Turin FOMO for Federer
He’s been away from the tour since Wimbledon but Roger Federer made a surprise appearance on an Italian TV channel before the semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev got underway.
With his coach Ivan Ljubicic acting as a commentator this week in Turin, Federer joined the Croatian for a lengthy on-air conversation.
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“The courts here this year are actually quite fast, we would have had a lot of fun, maybe in the future we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy them,” Ljubicic told Federer with a laugh.
“I heard also the US Open was fast, I’m hearing the Tour Finals is fast, so I’m missing out,” responded Federer.
“It’s all good, it’s part of the game, I’ve had a great career so far, and I’ve learned a lot on the slow courts, I’ve enjoyed playing on the fast courts as well, but also clay is where I grew up, so no problem. But it would have been nice to be in Turin instead of being in Switzerland right now, that’s for sure.”
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Federer, a record six-time ATP Finals champion, hopes to qualify for Turin one day but admitted it would be difficult for him to make it next season since he plans on only returning to the tour from his knee injury layoff in the middle of the year.
“On TV it looks really good, obviously I see a lot of similarities to London and the O2 in terms of the way the court is presented, which makes a lot of sense of course. But I hope the Italian flair and everything is there,” said Federer.
“Also when [Matteo] Berrettini was playing and Jannik [Sinner] was playing, I thought crowds were incredible; I was really happy to see that.
“Of course having played Houston, Shanghai and London, I would have loved to play in Turin this year or next year, but we’ll see how it goes.
“But the matches have been incredible. What I love to see is also all the players being really consistent, the Medvedevs, the Rublevs, the Zverevs, with Novak we can always expect it but the younger guys are really stepping up and are playing great tennis, it’s been fun to watch.”
It was semi-finals day at the ATP Finals in Turin, but much of the discussion in the press conference room revolved around Saturday’s confirmation from Tennis Australia that only vaccinated players will be allowed to compete in the upcoming Australian Open.
Djokovic had been waiting for an official announcement from TA, and now that he has it, the world No.1 remains uncertain whether he’ll be heading to Melbourne to try and defend his crown and aim for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title.
'We'll have to wait and see' - Djokovic still unsure about Australian Open participation
“We'll see. We'll have to wait and see,” Djokovic said when asked if he was going to take part in the opening Grand Slam of the 2022 season.
Djokovic has previously expressed his views against mandatory vaccinations and told reporters in Turin earlier this week that “freedom of choice is essential for everyone”.
Other players have said they understand why the State of Victoria – where the tournament is played – is mandating vaccines for everyone onsite at the Australian Open, taking into consideration the lengthy lockdown Melbourne residents have had to endure throughout this pandemic.
Zverev was asked on Saturday if he thought Djokovic’s views on mandatory vaccinations should be “more respected”.
“This is a very tough one because it's very political. At the end of the day I don't know his criteria. I don't know them to the point,” said Zverev following his three-set victory over Djokovic in the Turin semi-finals.
“But we are visiting another country. This is not about tennis. This is about the virus that is going on, right? This is not about a tournament or tennis. We are visiting a different country. At the end of the day the country is allowing us to enter. We need to follow the rules and follow the guidelines.
“I hope he's able to play. At the end of the day, I'm No.3 in the world, so if he doesn't play, it's easier to win the tournament. This is obvious. Also he's No.1 in the world so he should be there.
“Hopefully the Australian government will make an exemption or whatever it is that they can do for him to be able to participate there.”
Rajeev Ram, who reached the doubles final alongside Joe Salisbury on Saturday, is not surprised by Tennis Australia’s announcement and finds it justifiable.
“Whether it's fair or not, I feel like it's kind of up to them, right, how they want to run their event, how they feel about their country and all that. I guess I don't really see that as being unfair, per se,” said the American, who won the Australian Open men’s doubles title last year.
“I think how players react to it is up to them really. It's tough to say that it's unfair when we as players are going into another country and all that.”
Norway’s Casper Ruud echoed Ram’s sentiments and understands Tennis Australia’s need to follow government directives when it comes to Covid-19 protocols.
“I don't think it's the tournament that decides, it's the government in the end. The tournament is played in Melbourne. That's how it is everywhere we go. We have to listen to the government, and they will decide,” said the 22-year-old Ruud.
Praise for Novak
Before the press conference and all the vaccine talk, Zverev paid tribute to Djokovic during his on-court interview. Saturday’s semi-final was their fifth meeting of the season and Zverev improved his head-to-head against the Serb to 4-7 overall and 2-3 in 2021.
“I have to say one thing because, for me, there is nobody in the world that should be respected more than Novak, in my opinion,” Zverev told the crowd at the Pala Alpitour.
“Where he came from, what he’s achieved, he’s the greatest player of all-time and I think people forget that sometimes and I think that everybody should appreciate that for once.”
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Zverev is not the only person to label Djokovic as the ‘GOAT’ this week. In a recent interview with the ATP Tour, Djokovic’s childhood idol, Pete Sampras, said the Serb’s achievements over the past 10 years were “a clear sign he is the greatest of all-time”.
This season, the 34-year-old Djokovic broke a longstanding Sampras record by securing the year-end No.1 ranking for an unprecedented seventh time. He was understandably touched to hear Sampras’ comments about him.
“This means the world to me, especially because it's coming from someone that was a role model. He was the one when he played his first Wimbledon final, '91 or '92, my first image of tennis. He was the one that motivated me to one day become a champion like him and hold the Wimbledon trophy and become No.1,” reflected Djokovic.
“Something like that to come out of his mouth is obviously extremely satisfying for me to hear. I'm very grateful to him. So thank you, Pete.”
Medvedev hails Ruud’s high tennis IQ
Defending champion Medvedev ended Ruud’s ATP Finals run with a smooth 6-4, 6-2 victory over the No.8 seed on Saturday afternoon.
Making history for his nation as the first Norwegian to qualify for the ATP Finals, Ruud impressed on his tournament debut and strengthened his hard-court credentials after being labelled a clay-court specialist earlier in the season.
Ruud entered 2021 with a 16-27 career record on hard courts and leaves Turin with a 25-8 record on the surface for the season.
“Watching Casper this year, he is one of the smartest players on tour. Before the start of the hard court season everybody was talking about him as a clay-court player and here he is in the semi-finals at the ATP Finals – my first time I was 0-3 in group matches and I went home,” Medvedev told Russian media.
The world No.2 said he followed Ruud’s matches in Turin this week and noticed the tactical changes he made in order to pull off comebacks against Andrey Rublev and Cameron Norrie.
“When he won these titles on clay [three in a row], during Olympic Games, everybody was talking a little bit, ‘Great clay court player, but what is he going to do on hard courts?’ Yeah, he's doing pretty good. That's why I think it's great to see him in this level,” Medvedev added.
Salisbury makes history
Thanks to his victory alongside Ram over top seeds Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic, Joe Salisbury became the first Brit to reach the doubles championship match at the ATP Finals.
“I didn't know that. Obviously makes it extra special, I suppose,” said Salisbury. “Hopefully there will be a lot more. But yeah, it's a big achievement. Obviously really, really proud of it. But yeah, I don't want to be just a Brit getting to the final, I want to be the one winning it.”
It was indeed a special victory for Ram and Salisbury, who entered the semis trailing their Croatian opponents 1-4 in previous meetings this season.
Stats of the day
Medvedev has now won nine consecutive ATP Finals matches since going 0-3 on his tournament debut in 2019. The Russian owns the longest tournament win streak since Djokovic’s 15-0 run in London from 2012-15.
Sunday’s final will be the first ATP Finals title decider since 2005 without a player over the age of 25 (the last one featured David Nalbandian and Roger Federer 16 years ago).
It is not easy out-rallying Djokovic, but Zverev managed to do so on Saturday, winning 20 of the 30 rallies that had more than nine shots and 20 of the 37 rallies that had 5-9 shots.
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