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ATP Cup: How Berrettini & Fognini Have Led The Rise Of Italian Tennis

  • Posted: Dec 07, 2019

ATP Cup: How Berrettini & Fognini Have Led The Rise Of Italian Tennis

Learn more about how Italians have rapidly risen up the ATP Rankings

On 14 May 2017, World No. 29 Fabio Fognini played then-21-year-old Matteo Berrettini in the first round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. On paper, the match was not memorable. Fognini advanced past the World No. 249 6-1, 6-3 in 71 minutes, and he’d go on to upset then-World No. 1 Andy Murray in straight sets in the next round.

For the Italians in attendance, though, this was a glimpse into their country’s men’s tennis future. And according to a smiling Berrettini, he did not get off to a great start that day.

“I started the match with a double fault,” Berrettini recalled. “[It was] so slow in the net. I was, like, ‘Okay’.”

Little did either man know that two years later, they both would crack the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings and position themselves to make Italy one of the favourites heading into the inaugural ATP Cup from 3-12 January.

Before this season, only two Italian men had ever broken into the Top 10 — Adriano Panatta in 1973 and Corrado Barazzutti in 1978 — and that was more than four decades ago. That made Fognini and Berrettini’s breakthroughs in 2019 even more special.

”It is crazy, because we had to wait a lot,” said Berrettini. “Fabio won a crazy tournament [in Monte-Carlo], he was playing so good. He was looking for this achievement a bit longer than me, he [has had] a really great career. After winning an ATP Masters 1000 ATP Cup: How Berrettini & Fognini Have Led The Rise Of Italian Tennis, the Top 10 is the next step, so I was happy for him and now I am super proud of myself.”

<a href=''>Matteo Berrettini</a>

But it’s not just Berrettini and Fognini who have thrust Italy into the spotlight. At the time of that match in Rome, there were just three Italians inside the Top 100. Now there are eight, including Lorenzo Sonego, Marco Cecchinato, Andreas Seppi, Jannik Sinner, Stefano Travaglia and Salvatore Caruso. The eight are tied for the third-most of any country, alongside the United States and trailing only France (12) and Spain (10).

Berrettini, Fognini, Travaglia, Paolo Lorenzi and Simone Bolelli will try to help Italy advance out of Group D in Perth come January.

“When you are playing for your country with a team, it’s different,” Berrettini said. “You can find, I think, more energy.”

Lorenzi, who turns 38 on 15 December, has fallen just outside the Top 100 at No. 116. But the 21-time ATP Challenger Tour titlist remains a guiding force for some of the Italians making their rise. At this year’s US Open, Lorenzi found out he would receive a lucky loser spot while he was spending time with Berrettini, an eventual semi-finalist. On many days he practised with Sinner, a player who is less than half his age.

“I always like to practise a lot with the young Italians because they have a lot of enthusiasm,” Lorenzi said. “I like to play with the young ones and I can know some good young Italians that are coming.”

Sinner is at the forefront of that charge. The teenager was outside the Top 750 in the ATP Rankings this time last year. After earning his first 11 tour-level wins this year, Sinner is up to a career-high No. 78. Following a rout of Top 20 star Alex de Minaur to triumph at the Next Gen ATP Finals, the Italian looks poised to climb higher in 2020 and beyond.

<a href=''>Jannik Sinner</a>

According to countryman Seppi, who has spent only about two months outside the Top 100 since May 2005, Sinner’s rise only adds to the excitement that Berrettini and Fognini produced for Italian tennis this year.

“It’s actually what every nation wants to see, a good young player coming up with a really big potential, winning a Slam. He’s still 18, anything can happen. But his potential can be really big for a long time, Top 10 and everything,” Seppi said. “It’s nice to see someone that good from your area, and maybe it could be also that we helped in the past years, for him to see us, that he can do it. So I think that is also an important thing.”

Two of the top three Under-18 players in the ATP Rankings — World No. 362 Lorenzo Musetti and No. 383 Giulio Zeppieri — are also on their way up. But Sinner points to the bigger picture of all Italian men stepping up and how that is impacting the younger generations.

“Even at a higher level like [with] Berrettini, Sonego, we are now very high [in the ATP Rankings] and many players are playing very good tennis this year and I think if there are many young generation in Italy, it’s very important,” Sinner said. “But I’m very happy how it’s going on with Italian tennis.”

This Italian rise is fitting with the Nitto ATP Finals set to move to Turin starting in 2021. And with the ATP Cup around the corner, Italian tennis is flying as high as ever.

“It is a very good year for Italian tennis, two guys breaking into the Top 10 with Fabio and Matteo after so many years,” Seppi said. “For sure it is a very special year for Italian tennis.”

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Top Five Grand Slam Comebacks In 2019

  • Posted: Dec 07, 2019

Top Five Grand Slam Comebacks In 2019

Nishikori, Cilic among the highlights this season

Continuing our Season In Review series, looks at the top five comebacks in Grand Slam matches in 2019.

5. Aljaz Bedene d. Benoit Paire, US Open, Second Round (Match Stats)
Aljaz Bedene had never reached the third round in New York and would need to defeat a player he often struggled with in Benoit Paire. The Frenchman led their FedEx ATP rivalry 4-1 and was in the middle of an outstanding season, having won ATP Tour titles in Marrakech (d. Andujar) and Lyon (d. Auger-Aliassime).

Paire served for the match at 5-3 in the fourth set and earned triple match point, but hit a backhand into the net on his first chance. The missed opportunity set off an avalanche of unforced errors and Bedene shockingly won 15 of the next 17 points to bring the match into a decider.

The Frenchman regrouped and raced to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set, but Bedene refused to give in. He scored a break at 2-4 and twice served to stay in the match, sending their clash into a final-set tie-break. The Slovenian’s steady baseline play brought him over the line after a backhand error from Paire wrapped up a 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5, 7-6(4) win after four hours and three minutes.

Bedene fell to Alexander Zverev in an entertaining four-set battle, but rode the momentum to his first tour-level final of the season just three weeks later in Metz (l. to Tsonga).

4. Marin Cilic d. Fernando Verdasco, Australian Open, Third Round (Match Stats)
Marin Cilic and Fernando Verdasco have quietly put together one of the most prolific rivalries on the ATP Tour. Their first FedEx ATP Head2Head match took place in 2007 St. Petersburg (won by Verdasco) and they’ve faced off in 11 of the past 13 seasons. But Cilic walked into Margaret Court Arena with the upper hand in their rivalry (9-5) and had won their past four meetings.

Verdasco appeared ready to turn the tables and held match point at 7/6 in the fourth-set tie-break, but Cilic erased it with a service winner. The crowd gasped as Verdasco then let slip a second match point with a double fault at 8/7. Two points later, a forehand winner from Cilic tied up the score.

The Croatian promptly broke Verdasco and sprinted to a 3-0 lead in the final set. At 12:57 am, he pumped his fist after a forehand error from Verdasco brought him a 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(8), 6-3 victory after four hours and 18 minutes. Cilic fired 66 winners en route to prevailing from two sets down for the seventh time in his career.

Cilic lost an entertaining five-set battle in the fourth round to Roberto Bautista Agut and struggled to meet his lofty standards throughout the season. He recorded only one tour-level semi-final (Moscow) and finished the year at No. 39 in the ATP Rankings, but is hard at work in the off-season to climb back up in 2020.

3. Nicolas Mahut d. Marco Cecchinato, Roland Garros, First Round (Match Stats)
Nicolas Mahut was so discouraged about his tennis and fitness prior to Roland Garros that he nearly gave back his wild card. The 37-year-old Frenchman was outside the Top 250 of the ATP Rankings for the first time since 2003 and injuries had limited him to six singles appearances in 2019, most of which were ATP Challenger Tour events on home soil. A back injury convinced Mahut that he should withdraw, but his team persuaded him to rest and the injury gradually improved.

He faced a challenging opening test against Marco Cecchinato, who made headlines with his semi-final run last year at this event and prevailed in February at the Argentina Open (d. Schwartzman). Mahut dropped the first two sets and did not have history on his side, with a 1-38 record after losing the first two sets in the main draw of a Grand Slam.

But with the Parisian crowd unwavering in their support, Mahut dug deep to get himself into the match. After three hours and 18 minutes, Mahut put his hands over his head in disbelief after a backhand sent wide from Cecchinato wrapped up a stunning 2-6, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 upset. The match marked Mahut’s first Top 20 win at Roland Garros. 

“For the moment, I’m just enjoying the pleasure of this victory. It is by far my best victory in Roland Garros, in a French tournament. I haven’t had many,” Mahut said. “Playing on this extraordinary court, I felt that if there was a possibility of playing on this court, it would be incredible and there would be an incredible atmosphere.”

Mahut followed up with a win over Philipp Kohlschreiber, matching his best result at this event, before falling to Leonardo Mayer in four sets. The Frenchman only won two tour-level singles matches after his inspired week in Paris, but enjoyed success in doubles that included titles at the Nitto ATP Finals and Rolex Paris Masters (w/Herbert), in addition to a runner-up finish at Wimbledon (w/Roger-Vasselin).

Read More: Mahut Earns ‘By Far His Best Victory’ In Paris

2. Hyeon Chung d. Fernando Verdasco, US Open, Second Round (Match Stats)
Hyeon Chung endured a frustrating series of injuries after reaching his maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the 2018 Australian Open. He arrived in New York in the early stages of another comeback after missing six months due to a back injury. The South Korean was forced to qualify for the final Grand Slam of the year, but powered into the main draw without dropping a set and scored a five-set win in his opening round against Ernesto Escobedo. 

It appeared the volume of matches would be too much for Chung after he dropped the first two sets in 58 minutes during his second-round clash with Fernando Verdasco. But as Chung mounted a comeback and eventually forced a fifth set, Court 10 became standing room only and the crowd were largely on his side. 

Verdasco broke Chung for a 3-1 lead in the decider and served for the match at 5-3, but the two-time US Open quarter-finalist pushed a forehand volley long to bring the match back on serve. As the crowd roared in approval, the normally mild-mannered Chung threw his arms up in the air and encouraged them to make more noise.

Chung saved a match point on his serve at 5-6 and then stormed through the tie-break to complete an incredible 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(3) comeback after three hours and 22 minutes. The South Korean spent a minute under seven hours on court in his first two rounds, proving he was fully recovered from his back injury.

Chung fell to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the third round, but went on to score high-profile wins over Cillic and Milos Raonic in the latter stages of the season. With only 45 ATP Rankings points to defend until July, he’s primed to make a significant climb next year.

1. Kei Nishikori d. Pablo Carreno Busta, Australian Open, Fourth Round (Match Stats)
Kei Nishikori’s journey into the second week cemented his status as Melbourne’s marathon man. He survived a pair of five-set matches in his first two rounds, rallying from two sets down against Kamil Majchrzak and then defeating Ivo Karlovic in a fifth-set tie-break.

After Pablo Carreno Busta prevailed in the first two sets and broke Nishikori for a 3-2 lead in the third set, it seemed that the hours on court had finally taken their toll on the Japanese. But Nishikori clawed back to take the third set and found the range on his serve, scoring three love holds in the fourth set en route to forcing a decider.

The vocal crowd watched as Nishikori broke for a 2-1 lead in the final set, but he got tight when serving for the match at 5-4 and gifted the break back to the Spaniard. The battle eventually reached what was just the third final-set tie-break in tournament history for men’s singles.

Carreno Busta was rewarded for taking the initiative in their baseline rallies and grabbed a commanding 8/5 lead, but Nishikori charged back and won the last five points of the match. The Japanese star finished with an ace — his 15th of the match — to improve to 21-7 in five-setters.

“I don’t even know how I came back,” Nishikori said. “But [I’m] very happy to win today.”

At five hours and five minutes, Nishikori and Carreno Busta put on the fifth-longest Open Era match in tournament history. Nishikori finished the night with a staggering 81 winners to 57 unforced errors. 

After 18 sets of tennis in a week, his body surrendered and he retired due to injury midway through the second set of his quarter-final with Novak Djokovic. Nishikori’s injury woes resurfaced when a right elbow injury shut down his season after the US Open. He underwent surgery for the injury in October, but expects to be ready to start next season by representing Japan in the inaugural ATP Cup, held in Australia from 3-12 January.

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Jarry Brings On Bottini For Next Season

  • Posted: Dec 07, 2019

Jarry Brings On Bottini For Next Season

Chilean to split time between Florida and South America

Nicolas Jarry has hired Dante Bottini as his new coach in a bid to reach even greater heights next year. The Chilean started working this week with Bottini, who was part of Kei Nishikori’s team for nine years, and will spend his preseason at the IMG Academy in Florida.

“I am very happy to start working with Dante. He has great experience at the highest level and I hope to learn as much as I can from him,” Jarry said. “I will do my best to continue improving and growing as a tennis player. I start this new stage in my career with total commitment to work hard every day.”

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Jarry reached a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 38 this July after winning his maiden ATP Tour crown in Bastad (d. Londero). He also finished runner-up in Geneva (l. to Zverev) and scored his first Top 5 win against Alexander Zverev en route to a quarter-final showing in Barcelona.

The 24-year-old will kick off next season by representing Chile in the ATP Cup, held in Australia from 3-12 January. He’ll look to lead the Chilean squad past Serbia, France and South Africa in Group A play, to be held in Brisbane.

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