What went wrong in the relationship between Jannik Sinner and Riccardo Piatti which was said to be almost paternal? - UBITENNIS
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What went wrong in the relationship between Jannik Sinner and Riccardo Piatti which was said to be almost paternal?

The reasons for such a breakup are still unknown, though the veracity of the news is no longer in doubt. Now there is talk of a supercoach such as Becker or Norman potentially stepping in.

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Jannik Sinner and Maria Sharapova - Parigi 2021 (via twitter @MariaSharapova)

Anyone who asked Jannik Sinner or Riccardo Piatti whether rumours about them parting ways were true did not receive answers such as “yes, it’s true”, but neither were such rumours denied, if it had been just hoax, or fake news

 

People who are close to the two protagonists, have realized that a problem exists and is not ungrounded, despite ignoring what may have triggered news that today definitely seems sensational to most and even to the many who have been around the duo in recent times Down Under times and rightly prefer not to express themselves.  
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For those who know the history of Jannik, the redhead from Val Pusteria, who, aged 13, – when “discovered” in Ortisei by Massimo Sartori, Piatti’s collaborator at that time– left his beloved family, with incredible determination for a boy of that age, as well as his skis and balaclava to go … to the sea. On the Ligurian coast, to join Riccardo Piatti and his Piatti Tennis Center in Bordighera.

The combination had always been successful. Jannik, born in 2001, – as all Ubitennis readers of know – made an early breakthrough, winning the NextGen ATP Finals in Milan 2019 and then, after his first “senior” ATP title in Sofia, climbing up the rankings from 763 (at the end of 2018) to 78 (at the end of 2019), to 37 (at the end of 2020) to 10 (at the end of 2021). Meanwhile he enriched his already remarkable palmarès with 4 other ATP tournaments and had briefly been 9.

What happened between Riccardo Piatti and Jannik Sinner who hadn’t really got off to a bad start this year considering he had reached his second Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open after the quarterfinals of Roland Garros 2020?

While waiting for official communications I rely on receiving information from a reliable source, I can only write partly what I know and partly what I suppose.

Those who were in Australia saw the Piatti and Jannik clan go out to dinner together, even on New Year’s Eve, and apparently live in good harmony. On his return to Italy, where the first murmurs of dissent emerged, they were amazed and incredulous.

Yet, some signs of serious tension had been perceived. Especially during Sinner’s match against Taro Daniel.  At the end of a lost point Jannik had had an outburst, screaming at Piatti who had told him something in such an agitated way as to spark his reaction: Yes, I use my head, and you, stay fucking calmer!” Everyone heard it, even the TV viewers.

Sinner’s harsh defeat against Tsitsipas, when he was overwhelmed as never before, unable to confront the aggressiveness and anticipation of Tsitsipas (who blasted scores of forehand winners) probably did not help soothe the tempers, which, perhaps hotter on court than outside, did not seem so compromised.

It is true, however, that in some of the most yearned for events – not necessarily the most important – the boy from Sesto Pusteria had not always seemed mentally ready and tactically focused.

I am referring to his Miami final he lost to Hubert Hurkacz and to some matches which were rather disappointing and not up to his very high expectations. And maybe it’s good they are so high. I will never forget seeing Jannik get furious when he lost to Wawrinka in 4 sets after playing a great match at the 2019 US Open: yet he was making his debut in a Grand Slam!  “I should have won at least two of the three sets I lost,” he said as he left the court, leaving us quite bewildered by such self-confidence.

Jannik has never accepted defeats very well. A positive sign? Let’s say it was a good sign, the sign of a healthy ambition. A little played down by what he told us at the press conference: “These are all lessons I must learn from. I’m peeling potatoes, I’m not a cook yet.”  A cook’s son, he knew what he was talking about.

Such apparent humility was perhaps in contrast with that boundless pride that prevented him from accepting clear defeats he suffered to Djokovic in Monte Carlo (6-4.6-2), to Nadal at Roland Garros (7-5.6-3.6-0), even more than in the first rounds of Queen’s (Draper) or Wimbledon (Fucsovics in 4 sets “It still takes a little patience to get around to grass,  I knew it”), or some missteps (Rinderknech in Lyon: “A step backwards”…).

After his very first experience against Nadal at Roland Garros 2020, when he had served for the first set and when he had been up a break in the second, Jannik was convinced he would do better the next time. Much better. Instead, he fell short of his expectations both in Rome and in Paris, where he even did worse.

Those stark defeats with the two Fabs, hadn’t been swallowed. Just as those three defeats that nearly scuppered his participation in the ATP Finals: against Tiafoe (what a great gift! In that occasion Sinner was nowhere near as cold as he was supposed to be…), against Alcaraz (losing to a younger player than you really hurts, especially after you have been crowned best young tennis player in the world for more than a year by all the tennis stars, before the surge of Juan Carlo Ferrero’s protégé), and against the old steel-hipped Murray.

Sinner did not always seem as cold as his nickname would make you believe. Perhaps because of his South Tyrolean origins… but not everyone is Gustav Thoeni.

However, in my view the seven-year itch of the Piatti-Sinner couple … does not arise from disappointment; indeed, results are extraordinary. Top-ten, quarter-final at the Australian Open at 20 years old! That would be inconceivable.

Twenty years old.  However we must not forget that Jannik is still a twenty-year-old boy, although apparently much more mature than his age. Jannik has emerged from a rather modest background, and yet he is already a multimillionaire, suddenly smothered by mountains of money, by a swarm of sponsors, by daunting expectations (far more than those endured by Berrettini, who has also won much more), by a popularity that would make any adult lose their head. Imagine someone so much younger…

Arrogant? While the events unrolled in this distressing scenario maybe Jannik had in fact carefully been formulating a plan, with a touch of healthy ambition and, possibly, deep down, a pinch of arrogance – who knows?  Maybe, I really can’t be sure, this arrogance even drove him to blame some of his recent defeats and weaknesses on his technical corner, rather than on himself. That could be why we first heard him speak with such conviction about the need for a super-coach to join his team, back in Australia. “I know who it is, but I’m not going to tell you for now.” 

Boris Becker? When we ruled out a few famous coaches who wouldn’t have been available for Jannik on a full-time schedule, like McEnroe, Moya, Ljubicic, Wawrinka, Lendl, Enqvist (who’s started working with Tsitsipas but most likely won’t be able to talk to him in Greek, as Apostolos does…), Becker’s name came up – what with him being a Monte Carlo resident, like Jannik, and stopping by a few times at Piatti Tennis Center in Bordighera.

We can only presume that Boom Boom Becker’s candidacy, favoured by them having a language in common, would probably have been supported by Piatti himself, though maybe a touch grudgingly. Now that Riccardo has found himself pretty incredibly pushed out of the picture, there’s a new duo preparing to pose: Boris Becker and Simone Vagnozzi, the latter having coached Marco Cecchinato back in 2018, when the Sicilian tennis player proved his worth at Roland Garros.

Although the latest word is that Sweden’s Magnus Norman is considered to be the best candidate to coach Sinner along with Vagonzzi. Former world No.2 Norman is known for his colloboration with Stan Wawrinks who is managed by Starwing Management. The same company who are also in charge of Sinner’s affairs.

Clashes over Scheduling: It appears that there have been debates between the two over their plans for the coming weeks. Piatti wanted Sinner to play less in the coming days ahead of the Davis Cup. However, the Italian had stated that he wanted to play in Dubai ahead of the team event. It is also understood that Sinner wanted his mentor to be present during more of his maches (for example Piatti didn’t travel to Wimbledon last year).

Economic Reasons? Could the Sinner-Piatti breakup have been caused by economic reasons – hard to tell if we’ll ever know for sure – rather than strictly technical issues that would be linked to results that are for the most part irrefutably good?

I believe the technical hypothesis, regardless of the actual results, is pretty unlikely. Though – truth be told – I have noticed Riccardo Piatti slowly renouncing his leading role in the Piatti – Sinner relationship, while the young redhead’s results and ranking have been growing at the same pace as his personality has. 

The player-coach relationship is never at its best when the player is the one driving it. The coach ends up being a subordinate worker, even when the decision-making power should be his by right.

People who’ve been closer to them than me, have noticed Piatti and his clan getting increasingly anxious, even excessively nervous, and overprotective. As if he feared losing control of him. I witnessed a bizarre episode in Australia a couple of years ago, that led me to think this might all be age-related. We elderly folks, you see, are easy prey to anxiety, distress, and heightened emotions in general. 

We’re talking about a Riccardo Piatti who was creating barriers, suspicious of journalists, as if he were unaware that they too contribute to making his athlete more popular in the eyes of the sponsors, thus indirectly increasing his income as well. But he was suspicious of people in general and other coaches like Massimo Sartori who deserves a great credit for discovering the enfant-prodige. Sartori indeed was sidelined by Piatti, who had Sinner mentored by lesser-known coaches such as Andrea Volpini, as if he was afraid that Sartori – who did an outstanding job with Andreas Seppi – could somehow overshadow him.

Shared choices? We do not know exactly how many of Jannik’s choices were his, or entirely shared or suggested by Piatti: the choice not to participate in the Olympics and the Davis Cup call. At the time, they always seemed 100% shared and agreed between athlete and coach. As of today, we may ask ourselves questions… for example about that very risky decision to change Jannik’s serving motion back in August 2021.

A rather unusual situation. During the Davis Cup in Turin, where Sinner won his matches against Isner, Galan and Cilic, Piatti asked to be present with all his staff. He coached Sinner at the end of each session, along with captain Volandri and the rest of the team. The other Italian players either had no coach, or just one. A fairly anomalous situation and perhaps not too popular with the Italian camp. Italy will play a Davis match against Slovakia on March 4-5 in Bratislava, but Berrettini will not be there while Sinner, on the other hand, despite having just recovered from Covid, is expected to play. Was it his decision? Was this choice suggested, or maybe opposed by Piatti, who has always had his own ideas on programming?

The next tournaments. Changing a coach now after 7 years, considering that the Dubai tournament will start at the end of February…the events of Indian Wells and Miami will unfold before the start of the clay season, is a giant leap of faith.

Sinner’s share of ATP points. In February Jannik needs to defend only 10 points, coming from Australian Open 2021, after having already lost 90 points from Rotterdam 2020 this week. In March he will have to be on the lookout for 135 points total, 45 in Marseille and 90 in Dubai, while in April there will be 825 points at stake, including 600 from the final in Miami, 45 from Monte Carlo and 180 from Barcelona.

A divorce almost always leaves regrets in its wake. Much depends on the causes of the breakup. Let’s hope wounds will be easily and quickly healing, for both.

Translated by Giulia Bosatra, Michele Brusadelli, Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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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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