Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Pursues the Golden Slam - UBITENNIS
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Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Pursues the Golden Slam

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Novak Djokovic practicing earlier this week in Tokyo (twitter.com/ITFTennis)

Novak Djokovic is one Olympic Gold medal and one US Open away from becoming the second player to achieve the Golden Slam: winning all four Majors and the Olympic gold medal in singles within the same year.  Thus far, it’s a feat only accomplished by Steffi Graf in 1988.  Djokovic has already won 21 of 34 matches necessary to do so, with six wins required over the next nine days in Tokyo.  How will Novak perform under the pressure of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

 

While many top names decided to skip this event, the men’s singles draw still features five of the world’s top 10, with seven of the top 10 on the women’s side.  Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev are the men’s top seeds, while Wimbledon champion Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka, who had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron on Friday, are the women’s top seeds.  And with so many singles players also competing in doubles, there will be plenty of highly-anticipated doubles matchups. 

The event will be staged at the Ariake Tennis Park, which usually hosts ATP and WTA 500 tournaments shortly after the US Open.  Unfortunately, there will be no fans in attendance due to Tokyo COVID-19 protocols.  Centre Court features a roof in case of rain.

Each day, this preview will analyze the most intriguing men’s and women’s matchup, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Saturday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Belinda Bencic (9) vs. Jessica Pegula – Third on Court 1

Bencic claimed their only previous meeting, though that was six years ago on grass.  However, Pegula has been the much better player of late.  Bencic is only 17-14 on the year, while Pegula is an impressive 27-13.  On hard courts, it’s 7-6 for Benic, and 17-6 for Pegula.  And Bencic has a losing record against top 30 opposition in 2021, and is 0-4 against the top 20.  By contrast, Pegula has accumulated six top 10 victories.  The court speed in Tokyo are reportedly rather slow for a hard court, which will not be as conducive to the American’s flat groundstrokes.  It’s also worth considering results at events where players are representing their countries, and not only playing for themselves, often inspire different players to excel.  But based on recent results, Pegula should still be favored to upset a top 10 seed.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Hugo Dellien – Fourth on Centre Court

At the last two Olympics, Djokovic has experienced heartache at the hands of Juan Martin Del Potro.  In London, the Argentine defeated him in the Bronze Medal match, preventing Novak from getting a medal.  In Rio, Del Potro upset Djokovic in the opening round, resulting in a dramatic scene where both men left the court in tears.  On Instagram this week, Juan Martin even teased Novak, commenting “I’ll be watching you!  This time you have your chance amigo!”  It would be shocking if Djokovic were to lose in the opening round again this year, especially against the 139th-ranked man in the world, who has spent most of this season playing Challenger events on clay.  And Dellien has never defeated a top 20 player in his career.  But it will be telling to see just how fresh and comfortable Djokovic looks just 13 days after winning his 20th Major, and with such history on the line.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Alexander Bublik – This is a rematch from the first round of Roland Garros, when Medvedev prevailed in straight sets to secure his first career victory at that event.

Kiki Bertens (16) vs. Marketa Vondrousova – This will be the last event of Bertens’ career, who just two years ago was ranked as high as No.4 in the world.  At the 2018 US Open, Vondrousova defeated Bertens in a third set tiebreak.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut (2) vs. Andy Murray and Joe Salisbury – Murray is the two-time defending gold medalist in singles, and also won a silver medal nine years ago in mixed doubles.  Herbert and Mahut are coming off a French Open title last month, their fifth Major title as a team.

Ash Barty and Storm Sanders (4) vs. Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya – This will be Barty’s first match since her Wimbledon triumph two weeks prior.  Sanders reached the semifinals in women’s doubles at The All England Club.

Elise Mertens and Alison Van Uytvanck vs. Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro – Mertens is now the world No.1 in women’s doubles, following her Wimbledon title with Su-Wei Hsieh.  Muguruza and Suarez Navarro reached the quarterfinals in women’s doubles at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev (6) vs. Rajeev Ram and Frances Tiafoe – This is the Russians’ fifth event as a team this season, while Ram and Tiafoe are a newly-formed partnership for this event.

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Emma Raducanu Looking For Experience After Splitting With Coach

Emma Raducanu revealed her post-US Open plans as she prepares for life on the main WTA tour.

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Emma Raducanu (@CambridgeAwe - Twitter)

Emma Raducanu is looking for more experience in her team after splitting from her short-term coach Andrew Richardson.

 

The US Open champion revealed the news at the ‘homecoming party’ set up at the National Tennis Centre in London where the Duchess of Cambridge was present.

Speaking at the event Raducanu said that she needed more experience as she will now play on the main tour on a regular basis, “At this stage of my career I really need someone that has had that WTA Tour experience at that high level,” Raducanu was quoted as saying by the BBC website.

“Especially right now as I’m so new to it, I think I really need someone just to guide me who has already been through that themselves. “Never did I even dream of winning the US Open and now I’m ranked 22 in the world, which is pretty crazy to me.”

Richardson was always a short-term arrangement with him now committed to improving his 10 year-old son.

As for Raducanu she is now 22 in the world and faces unfamiliar territory in playing a full-time schedule.

After winning the US Open as a qualifier, Raducanu has received unlimited amount of attention and expectation which is something she will need guidance with.

Now Raducanu will set out a schedule in the next few days with the Brit set to return as early as Indian Wells which starts on the 6th of October, “I got back on court a few days ago, and yesterday I did a full training day,” she explained.

“I was feeling pretty good about myself and my game, and I am very excited to compete again. All the opportunities I am getting have been very fun, but where I really want to be is on the tennis court, as I’m just thriving out there.

“I haven’t decided on my schedule yet – I will decide in the next few days where I am going to go to – but wherever I play next, I’m going to make sure I’m ready. I don’t want to jump into things too early.”

Should the 18 year-old make a strong end to the season then she could make the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

Although she is 14th in the race, players such as Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka could miss the event and it’s something that is on the back of the mind of Raducanu, “The WTA Finals I would never even dream of before, because it was just so far out of reach and out of sight, but coming reasonably close to it now, I think it would be great if I qualified,” she admitted.

“But if not, it’s a complete bonus, because my priority is just putting in the best possible pre-season that I can, so I can start strong next year and next season.”

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Berrettini pulls off comeback win over Auger Aliassime at Laver Cup

Matteo Berrettini contributed to a 3-1 overall scoreline for Team Europe over Team World after day one of the Laver Cup.

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Matteo Berrettini (@LaverCup - Twitter)

The Italian fought back from a set down to beat the Canadian and give team Europe a commanding lead.

 

In the longest match in Laver Cup history so far Matteo Berrettini needed a match tiebreak to beat the world number 11 and good friend Felix Auger Aliassime 6-7, 7-5, 10-8 in a match that lasted two hours and 52 minutes.

The Italian hit 15 winners and served seven aces while the Montreal native hit 37 unforced errors in the loss.

“I was fighting and I felt the match was really hard and Felix (Auger-Aliassime) was playing well and he didn’t give me anything and he made no mistakes and he was serving really well and I felt a different energy because we are playing for a team, not just myself and they helped me a lot”.

The first set stayed on serve until 2-2 when it was the Italian with the first two breakpoints of the match but the Canadian was able to save both and hold serve.

The next game was a rollercoaster and the Montreal native responded by earning four chances to break and after 13 minutes finally made the breakthrough to take a 4-2 lead.

At 5-3, the world number 11 found himself with two set points but failed to convert and the Italian fought back and got the break back and at 6-5 the Canadian had five more set points but again the Italian saved all five and the set was decided by a tiebreaker.

Auger Aliassime got the early break to take a 2-0 lead and that break was enough for him to finally serve out the first set and take a 1-0 set lead. The world number seven was keen to bounce back and had two early chances to break at 1-1 but the Canadian saved both and held serve once again.

The very next game it was the Montreal native turn to apply the pressure on the Berrettini serve but the Italian managed to save both breakpoints he faced and held serve.

At 5-5, the Canadian kept pushing earning two more break points but couldn’t get the breakthrough, and the very next game the Rome native pounced and managed to get the crucial break to win the second set and force a match tiebreak.

The breaker was extremely tight until 3-3 when the Canadian managed to get the break and jumped out to a 5-3 lead before losing two straight points and the breaker was even at five.

Once again the world number 11 got the break again and was up 7-5 but again lost two straight points and we were even at seven and then at 9-8 Berrettini with the rally of the match sealed the win with a great passing shot.

After the match in his post-match interview, the Italian was asked about being selected to play doubles in the night session.

“I am going to be honest when they told me I would be playing singles and doubles I didn’t expect to play a match that long so I spoke with the captain and we will see but I am still young”.

Day 1 results

Casper Ruud got the ball rolling for Team Europe as he beat the American Rielly Opelka in the first match of the day in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 to give his team the first point of the tournament.

In the first match of the night session Andrey Rublev gave Team Europe a convincing 3-0 lead as he came back to beat the Argentine Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 11-9 in the match tiebreaker.

Finally in the last match of the day Team World got their first point as the duo of John Isner and Denis Shapovalov came back from a set down to beat the doubles pairing of Matteo Berrettini and Alexander Zverev 4-6, 7-6, 10-1.

Day 2 preview:

Day 2 features some amazing matchups in both the day and night session with Stefanos Tsitsipas starting the day against the Aussie Nick Krygios before John Isner takes on Alexander Zverev.

In the night session Denis Shapovalov takes on the US Open champion from Russia Danil Medvedev with another doubles match wrapping things up as the team of Andrey Rublev and Tsitispas will take on John Isner and Nick Kyrgios.

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ATP Moves Closer To Staging Five More 12-Day Masters 1000 Events After Board Approval

Changes are coming to the men’s Tour which includes a brand new ‘profit-sharing formular’ for players.

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Masters tournaments in North America, Europe and Asia are set to be expanded over the coming months after the ATP Board recently approved some ‘key aspects’ of their strategic plan.

 

In a letter issued to players, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said an agreement has been reached concerning a variety of topics, which include the expansion of various Masters 1000 events. It is understood that the plan is for Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati and Shanghai to be increased to 12-day events instead of just one week. Putting them more in line with Indian Wells and Miami. Tennis.com reports that under the new structure, ATP 250 events will also take place during the second week of those tournaments and they could receive a subsidy from the ATP Tour, provided by extra fees paid by the Masters tournaments.

Masters 1000 events are the third highest-ranked category events in men’s tennis after Grand Slams and the ATP Finals in terms of prize money and ranking points on offer. The series was first introduced back in 1990 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the name ‘Masters 1000’ was born. The number represents how many ranking points the winner receives.

Besides the proposed changes to the Masters series, the Board has also given a green light to “a new Profit-Sharing formula” and “long-term prize money levels.” The prize money increase is reportedly said to be 2.5 percent of a base level, plus a bonus pool with a 50 percent share of the collective profit of the Masters events.

“This represents significant progress for our sport and the way our player and tournament members operate under the equal partnership of the ATP Tour. It is only through the spirit of this partnership, transparency, and alignment of interests that we can truly maximise your potential and switch our focus to the competition we face in the border sports and entertainment landscape,” Gaudenzi wrote in his letter to players.

Part of the plan also include making changes to ATP Media, who are in charge of broadcasting the events. At present it is currently jointly owned by the Tour and each of the Masters 1000 events. However, in the future it has been proposed that those tournaments trade in their ownership rights for shares in ATP media. Exact details about this process have not been publicly disclosed and it is unclear if all of the tournaments would agree to such a move.

The ATP also wants to create a ‘Tennis Data Innovations’ which will be an independent entity.

All of these proposed changes are still subject to further agreement around additional matters. The ATP have been working on details of their strategic plan for the past 18 months.

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