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Quarterfinal Friday – Quotes And Notes

The Noventi Open provides a backdrop for much more than what is taking place on the courts.

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Roger Federer (@ATPHalle - Twitter)

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.

 

 

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Nick Kyrgios Slams Thiem Over Defence Of Controversy-Stricken Adria Tour

The world No.40 has accused the Austrian of lacking an ‘intellectual level’ to understand his view.

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Australian star Nick Kyrgios has continued his public criticism of the Adria Tour by taking aim at two-time French Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

 

The 25-year-old has repeatedly hit out at the exhibition event, which Thiem participated in. Organised by world No.1 Novak Djokovic, the event took place in Belgrade and Zadar before it was scrapped following an outbreak of COVID-19 among both players and coaching staff. Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric all got infected. The outbreak came after the Adria Tour was criticised for a lack of social distancing and players attended various public events together. Although at the time, all of their actions were done in accordance with local regulations. Something the Serbian Prime Minister now admits was a mistake.

However, Thiem has called out Kyrgios over his vocal criticism of fellow Adria Tour competitor Alexander Zverev. The German attended a party in southern France less than a week after the COVID-19 outbreak despite issuing a statement saying he would go into self-isolation.

“It was his mistake, but I don’t why a lot of people want to interfere. Kyrgios has done a lot of mistakes. It would be better for him to come clear instead of criticising others,” Thiem told Tiroler Tageszeitung.

Continuing to defend the actions of his fellow players, Thiem also jumped to the defence of Djokovic. Who has been under heavy criticism over the event with some going as far as questioning his position as president of the ATP Players Council.

“He didn’t commit a crime. We all make mistakes, but I don’t understand all the criticism. I’ve been to Nice and also saw pictures from other cities. It’s no different from Belgrade during the tournament. It’s too cheap to shoot at Djokovic.”

The comments have now been blasted by Kyrgios, who stands by his previous criticism of players. Accusing Thiem of lacking an ‘intellectual level’ to see his point of view.

“What are you talking about @ThiemDomi? Mistakes like smashing rackets? Swearing? Tanking a few matches here or there? Which everyone does?” Kyrgios wrote on Twitter.
“None of you have the intellectual level to even understand where I’m coming from. I’m trying to hold them accountable.”
“People losing lives, loved ones and friends, and then Thiem standing up for the ‘mistake,'” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 500,000 people worldwide and some players have voiced concerns over travelling to America which has recently seen a rise in cases. On Wednesday Alexi Popyrin became the first player to say he won’t play the US Open due to health concerns.

The ATP Tour is set to resume next month but it is unclear as to what events Thiem and Kyrgios will be playing in.

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Roger Federer Eyeing Olympic Glory At The Age Of 39 In 2021

The Swiss tennis star isn’t ready to step away from the sport just yet.

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20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer has vowed to play at next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo after undergoing two surgeries on his knee.

 

The former world No.1 hasn’t played a competitive match since his semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open in January. Since then he had twice undergone arthroscopic surgeries which is a minimally invasive procedure that is used to diagnose and treat problems with the joints. Federer announced shortly after having the procedure done for a second time that he will not be returning to the Tour again this year.

Despite the setbacks, the 38-year-old has vowed to return to action at the start of 2021 with Olympic glory one of his main targets. He is already a two-time Olympic medallist after winning gold in the men’s doubles back in 2008 followed by silver in the singles draw at the 2012 London Games.

“My goal is to play Tokyo 2021. It’s a wonderful city. I met my wife in my first Olympics in 2000. It’s a special event for me,” Federer said on Monday during the launch of ‘The Roger’ shoe with Swiss brand ON.
“I had two surgeries and I can’t hit at the moment, but I’m very confident I will be totally ready for 2021.
“I do miss playing in front of the fans, no doubt. Now, I think if tennis comes back we know it won’t be in a normal way where we can have full crowds yet.”

Federer will be 39 when he returns to action, but is yet to speculate as to when he may close the curtain on his record-breaking career. He is currently the second oldest man in the top 200 on the ATP Tour after Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic, who is 41.

Besides the Olympics, the Swiss Maestro is also setting his eye on Wimbledon where he has claimed the men’s title a record eight times. However, he hasn’t won a major title since the 2018 Australian Open. The Grass-court major has been cancelled this year for the first time since 1945 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course I miss Wimbledon, of course I would like to be there currently playing on Centre Court for a place in the second week,” he said.
“Clearly, one of my big goals, and that’s why I do recovery work every day and work so hard, and why I’m preparing for a 20-week physical preparation block this year, is because I hope to play at Wimbledon next year.”

Even though he is not playing for the rest of the year, Federer incredibly still has a chance of qualifying for the ATP Finals due to recent changes in the rankings calculations. Due to the pandemic, players are now allowed to use their best results at 18 tournaments based on a 22-month period instead of 12 months. Something that could enable him to remain inside the top eight until the end of 2020 depending on how his rivals fair.

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ATP Announces 22-Month Ranking System To Support Players Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Parts of the changes have been done to help support those who prefer not to or can not travel to tournaments due to safety concerns.

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The ATP Tour has revised their calculations for this year’s ranking system with the governing body admitting that the new changes could also be applied in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Players on the men’s Tour have been given a wider period where they can select their best tournaments to determine their ranking. Prior to the suspension of competitive tennis, male players were allowed to select their 18 best performances in tournaments within a 52-week period. This has now been expanded to 22 months (March 2019-December 2020). Although they are not allowed to use the same tournament twice.

In a press release the ATP says their new measures allows ‘flexibility and fairness’ with players on the tour. Furthermore, it has been designed with the possibility of the rules continuing into 2021 should the ongoing pandemic continue to disrupt the Tour in some degree. Outlining their objectives, the ATP says one of their goals is to protect those who ‘cannot or prefer not to compete in 2020 due to health & safety.’ A point recently raised by Australian player Alexei Popyrin who has voiced concerns about playing at the US Open.

“There are talks regarding the US Open but I really don’t want to go with the situation in America right now,” Popyrin said at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown over the weekend.
“But we have to see if we would be forced to go because of ranking points.
“If the ranking points won’t be frozen, then most of us would be forced to go play cause our ranking will drop and we wouldn’t have any say in it.
“But if the rankings are frozen, then I am staying here.
“I will stay in Europe where it’s safe with my family.”

As a result of the changes, it remains to be seen if this will have any effect on other players concerning their decision to play at the New York major which will be held behind closed doors for the first time in history. Some parts of America have reported a surge in COVID-19 cases with 52,228 New Cases being reported on July 5th.

Under the new calculations, no player will have less ranking points than what they currently have at present. The ATP rankings have been frozen since March 16th but will resume on the Monday after the first tournament in the revised calendar concludes.

There are exceptions to the new 22-month ruling. Qualification for the ATP Finals will still be based on 52 weeks because the event is classed as an ‘additional tournament.’ Therefore it doesn’t count as one of the 18 key events to determine a player’s ranking. Points from last year’s tournament will drop off on November 9th after the Paris Masters. The reason for doing so is to make the chances of qualifying more fair. Furthermore Challenger and ITF events will also be based on the 52-week rule because ‘events are scheduled on a one-year basis and do not have consistent spots in the calendar.’

The ATP Tour is set to resume at the Citi Open in Washington during the second week of August.

A full FAQ of the new ranking system can be read here.

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