Italian Open Preview: Denis Shapovalov Looks To Continue His Momentum In Rome - UBITENNIS
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Italian Open Preview: Denis Shapovalov Looks To Continue His Momentum In Rome

Ubitennis previews the two stand out matches taking place at today’s Italian Open.

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Denis Shapovalov (zimbio.com)

In both the men’s and women’s draws this week in Rome, almost all of the top 20 players are entered. In the 64-player draws, with only 16 seeds, top players start to run into each other rather quickly. Here’s a look at the most intriguing match from each side of the draw on Tuesday’s schedule.

Tomas Berdych vs. Denis Shapovalov

Berdych may have 13 years more experience than Shapovalov, but the 19-year-old actually has five more wins than Tomas in 2018. Denis went on a tear last week in Madrid, advancing to the semifinals with victories over Kyle Edmund as well as the number one Canadian, Milos Raonic. Berdych meanwhile is on a three-match losing streak, dating back to Miami where he was upset by Frances Tiafoe in a final set tiebreak. Will the youngster have enough left to defeat another higher seed today in Rome? In their only previous match, Berdych prevailed at Queen’s Club last year in a tight match, 7-5 in the third. That was one of the first signs of things to come for Shapovalov. Denis has only gotten better since that match last June. However, I’m concerned Shapavalov will be a bit burnt out after last week’s run, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Berdych pull this one out.

Elina Svitolina vs. Petra Martic
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While Svitolina already has two titles in 2018, she’s stalled a bit on the clay. She went just 2-2 in Stuttgart and Madrid. But perhaps that will bode well for her Roland Garros chances, as Svitolina’s pattern has been to win titles in the lead-up tournaments, yet fail to advance passed the quarterfinals at a major. Her opponent on Tuesday has quietly put together very solid results over the past 12 months. Martic has made it to the fourth round at three of the last four majors, which included getting through qualifying at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year. The 27-year-old first advanced to a major fourth round back at the 2012 French Open, but in the coming years the Croatian battled injury and saw her ranking plummet. She was outside the top 600 just over a year ago. Martic and Svitolina met at Roland Garros last year, where Svitolina squeezed out a victory 7-5 in the third. In that third set, Martic squandered a 5-2 lead, losing the last five games and a chance to advance to her first major quarterfinal. I’m sure she’ll be motivated to avenge that loss, but she may also have some demons from that match in Paris.

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WTA Finals Draw: Kerber And Wozniacki Lead Unpredictable Field In Singapore

Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki lead a red-hot Singapore field that provides unpredictability and intrigue.

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The WTA Finals line-up

The WTA Finals draw has been made with Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki leading the field in Singapore in what could be the most unpredictable WTA Finals yet. 

The showpiece event may be without world number one Simona Halep, after her back injury, but this year’s line-up in Singapore is just as compelling and unpredictable.

The field is being lead by Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki as eight of the world’s battle it out to become the year-end champion.

In this unique round-robin format, anyone of the eight could claim the title with the WTA tour always lacking in predictability and consistency.

In the Red Group, which starts on Monday, top seed Angelique Kerber leads proceedings after claiming her third grand slam title and playing some of the best tennis of her career. Although she has parted ways with coach Wim Fissette she will look to end the year strong and build momentum towards 2019.

Joining Kerber is US Open champion Naomi Osaka, who is making her WTA Finals debut, fifth seed Sloane Stephens as well as Cincinnati champion Kiki Bertens.

In the red group, only Sloane Stephens has a winning head-to-head record against her group rivals in what certainly should be an intriguing and balanced group.

The other group sees Australian Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki lead proceedings as the Dane will look to defend the title that she won last year.

Joining the second seed sees fourth seed Petra Kvitová, who is making her first appaearance at the WTA Finals since 2015. The Czech is the leading titles winner on the tour in 2018 having won five titles this year.

Completing the white group are 6th seed Elina Svitolina and 7th seed Karolina Pliskova, who have both had average seasons this year.

The white group is full of opportunity although you would have to pick Petra Kvitová as favourite given her form in 2018 as well as having an 18-6 record against her group rivals.

So action begins in Singapore on Sunday, with the WTA Finals moving to Shenzhen next year expect a lot of high-quality tennis as Singapore looks to end its WTA Finals stint with a bang. Here is Sunday and Monday’s schedule:

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Federer introduces Barilla to tennis in the USA

After sponsoring many tennis tournaments around the world, Barilla makes its debut at a US event. Their agenda for 2019 could see them present at Flushing Meadows

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Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

The big tennis “bonanza” that took place in Chicago during the last Laver Cup saw the debut of Italian pasta brand Barilla as a sponsor of an important tennis event in the United Stated. The company, whose American headquarter is situated a mere half an hour North of Chicago in Nortbrook, Illinois, followed the lead of its Global Brand Ambassador Roger Federer and set up a large activation point in the commercial area outside the United Center to introduce American tennis fans to pasta cooked “the Barilla way”.

Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

We caught up with Prita Wadhwani, Barilla’s marketing director for the Americas, to discuss the pasta-maker’s involvement in tennis and their future plans for the US market.

How long did it take to organize the activation point for the Laver Cup? How many people have been involved?

It’s been a wonderful experience for us. We started talking about Laver Cup back in March. We like the concept of sportsmanship, it’s really fun to see the camaraderie the players have together with them being really competitive. So about eight months beginning to end to bring our Barilla experience to tennis fans.

Is your team based in Chicago?

Yes, our American headquarter is just outside of the Chicago area, about 30 miles north in a town called Northbrook and it is responsible for the operations in North and South America.

How did the involvement of Barilla’s Global Ambassador Roger Federer?

We truly admire Federer and what he has achieved in his field of expertise. And we believe that Barilla is to the culinary art world what Federer is to the tennis world. Furthermore, Roger lives his life in a very simple way and our core product is simple as well, flour plus water. That’s where we found a great fit.

Barilla is active in a number of tennis events around the world: we have seen you in Canada at the Rogers Cup, at the Australian Open… were you at the US Open?

No, not this year…

Not this year?… Are there surprises in the works for 2019? I see you are smiling, so I guess we have our answer… Moving on, what is the difference in preparing the activation during events that last 2 weeks and have 600-700,000 people coming through the doors and a much more concentrated event like the Laver Cup, lasting only three days?

There isn’t a big difference really: the hardest part is to build our activation point. Once that is done, we have such an amazing culinary crew with our own on-site kitchen that allows us to prepare our pasta the way we want it. We are completely self-sufficient: we have our own generators, our own water tanks, so we can prepare up to 3,000 servings of pasta per day.

So do you have a full-time “culinary crew” that travels all the time to all the events you participate?

We have chef Lorenzo Boni, who is our executive chef. He has two people working for him who are full-time Barilla employees, and they have identified a number of chefs throughout the USA who have already been vetted and are already trained in how to cook “the Barilla way” and they are brought in for specific events as needed. We are obviously very dedicated to the quality, the taste and the flavor of every single meal we serve.

Barilla at the Laver Cup 2018 in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

Aside from Laver Cup and tennis, how is Barilla perceived in the American market and what is Barilla’s vision in America?

Pietro Barilla, the father of Guido, Luca and Paolo Barilla, the current generation at the helm of the company, had a motto: “Go forward with courage”. That is still instilled in our culture, that drive for innovation is still very present in Barilla’s culture. Our culture also states that “what is good for you should be good for the planet”: we support the sustainability of the ingredients that we put in our food. These are the principles that have inspired out growth: I was lucky enough to have been for the company for over 20 years, and I remember that when I first joined we has a roughly 9% market share in the US, while nowadays we have over one-third of the market. Our success is strictly link to the innovation that we still strive to maintain, from the products that we have to the way we communicated to our consumers. From a product standpoint we always try to offer our consumers what they want: we have recently introduced “legumes pasta”, a pasta made entirely of legumes, where we try not to sacrifice taste for the experience of eating good food. We also try to educate our consumer that it is not necessary to sacrifice taste to eat something that it’s good for you and good for the planet.

What are the challenges that you face in the US with the way that your consumer prepares your products? How do you “educate” the American pasta eater on how to properly cook and eat your products?

Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

It is a journey, it’s not something that happens overnight. When I first joined Barilla we run a “store check” and all consumers knew about pasta were spaghetti and elbows, that is the macaroni for the “mac and cheese”. Now the average consumer is much more educated about the various shapes of pasta, and we like to believe that we had a role in this journey. We have also made some research using the NHANES data (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) which is the dietary gold standard for data in the USA, and we have found out that people eating pasta in the Mediterranean way, with healthy oils, vegetables, lean meats and proteins, have better body metrics than those consuming pasta in a more luxurious fashion. This is very important for us because we try to promote “eating well” rather than “eating a lot”. In our activations we have a pasta recipes-holder to promote the good way of eating pasta in a fun way. A portion of pasta should be two ounces (approximately 60 grams), which needs to be combined with vegetables and lean proteins, and it can create a filling, satiating meal for less than 500 calories, without sacrificing taste.

How is the market for sauces?

Americans are very used to having pasta with red sauces, so we are trying to introduce something different like the “pasta al pesto”. Boredom is one of the big enemies of the frequency of pasta consumption, so we are offering alternatives that may be unknown to the American public and as such need a longer education process. Americans are accustomed to using a jar of sauce for every dish of pasta: pesto isn’t like that, but it allows to add flavor to pasta without adding to many calories. Again, in our philosophy “less is more”, so we try to encourage the use of less sugar.

What other events does Barilla include in its promotional activities in the USA?

Food and wine festivals are very popular in the USA, so we are present at quite a few of those. Our 2019 schedule is still in the works and we hope to be at many more tennis events next year.

Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

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Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal Recieve Caution Over Saudi Arabia Exhibition

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been cautioned by Amnesty International UK over playing in an exhibition match in Saudi Arabia.

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Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

The two best players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have received a caution by Amnesty International about their participation in an exhibition in Saudi Arabia. 

The duo will compete in Jeddah on the 22nd of December in an exhibition match, where they will both receive at least one million dollars.

However the event has caused a lot of controversy and Amnesty International have called on the duo to use their global popularity to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record.

When announcing the event both Djokovic and Nadal received a negative response from their fans after the event was announced a day after the disappearance and alleged murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The event is being used by the Saudi government to enhance its regime through sport and protect its reputation. There are other events which have been held in Saudi Arabia to do this, including Brazil v Argentina in a friendly a few days ago as well as the WWE Wrestling event.

Speaking to The Times, Allan Hogarth of Amnesty International offered a caution to Djokovic and Nadal, “It’s not for us to say which countries should and shouldn’t be hosting sporting competitions, but it’s also clear that countries like Saudi Arabia are well aware of the potential for sport to subtly ‘rebrand’ a country,” Hogarth said.

“It’s up to Nadal and Djokovic where they play their lucrative exhibition matches, but if they go to Jeddah we’d like to see them using their profiles to raise human rights issues. Tweeting support for Saudi Arabia’s brave human rights defenders would be a start.”

Since announcing the event, both Djokovic and Nadal have refused to comment further on the event as they face a battle against each other for the year-end world number one spot.

The next tournament for Nadal and Djokovic will be at the final masters 1000 event of the season in Paris in two weeks time.

 

 

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