Andy Murray Drifts Past Thiem In Madrid - UBITENNIS
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Andy Murray Drifts Past Thiem In Madrid

The battle of the former Grand Slam champions lived up to expectations early on but Thiem’s lack of match play in recent weeks paved way for Murray to claim a comfortable 6-3, 6-4, win.

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Image via https://twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen

by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Just a few years ago Murray vs Thiem would have been a match of the final stages of any tournament.

If you consider the players’ pedigree here in Madrid, Murray a winner in 2008 and 2015 and finalist in 2016, Thiem a finalist in 2017 and 2018, and semi-finalist 2019 and 2021, just one year ago. It seems incredible that this was just the glamour match of the first evening session here at the Mutua Open. 

 

Injuries may affect rankings, but not tennis fans’ devotion to their champions and not the players’ commitment to the game. The crammed stands and the spectacle displayed at times by Andy Murray and Dominic Thiem, in their yearning to get back to their highest, was the best testimonial of the expectations and emotions tennis can generate.

Murray got off to an excellent start, holding serve comfortably and appearing immediately to be nicely hitting through.

Such a stride earned him an early break point in the second game, which he failed to convert by dumping a seemingly easy return into the net. The match rose to expectations with enthralling and battled points which got the public on their feet. Eventually Thiem hammered a backhand down the line to close in on 1-1.

Both players led the dance on their following service games. But in the fourth Murray slightly retreated and playing from further behind the baseline allowed Thiem to dictate pace and set up an array of aggressive winners: a flying forehand, a cat and mouse moment, moving Murray to and fro and finally opening up the court with a drop shot.

In game 5 Murray faced a first hardship on serve and was down 0-30 after a double fault but here the match took a turn. A streak of 13 points won to 3, Thiem conceding his serve with three unforced forehand errors, and Murray flew to a 5-2 lead, hitting two aces.

In game nine, serving for the set, the Scot started by losing the first point after a feeble volley, but dashed back to clutch the first set with an ace and another forehand error by Thiem.    

The start of the second set mirrored the first. After a first comfortable service game for Thiem, the second game turned into a battle.

A double fault brought Murray to face the first break point of the match, resolutely erased with an ace. A second break point was wasted by Thiem with an unforced error. Sensing the opportunity to level the match, the Austrian earned a third break point with a forehand down the line. Murray brilliantly saved it with serve and volley, moved ahead with yet another ace and in the next point, though under pressure, he forced Thiem to try and dig a low volley that didn’t make it over the net.

Disappointment may have seeped in for the missed opportunity. In the following game the Austrian committed three forehand errors and lost his service.

The match went on with serve. Murray delighted the public with an exquisite forehand half-volley in the sixth game, followed by an ace to rise 4-2. 

In the eighth game Murray faced what would be the last threat, finding himself swamped at deuce after leading 40-love, but again the Austrian lost his bearings, and with two unforced forehands lagged 5-3.

One of the points of the match was staged at 15-15 in game 9: Thiem served a service out wide and followed it up with an inside out forehand which set up a low sliced volley. Amazing scurrying by Murray who stretched at his utmost to place a forehand lob on the line, retrieved the smash, finally ran down the Thiem’s drop shot, ending the point with a counter drop shot with his forehand. That was some panache.

Serving for the match at 5-4, Murray didn’t falter. He earned two match points and put it away with a last winning serve out wide

A victory for Murray which reminds of all those years when he used to drift through rounds with ease, seldom troubled by his opponents, never failing to show up against his great rivals in the ultimate duels for the crowns.

Murray was strategically impeccable, varying pace continuously: from hitting through and moving his opponent from side to side, then lofting balls, not to allow Thiem, already not fully confident, to get on a roll.

The higher number of matches played by Murray in 2022 surely contributed to making a difference. Thiem was often struggling to find his pace, power and regularity, unable to put constant pressure, to find that intensity that distinguished him and drove him to a Major crown.

Thiem still in quest, still a paler shade of himself. But as Andy told him, over the net: “Keep going. It takes time but you will be fine.”

ATP

Gael Monfils Targets Spot At Home Olympics Before Retirement 

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Image via ATP Twitter

Gael Monfils may be starting his 2023 season later than usual but he isn’t contemplating stepping away from the sport anytime soon. 

 

The former top 10 star has been absent from the Tour since August due to a foot problem during what has been an injury-stricken year for the Frenchman. Monfils also missed the French Open and Wimbledon due to a heel injury which required surgery. Overall, he has won 14 out of 21 matches played on the Tour in 2022. 

Providing an update on his current fitness during an interview with Canal+, Monfils confirmed that he will not be playing at the Australian Open in January which will be the fourth major tournament in a row he has missed. Whilst his recovery is progressing well, he is targeting a return during the clay season which concludes at the French Open. He is also unable to access his protected ranking at Melbourne Park because the rulebook states that a player must be absent for at least six months to be eligible. 

“I know that there is a protected ranking, when you don’t play for a certain amount of months. I know that if I take it, I have to not play the Australian Open to reach the six months needed and that will be my decision,” Tennis Head quotes Monfils as saying.

However, the 36-year-old isn’t planning to stop playing just yet with aspirations to play at his home Olympic Games, which will be held in Paris in 2024. Monfils is already a three-time Olympian and has reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice before. 

Despite some speculation over his retirement, Monfils hopes to continue playing until the age of 40. Although he admits this depends on his family after he and his wife Elina Svitolina welcomed their first child earlier this year.

“2023 is an important year for me, a year of transition, transition between my injuries and the fact to be competitive to try to qualify for Paris 2024. I would not like to miss the Olympics, it would be my last one,” he added.
“I hope that 2024 would not be my last year but maybe the one after that. Before, I said that I wanted to play until I’m 40 but the more time I spend with my daughter, the more time I’m thinking maybe I’ll play a bit less.”

Monfils has won 11 Tour titles so far in his career, including this year’s Adelaide International. He has reached at least one final every year since 2005. 

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The Year-End Rankings: The Rise Of Alcaraz And The Eternals, Djokovic and Nadal

Image via ATP Twitter

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By Roberto Ferri

Let’s start our last article on the ATP rankings by quoting the words which are said to be the last of emperor Augustus: “The play is over, applaud”.

 

We cannot but applaud Novak Djokovic, six-time ATP Finals winner just like Roger Federer. And we applaud the season, which, for good or ill, has been unique. Just consider the most striking events: Carlos Alcaraz rising to No. 1, Roger Federer’s retirement, all the issues involving Djokovic and the Wimbledon affair.  

The top positions of the ranking have been significantly impacted by Djokovic’s absence from two Majors (Australian Open and US Open), four Masters 1000 (Indian Wells, Miami Open, Canadian Open, Cincinnati) and by ATP’s decision to not award points for Wimbledon.

If we compare the ATP rankings published after the ATP Finals in 2021 and 2022, this fact is clearly noticeable. 

22 NOVEMBER 2021

PositionPlayerCountryPts 
1DjokovicSerbia11540
2MedvedevRussia8640
3ZverevGermany7840
4TsitsipasGreece6540
5RublevRussia5150
6NadalSpain4875
7BerrettiniItaly4568
8RuudNorway4160
9HurkaczPoland3706
10SinnerItaly3350
11Auger-AliassimeCanada3308
12NorrieGB2945
13SchwartzmanArgentina2625
14ShapovalovCanada2475
15ThiemAustria2425
16FedererSwitzerland2385
17GarinChile2353
18KaratsevRussia2351
19Bautista AgutSpain2260
20Carreno BustaSpain2230

14 NOVEMBER 2022:

PositionPlayerCountryPts
1AlcarazSpain6820
2NadalSpain6020
3RuudNorway5820
4TsitsipasGreece5550
5DjokovicSerbia4820
6Auger-AliassimeCanada4195
7MedvedevRussia4065
8RublevRussia3930
9FritzUSA3355
10HurkaczPoland2905
11RuneDenmark2888
12ZverevGermany2700
13Carreno BustaSpain2495
14NorrieGB2445
15SinnerItaly2410
16BerrettiniItaly2375
17ShapovalovCanada2105
18CilicCroatia2075
19TiafoeUSA2000
20KhachanovRussia1990

Novak Djokovic ended 2021 with 4720 points more than Carlos Alcaraz; also Medvedev and Tsitsipas earned more points than the Spaniard, who would not have reached 7000 points even counting the 135 points he wasn’t awarded at Wimbledon.

A few comments on the 2022 rankings:

  • Casper Ruud, the ATP Finals finalist, concludes his excellent year in third place, overtaking Stefanos Tsitsipas with an impressive final rush.
  • Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal are the only top 10 players born in the 80s; the other 8 were born in the second half of the 90s.
  • Cameron Norrie and Pablo Carreno Busta are the survivors of the lost generation, born between 1990 and 1995 and that was most overpowered by the Big Four dominance. 
  • Only North America, beyond Europe, is represented at the very highest: Auger Aliassime, Fritz, Shapovalov and Tiafoe.
  • Holger Rune has gained 92 positions since the start of the year. Carlos Alcaraz “just” 31.
  • A final note: Kei Nishikori ends 2022 without a ranking. Does this suggest he’s going to retire?

BEST RANKING

Owing to earned and dropped points, as well as results in the Challenger events, five players in the top 100 have achieved their career highest this week:

Emil Ruusuvuori – 40

Quentin Halys – 64

Christopher O’Connell – 79

Roman Safiullin – 89

Nuno Borges – 91

A special applause for the 20-year old Ben Shelton, a bright prospect for USA tennis, who has made his debut in the top 100. Thanks to his victory in the Champaign-Urbana Challenger he’s now ranked 97.

Is that all? Not yet! Just a quiz for everybody: which was the last year which saw the first two places in the rankings occupied at the end of the season by two players of the same nationality?

That’s really all for now. We’ll be back in 2023.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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ATP Finals Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Casper Ruud in the Championship Match

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Novak Djokovic on Saturday in Turin (twitter.com/atptour)

The biggest ATP non-Major final of 2022 takes place on Sunday in Turin, Italy.

 

2022 has been a bizarre year in the career of Novak Djokovic.  It started with his deportation from Australia, forcing the unvaccinated Djokovic to miss the first Major of the year.  That would be one of six prominent events that Novak would miss this season due to COVID-19 entry rules (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal, Cincinnati, US Open).  Yet Djokovic was still able to accumulate a record of 41-7, and win his 21st Slam at Wimbledon.  He is now 17-1 at indoor ATP events this fall, and will end the year as the World No.5  With a win on Sunday, he would tie Roger Federer for most all-time ATP Finals titles.

2022 has been a groundbreaking year in the career of Casper Ruud.  He had already established himself as a top 10 player, but prior to this season, was predominantly thought of as a clay court specialist, with five of his six ATP titles coming on that surface.  Yet that all changed this season, starting in Miami when he reached his first Masters 1000 finals.  Casper would go on to also reach his first two Major finals, in Paris in New York.  He is now 51-21, and into his fourth big final of the year.


Sunday’s action in Turin starts at 4:00pm local time with the doubles championship match, featuring Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (4) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (2).  Both teams are an undefeated 4-0 this past week.  This is Ram and Salisbury’s second consecutive year in the final, having lost a year ago to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.  Mektic won this title two years ago alongside Wesley Koolhof, while this is Pavic’s first appearance in the final of this event.  These teams have not met since the semifinals of this tournament last year, when Ram and Salisbury prevailed.


Casper Ruud (3) Novak Djokovic (7) – Not Before 7:00pm

Ruud is 3-1 this past week, with his only loss coming in a dead rubber against Rafael Nadal.  Prior to his three top 10 victories across the last seven days, Casper only had two all season (Zverev, Auger-Aliassime).  And he is yet to win a title above 250-level in his career, with the aforementioned three losses this year in big finals.  Ruud was a semifinalist here a year ago in his ATP Finals debut.

Djokovic is an undefeated 4-0 this week, which includes an arduous effort to defeat Daniil Medvedev on Friday in a dead rubber.  Novak is now 10-3 against top 10 opposition in 2022, having taken nine of his last 10 against the top 10.  He is 4-2 in finals this year, though he lost his most recent one, two weeks in Bercy, to Holger Rune.  Djokovic is an eight-time finalist here, though he hasn’t won this title since 2015.

Djokovic has played a lot more tennis across the last two days than Ruud.  On Friday, Novak spent over three hours on court, while Ruud had the day off.  But Djokovic still looked plenty fresh for his semifinal on Saturday against Taylor Fritz, and was able to prevent the American from extending that tight contest to a third set.  Novak is 3-0 against Casper, which includes a straight-set victory at this same event a year ago.  And considering Ruud’s poor record in significant finals, Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his sixth title at the ATP Finals on Sunday.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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