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Under Pressure: Djokovic & Nadal Are Clutch

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

Is your prowess in a match serving or returning, or are you just tough as nails under pressure? Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have elevated their game to a level of their own, being peak performers in all three facets of our sport.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the current Top 10 identifies Djokovic and Nadal as the only two players who are rated in the Top 10 on the Infosys Serve, Return and Under Pressure LEADERBOARDS over the past 52 weeks.

The dynamic duo are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world and will both appear in the upcoming Nitto ATP Finals in London from 15-22 November. Djokovic has won the prestigious tournament five times, but not since 2015. Nadal finished as runner-up at The O2 in 2010 and 2013.

Infosys Return LEADERBOARD
Nadal sits in pole position on the Return LEADERBOARD with a commanding 178.0 rating. Djokovic is in second place with 168.2 rating. The current Top 10 players who also feature in the Top 10 in this statistical category are listed below.

ATP Top 10 – Return LEADERBOARD standings
No. 1 – Rafael Nadal (178.0)
No. 2 – Novak Djokovic (168.2)
No. 3 – Diego Schwartzman (167.4)
No. 6 – Daniil Medvedev (156.0)
No 9 – Andrey Rublev (152.4)

The Return Rating is determined by adding together the win percentages for First Serve Return Points Won, Second Serve Return Points Won, Return Games Won and Break Points Converted.

Roger Federer is the leading player from the current Top 10 on the Serve LEADERBOARD, with Nadal sitting in seventh position and Djokovic in 10th. Federer is looking to make a return to the Tour in January after recovering from knee surgery.

ATP Top 10 – Serve LEADERBOARD standings
No. 5: Roger Federer (295.9)
No. 6: Matteo Berrettini (289.5)
No. 7 – Rafael Nadal (289.3)
No. 9: Stefanos Tsitsipas (284.9)
No. 10: Novak Djokovic (284.9)

The Serve Rating is determined by adding First Serve Percentage, First Serve Points Won, Second Serve Points Won, Service Games Won plus the average number of aces per match, while subtracting the average number of double faults per match.

Under Pressure LEADERBOARD
It should come as no surprise the top-ranked players on the ATP Tour also fill the top two spots on the Under Pressure LEADERBOARD as well. Nadal is in first place with a 264.3 rating, with Djokovic hot on his heels with a 264.1 rating.

It’s interesting to note that there are six Top 10 players in the Top 10 on the Under Pressure LEADERBOARD, clearly showing that peak performance with Break Points Saved & Converted as well as Tie Breaks Won and Deciding Sets Won are key ingredients to reaching the elite level of our sport.

ATP Top 10 – Under Pressure LEADERBOARD standings

No.1 Rafael Nadal (264.3)
No. 2 Novak Djokovic (264.1)
No. 3 Roger Federer (248.7)
No. 4 Dominic Thiem (238.6)
No. 6 Diego Schwartzman (231.7)
No. 8 Andrey Rublev (228.9)

Djokovic and Nadal dominate the top two ranking spots for a reason. These LEADERBOARDS help paint a story of dominance, no matter what match situation they find themselves in.

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Albot Stuns Shapovalov In Sofia

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

Radu Albot ended Denis Shapovalov’s dream of finishing the season inside the Top 10 of the year-end FedEx ATP Rankings on Tuesday, eliminating the top seed 6-2, 6-4 in the second round of the Sofia Open.

The Moldovan star lost his first seven tour-level matches of the season. But he has come on strong in the past month. By upsetting Shapovalov, Albot advances to his second ATP Tour quarter-final of the year.


The top seed is one of the world’s best shotmakers, and a leaping backhand he crushed in the first set for a winner proved that. But Shapovalov struggled to find consistency on the Bulgarian hard court, making uncharacteristic errors.

Albot did well to avoid giving the Canadian many free points. He forced the World No. 12 to earn everything in the match, which he was unable to do often enough. Albot won 86 per cent of his first-serve points (31/36) and saved the two break points he faced. Next up for the World No. 93 will be fifth seed Adrian Mannarino or Belarusian Egor Gerasimov.

Shapovalov was the top seed at an ATP Tour event for the first time, and he was trying to reach his sixth quarter-final of the season. On 21 September, he cracked the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time. 

Vasek Pospisil also advanced to the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-4 win against fourth seed Jan-Lennard Struff. They had split their two previous ATP Head2Head meetings.

The big-serving Canadian will play Nur-Sultan champion John Millman or former Top 10 star Gilles Simon in the last eight.

Did You Know?
This was Albot’s first victory against a Top 20 opponent since the 2019 Western & Southern Open, where he defeated then-World No. 18 Marin Cilic.

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Melzer/Roger-Vasselin Move One Step Closer To London Qualification

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin moved one step closer to earning the final Nitto ATP Finals spot on Tuesday, defeating wild cards Dimitar Kuzmanov and Viktor Troicki 6-2, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals of the Sofia Open.

The top seeds have now forced second seeds Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski to win the title to have a chance at qualifying for the season finale, to be held at The O2 in London from 15-22 November. If Melzer and Roger-Vasselin reach the final, they will claim the last remaining berth regardless of what the Brits do in Bulgaria.


Melzer and Roger-Vasselin earned five service breaks in their first-round match, winning 55 per cent of their return points en route to a 62-minute victory. They will next play Brits Ken Skupski and Jonny O’Mara. Skupski is Neal Skupski’s older brother.

Singles star Marin Cilic triumphed on the doubles court Tuesday, partnering Tomislav Brkic to a 7-6(4), 6-2 win against Australian Open finalists Max Purcell and Luke Saville.

Also advancing to the second round were Nikola Cacic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, who battled past Frederik Nielsen and Tim Puetz 3-6, 6-2, 11-9.

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Sinner Claims Debut Win In Sofia

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

Jannik Sinner survived a late comeback attempt from Martin Fucsovics to book his place in the Sofia Open second round on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old broke serve on five occasions to eliminate last year’s runner-up 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 37 minutes. Sinner, who led 6-2, 4-1, was forced to save break point at 4-4 in the second set, before breaking serve in the final game of the match.

“For everyone, first-round matches are not easy,” said Sinner. “I tried to be solid. In the beginning of the match, we were both playing quite well and moving well… In the second set, I was a break up and he recovered. It was just two or three points in each set that decided the match.”

Sinner improved to 15-11 this year with his first ATP Head2Head victory against Fucsovics. In his only previous match against the Hungarian, the reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion fell in straight sets at the Australian Open in January.

The Italian will meet Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland for a place in the quarter-finals. Huesler advanced to the second round on Monday after saving two match points against seventh seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.

“I know that he is lefty, serving well and going to the net. It is not an easy match for sure, especially when you don’t know a guy and you have to play against him,” said Sinner. “It is never easy. I am going to try to be focussed from the first point and then we will see.”


Richard Gasquet also earned a victory on his Sofia debut. The 34-year-old saved three of his four break points to overcome Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain 6-3, 6-4. Gasquet will meet #NextGenATP Czech Jonas Forejtek in the second round.

Gilles Simon joined his countryman in the second round after beating Andrej Martin of Slovakia 6-2, 6-2. The Frenchman will meet Nur-Sultan champion John Millman for a spot in the quarter-finals.

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Next Gen ATP Finals: A Springboard To Top 10 Success

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

After just three editions of the event, the impact of the Next Gen ATP Finals has been clear to see on the ATP Tour.

Through the highly competitive ATP Race To Milan, the top 21-and-under talents have had a clear goal in their sights each year since the start of the 2017 ATP Tour season and have seen their popularity rise under an intense spotlight. But the tournament has not just provided the most promising young talents with an opportunity to showcase their skills to a greater audience, it has also proven to be a springboard for future success.

Five former #NextGenATP talents have cracked the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings since their appearances in Milan. In fact, three of those players have also gone on to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in London. takes a closer look at the #NextGenATP alumni who have taken their game to new heights since their trips to Milan.

Stefanos Tsitsipas
After attending the inaugural edition of the event in 2017 as an alternate, Tsitsipas returned to Milan one year later as the top seed and won each of his five matches to become the second winner of the tournament. Since then, Tsitsipas has raised his game and become an established member of the Top 10.

The Greek star opened his 2019 season in top form and reached his maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open. Shortly after his run in Melbourne, Tsitsipas reached back-to-back finals in Marseille (d. Kukushkin) and Dubai (l. to Federer) to crack the Top 10 for the first time. Tsitsipas reached six finals in 2019 (3-3) and ended last season with a milestone triumph.

Just 12 months after his title run in Milan, the Athens native earned wins against Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem to capture the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals crown. Despite a shortened 2020 calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tsitsipas has also reached three championship matches this season (1-2) and qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the second straight year.

Daniil Medvedev
As the final direct qualifier for the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals, Medvedev posted a 2-1 round robin record to reach the semi-finals in Milan. The Russian pushed eventual champion Hyeon Chung to a deciding set in the last four, but he fell short of booking his spot in the championship match.

In his next season on the ATP Tour, Medvedev claimed 2018 titles in Sydney, Winston-Salem and Tokyo to soar from No. 65 to No. 16 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. The 6’6” right-hander made greater progress in 2019, as he reached a Tour-leading nine championship matches (4-5) and qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time.

Medvedev cracked the Top 10 on 15 July 2019 and entered the Top 5 just five weeks later. During an impressive run of results at North American hard court events, Medvedev became the first former #NextGenATP star to reach a Grand Slam final at the US Open (l. to Nadal). The Moscow native has also captured three Masters 1000 crowns. Medvedev won back-to-back titles at the level last year at the Western & Southern Open and Rolex Shanghai Masters and also claimed this year’s Rolex Paris Masters trophy.

Andrey Rublev
Rublev was the only player to compete at the opening two editions of the Next Gen ATP Finals. On both occasions, the Moscow-born star made it through the round robin stage to reach the last four. Rublev finished as runner-up in 2017 and ended the 2018 edition in third place, but the Russian has since made a habit of ending tournaments with a trophy in his hands.

Just one year ago, Rublev arrived at his home event — the VTB Kremlin Cup — at No. 31 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. The home favourite ended a two-year title drought, on his 22nd birthday, to earn his second ATP Tour crown and it didn’t take long for Rublev to add further trophies to his resume in 2020.

Rublev opened this year with back-to-back crowns in Doha and Adelaide to become the first man since Dominik Hrbaty in 2004 to win a pair of titles in the opening two weeks of an ATP Tour season. Following the ATP Tour suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rublev earned 15 consecutive wins at ATP 500 level to clinch titles in Hamburg, St. Petersburg and Vienna. The 23-year-old broke into the Top 10 for the first time on 12 October and confirmed his spot at this year’s Nitto ATP Finals with his title run in Vienna.

Denis Shapovalov
The Canadian narrowly missed out on a place in the semi-finals during the 2017 edition of the tournament, but he has since made his mark on the ATP Tour.

After failing to claim a victory in his opening seven tour-level semi-finals, Shapovalov broke the streak and claimed his maiden trophy at the 2019 Stockholm Open without dropping a set. Shapovalov has also been a consistent performer at Masters 1000 level since his appearance in Milan.

The 21-year-old, who finished as runner-up at the 2019 Rolex Paris Masters, has reached the semi-finals or better at four Masters 1000 events since 2018. Following his most recent Masters 1000 semi-final run at this year’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Shapovalov climbed into the Top 10 for the first time on 21 September.

Karen Khachanov
Like Shapovalov, Khachanov finished his only appearance at the Next Gen ATP Finals with a 1-2 round robin record in 2017. But that did not stop the Russian from enjoying a breakthrough 2018 ATP Tour season.

Khachanov claimed the first three titles of his career in the year that followed his Milan debut. The 6’6” star won three ATP Tour crowns on indoor hard courts, including ATP 250 trophies in Marseille and Moscow. Khachanov’s greatest result came in his final match of the 2018 season, when he became the first former #NextGenATP player to capture a Masters 1000 title.

Khachanov claimed four consecutive Top 10 wins to claim the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters trophy. Following victories against John Isner, Zverev and Thiem, Khachanov stunned Novak Djokovic in straight sets to clinch the biggest title of his career. Khachanov earned his place in the Top 10 after reaching his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros in 2019.

Outside this group of past and present Top 10 stars, Borna Coric and Alex de Minaur have also enjoyed consistent success on the ATP Tour. Coric reached a career-high No. 12 on 5 November 2018 after a stellar run of results. The Croat stunned Roger Federer to win his second ATP Tour trophy at the 2018 NOVENTI OPEN in Halle and once again defeated the Swiss en route to his maiden ATP Masters 1000 final at the 2018 Rolex Shanghai Masters.

Two-time runner-up De Minaur claimed the first three tour-level crowns of his career after his debut appearance in Milan in 2018. The Aussie won 2019 titles in Sydney, Atlanta and Zhuhai and climbed to a career-high No. 18 on 28 October 2019. Taylor Fritz, Hubert Hurkacz, Casper Ruud and Ugo Humbert have also picked up their first titles and cracked the Top 30 for the first time following their debut appearances at the Next Gen ATP Finals.

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Gorman’s Act Of Sportsmanship Remarkable 48 Years On

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

In our ongoing series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Nitto ATP Finals, talks to Tom Gorman about his selfless sportsmanship in Barcelona in 1972.

In the final weeks of 1972, the Cold War raged, as the U.S. and the Soviet Union performed nuclear tests, U.S. President Richard Nixon and West German Chancellor Willy Brandt were both re-elected, peace talks in Vietnam commenced, and the co-founder of Atari released Pong, the first commercially successful video game. And very late on the first Friday night in December, an American tennis player distinguished himself with an act of sportsmanship that’s still remembered nearly half a century later.

The player was Tom Gorman, then 26. His opponent was his countryman and good friend, Stan Smith. The venue was the semi-final match of the ATP’s third season-ending Masters tournament, then called the Commercial Union Assurance Masters, which was played at the recently opened Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona that year, after stints in Tokyo and Paris.

It was Gorman’s first time qualifying for a tournament he dearly wanted to win. Gorman had made whirlwind trips in the closing weeks of the 1971 season to South Africa and Argentina in order to qualify for the Masters and was thrilled when he won a match on clay in Buenos Aires to book his ticket, or so he thought.

“Later on, they told me there was some fine print on how you got into the tournament,” Gorman recalled in a recent interview from his home in Atlanta.

The fine print was a rule that at least one player from the host country, in that case France, had to qualify, and so Gorman’s good friend, Pierre Barthès made the tournament instead of him. It was a bitter pill that also gave the American “an extra incentive” to enter lots of tournaments in ’72 in the hopes of making the Masters.

Tom Gorman (file photo)
Tom Gorman won 46 matches during the 1972 season. (Getty Images/file)

He did just that, winning 46 ATP matches during the season, including a Masters round-robin victory over future Hall of Famer Manuel Orantes, which helped book his passage into the semi-finals. He knew his next opponent, who was 11 months his junior, quite well. “I first met Stan when we were 16 or 17, when he came up to the Pacific Northwest to play the junior tennis circuit,” Gorman said. “That was the start of losing to him many, many times.”

Gorman came into the match with a professional career mark of 1-9 against the lanky California native, but on this night, Gorman played the match of his life. It was the second match of a Friday night twin billing; the first tapa, Ilie Năstase versus Jimmy Connors was served at 10 p.m., late anywhere but in Spain, where sport must not interfere with siestas, fiestas or dinner.

It was best-of-five sets in those days, and even with Năstase’s straight-sets win over Connors, the players took the court shortly after midnight to an appreciative capacity crowd of 4,000, that was prepared to stay up all night.

With his fluid, graceful serve, Gorman was playing excellent serve-and-volley tennis on both his first and second serves, as he took a two-sets-to-one lead. “It was as good a match as I had played in my career, probably next to beating Borg to win Stockholm and beating Laver at Wimbledon the year before,” Gorman remembered. But mid-way through the fourth set, Gorman aggravated a back injury he first sustained in that Laver match. His level of play dropped, and he planned to retire from the match after what he assumed would be a lost fourth set.

But Smith’s level dipped a bit as well and Gorman found himself with a golden opportunity to close out the match at 30-30, up 5-4 in the fourth set. Smith directed his first volley out wide, and the Seattle native lunged for it and hit an improbable backhand passing shot winner up the line to set up a match point that was never played.

“I hit that backhand as hard as I could and it went in,” Gorman said. “I completed the follow through and walked straight to the umpire because I knew what I was going to do.”

Gorman knew that the back injury would prevent him from playing the final, so he retired in order to ensure that the tennis season didn’t end with a default.

“I knew it would be more fair to have a final,” he said. “I think it was 2:40 a.m. Most of the crowd was still there… they started whistling because they didn’t know what was going on. I think Stan was a little dazed too.”

Stan Smith
Stan Smith pushed Ilie Nastase to five sets in the final. (Photo: FC Barcelona/Autor Horacio)

After receiving treatment from a masseuse, Gorman returned to the hotel, and as he passed Năstase’s room at about 4:30 a.m., he decided to wake him up. “I just thought to myself, ‘Stan’s been up late and Ilie’s going to have a big advantage, I think I’ll wake him up.’ I told him I won… they had a great five-set match the next day.”

The Romanian prevailed, taking the first prize of $14,400. Gorman was given a sportsmanship award and a cheque for between $1,500 and $2,500, to go along with his $7,500 in prize money for the event. Gorman and Smith later served as best man in each other’s wedding ceremonies, though he doesn’t recall if Smith took him out for a meal or bought him a drink for retiring in that match. He says he would have done the same for any opponent because he felt a sense of responsibility to the tournament, its sponsors and the sport.

“There was more friendliness between players at that time,” he said. “If it came to a double bounce or double hit, a player would admit it. We didn’t have the teams or entourages in those days, so we traveled together and stayed in the same hotels together, and often had dinner together so there was a real sense of camaraderie.”

Gorman beat Năstase at the Masters the next year in Boston, but didn’t make it out of the round-robin stage. In the semi-finals, Aussie legend John Newcombe suffered a leg injury on an overhead smash while up 5-3 in the final set against Dutchman Tom Okker. He followed Gorman’s example and retired on match point up, paving the way for Okker to reach the final, where he lost to Năstase. Newcombe explained his decision after the match. “I could have played one more point but knew that I could not play tomorrow.”

Nitto ATP Finals 50th Anniversary Content

  • Djokovic’s Shanghai Reality Check Fuelled His Finale Success
  • Stan Smith: From First Masters Champ To Boot Camp…
  • At Madison Square Garden, ‘Ivan Was The Truth’
  • Two Years To Rule Them All: Hewitt Soars In Sydney And Shanghai


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How Shanghai Reality Check Fuelled Djokovic's Dominance

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

Reality checks for a young, highly touted prospect usually arrive with a thud, often when least expected and in stark contrast to any hyped early success beforehand. Two of Novak Djokovic’s most profound wake-up calls came with his debut appearance at the Tennis Masters Cup – an event he would eventually go on to dominate – in 2007.

It was in Shanghai where the baby-faced 20-year-old – already the World No. 3 – had qualified for the first time. Pitted against David Ferrer, Richard Gasquet and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, Djokovic made an inauspicious start to an event he has since claimed five times, as he failed to win a set in the round-robin stage.

Oozing with personality and undeniably gifted on the court, Djokovic was building quite the following before he touched down in China. He was already deemed the man most likely to shake up Roger Federer’s and Nadal’s growing dominance, and with good reason: He had beaten the Top 3 in succession, including Andy Roddick, to claim the Rogers Cup in Montreal only months early.

If this was the era of Djokovic’s emergence, it was also his era of player impersonations – Nadal, Roddick and Maria Sharapova, to name a few. On the eve of his Tennis Masters Cup debut, however, Roddick handed him a reality check of a different kind.

Having completed his pre-tournament media commitments, Roddick made a point of stopping by Djokovic’s table, where he was was answering questions from a handful of reporters. “Why don’t you wait until you win something of signficance before you start poking fun at people who have,” Roddick lectured.

Shanghai 2008

Two months later the Serb made good on Roddick’s advice as he won his maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. The impersonations dried up and Djokovic continued to deliver as he capped a stellar 2008 with victory in just his second Tennis Masters Cup appearance.

“[It’s] right up there next to Slams. Obviously, the [Nitto ATP] Finals is probably the biggest event that we have in our sport,” Djokovic told Tim Henman in an interview for “It’s probably the ultimate challenge in a season: facing the Top 8 guys of the year in a group-stage format…

“Back in 2008 was my first win in Shanghai. That was the last year the World Tour Finals was held there and that was very special, obviously. That skyrocketed my confidence and allowed me to believe that I belong at the top of the men’s game with all these guys.”

After 12 showings at the event now known as the Nitto ATP Finals, the Serb has landed the trophy five times against his best seven peers of the season and it was his 2012 title run, which stood out in a recent interview with Henman and fellow five-time winner, Pete Sampras. Not only did he defeat his great rival, Federer, in the final that year, but the nature in which he did so etched a significant mark in his memory.

“I think winning against Roger in two very close sets. I remember winning the match… with a backhand down the line passing shot on match point,” Djokovic said of the 7-6(6), 7-5 result. “That was definitely one of the best shots under such occasion for me to hit, so that’s probably the one I’ll remember the most.

“And I won against Rafa as well in 2013, and I played a great match. I had some really great success in that tournament and I was fortunate to experience great tennis there.”

When Henman reminded the World No.1 he had again beaten Federer in straight sets for the 2015 trophy for the loss of just seven games, Djokovic was unswayed. Nikolay Davydenko in 2008, Federer – in 2012, 2015 and in 2014 via a walkover – and Nadal in 2013 had all tried and failed to beat him in the Nitto ATP Finals title match. Only Andy Murray in 2016 and Alexander Zverev two years ago managed to beat him for the trophy.

“Yeah I mean… I’ve been fortunate to win all of my finals in straight sets, so I’m trying to pick one,” he said. “But I guess the one against Roger in 2012 stands out.”

In a measure of his consistency in the final event of the season each year, 2019 marked only the fourth time in his career Djokovic failed to progress beyond the round-robin stage, following defeats to Federer and Dominic Thiem. Not since his dominant 2011 season had he missed out on the knockout stages.

Boasting a 36-14 record at the Nitto ATP Finals, of the eight times Djokovic has qualified for the semi-finals, only once – a 2010 defeat to Federer – has he failed to reach the final. This month he will attempt to tie the Swiss star’s all-time mark with a sixth title in the last Nitto ATP Finals to be staged at London’s O2 arena. That would nicely complement his feat earlier in the month of tying Pete Sampras’ record six year-end No. 1 finishes in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Success, it seems, has been achieved.

Nitto ATP Finals 50th Anniversary Content

  • At Madison Square Garden, ‘Ivan Was The Truth’
  • Two Years To Rule Them All: Hewitt Soars In Sydney And Shanghai


It would be a telling triumph in arguably one of the toughest years on tour, and the icing on a smaller-than-usual cake, Having secured a record-tying sixth year-end No. 1 finish in the FedEx ATP Rankings earlier this month, Djokovic returned to that 2012 season – the year in which he edged past Federer with that backhand down the line – as the most rewarding of his ranking-best runs.

“I feel like every season is really different, and obviously this season is very unordinary and strange,” Djokovic said. “I would probably take out the 2011 and 2015 [seasons]. I think those were my most dominant years on the tour, winning three Grand Slams in both of those seasons and just playing many finals in a row, grabbing a lot of titles and securing the No.1 spot very early, relatively early, in the season.

“So those were the ones that I would say would stand out, from the perspective of the quality of tennis and just the dominance that I felt. But in terms of suffering and really getting to that No.1 and ending at No.1, in the like last tournament or last match, it would probably be, I would say in 2012. When I won against Roger in the finals there in London, I think until the very last match I didn’t know whether it was going to happen for me or not.”


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From Tokyo To Fort Ord In 11 Days, Stan Smith Was First Masters Champion

  • Posted: Nov 10, 2020

Fifty years may have passed, but for Stan Smith the memories of the 1970 Pepsi-Cola Masters [now named the Nitto ATP Finals] remain crystal clear — the cavernous and cold arena, the single light bulb in the locker room, Jack Kramer leading fans in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to mark the inaugural champion’s 24th birthday, and the frantic dash from Tokyo to return home and start basic training in the U.S. Army.

As the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal prepare in their personalised locker rooms next week and head out through dry ice onto the main arena at The O2 in London, venue of the Nitto ATP Finals for the final time, they will pay homage to Kramer, the most influential person in the sport for more than 60 years. In 1969, Kramer worked alongside Philippe Chatrier, the then vice-president of the French Tennis Federation, and the first sports agent in tennis, Donald Dell, to hash out a futuristic plan for what was to eventually become an ATP Tour, 21 years later, and one of the sport’s crown jewel tournaments, the Nitto ATP Finals.

During a period of enormous political struggle, when rival circuit promoters looked to sign the very best players, Kramer sought to bring the sport together. The great champion and former pro tour promoter wanted to solidify the game, give every player an opportunity to earn a decent living, not just a select few, and make the decision to switch to Open tennis pay off. So with the backing of the BBC, which agreed to finance the total television coverage that was broadcast by Fuji Television in Japan, and a title sponsor in Pepsi-Cola, the first top-level officially sanctioned tennis tournament came to a developing market — almost 40 years after the first head-to-head pro tours of Asia.

Fifty years on, Smith told ATP, “There were six of us, initially, in the first year, but later the number increased to eight players in 1972, shortly after all the players came together to form the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) at Forest Hills [the former venue of the US Open]. Kramer, naturally, was one of the ATP founders and its first Executive Director.”

Cliff Richey, who had led on the 1970 Pepsi-Cola ILTF Grand Prix bonus pool — the forerunner of the FedEx ATP Race To London — the week before in Stockholm, arrived in Tokyo as a spent force. “Having played 40 weeks that year, he slept for 17 hours a day, and visited a doctor who thought he had hepatitis,” said Smith, who was in fifth position in the bonus pool. “He was simply exhausted and returned home to Dallas. John Newcombe was called for, but Jan Kodes ultimately stepped in to make up the elite group.”

1970 Pepsi-Cola ILTF Grand Prix Rankings / Bonus Pool – Top 8
Twenty tournaments were graded into three categories – Class A, comprising the Grand Slam championships, Class 1 and Class 2 – to determine the number of ranking points available. Additionally, a bonus pool of US$150,000 was available for the Top 20 players of the 1970 Grand Prix circuit.

Position Player Points Titles Bonus Prize Money (US$)
1) Cliff Richey (USA) 60 2 $25,000
2) Arthur Ashe (USA) 55 3 $17,000
3) Ken Rosewall (AUS) 53 2 $15,000
4) Rod Laver (AUS) 51 4 $12,000
5) Stan Smith (USA) 47 3 $10,500
6) Zeljko Franulovic (YUG) 35 1 $9,500
7) John Newcombe (AUS) 35 1 $8,500
8) Jan Kodes (CZE) 33 1 $7,500

“Some of my rivals, who had arrived in Japan, went on a whistle stop tour of Sapporo and Kyoto to play exhibition matches,” says Smith. “I remember hanging out with Zeljko [Franulovic] and Arthur [Ashe] a bit and visiting the Imperial Palace. There was no way that I thought it was the start of something special, when I stood alongside Ashe, Zeljko, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Kodes in the lobby of Hotel Okura. We listened to Kramer and the President of Pepsi-Cola Japan [Russ Mooney], who sat in front of the flags of the United States, Australia, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.”

Each day, Smith and the other players trained on the brown clay courts of the Tokyo Lawn Tennis Club, the second oldest club in Japan. They later arrived at the Metropolitan Gymnasium — scene of the first year-end championship — for matches on a fast rubberised court that attracted almost 10,000 fans each evening, courtesy of newspaper publicity and the visits of Her Imperial Highness Princess Chichibu. Imagine today, the elite eight practising on grass courts only to play their matches on the indoor hard of The O2 in London.

“Trestle tables and fold-up chairs lined each side of the rubberised court, which was connected together and set in the middle of the huge arena,” remembers Smith of the 9-15 December 1970 event. “It really did seem like a throw-back to the pro tours. The venue also didn’t have any heating, so the Japanese spectators were wrapped in blankets, fur coats and scarves to keep warm. It must have been like sitting in a refrigerator for them. To this day, I still remember the stark, single light bulb in the locker room, which only had a small gas-heater to keep our muscles from seizing up as we prepared to go out onto the court.”


Smith played title-favourite Rosewall in his penultimate match of the round-robin tournament on 14 December, the occasion of his 24th birthday, knowing that whomever won would clinch the inaugural trophy. “As I served for the match, the court came apart,” recalls Smith, who used his slice serve to great effect in the Deuce court. “‘Muscles’ wouldn’t continue until the court was fixed, so we endured a 20-minute wait in the locker room, until it was glued back together. I went on to win 6-4, 6-5, when a nine-point tie-break was played at 5-5, with a sudden death point at four-all.

“Afterwards, Kramer came on and led the fans in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. I also received a paddle tennis bat and a bouquet of flowers. It was also the day I got my final draft notice, and I was told to report on 16 December.”

Smith adds, “While I lost my final match to Arthur, which started at 7 p.m., in a third set tie-break the next day, I finished with a 4-1 record, identical to Laver. I knew I had earned the title by virtue of beating the ‘Rocket’ [Laver, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4] earlier in the week. Having played with Arthur the week before in Stockholm, we also teamed up to win the doubles round-robin too, and after that week in Tokyo, I definitely started to feel like I was one of the top players.”


Just as the 20-tournament Grand Prix circuit of 1970 had begun, shortly before Roland Garros, Smith had learned that his draft number had been called, for what would become a two-and-a-half year tour of duty in the U.S. Army. So as he criss-crossed the globe in search of bonus points on the 1970 tennis circuit to become one of the lucky few to compete in Tokyo, Smith knew that he’d soon be drafted. “I was in Paris, during the French Open, when I read in the International Herald Tribune that they were doing the lottery and bringing the ping pong balls out of the bag,” recalls Smith, 50 years on. “I checked it out and saw that the letter ‘S’, for my surname, would be one of the last ones out of the bag. But then I realised that the key number for the draft was my birth-date and that translated to 23, so I would be definitely called.”

The first prize for 1970 Pepsi-Cola Masters was a cheque for $15,000, a fortune at the time, but nothing compared to the $1,564,000 that an undefeated champion will take home at the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals. But Smith had little time to celebrate, as he headed to Tokyo airport for a flight at midnight.

“I got to L.A.on the morning of the 15th, got home within an hour to Pasadena, then the next morning I had to go back to L.A. to go to the draft board for 9.a.m.,” says Smith, who is now the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “I took the physical and the guy who swore me in was a USC graduate and he said: ‘You have two choices: you can go on the bus outside and got to Fort Ord to prepare for basic training to begin on 26 December, or you can go home and have excess leave, but you won’t get paid.”

Smith decided to drive home for Christmas, and actually turned up at Fort Ord on 27 December, after 11 days excess leave with no pay.

While the Californian quickly finished his other Tokyo prize, a bottle of Pepsi-Cola, he still cherishes to this day the small trophy that he was presented at the Metropolitan Gymnasium. “I am very proud to be the first winner of the Masters event, which was also at a critical stage of my career,” said Smith. “I also feel proud of the fact we got the players together for the Tour we have today.”

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