Fabio Fognini has been using his time at home in Italy to bond with his three-year-old son, Federico, and play backyard tennis with his wife, former US Open champion Flavia Pennetta. But when he recently transitioned to a real court for training sessions, the ankle issues that plagued him for nearly four years still remained.

The 33-year-old decided to tackle the problem on Saturday by undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both ankles. Fognini explained in an Instagram post on Saturday that he believed this is the best possible time for him to have the procedures.

”I’ve been having a problem with my left ankle for three-and-a-half years now. It’s an issue I’ve learned to cope with. Then my right ankle started playing up in the past two years as well,” Fognini wrote. “I had hoped the various issues would go away during my two-month break from the game because of the lockdown, but when I resumed training, they were still there.

"After medical examination and a long discussion with my team, I decided to have arthroscopic surgery on both ankles. I believe it’s the right thing to do while the Tour is on this enforced break. I will undergo surgery in Italy today. I can’t wait to be back playing again!"

Fognini, No. 11 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, started this season by representing Italy in the inaugural ATP Cup and reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open. He picked up his first ATP Masters 1000 title last April in Monte-Carlo and, two months later, became the oldest first-time member of the Top 10 since 1973.

Posted: May 31, 2020, 1:28 am

When play resumes on Tour, 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro will have a new coach working alongside him. The Argentine confirmed on Saturday that he parted ways with coach Sebastian Prieto, whom he has worked with since August 2017.

Prieto will switch to coaching fellow Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero. The former ATP Tour player picked up 10 tour-level doubles titles during his career and peaked at No. 22 in the FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings in 2006.

“I want to share that I have agreed with Sebastian Prieto to end our partnership, so that he can work with Juan Londero, while I continue my rehab process,” Del Potro wrote. “I’m very thankful to Piper for all of these years together. He is a great coach and an even better person. All the best!”

I want to share that I have agreed with Sebastian Prieto to end our partnership, so that he can work with Juan Londero, while I continue my rehab process. I'm very thankful to Piper for all of these years together. He is a great a coach and even a better person. All the best!

— Juan M. del Potro (@delpotrojuan) May 30, 2020

Del Potro has not yet confirmed who will replace him. Prieto helped the baseliner achieve several career highlights in 2018, including his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open, first Grand Slam final in nine years at the US Open and reaching a career-high FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 3 that August.

The 31-year-old Del Potro has not competed since last June after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured right kneecap he sustained that month at the Fever-Tree Championships. He previously broke his patella in October 2018 at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, causing him to miss the last four weeks of that season and limiting him to five tournaments in 2019.

Posted: May 31, 2020, 12:39 am

Yevgeny Kafelnikov made history at 1996 Roland Garros, becoming the first Russian man to win a Grand Slam title. But the former World No. 1 put his name in the history books at that event for another reason — that’s the last time any man has won both the singles and doubles title at the same major.

“I’ve got news for you: Nobody will [do it again] for a very long time,” Kafelnikov, who won that doubles crown with Daniel Vacek, told ATPTour.com. “If you ask me when the next time we’re going to see a champion in singles and doubles at the same Slam, I don’t see that happening for many, many years to come.”

The closest any man has come since was at the 2000 US Open, when Lleyton Hewitt won the doubles title with Max Mirnyi and reached the singles semi-finals.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Daniel Vacek
Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Daniel Vacek celebrate their 1996 Roland Garros doubles title. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Not only did Kafelnikov win both titles at 1996 Roland Garros, he dominated both draws. The 22-year-old played 35 sets at the event, and only lost one. How did he balance it?

“Easily,” Kafelnikov said. “I used my doubles matches basically as my preparation for the singles. You are practising elements in your doubles game that are really necessary for your singles: the return of serve, for example, volleys, serve. Instead of going to practise for one hour and 30 minutes, I used doubles for that. All the circumstances came together perfectly.”

Kafelnikov is a keen student of the sport, and he wasn’t thrilled when he saw his draw in Paris. Three of his first four matches came against Spaniards, and the other one was against Thomas Johansson, who proved a nemesis for the Russian throughout his career. But Kafelnikov beat Galo Blanco, Johannson, Felix Mantilla and Francisco Clavet without losing a set.

“It just shows how good my game was. If I wasn’t sharp I would easily lose to the players like Felix Mantilla or Francisco Clavet, who were really solid clay-court players,” Kafelnikov said. “But I was playing so well that none of those guys had a chance to get a sniff of beating me.”

Kafelnikov knew he’d have a tough test in the quarter-finals against Richard Krajicek, whom he beat in three tough sets the week before Roland Garros at the World Team Cup. But the Russian knew that the Dutchman was not as comfortable on clay as he was indoors or on grass, which played to his advantage in a four-set victory.

It wasn’t surprising that Kafelnikov was winning, but perhaps it was surprising that he went for four eight-kilometre runs around Court Philippe Chatrier during the tournament. Those runs came after his singles matches in the first round, third round, fourth round and quarter-finals.

“[It was] to keep myself physically in shape,” Kafelnikov said. “I ran 20 laps... strongly just to keep myself physically ready. I was running really, really, really fast. That shows me how physically strong I was.

“A lot of the [players] saw me. They were surprised. Two hours after the matches I went for a run. Many thought, ‘Okay he played one hour, 40 minutes against Clavet, he didn’t waste too much energy, why not go for another workout?’ They were looking at me and some of them were doing the same.”

[MY POINT]

Kafelnikov faced World No. 1 Pete Sampras in the semi-finals. The American legend rallied from two sets down against two-time champion Jim Courier in the last eight, and he also won five-setters in the second and third rounds.

But Kafelnikov was supremely confident. At the same event he defeated Krajicek in Dusseldorf, the Russian raced past Sampras 6-2, 6-2. In Paris, after a tense first set, he beat the top seed 7-6(4), 6-0, 6-2. Those were the only two wins he’d earn against Sampras in 13 tries.

“I just don’t want people to feel Pete wasted his energy on his way to the semi-finals and he had nothing left [and that] if he would have been fresher, I had no chance. I don’t see it that way; I’m not going to believe in that,” Kafelnikov said. “We all can sit here and discuss, imagine what would have happened, but I believe I was the better player, particularly in that tournament.”

At the same time, Kafelnikov and Vacek had moved their way through the doubles draw. The final against Guy Forget and Jakob Hlasek provided a good opportunity for Kafelnikov to get used to what it felt like to play for a major title. Kafelnikov/Vacek breezed to a 6-2, 6-3 triumph.

“My attitude with the doubles was, ‘You have the most important match in your life tomorrow, so just try to emulate what you’re going to feel like tomorrow, today.’ That’s exactly what happened,” Kafelnikov recalled. “I was really nervous because we were playing the final of a Grand Slam and tomorrow was going to be an even more packed stadium than we had that day. Don’t freak out when you see a full stadium tomorrow… All the elements came together in that tournament to do both, singles and doubles, so perfectly.

“My partner was over the moon. He even stayed the next day in town to help me to warm up [for the singles final].”

[ATP HERITAGE]

Kafelnikov only had one match left to make history. He faced German Michael Stich, who had upset defending champion Thomas Muster in the fourth round. The Russian had won six of their nine previous meetings, and he tried to treat it like a normal match, even if it wasn’t. Kafelnikov believed Stich could hurt him from the baseline more than Sampras did, so he was attentive to that, and his return game helped him to a two-set lead.

“I lost my first match point at 5-4 in the third set. It was [my] advantage on Stich’s serve, and he held his serve, got it to 5-5. Believe it or not I started cramping in my left leg out of nowhere because my nervous system got on edge… I can’t even remember the last time I had cramps [before that],” Kafelnikov said. “I told myself, ‘If you don’t get through this set you might not win it.’

“It is ironic, but that’s how important in my whole system that match was. It really cut everything out of my body. I left everything out on that court just to win that match.”

Kafelnikov went on long runs during the tournament, and yet he cramped during the biggest moment of his career. Kafelnikov held off Stich in the tie-break, hitting a forehand passing shot the German couldn’t handle. The Russian was so relieved, he threw his racquet high into the stands.

“I was really, really so confident, you cannot believe. You probably only get such feelings once or twice in your career where you feel like nobody can beat you. I can imagine what Djokovic and Nadal are feeling like right now because they’re mostly 365 days a year feeling that way. For me, against such competition like what I had to deal with in my career, that was a wonderful feeling.”

Yevgeny Kafelnikov

Kafelnikov beamed as he showed ATPTour.com his singles trophy from the tournament, which he still has displayed in his home. Now 46, he thinks it’s “pretty cool” that he is still the last player to win the singles and doubles titles at the same Grand Slam.

“I will definitely in my lifetime be the last one,” Kafelnikov said. “What I really want, if for some reason in my lifetime someone wins both in singles and doubles at the French Open, I would love to present the trophy to that person. But again, I don’t know if it will happen ever in my lifetime.”

Posted: May 30, 2020, 11:31 pm

David Goffin remembers it being difficult to study for school exams growing up because he’d want to watch Roland Garros on television. The Belgian’s family often made the three-hour drive to Paris to watch the clay-court major in person.

Little did Goffin know that his breakthrough as a professional tennis player would come at that same venue in 2012.

“It’s always a special place because the French Open is probably the biggest tournament we follow in Belgium,” Goffin told ATPTour.com this week. “When I played well in 2012, probably nobody knew me on the Tour and it was my first main draw at the French Open… it was the first time that people in Belgium saw me on live TV, so it was a big moment.”

Goffin became the first man since Dick Norman at 1995 Wimbledon to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam as a lucky loser. He had not yet cracked the world’s Top 100, but Goffin certainly made a name for himself.

David Goffin

Growing up, the Belgian had posters of Roger Federer on his bedroom walls. It was fitting that the Swiss superstar was his opponent in the Roland Garros Round of 16. Goffin even won the first set against the third seed.

However, his dream run nearly ended before it began. Portugal’s Joao Sousa beat the 21-year-old World No. 109 in the final round of qualifying 6-3, 7-6(3).

“I was really nervous because I felt that there was maybe an opportunity to get in my first main draw and the level was there,” Goffin said. “I lost a little bit my game that day mentally, and also physically, I was really tight. After that, I was so disappointed.”

Gael Monfils was struggling with a knee injury, forcing the Frenchman to withdraw from his home Slam. That gave Goffin his first major main draw opportunity. The Belgian would play 23rd seed Radek Stepanek.

“I knew he was a player with a lot of experience. Maybe the clay court is not his best surface, but I knew he would do everything on the court to win that match,” Goffin said. “I was just happy to be in the main draw. I had a lot of support, a lot of Belgians behind me. I enjoyed every moment in that match.”

[ATP HERITAGE]

Goffin weathered his nerves and a tricky opponent in Stepanek to advance 6-2, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

That set a clash between the 21-year-old and 2001 Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement, who was playing in his final Roland Garros. Goffin took a 5-1, 0/30 lead in the fifth set against the home favourite when, “it started to rain like crazy”, cancelling play for the day.

“During the night you can’t sleep well, you just imagine all the possible scenarios that can happen,” Goffin recalled. “The next day I came back for four points [to finish the match].”

Goffin was a lucky loser, but he was as confident as he’d ever been in his career, ousting Clement 3-6, 7-6(2), 0-6, 6-2, 6-1. Next up was Poland’s Lukasz Kubot.

“I saw [when I walked on the court] that it was packed full of Belgians, a lot of flags. The atmosphere on that court was just amazing and I remember it because I was the first player on the court and probably waited 10 minutes for Kubot,” Goffin said. “When he finally came on the court, all of a sudden, they started booing him!”

Goffin eliminated Kubot 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-2 to continue his dream run and earn a shot at Federer.

David Goffin

“[There were] a lot of [Federer] matches that I saw before playing him,” Goffin said. “I remembered all the racquets he had, all the outfits he had. I followed him very much. Every match I watched on TV.

“I was happy a little bit to see that I would play against my idol, but also I was super nervous because I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know how it is to play against him.’... I was very tight until the first point of the match.”

It was tough for Goffin to focus on building a game plan because of the nerves, but he was fully focussed on getting off to a quick start.

“If you don’t start really well and then you’re really nervous and then you lose your first service game and it’s 2-0, 3-0, then it’s tough,” Goffin said. “Roger normally starts his matches really well.”

Goffin won the opening set 7-5, and kept the second set close. But in the back of his mind, he was thinking, “I have an opportunity, but he will do something magical, that’s for sure.”

Federer raised his level as the match went on, eventually triumphing 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. Only one male lucky loser (Stephane Robert, 2014 Australian Open) has reached the fourth round of a major since.

“He’s very talented,” Federer said of Goffin. “I hope he can make it to the Top 20.”

Goffin’s accomplishments include climbing as high as World No. 7 and reaching the championship match of the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals. His breakthrough at 2012 Roland Garros went a long way to showing the Belgian what he was capable of.

“I think I proved to myself that I can win some big matches and also [hold up] physically,” said Goffin, who played 23 sets between qualifying and the main draw. “I proved to myself that physically I was good, because when you’re 20 years old, you never know. It proved to me that I have the level to go higher. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Posted: May 30, 2020, 11:12 pm

Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.

In 2006, Gael Monfils became the sixth man in the Open Era to win three consecutive five-setters at Roland Garros. Entering that tournament, a 19-year-old Monfils had not won one five-setter. It wasn't just that he accomplished the feat, it was how he did it.

The former junior World No. 1 arrived in Paris with plenty of confidence, fresh off making his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. The 25th seed faced a roadblock in the first round against Andy Murray, who had beaten him in straight sets two weeks earlier. But inspired by his home crowd, he rallied from two sets to one down to defeat the eventual World No. 1 6-4, 6-7(2), 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 in three hours and 42 minutes. The Frenchman then battled back from the same deficit against Belgian Dick Norman, advancing to the third round with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-0, 7-5 victory.

The teen’s biggest test was still to come in eighth-seeded James Blake, a powerful right-hander with plenty of punch in his game and a set of wheels as quick as anyone’s on the ATP Tour.

“I remember the crowd understandably being extremely pro-Gael. To be honest, if I wasn’t playing him, I’d be a huge fan of his as well,” Blake told ATPTour.com. “He is such an entertainer and just fun to watch, especially at that young age when people hadn’t seen that kind of athleticism before.

“I thought it was my best chance to do really well at Roland Garros. That was my best year on Tour and I felt like I was playing well, even on clay. Gael was so talented and had power and speed that was shocking.”

[ATP HERITAGE]

Play began after 7 p.m. on Court 1, otherwise known as the Bullring, with both men seeking a berth in the fourth round at Roland Garros for the first time. It was Monfils’ second appearance at the event, but it didn’t take him long to get the fans on his side.

Monfils served with a 6-2, 5-4 lead, and was two points from taking a massive advantage after saving back-to-back break points at 15/40. Blake had only converted one of 11 chances up to that point, but he crushed a forehand winner and then forced an error on the next two points to get back on serve, later evening the match at one set apiece. Play was then suspended due to darkness.

After splitting the next two sets, it looked like the higher seed might find a way through when he earned two break points at 2-1 in the fifth set. But Blake hit a backhand into the net and Monfils cracked a booming serve to save those opportunities. The Frenchman then made his move at 4-4.

Facing break point, Blake ripped two massive forehands that would have been winners against virtually anyone in the field, but Monfils clawed them back. The American came in for a Pete Sampras-like leaping overhead, but Monfils was there to get the ball back, and Blake missed a forehand volley into the net. That was the only advantage the teen needed, serving out his 6-2, 6-7(2), 7-6(1), 5-7, 6-4 victory in the next game after three hours and 21 minutes.

“It was a good satisfaction for me because it was the first time I made the second week [in a] Grand Slam,” Monfils said later that year. "[I did] this in France in front of my family and my friends, so for me that was amazing.”   

[MY POINT]

Blake didn't necessarily do anything wrong. Monfils, inspired by the French, was simply too good for the former Top 10 star.

“I just couldn’t hold him off in the fifth set when he put so much pressure on me to hold serve. His serve was so powerful, that I was struggling to make any progress on his service games,” Blake said. “He made such unbelievable gets on my service games that it was difficult to have any easy holds or quick points. That was the difference, that he got that one elusive break in the fifth set.”  

In a fourth-round battle of teens, Monfils lost to unseeded Novak Djokovic. The Serbian won the first two sets in a tie-break before pulling away. Even though Monfils couldn’t rally for a fourth consecutive five-set win, he certainly left an impression on Paris and the tennis world.

“I still think Gael is the fastest player to ever play on Tour. His ability to retrieve balls that I thought were easy winners was shocking,” Blake said. “I really couldn’t believe that his top speed was so fast. It seemed like it didn’t matter how far out of position he was on the court, he could recover for the next ball.”

Did You Know?
Monfils' best result at Roland Garros came in 2008, when he made the semi-finals. The Frenchman has made three additional quarter-finals in Paris.

Posted: May 30, 2020, 5:13 pm

Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September. This story was originally published on 8 June 2017.

The abiding memory is of a stick-thin figure bedecked top-to-toe in yellow and blue, who unleashed explosive groundstrokes and a monotonous groan, which echoed around Stade Roland Garros, to wear down the best clay-court players the professional circuit had to offer. With each win as Gustavo Kuerten walked off court, came an infectious smile in acknowledgement of his growing legion of followers, to whom he became universally known as ‘Guga’.

“To win Roland Garros was unbelievable,” Kuerten told ATPWorldTour.com, on the 20th anniversary of his win. “It’s become more absurd as the years have passed. Now I know how hard it is to win a Grand Slam, but back then I kept questioning, ‘What is this?’ and ‘How did I win?’ It was simple and fun. In hitting new angles, I became a new player. I saw a new universe as a tennis player. In 1997, it was simple, ‘Oh, let’s win this’. It was only in 2000, with my second triumph, that I began to understand what had happened.

“Life was a new match, one that I couldn’t imagine. Now, 20 years on, it makes me curious about how Mats Wilander [17 at 1982 Roland Garros], Boris Becker [17 at 1985 Wimbledon], Michael Chang [17 at 1989 Roland Garros] and Rafael Nadal [who had recently turned 19 at 2005 Roland Garros] all felt in winning their first major titles at a young age.”

Kuerten had first visited Paris in 1992 with Larri Passos, his only coach throughout his professional career that ended at Roland Garros in 2008. In finding that tickets had sold out, the carefree spirit entered the grounds at night to hide inside the Court Suzanne Lenglen stadium, only to appear when the first spectators were looking for their seats. Yet by May 1997, he was assured of his place in the third Grand Slam championship of his career as one of only five Latinos – No. 10 Marcelo Rios, No. 53 Marcelo Filippini, No. 64 Hernan Gumy and No. 88 Fernando Meligeni – in the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.

For the 20 year old had watched more matches as a fan on his television in Florianopolis, Santa Caterina, an island in southern Brazil, than he had played on the ATP World Tour circuit (45). But a win on Brazilian soil at an ATP Challenger Tour stop in Curitiba boosted his confidence and the five matches had not only helped to improve his consistency, but given World No. 66 Kuerten the conviction that he could produce his best performances. “The spirit was there. I knew if I kept pushing myself something very special would happen,” said Kuerten, who remembers a helicopter flew over the court at the start of the second set, creating a dust storm, during his three-set victory over No. 158-ranked Razvan Sabau in the Curitiba final of May 1997.

Lifting a trophy had effected a positive mental change in his on-court demeanour. “Guga initially had two difficulties,” Passos told ATPWorldTour.com. “His handling of the ball and the way that he defended. He had more issues moving to the right side, his forehand, but in Curibita, and subsequently at Roland Garros, we prepared tactics so that he could play with his backhand, which would become one of the best and deadly shots in the world. When he controlled the game with his backhand, he unsettled his opponents. While he liked to attack, he also had to learn how to defend.”

With renewed drive, strength and energy, Kuerten arrived in Paris with a small suitcase. Expectations were light, despite his recent success. “I came here to win one match,” smiled Kuerten, 20 years on. “I was not trying to win it, but I was trying to improve. As the tournament progressed, I needed to go away from the fantasy of potentially winning, so Larri was always very precise over how he planned my time. I just needed to feel the clay and I got better.”

Sticking with tradition, Kuerten and Passos stayed at the $70 per night, two star Mont Blanc Hotel, near the Porte de Versailles, a 20-minute bus ride to the courts. It was a 15-square metre enterprise, with two rooms and a corridor down the middle that allowed guests to pack their suitcases. Passos had stayed at the hotel since 1990, but it importantly ensured that Kuerten was far from the spotlight.

“I first stayed there as a junior in 1992,” said Kuerten, who won the 1994 Roland Garros junior doubles title with another future Top 10 player Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador. “We knew everyone from the cleaners to the owners. It was very simple.” Each night, the pair ate pasta at Victoria's Trattoria and by day Passos, per superstition, would wear his favourite shirt to watch his charge progress through the draw. “As I began to win matches the press had a tough time finding the hotel,” said Kuerten. Passos adds, “By irony of fate, our hotel room in 1997 was No. 1.”

Kuerten’s run to the trophy, and his subsequent ascent to No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings four years later in December 2000, was a product of hours on the practice courts. The Brazilian always played with his heart, and he endeared himself to the tennis world by virtue of his personality and the fact that he didn’t hide his emotions.

“At the beginning, it was difficult to believe that he would be such a great tennis player,” admitted Passos, who first started working with a 13-year-old Guga in 1990. “But he was always a boy who loved to train. I had to change his two-handed backhand to a single-hander, then we began to work on the technique and the shape of his game.

“Guga loved what he did and, in addition to all of his technical qualities, he achieved what he did throughout his career as a result of the love he had to play. We worked with a lot of harmony, focus and lived for every moment. We used to have fun, play and laugh a lot. Sometimes we had more fun than we trained, but being on the court was always a very special time.”

At 1997 Roland Garros, Kuerten experienced “two separate weeks”: the realisation that he was performing better than he expected and then the switch in mentality that came as a result of beating Thomas Muster, the fifth-seeded Austrian ironman and 1995 champion, 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in the third round.

“I’d hit 10 drop shots against Muster, who yelled out in German, ‘What the hell is this? I’m playing my best tennis and this kid is killing me. Who is he? A genius?’ The crowd got involved and Muster was an amazing battler to the end. Then, struggling at 0-3 in the fifth set, at the change of ends, I said, ‘Get me out of here, he’s going to eat me!’ I was close to giving up, but my brother Rafael, sitting in the stands, told me, ‘You’ve come this far, get up and keep fighting.’

“After the Muster win, I had a full press conference in the big room. Before that I’d only spoken to two or three people.” Kuerten’s subsequent two-day victory over Andrei Medvedev, that transported him “to another universe” heralded a quarter-final against Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the third seed and defending champion. The match was broadcast live in Brazil, and saw the arrival of his long-time PR manager, Diana Gabanyi, who would answer “99 per cent of the telephone calls” to the Mont Blanc Hotel – now, 20 years on, a tourist hotspot for Kuerten’s compatriots.

“I thought Kafelnikov was impossible,” said Kuerten. “Even if he didn’t play his best, I couldn’t win.” But he did, 6-2, 5-7, 5-7, 6-0, 6-4, and then the player dubbed by L’Equipe, the French sports newspaper, ‘The Clay Surfer’, felt that he had a real chance. “The intensity of the spotlight changed when I beat Kafelnikov, the favourite to retain his title. It was two separate tournaments from then on. I had great conviction. I knew the trophy was mine.”

By then the tennis world had fallen in love with the frizzy-haired and richly gifted player, a colourful and exciting personality, who sang in the locker room, played the guitar and listened to reggae in his free time. “After beating Kafelnikov in the quarter-finals, we both knew that the title could not escape us by the way he felt the ball,” admitted Passos. “Our conviction was so great that we called Guga’s house and asked the family to build a large gate outside the entrance of his house, because they had to be prepared for the harassment of fans in Brazil."

Having beaten qualifier Filip Dewulf in the semi-finals, “the only match I was the favourite”, red-dirt warrior Sergi Bruguera – who is now Richard Gasquet’s coach – was favoured to add to his 1993 and 1994 triumphs. “Before he went out onto the court,” remembers Passos, “I said to him, ‘Guga you worked hard and did everything right, now go enjoy dessert.’”

Kuerten just smiled, thinking about the path he’d taken. His casual demeanour belied his intensity, and during the title match he showed no sign of nerves in ruthlessly dealing with his Spanish opponent in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 triumph over one hour and 50 minutes. It was the 52nd tour-level match of Kuerten’s career, his “best match of the fortnight” and ensured he had become the lowest-ranked Grand Slam champion since Mark Edmondson (No. 212) at the 1976 Australian Open.

While the Brazilian fans broke into the samba as they celebrated their first Grand Slam triumph since Maria Bueno’s victories more than 40 years previous, the gifted newcomer received the trophy from his idol Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas. "I played like I did in practice and I really enjoyed it,” said Kuerten, 20 years on. “In beating Bruguera, I thought to myself, ‘This is my trophy and I deserve it.’ Permitting myself to dream about raising the trophy was crucial for us."

Passos had promised Kuerten’s father Aldo, who had passed away as the result of a heart attack whilst umpiring a match in Curibita when Guga was eight in 1985, that he would one day develop his son’s tennis skills. It had been Passos’ job to take a rough diamond and to polish it, to nurture Guga’s dreams and, ultimately, set new goals that would drive and inspire him for the rest of his career. “When the final was over, we met in the locker room,” recalls Passos. “We went up to the rest rooms. We prayed, we thanked God, and dedicated the title to his father. “We looked at each other and I said to him, ‘Let's continue being the same! Let's not change!’ We then hugged and wept a lot.

“I always say that Guga has a larger heart than his body, and it was with this great heart that Guga won Roland Garros in 1997.”

When one of the ATP World Tour’s most popular champions pops up at tournaments around the world today, as Kuerten will when he presents the trophy to the 2017 Roland Garros champion on Sunday, it is easy to cast your mind back back to the halcyon days of 20 years ago when he received the first of his three Roland Garros trophies (also 2000 and 2001). Simply, because Guga hasn’t changed. He continues to dedicate his life to his family, that was once more affected by tragedy in November 2007 by the loss of his greatest supporter, his brother Guilherme, who suffered from cerebral palsy.

“Tennis helped me value my family, the pieces that they put together for the great moments,” says Kuerten, from his home on the magical island of Florianopolis, in southern Brazil. “It was a huge work effort. I could maintain my values and the way I approach life, because of them. It’s difficult to maintain the same life with money and fame, but life has always been more important to me than tennis or any Grand Slams I have won. Tennis ends and you need to return to normal.”

Today, 20 years on from beating Bruguera to complete an almost spiritual journey to the clay-court title in Paris, Kuerten’s countrymen and women empathise with the boy who came from a simple family and overcame numerous obstacles with just the same attitude as he had when he was a wide-eyed child dreaming of success in sport and life.

“My life was never normal again after 1997 Roland Garros, yet I have tried to preserve and maintain my approach to life,” said Kuerten. “My father was a huge part of my life, my idol and I dedicate my life to him. He really liked to try his best, and he always fought for what he wanted. So I think I got some of this from him. He just wanted his sons - me and my two brothers - to grow up and do well in their lives and have a good reputation."

Guga’s heart permitted him to dream and his tremendous work ethic, which continues to this day through the Instituto Guga Kuerten, allowed him to fulfil his potential. His father would, indeed, be very proud.

Roland Garros

Posted: May 30, 2020, 4:43 pm

Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September. This story was originally published on 9 June 2018.

Nicolas Mahut appeared to be tearing up after partnering Pierre-Hugues Herbert to their first Roland Garros title in 2018. Suddenly his six-year-old son, Natanel, sprinted across the red dirt and leapt into his father’s waiting arms as the crowd cheered him on.

Mahut said that Natanel had asked him for two days how he can get down from the stands onto the court. And while he did not know how it would play out, the Frenchman was ecstatic it happened.

“I knew that they had found a possibility. I didn't know if he was going to go through the locker room or the players' entrance. I knew he was going to find a way,” Mahut said. “These two, three minutes, when we hugged with Pierre-Hugues and then my child arrives on the court, I felt really blessed. I'm really fulfilled. I don't think I can achieve something or live something bigger.”

Moments like this 🤗💕#RG18 https://t.co/mTx9NlDbI7

— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) June 9, 2018

Seven years ago, Mahut came excruciatingly close to winning the Roland Garros title with Michael Llodra, leading Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan 4/2 in a third-set tie-break for the championship before falling short. But on Saturday, Mahut joined Herbert to wash away those memories, defeating Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 6-2, 7-6(4) to become the third all-French team in the Open Era to lift the trophy on the terre battue.

Natanel got in on the celebration, leading Herbert and then his father in a ‘floss’ dance to the delight of the home crowd. It is safe to say that for everyone involved, it is a moment that will last a lifetime.

.@NMahut's son knows all the right moves for the perfect celebration!@p2hugz approves.#RG18 pic.twitter.com/VhkhskwbZA

— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2018
"Roland Garros is "the" tournament. When you're a French guy, you want to win it. You dream of winning such a tournament," Herbert said. "We were more thinking about the singles tournament. But winning the doubles title, it's as important. And winning at home, there is nothing better in terms of feelings."

Herbert and Mahut joined Henri Leconte/Yannick Noah (1984) and Julien Benneteau/Edouard Roger-Vasselin (2014), saving six of seven break points in their one-hour, 40-minute victory. The duo became the first French team to win three or more major titles together in the Open Era. Herbert and Mahut, who also won the 2015 US Open and 2016 Wimbledon, defeated the ATP Doubles Race To London leaders for the third time in as many ATP Head2Head meetings. 

"It had been really painful in 2013, because I thought it was my only chance of winning Roland Garros. Thanks to Pierre-Hugues, we are here five years after. I'm smiling, and I can tell you there is a real difference between losing in the finals and winning a final," Mahut said. "We are in front of you trying to explain what we are feeling, but it's almost too late. The emotion is difficult to tell. What we lived, we won the match point, and the two, three minutes afterwards, when we try to explain it, it's already too late. It's almost indescribable. It's just utter happiness."

Posted: May 30, 2020, 4:33 pm

Rafael Nadal is ready to welcome tennis fans to get back on court safely and responsibly after an extended period of COVID-19 lockdown. Not only is the five-time year-end World No. 1 back on court practising at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, Nadal said in a video released on Thursday that his academy wants local and international players to visit in the coming months.

Arancha Gonzalez, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, confirmed that the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from overseas to Spain is set to end on 1 July. As the 80 full-time academy students who were confined on site during the country’s State of Emergency have started practising again, Nadal encouraged tennis players worldwide to explore his hometown while working on their games.

“Mallorca is a very special island. To me, it is one of the most incredible places in the world,” Nadal said. “I would like to invite you all to discover this beautiful island and play sport safely. We have a great team who will dedicate their time to looking after your well-being.”

The Spanish government began easing restrictions on movement this week as part of a four-phase plan. The academy is implementing new protocols during this period to ensure that guests and staff can safely enjoy all of their tennis offerings.

In 2018 November, the Consell of Mallorca named Nadal as an honorary citizen for the Balearic Islands for his on-court success and humanitarian efforts.

The return of Rafa! 💪 @RafaelNadal | (via/@rnadalacademy) pic.twitter.com/2krvk8lssP

— ATP Tour (@atptour) May 25, 2020
Posted: May 29, 2020, 5:14 pm

Tennis United's eighth episode is a special one, as Novak Djokovic and Garbine Muguruza, both of whom have reached World No. 1 in singles, join the show. The episode premiered Friday on the ATP Tour’s Facebook page.

Djokovic and Muguruza discussed their breakfast routines with co-host Vasek Pospisil as Muguruza prepared a Spanish omelette live mid-interview. Djokovic spoke about his plant-based diet, which he has followed for five years.

“I grew up on the opposite side of the spectrum,” Djokovic said. “I was eating meat three times a day every day, so I changed that. I like it the way it is [now].”

Today on Tennis United 🤩

Tune in at 2pm ET / 7pm BST 📆 @DjokerNole | @GarbiMuguruza pic.twitter.com/9S1kb5VN8g

— ATP Tour (@atptour) May 29, 2020

After Pospisil and co-host Bethanie Mattek-Sands looked at the social clips of the week, Djokovic and Muguruza rejoined the show to reflect on their “firsts”. The Serbian revealed that he cried multiple times at his first tournament.

“The first tournament I ever played in my life, the first competition I had officially, I was eight, I won [the] first match ever, [an] 8-8 tie-break, 10/8,” Djokovic recalled. “I was really obviously filled with joy and everything, but I was very exhausted. My mom was there. She hugged me, and when she hugged me, I started crying.”

Djokovic remembered that he lost his next match 0-9 against good friend Viktor Troicki, and he shed tears again. Muguruza revealed that when she was six, she won her first tournament in Venezuela.

Also on this episode, Mattek-Sands caught up with former doubles World No. 1 Sania Mirza.

Posted: May 29, 2020, 4:31 pm

Andrey Rublev is a four-time ATP Tour titlist and he currently sits at a career-high No. 14 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

ATPTour.com looks at five things you should know about the Russian.

1) He Reached The US Open Quarter-Finals In 2017
Just more than a month after lifting his maiden ATP Tour trophy at the 2017 Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag, Rublev achieved the best Grand Slam finish of his career so far at the 2017 US Open. The 19-year-old advanced to the quarter-finals in New York, beating two Top 15 players to become the youngest US Open quarter-finalist since Andy Roddick in 2001.

The 6’2” right-hander beat recently-crowned Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin — both men reached the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals championship match — in straight sets en route to the last eight. Rafael Nadal, who went on to claim his third of four US Open trophies, ended Rublev's run.

Rublev

2) He Faced A Setback In 2018
After ending a breakthrough 2017 season with a run to the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals championship match, Rublev’s hopes of continuing his rise up the FedEx ATP Rankings were derailed by injury in 2018.

Rublev began the 2018 ATP Tour season in impressive form, reaching his second ATP Tour final at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open (l. to Monfils) and back-to-back quarter-finals in Montpellier and Rotterdam. But a lower back stress fracture forced the Russian to miss three months of the year and spend three hours a day at a clinic doing magnetotherapy. He said the rest of his day was spent eating lunch and sitting on the sofa.

“That time was really tough for me,” said Rublev. “I remember I didn’t watch any tennis matches... all the guys were playing and competing. They were on Tour and I was there on the sofa doing nothing."

[TENNIS AT HOME]

3) He Wasted No Time Against Federer In Cincinnati Last Year
“It’s my biggest and the most emotional win."

At last year’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Rublev recorded the quickest victory against Roger Federer in more than 16 years.

Competing at No. 70 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, the two-time Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier earned a 62-minute win against Federer with consistent forehand aggression. It was the fastest win any player had recorded against the 20-time Grand Slam champion since Franco Squillari defeated the Swiss in 54 minutes to advance to the second round at 2003 Sydney. (No times are available for Davis Cup matches and 2000 and 2004 Olympic matches.)

4) Injuries Have Helped Him Appreciate The Sport
After missing three months of 2018 with a lower back stress fracture, Rublev also missed six weeks of the 2019 ATP Tour season with a right wrist injury.

At his comeback event, the NOVENTI OPEN in Halle, Rublev struggled to find his form in a third-set tie-break loss to Mats Moraing in the first qualifying round. But, after all his time away from the court, he had learned to find joy from competing rather than results.

“I appreciated everything I had after the second injury… I remember after that match I was a little bit disappointed, but not as much as before,” said Rublev. “But I said, ‘Finally, I’m playing’. Even though I was playing badly, I enjoyed that moment. Even playing like that, I wanted to play. After that I appreciated what I had. I won one round at Wimbledon and took steps forward, little-by-little. I finished the season well.

[ATP APP]

5) He Made A Stunning Start To 2020
In the first two weeks of the 2020 ATP Tour season, Rublev entered the history books. The 22-year-old became the first player since Dominik Hrbaty in 2004 to win two trophies in the opening two weeks of a season, claiming titles in Doha and Adelaide.

“I was not thinking about [this statistic], but it's an amazing feeling… I'm really happy. I hope I keep working. I hope I keep improving, and we'll see what's going to happen," said Rublev.

The Russian did not drop a set en route to the trophy in Doha, before surviving three-set battles against Daniel Evans and Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the Adelaide final. In the championship match, he needed just 56 minutes to charge past Lloyd Harris and earn a 12th straight tour-level victory. The Russian extended his winning run to 15 matches at the Australian Open, before Alexander Zverev beat him in the fourth round.

Posted: May 29, 2020, 4:19 pm

Hey Kids!

We hope you've been enjoying all the activities in the Emirates ATP Kids Hub during this period of lockdown.

We've got something new for you this week: three mazes in which you need to trace a path to the Roland Garros trophy. Download all three below...

Download Maze 1 (PDF)

Download Maze 2 (PDF)

Download Maze 3 (PDF)

Don't forget to check all all the great activities in the Emirates ATP Kids Hub

Posted: May 29, 2020, 3:49 pm

Roger Federer made history in a new way on Tuesday when he became the first tennis player to top Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes. Forbes estimated Federer's annual earnings at $106.3 million.

The Swiss just edged football stars Cristiano Ronaldo ($105m) and Lionel Messi ($104m), who were the only other athletes to surpass the $100m milestone.

Forbes Highest-Paid Athletes - Top 5

 Athlete  Total Earnings
 1) Roger Federer  $106.3 million
 2) Cristiano Ronaldo  $105 million
 3) Lionel Messi  $104 million
 4) Neymar  $95.5 million
 5) LeBron James  $88.2 million

View Full Forbes List

On the Forbes website, Kurt Badenhausen compares Federer to basketball legend Michael Jordan: "Call it the Jordan playbook, the blueprint for global domination chronicled in ESPN’s 10-part documentary on the basketball great, The Last Dance: Command a sport with a global audience for years; appeal to both men and women; stay out of trouble; add in a dose of swagger and a dash of charisma."

Badenhausen quoted David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business, as saying Federer's "brand is pristine". The Swiss has endorsements with 13 brands, including pasta and luggage companies.

Three other ATP players made the list, with each of them ranking inside the Top 40.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic came in 23rd with $44 million in total earnings, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal was second at $40 million, and Japanese star Kei Nishikori was 40th at $32.1 million.

Federer has earned nearly $130 million in career prize money.

Posted: May 29, 2020, 1:49 pm

Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September

After maiden championship victories at Wimbledon in 2003 and the Australian Open earlier in the year, Roger Federer arrived at Roland Garros in 2004 seeking his third Grand Slam trophy in 11 months.

The World No. 1, who entered the event fresh from lifting his second Hamburg European Open trophy, avoided a third-straight first-round loss at the clay-court Grand Slam championship with back-to-back straight-sets wins against Kristof Vliegen and Nicolas Kiefer.

But in the third round, the Swiss' title bid came to an abrupt end against three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten.

[ATP APP]

The Brazilian, who underwent arthroscopic right hip surgery in 2002, was competing for the first time since retiring from his Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell quarter-final showing with a hip injury. Kuerten began the tournament with a five-set battle against Nicolas Almagro, before moving past Gilles Elseneer to book a date with the World No. 1 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Supported by regular chants of ‘Guga! Guga!’, Kuerten played with aggression from the baseline and found consistent success on serve. Despite dropping his serve early in the first set, the Brazilian did not face a break point in any of his remaining 14 service games to complete a memorable two-hour, four-minute victory.

“I came here in bad shape, playing bad. But every time I go on the court, it seems something special happens with the love and passion I have for the tournament. That brings the best out in me,” said Kuerten.

[TENNIS AT HOME]

Kuerten’s victory extended his streak of fourth-round appearances at the tournament to six years. The 2000 year-end World No. 1 ultimately advanced to the quarter-finals in Paris, where he was beaten in a fourth-set tie-break by World No. 8 David Nalbandian.

With Federer adding a second Wimbledon trophy and a maiden US Open crown to his resume later in the year, Kuerten was the only man to defeat Federer at a Grand Slam event in 2004.

"The last three years haven't been the best for me here," said Federer. "I just didn't play like I can. This is a little bit of a disappointment for me. I can play better."

Federer soon proved that he could achieve greater success on the Parisian terre batteu. The Swiss has reached the Round of 16 or better in each of his 12 appearances at the event since his loss to Kuerten. Federer has made five final appearances in Paris and, with his 2009 final victory against Robin Soderling, the Swiss became the sixth man to complete the Career Grand Slam.

Posted: May 29, 2020, 2:25 am

Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.

Saturday, 31 May 2003 was a special day for Tommy Robredo. He had just turned 21 and was facing the biggest challenge of his career so far at Roland Garros: defeating a World No. 1 at a Grand Slam.

His opponent was Lleyton Hewitt, who took the first two sets 6-4, 6-1. However, the Australian would not be the man to claim the victory that day.

Playing in the third round of a Grand Slam was nothing new to the Spaniard. It was not even the first time he had met — and defeated — a Top 5 player at a Grand Slam event, as he had previously overcome Juan Carlos Ferrero at the 2001 US Open. But, in Paris, he produced the best victory of his career until that point.

“Until now I had always remembered my 2001 win over Ferrero in the US Open. But today’s surpasses that by a distance,” said Robredo.

[TENNIS AT HOME]

So, what happened that day on the French clay? David brought down Goliath. And he did so by coming back from two sets down in a total of three hours and 24 minutes to win 4-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

"The important thing was keeping a good head. I didn’t care about going two sets down, or losing 0-3 in the fifth. I kept fighting, convinced that I could beat him,” said Robredo.

Sixteen years later, Robredo revealed something intriguing that happened to him before the match against Hewitt. The day after beating Jonas Bjorkman in the second round, the Spaniard went to the physio room for his treatment. In just 24 hours he had to face the World No. 1 and he wanted to be as prepared as possible. Andre Agassi was close by and he quickly asked him for some advice.

”Hey, Andre, tomorrow I’m playing with Hewitt,” said Robredo. “What tactics should I use?

“I’m not the kind of person that asks a lot of questions, but I thought I’d ask Agassi,” said Robredo. “It was very interesting. He suddenly got up off the bed. He sat down. And he started explaining the tactics to me.”

They spoke of Hewitt’s tactics, his cross-court backhand, his solid forehand and that on his second serve and on break points he tended to aim at the ‘T’.

“Agassi kept talking and I remember that the match was exactly as he had told me,” said Robredo.

[ATP APP]

Robredo progressed to the fourth round, along with his countrymen Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Felix Mantilla and Carlos Moya. The next day, he returned to the same room he had spoken to Agassi in. And the US player was there once more.

“He got up and gave me a hug and said, ‘I watched the whole match and you honestly played incredibly. You applied all the tactics we talked about perfectly. I’m really glad.’ Nobody had ever given me tactics for a match as elaborately and clearly as he did. Everything he said was right. I knew exactly how Hewitt played and how you had to play him,” said Robredo.

After the evident success, the then-World No. 31 did not hesitate, “Hey, tomorrow I’m playing Kuerten, maybe you can give me some tactics. And he did it again for me,” said Robredo.

The result? Robredo reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final by beating the Brazilian 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-4.

Posted: May 29, 2020, 2:18 am

Your favourite players are finding plenty of ways to keep busy this week. From Fabio Fognini's big day out, to Daniil Medvedev gearing up for summer, find out how the world's best players have been spending their days.

Fognini enjoyed a day in the woods near his home in Italy.

Medvedev showed off his new summer haircut.

#newlook 👦�

A post shared by Medvedev Daniil (@medwed33) on

Rafael Nadal hit the practice court for the first time in two months.

The video 🎥 we were all waiting for‼� � @rafaelnadal is back to the courts of the #RafaNadalAcademyByMovistar! VAMOS‼� pic.twitter.com/Mg7Xibwy07

— Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar (@rnadalacademy) May 25, 2020

Stefanos Tsitsipas took time to thank frontline healthcare workers.

Thanks to all the doctors and nurses around the world. You were and still are an inspiration!

— Stefanos Tsitsipas (@StefTsitsipas) May 24, 2020

John Isner made it clear that he'd give anything to be competing right now.

Never thought I’d miss clay courts this much

— John Isner (@JohnIsner) May 27, 2020

Yuichi Sugita rejoiced at being able to resume his training.

Working hard 💪@sugitayuichi88 back out on the court! pic.twitter.com/FEcYhTbsUx

— ATP Tour (@atptour) May 28, 2020

Mackenzie McDonald took on the Splash Challenge.

Robert Farah had his hands full with feeding four dogs.

Jamie Murray sharpened his golf skills.

Posted: May 28, 2020, 8:17 pm

John McEnroe announced his arrival to tennis fans in 1977 as a brash 18-year-old whose temperamental outbursts made him the face of teen angst. Nearly 45 years later, he’s reprising that role for a new Netflix series.

The former No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings has a recurring voice-over role in Never Have I Ever and makes a cameo appearance in the season finale. The show is created by Mindy Kaling, best known for her role as Kelly Kapoor in the American version of The Office. McEnroe is the narrator for the inner voice and life of 15-year-old girl Devi Vishwakumar, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who struggles with the recent death of her father.

”I don’t know why it works,” McEnroe said to The New York Times. “At first, people are like, ‘What?’ I’m not the normal voice-over sound.”

Although it might seem odd to have McEnroe narrating a teenage girl’s obsession with an attractive male swimmer, as he does in one episode, the tennis legend was specifically sought for the role. Kaling cited Vishwakumar’s temperamental moments throughout the series, such as shattering her bedroom window with a textbook, as areas that he would be suited to analyse.

"When we decided that the character of Devi would have a temper, the McEnroe thing just kept coming back,” Kaling told USA Today. “Someone who's high-achieving but is undermined by their own temper. He has really high standards for himself and everyone around him. We kept talking about him and were like, 'Wait, should he be doing the narration?' Devi's dad loved tennis and it timed out that he would have grown up watching McEnroe." 

But the age gap between McEnroe and 18-year-old Ramakrishnan was evident in other ways. The actress admitted having to Google who McEnroe was before they began filming.

The entire first season of Never Have I Ever is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Posted: May 28, 2020, 7:07 pm

Dirk Nowitzki is widely considered one of the best NBA players of his era. The German was a 14-time All Star, the 2007 Most Valuable Player, and plenty more. Not many know that growing up, he loved playing tennis.

“I grew up playing a double-handed backhand, and then once I stopped playing when I was about 14, 15, I kind of went away and put all my eggs into the basketball basket and took 10, 11 years off and never really played,” Nowitzki said. “Once I got to my mid-20s, in the summer I started playing again and then my double-handed backhand was completely gone! I didn’t even know how to hold it anymore. Then I actually switched to a one-hander.”

That is the shot the basketball star enjoys watching most in today's game, and there are a few players in particular whose one-hander he is in awe of.

“Roger to me is of course one of the best. Stan Wawrinka has a laser of a one-hander, and he’s super-fun to watch with his power game. Dominic Thiem is coming up and his one-hander is beautiful and powerful,” Nowitzki said. “That’s just to name a few. There are so many great one-handers in the game.”

Has Nowitzki been able to replicate their one-handers when he gets on the court?

“I slice a lot and if I do get it, I do a little spin,” Nowitzki said. “I’ve tried both in my career. My backhand is definitely my weak spot.”

If Nowitzki had to pick one all-time one-handed backhand to add to his arsenal, it would come from his good friend, fellow German Tommy Haas, who is less than three months older than Nowitzki.

“I love a beautiful one-handed backhand. My boy Tommy Haas has one of the prettiest one-handed backhands ever on Tour, so I’d probably use his,” Nowitzki said. “My game is more forehand and serve, so backhand definitely needs some help.”

Growing up, Nowitzki had star Germans to look up to in Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. “Everybody tried to be like them,” he said. Nowitzki played attacking tennis in his junior tournaments, keeping points short.

“When you’re tall, the movement is not quite there as much for me,” Nowitzki said. “I tried to keep the points short with an aggressive serve and aggressive forehand.”

Dirk Nowitzki Charity event
Photo Credit: Dallas Mavericks
The German has held four annual Dirk Nowitzki Pro Celebrity Tennis Classics to raise funds for the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation. At those events, current or former pros like Haas, Andy Roddick, John Isner and Mark Knowles play with celebrities, like Nowitzki and his former Dallas Mavericks teammates. But that’s not a one-off tennis moment for Nowitzki each year.

“I’m still a tennis fan more than anything. I watch it all the time. Sometimes I’ll sit there in the evening and the kids are in bed and I’ll just flip to the Tennis Channel and watch random tournaments somewhere indoors in a little town and it’s a Challenger,” Nowitzki said. “I love watching tennis, I watch it all the time and it’s fascinating some of the shots they hit out of positions that are really hopeless. It’s just an amazing game and something new always happens. It’s such an athletic game now and the shotmaking is incredible.”

Posted: May 28, 2020, 7:03 pm

Michael Chang made his Grand Slam breakthrough at 1989 Roland Garros after overcoming severe cramps to defeat Ivan Lendl en route to winning the title. Twelve years later, he found himself on the same court staring at another cramping American teenager in Andy Roddick.

Their five-set, second-round clash was seen as a changing of the guard in American tennis as the 18-year-old Roddick prevailed 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-5 after three hours and 50 minutes. Roddick, then No. 48 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, grimaced and hopped on one foot between points in the fifth set, even leaning on a linesman for support. But he also broke the record for most aces in a match at Roland Garros (37) since the ATP started keeping stats in 1991.

After Chang hit a backhand wide on match point, Roddick broke down in tears as he hobbled to the net. The crowd rose in unison and began chanting his name. Despite the disappointing defeat, the always classy Chang imparted a few words of wisdom as they shook hands.

“One of the cool moments was when we shook hands and Michael said, ‘Listen, I’ve cramped. I’ve done this before. Here’s what you need to do,’” Roddick recalled to Tennis Channel. “He went point by point as to how I could best recover. It was a real lesson learned on how to prepare yourself going into the match.”

The similarities between Roddick's victory and Chang's heroic comeback in 1989 weren't lost on the rising American. He cited the match with Lendl as one of his biggest motivators growing up.

"It was going through my head while I was out there," Roddick said. "That match was one of my first memories of tennis. I went out after it and played for three hours. It really inspired me."

Although Chang’s best years were behind him in the 2000s, beating him on red clay was still a difficult task. He was full of praise for Roddick afterwards and wanted to see his opponent continue forward in the draw.

“At that point, I figured that I’m out of the tournament and he’s an American. All Americans want other Americans to do well,” Chang said of his advice at the net. “Obviously it was an incredible match… It was ridiculous how high and deep his serve was kicking.”

Roddick was forced to retire midway through his next match with Lleyton Hewitt due to a strained left thigh. Although the American struggled in Paris throughout his career and never reached the quarter-finals, he would go on to capture the 2003 US Open title and finish that season as year-end No. 1.

Posted: May 28, 2020, 7:00 pm

Almost every junior tennis player has a rival growing up. But it’s not often those kids grow up to be so good that they battle for the No. 1 FedEx ATP Ranking.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who were born one week apart in May 1987, first played one another aged 11. But not only have they remained great friends more than two decades later, they have developed a captivating rivalry.

“We have known each other since very, very early days,” Djokovic said at the 2016 Rolex Paris Masters, where Murray clinched World No. 1 for the first time. “To see how he has raised his level in the past 12 months is quite extraordinary.”

When Djokovic and Murray clash, there has almost always been a lot at stake. Nineteen of their 36 ATP Head2Head meetings (Djokovic leads 25-11) have come in a final, and 33 of their 36 meetings have come at a Grand Slam, ATP Masters 1000, the Nitto ATP Finals or the Olympics. They have met in all four Grand Slam finals.

The childhood friends first played for a tour-level trophy at the 2008 Western & Southern Open, when they were both 21. Djokovic was already a four-time Masters 1000 champion, and he’d won that year’s Australian Open. The Serbian earned plenty of momentum in the semi-finals with a straight-sets victory against Rafael Nadal. But Murray, a first-time Masters 1000 finalist who was ranked No. 9, would not be denied, defeating Djokovic 7-6(4), 7-6(5).

“I played some rocket tennis, the way my coach says,” Djokovic said. “Today I was trying to do the same, but I got rocket back.”

Djokovic has won 14 more matches than Murray in their rivalry, but in title matches, the Serbian leads 11-8.

The pair plays a similar style: Djokovic and Murray are both excellent on defence, capable of playing aggressively, and they are two of the best returners in the sport.

“When you play against the best players in the world you go in knowing that you have to play great tennis to win,” Murray said. “Sometimes you do and you don’t win. They’re that good.”

The biggest moment of their decades-long rivalry came at the 2016 Nitto ATP Finals. The week before, Murray had taken World No. 1 for the first time. But both men worked their way to the final, and the winner was guaranteed the coveted year-end No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

“Seems like a movie story scenario,” Djokovic said before the championship match. “It's a script.”

Murray, who saved a match point in his semi-final against Milos Raonic, played clean tennis to defeat Djokovic 6-3, 6-4 to take the title and World No. 1. It was his 23rd consecutive win, capping a fairytale run to end 2016 atop tennis' mountain.

“It was obviously a big, big match against someone who I've played so many big matches against in my career. That would be my main rival really throughout my career,” Murray said of Djokovic. “We played in all of the Slam finals, Olympics, obviously here now, and a match to finish the year No. 1. We played in loads of Masters Series finals, as well, and are one week apart in age. It was obviously a big match, a very important win for me. It was just a huge match to finish the year, to try and obviously finish No. 1.” 

Even though Djokovic and Murray have played for each of the Grand Slam titles, World No. 1, and plenty more, they’ve always maintained the utmost respect for one another. According to Murray, off the court, they don't discuss tennis.

“When me and Novak speak with each other, we don't talk about tennis, rankings, the matches we play against each other,” Murray said. in 2016 “Maybe when we finish playing, that might change. But we talk about each other's families, children and stuff. We chatted at length this year quite a lot because obviously I became a father the first time. We spoke about the difficulty in keeping the sort of balance in your life with the family and the travelling and the work and everything.”

That was at the same time as they battled for World No. 1, showing that rivals could be great friends, too.

Posted: May 28, 2020, 4:12 pm

Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.

Classic matches are remembered for various reasons, from the players involved to the stakes. Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils’ match in the second round of 2010 Roland Garros, however, will be remembered for darkness.

Monfils, who was only 23 at the time, had already made two quarter-finals at the clay-court Grand Slam. Fognini, however, entered the tournament without a main draw win at Roland Garros. The Frenchman was a two-time ATP Tour titlist, and the Italian hadn’t made a tour-level final.

So when 13th seed Monfils sprinted to a two-set lead against World No. 92 Fognini, it was not a surprise. The rest of the match, however, was.

Fognini had lost eight of nine matches entering the event. Facing a home favourite who’d enjoyed success at the tournament in the previous two years was tough enough. Coming back from down two sets would be even more difficult.

But Fognini showed an early sign of his love for the big moments on Court Philippe Chatrier, hanging in there with the athletic Frenchman. As day turned to night on the event’s biggest court, the match’s momentum switched from Monfils’ racquet to Fognini’s.

The Italian showed some of the shotmaking prowess that today has him at No. 11 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. It was clear Monfils was not physically at his best as the match went deep into the decider. The Frenchman is capable of crushing his first serve, but as dusk fell over the Parisian crowd, he was simply rolling the ball in — perhaps even slower than he normally would hit a second serve — and daring Fognini to take the match from him.

Gael Monfils, Fabio Fognini

That was when things got wonky. At 4-4 in the fifth set, there were discussions about suspending play due to darkness, as it was increasingly difficult to see. Only the stadium’s scoreboard and a television studio lit the court.

But the players continued for two more games. Fognini held for 5-4, and then a hobbling Monfils served to stay in the match. At 15/40, Fognini let slip his first match point by missing a backhand into the net. On the next point, he had a great look to attack a slow second serve, but he just put the ball back in play, and eventually missed a forehand squash shot into the net. Two points later, Fognini had a third chance to seal his victory, but he missed a forehand return long. The darkness only got more noticeable on television, which made the setting look brighter than it actually was.

With the partisan crowd that remained in the stands fully behind Monfils, the Frenchman somehow survived to fight another day, holding for 5-5 as cheers erupted from the crowd. Fognini had a golden opportunity to close out a higher-ranked opponent, but just before 10 p.m. local time, they walked off the court.

Fognini somehow gathered himself the next day, to close out a memorable 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 9-7 win.

"Look at the score,” Fognini said, according to Reuters. “It's an incredible match."

After all the effort it took to push the match to a second day, it was a big disappointment for Monfils, who was the second-ranked Frenchman in the field. But he was honest about who the better player was.

"He beat me fair and square."

Posted: May 28, 2020, 2:31 am