FEATURE: A New Era Of Russian Tennis Heads To The US Open With High Hopes - UBITENNIS
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FEATURE: A New Era Of Russian Tennis Heads To The US Open With High Hopes

Ubitennis looks at the surge in success of Russian male players with one of the country’s top tennis journalists.

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The times are changing in Russian tennis. For years the focus has been on the rise of WTA players such as Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Myskina. However, at this year’s US Open all the attention will be on a trio of rising stars in the men’s game.

 

For the first time since grand slam tournaments introduced 32 seeds in 2001, there will be no seeded player from Russia in the women’s draw at Flushing Meadows. Something that last happened in the tournament back in 1998. The highest ranked player at present is Daria Kasatkina at 42nd. A somewhat different situation compared to that of the ATP Tour.

Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov are ranked inside the top 10 during what has been a breakthrough season for both players. 23-year-old Medvedev has become one of the most successful players since Wimbledon. Reaching three finals within as many weeks in Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati. It was in Cincinnati, where he stunned world No.1 Novak Djokovic en route to his maiden Masters title. Meanwhile, Khachanov has amassed a win-loss of 22-19 so far this year and broke into the top 10 for the first time in June.

“I hope big, but you never know. Two guys from the same country in the top 10, it’s great, of course.” Khachanov commented about the impact the duo are having on Russian tennis.
“On the other side, maybe we used to have higher standards in Russia. They are expecting maybe once you start doing it more consistently, you go deeper in Grand Slams.”

Further down the rankings lies Andrey Rublev at 47th. The 21-year-old has scored two wins over top five players in recent weeks, including Roger Federer at Cincinnati. Despite being the youngest of the trio, he is the only one to have previously reached the quarter-finals of the US Open back in 2017. Since then, his journey on the tour has been marred by injury. However, he recently reached the final of the German Open.

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There is no doubt that the Russia men are on the rise in the world of tennis. Giving a boost to their country’s Davis Cup team, who last won the trophy back in 2006. But how significant is this surge in reality?

Maria Nikulashkina is an editor for Russian sports newspaper Sport Express with an extensive knowledge of the tennis circuit in her country. Speaking with Ubitennis, she believes the trio has provided a new sense of hope.

“Nikolay Davydenko retired. Mikhail Youzhny had played until last autumn, Andrey Kuznetsov had not bad results from time to time and even Evgeny Donskoy once beat Roger Federer. In general, there weren’t a lot of reasons to talk about Russian men’s tennis in positive ways.” She explained.
“Now everything’s changed. Medvedev, Khachanov and Rublev are pushing each other to the best results. After few years of silence Russian men’s tennis is on top. It even seems like things are going too fast sometimes. But it is great and a reason to be proud of these guys.”

There is no doubt in her mind that during the remainder of the season Russia’s focus will be on the men. Although that isn’t to suggest that Russian women’s tennis are in a crisis with 11 players currently inside the top 100.

“Though I do believe Dasha (Kasatkina) will bring her best tennis back, Svetlana Kuznetsova is flying high and Veronika Kuderetova can improve, the Russian young men are the ones Who’ll make best results in 2019.” Said Nikulashkina.

US Open dreams

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With the Big Three maintaining a strong hold on the ATP Tour, it would still require an exceptional performance for somebody such as Khachanov, Medvedev or Rublev to triumph at the big events. In fact, in the Open Era only one Russian man has ever contested a final at the US Open. That was Marat Safin, who claimed the title back in 2000.

Perhaps the best chance lies with Medvedev given his recent surge in form and his at times kamikaze-like serving where he blasts his second serve no matter what.

“I’m sure I can win a Masters because I just did it, but winning a Grand Slam is different. At this moment I haven’t been in the quarter-final yet.” The world No.5 recently admitted.
“I will try to do my best to win everything, but at this moment I need to take it step by step and just become better player every day.” He added.

According to Nikulashkina Medvedev has a history of peaking too early before a grand slam. Citing 12 months ago as an example when he won the Winston-Salem Open before losing in the US Open third round to Borna Coric. So far in his career, Medvedev has played in 11 grand slam main draws. He has only managed to win back-to-back matches in four of those with his best run being to the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.

“Last year Daniil won Winston Salem before US Open and was absolutely out of gas in round three match against Coric.” She points out.
“He had good results on clay this spring (Monte-Carlo SF, Barcelona F) and lost in 5 in French Open first round.’
“I hope one week will be enough for him to recharge physically and mentally, but I have some concerns he’ll not be able to go that far. But I’ll be glad to be mistaken.”

Living in the shadows

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It remains to be seen what the future careers of Medvedev, Khachanov and Rublev will bring. Some are hopeful that they can match or even potentially excel the achievements of previous stars from their country. Including Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who are the only Russian men to win a major title in singles during the Open Era.

These comparisons are inevitable and occur around the world. One example being those tipping Coco Gauff to become the next Serena Williams. It is always an honour to be compared with a legend of the sport, but it also has it drawbacks.

“I actually feel sorry for young players sometimes because every time they are named the “second Safin” and “new Kafelnikov”. Nikulashkina told Ubitennis.
”No doubt that Evgeniy and Marat had wonderful and successful careers and no one could repeat the results since, but young players are not allowed to be themselves – just Rublev, Khachanov and Medvedev. I know the guys are working very hard to have the results they have. And all of them are very dedicated. And they are very talented and have potential to win big things, but I actually I don’t see any of them winning a Grand Slam right now.’
“Maybe in the next few years with hard work and the same dedication to tennis and improving their game and mentality it could be possible.”

Should Russia get a male grand slam champion in the coming years, it will be a test for the popularity of the sport. The country has an extensive and highly respected reputation in tennis, but is by far not the most popular sport. When Simona Halep won the Wimbledon Championships, she returned back to Romania and had a special stadium event in her honour. Was that to happen in Russia, Nikulashkina believes the outcome would be somewhat different.

“The interest in tennis is growing but maybe not as fast as all of us want. Football, MMA fighting, figure skating even in off-season and even volleyball national teams matches attract more attention than tennis. I do not see the situation of Halep/Romania can be repeated in Russia right now. If one the guys win a Grand Slam 30000 people will not come to congratulate him.”

The US Open will get underway on Monday. Medvedev will be seeded fifth and Khachanov ninth. Rublev will not be seeded.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

 

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

 

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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Matteo Berrettini Looks To Draw Inspiration From Jannik Sinner

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner ahead of his comeback to the ATP tour.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner as Berrettini is continuing his recovery from his injury.

 

The former Wimbledon finalist has had a horrible run of injuries which has seen the Italian fall down the rankings as he is now at 124 in the world.

After suffering a horrible injury at the US Open during his match with Arthur Rinderknech, Berrettini was looking to make his return at the Australian Open as he was set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

However just before the match, Berrettini withdrew as he decided to delay his comeback to the tour as he will aim to return to the court as soon as possible.

If Berrettini needed any inspiration then Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open could be that much needed spark as the Italian beat Novak Djokovic on his way to capturing a first Grand Slam title.

Speaking an interview Berrettini explained that he is still not 100% and admits he is looking to draw inspiration from Sinner’s form, “I’m better, but I’m not yet 100%,” Berrettini was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

“The goal is to play the whole season, and without these setbacks which are destroying my body and my head. Sinner did a miracle. I will also use this energy for my tennis. I was happy with what Jannik said.

“We have a good relationship, which has strengthened in recent months. We are different but similar. We are pursuing the same dream.”

Berrettini will hope Sinner’s success will have a positive influence on his recovery and quicken his return to the tour as the former world number six aims for a successful return to the tour.

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