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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.

Editorial

Cameron Norrie’s Surprise Win at Indian Wells Could Land Him a Well-Deserved ATP Finals Berth

As Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev disappointed, the Brit (along with Basilashvili, Dimitrov and Fritz) were ready to seize the day

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Cameron Norrie ad Indian Wells 2021 (Credits: @BNPPARIBASOPEN on Twitter)

We have grown accustomed across the last bunch of decades to the most important tournaments in tennis being controlled by an elite cast of competitors. That has been the case not only at the Grand Slam events but also at the Masters 1000 showcase championships. While there has been a large degree of predictability associated with these prestigious gatherings of great players, that has been comforting for followers of the sport who have embraced familiarity.

 

And yet, every once in a while there is no harm when a big tournament produces startling results and a semifinal lineup that no one could have foreseen. That is precisely what happened this past week in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California. For the first time at a Masters 1000, not a single player ranked among the top 25 in the world made it to the penultimate round. The semifinalists were none other than Great Britain’s Cam Norrie (No. 26), Grigor Dimitrov (No. 28), Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili (No. 36), and Taylor Fritz of the United States (No. 38). Their seedings were somewhat better because some top players did not compete at Indian Wells. Norrie was seeded No. 21, Basilashvili No. 29, Dimitrov No. 23 and Fritz No. 31.

These rankings and seedings were almost unimaginable, but all of these players deserved to be in the forefront. The left-handed Norrie took apart Dimitrov 6-2, 6-4 in the opening semifinal with surgical precision and uncanny ball control, and then Basilashvili followed with an overpowering 7-6(5) 6-3 performance in eclipsing Fritz. Here were four distinctive players displaying their collective talent proudly on the hard courts in California. Outside of Roger Federer, Dimitrov may well be the most elegant player of the past twenty years with his well crafted running forehand plus his spectacular and versatile one-handed backhand. Norrie is cagey, resourceful, disciplined and versatile. His forehand carries a significant amount of topspin and can bound up high while his two-handed backhand is fundamentally flat. His serve is strategically located and reliably precise. He is a tennis player’s tennis player.

Fritz combines considerable power with remarkable feel. He serves potently and places it awfully well. He is a constantly improving craftsman with a wide arsenal of shots. And Basilashvili is the biggest hitter in tennis, pounding the ball relentlessly off both sides, unleashing forehand winners from anywhere on the court almost at will, never backing off from his goal of blasting opponents off the court.

So all four semifinalists were worthy of getting that far. Moreover, it was fitting that Norrie and Basilashvili would square off in the final. Norrie has celebrated a stellar 2021 campaign. This was his sixth final of the season and he had already amassed 46 match wins coming into the final. Norrie has made immense strides as a match player all year long, and he was poised to put himself in this position. He is a masterful percentage player cut from a similar cloth to Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev. Norrie measures his shots impeccably, giving himself an incessantly healthy margin for error, refusing to miss by being reckless or narrow minded.

Basilashvili is made of different stock. He had lost in the first round in five of six Masters 1000 events this season because he misses so much with his risky shots. When he gets on a roll, Basilashvili is an exceedingly dangerous player who can make the most difficult shots look easy. But he can also beat himself and is often his own worst enemy with his obstinacy. Basilashvili lost his last nine matches of 2020. Norrie is at the opposite end of the spectrum with his consistency and methodology, understanding his limitations, always obeying the laws of percentage tennis.

The contrasting styles of the two finalists made it an intriguing confrontation. But, in the end, Norrie withstood a barrage of big hitting from Basilashvili, refused to get rattled by the explosive shotmaking of his adversary, and ultimately prevailed 3-6 6-4 6-1 to claim the most important title of his career. It was a fascinating final in many ways as Norrie opened up an early lead before Basilashvili found his range, but then the British competitor reasserted himself over the last set-and-a-half with cunning play down the stretch as the wind force increased and Basilashvili faltered flagrantly.

Nikoloz Basilashvili – Indian Wells 2021 (foto Twitter @BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Norrie moved ahead 3-1 in the opening set but then the Georgian held easily and broke back for 3-3 on a double fault from the British No. 1. Basilashvili promptly held for 4-3 at love. He had won three consecutive games, and clearly the complexion of the set was changing significantly. Norrie realized he was in jeopardy but was unable to halt Basilashvili’s momentum. The British competitor was broken again in the eighth game as Basilashvili released two outright winners. On break point an angled forehand crosscourt from the Russian coaxed an error from his left-handed adversary. Serving for the set at 5-3, Basilashvili was totally composed and confident. He held at love with an ace for 40-0 and then a dazzling forehand down the line winner.

Not only had Basilashvili taken the set on a run of five consecutive games, but he had also swept 20 of 25 points in that spectacular span. When Basilashvili broke for a 2-1 second set lead, he seemed entirely capable of driving his way to victory behind an avalanche of blazing winners. But Norrie refused to lose optimism. Basilashvili suddenly lost both his range and his rhythm off the ground, particularly on his signature forehand side. Four unforced errors off that flank cost him the fourth game and allowed Norrie back on serve.

But Basilashvili was persistent, working his way through a couple of arduous service games on his way to 4-4. Nevertheless,  Norrie was unswayed by his opponent’s fighting spirit. The British player held at love for 5-4 in that pivotal second set with a drop shot winner and then broke at love to seal the set with his finest tennis of the afternoon. On the first point of the tenth game, Norrie lobbed over Basilashvili into the corner and took the net away from his opponent. Although Basilashvili chased that ball down, turned and unleashed a potent backhand crosscourt pass that came over low, Norrie was ready, making a difficult forehand drop volley winner that had the California crowd gasping. On the next point, Norrie released a scintillating backhand passing shot winner down the line. Consecutive forehand mistakes from a shaken Basilashvili allowed Norrie to break at love to salvage the set 6-4 on a run of eight points in a row.

The left-hander was in command now, taking the first two games of the third set confidently. He then trailed 0-40 in the third game. But Norrie responded to this precarious moment commendably, collecting five points in a row to hold on for 3-0, demoralizing Basilashvili in the process. Basilashvili self destructed at this critical juncture of the match, giving all five points away with a cluster of errors. But Norrie was also outstanding on defense in that stretch.

The match was essentially over. Although Basilashvili fended off a break point in the fourth game of that third set, Norrie sedulously protected his lead thereafter, capturing 12 of 16 points and three consecutive games to close out the account with a flourish. From 4-4 in the second set, Norrie had won eight of the last nine games and his first Masters 1000 crown. Norrie started the year at No. 71 in the world but now stands deservedly at No. 16 following his astonishing triumph at Indian Wells. It was a job awfully well done, and he was a worthy winner in the end.

But I must add that the three top seeds at Indian Wells all failed to perform up to their expectations. Let’s start with Medvedev, the top seed in the absence of Djokovic. He confronted Dimitrov in the round of 16 and was leading 6-4, 4-1. Medvedev was up two service breaks in that second set. He seemed certain to prevail but performed abysmally thereafter. At 4-1, he opened the sixth game with a double fault and then double faulted again at 15-40. Dimitrov held easily in the seventh game and then Medvedev was broken in the eight game after missing five out of six first serves.

Now Dimitrov held at love and then Medvedev started the tenth game of the second set with another double fault. He lost his serve for the third time in a row and thus conceded the set 6-4 after dropping five consecutive games and 20 of 26 points. Medvedev missed 15 of 17 first serves at the end of that pendulum swinging set.

Dimitrov raced to 3-0 in the third, later advanced to 5-1, and eventually came through 4-6 6-4 6-3 as Medvedev imploded. To be sure, Dimitrov was magnificent in many ways, particularly with his running forehand. But Medvedev was his own worst enemy and his attitude was reminiscent of the man we witnessed in years gone by who was often mercurial. He was infuriated with himself and his situation, competing irregularly, smashing his racquet, advertising his vulnerability.

Grigor Dimitrov – Indian Wells 2021 (foto Twitter @BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Meanwhile, No.2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas wanted to reignite his game after losing early at the US Open, but the Greek stylist struggled inordinately in every match he played before Basilashvili ousted him 6-4 2-6 6-4 in the Indian Wells quarterfinals. Tsitsipas was trying to manufacture some emotions that simply were not there. He was out of sorts and off his game. At 3-3 in the final set, down break point, fighting hard but playing poorly, Tsitsipas double faulted and never really recovered. It may take him quite some time to recover his best form after a debilitating year.

And what of Sascha Zverev? Here was a man who had won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in August and then secured the Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati. He lost to Djokovic in the semifinals of the US Open but seemed to be ready to take the title at Indian Wells after reaching the quarterfinals. But Zverev wasted a 5-2 final set lead against Fritz.

Zverev had a match point in the eighth game on Fritz’s serve that the American saved stupendously. Zverev had sent a deep crosscourt forehand into the corner that seemed unanswerable but Fritz took it early on the half volley and flicked it down the line to rush Zverev into an error. In the following game, serving for the match at 5-3, Zverev double faulted at 30-15 but still advanced to 40-30 with a second match point at his disposal. Once more, he double faulted. In the end, after Zverev served another damaging double fault on the first point of the final set tie-break, Fritz succeeded 4-6 6-3 7-6(3).

Zverev had no reason to be embarrassed about losing to a first-rate Fritz, but nonetheless the German should have been dismayed by those crucial double faults. He said afterwards that he felt he was the clear tournament favorite after Tsitsipas had lost earlier that day, but why didn’t he play with more conviction when it counted against Fritz? Was Zverev getting ahead of himself by thinking about winning the tournament when he was still trying to succeed in his quarterfinal? I have a feeling that was the case. He is too seasoned a campaigner to allow that to happen at this stage of his career. I thought Zverev was more professional than that.

Undoubtedly the unexpected setbacks suffered by Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev opened a window for Norrie to see his way through to a career defining triumph, but that takes nothing away from his success. Cam Norrie is now at No.10 in the Race to Turin for the ATP Finals, and Rafael Nadal is out for the year. So the British lefty could well qualify for that élite season ending event which is reserved for only the top eight players in the world. After his uplifting victory at Indian Wells, only a fool would doubt that Norrie will very likely be in the field at Turin, which is no mean feat.

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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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Indian Wells Daily Preview: 2019 Finalists Andreescu and Kerber Face Stiff Competition

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Bianca Andreescu is the defending champion of this event (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Monday hosts some stellar third round matchups in both the men’s and women’s singles draws.  10 of the days’ 16 singles matches feature seeded players colliding.  They include 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu, three-time Major champ Angelique Kerber, and newly-crowned US Open champ Daniil Medvedev.

 

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Angelique Kerber (10) vs. Daria Kasatkina (20) – 11:00am on Stadium 2

It’s the 2018 runner-up against the 2019 runner-up.  Both players submitted subpar results thereafter, but have bounced back strongly in 2021.  Kasatkina started the year ranked outside the top 70, yet is now inside the top 30 after racking up 36 wins and reaching four finals.  Kerber rediscovered her mojo on the grass.  Since her title run in Bad Homburg, she’s 18-4.  These two players have split eight previous encounters, though Kasatkina leads 4-2 on hard courts.  Most recently they met two years ago in Tororto, where Daria prevailed 6-4 in the third.  Their clash of styles on these slow courts should provide some dynamic, compelling rallies.  But based on Kerber’s current level of confidence, I give her the slight edge.

Bianca Andreescu (16) vs. Anett Kontaveit (18) – Second on Stadium 2

Andreescu may be the defending champion and higher seed, but as of late, Kontaveit has been the better player.  She recently hired Dmitry Tursunov as her coach, and she’s been on fire.  Since late-August, Anett is 14-1, with two titles.  By contrast, Andreescu is only 6-8 since Roland Garros, with the US Open the only event where she has won back-to-back matches.  However, Kontaveit did withdraw from a WTA event in Chicago two weeks ago with a thigh injury, so she’s not been 100% after playing so much tennis in such a short span.  Bianca rarely goes down without a dogged fight, especially at big events on hard courts, but she may be the underdog on this day.  And she’s never beaten Kontaveit, who is 2-0 against Andreescu, including a straight-set victory earlier this year on the grass of Eastbourne.

Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Diego Schwartzman (11) vs. Dan Evans (18) – Schwartzman saved match points on Saturday against American Maxime Cressy, while Evans survived a grueling three-setter against Kei Nishikori.  Two months ago in Cincinnati, Diego defeated Dan in three.

Casper Ruud (8) vs. Lloyd Harris (26) – Ruud leads the ATP with five titles this season, winning his first hard court event just eight days ago in San Diego by defeating three top 30 players.  Harris is on the verge of breaking into the top 30 himself, coming off his Major quarterfinal debut in New York. 

Reilly Opelka (16) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (23) – This summer in Canada, Opelka took out Dimitrov in straight sets, though these slower courts will mitigate some of his Servebot prowess.

Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek – These teams played what was perhaps the most exciting doubles match of the year at Roland Garros, when Mattek-Sands and Swiatek saved seven match points to eventually prevail after three hours and 11 minutes.

Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Danielle Collins (22) – These are two of the WTA’s strongest performers in recent months.  Last October at the French Open, Collins upset Jabeur 6-4 in the third.

Denis Shapovalov (9) vs. Aslan Karatsev (19) – Since advancing to his first Slam semifinal at Wimbledon, Shapovalov is a meek 4-6.  Karatsev achieved the same feat back in February, but is now 8-11 since mid-May. 

Coco Gauff (15) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – This could be one of the best matches of the day, between two of the WTA’s fastest-rising performers.  Gauff is just a few wins away from putting herself into qualifying position for the WTA Finals.

Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Tiafoe leads their head-to-head 2-1, though Hurkacz claimed their latest clash, two years ago in Winston-Salem.

Roberto Bautista Agut (15) vs. Cameron Norrie (21) – Norrie has accumulated 42 wins on the year, reaching five finals.  Bautista Agut has underperformed this season, and hasn’t achieved a final since March.

Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Filip Krajinovic (27) – Medvedev is looking for his 50th win of 2021, while Krajinovic arrived at Indian Wells with a record of 17-17.  However, he did defeat Daniil at the last staging of this event two years ago.

Barbora Krejcikova (3) vs. Amanda Anisimova – Krejcikova is one of many players who have shared how exhausted they’ve felt after such a busy season, though it’s been an incredibly successful one for her.  Anisimova dropped only seven games in four sets played last week.

Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Medvedev is the winningest on hardcourts, but it’s not enough to become the world N.1

At least as long as Novak Djokovic is around: an analysis of Daniil Medvedev’s numbers from 2019 Wimbledon to the 2021 US Open. He surely wins a lot, but relies too much on the hard courts.

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92 – the number of the matches won on hardcourts (outdoors or indoors) by Daniil Medvedev since the end of Wimbledon 2019.

Right after the Championships played two years ago, the 25-year-old Russian was not yet at the level of the best players, but he certainly wasn’t an also-ran either. He had in fact already reached the threshold of the Top 10, a ranking he attained thanks to his wins in four ATP tournaments: during 2018, in what was for him the first season ended in the Top 50, he won the ATP 250 in Sydney and Winston Salem and Tokyo’s ATP 500, to which he added Sofia’s ATP 250 in February 2019.

 

He had already shown he deserved a top-ten ranking in the previous months, thanks to four wins over foes who belonged to the world’s élite (the most prestigious win he had was on Djokovic in Monte Carlo 2019, the tournament in which he recorded his only semifinal appearance in a Masters 1000 event played on clay).

In August 2019, in the first tournament played with a top 10 ranking in Washington, the turning point of his career arrived: Daniil reached the final, losing against Kyrgios, but from the tournament played in the capital of the United States, he started an impressive streak of 25 wins (eight of which against Top 10-ranked players) in the following 27 matches.

These victories allowed the Russian to claim two Masters 1000 titles (Cincinnati and Shanghai) and an ATP 250 (St. Petersburg), as well as to reach two very important finals at the Masters 1000 in Montreal and at the US Open. Thanks to these results, the Russian pocketed a total check of $5,123,640 in prize money alone in a few weeks, and a booty of 4,050 points that allowed him to climb to the fourth place in the rankings back in September 2019. A sudden rise was followed by an inevitable period of adjustment. Daniil closed 2019 with four consecutive defeats between the debut in Bercy’s Masters 1000 and the three round robin matches of the ATP Finals, and even 2020 – at least until the end of October – was made mostly of shadows: his record before playing in Bercy was a subpar 18-10. When his decline seemed unstoppable, Medvedev rose again during the season finale: from the first round of the last Masters 1000 of the ATP calendar, the Muscovite began a 20-match win streak (12 of which against Top 10 competition) that earned him the Parisian tournament, the ATP Finals, the ATP Cup, and a run to the Australian Open final, when he was brutally halted by Djokovic.

His growth has never stopped since. In February 2021, he won his eleventh ATP tournament in Marseille and the following Monday he earned a great honour, becoming the first tennis player other than the Big Four (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) to rise to second place in the ranking since Hewitt, who 794 weeks earlier – it was July 18, 2005 – found himself ranked world N.2 for the last time. The Muscovite did not impress in Miami but at Roland Garros – after having lost his debut match in six of the previous seven tournaments played on clay – he surprised everyone by reaching the quarterfinals. Medvedev continued his season by avenging his debut on grass – a bad defeat against Struff in Halle – with the Mallorca title (his first ATP title on this surface) and for the first time reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, where he lost in five sets against Hurkacz.

In the summer played on outdoor hardcourt, he disappointed at the Tokyo Olympics (where he was defeated by Carreno Busta in the quarterfinals) and in Cincinnati (in Ohio he was stopped in the semis by Rublev, who won over him for the first time after five defeats in as many previous matches against Daniil), but in between he won the fourth Masters 1000 of his career in Toronto. His first Grand Slam title, the US Open, came in the tournament where he’d lost a five-set final to Nadal in 2019. Medvedev won with a clear display of superiority over his colleagues: in the seven matches that led him to triumph, the only one to take away a set from him was qualifier Botic Van De Zandschulp in the quarterfinals. The other six opponents, including a Serbian named Djokovic, never managed to snatch even five games per set from him.

With the victory of the last Grand Slam of the year, Medvedev consolidated his second place in the ranking with a current tally of 10,780 points, “just” 1,353 less than Djokovic and 2,430 more than Tsitsipas. Unfortunately for him, the race for the number 1 in the world, however, appears to be rather difficult, more than what his current ranking implies.

Up to the next Australian Open, the Russian defends 5,585 points (52% of his total share of points) and it is therefore very difficult for him to claim the number one ranking in the next six months: Djokovic, in addition to the advantage he currently holds, has a smaller amount to be wary of in the same period, an amount of 4,835.

In order to close the gap, Medvedev must above all improve his performance when he is not playing on hardcourts: in the last 26 months, as you can read from the table that compares his performance with that of his main antagonists, he has won more matches than everybody else on hardcourts, and by a large margin. In total, he has won 21 more matches than Djokovic and put on the bulletin board a greater number of tournaments, as many as 9, including the US Open, the ATP Finals and four Masters 1000 titles. His own win percentage on hardcourts starting from July 2019 to today is lower (by 3 percentage points) only than that of the Serbian champion alone, and similar to that of Nadal – the latter has however played about half of the Russian’s matches. Medvedev’s ranking is all based on tournaments that are played on the hard courts: between outdoors and indoors hardcourt events, Medvedev has collected 88% of his current points, a big disproportion looking at the other players (from our summary diagram it is shown how, among those players, only Zverev has collected a higher percentage than 60% of his points on the same surface).

In the last two years, the current number 2 in the world has played only when forced to do so: just eight events, from which he collected a title (Mallorca, where he faced only two Top 50 players, Carreno and Ruud, both tennis players with very little expectations on grass) and won only twelve matches. If it seems more than likely that over the next few years Medvedev will be one of the big favorites in the tournaments that will be played on hard, the numbers confirm the impression that only by improving the results on other turfs the Russian could aspire to do the last and most difficult step he is missing: becoming the best player in the world.

Article by Ferruccio Roberti; translated by Michele Brusadelli; edited by Tommaso Villa

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