Marin Cilic Continues To Blossom In The Shadow Of The Big Four - UBITENNIS
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Marin Cilic Continues To Blossom In The Shadow Of The Big Four

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LONDON: At the start of the Aegon Championships the three title favourites were Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic. One name left out was former US Open champion Marin Cilic, who continues to play in the shadows of the elite.

 

Unlike the top three seeds, Cilic remains in the draw at The Queen’s Club. On Thursday he impressed the London crowd with an emphatic 6-0, 6-4, win over 19-year-old Stefan Kozlov.  The disparity in experience between the two was noticeable from the onset. Former US Open champion Cilic was targeting his sixth quarter-final in his 11th consecutive year playing at The Queen’s Club. In comparison 19-year-old qualifier Kozlov found himself playing a top 10 player for the first time in his career.

“I approached today as any other day. Especially when you’re in this kind of a tournament, playing on grass and playing a youngster like Kozlov, you have to be ready from the first point.” Said Cilic.

Cilic’s power and speed overwhelmed the American during what was a clinical first set performance from the Croat. During the 24-minute display, he dropped only two points behind his serve as he benefited heavily from Kozlov’s unforced error count.

Producing such an outstanding display, Cilic soon had to contend with the crowd cheering on the underdog. When Kozlov claimed his first game of the match in the second set, a huge roar erupted around centre court. Still, it failed to disrupt the fourth seed and his stronghold in the match. A disastrous Kozlov service game, featuring a quartet of errors, extended his lead to a set and a break. The one-sided triumph was concluded a couple games later when the Croat hit a clean forehand winner on match point.

“I think I played really well. Served extremely good. I think he was struggling a bit with his serve, so didn’t have such a great rhythm.” He reflected afterwards.

A run of good form

As the best players in the world currently struggle to find consistency in their game, Cilic is having more success. This week is the sixth time he has reached the quarterfinals of an ATP tournament since April. Overshadowing Djokovic’s tally of four and Murray’s two within the same period. Still, the Croat continues to play in the shadow of the Big Four (Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer). Some might find the scenario frustrating, but Cilic sees it as an opportunity.

“The media attention is always towards the small part of players, and that’s the way it goes.” The 28-year-old explained.
“For me, I don’t mind that. Just it’s less talking for me, which is good (smiling). I’m still focused on myself to improve.” He later added.

Cilic currently has a losing head-to-head record against every member of the Big Four, but has defeated them all at some point. Asked if that fact he isn’t in the media spotlight compared to his rivals enhances his game, the Croat played down the significance. Instead, it is his own objectives that are pushing him to succeed.

“I’m setting up some goals for myself, some targets with the game where I want to go to, and that’s what’s driving me.”

The individual focus of the Croat has taken him to a win away from returning to his career high of sixth in the world. In order to regain the position he needs to defeat Donald Young on Friday, a player he hasn’t played since 2015.

“I’m pushing myself forward, improving week after week, and hoping that definitely at the end of the year when I’m going to be looking back that I’m going to have a  great season.” He concluded.

This week eight top-10 players are participating in tournaments. Cilic is one of only two that is still participating. The other is Roger Federer at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle.

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Arthur Rinderknech claims his first Challenger title in Istanbul

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French 25-year-old player Arthur Rinderknech started his 2021 season with his third career Challenger title in Istanbul after beating his compatriot Benjamin Bonzi 4-6 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (7-3) after 2 hours and 17 minutes. In the erlier rounds he beat Next Gen player Brandon Nakashima, Marc-Andrea Huesler in the quarter final and Jozef Kovalik in the semifinal. 

 

Rinderknech becomes the first qualifier to win an ATP Challenger since Carlos Alcaraz won the Trieste tournament last August. 

Rinderknech won seven matches in eight days as a qualifier on the indoor hard courts of the TED Sports Club in Istanbul. The Frenchman has improved his best ranking by 43 spots to reach a career-high number 135 in the ATP Ranking. 

Rinderknech improved his best ranking by nearly 200 spots to a year-end position inside the top 200 in 2020. He started last year’s season with a Challenger title in Rennes and claimed his second title in Calgary. He received a main draw wild-card at Roland Garros and made his Grand Slam debut in the French capital. 

Rinderknech is playing this week in another Challenger tournament in the Open Quimper Bretagne Occidentale. He is one of nine players in the top 150 in Quimper. 

“It feels great to win the first Challenger of the year and even more when it’s a 125-level tournament. I am happy about the way I handled things this week and went through seven matches in eight days”, said Rinderknech. 

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‘I Play For Grand Slams’ – Serena Williams Hails Quarantine Measures Ahead Of Australian Open

The tennis star gives her own view about the quarantine process in Australia.

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Former world No.1 Serena Williams has praised Australian authorities over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as she nears her return to professional tennis.

 

The multiple Grand Slam winner is currently conducting her 14-day quarantine process in Adelaide along with her team and family as part of the rules set out by Tennis Australia. All players have been kept inside what has been described as a ‘bubble’ for their first two weeks of arriving in the country before they are allowed to play any tournaments. Those who test positive or are a contact case of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19 must stay in their rooms at all times.

As a result of the procedures, some players have complained about the conditions and how they have been treated. Spain’s Paula Badosa, who has the coronavirus, says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities. The world No.67 has been moved to a health hotel with her coach following the positive test. There has also been some complaints from others over their rooms, food and allegations of preferential treatment for those in Adelaide.

On the other hand, Williams says she has no problems with what she describes as a ‘super intense’ quarantine as she pays tribute to those running the system.

“It’s super, super strict, but it’s really good,” Williams told The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
“It’s insane and super intense but it’s super good because after that you can have a new normal like we were used to this time last year in the United States.
“It’s definitely hard with a three-year-old to be in the hotel all day, but it’s worth it because you want everyone to be safe at the end of the day.”

The 39-year-old will head to Melbourne Park next week with the goal of trying to tie the all-time record for most Grand Slam titles held by a singles player. It was at the Australian Open where she recorded her last major triumph back in 2017. However, since then Williams has only won one title which was at the ASB Classic 12 months ago. Although she did finish runner-up at four majors between 2018-2019.

“I play right now for Grand Slams and I love to have the opportunity to still be out there and to compete at this level,” she stated.
“It (the Australian Open) was one of my favourite slams growing up. I have so many friends in Melbourne, it’s really nice. Every time I win a Grand Slam it means the world to me so they are all really special.”

Williams’ Grand Slam tally currently stands at 23 which is one behind Margaret Court. Although Court won 13 of her titles prior to the start of the Open Era in 1968 which was when Grand Slams allowed professional players to compete with amateurs.

This Friday Williams will take on Naomi Osaka in the ‘Day at the Drive’ exhibition event in Adelaide.

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‘An Incredible Job’ – Nick Kyrgios Hails Strict Australian Open Quarantine Measures

The outspoken Australian also explains why he believes it is right to publicly criticise top names such as Novak Djokovic.

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Nick Kyrgios says he feels safer playing tennis than last year following a series of COVID-19 measures that have been implemented ahead of the Australian Open.

 

The former top-20 star has hailed the action taken by authorities which has triggered a somewhat mixed response from other players. Those playing in the first Grand Slam of the season are currently going through a 14-day quarantine with 72 players being unable to leave their room after being deemed a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for the virus. A series of positive tests was detected on flights en route to the country.

Although some players have criticised the process with allegations of poor room standards and preferential treatment for the top players who are currently based in Adelaide instead of Melbourne. Spain’s Paula Badosa tested positive for COVID-19 on the sixth day of her quarantine and had symptoms. In a recent interview with the Marca newspaper, Badosa says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities during what is the ‘worst experience’ of her career.

However, Kyrgios has hailed the comprehensive approach that has been taken by the authorities. He was one of the few players not to travel to Europe or North America during the second part of last year due to concerns related to the Pandemic. Compatriot Ash Barty was another to do the same.

“In Melbourne, with obviously the bubble, they’ve done an incredible job there. The authorities aren’t letting up and [are] making sure everyone is sticking by the rules,” Kyrgios told CNN.
“I actually feel quite safe. I didn’t really feel safe during last year, traveling and playing overseas, I thought it was a bit too soon to play.
“I think now the conditions are safe enough and everyone is going to work together and make sure we do it the right way.
“I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. I have loved ones that I don’t want to even have the chance to expose to Covid so I think it’s safe enough.”

Renowned for his at times fiery behaviour on the Tour and outspoken tone, the 25-year-old has no intention of changing his habits. Last summer he hit out at a series of his peers over their behaviour during the pandemic and blasted the Adria Tour. An exhibition series co-founded by Novak Djokovic which had to end early following an outbreak of the virus among players and staff members.

Djokovic is one of the players who Kyrgios has criticised the most in recent times. On January 18th he called the 17-time Grand Slam champion a ‘tool’ on Twitter after his letter to Craig Tiley was leaked to the public. Nevertheless, Kyrgios has no regrets over his comments as he feels it is vital to hold the top names accountable as he drew parallels between Djokovic and NBA great LeBron James.

I think it’s very important, especially one of the leaders of our sport. He’s technically our LeBron James,” he said.
“He has to set an example for all tennis players out there and set an example for tennis,”
added Kyrgios. “I think when he was doing some of the things that he was doing during the global pandemic, it just wasn’t the right time.
“I know everyone makes mistakes. Even some of us go off track sometimes but I think we need to hold each other accountable.
“I’m not doing any of this stuff for media attention, these are the morals that I’ve grown up with. I was just trying to do my part.”

Due to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and injury, Kyrgios hasn’t played a full competitive match on the ATP Tour since his fourth round loss to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open almost a year ago.

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