10 intriguing ties of the Australian Open Men's First Round (5-1) - UBITENNIS
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10 intriguing ties of the Australian Open Men’s First Round (5-1)

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Andy Murray has a tough test against Alexander Zverev (image via olympictennis.net)

Continued from yesterday’s article, I finish the countdown of ten interesting matches from the first round with my top 5 highlighted matches.

 

5. Dan Evans vs Feliciano Lopez (18): This list of some matches that could provide shocks would not be complete without mentioning Dan Evans. After all, the Briton is very talented, and a strong hard-court player. His run at the 2013 US Open saw him defeat Bernard Tomic and Kei Nishikori, who would play in the final of the 2014 US Open. Evans has had issues with commitment, notably failing to turn up to a Futures tournament with no explanation, but he has a chance against veteran Feliciano Lopez. Lopez epitomises the exact opposite of stereotypes for Spanish players. Sure, he may not be bad on clay, but he excels on grass. A wicked left-handed serve followed by an eagerness to get to the net is a distinct trait of the 2014 Queens Finalist. Lopez is now though a veteran on the ATP Tour, and has spells where he plays beneath his ranking of no.19. Lopez played an epic five-setter in the Australian Open first-round last year, forced to save match points against Denis Kudla. If Lopez plays at a level similar to that day, then Evans, who beat top seed Luca Vanni in qualifying, has more than just a fleeting chance. Pick: Evans in four sets.

4. Taylor Fritz vs Jack Sock (25): Okay, so we like Taylor Fritz on this site. But there is a good reason for that. Players like Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev have taken plaudits for the way they have taken to professional tennis with consummate ease, and those two play an exciting, attacking brand of tennis. But Fritz is perhaps the most rounded player, even when compared to Zverev and Coric. He has a nice if not dominating serve, defends well, and has a never-say-die tenacity about his game. Take the fact that he was down love-four in the deciding set against Mischa Zverev, having spurned a lead in the second set tiebreak. He came back and won the last six games, this against a big-serving German in Zverev. Wins against Dustin Brown, including one where he saved more than fifteen break points, shows he can deal with big-servers. Having said that, Jack Sock could well be a step too far. The American number two is arguably the most complete American on tour at the moment, if you compare his game to everything John Isner possesses, Sock wins everywhere except serve, and Sock’s serve has improved a lot. Sock proved he’s in the form of his career with wins over Kevin Anderson and David Ferrer in Auckland, and he could be in for a career-run at a grand slam. No matter the result, the match is significant just to see two of American tennis’ finest talents meet for the first time. Pick: Sock in straight sets.

3. Alexander Zverev vs Andy Murray (2). A lot of people like the young German Zverev and why not? The 6’6 German is part of a new generation of tennis stars. He naturally has a big serve and a good forehand, but he has not displayed yet the kind of game to beat the top players consistently, his over No.14 Kevin Anderson in Washington DC last year, and a win over No. 19 Mikhail Youzhny in 2014 represent his only two wins over top thirty players. Andy Murray does have the birth of his first child looming, and that could prove a distraction. However, Murray is professional enough to deal with it and he has an excellent record over big-servers. He is noted as being perhaps the second-best returner in the game, and his ability to potentially neutralise Zverev’s biggest asset does not bode well for the young German. Pick: Murray in straight sets.

2. Philipp Kohlscreiber vs Kei Nishikori (7). Philipp Kohlscreiber must be the unluckiest player when it comes to drawing seeds in early rounds, unless your name is Ryan Harrison. The German is more accustomed to being seeded himself, but is unlucky to miss out at this event, ranked this week at no.34. His reward is a meeting with seventh seed Kei Nishikori. The last time Kohlscreiber failed to gain a seeding he was ranked no.33 at Wimbledon in 2015 and drew Novak Djokovic in the first round. This one though while tough, does hand him at least a chance of causing the upset. Nishikori is a very good player, still in that zone just behind the likes of Djokovic, Federer, Murray, and Wawrinka, but still comfortably ahead of most others. That said, his 2015 season was very inconsistent, highlighted by early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open. He did pick up titles at other points of the year though. These two have net met before, and with inconsistencies highlighted in Nishikori’s form, Kohlschreiber surely fancies his chances. Pick: Nishikori in five sets.

1. Rafael Nadal (5) vs Fernando Verdasco: Those whose memories stretch back to the 2009 Australian Open semi-finals will remember a match that stands up there as one of the greatest semi-finals in Australian Open history. Nadal defeated an inspired Verdasco in five sets that day, in a match featuring sublime tennis from both men. It might be unrealistic to expect the same to happen this year, though the match will certainly be entertaining. Verdasco has suffered a dramatic loss of consistency since that incredible run, and Nadal is coming off the back of a very uncertain 2015 season. Nadal is still one of the game’s best and though Verdasco does not produce form like that which saw him finish 2009 in the top ten, he still produces flashes. Errors are perhaps going to be as much the decider in this match as sensational rallies. A win for Verdasco could see him lose badly in the second round, that is just the nature of his game these days. A loss for Nadal, whose confidence is still fragile despite some return to form at the end of 2015, could be disastrous. Pick: Nadal in four sets.

Highlights of the fourth set tiebreak between Nadal and Verdasco in 2009.

 

Honourable mentions: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a tough match against Marcos Baghdatis. This did not make my countdown because Tsonga leads the Head-to-head 5-0, and Baghdatis has not been past the third round of a slam for six years. But its Marcos Baghdatis. I still predict Tsonga to win.

Gilles Simon will not enjoy taking on Vasek Pospisil in the opening round. The Canadian has a good serve, and Simon suffered an early defeat to Grigor Dimitrov in Brisbane, his only event so far this year.

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REPORT: Grigor Dimitrov Appoints New Coach

The former ATP Finals champion appears to have found a new mentor.

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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
    Source -ATP/Linkldn

UPDATE*

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.

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Rival Backs Dominic Thiem To Win Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award

Only two players have won the award since 2004.

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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

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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.

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Kei Nishikori (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

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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