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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Denis Shapovalov Handles Opelka To Reach Australian Open Fourth Round

The Canadian managed to get past his 6ft 11 American opponent in a match that lasted over three hours.

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Denis Shapovalov - Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Denis Shapovalov is into the fourth round of the Australian Open after beating 23rd seed Reilly Opelka 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and two minutes on Margeret Court Arena.

 

The Canadian hit 39 winners and served 10 aces while limiting Opelka to just 17 aces. In contrast the American finished the match with a costly 46 unforced errors as Shapovalov booked his spot in the second week of the tournament.

” I think I did a really good job against Reilly (Opelka) today and I took a lot of my chances and managed to get a read on his serve,” said the world No.14.

Both players were doing a good job early on when it came to holding serve and at 3-3 it was the Toronto native who had three chances to break. On his third opportunity broke serve with his trademark backhand winner.

However, that break didn’t last long for Shapovalov as he struggled to consolidate the break and ultimately gave the break right back with a poor service game and it was back on serve at 4-4.

The first was decided by a tiebreaker and Shapovalov got the crucial break to take a 3-1 lead in the breaker which was enough for him to take the first set.

The second frame was much like the first with both players holding serve until 3-3 when Opelka broke serve. He was able to consolidate and serve out the set to level the match.

The third set stayed on serve until 3-2 and the momentum swung back in the Canadians favor. He got the break of serve this time using his forehand to great effect and served out the third to take a two sets to one lead.

Just like the third set the fourth set had no breaks until 3-2 when again the number 14 seed broke Opelka serve again and that break of serve was enough for him to serve out the match and the win.

After the match in his post-match interview, he was asked how he was able to limit his opponent to just 17 aces in the match.

” It’s never easy against Reilly (Opelka) but I am happy I was able to pull through and make it to the next round”. He said.

Shapovalov will face the number three seed Alexander Zverev in the round of 16.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon

For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime (Manuela Davies/USTA)

Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.

 

The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.

The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.

It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.

The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.

The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.

The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.

For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.

Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.

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‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open

Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.

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World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.

 

The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.

Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.

“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.

A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.

O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.

“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”

Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.

“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”

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