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Fast & Feisty: The Winning Stat Djokovic Shares With SF Peers

  • Posted: Oct 08, 2020

The match is just four games old, but it already feels much closer to the end than the beginning.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the four Roland Garros semi-finalists uncovers that getting off to a fast start in the first four games of Set 1 is an integral part of their overall pathway to victory. The analysis focuses only on the first two serve and return games of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Diego Schwartzman in Set 1 of their five matches to the semi-finals.

What you find is nothing short of complete carnage.

The data set includes 40 serve games and 40 return games. Of the 40 serve games, the four semi-finalists held serve a head-turning 38 times. They step on court with the motor running. Diego Schwartzman was the only player to lose serve in his opening two service games of the match – once to Lorenzo Sonego and once to Norbert Gombos. Djokovic was the only player to not face a break point in the opening two service games of his five matches to the semi-finals. In fact, Djokovic has not even been extended to Deuce in his first two service games through five rounds.

First Two Service Games Of Set 1: Break Points Saved/Faced
• Djokovic = 0/0
• Tsitsipas = 2/2
• Nadal = 4/4
• Schwartzman = 2/4

Overall, the four semi-finalists have won 74 per cent (171/230) of their service points in the first two service games. They are doing all they can to march straight through their opening two service games and make life as difficult as possible in their opponents’ service games. That’s where the early damage is unfolding.

While the four semi-finalists have held a ridiculously high 95 per cent (38/40) of their own service games, they have broken serve 21 times out of 40, which equates to 53 per cent.

Djokovic, Nadal, Tsitsipas, Schwartzman Combined To Roland Garros Semi-Finals
• 1st Two Service Games Holding Serve = 95% (38/40)
• 1st Two Return Games Breaking Serve = 53% (21/40)

The comparison to how tidy their own service games are, and the litany of broken service games to start the match from the other side of the net, could not be more opposite. Below is a breakdown of how many times the semi-finalists have broken serve in the first two return games of the match.

Broken Serve: Opening Two Return Games
• Tsitsipas = 6/10
• Schwartzman = 6/10
• Djokovic = 5/10
• Nadal = 4/10

Tsitsipas and Schwartzman have been the most prolific at breaking serve in their opponents’ opening two service games of the match, notching up six breaks out of 10 return games. Competing against these four players is an extremely difficult assignment to start with. Going down an early break makes the physical and mental battle of winning the match that much harder.

When the dust has settled after the first games have been played, Djokovic, Nadal, Tsitsipas and Schwartzman have found themselves leading the majority of the time.

Four Semi-Finalists: Game Score Position After 4 Games
• Leading (3-1 or 4-0) = 65% (13/20)
• Tied (2-2) = 30% (6/20)
• Behind (1-3) = 5% (1/20)

All four players have grown accustomed to a fast start as they have moved through the draw to the semi-finals in Paris this year. Whoever can continue that trend will be in the driver’s seat to advance to Sunday’s final.

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Novak Djokovic: The Complete Player

  • Posted: Oct 08, 2020

In the latest profile on the 26 players to rise to No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, looks back on the career of Novak Djokovic. View Series.

First week at No. 1: 4 July 2011
Total weeks at No. 1: 289 (as at 5 October, 2020)
Year-End No. 1s: 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018

As World No. 1
After opening the 2011 ATP Tour season with seven trophies and 41 consecutive victories, Djokovic rose to World No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on 4 July 2011 after beating Rafael Nadal to claim his first Wimbledon crown. “They don’t give you a lot of chances to become number one. So I guess you need to lose only one match in seven months to get there,” said Djokovic. The Serbian owns five year-end World No. 1 finishes and most recently achieved the feat in 2018, when he won 35 of his final 39 matches of the year to become the first player ranked outside the Top 20 to finish the same season at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Grand Slam Highlights
Djokovic has captured 17 major championship trophies, highlighted by a record eight Australian Open title runs. The elastic 32-year-old owns a 75-8 record at Melbourne Park, which includes a combined 16-0 record in semi-final and final encounters. Three years after his maiden Grand Slam triumph Down Under in 2008, Djokovic claimed three major championships in 2011. Alongside his second Melbourne trophy, Djokovic clinched his first trophies at Wimbledon and the US Open. Djokovic owns five Wimbledon titles and three US Open crowns. At Roland Garros in 2016, the Serbian defeated Andy Murray to complete the ‘Nole Slam’, joining Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) as only the third man in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. “It’s a thrilling moment,” said Djokovic. “One of the most beautiful I have had in my career… It’s incredibly flattering to know that Rod Laver is the last one that managed to do that. There are not many words that can describe it. It’s one of the ultimate challenges that you have as a tennis player. I’m very proud and very thrilled.”


Nitto ATP Finals Highlights
Djokovic is the only man in Nitto ATP Finals history to win the tournament on four consecutive occasions (2012-2015). The 79-time tour-level titlist, who also claimed the trophy in 2008, owns a 36-14 record at the elite eight-man event. Djokovic has made 12 appearances at the tournament, which includes 10 consecutive qualifications from 2007 to 2016. “The last four years I managed to win the [Nitto ATP] Finals, where the best players in the world are playing,” said Djokovic in 2015. “For some reason or another, I’ve been playing some of my best tennis after the US Open, in Asia and also indoors, both Paris and London.”

ATP Masters 1000 Highlights
With 36 trophies at Masters 1000 events, Djokovic is the most successful player in Masters 1000 history. The Belgrade-born star claimed his first Masters 1000 crown in Miami in 2007 and beat Top 3 stars Andy Roddick, Nadal and Roger Federer later that year in consecutive matches to lift his first of four Coupe Rogers trophies. Djokovic has historically started and finished the year strong at the level. He shares title records in Indian Wells (5 w/Federer) and Miami (6 w/Agassi) and leads the way in Shanghai (4) and Paris (5). At the 2018 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Djokovic became the first player in Masters 1000 history to win all nine elite tournaments and complete the career Golden Masters. “Making history in the sport that I love with all my heart is always very meaningful to me… It was a big one,” said Djokovic. “In order to win it, I had to overcome that big hurdle and big challenge [against Federer]. I managed to do so and it was a great, great day. Big support from the crowd and an amazing occasion to be part of.” Two years later, at the same event, Djokovic completed his second career Golden Masters with victory against Milos Raonic in the championship match. The Serbian made further history at the level last month, capturing his fifth Rome trophy to break a tie with 35-time Masters 1000 titlist Nadal. The 33-year-old also owns three Madrid titles and two Monte Carlo crowns.

Biggest Rivalries
As a member of the ‘Big Three’, Djokovic has contested two major rivalries throughout his career on the ATP Tour.

With 55 meetings, Djokovic and Nadal have established the longest ATP Head2Head rivalry in the Open Era (Djokovic leads 29-26). The two men produced the standout rivalry of the past decade, when they contested championship matches at each of the four Grand Slam events (tied at 4-4), the Nitto ATP Finals and five Masters 1000 tournaments. Djokovic also defeated the Spaniard in a must-win contest at the inaugural ATP Cup in Australia this year, en route to lifting the trophy for Team Serbia. Across the past 12 ATP Tour seasons, one of Nadal and Djokovic has finished as year-end World No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on 10 occasions.

Surpassed only by his rivalry with Nadal, Djokovic has met Federer on 50 occasions during their ATP Head2Head rivalry (Djokovic leads 27-23). The pair has met in 19 championship matches with Djokovic leading 13-6, including four wins from five Grand Slam finals. In one of the greatest Wimbledon finals of all-time in 2019, Djokovic saved two championship points to overcome Federer in the first final to be decided by a 12-12 fifth-set tie-break. With both players aiming to end their careers as the leader in the Grand Slam titles leader board, Djokovic’s victory brought him to within four major championships of the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s mark. Since 2003, Federer and Djokovic have captured a combined 14 Australian Open titles, 13 Wimbledon trophies and 11 Nitto ATP Finals crowns.

“[My rivalry] with Roger and Rafa… is one of the motivations for me to still keep going at this age,” said Djokovic. “The three of us have inspired each other throughout our rivalries and careers to be better, to understand how we can overcome obstacles in the matchups.

“I am more grateful today to be in the same era with these two guys than I was probably 10, 15 years ago. I think that definitely rivalries with them made me very, very strong, very resilient, and also very motivated that I am still today.”

One of the sport’s greatest players with the best return of serve in history. Djokovic has applied relentless pressure on his opponents throughout his career with pinpoint returns and remarkable elasticity and endurance levels. The eight-time Australian Open champion has claimed 81 tour-level trophies, including 17 Grand Slam championships and five year-end World No. 1 finishes. With a great mix of great offensive and defensive skill, Djokovic has proven himself to be one of the most complete players in history. Djokovic is the only man to have completed the career Golden Masters and one of only three men to have held each of the four Grand Slam trophies at the same time. Djokovic holds an 84.4 per cent record on hard courts, the greatest winning percentage on the surface in the history of the sport. Djokovic forced his way into the ‘Big Three’ era alongside Federer and Nadal with an incredibly consistent game style, bringing tennis to a new audience and lifting the profile of the sport to new heights.

Overall Match Win-Loss Record: 929-188 (as at 8 October, 2020)
Overall Titles/Finals Record: 81-34

Memorable Moment
In the longest men’s Grand Slam final on record, Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 after five hours and 53 minutes to claim his third Australian Open trophy. Djokovic entered the contest on a six-match winning streak against the Spaniard, but was pushed to the limit in one of the most physical encounters in the history of the sport. Late in the fifth set, after recovering from a 2-4 deficit, Djokovic collapsed to the court after a brutal 31-shot rally. But, despite the fatigue, the Serbian earned a crucial break at 5-5 before ripping a forehand winner to take the title at 1:37 a.m. local time. Djokovic tore off his shirt in celebration and roared in delight as he made his way towards his player box. “The fact that we played almost six hours is incredible,” said Djokovic. “I’m very proud just to be part of this history, part of the elite players that have won this tournament several times. I was very flattered to be playing in front of Rod Laver, in front of the all-time greats and in front of 15,000 people that stayed until 1:30 a.m.”


Federer on Djokovic
“I think it started as a semi-final rivalry, because me and Rafa were ranked one and two and two and one for a long time, and he was always three or four. Then it changed. He became World No. 1 and… we started to play each other more often in finals as well and in the bigger matches like the US Open and Wimbledon… I think it’s really become a very nice rivalry. I don’t think we have to adjust our games very much. We can just play our game, and then the better man wins.”

Nadal on Djokovic
“I played against a player who did everything perfect. I know nobody playing tennis like this ever. Since I know this sport, I never saw somebody playing at this level,” said Nadal after falling to Djokovic in the 2016 Qatar ExxonMobil Open final.

Djokovic On Djokovic
”My upbringing was in Serbia during several wars during the ’90s, difficult time, an embargo in our country where we had to wait in line for bread, milk, water, some basic things in life. These kind of things make you stronger and hungrier for success I think in whatever you choose to do.

“That probably has been my foundation, the very fact that I came from literally nothing and difficult life circumstances together with my family and with my people. Going back to that, reminding myself where I came from always inspires me [and] motivates me to push even harder. That’s probably one of the reasons why I managed to find that extra gear, the mental strength to overcome challenges when they present themselves.”

Broadcaster/Journalist Graeme Agars
Is Novak Djokovic the best counter-puncher the game has ever seen? His ever-growing trophy cabinet offers some very strong evidence that he is. With more than 80 tour-level titles already locked away as he approaches 300 weeks atop the FedEx ATP Rankings, Djokovic’s impressive resume supports that claim.

The World No. 1 certainly has one of the best service returns the game has ever seen and his backhand down the line, his favourite shot, is a joy to watch as he frustrates his opponents with its power and placement.

In addition to all his shot-making prowess, the Serbian is also one of the fittest and fastest players on Tour and is very hard to pass. Some of the acrobatic positions Djokovic produces on court make it look at times as though he is made of rubber.

Early in his career he seemed at times to completely run out of energy in some of his longer matches, something that rarely occurs these days after he switched to a gluten-free regimen and became very conscious of his health and diet. It has paid dividends.

Off the court, he is equally well decorated. Among his major awards are the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year (2012, ‘15-16 and ‘19), Eurosport Athlete of the Year (2015), Order of the Republika Srpska (2013) and the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award (2012). The Novak Djokovic Foundation, founded in 2007, has been highly successful in helping disadvantaged communities gain access to pre-school education.

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Preview: Can Diego Avoid Rafa’s Roland Garros Graveyard?

  • Posted: Oct 08, 2020

Last year at the US Open, Diego Schwartzman likened Rafael Nadal to a lion in the jungle. “He’s big, he’s a fighter, he knows how to play the important moments every single time,” he said. “I played him eight times and every time he played the important moments better than me.”

Schwartzman is a little guy with a big heart trying to join one of the world’s smallest clubs. Experts say that lions can smell blood from up to a mile away — perhaps that’s why Nadal has never lost a semi-final match on the red clay in Paris, and the ‘I’ve Beaten Nadal at Roland Garros Club’ has just two members: Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling.

The stakes for what promises to be a cracking semi-final match in Paris Friday are clear — the Spanish brawler is close enough to his record tying 20th major to taste it, but the fearless Argentine has a chance to score a potentially life-changing win while etching his name in the history books with what would be one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

Can he do it? Going against Nadal at Roland Garros is a poor man’s endeavour, but then again, what were the chances of a 5’7” player, whose mother had to sell jewellery at tournaments to finance their travel, making it this far? Soderling, the retired Swede who famously overcame Nadal at this event in 2009, recently remarked that getting crushed 6-0, 6-1 by the Spaniard in Rome just weeks before that match helped him pull off the upset.

Schwartzman, by contrast, notched his first victory in 10 attempts over Nadal a few weeks ago in Rome. A reporter suggested after Schwartzman’s epic five-set quarter-final win against Dominic Thiem that perhaps he would have more confidence facing Nadal after this win.

“Well, I’m not sure because if I see the history, I’m 10-1 down,” he said, slightly overstating his 1-9 ATP Head2Head record against the sculpted Spaniard. “But yeah, I know this week that I can beat him… I was perfect today. I think after two days I’m going to be perfect in [the] semi-final.”

Schwartzman’s challenge will be to try to turn the street fight Nadal craves into the kind of chess match where he stands a chance. But while his recent win in Rome might give him confidence, let’s not forget that it also gives Nadal — a player known for being charitable off the court but never on it — a little extra motivation, not that he needs it.

If Gordon Ramsay applied for a line cook job at McDonald’s, his CV still wouldn’t look half as impressive as the Mallorcan gladiator’s semi-final resume at Roland Garros, where he’s never lost from the semi-final stage. If the tournament built a graveyard for his semi-final victims, the tombstones would read like a display from the International Tennis Hall of Fame: Roger Federer (twice) Djokovic (three times), Andy Murray (twice), David Ferrer, Thiem, and Juan Martin del Potro.

That collection of legends has taken a grand total of three sets — all won by Federer and Djokovic — across 12 matches. This year marks the 11th time Nadal has steamrolled his way to the semi-finals without dropping a set.

Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Schwartzman, Nadal 

So if Nadal has slowly sucked the life out of that esteemed group like a python strangling its prey, what chance does Diego Schwartzman have of avoiding the Nadal graveyard? The 28-year-old Buenos Aires native has a few things going for him. Start with the fact that he’s 20-9 this year, including 15-3 on clay, where he’s produced some of the best tennis of his career.

Schwartzman will also be facing Nadal on another cool, damp day and Rafa has been quite candid in admitting that he dislikes the cold, heavy conditions. “The problem is the weather,” Nadal said after completing his quarter-final win at 1:25 a.m. on Wednesday morning. “It’s too cold to play tennis. It’s very, very cold, no? I think [it] is [a] little bit dangerous for the body, playing with these very heavy conditions.”

In hot, dry conditions, Nadal’s ball jumps up higher, particularly on clay, which would be especially hard for a shorter player like Schwartzman. So it’s easy to see why Rafa’s not thrilled with the dreary weather.

The pair has squared off just once at Roland Garros, in the 2018 quarter-finals — and it was a grueling three-hour, 42 minute, four-set win for Nadal that was anything but routine. Schwartzman approached the net a surprising 71 times against Thiem, winning 62% of those points, and he frequently made effective use of the drop shot — clearly the en vogue shot of the tournament — so expect more of the same against Nadal, who could become the third-oldest finalist in tournament history with a victory.

Rafael Nadal

Harold Solomon, a standout player from the 70s and 80s who stood just 5’6”, believes that Schwartzman’s size isn’t necessarily a disadvantage for him in the matchup.

“If a big player with a huge serve is serving well, it makes it difficult for the smaller player. But the smaller player can make up for it,” said Solomon, who made it to the final of Roland Garros in 1976. “Diego is gifted in a lot of different ways. He’s exceptionally fast and he has exceptionally great anticipation. As I watch him play, he gets in and out of the corners so well. Maybe surprisingly to bigger guys, he’s not looking to hang 10 feet behind the baseline, but he’s looking to move up into the court to put pressure.”

Both men have had two days off, but Nadal should be fresher considering the fact that he skipped the US Open and has spent just over 10 hours on court compared to more than 13 hours — 16 if you include his two doubles matches — for Schwartzman. Nadal has sailed through the draw without dropping a set, while Schwartzman may be wearier but also more battle tested, having survived the five-hour, eight-minute duel against Thiem.

Schwartzman’s the underdog, but he clearly has a chance to make it out of the jungle alive, so make sure to clear your calendar for the day because it promises to be a riveting war of attrition, rather than a quick and dirty beating for either man.

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Pavic/Soares To Face Defending Champs Krawietz/Mies In Roland Garros Final

  • Posted: Oct 08, 2020

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares reached their second straight Grand Slam final on Thursday, following a 7-6(4), 7-5 victory against Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah at Roland Garros.

The seventh seeds notched their 10th straight victory at a major championship after one hour and 44 minutes, recovering from 2-4 in the second set to overcome the top seeds. Pavic and Soares are chasing their second major championship title as a team, following their maiden triumph at the level at last month’s US Open.

Pavic and Soares are through to their fourth final (2-1) as a pairing. The Croatian-Brazilian team joined forces at the Fever-Tree Championships in June 2019 and claimed its first tournament victory at last year’s Rolex Shanghai Masters (d. Kubot/Melo). Pavic and Soares also reached the 2019 Stockholm Open final (l. to Kontinen/Roger-Vasselin).

The reigning US Open titlists will face defending champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies in the final. Krawietz and Mies returned to the championship match in Paris with a 6-3, 7-5 victory against ninth seeds Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic.

The German pair converted both break points it created to improve to 11-0 at the clay-court Grand Slam. Krawietz and Mies are one win away from becoming the first team to win back-to-back Roland Garros men’s doubles titles since Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor in 2012.

Pavic and Soares enter the final with a 1-0 ATP Head2Head record against Krawietz and Mies. The two teams met in the first round at last year’s Western & Southern Open, with Pavic and Soares claiming a 7-6(2), 4-6, 10-7 victory.

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Solomon On Schwartzman: 'It’s Not Easy Being A Little Guy In A Big Guy’s World'

  • Posted: Oct 08, 2020

Diego Schwartzman will try to earn a career-defining win on Friday in the Roland Garros semi-finals against 12-time champion Rafael Nadal. If there’s anyone who knows what it’s like to step on the court in the 5’7” right-hander’s shoes, it’s 5’6″ Harold Solomon, the former World No. 5.

“I’m very intrigued watching him and I’m always impressed. I root for him all the time,” Solomon told “He can say what he wants about being a little guy, but it’s not easy being a little guy in a big guy’s world.”

Whenever Schwartzman is asked about his height, he points out that he’s had worse issues to deal with in his life than being a few inches shorter than other players. Solomon, a 22-time tour-level titlist, explained how the Argentine is able to overcome his size on court.

“If a big player with a huge serve is serving well, it makes it difficult for the smaller player. But the smaller player can make up for it,” Solomon said. “Diego is gifted in a lot of different ways. He’s exceptionally fast and he has exceptionally great anticipation. As I watch him play, he gets in and out of the corners so well. Maybe surprisingly to bigger guys, he’s not looking to hang 10 feet behind the baseline, but he’s looking to move up into the court to put pressure.”

Many times when players blast a ball to try to drive through Schwartzman, he returns the ball with interest.

“I think guys are making mistakes by giving him as much pace as they give him. I think that the sense is they think they can go in there and overwhelm him and knock him off the court, but the higher the ball is on a short guy, if you’re playing a really high, heavy ball that doesn’t have as much pace, I think it’s really hard,” Solomon said. “You have to do so much more work to generate pace off a ball that doesn’t have any pace. But I think these guys give Diego more pace, which is good for him, actually.”

Harold Solomon
Harold Solomon beats Guillermo Vilas at 1980 Roland Garros. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Solomon, who made the 1976 Roland Garros final, said that one of the best ways to play a shorter opponent is to drive them back with heavy topspin and then use that space to open up the court or draw them into the net.

“I’d much rather have Diego at the net than have him at the back, so how do you figure out a way to make him have to come into the net?” Solomon wondered. “When you’re that small, even though he’s fast, you’re susceptible to passing shots, so bringing him into the net on your terms is a great thing.”

Schwartzman faced a tough test in the Roland Garros quarter-finals against third seed Dominic Thiem, the recent US Open champion who reached the Paris final the past two years. When the Austrian is firing, he is one of the biggest hitters on the ATP Tour. Solomon noted that Schwartzman was the aggressor in their five-setters, while Thiem was content to remain neutral and hit a lot of backhand slices.

“Diego was taking the ball early, moving into the court and controlling the court, controlling the points. One of the things he does really well is when people try to use angles to pull him off the court, he’s able to cut off the angles, which stops him from being jerked around the court as much as he possibly could be,” Solomon said. “His speed is exceptional, his anticipation is exceptional, his ability to step in and take balls early is exceptional and we know he’s a great fighter.”

That heart helped Schwartzman earn one of the biggest victories of his career in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals against Nadal. The Argentine had lost his first nine ATP Head2Head meetings against the legendary lefty, but he played aggressive tennis to eliminate the World No. 2 6-2, 7-5.

“Rafa’s balls were landing short, which they do at times anyway, but normally they have enough stuff on them that they’re hard for people to attack. A lot of his balls were landing at the service line or just past the service line and when he was hitting his backhand, he would hit his normal backhand and it just doesn’t jump like his forehand,” Solomon said. “Diego was able to take the ball early and it was a good battle for him. He almost played his ball the way Djokovic plays Rafa’s ball.

“Djokovic has been successful against Rafa when he’s able to take the ball early and not let it get way up high on him with his two-hander, where he can’t do too much with it. You would think Rafa would be able to take his forehand and really get it to jump up high into the backhand of Diego and then be able to open up the court with the next shot.”

Solomon was highly complimentary of Schwartzman’s win against Nadal at the Foro Italico, and he believes the conditions are largely similar to those in Paris, where it has been cold and wet for much of the fortnight. That has prevented players like Nadal from getting their topspin shots to bounce as violently off the court as usual, which may play a role in their semi-final.

“You would think it would be a matter of time from an attrition point of view that Rafa would be able to physically and mentally dominate that match three out of five sets,” Solomon said. “But Diego plays amazing tennis and you never know.”

Schwartzman will crack the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time next Monday, an accomplishment that impresses Solomon. The American, who beat Guillermo Vilas three times at Roland Garros, admitted he believes Schwartzman’s “athletic ability is far greater than mine was”.

“It’s amazing every time he goes out there, wins matches and defeats these guys,” Solomon said. “He’s got a big fan in me.”

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