Old Champions Become Anew In Dubai - UBITENNIS
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Old Champions Become Anew In Dubai

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TENNIS – I am not sure if many who watched both the WTA (February 17-23) and ATP (February 24- March 1) Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships realized that the respective champions from both event, Venus Williams and Roger Federer are well over the age of 32. Cordell Hackshaw

I am not sure if many who watched both the WTA (February 17-23) and ATP (February 24- March 1) Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships realized that the respective champions from both event, Venus Williams and Roger Federer are well over the age of 32. Williams will be 34 years old in June and Federer 33 in August of this year. However, I am sure fans of both players were beside themselves when they saw their “player” hoisting the winner’s trophy as Federer and Williams showed signs of a resurgence of their dominant self from yesteryears.
Venus Williams’ battle with Sjögren Syndrome has been well documented but her unwillingness to let it kick her out of the sport might have gone unnoticed. Since being diagnosed in 2011, Williams maintained that she is not retiring even though at 31, she had earned the “right” to do so. Many of her contemporaries left the game before or around this age. It must be noted that amongst active players, Venus Williams alone occupies the 2nd slot on most major titles list with 7 behind her sister, Serena Williams who has 17. However, Venus has not won a major title since 2008 Wimbledon and last appeared in a major final in 2009 Wimbledon. The elder Williams will no doubt be elected into in Tennis Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, her many accomplishments makes no difference to the American as she made the decision to work her way back to the game which has brought her so much fame.
Williams’ last title was in Luxembourg 2012 and coming into this event, she had a good run in Brisbane earlier in the year where she made it to the final before losing in 3 sets to Ana Ivanovic. She seemed to be in excellent shape and had a fairly decent draw at the Australian Open but she lost in the opening round to Ekaterina Makarova. However, Dubai is a somewhat magical place for Williams. She has an unbeaten streak at the tournament having won back to back titles in 2009 and 2010. Despite her 3-year absence in subsequent years due to injury, Williams proved that she still has the magic in 2014. Given a wild card into the tournament and unseeded, Williams, currently ranked 31 in the world, played some of the best tennis seen from her racquet in a long time. With the exception of the quarterfinal where she dropped 8 games against Flavia Pennetta, Williams surrendered no more than 5 games per match during the entire tournament. Before, getting to the final, she took out Elena Vesnina who took her out in the 1st round of 2013 Wimbledon, Ivanovic, quite handily 6-2, 6-1 in the 2nd round (a bit of a revenge scoreline perhaps), then Pennetta and Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinal. In the final, she had total control of her game with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Alizé Cornet who had taken out Serena Williams in straight sets in the previous round. Venus Williams stated “I have had a good week. Everything is falling together pretty much, is all I can say.”
What was most impressive about Williams’ game during the week was her resilience and stamina. She was not negative on the court but stayed focus and relied on her heavy groundstrokes and smart court coverage which allowed her to win the title without dropping a set. In the final, Cornet soon realized much to her dismay that Venus Williams was the tougher Williams sister that week as she was clearly frustrated by the American’s game as early as the 5th game of the match. The Frenchwoman was in tears during the changeover as she complained to her coach about her inability to make any inroads in the match. However, Williams continued her assault and picked up the bagel in the 2nd set to take her 45th career title. As always, Williams’ serve was problematic. In the finals, she had only 48% 1st serves in and was 55% for the entire tournament. Nonetheless, Williams was very quick to come forward to finish points at net at the slightest opportunity, which many believe is one of the American’s most “deadly weapons” on court.
What more can be said of Roger Federer at this point in his career to denote his impact on the sport. He remains an enigma; indescribable and ever the epitome of the game. That he is still playing at this age and at such a high quality is astounding to say the least. With such a distinguished career, one wonders when will enough be enough for the great Swiss maestro? Federer has suffered several setbacks over the past years and having not won a major title since Wimbledon 2012 and only winning one title in all of 2013, many asked whether he should consider hanging up the racquet to maintain his legacy. However, the word “retirement” is not a part of the Swiss’s vocabulary. He has put his plaguing back injury behind him and has a new pep in his step with a new coach in legendary Stefan Edberg and new baby on the way. Federer at 32 years old looks just as eager to be out on court today in 2014 as he did when he was 25 in 2006.
Federer is currently ranked 8th in the world and was seeded 4th at the Dubai Championships, an ATP 500 level tournament. However, this tournament is very popular on tour and has been known to attract many of the top ranked players each year. Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were all in attendance. Federer had a bit of a hiccup in the 2nd round against Radek Stepanek when he dropped the 2nd set in a tiebreaker but he quickly put the Czech to rest in the 3rd set. Nonetheless, it was in the latter stages of the tournament, the semifinal and the final, against world’s number 2 and number 6, Djokovic and Berdych respectively where Federer showed his true grit.
Federer dropped the opening sets against both players and for a while, it looked as though Federer was on his way out of the tournament in the 2nd set. Interestingly enough with these match ups, Federer had lost his last two previous encounters against both players. Last year, he squandered match points against Berdych in the semifinal. Djokovic and Berdych were exhibiting signs of their true tennis prowess on court as they blasted winners from all angles of the court. However, Federer dug deep into his reservoir of experience to come up with brilliant plays and level the match by taking the 2nd set. Djokovic and Berdych both blinked in the 3rd set, perhaps figuring that Federer could not maintain this level of play and soon found themselves facing match points with no real answers to save them. Federer thus collected his 6th Dubai trophy (2003-2005, 2007 and 2012) and 78th overall title to be 3rd on the All-time titles list.
After the final, Federer stated, “Things definitely went my way out here tonight, but I have had a lot tougher matches in the last one and a half years, so this is nice to get a lucky break again.”
Maybe one can say it was all luck for both Williams and Federer in winning titles at this stage of their careers. However, looking at their matches and the continued effort to still be on tour amongst the game’s elite, the “lucky charms” defense becomes soggy. This is determination and persistence paying off. In one of her post-match interviews, Williams spoke of the fact that winning majors as she did in the past required “a lot of nerves and mental prowess.” She added, “I’m not looking to do anything I did in the past, because I already did that. I’m looking to improve and be a better, smarter Venus.” Federer and Williams are striving for this level of improvement it seems and are sticking to the plan despite the odds being against you. Who knows what their success rate would be and how long their bodies can withstand the rigors of the tour.  It might be that “success” does not necessarily come in the form of winning more major titles and recapturing the glory days for either player. One thing is certain though; retirement is clearly not an option. Both Williams and Federer have made it clear that Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 is in their sights. They will be 36 and 35 years old respectively during the Games.
Cordell Hackshaw

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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Matteo Berrettini Looks To Draw Inspiration From Jannik Sinner

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner ahead of his comeback to the ATP tour.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner as Berrettini is continuing his recovery from his injury.

The former Wimbledon finalist has had a horrible run of injuries which has seen the Italian fall down the rankings as he is now at 124 in the world.

After suffering a horrible injury at the US Open during his match with Arthur Rinderknech, Berrettini was looking to make his return at the Australian Open as he was set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

However just before the match, Berrettini withdrew as he decided to delay his comeback to the tour as he will aim to return to the court as soon as possible.

If Berrettini needed any inspiration then Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open could be that much needed spark as the Italian beat Novak Djokovic on his way to capturing a first Grand Slam title.

Speaking an interview Berrettini explained that he is still not 100% and admits he is looking to draw inspiration from Sinner’s form, “I’m better, but I’m not yet 100%,” Berrettini was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

“The goal is to play the whole season, and without these setbacks which are destroying my body and my head. Sinner did a miracle. I will also use this energy for my tennis. I was happy with what Jannik said.

“We have a good relationship, which has strengthened in recent months. We are different but similar. We are pursuing the same dream.”

Berrettini will hope Sinner’s success will have a positive influence on his recovery and quicken his return to the tour as the former world number six aims for a successful return to the tour.

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