Hanfmann Facing Nadal: 'You Always Have A Chance'

After Yannick Hanfmann lost in the first round at Roland Garros against Rafael Nadal in 2019, he spoke about looking around the stadium and taking in the moment. The guy across the net wasn’t too shabby either. Nadal lost just six games that day.

“These are the toughest challenges in tennis for sure,” Hanfmann said in an interview with the tournament. “And it felt like it today.”

Hanfmann, who played college tennis at the University of Southern California, will get another shot at the legendary lefty on Wednesday in the second round of the Australian Open. His college coach, Peter Smith, is excited to watch from afar.

“To play those guys in majors is quite special,” Smith said. “He has to have the mindset of going out there to win the match, and he can do it. Some things need to go right, but you always have a chance, and he’s got to believe he has a chance.”

Just two weeks ago, Hanfmann was on Team Germany at the ATP Cup. Alexander Zverev had plenty of nice things to say about his countryman.

“I think Yannick is maybe the one who is quietest out of all of us,” Zverev said. “He’s a very good guy, he’s somebody that gets along with everybody well, one of the nicest guys on Tour.”

That does not mean Hanfmann is not a tough competitor. And according to Smith, his former player is a tremendous athlete.

“He knows he’s extremely capable. So if you are doing something with him, you’re playing basketball or we used to play ultimate frisbee, he knows he’s the best on the field. When he is, he’s got a swagger to him,” Smith said. “I just think it’s taken a while for him to get that swagger in tennis. Feeling just comfortable there, that he’s in the right place and can handle all of that.”

Hanfmann has also come through in big moments before with plenty of pressure on him. Smith recalled one moment when the German pulled off a gutsy comeback to help USC clinch the NCAA Championship. In the first round of qualifying last week, he rallied from a set and a break down against Jason Jung.

“In those situations, he’s a quiet fighter. But he is a fighter,” Smith said. “I have seen him in college matches, a national championship match, he was down match point, hit an unbelievable shot, came back and won the match. He has that in him.”

The 30-year-old is not the only former USC men’s tennis star in the Australian Open draw. Steve Johnson beat Jordan Thompson in the first round on Tuesday and Emilio Gomez also qualified for the main draw, losing against former World No. 3 Marin Cilic.

“Incredibly proud [of them]. They’re such incredibly great humans and just to see, you’re just pissed you’re not there,” Smith said. “I’ve been with them on the pro tour and just seeing them there, and they’re plenty good enough. Seeing them have that success, it’s very rewarding.”

Hanfmann will be especially confident after coming through qualifying and dismissing home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round of the main draw. Kokkinakis was in great form after winning his first ATP Tour title on Saturday in Adelaide.

“He is a confident kid, but [it is about] knowing he belongs there. And he does belong there,” Smith said. “You don’t go out and beat Kokkinakis like he did. Kokkinakis is playing great. He’s got the game, that is for sure.”

The World No. 126 will have his work cut out for him against 20-time major champion Nadal. But Hanfmann, a two-time ATP Tour finalist, will give it his best shot.

“You never know, right? You never know. Stranger things have happened and that’s why they play the match,” Smith said. “That’s why they play the game. Rafa’s got to win it.”

Vukic's Journey To His Australian Open Breakthrough

Aleksandar Vukic is a home favourite at the Australian Open, where he earned his first major win against 30th seed Lloyd Harris and will play Moldovan Radu Albot in the second round Wednesday.

Buoyed by the home crowd, the Sydney native tossed his racquet to the court and threw his arms in the air as he rallied from a set down to upset Harris. It marked the biggest win of his young career and signaled the culmination of a long journey to arrive at this moment.

To understand how far Vukic has come and the sacrifices his family has made, flash back to Montenegro in the early 1990s. Vukic’s older brother, Vladimir, was born in Bosnia and by the age of one he had “really bad” asthma. Their parents, Rad and Ljiljana, decided to flee the war.

“All the males over 18 had to be enrolled in the army, but my dad didn’t want to go and get killed. They were living in Sarajevo at the time and this was the heart of the war. My brother and my mom were able to leave,” Vukic said. “They would hear bullets outside their home, so it was too dangerous and they were sending all the women and children away. Then my father tried to escape too and made it to the airport.

“There was a plane leaving and he blended in with another family and managed to get out of there. Eventually they got their visas and made it to Australia.”

According to ‘Aleks’, his parents moved to Australia “with nothing”. They only had about $1,000. Aleks was born in Sydney in 1996.

“It was so tough at first. They struggled to find jobs,” Vukic said. “Now, they are computer engineers and worked their way up from nothing. They are in Australia for almost 25 years now.”

Vladimir, who is six years older than Aleks, began playing tennis aged 10.

“When the older brother plays you want to do even better. That’s how it was. Anytime he would play, I would be there picking up balls. He works in private equity now and here I am,” Vukic said. “I was playing soccer and tennis until I was 13 or 14, but I was missing a few too many soccer practices. I had to make a choice and I just think I was better at tennis.”

Vukic went to Spain to train after high school, but he quickly burned out.

“I was on my own and 17 at the time and realised I wasn’t ready,” Vukic said. “I couldn’t imagine myself traveling the tour full-time at that point. College seemed like a better option.”

The Australian was playing Jared Hiltzik at a Futures event where Brad Dancer, the head coach for the University of Illinois, was in attendance. Hiltzik won the match, but Dancer liked what he saw from Vukic and gave him a business card, saying to get in touch if he was interested in college tennis.

Both Hiltzik and Vukic would attend the University of Illinois, where they both had storied careers. Vukic tallied a 108-19 singles record in his four years and in 2017 was named Big Ten Athlete of the Year.

“I can’t say enough superlatives about him, but I think he’s probably the only guy I’ve ever coached who I feel like across the board at the top has checked all three boxes,” Dancer said. “In terms of academics, he was in one of the most rigorous programmes academically at the university. [His] tennis obviously was off the charts in terms of his commitment to tennis and his results in tennis and the third thing is he is an incredibly social guy.

“He was very involved in the university life, the team life and so forth. It’s very difficult to be at the top in two of those three categories and I think the one thing that stands out to me is he was fully engaged and at the top in all three of those categories.”

In March 2020, Vukic cracked the Top 200 of the ATP Rankings for the first time.

“At first, I didn’t adapt that well. You lose every week if you’re playing top-level tournaments,” Vukic said. “You can go months without losing in college. Then here, you’re losing every week.

“You’re also by yourself and you lose by yourself. Every time I’d lose, I’d feel even worse and get down on myself. Honestly, I didn’t handle it too well. It’s only recently that I’ve gotten better.”

But that did not stop Vukic from continuing to push forward. That determination has helped him rise to his current ATP Ranking of World No. 144, a career-best. He enters the new year on the heels of a late-season surge in 2021, which included a first ATP Masters 1000 match win in Indian Wells and ATP Challenger Tour final appearances in Charlottesville and Champaign. According to Dancer, his perseverance runs in the family.

“His parents are great people, they’re tough people. His dad is really, really tough and I respect the heck out of his father. His dad would push me as a coach, which I always appreciated. Any time parents get involved and want the best for their children, I love that challenge,” Dancer said. “Rad would push me and we’ve got a great relationship I think because of that. I think [Aleks’] stubbornness definitely comes from his dad’s side.”

Vukic now has a big opportunity against qualifier Albot to reach the third round at a Grand Slam for the first time. Dancer spoke to his old charge on Tuesday and is excited to continue following the Australian’s progress.

“If he can stay healthy, I think his mindset is fantastic, he’s invested in himself, he believes in himself. Wins like this can only help,” Dancer said. “We talked this morning about just keeping things simple and trying to back this win up and be ready for tomorrow.”

– Reporting contributed by Josh Meiseles

The Australian Open Moment That Changed Broady's Career

Liam Broady suffered one of his most disappointing defeats at the 2020 Australian Open. After a hard-working preseason, the Briton arrived in Melbourne for qualifying with high expectations. The result? A 3-6, 0-6 defeat against Ilya Ivashka in 73 minutes.

“I was trounced and it was a terrible match. My initial reaction was to go mess about in the city and get up to no good,” Broady told ATPTour.com last year. “The thing was, I had a fantastic preseason leading up to that. I was feeling awful and thinking that it just wasn’t fair. I had done the best preseason of my life and then I won three games in my first match of the year.

“But I was sitting there thinking that going out won’t make me feel better. I’ve done it enough times in my life to realise that.”

It was right then that the lefty decided to make a commitment and fully focus on his career. The “messing about” could wait. He spoke to his longtime coach, David Sammel, to reaffirm that thought.

“I remember telling Dave at the time that I don’t want to talk about the match, but I want to make a commitment to myself and to you that I’ll make the right decisions over the next 12 months. I said that at the end of 2020 we’ll see,” Broady said. “I made the final of the Challenger in Parma and qualified for Roland Garros, which was the first time I qualified at a Slam. I got a few rewards for it. That made me think that I wanted to do it the same way.”

Broady’s career has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Last November, he reached a career-high No. 121 in the ATP Rankings, more than seven years after he cracked the Top 200 as a 20-year-old. The lefty credits his ascent to that change in mindset.

“In all walks of life, sometimes things take longer than you want them to,” Broady said. “It tests your resilience and some people don’t succeed because they fall off at the first hurdle or second hurdle, but these past two years I’ve tried to stay on the track as much as I can. Now I’m getting the rewards.”

Photo Credit: Fresh Focus Swiss
One of the big hurdles Broady successfully navigated was winning his first ATP Challenger Tour title. The Briton lost his first seven finals at that level before finally breaking through in September in Biel, Switzerland. It was seven years on from his first Challenger final, which came in 2014.

That wasn’t the only streak Broady snapped recently. He was unsuccessful in his first 11 attempts to qualify for a major before bringing that to an end at Roland Garros in 2020 (he had previously competed in major main draws as a wild card). Last year in Paris, the Stockport-native won just four games in the second round of qualifying in Paris against Roman Safiullin. But three days ago in Melbourne, Broady rallied from a set and a break down against the same man to reach the main draw.

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Broady is beginning to overcome roadblocks that have stopped him in the past, and he has learned plenty of lessons along the way. What would he tell a younger version of himself who first broke through eight years ago?

“I’d say to try not to let the lows be so low and try not to let the highs be so high. It’s tough because people said that to me at that age, if I commit now and invest in myself then I’ll see it in the future,” Broady said. “But it’s one thing for someone to tell you and another to believe it yourself.”

Read Broady’s Challenger Champion Q&A

The lefty will now get set to face home favourite Nick Kyrgios in the first round. Eleven years ago, he defeated the Aussie in the first round of the Wimbledon boys’ singles event. The path since has not been perfect, but Broady is on the right track.

It is fitting that two years on from one of the most disappointing losses of his career, Broady ended up laying flat on an Australian Open court Friday, full of emotions after one of his biggest wins.

“I feel incredibly overjoyed.”

Did You Know?
Broady began his season by serving as the captain of Great Britain’s ATP Cup team.

– Reporting contributed by Josh Meiseles

Popyrin: Why Family Is Everything To Me

‘Pack up your bag.’

I was a nine-year-old walking out of school in Dubai when my dad told me that. He had spoken to my teacher and said I would be missing the next two weeks to compete in a tournament in Croatia. That was the beginning of it all.

Born in Australia, I started playing tennis when I was quite young. We moved to Dubai when I was eight due to my father’s work. But until that point, I had only played after school. Sometimes I would miss a Friday to compete in a tournament in the United Arab Emirates, but this was different. I had never been to Europe. I had never played on clay. I was happy with missing two weeks of school, but traveling so far for tennis? That was unbelievable!

I was still playing soccer at school and was pretty good at it. I was the striker and the coach, former Premier League player Carlton Palmer, was trying to convince my mom that I should quit tennis. He thought I could make it in soccer, but said I couldn’t do both. My mom told him to come watch me on the tennis court and when he did he was like, ‘Yep, stick to tennis!’

I didn’t know it at the time, but that trip to Croatia would serve as a test from my  to see how my level compared to kids from around the world, including Alex de Minaur and Nicola Kuhn. We packed our bags and me, my mom, dad, my brother, my little sister and my grandma all went to Croatia. Family is everything to me, so as much as I remember some of my matches, I have plenty of stories of car rides like that one with them.

From 10 to 17 we moved to Spain and throughout those years we would travel for three months at a time going from tournament to tournament, from Italy to Slovakia to Slovenia and so on. My brother Anthony, who is a year younger than me, would also be playing the tournaments and my little sister Sonia, who was in kindergarten, would go too. Anthony and I would be in the back of the car being pains in the a**** and my dad, who was driving, would be screaming at us. My mom was there and so was my grandma, who was always solving her Sudoku puzzles during the ride.

We had TVs in the car and at that time we didn’t know how to download movies on the computer. There was no Netflix back then, so we would just watch a couple movies we had and travel across Europe in the car with the whole family.

A lot of the time we would rent a house for a week or two at a tournament. My mom tried to find the cheapest possible option, which was tough because we needed a huge space. There were six of us, and we would have needed three rooms at a hotel. My parents did not want my brother and I to stay in the same room because we would never fall asleep. We would be up until 3 or 4 a.m. and need to be up at 7 a.m. the next morning. We would act crazy! We would stay up all hours just talking, watching sports, YouTube, all that stuff.

We’re the sort of family that likes to stick together and I still enjoy living at home with my parents and my little sister. Looking back at those moments, it was so awesome having the whole family there. I didn’t fully realise this at the time, but my family sacrificed everything to enable my brother and I to chase our dreams.

About a year after that first tournament in Croatia, my parents sold our house in Sydney, where we lived until I was eight. I didn’t see it as a big deal at the time because we didn’t live there, and hadn’t for three years. But that’s a bloody big deal!

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That’s the place in Australia where we called home, where we would have returned if things went wrong. If I suffered an injury or wanted to go back to school, what would have happened? Our safe haven was gone. My family was fully invested in our tennis. Parents are the ones who believe in you the most, and mine showed it in my brother and me.

I always said my brother had more talent and hit the ball better than I did. Unfortunately at 14 he suffered an unlucky injury in the bone on his toe. It took him a year and a half to recover and that set him back. If it wasn’t for his injuries, he would have been where I am too. He’s still my best friend and I’m his best friend. We text every single day and we know that we’re there for each other all the time.

Another thing you should know about me is that I’m super competitive. I’ve never wanted to lose anything, whether it was a game of football, a board game or PlayStation. If I didn’t want to lose in those, you could imagine how competitive I am on the tennis court. I think that competitive spirit shows in my game.

I’ve always had the belief that I was going to become a professional. I never doubted myself for one second. The older I got, the more I understood what goes with being a professional. We’re trying to get to the top, and I adjusted to that. My family adjusted to that, too. They made more sacrifices and I worked harder and focussed more.

When I was 17, I started to break through on the ATP Tour and that is when the pressure came. I had finished juniors, wasn’t making the money to support myself and that is when it hit me. ‘S***, if I don’t make it, then all of this is for nothing.’ You’re on a one-way street from there on out. My dream was to become a professional tennis player and if that didn’t happen, I would have considered it a failure. That was the pressure that I felt the most.

<img src="https://sportblogg.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/popyrin-singapore-2021-sunday-trophy.jpg" alt="Alexei Popyrin owns an 8-2 record in 2021.”>
Photo Credit: Singapore Tennis Open
Last year was the best of my career, winning my first ATP Tour title in Singapore and reaching a career-high No. 59 in the world. I’m working hard every day so that the best is still to come.

The Australian Open is particularly important to me. Not only do I love competing at my home Slam, but that’s where I grew up as a young kid. I still remember sitting in the stands when Lleyton Hewitt beat Marcos Baghdatis in a match that ended at 4:33 a.m. I dreamt of being part of those moments myself one day.

I’ve always loved playing on the big stage. I’ve always believed that when I got there to compete in front of thousands of people, I would feel at home. Now, I truly feel I belong in those moments.

The fact that my parents always believed in me really helped with that. They were always encouraging me and were there whenever I needed them. My mom was travelling with me everywhere and my dad was a phone call away. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it. Yet here I am, and I hope I will continue to make them proud.

– As told to Andrew Eichenholz

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Five Things To Know About Giron, Nadal's Australian Open Opponent

Rafael Nadal, the only former Australian Open champion in the men’s singles draw in Melbourne, will look to get off to a good start on Monday against American Marcos Giron. This will be the pair’s first ATP Head2Head clash.

Before they step inside Rod Laver Arena, ATPTour.com looks at five things you should know about Giron.

Marcos Underwent Two Hip Surgeries
You couldn’t tell by the way he moves around the court, but Giron underwent surgery on his right hip in December 2015 and his left hip in February 2016. Those operations sent Giron outside the Top 750 in the ATP Rankings in October 2016, but he has steadily climbed ever since.

In Antwerp in 2020, Giron qualified and advanced to his first ATP Tour quarter-final. The man he beat to get there, former Top 10 star David Goffin, was surprised to hear the American underwent hip surgeries.

“I didn’t know [about his surgeries], so after two hip surgeries it’s amazing how he’s moving and how strong he is with the legs, moving left and right,” Goffin said. “You couldn’t see that he had surgeries, so I think he had a good surgeon. Second of all he was moving well, he’s strong, you can see that his legs are really strong and he was really solid from the back. I’m happy to hear that he’s playing his best tennis after two tough surgeries.”

Giron Is A Former College Champion
Giron competed from 2012-14 at UCLA in California. The American won the NCAA Singles title in 2014 before turning professional.

The 28-year-old was teammates with Mackenzie McDonald, who is also in the Australian Open singles draw. While rehabbing from his hip surgeries, he served as a volunteer assistant coach at UCLA. At the time, McDonald and another Melbourne competitor, Maxime Cressy, were on the team.

Video Games & Parks
Giron has various off-court interests, including playing video games. The American has travelled with a PlayStation 4 to disconnect and socialise. It was an especially valuable tool for him as tennis returned from its Covid-19 suspension in 2020, as he played games with colleagues in the bubble.

During that year’s US Open, Giron played ‘Fall Guys’ with McDonald, Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul. He was unafraid of admitting that “Fritz is definitely the strongest on the sticks”.

Giron also enjoys spending time outdoors, visiting national parks such as Zion National Park when he can. He also likes skiing and mountain biking.

2021 Was His Best Year Yet
It was going to be tough for Giron to improve on his career-best 2020 season, during which he cracked the Top 100 in the ATP Rankings. But the American did just that in 2021.

Giron advanced to his first ATP Tour semi-final in Sofia, where he defeated Jaume Munar, Alex de Minaur and John Millman. Entering the year, he had only made one tour-level quarter-final. But the American also advanced to the last eight in Halle, Winston-Salem and Metz.

It was also his best campaign at the majors, winning at least one match at three of the four Slams. Giron advanced to the third round at a major for the first time at Roland Garros. He reached a career-high World No. 57 in November.

He Can Make History Against Rafa
Giron owns a Top 10 win (1-6), which came against Matteo Berrettini at the 2020 Rolex Paris Masters. But a victory against 2009 Australian Open Nadal, a 20-time major titlist and former World No. 1, would be the biggest triumph of his career.

The former UCLA Bruin, currently World No. 66, can become the lowest-ranked competitor to beat Nadal Down Under. The legendary Spaniard has lost in the first round of a major just twice — at 2013 Wimbledon against Steve Darcis and at the 2016 Australian Open against Fernando Verdasco.

Nadal, who is chasing a record-breaking 21st major title, has not lost earlier than the quarter-finals at a major since falling in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2017.

Trungelliti Continues Qualifying Streak In Melbourne

When Marco Trungelliti takes to the court, he lives life on the edge. The 31-year-old Argentine can never be written off, even when he finds himself in the deepest of holes, and least of all in a Grand Slam; just when it looks like his chances of winning a match in a Grand Slam qualifier are slipping away, ‘Trunge’ digs deep and relies on his instincts.

That special ‘adrenaline’ carried him through his final-round qualifier at the Australian Open in Melbourne against Damir Dzumhur. The Bosnian was leading 3-1 and had three break points in the final set; he served for the match at 5-4 and was just two points from victory when Trungelliti won a point with a diving volley at the net. It was not the first time he had done so, and it will not be the last.

Eventually, Trungelliti earned a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory to establish himself as a Grand Slam qualifying specialist. In what was his 30th qualification tournament for an event in the category, he achieved his goal for the ninth time (he has only qualified once as a lucky loser; Roland Garros in 2018).

“I’m always recovering from injuries. I don’t have many chances left, that’s why I always give 100 per cent in these tournaments,” explained the Argentine, who is still troubled by a stress fracture in one of his feet. “I give my best because that’s all I know… I push myself to the limit physically, but these tournaments motivate me. Maybe I don’t play the best tennis, but I feel like I deserve to be here at this level,” he tells ATPTour.com.

Trungelliti is not about to rest on his laurels, despite his strong record in qualifying rounds; three times in Melbourne (from 9 attempts), two at the US Open (from 6), three at Roland Garros (from 9) and one at Wimbledon (7). In fact, it’s the third consecutive Grand Slam where the current No. 198 in the ATP Ranking has come through the qualies and he now has a record of 39 wins from 61 matches in Grand Slam qualifying, having reached the final round fourteen times (Q3).

He has more than earned his nickname ‘Qualy-Man’, which they are calling him on social media: “I think it’s funny. I’m happy to have read it and that the expectations on my shoulders haven’t affected me, which isn’t easy… it shows maturity and I’m happy.”

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Is there one particular qualifying tournament that he remembers more fondly than the rest? “There is one that I didn’t get through, but it stayed with me. It was at Roland Garros in 2015. I lost in the third round, I was 7-5, 5-2 up and serving. But I folded and that hurt. It helped me approach them with a different mentality after that,” he says before underlining his philosophy by saying: “Grand Slam qualies are not about how well you play, they’re about how well you compete.”

With the peace of mind of being in the main draw in Melbourne, Trungelliti is more relaxed as he trains “to relax my body and relieve tension,” before he will take at least a couple of hours to study his first opponent, American Frances Tiafoe. “I always study my opponent, there are many things you can see in videos and discover beforehand. I try to use that to my advantage.”

However, the player born in Santiago del Estero, who until a few years ago made Andorra his home, admits that he was close to hanging up his racket recently. “I thought quite a lot about stopping, but I continued because of my energy, momentum and because I didn’t know how to start from zero,” he admits with a smile. “Now I’m enjoying it more, I choose the tournaments I go to, or I stay in Italy playing and drinking coffee.”

Such is his passion for coffee, that Trungelliti tends to travel around the world with his coffee machine. “I didn’t bring it here, but I always take it. I’ve liked it since I was young, it’s like a ritual for me. I like espresso without sugar, the way it should be,” he explains, concluding: “My favourite is the one from Italy and our one.”

When he says ‘our one’, it is because together with his wife Nadir, Trungelliti opened his own café in Andorra called ‘0% Gluten’, where they serve speciality coffees and gluten-free food. “It’s hard work but really wonderful too when the products are fresh and you’re involved in the details of the machine, the temperature of the water. The more coffee you drink, the more you can tell if it’s good.”

Following his qualification in Melbourne, Trungelliti is gaining momentum and he has no plans to stop just yet. “Now I feel younger than 10 years ago, that’s why I’m still investigating the mysteries of tennis and of life,” he closes, with a mischievous smile that says he is unlikely to change any time soon.

Berrettini, Tomljanovic Having Fun In the Sun

© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Ajla Tomljanovic and Matteo Berrettini practise together at Melbourne Park Sunday ahead of the start of the Australian Open.

Stars prepare for Australian Open first-round matches

Tennis’ first couple Matteo Berrettini and Ajla Tomljanovic mixed business with pleasure Sunday on the eve of the Australian Open, practising together at Melbourne Park in preparation of their first-round matches at the year’s first Grand Slam.

Berrettini, the seventh-seeded Italian, faces a challenging opener against 20-year-old American Brandon Nakashima, who slashed his year-end ATP Ranking from 166 in 2020 to 68 by the end of last season.

Berrettini performed strongly at the majors last year, reaching the Wimbledon final, the quarter-finals at the US Open and Roland Garros and the fourth round of the Australian Open, his deepest run in four outings in the Victorian capital.

Tomljanovic, who at No. 43 is the second highest-ranked Australian behind World No. 1 Ash Barty, is looking to push beyond the second round at the Australian Open for the first time in eight outings.

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From Hunter To Hunted, Korda Says Bring It On!

Sebastian Korda won’t be flying under the radar this year.

After a breakout full rookie season in 2021 when he won 31 tour-level matches and finished at No. 41 in the ATP Rankings, opponents will need to do little digging to find scouting reports on the former junior World No. 1. More success brings more scrutiny and Korda knows that he won’t catch anyone by surprise in 2022.

“Last year I was hunting everyone and now people are going to be hunting me, so it’s going to be a new thing that I’m going to experience and hopefully I’m going to do really well with it,” Korda told ATPTour.com this week at the Australian Open.

“I’ve always been around pressure with my dad [former World No. 2 Petr Korda], and how great of a tennis player he was, and my family with both of my sisters [World No. 1 LPGA star Nelly and former Top 10 member Jessica]. So, I’m used to it, I’m doing something that I love and all the pressure that I get is just good pressure.”

Korda, who reached the final of November’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan (l. Alcaraz), faces a difficult opener at Melbourne Park against Brit Cameron Norrie. Although Korda defeated the lefty en route to the Delray Beach final in the first week of last season, Norrie enjoyed a breakout season of his own in 2021, finishing the year at a career-high No. 12.

“It will be another exciting match for me. He had an incredible season, especially towards the end of year; he’s playing some good tennis and hopefully we can have a good match,” said the 2018 Australian Open boys’ champion.

“He’s got a really tricky game… he has a really high-looping forehand and then a kind of bunt of a backhand, so it’s two different game styles… and he’s a lefty. It’s always difficult to play a lefty and he does a really good job with how he plays.”

The Australian Open marks Korda’s 2022 tournament debut after he was forced to withdraw from the Adelaide International 1 in the first week of the season after testing positive for Covid-19. He was forced to isolate for seven days in Adelaide. Upon release, he headed straight to Melbourne to practise rather than remain in Adelaide to play the Adelaide International 2.

“It was kind of a weird case. I took a test two days before I left [the United States], the day before I left and when I arrived it was positive,” he said. “So it was weird for me but luckily I had no symptoms and Tennis Australia took really good care of me. They gave me equipment right away so I was never bored in the room and I could at least work a little bit.

“I was still playing a little bit of tennis in my room, so I still had a little feel for the ball, and I was moving around my room, so it wasn’t too bad.

“I was doing sessions over the computer with my physio and my fitness trainer, just to always be doing something and get the body moving. The thing I was looking forward to most was definitely fresh air. You take a lot for granted.”

As he begins his 2022 campaign, 6’ 5” Korda said that he expects the season ahead will be full of learnings and opportunities, including the chance to drive his ranking higher through likely direct acceptances into all the ATP Masters 1000s.

“The goal is just to keep going. It’s going to be my first official full year on the tour so another exciting year up ahead of me, so just keep on learning and keep on doing the right things and hopefully I can just keep on climbing the rankings.

“Half the tournaments that are on the Tour I haven’t even played yet, so it’s going to be new learning experiences and it’s going to be fun.”

The Fire Within Holger Rune

Holger Rune has big dreams in tennis. The #NextGenATP Danish star has no problem saying he believes he can compete with everyone on the ATP Tour and that one day, he wants to be World No. 1.

According to Holger’s mother, Aneke Rune, he is not just saying that for the sake of it.

“As Holger says, a lot of guys say I want to be No. 1, but you can see they don’t mean it. He says you can see it in their eyes. For Holger it’s important as well [that] his coach and people involved really want it,” Aneke said. “He feels it immediately if it’s just fake. If some coaches tried to be interested when he was younger, he was like, ‘But he doesn’t mean it’.

“He’s very serious, and still now when he says he wants to improve and wants to do these things, this is what he really means. It’s not like [he is just saying] ‘I want to be a rockstar’. He wants it.”

And Rune has wanted it since he was a young boy. Before he began playing tennis, Holger would go along with his sister, Alma, to her tournaments. He would pull a chair up to the fence to take a close look at the action.

“All the other little sisters and brothers would be saying, ‘Can we go home soon?’” Aneke recalled. “I could pay all my attention to Alma and when one match was finished he took his chair and moved it over to find another match to watch.

“He was hooked before he started himself. He wanted to start, but he wasn’t allowed to until he was six. So when he did start, he was very motivated.”

Rune’s competitive spirit did not take long to come to the forefront. Early on, Holger played foam ball tournaments, in which he would place second.

“He was so angry he didn’t want to get the trophy. He was crying in a match because he saw he couldn’t win. I said, ‘You can’t cry!’” Aneke recalled. “He wanted so much to win and we had to tell him okay skip that, because you’re not going to win if your eyes are all wet, you can’t see the ball.”

Aneke Rune
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
But Rune is more than just a competitor. In a way, he is obsessed with the sport. When ATPTour.com asked the Dane last year to describe a perfect day without tennis, he asked if he could watch tennis.

“Sometimes he’s forced to mention some other sports and he says basketball, baseball, football, whatever,” Aneke said. “But honestly, it’s not a real passion.”

Rune is all tennis, all the time. Ask him about a specific shot in a specific match from one of your favourite players, and he likely can give you the context. According to his mother, it’s a fitting sport for his personality.

When Holger was younger, he was into skateboarding and would spend plenty of time on YouTube learning tricks, only to go out and practise them. He was into the details. Tennis has an abundance of those.

“He can spend hours. It’s not just a movie for him. It’s the footwork, he can tell you the backhand down the line [Stan] Wawrinka hit in that match in that year. You can ask him anything and he can answer, he’s just so much into details,” Aneke said. “That’s why I’m happy [he is in] tennis. In tennis there are so many details. It’s not like skateboarding, where he put everything on a skateboard and was like, ‘Okay, next project’. In tennis you never get good enough.”

Aneke and Rune’s coach, Lars Christensen, readily admit that Holger is an emotional teen. With the 18-year-old’s desire to improve and be the best comes inevitable moments of disappointment. Nobody’s run to the top is flawless, and Rune hates losing.

“We were actually not sure if we were going to the U.S. [before last US Open]. In many matches, he acted a little too childish and I told Holger it’s a long way to go, it’s expensive,” Aneke said. “If we go, you’ll have to improve in these areas.”

<img src="https://sportblogg.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/rune-coaches-corner-december-2021-1.jpg" alt="Holger Rune“>
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
The team made a deal that Rune would play an ATP Challenger Tour event in San Marino to try to get back on track mentally, which he did by lifting the trophy. He also triumphed in Verona, convincing his team he was ready for New York. In his first attempt to qualify for a major, Rune was successful with the loss of just one set.

In the first round of the main draw, Rune took a set from World No. 1 Novak Djokovic inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. In the moment, Aneke did not realise the magnitude of his efforts. It took until she watched highlights on television.

“I was like s***, this is huge. But at the time, it was just progress, it was just a match,” Aneke said. “Afterwards when you are watching, you get goosebumps, it’s like ‘Whoa’. It was amazing. Fifteen thousand people cheering for my son, I was like, ‘I’m going to cry’.”

The year got even better for Rune when he qualified for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. After starting 2021 at No. 473 in the ATP Rankings, he finished No. 103. Now at a career-high World No. 102, Rune is set to make his Australian Open debut against South Korean Soonwoo Kwon.

It is still early in Rune’s journey, and all indications point towards the teen continuing his climb. But for Aneke, as supportive as she is of her son’s ambitions, there is something even more important.

“If you ask any parent, the most important thing is that your children are happy. For me also when he practises, when he is playing matches, I need to see that he is enjoying what he’s doing. I need to see his eyes, I need to see his passion, I need to see his happiness,” Aneke said. “If I can see he’s happy, I feel like I’m a success as a mother. For me, the most important thing is happiness.”

The Spark That Ignites Roberto Bautista Agut

A glance at Roberto Bautista Agut’s record reveals that the start of the year tends to give him plenty to be happy about. This part of the season has provided a significant share of his sporting success, but there is also a slight blemish that he would like to rectify as soon as possible.

At last year’s Australian Open, he was sent packing in the first round. This year he is back with renewed hope. One of the reasons the man from Castellon has to be optimistic is his notable performance last week in Sydney.

“The start of the year has been very positive for Roberto at this ATP Cup,” Spain’s team captain Tomás Carbonell, one of his coaches, tells ATPTour.com. “Historically he has almost always done well on Australian soil, but it’s true that last year the Australian Open was a little disappointing, losing to [Radu] Albot.”

The No. 17 player in the ATP Rankings led his country to the final of the ATP Cup, leaving in his wake Top 10 opponents Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz.

“I think it’s very good,” says Carbonell. “Both the encouraging start and the new team are important for Roberto. Although personally I was already with him, the addition of Dani Gimeno is a breath of fresh air.”

<img src="https://sportblogg.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/bautista-agut-atp-cup-2022-day-3-roar.jpg" alt="Roberto Bautista Agut“>
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Bautista has a new team of coaches this season. In addition to Carbonell, he has recently added a Top 50 player in Daniel Gimeno-Traver.

“I think it’s going well,” Gimeno-Traver says of his pupil’s performance early in the year. “Not just because of the wins this week, also because of his desire and motivation to have a good season.”

At the ATP Cup, Bautista Agut strung together four consecutive victories, something that he had not done since last March at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Miami, where he reached the semi-finals. In the second half of 2021, a spell of poor results saw him bow out in his opener in five tournaments post-Wimbledon. A 6-9 record between July and November left a bittersweet taste in his mouth.

“Morale wasn’t great in recent months and now we’ve strengthened his desire and his tennis, to give him more weapons,” explains Carbonell. “He has been happy to add the things he needed. He was a little disappointed with last year, even though it wasn’t that bad.”

Among the things he needed was to get back his desire, as his coach points out. “The key to recovering desire lies in really underscoring that there is still room for improvement,” says Carbonell. “That’s what we’ve tried to communicate to him: It doesn’t matter what age a player is, what’s important is their desire to learn.”

And Bautista has come into this season with bags of desire, as the Spaniard admitted to ATPTour.com in the preseason.

“If you’re able to convince a player that he still has a lot of room for improvement, as is the case, I think that unleashes the desire,” insists Carbonell.

<img src="https://sportblogg.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/bautista-agut-atp-cup-2022-day-1.jpg" alt="Roberto Bautista Agut“>
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
But if there is one thing Bautista Agut’s coaches point to, it is his ability to listen to advice and apply it at the right time.

“Roberto is like a sponge,” confirms Carbonell. “That’s the spark that ignites him and makes him continue to be a great competitor, a great player, and from here on in, hopefully we can maintain this throughout the year.

“Roberto is a player who is always ready to learn, to improve, and physically I think he’s better than ever. Hopefully he can go far at this Australian Open, making it a really exciting start to the year.”

For his part, Gimeno-Traver focuses on the finer details. “I tell him to be a little more aggressive and dominate points more.” Bautista seems to be following this advice so far this season. “The goal is to keep improving every day to get as high as possible.

“The season has just started, of course winning matches like that really gives you the energy to maintain the desire to improve.”

Gimeno-Traver will be the man to accompany Bautista Agut in Melbourne Park, where the Spaniard will begin his Australian Open against Italian Stefano Travaglia. For now the desire is intact and the spark is more alive than ever.