The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Damien’s Spin: ATP unpredictable on clay

April 25, 2019

Andy Roddick may not be involved in tennis these days, but that certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything to say about the sport.

In a fascinating interview with The Tennis Podcast, Roddick said that while the debate continues over the use of fifth set tiebreaks at Grand Slams, he thinks tennis might have to go even further to preserve the longevity of its top players.

Roddick said that it could some day include having the men moving to best-of-three set matches in the top-tier events.

“I wouldn’t say we should never do it,” stated Roddick. “It’s been proven in the last five years that when our icons of the sport – Rafa, Roger, Serena, Venus – play longer, the game is better for it.

“How much longer would Roger be able to play if it was three sets? I think that’s a discussion that should be had because I do think it’s important to keep our individual stars in the game as long as possible.”

Roddick, who won 32 tournaments and got to No. 1 in the world back in 2003 and 2004, also gave his two cents on whether Novak Djokovic (15 Slams) or Rafael Nadal (16 Slams) still have a chance to catch Roger Federer and his 20 Grand Slam victories.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if any of those three had the lead when it was all is said and done,” said Roddick.

Photo: Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire

David Ferrer plans to retire after the Madrid Masters next month following a career in which the 37-year-old Spaniard was the toughest out on the tour for a long time.

The 5-foot-9 Ferrer, who is competing in Barcelona this week, won 27 titles, but was never able to break through the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray quartet and win a Grand Slam title. The closest he came was in the 2013 final at Roland-Garros where he lost to – who else? – Nadal in straight set.

Ferrer joins countryman Nicolas Almagro, who officially retired after last week’s event in Murcia, Spain.

He hopes to one day become Spain’s next Davis Cup Captain.

“I would be very proud to be able to be Davis Cup Captain,” said Ferrer. “I also understand this is very far away and there are players who are ahead. First, I have to train as a professional in coaching.”

The new Davis Cup format may attract a variety of new captains. Earlier this year, the U.S. announced that Mardy Fish, who initially looked like he might focus on professional golf after he retired from the ATP Tour in 2015, would succeed Jim Courier as the American Davis Cup Captain.

Kevin Anderson, a Wimbledon finalist last year, announced he will miss the entire clay court season because of elbow problems. Anderson, the no. 6 ranked player in the world, last played in Miami and has only disputed 10 matches so far this season.

Anderson’s best results haven’t come on clay, so this is probably a good time to take a break and heal. He’s made the fourth round at Roland-Garros four times.

“After discussing with my doctors and my team, we decided the best decision is to rest and rehab my elbow injury for a few more weeks,” he said.

Anderson was a semi-finalist at the Rogers Cup in Montreal last summer, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas. He reached the Rogers Cup quarter-finals on three other occasions.

The 32-year-old South African may have made his biggest long-term impact on the sport last year at Wimbledon when he defeated American John Isner 26-24 in the fifth and final set. This year, for the first time, the All-England Club will shift to a first-to-seven, win-by-two tiebreaker when the score reaches 12-all in the fifth set of the men’s matches and the third set of the women’s matches.

A tennis season that has experienced an unpredictable four months got a little more unpredictable in Monte Carlo.

This was a strong ATP field, with Djokovic, Nadal, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. But it was Fabio Fognini who emerged the winner on the red clay, beating 28-year-old veteran Dusan Lajovic in the final. Fognini, 31, became the 22nd different winner in the 23 men’s events held this season, and Monte Carlo was, arguably, the biggest win of his career.

When it was over, however, the news seemed less about Fognini’s triumph and more about the puzzling performances of Djokovic and Nadal, in particular.

Djokovic’s entire season so far has been enigmatic, to say the least. He won the Australian Open, making him the champion of the last three Grand Slam events. After that, however, he has failed to reach at least the semi-finals in three events, including Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo. In Monte Carlo, he was beaten in the quarter-finals by Daniil Medvedev, who had never before beaten Djokovic or a player ranked No. 1 in the world.

In that match, however, he ran away with it, surviving a slight wobble at 5-1 in the third set to eventually win it 6-2. In other words, Djokovic wasn’t even close in the end.

An issue that has haunted the Serb in the past, his focus that wavered seemed to be at the core of the problem.

“I’m lacking some determination to go for my shots on some points,” he said after the loss to Medvedev.

Nadal, meanwhile, lost to Fognini in the semis, ending a streak of 25 consecutive sets won in Monte Carlo. Similar to the Djokovic-Medvedev match, the anomaly was that Nadal was blown out in the third set when you would have expected him to be at his toughest. Indeed, he was nearly bageled by Fognini, and trailed 5-0, 40-0 in the second set before righting himself to win two games and make the final result seem a little better.

“I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years,” said Nadal after his first loss at Monte Carlo. “I played a very bad game against a very good player. I deserved to lose.”

There hasn’t been a dominant player on tour yet this season. Now we’ll see if either Djokovic or Nadal can gain a gust of momentum as the clay season progresses.

The troubles of Justin Gimelstob have now landed in the lap of the ATP.

Gimelstob, 42, pleaded no contest to assault charges in Los Angeles on Monday and was sentenced to three years probation and 60 days of community service. Gimelstob will also be required to attend anger management classes and was warned by the presiding judge not to deny his guilt publicly.

It’s now up to the ATP to decide how it wants to proceed. Gimelstob, as one of three players representatives on the ATP board, is a powerful influence on the men’s tour. He has also worked as a coach and TV commentator.

“The decision was taken to let the judicial process run its course before any judgement was made on his [Gimelstob’s] future,” said the ATP in a statement. “So with that process complete, this is now a subject for review by the board and/or the player council.”

The election for the board seat currently held by Gimelstob since 2008 will go ahead as scheduled on May 14.  The players council, with Djokovic as its president, could remove Gimelstob, but would need six of its 10 members to vote in favour of that move.

Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, a member of the players council, said the council would be “fortunate” if Gimelstob were to continue in his role as President.

“Justin has done an incredible job,” Pospisil told Tennis.Life.

The All-England Club has already announced Gimelstob would not be included in any of its Wimbledon invitational events or be permitted to sit in the royal box at Wimbledon this year. Gimelstob had previously played in the doubles invitational every year since 2010.

Gimelstob was accused of assaulting his friend, Randall Kaplan, in a bizarre incident on Halloween last year.

Tennis Channel, which used Gimelstob as an analyst, said it will “discuss his future” with the network.

The ambitious dream is that, one day, the ATP Finals will be viewed as the biggest non-Slam event in tennis. Or even the fifth Grand Slam.

The tour is hoping moving the event to Turin, Italy from London starting in 2021. This will be the catalyst to getting it to that valued next level.

ATP boss Chris Kermode announced the move on Wednesday, with Turin beating London, Manchester, Singapore and Tokyo. Milan already hosts the Next Gen Finals and two Italian cities are in the running to host the 2026 Summer Olympics.

“Italy provides us with one of the strongest and most established tennis markets in Europe and has a proven track record for hosting world class tennis events,” said Kermode.

London had hosted the ATP Finals since 2009. Turin will be the host through 2025.

With Fabio Fognini winning his first Masters event in Monte Carlo last week and the Italian Open just around the corner in Rome, the timing couldn’t have been better for the announcement that the ATP Finals are on the move.

The Davis Cup is set to be played in its new format in Madrid this November, which, along with the ATP Finals and Next Gen Finals, should begin to make that month a more focal point in the tennis season.

Canadians shouldn’t be surprised if the stadium that will be used in Turin for the ATP Finals looks a little familiar. It was then called the Palasport Olimpico arena and was built and used for ice hockey at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Canada’s women’s team won the gold medal in that rink over Sweden. It’s now called the Pala Alpitour and seats 15,000 for tennis events.

The ATP Finals is the season-ending event for the top eight singles players and doubles teams. Last year, Alexander Zverev won the singles, while the team of Mike Bryan and Jack Sock won the doubles.

Canada’s Milos Raonic qualified for the singles competition in 2014 and 2016.