Tommy Paul Captures Maiden Challenger Crown In Charlottesville

  • Posted: Nov 05, 2018

Tommy Paul Captures Maiden Challenger Crown In Charlottesville

21-year-old sits down with broadcaster Mike Cation to discuss the long road to his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title

Victory never tasted so sweet for Tommy Paul. For more than three years, the #NextGenATP American has battled on the ATP Challenger Tour in search of his maiden moment. It has been a long journey, but, under the tutelage of coach Diego Moyano, all the work is paying off.

On Sunday, the 21-year-old became a Challenger champion for the first time. After losing in the final round of qualifying in Charlottesville, he did not drop a set in the main draw, culminating with a 6-2, 6-2 win over close friend Peter Polansky. 

Paul, who lost in qualifying to Petros Chrysochos, entered the main draw a determined man. He dropped a combined six games in beating Noah Rubin and Kamil Majchrzak, followed by back-to-back upsets of third seed Ivo Karlovic and top seed Bradley Klahn. Revenge was sweet for the North Carolina native, who lost to Rubin in the 2015 final, having led by a set and a double break.

Just the second lucky loser champion of 2018, joining countryman Ulises Blanch (Perugia, Italy), Paul rises 55 spots to No. 222 in the ATP Rankings. He will look to continue his push towards a Top 200 return before the end of the season.

Tommy spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following his victory in Charlottesville. 

This is a big moment for you. You took a knee when you got to your chair. What did you say to yourself in that moment?
I was just thinking how tough my year has been. In the beginning of the year, I started well in Australia. I was playing well, but I didn’t have the results that I wanted. I ended up getting injured for five or six months and the comeback from that was really slow. I’m just thinking about that. It’s really nice to get the win here.

I hate bringing this up, but I’m sure in some way you were thinking about the 2015 final, being a set and two breaks up. I might make a big deal of it, but how much did you think about that this week?
With me, usually when something is done, it’s in the past. But it would definitely get under my skin when people bring it up. [My coach] Diego [Moyano] loves bringing up my old matches to try and keep me going in practice. During the match I wasn’t really thinking about it too much, because it’s hard to feel much pressure as a lucky loser. I think I had a bit of an advantage there. I was just playing my game and not overthinking too much.

Having seen you for the past three-plus years, it was interesting to watch you play this week. You were completely locked in from the first ball of the main draw. It was all business. 
That was the goal. It’s something that everyone I know is telling me. I’ve been trying to buy into it. It was good. I definitely had a business-like attitude during the week and it was helpful for me physically too. If I’m playing long matches, my body doesn’t hold up well. Having played through qualies, playing short matches in the main draw was important for me.

You were working with Scott Clark this week, the physio who has been working with Bjorn Fratangelo and Bradley Klahn. How much did that help, considering your knee tendinitis?
My knee has definitely been bothering me a lot. Through qualies, I didn’t know how it would hold up. I know I’m going to play the rest of the tournaments this year, because I need to try to get into Australian Open qualies. Diego and I were talking and he said that Doc’s here, so we should work with him the rest of the week. Right after I lost and saw I got the lucky loser, I spoke to him and we started working together. The knee didn’t feel perfect, but it definitely helped a lot to get through all these matches.

To get a lucky loser is great, but this was not a lucky draw for you. Between Noah Rubin, Bradley Klahn, Ivo Karlovic, Peter Polansky, that’s not an easy draw. Yet you made it look easy and didn’t drop a set. What was it in terms of the style of play that worked?
For me, I don’t think I had a great service week. But I think the biggest thing was my return. I was returning really well. The only time in the tournament I did not return well was the first five of Ivo’s service games. He wasn’t missing first serves. Besides that, I felt I was returning really well. When that happens, it puts a lot of pressure on my opponents and helps me with those neutral groundstoke points. That was the biggest difference for me.

Against Klahn, you didn’t give him many opportunities. Maybe you didn’t have the biggest winner count. You kept him in positions that were uncomfortable. Is that the style you’re looking for long term?
Exactly. For me, the biggest thing is the returns and not checking out mentally when I’m on the run. Just staying in there and making him hit another tough ball. As long as they’re not comfortable, I’ll take that any day of the week.

American #NextGenATP Winners In 2018

Player Challenger Title
Tommy Paul Charlottesville, USA
Taylor Fritz Newport Beach, USA
Reilly Opelka Bordeaux, France
Michael Mmoh Columbus, USA & Tiburon, USA
Ulises Blanch Perugia, Italy

It’s obviously been a very long road for you. Two years ago, you played out this swing of tournaments looking lost. You didn’t want to be out here. How sweet does this moment feel considering where you were?
I had some low points this year as well. I’ll tell you that. This is the best part of winning, considering the matches you played earlier and the dark place you were in then. There were times I went home and didn’t want to think about anything with tennis. It’s good for me right now. I have two more weeks and then some R&R, which I won’t mind at all.

Diego Moyano has been such a mainstay in your corner over the years. What has that relationship been like for you, considering you guys seem so opposite?
He’s my rock. If I didn’t have him, I think I’d go off the rails. He keeps me straight. Diego’s the best. Nobody wants me to win more than him. It’s great having him. This is his last week on the road this year, so when I lost in qualies and got the lucky loser, I said to him, ‘No you’re not going home yet. You don’t get to go on vacation.’ Every match it was the same. And now I just said to him, ‘Ok, you can go home now.’

He’s a father figure for you. What’s it like off the court?
It’s much more than just tennis. He lives a mile away from me and we have barbecues. I’m always over there. I’m really close with his family. He’s just a really great guy for me and a father figure for sure.

So many of these young Americans, with Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz, are playing well. Your win comes at the same time they are in Milan. Is that an extra motivation for you?
I mean, I definitely want to be there, but I didn’t earn it. I have to deal with that. I missed my chance. Hopefully I’ll play the big one [the Nitto ATP Finals], one day. I hope they do well over there. Obviously, I’m very jealous. I want to be there, but I’ll take a title this week.

How do you celebrate tonight, considering you have to get to Knoxville?
I’m driving there! [laughs] But maybe I’ll have a beer when I get there. Maybe a glass of wine, but we’ll see. Definitely something when I get there. At the end of the year, I’m going to Europe to see my girlfriend. Will probably do a bit of celebrating over there.

ATP Challenger Tour 

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