TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN – Seven top stars talked to the media on the eve of the Australian Open which starts on 19th January in Melbourne Park. Here is a summary of what Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov, Rafael Nadal, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep said a few hours before their debut. Diego Sampaolo
What is about this Grand Slam compared to the other three ?
“Melbourne is smaller than the other three cities. Everything is pretty convenient here. It’s really well organized. Not saying that the other ones are not but this one seems just like it’s very nice and relaxed. The weather helps. It seems to be always rather quite nice. I guess the three courts with the three roofs are something special for the players. You can see that the tournament can still go on regardless of the weather. It’s just good to know for all of us. You are not so dependant on the weather as a top guy, which is good. Many good things to talk about this event.
Do you feel any different coming into Melbourne this year compared to last year ?
“Clearly things are calmer this year. Last year I felt good but I was not quite sure having the new raquet, having gotten through the back issue, having gone through the off-season. I needed matches to see how it was going to cope. I came here with Stefan Edberg who helped me out. There were many changes that took place in the six months leading to the Australian Open. This time around I have played so well. I was able to win Brisbane last week. It makes me feel more secure this year coming into the Australian Open.
Did Stefan Edberg do a bit more in terms of time than you expected ? Do you have any idea how much he is going to do with you this year ?
“He might have done a couple of weeks more, but nothing significant. It was the time we spoke about. We will probably do something like 10 weeks this year. He will be here for the tournament. Severin is clearly doing most of the work. I am excited that Stefan is willing to do another year with some weeks for me”
How close are you now to your career best form ?
“I would hope that over the years I have always improved. I am serving more consistently and I am stronger than I ever have. The raquet has helped me with that. My backhand is working better than it has in the past as well. The question is confidence, forehand, movement. When I won almost almost everything, everything was so gold that nobody was even questioning anything. I had to adjust my game a little bit over the years. I feel I am playing very well. If it’s the best ever, I am not quite sure. I am definitely very pleased how things have gone now in the last six months.
You won more matches and played more matches than anybody else on the men’s tour last year. Do you expect to play as full of a schedule this year ?
“Possible I will reassess the situation after the Australian Open when I go on holiday. I need a break after this because the year end was short. Usually you start the Australian Open without knowing where your game is at. This year I did not take that much time off. I got right back into practice and I played some exhibitions. When I picked up the raquet again, I felt good. The back problem has gone away. As I played so many matches, I did not have enough practice. I came out of it a bit tired but that’s normal.when you practice hard. It was important for me not to overtrain when I came to Brisbane to maintain the freshness. The bigger break is going to come after the Australian Open. That’s when I am really going to decide how much I play, where I am going to play even though I have a rough idea how it’s going to go.
You practiced with David Goffin in Dubai. He said that he learned a lot about you prepare for a competition. What made it interesting for you to practice with him ?
“I saw him when he was coming up when I played him in the fourth round at the French Open. I was very impressed how he played then. I think he had already gone through six matches before he played against me. He ran out of gas at the end. I was able to take advantage. Would he have been fresh and everything, maybe I would have lost that match. He might have gone through some ups and downs, some injuries, some loss of confidence. I gave him a lot of confidence. He had an incredible last six months. I was impressed with his work ethic. He is really a nice guy. On the court you see how calm he is. In practice he is very serious, but he is still a fun guy to hang around. I am impressed how well he was practicing. It was good fun to practice with him. I think he is definitely got top 10 potential.
Talk about how the preparation has gone, how you are felling coming into Melbourne
“Last year was toughbecause I prepared fairly well but mentally it’s quite tough sort of going into your first slam and playing long five set matches. You don’t know necessarily know how your body is going to respond. That’s not the case this year, which is good. My preparation and training over in Miami and in Dubai went very well. Practice this week has been good. I am looking forward to getting started
How fit are you feeling ?
“I feel in good shape. I trained well in December. I changed some of the things I was doing in my training. I worked hard in the off-season. My body feels good”
Who do you see as your biggest threat in the tournament ?
“There are a lot of top players here. Stan is the defending champion. He will be confident with that. It will be a new experience. It will be interesting to see how he handles that. He finished the end of last year with the Davis Cup and started the New Year with the win In Chennai. I am sure he will be confident. Then there are the obvious suspects, the same names. If you add some of the younger guys that have been coming through the last year or so with Nishikori, Dimitrov, Raonic and all these guys. There are also a lot of guys who can make big improvements in the off-season if they have five or six weeks training to work on things and get physically stronger. It will be an interesting tournament. The Australian Open normally throws up a few surprises. It will be fun to watch”.
You have been asked a lot about the changing of the guard. Does it feel the season with Nishikori, yourself and Raonic, you are getting closer to the top guys ? After your defeat against Roger in the Brisbane semifinal last week, do you feel the gap is still a bit there ?
“I am not going to lie. It was a tough match that I lost last week I did not perform the way I wanted to. That does not mean that I am discouraged to keep trying and keep believing that any of us is going to make it through. On the other hand the year has just begun. Anything can happen at the Australian Open. Hopefully everything goes in a positive way”
Have you set some specific goals for your game for the start of the season ? Have you worked on something specific ?
“I have worked a lot in the off-season. There is nothing specific that I would like to say because obviously now I have had a pretty good 2014. We knew what was working for us and knew what we needed to focus on. At the same time I have put a lot of work in the off-season on and off the court.
How important was your performance here last year ?
“It was a major thing for me, It gave me a lot of confidence. It gives me like a boost. That confidence gives you the feel that you can perform on a high level. When I had to come up against better guys, I was able to win quite a few tournaments. All that is a good factor.
Did you replay that tough loss to Rafa much ?
“It took me awhile to get over it, especially having a set point in the third set, missing that shot by just a few inches. But at the same time I think I took it really positive. I took that loss as a win even though it wasn’t the case. I was performing at a high level throughout the whole season. I think I finished it on a good note.
It seems that courts are faster this year. Do you feel this and do you live it ?
“I don’t think that they are faster than last year. The Margaret Court is one of the best arenas I have actually played on for a very long time. It’s a tremendous experience to get out there and practice on that court. It’s always fun to get out there and play. I am not thinking so much about the surface out there because the whole environment puts you in a good vibe to perform at your best. It feels every time you get on that court you are already in the quarters or semis. It’s a great feeling to have. I think the whole surrounding is great. The roof, it just shocks me how you can do that in a year’s time. It looks almost identical to Rod Laver. I think it’s a great court.
Do you feel it’s getting better and better with your practice ?
“I am doing a lot of practice and doing the things that we believe we have to do to recover our level. It is true that having a Grand Slam that early in the season after injury like this is not the ideal thing but we are here. I have worked a lot since 10th December. I have worked a lot in the last couple of weeks in Abu Dhabi and Doha, then here this week. I am calm and happy with the way I did the things. I need to play better than what I am doing. I need to spend hours on court competing. The only way to make that happen is to be on the tour and that’s the only way I can come back to my best level.
You have had to do this a few times before because of injuries. Does it help now that you have done this before, you know what it’s like coming back after a break ?
“Every time is different. Every feeling is different. Every time you come back, you have the doubts, you have the feeling that you are far away from your best. At the same time you know the only thing you can do is to play with the right attitude and try to have the right schedule to play matches, to play weeks in a row. It’s the only way to find the positive feelings and the confidence back. When you have put all the things together, it makes your game better again.
Who do you think is the favourite for the tournament ?
“I think everybody thinks the same names. Novak finished the season great. He is a fantastic player. He is in his favourite surface. Roger is the same story. He had a great season last year. He finished well. Andy is playing well. The rest are always there. There are a few more players that are always going to have the chances. I don’t consider myself one of the favourites here. This year is a different story. I would be lying if I say I feel that I am ready to win the tournament today. If I am here in a press conference in one week, maybe I will say another thing because I will have the feeling That I play few matches. If I am able to win that couple of matches, then probably I will have little bit more rhythm and more confidence.
You couldn’t ask for a better start to the season. What caused the change and logic of playing warm-up tournaments before the Australian Open, because you weren’t used to do it ?
“I started my career playing a little exhibition tournament in Hong Kong. When that was cancelled, doing a tournament was the next option.I had been meaning to play Brisbane for many years. This was my only second time there. It was a great start. It was a good few matches for me. I felt quite good. You never know how things are going to shape up after the off-season. You obviously want to transition the things that you worked on and bring it onto the court. But I played quite solid. I did the right things. I had a tough final against Ana Ivanovic, which was good for me to have. A victory at a tournament I never won before was extra special
Have you worked on something different in the off-season, something you wanted to change in your game, different goals ?
“I was happy to be in one place for the whole month of December. I didn’t travel much. I did a few around the world in November. It was actually great to settle down. My team came down all through the holidays for those many weeks. It felt good to kind of creat a base for this upcoming season. Last year my off-season,a lot of it had to do with rehab and getting myself healthy. This year I felt like I could really train and push myself a little bit more physically. I wanted to feel that I was ready and fit for the beginning of this year, try to be as healthy as possible towards all of it”
You have a shot at the Number 1 position. Is it still a big motivation for you to be back as Number 1 in the world or is winning Grand Slams at this time of your career more important ?
“That was a question that was nice not having to answer in December. Obviously Number 1 is a ranking that every single player wants to grab and works so hard for. There’s a lot of players that have an opportunity to get there and I am one of them. I am determined to do that. By doing that you need to win more matches than the person that’s in the first place. That’s the goal.
What is the best game you remember here in the Australian Open ?
“I have a lot of good games. The game that sticks out is my victory. Winning a championships is a big moment, especially a Grand Slam. It was my third Grand Slam in my career. I thought throughout the two whole weeks, it was some of the best tennis that I played. I had one of the toughest draws in a Grand Slam. I actually thought the final wasn’t my best match throughout the tournament. I came through a lot of challenges. It’s tough to choose
Are you thinking about the Olympic Games in Brazil ?
“Of course. It’s quite a special occasion. It’s very special to me just because I grew up with that culture. The meaning of the Olympics being so special. I had a great experience in London. It was a great experience in London. It was my first ever Olympics. I would definitely love to have a similar, maybe even better experience in Brazil
You reached the final in Brisbane last week. How do you feel coming into this tournament compared to this time last year ?
“Last year actually I also had quite a good start. I felt this year the level was a little bit different. We played a very good match in the Brisbane final. It was really high level for the first tournament of the season. I am definitely feeling good coming into this week. Last year I didn’t really do as well as I hoped for. I really want to take it one step at a time and enjoy because I think my tennis is at a different level than it was last year.
In Brisbane, it looked like there was some back strapping. How are you feeling physically ?
“Yeah, a little bit. You always have pains, especially at the beginning of the season. No matter how hard you work in the off-season, matches are a completely different story. It takes time to get that match fitness. It’s a little bit different kind of movement. I had one week to recover. I feel fit
Did you feel like the off-season was different because of the IPTL (International Tennis Premier League), everyone sort of coming together in Asia ?
“It was definitely different. I was really happy to be part of that innovatin sort of thing. To compete in a team for so long, with different sort of people from different countries, different kind of environment, it was very special. It definitely brought some fun into the off-season. But it was hard to do all the travelling to be honest. I travelled a lot last season. That added a little bit to it. I still enjoyed it. If I had the choice again, I would do it all over again.
You said you want to do better at the Slams. How do you do that ? How do you do better ?
“There is a variety of things. Confidence, preparation, everything comes to play. I think it’s a lot to do with confidence. It takes time for certain things to fall into place. Last year I really felt I made big steps towards winning more matches ,beating top players. These kinds of things you have in place in order to do well at the big events. I feel like I am ready for the next step. I feel comfortable in my team. I feel I can communicate with them more. Last year at some points it was not the case. Then the US Open was just a fresh start with my new team and my new coach. It takes time to get used to it. Now I feel I can communicate with them more and they can help me
If it comes down to confidence, do you take confidence from Brisbane ?
“The last couple of months of last season were great. The Brisbane Tournament gives me confidence. I have lots of tough matches. I had all kind of challenges there. I definitely feel ready for this week”
How were you feeling after having to withdraw from Sydney ?
“I am feeling good now. I am almost now like hundred percent recovered. I have two days. I slept very well. I ate very well.I feel prepared to start this tournament. I still have time, two days more, to feel like hundred percent”
How different was your off-season ? You changed coaches. Was there something you wanted to work on ?
“I just improve in my game more and more. I did in my serve very well in the off-season, as well as in my forehand. I am moving better than last year. I am working hard every hard. I changed coach because I wanted to change something and I did. I think it was a great idea. I always took my decisions and it worked very well. I think I took a very good decision”
You posted a lot of pictures on Facebook of training in the snow and ice back home. How difficult is it to transition to warmer weather ?
“I have three weeks already here because I played in Shenzhen, It wasn’t too hot there. I like to train in snow, when it’s cold outside. I just had my own preparation at home because many players are going where the weather is better or it’s very hot in the USA and other places. But I preferred to stay at home, stay close to my family to recharge my batteries. I feel good at home. I was practicing 20 days in the snow and I was running a lot.
You have made huge strides since a year ago. What surprised you most about most about your season, how successful you were ?
“I am not surprised that I had big results last year because two years ago I just started to win some titles. I have more experience than before. I was improving a lot in my game. I am much stronger. My game is complete now. I believe in my game. I was a little bit surprised with the finals in the French Open because I didn’t expect that I could play the final after just one quarter final in Grand Slams. I had nothing to lose there. It was my favourite tournament because I won there as a Junior and I feel very well there. I was trying everything on court. Everything went in the right way at that tournament. I felt very well. Sometimes it is very good to be close to your home because more people can come to watch you and can support you. It was a perfect tournament for me. That’s why I think I played the final. Then I had the second best result in Singapore. I played well as well there. I cannot say that I was surprised but I was still very happy in the end of the year that I did a few big results”
ATP RANKINGS UPDATE: Novak Djokovic, No.1 once more
After the US Open the Serbian champion reclaims top spot. Alexander Zverev is back in the Top 10
By Roberto Ferri
“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion”
Rudy Tomjanovich coined this maxim just after his Houston Rockets won the NBA championship in 1995. He was paying homage to Akeem Holajuwon. It perfectly suits the heart of Daniil Medvedev, who proved 99% of tennis fans in the world to be wrong, convinced as they were that he would lose the semifinal to former No 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
But his dream to win a second US Open, after his triumph in 2021, was shattered by another champion, whose heart and class is even greater: that’s Novak Djokovic, who affixes his seal on his return to No.1, equalling Margaret Court Smith’s record of 24 majors.
Djokovic dethroning Alcaraz is not the only change in the top 20: Sascha Zverev is back in the top 10 after almost one year and Ben Shelton, great protagonist of the Us Open, debuts in the top 20 best players in the world.
A few comments:
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrei Rublev and Alexander Zverev gain 2 positions.
Ben Shelton devours 28 positions.
Sinner, Tiafoe, Norrie and Dimitrov lose one.
Casper Ruud and Karen Khachanov, runner up and semi-finalist respectively at the 2022 US Open, drop 4 positions.
One step forward for Fritz, de Minaur, Paul, Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz.
ATP NITTO FINALS
From 12 to 19 November the 8 best players of the ranking based on the points earned in the ongoing solar season will be playing the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.
Will Novak Djokovic succeed in winning a second straight title? He appears to be heading in the right direction.
Thanks to his triumph at the US Open the Serbian overtakes Alcaraz also in the Race to Turin.
Jannik Sinner holds fourth spot while Andrei Rublev overtakes Stefanos Tsitsipas and is now fifth.
The eighth position is occupied by Alexander Zverev.
Last year runner up, Casper Ruud is currently 10th. This means he would feature in Turin as a reserve.
ATP NEXT GENERATION FINALS
The Next Gen Finals, dedicated to the best under 21s, (8 effectives and 2 reserves) of the season will take place this year in Gedda, Saudi Arabia.
The 2022 winner, Brandon Nakashima, will not be defending his title, since he was born in 2001.
Taking for granted that Alcaraz and, most likely Rune, will be playing the ATP Finals, we have included in the chart the 12 current top under 21s.
Besides Ben Shelton, other 11 players have achieved their career highest this week.
We tribute a double applause to the four players who are making their debut in the top 100.
The 25-year-old Croatian Borna Gojo, 22-year-old Australian Rinky Hijkata and the Swiss next gen Dominic Stricker all reap the reward for their brilliant runs at the US Open. Seyboth Wild, the Brazilian who stunned Medvedev in the first round of Roland Garros leaps to No.76 after winning the Challenger in Como last week.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
COMMENT: Novak Djokovic Proves His Greatness At US Open
Love him, or hate him. But respect him.
No tennis player has ever been better than Novak Djokovic.
Even Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have to take their hats off to Novak, and admire him.
Now that Rafa and Roger have left Djokovic on his own stage at least for now, tennis fans love Novak.
DJOKOVIC WENT ONE STEP FURTHER
Djokovic’s performance on Sunday evening in the U.S. Open final was simply amazing. Daniil Medvedev also played his heart out, but Djokovic went one step further. He was sensational.
It was a thrill-a-minute three-set match. It lasted well into the night after starting at mid-afternoon. The second set alone lasted 104 minutes.
Djokovic was the winner, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3, but New York still loves 2021 champion Medvedev.
A FOURTH AND 24TH TITLE, AND A 24 TRIBUTE
At 36, the oldest U.S. Open men’s champion ever, Djokovic obviously has a special place in his heart for the number four. It’s the number of times he has won this tournament and the 24th time he has won a Grand Slam title.
The number 24 also was displayed prominently on the white jacket. Novak, his team members and family wore for the victory celebration as a tribute to the No. 24 jersey of deceased friend Kobe Bryant.
Djokovic lost his footing at least three times in the tight second set, stumbling to the surface once, apparently due to the length of the rallies.
Djokovic could look like he was almost completely wiped out of it physically one minute, and then play like Superman the next minute.
THREE POINTS MAY HAVE BEEN DECISIVE
Both men played great tennis, especially in the thrill-a-second second set in which Medvedev gained one set point in the 12th game before Djokovic recovered to force a tiebreaker.
Medvedev appeared to be in charge after out-playing Novak to win one of his drop shots to take a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. The match may have been decided on the next three points, all won by Djokovic on errors by the 6-6 Russian.
The big question now is what happens next January in the Australian Open. Right now, Djokovic probably wants to play . . . and win what has been his favorite tournament as far as success. But things can change quickly for players in their mid-30s. Just ask Roger or Rafa.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Alcaraz Fell Victim To Unbeatable Medvedev
Carlos Alcaraz was no match for Daniil Medvedev in the US Open semi-finals.
A star had to fall. There was no other way.
This time, Carlos Alcaraz was the victim. Daniil Medvedev was unbeatable.
The 6-6 Russian was everywhere, playing almost perfect tennis in a 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Alcaraz.
So, one former champion went down while one advanced to Sunday’s final at the U.S. Open.
And then there was Novak Djokovic, another former champion headed for the title match.
U.S. OPEN WAS THE BIG WINNER FRIDAY
The U.S. Open couldn’t lose once Djokovic dominated young American Ben Shelton, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Djokovic appeared to be content with just winning while getting the preliminaries over with. He seemed to be a little miffed by Shelton’s cockiness. There were no hugs or embraces when the match ended. Just a handshake.
Shelton has huge potential, but it’s going to take some time before he’s ready to join the likes of Djokovic, Medvedev and Alcaraz. He’s a better athlete than he is tennis player.
Novak is ready to go for a record 24th Grand Slam title.
Believe it or not, Medvedev will be playing in his fifth Grand Slam final.
Sunday should be a great day in Arthur Ashe Stadium, with two former champs, Djokovic and Medvedev, going against each other.
CAN COCO HIT WITH SABALENKA
The women’s final will be interesting. Can Coco Gauff compete with Aryna Sabalenka?
Sabalenka looked helpless against Madison Keys’ big strokes and serves in the first set of their semifinal on Thursday.
Sabalenka couldn’t win even one game in that set. She looked helpless.
But she obviously felt all along that she could beat Keys anytime she wanted. Or why else would the powerful Sabalenka go for broke on almost every shot? And it almost cost her.
Amazingly, Sabalenka waited almost to the final moments to decide to play within her game and stop the wildness.
Once Sabalenka decided to settle down and play to win, Keys went just the opposite way, similarly to her one-sided loss to Sloane Stephens in the 2017 U.S. Open final.
Keys appeared ready to win this time as she held a 6-0, 5-4 advantage over new world’s No. 1 Sabalenka, who seemed to be stumbling all over the court as she repeatedly hit wild shots in every direction.
Just like that, everything changed. Sabalenka started hitting winners everywhere as Keys reversed roles with Sabalenka. Not only did Sabalenka win the second set while dropping just one point in a tiebreaker, she stormed through a decisive 10-point third-set tiebreaker to win the match.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
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