[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

ATP

The Year-End Rankings: The Rise Of Alcaraz And The Eternals, Djokovic and Nadal

Image via ATP Twitter

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By Roberto Ferri

Let’s start our last article on the ATP rankings by quoting the words which are said to be the last of emperor Augustus: “The play is over, applaud”.

 

We cannot but applaud Novak Djokovic, six-time ATP Finals winner just like Roger Federer. And we applaud the season, which, for good or ill, has been unique. Just consider the most striking events: Carlos Alcaraz rising to No. 1, Roger Federer’s retirement, all the issues involving Djokovic and the Wimbledon affair.  

The top positions of the ranking have been significantly impacted by Djokovic’s absence from two Majors (Australian Open and US Open), four Masters 1000 (Indian Wells, Miami Open, Canadian Open, Cincinnati) and by ATP’s decision to not award points for Wimbledon.

If we compare the ATP rankings published after the ATP Finals in 2021 and 2022, this fact is clearly noticeable. 

22 NOVEMBER 2021

PositionPlayerCountryPts 
1DjokovicSerbia11540
2MedvedevRussia8640
3ZverevGermany7840
4TsitsipasGreece6540
5RublevRussia5150
6NadalSpain4875
7BerrettiniItaly4568
8RuudNorway4160
9HurkaczPoland3706
10SinnerItaly3350
11Auger-AliassimeCanada3308
12NorrieGB2945
13SchwartzmanArgentina2625
14ShapovalovCanada2475
15ThiemAustria2425
16FedererSwitzerland2385
17GarinChile2353
18KaratsevRussia2351
19Bautista AgutSpain2260
20Carreno BustaSpain2230

14 NOVEMBER 2022:

PositionPlayerCountryPts
1AlcarazSpain6820
2NadalSpain6020
3RuudNorway5820
4TsitsipasGreece5550
5DjokovicSerbia4820
6Auger-AliassimeCanada4195
7MedvedevRussia4065
8RublevRussia3930
9FritzUSA3355
10HurkaczPoland2905
11RuneDenmark2888
12ZverevGermany2700
13Carreno BustaSpain2495
14NorrieGB2445
15SinnerItaly2410
16BerrettiniItaly2375
17ShapovalovCanada2105
18CilicCroatia2075
19TiafoeUSA2000
20KhachanovRussia1990

Novak Djokovic ended 2021 with 4720 points more than Carlos Alcaraz; also Medvedev and Tsitsipas earned more points than the Spaniard, who would not have reached 7000 points even counting the 135 points he wasn’t awarded at Wimbledon.

A few comments on the 2022 rankings:

  • Casper Ruud, the ATP Finals finalist, concludes his excellent year in third place, overtaking Stefanos Tsitsipas with an impressive final rush.
  • Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal are the only top 10 players born in the 80s; the other 8 were born in the second half of the 90s.
  • Cameron Norrie and Pablo Carreno Busta are the survivors of the lost generation, born between 1990 and 1995 and that was most overpowered by the Big Four dominance. 
  • Only North America, beyond Europe, is represented at the very highest: Auger Aliassime, Fritz, Shapovalov and Tiafoe.
  • Holger Rune has gained 92 positions since the start of the year. Carlos Alcaraz “just” 31.
  • A final note: Kei Nishikori ends 2022 without a ranking. Does this suggest he’s going to retire?

BEST RANKING

Owing to earned and dropped points, as well as results in the Challenger events, five players in the top 100 have achieved their career highest this week:

Emil Ruusuvuori – 40

Quentin Halys – 64

Christopher O’Connell – 79

Roman Safiullin – 89

Nuno Borges – 91

A special applause for the 20-year old Ben Shelton, a bright prospect for USA tennis, who has made his debut in the top 100. Thanks to his victory in the Champaign-Urbana Challenger he’s now ranked 97.

Is that all? Not yet! Just a quiz for everybody: which was the last year which saw the first two places in the rankings occupied at the end of the season by two players of the same nationality?

That’s really all for now. We’ll be back in 2023.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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ATP Finals Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Casper Ruud in the Championship Match

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Novak Djokovic on Saturday in Turin (twitter.com/atptour)

The biggest ATP non-Major final of 2022 takes place on Sunday in Turin, Italy.

 

2022 has been a bizarre year in the career of Novak Djokovic.  It started with his deportation from Australia, forcing the unvaccinated Djokovic to miss the first Major of the year.  That would be one of six prominent events that Novak would miss this season due to COVID-19 entry rules (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal, Cincinnati, US Open).  Yet Djokovic was still able to accumulate a record of 41-7, and win his 21st Slam at Wimbledon.  He is now 17-1 at indoor ATP events this fall, and will end the year as the World No.5  With a win on Sunday, he would tie Roger Federer for most all-time ATP Finals titles.

2022 has been a groundbreaking year in the career of Casper Ruud.  He had already established himself as a top 10 player, but prior to this season, was predominantly thought of as a clay court specialist, with five of his six ATP titles coming on that surface.  Yet that all changed this season, starting in Miami when he reached his first Masters 1000 finals.  Casper would go on to also reach his first two Major finals, in Paris in New York.  He is now 51-21, and into his fourth big final of the year.


Sunday’s action in Turin starts at 4:00pm local time with the doubles championship match, featuring Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (4) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (2).  Both teams are an undefeated 4-0 this past week.  This is Ram and Salisbury’s second consecutive year in the final, having lost a year ago to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.  Mektic won this title two years ago alongside Wesley Koolhof, while this is Pavic’s first appearance in the final of this event.  These teams have not met since the semifinals of this tournament last year, when Ram and Salisbury prevailed.


Casper Ruud (3) Novak Djokovic (7) – Not Before 7:00pm

Ruud is 3-1 this past week, with his only loss coming in a dead rubber against Rafael Nadal.  Prior to his three top 10 victories across the last seven days, Casper only had two all season (Zverev, Auger-Aliassime).  And he is yet to win a title above 250-level in his career, with the aforementioned three losses this year in big finals.  Ruud was a semifinalist here a year ago in his ATP Finals debut.

Djokovic is an undefeated 4-0 this week, which includes an arduous effort to defeat Daniil Medvedev on Friday in a dead rubber.  Novak is now 10-3 against top 10 opposition in 2022, having taken nine of his last 10 against the top 10.  He is 4-2 in finals this year, though he lost his most recent one, two weeks in Bercy, to Holger Rune.  Djokovic is an eight-time finalist here, though he hasn’t won this title since 2015.

Djokovic has played a lot more tennis across the last two days than Ruud.  On Friday, Novak spent over three hours on court, while Ruud had the day off.  But Djokovic still looked plenty fresh for his semifinal on Saturday against Taylor Fritz, and was able to prevent the American from extending that tight contest to a third set.  Novak is 3-0 against Casper, which includes a straight-set victory at this same event a year ago.  And considering Ruud’s poor record in significant finals, Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his sixth title at the ATP Finals on Sunday.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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ATP Finals: Fritz Close But No… Final, Djokovic Advances

Novak Djokovic beats Taylor Fritz in two tie-breaks and is just one win away from his sixth title at Nitto ATP Finals

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Novak Djokovic - 2022 Nitto ATP Finals Turin (photo Twitter @atptour)

[7] N. Djokovic b. [8] T. Fritz 7-6(5) 7-6(5)

 

Even when physically not at his best, Novak Djokovic can still count on his incredible ability to play the most effective tennis in the most important moment. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the opponent misses an easy shot while attempting to close out the set, but the pressure Djokovic puts on whomever is on the other side of the net makes even the easiest shot look a little bit harder.

The former world no. 1 has put together a clinical display of efficiency during the first semifinal of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin edging Taylor Fritz by two points in the tie-breaker of each set to reach his eighth finals in the end-of-year Championship.

It was not the best Djokovic, and it was not the best match: lots of errors on both sides, and a huge opportunity for Fritz to take the match to the distance when he served at 5-4 in the second set and then missed an easy backhand sitter to go a set-point up at 40-30, blaming an idiot spectator who indeed shouted in the middle of the point, when he really should have been able to put away that point blindfolded.

Fritz did not start the match in the best possible way: 10 unforced errors during the first five games, a break conceded at love at 2-2 and Djokovic appeared destined for a relatively quiet afternoon. But it was not going to be that easy: errors started flowing also on the Serbian side, and Fritz was able to equalize at 3-3. A tie-break was then needed to decide the winner of the first set, and the deciding point was a laser forehand down the line by Djokovic who swept point and set at 6-5 and headed off to the toilet for a comfort break after taking a one-set advantage.

But the break did not do him much good: unforced errors kept coming from the baseline, and Fritz blitzed 2-0 up with a break. At 4-3, the American wowed the Italian crowd with a magical backhand stop-volley to recover a service game where he found himself down 0-30, but when it was time to serve out the set, he missed that easy backhand we described earlier to give Djokovic another chance to close out a match in two sets.

And another chance is the last thing Djokovic should be gifted, although on a day like today, with Christmas time upon us, gift trading became the thing of the match. Two great points at 4-4 in the tie-break warmed the 12,000-strong crowd at Pala Alpitour to what could have possibly been a great end of the set, but Djokovic first earned a match point to be played on his serve with a good action from the baseline closed by a volley and then squandered it all with a very unusual unforced error on a routine backhand. But on his second match point, just a minute later, Fritz badly missed an inside-out forehand putting an end to the match and gifting Djokovic a chance to win his sixth title at the Nitto ATP Finals, the first in Turin.

On Sunday he will face either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev: he has never lost to Ruud in three previous matches (3-0) and the only time he did not beat Rublev (2-1) was last spring in Belgrade in the final of the tournament organized by his family.

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