Osuigwe among ITF 2017 world champions

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Florida’s Whitney Osuigwe, the 15-year-old who won the French Open junior girls’ title and has posted up an impressive number of wins this season, is the ITF junior world champion for 2017 on the girls’ side.

Osuigwe had just cracked the top 100 in the ITF junior girls’ rankings when the 2017 season began. She ends it at No. 1 and is still alive in singles and doubles at this week’s Orange Bowl in Florida.

She won both the 18s girls singles and doubles titles last week at the Eddie Herr tournament. That’s a home event for her as it’s held at the IMG Academy where she trains.

Countrywoman Catherine Bellis won the award in 2014 and Taylor Townsend in 2012. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Zina Garrison and Gretchen Rush in 1981 and 1982.

On the boys’ side, Axel Geller becomes first junior from Argentina to be named ITF world champion in 22 years. (Mariano Zabaleta and Federico Browne won the award back-to-back in 1994 and 1995).

He reached the singles final at both the French and US Opens, and took the doubles title in Paris.

Recent winners have included Taylor Fritz (2015), Andrey Rublev (2014) and Alexander Zverev (2013). Good crop.

All-Spain on the pro side 

Osuigwe
The all-Spanish double honor as ITF World Champions for 2017 is the first since Americans Davenport and Sampras both won in 1998.

On the pro side, ATP No. 1 Rafael Nadal and WTA No. 2 Garbiñe Muguruza have been named world champions for 2017.

Muguruza is just 40 points out of the No. 1 spot in the WTA Tour rankings, just behind Simona Halep. But unlike Halep, Muguruza is a Slam champion, having won Wimbledon this year. The ITF awards weight the Slams (which it has jurisdiction over) more than other tournaments.

According to the ITF, it’s the first time both winners have come from the same country since Lindsay Davenport and Pete Sampras were named ITF world champions in 1998.

It’s the third time Nadal has been so honored. Time flies: he’s the oldest-ever to be honored, at age 31.

“Becoming ITF World Champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me and is even more special because Rafa has also been awarded on the men’s side. He is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain,” Muguruza said in a statement.

“I knew that putting in the hard work would pay off eventually and it made winning Wimbledon and achieving the No. 1 ranking so special. I’m motivated to take everything I’ve learned this year and apply it to my work next season.”

Final accolade for Hingis

The doubles champions are Marcelo Melo (Brazil) and Lukasz Kubot (Poland) on the men’s side, and Yung-Jan Chan (Taipei) and Martina Hingis (Switzerland) on the women’s side.

Osuigwe

Melo and Kubot won the ATP Tour Finals last month, one of six titles that included Wimbledon, in their first season together.

Hingis, who retired at the end of the season, gets one more accolade.

She and Chan made nine finals – and won all of them. 

David Wagner, 43, was named the first-ever ITF Quad Wheelchair World Champion, a long overdue accolade after he finished No. 1 in the year-end rankings for the eighth time.  Gustavo Fernandez, 23 is the ITF Wheelchair champion on the men’s side and Yui Kamiji – also 23 – was honored on the women’s side. 

Kamiji won three of the four major titles in 2017, all but Wimbledon. 

The awards will be handed out at the French Open next June.

Nadal wins French defamation case

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The decision in Rafael Nadal’s defamation lawsuit against French television personality Roselyne Bachelot was handed down Thursday.

And the 31-year-old tennis star came away with a victory, if more a moral one than a financial one.

Bachelot insinuated during a French television show in the aftermath of the Maria Sharapova doping suspension in March, 2016 that Nadal himself was a doper.

Specifically, she stated Nadal’s long-term absence because of a knee issue back in 2012 was  “probably because of a positive doping test.”

“When you see a tennis player stopping for months, it’s because he has tested positive. Not every time, but very often,” Bachelot added.

Nadal, incensed, filed the suit in April, 2016.

Moral victory, not financial gain

The Tribunal heard the case Oct. 13. Its decision declared Bachelot guilty of defamation. She must pay a fine of 500 euros and damages and interest to Nadal in the amount of 10,000 euro. Bachelot also is liable for 2,000 euros in court costs.

Nadal had been seeking 100,000 euros. But whatever the amount, he intended to donate it to a charity in France. 

Le Figaro reports Bachelot won’t appeal the decision.  

“I would like to reiterate my respect to the legal procedure and tribunals of France,” Nadal said in a statement via his PR team. “When I filed the law suit against Mrs. Bachelot, I intended not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career.

“I also wish to prevent any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation, and to go unpunished.

“The motivation, as I have always maintained, was not financial. As the tribunal found, there has been wrongdoing and the sentence recognizes the right to damages. The award will be paid back in full to an NGO or foundation in France,” Nadal added. /blockquote>

Defamation, but no permanent damage

According to Le Figaro, the damages are for “obvious moral prejudice, such an allegation being one of the most serious that can be levied upon a professional sportsman.”

The tribunal reduced the amount of damages asked for by Nadal to “more fair proportions”. It contended that Nadal “failed to demonstrate any sort of prejudice in terms of his activities as a player,or his relationships with his sponsors,” Le Figaro reported.

Bachelot’s lawyer, Olivier Chappuis, said the former health and sports minister absolutely didn’t regret her statements. He added that his client was satisfied that the judges determined Nadal’s damage request disproportionate.

Nadal exits London after loss to Goffin

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If it wasn’t clear enough during his three-set loss to David Goffin Monday at the ATP Tour Finals in London, the next clue was in the goodbye.

Rafael Nadal saluted the full house at the O2 in London comprehensively – far longer than a man who planned to return two days later to play another match would likely do.

And so it was. Just a few minutes later in his press conference, the year-end No. 1 announced that he was one and done in London.

“No, I am off. My season is finished. Yeah, I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I did the thing that I had to do to try to be ready to play. But I am really not ready to play,” he told the media in London.

Nadal’s right knee had been giving him trouble since the Asian swing, perhaps longer. He played a full swing on the hard courts. First came Montreal, Cincinnati and seven matches in winning the US Open. After that, there was the Laver Cup. Then, five more matches to win Beijing, and five more to get to the final in Shanghai. It was a big load for the knee to handle.

After pulling out of Basel, the 31-year-old did show in Paris to meet his commitment there. But after scratching out two victories, he withdrew before his quarterfinal match against qualifier Filip Krajinovic.

In the week preceding the Tour Finals, various reports had Nadal and his entourage optimistic, uncertain, confident and everything in between.

What was clear was that Nadal wouldn’t be 100 per cent. What also was clear was that, as the newly-crowned year-end No. 1, and with the Tour Finals being one big title that has eluded him, he was going to try.

First win for Goffin

Nadal saved four match points in the second set Monday to make Goffin sweat it out. But in the end, the first Belgian to qualify for the Tour Finals was able to pull it out.

Sweet relief for Goffin, who let four match points slip away in the second set against Nadal, but rallied for a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 win. (Screenshot: Tennis.TV)

“I’m very happy.  Was such a great atmosphere tonight, and I’m looking forward to coming back in two days,” Goffin said during his on-court interview. “Honestly, I don’t know, after the second set it was tough. I had no regrets in the second. He played really well in the tiebreak. On the match points he played only winners. I had really only one small opportunity.”

It was the first win in three meetings with Nadal for Goffin, who had never faced him before this season. The first two took place on clay.

Goffin himself had tape on his knee. The Belgian also appeared hampered at times, although not as comprehensively as his opponent.

“It’s the best win of my career, for sure, to beat Rafa. But, yeah, I saw that he was struggling a little bit with his movement on the court, and his knee was suffering a little bit,” Goffin said later during his press conference. “It was tough even if he was not moving 100 per cent. He was hitting the ball really hard. It was not easy. It’s never easy to finish a match, to finish a set against him. Even if I lost four match points in the second, I had no regret. I kept going in the third.”

Nadal and the Tour Finals – an unrequited romance

The Mallorcan has qualified for the Tour Finals every season since 2005. This year, he was the first in, after winning the French Open back in June.

But he has yet to win it.

In fact, he has reached the finals only twice, in 2010 and 2013.

Five times, Nadal was unable to take the court. Twice, he was eliminated during the group stage. This is the first time he has pulled out mid-event. 

According to the ATP rules, the penalty for not playing at all in the ATP Finals is steep – five per cent of total prize money. In Nadal’s case, that would run up over $600,000. But a “bona fide injury” would waive that penalty even if Nadal hadn’t shown at all. And there’s no doubt the knee injury is a legitimate one.

He wanted to at least try. 

Sampras Group wide open

London
Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem will be alternate Pablo Carreño-Busta’s two opponents in the round-robin, as he replaces Nadal in the Sampras Group. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

What will happen now is that Nadal’s countryman, Pablo Carreño-Busta, will replace him as the alternate. Instead of playing Nadal, Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem will play Carreño-Busta in the group stages.

Thiem will be up against Carreño-Busta on Wednesday night, while Goffin plays Dimitrov during the day session.

On Friday, Goffin will play Thiem, and Dimitrov will meet Carreño-Busta.

Carreño-Busta can still advance to the semifinals, even with only two matches.

But a lot would have to happen.

He would have to beat both Thiem and Dimitrov, for starters, to post a 2-0 record. Beating Thiem Wednesday night would all but eliminate the Austrian, whose pool record would be 1-2 at best.

One more win for Goffin would ensure, at worst, a 2-1 record. So he would make it. If Dimitrov defeats Goffin, he will make it, for the same reason. Within the rules, a 2-1 record beats out a 2-0 record in round-robin play.

It’s impossible for Goffin and Dimitrov to both post 1-2 records, because they have yet to meet, and one of them will win that meeting and post his second round-robin victory.

Goffin can qualify Wednesday if he defeats Dimitrov in straight sets, and Carreño-Busta beats Thiem. In that case, Dimitrov and Carreño-Busta would face off on Friday for second spot from their group.

 

 

Dimitrov qualifies Wednesday if: – He defeats Goffin Goffin qualifies Wednesday if: – He defeats Dimitrov in 2 sets – He defeats Dimitrov and Carreno Busta defeats Thiem

Draws, schedule done, but no ATP Finals until Sunday

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The pool groups were drawn on Wednesday.

The schedule for the first two days of play was announced Wednesday. *

The ATP Tour’s annual awards were announced Thursday, at a private event for the players, guests and corporate sponsors.

It all seems very ahead of time, as fans will have to wait until Sunday before the first of action at the ATP Tour Finals in London. 

Even the stadium court wasn’t ready to practice on until Thursday.

In the meantime, fans of men’s tennis at least have the Next-Gen event in Milan to watch. That tournament wraps on Saturday night. So there’s no conflict with the start of the Tour Finals.

(It should be noted that there were no London model types present at the draw ceremony, to our knowledge).

Here are the singles round-robin groups. 

Pete Sampras Group

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP)
[4] Dominic Thiem (AUT)
[6] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)
[7] David Goffin (BEL)

Boris Becker Group

[2] Roger Federer (SUI)
[3] Alexander Zverev (GER)
[5] Marin Cilic (CRO)
[8] Jack Sock (USA)

At first glance, Federer appears to be in the harder-hitting, more dangerous group, even if it contains Tour Finals rookies in Zverev and Sock.

He is 2-2 against Zverev, 7-1 against Cilic, and 3-0 against Sock although they’ve met only once in the last two years.

Nadal is 10-1 against Dimitrov (3-0 on hard courts in 2017), 2-0 against Goffin (both on clay this year) and 7-0 against Thiem (with all the meetings on the red clay, four of them in 2017)

Early schedules

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Day session (Noon start)

1. [1] Henri Kontinen (FIN) / John Peers (AUS) vs [8] Ryan Harrison (USA) / Michael Venus (NZL)
2. [2] Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [8] Jack Sock (USA) H2H (not before 2 p.m.)

Night session (not before 6 p.m.)

1. [3] Jean-Julien Rojer (NED) / Horia Tecau (ROU) vs. [6] Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut (FRA) 
2. [3] Alexander Zverev (GER) vs. [5] Marin Cilic (CRO) H2H (not before 8 p.m.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Day session (Noon start)

1. [4] Jamie Murray (GBR) / Bruno Soares (BRA) vs. [5] Bob Bryan / Mike Bryan (USA) 
2. [4] Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs. [6] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) H2H (not before 2 p.m.)

Night session (not before 6 p.m.)

1. [1] Lukasz Kubot (POL) / Marcelo Melo (BRA) vs. [7] Ivan Dodig (CRO) / Marcel Granollers (ESP) 
2. [1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. [7] David Goffin (BEL) H2H (not before 8 p.m.)

Tempest in a teapot

schedule
Photo credit: www.wonderhatch.co.uk

*A glitch an ATP Tour official put down to “human error” meant that there was some confusion early on about when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would play their first matches.

Their original statement was that the Sampras group (including Nadal) would play Sunday, while the Becker Group (including Federer) would play Monday.

No doubt plenty of fans of both players rushed out to buy tickets once they knew when their favorite would be playing.

Then Federer Tweeted he was to play Sunday.

Nadal is scheduled for Monday night.

Much murmuring ensued. One media outlet, El Español, even originally reported  (the current version of the story on its website does not allude to it) that Nadal had made a special request for a late start, in order to give his ailing knee the maximum amount of time to heal up before the event began. 

Or was it Federer who asked to play earlier? A Sunday start would give him an extra day of rest between the round-robin portion and the semis. 

Hmmm… Whichever theory you believed probably depended on whom you supported.

Federer was correct. But a communications person for the ATP says there were no special favors, that it was merely an error on the website.

The doubles picture

Photo credit: www.wonderhatch.co.uk

Yes, that is Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo, the No. 1 seeds at the ATP Tour Finals. And they jumped into the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the individual doubles rankings on Monday.

Woodbridge-Woodforde Group

[1] Lukasz Kubot (POL) / Marcelo Melo (BRA)
[4] Jamie Murray (GBR) / Bruno Soares (BRA)
[5] Bob Bryan (USA) / Mike Bryan (USA)
[7] Ivan Dodig (CRO) / Marcel Granollers (ESP)

Eltingh-Haarhuis Group

[2] Henri Kontinen (FIN) / John Peers (AUS)
[3] Jean-Julien Rojer (NED) / Horia Tecau (ROU)
[6] Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) / Nicolas Mahut (FRA)
[8] Ryan Harrison (USA) / Michael Venus (NZL)

The doubles event might be schedule filler for some, who are focused only on the big singles stars.

But for the players, it’s every bit the same accomplishment to qualify. And the financial rewards are substantial.

And, unlike the WTA Tour Finals equivalent, where a round-robin format was ditched for an eight-team, straight elimination tournament, it’s given equal weight.

An undefeated team winning the doubles title will earn close to half a million dollars – and 1,500 ranking points.

Nadal “oldest” year-end No. 1

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All Rafael Nadal had to do was win his first match.

He did that Wednesday, defeating Hyeon Chung of Korea 7-5, 6-3 in the second round of the Paris Masters.

And in doing that, the 31-year-old from Mallorca clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking.

Nadal began the season ranked No. 9.

And for tennis fans who will always have the long-haired, pirate-pant wearing version of Nadal as their go-to, the “oldest-ever” numbers are proof indeed that time stands still for no one.

Nadal is the first male player over 30 since the computer rankings came in in 1973 to secure the No. 1 ranking.

He did it for the fourth time in his career.

The first time came in 2008, the second two years later, and the third time in 2013. The gap between the first time and this year – nine years – is the biggest gap in ATP Tour history.

Only Pete Sampras (six times), Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors (five times each) have finished as the season-ending No. 1 more often. Nadal now is tied with Novak Djokovic, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl at four.

“I’m very, very happy for everything,” Nadal said during an on-court interview after the victory over Chung. “It has been an amazing year. One year ago, for sure I never dreamed about being World No. 1 again at the end of the season. It’s something that means a lot to me. But the season is not over.”

Nadal has a surprising number of no-shows at the Paris Masters, which takes place just before the year-end finals in London.

He played it 2007-2009, losing in the final to David Nalbandian in his first appearance. But after that, he didn’t return until 2013. This is only his third participation in the last eight years. He looks to have a pretty nice draw until at least the semifinals, with no seeded players in his way.

No surprise, Nadal out of Basel

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The tape that appeared below Rafael Nadal’s right knee for the final in Shanghai against Roger Federer was the first clue.

And from the reports afterward, especially in terms of Nadal’s ability to bend the  knee, it was clear that after a lot of hard-court tennis during the late summer and fall, the world No. 1 was hurting.

So it was no surprise that Nadal announced Tuesday that he was pulling out of his next scheduled event in Federer’s hometown of Basel, Switzerland next week because of an excessive stress load on his knee.

“I sadly announce that I have to pull out of the Swiss Indoors Basel, after seeing my doctor in Spain just after landing from Shanghai,” Nadal wrote on Facebook. 

“I am suffering from an over-stressing of the knee and the problems where already present at the tournament in Shanghai, which now forces me to take a time off on advice of my doctor,” he added. “After two great weeks in China, with the title in Beijing and the final in Shanghai it is time for some rest.”

Basel
There probably wasn’t much Nadal could do against Federer in Shanghai on Sunday, as well as the Swiss was playing. But he would have needed all his mobility, and he didn’t have it. (TennisTV.com)

Nadal still has the final Masters 1000 tournament of the season in Paris on his schedule, as well as the ATP Tour Finals in London to finish off the season.

Both also are on hard-court. Both are gruelling events at which he needs to be in top form.

Federer has a slight chance to catch Nadal to finish the season in the No. 1 spot. But it’s not a great chance.

Decision on Nadal defamation suit Nov. 16

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Rafael Nadal asked French television presenter Roselyne Bachelot for 100,000 Euros in a defamation suit filed in France last year, and finally heard on Friday.

Bachelot’s lawyer offered a “symbolic Euro” to Nadal, if the court rules against his client.

There have been numerous stories about Nadal in the media over the years, numerous inflammatory quotes and thinly veiled accusations.

But the words from France’s former French sports minister some 18 months ago were the straw that broke Nadal’s back – so to speak. 

He filed the suit in April, 2016, after Bachelot’s comments a few week prior on a French television show. Bachelot stated that Nadal’s long-term absence because of a knee issue in 2012 was “probably because of a positive doping test.”

“When you see a tennis player stopping for months, it’s because he has tested positive. Not every time, but very often,” she added.

In context, this came the day after Maria Sharapova announced at a Los Angeles press conference that she had tested positive for meldonium. Sharapova served a 15-month suspension and returned last April.

Nadal was irate when he first talked about Bachelot’s comments at Indian Wells.

A few weeks later, he filed suit.

His statement at the time said this:

“Through this case, I intend not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career. I also wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation, and to go unpunished.”

Nadal’s medical records provided

The case was originally scheduled to be heard in July. But a court backlog postponed it to Friday. It was heard at the Tribunal correctionnel de Paris.

Neither Nadal (who is playing the Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai) nor Bachelot was present.

According to Le Parisien, Nadal lawyer Patrick Maisonneuve said Bachelot’s comments “could have had major consequences”, notably concerning current or future sponsors. He said, “Nadal asked me to put an end, once and for all, to what Mrs. Bachelot said by providing his medical records,.”

Maisonneuve said the files indicated a very serious issue with his his client’s knee tendon.

“Startingly lax”

For his part, Bachelot lawyer Olivier Chappuis put the International Tennis Federation on trial, per Le Parisien. He contended the ITF’s anti-doping program “has always been startlingly lax” with an entrenched culture of “concealing positive tests.” 

To shore up Bachelot’s “good-faith” contention, Chappuis said his client had based her opinion on statements made in the media by former players Christophe Rochus and Daniel Köllerer

“There is an enormous gap between his string of successes and the weakness of the anti-doping testing,” Chappuis added. “What sponsors abandoned Rafael Nadal following these statements? None.”

The court reserved judgment on Friday.

A decision is expected Nov. 16.

When he filed the suit, Nadal said that any damages awarded would go to a charitable endeavor in France.

Beijing weekend – Kyrgios’ best and worst

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When Nick Kyrgios met Alexander Zverev Saturday in the China Open semifinals, he was devastating.

It was the fourth meeting between the young guns this season. And Kyrgios has now won three of them.

Not only was his tennis world-class, the Aussie got inside Zverev’s head so comprehensively in the 6-3, 7-5 win that it was the younger, higher-ranked German who was on racket-snapping detail.

Kyrgios sang along to the stadium soundtrack on the set break. And he came out in the first game and hit two ridiculous volleys on the first point. Then, he pulled a Roger Federer-like SABR (although with a two-handed backhand) on the second point that got the crowd into it.

Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point.

Zverev lost his cool a few times in the face of Kyrgios’s shotmaking in the Beijing semifinals Saturday. (TennisTV.com)

Later, after a brilliant 31-shot rally, he beat Zverev with a deft and well-conceived shot that was within the German’s reach at the net. But it dipped so dramatically right in front of him that he couldn’t handle it.

Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point, coughed up the break of serve and then went rogue on his tennis racket.

What a difference a day makes

The victory put Kyrgios in the final against Rafael Nadal, whom he defeated in their last meeting, on a hard court in Cincinnati in August.

But when Kyrgios came out on Sunday, he wasn’t the same fellow.

Mainly, his serve wasn’t the same. And that likely was the main source of his tennis frustration. His first delivery landed at a 70 per cent clip against Zverev. Against Nadal, he couldn’t break 50 per cent.

And he was cranky, getting into it with umpire Mohamed Lahyani from the get-go on some dodgy line calls. There was no getting him out of his funk.

Alexander Zverev really didn’t quite know what hit him at times during his loss to Nick Kyrgios in the Beijing semifinals. (TennisTV.com)

The SABR didn’t work. He got a couple of challenges wrong. At one point, when Nadal was ready to serve (and we know how long that takes), Kyrgios was still giving Lahyani lip and the world No. 1 had to back off.

There were some ill-advised serve-volley plays on second serves. And unlike much of the week, Kyrgios played speed-dating on his service games, barely waiting for one point to finish before he was ready to begin the next.

Mohamed Lahyani was on the receiving end of some abuse from Kyrgios during the Beijing final. It was unreasonable enough that the friendly umpire assessed a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. (TennisTV.com)

On the changeover at 2-5, Lahyani assessed a point penalty, so as he served to stay in the set, he was down love-15 before he stepped to the line.

Two double-faults at 30-all, and the set was over. And the match; Kyrgios earned just one more game as Nadal won 6-2, 6-1 to win his 75th career title.

In a little more than 24 hours, the space of a short weekend, the best and the worst of Kyrgios were on display.

In other words, not an atypical Kyrgios weekend.

“He played well. I played terrible. He’s in great form. He just destroyed me today, so it was too good,” Kyrgios told the media in Beijing. “I put in a pretty good week, had some good wins. It’s tough to find positives when you won three games in the final. But I guess there were positives. In the semi-final I played well, obviously beating Alex (Zverev).”

When it was good, it was GOOD

It was a shame. Because when the tennis was at forefront of this Beijing final, it was breathtaking. But after four wins during the week, the Aussie had turned the page on Beijing.

It wasn’t as though the crowd didn’t get its money’s worth. The women’s final preceded the men Sunday night. As well, despite the lopsided score and the lightning round on serve, the match still took an hour and 32 minutes – 15 minutes longer than the much tighter contest against Zverev.

With two opponents Sunday – Nadal, and himself – Kyrgios was unable to repeat the impressive level he displayed in his semifinal win over Alexander Zverev. (TennisTV.com)

Kyrgios will drop a couple of spots in the rankings – he’ll be just out of the top 20 Monday. The Aussie won the tournament in Tokyo a year ago and so failed to defend 200 of the 500 points he earned.

Still alive for London

Meanwhile, Kyrgios moved up – five spots – in the race to the ATP Tour finals in London. He stands 15th;  in reality, he’s 12th with the idle Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray ahead of him. With two Masters 1000 series tournaments to come, he’s far from out of contention.

And he’ll get right back at it in Shanghai, with a tough first-round match against Steve Johnson in singles, but slotted into a good section of the draw.

With only second-round points to defend and the difference between No. 21 and No. 13 only 400 points right now, it’s an opportunity. He’s also playing doubles with Lucas Pouille.

The Kyrgios road show rages on, coming to a tennis stadium near you.

The Laver Cup: overall, a great debut

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Pretty much everything Roger Federer touches turns to gold.

So why anyone would have any doubt that the first edition of the Laver Cup would be anything but a smash?

It was, on every level, a huge success. Sellout crowds, high-quality tennis, plenty of drama and emotion, a bulletproof format … and Roger and Rafa.

It was a such a perfect storm that even the absence of many top players turned out to be a plus.

Team World (Team America, really) ended up a young squad of millennials – both real and throwback. They decided to have their own private party in front of 14,000 people inside the O2 Arena, and millions more around the world.

“They had the better chants and the better moves, but in the end, Team Europe got it done,” said Laver Cup maestro Roger Federer, who pretty much notices everything and has a uniquely passive-aggressive way of letting you know.

Team World wins the “Team Fun” award

inauguralOutmatched on the court for the most part, Team World won the fun contest

The contrast between Team World and Team Europe couldn’t have been more stark.

Obviously most of the older players were on Team Europe. At times during the weekend you almost got the sense they were exchanging stock tips while Team World recreated The Floor is Lava, this summer’s trending challenge on YouTube.

Just keeping track of Frances Tiafoe’s ever-changing head gear was a trending challenge in itself. Veterans John Isner and Sam Querrey were young again. And green rookie Denis Shapovalov got more corrupted by the day. He may never be the same.

But by the very end, the last 20 minutes of the Roger Federer match, Team World stepped it up – led by an emotional and demonstrative Rafael Nadal.

inaugural
Yes, Nadal actually did this in the heat of the Sunday drama. He got a little excited.

Superb staging

The “black” court turned out to play dark gray on television. And it immediately became a visual that will always be associated exclusively with the Laver Cup. 

The ball stood out on the stark backdrop for television viewers. But the blue and red lighting around the court and in the stands prevented it from being too drab.

As well, the stark white of the high-end sponsors also stood out. Don’t think that wasn’t a huge factor as well.

They really did think of everything. One complaint fans often have when watching tennis on television is that the radar gun that measures the serves is hard to find, and often hard to see. In this setup, the numbers were big and bright and always easy to find.

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The stage where the rest of the teammates cheered was also perfectly set up. The fans could access both teams during changeovers (and even during the matches) for autographs. But if the players wanted to leave the court – especially the losers – they could do so in a straight line towards the locker room. If they didn’t want to deal with the autograph seekers, they didn’t have to.

At the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore and to a large extent at the ATP Tour Finals in London, the fans are often in the dark as the court is lit up. It makes for a bit of an isolated atmosphere although it does hide any empty seats. At the Laver Cup, the stands were lit in a way that fit in perfectly with the court. But it also allowed you to see the fans.

It was pitch-perfect. It almost didn’t even look real.

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Next-Gen graphics, camera angles

A company based in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles called Girraphic was the mastermind behind the graphics, which were unlike most of what you see all season long.

They were spectacular, especially the ones superimposed on the net. 

Great variety of camera angles

The camera angles were also varied. The baseline cam (affectionately referred to as the “butt cam” because they often close in on the derrière of the player returning serve) has been used before. But rarely this often.

They also had an improved version of the net cam; Bob Feller, the legendary ESPN tennis producer, says, “stay tuned”.

Federer annihilated it at one stage, which was amusing. They had a fish-eye lens at the net that showed the entire court in a new way. There were slow-motion replays of emotional moments and Team Fun routines. It was frantic, but it didn’t feel that way.

Having the coaches on court – and the players playing coaches as well – made for far more interesting cutaways than you’ll see at a regular tournament. There, the endless go-tos are countless shots of Mirka Federer biting her lip, or Jelena Djokovic looking like she might lose her stuff at any moment, get old quickly.

They had to dim the microphones at times, given some of the cussing by Team World. (There were no such issues for Team Europe; captain Bjorn Borg said more during his trophy ceremony speech than he said on court for three days).

Trying too hard

For whatever reason, the braintrust behind the Laver Cup decided that the word “exhibition” was a bad word.

It was clear that a talking point went out to everyone to emphasize that it wasn’t an exhibition. That it didn’t feel like an exhibition. And that it meant something to these guys. They were devoted in their dedication to bringing home the Laver cup to their (country? continent? world section?). And that it meant the world to them.

The thing is, why is the word “exhibition” by definition a bad word?

That’s exactly what this was. Perhaps out of this, a new category somewhere between tournament and exhibition called “special event” may be created.

But they tried so hard. Way too hard.

It’s worth remembering that every single person trying to convince you the Laver Cup “wasn’t an exhibition” had a financial stake in the event. The players received a ton of money up front (and an additional $250,000 each for winning). Federer’s management company, Team 8, for which he is the biggest earner, made a major investment.

Everyone from the chair umpire to the all-star cast of commentators and analysts took home a nice additional paycheque for their participation. It was to the point where the commentators were making excuses for some salty language on Team World’s side with platitudes like “It just absolutely shows how much these guys want to win for Europe and the world.”

Actually, it just showed that they use profanity. As many of us do on a tennis court. As they do during the regular Tour events as well. But they’re not used to being amongst a gaggle of buddies on a tennis court with the microphones on.

Giving the players (and captain) such a pass would only happen in an exhibition. In many ways, the vibe on that level was much as it was for that first, money-heavy season of IPTL. Which was, of course, much derided as “merely an exhibition.”

Format on point

The very nature of the team format was going to make for great competition.

In a standard exhibition, where two top players fly in and out of a city for a one-nighter, they’re playing for themselves and the crowd. 

Regardless of the circumstances, if you play against two of the greatest of all time, you’re going to go all out. And if you are one of the greatest of all time, you didn’t get there by not taking it seriously every time you step on the court.

The place was packed. Everyone had fun. Everyone came out a winner. The fans loved it. Everyone made lots of money.

There is no downside, and little need to preach semantics.

The stated intention to honour the champions of the past in naming the event after Rod Laver, and having Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as captains (neatly dovetailing with the opening of the movie based on their rivalry) put a nice, sincere veneer on what is very much a money-making enterprise.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

What’s ahead

The pitch-perfect execution of the inaugural edition is a double-edged sword, in a sense.

Not that this is a bad problem to have.

But it’s going to be awfully hard to duplicate – for so many reasons.

First of all, the event is going to move around. Next year, at the same time, it will take place at the United Center in Chicago.

We know this, because the Laver Cup already had a video message ready from the mayor of the city, and they had a press conference in Chicago just after noon.

The well-heeled crowd in Prague was enthusiastic but extremely civilized. It was only in the waning moments that they began to do those things the diehard fans hate, like cheering for missed first serves.

The crowd in Chicago will be quite different.

The makeup of “Team World” also will be quite different.

What a perfect world it would be if this year’s cast were playing “at home” in Chicago. Their act would play even better. And imagine, conversely, that players such as Nishikori, Murray, Raonic, Anderson and del Potro had been on “Team World” instead of Shapovalov, Kyrgios, Tiafoe, Isner and Sock.

Team Fun probably a one-off

The atmosphere would have been completely different – not nearly as lively. And John McEnroe, as captain, wouldn’t have had nearly the same positive impact. That’s going to be impossible to recreate next year.

What if, next year, Federer and Nadal aren’t blessed with the same health and good form they’ve enjoyed this year, their renaissance year? It’s inarguable that these two are definitely on a year-to-year basis, at this stage.

Without them, it’s not the same event. It’s arguably barely a top-flight event, despite the illustrious resumés of the other player options. In the special-event solar system, star power counts exponentially.

It’s also worth noting here that Djokovic, Murray and Nishikori had not committed to the Laver Cup before their injury woes. Will that change now that they’ve seen it work so amazingly well? It might. It might not.

Federer and Nadal transcend borders. The others, not nearly to the same extent. You know Federer is committed as long as he’s healthy, given his business ties. Countryman Stan Wawrinka likely would do him a solid. But did Nadal just do a one-off favour for his frenemy? We’ll find out.

They should also consider shortening the time between matches. It could run a half hour or more. We realize the need to sell merchandise and adult beverages. But with only one match to talk about, the commentators had a tough time filling. And it’s easy to lose your audience these days.

Collateral effects

Overtly or not, this event has been positioned as a potential alternative format to the century-old Davis Cup competition. That’s partly because of the weekend team format. And it’s also because of the fact that Nadal and Federer played it while skipping representing their country this year.

No doubt there are plenty of secret board meetings over at ITF headquarters. And the drama is made even more real by the fact that the USTA and Tennis Australia – two federations that run Grand Slam tournaments under the ITF umbrella – are involved in a major way. At the very least, the huge money the players were paid just to show up dwarfs the relative pittance they earn for representing their country – with far fewer weeks’ commitment.

But the effects go beyond that, right to the heart of the Tour that made all these players rich and famous.

There were two 250-level ATP Tour events the week of the Laver Cup – Metz and St. Petersburg, Russia. There are two 250-level events in faraway China this week that brush up against the end of the event, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Stars needed at the 250s

It’s no secret that the 250-level tournaments are struggling to varying degrees. The only way they can make a good go of it is if they can attract a big name to play in the event. That draws the fans; more crucially, it also draws corporate sponsorship.

Metz and St. Petersburg were out of luck. (There was a story reporting that Djokovic had committed to the St. Petersburg tournament before he shut down his season). Tomas Berdych, who would have been the No. 3 seed in Shenzhen, pulled out before the event began. (Why he even entered it, knowing as far back as February when he was doing Laver Cup promotion in Prague with Federer that he’d likely play, is a question for him).

Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in Orléans this week. With his subsequent rise, he obviously was a big drawing card. He pulled out late in the game.

Tiafoe also withdrew from Shenzhen. He’s a crowd-pleaser. But it also cost him a chance to earn some ranking points which, at this stage of his career, he still needs. Denis Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in France this week. He only played on the Laver Cup’s opening day; he pulled out of Orléans that very day. That’s late in the game.

Tired, jet-lagged top seeds

Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, the No. 1 seeds in Shenzhen and Chengdu, respectively, remain on board so far. But they’ll arrive in Asia very late, after a very long trip. And they’ve both signed on for doubles, as well.

Alexander Zverev is the top seed in Shenzhen this week, and was likely well-paid for it. He’ll arrive pretty drained, and jet-lagged, with little rest of prep time to face Steve Darcis in the second round.

They’ll be jet-lagged – and perhaps even a little hungover from the post-victory celebrations. They won’t have given themselves the best chance to win. That does them a disservice. And it also hurts the tournaments that no doubt paid them handsome appearance fees, as top-10 players, to show up.

And who knows if any other Laver Cup participants might have considered playing?

In the end, the Laver Cup seems to be here to stay. As well it should; it was all kinds of fun and, no doubt, quite profitable for all.

It’s only an exhibition. But it combines the best elements of everything tennis has to offer right now. It needs to stay.

What remains to be worked out is how it best can fit into the overall tennis landscape. Because it needs to fit. The alphabet soup of competing tennis factions all need to figure out a way to make that happen.

(All screenshots used for this post came from the Laver Cup’s livestream)

The future of Fedal – is there one?

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Now it can be told.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal weren’t really looking forward to playing doubles together.

That much was obvious after they pulled out a narrow victory over Sam Querrey and Jack Sock Saturday.

They looked as relieved as they were happy. From their lofty perch in tennis history, they had more to lose than to gain.

And after Roger Federer pulled off the comeback win over Nick Kyrgios Sunday that decided the Laver Cup in Team Europe’s favor, they both alluded to it.

“I was ready to go. I had to be. That’s what a team member does. We knew it could change very quickly on Sunday. I was looking at getting ready for maybe a doubles at the very end here. So I’m very pleased and relieved that we got it done,” Federer said.

Nadal’s sentiments were similar.

“Of course if the captain want me there, I was ready – I didn’t want to play, but I was ready,” Nadal said. “But thanks to Roger, and the rest of the team, that we avoided that very tough situation.”

The idea of Federer and Nadal playing doubles together is a subject that comes up every so often in the media. But it had not come up between them for many years.

The idea was better than the actual reality. Although for nearly everyone who saw it, the idea was more than enough.

Seeing two of the greatest players of all time interacting for an extended period as the fans of both rarely see them do superseded any of the tennis actually played.

“It kind of felt like going into the Laver Cup, that’s what everyone wanted to see, and talked about as well. Now that it happened I think we’ll have some great footage, some great photos,” Federer said. “The two of us getting together. Our both fan groups having to get together. I think that’s slightly interesting as well.”

In reality, they don’t mesh that well. Their styles are so different. And it’s tough to play with someone you haven’t played with before – just look at the lack of chemistry between Nadal and Berdych.

There was no great debate on who would play which side, even though the tactical discussion made for a unique, if slightly stilted video. Federer said he plays the deuce side more often, Nadal said he plays both. Federer loved the idea of Nadal’s forehand on the ad side (even if their relatively weaker backhands are down the middle, which is the most crucial part of the doubles court.

But you could see that Federer made a lot of adjustments to acquiesce to what Nadal prefers on a doubles court. For example, he stayed back on both the first and second serves when Nadal was returning. 

They knew it would please the fans, of course. Which is probably a big reason why they did it. But these are two of the best players in history. They have egos. They don’t want to combine forces on the court and … lose.

“We only ever practiced once together, back at the World Tour Finals. We don’t practice a lot. We don’t show stuff to each other a lot. We’ll always forever be rivals as long as we’re active. And after this we’ll be rivals again. But this was something really special,” Federer said. “It’s been an absolutely pleasure sharing the court with Rafa on the same side of the net. Knowing you can trust him in the big moments, seeing his decision making, seeing his thought process, was very interesting.

“I knew the people, maybe the ones who don’t follow tennis all the time, they would not understand if we lost. I understand that people only expect a win from us. But it’s so complicated. We’re playing indoors against great doubles players, against big servers,” Federer added.

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Federer cracks up as Nadal gets tagged at the net during their doubles match at the Laver Cup Saturday (Screenshot: LaverCup.com)

That a pairing like Querrey and Sock – who have played together exactly once, back in 2012 in San Jose – would worry them to that extent is meaningful.

Different worlds, different people

The two are not besties. They come from different countries, different cultures. They hang out with their own people. And for much of their careers they have been fierce rivals.

They’ve known each other forever. They’re friendly, of course. Probably as friendly as anyone could be considering their professional circumstances. They have great respect for one another. 

But there’s a reason they have not ever teamed up on Tour, despite plenty of opportunities.

Federer hasn’t played much doubles in recent years. But before that, the two tended to play  for the very same reason, at the same tournaments. Most often it was when the ATP Tour changed surfaces – from indoors to Indian Wells, from the Wimbledon grass to the summer hard-court season in Canada. They had plenty of chances, but the never took advantage in all the years they’ve been out there.

Nadal sort of seems keener than Federer on the whole concept, doesn’t he?

If they save their cooperative efforts for a once-a-year reunion at the Laver Cup, that’s just fine. The scarcity of it makes it all the more anticipated.

And it’s good for business, too.