There are upsets in the tennis world and then there are tectonic shifts. That Kei Nishikori (10) coming off back-to-back 5-set matches beat Novak Djokovic (1) was no upset; this was a tectonic shift in the tennis world. No one doubted Nishikori’s ability to hang with the big guys but as Roger Federer noted, one “[j]ust wasn’t quite sure that in a best-of-five-set-tournament if he could get all the way to the back end of the tournament.” Well he has made it to the final of his first ever major having beat Djokovic 6-4 1-6 7-6 6-3 in near 3 hours. “I was playing really well and really aggressive … Even the opponent is, you know, Novak, I was playing my tennis,” Nishikori said after the match.
Nishikori started off the match with an aggressive stance. He knew that he could not win this match being passive. He broke Djokovic in the 3rd game of the match but was unable to consolidate the break. They remained on serve through to the 7th game when Nishikori broke again for a 4-3. This time, he was able to hold serve for 5-3. Djokovic seemed content to stay back and allow his opponent to dictate the points. Nishikori seized this opportunity and served out it out 6-4 and took the early lead. This momentum did not follow Nishikori into the 2nd set as Djokovic morphed into an entirely different player. His levels began to rise and Nishikori could not keep up. Djokovic broke for a 3-1 lead and again for 5-1 to serve for the set. Djokovic closed out the set 6-1 to level the match.
In the 3rd set, Nishikori fought off 4 early break points to remain on serve. However, unlike the 1st set, the Japanese player was not getting a look on Djokovic’s serve. Djokovic was having an easy time on serve. However, in the 8th game, down 3-4, Djokovic opened his service game with a double fault, revealing a slight chink in his amour. Nishikori was now more alert on the court knowing that a break here would give him the chance to serve for the 3rd set. At 30-30, Nishikori fully unleashed on a backhand crosscourt to give himself a break point then followed that up with a monster forehand return winner for the break and 5-3.
Nishikori’s troubles with consolidating breaks continued as he was broken once again serving for the 3rd set when he double faulted on break point. Nishikori began managing his movement and energy on court. He was conserving his powers for the big moments in the match and allowed Djokovic to spend his effort trying to rally the crowd. Both players held serve to force a tiebreaker where Nishikori immediately raced out a 4-0 lead. With the lead in hand, Nishikori grew cautious on his shots allowing Djokovic to get back into the thick of things. Up 5-3 Nishikori double faulted again to reduce his lead to 5-4. This was where you expected Djokovic to raise his level to unplayable as Nishikori was not as assertive as he was in the beginning of the match. Instead, Djokovic committed two wild forehand errors to hand Nishikori the breaker and with it a 2-1 sets lead 6-4 1-6 7-64. “I was winning 4-0 and he came back … very close game. But you know, that helped after winning third set,” Nishikori said.
Nishikori took the momentum into the 4th set as he broke Djokovic in his opening service game. Serving for a 2-0 lead, Nishikori found himself down triple break points. However, this time around, he was able to hold as he came up with some big plays and shots to keep Djokovic at bay. This was perhaps the crucial point in the match as it was now or never for Djokovic. This is usually the point in these big matches where he raises his game and steals the momentum from the other player. Twice in the semifinals back in 2010 and 2011, he saved match points against Federer. However, such heroics never took place on this day. Those three squandered break points from Djokovic, in essence broke him. Djokovic never found his way back into the match. “Other than that second set, my game today was not even close to what I wanted it to be. A lot of unforced errors, a lot of short balls. Just wasn’t myself.”
At 3-5, Djokovic, serving to stay in the match, Nishikori shrugged off his lackadaisical stance and looked ready to break the 2011 champion for the match. He picked up his level and had Djokovic on the defensive. With a backhand winner, he secured two match points. Djokovic saved one but again his forehand failed him at this critical point when it sailed well long. Kei Nishikori secured the win, 6-4 1-6 7-64 6-3 and becomes the first Japanese player to reach the final of a major.
Djokovic assessed Nishikori’s performace by saying, “He played some great tennis. I congratulate him for the effort … His backhand is very solid. One of the best double-handed backhands from all over the court. Really aggressive. He’s very quick so he gets a lot of balls back. Uses every short ball to attack.” The numbers for this match tell a very interesting tale, Djokovic made 59% of his 1st serves compared to 58% from Nishikori. The Serbian won 80% of those points but a poor 37% on his 2nd serve. Nishikori won 67% of his 1st serve points and 50% on his 2nd serve. They had similar numbers in the winners to errors category with Djokovic at 38 winners and 35 errors and Nishikori at 37 winners and 34 errors.
Djokovic was not able to get a real edge on Nishikori as the Japanese was sticking to him very closely. It was Djokovic who was being forced to go for more on his shots and the margins for errors very small. As Nishikori later noted, “Everything was worked well today.” Djokovic had 13 break point opportunities but only converted 4 of them. Nishikori on the other hand converted 5/7 break chances. Since teaming up with Michael Chang, Nishikori has shown even more potential to be one of the top players on tour. He has played the top guys very hard this year and even more this tournament, taking out Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic en route to the final. No matter who he faces, Nishikori clearly has a great chance to win his first major title.
Robin Soderling: “People always remember when I beat Nadal at Roland Garros. It was a great feeling”
Former Swedish player Robin Soderling remembered the worst period of his life during an interview with Behind the Raquet website. Soderling was diagnosed with mononucleosis, an illness that forced him to miss the US Open at the last minute. He decided to take more time out of tennis and withdrew for the rest of the season and from the 2012 Australian Open.
Soderling has not played a tour level match since he won the 2011 Swedish Open in July 2011. He was at the peak of his career and was ranked world number 5 at the time. At the age of 26 he was ranked inside the top 5 for more than 50 consecutive weeks.
Soderling spoke to Noah Rubin for Behind the Raquet telling how he lived through this period and how hard was to go from beating Nadal at Roland Garros to the difficult times, when he was not able to get out of bed.
“It was extremely difficult to make the decision to retire. I played my last match when I was 27 years old. In my head I had many more years left in tennis. I was at the peak of my tennis career when I got sick with mononucleosis, which was around two years before I retired. For a long time before I was diagnosed I was stressed, tired and rundown. Through this all I kept playing, I became sick all the time because my immune system was weak, but I kept pushing. Deep down in my mind I knew something was wrong. Even though I was playing well, it was all up and down, until I got mononucleosis. I feel like the combination of my bad immune system and seriously overtraining affected me. Doctors said I first got it in Indian Wells in 2011. It was not too bad at the beginning but got worse after my last tournament in Bastad. I did not leave my house for six months. After about a year I would begin to feel better. I would train a little, up the intensity, and then the symptoms would come back. I would get so tired and the fever would come back. When I made the decision I could finally accept it and figure out how to live my life again. It was a weird feeling during my first six months after my career because I did not care about tennis. Later, I started to watch tennis on TV and saw the players I was playing against then. I started to want to be on the track again, competing. After so long, It already felt like too much time had passed to come back and did not have the energy to do it either. There are times when I blame myself, when I wish I could take a step back and not take things so seriously. I lived in that bubble where everything was tennis. Now I see it only as a sport. My problem was that I did not have that on/off button. I could not change my mindset between games, practice sessions, and time off the track. There are no times out of season in tennis. It is a sport that does not allow you to disconnect and even on vacation you have to take care of your body”.
Soderling played the best match of his career on 31 May 2009, when he upset the “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2009. Only Novak Djokovic managed to repeat this feat in 2015.
“People always remember when I beat Nadal at Roland Garros 2009. It was a great feeling. I don’t think anyone in the world expected me to win that match. It was strange, because right after the match, I realized it wasn’t the final. I wanted to be focused because if you relax, you easily lose a match. People always bring up when I beat Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open. I did not want to be that guy to beat Rafa but then lose in the finals. I just wanted to stay focused because if you relax even a little bit you lose a match, like a Grand Slam final, easily. At the time I did not realize how big of an accomplishment it was. I remember getting back to the locker room and having about 350 text messages. It kind of started to hit me that this was a big thing. I appreciate all the support I got that day and still get for winning that match but the bigger story is Nadal. We will never see someone winning 12 Roland Garros titles again”.
Mats Wilander: “Novak Djokovic is the biggest loser during the interruption due to the coronavirus pandemic”
Former Swedish tennis legend Mats Wilander talked about the consequences of the coronavirus on tennis during an interview to the French sports newspaper L’Equipe. Wilander recognized who are the possible winners and losers of the coronavirus pandemic that is plaguing the entire world.
Wilander said that Novak Djokovic is the biggest loser in the interruption. The 17-time Grand Slam champion won the first edition of the ATP Cup, his eighth title at the Australian Open against Dominic Thiem and the ATP 500 title in Dubai beating Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“It’s a shame that is everything in the world and also in tennis. I miss live tennis. It would have been the most important period of the season with Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. We are missing the best period of the season. It’s terrible for all tennis fans. Players may have the chance to train, but the biggest challenge is to find the motivation, because they don’t know exactly what they are training for. It’s like the 2018 Wimbledon semifinal between Anderson and Isner. We don’t know when this situation will end”.
The season has been suspended until 13th July and there is a big question mark over the planned resumption next summer. Even top 10 players cannot train on the tennis court, because there are exit restrictions in large parts of the world.
“Djokovic had not lost a game this season and only the coronavirus has been able to curb his momentum. The Serb is the biggest loser during the interruption. I think that other possibly affected players have also been the most outstanding tennis players of the Next Gen, since they were facing a great opportunity to approach the big three and be able to fight them in some Grand Slam. I was confident that the young promises were going to have a great year. I thought 2020 was going to be the year of the youth. They have progressed a lot in training and tennis players like Shapovalov, Tsitsipas and Auger Aliassime will grow playing the maximum number of matches. When you are young, training does not interest you much. All you want is to spend almost four hours on a tennis court and fight for victories against better tennis players than you”.
Wilander thinks that few tennis players are the beneficiaries of the long break.
“I think the only players who can take positive things out of this situation are those who ended up injured after the Australian Open. When all this returns to normal, everyone will start from scratch, but right now it is impossible to know when it will be. Many players are preparing physically at home to not lose their physical shape, but they know that it is very difficult for them to play again this season. The most complicated thing is to stay motivated”.
Fans will miss the opportunity to see Roger Federer and Serena Williams, who are near the end of their careers. After the cancellation of the grass season, Federer announced that he will play in Halle and Wimbledon in 2021, but it remains to be seen how many months the Swiss Maestro will be able to play in these uncertain times.
“Many people will think that young players have been the most affected because they lose the opportunity to play against the best players on the circuit, but I have another theory. Fans are also the losers. The pandemic has caused us to miss the opportunity to see Federer and Williams on the track since for them time is not their friend, knowing that they are almost at the end of the careers.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas: “I will miss Wimbledon and I can’t wait to 2021”
Stefanos Tsitsipas said that the Wimbledon cancellation news was just an April fool after organizers of the famous British tournament called off their Grand Slam event due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and public health concerns.
Tsitsipas made his debut at Wimbledon in 2017 and reached the fourth round in 2018. He lost to Stefano Travaglia in the opening round at Wimbledon last year, but he bounced back winning the ATP Finals in London.
This year Tsitsipas won the Marseille title for the second consecutive year and lost the Dubai final against Novak Djokovic in Dubai. He lost to Milos Raonic in the third round at the Australian Open. At the inaugural edition of the ATP Cup in Australia he beat Alexander Zverev and lost to Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios.
Tsitsipas was the first Greek player to break into the top 5 and the first player from his country to reach a Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in 2019. Last year he scored the biggest win of his career against Novak Djokovic in Shanghai and won three titles in Marseille and Estoril. He finished runner-up to Roger Federer in Dubai and to Dominic Thiem in Beijing.
“I went to bed thinking this was all a bad April fools joke but I woke up today to find that Wimbledon is actually cancelled. I will miss this special event and I can’t wait to 2021. Stay home. Stay sane”, wrote Tsitsipas in a Twitter post.
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