ATP Finals begins in Turin, Italy

Jannik Sinner
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Both predictions were written before play started.

Jannik Sinner over Stefanos Tsitsipas
On Sunday, at the ATP Finals, two of them will start in the first match when  Jannik Sinner will face Stefanos Tsitsipas. It will play in Turin’s Pala Apitour, in Italia. It will be very interesting, during eight days, whether the court is respectable, and very intense.
Clearly, the No. 1 Novak Djokovic is favored, but he has lost once and a while, during the year, so any the seven players can play excellent, and up set him.

They will start though in the first match when the Italian, Sinner, will continue to rise even smarter. He has had a terrific fall, smashing his forehand, his backhand, and with his hard first serve.  However, the 22-year-old has beat Tsitsipas two times, but he also lost five times, so with the rallies, he has to much more consistent.

Yes, the Greek Tsitsipas has had a good, but not great year, but when he is healthy, he can really turn it on.

“Hopefully it’s something positive for me trying to have a great connection with the crowd and hopefully I can handle it and handle the situation with the right mentality, because I feel I have a little bit more pressure, which is a very positive sign for me,” Sinner said. “His strength is the serve and his high intensity. He puts a lot of intensity on the court.”

Tsitsipas  came so close to win a Grand Slam, but he has yet to do it. Perhaps, next year, he can improve at the net, and his return, with more depth. What he has done, though, it when he is locked in, he can bash the ball, point after point. Four years ago, in 2019, he won  the  ATP Finals champion in London, and he played tremendous. He has to do it again, quickly. The 25-year-old, Tsitsipas, thinks that Sinner has matured, a lot.

“He tends to play very fearless tennis and he moves very well,” said Tsitsipas. “He has improved his movement a lot and his consistency in his shots. I do believe that he’s a very athletic player. Not very [muscular], not very heavy. He has that lightness about him when he covers the court. He has very good abilities and talent when it comes to feeling the ball and getting behind it.”

Sinner won’t try to do that, however, in Italy, on the court, he might be extremely nervous, to start. But he does know that when he can really focus, and really control it, then in the third set, be will attack on the lines. Sinner will win it 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Novak Djokovic over Holger Rune
It is hard to say whether Rune is feeling healthy on the court. Without a doubt, when he is feeling really terrific, and then he can control it, and mix it up, too. However, Djokovic knows almost everything, and he has played for many, many years. He has beaten everyone, the top players, time and time again. However, they have played each other four times, and Djokovic and Rune split it.

In Paris, he beat him 6-4 in the third in the quarters against Rune. He looked pretty good, as on the clay and the grass, the 20-year-old Dane won some impressive matches, but on the hard courts, he skidded. He is still getting better, this year, and his return and his first serve needs to improve, but his backhand is fantastic.

He will jump up and down, and try to attach with his heavy forehand, but Djokovic is still better, and he will win it 6-3, 6-4.

Will Stefanos Tsitsipas become No. 1?

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Stefanos Tsitsipas may actually end the year at No. 1. He has had a very good year, but not phenomenal. The reason Tsitsipas could jump into the top slot is the current No. 1. Carlos Alcaraz got hurt in Paris and has stopped playing the rest of the year. Had he actually played in Turin, then almost for sure, he would have stayed No. 1 at the end of 2022.

Tsitipas has to win all his ATP Finals matches to ascend to the holy grail of No. 1. That streak will have to include Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Novak. Djokovic in the Red Group.

That will be difficult, because in 2021, he was injured and he could not sustain that level. But when he is on, he can be sprited. In 2019, he won it at the ATP Finals in London edging Dominic Thiem in three tough sets. He wants to do it again. Next week the current No. 3 needs to nail more winners to take down all comers.

In Paris, the Greek was so close to beating Novak Djokovic in three amazing sets. But the former No. 1 hit some incredible shots. Tsitsipas could have put it away with great shots close to the corners and deep, but he became confused right at the end and he went down 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4). He was frustrated,

This year, Tsitsipas won two titles in Mallorca and Monte Carlo. Yes, he took down some of the best players. But he lost to the top 15 a good amount.

“I unfortunately played just one match and I didn’t really have the opportunity to show my real game out there,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m really excited to be playing in Italy. The Italians are really passionate when it comes to tennis. They put a lot of their energy out on the courts and the stadiums. They have a great culture in tennis the last couple of years. They’ve always loved my game, they’ve always greeted me very nicely. They have a sort of different aura when it comes to the game, which I appreciate a lot.”
When he finishes a match, then he can go home at a hotel, and he can think about where he is. He studies the matches, what he did, and also, did he do it the right way, or was it all wrong?

“I do chase [ranking] points a lot,” he said. “I know they are very important. I understand their value, what they can offer in terms of a ranking upgrade or having a better season than the ones before. I calculate, of course, I try to use my mind to improve in terms of points, things like defending and all that stuff.”

If he makes to reach the semis, then he might face Rafa Nadal, Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime or Taylor Fritz. The three young players are right there, ready to win it for the first time, in front of the massive crowds.

However, Djokovic has won it five times. The 21-Grand Slam-winner Djokovic is biting his lips, ready to crush all comers. Tsitsipas is doing that too, possibly in a secret. Right now, when it is super close, he has go for the lines and smash another winner. He cannot hold back.

What a great year by American Brandon Nakashima, who won the Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan. He beat Jiri Lehecka in the final. He also won San Diego. Next year, the fast hitter has a good chance to get into the top 30 soon. Now, he is very confident.

The Next Generation ATP Finals started a few years ago. The 21-and-under, format has included winners some of whom are now in the top 10. The winners were Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Tsitsipas and Chung Hyeon. The runner-up were Andrey Rublev, Alex de Minaur and Sebastian Korda. I think it is pretty obvious that when you see them play, they are already moving fast, with some terrific strokes. Yes, they have to improve their consistency, but if they keep on it, then for sure, they will beat some of the high players. They already have.

The Pick, May 14: Nadal faces Isner in Rome, where both feel confident


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Rafa Nadal vs. John Isner, Round of 16, Rome, May 14

Remember way back when in 2011 when Isner was still rising and in the first round against Nadal, they faced off at Roland Garros and nearly stunned him, but the Spaniard overcame the American 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4. Nadal made a deep breath and went on to win the tournament.

Isner lost, but he was pleased overall because he showed the world that on clay, he had potential. Since then, the now 30-year-old Isner has had some good wins on clay, most notable against Roger Federer at Davis Cup, wiping the Swiss. Last year in Paris he upset Tommy Robredo in the third round in four sets before losing to Tomas Berdych.

He hasn’t gone deep at the biggest clay tournaments and he has had a couple brutal losses. In 2012 in the first round at Roland Garros, he fell to Paul-Henri Mathieu 18-16 in the fifth set. He was so exhausted that he could barely walk. The next year in 2013 he was right there against Tommy Robredo, but he couldn’t grasp it and lost 10-8 in the fifth. He was disgusted.

But even though he can get down on himself, he will keep trying. This year, he started slow but after kicking himself after losing against Great Britain at the Davis Cup, by March he was moving faster and he was more composed. He looked pretty good at Indian Wells and Miami and with the exception of Houston, he was been fairly consistent on the clay, beating Steve Johnson and Victor Troicki in Monte Carlo before going down to Nadal. In Madrid, he won three matches, including beating the rising Nick Kyrgios before losing to Tomas Berdych.

Here in Italy, he has already won two matches, besting Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (6) 6-4 on Wednesday. While Nadal is 5-0 against him, Isner has hung around, such as in Monte Carlo last month, which was fairly close.

But can Isner actually beat him? Yes he has a real shot but he must play as well as he can and somehow, someway, when he is returning, he has to attack the second servers extremely deep or on the lines. He knows that Nadal can dig out everything and if he is on and he is feeling good he will dare his foes, running as fast as he can and retrieve massive shots in the corners. He can be super-steady and chase down anything, That is very difficult for Isner but he can boom aces and easily hold him.

Coming into this week, Isner’s service games won are at 96%, which is fantastic, but on the other side at the return games won, it’s 9%. Ouch.

As long as the points go on and on and Nadal will be quiet pleased. Nadal can torch Isner’s backhands and pulls him way out wide. The American has a gigantic forehand and is confident enough to dance to his left wide and dictate with his forehand. However, if he isn’t nailing it and Nadal is in control, he will change up his shots and frustrate him.

Nadal did not look great at all in losing in the final of Madrid against Andy Murray. However, he says that last week, overall he played better and he has been more mentally confident at anytime this season. If that’s the case, then he is ready to charge at the final at Rome again. Isner will bring Nadal deep into the third set, but in the end, the Spaniard will come through and grab it in the final tiebreak.

Who is dominating the WTA? Serena Williams, Sharapova, anyone?

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Plus Wozniacki vs. Azarenka in Italy

After January ended, it looked like the WTA’s two top women, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, would go on and on, winning titles and still believing they could cruise on hard courts, clay and grass. But not anymore.

Serena won the Australian Open while Sharapova won Brisbane, as well as reaching the final at the Aussie, which was close. The 28-year-old won both of matches for Russia defeating Poland at the Fed Cup.

But after that, things changed, right up until now in Rome.

Ms. Williams won a match in Fed Cup in Argentina before she got sick. She went to Indian Wells, returning for the first time since 2001, playing pretty darn well but then she was injured and pulled out before the semifinal against Simona Halep. A couple weeks later, she played Miami and overcame Halep in the semis (in a terrific match) and then blitzed Carla Suarez-Navarro. Serena was all good again.

She signed up to play Fed Cup once again and she played her heart out against the Italians and won both of her singles, but in the doubles she and Alison Riske lost quickly. She did not play Stuttgart and last week, Williams fought very hard, somehow besting over Vika Azarenka 7-6 (5) 3-6 7-6 (1). A few days later she finally lost, falling to Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-3 in the semis.

But does that matter and is Serena vulnerable? Perhaps not, and these days she is the favorite here in Rome and in a week and half at Roland Garros. But she is not unbeatable. Why?

Two things: one because last year against Garbine Muguruza in Paris, she was smoked 6-2, 6-2 and the second she walks on court, she will be thinking about it, which could maker her nervous; secondly, while Serena had not lost when she has played an entire match since August in Cincinnati until last week in Madrid, she has retired against Wuhan and withdrew from Beijing and Indian Wells. That matters. When Williams is feeling fine physically, she can wipe out her opponents when she is on. But when she is hurt, well, that is where she could be in trouble. She is 33 years old, you know…

Sharapova has sputtering now, too. She withdrew at Acapulco before the semis because she was sick, she lost in early at Indian Wells against Flavia Pennetta, she shouldn’t have played in Miami because her leg was bruised and she lost to Daria Gavrilova. She pulled out of Fed Cup, tried at Stuttgart but lost to Angie Kerber in three long sets. On Madrid, she played much better overcoming Caroline Garcia and Caro Wozniacki, but then she lost to Sveta Kuznetsova in the semis and while the other Russia was impressive, Maria was sporadic.

No. 3 Sharapova is the Roland Garros champion and she badly wants to win it again, but first things first: she has to beat everyone in Rome (except against Serena, who owns her) to hone her strokes perfectly, fine and true. If she doesn’t, it will be difficult to win a Slam back to back, which the five-time champion have yet to do.

Here is the cool thing on the WTA: no one knows where the wind blows. No. 2 Halep had looked excellent on hard courts beginning in February, winning Dubai and Indian Wells, but she has faltered on clay, losing early at Stuttgart and Madrid. No. 4 Kvitova looked ready to win another major after snagging Sydney, but then she fell fast and didn’t begin to strike the ball inside the lines until last week and she won Madrid.

Everyone wants to rise and most of the top 20 have had at least a week or better, such as Wozniacki, Bouchard (yes, she’s been quiet for a while but she did reach the quarters at the Aussie Open), Ivanovic, Makarova, Petkovic, Kerber and Pliskova, etc. This week in Rome, someone will play fantastic and come very close to winning it, or grabbing it. Some of the others will lose early and dash to Paris.

On the first day Sunday May 24 at Roland Garros, everyone will dream a sweet dream and envision of raising the trophy. But right now, who is a gigantic favorite? Nobody knows.

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Victoria Azarenka, May 13, Wednesday, Rome

This is pretty simple, even though it is an extremely important match: if the Dane has a real chance, she was to move forward quickly or for the third time this year, she will go down quickly. Azarenka dictated her shots from the beginning to the end, out-hitting her forehand, putting away balls at the net and dare her to kiss the lines with her backhand. Wozniacki has beaten Azarenka before on hard courts and knows how to frustrate her, but this is clay and she has admitted that she isn’t confident there. This year, she has to do things differently. Wozniacki has to be patient but when her opponent drops the ball short, she has to rush ahead and attack immediately. Caro’s backhand is by far her best shot so she has to crush it down the lines, crosscourt and very deep down the middle.

Let’s assume that Wozniacki plays the first set brilliantly, but then Azarenka will pound it with her better forehand, win the second set, and in the third set, one would stay true and the other will panic. Azarenka was off on Tuesday, and she won’t play well again. Wozniacki will win in three sets.

Russia’s officially names Fed Cup team vs Italy

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The ITF announced the official team nominations for the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final between Italy and Russia in Cagliari, Sardinia on November 2-3.

The home team will be heavy favorites in the contest, as Russian captain  Shamil Tarpischev was unable to attract any of his top players to the competition for a variety of reasons.

Italian Captain Corridor Barazzutti named world No. 7 Sara Errani, No. 13 Roberta Vinci, No. 31  Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp to his squad.

Russia named 138th-ranked Alexandra Panova, No. 186 Alisa Kleybanova, No. 231  Irina Khromacheva and No. 317 Margarita Gasparyan as his team.

The 24-year-old Panova, whom reached the 2013 Bogota final on clay, is Russia’s 12th highest ranked player. Former top 20 player Kleybanova accepted the invitation, but she is reticent about playing as she is in recovery from Hodgkin’s lymphoma and says she concerned about competing on outdoor red clay at the end of the season.

The teenager  Khromacheva won the Roland Garros junior doubles title in 2012 and has had success on clay on the Futures level. Gasparyan, 19, has won four ITF singles title.

With to player Maria Sharapova out with a shoulder injury, No. 18 Maria Kirilenko would have been Russia’s top player had she chosen to play, but she told that “it was tough decision but due my injures I feel not good enough and I can’t help my team. Team is more responsibility.”

However, Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina chose to play the WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, which also takes place next week. Former Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova declined to play as she has had spats with the Russia tennis Federations. Ekaterina Makarova, who is scheduled to play doubles with Vesnina in Istanbul  and was the hero of Russia’s semifinal win over Japan, is contending with a right wrist injury.