Five Storylines To Follow In Men’s Tennis Heading Into 2019 - UBITENNIS
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Five Storylines To Follow In Men’s Tennis Heading Into 2019

From Novak Djokovic’s dominance to the pending retirements of some familiar names, Ubitennis looks at what to expect during the new year on the ATP Tour.

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Novak Djokovic in action against Roger Federer at the 2018 Paris Masters (photo by Gianni Ciaccia)
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Will 2019 be the year the Next Generation comes of age in the grand slams or will the same names continues to dominate? Here are five key storylines to follow in men’s tennis throughout the new season. 

Will Novak Djokovic keep hold of his crown?

This time last year, many was wondering if Novak Djokovic would be able to recover from an elbow injury and rise back to the top of the men’s tour. Now the question is how long will his dominance continue?

A stellar second half of 2018 saw the Serbian claim both Wimbledon and the US Open titles, as well as two others Master 1000 trophies. The quartet of triumphs has elevated him back to the world No.1 spot. Making Djokovic the first man in history to reach the top spot after being ranked outside of the world’s top 20 within the same season.

The first indication of Djokovic’s current form was given this week at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships. An exhibition event held in the United Arab Emirates. Djokovic downed Russia’s Karen Khachanov and defending champion Kevin Anderson to with the tournament. Doing so for the fourth time in his career to win a $250,000 paycheck.

“I really am happy to have a match like this,” Djokovic told reporters on Saturday. “Kevin is one of the best players in the world and he is in form. He was playing a very high level consistently throughout the match and I had to work really hard for the win.”

Djokovic will officially kick-off his 2019 season next week at the Doha Open in Qatar. A tournament he has won on two previous occasions. He is looking to tune-up his game prior to the Australian Open, where he will be targeting a 15th major title. Despite his recent dominance on the tour, Djokovic is under no illusion of the threat he faces from other players.

“For me, it’s going to be a big challenge and a big ask to stay at such a high level, it’s very demanding especially as a family man.” He explained.
“It’s different in the last couple of years. But I like a challenge in life, because from the challenges we grow and we learn. So I try to embrace whatever is in front of me, I have to accept it but I’m working for the best.”

In the first round of the Doha Open, Djokovic will open up against Damir Dzumhur. Since June, he has reached the final at seven out of the eight tournaments he has played. Within that period, he has only lost to four players. Marin Cilic (Queen’s), Stefanos Tsitsipas (Rogers Cup), Khachanov (Paris) and Alexander Zverev (ATP Finals).

Based on his recent results, It is without a question that Djokovic will be the player to beat in the new year.

Djokovic’s 2018 at a glance

  • Tied Sampras for 3rd on the all-time list with 14 Grand Slam men’s singles titles
  • Tied Lendl and Sampras for Open Era-lead with 8 appearances in US Open final
  • Ranked 21st in the world at Wimbledon, he became the lowest-ranked Grand Slam champion since No. 44 Gaudio at the 2004 French Open.
  • Became 1st player to win titles at all 9 ATP Masters 1000 events since the start of the series in 1990
  • Scored 15 wins over top 10 players
  • 2018 Win-loss record of 53-12

 

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Alex De Minaur edges Henri Laaksonen to reach the third round in Melbourne for the first time in his career

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Australian Next Gen hope Alex De Minaur overcame a hard-fought five-set battle against Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen by the scoreline of 6-4 6-2 6-7 (7-9) 4-6 6-3 after 3 hours and 52 minutes to reach the third round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career at his third consecutive Grand Slam tournament to the delight of his home fans.

World number 166 Henri Laaksonen, who made his first appearance in the main draw in Melbourne, fought for every point until the end, but De Minaur dug deep to clinch a hard-fought battle.

The 19-year-old Australian star, who won his maiden ATP title in Sydney last week, earned an early break and held his next service games to close out the first set 6-4 with a service winner in the 10th game.

De Minaur went up a break in the fifth game of the second set, when Laaksonen fired a forehand long. The home player built up a break with a forehand down the line winner in the seventh game to build up a 5-2 lead before closing out the second set with a service winner in the eighth lead.

Laaksonen fought back by breaking serve in the fourth game on his third break point chance to build up a 4-1 lead. De Minaur broke back at 30 in the seventh game to draw level to 4-4 setting up a tie-break. De Minaur did not convert a match point at 7-6 and dropped the next two points on serve. Laaksonen won three consecutive points to clinch the tie-break 9-7.

The Swiss player of Finnish origin earned two breaks in the fourth set and sealed the fourth set with a forehand winner at 5-4 to force the match to the fifth set. Both players stayed neck and neck until the sixth game at 3-3. De Minaur got the crucial break in the eighth game after a netted forehand from Laaksonen before holding serve in the ninth game for 6-3 to the delight of the home fans.

“I weathered the storm and I did not want to lose. I had to make sure I composed myself, mentally reset for the last set. I had to try not to get down on myself and fight for every ball. I could do this every day of the year. There is nothing better than playing in front of you guys whether it is one hour, 5 or 10. I just love it. That was pretty special. I want to thank you for staying out here. The support was amazing and you definitely got me through that one. I can’t thank you enough”, said De Minaur.

De Minaur set up a eagerly awaited third-round match against Rafael Nadal on Friday. The Aussie player is confident that he will have time to recover from the effort.

“I am actually feeling good. I thought physically I handled the situation really well. I felt like the whole body was feeling good. This is why you do the hard work in the pre-season for matches like this, to be able to feel strong and feel confident in yourself physically. That helps you out there on court mentally. It’s going to be fun for me to get out on court again and be able to test where I am”, said De Minaur.

Karen Khachanov beat Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3 6-3 6-3 to reach his fourth consecutive Grand Slam third round.

Khachanov started the match with a break at love. Nishioka dropped his serve for the second time in the eighth game to lose the opening set 6-3. Nishioka bounced back by breaking serve at love with a forehand winner in the third game of the second set and led until the sixth game, when Khachanov broke back with his forehand. Nishioka saved five break points in the seventh game, but he dropped his serve in the eighth game, when he netted a forehand. Khachanov sealed the second set with an ace in the ninth game. The Russian player broke three times to close out the third set setting up a third-round match against this year’s Doha champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

Marin Cilic edged Mackenzie McDonald 7-5 6-7 6-4 6-4 after 3 hours and 37 minutes. Cilic clinched the first set 7-5 with a break in the 12th game. McDonald fended off six set points to win a hard-fought tie-break 11-9 after 70 minutes. Both players traded four breaks of serve in the third set, which Cilic clinched 6-4 with three breaks.  The fourth set went on serve until 4-4 with just one break point saved by Cilic in the seventh game. The Croatian player earned the break in the ninth game at 15 to seal the fourth set 6-4.

Tomas Berdych continued his good period of form following his final in Doha by reaching the third round at the Australian Open for the 12th time in his career and the ninth time in a row after his 6-1 6-3 6-3 win over Robin Haase. Berdych never dropped a break point and converted five of his seven break points.

 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas advances to the third round of the Australian Open to the delight of Greek fans

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Greek Next Gen star Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame Serbian qualifier Viktor Troicki 6-3 2-6 6-2 7-5 in two and a half hours to achieve the best result of his career at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Tsitsipas made history on Monday becoming the first Greek player to win a match at the Australian Open and followed up this win with a four-set victory over Viktor Troicki, who came through the qualifying round.

Tsitsipas drew the first blood breaking in the second game to take a 6-3 lead, but Troicki broke twice in the sixth and eighth games to clinch the second set 6-2 drawing level to one set apiece. Troicki saved four break points to hold his serve in the third game, but Tsitsipas broke twice in a row in the fifth and seventh games to close out the third set 6-2.

Troicki saved three break points in the seventh game at deuce. The fourth set went on serve until the 11th game, when Tsitsipas got the only break on his second chance to take a 6-5 lead. Tsitsipas closed out the match with a hold at love to the delight of the Greek fans, who provided him a strong support. Tsitsipas grew up in the myth of Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, who reached the Australian Open final in 2006.

Maria Sakkari completed a good day for Greek tennis with a 6-1 6-4 win over Australian qualifier Astra Sharma.

“I was prepared for that. I would say it’s always a big help having a big group of people knowing they are for you. It’s definitely different from other tournaments. I would not say it’s pressure, you just feel like people care more. The fans were very loud, they really want it more than me sometimes. I was at the ice bath after my match and the chants were still buzzing in my head”, said Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas achieved his best result at Grand Slam level last year, when he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Next Gen ATP Finals champion will face 2018 Hamburg and Beijing champion Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia, who came back from 2 sets to 1 down to beat Italian player Stefano Travaglia 3-6 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3.

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Roger Federer Delivers His Verdict On The Much Debated Australian Open Balls

They have been described as ‘terrible,’ but what does the 20-time grand slam champion think?

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Roger Federer believes time will tell if the brand new Australian Open balls are a hit with him following recent criticisms of the product from players on the tour.

Dunlop has become the new ball provided for the tournament after signing a five-year deal. Taking over from Wilson, who was the previous supplier. The balls were issued to all of the tournaments leading up to the grand slam, which generated a mixed response from players. Bernard Tomic described them as ‘terrible’ and ‘pretty cheap.’ Meanwhile, at the Sydney International, John Milman told The Sydney Morning Herald said it was ‘really tough to generate (pace) off the ball.’ Describing them as ‘dead.’

“The balls are really shit … so I’ve got to factor that in for next week in Melbourne, just remember how bad the balls are in cold conditions like that.” Milman said last week.

Weighing in on the debate, Federer said that he understands the points some of his fellow players have made. This year is the 20th consecutive time he has played at the Australian Open. An all-time record tied with Lleyton Hewitt.

“They definitely play a touch different to the ones we’ve had the last couple years.” Federer said following his second round win over Dan Evans.
“I do see what they’re saying. At night the spin is not taking off tremendously. I definitely have to go through a minor adjustment from Perth, which was a faster court.”

Nevertheless, the world No.3 isn’t going as far as criticising the piece of equipment. Arguing that it is too early in the tournament for him to give a proper assessment of the ball. Australian Open director Craig Tiley previously said that he believed players would be happy with the ‘quality, standard and consistency of play of the new AO Dunlop ball in a wide variety of conditions.’

“It’s still early in the tournament to exactly tell you how it feels exactly. I still feel like you can serve your way out of trouble from the baseline. You can spin and slice, all that stuff we saw today.” Federer concluded.
“It’s hard to out-spin guys here. As they changed the finals also to a night session, and the semis are also night sessions, I just feel like it’s really important to have fast enough courts for night session conditions as the main matches are being played there. If you keep it slow, slow, at night the ball doesn’t move.” He added.

Federer will play Taylor Fritz is the third round and will be attempting to get his 97th main draw win in the tournament.

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