Rafael Nadal Urges Calm Over Australian Open As Officials Search For Solution - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal Urges Calm Over Australian Open As Officials Search For Solution

The world No.2 has confirmed his intentions to play at the Grand Slam but there are fresh doubts over when it will be getting underway.

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20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal has urged his peers to remain patient amid growing uncertainty over what the start of the 2021 season in Australia will look like.

 

Earlier this week it was confirmed that the government of Victoria refused a plan for 550 players to travel to the region next month in a move that could force a delay to the start of the Australian Open. Instead players will not be allowed to arrive until January 1st and then they will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine process. As it stands during that time they are reportedly allowed to train but not play in tournaments.

The ATP has already acknowledged that ‘new challenges’ have arisen in an internal letter issued to their players. Should the Australian Open dates remain unchanged, there will only be a four-day break between quarantine ending and the Grand Slam starting.

Questioned about the situation following his exit from the ATP Finals on Saturday, Nadal said he and others just need to ‘accept the situation’ by respecting any decision taken by the government.

“I don’t know what’s the situation going to be yet,” he said. “We need to wait about what the (state) government there in Victoria says.
“We can’t do much from ATP position or just wait. We have nobody to say what they feel is better for his country.
“We just need to be patient and accept the situation that we are facing. That is difficult for everyone. We need to be flexible to understand the situation and to find a way to play as many tournaments as possible next year.”

The head of Tennis Australia, Craig Tiley, has tried to allay concerns in a statement released on Sunday. Providing an update on the current situation, he says a plan taking into account the ‘needs of the players, fans, partners and staff’ is currently being drawn up alongside the Victorian Government. Although it is unclear as to when it will be finalised or what the final decision will be.

“We are continuing our urgent talks with local health authorities regarding quarantining and bio-security requirements and are confident we will have decisions soon,” said Tiley.
“Tennis Australia is acutely aware of the need for certainty, but also conscious of reaching a solution with the State Government that ensures the safety of the entire community.”

The Australian Open isn’t the only issue, it is what will happen with other events such as the ATP Cup. Originally it was hoped that various tournaments which usually take place around the country would be moved to Melbourne in order to minimise travelling. Now due to the later than planned arrival dates and quarantine, it is possible some of these events could be axed. So far the only event confirmed to have the chop is the Australian Open junior tournament, which will take place later in the year.

Amid the uncertainty, Nadal says he is hopeful that the Tour would return to a degree of normality in the future.

“Hopefully with the vaccine, that ends soon and we can come back at least to close to normal in a couple of months, but now is a difficult situation,” Nadal concluded.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this week’s ATP Finals is taking place behind closed doors for the first time in its history.

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Flink: “Djokovic Was Lucky at the Beginning of the Final Because Berrettini Was Even More Nervous than Him”

A Wimbledon recap. Zverev struggled once more with nerves, while Barty cemented her status. How many losses like the one to Hurkacz will Federer be able to cope with?

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Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta and Hall-of-Famer tennis writer Steve Flink met virtually to discuss the events that transpired at the 2021 Championships, which were won by world number ones Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty. Here’s their chat:

 

VIDEO SCHEDULE

00:00 – The rise of Berrettini: “He was a little lucky to avoid both Federer and Zverev, but his level was outstanding.”

01:45 – How well did the Italian fare against Djokovic in the final?

06:35 – Zverev has never beaten a Top 10 opponent at a Major – a sign of frailty?

08:25 – Sebastian Korda was one of the most pleasant surprises of the tournament – will he become the American number one?

10:45 – The Canadians are on the rise. Who will have a better career between Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime?

15:15 – Hurkacz beat Federer but then couldn’t reach the same level against Berrettini – what went wrong for him?

16:50 – Is Berrettini a better player than he was in 2019 when he reached the US Open final?

27:05 – Will Djokovic go to the Olympics?

35:35 – Federer lost very badly to Hurkacz – was he lucky to reach the quarter finals?

41:40 – Should people in Federer’s camp start to talk to him about retirement?

45:30 – The women’s tournament: “Pliskova’s terrible start to the final was actually a good thing because it got the crowd on her side…”

52:30 – Coco Gauff lost against Kerber – will she learn from this defeat?

Transcript a cura di Giuseppe Di Paola

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Djokovic Meets the Moment Forthrightly Once More

Despite losing the opening set, Djokovic clinched his sixth Wimbledon title and tied Nadal and Federer’s Major tally while inching closer to the Grand Slam

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We are running out of superlatives for the one and only Novak Djokovic. All year long, he has set the bar as high as possible in his quest to collect major championships. He has been entirely transparent about his lofty goals and his largest dreams, refusing to shy away from what is at stake, and willing to put himself fully on the line at all of the Majors in a spirited bid to move beyond both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the historical race for supremacy. In his sterling career, Djokovic has never been as maniacally single-minded in pursuit of the game’s greatest and most enduring prizes as he is at this very moment.

 

That sharp focus on what now matters most to him has put the Serbian in an enviable position as he heads into the heart of summer. After upending a spirited Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3—the first Italian ever to appear in a Wimbledon singles final—in a hard fought and well played contest, Djokovic has established himself as the first man since Rod Laver took the Grand Slam 52 years ago to secure the first three majors in a season. That is no mean feat because Djokovic recorded those triumphs on the hard courts of Melbourne, the red clay at Roland Garros and on the lawns of the All England Club. They call that supremacy on all surfaces.

With this magnificent first half of his 2021 campaign, Djokovic has put himself in very good stead. At long last, he stands on the same turf as Federer and Nadal with 20 Grand Slam singles crowns. For far too long, he has lived at least somewhat in the shadows of those two luminous figures, but Djokovic has altered his status immeasurably and is earning the acclaim and recognition that he so richly deserves from not only his fellow players but also the worldwide public. Starting with his victory at Wimbledon three years ago, the Serbian superstar has captured eight of the last twelve majors. He has been victorious in 12 of his last 14 Grand Slam finals dating back to Wimbledon in 2015, raising his record to 20-10 in those critical, career defining clashes.

To be sure, he has raised his historical stock enormously and demonstrated that life after 30 in this sport is not necessarily a time of diminishing returns for a top-of-the-line athlete. Since Djokovic turned 30 on May 15, 1987, he has amassed the largest number of major titles ever taken by a man in the history of the sport at that age and beyond, lifting his total to eight “Big Four” crowns by virtue of his sixth Wimbledon triumph. Clearly, Djokovic doesn’t look 34 or play like it either; he is competing like a sprightly man in his late twenties who has seldom tasted the champagne in the places of prestige. His thirst for success sometimes seems unquenchable.

He explained after his win over Berrettini, “Obviously it’s all coming together for me now. I feel like in the last couple of years for me, age is just a number. I don’t feel like I’m old or anything like that. Obviously you have to adjust and adapt to phases you go through in your career, but I feel like I’m probably the most complete that I’ve been as a player now in my entire career.”

Discerning critics of the game could not justifiably disagree. Djokovic is s better server than he has ever been before and his capacity to fend off challenges from his opponents and keep holding on is at a new level. He lost his serve only seven times across 23 sets in his fortnight at Wimbledon, saving 26 of 33 break points in the process. He won 84% of the points when he got the first serve in and 56% on second serve points. Looking at his six triumphant years at Wimbledon, his numbers this year on serve all told are arguably the best he has ever posted. Only once was he broken less in a winning year and that was in 2015 when he lost his serve only six times, but his first serve winning points success rate was only 77% that year. Moreover, his instincts, anticipation and execution at the net are significantly better than ever before.

In the last two rounds this year against his toughest opposition (Denis Shapovalov and Berrettini), Djokovic was very disciplined in making certain to hold serve. He saved 15 of 18 break points against the Canadian and Italian combined, losing his serve only three times in seven sets. That was critical in his quest to take the title and keep his Grand Slam aspirations alive.

Shapovalov played perhaps his most inspired match ever at a major against Djokovic. Granted, he had taken apart two-time former champion Andy Murray and the ever tenacious Roberto Bautista Agut, routing both in straight sets. The gifted southpaw server who is so dangerous off both flanks from the backcourt came into the penultimate round with considerable confidence after halting Karen Khachanov in five sets.

He commenced his duel with Djokovic in fine fiddle. Shapovalov served for the first set at 5-4 and went to 30-30. Djokovic displayed his incomparable brand of defense at that crucial moment. Totally outstretched wide on his forehand side and well off the court, he somehow got a forehand back into play. Shapovalov probably thought he had the point won. With Djokovic stranded, he sent a forehand long. Djokovic broke back and took that set in a tie-break 7-3.

All through the second set, Djokovic was in danger. Down 0-40 at 1-2, he held on. At 2-3, he rallied from 15-40. Meanwhile Shapovalov was serving stupendously, holding seven times over the first two sets at love. But Djokovic was resolute and unshakable, composed and confident when it counted. He held at love for 5-5, broke the Canadian at 30 for 6-5 on a double fault, and held on at 15 to close out the set by claiming 12 of the last 15 points. Having survived two awfully tense sets, Djokovic dealt with some more difficulty honorably early in the third, holding from 15-40 and saving three break points to avoid a 2-0 deficit. He eventually broke at 5-5 and served out the match at love to win 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 in precariously close straight set showdown.

Call it opportunistic. Classify it as the superior match player overcoming the better shotmaker. Look at it any way you want. But the bottom line is that when the chips were on the line Djokovic was not found wanting. He knew how to get the most out of himself when the stakes were highest.

Talking after the final, Djokovic put into perspective what he had done down the stretch at this Wimbledon and how he came through so deservedly in the end. Asked what he has improved the most over time, he answered, “All areas to be honest. I feel like from 15 years ago to today the journey that I have been through has been very rewarding for every segment of my game. And it is also my mental strength, the experience, understanding how to cope with the pressure in the big moments and how to be a clutch player when it matters the most. That’s probably the highlight of my improvement in the last 15 years— just the ability to cope with pressure.”

Elaborating on that theme, he added, “The more you play the big matches, the more experience you have. The more experience you have, the more you believe in yourself. The more you win, the more confident you are. It’s all connected.”

When Djokovic defeated the 25-year-old Berrettini for his third consecutive major title, he practiced what he was preaching in the press conference. Once again, he brought out his best when he needed it and pushed past his obvious apprehension at the outset. The 34-year-old was clearly too aware initially about the immensity of the occasion. He served two double faults on his way to a 30-40 deficit in the opening game of the match but rescued himself for the hold. He served another double fault to trail 0-30 in the third game but managed to take the next four points to reach 2-1.

After that uncertain start, Djokovic seemed to relax as Berrettini plainly was overwhelmed by the size of the occasion. Djokovic rolled to 5-2 and then pushed his adversary to no less than eight deuces in the following game. Djokovic had one set point but somehow Berrettini held on. Serving for the set at 5-3, Djokovic’s nerves resurfaced. He led 30-15 when Berrettini—swinging much more freely now—clipped the sideline with an inside out forehand winner. The ball was called out but the Hawkeye challenge went the Italian’s way. Djokovic got to deuce but the Italian took advantage of an errant forehand approach from the Serbian and then sent a forehand winner down the line off a sharp angled shot from Djokovic.

Improbably, Berrettini, so uptight at the outset, was moving much more swiftly and hitting the ball off both sides with much firmer conviction. That set was settled in a tie-break, and Berrettini collected four of the last five points from 3-3 to prevail 7-4 in that sequence. Berrettini finished off that set impressively by reading a Djokovic backhand drop shot early and scampering forward for an unanswerable forehand down the line before serving a 138 MPH ace down the T.

That was a spectacular turnaround as Berrettini thoroughly found his range and Djokovic again seemed too aware of the historical implications of this confrontation. When Berrettini surged to 40-15 in the first game of the second set, he seemed to be riding the waves of momentum. But Djokovic made his move propitiously, realizing how important it was to bring the match back into his own grasp and create more doubts in Berrettini.

Djokovic did just that. At 40-15 for his opponent, Djokovic used a deep return to set up an angled backhand drop shot winner, then drove a forehand remarkably deep crosscourt to coax an error. Now out of his comfort zone, Berrettini netted a backhand down the line. Break point down, Berrettini attempted a crosscourt backhand drop shot that Djokovic easily anticipated. He moved forward with alacrity, chipped his backhand down the line, and ready the Berrettini pass, punching a forehand volley down the line for a winner.

That was just the reprieve Djokovic needed. He soared to leads of 4-0 and 5-1 before the Italian secured three games in a row, somehow rescuing himself from 0-40 and triple set point down in the ninth game. But, serving for the set a second time, Djokovic was totally concentrated and in utter command. He served wide to open up the court for a crosscourt backhand winner, released an ace down the T, served wide again in the deuce court to elicit an errant return, and sent a terrific second serve down the T at 106 MPH to draw another mistake on the return from Berrettini. With that love hold, Djokovic was back to one set all.

Matteo Berrettini (ITA) celebrates as he beats Hubert Hurkacz (POL) in the semi-final of the Gentlemen’s Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 11 Friday 09/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

He kept rolling. Berrettini opened the third game of the third set with an ace. At 30-40, Djokovic benefitted from a sliced backhand error from the Italian to get the one break he would need to prevail in that set. The pivotal game was when Djokovic served at 3-2 and fell behind 15-40. He came forward for a backhand half volley down the line and Berrettini missed a down the line forehand pass under duress. At 30-40, Djokovic approached behind a forehand down the line and Berrettini missed another pass, this one a backhand down the line into the net. Djokovic held on from there with a wicked slice serve wide and an ace down the T, moving on safely to 4-2.

Serving for that third set at 5-4, Djokovic was disciplined and determined. He made a nifty angled forehand half volley with exquisite touch that was as good as a winner to reach 40-15, and held on at 30 when Berrettini overbooked an inside out forehand and drove it wide. Djokovic had moved into a two sets to one lead, and he wasn’t looking back.

But there was one more critical moment when he had to assert his authority and prevent Berrettini from regaining encouragement and finding inspiration. Djokovic served at 2-3, 0-30 in the fourth set. That was surely a precarious moment but he was absolutely composed. He released a deep first serve to the forehand and the return was long: 15-30. Then the world No. 1 demonstrated precisely wby he is the preeminent player in the world. Berrettini produced a biting sliced backhand down the line that Djokovic somehow scooped up off the forehand. Berrettini then leaned into a forehand and ripped it inside out, and Djokovic lunged at full stretch to get it back off the backhand. Berrettini went to a drop shot off the forehand but Djokovic raced in elegantly and steered a forehand pass sharp crosscourt for an astounding winner.

That clutch winner gave Djokovic an incalculable lift. He took the next two points for 3-3. In the seventh game, Djokovic had some more magic in his arsenal. He reached 15-30 with a gorgeous forehand inside in approach leading to an impeccably executed backhand drop volley winner. After Berrettini made it to 30-30, Djokovic moved his adversary side to side with surgical precision and then unleashed an acutely angled crosscourt forehand winner which landed inside the service line. Perhaps shaken, Berrettini double faulted on break point, and Djokovic sensed the end was near.

Serving at 30-30 in the eight game, Djokovic sent a forehand crosscourt for an outright winner and then challenged Berrettini forehand to forehand; the Italian blinked. 5-3 for Djokovic. Now the No. 7 seed served to stay in the match, but Djokovic was making every return count and outplaying Berrettini from the baseline. Although Berrettini bravely saved two match points with a forehand drop volley winner and an explosive forehand down the line winner from the baseline, he could not escape the inevitable. Berrettini erred on a forehand to fall behind match point for the third time and then sliced one last backhand into the net.

Djokovic’s 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 triumph was hard earned and well crafted. Remarkably, he broke one of the best servers in the game six times over the course of four sets. In his six matches on the way to the final, the Italian was broken a total of five times. Djokovic won 34 of 48 points when he approached the net while Berrettini took 24 of 39, so the Serbian’s percentage was decidedly better. Although Berrettini connected for 57 winners and Djokovic had only 31, this was more than balanced by the top seed making only 21 unforced errors. That was 27 fewer than the more adventuresome Berrettini. Djokovic—who became the first man since Pete Sampras in 1993 to lose his first set of the tournament and go on to take the title— said after the final that he felt he had been a bit defensive and conceded that he felt tight in the early stages of the contest, but the fact remains that he got the job done with precision and professionalism. He knew what was at stake and played accordingly. Most impressive of all, he did not turn the loss of the first set into a negative, deciding it was time to let go of his tension and start playing more on his terms.

And so Djokovic is now right where he wants to be, closing in on the Grand Slam, pushing himself to the hilt to realize his greatest goals, using all of his experience along with his remarkably durable physique to meet the demands of today’s tennis. Only four men previously in the history of the game have taken the first three majors of the season. The Australian Jack Crawford was the first in 1933, but he lost a five set final at the U.S. Championships to Fred Perry. Five years later, Don Budge garnered the first three majors and finished off the Grand Slam in New York. In 1956, the dynamic Australian Lew Hoad swept three in a row and was one match away from a Grand Slam before his countryman Ken Rosewall stopped him at Forest Hills in the final.

In 1962 and 1969 Rod Laver won them all and captured two Grand Slams. From 1978-80 Bjorn Borg won the first two majors of the season and came to the U.S. Open hoping to keep his Grand Slam hopes alive with a third in a row. But he lost in the 1978 and 1980 finals to Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe respectively, and was beaten in the 1979 quarterfinals by Roscoe Tanner. In those days, the Australian Open was the last rather than the first major of the season so Borg undoubtedly would have gone to Melbourne had he not lost in the two U.S. Open finals.

Now Djokovic has established himself as the first man since Laver in 1969 to come to New York seeking a Grand Slam and is expected by many authorities to achieve it. Six years ago, Serena  Williams was in a similarly commanding position as she approached the Open with three majors in hand, but she lost in the semifinals to Roberta Vinci.

Djokovic in my view should and will succeed on the hard courts at the U.S. Open. It is a major where he has had some very bad luck. The Serbian has been defeated in five of his eight finals, twice going out to Nadal (2010 and 2013), once falling to Federer (2007), once bowing out in five sets against Andy Murray (2012) and losing to Stan Wawrinka in 2016.

Considering that Djokovic has swept nine titles at the Australian Open and has never lost a final “Down Under”, the feeling grows that he should have a New York title run in him this year. He has, after all, probably been the best hard court player of the Open Era. But he deserves some time to savor his sixth Wimbledon singles title and his 85th career title overall.

The view here is that Djokovic should not play the Olympics in Tokyo because he needs some time to recover from the rigors of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. He wants to equal Steffi Graf’s astounding 1988 feat of a “Golden Slam” but the view here is that a trip to Tokyo (win or lose), could possibly cost him the U.S. Open title. He said after beating Berrettini in London that it was 50-50 whether or not he would go to Tokyo. He would be much better off not traveling to Japan so soon after Wimbledon.

But Djokovic will always drive himself to the heights because that is simply who he is, what he wants and how he operates. He is a champion through and through, a supreme competitor who thrives under intense pressure like no other individual, and a man who takes nothing for granted. As he said following his triumph over Berrettini, “It’s really fortunate for me and incredible that it’s all coming together in the same year. That is something I didn’t expect but I always dream of achieving the biggest things in sport.”

___________________________________________________________________________

Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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Berrettini: “Djokovic Was Probably the Only One Who Could Beat Me”

The Italian took many positives the Wimbledon fortnight, albeit with some regret from yesterday’s match. “I could have done better in the baseline rallies”

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Being one step away from the dream, seeing its take shape, touching its texture, smelling it. then, the rude awakening in the guise of a player who is re-writing tennis history and who doesn’t seem intentioned to stop. Matteo Berrettini’s hopes of beating Novak Djokovic – who, thanks to yesterday’s success, wins his twentieth Major, the sixth title at Wimbledon and the eighty-fifth of his career – lasted only one set. Nole’s “not too bad” verges on being a conditioned reflex by now.

 

Matteo Berrettini has anyway thrilled and amazed, given the gift of tennis to the general public, beyond any elitism, and brought the magic of Wimbledon wherever a television (or streaming device) was on in Italy, for what remains a Sunday to remember for Italian tennis (and Italian sports at large, one might add).

The logical consequence of what we saw on court are Matteo’s words during the press conference at the end of the match: “It’s been a really special two weeks on the grass. I won the Queen’s Club tournament against my best expectations. Then I reached the Wimbledon final, something so big that – as I said after the victory in the semifinals – just dreaming of getting this far would have been too much”. But despite these words, more or less circumstantial, the message that comes with all its strength is that: yes, Matteo believed he could win.

“Obviously now I’m disappointed and angry because I lost and because I’m convinced that I didn’t play my best tennis, though the fact that on the other side of the court stood a player such as Novak must also be taken into account; that’s why he is one of the best ever. What was missing today? To play a little better from the baseline. However, for me it’s been an incredible two weeks that left me with the knowledge that I can win this title. What I will do in the coming weeks, months and years is very clear to me: I’ll work to try to lift that trophy”.

“I stepped onto the court knowing that his weapons defuse mine, it doesn’t always happen automatically and it doesn’t always happen in a final. He is the only player who could probably beat me, the only one who could put me in trouble on grass, I felt very good and emotionally that is not easy to manage. On this side, I’m sure this experience will help me. With my team we said we are on the right path and I agree on this”.

What will remain of this Wimbledon in Matteo’s heart? About this, he has a lot to say, much more to understand: “The emotions I felt in these two weeks are still inside me and I’m still trying to realize what happened; of all the emotions I felt, the one that came with the roar of the crowd is the one that will stay inside me for longer. Expecially at the end of the first set, I screamed a lot but I couldn’t hear my own voice, nobody could hear me. I was overwhelmed by the voices of the crowd members and if we think about what we have experienced in the last year and a half and how we played in the latter half of last season behind closed doors, this is the thing that will stay inside me the most.

“Anyways, I am very proud of what I have done and of what we are all doing for tennis; I will be received by President Mattarella, and this is a source of great satisfaction. Satisfaction that first of all, however, I want to share with those who have always been there, with my family, my friends, with my team and with you, the journalists who have always followed my career.”

In the end, a look at the upcoming Olympics: “The medal? I’m going to Tokyo because I think I can win one, it’s definitely my goal. The most important thing is to look ahead, challenging days are coming from a bureaucratic point of view, I will take a few days off to recover and then I will leave for Japan, hoping that this is the first and last Olympics to be experienced this way”.

Transcript by Carlo Galati; translated by Alessandro Valentini; edited by Tommaso Villa

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