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.
REPORT: Grigor Dimitrov Appoints New Coach
The former ATP Finals champion appears to have found a new mentor.
Former top 10 player Grigor Dimitrov has found a replacement following the departure of Radek Stepanek, according to one Bulgarian news source.
TennisKafe.com has reported that the world No.20 is now working alongside Christian Groh. A German-born coach who has worked with a number of top players on the men’s tour. Including Tommy Haas and Taylor Fritz. It is his work with Haas that Groh is best known for. During their 24 months together, he guided him from outside the top 200 to 11th in the ATP rankings.
The development comes a month after the 28-year-old stated that he was in no hurry to find a new mentor on the tour. Back in May he ended his collaboration with Dani Vallverdu after almost three years working together. He made the decision shortly before he exited the world’s top 50 for the first time since 2012.
“I’m not in a panic right now to find a coach. I always think that when I don’t have someone beside me, it’s hard to train. However, in the past months, I have done things myself that I have not done.” Dimitrov told reporters in November.
“You need to have freedom, to find yourself, to become closer to yourself.” He added.
Despite Stepanek stepping away, Dimitrov is still in contact with eight-time grand slam champion Agassi. Agassi is not a coach to the Bulgarian, but has agreed to a sort of consultation role where the two talk with each other regularly.
Dimitrov has experienced a roller coaster run on the tour this season with a win-loss record of 22-21. At one stage he failed to win back-to-back matches at six consecutive tournaments over the summer. However, his form surged during the last quarter of 2019 where he reached the semi-finals at both the US Open and Paris Masters.
Neither Dimitrov or Groh has yet confirmed their new partnership on the tour. Groh has recently been working as a consultant for the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
Heading into the new season, the first test for the duo will be at the ATP Cup in Australia. As well as playing, Dimitrov is the captain of the Bulgarian team.
Groh’s coaching CV
- 2011: Michael Berrer
- 2012-2013: Tommy Haas
- 2014: Bradley Klahn and Taylor Fritz
- 2015: Tommy Haas and Taylor Fritz
- ATP/WTA Players and United States Tennis Federation Player Development since 2015
Since the publication of this article, Ubitennis has received some additional details on Dimitrov’s work with Groh. The editor of TennisKafe.com, Borislav Orlinov, confirmed it was Dimitrov’s manager (Georgi Stoimenov) who revelled the two will be working together. They are currently training in Monte Carlo, but will head to Australia before the New Year.
Rival Backs Dominic Thiem To Win Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award
Only two players have won the award since 2004.
For the past 15 years only two players have managed to get their hands on the prestigious Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award, but one player thinks there could be a brand new winner this year.
Diego Schwartzman has lent his support behind world No.4 Dominic Thiem. The award recognizes those who have conducted the highest level of professionalism and integrity on the ATP Tour throughout the season. Established in 1977, Roger Federer has won the honour in 13 out of the past 15 years. The only other player to triumph during that period was Rafael Nadal, who won it in 2010 and 2018.
“I think Thiem can win it, he showed throughout the year a competitiveness and a respect with everyone that was spectacular,” Schwartzman told ole.com. “On top of that he is having great years of his career and this season was even better for the achievements he had.’
“He has a good chance of winning it.” He added.
Schwartzman, who reached the quarter-finals of the US Open earlier this year, has also been shortlisted for the award. Along with regular nominees Federer and Nadal. Only once has an Argentinian player won the title, which was José Luis Clerc back in 1981. At that time it was known as the ATP Sportsmanship award before getting renamed in 1996.
“I learned first (of getting nominated) through social networks rather than the official designation that the ATP sends you by mail.” The 27-year-old revealed.
“It is more spectacular than anything for the players I have next to me. It is a very important prize that recognizes a little what you do off the court, not only hitting the ball.”
Whilst he is dreaming of winning the honour himself, Schwartzman is just happy that he has been nominated.
“If I won this award, it would be spectacular. Now I am on that payroll that is very good and represents the values that I try to maintain on a day-to-day basis and that (my coaching teams over the years) have taught me. It is very nice to be recognized for that. “ He concluded.
The four nominees for the Stefan Edberg Award was shortlisted by the ATP. However, it will be the players who will decide the winner. The result will be revealed later this month.
Multiple winners of the Stefan Edberg/ATP Sportsmanship award
Roger Federer – 13
Stefan Edberg – 5
Pat Rafter – 4
Alex Corretja – 2
Todd Martin – 2
Paradorn Srichaphan – 2
Rafael Nadal – 2
Kei Nishikori In Doubt For The Australian Open
Asia’s highest ranked male tennis player is contemplating when he should return to the tour following surgery.
World No.13 Kei Nishikori is refusing to rule out the prospect of skipping the first grand slam event of 2020 as he continues his recovery from surgery.
Nishikori hasn’t played a match on the tour since his third round loss at the US Open back in September. A month later he underwent a procedure on his right elbow in a move that brought his season to an early end. Currently undergoing rehabilitation, it is unclear as to when the Japanese player believes he will return to the ATP Tour.
“The prospect of a return from surgery on right elbow in January. Maybe February. In the second half of next year I want to be able to play well.” Nikkan Sports quoted Nishikori as saying.
“I don’t want to overdo it,” he added.
The Australian Open will get underway on January 20th in Melbourne. Should he miss the grand slam, it will be the second time he has done so in the last three years. Nishikori also withdrew from the 2018 edition due to a wrist injury. In January he reached the quarter-finals and therefore has 360 points to defend next year.
During his time away from the court, the 29-year-old has been kept busy making changes to his team. Recently it was confirmed that he has started working alongside Max Mirnyi, who is a former world No.1 doubles player. Mirnyi, who has won 10 grand slam titles in men’s and mixed doubles, will be working full-time with Nishikori alongside existing coach Michael Chang.
“I’m getting closer to retirement. I want to be cured and come back to play good tennis in the second half of next year.” Nishikori stated.
Despite the injury setback, Nishikori has enjoyed success in 2019. Reaching the quarter-finals in three out of the four grand slam tournaments. The first time he has ever done that in his career. He also claimed his 12th ATP title at the Brisbane International. Overall, he won 29 out of 43 matches played.
Nishikori will turn 30 on December 29th.
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