The ATP First Quarter Report Card - UBITENNIS
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The ATP First Quarter Report Card

Ubitennis reviews the first three months of action on the ATP Tour this year.

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Roger Federer (zimbio.com)

Examining the performances of the most notable players from the first three months of the season, as well as their prospects heading into Q2.

Roger Federer
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It was an historic Q1 for Roger Federer. After winning his unprecedented 20th major title at the Australian Open, he decided to play in Rotterdam and regained the number one ranking from Rafael Nadal. Federer had not been number one since 2012, setting a record for the most days elapsed between weeks at number one. He is also the oldest man to ever be number one in the world. Roger went 17-0 to start 2018, the longest winning streak to start a year out of any year in his career. However, Federer ended the quarter on a two-match losing streak, the first time he lost back-to-back matches since 2014. After losing in a final set tiebreak in an excellent Indian Wells final against Juan Martin Del Potro, he was defeated by Thanasi Kokkinakis in his Miami opening round in another final set tiebreak. We won’t be seeing much of Roger in Q2, as he again will be skipping the entire clay court season. A lot can change in three months in the tennis world, but there’s no evidence to suggest he won’t be a top contender to win his 10th title in Halle & his ninth title at Wimbledon.

Juan Martin Del Potro

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Federer may have dominated the first half of Q1, but Del Potro was the best player in the world for the second half. The Argentine started the year by advancing to the final in Auckland, where he lost in a tight final to Roberto Bautista Agut. He then suffered earlier losses in Melbourne and Del Ray Beach. But it was in Acapulco where Del Potro began a 15-match winning streak. That week in Mexico, he bested three top 10 seeds to take the title. Then in Indian Wells, there was the thrilling victory against Federer. He was clearly spent in Miami, yet still managed to make the semifinals. Following so many years of suffering from wrist troubles, Juan Martin is finally playing his best tennis again. He is now hitting over his backhand rather than hitting almost all backhand slices. After some much-needed rest, a healthy Del Potro will be a threat in any tournament on any surface. From now through August, he does not have a lot of points to defend. He should easily ascend to his career-high ranking of number three, and possibly beyond. With such a high seeding at the majors, he should avoid prolonged early-round battles and be fresher at the end of the fortnights.

Marin Cilic

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Cilic has now made two of the last three major finals, accounting himself much better in the more recent one as he pushed Federer to five sets in Melbourne. Marin went just 4-3 over the next two months, and the clay season is not Marin’s strong suit. The French Open is the only major where Cilic has not been passed the quarterfinals, though he did advance to that round for the first time just last year. Q3 is likely the next possible peak time for Cilic, but I’m interested to see how Marin deals with the demons that await him at Wimbledon. In both of the past two years, Cilic suffered devastating defeats at the hands of Roger Federer.

Hyeon Chung

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The winner of the inaugural ATP Next Gen Finals in November has used the momentum from that victory to catapult his career to a new level in 2018. After his big breakthrough at the Australian Open, where he upset both Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic in making it all the way to the semifinals, he’s continued to consistently perform well. Chung has advanced to the quarterfinals at every subsequent tournament. He’s currently fourth in the ATP Race to London. Looking to Q2, Chung has shown he can also play on the clay. Including qualifying rounds, Hyeon had 13 wins during the 2017 European clay court season. I look for Chung to continue to ascend the rankings in Q2.

Kevin Anderson

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Speaking of consistent performers on tour, The South African has rather quietly become one, and currently sits at number five in the Race to London. Aside from his five-set opening round loss to eventual semifinalist Kyle Edmund at the Australian Open, Anderson made the quarterfinals or better at every Q1 tournament he entered. This included winning the title at the inaugural New York Open, where he pulled out three matches in final set tiebreaks. However, he still has a few troubling patterns in his career to overcome. Most notably, he is now 0-10 in Masters 1,000 quarterfinals, which includes losses at that stage in both Indian Wells and Miami. He’s also just 2-9 in Grand Slam fourth rounds, with the US Open being the only major he’s been passed the fourth round. The clay and the grass are not his forte, as Kevin has zero combined titles on those two surfaces. But Anderson will have a higher seeding in tournaments now that he is ranked inside the top eight, so the coming months are a good opportunity to change those patterns.

John Isner

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Isner’s loss in the Bercy semifinals to qualifier Filip Krajinovic back in November must have been extremely disappointing, especially considering a tournament win would have qualified him for his ATP Finals debut. That negative momentum carried over to 2018, as he started the year just 2-6. But everything changed for Isner in Miami, where he beat many in-form players, including three top five seeds, to win the biggest title of his career. And you may be surprised to read that Roland Garros is Isner’s second-best major in terms of winning percentage. He’s twice been as far as the fourth round in Paris, and once pushed Nadal to five sets. He’s also defeated Roger Federer on clay, and advanced to the semis last year at the Rome Masters. The point here is Isner can play on the clay, so I look for John to carry his newfound confidence into strong Q2 results.

Rafael Nadal

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Unfortunately it was a rather quiet Q1 for Rafael Nadal due to hip and leg injuries. The Australian Open was the only tournament he played, and he was forced to retire during the fifth set of his quarterfinal match with Marin Cilic. Nadal is set to return to the court later this week at the Davis Cup tie against Germany. With Federer’s opening round loss in Miami, Nadal narrowly recaptured the number one ranking despite being sidelined. But Rafa has 4,680 points to defend on the clay, including titles at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, and Roland Garros. Coming off a two-month injury layoff, it’s hard to imagine Nadal can be as dominant on the clay this season. He will most likely drop the number one ranking back to Federer in the coming weeks. The bigger question is this: will Nadal be healthy enough to win an astounding 11th French Open title? Rafa has either withdrawn or retired from every tournament he’s entered over the past five months. While I’m sure he gave his body rest in hopes of peaking on the clay, it’s hard to see Nadal reaching the peak level needed to win seven best-of-five matches in Paris.

Novak Djokovic

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What a bizarre few months it’s been for Novak Djokovic. In his first tournament in six months, he was upset by Hyeon Chung in the fourth round of the Australian Open. He then had a small surgical procedure done on his elbow. Novak returned to the court in Indian Wells, where he looked lackluster, and at times unmotivated, during his opening round loss to Taro Daniel. He arrived in Miami stating he was pain-free for the first time in a long time, but proceeded to lose in his opening round to Benoit Paire. And with the sudden announcement that Andre Agassi has left Djokovic’s camp, with Agassi citing they disagreed “far too often,” Novak’s immediate future is all the more murky. I still believe Djokovic will eventually return to the top of the sport, but it seems it’s going to take much longer than initially anticipated. With Federer on the sidelines, and many of his contemporaries also far from 100%, I’m curious to see if Novak can regain some of his mojo on the clay.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas’ Rapid Rise On The Tour Draws Admiration From His Rivals

The 19-year-old is set to break into the world’s top 25 after climbing more than 100 places in the rankings over the past 12 months.

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Prior to this year, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas had only won four matches on the ATP World Tour in his entire career. Just eight months later, some of his rivals are already tipping him for future stardom in the sport.

Tsitsipas’ rapid rise in the sport has been one of the most impressive among the Next Generation contingent. His first breakthrough occurred at the Barcelona Open in April where he defeated Dominic Thiem and Pablo Carreno Busta on route to the final. Only to be denied the title by the formidable Rafael Nadal.

“I felt emotionally connected with the fans and the crowd and the place and the location I was playing. But that loss matured me. Made me braver and more experienced, I would say.” The 19-year-old reflected about his Barcelona run.

Since Barcelona, the Greek has managed to reach the quarter-finals or better at tournaments on three different surfaces in Estoril (clay), ‘s-Hertogenbosch (grass) and Washington (hard court). At Wimbledon he became the first ATP player from his country in the Open Era to reach the fourth round.

Blessed with a blistering forehand, Tsitsipas continues his rise this week at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. In his tournament debut, he powered through the first two rounds with straight sets wins over Damir Dzumhur and French Open finalist Thiem. The Austrian is the first top 10 player Tsitsipas has defeated on multiple occasions.

“He doesn’t really have any weakness. He’s playing fast and aggressive from both sides. I think he will be a top player in the future. I think in the next one, two years, we will see him in the top 10.” Thiem commented about his opponent earlier this week.

On Thursday, Tsitsipas recorded arguably the biggest win of his career to date. Taking on former world No.1 Novak Djokovic, he battled to a shock 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, win. There was no fear shown by the rising star against a player considered to be one of the greatest of the Open Era. Throughout the 139-minute encounter he only faced two break points, saving both of them. Scoring back-to-back wins over top 10 players for the first time.

“I feel very proud for me, myself, and my country. I’m putting Greece more deep into the map of tennis. So I’m pretty sure I’m making my family proud, all of those people that are watching, my coach, my father. It was a very emotional win,” Tsitsipas said during his press conference. “I’ve never felt so many emotions after a victory.”

Tsitsipas’ latest win has won praise from Djokovic himself. The Serbian, who was playing his first match since winning the Wimbledon title, refused to be disappointed about his loss. Acknowledging the performance of his opponent, who he has tipped for future success.

“He’s definitely one of the leaders of NextGen without a doubt, especially this season. He’s had some terrific results and terrific wins.” Said Djokovic.
“He’s showing a lot of commitment, a lot of discipline. He’s putting in the hours in the gym, on the tennis court, and it’s paying off. I mean, he’s very talented. He was the best junior in the world.
“If he keeps on going this way, he’s got a good future.”

Admitting that he is still learning on the tour, Tsitsipas will play in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final on Friday. He will take on defending champion Alexander Zverev for the second consecutive week. At the Citi Open in Washington, the two clashed in the semi-finals with Zverev winning 6-2, 6-4.

As a result of his latest win, Tsitsipas is set to rise to a ranking high of 23rd in the world. His win-loss for the season currently stands at 32-20.

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Italian Hopeful Berrettini Is Becoming Reality

The newly-crowned Gstaad champion is climbing the ranking with his well-contained demeanour and his hard-to-contain first serves

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It was only six months ago that Matteo Berrettini was standing on Court 20 at the Australian Open hitting a ball towards the tram stop and shouting “I want to die, what the f**k did I do to deserve something like this?”. He was playing against Denis Kudla in the third and final round of the qualifying tournament and a few minutes earlier he had squandered two match points on 5-3 40-15 in the third set to end up losing the match 4-6 6-3 7-5. That was his first chance to make it to the main draw of a Grand Slam (a few months earlier he had lost to Tsitsipas in round 2 at the US Open qualifications tournament), which he was able to clinch anyway as a lucky loser.

Fast forward to July 2018, and we find him lifting the trophy at the Swiss Open in Gstaad where he conquered his first ATP title not only without dropping a set, but without ever losing his serve. This win propelled him to the 54th spot of the ATP Ranking, with not many points to defend in the last part of the season and a great chance to use his thunderous serve and blistering forehand on the hard court in North America and in Asia.

After a six-month stop in 2016 due to a knee injury and a first part of 2017 when he won his first ATP Challenger title in San Benedetto, Italy, he started feeling the pressure of his own success and missed one of the main goals for the season: in the play-offs for the Italian wild-card at the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan, he lost in his first match as n.1 seed and overwhelming favorite to underdog Liam Caruana, forfeiting the chance to meet the best young guns in the circuit on a world-class stage. “In general, he is a very calm player – said his coach Vincenzo Santopadre, a former Top 100 player – but during the last few months of the last season he was a lot more tense, he had lost some of his usual tranquillity”.

But the golden boy who is lighting up the enthusiasm of the Italian tennis fans, still waiting for a Top-10 player since the end of the ‘70s, kept maintaining his general composure in the face of burning defeats like the one in Australia against Kudla or some of the Challengers finals lost in 2017 against top-100 players like Malek Jaziri and Sergiy Stakhovsky after having led the match on multiple occasions. “I often re-watch my matches to analyze them – declared Berrettini in an off-season interview to Tennis World Italia – I am very critical towards myself, and seeing the mistakes I’ve made can only be good for me. Vincenzo [Santopadre] was very good at making me see the positive aspects of the finals I lost, even if I was feeling quite down for having missed those chances”.

Neither Matteo nor his coach Vincenzo were not targeting a specific position at the beginning of 2018: “It’s not time to focus on ranking and points, not yet – said Berrettini – it’s more important to be healthy and work on my fitness”. “Our objective for this season is to improve on his strengths, serve and forehand, to make sure they are worth of the top 100 – commented Santopadre – but we also need to reinforce his backhand and his return. I would love for him to take the net more often, but I believe that will come with time”.

In six months Berrettini not only has consolidated his serve+forehand play, making it a Top-50-worth cornerstone of his game, but has also made significant progress on his backhand. “Last March in Indian Wells I watched [Berrettini]’s last training session with Shapovalov: on the backhand side it was one in the court and two in the net or on the fence – says Ubitennis’ technical expert Luca Baldissera – now he is incredibly more solid in the rallies and can even go for winners at times”.

During the final in Gstaad, the Italian served 11 aces in the first set alone, four of which during the tie break he won by 10 points to 8. And after his triumph in the singles final, he went on to take home also the doubles’ title with his fellow countryman Daniele Bracciali, completing a memorable week for him on the Swiss Alps.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s like a dream” he kept repeating after that triumphant Sunday, but he may have to get used to this more quickly than he expects: his 135mph serve demands it. However, anyone who has had the chance to spend an hour talking to this very balanced young man has very little doubt that his early successes will not distract him from the long term goal, which is “becoming the best that I can be”. And in order to achieve this goal, Berrettini has included in his team a mental coach (Stefano Massari) who works regularly with him when he trains at the Rome Tennis Academy, a venture launched at Circolo Canottieri Roma by Santopadre himself, whom Berrettini followed to that club when he was 14. “The time I spend recovering from the injury in 2016 was very important for me: I spent a lot of time in Rome, with my family, went on vacation, all things I hadn’t done in a while. I started dating my girlfriend and this gave me a good perspective on life. Vincenzo made me work with the kids of the tennis school and all this made me click: when I was able to return to practice I was a different player, more mature, more focused”.

The disappointment of ATP Next Gen play offs and the desperate words shouted on Court 20 at Melbourne Park are nothing but a pale memory now: Berrettini’s focus is locked in on the rest of the 2018 season now, and it sure is looking bright.

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Serena Williams Feels The Magnetic Power Of The Couch As Well

Danish sports psychologist Adam Blicher explains why commitment is more important than motivation in tennis.

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When we look at Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic, we tend to believe that they are always motivated. That they are always ready to go out there and practice extremely hard and compete with all of their heart at any point in time.

We think that they do not feel that magnetic power of the couch that all of us other normal human beings feel.

However, the difference between Serena and Novak and then all the rest of us is not in the feelings we experience. If you watch the Serena documentary, you will clearly see how she is often times struggling with motivation, and if you listen to interviews with Novak Djokovic after his long anticipated French Open victory, you will get to know that he has struggled to find the motivation to keep pushing himself further.

The difference is in whether we sit back in our couch and wait for the feeling of motivation to arrive. And if it doesn’t, we will stay in the couch not putting in the necessary work to simply have a shot at fulfilling our long-term goals and acting in accordance with our values.

A lot of us believe that tennis should be fun, and if it is no longer fun, we shouldn’t be doing it.

But in reality, getting out of the magnetic field of the couch, all depends on how committed we are to achieving our goals. Being committed is much more important than being motivated.

Committed to a bigger purpose. Having a clear set of goals and values that you follow.

If you do decide to go out on the practice court instead of sitting around waiting, you might just experience the motivation that you have been looking for. You might feel it as you step foot on the court, you might feel it half way through the practice session, or in some instances you might not feel it at all. But at least you did what was necessary to achieve your goals and follow your values – key ingredients for successful players.

So remember that what is important is to not sit back and wait for the feeling of motivation to come. Instead, get out there on the practice court. You may not have a perfect practice, but you have still come a long way if you are having a good practice on the days where you have no motivation at all.

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