Paes and Hingis: “I was never really completely out of the picture, away from tennis. It was always part of my life one way or another” - UBITENNIS
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Paes and Hingis: “I was never really completely out of the picture, away from tennis. It was always part of my life one way or another”

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TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN – 1st of February 2015. Paes/Hingis d. Nestor/Mladenovic 6-4, 6-3. An interview with Leander Paes and Martina Hingis

 

Q. What is it like to guide another young partner through the mine fields?

MARTINA HINGIS: That’s a good one. I love it.

LEANDER PAES: That’s a brilliant first question. It’s a treat to play with Martina. Like she said a little earlier today, I finally managed to learn some things from her returns and returned half decently today. It’s intriguing. In every match we’ve played, we’ve had to overcome some obstacle, a bad start, one day our serve wasn’t working, one day our returns weren’t working. Today we started great. But we played two champions. They kept oncoming at us. We broke them, they broke back. We broke them again, they broke back. Today was just a matter of patience, our understanding of the game of tennis, our understanding of each other came through. It’s just a treat to win your 16th, my 15th (laughter).

MARTINA HINGIS: You have plenty of time to catch up.

LEANDER PAES: It’s a lot of fun, mate.

Q. You made your first appearance here in 1994, Leander. Do you have any idea when your last will be? Can you see yourself coming back for a good few years yet?

LEANDER PAES: Actually, yes, I can. Actually I was really happy when I was in the gym just now. After all our matches we go and do our training and stuff. The best thing that happened today was my coach came back in and he said, Lee, your speed’s back. If you can impress your coach on any given day, you’re doing pretty well. Normally they’re your biggest critics, they’re the toughest ones that you struggle to impress. My dad said as soon as we won, I called him, he goes, Okay, now you have to focus on the next one. I said, Dad, it hasn’t even been five minutes (laughter). But I love the game of tennis. To play with this champion who I keep learning from every day is a lot of fun. I look forward to being back soon.

Q. Martina, did you get a chance to look at the walk of champions walking out?

MARTINA HINGIS: Yeah, that’s the coolest thing about it, when you walk there. Lee, a couple times now we got to play on center court, I love that photo. It’s a very heavy photo when I won here. It’s full of excitement, the joy you have out there when you go and play. Lee is just a really great partner to have. Been there, done that, he knows what he’s doing. I don’t have to tell him anything. Just like today, he was really keeping me out there, stay focused, especially at the end, compared to the other matches, today there was a lot of tension. It’s finals, playing the defending champions. They both are, you know, great competitors, like he said. You think like you have them, then they bounce back. She serves great for a girl. She doesn’t have any letdowns, only a little bit at the end where we could really jump on that and take advantage. But the rest of the match, it was always like every point counts. It was a huge difference today. It was not as physical maybe, but it was more of a mental match today.

LEANDER PAES: Isn’t this your 15th Australian Open final today? Does any have that stat? No one has done their homework (laughter). I thought today was your 15th Australian Open final. That’s unbelievable.

MARTINA HINGIS: Only my second mixed. But I haven’t lost a finals yet. Feels good.

Q. Martina, what stage did you decide to make a commitment again to playing tennis, just in doubles? Did something in your life happen that you missed it too much? What was it and when?

MARTINA HINGIS: I was never really completely out of the picture, away from tennis. It was always part of my life one way or another. I was playing some exhibitions, then I was coaching a little bit. Now being back, I mean, the coaching probably got me more into it because I was playing with the girls, hitting, being face-to-face to the best players in the world like Anastasia, Sabine, obviously one of the biggest hitters. So that felt like, you know, maybe I can play with them, only halfcourt. I don’t have to run that much. Obviously when we’re practicing, it’s halfcourt only. I was playing with them. I felt like I could still hold my own. Lee has been on me for three years. We played TeamTennis for a couple years. Let’s play the US Open. We were holding the trophy, I told him, I was so scared. Maybe I should have done it earlier, played a couple tournaments together already. But I was just really scared to — I wasn’t ready to take the tension, be on court. But he kept going on me.

Q. Martina, what does it mean to you to be tasting success here so many years after your first visit to this tournament?

MARTINA HINGIS: Yeah, no, in the ceremony my voice became really little. After 20 years being back on that court, like I said in my speech, who would have thought. It’s not even like the cherry on top, it’s more than that to be there and to be able to hold another trophy with Leander. It’s more than I could ever dream of, yeah.

Q. Martina, are you hoping to play the Olympics next year?

MARTINA HINGIS: Right now we’re very far away. We’re really enjoying the moment to be here, to have the title. I mean, it’s out there, definitely. It’s something that would be probably — I mean, I haven’t played Olympics since ’96, so…

Q. You’ve played with approaching 100 different partners. Obviously Martina is the very best. But for the grass-roots player, the regular player out there, what is the key for a doubles player to adjust to a new partner?

LEANDER PAES: The first thing is to know yourself really well. If you know yourself really well and you’re honest with yourself about your strengths and more importantly your weaknesses, then you choose a partner whose strengths are your weaknesses. So my return of serve on a good day is average.

MARTINA HINGIS: It was pretty good today.

LEANDER PAES: But to pick a partner who has got such quick thought from the baseline, even when she’s playing mixed doubles, when the guys are popping serves at her. Daniel Nestor is one of the best mixed doubles servers in the game. He is lefty. He has this wicked slice serve on the ad court, which is Martina’s side. He can hit his spot down the T. To see how quick Martina reacts to it in her thought process, then commits to a shot, that’s something I learned. Now, when I’m at the net, when I have less time, I’ve got sharp eyes, I pick up things quick. When I have less time, I’m lightning fast. When I have too much time, my Indian genetics, I think too much. Martina, you pick a shot and stick to it. Any up-and-coming youngster in any walk of life, it’s not about yourself. You got to learn yourself quick, then you play for the team. The sum of two individuals have got to be greater than two. So the sum of all the individuals has got to be greater than that many people that are there.

Q. Why do Indians think too much?

LEANDER PAES: Oh, boy, I could be all day here (laughter).

Q. Are there already plans to play further Grand Slams together?

LEANDER PAES: If she let me. I don’t know if she will. MARTINA HINGIS: Of course. We already talked about this. It’s not only the fact that we won, but just feel really comfortable with one another to go out there. Right now it does feel a little bit invincible, especially on the hard courts because we just really fulfill each other. I think it’s like what I don’t do as well, you do well, and the opposite. That’s how to choose a partner. I think it’s also the key. I feel like if I execute my things very well, he’s going to take over and do the rest of it. Like if I hit a great return, I know he’s all over the top of the net and he’s going to finish the job. So it makes me feel like, Okay, I do execute well, I’m done, my job’s good.

LEANDER PAES: But you know what’s actually special about you is that I’ve had so many partners, and as we’ve gone on winning Grand Slams and winning big things, the lesson to keep learning and improving diminishes a little bit. It gets a bit stale. I don’t know exactly how many Grand Slams you’ve won, but you’ve won a lot. To actually come off a match where you’ve won another Grand Slam here, to go out and say, Let’s go to the gym and do the hard yards, let’s do our biking, our abs and our back.

MARTINA HINGIS: Only because I have a partner. I don’t want to suffer by myself.

LEANDER PAES: But that’s really actually one thing that stands out. For a champion who has done it all, to still take that extra half hour after a Grand Slam win and enjoy the hard yards, to enjoy yesterday where we had booked a practice for one hour, ended up practicing two hours. We had fun.

MARTINA HINGIS: It was fun, yeah. It’s already two hours we’ve been out here.

LEANDER PAES: I think tennis, we’re so blessed as human beings or as athletes to have such a great sport, to have such a great profession. We put on shorts, we put on T-shirts, we have legends of the game going out onto a court in front of a packed stadium sometimes. People are paying top dollar in a hard economy. We go out and earn a living. We’re really blessed, you know. We’re really, really blessed. Thanks to you guys we get out there to reach our millions of fans around the world. Life has been very kind to us. We try and give back.

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: International Tennis Federation Sheds Light On Coronavirus Fight

Ubitennis has been in contact with an official from the governing body about the threat the worldwide virus poses to the sport.

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The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has told Ubitennis that health and safety of both players and fans is ‘paramount’ as they continue to deal with the evolving threat posed by Covid-19 (aka Coronavirus).

 

Tennis tournaments have been disrupted worldwide by the illness, which has claimed the lives of more than 3000 people. Although experts estimate that the death rate from Covid-19 is roughly 1% with the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions most at risk. Numerous outbreaks around the world have resulted in various ITF, WTA and ATP events getting cancelled or postponed across South Korea, China and Japan. Meanwhile, the final of the Bergamo Challenger was also recently cancelled due to northern Italy being placed on a lockdown.

As experts try to conjure up with a solution to the outbreaks, sporting organisations have been placed under pressure to do what they can to minimise the disease spreading. Heather Bowler is the Executive Director of Communications for the ITF in London. In an email exchange with Ubitennis.net, she stressed that the ITF is taking a ‘case by case’ approach to dealing with the impact of Coronavirus on their events.

“The ITF is constantly monitoring the data and information from the relevant authorities about the evolution the virus and reviews the situation on a daily basis. The situation is different in each country.” She said.
“We monitor WHO notifications, review travel restrictions issued by national authorities and consult with security and medical experts to monitor the situation daily. Decisions about specific events continue to be made on a case by case based on at this time.”

The organisation is responsible for all tournaments that don’t fall in the jurisdiction of either the ATP or WTA. This includes Davis/Fed Cup ties, junior tournaments and the Olympic tennis competition. There has been doubts concerning the Tokyo Olympics going ahead on time, but organisers remain determined that this will not be the case.

Italy has one of the biggest outbreaks of Coronavirus. At least 79 people have died, according an update from the country’s civil protection agency on Tuesday. At present there will be at least 10 ITF singles tournaments taking place from now until the end of April there. Four men’s, four women’s and two juniors. All of the professional tournaments will be hosted in Santa Margherita Di Pula, Sardinia. Meanwhile the junior events are set to be played in Florence and Salsomaggiore Terme (Northern Italy).

Despite the threat, the latest stance is that the ITF has no restrictions implemented on those participating in forthcoming events in Italy. Something that could change in the coming weeks.

“We are monitoring the situation on a country by country basis but have not imposed restrictions on players participating in Italian events.” Ubitennis is told.

Italy is expected to host their most prestigious tennis tournament, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Rome, in May.

Player fears

The uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 outbreak places player’s in an uncomfortable position with many planning months in advance of what their schedule will be. For those ranked outside of the top 100, any last-minute changes will likely result in extra costs and panic about where to play instead.

“If a player makes the decision to withdraw from a tournament citing concerns about COVID-19 they will not be fined.” Bowler stated.

There are ongoing conversations between the ITF and the other governing bodies of tennis concerning the ongoing crises. At present their advice is based on information provided by the World Health Organisation in relation to certain countries. Should it deteriorate any further, there is a chance the ITF could make adjustments to their ‘global policy.’

“We are in regular communication with the ATP and WTA. Currently, the evolution of the virus remains specific to each country and decisions relating to events are made on a case by case basis.” The ITF reiterated.
“We are constantly monitoring the situation and the data provided by WHO, as well as the policies and travel restrictions issued by relevant national authorities, together with advice from expert medical and security advisors. Should the situation evolve and the need arise, we will review a global policy.”

How the ITF could review their global policy is unclear. Although in a worse case scenario, it could advise players against playing in certain countries all together if it was deemed that the threat posed was too substantial.

No fans allowed

This weekend will see countries battle it out in the Davis Cup for a place in the 18-team finals later this year. One of those ties, however will be played in mostly silence with no spectators. Japan will host Ecuador in the city of Miki. In a bid to minimise the Coronavirus threat, organisers have decided to suspend mass gatherings of people. Something that has been seen at other sporting events in the country, which is set to host the Olympics in August.

“Health and safety is paramount. We will make the necessary decisions according to the notifications of the relevant authorities and our expert medical and security advisors. The Japan vs Ecuador tie at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Miki, Japan on 6-7 March will be played without spectators. This decision was taken in consultation with the JTA (Japanese Tennis Association) following advice from Japan Sports Agency and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.”

The problem with Covid-19 is the unpredictability at present. It is thought illness originated from a market in Wuhan, which illegally trades wild animals. As experts get to grip with the science behind the illness, the world of sport is left patiently waiting and hoping for a solution sooner rather than later. Especially for the world of tennis, which hosts numerous top tennis tournaments across Asia during the final quarter of the season.

Despite the mayhem, Bowler is confident that the ITF has the relevant resources to deal with whatever occurs in the future.

“We have dealt with many issues that have had widespread impact and most have their specificities. When dealing with such occurrences, we ensure that we monitor the data closely, remain in close contact with the relevant authorities, constantly monitor and provide information, and, in consultation with the relevant experts ensure we are in the best position possible to make the right decisions about our course of action.” She concluded.

Covid-19 Impact on Tournaments

ATP Challenger Tour
-Anning, China (Week of 20 April 2020) – CANCELLED
-Seoul, South Korea (Week of 27 April 2020 – postponed to August)
-Busan, South Korea (week of 4 May 2020 – postponed to August)
-Gwangju, South Korea (Week of 11 May 2020 – postponed to August)
-Madrid, Spain (Week of 23 March 2020) postponed to October following ATP’s agreement to the club’s request.

Women’s Tour
-WTA Xi’an Open (April 13-19) CANCELLED
-WTA Kunming Open (April 27-May 3) CANCELLED

Davis Cup

-China withdrew from competition in February
-Japan to play Ecuador without spectators

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ATP

EXCLUSIVE: Daniil Medvedev On His Saudi Arabian Debut, No.1 Dreams And Russia’s Olympic Ban

The US Open finalist sat down with Ubitennis earlier this week.

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Within the past 12 months Daniil Medvedev has gone from a promising future prospect to one of the top players in the world of men’s tennis.

 

Up until June this year the 23-year-old was yet to crack the top 10, win a Masters title or reach the second week of a grand slam event. Then shortly after the conclusion of the Wimbledon championships, Medvedev enjoyed an emphatic period of success to achieve all three of those milestones. Within a three-month period he reached six consecutive finals at tournaments ranging from ATP 250 level to a grand slam. Enabling him to peak at a high of fourth in the world back in September.

Unfortunately for Medvedev, his surge came at price towards the end of his season. Losing in the first round of the Paris Masters and then all three of his matches in his ATP Finals debut. Something he blames on mental tiredness.

Not to be disheartened by the loss, the Russian is back on the court this week. He is one of eight players participating in the brand new Diriyah Tennis Cup. An exhibition tournament in Saudi Arabia, which has on offer $1 million for the champion.

“I do think in the middle of a pre-season a tournament like this is good. You can’t just practice for four weeks without knowing how your game is at the moment. Last year I also participated in one in France (Open de Caen).” Medvedev told Ubitennis.com about his decision to play.
“This is how we (my team) decided to do the preparation this year and are going to see how it works out.”

Kicking off his campaign on Thursday against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, Medvedev enjoyed an emphatic start. Disposing of his rival 6-3, 6-1, in less than an hour. Whilst the prize money is undoubtedly an appeal for all of those taking part, the Russian sees this week as a golden opportunity to evaluate his game.

“It is going to be important to see how my game is right now in the middle of the pre-season. To see what I need to improve more, what I need to work more on with my team.” He explained.
“Obviously after my last season, I have a lot of big expectations for 2020, but first of all I need to stay lucid and take it all match-by-match.”

Future dreams

Medvedev and Gael Monfils – Diriyah Tennis Cup (via Twitter, @DiriyahCup)

Given his recent breakthrough, Medvedev is being mentioned as a potential candidate to one day claim the world No.1 position. Since 2004 only four players have managed to hold the honour – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. To add to the pressure, former player Marat Safin has backed his compatriot to achieve the milestone in the future. Safin will be the captain of the Russian team in the ATP Cup, which Medvedev is participating in.

“I believe he can be number one in the world.” Safin told Russian media earlier this week. “His all-around game… we just need to work on certain small things.”

Despite the backing, Medvedev is staying grounded about the prospect. Insisting that he isn’t ‘obsessed’ with the world No.1 ranking. At present, he is more than 4000 points adrift from Nadal in the ATP standings.

“I have been thinking about it (the No.1 spot) since I was six-years-old, but the thing is that I’m not obsessed with it,” said Medvedev. “For example, if I was 40 and during my career, I achieved a best ranking of number two in the world, It would not change my life completely.’
“Of course working hard and playing so many tournaments you want to achieve the best ranking possible.” He added.

With his eyes on the grand slams next year, 2020 also gives Medvedev the chance to make his Olympic debut. However, it isn’t as simple as that. Earlier this week the Russian sporting federation was banned from major sporting events by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) due to various violations. An investigation found that the Russian Anti-doping agency (RUSDA) deliberately tampered with athletes samples to hide positive tests.

The ITF notes that Russian tennis has never been linked to the controversy, however, players such as Medvedev will be under sanction. Unless the ban is overturned, they are only allowed to play at the event as neutral athletes.

“To be honest as a tennis player it is a little bit tough to talk about these things because I live in Monaco and we get tested in every country around the world. From 20 to 30 doping tests.” Medvedev states.
“I know what happened, but I don’t know how to react to it because I’m not in this (the Russian) federation.”

Asked if he will still play in the Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo, Medvedev cautiously replied ‘I think so.’ Although he is far from certain in doing so.

“Looking at this decision, it’s disappointing that me as a Russian player, who hasn’t nothing to do with this, will have to play without a flag. It is a little bit strange for me. I don’t know why this decision was made exactly so I don’t know if it was the right decision.” He concluded.

Medvedev ended 2019 with 59 wins on the ATP Tour. More than any other player this year.

Interview conducted by Alessandro Stella in Saudi Arabia

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Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: The Big Business Of Data Analytics In Tennis

Ubitennis speaks with the founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii, whose company is currently working with Stan Wawrinka’s coach Magnus Norman.

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Mike james with doubles player Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic at a Challenger tournament.

As tennis players head into their off-season, it is normally the same routine. A couple of days of rest followed by numerous training blocks to get them ready for the following season. They are guided by their coaches, physios and for a growing number with the help of a computer by their side.

 

With technology continuing to rapidly develop, the use of data statistics is becoming big business in the world of tennis. A method where players analyse the numbers behind their performance. Ranging from their service percentages to the average length of rallies they are playing. The idea being that their training is then customised to take into account those figures.

However, how much of a big deal is it?

Mike James is the founder of Sportiii Analytics. A company that provides detailed information on player’s strategies and patterns. They have a partnership with the prestigious Good To Great Academy in the pipeline and supply information to Stan Wawrinka’s coaching team. British-based James has more than a decade of experience in coaching and has previously travelled on the tour with the likes of doubles specialists Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic. At present Sportiii are working with several ATP and WTA players, but are unable to name them due to a confidentiality agreement.

“We are fortunate enough to be able to use Dartfish. Dartfish created a tagging part of their software package around 10 years ago. It allows us to make customized tagging panels or coding as they say in football or rugby. Essentially, we can tag or code whatever the player, coach or federation wants to look for.” James explained during an interview with Ubitennis.
“We are taking 30 KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) of information which allows us to take the data and move that into a strategy for the players and their teams to know what is working and what isn’t.”

Tennis is far from the only sport to be influenced by the rapid rise of technology. Although, is it really a necessity? During the 1980s with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, they both managed to achieve highly successful careers without detailed statistical information. Some would argue that they most important aspect is a person’s talent on the court and how they mentally cope with different situations. Not how many rallies they win in under five shots.

Although James points out that without services like his, there is a chance that player’s could be training the wrong areas of their games. Therefore hampering their own development in the sport.

“If we know the 70% of the returns are going back into the court in the men’s game, then we know the first ball after the serve is extremely important. Also, if we know that 70% of the match is between zero and four, the serve and return is vitally important.” He said.
“Players hitting 20, 30, or 40 balls in a row before they have a break. They are not training the game, they might be training the technical aspects of their game but they cannot train tactically playing this many balls without a break.”

A method for the many, not the few

There are still a few stigmas when it comes to companies such as Sportiii. Many would think this service would be something mainly of interest to coaches and nobody else. However, James reveals that this isn’t always the case.

“Of course, some coaches want to know the information, but we have players we deal with without their coaches because they are the ones interested. If it’s going to work best with statistics, numbers and strategy, you’re going to want both the player and coach fully buying in to this way of thinking. That’s going to get the best result for sure.”

Novak Djokovic has previously worked alongside Craig O’Shannessy, who is the founder of Brain Game Tennis and writes numerous statistical articles for atpworldtour.com. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev once said ‘all the big guys are using data analysis, they just don’t like to talk about it.’ There is clearly a market, but is it only for those who can afford it?

Despite the rise of prize money earnings, the disparity on the tour remains substantial. Rafael Nadal was the highest earner of 2019 on the ATP Tour with $12.8 million in winnings. In contrast, the 300th highest earner, Federico Coria, made just over $81,000. Less than 1% of Nadal’s tally. According to one report from The Telegraph, leading agencies in the tennis data industry are selling their top packages in the region of £80,000 ($103,000) per year.

“We look to do individual tailor made packages depending on a player’s ranking, age, experience, support team, if they are funded by their federation or if they are funded by private sponsors.” James commented on how Sportiii handles the situation.
“But at the end of the day, of course the first part of a player’s budget is for their coach and then maybe the Physio. But I think having an analyst or strategy consultant is becoming higher in the pecking order for players going into 2020.” He added.

The future

James pictured with Magnus Norman (left) and Jonas Arnesen (middle)

Next year Sportiii will officially begin their work with Swedish tennis academy Good To Great, which is located to the north of Stockholm. Regarded as one of the top academies in the country, it was founded by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillström. Their role will be providing information to those who use the facility.

“We’re really looking to steepen the learning curve and support their academy pro team. But also help develop their junior players they have coming through.” James explained about the collaboration.
“We support their team with educational workshops and I think this is the next phrase for data analytics. That will be going into junior tennis and not just looking at the top of the game.”

The desire to focus more on the younger generation of athletes emulates that of the ATP with their Next Gen Finals in Milan. An end-of-season event that features the eight best players under the age of 21. At the tournament, they use a series of new innovative methods. Including electronic line calling, the use of a handset to speak with coaches during changeovers and wearable technology.

There is no doubt that the new generation of players is more comfortable with the use of technology. But what does that mean for the future of coaching? Would it be possible that one day the profession could be replaced by a computer instead? This could appeal to those looking to save costs, however James isn’t convinced the complete removal of the human element will happen.

“If players are more certain and confident in knowing what they need to do, in my opinion the level goes up.” He states. “Then, if the level goes up, maybe we are not at the pinnacle of the sport seeing Rafa, Roger, Stan and Novak playing video game tennis. I think we are still going to get another level of tennis in 5-10 years, which is very exciting for the sport.”

It is inevitable that technology will have a greater presence in tennis over the coming years in some shape or form. The only question is where do you draw a line?

To find out more information about Sportiii you can visit www.sportiiianalytics.com or check out their social media pages.

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