The Miami Open is famous for giving wildcards to young up-and-coming talent, and this year’s event is no different. The likes of the heralded Next Gen quartet of Michael Mmoh (USA), Mikael Ymer (SWE), Casper Ruud (NOR), and Andrey Rublev (RUS) are all names that are quickly becoming familiar as they begin appearing more consistently in high profile draws.
This article features a player from a country that has boasted one of the finest players that men’s tennis has ever seen, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. Yet Djokovic is approaching 30, and the twelve time Grand Slam champion has struggled since winning his first Roland Garros title last year. There is a young player looking to step into the limelight and take some of the pressure off of the great.
Miomir Kecmanovic. The Serbian 17 year-old, like Djokovic, hails from the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Right-handed with a two-handed backhand, the teenager is ranked as No.1 in the ITF junior rankings, with more than 400 points separating him from the second-ranked Yibing Wu. He’s currently ranked at No.651 in the ATP Tour. Having trained at the IMG Academy (formerly Nick Bollettieri Academy), Kecmanovic has had exposure to a number of top players including Kei Nishikori: “Whenever Kei is there, we train a lot, we talk a lot. He’s very normal and down to earth. We are good friends and I’ve hit with him before. Sometimes when he’s free we go and hang out.”
Kecmanovic has largely stayed on the ITF Juniors Tour, only occasionally playing Futures events in Serbia or the United States through 2016. He started his season with his first Futures title (the third rung of men’s tennis after the main tour and challengers.) His win over Christian Lindell in the final looks very impressive. Since then Lindell, a former Roland Garros qualifier, has gone on to a strong run in the South American challengers.
Since then Kecmanovic failed to win back-to-back matches as he stayed on the Futures circuit. Yet a qualifying wildcard into Miami gave him the chance to shine at a much higher level than ever before. His draw on paper looked a hard one, in the form of the Swiss twenty-second seed Henri Laaksonen. Yet Laaksonen is in at best indifferent form to start the year, losing in the first round of two of his last three events. Laaksonen did however qualify and reach the second round of Indian Wells, taking a bagel set off of eventual first-time semi-finalist Jack Sock in the process. Kecmanovic proceeded to defeat the Swiss in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.
Kecmanovic may have lost his next match comprehensively to the veteran Lukas Lacko, but his move into the higher rungs of the pro circuit has begun.
Devoted fans of the junior tour will note that Kecmanovic is a player who has defeated many now recognisable teenagers. He owns a 1-1 record with Stefanos Tsitsipas, the young Greek. He has a 1-2 record with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, whom he lost to in the pair’s first professional meeting in the final of a challenger late last year. He has even defeated Norway’s teenage sensation Casper Ruud in the junior tour, on the Scandinavian’s favoured clay surface. He met Felix Auger-Aliassime in the US Open Boys final last year, but was soundly thrashed. Kecmanovic has a perfect 2-0 record against Australia’s Alex De Minaur, without dropping set in either of the two meetings.
None of these records indicate that Kecmanovic will be guaranteed a place at the elite table that so many of the above names look destined for. However, he is of a class of young tennis players that are now graduating to the professional game. More experienced and higher-ranked players are beginning to lose to the likes of these players, and Kecmanovic’s win over a player in Henri Laaksonen, who is sitting in a career-high ranking of No. 117 this week bodes very well for the Serbian’s future.
Kecmanovic is also a two-time winner of the Orange Bowl, one of just three male players to achieve the feat. The young Serbian has unsurprisingly highlighted Djokovic as his idol “I love how he plays. I like his style. I admire his mental toughness — that when everything is against him, he can always find that extra bit of energy to win and prove he’s the best.”
Kecmanovic also saluted the experience that being a hitter for Serbian Davis Cup team gave him: “I was the fifth player, the hitting partner of the team. The experience was amazing, it really helped me a lot. The team accepted me from the start, the coach and everybody were nice to me. To be back home with the family in Serbia and everything really helped me to recharge my batteries.”
Given the steps that Kecmanovic has made in 2017 already, it may not be too long before we see him join the group of teens making headlines in 2017. A Next Gen spot this season is unlikely, but not out of the realms of possibility. Expect Kecmanovic to be a contender for a place at the Next Gen finals in 2018.
Tennis Has A Justin Gimelstob Problem
Once tipped to be the chief of men’s tennis, Gimelstob’s future in the sport looks to be coming to an end following his latest and most shocking controversy.
Once again in the coming weeks men’s tennis will be dominated by off-court politics in an all too familiar trend occurring this season.
Following on from the decision to remove Chris Kermode from his position, the focus is now on Justin Gimelstob. A man once tipped to take on Kermode’s position as CEO of the ATP. Earlier this week the 42-year-old pleaded ‘no contest’ to an assault charge against one of his former friends. A plea where somebody accepts the charges without accepting or admitting guilt. As a consequence, Gimelstob was handed with a 60-day community service and a three-year probation.
“Justin Gimelstob pled no contest to the charge filed against him and the Judge, after evaluating the evidence, exercised his discretion and reduced the charge to a misdemeanor,” said his legal team in a statement.
“Justin did this to move on with his professional life and focus on his family.”
The incident occurred last Halloween when Gimelstob approached Randall Kaplan and hit him a reported 50 times, according to a restraining order issued last year. The incident took place in front of Kaplan’s pregnant wife, who film some of the incident, and his two-year-old daughter. Prosecutors said that the stress of the attack caused Kaplan’s wife to have a miscarriage.
“Thankfully my husband survived, but our unborn child did not,” Madison Kaplan said. “My doctors said everything had looked perfect with the pregnancy before the attack. The only reason they could see causing the miscarriage was the stress from the attack. Justin might not have gotten his wish in killing Randy, but he did kill a tiny innocent little baby girl.”
The Rome vote
Gimelstob is currently one of three player representatives currently serving on the ATP Board and represents the Americas region. They are elected by the Players council and play an instrumental role in decision making. Such as voting for the removal of Kermode.
The fact Gimelstob remains in his current position is one that has drawn concern from some. The All England Club confirmed on Tuesday that he has been banned from the Wimbledon legends event as well as sitting in the Royal Box. The Telegraph has also reported that officials are pondering whether to remove his credentials all together.
Statement in from All England Club. "The AELTC can confirm that Justin Gimelstob has not been and will not be invited to participate in the Invitational events, or to attend the Royal Box at The Championships in 2019." He had previously played in the doubles every year since 2010
— Simon Briggs (@simonrbriggs) April 23, 2019
It will be the Player’s council decision if Gimelstob should maintain his current position or not. They will gather in Rome next month to have a vote on his future. Among the member’s is John Isner, who has Gimelstob as an ‘unpaid advisor‘ on his team. The world No.10 has previously described him as a ‘’a misunderstood character.’
“The decision was taken to let the judicial process run its course before any judgement was made on his future, so with that process complete this is now a subject for review by the board and/or the player council.” The ATP said in a statement.
“As a related matter, the election for the role of the next Americas player representative on the ATP board – the position currently held by Gimelstob – will take place as scheduled on Tuesday, 14 May, in Rome.”
Despite his work and dedication to tennis, the idea of voting to keep Gimelstob in his role seems illogical. Prior to his assault charge, he has been embroiled in a series of controversies. Speaking about former player Anna Kournikova in 2008 he once said ‘She’s a bitch. Hate’s a very strong word. I just despise her to the maximum level just below hate.’ He later apologised for that comment. In 2010 he also was briefly suspended from the Tennis Channel concerning comments he made about then president Barack Obama.
A return to The Tennis Channel?
Besides his role at the ATP, Gimelstob has been a prominent figure and valuable commentator for The Tennis Channel. He took a leave of absence from the network in November due to the legal proceedings. Now he has received his sentence, it is unclear as to what will happen next.
“We are sure that Justin is pleased that this matter has been resolved. Since he took his leave of absence from Tennis Channel in November 2018, we have been waiting for the legal system to run its course. Now that this is behind him, we will have internal meetings among our executives — and meetings with Justin — to discuss his future with Tennis Channel.” The Tennis Channel said in a statement.
According to Deadline the situation is complicated due to the close relationship between the former player and Ken Solomon, who is the president of the Tennis Channel. Speaking to The New York Times Solomon said ‘We are here and ready to discuss the situation with Justin whenever appropriate, and will decide at that time.’
Despite the seemingly calm approach from the president of the network, some people within The Tennis Channel are questioning the situation.
“There is a feeling here that it would be shocking if he comes back and works for the Tennis Channel,” one source told Deadspin. “But at the same time, this guy is super powerful and has been at Tennis Channel since it started, so he has a very close relationship with [Tennis Channel president] Ken Solomon. They go way back.”
At one point in his post-playing career, Gimelstob was regarded as one of the most powerful men in tennis. His resume includes commentator, coach, ATP board member and owner of a television production company. Now his stronghold within the sport is rapidly loosening. Any decision by the ATP to keep him on their powerful board will be one condemned for years to come. Despite all he has done for the sport.
It is for this reason why at the upcoming Italian Open only half of the attention will be on the court’s. The other half will be on how the Player’s Council handles this situation. Another new headache for president Novak Djokovic and his fellow members.
COMMENT: At Indian Wells, the Lucky Loser Is Not So Lucky Against Milos Raonic
A new kid surprises, maybe gets to the third round, but then he plays the big names.
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The description, “Lucky Loser,” seems an oxymoron; army intelligence, jumbo shrimp, lucky loser. Except this is tennis, not the military or crustaceans.
And tennis is a sport in which love means nothing — getting shut out — so anything goes, including at times a qualifying loser into the main draw.
One of those in this BNP Paribas Open was a 19-year-old from Serbia, Miomir Kecmanovic (no, I don’t know why Serbs, Croats, Russians, Spaniards, French and Austrians can play and Americans can’t).
Kecmanovic finally was eliminated Thursday, as you would imagine when a guy ranked 130th in the world meets up with the guy ranked 14th, who three years ago was ranked third and was a Wimbledon finalist, Milos Raonic.
Yes, Kecmanovic was the loser, and this time not so lucky — except by getting to the quarter-finals he earned $182,000. Raonic, with his big serve, scored a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
When you’re not exempt, as in one of the top money winners, you try to get into a tournament through qualifying. Kecmanovic did try. And failed, if barely, getting beaten in a third-set tiebreaker.
Depressed? That’s an understatement; this led to an overreaction. He was going to quit the sport. Then he came to a realization. “You’re like, ‘OK, you don’t know anything else in life, so you’ve got to stick to this,’” he said.
Someone eligible inevitably withdraws. At the BNP it wasn’t someone, it was three people, all because of injuries, Kevin Anderson (the 2018 Wimbledon finalist), Pablo Carreno Busta and Grigor Dimitrov.
Kecmanovic had a bye in the first round, then won three matches, the last when Yoshihito Nishioka retired because of a bad back after losing the first set. Lucky? Perhaps, but this time Kecmanovic wasn’t a loser.
Nine lucky losers have been ATP tournament winners since 1978, the most recent Marco Ceccinato at the Gazprom Hungarian Open in April 2018. He didn’t have to play against someone as competent as the 28-year-old Raonic, who now has reached the BNP semis a fourth time.
“I think the conditions are good for me, especially when the sun’s out,” said Raonic. ”The court heats up a little bit. There is a good amount of jump on the court. This year it’s a little bit slower than the previous years, but it allows me to take a few more swipes at a few more shots, and I can do different things with my serve that I need to get ahead in the point.”
Raonic was born in what was then Yugoslavia, but when he was 3 years old his parents, both engineers, emigrated to Canada where Milos, now 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds — if that sounds like a basketball player, well, he took part in an NBA All-Star celebrity game — was introduced to tennis.
He had been introduced briefly, during a match in Australia, to Kecmanovic.
“I played him in Brisbane after — I wasn’t aware until they mentioned it today that he was the Lucky Loser,” said Raonic. “But he beat, fairly handily, Leonardo Mayer down there. That was a tough match.
“Today I knew it was going to be tough. He’s won his last three matches against good players.”
Against a better player, Kecmanovic didn’t win. That is usually what happens in tennis. A new kid surprises, maybe gets to the third round, but then he plays the big names. On Kecmanovic’s side of the draw are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
To borrow a lyric, the road gets tougher.
But Kecmanovic has a few dollars now to bankroll himself. And he has success in a tournament that most players consider just a notch below the four Grand Slams.
“I knew he had nothing to lose,” said Raonic, “and I had to be real.”
If that means taking the match seriously, well, anyone skilled enough to qualify for the main draw of any ATP tournament, whether as a Lucky Loser or not, is world-class. These guys, and on the other side, these women, are great athletes, top to bottom. Or they wouldn’t be on tour.
“Guys bring their best tennis at the beginning of the year,” said Raonic, alluding to the BNP and Miami, which last a week and half as compared to the weeklong events, “because guys have a lot of time. Nobody is really rushing. It’s tough to do it here.”
Even when you get lucky.
The Canadian Rising Stars Tearing Up Indian Wells
The BNP Paribas Open has served as a platform for the North American country to showcase their trio of success stories.
Eight years ago Milos Raonic was the sole Canadian success story of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
At the age of 20, he received a wildcard into the main draw of the 2011 tournament. Stunning 13th seed Mardy Fish on route to the third round. During that year Raonic was the only player from his country – man or woman – to score a main draw win in the event. At that time there were only four players in the top 200 from the North American country with two of those in the top 100.
Now there is a trio of rising stars paving the way for a new era of Canadian tennis. Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu have all cracked the top 100 before their 19th birthday and have already enjoyed success in the Californian desert in 2019.
“We can never take credit for all this. We are a facilitator,” Tennis Canada chief executive Michael Downey told The Canadian Press on Match 5th. “At the end of the day, there are many parents, many external coaches and the players themselves that go on court and actually win these matches.”
18-year-old Auger-Aliassime has posted the most high-profile win of the trio so far in Indian Wells. On Saturday he eased to a comprehensive straight sets win over Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. The teenager has been regarded as a tennis prodigy throughout his junior career and with good reason. At the age of 14 he qualified for the main draw of a Challenger event for the first time. He also is a former US Open boys champion and is one of the youngest players of all time at win a Challenger title at the age of 16 years and 10 months. More recently he was runner-up at the Rio Open, which is a ATP 500 event.
“I want to win as much as I can. I want to go as far as I can as a player. I don’t know what my limits will be, but I try to work hard every day to go as far as I can.” He proclaimed after defeating Tsitsipas.
“I probably want to feel all the emotions that I can feel on these courts, win as many trophies as I can.”
The achievements have drawn praise from Davis Cup team mate Shapovalov, who is almost 16 months older than him. Nicknamed ‘Shapo’ for short, he is still the youngest semi-finalist in the history of Masters 1000 events (dating back to 1990). Achieving that milestone at the 2017 Canadian Open at the age of 18.
“For Felix to get his first top-10 win, I was so, so pumped.” Said Shapovalov. “I remember still warming up, and I was asking my team, I was, like, Did they just finish? It was so quick. He really just outplayed Stefanos, from what I saw. So I was really happy for him. I gave him a big hug.”
Still in the search for his maiden ATP title, Shapovalov kicked-off his Indian Wells bid with a 6-3, 6-4, win over Steve Johnson. Setting up a clash with Marin Cilic in the third round. Regardless of his lack of silverware, he remains the second youngest player in the top 100. Boasting a win-loss record of 8-5 so far this season.
“Obviously it’s a tough one. I haven’t thought too much about it. Played him once before, so I kind of have a feel of him going into the match, but he’s a tough player,” Shapovalov said of Cilic. “He was playing really well, so I’m expecting a battle. I feel good, as well. I’m looking forward to it.”
Andreescu making waves on the women’s tour
12 months ago Andreescu was playing in a series of ITF events in Japan with the dream of progressing to the main stage of the WTA Tour. Since then, she has played her first tour final in Auckland, clinched her first win over a top 10 player (Caroline Wozniacki) and rose to a current ranking high of 60th.
“If someone would have told me I would have gone to the fourth round of this tournament at the beginning of the year, I would have said, You’re crazy.” The two-time junior grand slam doubles champion said about reaching the last 16 in Indian Wells.
“It’s just an incredible experience. This is one of the best tournaments in the world, so I’m just really, really happy.”
Belonging to a trio of rising stars from the same country, a competitive rivalry is forming between them. Something that Andreescu hopes will propel them further up the ranks in the future.
“We’re all killing it. It’s great. We have played so many junior tournaments together, and it’s so nice to see each and every one of us at the top of our game at this stage in our life, only 18, 19, which is pretty incredible.” She said.
“I think all that really contributes to our successes. We motivate each other. If one person does well, it’s really nice to see.”
It isn’t just each other they hope to inspire. A determined Shapovalov is aiming to create a domino effect to boost the popularity of tennis back in his home country. In 2018 a survey conducted by Tennis Canada found that 6.6 million Canadians played tennis at least once over a 12-month period. Furthermore, 60% of respondents said they were interested in the sport. Placing Tennis in fifth place out of 14 sports that was surveyed.
“To be honest, I’m not shocked. I was telling everybody, it’s just a matter of time until Felix and Bianca show up.” Said Shapovalov. “They both had unbelievable games in the juniors, and I grew up with both of them. So honestly, I knew the potential they have, and I knew it’s just a matter of time until they are gonna have these big results. I’m really happy for them. They are both really good people.”
“And hopefully we can just keep going like this to make tennis a really big sport in Canada.” He added.
Whilst all is not perfect, it is clear that Canada is becoming a fierce tennis nation. A prospect that is exciting many in the sport.
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