Sock and Muller Claim Rare ATP Titles in Run Up to Melbourne Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Jack Sock rose to a career high top 20 ranking with his second career ATP title. The 24 year old American continued his red hot start to the 2017 season by claiming the championship in Auckland, where he reached the final last year. Sock’s win over Joao Sousa was a thrilling contest ending 6-3 5-7 6-3. Sock went up a set thanks to great returning and looked set to win in straights, but Sousa fought back for a late break with some tremendous shotmaking. Sousa would then go up a break in the third, but he surrendered two further breaks in the third set to hand Sock the hard fought trophy.
Sousa beat Albert Ramos, Brydan Klein, Robin Haase, and Marcos Baghdatis to reach his eight career ATP final, dropping to a 2-6 career record in those finals.
Sock moved to a 2-5 career ATP final record thanks to wins over Ryan Harrison, Jeremy Chardy, and Steve Johnson. Three of his four match wins this week came in three sets, as the Auckland crowd certainly enjoyed watching him battle.
Marcin Matkowski and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi defeated Jonathan Erlich and Scott Lipsky in the doubles final.
Gilles Muller won his first ever ATP title at 33 years of age with a 7-6 6-2 victory over Britain’s Daniel Evans. Muller started the Sydney tournament as one of the best players to never win a title, and ended it as a very happy ATP champion. Muller was 0-5 in previous ATP finals, but Evans, playing in his first ever ATP title at age 26, wasn’t up to the task of dismantling his effective serves.
Muller dropped sets against Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Matthew Barton before going on to defeat Pablo Cuevas, and Viktor Troicki in straight sets. Evans had three set contests all week, defeating Thiago Monteiro, Marcel Granollers, Dominic Thiem, and Andrey Kuznetsov. His one hand backhand continues to improve and he appears set to secure his place on the ATP stage in 2017. His win over Thiem was one of the best of his career, as he outlasted the Austrian late in the match.
Dutch pairing Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop defeated Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the doubles final.
Djokovic, Dimitrov, and Bautista Agut Start 2017 As Champions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Novak Djokovic claimed his second consecutive, and second overall Doha title in a nip and tuck 6-3 5-7 6-4 victory over world #1 Andy Murray. Djokovic showed he’s going to make a push for the world #1 early this season in his comprehensive victory over Murray. The new knight Murray played well in the match, but faltered late, and proved it’s still difficult for him to defeat Djokovic when the Serbian is at his best.
Djokovic’s path to the title featured routine wins over J.L. Struff, Horacio Zeballos, and Radek Stepanek. Fernando Verdasco was his semifinal opponent and gave the Serbian all he could handle. Djokovic was a set down and faced five match points in the second set tiebreak before capturing it and going on to win the third set. Verdasco’s weaknesses mentally in clutch situations let him down once again.
Murray showed he’s still a cut above the rest of the ATP tour, posting wins over Jeremy Chardy, Gerald Melzer, Nicolas Almagro, and Tomas Berdych without dropping a set. Murray had a few signs of rust, but he looks healthy and focused as his next stop will be Melbourne, where he’s often the bridesmaid, but never the bride.
Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin beat Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek for the doubles trophy.
Grigor Dimitrov won his first ATP title in three years as the 25 year old defeated Kei Nishikori 6-2 2-6 6-3 in a fantastic singles final. Dimitrov played his best tennis in well over a year as he was firing accurately from both wings and pushing the Japanese #1 around for much of the match. Dimitrov returned well to get his breaks when needed, and maintained his high level of play in the clutch moments of the match.
Dimitrov also defeated top 10 players Dominic Thiem and Milos Raonic in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches respectively for his best results in years. He also defeated Steve Johnson and Nicolas Mahut in early round action.
Nishikori for his part got off to a solid start, defeating Jared Donaldson, Jordan Thompson, and Stan Wawrinka before falling in the final. Wawrinka was disappointing in his semifinal match, while Nishikori showed he’ll be a dark horse threat in Melbourne.
For Dimitrov, a renewed push for the ATP top 10 will be in order if he can maintain this high level of play. He’s certainly not an opponent anyone wants to draw at the Australian Open.
Australian young guns Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson eased past Sam Querrey and Gilles Muller in the doubles final, to the delight of the local crowd.
Roberto Bautista Agut earned his fifth career ATP title with a 6-3 6-4 victory over young gun Daniil Medvedev, who at age 20 was taking part in his first ever ATP final. RBA was one of the tournament favorites from the start, and he got off to a hot start, easing past Rogerio Dutra Silva. In round 2 Mikhail Youzhny was in control, a set and a double break ahead, but Youzhny suffered an epic collapse and RBA won in three sets, going on to defeat Benoit Paire in straights in the semifinals.
The young Medvedev made the best of a favorable draw, defeating Thiago Monteiro, Rendy Lu, and Jozef Kovalik without dropping a set. He then came back from a set down to score a close victory over veteran Dudi Sela. After starting 2016 on the futures tour, you’ll certainly be seeing more of this young Russian on the ATP tour in 2017.
Indian pairing Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan defeated Purav Raja and Divij Sharan in an all Indian doubles final at India’s only ATP World Tour tournament.
Milos Raonic scored his second career win over Roger Federer, as the Canadian upset the Swiss legend 6-4 6-4 in Brisbane. Federer was suffering from the flu this week, and it showed, even though he reached the final. Raonic had that extra edge when needed to hold serve and grab a break in both sets, and he’s continuing to improve his bid for the top 10 with his 8th career ATP title.
Raonic needed three sets over Ivan Dodig, but his straight set wins over Lucas Pouille, and Bernard Tomic prepared him well for the final. Not much is new with Raonic’s game, but when he serves and returns as well as he did this week, he’s hard to stop.
A flu ravaged Federer still played well against Tobias Kamke, slipped past Grigor Dimitrov in three sets, and handled Dominic Thiem in straights. Dimitrov choked under pressure, while a subdued Federer was somewhat more aggressive than usual.
Henri Kontinen and John Peers beat Aussies Chris Guccione and James Duckworth in the doubles final.
Novak Djokovic will head into the Australian Open as a heavy favorite after his blistering warm-up run in Doha. The Serbian superstar and world #1 won his sixth consecutive tournament dating back to last season, and captured his first ever title in Doha with a thumping 6-1 6-2 win over Rafael Nadal. Djokovic has owned Nadal in recent years, and though the Spaniard played well before the final, he could only watch in awe as his game was dismantled from the start, later going on to compliment Djokovic’s performance.
Novak beat Dustin Brown, Fernando Verdasco, Leonardo Mayer, and Tomas Berdych as well this week, all without dropping a set, as he was rarely tested in Qatar.
Nadal lost his third ATP final in a row, but he still clawed his way past Pablo Carreno Busta in three sets, Robin Haase, Andrey Kuznetsov, and first time ATP semifinalist Illya Marchenko in the semifinals. Marchenko had the run of his life this week, scoring wins over David Ferrer, Teymuraz Gabashvili, and Jeremy Chardy with sharp, powerful baseline play. Things appear to be on the upswing for both players, and Nadal appears to be improving on hard courts.
The Lopez brothers, Feliciano and Marc, beat Philipp Petzschener and Alexander Peya in the doubles final.
Stan Wawrinka won his fourth ATP Chennai title (third in a row) with a resounding win over first time ATP finalist Borna Coric 6-3 7-5. We’ll be seeing more from Coric, as the 19 year old won three setters over Marcel Granollers, Roberto Bautista Agut, and improving semifinalist Aljaz Bedene. He also beat Austin Krajicek in round 2 this week.
Wawrinka was simply the toast of the town with routine straight set wins over Andrey Rublev, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and Benoit Paire before the final. He too looks to be a threat heading into the Australian Open as well, and could challenge Djokovic like he has in the past in Melbourne.
Oliver March and Fabrice Martin defeated Krajicek/Paire in the doubles final.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took the title in Metz for the third time in his career with a 7-6(5) 1-6 6-2 victory over fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon. Simon battled hard for two sets, but Tsonga’s relentless attack eventually broke him down in the final set, as Tsonga recovered from a poor batch of services games in set 2. The title is the first of the season for Tsonga, and extends his streak of years with at least one ATP title to five (2011-2015).
The 30 year old beat Mischa Zverev and Nicolas Mahut in three sets then improved his tennis to win in straight sets over an in-form Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber reached the semis by virtue of #1 seed Stan Wawrinka’s withdrawal.
Simon found great form himself indoors on home soil and scored three routine wins over Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Gilles Muller and Martin Klizan to make the final, finally running out of steam in that final.
Lukasz Kubot and Roger-Vasselin, a pair of veterans, beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Nicolas Mahut in an upset to take home the doubles final.
The renewal of the St. Petersburg Open saw Milos Raonic post his best result post foot surgery as the Canadian served well and took home the title. Raonic, like Tsonga, extends his years with at least 1 ATP title to five with a 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory over Joao Sousa. Sousa played an aggressive match, and once more posts an excellent Fall indoor hard court result, but he simply couldn’t get enough returns in for winners to beat Raonic in the third set.
Raonic dominated Evgeny Donskoy, Tommy Robredo, and Roberto Bautista Agut without dropping a set on the fast indoor surface to reach the final. Sousa was lucky to slip past Radu Albot in three sets but the best was yet to come as he took out Marcel Granollers, Simone Bolelli, and Dominic Thiem without dropping a set in his next three matches. Bolelli upset Tomas Berdych in round 2.
Treat Huey and Henri Kontinen beat Julian Knowle and Alexander Peya for the doubles title.
The legend of Victor Estrella continues to grow, the 34 old won his maiden ATP title in Quito, becoming the first Dominican player to capture an ATP title. Estrella is set to soar past his previous career high ranking of 65 after winning a thrilling three setter with top seed, and top 15 player Feliciano Lopez 6-2 6-7 7-6. Estrella was up a break in the third set, and surrendered it, but he held his serve and got the match to a tiebreak, where he seized a crucial advantage over the Spaniard and took it 7-5. Estrella over the past 15 or so months has been the most inspiring story in tennis, and is a testament to hard work and never giving up on your dreams. He has received little support and considered dropping tennis due to financial difficulties given the lack of support from his undeveloped federation. He was the definition of journeyman until 11 months ago when he broke into the top 100 for the first time. Since them, he’s established himself at the ATP level and also done well in his first Slam main draws.
Estrella began his run this week with a win over Andre Ghem, after that he beat Renzo Olivo, and upset 4 seed Martin Klizan to reach the semis, all without dropping a set. In the semis, he held on against Bellucci, who gave the match away in straights. ATP 250 events often receive criticism for field quality, and so much of the attention in the tennis world gets focused on the top 10 and the Masters and Slam level events, but if you ask me, Estrella and his story are what pro tennis is all about, he’s certainly not the most physically gifted or technically skilled player on tour, but with heart, and drive, he has gotten himself this far on tour, and the run doesn’t appear to be likely to end anytime soon. This is a sport where the grittiest, most dedicated players can post good results, and this was a magical week for Victor Estrella.
As for the top seed Lopez, he remains a Spaniard without a clay court title, Feli beat Alejandro Gonzalez in straights, Dusan Lajovic in 3 sets, from a set down and staring triple break point in the face in set 2, and Fernando Verdasco in a pair of tiebreaks, as Verdasco was unable to convert his chances in that match and mentally collapsed under pressure. His slice and serve was generally effective this week en route to the final.
Estrella pulled double duty in Quito this week, as he and his partner Joao Souza reached the doubles final, however it was Germans Gero Kretschmer and Alexander Satschko that took the doubles title in the end.
Richard Gasquet claimed his third career Montpellier title thanks to a retirement from an ill Jerzy Janowicz. Janowicz would have been bidding for his maiden ATP title but he simply wasn’t physically able to contest this match, retiring after 3 games. Gasquet staved off Lucas Poulle in straights, avoiding a third set against the young gun, and then beat Denis Istomin and Gael Monfils to reach the final. Monfils was also struggling with an undisclosed illness.
Janowicz had a great week, in fact already showing considerable improvements to his game after a dismal 2014. The Polish number one saved six match points against Dustin Brown to advance in 3 sets, and then also beat Benoit Paire in 3 sets to reach the quarters. Janowicz showed clutch play and steady improvement as he beat Gilles Simon in straights and Joao Sousa in 3 sets, with a third set breadstick in his final competitive match, and it’s a shame the final never took place.
Artem Sitak and Marcus Daniell beat Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea, the top seeds, to win the doubles title, Sitak and Daniell are the first New Zealand pairing to win an ATP doubles title in decades.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez won his second career indoor hard court title in Zagreb, upsetting the favored, and in form Andreas Seppi, who has been off to a hot start in 2015. GGL and Seppi were neck and neck in the first set, and GGL clawed back a minibreak to take the first set, in the second, it was likewise close, but Seppi played a poor service game at 3-4 to get broken, and GGL served the match out after that for a 7-6 6-3 victory. It was close but GGL had fewer errors in his game and won the longer rallies, as he continues to post up and down results with his diverse game.
Garcia-Lopez demolished Damir Dzumhur in round 2, then beat Viktor Troicki in a close 3 set contest, and fellow veteran Marcos Baghdatis in the semifinals 4 and 4. Baghdatis had previously saved a match point to defeat Ivo Karlovic in round 2, and was perhaps fatigued from having three previous three set wins (over Toni Androic, Mikhail Youzhny and Karlovic) to reach the semifinals.
Seppi didn’t have any easy matches this week, he needed 3 sets against Robin Haase, James Ward, and Ricardas Berankis, that match decided in a tight third set tiebreak, and then he won a first set breaker and went on to breadstick Marcel Granollers for a straight set win in the semifinals. Outside of Berankis, and perhaps Igor Sijsling, all of the quarterfinalists in Zagreb this week were veteran players (Baghdatis, Youzhny, GGL, Troicki, Seppi, Granollers). Seppi already has an ATP final, an ATP semi (Doha) and the second week of a Slam (the AO) on his resume and it’s just now the second week of February as he has been on a tear as of late.
Home fans in Croatia had something to cheer about as Marin Draganja, a Croat, along with his partner Henri Kontinen of Finland beat Fabrice Martin and Purav Raja to capture the Zagreb doubles title. Croatian legends Ivan Ljubicic and Goran Ivanisevic were on hand to celebrate with the Zagreb winners this week, in a nice moment at the end of the tournament.
Novak Djokovic simply could not be stopped in Melbourne, as the Serb only played one five setter all tournament, and he won that set with a bagel. Djokovic beat four time finalist Andy Murray, who continues to struggle with losing finals there, while playing some of his best tennis at the tournament, in the final in 4 sets. The match was a competitive 7-6 6-7 for the first two frames, but after that Djokovic took control, winning 12 of the final 15 games of the match for a 7-6 6-7 6-3 6-0 victory over the Scotsman.
Novak remains the world number one, and he’s the best plexicushion player on the planet at the moment, and perhaps the best of all time on the surface. He struggled with bouts of full body cramps, a jammed finger, and perhaps other ailments in his final with Murray, but after long rallies, and a physically taxing match where both skilled returners struggled to hold their serves throughout, Djokovic had Murray up against a wall, and he finished him, as winning a second set tiebreak didn’t seem to do much for Murray’s belief and left him spent emotionally and physically. Djokovic’s ailments and rollercoaster form early on, seemed to unnerve Murray, who would have to play a difficult, and taxing point, and often not even win it, then be treated to Djokovic doubled over and hitting the ball into the next the next point. His rhythm was interrupted and he simply didn’t serve well enough to win this, as he had every chance to go up 2 sets to love, if he had taken the first set tiebreak, and putting in all his effort to win the second, only to be faced with a renewed Djokovic over the final two frames, broke him. Djokovic wiped up in the fourth, and the final was simply not compelling after the first two sets, as it started to go faster, and the momentum of the match was established.
Murray had a great tournament, but he simply had to put in a lot more effort to win points than Novak had to, the Serbian has an extra gear, and it served him well this tournament. In week 2, Djokovic didn’t drop a set against big servers Gilles Muller, and Milos Raonic, then was pushed to five, but bageled Stan Wawrinka in the 5th, as the Swiss couldn’t replicate his shocking victory last year. Raonic was disappointing to only force one tiebreak, and his return simply wasn’t good enough to trouble Djokovic, who eventually was able to read his serve. Previously, Raonic needed 5 sets to oust Spanish serve and slice maestro Feliciano Lopez, taking advantage of his opponents double faults to break. Wawrinka fought hard, and was dictating points with his backhand at times, but he mentally faded after taking the 4th set and having a break point chance early in the 5th. Simply put, Djokovic relied not only on his physical and technical talents, but also on his mental fortitude to bludgeon his opponents into submission.
Murray beat Grigor Dimitrov in 4 sets, that match was full of highlights but Dimitrov squandered break up leads in both the first and fourth set and lost the match that way, an injured Nick Kyrgios, who saved match points in a classic round of 16 encounter against Andreas Seppi that went 5 sets, in straights, and Tomas Berdych also in 4 for his week two campaign. Berdych, who totally dominated a listless Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, Nadal only able to play even top 50 level tennis for one set, that Berdych had a bit of trouble closing out, but eventually did, winning in straights, was powerful in the first set, but Murray turned it on after feeling the Czech out and won the next two sets by a combined score of 12-3. Berdych tried to rally back in the fourth, but a late break for a mentally tougher and physically conditioned Murray was enough to win him the match. Murray was angry with Berdych throughout as there were harsh words exchanged. Berdych had also previously taken out another home Aussie, Bernard Tomic, in straight sets, as Tomic struggled with his power and dictation of the rallies.
The Charismatic Italian duo of Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli beat French bromance Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut to win their first ever grand slam titles in the men’s doubles. The doubles final was contested between two pairs of players that both primarily have focused on singles on tour throughout their careers.
Djokovic will go into the rest of the season as a favorite on every surface besides clay at every tournament he plans to enter, while Murray is back playing top 5 tennis, Wawrinka proved he is here to stay this season, and Berdych continues to search for the answers as to what it’s going to take for him to get over the hump in slams.
It was a tremendous week for young gun Jiri Vesely in Auckland, the Czech qualified without dropping a set (wins over Thomas Fabbiano and Lucas Pouille), and then beat Thomaz Bellucci, top 15 player Ernests Gulbis (in 3 sets), Donald Young, Kevin Anderson, and finally Adrian Mannarino in the final 6-3 6-2 to win his maiden ATP title. Neither Vesely nor Mannarino had ever contested an ATP final, and it was a new experience for them both, that said the 21 year old Vesely is the player that fans are most excited about, as he is making his move and has now broken into the top 40 in the world. It will be interesting to watch what he does this season.
Mannarino had a great week as well, he will be at a career high ranking inside the top 40 when the new rankings come out. The eclectic Frenchman beat Federico Delbonis, an ill Roberto Bautista Agut, and lucky loser Alejandro Falla without dropping a set, then he defeated another lucky loser, Pouille, in the semis to reach the final, needing three sets as the two traded winners in an exciting match. The draw was entirely blown up in Auckland this week, but the tennis was still exciting, and it’s nice to see some lesser known names have great results at the ATP level.
Raven Klaasen and Leander Paes won the doubles title over Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea.
Viktor Troicki continued his admirable comeback, and captured his second career ATP title in Sydney. The title is his first since 2010 and he was contesting his first final since 2011. The Serbian beat fellow qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin who was contesting just his third career ATP final. With the 6-2 6-3 victory over Kukushkin in the battle of a qualifiers Troicki has very nearly returned to the top 50 in a short span of time since his comeback to the tour, and he is a motivated, tenacious player at this point in his career, having found renewed spark and fire.
Troicki qualified with wins over Enrique Lopez-Perez, Nicolas Jarry and Stefano Travaglia. In the main draw he upset Martin Klizan, and then needed three sets to oust Pablo Andujar and Simone Bolelli. He beat Gilles Muller, another comeback king, to reach the final.
Kukushkin beat Christopher O’Connell, Denis Kudla and JP Smith to qualify, then beat Denis Istomin, Pablo Cuevas, Juan Martin Del Potro and Leonardo Mayer without dropping a set to reach the final. Kukushkin has never been able to have consistently sustained success in his career, but he is a talented player and perhaps he can have a career year this year.
Rohan Bopanna and Daniel Nestor beat Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau to win a much more predictable doubles final.
David Ferrer had slipped down to number 10 in the world before the start of Doha but he captured his first ATP title in eleven months in the desert paradise over an in-form Tomas Berdych 6-4 7-5. Ferrer got off to a strong start, and though Berdych gave him a push in both sets, the Spaniard remained the frontrunner throughout the match and never let Berdych garner enough momentum to take it to a third set.
It was a great week for the Spanish number 2, he survived a stern test from qualifier Thiemo De Bakker in round one, defeating the tiring Dutchman from a set down, before dispatching his countryman Fernando Verdasco and Dustin Brown in straight sets. He was pushed to three tough tiebreaks against the big serving Ivo Karlovic, who reached the semis by shockingly vanquishing world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarters, but prevailed in a third set breaker to reach the final. Djokovic seems to struggle against players whose biggest weapon is their serve, and Karlovic used it masterfully in their quarterfinal match, he passed the 9,000 career aces mark in his career this week in Doha, and is one of the greatest servers the game has ever seen.
Berdych crushed all opposition en route to the final. He earned routine wins over Denis Istomin, Blaz Kavcic, Richard Gasquet, and Andreas Seppi, who snuck into the semifinals partially due to the fact Rafael Nadal was shocked by career journeyman Michael Berrer of Germany, who is retiring at the end of the season, in round 1. Nadal looked to be in control in the first set, but Berrer employed a much more aggressive approach in the next two sets, and the Spaniard played sloppy listless tennis against the inspired German, losing in 3 sets.
Nadal found more success in doubles this week, as he usually does in Doha, his team up with one of his best pals on tour, Juan Monaco, earned them yet another Doha title, this time over Austrians Julian Knowle and Philipp Oswald.