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2015 preview: The road to the Australian Open

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TENNIS 2015 PREVIEW – The 2015 season is about to start and our Diego Sampaolo looks at the build-up to the first Grand Slam of the year. Will Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams confirm at the top? Will Andy Murray be able to come back? Will Agnieszka Radwanska be able to win her first Grand Slam under the guidance of her new coach Martina Navratilova? Will Kei Nishikori become the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam?

 

The 2015 season will start next week-end with the traditional Mubadala World Tennis Exhibition in Abu Dhabi from 1 to 3 January. The ATP and the WTA Tour season will officially kick off next week with Brisbane and Doha. In the same week Perth will host the traditional Hopman Cup ITF competition and the ASB Classic in Auckland and Shenzhen. The build-up to the Australian Open starting on 19th January will continue the following week with Sydney and the Heineken Cup. In our preview we look to what we can expect in the next tournaments in January leading to the Australian Open and the players who will be in the spotlight in the first very busy month of the year. Will Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams confirm at the top? Will Andy Murray be able to come back? Will Agnieszka Radwanska be able to win her first Grand Slam under the guidance of her new coach Martina Navratilova? Will Kei Nishikori become the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam?

The time to celebrate the stars of the 2014 season is over. It’s now time to look to the 2015 season which kicks off on New Year’s Day in Abu Dhabi for the traditional season-opening Mubadala exhibition tournament which features a star-studded field featuring defending champion Novak Djokovic, nine-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, although Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga have pulled out and have been replaced by Nicholas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez. Djokovic won the last three editions of this tournament and will be bidding to win for the fourth time before moving to Doha next week.

Almagro, who finished runner-up to Djokovic in a thrilling 2-hour and 34-minute final two years ago, will open his Mubadala campaign against Wawrinka. The winner of this match will play against Djokovic.

The six players in this year’s line-up have collected a total of 24 titles. All the previous three Mubadala champions Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic will return to Abu Dhabi this year.

Nadal and Djokovic will make the trip to Doha where they headline a line-up which features Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Ernests Gulbis. Nadal will defend his Doha title twelve months after his triumph against Gael Monfils. The Spaniard will make his seventh appearance in Doha where he also finished runner-up in 2010 losing to Nikolay Davydenko. Djokovic, who won seven titles in 2014 and finished on a high winning Paris Bercy and the ATP Finals in London, will make his debut in the capital of Qatar. Berdych will play his first tournament since his coach change to Daniel Vallverdu. The Czech player will be looking to avenge his first-round defeat in Doha. Ferrer will be looking to make a good start to his season in Doha where he reached the semifinal in 2012.

The big question is whether Nadal will be able to return to his past form in the same way as 2013 when he clinched the Number 1 spot after a 2012 season ruined by a series of injury problems. In a recent interview to French television Nadal admitted that he is planning to organize his schedule carefully to stay healthy rather than focusing on recapturing World Number 1 position. He is planning to play in fewer tournaments in the future after a difficult 2014 season ruined by a series of injury problems.

“For me returning to World Number 1 spot will not be a goal in my career anymore. If I have become Number 1 because of the results I have, it’s great but I am not going to pursue this objective. I will follow my schedule. My big goal is to play as many years as possible. What I won’t do is to put the best years of my career to get Number 1 spot”, said Nadal

In the same week as Doha, the calender features the ATP/WTA Combined Tournament in Brisbane, the first Australian event leading up to the Australian Open. The ATP 250 in Brisbane will feature a star-studded line-up with Roger Federer (runner-up last year to Lleyton Hewitt), Grigor Dimitrov, US Open finalist Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro who was expected to make his come-back in Brisbane after a 2014 season plagued by a serious wrist injury, announced that he will not play in the Australian city. Unfortunately US Open champion Marin Cilic was forced to pull out of the Brisbane Tournament because of a shoulder injury which may put his participation at the Australian Open at risk. After losing all his three round-robin matches at the ATP Finals, Cilic decided to play the IPTL (International Tennis Premier League) but he eventually pulled out due to a right wrist injury.

“I need to take a break, but I don’t know if it is two weeks or four weeks and how long it is going to last. I am going to do my best to get to the Australian Open”, said Cilic.

Dimitrov, Raonic and Nishikori enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014 and will be looking to continue their outstanding progress. Nishikori will be bidding to clinch his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open after finishing runner-up to Marin Cilic at last September’s US Open final.

The women’s Brisbane WTA Premier-level field will feature two of the most glamorous names on the circuit Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, while Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep and 2014 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will be the headline names in Shenzhen in the same week. Last year Sharapova reached the the semifinal stage where she lost to eventual winner Serena Williams. Ivanovic had a strong campaign in 2014 finishing the year at World Number 5 after winning in Auckland, Monterrey, Birmingham and Tokyo.

At the start of January Perth will play host the Hopman Cup, a team ITF exhibition tournament featuring national team mixed teams. Among the top teams playing in Perth there are the USA with Serena Williams and John Isner, Canada with Eugenie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil, Poland with Agnieszka Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz, Italy with Fabio Fognini and Flavia Pennetta, Great Britain with Andy Murray and Heather Watson.

Murray will play his first full year under the guidance of Amelie Mauresmo who has joined his team last March after the split from Ivan Lendl. Earlier this month Murray split from his friend and assistant coach Daniel Vallverdu who has joined the team of Tomas Berdych. Murray will try to return to his best form after a tough season in which he managed to qualify for the ATP Finals only after a strong final part of the year which saw him clinching three tournaments in Shenzhen, Vienna and Valencia. Murray deserves a lot of credit and cannot be written off especially because he performed well in the 2014 Grand Slam tournaments where he reached three semifinals at the Australian Open, at the US Open and at Wimbledon and the semifinal at the Roland Garros. A good performance at Melbourne could be a confidence-booster for the rest of the season.

It will be interesting to see if the advice of Martina Navratilova will help Radwanska clinch her first Grand Slam title. The Polish player reached the Wimbledon final in 2012 and two more Grand Slam semifinals at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the 2014 Australian Open. Aga won one title in 2014 in Toronto but she failed to reach the quarter finals in the three last Grand Slams in 2014 and was overtaken by two younger players Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard in the WTA Ranking.

Bouchard was the WTA Rising Star in 2014 and will have to confirm her brilliant results in 2015 in which she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and at the Roland Garros and the final at Wimbledon.

In a very busy week from 4th to 10th January 2015 there are also two other WTA Tournaments, the Shenzhen Open and the ASB Classic in Auckland.

Shenzhen will feature Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. Kvitova finished the year at Number 4 after a strong season in which she clinched her second Wimbledon title three years after her first triumph at the All England Cub. Halep started the year at the Number 11 in the WTA Ranking and finished it at Number 3 after reaching her first Grand Slam final at the Roland Garros and the WTA Final in Singapore.

Another superb field is expected in Auckland where 2014 US Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams who will start the 2015 season in New Zealand. Wozniacki enjoyed a strong come-back in the second half of 2014 in which she reached the US Open final and lost an epic semifinal against Serena Williams at the WTA Championships semifinal in Singapore. Wozniacki played in her second Grand Slam five years after her first Major Final in New York where she lost 7-5 6-3 against Kim Clijsters. The 2014 US Open marked Wozniacki’s best showing in a Grand Slam since the 2012 Australian Open. The next season could see the Danish player lift the elusive Grand Slam title if she maintains her outstanding form of 2014 shown especially in the WTA Championships seminal in Singapore where the Dane led 4-1 in the third-set tie-break before Williams fought back to prevail in a dramatic match. The Australian Open will be the first chance for Wozniacki to claim her first ever Grand Slam Trophy.

Venus will be looking to improve her result of 2014 when she finished runner-up to Ana Ivanovic. The ASB Classic will also feature 2012 Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani, 2014 Wimbledon quarter finalist and Birmingham and Luxembourg finalist Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, 2014 semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens, 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens, Coco Wandeweghe, Monica Puig (winner of the WTA Rising Star Tournament in Singapore) and Ana Konjuh

The last week before the Australian Open will be the Sydney International which will feature David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro. On the women’s side the field will feature a very strong line-up with Wozniacki, Radwanska, Kvitova and Halep who will provide a real preview to what could happen in the following two weeks at the Australian Open from 19th January to 1st February.

The Heineken Cup men’s tournament in Auckland will be the final warm-up for the Australian Open. David Ferrer, Ernests Gulbis, Gael Monfils and John Isner are expected to play in New Zealand.

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Roger Federer’s Team8 Considering Bid To Buy Cincinnati Masters Rights From USTA

The potential move has gained support from one former world No.1 player who says ‘it is nice to see responsible names’ in the mix to buy the prestigious event.

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Roger Federer Wimbledon 2021
Roger Federer (SUI) playing against Adrian Mannarino (FRA) in the first round of the Gentlemen's Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 2 Tuesday 29/06/2021. Credit: AELTC/Jed Leicester

It is understood that sports and entertainment company Team8 which was co-founded by Roger Federer is looking into potentially submitting an application for ownership of the Cincinnati Masters, according to two sources.

 

Sports business publication Sportico and Steve Weissman from The Tennis Channel have both reported that the business is among a number of interested parties who want to buy the event that is best known as the Western and Southern Open. In February this year it was confirmed that the USTA is selling their 93.8% stake in the tournament for a ‘nine-figure sum.’ It is understood that the organization doesn’t want the event to be relocated from Cincinnati in part of any deal.

“The USTA’s Board of Directors believes now is the right time to explore potential strategic options and alternatives in order to optimize the long-term growth of the tournament and take the tournament to the next level,” the USTA said in a statement published by tennis.com.

The USTA brought the rights to the men’s event back in 2009 for $12.5M and has since spent an additional $65M. Whilst Cincinnati is a combined tournament, the ongoing negotiations only apply to the men’s section. The women’s tournament is overseen by Octagon management.

Neither Federer or a member of Team8 have commented on the reported plans. The company was founded by the 20-time Grand Slam champion and his agent Tony Godsick back in 2013. Since then they have been involved in the creation of the Laver Cup, became a ‘major investor’ in the Universal Tennis system and are a ‘strategic investor and partner’ to On Running.

Should Team8 become the new owners, questions may arise about conflicts of interest with Federer still being an active player on Tour. The 40-year-old is currently sidelined from action due to a knee injury but is aiming to stage a comeback at the Swiss Open later this year. However, former world No.1 Andy Roddick has given his full backing to the possible takeover.

“In the world of tennis, where conflicts of interest know no bounds at all, Roger can do this. He has, obviously, been a great steward for the game and has created an incredible relationship with the fans in the city of Cincinnati. You’d like to see it stay in the tennis family with someone who actually knows and loves our sport.” Roddick told The Tennis Channel.

Federer has won the Cincinnati Masters a record seven times in his career.

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Daniil Medvedev ‘Happy To Play Wimbledon’ If Ban Is Lifted

The world No.2 says he is willing to speak with other players about the situation ahead of his return to action following surgery.

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Daniil Medvedev (RUS) in action against Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) in the first round of the Gentlemen's Singles on No.1 Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 2 Tuesday 29/06/2021. Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Daniil Medvedev says he is still hopeful that he might be able to play at this year’s Wimbledon Championships should officials at The All England Club decide to change their stance.

 

At present the reigning US Open champion will not be allowed to play at the grass court major due to his nationality. Officials at the Grand Slam have confirmed that Russian and Belarussian players have been banned from the event due to the war in Ukraine. Ian Hewitt, who is the chairman of The AELTC, said the action was taken in order to prevent ‘the propaganda machine of the Russian regime’ from potentially benefiting from their players’ success.

The ban is a controversial move for the sport which until now had a united approach when it came to allowing those players participate in tournaments but only as neutral athletes. Former Wimbledon champions Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokopvic and Andy Murray have all expressed some degree of opposition to the decision. Meanwhile, the ATP and WTA are considering the possibility of removing the allocation of ranking points at the event.

Speaking about the ban ahead of this week’s Geneva Open, Medvedev acknowledges that it is a ‘tricky situation’ but is still hopeful that a u-turn could occur which would allow him to play. The 26-year-old has made four main draw appearances at Wimbledon with his best result being a run to the fourth round last year.

“There has been a lot of talk around it. I just tried to follow what’s happening because I don’t have any decisions to make. It’s right now about Wimbledon itself, the ATP, maybe the British government is involved,” news agency AFP quoted Medvedev as telling reporters in Switzerland.
“It’s a tricky situation and like every situation in life, you ask 100 players, everybody’s going to give a different opinion.
“I can play: I’m going to be happy to play in Wimbledon. I love this tournament.
“I cannot play: well, I’m going to try to play other tournaments and prepare well for next year if I have the chance to play.”

The former world No.1 has been among a group of Russian players who have previously called for peace in the region. Although none of them have gone as far as publicly condemning the actions of their government. Something which has drawn criticism from Ukraine’s Elina Svitoliva.

“I had some time to follow what is happening, yeah, it’s very upsetting,” Medvedev commented on the war.

Geneva will be the first event Medvedev has played in since reaching the quarter-finals of the Miami Open. He took time away from the Tour to undergo hernia surgery but has confirmed he intends to play at next week’s French Open despite his lack of match play on the clay.

During his time at those events, the tennis star says he is more than happy to speak with other players about the Wimbledon ban should they want to.

“Since I haven’t been on the tour, I haven’t talked to any of them face to face. It was the first time when I came here on Saturday when I can talk to players, and if they start talking about this, we can discuss,” he said.
“I don’t know exactly what’s happening, what’s going to happen, if there are going to be more decisions made.
“Same about Wimbledon. I don’t know if this decision is 100 percent, and it’s over.”

Granted a bye in the first round, Medvedev will start his Geneva campaign against either Richard Gasquet or John Millman.

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Conquering the world: Carlos Alcaraz beats Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic to cement Barcelona-Madrid titles (Part Two)

Carlos Alcaraz will now look to translate his success from the ATP Tour to Roland Garros.

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Carlos Alcaraz (@MutuaMadridOpen)

In part one, I assessed how Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz continues to take the tennis world by storm after his victory in Barcelona.

 

Now I turn my attentions to his success in another famous Spanish city.

Madrid Masters victory

Alcaraz again began his Madrid Masters campaign in style, beating the dangerous Georgian Nicoloz Basilashvili in straight sets.

A stern test came in the form of Britain’s Cameron Norrie, who pushed the birthday boy that day to three sets.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CdMSI6uKJZB/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

Alcaraz moving through 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 to set up a blockbuster quarter-final clash with his idol Rafa Nadal.

Now, some context is needed that the 21-time Grand Slam was appearing in his first tournament back since recovering from a rib injury.

An opening round win against Serbian Miomir Kecmanović was backed up with a tight three-set triumph over Belgian David Goffin, with the veteran Spaniard saving four match points.

To his credit, Nadal pushed his young apprentice all the way, before going down 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, with the second set showing his obvious quality, despite being partially fit.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CdOP5Jtg2Pn/

If this moment was a changing of the guard in Spanish tennis, then Alcaraz’s impressive win over Novak Djokovic could point to the man who may dominant the future of tennis.

The world number one was fortunate to play a match less, after the shock withdrawal of old rival Murray in the third-round.

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CdRFDuFgIHv/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

But he was no match for the imperious Alcaraz who triumphed at front of the delighted home support, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, 7-6 (7-5).

The first player ever to beat Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back on a clay court in the history of tennis.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CdQ4yADqinS/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

And Alcaraz made it a highly commendable 5-0 in finals, destroying Germany’s Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-1, with little challenge unlike the previous encounters with Norrie, Nadal and Djokovic.

James Spencer (Twitter: @jspencer28) – Alcaraz Verdict

In truth, I had a sneaky feeling that Alcaraz would triumph in Barcelona.

The way he is playing with such finesse and confidence, particularly against the Monte Carlo Masters champion, Stefanos Tsitsipas, was incredible to see.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CdQ4yADqinS/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

Saving match points against Alex de Minaur, also showed his mettle.

He also has an unbelievable shot selection and fitness levels.

Beating Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back is no easy feat.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CdRGhGyq64J/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

Often just one win knocks the stuffing out of you, mentally and physically, but not for this kid.

Alcaraz doesn’t get carried away. And this has been shown consistently this season.

Winning the Miami Masters could have led to a drop in motivation, yet he has looked even more motivated if anything.

He’s performed on hard-court and clay court surfaces with an assuring dominance.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CdRDN0Hq_zY/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

In fact, he is unbeaten on clay this season, losing three times in total all season.

Matteo Berrettini in five at the Australian Open.

Nadal in the semis of Indian Wells in a tight three sets, that ultimately injured the elder Spaniard, which could have ramifications on his entire fitness this season, and the destination of the French Open trophy.

And a close three-set defeat to up and coming youngster Sebastian Korda in Monte Carlo.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CdTpZI6o1kX/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

The new world number six must surely be the new favourite to WIN the French Open later this month.

Skipping the Italian Open should help the 19-year-old heal any niggling injuries.

If he does win in Paris, he will be the youngest Grand Slam champion since you guessed it, Nadal.

Only time will tell.

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