Special Weekend In Belgrade For Djokovic, Serbians

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 3 Dominic Thiem won the opening stage of the Adria Tour in Belgrade Sunday night. The Austrian bested Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 4-3 (2), 2-4, 4-2, in the final before an appreciative crowd that filled the Novak Tennis Center clay court stadium, named for Novak Djokovic.

Throughout two days of competition, which included a total of four matches, Thiem was clearly the best player. He won his pool with a 3-0 win-loss record that advanced him into the final. Meanwhile, Krajinovic went 2-1 in pool play, which included a surprising three-set upset of Djokovic, the World No. 1 and Adria Tour host, on Saturday night. He reached the final by having the best games differential in his group, which included Djokovic.

During an on-court interview after he won the title, Thiem said, “We all gave our best, as it was for a good cause. Playing in front of this crowd created an amazing atmosphere. I enjoyed it a lot. 

“It was my first time in Belgrade, in Serbia, and I couldn’t imagine a better welcome. Thanks to the crowd. It was very special. Also, big thanks to Novak and his team for organizing this event.”

During the one hour and 16 minute final, played using a Fast-Four format, Thiem outpointed Krajinovic 55-47 and won seven of his nine service games. He broke his opponent twice. Arguably, the point of the match came near the end when Thiem hit a passing shot tweener that shocked Krajinovic and set up match point – much to the delight of the crowd.

After Djokovic beat World No. 7 Alexander Zverev, 4-0, 1-4, 4-2, earlier Sunday in his final round-robin match, Djokovic was moved to tears during his post-match interview. “I’m just overwhelmed by emotion because this reminds me of my childhood. It’s been an emotional few days. I want to thank everyone who made this possible,” he said.

Later, Djokovic said: “As athletes, we love to play in front of our fans. Obviously tennis is our love, passion and work, but when we have an opportunity to play in such an atmosphere in front of so many fans, it brings the level of excitement and feeling connected to this sport to a completely different dimension. The fans here were phenomenal. They were absolutely amazing. I’m truly, truly honored and very thankful.”

Next stop on the Adria Tour is the Croatian coast city of Zadar on June 20-21.

Worth noting: Though the Adria Tour is only an exhibition, it’s also represents the first time that Djokovic has played an outdoor match in Belgrade, his childhood home, since he last competed in – and won – the Serbia Open in 2011.

Ultimate Tennis Showdown underway

After a 24-hour delay due to rain, the first day of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) began Sunday at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy near Nice, France. The tournament is designed to attract a younger worldwide audience with a variety of radical changes – many of them designed to speed up the game – such as playing four 10-minute quarters in which each player tries to score as many points as he can in each quarter, instead of contesting a match using the conventional best-of-3 sets format.

“If you really love tennis, you want it to survive, to live, to develop,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, the tournament’s founder. “Loving tennis, in my opinion, is embracing change so that our sport doesn’t fall behind the other sports.”

Among the five matches played Sunday, one of the most entertaining was between World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 22 Benoit Paire. Tsitsipas won three quarters to two (24-4, 21-6, 13-14, 15-9). By the end of the match, Paire’s temper got the best of him during the contentious encounter as he vented in French to the umpire throughout much of the last quarter. All was good between the two players as they smiled and tapped racquets at the net when it was over.

Thiem and Zverev have doubts about US Open

Both Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, who played  in the Adria Tour in Belgrade over the weekend, have their doubts over whether the US Open will be able to go ahead as scheduled in August amid the global coronavirus pandemic. After all, New York has been a focal point of Covid-19 in the United States and last week it was hinted that there would be a lot of restrictions placed upon players if the Grand Slam tournament goes forward, such as quarantining, restricted access to courts and limited number of team members allowed to accompany each competitor.

“All of these circumstances are pretty tough,” said Thiem on Friday before the start of the Adria Tour. “I think some circumstances will have to change [for it to] make sense to go there [New York]. … Well, nobody knows, maybe things improve, maybe not, so we’ll have to wait until the facts are out and then decide.” 

Zverev said, “It’s great if we get the opportunity to play, but under these circumstances I don’t think a lot of players will feel comfortable in the environment there. So that’s my opinion. But it’s not really up to us players in that way; in a way, the US Open decides.”

Clarey: 50-50 chance US Open will be played

During a Tennis Channel Live conversation Friday with presenter Steve Weissman and analyst Jimmy Arias, New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey shared a conversation about whether he thinks the 2020 US Open will happen, what the reaction of players to playing in New York has been and what he thinks should happen with points if the Grand Slam goes forward despite many top players who might be absent.

Happy 51st Birthday, Steffi Graf

What they’re saying

Former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, during a Friday press conference at the Adria Tour in Belgrade:You know, I never officially retired. So my door is open.” Jankovic played her last WTA Tour match in 2017.

What they’re writing

Stuart Fraser, The Times of London tennis correspondent, from “The crazy days when Roland Garros clashed with Queen’s – but that didn’t stop Rafael Nadal”:

In normal times, we would be taking a breather this week before the grass-court action ramps up at the Queen’s Club from Monday. The gap of seven days between the French Open and the Fever-Tree Championships allows players to rest their legs and journalists to gather their thoughts before the feverish build-up to Wimbledon.

It seems unthinkable now that, until as recently as six years ago, the men’s final at Roland Garros and first-round action at Queen’s used to take place within 18 hours of each other. Only in 2015 was an extra week added to the grass swing after the All England Club agree to move their championships back, having carefully consulted with the players.

What they’re sharing on social media

Fever Tree Championships / We will return …

Petra Kvitova / Go Team Pink!

Taylor Townsend / Social support …