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Thiem: ‘Things Can Change Very Quickly’

  • Posted: Aug 30, 2020

Thiem: ‘Things Can Change Very Quickly’

Austrian to play Munar on Tuesday

Dominic Thiem’s return to the ATP Tour may not have gone to plan at the Western & Southern Open, but the World No. 3 is well aware of how quickly fortunes can change in tennis.

This year’s Australian Open finalist managed to win just three games in his return match against Filip Krajinovic and will enter the US Open seeking his first victory since the Rio Open presented by Claro in February.

“I know about my strength. I know things can change very quickly. I hope that I do better at the US Open,” said Thiem. “Of course, it’s a little bit weird to stay at the same courts, stay at the same place for another tournament, but I hope that I learned the right things from this match from [the Western & Southern Open] and do it better from Tuesday on.”

Thiem’s loss to Krajinovic was a disappointing result for the Austrian, who had reached the quarter-finals on his past two visits to the ATP Masters 1000 event. But Krajinovic proved in his next two matches that he was playing at an impressive level. The Serbian, who reached the 2017 Rolex Paris Masters final, cruised past Marton Fucsovics and held match point against eventual runner-up Milos Raonic.

“I saw how well Filip was playing after this match,” said Thiem. “He beat Fucsovics 2 and 1. He almost beat Raonic easy in two sets. He’s playing super good at the moment. Me, I didn’t have my best day. That’s how this result comes.”

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Unlike most losses on the ATP Tour, Thiem’s early exit from the Western & Southern Open presented him with a new challenge. With the US Open taking place at the same venue — the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center — how did he process the defeat and shift his focus to the US Open?

“[When you lose], normally you hop on the plane and go to a different place. It’s easier to forget,” said Thiem. “Here you’re stuck in the same place for a very long time. So it’s not easy to forget the loss, to get your mind on different things… [I tried to] take a day off, watch TV, some matches.

“Watched some matches also live on the court, which is not that easy under normal circumstances. That’s what I was trying to do. The last days, of course, practising and preparing for the US Open.”

Thiem will hope that his practice and preparation has put him in the perfect position to earn his first win since his run to the Rio de Janeiro quarter-finals in February. His most recent victory came against Jaume Munar, the man he will face in the US Open first round.

Thiem owns a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals semi-finalist, but each of those three encounters have been contested on clay. In their most recent match, Munar led 7-6(5), 2-0 before Thiem battled back to earn a three-set victory.

“The previous matches, they were all pretty close, especially the one in Rio,” said Thiem. “I was a set and a break down. I almost lost that one… I need to be prepared well, I need to play well, I need to fight 100 per cent. If I’m able to do that, I’m going to have great chances. If not, I’m going to be out. It’s pretty easy.

”[An] advantage is that I know how Jaume is playing, what I have to expect. It’s going to be our first match on a hard court. I’m curious. Of course, I’m also happy that Grand Slam tennis is back.”

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How Djokovic Is Trying To Maximise His Peak

  • Posted: Aug 30, 2020

How Djokovic Is Trying To Maximise His Peak

World No. 1 to face Dzumhur in first round of the US Open

Novak Djokovic completed his second Career Golden Masters on Saturday by winning the Western & Southern Open. In doing so, the Serbian also extended his perfect start to the 2020 season to 23-0 and tied Rafael Nadal for the most ATP Masters 1000 titles with 35.

While making tennis history is important to Djokovic, he is focussing on the tasks at hand.

“I’m just trying to enjoy it and embrace the process. How long that journey is going to last and what kind of legacy I’m going to leave behind, that’s on somebody else to really judge and evaluate,” Djokovic said. “But I’m trying to do my best. Obviously on the court with the goals and ambitions that I have, obviously I want to play my best tennis in Grand Slams and [ATP Masters] 1000 events. That’s what I’m focussing on right now. And also off the court, trying to make the most out of the energy that I have preserved.”

Djokovic says that his unbeaten run has given him more confidence with each match. Seven of his victories this year have come against Top 10 opposition.

“I am trying to make the most of my career,” Djokovic said. “Trying to use this time when I feel that I am physically, mentally, emotionally, game-wise at the peak and playing some of the best tennis that I have ever played.”

The 33-year-old will chase his 18th Grand Slam title over the coming fortnight, which would move him within one major trophy of Rafael Nadal (19) and two of Roger Federer (20). At last year’s US Open, he retired during the third-set of his fourth-round match against three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka. That broke a streak of 11 consecutive US Open appearances in which Djokovic made at least the semi-finals.

“I also struggled unfortunately last year with injury of the left shoulder, but it came at the wrong time, obviously, just as I was starting to play the US Open,” Djokovic said. “That’s [when] I started to feel it. I didn’t have obviously enough time to get to 100 per cent and hopefully go deep in the tournament.

“Even if I was 100 per cent, it’s still no guarantee I would win against Stan because he’s a phenomenal player and loves to play on a big stage and has beaten me in various Grand Slams and [on] various surfaces. But I always love playing in New York.”

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Djokovic holds a 72-11 record in Flushing Meadows, where he is a three-time titlist. But for the first time, he won’t be competing in front of any fans.

“[Arthur Ashe Stadium] is probably the most exciting, energetic, dynamic, explosive tennis court that we have in the sport with the fans and [23,000] people that fit in on that court. So I really am grateful that I got to experience so many times in my career the wonderful feelings on that court,” Djokovic said. “It is strange to see empty stands. The circumstances are very unusual. But we have to accept that, we have to deal with it and try to embrace it.”

The World No. 1 has done well so far this year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, lifting the Western & Southern Open trophy. He will look to keep that going at the US Open, starting with his first-round match against Damir Dzumhur (Djokovic leads ATP Head2Head 2-0).

“I think so far these couple of weeks that we have been here, the USTA and ATP and everyone involved has done a pretty good job making sure that we are safe and that we are able to compete,” Djokovic said. “Hopefully we can have another great two weeks and US Open.”

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Ten Challenger Stars To Watch At The US Open

  • Posted: Aug 30, 2020

Ten Challenger Stars To Watch At The US Open

A look at the ATP Challenger Tour stalwarts poised to make a run in New York

For the next fortnight, all eyes will be on the stars of the ATP Tour as they battle for glory at the US Open. But as hungry as they will be to lift the champions’ trophy, there is a group of competitors that are just as motivated to make a splash at the hard-court Grand Slam. They are the players competing throughout the year on the ATP Challenger Tour.

Securing entry into a Grand Slam is no simple task. It requires year-round focus, hard work and consistency to arrive at this moment. For players grinding on the Challenger circuit, this is the reward. Having the opportunity to test their talents against the best players in the world, and with coveted points and prize money at stake, is what drives these players from January to November.

The 2020 US Open is no exception. A platform to showcase their skills and eventually take the next step on the ATP Tour, it presents a huge opportunity on a global stage. A strong performance at the US Open can prove to be career-altering for many Challenger stars, as they target the Top 100 and beyond. So, which players are poised to wreak havoc on the draw? We look at 10 to watch in New York…

Ulises Blanch
One of 10 players making their Grand Slam debuts at the US Open, Blanch is ready for this stage. Born in Puerto Rico to Spanish parents, Blanch and his three siblings were embedded in many cultures at a very young age. His father Ernesto worked for Coca-Cola, a job that saw the family live in China, India and for eight years in Thailand, where Ulises first picked up a racquet. At the age of 13, they moved to Argentina and he would develop his game on the clay courts of the South American country. The 22-year-old opened the 2020 season outside the Top 400, but promptly shaved his ranking in half, posting a 14-5 record on the ATP Challenger Tour with a title in Ann Arbor. Also a semi-finalist in Monterrey, he earned his first Top 100 hard-court win there over Pablo Andujar. Blanch’s momentum was only halted by the COVID-19 suspension, but he is poised to pick up where he left off. On Monday, he kicks off his Grand Slam career against 13th-seed Cristian Garin.

Maxime Cressy
Three players at the US Open are Top 10 in Challenger wins in 2020. Blanch is one, J.J. Wolf is the other and Cressy is the third. The 23-year-old, a former college standout at UCLA, entered the COVID-19 hiatus on the heels of a dominant 14-6 record. February proved to be a turning point for the American, who reached back-to-back finals on Canadian soil, including a title in Drummondville and runner-up finish in Calgary. He will be hoping to ride his big serve to success in the Big Apple. The charismatic Cressy opens against Jozef Kovalik on Monday.

Marcos Giron
Monday will be a special day for Giron. Not only is the California native set to make his third appearance at the US Open, but he will do so as a member of the Top 100. Giron is projected to rise to a career-high No. 93 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, cracking the century mark for the first time. It’s well worth the wait for the 27-year-old, who is finally turning the corner after multiple hip surgeries. He lifted his first two Challenger trophies in 2019, in Orlando and Houston. Giron opens against Marc Polmans on Monday.

Brandon Nakashima
The second-youngest player in the draw is the 19-year-old from San Diego. Nakashima is one of the most-hyped teenagers on tour – and for good reason. In just 12 appearances on the ATP Challenger Tour, the American owns a staggering 25-12 record with a trio of semi-final finishes.  Armed with a steely resolve, relentless drive and attacking mentality, Nakashima was unfazed when he pushed Frances Tiafoe to the brink of defeat in Dallas in February. And one week later, he reached the quarter-finals in his ATP Tour debut in Delray Beach. Nakashima opens against Paolo Lorenzi on Monday.

J.J. Wolf
Beware the Wolf in NYC. When the 21-year-old makes his Grand Slam debut on Tuesday against Guido Pella, it will be a significant moment for the entire Wolf clan. The former Ohio State University standout comes from one of the most athletic families in the state’s history. Most notably, his grandfather Charley played professional baseball for the Cincinnati Reds and coached in the National Basketball Association. Now, J.J. is carrying the mantle on the tennis court. Already a four-time Challenger champion, he has taken home two of those trophies in 2020 and owns a ruthless 14-2 record. Up to a career-high No. 143 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, the Cincinnati native is hoping his mammoth game translates to the hard courts of the US Open.

Others To Watch: Last week, Sebastian Korda qualified at the Western & Southern Open – his first ATP Masters 1000 main draw – after securing his first Top 100 wins over Attila Balazs and Gilles Simon. The 20-year-old is in scorching form and will open against 12th seed Denis Shapovalov on Monday. Also, Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Mitchell Krueger are looking to pick up where they left off in March. Kwiatkowski lifted his first Challenger trophy in Newport Beach and Krueger reached the semis in three of his last five events.

Gianluca Mager (ITA)
The last time we saw Mager, he was celebrating the greatest achievement of his career. It was in February that the Italian streaked to his first ATP Tour final at the 500-level event in Rio de Janeiro. A qualifier, he dropped just one set in six matches to reach the championship, where he eventually fell to Cristian Garin. Up to No. 79 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, the 25-year-old has been plotting his ascent on the Challenger circuit for years. It all culminated in 2019, when Mager won all three of his titles and posted a 43-23 record. His appearance in New York will be a well-deserved – and long-awaited – Grand Slam debut. He opens against Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic.

Sumit Nagal (IND)
Nagal will never forget his US Open debut. Exactly one year ago, India’s No. 1 won three matches to qualify for the main draw and faced Roger Federer under the lights on opening night. It was a moment unlike any other for Nagal, who snatched the first set in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, before eventually falling in four. But the World No. 122 has been plotting his Top 100 charge ever since. He rode the momentum from that experience to reach back-to-back Challenger finals and lift the second trophy of his young career (in Buenos Aires). The 23-year-old will open against Bradley Klahn, with a potential second-round date with second seed Dominic Thiem looming large.

Christopher O’Connell (AUS)
For many years, O’Connell was battling outside the Top 200 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, grinding on the ITF circuit and ATP Challenger Tour. And in 2018, the 25-year-old Aussie took up a second job cleaning boats while recovering from a knee injury. But perseverance pays off and that is certainly applicable for the Sydneysider. From not having an ATP Ranking to open the 2019 season to sitting at a career-high No. 115 a year and a half later, O’Connell has made the most of his opportunities. After winning his first two Challenger titles in 2019, the upstart Aussie has his sights firmly set on the Top 100 and beyond in his US Open debut. He opens against Laslo Djere on Tuesday.

Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN)
We save the two hottest #NextGenATP stars for last. If you aren’t familiar with Ruusuvuori by now, it won’t be long before the flying Finn is a household name. Ruusuvuori turned the ATP Challenger Tour into his personal playground last year, becoming the youngest to win four titles in a season since Hyeon Chung in 2015. The soft-spoken Finn lets his big game do the talking. The rest of the US Open field will be on high alert, as the 21-year-old makes his Grand Slam debut as the newest member of the Top 100. One week after prevailing in his ATP Masters 1000 debut at the Western & Southern Open, the World No. 100 opens against Aljaz Bedene at the US Open.

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Thiago Seyboth Wild (BRA)
Ruusuvuori and Seyboth Wild are the fresh faces of the #NextGenATP surge. The Brazilian made quite the splash in clinching his maiden ATP Tour title in Santiago, Chile, right before the COVID-19 stoppage. But Seyboth Wold had been plotting his ascent well before that on the ATP Challenger Tour. A maiden title in Guayaquil and semi-final finish in Montevideo capped his 2019 season, providing all the momentum he needed to lift his first ATP Tour trophy. Up to a career-high No. 113 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, the 20-year-old is hoping to pick up where he left off when his US Open campaign begins on Tuesday. He faces 23rd seed Daniel Evans in the first round.

Others To Watch: Mager’s countryman Salvatore Caruso has compiled quite the list of scalps in the past year: wins over David Goffin, Borna Coric and Jannik Sinner, a semi-final finish at the ATP 250 event in Umag and a third-round run at Roland Garros in 2019. Dominik Koepfer is returning to the scene of his big breakthrough, when the German reached the Round of 16 at last year’s US Open. And the feel-good story of the tournament is alive in Attila Balazs. The 31-year-old Hungarian is making his Grand Slam debut after retiring from professional tennis for two years. Ten years after claiming his first Challenger title, he won his second in January in Bangkok. Up to a career-high No. 76, he also reached his first ATP Tour final a year ago in Umag.

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Murray On US Open Return: 'I Made It Back'

  • Posted: Aug 30, 2020

Murray On US Open Return: ‘I Made It Back’

The 2012 champion reflects on his return to the US Open

The last time Andy Murray competed in singles at a Grand Slam was at last year’s Australian Open, where a lot of the talk revolved around the former World No. 1 potentially retiring. The Brit says he hasn’t played in a major without worrying about his body since 2017 Roland Garros.

That makes next week’s US Open even more exciting for the 33-year-old, who has had two hip surgeries over the past two years.

“I’m not as quick probably as I was before, but I’m able to go out there and compete and focus on the tennis. Hopefully [I will] be able to last a five-set match without my performance seriously deteriorating as it goes on,” Murray said. “It’s been tough to get to this point, a lot of hard work, lots of ups and downs. But I made it back.”

Murray has enjoyed success at the American Grand Slam, triumphing in Flushing Meadows in 2012. When he last competed at the US Open, in 2018, he wasn’t healthy. But after advancing to the third round of this week’s Western & Southern Open, he believes he doesn’t need to think about his body.

“In the matches I played… I felt pretty good on the court in terms of my body,” Murray said. “The matches were still difficult and stressful, [but it was] still enjoyable to be out there competing because my body was actually feeling okay. Hopefully that will be the case again next week.”

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It’s been an emotional journey for Murray, who tried not to think about his hip being metal and all he went through to get back on court.

“Physically right now I feel pretty good, so I’m really happy about that because it’s allowing me to practise and prepare properly, enjoy my time on the court basically,” Murray said. “I think mentally it’s going to be difficult for the players. Obviously Novak won the tournament this week. There’s people saying that some of the players will find it challenging playing without fans.”

There are no fans allowed at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Murray believes a key for success at the season’s second Grand Slam will be maintaining focus.

“It is difficult, but the level of tennis is what’s important. If you can sort of block all of the weirdness of playing without a crowd on big stadiums [that will be key],” Murray said. “I actually felt okay doing that last week. It didn’t feel too bad in the matches. It will be tricky.”

Murray plays his first-round match inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday against Yoshihito Nishioka. Normally, there would be about 23,000 people in the stands.

“I played in some of the best atmospheres that I’ve ever played in tennis on that court. To go out there in such a huge stadium and have literally no one in the stands is going to be weird,” Murray said. “I know that’s going to be the case, so at least I can prepare for it mentally.”

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One thing Murray noted is how “sad” it has been walking back to the locker room after practice. Normally, he’d be mobbed by adoring fans seeking an autograph or selfie. During this stretch, all he has seen are tennis players and their team members “walking around with masks on”.

“[Fans] give life to the tournaments and everything. They give life to your matches and your practices. Sometimes it can be a bit hectic, as well,” Murray said. “On the whole, I’d way rather this place was filled with people that are excited to come and watch tennis. I miss that.”

The 46-time tour-level titlist is “pumped” nonetheless. He showed form last week by beating 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev. Now, Murray will try to maintain his momentum.

“It’s different,” Murray said. “But I’m just looking forward to getting to compete in a Slam again.”

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Djokovic’s Secret: You Don’t Lose If You Don’t Miss

  • Posted: Aug 30, 2020

Djokovic’s Secret: You Don’t Lose If You Don’t Miss

Brain Game explains how the World No. 1 won the W&S Open title

The most dangerous situation in tennis right now is Novak Djokovic with his back against the wall.

The World No. 1 had just lost eight of the first nine points of the third set to trail 0-2 against Milos Raonic in Saturday’s Western & Southern Open final.

He had the Canadian right where he wanted him…

Djokovic rattled off 11 of the next 12 points as he broke Raonic twice in a row and stormed to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory that seemed highly improbable after a sluggish opening set and perilously falling behind a break to begin the third.

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How does the Super Serbian do it? By swinging freely and peppering winners? By switching strategies and adjusting baseline patterns? The answer cuts to the core of why Djokovic currently dominates men’s tennis and will inevitably soon pass Pete Sampras to become second all-time with weeks at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

No. Free. Points.

When Djokovic turns the screws and his eyes enlarge like saucers when he is about to return serve, you can absolutely count on the ball coming back into play again and again and again. The conversation revolving around who would win the final started and ended with Djokovic’s fortunes being able to break Raonic, who had only dropped serve twice en route to the final.

An analysis of the three service games where Djokovic broke Raonic provides a snapshot of how Djokovic goes about his business when push comes to shove in the match.

Analysis: Raonic’s Three Broken Service Games
Raonic played 18 points in the three service games at 2-3 in the second set, 2-0 in the third set and 2-2 in the third set. He only won five points, with Djokovic winning seven consecutive return points in the third set from 0-2, 0/0 to 2-2, 0/40.

Djokovic ramped up the mental pressure on Raonic’s serve, causing it to miss more when he needed it most.

Raonic First-Serve Percentage
• Set 1 = 68%
• Set 2 = 67%
• Set 3 = 60%
• Three Broken Service Games = 50%

The pressure of the ball repeatedly coming back into play in the big moments forced Raonic to go for a little more, which in turn directly affected his first-serve percentage. Djokovic only missed three returns in the three games, breaking Raonic on the first Deuce point in set two, breaking him to love at 0-2 in the third set, and breaking him to 15 in the Canadian’s very next service game.

There were four ways a point ended in the three broken service games, and Raonic’s errors (10) totaled more than all three other outcomes combined.

Raonic’s Three Broken Service Games: End Of The Point
• Raonic winners = 2 points
• Raonic errors = 10 points
• Djokovic winners = 2 points
• Djokovic errors = 4 points

The average rally length in the three broken games was 3.7 shots. Raonic only won 33 per cent (3/9) behind his first serve and 22 per cent (2/9) behind his second serve. In the driver’s seat at 6-1, 2-3, Raonic started his service game with a double fault. It was a small crack that Djokovic pried wide open to break serve seven points later and sink his teeth into the match.

It’s important to note that Djokovic hit two winners from 18 points in the three games he broke Raonic. Winners are not the secret sauce of Djokovic’s current reign as the best player on the planet. Putting the ball back in play on any court against any opponent on any continent certainly is.

You don’t lose if you don’t miss.

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