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Uncle Toni After Seeing Djokovic At 18: 'Rafael, We Have A Problem'

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

Uncle Toni After Seeing Djokovic At 18: ‘Rafael, We Have A Problem’

Toni Nadal spotted Djokovic’s talent at Wimbledon 2005

Some players have a special aura. They have magic in their hands. At Wimbledon in 2005, an 18-year-old Serbian was introduced to the world as one of the biggest talents of the future. Making his tournament debut, he was still yet to break into the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.

It only took a few points for Toni Nadal to appreciate his talent from the stands. The coach of the reigning Roland Garros champion, crowned a few weeks earlier in Paris, was sidetracked en route to the locker room from Aorangi Park, the training area at the All England Club. He decided to pay a quick visit to Court 18, where Argentine player Juan Monaco — his nephew’s habitual sparring partner and friend — was playing against a player he had never seen before.

“Who’s that kid?,” Toni asked.

“He’s 18 years old and he’s 100 and a bit in the world,” came the answer.

“What’s his name?” Toni responded.

“Novak Djokovic.”

ATP Coach Programme

Toni Nadal burned the name into his memory. After watching the match for a few minutes he continued his walk to the locker room, where Nadal, who was just a year older than the kid who had just stunned him with his game, was waiting. When they met, Toni Nadal made a famous statement that would prove prophetic: “Rafael, we have a problem. I’ve just seen a really good kid,” said Toni.

Later, they heard the news that the Serbian, still unknown to the public, had beaten Monaco 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3. It was just his second victory in a Grand Slam (2-2), after making his major debut earlier in the year at the Australian Open. But in London he was starting to show signs that, sooner rather than later, he could become a player to keep an eye on. In the second round on the London grass, Guillermo Garcia Lopez awaited Djokovic.

The Spaniard produced faultless tennis at the start of a match and seemed to be in complete control with a 6-3, 6-3, 5-3 lead.

“It was incredible because I had it practically won. At 5-4 and 40/30 in the third set, I hit a great serve into the ‘T’ and I was left with a mid-court forehand onto his forehand to win the point. I looked at the line judge and he called it in and I celebrated victory,” said García López.

However, his elation was fleeting. As the players approached the net to shake hands, the umpire overruled the call and said that the ball was out.

“The match continued. I lost my concentration in that game and we got to 5-5. I broke back and went 6-5 up, 40/0 on my serve. I had three more match points,” said Garcia Lopez.

But the Serbian saved each one and made it through the third and fourth sets 7-6(5), 7-6(3). Djokovic claimed the deciding set 6-4 to seal his first comeback win in a Grand Slam after four hours and eight minutes.

That 18-year-old boy, who had surprised Toni Nadal a few days earlier, was competing like a veteran.

“He was a player that never ever gave up, he had huge potential,” said Garcia Lopez. “His baseline shots were so solid on both sides. Maybe another player wouldn’t have come back against me. With that scoreline, coming out on top of that match means he is a born competitor.

“You could see he had the potential to make it, of course. Djokovic has so much belief in himself. He is a winner with a lot of qualities in terms of agility, mobility and shotmaking.”

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Del Potro's Hug, Federer's Mimic Make Memorable Moments

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

Del Potro’s Hug, Federer’s Mimic Make Memorable Moments

Kyrgios went to fans for serving advice in Washington, D.C.

Juan Martin del Potro has long been a fan favourite on the ATP Tour. Two years ago in Miami, the Argentine showed why.

A young fan was crying at the end of one of his practices at Crandon Park, so the ‘Tower of Tandil’ jogged over and gave her a hug and a wristband.

The moment left an impact on Del Potro, who tweeted: “When they leave you speechless.”

It wasn’t the first time Del Potro enjoyed a special interaction with one of his fans. Just weeks earlier, he met a boy wearing a Thor outfit. Del Potro has been called Juan Martin Del thortro because of his thunderous forehand.

“I spend a lot of time with the fans during my practice sessions, and then off court I meet them every time,” Del Potro said at 2018 Miami. “I also walk around the streets [in Miami] every day. I like to go to the supermarket and I meet fans there, too.”

ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot recently commemorated some fun moments between players and fans, including Del Potro’s Miami hug. At the 20117 Rolex Shanghai Masters, a young fan was so entranced by Roger Federer’s groundstrokes that he began shadowing the Swiss’ strokes in the stands.

“I think the fan support I’m getting this year is maybe even the best I have seen so far,” Federer said at the time.

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Match Point Teamwork: Kyrgios Asks D.C. Fans, Where Should I Serve?

<a href=Nick Kyrgios celebrates reaching the Citi Open final in Washington, D.C., with his new friend/advisor” />

Last year, Nick Kyrgios used the crowd to his advantage, asking fans throughout the week where to serve. The Aussie ended up winning the Citi Open title.

“I feel like it’s very easy when someone just tells you where to serve,” Kyrgios said. “I feel like you just go all in on that spot and try to hit the spot. That’s all you’re focussing on.”

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When Raonic, Shapovalov & Felix Celebrated The Raptors' NBA Title At Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

When Raonic, Shapovalov & Felix Celebrated The Raptors’ NBA Title At Wimbledon

Canadians show national pride before beginning play at The Championships

Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam. This story was originally published on 30 June 2019.

There’s at least one tennis player who wanted Kawhi Leonard to stay with the Toronto Raptors in the 2019-20 season. 

#NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov made his plea to the NBA superstar at 2019 Wimbledon before beginning his campaign at the grass-court major.

“Kawhi, please stay with us. Please don’t leave!” Shapovalov said. “Huge respect for him for coming, giving all he had every single game in the season. It’s unbelievable. He’s going to be a hero in Toronto and in Canada for the rest of his life.”

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Shapovalov and his countrymen, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Milos Raonic, gathered for a photo opportunity with 2019 Raptors championship gear in London, celebrating the team’s NBA Finals victory. It was a proud moment for the Canadians, as the Raptors were the first Canadian team to win an NBA title.

“It’s unbelievable, I think, for the city and the country. Just what they did, it goes beyond basketball. They brought the whole country together watching as one. It’s unbelievable for Toronto, I’m super happy,” Shapovalov said. “I want to say congrats to all the guys. They put in a lot of work over the years, a lot of effort.”

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How Sacrifice Led To Success For Sinner

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

How Sacrifice Led To Success For Sinner

#NextGenATP reflects on his journey to the ATP Tour

When Jannik Sinner was seven, he didn’t touch his racquet for a year. But the Italian’s father, Johann, didn’t want him to give up the sport.

“My dad came and said, ‘Let’s try once more,’” Sinner recalled on ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot. “From that point, I really enjoyed it.”

Sinner has since become one of the hottest #NextGenATP stars. The 18-year-old, now a Monte-Carlo resident, won the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals, becoming the first Italian to capture that title. It was an impressive accomplishment for a player who didn’t fully focus on the sport until he was 13.

“In my part [of Italy] the first sport is of course skiing and I skied more than [I played] tennis,” Sinner said. “I [also] played football.”

Things changed for Sinner at 13 when he visited the academy of renowned coach Riccardo Piatti, who had worked with stars including Ivan Ljubicic, Richard Gasquet and Novak Djokovic.

“It wasn’t easy in the beginning of course leaving all my friends. I had many good friends in my hometown. I had to leave one or basically two sports — skiing and football — and then of course my family, which was not easy,” Sinner said. “But it was my decision and I’m still enjoying playing tennis. That was the point why I left my home. Now I’m really happy that I made that decision.”

Sinner remembers the attention the coaches at Piatti’s academy gave him from his early days training there. That made an impact on Sinner, whom Piatti still coaches today.

“I remember he was watching me and I saw that he was very excited to watch me play and there were many coaches there who saw me. They said, ‘Okay, this is a good kid. He can play good tennis,’” Sinner remembered. “This helped me a little bit with the decision and then of course with Riccardo, especially now, he’s always on the court with me when I’m there… I’m very appreciative.”

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Sinner has climbed as high as No. 68 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. The Italian is the youngest player in the Top 100. Nineteen-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime is the only other teen in that elite group.

Perhaps what’s most important to Sinner after his results is how he carries himself. The 18-year-old wants to set a good example for kids.

“[It’s important to] be a very nice guy on court and off court,” Sinner said. “That’s the most important part for me.”

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Resurfaced: Pat Cash… Remembering 1987 Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

Resurfaced: Pat Cash… Remembering 1987 Wimbledon

Thirty years ago, Pat Cash left no stone unturned in his pursuit of the ultimate prize. With exclusive insight from Cash and his closest friends, James Buddell of recounts how the Australian lifted the Wimbledon trophy.

Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam. This story was originally published on 5 July 2017.

The Climb. Everybody in the tennis world knows it, and those old enough vividly remember their surprise in witnessing the unique celebration. Now a staple of any finals day at a major championship — 14 players since 1987 have scaled the Centre Court architecture at The Championships — and those triumphant few at Wimbledon pay homage to Pat Cash, the original climber to his family and friends. The Wimbledon champion, who dared to dream and delivered 30 years ago.

Having punched away a forehand volley — his 52nd winner on the world’s most famous lawn — to beat World No. 1 Ivan Lendl 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-5, Cash turned to his team and raised his arms to the sky in celebration of the ultimate prize. After a period of thought on his courtside chair, Cash ran 16 steps across Centre Court and deep into the crowd — a standing-room only area. “For a moment, I had stared at them and waved,” says Cash, 30 years on. “I almost chickened out for a minute, because I could see people lining up already and the presentation party getting ready.” But up the Australian went, and as he drew closer to a television commentary box, below his family and friends, doubts started to creep in.

“I joke about it that I beat three top players to win the Wimbledon title, but all people remember me for now is going up into the stands,” says Cash. “It was pre-planned, but I didn’t think about it too well. I didn’t want to jinx it, so I didn’t think about how to get up there or who to hug first.”

Ian Barclay, his coach for the past 11 years, watched on in horror. “I didn’t know anything about it,” says Barclay, a coach for 50 years. “It frightened the hell out of me, as there was a 30-foot drop, as that area was a standing room only area.” Darren Cahill, who had practised with Cash prior to the semi-finals and final, and has returned to the locker room after losing the mixed doubles final with Nicole Provis, recalls, “I remember thinking, ‘What in the hell is he doing?’ Like everyone, I suppose. But it was great, spontaneous and emotional… very similar to the way Cashy has always lived his life.”

A phoney ‘priest’ with a dog collar, who isn’t of the cloth, but has got through the Doherty Memorial Gates and blagged his way onto Centre Court, watched Cash’s climb through his camera lens, taking photos on a polaroid. Cash climbed onto the shoulders of the ‘priest’ to the next level. Shortly after the spectator gave his snaps to Barclay, who, despite the polaroids fading over the past 30 years, treasures the photos to this day.

“When I got there, I didn’t realise there wasn’t any seats to stand on,” says Cash. “It was standing room only. I was regretting it midway up, but I thought I was going to make myself the biggest fool of all time. I was thinking about turning around, going down and back onto the court. But I knew I couldn’t do that, so it took me a while to test out the strength of the commentary box roof.”

Meanwhile, His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, had left his wicker chair, before walking down the Royal Box steps and out onto the sport’s cathedral. He stood beside the trophy, perched on a table covered by the Union Flag. You can set your watch to the time between match point and the start of the trophy presentation. Since first awarding the trophy to Rod Laver in 1969, no presentation of the Duke’s had been delayed. ‘Buzzer’ Hadingham, in his fifth year as the All England Club Chairman, a man of considerable personal charm and a first-class communicator, was getting twitchy.

The wait is almost over.

Dick Enberg, now 82, was commentating with the late Bud Collins for NBC from the commentary box in 1987 that Cash climbed onto, then over a ledge to the friends’ box. Enberg remembers, “During the course of the final, our NBC director, Ted Nathanson, had trained a camera on Cash’s father sitting in the stands. The rugged-looking character, wearing a cap, reacted by clenching his fist whenever his son made a brilliant shot. When Pat Cash junior and senior bear-hugged, it was a manly embrace — every son hugging their father.”

“That’s what it was all about,” admits Cash. “I had this team. They were really important to me and my Dad, who managed the business side with IMG, was everything to me. Afterwards, the chairman came up to me and said, ‘Enjoy the moment, but promise me you won’t do it again.’ He said it because I kept members of the Royal Family waiting.”

The 11-year journey, since Barclay had first begun coaching Cash at Heatherdale Tennis Club, founded by Harry Hopman, was complete. “Mr. B, one day do you think I can win Wimbledon? Will you stick with me?” asked the young Cash, very single-minded and always dedicated to what he was doing.

Cash was always different. “It’s always the one who was the last on the court and wanted to keep practising that eventually makes it,” says Barclay, who coached five national champions from the club in a 14-year period. “You needed a tractor to pull him off the courts. When other guys had had enough, he’d continuously say ‘Let’s keep going.’ You have to want to do the work deep down. You have to have tunnel vision over what you want in life. Pat never needed to be encouraged.”

On a trip to Italy in 1981, sponsored by members of the tennis club, Barclay took five youngsters, including Cash, across to Italy, where seven of the eight quarter-finalists, including Stefan Edberg, Guy Forget and Emilio Sanchez, would later make it into the world’s Top 10. “I don’t remember seeing that quality in a junior tournament in 50 years of coaching. When Pat won the singles title, beating Edberg, I can remember walking away and saying to my wife, ‘This guy’s going to win something super one day. He’s just an incredible competitor.’

“He was just a kid, but he was a super athlete, super strong physically and mentally. As a result of this dedication Pat won the Victoria Hard Courts at 16, the Australian Hard Courts at 17 and his first Davis Cup match at 17 beating ‘Flossie’ [John Lloyd], who’d been runner-up in the 1977 Australian Open. Incredible, he was a baby.” Fitzy [John Fitzgerald], when he would partner Cash, would often say, ‘I’m playing with Superman.’”

Go To Part 2: Continue Reading…

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The Match That Kickstarted Sampras' Wimbledon Dominance

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

The Match That Kickstarted Sampras’ Wimbledon Dominance

Defending champion Agassi dismissed in 1993 quarter-final

For all of their epic battles, one thing that the ATP Head2Head series between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras lacks is five-set battles. But their 1993 Wimbledon quarter-final that started as a mismatch would end as a compelling affair that marked the first of only two five-set matches in their rivalry.

Sampras withstood a fightback from defending champion Agassi to prevail 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4 in their debut grass-court meeting. Both of them earning the right to face each other in the last eight appeared unlikely 10 days earlier. Agassi struggled with tendonitis in his right wrist before the start of the tournament and Sampras dealt with intense pain in his right shoulder, but Agassi refused to make excuses in defeat.

“The only time I’m devastated over a loss is when I don’t feel like I gave it everything, when I felt like there was something else I could have done. I’m not convinced I could have today,” Agassi said. “He turned out to be the better man in the end.”

Agassi admitted that he was “borderline embarrassed” in the first two sets as Sampras’ game plan worked perfectly. He blocked the defending champion’s serve back and frequently sliced his backhand, giving Agassi no pace to work with.

“You’ve really got to make it a mental match with Pete, keep it close and take advantage of a few opportunities,” Agassi said. “But if you allow him to get up… He starts playing off confidence and his ability really shines at that point. It’s hard to stop.”

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Eager for more tennis, the already pro-Agassi crowd became boisterous as they tried to urge him back in the match. He obliged by beginning to gamble more on his returns as Sampras let his guard down slightly. As Sampras’ first-serve percentage dropped and the pain in his serving shoulder appeared to return, Agassi dictated more of their rallies and eventually brought the match to a fifth set.

The medical timeout that Sampras took for shoulder treatment early in the deciding set did wonders in restoring his game. He broke Agassi at 2-2 and wasted no time serving out the match, firing three consecutive aces before advancing to his second consecutive semi-final at the All England Club.

“The crowd was really pulling for Andre to come back because in the first couple of sets, I was dictating play,” Sampras said. “The third and fourth sets, he started serving much better… I’d like to think the crowd was pretty partial in the fifth. I hope that I have a couple of fans out there against Andre.”

Buoyed by his victory, Sampras scored two more impressive wins against Boris Becker and Jim Courier to lift his maiden Wimbledon crown. It proved to be the start of his dominance at this event as he prevailed seven times in an eight-year stretch (1993-1995, 1997-2000), putting him only behind Roger Federer on the all-time list at this event.

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Flashback: Down But Not Out, Tsonga Shocks Federer

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

Flashback: Down But Not Out, Tsonga Shocks Federer

Frenchman brings the heat in epic 2011 Wimbledon quarter-final

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hadn’t yet lost to Roger Federer in their 2011 Wimbledon quarter-final, but it appeared inevitable after he dropped the first two sets. The Swiss had never lost from two sets up in his 255 career Grand Slam matches.

But on the back of what arguably remains Tsonga’s best display of serving, he did the unthinkable. Landing well over 70 per cent of his first serves and only offering Federer a single break point throughout their lengthy clash, he fought back to unseat the six-time Wimbledon champion 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

“I served unbelievably. I’m the kind of player who likes these big moments, so I hope I will have some more,” Tsonga said afterwards. I felt so good on the court. I was quick. I was just perfect today. It was feeling like a dream.”

The Frenchman’s runner-up showing at the 2008 Australian Open already proved that he could deliver his best tennis at the world’s biggest events. Inconsistency and injuries prevented him from building on that breakthrough run, but the 26-year-old remained a player that no one wanted to face. Tsonga’s attacking style is perfectly suited for grass and he felt emboldened by his decision that May to split with longtime coach Eric Winogradsky, opting for more ownership of his career.

After dropping his opening service game against Federer and trailing 0-3 after seven minutes, Tsonga settled in and found his range. But while the Frenchman continued to comfortably hold serve, he was unable to assert himself in their baseline rallies.

With little to lose after falling behind two sets, Tsonga charged the net whenever possible and attempted to hit winners from unlikely positions at the baseline. His bold gambles paid dividends as he cracked 63 winners to just 22 unforced errors on the day, with most of the winner tally coming in the final three sets.

After another strong serve on match point led to Federer hitting a return long, Tsonga dropped to the ground in celebration. Federer graciously tipped his hat to the Frenchman afterwards and acknowledged there was little he could do against an opponent playing so well.

“He believed in shots that maybe you don’t hit as often. But exactly when he needed them, he was able to pull them off,” Federer said. “When it got important, he went for it. It all worked out for him today.”

Although Tsonga fell in the semi-finals to Novak Djokovic, his inspired run at the All England Club spurred him on to an outstanding second half of 2011. He picked up a pair of titles in Metz and Vienna and finished runner-up at the Rolex Paris Masters to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, where he defeated Rafael Nadal en route to the championship match.

Federer would get his revenge that year, though. Although he fell to Tsonga again at the Coupe Rogers, the Swiss rebounded to defeat his rival four times in a two-month period. He dominated Tsonga in their US Open quarter-final clash, then scored another straight-sets victory in Paris before twice defeating the Frenchman at The O2, prevailing in round-robin play and an entertaining three-set final.

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Zverev Begins Coaching Trial With Ferrer

  • Posted: Jul 08, 2020

Zverev Begins Coaching Trial With Ferrer

Zverev has previously worked with former World No. 1s Lendl and Ferrero

Alexander Zverev confirmed Wednesday that he has started a coaching trial with former World No. 3 David Ferrer.

“Some good news: I am going through a trial period with David Ferrer on my team. Could not be more excited to get to work,” Zverev wrote on his Instagram story. “Can’t wait for the Tour to be back.”

ATP Heritage: Milestones. Records. Legends.

The German has previously worked with former World No. 1s Ivan Lendl and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Ferrer retired last season after losing against Zverev in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open.

“He’s the most respectful guy for me on Tour, and one of the most loved people on the Tour as well,” Zverev said at the time. “We’re going to miss him.” 

Ferrer became known as one of the hardest workers on the ATP Tour. The relentless baseliner’s final Top 10 win came last March, when he rallied to beat Zverev in three sets at the Miami Open presented by Itau.

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