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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Dominic Thiem Rules Federer Out Of GOAT Debate

The Austrian puts forward his theory on who should be regarded as the best player in history.

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Dominic Thiem; e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Martin Steiger, 27.10.2022

The honour of which player deserves to be regarded as the greatest of all time (GOAT) should be decided based on one factor, according to Dominic Thiem. 

 

The former world No.3 has weighed in on the debate by suggesting that the argument should be settled by the number of Grand Slam titles a player has won as they are the most prestigious tournaments in the sport. In tennis, the four major tournaments are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. 

Thiem’s GOAT criteria have therefore ruled Roger Federer out of contention. The Swiss maestro was at one stage the frontrunner due to the numerous records he has broken throughout his career. However, he retired from the sport last year with 20 Grand Slam trophies under his belt which is less than both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who are currently on 22 each. 

“In my opinion, the Grand Slam titles should be the defining criteria when determining the best of all time, they are the four most important tournaments in tennis,” Eurosport quotes Thiem as saying. 
“Everything else is fine, but it’s not the same. The Slams are what counts, so the GOAT will probably be the one with the most Grand Slams.”

Others will argue that more factors should be taken into account in the subjective debate. For example, Federer has won 103 ATP titles which are more than his two rivals, Djokovic holds the record for most weeks as world No.1 and Nadal has won more tournaments on clay than any other player in history. Furthermore, there is the players’ win-loss rate on the Tour and their records against the top 10 players. 

Recently at the Australian Open Djokovic won the men’s title for a historic 10th time in his career. An achievement that has been hailed by Thiem who was runner-up to the Serbian at Melbourne Park in 2021. 

“I am not very surprised, Djokovic still looks young,” he said. “Physically and mentally, because of the way he moves on the court. It’s like he was 25 years old.
“We have to be honest, he is the best, so his victory was not very surprising.”

Thiem has won one Grand Slam title which was at the 2020 US Open when he became the first man in the Open Era to come back from two sets down to win in the final. He has also been runner-up at the French Open twice, as well as the Australian Open once. 

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Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open Injury ‘Hard To Believe’ In The Eyes Of His Opponent

Some details surrounding Djokovic’s battle with a hamstring issue ‘doesn’t make sense,’ according to Enzo Couacaud.

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Image via Adelaide International Twitter

The only man to take a set off Novak Djokovic during the Serbian’s run to a historic 10th Australian Open title believes there are unanswered questions over his injury. 

 

France’s Enzo Couacaud took a set off the world No.1 before losing their encounter in the second round at Melbourne Park. At the tournament Djokovic was dealing with a hamstring problem which he picked up at the Adelaide International earlier this year. Throughout the tournament, he was wearing strapping on his leg and there was uncertainty about if he would be able to continue playing in the Grand Slam event. 

Despite the issue, Djokovic claimed a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title by disposing of Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in the final. Afterwards his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, claimed that 97% of players would not have played if they were in a similar situation. The exact diagnosis of Djokovic’s injury hasn’t been addressed by his team but Australian Open director Craig Tiley said he suffered a 3mm tear. 

However, Couacaud has questioned the significance of the injury to begin with. During an interview with Tennis Actu, the world No.172 believes that some of the details appear to be ‘far-fetched’ as he draws parallels with Rafael Nadal, as well as footballer Kylian Mbappe.  

“Novak claimed he was playing with an injury, a big injury,” said Couacaud. “When athletes are injured in combat sports, they often can’t continue. When Rafael Nadal is injured, he can’t run. Kylian Mbappe, for example, is out for two weeks.
“And those are the greatest athletes, not those who don’t have access to top-notch care. It is therefore difficult to believe that only one man in the world can continue with an injury.
“When you take the examples of Nadal or Mbappe, but especially Rafa, with an injury to Wimbledon, he couldn’t even serve. When you see the greatest who can’t set foot on the pitch and another who wins a Grand Slam by playing every day for 15 days. It still seems a bit far-fetched.
“There are little things that don’t make sense to me. I was always told not to stretch with an injury. You saw Novak stretching all the time. You say to yourself, either they have a new method in Serbia, or it’s weird. Little things like that, he has his staff, but I’m too far to judge the authenticity of anything. It is true that it seems hard to believe.”

It is not the first time Djokovic has faced accusations that he has in some way exaggerated the significance of an injury. He encountered a similar situation during the 2021 Australian Open where he suffered an abdominal injury. After winning the tournament, he confirmed that he sustained a tear in the region. 

Speaking to journalists at Melbourne Park last month, the tennis star once again hit back at his critics and claimed that he was being singled out. 

“I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt,” Tennis Majors quoted Djokovic as saying in Serbian following his fourth round win over Alex de Minaur. “Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I am faking it. It is very interesting… I don’t feel that I need to prove anything to anyone.
“I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying. It is fun, it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situation. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”

Djokovic has won 93 ATP titles during his career which is the fourth-highest tally in history. Only Ivan Lendl (94), Roger Federer (102) and Jimmy Connors (109) have won more. 

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Novak Djokovic ‘Hurt’ By Father’s Absence From Australian Open Final

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Novak Djokovic - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto dell'Olivo)

Novak Djokovic said he mutually agreed with his father that he did not attend his latest Australian Open match but admits it was a bitter pill to swallow. 

 

Srdjan Djokovic had attended his son’s matches throughout the majority of the tournament but has recently been caught up in controversy. On Wednesday a video surfaced on social media of the 62-year-old posing for a photo with pro-Russian supporters with one of the fans waving a flag with the face of Vladimir Putin on it. Another fan was also wearing a t-shirt with the ‘Z’ symbol on it which is used to support the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags were banned from the tournament this year following an incident in the first round. A Russian flag was shown during a match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova. Prompting anger from Ukraine with its ambassador to Australia calling for a ‘neutral flag’ policy to be implemented. 

Srdjan has since issued a statement saying the incident was ‘unintentional’ and said his family ‘only wish for peace in the world.’ He subsequently also missed Djokovic’s semi-final match to avoid any possible ‘disruption’ before doing the same for Sunday’s final.

“I thought things would calm down in terms of media and everything, but it didn’t. We both agreed it would probably be better that he is not there,” Djokovic said after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title
“That hurts me and him (Srdjan) a lot because these are very special, unique moments. Who knows if they repeat again? So it was not easy for him.”

Whilst he was not in the stands, Djokovic was reunited with his father shortly afterwards. Although the tennis star said Srdjan ‘was not feeling his best’ due to the situation. 

“It is what it is. I think in the end also what he told me is that it’s important that I feel good on the court, I win the match, and he’s here for me,” Djokovic continued. 
“If it’s going to be better for me as the outcome of the match so that he’s not in the box, then so be it. That was the whole conversation.’
“In a way, I’m also sad that he was not there, present, in the stands. But he was throughout the entire tournament, so it’s fine. In the end, we have a happy ending.”

Djokovic has now won five out of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments he has played in. At the Australian Open alone he has won 28 matches in a row.

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