Djokovic: "My Biggest Achievement" Anderson: "Top-5 Is Now Reality" - UBITENNIS
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Djokovic: “My Biggest Achievement” Anderson: “Top-5 Is Now Reality”

The South African reflects on his progress and his new best ranking. The former no.1 closes a painful chapter of his life and looks ahead to the US Open

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The original plan of the All England Club was to have the champion’s press conference before the finalist’s, which is quite unusual, since the champion usually has many duties to attend to, especially with all the rightholder televisions. As it turned out, Kevin Anderson was ready outside the interview room at his announced time and Novak was still nowhere to be seen, so the South African ended up talking to the journalists first.

It was a tough start for me. You know, you always have high hopes – said Anderson – Going into the match, I was hoping to draw on some previous experiences, playing at the US Open in the finals, obviously playing Federer a couple days ago. But I didn’t really find my form the way I wanted to. Of course, my body didn’t feel great. I mean, I don’t think you’re going to expect it to feel great this deep into a tournament when you’ve played so much tennis. But I was definitely quite nervous starting out the match. Didn’t play great tennis in the beginning. I tried my best to keep at it. Definitely felt much better in the third set. I thought I had quite a few opportunities to win that third set, especially a couple of the points where Novak hit a couple balls, I thought they were actually going out, managed to land right on the line. I would have loved to have pushed it to another set, but it obviously wasn’t meant to be”.

The whole tennis world was curious to see how Kevin was going to recover from the six-and-a-half-hour, 99-game battle he won on Friday against Isner: “Honestly, Saturday was pretty tough. There was a lot of thoughts going through my mind of, Am I going to be ready to play another three-out-of-five-set match on Sunday against somebody like Novak. Getting here to the courts, seeing the doctors, seeing the podiatrist for my feet. Having a very light hit, I probably only hit for 10 or 15 minutes. You go through certain exercises that I do. When things aren’t feeling the way they should, you always have a little bit of doubt. I barely slept on Friday night, [but] last night I was able to get in a pretty good night. Waking up today, I actually felt okay, insomuch that, you know, I don’t think the match was entirely just because I wasn’t feeling the freshest. It was a bit more of being able to play the kind of tennis I needed to at this stage. In the third set, I was able to actually pick it up a little bit. Obviously would have loved to have gone to a fourth set. I don’t know how I would have felt as the match progressed. Novak is very tough to match physically. I think all in all, my body actually handled it pretty well”.

Regardless of today’s result, the last two weeks at the Championships will propel Anderson to his highest ranking of n.5 on Monday. “It really means a lot actually. It was about two and a half years ago, just in the team and in the chat, we had a chat on WhatsApp called top-five Kev. That was the goal. I got to top 10 that year. Things were looking good. Then obviously I had a major setback and injuries in 2016. So seeing that I made top five, I’m incredibly proud of that achievement, especially if I look back where I was just 15 months ago, around 80. It’s really something I can be very proud of”.

Two minutes after the end of Anderson’s press conference, Novak Djokovic walked into the press room, greeted by the traditional applause reserved for Grand Slam champions (this is the only exception made to the “no cheers in the box” rule) and wearing the All England Club members’ badge.

He said the break on the very first game of the match was extremely important to him: “The first game I made a break of serve was a perfect possible start. After that I cruised for two sets. In the third set, he started hitting his spots with the serve much better. He started swinging through the ball, making less errors. He was the better player in the third set, without a doubt. I was just trying to hold on and keep my composure in decisive moments. I served well, played some good shots when I was set points down, then played a perfect tiebreak to finish”.

This 13th Grand Slam title, more than two years after the last one and following major turmoil in his professional and personal life (the elbow surgery, the temporary split with his old-time coach Vajda, the problems in his marriage), has a very special meaning for Novak: “It was a long journey, especially considering that elbow injury that took me out from the tour for six months. When I started training again, came back on the tour, played Australia, but I played with the pain. It was inevitable for me to go on a table and have a surgery, even though I was trying everything to avoid it, to be honest. It was the first, and I hope only, surgery I had. It was supposed to happen. I was still feeling a little bit of discomfort and pain playing Indian Wells, Miami. I just kept going even though everyone was against me competing at that stage. I took the responsibilities. I could not imagine myself being away from the tour another few months after being away from the tour six months in the last season. So I had to learn the lessons in a hard way”.

He had to learn to be “patient in the process” until his body was ready to compete again.

It took me many tournaments. I couldn’t pick the better place, to be honest, in the tennis world to peak and to make a comeback”, Djokovic said, adding that “alongside the first Wimbledon title when I managed to get No. 1 of the world for the first time in 2011 and win my dream tournament, this is probably next to that the biggest achievement I had”.

With this victory, Djokvoic is returning to the Top-10 and is now looking forward to the North American hard court season with renewed hopes: “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I like to play on hard courts. US Open was always successful tournament for me. I haven’t played it last year because of injuries. I’m looking forward to also go out there and play my best and see where it takes me”.

 

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How To Face 67 Aces And Still Win The Match

Thomas Fabbiano explains how he overcame the tidal wave of ace that almost drowned him during his match against Reilly Opelka

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Thomas Fabbiano (left) and Reilly Opelka (right) at the Australian Open 2019 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

To be honest, I didn’t really understand much of his serve. I still don’t understand most of what happened out there”. This is how Thomas Fabbiano started his post-match press conference after his 6-7(15) 6-2 6-4 3-6 7-6(5) victory against Reilly Opelka in the second round of the 2019 Australian Open.

The match was a tennis rendition of David vs Goliath, as 1.73m (5-foot-6) Fabbiano was facing 2.11m (6-foot-9) Opelka, who served 67 aces during the 3h14’ match but still couldn’t come out on top of his shorter opponent. Fabbiano didn’t know how many aces he had to face during the match, he had to ask the journalists in the room: “Sixty-seven? And how many did I do? Only two?” Yes, Opelka scored more aces with his second serve (3) than Fabbiano with his first serve (2).

Opelka’s final tally was the fifth-highest number of aces anyone has ever scored in a tennis match: the legendary 2010 Wimbledon first round between Isner and Mahut (113 for Isner, 103 for Mahut) takes up the first two spots of this special ranking, with Ivo Karlovic occupying position n.3 and n.4 (78 aces in Davis Cup against Radek Stefanek in 2009 and 75 aces against Horacio Zeballos at the 2017 Australian Open).

It was a very difficult match, different from any other. I am very happy I was able to stay in the game and swallow all the frustration for, at times, not being able to touch the ball for many points in a row. The flip side of the coin is that I didn’t run that much in this match: I probably covered more ground doing my ‘walkarounds’ to find concentration rather than during rallies”.

The problem with facing Opelka’s serve stems not only from the sheer speed of the shot but also from the angle of attack which makes the ball bounce very high. On the second game, one of the aces saw the ball whizz past Fabbiano not on the left or on the right, but ABOVE his head: he just couldn’t get to the ball above him with his two-handed backhand.

I tried to mix it up while returning, tried to give him different looks and change my strategy from time to time. On some points I would just pick a side and move as he struck the ball, on other occasions I would put try to read the direction, but not much worked. I focused on taking care of my serve and getting into the rallies, his groundstrokes need to improve a lot for this level of tennis”.

During the fifth set tie-break, Fabbiano was able to obtain two crucial minibreaks on Opelka’s first three points of serve, both times on the American’s first serve. “I decided to give him an even different look, doing something I had never done before: I positioned right outside the doubles alley while he was serving from the ad court. I wanted to let him know that if he wanted to ace me he had to go down the T, but he served wide anyway, and I managed to get the point”.

Although he is very happy he got the win, Fabbiano hopes he will not have to repeat a similar experience too soon: “If tennis was like this every day, I would never play it, and I would never be interested in following it. But fortunately for us, there are only a few players who play like that: Isner, Karlovic, and possibly Raonic. With a bit of luck, I won’t have to face any of them for some time”.

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SPECIAL REPORT: The Fight To Preserve Andy Murray’s Legacy

Coach Mike James gives his insight into the significance Murray’s career has had on British tennis and the challenges that lies ahead for the nation.

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You don’t know what you have until it’s gone might be the best phrase to describe the relationship between the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and Andy Murray.

Earlier this week Murray announced his intention to retire from the sport in 2019 with the possibility of the Australian Open being his final tournament. The decision ends a career that has rewritten history in British tennis. Murray is the only British man in the Open era to win Wimbledon, reach number one in the ATP rankings and defend an Olympic title in tennis. In total he has won 45 titles on the ATP Tour, including three at grand slam level.

“I can play with limitations but having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” Murray said during an emotional press conference in Melbourne on Friday. “Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing but I am not certain I am able to do that.
“Not feeling good. Been struggling for a long time. I’m not sure I can play through the pain for another four or five months.
“Pretty much done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads. I think there is a chance the Australian Open is my last tournament.”

It is without question that the 31-year-old has been his country’s most successful player of all time, but how will his legacy influence the next generation? In November 2017 the LTA announced a 10% decline in participation levels compared to the previous year. Despite the successes of Kyle Edmund during that period. Meanwhile, a YouGov survey ranked the British Davis Cup team as the 32nd most popular sports team in the country. However, the younger the age group, the lower down the rankings they were placed.

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers
Positive opinion 26% 30% 36%
Popularity ranking among group 42nd 32nd 23rd

Coach Mike James is well aware of the influence his compatriot has had on the sport. James has worked on the ATP World Tour with players ranked between 200-1000 in the world rankings over the past four years. Within the past 20 months, he has been working alongside Croatian Davis Cup player Ante Pavic. His role has taken him to an array of tournaments ranging from Futures level to grand slams.

“He’s been way more successful than Henman and Rusedski, who were excellent professionals. Henman was top 10 in the world for ten years, Rusedski made the US Open final. But Murray has done it all.” James said during an interview with Ubitennis.
“His impact as a career compared to his predecessors is by far better. He is the greatest British tennis player of all time.”

A legacy remembered, but not built on

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It is no secret that the relationships between Murray and the LTA has been a rocky one. He once said in 2015 that it was ‘a waste of time’ to talk with the governing body of tennis because ‘nothing gets done.’ Meanwhile in Scotland, Murray’s birthplace, the Chief Executive of Scottish Tennis recently told the BBC that building on Murray’s legacy ‘has not quite happened.’

“We are way short of where we should be for indoor and outdoor courts,” Blade Dodds told BBC Scotland’s Sportsound on January 6th.
“If you compare us to England and the rest of Europe, we are about 1,000 courts short of where we should be per capita.
“If you look at indoor courts, providing that all-year-round tennis that is absolutely vital if we are going to be world class, then we have 109 indoor courts in Scotland, which is one per 48,000 people. In England, it’s one per 24,000 people.”

So what needs to be done now? According to Leicester-based coach James, the media will play a vital role. In order to maintain interest in the sport in Great Britain, the public needs to be made aware of the other players. Entering into the first grand slam of 2019, British No.2 Cameron Norrie reached his first ATP Final in Auckland. Meanwhile, Dan Evans has successfully come through three rounds of qualifying at the Australian Open to reach the main draw.

“If you look at France from their point of view, they are very jealous that we had Andy Murray over the last 10 years winning big titles.” He explained. “But they have nearly the most amount of professionals in the top 100, particularly on the ATP Tour, so I think tennis needs to stay in the news.”
“For sure Edmund, Konta and Norrie can keep tennis relevant and on the back pages for many years to come.” James added.

It is without a doubt that there will need to be a collective group of players to fill the void left by Murray with not a single British player yet to have a fan base as strong as the former world No.1. For example on Twitter and Facebook, Edmund has a combined following of roughly 65,700. An estimated 110 times less than Andy Murray’s total of 7.29 million.

Time for the women to show their stuff

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Perhaps the future of British tennis lies within the women’s circuit. There are currently two British women in the top 100 and six in the top 200. More crucial is the fact that four of those are aged 22 or younger.

“If you look at the Fed Cup team at the moment, we have a very young team coming through. I think this is exciting.” Said James.
“We have Katie Boulter who has just broken into the top 100, and I think there are several girls – Katy Swan, Gabi Taylor, Francesca Jones, Harriet Dart – that can also break into the top 100 as well.”

James believes that the tides are turning and it is the female players that perhaps have the best chances of success in the future. At the upcoming Australian Open, four women are in the main draw – Konta, Boulter, Dart and Heather Watson.

“I think we could be having a shift from the golden era of men’s tennis with Andy, and moving into the women’s. From the men’s side, we don’t really have that many coming through apart from Edmund and Norrie.” He concluded.

Britain’s top 200 players (as of 13/1/19)

MEN

Ranking
Player
Age
14 Kyle Edmund 23
93 Cameron Norrie 23
187 James Ward 31
190 Daniel Evans 28

WOMEN

Ranking Player Age
38 Johanna Konta 27
97 Katie Boulter 22
108 Heather Watson 26
131 Harriet Dart 22
175 Katie Swan 19
182 Gabriella Taylor 20

On the other hand, it can be argued that Jack Draper could be a big name in the future. The 17-year-old was a finalist in the Wimbledon Boy’s tournament and won three Futures titles during 2018. He is at a current ranking of 562 on the pro circuit and seventh in the juniors.

“What has come through is the way he has competed throughout his whole career,” world No.38 Konta said in tribute to Murray. “That is something which is very unique to him and we will probably be waiting decades for another person to be like that.”

Whilst the future of British tennis may be a bit murky, there is one thing for certain. Murray’s service to British tennis will end soon. Whether that will be at the Australian Open or Wimbledon remains to be seen.

Only time will tell if his legacy in the sport has been one others have been able to capitalise on.

Murray will take on Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round at Melbourne on Monday.

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EXCLUSIVE: Mario Ancic ‘Surprised’ By Use Of Clay At Davis Cup Final

Ubitennis has caught up with the former Wimbledon semi-finalist in Lille ahead of crunch day for both nations.

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Former World No.7 Mario Ancic has said the decision to play the Davis Cup final on clay is one that has caught him off guard.

Ancic voiced his opinion about the playing surface shortly after France revive their titles hopes with a crucial win in the doubles with the help of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The final is taking place at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, which is located in the Villeneuve-d’Ascq area of Lille. It is the first time final has been played on the clay since 2015. A decision that has puzzled former player Ancic.

“For me, the surface was strange. I was very surprised.” He told Ubitennis. “I think the idea was to choose the surface that our (Croatia’s) players were not the best on.”
“I was expecting either indoor hard or indoor fast court.” Ancic added.

Ancic is not the first person to question the playing surface. World No.32 Lucas Pouille has recently told reporters that he was initially ‘not in favour of playing on the clay,’ before having a change of heart to support the decision made by captain Yannick Noah. France are missing their three top singles players – Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils.

Like Pouille, Ancic is falling short of criticising Noah. The Croat has previously played in 18 Davis Cup ties over a 10-year period. He was part of the 2005 that won Croatia’s first and so far only title in the team competition.

“I think Noah is an experienced player and an experienced captain, and he has picked the team he feels is the best.” Concludes Ancic.
“Once you pick a faster surface, I feel France would have many more options.”

Croatia currently leads France 2-1 heading into the final day. As for the line-up on Sunday, Ancic has backed Pouille and Herbert to play for the French team. Mirroring similar comments made to Ubitennis by another former player, Arnaud Boetsch.

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