Just a few days after his partnership with Fabio Fognini was announced, I met the new head coach hired by the Ligurian tennis player, former world N.8 Alberto Mancini.
During his career, he won three ATP tournaments – Bologna in 1988, Monte-Carlo (defeating both Wilander and Becker in the process) and Rome (saving a match point against Agassi) in 1989 – and reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, his best result in a Grand Slam tournament.
He also reached the final in Rome 1991, retiring in the third set against Emilio Sanchez, and he finished as the runner-up in Key Biscayne versus Chang, in Kitzbuhel against Sampras and in Stuttgart, beaten by Stich.
As the team captain, he led the Argentine Davis Cup team to the final twice, in 2006 and 2008. After losing to Spain – then led by Lopez and Verdasco – at home, he opted to resign his position. In his career he coached Mariano Puerta, then in 2003-04 Guillermo Coria, and finally Pablo Cuevas during the past four and a half years.
Mancini reminisces on his victories and some of the opponents he has beaten – especially in his best year, 1989, in Rome and Monte Carlo – but he’s all too aware that his career could have been a lot more successful if he hadn’t had so many physical struggles: “I started getting injured early on in my career. It took me one year to recover from shoulder surgery, but I was never the same player again, and retired early.” Despite these issues, he always had a good relationship with his fellow countrymen from that era, whom he knew from his early days – Davin, Perez Roldan, and Martín Jaite, the latter being a little older: “I was always close with Franco and Guillermo [Davin and Perez-Roldan], because we grew up together in the junior ranks.”
I asked him about his memories and anecdotes about Maradona, a legend who sadly died on November 25th. Mancini is a supporter of Rosario’s Newell’s Old Boys, even though he was born in Misiones, in the north of the country: “I had been playing tennis since I was 5, because of my brother and my father. My idols back then were Vilas, Clerc too, more than the football players, but he was still an icon to me.” As Davis Cup Captain, Mancini remembers when Maradona came to the locker room to encourage the team and inspired everybody with his determination and enthusiasm: “I have fond memories of Diego, when I won in Rome in 1989 he was still playing in Italy, and our matches used to happen at the same time, but he kept checking how I was faring. He sent me a video for my birthday this year recalling those days – he always followed Argentine tennis very closely and had a good rapport with David Nalbandian. He loved playing for Argentina and always passed that sentiment to our players.”
Alberto told me a little about himself and his results, then about his career as a coach, which didn’t start right away: “After I retired, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the game, but after a while I came back to it, starting with Mariano Puerta in 1998-99.” He did his best work with Coria who, under his coaching, became number 4 in the world starting from the 70th spot; the two separated in 2004, after the Australian Open and before he lost the final at Roland Garros against Gaudio: “We maintained a good rapport, we live close by and he has played many times for me in the Davis Cup. I also worked with Nicolas Lapentti and then I spent the last four years and a half with Pablo Cuevas, who is a great person and has one of the most beautiful backhands in the world.”
A NEW JOURNEY
Later on, we got to the part that obviously interests the Italian fans the most. “He (Fognini) hired because he wants to finish out his career at the same high level he has maintained for the past decade. His agent called me, then I talked a little with Fabio and we instantly connected.” Alberto’s wife and three children elected to stay home – they will occasionally follow him but by now they are used to his job, which forces him to travel around the world. “When I could, I always brought them along, it’s common practice for every coach in the world.”
His first assessment of Fognini is glowing, although not devoid of caveats: “He’s exceptionally talented, and I believe that he can still be a top player. If he retains the same drive, then he can get over the injuries he’s had and hold his own against everybody, because his game is flawless. Franco Davin coached him and so we talked about him, but I’m not telling you what he said! All I know is that hard work and motivation are the only keys to success. I am more of a strategy-and-technique guy, so that’s what we will focus on with Fabio and the personal trainer I work with, Alejandro Lacour.”
This is an exciting time for Italian tennis – will Fognini use the rise of so many youngsters as a personal fuel? “We haven’t talked about it, but he certainly might. However, I think that his focus is his own performance and his own window of success. Berrettini is a player who has grown a lot in the last couple years, while Sinner is an incredible talent, he works very hard and generates winners with ease.”
Switching back to Fognini, there is a lot to love in his particular brand of tennis: “His reading of the game is impeccable, and the power of his backhand is outstanding. He is not very tall, so we will work on improving his serve, particularly his ball toss.”
Training has now begun (with Covid masks!), but there’s no idea yet as to when the season in Australia will start. However, it’s always best to focus on what can be controlled: “We are currently in San Remo, but we also have training sessions planned in Bordighera at the Piatti Academy along with Sinner, as well as in Monte-Carlo with Dimitrov, Wawrinka, Djokovic and all of the other players who train there.” Quite a good foundation to build on.
Translated by Michele Brusadelli; edited by Tommaso Villa
Monte Carlo Breakthrough Leaves Andrey Rublev With Mixed Emotions
The world No.8 takes confidence from his latest run but admits it is ‘impossible’ to play at his very top level every week on the Tour.
After achieving a career milestone at the Monte Carlo Masters, Andrey Rublev was sent crashing down to earth on Sunday.
The Russian tennis star broke new territory at the tournament by reaching his first ever Masters 1000 final at the age of 23. However, he was denied the title by Stefanos Tsitsipas who produced a clinical performance to seal victory in just 71 minutes. Ending Rublev’s run of winning seven finals in a row.
“I feel happy with the week, and I feel super sad with the final, that I couldn’t show my game,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“Of course, I’m happy with the week because I beat so many great players and I beat one of the best players in history. It’s a special week.”
Earlier in the tournament Rublev stunned the draw when he upset Rafael Nadal in three sets en route to the semi-finals. Making it the fourth time in his career he has scored a win over a player ranked No.3 in the world. He is also the first player in history to come back from a set down to defeat Nadal at the tournament.
Besides the king of clay, Rublev also dismissed Roberto Bautista Agut and Casper Ruud. He has now won 24 matches on the ATP Tour this season which is more than anybody else. However, he is reluctant to link all of his match play with his latest performance.
“I feel tired after all the matches that I play, exhausted. But this is not excuse. He was just better than me, and that’s it,” he stated.
“Not always everything goes your way. It happened today. I was completely exhausted. Stefanos, he showed great game. He was just better than me, and that’s it.”
Despite his recent success, Rublev is eager to not get too far ahead of himself heading into the French Open. A Grand Slam where he has only played in the main draw twice before, including last year where he reached the quarter-finals.
“I would like to play really good in Madrid and I would like to play really good in Rome. I would like to play all of the weeks good. But it’s impossible,” he explains.
“Some of the weeks for sure will be better, some will be worse and some will be amazing.’
“For the moment I’m playing really consistent. I’m really happy I’m playing my best season so far. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Rublev is set to return to action next week at the Barcelona Open where he will be the third seed.
Former Australian Open Semi-Finalist Kyle Edmund Undergoes Surgery
It has been reported that the world No.69 may not be able to return to the Tour for ‘several more months.’
British world No.69 Kyle Edmund is set to be sidelined from the Tour for some time after having surgery to treat a long-standing problem in Switzerland.
The former British No.1 has confirmed he had a ‘small procedure’ on his knee after being hampered with issues in the area ever since 2018 when a scan revealed that he had fluid behind his left knee. Details of the surgery have not been disclosed by the person who conducted the operation was Dr Roland Biedert, according to BBC Sport. A specialist Orthopaedic surgeon who has also operated on Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro.
“I had a small procedure on my knee. I’m currently rehabbing. The recovery is going well and I hope to be back on court as soon as possible.” Edmund said.
Currently ranked 69th in the world, Edmund hasn’t played a competitive match since losing in the first round of qualifying at the Vienna Open last October due to his knee. 2020 saw mixed fortunes for the 26-year-old. After winning the New York Open during February of that year, he lost seven out of 10 matches played during the rest of the season. Including five defeats in a row.
No return date has been outlined by Edmund or his team following the surgery. However, British media have reported that he may be out for ‘several more months.’ Casting doubts over his chances of being ready in time for Wimbledon which starts on June 28th. He hasn’t been absent from a Wimbledon main draw since 2012.
Edmund has been ranked as high as 14th in the world with his best Grand Slam run being to the semi-finals of the 2018 Australian Open. Overall, he has won two ATP titles and has earned more than $5.7 in prize money.
Grigor Dimitrov Blames Poor Monte Carlo Performance On ‘Big Infection’
The 29-year-old reveals the reason behind his error-stricken performance at the Monte Carlo Country Club on Thursday.
Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov said he simply ‘didn’t play’ in his latest match at the Monte Carlo Masters after winning just two games against Rafael Nadal.
The world No.17 fell 6-1, 6-1, to the 20-time Grand Slam champion in less than an hour on Thursday. He won 48% of his first service points and 32% of his second, as he hit 32 unforced errors. A dismal performance from Dimitrov who had beaten Jan-Lennard Struff and Jeremy Chardy earlier in the tournament.
Whilst it was never going to be easy playing somebody of Nadal’s calibre, Dimitrov has revealed that he had been troubled by an issue away from the court. He has been suffering from a ‘big infection’ in his tooth which has had an impact on his preparation for the match.
“I’ve been struggling with a massive tooth problem for the past four or five days,” he said. “I have a big infection in my tooth. It’s been hard. I haven’t been able to sleep well or eat well or anything like that.’
“I was bearing it for a while this whole week.”
It is another case of bad luck for Dimitrov on the Tour this season. At the Australian Open he reached the quarter-finals in what was his best Grand Slam performance since the 2019 US Open. However, in his last eight showdown with Russia’s Aslan Karatsev he was hindered by a back injury.
“It’s straight to the doctor’s, unfortunately,” he commented on his tooth. “Very, very unpleasant moment. It is what it is.’
“At least I’m glad it happened on a home soil so I can go see my dentist and figure this problem as soon as possible.Hopefully it’s not too serious and I’ll be able to come back as soon as possible.”
Speaking in his press conference, Nadal said he ‘felt sorry’ for his opponent who ‘played a bad match.’ During the match the world No.3 wasn’t aware of Dimitrov’s problem but was told about it afterwards.
“I wish him all the best. He’s a great guy, a good friend. I just hope the situation is to improve as soon as possible,” he said.
Nadal, who is seeking a record 12th title in Monte Carlo, will play Russia’s Andrey Rublev next.
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