Steve Flink: Novak Djokovic Wins 24th Major Title Largely on Willpower - UBITENNIS
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Steve Flink: Novak Djokovic Wins 24th Major Title Largely on Willpower



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As we reflect on Novak Djokovic securing a fourth U.S. Open crown and a 24th major in the process, it is too easily overlooked by even the most erudite of tennis observers that this tournament has frequently been filled with misfortune for the Serbian gladiator. 

This was the tenth time Djokovic had been to the finals in New York, but on six occasions he had been toppled on those auspicious occasions. He lost to a prime time Roger Federer in a straight set 2007 final (7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4) despite having five set points in the opening set and two more in the second. Rafa Nadal upended Djokovic in a four set 2010 title round meeting, and two years later Andy Murray defeated the Serbian in a five set final.

The pattern persisted. Nadal overcame Djokovic in a four set final in 2013. When that encounter was locked at one set all, the Spaniard served his way out of a dark corner at 4-4, 0-40. Another penetrating setback for Djokovic was in 2016 when he fell in four sets against Stan Wawrinka despite taking the opening set. And then, of course, Djokovic suffered his most painful final round loss at the Open two years ago when his bid for the Grand Slam was denied by Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

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Of those six final round defeats, Djokovic could well have won two or three. Meanwhile, he was the prohibitive favorite in 2020 when he inadvertently hit a lines woman with a ball late in the first set of his round of 16 appointment against Pablo Carreno Busta and was disqualified. Last, but not least, he could not compete at the 2022 U.S. Open because he is unvaccinated.

In my mind, Djokovic—inarguably at his best on hard courts—is worthy of several more Open titles in his collection. He had his breakthrough triumph in New York at the 2011 edition when he rescued himself from double match point down in the semifinals against Roger Federer before ousting Nadal in a hard fought, four set final. He took his second title four years later in four sets over Federer on an evening when the audience was vociferously cheering the Swiss stylist’s every move and often loudly applauding Djokovic’s mistakes. His third triumphant campaign came five years ago when Djokovic fended off the extraordinary firepower of Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 in a 2018 title round contest that resembled this year’s final in some ways.

But perhaps his latest victory in Arthur Ashe Stadium will mean the most to Djokovic. He wanted this tournament very badly. His parents, wife and two children were there to cheer him on. On top of those emotional factors, Djokovic had lost narrowly to Carlos Alcaraz in a five set Wimbledon final, and was therefore doubly determined not to lose consecutive major finals after all of the hard work he had put in across the season.

As the tournament progressed, Djokovic surely believed deep in his heart that he was destined to take on Alcaraz again. In the last three times they had been at a tournament together, the Serbian and Spaniard had indeed clashed, with Djokovic victorious in the semifinals at Roland Garros, Alcaraz the victor at Wimbledon and Djokovic then winning a stupendous skirmish in the final of Cincinnati.

But Alcaraz was ushered out of the Open by an inspired Medvedev in a sparkling Saturday night semifinal encounter, and so the final pitted Djokovic versus Medvedev. This was their third final at a Grand Slam event. Before Medvedev had beaten Djokovic in the 2021 Open final, the Serbian had taken apart the Russian 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in the Australian Open final at the start of that season.

Altogether, Djokovic owned a 9-5 career head to head lead over Medvedev coming into the Open final, including triumphs in three of their last four meetings, most notably at Turin last fall in the ATP Finals in a round robin skirmish. Djokovic had already qualified for the semifinals and that match was supposedly meaningless. But he approached it like a final and pushed himself to his physical and emotional limits. Medvedev served for the match in the final set before Djokovic succeeded in a final set tie-break. He explained later that the reason why he was so driven to win that match was his high regard for Medvedev as one of his most important and resilient rivals.

This time around at the U.S. Open, Djokovic was composed, purposeful and quietly confident from the outset. He recognized as he always does how crucial it is to get off to a good start and take the opening set. Over the course of his sterling career, Djokovic has the best record of any male player in the Open Era after winning the first set at 935-41 (.958). There has been no better front runner in the sport.

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As is his custom, Djokovic came out of the blocks unhesitatingly against Medvedev, releasing a pair of aces from 30-30 in the opening game of the final, then breaking his 6’6” adversary at love in the second game as the No. 3 seed put in only one first serve. Medvedev double faulted once wildly and made three unprovoked mistakes in that game. Djokovic trailed 0-30 in the third game but swept four points in a row for 3-0, closing out that third game with another ace at 120 MPH down the T.

The No. 2 seed had the cushion he wanted. He did not break Medvedev again in that set but played the most significant points well on his own delivery. At 3-1 and deuce, he approached beautifully deep to the backhand and put away a forehand volley crosscourt, moving to 4-1 with an angled forehand crosscourt that was too much to handle. On his way to 5-2, he released a couple of winners including a pinpoint forehand inside in on game point. After Medvedev survived a three deuce game and saved two set points at 2-5, Djokovic held easily at 15 to seal the set 6-3 in 48 efficient minutes.

Over the first half of the second set, Djokovic was constantly making Medvedev work hard to hold serve. The 27-year-old held on after three deuces for 1-0, endured another deuce game before moving to 2-1, and held from 15-30 to reach 3-2. Djokovic, meanwhile, was holding much more comfortably. On his way to 3-3 he served three love games in a row. In the seventh game, Djokovic advanced to break point but Medvedev connected with a 124 MPH first serve that created an opening for a forehand swing volley winner. After four deuces and countless sparkling points, Medvedev worked his way out of danger to 4-3 with a 121 MPH ace out wide in the ad court.

Now Djokovic was starting to lose steam physically and feeling the strain mentally, realizing that the outcome of this set was critical. He led 40-15 in the eighth game but double faulted and then lost the next point. At game point for the third time he double faulted again. He had a fourth game point but missed an easy forehand. Medvedev garnered a first break point but Djokovic spectacularly made a forehand half volley drop shot winner to save himself. Djokovic held on after four deuces and more than twelve minutes, making a low forehand volley crosscourt that provoked a netted passing shot from Medvedev. 

It was 4-4. Many among the capacity crowd in Ashe Stadium were chanting “Nole, Nole, Nole” to spur him on, but Medvedev was unswayed, holding at love for 5-4 before Djokovic made it to 5-5 with a clutch hold. The Serbian reached deuce in the following game on Medvedev’s serve by prevailing in an astounding 26 shot exchange, bringing the crowd to their feet with a forehand passing shot winner off an awkward smash form Medvedev. Medvedev, however, stayed completely on task, holding on with a service winner and a surprising error off the backhand from Djokovic.

Djokovic was now seriously fatigued. At 5-6, he double faulted at 40-30. A scintillating and unanswerable backhand down the line into the corner then gave Medvedev a set point. Djokovic went to the serve-and-volley that he employed so selectively well all match long, going down the T with his first delivery at 117 MPH, angling the backhand first volley crosscourt. Medvedev had an opening for a down the line pass but went crosscourt. Djokovic anticipated that shot and punched a backhand volley winner into a wide open space down the line. As he walked back to the baseline to play the next point, Djokovic grinned, realizing he had been fortunate. Eventually, after four deuces, a debilitated Djokovic went to 6-6 with a 121 MPH service winner down the T.

A marathon set that would last for one hour and 44 minutes was nearing an end as both players fully realized what was at stake. Medvedev would have a new life by winning it and reaching one set all, while Djokovic knew that he could be unstoppable by coming through in the tie-break to move ahead two sets to love.

Medvedev opened up a 3-1 lead but Djokovic swept three points in succession to lead 4-3 and sensed an opportunity for a forehand winner down the line on the next point, but drove it long. 4-4. The following point was 23 strokes. Djokovic defended stupendously but then took charge of the rally. He tried an angled backhand drop shot that Medvedev answered with a re-drop. Djokovic was trapped. 5-4 for Medvedev. Djokovic took control of the next rally commendably. The last six shots he played were all crosscourt backhands that he leaned into with conviction, increasing the pace of his shots and the angle each time until he forced Medvedev to miss. 5-5.  Djokovic then followed his first serve in on the eleventh point and his wide delivery in the deuce court landed in the corner. Medvedev missed his down the line forehand return both long and wide.

Medvedev was set point down at 5-6, and he was not going to escape. The big man netted a backhand down the line. After so many pulsating points, Medvedev understandably cracked against the game’s premier tie-break player, losing a hard fought tie-break seven points to five. Djokovic lifted his record for the year in those sequences to 26-5. The match was essentially over. Both players sorely wanted that set, but Medvedev needed it even more than Djokovic. The match was essentially over.

Djokovic made his move early in the third set, breaking a beleaguered Medvedev at 15 for 3-1 on a stream of errors. But Djokovic made only one first serve in the following game, double faulted once and was broken at 15 as well. It would be the only time in the match that he lost his serve, but he made amends immediately. Medvedev was serving at 30-0 in the sixth game but Djokovic caught him off guard with a deep forehand return. Medvedev double faulted to make it 30-30 and then Djokovic concluded a 16 stroke exchange with an immaculately measured backhand down the line winner. Djokovic directed a backhand crosscourt return at 30-40 to lure Medvedev into a backhand down the line error. Four points in a row for Djokovic. He was back up a break at 4-2.

He commenced the seventh game with a dazzling serve-volley combination, angling away the backhand first volley acutely for 15-0, lacing a forehand inside in winner for 30-0, putting away an overhead for 40-0, and going to his trusted sliced backhand to coax an error from Medvedev. With that love hold Djokovic got to 5-2. Medvedev pridefully held from 0-30 in the eighth game after losing ten points in a row, but Djokovic wrapped up the victory with a hold at 30. The triumph belonged to Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3. At long last, five years after claiming his last Open title, Djokovic had at last captured a fourth crown in New York as he appeared in a record tenth final.

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It was a strategically savvy performance from Djokovic, reminiscent in many ways of his final round win over Medvedev in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters 1000 event. It was Djokovic’s willingness and readiness to come forward that separated him from Medvedev. He won 20 of 22 serve-and-volley points, and altogether 37 of 44 points when he went to the net. Medvedev never served-and-volleyed and won 16 of 22 points at the net, coming in only half as often as Djokovic.

Djokovic did a remarkably good job of swinging his slice serve wide in that deuce court to expose Medvedev’s court positioning that was too far behind the baseline. Sometimes Djokovic forced Medvedev into errant forehand returns and in other cases he set up volleys that were relatively simple. When Djokovic did have to play a difficult low volley, he was not found wanting. Arguably he has never volleyed better. He knew precisely what he wanted to do tactically and technically in the final with Medvedev and was rewarded in the end for his flexibility, foundational stability and sound execution.

In the semifinals, Djokovic cut down the fast charging, left-handed, 20-year-old Ben Shelton 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4). Shelton had announced himself to the tennis world at large in Australia at the start of the season, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open before losing to countryman Tommy Paul in a four set contest.

After his stirring run in Melbourne, Shelton lost 19 of his next 28 matches— and that includes one Challenger tournament along with all of his ATP Tour appearances. But Shelton was clearly inspired in New York and this time he knocked out both No. 14 seed Tommy Paul and No. 10 Frances Tiafoe. Those triumphs earned him a penultimate round duel with Djokovic.

The No. 2 seed started picking apart the explosive Shelton early on. Shelton had released a pair of 149 MPH thunderbolts against Paul, and he can serve as big as anyone in the game. But he felt against Djokovic that he had to mix it up. He did just that, changing speeds and spins intelligently, trying to not allow the Serbian to know what was coming next.

The strategy failed. From the outset of this semifinal, Djokovic was uncannily prepared for almost every first and second serve that came his way. His returns were often breathtaking, no matter how big the serve, regardless of where they were directed. Djokovic was ready for any kind of serve that came his way. He raced to a 5-2 first set lead and had Shelton down 0-40 in the eighth game. Shelton escaped, saving four set points, holding on with a 140 MPH service winner. Djokovic was down break point in the following game but held on to close out the set 6-3. The eventual champion thoroughly took over in the second set, winning 16 of 23 points on serve, breaking twice, setting the tempo from the backcourt.

When Djokovic took a 4-2 third set lead, he seemed to be cruising to victory. But Shelton found his range off the backhand and lifted his game considerably overall. He broke Djokovic for 4-4, held, and then had a set point with the Serbian serving at 4-5. Djokovic wiped it away emphatically with a 124 MPH service winner. He held on, broke again for 6-5, and had a match point in the twelfth game. But he missed with a forehand down the line wide and two points later netted an overhead. 

Shelton improbably had broken serve for 6-6. Djokovic settled into his usual tie-break mode and took a 5-1 lead. Urged on vociferously by the crowd, Shelton collected three points in a row, but Djokovic was imperturbable. He made it to 6-4 with a neatly executed backhand volley and then took the next point by going to the Shelton forehand and coaxing an error. Djokovic prevailed 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

After that afternoon clash, Medvedev and Alcaraz collided in the evening. The Spaniard had crushed Medvedev twice earlier this season, first in the final of Indian Wells on hard courts, and then in the semifinals of Wimbledon on the grass. The Russian looked so befuddled in those confrontations that it was hard to envision him making inroads against the Spaniard on the hard courts at the Open.

But that is exactly what he did—and so much more. Medvedev was struggling considerably in his first two service games. On his way to 1-1 he served three double faults and was stretched to deuce four times before barely holding on. He was down 15-40 in the fourth game but moved past his difficulties to 2-2. Over his next four service games, Medvedev improved substantially, winning 16 of 20 points. Alcaraz dropped only seven points in his six opening set service games.

They settled the outcome of that set in a tie-break. Medvedev took a mini-break lead at 3-2, but double faulted on the next point. But then Alcaraz netted a drop shot, missed a forehand volley that he would often make, and drove a forehand down the line needlessly into the net. Serving at 6-3, Medvedev hit a forehand winner down the line off a short return. He had swept four points in a row to win the set.

Alcaraz was rattled. He was disconcerted about his play in the tie-break. The loss of that set in such a careless way lingered in the mind of the 20-year-old Wimbledon champion. Medvedev served magnificently in the second set and won 16 of 18 points on his delivery but Alcaraz did not keep up his end of the competitive bargain, losing his serve twice, dropping the set 6-1, performing abysmally when judged by his normally high standards.

And yet, Alcaraz finally broke Medvedev for 3-1 in the fourth as the Russian volleyed tamely on the last two points. Alcaraz made that one break count and took the third set 6-3. He was revving up the crowd and raising his own spirits in the process. At 1-1 in the fourth set, Medvedev dealt with a dangerous moment forthrightly, saving three break points after falling behind 15-40, crucially holding on.

That was one turning point. The next was when Alcaraz served at 2-3. In a seven deuce game which he led 40-15, Alcaraz was broken despite having seven game points at a persistent Medvedev exploited too many serve-and-volley points from the Spaniard. Medvedev was anticipating that tactic and started making low returns that were tough to handle. Alcaraz did not locate his serve nearly as well as Djokovic did in the final.

Alcaraz’s numbers for the match when attacking were reasonably good. He won 54 of 70 net points altogether and succeeded on 31 of 42 serve-and-volley attempts. But he got burned on some big points in the fourth set by being too predictable.

Medvedev served his way to a love hold to reach 5-2 in the fourth, closing out that seventh game with an ace out wide. But, serving for the match two games later, he rushed and put himself in a precarious position. He came from 15-40 down to reach match point but double faulted on the next two points. Down break point for the third time, he was very lucky when his short forehand landed on the sideline and Alcaraz mismanaged it, sending a backhand down the line long. Medvedev needed four match points but he got himself across the finish line despite some unnecessary tension, celebrating his biggest match victory of the season by upending Alcaraz 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

In fact, Medvedev played well the entire tournament. He dropped one set to the Australian Chris O’Connell in the second round and then had to come from behind in the fourth round to defeat Alex De Minaur 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. That was a noteworthy victory because the Australian had beaten Medvedev the last two times they played. In the quarterfinals, Medvedev handled his countryman and No. 8 seed Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals despite trailing 3-0 in the first set, 3-1 in the second and 4-2 in the third. That match was played in Arthur Ashe Stadium on an oppressive afternoon. At one point Medvedev understandably complained, “Someone is going to die out here.” 

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That’s why it was such a good thing for the players and the fans that the final rounds were played under the roof. The air conditioning made a big difference for the players who had been toweling themselves off between points incessantly.

As for Djokovic and his pathway through the tournament, he won six of his seven matches in straight sets. But he did have an ordeal of sorts when he played countryman Laslo Djere in the third round at night. The No. 32 seed was hardly missing a ball while taking a two set lead. He had more patience than Djokovic and was exploiting every opportunity he had. Djokovic missed chances in the early games of this match. He had 40-30 on serve in the first game but was broken. Then he squandered break points in Djere’s first two service games. Before he knew it, that set was gone. Djere hardly put a foot out of line for two sets.

But Djokovic took a bathroom break after that second set, returned to the court revitalized, and swept through the third set swiftly. He eventually was victorious 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. It was a draining battle which was tougher than the score indicates. Djokovic even faced a break point in the last game of the match. But he managed to come back from two sets to love down for the eighth time in his career, and lifted his career record in five set matches to 38-11.

In any event, some space must be reserved for the best match of the tournament. That was No. 12 seed Sascha Zverev’s 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over No. 6 seed Jannik Sinner in the fourth round. Sinner was cramping by the third set but battled on courageously, and Zverev looked spent in the fourth set. Be that as it may, Zverev never lost his serve in a magnificently played fifth set to secure the win. He lost in straight sets to Alcaraz but the German competitor is well on his way back to the top of his game. By reaching the quarters in New York, Zverev returned to the top ten in the world, which is where he surely belongs.

Meanwhile, Djokovic is back where he belongs at No. 1 in the world for the 390th week in his career. He stands a decent chance of concluding 2023 at the top. If he manages to realize that extraordinary feat, it would be the eighth time he has finished a season at No. 1. Pete Sampras ended six years (in a row) at the top while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal did it five times.

Djokovic has now appeared in 72 career Grand Slam tournaments, winning a third (24) of them. He has been to the final in half of those championships (36). He now is the only man ever to win three majors in four different years (2011, 2015, 2021 and 2023). He has been victorious in seven of the last ten majors he has played since the start of 2021. He has also won 12 of his 24 majors during his thirties, and has secured 96 tournaments titles altogether. He is the oldest man ever to win the U.S. Open, taking that distinction away from the evergreen Ken Rosewall, who was the champion at Forest Hills in 1970 at 35.

Despite his multitude of successes, the 36-year-old Djokovic somehow remains eager to accomplish more in the coming year and beyond. The guess here is that he will play through 2025, add at least three or four more majors to his shining collection, and keep soaring through history on a singular path. There will never definitively be a player who stands alone indisputably as the greatest of all time. That issue will always be passionately debated by those in the know, with differing views among the cognoscenti. But this much is certain: Novak Djokovic’s name will always be at the center of that conversation.

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Jack Draper Wins In Stuttgart, Potentially Faces Andy Murray in Round Two



Jack Draper – ATP Monaco di Baviera 2024 (foto via Twitter @atptour)

Britain’s Jack Draper tight first round win headlined the opening day’s results at the Boss Open 2024 in Stuttgart – and possibly faces a second-round match with Andy Murray who takes on Marcos Giron tomorrow.

Less than 24 hours from the last ball being hit at Roland Garros, the ATP Tour had already switched surfaces onto the grass, and 22-year-old Draper was well tested but ultimately came through in two tie-breakers over Sebastian Ofner.

The sixth seed’s 7-6, 7-6 win contained just one break of serve each, both coming in the second set, as serve dominated proceedings on the faster grass courts in Germany.

While the Austrian won 75% on his first serve, Draper won a whopping 89% behind his first delivery as well as hitting eight aces. These kind of service stats will surely take him far during the grass court season.

“I thought it was a really good match,” Eurosport quoted Draper saying after his match. 
“Both of us played really clean tennis, executing really well.
“When it came down to it, I’m glad I competed really well and got over the line – it’s good to be back on the grass as well.”

There were also wins for Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann who won 6-3, 6-3 over wildcard Henri Squire, while compatriot Dominik Koepfer won in three sets over China’s Zhizhen Zhang 4-6, 7-6, 7-6. 

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Carlos Alcaraz Still Owns A Magical Racket



The legend of Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket lives on.

The 21-year-old Spaniard executed one magical shot after another with his racket and legs  Sunday afternoon in the French Open final. That bit of magic spelled defeat for Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

This was a final to remember, one of the great matches of all the Grand Slams. It just wasn’t in the cards for the 26-year-old Zverev to finally win a Grand Slam title.


Both players seemed to play a game of “he had it and then he didn’t.”

Alcaraz appeared to have everything under control in the first set, but Zverev rushed through the second set and then made a comeback from 5-2 down in the third set to win five straight games.

Zverev had everything going for him when he started the fourth set with a two-set advantage. It appeared that all the 6-6 Zverev had to do was to continue playing his masterful game of big serves and mighty ground strokes.

But Zverev couldn’t get started in the fourth set until he was down 4-0. So much for a smooth and easy ride to a Grand Slam title. By then, the magic of Alcaraz was heating up.


Zverev still had his chances, even when he fell behind 2-1 in the fifth set. He had to feel pretty good about his chances when he took a triple break point lead against Alcaraz’s serve and appeared ready to even the set at 2-2. Even after Carlos came up with a winner to bring the  game score to double break point.

Zverev still was ready to even the entire match.

That’s when everything seemed to go haywire for the German, while all the while, Alcaraz was able to repeatedly come up with his magical shots as the Spaniard made critical shots that looked almost impossible to make.


Everything for Zverev was lost in the magical racket of Alcaraz.

What was then initially called a game-ending Alcaraz double fault and a 2-2 deadlock quicky reversed itself and Alcaraz stayed alive by winning the next three points while taking a 3-1 advantage.

Zverev did get back to a 3-2 deficit and had a break point in the sixth game, but that was it for the hopes of Zverev. The last two games went rather easily in favor of Alcaraz to wrap up a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory for Alcaraz.

That moved the Spaniard to a higher level of success on the ATP Tour. He became the youngest man to win Grand Slam titles on all of the different surfaces, clay, grass and hard courts.

Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket appear to be headed for greatness.

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 

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Tsitsipas Brothers Hit With Trio Of Fines At French Open



Stefanos Tsitsipas and his brother Petros have been fined more than 20,000 euros for multiple violations of the coaching rules at this year’s French Open. 

The brothers received a financial penalty during three different matches that they played in. Two of those were in the second and third rounds of the men’s doubles tournament. Furthermore, Stefanos was also penalised during his singles quarter-final match against Carlos Alcaraz, which he lost in straight sets. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, all three of those fines were issued as a result of coaching rules being broken.

Ironically, coaching is allowed during matches at the French Open but certain rules must be followed. ‘Verbal’ coaching can only be issued from the coaches and their team if they are sitting in the designated player’s box. Instructions must be limited to a few words and can only be given if the player is in the same half of the court as their coach. Although non-verbal coaching is allowed regardless of what side the player is on. Finally, players can’t start a conversation with their coach unless it is during a medical break, a bathroom break or when their opponent is changing clothes.

However, the Tsitsipas brothers have been found in violation of these rules, which is likely due to their animated father in the stands who is also their coach. Apostolos Tsitsipas has been given coaching violations in the past at other events, including the 2022 Australian Open. 

The value of the fines are €4,600 and €9,200 for the Tsitsipas brothers in the doubles, as well as an additional €7,400 just for Stefanos in the singles. In total, the value of their fines is €21,200. However, the penalty is unlikely to have an impact on the duo whose combined earnings for playing in this year’s French Open amount to roughly €495,000. 

So far in the tournament, the highest single fine to be issued this year was against Terence Atmane who hit a ball out of frustration that struck a fan in the stands. Atmane, who later apologised for his actions, managed to avoid getting disqualified from the match. Instead, he was fined €23,000. 

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