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Changing Of The Swiss Guards

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Stan Wawrinka (zimbio.com)

By Cheryl Jones

The mere mention of Switzerland brings to mind numerous high priced or high altitude items. Chocolate, cheese, watches and money might be high on that list, but in the world of tennis, a couple of guys who began their careers as wee ones in the place that brought the world Swiss Guards in the late fifteenth century, tops the list.

 

Nearly twenty years ago, Roger Federer began to impress the world with his tennis prowess. (Actually, I remember watching him practice before he was “the” Roger Federer. He was fairly new to the scene when I excitedly told fellow journalists that I had seen greatness in the making. They laughed. No one from that alpine country had been a big star. But, a few took a look-see and there was a “maybe” reaction that flashed across their face.) Anyone who follows tennis knows that all of that changed when he took the crown at Wimbledon just a few years later in 2003. That was the starting point of a career that will be remembered as long as there’s tennis. He spent 302 weeks (nearly six years), ranked Number One. He’s won seventeen Grand Slams and more tournaments than almost anyone.

However, there is another tennis guy from Switzerland. He is ranked Number Three in the world. His name was Stanislas Wawrinka. (That “was” is because he had the ATP change his name to Stan and that’s the name to which he will respond.)

Today at Roland Garros, Wawrinka moved to the second round when he defeated Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia, 6-2, 7-6, 6-3. It was a fairly fast three setter that lasted just a tick under two hours. The previous Saturday, Wawrinka took the trophy at Geneva just as he had last year. After today’s match, Wawrinka spoke with the media and reflected a bit on his play.

When asked about that second set where Kovalik had three set balls, he said, “I tried to play more aggressively; put more pressure on him. As long as the set isn’t over there is still room to win it. You know, especially when your opponent is down one set.” He went further, “All in all, I think this was a solid match. I’m very happy about how I managed it. I had good feelings playing.”

Even though it may seem as if he’s moving into the powering down side of tennis, he seems to have found that groove in his career where he can glide from tournament to tournament and finish very well. He’s thirty-two, and appears better than ever, and that’s a truth that can be verified by looking back at his career. He has taken home close to thirty million US dollars. That’s a tidy sum for anyone. He might have remained in Roger Federer’s shadow, but didn’t.

He won here in Paris in 2015 when he defeated Novak Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. That was just a year after he lost in the first round. He won the junior title in 2003, and with his win in 2015, he became the first to accomplish that feat since Mats Wilander achieved the same in 1988. In 2016, he won the US Open when he was 31 years, 167 days old. That unexpected win made him the oldest winner there since Ken Rosewall in 1970.

His win at the Australian Open in 2014 made him the first man to defeat the number one and two seeds on the way to a grand slam title since Sergi Bruguera did it in Roland Garros in 1993.

This time out, he is looking to be the third man in the Open Era to win three or more Grand Slam titles after turning thirty. (Australians Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall chalked up a few of those coveted titles when they were in the senior citizenry of professional sports.)

Five sets can be a very long time to be on the court – just ask John Isner who played for 11 hours and five minutes at Wimbledon in 2010. With a 24 to 19 record in five setters, Wawrinka must feel as if he has a bit of an advantage when playing anyone with a lower ranking. Kovalik’s 152 ranking shouldn’t have been a problem for Wawrinka, but the second set today should have whispered to him – Beware!

Next up, he will face Alexandr Dolgopolov who has been ranked as high as 13 in the world, but now is ranked 89 due to some injuries that kept him away from the courts. Wawrinka has all the moves that should propel him through to the next round. He has one of the strongest one-handed backhands around. He has a wonderfully fast serve that has been clocked at 144 miles per hour. He has taken his previously weak forehand and turned it into an asset. He’s one of the few players who do not consistently bang balls from the baseline and is very skilled at serve and volleying, which to many may seem like a lost art.

His coach of three years, Magnus Norman, (who in the past was a great player himself), has helped him deal with that other part of a game that is often left by the wayside – the mental side. The ups and downs that seemed to be who Stan was in the past has leveled out and he has shown great skill defeating the likes of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and of course, Rafael Nadal, when each was at the top of their game.

In the past, Dolgopolov has been a thorn in his side, having won two of the three matches they have contested. Wawrinka recalled that, “He moves a lot. He has a very fast arm and he moves very quickly. He has a lot of variety in his game. He slices a lot, so he really doesn’t have a steady pace. I guess what’s challenging with him is you never know what to expect. So, when you play him you really have to be focused.” At thirty-two, Wawrinka may now be able to will himself to stay on task. He summed it up when he added, “It’s really important to give him a strong ball every single time, to make it mentally more challenging for him. Otherwise he will take the lead.”

Lately, focus seems to be the name of Wawrinka’s game. He has a plan and sometimes that’s all one needs. Understanding the task at hand is often a winner, no matter what the challenge. Stan has a lot of work ahead of him, but he has a very solid foundation to draw on. Switzerland has given the world of tennis a couple of really good men who have nothing to do with chocolate, watches or snow. Money, however, may be a byproduct of their successes, though.

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EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’

Marcelo Demoliner celebrated his birthday in quarantine, his doubles partner isn’t allowed to leave his room for 14 days and he believes there is a difference in treatment between the top players and others. Yet, he refuses to complain about the situation he finds himself in.

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Marcelo Demoliner pictured during the 2020 Australian Open. image via https://www.facebook.com/mdemoliner89)

Like his peers, Brazil’s Marcelo Demoliner passes his time in Melbourne quarantine by training, sleeping, eating and posting amusing videos on social media.

 

Demoliner, who currently has a doubles ranking of world No.44, is required by Australian law to abide by a strict isolation period before he is allowed to play any professional tournament. Although he is allowed to train unless he is deemed to be a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. An unfortunate situation 72 players find themselves in, including Demoliner’s doubles partner Santiago Gonzalez

During an email exchange with UbiTennis the Brazilian sheds light on what he labels as an ‘usual experience’ that has prompted criticism from some players. Roberto Bautista Agut was caught on camera describing conditions as a ‘prison’ in a video leaked to the press. Although he has since apologised for his comments. Demonliner himself is not as critical as others.

“It is an unusual experience that we will remember for a long time,” he told UbiTennis. “It is a very complicated situation that we are going through. Obviously, it is not ideal for us athletes to be able to go out for just 5 hours a day, but mainly for the other 72 players who cannot go out, like my partner Santiago Gonzalez. They have a complicated situation of possibly getting injured after not practicing for 14 days, but it is what it is.’
“We need to understand and adapt to this situation considering Australia did a great job containing Covid.”

With three ATP doubles titles to his name, Demoliner is playing at the Australian Open for the sixth year in a row. He has played on the Tour for over a decade and has been ranked as high as 34th in the world.

Besides the players complaining about food, their rooms and even questioning the transparency of the rule making, Tennis Australia also encountered a slight blip regarding the scheduling of practice.

“I was a little lucky because I stayed in one of the hotels that we don’t need to take transportation to go to the training courts. It made the logistics issue much easier. The other two hotels had problems with transportation and logistics in the first two days, but I have nothing to complain about, honestly.”

Demoliner remains thankful for what Tennis Australia has managed to do in order for the Australian Open to be played. Quarantine can have a big impact on a person mentally, as well as physically. Each day players spend at least 19 hours in their hotel rooms which was no fun for the Brazilian who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.

“Without a doubt, it is something we have never been through before. I’m luckily having 5 hours of training daily. I am managing to maintain my physical preparation and rhythm. It is not the ideal, of course, but I can’t even imagine the situation of other players who are in the more restricted quarantine.”

image via https://www.instagram.com/MDemoliner/

Priority given to the top names

As Demoliner resides in Melbourne, a selected handful of players are spending their time in Adelaide. Under a deal struck by Tennis Australia, officials have agreed for the top three players on the ATP and WTA Tour’s to be based in the city. The idea being is that it will relieve the strain on Melbourne who is hosting in the region of 1200 arrivals.

Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, has insisted that all players will have to follow the same rules wherever they are based. Although some feel that those in Adelaide have some extra privileges such as a private gym they can use outside of the five-hour training bubble. Japan’s Taro Daniel told the Herald Sun: “People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there’s some resentment towards that as well.” Daniel’s view is one echoed also by Demoliner.

“I do believe they are receiving preferential treatment, quite different from us. But this is part of the tour,” he said.
“The top tennis players always had these extras, we are kinda of used to it. We came here knowing that they would have better conditions for practicing, structure, hotels… they also have merits to have achieved all that they have to be the best players in the world. I don’t know if it’s fair, but I believe the conditions could be more similar than they are in this situation.”

Some players were recently bemused by a photo of Naomi Osaka that surfaced on social media before being removed. The reigning US Open champion was pictured on a court with four members of her team, which is more people than what those in Melbourne are allowed to train with.

https://twitter.com/mdemoliner89/status/1351079924719898632

As the Adelaide contingent continues their preparations, those most unhappy with them are likely to be the 72 players who are in strict quarantine. Demoliner is concerned about the elevated risk of injury that could occur due to the facts they are not allowed to leave their rooms. All players in this situation have been issued with gym equipment to use.

“I think that they will be at a considerable disadvantage compared to who can train. But we need to obey the law of the country, there is not much to do … until the 29th they will have to stay in the room and that is it,” he said.
“Whether it is fair or not, it is not up to me to say because I am not in this situation. The thing about having the other players who didn’t have contact with the positive cases to also stay in the rooms is the concern about the risk of injury, specially for singles players. It will be a tough challenge, especially at the beginning of the season.”

In recent days, officials have been holding video calls with players to discuss ways to address these concerns ahead of the Australian Open. Which will start a week after they are allowed to leave their rooms.

When the tournaments do get underway there are also questions about how the public will react to players who have made headlines across the country for their criticism of the quarantine process. A somewhat sore point for Australian’s with some nationals unable to return home due to the government restrictions. On top of that, people in Melbourne are concerned about a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

It is a very complex situation. I fully understand the reaction of the Australian population considering the recent events… the effect that the players are bringing, the risks to the population,” Demoliner said of the current circumstances.
“We know this and obviously they are concerned with the whole situation, which is still very uncertain. On our side, though, they did allow us to come here to play. It is important to remember that the decision to welcome us was approved by the Australian Government, otherwise we would not be here.”

Demoliner is one of three Brazilian doubles players ranked to have a top 100 ranking on the ATP Tour along with Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo.

SEE ALSO EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’

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Who Are The Best Hard Court Creators In The Last 12 Months?

Here are some of the best players at earning break points on a hard court in the last 12 months.

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Garbine Muguruza (@Tennis - Twitter)

As the Australian Open, slowly, approaches UbiTennis looks at the biggest hard court creators from the last 52 weeks.

 

Although winning matches are determined on how many break point opportunities you convert, to convert the break points you need to create them in the first place.

This can be the biggest challenge but for the players below this isn’t a problem as they are able to consistently create break point opportunities on a hard court.

Starting with the women, it may be a surprise to nobody that Garbine Muguruza, one of the more aggressive returners on the tour leads the way, earning on average 10.4 break points in the last 52 weeks on a hard court.

Muguruza’s hard-hitting style mixed with controlled placement puts her in pole position to punish her opponents on return.

There are also other big hitters in the top 10 such as Petra Kvitova, who averages 9.6 break points while Aryna Sabalenka earns 9.5 break points on a hard court.

While 2020 grand slam champions Iga Swiatek (9.8) and Naomi Osaka (9.3) also feature on this list.

Meanwhile on the men’s side it is Roger Federer who leads this list on average earning 10.8 break points, slightly more than Garbine Muguruza who is on top of the women’s list.

Federer is just ahead of Roberto Bautista Agut with 10.5 break points. This shows just how much Bautista Agut has improved on hard courts in the last 12 months being able to create so many break point opportunities with his return game.

Also featuring on this list are Alexander Zverev (9.2), Novak Djokovic (8.5) and Daniil Medvedev (8.3).

These are the players to look out for when seeing the players who are most likely to create opportunities in their respective draws and who the biggest servers may want to avoid in the Australian Open.

Here are the full lists of the top 10 from each tour and remember the Australian Open is set to begin on the 8th of February.

WTA Top 11 – Most Break Points Earned On A Hard Court In Last 52 Weeks

  1. Garbine Muguruza – 10.4
  2. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – 10.2
  3. Saisai Zheng – 9.9
  4. Iga Swiatek – 9.8
  5. Anett Kontaveit – 9.6
  6. Petra Kvitova – 9.6
  7. Petra Martic – 9.6
  8. Aryna Sabalenka – 9.5
  9. Ons Jabeur – 9.5
  10. Simona Halep – 9.3
  11. Naomi Osaka – 9.3

ATP Top 12 – Most Break Points Earned On A Hard Court In Last 52 Weeks

  1. Roger Federer – 10.8
  2. Roberto Bautista Agut – 10.5
  3. Alexander Zverev – 9.2
  4. John Millman – 8.9
  5. Dominic Thiem – 8.9
  6. Guido Pella – 8.8
  7. Cristian Garin – 8.5
  8. Novak Djokovic – 8.5
  9. David Goffin – 8.4
  10. Adrian Mannarino – 8.3
  11. Daniil Medvedev – 8.3
  12. Grigor Dimitrov – 8.3

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Further 23 Players In Hard Quarantine After More Positive Tests On Charter Flight

More players head into hard quarantine ahead of the first grand slam of the year.

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(@emirates - Twitter)

A further 23 players have been told that they are being placed into hard quarantine after another positive COVID-19 test on a charter flight from Abu Dhabi.

 

Players were notified this evening in Australia that there was a positive test on the Abu Dhabi charter flight. Although it looks it wasn’t a player who tested positive it now means 23 more players will now go into hard quarantine.

This follows the news of 24 players going into hard quarantine after two positive tests from a charter flight from Los Angeles.

It is understood from several journalists that among those who are now being placed into hard quarantine from the Abu Dhabi flight are Belinda Bencic, Maria Sakkari, Bianca Andreescu, Angelique Kerber, Marta Kostyuk, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ons Jabeur.

Although there are only 47 players in hard quarantine so far, there is a fear that this number could rise with more COVID test results still waiting to come back.

Before the charter flights, Andy Murray, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Madison Keys and Amanda Anisimova were denied entry into Australia via the chartered flights due to positive COVID results.

The first set of tournaments in Australia are set to begin on the 31st of January with the Australian Open due to begin on the 8th of February.

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