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Becker: "Sascha Isn't Satisfied Yet"

  • Posted: Dec 13, 2018

Becker: “Sascha Isn’t Satisfied Yet”

ATPWorldTour.com speaks exclusively to Becker about Zverev

Alexander Zverev earned the biggest title of his career last month at The O2 in London, winning the prestigious Nitto ATP Finals. The last German to capture the season finale before Zverev was former World No. 1 Boris Becker, in 1995. Becker also triumphed at the event in 1988 and 1992. 

ATPWorldTour.com caught up with Becker in a wide-ranging conversation about Zverev, including his victory in London to how he can improve and what the future may hold.

A month ago Sascha earned the biggest win of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals. Now that there’s been some time, how important of a breakthrough do you believe that was for him?
I think it was the biggest win of his career. He did win three [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000 titles before, but this one was bigger, especially beating Roger and Novak in the semi-finals and finals in straight sets. I thought that was the breakthrough that everyone was waiting for.

As you said, he had won Masters 1000 events before. So how key do you think this was compared to those wins?
He’s been touted by most of the experts as a future No. 1 and playing like it. He played the past two years, apart from the Grand Slams [at a high level]. You wait as a young player to take the next step at the biggest of tournaments and at the Grand Slams, unfortunately, he hasn’t made a semi-final yet. But I think the way he performed throughout the whole week against the very best in tennis, looked to be very promising for 2019.

It starts with yourself. If you gain a bit of confidence, if you start beating the best tennis players in the world day after day, you deep down start to believe that you really belong there. That’s why I think it was a big breakthrough.

Speaking of the experts touting him as a future World No. 1, if you do, why do you believe he can be the best player in the world?
First of all, it’s not so easy to achieve. The No. 1 spot is busy, it’s taken right now by Novak, but Rafa had it for most of the year and even Roger was No. 1 for a couple of weeks, so you’re talking about three of the greatest players of all time. Reaching No. 1 for anybody else is very difficult. Plus, he’s surrounded by some of his generation, the likes of Tsitsipas, Khachanov and Shapovalov. They are right behind him and I think it’s just a very difficult feat to do right now in tennis, to overtake everybody, because it’s such a crowded time to play.

How difficult is it to deal with the pressure of people touting you as a possible future No. 1?
Pressure is sometimes overrated and sometimes underrated. I think if Sascha couldn’t cope with the pressure, he wouldn’t be consistently now, the past two years, in the Top 5 [of the ATP Rankings]. So I think pressure is the least of his problems. I think it’s the quality of players. To play Rafa on clay, Novak on hard and Roger on everything else, it’s just very, very difficult. If you can’t handle the pressure, then ultimately you should find another job. But it’s really the quality of the opposition that would be the biggest problem for him and everybody else.

Do you remember the first time you met Sascha or saw him play?
It was funny because when [Zverev’s brother] Mischa was in his early 20s, I supported him with the German Federation. I talked to his father, his mother and Mischa and Mischa said, ‘Yeah, I’m good and everything. But my brother will be much better.’

Little Sascha was about 10 years old, a skinny toothpick. I said, ‘Hopefully you’re right.’ And obviously 10 years later, they were right. He’s come a long way, and he’s not so skinny anymore.

Becker, Zverev

What do you think he’s improved the most over these past few years that has allowed him to consistently stay at this level?
I think it’s his belief and his quality. He understands now that he belongs in the Top 5. He shows a remarkable consistency for someone so young. It’s one thing playing good one tournament, six months a year. It’s far more difficult to come back and defend it.

Everyone knows how you’re playing now, the competition obviously. The locker room never sleeps. So for him to come back this year and confirm his quality, I think it’s his biggest achievement. Of course he’s physically stronger now, the groundstrokes are better, but I think ultimately it’s down to your own confidence and the belief that you belong.

To be in the Top 5, you typically won’t have a true weakness. But do you think there’s a shot or a quality in his game he needs to improve significantly to take another step forward?
I think there’s a big difference [between] consistently playing Top 5 or Top 10. It’s a different quality. So I would emphasise that he’s a Top 5 player. He’s a student of the game. For him to ask Ivan Lendl to improve his quality and performances speaks volumes. He could have said he’s happy with his father and his surroundings, he’s doing well. But no, he wants to be better, he wants to get better. Hiring Ivan, he’s one of the best coaches in the game today, and when their partnership started in September, I was very happy. I knew right away that Sascha isn’t satisfied yet. He wants to get to the very top. I think with Ivan on his side, he can achieve that dream.

Is there something in particular Ivan can bring to his game?
I think the understanding of when to do what. There is one thing to practise the right away, but it’s another thing to prepare to play on the morning of a semi-final, of a final against the very best. It’s strategy, it’s tactics, it’s mindset, it’s attitude and that has nothing to do with any strokes… to understand when to do what against whom. When you coach players, most of them are happy to be in the semi-finals, and they start to relax a little bit and the tournament’s already good. When Ivan is on your side, once you’re in the semi-finals, the tournament has really just started.

Zverev Becker

Of course you’ve spoken to Sascha, so what’s the biggest lesson you’ve tried to impart to him?
Being the head of German tennis, I’ve tried to mentor him for the past two years. As I said to his brother and his family — I’m very close to him — and we often speak about tennis and I give him my thoughts, but he’s like a sponge. He wants to know, he wants to talk, he wants to practise, and I think that’s the most important thing, is that he understands that there are still a lot of things he needs to do overall.

Saying he’s a sponge and a student of the game, is that something that’s always been a part of him?
I have known him a couple years now, and he has this belief and confidence that, without being arrogant or without carrying his nose too high, he feels he’s got something in him that’s special, and I think that’s the most interesting thing that I’ve found about him, that he really believes and he feels that he’s one of the best players in the world and he wants to get to the very top.

Becker Zverev 

What do you think the biggest misconception about Sascha or his game is?
He’s very talkative and I’m talking from a German point of view. He gives wonderful interviews in English, you may remember his winner’s speech after he won at The O2. He was funny, and he made fun of himself and his friends. Sometimes in Germany he doesn’t come across that way. Some of the German media thinks he’s a bit arrogant and he doesn’t care, and he’s a bit cocky and all of that, and there’s nothing further from the truth. I wish he would come across in German the way he does in English.

How important do you think he can be for German tennis on the whole?
He’s now a superstar. Together with Angie Kerber, he can really put tennis back on the map in Germany. Both have gained millions of new fans in the past two years and they want to see him do well.

We’ve been blessed with a couple of good players in the past and some of the other players like Tommy Haas, Rainer Schuettler and others up to Philipp Kohlschreiber, they’re all very good, but I think Sascha is special. I just hope that he can continue to play great, continue to be proud of his country. It goes a long way. He’s only 21 years, so hopefully this thing will go for a long, long time.

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Top Five ATP Match Comebacks of 2018

  • Posted: Dec 13, 2018

Top Five ATP Match Comebacks of 2018

ATP World Tour Season In Review: Best Five Comebacks In ATP Matches

Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPWorldTour.com looks at the top five comebacks in ATP matches in 2018.

5. Nicolas Jarry d. Leonardo Mayer, Millennium Estoril Open, First Round (Match Stats)
By the end of 2018, Nicolas Jarry of Chile would make comebacks against more established players somewhat of a habit (see Upset vs. Cilic, Shanghai). But in May, when he fell behind 3-6, 5-6, 0/40 against Leonardo Mayer of Argentina, Jarry’s future at the Millennium Estoril Open very much looked finished.

Mayer had won two titles from four clay-court finals, and he hadn’t donated anything against Jarry, saving all three break points before bringing up the trio of tickets to the second round. But Jarry came to life, saving four match points in the 11th game and two more in the tie-break – 5/6, 6/7 – before advancing 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4.

It was another notable win for Jarry as he went onto reach the quarter-finals in Portugal. He’d reach the quarter-finals (or better) seven times in 2018. Mayer, for his part, showed his mettle on clay at the German Tennis Championships 2018 presented by Kampmann, making the final in Hamburg (l. to Basilashvili).

Read More: Jarry: ‘It’s Been A Heck Of A Ride’

4. Adrian Menendez-Maceiras d. Steve Johnson, New York Open, First Round (Match Stats)
Spain’s Adrian Menendez-Maceiras became a professional tennis player in 2005, but by February 2018, the 32-year-old had won only three tour-level matches. Menendez-Maceiras would forget about all of his other tour-level attempts at the 2018 New York Open.

He qualified for the ATP World Tour 250, and against American Steve Johnson, the Spaniard saved five match points – two at 2-5 in the decider, and three more from 3/6 down in the final-set tie-break to upset the seventh seed 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(7).

Menendez-Maceiras beat France’s Jeremy Chardy to reach the quarter-finals, where he fell to Adrian Mannarino. The Spanish veteran wouldn’t win another tour-level match all year. Johnson, however, won two ATP World Tour titles (Houston, Newport) and reached another final at the Winston-Salem Open.

Menendez-Maceiras

3. Jeremy Chardy d. Fabio Fognini, BNP Paribas Open, Second Round (Match Stats)
Jeremy Chardy, a mainstay of French tennis since he turned pro in 2005 and a former Top 25 player (2013), had fallen on hard times. Before the BNP Paribas Open, the affable Frenchman had dropped to No. 100 in the ATP Rankings, the first time since 2012 three digits were next to his name. To say he needed a turnaround tournament would have been an understatement.

Fabio Fognini, meanwhile, was off to one of his best starts. He made two semi-finals (Sydney, Rio) and won the Brasil Open in Sao Paulo (d. Jarry).

So when the Italian surged ahead to a set and double-break lead, 6-4, 4-1, you couldn’t have blamed the chair umpire if he was already thinking about his next match.

More: Chardy Goes ‘On The Line’ With ATPWorldTour.com

But Chardy, behind rockets for forehands, held for the remainder of the set and broke Fognini twice to force the decider. In the third set, Chardy, who had been broken four times in the first two sets, never even faced a break point to reach the third round 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4.

Chardy would go onto reach the quarter-finals before falling to top seed Roger Federer. The Frenchman finished the season at No. 40.

Fognini showed the loss was a mere hiccup in what became a banner season. The Italian won three titles and finished at a personal year-end best No. 13.

chardy

2. Marin Cilic d. Novak Djokovic, Fever-Tree Championships Final (Match Stats)
Novak Djokovic was still not his dominant self when he strolled into the final – his first in 51 weeks – at The Queen’s Club against Marin Cilic. But the Serbian still had to be feeling confident ahead of his 16th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting with the Croatian.

Their rivalry before that sunny Sunday afternoon: Djokovic had won 14 of their 15 matchups, and 34 of 41 sets. There is domination, and then there is what Djokovic had done to Cilic since they first met in Dubai a decade earlier.

Yet the 2017 Wimbledon finalist, as upbeat and polite as they come on the ATP World Tour, isn’t one to feel sorry for himself. Cilic dropped the opener when he netted a backhand while serving at 5-6, and Djokovic had his first match point at 7-5, 5-4, 40/30. Then the comeback began.

Watch Hot Shot: Cilic Floors Djokovic In Final

Cilic erased the match point with an ace, and came back, undeterred, from 1/4 down in the second-set tie-break to force the decider. Cilic had lost both of their grass-court matches and had beaten Djokovic only at Paris in 2016.

Yet as Cilic smashed a forehand to even the match, he walked to his bench looking like a man who thought he could win his second Fever-Tree Championships title: fist clenched, eyes glaring at his box.

Cilic, on the sprint, scooped a forehand past an approaching Djokovic as the Serbian served at 40/40, 3-4. On break point, Cilic pulled Djokovic wide, and the Serbian netted a routine backhand.

Djokovic, however, regrouped quickly to have the last say on grass in 2018. He won his fourth Wimbledon title and 13th Grand Slam crown (d. Anderson). Cilic, meanwhile, fell to Guido Pella of Argentina in the second round, one of the biggest upsets of the season.

Watch Highlights: Cilic Beats Djokovic For Second Queen’s Club Title

1. Alex de Minaur d. Andrey Rublev, Citi Open SF (Match Stats)
#NextGenATP had taken over the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., and Alex de Minaur was out to prove he was the best of the 21-and-under bunch. De Minaur, Russian Andrey Rublev, Alexander Zverev of Germany and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas all had made the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour 500-level event.

It was the first time since 1995 (Buenos Aires: Moya, Mantilla, Corretja, Novak) that four 21-and-under players reached the semi-finals at a tour-level event. But the 19-year-old Aussie was up against Rublev, who was trying to reach his second ATP World Tour final of the season (Doha, l. to Monfils).

Watch Highlights: De Minaur Saves Four Match Points vs. Rublev

The Russian, despite playing his second match of the day in the rain-delayed tournament, had brought up four match points, at 6/2 in the second-set tie-break. Yet De Minaur rallied to win six consecutive points and even the match 5-7, 7-6(6) against the Russian, who had been hitting lines all evening but missed a backhand wide to drop the second set.

De Minaur raced ahead in the decider when, seeing a break point at 3-2, he chased down three Rublev forehands deep in his own forehand corner before sprinting to the net to crush a forehand winner for the break.

The Aussie advanced to the final 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-4 but fell to Zverev, who repeated as champion in D.C. Both De Minaur and Rublev, however, ended their seasons on high notes at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. De Minaur made the final (l. to Tsitsipas), and Rublev finished third (d. Munar).

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WTA changes rules to give returning mothers increased rankings protection

  • Posted: Dec 13, 2018

Mothers returning to tennis will have increased protection for their rankings on the WTA Tour from next 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.

But Serena Williams’ wish for returning mothers to be seeded in line with that ranking has not been granted.

The WTA has instead decided to guarantee they will not face a seeded player in a tournament’s opening round.

As things stand, players must begin their comeback within two years, and then have a further year in which they can enter eight events under their protected ranking – the ranking held at the start of their absence.

Those rules also apply to players returning from injury.

But there is no protection in place for seedings, with tournaments able to use their own discretion to seed players.

A seeding allows tournaments to ensure the world’s best players do not meet in the early stages of competitions and instead play lower-ranked players in the opening rounds.

Williams returned to the sport in February after giving birth in 2017 and was not seeded at the French Open, her first Grand Slam appearance since her return, but was given a seeding of 25 for Wimbledon, despite being outside the top 32 in the rankings.

The WTA’s rule change comes after the organisation canvassed the opinions of players earlier in the year.

World number one Simona Halep and the five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova had both offered their support to Williams, but others like Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Johanna Konta expressed their reservations.

The WTA has also clarified its clothing rule to ensure Williams is able to wear the black catsuit which caused a major stir at this year’s French Open.

She dedicated the outfit to mothers and said it made her feel like a “queen from Wakanda”, in reference to the film Black Panther.

“Leggings and mid-thigh length compression shorts may be won with or without a skirt, shorts, or dress,” the new rule reads.

But Williams will not be able to wear it at Roland Garros next year, if the French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli gets his way. He has pledged to introduce a stricter dress code and says the outfit will no longer be accepted.

Other rule changes include the introduction of shot clocks, which have been used most notably at the US Open, at all Premier Tournaments next year. Players will be given 25 seconds in which to serve.

And in an attempt to reduce delays between sets, players will in future be allowed just one bathroom break per match.

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Justin Gimelstob pleads not guilty to assault in Los Angeles

  • Posted: Dec 12, 2018

Two-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion Justin Gimelstob has pleaded not guilty to a charge of battery causing serious bodily injury in a Los Angeles court.

Gimelstob, 41, partnered Venus Williams to win the Australian and French Opens in 1998 and twice reached the men’s doubles quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

The American will return to court on 31 January to face trial.

He could be sentenced to four years in prison if convicted.

Since retiring from playing, Gimelstob has worked as a coach and TV commentator and is also a player representative on the ATP Board.

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Robredo Honoured With Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award

  • Posted: Dec 11, 2018

Robredo Honoured With Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award

Spaniard inspired to create foundation to honour memory of Santi Silvas

Tommy Robredo was named the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award in the 2018 ATP World Tour Awards presented by Moët & Chandon, in recognition of his efforts to encourage sports training for disabled people. 

“I’m very happy with the ATP. I wasn’t expecting that prize,” said former World No. 5 Robredo, who travelled to London to accept his trophy from ATP Executive Chairman & President Chris Kermode during the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals Official Launch, presented by Moët & Chandon.

“What I’m doing, I’m doing it because I really like. I’m happy [to receive this award] and it gives us the power to keep working.”

You May Also Like: ATP ACES For Charity: Tommy Robredo

To honour the memory of his close friend, the Spaniard launched his foundation and an international wheelchair tennis tournament, the Santi Silvas Open, in 2009. The tournament (ITF2) includes the world’s top male and female wheelchair tennis players, and has become an important part of the international tournament calendar.

“From the contacts and notes that Santi left, I was able to create the Tommy Robredo Foundation and make his dream come true,” said Robredo. “I think we have achieved it thanks to the response we got from the players, sponsors, volunteers and the public who enthusiastically follow the matches. I am so sure that if Santi could see it, he would be very happy.”

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The Five Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018

  • Posted: Dec 11, 2018

The Five Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018

ATP World Tour Season In Review: Biggest Grand Slam Upsets

Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPWorldTour.com revisits the Top 5 Grand Slam upsets of 2018…

(5) Ernests Gulbis d. Alexander Zverev 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 – Wimbledon 3R
Ernests Gulbis turned back the clock in 2018. If you hadn’t heard much about the Latvian in recent years, you’re not alone. Struggling to find his form due to injuries and inconsistent play, Gulbis had fallen as low as No. 589 in the ATP Rankings a year ago.

But in 2018, the former World No. 10 and six-time ATP World Tour champion made serious progress in his quest to compete at the top once again. Gulbis entered the All England Club for the 132nd edition of the Wimbledon Championships as a qualifier, and he would produce one of the shocks of the tournament.

After needing five sets to overcome British wild card Jay Clarke in the first round and 27th seed Damir Dzumhur in the second, Gulbis entered a third-round clash with World No. 3 Alexander Zverev high on confidence. And despite grinding for more than six hours to defeat Clarke and Dzumhur, he went toe-to-toe with the German for a marathon three hours and 20 minutes.

Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018 (by ATP Ranking)

Winner Opponent Tournament
No. 315 Santiago Giraldo No. 84 Marcos Baghdatis Roland Garros
No. 224 Stan Wawrinka No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov Wimbledon
No. 219 Lorenzo Sonego No. 43 Robin Haase Australian Open
No. 171 Dennis Novak No. 19 Lucas Pouille Wimbledon
No. 190 Denis Kudla No. 48 Steve Johnson Australian Open
No. 168 Yoshihito Nishioka  No. 29 Philipp Kohlschreiber Australian Open
No. 138 Ernests Gulbis No. 3 Alexander Zverev Wimbledon

Gulbis would prevail 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, sending shockwaves throughout SW19 with the comeback upset. Zverev had won 19 of 22 matches coming into the encounter, including titles in Munich and Madrid, but he struggled to replicate his clay-court success on the grass. Making his 11th Wimbledon appearance, Gulbis would enjoy his best result in reaching the Round of 16, notching his third straight five-set victory to stun Zverev. The only player who took more attempts to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon was Tommy Robredo, who needed 13 tries.

“I’m proud of qualifying here,” said Gulbis. “I’m proud of winning three five-set matches. Of course, in this match in particular because I was two sets to one down,” Gulbis said. “I’m proud of just hanging in there and not giving up after also losing the third set, when I was serving for the set. I’m really happy about it.”

The 30-year-old used great variety, hitting powerful backhands and exquisite drop shots and pinpoint lobs to rattle his German opponent. And despite falling to Kei Nishikori two days later, he carried the momentum through the remainder of the season. Runner-up at the Intrum Stockholm Open in October, he capped his campaign at No. 96 in the ATP Rankings. It marks his first year-end Top 100 finish since 2015.

(4) Tennys Sandgren d. Dominic Thiem 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 – Australian Open 4R
This win was for all the Challenger stalwarts, for all the players battling for their careers on the circuit. Since 2011, Tennys Sandgren had dreamt of forging a path in the upper echelon of pro tennis. For those seven years he competed on the ATP Challenger Tour in search of that breakthrough moment.

At the 2018 Australian Open, it finally arrived for the Tennessee native. Entering the fortnight in Melbourne, Sandgren had competed in eight tour-level main draws in his career, winning just two combined matches. But something clicked for the 27-year-old as he began his campaign under the searing Aussie sun.

Sandgren had never defeated a Top 10 opponent and he would stun both Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem en route to his first Grand Slam quarter-final. After downing Jeremy Chardy in the first round, he pulled his biggest upset in defeating 2014 champion and World No. 8 Wawrinka in straight sets. While it was the Swiss’ first tournament in six months following knee surgery, the victory was a great achievement for Sandgren, who dropped just seven games to advance.

The American was not done there, advancing to the Round of 16 with a four-set win over Maximilian Marterer and pulling the upset of the tournament in edging fifth seed Dominic Thiem in five gripping sets. He needed a marathon three hours and 54 minutes to topple Thiem, triumphing 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 on Hisense Arena.

“I’m starting to disbelieve what is happening now,” said Sandgren. “But maybe it’s not a dream? He played some really, really great tennis, especially in the fourth-set tie-break. Goodness gracious! I knew I had to take my chances and he, from behind the court, would outlast me. I had to stay aggressive and serve well.”

Having failed to convert one match point opportunity at 6/5 in the fourth set tie-break, Sandgren could easily have folded, but he held his nerve in the deciding set. As the end came into sight, he never wavered – hitting 63 winners, including 20 aces overall for victory. 

The World No. 97 became the first player since Alexandr Dolgopolov in 2011 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on his main-draw debut. Sandgren had previously travelled to Melbourne on five occasions, but never progressed through the qualifying competition.

Sandgren would ascend to a career-high No. 47 in the ATP Rankings in April, after reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Houston (l. to Johnson).

(3) Marco Cecchinato d. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11) – Roland Garros QF
In 2018, Cinderella could be spelled ‘Cecchinato’. In an era where the game’s elite have dominated the Grand Slams, putting their authoritative stamp on the latter stages of the biggest tournaments, it was time for a party crasher to descend on Roland Garros.

In Marco Cecchinato’s career, he owns a total of five match wins at the major level, all of which came at one tournament. You read that right. Having never previously won a Grand Slam match, the Italian completed one of the more improbable runs ever. The World No. 72 laid waste to the field in Paris, stunning 10th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, eighth seed David Goffin and former champion Novak Djokovic en route to the semi-finals.

How improbable was Cecchinato’s run on the terre battue? He became the lowest-ranked Roland Garros semi-finalist in nearly 20 years, since No. 100 Andrei Medvedev in 1999. And the Palermo native was also the first Italian man to make a Grand Slam semi-final since Corrado Barazzutti at Roland Garros in 1978.

“I’m very, very happy,” Cecchinato said. “When I won my Grand Slam match, I felt good. And match by match, I felt I could win the next round… it’s a special moment for me.”

Arguably his biggest achievement of the tournament came in the quarter-finals, when the 26-year-old stayed calm under a cauldron of pressure to dismiss Djokovic in four sets. He prevailed 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11) in three hours and 26 minutes. Two days after registering his first Top 10 win over Goffin, he would stun the eventual year-end No. 1. Djokovic was admittedly not competing at his peak just yet, but to defeat the Serbian in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam requires a special performance.

In front of a packed Court Suzanne Lenglen, Cecchinato played the match of his life. Mixing in well-timed drop shots with an aggressive baseline game, he surged to a two-set lead. And despite being broken four times in the third set, the Italian quickly rediscovered the script in the fourth. He denied three set points in the ensuing tie-break – a 24-point marathon – and eventually crossed the finish line with a backhand winner.

Cecchinato would fall to Dominic Thiem in straight sets in the semi-finals, but this was a fortnight he will never forget. A nominee for Most Improved Player of the Year in the 2018 ATP Awards Presented by Moët & Chandon, the Palermo native would finish the year at No. 20 in the ATP Rankings, a massive boost from his 2017 standing of No. 110. He also lifted his first ATP World Tour trophies in Budapest and Umag.

(2) Guido Pella d. Marin Cilic 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5 – Wimbledon 2R
Entering the 2018 grass-court season, Guido Pella had won only two matches on the surface in his entire career. And against Top 5 opposition, the Argentine had yet to win a match in six encounters, dropping 17 of 17 sets. So when Pella entered No. 1 Court at Wimbledon for a second-round clash with Marin Cilic, he was faced with a seemingly insurmountable task.

At No. 5 in the ATP Rankings, Cilic was not only coming off a title at the Fever Tree Championships at Queen’s Club, but had reached the Wimbledon final in 2017. In addition, the Croatian had reached the quarter-finals at the All England Club in four consecutive years. 

But Pella was not intimidated. And he remained unfazed even when Cilic streaked to a 6-3, 6-1 lead on a sun-kissed afternoon in southwest London. Having won just four games through two sets, where many players would acquiesce to defeat, Pella was stoic under pressure. He mounted a stunning comeback to pull the upset of the tournament 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5.

“It’s the best win of my career, by far” said Pella. “And because of the situation which it happened, being down two sets and a break in the fourth set and then coming back a second day. To win at Wimbledon, he was the clear favourite and the way he has been playing is great. It must be the best win of all.”

The 28-year-old Pella earned the biggest win of his career after battling for three hours and 13 minutes. At one stage, Cilic won 18 straight points on serve and hit 27 aces overall, but inconsistency on return and 37 forehand unforced errors would prove costly. The encounter spanned two days, with darkness halting play with Pella leading 4-3 in the third set. After forcing a fourth set, he would recover from a 1-3 deficit and stayed the course in a gripping decider.

The seeds were planted weeks earlier, when Pella reached the quarter-finals at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart. There, he registered his first grass-court match win in a professional main draw, before falling to Roger Federer.

Having ascended to a career-high No. 39 in 2016, Pella will continue to push towards that mark in the upcoming season. He capped his 2018 campaign at No. 58 in the ATP Rankings, after reaching a third ATP World Tour final in Umag and notching his 15th ATP Challenger Tour title in Montevideo.

(1) John Millman d. Roger Federer 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) – US Open 4R
For two weeks in early September, New York City was a sauna. Oppressive heat and humidity descended on the US Open, as the final Grand Slam of the year became a true test of physical and mental endurance. Each match challenged players’ conditioning and their ability to survive the elements.

This made John Millman’s stunner over Roger Federer even more impressive. The Aussie veteran pulled the biggest upset of the year with a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) victory over five-time champion Federer on a steamy late afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I felt like a deer in the headlights to begin with; Roger had it on a string, he was manipulating me around the court, but I got out of a tough second set and really found my feet,” Millman said on court after the match. “I started to be more aggressive and I started to serve well and capitalised a little bit on Roger having an off service day.”

Federer had never lost to a player outside the Top 50 at the US Open, but this was Millman’s day to end the trend. The Aussie rallied from a set down to reach his first quarter-final at a Grand Slam, capitalising on a sluggish and fatigued Federer to prevail after three hours and 35 minutes. While the Swiss’ 77 unforced errors glare from the stat sheet, all credit goes to Millman, who remained unfazed. 

Federer was rattled in his gameplan, often coming forward at inopportune moments and trying to keep rallies short at all costs. Millman won an impressive 51 per cent (90/177) of the points he played from the baseline.

“I’ve got to control the controllables, I said that before I went out and played,” Millman added. “The one thing I can control is the fight in me. I have always done that.”

Millman would fall to Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals, but it was a tremendous fortnight for a player who underwent groin surgery last February and had previously undergone two shoulder surgeries. Toward the end of 2017, the Aussie was concerned about staying healthy. Now, he is two months removed from a career-high No. 33 in the ATP Rankings and playing the best tennis of his career.

The 29-year-old enjoyed a standout season, reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Budapest and claiming ATP Challenger Tour titles on the hard courts of Kyoto, Japan and the clay of Aix-en-Provence, France. The Brisbane native is now the No. 3 Aussie in the ATP Rankings and has his sights set on an even stronger 2019 campaign.

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The Five Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018

  • Posted: Dec 11, 2018

The Five Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018

ATP World Tour Season In Review: Biggest Grand Slam Upsets

Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPWorldTour.com revisits the Top 5 Grand Slam upsets of 2018…

(5) Ernests Gulbis d. Alexander Zverev 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 – Wimbledon 3R
Ernests Gulbis turned back the clock in 2018. If you hadn’t heard much about the Latvian in recent years, you’re not alone. Struggling to find his form due to injuries and inconsistent play, Gulbis had fallen as low as No. 589 in the ATP Rankings a year ago.

But in 2018, the former World No. 10 and six-time ATP World Tour champion made serious progress in his quest to compete at the top once again. Gulbis entered the All England Club for the 132nd edition of the Wimbledon Championships as a qualifier, and he would produce one of the shocks of the tournament.

After needing five sets to overcome British wild card Jay Clarke in the first round and 27th seed Damir Dzumhur in the second, Gulbis entered a third-round clash with World No. 3 Alexander Zverev high on confidence. And despite grinding for more than six hours to defeat Clarke and Dzumhur, he went toe-to-toe with the German for a marathon three hours and 20 minutes.

Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018 (by ATP Ranking)

Winner Opponent Tournament
No. 315 Santiago Giraldo No. 84 Marcos Baghdatis Roland Garros
No. 224 Stan Wawrinka No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov Wimbledon
No. 219 Lorenzo Sonego No. 43 Robin Haase Australian Open
No. 171 Dennis Novak No. 19 Lucas Pouille Wimbledon
No. 190 Denis Kudla No. 48 Steve Johnson Australian Open
No. 168 Yoshihito Nishioka  No. 29 Philipp Kohlschreiber Australian Open
No. 138 Ernests Gulbis No. 3 Alexander Zverev Wimbledon

Gulbis would prevail 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, sending shockwaves throughout SW19 with the comeback upset. Zverev had won 19 of 22 matches coming into the encounter, including titles in Munich and Madrid, but he struggled to replicate his clay-court success on the grass. Making his 11th Wimbledon appearance, Gulbis would enjoy his best result in reaching the Round of 16, notching his third straight five-set victory to stun Zverev. The only player who took more attempts to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon was Tommy Robredo, who needed 13 tries.

“I’m proud of qualifying here,” said Gulbis. “I’m proud of winning three five-set matches. Of course, in this match in particular because I was two sets to one down,” Gulbis said. “I’m proud of just hanging in there and not giving up after also losing the third set, when I was serving for the set. I’m really happy about it.”

The 30-year-old used great variety, hitting powerful backhands and exquisite drop shots and pinpoint lobs to rattle his German opponent. And despite falling to Kei Nishikori two days later, he carried the momentum through the remainder of the season. Runner-up at the Intrum Stockholm Open in October, he capped his campaign at No. 96 in the ATP Rankings. It marks his first year-end Top 100 finish since 2015.

(4) Tennys Sandgren d. Dominic Thiem 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 – Australian Open 4R
This win was for all the Challenger stalwarts, for all the players battling for their careers on the circuit. Since 2011, Tennys Sandgren had dreamt of forging a path in the upper echelon of pro tennis. For those seven years he competed on the ATP Challenger Tour in search of that breakthrough moment.

At the 2018 Australian Open, it finally arrived for the Tennessee native. Entering the fortnight in Melbourne, Sandgren had competed in eight tour-level main draws in his career, winning just two combined matches. But something clicked for the 27-year-old as he began his campaign under the searing Aussie sun.

Sandgren had never defeated a Top 10 opponent and he would stun both Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem en route to his first Grand Slam quarter-final. After downing Jeremy Chardy in the first round, he pulled his biggest upset in defeating 2014 champion and World No. 8 Wawrinka in straight sets. While it was the Swiss’ first tournament in six months following knee surgery, the victory was a great achievement for Sandgren, who dropped just seven games to advance.

The American was not done there, advancing to the Round of 16 with a four-set win over Maximilian Marterer and pulling the upset of the tournament in edging fifth seed Dominic Thiem in five gripping sets. He needed a marathon three hours and 54 minutes to topple Thiem, triumphing 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 on Hisense Arena.

“I’m starting to disbelieve what is happening now,” said Sandgren. “But maybe it’s not a dream? He played some really, really great tennis, especially in the fourth-set tie-break. Goodness gracious! I knew I had to take my chances and he, from behind the court, would outlast me. I had to stay aggressive and serve well.”

Having failed to convert one match point opportunity at 6/5 in the fourth set tie-break, Sandgren could easily have folded, but he held his nerve in the deciding set. As the end came into sight, he never wavered – hitting 63 winners, including 20 aces overall for victory. 

The World No. 97 became the first player since Alexandr Dolgopolov in 2011 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on his main-draw debut. Sandgren had previously travelled to Melbourne on five occasions, but never progressed through the qualifying competition.

Sandgren would ascend to a career-high No. 47 in the ATP Rankings in April, after reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Houston (l. to Johnson).

(3) Marco Cecchinato d. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11) – Roland Garros QF
In 2018, Cinderella could be spelled ‘Cecchinato’. In an era where the game’s elite have dominated the Grand Slams, putting their authoritative stamp on the latter stages of the biggest tournaments, it was time for a party crasher to descend on Roland Garros.

In Marco Cecchinato’s career, he owns a total of five match wins at the major level, all of which came at one tournament. You read that right. Having never previously won a Grand Slam match, the Italian completed one of the more improbable runs ever. The World No. 72 laid waste to the field in Paris, stunning 10th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, eighth seed David Goffin and former champion Novak Djokovic en route to the semi-finals.

How improbable was Cecchinato’s run on the terre battue? He became the lowest-ranked Roland Garros semi-finalist in nearly 20 years, since No. 100 Andrei Medvedev in 1999. And the Palermo native was also the first Italian man to make a Grand Slam semi-final since Corrado Barazzutti at Roland Garros in 1978.

“I’m very, very happy,” Cecchinato said. “When I won my Grand Slam match, I felt good. And match by match, I felt I could win the next round… it’s a special moment for me.”

Arguably his biggest achievement of the tournament came in the quarter-finals, when the 26-year-old stayed calm under a cauldron of pressure to dismiss Djokovic in four sets. He prevailed 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11) in three hours and 26 minutes. Two days after registering his first Top 10 win over Goffin, he would stun the eventual year-end No. 1. Djokovic was admittedly not competing at his peak just yet, but to defeat the Serbian in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam requires a special performance.

In front of a packed Court Suzanne Lenglen, Cecchinato played the match of his life. Mixing in well-timed drop shots with an aggressive baseline game, he surged to a two-set lead. And despite being broken four times in the third set, the Italian quickly rediscovered the script in the fourth. He denied three set points in the ensuing tie-break – a 24-point marathon – and eventually crossed the finish line with a backhand winner.

Cecchinato would fall to Dominic Thiem in straight sets in the semi-finals, but this was a fortnight he will never forget. A nominee for Most Improved Player of the Year in the 2018 ATP Awards Presented by Moët & Chandon, the Palermo native would finish the year at No. 20 in the ATP Rankings, a massive boost from his 2017 standing of No. 110. He also lifted his first ATP World Tour trophies in Budapest and Umag.

(2) Guido Pella d. Marin Cilic 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5 – Wimbledon 2R
Entering the 2018 grass-court season, Guido Pella had won only two matches on the surface in his entire career. And against Top 5 opposition, the Argentine had yet to win a match in six encounters, dropping 17 of 17 sets. So when Pella entered No. 1 Court at Wimbledon for a second-round clash with Marin Cilic, he was faced with a seemingly insurmountable task.

At No. 5 in the ATP Rankings, Cilic was not only coming off a title at the Fever Tree Championships at Queen’s Club, but had reached the Wimbledon final in 2017. In addition, the Croatian had reached the quarter-finals at the All England Club in four consecutive years. 

But Pella was not intimidated. And he remained unfazed even when Cilic streaked to a 6-3, 6-1 lead on a sun-kissed afternoon in southwest London. Having won just four games through two sets, where many players would acquiesce to defeat, Pella was stoic under pressure. He mounted a stunning comeback to pull the upset of the tournament 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5.

“It’s the best win of my career, by far” said Pella. “And because of the situation which it happened, being down two sets and a break in the fourth set and then coming back a second day. To win at Wimbledon, he was the clear favourite and the way he has been playing is great. It must be the best win of all.”

The 28-year-old Pella earned the biggest win of his career after battling for three hours and 13 minutes. At one stage, Cilic won 18 straight points on serve and hit 27 aces overall, but inconsistency on return and 37 forehand unforced errors would prove costly. The encounter spanned two days, with darkness halting play with Pella leading 4-3 in the third set. After forcing a fourth set, he would recover from a 1-3 deficit and stayed the course in a gripping decider.

The seeds were planted weeks earlier, when Pella reached the quarter-finals at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart. There, he registered his first grass-court match win in a professional main draw, before falling to Roger Federer.

Having ascended to a career-high No. 39 in 2016, Pella will continue to push towards that mark in the upcoming season. He capped his 2018 campaign at No. 58 in the ATP Rankings, after reaching a third ATP World Tour final in Umag and notching his 15th ATP Challenger Tour title in Montevideo.

(1) John Millman d. Roger Federer 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) – US Open 4R
For two weeks in early September, New York City was a sauna. Oppressive heat and humidity descended on the US Open, as the final Grand Slam of the year became a true test of physical and mental endurance. Each match challenged players’ conditioning and their ability to survive the elements.

This made John Millman’s stunner over Roger Federer even more impressive. The Aussie veteran pulled the biggest upset of the year with a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) victory over five-time champion Federer on a steamy late afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I felt like a deer in the headlights to begin with; Roger had it on a string, he was manipulating me around the court, but I got out of a tough second set and really found my feet,” Millman said on court after the match. “I started to be more aggressive and I started to serve well and capitalised a little bit on Roger having an off service day.”

Federer had never lost to a player outside the Top 50 at the US Open, but this was Millman’s day to end the trend. The Aussie rallied from a set down to reach his first quarter-final at a Grand Slam, capitalising on a sluggish and fatigued Federer to prevail after three hours and 35 minutes. While the Swiss’ 77 unforced errors glare from the stat sheet, all credit goes to Millman, who remained unfazed. 

Federer was rattled in his gameplan, often coming forward at inopportune moments and trying to keep rallies short at all costs. Millman won an impressive 51 per cent (90/177) of the points he played from the baseline.

“I’ve got to control the controllables, I said that before I went out and played,” Millman added. “The one thing I can control is the fight in me. I have always done that.”

Millman would fall to Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals, but it was a tremendous fortnight for a player who underwent groin surgery last February and had previously undergone two shoulder surgeries. Toward the end of 2017, the Aussie was concerned about staying healthy. Now, he is two months removed from a career-high No. 33 in the ATP Rankings and playing the best tennis of his career.

The 29-year-old enjoyed a standout season, reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Budapest and claiming ATP Challenger Tour titles on the hard courts of Kyoto, Japan and the clay of Aix-en-Provence, France. The Brisbane native is now the No. 3 Aussie in the ATP Rankings and has his sights set on an even stronger 2019 campaign.

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