With a tennis championships like the Noventi Open, there are always points of interest that give a better feel for what is taking place than the actual matches being played. Today, quarterfinal Friday, the fans witnessed riveting action. But leading up to it, there were a number of overlooked “happenings”, during the week, that are worth a mention. As a group, they include player insights, along with on-court and off-court goings-on that showcase why the ATP 500 tournament, played in Halle, Germany, is truly inimitable.
After being on tour for a while, players grow tired of responding to the same questions again and again. In press conferences, some seem to go into a trance and become R2-D2 (actually Artoo-Detoo seems better) facsimiles. Their responses become “bricks”, which are so robotic, that it makes it impossible to build a story foundation.
Roger Federer, as with many other segments imbedded in his career, is an exception. He can be thoughtfully expressive when asked for the hundredth time about a particular subject. He is regularly insightful, sometimes to the point where journalists are allowed to “touch his soul” when he answers a thought provoking question. Simply put (lifetime contract aside) he is the tournament’s “Spokesman.”
Beginning in late May, Federer played Roland Garros for the first time in four years. Rafael Nadal dispatched him in straight sets in the semifinals. Moving to grass, he had to recalibrate his game.
Stating the obvious, “It’s a huge change”. He then added, “Playing on grass can be very frustrating. You are looking for rhythm, but you can’t control everything because the ball bounces low and there are also bad bounces. You don’t have a real chance to get into rallies and build points like you can on clay. One good return or one good shot can really make a difference on this surface.”
He continued, “I look for ways to finish points quickly by going to the net. The (backhand) slice is always a good shot on grass because it skids and bounces low, so your opponent has to really get down to the ball and try to lift his shot to get it over the net.”
Because of the surface, it is easier to take a “mental” break on clay than it is on grass, Federer pointed out, “If you are a little bit lazy on grass, you pay the price. On clay, playing from the baseline, you can get into a good rhythm because you have time, time that you don’t normally have on grass.”
His analysis of the future of the “grass game” was telling. “I don’t see extreme progress at the moment,” he said. “For me, real progress would be when players start playing serve and volley. That would mean doing a lot more training, and not just during the grass season. I really don’t think that will happen.”
He added, “In the end, it’s the results that count. That’s what a lot of players see. They don’t have serve and volley in their DNA.”
Participants stay at the SportsPark Hotel which is on the tournament grounds. From some of the rooms, it is as easy as looking out the window to watch the action. “Here you can see matches on Court 1,” the nine-time champion pointed out. “I find it really cool to watch from the room. It’s perfect for a tennis fan (and for a player) which I am. It’s really nice when our friends are here. They can’t grasp that there is such a hotel with rooms with such a view.”
Jan-Lennard Struff, the 6’5” German from Warstein, has had a breakthrough year. He began 2019 ranked No. 54 and entered the Noventi Open at No. 35. He turned professional ten years ago and struggled until reaching the Top 100 in 2016.
He had played Halle six times before winning his first match, stopping Laslo Djere of Serbia, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round. Unfortunately, his seventh appearance good fortune was ended by Russian Karen Khachanov in his next outing, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
Following the loss, he said, “I have had a very good season. I have never played this well before. I am very happy with Stuttgart where I reached the semifinals. But, more important, I broke the curse here. I had never won a round before. Though I lost today, I can build on the win.”
In its twenty-six year history, a global village of players have taken part at Halle. They have used the spectacular setting and rain-protection conditions as a lead-up to Wimbledon. When Matteo Berrettini faced Andreas Seppi in the second round, I wondered how many Italians had taken part in the tournament. As it turns out, only twelve have participated. Even more interesting, Seppi is the leader of the All-Italian clashes. In 2006, he defeated Davide Sanguinetti, 7-6, 7-5 in the first round. Thirteen years later, Berrettini was his straight-set victim, and yesterday the triumphs were reversed when Berrettini escaped with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win.
In the match between Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, there was a “I’ve never seen it before” occurrence. With Herbert serving at 40-0 and Stakhovsky leading 5-1, the Frenchman hit what appeared to be an ace, but the serve was called a fault. Herbert approached the chair umpire and asked for an overrule, but the official informed him that he didn’t have any more challenges. Unable to “officially” contest the call he asked Stakhovsky what he thought. His opponent said the ball was good, but to give Herbert the point, Stakhovsky had to challenge the call. He did and the video replay proved the “fault call” was incorrect Herbert had, indeed, hit an ace to win the game.
Stakhovsky challenged himself; lost the point; gave Herbert the game; but won the first set, serving it out, 6-2. In the end, being honest didn’t lead to a victory. Herbert claimed the second round match, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4.
In another second round match, one that was a perfect exhibition of French flair, countrymen Benoit Paire and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played “football”. While serving Paire, ranked No. 28, let the racquet slip from his hand, but continued to play the point with his foot, kicking the ball over the net. Not to be outdone, Tsonga trapped the ball on his chest then kicked it over the net. The exchanges continued until Paire’s pseudo bicycle kick failed, bringing an end to the “kickball rally.” It is fair to say, based on the near standing ovation that the players received it was likely the best point played in Tsonga’s 6-4, 7-5 win.
As good as play was in the quarterfinals, there is an even better story to close this feature. It is about Franziska Froehlich, the daughter of Martin Froehlich, the esteemed Bielefeld newspaper reporter. Yesterday, following Alexander Zverev’s match, Franziska waited behind the barrier outside the players locker room. She was waiting for “Sascha.”
Unfortunately, Zverev had already returned to the SportsPark Hotel. Learning this she was very disappointed. But Daniel Dormann came to her rescue. He explained, “I am an uncle and have a combination of seven nephews and nieces. I know what a sad look is, and I saw it in her eyes.”
As it happens, Dormann is a close friend of the Zverev family. In fact, he is the founder of “Team Zverev”, a support group. Truth be told, he is not a paid PR specialist. He has known the family for fifteen years and initially set-up a webpage for Mischa. When Sascha saw it, he was around seven at the time, he asked if he could have one too.
Dormann, the creator of “Zverev Brothers Fan Page” on Facebook (and the “teamzverevofficial” Instagram account) told Franziska that he may be able to find a ticket so that she could attend Zverev’s match today against David Goffin of Belgium. He checked with Irina Zvereva, the boys’ mother who deals with such requests, and just before midnight last night, he received a thumbs up emoji.
This morning, Martin Froehlich learned that Dormann had been “successful” and would meet them at the tournament’s front gate to give Franziska the ticket.
Though disappointed that he lost, she had a memorable day at the Noventi Open. One that will always be unmatched for her and all those who attended Quarterfinal Friday.
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.
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.
Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo secure their semifinal spot in the ATP Finals in London
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.
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.
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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