Curtain Comes Down On Nitto ATP Finals In London - UBITENNIS
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Curtain Comes Down On Nitto ATP Finals In London

The Nitto ATP Finals brought an unusual year to a conclusion at the O2 Arena in London. In his story, Mark Winters looks at the uniqueness of the fifty-year old competition.

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The O2 Arena, venue of the ATP World Tour Finals (photo by Alberto Pezzali)

In a year of Covid-19 turbulence, the men’s tennis season has come to an end. The Nitto ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London closed out 2020. Daniil Medvedev edged Dominic Thiem 4-6, 7-6, 6-4. With the title, he gave Russia its second tournament championship. Nikolay Davydenko won the first in 2009 defeating Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, 6-3, 6-4. US Open titlist Thiem is now “0” for “2” in London having come up 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 short last year against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

 

In a feel good conclusion, Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektić of Croatia defeated Jürgen Melzer of Austria and Édouard Roger-Vasselin of France, 6-2, 3-6, 10-5 for their first win as a doubles team.

The first ATP final was called the Grand Prix Masters Cup and it took place fifty years ago in Tokyo. In 1970, both the singles and doubles were round-robin competitions (and the same format was used the next year). Giving due credit, the initial event should have been called the Smith Cup, since Stan Smith was the singles winner and shared the doubles title with US compatriot Arthur Ashe.   

Smith then returned to lose back-to-back finals in 1971 and ’72. Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia became a back-to-backer in 1983 and ’84. Boris Becker of Germany joined the all-star group in 1985 and ’86. Jim Courier of the US followed in 1991 and ’92. Roger Federer of Switzerland was the last to earn the back-to-back distinction in 2014 and ’15. Relative newcomer, Thiem has now become a member of an exclusive club.

(As it turns out, Austria is still waiting for a win in year-end title rounds. Thiem has two losses in the singles’ finals. Melzer added to his country’s losses with his doubles’ defeat.  Actually in 2007, Julian Knowle became the first Austrian to be on the losing end of a trophy battle when he was a finalist with Simon Aspelin of Sweden.)

Smith remained the only double title winner until 1978 when John McEnroe claimed the singles and the doubles with US countryman Peter Fleming. The duo did it again in 1983 and ’84. Even more extraordinary, Fleming and McEnroe owned the doubles trophy from 1978 until 1984, winning seven straight titles.

Last year, Medvedev, who now has nine career titles including three Masters 1000s,  didn’t win a match in group play. This time, he was magic, claiming his most significant trophy. Looking back, and this is completely subjective, others have had “Magic Moments” at the year-ender. Alex Corretja outlasted fellow-Spaniard Carlos Moya 3–6, 3–6, 7–5, 6–3, 7–5 in 1998. I vividly remember the championship. Nightly, after the matches finished, journalists waited outside the arena in Hanover for tournament transportation to return us to our hotel. Often snow was falling and it was so cold that walking back and forth did nothing to create warmth. During these frigid times Gianni Clerici and Rino Tommasi, the two legendary Italian journalists, regularly entertained us by singing Italian arias. Their voices matched their award winning writing skills as they entertained a collection of individuals who were about to become “snowmen”.

As unlikely as the Hanover trophy clash between two clay courters was, nothing could match the 1974 title round in Melbourne. In the meeting, Guillermo Vilas of Argentina escaped with a 7-6, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6,6-4 decision over Ilie Năstase of Romania. It was Vilas’ eleventh title of the year, but what was more astounding was that the tournament was contested on grass, (and Vilas was the first “Nadal” on Terre Battue before the present day Spaniard dominated on the surface). 

One of the most fitting results took place in Lisbon. In 2000, the Tennis Masters Cup was held in an arena near the “old city” famous for its pastel colored buildings. There was nothing pastel about Gustavo Kuerten performance. The dynamic Brazilian, spurred on by the cheers of fellow Portuguese speakers, defeated Andre Agassi of the US, in a best of five straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 for the title. But there was much more to the story. The victory was truly momentous because Kuerten finished the year No. 1 in the rankings, becoming the first South American to do so.

More often than not, the expected happens at the year-end championships. Still, there have been surprises. In 1976, Manuel Orantes of Spain outlasted Wojtek Fibak of Poland in a bizarre 5-7, 6-2, 0-6, 7-6, 6-1 score final in Houston. Five set survival told the tale of David Nalbandian’s 2005 triumph. The Argentine overcame Roger Federer of Switzerland, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 to win the first year-end final held in  Shanghai.

Many hoped the last stand in London would be a No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia against No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain feature. But the semifinals resulted in the future actually being “now”. Medvedev downed Nadal 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 and Thiem sideswiped Djokovic 7-5, 6-7, 7-6. 

After eleven years, the O2 Arena is passing the year-end baton to Turin, Italy.  Pala Alpitour, the largest indoor sports arena in the country, will be the site for the 2021 ATP Finals and after the 2020 championships, the “la promessa per il futuro è brillante…” (The promise for the future is brilliant.)

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John Isner upsets Andrey Rublev to reach quarterfinals in Madrid

John Isner is into the Madrid quarter-finals after a last set tiebreak win over Andrey Rublev.

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John Isner (@atptour - Twitter)

The American once again needed three sets and two tiebreakers to earn a top 10 scalp.

 

John Isner booked his spot in the quarterfinals of the Mutua Madrid Open by upsetting the number six seed Andrey Rublev 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 in two hours and five minutes hitting 43 winners and 29 aces in the win.

“I’ve always served well, the conditions for the server are fantastic, physically I was heavy-legged today, I finished late last night, the good thing is I finished a bit earlier today and I should be ready to go tomorrow, I’m going to need all of my legs tomorrow against Dominic (Thiem) and I’m looking forward to it for sure”.

The first set was pretty routine and we didn’t see a single break of serve the entire set as the first set would be decided by a tiebreaker. That’s where the American ran away with it jumping out to a 4-0 lead playing some great tennis and he would take it 7-4 to win the first set 7-6.

The Russian was keen to get back in the match in the second set and earned the first two breakpoints of the match at 1-1 and broke to take an early 2-1 lead. That break was all the number six seed needed to serve out the second set taking it 6-3 and setting up a deciding third set.

The number six seed once again had the first break opportunity of the third set but it was immediately saved with the big booming serve from the Greensboro, North Carolina native. That was the only breakpoint of the set and once again the match would be decided by a tiebreaker.

This one was much more closer and we didn’t see a break of serve until 4-3 when the American returned the Russian serve with a powerful forehand to take a 5-3 lead.

He would go on to serve it out to win the match and set up a quarterfinal encounter with the Austrian Domenic Them and he spoke about the matchup in his post-match press conference.

“He’s fresh, he’s won two matches and I think he is the second-best clay courter right now so it’s going to be a very tough task for me tomorrow especially on this court because he hits the ball so big and pretty fast and he does so many things well and I am going to have to play extremely well if I want any chance to beat him”

Theim currently holds a 2-1 lead in the head to head and their most recent meeting was back in 2017 in Laver Cup on an indoor hardcourt when the Austrian won in three sets.

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Christian Garin reaches his second career Masters 1000 quarter final in Madrid

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Chile’s Christian Garin has reached his second Masters 1000 quarter final with a 6-4 6-7 (2-7) 6-1 win over world number 3 Danil Medvedev at the Madrid Mutua Open. 

 

Garin earned an early break after a loose service game from Medvedev at 1-1. The second set went on serve with no breaks of serve en route to the tie-break. Medvedev cruised through to a 7-3 win with two mini-breaks. Garin broke twice in the fourth and sixth games to claim the third set 6-1. 

Garin will face either this year’s Serbian Open champion Matteo Berrettini or Federico Delbonis. The Chilean player is tied at 1-1 in his two head-to-head matches against Berrettini and won his only previous match against Delbonis en route to last year’s title at the Rio Open. Garin won all his five titles on clay in Houston and Munich in 2019, Rio de Janeiro and Cordoba in 2020 and Santiago de Chile in 2021.

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Jannik Sinner Vows To ‘Come Back Stronger’ After Madrid Misfortune

The 19-year-old believes his latest loss will help him grow as a player.

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Italian rising star Jannik Sinner has revealed that he was suffering from an allergy during his latest match at the Madrid Open but has insisted it wasn’t the reason for his loss.

 

The world No.18 crashed out of the tournament in straight sets on Wednesday to Australia’s Alexi Popyrin. A player ranked 57 places lower than him who has reached the third round of a Masters tournament for only the second time in his career. The Italian struggled behind his second serve where he won just 41% of the points. A frustrating outcome for Sinner who led the match 5-3 before losing 6-7(5), 2-6.

“I suffer from allergy and here there is a lot of pollen, I also play with contact lenses and everything. This bothered me a lot,” said Sinner who was coughing throughout the match.
I suffered more because there was more sun and in that field (court) he entered easily, but I did not lose for this (reason). He played better than me.”

The 19-year-old has recently broken into the world’s top 20 following what has been a solid start to the season. At the Miami Open he became only the fourth teenager in history to reach the final after Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. On the clay he recently reached the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open before losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Despite his disappointment in Madrid, Sinner is hoping that it will help him become an even better playing in the coming weeks heading into the French Open. A Grand Slam which he reached the quarter-finals at on his debut last year.

“This defeat helps me to grow, now I go to the court to work to be at the top for the next match. I’ll come back stronger than before,” he stated.

Sinner will be hoping to get back on track next week when plays his home tournament at the Italian Open. He made his Rome debut back in 2019 where he defeated Steve Johnson in the first round before going out. A year later he reached the third round before losing to Grigor Dimitrov in three sets.

As for Popyrin, he will face a showdown against top seed Rafael Nadal in Thursday.

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