Murray In Rome, Practises With Djokovic

Andy Murray is not competing in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia this week, but the former World No. 1 is at the Foro Italico to train with the best players in the world.

The 33-year-old has not played a tournament since Rotterdam in early March due to a left groin injury. But he has mixed it up with some of the ATP Tour’s biggest stars at the Foro Italico, including World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Diego Schwartzman.

“I haven’t seen him in a while, and it was great to hit with him. I thought he played very well on the court,” Djokovic said. “He moves well, considering it’s clay, which is not the best surface for his hips. But considering what he has been through lately, I think it seems like he’s been feeling well on the court. That’s what he’s saying, and that’s what it appears on the court itself.

“We had a nice chat and had a few laughs on the court as well. It was just great. It brought back the old times when we spent a lot of time on the court together, whether it was training or playing against each other.”

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Rafael Nadal Named 2021 Laureus Sportsman Of The Year

Rafael Nadal reached the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open on Thursday, but that was not his only victory of the day. Later in the evening the Spaniard was announced as the 2021 Laureus Sportsman of the Year.

Nadal also claimed the prestigious award in 2011 and was a nominee in 2009, 2014, 2018 and 2020. The other nominees this year were Joshua Cheptegei, Armand Duplantis, Lewis Hamilton, LeBron James and Robert Lewandowski.

“I want to say thank you very much from the bottom of my heart to the Laureus Academy. I have had some amazing competitors,” Nadal said. “The rest of the sportsmen probably deserve the trophy the same as me, but this was the year for me and I can’t be happier.

“Winning the French Open and equalling the 20th Grand Slam of Roger Federer has been an unforgettable moment. It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It’s something very special after all the history we have had together on and off court.

“The pandemic that we are facing is something unprecedented and I want to send a message of support to all the families that have suffered or lost somebody.”

The Spaniard received a message of congratulations from WTA legend Martina Navratilova.

“What can I say to you that hasn’t been told to you by countless others? But, for me, watching you play, watching you compete for every point as if it is match point, your total and utter commitment to the sport, your professionalism is off the charts,” Navratilova said. “People will be writing books about you so that they can teach others to do what you have done so well for, now almost 20 years. So, I salute you, I respect you, I love watching you play and I hope you never quit so you can win, maybe 30 Roland Garros titles. Anyway, congratulations.”

Chang: The Hate Against Asian-Americans Has To Stop

In commemoration of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, American legend Michael Chang penned a poignant essay urging unity and calling for the end of racially motivated hate crimes.

Chang, who was born in Hoboken to parents from Chinese Taipei, also wrote about the way mistrust and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 has fueled the recent wave of violent crime and discrimination against the AAPI community in the US.

It’s a subject that Chang knows all too well, as he recalled being on the receiving end of racially motivated discrimination during a recent outing with his wife Amber Liu Chang.

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Chang is best known for his 1989 run to the French Open title at 17 years old, and his International Tennis Hall of Fame career includes 34 tour-level singles titles. The former World No. 2 has also been the long-time coach of Kei Nishikori.

Read this excerpt below from Chang’s essay penned for USTA.com.

These hate crimes are incredibly disturbing to me, an Asian-American born and raised in the United States. My parents are in their late seventies and, just like everyone else in this COVID-19 pandemic, have taken many precautions to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community from contracting the virus. But now, even with vaccinations being made more available and COVID-19 infection numbers falling, they have a new fear and concern: racial hate crime.

I understand that this pandemic has not been easy for anyone. Many of us have lost someone that matters or been sick ourselves. And we have all had to make changes and sacrifices in our lives which we never envisioned in order to do our part to stop the spread of this terrible virus. But unfortunately, some individuals have targeted their frustration and anger, choosing to place blame for this pandemic on my fellow Asian-Americans. I’ve experienced this type of discrimination firsthand. Recently, when walking into my local Walmart with my wife (thankfully without our kids), a man told me to, “Go back to China—you brought the coronavirus here!”

My wife and I were shocked and immediately replied, “Excuse me?” He made another similar comment and walked away. My first thought was, “Wait, I was born and raised in the United States just like you.” But even if I had been born and raised in China, would that make me worthy of harassment? As I have come to realize, ignorance doesn’t always recognize what is true, and the truth often remains unseen—particularly when there is so much misinformation being shared around us.

While I know that people sometimes make comments without thinking or out of ignorance, we are seeing that kind of ignorance taken to another level entirely—that of violence upon completely innocent people—and this is unacceptable. Every day, we all see the disturbing images and video clips of these hate crimes all around the U.S. It HAS to stop because it only results in shattered lives.

Visit USTA.com to read Chang’s full essay.

Munar & More Hit The Books: ATP Players Pursuing Higher Education

Jaume Munar had a busy start to April, and not just because he reached back-to-back finals in Spain.

On the court, the 23-year-old impressed on home soil at the Marbella ATP Challenger Tour and ATP 250 events. But off court, Munar was busy taking on an even bigger challenge: hitting the books and going back to school.

Munar is one of an ever-growing number of players pursuing higher education during their playing careers. Through partnerships with top global institutions including the University of Palermo, Indiana University East and Coursera, the Tour offers members a variety of remote educational opportunities in English and Spanish.

“During the pandemic, I had a lot of time. I spent hours and hours reading and watching movies, watching TV, and at one point I stopped and said, ‘Why don’t I use this time to do something really useful?’” Munar told ATPTour.com. “That’s when I looked at the ATP benefits that we have as players, and one of them was Coursera.”

Coursera, a massive open online course provider featuring world-class universities and companies including Yale, the University of Michigan, Google and IBM, gave Munar an opportunity to dip his toes back into education by studying topics he was interested in. The Spaniard wasn’t the only one who used the Tour’s downtime for studying: in 2020, more than 100 current and former players enrolled in Coursera courses.

Among them was New Zealand’s Marcus Daniell, who told ATPTour.com that he founded his charity platform High Impact Athletes in November 2020 after completing one particularly inspiring course.

“I’d actually used Coursera in the past for a few things and knew it was very accessible,” Daniell said. “The Effective Altruism class I took definitely reinvigorated my passion for giving back, and was the kick in the bum I needed to get something like HIA started.”

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For Munar, the experience inspired him to go on to finish his undergraduate degree in Economics, which he first began after finishing high school. The 23-year-old started at the University of Palermo, one of the top-ranked universities in Latin America, with a full-time course load in April.

“When I have the brain focussed on the studies, on the class, on the lesson I have, it’s something that really helps me to get out of tennis and take a break from this,” Munar said. “We are at the tennis club all day. The whole day, [we are] just watching the little yellow ball.

“It’s always beautiful to learn something that’s not just the same thing, and to open your mind to something new. I think it’s beautiful for everyone.”

Through the partnership, the University of Palermo offers scholarships towards a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and short courses in Spanish to ATP members. All of the learning is done online, which allows players to complete a subsidised and globally-recognised education alongside their full-time work and travel schedules in tennis.

Since the partnership’s inception in July 2020, eight current players, including Munar and Francisco Cerundolo, have enrolled in degree programmes. Bruno Echagaray is a former player who has also done so.

Rajeev Ram is one of the players who has completed an online degree at Indiana University East, which offers ATP members scholarships, flexibility and their own academic advisor to assist with all parts of their experience. In addition to these partnerships, the Tour supports and assists players in finding educational opportunities that can better prepare them for life after tennis.

Recently, a cohort of seven players including Pablo Andujar and Matthew Ebden joined Harvard Crossover into Business, a semester-long program in which professional athletes are matched with Harvard Business School Master of Business Administration student mentors. The programme helps better prepare athletes for business activities during and after their sports careers through discussions and analysis of case studies, which empowers them to make better business decisions.

“I’m very happy because what we did were real cases and I think the fact that we were talking about it and debating a lot with our mentors, it helped me a lot and gave me new ideas,” Andujar said. “To have these kinds of people [explain] how to manage these cases is something very important and something that is difficult to have. For sure this experience will help me achieve other things in the future… I am really thankful.”

Pursuing higher education while competing at the highest level of tennis can seem like a hectic juggling act at first. But for players like Munar, who dedicates an hour and a half to his studies every day, finding the right balance has been a rewarding experience.

“We have to [get used to it]. If you want to study during your tennis career, of course you have to do these kinds of things,” Munar said. “But it’s something beautiful, at least in my opinion, because I have the chance to do so through the ATP and the University of Palermo. It’s beautiful for me to combine these two and not just be focussed on one thing.

“Life is long, but it’s not so long that you can afford to let time pass you by. I like to use every second I have, and I think with these opportunities that the ATP brings us, we can do that.”

Rublev, Federer Visit Famous Sports Venues

People from all around the world watch the ATP Tour’s biggest stars. But this week, Andrey Rublev and Roger Federer were the fans, visiting notable sports venues. 

Rublev, who lost in the quarter-finals of last week’s Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, has remained in Spain. And on Tuesday, the Russian got an inside look at Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona.

“It’s a huge stadium,” Rublev said. “I was watching [matches here] a couple of times live and it’s amazing when it’s a full crowd. It looks like the stadium is never ending.”

The 23-year-old admitted he doesn’t watch every match, but he still enjoys supporting the club.

“When it’s something big, I follow. Like a final of Copa del Rey, for example,” Rublev said. “I wish them all the best. I hope they’re going to win La Liga.”

Federer visited a different kind of arena. The 103-time tour-level champion toured the home of Swiss ice hockey team SC Bern.

NHL stars who have played for the club include John Tavares, Roman Josi and Daniel Briere among others. Federer posted an Instagram story sitting in front of the locker of Thomas Rufenacht.

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Djokovic Withdraws From Madrid

© Corinne Dubreil/ATP Tour

Novak Djokovic is a three-time champion in Madrid.

The World No. 1 lost in the Belgrade semi-finals last week

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the Mutua Madrid Open, the ATP Masters 1000 tournament announced on Wednesday.

“Sorry that I won’t be able to travel to Madrid this year and meet all my fans,” Djokovic said. “It’s been two years already, quite a long time. Hope to see you all next year!”

Djokovic is a three-time Madrid champion, including a victory in the tournament’s most recent edition in 2019. The Serbian last competed one week ago in Belgrade, where he advanced to the semi-finals before losing against breakthrough Russian Aslan Karatsev in a three-hour, 26-minute battle.

The 33-year-old owns a 12-2 record on the season, including a run to his ninth Australian Open title in Melbourne.

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Why Davidovich Fokina Added A Marathon Legend To His Team

Tennis matches are often described as being a ‘marathon’ when they run on significantly longer than normal. It is also commonly said that players should ‘pace themselves’ through a season, rather than ‘sprint’ for a single result.

Tennis expressions frequently borrow wisdom from the world of athletics. But Alejandro Davidovich Fokina has taken it one step further by adding a Spanish marathon legend, Martin Fiz, to his coaching team.

Fiz was the European Champion at Helsinki 1994, World Champion at Gothenburg in 1995 and he finished fourth at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta – all in marathon running. These are just the greatest achievements in the storied career of the Spanish athlete, who joined Davidovich Fokina’s team last December.

The athlete did not hesitate to accept the proposal from Jorge Aguirre, Davidovich Fokina’s coach, which was initially sent to him via Instagram. Fiz, who was on holiday in Marbella, immediately booked a date to take a closer look at the project that captivated him from the outset.

“After seeing the message, we met up and I accepted immediately,” Fiz explained to ATPTour.com. “I thought it was a good offer based on everything Jorge had told me about Alex. There were similarities between their needs and the effort it takes to run a marathon; the strategy, the hard work and never throwing in the towel. A match or a long-distance race can be turned around at any moment.”

Contrary to what might seem obvious, the goal of his addition into the team was not to work on the World No. 48’s stamina. His fitness coach continues to be Cesar Diaz.

“I’m in no doubt that he is very talented physically. In fact, when we did a series of 200-metre races, he beat me,” Fiz said. “Every training session we do together for him is a competition. He’s a winner. He even likes winning in cards, but you have to win matches from start to finish.” 

It is in this area that Fiz has taken the reins. He is known as an authority on sport, a champion with a culture of sacrifice as his hallmark. His main goal is to fine-tune Davidovich Fokina’s mental game.

“I’m the link between his psychologist and his fitness coach. But fundamentally, I focus on the psychological side because I come from a tough sport where you have to work hard, where there are ups and downs, and that’s what I try to transmit to Alex,” Fiz explained.

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Davidovich Fokina’s coach understood that a voice with experience in an event as demanding as the marathon would add quality to the team. Above all, Aguirre aims to fight against a negative quality that all too often plagues the hopes of youngsters: immediacy.

“The tendency is currently for young people to be very focussed on the short term,” Aguirre said. “They look for immediate results. As soon as they work extra hard or make a sacrifice, they want to see the results straight away. But tennis is actually a long-distance race, long term, and you have to take it week by week. So I thought that the mentality of a number one marathon runner might help us.” 

Over telephone calls, video calls and WhatsApp messages, Davidovich Fokina and his team maintain constant contact with Fiz while on the ATP Tour.

“Alex is a 21-year-old player who is like a wild horse, pure energy and sometimes he wants things to happen too quickly,” Aguirre said. “He needed help understanding that there is a process. Martin brings us his experiences from outside of tennis, which can be really useful to us if we use them correctly.”

But what is the key message that Fiz wants to transmit to Davidovich Fokina?

“The only thing I repeat to him is to believe in himself in difficult moments, to continue even if he loses a set,” Fiz responded. “You have to keep going. I want him to be mentally tough, to have a strong mind. When I weigh it up, I always put much more emphasis on the mental side than the physical.”

Few can understand the culture of sacrifice like a marathon runner and this is the picture Fiz tries to paint in every conversation with Davidovich Fokina: “When he sits in his chair in a match, I want him to see the image of Fiz working like a dog in 40 degrees in a marathon and having to carry on. That’s what I want to transmit and what he is currently fighting for.” 

This and the work that he has already been doing with the whole team has started to bear its fruit in early 2021. The Andalusian has climbed to a career high No. 48 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, reached his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and boasts a positive win-loss record (10-7).

“He’s improved the quality of his footwork, his strike is more stable on the forehand and he’s serving better,” Aguirre said. “A series of circumstances have presented themselves and he’s ambitious, he’s hungry to make his mark on tour. I think he is confident enough to make a name for himself little by little.”

Nishikori Withdraws From Estoril

© Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Kei Nishikori has an 8-8 record in 2021.

Carballes Baena into the draw as a lucky loser

Kei Nishikori withdrew from the Millennium Estoril Open on Tuesday, citing a right abductor injury.

“I am very disappointed to have to withdraw from Estoril. I came here early, took some days off and then had two very good days of practice,” Nishikori said in a statement. “Yesterday, unfortunately, I stepped wrong and hurt my right abductor. We are doing checks and do not think it is serious, but unfortunately will not be ready to play a match in the next 48 hours.

“I wish Joao and the team a great tournament and hope to be able to come back here at some point in the future.”

Roberto Carballes Baena will replace Nishikori in the draw as a lucky loser and play two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson in the second round.

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Sinner Breaks Into Top 20 For First Time

#NextGenATP Jannik Sinner has broken into the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time today at No. 19.

The Italian has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past few years, going from an unranked pro in February 2018 to his Top 100 breakthrough on 28 October 2019, shortly before he drew the attention of the tennis world with his dazzling performances to capture the Next Gen ATP Finals title.

Under the guidance of the vastly experienced Riccardo Piatti since the age of 13, and his second coach, Andrea Volpini, Sinner has been able to absorb the very best information and has long shown a maturity that belies his 19 years of age.

“Things are happening quite fast at the moment,” said Sinner, ahead of this week’s Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. “I have a very good team behind me, and each member knows what they have to do, so that gives me confidence. Everyone has a lot of experience working with many players. I try to improve every day, which is my main goal, and the results will come. I am happy with what I am doing.

“Being a champion is a long, long road. It’s still a long way away… [I’ve made] a good start being 19 years old and playing at the highest level, but I don’t think about being a champion at the moment.”

Last year, Sinner reached his first Grand Slam championship quarter-final at Roland Garros and went on to claim his first ATP Tour title at the Sofia Open (d. Pospisil). He impressed Rafael Nadal so much that the Spanish superstar asked Sinner to be his quarantine training partner in Australia earlier this year.

The Monte-Carlo resident got first-hand knowledge of Nadal’s work ethic and went on to capture his second crown at the Great Ocean Road Open (d. Travaglia) in February. He recently advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Miami Open presented by Itau (l. to Hurkacz).

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Novak Djokovic, who was coached by Piatti at a similar age to Sinner, offered the 62-year-old coach a few tips on Wednesday after the World No. 1 had beaten the teenager at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. “Jannik realises that the process is long,” said Piatti, who also coached former World No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic from the age of 17 in 1997 until the Croatian’s retirement in 2012. “His potential is very good, but he must continue to develop all areas of his game, learn by watching the best players, and develop his consistency each week.”

Last week, Djokovic praised Sinner, saying: “I think he’s very talented player. He has already established himself at [a] high level in the men’s game, playing [a] Masters [1000] final [and] winning a couple of tournaments already.

“What impresses me the most is his professionalism, his dedication to the everyday routines that he has to endure in order to play at such high level… He really has a good mindset. He seems more mature for his age than the rest of the guys with the way he’s playing and training. He’s got a good tempo. From the baseline, he makes the other guy feel he’s got to run a lot.

“I like his game. I think he has an all-around game. He can play equally well on all the surfaces, which he has proven. Obviously, there’s always things to improve. But he’s in good hands… I’m sure a bright future is ahead of him.”

Following his loss to Djokovic, Sinner joined Piatti the next day on the practice courts at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, trying to improve. Today, Sinner is the Italian No. 2, behind No. 10-ranked Matteo Berrettini, and the youngest player in the Top 80. 

Federer To Play At Geneva & Roland Garros

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Roger Federer will compete in Geneva and at Roland Garros this clay-court season.

The Swiss last played on clay at Roland Garros in 2019

Roger Federer announced on social media Sunday that this clay-court season he will compete in the Gonet Geneva Open and Roland Garros.

“Hi everyone! Happy to let you know that I will play Geneva and Paris,” Federer tweeted. “Until then, I will use the time to train. Can’t wait to play in Switzerland again.”

In March, 39-year-old Federer competed at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, marking his first tournament since the 2020 Australian Open. Last year, he underwent two arthroscopic right knee surgeries. Federer last played on clay at 2019 Roland Garros.

Federer last played in his home country in Basel in 2019, when he claimed his 10th title at that tournament. The Laver Cup was in held in Geneva in 2019, when Federer defeated Nick Kyrgios and John Isner to help lead Team Europe to victory.

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