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Tiafoe: ‘I Was In A Dark Place, Now I’m Ready For Great Things’

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2021

Frances Tiafoe has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to reflect, step away from the sport and assess his game and his career.

Having dropped more than 30 places in the FedEx ATP Rankings in the early months of 2020, he struggled for form and confidence. But while the five-month suspension of the ATP Tour stopped many in-form stars from carrying their momentum into further events, it helped Tiafoe to break a cycle of disappointing results and find his way out of a difficult position.

“The pandemic was probably the best thing that happened to me in my career, if we are going to be frank. I was in a dark place pre-pandemic,” Tiafoe told “My ranking took a serious hit, obviously losing the quarter-finals [points] in Melbourne. It kind of saved me, because I had Miami coming up where I was defending quarter-finals [points].

“I looked at the guy in the mirror [and asked], ‘Why are you here? What are the things you need to change and what are the things you need to keep building on?’ It helped me a lot. There were a lot of deep conversations with my guys and I wouldn’t have made it to the second week of the US Open without that.”

There were many difficult questions that Tiafoe had to answer during the ATP Tour suspension. The 6’2” right-hander decided that to move forward in his career, he needed to embrace change.

“It was like, ‘Frances Tiafoe. What does that look like post-pandemic? What do you want to change? Are you going to be the same guy or are you going to add some things and change some things?’ I just wanted to be a different guy,” said Tiafoe.

After a couple of months away from the sport, Tiafoe began to miss the feeling of competition. The 2019 Australian Open quarter-finalist returned to action at the Western & Southern Open with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and he pushed former World No. 1 Andy Murray to three sets in his first match.

Despite the loss, Tiafoe took the positives out of his first performance in more than five months and overcame Andreas Seppi, John Millman and Marton Fucsovics to reach the Round of 16 in New York for the first time.

“I was so happy once [I found out that] the US Open was going to get underway,” said Tiafoe. “I couldn’t wait to get out there and I think that was why I did well. I’m at my best when I am enjoying the game and loving the game.”

Frances Tiafoe reached the US Open fourth round for the first time in 2020.

As Tiafoe prepares to celebrate his 23rd birthday on 20 January, he is ready to begin a new phase of his career.

“When you first come on Tour, you are Bugs Bunny [and] just excited to be out there,” said Tiafoe. “You want to play everybody, you want to go to all the tournaments. I am young, but I feel like a veteran. I have been playing on Tour for a while, I am going on 23 now and now I know everybody. I have definitely changed a lot, it doesn’t maybe seem that way but I have definitely changed a lot.”

Having started to work with former World No. 6 Wayne Ferreira during the 2020 lockdown, part of Tiafoe’s maturation has been in the way he now approaches the game. The World No. 62 is keen to find the right balance when it comes to having fun on the court, as he aims to make his mark on the sport.

“I definitely understand that you are going to be one of the guys who is going to have fun every week and everyone loves or you are going to be a guy that everyone loves, but [also someone] they are going to see going deep in tournaments with the fans really embracing you,” said Tiafoe. “I think with me doing that, obviously with the Australia run, fans really embraced that and really got behind that. Instead of being the guy that has fun, I am trying to be the guy who is going to be legendary.”

With a quarter-final run in Delray Beach to open the year, Tiafoe will aim to build on his encouraging start to the season at the Great Ocean Road Open (Melbourne 2). After finding his way through dark times, the American is now ready for a bright and successful 2021 campaign.

“[My motivation] is at a pretty high scale,” said Tiafoe. “I’m ready to do a lot of great things in 2021.”

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Schwartzman: ‘I Think I’m Basically Still The Same’

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2021

Diego Schwartzman has just enjoyed his best season on the ATP Tour. During his 2020 campaign, he recorded a win over Rafael Nadal, reached the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final and the Roland Garros semi-finals, broke into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings and qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals… all of which he achieved for the first time in his career. But the Argentine is not one to rest on his laurels and so he now has some new goals.

“I broke through a barrier [beating Nadal]. Now I can retire saying that I beat him,” said Schwartzman, current World No. 9, in an extensive interview with Argentina’s La Nacion Magazine. “Now my outstanding goals are to beat Roger [Federer] once, ‘Nole’ once and then to win more titles.”

While coveting victory over the members of the Big 3, he does not hide his admiration for them. “I would take all of their shots. They make up the ideal player. I have had some very good years, 2020 was the best and you ask yourself, ‘How is it possible that these guys have been having seasons thousands of times better than mine since they were 18 and they repeat it every year?’”

Inspired by the consistency of the Big 3, ‘El Peque’ will be bidding in 2021 to maintain the standard of his last season. But just as important to him as fighting to improve is keeping his feet on the ground. “[In tennis], more than selfishness, there’s solitude,” Schwartzman explained. “I have changed my personality a little through being alone. But I think basically I’m still the same. If I ever change, I hope the people around me tell me so.”

Remembering his roots and being mindful of the sacrifices he has made have helped the Argentine to remain the same. His path to the top of the ATP Tour, overcoming countless obstacles as well as the economic struggles of his family, also provided a talking point, both with ‘El Peque’ and with his father Ricardo, who remembered the day when he had to sell a Ford Taunus 2.3 to pay for Diego’s trip to a youth tournament in Cordoba.

“As a boy I never realised how little my family had,” Diego remembered. “It would have affected me much more or maybe I even would have stopped playing. Being more aware, I would have thought ‘What is all this they’re doing for me? Are they crazy?’”

Schwartzman spoke about his past, but also his future. He even touched upon his dreams once he retires from the game. “I’d like to be involved in politics to help make sport more federal in Argentina and for the provinces to have better representation.” He also admitted his greatest fears. The 28-year-old right-hander used to be scared of spiders and the dark, but now he is scared of death. He also revealed that he still cries today over the passing of football legend, friend and mentor Diego Maradona, whom he was named after.

“When I finished a big match or, above all, a bad one, I would receive an audio message from him. He sent me a lot in the finals I lost. He would say, ‘Penalties are missed by the person who takes them. Finals are lost by those that have the courage to get there and play them.’ When I lost to Nadal at Roland Garros in 2018, he said, ‘Copy everything you can from the best, but never imitate them. Everyone is unique’. He was unique.”

It seems that Diego, increasingly standing out as one of the most genuine players on Tour, has followed the advice of one of his idols to the letter.

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Medvedev: 'When You Are Down, You Need To Get Up Fast'

  • Posted: Jan 19, 2021

Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Daniil Medvedev finished 2020 as the hottest player on the ATP Tour, but that doesn’t mean the World No. 4 didn’t go through adversity last season.

“I for sure have some problems sometimes, especially when I’m not playing good,” Medvedev said. “I can lose my temper sometimes. I didn’t have one final… and it gets into your mind.”

The Russian won his first four matches at the inaugural ATP Cup and reached the US Open semi-finals, but he entered his final two tournaments of the year with an 18-10 record and no championship match appearances. The 24-year-old’s signature is frustrating his opponents. But as 2020 wore on, it seemed the Russian was mostly frustrating himself with his play.

Medvedev’s impenetrable wall of defence was showing holes, and the effects his unorthodox game had on opponents were not as noticeable as usual. Players slowly began to find their rhythm against the Russian as he lost his.

“Tennis is not an easy sport. It’s tough to explain some things that are happening… When you are down, you need to find the best way to get up fast,” Medvedev said. “I just wanted to show that I’m capable of playing good tennis and beating good guys.”

Medvedev arrived at the Rolex Paris Masters with a 1-3 record at the tournament and departed with his third ATP Masters 1000 title. That gave the Moscow native momentum heading into the Nitto ATP Finals, where he went 0-3 in 2019. Medvedev played some of the smartest and most resilient tennis of his career to become the first player to defeat the top three players in the FedEx ATP Rankings in a single edition of the season finale.

“It’s been an amazing two weeks,” Medvedev said the morning after his London triumph. “Especially [considering] the results I was showing before.”

The fourth seed was impressive in round-robin play, winning all three of his matches in straight sets, including a 6-3, 6-3 triumph against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. But that mattered little in the semi-finals when Rafael Nadal served for a 6-3, 6-4 win against the Russian.

“For sure when Rafa is serving for the match, some part of my mind was already thinking, ‘Okay, well in a few minutes I’m going to be out of this court. That’s such a pity. I was in such great shape,’” Medvedev admitted. “I felt like I was not playing worse than him, at least. I had a break up in the second set. I knew it was my last chance, so I had to give it all. I knew that he would be a little bit tight like any other player who is serving for the match.

“I managed to make some good returns, one winner and we were back at 5-all. The pressure was on him, because he had the chance to close out the match. That’s just a small example of things coming through your brain, which makes you focussed on the goal.”

Medvedev rallied for a stunning 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 victory against Nadal, and then beat reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem in three sets in the final. Just weeks after being down on himself, Medvedev crafted one of the most memorable runs in Nitto ATP Finals history.

Normally, you’d expect the champion to let out a roar or even fall to the court in disbelief. Medvedev shrugged towards his coach, took the ball out of his left pocket, tapped it away and then shrugged again.

“Last year I just decided that it’s going to be my trademark. A lot of people like it, some people not, but that’s how I feel it,” Medvedev said. “When you win big titles or big matches against big opponents and you don’t celebrate, you actually have the opportunity to look around yourself and feel all the energy that’s going around.

“As an artist, as a tennis player, you can feel it all if you think about it.”

Medvedev called himself an artist, even if he isn’t the most orthodox one. He began to use more brushes to create his masterpieces, playing aggressively and taking the action to some of the best players in the world during his end-of-season surge.

“If I need to be defensive, I will stay defensive. But usually against the Top 10 players it will not work to only be defensive, so you have to change up your tactics,” Medvedev said. “Of course when I’m feeling good, I still like to hit the ball strong, especially with my forehand. I had more winners than my opponent in almost every match I played [in London], which is great. I am happy that the small things we worked on with my coach in practice worked out and showed on the big stage like this.”

Through the ups and the downs, Medvedev stayed the course in 2020. As he gets set to begin the new season, the 24-year-old will not rest on his laurels.

“We are trying to work every day to make me a better tennis player.”

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