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Tiafoe On '18 Delray Beach Title: 'I Had No Expectations At All'

  • Posted: Feb 19, 2019

Tiafoe On ’18 Delray Beach Title: ‘I Had No Expectations At All’

American opens title defence Tuesday against Evans

Entering the 2018 Delray Beach Open, Frances Tiafoe was No. 91 in the ATP Rankings. The American had made just one tour-level quarter-final, which came the previous week at the inaugural New York Open.

“I had no expectations at all,” Tiafoe said.

In the first round, Tiafoe faced Matthew Ebden, who defeated the American with the loss of just five games the month before. But the American hung tough after losing the second set against the Aussie to reach the second round in Delray Beach.

Next up was a daunting task: Tiafoe’s childhood idol and 2011 champion Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine had won both of their previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, including a straight-sets victory at the Australian Open just weeks before.

But Tiafoe summoned some of his best tennis, converting on his fourth match point to defeat Del Potro after two hours and 27 minutes in a three-set thriller. It was just his second victory against a Top 10 opponent.

“I was cool with the tournament after I beat Delpo, honestly. Could have lost in the next round and I really wouldn’t have cared,” Tiafoe said.

Perhaps more impressively, Tiafoe earned the respect of his idol, Del Potro. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ would go on to claim his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open and climb to a career-best World No. 3 in August, so it took a lot for Tiafoe to beat him.

“Frances has everything to be in the top positions very soon. He has talent, the power to play long matches. [He has] the smart things to be playing in front of the top guys, also. I like to see him enjoying this sport,” Del Potro said on Monday. “I know he has a little bit of pressure on his back because the whole country is expecting too much of him. But he’s going to be a better player in a very short period because he’s already a good player for us and I would love to watch him playing finals and winning tournaments.”

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“That was great,” Tiafoe said upon hearing of Del Potro’s encouraging words. “It’s still funny hitting with him and spending time with him. It’s good to see him back. He’s such a nice guy and anything he says, even saying hi to me, means a lot to me. I’m a huge fan.”

The tough part for Tiafoe was that, at that point, he was only in the quarter-finals. In the next two rounds, Tiafoe had to play then-reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Hyeon Chung and #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov, both of whom were inside the World’s Top 50. What made it tougher was that due to rain on Friday evening, Tiafoe had to complete his quarter-final triumph against Chung on Saturday before returning later in the day to face Shapovalov.

“We were just taking it one step at a time and doing the best we could every day,” said Tiafoe’s coach, Zack Evenden. “We did a great job of that and it was a fairytale week.”

Tiafoe went on to beat German Peter Gojowczyk to lift his maiden ATP Tour title, becoming the youngest American to claim a tour-level trophy since a 19-year-old Andy Roddick at 2002 Houston. Tiafoe struck an ace down the T on championship point, then fell to his back in celebration.


“Complete relief, joy. That feeling, we’ve spoken about that a lot and that feeling, it’s going to be tough to replicate that. We didn’t expect it,” Evenden said. “We knew he was capable of big things, but him turning around the year that quick and in that fashion, beating the players he did that week, it was definitely overwhelming.”

“To win the event was pretty cool,” Tiafoe said. “I’m happy to have my first title here in South Florida where I spend so much time. Hopefully I can do it again.”

While Tiafoe was just inside the Top 100 when he arrived at Delray Beach last year, his return this season is a different story. Not only did he qualify for the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, but he is at a career-high No. 29 in the ATP Rankings, fresh off his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open. Tiafoe opens his title defence against Daniel Evans.

“I don’t feel any pressure this year, either. It’s kind of just another event I want to do well in. That’s where my head is right now. Obviously I gave myself a pretty good start [to the year], so there’s no real pressure,” Tiafoe said. “I’m just trying to get some momentum going for these next couple of weeks.”

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Rain Halts Monday Action In Rio

  • Posted: Feb 19, 2019

Rain Halts Monday Action In Rio

Top seed Thiem headlines Tuesday’s schedule

Monday’s matches were a wash at the Rio Open presented by Claro, with all seven scheduled singles matches canceled due to rain in Rio de Janeiro.

Only two matches made it on court. Federico Delbonis of Argentina leads seventh seed Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 5-3 and Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain leads eighth seed Nicolas Jarry of Chile 4-3.

The top four seeds headline Tuesday’s schedule of play that features all 16 first-round matches. Top seed Dominic Thiem of Austria takes on Laslo Djere of Serbia in the evening session, followed by fourth seed and defending champion Diego Schwartzman of Argentina squaring off against 2016 champion Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

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Del Potro: I Was Thinking Horrible Things

  • Posted: Feb 19, 2019

Del Potro: I Was Thinking Horrible Things

Argentine returns from knee injury; begins campaign against Nishioka

After winning his first ATP Masters 1000 title last March at the BNP Paribas Open and climbing to a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 3 in August, Juan Martin del Potro was flying high. That was until October when he fractured his patella at the Rolex Shanghai Masters.

“[I was thinking] horrible things. I thought that was the final of my life. I got the fracture in the knee that I never expected to have,” Del Potro said. “After bad days I started believing in my doctors again that I’ll play tennis soon and I think I’m in a good way again to be competitive. After four months, I’m going to be playing a tournament, which is good [recovery] time. But I know how difficult it is to be ready for playing in the big events and holding the top positions in the [ATP] Rankings and I know this way because I had it in the past. But this is my life and I know how to deal with these problems.”

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While it’s not a situation any player wants to deal with, Del Potro has recovered from worse positions. This week three years ago, the Argentine sat outside of the Top 1,000 of the ATP Rankings, falling as low as No. 1,045 the week of 8 February 2016. He underwent left wrist surgeries on 24 March 2014 (joint), 20 January 2015 (ligament) and 18 June 2015 (tendon), as well as right wrist surgery on 4 May 2010.

“I have the experience doing comebacks, but it’s not good for me and for other players. I know it takes time and then you have to be having enough confidence to move 100 per cent, to feel the body in good shape and then the tennis part comes,” Del Potro said. “First of all I have to be healthy, and then I will start to think about tennis. But Delray Beach is a good time to see how my knee works during a match and then we’ll decide where’s going to be next.”

Del Potro is not putting any special pressure on himself in his first tournament in four months. Instead, he is trying his best to enjoy the sport. The Argentine takes on Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round.

“I know how difficult it is to come back and play a tournament like this, but I’m ready for playing a match again,” Del Potro said. “I know I will need a little bit of time to get confidence in my body and my game. But I’m excited to be playing again so Delray Beach is a good tournament to start at.”

More than anything, Del Potro loves tennis. And while his most recent setback temporarily took that away from him, he is just as motivated as ever. 

“I love to do this and I have luck that I have good friends and family who support what I want to do and that’s enough to keep trying, keep working hard to be a better player in the future and I’m still enjoying this life,” Del Potro said. “I had tough moments during my career, but when I never expected to reach my highest [ATP] Ranking ever, I did last year at 29 years old. For this year I would like to be healthy for the whole season and then keep surprising myself.”

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A Year In The Making: Inside Opelka's Amazing Ascent

  • Posted: Feb 18, 2019

A Year In The Making: Inside Opelka’s Amazing Ascent

After posting one of the best Challenger campaigns in 2018, Reilly Opelka is an ATP Tour champion, soaring nearly 200 spots in the ATP Rankings

It was all about Big O in the Big Apple. Last week, Reilly Opelka was the talk of the ATP Tour, making a massive statement as big as his 6’11” frame in claiming his maiden title at the New York Open.

Opelka turned in an overwhelming serving display, hammering 156 aces while earning four deciding-set victories to lift the trophy. He saved six match points to stun top seed John Isner in the semis, before edging Brayden Schnur in a third-set tie-break on Sunday.

It was the crowning achievement for the 21-year-old, who made significant strides over the past year to arrive at this moment. To say that a player ‘put in the hard work’ can often sound clichéd, but in this case it couldn’t be closer to the truth. Armed with a well-rounded game and transformed approach, Opelka has put in the hard yards.

Winning breeds winning, regardless of the level, and Opelka has adopted that mentality. He points to his 2018 Challenger campaign as the impetus for his strong tour-level results in 2019. The American is proving that while his game is predicated on a mammoth serve, his agility, court awareness and touch around the net are his keys to victory, especially in pressure moments. As he continued to win matches, those skills matured at a rapid rate.

The oft-injured American has battled foot and leg ailments in recent years, which has hampered his progress since breaking onto the scene as a teenager. But, finally healthy and under the tutelage of Jean-Yves Aubone, Opelka emerged as one of the biggest stars on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2018. It was a breakthrough campaign for the Michigan native, and despite battling a debilitating case of mononucleosis during the summer months, he turned in a staggering surge up the ATP Rankings.

“Last year was huge for me,” Opelka reflected. “It was the first time I consistently put together a lot of matches in a row. I reached a lot of semi-finals and I think the year before there wasn’t one week where I had won three matches in a row. Being able to play on the Challenger Tour and not as many ATP Tour events, helped me string all those matches together. It gave me a lot of confidence and I learned a lot about myself and my tennis. It allowed me to work on some things that I knew needed to be addressed.”

Entering the 2018 season, Opelka had won a combined 17 matches at the Challenger level in his young career. He doubled that total in the span of 11 months, finishing with an impressive 34-11 win-loss mark, including three titles. In fact, his .756 win percentage came in second place, behind only Vasek Pospisil (.784). Another player on that list, Juan Ignacio Londero, also won his maiden ATP Tour title in recent weeks, prevailing in Cordoba.

You May Also Like: From Challenger Star To ATP Tour Champion

Opelka demonstrated his vast shotmaking arsenal and all-court game with his first clay-court crown at the prestigious BNP Paribas Primrose in Bordeaux, France, in mid-May. And despite sitting out a three-month stretch following the mono diagnosis, he would dominate upon returning to the Challenger circuit. A 17-4 run would follow, including back-to-back indoor crowns in Knoxville and Champaign to conclude the year and vault him to the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings.

Opelka lifts the trophy in Bordeaux

“Looking back, having mono actually gave me the advantage of having a few months inside, and I wasn’t as burnt out as most players are by the end of the year. It made me pretty anxious and hungry and I was ready to go. The timing of all that helped a lot and it put me in the position of being in the main draw of these big tournaments. Now I don’t have to go through qualifying anymore.”

Opelka has always set lofty goals for himself and views his Challenger success as stepping stones to bigger and better things at the tour-level. It did not take long for that transition to take flight, securing his first Grand Slam match win over John Isner at the Australian Open and following that up with another victory over Isner en route to the title in New York.

From sitting outside the Top 200 and in a hospital bed just nine months ago to a career-high No. 56 on Monday, it has been a meteoric rise for the 21-year-old. Opelka is finally showing what he’s capable of and he’s putting the rest of the ATP Tour on notice.

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Djokovic Wins Laureus World Sportsman Of The Year

  • Posted: Feb 18, 2019

Djokovic Wins Laureus World Sportsman Of The Year

World No. 1 accepts prestigious honor in Monte-Carlo

The trophies keep coming for Novak Djokovic in 2019. The World No. 1 won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award on Monday evening at the 2019 Laureus World Sports Awards in Monte-Carlo.

This marks the fourth time that Djokovic has been selected for the award, having previously won it in 2012, 2015 and 2016. Other nominees this year included American basketball star LeBron James, Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge and French football player Kylian Mbappe.

“A Laureus Award is what every athlete wants to win, and this one is a huge honour for me. Being among so many sporting greats here tonight… gives this award a special meaning for me,” said Djokovic. “Last year was an incredible season for me. Returning from injury to win Wimbledon and the US Open is something I’ll remember forever.”

You May Also Like: Need Life Advice? Ask Novak Djokovic

Djokovic earned the prestigious accolade off the second half of his 2018 season. From July to November, he compiled a 35-3 record and won four titles, including two Grand Slams (Wimbledon, US Open) and two Masters 1000 events (Shanghai Rolex Masters, Western & Southern Open). He also finished runner-up at the ATP Finals and Rolex Paris Masters.

The Serbian is scheduled to return to action next month at the BNP Paribas Open.

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Djokovic named Laureus Sportsman of the Year

  • Posted: Feb 18, 2019

Gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Novak Djokovic won the top prizes at the 2019 Laureus World Sports Awards.

American Biles, 21, was named Sportswoman of the Year after winning four gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the 2018 World Championships.

Serb Djokovic, 31, won the Sportsman of the Year award after claiming victory at both the US Open and Wimbledon.

Golfer Tiger Woods won the Comeback award, while tennis player Naomi Osaka won Breakthrough of the Year.

America’s 14-time major winner Woods won the season-ending Tour Championship by two shots to record his first win in five years following spinal fusion surgery.

Japan’s Osaka won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open last year, then won the Australian Open last month.

Elsewhere, Slovakian skier Henrieta Farkasova and guide Natalia Subrtova won the Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award after winning four gold medals at the 2018 Winter Paralympics.

Football World Cup winners France won Team of the Year, and Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge took the Exceptional Achievement Award after taking 78 seconds off the world marathon record with his victory in Berlin.

American snowboarder Chloe Kim was given the Action Sportsperson of the Year Award, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and American skier Lindsey Vonn won the Spirit of Sport Award.

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Simon Survives Hoang Test In Marseille

  • Posted: Feb 18, 2019

Simon Survives Hoang Test In Marseille

Frenchman begins bid for third Marseille title with three-set win

Gilles Simon recovered from a set and a break down to defeat countryman Antoine Hoang 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 at the Open 13 Provence on Monday.

“I expected a tough match and I’m very happy that I won,” said Simon. “I’ve won a couple of matches after being a set and a break down, so I didn’t feel like I was close to losing.”

The 34-year-old Frenchman, who lifted the trophy in 2007 and 2015, saved eight of 11 break points to record his 25th win in 35 matches at the ATP 250 event in Marseille. The 23-year-old wild card Hoang led Simon 7-5, 2-0 on Court Central, on his tournament debut, before falling to the two-time former champion after two hours and 14 minutes.

Simon will meet Peter Gojowczyk or Damir Dzumhur for a place in the quarter-finals. The sixth seed trails Gojowczyk 0-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series and lost his only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head encounter against Dzumhur at Winston-Salem in 2017. 

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Hubert Hurkacz fired 13 aces to defeat Filip Krajinovic 6-3, 6-2. The 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier notched his first tour-level victory of the 2019 ATP Tour season after 65 minutes, saving all eight break points he faced to reach the second round.

Hurkacz will meet top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round. Hurkacz and Tsitsipas met for the first time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series at the Next Gen ATP Finals last year, with eventual champion Tsitsipas prevailing in straight sets.

The final match on Monday’s schedule saw Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan save all seven break points he faced to defeat American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-3. Next up for Kukushkin is fourth seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada.

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Frustrated Watson unable to end WTA losing run

  • Posted: Feb 18, 2019

Britain’s Heather Watson was unable to earn her first WTA Tour main-draw win since September as she lost to Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova at the Hungarian Open.

Watson, 26, lost 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7-4) against the 17-year-old in Budapest.

Watson, who has dropped to 111th in the world, led 5-3 in the final set before Potapova won the next three games.

The Briton broke serve to force a tie-break, but 87th-ranked Potapova quickly took control in the decider.

Potapova, who has reached the final in two of the seven main-draw tournaments she has played, sealed victory with an ace on her first match point.

Watson grew frustrated in the latter stages of a tense, two-hour contest, often throwing her racquet onto the court and sitting on her chair with her heads in her hands at one changeover, as the possibility of a first main-draw win since reaching the Quebec City semi-finals slipped away.

It was her first appearance since missing Great Britain’s Fed Cup matches earlier this month through illness.

Her only victories this year have come in qualifying at the Hobart Open, while she also won matches in Challenger and ITF Tour events – the tiers below the main WTA Tour – towards the end of last year.

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