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TFP 053: Citi Open Recap with Ben Rothenberg

TFP 053: Citi Open Recap with Ben Rothenberg

On today’s episode, Ben Rothenberg, New York Times Writer and host of the No Challenges Remaining Podcast, recapped the 2017 Citi Open with me on championship Sunday. Ben travels the globe to cover tennis tournaments, and he is one of the most knowledgeable journalists in the world about the ATP and WTA tours.  One thing I didn’t know about Ben is how excellent of a spelling bee contest host he is when it rains at tennis tournaments 🙂

Ben and I discussed the most impressive players of the tournament, the championship matches featuring Alexander Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Ekaterina Makerova and Julia Goerges, controversies at the Citi Open (Jack Sock “worst court on the tour” cough cough), and other interesting factoids about the men’s and women’s tours.  I definitely had a blast hearing the opinions and insights from Ben, and I know you will enjoy the interview, especially if you like hearing the latest about the ATP and WTA.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Ben, and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [2:48] General thoughts about the 2017 Citi Open
  • [3:55] Biggest surprise of the tournament
  • [5:03] Most impressive players on the women’s side
  • [6:37] Effect of the long schedule on the seeded players’ poor performances
  • [7:22] Dimitrov’s early upset and Medvedev’s confrontation with Johnson
  • [10:05] Jack Sock calls Citi Open’s stadium court the worst court on tour
  • [12:21] Assessing Sock’s mental toughness and future potential
  • [13:59] An impressive run to the finals for Kevin Anderson
  • [15:37] Hardest working pros on tour
  • [16:48] When do players get paid appearances fees to play in tournaments?
  • [21:00] The Kontinen/Peers vs Melo/Kubot championship match and Melo coaching Zverev
  • [22:30] The future of the Bryan Brothers
  • [24:03] Thoughts on Julia Goerges and her solid run to the finals
  • [24:34] Ben’s crazy travel schedule to cover pro tournaments
  • [26:30] No Challenges Remaining podcast
  • [27:46] Where we can find Ben on social media

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Tennis Files Youtube Channel – Check out the vlogs and interview I did at the Citi Open!

No Challenges Remaining Podcast

Ben’s Twitter Page

Citi Open Tournament

If you enjoyed my interview with Ben, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

And be sure to check out my vlogs and player interviews at the 2017 Citi Open on my Youtube Channel!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success below! Thanks for listening!

TFP 030: 15 Tennis Pros Answer:

TFP 030: 15 Tennis Pros Answer: “How Can Our Audience Improve Their Tennis Games?”

On today’s episode, 15 professional tennis players answer the question: “How can our audience improve their tennis games?” I placed their answers in this episode and commented on their responses.

The idea for this unique episode came to me when I attended Podcast Movement 2016 in Chicago last month. One of the presenters, Pat Flynn, gave us a list of cool podcast episode ideas. One of these was to ask a bunch of experts one question, and include them all on an episode.

This is a brilliant idea, so when I was part of the media at the 2016 Citi Open, I ended just about all of my twenty or so interviews with ATP and WTA pros by asking what the key is to improving our tennis games.

It is inspiring to hear what the best tennis players in the world think we should be focusing on to take our games to the next level. I hope you enjoy this unique podcast episode format!

On this episode, you will hear answers from the following ATP and WTA tour professionals:

  • Alexander Dolgopolov (#58 ATP)
  • Alexander Peya (#25 ATP)
  • Alla Kudryatseva (#155 WTA)
  • Borna Coric (#40 ATP)
  • Camila Giorgi (#66)
  • Edouard Roger-Vasselin (#13 ATP)
  • Ivo Karlovic (#23 ATP)
  • James Duckworth (#199 ATP)
  • Jessica Pegula  (#139 WTA)
  • Jordan Thompson (#92 ATP)
  • Lauren Davis (#105 WTA)
  • Mackenzie “Mackie” McDonald (#412)
  • Malek Jaziri (#53 ATP)
  • Yen-Hsun “Rendy” Lu (#72)
  • Yuichi Sugita (#83)

I hope you like this episode! Let me know what you think about it in the comments section below! I appreciate your feedback!

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Links Mentioned in This Episode

SMART Goal Setting for Tennis Players (includes free downloadable SMART Goal guide!)

30 College Tennis Coaches Reveal Character Traits of Successful Student-Athletes

10 Reasons to Hire a Tennis Coach

Episode 11 – Allistair McCaw

5 Reasons to Practice Your Tennis Serve

Tennis Files Youtube Channel

Winning Ugly – Brad Gilbert (affiliate link – if you click this and make a purchase, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!)

Episode 7 – Treat Huey

If you enjoyed listening, share this episode using the social buttons above or below this post!

Mehrban Interviewing Peya Kubot 2016 Citi Open

The Nicest Tennis Pros I’ve Interviewed on Tour

By the end of last week’s 2016 Citi Open, I recorded over 20 one-on-one interviews with professional tennis players, which are all up on my Citi Open page and Youtube channel. This was a huge step up from last year, when I did 9 interviews during my first time as part of the media at the event.  I learned a lot about match strategy and the mindset of elite tennis players by asking them questions and listening to their answers.

I explained how I was able to get one-on-one interviews at the Citi Open in a recent post. While the top-seeds and most popular players often held a press conference in lieu of doing one-on-one interviews, I was able to interview some pretty noteworthy and highly-ranked players by submitting interview requests as many times as I could and hoping for the best. I was also one of the few who recorded them on camera. The majority of the journalists used cell phones or audio recorders because they only needed quotes for their articles.

After many hours of prepping, recording and publishing, I present to you a list of all the tennis pros that I interviewed this year, along with their world rankings as of the Tuesday after the tournament and links to the interviews. Following the list is a description of the nicest tennis pros that I interviewed at the Citi Open. I didn’t embed every single video here, because if I did, this would be a ridiculously huge (and probably slow-functioning) blog post!

Players I Interviewed at the 2016 Citi Open

Ivo Karlovic – #27 (twice)

Alexandr Dolgopolov – #38

Edouard Rogers-Vasselin – #7 (doubles with Daniel Nestor)

Grigor Dimitrov – #40 (two-on-one)

Marcos Baghdatis – #42

Camila Giorgi – #77

Borna Coric – #53

Malek Jaziri – #62

Yen-Hsun Lu – #70

Jordan Thompson#93

Lauren Davis – #104

Alexander Peya – #27 (doubles with Kubot)

Lukasz Kubot – #23 (doubles with Peya)

Risa Ozaki – #126 

James Duckworth – #184 (twice)

Alla Kudryavtseva – #160

Mackenzie “Mackie” McDonald – #432

Yuichi Sugita – #107

Well, now is the moment you have all been waiting for! Below is the list of the nicest ATP and WTA tennis pros that I’ve interviewed on tour. Drum roll please!

Nicest Male Player

Edouard Roger-Vasselin

Roger-Vasselin, the 2016 Citi Open doubles champ, is the nicest guy I’ve met on the tour so far. I really enjoyed our one-on-one interview, because Vasselin was enthusiastic, gave great answers, and I felt the sort of vibe that people get when you think it would be fun to grab a drink with the person you’ve just met (probably wine, since Vasselin is French 🙂 ).

Funny/interesting story with Vasselin: after he and his partner Daniel Nestor won the doubles championship over Peya/Kubot, Nestor was unable to stay for the trophy ceremony because he was having trouble dealing with the heat (which is the same reason I only interviewed Vasselin after the semis). I can’t really blame Nestor; the on-court temperatures Sunday were somewhere around 140 degrees Fahrenheit!

The press conference for the doubles champs were set for 3:30pm. But the singles final for Monfils-Karlovic started at 3pm, so most of the journalists were busy either feverishly typing notes on the match as it transpired, or were actually in the stadium watching the match.

However, my buddy Noel from Vavel and I were determined to attend the doubles press conference. First off, the doubles match was awesome (two tiebreak sets), and second, we were big fans of Vasselin and Nestor’s storyline (Nestor is 43 years old and has won at least one title for the past 23 years in a row, sick!).  We had also both requested one-on-one interviews with Vasselin, but the ATP decided to hold a presser since it was for the championship.

Not unexpectedly, only Vasselin showed up, since Nestor was recovering from the heat. However, the only two people from the media at the press conference, were……Noel and I!

Quite hilariously (at least to us), Noel and I traded questions with Vasselin in our very own private press conference! Vasselin was upbeat and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself when speaking to us, which was his demeanor the entire tournament.

We really appreciated that Vasselin made himself readily accessible to the media. The Citi Open doubles title couldn’t have happened to a nicer tennis pro, so congrats to Edouard! I think he would make a great guest on my podcast someday (subtle hint to ERV 🙂 )!

Runner-Up

Yen-Hsun Lu

The Taiwanese pro nicknamed “Rendy” gave me very insightful and thoughtful answers to my questions after his loss against 2016 Citi Open champion Gael Monfils. We spoke about what troubled him during the match, his role on the ATP Player’s Council, and his advice to our audience about the importance of warming-up before matches.

Most players who give interviews after losing a match usually tend to give much shorter answers, but my interview with Lu was over 5 minutes long, which is pretty lengthy even by a winning player’s standards.

What made this interview even more impressive is the fact that (1) before my one-on-one with Rendy, he answered what seemed like 10 questions from another news organization in his native language; and (2) most interviews last 2-3 minutes and are monitored closely by the ATP/WTA reps (I’d often get a signal for one last question from the player rep, which I’d see with my trusty peripheral vision).

I spoke to Rendy’s close family friend Ben beforehand, and Ben assured me that the Taiwanese pro would be willing to speak after his match. Ben couldn’t have been more spot on. I really appreciated Rendy’s thoughtful answers when many players want to get through the interviews as quickly as possible. After his interview, Rendy even gave a nod to my photographer Victor, which I thought was really awesome of him.

Honorable Mentions

Ivo Karlovic – The 2016 Citi Open Runner-up spoke to me twice in one-on-one interviews, the second one right after his semifinal win and press conference. If players hold a press conference after a match, they generally never also do one-on-one interviews (unless its for a major news channel), so I felt pretty fortunate to get the second one (thanks Josh from ATP!). Ivo gave us a lot of great advice about how he has been able to stay among tennis’s elite and what we can do to keep playing tennis competitively for a long time. As you can see, Ivo is extremely tall (6’11”)! I’m only 5’10” (on a good day).

Malek Jaziri – Talented player with a great game and attitude. I really enjoyed the great energy that Malek brought to our one-on-one interview. He was very impressive in a 3-set win over former world #10 Kevin Anderson, and a 3-set loss against next-gen star Alexander Zverev (who I interviewed last year). Jaziri has a great return game and feel. On Episode 26 of The Tennis Files Podcast, my guest Mulumba likened him to a younger Baghdatis.

James Duckworth – After a tough loss, one of the ATP reps (Edward) asked James if he would be up for an interview with me, and he said “let’s do it.” I definitely appreciated James’s willingness to speak with me, especially after his tough match against John Isner. I interviewed him twice (the other was after his win in the quallies). He has a huge serve and very aggressive game and is climbing back up the rankings after an injury earlier in the year.

Alexandr Dolgopolov – Even though I was only able to ask 3 questions during our one-on-one interview, The Dog gave a great analysis of his win against Jordan Thompson. And he also gave me a solid handshake/dap as well, which is always pretty cool to receive from a pro (“Quite the fanboy I am, solid handshake I appreciate!” – MehrYoda).

Jordan Thompson – The young Australian has been moving up the ranks and is currently at #93. He is another guy that brought great energy to our interview, which took place shortly after he soundly defeated Victor Estrella-Burgos.

Nicest Female Player

Alla Kudryavtseva

The toughest part about this interview was pronouncing Kudryavtseva’s name correctly. I asked a couple members of the media for help, practiced Alla’s name out loud several times, and then asked her how to pronounce her name before the interview (it was different that what everyone told me….doh!).

Alla was extremely easy to talk to. We discussed everything from her career to losing her cell phone in the gym (thanks, twitter!), and why tennis players should keep their strokes compact and simple.

We had a lot of laughs together, and much like with Vasselin, I felt like I was talking to some random cool person who I had just met off the street (er, tennis court!). Alla made it through the quallies, then lost a tough match to Sam Stosur.

Runner-Up

Risa Ozaki

Japanese tennis pro Risa Ozaki was afraid to speak on camera, but she ended up giving it her best effort and I enjoyed interviewing her. Since Ozaki is not super-comfortable with speaking English, I tried to help her by clarifying some things that she said. This included when I asked her the key to beating Sloane Stephens, and she replied “she was….not too good.”

I quickly jumped in and clarified, “not playing too well?”  I didn’t want Tennis Files to be the source of a WTA feud!  Even funnier was when I held my hand out for a hand shake for a few seconds and nearly got rejected! Not her fault, I don’t think she saw my hand out there at first (or maybe I held it out long enough that she couldn’t ignore it! haha).

Ozaki racked up great results at this year’s Citi Open. The world #126 reached the quarterfinals of singles and the finals of doubles with compatriot Shuko Aoyama.

Honorable Mention

Camila Giorgi – Giorgi hits every ball as hard as she can, and has a lot of fans for obvious reasons. She was nice enough to speak with me after regrouping for about 30 minutes following a tough loss against eventual finalist Lauren Davis. Camila was very professional during the interview, and while I felt like she was in a bit of a rush, the Italian pro provided solid answers about what she needs to improve to keep moving up the rankings on the WTA tour.

Press Conferences at the Citi Open

I also had the privilege of participating in the press conferences that the Citi Open held for some of the high-profile players. It was interesting to be in a room full of reporters and journalists, asking questions to the players alongside them.

Below are some of the press conferences I was able to attend, when Victor and I weren’t busy prepping, waiting, or recording the one-on-one interviews:

Gael Monfils – Champion

Ivo Karlovic – Runner-Up

Edouoard Roger-Vasselin – Champion (doubles)

Tomas Berdych – withdrew (but still held a press conference on Monday)

Thanks to my Photographer!

It would be outrageous of me not to thank my photographer and best friend, Victor, for all his help. He definitely made my job easier, as he set up the camera to record the interviews, and perfectly timed the start/stop of the recordings, which made the editing and publishing process a lot easier for me.

Mehrban and Victor 2016 Citi Open

Photo by Noel Alberto – Vavel

Last year, I would hurriedly set up my camera, press the record button way in advance, flip the LCD so that the player and I could see it and get in the picture, and then start the interview. That’s a lot of extra seconds that I would eventually cut out of the video. This year, my man Victor did it all, and also took some amazing pictures of the players that I used for my daily Citi Open posts.

Final Thoughts

I am grateful for having the opportunity to interview many of the best tennis players in the world, and to watch and learn from everything they do. Creating Tennis Files and The Tennis Files Podcast has opened up a lot of doors for me, and being a member of the media at the Citi Open, with access to the players and a lot of perks (in exchange for working long but fun hours!) has been one of the best of them so far!

The Citi Open is a fantastic tournament, and I cannot wait until it comes back next year! I’ll probably end up covering a couple other pro tournaments before next year’s Citi Open. I don’t know if I’ll do 20+ interviews again, but we’ll see what happens!

Which interview was your favorite? Let me know by checking out my interviews above or on my Citi Open page and Youtube channel and leave a comment below!

TFP 025: 2016 Citi Open Recap with Mulumba from Tennis Column

TFP 026: 2016 Citi Open Recap with Mulumba from Tennis Column

On today’s episode, Mulumba from Tennis Column and I discuss the 2016 Citi Open championship matches and recap our thoughts about the players’ performances.  This year’s tournament brought us a lot of fantastic matches and showcased the talents of many of the best tennis players in the world. We had a blast attending and analyzing the tennis matches this year!

We speak about the epic Monfils-Karlovic match, a very tight men’s doubles final between two elite teams, and some fantastic tennis from Yanina Wickmayer, who took home two titles this weekend! We discuss match strategy, tactics, how the pros can improve their games to take it to the next level, and we even talk about Federer’s big announcement and Nick Kyrgios’s obsession with Pokemon Go (gotta catch ’em all, right?)!

On this episode, you will learn:

  • Who won the men’s, women’s, and doubles championship matches
  • How Monfils came back to defeat Karlovic from the brink of defeat
  • Why Karlovic’s biggest weapon let him down at the crucial moment of the match
  • How Nestor and Karlovic are able to play so well despite their age
  • Strategic and technical analysis of the pro game
  • How Wickmayer won two titles in one week
  • Why Kyrgios needs to let up on Pokemon Go
  • Which pros performed the worst at this year’s Citi Open
  • Federer’s big announcement

and much more!

Thanks again to Mulumba from Tennis Column for joining me to recap this year’s Citi Open! He also did a fantastic job analyzing the earlier part of the tournament’s action up until Day 2 of the main draw with me on Episode 25, which I suggest you check out to get caught up on the previous matches. The tournament went too quickly, and was so much fun! Until next year, Citi Open!!

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Links Mentioned in This Episode

Free eBook to improve your tennis game – The Building Blocks of Tennis Success

My interviews with the pros at the 2016 Citi Open

Citi Open homepage

Tennis Column

Nick Kyrgios loves Pokemon Go

Federer’s Announcement

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Gael Monfils 2016 Citi Open Champion - Trophy

Resilient Monfils Edges Karlovic for Citi Open Title (Pics, Video)

For Gael Monfils, it seemed as if his 9th consecutive ATP 500 and Masters finals loss was inevitable to Ivo Karlovic at the 2016 Citi Open on Sunday. Aces were flying from the big-serving Croat, Monfils had lost the first set 5-7, and the world #14 could do absolutely nothing to shake the undisputed Ace King.

Karlovic was blasting unreturnable serves so consistently that at 2-2 in the second set, Monfils threw his hands up in the air, gave his players box a wry smile, and slapped the clock at the back of the court in frustration. Four games later, Karlovic broke Monfils’s serve and had an opportunity to win the match on his own terms.

To the casual observer, the outcome seemed crystal clear. Breaking serve in the men’s game is difficult enough as it is. You’ve got a better chance of winning the lottery than breaking a serve as good as Karlovic’s.

Then at 5-4, Monfils hit the jackpot. Karlovic felt the pressure of serving out the match for his first ATP 500 title. Who could blame him? The biggest title of his career, the money, the ranking points. Who knows when the 37-year old Karlovic would get this opportunity again. ATP tour titles don’t come easy.

Karlovic was up against the pressure, the 133+ Fahrenheit on-court temperature, and a dynamic and resilient opponent.  All of a sudden, a Karlovic win didn’t seem so sure after all.

When I asked Karlovic if he thought about winning the title when serving for the match, he admitted that he did, and that it was normal to think like that. But he had been used to situations like this before and thought he would close it out.

Ivo Karlovic 2016 Citi Open Finals - Volley

Photo by Victor Ng

Still, the pressure was there. And so was Monfils.

“I still had a feeling, a hope…that he would get tight a little bit. I needed to make him play, and if i had a chance at a passing shot, I needed to put it in the court.”

The Karlovic missile launcher stuttered three straight times on first service attempts, giving Monfils a better look at returns and passing shots when he needed it the most.

Gael Monfils 2016 Citi Open Champion - Forehand

Photo by Victor Ng

Karlovic talked about his missed opportunity to close out the match at 5-4 in the second set during the press conference after the match.

“If it was a normal match I would win it right there. But I don’t know why my serve stopped at that moment. It happens I guess. I’m not used to that. I was going to win and then I lost my serve. That is tennis.”

“Every match you have a little bit of pressure. But I am used to it. I know how it feels, and usually I’m able to get over it. Today I didn’t. This is life. Today I am disappointed a lot. But it has been a great two weeks.”

But once again, during the second set tiebreak, Karlovic threatened. Monfils erased a match point for the recent Newport title winner when the Frenchman was serving at 5-6 in the tiebreaker.

Karlovic was unable to keep his slice-backhand return inside the court after a well-struck Monfils first serve. The Frenchman won the next two points to even the match at one set a piece.

Gael Monfils 2016 Citi Open Champion - Fired Up

Photo by Victor Ng

Monfils kept the momentum going in the third set, and Karlovic’s level dropped. The Frenchman rode an early break in the third game of the final set to victory and his first ATP 500 tour level title.

Gael Monfils Ivo Karlovic 2016 Citi Open Championship - Handshake

Photo by Victor Ng

“He served and volleyed in the heat for two hours….I knew that it wouldn’t be that easy for him to do that all the time.”

Monfils and Karlovic inspired us all by their performances during the 2016 Citi Open for different reasons. Karlovic for continuing to be among the game’s elite despite being 37 years old, and Monfils for his tenacity, explosiveness, and dynamic game.

Ivo Karlovic 2016 Citi Open Finals - Serve

Photo by Victor Ng

Karlovic defeated Brian Baker, Bernard Tomic (#3 seed), Jack Sock (#6), and Steve Johnson (#5) en route to the final.  He also smacked over 100 aces during the tournament (five matches). All this at 37 is virtually an unimaginable feat to accomplish for any normal human being.

“I’ve dealt with [thinking about winning] many matches before. And it just didn’t go my way. But it was an excellent week.”

Monfils taught us all to never to give up in the face of adversity. No matter how bad the match looks, if you keep fighting, keep believing that you will get an opportunity to seize the upper hand, you can prevail.

Gael Monfils 2016 Citi Open Champion - Last Game New Balls

Photo by Victor Ng

Monfils took a seemingly futile situation and turned it around in his favor.

The Frenchman mentioned previous Citi Open winners Arthur Ashe and Yannick Noah as players who have inspired him to win this tournament.

Now he has his first ATP 500 tour title and his name on the wall in the William H.G. Fitzgerald stadium, next to the legends that he’s always looked up to.

Ivo Karlovic Serve - 2016 Citi Open

For Ivo Karlovic, It’s Never Too Late to Be a Champion

Ivo Karlovic is 37 years old. That’s a year older than Agassi when he retired because of sciatica. Six years after Sampras called it quits. And the 6’11” Croatian is not only still kicking, but he will have a shot at winning his first ATP 500 event against the dynamic Frenchman Gael Monfils on Sunday after defeating American Steve Johnson 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the 2016 Citi Open.

How does Ivo keep claiming the scalps of the elite on the ATP tour? First and foremost, there is no denying the fact that Karlovic’s longevity and success relies heavily on his monster serve. The Croat set the record for most aces in 2015, and has racked up a shade under 11,000 unreturnable serves (10,695, to be exact).

How luxurious it is to smack a serve and win points without any additional effort. If you can win most of your points with one swing of the racquet, like Karlovic, you will do big things in this game. Efficient, effective, and devastating.

Karlovic has mastered the most prized shot in tennis, consistently both the catalyst and finisher of rallies to but a few of the game’s elite, to be his lethal weapon.

Ivo Karlovic Serve Finish - 2016 Citi Open

Photo by Victor Ng

When faced with the Karlovic missile launch, most of his opponents, including Johnson, can do little but muster a half-lunge by the time the ball has bounced off the back covering of the court.

But Karlovic’s long and successful career doesn’t solely depend on his serve: the Croat’s ability to stay injury-free and implement the right game plan to optimize his chances of victory may be his most important skill of all.

I conducted a one-on-one interview with Karlovic (thanks to Josh from atpworldtour) on Saturday afternoon after his press conference with the media about his semifinal win over Johnson.

Karlovic gave me his insights on just how crucial taking care of his body is for maximizing his performance and years on the tour.

“As you get older, you also have a lot more injuries, so i learned that I have to do a lot more work in the gym and in the track not to get injured.  I’m doing a lot more work now than i ever did. And that pays off in the matches.”

While most people taper off their routines as they get older, the amazing and admirable thing about Karlovic is that he has the drive, willpower, and discipline to keep improving his game so that he can continue to compete against the best tennis players in the world.

Some players become flustered when trying to figure out what exactly it is that they need to work on to ensure they keep themselves in the best shape possible. Fortunately, Karlovic knows exactly what it takes to keep him on the court, confidently and consistently performing at his very best.

“I do a lot of gym, a lot of weights, and exercises for my back, knees, and elbow. Everything that I have had issues with in the past. It’s a lot of work.”

Ivo Karlovic Backhand Slice - 2016 Citi Open

Photo by Victor Ng

Karlovic, much like his own stature, has a tall task ahead of him against Monfils, who is one of the best returners in the game.

Not as many of Karlovic’s devastating service bombs may get past Monfils, but the world #35 (unofficially #27 as of today) knows his game, his limitations, and what he needs to do to claim his first ATP 500 title.

“I will try not to get in long rallies, because that is not my game. So i will get as close to the net as I can, and hopefully I will volley well and that will be it.”

Karlovic has split four matches against Monfils, a 6-4, 6-0 winner over a dehydrated Alexander Zverev in the semifinals, during their careers. But Karlovic has seven inches and 8 years on the Frenchman.

And if he can serve and volley with the same intensity, dedication, and focus that he has used to thrive against the game’s elite for the past 17 years, he just might win his first ATP 500 title, too.

2 Benoit Paire 2016 Citi Open Match vs Zverev

Benoit Happened? – Zverev Moves on to Citi Open Semis

By all accounts, Benoit Paire is a very engaging, fan-friendly tennis professional. The French world #24 has enjoyed taking pictures and speaking with the throngs of people that have flocked to the Citi Open this week. Paire even played tennis with a group of kids and offered them a meal at Five Guys if they could beat him (Paire won the super-tiebreaker, 10-8).

Paire’s relaxed demeanor before his matches is another unique aspect of the Frenchman. On Thursday night, 15 minutes before his match against Gilles Muller, my photographer Victor and I saw Paire sitting on a chair by the clay courts, cheering on and laughing at two stringers who were locked in a battle between two amateurs tennis players.

Since the players who are going to play soon generally warm-up for their matches in the players’ gym or wait in the locker room, we figured that we were either mistaken about Paire having a match that day, or that Paire had gotten a walk-over. But 15 minutes later, after we had taken our seats, Paire walked onto the court, and defeated Muller in 3 sets.

However, Friday night was a different story. Paire warmed up with his hitting partner a couple hours before the match, and there were some signs that he might not have a great performance.

Benoit Paire 2016 Citi Open Practice

Photo by Mehrban Iranshad

Paire and his partner struggled to maintain rallies past 4-5 shots when the Frenchman suggested they play out crosscourt baseline points. Still, Paire’s demeanor seemed positive as he sat down to chat before heading off the practice court.

But soon after Paire’s match began with Zverev, the Frenchman’s game fell off its tracks. Immediately after a first serve fault early in the first set, Paire struck the ball far out of the stadium, and surprisingly did not get a reprimand from the chair umpire.  The French #5 tried changing his racquets several times, but nothing seemed to help turn his game around.

The most disappointing thing about Paire’s match on Friday night is that it seemed to most observers that he was not trying his hardest to win the match.  In fact, that last sentence may be a grave understatement. Despite his popularity with the fans, a chorus of boos eventually enveloped the stadium because of Paire’s poor effort level and focus in the first set.

Tennis is a very demanding sport, and who knows what else could have been going on mentally or physically with Paire Friday night. Regardless, Paire did not seem like he was trying to win in the first set. He missed several routine volleys and his effort level and footwork dipped dramatically from his previous matches in DC.  By all accounts, he tried harder in the second set, but to no avail.  His performance was nothing you would expect from the world #24.

After both players left the court, Zverev spoke with the media, and we asked the German questions about the match, including Paire’s lackluster performance.

When asked about Paire’s sub-par effort level, Zverev opined that the Frenchman’s previous three-set night match might have affected his play.

Alexander Zverev Citi Open

Photo by Mehrban Iranshad

“He had a long match yesterday, maybe he was a bit tired, a bit sloppy in the beginning. But it was a shorter match then I expected.”

Despite being only 19, Zverev is experienced enough to know that he could not relax until the match was over.  Especially with a player as talented as Paire.

“He’s the kind of guy that can mentally check out, then two games later be playing really well again. So you have to always be there. You can’t really think that, okay he’s gone, now I can relax. You always have to be there with him.”

If Paire can develop the discipline to focus on every point and improve his concentration, the talented Frenchman will see better results and a higher ranking in the years ahead. The mental game is the most important aspect of tennis, and a full-effort every single point attitude is the only way to reach the highest echelons in the game.

Baghdatis Irked by Citi Open Scheduling in Loss to Isner

Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis dropped a 7-6(3) 6-2 decision to top-seed John Isner on Thursday at the 2016 Citi Open. After a tight first set that went to a tiebreak, Baghdatis fell behind early in the second frame and could not recover.

“It didn’t go the way I wanted. He served very well, he returned 2 great shots in the tiebreak and won the first set. I think I was very solid and he just played better than me in the tiebreak.”

However, Baghdatis’s form noticeably dropped in the second set, and the Cypriot’s serve was broken multiple times as a result.

“There was a small slip of concentration on my side in the second set. He broke me again and it was tough to come back.”

Baghdatis was not particularly pleased with the scheduling of his matches. After receiving a first round bye, the world #41 and 15-seed played his first match at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on Wednesday night. He then had to come back for his third round contest against Isner the following afternoon.

“I don’t think it affected me physically. It’s just completely different conditions playing in the day and the night. I think the ATP and everybody who is doing the scheduling can do a better job. I don’t agree with the scheduling this week but that’s the way it is. I tried my best and unfortunately I am going home.”

But the difference between night and day matches wasn’t the only thing that affected Baghdatis’s game. The former number one was troubled by the big-serving Isner and is still winless against the top-ranked American.

John Isner Controlled Aggression Citi Open 2015

Photo by Mehrban Iranshad

“Against John, you don’t have any rhythm. You feel under pressure all the time and I knew that. He is a tough opponent to beat and I have never beat him before so it is a really tough one for me. But that’s the way it is.”

Despite the loss, Baghdatis is pleased with his physical condition in his 13th year on the tour. The Cypriot has battled multiple injuries during his career, and is ready to make a push back into the top-10.

“When you are out of injuries you can work more consistently, and like you said, you can have a chance of working throughout the year that makes you fitter for sure.”

“At one point in my career I had so many injuries. Every morning I woke up I had some pains, and I had some health issues with my blood. I’m getting better and feeling better much better on the court. I’m more happy and I’m doing a good job coming back.”

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