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Blumberg & Ruud: A friendship & doubles tandem at Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jul 02, 2024

The doubles draw at Wimbledon is studded with star players, from the top doubles tandems to singles standouts like Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. One of the most interesting duos is three-time major finalist Casper Ruud and his longtime friend, William Blumberg.

Why is the No. 8 player in the PIF ATP Rankings teaming with an American who went to the University of North Carolina? Ruud and Blumberg’s story dates back to their days as juniors.

“He was the No. 1 junior in the world at a point I was No. 4. And really it started a lot when I went on a trip to Chengdu, China for the ITF Junior Masters,” Blumberg said. “We hung out a lot there. We went to a panda sanctuary and we joked around. And then as we got older, we stayed in touch a bit, but not very much.

“After college, we reconnected and hung out. We bond over the same things, we’re pretty similar. We both love golf, obsess over golf and play golf. He’s unbelievable at golf, and I try. So we have a lot of the same things, similar values. His girlfriend’s friends with my wife now… just a nice friendship.”

Blumberg, now 26, and Ruud, 25, were also close with Miomir Kecmanovic and the memories they created together in their teens keeps them close today. Blumberg, a three-time ATP Tour doubles titlist, has partnered both and claimed a crown with Kecmanovic in 2022 at Los Cabos.

“I left school at 14, so just like them, they were doing online school. You travel every week. So when you see each other and you have guys that are similar, you have the same values and you just reconnect,” Blumberg said. “So it’s nice, you’re all trying to achieve similar things. And so that’s obviously important as well, but it’s really nice.”


Last year, Blumberg spent a week in Norway with Ruud between Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

“We talked about me visiting Norway because it’s amazing there. It’s amazing in the summer, it was my first time. And we just found a week that made sense,” Blumberg said. “I had a week where I wasn’t playing a tournament and he was like, ‘Hey, come practise’. For me, it was a great opportunity to practise with one of the best players in the world and a good friend of mine. So yeah, it was amazing. And my wife came and his girlfriend was there. And so we just had a really nice time.”

Not only does Blumberg enjoy spending time on court with his friend, but he is also able to learn from competing with one of the best players in the world.

“It’s great. I would argue that he has one of the best forehands on the planet Earth, maybe the best forehand on the planet Earth. So for me to watch that, watch his preparation, [is great],” Blumberg said. “Honestly, just having the opportunity to play with a player like him and really be at the Slams and watch all the top players, watch all the top Americans that have come up that I knew when I was young, just watch them, watch them work and watch these top guys. And for me to watch him up close is amazing.

“He’s given me a lot of great opportunities… I thank him for that, but it’s also nice just playing with a friend.”

Blumberg has also bonded with Ruud over their love of golf. But beyond sports, the 10-time college All-American pointed to his Norwegian friend’s character.

“To be honest, I’m a pretty reasonable person, we’re on different levels,” Blumberg said. “He treats everyone kindly with respect as do a lot of the guys that I grew up with. But to be that same guy at that level… it’s good. But it’s a little bit of a grander scale for him. And so for him to still be like that, if he sat down with you, he’d treat you with the same respect that anyone would and I think that tells a lot about him as a person.”


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Family First: Why Otto raced back to Finland after qualifying at Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jul 02, 2024

Otto Virtanen had one goal when he arrived at Wimbledon ahead of last week’s qualifying event. The Finnish player wanted to qualify for the main draw and be at his grandfather’s funeral in Helsinki Saturday.

It has been a week of highs and lows full of a wide range of emotions for the 23-year-old since then. Virtanen accomplished both goals, earning his way into the main draw of The Championships for the first time before flying home for a couple of introspective days with family to honour his grandfather.

“I felt that it gave me more power and more strength to show that I had such good memories with him,” Virtanen told “He watched all my tennis matches and my online career. And I always got a message after matches, no matter if I won or lost, and always positive. So that was quite a tough moment for me once I heard some weeks ago that he passed away. But I turned it into strength.”

It would have been very easy for Virtanen to succumb to both his opponents and the pain of losing a loved one. In the first round of qualifying against Franco Agamenone, his Italian opponent earned four match points on return at 5-4 in the third set, including three in a row from 0/40.

Virtanen persevered to win the match and then was in deep trouble again in the next round against Swiss Alexander Ritschard, who led their encounter 7-6(1), 4-1 and also had four match points against the Finn. Again, Virtanen found a way through and then won his final-round qualifying match in four sets to book his place in the main draw.

“I tried to just play. I played very good and it was giving me more motivation for passing the qualies and going back to Finland for a few days, and then going back to the main draw of Wimbledon, which was a big dream for me,” Virtanen said. “For a child, it’s the biggest tournament, and especially this special place where I played some juniors and looked up to all the pros. I saw how they do the things and wished I could play there one day and here I am playing here.”


As special as it was to qualify, Virtanen had to deal with the harsh reality that his grandfather had passed away. Before his final-round qualifying match, he had looked with his team at flight schedules and decided to fly back to Finland Thursday after his match. He almost missed his flight because of London traffic but was able to wake up in Helsinki Friday morning.

“That was not not the most fun time. Saw some family and then on Saturday morning, in the early morning, we had to go to another city where my grandparents lived and my grandma still lives there. The funeral was hosted there,” Virtanen said. “We went there and we had the whole family tree there. It was so great to see everybody, especially now that I’m traveling a lot and as a tennis player, you don’t see too much of your family. So it was a tough, tough moment for everybody. He was really close to me.”

Virtanen’s grandfather was a “sporty guy”, who enjoyed participating in various athletic challenges with Otto when he visited the cottage.

“I tried to visit him all the past years every time I was in Finland just to go see and check up and cheer up my grandma, because my granddad for the last year wasn’t in the best shape,” Virtanen said. “We tried to take every chance we could to see him. I was actually one of the six guys who was carrying him in the funeral to the grave, so that was quite an emotional moment. But it was good to be part of the day. I would never, never miss it.”

Family means the world to Virtanen, so it was a tough Saturday for the Finnish player. There were many emotions and less than two days after he had arrived back home, family members were wishing him luck. It was back to business in London.

“Jumping on a plane was quite empty at that point,” Virtanen said. “Then arriving to Wimbledon I got some positives, everything felt good. I knew what I was working for. I knew what I was playing for here.”

The Virtanen family has dreamt of being in Otto’s position for multiple generations. His father, Pasi Virtanen, played professional tennis and reached a career-high No. 302 in the PIF ATP Rankings in 1985. Otto’s older brother, Panu, competed at Vanderbilt University and reached World No. 591 in the PIF ATP Doubles Rankings.

“I have two older sisters, so I’m the youngest. They played a little bit but nothing like my brother. He went to college and played some Futures, some Challengers and had some ATP points. My sisters stopped early and did something else,” Virtanen said. “My dad, he played and then he was coaching all his life. Still is. I think it’s nice for the whole family to see someone from the family playing there.”

<img src=”/-/media/images/news/2024/07/02/21/18/virtanen-challenger-2024.jpg” style=”width:100%;” alt=”Otto Virtanen” />
Photo: Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour
Otto’s father was his coach until longtime ATP Coach member Jan De Witt last year took the reins. The German has worked with Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon among other stars.

Virtanen was a top junior player, winning the prestigious Orange Bowl in 2018. Players who have also won the event range from John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg to Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. But it took until November 2022 for the Finn to crack the world’s Top 200.

“I think many guys throw in the towel because it’s very hard to come all the way from there, all the levels. And in Finland, we don’t have too many tournaments,” Virtanen said. “Playing men’s tennis for some years, and then going to Challengers, I started to feel like this is the work… everything you learn so quickly [from what] you see all the pros doing here. And suddenly, you’re playing some big tournaments.”

After Jarkko Nieminen flew the flag for Finnish tennis, Emil Ruusuvuori has taken the mantle in recent years. But Virtanen, who reached a career-high World No. 109 last year, has shown he is capable of competing on the biggest stages, too.

The World No. 147 cruised past Max Purcell in the main draw at SW19 and will now face Queen’s Club champion Tommy Paul for a place in the third round.

“When I start playing really well, I feel like I could compete with anyone. I have no fear of anyone. If I lose, it’s just experience, I don’t take it [badly]. But I’m definitely going there to win the match and nothing else,” Virtanen said. “I’m going there to win again. Same like I had a good preparation today. Everything done, super relaxed going on court. I’ll try to keep it simple and it’s a big journey and I have one match at a time. I go to win the match, I do everything to win the match and see how it goes. If it’s not enough, it’s not enough.”

Win or lose, Virtanen will carry the memory of his grandfather with him throughout.

“He always believed that I would be here so this one is for him, definitely,” Virtanen said. “He’ll always stay in my mind for all the matches, after all the matches when I still keep getting messages from my grandma. But yeah, special weekend. And now I’m pushing every match full just to get everything out of the matches. Having him up there watching me play, [it is] just a good reminder and extra motivation.”


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Djokovic finds gray area in Wimbledon’s all-white policy

  • Posted: Jul 02, 2024

While all-white is all right at The All England Club, Novak Djokovic has discovered that gray is sometimes okay.

After a search for a white sleeve to protect his recovering right knee in the lead-up to The Championships proved fruitless, the seven-time tournament champion sported a gray covering during his 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win Tuesday against Vit Kopriva.

The 24-time Grand Slam champion had worked to secure permission from the Club to wear the sleeve in the days before the match and received additional confirmation moments before stepping onto Centre Court.


“I did check. I actually just met chairwoman just before walking onto the court,” Djokovic said. “She gave me thumbs up, so it was okay. Of course, we did check in the days prior if we have permission. We’re trying to find a white one, trust me.

“I saw Frances Tiafoe played, he had actually a black colour sleeve. Gray, I think it’s maybe slightly better towards the white. I know it’s not ideal. I like to go all white and I like to respect the rules. But I got the permission. I said to them that I will give our best for next match the white one.”

Djokovic, who underwent surgery on June 5 to repair a torn medial meniscus suffered during Roland Garros, did not face a break point during his convincing win, which set up a second-round meeting with World No. 277 22-year-old Briton Jacob Fearnley.

The Serbian, who has claimed a record eight ATP Year-End No. 1 presented by PIF honours, said that he did not experience pain during the one hour, 58-minute match with Kopriva.

“For an opening match, I couldn’t ask for a better start,” he said.

“Obviously started a little bit more cautious, I would say. I didn’t really maybe go for certain shots 100 per cent in terms of, like, the far balls at the first set.

“… I felt like as the match progressed, I moved better. Those couple points I think when I broke him in the second set, I did one slide. That was the first slide of the grass court season for me. I haven’t done it even in a practice week. So that was a great test.”

Djokovic also took time to pay tribute to his great friend and rival Andy Murray, who withdrew from the gentlemen’s singles Tuesday after failing to recover in time from recent back surgery.

“Obviously, very sad news for the tournament and for the tennis world to hear that he withdrew from the singles event here in Wimbledon. I hear that he’s going to try to play doubles.

“Just incredible resilience throughout all his career. Multiple Grand Slam winner. Legend of the game. No. 1 in the world. Going to play Challenger circuit to build his rankings on clay, his least favorite surface, says a lot about his character.

“Just huge inspiration to all the players. Doesn’t mind getting out on the court for hours every day. Incredible professional. Just his approach is something to study, no doubt.”



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Vukic on Alcaraz: 'You could tell he was going to be special'

  • Posted: Jul 02, 2024

As dusk set across The All England Club on Monday night in London, Aleksandar Vukic leaned back on his chair and let out a sigh of relief. The Australian had just earned a gruelling five-set victory against Sebastian Ofner, saving a match point en route to reaching the second round at Wimbledon after three hours and 49 minutes.

His reward? A meeting with defending champion Carlos Alcaraz.

A smile broke across the Australian’s face when he was told his second-round opponent’s name. Gazing into the distance, Vukic recalled his first meeting with the 21-year-old Alcaraz.

“I remember first seeing him when I played him at French Open qualifying in 2020,” Vukic told ATP “I think he was 17 or something. You could tell he was going to be special. There was a lot of hype around him. I actually won that match. I saved a match point there and beat him in the first round. But there was so much hype and you could just tell he had that raw power to him. And age 17, he was destroying the ball. It was obvious something was going to happen. I think two years after that he was World No. 1. It is just a crazy rise.”


Since Alcaraz made his breakthrough on Tour in 2021, he has gained a reputation of being humble and warm. The defending Wimbledon champion often has a smile on his face when walking around site and looks excited when on court.

Vukic praised Alcaraz’s demeanour and believes tennis is in a good place with the Spaniard at the top.

“I practised with Carlos in Beijing last year and he’s a super nice guy,” Vukic said. “The way he handles everything, he’s becoming an icon of the sport. The way he handles himself with the crowd, with other players, with everyone, is impressive. At such a young age, he embraces that side of the sport, gaining a lot of attention but he embraces that. I have a lot of respect for him.”

When Vukic walks onto No. 1 Court to face Alcaraz on Wednesday, it won’t be the first time he has played a Top 5 star this year. In Indian Wells in March, the 28-year-old pushed Novak Djokovic to a third set before eventually falling short.

The No. 69 player in the PIF ATP Rankings is hoping to use the experience he gained against the Serbian in his match with Alcaraz, which will once again be in front of a capacity crowd.

“That was that was such a great experience to play Novak on the big court there in Indian Wells. It will be a similar experience with Carlos and I think one of the biggest challenges is to play tennis and not to play the guy across. I think I did a good job of that at Indian Wells,” Vukic said. “I think the more I’m able to play these guys, the less it becomes overwhelming and the more you get accustomed to it.”

Vukic played college tennis at the University of Illinois and broke the Top 100 for the first time in May 2023. The Australian reached his first ATP Tour final in Atlanta last year and arrives at Wimbledon off the back of a semi-final showing at the ATP 250 grass-court event in Eastbourne.

Confidence is high, but facing Alcaraz is a daunting task. The former Next Gen ATP Finals presented by PIF champion became the youngest player to win a major on all three surfaces when he triumphed at Roland Garros last month, while he has earned victory in 14 of his past 15 grass-court matches.

“He’s got a lot of weapons, but I have got to play my game,” Vukic said. “My game does revolve a lot around my serve, my forehand and being very steady on the backhand. I really have to maximise that and go for my opportunities and be brave against him. I really need to have that mindset of going out there and going after him. I’m going to have to play great.”

Away from the court, Vukic is an avid chess player and enjoys watching football. The Australian is staying in a house with his team in west London and revealed his off-court interests help him switch off after long days on site.

“I am playing chess whenever I can. There are actually a few tennis players I’ve played, a few of the French guys, so it’s nice,” Vukic said. “I was playing in ‘s-Hertogenbosch as they had a board, and playing a bit now in London. It’s not relaxing, but it tests your brain in other ways, so I really do enjoy it. It kind of helps the brain stay active, and then I have been watching the Euros. I’m in a fantasy league with Popyrin and Demon is in there as well, so that makes you really into it. Initially I just picked a lot of the Arsenal players, so Saka, Havertz, Saliba. Fortunately, they’ve all been doing well.

“It’s so nice because we have a house here, so we just chuck the games on. It takes our mind off tennis as well, because sometimes we’ll go back and we’ll watch tennis, but we’re at the court for 12 hours a day, so we need to watch some football or something else.”

Football Fever! ATP Tour Meets The Euros

When Vukic wakes up on Wednesday morning, attention will be fully on facing Alcaraz. But what can fans expect to see from the Australian if they are watching him in action for the first time?

“I try to pride myself on how I compete,” said Vukic, who is aiming to reach the third round at a major for the first time. “If I can walk off that court and say that I have given it my best and made it tough for him I will be pleased. I want him to think ‘He’s tough to play, he doesn’t go away’. That’s what I want to achieve because I think that is something that I can do and that is something that makes you such a big competitor and very annoying to play for a lot of players.”


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Day 2 play resumes at Wimbledon after rain

  • Posted: Jul 02, 2024

Play has resumed on all courts at Wimbledon after Tuesday’s schedule was interrupted by rain in London.

Day 2 action at the grass-court major began at 11 a.m. local time (BST), before the rain forced 10 men’s singles matches being held on uncovered courts to be suspended at approximately 12:15 p.m. The players returned to the SW19 grass shortly before 1:30 p.m, however, with seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz aiming to escape some early trouble on No. 3 Court. The Pole resumed his clash with Radu Albot trailing 5-7, 1-1.


Despite the weather, the action began at 1:30 p.m. on Centre Court and 1 p.m. on No. 1 Court, with both stadiums fitted with a retractable roof.

Seven-time Wimbledon champion and No. 2 in the PIF ATP Rankings Novak Djokovic will take on Vit Kopriva in the second match on Centre Court, before home favourite Jack Draper meets Elias Ymer. On No. 1 Court, fourth seed Alexander Zverev vs. Roberto Carballes Baena is the second match on.


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