Add another teenager to the growing ranks of young #NextGen stars on the rise. German Daniel Altmaier, displaying a complete all-court game and Richard Gasquet-like backhand, convincingly defeated Brit Jonny O’Mara 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the Qatar F4 Futures at Doha Saturday afternoon. The 18-year-old German won his third title in five finals this year, and improved to 60-24 in 2016, all on the Futures circuit. Altmaier, a model of consistency, has also reached the semifinals twice and the quarterfinals nine times in his 27 tournaments this season. The No. 448-ranked youngster served 15 aces, won 86 percent of his first service points, didn’t commit a double fault and saved three of three break points on the afternoon. At 6-foot-2 and 174 pounds, Altmaier reminds one of a younger Dominic Thiem, both in physical stature and game. One can certainly see potential for a great future for the youngster. The German breezed through his first three service games, winning all 12 points. O’Mara, 21 and ranked No. 544, held his own most of the first set, saving a break point in the third game and then forcing three break point opportunities on Altmaier’s serve in the eighth. The German erased the breakers with strong serving and broke through in the 11th game to lead 6-5. Altmaier served an ace on his first set point to take the opener. Swinging freely and pounding his backhand crosscourt and down the line for winners, Altmaier was in complete command in the second set. He parlayed service breaks in the seventh and ninth games to take the match in one hour and 23 minutes. O’Mara had knocked off top seed Ramkumar Ramanathan in the quarterfinals.
Italian journeyman Luca Vanni, ranked No. 182, won his second tournament in a row, defeating fellow countryman Matteo Berrettini 5-7, 6-0, 6-3 in the final of the Andria Challenger Sunday afternoon. The 31-year-old Vanni won at Brescia last week and with today’s win now has four career Challenger titles. Vanni, seeded No. 4, served 17 aces in a strong serving performance and totaled 88 for the week. Berrettini, 20 and ranked No. 680 in the world, was appearing in his first Challenger final. The first set was highly competitive, with the two big guys (Vanni, 6-foot-6, and Berrettini, 6-4) blasting away from the baseline and at the service line. Vanni pressured Berrettini’s serve in the seventh and ninth games of the opener, but the 20-year old saved all three break points (one in the seventh and two in the ninth) to hold firm. The first-time finalist stunned Vanni in the 12th game by cashing his only break point opportunity of the match to go up one-set to love. The break of serve proved to be Berrettini’s last hurrah. Vanni broke in the first, third and fifth games of the second set to level at a set apiece. The more experienced Vanni piled it on in the final set, breaking in the third and ninth games, to seal the win in one hour and 44 minutes. Vanni landed an impressive 77 percent of his first serves and won 86 percent of those points. He won 53 percent of his second serves. Berrettini served 15 aces and won 73 percent of his first serves, while saving five of 10 break points. With the win, Vanni should climb to No. 157 in tomorrow’s updated ATP Rankings. His career high of No. 100 was reached in May of 2015. Today’s finals in Andria and Columbus (Ohio) bring an end to ATP Challenger play for 2016.
Andy Murray ensured that his two-week reign as world No. 1 would continue by decisively defeating Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-4 in the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London Sunday night. Murray won his 24th consecutive match and fifth tournament in a row to become the 17th player to hold the ATP No. 1 year-end ranking. The 29-year-old Scot, appearing in his first ATP World Tour Final, was rock-solid and relentless in beating the four-time defending champion and improved to 11-24 against the former No. 1-ranked Serb. Djokovic, now No. 2, needed to win the final to regain his top-ranked status which he lost two weeks ago when Murray won the Paris Masters. Murray’s win also prevented Djokovic from winning a record-tying sixth ATP World Tour championship. Djokovic won his first season-ending title in 2008. Roger Federer holds the record with six. “I’m very happy to win and to be world number one is very special,” Murray said. “It’s very special playing against Novak in a match like this. We’ve played Grand Slam finals and in the Olympics before, but I am very happy to win.” Murray played with far greater resolve than Djokovic, who made 30 unforced errors in an unusually erratic performance. Impenetrable from the back of the court, Murray turned defense into offense in an instant. The Scot, who had been on court nine hours and 56 minutes for the week, including the longest match (3 hours and 38 minutes) in the tournament history yesterday against Milos Raonic, showed no signs of fatigue. Djokovic, by comparison, had been on court three hours and 23 minutes less, but it didn’t matter. Murray started slow, double-faulting twice in the first game, but still held. Djokovic won his first nine service points and then began to struggle, needing four deuces and two saved break points to hold in the sixth game. Murray got the deciding break in the eighth game and served it out at 15 to take the opener in 46 minutes. With Djokovic playing tentative and tight, Murray broke immediately to start the second set, and then again in the fifth game to go up 4-1. Virtually on the ropes, Djokovic relaxed and began to hit out, breaking in the next game and holding to trail 4-3. The Serb pressed Murray the rest of the way, but it was too late. Murray sealed the win on his third championship point after one hour and 42 minutes of action. “I expected Andy to play on a high level,” Djokovic said. “As I said yesterday after my semifinal, I didn’t expect him to be too tired. I just played very poorly, made a lot of unforced errors from the backhand side. It wasn’t my day. On the other hand, credit to Andy for being mentally tough and playing the right shots and making me play extra shots in every rally. He definitely deserved to win.” Murray won 84 percent of his first service points and 48 percent of his second. Djokovic won 59 percent of his first deliveries and 65 percent of the points on his second. Murray failed to save his only break point, while Djokovic defended six of nine.
Russian teenager Andrey Rublev withstood 22 aces from big-serving Benoit Paire to upset the top-seeded Frenchman 6-3, 7-6 (13) in the semifinals of the Mouilleron Le Captif Challenger Saturday afternoon. The 19-year-old Rublev, playing with aggressive abandon and ice in his veins, saved nine of nine break points, while never losing his serve and breaking Paire twice. Rublev, one of the youngest of the #NextGen gang, battles one of the old guard, 34-year-old Julian Benneteau of France, in the finals tomorrow. The No. 171- ranked Rublev will be playing in his second Challenger Tour final. He won at Quimper in March. Rublev came out of the chutes with guns blazing. He forced three break points in the opening game, all of which Paire, ranked No. 47 in the world, successfully erased for a face-saving hold. Rublev broke in the third game and saved two break points in the fourth before holding for 3-1 lead. Serving at 4-3, Rublev fell behind 0-40 and then rallied with five straight points for the crucial hold. He broke Paire in the next game to take the opening set in 32 minutes. The second set proceeded on serve to force a tiebreaker, but not without some perilous moments for each, particularly Rublev. After forcing a break-point opportunity on Paire’s serve in the fourth game, Rublev had to escape another 0-40 predicament in the next game, and then an additional break point, before holding for a 3-2 lead. Paire needed four deuces and an erased break point to hold for 3-3. Each held serve with ease their next three service games. Rublev won it in the tie-break on his third match point when Paire opened the door by double-faulting at 13-13. It was over in one hour and 35 minutes of bang-bang tennis. Rublev served six aces and won 78 percent of his first service points and 67 percent of his second. Paire had four double faults and saved seven of nine break points. Rublev had no double faults.
Three-time defending champion and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeated dangerous lefthander Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-3, 6-4 in the Serb’s opening round match at the Paris Masters earlier today. Djokovic, also a victor at Bercy in 2009, looked as strong as ever since suffering a dip in his performances following completion of the career Grand Slam at the French Open in June. “It was great to start off the way I did today. Not an easy opponent because he serves and volleys, and I found the conditions quite quick,” Djokovic said. “I think I managed to find the right rhythm, right pace from the very beginning… capitalized on the opportunities when they were presented. I was quite pleased with my serve. I think I got a lot of free points there. It was quite a good performance.” Paris is just the second tournament Djokovic has competed in since losing the final of the U.S. Open to Stan Wawrinka in early September. The Serb has played a lighter schedule than normal following a third-round exit at the hands of Sam Querrey at Wimbledon early in the summer. No question Djokovic has lost some of his mantle of invincibility since London, but his record is still a very respectable 17-4 since then. The real problem for the Serb has been not enjoying the game like he always had. Other things too have seemed to be distracting his focus and pressing on his mind. Throw in Andy Murray dialing up the pressure to unseat Nole from the top rung in men’s tennis with his superlative year and you’ve got a mix of angst and self-doubt. “I feel good right now,” Djokovic said after the match. “The last couple of months were not easy. Mentally I’ve had to redefine my goals and things that are happening on and off the court and just make sure that I’m in a good place and that I can perform as well as I expect from myself. Everything is clearer and I’m going in the right direction. I’m just focused right now on Paris.” Djokovic parlayed service breaks in the sixth game of the first set and ninth game of the second to capture the win in one hour and 20 minutes, closing it out with an ace on his first match point. The Serb played with calm and control, except for one minor outburst in the three-deuce seventh game of the final set with Muller serving at 3-3. Breaking rackets and ripping his shirt off have been all too frequent occurrences in moments of frustration since losing to Querrey at Wimbledon. Today’s boil over was mild. Djokovic won 91 percent of his first service points and 61 percent of his second, while saving his only break point. The Serb hit 20 winners to 17 for Muller and committed 15 unforced errors compared to 32 for his opponent. Muller saved two of four break points and won 17 of 25 points at the net. Djokovic won seven of eight forays forward. Nole will play No. 14 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the third round tomorrow.
Towering Croat Ivo Karlovic wore down rising #NextGen star Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a quarterfinal battle of big men with big serves at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna Friday afternoon. The 6-foot-11 Karlovic served 29 aces — none more important than one that saved a match point — to 17 for the 6-foot-5 Khachanov. In the end it was Karlovic’s experience that won out. The 37-year-old Croatian, 17 years Khachanov’s senior, never folded in the key moments. Khachanov gave Karlovic everything he could handle and then some. But it wasn’t enough. The No. 63-ranked Russian appeared to be in control of the match as the second set wore on, having never faced a break point, forcing a break-point opportunity for the match in the 12th game of the set, and up a mini-break at 5-3 in the tie-break. None of it was to be. After starting the year with six straight first round losses and holding a 2-9 record going into the French Open, Karlovic has had quite a reversal of fortune in the second half of the season. He won Newport in July and was a finalist at Washington the following week. A month later he won at Los Cabos in Mexico. Today’s victory sent the No. 23-ranked and eighth-seeded Croat to his sixth semifinal of the year. Karlovic, despite being one of the oldest players on the tour, still has the ability to confound his opponents and wear them down with his huge serving and aggressive net play. Today certainly was no exception. The 29 aces today pushed Karlovic’s season leading total to 1081. Karlovic started the match inauspiciously, needing to save a break point in the opening game to hold. Service prevailed the rest of the way to force a tiebreaker. Karlovic flinched first, suffering a mini-break serving at 5-6. The second set unfolded much the same way, with Karlovic needing to save break points in both the sixth and the aforementioned 12th game to force another tie-break. This time it was Khachanov who flinched, double-faulting at 5-6, after the two traded mini-breaks on the seventh and ninth points. The match was level at a set apiece. Karlovic broke the match open in the second game of the final set. After five deuces, Khachanov succumbed on Karlovic’s third break point of the game. The big Croat wrapped things up with four more holds and it was over in two hours and 20 minutes. Karlovic hit 55 winners to 32 for Khachanov and committed 37 unforced errors to 32 for the Russian. The Miami-based Karlovic saved three of three break points, Khachanov two of three. Karlovic will face No. 6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals tomorrow.
Sam Groth gave notice Sunday afternoon that he’s back on the path to career revival. The big serving Australian, ranked No. 237, pounded 30 aces in defeating fourth seed Santiago Giraldo 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-5 in the final of the Las Vegas Challenger. It was Groth’s first title since he won the Manchester Challenger in June last year and the fourth Challenger crown of his career. The win concluded the best two weeks of tennis Groth has played this season. Last week the Narrandera native reached the quarterfinals of the Monterrey Challenger before losing to eventual champion Ernesto Escobedo in three tie-break sets. Groth served 95 aces during the week in Las Vegas and never had his serve broken in 62 service games. In fact, from the start of the tournament, Groth served 48 consecutive games without even yielding a break point. That streak ended today in the opening set in Groth’s fourth service game. Groth started the year ranked No. 60 after reaching a career-high No. 53 last August, but it’s been downhill since then. After the U.S. Open this year, Groth’s ranking bottomed out at No. 272. A multitude of first round exits and just two quarterfinals appearances prior to last week have led to much head scratching in the big Australian’s camp. Not to mention Groth’s loss of confidence in his game. Today, though, was clearly Groth at his huge serving, net rushing, hold nothing back best. Giraldo, ranked No. 108 in the world, had no answer for Groth’s booming serves. “That was very tough,” Giraldo said. “It’s not easy. I consider myself a good returner but today’s there was nothing I could do.” The 28-year-old Columbian was tough as nails himself, serving impeccably and playing solidly off the ground. Giraldo didn’t face a break point in the first set and captured two mini-breaks to Groth’s one in the tiebreaker to take the opener. Groth broke in the seventh game of the second set and it was all he needed to level the match at a set apiece. It was sweaty palms time though in the 10th game when Groth fell behind 30-40 on his serve trying to serve it out. Three straight aces solved that problem. The 29-year-old Aussie faced adversity again in the final set, falling behind 15-40 serving in the seventh game. Groth saved both of those break points, broke Giraldo in the 11th game and sealed the win with two aces in the next game. The match was over in one hour and 54 minutes. Groth double-faulted just once and served at a 60 percent clip. He won 88 percent of his first service points and 62 percent of his second, while saving four of four break points. Giraldo erased one of three break points. “To get a win here is going to do a lot for my confidence,” Groth said. With the victory Groth will crack the Top 200 in tomorrow’s updated ATP Rankings.
Sam Groth defeated No. 3 seed Bjorn Fratangelo 7-6 (3), 7-5 in the second round of the Las Vegas Challenger earlier this morning, advancing to the quarterfinals of back-to-back tournaments for the first time this year. Last week the big-serving Groth, who celebrated his 29th birthday today, reached the final eight at the Monterrey Challenger in Mexico before losing to eventual champion Ernesto Escobedo. Groth’s play today was reminiscent of last year, when the 6-foot-4 Australian reached a career high No. 53 in the world in August. His results this year, to say the least, have been disappointing. The former Aussie Rules footballer has gone 4-16 in ATP Tour, Davis Cup and Grand Slam matches, and 10-10 in Challengers in 2016. Groth was ranked No. 237 coming into Las Vegas. Today, however, the old Grothy was back. Groth served 20 aces, won 92 percent of his first service points and 60 percent of his second, and never faced a break point. Fratangelo, ranked No. 112, provided stiff opposition and was never broken until the penultimate game of the match. The 23-year-old American won 71 percent of his first serves, 57 percent of his second and saved five of six break points. Groth, who set the record for the fastest clocked serve in 2012 at the Busan Challenger, volleyed superbly and played solid on the ground. It goes without saying his serve was on, but even more effective since he landed 62 percent of his first deliveries. Groth kept his composure too, especially when he failed to cash three break points in the third game of the second set and two more in the seventh. Cool-headedness prevailed, and it paid off when he broke through in the 11th game of the decider. Groth will play American Tennys Sandgren in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Albano Olivetti beat No. 8 seed and fellow Frenchman Gregoire Jacq 7-6 (6), 6-3 in the final of the France F21 Futures in Nevers Sunday afternoon. The title was the third of Olivetti’s career, all on the Futures circuit, and first since July of 2012. Olivetti improved to 3-6 in Futures finals. He has an 0-2 record in Challenger finals. The big serving Olivetti hit 15 aces against Jacq and totaled 86 for the week. He never faced a break point on Sunday and dropped serve just once in 53 service games over the five tournament matches. With the 35 ranking points earned for the victory, Olivetti will climb into the world Top 400 in Monday’s updated rankings. The 6-foot-8 Frenchman started the week ranked No. 427. The first set was extremely close and really could have gone either way. Service prevailed through the first 12 games to force a tiebreaker, with Jacq erasing the only break point of the set in the 12th game. Jacq, 23-years old and No. 422 in the world, captured a mini-break to start the tie-break and jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Olivetti held twice and then won mini-breaks on the sixth, seventh and 11th points while yielding one of his own on the eighth. Serving at 6-5, with the set on his racket, Olivetti yielded another mini-break, held for 7-6 and then won the tie-break with a mini-break on the 14th point. A sigh of relief, for sure, for the towering Frenchman. Olivetti parlayed service breaks in the third and ninth games of the decider to wrap up the victory in one hour and 21 minutes. The big Frenchman won 89 percent of his first service points and 52 percent of his second. Jacq saved two of four break points, while dropping to 0-2 against Olivetti.
Big-serving Albano Olivetti served his way past tenacious fellow Frenchman Sebastien Boltz 7-6 (5), 6-3 last night in a second round clash at the French F21 Futures in Nevers. Olivetti, ranked No. 427 in the world, is competing for the sixth straight week as he seeks to improve his ranking with heavy play and a strong closing finish to the 2016 campaign. The 6-foot-8 Frenchman will meet No. 5 seed and doubles partner at Nevers, Calvin Hemery, in the quarterfinals on Friday in a bid to reach his third consecutive semifinal berth on the Futures circuit. Olivetti, holder of the record for the second fastest clocked serve at 160 mph, was not broken, blasted 26 aces in 11 service games and won 88 percent of the points on his first serve against the 23-year-old Boltz. Boltz, for his part, served well too, landing 70 percent of his first deliveries and winning 67 percent of his first serves and 62 percent of his second. The 23-year-old hit five aces and was broken just once, while saving one of two break points. Olivetti erased all four of the break points against his serve, including two in the second game of the match and two more in the seventh game of the second set, immediately after breaking Boltz’s serve. In fitting style, Olivetti served out the match with an ace on his third match point. It was over in one hour and 42 minutes.