Tennis News

From around the world

Kafelnikov On A Future Russian Grand Slam Champion: 'It's Inevitable'

  • Posted: Feb 15, 2021

Russia’s tennis monster has steadily grown over the past few years. But at Melbourne Park, it has loomed larger than ever. First, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev led their country to glory in the ATP Cup. Now at the Australian Open, three Russian men — with World No. 114 Aslan Karatsev joining Medvedev and Rublev — are into the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time in the Open Era.

The country’s stars are not just shining Down Under; they are making history. Back home, former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov couldn’t be happier.

“It was really expected that two of them got to where they are. The third one is a big surprise, but a very happy surprise. I’m very happy for Aslan, finally getting his breakthrough,” Kafelnikov told “He’s going to play a lot of tournaments now without any pressure for the remainder of the 2021 season in terms of getting into the main draws and a big pay cheque will also be a huge boost for him. I’m really happy for him.”

During the ATP Cup, it was clear Medvedev and Rublev were dominant forces for their country. The stars produced jaw-dropping performances against the best players in the world. They lost a combined two singles sets in the entire event, creating plenty of hype leading into the Australian Open. They have lived up to those expectations during the season’s first Grand Slam, where they will play each other in the quarter-finals Wednesday. But to Kafelnikov, regardless of what happens, this is just the beginning.

“We all know that it’s inevitable that they’re going to win a Slam,” Kafelnikov said. “It’s a question of when and where.”

Kafelnikov was the first Russian man to earn a Grand Slam singles championship at 1996 Roland Garros, and he also triumphed at the 1999 Australian Open. Another former World No. 1 from Russia, Marat Safin, also claimed two major trophies, with his most recent one coming at Melbourne Park in 2005. No man from their country has won a Slam since, but Kafelnikov will be excited for the countryman who changes that.

“To be honest, I would be happy if one of those guys or even both of them surpass me in terms of number of titles and weeks at No. 1 in the world,” Kafelnikov said of Medvedev and Rublev. “I’d be happy. I’m not going to be jealous about it. My career was very successful, and hopefully they will have even better [careers].”

A 53-time titlist in singles and doubles, Kafelnikov says that while Russian children once looked up to him and Safin, they now naturally idolise Medvedev, Rublev and World No. 20 Karen Khachanov. Their success is inspiring future generations.

“It’s a great example for the [Russian] parents who at one stage want to have their kids be on the same level [in sports],” Kafelnikov said. “It’s definitely giving them that kind of opportunity. [It is like] what I did with Marat back in the 1990s and early 2000s when we were coming up and playing well and becoming famous all over the world. I think they are great examples. It’s all up to them what is going to happen in the future.”

Medvedev, Rublev and Khachanov — who was not on the Russian ATP Cup team this year, but reached the third round at the Australian Open — are close friends. They have been on the tennis world’s radar for years, with all three competing at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in 2017.

They warned fans and reporters alike that while Karatsev was not getting the attention during the country’s title run, he was one to watch out for, too. According to Medvedev, Karatsev was Russia’s “secret weapon”. The 27-year-old “secret” is out after making the quarter-finals in his first Grand Slam main draw.

“It’s great for our sport [in Russia]. With Andrey, [we are] really happy for Aslan, because he was practising good in the ATP Cup. We felt like he could do something amazing,” Medvedev said. “To be honest, being in your first Grand Slam main draw and making the quarters is something exceptional. [His run is] not over yet. Let’s see how he does tomorrow.”

One Russian is guaranteed to reach the semi-finals because Medvedev and Rublev are playing each other, and two will make the last four in Melbourne if Karatsev upsets former World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov. But this is not an aberration.

Medvedev at the 2019 US Open became the first Russian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Safin won the 2005 Australian Open. He then lifted the biggest trophy of his career at last year’s Nitto ATP Finals. Rublev led the ATP Tour with five crowns last season and he has stormed into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, making Russia the only country with two players in the elite group.

How does the generation these Russians are competing in compare to the challenges that confronted Kafelnikov and Safin two decades ago? Kafelnikov does not want to compare the two, feeling that’s unfair to all the players involved.

“It’s a million-dollar question and it’s hard for me to answer. We would probably say that we played in a way harder generation in terms of average level of player and they would say they played in the Big Three era when those guys won practically every Slam for the past 13, 14 years,” Kafelnikov said. “It’s almost unfair to draw the line between the generations. We all had our tough times playing against guys like Sampras, Agassi, Becker, Edberg, Kuerten, players like that. They would say they had a hard time playing against Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. It’s understandable.”

Kafelnikov simply wants this group to shine, and he will be watching as Russia’s stars try to continue leaving their mark in Australia.

“I’m going to watch Karatsev play against Dimitrov and then on Wednesday I will watch the Rublev-Medvedev match,” Kafelnikov said. “I am very excited, but it’s not only me. All the fans in Russia are excited.”

Source link

Preview: With History at Stake, Nole Soldiers On

  • Posted: Feb 15, 2021

When you’re chasing history, as Novak Djokovic is, you do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position to compete, to win.

That often means sacrifice. For Djokovic — in pursuit of career-long rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — that can mean anything from time away from family, adherence to a strict diet and, sometimes, pushing through injury.

When the Serb slipped to the court early in the third set of his third-round matchup with American Taylor Fritz on Friday night, left splayed across the MELBOURNE logo, he knew he had over-stressed, perhaps even torn, an abdominal muscle. He would somehow survive, prevailing, 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, and calling it “one of the most special wins in my life”. But no one, not even Nole himself, knew if he would recover in time to take the court against Canadian Milos Raonic in the Round of 16.

As we would later learn, the top seed and two-time defending champion didn’t so much as lift a racquet the following day. So how did he do it? How did he rebound to oust 14th seed Raonic less than 48 hours later, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, in what would be his career milestone 300th match win at a major?

“You don’t want to know,” he quipped.


Road to the AO final

The World No. 1 hinted that he’d had an MRI, spent some time on the table aside physio Ulises Badio and the Tennis Australia medical team, and taken the recommended painkillers, but he wouldn’t get into the nitty-gritty regarding the injury. He knew that to continue was, in his own words, “a gamble,” and that there would likely be some pain, but it was a risk he was willing to take.

Djokovic, who became only the second member of ‘The 300 Club’, the other being Federer (362), said: “It’s a Grand Slam. It matters a lot to me at this stage of my career. I want to do everything possible in this very short amount of time to get on the court.”

Call it a champion’s desperation; an unbending will to win.


Now into the quarter-finals for the 12th time, Djokovic will face sixth seed Alexander Zverev for the second time in a matter of 11 days. They met in Group A play during the ATP Cup, with Djokovic prevailing in three sets, 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5, his fifth win in seven ATP Head2Head encounters with the German. He’s quite familiar with Zverev’s ability to play first-strike tennis.

“There’s probably going to be gruelling rallies, exhausting, and it’s going to be demanding from my side from back of the court,” said Djokovic, who’s eyeing a record ninth Australian Open title. “He moves very well for his height, his size, but he’s also one of the best servers we’ve got in the game. He’s a very complete, all-around player.

“It’s really in God’s hands where my condition goes from today to the first point against Sascha. I’m just hoping that it’s going to go in the right direction, that I didn’t damage it, whatever is happening in there, too much, and feel even 10 per cent better than I did today. And if that’s the case, I like my chances.”

“You’ve got to play your best tennis, especially here. This is his favourite court, this is his favourite tournament,” said the 23-year-old Zverev, who topped Djokovic, 6-4, 6-3, to capture the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals title. “To be able to have a chance against him, you have to be playing extremely well. You have to be playing aggressive tennis, being the one that dominates. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think it’s one of the toughest challenges in our sport to be playing Novak at this Grand Slam in the later rounds.”

Despite breaking through to his first Grand Slam final at the US Open last year, the Australian Open has proven to be Zverev’s most successful major championship in terms of matches won. He reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park last year, dismissing Andrey Rublev and Stan Wawrinka en route to the final four (l. to Dominic Thiem, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4)). To make it back-to-back trips to the semi-finals, he’ll have to get past Djokovic on Day 9.

After shocking third seed Thiem, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov is into the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the fourth time in eight years. And yet he’s heading into the unknown. That’s because his next opponent is a player who, until only days ago, most tennis fans, even the hardcore ones, had never heard of: Aslan Karatsev.

Team Russia’s so-called “secret weapon” in its run to the ATP Cup title, Karatsev, ranked No. 114 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, has spent the bulk of his professional tennis career fighting for points on the ATP Challenger Tour. The 27-year-old won 18 of his final 20 matches at that level in 2020, claiming two trophies, but until this week, he’d never made it through qualifying into the main draw at a major.

Karatsev, who rallied from two sets down in the Round of 16 to defeat 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, becomes first Grand Slam debutant to reach the quarter-finals since Alex Radulescu at Wimbledon in 1996, and the first qualifier to reach the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam since Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon in 2011.

Dimitrov isn’t looking past his inexperienced foe.

“It takes time for everyone to get to somewhere, but the best part is that you treat every player the same way, and I will treat this match no different,” he said. “I will still go through my routines. I’m still going to do my work. It’s just honestly another match. I’m not going to think of what the guy has done, what he has accomplished or what is going on.

“Clearly, in order for him to be here, he’s done something right, and he’s playing great tennis right now. Of course, he’s a dangerous player. You’re entering deep into the second week. It’s a quarter-final match of a Grand Slam. You don’t take any of that lightly.”

During Russia’s victorious run at the ATP Cup, all the attention went to Karatsev’s teammates, Rublev and Daniil Medvedev. How does it feel to finally have the spotlight to himself?


Source link

Medvedev On Big Three’s Grand Slam Success: ‘Those Are Ridiculous Numbers’

  • Posted: Feb 15, 2021

Following his 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win against Mackenzie McDonald in the Australian Open Round of 16 on Monday, Daniil Medvedev was asked which member of the Big Three he believed to be the superior player.

Earlier in the tournament, when asked a similar question, Nick Kyrgios shared his belief that Roger Federer is the greatest player of all time. Medvedev, however, refused to separate Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

“For me, [I pick] all of the three because no matter how many Grand Slams they all have at the end of their careers, what they did in tennis is amazing,” said Medvedev. “I remember when Pete Sampras beat the record [number] of Grand Slams [won], I was really young. I remember all the news, sports news, saying, ‘This record is forever.’ Just like Messi and Ronaldo in football. Then the three guys came, they not [only] beat the record, they destroyed the record.”

For Medvedev, who turned 25 last week, the possibility of reaching the record Grand Slam hauls of Federer and Nadal (20) is difficult to comprehend. If the Russian won the next 20 Grand Slam events, his first opportunity to break Federer and Nadal’s record would come just before his 30th birthday at the 2026 Australian Open. Only two men in the Open Era — Rod Laver (1969) and Djokovic (2015-’16) — have won four consecutive Grand Slams.

”[It] is amazing because, for example, me, I’m 25, I’m playing good tennis. I feel like I’m one of the top players in the world. I have zero slams,” said Medvedev. “Imagine me [getting] to 20, I [would] need to win five years in a row every Slam… against amazing opponents, [in] five-set matches [and] not be injured. [Those are] ridiculous numbers. For me, they’re the three, for sure, greatest players in the history of tennis.”

Medvedev’s bid to capture a first Grand Slam title will continue on Wednesday, when he meets good friend Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park. The pair began the year as teammates, when they each claimed four singles victories for Russia en route to the ATP Cup title.

Medvedev and Rublev will meet for the fourth time in their ATP Head2Head series on Wednesday. The 2020 Nitto ATP Finals champion owns a 3-0 record against Rublev and is yet to drop a set against the seven-time ATP Tour titlist. The fact that he will be looking across the net at a friend will make no difference to Medvedev’s approach to the match.

“It doesn’t make a difference [that Andrey and I are friends]. On the tennis court, we’re going to try to win. [It] doesn’t matter,” said Medvedev. “If you can win 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, you’re going to make it. You’re not going to give two games at the end to say, ‘He’s my close friend, I’m going to give him two games.’ If you have to win 7-6 in the fifth, you’re going to try to make it.

“[It is the] same for him… [At the end of the match], one of us is going to say congratulations to [the] other one. We’ll be disappointed with the result, but we’ll move on and have many more matches to come.”

Team Russia

With Medvedev and Rublev crossing paths in the quarter-finals in Melbourne, Russia is guaranteed a semi-finalist at the Australian Open for the first time since Marat Safin’s title run in 2005. However, the winner of the all-Russian clash may not be the only player from the nation to reach the last four at the opening major championship of the year.

Medvedev and Rublev’s teammate Aslan Karatsev, who is competing in his maiden Grand Slam main draw, will attempt to reach the semi-finals on Tuesday. The World No. 114 has defeated eighth seed Diego Schwartzman and #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime en route to the quarter-finals, where he will meet 2017 semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov.

“We are both really happy for Aslan, because he was practising good at the ATP Cup,” said Medvedev. “We felt like he could do something amazing. To be honest, being in your first Grand Slam main draw and making the quarter-finals is something exceptional. He’s not over yet. Let’s see how he does tomorrow.”

Source link

Bottini On Dimitrov: 'The Things He Can Do Are Unbelievable'

  • Posted: Feb 15, 2021

Grigor Dimitrov has long enjoyed success at the Australian Open, where he is into the quarter-finals for the fourth time. The 2017 semi-finalist will try to return to the last four again when he faces Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev on Tuesday.

The Bulgarian recently started working with a new coach, Dante Bottini, the former longtime mentor of Kei Nishikori. caught up with Bottini about their quick start, what it has been like getting to know Dimitrov and how he coached the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion from hard quarantine.

Grigor said he called you late last year when he heard you were free and he got the sense that you hit it off right away, and not just on the court. Did you realise that, too?
I saw that right away. He called me in November and said he wanted to meet with me. I spent three full days with him in Monaco. We talked a lot about life, about tennis, about how I see tennis and his tennis. We hit it off really, really well from the beginning. He was happy and then he called after a few days and said he would like to start training with me. That was a good meeting.

Because you’ve been on Tour for so long and Kei played Grigor so many times, did you have an idea right away of what you wanted to do with Grigor’s game?
For sure. Kei played so many times against him and we practised also during all these years. They played doubles together, so I knew very well how Grigor plays. I never saw him in detail in practice that much. I knew his potential, but to tell you the truth he surprised me that it’s even better. He’s unbelievably talented. The things that he can do on the court are unbelievable. I have in mind things I want him to get better with and things I want to work with him on. We’ve shared information with each other and we’ve been doing well so far.

When you speak about how talented Grigor is, what’s something you see from him in practice that shows that?
He makes things that are difficult very easy. It is the shots that he makes and how easy he can process when he does something wrong and how easily he can fix it. I’m not saying it’s just the amazing shots he hits, but how easy he processes the mistakes that he makes to get better. If I ask him to do something, he does it right away instead of practising it for a few days or even weeks before he gets it.

You spent many years working with Kei. How different does it feel coaching a different player?
Every player is different. I worked with Kei for so long that you get used to the player a little bit. But I’ve also trained so many other people in my life and I know that everybody is different. You have to adjust. That’s the way that I coach. It’s not my way or the highway. I always try to see the player I have in front of me and you adjust your work and how the person is. So far it’s been working really well.

Grigor is 29 and you might think as he gets older it would be harder to make changes. But how do you think he is able to pick up changes quickly?
When you get older, it’s tougher to accept that, too. But everybody, including the top players, go through changes. Tennis is changing. It’s an evolution. So you have to adapt and change a few things. I’m not saying that he’s changing drastically, but just a few things and obviously he’s willing to do that.

Is there anything you’d be willing to share that you believe Grigor can improve?
I think the most important [element] for Grigor is to stay mentally focused and to stay in the point longer. He needs to trust his physical conditioning — which is great — his speed, his ability to move. We all know that he has all the shots. For me, it’s very important for him to stay calm and realise that he has all the weapons to play. He doesn’t need to rush.

One of the things that Grigor takes pride in is his kindness and simply being a good person. How nice is that for you?
Super nice. I knew that he was a nice person, but I never knew him deeply like I have in these few months. He’s a super nice person, he cares about others and I like that about him. I think we both are pretty much the same in that sense. We get along good, we get along very well. He likes to talk a lot, he likes to ask the questions probably more than me. We’ve been having nice conversations… going for walks and talking about not only tennis, but about life. I think that’s important for him, it’s important for me, too.

You flew to Melbourne from Los Angeles and were mandated to do hard quarantine, but Grigor was on a different flight and was able to train. How tough was it to try to help Grigor while you were in the hotel?
I was in contact with him every day and I was telling him things that I wanted him to do and to practise and to keep going with the preseason we did in Monaco. I was talking to him and he was giving me his feedback and I was telling him whatever I could. I also was in contact with David Goffin’s coach, who was running the practices. I was telling him things I would like to do in practice and he helped me out, feeding Grigor some balls. I have to thank Germain Gigounon, Goffin’s coach, for that.

Did they take any videos for you to see what was going on?
Yes, I was asking Grigor to send me some videos from practice. They were not too long, but at least I could see him!

Sometimes it takes time for a player and coach to get used to working with each other. But right away Grigor is into a Grand Slam quarter-final. How do you, as a coach, decide how much advice you give him in such a big moment?
I’m the same as the first tournament that we played here and the first few rounds of the Australian Open. I’m not changing anything because it’s the quarter-finals or Round of 16 or first round. I don’t care. We just have to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing, same routine, keep playing the same way and then go day by day, match by match. I’m keeping things simple and exactly the same as we have been doing.


Grigor will be the favourite in the quarter-finals against Aslan Karatsev, who is competing in his first Grand Slam main draw. How do you keep Grigor focused on the task at hand, rather than thinking about how his opponent hasn’t been in this situation and is No. 114?
It’s the same, Grigor knows if the guy is in the quarter-finals it’s for a reason. Obviously the guy is playing very good tennis, he’s very dangerous. Grigor has to focus on his game. We just practise, work on some shots I think will be good for Grigor in the match and that’s it. It doesn’t matter who is in front of him. He just has to focus on his game.

Did you guys speak about goals moving forward?
Of course. Not really specific things. We didn’t set a specific goal before this season, I want to actually talk about that more deeply after this tournament. But of course we spoke a little bit about how I see him playing and where I think he belongs. He wanted to hear that from me, too. I’m very ambitious in that sense and he is too, he’s very eager. Hopefully we can reach the max.

If you want to see Grigor do one thing the rest of the tournament, what would it be?
Keep the same consistency and the same mentality he has been having. He has been very composed, very positive the whole tournament and he has been very relaxed mentally. That’s what I’m expecting from him and I would like to see.

Source link

Murray/Soares Remain Unbeaten In 2021

  • Posted: Feb 15, 2021

Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares needed three sets to book their place in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Monday, as they rallied from a set down to defeat Simone Bolelli and Maximo Gonzalez 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-4.

The British-Brazilian tandem converted all three break points it created to keep its hopes of a second Australian Open crown alive. Murray and Soares own two Grand Slam titles as a team, following 2016 title runs at the Australian Open and US Open.

Murray and Soares improved to 7-0 this year with their two-hour, 31-minute victory against Bolelli and Gonzalez. The 11-time tour-level team titlists played their first event since 2019 Roland Garros at last week’s Great Ocean Road Open, which they won with a 6-3, 7-6(7) final victory against Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. Murray and Soares will face Marcelo Arevalo and Matwe Middelkoop for a place in the semi-finals.

Defending champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury continued their pursuit of a second straight trophy at Melbourne Park. The fifth seeds overcame John Peers and Michael Venus 7-6(4), 7-6(4). Ram and Salisbury will meet unseeded duo Marcus Daniell and Philipp Oswald in the quarter-finals.

Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek eliminated seventh seeds Marcelo Melo and Horia Tecau 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 26 minutes. The ninth seeds won 81 per cent of their first-serve points (30/37) to record their eighth win in 10 matches this year. Prior to the Australian Open, Dodig and Polasek advanced to the Antalya Open final (l. to Mektic/Pavic) and the Great Ocean Road Open semi-finals (l. to Murray/Soares).

Dodig and Polasek will meet Aussie wild cards Matthew Ebden and John-Patrick Smith in the quarter-finals. Ebden and Smith ripped 28 winners and did not face a break point en route to a 7-6(2), 6-4 victory against fourth seeds Wesley Koolhof and Lukasz Kubot.

Source link