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Schwartzman, DelPo, Nadal Lead ATP Tributes To Maradona

  • Posted: Nov 25, 2020

Tributes are pouring in from around the tennis world after football legend Diego Maradona passed away on Wednesday at the age of 60. 

Current and former ATP Tour stars from Argentina and beyond took to social media to pay their respects to the World Cup winner’s legacy, led by his countryman and namesake Diego Schwartzman. 

“How could you not be named Diego? I love you forever D10S (‘god’),” Schwartzman posted.

“I feel like you’re returning to where you belong, to HEAVEN. For me you will never die,” said fellow Argentine Juan Martin del Potro. 

“Today the world of sports in general and football in particular has a void,” said Spain’s Rafael Nadal. “One of the greatest sportsmen in history, Diego Maradona, has left us. What he did in football will remain. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his family, the world of football, and to all of Argentina.”

“You’ve made us all very happy here, rest in peace Diego,” added retired Argentine player Juan Monaco.

See more social media tributes as the tennis world mourns the passing of Diego Maradona:


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Medvedev Reveals Tennis' New Game Style: Assassin

  • Posted: Nov 25, 2020

Tennis has a new game style. Assassin.

It’s easy to identify a serve-and-volleyer, an aggressive baseliner, a counter-puncher, or a pusher. Creating a game plan against them is relatively straightforward.

And then there is Daniil Medvedev – a mercurial master of them all. Take your eye off him at your own peril. There is a much better chance he has you in his sights than the other way around.

His cunning mix of strategies often ends with a surprise attack you didn’t see coming. He obfuscates his game plan by launching attacks from every inch of the court. One moment he is returning serve six metres behind the baseline. The next, he is successfully serving and volleying behind an 84mph second serve facing break point. He spectacularly blurs the lines between traditional game styles to baffle and bamboozle opponents.

The Russian assassin has taken #NextGenATP to next level.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Medvedev’s five victories at the Nitto ATP Finals uncovers five ways that he built control of the point, oftentimes without his opponent being aware that is was happening.

The five matches in the data set are:
Round Robin:
def. Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4
Round Robin: def. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-3
Round Robin: def. Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3
Semi-Final: def. Rafael Nadal 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3
Final: def. Dominic Thiem 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4

1. Backhands Hit Inside The Baseline
Five Opponents: 12%

Medvedev loves to lean on his backhand and hit it flat as a pancake. In theory, opponents should be able to step forward and attack the spin-less ball at will. The exact opposite happened at The O2. Overall, Medvedev made contact with his backhand inside the baseline 26 per cent of the time. His five opponents combined to hit only 12 per cent of their backhands inside the baseline, less than half of the Russian’s total. In the final, Medvedev made contact with 35 per cent of his backhands inside the baseline. Thiem only managed 12 per cent. Medvedev’s average backhand speed was 67 mph, with his five opponents a few notches lower at 64 mph.

Medvedev’s Backhand Hit Point vs. Thiem

Medvedev Hawkeye

Thiem’s Backhand Hit Point vs. Medvedev

Thiem Hawkeye

2. Aces
Five Opponents: 14

Medvedev completely out-performed his five opponents in this area, hitting more than triple the total of aces. In the semi-final against Nadal and the final against Thiem, Medvedev clubbed 25 aces. His opponents only managed eight.

3. Groundstrokes = Lower, Deeper, Harder

Medvedev’s average net height was 67cm above the net, while opponents were up higher at 74cm. You would think the higher ball over the net would travel deeper, but it wasn’t the case. Medvedev hit 86 per cent of his groundstrokes past the service line, while opponents were at 83 per cent. One explanation for that is that Medvedev played with superior velocity, averaging 72 mph on his groundstrokes to 70 mph for his five opponents.

4. Second-Serve Points Won
48% (63/132)
Five Opponents: 42% (60/144)

Winning the second serve battle is always critical. Medvedev impressively won this match metric by six percentage points. Rafael Nadal led the ATP Tour in 2020 in second-serve points won at 57.8 per cent (527/912). In the semi-final, Nadal only won 37 per cent (19/51) against Medvedev, who countered by winning 48 per cent (12/25) of points behind his second delivery. The fact Nadal struck 51 second serves to Medvedev’s 25 is yet another small battle won by the Russian.

5. First-Serve Return Points Won
Medvedev: 29%
Five Opponents: 22.5%

Medvedev eclipsed his five opponents in this key area, who on paper should be superior to the Russian in this specific statistic. In 2020, Nadal was rated No. 1, Djokovic No. 3, Schwartzman No. 4, Zverev No. 9, and Thiem No. 11. Medvedev punched in at 16th-best, but he cut all five opponents down to size at the year-end event, winning 29 per cent to 22.5 per cent. Medvedev’s average first-serve return speed for the tournament was 68mph, while his five opponents were significantly in arrears at 57 mph. That’s a testament to how much blocking, chipping and defending they had to do against Medvedev’s lethal first serve.

Medvedev’s match metrics were overwhelmingly superior to his five opponents at the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals. Sometimes it requires a spreadsheet to uncover just how the person on the other side of the net is taken down.

– Hawkeye graphics courtesy ATP Media

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Thiem To Compete In 2021 Laver Cup

  • Posted: Nov 24, 2020

Dominic Thiem will compete in the next Laver Cup, to take place at the TD Garden in Boston from 24-26 September 2021.

Thiem will play in the team event for the third time following his participation in 2017 (Prague) and 2019 (Geneva). The Austrian holds a 2-1 record representing Team Europe, with his victories coming against Team World’s John Isner and Denis Shapovalov. 

“The Laver Cup is a fantastic event and I’m really excited to be a part of Team Europe for the Boston edition,” Thiem said.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be on the winning side at two of the three Laver Cups so far – in Prague and Geneva, and it’s a really unique event, like no other on the tour.  I’m really looking forward to helping Team Europe capture a fourth title. 

“It’s so cool to be competing as part of a team with guys I’m normally facing across the net. We have so much fun together, but I also still learn a lot from the likes of Roger and Bjorn, who have so much experience in the game.”

The 27-year-old is flying as high as ever, fresh off his second consecutive trip to the championship match of the Nitto ATP Finals. Thiem won his first Grand Slam title at the US Open and he is at a career-high No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Former World No. 1 Bjorn Borg is still the captain of Team Europe, and the Swedish legend is excited to have the Austrian on his side.

“Dom has had an incredible season, despite the unprecedented circumstances. He consistently performs at the top level and it was great to see him win his first Slam earlier in the year in New York,” Borg said. “With him and Roger confirmed I feel we’ve got a great foundation, but for sure we’ll need to be in top form as each year Team World gets tougher and tougher and my great friend and rival John McEnroe will be hungrier than ever to win in front of a home crowd!”

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How One Point Changed The Face Of The Medvedev-Thiem Final

  • Posted: Nov 23, 2020

Dominic Thiem had a chance to move to the doorstep of the Nitto ATP Finals title on Sunday evening.

With Thiem already leading by a set, it was 3-3, 30/40 in the second set, when Medvedev was forced to hit a second serve. The Russian made a daring play by serving and volleying. Thiem, who moved off the court to run around his backhand, struck a heavy topspin forehand return down the line that Medvedev barely scraped over the net. With the entire Ad court open, the Austrian rushed forward toward a seemingly routine putaway, but he shoveled a forehand well wide.

“Of course maybe the match… would have had a different outcome if I converted that break point,” Thiem said. “But still, it was not an easy shot. I mean, he played serve and volley. Hit a pretty good short volley. I was in full sprint and had the ball under the net, so it was not that easy, that shot. Of course I should put it in the court, but still I have not so much to regret.”

The question is, what went wrong? 

When Thiem struck his forehand return, he had Medvedev in big trouble. The Russian did not guess a side, and he even split-stepped a moment too late, forcing him to lunge for his forehand volley, which looped high over the net and landed about midway into Thiem’s service box. Getting it back into play short in the court was a great effort in itself, and likely the best he could have hoped for in the situation.

After Thiem hit his return, he immediately started sprinting to cover the open court. By running around his backhand to hit a forehand, he was well out of position. But the moment in which he rushed to the open court — which was the right thing to do — likely prevented him from getting to the volley in time to hit the ball with topspin. What were the 27-year-old’s options?

Option 1 – Shovel Into The Open Court
Thiem took the most likely path by going into the open court. But as he ran forward, he didn’t change to a continental grip. It appeared that he thought he would get to the ball in time to hit a topspin forehand, as evidenced by his left hand momentarily coming up to his racquet, which is one of the early steps of a topspin forehand stroke production.

Since Thiem didn’t change to a continental grip, the shot became awkward. Using a forehand grip to hit a shovel shot is less natural, and players need to manipulate their wrist more to open the racquet face, which likely led to his miss.

Option 2 – Shovel At Medvedev
As Thiem rushed forward to retrieve the Russian’s volley, Medvedev was on the back foot. The fourth seed made contact with his forehand volley about halfway up the service box, but by the time Thiem got to the ball, Medvedev was already at the service line and moving backwards. Thiem wouldn’t have been able to get a lot of pace on the ball if he shoveled it at the Russian, but if he went that route and hit it into Medvedev’s body, the fourth seed would have struggled to get any pace of his own on the ball and he had no angle to work with. This potentially would have given Thiem a chance at a putaway volley.

Option 3 – Go Behind Medvedev
The open court was rightly tempting for Thiem. But going behind the Russian also would have proven effective. If Thiem hit the ball to Medvedev’s forehand side, he would have forced the Russian to hit his forehand volley down the line, because Thiem had the middle of the court and the cross-court play covered. This would have forced Medvedev to be extremely precise with his direction, as any miss closer to the middle of the court would have allowed Thiem to stretch for a backhand volley.

The eventual champion also was moving backwards, which would have made it difficult for him to hit his volley with much pace. There is also the possibility that Medvedev’s body weight would have been moving in the direction of the open court, which might have made it too difficult for him to react to being wrong-footed.

Option 4 – Touch Lob
This was the least likely of Thiem’s options, and also the most difficult shot for the Austrian. When sprinting forward, especially with a forehand grip, it is tough to control a touch lob. Medvedev was also moving backwards and already around the service line, which would have made it difficult to get the lob over his head. But if the Austrian were able to pull it off, the worst case scenario would have been Medvedev rushing back to hit a passing shot, putting Thiem in control of the point.

Regardless of the options, Thiem did not convert on his golden opportunity. On his other two break points in the set, he was unable to even touch the ball, as Medvedev hit curling aces down the T.

The Austrian did not earn a break point in the third set. This was his chance to seize the match and the trophy, and the consequences of missing proved costly.

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WhatsApp and Formula 1: Medvedev’s First 24 Hours As Nitto ATP Finals Champion

  • Posted: Nov 23, 2020

Over the past week at The O2 in London, Daniil Medvedev won each of his five matches and became the first player in Nitto ATP Finals history to beat the top three players in the FedEx ATP Rankings at the same edition of the tournament.

The Russian was rewarded with the biggest trophy of his career, 1,500 FedEx ATP Rankings points and $1,564,000 in prize money. As a result of his milestone victory, the World No. 4 was also flooded with messages on his phone and social media accounts. The win did come at a price for Medvedev, who revealed on Monday morning that he only managed to managed to get two hours of sleep.

“I didn’t sleep so much. There were a lot of things going on. I did reply to most of my messages, all of them on WhatsApp and most of them on other social media [platforms], which takes some time after a big win like this” said Medvedev. “I even managed to play a little bit of Formula 1 here in the hotel. It was a busy night. I celebrated with my coach after the match [and] did all the media things. I got a good two hours of sleep.”

With so many messages from family, friends and fans across the world. Medvedev spent a large portion of his time on Sunday night replying to the people closest to him. During his time at The O2, he was accompanied only by his coach, Gilles Cervara.

“[I replied to] my wife [and] my family first, my closest friends and my team. I just tried to give them a head’s up, something like a photo with the cup or something like this,” said Medvedev. “Then I took it step-by-step and just went up and down to say thank you to everybody for the nice messages they sent me yesterday.”

With just his coach by his side in London, Medvedev took a moment to reflect on his strong bond with Cervara. The Frenchman was voted by his peers as 2019 Coach Of The Year in the ATP Awards. Medvedev entered the Rolex Paris Masters earlier this month with just three wins from his past eight matches, seeking his first final appearance in 13 months, but through the good times and the bad times, Medvedev and Cervara continued to work towards their common goal: making Medvedev a better player each day.

“We are trying to improve all the time,” said Medvedev. “Like any relationship between coach and player, we can have our tough moments [and] our good moments. Sometimes I will not be playing good, I will not be happy with myself, he will not be happy with me or himself sometimes. Maybe he will think he is doing something wrong, I will think that I am doing something wrong. It is completely normal. It is a part of our sport. That is why people love sport. That is why we compete. We are trying to work every day to make me a better tennis player. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

During the ATP Tour suspension due to COVID-19, Medvedev and his wife spent two months sharing a house with Cervara, his wife and his dog so he could continue to practise on a private tennis court. So while sharing his life on the ATP Tour with just his coach in a bubble environment has been an adjustment, it has not been an entirely unfamiliar experience. In fact, the reduced size of his team has helped him to concentrate on his game.

“The more people [that are] around me, the more I can get disturbed,” said Medvedev. “My team knows it and my team respects it because they want me to play as good as I can. We try to do the best about this. Here we could see big teams for everybody. I was just with my coach. In the bubble, we try to stay together, we try to get some good laughs, try to practise good and finally we clinched the tournament together.”

One of the defining features of Medvedev’s game in London was his mental strength. The Russian was one game from defeat as Rafael Nadal served to eliminate the Moscow-native in the semi-finals and Medvedev trailed Thiem by a set in the championship match.

“Inside of me, there is a winner that maybe sometimes is a bit childish, but wants to win every match he plays,” said Medvedev. “That is why when I am not playing good, I can be angry [with] myself for this, because that is why I lose matches. That is also part of my success, why I am where I am, but I am working hard because I know that the more calm you are, the most focussed you are on the goal, the better it is for [my] tennis.”

Medvedev has certainly mastered the art of keeping calm after converting match points. The 24-year-old made the decision last year to adopt a unique signature celebration: the non-celebration. While some fans may not like the Russian’s lack of emotion in milestone moments, Medvedev took the time to explain the thought process behind his decision.

“Last year I just decided that it is going to be my trademark,” said Medvedev. “A lot of people like it, some [do] not, but that is how I feel… When there are huge crowds when you win a big title or big matches against big opponents and you don’t celebrate, you actually have the opportunity to look around you and feel all the energy that is going around. All of this energy is for you. If you win a match, all of the applause goes to you. As an artist, as a tennis player, you can feel it all if you think about it.”

If Medvedev wants to rise further in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2021, he will need to find a way to sustain his current momentum across an entire season and find a way to win on days when he is not at his best level. It is a skill that Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer have mastered throughout their careers.

“After my victory here against Novak, I felt that he didn’t play his best tennis against me. But the thing is that even when he doesn’t play his best tennis, to beat him is so tough. I was happy about the win and that is why [the Big Three] are the best,” said Medvedev. “You can see some Grand Slam matches, even when they won the tournament, where they were not at their best but they were capable of clinching it in four sets… and then throughout the tournament they play better and better. They are the three best tennis players in the history of our sport.”

With seven Top 10 wins in his past 10 victories, there is no doubt that Medvedev can beat anyone on his day. The challenge will be making those days more frequent. With the support of his coach and the off-season in full swing, Medvedev will be fully focussed on making that goal a reality in 2021.

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