Wawrinka, Berdych Open Indian Wells Campaigns On Friday
Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Nishikori in doubles action
Former finalist Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and three upcoming Americans — Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Mackenzie McDonald — feature on Friday at the BNP Paribas Open. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kei Nishikori all feature in doubles play on day two at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
View Friday’s Indian Wells Schedule
Wawrinka, the 2017 runner-up, will be hoping to build upon his strong run at last month’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam (l. to Gael Monfils in the final) against British qualifier Daniel Evans second on Stadium 2. Evans, who is attempting to move deeper into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings after falling to Radu Albot in the Delray Beach Open final, had a match point in their 2016 US Open third-round encounter — their only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.
Two ATP Tour veterans, 37-year-old Feliciano Lopez and 33-year-old Berdych, the 2013 semi-finalist, start off action on Stadium 2, meeting for the 15th time (Lopez leads 8-6). World No. 78 Lopez is at his lowest ranking since No. 84 on 16 July 2017, while Berdych, who missed six months of the previous season due to a back injury, is at No 88 – his lowest place since No. 93 on 1 March 2004.
Tiafoe and Fritz, two of 10 Americans in the Top 100 this week, both highlight action on Stadium 1. The 21-year-old Tiafoe, who advanced to his first Grand Slam championships quarter-final at the Australian Open in January (l. to Nadal), plays first-time participant Nicolas Jarry of Chile. World No. 46 Fritz, who reached the Indian Wells fourth round last year, meets fellow American Steve Johnson first on the main show court.
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McDonald, a former NCAA singles and doubles champion who defeated both Tiafoe and Fritz in the past month, opens his second appearance in Indian Wells against Joao Sousa of Portugal on Stadium 2.
Missed Day 1 Action? Watch BNP Paribas Open Thursday Play
#NextGenATP Canadian enjoys a night with family after his big win
Pork soaked in maple syrup and sprinkled with beets and cranberries was hot on the stove, and one of the most promising #NextGenATP stars on the ATP Tour was hungry.
Rare is the evening when 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime travels to a tour event yet sits around the table, laughs with his family and smells his mom’s cooking. But Thursday evening in Indian Wells was one of those special occasions, and his mother, sister, physio and coach had more reasons to smile.
Auger-Aliassime won his opening-round match at the BNP Paribas Open, a straight-sets dismissal against Acapulco semi-finalist Cameron Norrie, the latest good news in a season that keeps producing tempered excitement for the 6’3” right-hander.
Last month, Auger-Aliassime reached his maiden ATP Tour final at the Rio Open presented by Claro (l. to Djere). This week, he’s on the verge of cracking the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings (No. 58).
But Auger-Aliassime doesn’t have a goal of reaching the Top 10 by the age of 20, or to win five titles by 21. He’s focused on the boring – the day-by-day improvement.
“I’m just trying to focus on what I have to do to play good tennis and eventually good things will happen,” Auger-Aliassime told ATPTour.com. “I didn’t want to focus too much on results or expectations, Top 50 or Top 30. If I do good things on the court, these things [will come].”
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They’ve been coming for the past 12 months. One year ago in Indian Wells, Auger-Aliassime beat countryman Vasek Pospisil for his first tour-level win. This year, he’s 8-5, including a quarter-final showing at the Brasil Open in Sao Paulo last week.
But behind every burgeoning teenager on the ATP Tour is a family that’s sacrificed for years to help him pursue his passion. Auger-Aliassime is no different.
“It’d be impossible or very tough for me to do the things that I’ve been doing without the support of my family. The love that they give me really gives me a lot of strength, a lot of motivation,” said Auger-Aliassime as his mother, sister, physio, Nicolas Perrotte, and one of his two coaches, Frederic Fontang, sat by his side in their rented home.
“My dad [Sam Aliassime] isn’t here but he’s always really present, because he’s been a big support all of my career. They make tough days easier and good days even better, so I’m happy to share all these moments with them. It doesn’t happen very often as I’m on the road. I like to share these moments, these weeks with them.”
Auger-Aliassime’s mother, Marie Auger, hovered over the stove, watching the pork. Earlier, Malika Auger-Aliassime, Felix’s older sister by 18 months, diced green onions, and Felix didn’t hide his lack of cooking aspiration. “I don’t cook,” he said, laughing.
“When he was alone with his coach, he used to cook,” Marie Auger said.
But free time is a luxury for the globe-trotting teenager, who prefers his new path to dinner. “Now I sit down and enjoy,” Felix said.
Watch: Felix Fights His Way Into First ATP Final
Mom started the evening with arugula mixed with pecans, blueberries and raspberry dressing and a side of toasted bread. The pork and asparagus followed, along egg pasta with green onions and mushrooms.
To drink, for Felix, was his favourite: sparkling water. “If I could drink sparkling water on court, I probably would,” he said.
Evenings at home weren’t always so harmonious, the family remembered. “It was tough to finish a tennis match or a ping-pong match,” Felix said.
“Badminton, even cards,” interjected Malika, who, even though Felix has shot past her in height, still claims her title as “big sister”.
“It was always rough endings,” Felix said. “I was cheating or something was happening. There were a lot of sparks as kids, but now it builds up into a great relationship.
Read More About Felix: I Don’t Want To Be Remembered For Making A Final At 18
“She’s helping me a lot with everything. She’s really a great sister.”
Malika sat by his side as his team and family sat around the table. It was a quiet night in what’s become a busy year for Auger-Aliassime. But the teenager said he still remains who he was before he reached an ATP Tour final and before ATP Masters 1000 wins were greeted with matter-of-factness.
“Obviously these moments help with the family because I might win matches or win tournaments, but at the end of the day, I’m still the kid of my mom and the brother of my sister. I think these moments help me stay grounded, and at the end, I’m really focused on what I have to do every day to be a better player,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“I don’t want to be remembered for just one week or just one year I had that was great. I want to be consistent. That’s why I go to work every day, lace up the shoes and go to work.”
Austrian hopes former World No. 9 will fuel hard-court success
Dominic Thiem is perhaps best known for his clay-court prowess, but he’s ready to be recognised for his hard-court results as well.
The Austrian, seeded seventh this year at the BNP Paribas Open, has brought former World No. 9 and two-time Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu into his team. The pair first connected at the end of January during the Davis Cup tie between Austria and Chile, then met again in Buenos Aires during the Argentina Open. Thiem and Massu will work together in Indian Wells and at the Miami Open presented by Itau.
“There are many things he can bring to my game,” said Thiem. “He preferred playing on clay, but his biggest success came on a fast hard court at the (2004 Athens) Olympics. He knows what it means to feel at home on clay, but transfer good results to a hard court. That’s one of the things we expect from the relationship.”
Thiem arrived in Indian Wells 11 days ago and said he feels ready to go for his first match on Saturday against Jordan Thompson of Australia. The hard courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden play at a relatively slower speed that suits Thiem’s game and he’s aware that a big fortnight in the desert could shape the rest of his season.
“If I had a deep run here, it would mean almost the same as if I had a deep run at the Nitto ATP Finals,” said Thiem. “I like the conditions here and feel I’ve always played quite well on these courts ever since I first came here in 2014. I’ve had really good practise and preparation, but I will see how it’s going in matches.”
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Thiem’s results at the end of 2018 proved he can excel on this surface. He won the St. Petersburg Open (d. Klizan), reached the semi-finals at the Rolex Paris Masters and won a match at the Nitto ATP Finals against Kei Nishikori. It’s a trend he looks to continue into this year and beyond.
“I had a really good finish to last season on the hard courts,” said Thiem. “I finally achieved some of the goals I set for myself on this surface like moving closer to the baseline, serving better and returning better. I’ll try to continue the good results.”
Serbian reflects on past 12 months, since early exit at 2018 Indian Wells
Novak Djokovic is a confident champion, a winner of 32 ATP Masters 1000 titles, including a record five BNP Paribas Opens. But even the Serbian didn’t predict his historic 2018 comeback that reached a low point here in Indian Wells 12 months ago.
Djokovic underwent surgery on his right elbow in early February. He arrived at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden anxious to play, despite his team telling him to rest. He then proceeded to endure one of his worst losses, by ATP ranking, in the past eight years: a 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-1 defeat to then-No. 109 Taro Daniel.
“I definitely wasn’t ready to compete at this level last year. I was kind of convincing myself that I was, but I truly wasn’t. I know most of my team members at the time were against me playing in Indian Wells and Miami because it was too early after the surgery,” Djokovic said on Thursday during his pre-tournament press conference.
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But what happened next didn’t surprise him. He rehabbed his elbow and recovered his game, winning two ATP Masters 1000 titles (Cincinnati and Shanghai) and two Grand Slams (Wimbledon, US Open) and becoming the first player to achieve the Career Golden Masters. His season-low ranking of No. 22 is the lowest any player has been ranked in the same season they finished year-end No. 1.
“It was quite a journey in the last 12 months,” Djokovic said. “I don’t regret [playing in Indian Wells and Miami]. I think maybe from this perspective, I could have, should have made a different decision, but I believe it also taught me some valuable lessons that helped me to create amazing results in the next seven, eight months and get from 22 in the world to No. 1 in the world in less than six months.
“I did go through doubtful moments and questioning everything and experiencing a surgery for the first time in my life was something that I’ve never experienced before. I didn’t know what to expect. I just had to acquaint myself with the new sensations, mental, physical, emotional, and it was all a great learning curve for me.”
The learning phase, however, ended months ago, and Djokovic heads to Indian Wells in search of more ATP Tour history. He and Roger Federer share the record for most titles at the season’s first Masters 1000 event (five).
Watch: Djokovic Prepares For Indian Wells With Practice Session With Wawrinka
The Serbian will be playing for the first time since winning his 15th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on 27 January. He faces the winner of American Bjorn Fratangelo and Elias Ymer of Sweden.
In the third round, Djokovic could meet the winner of Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber and Aussie Nick Kyrgios, last week’s Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC champion.
Kyrgios beat No. 2 Rafael Nadal, former No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, No. 9 John Isner and No. 3 Alexander Zverev for his biggest title since October 2016. Djokovic is 0-2 against Kyrgios in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including a straight-sets loss in Indian Wells two years ago.
“We’ve always been aware of his qualities and talent, and he’s got big weapons in his game: serve, obviously one of the best serves on the Tour; big forehand and can play well on different surfaces. It’s just whether he’s consistent or not, so that’s what we’re going to see,” Djokovic said.
“I lost to him both times that I played against him. If I get a chance to play against him… I’ll look forward to that because he’s in-form. On the other hand, I started the season very well. I hope I can restart here where I stopped in Australia.”
ATP president Chris Kermode will not have his contract extended, after all three players’ representatives on the board voted against him.
Rafael Nadal warned on Wednesday that a change at the top will “stop the process of improving the sport”.
But a board meeting in Indian Wells chose not offer the Briton, 54, a new deal when his second three-year term expires at the end of this year.
The 10 ATP Player Council members were split when they discussed the issue.
But their representatives on the board – the former player Justin Gimelstob, the TV executive David Egdes and the British lawyer Alex Inglot – all voted against an extension.
Gimelstob has remained on the board while facing a continuing legal case, having pleaded not guilty to a charge of battery causing serious bodily injury in Los Angeles in October.
The world number one Novak Djokovic is the president of the Player Council, and widely considered to have been one of the chief agitators for change.
But at a news conference in Indian Wells on Thursday, Djokovic refused – despite repeated questioning – to say whether he supported the decision to oust Kermode.
“I will not answer your question directly,” Djokovic said.
“I will not express my personal views on that. By sharing that information, I expose myself and I become liable to breach of confidentiality within the structure, so I’m not willing to risk that.
“We have the inaugural ATP Cup in 2020, we have the Next Gen Finals – there are a lot of positives, without a doubt. But also there’s a lot of things that are happening internally that need a lot of addressing.”
Djokovic said the members of the council “talked to a large number of players” to establish their views, but added that he did not talk personally to either Nadal or Roger Federer.
He said: “It goes both ways, right. If they wanted to talk about something, they could also approach, and talk about something. We’ve been elected by Federer, Nadal and everyone else to be representing players’ best interests.”
In a statement, the ATP said Kermode’s tenure has seen “record prize money and commercial growth for the organisation, while attendance and viewership of the ATP Tour has soared”.
It added: “Kermode’s vision and leadership since 2014 has been instrumental in the creation of landmark new ATP events such as the award-winning Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, as well as the upcoming ATP Cup in 2020.”
Kermode himself said: “It’s been a privilege to serve as ATP executive chairman and president since 2014 and I’m very proud of what we have achieved during this time.
“I would like to thank everyone at the ATP, and all the players and tournaments for the support over the years. I remain fully dedicated to the role for the remainder of my term and wish the organisation every success in the future.”