“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).

 

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).

Djokovic, del Potro survive to reach US Open final

NEW YORK – After five matches under Grand Slam stress and through some of the toughest playing conditions in recent memory, four were left on Friday at the US Open.

Given what had come before, it probably wasn’t a shock that the best tennis in the men’s event this year may have already been played.

But maybe not. 

There’s one more to go.

Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro will meet in Sunday’s men’s singles final. And you can only hope that it will be a compelling, close contest after the semifinals were anything but.

The first to fall was the eldest of the quartet, 32-year-old Rafael Nadal.

The defending champion retired after del Potro won the first two sets, as his right knee again prevented him from showing his best.

He first felt it at 2-2 in the first set.

Tendonitis, Chapter 15

survive

“The pain on the knee is always very similar … The problem is this time was something little bit more aggressive because was in one movement. Was not something progressive,” he said.

Nadal had it flare up in the early rounds, even having the knee wrapped during his third-round match. But it responded to treatment – until it didn’t.

It’s still the same patellar tendinitis. And Nadal, who is scheduled to play the Davis Cup semifinals next weekend, said it’s not a matter of three weeks – or six months. It’s about judging how much pain he’s willing to play with, as the tendonitis eventually responds to treatment.

Let’s just say, he knows the drill by now.

Del Potro is into his first US Open final since he won it all the way back in 2009. It is the biggest gap between Slam finals in the Open era. And the shortened match was a blessing in the sense that he won’t be going into it having had to survive a marathon in the semis.

“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam finals in here, which is my favorite tournament. So it would be special to me. Would be a big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get in this moment,” del Potro said.

“It will be a difficult match, of course. But anyway, I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyways.”

Tired Nishikori no match

Djokovic dropped a set in each of his first two rounds and was one of the players who struggled with the unbreathable conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. But he has been on a major roll since then.

survive

He defeated No. 26 Richard Gasquet, unseeded Joao Sousa and John Millman and No. 21 Nishikori in straight sets through his next four rounds.

The matchup with Nishikori has always been a favorable one for him. Whatever Nishikori does well, Djokovic does more of, and better.

The Serb now has won their last 14 completed meetings, including a four-setter in the quarterfinals on his way to the Wimbledon title in July.

“I knew that coming into the match if I managed to sustain that speed of his shots, so to say, the game style, that I’ll have my chance kind of to break through and to make him feel uncomfortable and start making errors. That’s what happened,” said Djokovic, who called the match “really, really good” from his side. 

“I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves. And I was returning well. I was putting constantly pressure on him, trying to move him around the court, take away the rhythm from him, not give him the same look always.”

survive

It didn’t help Nishikori that he appeared to tweak his leg or knee early on, on a fairly harmless looking trip to the net. Nishikori attributed that misstep to cumulative fatigue. The 28-year-old also had a draining five-set win over Marin Cilic in the previous round to recover from.

But when Djokovic is playing as well as he has been in New York since those early minor bumps, there isn’t much anyone can do to derail him. The 31-year-old was literally firing on every single cylinder he had on Friday night.

“He was playing very solid everything: serve, return, groundstrokes. He was playing aggressive. Yeah, I didn’t have (a lot of) energy to stay with him. He was hitting, you know, side to side. Yeah, wasn’t easy to stay with him tonight,” Nishikori said. 

“I think I was just tired from last couple matches. I was try to give 100 per cent, but he was playing very solid. Maybe if he wasn’t Novak, I might have chance to play little better. But he was, you know, playing great tennis today. Yeah, very credit to him.”

Djokovic in rare US Open territory

With the win, Djokovic jumps into a tie with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl as he prepares to play his eighth US Open men’s singles final. Eight is tops in the open era; Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer have made seven finals.

survive

He also officially qualified for the ATP Tour Finals. Federer also qualified; the two join Nadal.

Djokovic stood at No. 76 in the race to London before Indian Wells, No. 25 before the French Open. If he wins on Sunday, he’ll be No. 2 behind Nadal. if he loses, he’ll be No. 3, just 65 points behind del Potro.

“Probably seeing the results, consistency of the results I’ve had here, probably has been my most successful Grand Slam. Of course, I won the Australian Open six times, never lost finals there. But I think I’ve played more than 10 semifinals here. It’s definitely one of my favorite tournaments to play because of the conditions and because of the fact that I’ve played so well in each year that I keep on coming back,” Djokovic said.

“I know that I feel very comfortable here. It just allows me to feel more comfortable playing, starting the tournament and going through it. Yeah, I mean, I think I have two finals won and five losses. But, you know, hopefully I can get one better in few days.”

us open Day 8 – Preview

NEW YORK – The final countdown to the most anticipated showdown of this (non-capitalized) us open begins.

But before Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer can meet in a blockbuster quarterfinal, they still have to get through quality opponents in their Labour Day fourth-round matches (click here for the schedule).

The draw gods have been kind to both, with the upsets earlier in the tournament.

Djokovic plays Joao Sousa of Portugal, a 29-year-old who reached the top 30 just before the French Open this year, but who is currently ranked No. 68. 

The seeds in that section were No. 12 Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, and No. 17 Lucas Pouille of France – a friendly section, to be sure. But Sousa defeated them both in four sets. So he earned his spot. And in his 24th career Grand Slam, he is into the second week for the first time in his career.

The two have met four times, thrice in Grand Slams. And Djokovic has never lost a set. In 11 sets, Sousa has won more than two games only three times – and never more than four.

Federer vs. Millman for a shot at the Djoker

Federer is in a similar situation, as he takes on unseeded Aussie John Millman in a late-night match tonight.

He’s a player Federer referred to as a “hard worker”. He’s not the only one to attach those two words to Millman’s name. And it’s both a blessing and a curse.

It means that players respect his work ethic and determination.

But, for the top players, it also usually means they don’t consider him a major threat, even if they don’t underestimate him.

Millman, also 29, is ranked No. 55, just off a career high reached a month ago. It’s an impressive comeback after a torn groin tendon required surgery in 2017, and back woes held him back at the beginning of this season.

A year ago, Millman was ranked No. 235.

The two have only met once, back in 2015 at Millman’s hometown tournament in Brisbane. Federer prevailed in three sets.

Next-Gen – WTA style

Madison Keys meets No. 29 seed Dominika Cibulkova, and Maria Sharapova meets No. 30 seed Carla Suárez Navarro in fourth-round matches today.

But the match that may light the fire on the women’s side will be between a pair of 20-year-olds.

Both Naomi Osaka of Japan (via New York) and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus are 5-foot-11. And both have had career years this season.

Osaka was the surprise winner at Indian Wells, a big tournament title the reserved 20-year-old may not quite have been ready for. She has just one victory over a top-50 player since then. That came against Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania at Nottingham, just before Wimbledon.

She defeated Laura Siegemund, qualifier Julia Glushko and unseeded Aliaksandra Sasnovich to get to this fourth-round match. That’s a friendly draw; she didn’t have to face No. 11 seed Daria Kasatkina (another young up-and-comer) after Sasnovich took care of her.

Osaka and Kasatkina met in the Indian Wells final back in March.

But it wasn’t so much the level of opponent as the pain Osaka inflicted upon them. She has lost just seven games in three matches – five of them in the first round against Siegemund. And she has a string of three consecutive 6-0 sets on her resumé coming into the match.

Sabalenka on a roll

Sabalenka has had a fine summer. After a breakthrough final in Eastbourne, she was a first-round loser at Wimbledon – it was too big a tournament, too soon. But she took some experience from that.

The bellowing Belarussian has beaten Caroline Wozniacki (Montreal), Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys and Caroline Garcia (in Cincinnati) and Julia Goerges and Suárez Navarro (on her way to her first career WTA Tour title in New Haven the week before the US Open).

Her first-round match in New York, against Danielle Collins, came quickly afterwards. But instead of a repeat of what happened at Wimbledon, she defeated the American in three sets, and blew away Petra Kvitova in the third round to earn the date with Osaka.

The two are meeting for the first – but definitely not the last – time.

Djokovic finally gets his Cincy

The tacky-looking flower pot from your grandmother’s Cincy parlor, known officially as the Rookwood Cup, features tennis balls nested in acanthus leaves.

It is arguably one of the least attractive trophies in tennis.

And yet, for Novak Djokovic on Sunday afternoon in Cincy, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Finally, in his sixth attempt in the final, the 31-year-old Serb won the Western & Southern Open.

It had long been the only one of the nine Masters 1000 titles to elude him, making his Hall-of-Fame set of hardware short that final piece.

But after a 6-4, 6-4 win over seven-time champion Roger Federer, it was his.

Djokovic’s 31st overall Masters 1000 series title means that he is the only player to own all nine of the current Masters 1000 titles.

(Federer is short Monte Carlo and Rome. And since he has now habitually skipped the clay-court season, it likely will be ever thus. Rafael Nadal has yet to win Miami and the Paris Indoor (as well as Shanghai; but he won the fall indoor event in Madrid that preceded Shanghai in that Masters 1000 slot).

The Serb had waited five long years, since he won the Monte Carlo Masters for the first time in 2013, to take No. 9.

Even through the most dominant stretch tennis the game has ever seen, when Djokovic won just about everything there was to win and was, at one time, the holder of all four Grand Slam titles concurrently, that flower pot had cruelly eluded him.

Nine is nice

If you’ve been watching Djokovic play through the last couple of months, the increasing levels of his form, fire and confidence have been evident from week to week.

Cincy
Djokovic won the eighth of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments in 2013. He had to wait five long years to complete the set.

That he won Wimbledon wasn’t just up to him, of course. But the way he won it was very much up to him, as close to vintage Djokovic as he has been in a couple of years.

And perhaps that big, unexpected title allowed him to fly.

He’s had his tetchy moments. And while he probably shouldn’t be crushing his trusty rackets with impressionable young children watching from just a few feet away, that tetchiness comes with the complete top-shelf Djokovic package.

And this week, he seemed on a mission as he returned to Cincinnati for the first time since 2015.

He knows, from his experiences the last two years, that you can never assume you’ll have four or five more kicks at the can. His goal was clear.

“I was saying previously that during this week this trophy has been … a big motivation for me. But at the same time I tried not to think about the pressure of really making history too much, because I have had already some failed attempts,” Djokovic said during his press conference.

“Coming into today’s match, it wasn’t easy psychologically because I knew I lost to him every time I played him on this court. But at the same time, I liked my chances because I felt better and better as the tournament was progressing. It was by far the best performance of the week.”

Tough draw – and an extra match

Djokovic caught a break as he was in the same half as No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal. But Nadal pulled out of the tournament after winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

And it was the first time since 2006 that he didn’t benefit from a first-round bye in the 64-player draw because of his ranking. So if it was going to win it, he was going to have to win six matches.

Djokovic had his ups and downs through victories over Steve Johnson, Adrian Mannarino (coming back after losing the first set), No. 5 seed Grigor Dimitrov (rain-delayed overnight), Milos Raonic (another comeback three-setter) and No. 7 Marin Cilic (another three-setter) before he even got to Federer.

Cincy
Yep, he was pretty happy. (TennisTV.com)

Federer had beaten Djokovic in three of those five previous Cincy finals, all in straight sets.

(Andy Murray beat Djokovic in the other two, one on an injury retirement. In five finals, Djokovic had lost 10 sets and won none).

Very good Djokovic, sub-par Federer

Cincy
Djokovic’s eyes were as big as saucers as he zoned in on winning the last Masters 1000 event missing from his collection. (TennisTV)

It was the 46th meeting of their careers, but the first between Djokovic and Federer since the 2016 Australian Open.

They had been like two superstar ships passing in the night.

As Federer returned from a knee issue and started piling up more history, Djokovic was dealing with his elbow injury and, perhaps, a little bit of lassitude after that ridiculous stretch of brilliance between 2014 and 2016.

Right now, it is Djokovic who is rounding into form beautifully for the US Open. Federer, who skipped the clay-court season and had a good – not great – grass-court season before skipping Toronto last week, doesn’t appear to be in particularly good nick. It was still good enough to make the final. But the US Open is another level.

And the Swiss star definitely won the cranky contest on court Sunday.

Federer even received a code violation for an audible obscenity after a double fault and a forehand shank led to Djokovic breaking him, in the seventh game of the first set.

Cincy
Federer was peeved pretty much throughout the straight-sets loss to Djokovic in Cincinnati on Sunday – more at himself than anything else. (TennisTV.com)

Roger Federror

The break came after Federer had held serve precisely 100 consecutive times in Cincinnati, where the stadium court he is always scheduled on plays much quicker than the other courts, and where the conditions are optimal for him to hold serve.

Federer looked slow to get to some balls. He didn’t seem to react to some as quickly as you would expect. He missed too many returns.

And it was clear that he hadn’t found confidence in a forehand that had been erratic much of the week. In the end, he posted 39 unforced errors.

Late in the second set, with an open court in which to hit a winning forehand, Federer tried a crosscourt forehand drop shot. It was a shot he hit precisely because he didn’t have enough trust in his forehand at that moment. And he missed it wide. A game Federer had led 40-love ended up as the deciding break.

He was pretty mad at himself a lot of the time, as well as at some of the Djokovic fans sitting up in the bleachers who were, well, enthusiastically supporting their man.

(Fair’s fair. Usually Federer’s fans are the ones dispensing that treatment to his opponents nearly everywhere he goes. But even if the Federer fans far outnumbered the Djokovic supporters on this day, it was at least a fair fight).

For his part, Djokovic played solidly. It was enough. He didn’t play his best tennis all week either, but he fought at an all-star level. 

When the two arrived at the net, Federer was gracious, as he was during his runner-up speech and in press later.

Making history in Cincy

“Congratulations, Novak, on writing history today. Amazing effort, not just this week, not just today, but your whole career to get to this point. It’s an amazing achievement,” he said.

Cincy

“All these records that a player creates, at the end you’re going to all judge it all together, bundle it up and say, ‘Okay, what was the coolest thing you ever did?’ “This might be it for Novak besides winning all the Slams and all the other things he’s done already,” Federer said during his press conference.

“I think it’s extremely difficult to win a Masters 1000. These tournaments don’t come easy. You saw my performance today. It’s just a long week. It’s tough, gruelling. The best players are playing. You play against tough guys early on in the draw, so you don’t have much time to find your rhythm and actually almost work on your game throughout the week,” he added. “He’s done that maybe better than anybody. So it’s a great credit to him. I think it’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Djokovic acknowledged that Federer “probably didn’t feel his best.” But after losing to him three times on that very court, he was happy to take it.

“It’s obviously a very special moment, it’s the first time that I get to stand here wth the winning trophy in Cincinnati. I played five finals before, and most of those finals I lost to this great man,” he said. And then he joked. “Roger, thanks for your kind words, and thank you for letting me win once here in Cincinnati.”

Djokovic’s ranking stood at No. 22 at the French Open, just a little over two months ago. He was No. 25 in the race to the year-end finals in London.

On Monday, he’ll be No. 6 in the regular rankings and No. 3 in the race.

Jelena Djokovic’s grandfather robbed

(Note: the news comes from Serbian media reports. We have no additional information).

Scary news out of Serbia where Miloslav Radisavljevic, the grandfather of Novak Djokovic’s wife Jelena, was attacked in his home by two masked at 3 a.m. Thursday and eventually taken to a field several miles away.

Depending on the report, Radisavljevic is either 80, or 85.

According to Serbian media outlet Blic, Radisavljevic was found Thursday, almost by chance, by workers repairing a power grid. He reportedly was handcuffed to a power line in a corn field hear his home in Ljig.

Originally, municipality president Dragan Lazarevic described it as an “attempted kidnapping”, according to Blic and other Serbian media.

According to another media outlet, Srbija Danas (we have no knowledge of how reputable it is), Lazarevic said a relative in Monte Carlo reported that messages had been received, demanding a ransom of 2 million euros.

In the end, the police classified it as a robbery. There were no visible injuries, although obviously the elderly man was in shock.

Blic reports that Radisavljevic was robbed of 26,000 Serbian dinars (about $260 US) and a cell phone. When Radisavljevic wouldn’t comply, that’s when they dragged him out of his home.

The investigation and search for the perps is ongoing.