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Updated: 21 weeks 3 days ago

Read & Watch: Sandgren's Tweener Earns Top Honours On 'SportsCenter'

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 9:17am

Tennys Sandgren may not have won his opening-round match on Monday against Steve Johnson at the New York Open, but his outrageous tweener winner earned top honors on Tuesday as the No. 1 play on ESPN’s flagship program ‘SportsCenter’.

With Sandgren serving at 4-4, 30/30 in the final set, Johnson tracked down a drop volley and flicked a lob over Sandgren’s head, prompting the Tennessee native to sprint back and hit a tweener passing shot. Sandgren stood in stunned disbelief at his winner as the crowd roared their approval.

The 28-year-old has soared up the FedEx ATP Rankings in the past month, jumping from No. 101 to No. 53. Sandgren kicked off this year by reaching his second Australian Open quarter-final, scoring upset victories against Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini before falling to Roger Federer in a five-set thriller.

[WATCH LIVE 3]

Murray/Skupski Survive Stern Test In Rotterdam

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 7:38am

Jamie Murray/Neal Skupski were pushed to the limit on Tuesday at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, but reached the quarter-finals in Rotterdam with a 7-6(4), 5-7, 10-7 win over Jurgen Melzer/Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

Murray/Skupski held the lead throughout the Match Tie-break to advance in one hour and 54 minutes. The British pair will now face Henri Kontinen/Jan-Lennard Struff.

[WATCH LIVE 1]

Rohan Bopanna/Denis Shapovalov prevailed in a tight 7-6(0), 6-7(5), 10-8 battle against John Peers/Michael Venus. Bopanna/Shapovalov couldn’t convert a match point at 5-4 in the second set, but regrouped to win the last three points of the Match Tie-break. Awaiting them in the last eight are fourth seeds Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau.

At the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires, third seeds Sander Gille/Joran Vliegen rallied to defeat Andrea Collarini/Federico Coria 4-6, 6-1, 10-2. Next up for the Belgian duo are Pablo Cuevas/Hugo Dellien or Leonardo Mayer/Andres Molteni.

Doubles action at the New York Open sees fourth seeds Luke Bambridge/Ben McLachlan highlight Tuesday’s schedule against Nicholas Monroe/Jack Sock.

Carballes Baena Eliminates Defending Champ Cecchinato In Buenos Aires

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 7:20am

Roberto Caraballes Baena ended Marco Cecchinato’s Argentina Open title defence in the first round on Tuesday, beating the Italian 6-4, 7-6(3) at the ATP 250 event.

In a repeat of last year’s quarter-final in Buenos Aires, the 26-year-old levelled his ATP Head2Head record against Cecchinato at 1-1 after one hour and 39 minutes. Carballes Baena saved five of six break points to book his place in the second round and record his third victory in five matches in the Argentine capital.

[WATCH LIVE 2]

Carballes Baena will attempt to reach his second straight quarter-final in Buenos Aires when he faces eighth seed Casper Ruud. Ruud needed just 72 minutes to win his first-round match on Monday, cruising past Pablo Andujar 6-2, 6-3.

Facundo Bagnis broke Andrej Martin’s serve on four occasions to secure a 6-4, 6-1 win and a place in the second round. The qualifier will meet countryman and second seed Guido Pella for a spot in the quarter-finals.

Fellow qualifier Jozef Kovalik also made it through on Tuesday, saving seven of eight break points en route to a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory against Corentin Moutet. Kovalik will face lucky loser Pedro Sousa in the second round. Sousa needed one hour and 50 minutes to defeat Argentine wild card Facundo Diaz Acosta 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Tsitsipas Rallies To Earn First Rotterdam Win

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 7:02am

Three years after making his tour-level debut at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Stefanos Tsitsipas rallied from a set down to record his first victory at the ATP 500 event on Tuesday.

From a set and 0-2 down, the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion won 12 of 14 games to beat Hubert Hurkacz 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-1 after two hours and seven minutes. Tsitsipas, who improves to 5-1 in his ATP Head2Head rivalry against Hurkacz, converted six of 11 break points and won 81 per cent of first-serve points (38/47) en route to victory.

”The beginning of the match was quite unusual. I was quite nervous. I’ve never left here with a win… I just felt uncomfortable from the beginning,” Tsitsipas said. “Then I found my way in the second set [and] got back on my feet. I think my fighting spirit made it work. I was just waiting for my moment.”

[WATCH LIVE 1]

The World No. 6 improves to 3-3 this year. Tsitsipas began his 2020 ATP Tour season with a 1-2 record at the inaugural ATP Cup, before a third-round loss to eventual quarter-finalist Milos Raonic at the Australian Open.

Tsitsipas will face Aljaz Bedene for the first time in the second round. The 30-year-old broke Benoit Paire’s serve on four occasions to secure a 6-2, 6-4 win after 63 minutes.

Andrey Rublev recorded his 12th win in 13 matches this year, racing past Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-2, 6-3. The four-time ATP Tour titlist needed just 55 minutes to advance to the second round, dropping only two points behind his first serve (20/22). Rublev levels his ATP Head2Head series against Basilashvili at 2-2, adding to his previous victory against the Georgian at last year’s Western & Southern Open.

Rublev is bidding to capture his maiden ATP 500 trophy this week. The 22-year-old, competing at a career-high No. 15 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, has already lifted trophies at ATP 250-level in Doha and Adelaide this year. Rublev currently sits in fifth position in the ATP Race To London, only trailing the four men to reach this year’s Australian Open semi-finals: Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem, Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev.

Attempting to reach his second quarter-final at the opening ATP 500 event of the season (2018), Rublev will face Alexander Bublik in the second round. The Kazakh saved both break points he faced in a 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-4 victory against French qualifier Gregoire Barrere.

The Very Long Journey To Rungkat’s First ATP Title

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 2:01am

His name is Christopher Rungkat, but everybody calls him The Bandit.

For Rungkat, it must have felt like he was on Redemption Road when he and partner Andre Goransson lifted the trophy at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune. The very long and endless doubt-filled journey was finally over. The promise of a doubles prodigy finally redeemed. Rungkat’s doubles skills and ability to get the best out of any player he partners have for years often been compared to those of Leander Paes. Yet, despite all the ITF Futures titles, Davis Cup wins, Asian Games and SEA Games gold medals, Rungkat had yet to make his mark on the ATP Tour.

“I remember back in 2007 at the ATP event at Queen’s Club when Mahesh Bhupathi told me that talent means nothing until you back it up with ATP trophies,” said Rungkat. “I was still a junior then and a hitting partner for Tour players. His words hurt my feelings a bit as I had just won the French Open Junior Doubles. I never forgot what Mahesh said either.”

I first met Indonesia’s Christopher Rungkat when he was a 17-year-old promising junior player ranked in the ITF Top 10 of singles. At the time, I was on the ATP Tour with the Ratiwatana brothers of Thailand. It was agreed by the Indonesian Tennis Association that Rungkat would travel with us full-time as a hitting partner for the twins and at the same time he would play select ITF Junior events and the Grand Slams.

That year, he practised and warmed up many top players at ATP Tour events while also winning the French Open Junior Doubles with Henri Kontinen. It was during that time that he earned his nickname: The Bandit.

Players that Rungkat played with and against started commenting on how at least once or twice a match he was able to snatch a point away from his opponent just as all looked lost. Rungkat had the uncanny ability to come up with some incredible pick-up or cheeky poach at the most crucial times in a match. For this unique talent, his peers gave him his nickname. The name has stuck.

Since he was a 17-year-old junior, Rungkat has been his country’s No. 1 singles and doubles player. That was both a blessing and a curse. Being No. 1 in a country of nearly 300 million people has certain benefits when it comes to media and support. However, on the developmental side, not having an active older player to show the road ahead — where the dangers and pitfalls are located — is a detriment.

“I give so much credit to Sonchat Ratiwatana and Sanchai Ratiwatana for teaching me not only how to play doubles, but also how to be a professional,” said Rungkat. “It was like having two big brothers who were also my coaches.”

Throughout the past 13 years, he has watched many of his former partners go on to have success on the ATP Tour while he seemed to be stuck at the lower levels. It hurt and after bouts with injuries and lost sponsorships, he considered quitting tennis more than once. But he was able to channel the pain and frustration into a greater commitment to his craft.

The hard work started to pay off in 2018 and 2019 with ATP Challenger titles alongside Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Sanchai Ratiwatana and Cheng-Peng Hsieh. Despite reaching a career-high ATP Tour doubles ranking of No. 68 in June last year, the second half of 2019 was cruel as Rungkat and partner Cheng-Peng Hsieh lost nine consecutive first-round matches. He failed to defend his FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings points from 2018 and fell outside the Top 100.

“I made some life changes,” said Rungkat. “The emotional rollercoaster was taking a toll on me. I could not sleep and the frustration was maddening. I decided to change my priorities. I put God first, starting a family second and tennis third. Before, it was tennis first, second and third.

”Since I made those changes, I have discovered an inner-peace that allows me to rest better and accept that there are some things I cannot control. I got married in January which gave my life balance and meaning. And tennis is fun again, even when I don’t win.”

For Rungkat, the long wait for an ATP Tour title is finally over. It is also validation for those select people who never waivered over the many years in their faith that one day, The Bandit’s achievements would equal his abilities.

Raonic Tops Isner, Opelka, Karlovic In This Key Serving Stat

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 1:35am

Milos Raonic’s serve may be even better than we thought.

An Infosys ATP Insights deep dive into first- and second-serve performance only when players win their matches over the past two seasons identifies Raonic at the top of the tree in both categories. The data set is comprised of all players who had a minimum of 20 wins on Tour in the past two seasons combined.

Raonic has won 51 tour-level matches the past two seasons and accumulated win percentages behind first and second serves that simply have no peer.

2018/19: First-Serve Win Percentage When Winning The Match

Rank

Player

Win Percentage

Total

1

Milos Raonic

86.15%

1903/2209

2

Ivo Karlovic

85.13%

1053/1237

3

Sam Querrey

84.81%

1736/2047

4

Reilly Opelka

83.45%

1331/1595

5

John Isner

83.42%

3008/3606

6

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

83.32%

1409/1691

7

Marin Cilic

81.82%

2461/3008

8

Jan-Lennard Struff

81.50%

2004/2459

9

Kevin Anderson

81.34%

2703/3323

10

Feliciano Lopez

81.30%

1330/1636

The average first-serve win percentage when players won their match was 76.39 per cent (172,615/225,974). That metric is eight percentage points higher than the average when they lose their match.

Average First-Serve Points Won/Lost
Winning the match = 76.9%
Losing the match = 68.9%
Gap = 8 percentage points

Raonic’s tour-leading numbers also extend to second-serve points when winning the match, where he sits at 61.78 per cent (826/1337).

2018/19: Second-Serve Win Percentage When Winning The Match

Rank

Player

Win Percentage

Total

1

Milos Raonic

61.78%

826/1337

2

Rafael Nadal

61.42%

1492/2429

3

Roger Federer

61.35%

1578/2587

4

John Isner

60.51%

904/1494

5

Philipp Kohlschreiber

60.12%

680/1131

6

Yoshihito Nishioka

59.25%

410/692

7

Miomir Kecmanovic

58.82%

370/629

8

Alex de Minaur

58.47%

1142/1953

9

Novak Djokovic

58.41%

1559/2669

10

Juan Ignacio Londero

58.27%

398/683

The average second-serve win percentage when players won their match was 55.61 per cent (75,097/135,032). That metric is 8.7 percentage points higher than the average when they lose their match.

Average Second-Serve Points Won/Lost
Winning the match = 55.6%
Losing the match = 46.9%
Gap = 8.7 percentage points

Raonic had a strong run to the quarter-finals of the 2020 Australian Open, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas and Marin Cilic along the way. He is currently No. 32 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, and most importantly, is healthy once again.

Where will he end 2020? With a serve like his, anything is possible.

Garin: 'Whatever The Circumstance, I Think I Can Win'

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 12:47am

Cristian Garin is here to stay.

The 23-year-old Chilean is on the rise on the ATP Tour and last week at the Cordoba Open, he left no room for doubt. He continues to write his own success-filled story after beating Diego Schwartzman to lift his third title in four ATP Tour finals.

Garin’s performance in Cordoba was epic for many reasons. Not only did he have to dig deep to finish off a close match that he trailed early on, he was also facing a home player and the tournament’s top seed, which undoubtedly make his latest crown even more valuable. Earlier in the week, after winning his opener, he came back from a set down in three consecutive matches to take the title.

“I won’t rest on my laurels, I have a lot to improve on, and that’s the good thing. I can’t see it any other way. Regardless of whether the results are good, I have thousands of things to improve,” said Garin.

[WATCH LIVE 2]

“Cristian is a streaky player... there aren’t many like him, he is hugely aggressive and he can look for the lines all the time,” said Schwartzman. “He can always recover from a bad situation to end up finding his moment in matches. He has the capacity to pick himself up and in Cordoba he did that to perfection.”

“Winning in Argentina is special... I always have good things to say about this country”, said Garin. “Whatever the circumstance, I think I can win and that gives me a confidence boost.”

Meanwhile, Garin’s path continues onwards and upwards and it seems to know no limits. Just a year ago, before his victory in the first round of the Argentina Open against Felix Auger-Aliassime, Garin had just one ATP victory. After earning his first tour-level win at the age of 16, it took Garin six years to win on the ATP Tour again. Plenty happened in the lead-up to this change in fortunes, but in the past eleven months, the Chilean has picked up three tour-level crowns and dozens of victories. But what changed?

“I was working well two years ago, in tennis and fitness, above all on court,” said Garin. “But maybe the difference was starting to dedicate myself 100 per cent to my career and to tennis, which I didn’t do before. The changes were significant and the results amazing.”

Encouraged by his success, Garin is keen to push for more.

“Personally, I really like working, learning and dedicating myself to this and now I’m focused... I’ve only just got started,” said Garin.

New and better chapters are yet to be written as Garin continues on his path to success. Keep an eye out for him.

Felix Recovers In Rotterdam

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 10:45pm

Felix Auger-Aliassime fought hard to reach the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament second round on Tuesday when he beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in just under two hours. The Canadian hit 16 aces, but did well to bounce back from losing five straight games in the second set. He broke serve at 2-1 in the deciding set and will next challenge 2018 Rotterdam runner-up Grigor Dimitrov, who overcame eighth seed Denis Shapovalov on Monday.

“It was really tough, there was so many emotions running through my head,” World No. 21 Auger-Aliassime told ATPTour.com. “I felt I had chances in the first game of the second set, with the overheard, and so many chances to make the break. It was really frustrating.

“It led me to lose focus in the second set and get broken twice, which isn’t ideal for me or normal. In the third set, it was about forgetting and moving forward. I’m really happy, it’s a really good lesson and a great win to come back after losing the set so badly.”

Last year, the 19-year-old advanced to three ATP Tour finals and moved from No. 108 in the FedEx ATP Rankings to a career-high No. 17 on 14 October.

[WATCH LIVE 1]

In his fourth appearance at the ATP 500 event, Karen Khachanov eliminated fifth seed Fabio Fognini 6-3 6-3 to record his first win in Rotterdam. The World No. 17, who opened his 2020 ATP Tour season with four wins from five matches at the inaugural ATP Cup, improves to 7-3 this year.

“I think I was one out from being seeded, and we’re not so far away in the [FedEx ATP] Rankings, so it’s always tough to play against guys like that, especially in the first round,” said Khachanov. “Everything was under control and I trained well after Melbourne, worked hard and now I am waiting to get [as many] matches as possible to get rhythm.”

Khachanov landed seven aces and converted four of seven break points throughout the 79-minute contest. The 23-year-old moves into a 2-1 lead in his ATP Head2Head series against Fognini, having also beaten the Italian in three sets at last year’s China Open.

Khachanov will face Daniel Evans of Great Britain for a place in the quarter-finals. Evans advanced to the second round on Monday after a straight-sets victory against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Johnson Holds Off Sandgren In New York

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 1:34pm

Steve Johnson carried his early-season ATP Challenger Tour success to the New York Open on Monday. The 30-year-old American earned his first tour-level win of the season, upsetting fifth-seeded countryman Tennys Sandgren 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(3) at the ATP 250.

Johnson scraped past the Australian Open quarter-finalist (l. to Federer), saving three break points at 3-4 in the deciding set and twice holding as he served to stay in the match at 4-5 and 5-6.

[WATCH LIVE 3]

The right-hander played his best in the deciding-set tie-break, belting a backhand winner to give himself four match points at 6/2. Johnson improved to 2-0 against Sandgren in their ATP Head2Head series (2018 Houston final). He will next meet Italy's Andreas Seppi, who edged Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia-Herzegovina 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(6).

"I just thought I played a couple good points, down break point at 4-3, and then started off the tie-break with a great return. A couple free points are always key in a tie-break," Johnson said. “Wins are wins, you take them when you get them and hopefully you string a bunch in a row. That's my goal.”

Johnson won the Bendigo Challenger last month and fell in the semi-finals of the Newport Beach Challenger on 2 February.

Sixth seed Miomir Kecmanovic beat American Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-2 and will next face a qualifier, either 38-year-old Italian Paolo Lorenzi or Serbian Danilo Petrovic. Kecmanovic is looking to reach his second ATP Tour semi-final of the season after advancing to the Qatar ExxonMobil Open semi-finals in Doha during week one.

The 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals semi-finalist converted four break points from 11 chances to win his first ATP Head2Head matchup with Paul, who reached the third round of the Australian Open (l. to Fucsovics).

In the final match of the day, American Marcos Giron beat former World No. 8 Jack Sock 6-3, 6-4. Sock was competing in his first tour-level match since September at the Laver Cup in Geneva.

Giron, meanwhile, made his Australian Open debut last month. He will next meet fourth seed Ugo Humbert of France.

Learn How Isner Was Able To 'Shake The Rust Off'

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 11:02am

John Isner enters the New York Open in a unique position, at least as far as recent history goes. From 2011 to 2019, the American never played more than six matches by this point in the calendar. After beginning the season at the ATP Cup, Isner has played nine matches, and he is ready to roll in New York.

“I think it will help. I certainly hope so. I played nine matches down in Australia, and that’s the beauty of the ATP Cup,” Isner told ATPTour.com. “I was very lucky to be part of that great event, even though I didn’t play that well. I was able to, I think, shake the rust off and maybe get my bad matches out of the way and that helped me in Auckland and it served me well in the Australian Open, also.”

Isner made the semi-finals in Auckland, and then he reached the third round of the Australian Open before retiring during his match against former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. But the 6’10” right-hander is now set to compete at home in the United States, where he has captured 13 of his 15 ATP Tour titles.

“Very excited. I love playing in the States, I love this time of year in particular, starting off in New York and then you leave the States, but barely, going to Acapulco, and of course you have the two very big [ATP] Masters 1000 events that I’ve done well at in the past,” said Isner, who will face Ivo Karlovic or Jordan Thompson in New York. “So it’s a very important part of the year for me.”

[ATP APP]

This stretch of the year has often been kind to Isner, as he won the Miami Open presented by Itau in 2018, and reached the final last year.

“It’s a focus, but it’s not a bigger focus than it has been in the past. I’m just going to try to do what I’ve done in years past and just take care of myself as best as I can and hope it serves me well this year,” Isner said. “One thing I noticed now that I’m almost 35, it takes a lot more energy to keep myself fit and healthy. I left Australia with a bit of an injury and haven’t actually been able to practise much. The focus has been more on rehab, which kind of stinks. But I think I’m lucky that I feel like I’m over that right now.”

This is the third straight year in which Isner has competed in the New York Open. Last year, he made the semi-finals. This time, he’ll try to lift his 16th ATP Tour trophy.

“For one just being in New York is fantastic. We’re not in the city, we’re close to the city if you want to take in some of that energy. You’re only about 20 to 30 minutes away,” Isner said. “But I think the best part about this tournament is the facility here. This arena is amazing. The locker rooms are amazing. The court is fantastic. All the players really enjoy their time here. The hotel is super close, you walk across the street. It’s got everything a player can ask for in a tournament.”

[MY POINT]

Isner gets a special treat by being one of the top two seeds. He has a private locker room with his own bathroom, shower, couches and television.

“It’s very special. It’s very cool. Last year I was one of the top seeds as well and if you’re a top two seed you get your own little private locker room,” Isner said. “I think it’s very cool, very unique, and it’s something to keep striving for. So next year of course I hope I’m a top two seed and I can spend some time here again.”

Last season was a "wild year" according to Isner. He broke his left foot in the Miami final, and he’d miss three months. His second child, John Hobbs, was born in October. Then the American finished inside the Top 20 of the year-end FedEx ATP Rankings for the 10th straight year. Now, Isner is ready to settle down and move forward.

“It’s very nice to get back to business. We had our second kid last year and of course [we’re] so lucky and blessed to have two beautiful kids and healthy most importantly. They’re actually here with me this week with my wife and we’re enjoying our time here,” Isner said. “[We have] a great room, a great set-up. They haven’t been to the site yet, but they’ll be taking advantage of this locker room as well. Hopefully my kids can maybe take a nap in here. It’s a lot of fun to travel with them. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Challenger Q&A: Rodionov Hits The Reset Button In Dallas

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 8:02am

When Jurij Rodionov entered the RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas, he had no expectations. In fact, the Austrian was merely hoping to win just one or two matches as he sought to rebound from a disappointing 2019 season.

Rodionov never imagined he would be lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament, but that's exactly where he found himself on Championship Sunday. The 20-year-old became the first #NextGenATP titlist of 2020, claiming six wins in seven days to triumph at the T Bar M Racquet Club.

It was an impressive display all week from Rodionov, who upset second seed Andreas Seppi, as well as an in-form Michael Mmoh, Joao Menezes and Dominik Koepfer to reach the final. There, he won a thrilling encounter against fifth seed Denis Kudla, 7-5, 7-6(10). The 22-point tie-break was as epic as they come.

Rodionov is two years removed from his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title on the clay of Almaty, Kazakhstan. At the time, the 20-year-old was first embarking on his professional journey and one of just a handful of teens to triumph in the 2018 season. But 2019 proved to be a reality check for the young Austrian, reaching just one semi-final and going from inside the Top 200 to No. 362 entering Dallas. His latest victory has him soaring 130 spots to No. 232 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

When the net is your best friend and your worst enemy in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes you just have to hug it out. pic.twitter.com/YJ0aEKEIol

— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) February 9, 2020

Rodionov posted the following on his Facebook page after lifting the trophy:

Unbelievable, I have done it! I really cannot describe my feeling after the fourth match point. The win is a reward for the hard times I and especially my team had. This is for you!
The match was high level and epic till the end, but finally I managed to defeat Denis Kudla (USA / ATP 106) with the score 7:5 and 7:6(10). I have played like I have done the whole week so far, so simple that might sound. Being patient, aggressive if appropriate and sticking to the match plan were and are the keys for me.
This is the beginning for me and I will continue the hard work with this intensity.


Photo: Tessa Kolodny

Now, with a renewed attitude and approach, Rodionov is hoping his latest victory is a harbinger of what's to come for the rest of 2020. He spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation after prevailing in Dallas...

You won six matches in seven days. That's a lot of tennis. You have to be super pleased with the result and you only dropped one set in those matches.
First of all, it's a great tournament and I really enjoyed playing here. The courts are very good, the whole facility and the food too. The organization made it easy to play here. I really enjoyed it. It was very comfortable and that's why I could play my tennis. From round to round it got better and better.

Jurij, you have such a unique style of play. It felt like there were times where you were moving side-to-side, then luring your opponents in and then attacking and taking rips. Where did all that come from?
Honestly I don't know. I basically created my own style. In the beginning of my career, I was a player like Dustin Brown. A trickster playing a lot of drop shots. I was playing for fun, because I liked it. But later, when I became a professional and started playing Challengers, that style didn't work. I had to be more consistent and win from the baseline. So it all came together and I had to use different game styles. I don't play just one way. This week, I played my best tennis and it worked.

Earlier this week, Jurij Rodionov admitted he was lost in 2019. What a difference a new season can make.

Refreshed and refocused, the 20-year-old

Ruud Races Past Andujar In Buenos Aires

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 7:52am

Casper Ruud made a fast start to his Argentina Open campaign on Monday, beating Pablo Andujar 6-2, 6-3 to reach the second round in Buenos Aires.

The 21-year-old, who is aiming to capture his maiden ATP Tour title this week, struck six aces and broke serve on three occasions to advance after 72 minutes. Ruud reached his maiden tour-level championship match on clay at last year’s Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston and reached two further ATP Tour semi-finals on the surface in 2019 (Sao Paulo, Kitzbühel).

[WATCH LIVE 2]

Ruud improves to 3-3 this season, adding to career-best wins at the ATP Cup. Representing Team Norway in Perth, the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier beat two Top 20 players — Fabio Fognini and John Isner — to open his 2020 ATP Tour season at the innovative team competition.

The eighth seed will meet defending champion Marco Cecchinato or Roberto Carballes Baena for a spot in the quarter-finals. Cecchinato defeated Diego Schwartzman in last year’s championship match to earn his third ATP Tour crown.

Thiago Monteiro booked a second-round clash against fourth seed Borna Coric in the Argentine capital. The 25-year-old Brazilian saved 10 of 11 break points to move past Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-3.

In other action, six-time ATP Tour clay-court titlist Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay dismissed Italy's Lorenzo Sonego 6-4, 6-4. Cuevas will next meet seventh seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain or home wild card Leonardo Mayer.

Home favourite Federico Delbonis also advanced, beating Bolivian Hugo Dellien 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 and will meet top-seeded countryman Diego Schwartzman in the second round. Schwartzman fell in the Cordoba Open final to Chile's Cristian Garin on Sunday.

Deuces Don't Slow Down Dimitrov's Serve

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 7:21am

The longer his service games are extended on hard courts, the more Grigor Dimitrov digs in and finds a way to hold.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of players holding serve when their service games are extended to two or more deuces on hard court over the past five seasons identifies Dimitrov as the leader of the pack with 199 service games held from this precarious scenario.

This metric is somewhat of a double-edged sword as Dimitrov, like all players on Tour, would naturally prefer to hold his service games with greater ease.

But theory and reality don’t always mix, and Dimitrov has shown great resolve to hold serve when opponents are pushing their way deeper and deeper into his service games.

The leading 10 players from 2015-2019 that held the most service games from two or more deuces:
1. Grigor Dimitrov = 199
2. Stan Wawrinka = 192
3. Dominic Thiem = 164
4. David Goffin = 159
T5. Alexander Zverev = 153
T5. Adrian Mannarino = 153
7. Novak Djokovic = 149
T8. Benoit Paire = 145
T8. Kei Nishikori = 145
10. Fernando Verdasco = 145

Dimitrov is currently No. 22 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. He held his career-high of No. 3 in November 2017 after winning the Nitto ATP Finals in London.

In the past five seasons, Dimitrov’s single season effort in 2016 of holding 58 times from two or more deuces is the best.

2015-2019 Season Leader: Holding Two Or More Deuces
2019: Stefanos Tsitsipas = 53
2018: Grigor Dimitrov = 50
2017: Alexander Zverev = 51
2016: Grigor Dimitrov = 58
2015: Stan Wawrinka = 56

Overall, Dimitrov has held an impressive 76.8 per cent (199/259) of the time when his service games have been extended to two or more deuces, which is ahead of the Tour average of 73.4 per cent (9270/12636).

The player with the highest win percentage from 2015-2019, with a minimum of 50 attempts, is Ivo Karlovic, who won 85.6 per cent (83/97). The five best win percentages:

1: Ivo Karlovic = 85.6% (83/97)
2: Milos Raonic = 84.7% (100/118)
3: Nick Kyrgios = 84.4% (119/141)
4: Juan Martin del Potro = 84.3% (75/89)
5: Reilly Opelka = 83.6% (46/55)

Having your service games extended to two or more deuces is going to happen no matter if you like it or not. Dimitrov’s resilience in this specific situation helps keep him at the top tier of our sport.

Find Out Who Isner, Karlovic, Opelka & Humbert Struggled To Ace In New York

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 6:46am

John Isner, Ivo Karlovic and Reilly Opelka are three of the biggest servers in the history of tennis. 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier Ugo Humbert serves well, too. But the quartet faced a different returning challenge on Monday before starting the New York Open.

Members of the New York Riptide, a professional lacrosse team that competes at the same venue as this ATP 250 tournament, jumped on court with the ATP Tour stars to see if they could catch the monstrous deliveries. And to their credit, Tyson Bomberry, Connor Kelly and Jake Fox were able to do so, even when the players ramped up the velocity and kick on their serve.

Everyone then switched roles, with the tennis players attempting to catch the lacrosse players’ serves.

“That was actually very fun. I said earlier that they are much better at tennis than we are lacrosse. They were serving to us and they actually served very well in my opinion,” Isner said. “All of us as lacrosse players leave a lot to be desired out there, I could say. We could catch it pretty well, but our passes were not accurate at all. Those guys are extremely tough. I love watching it on TV. Those guys put their bodies on the line every single time they go out there, so lacrosse is a fantastic sport to watch.”

[WATCH LIVE 3]

Opelka, the defending champion at the New York Open, watched 38 Isner aces whiz by him in last year’s semi-finals. The 22-year-old tried a new approach on Monday, seeing if he could catch his countryman’s serve with a lacrosse stick.

“I like to think my serve is difficult to return even with a tennis racquet in your hand, but throw a lacrosse stick in Reilly’s hand and he was having a little bit of trouble,” Isner said. “I wasn’t cranking it up. I was cranking it up against the professional players, and that was a lot of fun.”

[ATP APP]

Ivo Karlovic is 40, and in all his travels he’d never gotten to play lacrosse. The Croat was excited to try something new before playing Jordan Thompson in the first round.

“It is always fun. It’s interesting. I never did this before and I didn’t know at all how it is,” Karlovic said. “It is really fun, I liked it a lot.”

In Humbert’s case, lacrosse was more than just something he had never played.

“I don’t know the sport, in France we don’t have it,” said Humbert, who will play Jack Sock or Marcos Giron. “I enjoyed to be with those guys, it was good. I was having some fun before my first match. It’s always great for my mind.”

Dimitrov Edges Shapovalov To Reach Rotterdam Second Round

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 6:18am

Grigor Dimitrov made an impressive start to his eighth appearance at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament on Monday, beating eighth seed Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6(3) in Rotterdam.

In his 20th match at the ATP 500 event (13-7), the 2018 runner-up saved all three break points he faced — including a set point at 4-5 in the second set — to advance after 89 minutes. Dimitrov improves to 2-0 in his ATP Head2Head series against Shapovalov, having also defeated the Canadian at the Rogers Cup in 2016.

“Denis is a quality player,” said Dimitrov. “Indoors, he is very dangerous with his serve. A lefty. Very uncomfortable, but, in fact, I like to play against lefties a lot. I was trying to use every little opportunity that I had to make sure I seized those moments.”

[WATCH LIVE 1]

Dimitrov has now won four of his seven matches at tour-level this year. The Bulgarian won two of three matches for his nation at the inaugural ATP Cup, before a second-round loss to Tommy Paul at the Australian Open. Dimitrov arrived in Rotterdam after losing in three sets to Gregoire Barrere in his opening match at last week’s Open Sud de France.

“There was not a lot of rhythm,” said Dimitrov. “There were not too many rallies, but I was able to stay in control,” said Dimitrov. “I was calm in the important moments and came to the net when I had to, so, overall, the things that I had to do right I did very well.”

Dimitrov will face Felix Auger-Aliassime or Jan-Lennard Struff for a spot in the quarter-finals. The 28-year-old lost his only previous ATP Head2Head encounter against Auger-Aliassime at last year’s Fever-Tree Championships and is tied at 2-2 with Struff.

Roberto Bautista Agut’s hopes of a first title in Rotterdam were almost ended in the first round, but the Spaniard survived a second-set tie-break before finishing strongly to beat Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-1.

The World No. 12 recorded his ninth victory in 10 matches this season after two hours and 17 minutes, converting five of eight break points to secure the three-set victory. Bautista Agut is appearing in Rotterdam for the first time since 2016, when he advanced to the quarter-finals at the ATP 500 event for the first time.

Bautista Agut started the 2020 ATP Tour season in fine form, winning all 12 sets he contested at the inaugural ATP Cup. At the Australian Open, the 31-year-old fell in five sets to 2018 runner-up Marin Cilic in the third round.

Bautista Agut will face countryman Pablo Carreno Busta for a spot in the third round. The 28-year-old needed two hours and 45 minutes to move past Adrian Mannarino 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-4.

Bautista Agut leads Carreno Busta 2-1 in their ATP Head2Head series. Each of the pair’s three previous encounters went to decisive final set.

Daniel Evans also advanced to the second round, winning 85 per cent of first-serve points (28/33) to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-5. Evans will face fifth seed Fabio Fognini or Karen Khachanov for a spot in the quarter-finals.

Rublev: 'I Have No Patience, That's Why I Need To Learn'

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 4:00am

A loss in the first round of qualifying may not be a memorable experience for many players on the ATP Tour, but it was for Andrey Rublev in June 2019. After his lower back stress fracture, and soon after a right wrist injury, the feeling of competing far outweighed his deciding-set tie-break setback at the Noventi Open.

“You’ll come back stronger, don’t worry,” the Russian was told after his Halle experience. “You have to understand you haven’t played for a long time, you’ve been out of competition.”

Rublev gave the goodwill messages short shrift. He didn’t realise coming back to top form was a long process, until recently when he finished 2019 strong and compiled a 15-match winning streak that ended at the hands of Alexander Zverev at the Australian Open last month.

“I appreciated everything I had after the second injury,” Rublev told ATPTour.com at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament. “I didn’t play for a while and I played my first match back in Halle. I lost in the first round of qualifying, a dramatic match 7-6 in the third set [to then World No. 223 Mats Moraing]. I was up with a break. I was playing so badly. I remember after that match I was a little bit disappointed, but not as much as before.

“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.

“Because I had had that moment, I realised that I was playing better than before. I did not think that at that moment, rather ‘Let’s do my best and enjoy it’. It’s only recently that I realised.”

[WATCH LIVE 1]

Rublev the person is energetic, occasionally moody, but also very kind and loyal. He struggles with patience, but he is learning to take his calm exterior off the court onto a tennis court. It helped last month with back-to-back ATP Tour titles at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha and at the Adelaide International.

“I have no patience, that’s why I need to learn,” says Rublev, who has risen from No. 81 in mid-June 2019 to his current career-high of No. 15 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. “These kind of things always take a lot of patience and you have to accept that even if you don’t like it, you need to start all over again and try your best.

“You’re not going to come back stronger. Maybe it will help you later, if you get back to the same level, and maybe you can take some experience from it. But until the moment you arrive at the same level, you’re not going to be stronger. It’s a long process.”

Central to his tennis development has been Fernando Vicente, the former World No. 29 and Rublev’s coach since 2016, who, alongside Galo Blanco and Jairo Velasco, taught the 22-year-old how to be a professional. “The way I see things is the way they see things and we’re on the same wavelength,” says Rublev.

“With Fernando, it’s amazing, because I never had a coach like that before. I’m so close with everyone from my team, especially Fernando as he was with me from the beginning. It’s so tough to be with one person for 24 hours. Imagine if you spend 24 hours for three years with some of your friends, you’ll get tired. But with one or two, you’ll say, ‘He or she is so good.’

“We’ve been together almost four years and there hasn’t been one moment when I’ve been a little bit stressed, mad or tired with him. I feel that I can spend every day with him.”

Rublev realises that his 11-match winning streak at the start of 2020 was “unreal”, but it’s about how he performs and improves throughout the season that matters the most. He had dinner with his team last week, prior to flying to Rotterdam, to discuss his recent experiences, but he freely admits that his goals haven’t shifted because of one great month. It’s just shown him how mentally tough he has to be in the future.

“I want to be strong mentally every day, always positive and accept that if things aren’t going well, I still need to be positive and still do my best,” says Rublev. “If I can do this every day, then it will be my goal for the year. I may still get mad when I’m not hitting the ball as well, but if I want to improve to the next level, I have to cast the doubts aside.

“In life, it’s tough to make me mad. I’m energetic, but inside I’m calmer. On court, I’m completely different and can start to get mad or upset. When I need to compete, I show a different mad, a negative side. I need what I have in normal life, on the court. Everyone understands you need to be calm and positive to do your best, but in the end you have to be strong and smart enough.”

Rublev takes an 11-1 record on the season into his first-round Rotterdam match against Nikoloz Basilashvili on Tuesday.

Editor's Note: This story was updated 11 Feb. 5pm ET to correctly identify Adelaide as the second title Rublev won in January.

Reilly Opelka: Fashion & A New York State Of Mind

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 3:31am

Reilly Opelka made ATP Tour history with fellow American John Isner in the semi-finals of last year’s New York Open. Opelka not only rose to the occasion in his first tour-level semi-final, but he soared to it, crushing 43 aces. With Isner’s 38, they set the record for most combined aces in a three-set match (81).

But you’d never expect what happened after the match.

“It was Fashion Week [in New York City] that week, [so] I was going to fashion shows every night,” Opelka told ATPTour.com. “I finished my match with Isner exhausted, tired. My coach was so mad at me because I finished, didn’t stretch much, and just got in an Uber, headed into the city and made a fashion show. I went to a few [that week].”

For some players, rushing to a fashion show after a semi-final might be problematic, especially with a championship battle the next day. But for Opelka, it was exactly what he needed to maintain a relaxed mindset with the trophy on the line just hours later.

“I was in a great state of mind,” Opelka said. “I’d played enough tennis and I hit enough balls and I had enough practice and enough repetitions that I could have gotten away with it. It’s also about knowing when is the right time to do it.”

[ATP APP]

Those who watch the 6’11” right-hander play see him blasting aces on the court. But once he puts his racquets in his bag, fashion is one of Opelka’s biggest hobbies. “Some of my close friends are working in fashion and it’s just something I’ve always liked. I’ve had an interest in it,” he said.

Eight months later, at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo, Opelka advanced to the semi-finals at the ATP 500 with straight-set wins over good friend Taylor Fritz, former Top 10 player Gilles Simon and home favourite Yasutaka Uchiyama. That result was no coincidence.

According to the American, Tokyo is the “menswear fashion capital of the world”. While he enjoyed it, Opelka approached the scene differently upon arriving in Japan.

“I got injured at the US Open… I stayed for two weeks, recovered, got home, started off slow and I wanted to get [to Tokyo] early, get acclimated to these conditions. I knew I needed practice, I needed reps, I needed time. So I was hitting an hour and a half in the morning, an hour in the afternoon, doing fitness, so I didn’t have much time [to explore],” Opelka said. “From that standpoint, when you’re pushing your body that much, it’s important to recover. That’s a time where I knew I needed reps, I needed to hit balls. As tempted as I was to head into the city and check out the stores here, because I hadn’t really done it yet, I was pretty disciplined.

“Once I got my practice week finished and everything, the last three or four days I had some good times in the city. It’s just about knowing when. At the end of the day, it is my job. I like to be professional. I don’t like to waste a week, especially coming all that way.”

[ATP HERITAGE]

Opelka was not returning to the tournament hotel with countless bags of clothing. He simply loved checking out what the city’s fashion stores had to offer.

“I’m not kidding, they only have like men’s small here [in Tokyo]. From that standpoint, I’m not shopping, looking to buy anything for myself. I’m just looking,” Opelka said. “This is literally the mecca for menswear.”

Opelka is not the only player on the ATP Tour who is into fashion. Federer was named GQ’s Most Stylish Man of the Decade. One of the Swiss’ friends, Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, frequents tennis tournaments.

“I’d love to [meet her]. For sure [it’s on the bucket list],” Opelka said. I follow Harper’s Bazaar, I read a lot. I read all different types of outlets from that [fashion] standpoint.”

Opelka isn’t sure if he’ll ever get into designing. But the American wants to stay close to the industry even after his still-young tennis career is over.

“I don’t know if I would start my own [brand] for example, but I’m into it. I also like learning. I like the business side of things. Once my tennis career is over, that’s for sure the direction I’ll head in,” Opelka said. “I love New York and I go to the city a lot. New York is one of the main hubs for it in the States, especially the Soho area, Tribeca, more downtown in the city. That’s where I like spending a lot of my time. When the season’s over, even though it’s freezing cold, as soon as I get back from Paris or wherever, I go to New York. I spend a week in New York.”

Opelka’s hobbies aren’t one-dimensional, though. He is also a self-proclaimed “foodie”.

“In New York, I was eating good. I love this restaurant called Moreia. I love Italian. I was ordering an Italian dish there as well, Gnocchetti. Carbone is really good there. I was going to Per Se. I was eating ton of good foody spots pretty much every night. Le Coucou is another one,” Opelka said.

Will you catch the big man cooking, though?

“Absolutely not,” Opelka said. “Zero chance. Never.”

For now, Opelka will stick to cooking up aces. He enters this year’s New York Open as the World No. 40, 49 spots higher than last year when he lifted the trophy.

And if a routine works, don’t change it. On Sunday evening, Opelka took to Instagram to show the world where he was: a fashion show.

Robert Farah Eligible To Return To Competition

Tue, 11/02/2020 - 3:08am

A decision has been issued under the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (the "Programme") that Robert Farah has committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the 2019 Programme. No period of ineligibility was imposed.

Mr. Farah, a 32-year-old player from Colombia, provided a urine sample as part of an Out-of-Competition testing mission on 17 October 2019. That sample was sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”) accredited laboratory in Montreal, Canada for analysis, and was found to contain Boldenone and its metabolite. Boldenone is a Non-Specified substance, which is prohibited under category S1 of the 2019 WADA Prohibited List (Anabolic Agents), and therefore is also prohibited under the Programme. Positive tests for Non-Specified Substances carry a mandatory Provisional Suspension and Mr. Farah was provisionally suspended with effect from 21 January 2020.

Mr. Farah was charged with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme (presence of a Prohibited Substance in a Player’s Sample) on 11 January 2020. Mr. Farah’s account of how the Boldenone entered his system was accepted and it was determined that he bears No Fault or Negligence for the violation within the meaning of Programme Article 10.4. Where a finding of No Fault or Negligence is made, Programme Article 10.4 provides that any otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be eliminated entirely. Therefore, the Player's provisional suspension (imposed on 21 January 2020) is lifted with immediate effect, and he will not serve any period of Ineligibility for his violation. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. Farah is eligible to resume competition immediately.

This is Mr. Farah’s first Anti-Doping Rule Violation. The decision determines that: (1) Mr. Farah has committed a violation of the Programme; (2) there is no period of ineligibility; and (3) Mr. Farah is eligible to compete with immediate effect. This decision is subject to appeal by WADA and NADO Colombia (COLDEPORTES) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Vesely Jumps Back Into Top 100, Mover Of Week

Mon, 10/02/2020 - 8:10pm

No. 72 Jiri Vesely, +35
The Czech rises back into the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time since 13 May 2019 with his second ATP Tour title at the Tata Open Maharashtra (d. Gerasimov). Vesely became only the eighth player since 2013 to save match points in two matches en route to an ATP Tour crown. The former World No. 35 saved two match points to beat Ilya Ivashka in a final-set tie-break in the quarter-finals and survived four match points in another deciding-set tie-break against Ricardas Berankis in the semi-finals.

No. 26 Cristian Garin (Career High), +5
The Chilean rose five spots to break into the Top 30 for the first time at a career-high No. 26 after he captured his second ATP Tour crown at the Cordoba Open (d. Schwartzman). He lifted his first trophy in January 2015 at the ASB Classic (d. Mannarino).

View Latest FedEx ATP Rankings

Other Notable Movers
No. 39 Filip Krajinovic, +5
No. 58 Pablo Andujar, +5
No. 65 Ricardas Berankis, +8
No. 71 Egor Gerasimov (Career High), +19
No. 83 James Duckworth, +13
No. 93 Andrej Martin (Career High), +7

Innovation & Southern Hospitality: A Formula Of Success In Dallas

Mon, 10/02/2020 - 6:24pm

The year was 2007. The RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas was embarking on its second decade on the ATP Challenger Tour, as the tournament steadily continued to grow roots in the Texas metropolis.

At the time, the circuit was growing and developing at a rapid rate. An influx of new tournaments provided fresh opportunities for players, while giving fans in non-traditional tennis locales the chance to catch world-class action in a more intimate setting.

That year, something unique was happening at T Bar M Racquet Club. The age of social media was in its infancy and so was the concept of live streaming. People were beginning to be connected across the globe with the press of a button and the folks in Dallas had taken notice.

You can call them innovators and pioneers, but the tournament staff merely wanted to extend the fan experience outside the cozy confines of T Bar. Armed with just a camera and a long pole, the first-ever ATP Challenger Tour live stream in North America was born. It wasn't a high definition feed, but it didn't matter. The ability to connect a Challenger event to the rest of the world was an incredible concept.

While live streaming had already been established in Europe, it was revolutionary for a tournament across the pond. And having identified the great potential of a live streaming service, they took it one step further in 2008. With current tournament emcee Craig Karseno and former club instructor turned professional coach Craig O'Shannessy serving as commentators, they launched a full-scale operation.

Club member Marc Lemke was the brains behind it all, creating his own company called Front Row Tennis and establishing the entire operation from scratch. A former executive at IBM, he spent six months learning the business and the technology behind live streaming. Identifying it as a potentially lucrative investment,  Lemke purchased the equipment which included six cameras, broadcast gear, sound mixers and green screens for off-court player interviews. The rest was history.

Watch: The Birth Of Live Streaming In Dallas

A total of 350,000 people accessed the stream in its first year, consuming not only the live action, but instant replays with highlights, interviews, as well as commercials from local businesses. Lemke would manage the production for four years in total, with a pair of viral moments providing a surge of publicity. In 2008, a match point foot fault led to a memorable tirade and in 2011, Michael Yani made SportsCenter's Top 10 plays on ESPN with a diving winner.

"Marc took a leap of faith, investing his own time and money," Karseno told ATPChallengerTour.com. "He took six months off from work, figured out the technology and hired a crew. At first, it was just a long pole with a hook that went on the top of the fence and points down. The following year, Marc established his company and saw an opportunity to make it a permanent fixture."

"I remember Judy Murray contacted the tournament and thanked us for giving her the chance to see her son Jamie Murray play a tournament on the other side of the world," said tournament founder Bob Raedisch. "She was so excited. At the time, unless you qualified for a Slam, you weren't getting exposure or getting interviewed. It morphed into something bigger than what the tournament ever imagined."

In Dallas, while they are constantly seeking ways to set themselves apart, there is one thing that has never changed in 22 years: the tournament's culture.  


Photo: Tessa Kolodny

On the Challenger circuit, every tournament has their own method of establishing a unique sporting culture within the community, while striving to attract potential sponsors. At T Bar, they have been laying the foundation through years of hard work and dedication to create the perfect tennis experience.

A modest tennis facility in North Dallas, T Bar has been home to the Challenger 100 event for more than two decades. If you walk through the main entrance during the tournament, you won't find any flashing lights, dramatic player entrances and boisterous entertainment. The event has always stayed true to its roots and that is reflected in the passion and core values of its founders and current staff.

'Southern hospitality' describes the warm and welcoming attitude of people in the Southern United States. At T Bar, they take that philosophy to the next level. The tournament's culture is predicated on a family-first mentality. That extends to the players battling between the lines, the fans streaming through the gates and the staff working tirelessly to make the event run as smooth as possible. If you're there, you're family.

"There is a strong appetite for tennis in the Dallas area," said Karseno. "In terms of the club membership and the community's demographic, this has been the place to be on a Saturday night. Women are getting dolled up and people are getting babysitters for their kids ahead of a night out. It's a party and it still is a big social event in the city. People will mingle in our pavilion, enjoying locally catered food and drinks, before taking their seats for a night of tennis.

"And from what players tell us, it's all about the way we take care of them. It's a relationship that we build. I don't just interview a guy [for our social media] and then never talk to them the rest of the year. I always tell the champions that I hope we never see them back here again. You always want them to graduate to the next level. But when they're here, we put them in housing in the mansions of our club members and they give them their cars for the week. It's all about the relationships you build over time."

The tournament has also become a social event for stars of other sports. A big tennis fan, NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki and his wife Jessica have visited the tournament nearly every year. This week, he was joined by former New York Knicks player Kurt Thomas, current Dallas Cowboys football star Michael Gallup and former Dallas Stars ice hockey goalie Marty Turco. In fact, Thomas and Gallup visited the tournament on multiple occasions throughout the week, staying for hours on end.

"It's cool to see stars of other sports coming to watch us play," said 2020 finalist Denis Kudla. "That doesn't happen often. I never knew they were tennis fans."

Welcome back to @TennisChampsDTX, Dirk Nowitzki!@dallasmavs legend @swish41 visits with fellow