The Change Shapovalov Is Making To His Game On Clay

Denis Shapovalov is beginning his clay-court season this week at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. According to the Canadian, fans will get to see a slight change in his game during this swing.

“I’ve improved standing further back on the returns on the clay court, on the red dirt, just to give myself more time and start the point going a bit heavier, deeper and just moving into the court after that,” Shapovalov said. “I feel like it’s definitely benefitted my clay-court game.”

The 22-year-old added that he does back up “significantly further” for his return on clay compared to his positioning on hard courts, estimating a three-step difference.

“It just gives me time for the ball to come down so I can hit it back up heavy and work myself into the point,” Shapovalov said. “I also feel on clay there are a lot of tough bounces and on the serve. If there’s a little bit of a [tough] bounce, then it’s pretty impossible when you’re standing close. But if you’re far back, you can still react to it.”

Shapovalov is a shotmaker, capable of hitting winners off both wings from anywhere on the court. But the lefty admitted that it’s not always as simple as taking one big swing on clay because of how much the surface slows down the pace of the action.

“I think it just takes time [to adjust to it]. It’s longer points, longer rallies and you really have to get used to the sliding and feeling the surface,” Shapovalov said. “That in itself takes longer to get used to. Usually points are pretty short, but going onto the clay, you’re expecting long points.”

How To Watch

The seventh seed has enjoyed success on clay before. Just seven months ago, he reached an ATP Masters 1000 semi-final on the surface in Rome. This will be Shapovalov’s second appearance in Barcelona, and he will begin his run at the ATP 500 against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, against whom he holds a 3-0 ATP Head2Head advantage.

“It’s definitely just one of those tournaments that I wanted to get in on to get used to the clay,” Shapovalov said. “It’s the first tournament on the surface this year, so I’m just trying to get my feet wet on it.”

Fan Questions: Nishikori Reflects On Federer's Influence, Gives Juniors Advice

Kei Nishikori on Monday advanced to the second round of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where the Japanese star is pursuing his third title. The former World No. 4, who owns 12 tour-level trophies, triumphed at this ATP 500 event in 2014 and 2015.

Nishikori caught up with to answer questions that fans recently submitted on Twitter.

What have you been doing during quarantine?
I watch a lot of movies. I’ve been watching many documentaries now. I watch a little bit creepy ones.

Have you had any training changes recently that have helped improve your game?
I started working with Max recently. He tells me good things, how I should come in a little more and play aggressive. Of course also serve, too. He’s very disciplined. From the serve, he’s very good coming in. I’m not trying to come in every time, it’s been taking some time. But I think I’m getting used to it now, so I’m feeling good.

Who was your inspiration when you wanted to become a tennis player?
Roger. Just fun to watch. Of course he’s a great player, but also at the same time he’s very fun to watch. There are not too many players I get excited to watch, but he’s one of the best. He makes great shots that nobody can do and just fun to watch.

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What’s your favourite match from over the years?
I really remember that I played David Ferrer the first time. It was the 2008 US Open, I was really young, 18, and I think he was Top 10 at that time. I beat him in five sets. It was one of the emotional matches for me, especially because I was young.

What is your best advice to a young player who wants to become a tennis player?
You have to have good commitment, you have to know that it’s not going to be easy and you’ve got to work hard. Tennis, it’s really fun to play and you get a lot of excitement on the court and if you become good, you can play with 10,000 people or maybe more. There are many fun things waiting.

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Why Djokovic Is 'Very Emotional' In Belgrade

When Novak Djokovic last competed at an ATP Tour event in Belgrade a decade ago, he had only won two Grand Slam titles and had not yet ascended to No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Now an 18-time major winner and the record-holder for most weeks at World No. 1 in history (317), returning to his hometown to compete at this week’s Serbia Open is a special moment.

“I get very emotional when I’m playing at home, when I’m representing my country,” Djokovic said. “We had this tournament from 2009 to 2012 and I won it two out of four years and I remember these moments very profoundly. Playing in front of family, friends, my people, you don’t get to experience that [often]. I only experienced that maybe a few times in my career, to actually play in my hometown, to actually play in front of my fans, to have that kind of support and backing. It’s definitely special.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there aren’t throngs of fans following Djokovic’s every move at the Novak Tennis Center. But the two-time tournament champion is still excited to perform at home.

“I’m just trying to enjoy every second I get to be in my country with my family, my parents who I don’t get to see so much nowadays with the restrictions and traveling and so forth,” Djokovic said. “It just brings in lots of memories from the past, my upbringing, of the roots, of how I started. This club where this tournament is played is the club where I used to play a lot when I was a kid, the local tournaments.

“I get to see many people that have seen me develop into the tennis player that I am today and the person I am today. It’s a very particular, very unique feeling that I’m trying to marvel in and feed off that energy so I can do the best I possibly can this week.”

Five of the eight singles seeds are from Serbia, and eight players from the home country began in the main draw.

“I’m really glad to see that the draw is packed with Serbian players, all the best men’s Serbian tennis players are here in this draw,” Djokovic said. “There are going to definitely be some match-ups between us, hopefully I’ll be able to play [in the] quarters against one of the guys.”

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Scouting Report: Djokovic & Nadal Lead The Way In Belgrade & Barcelona

Djokovic, who will open against Roberto Carballes Baena or Soonwoo Kwon, could face eighth seed Miomir Kecmanovic in the quarter-finals. Ninth seed Laslo Djere is also in his half of the draw.

“We’re all friends, we have respect for each other, we like each other, we support each other and we give each other backing. We want each other to do well on the Tour,” Djokovic said. “We come from the same country and we obviously have very good relationships on and off the court. But once you’re facing each other, you just see opposite your side of the net an opponent, a rival you want to beat and that’s what it comes down to.”

How To Watch

Last week at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Djokovic lost his first match of the season against Daniel Evans. Stefanos Tsitsipas went on to claim his first ATP Masters 1000 title.

“I think it’s a positive thing for our sport to actually have new champions, new faces, new brands really that are going to be recognised by tennis fans around the world, that are going to be celebrated. Obviously they will compare them to us and to maybe the results that we historically made, I understand that,” Djokovic said. “But I don’t mind seeing new winners. Of course I would like always to be on the winning side myself everywhere I play, but things are different.

Djokovic admitted that some of the younger stars on the ATP Tour are showing they can compete against the world’s best, and that the Serbian along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will “have to accept the fact that maybe we will not be in the top ranking spots of the world and some other guys will replace us there and that’s a normal cycle of life”.

“We’re still hanging in there, we’re still trying to compete with these young guys who are strong, they are playing well, they are very motivated,” Djokovic said. “I think so far we’ve been doing pretty well.”

How Becoming A Father Changed Bautista Agut's Life

In an excerpt from Eurosport’s Players’ Voice series, Roberto Bautista Agut reflects on the importance of family. The nine-time ATP Tour champion discusses how welcoming his first child to the world last year has impacted him after losing his mother in 2018 and father in 2019.

Becoming a father last September has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life so far, if not the best. I feel that the family bond I lost when my parents passed has been recovered by entering this new chapter of life with Ana and my child.

Family has always been the most important thing for me by far; the love you feel for your loved ones is incomparable. I felt this even before my parents passed; every time I came home and noticed they were gradually getting older, I made a mental note to enjoy every little moment I spent with them and that mindset stays with me now.

Recently, Ana and Mini Rober joined me on Tour during the Middle East swing, which was really special. It’s beautiful seeing your child grow because they’re in continuous evolution; day by day they edge one step closer to the person they will become.

If there’s anything I could pass down to him, it would be my stubbornness! I believe that persistence to keep fighting for things is a very good thing and an important way of overcoming difficult obstacles. Those are the times which I think ultimately help you grow as a person.

That can be said for all things in life — both big and small. The fact I wasn’t playing my best tennis in Australia motivated me to train much harder, and as a result, I’m now feeling really good on court, beating Top 10 players and starting to feel those positive sensations that come with winning again.

When I think back to Wimbledon two years ago when I reached the semi-finals, I lived it the way I had always dreamt it; those two weeks were honestly a dream come true.

Emulating that would be incredible, but the most important thing for me right now is maintaining my best level, enjoying my time on court and sharing the success and memories with my family.

Read Bautista Agut’s Full Eurosport Players’ Voice Column

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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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How Sinner Is Storming Down His ‘Long Road’

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. 

What Is 17-Year-Old Alcaraz 'Really Hungry' For?

Carlos Alcaraz has stepped into the spotlight in 2021, checking off plenty of firsts — competing in his first Grand Slam and ATP Masters 1000 events among them. But the 17-year-old, who is the youngest player in the Top 500 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, is not getting overwhelmed. Instead, he’s acting like a sponge and soaking it all in.

“I’m motivated now to play here in Barcelona at this ATP 500, and then Madrid is an ATP Masters 1000, so for me it’s amazing to play against the great players and to play these kind of tournaments,” Alcaraz said. “I’m getting a lot of experience and I’m looking for that. I’m really happy and really hungry for that.”

The #NextGenATP Spaniard, who is World No. 119, has shown it is a matter of when, not if he will crack the Top 100. The players he has beaten this year include David Goffin, Casper Ruud and Feliciano Lopez.

The protege of former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero is a tough competitor, and Alcaraz is making sure that even when he loses, he is taking lessons from those defeats.

“I learned a lot from the last tournaments, the last matches. It has been [my] greatest matches against the greatest players,” Alcaraz said. “But the biggest thing that I learned is how to manage the pressure in the tough moments, the nerves, what game I have to play in the tough moments, to be aggressive all the time.”

How To Watch

Despite his tender age, Alcaraz strikes the ball like a fully developed ATP Tour pro. The teen, who first made his mark last year as a 16-year-old in Rio de Janeiro by beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a three-hour, 37-minute marathon, has not been infallible. In his first tour-level semi-final last week in Marbella, Alcaraz struggled to consistently find his best level against Jaume Munar.

Although the 6’1” righty was disappointed, he realised there were things he could take away from the match to improve.

“I’m learning to play always the same, not to play in a different way in the tough moments and the beginning of the match,” Alcaraz said. “I’m learning and I’m really happy to learn that.”

Earlier that week, Alcaraz upset Ruud 6-2, 6-4. At the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, the Norwegian reached the semi-finals, showing the form the Spaniard is capable of. Ruud was impressed.

“I played pretty well in Marbella, but I lost to a good young player. I got a tough beating there,” Ruud said in Monte-Carlo. “He was playing very well. [It] surprised me a bit how well Alcaraz was playing back in Marbella. He showed me that the young guys are coming.”

Two years ago, Alcaraz lost in the first round of qualifying in Barcelona as the World No. 505. Now knocking on the door of the Top 100, the 17-year-old will try to prove Ruud and plenty of others who believe in his potential right, starting with his first-round match against Frances Tiafoe.

Did You Know?
Alcaraz turns 18 on 5 May. Another 17-year-old in the Barcelona field, Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune, will be 18 on 29 April.

Come To Papa: How A Father's Sacrifice Spurred Tsitsipas' Success

Editor’s note: This story was first published on 18 February 2018

After winning the championship match of the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals, Stefanos Tsitsipas returned to the players’ area and celebrated with his team. Front and centre was Apostolos Tsitsipas, the Greek’s father and coach. Their smiles spoke louder than words.

During that event, the younger Tsitsipas often avoided putting on his headset to talk to his father, sometimes leaving Apostolos, who was keen to give his son advice, cracking up. But after the Greek star clinched the trophy and the fans had departed, Stefanos rubbed his father’s cheeks as his way of saying, “we did it”. Apostolos brought his son closer and gave him a kiss.

“I’m learning every day,” Apostolos told in 2018. “Hopefully one day I will be a good enough coach for my son for his future demands and his future dreams.”

<img src="" alt="Stefanos Tsitsipas, Apostolos Tsitsipas“>

Apostolos has long sacrificed whatever he could to allow his son to pursue those dreams. The 53-year-old did not play his first tennis tournament until the age of 23, and he would spend time as a teaching professional in Athens. Stefanos’ mom, Julia Salnikova, cracked the WTA’s Top 200 in singles and doubles. When Stefanos was 12, someone needed to travel with him to tournaments. Apostolos quit his job and became his son’s full-time coach, while Salnikova stayed home with the rest of the family.

“I don’t know if he had a choice, but he just risked it. He just quit himself and started travelling with me,” Stefanos said at 2018 Wimbledon. “I do appreciate what he did for me, because it’s amazing. Not many fathers would do this for their son.”

Tsitsipas’ success has validated his father’s sacrifice. When Stefanos won the Next Gen ATP Finals, he was already the No. 15 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings. One month earlier, he had won his first ATP Tour title at the Stockholm Open. It wasn’t a matter of whether Tsitsipas could reach the upper echelons of the sport — the Greek was already there.

There was only one question: How high could Tsitsipas could climb? Then 20, he admitted that he learned something that week at the Fiera Milano.

“I’ve learned that I’m a fighter,” Tsitsipas said. “That I have a big heart.”

Two months later, Tsitsipas made his biggest Grand Slam breakthrough, reaching the semi-finals of the 2019 Australian Open. During that run, he stunned Roger Federer in four sets. But Rafael Nadal showed the Greek wasn’t quite ready to go all the way, delivering a 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 beatdown that left the Greek struggling for answers.

“It kind of felt like in a way it wasn’t tennis so much like the other matches that I played,” Tsitsipas said. “It felt like a different dimension of tennis completely.”

But that was just the beginning. Tsitsipas beat Nadal for the first time that year in Madrid, and he cracked the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. Later that year, the Greek star made the jump from #NextGenATP to “Now Gen”, lifting the trophy at the Nitto ATP Finals. The Greek was an established star, and his attacking game was clearly a threat to anyone at any time.

It wasn’t always easy for Tsitsipas, though. The Greek has faced setbacks. In the third round of last year’s US Open, he let slip six match points against Borna Coric and could only watch a week later when Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, both of whom he beat en route to the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals title, competed for the trophy.

Tsitsipas has never been one to wallow in his sorrows, though. The 6’4” right-hander has always managed to learn from his losses. One month later, he reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros, where Djokovic needed five sets to advance.

“Losing kind of keeps you in the same place, in the same spot, which is why I hate losing. Of course, I think everyone hates losing. It’s weird if you don’t hate losing,” Tsitsipas said. “But I guess a loss is a very good lesson where life puts a stop [to] what you’re doing. You can reflect on that. You can grow. You can get better.”

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Tsitsipas Completes Epic Comeback, Stuns Nadal In Melbourne

In Wednesday’s Australian Open quarter-finals, Tsitsipas once again lost the first two sets against Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park. The Spanish legend was pursuing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title. But Tsitsipas did not give up. He fought back, and triumphed 3-6, 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-5 after four hours and five minutes.

“Moments like this haven’t happened a lot in my career, and the fact that I was able to come back the way I did and the way I fought against such a top, respected player like Rafa was something extra, something I have never felt before,” Tsitsipas said. “It was a first-timer.”

Tsitsipas had already accomplished a lot during his young career when he recovered against Nadal inside Rod Laver Arena. It wasn’t the first time he reached a Grand Slam semi-final, and it wasn’t the Greek’s maiden victory against Nadal. Instead, it felt like Tsitsipas had come full circle. He had won the Next Gen ATP Finals trophy 830 days earlier and said, “I’m a fighter… I have a big heart.”

Stefanos showed it against Rafa, taking it to one of the most battle-tested icons in tennis history. It was only fitting that after the match, Tsitsipas walked over to his father in a moment straight out of a movie script. A decade ago, Apostolos quit his job to give his son anything he needed to pursue his dreams. Stefanos continues to make them come true, and he will try to take another step on his journey Friday when he plays Daniil Medvedev for a spot in his first Grand Slam final.

“To be able to just walk up to my team and hug them and share that little moment of appreciation and solidarity, it was epic,” Tsitsipas said. “It was everything I ever dreamed of, and I’m glad that I am where I am today. There is obviously light ahead at the end of the tunnel, and there is plenty more to go.”

The Competitive Fire That Burns Within Casper Ruud

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on 14 February 2021.

Casper Ruud will play the biggest match of his life on Monday against seventh seed Andrey Rublev in the fourth round of the Australian Open. The Norwegian star will have a chance to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, so there will be an abundance of pressure on the 22-year-old’s shoulders.

Ruud would rather have it no other way.

The 24th seed lives for these moments. Many players dread pressure and the nerves that often come with big matches, but Ruud embraces it all.

“It shows that your body is pumping up adrenaline to fight,” Ruud told “You really show yourself that you’re preparing for a tough fight, for a tough moment. It shows that you really want to win and that’s a good feeling. You prefer to play when you’re not nervous of course. You can get tight, you can maybe miss shots that you shouldn’t. But at the end of the day, I’ve learned that being nervous is actually a good thing.”

When you watch Ruud play, he shows few emotions, and rarely displays his nerves. The 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals competitor never gets too high or too low. It’s as if the Norwegian has ice in his veins. But inside, he is a fiery competitor.

“Overcoming pressure situations when you’re nervous on break points, set points, all these things, that’s probably the best feeling for a player,“ Ruud said. “That tension that you get in your body on those points and overcoming it, that’s one of the biggest satisfactions on the court. It’s tough when you lose them when you don’t get that feeling, but that makes the time you overcome those situations feel even better.”

Competing drives Ruud off the court, too. He is an avid golfer, who has a dedicated Instagram page to show the world his skills on the course.

“I like to win when I play, so I challenge better golfers than me, worse golfers than me,” Ruud said. “It’s just the challenge of trying to win and get better at it.”

But while he doesn’t often show it, Ruud admitted that he does feel nerves, saying, “I get nervous too, even if it might not seem like it.”

The Norwegian recalls the semi-finals of the 2017 Rio Open presented by Claro. Then 18, he began the week without a tour-level win, but earned a match point in the second set against gritty Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. He was desperate to reach his first ATP Tour final that day in Brazil. But that moment remains the most nervous he has ever been on court.

“I knew that if I had won I would break into the Top 100 as an 18-year-old and I would play in all the main draws at the Slams that year,” Ruud said. “That was a little bit of a nerve-wracking moment for me. It all just collapsed when I didn’t win that second set. In the third set it all just went south and I remember I was really nervous on that match point and in those games trying to close out the match. I played a great match up until that point, but after that, the nerves got me.”

Ruud didn’t show it by screaming or throwing a racquet, but from 6-2, 5-4 up, he did not win a game the rest of the match and did not crack the Top 100 until March 2019, more than two years later.

The Norwegian played Roger Federer in the third round at 2018 Roland Garros, and the Swiss was highly complimentary of his opponent’s demeanor.

“I can see why he’s going to be good in the future. He’s got a great attitude, very calm, very quiet, maybe very Norwegian, I’m not sure,” Federer said. “But it’s nice to see that he’s very focused, he’s got good energy. Even though he is maybe more on the calm side, also very fair… It’s just nice to play against a guy like that, to be quite honest.”

Rublev leads the pair’s ATP Head2Head series 2-0, but the red-hot Russian expects a difficult battle.

“It’s going to be tough,” Rublev said. “It’s going to be a physical match because he has really great physical power. He can run a lot. He’s [hitting his] forehand really hard.”

Ruud is just the second Norwegian player to reach the Round of 16 at a Grand Slam, joining his father Christian Ruud, who accomplished the feat at the 1997 Australian Open. The 22-year-old will try to become the first from his country to reach a quarter-final. No matter what happens, Ruud has come a long way since that day in Rio de Janeiro.

“I’ve grown up. I’ve matured more than I was back then. I’ve gotten physically stronger, mentally stronger. My tennis has gotten better. I don’t have weaknesses that I had,” Ruud said. “I think it’s just a big development that I’ve made in all aspects of my game. In one way I’m happy that I didn’t break into the Top 100 at that stage. It’s been tough, but I’ve enjoyed the tough work to get here and it’s a nice way to get a little bit of payback when you reach the late stages in a Grand Slam.”

Pouille: 'I Doubted I Would Ever Play Normally Again'

Lucas Pouille has reached great heights in tennis — winning five ATP Tour titles, reaching the 2019 Australian Open semi-finals and climbing to No. 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings among them. But now, an ordinary match win is an achievement for the Frenchman as he climbs back towards his best form.

The 27-year-old, who missed a year and a half due to a right elbow injury that required surgery, earned his first Top 100 victory since Tokyo in 2019 on Tuesday when he defeated World No. 48 Guido Pella 6-3, 6-4 at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

“It’s a good victory for me, for my state of mind and for my game and for my confidence,” Pouille said. “It’s only positive.”

In September 2019, Pouille began struggling with his right elbow. That October, he stopped competing. Following tests, the Frenchman received injections and took all of his doctors’ advice, but there were always complications.

“After a while there was a doubt that I would ever be able to play again normally,” Pouille admitted.

The 6’1” righty played one ATP Challenger Tour event last March the week before play was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, he underwent surgery and did not compete the rest of the season.

“Of course, the doctor was very confident. For them it was just a small surgery. But on an elbow, for a tennis player, we know it’s always a bit difficult,” Pouille said. “It took a lot of time.”

This is Pouille’s seventh tournament of the year at all levels, and he is now 4-6 on the season. But he is practising patience and continuing to work hard, hoping the results will come.

“Of course, I see things differently. That long period off allowed me to think about what I had been doing all these years, what I wanted to do,” Pouille said. “After my loss in Marbella, I could have been down… it was another loss after a very tight match. I could have been discouraged. But I remained very positive. We remained positive in the team. We kept on working. We came here in a good state of mind.”

Perhaps the most important thing is that Pouille is healthy. He can fully focus on his tennis.

“Everything is fine with my elbow. I have no pain. I’m not afraid. I can serve normally. During more than a year, I was not able to serve 100 per cent, so that was a long time,” Pouille said. “This is the most difficult shot I have to adjust now. I have to find the rhythm, the whole movement, to be able to serve at my best level. This takes time, a lot of repetition. But now everything is fine. I have no pain at all. This is positive.”

How To Watch

The World No. 86 is simply happy to be competing. While all players missed more than five months because of the pandemic last year, it was an even longer stretch for Pouille because of his injury.

“I spent a year and a half without touching a racquet on the Tour. I missed a lot playing tennis. I’m happy now the Tour is going on,” Pouille said. “We are able to play. I enjoy it. I’m happy the tournament is on and I can do my job and I can wake up every morning to do what I like to do and what I worked hard for.”

Pouille will play Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin for a spot in the third round against Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who upset eighth seed Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday. The Frenchman is not thinking too far ahead, though.

“I’m just wanting to win match after match, trying to implement what I’ve been working on during practice and build up my confidence. This kind of match helps,” Pouille said of his win against Pella. “Now I have to do the same tomorrow and keep going.”

Q1 Review: Russian Takeover, Djokovic Takes Record & Federer Returns

The first quarter of the 2021 ATP Tour season was a history-make affair, with new and familiar faces grabbing headlines.

Novak Djokovic set records at the Australian Open and atop the FedEx ATP Rankings. Daniil Medvedev made a rankings statement of his own and at the ATP Cup led Russia to glory alongside Andrey Rublev and former ‘secret weapon’ Aslan Karatsev, who came from obscurity to become one of the season’s hottest players.

NextGen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner, 19, surged to the cusp of the Top 20 after a run to the Miami Open final, where Hubert Hurkacz became the first Pole to win an ATP Masters 1000 event. Emerging stars Sebastian Korda and Lorenzo Musetti (one of nine Italians in the Top 10) also turned heads in Q1.

And, of course, the tennis world rejoiced in the return of Roger Federer after more than a year on the sidelines.

Below, reflects on a head-turning start to the 2021 season.

1) Russians Sound Intentions At ATP Cup
There were few surprises when Daniil Medvedev hit the ground running in 2021. As the most in-form player at the end of 2020, he continued where he left off in Australia as he guided Russia to its maiden ATP Cup title over Italy. 

Alongside Andrey Rublev, the pair conceded only two sets combined as they won all eight singles matches they contested. With victory over Matteo Berrettini in the opening rubber of the final, the then 24-year-old Medvedev carried a 14-match winning streak into the Australian Open (10 of those victories coming against Top 10 opponents). 

Rublev sealed the trophy when he trounced Fabio Fognini. Little did anyone realise, the man the Russians anointed their “secret weapon”, unheralded doubles teammate Aslan Karatsev, was about to embark on a breakout run of his own. More on that later.

Djokovic Pulls Clear As All-Time No. 1
Novak Djokovic won a record-extending ninth Australian Open trophy (his 18th major crown) in February, closing the gap on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s tied mark of 20 Grand Slam titles. In March, fans poured onto the streets in Belgrade to honour the 33-year-old as he returned home to a hero’s welcome having surpassed Federer for the most all-time weeks at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. 

“It really excites me to walk the path of legends and giants of this sport,” Djokovic said. “To know that I have earned my place among them by following my childhood dream is a beautiful confirmation that when you do things out of love and passion, everything is possible.”

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Djokovic, who celebrated his 311th week in pole position, first rose to the top on 4 July 2011, after he beat Nadal in that year’s Wimbledon final. 

Medvedev Ends 16-Year Reign, Becomes New No. 2
Following a blistering start to the season, in which he went unbeaten in Russia’s successful ATP Cup campaign and reached his second Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, Medvedev fell one match shy of becoming the new No. 2 in the FedEx ATP Rankings against Djokovic. He wouldn’t have to wait long to ascend to that spot, though.

The Russian captured his 10th ATP Tour title at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille and officially displaced Nadal as World No. 2 the following day. He was the first player other than Djokovic, Federer, Nadal or Andy Murray to occupy one of the top two spots since 2005.

“It’s been already one week, I could feel maybe pressure, [but] no. I feel like it just gives me some energy boost,” Medvedev said in Miami, where he was the top seed at a Masters 1000 event for the first time. “I just want to play better and better to prove to myself I deserve this.” 

Rublev Running Hot
Where many find fear crippling, Russian No. 2 Rublev finds no greater motivating force. The 23-year-old has won more tour-level matches in 2021 (20-4 for the season) than any other player, highlighted by his unbeaten run in Russia’s successful ATP Cup campaign and an eighth ATP Tour title in Rotterdam.

The 23-year-old’s victory over Marton Fucsovics in the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament final in Rotterdam extended his winning streak at ATP 500 events to 20 matches, before countryman Karatsev ended that run at 23 wins in the semi-finals in Dubai. It was Rublev’s seventh straight victory in an ATP Tour final.

“It’s this kind of fear that it’s not enough,” Rublev said. “Fear that I’m not going to make it or fear that I’m not going to be good enough for a while. In the end, this fear helped me to improve, and that’s why I want to improve and improve.”

Rublev also made his first Masters 1000 semi-final at the Miami Open presented by Itau. He is currently third in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin, trailing only Djokovic and Medvedev.

Karatsev Breaks Through & Backs It Up
It all could have been so different for the late-blooming Russian. The 27-year-old had won through Australian Open qualifying in Doha to seal his first Grand Slam main draw berth, but had he caught his original charter flight, in which passengers tested positive for COVID-19, Karatsev would have entered a two-week hard lockdown instead of being able to practise. 

Ranked No. 253 in the FedEx ATP Rankings only a year ago, Karatsev beat eighth seed Diego Schwartzman, 18th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and 20th seed Grigor Dimitrov en route to becoming the first man in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals at a major on debut. 

Despite falling to eventual champion Djokovic, Karatsev consolidated the hype with his maiden ATP Tour title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, snapping second seed Rublev’s 23-match winning streak at ATP 500-level in the process. He now sits in sixth place in the FedEx ATP Race to Turin.

“Had you told me this I would not have believed it,” he said. “You are just [kidding] yourself. With success, you never know when it’s coming, but I always believed I could make it.”  

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Young Guys Make Their Moves 
Leading the ATP Race to Milan, #NextGenATP Italian Jannik Sinner claimed his second ATP Tour title at the Great Ocean Road Open in Melbourne and found his best form at last week’s Miami Open presented by Itau, where he reached his maiden ATP Masters 1000 final to climb to a career-high World No. 23. “You’re not a human, man. You’re 15 years old and you play like this? Good job,” the 19-year-old’s quarter-final victim Alexander Bublik told him. 

#NextGenATP American Sebastian Korda was another who made huge inroads in Miami. The 20-year-old son of former Czech World No. 2 Petra Korda reached his first Masters 1000 quarter-final in Miami, where he claimed his first Top 20 win over Fabio Fognini and first Top 10 scalp against Diego Schwartzman before a defeat to Rublev.

Sinner’s countryman and fellow 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti also scored his first Top 10 victory against Schwartzman en route to a maiden ATP 500 semi-final in Acapulco in March. Following his breakout run, the teenager impressed again in Miami by making the third round.

One of Argentina’s next great hopes, Juan Manuel Cerundolo, landed a breakthrough result on home soil. World No. 335 entering the Cordoba Open, Cerundolo had never won an ATP Tour match. But the lefty qualified and claimed his maiden tour-level title, beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the final.

Having become the youngest player to qualify for a Grand Slam main draw since Djokovic in 2005, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz was then the first player born in 2003 to win a main draw match at a major at the Australian Open. The 17-year-old, who practised with Rafael Nadal ahead of his debut, also beat top seed David Goffin for his first Top 15 victory at the Great Ocean Road Open leading in.

Federer Returns
Thirteen months since he last took the court, the 39-year-old Swiss made his long-awaited return to competition in Doha, following two knee surgeries. There were promising signs as the 103-time tour-level champion defeated tricky Brit Daniel Evans — a frequent practice partner — before letting a match point slip in a three-set defeat to eventual champion Nikoloz Basilashvili

Federer elected to withdraw from Dubai and his Miami title defence to return to practice.

“I think a lot of my close friends and people around me were waiting for this return and that I finally did it and I was able to even win it,” said Federer. “I think some people didn’t expect that because they know what I went through. It was like winning a big tournament. Messages would keep coming in.”