Grigor Dimitrov overcomes David Goffin to claim ATP Finals title

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New world No. 3: Grigor Dimitrov.

Grigor Dimitrov capped a stellar season with a title triumph at the ATP Finals where he defeated David Goffin 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in a high-quality thriller on Sunday night at the O2 Arena.

The Bulgarian claimed the biggest title of his career, collecting 1500 ranking points along with $2,549,000 in prize money thanks to his unbeaten run this week in London.

The win comes just three months after Dimitrov had captured his maiden Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati.

He will now rise to a career-high No. 3 in the world when the new rankings come out on Monday.

The 26-year-old came back from a break down in the opening set and battled for two hours and 30 minutes before he overcame a stubborn Goffin, who this week, became just the sixth player to ever defeat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the same tournament.

“David is such a tremendous guy. Forget about his tennis, he can hit the ball well yeah… I’m kidding man,” said an emotional Dimitrov during the trophy ceremony.

“Just congrats for him and his team, for this amazing result. I think he’s one of the most improved players throughout the past weeks, even months. Unbelievable effort.

“I’m just very proud to play against him out here in a final and of course I wish him the best of luck for next weeks and for Davis Cup. I’m sure we’re going to practice again in the offseason.”

An emotional Dimitrov the moment he realised he won the match.

An emotional Dimitrov the moment he realised he won the match.

History was being made in many ways at the O2 on Sunday night.

For the first time since the inception of the ATP Finals in 1970, two first-time qualifiers were facing off in the title match.

Both players are the first from their respective countries to qualify for the ATP Finals and it’s the first time in a decade that a first-time qualifier has made it through to the championship decider.

Alex Corretja was the last first-time qualifier to win the trophy when he defeated Carlos Moya in the final in 1998.

Competing in front of an A-list crowd that included former England footballer David Beckham and Rami Malek, star of the TV show Mr. Robot, both players had a nervy start as the first three games went against serve. It was Goffin who finally consolidated his break to go up 3-1.

But the Belgian double-faulted in game eight then sent a ball long to hand the break back as Dimitrov leveled for 4-4.

The point of the match came in the following game as Dimitrov dealt with some crazy side spin from Goffin and countered it with a brilliant down-the-line get before finishing off the point at the net.

The Bulgarian played a perfect mix of defence and offence to get his hands on two set points on the Goffin serve at 6-5.

Goffin saved the first with a forehand winner and he struck another magical one moments later as he wrong-footed Dimitrov.

The No. 7 seed faced a third set point after sending a volley wide but he found his serve when he needed it to save it. A fourth opportunity for Dimitrov to seal the set also slipped away. But he finally wrapped the 59-minute opening set on his fifth chance as Goffin’s ball landed in the net.

The Bulgarian played a perfect mix of defence and offence to get his hands on two set points on the Goffin serve at 6-5.

Goffin saved the first with a forehand winner and he struck another magical one moments later as he wrong-footed Dimitrov.

The No. 7 seed faced a third set point after sending a volley wide but he found his serve when he needed it to save it. A fourth opportunity for Dimitrov to seal the set also slipped away.

But he finally wrapped the 59-minute opening set on his fifth chance as Goffin’s ball landed in the net.

Goffin saved a break point in the sixth game of the second set then broke for a 4-3 lead in the next game as he targeted Dimitrov’s backhand.

That break was all Goffin needed to take the second set and force a decider.

Dimitrov had an opening in the sixth game and he edged ahead 4-2 on a wide backhand down-the-line attempt from Goffin.

The Belgian saved three consecutive championship points while serving at 2-5 with some nerveless tennis that saw him take five points in a row to hold.

But that only postponed the inevitable as Dimitrov secured the win on his fifth match point before throwing himself to the ground in disbelief.

“It’s been a tremendous two weeks for me, honestly. It’s such an honour to play here. These two weeks have been one of the best weeks I’ve ever had, without a doubt,” said Dimitrov, who had crushed Goffin 6-0, 6-2 in the group stage but faced a much stiffer opposition on Sunday.

“I just want to thank my team. They’ve been unbelievable this year. Of course my family, my mum and dad, they’re here. Also one person I don’t know if she’s in the hall or not, this week, played a pretty important part was my girlfriend (pop star) Nicole (Scherzinger). She’s somewhere hiding. She deserves also quite a bit of credit for these 2 weeks. It was just great to be out here and win this.”

Making history: Dimitrov and Goffin.

Making history: Dimitrov and Goffin.

Goffin admitted he felt tired after a roller coaster week of highs and lows and he still has to recover in time for next weekend’s Davis Cup final against France in Lille.

“It was a special week for me. A week with a lot of emotions, a lot of fatigue of course and now I’m feeling tired. But it was an amazing week, we did an amazing job,” said Goffin, who ends the year at No. 7 in the world rankings.

“It was tough, after the match against Grigor in the group, it was not easy to come back on the court but we worked a lot with the team. So I’d like to thank all my team, and my friends also who came out tonight. Without their work I won’t be there so thank you everybody.

“I will need some days off to rest and I will be ready the next weekend. Of course it’s such an honour to represent my country. To be in the Davis Cup final for another time is something special so I’ll try to give my best as I did this week.”

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How the O2 gets transformed from an entertainment venue to a tennis tournament

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Since 2009, the ATP Finals have been held at London’s iconic O2 Arena and the deal with the entertainment venue was recently extended through 2020.

That’s 12 consecutive editions of the season finale showpiece taking place at the O2. Only one venue has hosted the ATP Finals more and that’s Madison Square Garden in New York City, where the event was staged from 1977 to 1989.

While some prefer to see the ATP Finals move around the world and get played on different surfaces, the success of the event at the O2, reflected by the sell-out crowds that fill up the 20,000 capacity arena each session, has allowed London to keep its stranglehold on the elite top-eight season-closing tournament.

The O2 has hosted some of the biggest acts in world music. From the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to Madonna, the North Greenwich hot spot has quickly positioned itself as one of the most successful entertainment venues in the world.
But how does that massive dome transform in order to host a tennis tournament for a week?








The ATP Finals, which feature the top eight singles players, and top eight doubles teams, takes place at the O2 every November and it requires extensive and meticulous planning in order to get the place ready for tennis each season.


“I think the challenge here is it’s sort of a double-sided coin. It’s both the challenge but it’s also the opportunity. Which is the fact that the O2 is, and has been since its infancy, the world’s leading entertainment venue,” Nitto ATP Finals event director Adam Hogg told Sport360 in London.


“So the run in to the tournament this year, you’ve got mainstream comedians performing in the arena, you’ve got dance gigs, you’ve got rock ’n’ roll, you’ve got a host of different forms of entertainment playing here, and actually although some of the biggest events, of which I’m proud to say the Nitto ATP Finals is one of them, that comes under the roof each year, there’s actually very few that come to this venue that are sports.”


The O2 has hosted boxing fights, and was one of the London 2012 venues during the Olympics, but tennis is the only sport that has an annual event staged at the popular dome.


The ATP Finals in London are unlike most tennis tournaments taking place throughout the year. There’s music, fancy screens, dramatic entrances and celebrities lining the court to watch it all unfold.


“I think it’s a key philosophy that we buy into with the tournament, is that what goes on, on court, with the eight best singles players, the eight best doubles teams, is the core product that we’re trying to promote, but we lean onto the ethos of the venue, that it is entertainment venue, with a strong music heritage, even though it’s only celebrating its decade this year, it’s developed a pretty strong heritage as a leading music entertainment venue,” explains Hogg.


“So for us it’s all about tying those two pieces together – the core products, for example Grigor on Dominic are on court right now, we’ve got two of the most exciting talents on the ATP World Tour going out there, so what can we do to heighten that?


“What people are watching, whether it be in a seat here, or on TV in the UAE, they’re watching some of the best athletes in the world competing, we’re just presenting in the best possible way that we can particularly in this venue.”




It all looks and sounds like a costly set-up but it is one that has paid dividends for the ATP.


Hogg adds: “The investment that we make into a lot of the technology around the courts, the lights, the screens, the music, the sound, the theatre that we put on, particularly within the arena itself, we’re putting on more than just… we don’t just announce the players and out they come, there’s more of a theatre and a build-up to it, paying homage to the fact that it is an entertainment venue and at the end of the day people are paying money to come here and be entertained.


“Of course the core bit of that is what the players do but what we can do around that just helps make it a better overall experience for the fans. We’re here year on year, so we want them to come back next year.”


The tournament started on Sunday November 12, and due to the active schedule of the O2, work on the arena and centre court could only start the previous Sunday.


“There was a dance show on Saturday night, Above and Beyond, they would have been out of here at about 4:30 on Sunday morning, and at 6 o’clock we roll in,” says Hogg.


“And you see that transformation going from an event hosting 18-20,000 people for a dance night, and suddenly you see this transformation of screens going up, lights going up, court going down, court being painted, screens around the court… the minutiae, just making sure that every little piece around the court is perfect. That it looks great for a fan, but every TV angle we got covered, you got really clean shots.”


A lot of work goes in to the temporary facilities built outside the O2 like the VIP Village and the players’ quarters, which begin to come to life two months before the start of the event.


The area where all this is set-up is a valet car park the rest of the year, but for 10 days each November, it hosts the world’s top tennis players and their teams.


The courts are prepared by a company called GreenSet, owned by Javier Sanchez Vicario, the brother four-time Grand Slam champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.


Javier and his team start working on the court on Monday afternoon – six days before tournament kick-off – and complete it by Wednesday night.


“It’s a challenge but also it’s the best indoor tennis venue in the world today,” says the Spaniard.


“Compared to other tournaments, when we build the outside courts, here there are some concerts. So you see every day someone is coming in around 6:00, you hear the music, and at night is the concert, and then in the middle of the night they take it away and make a new one the next day. So that’s a challenge.


“Here we also have a very short period of time to build the courts. Here we have to do it in the middle of the night, because when you build a court, you build the base, you paint one layer, and then it has to dry.


“Here because the period of time is short, we start to build the base on Monday afternoon and we finished the base around 10pm, so that’s the first layer. It dries.


“The second layer they do it early morning, third layer like 5pm. Last layer we split in two, because you can’t do it at the same time because it’s different colours. So Wednesday morning the inside, Wednesday evening the outside.


“They start the lines around midnight, and they finish around 3:00am. Three o’clock, the Hawk-Eye guys came in to do the calibrations. It had to be done before 8:00am Thursday morning because that’s when the players start practicing.”



GreenSet also do the courts of several indoor tournaments in the build-up, and Javier says they make it a point to use the exact same materials for the Paris Masters – the last event before London – and the ATP Finals to give players a consistent feel.


Hogg explains how the space of the arena floor and set-up of the venue is quite unique.


“I think compared to other events, you’ll see the boards around the court aren’t particularly high. This is a multi-purpose venue so it’s not like other events where you can have the court surface a lot lower, so even in the front row you’re quite elevated. That’s not the case here,” says Hogg.


“Our front row is very low to the ground. And it’s a pretty large arena floor. The surface area of the court is very large, which the players like, in the sense that it’s got plenty or run-off both left-right and behind as well, which certainly helps as well in terms of visibility when you’re starting on a flatter level. But it’s really just a question of keeping as cleaner lines as possible.


“Everything on the court surface is on one level, so even the player boxes and photographer boxes are on that arena floor level, so you’re not starting to impact on people sitting behind you.


“And if you go up to the upper bowl, we price the tickets incredibly reasonably because yes the further back you go, it’s high up there, it’s not Arthur Ashe stadium, but it’s high and it’s steep. It’s a great way to get families and young children to watch tennis at really affordable prices.”





Full house for Nadal-Goffin #atpfinals #rafaelnadal #davidgoffin #theo2 #london #tennis

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A lot of construction is taking place at the O2 as they’re building a retail outlet, which has limited the space available to the ATP and the tournament.


Still, organisers are able to give players personalised locker rooms and can afford them privileges they don’t necessarily get elsewhere. Every singles player has his own locker room, while doubles players share two locker rooms.


“We’re dealing with a very elite, trim, player field. Eight singles players, eight doubles teams, and alternates for both competitions,” said Hogg.


“And it comes down to what the ATP is, it’s a membership organisation of which 50 per cent of that membership are our players. So what is this tournament? It is the players’ own season-ending championships.


“They’re coming to their own event. It’s the ATP’s event. So we’ll do everything we can, from the moment they arrive here in London, to give them and their teams the best possible experience that they can have.


“The philosophy being that if we make them as comfortable and in such a positive place when they’re that can only help when they’re on court and produce the best possible tennis.


“They have no concerns with the organisation, with the food, the drink, the hospitality, accommodation, transport, taking care of wives, girlfriends, coaches, physios, visitors… take all the stress and concern out of that for the player and their team where they can only be in a good place when they’re on court.


“They’ve earned the right to be here so they deserve the adulation, respect and privileges we bestow upon them here in London.”


Security has been becoming more of a concern at any event around the world and the ATP Finals at the O2 is no exception.


Journalists’ belongings are scanned once at the entrance of the O2, and a second time when entering the media centre. Security personnel accompanied by dogs make regular checks throughout the day at the press room, covering every inch of it, and there’s another metal detector at the entrance of the interview room.


“We have a long, and stress-tested planning sessions with the venue, also with liaison with various authorities in London, police and intelligence agencies to ensure that everything we feel is necessary – bag searching, scanning, provision of openly visible police officers, undercover officers, dogs searching for explosives etc… behavioural tracking in terms of any suspicious individuals. There’s a very robust plan in place to ensure the safety of everyone on site,” says Hogg.


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Alexander Zverev and his disappointing end to the season - How will it affect him?

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Alexander "Sascha" Zverev had a tremendous 2017 where, at 20-years-old, he became the youngest player to rank in the top-three since Novak Djokovic did so a decade ago.

He won two Masters 1000 crowns, by defeating Djokovic and Roger Federer in the finals of Rome and Montreal, and he qualified for the ATP Finals in London for the first time.

But Sascha's end to the season witnessed a drop off from the young German, who compiled a 4-5 win-loss record in his last four tournaments of the year and signed off from the ATP Finals with a defeat to Jack Sock.

"I choked. It's quite easy. Won the second set 6-1. I was 1-0 with a break. He got a point penalty. I was down 1-4 within 10 minutes where I didn't put many balls in the court. When I got back at 4-5, that's one of the worst games I think I played all year. So, yeah, I just choked," was Sascha's deadpan explanation during his final press conference of the year.
In the video above, Sport360's Reem Abulleil and Spanish tennis journalist Marta Mateo (La Vanguardia, ATP Espanol) analyse Sascha's season finale and how it can impact him in the future. They also discuss his partnership with his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero and whether it's a relationship that will last.








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