[EXCLUSIVE] Alberto Mancini, Fognini’s New Coach: “He Called Me Because The Fire Is Still There” - UBITENNIS
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[EXCLUSIVE] Alberto Mancini, Fognini’s New Coach: “He Called Me Because The Fire Is Still There”

UbiTennis chats with the Argentine, a former world N.8 who was recently hired by the reigning Monte-Carlo champion. Mancini discusses his new protégé as well as the recent passing of Diego Armando Maradona.

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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.

THE CHAT

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

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Diego Schwartzman Receives Threats On Social Media Following Shock Davis Cup Defeat

The world No.15 is the latest player to speak out about recieving abusive messages on social media.

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The weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster for Diego Schwartzman, who suffered ‘one of the worst’ losses of his career before helping secure victory for his country in their Davis Cup tie against Belarus.

 

On Saturday the world No.15 was stunned by unranked 18-year-old Daniil Ostapenkov who is yet to play a professional match on the pro Tour. Ostapenkov is currently ranked 63 in the world on the junior circuit. The comprehensive victory shocked the Argentinian team who was hosting the tie at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.

Despite the shock upset, Schwartman managed to redeem himself the following day when he defeated Alexander Zgirovsky 6-1, 6-2. That victory handed his country an unassailable 3-1 lead in their tie and secured their place in the 2022 Davis Cup qualifiers which will take place next March.

Not only playing Davis, but in Buenos Aires, with a lot of people you don’t see, it’s not easy. My level can be and has to be much better. After the game on Saturday I had a difficult day in the spirit of being able to get up and enjoy with the group,” La Nacion quoted Schwartzman as saying.
“The most normal thing was that we won the series. It’s what everyone expected. But when you have a very difficult day at work like it was on Saturday and then you win, it excites you because you have some internal things withheld.”

Between those two matches, Schwartzman revealed that he was trolled on social media by some people unhappy about his loss in the tie. The 2020 French Open semi-finalist said he received criticism and even threats from some asking him to leave his home country. Something he admits affected him at times.

“It was one of the worst days of my career,” Schwartzman commented on his loss to Zgirovsky. “I lost to an unranked, inexperienced player. All that already affects (me) a lot. Although 80 or 90 percent of the people are always encouraging (me), there was a minority who criticized me with bad intentions.’
“I received threats, insults and requests not to return to Argentina. More or less, it affects (me)”.

Schwartzman is not the first player to speak out about online abuse. During the US Open Shelby Rogers said she was expecting to receive ‘death threats’ following her loss to Emma Raducanu who went on to win the title. Sloane Stephens has also previously spoken out about being the victim of racism online.

The 29-year-old says he has previously tried to interact with those who have trolled him on social media to find out why they are doing so.

Sometimes I start to answer some messages and I ask those people if they realize what they are sending,” Schwartzman said during his press conference. “The vast majority apologize and say they had not realized it. But at the moment it hurts. That very ill-intentioned criticism is the only bad thing about social networks.”

Schwartzman has won four ATP titles and earned more than $10M in prize money so far in his career.

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Spanish Veteran Feliciano Lopez Addresses Future On The Tour

23 years after he played his first main draw match on the ATP Tour, Lopez says his longevity in the sport has been achieved with the help of of some luck.

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Feliciano Lopez of Spain is pictured during the semi-final of ATP Fever-Tree Championships tennis tournament at Queen's Club in west London on June 20, 2019.

Feliciano Lopez has dismissed any speculation that he could retire in the coming weeks after saying he is taking life on the Tour in his stride.

 

The 39-year-old Spaniard is currently the second oldest player in the world’s top 200 after Roger Federer, who is a year older than him. Lopez made his ATP Tour debut at the 1998 Barcelona Open which was before the birth of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. In June he became the 10th active player to record his 500th win on the Tour.

Currently ranked 111th in the world, some are starting to wonder how much longer Lopez will continue playing. So far this season he has achieved a win-loss record of 9-19 with his best performance being a run to the quarter-finals of the Mallorca Open which was held on the grass. It was in Mallorca where he defeated Karen Khachanov who is the only top 30 player he has beaten so far in 2021.

I play year-by-year, the last 6-7 years have been like this, a tennis player at that age cannot think about extending his career. After turning 30 I have been lucky, I have obtained the best results of my career,” Lopez told reporters on Friday.
It is not very common for players my age, at (almost) 40 years to continue playing in the best tournaments.” He added.

Throughout his career, Lopez has impressively played in a record 78 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to the 2002 French Open. During that period he has reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament on four occasions.

“I don’t play to break records, what makes me most excited is to continue playing Grand Slams. For me, maintaining that record (78 consecutive Grand Slams played) is very nice, but more to follow. Being competitive,” he commented on the milestone.
“It is difficult for someone to overcome it because it is 20 years in a row without missing a great one. I have had continuity and enormous luck. Those of my generation are practically all retired.”

Away from the court, the former world No.12 is the current tournament director of the Madrid Open. Making him one of a few players historically to both be playing on the Tour and managing a tournament at the same time. Recently it was confirmed that Madrid will continue hosting it’s combined event until at least 2030 following a renewed agreement between the city council and the Madrid trophy promotion.

Lopez has won a total of seven ATP titles so far in his career and has earned more than $18M in prize money.

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ATP Moves Closer To Staging Five More 12-Day Masters 1000 Events After Board Approval

Changes are coming to the men’s Tour which includes a brand new ‘profit-sharing formular’ for players.

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Masters tournaments in North America, Europe and Asia are set to be expanded over the coming months after the ATP Board recently approved some ‘key aspects’ of their strategic plan.

 

In a letter issued to players, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said an agreement has been reached concerning a variety of topics, which include the expansion of various Masters 1000 events. It is understood that the plan is for Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati and Shanghai to be increased to 12-day events instead of just one week. Putting them more in line with Indian Wells and Miami. Tennis.com reports that under the new structure, ATP 250 events will also take place during the second week of those tournaments and they could receive a subsidy from the ATP Tour, provided by extra fees paid by the Masters tournaments.

Masters 1000 events are the third highest-ranked category events in men’s tennis after Grand Slams and the ATP Finals in terms of prize money and ranking points on offer. The series was first introduced back in 1990 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the name ‘Masters 1000’ was born. The number represents how many ranking points the winner receives.

Besides the proposed changes to the Masters series, the Board has also given a green light to “a new Profit-Sharing formula” and “long-term prize money levels.” The prize money increase is reportedly said to be 2.5 percent of a base level, plus a bonus pool with a 50 percent share of the collective profit of the Masters events.

“This represents significant progress for our sport and the way our player and tournament members operate under the equal partnership of the ATP Tour. It is only through the spirit of this partnership, transparency, and alignment of interests that we can truly maximise your potential and switch our focus to the competition we face in the border sports and entertainment landscape,” Gaudenzi wrote in his letter to players.

Part of the plan also include making changes to ATP Media, who are in charge of broadcasting the events. At present it is currently jointly owned by the Tour and each of the Masters 1000 events. However, in the future it has been proposed that those tournaments trade in their ownership rights for shares in ATP media. Exact details about this process have not been publicly disclosed and it is unclear if all of the tournaments would agree to such a move.

The ATP also wants to create a ‘Tennis Data Innovations’ which will be an independent entity.

All of these proposed changes are still subject to further agreement around additional matters. The ATP have been working on details of their strategic plan for the past 18 months.

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