Zverev adds Ferrero for US summer

Former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero is a French Open champion. Of his 16 career titles, 13 came on red clay.

And rising star Alexander Zverev has no particular history with Spain. He has spent his life training either in Germany or Florida.

So Ferrer certainly is an out-of-the-box choice to be an added voice for the North American hard-court season.

But the 37-year-old will be by Zverev’s side beginning in 10 days at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

Ferrero already is in Saddlebrook, Florida with Zverev, braving the heat and humidity to prepare for the hard-court swing. That will include Masters 1000 tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati after the D.C. event, and will culminate at the US Open.

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Just 17 here, Zverev practices with Roger Federer at Indian Wells in 2015. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Ferrero thrilled with the challenge

(Random fact: Zverev’s older brother Mischa has a 3-1 record against Ferrero).

“Zverev is a different player. He has the makings of a champion,” Ferrero said in a statement through his academy, Equelite. “It’s a challenge that fills me with enthusiasm and desire to do my best.”

The 20-year-old, currently ranked No. 11, originally had been the second-highest ranked player behind Dominic Thiem at the D.C. tournament. But a trio of last-minute wild cards has changed the landscape.

In addition to those two, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov will be in the draw.

The five will be ranked No. 7 through No. 11. And Zverev will end up the No. 5 seed in the tournament. For a 500-level tournament, the trophy suddenly got a lot more challenging.

Add him to the super-coach ranks

Ferrero
Back in 2008, Ferrero sported a mullet. It was an unfortunate time. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Ferrero works with players through his academy. But he has not been active out on the coaching circuit since his retirement in 2012.  

Despite his resumé, he seems to get overlooked among all the Spanish champions. There could well be internal, political reasons for that. Or perhaps Ferrero just goes about his business quietly, and he’s not willing to play the game.

When Carlos Moyá stepped down as Spanish Davis Cup captain in 2014, Ferrero seemed the front-runner to replace him.

Instead, the Spanish federation made an ill-advised decision to name former player Gala León Garcia. Garcia had few relationships with anyone on the Davis Cup team. And she didn’t even have all that lustrous a resumé as a player on the WTA Tour. But after that experiment went sour, they didn’t choose Ferrero. They nominated Conchita Martinez.

Ferrero was an integral part of Spain’s 2009 Davis Cup squad. He won the fifth and deciding rubber against Germany in the quarterfinals. But when Rafael Nadal returned to play in the final, Ferrero was not even selected to the squad. Even worse, he wasn’t included in the presentation ceremony after Spain won its second consecutive Davis Cup.

Federer teaches master class to Zverev

Credit to the kid, Alexander Zverev.

He took the beatdown in the Halle finale with future champion’s aplomb, even if he was nowhere near happy about it.

The 20-year-old German was looking to be the youngest-ever champion at his home-country grass-court event.

Instead, he was beaten by the oldest-ever champion, Roger Federer.

Federer won his ninth Halle title with a 6-1, 6-3 victory that took just 52 minutes. Of the now 92 titles Federer has won in his career, this one was the quickest in terms of time.

It was a comprehensive beatdown of the type the Swiss star can come up with, when faced with one of the young, rising stars of the game.

In his final match before Wimbledon, the 35-year-old pulled out the entire arsenal of grass-court weapons. Notable among them was the drop shot, especially the forehand inside-out drop shot. It proved a hugely effective tool against the very tall Zverev on the slippery short-court grass. 

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The drop shot was a big weapon for Federer against Zverev Sunday. On this one, he went toppling into the net and may have dinged his Achilles a bit. He got a pat on the back from Federer. (TennisTV)

Increased use of the slice

Federer also readjusted, for a final time in match conditions, his tactics on the backhand side.

The Swiss star returned in Australia after a six-month absence with a notably improved topspin backhand. It was a big reason for his victories at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami. 

 If he got a little carried away with using it when he made his grass-court debut in Stuttgart last week against friendly foe Tommy Haas, he made the necessary adjustments in his five matches in Halle this week.

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Federer cracked up when the beaten Zverev told him he wasn’t liking him very much, at that particular moment. (TennisTV)

Against Zverev, he used the slice over the topspin 65 per cent of the time. Again, a hugely effective tool.

During the trophy ceremony, the 20-year-old Zverev was smiling, as gracious as could be. Not in a “I don’t deserve to be on the same court with you” kind of way. It was more of a “Okay, you’re the grass maestro. Lesson learned. Moving on. I’ve got 15 years on you, old man” kind of way.

“Looking forward to playing him again, but not really liking him today,” said Zverev, who also said he “hoped” Federer would win Wimbledon and thought he could do it.

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Zverev took the defeat well – hopefully not too well. Still a very good week for him. (TennisTV)

On Federer’s side, a little wistfulness, disingenuous or not. 

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to win this tournament again, so I’m going to enjoy this one as much as I possibly can,” he told the crowd.

Zverev was denied in the doubles final as well. Teamed with older brother Mischa, the pair lost to No. 1 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo 7-5, 3-6, 10-8.

Federer nails down the No. 3 seed at Wimbledon with the victory. It doesn’t change anything from having been the No. 4 seed in terms of the possibilities of his draw. But he’ll probably like the look of it anyway.

He’ll remain No. 5 in the actual ATP Tour rankings, come Monday.

(Screenshots from TennisTV)

Djokovic to face Zverev in Rome final

It was certainly going to be difficult for Dominic Thiem to come back and play another one of the greatest ever, less than 24 hours after beating Rafael Nadal in straight sets.

Thiem handed the nine-time French Open champion his first defeat on clay this season. Novak Djokovic brought Thiem back down to earth with a resounding thud.

The Serbian, who turns 30 on Monday, brushed off the legitimate Thiem threat in just under an hour. The 6-1, 6-0 victory was comprehensive.

Thiem won just two of 13 points with his second serve, just 46 per cent with his first serve in suffering la baguette and le bagel.

Djokovic was screaming and roaring as though he was in his closest match of the season. There was fire in him that had not been seen in quite awhile. The tennis was to the same level. 

“This is undoubtedly my best performance of this year and maybe even longer. I’m overjoyed and happy with every minute that I spent on the court today. It was a perfect match. Everything that I intended to do, I have done it and even more,” Djokovic told the media in Rome. “There’s not much to say except that I am so grateful to experience something like this, because I have been waiting and working for it for a long time.”

It was his second victory of the day. In the afternoon, Djokovic picked up his quarter-final match against Juan Martin del Potro at 6-1, 1-2 and finished off a 6-1, 6-4 victory.

He was happy.

What to take from it? Only good news for Djokovic, who found the fire and may well stoke it right through the fortnight in Paris.

For Thiem, it’s one he can turn the page on quickly. His victory over Nadal Friday might have been in straight sets, but it took nearly two hours. And when you wake up the next morning after playing Nadal, you feel it in a way you would against few other players.

Thiem went 12-4 during the French Open tuneup season, losing twice to Nadal and once to Djokovic. His work is done.

It seems that Djokovic’s work has truly just begun.

First meeting

He will face No. 16 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in the final. The 20-year-old and the world No. 2 will be facing each other for the first time.

“I’ve had a lot of tough matches in this tournament, I’ve had a lot of tough opponents. To be in the final here is amazing for me,” Zverev said after defeating surprise semifinalist John Isner of the U.S. 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1. “He served something like 78 per cent, so it’s not easy to break him. And I managed to do it three times.”

Zverev is the first German to reach a Masters 1000 final since Nicolas Kiefer played Nadal in Toronto at the 2008 Rogers Cup.

He is the youngest to reach a Masters 1000 final since a teenaged Djokovic won Miami in 2007.

After a sub-par start to the season, Djokovic currently stands at No. 16 in the race to the ATP Tour Finals in London. That’s an improvement over No. 23 the previous week. But if he wins Sunday, he’ll be up to No. 4 with a bullet.  If he does, Zverev would be right behind him at No. 5.

Weekend Preview – May 20-21, 2017

Friday sure was a Next-Gen kind of day in Rome, wasn’t it?

While there is inherent danger in putting forth any hot takes based on a single match, Dominic Thiem’s victory over Rafael Nadal in the Italian Open quarter-finals was definitely an “I have arrived” moment.

It was the third time in three tournaments that Thiem and Nadal have met. The first two came in finals. In the first one in Barcelona, the 23-year-old was out of gas and a little outclassed. In Madrid, he gave the Mallorcan a lot to handle, even in defeat. Friday in the Rome quarter-finals, he treed.

“It’s always such a tough thing to beat Rafa, in general and on clay probably even tougher. I knew I had to change something from Madrid and Barcelona. And my game plan went almost perfect today,” Thiem said. “I think he is always getting stronger as it goes deeper in the tournaments, but it doesn’t matter where, doesn’t matter which round. I’m really happy that I did it, and also to play that kind of a match.”

Nadal had a look afterwards that basically said, “Right, too good, kid. See you in Paris in best-of-five”. 

Not the worst outcome

In context, this was a tournament Nadal really didn’t need to play, after he won 15 straight matches to take Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, losing only two sets in the process. But he played.

He got more matches in, and stockpiled more ranking points. But Nadal also now gets the weekend off. And he doesn’t have to expend the mental and physical energy to try to win a fourth title this spring.

“It’s normal that one day you don’t feel perfect. If you are unlucky on that day, the opponent plays unbelievable. So tomorrow, I will be in Mallorca fishing or playing golf or doing another thing. That’s it,” Nadal told the media in Rome. “It’s obvious that I did not play my best match. I have been playing a lot. Madrid and Rome, back-to-back, after playing Barcelona and Monte-Carlo back-to-back, so it’s not easy after playing almost every day for the past four weeks.”

That doesn’t mean Nadal didn’t give it everything. And it also doesn’t mean Thiem wasn’t fully deserving. To play that sort of power game on clay, and maintain the level, is incredibly difficult to do.

Even though the 6-4, 6-3 win took nearly two hours, nearly 50 per cent of the points lasted five shots or less. That was the only category in which Nadal edged out his young rival – and barely at that. The longer the points went, the more they swung in Thiem’s favour. Against Nadal, that is an impressive stat. 

Nadal’s 76 per cent first-serve effort meant he probably was not nearly as aggressive with that stroke as he needed to be, as indeed he had been in previous weeks. 

Zverev vs. the big servers

The other Next-Gen encounter was the first-ever meeting between Alexander Zverev and Canadian Milos Raonic.

A hamstring issue has curtailed Raonic’s clay-court swing. But he looked impressive in dispatching both Tommy Haas and Thomas Berdych in straight sets. His winners-to-unforced ratios in both matches were off the charts.

Against Zverev, after recovering from being a break down twice in that first set, it was one-way traffic in a 7-6 (4), 6-1 Zverev victory.

Telling stats

The young German’s consistent power off both sides exposed Raonic’s movement. And he couldn’t make enough of an impact with his serve. Raonic served harder than Zverev – but barely harder. He was just 8-for-18 at net. And his 33 unforced errors were far too many.

After not losing his serve in the tournament, Raonic was up against it Friday. “I broke him four times, which is quite impressive, against a server like him,” he said. “I tried to mix up my position – sometimes be aggressive, sometimes try to defend.”

With his big serve, Raonic doesn’t often suffer 6-1 set losses unless he’s injured. And he seemed healthy enough – just under pressure all the time. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Now, the two young bucks have to do it again.

Zverev will face another huge serve in John Isner, the first American to reach the semifinals in Rome since Andy Roddick in 2008. He’ll have had plenty of practice after the Raonic match.

Thiem awaits the winner of a thunderstorm-suspended match between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro.

“You beat such a great player and the next day again, you play again against a really tough opponent,” Thiem said.

Djokovic won the first set 6-1, but they were interrupted after three games in the second set as the stadium court was drowned. 

The two resume at 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Thiem can sleep in, in anticipation of facing the winner at 8 p.m. Saturday evening.

Muguruza awakens in Rome

Overshadowed as always in these joint ATP-WTA Tour events, the women have most often gotten the early match on the Centrale court – when the stands are empty – and the late-night match. 

Muguruza has had a reassuring week in Rome, as she heads to Paris to defend her French Open title.

So the energizing run by reigning French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza has gone under the radar.

Muguruza lost her first match in Stuttgart, and her first match in Madrid. But in Rome, she had a good draw to the quarter-finals and found a way to beat No. 9 seed Venus Williams Friday night.

She will play No. 8 Elina Svitolina, who defeated slumping No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova Friday. No. 6 seed Simona Halep, fresh off her triumph in Madrid, has continued her good form. She will face No. 15 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands. 

A Halep – Muguruza final is probably the best that could be extracted from the Madrid draw, especially after Maria Sharapova lost early to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. 

Here’s the Saturday singles schedule:

preview

Sunday’s women’s final will be first up at 1:30 p.m., with the men’s singles final not before 4 p.m. (CET)

On National Puppy Day, a celebration of tennis dogs

KEY BISCAYNE – More than anywhere, you’ll see them at the just-completed BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

Tennis dogs – all over the place. With all the green space, and the fact that players often rent condos rather than a hotel room when they’re in the desert, they let the dogs out (woof, woof).

Not since the 1980s, when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had Roland Garros and Martina Navratilova had several, including K.D. (for Killer Dog) have there been this many dogs on Tour.

And so, in honour of National Puppy Day (yes, that’s actually a thing), we present: Harold Reginald Williams, Loewik Zverev and Spajky and Woody Cibulkova.

In the desert, Dominika Cibulkova and Alexander Zverev actually bonded over their doggies on the practice court.

With the family Zverev a cohesive unit, Mom seems to be charged with doggie care.

As for Harold, he knows what’s up. He sits in the shade during practice periods, then catches a few rays during water breaks – but never inside the lines.

And when Mama Venus takes out her handy backpack and opens it up, Harold leaps up and jumps right in. It’s the ultimate tennis pet trick.

“Day one. He’s a smart guy,” Williams told Tennis.Life about the leaping Harold trick. “When I first got him, he was in the bag. That’s, like, his safe spot. If he’s in the bag, he knows he’s getting to go. He’ll definitely get in.”

Tennis dogs are something else. Do any of you know a single dog face-to-face with a tennis ball who doesn’t go chasing it around? There are probably as many tennis balls used for that purpose as for their intended purposes. Not tennis dogs, though; they might have 100 balls on the practice court but they completely ignore them all.

We don’t want to neglect two of the more veteran Next-Gen tennis doggies:

Chip Williams…

… and Bruno Wozniacki.

Williams’ doggie backpack is low-key compared to what seems to be the tennis dog accessory of choice these days, the Louis Vuitton doggie carrier.

Only $2,940 US, (plus taxes, shipping, handling, whatever else is involved).

 

 

Video: Zverev vs Fed at Indian Wells – what a difference 2 years makes

INDIAN WELLS – Roger Federer has sought out rising star Alexander Zverev to practice with for a long time now; the old man always likes to scout out the up-and-comers early on, to see what they bring.

Two years ago, when Zverev was just 17 but already playing nearly a full ATP Tour schedule, he made his first visit to Indian Wells.

He lost to veteran American Michael Russell in the first round of qualifying. He was ranked No. 136; Russell checked in at No. 179.

Here’s what that looked like:

But the kid stuck around after the loss, and one of his practice partners was Federer:

Last year, Zverev was inside the top 60. He defeated Gilles Simon and Grigor Dimitrov before being one botched routine volley away from upsetting Rafael Nadal to reach the quarter-finals.

This time around, still 19, Zverev is now ranked No. 20 and a far more formidable practice partner for Federer.

Here’s what they looked like this week in the desert.

Have they changed? Judge for yourself!

2015:

2017:

While the big guns fire in the big stadium, the Next-Gen heats up Stadium 2

INDIAN WELLS – From the day of the men’s singles draw less than a week ago, many eyes were focused on blockbuster potential early-round matchups between established stars that threatened to set the BNP Paribas Open on fire from early in the week.

Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal – a rematch of the Australian Open final – in the fourth round.

But buried in the “quarter of death”, as that section of the 2017 men’s draw came to be called, was the first career meeting between two youngsters who a decade from now might be exactly where these champions are right now.

And so it was that Nick Kyrgios of Australia and Alexander Zverev of Germany met for the first first time in their young careers. And, appropriately, while the current champions battled it out in the main stadium, they met in Stadium 2 – a mini-replica of the big stage but, of course, not the big stage.

(They met once as juniors, in the Wimbledon warmup tournament at Roehampton, a match that easily went Kyrgios’ way).

Almost exactly two years apart with Kyrgios the elder at 21, both are already in the top 20. And if the 6-3, 6-4 win by Kyrgios sets their early career head-to-head at 1-0 for him, it may in no way presage the tenor of the many matchups to come.

“It was the worst match I played all year. It’s quite simple. My serving was absolutely horrible, my returning was absolutely horrible. From the baseline was horrible. There is not one thing I did well,” Zverev said afterwards. “It was just that kind of day.”

It didn’t seem that bad from Zverev’s side, although at 48 percent his first-serve percentage wasn’t nearly enough. Part of that pressure came from Kyrgios, who took the 130-plus mile-an-hour offerings from his opponent and returned many of them as though they were no big deal at all.

It wouldn’t be a match without a Kyrgios trick shot and in this case, it threw Zverev off enough that he missed the putaway volley immediately afterwards (Via TennisTV)

Already, their styles seem set. Zverev will be be the elegant one, the lanky, gliding star with the pitch-perfect technique, already a complete player in the making but in that textbook kind of way with few surprises.

Kyrgios, perhaps blessed with even more talent – and that’s a high threshold – is always going to be the unpredictable one, but the one who already creates shot sequences (dropshot-backhand lob winner combinations for one) out of his fertile mind, on the spot, in a precocious way. That kind of tennis mind, you can’t teach. He creates between-the-legs volleys in the same spontaneous way, which only adds to his unpredictability even if the success rate isn’t golden.

“I think there were some points where everyone enjoyed it. I thought he was playing some great shots. The crowd enjoyed. You know, I was enjoying it. There was obviously a lot of pressure. I thought at times we both looked a bit nervous – fair enough, with everything going on, a lot of expectations,” said Kyrgios, whose performance in the press conference room after the match was equally first-rate.

Kyrgios has been in great spirits so far in the desert – the presence of girlfriend and fellow player Ajla Tomljanovic until a couple of days ago no doubt a contributing factor. He’s also playing some quality tennis.

“I don’t think I served that well today, actually. I felt – I wasn’t serving my best, so I thought I just competed well,” he said. “It was always going to be a tough match. He’s been playing great tennis and on the rise ever since juniors. I knew it was going to be tough. … I’m just really glad to get through.”

There was a moment when it all could have gone off the rails, as Kyrgios took issue with chair umpire Cédric Mourier’s failure to overrule a fairly obvious out ball – on set point, no less. Kyrgios had to challenge, and he won it. But he felt, on principle – with Kyrgios, there’s often a principle – that he shouldn’t have had to.

Kyrgios and chair ump Cédric Mourier got into it on a couple of changeovers about the lack of overruling. “I’m not a machine,” Mourier said. (Via TennisTV)

He muttered about it through the set break and again at the break after the third game of the second set. He dropped a couple of profanities and got an audible obscenity warning that earned him a few boos from the crowd.

“I’m trying my hardest, and I shouldn’t have to deal with that s..t,” was one pithy quote.

But it didn’t escalate and, crucially for Kyrgios, it didn’t affect his play. He was steadfast, appreciating the hot weather for the extra bounce he got on his forehand because of it, and never giving Zverev an opening to make a tight contest of it.

“Ultimately, it was a good match. He’s going to beat me plenty of times in his career, I think. I’m going to beat him. It’s going to … that’s how it’s going to be,” Kyrgios said.

Next up is Novak Djokovic, whom Kyrgios beat less than two weeks ago in Acapulco by serving out of his mind, late at night, in the first-ever match between the two. This time, because both are still alive in the doubles, it will be a mid-afternoon match Wednesday.

This time, it will be in the big stadium.