EXCLUSIVE: How Matt Roberts Became One Of The Voices Behind The Tennis Podcast - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: How Matt Roberts Became One Of The Voices Behind The Tennis Podcast

A work experience obtained with a speculative Tweet turned into a dream profession for Matt Roberts. Here’s how it all happened



Catherine Whitaker (left), David Law (centre) and Matt Roberts (right) of The Tennis Podcast (photo: The Tennis Podcast)

Every now and again, in tennis we see some players that after many years of sweat and tears on the ITF or Challenger circuit find that special balance that makes all their efforts come together and produce results that catapult them onto the “main stage”. But it doesn’t happen only to players: sometimes it happens also to ordinary fans like Matt Roberts, 24 years of age from London, who through a series of twists and turns of fate has managed to become one of the voices of The Tennis Podcast, one of the most popular tennis-based podcasts in the world.

The Tennis Podcast was born almost nine years ago from an idea by David Law, former Communication Manager at the ATP Tour and now freelance journalist, and Catherine Whitaker, currently the lead presenter of tennis on Amazon Prime Video in the U.K. The podcast grew year after year and in 2017 it started raising funds through Kickstarter campaigns that have been more and more successful every year. 

The Kickstarter campaign for 2021, launched at the beginning of December 2020, reached its £80,000 target in just two days and has now raised over £106,000 with almost two weeks to go until the end. David, Catherine and Matt produce a weekly podcast as well as a weekly newsletter that reaches around 25,000 people every episode, with daily editions at major tournaments.

We caught up with Matt Roberts during the off-season to learn how he managed to turn his tennis passion into a profession.

Matt, when did you start following tennis and how did you get involved with The Tennis Podcast?

“I started following tennis when I was 7-8 years old back then we were living just down the road from Surbiton Tennis Club, where a Challenger tournament takes place every year, but while we were living there, I showed no interest in tennis whatsoever. It all started as soon as we moved. When I was 10 years old my grandma took me to Wimbledon: she had won ballot tickets for Court 1 on Saturday of the second week, so there were no main draw matches to watch, but I managed to see Roger Federer practice on one of the side courts. I remember working my way to the front through a crowd of bodies and taking some shoddy photos, which I still have somewhere, of Federer and Tony Roche on my disposable camera. It was such a cool experience”.

“In terms of the podcast, it all started when I was at the University, where I was studying French and Spanish. During the Easter holidays of my first year, I sent David a tweet asking if they needed a student for some work experience. I had been listening to the podcast for a few years, and my timing just happened to be perfect, because David and Catherine needed some help to keep the podcast going on a weekly basis. They needed some support in terms of social media, planning, research, a bit of everything. For the remaining three years I was working on the podcast in the background while completing my studies at University.”

“I never really intended to be a voice on the podcast, but they took me on part-time in summer 2018, and at some point, a microphone was put in my hand and there I was, broadcasting”.

The listeners to the podcast had heard of “Student Matt” for quite some time before actually hearing his voice, and in a short period of time “Student Matt” turned into “Graduate Matt” and then it became… just Matt.

When was your first time at a tournament with credentials around your neck?

“It was at Queen’s in 2015, just a few months after I had made a connection with them. David wanted me to get on-site and experience a tournament for the first time, I didn’t do much to be honest, I went to the press conferences, watched a lot of tennis,…”

It sounds like a dream…

“It really was! Nadal was there, also Wawrinka who had just won the French Open. I couldn’t believe I was around all these people that previously existed only on TV”.

“I have worked at Queen’s every year since then, and the first tournament with credentials as ‘The Tennis Podcast’ was the ATP Finals 2018. That was a breakthrough for us, because we didn’t know how we would be received as media, and from that point onwards we realized we could be on-site, and produce content while together on-site, which is when we are at our best”.

Was there a moment when it hit home that your life had changed?

“Yes! Going to Australia in 2019, it had always felt like such a pipedream, and then suddenly I was sitting on a plane thinking ‘My word, the podcast listeners have paid for me to go to Australia’. I was full of emotions – gratitude, excitement, some anxiety. And then once I was there it was the day of the Murray-Bautista Agut match, I did not go to bed until 5 a.m., then set my alarm for a couple of hours later, and started all over again. At that point I was completely swept up by the tournament and there was no time to think about anything else. Then, during the following month, it all started to sink in, and all I could think about was going on another trip and doing it again. I had realized that I could do this in my life and I really liked doing this”.

Matt at the 2020 Australian Open (image via thetennispodcast.net)

What is the aspect of this job, of this life, that you like the most, and the aspect you could really do without?

“Attending tournaments is what I like the most. Obviously not this year… But you can find better stories when you are there, you can live off the adrenaline, and you can take the listener with you which is powerful for the podcast medium. Also, I love having David and Catherine as both friends and mentors. I get a bit intimidated by the press room environment, rightly or wrongly I believe that other people in there are more experienced and knowledgable than I am, they have earned their right to be there, while I almost stumbled into it. I love how [David and Catherine] represent a safe space for me, and I am really appreciative to have found this so early”.

“What I dislike the most…well, social media is a constant battle and one that I haven’t really figured out yet. I owe a lot to social media, that’s how I got in touch with David, we receive so many lovely messages from listeners on there, and at its best it’s an incredible source for stats and news as well as a powerful marketing tool.”

“But it can also bring out the worst in people and we’ve experienced our fair share of trolling, mainly from people who don’t really listen to our show. Because those who do listen will know that we like to have a laugh and to see the funny side of the sport, while also caring deeply about it and taking our work very seriously. Striking the same tone on social media can be hard. I probably blow things out of proportion, but one nasty comment can feel personal and really ruin your day.”

Being a tennis fan is a very radical life choice: it tends to involve a lot of hours spent in front of the TV, sometimes at unsociable hours. How did it impact your life growing up?

“Following tennis can be such a solitary pursuit, unless you have a group of friends following tennis. But it is enough of a niche sport that most of the time you are alone following tennis, and that’s why social media has had such a big impact on the tennis community, I suppose. I have very fond memories of the Australian Open, when I used to get up early and fit in a few hours before school, and I guess that was a sign that I was foolish and dedicated enough to be a tennis follower”.

And the pandemic is sort of forcing you and all of us to go back to old habits and follow the tournaments on TV from home. During the last US Open you adopted a curious solution to be more efficient, didn’t you?

“Yes. I was supposed to go to New York but of course the pandemic prevented me from doing it. In order to cover the tournament the way we wanted to cover it, it would have meant living on New York time even while in the U.K., and since I live with my parents this would have made the situation quite difficult. So David and Catherine allowed me to rent a place for myself so I could live alone for the two weeks of the US Open. It so happens that there is a caravan site about a 10-minute walk away from my house, so we decided to rent that place and cover the tournament while living there. It was much cheaper than a flat, but I wasn’t slumming it either, and we managed to make it a bit of a theme for the podcast”.

“This sport really takes over your life, your calendar becomes the tennis calendar: you don’t think of April as April, but as the beginning of the clay court season. I guess that’s why I ended up discovering the podcast, because I had one friend who was into tennis, a lot of friends that played tennis but did not follow the tours, and I was looking for conversations”.

“I remember realizing that tennis was my thing when, the day after the 2006 Rome men’s final that lasted five hours, I went into the playground at school saying that I watched all of it, and it gave me a weird sense of pride”.

Catherine, Matt and David during a recording (photo by The Tennis Podcast)

To conclude the chat, we prepared a lightning round with some specific tennis questions. 

Favourite Slam?
Australian Open

Favourite tournament?
It might again be the Australian Open, but from a personal point of view I would have to say Queen’s, because that’s where it all started.

I can’t answer that! Both!

Merger or no merger between ATP and WTA?
I would love to see a merger; I just fear it’s very unrealistic. The strongest events are those where you have ATP and WTA on-site together, so I think that tennis would be stronger if all events were together.

WTA Autumn and WTA Championships all in China. Was it a good idea or not?
Ultimately, the WTA did was right for the tour at the time. They couldn’t have predicted what would happen this year. I think it is good for tennis that the WTA reached the Asian market, it’s where there is the biggest growth potential. I would prefer the Championships events, both ATP and WTA, to move around and remain in the same place only for 2-3 years. I understand the idea of building a base for an event, but I think it is a shame that tennis has not taken the opportunity to move these events around more.

Classic question: best of 3 or best of 5?
I don’t see it as an ‘either/or’. There’s room for both. I would not want to see the best of 5 gotten rid of. We need to keep it.

Which solution for the final set you prefer among those in use at the four Grand Slam tournaments?
If it’s best of 3 I would like to play it out, no tie-break. For best of 5, I like the Australian Open solution, a 10-point tie-break.

Classic Davis Cup or Kosmos Cup?
I find this very hard. I was lucky enough to be at the 2018 Davis Cup, the last one in the classic format, and the atmosphere was incredible. They both have such different advantages and disadvantages. Overall, I believe the format needed reform, so I would go with the Kosmos version, but personally I believe there should be an extra round of home/away, because one is not enough. So it would be better to have 8 teams in the finals, preferably with a knock-out format, and one more home/away round.

Let or no let?

Ad or no-ad?

Coaching or no-coaching?

Day session or night session?
Night session

UTS or NextGen Finals?
NextGen Finals

Djokovic, Federer or Nadal?
You are setting me up again? What do you mean?
Well, think of it as the game of the tower, where you have to throw two of them off the tower.
You are making it worse! Let everyone live, and I would say all-around I believe Nadal is the best.

At Wimbledon, white or no-white?

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EXCLUSIVE: The Grand Slam Champion Who Didn’t Get A Trophy Until 37 Years After He Died



This year’s French Open was headlined by Iga Swiatek and Novak Djokovic triumphing in the singles tournaments but at the same time, another trophy presentation took place.

Attended by only a handful of people which included Henri Leconte and Hungarian Olympic swimming champion Daniel Gyurta, the event was conducted in honor of József Asboth. A Hungarian tennis player who in 1947 became the first Eastern European player to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open. Asboth also reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 1948 which is remarkably still the best-ever performance by a Hungarian man at the event. 

Sadly, he never received a trophy for his French Open triumph as the tournament didn’t start that tradition until 1981. However, this year the FFT made a silver plaque in his honour with the words ‘in memory of Jozsef Asboth, Vainqueur Simple Homme, Internationaux de France 1947.‘ The gesture occurred almost 40 years after he died in 1986. 

Accepting the award was Andras Ruszanov on behalf of the Asboth family. He acts as an ambassador for the tennis star and his sporting legacy. Speaking to Ubitennis, Ruszanov sheds light on Asboth’s story which he described as being marred by history, politics and bad luck. As a player, he was only allowed to leave Hungary on the condition he didn’t defect to another country. One extraordinary example was when King Gustav V of Sweden helped persuade the Hungarian regime to let him play at Wimbledon in one year. 

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Asboth was restricted from travelling to Western countries and was also prohibited from going into business with Fred Perry who offered him a job. Instead, he was instructed to coach in the Soviet Union until the fall of his regime in 1956. Eventually, he went to Belgium to with work with the national tennis federation before going to Munich, Germany. He refused to return home until Soviet troops left his country which unfortunately didn’t happen until after he passed away at the age of 69. 

Here is the story of Hungary’s first and only Grand Slam champion in men’s tennis. 

UBITENNIS: How did the trophy ceremony in Paris come about this year? Was it triggered by a campaign? 

RUSZANOV: I have been representing the Asbóth family for about 10 years. From the very first moment, I was always guided by the goal of preserving for posterity the memory of Hungary’s first and so far only male singles Grand Slam champion. This could be the name of a tournament, street, stadium, award or even a website named after the legendary champion, such as asbothjozsef.hu, which we created in tribute to him with photos from the family archive. 

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of József Asbóth (1917- 2017), Monika Seles presented the commemorative plaque of the Hungarian Tennis Federation and Hungarian Sports Journalist Association.

In 1947, the French Open winner received no recognition other than a congratulatory handshake. From 1981 the Musketeers’ Cup was awarded to the champions after the suggestion of the late Philippe Chatrier, the president of the French and International Tennis Federation. In 2017, the idea arose that some symbolic version of the Musketeers’ Cup could serve as an eternal memory for both the Asbóth family and the Hungarian sports society to nurture and preserve József Asbóth and his sports legacy.

Both the former and current leadership of the Hungarian Tennis Federation felt the weight and importance of this mission, and the request was heard by the leadership of the French Tennis Federation – led by President Gilles Moretton. Thus, at this year’s Roland Garros, during a private ceremony in the president’s box, in the presence of President Moretton and some French legendary players such as Henri Leconte, Patrick Proisy, and the showman Mansour Bahrami, I was able to receive the award on behalf of the Asbóth family from the two-time Grand Slam champion, Hall of Famer Amélie Mauresmo, who serves as the tournament director of French Open. The Hungarian sports diplomacy was represented by the Olympic champion Dániel Gyurta on behalf of the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the sports media was represented by György Szöllősi, vice president of AIPS Europe (European Sports Journalists Association). 

This current recognition was the ‘fruit’ of several years of work, and the silver plaque that has just been handed over has the Musketeer’s Cup for the men’s singles champion in engraved form. 

UBITENNIS: Was it true that Jozsef was only allowed to leave Hungary on a guarantee he would not defect to another country?

Yes, Asbóth’s entire career was cut in two by history, politics and bad luck. He played in a total of 10 Grand Slams, but 8 years passed between his 2nd and 3rd major. In his heyday – between the ages of 22 and 30 – he could not participate in a single Grand Slam, because of World War II and its consequences. Then he managed to win the 4th Grand Slam tournament of his life at the age of almost 30. Then the ordeals came again… 

In 1948, Asbóth was seeded number 2 in Paris (which is still a record for a Hungarian male player) in the main draw. However, he could not defend his title, as his mother passed away the day before the start of the tournament, so Asbóth withdrew and flew home to Hungary. 

His appearance at the next Slam, in Wimbledon, was also in jeopardy, as the communist leadership in his country did not look favourably on his performances in foreign tournaments. One of his great admirers, King Gustav V of Sweden had to give a personal guarantee to the Hungarian communist government that Asbóth would return to his country and not emigrate abroad. Thanks to the intervention of Sweden’s longest-reigning monarch, the Hungarian top player was able to attend Wimbledon and so far achieved the greatest success of a Hungarian male tennis player. 

He reached the semi-final for the first time in Wimbledon and according to the unanimous opinion of the experts, Asbóth played the most spectacular tennis of all the players. He even captivated the legendary Harry Hopman, who patted Asbóth on the shoulder and said: “Listen here, mate, grass is your element”. Unfortunately, in the quarter-final match, Asbóth’s ankle was injured in such a way that the next day it was so swollen that he could barely walk, nonetheless, he played with all the more heart and energy (he lost the 2nd set 14-12!). 

A healthy Asbóth would have had a real chance not only to reach the final but even to win the title. After his loss in the semi, despite the painful defeat and injury, he praised his opponent and did not make excuses! 

Then the Communist Party leadership did not allow him to travel to Paris until 1954, and never to Australia or the States.

UBITENNIS: During the time of his playing career Hungary was going through oppression from the soviet union communist regime. How did he manage to cope with this? 

RUSZANOV: Politics had an impact on his entire career, this is especially true for the years following World War II, to the beginning of communist rule, where they governed according to Stalinist practice. The economy was nationalized, and the communist rule serving the interests of the Soviet empire began in political life.

Asbóth and some of his fellow tennis players also took part in the post-war debris clean-up, and from the 1948s onwards, his travels to the West were restricted by the communist dictatorship. Instead of foreign tournaments, he was sent to Moscow to train and instruct Soviet coaches. But it also happened that the president of neighbouring Romania had to stand as the doubles partner of Petru Groza on the tennis court of the president’s private mansion, on a party order. And it happened that the president’s bodyguard was sitting in the chair umpire’s seat with a rifle in his hand. 

Fred Perry, with whom he maintained an excellent friendship and whose clothing bearing his name appeared in 1952, offered Asbóth to join his company, but the Hungarian Communist Party did not agree to this. 

After the defeat of the 1956 revolution, Asbóth retired from active play and accepted the invitation of the Belgian federation, or better said he could have accepted, since this also had to be approved by the party leadership. In Belgium, he became the head of the youth development program, and later he was asked to become head coach by the Iphitos tennis club in Munich.

He made a promise that he would not return to his country as long as Soviet troops were stationed in Hungary. Unfortunately, he could not live to see them leave, as he died on September 11, 1986, in Germany.

Embed from Getty Images

UBITENNIS: How is his legacy viewed back home? Do many Hungarian players nowadays speak about him?

RUSZANOV: In Hungary, soccer is considered a national sport, and the legendary Ferenc Puskás, the captain of the national team known as the ‘Golden Magyar’ (unbeaten for 4 years in the 50s and beat England in the match of the century in 1953), is the best-known Hungarian athlete in the world and the FIFA Goal of the Year award also bears his name. The other fact is that in Hungary, the Olympic and World Championships are incredibly respected, so the names of the Olympic and World Champion athletes are almost always classified in the category of Hall of Fame in the country.

Unfortunately, József Asbóth was successful in an era when tennis did not enjoy such support, even though from the end of the 1940s the matches were played in front of a sold-out crowd. Largely thanks to József Asbóth, and Zsuzsa Körmöczy (1958 Roland Garros champion). 

At the beginning of the 21st century, Asbóth’s successes have faded a bit, but on the one hand, with the appearance of the new Hungarian tennis generation, his name is being heard more and more. As the manager of the Asbóth sports legacy, I will do everything in my power to make his name known to as many Hungarians as possible. 

Asbóth’s name inevitably always comes up, even in connection with Roland Garros or Wimbledon, because to this day he achieved the greatest individual success in Hungarian men’s tennis at these two Grand Slam events! I hope that this current recognition will also promote the renaissance of the Asbóth cult!

UBITENNIS: Are there any other stories of interest about him that you can share? 

RUSZANOV: On July 6, 1938, in Budapest, after winning Wimbledon, Don Budge, who was on the European tour, and the then unknown 20-year-old Hungarian talent, József Asbóth, faced each other in an exhibition match. Asbóth played brilliantly and so well that American world number one gave up the match in the 3rd set with Asbóth’s lead, claiming that he had to catch the train to Prague. (At that time, Budge already won his 5th Grand Slam in a row, and a few weeks later he also triumphed at the US Open.)

József Asbóth has also a 1-0 H2H record against Roy Emerson, the male tennis player who has won the most Grand Slam titles of all time (16 singles and 12 doubles). Emerson played for the first time at Roland Garros at the age of 17, and in the first round, he faced the then almost 37-year-old Asbóth. Being a rookie from Australia, he did not know the former champion, ran into the dressing room and asked Ken Rosewall what he knew about Asbóth. Rosewall just said “I’m sorry” and held out his right hand and said “five fingers, that’s about how many games you’re going to win in three sets.” 

When Emerson went out on the court before the match, he met an elegant gentleman in long pants. He thought he was the referee, so he introduced himself to him, to which he replied, “I’m József Asbóth”. During the warm-up, Asbóth did not foul a single ball and he played with so much feeling that his strokes almost spoke. Emerson sensed that he was in great trouble. The match began, and Asbóth toyed with the Australian as he wanted. He drove it from one side to the other, Emerson ran around like a chased wild animal. He was covered in sweat and grimy from head to toe, and Asbóth’s long pants didn’t even show a crease. Rosewall laughed himself to death in the stands. Emerson was in good shape, but after two sets he started to get very tired after Asbóth constantly controlled the game. 

After the lost match Emerson asked who the hell is this guy? And Rosewall said, “Well, go out and look at the list of champions on the wall of the stadium”. Seeing that Asbóth won in 1947, Emerson didn’t feel so bad anymore.

UBITENNIS: Finally, what other tennis achievements did he produce outside of the Grand Slams?

RUSZANOV: Between April 1 and September 16, 1940, Asbóth participated in 11 tournaments, of which he won 9 (Genoa, Taormina, Palermo, Budapest, Wiesbaden, Gödöllő, Budapest, Milan and Merano).

In 1947, Asbóh participated in 12 tournaments, 3 domestic and 9 international best tournaments, of which he played in the final 8 times, of which he won 5 times (San Remo, Nice, Paris and twice in Budapest).

In 1948, he started in 11 competitions, and we find his name in 7 finals, of which he won the trophy 5 times. After Beaulieu, Cannes and Nice, he did not find a winner in Monte-Carlo (the predecessor of today’s Monte-Carlo Masters).

He won 24 matches in the Davis Cup and in 1949 he was able to play in the semifinals with the Hungarian team.

Among Asbóth’s mentors, we also find a name who is a defining figure in the history of tennis, one of the (perhaps the best) musketeers, the legendary Henri Cochet. The Hungarian player’s entire career was influenced by the French champion, which is why, like Cochet, he always wore a short-sleeved white shirt and long white pants throughout his career.

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The Story Of Indian Wells 2023



At this same time of the year in 2022, Carlos Alcaraz announced to the tennis community that he was ready to propel himself into the forefront of the sport. He reached the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells before losing to countryman Rafael Nadal amidst almost impossibly windy conditions in the California dessert. Although Alcaraz had already reached the quarterfinals of the 2021 U.S. Open, the stellar Indian Wells showing last year propelled him to another level.

In short order, Alcaraz won his first Masters 1000 title in Miami, captured another of those elite crowns in Madrid, and, at the end of last summer, took the U.S. Open title in New York. With that breakthrough triumph at a major, Alcaraz went to No. 1 in the world, and he concluded the season still stationed at the very top of tennis. He has been hobbled by injuries too often since last November and consequentially missed the Australian Open, but now this 19-year-old sensation is back on top of the world at No. 1 following a 6-3, 6-2 final round victory over Daniil Medvedev in the final at Indian Wells.

That was no mean feat for this strikingly mature champion. He is the youngest man ever to secure both the Miami and Indian Wells titles. Not since Roger Federer in 2017 had a male player taken this prestigious crown without losing a set. Medvedev was enjoying the second longest winning streak of his career of 19 match victories in a row. He was striving for a fourth consecutive ATP Tour title in a debilitating five-week span. He had seemingly almost forgotten how to lose after finding his form in Rotterdam in mid-February. He won there by toppling Jannik Sinner in the final. On he went to Doha, where he stopped Andy Murray in the final. The following week in Dubai, Medvedev ended a four match losing streak against Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win and then obliterated countryman Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-2 in the title round.

Medvedev’s form fluctuated at Indian Wells but he seemed to be progressing as he headed into the final. But he had faced Alcaraz only once before. That was in 2021 at Wimbledon and Medvedev came through easily when Alcaraz was not the same player. So this collision at Indian Wells in the final was going to be revealing one way or another for two great players who figure to meet many more times on big occasions in the years ahead.

Some authorities believed Medvedev would exploit his experience, maintain his winning streak, and add another title to his collection. Of the 18 tournaments Medvedev has amassed starting in 2018, all but one have been on hard courts. But seldom has he been beaten as soundly as was by Alcaraz at Indian Wells. The Spaniard put 76% of his first serves in play compared to 65% for Medvedev. Alcaraz won 81% of his first serves points while Medvedev finished 20% behind his opponent in that department. Meanwhile, Alcaraz secured 58% of his second serve points and Medvedev finished well below that mark at 41%. Not once did Medvedev even reach break point. That is a rarity.

The humiliation for Medvedev transcended those facts. Time and again, Alcaraz set the tactical agenda. He caught Medvedev off guard with selective serve-and-volley combinations. He used the drop shot magnificently. He went for his shots freely and stayed away from the rhythmic long rallies on which Medvedev feasts. He kept Medvedev guessing for 70 painful minutes. For his part, Medvedev inexplicably attempted to match or surpass the Spaniard’s backcourt pace. He pressed off both sides. His forehand was well below par. And when Medvedev had the chance to prolong rallies and play more on his own terms, he impatiently went for bigger shots which backfired almost completely. His mind was muddled. Essentially and surprisingly, Medvedev was not ready to fight with his usual ferocity. He collapsed against an unrelenting Alcaraz.

Photo by Ubitennis

Alcaraz was primed from the outset. He raced to 3-0 in the opening set, sweeping 12 of 15 points on the process. Medvedev professionally started imposing himself and held serve three times after falling behind. In his last two service games he conceded only one point as he located his delivery more accurately. But Alcaraz was unswerving on his own delivery, winning 20 of 26 points in five service games. Serving for the set at 5-3, he held comfortably at 15, closing out that game by serve-volleying on the last two points.

Medvedev had seemingly found his bearings after a slow start, but Alcaraz pounced in the opening game of the second set and broke his dispirited opponent at love. Medvedev gave that game away with two unforced errors off the ground, an errant backhand volley and a double fault. Alcaraz swiftly held at love and moved ahead 0-30 on Medvedev’s serve in the third game. He had won ten points in a row.

Alcaraz went on to break Medvedev again for 3-0 and surged to 4-0 with another routine hold. It had taken him only 17 minutes to build that second set lead. The rest was a formality. Alcaraz closed out the account without stress despite being taken to deuce when he served for the match at 5-2.

That it all came down to a duel between Alcaraz and Medvedev— the last two U.S. Open champions—for the first Masters 1000 crown of 2023 made perfect sense.  As an unvaccinated player, Novak Djokovic was not permitted to enter the United States to compete at Indian Wells and Miami. Rafael Nadal—three time champion at Indian Wells and runner-up to Taylor Fritz a year ago—was not ready to return to the ATP Tour after his latest injury that led to a second round loss at the Australian Open.

With the two icons absent, the cognoscenti of tennis hoped for an enticing final round confrontation between Alcaraz and Medvedev. The match did not come even close to delivering on its considerable promise, but the fact remained that they both deserved to be there. The beguiling Spaniard took apart the Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-3 in the second round, ousted the tall Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the third round, and then needed less than 47 minutes to defeat an ailing Jack Draper of Great Britain. Alcaraz led 6-2, 2-0 in that clash when the left-hander was forced to retire.

Alcaraz was rolling now. He had lost all three of his previous appointments against the charismatic Felix Auger-Aliassime, who had improbably erased six match points against him in a round of 16 win over Tommy Paul. But this time around against FAA, Alcaraz was exhilarated under the lights and he came through comfortably 6-4, 6-4. The serving statistics from this encounter are telling. Alcaraz won 81% of his first serve points, which was 11% better than the Canadian. The Spaniard took a respectable 59% of his second serve points, while Auger-Aliassime stood far below at 42%.

Alcaraz was the superior performer across the board during this quarterfinal encounter. He was sounder and cagier, quicker and sprightlier. His return was first rate across the two sets, and he backed up his own delivery with uncanny efficiency. It was a confidence building triumph in every respect, and just what he needed as he headed into the semifinals to take on Jannik Sinner.

The Italian had overcome the defending champion Fritz in a sparkling quarterfinal skirmish lasting three absorbing sets. Sinner blasted away spectacularly against the Californian and he had the upper hand in the vast majority of long rallies contested on an exceedingly windy night.

Sinner is industrious, unwavering and often enterprising. He had been victorious in two of his four showdowns with Alcaraz, prevailing in a memorable four set, round of 16 clash on the Centre Court at Wimbledon last year before losing what may well have been the best tennis match in all of 2022 at the U.S. Open. In that quarterfinal confrontation under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sinner had a match point in the fourth set of a pendulum swinging contest before Alcaraz rallied again from a break down to take the fifth set and prevail 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3 in five hours and fifteen minutes of spellbinding tennis.

Photo by Ubitennis

No wonder so many learned observers were looking forward to the fifth career collision between two players who will surely be taking prestigious prizes away from each other for the next decade. Alcaraz moved out in front 4-2 before Sinner took eleven points in a row (and 12 of 14) on his way to a 5-4 lead. Sinner needed that first set more than Alcaraz. The Italian reached 15-30 in the tenth game but narrowly missed a return. Alcaraz held on for 5-5 but soon faced a set point in the twelfth game. Sinner was right where he wanted to be, on the edge of a first set victory.

But Alcaraz is frequently at his best when faced with the sternest of challenges. He took a short blocked return from Sinner and released one of his patented drop shots. Sinner chased it down, but his passing shot was much too high. Alcaraz moved easily to his right and punched a forehand volley winner into the open court. The set would be settled in a tie-break, and Alcaraz was too good, breaking a 4-4 deadlock by sweeping three points in a row, sealing that sequence 7-4 with a scorching flat backhand winner crosscourt. Alcaraz made one break count in the second set and succeeded 7-6 (4), 6-3. It was a remarkable performance highlighting Alcaraz’s match playing acumen.

As for Medvedev, making it to the final was a much tougher task. He handled Brandon Nakashima 6-4, 6-3 in the second round, although the match was more competitive than the score would indicate. Then he overcame Ilya Ivashka 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the round of 16 and an eagerly awaited clash with Sascha Zverev.

Zverev has had a difficult time rediscovering the heights of his game after missing the second half of 2022 following the abysmal ankle injury he suffered against Nadal in the semifinals of Roland Garros. But he had started playing better tennis in Dubai a few weeks back before losing a semifinal to Andrey Rublev. Zverev largely outplayed Medvedev at Indian Wells but, three times over the course of the match, he squandered 0-40 openings. He also missed out on 15 of 17 break point opportunities.

On top of all that, Medvedev rolled his ankle in the middle of the second set and needed the trainer. Somehow he survived despite the injury, winning 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5 despite getting broken at 5-4 in the final set when he served for the match the first time. Zverev then played horrendously at 5-5, double faulting on break point. Medvedev escaped.

Photo by Ubitennis

He remained concerned about the ankle in the quarterfinals against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and fell again, cutting his thumb in the process. Nevertheless, he got the win 7-5, 6-3. Two days off helped his cause considerably, and Medvedev looked fine physically on all fronts during his semifinal against Frances Tiafoe.

In fact, Medvedev was near the top of his game in establishing a 7-5, 5-3 lead. Seldom if ever has he produced so many breathtaking forehand passing shots, and, in turn, he was hardly missing from the baseline. But Tiafoe is doubly dangerous when he is behind, as he demonstrated so boldly last year in the U.S. Open semifinals against Alcaraz when he got up off the canvas after looking down and out to force a fifth set.

In this case, Tiafoe serve-volleyed his way out of two match points in the ninth game of the second set, and saved a third by provoking a forehand error on the stretch from Medvedev. Medvedev could not serve out the match at 5-4 but he broke right back at love in the eleventh game and served for the match a second time at 6-5. He reached 40-0 but Tiafoe erased four more match points in that astounding game. On they went to a tie-break, but an unruffled Medvedev did not fret. He took that sequence seven points to four, concluding the contest with a service winner and an ace. Medvedev was deservedly victorious 7-5, 7-6 (4). Not until he captured that match was his head cleared and his outlook altered. In the middle of the tournament, the 27-year-old was complaining vocally about the conditions, claiming that the slow conditions were not really hard court tennis as he knew it. That was a simple case of Medvedev irrationality.

A day later, Medvedev was trounced by a top of the line Alcaraz. He took the defeat graciously, recognizing that he had hit a physical and emotional wall after so much success in recent weeks. He also realized that Alcaraz had played a magnificent match. The Spaniard will be buoyed by the victory and confident that he has all the tools to confront Medvedev in the years to come. But Medvedev is a very studious fellow who will go back to the drawing board and examine what it will take to unsettle a surging Alcaraz the next time they meet.

Despite the setback, Medvedev has moved back to No. 5 in the world. It won’t be long before he finds himself in the top three, right up there with the pace setters Alcaraz and Djokovic. They are clearly the three best players in the world right now. It will be fascinating to follow their exploits. Djokovic, of course, was easily the best in the game across the second half of 2022 from Wimbledon on. He then opened his 2023 campaign by winning a tenth Australian Open and a 22nd major in the process. After his loss to Medvedev in the Dubai semifinals, the Serbian has been unable to play. That clearly contributed to Alcaraz regaining the top spot in the ATP Rankings, although the Spaniard must hold onto his crown in Miami to prevent Djokovic from taking back the No. 1 ranking.

A revitalized Djokovic will surely return at full force on the clay starting in Monte Carlo and perform purposefully as he chases a third French Open crown. Medvedev will need to prove that he can raise his clay court standards from years gone by. Alcaraz is riding high right now and will be tough to beat as he defends his crown in Miami. I expect him to realize that feat.

All signs point to some gripping battles between Djokovic and Alcaraz on the clay in Europe. If Nadal is healthy, he will be right there with them vying for the titles on the dirt. He will be determined to play his typical brand of unimaginably effective and inspiring clay court tennis. We are in for some astonishing matches in the coming weeks among these top players. 

But, for a few days at least, Carlos Alcaraz should celebrate one of the best weeks of his young career at Indian Wells, and try to appreciate how well he is playing before he shifts his attention to winning again in Miami and pursing other primary targets. He owes it to himself to briefly but completely enjoy his latest triumph as much as possible. I suspect he will do just that.

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United Cup Daily Preview: The United States Plays Italy in the Final



Jessica Pegula on Friday in Sydney (unitedcup.com)

On Sunday in Sydney, the champions of the inaugural United Cup will be decided. 

In the semifinals, the United States completed a clean sweep of Poland on Saturday, while Italy defeated Greece 4-1 despite Matteo Berrettini’s loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in an excellent three-setter.  Sunday’s play will feature four singles matches and a mixed doubles contest, with the first nation to win three matches to be crowned the United Cup champions.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches on the schedule.  Sunday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.

Jessica Pegula [USA] vs. Martina Trevisan [ITA] – Starts at 1:00pm

This will be the first match of the day.  Pegula has gone 3-1 at this event, losing to Petra Kvitova in her first match, but defeating World No.1 Iga Swiatek on Friday.  Trevisan is 2-2, though she helped propel Italy into this final with an epic victory over Maria Sakkari on Friday.

In their first career meeting, Jessica is a significant favorite.  Pegula was 42-21 last season, reaching a career-high of ranking of No.3 thanks to her consistency at big events.  And the fast-playing hard courts strongly favor her game, as they helped her reverse her lopsided rivalry with Swiatek in dominating fashion.  By contrast, Trevisan had a losing record on hard courts last season, claiming just six tour-level matches in main draws on this surface.

The second match of the day will feature Frances Tiafoe taking on Lorenzo Musetti.  Both men are 4-0 to this stage, and this matchup feels like it could easily go either way.

Taylor Fritz [USA] vs. Matteo Berrettini [ITA] – Not Before 5:30pm

This will be the third match of the day.  Both players are 3-1 thus far at this event.  Fritz’s loss came to Cam Norrie in the city finals, while Berrettini’s loss came in Saturday evening’s semifinals to Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Notably, Matteo spent about an hour longer on court Saturday than Taylor, with the Italian’s match ending much later in the day.

Fritz is 2-0 against Berrettini.  His victories came four years ago in Davis Cup on an indoor hard court, and two years ago at Indian Wells on in outdoor hard court.  Taylor should be the fresher player on Sunday, and with the decided edge in their head-to-head, the American is the favorite to prevail.

The fourth match of the day sees Madison Keys take on Lucia Bronzetti, with Keys heavily favored.  And the mixed doubles at the end of the day is scheduled to feature Pegula and Fritz against Trevisan and Berrettini.  Overall, the United States is the favorite to win the first-ever United Cup.

The United Cup daily schedule is here.

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