Patrick Mouratoglou is a very successful coach, as well as an entrepreneur and a tennis analyst on TV – about to turn 51 (on June 8), his résumé wouldn’t need any more boosting.
However, in the last year the coach of Serena Williams has also become a tournament director for his brainchild, the Ultimate Tennis Showdown. The fourth edition took place on May 24-25 at his own Mouratoglou Academy, a gargantuan sports complex in Biot, France: the winner was Corentin Moutet, who prevailed over a stacked competitive field while managing to master the innovative rules that characterise this exhibition – the French coach is experimenting ways to make the game more intense and captivating. During the event, Mouratoglou spoke to Ubitennis about the purpose of the UTS and much else.
Patrick, are you satisfied with the fourth edition of the UTS?
I am very happy about it. We have introduced several innovations from last year. The public feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and that’s the most important thing, certainly more important than how I feel about it. Our format tries to engage with the younger generations, and especially with those kids who aren’t tennis fans yet. We have invited people who aren’t that much into the game, and they have spent the whole day here, asking for more. So the response has been good, both from the public and from the players – it’s essential for them to be having fun for the show to be captivating. They are very determined to win, and can get very annoyed when they lose. Some of them struggle with the new rules, but they still want to win. This is what I want to see, their passion for tennis.
Let’s recap some of the new rules: no second serve, coaching is allowed, and the sets have a time limit. To what extent are you trying to change the game?
I would say that the UTS is like a laboratory. A billion people watch tennis, and most of them are not very young. With the UTS we are trying to speak to these young people, and we are trying to come up with an ideal format for that. This is why we are tinkering with the rules in each edition: we will respond to the feedback we receive until we’ll have reached the ideal solution. We really want to engage with young people and non-tennis fans. Kids watch Netflix and play videogames, but they don’t follow tennis – we want to offer them a game that can lure them in.
You have also introduced a card system, like special moves that a player can use, for instance, to double the value of a point or to force the opponent to come to the net behind his serve…
If you are a coach, you work by creating different game situations: for instance, if I want to work on baseline play, I will ask the player to only hit second serves. If I want them to be more aggressive, I will ask them to pretend that the next point is worth double. That’s the point, our format wants to be a training mode for the players and the coaches. The card system, in our opinion, is also a way to make the game more interesting, because it adds a new strategic variant. In general, our objective is to make the game more dynamic by cutting on dead-air moments, which are the ones that could bore the newcomers.
Okay, let’s talk about the players you work with. Coco Gauff just dominated in Parma, and is doing very well in Paris. Do you think she’s able to handle the pressure?
Nobody is more used to dealing with the pressure than Coco. She won the Orange Bowl at 12, she played a Junior Slam final at the US Open at 13 and a half, the youngest ever to do it, and at 15 she qualified for Wimbledon and beat Venus Williams. The spotlight was always on her, and yet she managed to get some good results. She’s not completely unfazed by the pressure, obviously, but she can handle it, even though it’s not always easy. She already has a good baggage of experience.
Tsitsipas is having an amazing season, and is trying to win his first Major at the French Open – can he do it?
He always plays to win, that’s his thing, he has a very strong self-belief. In Paris, he will play to win the tournament, and I think he can. Nadal is the favourite, as usual, but this year the gap might be closing a little, and the difference between him and the other contenders will diminish as time passes. Djokovic can beat him on the clay too, Rublev beat him in Monte Carlo, and Stefanos had a match point against him in the Barcelona final. Rafa is clearly the greatest of all time on the clay, and he’s still the best, especially with the three-out-of-five format. I am curious, however, to see if he could still handle two five-setters in a row, and I believe he could find himself in that situation, because there are many who could push him.
Let’s switch to Serena Williams: how is she doing?
Had you asked me a couple weeks ago, I would have probably said, “not great.” But she’s doing a lot better now! She lost early in the two events she played in Italy, in Rome and Parma, something she’s not used to – that’s proof that she wasn’t ready to compete at the highest level. However, I think she understood it herself, and after Parma we’ve worked very hard, and now she’s improving a little bit every single day.
Interview by Gianluca Sartori; translated by Tommaso Villa
EDITORS NOTE: Original interview was published on ubitennis.com and conducted prior to the start of the 2021 French Open.
EXCLUSIVE: Yoshihito Nishioka’s Coach On Injury Setback, US Open Showdown With Wawrinka
The road to Yoshihito Nishioka’s first round match at this year’s US Open has been a frustrating one.
In June the 27-year-old looked to be on the verge of reaching his best tennis at the French Open where he made the fourth round for the first time in his career. Nishioka’s run in Paris was not a one-off with the Japanese player also making the last 16 of the Australian Open in January. However, since the French Open, he has only been able to register one win on the Tour.
In recent months he has struggled with a stress fracture on his femur that cut short his grass-court campaign and resulted in him missing four weeks of crucial training. After losing his opening match at Wimbledon, he played four tournaments across North America with his sole triumph being against Gregoire Barrere in Cincinnati.
Guiding Nishioka on the Tour is his coach Christian Zahalka who has previously worked with the likes of Marina Erakovic, Nadia Petrova, Kimiko Date and Misaki Doi. The two began working together last year.
“Yoshi injured himself at Roland Garros that pretty much cost us the whole grass court season and we could not practice for a month,” Zahalka told Ubitennis on the first day of the US Open.
“So honestly we are playing a bit catch up to regain form the last few events. But we are getting close.”
Nishioka faces a tricky first round encounter at Flushing Meadows where he will play Stan Wawrinka, who won the tournament in 2016. Their only previous meeting saw the Swiss veteran prevail in three sets but that was six years ago in Indian Wells.
“Wawrinka is a highly motivated player at the moment,” said Zahalka. “It will be a difficult first round match with a big fight needed from Yoshi.”
Nishioka is currently ranked five places higher than his upcoming opponent at 44th in the ATP Pepperstone rankings. However, he is yet to shine at the US Open where he will be making his ninth main draw appearance this year. He has lost in the first round six times and the second round twice. The only players he has beaten at the event were Paul-Henri Mathieu in 2015 and Feliciano Lopez in 2019.
Despite the disappointing results, Zahalka is staying upbeat about Nishioka’s chances in New York.
“This is my first US Open with Japanese Rock so I cannot comment on what happened in the past here,” he said.
“But I see no reason why he cannot have success at the US Open.”
Nishioka’s clash with Wawrinka is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. He is one of four Japanese players in the men’s main draw this year.
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.
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.
Conchita Martinez: How Acaraz Can Improve, Muguruza’s Future And Advice For Andreeva
Almost 30 years have passed since Conchita Martinez won the biggest title of her career at Wimbledon.
In 1994 she battled to a three-set win over nine-time champion Martina Navratilova to become the first-ever Spanish woman to claim the title. The triumph occurred in just her third main draw appearance at the Grand Slam. Since then only one other player from Martinez’s country has managed to emulate her in the women’s tournament. That was Garbine Muguruza in 2017 who has been mentored by the former champion in recent years.
Martinez is in action again this year at The All England Club where she is taking part in the women’s invitational doubles tournament. On Tuesday morning Ubitennis caught up with the former world No.2 during an hour-long media session that featured a series of former champions.
In her home country, the talking point of the sport concerns the rapid rise of Carlos Alcaraz who at 20 has already won one Grand Slam trophy, four Masters 1000 events, and has spent almost 30 weeks as world No.1.
“I think he is already doing an amazing job but, of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Martinez tells Ubitennis.
As to what these improvements are, the 51-year-old believes Alcaraz needs to explore coming to the net more often, especially when playing on the grass. According to Wimbledon’s official statistics, in his first four matches played this year, the top seed has come to the net on 83 occasions and won the point 56 times. This equates to a winning percentage of 67.5%.
“I would like to see him, especially on the grass, go to the net a little bit more sometimes,” she said.
“He does this on other surfaces and is very brave. When he’s down a break point and then does a serve and volley to win the point, this is great for his confidence.’
“He needs to work on everything. His slice and going to the net. From the back, he is doing amazing and is very aggressive. He can hold the point when he wants to, so he needs to work on that to become an even better player.”
The current status of Mugurza
Martinez speaks about Alcaraz from the perspective of both a player and a coach. After winning 33 WTA titles before retiring, she went into the world of coaching. Her work with Muguruza was recognised in 2021 when she was named WTA Coach of the Year. She has also had stints mentoring former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova and was captain of her country’s Billie Jean King Cup team.
Martinez’s work with Muguruza has been put on ice for the foreseeable future after the tennis star opted to take an extended break from the sport. She confirmed that Muguruza will not be playing again this year on the Tour and a return date is still to be decided.
“She is taking her time and will not be playing again this year. We will see when she is going to start practising for next year,” Martinez explained.
“Every week we chat and see how she’s doing. She’s enjoying her time off right now.”
Even when Muguruza does come back to action there is no guarantee that this successful partnership will resume.
“We have to see. We stopped as she was going to take a longer time off than expected so we parted ways but you never say no to what may happen in the future,” she commented.
Muguruza’s decision to step away from tennis followed a series of disappointing results. In a social media post earlier this year, the two-time Grand Slam champion said she wanted to spend more time with her friends and family which has been ‘healthy’ for her.
Advice for Andreeva
It is not the first time a player has had to step away from the limelight due to the demands of playing tennis. Trying to deal with Tour life is far from easy, especially for younger players.
One of those rising stars is 16-year-old Mirra Adreeva who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon as a qualifier on her debut. She almost booked a place in the quarter-finals after leading Madrid Keys by a set and 4-1 but lost. If she had won, Andreeva would have been the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since 1997.
So what advice would Martinez, who also reached the fourth round of a major at the age of 16, give to a rising star such as Andreeva?
“You have to have a very good group of people around you that are going to keep you humble and fit,” she said.
“I think she does that. She’s winning matches, going far in Grand Slams, and beating great players.’
“You have to see next year how she will cope with defending points. The most important thing is that she keeps practising and focusing on what she has to do to get better. It’s great what she is doing now but she has to maintain it.”
Martinez won more than 700 matches during her time on the Tour.
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