(EXCLUSIVE) Meet Carlos Martinez: The Man In Charge Of Daria Kasatkina’s Resurgence - UBITENNIS
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(EXCLUSIVE) Meet Carlos Martinez: The Man In Charge Of Daria Kasatkina’s Resurgence

As one of only two women to have won multiple WTA titles during the first quarter of 2021, Kasatkina looks to be on her way back towards the top. Coach Carlos Martinez speaks to UbiTennis about his work with the Russian star and why they are not working with any expectations.

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Russia's Dariua Kasatkina pictured with the 2021 St. Petersburg Open trophy (image via https://twitter.com/DKasatkina)

It seems like Daria Kasatkina is a Tour veteran after making her WTA Debut back in 2013 but she is still at the tender age of 23.

A Former world No.3 junior player who once won the French Open girls’ title, Kasatkina was billed as a star of the future from a young age. By 18 she had broken into the world’s top 100 and scored a win over top 20 player Carla Suarez Navarro. Three years later she rose to a ranking high of ninth in 2017 and looked to be on the path of becoming a star of the sport. However, Kasatkina’s roller-coaster career hasn’t been without its blips. A series of disappointing results and confidence setbacks during 2019 lead to her dropping to as low as 75th last year.

After the period of frustration, the right-handed Russian is getting herself back on track under the careful watch of her coach Carlos Martinez. A former player on the men’s Tour who has also worked with the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez. Kasatkina has already won two titles this year in Melbourne and St Petersburg. The only other player to have won multiple trophies in the women’s game so far this season is world No.1 Ash Barty. Overall, she has recorded 15 wins in 2021 which is the fourth-highest on the Tour.

“For me the key was the hard work with her during the preseason and during the last few months of last season. She was doing well, especially after the clay courts (last Autumn). She got confident,” Martinez tells UbiTennis about Kasatkina’s resurgence.
“One thing we were talking about was our expectations. We don’t have any this year because for us the most important thing is to go day-by-day. When we talk about our work it’s day-by-day and this is what she did really well. That’s why we have started the season like this.’
“Of course, we didn’t expect this but the truth is she is playing well. Not amazing, but she is managing the matches very good and has more confidence.”

Sandwiched between the two titles won was a first-round defeat to Alize Cornet at the Dubai Tennis Championships. Her earliest loss in a tournament since the US Open. Ironically the setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“Dubai was like an alarm. Not like an alarm at the end of a tournament when you win and relax a little bit. She didn’t relax much but we had a few problems with the visas and stuff. So she had to take some time and we couldn’t prepare very well,” Martinez reflected.
“It’s true we flew to Dubai a couple days before the tournament but conditions were different for her than Australia.’
“The ball was flying too much for her and she didn’t like it. But she did a good job afterwards when we flew to Moscow to prepare well indoors. After this, she got into a good shape.”

Within four months Kasatkina has almost cut her ranking in half (72 to 37). Although both her and Martinez admits there is still work to be done. Her biggest win during that period was over Petra Martic who was ranked 18th at the time during their clash in Melbourne. Her only meeting with a top 10 opponent was at the Australian Open where she lost 6-7(5), 3-6, to Aryna Sabalenka.

Martinez now has the task of trying to ensure his player continues her form over the coming weeks. A job that is easier said than done in women’s tennis given the depth of the game. Kasatkina has already experienced what it is like to stumble on the Tour. Something her team is eager to avoid.

“We know how difficult it is to be at the top and to keep this rhythm. To win two titles in five tournaments is super difficult,” he said.
“With the mental part, it’s true that we talk and talk. She was living this experience in 2018 and we can’t get into the same hole. That’s why I insist (on talking) a lot.’
“Tennis is super difficult and then when you win a tournament, next week it will be a totally different story. You have to start from Zero. That’s why I think she understands what our way is to get success and I hope it’s going to happen from now during the clay season.”

Big things to come on clay?

Martinez pictured with Kasatkina

Fortunately for the world No.37 she will soon be starting her campaign on the European clay. A surface that brings her fond memories. Out of all the Grand Slams, she has won the most matches at the French Open with a win-loss record of 10-5. Reaching the quarter-finals back in 2018. Although she has only won one title on the clay in her career which was back in 2017 at the Volvo Open in Charleston.

“She prefers to play on the clay. In my opinion, she can play well anywhere,” Martinez states.
“We are preparing for the clay court season but we are not doing anything different between the hard court and clay court. Talking about the tactical or technical things. Technically you can of course change a few things but our job is the same.”

One of the intriguing aspects of the clay swing for Kasatkina is how her team plans to assess how successful it goes. One would think it would be simply related to match results but her coach points out that there is something more significant that needs to be focused on.

“A good clay court season for her in my opinion would be keeping this level mentally and with her tennis that she has shown in the last tournaments. I think she can do big things but I can’t measure which one is going to be the result which makes me happy,” he explains.
“The most important thing is to get the level and once you get the level things will go well on the court. You’re gonna get success for sure in the long term. This was my philosophy when I started working with her and I think this is working. I will not change my mentality.”

Olympic ambitions

image via WTA Twitter

Looking further ahead Kasatkina has her eyes on securing a place in the Tokyo Olympics. She made her Olympic debut back in 2016 by reaching the quarter-finals in both singles and doubles. Although trying to book a place in the tournament is far from easy given the number of Russian players bidding for selection. The country currently has five women in the top 40 with Kasatkina being the fourth highest.

“The Olympics are one of our goals because she is not in a bad position,” Martinez outlines. “It’s going to be tough because there are many very good Russian players. Kudermetova, Kuznetsova, Pavlychenkova and Alexandrova are also fighting for these positions. So it’s going to be a tough battle and I hope we get this goal.”

The games were meant to take place last year but were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result international fans are banned from attending the event in a bid to minimise a risk of an outbreak. Meanwhile, a debate is ongoing in tennis about if players should be vaccinated or not. Something that tennis’ governing bodies have urged players to do but some are hesitant.

“The vaccination is one that everybody has to get because it is for our health,” Martinez weighs in on the debate. “Health is the most important thing in life so I think we are going to be very happy when we have our vaccine. Of course, everybody has their doubts about the consequences but in my opinion it’s super important.”

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Mats Wilander tells the 2024 story: Sinner is ready to win a Slam, but probably Djokovic is going to win them all [Exclusive]

“Winning the Davis Cup and beating Djokovic triggered something in Jannik” says former world No.1 and Discovery analyst Mats Wilander on the eve of the Australian Open.

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Mats Wilander (photo: Warner Bros. Discovery)

by Luca de Gaspari

It’s never easy to be successful in a second career after retiring from competition, especially after achieving extraordinary results. Yet in the case of Mats Wilander, it can be said that his adventure as a pundit for Eurosport/Discovery has certainly been lavish with satisfaction. Of course, it is difficult to surpass yourself when you have been No. 1 in the world and have won 7 Grand Slam titles, three of which in that magical year, 1988, the first year the Australian Open was played on the courts of Melbourne Park.

In an exclusive meetup with Ubitennis the Swedish champion was willing to converse on the topic which with us Italians could only be one, first and foremost: Jannik Sinner who is ready in the starting blocks, amid all the expectations in the wake of his exceptional end of the 2023. For sure Mats appeared to be brimming with excitement for the start of a new great year of tennis.

“The Australian Open is always the most interesting Grand Slam because players have had a little bit of a break and you don’t know who had a great offseason and what kind of confidence they have from the 2023 season. There’s the confidence for Jannik Sinner: does it carry him through to the next season?  Because he had an unbelievable finish of 2023 and does that confidence stay with him 1 1/2 months later?”

But where did Sinner’s improvements stem from? Wilander believes it all started with the quality of his service.

“We knew that his game was there. We knew that he is always improving something small here and there. Now he’s improved something big because the serve in the men’s and women’s game is one of the most important shots in the game again,” he said.

“I should say again because there was a time when… For Roger Federer it was important for sure but when Rafa Nadal was winning everything with Novak right there and Andy Murray, the serve wasn’t that important. They were physically very strong, they were very clever, they had no weaknesses in everything else and I think the way the game is going the serve is becoming very very important because you have to get some free points on your service game.”

“The guys are too good at hitting balls, they’re too good at covering the court today. Jannik Sinner improved his serve and that’s one of the hardest shots to improve and he improved his serve so much that he is suddenly as dangerous as Alexander Zverev with a big serve, Daniil Medvedev with a big serve. Suddenly he has that same weapon. We know how well he hits the ball, how well he competes, how well he moves, but he didn’t serve that well and now he does.”

“Carlos Alcaraz needs to improve his serve and when he does, then suddenly he’s going to be nearly impossible to beat. But Jannik with this serve improvement is hot he’s such a great player today, yeah such a great player.”

The real question is whether the level Jannik displayed in the 2023 autumn indoor swing (as well as outdoors in Asia) can be maintained when playing not only best of five matches but also having to cope with the tough Australian summer heat. And if he were not to win here in Australia, could 2024 be the year for his first Major? The three-time AO winner has little doubt.

“This year for sure and even in Australia. He’s had great Grand Slam tournaments. He could have won the US Open when he had a match point against Carlos Alcaraz. I believe he had a good chance of beating Casper Ruud if he had got to play him in the final.” He said.

“So I think that with his win against Novak in Davis Cup and obviously with the win in Turin as well I think that there he has proof in his mind “OK, I can beat the greatest player of all time”. I think learning how to play five sets for some players takes a little bit longer than other players and I think that there are a lot of little things that have to happen along the way and two very important things have happened to him: he beat the best player in the world at home and he won Davis Cup playing for his country. I think he’s going to learn so much from those situations that it’s going to translate into the Australian Open 100% for sure.”

“For sure now Australia and the conditions are the most complicated conditions that we have most probably in any Grand Slam. At the Australian Open, you have to be a little bit lucky and unfortunately for Jannik he is name is not Novak Djokovic. Djokovic will most probably play five matches out of seven at night and it’s cooler, there’s no sun and that is a big advantage for Novak Djokovic. Now it’s not unfair because he deserves to have that advantage. He’s proven that he is the one people want to watch so let’s put Novak at night most of the time. Roger Federer had the same situation. Rafa Nadal often had the same situation, so Jannik unfortunately is still kind of early in his career so he’s going to play.”

“One day he’s going to play at 1:00 in the afternoon, and it’s going to be 40°. The next match is going to play at 7:00 at night and it’s going to be 15°. The next match he is going to play indoors because it’s 50° and they have to close the roof. You have to be very able to adjust to the conditions and that’s the part with Jannik that I’ve seen improvements: he adjusted his serve, he’s adjusted sometimes hitting drop shots with a forehand, he’s adjusted becoming a much better volleyer, he’s even adjusted to be a great doubles player so he’s done so many smaller adjustments that another adjustment for him being the conditions in Australia I think it’s just a matter of time and I think time has come.”

“I think that he is up there with the 4 favourites to win the Australian Open. The number one is Novak Djokovic 100% for sure. Number 2 for me is Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner and then at number 3 comes Zverev, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, and Holger Rune. There are a lot of players that are right behind but to me, he belongs in that second group with Carlos Alcaraz being the favourites. Novak Djokovic is the clear favourite for sure.”

Since Djokovic is his clear favourite, we asked Mats if the Serb’s form may dip in 2024, after missing once again by a hair’s breadth, as in 2021, the calendar year Grand Slam last year.

“Most probably he had a good chance of winning Wimbledon. He had a good chance of winning the US Open when he lost to Daniil Medvedev.  OK not on the day. on the day Medvedev was a human wall. (For) Novak maybe the pressure and the pressure was more in that final against them because it was the last Grand Slam they had. At Wimbledon, there was less pressure because yes, he was the favourite to win, but you never know. So I think

“And the matches that he loses on the tour, they are two out of three sets. In Grand Slams three out of five he just doesn’t lose tennis matches to the young guys because he understands how to play defence and when to play defence. Like last year he was a little bit injured in his right leg and what does he do? He hit his forehand harder last year in Australia than he’s ever hit his forehand before. So he knows how to make these adjustments on the day, in the moment, and maybe that’s what we are still waiting for Jannik Sinner to be able to: in the moment make these adjustments that work out in his favour.”

“Nobody knows how to do that so I see no reason why again I’m going to predict that he wins all four slams because I predicted it a couple of years ago, I predicted it last year. I have been wrong, but it’s been very very very close, and I think that there’s a really really really good chance that he wins all four this year. I really do.”

So, the way Mats Wilander sees it, also 2024 is not bound to be a turning point. Yet, if his predictions were to miss the mark, it may be an Italian player who shall prove him wrong…

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Lorenzo Musetti: “A Year with Few Peaks, but I’ve Improved as a Tennis Player and Physically” [Exclusive]

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Lorenzo Musetti – ATP Sofia 2023 (photo: Ivan Mrankov)

Our correspondent in Sofia interviewed Italian talent Lorenzo Musetti, who is taking on Jack Draper this afternoon

Lorenzo Musetti is  the top seed in the ATP  250 that together with Metz closes the season of “regular” tournaments, just before the ATP Finals in Turin. Exempted from the first round, he’s waiting to make his debut in the Bulgarian capital where last year at the beginning of October he was halted in the semifinals by Marc-Andrea Huesler, the future winner of the tournament.  With our correspondent in Sofia, Ivan Mrankov, he compared this season with 2022, but also about the Davis Cup, and Jannik Sinner.

Greetings from Ubaldo. It’s the last tournament, how do you rate your season? Was it maybe less positive than last year when you won two tournaments? But there are improvements in all areas of your game and it’s also normal for younger players to have a less rewarding year after their first breakthrough. Do you feel improved, do you think it was a positive season?”

“It’s not been an easy season, but as you said, it’s also been a season in which I have been settling in. In the middle part I was able to find a very good continuity in terms of results. Of course, it started off a bit badly.  As I had played so much at the end of last season, it was perhaps more complicated to start the new year in high gear. So it took me a while to get going, I played very well from Monte Carlo. Let’s say it was a season with few peaks. Last year, the weeks in Hamburg, Naples, Paris-Bercy were very high in terms of level.”

For sure I feel improved in terms of tennis and physically, I’m working hard, even if people sometimes only see the results but not what’s behind them. It was a season of firsts. Even if we consider the example of Jannik, last year he had a season of adaptation, different from the standards he has displayed on court this year. And I also hope next year to be more focused, more concrete in terms of results, attitude and everything.”

You’re part of the Davis Cup team again this year, so your season will end pretty late. Do you think you’ll be able to prepare better than last year as you have the same amount of time to rest and train? And last question, what do you think your chances for Davis are? Since the USA, Russia, Spain are missing… Our editor wrote that Italy is the favourite along with Djokovic’s Serbia.

“I think other teams as well, like Australia and Canada who won last year. The Davis Cup is a unique event, not always the team with the best ranked players comes out the winner. And the doubles rubber is fundamental. Having Jannik in our team gives us a great hand. I think he’s playing his best tennis right now. I wish him all the best in Turin and that he can join us as late as possible. It’s a huge boost for us.

In terms of preparation, almost all the players have a month, December, to prepare for Australia. Unfortunately, when we all play so much, we have to adapt. We could do with more days off and obviously more weeks to load, work and prepare for the season. But you have to be good at making do with what we’ve got. And also, during the year, we have to specially focus on maintaining injury prevention.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Hosting The Next Gen Finals

Tennis is heading to the country following weeks of speculation. Although there is likely to be some criticism coming amid the intention of organisers to hold the event during the offseason in December from 2024 onwards.

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Sources have confirmed to Ubitennis that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be moved to Saudi Arabia from this year onwards with the inaugural event taking place immediately after the Davis Cup Finals.

Jeddah will be the event’s host city which features the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21. According to those familiar with the situation, the 2023 edition had initially been planned to take place in December but had to be brought forward due to the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. It wasn’t confirmed until last month that the football tournament will be played in Jeddah in what was described to Ubitennis as a ‘last-minute change.’  

The prospect of hosting the tournament immediately after the Davis Cup finals could be problematic at the end of a long season. However, this situation is trying to be played down as a one-off. 

It will be held on at the King Abdullah Sports City where the venue has six tennis courts just outside the main stadium, as well as another indoor arena that can hold up to 12,000 people. Other events to have been hosted there include the 2021 International Handball Federation Men’s Super Globe tournament, as well as a boxing match between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.

What is the most striking aspect of the plans is the report that from 2024 the Next Gen finals will take place over a week during the second part of December which is in the middle of the off-season. It is unclear why the ATP have pushed for such a thing to occur and why they have agreed to this. During the bidding process for a host city, they said the following in March:-

This year’s tournament is expected to take place in December, with the exact dates to be determined with the successful bidder.’ 

One explanation for such a date might be the number of exhibition events that take place in the Middle East during this time. So instead of players participating in them, they would play this event. However, the idea of expanding an already long Tour calendar is one that will attract criticism. Plus there is yet to be any public response from players who might influence the current plans. 

ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi recently told The Financial Times that ‘positive’ talks have taken place with officials from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, WTA boss Steve Simon visited the country earlier this year and was said to be highly impressed. It appears that both governing bodies are interested in investment from the country as long as it doesn’t have significant implications on the Tour’s structure which has happened in other sports. 

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in sports, including the £300M takeover of football team Newcastle United. In golf, they funded the LIV Tour which split the sport before a shock merger between the Tour’s was announced a few weeks ago.

Critics have accused the Middle Eastern nation of using sport to help improve its image which has been marred by allegations of human rights violations. This is commonly known as sportswashing. 

One of those concerns is related to LGBT players playing in the country. A Saudi official told Ubitennis that gay players or media members would be welcome with their partners as long as they respect local culture. Basically, public displays of homosexuality will not be encouraged and could prompt a backlash from locals. 

“I think the WTA is going to make sure that we are in a safe environment,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis“All the LGBT players are wise enough to not provoke anything or hold hands when we are not at the (tennis) club.’
“I think we have to respect the culture there but it’s not going to be an issue as the WTA will make sure it is a safe environment for us.”

The Next Gen finals began in 2017 and had been hosted in Milan until now. Previous winners include Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima.  

It is understood that a contract confirming the relocation of the event to Saudi Arabia will be signed next month. 

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