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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Alexander Zverev Ditches Federer’s TEAM8 Management Firm To Return To His ‘Roots’

Zverev speaks out about his ‘short and long term strategies going forward.’

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German tennis star Alexander Zverev has confirmed his departure from TEAM8 as he set out his coaching plans for the season ahead.

 

The world No.7 posted a statement on Instagram saying that he no longer wants to be represented by the management firm, which was co-founded by Roger Federer and his agent Tony Godsick. Zverev says part of his decision was because he wanted his family to take a greater role once again. Instead, he will be managed by his brother Misha, who is the captain of the German ATP Cup team, as well as Sergei Bubka.

“I have decided to go back to the roots and have my family help me with my coaching, as well as Mischa and Sergei Bubka with my management,” Zverev wrote.
“I want to thank TEAM8 for the great work and tremendous experience, but we both feel that it’s the right decision to have my family take on a bigger role once again.”

Zverev’s announcement comes less than two weeks after it was confirmed he will no longer be working with David Ferrer. A former world No.3 player who joined his camp last year. Ferrer confirmed that the ending of their partnership was on mutual terms and there was no conflict between the two. The Spaniard said his role as tournament director of the Barcelona Open and family commitments contributed towards his decision.

Last year the 23-year-old broke new territory in his career by reaching the final of the US Open which he lost in five sets to Dominic Thiem. Zverev also won two ATP titles in Cologne. However, his on-court success was overshadowed by events in his personal life. He has been accused of mental and physical abuse by his former girlfriend Olga Sharypova, which Zverev has denied. Meanwhile, it was revealed that another former partner of his is pregnant with his child.

Heading into the Australian Open, Zverev is likely to face more scrutiny over the domestic abuse allegations after it was confirmed that a new account from Sharypova will be published in the coming weeks. New York Times journalist and freelance writer Ben Rothenberg confirmed that a second interview will be released before the start of the Melbourne major. It is unknown as to what the interview will entail but there has been a prior reference to one ‘incident’ in China.

Zverev’s Instagram statement in full

“What a year 2020 has been, for the whole world and for myself. I reached my first Grand Slam final without my parents and brother being court-side due to them contracting COVID-19. An almost 2 year long legal dispute with my former agent finally came to a successful resolution, so I have spent a lot of time thinking about my short and long term strategies going forward. For this reason and because of the ongoing worldwide restrictions, I have decided to go back to the roots and have my family help me with my coaching, as well as Mischa and Sergei Bubka with my management. I want to thank TEAM8 for the great work and tremendous experience, but we both feel that it’s the right decision to have my family take on a bigger role once again.”

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Hubert Hurkacz Aims To Build On Delray Beach Triumph

The best way to start the season for the world No.35.

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Hubert Hurkacz (image via https://twitter.com/DelrayBeachOpen)

Poland’s Herbert Hurkacz says he hopes to play at an even higher level over the coming weeks after winning the Delray Beach Open title on Wednesday.

 

The world No.35 eased to a 6-3, 6-3, win over Sebastian Korda in the final to claim only the second title in his career after Winston Salem back in 2018. Hurkacz, who was the fourth seed in the tournament, didn’t drop a set all week en route to becoming the first Polish player in history to win the title. In the final he won 68% of his service points and broke Korda four times overall.

“It feels great. It is great to win the title and I am so happy about that. This Is a great start to the season,” Hurkacz said afterwards.
“I am happy that I am improving and we (my team) are doing good stuff with C.B (coach Craig Boynton), and things are working. So I am really pleased with this result.”

The 23-year-old is hoping to improve on what was a challenging 2020 season for him. After reaching the semi-finals of the Auckland Open in January last year, he could only win back-to-back matches in two out of his next 12 tournaments prior to Delray Beach. His best Grand Slam result was reaching the third round of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships.

Seeking to break new territory in 2021, Hurkacz will today start his 24-hour journey to Australia which begins with a 5am departure from America this morning. His coach Craig Boynton also currently worked with Steve Johnson and previously mentored Jim Courier.

“It’s the beginning of the season and I still need to work on a couple of things, but I hope I can play even better in Australia,” Hurkacz stated.

Hurkacz is only the second Polish player to have won an ATP Tour title in the Open Era after Wojciech Fibak. At present he is the only player from his country ranked inside the top 100 on the Tour.

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Cristian Garin Out Of Australian Open Following Fall

The South American tennis star will not travel to Melbourne due to both injury and the travel restrictions implemented.

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Chile’s Cristian Garin has become the third top 30 player to pull out of the men’s draw at next month’s Australian Open.

 

The world No.22 has confirmed that he will not be travelling to the Grand Slam after suffering a fall in which he hurt his wrist a week ago. Announcing his decision on Instagram, Garin said the limitations in place at the tournament which wouldn’t allow him to travel with his physio played a factor. This year’s Australian Open is taking place amid strict COVID-19 rules which requires players to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival and limits the number of team members they can bring. The majority of players will be spending their quarantine in Melbourne but the top names will be in Adelaide following a recent deal secured by Tennis Australia.

I am very sad to report that a week ago I suffered a fall, which left me with a lot of pain in my left wrist (sprain),” Garin wrote on his Instagram story. “It has been very difficult for me to play the last days and given the restrictions of the tour, they do not allow me to travel with my physiotherapist, which makes it impossible to find a good recovery. Unfortunately I will not be able to play this year in Australia, which is something very difficult for me to accept. I hope to return in good condition and with the best energy for the tour in South America.”

photo via – https://www.instagram.com/garincris/

Garin kicked-off his season on Saturday at the Delray Beach Open where he was the top seed. However, he lost his opening match in straight sets to Christian Harrison who went on to reach the semi-finals. It is only the second tournament he has played since the French Open in October.

The setback comes after the 24-year-old confirmed that he has started working with Franco Davin back in November. A tennis coach known best for his work with Juan Martin del Potro. Davin has also previously worked with Grigor Dimitrov and Kyle Edmund.

The withdrawal of Garin follows that of Roger Federer and John Isner. Former champion Federer has pulled out due to his ongoing recovery from a right knee injury. Although one Australian Open official believes his decision was due to another factor. Meanwhile, Isner has opted not to travel to Australia because he didn’t want to spend an extended time away from his family.

The Australian Open will start on February 8th.

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