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ATP Finals: Is it time for the new generation to emerge?

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TENNIS ATP FINALS – The pre tournament press conferences at the O2 Arena in London were focussed mainly on the new faces that have qualified for the end-of-year event. Is the new generation of players ready to replace the old guard? From London, Paul Sassoon

The ATP Finals will get underway on Sunday, today was dedicated to the pre-tournament press conferences. The main topic of conversation was the past season that saw to new Grand Slam winners in Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic and the wind of change that is supposedly sweeping the men’s tour. Three players of the next generation have qualified for the first time for the end-of-year event, Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. The three new faces have joined the usual suspects, Djokovic, Federer, Wawrinka, Murray and Berdych for the final showdown at the O2 Arena in London.

So is this the year that the new breed take over? The players seem to agree that the change has started, but removing the champions that have dominated over the last few years won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight.
According to the World Number 1 this has not been the season when the change started, but it has been a process that began a few years ago, “It’s been now few seasons that we had four different Grand Slam winners. Those players that you named (Cilic, Nishikori, Wawrinka and Raonic) are here at the World Tour Finals, some of them are making their debut in this tournament. There is some change in professional tennis in terms of new players and new generations coming up and challenging the top four that have been winning most of the Majors and the big events on tour, but I believe that this is something normal to expect after many years of Federer Nadal dominance and Murray and myself got into that mix. Of course you always expect younger players who are capable of fighting for major titles and thats what happened this year and I think we expected it a little bit earlier.”

Listen to Novak Djokovic’s press conference

Federer agrees with Novak that the change has started, but it isn’t over yet, “the rankings prove that it might be the case (that the top four are still dominant when they are fit). But I think that the margins are so small that we have to prove ourselves time and time again. It’s very interesting and things can change very quickly in tennis thats why I am always careful with predictions, but it’s nice to see different faces at the World Tour Finals.”

Listen to Roger Federer’s press conference

Andy Murray was one of the “Fab Four” that dominated the ATP Tour over the last few years. It took him some time to recover from his back operation and was forced into a mad dash after the US Open to qualify for these World Tour Finals. The Scottish player agreed with Novak and Roger, “there definitely has been a change, but it’s not as drastic as some people were making out. I think obviously that a lot of the guys are here first time. The younger guys are improving a lot, making big improvements. This year there has been a lot of firsts for those guys. Stan won a Slam, Cilic won a Slam, Nishikori’s first final, Raonic had semis at Wimbledon, There have been a lot of firsts for the younger guys. They have improved, become more consistent. That’s natural, but some of the players you mentioned (Djokovic, Federer and Nadal) are some of the best of all time, no matter how much the younger guys improve, you are not just going to knock them off.”

Listen to Andy Murray’s press conference

For years Tomas Berdych has been right behind the top players and with the new generation he may run the risk of getting overtaken, “…well, let’s see. In the last couple of years, maybe three four years, there have been pretty much no changes, there were always the same guys in the top eight and the top four spots have been already taken since the season started off and so to make it to the World tour Finals there were only four spots to make. This year there a few new guys coming up and as I said it’s not easy to maintain and stay the same position but I managed to do so and its the fifth year in a row. It’s a good result to be sitting here and it means having a successful season.”

Listen to Tomas Berdych’s press conference

The beginning of the change is credited by many to Stan Wawrinka’s win in Melbourne. The Swiss is at his second consecutive participation at the ATP Finals, “This year was different than the past three years, that’s for sure with different winner of the Grand Slam. You can see already this year was some big surprises, but I think that if you look Nole, Roger, Rafa when he is not injured are still up there. They are still stronger than the rest of the players. It’s going to be interesting next year for sure. There are more players behind ready to beat those guys but you have to do it because it’s not that easy.”

Listen to Stan Wawrinka’s press conference

The US Open champion was the only player that didn’t talk about the “new generation”, instead he focussed on his year, “It’s a great honour for me to be here for the first time, same for Kei and Milos. This year as been the best of my career. I had a lot of great tournaments, I had a big success at the US Open. I feel it opens a little bit the door for the other guys.”

Listen to Marin Cilic’s press conference

Kei Nishikori lost the Flushing Meadows final to Marin Cilic, but his excellent season means that he qualified as well for the end-of-year event, “it has been a different year than past couple of years. Stan won a Grand Slam and so did Cilic. Cilci and me in the final was a little bit weird, I think nobody was expecting those two in the final. Now three new guys are here so I think it’s very exciting for the tennis tour.”

Listen to Kei Nishikori’s press conference

Yet the best description of the situation on the men’s tour was given by the youngest player to qualify for the ATP Finals, Milos Raonic, “I think those guys are knocking on the door in a lot of ways, but nobody has definitely kicked that door open.”

Listen to Milos Raonic’s press conference

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Daniil Medvedev Targets French Open Breakthrough After Rome Disappointment

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Daniil Medvedev believes there will be more title contenders at the French Open than previous editions with the Russian hoping to be one of them. 

The world No.4 heads into the Grand Slam after what has been a mixed clay swing. Medvedev suffered a third round defeat in Monte Carlo before bouncing back in Madrid where he reached the quarter-finals before retiring from his match with a minor injury. Meanwhile, at this week’s Italian Open, his title defence came to an end in the fourth round on Tuesday when he fell 6-1, 6-4, to Tommy Paul. 

“Mentally I had to be much better,” Medvedev said of his latest performance.
“I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.’
“It’s disappointing, but that’s how sport is. You lose and you go for the next tournament, which is a pretty important one.” He added. 

28-year-old Medvedev recently stated that he is seeing improvements in his game when it comes to playing on the clay. A surface which he has struggled on during stages of his career. Out of the 38 ATP Finals he has contested, only two of those were on the clay. Barcelona in 2019 when he finished runner-up and Rome last year which he won. 

As for the French Open, he has lost in the first round on five out of seven appearances. But did reach the quarter-finals in 2021 and the last 16 the following year. So could 2024 be his year?

“Now it’s maybe a little bit more open than it was ever before,” he said of this year’s event. 
“Good for me, too, because usually in Roland Garros I don’t play that well. The more open it is, the better it is for me.”

All of the top three players on the men’s tour are currently experiencing problems. Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Italian Open and recently underwent a medical assessment after getting hit in the head by a bottle in a freak accident. Jannik Sinner is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the French Open due to a hip issue and Carlos Alcaraz has been hindered by a forearm injury in recent weeks. 

“I’m feeling much better on clay,” Medvedev commented. “What is tough for me on clay sometimes is getting used to conditions. Every court – in every tournament in the world – is a bit different.
“On hard courts it’s the same: every court is different. On hard courts I have this ability to kind of quite fast get used to it. On clay, I need more time.”

Medvedev aims to become only the second Russian man in history to win the French Open after Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1996. The tournament will begin a week on Sunday. 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Says Expanded Masters Events ‘Playing A Massive Role’ In Player Injuries

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Stefanos Tsitsipas has slammed the decision to extend the length of Masters 1000 tournaments to two weeks by warning that more injuries could occur in the future as a result. 

This week’s Rome Masters is taking place without two out of the world’s top three players. Jannik Sinner pulled out of his home event due to a hip injury and Carlos Alcaraz has been troubled by a forearm issue in recent weeks. Other players missing from the draw include Tomas Machac (Illness), Ugo Humbert (Left Knee) and Stan Wawrinka (Right Wrist). 

The tournament is taking place immediately after the Madrid Open which is also a Masters event that has been expanded to a two-week format in recent years. Supporters of the move argue that a bigger draw provides lower-ranked players with more opportunities to play in these events whilst others will have a day off between matches. 

However, world No.8 Tsitsipas isn’t completely happy with the schedule which he openly criticised on Monday following his 6-2, 7-6(1), win over Cameron Norrie. The Greek has won 12 out of 14 matches played on clay so far this season. 

“It’s a type of thing that hurt the sport a little bit, to have these types of things happen to the highest of the players,” Tsitsipas commented on his rival’s injuries.
“Without them, the show is not kind of the same. You have obviously the guys behind them (in the rankings). These kinds of tournaments deserve names like this to be playing and have the opportunity to play in front of these big stadiums and crowds.
“I’ve spoken about the fact that the schedule has a big toll on our bodies. It starts from the mental side, and it follows to the physical side. The extension of the days in the Masters 1000s I think plays a massive role and contributes a lot to the fact that these players are getting injured.”

The ATP’s extended format is set to be applied to seven out of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments from 2025. The only two yet to make or plan for such changes are Monte Carlo and Paris. However, Tsitsipas has called for changes to be made to the schedule.

“It was perhaps already a lot the way it was before with the seven-day events. Adding more days to that, well, you got to be some type of superhero to be consistent back-to-back 10 days in each event getting to the very end of it.” He commented.
“It’s not a very easy thing to do. Some people need to try it first to get an understanding and how it is to pull that off. Then they should make decisions based on that.
“I think this is not going to be the first time we see these types of things (player injuries). If these types of things continue with the same schedule not being adjusted or customized to the needs of the players, we might see more of these things occur in the future.”

It is not the first time a player has raised concerns about the extended format. Alexander Zverev previously said that the schedule is a disadvantage for the top players. Meanwhile, on the women’s Tour Caroline Garcia has criticised the move to expand WTA 1000 tournaments whilst Maria Sakkari said achieving the Madrid-Rome double has become harder to do

On the other hand, Daniil Medvedev has spoken in favour of the new format and describes injuries on the Tour as ‘part of the sport.’ The former US Open believes the issue is related to the quick surface changes players face and not the duration of tournaments. 

Tsitsipas will play Alex de Minaur in the fourth round of the Italian Open on Tuesday. 

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Novak Djokovic To Undergo Medical Check After Rome Thrashing, Bottle Incident

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Novak Djokovic – ATP Roma 2024 (foto: Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis)

Novak Djokovic has indicated that he will speak to doctors following his lacklustre performance at the Italian Open where he crashed out in straight sets. 

The five-time champion was far from his best against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo as he struggled to generate any rhythm in his tennis or a single break point opportunity. Djokovic’s below-par performance caught many off guard, including the tennis player himself who admitted afterwards that he was ‘completely off’ his game. 

Trying to find the reason behind his latest performance, the world No.1 isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might be linked to an incident that took place at the tournament two days ago. Following his win over France’s Corentin Moutet, Djokovic suffered a blow to his head after a fan accidentally dropped a metal bottle from the stands. Immediately afterwards, he experienced nausea, dizziness and bleeding for up to an hour but was checked by medical officials.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I have to check that.” Djokovic replied when asked if the incident affected his form on Sunday.
“Training was different. I was going for kind of easy training yesterday. I didn’t feel anything, but I also didn’t feel the same.
“Today under high stress, it was quite bad – not in terms of pain, but in terms of this balance. Just no coordination. Completely different player from what it was two nights ago.
“It could be. I don’t know. I have to do medical checkups and see what’s going on. “

The tennis star said he managed to sleep fine after his head blow but did experience headaches. He looked to be in good spirits the day after it happened and even turned up to practice in Rome wearing a safety helmet.

Djokovic’s concerns come two weeks before the start of the French Open where he is seeking a record 25th Major title. He will undoubtedly be one of the contenders for glory but admits there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the coming days. 

“Everything needs to be better in order for me to have at least a chance to win it,” he said.
“The way I felt on the court today was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. Just no rhythm, no tempo, and no balance whatsoever on any shot.
“It’s a bit concerning.”

The French Open will begin on Sunday 26th May. 

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