Djokovic has too much for Bautista-Agut

WIMBLEDON – Roberto Bautista Agut has a lot to be proud of this Wimbledon.

It’s not just that he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal. After overcoming some understandable early nerves, the 31-year-old can also be proud of what he came up with during the biggest match of his career.

Centre Court at Wimbledon, against the defending champion, with Novak Djokovic the heavy favorite. And, almost everyone dismissing even a whiff of a possibility that the 31-year-old Spaniard could pull off the upset.

He just wasn’t quite good enough.

Not only that, it was an overlooked match because of what was to come in the nightcap – a “rematch” of the iconic 2008 singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

But for a “oh, get on with it to we can see Fedal” match, it was a good one.

For about a set and a half, a very good one.

Too much experience from the defending champ

Unfortunately for Bautista Agut, Djokovic had just too much experience in these moments. And he simply had more tennis options at his disposal in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory that put him into the final.

As it turns out, against Roger Federer.

Bautista Agut had actually beaten Djokovic the last two times they met – both this season, in Doha and Miami.

Both times, he came back after losing the first set to squeeze out a tight second set, and then close out the victory.

If there were moments of patchy play from Djokovic in the first part of the match, it could well have been because he had those losses somewhere in his mind. He had every reason to be confident. But he also knew what could happen, if things didn’t go right. 

Djokovic

When innate confidence battles occasional spurts of doubt, the level necessarily drops while the two duke it out.

The other element was that Djokovic sometimes seems to need an enemy to fight against. It’s a mechanism that charges him up, that he uses to good, not bad effect.

Against Federer or Nadal, who are chasing the same history, there’s no need to look further.

But a player like Bautista Agut is, in some senses, like a blank canvas. He doesn’t give you anything to fire you up. He doesn’t create much on the tennis court to inspire you to create something better.

He’s just there, gracious, fighting hard, solid, waiting for the better player to come up with the goods to beat him.

So Djokovic engaged the crowd a little bit when it got behind the underdog, just to give him something to battle against.

And in the end, Djokovic came up with those goods.

Forward-thinking Djokovic

Perhaps he could have beaten Bautista Agut from the baseline. It is both their strengths. Obviously, the No. 1 is better at it. But limiting it to baseline rallies would be to play into Bautista Agut’s hands. 

The longer he let his opponent remain in his comfort zone, the better the chances that he could get grooved.

The Djokovic of 2019 has a lot more than that. His game plan Friday was not to win the rallies every time – he did win that 45-shot rally that will live on in infamy to grass-court purists), but to create, to push the envelope.

Was it in the back of the Serb’s mind that it was in his interest to bank every bit of energy he could for what was going to be a tough final on Sunday – regardless of who won the other semi? Possibly. If so, the game plan served a dual purpose.

If Djokovic’s volley and his slice backhand are the least technically-sound weapons in his arsenal, he has become at home with them. And he has improved them over the years. He used both very well on Friday.

Djokovic

Djokovic came to net 53 times in those four sets, and won 42 of those points – a shade below 80 per cent. 

It was the most he had come in through six matches, although in his first five, he also committed to moving forward. Djokovic kicked off his Wimbledon going 17-for-21 at the net against Philipp Kohlschreiber. And in none of the matches was his success rate at the net below 70 per cent.

Those were extra levels of tennis that Bautista Agut doesn’t have. And in the end, the defending champion survived a high-quality period in the second and the first part of the third set from his Spanish opponent, and rolled from there.

Ivanisevic joins Team Djoko-Grass

WIMBLEDON – On Friday, when Novak Djokovic practiced with Fabio Fognini, there was only the usual crew about.

But on Sunday, the last day before the defending champion takes to Center Court at precisely 1 p.m. Monday to begin his title defence, there was a new – but very familiar – face.

Goran Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon as a wild card in 2001, was dispensing wisdom along with Djokovic’s regular coach Marian Vajda.

There were only a few cameras pointed at Court 15 at first.

And then, suddenly, word got around and it got a little crowded over there.

Ivanisevic told SportKlub that it was a phone call out of the blue. Ivanisevic had committed to a seniors event in Sweden, and so could only arrive Sunday for the last pre-tournament practice.

“I will only be able to be there for one week, because I have responsibilities I’m trying to move,” Ivanisevic told SportKlub (there’s an audio interview on the site, if you can understand the language).

“However, when a Novak Djokovic calls you, that’s a big deal. Great recognition for me as a coach because he does not choose (just) anyone … I am glad that Marian (Vadja) is in agreement with it.”

The Croat said that the two have to get to know each other. But he said the first practice went well, and he hopes the cooperation will last.

Ivanisevic has coached countryman Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. 

Most recently, he worked with Milos Raonic. But this was through a period where Raonic was injured quite a bit.

Candidate Mayotte lays out his manifesto

The deadline for prospective candidates for the upcoming vacancy on the ATP Board of directors as Americans player representative was Monday.

And one of those candidates, a former top-10 player with an impressive resumé, is Massachusetts native Tim Mayotte.

Mayotte is from a tennis-playing family out of Springfield, Mass. – and widely recognized as the best player ever to have come out of New England.

He is a co-founder of the Tim Mayotte Tennis Academy at the Thoreau Club in Concord, Mass.

A former Player Council president and ATP Tour board member, the 58-year-old was moved to run for the soon-to-be-available spot on the board by recent events involving the current holder of that seat, Justin Gimelstob.

Tennis.Life spoke to Mayotte Monday, to sound him out about Gimelstob, the current state of the ATP, and what his priorities would be should be be elected to the board.

Add Brad Gilbert to the list of ATP Board candidates

On Justin Gimelstob

“My position is that he should not be serving the ATP, no question. And that became even more clear when I read the transcript (Tweeted by Ben Rothenberg). That he would willingly do what he did means he’s not the person you want driving your players.

I don’t want to be represented by him. I think Justin will get his act together, and take the right steps, but he should not be governing the ATP players.

About pondering a run for the board

Tim Mayotte’s tennis resumé

“I started to think about it a number of months ago when the incident came to light. It was definitely a catalyst for me thinking about it, but my thinking solidified over the last couple of months. I have a set of experiences that I don’t think anyone else has had. I was there for the founding of the Tour. I’ve been outside of that, been political in the trenches for a long time. I think that combination of skills is very rare. And it also allows me to come with no ego.

When I served (on the board) before I was so fresh off the Tour. My identity was still tied into being a player. And now, I come in with a real freedom to act in the best way possible for the game and the players, and not worry where I fit in in the pecking order.”

On the disconnect at the top

Board

“I feel that this is just an incredible time in men’s tennis, with these top three, top four. I’m disheartened to see the discord between the top guys, because I think if you can get all the players – but especially those three or four – on the same page, you can accomplish almost anything.

It’s sad to see the communications issues. From the outside, you have the three most important players at cross-purposes. And the players will be able to set their agenda depending on having those 3-4 players on board. There has been much goodwill built up with those guys. So I’d have to get in to see the nitty-gritty, what their individual thinking is. But I think that would be a huge piece of getting things back on track.”

On what he thinks the position involves

Board
Mayotte takes on John McEnroe in a 2007 Champions Tour match. No, they never ended up in a band together.

“It’s a critical, critical position. You don’t realize it, I think, until you’re in it. Here you are with the major decisions – outside anything to do with the Slams – impacting the top of the game. What we’ve seen with (Novak) Djokovic, he’s willing to use it. Which is a great sign. But hopefully we can get the players using the board position in the best possible way.

Inherently, there’s tension between the various groups that will never change. Between the higher and lower ranked, the singles and doubles players, and all the various needs. What you hope you can do is get a cohesive vision.”

Areas of particular focus

“What I want to stress that you can do great for the players by doing what’s right for the game.”

“You don’t know where it’s going to head and who’s going to fight various areas. But you have so much goodwill built up with these top guys, I’d like to stress to them that not only they can help themselves, they can help the players.

But also if you look back, people who’ve had a legacy impact go all the way to my hero Stan Smith, (Rod) Laver, (Cliff) Drysdale (the first president of the ATP) – all the way up to Arthur Ashe.”

A flashback to other ATP flashpoints

“If you can sell to the top players that they can have a lasting, positive impact on the game – obviously it has to do with money, but it also has to do with the appeal of the game – I think you can have something special.

They’ve already set the stage. It’s not a feel-good thing after the fact. They’ve done all the right stuff for such a long time, including playing at the highest level. This is their chance to have a lasting impact on the game.

Every time I talk to my students, I ask them, ‘whose name is up on the stadium at the US Open? Why? Because they did great stuff through tennis. And that also extends their impact on the game beyond the tennis.”

On getting a bigger piece of the pie, even in the post-Federer era

“There are two ways the players can really help themselves financially. No. 1 is via the Grand Slams. And No. 2 is via the (Masters) 1000s and the 500s. What most players don’t recognize is that when we initially made the “Super 11” back in the early 1990s, there were a number of tournaments that were pushed aside. Those folks who were able to secure one of the 11 (which eventually went down to the nine Masters 1000s today) were basically given the golden ring.

This was the original plan when Mark Miles started it in 1994-95, that these would become the top events. And that’s what they’ve become.”

There was life after Michael Jordan, after (Magic) Johnson and (Larry) Bird. Sports will turn out great players. And when you put great players in one place in a guaranteed fashion (as with the Masters 1000s), you’ll have growth.

Those events in particular have far increased in value, as have the Slams. The piece of the pie that the players get is tiny, compared to any other sport. And again, this is where the goodwill of these top guys is important.

I also think that the part I want to hear them out on is how do we buoy the lower end of the game – not just the 250s, but the pathway, to make it healthy.

This is another reason I think the players are underpaid. The risk you take now to try to make it on the Tour is extraordinary, the money it takes to get you on that path. So if you get through, you should be more highly compensated.”

Conficts of interest and the ITF pathway

“I’m working with players who would like to make that jump from juniors up. It especially seems like the mishandling of the ITF situation and pathway scares a lot of them. Some of them are looking at colleges instead.

One thing that’s very disturbing is IMG sponsoring the junior rankings. I don’t know. … It’s so bad for the look of the game. And I don’t feel good about the Tennis Channel being at the (USTA) national headquarters. The optics are terrible.”

ITF sells junior rankings sponsorship

On IMG owning tennis, and other conflicts

“That hasn’t even changed that much. They sold the rights for the initial Super 11. And they owned the Tour Championships, (represent) a number of the players, a number of tournaments.

There’s a vertical monopoly that still exists. I don’t know about untangling all of that, but you can make better choices.

I was guilty of it too. I did some work on Prime (Network), USA Channel. Obviously Patrick McEnroe with his mixed bag (as USTA high-performance director, Davis Cup captain and ESPN analyst) … It’s not good for the game. It just can’t be good. I’m not saying I’m going to get in there and fix it all. My goal would be to get in there and listen to the top guys, listen to everybody.”

On getting the star players involved

“It seems now that you have people who are really interested in service. And that that goes all the way down to the lower-ranked players.

When I was on the Tour we tried to do that. But we wouldn’t even get (Ivan) Lendl, (John) McEnroe, (Jimmy) Connors, (Boris) Becker in the same room. They would come in and McEnroe would say, ‘I would be commissioner of tennis, we should have fewer tournaments – and only the ones I want to play.’

We tried to get those guys on the Council, and they wouldn’t do it.

(Then-CEO) Mark Miles really tried hard to reach out to them. I empathized with the players because when I was playing, it was different. When I was coming up, the ATP hadn’t started. There was three-pronged board setup. You just wanted to play tennis. But hopefully you can get people on the same page.

But the next big decision is whom do you hire for Chris (Kermode’s) position.”

Player Council will meet before commenting Gimelstob case

The next steps

“I put in a nomination with my CV. It’s due today (Monday). And the ATP will do a short list. Then I’ll get on the phone and start calling people; I’ve already sent a note to the Player Council.

I’ll get to Rome early, and get my face in front of as many people that will talk to me.

Then a presentation and Q&A with the council. It’d be 10-15 minutes, I’d imagine – very quick, by my recollection.

My task will be getting people to know me before I get in the room.

And that’s going to be the challenge. I remember older folks coming into the Council. And you think you’re well known. But you’re nine generations removed – especially when you hobble in needing a new knee. You come in, you have to get people to know you.

I have met Djokovic before. He’s going to be one the people that matters the most.”

Will he look to involve Federer and Nadal more comprehensively, despite them not being on the Player Council?

board
Federer and Djokovic played doubles together at Laver Cup. They also were spotted huddled together in conversation on numerous occasions – and probably not talking about their kids.

“That’s huge, pretty much central to the position.

What is exciting from what Justin did, was that he was able to actively – very actively – get one of the top players involved in the nitty-gritty. Kudos to him.

“There’s no way the top guys when I played would sit in a boardroom. They wanted to play in a band.

They all had bands. Wilander had a band. Noah had a band.

I really should have had a band.”

“You’ve got Federer’s agent, and Nadal’s group. So you have to be able to penetrate that. It’s been interesting to watch Djokovic suffer, because it’s a very difficult job.”

On how coaching resembles the boardroom

“In tennis you’re used to going out and training and having an impact. And in life, in a boardroom, it’s not that way. You have to do the hard work of negotiating and talking.

It’s not unlike teaching. And that’s maybe why teaching tennis is exciting to me, because you’re making changes on a granular level whether it’s a 10-year old, or an 18-year-old.

Obviously you have to know technique. But communications, helping people find meaning in what they’re doing, getting the parents involved so they understand – that’s the same work.

The reward is extraordinary because the changes don’t come when you want them to. And the work has to be endless and repetitive to get that change.”

(Photos: wire, Tennis.Life, eBay, ATP Tour website, Tim Mayotte Tennis Academy)

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).”

imperial
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

imperial
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

imperial
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. 

imperial
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.