Mats Wilander Exclusive: World Events Making Rublev And Medvedev More Focused At French Open - UBITENNIS
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Mats Wilander Exclusive: World Events Making Rublev And Medvedev More Focused At French Open

The former world No.1 and Eurosport presenter has also tipped a young 20-year-old player on the Tour to crack the top 10 in the future.

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Andrey Rublev (photo by Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Mats Wilander believes Russia’s top two men’s players are finding comfort playing on the court in the wake of an ongoing military conflict involving their country.

Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are competing in this year’s French Open as neutral athletes following a joint-decision by tennis’ governing bodies to remove the flags of Russia and Belarus from being used in tournaments. The action was taken in response to Russia’s ongoing military assault against neighbouring Ukraine which began on February 24th that has already killed thousands of people, according to the United Nations. Both Wimbledon and the British LTA have gone one step further by banning those athletes from competing all together.

Seventh seed Rublev will play Jannik Sinner in his fourth round encounter at Roland Garros on Monday. The 24-year-old is bidding to reach the last eight of the tournament for only the second time in his career after 2020. He trails Sinner 1-2 in their head-to-head with his only victory being due to a retirement.

“I’ve watched him pretty well. He’s winning pretty easily and improving the way he is playing every time I see him,” Wilander told Ubitennis when asked about Sinner’s chances.
“(Andrey) Rublev is probably not a great opponent for him because they play similar and Rublev is a little bit faster.”

Former world No.1 Wilander, who won three out of his seven major titles at the French Open, admits that Rublev can at times lack variety in his game but says it can also be an advantage for him. Furthermore, the Swede believes he is even more focused on the court due to the ongoing political fallout.

“Rublev is tough. I think Jannik has a good chance at some point to be maybe in the top five. But Rublev right now is mentally in a different place.” He continued.
“Of course he doesn’t (have the variety in his game) but sometimes that is also a strength. It is simpler to play when you don’t have the variety and when you have a reason to be extremely focused because of the situation in the rest of the world.’
“It’s a very nice place to be on the tennis court right now when you play in a Grand Slam and you’re not representing your country. It is like a safe place.”

Rublev has dropped a set in all three of his previous matches against Soonwoo Kwon, Federico Delbonis and Christian Garin in the French capital.

Another player bidding for a place in the quarter-finals is Daniil Medvedev who plays Marin Cilic in his fourth round match. The world No.1 has a rocky relationship when it comes to playing on the clay and is yet to win a title of any sort on the surface.

“The same thing applies with Daniil (Medvedev). I think what’s going on in the world has a lot to do with how players react on the court,” Wilander commented. “I think for them (Rublev and Medvedev) it is such a serious situation.’
“I think they are going to die an ‘athlete’s death’ on the court. It’s going to be tough to beat them.”
He added.

Praise for Musetti

One player which has caught the attention of Wilander is Lorenzo Musetti. A 20-year-old Italian currently ranked 66th in the world who held a two-set lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round before losing. Triggering memories of his clash with Novak Djokovic 12 months ago, which he also lost after having a two-set lead.

“The question for him is how does he learn to play five sets? Maybe he already knows how to play five sets. He has played two (at the French Open) against the champion last year and a potential champion this year. He was two sets to love up against both of them – Jesus, that’s unbelievable.” he said.
“I think he’s going to be unbelievably good. He has the right attitude.”

Despite those two tough losses, Wilander believes Musetti has a very bright future as he tips him to crack the top 10. The 2019 US Open boys champion is yet to win an ATP title, but has scored two wins over top 10 players – Diego Schwartzman at the 2021 Mexican Open and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the 2022 Monte Carlo Masters.

“He has the quality of being in the top 10, for sure,” Wilander states.
“He has the tennis quality to be better than the top 10. It’s very difficult to be better than the top 10 unless you do well at all the majors.”

Musetti’s conqueror Tsitsipas will play Holger Rune in his fourth round match.

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Mats Wilander tells the 2024 story: Sinner is ready to win a Slam, but probably Djokovic is going to win them all [Exclusive]

“Winning the Davis Cup and beating Djokovic triggered something in Jannik” says former world No.1 and Discovery analyst Mats Wilander on the eve of the Australian Open.

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Mats Wilander (photo: Warner Bros. Discovery)

by Luca de Gaspari

It’s never easy to be successful in a second career after retiring from competition, especially after achieving extraordinary results. Yet in the case of Mats Wilander, it can be said that his adventure as a pundit for Eurosport/Discovery has certainly been lavish with satisfaction. Of course, it is difficult to surpass yourself when you have been No. 1 in the world and have won 7 Grand Slam titles, three of which in that magical year, 1988, the first year the Australian Open was played on the courts of Melbourne Park.

In an exclusive meetup with Ubitennis the Swedish champion was willing to converse on the topic which with us Italians could only be one, first and foremost: Jannik Sinner who is ready in the starting blocks, amid all the expectations in the wake of his exceptional end of the 2023. For sure Mats appeared to be brimming with excitement for the start of a new great year of tennis.

“The Australian Open is always the most interesting Grand Slam because players have had a little bit of a break and you don’t know who had a great offseason and what kind of confidence they have from the 2023 season. There’s the confidence for Jannik Sinner: does it carry him through to the next season?  Because he had an unbelievable finish of 2023 and does that confidence stay with him 1 1/2 months later?”

But where did Sinner’s improvements stem from? Wilander believes it all started with the quality of his service.

“We knew that his game was there. We knew that he is always improving something small here and there. Now he’s improved something big because the serve in the men’s and women’s game is one of the most important shots in the game again,” he said.

“I should say again because there was a time when… For Roger Federer it was important for sure but when Rafa Nadal was winning everything with Novak right there and Andy Murray, the serve wasn’t that important. They were physically very strong, they were very clever, they had no weaknesses in everything else and I think the way the game is going the serve is becoming very very important because you have to get some free points on your service game.”

“The guys are too good at hitting balls, they’re too good at covering the court today. Jannik Sinner improved his serve and that’s one of the hardest shots to improve and he improved his serve so much that he is suddenly as dangerous as Alexander Zverev with a big serve, Daniil Medvedev with a big serve. Suddenly he has that same weapon. We know how well he hits the ball, how well he competes, how well he moves, but he didn’t serve that well and now he does.”

“Carlos Alcaraz needs to improve his serve and when he does, then suddenly he’s going to be nearly impossible to beat. But Jannik with this serve improvement is hot he’s such a great player today, yeah such a great player.”

The real question is whether the level Jannik displayed in the 2023 autumn indoor swing (as well as outdoors in Asia) can be maintained when playing not only best of five matches but also having to cope with the tough Australian summer heat. And if he were not to win here in Australia, could 2024 be the year for his first Major? The three-time AO winner has little doubt.

“This year for sure and even in Australia. He’s had great Grand Slam tournaments. He could have won the US Open when he had a match point against Carlos Alcaraz. I believe he had a good chance of beating Casper Ruud if he had got to play him in the final.” He said.

“So I think that with his win against Novak in Davis Cup and obviously with the win in Turin as well I think that there he has proof in his mind “OK, I can beat the greatest player of all time”. I think learning how to play five sets for some players takes a little bit longer than other players and I think that there are a lot of little things that have to happen along the way and two very important things have happened to him: he beat the best player in the world at home and he won Davis Cup playing for his country. I think he’s going to learn so much from those situations that it’s going to translate into the Australian Open 100% for sure.”

“For sure now Australia and the conditions are the most complicated conditions that we have most probably in any Grand Slam. At the Australian Open, you have to be a little bit lucky and unfortunately for Jannik he is name is not Novak Djokovic. Djokovic will most probably play five matches out of seven at night and it’s cooler, there’s no sun and that is a big advantage for Novak Djokovic. Now it’s not unfair because he deserves to have that advantage. He’s proven that he is the one people want to watch so let’s put Novak at night most of the time. Roger Federer had the same situation. Rafa Nadal often had the same situation, so Jannik unfortunately is still kind of early in his career so he’s going to play.”

“One day he’s going to play at 1:00 in the afternoon, and it’s going to be 40°. The next match is going to play at 7:00 at night and it’s going to be 15°. The next match he is going to play indoors because it’s 50° and they have to close the roof. You have to be very able to adjust to the conditions and that’s the part with Jannik that I’ve seen improvements: he adjusted his serve, he’s adjusted sometimes hitting drop shots with a forehand, he’s adjusted becoming a much better volleyer, he’s even adjusted to be a great doubles player so he’s done so many smaller adjustments that another adjustment for him being the conditions in Australia I think it’s just a matter of time and I think time has come.”

“I think that he is up there with the 4 favourites to win the Australian Open. The number one is Novak Djokovic 100% for sure. Number 2 for me is Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner and then at number 3 comes Zverev, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, and Holger Rune. There are a lot of players that are right behind but to me, he belongs in that second group with Carlos Alcaraz being the favourites. Novak Djokovic is the clear favourite for sure.”

Since Djokovic is his clear favourite, we asked Mats if the Serb’s form may dip in 2024, after missing once again by a hair’s breadth, as in 2021, the calendar year Grand Slam last year.

“Most probably he had a good chance of winning Wimbledon. He had a good chance of winning the US Open when he lost to Daniil Medvedev.  OK not on the day. on the day Medvedev was a human wall. (For) Novak maybe the pressure and the pressure was more in that final against them because it was the last Grand Slam they had. At Wimbledon, there was less pressure because yes, he was the favourite to win, but you never know. So I think

“And the matches that he loses on the tour, they are two out of three sets. In Grand Slams three out of five he just doesn’t lose tennis matches to the young guys because he understands how to play defence and when to play defence. Like last year he was a little bit injured in his right leg and what does he do? He hit his forehand harder last year in Australia than he’s ever hit his forehand before. So he knows how to make these adjustments on the day, in the moment, and maybe that’s what we are still waiting for Jannik Sinner to be able to: in the moment make these adjustments that work out in his favour.”

“Nobody knows how to do that so I see no reason why again I’m going to predict that he wins all four slams because I predicted it a couple of years ago, I predicted it last year. I have been wrong, but it’s been very very very close, and I think that there’s a really really really good chance that he wins all four this year. I really do.”

So, the way Mats Wilander sees it, also 2024 is not bound to be a turning point. Yet, if his predictions were to miss the mark, it may be an Italian player who shall prove him wrong…

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Lorenzo Musetti: “A Year with Few Peaks, but I’ve Improved as a Tennis Player and Physically” [Exclusive]

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Lorenzo Musetti – ATP Sofia 2023 (photo: Ivan Mrankov)

Our correspondent in Sofia interviewed Italian talent Lorenzo Musetti, who is taking on Jack Draper this afternoon

Lorenzo Musetti is  the top seed in the ATP  250 that together with Metz closes the season of “regular” tournaments, just before the ATP Finals in Turin. Exempted from the first round, he’s waiting to make his debut in the Bulgarian capital where last year at the beginning of October he was halted in the semifinals by Marc-Andrea Huesler, the future winner of the tournament.  With our correspondent in Sofia, Ivan Mrankov, he compared this season with 2022, but also about the Davis Cup, and Jannik Sinner.

Greetings from Ubaldo. It’s the last tournament, how do you rate your season? Was it maybe less positive than last year when you won two tournaments? But there are improvements in all areas of your game and it’s also normal for younger players to have a less rewarding year after their first breakthrough. Do you feel improved, do you think it was a positive season?”

“It’s not been an easy season, but as you said, it’s also been a season in which I have been settling in. In the middle part I was able to find a very good continuity in terms of results. Of course, it started off a bit badly.  As I had played so much at the end of last season, it was perhaps more complicated to start the new year in high gear. So it took me a while to get going, I played very well from Monte Carlo. Let’s say it was a season with few peaks. Last year, the weeks in Hamburg, Naples, Paris-Bercy were very high in terms of level.”

For sure I feel improved in terms of tennis and physically, I’m working hard, even if people sometimes only see the results but not what’s behind them. It was a season of firsts. Even if we consider the example of Jannik, last year he had a season of adaptation, different from the standards he has displayed on court this year. And I also hope next year to be more focused, more concrete in terms of results, attitude and everything.”

You’re part of the Davis Cup team again this year, so your season will end pretty late. Do you think you’ll be able to prepare better than last year as you have the same amount of time to rest and train? And last question, what do you think your chances for Davis are? Since the USA, Russia, Spain are missing… Our editor wrote that Italy is the favourite along with Djokovic’s Serbia.

“I think other teams as well, like Australia and Canada who won last year. The Davis Cup is a unique event, not always the team with the best ranked players comes out the winner. And the doubles rubber is fundamental. Having Jannik in our team gives us a great hand. I think he’s playing his best tennis right now. I wish him all the best in Turin and that he can join us as late as possible. It’s a huge boost for us.

In terms of preparation, almost all the players have a month, December, to prepare for Australia. Unfortunately, when we all play so much, we have to adapt. We could do with more days off and obviously more weeks to load, work and prepare for the season. But you have to be good at making do with what we’ve got. And also, during the year, we have to specially focus on maintaining injury prevention.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Hosting The Next Gen Finals

Tennis is heading to the country following weeks of speculation. Although there is likely to be some criticism coming amid the intention of organisers to hold the event during the offseason in December from 2024 onwards.

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Sources have confirmed to Ubitennis that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be moved to Saudi Arabia from this year onwards with the inaugural event taking place immediately after the Davis Cup Finals.

Jeddah will be the event’s host city which features the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21. According to those familiar with the situation, the 2023 edition had initially been planned to take place in December but had to be brought forward due to the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. It wasn’t confirmed until last month that the football tournament will be played in Jeddah in what was described to Ubitennis as a ‘last-minute change.’  

The prospect of hosting the tournament immediately after the Davis Cup finals could be problematic at the end of a long season. However, this situation is trying to be played down as a one-off. 

It will be held on at the King Abdullah Sports City where the venue has six tennis courts just outside the main stadium, as well as another indoor arena that can hold up to 12,000 people. Other events to have been hosted there include the 2021 International Handball Federation Men’s Super Globe tournament, as well as a boxing match between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.

What is the most striking aspect of the plans is the report that from 2024 the Next Gen finals will take place over a week during the second part of December which is in the middle of the off-season. It is unclear why the ATP have pushed for such a thing to occur and why they have agreed to this. During the bidding process for a host city, they said the following in March:-

This year’s tournament is expected to take place in December, with the exact dates to be determined with the successful bidder.’ 

One explanation for such a date might be the number of exhibition events that take place in the Middle East during this time. So instead of players participating in them, they would play this event. However, the idea of expanding an already long Tour calendar is one that will attract criticism. Plus there is yet to be any public response from players who might influence the current plans. 

ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi recently told The Financial Times that ‘positive’ talks have taken place with officials from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, WTA boss Steve Simon visited the country earlier this year and was said to be highly impressed. It appears that both governing bodies are interested in investment from the country as long as it doesn’t have significant implications on the Tour’s structure which has happened in other sports. 

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in sports, including the £300M takeover of football team Newcastle United. In golf, they funded the LIV Tour which split the sport before a shock merger between the Tour’s was announced a few weeks ago.

Critics have accused the Middle Eastern nation of using sport to help improve its image which has been marred by allegations of human rights violations. This is commonly known as sportswashing. 

One of those concerns is related to LGBT players playing in the country. A Saudi official told Ubitennis that gay players or media members would be welcome with their partners as long as they respect local culture. Basically, public displays of homosexuality will not be encouraged and could prompt a backlash from locals. 

“I think the WTA is going to make sure that we are in a safe environment,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis“All the LGBT players are wise enough to not provoke anything or hold hands when we are not at the (tennis) club.’
“I think we have to respect the culture there but it’s not going to be an issue as the WTA will make sure it is a safe environment for us.”

The Next Gen finals began in 2017 and had been hosted in Milan until now. Previous winners include Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima.  

It is understood that a contract confirming the relocation of the event to Saudi Arabia will be signed next month. 

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