US Open: Marin Cilic wins his first major in magnificent fashion - UBITENNIS
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US Open: Marin Cilic wins his first major in magnificent fashion

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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.

 

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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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