Category Archives: ATP Tournaments

Join us for the Tennis Masters Cup final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 18th, at 9 am (PT)/12 pm (ET).

What to do when a match fixer approaches you and how Roger Federer made it to the semis in Shanghai.

Call 1-800-FIX-MATCH

After Novak Djokovic lost his third match at the Tennis Masters Cup on Thursday, someone in the post-match media session asked him this question:

Q. Let’s say someone approaches you and asks you to lose a match. …what do you think you should do at that moment? Go and say to someone that someone approached you? Would you be afraid to do that because maybe he’s a criminal and he could do some damage to you, to your family?

Djoko was noncommittal in his answer but the question does explain why players never called up the ATP and said: “Hey, this guy just walked up to me and offered me $50, 000 to throw a match.” The players were rightfully careful about pissing off the wrong person.

The ATP rules currently require a player to call the ATP or the police but I’m guessing the ATP won’t get very many calls.

Match of Futility

Speaking of gambling, in the first match on Friday evening in Shanghai, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez met to see whether Davydenko could knock Gonzo out and therefore pass Roger Federer onto the semifinals.

It was a match of futility. Gonzo injured his right knee and lower back in Paris and that explains why he kept falling down in his loss to Andy Roddick two days ago. He didn’t do much better on Friday, falling down a few more times.

Davydenko couldn’t hit the side of a barn. He had almost twenty unforced errors in the first five games. When you know your opponent is injured, sometimes it takes you out of your game. Davydenko was attacking more than usual because he knew Gonzo was having trouble pushing off on his right knee and it threw his game off.

Gonzo had trouble warming up and Davydenko broke him right away and won the first set with the break. Once Gonzo got going, though, he fought hard. He lasted until the late in the second set when he started to tire. You could tell because he was going for winners on every shot.

Davydenko broke him to go up 5-3 and served out the second set to win the match, 6-4, 6-3.

Practice Match

Since Federer was now through to the semifinals and his Friday night opponent, Andy Roddick, had already qualified for the semifinals, Roddick’s brother John called this a practice match.

Didn’t look much like a practice match. It looked pretty the same as they’re previous ten matches, all of which Federer won. Whereas the match between Davydenko and Gonzo was full of missed shots, break points and deuces, this match was as fast as a speeding bullet. It lasted about half as long.

Federer got 83% of his first serves in and won an incredible 88% of the points on his second serve. Roddick, on the other hand, won only 35% of his second serve points because Federer jumped all over them. This is how bad it was: Roddick didn’t win a point at the net in the first set.

Roddick must have felt like he was being served up for whatever was ailing Federer. It’s been a rough week for Federer. He lost his first match to Gonzo and beat Davydenko in his second match but looked shaky doing it. He hit 38 unforced errors..

One look at Roddick, though, and Federer’s game seems to flow off his racket. Federer’s next opponent, Rafael Nadal, has no chance if Federer plays this well but he won’t play this well because it’s the power players he eats up. Those annoying energizer bunnies make life much harder for him.

Roddick will face his own energizer bunny in David Ferrer. Ferrer is on fire and Roddick has to be a little discouraged. Federer and Ferrer final anyone?


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Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet are very close to growing up.

David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal raced into the semifinals of the Tennis Masters Cup with straight set victories in Shanghai today. Nadal was the third person in this event to beat up on Novak Djokovic winning by the score 6-4, 6-4.

Okay, Rafa didn’t beat up on Djoko but Djoko hasn’t looked the same since he had wisdom tooth removed just before the Paris Masters event. I thought he should have gotten a $20, 000 fine for not trying hard enough in Paris. Why not I reasoned? If the ATP thinks they know when someone isn’t trying hard enough, slap the fine on everyone.

I was being facetious of course and even the ATP has come to its senses and rescinded the $20, 000 they fined Nikolay Davydenko for “not trying hard enough.”

Djoko still hasn’t recovered and either something’s wrong with him or he’s just plain pooped after two slam semifinals and a final and two Masters Series titles in a breakout year. Either way, it dampened my enthusiasm for Richard Gasquet’s opening match victory over Djoko since everyone has beaten Djoko this weak. Gasquet has subsequently lost both of his matches and today’s loss was a beatdown. He lost to Rafa 6-1, 6-1.

I was over the moon for Gasquet when he got into the final eight. Either I’m very optimistic or, more likely, very demanding because once a young player makes a breakthrough, I want him to shoot for the moon and make it. One win isn’t bad I suppose but I wanted more.

Thinking about Gasquet took me back to a 2004 article about Roger Federer in Sports Illustrated written by S.L. Price. Federer was a drama queen when he was a junior player. He’d scream at himself and throw his racket across the court when things weren’t going well. His father tried to curb his behavior by yelling at him from the stands. Federer yelled back at him.

Federer cried if he lost a match. If you watch the Bjorn Borg documentary that’s in heavy rotation on the Tennis Channel, you’ll see tears in the teenager’s eyes after losing. Borg wasn’t a drama queen but you never doubted his, or Federer’s, desire.

I don’t know if I doubt Gasquet’s desire. I just don’t see it. It’s in his game. I’d have to think hard to name another player who goes for such big shots from anywhere on the court. And though screaming and yelling are not the only expressions of deep desire, you can usually see it somewhere if you look hard enough.

I don’t remember Andre Agassi screaming and yelling but he certainly acted out. It wasn’t just the bleached hair, earrings, and ‘do rag. He was clearly trying to fit his personality into his game. He was another player who had trouble making the transition from child prodigy to self-motivated professional tennis player.

Agassi finally had to take a break from the tour and hang out in a therapist’s office before he could work out his issues. Gasquet comes from a similar place: tennis coach parents, cover of a French tennis magazine when he was nine years old, the hope of French tennis.

Andy Murray I have no doubts about. He wants it. He’s still in his immature, yelling at himself phase – the phase most players grow out of when they get to the main tour – but you can hear the desire in his yellling.

One more sign of his immaturity: he can’t keep a coach. He doesn’t agree with the coach. He knows better. Today he fired Brad Gilbert, his garrulous supercoach of the past year and a half.

Maybe Murray will be like Federer. He knows the game of tennis well enough, and his own game in particular, and doesn’t need a coach. Strategically that might be true but physically he still needs to improve and how could you not benefit from the best coach in the game even if he is a motormouth?

I think Murray will be in the final eight at the end of next year but you never know what it’ll take to push someone to his full potential.

That article about Federer describes a huge turning point in his life. His juniors coach and mentor, Peter Carter, died in a car accident when Federer was 20 years old. It marked his passage from adolescence to manhood. Federer had been a highly skilled but erratic player and now he became a mentally tough player.

The next coach Murray gets, if he gets one, will be paid out of Murray’s pocket. Until Murray fired him, Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) was paying $1.5 million a year for Gilbert’s services. Maybe that’s the way Murray wants it to be. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity.

For sure it marks Murray’s passage from LTA foster child to self-supporting tennis professional and that’s a good thing.

As for Gasquet, I’ll keep looking and see what I find.


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Andy Roddick advances to the semifinals and Roger Federer stays alive in Shanghai.

If you look at the photo above, you see eight terracotta warriors. These are the professional tennis player warriors, not the terracotta army that was buried with the Emperor of Qin in 210-209 B.C. Clearly the Emperor planned to rule the hereafter much as he ruled in his earthly life and for that he needed his army.

At the time this photo was taken, only Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal had qualified for the year end championships in Shanghai. Now that two rounds of play are complete, Djokovic is out of contention and Federer and Nadal both have 1-1 records. The headless warriors have taken over.

Pat the Coach

My co-writer Pat Davis laid out Andy Roddick’s strategy for his match with Fernando Gonzalez today. Did Andy listen to her? Let’s see.

Here’s what Pat told Andy to do.

Gonzo is really feeling his oats since he beat Roger Federer in his first round robin match. Therefore, it’s very important to climb on him early in the point.

Andy not only climbed on Gonzo early in the point, he got out to an early lead. He broke Gonzo in his first service game and his second service game to go up 5-0 in the first set. Andy also went up a break early in the second set and that break was enough to win the set. He won the match, 6-1, 6-4.

Gonzo had to play brilliantly to beat Federer. Put so much pressure on him that he’ll have to play brilliantly to beat you too. Attack him and beat him to the net.

Andy got his first break point at the net – on Gonzo’s 1st service game no less.

On the next point, Andy went up 2-0 with a running forehand passing shot as Gonzo slipped to the court. A few points later, Gonzo fell down. He’d guessed one way and the ball went the other but instead of planting his foot and taking off in the opposite direction, he flailed his arms in a futile attempt to keep his balance. Clearly Gonzo was feeling the pressure.

As Andy’s brother John Roddick said, “I just like how he’s being very aggressive but he’s also up on the baseline so he’s really pushing Fernando around.”

Give Gonzo a change of pace now and then.

At 1-1 in the second set, Gonzo was running Andy around so Andy threw in a few backhand slices and followed them up with a beautiful running passing shot. An error by Gonzo on the next point and Andy had 3 break points. One more Gonzo error and Andy went up a break and that was all he needed to win the second set.

And of course, serve your ass off!

Andy hit an ace to go up 5-0 in first set, hit an ace and two winners while serving for the match, and did not face a break point.

Andy’s return of serve was an added bonus. Gonzo didn’t win a point on his second serve till the sixth game of the match and that was the only point he won on his second serve in the first set. As Roddick said: “I returned pretty well. I only remember missing a couple of returns all night, even off first serves.”

Pat, if Jimmy Connors gets tired of traipsing around the world trying to convince Andy to stay up on the baseline, I’ll send this column in as your application for Connors’ job. You have my full support for the position.

Federer Muddles Through

Andy plays Federer on Friday in his last round robin match. I’d be shocked if Federer didn’t beat Andy and here’s why: it’s a dead rubber. The match doesn’t mean anything to Andy because he’s already qualified for the semifinals.

Unless you’re a highly unusual individual, the fact that you’ve already qualified has to seep into your brain. Let’s say you’re facing three break points on your serve. You can’t help but say to yourself: “Well, at least I’m into the semifinals. If I lose this point, no biggie, I’ll still play another day.”

Federer, on the other hand, has to win more sets than Gonzo to advance and he’s currently only one set ahead of him. That makes for a huge difference in motivation.

Federer beat Nikolay Davydenko today by the score of 6-4, 6-3, but the score is a bit misleading. Federer had 38 unforced errors in the match. What is happening to him? Is he falling apart or is everyone else catching up? What do you think?

Not only that but Federer has been losing his cool. After he lost the second set tiebreaker to Gonzo yesterday, he chewed out the chair umpire. I’m not exactly sure what happened but Federer could have been annoyed that the chair umpire didn’t see him motion for a challenge.

Whatever it was, Federer accused the chair umpire of making him “look like an idiot.” The umpire’s response was unsatisfactory because Federer followed that up with: “don’t give me that shit.” Hmmm, can we say misplaced anger?

Davydenko is not a particularly challenging opponent this week. The ATP recently interviewed his brother and his wife as part of the investigation into a possible fixed match between Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello in August.

The investigation has uncovered a group of nine Russian gamblers who placed $1.6 million in bets on the August match. The ATP investigators have also requested phone records from all phones that Davydenko uses to see if they can connect him to any of those gamblers.

Davydenko’s lawyer says the poor guy “is showing the classic signs of depression, ” and who can blame him. I’d be depressed too.

In light of that and Federer’s loss to Gonzo, I would say that even if Federer gets to the semifinals, David Ferrer has a very good chance of beating him should they meet. Wouldn’t that be something?


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Good morning everyone. Welcome to the Paris Masters final on this beautiful Sunday morning (or afternoon as it may be). This tournament usually features the second tier of players but now that the ATP is “encouraging” the top players to turn up by promising $1.5 million dollars if they win the most Masters Series points AND play both Madrid and Paris, we have a fantastic title game: David Nalbandian and Rafael Nadal.

Nalbandian has improbably risen from the ashes by winning in Madrid – and beating Rafa along the way and Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – after reaching only one quarterfinal this year.

What are the issues here? Can Nadal and his knees hold up for an entire tournament? Can Nalbandian hit the ball hard and fast enough to take time away from Nadal and WHO is that woman in the spacy silver outfit who looks like she was imported from Las Vegas?

Nina: First off, a quick poll. Who’ll win this match: Nalbandian or Rafa? I’ll fall behind my co-writer Pat Davis (who is here today) in the ATP fantasy tennis game if Nalbandian wins so, of course, I’m all in for Rafa.

Pat: Good morning everyone, are we living yet? God, the things I do for Nalbandian! I did not see that girl in the silver outfit, Nina, but she probably WAS imported from Vegas. The French would love to think they can compete on the Las Vegas front, no?

Nina: Didn’t Paris start it all with the Folies Bergere? Whoa, I knew Andy Roddick was thinking of opting out of Shanghai but it never occurred to me that Nalbandian could end up in Shanghai if Roddick did opt out. Bad news for Federer and his number one ranking.

Nadal 2-1

Nina: Routine holds of serve so far. Rafa seems to be dialed in on his forehand and Nalbadian is serving well. Two things that both players had trouble with in their matches yesterday.

Nadal 3-2

Curious to me that Nalbandian appears to be attacking Rafa’s backhand. Most players attack his forehand because it takes him so long to wind up that extreme topspin forehand stroke.

Nadal 4-3

Pat: Apparently Nalbandian is the first alternate??? So if Roddick decides to pull out of Shanghai, David is in, I presume. That would be something, because if anyone deserves to be in that field, it’s him. Nalbandian earlier had an easy ball at the net and I thought for sure he would go inside out up the line with his forehand, but instead he knocked it to Nadal’s backhand and he was there and ended up winning the point. He is serving well, I like his chances so far.

Nina: Nalbandian is the first alternate if he wins today. How can someone deserve to be in Shanghai if they had only one quarterfinal going into the last three weeks of the year? To me that is not a good thing.

Pat: Nalbandian has beaten much of the field already for Shanghai, he is hot right now and playing good tennis so I’d like to see more of him. I think he could emerge there as the best player of them all, and that would be utterly fantastic. Frankly Roddick may have earned a place based on earlier play in the year, but lately he has come a cropper and I don’t expect him to have much of a good time in Shanghai. But Nalbandian will have to win today apparently.

Nalbandian 5-4 (broke Nadal’s serve)

Nina: Oooh, Rafa was luck Nalby put the ball into the net at 30-30. Nalby is able to get Rafa on the run pretty regularly now and that’ll be the main determinant in this match. Rafa was losing badly to Baghdatis yesterday until he started playing more aggressively but it’s not clear that Nalby will let him play more aggressively. Especially if Rafa hits second serves. And that’s precisely what happened, Nalby winner off a second serve and he gets the first break in the match.

Nina: Wow, Nalbandian got a second serve gift and he certainly made the most of that return! Lovely backhand up the line, he and Murray did lots of that this week off the service return. Now, can David close the deal?

Nalbandian 6-4

Nina: He did indeed close the deal and that sharp angled slice volley duel at the net was fantastic. Nalby is doing exactly what he should be doing: attacking second serves and hitting hard flat shots to the corners. I cannot believe that this guy – who is terrible in important matches and is known to have problems closing out sets – doesn’t seem to be having problems with either of those issues. Whats the explanation for that? Can’t just be a new coach, can it?

Nina: Roddick only played in one fall tournament. His game is well-tailored to playing on indoor hard courts and it seems that he is “saving” himself for Davis Cup. Have you ever heard of anyone skipping the year end championship to play Davis Cup by the way?

Nablandian 1-0 (broke Nadal’s serve)

Nina: Whoa, I looked away for a moment and it was 0-30 on Nadal’s serve. I thought Rafa might have been alright with the slower court but apparently not. Of course, Nalby is playing perfectly. How many unforced errors does he have? Can’t be many.

Nina: By the way, readers, feel free to leave comments and we’ll put you right into the discussion.

Nalbandian 3-0 (broke Nadal’s serve)

Pat: So Nadal was up 40-0 serving, and Nalbandian fought his way back to break! That’s the knife in the heart, that one, 3-0 now. Nalbandian is just feasting on those second serve returns. I notice he is playing nearly on the baseline, Nadal is getting backed behind it.

Pat: I read that Roddick was “saving” himself for Davis Cup, I guess Pat McEnroe should be thrilled, no? If that is what he really wants, then I say he should stub his toe in Shanghai and let Nalbandian into the field. Let him have Davis Cup and Nalbandian can go to Shanghai. Fair enough?

Nalbandian 4-0

Nina: Two breaks in a row for Nalbandian. He’s just dominating. He’s doing what everyone else does to Nadal indoors but he’s just doing that much better. I did say at the beginning of the day that I wasn’t sure Rafa can last through to the end of hard court tournaments. His body seems to break down. Particularly as Rafa has an excellent record in finals historically but is now having trouble in the later stages of hard court tournaments.

Nalbandian 5-0 (broke Nadal)

Nina: Okay, now this is ridiculous. Nalby is looking like Rafa. He retrieved an impossible shot and hit a winner off it.

Pat: Hhmmm, do you smell bagels baking somewhere? I smell bagels in the works. Utterly awesome play from Nalbandian. Roger is watching somewhere and thinking, “I don’t feel so bad now.” The serving (or lack thereof in Nadal’s case) has been the story of the match. And some absolutely wild and crazy angled shots.

Nalbandian wins the match, 6-4, 6-0

Nina: A bagel in the second set. Are you kidding me? I have to go back to my point, Rafa cannot seem to play out in hard court events. What say you Pat? Nalbandian played exceptionally well but Rafa couldn’t get his first serve in and he couldn’t get his forehand deep. Nalby, my god, here’s a guy who’d never had a Masters Series win (except for his Masters Cup win over Federer in 2005) and only had five career titles and now he has two Masters Titles in three weeks? This is absolutely awful of me to say and you can all pile on me but I have to say that I didn’t think to myself – performance enhancing drugs. Awful I know but I’ll forget about that for now and enjoy this fantastic dance performance by these very cool women and men. Why don’t they do that for every title ceremony?

Pat: Nina, we kid you not! I looked at Nadal carefully to see if he showed any signs of knee/leg problems but he seems to be moving ok. Nalbandian just rose mightily to the occasion today. It is somewhat puzzling to me that Nadal does not play better on the hard stuff, although I still find these courts not really very “hard” in the sense of that word. He plays so well on grass that I guess I expect that to translate to other fast surfaces but it doesn’t.

Pat: Do you think this loss was as thorough as Nadal’s to Nalbandian last month?

Nina: Well, if you look at Nadal’s record on hard court this year, he had trouble in Montreal and Cincinnati and left after the fourth round at the U.S. Open clearly having trouble getting around. Quarterfinals at Madrid – I don’t know if that was a worse match than this, the second set today was a dominating turn by Nalby. I’m not sure how well Rafa will be able to do on hard court the rest of his career.

Pat: Performance-enhancing drugs?? Nina, shame on you! (lol) I think we can probably safely say, without fear of contradiction, that Nalby is probably being tested RIGHT NOW as he walks off the court. Still the question would come up, given his amazing run.

Pat: So I take it you really like his chances already at the Australian Open in January? I do too. And somehow I think David will find a way into that draw in Shanghai. I am praying to my tennis gods!

Pat: Nadal’s stats were something like only 18% of points won on second serves? Positively anemic by anyone’s standards and certainly by his. And only 5 winners I think. I’ll go back and compare today’s stats with three weeks ago but this may be the worst of the two drubbings Nalbandian served up.

Nina: The announcers suggested that Nikolay Davydenko might drop out with his elbow problems but I have a hard time seeing Davydenko drop out of anything. I also cannot see the ATP letting Roddick “drop out” of Shanghai. Anyway, whatever happens, it’s been a fascinating tennis season so far and now we have what everyone has been clamoring for since Federer took over the game: a tossup in Shanghai and a real possibility that the Australian Open will be competitive for a change.

Thanks Pat, see you at the Shanghai final (what ungodly hour will that be?).

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Join us for the Paris Masters final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 4th, 7:30am Los Angeles/10:30am New York/3:30pm London (remember to set your clock back one hour Saturday night if you live in the U.S.).

You can beat Rafael Nadal on fast courts but it’s not easy as Marcos Baghdatis found out in Paris today.

Rafael Nadal beat Marcos Baghdatis today in the semifinals at the Paris Masters, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. (David Nalbandian continued his improbable indoor court success by beating Richard Gasquet, 6-2, 6-4, in the other semifinal).

In preparation for tomorrow morning’s live blogging broadcast of the Paris final – a format that is usually a chain of thoughts rather than a cohesive narrative – I’m going to lay out a chain of thoughts on today’s match between Rafa and Baggy.

How to Beat Rafa on Fast Courts

Mikhail Youzhny and Tomas Berdych can tell you exactly how to beat Rafa on a fast court: attack his forehand. People attack Rafa’s forehand because he has such a long wind up that it’s hard for him to prepare properly. On a clay court he patrols miles behind the baseline which gives him time to rev up his windmill topspin forehand. On fast courts, players like Youzhny and Berdych hit hard flat shots so the ball gets there too fast for Rafa to stay behind the baseline.

Having said that, it’s not easy to beat Rafa on a fast court.

Paris is Slow

If you look at the court speed rankings on tennisform.com, you’ll see that Paris is the fourth fastest court on tour, ten places in front of Madrid, averaged over the past ten years.

If you look at the court speed ranking for Paris on tennisinsight.com’s Tournaments page, you’ll see that Paris has slowed down over the past few years to the point where it is now slower than the court in Madrid.

Clearly the ATP has slowed the court down. I don’t know if the balls are different (the measurements above are based on the number of games played per set, not a physical measurement of the court) or they have physically slowed down the court. No doubt both. In either case, that makes it harder to beat Rafa.

Don’t underestimate the importance of speed. Rafa is 14-6 on indoor hard court for his career but only 8-8 on carpet which is usually faster. Baghdatis is the opposite: 6-6 on indoor hard court and 16-4 on carpet.

Rafa Never Wears Out

Even if you’re much better conditioned than Baggy, and most players are, you’ll get tired because Rafa runs everything down and he’s a master baseline player so he’ll run you all over the court.

This is a problem because you have to attack Rafa else he’ll control the point. That means you’ll make lots of errors going for big shots and the more tired you get, the more errors you’ll make.

Baggy got tired. He needed to win this match in two sets. At the end of the first set and beginning of the second, Baggy won eight out of nine games. He was sucking air by the fifth game in the second set and Rafe won six of the next seven games.

Baggy got a second wind at the end of the third set and the last game of the match was magnificent. Baggy had to have the break of serve to stay in the match and he was slamming the ball while Rafa was retrieving everything in sight. Baggy hit a beautiful touch volley but Rafa followed that up with a passing shot thread through the smallest of windows.

Rafa’s OCDness

Rafa has more than a touch of something known as an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). He has to be the last one on the court for the coin toss, he has to place his water and sports drink bottles in exactly the same place. There’s also the wedgie diving, the sock pull, and the frequent towel dry off. At one point he was sitting in his chair and inspecting his towel to make sure he didn’t lay it across his knees in the wrong configuration. Later in the game I saw him do it again.

It’s obsessive but it’s a deep part of his game and it helps him weather adversity such as Baggy’s win streak without losing psychological momentum. Lanny Bassham is a well-known expert on the mental aspects of sports. He’s an Olympic gold medalist in rifle shooting and he helps professional golfers, among other athletes. He strongly suggests that you bathe yourself in rituals like Rafa’s because it’s important to occupy the mind.

Have you ever sat down and meditated on a candle or followed your breath? Your mind will take off in a million different directions by the time you bring it back to the candle or your breath. An unoccupied mind in the middle of a tennis match will go down the road of doom given the opportunity. Your opponent wins three or four games in a row? Your mind thinks you’re the worst tennis player even to walk the earth.

I suppose there are people whose mind always moves towards the positive but I have yet to meet them. For the rest of us, if we can keep our mind occupied with ritual and rehearsal – visualizing your serve or your next return for instance – we can keep our mind from harping on our insecurities and move forward in the match.

Baggy Postscript

If Baggy hadn’t gone awol for a month earlier this year – he lost in the first round in Dubai and two consecutive Masters Series events, Indian Wells and Miami – it would have been an excellent year for him. He might well have been on his way to Shanghai instead of Gasquet.

He’s been ranked as high as number eight but he’s seems unable to stay there. I won’t promise that he’ll get to Shanghai next year but I do think he’ll end up in the top ten.


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