2019 Indian Wells doubles lineup … singular

Top singles stars often play doubles at the BNP Paribas Open, a popular choice in the first event of a series, with a climate or surface change to adjust to.

There’s a full 32-team doubles field at Indian Wells. And with 32 seeds with first-round byes, most of the singles players don’t start until later in the week – some as late as the first weekend. 

Andy Murray played the desert doubles 11 straight times between 2007 and 2017.

The 2019 lineup is no different. In fact, it might be one of the more interesting lineups already – if all the players who’ve committed follow through.

The entry deadline isn’t until Monday. And there are two wild cards to be distributed. So there will be more additions.

But already, you know the team of Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini will pack Stadium 2, where many of the high-profile doubles teams ply their trade.

Still not on board is Rafael Nadal, who has played it 11 times – four of those with Marc Lopez, with titles in 2010 and 2012. 

If he plays, it won’t be with Lopez, who already is entered with Feliciano Lopez.

Roger Federer? He also has played it 11 times, going back to 2000. Most recently, he did countryman Michel Lammer a solid and paired up with him for a first-round loss in 2015. That was actually the last time Federer played doubles in an ATP Tour event.

The Swiss (who reached the singles final in 2018) reached the final in 2002 with Max Mirnyi. He also reached final in 2011 and the semis in 2014 with Stan Wawrinka.

Let’s call that possibility … remote. The last time Federer played any (non Hopman Cup mixed) doubles was a loss in a Davis Cup relegation tie against the Netherlands in Sept. 2015,  with Marco Chiudinelli.

Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini

Fognini is an accomplished doubles player, in the top 10 just a few years ago.

Djokovic has played just once this year, reaching the Doha semifinals with brother Marko and losing a 15-13 match tiebreak to eventual champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and David Goffin.

He has played doubles at Indian Wells five times before – most recently in 2017, when he and countryman Viktor Troicki upset top seeds Herbert and Nicolas Mahut before losing in the quarterfinals

Juan Martin del Potro and Maximo Gonzalez

Del Potro, who plans to finally start his 2019 season next week in Delray Beach, is teaming up with a countryman who is a top-40 doubles player (and at a career-high ranking). 

He’s also defending his singles title – and 1,000 ranking points.

The two have played together occasionally – notably at the Rio Olympics, where they lost in three sets to gold-medalists Nadal and Lopez.

Like Djokovic, del Potro also has played the doubles at Indian Wells five previous times – with several partners: David Nalbandian, Marin Cilic, Leonardo Mayer, Leander Paes and in 2018, Grigor Dimitrov.

The match with Cilic in 2014 was a notable one, because del Potro was pretty much hitting all one-handed backhands. He was testing out his wrist to see if it could hold up in singles. But he ended up withdrawing from the singles and was out the rest of the season.

Milos Raonic – Jérémy Chardy

Raonic played doubles in a similar situation in Brisbane – to open the new season. He and Robert Lindstedt beat the Bryan brothers in their first match back together before losing in the quarterfinals.

The Canadian played the Indian Wells doubles six straight years from 2011 to 2016 (with Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson, Lopez again, Ernests Gulbis – they defeated Djokovic and Krajinovic before losing to Federer and Wawrinka), Aisam Qureshi and John Isner).

He and Chardy have never played together.

Mischa and Alexander Zverev

This one is up in the air, given both Zverevs seem not to be 100 per cent. Zverev has played just two Davis Cup matches against Hungary since the Australian Open. And Mischa has played just one match this year – a first-round loss to young Aussie Alexei Popyrin in Melbourne.

Both are entered in singles – and together in doubles – in 10 days at the Acapulco tournament.

This would be the third straight year the brother team up in the desert. They also have entered Miami.

Frances Tiafoe / Leander Paes

Tiafoe plays doubles somewhat regularly (10 tournaments in 2018), without any notable success although he and Denis Kudla reached the semifinals in D.C. last summer.

This will be the 20th appearance at this event for Paes, going all the way back to 1996.

Dominic Thiem / Steve Johnson

Thiem was held back a bit by illness and was late getting down to South America for his fave Golden Swing. 

But it seems he’s getting right back to his double-time schedule.

The Austrian is in the doubles semi in Buenos Aires this week with his friend Diego Schwartzman. It’s his first doubles event of the season; he played eight in 2018 and lost in the first round of Indian Wells with Philipp Petzschner.

The pair played twice last year, in Rome on Clay and in Halle on grass. They won a tight one to the Zverev brothers in Rome before going down to Pavic and Marach, 16-14 in the match tiebreak. They’re also signed on for Miami.

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Wesley Koolhof

Tsitsipas

Seems an odd pairing, but perhaps the two have some history together.

At a career-best No. 40 this week, Koolhof played the Australian swing with regular partner Marcus Daniell, and had a wild card into Rotterdam with Jürgen Melzer this week.

Tsitsipas played some mixed doubles with countrywoman Maria Sakkari at Hopman Cup, but nothing else so far this season.

He played just about every week though 2017, when he was on the Challenger circuit and in 12 events (11 at the ATP level) in 2018, winning just four matches.

2018 doubles teams

Roberto Bautista-Agut/David Ferrer
John Isner / Jack Sock
Juan Martin del Potro / Grigor Dimitrov
Gilles Muller / Sam Querrey
Dominic Thiem / Philipp Petzschner (WC)
Alexander Zverev / Mischa Zverev
Philipp Kohlschreiber / Lucas Pouille

Plus Diego Schwartzman … Pablo Carreño Busta … Ryan Harrison … Fabio Fognini … Steve Johnson … Fernando Verdasco and Albert Ramos-Viñolas ….

2017 doubles teams

John Isner / Jack Sock
Novak Djokovic / Viktor Troicki
Rafael Nadal / Bernard Tomic (that was an … epic meetup)
Kohlschreiber /Thiem
Zverev / Zverev
Muller / Querrey
Andy Murray / Dan Evans
del Potro / Paes (WC)
Dimitrov / Stan Wawrinka
Marin Cilic / Nikola Mektic
Steve Johnson / Vasek Pospisil
Roberto Bautista Agut / Fernando Verdasco
Tomas Berdych / Philipp Petzschner
Nick Kyrgios / Nenad Zimonjic (WC)

Imperial Djokovic wins 7th Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia – The tennis that Novak Djokovic imposed upon Rafael Nadal Sunday night in the Australian Open men’s singles final was of all-world proportions.

And the bell that sounded when it was over after barely two hours sounded like this: “Roger and your 20 majors? Rafa and your 17? I’m coming for you.”

In Nadal’s case, that might even be this season, if Sunday’s combination of motivation, desire and execution is any hint.

Djokovic surrendered just eight games and made just nine unforced errors in a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory. His eternal rival, in their 53rd meeting, was at times made to look as though he had never faced this particular Serb before.

“Obviously back to back semi-finals and finals and make 15 unforced errors in total, in two matches, is quite pleasantly surprising to myself. Even though I always believe I can play this way, and kind of visualize myself playing this way, at this level and under the circumstances it was really a perfect match,” Djokovic said.

It took 33 minutes, through more than four service games, for Nadal to win a point on Djokovic’s serve. They were 53 minutes in before he won his second. It took an hour and 46 minutes for Nadal to get his first break opportunity on Djokovic’s serve. Some 15 minutes after that, it was over.

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Quick start the key

The victory wasn’t a shock, based on their hard-court resumé. But the jokers were a little wild on that score. It has been nearly three years since they met on a hard court.

Since then, both have had physical challenges. Djokovic went from the nearly-unbeatable player he was then into a downturn exacerbated by both ailing elbow and bruised psyche. After winning so much, for such an extended period of time, he needed to find new purpose and new motivation for this chapter of his career.

In healing both, he found it.

In a battle of favorites, Osaka prevails in Oz Open final

Still, Nadal hadn’t won a hard-court set from Djokovic since the 2013 US Open final. And he’d played little hard-court tennis at all over the last 12 months: only the Australian Open (where he retired against Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals), the Roger Cup (which he won) and the US Open, where he retired against Juan Martin del Potro in the semis.

So form held true, in that sense.

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The plate, rather than “Norman” was not what Nadal came for on Sunday. But he was able to appreciate the unexpectedly dominant two weeks of tennis that came before it.

Defense didn’t answer the call

Beyond that, Djokovic had extra mustard. He kept the ball deep, as he always does. But he took it so early, so often, he gave Nadal no time to settle in, no room to breathe. He rattled him from the start.

If Nadal’s legs looked a bit frozen, if he looked nervous, Nadal said that was all credit to his opponent.

“It was not about being more nervous. I (had) normal nerves, like final of Grand Slam. But the things started so quick. He was pushing me to every ball. What on other days have been a serve and a ball that I can have in offensive position, today have been in defensive position. That’s not nerves. That’s things that happened quicker than what happened the previous days,” he said.

“I don’t like to say he played unbelievably well, because looks like you find an excuse for yourself. The real thing is he played so well. He did a lot of things (that are) very difficult unbelievably well. He hit so long. His return was fantastic. He was super quick. I really believe that he was able to work very hard on the off-season on his movement. He was moving unbelievably well. I felt that good shots came back with offensive position for me, after not a bad shot from me, I have been in the defensive position (instead).”

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Nadal had a clear idea of how it went wrong on Sunday, without failing to acknowledge the extremely high level of his opponent.

Quick start required

Djokovic said he needed to rush out of the starting gates with a flourish.

“It’s exactly what I intended to do. I want do step out on court and bring the intensity. Because I knew intensity was waiting for me on the other side. He makes you play every shot from the very first point, brings a lot of energy in the shots,” Djokovic said. “I definitely needed a good start, because we both were playing well coming into the match. I knew I have a good chance if I’m in the court dictating play.”

The Mallorcan had looked impressive in getting to the final. More than that; he had looked devastating.

But his draw was well set up. He dismissed the Next Gen – Alex de Minaur, Frances Tiafoe and Stefanos Tsitsipas – with a few swats of his mighty Babolat. He took care of a resurgent contemporary, Tomas Berdych, with all the might his 19-4 head-to-head against the Czech would suggest.

Djokovic was a next-level challenge, compared to those who had come before. Perhaps two levels above.

An as Nadal explained it, he didn’t have that “extra thing” he needed to put up more resistance.

Nadal said he was able to win his first six matches with his offense. But against Djokovic, he knew he needed his defence to also be up to the task.

Lack of practice, lack of perfect

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Djokovic was in pretty fine spirits during his post-victory press conference.

This was his first official tournament since the US Open last September. And the player who builds so much of his confidence on how much, and how well, he practices had been woefully short in that area. So when he needed it, it wasn’t there.

“I have been lot of months without having the chance to practice, without having the chance to compete. And have been two positive weeks. The only thing probably that I need is time and more matches. … Of course, he played better than what probably he played during the rest of the tournament. Being honest, I saw him the tournament more or less. He probably played the best match so far. Playing that well, is so difficult for everybody, for everyone, when he plays that level, is so difficult to fight for victories against him,” Nadal said.

“But if I am able to run 100 per cent and to resist every ball, then you find ways. The things that looks easy for him become little bit more difficult when you have to do it one more time, one more time and one more time. I was not able to push him to do it one more, one more, one more every time. That’s my feeling,” he added. “I believe the level of tennis have been great. Probably the only thing that remained a little bit more to me was normally the best thing that I have (the defense). Is something that I am not worried much.”

Nole Slam nears again

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Djokovic joked that Roy Emerson (far left) was “pissed” that the Serb’s 7th Australian Open had broken his record.

A year ago in Melbourne, Djokovic was just weeks away from surgery on his elbow. He was defeated in straight sets by Hyeon Chung of Korea in the fourth round.

He returned – perhaps too hastily – and lost in the first round of both Indian Wells and Miami. But by Wimbledon, he was back. 

“Not impossible, but highly unlikely. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I always believe in myself, and that’s probably the biggest secret of my success, or any other athlete,” Djokovic said about Sunday night’s win, looking ahead from where he was a year ago.

An imperial challenge

Djokovic has now won the last three majors. If he can win the French Open in the spring, he would hold all four Grand Slams at once for the second time in his career. And he will have won them in the same order: starting with Wimbledon, ending with Roland Garros. 

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A huge crowd of Serbian fans enjoyed the victory both inside Margaret Court Arena and outside in Garden Square.

“We’ll see. Obviously it’s just the beginning of the season. I know there’s a lot of tournaments to play before the Roland Garros, so I have plenty of time to build my form slowly, obviously staying on a hard court first with big tournaments, Indian Wells and Miami, then starting the clay,” he said. “Obviously I have to work on my game, my clay court game, a bit more, more specifically than I have in the last season. I need to play better than I have last season. I am already playing better. But, I mean, clay specifically in order to have a chance and shot at the title.

“The ultimate challenge there is to win against Nadal. Then you have Thiem and Zverev, Roger is probably going to play. You have a lot of great players that on clay can challenge me or anybody else.”

Is 20 in sight?

He now has seven Australian Opens. And he has 15 majors – two short of Nadal, five short of Federer.

He’s going to give it a go.

“I am aware that making history of the sport that I truly love is something special. Of course, it motivates me. Playing Grand Slams, biggest ATP events, is my utmost priority in this season and in seasons to come. How many seasons are to come? I don’t know. I’m not trying to think too much advance,” he said. 

“I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall well-being that I have mental, physical, emotional, so I would be able to compete at such a high level for the years to come, and have a shot at eventually getting closer to Roger’s record. It’s still far.”

Photo gallery: Djokovic preps for Tsonga

MELBOURNE, Australia – On an off day after his impressive first-round victory over American qualifier Mitchell Krueger, No. 1 Novak Djokovic hit the practice court.

His training partner was up-and-coming young Aussie Alexei Popyrin, a 19-year-old ranked No. 149 – near his career best.

It’s astonishing to think that Popyrin is just six months younger than countryman Alex de Minaur, and four months younger than Denis Shapovalov.

And yet, he’s more or less where he should be, while de Minaur and Shapovalov are highly precocious.

Second round rematch of 2008 final

Djokovic knows Tsonga well, having played him 22 times and boasting a 16-6 record against him.

The first time they met was in the 2008 Australian Open final – Djokovic’s first career Grand Slam title. So there’s some illustrious history.

But they haven’t even met since the 2016 US Open – nearly 2 1/2 years ago.

And a lot has changed since then.

“It feels like a lot has happened for both of us. He also struggled with injuries lately. It’s good to see him playing well. It’s good to see him back,” Djokovic said.

“He’s another great player, champion, someone that has been very successful in the past, established top-10 player, played Grand Slam final. Just very powerful, serve, forehand, big weapons. I know what to expect. I’ve played him many times. I lost to him, as well.”

Here’s what the practice session looked like.

ATP Player Council postpones decision on Kermode

MELBOURNE, Australia – The ATP Tour Player Council have voted on a majority against the continued leadership of tour CEO Chris Kermod, tennis.life has learned.

The vote took place as part of the annual players’ meeting held Saturday in Melbourne.

But we’re also told the 10-member council has put off making an official decision about its position.

Headed by president Novak Djokovic and vice-president Kevin Anderson, the council will postpone its definitive position until the Indian Wells tournament in March.

Kermode’s second term as head of the men’s tour ends at the conclusion of this season. He could be renewed for a third term by a vote of the ATP Tour board of directors.

The 54-year-old Brit was seen as a compromise candidate when he was appointed in Nov. 2013. The premature and tragic death of predecessor Brad Drewett the previous May led to the opportunity.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley was preferred by some. In recent years, he has expanded the reach of his country’s tennis influence well beyond the Grand Slam it hosts, 

Will board reps follow players’ lead?

According to the Telegraph, the ATP Tour board is to vote on this before the end of the month. The six-man board is composed of three members representing the tournaments’ interests, and three representing the players’ interests.

In theory, the three player reps would follow the lead of the Player Council’s position.

But that doesn’t always happen. Player rep Roger Rasheed voted to accept the offering of prize-money increases between 4-6 per cent for 2019, against the players’ wishes. He was ousted from the board shortly afterward.

Player rep Rasheed ousted from ATP Board

Rasheed was replaced – at least on interim, by former board rep David Egdes. Egdes is an executive with Tennis Channel. The other two player reps are Alex Inglot and Justin Gimelstob.

Gimelstob pleads “not guilty” in L.A. court

Gimelstob, who has pleaded “not guilty” to a charge of felony battery stemming from an incident on Halloween night, often has been at odds with Kermode. The two have markedly different philosophies, it seems.

The ATP Board voted last month not to remove Gimelstob from the board, in the wake of the charges. Neither Gimelstob nor Kermode cast a vote, per the New York Times.

Until this very serious business in his personal life, Gimelstob had been mentioned as an potential, eventual successor in the top job.

Early vote goes against Kermode

The Telegraph reported that Kermode needs (at least) two of the tournament reps and two of the player reps to vote in his favor, to renew his deal.

Kermode

Nine of the 10 players voted at the players meeting. And tennis.life has been told by a well-connected tennis source that five voted against Kermode. Four voted in his favor. The 10th vote is believed to also be a vote against him, although others maintain it was a pro-Kermode vote, which would knot the tabulation a 5-5. Let’s call that one “unclear”.

If “no” proves to be the final position, it will set off some interesting machinations inside the Tour.

Several players have publicly come out in support of Kermode this week.

Those include Stan Wawrinka, as quoted in the Telegraph story.

Aussie Nick Kyrgios, in his pre-tournament press conference, also came out in support.

“I personally like Chris. I think the changes that tennis is having with ATP Cup and stuff, I think it’s going in the right direction. He’s trying to do the right thing. I really like him, so… ” Kyrgios said.

Pospisil urges player involvement

Canadian Vasek Pospisil, newly elected to the board last year, sent out an email destined for the players ranked 51-100, the demographic he was elected to represent.

It was a strongly-worded, impassioned plea for the players to get more involved, unified and informed – to get motivated to have more of a say about their own future.

New Player Council member Pospisil wants to be a force for change

Pospisil is believed to be among those who voted against keeping Kermode in his job, along with president Djokovic.

A year ago, at the very same players meeting in Melbourne, Djokovic led the charge for the players to demand a bigger share of the tennis pie.

All of this comes at a fascinating, crucial time in the tour’s history. The new ATP Cup is set to kick off in 2020. And it will be country-versus-country event that comes up almost in direct competition with the revamped Davis Cup format.

The announcement of the imminent retirement of former No. 1 Andy Murray. at age 31. is a bit of a wakep call. It’s a preview of what inevitably occur in the next few years.

The so-called “Big 3” of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (in order of age from eldest to youngest) will hang up their rackets.

Their successor at the top level of the game – at least in terms of being marquee attractions – have yet to be determined. And so, the tennis landscape could look quite different in a few years.

Most importantly: do those who don’t want Kermode to continue in the job have a viable, qualified, available candidate in mind who would tick as many boxes and better defend their interests?

That’s a question still to be answered.

“ATP Cup” is born: let the jousting begin

All righty then.

Two years in the works, the ATP Tour finally has unveiled the World Team Cup.

It’s already renamed the “ATP Cup”, with a logo that hopefully will … grow on us.

So now the fun can begin before it first sees the light of Aussie day in Jan. 2020.

Because, already, the general (though not unanimous) consensus is that the ATP Cup and the new Davis Cup will be challenged to both thrive within six weeks of each other.

(Should the ITF and Kosmos rename the Davis Cup the “ITF Cup”, just so we know exactly what the real battle is here and keep it simple? Just thinking out loud…).

The president of the Players Council, who also happens to be the new world No. 1, has already been clear about this. And Novak Djokovic’s voice matters, big time.

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On the eve of the splashy presentation in a movie theater Thursday, the Serb was a bit of a buzzkill. But he was speaking the truth.

“I think in the next two years we’ll have both events happening in a very similar format if not the same, six weeks apart. … I honestly don’t think it’s good for the sport. More job opportunities for players, yes. But I think it’s not sustainable. It will happen that we will have two average events. So I think creating one event is an ideal scenario and I think outcome for everyone,” he said.

“From what I’ve heard from conversations with people from all of the sides, different sides in this sport, they all want to have one event because it’s over-saturated with different cups, different events.”

ATP vs. ITF – who will prevail?

Kosmos and the ITF would likely disagree.

Unless they were the ones to kill the ATP Cup, and have the field all to themselves, of course.

And since Kosmos frontman Gerard Piqué brought the idea to the ATP first only to be shot down by those on the board who represent the tournaments, there’s some “guy stuff” going on there as well (You ladies know what I mean).

“You have post US Open: Laver Cup, then Davis Cup, World Team Cup first week of the year. It’s really over-saturated. Within three, four months, it’s too many events,” Djokovic said. “We’ll have to work it out. But we have to start from somewhere.”

Not sold on the tournament logo. The new ATP logo is great. But the use of it here sort of summons up something Arantxa Sanchez would clip onto her pleated Reebok skirt.

That “somewhere” was a presentation of the new team event Thursday, although it lacked many of the basic, necessary details. 

There is no better time to do it, though.

The ATP Tour Finals are the final event of the season, with the best players on hand in a big media market.

An alternative would have been to unveil it at the Australian Open in January, given that’s where it is to be held. But the ATP probably is better off doing it before Kosmos and the ITF get the marketing machine rolling for the “new” Davis Cup next week at the final “old” Davis Cup final in Lille, France.

At the press conference, Kermode said representatives from the various groups had met in London on Tuesday. He said the discussions were “cordial”, according to the Daily Mail.

Two events “sustainable”

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said that having three team events within four months – the Laver Cup (in which Tennis Australia is an investor), the Davis Cup (in which it has no skin in the game) and the ATP Cup (in which the ATP and Tennis Australia will split the proceeds) is “sustainable”.

The Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell reports that an amicable meeting between the ATP and ITF Tuesday give hope that the two events could be merged to make one. But that’s down the line. 

The Kosmos Group, spurned by the ATP, now calls the shots on Davis Cup, not the ITF. And the “new” Davis Cup is only part of the group’s plan to take up more space in the game by making use of the two weeks on the schedule now freed up by the new format.

The ATP got everybody on board for the video.

24 teams, 10 days, $15 million

Djokovic, along with John Isner, made a quick appearance at the presentation Thursday, which outlined the basic format without providing many details – including the planned host cities, which will be announced “in due course”.

The prevailing thought is that three cities will be used for the preliminaries, with the finals in Sydney.

“We wanted to do a fresh new team event. We wanted to do something that was very vibrant, different, but equally we wanted to start the season off with a bang,” ATP CEO Chris Kermode said. “Our job is to get our star players, (whom) I truly believe are the best athletes in the world – we need to tell their story better to a wider audience and events like this can help telling that story.”

Click here to see a larger version of the potential rosters. Nations qualify on the ranking of their No. 1 player.

Here’s what we do know.

There will be six pools of four nations. The six pool winners, plus two wild cards (presumably the two nations with the next-best records) will advance to a knockout format that, in essence, begins at the quarterfinal phase.

Each nation can field up to five players. They’ll play two singles and a doubles.

The total prize money will be $15 million (compared to what, at this point, appears to be $18 million for Davis Cup, fo 18 teams).

But the bonus is that up to 750 ATP Tour ranking points will be available for the winners.

“To try to find a place in the calendar is very, very difficult. It has a knock-on effect. We didn’t want to do an event that was additive,” Kermode said. “And we wanted to be protective of our event. Week 1, historically, nine of the top 10 have played. Whatever the event is, they’re playing that week anyway. (It was about) calendar flow, and least damage to every other event.”

2020 calendar helpful, randomly

The beginning of any tennis season can range from Dec. 30 to as late as Jan. 6. It depends on where things fall that year – notably, Labour Day between week 35 and week 36 during the US Open. It’s a five- or six-year cycle that also changes slightly depending on when the leap years fall.

A Tennis.Life source had a look at the draft of the 2020 schedule. And, as expected, we’re told it will include the latest possible dates for the Australian Open. The fist major of the year will run from Jan. 20 – Feb. 2.

introduced

As a comparison, the 2019 Australian Open is almost as early as it can be: Jan. 14 – 27.

On its tentative 2020 schedule, the ATP has the ATP Cup pencilled in for 10 days, starting Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 and running through Jan. 12. So there will still be room the week before Melbourne.

The ATP plans to squeeze the 250-level Auckland event in there, as well as a second official ATP tournament to be determined. 

In subsequent years, though, it won’t be nearly as easy.

Christmas Down Under?

intoduced

In 2024, to keep that same extra week, the ATP Cup would have to start on Dec. 29. And that would mean that all those players would have to get down to Australia way before Christmas to acclimate and get over jet lag.

(It’s been fairly clearly stated by the tournament that it’s not practical to push the Australian Open back, as everyone returns to school/work the following week after the summer holiday).

Given the top players generally won’t play a tournament in that gap week, it poses an interesting conflict. The Australian Open would now be played in weeks 4-5 of the season, not weeks 3-4 as it currently is. And because the players might already have played as many as six matches (perhaps even doubles) during the ATP Cup, it’s not as though they’ll need much more match practice.

From the draft schedule, it appears the ATP also plans to keep the Doha tour event in January. But it will be held the same week as the ATP Cup. Evidently, that long-running tournament may have do without some of its more faithful attendees – notably No. 1 Djokovic.

They’ll have to handle all that as it comes. Who knows; the ATP schedule might have a very different look by then, without the four Davis Cup weeks that have limited flexibility all these years.

(All this might well affect the Abu Dhabi exhibition, since players who intend to play the ATP Cup will have to get Down Under too early some years. Therein lies the challenge in making any kind comprehensive overhaul of the schedule. You take out one domino, and others fall).

Pune, Sofia would move

The tournament in Pune, India (the former Chennai), currently played the first week of the season, looks as though it would be moved. It would be pushed back to the week currently occupied by Davis Cup – the first week of February.

Pune would compete with Montpellier and Cordoba (the former Quito tournament).

The preliminary round of Davis Cup in 2020 is pencilled in for the first week of March – between Acapulco and Indian Wells. That’s not ideal for players who come over from Europe or Asia to the U.S. ahead of Indian Wells to play Acapulco.

If their ties take place in Europe, it could affect their planning significantly.

Then again, no matter where that first Davis Cup week is positioned, it’s always inconvenient for someone.

Sofia (Bulgaria), currently played during that early February Montpellier week, looks to be moving to the end of September.

In that slot, it would compete with Zhuhai and Chengdu, China. That’s the week just prior to the two big Asia weeks (Beijing/Tokyo and then Shanghai) and is a good transition week in roughly the same time zone for the players ranked outside the top 20 who play them.

Players wanting to compete in Sofia would theoretically have to rush all the way to Asia afterwards, with little adjustment or acclimatization before those significant events.

Those are definitely not ideal conditions for either tournament.  But in the grand scheme of things, it’s relative minor collateral damage. 

Lacoste celebrates Djokovic’s No. 1

Novak Djokovic’s clothing sponsor, Lacoste, was quick to set up a fabulous tribute in Paris Monday.

It commemorates and celebrates Novak Djokovic’s official return to the top of the ATP Tour rankings.

The iconic French brand arranged to project images of both Djokovic and the brand’s namesake, the legendary Mousquetaire René Lacoste, on the Bibliothèque François Mitterand building in Paris.

Looks pretty cool.

Djokovic officially signed on with the brand on May 22, 2017, just before the French Open. He was prominently displayed on billboards everywhere – even in airports around the world.

Nole out, but still all over town

At the time, Djokovic was ranked No. 2. But he was shortly to get to the point where the elbow injury he had been nursing for more than a year got to be too much.

Djokovic, “le nouveau crocodile”

His 2017 season ended just six weeks later, with a retirement early in the second set of his quarter-final match against Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon.

A year later, with the face of the brand’s tennis business back at the top of the game, it’s looking like an excellent investment.

Lacoste

 (Photos: Cyril Masson)

ATP Rankings Report – Nov. 5, 2018

With Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from Paris, Novak Djokovic was assured of returning to the No. 1 ranking for the first time since Oct. 31, 2016.

With Nadal’s withdrawal from the ATP Tour Finals in London next week, Djokovic also was assured of finishing as year-end No. 1 for the first time since 2015, and the fifth time overall (2011-12, 2014-15).

Not that the 31-year-old Serb wouldn’t have done it anyway. He has been by far the best of the top players on form, and results, since Wimbledon.

Still, it’s a great piece of (gluten-free) cake to end his renaissance season.

Going into the French Open, Djokovic was ranked as low as No. 22. There, he was shocked by Marco Cecchinato of Italy. But since then, the Nole train has been roaring down the track at warp speed.

ON THE UPSWING

Novak Djokovic (SRB): No. 2 ————> No. 1

Kei Nishikori (JPN): No. 11 ————> No. 9 (Back in the top 10 for the first time since Aug. 2017)

Karen Khachanov (RUS): No. 18 ————> No. 11 (The Masters 1000 winner in Paris gets himself just a few hundred points out of the year-end top 10. Something to shoot for in 2019).

Milos Raonic (CAN): No. 21 ————> No. 18

Denis Shapovalov (CAN): No. 29 ————> No. 27

Alex de Minaur (AUS): No. 33 ————> No. 31 (ties his career high).

Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER): No. 43 ————> No. 36

Marton Fucsovics (HUN): No. 42 ————> No. 38 (He bowed out before his Paris match against Fabio Fognini, but the 26-year-old reaches a career high and jumps into the top 40).

Frances Tiafoe (USA): No. 44 ————> No. 40

Malek Jaziri (TUN): No. 55 ————> No. 46 (At age 34, the happy lucky loser in Paris reaches a career high).

Taylor Fritz (USA): No. 49 ————> No. 47 (The Next-Genner also reaches a career high).

Feliciano Lopez (ESP): No. 71 ————> No. 63 (The 37-year-old did yeoman’s work against a couple of kids in Paris, and nearly went further).

Andrey Rublev (RUS): No. 76 ————> No. 68 (A back injury did in his season a little, but the Next-Genner will be back up there before you know it).

Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 75 ————> No. 71 (At No. 108 to start the season, and in Slam qualifying, Pospisil has come back nicely).

Jordan Thompson (AUS): No. 87 ————> No. 73 (The Canberra Challenger champion has been outside the top 100 his season. But despite having gone just 1-11 at the ATP level, he has still managed to improve his lot).

Guido Andreozzi (ARG): No. 107 ————> No. 82 (The Argentine sets himself up for a payday in Melbourne).

Peter Polansky (CAN): No. 130 ————> No. 120 (Winning the Charlottesville final over Tommy Paul would have given him five more spots towards that elusive top-100 barrier. But he has two more events to go this year).

Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB): No. 162 ————> No. 133 (The 19-year-old made another big leap to another career high by winning the Shenzhen Challenger).

Blaz Kavcic (SLO): No. 224 ————> No. 197 (Should get him into the Aus Open qualies).

Tommy Paul (USA): No. 277 ————> No. 222 (The American wins his first Challenger title in Charlottesville).

Paul wins first Challenger title

ON THE DOWNSWING

Rafael Nadal (ESP): No. 1 ————> No. 2

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): No. 10 ————> No. 19

David Goffin (BEL): No. 12 ————> No. 22

Filip Krajinovic (SRB): No. 34 ————> No. 93 (Injured a fair bit this season, the Serb was unable to defend his tremendous result in Paris last year).

Radu Albot (MDA): No. 86 ————> No. 100

Jack Sock (USA): No. 23 ————> No. 105 (Sock will have to sweat it out to see if he makes the Australian Open main draw. Even if he wanted to play a Challenger next week, he’ll almost certainly be playing doubles in London with Mike Bryan).

Jack Sock salvages season in Paris

Julien Benneteau (FRA): No. 72 ————> No. 137 (As Benneteau wraps up his career, he drops his semifinal result from last year’s Paris Masters)

Nicolas Mahut (FRA): No. 169 ————> No. 196 (Unlike his fellow 36-year-old Benneteau, Mahut (a top doubles player) has no plans to stop any time soon.

(For the complete ATP Tour rankings picture, click here).

 

Nadal out of Paris, Djokovic back at No. 1

The order of play Wednesday in Paris looked pretty box-office.

Roger Federer was to wrap up the day session against Milos Raonic, with No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal opening the night session against countryman Fernando Verdasco.

In the end, fans didn’t get to see either one.

Federer received a walkover from Raonic, who cited a right elbow injury. The Canadian had survived a three-tiebreak victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first ound Tuesday night.

As for Nadal, who hasn’t played since the US Open because of a recurrence of his patella tendonitis, his Paris Masters was over before it began.

The knee seems fine – better than he had anticipated.

But an abdominal injury has popped up in the last few days. And so, he pulled out, replaced by lucky loser Malek Jaziri.

Risk of a abdominal tear

Here’s what Nadal said during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon – the mere announcement of which presaged the worst.

“I arrived here a couple of days ago. As everybody knows, I have been out of competition since the US Open. I come back, and it was great to be here in Paris for a couple of days. And I enjoy it. I feel myself, in terms of tennis, better than what I really thought one week ago,” he said.

“But the last few days I started to feel a little bit the abdominal, especially when I was serving. I was checking with the doctor, and the doctor says it’s recommended to not play. Because if I continue, the abdominal maybe can break, and can be a major thing. And I really don’t want that. It has been a tough year until that moment, in terms of injuries. So I want to avoid drastic things.

“Maybe I can play today. But the doctor says if I want to play the tournament – if I want to try to win the tournament – the abdominal will break for sure. So it would be not fair, and not good for me – for nobody – to go inside the court knowing probably the full tournament will not be possible to play,” Nadal added. “Of course I am not happy, but of course I have to accept and stay positive.”

Djokovic returns to No. 1

With the withdrawal, Novak Djokovic will return to the No. 1 ranking next Monday.

That will be true, regardless of how far he goes into the Paris Masters draw.

He will be the first player to be ranked outside the top 20, and be No. 1 in the same season since Marat Safin in 2000. Safin was as lot as No. 38 that season, before going all the way to the top of the rankings.

Djokovic began the season ranked No. 14 and dropped as low as No. 22 before the French Open. At that point, he was 7,110 points behind Nadal in the standings.

Since then, he has returned to full form and has won Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters. Since Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago because of the ongoing elbow injury for which he had surgery in February, he was able to make up a lot of ground.

Concurrently Nadal, struggling with his knee, dropped points he was defending as the US Open and Beijing champion in 2017.

paris

There may be an element of the precautionary with his, as the ATP Tour Finals begin in less than two weeks. As well, Djokovic is in full form despite seeming a bit under the weather in his second-round win over Joao Sousa in Monday. He had a day off Wednesday to help him recover.

So Nadal was faced with the likelihood that if he wanted to retain the No. 1 ranking for at least one more week – assuming this was a factor at all – he might well have to win the tournament despite Djokovic having the tougher road in the bottom half.

Knowing he wasn’t in a great position to do that and risking tearing the abdominal in the process, Nadal wisely erred on the side of caution.

In addition to Raonic and Nadal, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics also withdrew from the tournament Wednesday. That gave No. 13 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy a walkover.

So Federer and Fognini will be on even terms when they meet in the third round.

(Screenshots of Nadal from TennisTV)

Peerless Djokovic continues China domination

Croatia’s Borna Coric, still just 21 even if it seems he’s been at this awhile, could look across the net Sunday in Shanghai and see the player he wants to be.

He will rarely have a better view of near-perfect execution, as Novak Djokovic defeated him 6-3, 6-4 to win his fourth Shanghai Masters title.

And Coric will rarely have the reality about how far he still must travel stand out in such sharp relief.

It was Djokovic’s first title in Shanghai since that 2015 season for the ages.

And on some levels, especially in terms of the evolution of his all-court game, you could posit he’s on his way to being even a better player than he was then.

The road runs through Djokovic

Djokovic’s dominance through the last two days, though Coric in the final and fellow 21-year-old Alexander Zverev in the semis, just underscores how far the future generation has to travel to get to the very top.

And with Rafael Nadal still on the shelf with a knee injury, and Roger Federer looking rather mortal again this week even if he did fight his way to the semifinals, the road looks to run through Djokovic for the foreseeable future.

How daunting a prospect that must seem.

“He was the much better player on the court. I was playing good, really. But I was really happy how I played. I couldn’t play much better today, to be honest. I could serve maybe a little bit better, but still, I felt even if I was serving little bit better, he’d still return my serves. So there is nothing I can do,” Coric told the media in Shanghai after the match.

“It was really tough, I need to say. I just didn’t know what to do exactly. He was the much better player on the court today. There is no doubt about that.”

First Masters 1000 final

domination
Coric has been sporting a thick wrap on his right quad. He had it removed, and then had it put on again. But he still ran down every ball.

After letting it fly during an aggressive victory over Federer Saturday, his second of the season against the Swiss, the challenge for Coric Sunday was a different one.

No longer could he play with “nothing to lose,” as he said after the Federer win. He was in his first career Masters 1000 final, against the player who has been his biggest stylistic role model.

If the heavy wrap on his right quad slowed Coric down a little, it didn’t show that much even if he had the wrapping cut off and replaced, and added to, during the match. 

But if Coric wasn’t as aggressive as he was the previous day, Djokovic gave him no openings to even try. The relentless depth of the Serb’s groundstrokes, coupled with a scant few errors, kept the young Croat on the back foot and scrambling much of the time.

To say that Zverev had no answers to the questions Djokovic was asking in their semifinal would be to understate the case. But beyond one obliterated racket, he took it rather well. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

That’s the beauty of Djokovic’s game in full flight. Even from defensive positions, that depth is relentless when he’s playing his best. It’s just such a big task to get on top of him in a rally, it’s the opponent who ends up missing by going for too much – out of exhaustion, frustration or desperation.

Unforced errors actually forced

Most often than not with the young players, as was the case with Zverev in a one-hour shellacking the previous day (in Djokovic’s 1000th career match), they feel as though they made too many errors.

It takes the wisdom of experience, the ability to understand what’s going on both sides of the net, not just theirs, to see the truth.

Even if it’s the unforced error tally that mounts by default on the stats sheet, the majority of those errors are forced by the necessity to do more – in every point.

domination
After a particularly nifty all-court point, Djokovic wanted to hear from his many fans in Shanghai. And he did.

Coric seemed to realize this. And it’s that wisdom, that acceptance of the quality of the opposition, that has helped him jump from outside the top 50 – and a first-round loser to Henri Laaksonen in the first round of the Shanghai qualifying – a year ago to the final this year.

He’ll boast a new career high singles ranking of No. 13 on Monday.

Speedy court, effective serving

This was the fastest court the players, quite unanimously, said they have ever seen in Shanghai. And by opting not to play Beijing the week before, Djokovic was able to get there early, and have three or four days to practice and adjust.

That court speed put a premium on the importance of his own serve. And he responded.

domination
Excellent elevation on Djokovic’s victory leap, after winning Shanghai for the fourth time in his career.

In 47 service games, Djokovic faced just four break points, and saved them all. His success rate on first serve was 85 per cent overall through five matches. And he served 26 aces, with just four double faults.

“Serve was never my No. 1 weapon in the game – never as big as Zverev or Anderson or Isner or these guys. For me the serve was, so to say, a hidden weapon, the shot in the game that is important – the most important. But I always try to use it with accuracy and efficiency, rather than speed and power,” Djokovic told the media in Shanghai.

“I’ve never played on a faster court here in Shanghai. So this year more than ever I needed a lot of success with the first serve. High percentage of first serves in every match,” he added. “Obviously that brings me a lot of joy.”

No. 1 in plain sight

domination
Back at No. 2 in the ranking2 for the first time since the start of the 2017 French Open, Djokovic has one more mountain to climb.

Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago, while Federer was the defending champion in Shanghai. The win means the Serb vaults over Federer into the No. 2 spot in the rankings, by over 1,000 points.

Nadal was defending a final in Shanghai, and he’s been out since the U.S. Open.

All of that leaves Djokovic just 215 points behind Nadal for the top spot, with every result he posts the rest of the season a net positive.

He hasn’t ruled out playing in a week, the week before the Paris Masters.

After, of course, a celebration of son Stefan’s fourth birthday next weekend that involves some dinosaurs.

Djokovic hasn’t played Basel since 2011. And he hasn’t played Vienna since he won it back in 2007. The Vienna tournament director has made no secret of his interest in wooing him to Austria.

“We are very close,  I think it’s around 50 points difference (with Nadal). Obviously I don’t feel as much, I would say, pressure to play before Paris as much as I would if the situation were different, points-wise,” Djokovic said. “But I still will consider playing the week before Paris. I’ll decide with the team probably in a couple days.”

(All screenshots from TennisTV)

“Djokerer” will premiere Friday at Laver Cup

When the most highly anticipated moment of a three-day tennis event is two top players teaming up in doubles, you know you’re not on the ATP Tour.

And Team Europe won’t make the fans wait too long.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will team up for doubles Friday, the second match of the night session on Day 1 of the Laver Cup.

There was a similar moment a year ago, at the event’s inaugural edition in Prague. The pairing of Federer and Rafael Nadal was probably even more anticipated, as inextricably intertwined as they have been during a decade-long rivalry.

It was a little awkward, as most first-time pairings are – especially involving two players with radically different playing styles.

How will Federer and Djokovic work together – Federer playing forehand, Djokovic on the ad side? 

Doesn’t really matter. It’s the novelty of the thing.

The two have done a good job joshing and kibbitzing and pretending they’re good buddies in the leadup to the event. Although you have to ask the question: have they practiced together this week?

Three singles, then Djokerer

The opening day session Friday will be two singles matches. The first will have Team Europe’s Grigor Dimitrov go up against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe.

That will be followed by Kyle Edmund vs. Jack Sock.

The night session singles match will pit David Goffin against Diego Schwartzman.

It’s not exactly a star-studded lineup, with Dimitrov (at No. 7) the only top-10 player. But on the plus side, there will be an American in each match during the day session.

“He’s player with a lot of potential, a player who in a few years can win a Grand Slam,” Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg said of the 27-year-old Dimitrov.

When you see that night singles match, and take into consideration how much they’re charging for the tickets, they almost had no choice but to bring out the two rock stars for the doubles.

“I did have an inkling they would play – I am surprised they would play the first day,” Team World captain John McEnroe said.

Djokerer will take on Sock and Kevin Anderson.

Ahhhh, memories. Will we Djokerer re-enact this moment?

So it seems Sock, who didn’t play Davis Cup last weekend because of a hip issue, has recovered well enough to play singles during the afternoon and doubles late night.

Of course, having a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set, compared to the best-of-five format on red clay the Americans were facing last week in Croatia, makes it a lot easier.

Stakes get higher through the weekend

The way the exhibition format works is that the matches on the first day are worth one point each. On Saturday, they’re worth two points each and as they get down to serious business during the single session on Sunday, a win will be worth three points.

Djokerer
Team Europe is breaking out its “dream team” on Day 1 of the Laver Cup. If it goes to a sudden-death doubles set on Sunday, they could play again (Pic: Laver Cup website)

Friday night could be the only appearance by Djokerer during the weekend – unless the teams are tied 12-12 in points on Sunday. In that case, one set of doubles would be played to declare the victor, and they could jump back in.

The lineups for the two sessions Saturday will be announced an hour after play finishes on Friday.

If you’re in the Chicago area and are of a mind to catch Djokerer, there have been a few extra seats released.

As of 5:30 p.m EDT, there are seven of the “cheapest” left in the upper deck, at $132 plus all the charges. Another 203 remain in the lower bowl, at either $420+ or … $600.

(The 46 tickets remaining for the finale on Sunday range from $720 to $840, with one ducat tidily priced at  … $1,080).