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  • #NextGenATP First-Time Winner: Alejandro Davidovich Fokina

    This is what the ATP Challenger Tour is all about. On Sunday, in front of thousands of passionate fans at the Real Club de Tenis Betis, native son Alejandro Davidovich Fokina celebrated his maiden title in Sevilla.

    The local Sevillanos filled the club, with a capacity crowd on hand to watch the 20-year-old battle countryman Jaume Munar. And with 400 more on line outside, in search of a coveted seat inside the historic venue, the atmosphere was electric and the drama palpable.

    2019 #NextGenATP First-Time Spotlights: Ymer | Sinner | Ruusuvuori

    The oldest tournament in Spain celebrated its 29th edition, welcoming a third #NextGenATP champion in the past four years. Casper Ruud (2016) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (2017) would go on to crack the Top 100 and beyond, a milestone that is now well within reach for Davidovich Fokina. The Malaga native is up to a career-high No. 108 in the ATP Rankings and moves to 12th in the ATP Race To Milan.

    Davidovich Fokina has been on fire in September, halting a 1-6 mid-summer stretch with an impressive 12-2 run that also included a semi-final finish in Mallorca and final run in Genova. The 20-year-old continues to build off his breakthrough moment from earlier in the year, when he stormed to the semi-finals at the ATP Tour stop in Estoril as a qualifier. There, he upset World No. 18 Gael Monfils to reach the last four.

    Davidovich

    The Spaniard spoke to ATPChallengerTour.com following his maiden triumph in Sevilla...

    Alejandro, congrats on winning your first Challenger title. How does it feel to lift the trophy?
    I have been supported all this week by my family, by the team and by my friends. I am very happy to raise this title in front of them. I think it is well deserved, since last week I lost in the final, but this time I could get it.

    The final against Munar was very close. Did you feel nervous today?
    Yes, with Jaume there are always those nerves because I know he is a very consistent player. He doesn't miss any shots. I started a little more nervous, but in the second set I was more explosive and aggressive. I have relied much more on myself and I also wanted to not lose a fourth final.

    Recent #NextGenATP Spanish Champions

    Player Title Age
    Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
    Sevilla 2019
    20 years, 3 months
    Nicola Kuhn
    Segovia 2019
    19 years, 4 months
    Pedro Martinez
    Bastad 2018
    21 years, 2 months
    Jaume Munar
    Caltanissetta 2018
    21 years, 1 month
    Jaume Munar
    Prostejov 2018
    21 years, 1 month
    Jaume Munar
    Segovia 2017
    20 years, 3 months
    Nicola Kuhn
    Braunschweig 2017
    17 years, 3 months

    Winning your first Challenger title is not easy. What do you think were the keys during the week?
    I have been for three weeks at a very good level. I looked to win the tournament from the beginning. In every game, at every point I went to the maximum. In addition, the confidence I brought from the previous matches carried into the final.

    As you say, you had three finals in which you didn't get the trophy. What did you learn from those experiences?
    There were many emotions and I had a lot of pressure. But I prepared for this match very well with my coach Jorge [Aguirre] and I think I solved it very well. We knew there would be a lot of emotion, because we played in Andalusia, very close to home in Sevilla. And also the public would be on my side, which was very important.

    You defeated two strong players - Salvatore Caruso and Jaume Munar - in the semis and final. How much confidence do those victories and this trophy give you?
    First of all, I'd say not to lose your mind with these victories, because on Wednesday I will start competing in another Challenger. So I'm going to celebrate with my family, I'm going to enjoy my first victory and tomorrow it's time to go back to work.

    To win your first #ATPChallenger title is a big deal.

    This is how much it means to @alexdavidovich1, champion in Sevilla. 👇👇👇 pic.twitter.com/xijUOYNbU3

    — ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) September 15, 2019

    It has not been an easy summer for you. How did you prepare yourself to put aside those struggles and have such a successful month?
    After Estoril, I did not have it very easy. There were matches that I should not have lost, where I was playing very poorly. In tennis there are always streaks and I know there will be ups and downs. The goal was to move on, never give up.

    What have you enjoyed most of your time in Sevilla? It is such a historic tournament and very close to home for you.
    Of course not the heat! (Laughs). The people here supported me a lot and the atmosphere is spectacular. Being able to play in Andalusia gives my whole family and my friends the opportunity to come. It is a plus to play in front of them all.

    For those of us who don't know much about you, what do you enjoy doing off the court?
    I am a very hyperactive guy, who likes to do many things away from the court. I am very simple, very sociable. In the end, I am from Malaga. I grew up there and I my attitude is like the people there. I just like to have fun with friends and enjoy life.

    ATP Challenger Tour 



  • Mallorca To Host ATP Grass-Court Tournament From 2020

    The ATP today announced that the 2020 grass-court swing in the lead-up to The Championships at Wimbledon, will feature a new ATP 250 tournament in Mallorca, replacing the event previously held in Antalya, Turkey, from 2017-2019.

    The Mallorca Championships, offering €900,000 in prize money, will be held at Santa Ponca from 20-27 June 2020, in partnership between the AELTC and e|motion sports.

    Chris Kermode, ATP Executive Chairman and President, said: “Spain remains a key market for the ATP Tour and we are delighted to see the return of an ATP 250 tournament to Mallorca. The Spanish island has contributed so highly to the history of tennis, notably producing two ATP World No. 1 players, Carlos Moya and Rafael Nadal.

    “Bringing a grass court tournament to Spain is an exciting development in the ATP Tour calendar, and we’d like to thank the AELTC [All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club] for their continued investment in the grass court season. The ATP has a longstanding relationship with e|motion, as ATP event owners in Vienna and event Promoters in Stuttgart, and we are pleased to expand our association with them and the AELTC through this new venture in Mallorca. We have no doubt the event will be a success from the outset.”

    Event organisers, elmotion sports, also run the MercedesCup in Stuttgart, which switched surfaces from clay to grass courts in 2015, the Erste Bank Open in Vienna, and a WTA event in Berlin.

    Edwin Weindorfer, CEO e|motion sports, said: “By organising three tournaments in as many weeks we are facing a big challenge, which we gladly accept. We will continually develop the tournament in Mallorca in the coming years and Santa Ponca is the perfect setting for that. I want to thank Wimbledon for their great support of our tennis commitment in Mallorca and also thank Toni Nadal, who has done great work as tournament director for the women’s tournament. A position he will also assume for the men’s tournament.”

    It will be the first time that an ATP Tour tournament has been contested in Mallorca since 2002. Spain currently hosts two clay-court events, the Mutua Madrid Open (ATP Masters 1000) in May and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (ATP 500) in April.

    Toni Nadal, Tournament Director of the Mallorca Championships, said, “I am very proud, that there will be an ATP tournament in Mallorca after so many years again. We expect to offer the fans a strong line-up in the final week before Wimbledon. After four successful women’s tournaments we are now starting a new, exciting tennis era in Mallorca with this men’s event.”

    Philip Brook CBE, All England Lawn Tennis Club Chairman, commented: “The AELTC is pleased to continue the work it began several years ago with e|motion sports in Mallorca as they take on the new ATP 250-level tournament sanction. A strong and successful grass court season is absolutely critical to the future of grass court tennis and thus the future success of The Championships. Having worked to expand the grass court season to create a meaningful gap between Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, we are pleased to be making significant further investments into ensuring that quality grass court tournaments can be provided at all levels of the game with the best interests of the players and the broader tennis family in mind.”

    To view the updated 2020 ATP Tour calendar, click here.



  • Nadal, Federer Reunite On Team Europe At Laver Cup; All You Need To Know

    Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer headline the third edition of the Laver Cup, to be held 20-22 September in Geneva, Switzerland. The Laver Cup field includes three other Top 10 players — Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas — who will join Nadal and Federer on Team Europe. John Isner, Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios lead the charge for Team World

    The teams will be welcomed in Geneva on Wednesday, at a public appearance on the balcony of the Palais Eynard, Parc des Bastions, at 12:00pm.

    Team Europe won the inaugural tournament in Prague, 15-9, with Federer prevailing 4-6, 7-6(6), 11-9 over Kyrgios to prevent Team World from forcing a decisive, winner-take-all doubles set. Last year in Chicago, after Isner and Jack Sock put Team World up 8-7 to start Day 3, Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev rallied for wins in their singles matches to clinch the victory for Team Europe.

    Here’s what you need to know about the Laver Cup: what is the schedule, where to watch, who is playing and more.

    Established: 2017

    Tournament Dates: 20-22 September 2019

    Who Is Playing
    Team Europe: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Fabio Fognini, Roberto Bautista Agut (alternate)
    Team World: John Isner, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov, Jack Sock, Taylor Fritz, Jordan Thompson (alternate)

    Schedule (View On Official Website)
    Friday, September 20: 1pm Match 1 (singles) followed by Match 2 (singles)
    Friday, September 20: 7pm, Match 3 (singles) followed by Match 4 (doubles)
    Saturday, September 21: 1pm, Match 5 (singles) followed by Match 6 (singles)
    Saturday, September 21: 7pm, Match 7 (singles) followed by Match 8 (doubles)
    Sunday, September 22: 12pm, Match 9 (doubles) followed by Match 10 (singles), Match 11 (singles), Match 12 (singles). If points are even, then there will be a one-set doubles decider.

    How To Watch
    TV Schedule

    Venue: Palexpo
    Surface: Indoor Hard

    Scoring
    Both singles and doubles are best-of-three sets with ad scoring. The third set is a 10-point Match Tie-break.

    Points
    Each match win will be worth one point on Friday, two points on Saturday and three points on Sunday. If points are tied at 12-all on Day 3, a doubles set with ad-scoring and a tie-break will decide the Laver Cup champion. The winning team must reach 13 points.

    Players
    Each player will play at least one singles match during the first two days. No player will play singles more than twice during the three days. At least four of the six players must play doubles. No doubles combination can be played more than once, unless for the Decider on Day 3, if points are 12-all. Match-ups will be determined prior to the first match each day through the exchange of lineup cards by the captains.

    2018 Laver Cup
    Team Europe d Team World 13-8
    Clinching result: Match 11 - Alexander Zverev d Kevin Anderson 6-7(3), 7-5, 10-7

    Social
    Hashtag: #LaverCup
    Instagram: @lavercup
    Twitter: @LaverCup



  • Rublev Survives Ivashka Scare In St. Petersburg

    Andrey Rublev was forced to work hard for his place in the St. Petersburg Open second round on Tuesday, recovering from a set down to defeat Ilya Ivashka 4-6, 6-0, 6-4.

    Appearing for the first time since reaching the US Open fourth round, the fifth seed claimed three straight games from 3-4 down in the third set to improve to 23-14 at tour-level this year. After avoiding a third first-round defeat in four appearances at the ATP 250 tournament, Rublev moves on to face Ricardas Berankis for a place in the last eight.

    Berankis claimed 81 per cent of first-serve points (22/27) to defeat Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-0 in 62 minutes. It will be his first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against Rublev, who defeated Roger Federer in Cincinnati and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Flushing Meadows.

    Watch Live

    St. Petersburg debutant Roberto Carballes Baena defeated 2012 champion Martin Klizan 6-2, 7-5 to advance to the second round. The 26-year-old became only the second player to defeat Klizan in 11 matches in St. Petersburg after 89 minutes, converting five of eight break points en route to victory. Carballes Baena will face US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini for a spot in the quarter-finals.

    Evgeny Donskoy will face top seed and fellow Russian Daniil Medvedev in the second round. The 29-year-old wild card cruised past lucky loser Matteo Viola of Italy 6-2, 6-1. Egor Gerasimov also advanced, beating fellow qualifier Lukas Rosol 7-5, 6-2 to book a meeting with seventh seed Adrian Mannarino.



  • Why Medvedev's Momentum Looks Set To Continue Indoors

    Daniil Medvedev’s recent run on the outdoor hard courts of North America has catapulted the 23-year-old to a career-high No. 4 in the ATP Rankings and earned the Russian a maiden spot at the Nitto ATP Finals in London.

    But before claiming his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati, Medvedev’s two most recent tour-level trophies had been lifted on indoor hard courts, proving that the US Open finalist can be just as dangerous with a roof above his towering 6’6” frame.

    Eleven months ago, the Moscow-born star lifted his maiden ATP 500 title indoors at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo. Medvedev dropped one set in seven matches from qualifying in the Japanese capital — defeating three Top 20 players — including two-time titlist and home favourite Kei Nishikori in the final.

    The five-time tour-level titlist, who has already lifted indoor silverware this year at the Sofia Open in February, owns a Tour-leading 22 victories over the past 52 weeks on the surface according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone. The Russian will be hoping to add to that tally at the St. Petersburg Open, where he will be competing for the first time since reaching his first Grand Slam final at the US Open.

    Most Indoor Victories Over Past 52 Weeks

    Player Wins Win Percentage Titles
    Daniil Medvedev 22 0.786 2
    Stefanos Tsitsipas 18 0.750 2
    Kei Nishikori 16 0.696 0
    Karen Khachanov 15 0.789 2
    Gael Monfils 14 0.824 1

    With ATP 250 indoor hard-court events in St. Petersburg and Metz this week and a further seven indoor events through the Rolex Paris Masters, the ability to earn victories indoors could prove crucial in the ATP Race To London.

    In fact, the three players who own the best winning percentages indoors over the past 52 weeks (after 10 or more matches) are all in contention for a spot at the elite eight-man event at The O2 in London.

    Best Indoor Win Percentage Over Past 52 Weeks (Played 10+ matches)

    Player Win Percentage Win/Loss Record Race To London Position
    Gael Monfils 0.824 14-3 12
    Alexander Zverev 0.813 13-3 10
    Karen Khachanov 0.789 15-4 19
    Daniil Medvedev 0.786 22-6 4 (Qualified)
    Roger Federer 0.786 11-3 3 (Qualified)

    With a 14-3 record over the past 52 weeks, Gael Monfils owns the best indoor winning percentage according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone. The Frenchman has lifted five of his eight ATP Tour titles indoors, including his most recent crown at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in February. Monfils currently occupies 12th position in the ATP Race To London after reaching the quarter-finals at the US Open.

    Monfils is closely followed by Alexander Zverev, who currently sits at 10th place in the ATP Race To London. The 22-year-old has not played indoors since stunning Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in back-to-back matches to lift the Nitto ATP Finals trophy last November.

    In third and fourth place are the Russian duo of Karen Khachanov and Medvedev. Both players will be aiming to improve their winning percentages in front of home fans at the St. Petersburg Open this week, with 19th-placed Khachanov eager to make up ground on his rivals in the ATP Race To London. As the top two seeds at the event — with a combined four indoor trophies over the past 52 weeks — the pairing will try to set the first all-Russian final in the tournament’s history.



  • Gasquet Among 4 French Winners Tuesday In Metz

    French men have won eight of the past 10 Moselle Open titles. And on Tuesday, home favourites made a good start towards improving that.

    Former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet was under plenty of pressure from Marcel Granollers in the first round of this ATP 250 tennis tournament, but the Frenchman rallied to defeat the Spaniard 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4. The 33-year-old, who made the final in Metz in 2004 when he was 18, triumphed after two hours and 35 minutes.

    Gasquet has won five of his 15 ATP Tour crowns in France. And the World No. 41 arrived to this event with momentum after making the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

    The only break of the decider came at 3-3. Granollers stood on the baseline, aggressively trying to move Gasquet around. But the Spaniard’s approach shot allowed too much time, as Gasquet flicked a backhand passing shot down the line for a clean winner. Two service holds later, Gasquet moved through to face third seed Benoit Paire, who has lifted two of his three ATP Tour trophies this year.

    Watch Live

    Wild card Gregoire Barrere caused the upset of the day, cruising past sixth seed and 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier Hubert Hurkacz 6-2, 6-2. The Frenchman saved all five break points he faced in his 60-minute victory.

    Barrere, who is at a career-high No. 98 in the ATP Rankings, has earned all five of his tour-level wins in 2019. The 25-year-old will next face countryman Antoine Hoang, who advanced on Monday.

    Another Frenchman, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, withstood 14 aces to defeat German Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6(3), 6-4. Herbert struck eight aces of his own and won 81 per cent of his first-serve points to set a second-round clash against compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who rallied past Spaniard Pablo Andujar 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 after one hour and 53 minutes.

    The former World No. 5, who emerged victorious in Montpellier earlier this year, blasted 10 aces and saved four of the six break points he faced. Tsonga has won this title three times, most recently in 2015.

    The only player who defeated a Frenchman Tuesday was Slovenian Aljaz Bedene, who ousted 19-year-old wild card Rayane Roumane 6-4, 6-4 after one hour and 15 minutes.



  • Berrettini Reflects On His Breakthrough

    Earlier this month, Matteo Berrettini made his major breakthrough at the US Open, becoming just the second Italian man to reach the last four in New York after Corrado Barazzutti in 1977.

    The 23-year-old’s run that was ended by eventual champion Rafael Nadal, earned Berrettini a career-high No. 13 ATP Ranking and was the latest success in an impressive 2019 campaign. The Rome-born star advanced to three ATP Tour championship matches in the opening six months of the season, lifting titles in Budapest (d. Krajinovic) and Stuttgart (d. Auger-Aliassime) alongside a runner-up finish in Munich (l. to Garin).

    But the confidence to achieve those results came from a breakthrough week at last year’s J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad. Just 14 months ago, Berrettini entered the clay-court ATP 250 event aiming to reach his first tour-level quarter-final with no doubles victories on the ATP Tour to his name.

    Ranked No. 84 in the ATP Rankings, Berrettini arrived without his coach, who had taken a vacation week. But that didn’t stop the Italian from producing his best tennis, defeating three consecutive seeded players to take the singles trophy, before adding the doubles title to his collection later in the day.

    “[Gstaad was an] unbelievable week. I won singles and doubles there and I had never won an ATP Tour doubles match, so it was all in a rush,” said Berrettini. “I will never forget that week. I was really enjoying it. Of course, I liked the city and the crowd. A lot of Italians came to watch the matches, so it was really fun.

    “I enjoyed playing there. I liked the conditions, altitude and the clay courts. It was an unbelievable week. I look back and I smile a lot.”

    It took some time for Berrettini to process what he had achieved during his week at the ATP 250 event. But the Italian’s success in the south west of Switzerland proved the springboard to a stellar 2019 season on the ATP Tour. Berrettini has already compiled a 34-16 tour-level record this season, eclipsing last year’s personal-best 19-19 mark.

    “It was an unbelievable feeling [to win the title]. My family were watching the match and all my friends, my coach from Italy,” said Berrettini. “I was just really enjoying the moment and then, after a few weeks, I realised what I did.

    “That week I really realised that I had the level to play against the best guys in the world. That is, for sure, an important thing to a young guy that is growing up.”

    As the 6'5" right-hander prepares to return to action at the St. Petersburg Open, ranked 49 positions higher than his 2018 debut appearance at the Russian event, Berrettini is thankful for the support of his family as he continues to climb the ATP Rankings.

    “My family never pushed me, but they put the racquet in my hands,” said Berrettini. “They always helped me a lot during these years. I have to say thanks to them.”

    Arriving in Russia in ninth position in the 2019 ATP Race To London, Berrettini has the confidence and added motivation needed for a successful week in St. Petersburg. Having learned many lessons since his 2018 success in the Swiss alps, can the Italian make another move in his rapid climb to the top of the game this week?



  • At Nowitzki’s Charity Event, Nash Says Shapovalov & Felix ‘Have Incredible Futures’

    Game. Set. Match. Children.

    Superstars from all over the sports world came together in Dallas, Texas this weekend at the Southern Methodist University tennis complex for the fourth annual Dirk Nowitzki Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic, hitting aces — literally and figuratively — to raise money for the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, which awards grants annually to organisations focusing on children’s wellbeing, health and education.

    “We’re thrilled to do this event again and have the support of celebs who fly in from across the country,” Nowitzki said. “Tommy Haas actually took a redeye to be here. He landed at like 7am, so the support from everybody means the world and hopefully we can raise a lot of funds again for our project this upcoming year.”

    Nowitzki, a basketball legend in his own right, played his fair share of tennis growing up in Germany. And his former Dallas Mavericks teammate and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, Steve Nash, has taken up the sport more recently. The Canadian has taken great pride in watching #NextGenATP stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime blossom on the ATP Tour.

    “Both Denis and Felix have big, big games. [They’re] great athletes who have a lot of shots. Both I think have incredible futures,” Nash said. “The best players are the ones that get on top of their game mentally. Those young players are showing great signs. They have all the tools, and if they just continue to develop that grit and understanding, they’re going to be Top 5, Top 10 players in the world, easy.

    “Denis has got all the shots. Big, big groundstrokes. Big serve. When he’s on fire, he’s unbeatable. He’s one of those guys who’s an electric player. When he gets hot, he’s unstoppable. As he gets older I think he’s going to be one of those guys who’s so hard to beat even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.”

    Haas Nash

    When Nash retired, he wanted to find other activities outside of basketball. So he joined a tennis club and has gotten increasingly interested in the sport since.

    “The past couple of years i’ve been trying to learn the game. It’s a beautiful sport,” Nash said. “Obviously there are tons of levels to it, so I’m just trying to hold my own and get better and better.”

    Isner has been in the year-end Top 20 of the ATP Rankings for nearly a decade (2010-18), so the American knows tennis talent. The 34-year-old was impressed by the basketball stars — which included Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic — and the other celebrities who were competing.

    “I would say [they are] very good. Dirk is an incredible player. He grew up playing tennis. You can see that and you can see he still has all that talent and skill left in him,” Isner said. “Luka I think is still brand new to tennis. But from what I’ve seen he’s an athlete and athletes pick stuff up quickly and that’s what he’s doing.”

    As far as tennis players go, Isner was joined by former World No. 2 Haas, former doubles World No. 1 Mark Knowles and American Mitchell Krueger. Nowitzki was ecstatic with the support, and he was thankful to have Isner on the courts a year after the 15-time ATP Tour titlist had to miss the event for the birth of his daughter, Hunter Grace.

    “It means the world to me and to us and to the tournament that we have a player of his stature here and that he’s representing,” Nowitzki said. “That’s big. To have him here, close, and be a resident here now is awesome. He’s a friend and it’s amazing.”

    Haas and his amateur partner eventually won the tournament, defeating Nash and his partner 10-6 in a championship tie-break.

    Celebrities Who Competed: Tommy Haas, John Isner, Mark Knowles, Mitchell Krueger, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Luka Dončić, , J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Dwight Powell, Boris Kodjoe



  • Remembering Vitas Gerulaitis... 25 Years On

    Editor's Note: This story was originally published on 17 September 2014.

    Vitas Gerulaitis made everyone smile. Blond-haired, athletic and flamboyant, he walked about with a confident swagger and had a spark that could instantly energise any locker room.

    Mary Carillo, who was 12 when she first met 15-year-old Gerulaitis and his sister, Ruta, a former pro, at the Port Washington Tennis Academy in New York, recalls her first meeting. “I was in proper awe of him. He was striking to look at — great clothes and carrying more racquets than any kid I’ve ever seen before. He had a mane of blond hair trailing behind him, and was friendly even though he was in a constant state of motion.”

    John Lloyd remembers, “I think I first played him aged 17, alongside Billy Martin and Pat Dupre, in Torquay. Even then he was charismatic and he stood out. [A few years] later, I remember watching [the British comedy series] Fawlty Towers with him and he commented, ‘This is crap. You want to watch this?’ It was typical of him. He had a great sense of humour.”

    Carillo fondly remembers partnering Gerulaitis against Ruta and her partner in a mixed doubles club-level final at the West Side Tennis Club, the former venue of the US Championships. “Once there, Ruta's partner took a dive for a volley and scraped himself up pretty badly, to which Vitas handed him a towel and said, ‘Hell, John — we're only playing for an ice bucket.’ My proud parents still have that ice bucket.”

    To this day, the tennis world is quick to recall his quip after beating Jimmy Connors in the semi-finals of the January 1980 Masters. Although Gerulaitis had won their first meeting indoors at New York in 1972, Connors had gone on to claim their next 16 matches. At the press conference, a reporter asked Gerulaitis how he had finally managed to beat Connors after losing 16 in a row. Gerulaitis grinned and said, "And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row." Veteran tennis writer Steve Flink, who was present, remembers, “The room erupted with laughter. He said it genially and everyone got a big kick out of it.”

    Dashing and daring, Gerulaitis was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Lithuanian immigrants. He was the sport’s ultimate jetsetter in the late 1970s, adored by a legion of female fans, who screamed, “Take me home!” after his matches. He was also an intense competitor to his closest rivals, Connors, Guillermo Vilas, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, who became good friends. During a golden era for men’s tennis, he rose to a career-high No. 3 and was ranked inside the Top 10 for seven straight years until 1983.

    “I first met him in 1972, as players, in the Orange Bowl final in Miami,” recalls Borg, who won 7-6, 6-2, 6-1. “That was our first contact. After we played the five-set 1977 Wimbledon semi-final, Vitas and one of his friends visited me at The Cumberland Club [in north London] the next day, where I trained between matches. He could easily have left to fly home, but, incredibly, he told me, ‘Whenever you want to practise, I am ready.’ I was stunned that a player would do such a thing. From that moment on, we always practised together.”

    Back at home, Gerulaitis was ‘Mr New York’. As a freshman at Columbia University, prior to turning pro one year later in 1971, he had owned a yellow Datsun 240-Z sports car. Later, in his native New York, he would leave his Long Island home for a night out in a yellow Rolls Royce with the personalized number plate 'VITAS'. His non-stop reverie, whether it was dinner at the Playboy Club, drinks at Daisy, or discos like Annabel’s in London or Studio 54 in New York with his many friends, included artist Andy Warhol, his ‘fraternal twin’, Borg, and McEnroe. He earned the nickname, 'Broadway Vitas'. Every New Yorker knew him… and loved him.

    Borg adds, “Vitas was of my best friends in tennis. We helped and made one another better players, and developed a great friendship. We connected and had so much fun. He was a funny guy. I rarely saw him in a bad mood. He had so much positive energy.” Billie Jean King reveals, “In New York, we frequently practised at his place on Long Island and away from the court, he was the first one to take me dancing at Studio 54. It was never a dull moment when Vitas was around.”

    Gerulaitis' tennis did not appear to suffer. He won the 1977 Australian Open (d. J. Lloyd) and two Internazionali BNL d'Italia crowns, among 25 singles trophies. John Lloyd, recalling their joint career-high at Kooyong, says, “During the 1977 Australian Open, we practised and went out together during the week — it would never happen now. On the morning of the final we had breakfast together and I remember being worried about practising again. So I asked, ‘Should we practise together?’ He responded by saying, ‘What can I f****** learn about your game? And what more can you learn about my game? Of course, we’ll practise together!’ Gerulaitis won in five sets. He also finished runner-up at 1979 US Open (l. to McEnroe) and at 1980 Roland Garros (l. to Borg).

    Looking back at Gerulaitis’ hedonistic days, Fred Stolle, his coach of four years, says, “Whatever he got up to the night before, he always trained hard the next day. He was easy to coach and I didn’t change his technique much. We worked out on his court at his home. He travelled hard and played hard. He liked the high life, but never drank.

    “He liked me to check the Michelin Guide when we were in Europe for the best restaurants. If he kept winning we would go to the same restaurant. He was very superstitious. He used Johnson’s gauze tape. His Mum used to buy it by the case load for his racquet grips. Every changeover, he changed his grip. I don’t know how he did it. I remember his Mum saying, ‘I wish we had stocks in Johnson’s.’”

    Gerulaitis’ game was built on speed. Carillo, who remains good friends with his sister, Ruta, to this day, says, “He was very, very quick around the court and had a terrific nose for the net. He was agile and charismatic on the court, and had the same gifts off the court.” Johan Kriek, who was given a “tennis lesson” by Vitas in the 1978 US Open quarter-finals, insists, “Whenever you played him, you needed to be on top of your game. He had a lot of flare, and was an all-round great player and mover.” 

    Borg, who, like McEnroe, knew Gerulaitis better than anybody, says, “His movement and speed around the court was his greatest strength and he had such an eye for the game. He was one of the best volleyers – forehand and backhand – and was always aggressive.” Stolle adds, “His slice backhand was great too, especially if he came up against players who could attack the net.”

    But Gerulaitis also had a weakness. “We used to spend 90 minutes hitting second serves,” remembers Stolle. “He was fine until things got tight in a match and then he would revert back to his old motion, as muscle memory kicked in. He hit a lot of double faults.” Stolle still shakes his head at what happened in a match against Ivan Lendl at the 1981 Masters [now named Nitto ATP Finals] at Madison Square Garden. “Lendl was serving at 5-6 in the third set tie-break, down two sets to love. Having missed a first serve, Vitas took a step forward and played a backhand return. He looked to be chip-charging en route to the net, forcing Lendl to pass him on match point. But Vitas took two steps forward, and then four backwards. Lendl would clinch the tie-break 8-6 and go on to win in five sets.”

    Off the court, Gerulaitis was generous to a fault. He cared, supplying tennis racquets to thousands of New York City children, taking the time to catch up with a player he may not have seen for a while or by picking up a dinner cheque. Carillo often joined Vitas, Ruta and McEnroe at concerts and dinners in New York City. “We gave a bunch of tennis exhibitions while we were still juniors,” says Carillo. “I also got to help with the Vitas Gerulaitis Youth Fund [established in 1979], the first of its kind.

    “Vitas wanted to bring tennis to underserved New York City kids and took a band of us all over the five boroughs every summer, handing out racquets and giving clinics for hours on end. Vitas got every big tennis star in the world to give their time, from Arthur Ashe to Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert and McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Connors — everyone wanted to help Vitas and try to keep up with his great heart. It was the very best part of him. Who else would lose his only championship match at the US Open (1979 to McEnroe) and then go to the winner’s party later that night?”

    Billie Jean King remembers, “When I think of Vitas, I always remember he was the first person — at least the first one I recall — to give free racquets to children. We have carried his tradition on at World TeamTennis and for several years each of the racquets we gave to children carried his name on the racquet. It was a small way to honour a man that was such a great player, lover of tennis and a really good friend.”

    Just two weeks before his death, Gerulaitis was compassionate to a new champion, Pete Sampras. After the American had lost to Jaime Yzaga over five sets in the 1994 US Open fourth round, Sampras recalls, “I had got to know him when I lived in Tampa, Florida, as we used to play golf together. I went into the Open a little out of shape. After the match I was pretty down. Leaving the stadium for a private room, Vitas came by. He unlaced my shoes, put a dry shirt on me, packed up my racquets and told me he understood just how bad I was feeling. He was always thinking of others. He was always upbeat.”

    Gerulaitis had retired as a player in 1985, after a 14-year-old pro career, and had taken to perfecting his golf swing. At the behest of his tennis friends, including Connors and McEnroe, he returned to the sport in 1993 on the newly formed Seniors Tour and picked up work as a television analyst with ESPN and CBS Sports. Lloyd says, “He knew exactly what questions to ask the players. He would have been the equivalent of McEnroe as a commentator today — one of the main guys.” His childhood friend and CBS colleague, Carillo says, “Vitas was genuine, relaxed and funny — the real deal.”

    In his final match, at the Seattle Centre Arena, that started at shortly after 10 p.m. local time on 14 September 1994, Connors and Gerulaitis paired up to beat Borg and Lloyd 6-4, 7-6. Lloyd recalls, “That [Wednesday] evening in Seattle, on the Seniors Circuit, every joke and every one-liner he made, hit! He was at the peak of his comedic and charismatic level. We played in front of a crowd of 3,000. Sometimes, jokes you make strike and sometimes they don’t work. He completely stole the show. Mid-match, he injured his back and afterwards left to return to New York.”

    Three days later he passed away. After a short lay-over, Gerulaitis had taken part in a charity clinic at the Racquet Club of East Hampton, where he demonstrated his volleying skills to 60 corporate sponsors. He left the clinic promising to attend a party that night, but never reappeared. Staying in the pool house of a friend in Southampton, NY, Gerulaitis ordered a sandwich and watched golf on television. At 3 p.m. the next day, 17 September, a housekeeper found his body. An inquest found that he had died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty propane heater, which had seeped into the heating and air conditioning system. He was 40 years old.

    “When I heard he had died, it was unbelievably bad news,” says Borg. “When I heard, I started to cry – every player did. To lose such a friend, a positive guy, is sad. It is still tough for me to talk about him today. I miss him so much.” Lloyd, like Borg and Connors, was still in Seattle. “I was preparing for the doubles final when I heard the news. I could not believe it. I had to find Bjorn, who was eating a meal in the restaurant and I was the one who told him that Vitas had died. Jimmy was out with his family.”

    Sampras remembers being on Davis Cup duty in Sweden. “We were preparing and I walked into the team room to be told Vitas had died. I remember that week we wore ‘V’ patches on our clothes.” Carillo says, “I was last with Vitas for CBS' coverage of the US Open, shortly before he died. It's still very hard to know that he's gone. There were few people I've ever met who were so damn alive.”

    “He was like another son,” says Stolle. “It was such a shock when he died. I went to the funeral. He had a pink golf club and ball with him in his coffin.” His great rivals and friends, Borg, Connors and McEnroe were pallbearers. Connors finished his eulogy, in front of 500 mourners, by saying, “He was my friend and I loved him, and I’m going to miss him.” Carillo said, "His legacy is laughter. We all have to tell each other stories about him. We have to keep him alive."

    The legacy of the 'Lithuanian Lion' endures, 25 years on.



  • Verdasco Sprints Out Of The Gates In Metz

    Spaniard Fernando Verdasco suffered a disappointing second-round loss at the US Open against Hyeon Chung, letting slip a 6-1, 6-2 lead and also failing to convert a match point in the fifth set. But the Spaniard wiped away those memories on Monday, defeating Belgian Steve Darcis 6-2, 6-2 to reach the second round of the Moselle Open.

    The fifth seed began this ATP 250 tennis tournament with just a 1-2 record at the event. The last time Verdasco competed in Metz, four years ago, he lost against then-18-year-old Alexander Zverev.

    But the veteran lefty faced few problems against Darcis, saving the only break point he faced and winning 64 per cent of his second-serve return points in his 69-minute triumph. Verdasco leads Darcis 4-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, winning all nine sets they have played.

    Verdasco will next face 2017 Rolex Paris Masters finalist Filip Krajinovic, who beat Peter Gojowczyk 7-5, 6-4 after one hour and 24 minutes. It was an impressive win for the Serbian considering Gojowczyk claimed his lone ATP Tour crown in Metz two years ago.

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    A Frenchman is through to the second round, as wild card Antoine Hoang ousted German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 11 minutes. The 23-year-old will next face sixth seed Hubert Hurkacz or countryman Gregoire Barrere.

    Second-Seeded Doubles Tandem Eliminated
    Robert Lindstedt and Jan-Lennard Struff upset second seeds Luke Bambridge and Ben McLachlan 6-4, 7-6(15) to reach the second round in the doubles draw. Bambridge and McLachlan were carrying strong form into this tournament, their first since reaching the US Open quarter-finals. Lindstedt and Struff are competing together for the first time.