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Brain Game: Djokovic Loses Drop Shot Battle To Win The War

  • Posted: Sep 22, 2020

Twenty eight drop shots in 21 games.

Novak Djokovic defeated Diego Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Sunday in Rome, coming from two breaks down in the first set and a break down in the second set to secure a record-breaking 36th ATP Masters 1000 crown.

The drop shots came thick and fast from the racquet of the World No. 1, beginning on the second point of the match when he hit a backhand drop shot up the line with heavy backspin for a clean winner. It was a premeditated strike that sent an immediate message to Schwartzman. If the Argentine was going to set up shop further back than two metres behind the baseline to exchange side-to-side groundstrokes, he was going to have to do a lot of running forward to the net as well.

The drop shot barrage extended all the way to match point when Djokovic hit an identical backhand drop shot, with Schwartzman running this one down, but missing it wide to end the final. At any moment, especially from backhand groundstrokes, you knew Djokovic wanted to lean onto the ball and show a driving backhand, but then switch his grip in the backswing behind his body and carve out another drop shot to pull Schwartzman out of his deep trench. Twenty-six of the 28 drop shots from both players came off the backhand side.

The only problem for Djokovic was winning them.

Overall, Djokovic hit 20 drop shots in the match and only won seven. Winning just 35 per cent (7/20) of any tennis strategy is typically considered a disaster, but there were still benefits for the Serbian other than moving a point ahead on the scoreboard. Schwartzman’s game plan was to play exceptionally deep in the court and not miss. After the first set, Hawk-Eye graphics created an imaginary line deeper than two metres behind the baseline and highlighted that Schwartzman hit 50 per cent of his groundstrokes from this very deep location. The benefit for Schwartzman with this strategy was that Djokovic’s ball would slow down considerably at contact and be less venomous. The downside was Schwartzman’s considerable distance from the front of the court.

Schwartzman’s Rally Hit Point vs. Djokovic

Diego Schwartzman

Djokovic’s Rally Hit Point vs. Schwartzman

Novak Djokovic

Djokovic only hit five drop shots for a clean winner. Five more went straight in the net. Nineteen of the 20 drop shots were struck off his backhand wing and 14 of the 19 were struck straight down the line. If Djokovic was going to lose the point, he made sure his opponent would pay the physical price running side to side as well as chasing down a menacing short ball.

Djokovic won with his first drop shot, but then lost his next four. Both players combined to hit four drop shots in the 4-4 game in the opening set, with Djokovic winning three of the points. Two games later at 5-5, Djokovic hit three drop shots, winning one. Djokovic was so obsessed with drop shots that he actually hit two in one point on the first point of the second set. The second one went wide.

Schwartzman, by comparison, was far more efficient with his drop shots, winning six of eight, including four of four in the second set. Drop shots are typically a secondary tactic in a match that rarely reach double digits in total. It’s interesting to note that between the two players the drop shot still had a losing record in this match, winning just 46 per cent (13/28) of the time. Djokovic lost six straight attempts in four games from 5-5 in the first set to 0-1 in the second set.

Winning the point is one outcome of hitting a drop shot. Building up lactic acid in your opponent’s legs and pulling them out of their comfort zone for the next point doesn’t exist on a stats page. But if they did, Djokovic would rightly point to these side benefits as to why he won the match.

– Hawkeye graphics courtesy ATP Media

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Karlovic Claims Win On Day Of Upsets At Roland Garros

  • Posted: Sep 22, 2020

Ivo Karlovic advanced to the second qualifying round at Roland Garros on Monday, beating Noah Rubin 7-6(1), 6-4 in one hour and 47 minutes.

The 41-year-old, seeded 19th in the qualifying draw, struck 44 winners and saved four of five break points to overcome the American. Karlovic is bidding to make his 15th appearance in the main draw in Paris. The Croat achieved his best results at the clay-court Grand Slam championship in 2014 and 2016, when he reached the third round.

At last year’s event, Karlovic defeated Feliciano Lopez in four sets to become the oldest player to win a main draw match at the tournament since 44-year-old Torben Ulrich in 1973. Karlovic will face Benjamin Bonzi in his next match. The Frenchman rallied from a set down to beat Zdenek Kolar 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. 

Three of the top four seeds fell in Day 1 action in Paris. Emilio Gomez of Ecuador took just 79 minutes to eliminate top seed Thiago Seyboth Wild 6-3, 6-2. Gomez did not face a break point throughout his match against the #NextGenATP Brazilian, who captured his maiden ATP Tour trophy in Santiago in March.

Competing in the qualifying draw for the sixth straight year, Elias Ymer beat third seed Christopher O’Connell 7-5, 6-4 to reach the second round. Ymer broke serve on four occasions to end O’Connell’s maiden appearance at the event. At the US Open, O’Connell claimed his first Grand Slam victory to book a second-round clash against eventual semi-finalist Daniil Medvedev. Ymer will next face Sebastian Ofner, who beat Alexey Vatutin 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Lukas Rosol came from a set down to move past fourth seed Pedro Sousa 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4. The 35-year-old Czech will meet Michael Mmoh for a spot in the final qualifying round. Mmoh won 82 per cent of first-serve points (31/38) to defeat Alex Bolt 6-4, 6-3. 

Second seed Pedro Martinez avoided another shock on Day 1. The Spaniard outlasted Daniel Masur of Germany 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Martinez faces Robin Haase in the second round. The 33-year-old moved past Joao Domingues 6-1, 7-5.

Appearing in the qualifying draw for the first time since 2013, former World No. 8 Jack Sock beat Denmark’s Mikael Torpegaard 6-2, 6-4. The 2017 Rolex Paris Masters champion will meet Facundo Bagnis in the second round. The 24th seed raced past Jay Clarke of Great Britain 6-1, 6-4.

Australia’s Aleksandar Vukic caused another shock on Day 1, saving two match points to defeat Carlos Alcaraz 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3. Alcaraz led 6-4, 5-2 and held two match points when serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set, but the Australian rallied to secure a memorable win in two hours and 15 minutes.

Alcaraz entered the tournament in fine form, having reached back-to-back ATP Challenger Tour finals on clay in Trieste (d. Bonadio) and Cordenons (l. to Zapata Miralles) in recent weeks. Vukic will next meet Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who beat Cem Ilkel 6-3, 6-1.

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Djokovic: Rafa Is Roland Garros Favourite, But He Is Beatable

  • Posted: Sep 21, 2020

Novak Djokovic won a record-breaking 36th ATP Masters 1000 title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, but the World No. 1 is not ready to name himself the favourite for Roland Garros next week.

“It’s [Rafael] Nadal. Even though he lost this week, I still think a lot of people will agree, he’s the No. 1 favourite and the record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can’t put anybody in front of him,” Djokovic said. “Definitely Diego showed that Nadal is beatable on clay. The conditions that they played on, obviously heavy clay, not much bounce, humid, night session, we are going to have that as well in Paris.

“I’m pretty sure that he does not prefer that to a high bounce. I know he likes the high bounce. He likes the hot and warm and fast conditions, where he can use his spin a lot. Let’s see. It’s going to be interesting. I think even though he’s the No. 1 favourite, I think there are players that can win against him there.”

Watch Rome Final Highlights:

Diego Schwartzman defeated Nadal in the quarter-finals at the Foro Italico en route to his first Masters 1000 final. But Nadal has been nearly unbeatable on the Parisian clay, lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires 12 times and tallying a 93-2 record at the clay-court Grand Slam.

“I cannot hope for Rafa not being in the finals,” Djokovic said, cracking a laugh. “I can hope for myself being in the final and fighting for the trophy. That’s probably the player that has the highest chance of being in the final in the French Open, and any tournament, for that matter.”

For now, Djokovic is happy with winning his second Masters 1000 title since the ATP Tour resumed last month. This week is the Serbian’s 287th atop the FedEx ATP Rankings, moving him past his idol, Pete Sampras, for second place on the all-time list. If Djokovic maintains his position at World No. 1, he will surpass Roger Federer’s record of 310 weeks on 8 March 2021.

“The historic No. 1 ranking goal is something that is on the horizon, and I’m going to give my all and very best that I can possibly give in the next period to achieve that,” Djokovic said. “I can’t [look] too far [ahead], and I don’t know what years to come will bring for me and just tennis and the world in general.”

Watch Djokovic’s Drop Shots Against Schwartzman:

While history is of the utmost importance to Djokovic, he knows he must stay in the moment to play his best tennis.

It wasn’t always easy for the 33-year-old in Italy, where he lost a set in the quarter-finals and battled through tough opening sets in the third round, semi-finals and final. But Djokovic found a way to play his best tennis in crucial moments to triumph for a fifth time at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

“I feel good,” Djokovic said. “Of course this gives me even more confidence that is absolutely necessary for a Grand Slam.”

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Shapovalov Breaks Into Top 10 Of FedEx ATP Rankings

  • Posted: Sep 21, 2020

No. 10 Denis Shapovalov, +4 (Career High)
The Canadian has broken into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time after reaching the Internazionali BNL d’Italia semi-finals, where he lost to Diego Schwartzman in a third set tie-break. The 21-year-old is the youngest player to break into the Top 10 since Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20, on 4 March 2019.

Shapovalov, who has been among the Top 20 since 4 April 2019 (No. 15), is the first Canadian to rank inside the elite Top 10 since Milos Raonic on 14 August 2017 (No. 10).

Shapovalov joins four other players – Alexander Zverev (2017) and Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev (all 2019) – who have qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals and broken into the Top 10.

He is also the 19th left-hander to break into the Top 10 (since 1973) and only the fourth left-hander in the 21st century to rank among the elite after Rafael Nadal (25 April 2005), Fernando Verdasco (2 February 2009) and Jurgen Melzer (31 January 2011). Earlier this month, Shapovalov advanced to the US Open quarter-finals (l. to Carreno Busta) and he has a 13-10 record on the 2020 season.

No. 30 Casper Ruud, +4 (Career High)
The Norwegian, who beat Karen Khachanov, Lorenzo Sonego, Marin Cilic and Matteo Berrettini en route to his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final in Rome (l. to Djokovic), moved up four spots to a career-high No. 30. So far this year, the 21-year-old has captured his first ATP Tour title at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires (d. P. Sousa) and also finished runner-up at the Chile Dove Men+Care Open in Santiago (l. to Seyboth Wild). His father and coach, Christian Ruud, ranked a career-high No. 39 on 9 October 1995. 

View Latest FedEx ATP Rankings
Read FedEx ATP Rankings COVID-19 Adjustments FAQ

No. 66 Dominik Koepfer, +31 (Career High)
The German qualified for his first Masters 1000 tournament and advanced to his first quarter-final (l. to Djokovic), including victories over Alex de Minaur and Gael Monfils. The 26-year-old’s run in Rome ensured he rose 31 positions to a career-high No. 66 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Other Notable Top 100 Movers
No. 13 Diego Schwartzman, +2
No. 19 Grigor Dimitrov, +3
No. 41 Ugo Humbert, +1 (Career High)
No. 67 Jiri Vesely, +5
No. 74 Stefano Travaglia, +10
No. 75 Jannik Sinner, +6
No. 84 Salvatore Caruso, +3 (Career High)
No. 98 Federico Coria, +6 (Career High)

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Record-Breaking Djokovic Extends Big Titles Lead

  • Posted: Sep 21, 2020

Novak Djokovic further extended his ‘Big Titles’ lead on Monday after he clinched a record-breaking 36th ATP Masters 1000 crown with his fifth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title.

His 7-5, 6-3 victory over Diego Schwartzman in the Rome final means that the World No. 1 moves three ‘Big Titles’ clear of Rafael Nadal (55), who he previously tied for most Masters 1000 trophies won, and four clear of third-placed Roger Federer (54). A ‘Big Title’ is a trophy at a Grand Slam championship, the Nitto ATP Finals, an Masters 1000 tournament or an Olympic singles gold medal.

Djokovic, a winner of 17 Grand Slam championships, five Nitto ATP Finals and 36 Masters 1000s, has now won on average one ‘Big Title’ every 3.3 tournaments played (58 of 191 events). Since the start of 2019, the 33-year-old has captured three Grand Slams and four Masters 1000 titles.

The Serbian’s ‘Big Title’ winning percentage is marginally better than 33-year-old Nadal, who has won every 3.4 events he plays (55 of 187 events). Federer, 39, has a conversion rate of one title per 4.3 tournaments contested (54 of 237).

Read More From Rome

Novak Makes Masters 1000 History With Rome Crown

Current and Former Champions’ Big Titles Won (Records Since 1990)

Player Grand Slams Nitto ATP Finals 1000s Total+ (Avg)
Novak Djokovic 17/61 5/11 36/116 58/191 (3.3)
Rafael Nadal 19/58 0/8 35/119 55/187 (3.4)
Roger Federer 20/79 6/16 28/138 54/237 (4.4)
Pete Sampras 14/52 5/11 11/83 30/147 (4.9)
Andre Agassi 8/61 1/13 17/90 27/164 (6.1)
Andy Murray 3/49 1/8 14/100 20/160 (8.0)
Boris Becker* 2/26 2/6 5/51 9/84 (9.3)
Thomas Muster 1/29 0/4 8/53 9/87 (9.7)
Gustavo Kuerten 3/33 1/3 5/67 9/105 (11.6)
Jim Courier 4/38 0/4 5/71 9/114 (12.6)
Stefan Edberg** 3/28 0/4 4/45 7/79 (11.3)
Marcelo Rios 0/26 0/1 5/56 5/84 (16.8)
Michael Chang*** 0/50 0/6 7/86 7/144 (20.6)
Marat Safin 2/41 0/3 5/87 7/133 (19)
Andy Roddick 1/46 0/6 5/75 6/129 (22.5)

+ Includes Olympic Games gold medals and tournament participations
* Becker’s four other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.
** Edberg’s three other Grand Slam titles came before 1990.
*** Chang’s one Grand Slam title came before 1990.

Did You Know?
Djokovic’s win on Monday gave him his 81st tour-level title. The Serbian trails Jimmy Connors (No. 1, 109), Federer (No. 2, 103), Ivan Lendl (No. 3, 94) and Nadal (No. 4, 85) in that category.

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Hewitt, Ferrero, Bjorkman, Bruguera To Feature On 2021 Hall Of Fame Ballot

  • Posted: Sep 21, 2020

Four former ATP Tour stars will be on the ballot for the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021. Former singles World No. 1s Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero are joined by former doubles World No. 1 Jonas Bjorkman and two-time Roland Garros champion Sergi Bruguera.

The youngest player to ever claim the No. 1 spot in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Australia’s Hewitt did so at just 20 years of age in 2001. Hewitt won his second major title in 2002, when he was victorious at Wimbledon. The 5’10” right-hander was also a finalist at the Australian Open in 2005.

Hewitt maintained a Top 10 position for more than five years and won 30 tour-level singles titles. The Aussie claimed two Davis Cup trophies for Australia in 1999 and 2003.

“I’m incredibly honoured and grateful to receive this nomination,” said Hewitt. “I had so many great Australians to look up to while I was coming up in the sport. To know that my career is up for consideration to be recognised alongside the likes of Hall of Famer’s Tony Roche, John Newcombe, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall and so many other greats who I admired is just an amazing honour.”

Ferrero reached his first major final at Roland Garros in 2002, upsetting then-World No. 4 Andre Agassi and No. 2 Marat Safin en route to the championship match. The Spaniard fell in the final to compatriot Albert Costa. Ferrero returned to the championship match one year later, defeating Martin Verkerk to lift the 2003 Roland Garros title.

Later that year, Ferrero also reached the US Open final (l. to Roddick). His success in 2003 propelled him to the No. 1 position in the FedEx ATP Rankings and he spent 139 weeks inside the Top 5. In 2000, Ferrero became a hero of the first Spanish Davis Cup championship-winning team when he won the final point in Barcelona against fellow nominee Hewitt.

Former World No. 1 doubles player Bjorkman won nine major titles and completed the doubles career Grand Slam. The Swede was twice a champion at the Nitto ATP Finals and he captured 54 doubles titles in all. In singles, Bjorkman reached a career-high No. 4 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and was a semi-finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open. A dedicated team player, Bjorkman played a major role in three Swedish Davis Cup championship squads.

Spanish clay-court great Sergi Bruguera won back-to-back titles at Roland Garros in 1993 and 1994. The Spaniard’s first title in Paris came with a five-set victory against two-time defending champion Jim Courier. Bruguera reached a career-high No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and won 14 tour-level titles in all. The Barcelona native earned a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.

Also on the ballot is Lisa Raymond, winner of 11 Grand Slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles. In the contributor category, Dennis Van der Meer, the founder of Professional Tennis Registry (PTR), is nominated posthumously.

Fan Voting And The Induction Process
Now that the ballot has been set for the Class of 2021, voting will take place to determine who is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There is no minimum or maximum number of ballot nominees that can be inducted.

The ballot will go before the Official Voting Group, comprised of tennis journalists, historians, and Hall of Famer’s this fall. Additionally, the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Fan Vote presented by BNP Paribas will run from 1-25 October, for the Player Category nominees only.

Fan Voting offers tennis fans around the globe the opportunity to voice their opinions about who is deserving of Hall of Fame induction and to have an impact on the election outcome by casting a vote online. The three most popular players in the Fan Vote will receive bonus percentage points on their Official Voting Group result.

The candidate with the highest result in the Fan Vote will receive three additional percentage points, while second and third place will receive two and one additional percentage points, respectively.

To be elected into the Hall of Fame, a candidate must receive an affirmative vote in 75 per cent or higher of ballots submitted from the Official Voting Group or a combined total of 75 per cent or higher from their Voting Group result and any bonus percentage points earned in the Fan Vote.

The results of the ITHF Fan Vote will be announced at the conclusion of the voting period. The Class of 2021 Inductees will be announced in early 2021 with the Induction Ceremony slated to take place July 17, 2021.

Since its inception in 1955, the honour of Hall of Fame Induction has been granted to 259 great champions and contributors to the sport from 27 different nations.

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Tsonga, Simon Lead Rich French Heritage In Metz, Where Djokovic Won As A Teen

  • Posted: Sep 21, 2020

Tsonga, Simon Lead Rich French Heritage In Metz, Where Djokovic Won As A Teen

Learn more about the Moselle Open, an ATP 250 event

The Moselle Open, which made its ATP Tour debut in 2003, is one of six tour-level events held in France.

The ATP 250 would have been held this week if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. looks at five things to know about the tournament.

Fantastic Frenchmen
Since its inaugural edition, the Moselle Open has proven to be a popular stop on the ATP Tour calendar for French players. Sixteen of the 17 previous editions of the event have featured a home champion in singles or doubles.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga owns a tournament record four singles trophies in Metz, followed closely by three-time champion Gilles Simon. In doubles, Frenchmen Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin have each claimed a record four trophies.

On four occasions, France has produced the singles champion and both doubles titlists in the same year (2003-’04, ’12, ’18). The only edition of the tournament that has not featured a French winner was in 2014, when Belgium’s David Goffin captured the singles crown and Poland’s Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski lifted the doubles trophy.

Djokovic Becomes Youngest Champion
Less than three months after clinching his first ATP Tour crown in Amersfoort, Novak Djokovic doubled his tour-level trophy count with a title run at 2006 Metz. The Serbian, who dropped only 13 games en route to the semi-finals, claimed consecutive comeback victories against Sebastien Grosjean and Jurgen Melzer to claim his first ATP Tour title on hard courts.

With his victory against Melzer in the final, Djokovic became the youngest champion in tournament history at 19 years and four months. It is a record the 17-time Grand Slam champion still holds.

<a href=Novak Djokovic lifted his first tour-level trophy on hard courts at the 2006 Moselle Open.” />

Simon Claims Historic Third Crown
Simon entered the 2018 edition of the tournament seeking a record-equalling third Metz trophy, five years after winning the event for a second time in 2013. The reigning Pune champion battled past seventh seed Filip Krajinovic and fourth seed Richard Gasquet en route to the championship match, in which he faced qualifier Matthias Bachinger for the title.

Simon was forced to save three set points in the first set, before cruising to his third trophy at the ATP 250 to equal Tsonga’s then-record haul of three Metz crowns. It marked the first time Simon had lifted multiple ATP Tour trophies in the same year since 2011.

Mahut/Roger-Vasselin Break Doubles Record
Heading into the 2018 Moselle Open, four Frenchmen held a record three Metz doubles titles: Mahut, Roger-Vasselin, Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement. Six years after lifting the 2012 trophy in their only previous team appearance at the event, Mahut and Roger-Vasselin improved to 8-0 as a duo in Metz to earn their fourth trophies at the ATP 250.

Mahut and Roger-Vasselin did not drop a set en route to the title, beating reigning Montpellier champions Ken Skupski and Neal Skupski in the championship match. “Winning in France is special, but winning twice here [together] and, for both of us it is the fourth time [overall], it is something big,” said Mahut.

Mahut and Roger-Vasselin fell just short of adding another trophy to their Metz collections last year, falling to Robert Lindstedt and Jan-Lennard Struff in the 2019 championship match. The Frenchmen own an 11-1 record as a team in Metz.

Mahut Roger-Vasselin

Tsonga Makes History
One year after returning from left knee surgery in Metz, Tsonga became the first man to win four trophies at the event in 2019. The 6’2” right-hander recovered from a set down on two occasions and defeated 2016 titlist Lucas Pouille en route to the championship match, in which he met in-form Slovenian Aljaz Bedene.

In a final dominated by the serve, Tsonga clinched the only break of the match in the deciding set to move clear of three-time champion Simon at the top of the Metz titles leaderboard. At 34 years and five months, Tsonga also overtook his countryman to become the oldest champion and most successful player, in terms of matches won (23), in tournament history.

<a href=Jo-Wilfried Tsonga owns a record four Moselle Open singles trophies.” />

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