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Experience is the name of the game in Halle on Thursday.

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Roberto Bautista Agut (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

By Cheryl Jones

 

The second match of the day at the Noventi Open featured a couple of old timers. Frenchman, Richard Gasquet is thirty-three and Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut is thirty-one. They’ve both been around since the early part of the twenty-first century. Lest that seem like a short time ago, it is now 2019 and soon we will be slipping into the roaring twenties. (Yes, I know that was a twentieth century tag, but maybe there will be a whole new set of Mousquetaires, i.e. Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste. Then again, maybe not.)

The match today was over in just two minutes more than an hour. Bautista Agut came out on top 6-1, 6-4. It was a match that seemed to hover over the baseline with Gasquet moving toward the net more often than Bautista Agut, but not much. There was a good deal of hit and miss going on from both players, with lengthy rallies tending to be non-existent. The grass seems much more amenable to the tennis this year. The bounces seemed slow but steady – even if the serving speed of this match was toned down a bit from today’s earlier match between two Italians – Matteo Berrettini and Andreas Seppi. (Berrettini sent many serves over the net at speeds, well over 125 miles per hour [200 kilometers per hour]. He won in three sets, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2).

Gasquet became a professional tennis player in 2002. That’s a lot of days to spend on the court – more than 6,200 actually. (If years are more easily visualized, then that’s seventeen.) Over all those years, his winnings have averaged about a million American dollars for each of them. (That amount may seem like a good deal of money for batting a little ball across a net, but, there are coaches, trainers, physical therapists, and all the other folks who work to keep a player in the best shape possible that need to be paid for. Then one must add to that, the airfare, the transportation, the hotel rooms and all the other sundries that can total more than one can calculate in a day or two.)

To say that Gasquet’s career is pedestrian is a misnomer. He began playing as a youngster. At nine, he was touted as the “next” future champion in February 1996 on the cover of French Tennis Magazine. He was nine. In 2007 he reached his highest ranking of 7. He has slipped to number 54 today, which is his lowest since 2010. He’s always been a competitor. He has spent all of his adult life on the tennis court, always expecting a win. Seventeen years is a long time to stay in top form. It is apparent he still loves tennis, and amazingly his one-handed backhand is a sight to behold. It flows like a feather in the wind.

He could be thinking of moving over to allow the younger players a space in the rankings, or like many other competitors today, he may feel there’s another win waiting for him. This one could be just around the corner at Wimbledon. His hopes for the future are likely simple and to the point – London may be calling.

Bautista Agut has been a professional player since 2005. As of today, he has been ranked in the top 30 of the ATP rankings for 267 consecutive weeks. That’s a smidge over five years. He began playing tennis at five. He scampers about the court like a youngster, to this day. Actually, he enjoys horseback riding and owns seven horses, which I assume he leaves at home in Spain.

Earlier this year, in the first round of the Australian Open, he managed a win over Andy Murray in a trying five set match. He then moved on to the second round and defeated John Millman in yet another five setter. In the third round, he mowed Karen Khachanov in straight sets. He continued his winning ways by defeating Marin Cilic (last year’s Gerry Weber Open champ). But, then he met the up and coming Greek player, Stefanos Tsitsipas who was on a real high after defeating Roger Federer. Stefanos showed him the door. He then re-entered the top 20 and now he stands at 20 today.

With all that historic momentum stored in his memory banks, he might just have a chance at defeating nine time champ, at the Noventi Open, Roger Federer whom he will face in his next match here in Halle. Federer defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a nail biter – 7-6, 4-6, 7-5. This is Federer’s charmed tournament, and Bautista Agut will need all the luck and skill he can conjure to manage a win in the last match on Friday.

 

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Loss Meaningless To Dominic Thiem In Hunt For ‘Most Difficult’ Title At ATP Finals

The world No.5 explains why the key to his latest match was keeping it short, but not necessarily winning.

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LONDON: Dominic Thiem isn’t going to be losing any sleep over his latest loss at the ATP Finals with the ultimate prize still in his sight.

 

Thiem, who qualified for the semi-finals of the tournament of Tuesday, was far from his best as he slumped to a straight-sets loss to Matteo Berrettini. Who has become the first Italian in history to win a match at the event. It is hard to read too much into Thiem’s latest performance with him openly admitting that his focus was on his upcoming semi-final clash. Highlighting one of the drawbacks of having a round-robin tournament with some matches providing irrelevant to the overall standings.

“Of course I was still trying to win that match, but also, at the same time, I knew in my head that I have to take care (of my body) for Saturday because obviously, it’s the way more important match,” Thiem explained during his press conference.
“I’m really trying to get the body going 100% for Saturday, and it wouldn’t be that smart if I would have another three-hour match today.”

The comments do not mean that Berrettini just had a walkover win and he was made to work for the victory. Which levels the head-to-head between the two players to 2-2. However, both would admit that with not much on the line there was a lack of intensity.

“I think that today was maybe even the weakest compared to those three (matches).” Thiem states.
“We had a great one in Shanghai. We had a great one in Vienna and also here. Of course, it affected a little bit that both of us, we couldn’t do anything about the standings in the group anymore.”

The 26-year-old has certainly illustrated his worthy candidacy to lift the title on Sunday in London following his previous triumphs. Earlier this week he scored back-to-back wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Should he end up playing Nadal over the weekend and win, he would become the first player to defeat all members of the Big Three in the same tournament since David Nalbandian at the 2007 Madrid Masters.

There is still a way to go for Thiem to clinch the biggest title of his career to date. The Austrian believes he if he does manage to win the tournament, any other title is not off-limits for him.

“I think that maybe this tournament is the most difficult to win because you have to beat five top 10 guys in a row. Okay, you can afford to lose one match maybe, but still, I’m 100% sure that if you win this title you can win, as well, any other title.” He explains.
“I haven’t done it yet, but I think that if you win this title, it gives you a lot of confidence for Australia (Open) because it’s the closest, but for the full next year as well.”

Few can dispute the fighting spirit of the Austrian on the court in London. However, after a long season, he admits that he isn’t fully healthy. A situation his rivals also find themselves in. Although some are struggling more than others at present.

“I’m not 100%, but it didn’t affect me in these three matches,” Thiem admits. “That’s why I also really need to be careful because I really hope I have two more matches so I can give all that I have and my own 100% in the remaining two matches.”

Thiem could play one of three players in the semi-finals depending on the outcome of Friday’s matches. Awaiting him will be either Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev or Daniil Medvedev. The only way he can play Nadal is if they both progress to the final.

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Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo secure their semifinal spot in the ATP Finals in London

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Former ATP Finals runners-up Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo battled past Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 10-7 after 1 hour and 44 minutes to finish the Group Jonas Bjorkman with a 2-1 round robin record.

 

Kubot and Melo came back from an early break down and fended off four set points before Ram and Salisbury converted their fifth chance to win the opening set 6-4.

Kubot and Melo fended off a break point in the seventh game with a great serve, before they converted their first break point in the 10th game.

Kubot and Melo won five consecutive points in the Match Tie-Break to open up a 6-2 lead. The Polish and Brazilian players converted their fourth match point to secure their spot in the semifinal.

 

 

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Matteo Berrettini Scores Historic Win Before Exit From ATP Finals

The 23-year-old ends his breakthrough season on the ATP Tour with another milestone in his career.

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LONDON: Matteo Berrettini has become the first Italian man in history to win a match at the ATP Finals after defeating Dominic Thiem on Thursday afternoon.

 

The world No.8 managed to dismantle the game of his rival, who was far from his best at times, with the help of his blistering serve to seal the 7-6(3), 6-3, victory. Ending Thiem’s streak of four consecutive wins over top 10 players, including Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer earlier this week. In total Berrettini hit 30 winners to 21 unforced errors and converted both of his break point opportunities.

“I’ve always had great fights against him. I was able to stay mentally focused, especially in the first set when I lost my serve because I didn’t play a great game.” Berrettini said afterward.
“I’m really happy with my performance because I am not feeling great physically.” He added.

The downside to the round-robin format of the event is that some matches end up being irrelevant with this being one of them. Regardless of the outcome, Thiem has already qualified for the semi-finals and Berrettini is on his way out. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Italian was playing for pride at The O2 Arena.

A close start to the match saw neither playing managing to gain any momentum during the first eight games. Then inconsistencies in Thiem’s game started to haunt him. Berrettini’s ability to hit the ball deep into the court forced his rival to make a series of errors as he broke for a 5-4 lead. However, it was his turn to stumble behind his serve as Thiem broke back to level with relative ease.

Despite neither player capitalizing on their advantages, the tiebreaker was a one-sided encounter. Three Thiem unforced errors, as well as a winning Berrettini slice, saw him go behind 0-4 in the blink of an eye. Creating enough of a margin for Berrettini to seal the first set with the help of a 134 mph ace.

Thiem clearly looked flat on the court compared to two days ago when he downed Djokovic, however, nothing should be taken away from Berrettini. Who kept focus and stuck to his game plan throughout the match. A backhand passing shot, followed by a crosscourt winner enabled him to break once again midway through the second set. Easing towards victory after just 76 minutes play, Berrettini closed the match out with a delicate drop shot.

“I’m really proud of myself, but also for my team, my family and my friends. It’s been an unbelievable season.” He reflected on his year.
“I didn’t expect at the beginning of the season to be here (in London). I hope to come back next year, but now I just want to say thanks to those guys (his team). Without them, it couldn’t be possible.”
“I’m happy to finish with a win.“

Despite the loss, Thiem will finish at the top of the Bjorg Born Group. He will play the runner-up of the other group in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Whilst Berrettini’s ATP season is over, he can’t rest yet. Next week he will be in Madrid playing for his country in the Davis Cup along with many other of his fellow players.

“There is one more event. I have to rest a little bit and then I think I deserve a holiday.” He declared.

Berrettini ends 2019 with 43 wins on the ATP Tour in what is a career best. He started the year ranked 54th in the world and didn’t make his top 10 debut until last month.

Italian men in the ATP Finals

-C. Barazzutti in 1978 – 0 wins and 3 loses
-A. Panatta in 1975 – 0 wins and 3 losses
-M. Barrettini in 2019 – 1 win and 2 losses

 

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