Novak Djokovic Below Par is Enough to Beat Tomas Berdych and Clinch Spot in London Semi-Finals - UBITENNIS
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Novak Djokovic Below Par is Enough to Beat Tomas Berdych and Clinch Spot in London Semi-Finals

Ivan Pasquariello

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Novak Djokovic puts together a similar performance to the one that saw him lose in straight sets against Roger Federer on Thursday at the ATP World Tour Finals. A below par Djokovic is though enough to beat Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5 in 1 hour and 29 minutes. The Serb was assured a place in the semis after winning the first set. Four of the top five ranked players on the ATP World Tour will play in the semi-finals.

 

 

He needed one set, one set only to be sure he would still keep his bid to win 4 consecutive championships at the ATP World Tour finals alive. No one has ever done it before, and Novak Djokovic’s run to tennis history is yet to come to a halt. After all, against a player like Tomas Berdych – whom he had beaten 2o times out of 22 – even a below par Djokovic was enough to sail through, securing at least one set.

Analysing the meaning of below par, even a World No.1 capable of only firing one single winner, to 8 unforced errors, was enough to win a set by 6 games to 3 against the World No.6. The truth is that Novak Djokovic was a dull copy of the player seen so far in the season, something much closer in its essence to the player who lost in straight sets to Roger Federer in London on Tuesday.

Unable to dictate the play, hardly moving as fast as we have seen him doing all year long, the first player to miss on a regular basis in 5-shot or more rallies, clearly the Serb is struggling to find his best self in London this year. After a brilliant performance against Nishikori in his debut match at the O2, Novak has hardly been himself again. Passive in his shot making, almost to the point where he doubts his weapons, the same ones that have let him dominate the tour almost unbeaten this year.

The slower surface of the O2 Arena should help the Serb create his “Spider Web” – as Federer likes to call it – but is surprisingly working as a counter-punch to the Serb’s consistency.

That said, even winning just 52% of the points on first serve, and a -7 differential between winners and unforced errors, only firing one single winner on his backhand throughout the entire match, having no baseline winners to his name in the first set, Novak has managed to find a way and win the match in straight sets.

Rather than a disappointing performance then, the Serb can see this victory as a blatant revelation of his superiority on the rest of the field in men’s tennis. Sure Berdych helped, once again falling victim of his nerves and melting like snow in the sun on the most important moments, once again unable to find the extra something he needs to take the lead against the top competitors in the sport.

Djokovic needed one set, and took two. The Serb may have lost his first match since August two days ago, his first indoor match in three years, but he still is in the game. Right after beating the World No.1, Roger Federer said: “I see Novak as the favourite to win still. He is going to do well against Berdych and then in the semis he will be the favourite to win the tournament again to me”.

And that same feeling spreads across tennis experts, fans and competitors. After all, Djokovic has built a mental invulnerability that tells him he can still find a way out even when things don’t look great, even if his tennis is not responding to the Robo-Nole commands.

Now the tournament presents the semis with 4 of the top 5 players competing. The Serb is the favourite, because when tournaments hit the latest stages, he tends to be the one finding that extra sparkle and fire to tore off the competition and finish on top.

It has been a recurring story this year on the tour. Now the Serb has to fight for history.

 

MATCH REPORT

 

Novak Djokovic (SRB) b. Tomas Berdych (CZE)

O2 Arena, London

RR Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

 

Head-2-Head = Djokovic leads 20-2

 

Qualification Outcomes

  • Berdych wins in 2 sets = Berdych advances to the semi-finals
  • Berdych wins in 3 sets = Djokovic advances to the semi-finals
  • Djokovic wins in 2 sets = Djokovic advances to the semi-finals
  • Djokovic wins in 3 sets = Djokovic advances to the semi-finals

 

THE FIRST SET

 

Djokovic breaks in the second game attacking to lead 2-0. In the third game, Berdych breaks back to trail 1-2.

 

The Serb has three chances to take the lead again, when Berdych misses an easy forehand long to go down 0-40. Berdych saves all three break points, one with a first serve and then firing two consecutive aces. The Czech challenges Djokovic’s backhand and surprisingly as the rallies grow longer, it is Tomas who gains the edge. Djokovic so far looks a very close version to the player who lost to Federer in straight sets. With another first serve, Berdych saves the game and holds to set the score tied at 2-2.

 

The Czech has another chance on Djokvovic’s serve up 15-30 after winning an impressive point at the net with a backhand volley winner. The World No.1 reacts right away to regain the lead in the game and the set, closing the game with a first serve. 3-2 Djokovic.

 

As the match continues in being a baseline battle, it is the Czech who seems more capable of finding aggressive solutions to win the rallies. Berdych is the first player to take control of the court, advances at the net at 40-30 and closes the game with a stunning backhand drop volley to set the score at 3-3.

 

So far in the match, Novak Djokovic has only hit one single winner and 7 unforced errors, compared to Berdyhc’s 10 winners and 10 unforced errors. Clearly the Serb isn’t playing at his best, but is enough to keep the lead in the set at 4-3.

 

As it happens many times, Berdych feels the nerves when the match gets closer to a deciding moment. The Czech from 30-15 hits first a forehand and then a backhand both just wide, to face a break point at 30-40. Tomas uses his first serve yet again to exit trouble. Djokovic however finds a sparkle of brilliance right when he needs it the most. The World No.1 attacks Berdych’s backhand to get another chance to break at 40-A. As a response, Tomas fires an ace, the 4th in the match, to get back to deuce. On the following point, Berdych kills a forehand in the net and Djokovic has his 3rd break point in the game. This time, the Serb breaks thanks to a terrible unforced error committed by the Czech. Berdych fires a strong first serve wide, but then decides to step on court and try to close the point with an airborne forehand which finishes in the net. Djokovic breaks and leads 5-3 to serve for the set.

 

Djokovic has his first set points up 40-15. While on the first the Serb hits a backhand long, on the second Berdych hits a backhand return long. Djokovic wins the set 6-3 in 42 minutes and mathematically secures his access to the semi-finals.

 

Djokovic closed the set with 1 winner and 8 unforced errors. Berdych with 12 winners and 18 unforced errors.

 

With Djokovic qualified, 4 of the first 5 players in the rankings reach the semi-finals in London.

 

THE SECOND SET

 

No matter the score in the set, the semi-finals are already decided in London for the Stan Smith group, with Federer advancing as first and Djokovic as second in the group.

 

The second set starts with 3 break point chances for Djokovic, who breaks at 30 and takes an early lead up 1-0. The Serb soon leads for 2-0 and it seems the match is heading towards the predicted finish.

 

Despite being virtually already out of the tournament, Berdych has a reaction of pure pride as he strikes full swing and breaks back to trail 1-2. The Czech continues to push the Serb and the service games of both players start to go away easyer. With Berdych holding serve to 30 in the 7th game (despite a stunning forehand return winner from Djokovic on 40-0) the Czech now leads 4-3.

 

Knowing there is not much more than pride at stake, the match fails to pull the strings of excitement. Both players manage to stay strong on their serve. Djokovic serves down 4-5, but wins the game with a forehand winner, his 10th winner in the match.

 

At 5-5, the World No.1 has a chance to close the match as he raises to 0-30 on Berdych’s serve. The Serb gets to triple break points at 0-40. On the first chance, Berdych catches the net on a backhand drop volley and the ball barely bounces in Djokovic’s half of the court. On his second chance, Djokovic attacks Berdych on the forehand, the Czech hits long and Novak closes the game to lead 6-5.

 

Djokovic serves for the match in the 12th game after 43 minutes since the start of the second set. The Serb gets to match point attacking with his forehand on Berdych’s backhand to lead 40-15 as Tomas hits a defensive slice wide. Djokovic closes out the contest with a first serve on which Berdych returns a chopped forehand in the net. Djokovic wins 6-3 7-5 after 1 hour and 29 minutes.

He advances to the semi-finals as second in the Stan Smith group, after Roger Federer.

Djokovic closes the second set with 9 winners and 8 unforced errors, finishing the match with 10 winners and 16 unforced errors. Berdych loses with 26 winners and 31 unforced errors to his name. The Czech has dominated the play, but has failed to win the most important points, yet again.

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Uncertainty, Anxiety And Optimism: What It Is Like To Work In A Sport That Has Come To A Standstill

From travelling the world for tennis to self-isolation with an uncertain future, Ubitennis sheds light on those in the tennis industry directly affected by COVID-19…

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Just three months ago tennis coach and tactical analyst Mike James travelled the globe providing his expertise on the ATP Tour.

 

The founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii Analytics is working with the team of former world No.1 junior player Miomir Kecmanović, who reached the semi-finals of the New York Open in February. James’ job is to provide relevant data to Kecmanović based on the matches he played and travelled to the Doha Open in January.

“The year started well. I was out in Doha with the team. Miomir made the semi-finals, he beat (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga, (Marton) Fucsovics and it was a really good tournament. He lost to (Andrey) Rublev, who has been on fire this year,” James reflected.
“The last tournament I was involved with was Acapulco and he had a great win against Alex de Minaur before losing to the champion Rafael Nadal.’
“He has had a good year in the sense of making good progress with his development and analytical side.”

Relishing in his job on the Tour, it all started to come crashing down on March 9th. A date that triggered the beginning of the longest suspension of play in the history of modern tennis. In what had originally been thought to be a serious health threat in China alone, the coronavirus swept through the world in devastating fashion. It is no longer safe to travel to certain areas as experts continue to research into a remedy to contain the previously unknown virus.

In light of the serious health threat, it was only a matter of time before the global sport of tennis would suffer. At first Indian Wells was cancelled, then Miami, then all events until April and now the suspension has been extended to at least July 13th. Leading the lower ranked players anxious about how they will make ends meat over the coming weeks. Some have already returned back to studying and others have embarked upon the online coaching.

James isn’t a pro, but he is one of the hundreds of behind the scenes workers affected by the suspension. At a glance, some would think tennis starts and stops with the player, but there’s much more to that. There are their physios, coaches, hitting partners and so on. In most circumstances, if the player cannot generate any income, their support staff will not get paid. The exceptions are those making big money at the top.

“My role is predominately based on playing matches on the Tour. So when he (Kecmanović) is not playing, there is not too much for me to do,” James explained.
“I am doing a lot of work behind the scenes with the game development and helping support him. But obviously there is a limit to how far that can go when he is not playing.”

Leicester-based James is not immune to the hardship despite his credentials. His previous role was supporting Magnus Norman for team Stan Wawrinka and other players he has worked with include doubles specialists Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic.

Fortunately, he and other British coaches has been given a lifeline by the British government and their pledge to support self-employed people like him. Although in other countries, it is a very different situation.

“Tennis coaches, physios and players are a self-employed entity. So everyone has their own individual case,” he explains.
“I’m from the UK and our government has been amazing in supporting self-employed people and furlong 80% of my last tax return.’
“I’m doing some online consultancy and a few other things to keep me busy, but the reality is my main income comes from the professional Tour.”

From worldwide travel to virtually house confinement

James pictured with Magnus Norman (left) and Jonas Arnesen (middle)

Like most of the world, James finds himself in lockdown waiting for the pandemic to reach a point where he can soon return back to everyday life. When that will be is unknown. Coming to terms with the prospect of being told what you can and can’t do it tough for anybody regardless of their job.

Perhaps the biggest issue a person may encounter at this time is their mental health. In one survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, 36% of respondents have said the pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health. These findings will differ between countries and even sports, but the issue remains very much a serious factor in all forms of life.

“Personally, I am going through positive and negative moments of emotion,” James commented on his own circumstances.
“The positive thing is that we are all in this together and the coronavirus is not discriminated against in any walk of life.’
“Originally when Indian Wells was cancelled there was a mini panic in my household. Everybody around me was saying why was I getting so upset and anxious. I was aware then that I could see into the future and the domino effect that could be happening.”

The tennis community appears to be uniting in order to support each other through these times. For example the top 100 players on the ATP Tour have their own WhatsApp group, but it is secret as to what they discuss. James himself is also seizing the benefits of technology.

“I’m over-communicating with everybody at the moment, I’m speaking on WhatsApp, Zoom, Houseparty and everything I can do to communicate with guys around the Tour,” he said.
“Everybody is trying to feed off each other in regards to what the Tour will look like when we come back. I think that will be down to the length of time the Tour is away will affect what the Tour looks like when it comes back.”

As to when the sport will come back, it is very much a case of the unknown. The United States Tennis Association recently published a statement saying they intend to host the US Open as scheduled later this summer. Something that former players such as Amelie Maureasmo and Janko Tipsarevic have doubts about.

James also shares the view that the current July deadline of tennis returning will not happen. At present there has been more than one million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to John Hopkins University. More significant for tennis, is that America is yet to reach its peak of the epidemic. A country that is currently scheduled to host no fewer than six ATP events between July-September.

“Do I think it (the tour) will be back on July 13th? No, because of the current situation. I think if it gets postponed until September and if the first tournament is the US Open, the issue with the tennis tour is that it can’t start back at 25 or 50 percent capacity with tournaments because it would affect the rankings too much,” he believes.
“The tennis tour has to start back fully – ITF’s, Challengers, main Tour. If that doesn’t happen then basically the Tour can’t start back. So my concern is maybe 2020 is now finished.”

The LTA lifeline

On Friday the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) announced a £20 million aid package to support players, venues and coaches around the country with the help of grants to players outside the top 100 (as long as they don’t have an existing governing grant). Britain has 11 male players in the world’s top 400, but only three of those are in the top 100 – Dan Evans (28), Kyle Edmund (44) and Cameron Norrie (77).

Support staff like James are also set to benefit from the scheme that aims to maintain the standard of British tennis throughout the ongoing crises.

“What the LTA did was unprecedented from any federation. I think it is an amazing gesture with them (the LTA) putting £20M back into the game. Supporting coaches with £4 million set aside. That will hopefully support somebody like myself, but I don’t know yet how much I could receive.”

It is understood that the ATP and WTA are also coming up with their own plans as to how they can help compensate players who have lost earnings. It is unclear as to if this will extend to anybody else working in the sport.

There is also another element to all of this. The Tour has been able to grow over the years due to their sponsorship deals, but with the economy taking a battering there could be more problems ahead.

“Tennis is a global sport and massively relies on sponsorship. From ATP 250s down. On the WTA side, it is even more. If there is a global meltdown the first thing companies stop doing is putting money in sponsorships. The longer this goes on, the more it will change the way the tennis tour looks.” James warns.

Light at the end of the tunnel

James pictured with Tomislav Brkic (left) and Ante Pavic (right)

Six weeks have already passed since the last ATP Tournaments were played. During the last weekend of February Nadal triumphed at the Mexican Open and Novak Djokovic was triumphant in Dubai. Undoubtedly those involved in the sport are now suffering mentally, physically and financially. But can it be possible that the devastating pandemic could have a silver lining for the future?

Tennis is a unique sport due to the way it is structured. No fewer than seven bodies are involved in the sport. Each with their own objectives and agenda. A situation that has previously proved problematic when it comes to reaching a mutual agreement. So it may be that COVID-19 ironically unites them once and for all.

“I want to say that it will be different for the better and I think if the organisations actually communicate and come together during this period and create more solidarity. I believe tennis could come out in a much better way,” James says with optimism.

So what could the future of the Tour look like? That depends on who you ask with various personalities in the sport having their own view. As for James, how the sport changes will depend on how long the Tour suspension lasts for.

“I think in regards to prize money, International travel, rankings, Tour structure that could all very well change. But this all depends on the length (of the suspension).” He said.
“If the whole year is written off there are a whole lot of people behind the scenes who have got to look at what 2021 looks like and how we get tennis back. Which is the most important thing.”

With people fighting for their health around the world, it all seems very trivial to consider what may happen to a sport in the coming weeks.

At the time of his despair, James does see the bigger picture. Whilst he resides at home, somebody close to him is in the midst of the covid-19 battlefield, providing him with a stern reality check.

“My wife is a nurse and they are on the front-line. The job they’re doing is unbelievable.” He said.
“I think I’m quite fortunate to be at home, safe and waiting for this to ride out.’
“You have to stay positive and over-communicate with people.”

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Coach Of Serena Williams Warns Players Are Leaving Tennis Due To ‘Revolting’ Pay Gap

Prestigious tennis mentor Patrick Mouratoglou has said the current COVID-19 pandemic have left some players in a dire financial situation.

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The coach of Serena Williams has said it is ‘revolting’ that players ranked outside the world’s top 100 have been left financially struggling due to the current suspension of the ATP, WTA and ITF Tours.

 

Patrick Mouratoglou has issued a statement in which he has called on the governing bodies of the sport to work together in order to find a solution to the current problem. All professional tennis tournaments have been suspended until at least July 13th due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike team sports, tennis players will receive no income during the suspension unless they receive money from sponsorship deals. Prompting some to explore other earning opportunities away from the sport.

The financial situation many on the tour are facing has been raised by Georgian player Sofia Shapatava. The world No.317 recently launched a change.org petition calling for support throughout the lockdown that has been signed by more than 1700 people.

“Players ranked outside the top 100 are barely breaking even and most of them are forced to fund their careers to keep playing professionally. Their lives are a financial struggle,’ Mouratoglou wrote in an open letter published on Twitter.
“Unlike basketball or football players, tennis players aren’t covered by fixed annual salaries. They’re independent contractors. They’re paying for their travels. They’re paying fixed salaries to their coaching staff, while their own salaries depend on the number of matches they win.
“I find it revolting that the 100th-best player of one of the most popular sports in the world – followed by an estimated one billion fans – is barely able to make a living out of it.”

Despite rises in prize money in recent years, there are still considerable difference in earnings between the top earners and those ranked much lower than them. So far this year four players on the WTA Tour have managed to earn more than $1 million in prize money. They are Sofia Kenin, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep and Ash Barty. Overall, a total of 90 female players has won more than $100,000. However, the further down you go the most dire the situation is. The 150th highest earner of the season made $47,411 and the 300th earned $8420.

2020 WTA EARNERS
1 – Sofia Kenin USA $3,012,043
50 – Marketa Vondrousova CZE – $139,164
100 – Harriet Dart GBR – $92,505
150 – Oceane Dodin FRA – $47,411
200 Kurumi Nara JPA – $28,469
250 – Oksana Kalashnikova GEO – $18,216
300 – Talaba Gabriela ROM – $8,240
Note: players are ranked based on 2020 earnings only

Mouratoglou has warned that some players are now being forced to walk away from the sport due to a lack of funds. Saying the sport has ‘one of the most extreme levels of inequality’ when it comes to finance. This year world No.1 Novak Djokovic has won $4,486,616 in prize money already due to his 18-match winning start to the season where he won the ATP Cup, Australian Open and Dubai Tennis Championships. The equates to almost 18 times more than what the 50th highest earner of 2020 made (Ugo Humbert with $252,793).

“So, what happens when players are forced out of work for an undefined period of time? Well, they don’t get paid,” Mouratoglou wrote. “Some of them are giving up on their dreams and are calling it a career.
“It’s been the case for too long. Although we have done away with the long-established male supremacy in the financial field, tennis retains one of the most extreme levels of inequality in any sport.
“The thing is, tennis crucially needs them to survive. Tennis can’t live only off its elites. The tours would atrophy.
“Because the tour is on pause for the reasons we all know, these players do not get any income, and unlike most top-100 players, they do not have any money on the side or sponsorship deals to live on.
“It is time to think about those players and help them, first in the immediate future, then in the long-term.”

What is being done?

There is yet to be an announcement about what will be done to compensate players on the tour, but some national bodies have already launched their own aid packages. For example, last week the British LTA announced a £20 million package that includes providing grants to their players ranked outside the top 100 if they meet certain criteria.

The WTA, who is in charge of the women’s tour, are also currently in the process of evaluating what to do. Should tennis resume in 2020, potential ideas include expanding the calendar in order for players to play more tournaments and earn more. However, they admit their is a limit to what they can do.

“We wish there was a way everyone, especially those in need the most, could be compensated at the level they were expecting, but the needs are so great and the WTA unfortunately is not in a financial position to do that,” the WTA said in a statement issued to Reuters.
“Professional tennis players are independent contractors and not employees of the WTA. As a result, a player’s compensation is based on on-court competition and when tournaments are not held this puts a pause on their principal revenue flow.
“The WTA fully recognises the challenges these athletes are facing as well as those similar challenges being dealt with from millions of people around the world during this unprecedented situation.”

Meanwhile, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi has reiterated that the governing bodies are working together to come up with a calendar for when the Tour resumes.

“We are currently assessing a number of revised calendars based on different return dates for the Tour, with the aim of rescheduling as many tournaments as possible,” Gaudenzi told The Associated Press.
“We are liaising closely with the other governing bodies with the common goal of trying to salvage as much of the season as possible once it is safe for the Tour to resume.”

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Simona Halep Issues Injury Update

The former world No.1 has shed light on a foot injury that had recently sidelined her from the tour.

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Reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep says she is now pain-free following a foot injury but is still yet to return to a tennis court.

 

The world No.2 last played a tournament at the Dubai Tennis Championships, where she defeated Elena Rybrakina to claim her 20th WTA title. However, following that she announced her withdrawal from tournaments in Doha and Indian Wells due to a foot injury. Indian Wells was later cancelled due to the covid-19 pandemic. An MRI scan concluded that the Romanian had tendinitis and inflammation in her foot.

Despite the setback, Halep has now returned back to running as her condition improves. Branding it as a ‘big positive,’ she gave no indication as to when she will try to pick up a racket again. Halep is currently in lockdown in her home country.

“The foot looks good and I have started to run already.” She said in a video uploaded to Twitter.
“I don’t feel any pain at all. I haven’t started to play tennis yet but being able to do the training means a lot and gives me a big positive.’”

During a recent interview with Eurosport’s Tennis Legends Vodcast, the 28-year-old confirmed that she hasn’t picked up a racket since February. Describing it as ‘the longest period’ where she hasn’t touched a racket.

It is unclear as to when Halep and her rivals will be returning to the tour. All tennis tournaments have been suspended until July 13th due to Covid-19, but many fear that the suspension will be extended further due to the threat of the virus. According to the latest figures, there have been more than 1.3 million cases of coronavirus world wide.

“I miss my team, I miss the players, I miss the tournaments, I miss everyone from the Tour,” she said
“I know it’s bit tough for everybody, this period.
“But if we stay home, if we stay strong and positive it will help a lot. I can’t wait to travel again, I can’t wait to play tennis again and I can’t wait to see you.”

Prior to the suspension, Halep has started 2020 by winning 10 out of 12 matches played on the tour. Besides Dubai, she also reached the quarter-finals in Adelaide and the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

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