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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EXCLUSIVE: How The ATP Plans To Make The Tour More Welcoming For LGBT Players

The governing body of men’s tennis has received praise for taking a proactive approach to the topic with the help of a leading LGBTQ+ organisation and a top research university.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

During the first week of the US Open, there was an abundance of rainbow-theme flags and wristbands worn by both players and fans to mark the tournament’s first-ever Open Pride Day.

 

The event was part of the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion strategic platform which aims to make tennis more inclusive. Unlike the women’s game, there are no openly LGBTQ+ players on the men’s Tour and there have been few historically, even though various players have spoken of their support for anybody on the Tour who decides to come out. Including Stefanos Tsitsipas and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who were questioned about the topic following their second round matches. Meanwhile, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime revealed that there is an ongoing survey related to LGBTQ+ issues being conducted by the ATP.

“Recently I’ve started doing a survey inside the ATP about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “It’s important these days to be aware of that and to be open-minded and the ATP needs to do that, in today’s time it’s needed.

“The reason we don’t have openly gay players on the ATP Tour, I’m not sure of the reason, but I feel me, as a player, it would be very open, very welcome. Statistically, there should be some, but for now there’s not.”

In response to Auger-Aliassime’s comment, UbiTennis looked into the work currently being done by the ATP alongside two other parties. Their decision to venture into LGBTQ+ representation on the Tour is part of their recent commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of their players and staff. Last year, in May, they formed partnerships with Headspace and Sporting Chance.  

The survey currently being conducted by the ATP started after the governing body of men’s tennis reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Denison was the lead author of the Out on the Fields study, the first international study on homophobia in sport and the largest conducted to date.

“I have been personally impressed with the initiative of the ATP and their desire to find ways to mitigate the broad impact of homophobic behaviour (in particular), not only on gay people, but on all players.” He told UbiTennis during an email exchange.

“We know of no other sporting governing body in the world that has been proactive on LGBTQ+ issues, and has taken a strong focus on engaging with both the LGBTQ+ community and scientists to find solutions.”

Denison says the norm has been for sports bodies to address this issue after they have been either pressured to do so or if the LGBTQ+ community got the ball rolling themselves. Incredibly, research conducted as part of the Out On The Fields initiative documented 30 separate studies which found sports organisations ignored discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in sport.

Monash University has supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they are using to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome. The methodology is similar to a study Denison conducted in 2020 that focused specifically on the team sports rugby union and ice hockey.  

“We suspect that tennis isn’t inherently more homophobic than other sports, or traditionally male settings. Instead, there is a disconnect between people’s attitudes towards gay people (e.g. the recent pro-gay comments by top players) and their behaviour, specifically their use of homophobic banter and jokes,” said Denison.

“This behaviour, which is largely habitual, creates a hostile climate for young gay/bi people who drop out or hide their sexuality. This means gay/bi players are invisible in youth tennis and leads to the downstream problem of no professionals. The banter/jokes continue because people think it is harmless.”

The hope is that players will also agree to be interviewed by the researchers for them to get a better understanding. All of the results will then be used by Pride Sports and Monash University to recommend evidence-based solutions. It is unclear as to how long the study will take or when the findings will be ready. 

Former top 100 player Brian Vahaly is one of the few players to have been both openly gay and played at the highest level of the men’s game. However, he didn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality until after retiring from the sport at age 27. Speaking to UbiTennis earlier this year, Vahaly shed light on the potential barriers for gay players.

There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBTQ+ issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.”

The ATP has spoken with Vahaly about their initiative and he has become ‘quite involved.’ Through their discussions, he got acquainted with Denison for the first time. As a professional, Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. After retiring from the Tour, he has served on the USTA’s board of directors since 2013. 

“I am happy to hear that the ATP is finally taking action to address this issue.  I’m impressed they are taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to make a meaningful difference here,” he told UbiTennis. 

The ATP aims to make the men’s Tour more welcoming to potential LGTBQ+ athletes playing either now or in the future. For those who question if such an initiative is important in 2021, you only have to look at the younger demographic.

Sportsnet quoted CDC data from 2019 which showed that 26% of American LGBTQ+ teenagers aged 16 or 17 has contemplated suicide, five times more than those who identify as straight (5%). Among those teenagers who heard homophobic terms, 33% self-harmed and an additional 40% considered doing so.

More than 2000 players around the world currently have an ATP ranking.

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2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”

Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions

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So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).

 

Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.

“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.

“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”

He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”

Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa

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Mats Wilander Exclusive: Matteo Berrettini Will Win A Grand Slam

UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta speaks to the former world No.1 about Berrettini’s historic win at Wimbledon.

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Matteo Berrettini (ITA) celebrates as he beats Hubert Hurkacz (POL) in the semi-final of the Gentlemen's Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 11 Friday 09/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

Swedish tennis great Mats Wilander has praised Matteo Berrettini for his run to the Wimbledon Final during a one-to-one interview with UbiTennis.

 

25-year-old Berrettini has become the first Italian man in history to reach the final of the Grand Slam after beating Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-4. Throughout the clash he was impressive behind his serve where he fired 22 aces and won 86% of his service points. This year he is unbeaten on the grass and is currently on a 10-match winning streak following his triumph at Queen’s last month.

“Breaking the first game of the fourth set is to me the sign that we all look for in players. Whatever happens in the third (set) should not matter and he came straight back,”Wilander tells UbiTennis.
“That’s my indication that he will be one of the best players in the world. He will win a Grand Slam one hundred percent, for sure, if he stays healthy.”

Wilander’s bold prediction centres around Berrettini’s game on both grass and hardcourt. However, he is less optimistic about his chances on the clay at present until his backhand becomes more powerful.

As to why the former world No.1 has so much confidence in Italy’s top player, he says it is his ability to not expose his weaknesses during matches. Drawing parallels between him and Roger Federer. The player Berrettini comprehensively beat in straight sets earlier in the week.

He knows how to hide his weakness and most great players know how to hide their weaknesses. Roger Federer is the perfect example. His backhand compared to the serve and the forehand. He stays alive with the slice and he comes over (to the net) sometimes when he has to,” he said.
“I think Matteo has figured out that he can stay alive with the slice. But the difference is that he is willing to slice and come in. He’s also double the size of Federer at the net so it is difficult to pass him.”

It wasn’t until the age of eight when Berrettini started to focus more on tennis after being asked by his younger brother to play more. As a professional he has won five ATP titles since 2018 and is the highest ranked ATP player from his country since Corrado Barazzutti back in 1978. He is coached by Vincenzo Santopadre, Marco Gulisano and Umberto Rianna.

“I would be so encouraged if I was coaching him. For the coach it must be like oh my god we are looking at a player who has (good use of his) hands and hides his weakness though the rest of his game,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion commented.
“I don’t why it has taken him a bit longer (to break through). I know he started a little bit later but I think he’s a natural at the big moments.”

On Sunday Berrettini faces the ultimate test against Novak Djokovic who will be seeking his third consecutive Wimbledon title and sixth overall. He has lost to the Serbian twice before on the Tour, including the French Open earlier this year. The Italian enters the final as the underdog but Wilander thinks he shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I think he has a good chance, I really do because that serve (of his) is different and he has a different forehand. He is not afraid to stay alive,” he concluded.

UbiTennis’ full interview with Wilander can be listened to below

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