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From Tenerife To Thailand, Challenger Season Set To Begin

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

From Tenerife To Thailand, Challenger Season Set To Begin

Five Challenger tournaments during opening week

From tropical islands, to remote settings, to the world’s largest cities, the ATP Challenger Tour knows no bounds as the 46th Challenger season is set to get underway this week.

The season will unfold with five tournaments, including in New Caledonia, Australia, Thailand, Argentina, and Portugal. Across several time zones, you could open the new year by watching live Challenger matches for 24 hours non stop.

One event to keep your eyes on will be the season-opening Noumea Challenger. A short walk from the Coral Sea, Noumea is a piece of tennis paradise with breathtaking views. The French territory located in the south Pacific will host a Challenger event for the 17th year and for the first time since January 2020. 

Ligue de Tennis de Nouvelle-Calédonie, host site of the Noumea Challenger.
Ligue de Tennis de Nouvelle-Calédonie, host site of the Noumea Challenger. Credit: Open SIFA Nouvelle-Calédonie

Cristian Garin, Hugo Grenier, Zsombor Piros, and Benoit Paire are among those who will compete at the Noumea Challenger.

In Canberra, Australia, the Italian youngsters Matteo Arnaldi, Francesco Passaro, and Luca Nardi aim to start the season on a strong note. Marton Fucsovics, Hugo Gaston, and Luca Van Assche are also in the Canberra field.

Also featured on the early-season schedule is the Spanish island Tenerife, which will host three Challenger events in the first six weeks, including a Challenger 100 event starting 16 January.

Challenger events are divided into five categories: Challenger 50, 75, 100, 125, and the new premium 175 tournaments. After not holding a Challenger for six years, Belgium will once again attract tennis fans for the Challenger 125 BW Open, set to begin 24 January.

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Challenger Tour: Five To Watch In 2023

Next month, the indoor hard court event in Cherbourg, France will celebrate its 30th anniversary. The Challenger 75 event is one of the five longest-running events in Europe (Istanbul, Segovia, Sevilla and Tampere). Past champions in Cherbourg include former World No. 4 Sebastian Grosjean (1999) and 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov (2011).

Several tournaments will mark their first edition in the early part of the season, such as the Piracicaba, Brazil Challenger and the indoor hard court event in Rovereto, Italy.

The United States will host a trio of hard court events spanning across January and February: Cleveland, Rome (Georgia), and a debut tournament in Waco, Texas.

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In February, the Challenger Tour will return to Vilnius, Lithuania. The host venue, the SEB arena, provides world-class facilities and is the largest indoor tennis complex in central Europe. After making their debut in October, the Lithuanian capital city is prepared for another great tournament.

Other countries featured on the Challenger schedule over the next eight weeks include India, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Chile, and Bahrain.

A projected 195 events will be played on the Challenger Tour this season, which would pass the record 184 tournaments played in 2022. As the players earn frequent flier miles, ranking points, and prize money, you can sit in the comfort of your home and watch the 2023 Challenger season for free on Challenger TV. And perhaps visit a tournament if there is a Challenger in your neck of the woods.

ATP Challenger Tour 

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United Cup Day 4 Preview: Ruud Aims To Keep Norway Alive Against Brazil

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

United Cup Day 4 Preview: Ruud Aims To Keep Norway Alive Against Brazil

Badosa, Carreno Busta look to spark Spanish comeback

Casper Ruud’s Australian swing was cut short one year ago as an ankle injury forced his withdrawal from the Australian Open after two ATP Cup wins. The Norwegian will once again begin his season by representing his country Down Under, this time at the inaugural United Cup.

The World No. 3 will need a strong start on Sunday if he is to keep Team Norway alive in its Group E matchup with Brazil. Ruud faces Thiago Monteiro in Brisbane as he looks to earn his nation its first match win of the event and cut into Brazil’s 2-0 lead. Norway requires a Sunday sweep on New Year’s Day to win the tie, with Ulrikke Eikeri set to meet Brazil’s Laura Pigossi in the second singles match, before what Norway hopes will be a decisive mixed-doubles finale.

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With the unique, all-inclusive format of the United Cup, even the presence of a 22-time Grand Slam champion is no guarantee of success for Team Spain.

When Rafael Nadal fell on Saturday to Cameron Norrie 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and compatriot Nuria Parrizas Diaz lost to Katie Swan, Great Britain took a daunting 2-0 lead. And yet, there are reasons to think this one might not be over. Two reasons: Paula Badosa and Pablo Carreno Busta, who will carry the flag for Spain.

A pair of lucky No. 13s in the rankings, Badosa meets Harriet Dart, and Carreno Busta faces Daniel Evans as they try to get Spain back on track Sunday in Sydney’s Ken Rosewall Arena.

Badosa has more motivation for her first United Cup match than most. Her opponent, Dart, upset her 6-3, 6-4 back in November at the Billie Jean King Cup in Glasgow. “I have another opportunity again to play against [Dart],” Badosa said in a recent press conference. “Great Britain is always a tough tie. I’m preparing for that match, focussed on that. Let’s see how it goes.”

Last April, Badosa rose to a career-high of World No. 2. She won Indian Wells in 2021 and also reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros that season. Carreno Busta has also cracked the Top 10, in 2017, and was the champion in Montreal last year. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (played in 2021), he beat then-World No.1 Novak Djokovic and then-No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on the way to the bronze medal.

Carreno Busta was asked about Spain’s prospects in Group D, which features Great Britain and Spain’s next opponent, Australia.

“It’s the first tournament of the year,” he said, “so we need to improve our level. It’s always difficult to start the year. We need the rhythm. But we are a very good team. We have Rafa, we have Paula. We are ready to fight to win the group and we’ll see.”

Despite the deficit he and his team face, Nadal, ranked No. 2 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, is enthusiastically embracing the United Cup format.

“We are used to playing Davis Cup or [Billie Jean King] Cup,” he said before the tournament. “It’s nothing 100 per cent new, but at the same time it’s the first time that we share forces between men and women. It’s a different story for us. It’s going to be exciting.

“I think we can create a good team atmosphere… We know we have a very tough group.”

In a deadlocked Group B tie between Poland and Kazakhstan, Hubert Hurkacz and Alexander Bublik are set to square off in both singles and mixed doubles, with WTA No. 1 Iga Swiatek pencilled in as Hurkacz’s doubles partner in Brisbane.

Full Group Standings

What’s on the line on Day 4
Follow links for Saturday match reports

Group A: Belgium and Bulgaria are tied 1-1. Greece is off until Day 5.

Group B: Poland and Kazakhstan are tied 1-1. Switzerland is off until Day 5.

Group C: The Czech Republic leads Germany 2-0. The United States is off until Day 5.

Group D: Great Britain leads Spain 2-0. Australia is off until Day 5.

Group E: Brazil leads Norway 2-0. Italy is off until Day 5.

Group F: Croatia leads Argentina 2-0. France is off until Day 5.

United Cup: Day 4 order of play (local time)

Sydney, Ken Rosewall Arena

Germany vs. Czech Republic (0-2) (Group C)
Laura Siegemund (GER) vs. Petra Kvitova (CZE), 10 a.m.
Oscar Otte (GER) vs. Dalibor Svrcina (CZE), to follow
Julia Lohoff and Fabian Fallert (GER) vs. Jesika Maleckova and Dalibor Svrcina(CZE), to follow

Spain vs. Great Britain (2-0) (Group D)
Paula Badosa (ESP) vs. Harriet Dart (GBR), 5:30 p.m.
Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) vs. Daniel Evans (GBR), to follow
Paula Badosa and Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Harriet Dart and Daniel Evans (GBR), to follow

Perth, RAC Arena

Belgium vs. Bulgaria (1-1) (Group A)
Elise Mertens (BEL) vs. Viktoriya Tomova (BUL), 10 a.m.
Zizou Bergs (BEL) vs. Dimitar Kuzmanov (BUL),  to follow
Elise Mertens and David Goffin (BEL) vs. Viktoriya Tomova and Grigor Dimitrov (BUL), to follow

Croatia vs. Argentina (2-0) (Group F)
Petra Martic (CRO) vs. Nadia Podoroska (ARG), 5:30 p.m.
Borna Gojo (CRO) vs. Federico Coria (ARG), to follow
Donna Vekic and Borna Coric (CRO) vs. Nadia Podoroska and Francisco Cerundolo (ARG), to follow

Brisbane, Pat Rafter Arena

Brazil (2-0) vs. Norway (Group E)
Thiago Monteiro (BRA) vs. Casper Ruud (NOR), 10 am.
Laura Pigossi (BRA) vs. Ulrikke Eikeri (NOR), to follow
Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos (BRA) vs. Ulrikke Eikeir and Viktor Durasovic (NOR), to follow

Poland vs. Kazakhstan (1-1) (Group B)
Hubert Hurkacz (POL) vs. Alexander Bublik (KAZ), 5:30 p.m.
Magda Linette (POL) vs. Zhibek Kulambayeva (KAZ), to follow
Iga Swiatek and Hubert Hurkacz (POL) vs. Zhibek Kulambayeva and Alexander Bublik (KAZ), to follow

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Scouting Report: Djokovic & Medvedev Lead Adelaide Draw; Cilic In Pune

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

Scouting Report: Djokovic & Medvedev Lead Adelaide Draw; Cilic In Pune

An executive summary of what every fan should know about the coming week

With the United Cup underway in Australia, two ATP Tour events will follow as the 2023 season opens in style across two continents. A pair of ATP 250 events are set to begin during the first week of the new year: the Adelaide International I and the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune.

Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev are among four 2022 Nitto ATP Finals participants in the loaded Adelaide singles draw, while Marin Cilic leads the field in Pune. looks ahead at 10 things to watch this week.

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1) Top Seed Djokovic Returns To Australia:
 Back in action Down Under for the first time since he won the 2021 Australian Open, the World No. 5 leads the field in Adelaide, where he won his third ATP Tour title in 2007. The Serbian finished the 2022 season by winning a record-tying sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown, and lifted the title in four of his past five ATP Tour tournaments dating back to Wimbledon.

Djokovic has a big opportunity to rise up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in the coming months, having played just one tour-level event in the first quarter of 2022. He enters this season with 4,820 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points, exactly 2,000 points shy of World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz.

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2) Can Medvedev Reach The Summit Again?: After reaching the pinnacle of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in February 2022, Medvedev finished the season with two tour-level titles — but it was not enough to maintain his position as World No. 1, which he lost after failing to defend his US Open title. 

Entering this season as World No. 7, Medvedev is making his Adelaide debut. He will look to get off to a strong start this year after finishing 2022 on a four-match losing streak — though that run came after he lifted the title in Vienna and included three Top 10 defeats in Turin, all in third-set tie-breaks.

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Potential Medvedev vs. Djokovic Blockbuster In Adelaide

3) More Turin Stars: Felix Auger-Aliassime, Andrey Rublev and alternate Holger Rune complete Adelaide’s list of players who were involved at the 2022 Nitto ATP Finals. Auger-Aliassime followed up his Turin debut by helping lead Canada to the Davis Cup title in November as he finished the season with 60 match wins.

Rublev reached the Turin semi-finals for the first time in his third try while Rune completed a stunning rise into the Top 10 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings by beating five straight Top 10 opponents to win the Rolex Paris Masters title in his last action of 2022. Rune, the 19-year-old Dane, will be motivated to climb back into the that prestigious group after ending the season at World No. 11.

4) Former Next Gen Champs Sinner, Nakashima Feature: 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champ Jannik Sinner and 2022 winner Brandon Nakashima are also in the Adelaide field, with both making their tournament debuts. The 21-year-old Sinner, who enters the season as World No. 15, will seek to improve upon his career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking of No. 9, first achieved in 2021. The Italian is seeking his second tour-level title in Australia after his Melbourne 1 triumph in 2021.

5) Britons Murray, Draper In Action: Two men at opposite ends of their careers will nonetheless have similar goals for this season, as both enter inside the Top 50. Murray is eager to take advantage of his clean bill of health and brings an improved fitness level into 2023, while Draper will bid to crack the Top 40 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time. The 21-year-old is currently one spot off his career-high of No. 41.


1) Former Champ Cilic: Marin Cilic seeks his third title at the Indian event after back-to-back triumphs in 2009-10, when the tournament was held in Chennai. A final victory against Stan Wawrinka completed his successful title defence 13 years ago. The Croatian will be making his seventh appearance at the ATP 250, his most recent a semi-final showing in 2018.

2) Returning Finalist Ruusuvuori: Emil Ruusuvuori will be confident in his ability to improve upon his final run last year in Pune as he enters this year’s event at a career-high of No. 40 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. If he can accomplish that feat, the 23-year-old Finn would earn his first ATP Tour title.


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3) Botic Debuts: World No. 35 Botic van de Zandschulp makes his first appearance in Pune after a 2022 season which saw him reach three ATP Tour semi-finals as well as his first tour-level final in Munich. As the second-highest-ranked player in Pune’s initial entry list, the 27-year-old Dutchman joins Ruusuvuori in pursuit of a first ATP Tour title.

4) Top 50 Talent: Sebastian Baez and Alex Molcan round out the Top 50 representation in Pune, with World No. 59 Aslan Karatsev and 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals competitor Chun-Hsin Tseng also set to compete.

They are joined by three Indian wild cards, including 15-year-old Manas Dhamne, who will be making his tour-level debut.

5) Van Rijthoven Looks To Build: Dutchman Tim van Rijthoven, who won his first ATP Tour title last season in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and followed it with a run to the Wimbledon fourth round, will look to back up his breakthrough season with more success in the new year. After having to qualify for his past two ATP Tour main-draw appearances, the World No. 114 was the second-to-last man to make the cut on the initial main-draw entry list for Pune, just ahead of World No. 115 American Michael Mmoh.

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Cilic, Botic, Ruusuvuori Top Seeds In Pune Draw

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

Cilic, Botic, Ruusuvuori Top Seeds In Pune Draw

Three Indian players receive wild cards

Returning finalist Emil Ruusuvuori, seeded third at the Tata Open Maharashtra, attended the event’s draw ceremony on Saturday as he learned his path back to the title match in India. The Norwegian could face 15-year-old wild card Manas Dhamne — a home-nation favourite who also took part in the ceremony ahead of his tour-level debut — in the quarter-finals.

Top seed and two-time former champion Marin Cilic — who won the 2009 and 2010 titles when the event was held in Chennai — was placed on the draw’s top line as the top seed at the ATP 250. After a bye, he will face a Spaniard in the second round: Roberto Carballes Baena or Bernebe Zapata Miralles. Fourth seed Sebastian Baez is a potential semi-final opponent, with seventh seed Jaume Munar and eighth seed Aslan Karatsev also in the top half.

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Second seed Botic van de Zandschulp anchors the draw on its bottom line and will open against either Indian wild card Mukund Sasikumar or a qualifier in the second round. He is joined in the bottom half by Ruusuvuori, fifth seed Alex Molcan and sixth seed Filip Krajinovic, with the latter to meet Indian wild card Sumit Nagal in the first round.

Main-draw play in Pune begins on 2 January, with four places still to be filled by qualifiers.

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Inked With A Lion, A Wolf & A Rose, Meligeni Alves' Motto: 'Never Give Up'

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

Inked With A Lion, A Wolf & A Rose, Meligeni Alves’ Motto: ‘Never Give Up’

Learn more about the 24-year-old Brazilian

During the US Open, former World No. 25 Fernando Meligeni wrote a philosophical Instagram post about the relationship between Carlos Alcaraz and his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero. The first line read “No nos rendimos”, a Portgueuse phrase that means “Never give up”.

One person who took notice was his nephew, Felipe Meligeni Alves, who is a member of Team Brazil at the United Cup. The 24-year-old, who earned his first ATP Tour win on Saturday against Norwegian Viktor Durasovic, took the message to heart. He got the message tattooed on his left arm.

“I just like to motivate myself,” Meligeni Alves told “I just wanted to do it.”

That is far from the only tattoo the Brazilian has. He has another Portuguese message on his right arm that means, “You can’t have big dreams if you don’t chase them”.

That is what the No. 166 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings is doing. The Brazilian is trying to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and leave his mark on the ATP Tour. By the end of 2023, he would like to crack the Top 100.

Some might follow Meligeni Alves’ career through the lens of his uncle’s success — Meligeni reached the 1996 Olympic semi-finals. But the winner of one ATP Challenger Tour title is not concerned about that.

“When I started I was really young and me and my sister, people were saying, ‘He needs to play more like his uncle, he needs to do the same things that he did.’ I was like, ‘Okay, it’s my own path, I will do my own way.’ I just use this in the best way possible,” Meligeni Alves said. “Any time that I need him, he helps me, he talks to me.”

<a href=''>Felipe Meligeni Alves</a>
Photo Credit; Tennis Australia
The Brazilian added: “He’s just really good to me. He’s like an example for me, [for] all the players from Brazil. I just want to take the positive things, not the negative, like pressure.”

Meligeni Alves is a deep thinker who enjoys his uncle’s frequent social media posts. That led to the aforementioned tattoo, which is one of many.

The first tattoo he got, against his mother’s wishes, was two intersecting arrows on his left arm with the initials of his family members. Now his entire left arm is covered in tattoos. They include the following:

– A compass: “I did this one pointing in the right direction”

– A wolf: “Courage to do everything”

– A lion, which to him represents family

– A rose, which to him represents confidence

Meligeni Alves also has an homage to his grandfather on his ribs, another to his dog (who passed away) on his back and a sailboat. The latter has no particular meaning, he just felt it fit the area of his lower left bicep.

But the Brazilian is more than his tattoos, and he showed as much on Pat Rafter Arena with an impressive display of shotmaking. He also represented his country well in his opening match against two-time ATP Tour titlist Lorenzo Musetti, falling in a tight two-setter.

Meligeni Alves is enjoying the experience in Brisbane, especially with sister Carolina Alves on the team, too.

“It’s nice to have my sister on the same team. To play on the same team as Bea [Beatriz Haddad Maia], she’s having an amazing experience, she did amazing in 2022, so it’s good to share experiences with these people who are playing the tour more than me, the big events,” Meligeni Alves said. “I’m playing the Grand Slams only and if I can, ATPs. It’s different to play on a big court like this.

“I played against Musetti and I did a really good match, I had my chances. I couldn’t take them but to play in front of so many people in a big stadium like this is special and sharing this with some friends of mine… It’s just a good experience and [I] hope to keep helping Brazil.”

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Swiatek Superb, Skatov Levels United Cup Tie For Kazakhstan

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

Swiatek Superb, Skatov Levels United Cup Tie For Kazakhstan

Tie level at 1-1 with three matches remaining

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek showed no signs of rust in her first match of the 2023 season, defeating Yulia Putintseva 6-1, 6-3 at the United Cup. The victory gave second seed Poland a 1-0 lead over Kazakhstan in Brisbane.  

With Polish great Agnieszka Radwanska looking on from the captain’s box, Swiatek needed just three games before finding the rhythm and range that made her the runaway 2022 Hologic WTA Tour Player of the Year. Putintseva earned an early break point chance in Swiatek’s first game, but the Pole coolly erased it with pinpoint accuracy. 

“I’m pretty happy with my performance,” Swiatek said. “First matches of the season are always rusty. I was happy that in the important moments I was really composed.” 

Under pressure again while serving at 1-1, 0/30, Swiatek found another gear to reel off 12 consecutive points to build a 4-1 lead. Having made six unforced errors in the first three games, Swiatek would make just one for the rest of the set, pocketing the set after 27 minutes. 

Swiatek underlined her reputation as the tour’s preeminent front-runner in the second set. After keeping Putintseva at bay in the early games, Swiatek broke to 3-2 and held her lead to win after 64 minutes. Swiatek finished the match with 22 groundstroke winners — 17 on the forehand alone — to just five for Putintseva. The victory extended Swiatek’s head-to-head record against Putintseva to 2-0.  

Timofey Skatov leveled the tie with a gruelling 7-6(7), 6-2 victory against Daniel Michalski. The first set proved critical, with long, grinding rallies that led to the match lasting two hours and 11 minutes.

“It was a really tough match, but actually my captain’s not happy because he said I played too long,” Skatov said in reference to Kazakhstan playing captain Alexander Bublik, who laughed in the team zone. “Today’s new year and we have to celebrate a bit! But okay, I tried to play as fast as possible.”

World No. 142 Skatov saved all five break points he faced against Michalski to earn his first win at the United Cup. The 21-year-old had lost his first No. 2 men’s singles match of the week in three sets against Switzerland’s Marc-Andrea Huesler.

The tie will continue Sunday evening when Bublik faces Polish star Hubert Hurkacz in the No. 1 men’s singles match. Hurkacz leads the pair’s ATP Head2Head series 3-1.

Poland’s Magda Linette will then play crowd favourite Zhibek Kulambayeva in the No. 2 women’s singles match before a possible decider in the mixed doubles inside Pat Rafter Arena.

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Norrie Clinches Statement Nadal Win

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

Norrie Clinches Statement Nadal Win

Spaniard Parrizas Diaz plays Swan next

Cameron Norrie had never won a set in his four previous meetings against Rafael Nadal prior to their clash at the United Cup. However, the World No. 14 turned the tables in dramatic style Saturday when he overcame the 36-year-old 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a statement win to give Team Great Britain a 1-0 lead against Team Spain in Sydney.

In front of a capacity Ken Rosewall Arena crowd, the 27-year-old timed the ball cleanly off both wings, hitting through Nadal with his flat backhand to triumph after two hours and 45 minutes.

Norrie now holds a 2-0 record on the new season, having defeated Australian Alex de Minaur in his opening match at the new mixed-teams event. Great Britain, led by captain Tim Henman, won that opening Group D tie 3-2. Katie Swan will aim to double her nation’s lead when she faces Spaniard Nuria Parrizas Diaz in the last match of the day in Sydney.

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In an entertaining clash, Nadal showed great agility to cover the court in the first set, firing an array of stunning passing shots to move ahead. The 36-year-old, playing his first match since the Nitto ATP Finals in November, struggled to maintain his level as the match went on. Norrie upped his intensity to outlast the Spaniard in brutal exchanges.

The four-time tour-level champion gained the crucial break in the sixth game of the second set, before he stepped inside the baseline to dictate in the decider. After breaking, Norrie saved two break points at 3-2, 15/40, before he held his nerve to seal the biggest win of his career by Pepperstone ATP Ranking, letting out a roar.

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Coric & Vekic On Long-Term Friendship & Fashion Rivalry

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2022

Coric & Vekic On Long-Term Friendship & Fashion Rivalry

Team Croatia stars have known each other since childhood

Bringing ATP and WTA stars together at the United Cup may be something new, but many of the cross-Tour friendships within the 16 competing teams have considerably longer histories.

Take Team Croatia’s Borna Coric and Donna Vekic, who have known each other so long they can barely recall their first meeting.

“I think it was almost 20 years ago, so I don’t remember a lot, but we’ve known each other basically since we started playing tennis,” WTA No. 67 Vekic told this week in Perth. “We’ve been together for our whole career.”

Coric retains a few more memories of the pair’s early days in their homeland.

“I remember her, we were playing under-10s in Zagreb,” said the No. 26 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, before smiling and starting to tease his teammate about her younger self. “I didn’t like her much back then actually, back then she was very nervous, very arrogant as well, but now she changed. So, I’m just enjoying spending time here with her and the whole team.”

“I don’t remember being arrogant!” laughed Vekic in response. “We’ve been friends for a very long time, and I think it’s maybe the last couple of years that we are even closer than before. We’ve spent almost every week together on Tour [over the years] so it’s good to have a close friend.”

That mutual support has helped Coric and Vekic each come through tough challenges in recent years, with both undergoing surgery within three months of each other in early 2021. Coric only returned to the ATP Tour in March 2022 after a year out due to his shoulder injury, while Vekic’s knee operation in February 2021 caused a three-and-a-half-month absence and a longer battle to recapture her pre-surgery form.

Those difficulties made subsequent successes in 2022 even more rewarding for the pair. Coric lifted his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title in spectacular fashion at August’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, while Vekic took out Top 10 opponents Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka at the San Diego Open in October, before pushing World No. 1 Iga Swiatek to three sets in the final.

“I’m just happy to see her do well,” said Coric. “She had a very, very tough year with the knee, and I had a very tough year with the shoulder, so obviously I’m super happy to see that she is doing well as well.”

“It’s great when we have success together, but we also went through a very difficult time in our careers, almost at the same time,” added Vekic, who was ranked No. 29 at the time of her operation but has a career-high of No. 19 in the WTA Rankings. “With my knee surgery, his shoulder surgery. It was great to have each other during that time, and now we are back together playing and that’s even more enjoyable.”

There were many highlights during Coric’s barnstorming run in Cincinnati, where he defeated five Top 20 players in a row, including Rafael Nadal, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the title. Vekic was in the stands supporting her countryman during his second-round triumph against Nadal, although her abiding memory of the weather-affected match has little to do with Coric’s on-court exploits.

“I was super annoyed with that rain delay, I wanted to go back and sleep!” joked Vekic. “But it was a great victory for him, yeah.”

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Those positive vibes appear to have carried over into the 2023 season, as Coric and Vekic prepare to spearhead Team Croatia’s United Cup bid alongside WTA No. 38 Petra Martic. On Saturday, Vekic will meet Team Argentina’s Maria Carle while Coric takes on Francisco Cerundolo in their nation’s first tie in Group F.

“We feel great here,” said Vekic. “The atmosphere is amazing. I was in Perth once 10 years ago and I’m really happy to be back. Hopefully we can go through the group stage.

The duo is also slated to team up in Sunday’s mixed-doubles rubber at RAC Arena, although Coric admitted that some hard work on the practice court is required to ensure their on-court combination is ready.

“We will go to the practice court right now and we need to play some doubles, because I haven’t played any doubles for a very long time,” he said. “I think it’s the same for her [Vekic] to be honest… Maybe we played doubles [together] a couple of times, when we were 16 or 17, but we didn’t play together for a very long time, so it’s going to be very interesting if we go on the court and need to play.”

Should Coric and Vekic partner in Sunday’s doubles clash they will certainly hope their respective games are more in synch than their sense of fashion. The pair recently exchanged light-hearted shots on the topic on Twitter.

“I’m in a safe zone this week,” said Coric, referring to the standardised Team Croatia kit. “I cannot miss, so she cannot say any bad things.”

“I can still make fun of his hair!” retorted a laughing Vekic, a possibility Coric appeared to have already prepared for.

“That’s why I will [keep] my hat on!” he said.

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