EXCLUSIVE: Denis Shapovalov - 'I'm Not Gonna Get Destroyed' - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Denis Shapovalov – ‘I’m Not Gonna Get Destroyed’

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Denis Shapovalov (zimbio.com)

Interview conducted by Raoul Ruberti

Earlier this week Canadian rising star Denis Shapovalov conducted a one-to-one interview with Ubitennis after qualifying for the Aegon Championships. Since then the 18-year-old knocked out Kyle Edmund in the first round before falling in three sets to Czech world No.14 Tomas Berdych on Wednesday. During the interview he shared his thoughts about his recent Davis Cup controversy, Wimbledon goals and what it is like being a member of the highly talked about ‘Next Gen’ group.

 

Q: You just told me you are working on your concentration. Is it something you started working on more after the Davis Cup accident?
S: For sure. First of all, it didn’t only help me on court. Of course it helped me on court, I think it improved my game, much more trying to stay mentally focused and not lashing out, because now I know what can happen to anyone who just lashes out for a split second. It could be very unlucky. So I really focus on that and I really improved in that area, but I think off the court too it helped me mature a lot as a person, because I went from being a teenager playing my first Davis Cup to really having to become an adult and deal with these situations and deal with people who are not talking very politely about me. Just that sort of thing, daily. So I think I really matured as a person from the incident.

Q: Will you put some kind of expectation on yourself, when you get there, because you won the junior version of the tournament?
S: Nooo. Once you’re done with juniors you kinda realize that ok, it was a good part of your life, but it has nothing… not much to do with pros. Maybe it can help you get wild cards and stuff like that, people start to know who you are, but at a certain point you’re gonna have to start all over. The pros is a completely different game, completely new, a new start to your life. So I don’t think there’s any expectations going in. Obviously I love the surface, so I think I could do well on it, but you can have some tough draws and some good players, and it could be tough.

Q: So you never thought: I am doing well in junior, so I will surely do well in pros.
S: No. No, no. There’s been a lot of players that have done unbelievably in juniors and not quite [???] as a pro, and vice versa players that didn’t play much juniors and all of a sudden they’re unbelievable pro players. It’s tricky with juniors because you never really know. You’re told that you have talent and that you can play well on certain surfaces but you never really know, it’s a new start. A new, pretty much, game.

Q: So you won’t be “destroyed” if things don’t go extremely well.
S: (Chuckles) No. I am only eighteen, my results are gonna go up and down a lot in my career so I’m not gonna get “destroyed”, no.

Q: Since you mentioned your age… I watched you practicing Saturday and you seem to have a pretty good relationship with  the other young guns. You were chatting with Tiafoe…
S: Yeah, Frances… (Chuckles)

Q: I have a double question about it: is there some kind of Next Gen players group of friends? And is it hard to leave someone behind when – as you said – not everyone makes it to the pros?
S: Yeah, of course. You just make a lot of friends on tour. I mean, you see these guys weekly, so it’s either you don’t get along or you do. The easiest way is obviously to get along (Smiles) but no, they’re great guys, we go to dinner often, we go out. It’s tough when you see these guys in juniors and then you don’t see them for a while because you start having different schedules, not necessarily they’re doing bad or you’re doing bad. Like me and Felix (Auger-Aliassime, ndr), we’re very close but often we’re having different schedules so it’s a bit difficult to keep in touch.

Q: He won a Challenger on Sunday!
S: Exactly! I just sent him congratulations. That’s amazing. I had the record of youngest Canadian, he took it away from me. I called [???] when I won the Challenger actually and I said: “I’m gonna enjoy it until Felix takes it from me”. Congrats to him, he’s gonna be a great player. But as I was saying, it’s tough sometimes with different schedules not to see your friends. I think it makes it even better when you get to see each other though, like me and Frances, me and Reilly (Opelka, ndr), any of the guys.

Q: You all have a very respectful behavior towards each other.
S: Yeah! We all get along tremendously and respect each other’s games and persons. When we’re on court it’s one thing, it’s business, but when we’re off court we’re really cool with each other and really good friends.

Q: Speaking of Next Gen, there’s a chance you’re gonna play the Next Gen Finals in Milan. What do you think of the new format? Because I saw you today complaining about people moving on the stands, and one of the new rules is-
S: 25 seconds between points?

Q: No, free roaming on the stands.
S: Oh, is it, really? I did not even know that! Well, it’s just gonna be… (Laughs) Hopefully no one starts getting up, but it’s gonna be a little bit different, it’s a different game. It could be kinda like basketball, in basketball you’re allowed to distract the players. I think it’s exciting actually. It’s a different tournament. I always like trying new things and I think it’s very smart to try to advance in the sport and think of other ways to make it exciting. But yeah, it’s gonna be different. I think it’s more in the mindset: you know that people aren’t supposed to do this, so obviously it’s gonna distract you more. But I feel like if it’s implied in the rules, you’re just gonna have to deal with it.

Q: Technical stuff: which part of your game are you working on the most? And it was you who came up with the idea of playing a one-handed backhand?
S: When I was on the court with my mom and father, when I started, I was hitting with two hands but I was releasing it naturally so my father and mom just told me to try it out, try having a one-handed one and it just felt naturally from then. So almost my whole life I had a one-handed backhand. Oh, yeah, and what am I working on! I think the biggest part is mental. Like I said I’ve improved a lot but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. That, and I am trying to be aggressive, I’m trying to come in. I’m really working on coming into the net, I’m working on my volleys with Martin.

 

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: The Big Business Of Data Analytics In Tennis

Ubitennis speaks with the founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii, whose company is currently working with Stan Wawrinka’s coach Magnus Norman.

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Mike james with doubles player Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic at a Challenger tournament.

As tennis players head into their off-season, it is normally the same routine. A couple of days of rest followed by numerous training blocks to get them ready for the following season. They are guided by their coaches, physios and for a growing number with the help of a computer by their side.

 

With technology continuing to rapidly develop, the use of data statistics is becoming big business in the world of tennis. A method where players analyse the numbers behind their performance. Ranging from their service percentages to the average length of rallies they are playing. The idea being that their training is then customised to take into account those figures.

However, how much of a big deal is it?

Mike James is the founder of Sportiii Analytics. A company that provides detailed information on player’s strategies and patterns. They have a partnership with the prestigious Good To Great Academy in the pipeline and supply information to Stan Wawrinka’s coaching team. British-based James has more than a decade of experience in coaching and has previously travelled on the tour with the likes of doubles specialists Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic. At present Sportiii are working with several ATP and WTA players, but are unable to name them due to a confidentiality agreement.

“We are fortunate enough to be able to use Dartfish. Dartfish created a tagging part of their software package around 10 years ago. It allows us to make customized tagging panels or coding as they say in football or rugby. Essentially, we can tag or code whatever the player, coach or federation wants to look for.” James explained during an interview with Ubitennis.
“We are taking 30 KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) of information which allows us to take the data and move that into a strategy for the players and their teams to know what is working and what isn’t.”

Tennis is far from the only sport to be influenced by the rapid rise of technology. Although, is it really a necessity? During the 1980s with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, they both managed to achieve highly successful careers without detailed statistical information. Some would argue that they most important aspect is a person’s talent on the court and how they mentally cope with different situations. Not how many rallies they win in under five shots.

Although James points out that without services like his, there is a chance that player’s could be training the wrong areas of their games. Therefore hampering their own development in the sport.

“If we know the 70% of the returns are going back into the court in the men’s game, then we know the first ball after the serve is extremely important. Also, if we know that 70% of the match is between zero and four, the serve and return is vitally important.” He said.
“Players hitting 20, 30, or 40 balls in a row before they have a break. They are not training the game, they might be training the technical aspects of their game but they cannot train tactically playing this many balls without a break.”

A method for the many, not the few

There are still a few stigmas when it comes to companies such as Sportiii. Many would think this service would be something mainly of interest to coaches and nobody else. However, James reveals that this isn’t always the case.

“Of course, some coaches want to know the information, but we have players we deal with without their coaches because they are the ones interested. If it’s going to work best with statistics, numbers and strategy, you’re going to want both the player and coach fully buying in to this way of thinking. That’s going to get the best result for sure.”

Novak Djokovic has previously worked alongside Craig O’Shannessy, who is the founder of Brain Game Tennis and writes numerous statistical articles for atpworldtour.com. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev once said ‘all the big guys are using data analysis, they just don’t like to talk about it.’ There is clearly a market, but is it only for those who can afford it?

Despite the rise of prize money earnings, the disparity on the tour remains substantial. Rafael Nadal was the highest earner of 2019 on the ATP Tour with $12.8 million in winnings. In contrast, the 300th highest earner, Federico Coria, made just over $81,000. Less than 1% of Nadal’s tally. According to one report from The Telegraph, leading agencies in the tennis data industry are selling their top packages in the region of £80,000 ($103,000) per year.

“We look to do individual tailor made packages depending on a player’s ranking, age, experience, support team, if they are funded by their federation or if they are funded by private sponsors.” James commented on how Sportiii handles the situation.
“But at the end of the day, of course the first part of a player’s budget is for their coach and then maybe the Physio. But I think having an analyst or strategy consultant is becoming higher in the pecking order for players going into 2020.” He added.

The future

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

Next year Sportiii will officially begin their work with Swedish tennis academy Good To Great, which is located to the north of Stockholm. Regarded as one of the top academies in the country, it was founded by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillström. Their role will be providing information to those who use the facility.

“We’re really looking to steepen the learning curve and support their academy pro team. But also help develop their junior players they have coming through.” James explained about the collaboration.
“We support their team with educational workshops and I think this is the next phrase for data analytics. That will be going into junior tennis and not just looking at the top of the game.”

The desire to focus more on the younger generation of athletes emulates that of the ATP with their Next Gen Finals in Milan. An end-of-season event that features the eight best players under the age of 21. At the tournament, they use a series of new innovative methods. Including electronic line calling, the use of a handset to speak with coaches during changeovers and wearable technology.

There is no doubt that the new generation of players is more comfortable with the use of technology. But what does that mean for the future of coaching? Would it be possible that one day the profession could be replaced by a computer instead? This could appeal to those looking to save costs, however James isn’t convinced the complete removal of the human element will happen.

“If players are more certain and confident in knowing what they need to do, in my opinion the level goes up.” He states. “Then, if the level goes up, maybe we are not at the pinnacle of the sport seeing Rafa, Roger, Stan and Novak playing video game tennis. I think we are still going to get another level of tennis in 5-10 years, which is very exciting for the sport.”

It is inevitable that technology will have a greater presence in tennis over the coming years in some shape or form. The only question is where do you draw a line?

To find out more information about Sportiii you can visit www.sportiiianalytics.com or check out their social media pages.

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‘We Try To Fix Each Other’ – Aryna Sabalenka On Turbulent Relationship With Coach

The world No.11 speaks to Ubitennis about the reason why she departed and then reunited with her mentor.

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2019 has been a roller coaster season for Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka both on and off the court.

 

The 21-year-old has claimed a trio of titles on the WTA Tour with all of those occurring in China. Overall, she has won 39 out of 61 matches played, as well as winning the doubles title at the US Open with Elise Mertens. On the other hand, she has also lost her opening match at seven tournaments this year and failed get back-to-back wins in three out of the four grand slams she played in.

Sabalenka is currently guided on the tour by Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov. A former top 20 player on the ATP Tour who retired from the sport in 2017. They have been working together for more than a year. It looked as if the partnership had come to an end back in August when both announced on social media that they are ending their collaboration. Sabalenka wrote ‘Thank you for everything and all the best in your future.’ However, the two soon changed their minds after.

“After the US Open, I realized that there was a problem, too many things off the court was diverting my attention from the game and this helped me to win something and find certain sensations.” Sabalenka told Ubitennis.com earlier this month in China.
“I realized how stupid it was to give Dmitry the blame for my failures, so I found a way to recover my relationship with him .”

The mixed season experienced by Sabalenka is one she hopes will help her in the long term. She ends 2019 inside the world’s top 20 for the second year in a row. Becoming one of only four players under the age of 21 to do so on the women’s tour.

“I hope that all this can help me start the next season in a more… intelligent, more experienced way.” She explains. “There is a bit of disappointment with what happened in these months, but at the same time I said to myself, ‘ok, you finally understood’. This means you can work on it and move on. Every player spends moments like that and usually always learns something, I hope it can happen to me too.”

Despite still being a relatively newcomer in the world of coaching, Sabalenka isn’t the first player Tursunov has coached. He had previously worked with compatriot Elena Vesnina and guided her to the 2018 Australian Open doubles finals. During that same year, Vesnina also reached the finals of tournaments in Indian Wells and Madrid under his guidance.

There remains a question as to what the future has in store for Tursunov’s latest partnership. Was their brief break a blessing in disguise or is there more trouble ahead for their working relationship?

“I hope to continue working with Dmitry.” Sabalenka stated.
“We tried to ‘fix’ each other a few things and this helped me stay positive. The intention is simply to move forward because our collaboration is very good and working great, I don’t want to lose him as a coach. If things are going so well, why should I look for someone else?’
“We tried to solve all the problems we had and I think we did it quite well.”

Sabalenka closes out her season with three wins over top 10 players. Defeating Kiki Bertens twice and Ash Barty once.

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From Serena Williams’ Return To Strycova’s Rise: Coaches Shed Light on Their players At Wimbledon

On the eve of women’s semi-finals day at Wimbledon, the coaches working behind the scenes share their thoughts.

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WIMBLEDON: On Thursday the four women taking to Center Court to play their semi-final matches will not be the only nervous people in the stadium. Watching from the sidelines will be their coaches. Who are tasked with the responsibility of trying to guide their players to grand slam glory.

 

24 hours before the matches took place, the mentors of Elina Svitolina, Serena Williams and Barbora Strycova spoke with the media. The latest initiative by the WTA, who has increasingly conducted more media sessions with coaches. Something the ATP Tour is yet to do. The only person missing from the session was Daniel Dobre. Dobre, who is the coach of Simona Halep, declined the invitation. Worried that he may jinx the former world No.1 if he spoke. Shortly after Dobre spoke in public at the French Open, Halep lost.

Svitolina’s British asset

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Being British Andrew Bettles knows Wimbledon very well. He is a former junior player who once featured in the boy’s draw. Unfortunately for Somerset-born Bettles, he admits that he was ‘not good enough’ to embark upon professional tennis. However, he has always made an impact on the WTA Tour at the age of 26.

“It’s amazing. Growing up Wimbledon has always been so special. To be around it is amazing for me personally.” Said Bettles.
“I wasn’t a good enough player, but the coaching side always fascinated me. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing coaches, and I’ve been lucky that Elina has given me this opportunity to be her coach.”

A former hitting partner to Ana Ivanovic, he was eventually promoted to the coach of Svitolina, who has become the first woman from her country to reach the last four of a grand slam. Svitolina will play Halep in her semi-final match and leads their head-to-head 4-3.

“It’s always been a good match-up.” Bettles previewed. “I think the key is to be aggressive and kind of maybe take a bit of control from the baseline. Then see if she can dictate the point.”
“The grass is playing pretty slow so it is about being more aggressive. The Grass is a leveler, but you can use it to your advantage as well. “ He added.

Whilst he may still be considered a newcomer to the world of coaching, Bettles has already proven that he knows what he is doing. Guiding his player to the WTA Finals title last year.

“I think because we are similar ages we get on very well. I can understand what she is going through and we are good friends. It’s not like I’m the boss. We talk things through and work things out together.” The Brit commented about their partnership.

Five facts about Bettles
-Graduated from Boise State University in 2014 with a degree in English Lit
-He was Boise State University’s No.1 singles player
-A former national champion in juniors
-Worked with Ivanovic between 2015-2016, before joining Svitolina’s team in 2017.
-During a very brief time on the Futures tour, he peaked at a high of 917th and won $5,968 in prize money.

Serena’s rock

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Patrick Mouratoglou is undoubtedly one of the most well-known coaches in the world of women’s tennis. He has been guiding Serena Williams on the tour after working with a wealth of players on both the men’s and women’s tour.

It has been a turbulent season for the Mouratoglou-Williams team. Injury issues with Williams’ ankle and knee has hampered her training sessions and tournament schedule. Wimbledon is only the sixth WTA tournament of 2019 for the 37-year-old.

“I think she is in a good place at the moment. I think she is happy.” The Frenchman said ahead of Williams’ match against Strycova.
“She has been pain-free for three weeks and feels so much lighter.’
“When you focus on your pain so much because you’re in pain, it is difficult to prepare well for tournaments. You have to adapt to that pain to play tournaments.”

Williams has undoubtedly been gathering in momentum as the Wimbledon tournament has progressed. She has dropped two sets in five matches played. Scoring wins over seeded players Juia Georges in the third round and Carla Saurez Navarro in the fourth. In the quarter-finals, she edged her way past Alison Riske. One of the most in-form players on grass this season.

“In the last match (against Riske) you could see that she was able to raise her game when necessary, which was one of her trademarks. Everything is positive.” Said Mouratoglou.
“She started really slow in the tournament in terms of the level of play. I think the second round match was a key moment. I said afterward (to Serena) that it was the first time she was really struggling with her game and she dug deep and the next two sets were so much better. She felt her game better.”

Quietly confident of more success on Thursday at The All England Club, Williams’ mentor says her game is suited for the grass.

“Serve and return are two of her biggest assets. On the grass when you have those two things you have a big advantage and that is probably why she has had so much success on that surface.”

The American has won more matches (106) and more titles (8) than any other active player on the surface. This year is her 16th main draw appearance at Wimbledon.

Five facts about Mouratoglou
-Started coaching at the age of 26
-Previously coached Marcos Baghdatis (2005-06), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2006-08), Yanina Wickmayer (2010), Aravane Rezai (2009-2010), Laura Robson (2010-11), Jeremy Chardy (2011) and Grigor Dimitrov (2011-12)
– 84% of Williams’ time as world No.1 has been under his guidance
-Founder of the prestigious Mouratoglou Tennis Academy
-Also works as a TV commentator

The late bloomer

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At the age of 33 Strycova is relishing in her best ever run at a grand slam tournament. Whilst not being the most powerful player on the tour, she counteracts speed with the use of slice, as well as the serve and volley. Reminiscent of how the game used to be played in the past. Strycova’s play proved too much for her opponent in the previous round.

“When you are playing against a player like (Johanna) Konta, who is more powerful than you, you have to find a way to eliminate that and play something different.” Explained coach Lukas Dlouhy.
“Hopefully we can find some tactic for Serena as well.”

Dlouhy is one of two coaches working with the Czech. The other is David Kotyza, who used to collaborate with Petra Kvitova. Strycova is also an accomplished doubles player and is currently ranked third in the world.

“We started 18 months ago together with Barbora. Some tournaments David goes to and some tournament I am going to.” Dlouhy commented about the setup.
“We just have to make a right schedule and that’s it.’
“We are working together so there are no disagreements.”

Refusing to give any details about the game plan for the upcoming match, which is likely to be similar to the one she used against Konta, Strycova’s mentor believes Williams can be beaten. Even though she hasn’t won a set in their three previous meetings on the tour.

“When you have a 0-3 record against Serena it’s tough. But she’s trying and she wants to win. She isn’t just going there to participate.” He said.
“It different because she was younger and had a different type of game. Now she is at the top of her game.’
“Serena has won everything, but she has days when you can beat her. So hopefully we can find out a way about how to do it.”

Known for her sometimes fiery attitude on the court, Dlouhy admits that it isn’t always easy to work with the former top 20 player. However, the positives outweigh the negatives.

“She has a lot of emotions. So some days it is tough to be in her box. Otherwise, she’s a good girl. She’s working and doing everything right. It’s enjoyable to be with her.” He concluded.

Five facts about Dlouhy 
-A former world No.5 in doubles
-Played hockey as a teenager, but chose to focus fully on tennis at the age of 15
-Won 10 ATP doubles titles, including the French Open and the US Open in 2009.
-Growing up his tennis idol was Yevgeny Kafelnikov
-Earned more than $3 million in prize money during his professional career.

The women’s semi-finals will get underway at 13:00 on Thursday. The first match will be Svitolina against Halep followed by Williams’ clash with Strycova.

 

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