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Steve Johnson Triumphs in Halle

Steve Johnson defeats former champion, Philipp Kohlschreiber in Halle’s kickoff match with a new event sponsor – Noventi.

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Steve Johnson (@USTA - Twitter)

By Cheryl Jones

 

A small town in Germany Westfalen has been the home of a grass court tournament for well over twenty-five years – to be exact, 26 years. The twenty-seventh anniversary of the event sports a new name. Formerly known as the Gerry Weber Open, the Noventi Open has now taken up residence in Halle.

The lawns look pretty much the same, and the venue hasn’t changed that much either. The new name came about when a successful conglomerate that touts itself as a trend setting healthcare corporation bought the tournament just weeks ago. Its company goals seem to be a nice fit for the tournament that has flourished in the verdant countryside in Halle. The townspeople for miles (or perhaps I should say kilometers) have supported the extravagant show that has become a well-known lead-up to Wimbledon. (After all, Roger Federer has signed a lifetime contract with the event, and if his name isn’t familiar, tennis may not be the game to be catching up on.)

Noventi purports to embrace the same concepts that the Halle townspeople have proudly exhibited for the past twenty-six years. Noventi’s mission statement begins, “Our employees are our highest asset.” Of course, the townspeople aren’t employees, but their community spirit has been steadfast. Their loyalty has carried the tournament on equal footing with the stellar singles and doubles line-ups over the years.

The opening match on Center Court welcomed what might be a new regime. It was German favourite, Philipp Kohlschreiber facing an American, Steve Johnson. The crowd was vocal in their support of Kohlschreiber, but a disappointing performance saw him lose to the plucky American who was a star on the college circuit before he switched to the pros in 2012. It was a quick match, with barely over an hour ticking by on the courtside clock and 6-3, 6-3 soon becoming the closing score.

Kohlschreiber said that Johnson had been playing very well and that there would have to be improvement in his own game if he was going to flourish and not flounder at Wimbledon. The German is thirty-five and even though he has been a well-known figure at Halle, his professional career has been rather ho-hum. (He did win here in 2011, defeating a fellow German, Philipp Petzschner.) After today’s match, he was asked if he had thought about retirement and he shrugged and said, he would know when it was time, but the time wasn’t now. As I am writing this, he is likely heading home to rest and rejuvenate and practice, practice, practice.

Johnson, however, will stay on to play another day. For those who aren’t familiar with the rangy American, there is quite a lot to be aware of. In no particular order, he won a bronze medal in the Rio Olympics in 2016, he was a college champ who helped bring University of Southern California four NCAA championships and he’s an all-around good guy. He was the NCAA winning singles performer his junior and senior years at USC. His father, also named Steve Johnson, had coached him from quite a young age. The elder Johnson died in his sleep at 58 in 2017. It was a blow to Johnson’s career and his performance has seemed to yo-yo since then.

Today he looked strong and even though he wasn’t available for after-match questions due to constraints by the ATP minders here, his smile was broad, and he will survive to play another day. (One would think that winners would be available to interview, but for reasons that escape me, that wasn’t the case today.)

An American has never triumphed in the singles here, but Mardy Fish managed to play himself into the final in 2004, but lost to Roger Federer, who has come out on top nine times at this tournament. Federer is here, of course, looking for win number ten. Tomorrow will be his first match when he faces John Millman, an Australian who is currently on everyone’s radar because of his outstanding play at the United States Open against Novak Djokovic. It will definitely be a match to watch.

Federer began his extraordinary set of wins here in 2003, defeating Nicolas Kiefer quite soundly 6-1, 6-3. He followed up that win when he triumphed at Wimbledon a few weeks later, and the dance of the man known as tennis’ maestro began in earnest. Even though he will be 38 in August, he says that as long as he is able, he will continue to compete.

Tomorrow isn’t just another day – it is the day that Federer will begin his journey toward another win in the tiny town of Halle that nearly always leads him to a victory in London.

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Roger Federer On Davis Cup And Olympic Plans For 2020

The 38-year-old has provided some insight about his schedule for next year.

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World No.3 Roger Federer has played down the chances of him playing in next year’s Davis Cup finals despite having representatives from Kosmos contact his team.

 

Federer is the only member of the Big Three to not be playing in this year’s team tournament, which has undergone a controversial revamp. For the first time in its 119-year history, the finals will take place over one week and feature 18 teams playing in a neutral location. The ties will feature two singles matches and one doubles in what will be a similar format to that of the football World Cup.

Efforts have been made to try and persuade the Swiss Maestro to play in the event. Gerard Pique, who is the founder of Kosmos, recently told Eurosport that attracting Federer to the event is one of his top priorities. Kosmos is the key financial backer of the Davis Cup revamp.

“Our main objective now is to see if he can play in 2020 if Switzerland qualify and he can join us and play Davis Cup.” Pique told Boris Becker on Eurosport.
“This would be great news, but right now as you can understand we are really focused on this event for this year because it will be the first time and want everything to be perfect.”

However, trying to get the Swiss player on board isn’t as easy as that. The 38-year-old once said the new structure has been made for ‘the future generation of players’ and not him. He has also warned against the Barcelona F.C player turning the event into the ‘Pique Cup.’ A term that bemused the Spaniard.

“It’s normal that he (Pique) has to say that. Regarding wildcards you can always talk like that. It is also normal for him to be questioned over and over again and to talk to my management from time to time.” Federer told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger.
“But I do not necessarily plan on doing that, I do not necessarily have to play the Davis Cup. There are also no talks in progress, although in between it has been generally discussed.”

Since 1999, Federer has represented Switzerland in 27 Davis Cup ties. Although his last appearance was back in 2015. Along with Stan Wawrinka he helped guide his country to their first and only title in the tournament in 2014.

ATP Cup and Olympic duty

The new ITF-backed Davis Cup is facing rivalry from the ATP, who has brought back their team tournament for the first time since 2012. The ATP Cup is set to launch in January and will take place across three cities in Australia. The event has a prize money pool of $15 million and up to 750 ranking points up for grabs.

“I just hope that the Davis Cup Finals and then the ATP Cup will go well. Then you sit together and see how it goes on. Whether there should be these two cups forever, or whether there could be changes that would do the tennis good.” Said Federer.
“34 of the top 35 have confirmed for the ATP Cup, it also takes place on a good date. The Davis Cup should not be happy.” He added.

It also remains to be seen if Federer will play in the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. Under current rules a player is required to play a certain number of Davis Cup ties within an Olympic cycle, which he hasn’t. However, he can potentially enter via appeal or a wild card. Something he will likely get.

“I planned 2020 season till Wimbledon so far, I already brought The Olympics up in the Team, they said, it‘s your decision, it‘s your career, I also talked with Mirka about it, I have a feeling that I will make a decision very soon.“

Federer, who is a four-time Olympian, hasn’t played an event in Japan since winning the 2006 Tokyo Open. Although he could be persuaded to return to the country in the near future by his sponsor Uniqlo. A Japanese clothing manufacturer that signed a 10-year deal with Federer worth millions.

Federer at the Olympic Games
-Sydney 2000 – fourth place in the singles
-Athens 2004 – reach round two in both singles and doubles
-Beijing 2008 – win Olympic gold in the doubles with Stan Wawrinka. Lost in the quarter-finals of the singles tournament.
-London 2012 – clinches a silver medal in the singles.
-Rio 2016 – did not play

In the immediate future, Federer’s focus is on the Laver Cup, which he co-founded. The third edition of the event will take place this weekend in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Mikhail Kukushkin beat Italian Next Gen star Jannick Sinner in St. Petersburg

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Mikhail Kukushkin beat 18-year-old Italian Next Gen rising star Jannick Sinner 6-3 7-6 (7-4) after 1 hour and 40 minutes. Kukushkin fended off nine of the eleven break points he faced.

 

Sinner, who turned 18 last month and received a wild-card to take part at the next November’s ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan, did not convert three break points in the first game, but Kukushkin saved them to hold his first game.

Kukushkin, who won his only title in St.Petersburg in 2010, was the first to break serve in the fourth game to open up a 4-1 lead. Sinner earned three break points but Kukushkin fended them off. Sinner saved a break point in the eighth game but Kukushkin served out the opening set on his first set point.

Kukushkin went up a break in the third game of the second set to take a 2-1 lead, Sinner converted his second break-back point to draw level to 2-2. Kukushkin got a break lead for the second time but Sinner rallied from the break down for the second time to draw level to 4-4. Sinner earned set point at 5-4 to force a decider, but Kukushkin saved it to draw level to 5-5. Kukushkin got a mini-break in the tie-break to win the tie-break 7-4.

Adrian Mannarino, who won his first ATP Tour title in s’Hertogenbosch, beat Stefano Travaglia 7-5 6-2 after 1 hour and 19 minutes. Travaglia held his first two service games at love and broke serve to open up a 4-1 lead. Mannarino converted his first break-back point for 3-4. Both players held their serve to draw level to 5-5. Travaglia saved a break point, but he made two double faults to drop his serve in the 11th game for 5-6. Mannarino served out the first set on his first point.

Travaglia saved a break point at the start of the second set, but Mannarino converted his second chance.

Travaglia earned two break-back points in the second game but did Mannarino saved them to open up a 2-0 lead. Mannarino went up a 3-0 lead. The Frenchman saved a break point in the sixth game to race out to a 5-1 lead and sealed the win on his first match point.

 

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‘Looks Like He Should Be Suspended’ – Pat Rafter Questions ATP’s Management Of Nick Kyrgios

The former world No.1 is the latest person to speak out about the controversial player.

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Nick Kyrgios, Steve Johnson, 2019 US Open
Photo Credit: Andrew Ong/USTA

Two-time US Open champion Pat Rafter has cast shade on the governing body of men’s tennis over their management of Nick Kyrgios’ behaviour on the tour.

 

The Australian world No.27 had been facing a potential suspension by the ATP over a series of controversies. However, he has received no ban as of yet. During the Cincinnati Masters he was fined $113,000 for eight violations committed during his match against Russia’s Karen Khachanov. Ranging from unsportsmanlike conduct to walking off the court without permission.

A couple weeks later during the US Open Kyrgios accused the ATP of being ‘corrupt’ before clarifying his statement 24 hours later. Arguing that there are double standards in the game when it comes to some players.

Now the subject of an investigation, 46-year-old Rafter has questioned why Kyrgios has not been suspended from the tour yet.

“I don’t understand why it hasn’t happened,” Rafter said during the launch of the ATP Cup.
“There is obviously something else going on behind the scenes. I don’t know.
“On paper it looks like he should be suspended, to me.”

On the other hand, some would argue that banning the 24-year-old would be counterproductive. Despite his antics, Kyrgios has managed to become a household name in the sport. He also has the talent to challenge the best players in the world. In the past, he has defeated Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Although Rafter believes there is a fine line.

“That’s the other thing. He draws a crowd,” Rafter said.
“But at what stage do you say the crowd is more important? Or are you trying to uphold a certain standard or protocol for players to adhere to.”

Previously tennis legend Rod Laver was reportedly another person to speak in favour of handing Kyrgios another suspension. His first took place at the end of 2016. During an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Laver was quoted as saying ‘whatever they have done hasn’t worked so far, so maybe a suspension is the only answer.’

Whilst it looked as if the tennis legend backed punishing Kyrgios, he has since taken a different tone. In a recent interview with a Swiss newspaper, Laver said he was misquoted when talking about Kyrgios.

“I did not say that, I was misquoted by the Sydney Morning Herald.” He told Aargauer Zeitung.
“This was then misunderstood by others and went around without anyone talking to me to verify that statement. It’s true what I said to FOX Sports: I said Nick should not be banned.”

Kyrgios will return to action on Friday where he is taking part in the Laver Cup.

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