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Jannik Sinner Should Take Time Over Coaching Decision

Jannik Sinner, the dice is cast. Going back now would be a defeat. Choose your coach well, not for marketing reasons. He should not expect too many achievements before 2024.

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Riccardo Piatti and Jannik Sinner (@stathopoulosth - Twitter)

The technical limits are there. I think he knows them. This is why he left Piatti. Magnus Norman suits him better as a coach than Boris Becker. Today, for Sinner, beating a top 5 is a half miracle. Medvedev, Zverev, Tsitsipas are better equipped than he is. Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov, Alcaraz, perhaps as well.

 

Lawrence Frankopan, CEO and founder of StarWing Sports and manager of Jannik Sinner, kindly asks me for some more patience. Clearly, the time has not yet come to officialise news on the current case, the sensational Sinner-Piatti breakup. And it is he, the 44-year-old British manager, fifth of 5 brothers with a Swedish mother and a Croatian father, who grew up in London, studied at King’s College and then at the University of Oxford, the only one who can give official news at the moment. Indeed, perhaps not the only one. Sinner could too.

Piatti between those who are pending. Instead, I really don’t think Riccardo Piatti can give any news. He – if Dante had been there also for this very human Comedy and little…Divine – “is among those who are pending”. Not a very cheerful position to be in.

I am sorry for Riccardo because over the years he and his family have worked hard, very hard, to help the growth of the former child Jannik. He has invested a lot and has certainly only begun to reap from his prolonged sowing in the last two or three years. Much? Little? Too much? I really don’t know, it is not my concern.

But he would certainly have continued to collect much more. The divorce, if it is final, will have heavier economic consequences for him than for Jannik. While the technical consequences remain to be seen.

There is little to do, but Riccardo depends – as it should be – on the decisions of Sinner who is … his own boss. And of those around him, like his friend Alex Vittur, among others.

For many it has been a bolt out of the blue. And the fact that the case has had a great impact is not surprising.

Sinner is an acclaimed top-ten. Acclaimed by almost all professionals, opponents, former champions, media and an apparent candidate for an even higher position in the rankings: top 5? Top 3? No. 1?

But, be careful, appearances can be deceiving. Being top-10 is one thing, and is not easy to maintain that ranking …, climbing to top 5, top 3, # 1 is quite another.

Except for the fans of the two Fabs, Djokovic and Nadal, all the others seem to be making plans like… vultures. Without the impudence to cite the De Profundis, however, they await the swansong of the two Fabs to occupy their eternal positions.

Sooner or later will Sinner also be among those who will occupy that position?

I don’t think he will soon. Later, we do all hope that. That is not clear at all and in my opinion Sinner understood it well.

This is the point on which Sinner must perhaps have reflected with admirable foresight, for a kid his age. To date, and God knows how much I would like to be wrong, it seems to me that Tsitsipas, Zverev, Medvedev, Shapovalov, Alcaraz, perhaps even Auger-Aliassime, have overall superior qualities to Sinner’s.

Some have superior technical qualities (service, net game, drop-shot, defence when the opponent is in command), some have superior athletic virtues (physical strength, power in the shots, flexibility, recovery, endurance), some have a superior variety of game (angles, effects), some just have the ability to dose their force and rhythm in the same game. I am not saying that he is inferior to all for each of these qualities, but for some there’s no doubt he is.

And what if also Sinner was thinking like me? Sinner who in terms of mentality, mind solidity (not only on court), determination and commitment is very good, better than many of those names just mentioned?

What if he wants to fix all this while he is in time since his advantage over most of his competitors is age?

Those goals he is determined to achieve are ambitious and difficult. The fact that they are difficult is demonstrated by dozens and dozens of tennis players, who have been ranked for years among the top-ten but then have never managed to take the last leap towards the real top.

Jannik is a real top-5 candidate especially for the average home fans who are impressed, almost captivated, by his rapid and early escalation. Never experienced by an Italian tennis player before him. Never so trumpeted by all our media starving for tennis champions to acclaim.

Much more mature than the media, Jannik, without necessarily being ungrateful to those who helped him tremendously to get where he is, may perhaps have realized with a clarity out of the ordinary for a 20-year-old boy – unless it was pure impatience – that there was no need to delude himself.

That deceptive superficial appearance. And the feeling, common to many, that his sure ascent to Olympus would perhaps be only the result of a superficial appearance. Appearance, not substance. Because it is not a really concrete basis: in fact, nowhere is it written that in tennis a progression in the ranking up to the highest levels is just as rapid as climbing from 78 to 10. The latter is just a good sign, a very good sign indeed. But that’s not enough.

It is one thing to aspire to become top 5, top 3, No.1 – and he certainly aspires to that, he has never made a secret of it and another thing is to believe that he can actually get there with any type of tennis, only because the stages have been rushed, without trying to change things, to plan the path to take.

A different path from the one traced for Jannik’s legitimate expectations, who may have made the decision with less improvisation than it may appear, right after his harsh defeat to Tsitsipas.

Jannik, after the tough lessons he got also from Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev, was really dejected in Melbourne after his match against Tsitsipas, because he must have seriously started to think that the gap from the real top-players is still large. Maybe too large.

In his eyes first – and it must have been almost come as a shock – the goal he sets himself (top 5, top 3, No. 1) has suddenly become – for technical reasons beyond his excellent ranking of 10 ATP – very far away.

He already defeated a couple of top 5 like Tsitipas and Zverev, but, if you remember, when the Greek and the German played quite poor tennis.

When they played well, he got a thrashing from both of them. Two punishments without dropping a set.

I’m not saying now that Sinner is a bluff. I have always preached patience, both to him and to his most critical fans. He reached the top 10 with full merit. There are no doubts. Not only has he won 4 tournaments in 2021, but over the last two years he has defeated many excellent tennis players such as Karatsev, Rublev, Ruud, Hurkacz, Schwartzman, Bautista Agut, who have been or maybe will still be top-ten. But only Rublev was (briefly) top 5, and none top 3. The others are not even top 5. Currently Sinner doesn’t seem capable of beating the top 5 if they play to the best of their ability. If he doesn’t beat at least one or two top 5, he won’t win Grand Slams.

If Sinner had thought about this, with due respect for Piatti, he could have been better off leaving his old coach. But it would be better not to take a wrong step. And it’s easy to make mistakes.

There is always too much money involved. Sometimes choices are more profit-oriented rather than technical. Just for marketing. They are appreciated by agents and sponsors. Image is everything” Agassi used to say, “over boosted” by his sponsors, before he realized how wrong the concept was.

I hope that the young and ambitious Sinner will choose the people he wants to work with from now on. A bad manager, and I don’t think Lawrence Frankopan is a bad manager, could be tempted to match Jannik with a renowned figure. It would be a mistake.

Hiring Becker, as someone who has never played tennis suggested, is not enough to become a top 5 or better. Even if Becker has personality, experience, even if he won and lost Slams, saved and squandered match points. These situations have never been experienced by Piatti and Vagnozzi.

Becker did an excellent job as a co-coach with Djokovic, but he started working with him when he was No. 1, not No. 10. These are two entirely different situations. Otherwise it would just be enough for a top 10 player to hire Federer as a coach in order to win loads of Slams.

When Djokovic split up with Vajda, his inseparable coach, he went through a crisis. Then he was forced to hire him again. And he didn’t hire Becker again. This means that Vajda was more important than Becker.

Once there were coaches that had Ion Tiriac’s expertise, capable of guiding a talented but seemingly unmanageable daredevil like Ilie Nastase to No. 1, a hard worker like Guillermo Vilas and a rolling pin like Goran Ivanisevic that seemed to have little more than a formidable serve to No. 2 , building around their technical weaknesses additional weapons, starting from the mindset… Pancho Segura with Connors, Lennart Bergelin with Borg … Harry Hopman with many Australians had done even more and better.  He helped lots of players become number one: Hoad, Rosewall, Laver, Newcombe … But those were different times. People worked with more serenity. Money was not what it is today, pressure was very different. Many years later Tony Roche also proved himself to be a great coach.

Great coach wanted. Nowadays, it is hard to find coaches at that level. Former champions of recent times are as rich as Croesus. They don’t want to carry on travelling to train a kid. Neither do they want to help a top 20 reach the top 10. Or even a top 10 become No. 1, making lots of extra efforts. What’s the point in it? They have money as well as personal satisfaction. If they leave the world of tennis, they go for the life they didn’t have when they were younger, like Pete Sampras, or they become commentators or tv presenters: Courier, Henman, Corretja, Gilbert. They may become a Davis Cup captain, engaged just a few weeks during the year: Albert Costa, Filippo Volandri…. I don’t want to mention all of them. They generally are managers or part- time coaches like Lendl, Ljubicic, McEnroe, Connors or they set up tennis academies like Sanchez, Bruguera, Ferrero. Brad Gilbert trained Andy Roddick when he was 20 and helped him become No. 1. Training a player when he is 20 is a better investment than getting to work with him when he is 25. It’s likely going to be much more profitable!

Magnus Norman is a different coach compared to Becker. The Swede is not a smart guy, a genius like Tiriac, but when he started working with Stan Wawrinka in 2013, the Swiss player was already 28 and had never been a top ten, except for a short period after his final at Rome in 2008. He ended his 2012, 2011 and 2010 ranked 17. Norman helped him become top 8 at the end of 2013, top 4 at the end of 2014, 2015 and 2016. He also helped him win a Slam in each of those three years. Then Wawrinka, born in 1985 and therefore over 30 with a massive body, started to have various physical problems. But in 2014 he had already reached 3.

It’s a different path from the ones who teamed up with the top players, like Becker with Djokovic or Edberg and Ljubicic with Federer. Patrick Mouratoglou is a person who knows what he’s doing, it’s the case of Baghdatis, but he also coached Serena Williams in 2002. At that time she was number one. Too easy. He didn’t work with her while she was No. 10. Then he won 10 slams with her… but she won her first 13 slams without him.

Juan Carlos Ferrero is doing a great job with Alcaraz. And he’s taken. The same can be said about Carlos Moya, at least until Rafael Nadal carries on with tennis.

The question doesn’t lie in the coach or in the supercoach like Vajda. The coach could be Vagnozzi (he did a good job with Cecchinato and Travaglia… but in this case we are talking about a tennis player who could become a top 5, top 3 or No. 1).

One year and a half of waiting. The point is that it will take at least one year and a half (in my view, of course!) to accomplish the technical improvements which are needed for defeating the first 5 players in the world and for becoming what he dreams to become. Along with a coach, Jannik will have to hire a team of fitness coaches, doctors and so on able to help him make his final breakthrough.

Before 2024, Jannik not only will have to claim the positions of the higher ranked players, but also he will have to defend his position from those behind him.

I obviously do hope he will qualify for the ATP Finals in Turin (together with Matteo Berrettini of course). The quarterfinal he reached in Australia is a better start compared to last year. But it will be hard, really hard. The choice he’s made in these days, presumably well pondered, will result in him facing new problems, lots of extra pressure.

He will have a year and a half ahead of him to work on several aspects related to his still incomplete tennis and he will likely incur some inevitable defeats.

The kid from Val Pusteria will have to be mentally strong. Just as the coach who will mentor him. I do hope that Jannik and Lawrence Frankopan won’t make the wrong choice. The dice is cast. And going back would be a defeat.

Translated by Luca Rossi and Massimo Volpati.

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It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.

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Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.

 

It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.

RAFA DIDN’T MISS ‘HIS SHOT’ OFTEN

Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.

RUUD COULDN’T HANDLE RAFA’S PRESSURE

Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.

JOHNNY MAC: RAFA ‘INSANELY GOOD’

The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages

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Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.

 

His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.

NADAL HAS NEVER PLAYED BETTER

The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.

A 6-1 TIEBREAKER DEFICIT TOO MUCH FOR EVEN NOVAK

The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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The Next Group Of Hopefuls To Replace The ‘Great Trio’ May Be Beaten Out By Youth

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Carlos Alcaraz - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

What is it with this supposedly great crop of newer and younger players groomed to take the places of the “Great Trio” of  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the top of the men’s game?

 

Only Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have won Grand Slam titles, both at the U.S. Open. And that’s about it. Medvedev just fell to Marin Cilic in the French Open round of 16.

Who?

You remember the 33-year-old hard-hitting Croatian who won the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic had hardly been heard from since the 2018 Australian Open where he was runner-up . . . until  Monday when he needed just 45 minutes to conquer Medvedev.

THIEM JUST ANOTHER PLAYER THESE DAYS

Thiem? He looked like the real deal in 2020 when he won the U.S. Open. The Austrian is now 28 years old and an injured right wrist in 2021 has pushed Thiem far down the ATP rankings.

Then, there was the next presumed superstar: Stefanos Tsitsipas. The aggressive potential superstar came up empty on Monday against a virtually unknown teenager. Holger Rune was fantastic in his four-set domination of Tsitsipas.

The just-turned 19-year-old Rune appears to have it all: speed, quickness, power and touch. A 40th ranking isn’t too bad for a teen-ager, especially when it will zoom higher as the result of his advancement to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

ARE MEDVEDEV, THIEM AND TSITSIPAS REALLY THAT GREAT?

Maybe Medvedev, Thiem and Tsitsipas aren’t really as good as they once appeared to be. They are certainly not in the category of all-time greats. They have had their chances to become household words.

Maybe the members of this group weren’t meant to be the superstars to replace Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as fan favorites.

Maybe, it’s the next group of younger players, even teenagers. Yes, it appears that Carlos Alcaraz may outshine the likes of Thiem, Medvedev and Tsitsipas in the next few years.

MAKE WAY FOR CARLOS ALCARAZ?

It just happens the 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz may become one of the eventual replacements for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Carlos Alcaraz is one week younger than Rune.

Alexander Zverev might have been ahead of the others if he hadn’t blown so many chances for stardom the last few years. Still, he is the Olympic champion and probably has more potential than Thiem, Medvedev or Tsitsipas.

A HERD OF PLAYERS WAITING TO MAKE THEIR MARKS

There is a herd of virtually unknown players waiting to make their mark. For instance, take Casper Ruud, 20-year-old Jannik Skinner and Matteo Berrettini. They have the potential to beat anyone.

But Alcaraz and Rune look like the best of the new young guns of tennis.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter who wins the Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal showdown in Paris. They are two of the greatest players ever. Nothing is going to change that, not in Paris or anywhere else. Their place in history is written in stone, alongside Federer.

WOMEN’S GAME UNPREDICTABLE

The women’s game is even more unpredictable than the men’s game. One reason is because the WTA no longer has superstars the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, and Ashleigh Barty.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek looked ready to take over the women’s game with her long string of consecutive wins. But in the last two rounds of the French Open, Swiatek has looked like just another good player at times.

That may be due to the fact that the Polish sensation is going for her second French Open title while taking a 31-match winning streak into the quarterfinals. But it happened in the third round against 95th-ranked Danka Kovinic and then again Monday in round of 16 against 74th-ranked Qinwen Zheng.

Swiatek suddenly looked very average, but then bounced back to take both matches in the cool weather once she put on a white jacket in each match. She aroused her game early enough to avoid losing a set against Kovinic, but not against Zheng.

PEGULA MAY TEST SWIATEK

Swiatek now will face newlywed Jessie Pegula in the quarterfinals. Pegula is now playing the best tennis of her career and has rocketed to No. 11 in the world. Like Swiatek, Pegula is a fighter. She won’t go down easily and may be Swiatek’s toughest test remaining in Paris.

The 28-year-old Pegula called Charleston her home while she trained for a couple of years at the then Family Circle Cup complex, which is now the home of the Credit One Charleston Open stop on the WTA Tour. Pegula was married in last October at the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Pegula also is having doubles success in Paris. She teamed with Coco Gauff to reach the third round in doubles, hoping for a victory there to advance to the doubles quarterfinals as well.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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