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Melzer/Roger-Vasselin Comeback Seals Final Berth

  • Posted: Nov 21, 2020

Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin had to turn around a 1/7 deficit in the Match Tie-break and save match point to complete a spectacular 6-7(4), 6-3, 11-9 comeback and defeat second seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury.

The victory sent the seventh seeds into the Nitto ATP Finals championship match, where they will take on tournament debutants Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic. It also seals the ATP year-end No. 1 FedEx ATP Doubles Team Ranking for Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares, eliminating Ram and Salisbury from contention.

“We had a talk before Sofia, the week before, [saying] that our attitude must be much better because sometimes when we were a set down or a break down, the shoulders [went] a little bit down, ” said Roger-Vasselin. “From Sofia and here, we said, ‘No matter what, we show good attitude. Always [be] positive [and] help each other and we’ll see what happens.’ I think it was the key because we won two matches [that were] incredible and we are still here. We are in the final. It is definitely amazing.”

The Austrian and French team had to recover after dropping the opening set to a dialied-in Ram and Salisbury. They got off to a fast start, breaking early to build up a 2-0 lead, but Ram and Salisbury quickly levelled the score at 2-2 before edging through in a tie-break.

That seemed to jolt the seventh seeds into action, and Melzer and Roger-Vasselin raised their level to strike back in the second set, reeling off five games in a row to open up a 5-2 lead as they sent the encounter into a Match Tie-break.

Ram and Salisbury regrouped as a pair of double faults – including a second-serve foot fault call against Roger-Vasselin – threatened to derail the seventh seeds. Facing down a 1/7 deficit as Ram and Salisbury looked set to march to victory, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin responded emphatically to reel off seven consecutive points. They had to save a match point before claiming victory in just under two hours to advance to the final.

“I try to enjoy it as much as I can because tomorrow is my last match as a real, professional tennis player,” said Melzer. “It is kind of sad, but it is a great story to end with. Being in the final of the Nitto ATP Finals is just amazing. I would not have dreamt of [this] if you would have told me after the US Open that we are going to be here at the end of the year. I [will] try to enjoy it as much as I can, soak it all up, soak it all and that’s me tomorrow.”


Koolhof and Mektic await in the Nitto ATP Finals championship clash, after the fifth seeds defeated Marcel Granollers/Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4 earlier in the day.

“We are just so happy to be in the final,” said Roger-Vasselin. “We lost the first match in the round robin, so after that we were like, ‘Okay, we have nothing else to lose. We will just fight until the last point.’ That is what we are going to do tomorrow, fight from the first until the last point no matter what.”

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Pavic & Soares Clinch Year-End No. 1 ATP Doubles Team Ranking

  • Posted: Nov 21, 2020

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares have clinched the year-end No. 1 FedEx ATP Doubles Team Ranking after a strong finish to the 2020 season. Two years ago, Pavic finished in top spot with Oliver Marach, while Soares partnered Jamie Murray in 2016 to become the year-end No. 1 team.

The Croatian-Brazilian team, which completed Group Bob Bryan this week with a 2-1 record at The O2 in London, were assured of year-end No. 1 when Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin defeated Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury on Saturday in the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals. Pavic and Soares had come into the season finale just 35 points ahead of second-placed Ram and Salisbury in the FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings.

Pavic and Soares, who compiled a 4-5 match record this season prior to the five-month ATP Tour suspension, returned strongly to capture their first Grand Slam championship team trophy in September at the US Open (d. Koolhof/Mektic). They went on to reach two finals in Paris — at Roland Garros (l. to Krawietz/Mies) in October and the Rolex Paris Masters (l. to Auger-Aliassime/Hurkacz) two weeks ago.

ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said: “The battle for the year-end No. 1 doubles team has been closer than ever this year, with all eight teams entering the season finale with a chance to claim top spot. Our congratulations to Mate and Bruno – finishing the year as No. 1 is the ultimate achievement in our sport. They should be very proud of their season and they fully deserve this accolade.

Melzer and Roger-Vasselin will face Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic in the title match of the Nitto ATP Finals on Sunday.

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Dominic Thiem: Existential Threat To Big Three Dominance

  • Posted: Nov 21, 2020

2020 has already been a milestone year for Dominic Thiem. He broke into the Top 3 for the first time in March, and in September he captured his first major at the US Open. An on Saturday, he notched his 300th win and, in the process, joined an incredibly exclusive club with just one other member: a Scottish fellow who was knighted by Prince Charles in 2019.

With his remarkable, two-hour, 54-minute victory over Novak Djokovic at The O2 Saturday, the man some affectionately call the Thieminator joined Andy Murray as the second man in tennis history to collect five or more wins against each member of the Big Three—Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

“That is super special to me,” said Thiem of the achievement. “To beat the three best players of all time, five times each is something great for me. It’s a super nice statistic but as I said after the match with Rafa every single match against them is a huge privilege. It’s a huge opportunity to learn and of course if you beat these guys, it gives you a huge boost of confidence.”

Just a few years ago, this achievement seemed improbable. He was 7-15 versus the Big Three prior to 2019, but is a spectacular 9-3 against them since, though two of those losses were particularly painful ones, as they came in major finals (2019 Roland Garros to Nadal and 2020 Australian Open to Djokovic). The Austrian has a 5-2 career advantage over Federer, is now 5-7 versus Djokovic, and is 6-9 versus Nadal, but could have an opportunity to narrow that gap on Sunday if Nadal beats Medvedev in Saturday’s second semi-final.

After the match, Djokovic made no excuses and gave all credit to his opponent.

“What he did (coming back) from 0/4 (down) in the third-set tie-break was just unreal,” said the Serb, who turned 33 in May. “I mean, I don’t think I played bad. He just crushed the ball… he just took it away from me. But he deserved it, because he just went for it and everything worked. I have to put my hat down and say, Congratulations.”


The salute was a sincere one—Thiem is one of the most popular players in the locker room. No one wants to lose, but when opponents stroll to the net after a beating from him, they often appear genuinely happy for him, as Novak did today.

The walk of defeat to the net has been happening seemingly more and more for the Austrian’s opponents each year. He led the ATP Tour with 211 wins from 2016-9 but before 2019 Thiem was 15-32 against the Top 10. Since 2019, he’s 17-8 against the Top 10.

Thiem turned 27 in September. In baseball, hitters are said to reach their peak batting prowess at that age. The Big Three, however, all had their finest seasons (Federer- 2004, Nadal- 2010, Djokovic- 2011) earlier, around ages 23-24. In Thiem’s case, his breakout has been slower less because he’s a late bloomer than the simple fact that he’s had tennis’ three kings in his way.

The filmmaker Luis Bunuel once said, “age doesn’t matter unless you’re a cheese”. But surely the fact that Thiem is six years younger than Novak, seven younger than Nadal and 12 years Federer’s junior bodes well for him potentially having a winning record against all three musketeers in due time. Last year, he beat Federer, Djokovic, and Alexander Zverev en route to the Nitto ATP Finals title match. This year, his victims include Nadal and Djokovic, and he might have one more crack at Rafa tomorrow. The times, as Bob Dylan once crooned, are a changin’.

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You Won't Guess Thiem's Secret Weapon Against Djokovic…

  • Posted: Nov 21, 2020

Dominic Thiem is known for his overwhelming power from the baseline. But one shot that proved critical in his semi-final victory against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the Nitto ATP Finals on Saturday was his backhand slice.

“If it wouldn’t be there, I think a big part of my game would be missing,” Thiem said.

Djokovic had this year’s US Open champion in deep trouble in the final-set tie-break, but the backhand slice helped the Austrian dig out of that hole. From 4/0 down, Thiem hit at least one backhand slice in the next four rallies (that did not result in an ace) to gain a 6/4 advantage.

“It’s definitely [one of the] most important shots in my game. I love to use the slice… on all surfaces, actually. But here the bounce is pretty low. It’s a fast surface, so it’s a great, great option, especially to get from a defensive position into a neutral position again,” Thiem said. “It helped me out great today.“

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Match Insights

In some cases, Thiem used his backhand slice as a tactical tool before unleashing his massive forehand. It was as if he was putting the nail into place with his slice before using his hammer to finish the job. At 1/4 and 5/4, the third seed neutralised Djokovic’s attack with a backhand slice before later uncorking a winner.

At 2/4, four of Thiem’s nine shots in the rally were backhand slices. The last of those shots was a short slice, forcing Djokovic to awkwardly attempt to approach the net with his own backhand slice, which went into the net.

The slice Thiem seemed happiest with came at 3/4. Djokovic pushed him back with a deep return. After fending that off with a defensive forehand, Thiem turned the tide in the point with a nasty backhand slice down the line, which tailed away from Djokovic’s forehand. The top seed was barely able to get to the ball and he missed a backhand later in the rally.

“I think it was 3/4, one time [I hit an] amazing slice… a great one down the line, which is such an important shot in my game,” Thiem said. “I think I improved it and I practised it a lot.”

Djokovic certainly noticed Thiem’s backhand slice.

“What he did from 0/4 in the third-set tie-break was just unreal. I mean, I don’t think I played bad,” Djokovic said. “He just crushed the ball. Everything went in from both corners, and he played couple of very short slices, angles.”

All eyes are always on Thiem’s incredible power, and rightfully so. The 27-year-old crushed winners in key moments Saturday. But 26 per cent of Thiem’s groundstrokes were slices compared to only nine per cent for Djokovic, and that played a role, too.

– Slice statistics courtesy of Hawkeye

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Koolhof/Mektic Clinch Final Spot In London

  • Posted: Nov 21, 2020

Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic continued their dream team debut at the Nitto ATP Finals on Saturday, as they beat Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4 to reach the championship match in London.

The Group Mike Bryan winners fired seven aces and returned with confidence to improve to 3-1 at The O2 this week. Koolhof and Mektic are bidding to capture their first team title in their first year as a duo. The fifth seeds finished as the runner-up pair at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille and the US Open earlier this year.

“We are reaching almost every goal this year so far. The first goal was to play here, then play our first Grand Slam final, qualify from the group here and now we are in the final,” said Koolhof in an on-court interview. “So far, it has been a dream week. One more to go tomorrow and we are ready to celebrate.”


Koolhof and Mektic entered the tournament with just one win from their past four matches, but the US Open finalists have played their best tennis at the season finale. As a result of their semi-final win, the pair has collected 800 FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings points this week and will have the chance to earn a further 500 points in the championship match.

“We played really well. From the start, we were very focussed. We did not make any mistakes. We did not give them any chances,” said Mektic.

After failing to convert two break points in their opening return game, Koolhof and Mektic played with aggression on their returns and showed great reflexes at the net to earn two more break opportunities at 4-3 in the first set. Koolhof converted the first chance with a well-placed lob and clinched the set in the next game with a forehand volley.

Koolhof and Mektic continued to hit their return targets in the second set, as they fired a series of dipping returns to the ankles of Granollers to break serve at 1-1. The fifth seeds maintained their advantage and earned their place in the final with a love service hold.

Granollers and Zeballos were chasing their fourth team trophy of the year. The Spanish-Argentine duo finish their 2020 ATP Tour season with titles in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Rome and a 24-8 team record.

Koolhof and Mektic will face Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury or Jurgen Melzer/Edouard Roger-Vasselin for the trophy. The Dutch-Croatian tandem owns a 2-1 ATP Head2Head record against Ram/Salisbury and has not met Melzer/Roger-Vasselin at tour-level.

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ATP And Lacoste Extend Partnership

  • Posted: Nov 21, 2020

The ATP and Lacoste have announced a multi-year extension of their highly successful partnership. The agreement will see Lacoste transition into an Official Supplier of the ATP Tour, through 2023, following a long-standing partnership with the Nitto ATP Finals, the ATP’s season-ending finale.

The new agreement will see Lacoste become the Official Outfitter and Official Footwear of the ATP Tour, granting the ‘Crocodile’ brand marketing rights and exposure on ATP Tour digital platforms.

In addition, Lacoste will continue to outfit ATP staff throughout the season.

“We are proud to be extending the ATP’s long-term relationship with Lacoste, now in its 19th year,” said Massimo Calvelli, ATP CEO. “As one of the world’s leading fashion brands, whose heritage is rooted in tennis, Lacoste has huge crossover appeal and is a perfect fit for the ATP and our vision for the sport. We are excited at the opportunity to continue our storytelling together.”

“At Lacoste, elegance is more than just a story of style on and off the court, it is a state of mind that we have shared with the ATP for 19 years now and that we are proud to perpetuate today with the renewal of our contract” said Thierry Guibert, Lacoste CEO.

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Ashe, Nastase At His Nastiest, and a Double DQ In Stockholm

  • Posted: Nov 21, 2020

It had been a season to remember for both Arthur Ashe, who had captured the Wimbledon crown, and also Ilie Nastase, a player who tried to be, at the same time, an artist and an actor. But on 30 November 1975, on the opening day of the $130,000 Commercial Union Masters [now named Nitto ATP Finals], Nastase saw his five-year winning record over Ashe coming to an end. In arguably the most controversial moment in the 50-year history of the year-end championship, the very character of each player, the paper-thin tennis rulebook and, at that time, how the sport was officiated, were all called into question.

The seeds had been sown even before a ball had been hit, the night before. Sitting in the cocktail bar of the Grand Hotel, a home to high-profile events and celebrities for 100 years in Stockholm, Nastase was holding court, just 24 hours before playing Ashe in their opening match. As Ashe entered, Nastase asked, “How are you feeling? Good, I hope. I’m going to give you a hard time tomorrow.” Ashe, now sitting beside Nastase at the bar, laughed heartily at times — he knew what the Romanian was like — and soon sipped at his drink. Others were falling about laughing, listening to Nastase rattle on, when Ashe slipped off his stool to leave, prior to telling the barman, “That’ll be on Mr Nastase’s cheque.” As Ashe left, he tapped Nastase on the shoulder, a big grin on his face.

Fast forward to the next evening, and Nastase trailed Ashe 6-1, 5-7 and 1-4, 15/40, in the deciding set. Tensions were high, stoked in the locker room prior to walking out onto the indoor carpet court at the Kungliga tennishallen. Ashe, a winner of nine singles titles in 1975, had benefitted from some close line calls at 5-5 in the second set, which ended with Nastase striking a ball into the advertising boards at the side of the court, close to a lines judge. The 29-year-old was then warned for poor sportsmanship, and later stalled play and continued to stop Ashe’s service motion. Nastase was being heckled by a man in the crowd and walked from the baseline to scream, ‘Are you talking to me?’ Nastase, who’d also then won nine titles that year, then mimicked his opponent’s serve, asking, “Are you ready, Mr Ashe?”

By this stage, Horst Klosterkemper, the 36-year-old German referee, was sitting uncomfortably in his courtside chair, wondering if the chair umpire would take action. He didn’t. After a two-minute delay by Nastase, which saw him bounce the ball an inordinate number of times, Ashe said, “That’s it. I’ve had enough”. He stormed to the side of the court, picked up his spare racquet, a towel and jumper and began to walk off. Klosterkemper rushed on in an attempt to first disqualify Nastase but began to plead with Ashe. It was too late.

Klosterkemper, who would soon establish the World Team Cup at the Rochusclub in Dusseldorf, told 45 years on, “At that time, the rules were so flexible that even I, as the referee, was not entitled to go on the court. But I thought I had to go down from my seat in the stands, because the chair umpire did not succeed in giving Ilie a definite warning or disqualify him. When they changed sides at 4-1, Ilie was stalling and talking to the public and I saw, from my point of view, the chair umpire didn’t do anything.

“Before I came onto the court, the chair umpire tried in a very polite way, asking Ilie to continue. Someone in the crowd shouted out, ‘Get on with it!’ Then Nastase turned around and talked to crowd. He then turned to Arthur on the other side of the net, ‘Are you ready Mr Ashe?’ There, I felt the chair umpire was too polite and didn’t control Ilie. So I made up my mind to disqualify him, but by the time I got to the court, I had no chance because Arthur was leaving the court.

“Arthur got so irritated that he went to his bags, picked up his racquets and I rushed onto the court, to ask him, ‘Arthur, please, stay on the court otherwise you disqualify yourself!’ And Arthur said, ‘I’m finished, that’s enough’. He then left the court, and I went back to the chair umpire, outside of the rules, to ask him to disqualify Ilie, which he then did. Ilie said, ‘No, no, I’m the winner. He left the court.’

Klosterkemper had umpired a few Davis Cup ties before being appointed as the 1975 Masters referee, but there were no professional officials at the time. “Bud Collins, who interviewed me courtside for NBC Sports, asked as to my professional status. ‘I’m sorry, I am doing this as an honorary job’, I said. Afterwards, Bud then said, jokingly, ‘Good luck, I’m sure that the lawyers of Ilie Nastase will get hold of you.’”

Minutes later, John Beddington, in his fourth year as Tournament Director, debated with Klosterkemper, the umpire and Hans-Ake Sturen of the Stockholm Grand Prix tournament, in the same locker room as Nastase, who was sitting rather sheepishly behind clothes and towels, unbeknownst to a still irate Ashe. “I had never experienced Arthur in a fury – he was really, really angry and I doubt if it ever happened again,” Beddington told, 45 years on. “The problem which faced us was that Arthur’s offence — walking off court — was every bit as bad as Ilie’s. Taking the law into his own hands did not help and he refused to continue the match by returning to the court. Nobody wanted to default Arthur – and he had been provoked. After a considerable discussion, Horst decided to default both players, which would give them both a loss in the round-robin format.”

But by defaulting them both, the eight-player round-robin tournament — featuring two groups of four players — was broken. “I’ll appeal against that,” said Ashe, when the decision was made. “You won’t get away with it.” A compromise was needed and Klosterkemper, Beddington, Sturen and Commercial Union boss Geoff Mullis were soon debating with ITF President Derek Hardwick, who’d left the Kungliga tennishallen for the hotel only 30 minutes prior to the incident.

Ashe knew the rules as he’d helped write them, and years later, in the company of his wife, Jeanne, they sat with Klosterkemper at the Rochusclub in Dusseldorf during the 1979 World Team Cup. Ashe admitted, “That night, I knew I had to sit down and begin building on the Code of Conduct [which today amounts to 420 pages in 2020]. It’s a shame that this incident happened, you did your best. But the rules did not exist.”

“Arthur had an impeccable character and integrity,” Ashe’s good friend Fred McNair, who was competing with Sherwood Stewart in the 1975 Masters doubles, told “Arthur honoured the sport and honoured himself by rising above it. He could have forced Horst to take Nastase off the court, but he made a different statement, peacefully.”

The next morning, on what was the second day of the 1975 Masters tournament, the committee overturned Klosterkemper’s original decision after a four-hour meeting. “I still have the three-page letter Arthur handed me later on the evening of the match, appealing the default and declining to continue to participate in the Masters until a firm decision was made,” Beddington, the Tournament Director of the Rogers Cup between 1979 to 1994, told “Arthur claimed that a draw or a double default, was, in effect, no decision at all, and it was hard to argue against his logic. His letter ended by offering his ‘sincere regrets for any inconvenience caused’.”

Ilie Nastase receives the 1975 Masters trophy from Sweden’s Princess Christina.

The impasse was short-lived and at a late lunch in the Grand Hotel, with Klosterkemper sat at another table, Nastase tip-toed over to Ashe to present the American some red, white and yellow flowers. “Please forgive me,” the Romanian said. “I forfeit the match. I give it to you.”

Ashe, the dignified ATP President and role model, called the whole episode a “travesty and a bad joke”, while for three-time Masters champion Nastase, who’d won 18 of 20 matches at the tournament in the past four years, it was the day that he learned a lesson. Even today, Nastase greets Klosterkemper by saying, “Thank you for disqualifying me, because from that moment on, I concentrated on my tennis.” Klosterkemper adds, “He knew it was his bad behaviour and he really did feel guilty. When he learned his lesson that night, he tried to play tennis properly.”

Ashe, who later admitted he was “mad for the first time in 10 years” in walking off the court against Nastase, went on to beat Adriano Panatta 7-6, 6-3 the next night to qualify outright for the semi-finals. So it was Nastase who watched on nervously, from the stands, two days later, as Manuel Orantes needed to beat Ashe in straight sets in order to join Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas and Ashe in the final four. Otherwise, Nastase would qualify. There was no special reason for Ashe to extend a helping hand to Nastase. As he had already qualified, Ashe could have tanked the match to keep Nastase from qualifying for the semi-finals, but the American defeated Orantes 6-4, 6-1 with aggressive net play. Nastase left the Kungliga tennishallen after the first game of the second set, assured of his place in the semi-finals, where he’d meet Vilas.

“The most remarkable thing was that Arthur’s behaviour was exemplary, he was such a role model,” said Klosterkemper, who would return to the Nitto ATP Finals as Tournament Chairman in 1990, when the competition was played in Frankfurt. “If Arthur had lost to Orantes, even one set, then Ilie would not have been able to qualify for the semi-finals. But Arthur won two-sets-to-love, meaning Orantes was out and Ilie had a chance to come back. Imagine what that says about Arthur. I felt that Ilie learned his lesson that day and I am convinced that he really tried to concentrate on tennis, and that he showed the world that he was not only a clown, but he could also win events.”

Nastase didn’t lose another set all week. He went on to beat Orantes 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 and Panatta 7-6, 3-6, 6-0 in the Blue Group, then powered past Vilas in the semi-finals. Ashe lost to White Group runner-up Bjorn Borg 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. John Barrett, in the World of Tennis Yearbook wrote, “Nastase, wielding his racquet like a wand, conjured pure magic from the ball in destroying Vilas 6-0, 6-3, 6-4. The young bull of the Pampas was reduced to impotence — every charge was parried; every attack blunted until the despairing Vilas was executed at the last by the flashing Romanian rapier.”

Nastase proved too strong for Borg, winning 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in a final that lasted just 65 minutes to claim the $40,000 first prize. It was pure tennis and earlier this month, Borg told, “I lost in the final to Nastase. There was a lot of pressure. I thought I had a good chance, but I didn’t play well in the final and Ilie did. I don’t really know what happened, I won five games over three sets.”

While it proved to be Nastase’s fourth and final Masters title, with his .880 winning percentage (22-3) remaining a record to this day, it was the double disqualification in November 1975 that set Ashe on a path to developing a professional Code of Conduct. From 12 points on a sheet of paper, the now 420-page book is very much the American’s work, 45 years on.

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