Ebden Defines “Special Exempt” At Halle - UBITENNIS
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Ebden Defines “Special Exempt” At Halle

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Matthew Ebden (zimbio.com)

By Mark Winters

With all the quarterfinal singles slots filled by the end of the day, one thing is unmistakably clear – upsets have been the theme of the twenty-sixth version of the Gerry Weber Open, taking place in Halle Westfalen, Germany. Alexander Zverev of Germany, Dominic Thiem of Austria, Lucas Pouille of France, Kei Nishikori of Japan and Richard Gasquet of France, the No. 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8 seeds, are not included in the last eight count.

Those five formidable performers didn’t live up to their pre-tournament billing. Neither did “hometown” hero Philipp Kohlschreiber, the No. 6 seed. He was dispatched by Matthew Ebden of Australia, in an early afternoon encounter, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. While the decision over Kohlschreiber was a solid victory, it became even more noteworthy when it is noted that Ebden earned a place in the draw as a Special Exempt.

Many tennis fans, even those with encyclopedic knowledge of the game, are more than likely not familiar with the term. The concept is further complicated by a variety of circumstances that affect whether a player can qualify for a Special Exempt, such as when the qualifying draw for the next tournament he is planning to play is going to be made.

Rather than put readers to sleep with exacting details, generally ATP events have Special Exempt (at most, two) places in the draw that are open for a qualified performer. In the case of the 30-year-old Australian, his success in reaching the semifinals at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (before losing to Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-4, 7-5), made him eligible for a Special Exempt.

Ebden explained, “I have been eligible for a Special Exempt in the past, but it has never worked out. There have been a number of reasons why. In one case, the tournament was on a different surface than I had been playing on. In another, the tournament was on another continent, so it wasn’t practical to try to get there. Last summer, I was a finalist at Newport, and could have received a Special Exempt in Atlanta, but I had qualified for the tournament and I played seven matches, so I decided to use the week to rest. Halle is my first Special Exempt.”

Because of the complexity of the rules, there is more to Ebden’s Special Exempt status. “There were two Special Exempts open, one was at Halle and the other was at Queen’s,” Ebden said. “I was the highest ranked player and had the first choice. Ordinarily, I would go to Queen’s, but Jeremy (Chardy) is a good friend and he lives in London. That’s why I decided to come here and let him play at home.” (Chardy, by the way, is a Queen’s quarterfinalist.)

For an individual who turned pro in 2006, and Ebden is, to use a cliché, a journeyman, But, that doesn’t mean he is ordinary. In truth, he is an extraordinary combination. He is truly affable and a very thoughtful conversationalist.  When he was eleven-years-old, his family emigrated from Durban, South Africa to Perth, Australia. As he matured he evidenced skill on the courts as well as in the classroom. He skipped a year of high school and when he departed, scored 98.5 on the exam that qualified him to study for a double – economics/law – degree at the University of Western Australia.

Tennis, though, was his calling, and he has pursued his passion diligently. During his career, he has claimed fourteen Challenger and International Tennis Federation titles and he also has a collection of victories over Top 10 players in ATP tournaments. He has represented Australia in Davis Cup play, and in 2013, he and countrywoman Jarmila Gajdošová received an Australian Open wild card and ended up winning the Mixed Doubles championship.

Following his win today, Ebden discussed his playing style saying, “It is natural for me to play an all-court game. I can change from hitting the ball heavy to taking speed off shots and making them slower. I am able to hit it flat or with spin. I can do a little bit of everything, and I have very good hands.”

The loss gave Kohlschreiber a 31-12 career Halle record. “I thought my opponent just played very well,” the 2011 champion said. “He barely made any mistakes and he read my serve well. He robbed me of my rhythm by changing tempo. He worked very well slicing and keeping the ball deep.”

Rafael Nadal’s terre battue record places him in an unrivaled, “stand alone”, category. Ebden, because he isn’t well known, has quietly become one of the game’s most successful grass court player. “In 2015, I won fifteen matches on grass,” he said. “Novak Djokovic was the Wimbledon champion and won seven matches at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, but he didn’t play Queen’s. Andy Murray won Queen’s then lost to Roger Federer at Wimbledon. He won a total of eleven matches at the two tournaments.” Prior to Halle, Ebden’s grass court record during his twelve seasons on the tour was 87-44.

Ebden has an affinity for grass court play. “When I was growing up in Australia, I practiced and played on it regularly,” he said. “Once Roland Garros is finished, I head to London to practice on to the grass court and play some of the tournaments that are available. For me, it’s like coming home. I am just so comfortable on grass.”

Admitting that he had only watched the Gerry Weber Open on television, he added, “We (his coach) looked at the acceptance list and decided after I had been successful at ‘s-Hertogenbosch that Halle was nearby, and we should have a new experience.”

Many tennis insiders are very direct when evaluating Ebden, the regular response is – Far too intelligent. When told about the “word on the street”, he smiled and said, “For many years, I thought too much. I tried to be too analytical. I’ve spent years developing my game and always believed I had many options. Now, I am simplifying things and I know that my best tennis is ahead.”

Having reached a career high No. 60 ranking this week, Matthew Ebden has defined what it means to be Special Exempt.

 

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Roland Garros 2024: Rafael Nadal Faces Alexander Zverev In Blockbuster Opening Round

Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev will meet at Roland Garros in the first round with Andy Murray taking on Stan Wawrinka in the opening round.

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Rafael Nadal has been drawn against Rome champion Alexander Zverev in the opening round of Roland Garros.

The 14-time Roland Garros champion will most likely be making his last appearance at the event where he has such a great history at.

It’s been a mixed clay court season for Nadal who built gradual momentum in Madrid but suffered an early exit in Rome to Hubert Hurkacz.

Now the Spaniard has been drawn to take on the champion of Rome, Alexander Zverev, in the opening round.

The match is a repeat of the 2022 semi-final where Zverev broke his ankle losing almost a year of his career.

This contest headlines the second quarter of the draw which also features Karen Khachanov, Holger Rune and Daniil Medvedev.

In the other quarter of the top half of the draw, defending champion Novak Djokovic will begin his Roland Garros campaign against Pierre-Hughes Herbert.

There is also a potential third round clash with either Gael Monfils or Lorenzo Musetti for Djokovic, who is currently in Geneva gaining extra match practice ahead of the second Grand Slam of the season.

The Serb could have a repeat of last year’s final in the quarter-finals with Casper Ruud as the Norwegian begins his campaign against Jakub Mensik.

In the bottom half of the draw Jannik Sinner plays his first tournament since suffering a hip injury in Rome as he takes on Christopher Eubanks in the opening round.

Sinner could face Cameron Norrie in the third round with the Brit taking on Pavel Kotov in his opening round before playing the winner of the battle of the Grand Slam champions between Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

Murray and Wawrinka will clash for the fourth time at Roland Garros with Wawrinka leading their head-to-head 2-1 in Paris.

This section also includes in-form players such as Hubert Hurkacz, Alejandro Tabilo and Rome finalist Nicolas Jarry.

Finally Carlos Alcaraz will begin his Roland Garros campaign against a qualifier before potentially playing Jack Draper in the second round.

Another exciting clash awaits Alcaraz in the third round in the form of Sebastian Korda with Andrey Rublev or Stefanos Tsitsipas being potential quarter-final opponents.

This is the full draw with Roland Garros beginning on Sunday.

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Alexander Zverev Secures Return To Top Four After Winning Italian Open

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Alexander Zverev has clinched his first Masters title since 2021 after downing Nicolas Jarry in straight sets at the Italian Open.

The world No.5 surged to a 6-4,7-5, victory at the Faro Italico to become the 10th player in the Open Era to win the Rome trophy on multiple occasions. He also won the tournament in 2017. Zverev’s latest win was aided by an impressive service display from the 27-year-old who also hit 15 winners against eight unforced errors. He is now 22-1 against players ranked outside the top five at the tournament with his only loss being to Matteo Berrettini five years ago.

“It means a lot. Winning my first (Masters) title and winning my first after my injury in Rome. Rome is a very special place for me,” the new champion said afterwards. 
“I said at the beginning of the week if Rome is the place of firsts for me I’m extremely happy about it. It’s a very special week.” 

Playing in his first Masters 1000 final since 2022, Zverev produced a serving masterclass throughout the opening set with the German winning 20 out of 21 points. In contrast, Jarry experienced more difficult but valiantly fought back with the Chilean saving two straight break points at 4-4. Eventually, the third seed sealed the opener two games later with the help of some costly shots coming from across the court. A deep shot towards the baseline was unsuccessfully returned by Jarry, handing Zverev a set point which he converted.

Continuing to pile the pressure on in the second set, Zverev had a double chance to break for a 3-1 lead but failed to capitalise on that opportunity. The opportunities continued to come and go. Back-to-back double faults from Jarry at 4-5 handed Zverev two championship points but once again he failed to take advantage. Eventually, he sealed victory two games later with the help of a forehand shot that Jarry returned out. Prompting Zverev to raise his hands in delight before later paying tribute to his rival. 

“He’s playing huge. You can see that by the opponents he beat and how he beat them,” he said of Jarry. 
“I told him if he continues playing like that he is going to have many more chances. I’m happy to be the winner.”

As a result of his Rome triumph, Zverev has secured a top-four seeding for the French Open. On Monday he will rise in the PIF ATP rankings to No.4 which will be his highest position since August 2022. During that same year, he sustained a serious ankle injury which sidelined him for months. 

“The focus is on Paris, that’s for sure. but let me enjoy this one for a day or so and then I will have my full focus on Paris,” said Zverev.

Zverev has now won six Masters 1000 titles which places him in joint-ninth on the all-time list along with Daniil Medvedev. 

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Novak Djokovic Accepts Geneva Wildcard Ahead Of Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic has accepted a wildcard into next week’s ATP 250 event in Geneva as he looks to improve his form ahead of Roland Garros.

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Novak Djokovic has shockingly accepted a wildcard into next week’s ATP 250 event in Geneva.

The world number one hasn’t had the best season so far having yet to reach a final at any of his events this season.

There was hope for Djokovic that his fortunes would change on clay and the Serb started his clay court season by reaching the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo before losing to Casper Ruud.

However Djokovic’s clay court hopes were dashed in Rome as he lost in the third round to in-form Chilean Alejandro Tabilo.

This has meant that Djokovic risks being undercooked for the second Grand Slam of the season at Roland Garros.

Therefore the Serb has had no option but to take a wildcard into next week’s ATP 250 in Geneva.

Djokovic will join Casper Ruud, Andy Murray, Denis Shapovalov and Taylor Fritz in next week’s event.

Next week’s appearance will be the first appearance in Geneva in Djokovic who will be the top seed in Switzerland.

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