Shapovalov talks about “Big Three” influence (video)

Denis Shapovalov’s remarks about how he looked up to Roger Federer when he was a kid got a lot of play last week at the Miami Open.

The fact that the 19-year-old was to play Federer in the semifinals had everything to do with that.

But in that same press conference, the Canadian teen expounded on the influence that all three members of the “Big Three” had on him growing up.

He looked at all of their games with an analytical eye.

And Shapovalov has tried to take something from all of them, and emulate it on the court.

Here are his thoughts on each of them.

On Federer:

On Djokovic:

On Nadal:

 

The “Big Three” on 1 and 2 (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The day after the rather controversial announcement that ATP Tour chief Chris Kermode would be gone at the end of the year, the three biggest names in tennis happened to be within three feet of each other on the practice courts.

It was lunchtime Friday.

And for the second straight day, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had practiced next to each other.

(They had been scheduled to do it again on Saturday at 11 a.m. in an early version of the schedule. But as of late Friday night, Federer’s name was gone).

But this time – a twist.

Replacing Nadal and Andrey Rublev on Practice Court 1 was … Novak Djokovic, the president of the Player Council. Nadal had some strong words for the world No. 1 after the Kermode news.

And in his press conference Thursday, Djokovic retorted in kind.

Through all this, Federer would not weigh in publicly.

Djokovic weighs in on Kermode decision (video)

Hey guys – have a chat!

It’s been crazy on those front practice courts for the last few days.

But here’s the scenario: Federer has said he has not had an opportunity to speak to Djokovic, as he planned to do in Australia. He wouldn’t weigh on on whether he thought Kermode should say or go.

Nadal has said that Djokovic has not spoken to him about this fairly significant issue of who will lead the ATP. He came in firmly in the “Keep Kermode” camp.

Djokovic, who has significant power both as the president of the Player Council and the best player on the planet right now, is the single most valuable spokesman about WHY some on the council decided Kermode had to go.

But he won’t own it, citing confidentiality issues in terms of his duties to one of the sport’s governing bodies.

But there they all were on Saturday, within spitting distance. Once Nadal and Federer cleared the area (Federer had been hitting with Daniil Medvedev), Djokovic and Fognini took over the court.

Fellas, can we talk?

Tennis.Life arrived at the tail end of this superstar megadose. So there was no way to confirm if they were cordial (as they usually are), ignored each other, had words, or it was business as usual on the practice court.

Probably the last option. There’s a pretty big tournament about to get started for them on the weekend.

We can say with relative certainty that Camp Rafa isn’t particularly thrilled with Camp Djoko.

There’s a fair amount of behind-the-scenes drama going on in the mens’ game at the moment.

So if these guys won’t practice with each other (the fans might not survive that, to be honest; it’s hectic enough that they’re even next to each other), they should probably at least find a private room and have a chin wag, right?

We’ll bring the top-quality scotch and cigars.

Djokovic weighs in on Kermode decision (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – By having his media availability on Thursday, world No. 1 and ATP Tour Player Council president Novak Djokovic all but assured the main topic of conversation.

There was no doubt most of the journalists’ questions to him would concern the future direction of the ATP Tour

(Oh, there was one about golf, too).

After a six-hour Player Council meeting Tuesday night, the ATP Tour board of directors met Thursday morning, The board was to vote on whether ATP CEO Chris Kermode would be renewed for a third term, or out at the end of 2019.

As we wrote Wednesday night, it appeared that the Brit was going to be out because he needed the majority of the three votes on the players’ side. And it was unlikely he was going to get them. 

Decision on ATP CEO Kermode may come Thursday

There were rumblings back in the U.K. overnight that Kermode’s job would be safe.

But, in the end, it went the way most expected.

We spoke to one tennis insider who had been in contact with Kermode since the decision. And he was said to be “gutted”.

Player Council prez mum

Djokovic wouldn’t say much. He said he didn’t want to expose himself to a potential breach of confidentiality by revealing what his personal opinion was on the subject.

We do know, from a number of sources, that the Serb was one of the players who wanted a change at the top.

Djokovic also wouldn’t readily accept the comments of Rafael Nadal and others, who have criticized the Player Council’s inadequate efforts at communicating with them about this and other issues in the game.

In fact, he turned it around on the those players, when pressed. Djokovic essentially said that communication is a two-way street. And there was nothing stopping any player who had questions or concerns to pick up the phone.

Here is some of what he said on the subject during his Thursday press conference.

Reaction on both sides

The ATP’s announcement on the matter was a mere four paragraphs on its website.

The quote from Kermode.

“It’s been a privilege to serve as ATP Executive Chairman & President since 2014 and I’m very proud of what we have achieved during this time. I would like to thank everyone at the ATP, and all the players and tournaments for the support over the years. I remain fully dedicated to the role for the remainder of my term and wish the organization every success in the future.”

Stan Wawrinka’s coach, Magnus Norman, weighed in. And the Tweet was “liked” by his player, which is as close to an official endorsement as we’re going to find.

This Tweet from the media director for the Queen’s Club event (and also a tennis commentator, and a presenter, and a podcaster) sort of sums up a legitimate question. Although it’s not hard to tell where his preference lies

Overall, the British tennis media (an overwhelmingly male, fairly longstanding group) seem to stand firmly behind the affable and approachable Kermode.

Veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez – a player who is crossing the aisle this spring to become the official tournament director of the Masters 1000 Madrid Open, gives it a thumbs down.

Affable, approachable leader – and a former player

From the outside, it’s difficult to find anything that has gone drastically sideways during Kermode’s tenure. The game has seemed to be rolling along just fine, other than the standoff on dividing up the revenue pie between tournaments and players.

This remains the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic era, though. And a future direction obviously involves the very real and looming landscape that doesn’t include them.

Kermode
We don’t know where Roger Federer stands on the Kermode affair. It would be interesting to know.

Clearly there are Player Council members who were adamantly opposed to him staying on in the job. But as Law wrote in his Tweet, it’s been difficult to discern exactly why they wanted him out.

The fallout with this is that during arguably the most crucial time in recent years, with the ITF/Davis Cup drama, the ATP Cup in process, and the decision on a possible new home for the ATP Tour Finals, there will be a lame duck CEO at the wheel.

That’s far from an ideal situation – in any business. 

Is that reason enough to renew Kermode in his job? Maybe not, but it definitely should be a factor.

Do they have someone lined up to replace him? Doubtful. Without a serious effort on due diligence and an executive search, a new appointee likely wouldn’t pass muster.

Is there someone on the planet who could do as good a job as Kermode – a better job? Surely.

Will the ATP Tour be able to find that person? We’ll see.

It feels like there’s a lot more to this whole situation that may well come out in the coming months – regardless of that confidentiality situation.

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.

(Add Gaël Monfils and Adrian Mannarino to this list, as the deadline is now past. But note that the Zverevs, Ryan Harrison-Kei Nishikori and Tiafoe-Paes are not yet in, with only 21 teams claiming direct entry).

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.

imperial

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.

imperial
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.

introduced

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).