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Djokovic Meets the Moment Forthrightly Once More

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

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Novak Djokovic - Wimbledon 2021 (credit AELTC/Ian Walton)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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