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USA youngsters rising fast

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Tiafoe is one of a group of Americans charging up the rankings

Tiafoe is one of a group of Americans charging up the rankings

It has been somewhat of a generation gap for the United States the last five to six years on the ATP World Tour. That could be about to change.

The last few years have seen an unaccustomed absence of American men at the top of the mens singles game. John Isner is the most recent American to crack the Top ten, but his success has been limited to world no.9 at best. Sam Querrey has struggled to return to the top 20, and Jack Sock is making slow but steady progress up the ranks. But there is a sense that an American has not been able to trouble the upper echelons of the games for some time.

Andy Roddick is still the last American to win a singles Grand Slam title, this came at the US Open in 2003. His last Final at Wimbledon in 2009 still represents the last time that an American progressed that distance, or even to a semi-final. Mardy Fish’s career rededication saw him become the most recent to attend the ATP World Tour Finals in 2011. His untimely illness saw him fall from tennis until his farewell tour earlier this summer, so John Isner remains the sole active American man with a Grand Slam quarter-final to his name.

Depth in numbers is also low. Accustomed to seeing double digit representatives for the USA has not translated into sustained numbers. Steve Johnson, Donald Young and Denis Kudla remain the current support act to the underwhelming triumvirate of Isner, Querrey, and Sock. Michael Russell has finally slid down the rankings, and the short -lived rises of Bradley Klahn, Tim Smyczek, and Ryan Harrison never really instilled belief as future Grand Slam champions. Depth looks like it is coming and maybe even Slam winners.

Much has been made recently about Taylor Fritz. For good reason. The young American has excelled on the junior circuit, winning the junior US Open. His recent run at challengers is no fluke, defeating Dustin Brown in back-to-back tournaments, and took his first tour win in Nottingham, where he defeated Pablo Carreno Busta. His ranking has risen over four hundred places in two weeks. Expect to see that rise further before the end of the year. More than that, expect him to join the top 100 before the conclusion of 2016.

Jared Donaldson received the ultimate endorsement of a young player in the off-season. He was invited to Dubai to be Roger Federer’s training partner. Donaldson also already a challenger winner, winning the Maui event earlier this year, and scored his first ATP win in Memphis. Donaldson has an aggressive game, though suffers from a lack of serving consistency, rarely serving above sixty percent. He is also prone to rants and challenging calls. This was particularly evident in his defeat to Fritz in the Sacramento final just a few weeks ago. However, he has improved on tour, adding Somdev Devvarman and Nicolas Mahut to his main draw scalps. He also beat Denis Kudla in a challenger last week. Improve the serve and there is no telling how high he can go.

Paul won the Junior French Open earlier this year

Paul won the Junior French Open earlier this year

Tommy Paul is a name that invariably has stood next to Fritz’s in Junior Grand Slam Finals. They split their matches, Fritz winning the US Open and Paul taking the crown at the French Open. Paul also won their only senior meeting on clay in a futures event. His qualification run at the US Open shows he has what it takes to mingle with the big boys, with wins over Blaz Rola, Jose Hernandez-Fernandez, and Marco Chiudinelli taking him to the main draw before a defeat to Andreas Seppi. A surprisingly good player on clay judging by career results so far, he has a bright future.

Francis Tiafoe may be more familiar than the likes of Paul and Fritz, but the young man from Hyattsville, Maryland is also making his steady way to the top. He’s beaten Paul, and has made Challenger finals. He also scored his first main draw victory over James Duckworth. Earning the USTA’s French Open wildcard due to Challenger results, he fell to Martin Klizan in straight sets. The result occurred in the US Open to Viktor Troicki, but Tiafoe will likely soon earn a direct right to Grand Slam play.

Those four may be the biggest names, but there are more wildcards rising the ranks for the USA. Reilly Opelka, is a 6’10 server who took the Wimbledon Junior title this year, and is now making his first steps on the seniors. Dennis Novikov is twenty-one, and finished with university is now making quick strides to the top. As an eighteen year old he beat Jerzy Janowicz in the US Open first round, before taking a set from Julien Benneteau in the second round. Back-to-back challenger titles suggest Novikov could be another shot. His opponent in both those finals was Ryan Harrison, who might be showing signs of a career resurgence after he stormed to the top 50 as a teen. Michael Mmoh is a close friend of Tiafoe and just defeated Harrison. Multiple Futures titles suggests he will soon be making strides in Challengers. Bjorn Fratangelo has sat tantalisingly outside the top 100 for over a year now. A former French Open Junior winner, he continues to get results on clay. Mackenzie McDonald is another college player who raises eyebrows every time he plays main events. He qualified for the 2013 Western and Southern Open, defeating Nicolas Mahut and Steve Johnson. He also beat Sam Groth in a 2014 challenger, and Tim Smyczek this year.

Expect at least a few of these names to join the other four likely to crack the Top 100. Can any of them win Grand Slams? It is too early to tell (my money’s on Fritz).

 

 

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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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Matteo Berrettini Looks To Draw Inspiration From Jannik Sinner

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner ahead of his comeback to the ATP tour.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner as Berrettini is continuing his recovery from his injury.

The former Wimbledon finalist has had a horrible run of injuries which has seen the Italian fall down the rankings as he is now at 124 in the world.

After suffering a horrible injury at the US Open during his match with Arthur Rinderknech, Berrettini was looking to make his return at the Australian Open as he was set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

However just before the match, Berrettini withdrew as he decided to delay his comeback to the tour as he will aim to return to the court as soon as possible.

If Berrettini needed any inspiration then Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open could be that much needed spark as the Italian beat Novak Djokovic on his way to capturing a first Grand Slam title.

Speaking an interview Berrettini explained that he is still not 100% and admits he is looking to draw inspiration from Sinner’s form, “I’m better, but I’m not yet 100%,” Berrettini was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

“The goal is to play the whole season, and without these setbacks which are destroying my body and my head. Sinner did a miracle. I will also use this energy for my tennis. I was happy with what Jannik said.

“We have a good relationship, which has strengthened in recent months. We are different but similar. We are pursuing the same dream.”

Berrettini will hope Sinner’s success will have a positive influence on his recovery and quicken his return to the tour as the former world number six aims for a successful return to the tour.

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