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EXCLUSIVE: Start Spreading The News – The New York Open Wants To Be a ‘500’

NEW YORK – An interview with the New York Open Tournament Director, Josh Ripple, reveals origin and ambitions of the Big Apple’s newest tournament

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The launch of a new tournament is always a very complex affair. Doing it in the ultra-competitive New York City market, and for more having a “peripheric” (yet refurbished) arena as a location, is even harder. Some fans may have turned up their nose seeing the empty stands at the New York Open during the first days of the competition, more similar to what is being witnessed at some Asian tournament than what the North American crowds are accustomed to, but the first edition of the tournament that has inherited the ATP of Memphis’ rich history has ended without any visible glitch, both semifinals and the finals all went to distance, and the final weekend attracted decent crowds to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, approximately 50 kilometers from Manhattan.

 

With the exception of the controversial incident between Ryan Harrison and Donald Young during their first round match and the unfortunate comment made by Adrian Mannarino about the remote location of the venue at the end of his tournament (“thank goodness my girlfriend was here this week, or I would have killed myself”), players and fans alike generally appreciated the atmosphere of the tournament and it was particularly praised the proximity to the arena of the official hotel, the Marriott Long Island, located adjacent to the main parking lot, 200 meters from the main entrance and served by an underground corridor allowing players to make the ‘journey’ almost entirely indoor.

A few hours before the final we were given the opportunity to have a long chat with Josh Ripple, the New York Open Tournament Director, who explained us the reasons for having an indoor ATP tournament in New York and what plans are in store for the future of this event.

How did you get the idea to move the tournament from Memphis to New York City?
My company, GF Sports, acquired the rights for the ATP tournament in Memphis in June 2015, after having previously purchased the rights to the ATP event in Atlanta. Our aim was to bring some of our assets to the New York Area, since we are a Manhattan-based company, but we immediately realized it would be a very hard task due to the scarcity of buildings available to host an event like a tennis tournament. When we took over in Memphis, the event was struggling financially, and we needed to find a way out of that downward spiral. In late 2016 we started looking for an alternative location and it so happened that our leadership learned that NYCB Live, the company running the Nassau Coliseum, was looking for new tenants. There we had it: a large, legacy building, with an important history, completely renovated, without an NBA or NHL tenant, and in close proximity of New York City. In a few months, we reached an agreement and we announced the tournament in April 2017.

How long does the agreement last?
We signed for 10 years, so we are going to be here for the long-haul.

How did you get the idea of this peculiar set-up, with two perpendicular courts?
Partly it is due to ATP requirements, and partly to our brilliant creative team. The Nassau Coliseum has retractable seats and this allowed to fit two courts in the main arena. The perpendicular layout was the best way to do it: I have been around a long time and I remember when indoor tournaments in the USA had two parallel courts, divided by a net. There were noise issues, ball issues, umpiring issues, and generally speaking players didn’t like it.

The tournament is called “New York Open”, but we are not in New York City, Manhattan is quite far away. How do you think you will be able to attract fans from the city and include them in your catchment area?
Of course, the ideal solution for us would be to host the tournament in Manhattan, at the Madison Square Garden, or in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. But that is not going to happen, because of the NBA and NHL team playing there. We are here because this facility was available to us and initially we are going to cater for the Long Island market.
The greater result for us is that the tournament has been accepted by the tennis community: crowds have been lighter at the beginning, but during the weekend we started to get some traction. It will probably take us a couple of years to get to the situation where we have shuttles from one of the LIRR train stations to the venue in order to facilitate access for New Yorkers. The question will be how you get the people who are working in Manhattan to come here in time for the evening matches. Then it will be up to us to deal with session times and transportation issues. But the first couple of years we are looking at penetrating the Long Island market, that could easily sustain this event.

Don’t you think that the relatively remote location of the tournament may represent a negative aspect for the players, who may associate the name “New York” to a range of activities such as restaurants and shows that are hard to access from here?
Maybe, but in my experience, players are quite simple creatures, and very focused on the task at hand. Give them convenient training courts, a hotel close by and great food and they will be happy. After all, players don’t have to be here for two weeks, this isn’t a Slam, they will get here just before the tournament starts and as soon as they lose they will head down to Delray Beach to wherever their next event is. I don’t see much need for insular activities.
Of course, if a player wants to catch a Broadway show, he can do that, but it’s going to be a bit of a hassle. Through the company running the building, Brooklyn Sports Entertainment, who own the Brooklyn Nets and also own a stake in the New York Islanders, we were able to organize the players’ party at a Nets game on Friday night. Everyone had a great time, the game went to a double overtime, so it was even more exciting, but it took us 1 hour and 20 minutes to get from here to the Barclays Center on Friday evening: that may have discouraged many players from taking trips to the City.
In essence, during this first year of operations, the distance from the City did not emerge as a problem.

With the event being held in February in North America on an indoor court, do you think it will be a problem for you to attract players given that you are rather isolated in the calendar?
Of course, if you are looking at playing other tournaments like this in the USA, you can’t do that, because all the other indoor events in this part of the season are in Europe. For this reason, I believe it will be difficult for us to attract European players: it’s too early for them to come to the USA in mid-February, it’s much easier for them to play Rotterdam and the other indoor event in Europe. This event is going to be amazingly successful if some of the young Americans manage to break into Top 15-20, otherwise we’ll keep having the blend of players we have had this year. As you know the top players demand appearance fees that, for the time being, make no sense for us, so we know that in the short term we are not going to be able to get them here.
When we started the company, GF Sports, our mission statement was to keep tournaments in the USA, provide stages for the young Americans to play on and become stars, and produce the best tournaments that we can produce. So we will always be a bit US-centric.

You mentioned that your company also manages the ATP in Atlanta: how do you see the future of that event?
The deal that we inherited from Atlanta was a fantastic deal: at the time of the move from Norcross, in 2011, a real estate development company was building an outdoor mall in Atlantic Station and they were looking for events to promote their project. However, deals like that don’t come around very often: the original contract was for seven years, so this will be the last edition in Atlantic Station and, as things stand now, we will be looking for a new home for the 2019 tournament. The event has done well during the past several years, the crowd likes it, so we would prefer to stay in Atlanta to maintain the brand awareness that has been created throughout the years, but if we have to move to a different location, we will embrace the challenge of launching in a new city exactly the way we have done here in New York, although frankly I’d prefer not having to do it.

Finally, if you could picture a perfect scenario for this tournament in five years, what would it look like?
Our dream would be to be upgraded to 500, but we know it’s difficult and it’s mainly outside of our control. We would like to have a situation where we are credible in the mind of players, so that we can attract a field that comes here because it is a big-time place to play. Also, I would like to get to the stage where we could change the configuration of the arena mid-week, removing the second court and switching from a 6,500-seat configuration for the main court to a 12,000-seat configuration. Finally, I would love to be able to build tented practice courts outside the venue, where fans could go and watch the practice sessions. At the moment this is not financially feasible, but we hope to get there soon.

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(EXCLUSIVE) Ricardas Berankis’ Coach On Wimbledon Showdown With Rafael Nadal

Dirk Hordorff speaks to UbiTennis about the world No.106 and his chances against the second seed.

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Ricarcas Berankis at Wimbledon (image via http://www.yonex.co.uk/_assets/)

Ricardas Berankis is no stranger to Wimbledon as he marks the 12th anniversary of his first-ever main draw win at the tournament after coming through three rounds of qualifying.

 

A stand-out player in his younger years, the Lithuanian topped the world junior rankings and won the US Open boys title back in 2007 when he defeated Jerzy Janowicz in the final. Transitioning to the pro level was never straightforward for Berankis who is now 32-year-old. Nevertheless, he has made his impression on the Tour with runs to two ATP Tour finals in 2012 (Los Angeles) and 2017 (Moscow). He also won the 2015 US Men’s Clay Court doubles title in Houston alongside Teymuraz Gabashvili.

Today Berankis is ranked 106th in the world, which is 56 places below his career-high. His best performance on the ATP Tour so far this season was in Abu Dubai when he came through qualifying to reach the quarter-finals before losing to Denis Shapovalov. He also reached the final of a Challenger event in Lille.

At Wimbledon this year he started his campaign with a straight-sets win over former semifinalist Sam Querrey. Making it only the fourth time in his career he has won a main draw match at the tournament. His reward is a showdown on Thursday with the formidable Rafael Nadal who is seeking a historic 23rd major title and his third in a row. Nadal defeated Francisco Cerundolo in his opening match.

So can Berankis trouble Nadal on the grass?

The best person to ask is Germany’s Dirk Hordorff who coaches Berankis. The veteran coach has also previously collaborated with the likes of Rainer Schuettler, Lars Burgsmüller, Yen-Hsun Lu, Kristian Pless, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Vasek Pospisil.

During an email exchange with UbiTennis, Hordorff shared his thoughts about Berankis’ upcoming clash with Nadal.

UBITENNIS: It wasn’t until Melbourne this year that Ricardas played Nadal on the Tour for the first time. He lost the match 6-2, 7-5. What did his team learn from that experience?

HIRDORFF: I was not in Melbourne, but I coached unsuccessfully in a lot of matches against Rafa. He is next to Novak (Djokovic) over so many years as a true champion and a great person outside the court. You learn every match against him and Ricardas is ready for this match.

UBITENNIS: When it comes to playing a member of the Big Three, how do you as a coach go about dealing with Berankis’ mentality?

HIRDORFF: Ricardas played a good first round against Sam Querrey. Nevertheless, to play Rafa is a different issue. You need to concentrate on your abilities and not worry about history.

UBITENNIS: Nadal was sternly tested during his opening match. Does this in any way give a confidence boost towards Berankis or do you think it is irrelevant?

HIRDORFF: Every match starts at zero. What Rafa played yesterday doesn’t affect Ricardas’ match. Anyway, Rafa won his first round quite solidly against a good upcoming player.

UBITENNIS: Whilst the odds might be against Ricardas, it isn’t impossible that he could defeat Nadal. What will the key areas be for him to focus on during their match? (e.g. return position, use of slice etc).

HIRDORFF: Ricardas needs to focus on his abilities and take his fine form from the first round in this match. Rafa is a complete player, so you need to perform well in all aspects of the game.

UBITENNIS: What is the most difficult thing about playing Nadal on the tour?

HORDORFF: He is a complete player with a lot of special strengths. Strong serve, good backhand, fast, perfect coordinate and no weak parts in his game.

UBITENNIS: Ricardas might be 32 but he has shown some good results on the Tour (runner-up at a Challenger event in Lille and QF in Dubai). Given the trend of players playing later into their careers, is his best yet to come?

HIRDORFF: Ricardas had to deal with a lot of health problems. I am sure that the best part of his career is yet to come for him.

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EXCLUSIVE: Ana Ivanovic On Wimbledon Memories, Players To Watch And Her Admiration For Williams

The former world No.1 takes part in a special Q&A with UbiTennis ahead of the Wimbledon Championships.

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Former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic (image via https://twitter.com/anaivanovic)

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Ana Ivanović’s best-ever run at the Wimbledon Championships.

 

Just weeks after reaching her first major final at the French Open, Ivanović scored back-to-back wins over Nadia Petrova and Nicole Vaidišová (who she saved three match points against) to reach the semi-finals. She was eventually knocked out of the tournament by Venus Williams who went on to clinch the title. In total she played in the Wimbledon main draw 12 times and achieved a win-loss record of 24-12.  

Throughout her career Ivanović won 15 WTA titles, including the 2008 French Open. She also reached the final of another eight events. She holds the honors of being the first woman in history to win a major title whilst representing Serbia and the only player from her country to have held the No.1 position on the WTA Tour. Ivanović’s period of 12 weeks at the top is a longer streak than Williams, Garbine Mugurza and Karolina Pliskova.

This December marks the sixth anniversary of when Ivanović announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 29 following a series of physical issues. At the time WTA CEO Steve Simon hailed her as a “true champion and a great ambassador for the sport of women’s tennis.”

Leading up to this year’s Wimbledon Championships, UbiTennis managed to catch up with the former world No.1 who is married to former football star Bastian Schweinsteiger and has two young children. Through an email exchange, she speaks about life as an ex-player and gives her views on the upcoming Wimbledon Championships. She also reveals her desire to remain connected with tennis in the future but would she consider a coaching role on the Tour?

UBITENNIS: This December will mark six years since you announced your retirement. What do you miss the most about playing on the Tour?

IVANOVIĆ: To be honest the most I miss is the excitement of playing at the big courts in front of the fans and crowds. I have many special and unforgettable memories. I miss a lot that feeling. Besides that, the traveling and competing in different countries was always something I enjoyed.

UBITENNIS: Since retiring, how closely do you follow the sport now?

IVANOVIĆ: I still follow – obviously not as close as when I was playing – but I still have some friends on tour, so I like to see how they are doing, and I like to see new faces and to see new exciting players.

UBITENNIS: Wimbledon begins on Monday and you played in the main draw 12 times during your career. What are your happiest memories of the tournament?

IVANOVIĆ: Of course, my happiest memory of Wimbledon is reaching semifinal there, that was definitely a very special year for me. But also, I do remember one very special match for me, I played against Nadia Petrova, we had 7 rain delays, and we played from 11 in the morning until 7pm, and we manage to finish just before another rainstorm. That was definitely a unique experience and something I will always remember.

UBITENNIS: What was the biggest difficulty for you when it came to switching from playing on the clay to grass within such a relatively short time?

IVANOVIĆ: The biggest difficulty for me personally when it comes to switching from clay court to grass court were the movements. Clay court was always my favorite. I have enjoyed moving on clay and sliding which let me feel free. On the grass you sometimes feel like you didn’t have as good grip – at least me personally, so I think that kind of adjustment of timing of the movement was for me the most difficult.

UBITENNIS: This year’s women’s draw is headed by Iga Swiatek who is currently on a 35-match winning streak. How impressed are you by Swiatek and who do you think is her biggest threat at Wimbledon?

IVANOVIĆ: I think Iga has been playing really well, and she is also very composed, I think she handles her nerves well. As we all know, Tennis – or actually every sport – is becoming more and more mental game next to the physical and talent game.

I think maybe Serena has a chance, Ons also, because she uses lots of drop shots, on the grass, that can be tough to play against. As well as Angelique Kerber she loves to play on grass, she won Wimbledon before, so I hope she does well.

UBITENNIS: Wimbledon will see the return of Serena Williams to the tournament. How impressed are you that she continues to play at the age of 40? Has this ever given you the temptation to return to competitive action as you are six years younger than Serena?

IVANOVIĆ: It is amazing to see Serena back, I know she loves to play on the grass. I really admire her for everything she achieved and to still compete at the high level of sport at the age of 40 – it is incredible. I am really looking forward to see how she will do this year. For me personally to come back to competitive sport I don’t see myself in that direction. I have other visions and dreams and something that I want to do, to also give something back to society.

UBITENNIS:  As for the men’s draw, who are you most excited about watching? Do you think anybody other than Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could win?

IVANOVIĆ: Novak and Rafa are both playing really well. I think Novak enjoys playing on grass more than Rafa does, and he is defending his title. Obviously, it is always exciting to watch them as they already have so many Grand Slams, and competing for more.

Others than them, there are many interesting players at the moment and I always say that new upcoming players can surprise the top players in early rounds while they are still kind of warming up. Players like Novak and Rafa gain more confidence and strength when they come further and further in the tournament, so it is more difficult for younger players to take them out in the semis or finals especially when it is played best of five sets at the Grand Slams.

UBITENNIS: You had such an impressive career as a tennis player, are you ever tempted to pass on what you learnt to others in the future as either a coach or advisor on the Tour?

IVANOVIĆ: I don’t really see myself as a coach on tour, but I do want to stay involved, because Tennis has been my life. I have been playing since I was five. I am happy to share my experience and give advise but definitely not as a coach.

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EXCLUSIVE: Daria Kasatkina’s Coach – Swiatek Will Lose One Day, So Why Not At The French Open?

Following the Kasatkina’s milestone win at Roland Garros, her mentor Carlos Martinez speaks exclusively to Ubitennis.

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Carlos Martinez

At the age of 25 Daria Kasatkina is relishing in her best-ever run at a Grand Slam tournament after reaching the semi-finals of the French Open without dropping a set.

 

Kasatkina, who has been ranked as high as 10th in the world, has been in impressive form throughout the tournament so far after dropping a total of just 14 games in her first four matches. To put that into perspective, only three players have conceded fewer games in the women’s draw to reach the last eight of the French Open since 2000. She encountered a slightly trickier test in Wednesday’s quarter-final where she ousted compatriot Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6(5). A player who earlier in the clay season was runner-up at the Istanbul Open before going on to win the women’s doubles title in Rome.

The world No.20 is now through to the last four of a major for the first time on her 26th attempt. Overseeing her performance is Spanish Coach Carlos Martinez who has been a fixture in her team for three years. Martinez has a wealth of experience in the sport. Besides being a former professional player himself, he has also guided the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez.

“Dasha is generally doing well in this tournament. She’s managing her emotions very good because it is not easy,” Martinez replied when asked about Kasatkina’s French Open run so far.
“At the beginning of the week she had a very good draw because she played against a lucky loser and then in the second round she played against a qualified ranked 200th in the world. She knew she had to win these two matches and that it is not easy to manage her nerves.’
“From that point she started playing much better. Against (Shelby) Rogers she played a very smart match and the exact same against (Camila) Giorgi. Today (in the quarter-finals) was very emotional for her because she played against a fellow Russian.”

According to data from Flashscore, Kasakina has won between 57% and 76% of her first service points during her five matches played at the French Open. Furthermore, she has managed to save 10 out of 19 break points she has faced so far. Whilst they are not flawless statistics, it is the consistency that is bringing her success.

“She is managing very well. She is not playing unbelievable but she’s making very good decisions,” Martinez explains. “This is the work she has been doing in the last couple of weeks during her clay court preparation. We are very happy with the result.”
“(But) we want more. As I told her the train doesn’t come many times and once it passes you have to then catch it.”

Seeking her place in a Grand Slam final for the first time, Kasatkina next takes on Iga Swiatek. A player who has been her nemesis in recent months. She has already played the world No.1 three times in 2022 and lost all of them in straight sets. On the other hand, Kasatkina did beat the Pole in three sets last year on the grass at Eastbourne.

Undoubtedly she will be the underdog in the semi-final given the dominance by her upcoming opponent in recent weeks. Since 2000, only the Williams sisters have won more matches in a row than Swiatek on the WTA Tour.

“Iga is the player who is in the best shape at the moment. She has won her past 33 matches so it won’t be easy. But the thing I said to Dasha is that one day she has to lose, so why not tomorrow? (semi-finals day),” Martinez said of the upcoming match.
“Dasha has the game to try to win. I think it is going to be a good battle. We have nothing to lose and a lot of things to win. So I think it will be an interesting match and I hope that it is going to be a tough battle.’

There is also an extra incentive for Kasakina to win. Should she progress to the final she will enter the top 10 once again for the first time since January 2019.

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