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Draw Announced for Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Finals In Madrid

The ITF and Kosmos Tennis have announced the draw for the Davis Cup Madrid Finals which was made this evening at La Real Casa de Correos in the host city of Madrid.

The Davis Cup Madrid Finals will take place on 18-24 November when 18 nations will compete for the first time in one city, over one week, in a bid to win the prestigious trophy and be crowned World Champions.

The 18 nations have been divided into six groups of three teams. The six group winners and two best second placed teams (based on percentage sets, games and points won) will advance to the knockout phase of the competition.

Defending champions Croatia, the second seeds, have been drawn against Russia and the host nation, and five-time Davis Cup winners Spain, in Group B. The top seeds France will contest Group A against Serbia and Japan.

David Haggerty, ITF President said: “This draw marks another stage of the journey to the Davis Cup Finals where these 18 nations will give their all for their teammates, their country and their fans. Now that the teams know their opponents the anticipation can really build to what will be a spectacular event in November.”

Gerard Piqué, Founder and President of Kosmos, partner of the Davis Cup Madrid Finals added: “We are extremely proud to see how, step by step, the Davis Cup Madrid Finals take shape and become, without a doubt, one of the great sporting events of the year. The draw we witnessed today has provided an exciting setting for the competition. The diversity and contrasting styles of the teams and the huge enthusiasm with which they will all arrive in Madrid is undoubtedly the best guarantee of the great performance that awaits us. Madrid will be the world capital of tennis and sport for a week, bringing together fans from 18 countries, offering them a unique experience that they will surely not forget”.

The event was also attended by a group of dignitaries, led by the President of the Region of Madrid, Angel Garrido and Luis Cueto, General Coordinator of the Mayor.

Angel Garrido said: “It is an honour for Madrid to host this new format that will attract tourists who we are ready to host with success. In Madrid, we support these big events as well as participation in sport at every level.”

Luis Cueto, also said: “This is the result of a lot of dreams and ambitions. Tennis is a sport of respect and people will always remember that the Davis Cup Finals began in Madrid. We want to share the culture of Madrid of coexistence, sustainability and respect with everyone. La Caja Magica will become even more magical in November.”

DAVIS CUP FINALS GROUP STAGE:
Group A: France (1), Serbia, Japan
Group B: Croatia (2), Spain, Russia
Group C: Argentina (3), Germany, Chile
Group D: Belgium (4), Australia, Colombia
Group E: Great Britain (5), Kazakhstan, Netherlands
Group F: USA (6), Italy, Canada

The draw for the quarter-finals was also made:

1. Winner Group A v Runner Up 1 or 2
2. Winner Group D v Winner Group F
3. Winner Group E v Winner Group C
4. Winner Group B v Runner Up 1 or 2

The draw was broadcast to an international audience, through broadcasters and livestream, across many platforms and channels.

Lleyton Hewitt vs. Bernard Tomic – An Analysis

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

Australians Alex de Minaur, Alexei Popyrin and Alex Bolt came up with impressive performances for their nation when the world and its tennis players gathered to play the season’s first major there in Melbourne at the Australian Open. Lleyton Hewitt, the country’s Davis Cup captain and its last major titlist (among the men), speaking highly of them also effectively shut any doubts that may have lingered about their individual potential.

All this made for a perfect segue – of a country’s old sporting guard validating the credentials of the new – except for one, major blot marring the scene. That of Bernard Tomic who, a few years ago, had been similarly welcomed into the fold as one of Australia’s brightest future prospects and who accused Hewitt of throttling his career – especially when it came to playing the Davis Cup – and prioritising his self-interests.

The continuing spillage of rebutting allegations and counter-rebuttals to these between Hewitt and Tomic has now taken on a distinct note of “He Said-He Said”. Aside from this, however, the ongoing fracas has led to implications beyond a cursory professional falling-out.

Tomic’s accusations at the Australian Open that Hewitt was creating a conflict of interest both by captaining the Australian Davis Cup team and continuing to play professionally on the ATP Tour does present the former world No. 1 in an unflattering light. Although Hewitt did not play the doubles rubber in Australia’s Davis Cup qualifier tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina in February in Adelaide, the fact that he would be playing doubles in a few upcoming ATP events then conveys the message that he is trying to secure the best of both worlds for himself.

Not that being the Davis Cup captain and playing on the Tour are mutually exclusive. But while Hewitt had made a big show of announcing his retirement from the circuit a couple of years ago, there is a lack of certitude and clarity as to what is his status on the circuit presently. Is Hewitt to be considered retired, professional, semi-retired or semi-professional?

Hewitt’s response to Tomic’s allegations that the 26-year-old had issued threats and blackmailed him – and his family – highlighted his thuggish behaviour all over again. Hewitt’s stance of not being keen on selecting Tomic in the Australian Davis Cup squad was also justified, given Tomic’s penchant of displaying lack of commitment in matches, and towards the sport in general.

Also, considering that Tomic had blown a seemingly innocuous question about his availability for the Davis Cup into a theory of ill-intentions, not only towards him but also towards his compatriots – Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis – neither of whom who were in the picture nor a part of the question, showed his immaturity once again. Then, he may have had raised valid concerns about Hewitt purportedly side-lining Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, but his rant was definitely ill-timed. Most importantly, Tomic need not have tagged Tennis Australia, too, into the fracas thereby forcing them to pick a side – which they eventually did. To that end, Tomic lost twice-over when Tennis Australia not only sided with their Davis Cup captain but also cut off the financial support that it had been providing him.

Interestingly, in Tomic’s downward spiral touching a new low – after his interview with Chanel 9’s 60 Minutes, in which he accepted that he had indeed threatened Hewitt – the initial point he had been trying to raise, about Hewitt’s status quo in the general scheme of things, was conveniently deflected. Moreover, with the Australian team marching to the Davis Cup finals with a mammoth 4-0 win over the Eastern European nation, Hewitt’s assertive captaincy has come to be seen as redoubtable so much so that his statement of Tomic never donning Australian colours for the Davis Cup takes on an ominous ring, shutting the door on Tomic in more ways than one.

Analyzing The New Davis Cup Format’s First Weekend

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

A lot had been said about the reinvention of the Davis Cup when the discussions surrounding its reformatting raged in 2018. Across 1st-2nd February when the Davis Cup qualifiers were played for the first time, one finally got to see how the new format would pan out.

In the end, it became a guiding point illustrating how abruptly the results came about and how hurriedly the ties would end, from here on.

To elaborate with statistical context, three of the 12 ties – Brazil versus Belgium, Germany versus Hungary and Colombia versus Sweden – were determined in straight sets. Of the remaining nine ties, merely 20 rubbers went the distance to three sets. Within these rubbers that were played as best-of-three, eight were played in doubles. Germany versus Hungary was the only tie where only singles rubbers were played as best-of-three: the first singles rubber between Philipp Kohlschreiber and Zsombor Piros, and the second reverse-single rubber between Philipp Kohlschreiber and David Szintai. Moreover, across all ties, there were no upsets and the favourites ruled the roost.

The latter facet is the biggest differentiator between the past and present editions of the Davis Cup. Previously, the longer, best-of-five format gave the players enough room to try and eke out a comeback in a rubber, even when trailing by two sets. Not only for the unseeded teams and their players but especially for the higher-ranked players susceptible to nerves that were unique to the tournament.

Bluntly put, quantitative measurement of time – spent on the court – had brushed aside qualitative memories. And while this happened, opinions that were divided on the efficacy of the changes made to the tournament’s format – in terms of quality versus quantity (of time) – continued to remain diverged, both before and after the ties.

In the press conference after Italy’s 3-1 routing of India, Andreas Seppi said, “For me, I think it’s better to play shorter matches. The format is okay, and also in two days maybe it gives me more time to go to the next tournament if you want to play. Davis Cup (has) had a lot of tradition over 100 years, and sometimes changes are good and sometimes not.” On the other hand, while his team did him proud by winning all four rubbers it played in straight sets, Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt did not hesitate to call out Gerard Pique, the ardent promoter and investor of the revamped tournament in one of his press conferences, before the start of the qualifiers.

“Now we’re getting run by a Spanish football player, which is like me come out and asking to change things for the Champions League. He knows nothing about tennis,” said Hewitt. The former world no. 1’s observations extended his vocal criticism on a development he has regarded as interference to the continuity of the tournament. But where Hewitt’s stance remained unchanged – there were those who preferred to adopt a wait-and-watch approach with regard to the format’s effectiveness in the November finals. Like Simone Bolelli, who admitted, “This format obviously is different but for us this tie was good. I think sometimes it is good, sometimes it is not. But we have to try (in the final) and we will see.”

Bolelli’s measured words offer much-needed pragmatism as to how things would change for Italy, and for several other qualifiers, in the finals in Madrid. Where, they would have been reduced to relative underdogs across the finals’ week from being the favourites one weekend.

To that end, the illusion of open-endedness of the tournament created by the truncated results in the qualifiers stands to come to an end during the finals’ week. Because, the redesigned format endeavours to reward a team whose players are better-suited to the shortened game than to displays of consistency and endurance. And, to the detriment of those with vested interests in the re-imagined tournament, this further restricts its already-narrowed scope.

Tommy Haas Wins Oracle Champions Cup In Debut Event On 2019 Invesco Series QQQ Circuit

Tommy Haas kicked off the 2019 Invesco Series QQQ circuit Saturday the same way he started his debut season in 2018 on the North American tennis circuit for champion tennis players ….with a title.

Haas, the former world No. 2 and the silver medalist at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, defeated 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick 7-6 (2) in the one-set championship match to win the Oracle Champions Cup in front of buzzing standing-room-only crowd at the Newport Beach Tennis Club in Newport Beach, California. The event was staged as part of the Oracle Challenger Series men’s and women’s event featuring ATP and WTA professionals and designed to provide new opportunities for American tennis players to secure both ranking points and prize money.

Haas made his Invesco Series QQQ debut last year and promptly won the first two events he played in, defeating Roddick 6-1 in the final of Charleston, S.C. in his debut event and winning again at the Kohala Coast in Hawaii, defeating John McEnroe in the final. He finished the 2018 season second behind James Blake in the season-long Invesco Series QQQ points standings.

In the final, Haas and Roddick each held serve four times before Haas broke serve to take a 5-4 lead. The 40-year-old German, however, was unable to serve out the match in the next game, surrendering his service game for 5-5. The two then each held serve again setting up the tiebreaker, where Haas was able to bear down against Roddick’s rocket serves, forehands… and jokes.

“Andy is one of those guys who I have played many times on tour and he is probably one of the greatest competitors the sport has ever seen,” said Haas of Roddick. “It’s always great to see him back out here. Playing against him is a lot of fun. Obviously, he should have been a comedian, but I guess it’s not too late.”

En route to the final earlier in the evening, Haas beat newly-named U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish 6-3 in the first semifinal while Roddick beat former U.S. Davis Cup teammate James Blake 6-3.

The Oracle Champions Cup is the first event of the 14thseason of Invesco Series QQQ tennis. The second announced event for 2019 will be in Charleston, S.C. on April 6 at 8:30 pm, as part of the WTA Tour’s Volvo Car Open. Roddick will also headline the field and will join two-time French and Australian Open champion Jim Courier, former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Lleyton Hewitt and seven-time major champion Mats Wilander. Tickets are available at www.InvescoSeries.com.

The full 2019 Invesco Series QQQ circuit schedule will be unveiled in February.

In 2018, Blake won his first Invesco Series QQQ year-long points championship by winning titles in Winston-Salem, New Haven and Houston, while also finishing as runner-up in Los Angeles and Orlando.

In 2017, the year-long points championship was decided in the final match of the season when Andy Roddick defeated James Blake in the Los Angeles final at the Sherwood Country Club. Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion and world No. 1, won four Invesco Series QQQ titles in all in 2017, winning in Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Lincoln, Neb., and Los Angeles. Blake, the former world No. 4 and former U.S. Davis Cup star, won series titles in Charleston, S.C., Winston-Salem, N.C. and in Lynchburg, Va.

In 2016, Mark Philippoussis won the Series points title with 1600 points and tournament titles in Memphis, Tulsa, Newport, Winston-Salem and New Haven. Roddick finished in second place, also earning 1600 points but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with Philippoussis 5-2, while winning titles in Charleston, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Orlando. Blake finished in third place with 1100 points and tournament titles in Chicago, Portland and Brooklyn.

In 2015, Roddick won the Series points title in his second year of competing on the series with 1,600 points. Roddick won a record eight events Los Angeles, Lincoln, Chicago, Austin, Little Rock, Dallas, Richmond and Minneapolis. Blake finished second in the points rankings with 1,200 points, winning events in Boston and Cincinnati. Philippoussis finished in third with 1,100 points, winning titles in Salt Lake City and Vancouver. The year before in 2014, McEnroe won the points title for the first time in the nine-year history of Invesco Series QQQ tennis by winning events in Kansas City, Indianapolis, Nashville and Charlotte.

ABOUT INSIDEOUT SPORTS + ENTERTAINMENT
InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a Los Angeles based producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Champions Series, a collection of tournaments featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, The World Series of Beach Volleyball and numerous corporate outings. Since inception, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment has raised over $5 million for charity. In 2014, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment merged with Horizon Media, the largest privately held media services agency in the world. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or InvescoSeries.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

ABOUT HORIZON MEDIA
Horizon Media, Inc. is the largest and fastest growing privately held media services agency in the world. The company was founded in 1989, is headquartered in New York and has offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago. Horizon Media was chosen as 2011 Independent Media Agency of the Year by Mediapost, 2010 U.S. Media Agency of the Year by Adweek, Brandweek, and Mediaweek as well as by Ad Age and as one of the world’s ten most innovative marketing and advertising companies by Fast Company in 2011. In 2012, Bill Koenigsberg, President, CEO and Founder, was honored by Advertising Age as Industry Executive of the Year. Most recently, in 2014, Bill Koenigsberg was named 4As Chair of the Board and is the first person from a media agency to hold this prestigious position in the 100 year history of the 4As, the marketing industry’s leading trade association. The company’s mission is “To create the most meaningful brand connections within the lives of people everywhere.” By delivering on this mission through a holistic approach to brand marketing, Horizon Media has become one of the largest and fastest-growing media agencies in the industry, with estimated billings of over $5.3 billion and over 1,200 employees. The company is also a founding member of Columbus Media International, a multi-national partnership of independent media agencies. For more information, pleasevisithorizonmedia.com.

ABOUT INVESCO
Invesco Ltd. is an independent investment management firm dedicated to delivering an investment experience that helps people get more out of life. NYSE: IVZ; Invesco.com, Invesco Distributors, Inc. is the US distributor for Invesco Ltd. and is a wholly owned, indirect subsidiary of Invesco Ltd.”

The Latest On Naomi Osaka, Japan’s New Tennis Titan

Naomi Osaka is taking the tennis world by storm. Last year at this time, Japan’s newest tennis super star was ranked No. 72 and now she is on the cusp of becoming No. 1. Here are some info in advance of her Australian Open final.

She is making fourth main draw appearance at Australian Open, where she has advanced to first Australian final and second Grand Slam final.

Her previous best result here was a round of 16 showing in 2018 where she defeated two Top 20 players (No.19 Vesnina and No.17 Barty) before falling to World No.1 and eventual runner-up Simona Halep. Osaka’s 2018 run saw her become the youngest Japanese to reach the round 16 at a Slam since Ai Sugiyama at 1995 Roland Garros (19 yrs, 342 days) and she was the youngest player from Japan to reach this stage at Australian Open since Kimiko Date in 1990 (19 yrs, 122 days).

In other outings at the Australian Open, she made the third round in 2016 (as qualifier, lost to Vika Azarenka) – which marked Grand Slam main draw debut – and a second round in 2017 (losing to Jo Konta).

Having won the US Open in 2018, Osaka is bidding to be the 10th woman to win US Open and Australian Open back-to-back (most recently accomplished by Serena Williams in 2015). She is seeded at No. 4 this fortnight, which is her highest seeding at a Slam, up from No. 18 at 2018 Wimbledon. The No.4 seed has won title in Australia on three occasions in the Open Era: Mary Pierce (1995), Martina Hingis (1997) and Li Na (2014) Osaka is contesting 2019 Australian Open at a career-high of No.4, which was first achieved October 8, 2018.

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Does Not Having On-Court WTA Coaching At Grand Slams Hurt Players Who Rely Too Heavily On It?

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

Aryna Sabalenka was one of the favourites going into the 2019 Australian Open, before its start. And, so she remained right up to her third-round upset at the hands of Amanda Anisimova. The unseeded 17-year-old upsetting the 11th seed was shocking enough.

But, as one Twitter user pointed out, it also raised the question as to whether Sabalenka’s run-of-successes in 2018 were also courtesy of her receiving on-court coaching in the WTA Tour, a development that is yet – up to now – to be seen at the Majors, at least in the main draw. As the Australian Open unwound further, Sabalenka’s result was soon cast into the debris of the other results in the event as it was wont to. But the subject of on-court coaching once rekindled, despite having slipped into shadows amid the usual melee at the event, burned steadily without turning into a full-fledged conflagration.

In that, Sabalenka’s defeat – much like the controversy-ridden 2018 US Open women’s singles final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka – led to the bigger ramification of the Australian and US Open organisers mulling about enabling on-court coaching in the main draw alongside the qualifying draw. But should this have been the only takeaway in the first place?

Traditionally, in tennis matches, players are expected to dig their heels through the course of a match, finding out answers for themselves as to how to tackle their opponents. It is one reason why momentum swings happen so swiftly in the sport, with players using their presence of mind to analyse and exploit the vulnerabilities of the player on the other side of the net. Beyond using technical nuances, players are also expected to adapt their game to suit the playing conditions – especially when playing under a roof. Case in point: the Australian Open semi-final between Petra Kvitova and Danielle Collins.

Collins – despite having come this far at Melbourne Park after having upset a good few players along the way – found herself struggling when the roof over the Rod Laver Arena was closed on account of the heat. Her game came under pressure even as Kvitova thrived – in spite of scepticism abounding about her struggles with heat – leaving no margin for error for the American could take advantage of, as she had done in her previous matches. In doing so, she also put forth the most distinguishable salience of the Majors and of the top-tier players.

The majors, being the most elite tournaments in the sport’s hierarchy, need their contenders to up the level of their aptitude rather than them being spoon-fed tactics. If at all the players are to be aided on the court, then, it may as well be that the coaches themselves take to the courts and outplay the other, in newfangled battles of tactical will. Secondly, top-ranked players, choosing to avail the option of having their coaches come on-court during WTA tournaments, go at it alone in the Majors and, regardless of how they start out at first, manage to figure it out as they go along by adequately equipping themselves to battle all tilts and ebbs in a match, whenever they come about.

In a way, this also explains the high frequency of attrition in the WTA Tour in these last few years, where titlists win anew or are supplanted regularly even as it offers plausibility as to why only few names – one of whom is Serena Williams – win Majors ever so often, even as others – barring those affected by injuries – drop off the radar after cursorily going the distance a couple of times.

The focus of the sport’s administrators should, then, be to ensure that the number of players whose performances slacken off in the bigger tournaments is reduced, thereby making tennis more competitive. The only way to do so is by discarding the concept of on-court coaching entirely and not by seeking to introduce it with more vigorousness. One of the benefits of on-court coaching is often cited to be that the playing field opens up a little more than the usual. But the question to ponder here is this: is such an open playing field qualitatively better as well? For, if it is not, it is not really adding much to the game – except momentary assuaging of craving for those wanting the on-court drama between a coach and player to extend beyond the usual quota of events.

Five-Set Tennis Matches Are Like Test Series Cricket

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

In the cricketing world, the recent Test series between Australia and India concluded on a remarkable note, in more ways than one. India won the series 2-1, marking their first Test series win on Australian soil after 71 years. On an individualistic front, Indian player Cheteshwar Pujara with his gruelling game recapped how Test cricket was supposed to be played – with perseverance and doggedness complimenting players’ talent.

To the uninitiated, Test cricket is the longest – and oldest – form of the game, played over five days, across three sessions. The playing conditions are arduous and punishing – especially in Australia and in the sub-continent under the blazing heat – just as they are tricky, when the matches are hosted in England, or in the Caribbean. As the name suggests, the format ideally tested the players to outwit their opponents, playing ball-after-ball, and over-after-over, to see if they can secure a draw instead of trying to get an outright win. On the other hand, getting a draw would mean staving off a defeat to keep the team’s hopes – and even dignity – intact.

In the last few years though, the significance of Test cricket had, then, come to be eroded with the clamouring for fast-paced cricket necessitating a change where only one-way results – be it win or loss – mattered. The newer genre of players, too, feeding on this demand for quicker cricket, opted to showcase flashes and blazes instead of displaying finesse and painstakingness to build up their repertoire of Test cricket.

In tennis, five-set matches can be considered as Test cricket’s equivalent of the longest form of the game, asking for patience and endurance aside from tactical ingenuity. In all these years, receptiveness to the format’s continuity has continued to alter, forcing tweaks to be put in place, in order to seemingly reconcile with time constraints.

Then, be it changing the best-of-five set finals in the Masters to best-of-three, or initiating tie-breaks in the first four sets in the Majors, or coming up with concepts such as best-of-four-games’ sets, or the recent theme of introducing tie-breaks in the fifth set in two of the four Majors – thereby giving three of the four Majors leeway to give their own interpretation of the enforcement of the tie-break – the influx of new to the existing has been a process of evolution. It is also taking the newer generation of the sport’s audience further away from its quintessence.

Consider this: for all the clamouring about best-of-three set matches saving time, some of the most memorable matches that have emerged at the 2019 Australian Open have come at the best-of-five sets of play. In the first five days of the event, around 20 five-set matches have been played, with each result outweighing the others in its qualitative appeal – even Polish qualifier Kamil Majchrzak’s painful retirement in the fifth set to Kei Nishikori in the opening round.

These results, then, also raise the inevitable question as to whether the players’ being able to dig deep – within themselves – to find the composure, and the emotional and tactical wherewithal to eke out a win, would be possible if there were no margins to fall back on? Because, if there were not, we would not have seen epic comebacks from when two sets down, not only at the ongoing Australian Open – like Marin Cilic against Fernando Verdasco, or like Alex Bolt against Gilles Simon – but across the rest of the Majors, and even at the (now-defunct) Davis Cup.
More importantly, though, the best-of-five format also acts as a reality check for the younger generation against their aspirations and ambitions. They can be touted as the players to take the game – and the sport – forward, each with an individualistic game. But, then, it is their ability to step up and muster a challenge in the longer format that stutters even as they are able to close out matches relatively easier in the shorter format. And since it does, it is their composure and emotional and tactical wherewithal that needs to be recalibrated and improved upon rather than the sport needing to change to accommodate the so-called change of guard. And that is perhaps the difference between the past players and the current crop. The former, with their dominance, changed the way results came about – with lengthier formats – even as the latter seek noticeable enabling to ensure they can match up, and surpass, what has been achieved up to now.

Borrowing from cricket one last time, which has an old-school Test cricket representative in Pujara, maybe tennis, too, does have similar misfits in its ranks. These could, perhaps, establish their legacy, without wanting to modify the game beyond the cursory, unmindful of the scepticism coming their way.

There’s Something Distinct About Alex de Minaur

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

All it takes is one glance at Alex de Minaur to know the teenager has something distinct about him.

He does not have the imposing stature – height bestowed or otherwise – many of his peers and rivals command. But given the quick-fire way expectations have been passed over in the Australian men’s tennis circuit, like a baton, from youngster to youngster, de Minaur’s lack of physical impressiveness seems like a much-needed antidote.

More importantly, with his spryness on the court, coupled with a compact and wiry frame – justifying his nickname, Demon – de Minaur looks capable enough to not only hold the weight of these expectations, but also live up to them as and when opportunity presents itself before him. And, in the course of the last few days, between the end of the 2018 season and now, at the start of the 2019, de Minaur has had several opportunities to back up claims about his potential.

A quarter-final finish in Brisbane followed by the maiden ATP title win in Sydney meant that the 19-year-old had his job cut out for him at Melbourne Park, as the top-ranked Australian player. And against Pedro Sousa, who had quelled his personal demons – pardon the pun – in reaching the main draw of a Major for the first time in his career, de Minaur had a riveting first round opponent.

Watching him play, it became clearer why his game reminded many of Lleyton Hewitt although personally, I thought his game had a splashing of David Ferrer, too, as he went about his shot-creation – serving as a reminder to his Spanish connection.

The match, then, reiterated de Minaur’s tactical prowess as he exploited and bested Sousa’s aggressiveness with craftiness, drawing out the errors from his racquet instead of going for winners outright. With the win, de Minaur equalled his previous best result in the tournament – reaching the second round in 2017 – but this time around, he does not have the advantage of the relative obscurity he had had before. In his post-match press conference, de Minaur, too, concurred about him being a different player than who he was in 2017.

“I think I’m a completely different player from a couple years ago. Really looking forward to going out there, coming back, just having fun. I think that’s the main thing. To feed off the energy of the crowd. I mean, the support I’ve been getting has been amazing. Just makes you want to go out there, compete and have fun,” de Minaur admitted.

It’s for this reason, perhaps, the draw takes on added significance for him this year, with a third-round clash against world no. 2 and 2009 Australian Open champion, Rafael Nadal looking imminent as the first week unwinds. Undoubtedly, Nadal would go in with an edge over his younger rival in the match. But it is what de Minaur – with his unfazed temperament – would present on the day that continues to add to the fervour building around that potentiality.

Beyond the obviousness of that one match-up centred on de Minaur – as far as the home hopes go – de Minaur’s continuity at the Australian Open is also acting as a buffer to blot the backdrop of chaos unfolding in Australian tennis.

At a time, when the divisions in the country’s tennis ranks are almost spilling out with Thanasi Kokkinakis voicing his opinion about not receiving a main draw wild card, and Bernard Tomic accusing the country’s Davis Cup captain Hewitt of favouritism, focusing on de Minaur’s on-court exploits, then, is quite a normalcy-offering respite, much like his game.

Andy Murray Embodied Many Things To Many People

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

Andy Murray embodied many things to many people. He was the gritty warrior who never let up in his performances, despite the numerous defeats and setbacks that waylaid him. He was the deceptive athlete, who could vary his shot-making to suit himself and discomfit his opponent. He was also the rebel who took decisions which though seemed effortless for him, never seemed easy for others.

Of all these facets, it’s the last trait that not only set Murray apart from his peers but also carved a unique pride of place for him among them.

Be it raising his voice for the controversial referendum vote for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom – followed by an unapologetic stance reiterating his decision in the aftermath of the fallout – in 2014, or be it a demonstrative declaration of giving women in the profession – both past and present – their due, Murray never shied away from taking a stand regardless of how it may have been perceived.

At a time, when, on the subject of equal pay for women players, players either preferred to sit on the fence with displays of dubious diplomacy, or outright negated the need for the same, Murray’s unequivocal stance to speak up for the women set a precedent. Now, against the backdrop of the overwhelming emotions coming forth after his shock announcement about his impending retirement, reactions to the Briton’s viewpoint have been conveniently airbrushed. However, back when he had stood up for the cause – so to speak – Murray was cast as a pariah, by many in the same fold.

A similar turnaround has, then, been effectuated about his decision to appoint Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, between now and then. When Murray engaged Mauresmo as his coach in 2014, disparagements shrouded as banter greeted his move, pitting it as a step-down of sorts after Ivan Lendl. To the relentless critics, it did not matter that under the guidance of the Frenchwoman, Murray won his first Masters 1000 on clay – in Madrid in 2015 – or that he continued the established trend of being a fixture in the finals of the Majors (with two consecutive trips to the Australian Open final Sunday in 2015-16).

Cut to 2018, merely two years after Mauresmo and Murray parted ways, as Mauresmo resumed her coaching career by joining compatriot Lucas Pouille’s team, opinions veered towards cheers and acceptance as though it was no big deal in the scheme of things. While this was indeed a change for the better, it still hit harder that it was not the case the first time around when such unnecessary hue and cry was made about it.

At the same time, though, it is also fitting – at par with the theme of what Murray’s career has been, unbound and unfettered by conventions.

Murray started out as the beacon of deliverance for British tennis that had been long-parched, lacking a Major champion for years. And, in the decade-and-a-half that he unwound his way through the professional circuit, Murray not only lived up to those expectations – as stifling as they were at times – but also gave his country more reasons, beyond conventionality, to hope. Even beyond the scope of winning Wimbledon, as he transformed himself from an envisioned titlist at the Championships, to a multiple-time Major winner – coming close enough to completing the Grand Slam.

One looking to making the most of opportunities could do well to borrow a page from Murray’s 2016 manual, in which he pushed his body to the limits of its endurance in trying to attain the world no. 1 ranking for the first time in his career. Time, though will suck in the allure of that accomplishment just as it would blot the other numbers that form the stockpile of his career. However, Murray’s long-lasting legacy will be of being an inspiration, who was not only unfettered by conventions, but also impervious to time-bound limitations.

Most Memorable Women’s Australian Open Finals

The first Grand Slam of the tennis calendar kicks off later this month with the Australian Open down at Melbourne Park.

Caroline Wozniacki is the reigning women’s champion but it is the seven-time winner of this event, Serena Williams, who is the bookmakers’ favourite to be the Australian Open 2019 women’s winner, with current odds of 4/1.
Whether this year’s competition will produce another classic final remains to be seen or not, but here are five from recent memory that we thoroughly enjoyed:

2018: Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 3-6 6-4 Simona Halep

Last year’s Australian Open was up for grabs as Serena Williams didn’t participate following the birth of her child in September the previous year. The final was contested between the world’s top two players at the time, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki.

In a classic encounter it was Wozniacki who upset the world number one in three sets that lasted two hours and 49 minutes, with the match finishing shortly before 10:30pm local time.

Caroline Wozniacki became the first Dane in men’s or women’s singles to win a Grand Slam in doing so.

2016: Angelique Kerber 6-4 3-6 6-4 Serena Williams

Germany’s Angelique Kerber took her first of three Grand Slams to date at the 2016 Australian Open with an upset victory over Serena Williams in the final.

Kerber beat future Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka 6-1 6-1 in the third round before seeing off Victoria Azarenka and Johanna Konta in straight sets in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.

Few gave Kerber a chance of beating Serena in the final, particularly after losing the second set, but she came through in the decider to become the first German of either sex to win a Grand Slam singles competition this millennium.

2004: Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-3 4-6 6-3 Kim Clijsters

Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne took her first and only Australian Open crown with a dramatic 6-3 4-6 6-3 win over fellow countrywoman Kim Clijsters in 2004.

Henin-Hardenne looked set to win the final in straight sets with a set and 4-2 lead in the second before the world number two broke back, pulling off four straight games to take the match to a decider.
However, Clijsters couldn’t keep the momentum going as she fell 0-4 down in the third and final set. Justine Henin-Hardenne produced the goods at the right time to make it 3-0 in Grand Slam finals versus Clijsters, having also beat her fellow Belgian in the 2003 French Open and the 2003 US Open finals.

2003: Serena Williams 7-6 3-6 6-4 Venus Williams

2002 saw the Williams sisters’ rivalry swing in the favour of Serena for the first time. The 2003 Australian Open was also the fourth consecutive Grand Slam final that saw the two Williams sisters face each other.

Serena had beaten her sister in straight sets at the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open finals the previous year and completed the ‘Serena Slam’ with a three sets victory at Melbourne Park in 2003.

This would be Serena Williams’ fourth Grand Slam and her first in Australia. The future tennis Hall of Famer has won in Australia six times since and has 23 Grand Slams overall. To get to the final in 2003 she had to come from 1-5 down in the decider against Kim Clijsters in the semi-final before beating Venus in in the final.

1993: Monica Seles 4-6 6-3 6-2 Steffi Graf

Two-time defending Australian Open champion Monica Seles made it three in a row by coming from a set down to beat Steffi Graf in an historic final back in 1993.

Winning the first set 6-4 in the final, Graf hadn’t dropped a single set at the Australian Open that year, which included victories over Jennifer Capriati and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.
However, the Yugoslavian fought back with an impressive display in the next two sets to take what would be her eighth of nine career Grand Slams.