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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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Ugo Humbert claims the first title of his career after winning all-French final against Benoit Paire in Auckland

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Twenty-one year-old Ugo Humbert beat Benoit Paire 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 7-6 (7-5) after 2 hours and 34 minutes in the all-French final of the ASB Classic in Auckland to claim the first title of his career.

 

Humbert has become the first French player to win the Auckland tournament. He enjoyed a great week beating Denis Shapovalov and John Isner en route to reaching the final.

Humbert earned the first break of the match in the second game after a double fault from Paire and held his serve with a service winner in the next game to open up a 3-0 lead. Paire broke back in the fifth game with a backand return winner. Humbert broke serve again in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead. Paire broke back in the seventh game to claw his way back to 3-4. Humbert earned three set points, when Paire was serving at 5-6. Humbert reeled off five consecutive points from 2-2 to claim the tie-break with three mini-break after a forehand error from Paire.

Paire fended off three break points in the third game of the second set before breaking serve in the fourth game after a double fault from Humbert. Paire saved a break point at 5-3 with an ace and closed out the second set with a backhand down the line winner.

Humbert earned an early break in the second game of the decider with a backhand crosscourt passing shot, before saving three break points at 4-2. Paire hit three consecutive backhand winners, as Humbert was serving for the match at 5-3 30-0. Paire got the crucial break in the next point, when Humbert sent a forehand long. Paire saved a championship point with a backhand volley winner in the 10th game. Paire held his serve with a backhand volley winner to draw level to 5-5. Paire rallied from 0-30 down in the 12th game to force the decisive set to the tie-break.

Humbert earned a mini-break on the sixth point with a forehand return to take a 4-2 lead and earned three championship points at 6-3. Humbert sealed the win on his third chance when Paire sent a backhand wide after 2 hours and 35 minutes.

“It’s a tournament of revenge because I have lost to four of five players I played this week. It’s a great improvement for me and I could not dream of a beginning for the season”, said Humbert.

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Andrey Rublev starts the year with back-to-back titles in Doha and Adelaide

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Andrey Rublev beat South Africa’s Lloyd Harris 6-3 6-0 to clinch the fourth title of his career at the first edition of the Adelaide International and his second title of the 2020 season one week after beating Corentin Moutet in Doha. Rublev saved all four break points he faced. He has extended his winning streak to 12 consecutive matches.

 

Rublev has become the first player to win back-to-back titles in the first two weeks of the year since 2004, when Dominik Hrbary triumphed in Adelaide and Auckland.

“I was not thinking about this statistic, but it’s an amazing feeling. I hope I keep improving. We will see what’s going to happen”, said Rublev.

Rublev earned the first break of the match in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead. The 22-year-old Russian player rallied from 0-40 down to hold serve for 5-2 in the seventh game and served out the first set 6-3 two games later.

Rublev started the second set with his second break in the first game. He got two more breaks before clinching the win on his first match point, when he forced Harris to a backhand error with a short volley.

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Benoit Paire sets up all-French final against Ugo Humbert in Auckland

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Benoit Paire battled past Hubert Hurkacz 6-4 6-7 (1-7) 6-2 with six breaks of serve to his ninth career ATP Tour final at the ASB Classic in Auckland.

 

Paire went up a double break in the first and seventh games to build up a 5-2 lead. Hurkacz pulled a break back after two double faults after two double faults from Paire. The Frenchman served out at love in the 10th game.

Paire went up a break at 15 in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. Hurkacz broke back at love to draw level to 3-3. Both players held on their next service games setting up a tie-break. Hurkacz cruised through to winning the tie-break 7-1.

After a trade of breaks at the start of the third set Paire broke twice in the fourth and eighth games to seal the decider 6-2.

“It was not easy. Not everything was perfect, but it is never easy against Hubert. He is a very good player and a tough opponent. I hope tomorrow will be better and I hope to enjoy the final”,said Paire.

Paire sets up an all-French final against his compatriot Ugo Humbert, who edged past John Isner 7-6 (7-5) 6-4. Humbert has reached the maiden final of his career after losing in the semifinal in Marseille, Newport and Antwerp in 2019.

Humbert and Isner went on serve with no breaks to set up a tie-break. Isner saved two set points from 3-6 but Humbert won the tie-break 7-5. Humbert started the second set with an early break to take a 1-0 lead. Isner saved five break points and held his serve at deuce, but Humbert won his final two service games at love to clinch the second set 6-4.

“I am really happy about this win. It was a great match. I returned very well and I played good on the key points. I am really happy to reach my first final”,said Humbert.

 

 

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