Fan's Favourites' Bryan/Sock Open London Account


Mike Bryan and Jack Sock got their Nitto ATP Finals campaign off to a winning start on Monday night at The O2 in London. The fifth seeds, winners of the Wimbledon and US Open crowns, saved one set point in the second set en route to defeating last year’s finalists and third seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo 6-3, 7-6(5) in 87 minutes.

Last week, Mike Bryan and Sock were named the ATPWorldTour.com Fans’ Favourites presented by Moët & Chandon in the 2018 ATP World Tour Awards. Bryan, who previously won this award with his twin brother Bob Bryan from 2005-17, and Sock have a 17-5 record together since teaming up in mid-June at The Fever-Tree Championships.

Bryan and Sock broke Kubot to love for a 3-1 lead in the first set, which was dominated by the forehand firepower of Sock, who last year competed in the singles competition. Kubot and Melo settled into a repeat of the US Open final in September, returning aggressively and rushing the net to create opportunities in the second set. Deciding deuce points went begging on Sock and Mike Bryan’s serves in the sixth and eighth games of the set, before Melo survived two break points at 4-4.

Mike Bryan saved one set point on Sock’s serve at 4-5, on a deciding deuce point, with a reaction volley that Kubot couldn’t scramble up. In an inevitable tie-break, a fitting conclusion for such a competitive set, Bryan and Sock broke clear at 2/2, but Melo – who had been hit with a fizzing forehand from Sock midway through the second set – produced his own groundstroke power to keep the Brazilian/Polish team in the match. But Kubot double faulted on match point.

Kubot and Melo, the 2017 year-end No. 1s in the ATP Doubles Team Rankings, were attempting to record their 40th match win in 60 matches this season. The pair has picked up ATP World Tour crowns at the Apia Sydney International (d. Struff/Troicki), the Gerry Weber Open in Halle (d. Zverevs), the China Open in Beijing (d. Marach/Pavic) and the Rolex Shanghai Masters (d. Murray/Soares).



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Day 3 Preview: Can Roger Bounce Back Against Thiem?



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Will Roger Federer bounce back?

That will be the leading story on Tuesday as Group Lleyton Hewitt contests its second of three round-robin matches at the Nitto ATP Finals.

On the opening day of play, No. 7 seed Kei Nishikori stunned Federer, dealing the six-time champion his first straight-sets defeat in group play at the season finale. In fact, Federer had lost just three round-robin matches since the tournament moved to The O2 in London in 2009.

So now, Federer will look to get back on track when he faces Dominic Thiem, who also lost against Kevin Anderson in straight sets in his first match. Interestingly, Thiem leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Federer 2-1, with all three of their matches coming in 2016.

“We haven’t played in a while,” Federer said. “I haven’t thought about the match, to be honest. I haven’t had enough time. I wasn’t even thinking who I’m going to play next. I just know I need to do better than today. That’s pretty much it.”

Thiem will take confidence into the encounter knowing that while it’s been more than two years since he has shared a court with the 99-time tour-level titlist, the Austrian saved two match points to beat Federer in Stuttgart in their most recent match-up. But the sixth seed knows he will have to get off to a quicker start against Federer than he did against Anderson, as he faced seven break points in the opening set against the South African.

“I didn’t have a good start,” Thiem said. “I was in trouble almost every service game. So the first set was not really good.”

While that will be the singles match during the evening session, Sunday’s two winners will battle it out to stay undefeated during the day session. Nishikori takes a 5-3 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead into his meeting against Anderson, as they compete against one another for the fourth time this year and the third time in less than three weeks.

Anderson was impressive in his first-ever match at the season finale, dismissing Thiem, who is competing at The O2 for the third time.

“I think it was important going out there and getting off to a good start,” Anderson said. “I definitely felt a little bit nervous. But I was able to settle very quickly and find a really good rhythm, taking care of my serve games nicely.”

Anderson will hope to serve well against Nishikori, too. The 32-year-old has beaten the Japanese superstar at both of the events he has won this season, ousting Nishikori in the New York Open semi-finals and beating him to win the Erste Bank Open 500 in Vienna.

But Nishikori is also in excellent form, having won 20 of his past 26 matches, reaching the quarter-finals or better at his final six tournaments of the year. It’s easy to forget that Nishikori played two ATP Challenger Tour events to begin his season as he came back from a wrist injury.

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“I’m happy for him because he started [2018] playing Challengers. That was a bold decision early on,” Federer said after his loss to the Japanese. “That deserves credit and respect. I think we all have that for Kei because he’s a great fighter.”

Nishikori will hope that fight is enough to take out Anderson as he pursues his third semi-final showing at the Nitto ATP Finals in four appearances. If the seventh seed beats Anderson and Federer takes down Thiem, Nishikori will move through. The same goes for Anderson if he wins on Tuesday, and Thiem stuns Federer.

Did You Know?
Federer has only lost two round-robin matches at the Nitto ATP Finals once in his career, in 2008. That was the only time in 15 previous appearances that the Swiss did not advance to the semi-finals.



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ATP Supporting UNICEF At The Nitto ATP Finals


The ATP is once again supporting UNICEF, working together to try to make the world a better place for children. 

For every ace hit at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals in singles and doubles, the ATP will donate £100. In 2017, the ATP donated £30,400 for the 304 aces struck at the season finale to help protect children in danger around the world. And since 2016, the Nitto ATP Finals has helped raise more than £300,000 for the world’s leading children’s organisation.

The ATP has also given fans a chance a special opportunity in 2018 to buy a limited number of tickets to round-robin play for just £10 and an accompanying booking fee, from which £10 for each ticket is being donated to UNICEF.

Entering this year’s Nitto ATP Finals, the tournament’s eight singles competitors had hit 4,860 aces in 2018, with six London contenders in the Top 12 on the ATP World Tour in the category this season, according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats. John Isner (1,173) and Kevin Anderson (1,058), the eighth and fourth seeds at The O2, respectively, are the only players who have passed the 1,000-ace mark this year.

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Zverev Extends Winning Record Over Cilic


After a slow start, Alexander Zverev moved to 1-0 in Group Guga Kuerten after beating Marin Cilic 7-6(5), 7-6(1) at the Nitto ATP Finals on Monday.

Having faced two break points to trail 0-4 in the opening set, Zverev fought hard to earn an ATP World Tour-leading 55th victory of the season (55-18). The 21-year-old won 75 per cent of first-serve points to clinch the win after two hours and six minutes. The 21-year-old improves to 5-5 against Top 10 opposition in 2018 after notching his sixth straight win over Cilic in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series (Zverev leads 6-1).

After early losses in Tokyo, Shanghai and Basel, Cilic appeared to have rediscovered his best form after snapping Novak Djokovic’s 30-set winning streak at the Rolex Paris Masters two weeks ago. The World No. 7, who has enjoyed considerable success across the city at the Fever-Tree Championships and Wimbledon, drops to 1-9 at the Nitto ATP Finals.

In Monday’s evening session, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and tournament debutant John Isner will aim to join Zverev at 1-0 in Group Guga Kuerten. Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 8-2, winning each of their past five tour-level meetings.

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Pavic/Marach Off To Strong Start In London


Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic got off to a winning start at the Nitto ATP Finals on Monday. The top-seeded Austrian/Croatian team recorded their first win in their fourth meeting against eighth-seeded Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 7-6(3) over one hour and 47 minutes in their first Group Knowles/Nestor match. It was a repeat of 2018 finals at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam and at Roland Garros.

Marach and Pavic improved to a 52-17 record on the season, which included three straight titles – in Doha, Auckland and the Australian Open – and a 17-match winning streak at the start of the year. The pair also won the Geneva title and finished as runner-up at five other tournaments. They will be presented the year-end ATP World Tour Doubles No. 1 trophy later this week.

Herbert came under immediate pressure in the first game, with Mahut saving a deciding deuce point with a volley poach. However, two games later, Mahut’s serve was broken on a deciding point as Marach and Pavic started to dominate at the net.

But with Pavic serving at 30/30 in the seventh game of the first set, Mahut chased down a ball close to the advertising boards and fell into the line judges chair. The 36-year-old required on-court treatment and strapping to his left ankle/shin. Play resumed after a nine-minute delay, but the French pair left the arena after Herbert held for 4-5. After a further six minutes, Herbert and Mahut returned, but could not save the set.

Herbert double fault on the deciding deuce point at the start of the second set, then Mahut — in his first service game since his treatment — earned a confidence-boosting hold on a deciding deuce point in the third game. One break of service looked to be enough for the top seeds, but Pavic lost his at 4-3 in a run of three games for the Frenchmen. But Marach and Pavic, who served as alternates at the 2017 season finale, regrouped and took early control of the tie-break.

Herbert and Mahut, who had been bidding to earn their third win in nine matches at the Nitto ATP Finals, dropped to a 20-10 record on the year. They have qualified for the tournament for a fourth year running.



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Bryan/Sock Voted As Fans' Favourite In First Season Together


A new pair – Americans Mike Bryan and Jack Sock – has been crowned the ATPWorldTour.com Fans’ Favourites presented by Moët & Chandon in the 2018 ATP World Tour Awards. Bryan previously won this award with his twin brother Bob Bryan from 2005-17.

“It feels great to win the Fans’ Favourite,” said Bryan. “It’s been a fun season with Jack. This guy is a human highlight reel so I think the fans love watching the replays of the tweeners and those huge forehands.

“Thanks to the ATP for this award. Thanks for all the fans that voted.”

Sock added: “I think the only reason I’ll have that award at home is because of this guy and what he and his brother have done for so many years. I think they’ve won it 60 years in a row, so I’m glad I could just fill in for one year and tag along.”

With Bob sidelined with injury since Madrid, Mike Bryan and Sock teamed up during the grass-court swing and won the Wimbledon title in only their second tournament together. They followed with a second Grand Slam title at the US Open.

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Challenger Q&A: Opelka Nears Top 100 With Knoxville Crown


Reilly Opelka is quietly making a significant charge towards a Top 100 debut. The 21-year-old American entered the US Open at No. 173 in the ATP Rankings, and he is now projected to rise to a career-high No. 116 following his latest ATP Challenger Tour title in Knoxville.

Opelka was a machine all week on the campus of the University of Tennessee, not dropping a set en route to the final. There, he overcame a stern test from countryman Bjorn Fratangelo, eventually prevailing in a deciding tie-break 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2). He fired 26 aces in one hour and 59 minutes. 

In five tournaments since the US Open, he has reached a pair of finals in Chicago and Cary and claimed a championship in Knoxville. It has been a career-year for the rising Michigan native, who also added a clay-court crown in Bordeaux, France, in May. He is the sixth player to win on both clay and hard in 2018.

One week after close friend Tommy Paul reigned in Charlottesville, Opelka became the seventh #NextGenATP American winner this year. 

‘Big O’ spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation after the final on Sunday…

Congrats, Reilly. This was one of those matches that didn’t have a lot of rhythm. That disrupted Fratangelo at times today. Is that how your style plays out?
It is definitely how my style plays out. It’s not that I wasn’t necessarily going for more, but I wasn’t as consistent. That kind of messed him up a little bit. He felt no rhythm. Neither did I, but I felt that I was more comfortable in those situations.

These courts can be slower and it took away from your pace. But you had 26 aces and it seemed like you were serving at a high percentage all week long.
Yeah, for sure. I’ve been serving at a high percentage. I’d say that for the past six or seven months it’s been a huge improvement. I think my first serve percentage is up 15 per cent from last year. I’ve also improved my forehand return a lot and my return in general. Today, he served pretty well and I had a hard time with that, but overall in the tie-break I thought I did a great job. 

2018 Win-Loss Pct. Leaders (minimum 25 matches played)

PlayerPct. (W-L)Titles
(1) Vasek Pospisil.784 (29-8)2
(2) Christian Garin.754 (46-15)3
(3) Jordan Thompson.753 (52-17)3
(4) Guido Andreozzi.731 (38-14)4
(T-5) Reilly Opelka.725 (29-11)2
(T-5) Ugo Humbert.725 (29-11) 
(7) Juan Ignacio Londero.702 (40-17) 

A lot of the returns you hit today were heavy pace right into the body. That’s a lower margin return to take so you’re not going for those tougher angles. Going forward, is that something you’re going for more?
It depends on the opponent and depends on the second serve he hits. Obviously with my leverage I can hit some big, heavy shots if I have room to swing. I hit some returns where I hit it and came in. Some I went back and hit forehands and went back and hit backhands, so I had a nice variety of four or five different positions. Towards the end of the match I had him thinking. In the tie-break, the forehand return I hit on the ad side where I stepped back was big. If I would have stepped in, it would have been a tougher shot. I ripped the forehand and went up a double mini-break. That was pretty much all I needed right there.

You had a pretty rough stretch in Northern California (first round losses in Stockton and Fairfield). I don’t think you seemed very happy with being back on court. What turned it around?
Well those were just two horrible tournaments for me. I wasn’t in a good place mentally from the start. It was easier to be calmer and happier in an atmosphere like this. My housing family is great here and that’s very comforting for a player. You know that even if you lose, you’ll have good practices and plenty of guys to hit with. 

You are very close to the Top 100. Having mono took some time from your season, but you are very close to that milestone at the finish of the year. What does it mean to be right there as you enter the final week in Champaign?
I wouldn’t even celebrate Top 100, if we’re being honest. That’s not my long term goal. Yes, it would be nice. Like you said, mono really killed me this summer, but at the same time it allowed me to reset for 5-6 weeks. I’m pleased with how I’m playing now and my main goal is to stay healthy and put in a really good offseason. I think this offseason is going to be critical. I’ve been really beat up a lot this year and doing things this offseason to prevent that for 2019 is going to be critical.

Can you talk about your physio?
Yeah, Gary Kitchell has been great. He’s helped me out a lot these couple of weeks. I wasn’t even supposed to be playing here. I’m really thankful to have him on board. He’s a legend in the industry, doing his thing for the last 30 or so years. If I say a higher number, he’ll probably kill me [laughs]. It’s not a full-time thing, but just having him as a consultant is great. I know this week was stressful, but he brings a lot of energy that’s for sure.

We have seven-hour drives to Champaign. I know you like a nice steak dinner to celebrate, but you’re going to have to pick up something on the road. We’re in the south in Knoxville. What’s the meal of choice tonight?
Great question.

That’s why they pay me a lot of money for this.
I know. That’s a phenomenal question. I don’t know. We’ve been eating good here. I’ll let my team decide, because they’ll be the ones driving. There are definitely some good options though. It might have to be something quick, but I should take into consideration that I’m going to be sitting in a car for seven hours. I might want to go light and healthy. We have a big Suburban, so I’ll be lounging in the back and sleeping for five hours at least. 

 





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Bublik, Ymer Return To Winners' Circle


A LOOK BACK
Peugeot Slovak Open (Bratislava, Slovakia): Alexander Bublik will be the first to admit that his 2018 campaign has not gone according to plan. A surging #NextGenATP star who kicked off his season just outside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings, Bublik was on the verge of a big breakthrough. But after a broken ankle suffered at the BNP Paribas Open stopped him in his tracks, the Kazakh was reeling, falling as low as No. 253.

The 21-year-old entered his final tournament of the year in Bratislava, searching for confidence heading into the offseason. Safe to say he found that and then some. Bublik won eight matches in nine days as a qualifier, clinching his first ATP Challenger Tour title in 15 months. He capped the resurgent week with 10 sets won in a row, culminating in a 6-4, 6-4 win over Lukas Rosol in Sunday’s final.

“I’m happy I managed to win today,” said Bublik. “It’s my first tournament victory since last August. Overall, in my entire career it’s the first tournament I’ve ever won as a qualifier. I have a great feeling to end the season with this title. I like Bratislava and I believe I will come back next year.”

Bublik improved to 3-0 in Challenger finals, adding to victories in Morelos, Mexico and Aptos, USA last year. He rises 83 spots to No. 170 in the ATP Rankings.

Internationaux de Tennis de Vendee (Mouilleron-le-Captif, France): Elias Ymer successfully defended his title on the indoor hard courts of Mouilleron-le-Captif, ousting Yannick Maden 6-3, 7-6(5) on Sunday. It was déjà vu for tennis fans in the French city, as Ymer defeated Maden in the final for the second straight year.

Ymer became the second repeat champion on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2018, joining Felix Auger-Aliassime, who retained the title in Lyon, France in June. Not only is it his second straight victory at the prestigious €85,000 event, but he improved to 5-0 in Challenger finals. It marks the fourth straight year in which the 22-year-old Swede has lifted a trophy on the circuit.

“It feels very good. It’s the first time in my career that I’ve defended a title,” said Ymer. “It means a lot to me because I’ve never done it before. I like the surface here and he beat me the last time in Rennes, so I knew that if you don’t play your best tennis he is going to beat you. I was very strong today, especially in the tie-break when I won five points in a row. I was very aggressive and it paid off.”

Ymer has been plotting his Top 100 breakthrough since rising to No. 105 in June. Currently at No. 132 in the ATP Rankings, he will enter the final two weeks of the season – in Bangalore and Pune – looking to surpass that career-high mark.

Ymer
Elias Ymer celebrates his successful title defence in Mouilleron-le-Captif with his father Wondwosen.

Knoxville Challenger (Knoxville, Tennessee, USA): Reilly Opelka is quietly making a significant charge towards a Top 100 debut. The 21-year-old American entered the US Open at No. 173 in the ATP Rankings, and he is now projected to rise to a career-high No. 116 following his latest title in Knoxville.

Opelka was a machine all week on the campus of the University of Tennessee, not dropping a set en route to the final. There, he overcame a stern test from countryman Bjorn Fratangelo, eventually prevailing in a deciding tie-break 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2). He fired 26 aces in one hour and 59 minutes.

In five tournaments since the US Open, he has reached a pair of finals in Chicago and Cary and claimed a championship in Knoxville. It has been a career-year for the rising Michigan native, who also added a clay-court crown in Bordeaux, France, in May. He is the sixth player to win on both clay and hard in 2018 and the 15th American champion in total.

Uruguay Open (Montevideo, Uruguay): Persistent rain washed out semi-final action on Saturday, forcing the remaining players to win a pair of matches on Sunday to lift the trophy. That’s exactly what Guido Pella did. The 2015 champion added a second title on the clay of Montevideo, rallying from a set down to defeat Pedro Sousa before overcoming countryman Carlos Berlocq 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 for the championship.

Pella enters his home tournament in Buenos Aires with a surge of momentum as he seeks a return to the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings. The Argentine improved to a dominant 13-2 in Challenger finals. Moreover, it marks the second straight year in which he has lifted a trophy on the ATP Challenger Tour and reached an ATP World Tour title match. He finished runner-up to Marco Cecchinato on the clay of Umag in July.

A LOOK AHEAD
After nearly 11 months, we have arrived at the penultimate week of the season. Five tournaments will be held on three continents, with a pair of American events in Houston and Champaign, the final clay-court event in Buenos Aires, as well as a $150,000 event in Bangalore, India, and a $50,000 event in Kobe, Japan.

At the inaugural Oracle Challenger Series Houston, Tennys Sandgren is the top seed and is joined by Bradley Klahn and Ivo Karlovic. On the indoor hard courts of Champaign, two-time champion Henri Laaksonen (2015-16) is seeded fifth, while Opelka bids for a second victory in as many weeks. 

In Buenos Aires, top seed Guido Andreozzi eyes a fifth title of the year, while fellow home hopes Renzo Olivo (2016) and Carlos Berlocq (2011) enter as the only former champions in the field. 

In Bangalore, the two-week Indian swing begins. Home favourite Sumit Nagal is the defending champion and will face seventh seed Jay Clarke in a rematch of last year’s final. Radu Albot leads the field and Ymer eyes a second straight title. Meanwhile, in Kobe, the top four seeds are Japanese players, with Yoshihito Nishioka leading the charge.  Alexander Bublik will be the first to admit that his 2018 campaign has not gone according to plan. A surging #NextGenATP star who kicked off his season just outside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings, Bublik was on the verge of a big breakthrough. But after a broken ankle suffered at the BNP Paribas Open stopped him in his tracks, the Kazakh was reeling, falling as low as No. 253.

ATP Challenger Tour 





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Why Novak Djokovic Is Playing Scary Tennis Right Now…


What happens when the game’s best returner suddenly becomes one of the best players at holding serve? Things get scary. Quickly!

Since Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic has been holding serve more than 9 out of 10 times. He continues to break serve almost once every three times. Any mathematician will tell you those are winning numbers.

Having started the year with a 6-6 match record, Djokovic has completed the greatest in-season turnaround by a player to finish the season World No. 1 in ATP Rankings history (since 1973).

Brad Gilbert, the former World No. 4, leading coach and now insightful commentator, traces Djokovic’s resurgence to his epic semi-final win over Nadal at Wimbledon. And, in particular, the Serb’s serving performance that day.

“I thought that was his best-serving match in a long time and that match was the impetus to where he is now. His serve has been the huge difference in his game as he’s gone on this run,” Gilbert says. “He’s not serving massively bigger but, like Rafa, he’s a good spot server who hits the corners. He’s hitting service winners and winning a higher percentage of first-serve points.”

Prior to Wimbledon, Djokovic was winning 84.4 percent of service games in 2018. But since Wimbledon the Serb had held serve 90.9 percent of the time leading into Nitto ATP Finals. On a full-season basis, only five players have held serve at 90 percent or better in 2018: John Isner, Ivo Karlovic, Roger Federer, Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios. (It must be noted that those marks include the clay season, during which it can be tougher to hold serve. Djokovic’s 90.9 percentage rate has been achieved on grass and hard.)

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Caveats aside, Djokovic’s serving numbers underpinned his remarkable 31-1 record from the start of Wimbledon up to his loss in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters to Karen Khachanov. Gilbert believes that the Serb’s second-half run will continue, if not accelerate, in 2019.

“I think he’s about to dominate,” Gilbert says. “The freight train has started and it’s full steam ahead.”

Gilbert was coaching Andre Agassi in 1999 when the American worked his way back from a low of No. 14 in May to win two majors [Roland Garros and the US Open] and finish on top of the ATP Rankings. Prior to this year, that same-season comeback was the biggest by a year-end No. 1.

“Novak’s Wimbledon breakthrough and his 31-2 [match record] turnaround totally reminds me of what Andre did in ’99 when he won the French, got to the final of Wimbledon and won the US Open. I think Novak is looking at a monster 2019. I could see him winning Australia and all of a sudden he’s in play for his second Djoker Slam.

“He’s tying Federer and Connors with five year-end No. 1 finishes. Beating Sampras’ six year-enders, finishing his career with 45 Masters 1000 titles… all these things are possible. But right now I’m sure he’s just focussed on finishing the year strong and winning the Nitto ATP Finals.”

Did You Know?
Djokovic’s 23 aces against Nadal in his five-set victory at Wimbledon this year were a career-high for the Serb.



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