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ATP Awards of the Week: Zverev, Carreno Busta shock the world in Tokyo

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August 2, 2021
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Karen Khachanov, Alexander Zverev and Pablo Carreno Busta hold up their Olympic medals

Photo : @atptour

Welcome to the ATP Awards of the Week. Every week from now until the National Bank Open, we will be highlighting the best and worst from the previous week on the ATP Tour.

Be honest, this week did not go the way you thought it was going to go.

I mean, who had Casper Ruud winning a third title in three weeks on their bingo card! Or John Isner winning in Atlanta again.

Wait, those were fairly obvious results. I guess what is surprising about them is that this is probably the first time you even heard those guys were playing this week.

Yes, there was tennis going on other than the Olympics.

But there was also the Olympics. And BOY was there the Olympics. And they did not go the way anyone expected.

From history made to history denied, here are the ATP Awards of the Week.

Performance of the Week: Pablo Carreno Busta

While Alexander Zverev may have stood atop the podium in Tokyo, it was Carreno Busta who had the more impressive week overall.

Coming off the biggest title of his career in Hamburg a few weeks ago, the Spaniard carried his momentum into the hard-court season by taking apart a very difficult draw in Tokyo to claim the bronze medal.

Of course, winning bronze means you lost in the semi-finals, but if anything that gave Carreno Busta the opportunity for an arguably more significant victory.

What made the Spaniard stand out in Tokyo was that he completed the difficult feat of beating the top two players in the world in the same tournament.

First, to reach the medal rounds, he beat No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in straight sets in the quarter-finals. He then bested world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the bronze medal match to keep the Serb off the podium and grab a medal for himself.

And while winning a bronze medal is not technically a title, winning the bronze, the way he did, definitely ranks as the biggest achievement of Carreno Busta’s career to date.

Match of the Week: Atlanta QF – Taylor Fritz d. Reilly Opelka 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 7-6(4)

Despite the Olympics hogging the headlines, the best match of the week did not actually take place in Tokyo.

That honour has to go to the quarter-final shootout between Americans Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka on home soil in Atlanta.

Love or hate servebots, there is no denying the tension of a battle between two guys refusing to let their serves be broken is incredible.

And that is what happened in the match between Fritz and Opelka, who needed three tiebreaks to decide their quarter-final clash.

The first set tiebreak was the opposite of the set itself, with the last five points of the breaker going against the server. After winning both of Opelka’s service points to go up 6-3, Frtiz attempted to serve out the set only to lose both of his points on serve. Amazingly, he then won another point on his opponent’s serve to wrap up the opening set.

Fritz had a chance to end the match in the second when he went ahead 15-40 on Opelka’s serve at 5-6, double match point, but could not convert either. Opelka then raced ahead in the tiebreak, ultimately hanging on to force a deciding set.

Opelka had to survive a tough first service game in the third set but survived and the inevitable tiebreak soon arrived.

One point ended up deciding the match, as Fritz grabbed a minibreak at 2-all in the breaker and that was enough. The rest of the tiebreak went with serve, with Fritz taking it 7-4, advancing to the semi-finals in just under three hours.

Surprise of the Week: Pedro Martinez

No, this is not a random segment about baseball.

Spaniard Pedro Martinez has been quietly consistent this season, reaching the third round at two of the three majors. If not for the Olympics overshadowing the ATP Tour events, he would have been making a ton of noise this week.

The 24-year-old advanced to his first ATP Tour final this week in Kitzbuhel, upsetting second seed Roberto Bautista Agut, his second Top 20-win in a month, on route.

Prior to this week, he had only reached one quarter-final on the ATP Tour.

He also acquitted himself well in the final, pushing the red-hot Ruud to three sets.  

Upset of the Week: Alexander Zverev d. Novak Djokovic – Olympics SF

These days, any Djokovic loss is an upset. Although normally, a semi-final against a player of the calibre of Zverev would not be considered a huge upset.

But since the world No. 1 was the overwhelming favourite and was chasing the Golden Slam, this could be the biggest upset of the year.

Especially the way it went down. Djokovic was cruising in this match, winning the first set 6-1 and up a break at 3-2 in the second.

And then the wheels just came off.

Djokovic later cited physical and emotional exhaustion, which is completely understandable given how many matches he has played, and won, over recent months.

But that did not make it any less shocking to see the Serb, one of the sport’s great fighters, just unable to muster enough to close out and then hang on as Zverev won 10 of the last 11 games to complete the upset and ensure that his countrywoman, Steffi Graf, remains the only person to complete the Calendar-Year Golden Slam.

And of course, he then rode the momentum to a gold medal, beating Karen Khachanov in the final.

Don’t be surprised if this match goes down in history in the same way as events like the Miracle on Ice or Maradona’s Hand of God at the 1986 World Cup, where people forget that the event was not actually the final and the team/person involved actually had to win another match to clinch the ultimate victory.

Unforced Error of the Week: Novak Djokovic

There was really only one storyline this week in Tokyo: Djokovic looking to clinch the “golden” part of his Grand Slam bid. And in the semi-finals without having dropped a set and leading the semi 6-1 and a break in the second, it seemed like a sure thing that he would claim the fourth leg of the Golden Slam.

Not only did Djokovic fail to grab that elusive gold medal, literally the only big title available in professional tennis that he has not won, he did not medal at all.

And he may have done a little bit of damage to his reputation in the process.

Somewhere in the middle of his semi-final against Zverev, the Serb seemed to hit a wall and was unable to recover at all in Tokyo. Once that match began to slip away, his entire tournament did.

Djokovic looked exhausted in the second half of the semi-final and did not recover in time for the bronze, where he just could not find a high enough gear to best Carreno Busta.

But what caught the attention of most was Djokovic’s behaviour in that bronze medal match, where he first threw his racquet into the (fortunately empty) stands in frustration and later smashed another racket against the net.

Incredibly, he was not penalized for the racket toss, which almost certainly would have resulted in his second disqualification in 10 months had fans been present, but he did receive a code violation for the smash on the net.

It was not a good look for the game’s biggest star.

It is also a huge missed opportunity for Djokovic to get that elusive gold medal. While the next Olympics are only three years away instead of four, he will be 37 years old and they will be played on clay, his most vulnerable surface. He will be 41 the next time the Olympics are played on hard courts, his best surface.

That’s not to say he can’t or won’t win in Paris in 2024, but especially given the weaker field in Tokyo, this was his best shot at gold.

Under the Radar: Ruud’s Hat Trick, Another final for Nakashima

Believe it or not, there was tennis somewhere other than the Olympics last week.

Pretty much everything that happened away from Tokyo could classify as under the radar, which is unfortunate because there were some notable results.

First was Casper Ruud winning his third clay-court title in as many weeks, this time taking the crown in Kitzbuhel to go with his wins last week in Gstaad and two weeks ago in Bastad. It was his fourth title of the year, all on clay.

Meanwhile on hard courts, Brandon Nakashima advanced to his second final in as many weeks in Atlanta.

Heading into Los Cabos last week, the 19-year-old had not won a match on the ATP Tour in 2021. He’s now reached back-to-back finals, improving his season record to 8-4 and moving into the Top 100 for the first time in his career.

Nakashima lost that final to John Isner, who claimed his record sixth title in Atlanta. The American has won more than half of the titles in the history of the tournament (since 2010) and has only failed to reach the final at the event twice in his career.

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