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Challenger Season In Review: 20 Storylines In 2019

  • Posted: Dec 04, 2019

Challenger Season In Review: 20 Storylines In 2019 reflects on the players and tournaments that shaped the Challenger circuit this year…

Sinner’s Statement Season
It was a breakthrough unlike any other. The incredible ascent of Jannik Sinner is arguably one of the biggest storylines on the ATP Challenger Tour in recent history.

From competing in Tunisia and Kazakhstan on the ITF circuit in January to lifting the trophy at the Next Gen ATP Finals in November, Sinner’s rapid rise was as awe-inspiring as it was shocking. In just the fourth Challenger appearance of his fledgling career, the Italian lifted the trophy on home soil in Bergamo in February. He was outside the Top 500 at the time and only 17 years of age.

Having chosen to forego a lengthy junior career in order to grit his teeth on the professional circuit, the decision paid dividends. It allowed Sinner to accelerate his maturation and development and that was evident throughout his 2019 campaign.

Sinner’s victory in Bergamo not only made him the youngest winner of the year, but the youngest Italian champion ever. Then, his second triumph on the hard courts of Lexington put him in elite company as one of just 11 players aged 17 & under to win multiple titles. That list includes the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and recently Felix Auger-Aliassime. And Sinner was not done there. His campaign would come full circle with a season-ending triumph on home soil in Ortisei, becoming the second-youngest player to win three titles in a calendar year.

Amidst all the achievements and milestones, it was his rise up the ATP Rankings that stands out most. From a year-end position of No. 763 in 2018 to a Top 100 breakthrough to conclude his 2019 season, the Italian soared a total of 685 spots. To establish your game against world-class competition at such a young age, and have the level of sustained success that Sinner did, is purely remarkable. He would finish with a 28-7 record and was one of just four players with a win percentage of .800 or higher.


Nordic NextGen Revolution
The Nordic renaissance is kicking into high gear on the pro circuit. Never before have the northernmost European nations of Norway, Sweden and Finland enjoyed simultaneous success like they are today.

In recent years it has been top Norwegian Casper Ruud leading the charge. And in 2019, Mikael Ymer and Emil Ruusuvuori carried the #NextGenATP mantle for the Nordic nations.

The soaring Swede and the flying Finn were two of the dominant forces on the ATP Challenger Tour this year, with both featuring atop the titles leaderboard alongside James Duckworth and Ricardas Berankis. Ymer’s four crowns guided him to a debut appearance at the Next Gen ATP Finals, while 20-year-old Ruusuvuori became the youngest to win as many titles in a season since Hyeon Chung in 2015.

Ymer, who cracked the Top 100 in late September, also finished in fifth among win-loss percentage leaders, posting a 39-10 (.796) record. His dominant finish to the season included back-to-back indoor titles in Orleans and Mouilleron-le-Captif and a first Top 40 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Ruusuvuori, meanwhile, will be one to watch in 2020 as he continues his Top 100 push. Up to a career-high No. 124 in the ATP Rankings, he rose nearly 300 spots since the start of the year, when he was competing full-time on the ITF circuit. In fact, it wasn’t until April that he played his first Challenger this season. And it didn’t take long for him to start a ruthless run of 36 wins, capped with a title on home soil in Helsinki.

The Duck’s Domination
No one enjoyed more success on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2019 than James Duckworth. One year after Jordan Thompson led the tour in victories and trophies, it was his countryman who achieved the feat to conclude the season.

In the penultimate week of the season, Duckworth capped his campaign with a 49th match win and fourth title, prevailing in Pune. After undergoing a litany of surgeries in recent years, including foot, shoulder and elbow operations, the Aussie is finally back inside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time since 2017.

Not only did Duckworth lead the tour with those 49 wins and four pieces of silverware, his rise of 145 spots in the ATP Rankings made him one of the biggest movers to the Top 100. The 27-year-old put in the work, reaching finals and winning titles throughout the world, from Bangkok to Las Vegas and Pune and Playford. The victory in Pune assured him of direct entry into the 2020 Australian Open.

40+ Match Wins & 3+ Titles In 2019

Player Match Wins Titles
James Duckworth
49 4
Andrej Martin 47 3
Gianluca Mager 43 3

You Always Remember Your First
A total of 32 players entered the winners’ circle for the first time this year. They ranged from 17-year-old Sinner to his 27-year-old countryman Lorenzo Giustino and also included #NextGenATP prospects Ruusuvuori, Ymer, Thiago Seyboth Wild, J.J. Wolf, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Yosuke Watanuki. The 19-year-old Seyboth Wild became the youngest winner from Brazil since 2012, while Ruusuvuori was the first from Finland since 2013.

Dominik Koepfer benefitted greatly from his maiden title on the lawns of Ilkley, earning a Wimbledon wild card and then streaking to the Round of 16 at the US Open. Soonwoo Kwon and Kamil Majchrzak also cracked the Top 100 soon after clinching their first titles, with Kwon also reaching the quarter-finals at the ATP Tour stop in Los Cabos and Majchrzak storming to the third round at the US Open.

Emilio Gomez and Federico Coria won back-to-back titles on the clay of Tallahassee and Savannah in April. Gomez is the son of former World No. 4 Andres Gomez, while Coria is the brother of former World No. 3 Guillermo Coria.

In a unique twist, Lucas Pouille won his first Challenger title just months after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals. Seeking confidence and momentum, he returned to the circuit in Bordeaux and became the first player to win his maiden Challenger title after his first ATP Tour crown since Kei Nishikori and Sergiy Stakhovsky both did it in 2008.

The Italian Onslaught
The red, white and green flag flew proudly on many occasions in 2019, as Italy continued to rack up the titles. The European nation led the ATP Challenger Tour with 15 titles from 10 different players this year. Sinner and Gianluca Mager both lifted three trophies, with Stefano Travaglia capturing a pair of crowns. We all know of Sinner’s surge, but Mager and Travaglia also impressed with a combined 80 match wins.

The Arizona Tennis Classic in Phoenix provided two especially memorable moments for Italians. Salvatore Caruso earned the upset of the year with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over World No. 21 David Goffin, while Matteo Berrettini kicked off his journey to the Nitto ATP Finals with a title at the inaugural Challenger. Berrettini became just the fourth player to win a Challenger title en route to qualifying for the season finale since 1995.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Sonego successfully defended his title on home soil in Genova, leading to a year-end position of No. 52 in the ATP Rankings. He is one of just five players to win on both the ATP Tour and ATP Challenger Tour this year, having also claimed his maiden tour-level crown in Antalya.

On The Comeback Trail: Tsonga, Pospsil & Chung
Working your way back from injury in Challengers can be a difficult process, even for the most established stars on the ATP Tour.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga admitted that “playing in Challenger tournaments helped me find the reasons why I was playing tennis again”. The charismatic Frenchman was forced to find his game after undergoing left knee surgery, entering the season outside the Top 250. A perennial Top 20 player for his entire career, he found himself in uncharted territory, competing in his first Challenger since 2007. He lifted the trophy on home soil in Cassis, en route to a 230-spot jump in the ATP Rankings to  year-end World No. 29.

Fellow former Top 30 stars Vasek Pospisil and Hyeon Chung are also on the comeback trail after lifting trophies in their returns from injury. Pospisil won 16 of 18 matches to close the season, including back-to-back titles in Las Vegas and Charlottesville. He is one year removed from undergoing back surgery to repair a herniated disc. And Chung was forced to the sidelines for six months early in the 2019 season, but returned with a vengeance. The Korean reeled off 13 of 14 matches including a title in Chengdu in his first tournament back.

Tsonga: Challengers Helped Me Find The Reasons I Was Playing Tennis

Challenger Grads Step Up On ATP Tour
After breaking through on the Challenger circuit in 2018, many players did not waste any time in making strides on the ATP Tour. Juan Ignacio Londero, Reilly Opelka, Christian Garin and Hubert Hurkacz all won their maiden titles after dominating on the ATP Challenger Tour a year ago. Felix Auger-Aliassime took the leap as well, peaking at No. 17 in the ATP Rankings. And fellow #NextGenATP stars Miomir Kecmanovic and Casper Ruud both reached their first finals in Antalya and Houston, respectively.

Who will be among this year’s graduates as the calendar flips to 2020?

Moving On Up: Challenger Stars Make Seamless Transition

Feel-Good Story Of The Year: Christopher O’Connell
Since 2014, O’Connell has been battling on the ITF circuit and ATP Challenger Tour to realize his dreams. Many years griding outside the Top 200 can take its toll on any player. Just last year, the Aussie took up a second job cleaning boats just to fund his career. But perseverance pays off and that is certainly applicable for O’Connell.

From not having an ATP Ranking to open the 2019 season to sitting at a career-high No. 120 to conclude his campaign, the Sydney native made the most of his opportunities this year. After reaching nine finals on the ITF circuit from March to July, he took the next step and lifted his first Challenger trophy on the clay of Cordenons. And he was not done there, advancing to three more finals and adding another trophy in Fairfield. There, he earned his first Top 100 win in three years, upsetting Steve Johnson in the championship match.

The Unstoppable Tommy Paul
Of all players with at least 30 matches played in 2019, no one had fewer losses than Paul. The American dominated from start to finish, carrying the momentum from his maiden title in Charlottesville to conclude the 2018 season. This year, he posted a staggering 30-5 record and finished in second place among win percentage leaders (.857), only behind Ricardas Berankis (.889).

Behind a mature approach and more determined attitude, the 22-year-old stepped up under pressure. A first clay-court title in Sarasota was followed by victories in New Haven and Tiburon. It was in New Haven that Paul cracked the Top 100 for the first time, eventually peaking at No. 81 in the ATP Rankings.

Giron Saves Six Championship Points In Houston
On the penultimate Sunday of the season, Marcos Giron turned in arguably the most improbable comeback of the year. The American rallied from 1/6 down in the deciding tie-break to stun Ivo Karlovic for the Houston title. He saved SIX match points in the process, including two on the Karlovic serve.

Giron concluded his campaign exactly how it started, having opened the 2019 season with a maiden title in Orlando. The 26-year-old is just shy of the Top 100, jumping to No. 102 in the ATP Rankings.

A Debut For The Ages: 15-Year-Old Carlos Alcaraz
The month of April was one for the kids on the ATP Challenger Tour. In back-to-back weeks, Carlos Alcaraz became the first player born in the year 2003 to win a match (in Alicante) and Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti became the first born in 2002 to win a match (in Sophia Antipolis).

In fact, at the ripe age of 15, Alcaraz became the fourth-youngest match winner since 2000. Only Felix Auger-Aliassime, Rafael Nadal and Nikolai Soloviev were younger when they won their maiden match. And the fact that Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner was the Spaniard’s first victim makes the occasion even more special.

Alcaraz would go on to reach the third round in Murcia the following week, securing his first Top 200 win, and added a quarter-final finish in Sevilla in September.

Varillas Puts Peru On The Map
Tennis in South America is on the rise. The continent is steadily making progress on the professional scene, with Nicolas Jarry and Cristian Garin bringing Chile back into the spotlight and Hugo Dellien putting Bolivia on the map. In October, it was Peru’s turn to enter the fray.

Juan Pablo Varillas secured his nation’s first Challenger crown in 11 years with his maiden title on the clay of Campinas. And one week later, he would notch a second title in Santo Domingo, soaring to No. 142 in the ATP Rankings.

Zhang Makes History For China
In 2016, Wu Di lifted China’s first ATP Challenger Tour trophy. One year later, Wu Yibing became its first teenage titlist. And last month, Zhang Zhizhen joined his countrymen in securing a slice of history, claiming the first ever all-Chinese final.

It was a second title for the Shanghai native nicknamed ‘ZZZ’, having also prevailed in Jinan earlier this year. He is up to a career-high No. 139 in the ATP Rankings – the highest ranking ever earned by a Chinese player.

Purcell & Saville Dominate Doubles Circuit
Playford, Launceston, Zhangjiagang, Anning, Seoul, Binghamton and Traralgon. Seven titles, three continents, one impressive team.

Max Purcell and Luke Saville dominated the doubles circuit in 2019, securing seven trophies and a whopping 41 match wins together. The Aussie pair also appeared in three ATP Tour events together, earning their first match victory on the circuit in Antalya.

20 Years On, Roger Reflects
Two significant 20-year anniversaries arrived in 2019. In April, we reflected on the first Challenger title of former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero – in Napoli 1999. And in October, it was Roger Federer’s turn, celebrating 20 years since his lone trophy lift in Brest, France.

Federer’s first professional title was a critical moment in his fledgling career. He dropped one set en route to the Brest crown, defeating Max Mirnyi 7-6(4), 6-3 in the championship.

Victor Bids Farewell
It was one of the more emotional scenes to transpire on a tennis court, as Victor Estrella Burgos said goodbye in Santo Domingo. They came in droves for the final act in the career of their legend. For five years, the Santo Domingo Open – the biggest ATP Challenger Tour event in Latin America – has been one big party at Club La Bocha. And for this edition, the home faithful packed the club to support their native son.

On Monday, they danced, sang and cheered in full throat, as the 2017 champion earned the final match victory of his career. And on Tuesday, they danced some more, screamed even louder and cried as Estrella bade farewell with a defeat to Thiago Monteiro. The tears flowed in the stands and on the court, as the 39-year-old sent a backhand into the net and promptly crouched to the green clay.

Read Tribute

Heilbronn, Puerto Vallarta, Vancouver Honoured
It was a party from start to finish, as three tournaments received their 2018 Tournament of the Year awards. The NECKARCUP in Heilbronn, Germany, the Puerto Vallarta Open in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and the Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver, Canada were all honoured in front of the home fans.

The trio of tournaments held special ceremonies as the ATP presented them with their respective trophies. They were fitting tributes for the three events voted highest by the players.

‘Murray Trophy’ Makes Debut
It was a special season for the Murray brothers on the ATP Challenger Tour. In late August, Andy Murray appeared in his first Challenger since 2005. In search of more matches and confidence in his comeback from hip surgery, the former World No. 1 competed in Mallorca, Spain.

One month later, the circuit welcomed the ‘Murray Trophy’ for the first time as Challenger tennis returned to Glasgow, Scotland. Jamie Murray was instrumental in making the dream a reality, not only competing in the doubles, but also taking a hands-on approach in the organisation of the event. His passion and commitment to growing the game and making the tournament a success was evident throughout the week.

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The Making Of A Challenger: Jamie Murray’s Expanded (And Hectic) Role In Glasgow

Chardy Leads New Era In Pau
Jeremy Chardy kicked off a new era in his hometown of Pau, France. While many former ATP stars have assumed the role of Challenger tournament director over the years, none are still competing on the pro circuit. That is, until Chardy undertook the task of starting a tournament in his hometown.

The Terega Open celebrated its inaugural edition in February, as the World No. 51 oversaw the development, management and organisation of the event. With years of knowledge and experience from competing on the professional circuit, Chardy was well-equipped to meet the needs of the players, while giving back to his hometown and the surrounding region.

Four Tournaments Celebrate 20th Anniversaries
The Challengers in Barletta, Italy; Tallahassee, USA; Fergana, Uzbekistan and Bratislava, Slovakia all celebrated 20 years on the circuit. The tournaments have demonstrated steadfast commitment to growing the game at the Challenger level since the 1990s.


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Why Murray, Rublev, Tsonga & Wawrinka Are The 2019 Comeback Nominees

  • Posted: Dec 04, 2019

Why Murray, Rublev, Tsonga & Wawrinka Are The 2019 Comeback Nominees

Nominees re-established themselves on the ATP Tour following injury layoffs

The Comeback Player of the Year award in the 2019 ATP Awards goes to the player who has overcome injury in re-establishing himself as one of the top players on the ATP Tour. This year’s nominees are Andy Murray, Andrey Rublev, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka. The winner, as selected by the players, will be announced later this month.

Player Career-High
Before Comeback 
Lowest Ranking
In 2019
Highest Ranking
In 2019 (difference)
Andy Murray No. 1  No. 503 No. 125 (+378)
Andrey Rublev  No. 31  No. 115  No. 22 (+93)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  No. 5  No. 239  No. 29 (+210)
Stan Wawrinka  No. 3  No. 68  No. 16 (+52)

Andy Murray
The former World No. 1 had missed the second half of the 2017 season and been limited to six tournaments in 2018 due to chronic hip problems. By the Australian Open, an emotional Andy Murray admitted he wasn’t sure whether he could continue on. 

“I’ve been in a lot of pain for probably about 20 months now… I told [my team] I can’t keep doing this. That I needed to have an end point because I was just playing with no idea of when the pain was going to stop,” said Murray. He hoped to make it through to Wimbledon, but said following a memorable fight-back against Roberto Bautista Agut in Melbourne, “If today was my last match, look, it was a brilliant way to finish.”

Two weeks later, Murray underwent hip resurfacing surgery. Five months following the procedure, which he called “brilliant, completely life-changing for me”, he was back in tour-level action and teamed up with Feliciano Lopez to clinch the doubles title at The Queen’s Club. He made another step forward in his comeback as he made his singles return in August at the Western & Southern Open (l. to Gasquet), and continued to gain confidence by winning matches at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Mallorca and at each of his three stops during the Asian swing, including a quarter-final run at the China Open (l. to Thiem).

To cap off his 2019 ATP Tour campaign, he triumphed over Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 at the European Open in Antwerp to win his first singles title since 2017 in Dubai. “It means a lot. The past few years have been extremely difficult… I think it was a great match,” Murray said on court after his victory. “I didn’t expect to be in this position at all, so I’m very happy.”

Andrey Rublev
The future seemed bright for Andrey Rublev in early 2018. He began the season by reaching the Doha final (l. to Monfils) and reached a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 31 by February. Two months later though, he was at home, spending three hours a day at a clinic doing magnetotherapy for a lower back stress fracture, eating lunch and sitting on the sofa.

When he returned to action, he reached the semi-finals at the Citi Open and later at the Next Gen ATP Finals, but he still felt lost. “I felt like I wasn’t there,” he said. “I was feeling like I was in the past when I was playing well before the injury. To recover this mental part of being here in this moment took me a couple of months.”

By January 2019, Rublev had dropped outside of the Top 100. He began making his way back up the ATP Rankings during the March Masters, when he reached the third round as a qualifier in both Indian Wells and Miami, but his best tennis came in the second half of the year. He upset World No. 4 Dominic Thiem en route to the ATP 500 final at the Hamburg European Open (l. to Basilashvili), and then earned the biggest win of his young career a month later at the Western & Southern Open, knocking out seven-time champion Roger Federer in straight sets to reach the Masters 1000 quarter-final.

Back inside the Top 50, Rublev continued his climb with quarter-final runs in Winston-Salem and St. Petersburg and a fourth-round showing at the US Open, where he opened with another win over a Top 10 player, Stefanos Tsitsipas. On his 22nd birthday, the Russian celebrated with his hometown title at the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow. The next day, he rose to a career-high World No. 22. “I’m at a loss. I can’t find the right words for what it means to me to win here,” he said.

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Nominees Revealed For 2019 ATP Awards

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Former World No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had fallen to No. 262 by November 2018, his lowest ATP Ranking in 12 years. He had managed to play in only two tournaments early in the 2018 season after struggling with various injuries and ultimately underwent left knee surgery in April. Upon his return in September, he managed to win just one of his six matches, but on a more promising note, five of those clashes went to a deciding set.

In 2019, Tsonga proved he was still a contender in the opening week of the season. He reached the semi-finals at the Brisbane International (l. to Medvedev), including wins over Australians Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex de Minaur. In February, he returned to the winners’ circle for the first time in 15 months as he defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert in an all-French final at the Open Sud de France. “It was an amazing moment for me to win here in Montpellier… I have made many efforts to come back [here], so for me it is a good reward and I hope I will be able to continue playing at this level,” he said.

Tsonga also benefitted from his return to the ATP Challenger Tour for the first time since 2007. “Playing in Challenger tournaments helped me find the reasons why I was playing tennis again,” said the Frenchman, whose quarter-final run in May at Bordeaux helped lift him back into the Top 100. “The conditions are always more difficult. There’s always a battle.”

In September, the 34-year-old won 13 straight matches, including titles at the Cassis Challenger and at the Moselle Open in Metz, before his streak came to an end in the semi-finals of the Orleans Challenger. He continued to shine on home soil, reaching the quarter-finals at the Rolex Paris Masters (l. to Nadal), securing his return to the Top 30 and another 30+ win season.

Stan Wawrinka
After undergoing two surgeries in August 2017 to treat a knee cartilage injury, Stan Wawrinka managed to climb from No. 263 to No. 66 in the ATP Rankings last season. But the former World No. 3 knew there was more to come, saying repeatedly that he believed he would eventually find his best tennis.

His patience and optimism were rewarded in 2019. The 34-year-old Swiss reached two ATP Tour finals, two Grand Slam quarter-finals and finished the season back inside the Top 20, at No. 16 in the ATP Rankings.

Wawrinka ended a 20-month final drought in February at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam (l. to Monfils), where he reached his first championship match since Roland Garros in 2017. “This is a big relief for me,” said Wawrinka. “It’s my first final since the surgery, so to show I can still play at this level against the top players is very important for me.” In October, he again played for an ATP Tour title, only to come up short against fellow Comeback Player of the Year nominee Murray in Antwerp.

He compiled a 4-6 record against Top 10 players in 2018, including a victory over then-No. 1 Novak Djokovic en route to the US Open quarter-finals. At Roland Garros, he defeated No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the last eight. Wawrinka also celebrated a big milestone at the clay-court major, becoming just the ninth active player to record 500 match wins. “I’m not done yet,” he told “Let’s keep working hard and start the road to 600!”

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Nishioka Reveals How Nervous He Was To Practise With Nishikori As A Teen

  • Posted: Dec 04, 2019

Nishioka Reveals How Nervous He Was To Practise With Nishikori As A Teen

Lefty also reflects on what he loves most about his country

Little more than one year ago, Yoshihito Nishioka won his first ATP Tour title in Shenzhen. And afterwards, during his speech to the crowd, the Japanese player said, “Please remember my name. It’s not Nishikori, I’m Nishioka.”

Nishioka was speaking about Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori, who has not only been a hero for his country, but someone Nishioka looked up to. Now, the two Japanese will play together at the inaugural ATP Cup in January. Nishioka speaks to about his memories of practising with Nishikori when he was a teenager, why he’s excited about the new team event and more.

What’s going to be the most fun part of being on a team and representing your country at the ATP Cup?
We know each other very well and I think Team Japan is growing up as a very strong team with Kei, me, Ben McLachlan, and more. There are many top players right now. Now I think we have the strongest team in Japan. We have great friendships together, also. I think we are good teammates and that can [play] a big part.

What’s most exciting about the ATP Cup itself?
This is the first one so I don’t know what’s going to go on, but this is a new thing, so I think for sure it’s going to be different… if I lose it’s losing for Japan, so there will be pressure. But if I win against the pressure, I think I can be bigger in my tennis life as well. I’m very excited for that.

Who did you admire growing up and why did you admire them?
When I was a kid, I was looking for Rafael Nadal, because I’m a lefty. He’s a lefty, and he was my hero. And then now, I love to watch Marcelo Rios from Chile. But now also, for sure Kei Nishikori. We practised together when I went to IMG Academy. He taught me many things, he showed me many things and I watch him practising many things.

What are your early memories of playing tennis in Japan?
I just played tennis all my life. I went a little bit sometimes fishing, but my dad is a tennis coach and my mom is also a tennis coach. I have only tennis memories. 

What’s special about representing your country?
I love to play for my country. Not many times I have played for my country because tennis is one-on-one, so this is a very special moment for me, for us. That’s very exciting. 

If you could take a shot from any player from Japan, what would it be and why?
I think Kei’s backhand down the line, that’s the best shot. I think Uchiyama’s serve, that’s huge.

Of the players from Japan, who did you play with the most as a kid?
I’d say Kei. I was 15 or 16 years old when I first hit with him and he was already a top player and I had just started in the juniors. I was so nervous, but he’s such a nice guy, so it wouldn’t have happened. But I was thinking if I missed a ball, maybe he’d get upset at me or something, so I was so nervous. He never did it, but I was thinking that because I was a junior. Those are good memories.

What are three things you love about Japan?
I love Japanese food like sushi, everybody loves it. I have so many hobbies so I can’t choose only three, but I love to go to nature in Japan, the ocean, some mountains, whatever. It’s very green and I like to see the traditional Japanese places like Kyoto.

Tokyo is very downtown, like New York. Kyoto is very [much a part of] Japanese culture and an older place. Tokyo now is a main city, but Kyoto you can see the traditional Japanese things. I love it.

What reminds you the most of home?
Sushi, ninjas and samurai.

Who is the funniest player from your country and why?
Taro Daniel is very funny. But not many players talk so much, so I think Taro or me are always talking.

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The Biggest ATP Tour Upsets Of 2019

  • Posted: Dec 04, 2019

The Biggest ATP Tour Upsets Of 2019

ATP Tour Season In Review: Biggest ATP Tour Match Upsets

Continuing our Season In Review series, looks at the five biggest ATP Tour match upsets in 2019. (The biggest Grand Slam upsets will be featured Thursday.)

5) Jannik Sinner d. Gael Monfils, European Open, Antwerp Second Round, 17 October 2019 (Match Stats)
Those in Italian circles will tell you that it’s no surprise Jannik Sinner’s has surged up the ATP Rankings over the past 12 months, from No. 778 to a 2019 year-end No. 78. They’ll describe how Riccardo Piatti first unearthed a gem and that it was only a matter of time before the 18-year-old made an impact. But you have to back it up on the court.

Sinner heralded his arrival on the ATP Tour in mid-October with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Nitto ATP Finals contender Gael Monfils for a place in the European Open quarter-finals. Having previously beaten No. 59 Steve Johnson in May at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Sinner saved the only break point he faced to overcome World No. 13 Monfils in 61 minutes. Sinner misfired on a return on his first match point, but if he had any nerves, he did not show them, forcing an error off Monfils’ backhand slice to finish off the sixth tour-level win of his career.

Three weeks later, Sinner ran through the Next Gen ATP Finals field for the 21-and-under title (d. de Minaur) and the following week, in his final tournament of the year, he didn’t drop a set to capture his third ATP Challenger Tour title at the Sparkasse Challenger in Ortisei (d. Ofner). A 700-place rise in 13 months means that the Italian will be one to watch in 2020.

Read Sinner-Monfils Match Report

4) Laslo Djere d. Dominic Thiem, Rio Open presented by Claro, Rio de Janeiro First Round, 20 February 2019 (Match Stats)
Laslo Djere had yet to win a clay-court match in 2019 or beat a Top 10 star in his career, yet the Serbian saw the ball big to beat one of the standout red-dirt performers in recent years, Dominic Thiem, the then-World No. 8 and 2017 champion, 6-3, 6-3 at the Rio Open presented by Claro. Djere, who lost his serve in the opening game, broke Thiem five times and benefitted from five double faults from the Austrian.

“It was a great day,” said World No. 90 Djere. “The biggest win in my career so I’m really happy right now… I hit the ball really well. He played a bit worse than normally I think, to be honest. But I had a great day. I felt the ball really well, hitting well from the baseline and then attacking well when it was time for that. This is my favourite surface. So I know that I can play great tennis on clay.”

Four days later, the 23-year-old dedicated his first ATP Tour title to his late parents, Caba and Hajnalka, after beating Felix Auger-Aliassime in the title match.

Read Match Report | Read Feature: Djere – My Point

<a href=''>Laslo Djere</a>

3) Jeremy Chardy d. Daniil Medvedev, Rolex Paris Masters, Paris Second Round, 29 October 2019 (Match Stats)
In the final throes of the regular 2019 ATP Tour season, one of the sport’s brightest new stars, Daniil Medvedev, who had reached six consecutive finals dating back to the Citi Open in early August, found Jeremy Chardy too hard to crack. Chardy, on home soil, fought off nerves and saved 14 of 15 break points to record one of the biggest upsets of his career, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the Rolex Paris Masters second round. Fourth seed Medvedev, who had won his past 11 ATP Masters 1000 matches, including title runs at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and the Rolex Shanghai Masters, had been riding a nine-match winning streak dating back to the US Open final (l. to Nadal).

“It’s a beautiful victory,” said Chardy, who broke during a 13-point seventh game in the third set. “When you play a match like this on the central court in France and you win it, it’s a wonderful feeling. All the efforts that are deployed every day are aimed at achieving a goal like this one. When you play players like that, that are of such a high level, you need to have a perfect game level. And all my break points, I played them well, so it’s frustrating when you’re the opponent. This has happened to me the other way round, and it was great to be on the right side of the court this time.”

Chardy had previously lost 10 matches against Top 10 opponents since beating then No. 4-ranked Thiem in March 2018 at the Miami Open presented by Itau.

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Djokovic, Kohlschreiber

2) Philipp Kohlschreiber d. Novak Djokovic, BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells Third Round, 12 March 2019 (Match Stats)
Aged 35, Philipp Kohlschreiber had long proven to be a master on home soil, winning seven of his eight ATP Tour titles in Germany. But when it came to beating World No. 1s, he had an 0-11 record. So when he squared off against five-time champion Novak Djokovic, who held an 8-1 FedEx ATP Head2Head record, at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, chances of a Kohlschreiber victory were slim. He hadn’t won a set in their past four meetings.

In a match suspended by rain from the previous day, World No. 39 Kohlschreiber got the better of a sluggish Djokovic, who sparked into life for the first time at 2-5 in the second set. But Kohlschreiber held his nerve for a 6-4, 6-4 victory over one hour and 38 minutes for the 25th Top 10 match win of his career.

“It’s a very special win today,” Kohlschreiber said. “I had a great strategy to play against him. I had two good wins [entering the match]. So everything came together. [It’s] very special to beat the No. 1. Unfortunately, the tournament is not over. I have to get back tomorrow with a great mindset. Today I want to take the moment, celebrate with my coach. I’ve got a lot of messages. I know it’s a very special victory today.”

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1) Andrey Rublev d. Roger Federer, Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati Third Round, 15 August 2019 (Match Stats)
Roger Federer isn’t accustomed to losing early at the Linden Family Tennis Center, the scene of seven crowns at the Western & Southern Open, let alone in the time it took Andrey Rublev to dismantle his game. In mid-August, having won 15 of his past 16 matches at the Masters 1000 event, Federer came unstuck against the Russian qualifier in just 62 minutes — Federer’s fastest defeat in more than 16 years.

Rublev, then No. 70 in the ATP Rankings, had initially forgotten to sign up for the tournament, but got an alternate spot and found his way into the qualifying competition. By the time he met Federer for the first time, Rublev had played four matches in Cincinnati and took his power game to the Swiss superstar on Stadium Court with a barrage of forehands to earn three breaks of serve.

Federer tried bringing Rublev forward but the Russian delivered volleys with newfound touch. “It’s my biggest and the most emotional win,” said Rublev, after beating Federer 6-3, 6-4 in the third round.

It was Federer’s earliest loss in Cincinnati since 2008 (l. to Karlovic in 3R) and his quickest defeat since a 54-minute loss to Italian Franco Squillari in the 2003 Sydney first round.

“He was super clean,” said Federer, contesting his second match since the Wimbledon final on 14 July, of Rublev. “Defence, offence, serving well. Didn’t give me anything. He was everywhere. So it was tough for me, but excellent match by him. I was impressed.”

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Why Looking Left Is Right Play For Novak

  • Posted: Dec 04, 2019

Why Looking Left Is Right Play For Novak

Infosys ATP Insights shows how Djokovic goes against conventional thinking on serve

When everyone goes right, Novak Djokovic goes left.

An Infosys ATP Insights deep dive into second-serve direction in the 2019 season uncovers that the Serb goes completely against the grain in both the Deuce court and Ad court with his primary second-serve direction.

Djokovic was the only player who served more to the left third of the service box – at his opponents’ forehands – in both the Deuce court and Ad court (rather than the middle third at the body, or the right third, to the right-hander’s backhand wing).

The data set is comprised of the leading 10 players with the highest second-serve win percentage in 2019 and uses their serve direction data from ATP Masters 1000 events and the Nitto ATP Finals this season.

Top 10 Performers Second-Serve Win Percentage


Win Percentage

Rafael Nadal


Roger Federer


John Isner


Novak Djokovic


Roberto Bautista Agut


Stan Wawrinka


Alex de Minaur


Dominic Thiem


Miomir Kecmanovic


Daniil Medvedev


To understand serve direction, the service box is cut up into three equal areas:

  • Left 1/3 (Wide in Deuce court / T in the Ad court)

  • Middle 1/3

  • Right 1/3 (T in the Deuce court / Wide in the Ad court)

Deuce Court Second-Serve Direction
Overall, the 10 best in this category overwhelmingly gravitated towards serving down the T, going there with almost half (48.2%) of all second serves in the Deuce court. In fact, eight of the 10 players had this area as their primary location.

10 Players: Deuce Court Direction & Win Percentage

Deuce Court

Location Percentage

Win Percentage

Deuce Wide



Deuce Body



Deuce T



Djokovic was the only player who served wide to the forehand in the Deuce court more than any of the other two directions.

Djokovic Second-Serve Direction Deuce Court
Deuce Wide = 45.1% (won 58.7%)
Deuce Body = 20.1% (won 61.0%)
Deuce T = 34.8% (won 61.3%)

The Serb hit 45 per cent (184/408) of his second serves wide in the Deuce court, which was considerably more than the second-placed player to this location: Daniil Medvedev, 35.7 per cent. Djokovic’s win percentage was within three percentage points at all three locations, which affords him more versatility and less predictability, especially in pressure situations.

Ad Court Second-Serve Direction
Djokovic served even more to the left side of the service box in the Ad court, which is straight to the right-hander’s forehand return.

On the surface, this would seem like a bad idea, but most players are “sitting” on a backhand return against a second serve and get caught off guard when it goes the other way, which often results in late preparation and a missed return.

10 Players: Ad Court Direction & Win Percentage

Ad Court

Location Percentage

Win Percentage

Ad Wide



Ad Body



Ad T



In the Deuce court, Djokovic serves 45.1 per cent to the left side of the service box, and that elevated to 47.6 per cent in the Ad court.

Once again, Djokovic was the only player in the group to aim primarily to the left side of the service box. His win percentage (65%) down the T to the right-hander’s forehand return was superior to the kicker out wide to the backhand return (62.3%).

Djokovic Second-Serve Direction Ad Court
Ad Wide = 20.7% (won 62.3%)
Ad Body = 31.7% (won 65.3%)
Ad T = 47.6% (won 65%)

Second-serve location is mainly dictated by what type of serve you can hit well (topspin/slice), and the weaknesses in the return game of the opponent. Other times, it’s simply about surprising your opponents.

Editor’s note: Craig O’Shannessy is a member of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team.

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Djokovic, De Minaur, Felix Lead 2020 Adelaide Field

  • Posted: Dec 04, 2019

Djokovic, De Minaur, Felix Lead 2020 Adelaide Field

Pouille, Rublev, Carreno Busta also to take part

Novak Djokovic and some of the world’s best #NextGenATP players will launch the inaugural Adelaide International next month.

Djokovic will be joined by Aussie Alex de Minaur and Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime at the ATP 250, to be held 13-19 January, the week before the Australian Open.

Djokovic is a seven-time champion in Melbourne, a record, and usually does not play the week before a Grand Slam. The Serbian last played the week before a Slam in 2017, when he won the Nature Valley International title in Eastbourne.

He has played the week before the Australian Open only once, in 2009, in Sydney. Djokovic played in Adelaide in 2007 when the tournament was held two weeks before the season’s first major championship.

But the 32-year-old could be going with a new strategy as he’s also signed on to play at the inaugural ATP Cup, which will take place 3-12 January in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney.

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Wawrinka, Rublev Headline 2020 Doha Field

De Minaur won the 2019 Sydney International for his first ATP Tour title. The victory propelled the Aussie to his best season yet, which included two more crowns (Atlanta, Zhuhai), another run to the title match of the Next Gen ATP Finals (l. to Sinner) and his best year-end ATP Ranking of No. 18.

Auger-Aliassime enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, reaching three finals (Rio, Lyon, Stuttgart) and becoming the youngest Miami semi-finalist in the tournament’s 35-year history.

De Minaur and Auger-Aliassime are also scheduled to compete at the ATP Cup. The Adelaide field also includes Top 30 players Lucas Pouille of France, Russian Andrey Rublev and Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain.

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Inside Rafael Nadal's Mind When He's Serving

  • Posted: Dec 04, 2019

Inside Rafael Nadal’s Mind When He’s Serving

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows where Rafa favours the most on serve

Tennis is a game of primary and secondary patterns that are heavily dictated by point score.

When players want to get ahead, or when they feel they really need a point, they tend to gravitate to high percentage primary patterns of play that they know will deliver a winning percentage.

When they are already ahead in the score, are looking to confuse the opponent or are in a position where they can afford to lose the point, they generally throw in a lower percentage secondary pattern of play.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Rafael Nadal’s first-serve patterns in 2019 highlights exactly how the Spaniard successfully mixed strategies between primary and secondary patterns to keep opponents off balance. The serve location data set comes from ATP Masters 1000 events in 2019 and the recent Nitto ATP Finals.

First-Serve Location: Love All
This is a perfect time to run a primary pattern, which for Nadal, means a slice first serve down the T. That’s exactly what he gravitated to more than six times out of 10 this season. The thinking here is to start the game on the right foot with what he knows best and surge to 15/0 as many times as possible.

Nadal First-Serve Direction Love All
Wide = 25.4% (45)
Body = 13.0% (23)
T = 61.6% (109)

Nadal won 90 per cent of his service games in 2019, and if he went ahead 15/0, that metric elevated to 94 per cent (473/502). But when Nadal next returns to the Deuce Court after completing two points, his mindset is very much dictated by the point score.

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First-Serve Location: 15/15
At 15/15, it’s essentially the same point score and mentality as Love All, and therefore Nadal largely sticks with the same game plan. It’s back to the primary pattern of slicing the first serve down the T and looking to follow it up with his lethal Serve +1 forehand, although Nadal mixes up his serve location at 15/15 more so than at Love All.

Nadal First-Serve Direction 15/15
Wide = 36.1% (26)
Body = 12.5% (9)
T = 51.4% (37)

First-Serve Location 30/0
If Nadal won the opening two points of his service game in 2019, he was almost unstoppable, winning 98 per cent (346/354). He is basically a lock from this point score, so he has the breathing room to be creative with his serve direction. Nadal’s No. 1 target now shifts out wide in the Deuce Court.

Nadal First-Serve Direction 30/0
Wide = 51.6% (33)
Body = 6.2% (4)
T = 42.2% (27)

First-Serve Location 0/30
At 0/30, the alarm bells are ringing a little, but Nadal still is favoured to win the game. In 2019, he won 61 per cent (46/76) of his service games from 0/30.

Nadal First-Serve Direction 0/30
Wide = 48.8% (20)
Body = 14.6% (6)
T = 36.6% (15)

What’s interesting is that the serve location mix was more even than the other point scores, but there were more first serves out wide than down the T (20-15).

These numbers are clear examples of the guessing game of serve location going on between Nadal and the returner. The returner will be guessing T, which is Nadal’s favourite location (same for almost all lefties in the Deuce Court), because Nadal is down 0/30 in the point score and “needs the point”.

But Nadal also sees this as an opportunity to surprise, so he primarily targets the location the returner is least expecting. This cat and mouse game of first-serve location linked to the point score is played out at all levels of our sport around the world.

When people talk about the “mental game” of tennis, you need to look no further than the World No. 1 beginning his service games.

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