Frenchman Albano Olivetti had the kind of day big servers live for at the Switzerland F2 Futures in Bellevue earlier today. Olivetti defeated Dutchman Antal van der Duim 7-6 (2), 6-2 in the second round match and served absolutely lights out, pounding 25 aces in just 49 service attempts and yielding only four points on his serve in the 79 minute contest. The fourth-seeded Frenchman served seven love games in 10 services games, never faced a break point, landed 71 percent of his first deliveries and won 94 percent of those points. He double-faulted only once while going for the big bombs. Van der Duim, who had to qualify for the main draw, won two points in an Olivetti service game only once. Olivetti, ranked No. 338 in the world, is known for his big serving and holds the record for the second fastest recorded serve at 160 mph. Working to boost his ranking, the 26-year-old Frenchman has played exclusively on the Futures circuit so far in 2018, reaching one final and the semifinals in another, while posting a 10-4 record. Van der Duim didn’t play badly, but there was really nothing he could do against an opponent serving lightning bolts at will. The Dutchman, 30 years old and ranked No. 702, served a respectable seven aces and won 70 percent of his first serves, while saving six of eight break points. Olivetti will play Lukas Klein in the quarterfinals tomorrow.

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Unseeded Frenchman Gregoire Barrere edged fellow countryman big-serving Albano Olivetti 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5) in the final of the France F2 Futures at Bressuire Sunday afternoon. The title was Barrere’s second in a row and the fifth of his career, all at the Futures level. He ran his record to 10-0 in the new year. Olivetti, seeded No. 4, lost for the 11th time in 16 finals. Two of the defeats were on the Challenger Tour. Barrere, ranked No. 624, never lost his serve and saved five of five break points in the two-hour and 10 minute contest. The 23-year-old Frenchman served five aces, double-faulted just once, and won 88 percent of the points on his first serve. Olivetti, No. 372 in the world, served up 26 aces, landed 72 percent of his first deliveries and won 83 percent of those points. He committed four double faults and saved three of four break points. Barrere won nine more points on his serve (83 to 74) and that was really the difference in the match. That and Olivetti’s inability to cash any of his five break point opportunities. Barrere held to start the match and then immediately broke Olivetti at love. That was all he needed to take the opener in 26 minutes. In the second set Olivetti saved a break point in the seventh game and two more in the ninth. Barrere saved two of his own serving at 5-6 to force a tiebreaker. After the two traded mini-breaks on the first two points, Olivetti captured the set with a mini-break on the 14th point after staring down a match point at 5-6. Service prevailed throughout the third set without any excitement except for the third game when Olivetti squandered two break point opportunities. In the ensuing tie-break, Barerre jumped out to a 4-1 lead and held on after Olivetti rallied to save two match points at 3-6 and 4-6. Barrere won it on his fourth match point. With his back-to-back titles Barrere will jump to No. 481 in tomorrow’s updated ATP rankings.

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Australian Open Preview and Predictions

by John on January 14, 2018

 

The Australian Open begins Monday and on the men’s side the first major of the year might seemingly be viewed as the Melbourne Wide Open. But that’s not the case if you’re defending champion and world No. 2 Roger Federer. With all the carnage of season-ending injuries to top players in 2017 still permeating through this year’s men’s draw, Federer stands alone, tanned, ready and fit as can be. Last man standing at the end of the past year and certainly the rock-solid pre-tournament favorite this year. The walking wounded, all Top 10 players, are making valiant efforts to play, but one can’t predict how well they will perform. Six-time champion Novak Djokovic’s right elbow still isn’t 100 percent, Rafael Nadal’s troublesome knee is said to be iffy, Stan Wawrinka’s surgically repaired knee hasn’t truly been tested and Milos Raonic is still rusty after having left wrist surgery last fall. Only Raonic has played in an official tournament in the lead-up to Melbourne, and he lost his opening match in that one. And then there is Kei Nishikori, who hasn’t fully recovered from a torn tendon in his right wrist last summer and isn’t fit to compete yet. Ditto Andy Murray, who had hip surgery earlier this month. His attempts at non-surgical treatment (rest) were unsuccessful after injuring the hip at Wimbledon in July. So there you have it. Federer’s toughest competition may have to come from the NextGen youngsters or the in-between guard who haven’t quite proven to be ready for prime-time play in the majors yet. So a quick look at the draw to see how things shape up is in order. Nadal, last year’s losing finalist, heads the top half of the draw in the 1st Quarter. The top-seeded Spaniard, if his knee holds up, shouldn’t have much trouble advancing to the semifinals from this section. Potential hurdles along the way include Borna Coric in the third round, John Isner in the fourth and Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals. It’s all about Nadal’s knee in this quarter. ATP World Tour Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov, the third seed, leads the pack in the 2nd Quarter. Dimitrov’s win in London posits well for the talented Bulgarian to make a serious run in a major, but it won’t be easy. Andrey Rublev could be his opponent in the third round with the possibility of enigmatic Nick Kyrgios or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth. Jack Sock or Kevin Anderson should emerge from the bottom section of the quarter to meet Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. The Bulgarian prevails against either one. In the bottom half of the draw, fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev is top dog, positioned at the bottom of the 3rd Quarter bracket. He might have to play older brother Mischa in the third round and Novak Djokovic in the fourth. That is if Djokovic’s elbow holds up and the Serb survives a second round tilt with Gael Monfils. Djokovic will win that encounter, but falls to the 20-year-old Zverev. Dominic Thiem, at the top of this bracket, survives his opposition and takes on Zverev in the quarterfinals. Zverev wins and advances to the semifinals. Federer, on the bottom of the 4th Quarter bracket, faces a testing road to the semifinals. Richard Gasquet looms as a potential 3rd round opponent and either Milos Raonic or Sam Querrey, both big servers, should battle the Swiss in the fourth. David Goffin, who beat Federer at the ATP Finals in London, is at the top of this section and advances to a fourth round matchup with Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine has too much firepower for the Belgian and moves on to meet Federer in the quarterfinals. Delpo beat the Swiss at the U.S. Open last year, but it won’t happen this time as Federer extracts revenge. So it’s Nadal versus Dimitrov in one semi and Zverev against Federer in the other.

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Frenchman Corentin Denolly has the distinction of winning the last point in the last match of the 2017 men’s professional tennis season. Yes, the season is finally officially over. The 20-year old Denolly edged Russian Alexander Zhurbin 7-6 (5), 6 -7 (3), 6-3 in the final of the Hong Kong F5 Futures yesterday. Denolly, a former world No. 3 on the junior circuit (2015), won for the third time on the Futures tour. He also won the Belgian F4 Futures earlier this year and the Slovakia F1 Futures in 2016. The 6-foot-1 Frenchman, whose favorite surface is clay, surprisingly hasn’t looked to model his game after other notable French players such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils or Richard Gasquet. His idol since the beginning has been another left-hander — Rafael Nadal. “I try to play like Nadal because he’s lefty,” Denolly said. In fact Denolly got to play the role of Nadal during the Monte Carlo Masters as a 17-year-old in 2015. Against Novak Djokovic, no less. “I was there and I have a warmup session with Novak Djokovic before his semifinal against Nadal,” Denolly said. “He was looking for a lefty to play like Nadal, and he beat Rafa when I warm up with him. It was strange, but it was a good experience to play with Djokovic.” Yesterday’s match was nip and tuck all the way and lasted two hours and 40 minutes. Each player broke twice in the opening set, Zhurbin in the 3rd and 9th games and Denolly in the 4th and 6th. Denolly, ranked No. 444 , took the tiebreaker with mini-breaks on the second and seventh points after surrendering one of his own on the fifth. The Frenchman broke in the third game of the second set, but was broken back in the sixth to force another tiebreaker. Zhurbin raced to a 5-0 lead courtesy of mini-breaks on the second and third points, gave one back on the eighth and won the tie-break with another mini-break on the 10th. Denolly broke at 15 in the fourth game of the final set and that was all he needed to capture the title. He served three aces to none for Zhurbin and saved four of seven break points, while the Russian defended two of six. Denolly won 110 points, Zhurbin 108.

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Back in early June of 2016 talk of the G.O.A.T in men’s tennis was swirling around big time. Novak Djokovic had just completed the career Grand Slam by defeating Andy Murray in four sets in the French Open final, becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major titles at once and the first man in history to do so on three different surfaces. Djokovic had reached the pinnacle of tennis success after having just concluded a run of five and a half years of other worldly results. And he was still only 29 years old, with a lot left in the tank. From January of 2011 to that June 5, 2016 afternoon on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros, Djokovic had dominated tennis like no other from the past. He had won 11 of the 22 Grand Slams contested during the run, bagged 24 Masters crowns and won the ATP World Tour Finals three times. His record in that span against the three other members of the Big 4, his toughest opponents and certainly the most competitive group of adversaries in the history of men’s tennis, was 57-23 (18-9 vs Roger Federer, 19-7 vs Rafael Nadal and 20-7 vs Murray). The tennis world was Djokovic’s and he was king. G.O.A.T was the opinion being bandied about by many. And certainly it had merit. A few more years at such a high level of play and the title was all but assured. But soon after the French triumph things started to become unglued for the Serbian world No. 1. Djokovic lost in the third round at Wimbledon to American Sam Querrey in July and then was beaten in the opening round at the Rio Olympics a month later. The pressure and physical exertion expended to win his first French Open and complete the Grand slam had taken their toll. Nole had lost his edge and in the months that followed he suffered unexpected losses. To wit: Roberto Bautista Agut in the semis at the Shanghai Masters and Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals at the Paris Masters. While Djokovic was faltering, Murray played lights-out, winning five tournaments in a row. He supplanted the Serb at No. 1 at Paris and punctuated his ascendance several weeks later by defeating Nole in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals. The defeats were weighing heavily on the Serb and he was out of sorts. In early December, seeking to rock the boat and spark winning ways, Djokovic parted company with coach Boris Becker. Djokovic started 2017 off on the right foot, winning at Doha, but then was stunned by Denis Istomin in the second round at the Australian Open. Shocking defeats to Nick Kyrgios at Acapulco and Indian Wells, and then a loss to David Goffin at the Monte Carlo Masters followed. Good players for sure, but not the likes of which he was used to losing to. Something was clearly wrong. Rumors of family problems surfaced, lack of motivation was mentioned as well as the possibility of an undisclosed injury. And then the B-word: burnout. Nole’s frustration elevated. The effort was there, but the results weren’t. Try as he might he just couldn’t pull the trigger when he needed to. To shake things up, Djokovic felt further change was needed. In early May, in what he described as “shock therapy,” Nole severed ties with long-time coach and friend Marian Vajda. After the breakup, Djokovic would lose to an in-form Nadal in the semifinals of the Madrid Masters. The following week he was upset in the final of Rome Masters by young up-and-comer Alexander Zverev. The Serb, by most anybody else’s standards, was not playing bad. But Nole isn’t just anybody. Then in another news-breaking stunner, just before the French Open, Djokovic filled his coaching ranks with eight-time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi. Great things were expected, but Djokovic fizzled at Roland Garros, losing to Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals. The coup de grace came a month later at Wimbledon when Djokovic had to retire with a painful elbow injury in the quarterfinals against Tomas Berdych. Two weeks later, Djokovic announced he would miss the rest of the 2017 season due to a lingering elbow injury that had been bothering him for nearly a year and a half. Certainly the elbow injury was the key reason for shutting down, but mental and physical exhaustion were part of the equation too. Now as the calendar is about to turn the page on a new year, Djokovic is planning his return — a return anxiously awaited by the tennis world. He has added another coach to his team, as well as a key tennis strategist and analyst, in the last month to bolster his chances in the new year. Recently retired Czech player Radek Stepanek and Craig O’Shannessy, the brains behind BrainGameTennis,a tennis strategy website, have joined forces with Djokovic and should help Nole’s preparation and on court tactics immensely. Both joined him, along with Agassi, in a very productive preseason training camp in Monte Carlo earlier this month. Djokovic began hitting a little over four weeks ago and the elbow is holding up well. Nole’s first action will be in the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, a six player exhibition, Dec. 28-30 in Abu Dhabi. After that he is scheduled to play in the Qatar Open, Jan. 1-6, and then the Australian Open, Jan. 15-28. Barry Cowan, a former player and now a tennis commentator with Sky Sports, is optimistic about Djokovis’s return. “He’s fresh and from all accounts he’s fit. We’ll know more in Doha and Australia, but he’s only going to get better as the season goes on,” Cowan said. “He dominated the sport at a ridiculous level for a period of time and in the end, he burned himself out mentally. When Novak was 100 per cent fit and 100 per cent focused two years ago, it was impossible to beat him in big matches. You never lose it — it just takes time to get it back and I’ve got great hopes for him. I think he will have a phenomenal year.” Djokovic fans certainly hope so.

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David Goffin’s very good year ended yesterday in disappointing fashion. The Belgian’s Davis Cup team lost to France 3-2 in the Cup final, but it certainly was not through any fault of Goffin’s. Despite being bummed by the team’s loss, Goffin said he finished his season with the “sense of having done my duty.” Indeed he did. And then some. Goffin’s straight-set singles wins over Frenchmen Lucas Pouille on Friday and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga yesterday were thorough and convincing. “It’s a disappointment even if I played two good matches,” Goffin said. “When the team loses we’re all disappointed. We gave it our all. It’s tough to finish this way but we did a lot of good things as a team this year.” The two victories over the weekend boosted Goffin’s Davis Cup singles record to 21-3 and were indicative of the kind of play the No. 7-ranked Belgian has been exhibiting all year, and particularly in the last two months. Goffin finished the year with a 59-24 record, won two tournaments, was a finalist in three others and had some huge wins in the last few weeks. The Belgian’s game is not unlike two retired former greats, David Nalbandian and Nikolay Davydenko. Both were great ball strikers who were masters at opening up the court and setting themselves up for the kill with their passing shot wizardry. Goffin is cut from the same mold. Back in February, Goffin reached the finals at Sofia and Rotterdam in back-to-back weeks before losing to Grigor Dimitrov and Tsonga respectively. Goffin had a good spring clay-court season, beating Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo before losing to Rafael Nadal in the semis. Two weeks later at Madrid, he made it to the quarterfinals before falling to Nadal once again. Misfortune struck Goffin in early June at the French Open when he slipped on a rain tarp at the back of the court in a third round match against Horacio Zeballos, injuring his ankle. The injury kept the Belgian out of action for six weeks , forcing him to miss Wimbledon and ultimately slowing his progress in the summer hardcourt campaign. Goffin got his mojo back at the end of September and early October when he won back-to-back tournaments at Shenzhen and Tokyo. His victims were Adrian Mannarino in China and Alexandr Dolgopolov in Japan. He made the semifinals at Basel in October and then really amped-up his game two weeks ago at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. There he became only the sixth player to defeat Nadal and Roger Federer in the same tournament, handling Nadal in a third round-robin match and Federer in the semifinals. Dimitrov stopped Goffin’s run in the final with his fourth win in five tries over the Belgian this year. ”The best player this weekend was on the Belgian side,” said former top-ranked Belgian player Justine Henin. And that’s amidst some pretty damn good company. Look out for Goffin next year.

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Preview and Predictions for ATP Finals

by John on November 11, 2017

The ATP Finals begin Sunday, ostensibly featuring the eight best men players in the world. There are however some illusions with the premise that the best eight are gathering at the O2 Arena in London for the prestigious year-ending tournament. Injuries have riddled the ATP Tour in 2017 like no season in recent memory and it’s no more evident than who is playing in London and who isn’t. Top seed Rafael Nadal and No. 2 seed Roger Federer lead the field, followed in order by Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Jack Sock. Cilic and Thiem are the only returning qualifiers from the 2016 tournament. Federer and Nadal were out with injuries last year. Absent and out for this year are Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. All five made the finals last year and would more than likely be in London sans injuries. That said, there’s no disgrace for those newbies getting to London as the best of the rest. Rafa and Roger have been the dominant forces in men’s tennis in 2017, each winning two Grand Slams apiece, and on paper should be outlandish favorites to play each other in the final. The eight qualifiers are divided into two groups of four. On Nadal’s side of the round-robin draw are Goffin, Thiem and Dimitrov, who have a combined 3-17 record against the Spaniard. Federer’s side, consisting of Zverev, Cilic and Sock, have a slightly better combined record of 3-12 against the Swiss Maestro. With such a history of dominance, the finalists look to be a certainty. However, in what could be a tournament director’s nightmare, Nadal and his troublesome right knee might not be 100 percent for his opening match on Monday. His status is somewhat iffy. If the Spaniard would withdraw it would be catastrophic for the tournament. Rafa pulled out of the Paris Masters before his quarterfinal match last week after experiencing discomfort in the knee during this third-round win against Pablo Cuevas. “Hopefully the knee is good,” Nadal said. “I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do in order to get ready for London… Let’s see if I am able to be 100 per cent to compete. If nothing happens, then I will play.” Nadal has qualified for the ATP Tour Finals 13 times, but never won the tournament. The No. 1-ranked Spaniard wants it badly. Federer, who has had a superlative year with a 49-4 record and seven titles, rested last week, skipping Paris to be fresh for London. At this time of the year it’s a little hard to predict how much a player has left in the tank. Everyone is a little worn down from the long season and perhaps a bit nicked up too. Still, the stakes are high. If Nadal is healthy I see him winning his group 3-0 with Dimitrov 2-1. Federer’s path to the finals is a little more difficult. Zverev has a 2-2 record against Federer, and if he’s feeling his oats could give the Swiss some trouble. Federer should battle to win his group with a 3-0 record, with Zverev coming in second at 2-1. Thus the semis will pair Nadal against Zverev and Federer versus Dimitrov. This portends very well for a Fedal final. Can’t see it any other way.

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Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco edged 20-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev 7-6 (1), 7-6 (6) in the opening round of the Rolex Paris Masters Tuesday afternoon. It was a battle of two baseline bashers and the only real difference was Verdasco’s acumen and skill in the tie-breaks. The win propels the 33-year-old Verdasco into a second-round clash with No. 12 seed and U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson. Rublev will move on to play in the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals in Milan next week. Verdasco displayed Rafael Nadal- like defensive skills in neutralizing the hard-hitting Rublev’s blistering ground game, while serving 11 aces and winning 70 percent of his first service points and 52 percent of his second. Rublev, for his part, had five aces and also won 70 percent of his first serves. The Russian captured 48 percent of the points on his second. Both players held serve with ease through the first five games of the match. Serving at 2-3, Verdasco saved two break points to hold, and at 4-5 erased a set point. Rublev saved a break point of his own at 5-5 and a tie-break ensued. Verdasco captured mini-breaks on the first, fourth and eighth points for a decisive 7-1 edge in the breaker to take the first set. Verdasco held twice and led 2-1 in the second set, when four straight breaks followed. Rublev saved two match points in the 12th game to force another tiebreaker. The Spaniard converted his fifth match point, ending the scintillating duel in one hour and 48 minutes. Verdasco hit 27 winners to 23 for Rublev, and had 37 unforced errors compared to 40 for the Russian. The Spaniard saved three of five break points and Rublev six of eight.

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Defending champion Juan Martin del Potro whipped top seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2 in the final of the Stockholm Open earlier this afternoon. The title was the fourth-seeded Argentine’s first of the year and 20th of his career, and will launch the Tower of Tandil into contention in the ATP Race to London. Del Potro will move up to 14th in the Race with 2135 points, 470 points behind Pablo Carreno Busta, who currently occupies the eighth and final qualifying spot for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals. The Argentine improved to 6-2 head-to-head against Dimitrov and ran his record to 31-14 on the year. “I played the best match of the week against Grigor today. Unlucky for that, sorry Grigor,” del Potro said. “It’s amazing to come back and hold this big trophy. And hopefully I can come next year as well. I love to be in Stockholm. I like the city a lot. I like the Swedish people and you treated me very, very good this week and I would like to thank everyone.” Del Potro dominated with his serve, hitting nine aces and winning 76 percent of the points on his first serve, while saving all four break points he faced. The 29-year-old Argentine parlayed a service break in the fifth game of the match to take the opener in 42 minutes. A service break in the third game of the second set gave del Potro a 2-1 lead. Dimitrov forced three break-point opportunities in the next game, but failed to cash any of them. Delpo broke again in the seventh game and served it out in one hour and 25 minutes. Dimitrov, who is fifth in the Race to London, served five aces and saved two of five break points. The Bulgarian had captured his only two victories against del Potro earlier this year, but it wasn’t to be today. “I couldn’t have lost to a better gentleman on and off the court. Juan, congrats…you’ve been playing great the whole year, quite a few battles and wishing you the best of luck for the rest of the season,” Dimitrov said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t bring a lot more fight today. But again, Juan totally deserved it.”

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Dolgopolov Stops Dzumhur Run at Shenzhen Open

by John on September 30, 2017

Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov defeated Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Shenzhen Open Saturday night, ending the red-hot Bosnian’s 8-match winning streak while advancing to his third final of the year. Dolgopolov, the fifth seed, will play Belgian David Goffin, seeded No. 2, in tomorrow’s final. Goffin leads the 28-year-old Dolgopolov 1-0 head-to-head, garnering a straight-sets win at the 2013 U.S. Open. Dzumhur, seeded No. 6, has been playing the best tennis of his career (18-3) over the last two months, reaching the semifinals at Los Cabos, the final at Winston-Salem and winning his maiden ATP Tour title at St. Petersburg last week. The 25-year-old Bosnian, now ranked a career-best No. 40 with the win in Russia, had beaten top seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals yesterday, but didn’t have enough answers against a dialed-in Dolgopolov in the second semifinal tonight. Dolgopolov served superbly, hitting eight aces, while winning 89 percent of his first service points and saving all three break points. The two cat-quick combatants engaged in numerous baseline rallies, replete with backhand slice and wicked angles. It was all very entertaining stuff. Dolgopolov captured the only breaks of the match in the fourth game of the opening set and the ninth of the second. He wrapped things up in a tidy one hour and 12 minutes. “He had an unbelievable run so I knew he was going to make me play a lot of balls,” Dolgopolov said of his opponent. “I was really lucky to serve well today.” Goffin is rounding into peak form after missing several months this summer due to an ankle injury suffered at the French Open. “I’ll try to play more aggressive maybe,” Dolgopolov said of his matchup with the Belgian. “David is for sure a solid player. It’s nice to see him back on this level. I’ll just go and fight.”

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