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Sing & Volley: When Stringing And Tuning Meet

A perfect song can be composed with either a racquet or a guitar: a brief history of the love affair between tennis and music, from Bertè-Borg to Agassi-Streisand.

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Bjorn Borg with former wife Loredana Berté, an Italian singer.

A racquet is strung, a guitar tuned, everything is in its rightful place – and the song comes to life.

 

You up and leave me
you never call me… I miss you… I miss you…
that lucky woman
I am the most envied woman… they say about me…
but I already miss you

Loredana Bertè wrote this while trying to understand what happened to Bjorn Borg, “the tennis player” as she calls him. The marriage between the iconic tennis champion and the singer spurred headlines all over the globe. Loredana, who had already appeared years before alongside Adriano Panatta, must have had a proclivity for this sport. She always looked beautiful as she sang, with a physicality that felt almost intrusive to the listener. A stormy character, a famous sister, a complicated family history and there you go – a character is ready-made. Loredana sang with her soul, a rebellious one. How did someone cut from such a cloth end up in the hands of Borg, the prototype of the serious, scrupulous, rational, cynical, and cold sportsman? On the court, Borg had sedated a monster within himself that sooner or later would come out to exact its revenge. Borg’s career was amazing but did not last long, replaced by excesses and financial disasters as conspicuous as the Grand Slams he won. An author isn’t always the lyrics to his songs.

A backhand touch volley to softly close the net, a rock poem: if Borg is there, McEnroe must be too, just like a verse always invokes its chorus.

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed

Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith sings. The Boss had written it for her, but legend has it that it did not fit on his own record and, rather than shelving it, he thought of giving it to the girl who was recording in the next room of the same studio. Patti accepted, thanked, adapted the lyrics and made it a worldwide success.

In this case, the cross-contamination with tennis with tennis owes to paronomasia, because one evening at a party, Patty Smyth, a little less known than her almost homonym – of Irish origins and a rock music background – was introduced to John McEnroe. Love at first sight, even if it would take some time to admit it to each other. John would also have probably wanted to ask her to tour and record with her, since he had always harboured the dream of becoming a rock star, but Patty, much wiser, would never have asked John to play in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon with him.

John also recorded an album and promoted it on the tennis tour, but he decided, at Patty’s behest, to continue to devote himself to the strings that gave him the best sounds, those of his Dunlop. A lover of art and entertainment, John came off a failed marriage with Tatum ‘O Neil, daughter of Ryan, and herself a purported Hollywood hopeful. Are there many tennis players who could have combined the worlds of sport and art more than Supermac? The answer is no, to be honest.

Andre Agassi was a tennis player in punk rock outfits, even though by the 1980s punk rock had become so mainstream that it was difficult to understand where the limit was between meaning it, sporting its looks, or just looking like something else entirely. The myth of the young man armed with a guitar had certainly not dried out yet, but it had changed, passing from the flower-shooting axe of the Summer of Love to the nail-y one of an anarchist London Calling, less sober, decidedly noisier, flashy, and paradoxically consumerist. Agassi didn’t have a knack for music like Jim Courier and Pat Cash, the latter a melodically less capable (and less famous) pirate than Little Steven or, of course, than that divinity who goes by the name of Keith Richards, to whom the character of Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” should erect a monument. Andre the newcomer, though, he was so cool and youthful, and solved the issue by dating the admirable voice of Barbra Streisand.

A Woman in Love can accept that her man should like to indulge in childish play by shooting fuzzy balls like bullets, but Andre was also unfortunately much younger than her, and the spark fizzled lost. He later gave himself to the screen as much as he had to songs, marrying the virginal, at least according to the tabloids, Brooke Shields. It would take a tennis player’s sharp backhand slices to get him on the right track for good. It could be deduced that Steffi Graff was as adept as any at the fuzzy bullet-shooting.

Yannick Noah has always been the larger-than-life type and has never chosen musicians as life companions because he preferred to do it all by himself, singing included. Once he hung up his racquet, he climbed the charts with his records, something he’d already achieved while still a tennis player. Yannick was born a performer, both with racquets and mics, with a timing that could have only been bequeathed to him by fate. The most successful single of his second career, “Saga Africa”, ​​was released in 1991, the year of a French Davis Cup win, becoming an anthem sung and danced during the Lyonnaise celebrations of those days.

From Bobo Zivojinovic of the once Yugoslav Republic, to the forever rising (and perhaps never blooming) Grigor Dimitrov, the liaison between tennis and the music world in terms of sentimental relationships has several paragraphs in between the chapters of the novel that is the never-ending intertwining between sports and entertainment. Pop and popular events that often meet halfway because they are never too far apart, especially in the Image Society, now magnified by the presence of social media and by the value of a “like”. A racket is strung, a guitar tuned, everything is in its rightful place – and the song comes to life.

Translated by Matteo Pelliccia; edited by Tommaso Villa

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It Isn’t Just Football Who Are Mourning The Loss Of Diego Maradona

The world of football has lost one of its icons and tennis has lost a loyal fan.

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Diego Maradona (image via Sky Sports Tennis Twitter)

It was during the 2013 Dubai Tennis Championships when Diego Armando Maradona stated that tennis was his second favourite sport after his beloved football.

 

The Argentinian sporting icon was a passionate and enthusiastic follower for more than 30 years until his death on Wednesday due to a heart attack. Regularly he would be seen watching matches in crowds at various tournaments. One of the earliest anecdotes took place in 1984 when he turned up to watch the French Open final and cheered on John McEnroe, who was taking on Ivan Lendl. Swiss journalist Rene Stauffer was sitting next to him and remembers the iconic figure ‘cheering like crazy.

Of course it was his fellow countrymen and women who Maradona was most interested in supporting. One in particular was Juan Martin del Potro who won the 2009 US Open. He once joked ‘Next week I’ll be the one training del Potro myself. I will ask Franco Davin to step aside and Diego will train del Potro.‘ He appeared to have a great amount of respect for the former world No.3 who is one of thousands mourning his death.

I feel that you return to the place that belongs to you, HEAVEN. For me you will never die. Rest in peace,” Del Potro wrote on Twitter.

After retiring from professional football in 1997 Maradona encountered his own personal demons as he battled with health issues and drug addiction. Nevertheless, his passion for sport never suffered. Attending various Davis Cup ties, he was usually seen shouting and cheering for his countrymen. He even had his own VIP box sporting his country’s flag with the words ‘The Maradona family is here‘ during the 2017 final between Argentina and Croatia.

Despite his calibre, Maradona said that he was star struck to meet some of tennis’ top names. One of those was former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki who got talking to him during the Dubai Tennis Championships seven years ago. At the time Maradona was an ambassador for the Dubai Sports Council (DSC).

“I had the pleasure to meet Caroline Wozniacki. She is one of the top players and she is very beautiful and a very nice girl,” he said. “Despite her ranking and all her achievements, she came to say hello to me, although I’m the one who wanted to get up and go and greet her.”

As for the three giants of men’s tennis, Maradona cheered them on and spoke to them on numerous occasions. Wheather that was in person or via video message.

For Rafael Nadal this year marks the 10th anniversary of when the two spoke with each other at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. When the news broke of Maradona’s death he was one of the first to pay tribute.

“One of the greatest sportsmen in history, Diego Maradona, has left us. What he did in football will remain. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his family, the world of football, and to all of Argentina.” He wrote on social media.

It was in the same tournament as Nadal when Novak Djokovic once said ‘to have him as a supporter is an incredible honour and a pleasure.‘ A few months on from that, the two briefly spent time together in Abu Dubai as the Serbian conducted his off-season training.

One of Maradona’s final interactions with tennis before his death took place last year when Roger Federer played an exhibition match in Buenos Aires. In a video message broadcasted on the screens of the stadium he said to the Swiss ‘you were, you are and will be the greatest. There’s no other like you.‘ Words that brought tears to the eye of the 20-time Grand Slam champion. Originally the two had planned to meet in person but were unable to due to Maradona’s health.

It was just three weeks ago when world No.9 Diego Schwartzman spoke out about the influence the footballing great has had on his country. The two never met in person but like many others, he was an idol for the tennis star.

“He’s been a sports idol since I was a kid. I’ve seen it on YouTube, not only, I’ve seen it on TV too. I’ve never seen him for real. He’s one of my soccer idols and I love soccer.” Schwartzman said.
“Wherever we go, everyone knows Argentina thanks to Maradona! This is the reason why I have the first name, Diego.”

Argentina has declared three days of national mourning following Maradona’s death.

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The ATP Finals Exceeded Expectations But There Was No Changing Of The Guard

Daniil Medvedev has shown how a player outside of the Big Three can shine at one of the most significant tournaments in men’s tennis but it is wrong to read too much into this achievement.

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Daniil Medvedev with the Nitto ATP Finals trophy (image via https://twitter.com/DaniilMedwed)

On Sunday afternoon the 2020 tennis season ended with a pulsating showdown between two of the biggest names outside of the formidable Big Three.

 

Daniil Medvedev held his nerve to fight back and edge out Dominic Thiem in an enthralling roller-coaster encounter that lasted almost three hours. Besides claiming the biggest title of his career to date, the Russian has become only the fourth player in history to defeat the world’s top three players at the same tournament, following in the footsteps of Boris Becker, Novak Djokovic and David Nalbandian.

In the aftermath of Medvedev’s victory came the inevitable question – is this the start of a new era in men’s tennis? For over the last decade the Tour has been dominated by Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Between them they have won 57 Grand Slam titles and shared the No.1 position continuously since August 2017. In fact, since February 2nd 2004, Andy Murray is the only other player outside of the trio to have held the top position.

“Hopefully all of us young guys will keep pushing and will have some great rivalries,” Medvedev told reporters on Sunday.
“Hopefully we can be there for a long time, maybe pushing the other generations back because that’s how we can be close to the Top 3.”

Medvedev’s emphatic performance at the end-of-season event showed that he has what it takes to scale the top of the game but recent history suggests that too much shouldn’t be read into it. Remarkably no member of the Big Three has won the event since Djokovic in 2015. Instead there have been five different champions most recently with each of those years raising hopes that there could be a changing of the guard on the Tour.

However, those hopes have never fully materialised. Prior to Medvedev, the four most recent ATP Finals champions have failed to win multiple titles the following year. In the case of 2017 winner Grigor Dimitrov, he hasn’t won a trophy of any sort since.

ATP Finals championTitles won over the next 12 monthsBest Grand Slam run over next 12 monthsYear-end ranking 12 months later
Andy Murray (2016)1French Open SF16 (down 15)
Grigor Dimitrov (2017)0Australian Open QF19 (down 16)
Alexander Zverev (2018)1French Open QF 7 (down 4)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (2019)1French Open SF 6 (no change)


It can be argued that the numbers above fail to tell the full story. For example Andy Murray’s injury woes started to hinder him the year after he won the tournament and Tsitsipas’ season has been marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it does illustrate that staying at the very top of the game on a consistent basis without beng a member of the Big Three is a tough ask, raising questions about if the landscape of men’s tennis will ever change before Djokovic and co retire?

“There is going to be a time when they are not around anymore, then it’s going to be so important to keep all the tennis fans and to keep them with this great sport,” world No.3 Thiem explains.
“I think that’s our challenge, that we perform well and play great in big tournaments to become huge stars ourselves.
“It’s super important for tennis in general because they (the Big Three) gave so much to the sport. That’s our challenge to keep all those people with tennis and to maybe continue their story.”

Thiem boasts the honour of having at least five wins over every member of the trio, something  that has only ever been achieved by Murray. In London he defeated both Nadal and Djokovic which was something Medvedev also managed to achieve during the same week.

Veteran journalist Steve Flink perhaps is one of the most knowledgeable figures when it comes to the evolution of men’s tennis in the Open Era. His work in the sport dates back to 1972 when he was a statistician covering the US Open for CBS and working alongside the iconic Bud Collins. In a video chat with UbiTennis, Flink notes the recent shortcomings by ATP Finals champions but is hopeful that 2021 could be different.

“I don’t think we should put too much stock on this. On the other hand, Medvedev has ended the year strong and Thiem has now finally won a major at the US Open. You have to believe that these two guys will be threatening (for titles) next year with Thiem challenging for his second major and Medvedev to maybe win his first. So maybe there will be some more equity in men’s tennis,” he said.

Only time will tell about what may happen next year and if Medvedev’s ATP Finals triumph will have any impact at all. The only certainty is that more people are starting to talk about the other guys and that is a victory in itself for the future of the sport.

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Eight Reasons Why Daniil Medvedev Is The Rightful Master Of The ATP Finals

The final three matches could have gone either way, but the young Russian was the most complete player and deserved to win. Thiem stuck too much to his guns – it worked initially, but Medvedev was smarter and kept giving him different looks, prevailing in the end.

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Daniil Medvedev (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

The 12-edition-long O2 residency of the ATP Finals ended as it began, with a Russian winner. Daniil Medvedev didn’t even know this was the case, but it was Davydenko himself, now a pundit for a Russian TV channel, who informed him during the post-match interview. Davydenko beat Del Potro 6-3 6-4 in the final after vanquishing his worst nightmare Federer 7-5 in the decider; in the round robin, he lost (7-5 in the decider as well) against Djokovic while defeating Nadal (6-1 7-6) and Soderling (7-6 4-6 6-3). While his victory was quite the surprise at the time, Medvedev’s really wasn’t, because he had already played lights-out tennis in Paris. Now 24 years old, Daniil is no doubt worthy of this title for several reasons.

 

1) He was undefeated in November, winning 10 matches in a row between Bercy and London, including seven against five different Top 10 opponents (he beat Zverev and Schwartzman twice). He ended up notching 2,500 points and winning the ATP Finals without a single defeat, and put in the effort even against Schwartzman, an adversary he played after already securing the top spot in his group – the Argentine was the weakest player in the draw, but Medvedev could have still decided to save some energies for his semifinal encounter with Nadal.

2) The fact that he won the crown as an undefeated champion gains even more significance when we look at the history of the event: the winner lost one match throughout the competition a whopping 25 times (out of 47, because the tournament has taken place 51 times but four of these had no round robin, so the champion had to be undefeated by definition). That’s more than 50 percent of the time, including nine out of ten in the 1990s – Sampras won the tournament five times and always lost a bout.

3) Medvedev is the first ever to win the ATP Finals while defeating the best three players in the world (Djokovic in the group stage, Nadal in the semis and Thiem in the final) on route to success.

4) As for other events, only three times in history had a player ousted the Top 3 in the same tournament – Becker in Stockholm in 1994, Djokovic in Montreal in 2007, and Nalbandian in Madrid later the same year. However, none of them had done it in a tournament as important as the ATP Finals, and no one has ever done it in a Major.

5) Medvedev didn’t lose a set in the group stage, but came from behind in both his knockout matches, another feat that speaks volumes of the value of his success. Nadal even served for the match against him at 5-4 in the second set, but the Russian broke him to love and never let up from then on. Against Thiem, he saved three break points in the second set, but was always on the front foot in the decider. He led 0-30 in the opening game, had three break points in the third and two more in the fifth before finally breaking through on the eighth total occasion – he had wasted a chance in each of the previous sets.  

6) He proved how complete his game is. Despite not being very graceful, he has an effortless style, and moves amazingly well for a 6-foot-6 guy: he has outstanding knee flexibility and can run for hours without wearing himself out, never losing the ability to push those unorthodox groundstrokes (especially the forehand, with a very wide backswing and quite frankly unappealing to watch) deep down the court. Medvedev outlasted both Nadal and Thiem in the respective deciders, and while the advanced age of the Spaniard is an understandable factor in such situations, Thiem’s struggles probably owe to the grueling match he played against Djokovic – he faced the Serbian before Medvedev beat Nadal, but in all likelihood wasted more resources.

7) He led the eight participants in most serving stats, netting more aces, putting more first serves in play and winning more points than anybody else with his second serve. It’s quite the headstart to be able to win so many free points when your main competition has to toil far more to get on the scoreboard. When I say that Medvedev is a complete player (despite his clay-court limitations), I think of the variety of his shots. He can approach the net, often sneaking in the most unexpected situations, such as behind a second serve. He can trade sliced backhands with Nadal and Thiem – he actually outperformed Rafa with the shot, and, while less successful against the US Open champion, he still held his own. He can mix up the speed and net clearance of his groundstrokes like Mecir and Murray did, and he can flatten his shots either crosscourt or down the line.

8) He is most certainly a clever player, both on the court and outside of it.

The Austrian shanked three break points in the second set, and one in particular must have stuck in his memory: Medvedev serve-and-volleyed and barely put a drop volley over the net, but Thiem, despite getting on the ball with ease, put wide a forehand that he could have made. Thiem tried to play with a clear strategy but didn’t have the acumen to change it when things started to go south, something that is never easy to do. I asked this question to the world No.3 in the post-match press conference, although I’m aware that he is more powerful than Medvedev but not as eclectic.

My question was: “Do you regret playing so many sliced backhands?” He didn’t think that was a mistake, though: “I will do the same thing in our next encounter, it’s what I did in all of our previous matches.” Of course, that was a decision he had taken together with his coach, Nicolas Massù, and it seemed to work in the opening two sets, but I think that he should have tried something different at the tail-end of the match, because that particular shot had become very predictable and wasn’t fetching him any more points. It’s the same thing that happened to Nadal on Saturday, a tactical choice that didn’t seem to bother Medvedev: “Nadal probably won just a couple of points with the slice, it didn’t really affect me.”

There is no proof that things would have turned out differently with a different game-plan. However, my impression is that Medvedev realised that Thiem was trying to break his rhythm and adjusted by patiently slicing the ball as well and waiting for the best time to sneak to the net, where he won 28 points out of 37. In the end, Thiem went against his own nature, retreating into a conservative tactic in lieu of detonating one-handers like the one that gave him a double match point in the third set’s tie-breaker against Djokovic. Overthinking is a demanding process and can become costly when a match goes the distance.    

Former Top 15 player Paolo Bertolucci kept calling for greater tactical variety when Medvedev had clearly adapted to the Austrian’s game, but he forgot to add how hard it is to alternate between slice and topspin backhands. After hitting five, six sliced shots, it is very hard to suddenly switch grips for a flat or topspin winner without losing control – as a matter of fact, Thiem tried to do so and the unforced error tally started to grow, and not just on that wing, but also on the forehand side, perhaps because the alternance between grips and ball distances was making him uncomfortable.

The fact is that Thiem was glued to the baseline, while Medvedev did it all, standing far behind the baseline, slicing and flattening his shots, following his serve to the net and even throwing in some chip-and-charge on his opponent’s serve. When he comes to the net, it’s not easy to pass him, because he’s really tall, and his touch is good. While it’s true that Thiem’s tactics worked in the past against the Russian, this line of reasoning doesn’t take into consideration the improvements that Medvedev might have undergone. I’ll stop here, because I don’t want to be thought of as an arrogant journalist who thinks he knows more than an Olympic champion like Massù, who evidently told his player to stick to his guns no matter what.

I’d like to add that I’m happy about the level of play in the knockout phase. Nadal vs Thiem in the group stage was also a good match, but the semis and the final were more vibrant and more open till the end. The three matches were decided by very fine details and circumstances, and they could have gone either way. This is why I think that Nadal, Thiem and Djokovic should be lauded as much as the champion, although this is something that seldom happens in sports. I wish I was there, but I enjoyed myself even though I had to watch on TV, and I hope that our readers can say the same thing. 

During these wretched times, those who could afford it could watch some pretty good tennis in New York (where the final, while not beautiful by any means, was still a nail-biter), Rome, Paris and London. Let’s not forget that, up until three weeks before the Cincinnati-New York tournament began, we still had no certainty whether the season would have resumed in 2020 or not.

I don’t know what will happen with the Australian Open, nobody does, but I hope that the Covid nightmare will be over by the time of the first Turin ATP Finals at the latest, although there is really no way to know how long we will have to keep wearing masks. 

NOTE: Article translated by Tommaso Villa

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