ATP Finals Day 1 Preview: The Tournament Begins with a Rematch of Last Year’s Final - UBITENNIS
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ATP Finals Day 1 Preview: The Tournament Begins with a Rematch of Last Year’s Final

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Stefanos Tsitsipas starts his title defense today in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

For the twelfth and final time, the ATP Finals will be staged at London’s O2 Arena.  And due to the pandemic lockdown, it will be held without fans.

Round-robin play commences today.  After three rounds, the top two players from each group of four will advance to Saturday’s semifinals.  Group London play their first matches today, which consists of Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, US Open champion Dominic Thiem, defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s winningest player in 2020, Andrey Rublev.  Tomorrow, Group Tokyo will take the court, which features Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, Paris Masters champion Daniil Medvedev, US Open finalist Sascha Zverev, and Rome Masters finalist Diego Schwartzman. 

A year ago at this event, Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Dominic Thiem in an excellent championship match, decided by a third set tiebreak.  Today they will play the first singles match of the tournament, in their first meeting since last year’s final.  During the evening session, Rafael Nadal will begin his tenth attempt at winning this elusive title, the most glaring omission on his amazing resume.  He’ll face Andrey Rublev, who is making his ATP Finals debut after leading the tour with five titles and 40 match wins this season.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (6)

Despite his loss at the end of last year’s tournament, it was a great run for Thiem, who defeated both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in round-robin play.  Also despite that loss, Dominic owns a 4-3 record against Tsitsipas, and a 3-2 edge on hard courts.  Thiem had a great year at the Majors in 2020: he was a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, the runner-up in Melbourne, and won his first Slam at the US Open.  But outside the Majors, Dominic is a meager 5-5 this season.  He only played one event and three matches during the indoor hard court season, losing to Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals of Vienna.  He did not play the Paris Indoors due to a foot blister, but has stated that’s no longer an issue.  Tsitsipas didn’t fare as well as Thiem at this year’s Slams, but has accumulated 28 match wins and reached three tour finals.  He went just 1-2 on indoor hard courts this past month, so neither player arrives with much momentum.  But in this battle of one-handed backhands, Tsitsipas should be slightly favored, as he’s the better player on indoor hard courts.  Four of his five career titles have come on indoor hard courts, while Thiem actually has a losing record in his career at this event.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Andrey Rublev (7)

This will be only their second career meeting, with the first taking place over three years ago.  In the quarterfinals of the 2017 US Open, Nadal dropped only four games to comfortably dismiss Rublev.  That was Andrey’s breakout Major.  A back injury the following year deterred his progress, but now he’s one of the ATP’s most reliable performers.  In addition to his five titles this year, he reached the second week at all three Majors.  And notably, four of his titles came on hard courts.  While Nadal’s 2020 highlight of course was winning his 20th Major at the French Open, he’s compiled an impressive 16-4 record this year on hard courts.  But this indoor hard court event at the end of the tennis calendar has been a struggle for Nadal.  He’s missed or retired from this tournament due to injury five of the last eight years.  And he hasn’t advanced out of the round-robin stage since 2015.  Facing this year’s best hard court player will not be an easy start.  Though Rublev will surely be nervous for ATP Finals debut, he’s won three of his last five matches against top five opposition (as per Tennis Abstract).  Those two losses were to Daniil Medvedev, a tricky matchup for Rublev due to their lifelong friendship.  So it would not be surprising to see Rublev pull off the upset on Sunday.  His game is better suited for these conditions than Nadal’s.

Other Notable Matches on Day 1:

Australian Open champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (2) vs. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo, who won two ATP titles this year.

Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies (3) vs. Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5), who lost to Krawietz and Mies in the Roland Garros semifinals.

Full order of play is here.

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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Andrey Rublev Reflects On Recent Struggles Ahead Of Monte Carlo Title Defence

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Andrey Rublev admits he continues to struggle to maintain his emotions on the court after his disqualification from a tournament earlier this year.

The Russian world No.6 hopes to get back on track after a disappointing American swing where he won just one out of three matches played. In Indian Wells, Rublev beat ex-No.1 Andy Murray before falling in straight sets to Jiri Lehecka. Then in Miami, he lost his opening match against Tomas Machac. 

“At Indian Wells, I was so focused on trying to control my movements that I was completely stuck,” the 26-year-old recently commented
“I had no energy left, I had no strength. And in Miami, I exploded. I could no longer control myself, my actions, my nerves. I felt paralyzed, I couldn’t move.”

As to why Rublev felt so paralyzed, he acknowledges it could be linked to an incident that happened earlier in the season. At the Dubai Tennis Championships he was defaulted from his semi-final clash against Alexander Bublik for unsportsmanlike conduct after he was accused of saying an obscenity in his native language at an official. He then successfully appealed against the penalty and retained the ranking points and prize money he earned, barring a fine of $36,400 for a code violation.

“Maybe what happened in Dubai remains in my mind,” said Rublev. 

Rublev’s focus now switches to his title defence at the Monte Carlo Masters. It is the only Masters 1000 event he has won so far in his career. 

“I feel better. These last two weeks I have been training a lot. But it’s one thing to train well, it’s another to play well in a match.” He evaluated of his current form. 

Rublev has yet to defend a Tour-level title so far in his career. Should he do so, he will become only the fifth player in the Open Era to win multiple Monte Carlo trophies. 

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