EXCLUSIVE: Patrick Mouratoglou On The Rise Of Teenage Prodigy Cori Gauff - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Patrick Mouratoglou On The Rise Of Teenage Prodigy Cori Gauff

The teenage sensation once declared that she wanted to be ‘the greatest of all time.’

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In history few tennis players have been able to achieve their first professional main draw win and secure an estimated $1 million in endorsements at the age of 15. But for Cori Gauff she has ticked both of those boxes just eight days after her 15th birthday.

 

Despite being born during the same year Maria Sharapova claimed her maiden grand slam title (2004), the American right-hander has already created a pathway to become one of the world’s best. At the age of 13, she reached the final of the 2017 US Open girls tournament. Becoming the youngest player in history to do so. A year later she won the French Open junior title and then triumphed in the doubles at the US Open. Ensuring that she would top the junior rankings at only 14.

One person that truly knows what Gauff is capable of is Patrick Mouratoglou. The Frenchman best known for being the mentor of 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams. Mouratoglou has been following the progress of the teenager since she was young and has worked with her at his prestigious academy in Sophia Antipolis, France.

“I first meet Cori when she was 10 at my academy.” Mouratoglou said during an interview with Ubitennis.
“She’s very special and has the two major qualities that you cannot teach. First of all, she is a great competitor. That is something very difficult to teach. Secondly, she’s a natural athlete. You can build (a player) physically, but natural athleticism is something you have or don’t have.’
“She’s a hard worker, which is something not everybody has and this is very important to reach the top of the game.” He added.

Athleticism runs in the family of the current world No.2 junior, who goesa by the nickname of Coco. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

The WTA Tour received a taste of Gauff’s potential at the Miami Open on Thursday. In the first round she took on Caty McNally in what was a rematch of the 2018 French Open girls final. After falling behind early on in the match, Gauff battled back to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in what was her main WTA victory. Coming back from a 2-4 deficit in the final set.

“I would say that her tennis is physical.” Mouratoglou said of the teenager’s game. “It is based on her ability to move well on the court and the ball that comes off of her racket is a lot of high quality. It bounces high, fast and she is an aggressive player. She likes to dictate. She likes to be in control of the points and attack.”
“But if she has to defend, she can thanks to her speed.”

The endorsements

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Coinciding with her rise in the sport, Gauff has scored a new endorsement deal with Barilla. An Italian food company known famously for their pasta. Founded in 1877, the company was recently named the number one Italian consumer goods company in terms of turnover by IRI Research. Barilla also has deals with former world No.1 Roger Federer and Olympic skiing champion Mikaela Shiffrin.

“Passion, dedication and fair play are values that inspire Barilla’s way of working. They are also fundamental qualities that we also look for in a sports personality,” said Luca Barilla, Vice Chairman of the Barilla Group. “We extend our warm welcome to Cori, an emerging star of American tennis, and we hope that she will be able to continue to interpret this spirit in the best possible way.”

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Barilla is the latest brand to sign up the rising star. Towards the end of 2018 Gauff also signed long-term deals with New Balance (who won a bidding war with Nike) and racket manufacturer Head. According to Kurt Badenhausen from Forbes Magazine, the trio of deals amount to an estimated $1 million this year. To put that into perspective, it’s estimated that Simona Halep’s endorsements was $1.5M in 2018.

“I’m very proud of what she is achieving because she had had a little bit of pressure on her shoulders.” Said Mouratoglou. “She’s the player everybody looks at. Everybody expects her to win all the time. To experience that at young and to handle that is really impressive.”

Here to win, not just play

Given the massive amount of money being passed around, it is easy to forget Gauff’s age. She is only allowed to play a limited amount of WTA tournaments within a season under the age eligibility rule. A regulation put into place to prevent early burnout. Nevertheless, she is relishing her Miami debut.

“This is a dream. I have been dreaming of this moment for years, just playing in the Miami Open.” She said after her win over McNally. “I have been coming to this tournament since I was eight or nine years old. Watching the players here and actually being in the same tournament, being in the same area as players that I’ve watched since practically I was born, it’s so surreal to me.”

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Once proclaiming that she wants to be ‘the greatest of all time,’ Gauff in on a trajectory to the top of the sport. Following her opening win in Miami, she will break into the world’s top 400 for the first time.

Whilst she will be the underdog in her upcoming clash with 14th seed Daria Kasatkina, Gauff is refusing to let her lack of experience or nerves get in her way.

“My goal for every tournament is to win the tournament. I don’t want to say I will just win this next match and be done. My goal is to win the tournament. I’m going to keep that goal there and just keep fighting for it.” She concluded.

Such an audacious comment could be interpreted as a bit unrealistic, but Gauff has no fear. Making her development on the tour even more fascinating. And with the likes of Mouratoglou on her side, there is no reason why she may not one day emulate the achievements of her idol Williams.

Gauff is just getting started and the world of tennis better watch out.

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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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EXCLUSIVE: ITF Open To Allowing Ranking Points At The Olympics, But No Change In Eligibility Policy

Ubitennis has contacted the governing body following their recent announcement concerning the change in format of the Olympic tennis competition.

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The Rio Olympic Tennis Centre, venue of the 2016 Olympic Tennis competition (image via wikimedia.org)

There is a chance that players could earn ranking points at future Olympic Games, according to the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

 

Earlier this week the ITF announced two key changes to the Olympic competition that will come into effect at next year’s Tokyo Games. The men’s final has been shortened to a best-of-three set match to keep it in line with the other rounds. Breaking away with tradition. The gold medal match had always been a best-of-five encounter since the sport was reintroduced back into the Olympics in 1988. Meanwhile, in the doubles the final set will be replaced by a 10-point tiebreaker.

The changes have come into effect following ‘issues of a congested schedule’ that were raised during the 2016 Rio Olympics. During the decision making process, feedback was generated from players on the tour and former Olympians.

“The decision was taken bearing in mind that the Olympic Tennis Event takes place over nine days and a number of players have indicated their desire to compete in all three events – singles, doubles and mixed doubles – for the opportunity to win three medals.” The ITF told Ubitennis.
“The decision aligns all matches for a single consistent format for the Olympic Tennis Event, and addresses overplay for those players who play all three events. The ITF’s decision-making process that led to changes in the Olympic Tennis Event format included gathering feedback from players, former Olympians, tournament directors and officials.’
“Taking this feedback into consideration, the ITF Olympic Committee presented a motion to the ITF Board for review and approval. These changes are designed for consistency, player welfare and to ensure players can achieve their goals as they compete for their nation in the largest and most iconic multi-sport event in the world.”

The revamp has generated a mixed response from the world of tennis with many fans criticising the move to shorten matches. It is not the first time the ITF has done away with the best-of-five format. The same has been done with the Davis Cup finals, which from this year feature 18 teams participating over in a week-long competition.

“We understand that change is not always easy and we respect people’s opinions. We expected there would be a reaction – positive and negative.” The governing body said.

The future

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One change that has failed to occur is awarding ranking points to those who participate in the tournament. A move some believe will help attract more top players to the event. During Rio 2016 Novak Djokovic called for points to be rewarded to those participating in ‘arguably the fifth Grand Slam.’ Meanwhile Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis once told The New York Times ‘I really don’t like that in Olympic Games there is no points and no prize money. It’s a little bit like tennis tourism.”

The reason why no points are given is because the ITF is separate to that of the ATP and WTA. Therefore, they have no control over the allocation of points. However, it is possible that an agreement could be achieved one day between all three.

“Currently, the WTA and ATP do not award points for the Olympic Qualification Pathway. We (the ITF) are always open to discussion on the matter.”

 

Perhaps even more debatable is the current Olympic eligibility criteria. A system that is based on a player’s commitment to their country’s Fed or Davis Cup ties. In order to be eligible, players must participate in three ties during an Olympic cycle. This is reduced to two ties depending on the length of service or the zone group round robin criteria as specified in the eligibility rule.

It is unlikely that the ITF would want to change this policy. For them, it is their top leverage used to attract players to participate in the team tournaments. Especially the Davis Cup, which has gone through a highly controversial revamp. When questioned if they would change the rule in the future, the ITF declined to give a yes or no answer.

“National Olympic Committees wishing to nominate a player who has not yet met the minimum requirement has the right to appeal.” They state. “Each case is specific, but will be considered based on a combination of factors, such as, the depth of the player field available to play for their country, injuries, history and Davis Cup / Fed Cup / Olympic competition record.”

The 2020 Olympic Tennis tournament in Tokyo will take place from July 25th.

Who won medals at the 2016 Games?

Event Gold Silver Bronze
Men’s singles Great Britain (GBR)
Andy Murray
 
Argentina  (ARG)
Juan Martín del Potro
 Japan (JPA)
Kei Nishikori
Men’s doubles  Spain (ESP)
Marc López
Rafael Nadal
 Romania (ROU)
Florin Mergea
Horia Tecău
 United States (USA)
Steve Johnson
Jack Sock
Women’s singles  Puerto Rico (PUR)
Monica Puig
Germany (GER)
Angelique Kerber
 Czech Republic (CZE)
Petra Kvitová
Women’s doubles Russia (RUS)
Ekaterina Makarova
Elena Vesnina
Switzerland (SUI)
Timea Bacsinszky
Martina Hingis
Czech Republic (CZE)
Lucie Šafářová
Barbora Strýcová
Mixed doubles  United States (USA)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Jack Sock
 United States (USA)
Venus Williams
Rajeev Ram
 Czech Republic (CZE)
Lucie Hradecká
Radek Stepanek

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Exclusive: After Injury Woe, Kevin Anderson Aims To Inspire In Hunt For Elusive Grand Slam Title

The world No.7 spoke to Ubitennis earlier this week at the Miami Open.

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Embarking upon this year’s Miami Open, two-time grand slam finalist Kevin Anderson felt at home and with good reason.

 

Since he started playing tennis at the age of six, the 6’8” South African has spent most of his career based in America. Growing up, he represented the University of Illinois. Winning the NCAA doubles title in 2006 followed by reaching the final of the singles competition a year later. It was at university where Anderson would meet his future wife, Kelsey, who he married in 2011. The two now reside in Gulf Stream, Florida. An affluent area of Delray Beach that is only an hour’s drive away from the Miami Open.

“Walking onto the court I felt like there was a lot of people that was excited to see me play and that really felt good.” Anderson commented about his first taste of the new venue.
“At the end of the day, it’s the fans that drive our sport and I’ve worked really hard.” He added.

Relishing in the atmosphere of a place that feels like home, Anderson is known as a player that wants to be respected both on and off the court. He is the co-founder of Realife Tennis, which provides online tennis instructions. In December Anderson raised over $100,000 at the inaugural Grand Slam Cause For the Paws, which supports South Florida’s dog rescue Dezzy’s Second Chance and Ocean Conservancy.

“I always act and perform in a way that people can look up to me, especially kids.”

It was in Miami, where Anderson made his debut in a Masters tournament. At the age of 22 he reached the third round of the 2008 tournament as a qualifier. Getting knocked out by 31st seed Igor Andreev. This year is the first time the venue has moved to the Hard Rock Stadium from Key Biscayne. Forcing many to adapt to the changes, but Anderson hasn’t been too preoccupied with that.

“It’s been interesting because I haven’t played that many points or sets. I was more focused on how my elbow was feeling and how my body was feeling.” He admits.
“To be honest, I haven’t been playing a lot of attention to the court. Whereas, when your body is healthy you are paying attention to the balls and court surface.”

Injury woes

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Unfortunately for the South African, 2019 has been far from perfect. An elbow injury forced him to take a nine-week hiatus from the tour. Making Miami only his third tournament of the year played. To put that into perspective, 12 months ago Miami was his sixth event of the season.

Sometimes taking a break from the sport is a blessing in disguise. The brutal demands of travelling the ATP Tour can take its toll of many players regardless of their ranking. However, for Anderson it wasn’t entirely a blessing. Instead, he was in the midst of uncertainty and frustration.

“At the time I didn’t know how long I was going to be out for.” He explained. “Each day was spent training. I was training in the morning, during rehab and going to different places to get different types of therapies. It wasn’t like I was told that I needed to take three or four weeks off to go on holiday.’
“It was nice spending time at home, but it was really busy.”

Like for any other player, Anderson’s inability to play a sport that he earns a living from was frustrating. Although he had seen a silver lining.

“It didn’t necessarily feel like a break. There were tough times, I was missing tournaments that I really enjoyed playing. So that part was a little bit difficult. Mentally, I felt I handled it quite well.”

Ready to make a mark

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Twice Anderson has been on the verge of becoming the first South African to win a major title in singles since Johan Kriek back in 1981. Losing to Rafael Nadal in the 2017 US Open final and then Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year. Although Anderson’s performance against Djokovic was hindered by his marathon clash with John Isner in the match before that lasted more than six-and-a-half hours. An outcome that created a widespread debate over the use of tiebreakers in the final sets.

Hoping to turn his misfortunes around this year, the world No.7 has his eyes set on a strong clay-court swing, which begins after Miami.  He is yet to contest a final on the surface, but remains undeterred about his chances.

“Even heading into the clay court season, it’s a time of the year that I really enjoy.” The Optimistic South African explains. “I’ve made the semis in Madrid last year and I’ve been pretty close to the quarter-finals at the French Open.”

Whilst clay may not be the strongest surface for the fast-serving Anderson, his determination remains unchanged. Now nursing his elbow back to full health, it is expected that he will pose a big threat to the tour once again.

“For me right now it’s one step at a time. Making sure I’m progressing where I want to be with the elbow. It’s about getting matches and playing the tennis I want to be playing.” Anderson outlines.
“I got high hopes. Right now it is about focusing day in and day out. Making sure my elbow responds during match situations..

Anderson will play his fourth round match in Miami on Tuesday against Jordan Thompson.

NOTE: Interview conducted by Luca Baldissera, article written by Adam Addicott

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