Some lucky daily commuters were dealt a surprise on the London Underground on Friday when they were joined by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and the rest of the ATP Finals singles and doubles fields on the tube.
All suited and booted for the tournament’s official launch at the Houses of Parliament, the players took the Jubilee line from North Greenwich station to Westminster, avoiding London’s dreaded rush hour traffic.
I was invited to the ATP Finals launch party for the first time this year and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out the Houses of Parliament and enjoy one last function with the tennis community before the season comes to an end.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, is a massive tennis enthusiast and particularly a Federer fanatic. In 2014, he said he watched Federer play 65 times that season alone, and he was of course thrilled to hang out with the Swiss in person on Friday.
Let’s just say he did not hide where his allegiances lie one bit at the launch.
The #NittoATPFinals is ready to go…
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) November 10, 2018
Andrew Castle was the MC during the event and enjoyed some fun banter while presenting the players.
“Did you arrive on the tube as well?” Castle asked Federer.
“No I took the helicopter,” Federer responded in the most believable tone. After a long pause he added: “No I’m kidding. I took the tube and enjoyed it.”
Castle admitted he struggled to come up with questions Federer hadn’t answered a million times before so he took the simple route and asked him how he’s been hitting so far at the O2?
“I’m losing every match I’m playing in practice,” confessed Federer.
Words the Speaker no doubt did not want to hear from the No. 2 seed just two days before the start of the tournament.
Djokovic took the stage with his fellow Group Guga Kuerten members, Marin Cilic (198cm), John Isner (208cm) and Alexander Zverev (198cm).
“Do you like playing tall players?” Castle asked the 188cm Djokovic bluntly.
“Thanks for bringing that up, because it feels like I’m in a basketball group or something. I’m by far the shortest guy,” laughed Djokovic. Lucky for the Serb, his height never stopped him from amassing a combined 25-5 win-loss record against his group rivals.
PLAYER CAM 👀
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) November 10, 2018
The night was not free of scandal as Zverev turned up for the event sans-socks. Dominic Thiem, who was filming a vlog for the ATP website made sure to call him out on it.
Zverev’s explanation: It’s “Zegna-style”. Too bad his sock-less look gave him a blister!
He’s been improving his consistency year on year and leads all players on tour by reaching the quarter-finals or better at 14 tournaments in 2018.
World No. 8 Dominic Thiem is ready to make his third consecutive appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals, where he opens his campaign on Sunday against familiar foe Kevin Anderson (14:00 London time, 18:00 Dubai time).
The 25-year-old, who returns to Abu Dhabi this December for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, advanced to his maiden Grand Slam final at Roland Garros this season and made a second Masters 1000 final in Madrid.
Considered the second-best clay-court player in today’s game, behind Rafael Nadal, Thiem showcased his versatility in 2018, winning his first hard-court title in more than two years by lifting the trophy in St. Petersburg and reaching his first Slam quarter-final on a surface other than clay when he made the last-eight at the US Open.
Sport360 caught up with the Gunter Bresnik-coached Austrian ahead of his first match at the O2 Arena in London.
PLAYER CAM 👀
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) November 10, 2018
You’ve qualified for the ATP Finals for a third straight year, what does that mean to you?
It’s a sign of good consistency which makes me proud of course. From the moment I was here the first time I realised it was such an amazing event and from the first time I wanted to come back here. That’s one big goal at the beginning of each season to make it here again and this year I had some troubles in the middle of the year and I only made a last-minute qualification actually, in Paris-Bercy and that’s why I’m super happy to be back.
Was it stressful those last few weeks of the season, or were you able to avoid thinking about qualifying for London too much?
Of course it’s stressful. It’s easier if I’m 20 in the Race and there’s no chance. I was always on the border somehow and the last tournaments were really stressful. Also thinking a little bit if Del Potro comes here or not and then at the end I made it by myself which makes it very nice.
How do you find the round robin format, what do you like the most and least about it?
Basically there’s only one thing that is good, but in the same way bad, because even if you lose one match or sometimes even two matches you can still make it and on the other hand if you win one or two matches it doesn’t mean yet that you’re in the next stage. That’s what makes it very different and very special and I think it’s the perfect format for this kind of tournament.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned this season?
I think it was the French Open final, because I played semis the two previous years but still I was pretty far from making it to the finals and this year in the final it was the first time in my career I came really, really close to my absolute goal which I’ve been hunting since I was a young kid and this was a special feeling and it had quite a big impact on myself and I didn’t realise how much I started to think about it and everything. It was a very good lesson.
You’ve had the best hard-court results of your career this season; was the main reason behind that progress on the surface more mental or technical?
It was mentally because I already won Acapulco two years ago and also I played well on grass two years ago, so I knew that I could play on other surfaces. Of course last year was exceptionally well on clay that’s why I felt somehow better there than on hard courts. But this year was really good on all surfaces except grass. And the end of the year was great with the title in St. Petersburg and I made my first ever semi-final on a different surface than clay at a Masters 1000, there was definitely progress.
What was the best moment of the season for you and what was the worst moment?
The best moment was I think still when I converted the match point against Cecchinato in the French Open to make my first Grand Slam final. And the worst one is when I lost the match in Kitzbuhel.
You played a great five-set match against Rafael Nadal in the US Open quarters, which you lost in a fifth-set tiebreak. Did it take you long to get over that defeat?
It was a very tough loss but it didn’t take me I think five minutes to get over it because I realised straightaway how great that match was, how amazing we both played for almost five hours and I straightaway realised that it was a great boost for the rest of the year or maybe for all my career so it didn’t take me very long to get over it.
This year, four of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments were won by non-Big Four players (Del Potro, Isner, Zverev, Khachanov). Do you think it’s a sign that we’ll see new faces as Grand Slam champions next season?
Yes, the change has to happen at some point and I think next year, or at the latest in two years we will see a different Slam winner again I think.
Was there a point in your career that gave you the confidence or convinced you that you belong among the world’s top players?
Actually it happened when I qualified last year for the second time here because the first time I was super happy to make it but at the same time I was never expecting to make it a second time because you have to play that well and consistently all over the year but when I made it for the second year in a row then I realised and I knew that I belong here and that’s how I felt.
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Since you’ve been dating WTA player Kristina Mladenovic, you’ve probably got to watch a lot of her matches and have a better understanding of the women’s tour than before. Has that given you any new perspective on the importance of the WTA for tennis as a sport in general?
The only thing I can say is that I saw how hard she works, she’s working as hard as me and all her life is about tennis and about getting better and about practicing, same like me. I guess it’s the same with all the women’s. I think they all deserve to have a great tour as well.
If you’ve seen much of the Next Gen Finals, are there any rules from it that you’d like to see on the ATP tour?
First of all I really like to watch the Next Gen Finals. I think the let rule is pretty interesting and funny. To be very honest I don’t think there is a real need for linesmen. I think it worked great at the Next Gen Finals and there are probably way less mistakes than it is with the linesmen and it doesn’t look bad either. But I think we shouldn’t change everything but to make a test in some tournaments, why not?
Novak Djokovic revealed that a conversation with Martina Navratilova – among others he had with several sporting legends – helped him get passed the emotional “wall” he hit during his slump.
Djokovic, who was voted ATP Comeback Player of the Year this season, climbed from 22 to No. 1 in the world over the past 11 months, and ended a two-year Grand Slam drought by claiming the Wimbledon and US Open crowns.
The difficult period he went through from mid-2016 up to this year’s spring has been well-documented but on Friday at his ATP Finals pre-tournament press conference, Djokovic further explained how he regained his competitive edge, and the mentality shift it required.
“A few years ago after winning Roland Garros, holding all four Slams at the same time, I was reflecting on this many times before, that I kind of emotionally hit a wall. I never thought that would happen, that I would have a difficulty to compete, emotionally at a high level, and try to reengage myself to perform. I’ve never lost the passion for tennis, I enjoyed practicing, I enjoyed playing, but trying to compete at that time was a struggle,” said the 31-year-old Serb.
“And talking with some other tennis and sport greats, I understand that everyone went through that kind of particular circumstances at certain stages of their career sooner or later. Navratilova was actually very kind to me and we spent time talking about that, she was reflecting on that and talking about how you kind of have to experience that moment in order to reach a new peak and to find new ways of motivating yourself and inspiring yourself.”
Over the past few years, Djokovic had to transition from being a guy who lived, breathed and prioritised tennis above all else, to being a father of two and a family man who can still compete and win at the highest level in the sport.
Wow, what a line up! We have the @spicegirls – @MelanieCmusic, @GeriHalliwell, @EmmaBunton, @OfficialMelB on the sofa, as well as @DjokerNole, @JohnBishop100 & a performance by @kylieminogue. Don’t miss it, this Saturday at 10:05pm on @ITV! @WeAreSTV #TheJRShow pic.twitter.com/gGnPsg4HaD
— Jonathan Ross Show (@JRossShow) November 8, 2018
“For me when I became a father [for the first time] I had an amazing wave of confidence and motivation and I had the best season of my life arguably in 2015 and the after that ’16 was great until half of the year, second half was so and so and then the [elbow] injury started to get worse. I thought the injury affected on the emotional level as well, I’m quite sure about it.
“So it took me some time to juggle everything and understand how I can find an optimal balance where I can function at my very possible best as a tennis player and also as a husband and a father and I feel like in the last six months I managed to find that balance. What will happen in the future, years to come? I don’t know, I don’t have a crystal ball unfortunately but right now I’m just trying to enjoy the moment,” he added.
Djokovic’s success this year was greatly helped by his reunion with his coach Marian Vajda at the end of March ahead of the clay-court season. The ATP revealed on Friday that Vajda won the Coach of the Year award and Djokovic believes it is well-deserved.
“Marian is more than a coach for me, he’s a friend, he’s a family member and someone I can always rely on. Even when we weren’t working together for 12 months, we were constantly communicating, talking about life, about family, about tennis. So we have that relationship that almost has an unbreakable bond. To have him officially back as a coach was obviously a treat for me,” said the 14-time Grand Slam champion.
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) November 9, 2018
Djokovic has already secured the year-end No. 1 ranking now that the battle between him and Rafael Nadal for the top spot is over due to the Spaniard’s withdrawal from London.
The top seed is gunning for a sixth ATP Finals crown, and shares a group with Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic and debutant, John Isner.
Djokovic begins his campaign at the O2 Arena on Monday night (not before 20:00 local time, midnight UAE time) against Isner.