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Paul Annacone On The Return To Tennis: 'It’s A New World'

  • Posted: Aug 10, 2020

Paul Annacone On The Return To Tennis: ‘It’s A New World’

Former coach of Federer and Sampras discusses return to tennis

Paul Annacone has experienced nearly everything in his coaching career, during which he has worked with former World No. 1s Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. But this is the first time he has had to help guide a player through a pandemic. 

“I’ll be shocked if anyone comes out of the gates playing spectacular tennis,” Annacone, who coaches American Taylor Fritz, told “It’s going to take everybody a little while to get going. It’s a new world, it’s going to be a new playing environment, there are a lot of changes.”

Tennis is set to return at the Western & Southern Open, which is being held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualifying begins on 20 August.

“It’s about managing the changes, going out there and just trying to play tennis the way you need to play it and trusting your game,” Annacone said. “But it’s a new environment and it’s going to be bumpy for everybody.”

Despite only being 22, Fritz has shown an ability to think on the fly during matches, coaching himself through tight moments. That the American already had an open dialogue with Annacone and co-coach David Nainkin about his game has only helped them during this time off.

“He hasn’t made many changes. We’re trying to focus more on the physical, off-court stuff. We’ve been able to get a lot of good work done on his game and it’s been a continuation of the foundation that we’ve laid,” Annacone said. “There hasn’t been anything startling that’s happened. He collaborates and talks a lot about it himself as we go through it. That’s good, because he participates and adds value. He’s the one out there playing, so he’s got to talk about it.”

Annacone believes that the five months off have been very different for many of the players, who have had to adjust accordingly based on their age and experience.

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“For a young player, I think it’s important because I think they can do some of this work. They can do the strength and conditioning, they can try to change a few things,” Annacone said. “For the older players it’s different because they’ve got a lot more miles on them. They can rest, recover, [get] prepared to play and let their body get back to normal. For different people it means different things, and you just have to figure out how to manage that.

“It’s an extended off-season, really. It’s probably twice as long as an off-season. Nobody’s ever gone through this and so it’s really important to go through it with an open mind, because we haven’t lived it before.”

As tough as it has been for the world to deal with COVID-19, players have had an opportunity, as local rules have allowed, to work on their game on and off the court.

“You have to get some positives out of it, so that’s really the thing,” Annacone said. “You find something positive to take out of a pretty horrible situation and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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Here's Where Thiem Tops Djokovic, Nadal & Federer

  • Posted: Aug 10, 2020

Here’s Where Thiem Tops Djokovic, Nadal & Federer

Austrian has won seven of 10 matches against ‘The Big 3’ since 2019

Has ‘The Big Three’ already morphed back into ‘The Big Four’ and we have not yet recognised it?

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer headline the Big Three in tennis. Andy Murray was also a part of this elite group in his prime before injuries interrupted his career. But is there is a fourth player that statistically already measures up?

Yes, Dominic Thiem.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Thiem’s body of work since the start of the 2019 season identifies the Austrian is already standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. And, in some metrics, is already leading the quartet.

Since the beginning of 2019, Thiem has more ATP Head2Head wins in this grouping of four players than any other.

2019-2020 ATP Head2Head
1. Thiem = 7 wins / 3 losses
2. Djokovic = 6 wins / 4 losses
3. Nadal = 3 wins / 5 losses
4. Federer = 2 wins / 6 losses

2019-2020 Thiem vs. Big Three
Thiem vs. Federer = 3 wins / 0 losses
Thiem vs. Nadal = 2 wins / 1 loss
Thiem vs. Djokovic = 2 wins / 2 losses
Total = 7 wins / 3 losses

With two ATP Tour Masters 1000 series events looming (Cincinnati and Rome) as well as the US Open and Roland Garros, Thiem has all the tools to take titles in any of those events. To better understand Thiem’s strengths, you need to look no further than three recent victories over Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.

2019 Nitto ATP Finals, Round Robin: Thiem d. Djokovic 67(5) 63 76(5)
Thiem throttled Djokovic with a forehand barrage from start to finish. Thiem average hitting forehands at a break-neck 83mph, which was much faster than Djokovic’s average of 73mph. In the third set, Thiem upped the ante to 85mph while Djokovic dropped down slightly to average 72mph on his forehand wing.

Thiem hit Djokovic off the court. That looks good on the resume of anyone wanting to expand the Big Three to the Big Four. Thiem said post-match that it was maybe the best match he has ever played.

Thiem not only crushed forehands, but he did so from a vastly superior court position. Thiem hit 30 per cent of his forehands from inside the baseline, while Djokovic managed just 16 per cent. Thiem is widely renowned for playing deep in the court on clay, but he perfectly adjusted his court position to the indoor hard court at the O2 arena. Thiem only hit 22 per cent of forehands from further than two metres behind the baseline, while Djokovic was double that at 44 per cent. The following two Hawk-Eye pictures clearly illustrate Thiem’s superior court position when hitting forehands.

2019 Madrid, Quarter-final: Thiem d. Federer 36 76(11) 64
Thiem saved two match points at 7/8 and 9/10 in the second set tie-break and broke Federer twice in the third set, while also being broken once.

In the opening set, Thiem’s second serve return speed was 70 mph. That jumped to 75 mph in the second set and a scorching 82 mph in the third set. Federer, by comparison, only averaged 69 mph returning second serves in the third set. Federer didn’t lose a second serve point in the first set, but only won 30 per cent in the third set.

Thiem took a while to wind up, but ended up blowing right by Federer at the finish line by really attacking the second serve.

2020 Australian Open, Quarter-final: Thiem d. Nadal 76(3) 76(4) 46 76(6)
Thiem went toe-to-toe with Nadal from the back of the court and beat him at his own game.

Baseline Points Won
Thiem = 50% (85/170)
Nadal = 43% (73/169)

The average rally length was 4.2 shots, and there were 36 lactic-acid-inducing rallies of nine shots or longer. Thiem remarkably won double the amount of points as Nadal in this metric, winning 24 to 12.

Thiem was also far superior at net, winning 76 per cent (25/33) to Nadal’s 62 per cent (21/34).

Thiem is beating the Big Three at their own game. He is currently No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. He has the power, consistency, and mental fortitude to take the final two steps when tennis finally resumes.

– Hawk-Eye graphics courtesy ATP Media

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Tsitsipas' 2018 Toronto Run: 'It Was The Week Of My Life'

  • Posted: Aug 10, 2020

Tsitsipas’ 2018 Toronto Run: ‘It Was The Week Of My Life’

Relive the Greek’s run at the 2018 Rogers Cup

Some players take small steps over a long period to make an impact on the ATP Tour’s biggest stages. Stefanos Tsitsipas made one giant leap in 2018.

The Greek star arrived at the Rogers Cup as the No. 27 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Tsitsipas had never previously competed in Toronto, but he quickly made himself at home, going on a memorable run at the ATP Masters 1000 event.

“The support was amazing. I felt like I was playing in Athens. I felt like I was playing in my hometown. [There were] so many Greek fans,” Tsitsipas told ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot. “It was just the energy I received in every single match I played there. Everyone was with me and it gave me a lot of strength. It gave me a lot of belief. It helped me do very, very well there. It was the week of my life.”

Tsitsipas became the youngest player to beat four Top 10 opponents at a single tournament since the ATP Tour was established in 1990, reaching his first Masters 1000 final. Entering the week, he had only made one tour-level championship match.

“I’m really hungry for more,” Tsitsipas said.

In the Round of 32, Tsitsipas upset then-World No. 8 Dominic Thiem. A resurgent Novak Djokovic, then-World No. 10, was next.

“I was actually not paying attention that much to if I was facing Djokovic or whoever else. I was concentrating on my game,” Tsitsipas said. “I knew that if I would start thinking too much, then it wouldn’t be good for my game, so I said, ‘Keep playing, keep doing what you’re doing, you’re doing it well.’”

Tsitsipas emphatically closed out the Serbian with a forehand winner, triumphing 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3.

“That match point, I couldn’t believe it, what had just happened,” Tsitsipas said. “It was one of the best victories I’d had.”

Alexander Zverev led Tsitsipas 6-3, 5-3 in the quarter-finals, but the Greek used the crowd’s energy to rally and make the semi-finals. It was an example of Tsitsipas’ fighting spirit.

“I kept believing I could do it,” he said. “I came back into the match and it seemed like nothing could stop me.”

That attitude remained in the semi-finals against Kevin Anderson. The South African veteran held match point in their final-set tie-break, but Tsitsipas never gave up. Instead, he became even more courageous, crushing a backhand winner to stay in the match before ousting the World No. 6 to make the championship match. Standing across the net was top seed Rafael Nadal.

“I lost to Rafa in Barcelona. It is not easy to come back and play another final against Rafa,” Tsitsipas said. “I was a bit nervous, thinking too much, something I wasn’t doing before that.”

Nadal served for the title at 6-2, 5-4, but Tsitsipas broke back and held a set point to force a decider. The Spaniard saved that opportunity with a drop shot that trickled over the net cord, closing out his victory 6-2, 7-6(4).

Although Tsitsipas fell short of lifting the trophy, it was a confidence-building moment for the 19-year-old Greek. From there, he won the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals, the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals and has climbed as high as World No. 5. 

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From Lendl To Nadal: Classic Moments In Canada

  • Posted: Aug 10, 2020

From Lendl To Nadal: Classic Moments In Canada

Celebrating 30 years of ATP Masters 1000 tournaments, looks back on memorable moments from Canada.

Normally at this time of season, the ATP Tour heads to Canada for the sixth ATP Masters 1000 event of the year. This year the tournament was cancelled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, but fans could still celebrate the Rogers Cup.

Established in 1881, the tournament is the only tour-level event that splits its hosting duties between two cities. Last year, it was held in Montreal. This season, it was to be held in Toronto. looks back on memorable moments from Canada. 

The Lendl Years
Between 1980 and 1989, Ivan Lendl captured a record six titles at this tournament. After a semi-final loss to Bjorn Borg on his tournament debut in 1979, the four-time year-end World No. 1 won 22 of his next 23 matches at the event to lift three trophies from four consecutive finals. 

Four years after his victory against Anders Jarryd in the 1983 final, Lendl returned to the winners’ circle in Montreal to collect his first of three straight crowns. The 6’2” right-hander won 15 consecutive matches at the tournament from 1987 to 1989, including wins against Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe to become a six-time champion in Canada. 

Lendl reached his ninth and final championship match at the event in 1992, falling in three sets to Agassi. The former World No. 1 ended his career with a 57-9 tournament record. 

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Chang Becomes Youngest Champion
One year on from his famous run to the 1989 Roland Garros trophy, Michael Chang entered the record books in Toronto as the youngest winner in tournament history. Aged 18 years and five months, the American raced through his opening two matches to book a quarter-final clash against Agassi. 

Chang recovered from a set down to beat Agassi and Pete Sampras in consecutive matches — winning both battles 7-5 in the third set — and reach the championship match against Jay Berger. The first-time Masters 1000 finalist also trailed Berger by a set, before recovering to claim the title in a final-set tie-break. 

The Agassi-Sampras Final
In perhaps the most memorable year of their ATP Head2Head rivalry, Agassi and Sampras contested five finals in 1995, including the Montreal championship match. Agassi entered the contest as the defending champion, seeking his third win of the year against his great rival. The Las Vegas native had a much smoother road to the final, only losing two games against Mats Wilander in the semi-finals, while Sampras needed a final-set tie-break against Thomas Enqvist.

In a meeting between the top two players in the FedEx ATP Rankings, World No. 1 Agassi recovered from a set down and saved six of seven break points to overcome Sampras in three sets and complete his third title run in Canada. The champion stood out behind his second serve, winning 65 per cent of those points compared to 50 per cent for his opponent. Sampras quickly gained his revenge, beating Agassi in the US Open final en route to finishing the year as World No. 1 for the third straight season. 

Nadal Makes It Five
In just his second tournament appearance, Nadal claimed his maiden Canada trophy in 2005 with a hard-fought victory against Agassi in the 2005 final. Since then, the Spaniard has enjoyed regular success in both Montreal and Toronto.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion, who also claimed further trophies in 2008 and 2013, ended a five-year title drought in Canada in 2018. Nadal overcame Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic, before notching straight-sets wins against Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas to become only the third player, alongside Lendl and Novak Djokovic, to win the event on four occasions in the Open Era.

Twelve months later, Nadal moved clear of Djokovic by winning consecutive titles in Canada for the first time. The World No. 2 was forced to recover from a set down against Fabio Fognini in the quarter-finals, before producing a dominant final performance to defeat Daniil Medvedev. The victory extended Nadal’s lead at the top of the Masters 1000 titles leaderboard. Nadal owns a record 35 trophies at the level, one clear of Djokovic’s mark of 34 crowns.

“Every single place has a different atmosphere, different feeling. Every place is special by itself. But honestly here, I think they are very passionate about the sport. They are very passionate about tennis,” said Nadal. “I always felt when I have been playing here, [there is] always an unbelievable atmosphere out here, full crowd. That’s so important for our sport and for me personally.”

Federer’s Toronto Run
Roger Federer’s two tournament victories in Canada came in back-to-back Toronto appearances in 2004 and 2006. In 2004, the Swiss dropped just one set en route to his maiden final in Canada to book a meeting with defending champion Andy Roddick. The pair had met the previous year in the Montreal semi-finals, with Roddick beating Federer in a final-set tie-break. But Federer, who had recently beaten Roddick to win his second Wimbledon crown, gained revenge with a straight-sets victory against the American. 

Two years later, Federer once again took the title in Toronto. The World No. 1 was forced to a deciding set in his final four matches, but overcame Dmitry Tursunov, Xavier Malisse, Fernando Gonzalez and Richard Gasquet to capture his second Toronto crown. “The victories more came through fighting, through trying to make every shot, trying not to play fancy anymore, because I was obviously in a struggle,” said Federer. 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has since reached four additional finals at the Masters 1000 tournament, but has finished as runner-up on each occasion. 

Djokovic Delivers
Djokovic entered the 2007 Coupe Rogers seeking his second Masters 1000 trophy, following his title run in Miami earlier in the year. After wins against Nicolas Kiefer and David Nalbandian, Djokovic successfully navigated the toughest possible route to the trophy. 

The Serbian beat World No. 3 Roddick and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal to reach the final, where he outlasted World No. 1 Federer in a final-set tie-break to claim the title. Roddick, Nadal and Federer had combined to win each of the past four editions of the event. 

“I won a [Masters 1000] in Miami, but here I beat the No. 3 in the quarter-finals, the No. 2 in the semi-finals and, in the final, I beat the No. 1. I couldn’t ask for more,” said Djokovic. “I played some impressive tennis all week. This is a dream come true.” 

<a href=Novak Djokovic lifted his maiden Coupe Rogers title in 2007.” />

Tsonga Ends Big Four Run
After almost 18 months without an ATP Tour title, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stunned the field in 2014 to capture the Toronto title. The energetic Frenchman, who suffered a left knee injury in 2013, beat four consecutive Top 10 players to claim the trophy. 

Tsonga advanced to the championship match with wins against three-time titlist Djokovic, two-time winner Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov. In the final, the 2008 Australian Open runner-up did not face a break point, beating Federer in straight sets. 

Tsonga’s title run ended a decade of Big Four dominance at the event. Between 2004 and 2013, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray combined to win each of the 10 editions of the event. 

“I played well all week. I beat many good guys,” said Tsonga. “It’s a big achievement because I worked really hard to come back from my knee injury last year.” 

Murray Ends Djokovic Streaks
Five years on from his most recent title run in Canada, Andy Murray added a third tournament victory to his collection in 2015. The Brit advanced to his third final in Canada without dropping a set and faced an in-form Djokovic for the trophy. 

Djokovic entered the contest on a 30-match win streak at the Masters 1000-level and he had beaten Murray in the pair’s eight most recent encounters. But Murray ended both streaks in dramatic fashion, battling past Djokovic in exactly three hours to equal Sampras’ haul of 11 Masters 1000 crowns. 

Zverev’s Remarkable Recovery
Alexander Zverev’s run at the 2017 Coupe Rogers was almost stopped at the first hurdle by Richard Gasquet. Zverev survived three match points against the Frenchman, including one in a 49-shot rally, to extend his stay in Montreal. The German raised his level from there to claim eight consecutive sets and the trophy. 

Zverev defeated Nick Kyrgios, Kevin Anderson and surprise semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov to extend his winning streak to nine matches and book a final clash with two-time titlist Federer. Zverev held his nerve in the championship match, saving each of the three break points he faced to hand Federer his only loss in eight finals that year. 

“Winning two Masters 1000 titles in the same year is something amazing,” said Zverev. “I played well winning Washington and here. It’s something amazing, back-to-back weeks. I feel great. I feel like I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life.” 

<a href=Alexander Zverev beats Roger Federer in straight sets to win his maiden Coupe Rogers title.” />

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