Vallverdu: “I can help Berdych to achieve what he’s never accomplished” - UBITENNIS
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Vallverdu: “I can help Berdych to achieve what he’s never accomplished”

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TENNIS – Vallverdu was Andy Murray’s coach for five years, now he works with Tomas Berdych and the two are set to meet in the Australian Open semifinal on Thursday. Spanish tennis writer Rafa Plaza caught up with Vallverdu in Melbourne ahead of this clash, and got all the lowdown from the Venezuelan coach regarding both players. By Bruno Bergareche Sans

AO2015: Interviews, Results, Order of Play, Draws

Read the original interview in Spanish here

Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray are poised to lock horns in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. If there’s one man who knows the keys to this match up it’s Dani Vallverdu. The28 year old Venezuelan is now working with the Czech player after a spell of over five years in the Scot’s corner. Spanish tennis writer Rafa Plaza caught up with Vallverdu in Melbourne ahead of this clash, and got all the lowdown from the Venezuelan coach regarding both players.

Question. Why did you end your working relationship with Andy Murray?

Answer. It was a joint decision. The World Tour Finals finished in London and two days later we sat down in his home. We talked calmly about the issue and reached the conclusion that it was the best thing for both of us. We’ve always tried to find solutions together. That was the nice thing about when we sat down together. We were trying to find solutions so that he could rediscover his motivation and win Grand Slams again. I’ve got a 15 year long friendship with Andy, since we were in Barcelona together. We worked together for over five year. In any professional relationship there comes a stage where you feel things are working or not. When we sat down, we discovered that perhaps they weren’t working as well as in the past. That doesn’t mean that we stopped being 100% committed to the relationship. We wanted everything to go well. It was a critical moment in Murray’s career because they’re the last three or four seasons of his career. As his friend I want him to reach as high as possible. And with the dynamic we were in it was going to be difficult to find that spark that was no longer alive. We’ve gone through a lot of good moments. Also through bad ones, which wear you out a bit. It was simply the right moment to leave it. In my case, to think about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to take my professional career. And for Andy, to look for other options that would ignite that spark once again.

Q. What does it mean to you to be in Berdych’s corner?

A. A personal challenge and a professional opportunity. I’ve got the chance to help Tomas achieve things he still hasn’t accomplished. And to keep him at the standard he’s been at in the last five years, which is also very difficult. He’s had a fantastic career, but there’s that sensation that he can achieve more. That’s the interesting thing about the position I’m in now: I can help him to achieve what he’s never accomplished. And it is possible. He’s got the level of play, the attitude and the determination to do so. There are a lot of players who have the quality or the capacity, but not the attitude.

Q. Are you ready?

A. I’ve acquired sufficient experience in the last five years after everything I’ve gone through with Murray, there have been a lot of important moments. Besides, my relationship with Tomas in these weeks has been excellent. We’ve spent few weeks together but our relationship has been good, fluid. I’m excited about what’s ahead. I’m ready to do it.

Q. Do they have similar personalities?

A. They’re quite similar. Introverted and respectful. On court, Tomas is a bit more reserved than Andy, but that’s normal. At that level, personalities are very similar, especially from a tennis point of view. The determination and hunger to in is very similar in both of them.

Q. In the quarter finals he defeated Nadal, who had got the better of Berdych in their previous 17 encounters. How did you help him?

A. After losing to Nadal 17 consecutive time, he learned a lot of things. When you sit down to look at the videos of their matches you discover a lot of things: you can see how he was winning the points and how he was losing them. We both sat down and saw some things that were quite clear and that he didn’t see before. Nadal wasn’t in his best form on Tuesday, but Berdych played an impeccable match. He didn’t let him into the game, despite the fact that he improved a lot in the third set. The difference in level was evident there. Things can change. Nadal wasn’t at his level in the first two sets, but at the same time Tomas was playing exactly as I wanted him to play. Berdych would have probably won the match if Nadal was in good form also. It’s down to the small details. Things you don’t see. And when someone shows you them you can see that what was happening is very clear. It wouldn’t make any sense if I told you what it is, but at this standard, details are very small. These players have been on tour for 10 or 15 years and see tennis in a clear way. They know each other very well and know the tactics for every player.

Q. At 4-4 in the third set, the Spaniard had two break points to get back in the match. Berdych didn’t crumble, which would have been the case on other occasions.

A. It could be that I have helped him or that he has learnt himself from what has happened in previous matches. Maybe, it’s a combination of both. The truth is that we spoke about that. He’s quite an open person, who listens and also asks questions. I’m not going to lie, we spoke about that mentality. He sent a message to the locker room: “I went through tough moments against Nadal in the third set and knew how to react quite well”. That’s what impressed me most about yesterday’s game. He knew how to deal with those difficulties. When you’re winning a match easily, it can turn into a difficult encounter. It’s complicated to adapt to the game and realise what is happening mentally. And Tomas did that perfectly. I’m very satisfied, especially with regards to the future. It’s a sign.

Q. Tomorrow, Murray awaits. “I’m not playing Dani, I’m playing Berdych”, said the Scot in the build up to the clash.

A. I expected it. I’ll tell you an anecdote. In December I was travelling to Europe and I said to a friend that they would face each other in the semi finals of the Australian Open. Both head into the game in fantastic form, both physically and mentally. I’m happy for Andy and Tomas. Logically, tomorrow I’m going to focus on helping Berdych to win. At the end of the day my job with him is to do what we did today: prepare the match, but when they play it’s down to them.

Q. He mentions in his biography that you’re the only person that knows what he’s thinking at all times. Does that give you the edge ahead of the semis?

A. A small advantage. At that level, players know each other extremely well. Tomas and Andy have faced each other 10 times. I will tell Berdych a couple of things about Murray’s mentality, how he takes on matches and what he will be thinking. But one of Andy’s best qualities, especially in matches against top opponents, is that he plays with a plan and sees if it works or not. From there, he has the capacity to change and execute other options. Not a lot of players can do that. I’m going to tell him how I think he should play, but he might possibly change half way through the match. That’s why it will depend on Tomas to find out what his opponent id doing in the match. It depends on them because I will be watching from the stands. My work ends today.

Q. The locker room agrees that Murray is playing more aggressively than in 2014…

A. Andy is playing like he did when he won both his Grand Slams and the gold medal at the Olympics. He’s competing with quite a balanced mould of tennis, playing quite aggressively, which has worked quite well. That’s how he has to play. He’s played a great tournament until the semis. His level is at the adequate standard.

Q. Is Berdych ready to win a Grand Slam? Is the time now?

A. He’s always been ready to win a Grand Slam. He’s proven that by showing his quality consistently. The matches he’s lost have been against the best players of all time. At this stage of his career, Berdych understands how to prepare for the most important games, especially from a mental point of view, he knows what is really valuable in these encounters. In the first years of your career you think about things that aren’t as important. And Tomas now knows what to focus on to be able to win these top level duels.

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Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro

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Image via https://twitter.com/RioOpenOficial/

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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