Challenger Circuit: Clay rehearsal for Ward and Edmund as they try to impress ahead of Davis Cup Final - UBITENNIS
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Challenger Circuit: Clay rehearsal for Ward and Edmund as they try to impress ahead of Davis Cup Final

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Can James Ward convince Leon Smith he deserves to play as the second singles player in the Davis Cup Final?

Yes the main season may be all but over, with only the Davis Cup and ATP World Tour Finals for the very top players to look forward to, but that does not mean that some very high class tennis is still going on.

 

The Challenger Circuit is a place where young players trying to climb the rankings play, old-timers trying to stay in the big-time, and even top players trying to recover ranking points after long-term injury. This week sees James Ward and Kyle Edmund try and gain some clay court action ahead of the Davis Cup Final against Belgium. Find out below where they’re playing and who they might come up against.

Events this week, selected ties, and predictions:

Bratislava, Slovakia: Lukaz Rosol is the top seed, but the draw also features the likes of veterans  Mikhail Youzhny, Radek Stepanek, and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Young players to keep a look out for: Elias Ymer, Mikael Ymer, (they’re brothers) and Andrey Rublev. Blockbuster match-up : Stepanek vs (7) E. Ymer (Wednesday)

 

Mouilleron le Captif, France: If a Grand Slam were to be played on current ranking, Benoit Paire would be seeded (23). As it is, he’s playing a Challenger in France, where he’s the top seed. In fact all eight seeds are ranked in the top 100, with Adrian Mannarino, Lucas Pouille, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and  Marcel Granollers, very familiar names. Pouille will be looking to regain points dropped in Paris. Look out for: Karen Khachanov and Maxime Hamou.

There was an early win for second seed Mannarino, as he defeated Jonathan Eysseric 6-2, 7-6. Jan Mertl and Maxime Janvier join Mannarino in Rd 2 as other opening day victors.

 

Oritesi, Italy: Just the top two seeds ranked in the Top 100 here, in Ricardas Berankis and Evgeny Donskoy, but that doesn’t make for a less intriguing tournament! Third seed Rajeev Ram is still trying to ensure direct entry into next years Australian Open, and a good result here would aid that quest. Also, see if former Top 30 player Dmitry Tursunov can make an impact as a wildcard after battling injury the last few years. Look out for: Salvatore Caruso, who is a young Italian trying to climb the rankings.

Aldin Setkic caused the first shock of the tournament, defeating the flamboyant Dustin Brown, who was the fourth seed, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3. No such problems for seventh seed Mirza Basic, who progressed after three sets against Yannick Jankovits.

 

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Clay runs just about all year either on the main tour and/or the Challenger circuit. This is good news for recognisable names such as Federico Delbonis, Diego Schwartzmann, and Guido Pella, who all excel on the red stuff. The real news in Buenos Aires though, is the presence of James Ward and Kyle Edmund, both trying to impress Leon Smith to back-up Andy Murray in Belgium. Edmund is the fifth seed, and starts with a clay veteran in Andre Ghem, whilst Ward has been handed a favourable tie against lucky loser Hugo Dellien, but could face Rogerio Dutra Silva in Rd 2. Should Edmund win, his opponent is already known, as Renzo Olivo defeated Tomas Lipovsek Puches 7-5, 6-2.

Potential shock: (1) Federico Delbonis vs Gastao Elias: Elias is a tough competitor on clay, and a nightmare first round match-up for Delbonis. There may be more than 80 places between them in ranking, but Elias has won two-from-two against Delbonis in the past, including an encounter on clay.

 

Kobe, Japan: Australia and Japan dominate this draw, with John Millman and Matthew Ebden the top two seeds. I’m predicting an early-ish exit for Ebden, who’s best results have come on grass. Perhaps the quarter-finals if he faces Konstantin Kravchuk or young Aussie Omar Jasika.

Look out for: Teenagers Omar Jasika and Duckhee Lee (Lee already won his 1st Rd match convincingly 6-3, 6-1 against Japanese wildcard Sho Katayama).

Blockbuster match-up: John Millman vs Duckhee Lee Rd 2 (Wednesday)

 

Knoxville, USA: The American Challengers have scarcely seen such competitiveness in recent years, but the likes of Taylor Fritz, Stefan Kozlov Jared Donaldson, Tommy Paul, Noah Rubin, Francis Tiafoe make the likes of Ryan Harrison and Bjorn Fratangelo look like veterans in comparison. A true goldmine of potential future talent this week, and that’s without discussing seeds Malek Jaziri, and Austin Krajicek.  Potential shocks (and there are truly too many to mention here): (1) Jaziri vs Kozlov,(Jaziri lost in Rd 1 of Charlottesville last week) and (3) Smyczek vs Paul.

Look out for: Noah Rubin – flown a bit under the radar compared to the likes of Fritz and co, but leapt up more than two hundred places in the rankings last week by winning Charlottesville Challenger (def. Paul). He starts with a tough match against second see Austin Krajicek.

 

 

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Maria Sakkari Pondered Temporary Sport Switch During Tour Suspension

This summer could have looked very different for the world No.20.

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Greek tennis star Maria Sakkari could have been preparing to take part in a completely different sport this week if it wasn’t for the Palermo Open taking place.

 

The world No.20 considered switching her tennis shoes for running ones amid the uncertainty surrounding when the sport would start again. All professional tennis tournaments have been cancelled since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the WTA Tour is restarting this week in Italy.

Although if it wasn’t for Palermo staging the eagerly awaited return of tennis, Sakkari reveals that she might have instead switched her focus to athletics in order to maintain her competitive thirst. Taking part in the Greek athletics championships. Her discipline of choice would have been the 100 meters which her fitness trainer believes she would have made the final in.

“If the Tour was cancelled I was going to compete in the 100m track and field event at the National Championships,” Sakkari told reporters on Sunday.
“Greece National Championships starts on Aug. 8. We were kind of joking with my fitness coach, but inside of me I really needed competition.
“There were rumours going around that the Tour would get cancelled so I thought if the Tour gets cancelled I need to find something. I’m fast, I knew I was not going to win it for sure because I’m not a professional. But yeah, I was thinking of doing that.”

Sakkari can run 100M in a time of 12.7 seconds but that is without both running spikes and starting blocks. Her idea stemmed from the type of training she was doing back in Athens during the tour shutdown. Although tennis remains her first priority.

“I started playing tennis on May 4th, but before that, I was working with my fitness coach at outdoor areas where we were allowed to work out,” she said. “I was running a lot. I think I was running more than I ever did.”

In Palermo Sakkari will be the third seed in the draw and faces Czech Republic’s Kristýna Plíšková in the first round on Monday. The world No.20 started 2020 by winning nine out of 15 matches played on the Tour with her best runs being to the fourth round of the Australian Open and semi-finals of the St Petersburg Open.

We’re back in competition so I’m blessed,” Sakkari said. “Blessed to be back.”

Sakkari is bidding to win the second WTA trophy of her career this week after triumphing last year at the Morocco Open.

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The Trial Has Ended: David Ferrer Is Now A Head Coach Of Alexander Zverev

The former French Open finalist is set to become a regular face on the men’s Tour once again but in a differnt capacity.

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By Emil Evtimov

David Ferrer is the new head coach of Alexander Zverev alongside his father Alexander Sr. The news was revealed by the world No.7 after his win against Felix Auger-Aliassime at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in Nice.

 

In the beginning of July Zverev announced that he and Ferrer will work together on a trial basis for two weeks in Monte Carlo. Now the German confirmed that the former world No.3 and Roland Garros finalist will be on his side as a coach at least until the end of the year. 

“The trial period is over. We are together. We understand each other great and now we are a team,” said Zverev.

Ferrer won’t be the first prominent name in team Zverev. Previously the three-time Masters 1000 champion worked with Juan Carlos Ferrero and Ivan Lendl. Since the end of his relationship with Lendl, Zverev has been trained mainly by his dad.

“David and my father are both my head coaches now. My dad doesn’t get any younger. Both are extremely important for the team.”

For Ferrer this will be the first coaching experience. His playing career ended in May 2019 during the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid with his last opponent on the court being none other than Zverev.

For quite a long time Zverev was considered the big star from the young generation but in 2019 was a bit overshadowed by players such as Stefanos Tsitsipas and  Daniil Medvedev.

The German began 2020 with a great performance at the Australian Open reaching the semifinals where he lost to Dominic Thiem in four sets.

Zverev is on the entry list for the first tournament after the pandemic – the Western & Southern Open which will be staged in New York to create a “protective bubble” for the US Open. The 23-year old talks also about the Grand Slam tournament, saying he would prefer it not to happen, although he is going to play at this point.

“It is a bit crazy to play the US Open now. I would prefer if it would not happen and we just restart in Europe. Because of the pandemic it is not the right time to fly. But when they host the open – what shall we played do? Especially when everyone plays’ it is about ranking points, too. At this point I didn’t think about withdrawing. If everyone reacts within hygiene rules and it will be similar to the NBA bubble it could work out.”

Zverev was one of the tennis players most criticized for his behaviour during the pandemic. The reason was his participation in the Adria Tour where he and his colleagues weren’t following the social distancing rules very strictly. The German gave a negative test for COVID-19 after finding out about the positive test of Grigor Dimitrov. He promised to be in quarantine for safety reasons but was seen partying a few days after. This caused a criticism from Nick Kyrgios, as well as a Twitter war between the Australian and German legend Boris Becker.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas opens up: “I Wasn’t Sure If I Was Good Enough”

Stefanos Tsitsipas reflects on how hard it was in the beginning of his pro career.

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BY EMIL EVTIMOV

 

In the latest instalment of “Behind the Racquet” world No.6 Stefanos Tsitsipas has shed light on the personal struggles he encountered whilst breaking into the sport.

Tsitsipas had a great 2019 season, climbing from N.15 to N.6 at the end of the year after winning the Nitto ATP Finals, as well as two ATP 250 tournaments in Estoril and Marseille. He also reached the final of the Madrid Open.

However, life wasn’t always so easy for the charming Greek. In his “Behind the Racquet” post, he recalls the times when he was playing Futures while doubting that he was good enough to play professional tennis. He admitted he was feeling “very lonely” and not having many friends on the ATP tour.

Here is the Tsitsipas story in the “Behind the Racquet”:

“In 2018, I broke into the Top 15 and was seeded in Grand Slams. That’s when I understood my potential. In the beginning, I traveled with only my dad. Now, I travel with my dad, mom, and three siblings. I’m the main source of income for my family. 

I have hobbies that keep me interested in different aspects of life. These activities keep me creative and are reflected in my tennis game and presence on court. Sometimes, I post things on my social media that not many people understand. These posts express my inner creativity. I’m just trying to be different from the rest. I put Stefanos’ twist on life. I am philosophical, I come from a country with a history of philosophy and I don’t know if I was Pythagoras or Socrates in my previous life, but I wouldn’t mind being either one. 

There was a time when I wasn’t doing well. I started to play futures and was doubting myself. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to play professional tennis. My country was going through hard times. Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy. The entire population was suffering. My father’s siblings were unemployed and couldn’t feed their families. People looked at me like I was the one ruling the country and they thought I was part of the problem. 

I felt isolated. I wasn’t home to see what was going on because I was traveling. I needed support. My mental coach shared his wisdom and inspired me. Then I said to myself, ‘You’ve dedicated your entire life to tennis, you can’t just give up. You’ve got to keep going.’ I play tennis to prove that my country has a great history and can achieve success. Tennis is a very introverted sport and we face everything alone. We have a team that follows us all over the world but I have spent countless sleepless nights on my own. All the traveling and competing causes a lot of stress and I grew very lonely.

I was an introverted child and I didn’t have many friends. When I first started playing on tour, I thought I would develop friendships but it turned out to be the opposite. Most players keep to themselves. I feel like players don’t want to become friends because they think someone will grab a secret from you to beat you. I guess they’re just too serious about the whole thing. Friends would make traveling less lonely.”

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