ATP Cup Day 7 Notes QF GB Vs Aus

Watching Alex de Minaur lose is just as inspiring as watching him win; just as he wins fighting, he goes down so, too.

After coming back from 2-4 in the third set versus Dan Evans, at 5-6, de Minaur saved four match points. The first one was a magnificent passing shot. The second a forehand winner down the line worthy of your most aggressive baseliner. The third, a one two punch, a second serve out wide and then knocking away the short ball for a winner. The fourth, an ace out wide. If he was going down, he would go down swinging. De Minaur always looks like he knows exactly what he is going it and he can do many different things and looks impressive doing them all.

The two played one of those tiebreaks: winner after winner; near winners bettered by actual ones; line painting or misses by the merest of margins. Evans prevailed, one winner after the other from 2-2- a service winner, a backhand down the line winner, a classic lure them in to the net and then pass them winner, a backhand volley winner all topped off with a service winner to take the tiebreak 7-2.

Dan Evans has had an excellent ATP Cup. The talented all courter still has time to fulfill his potential- a top 20 player, at least, even one who could live on the edge of the top 10- and seems to have used this tournament as a statement of intention. With his slice, depth of shot on the forehand and careful placement, lobs, careful approach shots and sound volleys, he has a classic but rare game not many players are equipped to deal with.

Evans’ victory was not enough to get Britain through. Nick Kyrgios soundly beat Cameron Norrie and Kyrgios and de Minaur edged Murray and Salisbury 18-16 in the final set breaker.

In the semis, Australia will face Russia.

In the Russia Vs Argentina tie, Khachanov withstood a second set fightback from Guido Pella while Daniil Medvedev had to deal with the ever ready for a fight Diego Schwartzman.

The Russian won an entertaining and well contested match in three sets, and from a match with these two you would expect nothing less.

Things got fiery, too, with the two men arguing at the end of set 1 and Medvedev being given a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct when he would not stop arguing with Schwartzman and his team despite the umpire getting down off his chair to intervene, and then a point penalty after Medvedev hit the umpire’s chair with his racket after being broken at 3-3 in set 2 and then taking up the early code violation with the umpire.

Medvedev will rise back to world No.4 now, overtaking Dominic Thiem, and be seeded in the top four for the Australian Open.

Grade A: You can’t do much better than the Evans-de Minaur match. That alone warrants an A.

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ATP Cup day 6 notes

Looking at Hubert Hurkacz move around the court and at his all court game, you would not guess he was 6ft 5 tall (196 cm). But his height is easier to gauge once he’s serving or he’s standing next to his opponents at the net come handshake time.

Hurkacz is 4 inches (11 cm) taller than his beaten opponent Dominic Thiem on day 6 of the ATP Cup. There was much less distance between them on the tennis court though, with Hurkacz winning 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5).

Hurkacz has the variety and touch to break up Thiem’s rhythm. The timing Thiem thrives on as he powers away at the ball so relentlessly just is not there versus players like Hurkacz who can keep Thiem guessing and force him into errors, too many of them of his own making.

Hurkacz, aged 22, has been a big sweeping breath of fresh air to the tour. There is nothing about him of the spoiled, racket-breaking, parent-abusing, tanking tennis brat on whom the media spotlight has shone both a flattering and ugly light. Hurckacz goes about his business letting his tennis do the talking and this year it has already had plenty of nice things to say, with wins, over Thiem, Coric and Schwartzman at this year’s ATP Cup. When Hurkacz does talk, he’s low-key and effortlessly charming.

Nikolas Basilashvili might have lived to regret convincing Pablo Cuevas to come back on court after the Argentinian threatened to default after the umpire warned him about distracting the Georgian during his service motion.

At the time of the warning, Bashilashvili was leading 5-4, 40-0, having just broken Cuevas, With Basilashvili serving for the set, Cuevas, on returning to the court, did a war cry to his team. He then did a frog leap before Basilashvili served at 15-0, and then bounced up and down with Basilashvili serving at 30-0. Cuevas received a code violation for not being in the right position on the return. The Uruguayan called on the supervisor who upheld the umpire’s decision resulting in Cuevas making his way to leave the court. He did not get far before Basilashvili intervened and coaxed his opponent back on court.

Cuevas came back out with some real fire inside him, losing the first set 4-6, but taking the second 6-1 and then taking the match deep into the third before losing it 4-6. Both men left the court proving themselves to be nothing less than the best of competitors.

Kevin Anderson defeated Benoit Paire, Gael Monfil’s replacement, saving match points in the process, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5). Paire served for the match at 5-2 in the second and led 4-2 in the third. Anderson is coming back from injury and had built good momentum in his career, reaching two slam finals (US Open, Wimbledon) in the space of ten months. These kind of battles are what he needs right now, and after his strong performance versus Novak Djokovic this event, he’s looking good at the start of 2020.

Other notes for the day:

  • Cristian Garin led Djokovic 3-1 in the second set. He did look a little flustered by that ascension after losing the first set 3-6, and he did not win another game.
  • Yoshihito Nishikoka served for the first set versus Rafa Nadal but could not serve it out and lost 6-7, 4-6.
  • Diego Schwartzman beat Borna Coric 6-2, 6-2. Coric was defeated by the same score in his previous match (l. Hurkacz).
  • The last eight starts tomorrow. The draw looks like this

Serbia Vs Canada

Argentina Vs Russia

Great Britain Vs Australia

Belgium Vs Spain

Grade: B+. There were a few really engaging and good quality matches today. Good showing considering it’s the last day and a lot of the final places had been decided. The playing for your country and team element is clearly inspiring the players in general and its paying dividends in terms of passion and atmosphere.

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ATP Cup Day 5 notes

Nick Kyrgios left his mark on the ATP Cup beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. The Australian was bought in as a replacement for Alex de Minaur who was being rested for precautionary measures after his efforts versus Sascha Zverev and Denis Shapovalov. I was not aware teams could pick and choose who they wanted to play from their top 3. I thought that was why Reilly Opelka had been so critical of the event- as the US No.3, ranked 39, he would miss out on ranking points and prize money opportunities while world No.2s from countries with less tennis depth would have those chances.

Picking Kyrgios was the smart move. He has beaten Tsistsipas in their only encounter, another tight one back in Washington last season. Meanwhile Tsitsipas led de Minaur 3-0.

Kyrgios, the Australian No.2, had been sitting out his matches with No.3 Milman taking his place. Because de Minaur was injured, Kyrgios was now the No.1, and back healed, he took to the court to go shot-maker to shot-maker with the Greek.

Points were over quickly, both players attacking. It really was a shot makers delight.

It was also a meme-lovers, one, too. Kyrgios did not oblige, though; it was all the Greek. Tsitsipas, on losing the first set, threw his racket, physically injuring his father who was sitting courtside and who did not waste time moving to a seat at the back of the team seating area. Tsitsipas’ mother was not afraid to confront her son, though. She roundly chastised him and then left the court in disgust and a meme was born.

She came back for more, too, as Tsitsipas received treatment from the trainer, the Greek getting it from all sides. He was lucky to just receive a point penalty, too. It could have been a default, but this being the ATP Cup, anything goes, especially if it keeps the crowds entertained.

Kyrgios won the match, much to the man he stood in for de Minaur’s delight. The Australian is as vociferous a supporter as he is a player.

This tournament’s other parent destroyer, Sascha Zverev, suffered another loss, this time to Denis Shapovalov, 2-6, 2-6. This time there were 7 double faults and a 29% second serve percentage. For Zverev, the nightmare of the ATP Cup is likely over with Germany third in their group. Where he goes next is anyone’s guess. A week and a half might not be enough to work out that service game, but it’s better than his previous form of no practice at all (he himself admitted he did not pick up a racket until arriving in Brisbane).

Other notes of the day are:

  • Goffin defeated Dimitrov 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, picking up only his second win in ten matches versus the Bulgarian.
  • Michail Pervolarakis, ranked 486, took John Millman to a final set tiebreaker. Pervolarakis lost 6-4, 1-6, 6-7 (1) and was unable to make anything of the final set tiebreaker, but he won’t forget the ATP Cup for all the right reasons and it will be interesting to see if there is any positive impact on his game and fortunes.
  • 417th ranked Dimitar Kuzmanov defeated Steve Darcis, ranked 200 and who retires after this Australian Open, 6-0, 6-3.
  • Only 3 of the day’s 12 singles matches went the distance. Two of those were in the same tie, Australia Vs Greece.

Grade C+. Kyrgios versus Tsitsipas is always going to be entertaining. Other than that, though, the tournament is starting to wear thin quality and interest wise on day 5 and is starting to drag. The quarter-finals seem a long way off and tomorrow feels a little like the last day of the ATP WTF feels with most of the group qualifiers pretty much decided.

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Fantasy ATP Tennis 2020: At least 4,193 GBP/5,000 Euro in prizes!

Fantasy ATP Tennis 2020: At least 4,193 GBP/5,000 Euro in prizes!

For years, men’s tennis has been dominated by the ‘big three’: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and of course Roger Federer. Every year the question is whether new talent will finally be able to conquer the number 1 position. This is no different for the 2020 season. Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev in particular lead the charge in 2019.

Do you still have faith in the established players or do you choose the young upstarts? An important question when putting together a team for the Fantasy ATP Tennis 2020. Choose twenty players who can collect points for you during 66 tournaments. The winner will claim a top prize of at least 838 GBP/1,000 euros!

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  • Your engagement with Tennis will further increase. It is not about one tennis players, but 20tennis players who need to perform for you!
  • For only £8.39/10 euro you will get many extra hours of entertainment before the start of the tournament but also during the season your tennis players will give you a lot of joy, but also a lot of frustration.
  • If you manage to beat the other players, you can also win nice cash prizes (at least 4,193 GBP/5,000 Euro) 1st prize is at least 838 GBP/1,000 euros!

Zweeler Fantasy Sports Games set up a few great games for the Tennis Season 2020 so you can enjoy Tennis with even more passion!

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ATP Cup Day 4 Notes

The tennis scoring system is one of the best in sport, not limited by time and only limited by a player’s skills and appetite for the fight, and Denis Novak showed us why it pays to stay in a match despite all the mental baggage that must come with losing the first set to love. Guido Pella is one of the most solid players on tour, but he was not able to maintain his initial level in the match- very few players follow up a love set with an equally dominating second set as levels fluctuate so much on both sides of the net. Novak took charge of both the second and third sets at the business ends to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Herbert Hurkacz did manage to dominate both sets he won versus Borna Coric, 6-2, 6-2. The Pole was always a contender to beat Coric but to defeat him in such commanding fashion came as a surprise. Coric did spend a lot of emotional and physical energy beating Thiem, so there could have been some element of a let down, and he was never able to reproduce those heightened emotions versus the ever methodical and focused Hurkacz. The Pole had a terrific serving day- 9 aces, 84% of first serves won and 73 of  2nd, and did not face a break point. He had a fine returning day, too, breaking 4 times.

Benoit Paire got into a tussle with Dusan Lajovic, winning in three sets. The Frenchman blew a set and a break lead then a couple of mini breaks and match points in the tiebreak and did not hide his self disgust as he spat on the court and smashed his rackets. I don’t usually care for racket breakers, or Paire, but there is no denying such emotional outbursts create atmosphere and can give a match an edge.

Other points of interest of the day:

Thiem and Schwartzman got into it in their match, one of those straight setters with the tone and urgency of a match going the distance. Great rallies. You would be happy with this match in the second week of a Major.

Of the 12 singles matches today, only 3 went the distance. Of those 18 sets from 9 straight setters, only two sets went past 6-4. There will always be some predictable and bad match ups- Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils an example with Djokovic winning 6-3, 6-2 and getting his 16th win of 16 matches- but this tournament also throws up some big mismatches- Marin Cilic Vs 448th Kacper Zuk (Zuk did really well considering, losing 6-7, 4-6) and Roberto Bautista Agut versus unranked Franco Roncadelli. I am not sure how I would feel if I, someone who is not interested in doubles, paid to watch Spain vs Uruguay and got delivered Bautista Agut rout an unranked player in 57 minutes and then Nadal routine Pablo Cuevas in 73 minutes, losing three games and facing a single break point the whole match.

Gaston Gaudio looks incredible.

Grade: B-. For me, personally, while some of the tennis was entertaining, none of the matches really gripped me. There was enough for this to be a satisfactory day at the tennis with some interesting examples of what makes tennis such a great sport, but this was balanced out by the inherent flaws of this format with some very unbalanced match ups.

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ATP Cup Day 3 Notes

The match of the day for me was always going to be Denis Shapovalov Vs Alex de Minaur, and these two lived up to my expectations. Both players have started 2020 on top of their games and produced some exceptional rallies. As a fan of both players, I did not mind who won, and de Minaur’s comeback provided great entertainment and the atmosphere of the home crowd and the Australian team cheering on de Minaur seeps through the TV into whatever room you watch tennis in. How fair it is, as is the issue with the Davis Cup, that this event favors one team re home court advantage, is up for debate. Still, credit to de Minaur for once again drawing on the crowd and the court side support as he dug himself out of another set down, 2-4 down hole and emerged the winner, never looking back in the third.

The most captivating aspect of this ATP Cup for me, for all the wrong reasons, is Sascha Zverev and the trials of the German team supporting him. Sascha reduced his father to tears while the rest of the team dance on eggshells.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, for the fifth time in a row, had no time for Zverev’s tormented self. The double faults and mood fluctuations coming from the German just complimented the Greek’s box of tricks.

Another compelling aspect of the ATP Cup is the prominence it has given players who might otherwise have had to do a lot more work to play on such courts as the Brisbane, Perth and Sydney ones. We saw the world No. 423, Dimitar Kuzmanov, play the world No. 818 Alexander Cozbinov, the former winning 6-1, 7-5, on Sydney’s Ken Rosewall arena.

Reilly Opelka has a strong case in his criticism of the ATP Cup discriminating against high ranked players from countries with deep tennis fields. Kuzmanov and Cozbinov are from Bulgaria and Moldova respectively and are those countries No.2 players. Opelka, meanwhile, is the USA’s No.3, ranked 36. Still, as a fan there is a something refreshing and encouraging about seeing two players so low ranked play in this radical new event on such a prominent stage. The format may be a negative for Opelka, but it is very fortunate for players such as Kuzmanov and Cozbinov. In a sport as ruthless as tennis, with so few spots at the top for the tens of thousands of hopefuls, it’s a positive if now and then a door or two are opened for those plying their trade many rungs down the ladder.

Other noteworthy points of the day:

  • John Millman beating Felix Auger-Aliasimme. I was looking forward to seeing Nick Kyrgios in this one and the event probably lost quite a bit of publicity, good or bad, but the Australians got the upset and the win.
  • Dan Evans beating David Goffin. Evans is a tricky player and played a very astute match here, using his slice to great effect.
  • Casper Rudd defeating Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-2. Fognini is prone to upsets at the best of times. Good on Rudd for maximising his opportunity here.

Grade: B. The event is still doing well in my eyes despite all its flaws. de Minar and Shapovalov was entertaining and inspiring and there was the car crash element of Zverev and the randomness of Kuzmanov Vs Cozbinov plus a few upsets.

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ATP Cup Day 2 Notes

Borna Coric Vs Dominic Thiem is one of my favorite match ups on the ATP, and so I was not disappointed by their ATP Cup contest, won by Coric 7-6. 2-6, 6-3.

Thiem stands pretty much alone high up in the rankings for his age group. His generation have been sporadic in their successes- Pouille made the AO ’19 semis and Sock won Paris ’18, and Tomic’s best days were done before most of his gen got going, but it’s Thiem who has been leading the way week in and week out. Thiem is now banded with the successful Zverev-Medvedev-Tsitsipas NextGen group, and of that group, it is Coric who is closest to the Austrian in terms of both maturity and focus which is what draws me to this rivalry.

Coric and Thiem had very different 2019s. Thiem won his 1st ATP 1000 and made another RG final, while Coric, who made such strides in ’18, finishing it on the cusp of the top 10, lost his last 6 matches of ’19 and finished it ranked 28.

A new season is a great chance for players to press the reset button, and Coric did just that. He pressed the rewind button, too, going back to 2018, a season which saw him play such great matches as his Halle final win, and his matches in Indian Wells versus Anderson and Federer.

Twice that year, he also went the distance with Thiem, in Paris and Madrid, losing both matches. Thiem led the head to head 3-1 going into this ATP encounter, and Coric’s sole win in Miami ’17, a straight sets affair, was a text book example of how a consistent and mentally tough player can draw a bigger hitting careless one into an erratic display. Big hitters are my thing, but I love to see intelligent dismantling of brainless ball-bashing (Thiem, to his credit, has come a long way since those baffling displays) especially when done in such humble and focused style as Coric’s.

This match, Coric went about his smart point construction, going for some shots, too, to keep things less predictable, and employed all his grit and determination to keep a fighting Thiem at bay in the first and third sets. There was plenty of positive body language, too, heart thumping, some finger wagging. Seeing off Thiem in three sets, and prevailing in that fifteen minute game in the third, deserves nothing less.

Other highlights of the day were:

  • The final stages of the Nadal-Basilashvili contest. Watching Basilashvili in full flow is one of my favorite tennis sights. He made a nice attempt at a come back in the second set, which he did not pull off, the breathtaking winners balanced out by groaning errors. Still, when Basilashvili powers away at the ball, I live a little and all is forgiven.
  • Novak Djokovic’s reaction to the Anderson win. If I was a Djokovic rival for the AO title, I would do what ever I could to avoid seeing that reaction. Djokovic looks ravenous which is always bad news for his rivals around slam time.
  • Hurkacz’s defeat of Schwartzman, another positive step for the Polish player. Watching Schwartzman is always entertaining, watching Hurkacz getting on with the job against such a competitor is reassuring.

Day 2 didn’t have quite the impact on me that day 1 had, but there was still enough there to keep me entertained and I can’t ask for much more than a potential top ten match of the season on any given day of the year.

Grade B

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ATP Cup Day 1 Notes

The ATP Cup makes me feel a little uncomfortable. What principally draws me to tennis is the element of one to one competition, of players having to figure a match out, dig deep inside themselves. For me, Davis Cup put the team in tennis and those rare and often gripping ties were enough for me. Now we have three compact team tennis events a year, the ATP Cup taking up where the revamped and pretty successful Davis Cup left off, that event coming hot on the heels of the Laver Cup, the darling of the tennis tour.

Three weeks a year of ‘team tennis’ is not really enough to get that grouchy about, but I was still set to ignore the ATP Cup this season. One problem, though- I’ve missed the tennis circuit and live tennis- I’ve watched a fair few replays the last couple of weeks- and it’s the ATP Cup or the ATP Cup right now, so the ATP Cup it had to be.

I’m glad I did, too. Here’s why.

  1. Marat Safin is back on court. Well, he’s on the sidelines, which doesn’t suit him at all, but he’s there, looking sharp and like he never left.
  2. I would never have seen players such as Alexander Cozbinov and Michail Pervolorakis. These players are ranked 818 and 487 respectively and it was great to be reminded how deep the tour is, how good these guys are and what a lot of luck is involved in making it as a top 200 player when the margins are so fine. I can only imagine how good it felt for them to be playing at such great venues against higher ranked players with their countrymen looking on.
  3. The sight of Boris Becker looking like he regretted a lot of life decisions sitting next to a pouting Sascha Zverev was, for me, one of the most beguiling scenes I could have asked to see in tennis.
  4. Alex de Minaur’s comeback from a set down and 2-4 and breakpoints down versus Zverev was a great start to my tennis viewing year. de Minaur is simply inspiring. Every shot he hits is with such purpose and clarity, a stark contrast to Zverev who has so many strengths but no idea how to put them together.
  5. Nick Kyrgios’s push ups when Zverev double faulted.
  6. Shapovolov’s performance versus Tsitsipas. Denis is not as complete as Stefanos, but he has some wonderful shot-making and is very confident right now. Exciting stuff.

Six reasons to watch a day of tennis is pretty good. I’ll be tuning in tomorrow, too, despite myself and because if the ATP are going to deliver the goods here, a tennis starved fan would be foolish not to gobble them up.

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Top Ten Most Significant Moments in Men’s Tennis 2019

  1. Daniil Medvedev making the US Open final

Medvedev was no spring chicken in making the US Open final aged 23. He would not even make the top 50 of youngest players in a slam final in the Open era.

But, he was the youngest player since 24 year old Kei Nishikori in the US Open ’14 final and, along with Nishikori and his conqueror Marin Cilic that year, Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros 2018, Milos Raonic at Wimbledon 2016, and Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon 2010, one of only a handful of players aged 25 and under to make a Major final this decade (2010-2019).

Medvedev’s appearance in the US Open final came on the back of a stellar pre-US Open run, making finals in Washington (l. to Kyrgios), Montreal (l. Nadal) and Cincy (d. Goffin).

It was also the climax of an early season warning to the old guard, namely Novak Djokovic, that he was not the player he used to be. Medvedev did not back his words up when he lost to Djokovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open, but he would go on to beat the then world No.1 twice that season, in Monte Carlo and Cincy.

In New York, Medvedev not only gave some fans the young gun breakthrough they had been crying out for, but also gave those wanting some character in the game something to talk about. Medvedev’s post match confrontations with the crowd and in-match non-verbal ones proved to be social media meme gold.

Most importantly, Medvedev gave us a slam final to remember, and the USO needed it, its last compulsive viewing men’s final arguably Murray and Djokovic’s 2012 encounter, if not del Potro’s defeat of Federer in 2009.

Seemingly undone by fatigue and expectation and two sets and a break down, Medvedev fought back to leave the match in the balance all the way to deep in the fifth.

Nadal lifted the trophy; Medvedev lifted the spirits of many a tennis fan.

2. 40-15

That Roger Federer was serving with two championship points in hand in the Wimbledon final aged 37 was too good to be true for his fans.

Of course, many still believed he had it in him after his decent start to the year and his position in the field as one its best grass courters, but still, 37 and a point away from slam 21, well, that just seemed too incredible for words.

However, while Federer being in that position was all too true, his winning a 21st Major really was too incredible an achievement even for him.

In a tennis media time dominated by GOAT talk, the loss to Djokovic saw Federer’s nemesis catch up to him (by the end of New York, it would be 20-19-16 for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic Major counts) and much talk that age seemed to be finally doing so, too.

The man himself remains good humored and philosophical on the defeat, even if his fans, myself included, find it hard to do so.

As for the champion, Novak Djokovic won his fifth Wimbledon title (2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019), has now accounted for three of Federer’s four Wimbledon final defeats, and became, after Gaston Gaudio in the 2004 Roland Garros final, the only man to win a Major title saving championship points.

3. Rafa Nadal winning the US Open

Nadal winning RG has pretty much been a lock unless he’s been injured or finding his way back from injury.

Nadal’s greatest years are set apart by his winning the USO (2010, 2013, 2017, 2019), and his fourth title came in another one of those stellar seasons with the Spaniard making three finals and one semi.

From the get-go in New York, Nadal looked as confident and focused as a champion could be and carried that aura all the way to the title.

4. Federer beating Djokovic in the WTF RR

As the Big 3 get older, the talk of who will prove to be the greatest ramps up and up and up. When all the slams are counted, what’s next is weeks at No.1 and year end No.1 finishes. (Sampras’ all time record of six, and the fact those six years were consecutive, along with the idiosyncrasies of his particular time, arguably still keep him in the running).

In London, Roger Federer, just as he did back in 2015, defeating Djokovic indoors in straight sets, did not exactly get revenge for the Wimbledon loss, that can only be done in a slam final, but he did help his own case for GOAT, and his rival Nadal’s, too, keeping his tie for second place with five year end No.1 finishes with Djokovic intact, and helping Nadal join them, too.

5. Next Gen making the Shanghai semis

In a sport in which overall success is measured in how well you perform at slams, the appearance of Medvedev, Zverev, Tsitsipas and Berrettini in the Shanghai last four, (with Zverev beating Federer and Tsistipas Djokovic to get there) generated sufficient buzz but stopped short of the changing guard being officially trumpeted in.

Baby steps from the game’s youngsters- if they’ll be taking champion’s strides in 2020 is one of the game’s current biggest questions.

6. The first two sets of the RG final

Very few Roland Garros finals can be said to have been genuinely in the balance the last decade and a bit, but in Paris, this year, just who would lift the crown really was in doubt for the first two sets of the men’s championship match.

Thiem ended up second best, but for the first two sets his status as the only player to beat Nadal on Clay each season since 2017 and his being the Paris Heir Apparant made brutal and electrifying sense.

7. Tsitsipas and Thiem in the ATP WTF final

The rankings and the Slam records may show the Big 3 dominating, but there was continual signs of a breakthrough from the Next-in-Line (my name for Thiem and the Next Genners) throughout the year and so it was fitting that this movement reached its crescendo in the championship match in the ATP finals.

Thiem defeated both Federer and Djokovic in the round robin while Tsitsipas had a real tussle with Nadal in their round robin and then defeated Federer in straights in the semis.

Meanwhile, Sascha Zverev deserves an honorable mention for beating Nadal in his round robin opener and thus beating the Big 3 back to back at the World Tour Finals.

The final was about as much as we could hope for- an evenly matched contest only really decided by Tsitsipas being that little bit more unpredictable, an element of his game he said he was working on, and his planned spontaneity was one of the year’s tennis highlights.

8. Thiem winning Indian Wells

Thiem at times looks in danger of being surpassed by the Next Gen much as he has overtaken the generation of Nishikori and co above him. Aged 26, he’s still yet to win a slam or reach the top 3 of the game

Not that Thiem has not tried his best- it’s just he’s playing in an era where his best surface is still dominated by Nadal and where the top 3 have pretty much been there or thereabouts for over a decade and don’t seem to be sliding down the rankings anytime soon.

So, there was a nice element of surprise when Thiem beat Roger Federer in the Indian Wells final. The hard court surface was not where many expected Thiem to win his first ATP 1000, but Thiem is no longer a Clay courter, as he so emphatically announced in the US Open ’18 quarters, his powerful game translating into winners and forced errors from his opponent whatever the conditions.

9. Thiem beating Djokovic in Roland Garros semis.

Thiem continued to challenge the status quo in tennis all season and at Roland Garros he did it in the most controversial and exhilarating of circumstances.

Up against the holder of the last three Majors, Djokovic, Thiem managed to keep his head both down and on despite all manner of distractions and carry on around him.

The match going over two days and being both physically and mentally exhausting did not help Thiem’s championship winning case come the final, but it bodes well for him in the long term. The likes of Djokovic are examples of what it takes to come through a slam the champion and Thiem showed he could not only stand up to them at the business end of a slam, but he could even better them.

10. Jannik Sinner winning Next Gen

In a season which was as good as a breakout one as it gets the last decade for tennis’ next gen, there was a season send off surprise at the end of it- Italian Jannik Sinner, who only turned 18 in August and who started the season ranked 553
and ended it ranked 78, winning the Next Gen title in Milan.

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Rafa Nadal King of Clay Prince of Hard

Nadal US Open 2017
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Rafa Nadal, a tennis player pigeon holed early on in his career as a clay courter has become joint second on the leader board of the world’s most prestigious hard court Major, the US Open.

Rafa Nadal has now won 4 US Open titles- in 2010, 2013, 2017, and 2019. He sits alongside John McEnroe in second place and behind, in the open era, Connors, Sampras, and Federer with five. He’s joint third all time, with pre-Open era champions William Larned, Richard Sears, and Bill Tilden having seven apiece, Tilden winning the last of all those titles in 1929.

The US Open has the lowest number record for most titles won by one player-five- of all the slams- Nadal having 12 at Roland Garros, Federer eight at Wimbledon, and Djokovic seven at the Australian Open. That could be due to it reputedly being the toughest slam to win with the once punishing schedule- Super Saturday (in which the semi-finals were played the day before the final); the heat, second after Melbourne in its brutality and often just as punishing in its humidity; and the noise- the planes to and from LaGuardia, the loudspeakers carrying sounds from one court to another, and the constant chatter of the crowd, and it being the fourth Major of an already gruelling season, which may account for why no man has managed to defend the title since Roger Federer in 2008.

Four times Nadal has focused enough to come through all the challenges of winning in New York and his latest US Open win means he has won 19 Majors- 12 titles at Roland Garros, 4 at the US Open, 2 at Wimbledon and 1 at the Australian Open.

Nadal’s wins at each of the game’s four slams has earned him membership into one of tennis’ loftiest club- those who have won the Career Slam. He’s one of only eight men to do so- Fred Perry, Don Budge, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic the others, and one of only four men to do it on three surfaces.

The US Open, for Nadal, was the last piece of the puzzle (for Agassi, Federer and Djokovic it was the French, for Budge the Australian, for Laver it was, like Nadal, the USO), but it’s now the Major at which he has the second biggest haul of trophies, after Roland Garros.

With Nadal’s fourth US Open win and 19th Major, there comes plenty of debate as to who is the Greatest of all time, a debate which can never really, unlike a Major final, be won. Comparing players and their achievements over the years is hard in tennis as the conditions are so variable.

The US Open surface Nadal won that 2010 title was not as fast as the one Federer first won on or that McEnroe won on. The New York surface has been modified in recent years to provide a higher bounce, and a slower one, too, the ball gripping the court a fraction longer, closer to how the ball does on the Roland Garros Clay than say the Australian Open.

Nevertheless, the pro DecoTurf surface is still a hard court with its unforgiving nature on the knees, the different demands it makes on a player’s movement, and the bounce, while it may be slower and the ball sits higher, is still lower than that of Clay, the trajectory still more hard court than clay, and the ball, on a hot, dry sunny day, can still fly through the court.

Nadal, who won Roland Garros as a 19 year old in his first main draw appearance first adapted his game successfully to grass, utilizing the slice, coming to the net and flattening out his shots when needed, then modified it fruitfully to adapt to hard, winning the Australian Open in 2009, but while those modifications have helped him achieve the career slam and rack up all time great stats at two of them, it’s the sound structural qualities of his game which have got him to where he currently stands as a legend of the game.

The serve, when on, gleans him plenty of freebies; the forehand, especially the down the line one, winners galore; the backhand holds up to pressure if need be; the aggressive baseline game which makes him such a great claycourter means he can better anyone from the back of the court, from where most of the tour play, forcing the errors which make up so many points won in a match; the net game, one of the best in the game gives him the edge over those who do not venture forward; the tactical nous means he can use all his skills and shots to outplay anyone; the touch on the drop shot adds the element of surprise; and perhaps most of all, his mental toughness means he can come out strong and come back, if he slips, even stronger. Those qualities have combined to produce a game that would succeed on any surface on which you could paint tramlines and bounce a ball.

There are no weaknesses and every little modification- being more aggressive, taking the ball earlier, flattening out the shorts, tinkering with the service motion-just help build on one of the game’s best ever bases give him even greater versatility when the need calls for it.

Then there’s his being a lefty- who, of all the righties out there, other than Novak Djokovic, goes backhand to forehand with Nadal on any surface in a big match and might be favored to survive?

Nadal’s cross surface success has much to do with his versatility not just as a player, but as a champion too, and he has won each of his US Open in both similar and different styles.

In 2010, Nadal was arguably in his best ever form, the world No.1, Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion, turning up in New York with his deadliest ever serve, a huge forehand down the line and on a mission to complete the career slam, defeating Novak Djokovic, just a few months off his 2011 form, in four sets in the final, that dropped set his first of the championships.

In 2013, Nadal had returned to the tour after seven months out with a knee injury, winning his fourth event back, in Indian Wells, won Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros, and picked himself up from a first round Wimbledon loss to Steve Darcis to win Montreal and Cincy back to back. At the US Open, his great run leading into the event, securing him the second seed, paid off with a generous draw- a wild card, in Ryan Harrison in the first round, qualifier Rogerio Dutra da Silva in round 2, Ivan Dodig in round 3 (Dodig beating Verdasco and Davydenko en route), 22nd seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in round 4, a match which saw Nadal drop his first set of the championships, Federer’s conqueror Tommy Robredo in the last eight and Richard Gasquet in the semis. In the final, Nadal beat a bruised Djokovic, the Serbian coming off a five setter versus Stan Wawrinka and struggling mentally after a string of bruising Major defeats, none more dispiriting than his five set Roland Garros semi-final loss to Nadal. While 2010 had been all imperious run to the title for Nadal, 2013 had been, while still impressive form wise, more about keeping your head while everyone around you is losing theirs.

In 2017, Nadal was back to his best, winning Roland Garros after a two year La Coupe des Mouquetaire trophy biting hiatus, and was by far the best player in the USO draw with Federer having one of his bad days versus del Potro and Djokovic slumping. That 2017 victory was asterisked by some for the draw Nadal made his way through– Dusan Lajovic, Taro Daniel, Leonardo Mayer, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Andrey Rublev, Juan Martin del Potro, and Kevin Anderson. That asterisk has little effect on the record books, however- Nadal was the champion; he did not succumb to a bad day at the office, his body was in working order, and he had no issue dealing with opponents who had upset higher seeds. Amid all the hype and noise, being a champion is a less than glamorous affair, an almost workmanlike drudgery to earn the kudos.

This 2019, we saw a little bit of everything of Nadal- a champion making his way to the title with a pinch of luck, heaps of grit, and truckloads of champion’s instinct.

His game, further modified due to age and injury- a more efficient service motion, a more aggressive mind set, was also, given the right draw and conditions, which he was, well-primed for the task ahead.

From the very start of the tournament when Nadal walked on court looking ripped, stylish and on trend in his black and purple get up, and fresh- did anyone in the draw look as ready and eager as Nadal from the very first ball this US Open?-he had US Open 2019 Champion etched in the sweat above his brow.

Once again, the second seed benefitted from a favorable draw with Djokovic and Federer seeded to meet in the top half semis and potentially put each other through hell as they did at Wimbledon. Nadal defeated John Millman in round 1 in straights, had a walkover in round 2 versus Thanasi Kokkinakis, beat Hyeon Chung in straights, dropped a set to Marin Cilic, straight setted Sascha Zverev’s conqueror Diego Schwartzman, and defeated Matteo Berretini in straights on his way to the final.

There were struggles in those sets, battles within the war, but so there should be in a Major, and like the champion he is, Nadal came through them and made the final.

He had not had to face an in form Djokovic or Federer, but they had not had to face and beat an in form Nadal in their RG victory campaigns. That is how tennis works- you play who is across the net.

You play yourself, too, and when Nadal has struggled, he has had confidence issues, and in the final he would have to beat both Daniil Medvedev and his own self-belief.

The championship match was as good as we could have hoped for. No one can ever say Nadal did not earn his 2019 US Open trophy win. The final saw the Canada Champ go up against the Cincy one, the two best players of the US Summer hard court swing going head to head, one of the New Gen versus a legend of the game.

When Nadal led by two sets and a break, the narrative seemed to be that Medvedev had worn himself out making his fourth hard court final of the stretch and that Nadal was just too, well, Nadal. But Medvedev dug deep, broke back and won the third and fourth sets in an electric match, which in the fifth saw Nadal serving for it only for Medvedev to break back and stay in contention.

Nadal finally won 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 and as a video played showing his 19 Major wins, the tears came. This meant something a little more, by as small a margin as Major champs are split, than the other wins. Even at the age of 33 with his body breaking down in the AO and USO Semis in 2018, with his game seemingly far far off the pace in hard court Major finals as had been the case at the start of the season in Melbourne, Nadal was still able to come through what the 2019 ATP tour had to offer and win arguably the toughest Major of all, closing the all-time Major haul list with Federer down to one, and go five sets with the best hard courter in the game aged 23 and under, and go all the way.

Four US Open victories, second on the all-time list. In an age where Players are judged on their Major titles like never before, Nadal will not be seen as a clay courter, but as an all surface player who just happened to be the greatest ever on Clay.

The King of Clay, a prince on Hard. Not a bad living epitaph if you can earn it.

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