“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”.
EXCLUSIVE: Stefanos Tsitsipas On The Journey Towards His ‘Maximum Potential’
The world No.9 opens up to Ubitennis following his opening match at the Caja Magica.
MADRID: Just minutes after grabbing his opening win at the Madrid Open, eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was already dissecting his performance.
Fresh off claiming his third ATP title last week in Estoril, the Greek battled to a 6-2, 7-5, win over world No.56 Adrian Mannarino. Somebody ranked 47 places lower than him in the ATP standings. Claiming his 24th win of the season, which is more than world No.1 Novak Djokovic, the Greek player admits that he still has work to do.
“I felt like I played well, but I haven’t reached my maximum potential yet,” Tsitsipas told Ubitennis. “I really hope I will play a little bit better in my next match.”
Despite being only 20, Tsitsipas is already an icon in Greek tennis. Being the first player from his country to reach the semi-finals of a major and the highest ranked in the history of men’s tennis. Last year in Toronto he defeated four top 10 players on route to the final. Becoming the youngest-ever player to do so since the ATP Tour was introduced back in 1990.
There is no question when it comes to the talent the Next Gen star has. Yet, the refreshing thing is that he is not overpowered by it. Instead, he is both determined and hungry to become an even better player.
“I’m going to build up my confidence and awareness of what I’m capable of doing on a tennis court. I’ve learned a lot today, despite my win. I’m going to try to improve on that and get even better results in my next match.” He said.
Becoming a better player
Tsitsipas’ drive for improvement was partly behind the success in Estoril last week. His start to the clay season was far from perfect. Losing to world No.14 Daniil Medvedev in Monte Carlo and world No.51 Jan-Lennard Struff in Barcelona.
The turning point occurred shortly after Barcelona. Returning back to the drawing board with his father. Both of his parents have a wealth of experience in tennis. Tsitsipas’ mother, Julia Apostoli, is a former world No.1 junior player who represented the Soviet Union.
“I worked with my dad the week before (Estoril). We worked on the courts and there were some micro-adjustments in order to improve my game. To change something that didn’t work the week before.” He explained.
“I’m grateful for that, I’m grateful that we went back to court, worked hours and hours to perfect those things that we didn’t do well.”
Whilst he appreciates the help he has received, it is by no means the end of it. Questioned about the area of his game that needs further improvement, Tsitsipas believes over-thinking is a problem for him on the court. Something he hopes to solve in his third round match in Madrid. Awaiting him will be either Fernando Verdasco or Karen Khachanov.
“I think to be more aggressive and not waiting too much. Sometimes I am thinking too much and in the end, I miss it. I would say there is a lack of indecision.”
The main stage
Like every other player, the ultimate test occurs at the grand slams. The four tournaments with the highest level of prize money, ranking points, and significance in the sport. The next major will be at Roland Garros. Coincidentally the place where Tsitsipas made his debut in the main draw of a major back in 2017.
He has already illustrated his threat in the premier tournaments. Stunning Roger Federer on route to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January. Nevertheless, Tsitsipas continues to take a backseat to the Big Four on the tour. Although he is getting ready to pounce like a lion when the opportunity beckons.
“I think it’s all a matter of time. Having players like Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer, I’m definitely happy to see how they perform (in the majors) and it will give me confidence and belief that I can do the same.” He explains.
“So it’s just a matter of time before I’m playing my best tennis. It’s very much related to my confidence as well.”
Overall, Tsitsipas boasts a winning record of 10-7 in the main draws of grand slam tournaments.
EXCLUSIVE: Jelena Ostapenko’s Fight For Form
Ubitennis spoke with the former French Open champion following her loss at the Caja Magica in Madrid.
MADRID: Almost two years have passed since Jelena Ostapenko stunned the women’s tour by winning the French Open at the age of 20. Shortly afterward, she was tipped to be the next star of the sport. Unfortunately, now she finds herself in a new and unwelcome challenge.
2019 has been dominated more by frustration than celebration for the Latvian. Five months in and she has only managed to achieve back-to-back wins once. Doing so at Charleston with triumphs over Johanna Larsson and Shelby Rogers. To put this into perspective, she is currently ranked 98th in the Porsche race to Shenzhen.
Ostapenko’s latest loss occurred at the Caja Magica, venue of the Madrid Open. After producing an emphatic display in her opening match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, she fell short against seventh seed Kiki Bertens. A player who was runner-up at the tournament 12 months ago. Despite glimmers of her top ability, a costly unforced error count of 30 guided Betens to the 6-4, 6-3, win. The downside of Ostapenko’s all or nothing approach to the game.
“I think in general it was not a bad match. Of course, I lost it, but I think the main thing was that I was not afraid to go after the shots. Even though I was missing during some deciding moments, that’s what I have to do with my game.” An upbeat Ostapenko told Ubitennis following the match.
“I have to go for the shots and play aggressive. That’s what brought me good results during 2017.” She added.
There is no denying that the 21-year-old is in the midst of crises on the court. Her last victory over a top 10 player occurred 13 months ago in Miami and her last title on the tour was 17 months ago in Seoul. Leaving Ostapenko facing one question. Where did it all go wrong?
The prime culprit for the results is the formerly injured left wrist in the eyes of the Latvian. In total, she missed three months towards the end of 2018. Meaning that she was unable to train during the pre-season. A crucial time of the year for many player’s.
“It’s hard. I have to get back in form during the year where you don’t have much free time. We play almost every other week sometimes.” She explains. “I’m using every opportunity to have some weeks of practice. Like, if I even have a couple of day’s I’m using it for practice. Just to improve everything.”
The mental demons
Ostapenko, who will turn 22 next month, has never been afraid to express herself on the court. That was visible during her match against Bertens with cries of frustration and glares towards her camp. Her series of blistering winners were ultimately canceled out by her erratic error count. Leaving the question, is Ostapenko’s downfall her own mind?
“I think for sure it’s the mental side because physically I think I’m strong enough.” She admits without hesitation. “In practice, I can play unbelievable and then I go into the match and do some mistakes that I never do. For sure, that’s a mental thing. I think tennis is around 70 percent mental because everything is in the head.’
“My first match here, I played really well and my mind was completely free. I was not afraid to hit the ball and hit so many winners.”
In a bid to overcome those problems, Ostapenko has enlisted to help of people with expertise in the area. Although she admits that there is no magical solution. Instead, she will have to give it time.
“I’m working with a couple of people in that area (of sports psychology). I’m trying to improve, but it’s not easy. I’m a very emotional person and sometimes that helps me, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m working by myself, trying to improve every day.”
Another grand slam title?
While she may lack wins, the belief is no less than it was two years ago when she claimed the French Open crown. Becoming the first unseeded champion of the tournament since 1933 and her country’s maiden grand slam winner.
“I know I can win more grand slams because I’ve already done it once. I’ve shown I can play at that high level.” She said. “However, with my recent injury, it hasn’t been easy this year.
I think I need to play more matches and win more matches. Then I think I will become a dangerous player.”
Just how dangerous she can become remains to be seen. This season has developed a trend of different players winning different tournaments. In fact, Petra Kvitova is the only woman to win multiple titles on the WTA Tour. Nevertheless, there is only one objective for Ostapenko this year.
“To be healthy. To try to stay healthy and enjoy it because I had all this pressure to deal with following the French Open.” The world No.29 stressed.
“Injuries are never fun. It can happen to anyone. You just have to enjoy the moment.”
Now over the first major injury of her career, Ostapenko continues to plot how she will once again rise to the top of the women’s tour. The only question left is when will that happen?
EXCLUSIVE: Former Boris Becker Coach Bob Brett On The Rise Of The Next Generation
The Australian speaks to Ubitennis about the young guns on the tour and his work in Japan.
At the Monte Carlo Masters this week is somebody that needs no introduction to the world of tennis.
Watching from the sidelines is Australian-born Bob Brett. A coach, whose career in the sport spans decades. His resume includes working alongside the likes of Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Marin Cilic whilst they were at the top of their sport. He also founded a tennis academy in San Remo, Italy and previously served as the head of player development for the British Lawn Tennis Association before resigning in 2015.
Since the days of Brett’s work alongside Becker, the game has changed somewhat. Power is more important than ever in matches and rallies are now more from the baseline than at the net. Something many has adjusted to in recent times. However, Brett believes there are also drawbacks too for the rising stars.
“Now it’s a little bit random I think with the next generation coming up because the game is different.” He said during an interview with Ubitennis. “Before with the ball there was much more trajectory and different things. There were more different opportunities with that to use a drop shot and all sorts of things.’
“Whereas today it is more a less about staying near the baseline, hitting the ball hard, straight and trying to get the winners.”
Few can dispute Brett’s wealth of experience, which amounts to almost 25 years on the ATP Tour. He has seen player’s come and go, but it is the new generation that is intriguing him the most.
“I think definitely (Stefanos) Tsitsipas and (Daniil) Medvedev are players who are coming along.” He stated.
“It’s really interesting for me to come and watch so many players and see how their improvements have been.’
“I think Felix (Auger-Aliassime) and (Denis) Shapovalov are very interesting. To see how they can actually expand in their game is the thing that I think is interesting.”
Despite his expertise, Brett has not made any indication of wanting to work alongside a rising star of the men’s game. When asked directly who would be the ideal Next Gen member for him to coach, the Australian diplomatically sidestepped the question. Although he isn’t afraid to tell them how it is.
“When I watch them, in my thoughts there is something that could be a little bit better here and there.” He explained without mentioning any names.
“I have seen some players and I know that they will need to change (their game). I have even told some of those.”
In Brett’s home country, it is Alex de Minaur who is the brightest prospect. At the age of 20 he has already reached three ATP finals, winning his maiden title at the Sydney International in January. In 2018 he was named newcomer of the year at the annual ATP awards.
De Minaur’s offensive in recent weeks has been halted by a groin injury. Since the Australian Open, he has only been able to play in two tournaments. Reaching the quarter-finals in Acapulco before losing his opening match in Indian Wells.
“He played very well until around the ranking of 24 and he is a very good runner.” Brett commented of his compatriot. “He’s going to need to have a little bit more punch (in his shot-making). Not necessarily forcing it (his shots), but also where to play the ball around the court.’
“It is not always about chasing the ball and I think it would be a bit better if he had a bit more variety.”
At present, Brett’s work takes him to Japan. A country which welcomed their first world No.1 earlier this year in the form of Naomi Osaka. However, Osaka is mainly based in America. Brett has worked in the Asian country for many years alongside both former and current stars of Japanese men’s tennis. The most notable being Shuzo Matsuoka, who achieved a ranking best of 46th in 1992.
“What I really enjoy is trying to get player’s to become better. With the young children and trying to make it a big difference for the Japanese because there was a sort of flat level, and I think they are getting much better with that.” He said.
“They are coming up with a completely different style of what they are playing.”
Brett spends 20 weeks a year working in Japan. His current focus is on the junior players.
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