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Lionel Messi, LeBron James and Serena Williams: The careers we wish would never end

  • Posted: May 20, 2019

It’s definitely a time for goodbyes.

For fantasy fans, life may never be quite the same after the end of Game of Thrones.

And if you’re a Manchester City supporter, there is a Vincent Kompany-shaped hole in your affections as he leaves the club after 11 years to become Anderlecht player-manager.

It’s hard to imagine the Belgian centre-back in any kit other than City’s sky blue, but all good things must come to an end.

With that in mind, here are the other sportspeople we definitely won’t be ready to say goodbye to when the time comes.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

You’re either ‘House’ Messi or ‘House’ Ronaldo, but let’s cast aside the ‘who’s better?’ debate for a minute and just imagine football without these two.

Messi, 31, has scored 602 goals in his 684 games for Barcelona, while Ronaldo, 34, has hit 600 goals in 804 games across his time at Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

That represents 0.75 goals per game for Ronaldo, and 0.88 for Messi – stats that leave the pair in a world of their own.

But what do we do after they retire?

Just sit watching reruns of Messi dropping Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng on his backside during a Champions League semi-final? How about Ronaldo, then at Manchester United, smashing a ‘knuckleball’ free-kick past a despairing David James?

They may not be ready to bow out any time soon, but football won’t be the same without them.

Serena Williams

With 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name and having beaten 12 players who were ranked number one in the world – including her sister Venus, there is no doubt Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

She won the Australian Open while pregnant, then – after giving birth to daughter Alexis in September 2017 – returned to reach the Wimbledon final in 2018.

A pioneer for not only female athletes but black athletes as well, she has changed the landscape of tennis entirely.

In an article for she said: “Growing up, I was told I couldn’t accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the colour of my skin. In every stage of my life, I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out.”

LeBron James

After scoring more than 32,500 points across 16 years, LA Lakers forward LeBron James is definitely a contender for the NBA iron throne.

Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were all worthy protectors of the basketball realm, but James has a very strong argument as to why he may be the greatest ruler of all time – the GROAT?

With 8,662 assists, 7,140 free-throws made and 4,163 turnovers in 1,198 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat and the Lakers, he has proved himself one of the most dominant athletes of his generation.

And it’s not just his on-court heroics that have established him as a great. His I Promise School houses 240 at-risk third and fourth-grade students in James’ hometown Akron, Ohio.

He may not have got the Lakers to the play-offs this season, but his legacy will live on well past his final game.


Brazilian striker Marta Vieira da Silva is a six-time winner of Best Fifa Women’s Player.

The 33-year-old has scored 110 goals in 133 games for Brazil, and 166 goals in 257 games in her time playing at Los Angeles Sol, Santos, FC Gold Pride, Western New York Flash, Tyreso FF, Rosengard and Orlando Pride.

In an interview with BBC Newsbeat, former England manager Hope Powell said: “Her longevity in the sport and what she’s done for it needs to be admired and respected.

“There are now opportunities for women to become professional footballers and earn a decent living from the game. There are lots of players that have made that pathway possible, and Marta is one of them.”

The striker will play in her fifth World Cup this summer in France.

Roger Federer

The Swiss maestro has won 101 career singles titles – just the second man (after Jimmy Connors) to reach a century and the first for 36 years.

Federer’s titles have come across 19 years, on all the sport’s surfaces, in 30 cities and 19 countries.

And, at 37, he’s still not letting up.

He pulled out of the recent Italian Open, but just six weeks earlier had told ESPN: “We’re not thinking about retirement because I feel like the more I think about it, then the more they’ll talk about it, the closer I am to it.”

There will come a time when all six of these sporting greats will no longer be playing, and hopefully it doesn’t leave a big Game of Thrones-size hole in our lives. But at least we can say we saw them at their best. After all, ‘what is dead may never die’.

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Schwartzman Returns To Top 20, Mover Of The Week

  • Posted: May 20, 2019

Schwartzman Returns To Top 20, Mover Of The Week looks at the top Movers of the Week in the ATP Rankings, as of Monday, 20 May 2019

No. 20 Diego Schwartzman, +4
The Argentine did not drop a set en route to his maiden ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. Schwartzman defeated Yoshihito Nishioka, Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Matteo Berrettini, before shocking Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals. After falling to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in three sets in the last four, the 26-year-old re-enters the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings, at No. 20, for the first time since 24 February.

You May Also Like: Schwartzman, Who Faces Djokovic, Turned Around His Season With Double Duty In Rome

No. 6 (Career High) Stefanos Tsitsipas, +1
For the sixth time this season, Tsitsipas rises to a career-high ATP Ranking. After a runner-up finish at the Mutua Madrid Open (l. to Djokovic), the #NextGenATP Greek defeated home favourites Jannik Sinner and Fabio Fognini en route to the semi-finals in Rome. Tsitsipas did not manage to join Novak Djokovic (2011 Madrid & Rome) as the second man to defeat Rafael Nadal in back-to-back clay-court tournaments, but jumps one spot to No. 6 in the ATP Rankings.

Read: A Look Back At Rome

No. 26 Fernando Verdasco, +12
The 35-year-old reached his fourth quarter-final in Rome with three Top 30 victories. Verdasco outlasted Kyle Edmund, World No. 4 Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov in three sets, before a straight-sets loss to eventual champion Nadal. The Spaniard soars 12 positions to No. 26 in the ATP Rankings, his joint-highest position since 6 July 2014 (No. 24).

Other Notable Top 100 Movers
No. 56 Pablo Carreno Busta, -13
No. 60 Filip Krajinovic, +9
No. 63 (Career High) Casper Ruud, +13
No. 64 Matthew Ebden, -10
No. 74 Roberto Carballes Baena, +12
No. 96 Peter Gojowczyk, -14
No. 97 Aljaz Bedene, -20

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  • Posted: May 20, 2019


The first ATP Cup is set for 3-12 January 2020

What is the ATP Cup?
The ATP Cup is an annual 24-country team competition featuring US$15 million prize money and a maximum of 750 singles and 250 doubles ATP Rankings points. ATP is staging the event in partnership with Tennis Australia.

When and where will it be played?
The ATP Cup will begin the ATP Tour each season, starting on the Friday before Week 1. The tournament will be a 10-day event finishing on the final Sunday of Week 1. The inaugural event in 2020 will be held from Friday 3 – Sunday 12 January. The ATP Cup will be played alongside an ATP 250 event in Doha that will occupy Week 1 of the calendar. The group stages competition will be hosted across three Australian cities – Sydney, Brisbane and Perth – over six days. Immediately following the group stages will be the four-day knockout stage – quarter-finals over 2 days, semi-finals and final – all to be played on the Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney.

How does the tournament work?
The 24 teams are divided into six groups of four for group stage, round-robin play. The six winners of each group and the two best second-placed finishers across the groups emerge to contest the eight-country knockout stage.

What is the format?
Each tie will comprise two singles and one doubles match. The country winning two matches wins the tie. Every country will be guaranteed to play three ties in the group stages. Singles will be best-of-three tie-break sets. Doubles will feature No-Ad scoring and a Match Tie-break in lieu of a third set.

What is the order of play?
There is a day session and an evening session each day per venue. The first singles matches will be played at 10.30am local time, starting with the No. 2 players in each tie, followed by the No. 1 players, with the doubles to follow. All doubles matches will be played regardless of whether the tie is decided after the two singles matches.

How does a country qualify for the ATP Cup and which of its players get to play?
A minimum of three ATP ranked players, including two members with singles ATP Ranking points, are required for a country to be eligible to qualify. A country may have up to five players. If a team has five players, at least three must have an ATP Singles ranking. If less than five players, a team must have at least two players with an ATP Singles ranking.

How will entries work?
At the first entry deadline (13 September), a country will gain acceptance into the event based on the singles ATP Ranking of the country’s No. 1 singles player. The qualifying country’s second-highest-ranked singles player will gain acceptance at the same time. If either of the two accepted singles players drop outside their country’s top two ranked singles players at the second entry deadline (13 November), either player may withdraw from the event. Remaining team members (up to an additional three players) will gain acceptance at the 13 November entry deadline, based on the current ATP Rankings.

Rankings to be used for entries are the 52-week ATP Rankings. A Protected Ranking can be used to enter provided the player’s Protected Ranking is valid through the start of the competition; but it will not be used for team seeding.

At the second entry deadline (13 November), the remaining six teams (Nos. 19-24) will qualify and all qualified players from all teams will be committed.

When will the teams be announced?
The top 18 teams will be announced after the 13 September deadline. The remaining six teams will be announced at the 13 November deadline.

Will there be a Wild Card team?
A Wild Card will only be awarded to the host team (Australia) if it does not qualify by ATP Rankings at the first entry deadline inside the Top 18 teams. If the host team receives a wild card, it will be announced together, in addition to the top 18 teams after the first entry deadline and five (rather than six) additional teams will qualify at the second entry deadline.

What are the ATP Cup Standings?
The ATP Cup Standings is a provisional entry list for the ATP Cup, ordered by the ATP Ranking (or Protected Ranking) of a country’s highest-ranked singles player. ATP Cup Standings also show which players within each country would qualify for a place in their country’s team, subject to player entry rules.

What if a country’s top-ranked singles player does not commit to play the event at the time of the first entry deadline?
The country’s eligibility to qualify at the first entry deadline is determined by the singles ATP Ranking of its next-highest ranked entered singles player.

When will the seedings and draw be made?
The locations, seeds and groupings for the top 18 teams will be announced soon after the first entry deadline. At this stage, each of the six groups will have three teams. The remaining teams will be drawn and announced soon after the second entry deadline using the 11 November ATP Rankings, with each additional team drawn at random to a group.

Will a Team Captain be assigned?
Each team will have a captain, selected by the No. 1 singles player in consultation with their team members. The No. 1 singles player will be the captain should one not be selected. The captain must be of the same nationality and meet one of the following criteria: be a Division I ATP player member, an ATP coach member or a qualified coach of a national federation. If a captain is requested that does not fulfill either criteria requirement, a request for an exemption can be made.

Is on-court coaching allowed?
Yes. Coaching will be permitted by the team captain, the competing player’s individual coach or fellow player team members. The player may only receive coaching during changeovers and set breaks.

Can a player play singles and doubles?
Yes. The team captain decides who plays doubles. The on-site ATP Ranking order must be respected for singles matches. For example, the No. 1 ranked player on a team based on on-site ATP Rankings at the start of the competition cannot play No. 2 singles. Protected Ranking will be considered the official ranking for line-up position.


What is the maximum number of points a player can earn?
Singles: An undefeated player who plays and wins all possible singles matches could earn 750 ATP Rankings points. Doubles: An undefeated player who plays and wins all possible doubles matches will earn 250 ATP Rankings points.

Who can earn points at this event?
All players will have the opportunity to earn ATP Rankings points and prize money.

How will be the points for each player be awarded in a team competition?
Singles: ATP Rankings points are awarded for a match win in each round and the amount of rankings points depends on the ranking of the opponent and the round of the result. Doubles: ATP Doubles Rankings points are awarded for a match win in each round and do not depend on the ranking of the opponents or the round of the result.

How will the ATP Cup points work in a player’s ranking?
ATP Cup will count as an additional event in a player’s ranking breakdown.

How much is the prize money?
The total player prize money is US$15 million. There are three different components of total prize money awarded to players. This includes a participation fee, prize money for individual match wins and prize money for tie victories.

Prize Money (All figures in U.S. Dollars)
Total Prize Money: $15,000,000

Per Participation:


Entry Order Fee
1-3* $250,000
4-6* $225,000
7-12* $200,000
13-18* $150,000
19-24**^ $75,000

*Entry order (team) as of 13 September 2019
** Entry order (team) as of 13 November 2019
^ Top 20 player will receive $150,000


Ranking Fee
1-10 $200,000
11-20 $150,000
21-30 $75,000
31-50 $60,000
51-100 $45,000
101-200 $30,000
201-300 $20,000
301+ $15,000

Ranking as of date of entry of team


Doubles Ranking Fee
1-20 $30,000
21-50 $20,000
51-100 $12,500
101-150 $10,000
151+ $7,500
Singles Ranking Fee
1-100 $20,000
101-300 $12,500
301+ $7,500

Ranking as of November 11, 2019

Per Individual Wins:

   #1 Singles Win  #2 Singles Win  Doubles Win (per player)
 Final Win  $290,400  $204,000  $61,800
 Semi-final Win  $151,000  $106,000  $32,150
 Quarter-final Win  $78,350  $55,100  $16,700
 Group Stage Win  $39,400  $27,600  $8,375

Per Team Wins:

   Per Player
 Final Win  $48,760
 Semi-final Win $29,280
 Quarter-final Win  $17,620
 Group Stage Win  $9,850

All 3-5 players on the team (whether the player plays a match or not) earn the same amount for a team win.


ATP Ranking Points


 Opponent Ranking  1-10  11-25  26-50  51-100  101+
 Final  250 200 150  75  50
 Semi-final Win  180 140  105  50  35
 Quarter-final Win  120 100 75 35 25
 Group Win  75 65 50 25 20

Maximum 750 points for undefeated player

Singles Player Ranked 301+

 Opponent Ranking  1-100  101+
 Final  85  55
 Semi-final Win  55  35
 Quarter-final Win  35  25
 Group Win  25  15


   Win vs. Any Team
 Final Win  85
 Semi-final Win  55
 Quarter-final Win  35
 Group Stage Win  25

Maximum 250 points for undefeated doubles player.

*All the above information is subject to change by the ATP rules and regulations.

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'I thought my career was over' – Azarenka on pregnancy, changing rules & priorities

  • Posted: May 20, 2019
2019 French Open
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 26 May-9 June
Coverage: Live text and radio commentary on selected matches on the BBC Sport website and app

“My first thought was ‘my career is over’. I would never play tennis again.”

A surprise pregnancy wasn’t part of Victoria Azarenka’s plan for the 2016 season. At the time, she was ranked sixth in the world, having won in Brisbane, Indian Wells and Miami – her 20th WTA title – earlier that year.

Instead, she had to cut her season short, announcing the news of her impending new arrival via social media – sending a tweet which, she says, was like “ripping off a band aid”.

“I was scared,” the 30-year-old Belarusian tells the BBC. “It wasn’t easy.”

Pregnancy was a shock for Azarenka, but it quickly turned into a happy shock. She remembers crying down the phone to her mother, but when questioned, didn’t know why she was upset.

She did, however, fear that she would never step on a tennis court as a professional again.

“But then, it was all about knowing I was going to come back, and when I was going to come back,” says the former world number one, who reached the quarter-finals in Stuttgart last month and will play at next week’s French Open.

“I felt it was a blessing, but I still wanted to have my own dreams and my own career.

“I knew I was going to come back, but my first initial thought was ‘oh my god, I’m never going to play tennis again’.”

Azarenka gave birth to Leo in December 2016 and returned to the tour the following June, reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon just over a week later.

“I’m sure a lot of women won’t be able to relate to me but I felt so much better after [pregnancy],” she says.

“I felt so much stronger physically, and my body became so much better. I felt like my body finally matured into being a woman.”

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‘I want this to be my legacy’ – changing the rules

Azarenka’s return came months after 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams announced her own pregnancy, going on to to give birth to her daughter in September 2017.

Since then, maternity policies within tennis have repeatedly hit the headlines, with the WTA canvassing the opinions of players in 2018.

As a result, Azarenka and other leading players on the WTA’s Players’ Council – including Venus Williams and Britain’s Johanna Konta – have successfully campaigned for the introduction of more ranking protection for new mothers on the tour.

Previously, players had to return to play within three years and could use a special ranking for eight tournaments within one year.

From the 2019 season, players coming back from childbirth, or injury, will now be able to use their previous ranking to enter 12 tournaments over a three-year period. They will also not face a seeded player in a tournament’s opening round.

“We have the power to change the rules and we have done,” Azarenka says.

“I think that is what I want my legacy to be, that I’m fighting for women to be more comfortable, to break those stereotypes and move the needle a little forward.

“That evolution is going to continue to break boundaries and the illusion of women in sport.”

‘I don’t love tennis that much any more’ – on changing priorities

“I’ve got to go to work, take pictures with people and smile. Some days I do that with a lot of struggle, but some days are better.”

Life is tough on a “daily basis” for Azarenka. On the surface, it looks idyllic, travelling the world playing tennis: her blonde haired, blue-eyed boy by her side.

But in reality, she admits she wants to “cry, hide and not see anybody”.

Locked in a custody battle over two-year-old Leo since 2017, the past two years have been, and continue to be, a “big challenge” for the two-time Australian Open champion.

While the case has yet to be resolved, Azarenka – ranked world number 51 – returned to the WTA Tour with Leo in tow in 2018, having missed several tournaments, including the 2017 US Open.

But although the experience is one she wouldn’t wish on anyone, she admits it has provided unexpected benefits.

“As hard as this situation is, I have never been able to learn as much about myself,” she says.

“It has forced me to go so far outside of my comfort zone. It’s tough, but in a way I’m grateful for this.”

As is the case with most new parents, having a child has completely changed Azarenka’s perspective. While tennis was once the be-all and end-all for her, her little boy has turned that upside down.

“Before my son was born, tennis was my life. I said I was going to come back because it was still so important to me to prove it to people,” she says.

“But I don’t love it that much any more, but that’s fine, because I want to be with my son every single minute of my life. But tennis is my job.”

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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ATP Cup Standings Reveal Countries Leading Charge Towards Australia In 2019

  • Posted: May 20, 2019

ATP Cup Standings Reveal Countries Leading Charge Towards Australia In 2019

The ATP Cup Standings will update each Monday that new ATP Rankings are released

Beginning today with the launch of the ATP Cup Standings, tennis fans will have insight into which countries and players may compete at the inaugural 24-nation ATP Cup in Australia next January.

Serbia and Spain currently occupy the top two spots in the inaugural ATP Cup Standings, which are based on the ATP Ranking position of a country’s top-ranked singles player. Novak Djokovic currently holds the top spot in the ATP Rankings with 12,355 points, while Rafael Nadal is in second place on 7,945 points.

View ATP Cup Standings

The provisional ATP Cup Standings are for illustrative purposes only, providing fans with an indication as to which players and teams are currently in contention to compete at the inaugural event in January 2020. Player/team participation will be subject to each player’s commitment to enter by the event’s two entry deadlines of 13 September (first 18 teams), or 13 November (remaining 6 teams).

The ATP Cup Standings will update each Monday that new ATP Rankings are released, giving fans weekly guidance on the teams and players most likely to be part of the blockbuster ATP Tour season opener from 3-12 January 2020.

“The ATP Cup Standings are already beginning to take shape and the players are excited to see this come to life,” said ATP Chief Player Officer, Ross Hutchins. “It’s going to be intriguing to see the countries battle in the coming months to earn their berths. On a weekly basis fans can track which countries look like likely contenders and even which players have the best chance of being part of their respective teams.”

To appear on the ATP Cup Standings a country must have at least two players with an ATP singles ranking and at least one other player with a singles or doubles ranking. A country may have up to five players. If a team has five players, at least three must have an ATP Singles ranking. If less than five players, a team must have at least two players with an ATP Singles ranking. The Standings enable fans to click and expand each selected country and see which players are leading the charge to represent their nation at the inaugural event.

The top 18 teams as of 13 September will be eligible to qualify for the tournament, which features US$15 million prize money and valuable ATP Rankings points. An additional six teams qualify at the second entry deadline of 13 November.

The 24 teams will be divided into six groups of four, with two groups each assigned to the three host cities: Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. The knockout stage, to be played in Sydney, will feature eight teams: the six group winners and the two best-performing second-placed teams.

The two highest-ranked singles players of the 18 teams to qualify at the first entry deadline will be eligible to compete. A country’s remaining team members shall be determined by their rankings at the second entry deadline.

The tournament will be hosted at Perth’s RAC Arena, Brisbane’s Pat Rafter Arena and Sydney’s Ken Rosewall Arena at Homebush, where the venue will undergo a AU$50.5 million redevelopment. Sydney has secured the knockout stages of the tournament through 2022.

Each tie comprises two best-of-three-sets singles and one doubles played under the regular ATP Tour doubles format (including no-ad points and a match tie-break in lieu of a third set). On-court coaching will be allowed during change of ends and set breaks.

Editors’ Notes

If Australia does not qualify at the first entry deadline, the host country will receive a wild card, leaving five qualifying spots open at the time of the second entry deadline.

An undefeated singles player could earn 750 ATP Rankings points; an undefeated doubles player could earn 250 points.

Players benefitting from an ATP Protected Ranking are also eligible to enter the ATP Cup ahead of either of the two entry deadlines, provided that the Protected Ranking is still valid at the time of the event. For example, this could potentially apply to Andy Murray (Great Britain) who currently has a protected ranking of 2. 

A full ATP Cup FAQ can be found at

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Nadal Turns Up Heat In Year-End No. 1 Battle With Djokovic

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Nadal Turns Up Heat In Year-End No. 1 Battle With Djokovic

Spaniard earns 1,000 ATP Ranking points with Rome title

Rafael Nadal did not just win his first title of 2019 on Sunday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. By defeating top seed Novak Djokovic in the final, the 32-year-old Spaniard also turned up the heat on the Serbian in the battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking.

With the 1,000 ATP Ranking points that Nadal (3,505) earned with his triumph at the Foro Italico, the nine-time Rome champion now trails first-placed Djokovic (4,005) by just 500 points in the ATP Race To London, which serves as a barometer for the chase for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking. If Djokovic had emerged victorious, he would have taken a 1,300-point lead in the Race. 

Watch Rome Final Highlights:

On the Parisian terre battue, Nadal could take the Race lead regardless of how Djokovic performs by lifting his 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires. Since the Roland Garros winner earns 800 more points than the finalist, Nadal would move into first even if Djokovic is his opponent in the final.

So although Djokovic’s grip on the top spot in the ATP Rankings is in no immediate danger because defending champion Nadal cannot gain any additional points at Roland Garros this year, the battle for year-end No. 1 is red hot. And Djokovic believes his rival is the player to watch at the season’s second Grand Slam championship.

“Nadal [is the] number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else,” Djokovic said.

You May Also Like: Nadal Beats Djokovic To Win Ninth Rome Title

Just a week ago, the tennis world was left wondering about Nadal’s status. He had not yet lifted a trophy on the year, his longest early-season trophy drought since 2004, when he captured his maiden tour-level crown at Sopot in August. The World No. 2 arrived in the Italian capital without making a clay-court final in three tries; all semi-final appearances in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

But Nadal now has momentum heading into Roland Garros. It may not become clear until later in the year when Djokovic begins to drop more points off his ATP Ranking, but Nadal is making a push to challenge for the year-end No. 1 spot.

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Gulbis To Face Zverev In Geneva

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Gulbis To Face Zverev In Geneva

Dimitrov qualifies in Switzerland

Latvian Ernests Gulbis set up a second-round meeting with top seed Alexander Zverev on Sunday at the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open. Gulbis beat Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 6-2, 7-6(7), breaking six times out of 15 chances.

You May Also Like: Tsonga Topples Monte-Carlo Finalist Lajovic In Lyon

In other main-draw action, Cordoba Open champion Juan Ignacio Londero beat Germany’s Mischa Zverev 6-4, 6-4. Grigor Dimitrov, the top seed in qualifying, reached the main draw with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Italian Thomas Fabbiano. Dimitrov, the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion, will face Argentine Federico Delbonis in the first round.

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Brain Game: Nadal’s Serve + 1 Proved Winning Math Against Djokovic

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Brain Game: Nadal’s Serve + 1 Proved Winning Math Against Djokovic

Learn how key Nadal’s first shot after the serve was in the Rome final

Hit a serve. Vaporize a forehand.

Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win his ninth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title in Rome on Sunday with his favourite 1-2 punch of hitting a forehand as the first shot after the serve leading the way.

Djokovic was a step slower after two grueling three-set night matches to reach the final and did not have his trademark speed around the court to counter Nadal’s supreme clay court Serve +1 forehand tactic. Djokovic spent most of the match trying to initially attack Nadal’s less potent backhand wing, but Nadal constantly found a way to turn backhands into run-around forehands, especially as the first shot after the serve.

Nadal’s Serve +1 Groundstrokes
• Serve +1 Forehands = 42 (79%)
• Serve +1 Backhands = 11 (21%)

Nadal hit 79 percent (42/53) forehands as the first shot after the serve, instantly putting Djokovic on the ropes with heavy forehands that stretched the Serb out to the edges of the court. Why does Nadal have such a thirst for forehands right after serve? It’s a bigger weapon than his backhand that can inflict more pain and deliver greater disguise with the open-stance footwork that takes away precious tenths of seconds of anticipation for opponents.

Watch Rome Final Highlights:

Nadal’s Serve +1 Win Percentage
• Serve +1 Forehands = Won 71% (30/42)
• Serve +1 Backhands = Won 45% (5/11)

There is not a part of the court that Nadal will not run to in order to turn a backhand into a forehand, especially with this specific strategy to begin the point. Of the 42 Serve +1 forehands Nadal hit in the match, more than half (23/42) of them were returns directed back through the Deuce court to the Spaniard’s backhand that he simply ran around.

Nadal’s Serve +1 forehand strategy delivers so much power at the beginning of the point with the viscous “one-two” combination that he is able to effectively win the point before it matures into a lengthy rally, which normally becomes far more even. Nadal’s lethal Serve +1 forehand combination ended the point in three shots or five shots a combined 63 per cent (19/30) of the time.

Nadal Serve +1 Forehand Points Won: Rally Length
• 3 shots = 10 points
• 5 shots = 9 points
• 7 shots = 4 points
• 9 shots = 2 points
• 11 shots = 2 points
• 13 shots = 2 points
• 17 shots = 1 point

Djokovic, widely regarded as having one of the best backhands of all-time, also did all he could to hit a forehand as the first shot after the serve. The Serb hit 71 per cent (56/79) Serve + 1 forehands for the match, winning just over half (52%) of them.

Double Digit Rally Length
A secondary area of domination for Nadal was in longer rallies of double digits, where 31 lactic-acid inducing points occurred. Nadal won a dominant 71 per cent (23/31) of these points with superior defense out wide in the court with both forehands and backhands, constantly wearing Djokovic down in the longer exchanges.

Djokovic hit 12 drops shots for the match, winning half of them. Five of the six drop shots he won were in rallies of single digits, but of the six he lost, only three were in single digits, while three were in double digit rallies where he looked to stop trading blows with Nadal from the back of the court.

It was an unusual final with an unusual score line between the top two players in the world. Could it be a dress rehearsal for a Sunday final in Paris in three weeks’ time?

Editor’s Note: ATP Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy is part of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team.

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Nadal defeats Djokovic to win Italian Open

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Rafael Nadal claimed his first title of the year by defeating world number one Novak Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the Italian Open final in Rome.

The Spaniard raced through the opener in 39 minutes, the first 6-0 between the great rivals in 141 previous sets.

Djokovic battled back, but in the Rome sunshine Nadal sealed his ninth Italian Open title in two hours, 25 minutes.

It was his 81st tournament win and it takes him 34-33 ahead of Djokovic in Masters 1,000 Series titles.

Victory is a boost before the French Open for Nadal, who was beaten by Djokovic in the Australian Open final in January, and had lost at the semi-final stage in his past four tournaments.

Since 2005, Nadal has won at least one of the nine Masters 1,000 events in a season every year except 2015.

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Djokovic had saved two match points in his quarter-final win over Juan Martin del Potro that finished at 1.05am local time on Saturday and then had another three-set encounter later that evening against Diego Schwartzman which lasted two hours, 31 minutes.

The 54th meeting between the world’s top two players saw the Serb, perhaps sufferings the effects of those two gruelling matches, initially overwhelmed by Nadal, who was ruthless with his trademark forehand.

To tumultuous acclaim from the capacity crowd, Djokovic forged his first break point opportunity of the match in the fourth game of the second set, but a magnificent, whirling forehand into the corner from Nadal soon eradicated it.

However, the 31-year-old showed his famous powers of resolve, firing some fierce returns as he took the next chance to break, which sealed the set in 59 minutes.

Nadal broke in the opening game of the decider, prompting Djokovic to demolish his racquet in frustration and with the Serb continuing to falter with drop shot attempts, Nadal surged to a 58th clay-court title.

It reduced his career deficit against Djokovic to 28-26, improving his record on clay against him to 17-7.


BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller

A ninth title in Rome; a record 34th Masters title; but most significantly a first clay court title of the year for Nadal a week before the start of Roland Garros.

In fact, a first title anywhere since last August. He was irresistible in the first set, in a week in which he has won four sets 6-0 and only dropped serve twice.

But both should go to Paris in excellent heart.

A tiring Djokovic struck a useful psychological blow by dragging Nadal into a decider.

And this after winning the title in Madrid last weekend, and enduring a more gruelling week in Rome which included night shifts on both Friday and Saturday.

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