Boris Becker and Justine Henin: “Off-court pressure might have made Djokovic lose his cool” - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Exclusive

Boris Becker and Justine Henin: “Off-court pressure might have made Djokovic lose his cool”

Published

on

Prev1 of 2
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Eurosport invited UbiTennis’s CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta to join a Q&A with the former Slam champions and world numbers ones, who dicussed the 2020 US Open (but refused to pick a winner for either draw).

Justine Henin and Boris Becker need no introduction: seven Slam titles and three years finished as the world N.1 for the 38-year-old Belgian, six and one for the German, now 52 (he was never actually ranked at the top at the end of a season, but won the ATP Player of the Year award in 1989, when he won two Majors). They are definitely cognizant of what it takes and means to get to the end of a US Open fortnight (Henin won it twice, Becker once), although the 2020 milieu is a bona fide unknown for pretty much everybody in tennis. 

This is why they have accepted to join a Q&A session of about half an hour, organised by Eurosport (the channel that they both work for, and that we thank once again for the invite), during which they tackled many subjects, mostly revolving around Novak Djokovic, his default loss at the hands of Pablo Carreno Busta, and the future of the PTPA, his new players’ union – Becker coached the Serbian for three seasons (winning six Slams).

Here’s the full transcript:

D: We are almost at the end of the tournament, and we have seen many controversial decisions. What will be the most important lesson to be taken for the rest of the season?
HENIN: I don’t know, it’s an interesting question. We are all wondering how we feel about this tournament. I’m glad that it took place despite the absence of the fans, who can still watch on TV, while the players can still do their jobs and are fully aware of the situation. What we can learn is that this is a unique situation fo everyone. We need to remember that nobody is perfect and that these are exceptional circumstances, but we all need to adapt – players, officials, tournaments, everybody. Our job is about adapting, so I think it’s normal to have witnessed all these ups-and-downs. Anyway, we also need to keep in mind that we are only talking about tennis, which gives us great emotions but is not the most important thing right now. The tournament hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a good start, everyone is okay, and we all need to learn our own lessons.  

Q: I was at the O2 when Djokovic was booed for double faulting, and we are talking about someone who has won 17 Slams. Does he get the respect he deserves?
BECKER: I don’t think so, it’s a very good point. In men’s tennis, fans are divided between Federer and Nadal. And then here comes Djokovic who crashes the party – this is why he gets so much criticism. Right now, he is in a s**tstorm because of what he did against Carreno, but he took responsibility for his actions and apologised, firstly to the woman, then to the USTA and to the players. Nobody is perfect. Roger double faults, Rafa double faults, they don’t get booed. 

Q: How does he take it?
BECKER: He doesn’t like it, nobody would. He’s a people person, he does a lot of charity work in Serbia through his foundation. And yet people only talk about him when he breaks the rules. He is a champion, he always wants to win, but sometimes he makes mistakes too.

Q: Justine, do you think that there is a lack of respect for Djokovic and for what he has achieved?
HENIN: It’s very strange. Personally, I respect the champion he is. You can like or not his on-court personality. We are witnessing a golden age in men’s tennis because of the Big Three, but also because of all the players who are coming up behind them. Novak is different from Rafa and Roger, and he also broke onto the scene a little later, ma we have to have the utmost respect for what he’s doing in tennis.

D: Will this premature elimination in New York help him at the French Open?
BECKER: I like your positive attitude, very forward-looking! Novak is still digesting what happened, but he has to view this episode as an opportunity to make some noise on the court and to win more. The question is whether he will play in Rome before Paris – he is very popular in Italy. I think he is a contender at the French Open, he and Thiem can challenge Nadal.

Q: Will the players be more careful because of what happened to him?
HENIN: We are all human beings. It reminds us that we need some humility and that players can make mistakes. In the end, even if Novak is a champion, he can still make mistakes. It’s not easy to control the pressure and one’s emotions during a match. It’s a lesson for all of us, not just for the players. The rule is good because we have to protect the officials and the fans. Maybe some people think that it should be changed, but I don’t agree, because it pushes the players to control their emotions and frustrations. However, it was bad luck in Novak’s case.

D (UbiTennis): I’d like to ask Justine what she thinks about the PTPA, and whether it will be successful.
HENIN: I think Boris has more details about it, I’m not too informed on the subject. We want the players to be united and to be represented in the right way in tournaments. It’s hard for me to judge which is the best way to achieve this. There are many different opinions on the matter. Boris, what do you think?
BECKER: The ATP was founded in 1972 by the players. Over time, it became the ATP Tour, which has two sides: the players and the tournaments. Apparently, many players don’t feel that they are being well-represented by the ATP, and this is the reason why the new association was created. I would like to see them involve female players. I would like for the ATP and the WTA to do something together. This is the only mistake I see. But in principle I think it’s right that the players should have a voice within the ATP, whose structure is different than it was in 1972.

Justine Henin – Wimbledon 2010 (Credit: @Gianni Ciaccia)

Q (UbiTennis): Why do you think Nadal and Federer didn’t concur with Novak’s message? I don’t think he wants to fight with the Players Council, and I think he wants to involve some women as well, from what I understand.
BECKER: I think that Federer and Nadal have different agendas. They are making history, and they also don’t have a personal history of political involvement, which is a smart thing to do, according to some. But they are also the most famous faces in men’s tennis. There should have been a unanimous decision over the new association, but there are many different opinions. Therefore, Nadal and Federer’s interests are not the same as Djokovic’s. I’d like to see the ATP and the WTA unite, but I don’t think we have that right now.  

Q: Could the ball abuse violation be softened in some cases, in order to avoid episodes like the one involving Djokovic, who hit the lineswoman in a clearly unintentional way?  
HENIN: I think that the rule is fair, but this is just my opinion. Where would we draw the line, were we to soften it? Many people think that the decision with Djokovic was too harsh because Bedene wasn’t disqualified the previous week, but I think that the two episodes are completely different. I have never seen anyone on a tennis court who tried to hurt somebody intentionally, but you can hurt people even unintentionally, and we need to control these cases by creating limits that shouldn’t be broken. It also serves as a message to everybody else. We are not perfect, but we need to be examples and to inspire people. I also think that this is an experience that can be used to grow. I have never been involved in something like this, but I’m sure it will be tough for Novak’s ego. It also means that he isn’t a machine, and I like that. Back to the point, I wouldn’t change the rule.

BECKER: I mostly agree with Justine. It was tough for Novak, and you know I’m a fan of his, but in a certain way he has been lucky, because that woman could have been hurt a lot worse. The rule is clear. Novak had already hit a ball against the wall, and he was clearly frustrated, he was dominated by his own emotions. We shouldn’t think that he is a bad person, we both know that emotions come out during a match, and that it is part of human nature to misbehave when things are not going our way. I wouldn’t change the rule, because players are role models. This was an unfortunate instance, but the decision was right

On page 2, the interview will shift to the mental toll that tennis players have to shoulder, as well as to Becker’s vacation with Bjorn Borg and to Kim Clijsters’ comeback

Prev1 of 2
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Exclusive

Mats Wilander tells the 2024 story: Sinner is ready to win a Slam, but probably Djokovic is going to win them all [Exclusive]

“Winning the Davis Cup and beating Djokovic triggered something in Jannik” says former world No.1 and Discovery analyst Mats Wilander on the eve of the Australian Open.

Published

on

Mats Wilander (photo: Warner Bros. Discovery)

by Luca de Gaspari

It’s never easy to be successful in a second career after retiring from competition, especially after achieving extraordinary results. Yet in the case of Mats Wilander, it can be said that his adventure as a pundit for Eurosport/Discovery has certainly been lavish with satisfaction. Of course, it is difficult to surpass yourself when you have been No. 1 in the world and have won 7 Grand Slam titles, three of which in that magical year, 1988, the first year the Australian Open was played on the courts of Melbourne Park.

In an exclusive meetup with Ubitennis the Swedish champion was willing to converse on the topic which with us Italians could only be one, first and foremost: Jannik Sinner who is ready in the starting blocks, amid all the expectations in the wake of his exceptional end of the 2023. For sure Mats appeared to be brimming with excitement for the start of a new great year of tennis.

“The Australian Open is always the most interesting Grand Slam because players have had a little bit of a break and you don’t know who had a great offseason and what kind of confidence they have from the 2023 season. There’s the confidence for Jannik Sinner: does it carry him through to the next season?  Because he had an unbelievable finish of 2023 and does that confidence stay with him 1 1/2 months later?”

But where did Sinner’s improvements stem from? Wilander believes it all started with the quality of his service.

“We knew that his game was there. We knew that he is always improving something small here and there. Now he’s improved something big because the serve in the men’s and women’s game is one of the most important shots in the game again,” he said.

“I should say again because there was a time when… For Roger Federer it was important for sure but when Rafa Nadal was winning everything with Novak right there and Andy Murray, the serve wasn’t that important. They were physically very strong, they were very clever, they had no weaknesses in everything else and I think the way the game is going the serve is becoming very very important because you have to get some free points on your service game.”

“The guys are too good at hitting balls, they’re too good at covering the court today. Jannik Sinner improved his serve and that’s one of the hardest shots to improve and he improved his serve so much that he is suddenly as dangerous as Alexander Zverev with a big serve, Daniil Medvedev with a big serve. Suddenly he has that same weapon. We know how well he hits the ball, how well he competes, how well he moves, but he didn’t serve that well and now he does.”

“Carlos Alcaraz needs to improve his serve and when he does, then suddenly he’s going to be nearly impossible to beat. But Jannik with this serve improvement is hot he’s such a great player today, yeah such a great player.”

The real question is whether the level Jannik displayed in the 2023 autumn indoor swing (as well as outdoors in Asia) can be maintained when playing not only best of five matches but also having to cope with the tough Australian summer heat. And if he were not to win here in Australia, could 2024 be the year for his first Major? The three-time AO winner has little doubt.

“This year for sure and even in Australia. He’s had great Grand Slam tournaments. He could have won the US Open when he had a match point against Carlos Alcaraz. I believe he had a good chance of beating Casper Ruud if he had got to play him in the final.” He said.

“So I think that with his win against Novak in Davis Cup and obviously with the win in Turin as well I think that there he has proof in his mind “OK, I can beat the greatest player of all time”. I think learning how to play five sets for some players takes a little bit longer than other players and I think that there are a lot of little things that have to happen along the way and two very important things have happened to him: he beat the best player in the world at home and he won Davis Cup playing for his country. I think he’s going to learn so much from those situations that it’s going to translate into the Australian Open 100% for sure.”

“For sure now Australia and the conditions are the most complicated conditions that we have most probably in any Grand Slam. At the Australian Open, you have to be a little bit lucky and unfortunately for Jannik he is name is not Novak Djokovic. Djokovic will most probably play five matches out of seven at night and it’s cooler, there’s no sun and that is a big advantage for Novak Djokovic. Now it’s not unfair because he deserves to have that advantage. He’s proven that he is the one people want to watch so let’s put Novak at night most of the time. Roger Federer had the same situation. Rafa Nadal often had the same situation, so Jannik unfortunately is still kind of early in his career so he’s going to play.”

“One day he’s going to play at 1:00 in the afternoon, and it’s going to be 40°. The next match is going to play at 7:00 at night and it’s going to be 15°. The next match he is going to play indoors because it’s 50° and they have to close the roof. You have to be very able to adjust to the conditions and that’s the part with Jannik that I’ve seen improvements: he adjusted his serve, he’s adjusted sometimes hitting drop shots with a forehand, he’s adjusted becoming a much better volleyer, he’s even adjusted to be a great doubles player so he’s done so many smaller adjustments that another adjustment for him being the conditions in Australia I think it’s just a matter of time and I think time has come.”

“I think that he is up there with the 4 favourites to win the Australian Open. The number one is Novak Djokovic 100% for sure. Number 2 for me is Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner and then at number 3 comes Zverev, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, and Holger Rune. There are a lot of players that are right behind but to me, he belongs in that second group with Carlos Alcaraz being the favourites. Novak Djokovic is the clear favourite for sure.”

Since Djokovic is his clear favourite, we asked Mats if the Serb’s form may dip in 2024, after missing once again by a hair’s breadth, as in 2021, the calendar year Grand Slam last year.

“Most probably he had a good chance of winning Wimbledon. He had a good chance of winning the US Open when he lost to Daniil Medvedev.  OK not on the day. on the day Medvedev was a human wall. (For) Novak maybe the pressure and the pressure was more in that final against them because it was the last Grand Slam they had. At Wimbledon, there was less pressure because yes, he was the favourite to win, but you never know. So I think

“And the matches that he loses on the tour, they are two out of three sets. In Grand Slams three out of five he just doesn’t lose tennis matches to the young guys because he understands how to play defence and when to play defence. Like last year he was a little bit injured in his right leg and what does he do? He hit his forehand harder last year in Australia than he’s ever hit his forehand before. So he knows how to make these adjustments on the day, in the moment, and maybe that’s what we are still waiting for Jannik Sinner to be able to: in the moment make these adjustments that work out in his favour.”

“Nobody knows how to do that so I see no reason why again I’m going to predict that he wins all four slams because I predicted it a couple of years ago, I predicted it last year. I have been wrong, but it’s been very very very close, and I think that there’s a really really really good chance that he wins all four this year. I really do.”

So, the way Mats Wilander sees it, also 2024 is not bound to be a turning point. Yet, if his predictions were to miss the mark, it may be an Italian player who shall prove him wrong…

Continue Reading

Exclusive

Lorenzo Musetti: “A Year with Few Peaks, but I’ve Improved as a Tennis Player and Physically” [Exclusive]

Published

on

Lorenzo Musetti – ATP Sofia 2023 (photo: Ivan Mrankov)

Our correspondent in Sofia interviewed Italian talent Lorenzo Musetti, who is taking on Jack Draper this afternoon

Lorenzo Musetti is  the top seed in the ATP  250 that together with Metz closes the season of “regular” tournaments, just before the ATP Finals in Turin. Exempted from the first round, he’s waiting to make his debut in the Bulgarian capital where last year at the beginning of October he was halted in the semifinals by Marc-Andrea Huesler, the future winner of the tournament.  With our correspondent in Sofia, Ivan Mrankov, he compared this season with 2022, but also about the Davis Cup, and Jannik Sinner.

Greetings from Ubaldo. It’s the last tournament, how do you rate your season? Was it maybe less positive than last year when you won two tournaments? But there are improvements in all areas of your game and it’s also normal for younger players to have a less rewarding year after their first breakthrough. Do you feel improved, do you think it was a positive season?”

“It’s not been an easy season, but as you said, it’s also been a season in which I have been settling in. In the middle part I was able to find a very good continuity in terms of results. Of course, it started off a bit badly.  As I had played so much at the end of last season, it was perhaps more complicated to start the new year in high gear. So it took me a while to get going, I played very well from Monte Carlo. Let’s say it was a season with few peaks. Last year, the weeks in Hamburg, Naples, Paris-Bercy were very high in terms of level.”

For sure I feel improved in terms of tennis and physically, I’m working hard, even if people sometimes only see the results but not what’s behind them. It was a season of firsts. Even if we consider the example of Jannik, last year he had a season of adaptation, different from the standards he has displayed on court this year. And I also hope next year to be more focused, more concrete in terms of results, attitude and everything.”

You’re part of the Davis Cup team again this year, so your season will end pretty late. Do you think you’ll be able to prepare better than last year as you have the same amount of time to rest and train? And last question, what do you think your chances for Davis are? Since the USA, Russia, Spain are missing… Our editor wrote that Italy is the favourite along with Djokovic’s Serbia.

“I think other teams as well, like Australia and Canada who won last year. The Davis Cup is a unique event, not always the team with the best ranked players comes out the winner. And the doubles rubber is fundamental. Having Jannik in our team gives us a great hand. I think he’s playing his best tennis right now. I wish him all the best in Turin and that he can join us as late as possible. It’s a huge boost for us.

In terms of preparation, almost all the players have a month, December, to prepare for Australia. Unfortunately, when we all play so much, we have to adapt. We could do with more days off and obviously more weeks to load, work and prepare for the season. But you have to be good at making do with what we’ve got. And also, during the year, we have to specially focus on maintaining injury prevention.”

Continue Reading

Exclusive

EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Hosting The Next Gen Finals

Tennis is heading to the country following weeks of speculation. Although there is likely to be some criticism coming amid the intention of organisers to hold the event during the offseason in December from 2024 onwards.

Published

on

Sources have confirmed to Ubitennis that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be moved to Saudi Arabia from this year onwards with the inaugural event taking place immediately after the Davis Cup Finals.

Jeddah will be the event’s host city which features the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21. According to those familiar with the situation, the 2023 edition had initially been planned to take place in December but had to be brought forward due to the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. It wasn’t confirmed until last month that the football tournament will be played in Jeddah in what was described to Ubitennis as a ‘last-minute change.’  

The prospect of hosting the tournament immediately after the Davis Cup finals could be problematic at the end of a long season. However, this situation is trying to be played down as a one-off. 

It will be held on at the King Abdullah Sports City where the venue has six tennis courts just outside the main stadium, as well as another indoor arena that can hold up to 12,000 people. Other events to have been hosted there include the 2021 International Handball Federation Men’s Super Globe tournament, as well as a boxing match between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.

What is the most striking aspect of the plans is the report that from 2024 the Next Gen finals will take place over a week during the second part of December which is in the middle of the off-season. It is unclear why the ATP have pushed for such a thing to occur and why they have agreed to this. During the bidding process for a host city, they said the following in March:-

This year’s tournament is expected to take place in December, with the exact dates to be determined with the successful bidder.’ 

One explanation for such a date might be the number of exhibition events that take place in the Middle East during this time. So instead of players participating in them, they would play this event. However, the idea of expanding an already long Tour calendar is one that will attract criticism. Plus there is yet to be any public response from players who might influence the current plans. 

ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi recently told The Financial Times that ‘positive’ talks have taken place with officials from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, WTA boss Steve Simon visited the country earlier this year and was said to be highly impressed. It appears that both governing bodies are interested in investment from the country as long as it doesn’t have significant implications on the Tour’s structure which has happened in other sports. 

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in sports, including the £300M takeover of football team Newcastle United. In golf, they funded the LIV Tour which split the sport before a shock merger between the Tour’s was announced a few weeks ago.

Critics have accused the Middle Eastern nation of using sport to help improve its image which has been marred by allegations of human rights violations. This is commonly known as sportswashing. 

One of those concerns is related to LGBT players playing in the country. A Saudi official told Ubitennis that gay players or media members would be welcome with their partners as long as they respect local culture. Basically, public displays of homosexuality will not be encouraged and could prompt a backlash from locals. 

“I think the WTA is going to make sure that we are in a safe environment,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis“All the LGBT players are wise enough to not provoke anything or hold hands when we are not at the (tennis) club.’
“I think we have to respect the culture there but it’s not going to be an issue as the WTA will make sure it is a safe environment for us.”

The Next Gen finals began in 2017 and had been hosted in Milan until now. Previous winners include Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima.  

It is understood that a contract confirming the relocation of the event to Saudi Arabia will be signed next month. 

Continue Reading

Trending