The fall Asian swing on the ATP Tour begins this week.
But the $1 million-plus events in Chengdu and Zhuhai (relocated from Shenzhen) have pretty slim orders of play on Monday.
There are only three singles matches on the schedule in Chengdu.
Luckily these are 28-player draws. Because the tournaments are waiting for … a lot of people.
To start with, the Laver Cup scooped up a bunch of players who were scheduled to play this week.
And if any of you missed it, it was a pretty emotional and draining experience for just about all involved.
The time difference between Geneva and Metz, and the two Chinese cities is six hours. From St. Petersburg, Russia, it’s five hours.
From Geneva to Chengdu
Four of Team World’s squad in Geneva now have to get to China, get over jet lag, get back to everyday life and try to earn some ranking points.
No. 1 seed John Isner (who played doubles and then singles on Sunday in Geneva and was clearly on fumes). He has a first-round bye.
No. 6 seed Taylor Fritz, who is in singles (and doubles with Nicholas Monroe).
No. 8 seed Denis Shapovalov didn’t see much action on the weekend in Geneva (in part of because of the rules). But he still has to get to China.
Team World alternate Jordan Thompson also has to come from Geneva. He’s also entered in doubles with Shapovalov.
They might have been waiting for No. 2 seed Félix Auger-Aliassime, too, as we’re told he was asked to play Laver Cup. But the Canadian turned it down.
No. 3 seed Benoit Paire said after losing in the Metz singles semifinals that he was sick, on antibiotics, and might not make it. He has a first-round bye, though, and is still officially in the draw from what we can see. He’s also entered in doubles with Alexander Bublik.
Egor Gerasimov of Belarus made the semifinals in St. Petersburg out of the qualifying. He’s in as a special exempt in Chengdu.
From … everywhere to Zhuhai
No. 1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas will come from Geneva.
No. 2 seed Roberto Bautista Agut was an alternate for Team Europe in Geneva.
No. 4 seed Borna Coric played the final in St. Petersburg Sunday, losing to Daniil Medvedev.
Lucas Pouille, seeded No. 5, reached the semis in Metz, France and has to get there.
No. 6 seed Nick Kyrgios had to pull out of the final day of Laver Cup – and a clash against Rafael Nadal – because of a shoulder problem. He’s also supposed to play doubles with Matt Reid.
You’d have to think he’s doubtful. If he passes, Canadian Brayden Schnur is first up as a lucky loser.
No. 4 doubles seeds Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen made the semis in Metz.
Divij Sharan won the doubles title in St. Petersburg with Igor Zelenay. He’s playing with Artem Sitak in Zhuhai.
Even private takes forever
What arrangements the Laver Cup made with the players to get to Asia after the weekend is unknown (no doubt we’ll see some Tweets).
But even flying private, there’s not a huge time savings.
Here are the quickest routes from Geneva (notably, for mere mortals, it costs twice as much to fly to Zhuhai as it does to fly to Chengdu).
Queen’s Club, London –It’s the first time Stefanos Tsitsipas has been the No. 1 seed at a 500-level event.
What that tells you is that the Fever-Tree Championships were unable to get Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal to play this year.
German Alexander Zverev and longtime contractee Roger Federer are at competing Halle, now called the Noventi Open after being known as the Gerry Weber Open for years.
Dominic Thiem, the French Open finalist, had been scheduled for Halle. But he was a late scratch.
Still, the tournament at the classic Queen’s Club in London clearly is building the future.
Canadian twin terrors Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov are in the field, along with American Frances Tiafoe, Nick Kyrgios, former Wimbledon junior finalist Alex de Minaur, the fun and unpredictable Alexander Bublik and up-and-coming Chilean Cristian Garin.
So we’ll see how it all looks, five years from now.
Halle has the only two top-five players in action this week in Federer and Zverev. But Queen’s Club may well be setting itself up as the premier destination down the line.
Getting them young, keeping them keen
It’s been a few years in the making. In 2017, the tournament gave reigning junior Wimbledon champion Shapovalov a wild card into the qualifying, and he got through.
A year later, he got into the main draw on his own ranking. And he’s back again this year.
As for Tsitsipas, he said he still isn’t feeling all the things he’s supposed to feel after having only one match last week on grass. But he said the ambitions for this year’s Wimbledon are to do better than he did last year.
In his main-draw debut in 2018 – with a nice draw, too – Tsitsipas lost in the round of 16 to big-serving John Isner.
Three years ago, he was the junior semifinalist, losing to Shapovalov in a brilliantly-played match). And he won the doubles with Kenneth Raisma of Estonia over Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime in the final.
The kids must step up
Tsitsipas said he wanted to have something “different” at Wimbledon this year.
He was asked about his relationship with Alexander Zverev during a pre-tournament conference Sunday. But he hastened to add a number of names to the list of youngsters who are all coming up. It’s a pretty big group, and no one knows who “will win more, and who will win less”.
But he has no doubt they will be rivals for a decade.
Included were the two Canadians (he pronounced “Félix” the proper way, too – “Fay-leeeeks”).
Tsitsipas said that the responsibility lies with the young guns to not merely accept the supremacy of the powerful triumvirate of veterans still at the top of the game. They have to believe, and they have to go after it.
Laslo Djere (SRB): No. 33 ============> No. 29 (A career high for Djere)
Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): No. 31 ============> No. 30 (It didn’t go his way against Kei Nishikori in Barcelona. But he has a week to rest and reload for the Madrid-Rome double).
Matteo Berrettini (ITA): No. 55 ============> No. 37 (The 23-year-old Italian, who has been steadily rising in 2019, becomes yet another first-time winner on the ATP tour with his victory over Filip Krajinovic in the Budapest final).
Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA): No. 49 ============> No. 43 (As doubles partner Nicolas Mahut begins a new adventure with Jürgen Melzer in Munich, Herbert pursues his singles quest after a semifinal in Budapest).
Mackenzie McDonald (USA): No. 61 ============> No. 57 (The 24-year-old American reaches another career high).
Nicolas Jarry (CHI): No. 81 ============> No. 70 (The lucky loser took full advantage in Barcelona)
Filip Krajinovic (SRB): No. 105 ============> No. 77 (The Budapest finalist remains a long way from his career high of No. 26 exactly a year ago. But he’s headed in the right direction. He’s 15-6 on the season. His problem is that the jump came too late for direct entry into Paris. But he’s two out; he’ll make it).
Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP): No. 104 ============> No. 86 (The little-known Spaniard also was a lucky loser in Barcelona. But he got the first-round bye and rode it all the way to the quarterfinals. He’s right ahead of Krajinovic on the alternates list – i.e., next one in).
Tennys Sandgren (USA): No. 103 ============> No. 93 (It’s been up and down for Sandgren, who backed up his Australian Open effort last year with a final in Houston. He then headed for his first big tour of the European clay, playing six straight weeks. On the negative side, he only one had decent week – the week before Paris, in Geneva. That was actually the only tournament in which he won a patch. We say it’s a plus because this year, as he drops down a notch back to the American Har-Tru Challenger swing, he has little to defend and can work on getting back to the top 100. After losing to Tommy Paul in the Sarasota final last week, he lost to him again in the semis of Tallahassee this week. The effort has been worth 18 spots in the rankings).
Tommy Paul (USA): No.158 ============> No. 143 (Paul, still just 21, reaches a career best with his title in Sarasota, and his final in Tallahassee. He’s moved up from No. 204 in two weeks, more than 60 spots.
David Ferrer (ESP): No. 155 ============> No. 144 (With Ferrer, we know when the end is. It felt like an appropriate ending when he played Rafael Nadal on Pista Rafa Nadal in Barcelona, playing very well in a straight-set loss. But he’s got one more to go before it’s really over, in Madrid).
James Ward (GBR): No. 188 ============> No. 177 (At 32, the Brit faded from view for awhile. The wild card who reached the third round at Wimbledon in 2015, he had knee surgery in Aug. 2017, and it’s been a long road back. A year ago, he was No. 772. Ward lost in the first round seven straight times this year before reaching the semifinals in Leon, Mexico last week. He came close to more; he lost to Blaz Rola 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (7) ).
Emilio Gomez (ECU): No. 251 ============> No. 197 (At 27, the son of French Open champion Andres Gomez finally breaks into the top 200. Gomez was at No. 369 when he began the season at a $25,000 ITF in California. He lost in the final – and earned ONE ATP Tour ranking point (don’t get us started). Gomez was at No. 309 when he arrived at the Monterrey Challenger in April. A final there got him to No. 258. And the title in Tallahassee (his first Challenger title) finally broke him into the top 200. He has won six of his 10 career Futures titles – the first one all the way back in 2009 – in Ecuador).
Alejandro Tabilo (CHI):No. 497 ============> No. 459(We mention this 21-year-old from Chile, who reached the third round of the Tallahassee Challenger last week and is at a career high, because when he was a junior, he was a Canadian. His ITF ranking of No. 37 has allowed him to get into some Challengers. And he took advantage of this one. As a junior, he wasn’t one of Tennis Canada’s “chosen ones”. But despite that he was good enough to get into the main draws of junior Grand Slams.
He peaked at No. 29 in the junior rankings after the 2015 French Open. Once he turned pro, he decided to play for Chile, from where his family hails (Tabilo himself was born in Toronto).
The lefty played current top-10 member Stefanos Tsitsipas twice in the juniors and took him to three sets both times.
But the biggest shock was seeing his new mugshot. He was a pretty pudgy kid when he was a junior – tall, but heavy. Now, he’s barely recognizable and listed at 6-foot-4 and 176 pounds. He’s been on the Davis Cup team for Chile already. But he’ll have to wait his turn. There are couple of kids named Cristian Garin and Nicolas Jarry ahead of him).
ON THE DOWNSWING
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE): No. 8 ============> No. 10 (It’s been sort of a nondescript season so far for Tsitsipas – at least since he lost to Roger Federer in the finals of Dubai. But he’s still hanging in the top 10).
Marco Cecchinato (ITA): No. 17 ============> No. 19 (The 26-year-old has done well to hang inside the top 20, especially as there hasn’t been much clay-court tennis to be played until now. He won Buenos Aires on the dirt back in February. Cecchinato made the third round in Monte Carlo, recovering from a 0-6 first set to shock Stan Wawrinka in three in the second round. He survived not defending his 2018 Budapest title (he went from the qualifying to the trophy, and didn’t play this year).
But the big one is coming up. Then ranked No. 72, Cecchinato was a shock semifinalist at the French Open last year. He defeated Pablo Carreño Busta, David Goffin and Novak Djokovic before to Dominic Thiem. Without those 720 points, he’s just inside the top 40. Which isn’t too bad. And he has some to gain in Madrid and Monte Carlo – assuming he’s healthy).
David Goffin (BEL): No. 22 ============> No. 25 (It’s official, Goffin is struggling. He’s 7-9 on the season. And this is the lowest his ranking has been since Oct. 2014. He even played a Challenger the second week of Indian Wells, after losing his opener to Filip Krajinovic in the desert. Goffin is the No. 4 seed in Estoril this week).
Pablo Carreño Busta (ARG): No. 29 ============> No. 38 (The 27-year-old Spaniard, who sneaked into the top after the 2017 US Open, is finally back from a back injury. He was out from the beginning of February until he returned last week in Barcelona, where he lost his opener to Benoit Paire, 6-1 in the third. Carreño Busta was a semifinalist in Estoril last year, and a quarterfinalist in Rome. So he needs to get back at it as he may already have put himself out of contention for a seed in Paris. A late entry into Estoril, a wild card and No. 7 seed, Carreño Busta has a tough first round in Jérémy Chardy).
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): No. 43 ============> No. 49 (The Bulgarian is 9-5 on the season. But his ranking is going in the wrong direction. He started the year at No. 19 and right now, he’s the lowest he’s been since Oct. 2012. Dimitrov had brutal draws in Madrid and Rome a year ago. After first-round byes, he drew a pair of returning players who both were ranked No. 24 at the time: Roanic in Madrid and Nishikori in Rome. Unseeded himself now, he’ll have to hope for better luck).
John Millman (AUS): No. 39 ============> No. 50 (The 29-year-old Aussie made the Budapest final a year ago, so that’s where the rankings fall comes from).
Ivo Karlovic (CRO): No. 95 ============> No. 103 (We haven’t seen the big guy since he lost in the first round in Houston to Ryan Harrison. Last year, with his ranking only slightly better, he played Barcelona, Munich and Geneva before the French, with not much to show for it. Karlovic has entered the Rome qualies, but he’s unlikely to get in. And we don’t see anything else at first glance. So perhaps he plans a little drive by to pick up his cheque in Auteuil).
Feliciano Lopez (ESP): No. 93 ============> No. 105 (We don’t know when the end will be for the 37-year-old, who drops out of the top 100 for the first time since … (hold on a sec, we’re scrolling). Okay, since he first entered the top 100 in June, 2002. He might want to play this week, but he’s got another gig. It’s his first year as the tournament director in Madrid, after interning last year. Too bad he’s not likely to he able to sneak a wild card for himself past the rules police. Tommy Haas (the Indian Wells TD) already tried it).
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Somewhere around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, Denis Shapovalov earned a spot in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.
It was about 12 hours after his countryman and friend Félix Auger-Aliassime did the same.
No pressure. But the next goal for the two Canadian teens, on opposite sides of the draw, will be to do what their predecessors did back in 2013.
That’s when Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, then 22 and 23, both reached the Masters 1000 semifinals in Montreal. They ended up playing each other; Raonic won in a third-set tiebreak.
Early Wednesday morning Shapovalov needed a third-set tiebreak to get past No. 9 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
The two have played on the pro tour. But this match harkened back to one of the finest junior matches in recent years, when the two met in the 2016 Wimbledon boys’ singles semifinals.
Shapovalov won that one as well. And he went on to beat Alex de Minaur in the final and win the title.
Three years later, both are all grown up, and in the top 25 in the ATP Tour rankings.
Ridiculous level of tennis
The future is now in men’s tennis, and these two obviously are right in the middle of it.
Between Shapovalov’s win over Andrey Rublev in the previous round, and this one in the fourth round, the pace of ball was brutish, the speed and reaction time of the players impressive and the overall level really off the charts.
That was especially impressive Tuesday night, as a couple of rain delays pushed back the schedule. And, indeed, the Roger Federer match against Daniil Medvedev scheduled for the main stadium was cancelled altogether.
It was almost 11:30 pm by the time time Shapovalov and Tsitsipas took the court.
Despite that, there were an impressive number of fans on hand on the Grandstand to watch them. They knew what potential this match had.
It did not disappoint.
At nearly 2 a.m., here’s Shapovalov afterwards talking about the present, the past with Tsitsipas and the future (by the delivery of the questions, you can tell the interviewer was more tired than Shapovalov was! Being 19 is fabulous).
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – It was only a blip in time ago that Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime beating a player in an ATP Tour event was a big deal, an impressive win.
Fast forward a few months, and the 18-year-old made his 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 48 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain look almost routine.
“During matches, and tournaments, you get used to the level. I’ve raised my ranking and my level, too. You have to expect the best. But I think I was able to impose myself from the first rallies, and maintain it through the whole match. It wasn’t a routine win, but it was a very good match on my part,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I was able to stay calm. Even when he had break points. I was able to take my time, serve well, manage it well.”
Auger-Aliassime served at 80 per cent, and won 80 per cent of his first serve points.
He also won 6-of-10 on second serve – a stat that can fluctuate for him. But when it’s that good, it’s hard for an opponent to see a way through it.
Auger-Aliassime blasted one serve at 131 mph.
Serve the focus in transition to hard court
Coach Frédéric Fontang said that one of the first things they did upon arrival in the desert from the South American clay-court season was to stabilize the serve.
There had been some ups and downs with it on the clay. But on the hard courts, it’s even more of a weapon for him even if he felt he had used it to good effect on the clay.
“Norrie is a dangerous player because he hangs tough. He’s a counter-puncher, and he’s able to find angles as a left-hander. He’s someone who’s difficult to overpower. And he waits for the error, with a flat backhand and a lot of spin on the forehand,” Fontang said. “For Felix, the plan was to create space, and then move forward. He forced Norrie into trying to do too much, and he was the one making the errors.”
Tsitsipas is next for Auger-Aliassime
The next match for Auger-Aliassime is one that will gain a lot of attention.
He will face Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has moved into the top 10 just as Auger-Aliassime has moved into the top 60.
The two are almost exactly two years apart. Tsitsipas’ Aug. 12 birthday (when he turns 21) comes just four days after Auger-Aliassime turns 19.
This will be the first time they meet in the pros. But back in the juniors, it was the Canadian who dominated their rivalry.
Canadian dominates junior rivalry
They squared off three times: in the Canadian Open junior championships just before the 2015 US Open, at the Eddie Herr in Florida that December, and in the semis of the 2016 junior US Open boys’ singles.
All three were won by the younger Auger-Aliassime. He went on to beat Miomir Kecmanovic in that US Open boys’ final.
In those three matches, Tsitsipas only managed one set.
But if Auger-Aliassime was precocious in the juniors, it has been Tsitsipas who has been precocious in the pros.
His appearance in the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer was the clarion bell. And his win over Roger Federer during a run to the Australian Open semifinals in January was further confirmation.
“He’s really playing well right now. He’s put together lots of tournaments, lots of matches, and he’s confident. But I’ve done that, too,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“The fact that I knew him in juniors – even though we’re very different players now – it definitely adds something to have already have played against him. It’s better to have beaten him than to have lost to him – even in the juniors. And I know he’s not crazy about playing opponents younger than he is.”
Life has gotten a little complicated for Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas since his breakout Australian Open.
Beating Roger Federer in Melbourne might not have had the same kind of stick as what happened two rounds later, when he was schooled by Rafael Nadal.
And since then, it’s been a bit of a struggle on court.
But the 21-year-old has kept playing. And a far more serene version of Tsitsipas appeared in Marseille this week.
He defeated No. 3 seed David Goffin 7-6 (1), 6-2 to reach the final, where he will face unseeded but dangerous Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.
Tsitsipas has faced, and beaten Kukushkin once. It was on clay in Rome last spring, in the first round of qualifying. And he had to come back from a set down and prevail in a third-set tiebreak to do it.
Perhaps his self-imposed moratarium from social media and vlogging might have had a positive effect. It was taking up a lot of oxygen.
Tsitsipas quickly realized that his social media presence has been a drain. Video-free as well for the last week. "I noticed that I'm sleeping a lot better." https://t.co/VTRGLetlsa
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
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)
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)
MELBOURNE, Australia – Fans at the Australian Open flock to the practice courts between Rod Laver Arena and Melbourne Arena – the “star courts” closest to the player areas – to see the big guns practice.
Sometimes, if there’s rain or a change of schedule, you can see hordes of Federer or Serena Williams fans, who got there hours earlier to stake out a spot next to the fence, trudge away disappointed.
The players scheduled for a night session might move into Rod Laver Arena, if the day schedule finishes early. And the fans can’t get in there. So the Serbian and Spanish-bearing fans trudge off, the chance at a a selfie gone.
On Wednesday, new favorite Stefanos Tsitsipas had planned to practice on one of those courts. But, unannounced, he ended up moving to the 1573 Court (the former Show Court 2) at the other end of the site.
That court is right next to Margaret Court Arena. It’s generally open to the public. And Tsitsipas’s fans quickly caught on to the fact that he (and an ever-increasing support team)were in there.
Unfortunately, there was a large band of burly security guys making sure they couldn’t go in and sit in the stands.
(Even a media credential wouldn’t get you in).
There was a cleaning crew in there, as play on that court had concluded for the day. But there were fans at every one of the more than a dozen entrances. And they were crammed at each one trying to get a look.
As well, there’s a handy exit for the players directly to the underground walkways under Rod Laver. So no chance for an autograph.
Not always the players’ fault
From what some of the fans were saying as tennis.life observed the proceedings, some of them felt Tsitsipas was big-leaguing them – that it was at his insistence the practice was “closed” to the public.
Most often, though, the players aren’t the instigators of this sort of thing, as the Australian Open is the most rigid event when it comes to … everything. The tournament often pre-emptively makes calls like this, assuming the player will appreciate it.
Novak Djokovic had to clarify a similar situation during his press conference following the win over Kei Nishikori Wednesday night.
The fact that Djokovic had gone into Margaret Court Arena to practice, rather than on one of the No. 16 – No. 18 practice courts, was taken by some as a sign that he wanted to hide some sort of injury.
Djokovic hastened to clarify that was not the case.
“Regarding the closed practice, I saw that, too, that they’ve published that I insisted on having a closed practice. It’s absolutely not true. I don’t know. I’ve never said anything about closed practice. I just went in to practice on the Margaret Court Arena,” Djokovic said. “There was nobody there. … Maybe somebody from tournament, I don’t know.”
A big crew
On another note, it’s always eye-opening to see how the group around a player gets bigger and bigger, the deeper he (it’s usually a bigger thing with the “he’s) goes into the draw.
The ever-present Patrick Mouratoglou wasn’t spotted at this particular practice. But he had a previous commitment as the practice took place a couple of hours after Mouratoglou’s charge, Serena Williams, lost her shocker of a match against Karolina Pliskova.
Still, there were a LOT of fellas.
(Mouratoglou was back front row for the actual match Thursday night.
MELBOURNE, Australia – Stefanos Tsitsipas has played Rafael Nadal – twice in 2018 – and lost to him twice.
He has played Novak Djokovic – once, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto – and defeated him.
But he had never faced Roger Federer, the player he most resembles stylistically. At least not officially, since the Hopman Cup is an exhibition event.
Until Sunday night at the Australian Open.
This will be the premiere for the 20-year-old rising Greek star, and the 37-year-old legend.
“I’m happy I played against him at the Hopman Cup. I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis. This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a slam, you know, where we know now how we feel on this court,” Federer said.
“I’m happy for him. He’s playing so well, and I’m looking forward to the matchup with him. I think it’s going to be a good one. I like how he mixes up his game and also comes to the net. So will I. I think we will see some athletic attacking tennis being played.”
When the two met at the Hopman Cup in Perth a few weeks ago, Federer defeated Tsitsipas in two tiebreaks.
But this is a completely different deal. This will be only the second time Tsitsipas has played in the second week of a major. And it is only the second time he has passed the second round. As well, this is the first time Tsitsipas has even won a main-draw match in Australia.
“I learned a lot since my last match with him. I know the patterns that he’s using a bit better now. He’s serving really well, so I’m going to have to utilize his, and take advantage of my returns as much as possible. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be serving well, so, yeah, return games need to be aggressive and pressing a lot,” Tsisipas said.
“Yeah, he’s a legend of our sport. It will be a great day facing him in one of the best arenas, Rod Laver. I’m really excited for that match.”
Tsitsipas dropped a set in each of his first three matches, all against quality opponents: Matteo Berrettini, the veteran Viktor Trocki, and the high-regarded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Here’s what he looked like on the practice court Saturday, one court over from where Federer arrived to hit – but before a far less reverent crowd.
For Federer, the crowd gathered well ahead of time just to get a glimpse of him walking to the court.
They were watching from up above, in the fan walkway – even from further away, outside Rod Laver Arena. They climbed trees. They stood on garbage cans.
It’s a familiar sight at tournaments.
Maybe someday, Tsitsipas will practice before those kinds of crowds. In Australia, he has gotten a taste of it, with the large and enthusiastic Greek contingent supporting both him and Maria Sakkari.
For the Next-Gen Finals to truly be what they were designed to be, they ideally would feature all of the best 21-and-under players in the world.
But two of the marquee players are not there.
For the second straight season, the best of the bunch has understandably opted for the ATP Tour Finals next week.
Alexander Zverev came to Milan last year, for the inaugural edition, and played an exhibition to give the new exhibition a boost. But that seems to not have been in the plans this year.
And arguably the most entertaining and popular of the rest, Canadian Denis Shapovalov, begged off after a fall season during which he essentially played every single week.
That the 19-year-old was on fumes was fairly evident in those final weeks.
Shapovalov, incredibly, still has two years of eligibility left. But you know he’s hoping to be in the same boat as Zverev is sooner, rather than later.
Tsitsipas the biggest star
One player who had a monster season on the ATP Tour is in Milan. But as with Shapovalov, you could sense over the last few weeks – after he won his first career ATP Tour title in Stockholm, that Stefanos Tsitsipas also is a little wrung out.
Hopefully he will be able to muster a final reserve of energy and quickly adjust to the radically different match experience and scoring system.
On the plus side, there was no sign of the “models” who joined the young fellows on stage for last year’s draw ceremony. That didn’t go over too well, and the ATP later apologized.
Rather, they gave us … this!
Hurkacz, Munar and .. Caruana
The final group of eight features some appealing talent – notably Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe.
Tiafoe’s irrepressible personality is already evident in the leadup to the event. His smile is contagious, and his game style is a crowd-pleaser.
The rest are not nearly as well-known. So the fans in Milan and watching at home will get to discover them, much the way they did a year ago.
Spain’s Jaume Munar has the full sport of the Rafael Nadal Academy behind him. And even though he arrived on the ATP Tour with everyone assuming he would be a clay-court player, he has proven more than adept on the other surfaces.
When we watched him play another Next-Gen player, Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, in the French Open qualifying, he was even serve-volleying on clay.
As for Hubert Hurkacz, he’s tall – 6-foot-5 – and reached his career best ranking of No. 79 last week before dropping six spots with the new rankings Monday.
He qualified for the last three Slams this season, losing to Marin Cilic in the second round both in Paris and at the US Open. In New York, he got just two games in three sets against the Croat.
Hurkacz retired due to “fatigue”, down in the first set of his second-round match at the Eckental Challenger last week.
He has faced the other three players in his pool group a total of once – a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Tiafoe in Washington, D.C. this summer. He has two losses on clay to Munar in the juniors.
Group A: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jaume Munar, Frances Tiafoe, Hubert Kurkacz
Group B: Alex de Minaur, Andrey Rublev, Taylor Fritz, Liam Caruana
It’s hard to pick the stronger one. But you’d have to go with the superior top-level experience of Tsitsipas and Tiafoe in Group A.
Caruana, 20, is ranked No. 622 on the ATP Tour (down from a career high of No. 375 back in February). He won three matches in an all-Italian playoff for the local wild card – the final in five (short-version) sets.
If the experience of Quinzi a year ago is any indicator, he’ll arrive game, but a little short on legs after the hard work involved getting here.
Caruana peaked at No. 22 in the junior rankings, fully 18 years old with a January birthday (and therefore one of the oldest kids playing at the ITF level). He never did particularly well at the junior majors, but he did play most of the other players once each. He suffered a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Tsitsipas in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open juniors. a 6-1, 6-3 loss to de Minaur on clay in 2015, a three-set loss to Rublev on clay in 2014 and losses in doubles to both Fritz and Tiafoe on separate occasions.
In other words, he doesn’t come in with the same credentials as Quinzi did. So he’ll have to play above his level to surprise.
NOTE: Southern California native Tracy Austin notes that Caruana, while Italian, is very much a SoCal kid. She writes that he and Fritz grew up 20 minutes apart (Fritz in Rancho Santa Fe and Caruana in La Jolla, outside San Diego) and played many times in the juniors. She adds that Caruana moved to Texas as a young teenager.
The day session on Tuesday features Tsitsipas vs. Munar, then Fritz vs Rublev.
The night session kicks off with Tiafoe vs. Hurkacz, followed by de Minaur vs. Caruana.
The ATP has put out a couple of videos explaining the unique rules attached to this event.
One features the players.
The other features the neat graphics they’ve come up with for this year’s edition.
As well, the automatic Hawkeye line-calling system used last year will be expanded to adjudicate a host of other on-court situations.
Last year’s final featured Hyeon Chung vs. Andrey Rublev
’17 ranking: 54
Current ranking: 25
’17 ranking: 51
Current ranking: 27
’17 ranking: 37
Current ranking: 68
’17 ranking: 306
Current ranking: 149
’17 ranking: 48
Current ranking: 12
’17 ranking: 45
Current ranking: 11
’17 ranking: 65
Current ranking: 16
’17 ranking: 55
Current ranking: 109
Notable that three of the Group B players (none of whom made the 2017 final), are now in the top 16. Shapovalov and Chung have improved their rankings as well (Chung, even with much time missed due to injury).
Jared Donaldson hasn’t played since the Rogers Cup in Toronto due to knee tendonitis, which affected him long before that. Rublev missed three months, after Monte Carlo and through Wimbledon, with back issues.