TENNIS US OPEN – Few had Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals and fewer still had either of them in the semifinals. However, none had them pegged to be in the final together competing for a major title. The Croat won it in straight sets 6-3 6-3 6-3. Form New York, Cordell Hackshaw
When considering the 2014 US Open championships and the concluding event, the men’s singles championships, an old adage comes to mind, “The game is won and lost on the field and not on paper.” Few had Kei Nishikori (10) and Marin Cilic (14) in the quarterfinals and fewer still had either of them in the semifinals. However, none had them pegged to be in the final together competing for a major title.
They both showed great form at this tournament after no real success at any of the warmup tournaments coming into this event. Now, one of them was going to get a major credit to his name.This was an even split between most pundits, very little to separate these two for a clear winner. Nonetheless, Cilic distinguished himself yet again to be above all before him, displaying consistent superior tennis. This was the man who dismantled the game of Roger Federer, the hottest men’s player this summer in the semifinal. Therefore, Nishikori stood little chance against the might of Marin as the Croat took it in straight sets 6-3 6-3 6-3.
“[S]eems completely unreal to be called Grand Slam champion. I was dreaming about this all my life, and suddenly last four, five days everything started to change … [I]t means everything. It’s just a huge accomplishment and huge moment for myself and for my team and for everybody around me who was with me all these years supporting me, believing in me and never giving up. So this is just the peak of the world.” Cilic said after the match.
Cilic served to open the match and fought off a break point which was perhaps due more to nerves than anything else. He quickly swatted this away with a forehand winner and closed out the game with a service winner. Nishikori also had to avoid trouble in his opening service game as he had to dig himself out of a love-30 hole to remain on serve. They remained on serve for the first 5 games of the match but it was clear that Cilic was having a far easier time on serve than Nishikori. The Croat would drop only 4 points on serve in the set. Cilic seized the opportunity to break in the 6th game earning himself triple break points as Nishikori played an erratic service game. The Japanese was able to save two with monster serves but on the 3rd point, Cilic got his racquet on another monster serve for the return and rallied his way to the break when Nishikori’s forehand floated wide. With this 4-2 lead, Cilic rode this momentum to take the set 6-3 in 33 minutes.
Nishikori is known for his languid style of tennis; very laidback and no histrionics on the court. This is very much a product of working with Michael Chang. Conserving energy on court and using explosive speed around the court with precision and efficient power were all fundamental to the Chang game. It had definitely proved itself an excellent strategy having taken out Milos Raonic (5), Stan Wawrinka (3) and Novak Djokovic (1) in that order at this tournament en route to the final. However, this game plan did not seem practical against the aggressive style of play from Cilic. Once Cilic gets a slight lead, he maintains it and then opens insurmountable gap.
Nishikori had no breathing space in the match as Cilic was relentless in his pursuit for his first major title. Cilic broke Nishikori in 3rd and 7th game of the 2nd set to lead 5-2. Serving for the set, Cilic was broken and Nishikori was serving to stay in the set. However, this momentum shift did not last long with Nishikori as he remained erratic on serve. Cilic had set point and played a magnificent forehand down the line for the set 6-3. Nishikori later stated, “[H]e served great and very aggressive, you know, both forehand, backhand.”
Down two sets to love, Nishikori had a chance to grab the early lead in the 3rd set. He was attacking the Cilic serve as the Croat found himself struggling to hold serve after being up 40-0. However, Nishikori was unable to get the break and perhaps at this point, he knew that he would also be unable to get the title. The listless walking around the court was not some ploy by Nishikori to lull his opponent into some mistaken belief that he could not get to shots. It was the real deal. Nishikori had run out of steam.
“[P]lay two five sets and another three hours, two hours against Novak. And now I’m here with you – my body is heavy still,” Nishikori said. Cilic broke Nishikori for the 5th time in the match for a 3-1 lead. There was no coming back from this break as Cilic served out the match with a backhand winner, 6-3 6-3 6-3 in just under two hours.
The numbers are not pretty for Nishikori. He was simply outplayed, outmatched and outdone by a superior opponent. Everything was working in Cilic’s favour on the day. Cilic had 17 aces including 4 in one service game to hold at love. Nishikori only had 2 for the entire match. Cilic won 80% of his 1st serve points and 61% on his 2nd serve compared to Nishikori with 55% on his 1st serves and 55% on his 2nd serves. Cilic had 38 winners whereas Nishikori had only 19. Nishikori had 9 chances to break the Cilic serve, which is remarkable considering that Federer only had two chances to break in the semifinal and Tomas Berdych (6) had only 4. However, Nishikori could only capitalize once on those opportunities.
It seems as though players underestimated Cilic because he was able to put together some unbelievable tennis these two weeks in particular this last four matches being guys who all have winning records against him. They were all playing the Cilic of old but Federer noted that there is a difference to the Cilic at this year’s US Open, “I feel like he’s cleaned up his return game to the some degree. I think he’s serving much more consistent throughout an entire match and entire tournament; whereas before he could have a good day, bad day, good set, bad set.”
Cilic’s win is big news in the tennis world but absolutely huge for the country of Croatia. This is only its second major winner, with the first being Goran Ivanisevic back in 2001 Wimbledon. Ivanisevic happens to be the coach of Cilic. He spoke about the influence of Ivanisevic to his tennis, “Goran in his day was I feel, and by most of the guys were saying, he was athletically and physically best player in shape. And he was absolutely ready for everything. We worked a lot on that. I felt that helped me to gain some, you know, extra steps in my game. With everything, that helped me to become better … He brought just, in the team, very relaxed atmosphere, besides extremely huge knowledge. The help he brought to me, I feel that the fun is the best spice of everything, that I think collects all the other pieces together. I mean, every day with him is extremely fun.”
Coming back from drug suspension last year, there will undoubtedly be awkward questions, whispers and smirks attached to this win by Cilic. However, Federer spoke of this matter in his press conference after his loss to Cilic and it is worth noting, “I truly believed that didn’t do anything wrong in the sense that he did it on purpose … I feel like I know him well enough and I don’t think he would ever do it … [W]hen I see him it doesn’t cross my mind in any way … I think he was becoming the player he is already way before that.”
For Cilic, all thoughts of that unfortunate episode is behind him as he constantly noted that he worked extremely hard to return to the top ranks of the game and how this win means so much to him. He is also aware of the fact that his win might not just be anomaly in the era of the “Big 4” (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) “I feel it’s gonna definitely be much bigger competition from next year. I feel the guys at the top are gonna pull the other guys, too. I think the game of tennis is definitely going to evolve much more.” With this win, Cilic is now back in the top 10 at number 9 equaling his highest career singles ranking.
REPORT: Grigor Dimitrov Appoints New Coach
The former ATP Finals champion appears to have found a new mentor.
Former top 10 player Grigor Dimitrov has found a replacement following the departure of Radek Stepanek, according to one Bulgarian news source.
TennisKafe.com has reported that the world No.20 is now working alongside Christian Groh. A German-born coach who has worked with a number of top players on the men’s tour. Including Tommy Haas and Taylor Fritz. It is his work with Haas that Groh is best known for. During their 24 months together, he guided him from outside the top 200 to 11th in the ATP rankings.
The development comes a month after the 28-year-old stated that he was in no hurry to find a new mentor on the tour. Back in May he ended his collaboration with Dani Vallverdu after almost three years working together. He made the decision shortly before he exited the world’s top 50 for the first time since 2012.
“I’m not in a panic right now to find a coach. I always think that when I don’t have someone beside me, it’s hard to train. However, in the past months, I have done things myself that I have not done.” Dimitrov told reporters in November.
“You need to have freedom, to find yourself, to become closer to yourself.” He added.
Despite Stepanek stepping away, Dimitrov is still in contact with eight-time grand slam champion Agassi. Agassi is not a coach to the Bulgarian, but has agreed to a sort of consultation role where the two talk with each other regularly.
Dimitrov has experienced a roller coaster run on the tour this season with a win-loss record of 22-21. At one stage he failed to win back-to-back matches at six consecutive tournaments over the summer. However, his form surged during the last quarter of 2019 where he reached the semi-finals at both the US Open and Paris Masters.
Neither Dimitrov or Groh has yet confirmed their new partnership on the tour. Groh has recently been working as a consultant for the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
Heading into the new season, the first test for the duo will be at the ATP Cup in Australia. As well as playing, Dimitrov is the captain of the Bulgarian team.
Groh’s coaching CV
- 2011: Michael Berrer
- 2012-2013: Tommy Haas
- 2014: Bradley Klahn and Taylor Fritz
- 2015: Tommy Haas and Taylor Fritz
- ATP/WTA Players and United States Tennis Federation Player Development since 2015
Since the publication of this article, Ubitennis has received some additional details on Dimitrov’s work with Groh. The editor of TennisKafe.com, Borislav Orlinov, confirmed it was Dimitrov’s manager (Georgi Stoimenov) who revelled the two will be working together. They are currently training in Monte Carlo, but will head to Australia before the New Year.
Rival Backs Dominic Thiem To Win Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award
Only two players have won the award since 2004.
For the past 15 years only two players have managed to get their hands on the prestigious Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award, but one player thinks there could be a brand new winner this year.
Diego Schwartzman has lent his support behind world No.4 Dominic Thiem. The award recognizes those who have conducted the highest level of professionalism and integrity on the ATP Tour throughout the season. Established in 1977, Roger Federer has won the honour in 13 out of the past 15 years. The only other player to triumph during that period was Rafael Nadal, who won it in 2010 and 2018.
“I think Thiem can win it, he showed throughout the year a competitiveness and a respect with everyone that was spectacular,” Schwartzman told ole.com. “On top of that he is having great years of his career and this season was even better for the achievements he had.’
“He has a good chance of winning it.” He added.
Schwartzman, who reached the quarter-finals of the US Open earlier this year, has also been shortlisted for the award. Along with regular nominees Federer and Nadal. Only once has an Argentinian player won the title, which was José Luis Clerc back in 1981. At that time it was known as the ATP Sportsmanship award before getting renamed in 1996.
“I learned first (of getting nominated) through social networks rather than the official designation that the ATP sends you by mail.” The 27-year-old revealed.
“It is more spectacular than anything for the players I have next to me. It is a very important prize that recognizes a little what you do off the court, not only hitting the ball.”
Whilst he is dreaming of winning the honour himself, Schwartzman is just happy that he has been nominated.
“If I won this award, it would be spectacular. Now I am on that payroll that is very good and represents the values that I try to maintain on a day-to-day basis and that (my coaching teams over the years) have taught me. It is very nice to be recognized for that. “ He concluded.
The four nominees for the Stefan Edberg Award was shortlisted by the ATP. However, it will be the players who will decide the winner. The result will be revealed later this month.
Multiple winners of the Stefan Edberg/ATP Sportsmanship award
Roger Federer – 13
Stefan Edberg – 5
Pat Rafter – 4
Alex Corretja – 2
Todd Martin – 2
Paradorn Srichaphan – 2
Rafael Nadal – 2
Kei Nishikori In Doubt For The Australian Open
Asia’s highest ranked male tennis player is contemplating when he should return to the tour following surgery.
World No.13 Kei Nishikori is refusing to rule out the prospect of skipping the first grand slam event of 2020 as he continues his recovery from surgery.
Nishikori hasn’t played a match on the tour since his third round loss at the US Open back in September. A month later he underwent a procedure on his right elbow in a move that brought his season to an early end. Currently undergoing rehabilitation, it is unclear as to when the Japanese player believes he will return to the ATP Tour.
“The prospect of a return from surgery on right elbow in January. Maybe February. In the second half of next year I want to be able to play well.” Nikkan Sports quoted Nishikori as saying.
“I don’t want to overdo it,” he added.
The Australian Open will get underway on January 20th in Melbourne. Should he miss the grand slam, it will be the second time he has done so in the last three years. Nishikori also withdrew from the 2018 edition due to a wrist injury. In January he reached the quarter-finals and therefore has 360 points to defend next year.
During his time away from the court, the 29-year-old has been kept busy making changes to his team. Recently it was confirmed that he has started working alongside Max Mirnyi, who is a former world No.1 doubles player. Mirnyi, who has won 10 grand slam titles in men’s and mixed doubles, will be working full-time with Nishikori alongside existing coach Michael Chang.
“I’m getting closer to retirement. I want to be cured and come back to play good tennis in the second half of next year.” Nishikori stated.
Despite the injury setback, Nishikori has enjoyed success in 2019. Reaching the quarter-finals in three out of the four grand slam tournaments. The first time he has ever done that in his career. He also claimed his 12th ATP title at the Brisbane International. Overall, he won 29 out of 43 matches played.
Nishikori will turn 30 on December 29th.
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