Could Dominic Thiem Have Won The ATP Finals? In Tennis, One Point Is Enough To Turn The Tide - UBITENNIS
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Could Dominic Thiem Have Won The ATP Finals? In Tennis, One Point Is Enough To Turn The Tide

The last three matches of the 2020 Finals could have gone either way – Medvedev came out on top, but is there an alternative reality in which the Austrian, Nadal or Djokovic prevail?

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What is a uchronia? Wikipedia defines it as follows: “A genre of fiction based on the premise that the history of the world followed an alternative path with respect to the real one.” In literature, there are many famous examples of uchronic fiction: “The Swastika on the Sun” by Philip K. Dick and “The plot against America” by Philip Roth are among the first that come to mind.

 

Journalism should aim to report the facts as they unfold, as faithfully as possible, and is therefore impervious to uchronian scenarios. Frequently, however, while reading the recaps of hard-fought tennis matches that went to the wire, we have a feeling that, if not perhaps a uchronian narrative, at least science fiction had always been there, between the lines. How many times do the authors of these articles make explicit reference to what could have happened – and did not – if at a given moment of the match, a particular point won by one player had been won by his or her opponent instead…

The comments of our readers are often, in turn, short uchronic stories in which – perhaps because of a soft spot for one of the on-court protagonists – an alternative reality is described.

Partly for fun, and partly in order not to succumb to the boredom of these long days plagued by social distancing, we have chosen some points that – had they sported a different outcome – could have resulted in a different end-result in the last three matches of the ATP Finals which were played at the O2 in London a month ago. We called them… “sliding points” – let us proceed chronologically. 

First semifinal: Thiem beats Djokovic 7-5 6-7 7-6

SCENARIO

We are in the second set and Thiem is serving at 5-6, 15-40; he is therefore facing two consecutive set points, the first of which is our…

…SLIDING POINT

Thiem serves at 196 km/h, and Djokovic returns with a moderately deep shot. Thiem, with the forehand, tests again Djokovic’s backhand. It is a good drive, but at first sight not good enough to thwart a man blessed with the best two-handed backhand on tour and perhaps of all time… and yet, at that very moment the spirits of Jack Sock and Steve Johnson (respectively the worst backhand in the West and in the East) possess Djokovic’s body and make him hit an abysmal backhand that lands wide. 

The unspoken message on the Serbian’s face, in a close-up, is very clear, as to say: “Today is not my day.”

CONCLUSION

Djokovic had a correct foreshadowing of the future, and history would confirm it shortly thereafter. But what if he won that point? Surely it would have removed a lot from the drama of the match, because what happened in the decisive game of the second set will remain in the memory of the fans for a long time, but we believe that Nole would have gladly given up all of that epic in order to avoid the physical and mental fatigue that came with those 20 minutes of the first tie-breaker in order to arrive with a little more gas left in the waning moments of the ensuing set.

Second semifinal: Medvedev beats Nadal 3-6 7-6 6-3.

SCENARIO

Second set tie-breaker: Medvedev is serving at 4-3 in his favour, when, all of a sudden…

…SLIDING POINT

The Russian misses his first serve; on the second, Nadal takes over the rally and puts himself in a position to hit a forehand from just behind the net; the violent trajectory of the ball struck by the Spaniard meets the frame of Medvedev’s racquet, and is followed by a winning lob from the Russian. 

Some comedians would probably have jokingly called it “the point of the week”. Nadal – whose features increasingly remind us of actor Wes Study in the film “Geronimo” – with admirable composure just returns to his seat, raising his eyes to the sky, perhaps to ask Manitou for help. And Manitou won’t help him.

CONCLUSION

We might state the obvious by saying that, during a tie-breaker, one thing is to be chasing at 3-5 and quite another is to be tied at 4-4. But we do it trusting in your understanding by adding that the psychological factor when a tennis player feels victimised by fate can be decisive, even if the player in question is as mentally tough as Nadal. It seems to us that he was the first to be aware of it when he said in the post-match press conference: “I wasted a great opportunity.”

Last but not least the final: Medvedev beats Thiem 4-6 7-6 6-3.

SCENARIO

Thiem won the first set by closing it with a net-favoured shot that left many observers – and perhaps even himself – with the feeling that the gods of tennis were with him. The second set is going by rather quickly, and the two players find themselves tied on the score of 3-3, 30-40, with Medvedev serving to save a break point that feels like a match point, and which is our last…

… SLIDING POINT

Medvedev’s first serve goes out; the second one is a sluggish and central serve that travels as fast as 133 km/h which the Russian rushes towards the net as an ideal bull’s eye for Thiem’s ​​forehand; the Austrian seizes the opportunity immediately, and hits a violent stroke that forces Medvedev to make a purely defensive diving volley which by pure chance spins slightly backwards once it has barely crossed the net with an insidious, unpredictable effect. Thiem, however, starts running towards the ball as soon as it makes contact with Medvedev’s racquet and reaches it with enough time to place an apparently simple shot even for the standards of someone who – like him – hasn’t been gifted with great touch; Medvdedev’s fate seems sealed but Thiem puts the ball wide and subsequently stays standing there, petrified, with his eyes turned to his coach, who was at the moment no less aghast than him. An error that reminded us the infamous one backhand miss by Nadal in the fifth set of the final of the 2012 Australian Open against Djokovic.

CONCLUSION

If Thiem had sealed that point, he would have potentially found himself two service games away from victory. We cannot know what would have happened next, but the doubt that he lost this game more than Medvedev won it will be with us for a long time.

We would like to end this article with the words written by late writer and poet Vittorio Sereni. This great Lombard loved sport, and he wrote many essays and articles that have recently been collected in an anthology titled “Il verde è sommesso in nerazzurri” (Green is subdued in blacks and in blues). 

In an article on soccer, he writes: “I don’t think there is another sporting spectacle like this one, offering validation to the truth of existence, mirroring it or rather representing it in its up and downs, in its unexpected events, in its setbacks; and even in its stasis and repetitions; and in its monotony too… ” Mutatis mutandis, we believe that these thoughts can be applied to tennis as well. Do you agree? 

Article by Roberto Ferri; translated by Michele Brusadelli; edited by Tommaso Villa 

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Andy Murray Skips French Open To Focus On The Grass

The decision has been made after the Brit experienced some ‘discomfort’ during his time in Rome.

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Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray has delayed his return to competitive tennis after deciding to not play any more tournaments on the clay this year.

 

The former world No.1 has confirmed that he will not be playing at the French Open, according to multiple British media sources. Murray’s decision comes less than a week after he was in Rome training with some of the Tour’s top players. During one of his practice sessions in the Italian capital, he had a hit with world No.1 Novak Djokovic who said afterwards he was impressed by the current form of the Brit.

“I was very happy to see him. I haven’t seen him in a while, and it was great to hit with him. I thought he played very well on the court,” Djokovic told reporters last week.
“He moves well considering it’s clay which is not the best surface for his hips. But considering what he has been through lately, I think it seems like he’s been feeling well on the court. That’s what he’s saying, and that’s what it appears on the court itself.”

It is understood that Murray experienced some discomfort in Rome where he participated in the doubles tournament with Liam Broady after receiving a last-minute entry. It is unclear as to where the pain is located and how serious it is. Although it has been deemed significant enough for him to decline a wildcard into next week’s Geneva Open and pass on the French Open where he would have possibly had to play in the qualifying draw.

Murray will now switch his focus to the grass ahead of Wimbledon. He is currently scheduled to next play at The Queen’s Club where he has a contract to play there for the rest of his career. The tournament will start on June 14th with Murray saying he is looking forward to playing in front of a British crowd again. Under current restrictions, Queen’s will welcome 25% of its 9000-spectator capacity.

“It’s been such a difficult time for everyone and it will be great to play in front of home fans in Britain again,” said five-time champion Murray. “The tournament at Queen’s has always meant a lot to me – it’s where I won my first ATP match, I’ve won the singles at Queen’s more than any other in my career, and I’ll never forget our doubles title in 2019. I can’t wait to get back out there.”

34-year-old Murray has played just 11 Tour matches since winning the European Open in Antwerp back in 2019. He is currently ranked 123rd in the world.

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Novak Djokovic Outlasts Tsitsipas To Reach Rome Semis

Novak Djokovic survived a brutal test from Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the semi-finals in Rome.

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Novak Djokovic (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic survived Stefanos Tsitsipas over two days as a 4-6 7-5 7-5 win ensured his place in the last four of Rome.

 

The world number one came back from a set and a break down to ensure his place in the semi-finals in Rome.

It’s the second time in the space of a few weeks that Tsitsipas has lost to Djokovic and Nadal in three hour epic matches.

Next for Djokovic will be Lorenzo Sonego who beat Andrey Rublev 3-6 6-4 6-3 in his delayed quarter-final.

It was a bright start from Tsitsipas who was aggressive from the first ball and took the match to the world number one.

An early break helped settle the Greek down who was producing tennis of the highest from the baseline and at the net as he rushed Djokovic into errors.

That became a double break as the Serb was distracted by the rainy conditions as he couldn’t hit through Tsitsipas’s consistent defence.

After breaking back and consolidating after some nice combinational patterns of play, rain halted play for a few hours.

Once they came back it was Tsitsipas who continued to dictate the points to his favour and with accurate serving was able to close out the first set in in 51 minutes.

The start of the second set was no different, after both players held serve to love Tsitsipas grinded out a crucial break taking advantage of a lack of concentration from Djokovic.

However once again rain halted play and Djokovic had a whole night to figure out how to turn the match around as play was abandoned for the day.

As play resumed the next morning, Tsitsipas continued where he left off from yesterday as he was the aggressor dictating points and putting Djokovic under pressure.

That was until the eighth game as Djokovic raised his level and managed to make a lot of deep returns to cause Tsitsipas trouble.

Tsitsipas managed to save four break points with some clutch tactical serving and bold high-margin play.

On the fifth break point Djokovic finally punched a hole through Tsitsipas’ defence to level the set at 4-4 as he let out a huge roar.

The Greek remained valiant and produced a higher level of base play throughout the rest of the set as he earned two opportunities to break back.

However this time it was Djokovic’s turn to produce clutch serves and unlike Tsitsipas, the Serb held for 5-4.

Big moments were meant for big players and you can always rely on the world number one to produce those. A big final return game from Djokovic sealed with clever tactical played allowed him to break and let out another huge roar as he levelled this match at one set all.

In the final set, there was ball-striking of the highest quality as both players looked to out manoeuvre and out-hit each other.

The first break of the set went to Tsitsipas as Djokovic’s shot failed to reach the other side of the net as the Serb smashed his racket into the side barrier of the court.

After holding for a 3-1 lead, Tsitsipas looked to finish the match out as he had four opportunities for a double break lead.

A combination of erratic decisions and clutch serving from the world number one saw them saved as the Serb would hold on.

In typical Djokovic fashion he would break in the next game comfortably as this was turning out to be one of the best final sets of the season.

Tsitsipas would have the chance to close out the match after breaking for a 5-4 lead but the Serb’s court coverage was too good and he continued to hit insane returns for 5-5.

After 3 hours and 15 minutes of play over two days, Djokovic produced a near-perfect final game to deny Tsitsipas the win as he made his way into the semi-finals.

Next for the world number one will be Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday evening for a place in the final.

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French Open Chief: Roger Federer Would have Won Multiple French Open Titles If It Wasn’t For Nadal

Guy Forget also predicts how far the 39-year-old could go in the draw this year.

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The decision by Roger Federer to play at the French Open is the most logical step ahead of Wimbledon, according to tournament director Guy Forget.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match on the surface since June 2019. Last year he missed most the season due to a right knee injury which required two surgical procedures, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this year he has only played in one tournament which was at the Qatar Open where he reached the semi-finals.

Federer will return to the court next week at the Geneva Open in his native Switzerland. It is the only event he will play before heading to Roland Garros. An event he had only played in once out of the past five editions. Forget, who is a former top 10 player himself, believes the match play is exactly what Federer needs.

“That Roger comes to play Roland Garros seems logical to me. This will allow him to play, and especially to test himself. Clay is a surface that requires you to be precise in your movements. The better Federer is at Roland Garros, the better he will be at Wimbledon,” he told reporters earlier this week.

The Swiss Maestro has only won the French Open once in his career which was back in 2009. Although he has reached the final on four other occasions. It was at the 1999 French Open where he made his main draw debut in a major at the age of 17. Overall, 11 out of Federer’s 103 ATP titles have been won on the clay.

However, Forget believes Federer would have won many more French Open titles if it wasn’t for the formidable Rafael Nadal. A player who has won more ATP trophies on the dirt than any other player in history, including 13 at the French Open alone.

“If Rafael Nadal hadn’t existed Federer would have had at least 5 or 6 titles at Roland, I’m sure of that.” Forget commented.
“Regarding this edition, I think it can happen that he could go into the second week.” He added.

Federer has lost to Nadal in all six of their meetings at the French Open – four times in the final and twice in the semi-finals. He trails their overall head-to-head 16-24.

The French Open will get underway on May 30th.

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