Archives for October 2021

The ATP race is on for the men

Novak Djokovic

As fall rolls on and we come to near the end of the tennis year, there will be some players want to go home. But there are also the intense competitors who want to grab a lot of match wins. For the wonderful player sho have already made it into the ATP Finals, or have previously gone deep, or won it, so they were thrilled to continue playing.

Coming up in November, there will be some huge tournaments. Yes, Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and Andrey Rublev are already in, while Matteo Berrettini is likely to get in, too. Then, there also are Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner [read my article on] and Hubert Hurkacz, just 110 points away rom qualifying. However, Hurkacz just lost in the first round in Vienna against Andy Murray, so he will have to push it hard in Paris next week.

Cameron Norrie is also close to getting into the ATP Finals, too. Whoever makes it, it will be a great draw.

Here is a funny story: When Norrie went to the restaurant in 2018 at Indian Wells, he saw Dominic Thiem and Juan Martin Del Potro together, eating the same meal day after day. The Brit — who hadn’t been very high in the singles, yet — Norrie was a bit startled. The same meal after practicing or playing, munching pasta.

 “I went the first night. They told me Dominic Thiem and Juan Martín del Potro won the tournament here and they ate here every night. So, I said I would come back if I win,” Norrie said. “I came back and had five or six nights in a row there. The same meal on match days. I mixed it up on the other days. I am usually never like that.”

Norrie won the 2021 Indian Wells, the first time he had won such a 1000 title. Finally he nailed it. “Maybe it did work this week,” he said. He sure did.

Stan Wawrinka, who has won three Grand Slams, is aging and he pulled out the rest of the year. Another two fantastic players, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, who are also hurt and have stopped in 2021.

So now it is up to Djokovic —if he actually plays at the ATP Finals, to carry the torch for the veterans. He has won it five timesMedvedev (who won it last year), Tsitsipas (also he won it in 2019), Zverev (who grabbed it in 2018).

But, the ATP Finals is a demanding assignment. Just ask about Thiem, who reached the final at the ATP Finals the last two times, and he was so close at the end of the third set. But he couldn’t do it. As he said, “I just not good enough.”

Paula Badosa and Cameron Norrie win Indian Wells

Paula Badosa

At the start of the tournament, at Indian Wells, who would have thought that Paula Badosa and Cameron Norrie would win the event? It was almost impossible. Neither of them had won a big tournament, and they were not in the top 25. Watching them, they looked pretty good, but not spectacular.

Then in the desert, it changed. Before that, they could be very effective, or they could space out and lose.

The Spaniard Badosa really worked each day, practicing, and adding to her game. In the final, she edged Vika Azarenka 7-6 in the third set. It took over three hours, but she was still so composed.

“I’ve learned this week is that nothing is impossible. If you fight, if you work, after all these years, you can achieve anything. And to dream,” Badosa said. “Sometimes you have tough moments. In my case I have been through tough moments. I never stopped dreaming. That’s what kept me working hard and believing until the last moment.”

She can leap side to side, she can create points and decide to push close to the lines, and she can be forceful. Badosa decided that she did not want to let down, but to think about each second. Even if she missed an easy shot, on the next point, she can turn it around. She is not perfect, but she is booming.

“This year I had, of course, a roller-coaster year, disappointments and everything. But after all I’ve been through in my life, it wasn’t disappointment. That’s the good part,” she said. “When you suffer a lot, when you’re young, when you have a little bit of disappointment, you don’t feel it like that. So that’s the good part of what happened this year. Of course, I have bad moments. But compared to the things I’ve been through, it’s nothing. Of course, every morning I wake up, and my dream is to win a tournament like this or to win a Grand Slam. That keeps me motivated to keep working and to always believe.”

The 26-year Norrie is not too old, or too young. He is in the middle of the road. But he put his foot on the gas, and he won it, hands down. At Indian Wells, he won six matches, with four three-setters. In the third set, he was bolted. In the final, he smashed Nicola Basilashvili when he was the most challenged.

Three weeks ago, he reached the final in San Diego, beating Daniel Evans, Denis Shapovalov and Andrey Rublev before falling to Casper Ruud. All good players, and Norrie thought he was so consistent.

Last year, he was OK, but he could not beat many of the top players. However, he continued to work a lot and this season, he has won 47 wins, on the hardcourts, on the clay and the grass. He knows that it took him a few more years, because before he started at the ATP, he went to college, at  Texas Christian University. Then in 2016, it was time to play against all the big boys.

But to win at Indian Weeks, he was impressive.

“It’s a little bit surprising. Starting the tournament, you’re a little bit nervous, you’re not really sure, not used to the conditions,” Norrie said. “You’re not feeling good. I had a couple of tough matches early on, especially against Bautista. I think that was my toughest match. Physically that match was rough.

“It just shows if you stick around in these big events, obviously it was pretty miraculous that all the top guys lost, and when I looked at the four semifinalists, Hmm, it’s a good opportunity here. Didn’t really want to get too far ahead of myself.

“In the past, a little bit with my experience, being on the tour four years now, I was very calm in the bigger moments and I played unbelievable, my best tennis, against Diego [Schwartzman] and Grigor [Dimitrov] in the quarters and semis. Those were huge matches for me.”

At Indian Wells: the tall Americans step up

John Isner

In Indian Wells, there will be some terrific hardcourts matches. It is dancing in the streets in the ATP and WTA 1000s.

Two of U.S. men are seeded: Reilly Opelka and John Isner. The tall man Isner has gone deep there a few times. Opelka hasn’t done that yet, but over the past year, his game has improved enough to make a move in the desert.

Both want to show that their backhands are decent, but not great and have improved with more consistency and with variety. Their returns need to jump up a level. Of course, they can crack their forehands.

Isner has been around for a long, long time, and his serve and his forehand are rattling, but his backhand at the net can be mediocre. He has tried, but not improved enough, which is why he has never reached the finals at the Grand Slams.

There other American men are not in the top 32, but some have pushed up towards into the top 50. Marcos Giron could reach into the top 50 pretty soon. He is aggressive and now he believes in himself.

There are a lot of the Americans who are talented, but can they crack into the top 10 next year? If so, then right now, they should be able to show all the fans in the biggest stadium in California, such as Taylor Fritz, Sebastian Korda, Frances Tiafoe, Mackenzie McDonald, Tommy Paul, Jenson Brooksby and Brandon Nakashima.

Serena Williams isn’t here, nor is Sofia Kenin, both of them were hurt in September. But there are a few women who possibly can go very deep, such as Cori Gauff, Daniela Collins, Jessica Pegula (who just beat Sloane Stephens), and Jennifer Brady

The teenager, Gauff, starts out great in the first three to four rounds, but when after that, she has been a little bit tired, mentally. Physically, she can play for hours, but at times, she overthinks. It is true, though that Serena when she started to play in 1997, she was good, but not great, yet. She admits that. But two years later, she rose way up, thinking and learning constantly. At the 1997 US Open, she won it, her first Grand Slam. After that, she won 22 more major titles, which is phenomenal.

Gauff can eventually win a Slam, but she has yet to win a gigantic tournament, especially one like Indian Wells.

Perhaps Pegula can continue to beat the top players, as does Collins. They have to continue to change it up and develop more weapons.

It would be surprising that some other good Americans can win it all, but there are some people who are digging it like Amanda Anisimova. She has not played that great this year, but the 20-year-old become more self-consistent and thoughtful over the past month.

Canadian Leylah Fernandez reached the US Open final, running fast and she goes for it a lot. She loves to hit it on court and kiss the lines. Young players have to be aggressive, and Fernandez is a great example of that.

Muguruza & Ruud win the titles at Chicago & San Diego

Garbine Muguruza

There are times when Garbine Muguruza disappears. She doesn’t hit with enough depth, which just adds to her mental struggles. However, this year she has become very focused; when she hits a bad error, she forgets it, and moves on.

On Sunday, Muguruza beat Ons Jabeur 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 to win at the inaugural Chicago Fall Tennis Classic
Going into the match, the Spaniard realized she would just have to suck it up and continue to raise her game. By the third set, she was locked in.

“We’ve played recently, this year at Wimbledon, and it was a very tough match, and I knew that she’s having one of the best seasons that a player can have. I was prepared, I went out there with all the fighting spirit in the pocket,” Muguruza said. ”She was playing amazing in the first set, and my level was not at what it should be to play against her. I slowly found a space in the second set to break and to get that one, and force a decider. That gave me the extra confidence I needed, and also the energy to go and get the trophy.”

Muguruza has won two Grand Slams at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. When she finds her focus, she was one of the best players out there. After those major victories she did not understand why she couldn’t be much more consistent. She is fast, and she can bash the ball, with her forehand and backhand. When she is on fire, she can mix it up, and be very patient. Now the No. 6 has a chance to contest at the WTA Final once again, and then maybe she can beat all of them. When she is on, which is certainly possible. As long that she can be totally driven.

Ruud gets fifth 2021 crown
Norwegian Casper Ruud won a title, too, grabbing the San Diego title. In the final, he played almost perfectly, crushing Cameron Norrie 6-0, 6-2. He is getting better all the time.

“It’s a fun thing to say it, but obviously Daniil [Medvedev] and Novak [Djokovic] have bigger titles, so I wouldn’t mind switching up with them if I had an opportunity to switch five 250s to three Slams and a 250 Novak has,” He said. “It’s a bit higher level, but that’s fine. I think that’s more impressive obviously than five 250s, but I will take it,” Ruud said, “It would be fun to end the year with the most titles, I cannot lie about that.”

The 22-year-old is now ranked No. 10. In San Diego, he put down Andy Murray, Lorenzo Sonego, Greg Dimitrov and Norrie. In July, he started to play much better, winning Geneva, Bastad, Gstaad and Kitzbuhel. He is in the top 10 and leads the ATP Tour with five crowns in 2021..

“I tried to be playing really good in finals knowing it’s now or never. This is the time to bring your ‘A’ game,” Ruud said. “This year I’ve been perfect in finals, five of five and playing against good players in all of them.”

Ruud really admires with Rafa Nadal, who he has hit with him more than a few times. He also likes another top player, Dominic Thiem. Obviously Nadal is the king of clay and Thiem grew up on it. Nadal and Thiem figured out to excel on hard courts. Ruud is paying attention, winning his first of six titles on the San Diego hard courts.

“Nadal is the perfect example and I think also Thiem a little bit,” Ruud said. “I think the general media has considered both Nadal and Thiem (as) you know big-time clay court specialists and Nadal has won even two times in Wimbledon. So it just goes to show that it’s possible for the heavy topspin players to play well on the surface.”