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
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.
Andy Murray Surging In Confidence After Reaching First ATP Quarter-Final Since 2019
The 34-year-old believes he is getting better with every match played on the Tour as he eyes a spot in the final later this week.
Former world No.1 Andy Murray says he is starting to gain more belief in his game after reaching the quarter-finals of the Moselle Open on Wednesday.
The three-time Grand Slam champion rallied to a 6-3, 6-3, win over Canada’s Vasek Pospisil in the French city. Murray dropped serve only once at the start of the second set but broke his opponent four times en route to the victory. It is the first time he has registered back-to-back wins on the ATP Tour since Wimbledon and it is the first time he has reached a quarter-final since winning the 2019 Antwerp Open.
Murray showed glimmers of his best tennis recently at the US Open where he took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in the first round before losing. However, in his following tournament on the Challenger circuit he lost in the second round to world No.154 Roman Safiullin. Despite the mixed performances, the Brit says his fitness continues to improve and he believes he is heading in the right direction.
“For me, this period of the last few years has been the most I have played really,” Murray said following his win over Pospisil.
“My body feels good and I am starting to gain just a little bit of confidence with each match, starting to see the points and how I want to play them, which is great.
“There have been times in the past year where I have been a little bit confused and not seeing how the points are developing which was always a strong part of my game.
“It made me feel quite uncomfortable on court when I was feeling that way, so I am starting to get that back and the results are coming, my tennis is getting better.”
The 34-year-old, who now plays on the Tour with a metal hip after undergoing two operations, is targeting a return back into the world’s top 100 for the first time since 2018. He came agonisingly close in July when he reached 102. At present, he is currently ranked 113 but will climb at least four places following his run in Metz this week.
In the next round Murray will play either top seed Hubert Hurkacz or former top 10 player Lucas Pouille. Both players are likely to be a stern challenge for the three-time Grand Slam champion who is hoping to reach the final for the first time since 2007.
“I would love to get another opportunity to play here in the final, but there is a lot of tennis to be played before then potentially against the number one seed in the next round,” he reflected.
“It is not going to be easy if I want to reach the final, but I am playing well and have an opportunity.”
Murray has won 42 ATP titles and has earned more than $62M in prize money so far in his career.
Diego Schwartzman Receives Threats On Social Media Following Shock Davis Cup Defeat
The world No.15 is the latest player to speak out about recieving abusive messages on social media.
The weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster for Diego Schwartzman, who suffered ‘one of the worst’ losses of his career before helping secure victory for his country in their Davis Cup tie against Belarus.
On Saturday the world No.15 was stunned by unranked 18-year-old Daniil Ostapenkov who is yet to play a professional match on the pro Tour. Ostapenkov is currently ranked 63 in the world on the junior circuit. The comprehensive victory shocked the Argentinian team who was hosting the tie at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.
Despite the shock upset, Schwartman managed to redeem himself the following day when he defeated Alexander Zgirovsky 6-1, 6-2. That victory handed his country an unassailable 3-1 lead in their tie and secured their place in the 2022 Davis Cup qualifiers which will take place next March.
“Not only playing Davis, but in Buenos Aires, with a lot of people you don’t see, it’s not easy. My level can be and has to be much better. After the game on Saturday I had a difficult day in the spirit of being able to get up and enjoy with the group,” La Nacion quoted Schwartzman as saying.
“The most normal thing was that we won the series. It’s what everyone expected. But when you have a very difficult day at work like it was on Saturday and then you win, it excites you because you have some internal things withheld.”
Between those two matches, Schwartzman revealed that he was trolled on social media by some people unhappy about his loss in the tie. The 2020 French Open semi-finalist said he received criticism and even threats from some asking him to leave his home country. Something he admits affected him at times.
“It was one of the worst days of my career,” Schwartzman commented on his loss to Zgirovsky. “I lost to an unranked, inexperienced player. All that already affects (me) a lot. Although 80 or 90 percent of the people are always encouraging (me), there was a minority who criticized me with bad intentions.’
“I received threats, insults and requests not to return to Argentina. More or less, it affects (me)”.
Schwartzman is not the first player to speak out about online abuse. During the US Open Shelby Rogers said she was expecting to receive ‘death threats’ following her loss to Emma Raducanu who went on to win the title. Sloane Stephens has also previously spoken out about being the victim of racism online.
The 29-year-old says he has previously tried to interact with those who have trolled him on social media to find out why they are doing so.
“Sometimes I start to answer some messages and I ask those people if they realize what they are sending,” Schwartzman said during his press conference. “The vast majority apologize and say they had not realized it. But at the moment it hurts. That very ill-intentioned criticism is the only bad thing about social networks.”
Schwartzman has won four ATP titles and earned more than $10M in prize money so far in his career.
Spanish Veteran Feliciano Lopez Addresses Future On The Tour
23 years after he played his first main draw match on the ATP Tour, Lopez says his longevity in the sport has been achieved with the help of of some luck.
Feliciano Lopez has dismissed any speculation that he could retire in the coming weeks after saying he is taking life on the Tour in his stride.
The 39-year-old Spaniard is currently the second oldest player in the world’s top 200 after Roger Federer, who is a year older than him. Lopez made his ATP Tour debut at the 1998 Barcelona Open which was before the birth of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. In June he became the 10th active player to record his 500th win on the Tour.
Currently ranked 111th in the world, some are starting to wonder how much longer Lopez will continue playing. So far this season he has achieved a win-loss record of 9-19 with his best performance being a run to the quarter-finals of the Mallorca Open which was held on the grass. It was in Mallorca where he defeated Karen Khachanov who is the only top 30 player he has beaten so far in 2021.
“I play year-by-year, the last 6-7 years have been like this, a tennis player at that age cannot think about extending his career. After turning 30 I have been lucky, I have obtained the best results of my career,” Lopez told reporters on Friday.
“It is not very common for players my age, at (almost) 40 years to continue playing in the best tournaments.” He added.
Throughout his career, Lopez has impressively played in a record 78 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to the 2002 French Open. During that period he has reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament on four occasions.
“I don’t play to break records, what makes me most excited is to continue playing Grand Slams. For me, maintaining that record (78 consecutive Grand Slams played) is very nice, but more to follow. Being competitive,” he commented on the milestone.
“It is difficult for someone to overcome it because it is 20 years in a row without missing a great one. I have had continuity and enormous luck. Those of my generation are practically all retired.”
Away from the court, the former world No.12 is the current tournament director of the Madrid Open. Making him one of a few players historically to both be playing on the Tour and managing a tournament at the same time. Recently it was confirmed that Madrid will continue hosting it’s combined event until at least 2030 following a renewed agreement between the city council and the Madrid trophy promotion.
Lopez has won a total of seven ATP titles so far in his career and has earned more than $18M in prize money.
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