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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A legacy remembered, but not built on

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

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

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

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

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

Time for the women to show their stuff

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

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

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

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

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

MEN

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

WOMEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EXCLUSIVE: 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.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo by chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

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.

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EXCLUSIVE: Jelena Ostapenko’s Fight For Form

Ubitennis spoke with the former French Open champion following her loss at the Caja Magica in Madrid.

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Jelena Ostapenko (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

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

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.”

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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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