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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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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ATP Cup Draw Places Andy Murray On Collision Course With Federer

Details of where Murray, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal will play their first matches of 2020 have been announced.

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Three-time grand slam champion Andy Murray has been placed in the same group as Swiss rival Roger Federer for the revamped ATP Cup which will get underway in January.

 

The draw for the team event was formally made on Monday at the Sydney Opera House with former players Lleyton Hewitt, Pat Rafter and John Newcombe among those attending. A total of 24 countries will take part in the competition across three different Australian cities. Unlike the traditional Davis Cup, $15 million in prize money and up to 750 ranking points will be up for grabs.

“It’s great for tennis,” Newcombe said at the draw.
“What a showcase, to be able to showcase the best players in the world representing their country.”

It will be in Sydney where Murray will lock horns with the world No.3. Both have been drawn in Group C along with Belgium, who will be headed by David Goffin. Another team will be added to the group in the future. Murray is on the comeback from a second hip operation and is currently ranked outside the top 400. The upcoming event could be his first chance to play Federer since 2015.

Novak Djokovic will start his campaign in Brisbane. Making it the first time he has played an ATP event in the city since 2009. Paired with Dusan Lajovic, the duo has been placed alongside South Africa and France in Group A. The other group playing in Brisbane will feature both Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Two players who at times do not see eye-to-eye on the tour. They have been placed in Group F along with Canada and host nation Australia.

In Perth Rafael Nadal will be headlining the field and hoping to lead Spain to glory. The US Open champion will face early opposition from both Japan and Georgia. Nadal hasn’t won a title of any kind in the country since his triumph 10 years ago at the Australian Open.

The groups

Brisbane Perth Sydney
Group A Group F Group B Group D Group C Group E
Serbia Germany Spain Russia Switzerland Austria
France Greece Japan Italy Belgium Croatia
South Africa Canada Georgia USA Great Britain Argentina
TBD Australia TBD TBD TBD TBD

At present every member of the world’s top 10 has committed to playing in the event. The ATP Cup is the first team event to be placed on the ATP Calendar since the World Team Cup, which ended in 2012. In the new event, the top eight teams from the group stages will qualify for the quarter-final stage in Sydney. Each tie will feature two singles matches and one doubles.

The return of the competition has shaken up the tennis schedule in Australia. Both the Brisbane International and Sydney International have become women-only events. Meanwhile, the once prestigious Hopman Cup has come to an end after more than 20 years.

The ATP Cup will take place between January 3rd-12th.

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