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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Filip Krajinovic To Skip Australian Open If Required To Quarantine For More Than Five Days

The world No.34 says he ‘sees no reason’ why vaccinated players should have to go through a long quarentine in Australia.

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Image via twitter.com/atptour (Alexander Scheuber)

The second highest-ranked Serbian player in men’s tennis says it would be ‘unacceptable’ for organisers of the Australian Open to require players to quarantine for more than a week if they have been fully vaccinated.

 

Filip Krajinovic has become the first player to publicly state that they will not be prepared to travel to Melbourne at the end of this season if they have to go through strict quarantine measures once again. All the players who participated in this year’s Australian Open were required to be quarantined in a designated hotel for 14 days upon arrival in the country. During their stay they were allowed to use training facilities but that was the only time they could leave the premises unless there was an emergency.

There is no final decision regarding the travel requirements for the 2022 tournament but there are concerns that unvaccinated players may not be allowed to enter the country. The Victorian government recently issued a mandate ordering all essential workers to be vaccinated, including athletes. However, the regional government will not have the final say concerning tennis players arriving in the country with the national government being the ones in charge of that decision.

“They are very rigorous there and honestly, if I have to be in quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Melbourne, I will not go to Australia,” Krajinovic told Serbian newspaper Blic.
“I was vaccinated, I did everything in my power to protect myself and the people around me, so I really see no reason to sit there for 14 days in a room.’
“If they (the organisers) say that after arrival I need, say, five days to be in isolation, that’s OK for me, but anything beyond that is unacceptable to me. With the season ending late, I will have 20 days to get ready and go. Charter flights will be organized again and the last one is planned for December 28 for the players and that is the final date when I can go to Australia. I will see what the final decision from Melbourne will be, so I will cut what is the best thing to do.”

Earlier this week Victoria’s Sports minister Martin Pakula urged players to be vaccinated because it give them ‘the best opportunity to play in the Australian Open.’ It is expected that if unvaccinated players are allowed to attend, they will be subjected to stricter restrictions. This might include a longer quarantine period upon arrival and limitations of where they can go during their stay.

Last year, all of those players had to do their 14 days of quarantine. Right now there looks like there will be different rules for people who enter this country who are vaccinated as against unvaccinated and I don’t think the tennis will be any exception to that.” Pakula told the Sports Entertainment Network (SEN).
“In terms of what rules apply for people to enter Australia, whether unvaccinated people are allowed in at all, I don’t the answer to that yet. That’s going to be the subject of discussion at national cabinet and among the federal cabinet … those rules are not set by state governments.” He added.

Krajinovic is currently ranked 34th in the world and has a win-loss record this season of 18-18. At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells he reached the second round before falling in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev. His best run so far this year was at the Hamburg Open where he reached the final.

“When we look at the whole of 2021, I played one final, one semifinal, there were good victories, but also worse results,” the 29-year-old commented.

Krajinovic is currently without a coach but is currently in ‘negotiations’ with somebody without elaborating further about who that person is.

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Alexander Zverev Secures Place In ATP Finals With Indian Wells Win

Zverev will be seeking to win the season-ending extravaganza for the second time in his career.

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Alexander Zverev (GER) Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Germany’s Alexander Zverev has become the fourth player to officially qualify for the ATP Finals after reaching the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

 

The world No.4 defeated America’s Jenson Brooksby 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, in his second round match on Sunday which pushed him over the points threshold to secure his spot in the end-of-season event. It is the fifth year in a row he has qualified for the ATP Finals which he won back in 2018. He is one of only three German players to ever win the title after Boris Becker and Michael Stich.

This year’s tournament will take place in Turin, Italy for the first time in history after being held at The O2 Arena in London for more than a decade. Only the eight highest ranked players are eligible to play in the round-robin tournament which has on offer up to 1500 rankings points for an undefeated champion.

“My first time in Turin. I’ve been to London four times before. London is obviously very special to me because I won there, as well. I think the stadium is incredible, one of the most special events that we had,” Zverev told reporters on Sunday.
“But I also love playing in Italy. I had great success in Italy. I won my first Masters in Rome. I’m looking forward to being there. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Italian fans. It’s going to be a great week.”

The 24-year-old approaches the final quarter of this season with four titles already won this year. He has won two Masters 1000 trophies, an ATP 500 event in Mexico and a gold medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Zverev, who has recorded seven wins over top 10 players, also reached the semi-finals at both the French Open and US Open.

Zverev joins Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas as the players who have qualified for the ATP Finals so far. It is the third straight season the quartet has qualified for the event.

This year’s ATP Finals will get underway on November 14th. Medvedev is the defending champion.

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Denis Shapovalov Advances After Pospisil Retires In Indian Wells

The battle of the two Canadians didn’t go as planned…

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Denis Shapovalov (CAN) Credit: AELTC/Edward Whitaker

Vasek Pospisil faced off against his fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and it was the world number 13 who got the win after the Vernon native pulled out due to an injury whilst trailing 0-3.

 

It was a rough start for Pospisil who seemed to struggle with his serve in the opening game of the match and double-faulted twice in a row to give the early break and Shapovalov had no issues consolidating the break.

Shapovalov continued to apply pressure on the Pospisil serve and after saving two breakpoints the world number 68 pulled up after a serve and stopped play, calling for the trainer. He ended up taking a medical timeout off the court and a couple of minutes later returned to court. Pospisil was broken once again and the following game after a couple of returns decided to call it quits.

” It was pretty awful…and if I’m being honest I am shaking a bit…It really sucks I hope it’s nothing serious…He’s a great guy he’s a real warrior he’s fought back from some injuries surgeries to such a great level.” Shapovalov said of his compatriot.

Shapovalov will face 19th seed Aslan Karatsev in the next round after the Russian thrashed Salvatore Caruso 6-2, 6-0.

In the other results of the day sixth seeed Casper Ruud dominated Roberto Carballes Baena 6-1, 6-2, Roberto Bautista Agut beat the Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-3 and Sebastien Korda won an all American battle with Frances Tiafoe 6-0, 6-4.

Finally, Diego Schwartzman needed three sets to beat another American in Maxime Cressy winning 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

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