Rino Tommasi Has An Answer For Everything: From Doping To Tennis, From Giorgi To Nadal - UBITENNIS
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Rino Tommasi Has An Answer For Everything: From Doping To Tennis, From Giorgi To Nadal

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TENNIS – Whether you’re talking about Camila Giorgi, Fabio Fognini, Nadal or Federer, soccer, cycling, betting, journalism or commentary, Rino Tommasi always has the right answer. An interview with one of the greatest Italian journalist; a talk with a great sportsman, a former athlete that all tennis players have come to know as the “custodian” of numbers. By Claudio Giuliani, translated by Lorenzo Dicandia

 

On the phone, when he invites us over, he is always polite, even when he suddenly changes the meeting time. “My wife invited our children for breakfast – actually our lunch e.d. – and I didn’t know it, could we make it in the afternoon?”. And so, reaching the heart of Parioli in Rome, where parking is precluded unless you own a Burgman or a Smart, which absolutely dominates the streets around Piazza Euclide. We enter Rino’s elegant house. Books, books and more books, ranging up to the incredibly high ceilings in these old houses made of wood on the walls and carpets on the floors, with silverware on display. He is waiting for us at the threshold of his study, while we slowly cross the long corridor, drawn by the pictures on the walls, the story of Rino’s life. He comes towards us. “That is Henry Kissinger,” he tells us proudly, while his gaze remains on the picture that shows him interviewing the former U.S. secretary of State; an interview that granted him also an award. All photos are in black and white and all of them portray him with all the most important sports personalities, but also with some Italian celebrities. A color picture of a young Boris Becker smiling to him during an interview stands out. Below, there’s the picture that shows him together with Clerici, Scanagatta and a cheerful Roberto Lombardi. “We were in Melbourne there”, he tells us, looking tenderly at the departed friend. We sit in front of him in his studio, with the desk invaded by notes and books to divide among us. He has recently published a book on boxing, “Muhammed Alì. The last champion. The greatest?”, but, who knows why, we aren’t that surprised in hearing that he is already working on a new project (“it’s going to be about the disappearance of provincial soccer teams”).

Doping And Liberalization

We immediately start talking about doping, a matter recently raised by the words of Camila Giorgi’s dad, who said that since everybody in sports uses doping we might as well legalize it. Rino is a precursor of this theory, although he is not that convinced. “It’s a complicated issue in the sense that, from a certain point of view I would agree with a more rigorous approach, and so whenever you commit a mistake, even if it’s for small quantities, you should be banned. But I’m also convinced that if we actually check everyone, nobody would play anymore. Therefore, I have never actually taken a position on the subject and it’s not because I don’t care about it. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, even when I was young, and anyways when I used to compete I would have never thought of enhancing my performances in strange ways. The problem, from my point of view, is economic: testing everyone is impossible. If we did it, rigorously, we wouldn’t get out of there.” Assuming that doping would be legalized, wouldn’t there be a kind of race among athletes in order to get the best doctors? “Yes, paradoxically we could have some tournaments’ finals played directly by doctors, “ he answered, smiling. “It is pretty obvious that from a certain point of view I would like to be ruthless in tests and so also in consequences, in the bans, but I also realize that maybe we would paralyze the sport by acting this way. I don’t have an exact idea of the importance of the phenomenon, but I’m noticing that it is getting increasingly bigger.”

Some time ago a book came out, “Champions without virtue”, edited by Sandro Donati, a former athlete and responsible for mid-distance races for Fidal, the Italian athletics federation. In the book he tells the history of Fidal and of Primo Nebiolo’s time at Coni (the Italian Olympic Committee), when they used to sponsor doping thanks to the auto-transfusions by Professor Conconi, because medals had to be won at any cost. What do you think? “The athlete often agrees, and he finds himself forced to accept these method because he wants to win, and because he also has the suspect that the others are acting in the same way. Actually even federations, when they find out about some doping cases, prefer to turn a blind eye. Some executives have built their careers on the false achievement of doped athletes.” Rino himself is a former athlete, a tennis player, champion of various junior tournaments, following his father’s footsteps. “My father held the long jump record for many years; he competed in the Paris Olympics of 1924 and in the Amsterdam ones of 1928.” Was it Evangelisti and his magical 8.38 meters in Rome, measure that was later found out to be rigged, to break Tommasi’s dad record? Rino laughs as he looks for the best posture on his black leather armchair with brown armrests: “No no, the eight meters benchmark had been already achieved by Evangelisti but earlier than that, and legitimately it seems.”

Doping And Results

In Italy, until the 90’s, there was a kind of resistance in facing the doping issue. Why? “The press was reluctant, because every person that does this job hopes that the sport is clean. If you take away the legitimacy of the results, the sport dies.” Sport dies, therefore, but didn’t it already die with the various cases of Di Centa, Bugno, Moser (with Conconi that flew all the way to Mexico City just to give him blood transfusion, with the excuse of anemia, in the race that earned him the track record), Cipollini, Chiappucci, Pantani and so on? Haven’t we already lost the legitimacy of the results? “I repeat myself: it is a difficult problem because the issue is complex. Maybe, I am almost convinced, that after all it is a lot better to ignore things, even though this would compromise the health of athletes.” Let’s get to how the outcomes are affected. How do you handle things when, starting from Ben Johnson and Armstrong, and getting to Juventus, titles are revoked? Should they be reassigned to the runner-ups? “This is an unmanageable situation. This is why I would instinctively go for a rigorous approach. But, in doing so, with strict rules and absolute rigor, it could really be the end of sports activity, given the spread of the phenomenon. Today even young guys take doping substances, even boys that participate in school events. In tennis there is the matter of time because you don’t know how long the match is going to last, while you know that 1500 meters are going to be 1500 meters. At the end of this thing I am afraid, I deeply fear, that we will have to give up. It looks to me like a battle that legality cannot win.”

Culture Matters

Donati however, tells also of athletes that refuse to take drugs. The problem, then, is cultural. “Definitely”, so, how can we improve? “Given that all the educational and teaching attempts are reduced to a mere recommendation to the athletes to do nothing, to be able to compete only eating bread and drinking water, then the reality is another. And when the levees break, setting a limit on what is doping and what it’s not, then it is, frankly, impossible.” Some claim that doping in tennis does not exist. “No, that’s not true. Some people resort to little helps, and then the players speak to each other in the locker room, they get advices from one another. Then there is always the fear of losing to one that makes use of doping. Nobody ever admits to have lost against a better player.” Yet players and associations, with the controls done at dawn and the introduction of the biological passport, feel fine. “They adopt these strategies to give the impression that they are defending themselves from this plague, but in reality they are not doing so. The tools necessary to make use of doping are available to everyone. For years, we have been witnessing the medicalization of the sport, even at an amateur level.” Jim Courier late in his career was going around saying that they were all doped. And if you were asking him why, he replied, “Because they run more than I do. No one runs more than me.” He laughs. “A cruel observation but all-in-all right.” What is your opinion of the Kostner case, the former skater accused of complicity and failure to report to the authorities in the story linked to her former boyfriend disqualified for doping, the walker Schwarzer? “The fact that there is a relationship of affection or intimacy does not absolve you from the complaint. It is a very much correct disqualification, every affiliated has a duty to report in case of illegal activity.” Doping or betting, what is worse for the image of the sport? “One would instinctively say that the worst issue is doping, but the other issue is moral, and it is the worst cancer but also the easier to eradicate. In betting there is a flow of money, so when you find them out, you can be relentless. But with the doping issue we are also talking about the health of the athlete and the credibility of the sport. Regarding the betting issue I am favorable to maximum rigidity, except that I do not think that there are players who lose on purpose: losing is against nature in the sport. “

Federer, Murray, Seppi, Nadal And The Doubles’ Slam

In his study Rino has the TV right in front of his desk, behind us, on the right. The images of the newscast scroll through the screen, muted to allow us to listen. I ask him if he followed the Australian Open. “Certainly,” he replies. “There were a few surprises. The results were very regular. I would say an ordinary tournament.” Is a tournament ugly when the main favorite wins? “Absolutely.” He does not agree on the idea that there is a revolution taking place, started by the success of Wawrinka in Melbourne in 2014 and carried forward by Cilic and Nishikori in New York. I ask then about Federer. “Federer is confusing me, he is resisting more than expected considering his age, but that’s all because of his talent.” And Murray, a recent protagonist in Australia? Here the expression of Rino becomes witty. “Murray is an interesting subject to be studied. Regarding natural qualities, I speak from the perspective of personal resources, he is a true athlete. He is one that is able to do 10% more on the day of a big match. Murray is one who can get excited at times, from an athletic standpoint. The problem is that during the year he loses 5 or 6 matches that he should not lose, because he obviously can not be always at his best.” Are we going to remember this Australian Open because of Seppi beating Federer? “It was not Seppi beating Federer, but Federer that can not play at his best because of his age.” But there was the big news of the doubles. “Forget it. No one plays doubles anymore, it is a consolation race. The good ones do not want to waste energy because they are not interested neither in the economic benefit nor in the athletic one coming from it and many of those who play it are not that serious about it, they just play a few matches.” And Nadal? “Nadal is at risk. In my opinion he can even get seriously injured. He pulled out all that there was to pull out from his body. He can also have drained his desire of competing maybe, after all he has solved the problem of life”, money.

Camila Giorgi And Italian Tennis

The star of the moment, also because of her presence in the first round of Fed Cup, is Camila Giorgi. What do you think? “She is a resource, she represents the new generation making progress.” Her father is sure that she is going to get to the top. “Her father is crazy, but in a useful way. He is a charlatan, but he raised this little girl, whom definitely is his creature. Camila Giorgi is almost a burden for the other teammates, for the relationship between her and the historical group, which, anyway, apparently are good. There is always going to be a bit of rivalry, it is inevitable. I do not think she has neither centimeters nor muscles to climb to the top.” The common vulgate says that she has to change coach to reach the top. “No, I do not agree. Her father is crucial.” Just like for Williams? “Exactly. Without her Camila is not going anywhere. Parents as Sergio or Richard Williams are bulky but fundamental figures. They exert a power that is beyond the one of the coach, or the parental, and this can be devastating but also vital, useful”. I tease him on the alleged crisis of talent among the males, at the highest level. “Talents exist. We have been fortunate to find Panatta, an extraordinary talent with a great hand”, he says, mimicking the gesture of the forehand with his right hand in the air. “Then there were those like Barazzutti, who through hard work have achieved results. Anyway in the history of Italian tennis I do not remember a player about whom we can say: ah, if he only did better he could have achieved great things. I can not find many players who could have changed much of their career.” Inevitable final note on Fognini, our best player. The jaw stiffens: “I do not like Fognini”, he says in a lapidary way, as if to say: let’s close the topic here.

Panatta, Tv And Clerici

You talked about Panatta, recently returned to the commentary on TV. Many listeners have branded him as superficial. “But he is like that. All in all it is not an entirely wrong attitude. Of course, Adriano, leans on his popularity. I don’t want to take the example of my case and of the one of Clerici, but let’s just say that we have studied more.” The problem, for him, is that television executives, are unqualified in the choice of the commentators. “What is lacking in many TVs, for example, are the leaders. Until I was there I got to work with Lombardi and Scanagatta, I mean, I am talking about two amazing commentators. Now, however, the concern of these leaders is finding the great name, to draw the attention of the public.” One last thing: who was a better player between you and Gianni Clerici? “I am convinced that I was better than him, but I cannot tell this to him. We never met in a tournament; I was stronger athletically, but he had more talent than me. “

Rino smiles amused, asking us how we got attracted to tennis. He seems interested, and after a more relaxed, easygoing and outside of the journalism’s boundaries chat, he talks bout his collections of books, of his hundreds of yearbooks on football and tennis that are sorted on the shelves. Well, if you do a search on something that is not on the internet, Tommasi’s house, and Rino himself, are your solution.

Translated by Lorenzo Dicandia

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EXCLUSIVE: Former Boris Becker Coach Bob Brett On The Rise Of The Next Generation

The Australian speaks to Ubitennis about the young guns on the tour and his work in Japan.

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At the Monte Carlo Masters this week is somebody that needs no introduction to the world of tennis.

 

Watching from the sidelines is Australian-born Bob Brett. A coach, whose career in the sport spans decades. His resume includes working alongside the likes of Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Marin Cilic whilst they were at the top of their sport. He also founded a tennis academy in San Remo, Italy and previously served as the head of player development for the British Lawn Tennis Association before resigning in 2015.

Since the days of Brett’s work alongside Becker, the game has changed somewhat. Power is more important than ever in matches and rallies are now more from the baseline than at the net. Something many has adjusted to in recent times. However, Brett believes there are also drawbacks too for the rising stars.

“Now it’s a little bit random I think with the next generation coming up because the game is different.” He said during an interview with Ubitennis. “Before with the ball there was much more trajectory and different things. There were more different opportunities with that to use a drop shot and all sorts of things.’
“Whereas today it is more a less about staying near the baseline, hitting the ball hard, straight and trying to get the winners.”

Few can dispute Brett’s wealth of experience, which amounts to almost 25 years on the ATP Tour. He has seen player’s come and go, but it is the new generation that is intriguing him the most.

“I think definitely (Stefanos) Tsitsipas and (Daniil) Medvedev are players who are coming along.” He stated.
“It’s really interesting for me to come and watch so many players and see how their improvements have been.’
“I think Felix (Auger-Aliassime) and (Denis) Shapovalov are very interesting. To see how they can actually expand in their game is the thing that I think is interesting.”

Despite his expertise, Brett has not made any indication of wanting to work alongside a rising star of the men’s game. When asked directly who would be the ideal Next Gen member for him to coach, the Australian diplomatically sidestepped the question. Although he isn’t afraid to tell them how it is.

“When I watch them, in my thoughts there is something that could be a little bit better here and there.” He explained without mentioning any names.
“I have seen some players and I know that they will need to change (their game). I have even told some of those.”

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In Brett’s home country, it is Alex de Minaur who is the brightest prospect. At the age of 20 he has already reached three ATP finals, winning his maiden title at the Sydney International in January. In 2018 he was named newcomer of the year at the annual ATP awards.

De Minaur’s offensive in recent weeks has been halted by a groin injury. Since the Australian Open, he has only been able to play in two tournaments. Reaching the quarter-finals in Acapulco before losing his opening match in Indian Wells.

“He played very well until around the ranking of 24 and he is a very good runner.” Brett commented of his compatriot. “He’s going to need to have a little bit more punch (in his shot-making). Not necessarily forcing it (his shots), but also where to play the ball around the court.’
“It is not always about chasing the ball and I think it would be a bit better if he had a bit more variety.”

At present, Brett’s work takes him to Japan. A country which welcomed their first world No.1 earlier this year in the form of Naomi Osaka. However, Osaka is mainly based in America. Brett has worked in the Asian country for many years alongside both former and current stars of Japanese men’s tennis. The most notable being Shuzo Matsuoka, who achieved a ranking best of 46th in 1992.

“What I really enjoy is trying to get player’s to become better. With the young children and trying to make it a big difference for the Japanese because there was a sort of flat level, and I think they are getting much better with that.” He said.
“They are coming up with a completely different style of what they are playing.”

Brett spends 20 weeks a year working in Japan. His current focus is on the junior players.

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EXCLUSIVE: ITF Open To Allowing Ranking Points At The Olympics, But No Change In Eligibility Policy

Ubitennis has contacted the governing body following their recent announcement concerning the change in format of the Olympic tennis competition.

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The Rio Olympic Tennis Centre, venue of the 2016 Olympic Tennis competition (image via wikimedia.org)

There is a chance that players could earn ranking points at future Olympic Games, according to the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

 

Earlier this week the ITF announced two key changes to the Olympic competition that will come into effect at next year’s Tokyo Games. The men’s final has been shortened to a best-of-three set match to keep it in line with the other rounds. Breaking away with tradition. The gold medal match had always been a best-of-five encounter since the sport was reintroduced back into the Olympics in 1988. Meanwhile, in the doubles the final set will be replaced by a 10-point tiebreaker.

The changes have come into effect following ‘issues of a congested schedule’ that were raised during the 2016 Rio Olympics. During the decision making process, feedback was generated from players on the tour and former Olympians.

“The decision was taken bearing in mind that the Olympic Tennis Event takes place over nine days and a number of players have indicated their desire to compete in all three events – singles, doubles and mixed doubles – for the opportunity to win three medals.” The ITF told Ubitennis.
“The decision aligns all matches for a single consistent format for the Olympic Tennis Event, and addresses overplay for those players who play all three events. The ITF’s decision-making process that led to changes in the Olympic Tennis Event format included gathering feedback from players, former Olympians, tournament directors and officials.’
“Taking this feedback into consideration, the ITF Olympic Committee presented a motion to the ITF Board for review and approval. These changes are designed for consistency, player welfare and to ensure players can achieve their goals as they compete for their nation in the largest and most iconic multi-sport event in the world.”

The revamp has generated a mixed response from the world of tennis with many fans criticising the move to shorten matches. It is not the first time the ITF has done away with the best-of-five format. The same has been done with the Davis Cup finals, which from this year feature 18 teams participating over in a week-long competition.

“We understand that change is not always easy and we respect people’s opinions. We expected there would be a reaction – positive and negative.” The governing body said.

The future

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One change that has failed to occur is awarding ranking points to those who participate in the tournament. A move some believe will help attract more top players to the event. During Rio 2016 Novak Djokovic called for points to be rewarded to those participating in ‘arguably the fifth Grand Slam.’ Meanwhile Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis once told The New York Times ‘I really don’t like that in Olympic Games there is no points and no prize money. It’s a little bit like tennis tourism.”

The reason why no points are given is because the ITF is separate to that of the ATP and WTA. Therefore, they have no control over the allocation of points. However, it is possible that an agreement could be achieved one day between all three.

“Currently, the WTA and ATP do not award points for the Olympic Qualification Pathway. We (the ITF) are always open to discussion on the matter.”

 

Perhaps even more debatable is the current Olympic eligibility criteria. A system that is based on a player’s commitment to their country’s Fed or Davis Cup ties. In order to be eligible, players must participate in three ties during an Olympic cycle. This is reduced to two ties depending on the length of service or the zone group round robin criteria as specified in the eligibility rule.

It is unlikely that the ITF would want to change this policy. For them, it is their top leverage used to attract players to participate in the team tournaments. Especially the Davis Cup, which has gone through a highly controversial revamp. When questioned if they would change the rule in the future, the ITF declined to give a yes or no answer.

“National Olympic Committees wishing to nominate a player who has not yet met the minimum requirement has the right to appeal.” They state. “Each case is specific, but will be considered based on a combination of factors, such as, the depth of the player field available to play for their country, injuries, history and Davis Cup / Fed Cup / Olympic competition record.”

The 2020 Olympic Tennis tournament in Tokyo will take place from July 25th.

Who won medals at the 2016 Games?

Event Gold Silver Bronze
Men’s singles Great Britain (GBR)
Andy Murray
 
Argentina  (ARG)
Juan Martín del Potro
 Japan (JPA)
Kei Nishikori
Men’s doubles  Spain (ESP)
Marc López
Rafael Nadal
 Romania (ROU)
Florin Mergea
Horia Tecău
 United States (USA)
Steve Johnson
Jack Sock
Women’s singles  Puerto Rico (PUR)
Monica Puig
Germany (GER)
Angelique Kerber
 Czech Republic (CZE)
Petra Kvitová
Women’s doubles Russia (RUS)
Ekaterina Makarova
Elena Vesnina
Switzerland (SUI)
Timea Bacsinszky
Martina Hingis
Czech Republic (CZE)
Lucie Šafářová
Barbora Strýcová
Mixed doubles  United States (USA)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Jack Sock
 United States (USA)
Venus Williams
Rajeev Ram
 Czech Republic (CZE)
Lucie Hradecká
Radek Stepanek

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Exclusive: After Injury Woe, Kevin Anderson Aims To Inspire In Hunt For Elusive Grand Slam Title

The world No.7 spoke to Ubitennis earlier this week at the Miami Open.

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Embarking upon this year’s Miami Open, two-time grand slam finalist Kevin Anderson felt at home and with good reason.

 

Since he started playing tennis at the age of six, the 6’8” South African has spent most of his career based in America. Growing up, he represented the University of Illinois. Winning the NCAA doubles title in 2006 followed by reaching the final of the singles competition a year later. It was at university where Anderson would meet his future wife, Kelsey, who he married in 2011. The two now reside in Gulf Stream, Florida. An affluent area of Delray Beach that is only an hour’s drive away from the Miami Open.

“Walking onto the court I felt like there was a lot of people that was excited to see me play and that really felt good.” Anderson commented about his first taste of the new venue.
“At the end of the day, it’s the fans that drive our sport and I’ve worked really hard.” He added.

Relishing in the atmosphere of a place that feels like home, Anderson is known as a player that wants to be respected both on and off the court. He is the co-founder of Realife Tennis, which provides online tennis instructions. In December Anderson raised over $100,000 at the inaugural Grand Slam Cause For the Paws, which supports South Florida’s dog rescue Dezzy’s Second Chance and Ocean Conservancy.

“I always act and perform in a way that people can look up to me, especially kids.”

It was in Miami, where Anderson made his debut in a Masters tournament. At the age of 22 he reached the third round of the 2008 tournament as a qualifier. Getting knocked out by 31st seed Igor Andreev. This year is the first time the venue has moved to the Hard Rock Stadium from Key Biscayne. Forcing many to adapt to the changes, but Anderson hasn’t been too preoccupied with that.

“It’s been interesting because I haven’t played that many points or sets. I was more focused on how my elbow was feeling and how my body was feeling.” He admits.
“To be honest, I haven’t been playing a lot of attention to the court. Whereas, when your body is healthy you are paying attention to the balls and court surface.”

Injury woes

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Unfortunately for the South African, 2019 has been far from perfect. An elbow injury forced him to take a nine-week hiatus from the tour. Making Miami only his third tournament of the year played. To put that into perspective, 12 months ago Miami was his sixth event of the season.

Sometimes taking a break from the sport is a blessing in disguise. The brutal demands of travelling the ATP Tour can take its toll of many players regardless of their ranking. However, for Anderson it wasn’t entirely a blessing. Instead, he was in the midst of uncertainty and frustration.

“At the time I didn’t know how long I was going to be out for.” He explained. “Each day was spent training. I was training in the morning, during rehab and going to different places to get different types of therapies. It wasn’t like I was told that I needed to take three or four weeks off to go on holiday.’
“It was nice spending time at home, but it was really busy.”

Like for any other player, Anderson’s inability to play a sport that he earns a living from was frustrating. Although he had seen a silver lining.

“It didn’t necessarily feel like a break. There were tough times, I was missing tournaments that I really enjoyed playing. So that part was a little bit difficult. Mentally, I felt I handled it quite well.”

Ready to make a mark

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Twice Anderson has been on the verge of becoming the first South African to win a major title in singles since Johan Kriek back in 1981. Losing to Rafael Nadal in the 2017 US Open final and then Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year. Although Anderson’s performance against Djokovic was hindered by his marathon clash with John Isner in the match before that lasted more than six-and-a-half hours. An outcome that created a widespread debate over the use of tiebreakers in the final sets.

Hoping to turn his misfortunes around this year, the world No.7 has his eyes set on a strong clay-court swing, which begins after Miami.  He is yet to contest a final on the surface, but remains undeterred about his chances.

“Even heading into the clay court season, it’s a time of the year that I really enjoy.” The Optimistic South African explains. “I’ve made the semis in Madrid last year and I’ve been pretty close to the quarter-finals at the French Open.”

Whilst clay may not be the strongest surface for the fast-serving Anderson, his determination remains unchanged. Now nursing his elbow back to full health, it is expected that he will pose a big threat to the tour once again.

“For me right now it’s one step at a time. Making sure I’m progressing where I want to be with the elbow. It’s about getting matches and playing the tennis I want to be playing.” Anderson outlines.
“I got high hopes. Right now it is about focusing day in and day out. Making sure my elbow responds during match situations..

Anderson will play his fourth round match in Miami on Tuesday against Jordan Thompson.

NOTE: Interview conducted by Luca Baldissera, article written by Adam Addicott

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