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Tokyo: Where The ‘Big Four’ Have Each Made Their Mark

  • Posted: Oct 05, 2020

First held in 1972, the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships is the longest-running tour-level event in Asia and the only Japanese stop on the ATP Tour.

The tournament would have been held this week if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

ATPTour.com looks at five things to know about the ATP 500 event.

A Legendary Honour Roll
Across 48 editions of the event, the singles tournament has been won by 11 players who have reached the World No. 1 position in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Those men have combined to win the tournament on 17 occasions.

Three players have reached World No. 1 and lifted multiple Tokyo titles. Stefan Edberg (1987, ’89-91) owns a tournament record four Tokyo trophies and, between 1992 and 1996, Jim Courier (1992, ’95) and Pete Sampras (1993-’94, ’96) combined to win five straight editions of the event.

Edberg also won the 1991 doubles title in Tokyo, alongside two-time doubles champion Todd Woodbridge (1991, ’96). Andy Murray is the only other former singles World No. 1 to have triumphed in doubles in the Japanese capital. The Brit claimed the 2011 crown with his brother, former doubles World No. 1 Jamie Murray.

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Big Four Brilliance
Tokyo is one of only eight tour-level events where each member of the ‘Big Four’ — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray — has lifted the singles trophy. Federer was the first Big Four star to lift the Tokyo title, winning the event in 2006 on his only appearance at the Ariake Colosseum.

Nadal won his opening nine matches in the Japanese capital, taking the crown in 2010 before falling in the 2011 championship match to Murray. Djokovic completed the Big Four sweep in Tokyo last year, winning each of the 10 sets he contested to capture the trophy on his maiden tournament appearance.

Kei Ends 40-Year Wait
The inaugural Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships was decided by an all-Japanese final in 1972. Forty years later, Japan produced its third home finalist at the event. Following in the footsteps of inaugural champion Toshiro Sakai and runner-up Jun Kuki, Kei Nishikori rallied from a set down in his opening two matches and defeated 2008 champion Tomas Berdych and Marcos Baghdatis to reach the championship match.

With a three-set victory against Milos Raonic, Nishikori captured his first ATP 500 crown and became the second Japanese singles champion in tournament history. Two years later, Nishikori added a second Tokyo trophy to his collection with another three-set final win against the big-serving Canadian.

Kei Nishikori captured his first ATP 500 trophy at the 2012 Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships.

Another Japanese Milestone
Nishikori may have ended Japan’s wait for a second home singles champion in 2012, but another milestone was reached at last year’s event. For the first time since 1972, two Japanese players reached the Tokyo quarter-finals in 2019.

Taro Daniel entered the ATP 500 with a 0-4 record at his home event, but the wild card overcame second seed Borna Coric and Jordan Thompson to book his place in the the last eight. Daniel was joined by Yasutaka Uchiyama who, at his seventh attempt, advanced through qualifying for the first time and played with confidence in the main draw.

The Tokyo resident, who had played in the main draw twice before, upset fourth seed Benoit Paire in straight sets and beat Radu Albot to reach the quarter-finals. For 1988 quarter-finalist Shuzo Matsuoka, who runs a Japanese tennis camp for kids aged 10 to 18, the milestone moment had been a long time coming.

“I’m always dreaming [of this]. That’s why I started helping with the juniors 20 years ago,” said Matsuoka. “All the men’s tennis [in Japan] is coming together like one.”

Taro Daniel meets Shuzo Matsuoka at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships on Thursday.

Novak’s Greatest Fan
Fans in Tokyo are known to be some of the most passionate supporters on the ATP Tour. During Djokovic’s debut appearance at the ATP 500, the five-time year-end World No. 1 met Japanese fan Iori Yoshida, who moved to Serbia for four years after watching his idol rise to the top of the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2011.

Yoshida learned to play tennis and speak Serbian during his time in Djokovic’s home country, hoping that one day he would meet his idol. That dream became a reality in Tokyo, after Djokovic spotted Yoshida on YouTube and invited him to the tournament.

“It was a truly remarkable experience, one that really fills my heart with joy and happiness. Seeing the passion he shared while we were together was fascinating,” said Djokovic.

 

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Ovaj momak me je totalno oduševio. Inspirisan mojom sezonom 2011 godine, pitao je oca da li može da ide da živi u Srbiju @iori_legend. Otac ga je pitao da mu pokaže strast. Ovaj mu je to pokazao i dobio dozvolu. 4 godine je živeo u Pančevu, igrao tenis, učio srpski i nadao se da može da me upozna i odigra jedanput tenis sa mnom. To se nije dogodilo za vreme njegovog boravka u Srbiji ali jeste ovde u Japanu. Privukao mi je pažnju njegov snimak koji mi je pokazao njego prijatelj pre nekoliko dana ovde u Tokiju. Na snimku je pričao srpski i molio me da odigramo tenis jednom jer ima veliku želju da igra na Grand Slam-u. Pozvao sam ga da pogleda moj meč i da posle meča igramo tenis. Upoznao sam mnogo ljudi putujući po svetu ali ne znam da li sam ikada upoznao nekog ovako strastvenog tenisera sa toliko entuzijazma. Ulepšao mi je dan i učinio da doživim jedinstveno iskustvo koje mi je ispunilo srce radošću i srećom. Jako sam se zabavio i uživao. On priča srpski odlično i vrlo je duhovit. Ovo iskustvo me ne podsetilo koliko treba da budem svakodnevno zahvalan na mogucnosti da tako pozitivno utičem na živote mnogih ljudi. Blagosloven sam i počastvovan 🙏🏼❤🇷🇸🇯🇵🎾

A post shared by Novak Djokovic (@djokernole) on Oct 4, 2019 at 4:25am PDT

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Tsitsipas Sets Rublev Rematch

  • Posted: Oct 05, 2020

Stefanos Tsitsipas continued his strong run of clay form on Monday, beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-2 to reach his first Roland Garros quarter-final.

After falling to Stan Wawrinka in a marathon five-hour, nine-minute battle at this stage last year, Tsitsipas took his second opportunity in Paris with a two-hour, 26-minute victory. The Greek landed 24 winners and saved two set points in the second set tie-break en route to his 10th win in 12 matches this year on clay.

“The tie-break was very tense. The tie-break was where all the money was,” said Tsitsipas on court. “I am glad that I played good tennis and I didn’t panic. I stayed concentrated, stayed low-key and tried to take it point-by-point.

“I think it worked out pretty well at the end. I showed lots of discipline, lots of responsibility. It was a very responsible win in the second set and I am very happy with myself and the attitude that I put out on the court.”

Tsitsipas is building on the form he showed en route to the Hamburg European Open final two weeks ago. After rallying from two sets down in his opening match against Jaume Munar, the World No. 6 has now won three consecutive matches without dropping a set.

“I felt comfortable. I think Grigor can be very unpredictable and he has a great game, so coming into the match you don’t really know what to expect,” said Tsitsipas. “We have a similar style of play, so I knew that if I could be as aggressive as possible, play with my forehand and use my serve to create opportunities, they [would] eventually come.

“There was a very good, high quality of tennis from both of us. I managed to stay concentrated and press on my return games… My aggressiveness from my return games and my focus on every single point, at the end, rewarded me.”

Tsitsipas will meet Andrey Rublev for a place in the semi-finals. The Russian recovered from 6-7(4), 2-5 down to defeat Marton Fucsovics in four sets.

The reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion trails Rublev 0-2 in their ATP Head2Head series. Tsitsipas served for the Hamburg trophy against Rublev just eight days ago, but fell to a 4-6, 6-3, 5-7 defeat.

Dimitrov was attempting to become the 10th active player to reach the quarter-finals at all four Grand Slam events. The Bulgarian did not drop a set en route to the Round of 16, collecting wins against Gregoire Barrere, Andrej Martin and Roberto Carballes Baena.

Under a closed roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Dimitrov gifted Tsitsipas the perfect start with a series of errors in his opening service game. The Greek dropped just seven service points (22/29) in the first set and took the opener when Dimitrov failed to control a backhand return.

A tie-break was needed to decide the second set, which had few break opportunities. Tsitsipas gained an early lead as Dimitrov committed errors on his forehand, but he was soon forced to save two set points at 7/8 and 8/9. Tsitsipas saved the first with an attacking crosscourt forehand and reached 9/9 when Dimitrov fired wide with a forehand up the line. On his third set point, Tsitsipas hit a defensive forehand at the laces of his opponent to claim the set.

Tsitsipas carried the momentum into the third set, defending well to extend rallies and gain a 2-0 lead. The Hamburg runner-up finished the match with his third service break, as Dimitrov fired a backhand into the net.

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The Ironman Of Tennis: Why Fucsovics is Tennis' Most Underrated Player

  • Posted: Oct 05, 2020

Tennis is not the most popular sport in Hungary, dwarfed by water polo, football and basketball among others.

So why did Marton Fucsovics, the first Hungarian man to reach the Roland Garros fourth round since Balazs Taroczy in 1984, pursue professional tennis rather than one of the team sports popular in his country?

“Maybe because I was very talented and I won a lot of matches, a lot of tournaments,” Fucsovics, who plays 13th seed Andrey Rublev on Monday, told ATPTour.com. “I was always the best in my age in Hungary. Even in Europe, I was winning some tournaments, so I was very successful and I really liked it.”

His parents, Joszef and Edit, are both accountants in the land-locked European country of 10 million people, which shares borders with Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. Fucsovics got involved in tennis by coincidence. One day, his father played with friends at a club near their home in Nyiregyhaza, and five-year-old Marton followed along.

The Hungarian enjoyed hitting the ball. He kept up with the sport, also playing football and basketball until he was 12. Even as a kid, Fucsovics understood that he had a special set of skills on the tennis court.

“When I was young, it seemed so easy to play tennis, to travel, to win the matches,” said Fucsovics, who had no problem ditching football and basketball. “It was easy. I wasn’t hesitating at all. I was successful in tennis, I love to play tennis. It was a quick decision.”

At 15, Fucsovics was encouraged by Gyorgy Joo, whom he says is “like a second father”, to move abroad to pursue better training opportunities. Joo, who is Fucsovics’ manager, thought better coaching and practice partners would benefit him.

“We didn’t have enough tennis courts. We didn’t have hard courts or good coaches in Hungary. That’s why I wanted to go abroad,” Fucsovics said. “He told me if I wanted to be a professional tennis player, I had to go abroad and practise with better players.”

Fucsovics moved to Germany for three years, and his success took off. In July 2010, after winning the Wimbledon boys’ singles title without dropping a set, he became the junior World No. 1.

“My biggest dream was to compete against the superstars: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and all those guys,” Fucsovics said. “That [Wimbledon result] was just a station for me. Of course it was a huge result, but I had different dreams and goals.

“When I grew up, then it became really, really tough.”

At one point early in his professional career, Fucsovics went nearly two months without touching a racquet. Winning suddenly wasn’t as easy. He wanted to re-evaluate what he wanted to accomplish in tennis, with one of those goals being cracking the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.

It took until 17 July 2017 for Fucsovics to accomplish that feat. Two weeks later, Federer invited him to Switzerland to practise for a week.

“I had good strokes. I had a good serve. I had the potential to become a Top 100 or a Top 50 player. When I was practising with him, we had good chats,” Fucsovics said. “In these moments I felt that I really wanted to make it.”

Watch Highlights Of Fucsovics’ Maiden ATP Tour Title At 2018 Geneva:

Since 23 October that year, he has not dropped from the elite group. A major reason why is his physique. There are few players on the ATP Tour as strong as Fucsovics, an attribute he takes pride in. Nobody would bat an eye if they saw him on a rugby pitch. When he was 16, he began using the bench press and performing bicep exercises.

“I was always a strong boy. I was working very hard physically, even when I was younger,” Fucsovics said. “I was a skinny boy when I was way younger, but my coaches told me that we had to work on my physique. I really wanted to improve. I was always a kid who wanted to improve and reach higher goals.”

When the Hungarian walks on the court, he believes he is fitter than his opponent. Fucsovics is soft-spoken, but he got excited recalling his first five-set win at a Grand Slam, which came over four hours and 50 minutes at this year’s US Open against Grigor Dimitrov.

“It gives a lot of confidence for me that I have the feeling that these guys really have to beat me and it’s not going to be easy for them,” Fucsovics said. “If they have a good day and everything is working for them, of course they can kill me on the court. But I will be standing there and running around and fighting for every ball.”

At the beginning of this year, Fucsovics believed he needed not just physical strength, but mental fortitude. That finally clicked into place when he earned what was the biggest win of his career against Denis Shapovalov in the first round of the Australian Open. Entering his Roland Garros opener against Daniil Medvedev, the Hungarian was 0-14 against Top 10 opposition.

“Before the match I didn’t have high expectations. I just wanted to enjoy Court Suzanne-Lenglen,” Fucsovics said. “I said to myself, ‘Just go on the court and enjoy the match. No expectations.’ If I lost the match it wouldn’t matter, the next one would come. I felt the ball very well. I was moving good, I was serving well. Everything was perfect.”

Fucsovics beat Medvedev in four sets and he hasn’t looked back. Against Rublev, he will try to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, more than a decade after becoming junior World No. 1. Either way, World No. 63 Fucsovics, who has reached a career-high No. 31, is now setting his sights high.

“Hopefully I can win this match and finally play a quarter-final in a Grand Slam,” Fucsovics said. “But my dream is to be a Top 10 player one day.”

Whenever he heads back to Hungary, Fucsovics says a majority of people will recognise him wherever he goes. He has come a long way from the boy just tagging along with his father to the tennis club.

“Sometimes I feel the pressure on me from my country or from my family or from my friends. But I’m 28 years old now and I can say I’m very proud of myself. I’m proud of my career,” Fucsovics said. “Of course I don’t want to stop here.”

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