On Sunday morning at the French Open Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat was given his first opportunity to play in the main draw of a grand slam at the age of 27.
Safrat, who was the first player from his country to feature in the main draw at Roland Garros since 1996, bowed out in three sets to Grigor Dimitrov. He was given the chance to take on the fourth seed thanks to the lucky loser rule. Viktor Troicki, Dimitrov’s original opponent, withdrew prior to the start of the match due to injury. Making Safwat the seventh lucky loser to enter this year’s draw.
The surge in lucky losers is in some way a welcome situation. Last year at Wimbledon, there were concerns raised about some players playing deliberately in the main draw despite being injured. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played of their first round matches on Centre court on the same day, but both of their opponent retired injured. To some it is a coincidence, but in reality few players are going to risk missing out on big money by playing in the first round of a major. Especially those ranked outside of the top 100.
“If a guy is all his life is playing Challengers and suddenly has a chance to play Wimbledon main draw, where the first-round loss is £35,000, I don’t think anybody has the right to judge him, to say ‘you didn’t do the right thing, you’re unfair for going there and picking up a cheque’, because that same guy, probably next week, if he drops, he needs to pay a coach and all the other expenses to go to a Challenger where if he wins he gets €150 or €300.” Former world No.8 Janko Tipsarevic told Sport 360 last year.
Amid the speculation, came the calls to change the system. Federer urged the majors to ‘adjust their rules’ to follow a similar approach to that of the ATP. Those calls were addressed last year by the Grand Slam Board. From 2018, players who withdraw prior to the start of their opening match in grand slams will receive 50% of the first-round losers money. Meanwhile, the lucky loser will receive the other half. This time last year, players would receive nothing if they withdrew from their first round match.
Although it is hard to measure how effective the new rule change is, the stats speak for themselves. The new system now sees at least 14 players benefitting under the new rules in the men’s draw alone. In the women’s tournament, there are currently only two lucky losers.
The number of lucky losers at Roland Garros might just be a coincidence, but you have to wonder if it would be the same amount if the rules wasn’t changed.
List of lucky losers (as at 27/5/2018)
Simone Bolelli ITA
Ruben Bemelmans BEL
Jurgen Zopp EST
Sergiy Stakhovsky UKR
Peter Polansky CAN
Mohamad Safwat EYG
Oscar Otte GER
Arantxa Rus NED
Dalila Jakupovic SRB
Accusations, Arguments and Threats: Australian Tennis Under Pressure At Home Grand Slam
It is meant to be the best time of the year for Australian tennis players and officials, but not everybody is celebrating.
Usually the talk in the home country of a grand slam is centred around how the national players are performing. However, at the Australian Open it is frustration, anger and a continuous war of words.
It all started earlier this week when Bernard Tomic launched a somewhat unexpected attack on Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt. Following his first round loss, Tomic accused the former world No.1 of having a negative impact on his national association and went as far as saying that ‘no one likes him.’ A somewhat unsurprising dialogue when you look at their complex history.
“I thought he (Hewitt) was retired,” he said at Melbourne Park following his defeat.
“I’m going to say it honestly, no one likes him anymore. He’s playing Davis Cup. I thought he was retired. He’s playing all these matches and stuff like this.
“He used to hate Tennis Australia,” Tomic added, referring to Australia’s tennis body. “It’s weird. And now he loves them. What’s happened here?”
To make the situation even more tense, the News corporation of Australia revealed that Tomic even threatened his compatriot two years ago following a deterioration in their friendship. He told the agency ‘Two years ago, I said ‘If he ever tries to talk to me, I’ll knock him out.’
The timing of the feud is somewhat unfortunate, but the matter in itself is unsurprising. Tomic, who is a former top 20 player, is known for his blunt and outspoken comments. Previously criticising the new type of balls used at the Australian Open.
Whilst the 26-year-old is a critic of Hewitt, others have jumped to his defence. Nick Kyrgios, who is no stranger to controversy himself, said there was ‘not really’ a rift between him and the Davis Cup captain. Contradicting earlier claims made by his compatriot.
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a big deal with anything. I’ve always wanted to play Davis Cup. I love Davis Cup … I’m available. That’s all I got to say,” he said.
“I think (the focus on these issues) is ridiculous, to be honest. With all the issues that are going on in the world, we’re focusing on someone’s comments about Davis Cup. It’s pretty sad.”
Hewitt is playing in the men’s doubles this week, despite announcing his retirement from the sport three years ago. In recent times he has made a habit of staging mini comebacks to the tour to play in doubles tournaments. Something Tomic has claimed is done for financial gain and takes away the opportunity of a young player receiving a wildcard. Participants in the doubles draw will earn at least $10,500 for playing in the first round.
“We made the semi-finals (in Sydney) and came within a whisker of making the final so I don’t see what the problem is,” said doubles partner Jordan Thompson.
“Sort it out behind closed doors.”
Wally Mansur is the performance boss of Tennis Australia. Asked about his opinion on the issue, the 55-year-old believes a meeting between all of the involved parties is the best solution. Expressing concern that the incident is damaging their public image.
“What I want to get away from is the public tennis game, it being played out in the press,” Masur said.
“I’d rather those guys got in a room and they sort it out privately … and I think there’s a chance.
“The tournament is in full swing. I wouldn’t say it’s on both of their agendas at the moment but it would be something I am keen to explore.”
Whilst Mansur is keen to play down the fiasco, there are still concerns. Echoed by Thanasi Kokkinakis, who replied ‘I’m not answering that’ when asked if he supported Hewitt’s captaincy. Meanwhile, Matthew Ebden has also voiced his concerns.
“There’s clearly some issues that need to be addressed with the players and Tennis Australia, with Davis Cup and the players and the group as a whole.” Said Ebden.
Perhaps the only comforting thing in this situation is the performance of the Woman. Both Ashleigh Barty and Sam Stosur have been quick to point out that the problem is linked solely to the men’s side.
“They’ve got their issues. We don’t have anything to do with what the men do,” Stosur told reporters.
“It would be a shame if it put a dampener on things as a whole.
“The women’s side is in a really good spot. We all really genuinely support each other and like to see each other do well.
“We haven’t had a problem for a very long time so we must be doing something alright.”
As things currently stand, Hewitt will remain Davis Cup captain for the foreseeable future.
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.
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.
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
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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