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'Gazelle On The Court': Toby Samuel's Accelerated Path To ATP Challenger Tour

  • Posted: Nov 09, 2023

‘Gazelle On The Court’: Toby Samuel’s Accelerated Path To ATP Challenger Tour

The 21-year-old is in action this week at the Calgary Challenger

Move like a gazelle? A forehand that he can ‘rev up’? Be a recipient of the Accelerator Programme?

Briton Toby Samuel checks all the boxes and if the 21-year-old can race up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings as fast as he moves around the court, he will be the next college player to find success at the highest level.

The University of South Carolina star finished the collegiate season at 10th in the ITA Rankings, earning him six main draw spots into select ATP Challenger Tour events, thanks to the ATP/ITA Accelerator Programme, which aims to become a launching pad for the top players within the American collegiate system and accelerate their journey to the pro level.

Samuel is using an Accelerator spot at this week’s Calgary National Bank Challenger, where he secured his third win at that level on Tuesday.

“That’s been so helpful for a lot of college players making that transition to the Tour because we’ve missed out on four years to play on the Tour. I feel like our level is at this level, we just haven’t had enough time to get the points to get here,” Samuel told in Calgary.

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Under head coach Josh Goffi, the Bournemouth native went 24-5 in singles this past season and alongside Connor Thomson became South Carolina’s first ITA All-American doubles champions.

“He’s like a gazelle on the court. He moves as well as anybody in the world on the tennis court,” Goffi told in May. “Toby is a very talented individual. He plays a pretty strong game, he has a very strong backhand that he takes on the rise and his forehand is extremely heavy and when he wants to rev it up, he can rev it up as well as anybody in the world. He has a very kinetic serve, a beautiful motion.”

Samuel is taking this semester off from college tennis to try his hand at the pro level, but plans on returning to Columbia in January to complete his eligibility and graduate with a Sports Management degree in May. One goal in particular sticks out in Samuel’s mind when thinking about his final semester at South Carolina.

“I’d love to finish out my university career with a team title, that’s something I’ve always set out to do,” Samuel said. “Everything the university has given me, to give back a little bit would be amazing. Then just try and push as far as I can on the Tour, that’s the ultimate goal for me and a lot of tennis players. It’d be amazing to be at the top of the game, playing in those big tournaments and seeing your name up there.”

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Regardless of any result this season, the college route is one that Samuel will forever cherish.

“It’s been amazing, some of the best years of my life,” Samuel said. “Just being able to train and compete with a group of guys that I get on with so well under a great coach like Josh, it’s been a great experience. I’ve been able to mature mentally and physically on and off the court, which has really helped my tennis develop and I think I’m ready for the Tour now.”

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Djokovic Aims To Pass Federer For Most Nitto ATP Finals Titles

  • Posted: Nov 09, 2023

Djokovic Aims To Pass Federer For Most Nitto ATP Finals Titles

Serbian chasing record-breaking seventh crown

At the close of yet another historic season, Novak Djokovic enters the Nitto ATP Finals with an eye on breaking another record.

The Serbian won three Grand Slams this season, equalling Rafael Nadal’s all-time best 22 men’s major singles titles at the Australian Open and then storming past that mark with further triumphs at Roland Garros and the US Open. He also extended his own ATP Masters 1000 record by winning his 39th and 40th titles at that level in Cincinnati and Paris.

He will add to two more precious records —  finishing as year-end No. 1 for an eighth time and passing 400 weeks at No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings — if he can hold onto the top spot in Turin.

But that’s not all that’s on the line for the Serbian at the season finale. If he can repeat as champion, Djokovic will win his seventh Nitto ATP Finals crown and break a tie with Roger Federer for most at the prestigious year-end event.

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Djokovic is well aware of the records he continues to chase and break. But while acknowledging the history, he remains grounded in the present.

“I try to be a good student of the game and keep track with the numbers, but at the same time, I also want to be able to just direct my attention to the next challenge,” he said after beating Grigor Dimitrov to win the Rolex Paris Masters. “As long as I’m an active player, I guess that’s going to be the mentality I will nurture.”

The next challenge will require every bit of the Serbian’s attention as he competes alongside the greatest champions of the 2023 ATP Tour season. After battling through a stomach virus during his Paris title run, Djokovic said he was feeling better after the final and was eager to turn the page to Turin.

“Every match is going to be like finals of a big tournament, because you play a top-eight player,” he said of the Nitto ATP Finals. “Every match carries a lot of [Pepperstone ATP Rankings] points, carries a lot of importance.

“It’s a group-stage format, which we don’t get to experience in any other tournament, so even if you lose a match or even two, in a round-robin system you can still go through semis. I had the perfect score in Torino last year, five [wins] out of five matches. I like playing there. I think I connect well with the Italian crowd. I’m going there with good feelings, with a lot of confidence. I haven’t lost a match since the Wimbledon final, so I’m really excited to hopefully finish off the season on a high.”

Following a narrow five-set defeat to Carlos Alcaraz at Wimbledon — a result that ultimately saw him fall one win short of a calendar-year Grand Slam — Djokovic has won 18 straight matches and three titles (Cincinnati, US Open, Paris). All of those matches came on hard courts, as did his title runs to start the season in Adelaide and at the Australian Open.

He will enter Turin with a hard-court record of 33-1 on the season, his lone defeat coming to Daniil Medvedev in the Dubai semis. At 51-5 on the year, Djokovic leads the ATP Tour with a 91% win rate. At the close of a brilliant season, he now turns his attention to picking up five more victories in Turin.

“My goal is to end up the season on the high note,” he said in an ominous warning to his fellow competitors. “On the highest note possible.”

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Tunisia’s Aziz Dougaz: ‘My Path Was Like Nobody Else’s’

  • Posted: Nov 08, 2023

Tunisia’s Aziz Dougaz: ‘My Path Was Like Nobody Else’s’

The lefty hit a career-high No. 214 in June

Overcoming obstacles and naysayers has been a constant theme for Aziz Dougaz, the Tunisian who is one of just two players from Africa in the Top 250 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

The 26-year-old is enjoying a career-best season on the ATP Challenger Tour, where he’s reached seven quarter-finals in 2023 and is hoping for another deep run this week in Calgary, Canada. To understand how Dougaz has reached this point takes revisiting his past.

“My path was like no one else’s path that’s playing the same tournaments I’m playing,” Dougaz told at the Calgary National Bank Challenger. “I think I created my own path in tennis and I pushed through the obstacles I faced and I have a lot more obstacles to face to reach my goals.

“I come from a city in Tunisia that nobody ever thought I could already be where I am now because of the obstacles. No money, no coaches, no tournaments. Tennis was just for fun and that’s it. Nobody thought that we could make it. I had nobody to tell me, ‘This is the way, this is what we need to do.’ I was always going through the unknown and adapting to what comes to me. I think that’s a strength I have and I have to use it.”

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Dougaz finds extra motivation in inspiring young Tunisian kids that they too can reach the pro level, citing Malek Jaziri and Ons Jabeur as other key players in opening doors for the next generation. Jaziri hit a career-high No. 42 in 2019 and spent five years in the Top 100 while Jabeur, a three-time major finalist, is currently No. 6 in the WTA Rankings.

“The idea of having professional players in Tunisia when I was kid didn’t really exist,” Dougaz said. “But I think now it’s growing a lot. Malek had an amazing career and Ons now too, her impact is massive. I think a lot of people believe in tennis much more now that they can make it.”

Dougaz witnessed professional tennis first hand in 2005 when he was a ballkid at the Tunis Challenger, where Gael Monfils downed Fabrice Santoro in an all-French final. “I remember being at that match and it just marked me. It was amazing to see such amazing players so close,” he said.

The lefty became one of the Top 50 juniors in the world and spent three-and-a-half years at Florida State University, where he earned ITA All-American honours. Despite critics advising Dougaz to pursue a career outside of pro sports, his mind was set on achieving a dream.

“As a kid I always believed tennis was going to be my job even though nobody around me except my parents believed that,” Dougaz said. “Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, tennis is great. You can go to college and have talent but professional in Tunisia is impossible. We don’t have the money, we don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have much to fight against the other countries.’

“Most people around me were like, ‘What are you doing? Just focus on school, you’re wasting your time.’ I’m really grateful my parents allowed me to keep dreaming and didn’t listen to all the people who said there’s no future in tennis.”

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A memorable moment for Dougaz came this year at the US Open, where he was competing in qualifying with his parents Ahmed and Mona in attendance.

“That was amazing. I think they were super proud of me and for them it was a reward, a proud feeling of, ‘Our son is playing a big tournament like this and he’s winning a match and he’s around the best athletes there are in tennis,’” Dougaz said. “They are pushing me to achieve more because they definitely know it’s where I want to go and that my goal is still far away from where I am right now.”

Dougaz, who is World No. 242 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, is the highest-ranked Tunisian and just one of five players from the African country in the Top 1,000. Though his path to this point has been far from normal, Dougaz takes pride in his work.

“[I will] keep creating my own path, we all have different ways to get to a certain goal,” Dougaz said. “I’m going to believe in that and not think, ‘I didn’t have as many opportunities as the players I’m facing.’ I think it’s a strength that I’ve faced more challenges and my path is completely different than the normal guy in the Top 250.”

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Draper Downs Musetti In Sofia

  • Posted: Nov 08, 2023

Draper Downs Musetti In Sofia

Mannarino earns 200th hard-court win

Jack Draper continued his impressive recent form on Wednesday at the Sofia Open, where he defeated top seed Lorenzo Musetti 7-5, 6-2 to reach his seventh tour-level quarter-final.

The Briton won his fifth ATP Challenger Tour title in Italy last week and has quickly found his level in Sofia, also beating Maximilian Marterer at the ATP 250 event. In a high-quality performance against Musetti, Draper won 89 per cent (31/35) of his first-serve points to advance one hour and 48 minutes.

“Lorenzo is an amazing player, one of the top young players in the world, so I knew it would be a real challenger,” Draper said. “I started off a little slow but after that I found momentum and am proud of the way I played. I am feeling really confident, I am playing great tennis.”

The 21-year-old, who reached the fourth round at the US Open in September, is chasing his maiden tour-level title. He will next play Cem Ilkel after the World No. 259 beat Max Purcell 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

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In other action, second seed Adrian Mannarino earned his 200th tour-level hard-court win and earned 40 victories for the first time in a season. The Frenchman defeated Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals after one hour and 44 minutes. The World No. 25 is the first Frenchman to earn 40 wins on more in a season since Gael Monfils (44) in 2016.

Mannarino will next play Sebastian Ofner after the Austrian defeated Australian Christopher O’Connell 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-2.

Fabian Marozsan, who defeated Carlos Alcaraz in Rome in May, overcame Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4) to reach his second tour-level quarter-final. The Hungarian also advanced to the last eight in Shanghai in October.

Marozsan will next face third seed Jan-Lennard Struff after the German defeated British qualifier Billy Harris 7-6(5), 6-4. Struff is seeking his first tour-level title this week, having held championship point in Stuttgart in June.

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Alcaraz Arrives In Turin Ahead Of Nitto ATP Finals Debut

  • Posted: Nov 08, 2023

Alcaraz Arrives In Turin Ahead Of Nitto ATP Finals Debut

Spaniard practises at Pala Alpitour for the first time Wednesday

Carlos Alcaraz is ready to make his Nitto ATP Finals debut.

The 20-year-old star arrived at the Pala Alpitour in Turin on Wednesday, where he received a tour of the season finale’s home and enjoyed his first practice session on centre court with junior World No. 1 Joao Fonseca.

<a href=Carlos Alcaraz” />
Photo: Andrew Eichenholz/ATP Tour
One year ago, Alcaraz made a brief visit to the arena to receive his ATP Year-End No. 1 presented by Pepperstone honour. He had qualified for the year-end championships, but did not compete due to injury.

Now Alcaraz is ready to play in the prestigious eight-man event for the first time. Tied for the ATP Tour lead with six titles this year according to Infosys ATP Stats, the Spaniard will try to add a seventh to his 2023 collection between 12 and 19 November.

The other seven competitors in the singles field are Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Jannik Sinner, Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Holger Rune. Twenty-year-olds Alcaraz and Rune are the first 20-and-under pair to compete in the same Nitto ATP Finals since 2000, when 19-year-old Lleyton Hewitt and 20-year-old Marat Safin made their debuts.

The draw will take place Thursday at 3 p.m. local time. Alcaraz and top-seeded Djokovic are guaranteed to be in separate groups.

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Fognini Saves 2 MPs, Advances In Metz

  • Posted: Nov 08, 2023

Fognini Saves 2 MPs, Advances In Metz

Herbert reaches first tour-level singles QF since 2021

Fabio Fognini reached his first tour-level quarter-final of the season in dramatic style on Wednesday when he saved two match points to claw past Alexander Bublik 4-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5) at the Moselle Open.

The Italian saved match points at 5/6 and 6/7 in the second-set tie-break with great touch around the net. Fognini then recovered from squandering a break advantage in the third set before eventually sealing victory on his first match point to advance after two hours and 53 minutes.

Fognini will meet #NextGenATP Jordan star Abdullah Shelbayh or defending champion Lorenzo Sonego in the last eight.

In other action, French wild card Pierre-Hugues Herbert reached his first tour-level quarter-final since Marseille in 2021 when he downed Dutch lucky loser Gijs Brouwer 7-5, 6-4.

#NextGenATP Frenchman Luca Van Assche also advanced after Stan Wawrinka was forced to retire at the end of the second set with the score 3-6, 7-6(6). The 19-year-old Van Assche, who will compete at the Next Gen ATP Finals later this month, saved two match points in the second set to reach his second tour-level quarter-final of the season. He will next face Herbert. Alexander Shevchenko defeated Mate Valkusz 7-5, 2-6, 6-2.

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Why Zizou Bergs Hit Only Slice Backhands For Three Months

  • Posted: Nov 08, 2023

Why Zizou Bergs Hit Only Slice Backhands For Three Months

Belgian is competing this week at the Calgary Challenger

The week after a career milestone, injury suddenly struck Zizou Bergs.

The 24-year-old reached his maiden tour-level quarter-final at the ATP 250 event in Gstaad in July and the next week Bergs was playing a doubles match at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Zug, Switzerland when he tore a ligament in his left wrist.

“I did a first serve and then on the third ball, I hit a backhand and it got torn. That’s something that scares you. A normal backhand and stuff like that can happen,” Bergs told at the Calgary National Bank Challenger. “From that moment, it was my last backhand and the day after in singles I was doing only slice.”

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Bergs then went home to Belgium to visit a specialist who straightaway knew the problem. “The ligament was broken, so the tendon clicks out and that was the issue,” Bergs said.

Surgery would have meant Bergs would be out for at least six months, so the World No. 180 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings took an alternate route. He stepped away from competition for a month to focus on rehab. Bergs returned for US Open qualifying and until last month at the ATP 250 event in Antwerp, he was hitting only slice backhands.

“[Corentin] Moutet inspired me to do it because I knew he had the same issue and he was doing it. Or else I had to be out for three, four months and I know how hard it is to come back to competition after being out,” Bergs said.

“I was a little worried I’d lose a lot of momentum from that and I also thought it would be a fun challenge to go out there playing slice and competing against the best players in the world. In the end I can say I actually enjoyed it. Having these months of only slicing, I’m well convinced it’s going to help me.”

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Just two months before suffering the wrist injury, Bergs was lifting his fifth ATP Challenger Tour trophy in Tallahassee, Florida. Now back at 100 per cent health, Bergs is hoping to regain his best form in the final four weeks of the season.

“I want to get the full reward from the last months, having this game with the slice, feeling like I’ve improved a lot on the forehand, serve and volleys,” Bergs said. “I’d like to see everything come to place, which isn’t going to happen on the first match but I really hope that I’m fighting the hell out of myself because I’m really pumped to get it going again at full capacity.

“Then [I hope] just to develop everything together, being an aggressive player and having this second backhand that I didn’t have before. Then hopefully the results will follow because I’m really dedicated to getting in the Top 100. I really believe I have the level to be there and stay there but I want to get there.”

Even in the difficulty of dealing with injury, Bergs found the positive side, citing drastic improvement on his backhand slice.

“The difference between the beginning and the end is remarkable!” he said, while cracking a laugh.

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Dallas, Doha & Munich Upgraded To ATP 500 Tournaments From 2025

  • Posted: Nov 08, 2023

Dallas, Doha & Munich Upgraded To ATP 500 Tournaments From 2025

Part of an unprecedented set of reforms to strengthen the tennis calendar

ATP Tour events in Dallas, Doha and Munich will be upgraded to ATP 500 status from 2025, part of an unprecedented set of reforms to strengthen the tennis calendar.

The three event upgrades are set to deliver benefits for fans and players alike, with more action and playing opportunities at bigger events. It marks the ATP’s latest move to enhance the sport’s calendar and premium product, a core objective of the OneVision strategy.

The Dallas Open’s upgrade bid, by GF Sports & Entertainment, was headlined by a relocation to a soon-to-be announced new venue. The city has a long track record of hosting major sporting events including All-Star Games and Super Bowls, and is set to be a host city of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The Qatar ExxonMobil Open (Doha) is a five-time ATP 250 Tournament of the Year winner, as voted by players, known for its world-class standards and attracting one of the strongest player fields in the category.

The BMW Open (Munich) is set to undergo a full-scale renovation of its facility as part of its upgrade plans. The Munich application was a joint bid between Iphitos (owner of the Munich ATP 250 membership) and Champ AG (owner of Lyon ATP 250 membership).

ATP 500 Tournaments

Each of the three tournaments will offer approximately $2.8 million in prize money from 2025 and contribute to a growing ATP 500 Bonus Pool. In total, the three upgrades will deliver approximately $51.7 million in additional player compensation over a five-year period at the ATP 500 category.

As part of the process, ATP 250 tournaments in Atlanta, Lyon and Newport will be retired from 2025.

Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman, said: “OneVision is all about raising the bar for tennis, and unlocking new investment in the game. We’re thrilled to have our Dallas, Doha and Munich events step up to ATP 500 status – delivering improved standards for players and most importantly an enhanced product for our fans.”

The upgrades will expand the ATP 500 category from 13 to 16 tournaments across the season. The cities of Dallas, Doha and Munich join an impressive list of global destinations that already feature across the 500 category, including Acapulco, Barcelona, Basel, Beijing, Dubai, Halle, Hamburg, London, Rio de Janeiro, Rotterdam, Tokyo, Vienna, and Washington D.C. The changes also coincide with enhancements to the ATP Masters 1000 category, with seven of the nine tournaments to be held as marquee 12-day events from 2025.

The upgrades follow a competitive bid process run in collaboration with Deloitte’s Sports Business Group. The full 2025 ATP Tour calendar will be announced in the coming months.

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