Novak Djokovic’s vaccine exemption situation before the Australian Open is the latest controversy for one of tennis’ greatest but most polarising players.
Novak Djokovic’s vaccine exemption situation before the Australian Open is the latest controversy for one of tennis’ greatest but most polarising players.
Friday’s ATP Cup semi-final against Spain is another stop on a decades-long journey for Team Poland. World No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz spoke of the long-standing friendships within the camp following Wednesday’s crucial 3-0 win over Argentina that sealed top spot in Group D. “It’s great doing it for our country. Kamil [Majchrzak], Jan [Zielinski], Szymon [Walkow] and Kacper [Zuk], we all saw each other at junior tournaments in Poland in small towns where it was 0°C, and now we are here.”
Hurkacz is especially familiar with No. 2 singles player Majchrzak and has not been surprised by the World No. 117’s strong performances in beating Michail Pervolarakis 6-1, 6-4, Aleksandre Bakshi 6-1, 6-1 and Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6(3).
“I don’t remember my first meeting with Kamil, we were probably like nine years old, maybe 10, something like this,” said Hurkacz. “Actually, I never managed to win against him. We’ve all come on that journey, and we are here in the semi-finals right now, so it really means a lot to us.”
Majchrzak himself was glad to redress a painful personal ATP Cup memory after the match against Delbonis. “Two years ago, I got injured after playing against Argentina,” said Majchrzak. “So I wanted to do well, I wanted to do better this year and I did.”
Majchrzak’s singles opponent on Friday evening, Team Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, is not focusing on the past ahead of the semi-final. The pair’s only previous meeting was a 6-1, 6-1 victory for the Pole at a 2015 ATP Challenger Tour event in Morocco. “I know I’m a better player than six years ago,” Carreno Busta said. “I suppose he is too, but I’ve had a lot of good results since, and now I’m feeling more comfortable than earlier in my career.”
Carreno Busta has certainly shown this week why he now sits at No. 20 in the ATP Rankings, defeating Alejandro Tabilo 6-4, 7-6(4), Viktor Durasovic 6-3, 6-3 and Filip Krajinovic 6-3, 6-4.
World No. 19 Roberto Bautista Agut faces Hurkacz in the No. 1 singles match, but the Spaniard is refusing to draw any conclusions from the 2-0 ATP Head2Head lead he currently holds over his opponent. The pair has not met since 2020 and Bautista Agut doesn’t think his good record against the big-serving Pole will affect their meeting on Friday night. “He’s a better player now, so I think I have to focus on me, on my game,” said Bautista Agut. “If I do my things well, I will have chances to win the match.”
Bautista Agut is hoping to maintain his fine form from the group stage, where he did not drop a set in defeating Cristian Garin 6-0, 6-3, World No. 8 Casper Ruud 6-4, 7-6(4) and Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-4. He has also been impressed with the performances of his teammates. “I think we have to be very happy,” said Bautista Agut, “I think the level on the court, [highlighted] that we showed up every day and the way that we won the matches was good.”
Neither team has lost a tie at the 2022 ATP Cup thus far, and both hold 8-1 match records with just a solitary doubles loss each. Team Spain has the semi-final experience, but will be especially wary of Hurkacz, who now holds a 6-0 career record in ATP Cup singles after beating Aristotelis Thanos 6-1, 6-2, Aleksandre Metreveli 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1 and Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 6-4 this week.
“We need to think carefully that we can do it,” said Bautista Agut on Team Spain’s chances, “We have a very good team, and if we continue like today, we have a big chance to win.”
Pablo Carreno Busta helped guide Team Spain out of Group A at ATP Cup this week with wins over Alejandro Tabilo, Viktor Durasovic and Filip Krajinovic.
Ahead of Spain’s semi-final against Team Poland in Sydney, the 30-year-old spoke to ATP Tour.com on the different qualities his teammates possess, the Spanish scenery, the importance his home town Gijon played in his early development and more.
Which teammate’s shot would you like to add to your game?
Probably the drop shot of Pedro Martinez, because I think he plays it unbelievably [well]. When he needs to change something in the game he uses the drop shot and I think he does it really well.
The serve of Alejandro Davidovich Fokina because I think of all of us he has the best serve. The consistency of Roberto Bautista Agut because from the baseline he can play with no mistakes and I think it’s very, very tough to beat him. The left-handedness of Albert Ramos-Vinolas because he’s the lefty on the team and I think he’s playing really well. When Albert has his forehand, he tries to dominate.
Who do you enjoy practicing with on Team Spain?
I think that everybody on the team are good players to practise with because they’re very solid, they have a lot of rhythm. Maybe Bautista because he’s the best on the team and one of the best players to practise with.
Describe in just a few words the different personalities within your team?
Maybe Alex [Alejandro] and Pedro are the youngest on the team and they are the funniest. Maybe Roberto and Albert are fathers and they are different personalities, but also they are very friendly. We are all great friends and we enjoy our time together. We love to play these kind of competitions on a team. I am very comfortable with these guys.
You and your teammates bond here, but you also spend a lot of time together throughout the season. How important is that for you this week?
Yes, of course it’s very nice. It’s very nice for us to play as a team, but also when we play normal ATP Tour tournaments, we are not partners. We talk, we spend a lot of time together, we have dinners together. It’s so nice to have these guys on the Tour.
Tell me about your first tennis club?
I started to play in my hometown in the north of Spain. It is probably not the best place to play in Spain because of the weather, but I think that it was very important to me to start there. It made my personality stronger.
When I was 15 I went to Barcelona to the Mediterranean coast. That’s the best place to practise because it’s unbelievable there. After that I started to know about tennis, know how everything works and how I can play on my [best] level. Now I’m practising in Alicante, which is also on the Mediterranean.
I’m enjoying when I practise. I’m very close to Roberto, also very close to Pedro and sometimes we practise together. It’s very comfortable.
Tell me three things you love about your country?
I love the Spanish food. It’s tough to say what because we have a lot of good food. But probably something from my hometown, a good cheese or fabada. I also love the weather, because we have good weather 11 months of the year if you are on the Mediterranean coast. Then I think the atmosphere. The people are very friendly and they are always smiling!
What is your favourite place to visit in your country and why?
I think that we have different places. If you go to the north of Spain you can see the mountains, you can also watch the sea. The weather is different. If you go to the south of Spain you can go to the beaches, you have the sun and can enjoy the summer. If you go to the Mediterranean coast you have everything. I think Spain you can find everything that you can hope for. It’s nice to be there.
Rafael Nadal says he feels sorry “in some way” for Novak Djokovic after he is denied entry to Australia, but adds the Serb “knew the conditions”.
Team Great Britain is known for the banter amongst its players. It didn’t take long for former World No. 1 Andy Murray to join the party on Thursday at the ATP Cup when he visited the group before Daniel Evans and Jamie Murray’s deciding doubles victory against the United States.
Murray, who is in Sydney for next week’s Sydney Tennis Classic, watched their win against Taylor Fritz and John Isner from the stands. But first, he stopped by his countrymen’s team room and joked around with captain Liam Broady.
“See that leg? Your leg looks (bleep) mental,” Murray said, referencing Broady’s quadriceps.
“Mate, there’s a (bleep) camera right there, stop swearing!” Broady replied.
“No sun, there’s no sign of it,” Murray continued.
“They’re strong huh? Strong. See? See?” Broady said.
The discovery was that @Liambroady has started shaving his arms and legs ahead of the new season. He said he did it because he doesn’t have much definition and shaving helps show the muscle.
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) January 6, 2022
Although Great Britain won the tie to move to 2-1 in Group C, they will not advance to the ATP Cup semi-finals. Canada, which defeated Great Britain on Tuesday, will move on.
Rafael Nadal returned to the ATP Tour on Thursday after a five-month absence. The World No. 6 overcame Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis 6-2, 7-5 in the second round of the Melbourne Summer Set in his first singles match since 6 August 2021, when he bowed out in the third round of the Citi Open in Washington against Lloyd Harris.
A return to court means Nadal has left in his wake the misery caused by Mueller-Weiss syndrome, a dysplasia of the tarsal scaphoid, the deformity of one of the bones in the midfoot, which play an essential role in the foot’s mobility.
Ahead of his opening win in Melbourne, Carlos Moya, one of the 20-time major champion’s coaches, sat down with ATPTour.com to reflect on the Spanish star’s recovery.
What were the past few months like?
We’ve been through a lot of moments of uncertainty because Rafa’s foot wasn’t getting better. Saying goodbye to last season wasn’t easy, even less so for someone like him, who loves competing so much. Then there were a lot of trips to doctors, treatments… in the past month he’s progressed. We weren’t sure how he’d respond. There were some pretty tough moments, but his willpower is extraordinary. We’re here, happy to see him play in Melbourne. He is more than ready enough for things to go well.
Was it your toughest spell since you joined his team?
Probably, yes. They were the most difficult moments since I’ve been one of Rafa’s coaches. In the beginning, when I joined his team, we went through a very difficult time with his knee. That cleared up and his foot was more bothersome. It’s an injury he’s had for a number of years, but until now it hadn’t held him back in matches. In 2021 it really started to get worse.
What was your role during this time?
You’re more of a friend. You listen and try to provide solutions, having a lot of empathy for the situation. Giving him space and time. Supporting him at all times. Having been a player gives you an idea of how the head works: it’s one thing to be 20 and another to be 35, where problems can seem bigger than they really are. At 20, you know there’ll be a solution, at 35… you’re not so sure.
What were the implications when Rafa tested positive for Covid-19 a few days before travelling to Australia?
It was really tough. When we arrived in Mallorca, we tested positive and everything collapsed after all the sacrifices he’d made in the previous months. So close to the season, so close to the goal, that setback put us in a situation where we didn’t know what would happen. We knew the Australian Open would come, but to us it was key to play in Melbourne first after so many months without competing. I’m not really a fan of playing for the sake of it, but now we’re in a different situation because he hasn’t played for five months. Rafa’s willpower has been extraordinary. When we saw that it would be a few bad days, but he would recover later, he was the first to decide to stick to the initial plan.
What were your symptoms?
I had a day and a half when I was pretty ill. It was like the flu, but mentally it’s not easy because you know it’s a different disease, with a very complicated history over the past year and a half. That affects you a little more. Also, I passed it on to my family. The children didn’t suffer, but Carolina [his wife] did have a hard time. Mentally it’s not easy. We had the omicron variant, which is supposed to be a little milder, for want of a better term. The symptoms were strong, but for a short time. That allowed us to be in Melbourne.
So, is Nadal ready to compete?
Yes. Without a doubt, despite the fact that he hasn’t played for some time. I’m sure he will do well here.
Are you worried that his foot will become a problem again?
The work has been done. I’m positive and optimistic, I prefer not to think about bad things that could happen. I’m happy that we’re in Australia. Melbourne will be very good for him to compete and test himself before the first Grand Slam of the season.
You normally use the preseason to improve aspects of the game, like his serve or backhand. Is it different when he’s recovering?
There were many training sessions when we could barely do anything, knock the ball around and that’s it. After he finished in Washington, Rafa went almost two months without playing. It’s a long break. Starting up again isn’t a question of two days. Even after the treatment he still had pain and problems. That’s why many sessions were one hour or 40 minutes, playing without being able to move. Even days off, days when, after arriving in Mallorca, we couldn’t train. We tried to get back to what he was doing well. It’s difficult to try and improve things in such a short space of time and with so few sessions.
Marc Lopez joined the coaching team this year. What was the idea behind that change?
It’s always good to change the team, to find people that can add something. Marc is someone who knows Rafa well and knows a lot about tennis. It’s a new and different voice, he can contribute his knowledge. Relationships between a team and a player take their toll and it’s good to have new people to say something different. I really believe in that, and I’m convinced that Marc can do it. He’s a very good addition and he’ll be with us in Melbourne. Francis [Roig] will also be there, as he has been until now.
How do you see this season on the ATP Tour?
Practically the same. Five months have gone by, but nothing has happened that we didn’t know might happen. [Daniil] Medvedev won the US Open and [Alexander] Zverev the Nitto ATP Finals, but it was something we were expecting. Nobody burst through and won a Grand Slam, for example. More or less, it is as we left it. In summary; if Rafa returns to his best, he’s a candidate to win any tournament he plays in.
And how far is he from that?
You need matches. Nobody reaches their maximum potential just by training. As much as you train well, you have to take it to the matches. We’re confident that those competing in Melbourne will help him find his rhythm for the Australian Open.
Nadal has come flying out of the blocks after all of the injuries he’s had in his career. You would expect anyone else to lose quickly when they come back…
It can happen, but we’re working so that it doesn’t. If you’re well prepared and playing well, it’s unlikely to happen. Although you can always get a bad draw, a bad match… we know how good Rafa is, and that historically he has always come back playing very well after an injury. We’re confident he’ll do that again.
How would you summarise Nadal’s resilience?
There are moments of doubt, but he is an incredible competitor. As soon as he is slightly better, there’s nothing he wants more than to keep being competitive and aspiring to win big tournaments. These kinds of players can think about retiring when they see that that doesn’t happen, but that’s not the case with Rafa. I don’t see that in him.
Qualifier Maxime Cressy saved two match points and held his nerve in the deciding-set tie-break on Thursday night against fellow American Reilly Opelka to reach the quarter-finals at the Melbourne Summer Set.
Cressy saved match points at 6/7 and 8/9 to overcome second seed Opelka 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) in two hours and 41 minutes. Opelka hit 29 aces to Cressy’s 17 aces. Cressy now faces Spain’s Jaume Munar, who required six match points to overcome Swiss lucky loser Henri Laaksonen 6-1, 7-5 in 83 minutes.
Argentine Facundo Bagnis, who beat former World No. 1 Andy Murray on Tuesday, came within a few service points of another upset when he led Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov by a set and 5-4. However, third seed Dimitrov bounced back for a 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-3 victory over two hours and 53 minutes. He now plays Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp, who knocked out eighth-seeded American Mackenzie McDonald 6-2, 7-5 in 80 minutes.
Slovakia’s Alex Molcan caused an upset when he saved six of seven break points to defeat fourth-seeded Belgian David Goffin 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 40 minutes. Goffin was playing in his first tour-level match since 31 August 2021, when he fell in the US Open first round (l. to McDonald).
Molcan now plays Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori, who battled past Jordan Thompson of Australia 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3 in two hours and 50 minutes. At one point, Ruusuvuori led by a set and 4-2.
Rafael Nadal says he feels sorry for Novak Djokovic after he was denied entry to Australia, but adds the world number one could be playing “without a problem” if he had wanted to.
Two years ago, Kamil Majchrzak was devastated at the ATP Cup. The Polish player lost his opening match at the team competition in three sets against Argentine Guido Pella and was unable to continue in the competition. Little did he know he would not compete again for more than seven months.
Majchrzak had broken his pelvic bone.
“It was very painful for me, because it was the first edition of the ATP Cup and I was playing matches for Poland. Matches for the country are with different emotions because you don’t only play for yourself, you also play for your colleagues, for your country,” Majchrzak told ATPTour.com. “It was very emotional for me. I finished the match, but it was a bad picture at the end and I could not play another game because I was injured for half a year.”
The Pole used one word to describe the injury: nasty. Majchrzak (My-shack) believes there was not “one shock” that caused it. He believes some areas of his body were not strong enough, and that ankle braces he wore were problematic.
“I needed to take the ankle braces off,” Majchrzak said. “Of course when I was moving, I was a little bit scared at the beginning. Then every other day I was feeling better and I had to do all the physical training again and tennis preparation as well, so it was a matter of time. It was not easy, but I managed.”
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Majchrzak is the No. 117 player in the ATP Rankings. But he has proven this week he is capable of playing at a higher level than that. It has just taken time to work his way back following his injury.
The 25-year-old went 3-0 at No. 2 singles in Group D to help Poland advance to the semi-finals, where the country will play Spain. Alongside Majchrzak has been World No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz. They have known each other since they were nine.
“It’s great that we’re doing it for our country. I mean, with Kamil, with Jan [Zielinski], with Szymon [Walkow], Kacper [Zuk], we’ve been seeing each other [at] the junior tournaments in Poland in some small towns and in the bubbles [that were] zero degrees celsius and now we are here,” Hurkacz said. “It’s really great that we all like came for that journey and then we are here in the semi-finals right now, so it really means a lot to us.”
Majchrzak’s tennis journey did not start long before he met Hurkacz. He is the son of two school teachers with no background in tennis. The family never watched the sport on television. But a friend of Majchrzak’s mother taught tennis, so she took Kamil for a lesson when he was eight.
“I really enjoyed tennis from the first hit with my racquet,” Majchrzak said. “There was a mini tournament for the guys who started just like me, and I won it, so I said, ‘Okay I’m going to keep playing and playing and playing.’ That was it, I never stopped.”
Things were not easy for the family. There were no indoor courts nearby, so Majchrzak’s parents would drive him at least one hour each way after school just to be able to train. At nine, Majchrzak met Hurkacz.
“We’ve been practising together from time to time or playing tournaments or at least seeing each other at the tournaments from a very young age and at places where there were indoor courts that were zero degrees inside,” Majchrzak said. “Now we are here. He’s a Top 10 player in the world, so it’s a very inspiring friendship and I hope to keep it going.”
Majchrzak’s parents, Piotr and Karolina, may not have a tennis background, but according to their son, they provided him with something more important.
“They were always behind me. They were always supporting me and they always drove me there so I could practise, so I could do this,” Majchrzak said. “They were sacrificing their lives, their evenings, their weekends for the tournaments in Poland.
“All tennis players sacrifice a lot, but the parents and those around them also sacrifice the same amount of time, of passion, of everything. I’m very grateful that they gave me a shot.”
In the juniors, Majchrzak defeated current stars including Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Matteo Berrettini. But unlike the others, it took him longer to blossom at the professional level. In 2019, the Pole broke out by qualifying for the Australian Open, where he pushed Kei Nishikori to five sets, Wimbledon and the US Open, where he made the third round of the main draw.
That year, Majchrzak cracked the Top 100 and climbed to a career-high World No. 83. But then the injury bug struck.
Just a few months after returning late in 2020, Majchrzak was looking for a coach, and his agent connected him with former World No. 7 Joakim Nystrom. They have worked together since December 2020.
“We get along together. Of course it’s important when you travel that you also have fun and respect each other,” Nystrom said. “He’s such a nice guy, always polite, always wants to do the right thing and in the past three, four months he’s also grown in confidence. He knows he’s a good player and that he has a good chance of beating the good players as well.”
Majchrzak will hope to show that again on Friday evening, when he is scheduled to play former Top 10 star Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain. No matter what happens, it will be a far different experience than his last at the ATP Cup.
“It’s a completely unexpected story,” Majchrzak said. “But a very nice one so far.”
Denis Shapovalov boosted Canada’s ATP Cup semi-final hopes Thursday, overcoming Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 in Group C. Canada is now one win away from qualifying for the semi-finals.
Following Great Britain’s 2-1 triumph against the United States earlier on Qudos Bank Arena, Canada knew victory against Germany would seal a semi-final tie against reigning champion Russia on Saturday in Sydney.
Shapovalov, who is making his third ATP Cup appearance, gave Canada the perfect start as he bounced back from his singles defeat against Daniel Evans by dictating with his explosive groundstrokes against Struff. Shapovalov fired 41 winners to seal his win after two hours and 34 minutes.
“It is just great to be back and playing,” Shapovalov said in his on-court interview. “We have got a great chance. There is a lot ahead of us, but we are fighting and we have been fighting every single match. Felix inspired us a lot in the previous tie and we are just trying to give all we have for Canada.”
In a high-quality match, Shapovalov and Struff went toe-to-toe in brutal, heavy-hitting baseline exchanges. However, it was the World No. 14 who raised his level in the third set, saving all four break points he faced in the decider to give Canada the advantage. With victory, the 22-year-old has reduced his ATP Head2Head series deficit against the German to 3-5.
“I knew I had to fight every point,” Shapovalov added. “I have had a tough record against Struffi, he is a tough player to play and he always brings it against me. I think the level was really, really high so it was a great win to get.”
Felix Auger-Aliassime will aim to clinch the tie for Canada when he plays World No. 3 Alexander Zverev in the No. 1 singles match.
ATP Cup format sees the No. 2 singles played first, followed by the No. 1 singles and the doubles. Doubles uses no-ad scoring and a Match Tie-break in place of a third set.
Each country plays three matches in group play from 1-6 January across Ken Rosewall Arena and Qudos Bank Arena at Sydney Olympic Park. One team emerges from each of the four groups to contest the two semi-finals, which will be split over two days (7-8 January), with the final played 9 January.