Australian Open 2020: Two Weeks At Melbourne Park, From A to Z - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open 2020: Two Weeks At Melbourne Park, From A to Z

Some final notes about the first Major of the year, letter by letter

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After 17 intense days spent at Melbourne Park, the time has come to look at what this last Major tournament has left us. The final day of the 2020 Australian Open was a very pleasant summer day that ended with a 4 hours, 10 minutes final between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem and was a far cry from the almost dramatic first days of the qualifying tournament, three weeks earlier, when Melbourne was the most polluted city on the planet and there were talks of postponing or canceling the event because of poor air quality caused by the raging bushfires that have devastated the country throughout the summer.

 

We are going to make an alphabetised list of (almost) all the memories we are taking back from the tournament as we are flying halfway around the world to our respective homes, hoping not to forget anything.

A for ATP Cup – the ‘rookie’ team competition that has inaugurated the 2020 men’s tennis season has provided a very similar format to the new Davis Cup Finals, but with a better position in the calendar and less pathos due to the lack of tradition. It also gave us a lot of good tennis, perhaps even too much, as Australian n.1 Alex de Minaur was forced to withdraw from the Australian Open due to an injury that occurred in Sydney during the final stages of the ATP Cup. It was the first edition, we all need to adjust to the competition, including the players, who will need to get their priorities right: sometimes representing their country makes them overplay and Demon’s misfortune will need to serve as a warning for future years.

B for Barty – Ashleigh got to her home tournament as no.1 in the world and Australian newspapers went nuts over it. Even before getting to Melbourne she said: “I’m sick of seeing my face on the front pages”. She’ll probably have to get used to it. Her tournament ended in the semis, beaten by the eventual champion Sofia Kenin. “I had set point in both sets, so I was two points away from winning the match in straight sets”, said Barty in the post-match press conference, as she was holding her 12-week old niece Olivia. “Because there are other important things in life”.

C for Margaret Court Smith – Tennis Australia has decided to officially celebrate the 50th anniversary of her 1970 calendar Grand Slam, despite her convinced homophobic opinions do not align with the position of the Australian Federation. She has given a replica of the women’s singles trophy, but was not allowed to speak at the ceremony (a pre-recorded video was played instead) and American Lindsay Davenport was preferred to her for the trophy presentation on women’s final day. Tennis Australia tried to work both sides of the street but ended up disappointing almost everyone.

D for Dad – Women’s champion Sofia Kenin owes her career and her tennis to her dad, who left Russia in the 1990s to give her daughter the “American Dream” and has been her coach since the very beginning. Alexander Kenin got to New York with a few dollars in his pockets and worked as a taxi driver to raise his daughter and allow her to play tennis. More or less like Yuri Sharapov got to Florida many years before with her young daughter Maria.

E for Eight – Novak Djokovic enters the very exclusive club of players who have won at least eight times a Grand Slam tournament. Roger Federer has won eight Wimbledon, and Rafael Nadal has triumphed at Roland Garros an unbelievable 12 times. Another astonishing record he shares with the players that have monopolized tennis for over 15 years: since 2004, they have won a combined 56 Grand Slam titles out of the 65 tournaments player.

F for France – Three out of four semi-finalists in the boys’ tournament were French players, including the two finalists. No. 1 seed Harold Mayot defeated fellow countryman Timo Legout in the semi-final and won the title beating his long-time friend Arthur Cazaux in the final.

G for GreenSet – the new surface has been introduced this year at the Australian Open, replacing the Plexicushion that had been used since 2008. Courts resulted considerably slower, especially due to the combined effect of the new, rougher surface of GreenSet courts and the new Dunlop balls (introduced in 2019) that become very big after a few games, making hitting winners very complicated. Furthermore, during most of the 2020 Australian Open, temperatures remained unseasonably mild, slowing down the playing conditions even further and therefore creating a lethal mix for attack players.

H for Hosts Drama – Australian Open TV hosts and former champions John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova staged an original protest after a Legends’ match on Margaret Court Arena, advocating for a change to the name of the venue, motivated by the homophobic views professed by Court. Navratilova tried to make a speech using the umpire’s microphone but was cut off, then together with McEnroe unrolled a banner suggesting that the building be named after Evonne Goolagong. Tennis Australia reprimanded the two legends saying they had broken protocol: both Navratilova and McEnroe apologized and the incident was closed without consequences. Given Tennis Australia’s stickiness for rules, any other “perpetrator” with a lesser pedigree would have probably been de-credentialed and banned from the tournament.

I for Italians Slayer – American player Tennys Sandgren reached the quarterfinals where he squandered seven match points against Roger Federer by eliminating the Top 2 Italian players of the ATP Ranking; Matteo Berrettini, world n. 8, in the second round and Fabio Fognini, n. 12, in the Round of 16.

J for John Millman – The 30-year-old player from Brisbane proved his win over Roger Federer in 2018 over Roger Federer was not an accident when he forced once again the Swiss maestro to pull out a special performance in his second-round victory by 10-8 in the fifth set tiebreak. Millman was leading 8-4 in the decider but lost the final six points allowing Federer to continue his 15th semifinal run at the Australian Open.

K for Kenin – born in Moscow and raised in Florida, the 21-year-old stunned the world becoming the 11th different lady Grand Slam champion in the last 13 tournaments. She spectacularly turned the tables on Muguruza in the final by coming back from 0-40 on 2-2 in the deciding set with four winners and one ace. From that moment onwards she had won over the crowd’s support, after they had been cheering for her opponent during most of the match. That performance confirmed her reputation as a clutch player after she had come back from a set down in the Round of 16 against teenage sensation Coco Gauff and had edged out home favourite and world no.1 Ashleigh Barty in the semi-final canceling a set point in each of the two sets.

L for Legacy – The news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death hit the tournament quite hard: before his marquee match with Nadal, Nick Kyrgios warmed up wearing the retired Los Angeles Lakers n. 24 jersey; Novak Djokovic recreated a “KB 24” black symbol on his warm-up jacket, as Bryant was one of his mentors; Naomi Osaka kept posting on her social media very sad statuses and seemed to be hardly coping with the grief the entire world was experiencing.

M for Muguruza – After splitting up with her coach Sam Sumyk and returning to the cares Conchita Martinez, who had already led her to a Wimbledon title, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza has returned to a Major final after that Wimbledon and, more importantly, has been able to show that her power game is still there, it just needed to be allowed out again. She was just a few games away from her third Grand Slam title, stopped only by Kenin’s fury and determination. But her return to the big stage is good news for the WTA world: she had already been invited by Vanity Fair to the Oscars a few years ago, and women’s tennis desperately needs mainstream characters since the current ones are on their way to retirement (or already there).

N for Nick Kyrgios – The old brat that swears at umpires and smashes racquets seems to have remained in 2019. In this 2020 we have been treated to a new and improved version of Nick Kyrgios, who has enjoyed once more the team spirit he loves so much both during the Davis Cup Finals and again for the ATP Cup, starting a charity contest that has so far raised over 5 million dollars in favour of the populations hit by the terrible fires in Australia. His match with Rafael Nadal during the Australia Day weekend received more media attention than the semifinals – eventually Nadal’s game proved too much for him, but if Nick from Canberra can keep up this positive attitude, he can be a great addition to the men’s circuit.

O for Ons Jabeur – the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals in a Major tournament, and one that can play a very complete tennis. Ons from Tunisia had people stay up very late (or get up very early, whichever way you want to see it) to follow her matches on TV and hopes she can lead the way for other Arab players who don’t have rich federations behind them: “I am 100 percent a product of Tunisia” she proudly claimed after her Round-of-16 win over Qiang Wang. After an early loss during the final tournament of the 2019 season, she gathered her team and she said: “I want more, I want the Top 20 and I am ready to put in whatever work is needed”. She kept her promise, and results followed.

P for PM – the abbreviation “PM”, usually followed by a number, stands for “particulate matter”, and the number indicates the size of the particulate in question. This relatively obscure scientific indicator became very popular among everyone in Melbourne during the qualifying week when the Australian metropolis became the most polluted city in the world, with concentration of PM 2.5 arriving close to 1000 (anything above 300 is considered “hazardous”). Slovak player Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire due to breathing issues that occurred during the air emergency when all normal outdoor activities were stopped by the city of Melbourne but Tennis Australia decided to continue playing. “Would they risk it with Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?” some qualifying players said on social media, feeling they were being considered as B-class human beings. Fortunately, it all dissolved in the air (quite literally) when it started raining a couple of days later, but Tennis Australia did not have its finest hour.

Q for Qiang Wang – the Chinese player scored the most important win of her career sending Serena Williams packing in the third round. Serena was the usual sore loser (“I can’t make as many mistakes as I have made today, it’s not professional”), but Wang played a very smart match forcing the American to take too many chances on a bad day.

R for Record – the 2020 Australian Open broke the 800,000-spectator barrier (812,174 to be precise) for the first time, firmly placing itself as the best-attended tennis event in the calendar. Great facilities, a permanent party atmosphere contribute to make this tournament one of the fans’ favourites.

S for Southbank – after many years staying in the Central Business District, accommodation availability issues made us switch to the residential neighborhood of Southbank, South of the River Yarra. It was a very pleasant surprise: very convenient to Melbourne Park, full of good restaurants, bar and supermarkets, it made our commute a relaxing diversion from the long days at the venue.

T for Thiem – those two break points at 2-1 in the fourth set during the final were probably his chance to take home the Australian Open trophy, but it wasn’t meant to be. The slow surface probably helped his tennis, but he deserves full credit for the wins over Nadal in the quarters and Zverev in the semis.

U for Ubaldo Scanagatta – the flamboyant Chief Editor of Ubitennis was interviewed during the morning show of Channel 9, the Australian TV host of the tournament, and was specifically requested by Djokovic to ask him the first question during the post-final press conference. Need we say more?

V for Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva – Andorra got on the map of Grand Slam winners thanks to this 14-year-old girl who won the girls single’s title. She moved to Barcelona a couple of years ago, and now trains in her dad’s academy in Catalunya, but he still proudly represents the Pyrenean country where only one indoor court exists.

W for Wozniacki – Caroline Wozniacki ended her career in Melbourne with a third-round defeat to Qiang Wang. “I find it befitting that my last match was a three-setter and my last point was a forehand unforced error,” said the Dane immediately after the match. Her departure from the WTA Tour gave us all one more reason to sing “Sweet Caroline” and get all teary and emotional.

X for eXtreme heat rule – a few years ago Tennis Australia decided to introduce a deterministic rule to determine whether play should be suspended due to excessive heat, as a result of increasing complaints about the decisions by the tournament referee. This rule establishes that, if a certain index resulting from a combination of temperature, humidity, wind and sun activity reaches the level of 5 all play needs to be suspended on external courts and all matches on show courts should be played indoor. However, during women’s semifinals Thursday all matches were stopped on outside courts while girls on Rod Laver Arena kept playing outdoors on a scorching day when said index remained at 4.9 for several hours.

Y for “You’re the voice” – the iconic song by John Farnham was heavily used by the Australian Open DJs to fire up the crowds during changeovers and medical timeouts. And so was “YMCA” by Village People and… “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Since they had to buy the rights for Caroline Wozniacki’s last match, they had to sweat their asset…

Z for Zverev – after the spectacular meltdown showcased during the ATP Cup, the young German reached his first Grand Slam semifinal and showed great improvements in his serve, now a potentially lethal weapon that could very soon deliver him to even more prestigious goals.

 

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: A Busy Day of Second Round Action on Wednesday

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A look at Court Philippe Chatrier (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Wednesday’s schedule is overflowing with big names and compelling matchups.  Four of the top six men’s seeds will play their second round matches, and all face intriguing opposition.  Defending champion Novak Djokovic plays Alex Molcan, who is coached by Novak’s longtime coach, Marian Vajda.  13-time champ Rafael Nadal faces France’s Corentin Moutet, who took out 2015 champ Stan Wawrinka in the first round.  Spain’s new rising star, Carlos Alcaraz, takes on fellow Spaniard and accomplished clay courter Albert Ramos-Vinolas.  And third-seeded Sascha Zverev goes against Sebastian Baez, who won a clay court title last month in Estoril.

 

However, the day’s most competitive ATP matches may not involve those top names.  Second round clashes Sebastian Korda and Richard Gasquet, as well as between Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric, could prove to be two the day’s best men’s singles contests.

Women’s second round action on Wednesday features a blockbuster matchup, as 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu meets Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic.  In a battle of two Major semifinalists from 2021, Maria Sakkari takes on Karolina Muchova.  And five other Major singles champions will take the court (Kerber, Kvitova, Azarenka, Stephens, Raducanu).

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Wednesday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Sebastian Baez – Second on Court Philippe Chatrier

This is a dangerous draw for Zverev, as Baez is one the 2022’s fastest-rising players.  The 21-year-old from Argentina started the year ranked 99th, but is now 36th, having accumulated 28 match wins at all levels, and claiming a clay court title last month in Estoril.  He was also a finalist earlier this year on clay in Santiago.  These players met just two weeks ago in Rome, with Zverev prevailing in two tight sets.   I expect another tight affair on Wednesday, especially since Sascha has a history of getting involved in five-setters at Roland Garros.  In the last four years here, he’s played eight of them.  However, it’s worth noting his record in those matches is 7-1.  Zverev’s fire power should enable him to get past the up-and-coming Argentine.


Maria Sakkari (4) vs. Karolina Muchova – Second on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Their only previous encounter was a doozy.  Last year on clay in Madrid, Muchova dominated the first set 6-0, Sakkari took the second in an extended tiebreak, but Karolina eventually prevailed 7-5 in the third.  That’s one of many painful losses Maria suffered last season, with the most painful coming in the semifinals of this event a year ago, when she went down in defeat despite holding a match point over eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova.  Sakkari has persevered extremely well, and started off 2022 16-4, though she’s just 4-3 on clay this season.  However, Muchova is only 6-2 the entire year, as an abdominal injury kept her off the court.  The more in-form Sakkari should be favored to avenge her loss to Muchova from a year ago.


Belinda Bencic (14) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Third on Court Philippe Chatrier

This is a rematch from the semifinals of the 2019 US Open semifinals, when Andreescu was victorious after two extremely close sets on her way to her maiden Major title.  That semifinal remains Belinda’s best performance at a Slam.  And the French Open has easily been her worst Major, where she is 6-5 lifetime, and never advanced beyond the third round.  But Bencic is having a strong clay court season, with a 10-2 record, and a title in Charleston.  Andreescu has missed a lot of time over the last few years, including the first three months of 2022.  Yet she’s a decent 7-3 on the year, with her only three losses coming to top 15 players.  And on a big stage such as Court Philippe Chatrier, Andreescu usually brings her best tennis.  I give the Canadian the slight edge to grit out the upset over Bencic after a significant battle.


Sebastian Korda (27) vs. Richard Gasquet – Fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Both players completed their first round matches on Tuesday due to rain, leaving them no day of rest, though they both won in straights sets and should feel rather fresh.  Korda eliminated Australia’s John Millman, while Gasquet dismissed South Africa’s Lloyd Harris.  It was this event two years ago where Sebi made his Major breakthrough, reaching the fourth round in just his second main draw appearance at a Slam.  The 21-year-old American is the only player to earn a victory over Carlos Alcaraz this season on clay, and also achieved a clay court semifinal in Estoril.  Gasquet spent much of this month playing Challenger events, though he did reach a tour-level semi of his own just last week in Geneva.  Clay is not Richard’s strongest surface, but he was a quarterfinalist here in 2016.  He’ll certainly be motivated by the inspiring efforts of his fellow countrymen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles from Tuesday.  And with this match scheduled late in the day, he’ll benefit from a rowdy French crowd behind him.  However, Korda’s more reliable groundstrokes should allow him to get past the Frenchman, with an Alcaraz rematch perhaps awaiting him in the third round.


Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Borna Coric – Fourth on Court 14

Dimitrov is a meek 13-11 lifetime at Roland Garros, but he is a solid 9-4 on clay this season, and was a semifinalist in Monte Carlo.  Coric is trying to rediscover his form after missing a full year of action due to shoulder surgery.  He’s just 2-6 at all levels since returning, and was on a five-match losing streak coming into this event before earning a first-round win over Carlos Taberner.  Borna has a clay court title on his resume, and has previously fought his way to victories at Majors in matches he had no business winning.  The 2020 US Open comes to mind, when Coric came back from seemingly sure defeat against Stefanos Tsitsipas, saving six match points along the way.  I would not be surprised if he pushes Dimitrov on Wednesday.  Yet Grigor seemed perfectly comfortable in his opening round, dropping only three games, and is the favorite in this match as well.


Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Angelique Kerber (21) vs. Elisa Jacquemot (WC) – Kerber survived the first round of this event for only the second time in seven years, and did so in thrilling fashion.  Angie defeated Magdalena Frech in an over three-hour affair, and was cheered on vociferously by the Parisian crowd.  On Wednesday, she plays France’s Jacquemot, a 19-year-old who earned her first Major win on Monday.

Amanda Anisimova (27) vs. Donna Vekic (Q) – Anisimova took out Naomi Osaka in the opening round.  Vekic is a former top 20 player who has battled injury in recent years.  Two years ago on clay in Rome, Amanda overcame Donna in two tiebreak sets.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Alex Molcan – Djokovic’s last loss in the second round of a Major was at the 2017 Australian Open, at the hands of Denis Istomin.  Molcan is a 24-year-old from Slovakia who reached finals at two 250-level clay events this season.  Last year on clay in Belgrade, Novak defeated Alex in straights.

Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Albert Ramos-Vinolas – Alcaraz is now 29-3 on the year, and is currently on an 11-match win streak.  Ramos-Vinolas was a quarterfinalist here in 2016, and has won four clay court titles in his career, including this February in Cordoba.  Alcaraz has claimed both of their previous meetings.

Rafael Nadal (5) vs. Corentin Moutet (WC) – Despite questions regarding the status of his chronically-injured foot, Nadal prevailed easily on Monday, dropping only six games.  Moutet beat Stan Wawrinka in four sets the same day. 


Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Planning Key For Daniil Medvedev’s Comeback From Hernia Surgery

Daniil Medvedev cruised past Facundo Bagnis in his opening round at Roland Garros.

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Daniil Medvedev (@atptour - Twitter)

Daniil Medvedev has spoke about preparation and planning after his first win since hernia surgery.

 

The second seed was victorious in his opening round at Roland Garros after beating Argentinian Facundo Bagnis 6-2 6-2 6-2.

Medvedev usually hates the clay court season but the Russian, who reached the quarter-finals last year, cruised to victory with the loss of just six games.

This is only Medvedev’s second tournament since hernia surgery which took place after the Miami Open.

Speaking to the press after his win Medvedev said that planning was the key to his comeback, “The thing is that, yeah, for sure when I made surgery, I didn’t know — I thought I’m not going to come back on clay. I thought I’m going to come back for grass,” the Russian admitted.

“But straightaway we made a good plan with my team, with my doctor team and physio team, to try to get me back on track as fast as possible. Because also what is tough is there is no sign of when you can actually start playing tennis. It’s just kind of you start, and if you feel pain, you should stop straightaway.

“So I started after four weeks, which usually it can take up to six weeks, I heard, average. I never had pain, so we are going step by step slowly, first day 30 minutes and then 45. Same, yeah, I went to Geneva to see how my body is. I felt great physically. I managed to put really strong practice hours here before Roland Garros. I feel 100% ready physically, so thanks to my team.”

Medvedev will look to build momentum as he prepares to miss Wimbledon due to Russian and Belarusian athletes being banned.

Now for the world number two the focus is on Roland Garros and on clay and after his match he broke down why he isn’t as effective on clay than he is on hard courts, “I would love to think that it’s not mental, because every time I start playing on clay every year, because you have to, I’m like, Come on, you know, just be better. This year is going to be different, is going to be, for you, the clay, and then I feel like I need a lot of time to adapt,” Medvedev explained.

“It’s about the movement, and I think my strokes are given like in the air because the balls are much heavier, they have dirt on them, so a lot of my balls, not at Roland Garros but other courts, for example, it was the case in Geneva, I feel like I’m doing a good job but it just goes in the net.

“When you don’t know what you can improve, that’s where it’s tough because you’re, like, What do I do next shot? Yeah, it’s not the case here, so I’m happy about it. So I know I’m capable of doing some good things. But, yeah, I need to be 100% focused and ready for what clay has to give to me. Right now I feel ready.”

Medvedev will look to continue his confidence on Thursday when he takes on Laslo Djere in his second round match.

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Denis Shapovalov Left ‘Frustrated’ After Early Roland Garros Exit

Denis Shapovalov has a lot thinking to do after his round one exit to Holger Rune in Paris.

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Denis Shapovalov (@andertennis - Twitter)

Denis Shapovalov left feeling frustrated after he lost 6-1 6-3 7-6(4) to Holger Rune in the first round of Roland Garros.

 

The Canadian headed into the opening round with confidence after reaching the last eight in Rome.

However Shapovalov hit 53 unforced errors in an underwhelming performance as he went to an in-form Holger Rune.

Rune, who won Munich and reached the semi-finals in Lyon, played electric tennis as he moves into the second round to play Henri Laaksonen or Pedro Martinez.

As for Shapovalov he was left frustrated and admitted improvement is needed ahead of the grass court season, “For sure I wasn’t able to bring out my best performance,” Shapovalov said in his post match press conference.

“It’s definitely frustrating. It just shows I have a lot to work on. And just
excited to get back to work. Never think I’m done learning and improving.
So, yeah, it’s difficult moment, but I just keep working. I didn’t really
show up today, so it’s a little bit difficult.

“Holger is playing some great tennis, won his first title, semis last week, I believe, pushing some top guys. So yeah, for sure not taking anything away from him, obviously he’s playing great tennis.

“But I think against most players today I wouldn’t come out the winner. So, yeah, a little bit frustrating on my side and just feel like I need to improve some things. Be sure that I’m ready for the slams.”

It’s another disappointing grand slam performance from Shapovalov who recognises he must do better in the future in order to break into the world’s top 10.

Speaking of the future the grass court season is up next where Shapovalov reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon.

However due to the ATP’s decision to remove ranking points as a result of the ban on Russian and Belarusian players at Wimbledon, whatever happens at SW19 Shapovalov will lose a hefty amount of points.

That is a decision that the Canadian doesn’t necessarily agree with, “I haven’t decided anything yet. Been trying to focus on this tournament,” Shapovalov admitted.

“I think first of all, if you have a pro competition, that everybody should be competing. I completely understand the politics and the situation they’re in. But again, if you have a tennis tournament that’s supposed to have the best athletes in the world, it shouldn’t matter where you’re from, this and that, you know? So everybody should be competing.

“I also don’t agree with the ATP to take out all the points. The most guys it’s affecting are the guys in the top rankings. Obviously Novak, me, Hubi, Berrettini, who is not playing here, we’re going to drop a lot. I think they could have gone with it a different way, maybe keep 50 percent like they have in the past or some kind of fairness. But even a guy like Fucsovics is going to drop out of the top 100, you know.

“So it’s difficult for the players when you don’t have a chance to defend and especially on a surface like grass where it’s already so short and the players that play well on that surface they don’t have that many opportunities tom make points, so you take a huge chunk of it out, it’s super difficult for players.”

It’s a dilemma many players will face heading into Wimbledon over the next few weeks.

As for Shapovalov his next tournament will be in Stuttgart which starts on the 6th of June.

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