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Massu On Thiem's Return To Tennis: 'He Has Even More Motivation Now'

  • Posted: Aug 13, 2020

Massu On Thiem’s Return To Tennis: ‘He Has Even More Motivation Now’

Chilean takes inside Thiem’s training

Nicolas Massu, former No. 9 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and the current coach of Dominic Thiem, is optimistic that they can pick up where they left off at the start of this season.

The Chilean is credited with helping Thiem achieve his hard-court breakthrough last year. One month after they began working together, Thiem captured his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown at the BNP Paribas Open (d. Federer) and went on to finish runner-up at the Nitto ATP Finals (l. to Tsitsipas). He opened up this year in equally impressive fashion by reaching his first Australian Open final (l. to Djokovic).

Massu spoke to about Thiem’s training during the suspension of play due to COVID-19 and why he thinks the Austrian is a title contender when action resumes this month at the Western & Southern Open and US Open.

How much did you and Dominic interact during the suspension of play?
During the suspension, I was always in communication with Dominic when we needed to be and his father, Wolfgang, always updated me on how they were working. Dominic was staying with his father and practising, and also working with one of his physical trainers who lives in Austria. I’m really happy that Dominic was able to train well with the part of his team that helps him in Austria.

After four months apart, we started working together again for two weeks before I traveled with him to some exhibitions in July. We took two weeks off after that and I spent some of those days in Greece. We started working together again this week.

Even when I was at home under mandatory quarantine in Chile, I had a chance to watch all of his exhibition matches and it’s great that technology is able to permit you to do that. It was entertainment for me and also helpful to be able to talk with Wolfgang about the matches afterwards.

This is the first time that Dominic has gone five months without playing a tournament since turning pro. How do you think that he’ll bounce back from such a long layoff?
The positive thing is that he was playing a lot of exhibition matches, so it’s not like he’s gone six months without any competition. Dominic played 28 matches in 45 days. I know they’re just exhibitions, but they were serious matches and the level from the players was very high.

Of course, it’s not the same thing as tournaments on the ATP Tour. The reason it’s a Grand Slam or an ATP Masters 1000 is because all the best players will be there. But we tried to make him play many matches during this time so he doesn’t feel the impact as much.

It was a good thing for Dominic because he wanted to play matches and loves the competition. I think that will help him in New York. He’s playing well, looks strong and is really focussed. He has even more motivation now because he’s used to a busy calendar with a lot of tournaments in a normal season.

Dominic is known as one of the hardest workers on Tour. How do you find the balance between building his game and making sure he isn’t too tired when tournaments resume?
We talk a lot with the whole team about the practices and even the holidays. He took two weeks off and we started practising again this week. We need to have good communication and plan a nice calendar if we want Dominic to always be motivated in the training.

We’ve been working a lot on the physical side. Normally the pre-season is just three or four weeks at most, but now we’ve had almost six months to focus on this and the tennis.

It’s also going to be interesting to see how all of the players manage some of the things that will be very different on Tour. You can ask me how Dominic will handle not playing a tournament for almost six months, playing without fans, only being at the hotel and tournament site in New York for one month, but it will be the same thing for everyone.

Dominic has had a couple of heartbreaking losses at the US Open with five-set defeats to Del Potro (in 2017) and Nadal (in 2018). What does he need to do to make the next step in New York and reach his first semi-final or take the title?
He’s recently been able to do a lot of things for the first time. He had never passed the fourth round at the Australian Open and was a set away from winning the title this year. Last year, he went to the Nitto ATP Finals having never passed the round-robin stage, but finished just a couple of points away from winning the tournament. His results weren’t that big in Asia, but then he won Beijing and reached the quarter-finals in Shanghai.

He’s one of the players who always has a chance to win when he plays a tournament. He’s No. 3 [in the FedEx ATP Rankings] and in the Top 10 for the past five seasons because his results are very consistent.

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Looking slightly ahead to the clay-court season, how do you think he’ll handle the quick turnaround from hard courts to clay courts?
We don’t have to think so much about what will happen because this is something new. The most important thing now is to think about the next step, which is the Western & Southern Open and the US Open.

After that, you have to see how you’re feeling physically and what your results are. He signed up for Kitzbühel, but he can’t play if he’s in the quarter-finals of the US Open. If he plays unbelievably well at Roland Garros, what will his next tournament be after that? It’s so difficult to plan an exact calendar because there are no weeks off. Once the US Open finishes, we’ll sit down with the whole team and decide what the best plan is.

Are there any significant changes in his game that we can expect to see in New York?
We’re trying to improve every day. He’s not a teenager where you might have to make big changes, but he’s still a young guy at age 26 and there are still little changes that we can make. He’s a complete player now and showed that he can play on hard courts. We expect that he can have at least the same results as last year.

But it doesn’t matter your age. As an athlete, you have to go to every practice with the mentality that you can improve something. The same thing applies for me as a coach. That’s why this sport gives you life.

It’s why I decided to continue traveling after my playing career. Working with Dominic is a big motivation for me because he’s a great player and an unbelievable person. He’s really educated, he listens and always gives 100 per cent. It’s unbelievable as a coach because you only need to tell him what you see on the court.

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Djokovic 'Excited' To Suit Up For W&S Open, US Open

  • Posted: Aug 13, 2020

Djokovic ‘Excited’ To Suit Up For W&S Open, US Open

World No. 1 competes for first time since February

Novak Djokovic will put his unbeaten (18-0) streak in 2020 on the line as he returns to New York this month for the Western & Southern Open and US Open. The latter event will also be held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to COVID-19.

”I am happy to confirm that I will participate at the Western & Southern Open and US Open this year. It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited,” Djokovic said in a statement on Thursday. “I am ready to get back on court fully committed to playing my best tennis. I respect and appreciate everyone taking time, effort, and energy to organise these two events for the tennis players to be able to go back to their working field.”

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Djokovic prevailed at the 2018 Western & Southern Open (d. Federer) and finished runner-up on five other occasions. He’s also won the US Open three times and holds a 72-11 career record in New York.

“During my career, I have played some of my best matches at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center,” Djokovic said. “I am aware that this time around it will be very different with all the protocols and safety measures that are put in place to protect players and [the] people of New York. Nevertheless, I have trained hard with my team and got my body in shape so [that] I am ready to adapt to new conditions.”

The No. 1 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings enjoyed a perfect start to this year by leading Serbia to the inaugural ATP Cup title (d. Spain), lifting his eighth trophy at the Australian Open (d. Thiem) and winning his fifth crown in Dubai (d. Tsitsipas).

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Patrick Rafter: When Nice Guys Finish First

  • Posted: Aug 13, 2020

Patrick Rafter: When Nice Guys Finish First

Affable Aussie enjoyed brief stint at No. 1

In the latest profile on a series of the 26 players to rise to No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, looks back on the career of Patrick Rafter. View Full List

First Week As No. 1: 26 July 1999
Total Weeks at No. 1: 1

As World No. 1
Rafter holds two unique distinctions of being the only player to reach No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings for a single week and the only man to not play a match while holding that position. He took the top spot from Andre Agassi on 26 July 1999, but lost it the following week after Pete Sampras won a tournament in Los Angeles.

“I always joke with the players,” Rafter said. “They say, ‘Congratulations, mate, you made No. 1.’ I say, ‘Yeah, one week.’ They say, ‘At least you bloody got it. At least you can say you got there.’”

Grand Slam Highlights
Rafter’s pair of Grand Slam titles came at the US Open in 1997 (d. Rusedski) and 1998 (d. Philippoussis). The No. 13 seed navigated a treacherous path to the 1997 final that included Andre Agassi and Michael Chang before becoming the first Australian to triumph in New York since John Newcombe (1973). Rafter’s surprise run prompted John McEnroe to label him a “one-slam wonder”, but his successful title defense the following year silenced critics and established him as one of the best hard-court players of his generation.

The Aussie came painfully close to adding a Wimbledon title to his collection, finishing runner-up in 2000 (l. to Sampras) and 2001 (l. to Ivanisevic). Rafter held a pair of set points for a two-sets lead against Sampras, but blinked and allowed the American to charge back. He admitted that the loss sat with him for the next 12 months. Rafter then came within two points of beating Ivanisevic in the 2001 final, but lost the fifth set 7-9 and found it even harder to move past that match.

“For the first five years after that final, I was waking up in a cold sweat in the night, going through the game when I was up 5-4 on his serve with him at 0/30, wishing I’d done this or that,” Rafter told The Tennis Podcast. “When we shook hands it looked like we were best buddies, but I wasn’t happy. I was hurting. I was seething. I don’t think about it often now. A thought or flashback might come in sometimes and I’m very quick to push it aside.”

Rafter’s initial Grand Slam breakthrough came by powering into the 1997 Roland Garros semi-finals as an unseeded player, but it would be the last time he reached the second week in Paris. Although he historically struggled with home expectations at the Australian Open, he put it all together in his final Melbourne appearance by reaching the semi-finals before falling to Agassi in a five-set classic.

The Aussie did triumph at home by winning the 1999 Australian Open men’s doubles title (w/Bjorkman). Rafter is one of only three men in the Open Era, along with Rod Laver and Stefan Edberg, to reach the semi-finals or better at all four Grand Slams in singles and doubles.

Nitto ATP Finals Highlights
Rafter twice competed at the season-ending championships in 1997 and 2001, but was unable to advance out of round-robin play. His final ATP Tour match came at the 2001 Nitto ATP Finals in Sydney, where he lost to fellow Aussie Lleyton Hewitt. The occasion marked the biggest crowd for a tennis match in Sydney since the 1954 Davis Cup final and enabled Hewitt to clinch the No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career.

ATP Masters 1000 Highlights
Both of Rafter’s ATP Masters 1000 singles title came in 1998  at the Rogers Cup (d. Krajicek) and Western & Southern Open (d. Sampras). Rafter stormed through the draw in Toronto without dropping a set and rallied from a set down to beat Sampras in a nervy Cincinnati final.

Rafter finished runner-up in Cincinnati on two other occasions (1999, l. to Sampras; 2001, l. to Kuerten), in addition to a 2001 finalist showing in Montreal (l. to Pavel). He also excelled on clay by reaching the final of the 1999 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, but with the No. 1 ranking on the line, he fell to Gustavo Kuerten in straight sets.

In doubles, Rafter’s partnership with Jonas Bjorkman yielded titles at the 1998 BNP Paribas Open (d. Martin/Reneberg) and 1999 Rogers Cup (d. B. Black/W. Ferreira).

Overall Match Record: 358-191
Overall Titles/Finals Record: 11-14

Rafter and Sampras produced a compelling rivalry throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s that also occasionally sparked off-court drama. Sampras holds a 12-4 record in their ATP Head2Head Series, but their most contentious moments came during the Aussie’s three match winning streak against him.

After Rafter beat Sampras in the 1998 Cincinnati final, ending an eight-match losing streak against his rival, an agitated Sampras responded to a question about the difference between the two players by flatly declaring, “10 Grand Slams.” Rafter used the verbal shot as fuel to beat Sampras weeks later in a five-set semi-final thriller at the US Open before going on to take the title.

Sampras gained revenge by defeating Rafter the following year in the 1999 Cincinnati final. He won the last four matches they contested, including their most high-profile battle in the 2000 Wimbledon final that gave the American his 13th Grand Slam crown, putting him past Roy Emerson as the overall men’s leader in Grand Slam singles titles.

Rafter also shared a prolific rivalry with Agassi (5-10). The pair split their six Grand Slam matches, including three consecutive Wimbledon semi-finals (1999-2001) that saw the Aussie win epic five-set battles in 2000 and 2001.

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Memorable Moment
Rafter earned the 1998 Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in part due to his incredible displays of generosity after winning his US Open titles. He donated $600,000 of his earnings from the two events to the Brisbane Mater Hospital’s Foundation for Terminally Ill Children. In typical fashion, he made the donation quietly and it wasn’t revealed until his mother shared the news in a radio interview.  

Rafter’s aggressive net charging and silky hands made him one of the best volleyers of his era. Despite his stocky build, he possessed outstanding footwork and was able to still quickly get to the net after hours of play.

He excelled on every surface throughout his career in singles and doubles. Although his biggest successes came on hard courts, his serve-and-volley game seamlessly translated to grass and he also enjoyed plenty of memorable wins on clay. Rafter was always a popular player in the locker room due to his humble and friendly nature, exhibited by his habit of saying, “Sorry, mate” whenever he had to catch his service toss.

A beloved figure in Australia, the 5,500-seat centre court at the Queensland Tennis Centre in Brisbane was renamed Pat Rafter Arena in 2008. He won the Stefan Edberg Sportmanship Award four times (1997, 1999-2001) and was also named Australian of the Year in 2002. Rafter was fittingly inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006. 

Agassi On Rafter
“He’s a great player, a great competitor. I’ve had some great matches with him. They’re always ones to remember. Win or lose, you really cherish the opportunity to raise your level at the right time. The fact that he plays the game so differently than I do really lends to a great variety and level of tennis.”

Rafter On Rafter
“Life’s there to make the most of and that’s what I do.”

Broadcaster/Journalist Graeme Agars
“Sorry, mate” was a common refrain when Patrick Rafter was in action. With his net-rushing style of play, his kick serve was an important setup and if he sent up a ball toss he didn’t like, he wasn’t going to hit it. Hence the frequent apologies to his opponent.

Rafter was an intriguing combination of nice guy Aussie and tough competitor who was hard to dislike, but also hard to beat. It wasn’t out of character for him to concede line calls to opponents, while at the same time not conceding an inch in a rally.

His game was all movement and hustle. As a player who sweated an enormous amount, he often looked like he’d been playing for three hours after just three games. He was one of the last of a dying breed of serve-and-volleyers and it wasn’t a surprise that some of his best matches came against fellow net rushers. He beat two of them in claiming back-to-back US Open victories in 1998 and 1999, first accounting for Greg Rusedski and then fellow Aussie Mark Philippoussis.

A troublesome shoulder cut short his career, but not before he had become one of the most popular players on Tour with his easy-going charm and go-for-broke style of play.

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Medvedev In Montreal: Memories of A Pivotal Week

  • Posted: Aug 13, 2020

Medvedev In Montreal: Memories of A Pivotal Week

Two Top 10 wins on hard courts help Medvedev to break through

Winning breeds confidence and 12 months ago, one star was burning brightest of all. Daniil Medvedev, who had swapped sweets and croissants for a better diet to match his dedication and professionalism on the court, went on a tear.

After Nick Kyrgios narrowly beat him 7-6(8), 7-6(4) in the 2019 Citi Open final, the Russian travelled to Montreal, for arguably the pivotal moment of his career, when years of training and repetition came together — and ultimately propelled him on a path for the Top 5 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

His 2019 Coupe Rogers performances were all the more remarkable when you consider that Medvedev had had to qualify the year before to play in Toronto, where he lost to Alexander Zverev in the 2018 third round of the main draw. In the build-up to Montreal, one year on, Medvedev had reached three ATP Tour finals in 2019 and earned a career total of four Top 10 scalps, including back-to-back victories, a few months earlier, over No. 8-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

Now, returning to Canadian soil, the 23-year-old was the eighth seed. And, throughout the week, he was not just beating, but dominating great players, having found his rhythm and the right tactics, forged in partnership with his coach Gilles Cervara. Medvedev did not lose more than three games per set in his first three matches in Montreal. He beat No. 4 Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-1 in the quarter-finals and earned a 6-1, 7-6(6) semi-final victory over fellow Russian Karen Khachanov, then ranked No. 8, took the player into unchartered territory.

While Rafael Nadal breezed past Medvedev 6-3, 6-0 in his first ATP Masters 1000 final, his education continued. And Medvedev has never looked back.

“It’s one of two best tournaments I’ve played in my life,” said Medvedev, of Montreal last year. “One was basically of course Tokyo, the only ATP 500 I won at this moment. Of course, to be in the final of a Masters 1000, I mean, it’s an amazing achievement for me at this moment… Of course, I always say this: if you don’t win the tournament, you are always disappointed. Even if you lose in a final of a Grand Slam, you will be disappointed.”

With a booming serve, one of the flattest backhands and most unorthodox games on the ATP Tour, Medvedev was not downcast. The following week, he kept putting the ball back, continued to frustrate opponents and subsequently captured the Western & Southern Open crown, overcoming Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, for the second time, in the semi-finals, and David Goffin 7-6(3), 6-4 for the biggest trophy of his career.

Immediately touted as a favourite for the US Open, Medvedev, who’d been the World No. 16 on 14 January, fell, narrowly, one step short in the final. Hours after an outstanding campaign had ended with a five-set loss to Nadal, Medvedev rose to a career-high No. 4 on 9 September. He was the first player to accrue 50 match wins on the 2019 season.

“Of course, deep inside of me, I understand that what I’ve done these four weeks is amazing, even comparing to what I’ve done before,” said Medvedev. “I don’t want to stop. I will always work to be better. I will try to do my best every day.”

Memories of Medvedev winning 20 out of 23 matches and reaching four straight finals on North American hard courts — only the third player to do so after Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi — remain vivid, ahead of the ATP Tour’s return this month.

While Medvedev would go onto lift two more trophies, the St. Petersburg Open (d. Coric) and the Rolex Shanghai Masters (d. Zverev), to extend his post-2019 Wimbledon streak to 29-3 and cement his place inside the Top 10, it was his week in Montreal that was pivotal in his rise to consistent, peak performance.

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