Things That Make You Go Mackie! - UBITENNIS
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Things That Make You Go Mackie!

Mackenzie McDonald has reached the Round of 16 on this first Wimbledon. From the pro debut at 18 to UCLA to the Top 100

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Some of the most dedicated tennis fans may remember him from a few years ago: Mackenzie McDonald, the American player who has reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon on his first attempt, had already made himself known in the tennis world in 2013, when as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school he got through qualifying at the Cincinnati Masters 1000 defeating two top-100 like Nicolas Mahut and Steve Johnson. A few weeks earlier he had lost in the Round of 16 at the USTA Under 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the main appointment for all young American tennis hopefuls, an the then-USTA Men’s Player Development Director Jay Berger awarded him a wild card to the qualifying draw at the Masters 1000 in Ohio. “I had considered whether to go play a college tournament in Indiana instead, but eventually I decided to play in Cinicinnati”. The lack of pressure and expectations freed his arm and made him play above his actual level leading to the surprising victories against Johnson and Mahut, before being brought down to earth in the first round of the main draw losing 6-1 6-1 to future top-10 David Goffin.

 

Despite that smashing debut on the pro circuit, Mackie (this is his nickname in the locker room) decided to forfeit the prize money and to take a scholarship at UCLA, the prestigious state university in Los Angeles, California, were it’s safe to assume that his win against former NCAA champion Steve Johnson from UCLA’s archrival University of South California scored him some brownie points with his future teammates. In 2013 his tennis was showing a lot of potential, but his serve and his physical strengths were nowhere near pro-ready: he himself was estimating his weight back then to 142 pounds “on a good day”.

During his college years, Mackie worked very hard with his coach Billy Martin, confining his pro activity (looking for points but not money, as the NCAA rules impose) to the off-term season, but he never approached the levels he showed on his debut tournament. After spending two years at UCLA playing and studying political sciences, and after achieving the prestigious “daily double” in 2016 (winning the NCAA title both in singles and in doubles on the same day), he turned pro and started hitting the ATP Pro Tour full-time.

He started obtaining some good results in the fall of 2017, when he reached the semifinals in the Tiburon Challenger (where he lost to Tennys Sandgren) and, two weeks later, he won his first Challenger title in Fairfield, California. This success projected him into the top 200 of the ATP ranking for the first time and allowed him to end the year at n.178. “That week in Fairfield was very special for me as a California boy. There were a lot of fires in that area and we had to suspend play several times during the week because of smoke and ash; furthermore, I had no coach with me that week, but luckily I wasn’t too far from home so there were quite a few people to support me anyway”.

In 2018 he stepped into the spotlight playing an excellent Australian Open, where he got through qualifying, won his first round match with Elias Ymer and played an epic match with Grigor Dimitrov, losing only 8-6 in the fifth during a marquee night match on the Rod Laver Arena. “It was a tough loss to take – said Mackenzie – but for me it was the first match on a big stage, and it was a great experience anyway”. That result pushed him into the Top 150 of the ATP ranking and gave him enough confidence to reach the final of the Dallas Challenger two weeks later, where he lost to Kei Nishikori.

The 23-year-old Piedmont, California native now reportedly weighs 160 pounds, that is 18 pounds more than he was weighing five years ago on his pro debut. Like most of US top prospects, he works with a coach assigned to him by the USTA whose name is Mat Cloer: “Mat is a great coach, he is not afraid to change my shots if he believes it is necessary. We worked on my serve and we changed that, but above all we worked on my fitness to increase my resistance and my muscle mass”.

Here at Wimbledon he took advantage of the void left in the draw by the elimination of n.3 seed Marin Cilic and reached the Round of 16 in the most prestigious Grand Slam tournament on his first attempt.I can’t believe it – he declared after defeating Guido Pella in his third-round match – if anyone at the beginning of the tournament had told me that I would get to the fourth round I would have never believed it”.
McDonald, who is now certain to take home at least 163,000 British Pounds (roughly 216,000 dollars, almost half of his entire career prize money) earned his spot in the last 16 with a 3-set victory on Pella bus also with an epic 11-9 in the fifth win over Nicolas Jarry in his second round. During these Championships he can also count on the advice of the coach who looked after him from the age of 11 until he went to college: Wayne Ferreira, former ATP n.6 and twice semi-finalist at the Australian Open. The South African ex-player is at Wimbledon as a TV commentator and helped his former pupil to remain calm before his match with Pella.

After turning pro, McDonald left his native California and moved to the USTA Campus in Orlando, Florida.It was a tough choice, it’s all very different from California. But the facilities are excellent, I can train with a lot of great players there, it’s one of the things that needs to be done”.

With the points he is going to obtain at Wimbledon, McDonald will break into the Top 100 for the first time in his career, securing direct acceptance into all Grand Slam draws and climbing approximately to n.80.

Like the majority of players in his generation, his favorite tennis players are Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.But it would be stupid to model my game on theirs – he points out – I rather have to learn from players that are more similar to me, such as Goffin or Nishikori or, as John [McEnroe] told me, I should try to study David Ferrer’s game”.

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What Stefanos Tsitsipas’ Monte Carlo Win Tells Us About The Upcoming Clay Season

The Greek produced some brilliant tennis in Monte Carlo and also had some luck on his side. The question is how will Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and others respond over the coming weeks ahead of the French Open?

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The 2021 clay court campaign was officially launched last week at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, and surprisingly the greatest clay court player in the history of the game did not win this prestigious tournament. Rafael Nadal was upended 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 by the Russian powerhouse Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals. To be sure, the Spaniard was far from his zenith, playing abysmally at times, serving no fewer than five double faults in a nightmarish opening set, fighting himself as well as an inspired opponent who was potent, unrelenting and patient.

 

Nadal’s departure virtually ensured a final round clash between Rublev and the Greek stylist Stefanos Tsitsipas, and that is exactly what transpired. Tsitsipas glided through the week without ever being stretched to his physical limits, conceding only 28 games in five matches, performing with both verve and consistency. This highly charged individual kept his emotions under control and clearly enjoyed his tennis over the course of the week, putting on one remarkable shotmaking display after another.

He was not only good and perhaps great, but also lucky. Removed from the Greek’s potential semifinal path was none other than Novak Djokovic, who had not yet lost in 2021. Djokovic was not the favorite in Monte Carlo because only Nadal could wear that label on the red clay, but the Serbian was looking at the very least for a good run. Like Nadal, he was playing his first tournament since the Australian Open, and the long layoff was not beneficial.

Djokovic did play a solid and disciplined match in his initial appearance after a first round bye, colliding with the enormously promising Jannik Sinner in the second round. Sinner had come off his first final round showing at a Masters 1000 event in Miami, and Djokovic clearly took his contest with the 19-year-old Italian upstart very seriously. He clipped Sinner 6-4, 6-2 with a first rate performance. His defense was especially impressive. The soon-to-be 34-year-old frustrated Sinner time and again with his anticipation, wing span, uncanny ball control and a cluster of backhand drop shots that were all highly effective. He treated that match like a big semifinal or final.

Yet Djokovic was in an entirely different frame of mind when he took the court to face Dan Evans in the round of 16. He had never played Evans before. Perhaps his unfamiliarity with the British player’s game was detrimental to Djokovic on this occasion, but the fact remains that his duel with Sinner was also a first time meeting. Djokovic seemed devoid of his usual intensity and purpose against Evans. He was not bearing down on the big points. Evans was beating him to the tactical punch. Moreover, Djokovic was defeating himself with far too many unprovoked mistakes. Before he knew it, Djokovic was down two service breaks in the opening set, trailing 3-0, looking listless and somewhat dazed.

He managed to bounce back to 4–4, only to drop two games in a row to lose the set. In the second set, Djokovic led 3-0 but was still not really finding the range off the ground and failing to locate his serve with the precision he needed. A wily Evans rallied to reach 4-4 but Djokovic had a set point with the British player serving in the tenth game. That point symbolized his uneven performance that day; Djokovic was set up for a routine backhand and drove his two-hander inexplicably into the net. Evans stopped Djokovic 6-4, 7-5.

The British competitor then accounted for David Goffin in the quarterfinals, but Tsitsipas picked him apart ruthlessly 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals. Rublev had a much tougher road to the final. He narrowly moved past the ever tenacious workhorse Roberto Bautista Agut in a three set, round of 16 encounter that set the stage for his battle with Nadal. Rublev exploited Nadal’s serving woes in the first set and took it easily before moving in front 3-1 and 4-2 in the second. He had break points in both the fifth and seventh games, but could not convert as a bold Nadal would not buckle under pressure.

On a run of four games in a row, Nadal took the match into a third set, but Rublev stood his ground commendably and came away with a 6-2 4-6, 6-2 triumph, breaking Nadal three times in the opening set and three more times in the third.  Then Rublev halted Casper Ruud in straight sets for a place in the final. 

On paper, the Tsitsipas-Rublev title round contest seemed certain to be a hard fought and close battle. They had split six prior head to head appointments. But Rublev was seemingly spent after a hard week’s work while Tsitsipas was fresh, confident and in utter control from the baseline with his much greater variety of shots. Tsitsipas deservedly ousted a somber and below par Rublev 6-3, 6-3.

So how are we to interpret what happened in Monte Carlo in terms of what to expect from this juncture forward on the clay as the players look to peak at Roland Garros? Let’s start with Tsitsipas. There is no doubt that he had a terrific week and this important triumph was in many ways long overdue. Back in 2018, he was the runner-up to Nadal at the Masters 1000 tournament in Canada, upending Djokovic for the first time along the way. That was only his seventh Masters 1000 tournament appearance and he sparkled all week on the hard courts. In Madrid the following year, Tsitsipas stunned Nadal on the clay in the semifinals before losing the final to Djokovic. At the end of that memorable 2019 season, Tsitsipas captured the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals in London.

Last year, as the pandemic disrupted the world, Tsitsipas only had the opportunity to play three Masters 1000 events and his best showing was a semifinal appearance in Cincinnati. We must remember that he has been a consistent danger to everyone at the Grand Slam tournaments as well, reaching his first major semifinal at the Australian Open in 2019, ousting Federer in Melbourne before losing to Nadal. Last year at Roland Garros, Tsitsipas was a force again, cutting down Rublev, reaching the semifinals and taking Djokovic to five sets. And just a few months ago in Melbourne, Tsitsipas made it to his second Australian and third Grand Slam tournament semifinal, bowing out there against Daniil Medvedev.

And so, ever since 2018, Tsitsipas has shown over and over again that he is a player built for big occasions and eager to put himself on the line against the best players in the world. This win in Monte Carlo is no guarantee that he will be around for the latter stages of Roland Garros 2021, but the view here is that he is a superb all surface practitioner who can play top of the line tennis anywhere he wants. No matter how he performs between now and the start of Roland Garros at the end of May, by virtue of his Monte Carlo breakthrough victory at a Masters 1000 event Tsitsipas has positioned himself as a very serious contender in Paris. He will have the belief that his chances are as good as anyone’s outside of Nadal and perhaps Djokovic.

https://twitter.com/steftsitsipas/status/1383817000275779584

How should the other leading candidates be assessed as Monte Carlo fades into the background and the other clay court tournaments unfold? I don’t believe Nadal will be down in the dumps after his loss to Rublev. He knows it was one of those days when he came upon an opponent bludgeoning the ball ferociously on an evening when the air was cool and the wind was burdensome. Nadal can handle swirling winds as well as anyone in tennis, but the colder air hindered him considerably and took the “hop” out of his signature forehand. He could not make Rublev play enough shots from up above his shoulders.

This week, Nadal is the top seed back home in Barcelona. I fully expect him to be the victor at one of his favorite tournaments for the twelfth time. Rublev and Tsitsipas are both entered in the Spanish tournament as well, and could meet in the penultimate round. Nadal’s draw leads me to believe he can’t lose in Barcelona prior to the final. Moreover, having just come off a loss in Monte Carlo, Nadal would be awfully eager to either avenge his loss to Rublev in Monte Carlo or strike back at Tsitsipas, who surprised the Spaniard in a five set quarterfinal at the Australian Open. Nadal was up two sets to love in that skirmish and lost from that position for only the third time in his illustrious career. Roger Federer rallied from two sets down to overcome Nadal in a scintillating 2005 Miami final, and a madly inspired Fabio Fognini did the same thing to Nadal under the lights at the 2015 U.S. Open.

Djokovic is also back in action this week at the ATP 250 event in Belgrade. Performing in front of his home fans should inspire Djokovic to make amends for Monte Carlo and perhaps come away with his 83d career title on the ATP Tour. There will be some formidable players in Belgrade joining Djokovic, including Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, the surging American Sebastian Korda and the Italian No. 1 Matteo Berrettini.   The field is reasonably strong, but Djokovic surely has a significant opportunity to take the title and ignite his clay court campaign.

Originally, Dominic Thiem was supposed to be in Belgrade but he pulled out. The Austrian will wait for the Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome to perform on the clay after a disconcerting start to 2021. Having claimed his first major at the U.S. Open last September before suffering a hard fought loss to Medvedev in the final of the ATP Finals a few months later, Thiem seemed certain to be pushing hard to supplant Djokovic and Nadal at the top in the ATP Rankings.

But he commenced 2021 dismally. After a 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 round of 16 defeat at the hands of Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open when he was apparently dealing with an injury, Thiem won only one match combined in Doha and Dubai. He has not played since. His match record for the season is 5-4. And so how he fares in Madrid and Rome en route to Roland Garros could be critical to his fortunes for the rest of the year. Of his 17 career ATP singles crowns, ten have been on clay. Moreover, the big hitting and industrious Austrian has been in two French Open finals. But now he seems to be struggling immensely with his confidence. He is clearly at an emotional crossroads.

I must reaffirm my feeling that Nadal will be the victor in Barcelona and Djokovic will be the champion in Belgrade. The leading players will then have a week off before heading to Barcelona and Rome. Those will be fascinating clay court festivals. I believe Tsitsipas will make a strong bid to win one of those titles, as will Rublev. In that crucial two week stretch, Sascha Zverev will prove once more how capable he is on the clay. The German won his first Masters 1000 title on clay in Rome four years ago. He will be in the thick of things again this year in both Madrid and Rome. 

Thiem will make his presence known significantly in at least one of those tournaments. But what are we to make of Medvedev? All ten of his career titles have been secured on hard courts; he has yet to win a clay court tournament. Moreover, he had to pull out of Monte Carlo with COVID-19. Perhaps the world No. 2 will be back next month to compete favorably on the clay, but it is doubtful that he will be at peak efficiency.

Nadal has always had issues with the altitude in Madrid. It is surely his least favorite of all the important clay court events. He has won Monte Carlo and Barcelona eleven times each, and Rome nine times. Across his sterling career, he has taken 60 of his 86 career titles on the clay (producing an astounding 447-41 match record), including an unimaginable thirteen French Opens. But he has won Madrid only four times on clay (adding one more title in that town indoors on hard courts). So I am picking someone else to be victorious in Madrid this time around. It may come down to Djokovic, Zverev and Thiem as the three main contenders. Sinner will be in the mix as well.

Rome? Although Djokovic took his fifth title there last year, I am looking for Nadal to claim his tenth title this year. Meanwhile, Roger Federer is returning to the clay in Geneva for the ATP 250 event the week after Rome, followed by his 19th appearance at Roland Garros. The 2009 French Open champion is surely not going to secure a second title this year. But Federer loves playing at Roland Garros. He can reach the second week with the right kind of draw, but will likely lose either in the round of 16 or quarterfinals, with an outside chance to make the semifinals.

That is as far as I will go with my Roland Garros projections. I want to see how the top players fare in Madrid and Rome before making any serious predictions for Paris. In the mean time, I can’t wait to watch what transpires over the next month as the leading competitors go into head to head combat on a surface which brings out the best and most artistic tennis from many in the upper regions of the sport. This is when it all comes alive in the world of tennis.

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Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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Roger Federer Suffers Another Hard Loss After Reaching Match Point

The 20-time Grand Slam champion displayed encouraging signs when he returned to action in Doha before he fell victim to the “match point syndrome” once again.

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image via Qatar Tennis

Having been gone from the game for nearly 13 months after enduring two knee surgeries in 2020, Roger Federer went back to work last week in Doha as devoted tennis fans—and even the sports world at large—followed his every move. Federer, of course, is one of the most renowned athletes in the world, a singularly graceful practitioner of his craft, and an ineffably pure and artistic shotmaker who was sorely missed by his many ardent admirers.

 

That is why the return of the 39-year-old Swiss Maestro was eagerly anticipated by so many devoted observers across the globe. They were thirsting to see him perform again, hoping he could rekindle some of his old magic, and fascinated to find out what he could bring back to the table of competition. They wanted this version of Roger Federer to be sublime. They hoped he could inspire them once more with his sheer creativity and a soaring imagination that has long made Federer a transcendent figure in his trade.

Federer did not entirely let them down, nor did he necessarily live up to the perhaps unrealistic expectations of some fervent fans. In his opening match in the round of 16, Federer took on Great Britain’s Dan Evans, with whom he had been practicing frequently. Evans had never taken a set off Federer, but surely believed this was a golden opportunity to upset a rusty adversary who had spent 405 days away from match play.

Evans created a nice opening when he advanced to break point at 4-4 in the first set, but Federer met that moment with calm assurance. A deep inside-in forehand from Federer pulled Evans out of position, setting up the Swiss for his trademark inside-out forehand winner. Federer held on in that crucial game. On they went to a tie-break, and the 20-time major champion trailed 2-4 in that sequence and later served at 5-6 and set point down.

Federer sent a deadly accurate first serve down the middle in the ad court. Evans did not get good depth on the return. Federer stepped in and unleashed a forehand inside-out winner. Having dodged out of danger, Federer took that tie-break 10-8 on his third set point.

He was playing reasonably well, but not making much of an impression on the Evans serve. The British player claimed the second set 6-3 on one break of serve. In the final set, Federer was twice down break point at 3-3 but he released an ace and then a spectacular forehand drop shot winner.

Federer held on for 4-3 and did so again to lead 5-4. In the tenth game, Federer had a match point, but Evans caught the Swiss off guard. He came in behind a deep first serve to the backhand and put away a forehand volley unhesitatingly. That serve-and-volley combination was letter perfect. Evans stayed alive in holding for 5-5, but Federer went right back to work, holding at 30 with a dazzling backhand down the line winner, closing out the contest by breaking at 15 with another backhand down the line into the clear. 

image via Qatar Tennis

Federer’s 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-5 triumph was hard earned. He then came back the next day to take on an entirely different type of player in Nikoloz Basilashvili. Evans had prolonged the rallies as much as possible in his duel with Federer. Basilashvili is a very big hitter who was walloping the ball with controlled aggression in this quarterfinal. Federer played a solid first set which he took comfortably before Basilashvili blitzed through the second set with a couple of service breaks, totally outhitting Federer from the baseline. On they went to a third set. At 3-3, Federer fended off three break points, erasing the first with a vicious sliced backhand drawing an error, wiping away the second with an unanswerable forehand, and casting aside the third with an excellent first serve to the backhand.

To 4-3 went Federer with a clutch hold. But Basilashvili was resolute. Serving to stay in the match in the tenth game, the Georgian was down match point, but he rescued himself admirably, approaching forcefully off a short return from Federer and keeping his shot low. Federer had no chance to make the backhand passing shot. Basilashvili held on for 5-5 and then closed out the account with some sparkling ball striking off the backhand, going down the line off that side frequently to leave Federer compromised. The world No. 42 took the last two games from 5-5, winning eight of the last eleven points, prevailing 3-6, 6-1, 7-5.

And so Federer lost narrowly in a quarterfinal contest that could have gone either way. He could be somewhat satisfied with his level of play across two close matches after a long hiatus. His smoothly efficient serve was close to normal. He had 25 aces combined in those two Doha clashes and did not serve a single double fault. All told he was quite good off the forehand. The central issue was his backhand. Federer made an alarming number of miss-hits off that side. He also bungled a swing volley or two, smiling sardonically at himself after those mistakes, knowing he could not expect perfection.

But perhaps most irksome to Federer fans was the fact that his loss to Basilashvili marked the 24th time in his illustrious career that Federer has lost a match after having at least one match point. The first time it happened for the Swiss was back in 2000. Confronting Tim Henman in the semifinals of Vienna, Federer won the first set 6-2 and had two match points with the British player serving at 5-6, 15-40 in the second set. Henman rallied to win 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3. Federer was only 19. No one took much notice at the time that he had not closed out that account when he was twice only a point away from prevailing.

And yet, as the years passed, these kinds of losses became surprisingly numerous for a player of his rare stature, even though on the other hand he has demonstrated over and over again that he knows what it takes to put the finishing touches on fine performances. What reasonable critic could claim that Federer was afraid to lose or incapable of closing out the most consequential of matches?

He now stands tied with Rafael Nadal for the most men’s major titles at 20, and owns 103 career singles titles, which is second only to Jimmy Connors (109) in the Open Era among the men. Furthermore, he has been a magnificent big match player, coming though in 103 of 157 overall finals for a winning percentage of .656 and taking 20 of 31 Grand Slam finals (.645).

Those numbers are excellent. But that rate of success makes these setbacks after holding match points all the more surprising. Consider this: Novak Djokovic has been beaten only three times in his entire career after advancing to match point, and yet he has struck back boldly from double match point down three times to beat Federer. Rafael Nadal has lost only eight contests when he has reached match point. The Spaniard toppled Federer in the 2006 Rome final after saving two match points in the fifth set. That was a critical win for the left-hander. Granted, both Nadal and Djokovic are much younger than Federer, but neither the Spaniard nor the Serbian has been nearly as vulnerable under these circumstances as the Swiss. Federer has played 1,515 matches across his sterling career, Nadal 1,213 and Djokovic 1,135.

image via Qatar Tennis

Since Federer suffered that first loss to Henman after twice being at match point in 2000, there have not been many  seasons when the Swiss has not experienced defeats of the same type. He managed to avoid meeting that fate in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and in his abbreviated 2020 campaign. But he has lost at least one match in 16 different years after being ahead match point. In 2010, Federer lost no fewer than four battles when he had match points, which is extraordinary.

Perhaps more importantly, Federer has fallen into the unexploited match points syndrome six times across his sterling career at the majors—twice at the Australian Open (against Tommy Haas in 2002 and Marat Safin in 2005); twice at Wimbledon (versus Kevin Anderson in a 2018 quarterfinal and Novak Djokovic in the epic 2019 final), and twice at the U.S. Open (facing Djokovic in 2010 and 2011).

Most of those disappointments had large historical ramifications. Consider the 2005 Safin loss in the semifinals of Melbourne. Federer was ahead two sets to one, and reached match point at 6-5 in the fourth set tie-break. He served-and-volleyed on his second delivery. Federer lunged to make a decent backhand first volley down the line. Safin’s passing shot was low, and Federer responded with a short backhand finesse volley. Safin scampered forward swiftly and lofted a perfect lob down the middle over Federer’s head. Federer chased it down but, rather than answer with a lob of his own, he went for a “tweener” and missed it badly. Federer has always had a knack for when to play the percentages and when to be audacious, but his split-second judgement in this instance was misguided.

Be that as it may, a buoyant Safin won the next two points to seal the fourth set and then took the hard fought fifth, toppling Federer 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 9-7 in four hours and 28 minutes. Federer won 201 points in that match to Safin’s 194, but still lost. He had beaten Safin in the final of the Australian Open the year before, and had a 6-1 career winning record over the Russian going into this confrontation. Federer would finish 10-2 over Safin. 

But that critical semifinal in Melbourne got away from the Swiss. He would have played Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Federer had beaten Hewitt six consecutive times in 2004, including a round of 16 win at the Australian Open and a crushing 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-0 victory in the U.S. Open final. So his defeat against Safin was immensely consequential. Federer would have been highly unlikely to lose against Hewitt in the final. That Australian Open would have surely belonged to him.

But while that misfortune against Safin was significant, think of the three stunning reversals of fortune between Djokovic and Federer at the premier events. At the 2010 U.S. Open, Djokovic was serving at 4-5, 15-40 against Federer in the semifinals, but he courageously produced a forehand swing volley winner off a hanging Federer sliced backhand. On the second match point, Djokovic laced a forehand inside-in winner. Djokovic held on for 5-5 and then completed a stunning 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 victory.

On to 2011. Federer and Djokovic clashed in the penultimate round of the U.S. Open for the fourth year in a row after Federer had overcome the Serbian in the 2007 final. Djokovic rallied from two sets to love down to force a fifth set. But the Swiss was revitalized, serving for the match at 5-3, 40-15. For the second straight year, Federer had fashioned a double match point lead in the U.S. Open semifinals against Djokovic.

But history repeated itself. Federer swung a slice serve wide in the deuce court. Djokovic went for broke, lacing a screaming forehand return winner crosscourt. It was the “shot heard around the world.” At 40-30, Federer hit a fine body serve but Djokovic fought it off, and his backhand return coaxed Federer into a forehand error.

Djokovic swept four games in a row to finish off an astonishing 4-6 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 victory. For the second consecutive year, he had rallied from double match point down to upend Roger Federer in New York. In both of those years, Rafael Nadal made it to the final. Had Federer moved past Djokovic on either occasion, Nadal at that time would have been the favorite to beat him for the crown, but who knows for certain what might have happened?

Let’s move on to 2019 at Wimbledon. Djokovic and Federer were colliding in their third Centre Court final, with the Serbian having ousted the Swiss in 2014 and 2015. It was the signature match of their astounding career head to head series, which Djokovic now leads 27-23. Djokovic trailed 5-3 in the first set tie-break but collected four points in a row to salvage it. Federer blazed through the second set before Djokovic battled back from set point down late in the third set to win another tie-break.

Federer stormed back again to send the battle into a fifth set. Djokovic led 4-2 but Federer rallied to 4-4. The Swiss broke Djokovic again in the 15th game and served for the match at 8-7, reaching 40-15 with consecutive aces.

For the third time in his career at a major, Roger Federer would lose to Novak Djokovic improbably after arriving at double match point. On the first match point, he steered a shaky forehand wide. Then Djokovic saved the second with a clutch forehand crosscourt passing shot winner. He soon broke back for 8-8, leaving the overwhelmingly pro-Federer Centre Court audience in quiet despair.

In the end, this classic encounter was settled in the first ever fifth set tie-break at Wimbledon in men’s singles, with Djokovic cooly outplaying his formidable rival to complete a 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) victory. Federer has never beaten both Nadal and Federer in the same Grand Slam tournament, and would have collected a 21st major title by realizing that extraordinary feat for the first time. Instead, Djokovic took his 16th “Big Four” crown. It was surely the most gratifying victory of Djokovic’s career and the most devastatingly potent defeat ever for Federer.

So there you have it. The “match point syndrome” has haunted Federer more times than he would care to remember. But it must be said that he has made more than his share of gallant comebacks. On 22 occasions in his career, he has rallied from at least one match point down to win, which is no mean feat. That list of triumphs includes four wins at the majors— two at the U.S. Open, one at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.

None of those four comebacks at the majors led to Federer capturing the titles. Nonetheless, some of his other match point recoveries did indeed result in Federer becoming the champion, most recently his 2017 Miami quarterfinal rescue mission against Tomas Berdych, when he saved two match points and went on to oust Nadal in the final. At five other tournaments when he saved match points along the way, Federer also took the title, including round robin triumphs at the ATP Finals against Andre Agassi in 2003 and Andy Roddick three years later as Federer moved on to win those prestigious tournaments.

Leaving the match point setbacks and recoveries aside, where does Federer go from here? It is not easy to project. I thought he would compete in Dubai this week since he only played two matches in Doha, but Federer felt he had to resume his training. No one can gauge the current state of Roger Federer and his game better than Federer himself. But he surely needs many more matches if he is going to make a serious bid for a ninth Wimbledon title in July.

He had already decided to skip Miami, and so, between now and the start of the grass court season in June, he can only compete in clay court events. There will be some tough scheduling decisions ahead. I don’t think he really believes he can win a second French Open title this year, so will he go to Paris? Perhaps he will; in 2019 he chose to return to Roland Garros for the first time in four years, reaching the semifinals before nearly winning Wimbledon.

The view here is that Wimbledon will be his last best chance to secure a 21st major crown. He will be 40 in August. He has not won the U.S. Open since he took his fifth consecutive title there in 2008. That is why he will surely throw all of his emotional energy into winning Wimbledon this year. Even if Federer rounds into top form, it will still be awfully tough yet not impossible for him to rule again at the All England Club. But the fact remains that he is never going to sell himself short. All of us must remember that he is a champion through and through with a seemingly limitless supply of ambition and a propensity to put his greatest wins and most bruising defeats behind him, simply pressing on professionally to pursue his immediate goals.   


Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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Are The Updated FedEx ATP Rankings A Gift To Roger Federer?

Pospisil, Djokovic, Isner and other US tennis players are among those who do not believe in the good faith of the association. Young up-and-comers like Musetti and Alcaraz will have to wait a little longer for a breakthrough.

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In this long and painful period, the ATP is coming up with more new rules relating to the rankings, which, needless to say, have produced controversies and confusion among players who feel penalized by these changes. 

 

MUSETTI AND ALCARAZ: THE FUTURE CAN WAIT

Before going into the details of whether this reform is fair or not, we could honestly say the Next Gen will have to wait even longer to take over. Even promising guys, like the Italian Musetti (N.116) and the Spaniard Alcaraz (N.131), seem destined to toil more than expected to join to the tennis élite. Until a week ago, the outlook was more positive. The world of tennis is divided in two groups: who think that this is a just and equitable reform and who find it completely unfair. It is likely that among those who support these modifications are to be found players such as Lopez, Kyrgios, Fognini and also His Majesty Roger Federer as well as Rafa Nadal – the Spaniard has always been a proponent of a bi-annual ranking.

VICIOUS RUMOURS SPREADING (ABOUT FEDERER AND NADAL)

Some people suggest that “it isn’t by accident that Roger Federer’s ranking will be safe until he’ll turn 41! The same goes for Nadal.” I am not one of them, but the rumours were so prevalent that I felt compelled to report them. Roger, who will make his comeback in Doha this afternoon, could eschew playing or even lose all the matches until August 2022 and still remain in the Top 100. In short, many people thought that the latest “idea” of the ATP is bespoke for Federer. Furthermore, the ATP is not the only association wishing to have Federer around for as long as possible.

As everybody knows, the ATP is made of professional tennis players and tournament directors. Each group represents 50% of the association. Guess which side the directors are on. All of them, the tournament directors, dream about having Roger Federer in their line-ups, even when Roger will be 45 years old. I think some of them would be ready to sell their 250 ATP licenses and host an event of the Senior ATP Tour just to have him! 

A SUMMARY OF THE MOST RECENT ATP CHANGE

The ATP ranking system had been modified for the first time a few months ago. The ATP chose a “best of” approach to how a player’s ranking is calculated. In relation to a tournament played twice between March 2019 (from Indian Wells onwards) and March 2021, only a player’s best result is taken into account. Points obtained in tournaments that didn’t take place in 2020 (such as Wimbledon), or in those that could be cancelled in 2021, were retained. With the recent change made by the ATP, on the other hand, the players will now be able to keep 50% of the points they obtained in tournaments that didn’t take place in 2020, and also in those that did take place but in different timeslots than usual, such as the French Open or Rome.

THE 12 PLAYERS FAVOURED BY THE RANKING UPDATE (AND MAYBE OTHERS, SUCH AS NADAL)

Feliciano Lopez, Kyrgios, Fognini, Lajovic, Isner, Querrey, and Simon are those who more than others will benefit the most from this update of ATP Ranking System, and the same goes, to a lesser extent, for Federer, Paire, Monfils, Goffin, and Nishikori. Rafa Nadal could also benefit from these changes in the unlikely event that he loses in the first round (or did not play) at Roland Garros in 2021 – he would still retain 1,000 of the 2,000 points he won in 2020. Many of the other players found this update a little suspicious. Both Federer and Nadal are among the strongest PTPA opponents, and their support for the ATP policies is important, not just in the public eye. By the way, the Spaniard will also take a minor hit due to the new rules, since on March 15 he will be overtaken by Medvedev as the world N.2 due to the expiration of half of the 360 points he notched in Indian Wells in 2019.

Rafael Nadal (image via twitter.com)

TSITSIPAS OVERTAKES FEDERER IN THE RANKING

Thanks to a semi-final run in Rotterdam, and despite his defeat against Rublev in the semifinals, Tsitsipas has overtaken Federer, but the Swiss is still ranked 6th in the world. In the last year he played, the Swiss reached a final and two Grand Slam semi-finals (2,640 points); in addition, he won a Masters 1000 in Miami (he also reached the Indian Wells final, for which he will lose only 300 points) and three ATP 500 events (2,800 points).

FEDERER GOT QUITE THE GIFT! WAS IT PURELY COINCIDENTAL?

We will see how Federer is doing in Doha and (perhaps) in Dubai, but one thing is certain: the latest changes do him a great favour. I’m not saying that he doesn’t deserve it, but let’s be honest, he couldn’t have picked a better time to stop and have surgery twice. While unfortunately reeling from nagging knee issues, he can still profit from the extraordinary results he achieved in 2019.

Considering Miami (where he will not play this year), Madrid, Halle and Wimbledon, Roger can retain 1,440 points without playing. Furthermore, the 1,020 of the Australian Open and Indian Wells (720 effective plus 300 frozen) are in the bank, and they will stay with him well into 2022. This means that, even without playing any match, he would have 2,460 points, a Top 20 score. A small caveat to be kept in mind: the Race to Turin will only consider the points earned in 2021.

Now, it should be recalled that the changes made during this exceptional period were introduced because the ATP decided to support players that didn’t feel comfortable to travel during the pandemic. But how justifiable is this attitude?

AN EQUILIBRIUM THAT DOESN’T EXIST 

Finding the right balance is not always easy, but even the regularity of a competition should be safeguarded, particularly in relation to its ranking systems and for players, especially young people, who make sacrifices for years to achieve their goals and are not helped by the tennis establishment. I am referring to the few points awarded in the ATP Challenger Tour compared to the points that top players easily get even if they obtain results only in a few tournaments per year.

I confess that, despite the wrong manner (and timing) chosen by Novak Djokovic to support them, I generally understand the grievances that players ranked outside of the Top 20 have! We are referring to the majority of tennis players, constantly relegated to a backdrop role and suffering discrimination from tournament directors, who, compared to these players, enjoy a much bigger role within the ATP.

VASEK POSPISIL: “THE ATP IS A COMPLETE DISASTER!” 

Former board member of the ATP Players Council Vasek Pospisil was asked by his colleague to comment on the men’s association’s latest decision: “The ATP is a complete disaster! The only way to deal with these problems is to have a players-only association. We are trying to create it. The ATP Tour will never work in the best interests of the players. The role of tournaments promoters is relevant. Our executives are influenced by powers-that-be such as IMG (owner of the Miami tournament and of the TV rights of several tournaments) and the other Masters 1000 events. The Tour is in the hands of those who control and manipulate it. We must look after each other, and the PTPA will be the beginning of a new story. It is difficult to imagine the path towards a positive solution without the PTPA.”

Vasek Pospisil (image via twitter.com)

THE ATP IS TRYING TO STIFLE DISCONTENT BY OFFERING MONEY TO THE PLAYERS

The ATP board fully realized that the association has received a lot of criticism. Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and CEO Massimo Calvelli, with the help of President of ATP Player Council Kevin Anderson (who replaced his predecessor Djokovic) are trying to earn the players’ trust by offering additional financial contributions to assist them in covering for the losses they have suffered in the past year. The players will receive a payment of $5,040 in order to cover travel costs and other expenses. The criteria are the following: eligible players will be those ranked 31-500 in the year-end Singles ATP Rankings or 1-200 in the year-end Doubles Rankings who earned less than 150,000 in prize money throughout 2020. Tennis players with a protected ranking who meet the abovementioned criteria and have competed since March 2019 will also be eligible to receive the financial contributions. This is the message sent to the players: “We are pleased to inform you that as part of efforts to support players affected by COVID-19, the ATP has made additional contributions to further assist players with the expenses and travel cost in 2021through the ATP Year-End Player Relief “

More good news came for players who were ready to play the Indian Wells tournament a year ago. The tournament was canceled at the last minute when players had already faced travel and accommodation expenses. Now all of them will receive $10,985: “We would like to inform you that a compensation of $ 10,985 for the 2020 edition of Indian Wells will soon be paid to eligible players, once the ATP has received the funds.”

Previously, a $6 million relief funds had been created by the ITF and the four Grand Slam. The ATP and the WTA split the amount equally to distribute it to the players depending on their ranking and on whether they had featured in the four Grand Slams. Initially, it was set up only for Top 10 players, whereas now the hope is that the funds will be distributed to those who are struggling. At this time, however, no official statement regarding the distribution system has been disclosed.

TOP AMERICAN PLAYERS ARE READY TO PROTEST AND BOYCOTT THE CIRCUIT

Wealthier American players are some of the most bitter detractors of the current ATP establishment. Isner and Querrey, in solidarity with Pospisil and Djokovic, stated that the ATP’s “financial aid” is more akin to a small handout when compared to the thriving budget of the association, which hasn’t been heavily affected by COVID. What incenses them the most is that some tournaments, like Miami, have reduced the prize money by 60%. In fact, a good number of tennis players would even be in favour of a boycott to fight for a higher prize money. The argument is that “If we never stand up to this situation, we will always be subjected to the will of the tournament promoters” – however, several others are already claiming that they cannot afford to stop playing (particularly those from South America).

CAN THE TENNIS ESTABLISHMENT AFFORD TO BE THIS SHORT-SIGHTED?

In short, it is a period of turmoil. Players argue and criticise the association. The tennis establishment has always safeguarded the top players because, as always, it is money that makes everything go round. However, even taking into account the completely unpredictable circumstances caused by the pandemic, it is also necessary to have a plan to support second- and third-tier tournaments (Challengers and Futures) as well as lower-ranked players. Players who are over 30 are still fighting for their positions in the ATP ranking and have no intention of giving them up to younger guns, but the tennis establishment must not discourage those young people from striving for their goals.

We know well that in European football tens of thousands of players earn more than €100,000 per year, while tennis players ranked outside the Top 120 struggle to make ends meet. Someone with a forward-thinking vision should find a solution that ensures economic sustainability to at least 200-250 players. In particular, we should bear in mind that, nowadays, with the exception of top Next Gen prodigies, players face a decade of financial losses until they turn 22 or 23. Does anyone who oversees the promotion of tennis find this situation convenient or fair?

Translated by Giuseppe Di Paola

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